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The Best of 2012
by Amanda Earl
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What Never Dies
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by Juniper Maclay © 2010
I am not sure why I want to tell this story. I am not positive it's even my story to tell, though I'm the main character. I was just there, the subject. Marcus, he was the conductor, the chemist. He did the experimentation. Maybe it's his story to tell, his hypothesis to propose. No matter. I know he won't tell it. He's already moved on to other experiments. Marcus never dwells, never waits. Or, I guess I should say, he never waited for me.
* * *
I think the first time we had sex was about six minutes after we met, but it might have been seven, or possibly eight. Usually I keep better track of time than that, but I was kind of tipsy and distracted by my reaction to him. It wasn't one of those reactions you read about in romance novels, burning hot and drooling like I knew he was 'The One' or anything. I didn't have an instant body reaction to him. It was more of an inability to deny his confidence. At least that’s how I remember it.
We were at a gallery opening. It was a Thursday night. Tiny glasses of champagne were being served. I had three, drank them like shots, and was sipping number four while I hovered close to Hanelle, whose paintings were hung like sacrifices in pools of brilliant light.
She had forgone her usual black attire, and was fantastic, larger than life, draped in the same shade of blood red that splattered each canvas.
"I call this collection 'Birth'," she announced to the room at large. Everyone clapped. She was always dramatic, one of the things that kept me drawn to her even after all our years of being friends, but in that moment, bracelets clanking on her wrists as she gestured, she was magnificent.
I felt like her shadow in my librarian's dark-framed glasses and my all-occasions black dress.
"Darling, you’re positively drab tonight," she'd said before the opening. "Make lips like this," she'd puffed out her mouth in an exaggerated, gape-lipped kiss and, when I'd copied her, she'd slathered me with her lipstick. "It's called 'Crime of Passion'. Don't you think it matches my frock perfectly?" She'd held the dialed-out tube next to the fabric of her dress. They were exactly the same shade. It looked obscene, like a caricature of a bloody tongue or a dog's engorged penis poking out of a black sheath.
"It's that 'color-wear' stuff. It's not going to come off for like, twelve hours. So don't worry about kissing it off or anything." She'd winked at me, teasing because it had been so long since I had kissed anyone. "Here, blot, lovey. Quick, quick. Before it dries."
She'd handed me a tissue.
Then she'd surveyed my mouth, standing back at arms length the way I'd seen her look at her art. "There. Now you look tres fabuleux."
* * *
We met Marcus when he came up to congratulate Hanelle on her work. He introduced himself as the art and music reviewer for the Independent Weekly, the local counter culture rag that came out on Thursdays.
"Daring work, Ms Vasket. Beautiful, bold, disturbing in a very visceral way. May I take a picture of you to print with my review?" He held up a fancy looking digital camera.
"Of course, darling. Anything for publicity. Delilah, sweets, hold my glass. Don't want to look like a drunk in the press."
He noticed me as I stepped out from where I had been standing slightly behind Hanelle.
His gaze locked on my mouth. I remembered the lipstick and felt myself blushing. I wasn't used to being stared at like that. It made me feel like I was making promises I didn't know if I could follow through on.
"Delilah, love, meet my newest best friend, Marcus. He’s going to make me famous. Marcus, meet my oldest best friend, Delilah. She's the first person who ever told me I was any good at this painting nonsense. We were, what? Six years old right, D? She told me, 'Wow, Nelle, that's the prettiest rainbow I've ever seen.' I knew, right at that moment, that I was going to be a painter. Here, baby." She held out her glass to me.
I took it. Marcus and I nodded to each other. I was still blushing.
She went to stand by the largest of her paintings, a vulvar curve of red and black, spangled with gold leaf, and titled 'Laying in. Birth IX'.
Marcus somehow managed to snap two shots of Hanelle without taking his eyes off of my lips.
I handed the glass back to Hanelle and she excused herself to talk to some 'Very important art people, darlings'.
Marcus spoke his first words to me then. "Come with me." He held out his hand and I, flustered by his attention and unaccustomed to saying 'no', took it and followed him.
