Chapter 1: Something Old - Something New

"Ta-ta-da!" The sound of my job notification made me look up from my computer display and realize I had been sitting in the dark of my lab much longer than I thought.

The analysis job running on my processing cluster typically took four hours to run. I had started the job after my last shot in the fusion generator and then become engrossed in a mathematical paradox from my latest work. The four hours of processing had flown by.

I stretched my arms and shoulders for a second and then called up the data-file and clicked the option to graph the computational results. The image popped open on my monitor and I had to blink away sudden tears. The spike at the end of the graph was well above the break-even line on the chart. These results proved small scale fusion was possible!

"Oh, yeah," I muttered as I logged back into my test machine and prepared it for another run with the same parameters. If I was able to reproduce the results again, I would have the proof I needed to set the US of A back on a path of energy abundance. I could change so much in my country; right so many wrongs I had seen over the past three decades. It made all of the pain and suffering almost worthwhile.

It would take an hour or two for the accumulators to charge enough for another test, but I could hardly contain my excitement. I fired up my messaging app and sent a quick note to some interested colleagues. "Positive Gigawatt return using linear pinch method. Detailed specs to follow once I've re-run test. -PT".

Physicists in the know would be able to decipher the terse message. They would also know me just from my initials. Paul Taylor was a common name, but not in the small, often banned, fusion research world. I looked at the accumulator percentages and tapped my fingers against the desk impatiently. I needed to do something other than wait.

I thought back to the mathematical paradox I'd uncovered in my performance equations. There was an unaccounted for variable that appeared to cancel out, but had an imaginary number component along the tau axis that implied the cancelation occurred in the past. How was that possible? It couldn't be.

I stood up from my workstation and its multiple screens and paced for a few minutes. Suddenly, I realized I didn't need to worry about it if the results were repeatable. I could resolve the math issue before publishing, but having access to cheap power would trump the math for everyone. My thought was interrupted by a rumble in my stomach. I shook my head, glanced at the accumulator percentage, and then grabbed my card from the desk and headed to the break-room. Another dinner of peanuts and cheese crackers washed down with a diet soda.

I thought about going out to get a real meal, maybe a celebratory meal, but decided not to risk it. Theoretically, security on and around campus was good. In reality, you never knew what type of extremist you might run into. There were the fundamental Luddites who hated anyone working with technology, even though their low to modest class of living still depended on high-tech. Then there were the Social Democrat Party members who thought any money diverted from their pet social programs to research was a waste. They took such waste personally, despite recurring proof that their programs wasted more new dollars in bureaucracy than was spent on the scientific research they abhorred. Finally, there were all the flavors of Islam, filled with hate for the west, for non-Islamic lifestyles, or for anything their mullahs preached against. In my mind, they were the worst. And they all seemed to clog the campus quads in the late evening.

It just wasn't worth having a run-in with any of them. Instead, I would hunker down again in the lab, do my work to save all of their sorry asses, and make it home to my crummy apartment tomorrow morning after classes started up.

In the break room, I settled down on the couch and flipped on the TV, certain I was ruining my dinner with real-world news, but for the first time in a long time, hopeful that things might change if my work was successful.

Something startled me awake. I sat up on the couch and looked at my watch. Three hours. The accumulators should be fully charged. I stood and then heard a muffled thud. It sounded like someone was trying to bust open the door into the lab area from the Physics building. I heard another thud, this time accompanied by the subtle sound of glass cracking. They were trying to break in.

I hurried back to my workstation and saw that everything was set to run. I quickly typed a command and set the output to stream directly to my public cloud account. I locked the workstation as I finally heard the wire reinforced glass of the door shatter. I could now hear their voices. Husky, male, with a lilting, foreign tongue.

"Quiet. The rent-a-cops may ignore the bribe if we are too loud."

"Do we care? We need to destroy them all for allowing this abomination to take place. The power of the sun is Allah's, not man's."

I grabbed my pad and card and headed deeper into the lab. Maybe I could hide from them long enough for the system to fire and confirm my results. The safety cage around the test machine might keep them out for long enough. Quickly, and as quietly as possible, I entered the code for the cage door, opened it, and slipped inside.

"Look at all this wasted crap." A voice declared. It sounded like they were near my workstation.