The back door of the gallery opened into an alley and had been propped to invite the night breeze inside. The air was cool and smelled like the ocean. Before I knew what had happened, I was outside, pinned against the wall, his mouth on mine.
The champagne buzz made the world seem more sparkly and, with only a second's hesitation, I kissed him back. He smelled good. I briefly wondered if Hanelle was right about the lipstick being kiss-proof.
Later that night, alone in my bed with my lips still stained that bloody red and my vagina raw from unaccustomed activity, I wondered what the hell I had been thinking. I was not the kind of girl who fucked strangers. I was certainly not the kind of girl who fucked strangers standing up in an alley with a roomful of people a few feet and an open doorway away. I was especially not the kind of girl who had unprotected sex, with a stranger, in an alley, with 150 people right there, then went back inside, pantyless, with his come dripping down the insides of my thighs and talked to people for another two hours, my lipstick still magically perfect, guzzling champagne and pretending like nothing had happened.
Somewhere around five in the morning I admitted to myself that, yes, I was that kind of girl. Obviously. Because that is exactly what had happened.
I cursed myself for an idiot and got out of bed. I knew I wasn't going to be able to sleep. I was still a little drunk and already starting to feel hung over. I made coffee and drank the entire pot. I tried to read and couldn't. I ended up mindlessly flipping channels until ten when I decided it was late enough to call Hanelle.
She answered, sleepy, on the third ring. "If this isn't Ed McMahon telling me I am ten million richer, then you are calling way too fucking early."
"It’s me, Nelle. Ed McMahon's dead."
"He's dead? That sucks. What's up, Del? You sound like shit. Do I need coffee or booze for this conversation?"
"Probably both." I told her what I had done.
She came awake faster than I had ever imagined she could and screeched, "Did you get his number?"
"No and he still has my panties."
"What the fuck? He stole your goddamn underwear? Please tell me they were at least cute and not the horrible, granny kind you usually wear."
I laughed uncomfortably; of course she'd be concerned about that. "They were cute."
"I don't know, Nelle. It was great and terrible. Like a movie scene, kind of. Hot and, yeah, fucking awesome, but just unreal, like I was watching it happen to someone else. I feel weird about it. Crap. I don’t know."
"Un-fucking-real." She took a deep breath. "Tell me he used a condom."
"Shit, Del, what if you're pregnant? Or what if he gave you AIDS or something? What the hell were you thinking? Jesus. You’re supposed to be the smart one, girlfriend."
"I know. I called my gynecologist as soon as her office opened this morning. She said she'll call in a prescription for the morning-after pill and I'm supposed to see her on Monday. She says it could take up to six months before we know for sure that I'm not HIV positive, but we can rule out most of the other stuff. You know, gonorrhea and stuff."
"Six months? Fuck. Isn’t there any way to know sooner?"
"No. Not unless he agrees to be tested."
"I'm going to call him at the paper."
"What? No, you can't do that."
"Yes I can. I love you, but you're being kind of a dumbass. I know you're not going to call him and I, frankly, can't wait 'up to six months' until I find out if my best friend's going to die of AIDS or not."
She called him.
He called me.
I called her back after he and I got off the phone. "He wants to take me to dinner tonight."
"See?" she said, "Always listen to your best friend."
* * *
Marcus and I went to dinner, both of us glad the other was healthy. Both of us glad to have, as he put it, 'dodged the bullet'. Both of us pleased that we were getting to know each other. We were nice-nice, almost formal, at that first dinner.
He walked me home. "When can I see you again?"
"Um, I'm free on Friday."
"Great, I'll call you." He gave me a quick, closed-mouth kiss. His lips tasted like postage stamps.
I wondered if things would have been different if I had been wearing the lipstick.
We started dating.
After two weeks, six phone conversations, two dates, and two more of those strangely chaste goodnight kisses, we were back to fucking again. Frequently. As in, all the time.
"Yes, we're using protection," I assured Hanelle.
By the fifth 'date', I found myself, ass-up, screaming my pleasure into a pillow as I took his lubed cock in a place I hadn't ever thought I'd wanted one.
Hanelle thought I was crazy for jumping into a relationship with Marcus. "I mean, I get the fucking part, but a relationship? Really? You just met the guy."
I tried to explain that it wasn't just the sex, that we talked all the time, too. "I have never felt wanted, both body and brain, as much as I feel wanted by him. I feel like a fascinating new land, full of value, like mountains of gold or the fountain of youth. And he's like Ponce de Leon, or Vasco Nunez de Balboa, or one of those other guys who wanted to find cool stuff or die trying."
She laughed and said, "You, my darling, are a total fucking cheese-ball."
But I really did feel like that, like a treasure hunt in progress, even if it was cheesy to call it that.
He told me he loved how my mind worked and he questioned me constantly, though never, it seemed, jealously. Every conversation was a debate with him. What did I think about God, art, string theory, organic versus conventional gardening, everything mundane, and everything fantastic? "Now tell me why, Delilah. Defend it."
I gave him what he wanted. I told him everything about me. I defended my positions against him in every conversation, though ultimately I let him 'win' any debate in which we disagreed. We moved in together after only two months. In whispers in our bed I told him about my insecurities. Out loud, over dinner, walking down the street, at parties, I gave him my opinions, my beliefs, my agonies and joys. With each piece of me revealed, he asked why, how come, when? All the question words. I felt like I was being filleted, peeled back, truly discovered.
At first, I loved it. "He really pushes me to be the best person I can be." I told Hanelle. "He challenges my assumptions, makes me think."
I spent the first year Marcus and I were together waiting on his convenience. I was constantly wet, jumpy, wondering when the arch of my spine, the flare of my hip, the heavy curve of my breasts, or his own capriciousness would make him suddenly voracious. I never initiated anything. I didn't have to and, frankly, didn't think I wanted to. He consumed me. I learned to avoid wearing underwear if I didn't want them torn. I learned to enjoy being held down, to love submitting to the rude thrusts of his cock, whenever and wherever the urge took him.
Sometimes I would catch him staring at me, looking at me like he was trying to figure me out. He'd be over me, pounding into me, observing me like a scientist. Then he'd change it up and observe how my response changed. Mostly I just closed my eyes and gave myself over to his whim. Every once in a while I watched him back, secret-like, through slitted eyes, wondering what made him tick.
After thirteen months, the novelty of having my every thought be fascinating wore off. I started feeling resentful of the probing. I wanted to be able to give something without being asked for it. To offer a part of myself without it being demanded. "Why can't I just talk to you without you needing to give me the third degree?" I asked him.
He, unaccustomed to me challenging him, mumbled something about having been on the debate team, how it just came naturally and was what made him a good reporter.
"Yeah, but you’re not interviewing me. You don't need to pump me for information. I tell you everything."
That was only kind of a lie. I really did tell him nearly all there was about me. Except one small thing. I kept just one tiny secret all for myself.
I kept my fear of heights.
I wondered why that was the one thing that I kept from him. I really did. The only answer I could come up with was that it was the only thing I couldn't defend. There is no defense, no explanation for a phobia. It just is. That and I didn't trust him to be able to resist experimenting with my fear.
* * *
Today is the one year, two month, and three day anniversary of Hanelle's art opening and, of course, of Marcus and me meeting. I have only told a few people that I remember things with that kind of specificity. Marcus knows that I count things and keep track of dates and numbers. He teases me about my OCD, as he calls it. He grilled me about it once and was satisfied with my answer when I finally revealed that it was my way of being in control. He said he understood about needing to be in control.
We're heading north to pick oranges in an orchard I remember from childhood trips with my family.
Marcus is driving, the windows are rolled down, and I have to shout over the rushing air. "What made you take me out into the alley? You know, when we met that first night at the gallery?" I have analyzed the hell out of my own motives, but this is the first time it has occurred to me to ask him about his.
He shrugs and shouts back, "Just wanted to see if you’d let me."
"You fucked me in the alley to see if I'd let you?"
"Yeah. I didn't intend to fuck you, just maybe make out a little, but you never stopped me, so..." He doesn't take his eyes off the road.
"But I never stopped you." There must be something in my tone, because he's looking over at me now and I can see two tiny, warped versions of myself reflected in his mirrored shades.