"Those are just monitors. We need to destroy the computers he is using and his test set-up, not just monitors. Spread out and let's get busy. Mullah Azim wants this done quickly. We must destroy this work and the man who would dare this work."

I tucked myself back under the test bench and looked at my pad. The firing sequence had started.

"Someone is in that cage!" I heard. I pulled my foot in, cursing myself for not hiding better.

"Come out, old man and you will not be hurt." They must think me an idiot.

"Ari, open that door."

Boom! A blast shook the air and I heard buckshot scatter against the wire cage and back wall.

"Idiots!" I called. "You're shooting at a fusion reactor that is about ready to fire!"

Another blast hit the cage door, and then suddenly I was washed in incandescent white light and all sound ceased. My last thought was, "So this is what being inside a fusion explosion is like."

I awoke slowly, not opening my eyes, but feeling lightness on them. My bed felt unusual, warmer than I recalled ever feeling in my decrepit, drafty Chicago apartment near campus. I rolled my shoulders. They felt different too. No stiffness from my mugging six years ago.

Was it a dream, or was I dead?

I cracked open an eye and decided the answer was something else entirely. I was in my room. Not my apartment, but my bedroom on our family farm. Where I had grown up. I looked at my arm. No wrinkles and liver spots. It was my arm as a young man. Thirteen? Fourteen?

I threw back the covers and looked down at my body. I was young again!

I rolled out of bed and stood. My balance was a little off, but I caught myself easily and stood up straight. Oh, to be young! I glanced at the clock radio I had not seen in decades. Six-ten. Time to get up and do my morning chores. I changed quickly and headed out to the barn. Seeing which cattle I had would tell me how old I was. They were damned near pets when I was growing up. Our loyal dog, Duke followed me out, but I could not tell how old he was. He just looked like Duke.

The barn looked newer and cleaner than the last time I had seen it, as it should. I pulled open the sliding door and headed inside. Blackie stood on the other side of the inside gate, looking back at me. I smiled. Blackie was about a twelve-hundred-pound steer with all black coat and a diamond white blaze on his face. I had bought Blackie the fall of my eighth grade year. Given his size and the temperature outside, it was almost summer. I must be finishing or had just finished eighth grade.

My mind and body seemed to recall the chores. Check the water tank to make sure the autofill valve was working. Fill the feed buckets and dump them into the feed trough, then up to the loft to throw down more hay for the manger.

I slowed my pace as I headed back into the house. How did I get here? Had the past I remembered so vividly been a dream, or was I really sent back in time by an explosion? What day was it? Did I have school?

I opened the door and saw my Mom pulling a box of cereal from the cupboard. I tried not too, but tears welled up in my eyes. Mom was alive still, of course. I pulled off my boots and moved over to give her a quick hug.

"What brought that on?" She asked as I moved away?

"Just wanted to say I love you, Mom."

Her eyes seemed to moisten, but then she smiled and waved toward the table. "Sit down and eat some breakfast or you'll be late for school. You wouldn't want to miss the last day, would you?"

The last day of school was a blur. At least now I knew what day it was. June 1st, 1979. Fifty-four years in the past from what I remembered as "yesterday". A few of my friends from the bus must have thought me an idiot, since I did not engage them much in conversation. I knew they would not hold it against me. Our typical bus driver did not let us chatter too much to begin with.

I saw people I had not thought of in thirty years, or seen in fifty. I had left my small town and the friendships and entanglements that went with rural life. I had lost touch less from intent and more from neglect. Then, once the troubles started, it was just easier to not think back on the past.

Lucky for me, my class was small enough that we did not have to split classes amongst multiple teachers so I did not have to remember a class schedule from my youth. I just followed the crowd.

I also tried hard not to stare.

Perhaps I was oblivious my first time through, but the girls in my class seemed much more attractive and mature than I remembered for eighth graders. They were in the early blossom of womanhood; beginning to develop the curves and comely shapes I remembered from high-school. Watching firm, tightly jean-clad bottoms in the hallways between classes was definitely a fine way to get from class to class. I had to laugh at myself as I realized I was not the only boy navigating by that method.

I know our school was not normal, in the sense that most schools had a lot more people in them than we did. By the time I graduated the first time through, my senior class was a stupendous forty-two people, with only ten of us being boys. On average, classes next year would be ten to twelve students. Growing up in the country and going to school in a small town had some educational benefits that larger school systems would never enjoy. I like to think that a sound primary education had set me up for academic achievement later in life. I may have squandered some of those benefits before getting into my research stage, but that had been my personality faults, not an educational defect.