He puts his hand on my knee. "I'm glad you didn't stop me. Not just for that night, but for everything that's come since." He sounds sincere, but 'to see if you’d let me' and 'but you never stopped me' are still rattling around inside my head as he turns back to face the road.
The trip seems shorter than it did when I was little. I remember jouncing forever up a dirt road. Craning my neck back over the top of the seat so that I was watching the sky and the walnut trees flash overhead, upside down and backwards. My mom telling me that I would make myself get car sick riding with my head hanging over like that, though I never did. The patterns of flashing light and dark, the crunch of nuts cracking in the dust under the car tires, the huge pinnate leaves all telling me that we were getting closer.
Really, it's just a quick jaunt up Highway 101. We don't have to look too hard for the exit, there's a sign now: "Dougherty’s Orchards". We turn and the road is paved all the way up. Past the fruit stand, past the grove of black walnuts, past the lemon trees, avocados, and up through the oranges to the old house. The smooth blacktop makes me feel like we've turned off at the wrong place, but the windows are down and I can tell it's right by the smell. Dirt, the dusty tang of citrus trees, and the sweet, boozy scent of over-ripe fruit.
The groves are smaller than I remember. I don't know if that's a trick of memory or if there are actually fewer trees now. There's a pomegranate hedge where there used to be a culvert and the old Ford pickup that was always at the top of the drive has been replaced with a newer model. But the house looks the same. White, with a big porch and chickens pecking in the yard. We park in the turn-around by the old barn.
A pile of bushel baskets is stacked haphazardly next to a hand painted "U-pick, pay at fruit stand" sign. I keep expecting old man Dougherty to hobble around the corner, saying, "Hey-a folks. You here for oranges?" the way he always used to. He doesn't. No one is around. I grab two baskets and Marcus retrieves one of the old, wooden orchard ladders from behind the sign. We head down through the rows of Valencia trees.
The trees are tall. I tip my head back, looking up at the patterns of leaves and sky. Bees and yellow jackets buzz drunkenly. Cicadas are droning. The air is still and the smell is strongest here. My mouth is starting to water.
I say, "Oranges have never been as good as I remember them off of these trees. They're the best I’ve ever tasted."
He kind of grunts a reply from where he is walking behind me, carrying the heavy ladder.
Marcus chooses a tree with branches bending with the weight of ripe fruit. He sets up the ladder and says, "All yours, mademoiselle." With a flourish, he gestures for me to climb.
My heart skips a beat and then comes back hammering like it's going to break my ribs. It hasn't even occurred to me that he might expect me to go up the ladder. I feel myself taking two steps back. "Oh, no. You're going to climb up there. I can't, I...” I search for a logical excuse. "I'm wearing a skirt."
He stares at me for just a second; I swear I see his pupils dilating. He's on to me, just that fast. "A skirt? That's not a good reason to miss out on picking the 'best oranges you've ever tasted'. What’s the real reason?"
I am backing up again, two more steps before I can stop myself. "That's totally the reason. What if someone comes out here? I don't want them to...." I trail off, knowing that he's not going to buy that. The number of times I have done considerably more revealing things in public, either with him or for him, makes my argument immediately implausible. "I just don't want to. You do it." I sound petulant, even to my own ears.
"I'm stronger than you and you're lighter than me. It makes sense that I steady the ladder and you climb. If there's a good reason that you don't want to go up there, I will go, but I don't think that clothing choice is grounds for refusal." His voice lowers. "Do you have another reason?"
I don't want to talk about it. I know he will keep asking, keep pushing, all in that silky voice of his. I know he will get to the bottom of it if I let him and he will find that one last place in me he hasn't seen. He knows it too. He is intrigued, his head slightly tilted to the left like he does when he is in interview mode.
"No. Fine. I'll go." I swear my heart is speeding up further. I didn't know that was even possible. My hands are sweaty and I have to wipe them on my shirt before reaching for the ladder.
I start climbing. I don't look down. Leaves brush my face, my arms. Twigs tangle in my hair. I count silently as I climb. One, two, three, four, a total of 16 rungs. I stop only when I can't brace myself if I go any further. The ladder seems fairly steady under me and I pause for a minute, both hands gripped on the top rung, my breathing ragged. I am counting everything in sight, leaves, branches, bees, to keep my brain occupied and away from the fear. I take one hand off the ladder and start picking.
I count the oranges as I pick them, dropping each one behind me for Marcus to catch or let fall as he is able. I hear him crowing in victory when he catches one, 'Got it!' and swearing when one gets past him. He catches more than he drops. I have gotten to twenty one when he calls up to me.
"Delilah? You want a taste?" The roaring in my ears has quieted and my heart rate is slowly heading toward normal. I risk a downward glance. Bad idea. The ground is too far away and Marcus, holding up a half peeled orange, looks tiny. Logic tells me that I am not that far up, but my brain isn't responding to logic right now. My throat tightens. I have to force myself to breathe. The ladder feels like it’s spinning and the insect buzz, music just minutes before, sounds like overwhelming static.
"Yeah. Be right down," I manage. Down. Thank God. The rush of adrenaline recedes a little at the thought of being back on the ground.
"No. I'll bring it up."
"Be right up."
"You crazy? This thing can't hold both of us."
"Yeah it will." He's already climbing. He's four rungs up and the ladder is starting to shimmy. I grab at the nearest branch and wrap my arm around it.
"Marcus! The ladder is shaking."
"You better hang on then." I can hear in his voice that he is smiling.
He laughs and I feel his hand brush past my ankle. "Just keep hanging on, baby."
I tighten my arm around the branch and he climbs up behind me. His feet must be on the rung just below mine. His left hand holds the rung just next to my hip. He brings the fruit, still only half peeled, up in front of my face. His breath is hot in my ear, a low hiss cutting through the backdrop of humming insects. "You want a taste?"
I hesitate just a second too long.
"What's wrong? Don't you like oranges?" His tone is teasing, dark.
"Love them," I croak. My mouth feels like cardboard and, as I sink my teeth into the flesh, juice bursts against my parched tongue, tangy-sweet.
He lets go of the orange, leaving the whole fruit hanging between my lips.
It is as delicious as I remember. The explosion of flavor gives me something to focus on. The insect buzz diminishes to a whisper. My clenched arms and racing heart become secondary characters to the prima donna, my golden, firework-lit mouth. The muscles of my jaw are working, I want to chew, to bite off great mouthfuls, but I will drop the fruit if I do. I suck it a little, experimentally, and another gush of juice fills my mouth. I don't care when some trickles down my chin, down my neck, into my cleavage.
Marcus brings me back a little, saying, "The ladder’s not the only thing that's shaking, Del. Your heart beating like a sparrow's. I can see your pulse right here." He kisses my neck. "I think you're afraid."
I know he's watching me even though I can't see him from this angle. He is weighing my reaction. I want to beg him to let me down, to tell him shut up and let me eat my orange, but I am, for all intents and purposes, gagged.
He backs down a few rungs. The heat of his breath sears through the fabric that separates his lips and the skin of my thigh. "What were you expecting? Jesus, woman. A skirt on a ladder. Me at the bottom looking up. Did you think I was going to be able to resist?"
One of his hands slides under the hem of my skirt and finds the back of my knee. He makes small circles there, almost tickling. "Does it taste good?"
I try to say yes around the mouthful of fruit, but it comes out a juicy, terrified mumble.
He laughs again and his hand moves further up my leg, dragging the fabric up, baring my legs and then my ass. "How good does it taste?" His lips are moving against my skin and, as I moan against my mouthful of fruit, his teeth sink gently into the swell of flesh that marks the line where my thigh ends and my buttock begins.
This bite, that sudden small pain, gives me another point of focus and my fear, every shaking bit of it, rockets into my groin like a hornet's sting.
I bow my legs out like a cowboy, my ankles lock around the ladder's uprights, and I arch my ass back into his face.
His mouth is right there, blowing hot breath across my swollen sex. He dips in, unerringly, just right, and I mimic his actions, my tongue dancing over and then burrowing into the fleshy fruit in my mouth.
"Is this what you want?" He licks in deep and then closes his lips so that they buzz against my flesh when he says, "Hmm?" Another lick and then, "Is it?"
I nod my head emphatically and make a disgusting little grunt.