As I settled into an open seat in the last class of the day, my thoughts left my female classmates and shifted to another woman I had not recalled in ages. Mrs. Janet Salaway. She was a petite brunette with a slim figure, but incredibly attractive. I had always paid attention in her math classes, and not just because I enjoyed math. Her smile was always warm and open and she seemed to have a laugh in her eyes for our class in particular. She was mesmerizing to me and featured prominently in my nocturnal fantasies, along with her three daughters.

I listened to her with half a mind as she had us pass in our books and finish up the administrative items for the school year. The other half of my mind was thinking about these attractive neighbors of mine, since the Salaways lived a few miles away on a farm near ours. All three girls would be in high-school next year.

Jordan, the eldest was already a dark haired beauty who took after her mother; slim, athletic, but with a delicious figure. She would be a senior this coming year. While I had lusted after her with puppy love, she had always been unattainable in both my mind and reality. Her beauty was reserved for the star jock of the school. Not for a nobody freshmen like me.

Jyl was the middle daughter, just a year ahead of me. She apparently took more after her father with lighter hair and complexion. I remembered her being the tomboy of the family. Very attractive, but almost unaware of it. She was the most athletic of the threesome, playing volleyball, softball, and being a cheerleader, but being quite smart as well. I had gotten to know her well enough to consider her a friend the first time through when we were on a scholastic bowl team together.

Jeryl was the youngest, and in my class. She was cut in her mother's mold as well, slim and athletic. Her eyes were always serious. I found her to be incredibly attractive, but had never had the courage to be more than just a friendly classmate to her. Perhaps this time through that would change, I thought.

The Salaway girls had always ended up with the jocks, but I knew they were all smart too. Maybe this time through I needed to focus a little more on athletics. In the high-school I remembered, I had always been competent in the pick-up basketball games that were played over lunch, and had run cross country a couple of years, but I never really got serious about athletics. The game I had dreamed of playing was football, but our school was not big enough to field a team.

Of course, an opportunity was coming up for me. My mother taught Spanish and French at a larger high school in a neighboring town. The road we lived on was literally the dividing line for the school districts. Before, being independent of Mom had made me turn down the option of going to high school there instead of here. They had football.

Jeryl Salaway dated boys from other schools, almost exclusively.

It was something to think about.

"You had better get a move on, or you'll miss the final assembly, Paul." Mrs. Salaway's sweet voice broke my reverie. I found myself blushing as I looked up and focused on her eyes.

"Sorry, ma'am." I stood awkwardly, and silently cursed the blush I felt on my cheeks. "I just wanted to thank you for a great year," I said trying to hide my lack of attention.

She smiled. "It's been my pleasure, Paul. You're a good student. I look forward to having you in algebra next year."

I dropped my eyes. "Um, I'm thinking about going to Fieldcrest next year."

"I can understand. Your mother would enjoy seeing you there. I know I'd be disappointed if my girls chose to not come here." The Salaways were on the boarder line of the districts as well. "I'm sure you'll do well in their math courses. I think they even have a few more advanced course that might suit your talents better as well."

I felt a pang of regret that she seemed to be happy I was choosing a different program. Didn't she want me in her class? I cursed my boyish fantasies and hormones and forced a smile. "Thanks. I just wanted to say thanks anyway." I felt my cheeks blushing again and grabbed my backpack.

"Good luck, Paul, whatever you decide. I hope you aren't a stranger."

I headed for the door and wondered what she meant by that.

The rest of the day it was like I was on autopilot as my mind pondered who and when I was. What would happen if I changed my past and switched high schools? Could I? Would the universe force me to repeat my previous choices? My thoughts kept returning to the mathematical paradox I had been studying before the explosion. Was that formula what sent me back? If it did, what did it imply?

I got home and took care of my chores before ducking into my room and furiously scribbling that formula in one of my notebooks. I looked at it and tried to isolate the imaginary tau variable, but could not do it. I could not fathom how it could be responsible for my return to the past. But unless I was living a complete delusion in the millisecond of my dying, it appeared that my mind had been flung into my body in the past.