He wraps his arms around my hips, pulls my cunt tight up against his face, and his tongue burrows in deep and deeper. I am moaning, blowing sprays of orange juice with each exhalation. I realize, in one millisecond of clarity, that if I fall, he will too. Somehow that makes it worse and better.
I think I surprise both of us with how fast I come. As my orgasm tears through me, I feel like I am flying, suspended, breaking apart and only the weight of Marcus' arms around my hips is keeping me connected to the world.
The orange rolls out from between my slack jaws and, as I hear it thud on the ground beneath me, suddenly I can breathe again. I start laughing. Shrieking. Hysterical. So loud that I hear some far off crows cawing a response.
"You ok, Del?"
"I used to be afraid of heights." I twist my head so I can look down at him.
"Used to be?" His face is slick and shining with my juices. I wonder if I taste of oranges.
"Yeah, used to be. Now let me down."
"When did you stop?"
"Just now." And it’s the truth. The ground seems close and friendly, but the sky looks beautiful and is inviting me up. I loosen my grip on the branch.
As soon as my feet are back on solid ground I say, "I think we need to break up, Marcus."
"Huh?" For once, he is speechless.
"I don't want to be with you anymore."
"What? Why?" He looks confused, all of his usual confidence winked out.
"Because you hold me down and I'm sick of it."
"Ok, wait. Back up a little. You feel like I'm holding you down. So, we need to talk about it. Let's... just talk." His voice has kind of a pathetic little quaver in it.
I should feel sorry for him, but I can't help it. I start to laugh again. Then I stop myself. It isn't really funny. "No."
"No, Marcus. There's no point in waiting or talking. I'm done."
His head cocked, Marcus slips on his scientist face. I meet his eyes and wait while he studies me. I start silently counting the seconds, "One one-thousand, two one-thousand...." At 36, he shrugs his shoulders and, hefting the full bushel basket, turns to head back up toward the barn.
The experiment is over and we both know it. I scramble under the ladder to retrieve my half-eaten orange. I tear into it. I devour it. Every last bit. As long as I live, no fruit, no matter how ripe or sweet, will ever taste better than this.
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Copyright © 1996 and on, Erotica Readers Association, Inc.
By Nan Andrews
By Nick Nicholson
Grigore & Tatiana
Land of Smiles
By Nikki Isaak
A Rathskeller Jar
The Dread That Stained Kalos
Maybe You Can Go...
I Am Not A Scorpion
Eat Your Veggies
What Would Aristippus Think
The Vow Part I
Fiend in Need Part II
Androids Behaving Badly
By Remittance Girl
The Central Registry
The River Mother
Things Bettter Left Unsaid
The Other Side
I Waited for You...
By Riccardo Berra
The Girl with Two Lovers
By Richard V Raiment
Ghosts of Christmas Past
Recalled to Life
By Robert Buckley
Making Her Late For...
Brotherhood Of The ...
Coins For The Ferryman
Seeing Is Believing
A Weekend in Queens..
Close to Hand
Excess Of Light
They Need Me
The Dog Park
Smells Like Money
You Get What You Pay For
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By Rose B. Thorny
The Thing Under the...
Only When It Rains
The Principal of the Thing
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Junk Yard Goddess
I'm Only Shaving!
Sometimes I Can ...
Speaking of Escher
The Road Not Taken
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Flesh On A Woman
Half Moon Girl
Debt of Honor
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Kiss Me And Then...
A Hand in the Bush
Buy Me Something
Forest for the Trees
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A Filing Fling
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Ménage A Cart
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Torn in Two
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Tedia, Goddess of Boredom
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by BJ Franklin
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So Much in Common
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The Hand & I.
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The Puss Hater
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One for the Road
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Naked Over New York
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Caitlin Comes Clean
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A Husband's Lesson
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Page 12 - No. F
In The Name Of...
by Michael Michele
The Wounded Healer
by Nicholas M.
by Nick Santa Rosa
by P. E. Brink
by Riccardo Berra
Newly Reformed Woman...
by Seneca Mayfair
by Teresa Lamai
by Teresa Wymore
Shadows of De La Rosa
by Tori Diaz