"Paul?" Mom was standing in the door of my room with a frown on her face.

"Yes, ma'am?" She smiled. She liked it when I was polite to her or any lady. Since dad had died, she had told me I was the man of the house, and manners were what separated men from boys.

"I was wondering how your day went. You didn't come out when I got home, so I was worried."

"Nothing to worry about, just thinking about the summer and school next year."

She laughed. "You just finished this year. I think you can take an evening off," she said with a smile.

"Maybe, but maybe not." I took a deep breath. "What would you say if I wanted to go to Fieldcrest?" I asked.

"Why? Did something happen?"

"No. Mrs. Salaway mentioned they have some better math classes, and they also have football. I think I'd like to try that."

Mom frowned. She taught foreign languages. I know what she thought of many of the jocks in the school. Lord knows I had heard enough of her comments about them in my past life. "What if you don't make the team? Are you sure you want to leave all your friends behind for that? We can always get you into a few college math classes if you need advanced classes."

I shrugged my shoulders. "So you don't want me to transfer?"

"I didn't say that. I just want to make sure you've thought it all the way through. None of your cousins go there. You won't know anyone."

"Except you."

"But you can't have lunch with me, or go to classes with me, or do any of the other things you would do with your friends. What about Sam or Scott?"

She was right, but while I had fond memories of my friends from the first time through, this time would be different. I had already graduated college, and won a masters and doctorate in physics. I could not re-live my prior high-school experience knowing what I now knew.

"I just want to think about it and know that you'll support my decision."

"If you think about it and show you are serious about wanting to play football, of course I'll support you."

"What do you mean, show you I'm serious?"

"You know Fieldcrest has a week of school left. I want you to come with me next week and talk to the coach of the JV team. He'll give you a workout routine for the summer and tell you what fitness test you have to pass to make the team tryouts. If you can pass that test before the enrollment cut-off, I'll know you're serious. Deal?"

I thought about it for a second. Beyond a childish desire to have a chance to play a sport that my prior decisions had denied me, I knew I had to find out if I could change my own fate. With that desire in mind, I knew I really had no choice. "Deal."

"Okay, let's get some dinner for my soon to be freshman," Mom said with a smile.

Coach Miller was not impressed with me, but I think he liked my Mom.

"I know you farm boys can put on shows of strength, son, but football is different from baling hay or shucking corn. You have to be strong, fast, and have endurance. If you want to make my team, you'll have to show me everyday that you have what it takes. I won't let you take up a spot on my bench as a favor to your Mom. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. I just want to know what I need to do to be competitive." I had never shown much in the way in people skills in the past twenty years, but I was intelligent. I knew I was smarter than the coach. I also knew that if I even hinted that fact, I would lose any chance of making he team.

"Okay. Day one of the tryouts is a standard Marine Corps PT test. As many sit-ups as you can do in two minutes, as many pushups in the next two minutes, then pull-ups, then a three mile timed run. There is a scale for each event. Each sit-up and push-up is worth a point. Each pull-up is worth five. Eighteen minutes for the three miles is one hundred points. We deduct a point for every ten seconds over eighteen minutes. A perfect score is four hundred points. If you can't make a score higher than one-fifty, you don't make it to day two. On day two, we do it all again, and the top forty scores will start practicing. In early practices, we'll look at your sprinting speed in the forty and some other strength tests. Thirty-six boys will suit up for the first game." He paused and stared me in the eye. "Will you be one of those thirty-six, Taylor?"

"Yes, coach." As I said, I knew what he wanted to hear.

"Really? You're telling me now that you are going to beat out twenty sophomores that are returning to the team as well as sixteen other freshmen?"

"Yes, sir."

"We shall see, mister Taylor. We shall see." He looked at a calendar on his desk. "Day one of tryouts is August sixth at 7:00 AM. We'll see then if you have what it takes."

Even though I had spent the last twenty years of my life in the soft halls of academia surrounded by the hard streets that had engulfed the United States, I had not always been soft or sluggish. My first time through I had won a Naval ROTC scholarship and spent five years in the Navy. I knew how to workout, even if I did not like it.

I started the same day I talked to the coach. Stretching my body carefully and doing a mile jog to warm up felt good in my youthful frame. I then did sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups before hitting the road again for a timed three miles. My theoretical score was dreadful at first, but I stuck with it. My two older cousins and my Uncle Ben gave me a natural ribbing about getting up early to run around in the dark, but that just made my stubborn streak kick in and make me more committed. In addition to what became my morning workouts, I still had plenty of farm chores that required strength and endurance. Winter wheat left straw to be baled, and hay soon followed. Fifty-pound bags of seed had to be loaded, off-loaded, and put into the planter. My cousins soon noticed that I was carrying more than my normal load of the lifting and toting. By the end of June, I was accompanying them to neighboring farms baling hay. In those days, that was how teenaged boys made money over the summer. We helped out farmers that didn't have sons to help with the work. It was two years earlier than my first time through.

"Where we working today, Uncle Ben?" I asked. Uncle Ben had been a cornerstone of my life after Dad died. He was my father's older brother. He was gruff, and weathered, but just as quick to praise as punish. With three kids of his own, he never played favorites, but in the past month I had seen him look differently at me. He gave me a chance to do things that I didn't remember from the first time through.

"Baling hay at the Salaways." I smiled. I had thought of the lovely Salaway girls just last night. "Drive the tractor over there after lunch and me and the boys will meet you there with with baler." We had un-hitched the baler in the last field we had baled yesterday and just pulled the loaded hay racks to the barn to unload this morning.

"We taking our racks?" I asked.

"Nope. Jerry has his own racks. Make sure you bring all the baling hooks though."

"Yes, sir." I had always been respectful to Uncle Ben. He had always earned it.

I wiped the sweat and hay off me as best as I could and headed inside to eat. Mom was out, so I made a sandwich and drank some milk. I refilled my half-gallon water jug before heading back outside and hopping on the tractor. The four miles to the Salaway's would take longer on the tractor than Uncle Ben would need with his truck, even with stopping for the baler, and I did not want to be the last one over there. Besides, driving a tractor was some of my favorite thinking time.

I still had no explanation for what had happened to me, but I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I was working hard this summer to get some money that I could leverage with my knowledge of my past/future. I knew Apple Computer was having its IPO in 1980. I wanted to be part of that.

But I had also decided I could not just pursue money. Yes, I could get money with my knowledge, but I was proving that the past was not fixed. I could not rely just on my foreknowledge. I also knew that if I was successful in changing my own fate, then I also had a chance to change the fate of the country and possibly the world. The last ten years of my life had not been pleasant times for mankind. Resource scarcity and the rise of many flavors of militant fundamentalism had lead to ever increasing cycles of violence and conflict. I had been working on changing that trajectory with my fusion research. Now, I could possibly have a longer lever to move the world.

I had thought of quickly reviving my research, but the material sciences were not ready to produce much of what I would need. I would need capital to invest to guide those foundational developments first, then I could revisit fusion.

I pulled into the Salaway's farm yard as I saw my uncle turn onto their road a half mile behind me. I spotted the hayracks in the yard and pulled up in front of them. I quickly backed up to the tongues sticking from under the first rack, making sure the hitch was lined up properly, before dropping the diesel into idle and climbing down from the tractor to hook up the flat racks.

"Hey, Paul." I looked up to see Jyl, the middle sister walking over to me. "I didn't know you were helping your uncle this summer."

She looked cute in her cut-off jeans, canvas sneakers, and loose gray shirt. I caught a glimpse of a pink bikini top through her partially buttoned top. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled through the back of her Caterpillar ball cap. I smiled.

"Yep. John and Ryan and I are all getting a workout this year. How's your summer going?" I was not sure what the three girls did during the summers. I thought they attended some cheerleading camps, but that was a couple of weeks time at most.

"Oh, we just got back from visiting Mom's Mom in Michigan. We got to spend some time on the lake. It was cool. How about you?"

"Nothing much except working and working out. I'm thinking about going out for football this year."

I could see the wheels turning. "You're going to Fieldcrest?"

I nodded.

"That's too bad. I've heard most of the girls that go there are bitches."

I was too shocked to respond. I did not recall Jyl ever saying a bad word about our neighboring school. In fact, I'm pretty sure she dated a football player from that school in my past life.

"I-- I don't know," I stammered. "I just want a chance to play football. Your Mom thought they might have some more advanced math classes that I could take later on as well."

Jyl frowned. "Mom would think that way." She forced a smile as my uncle pulled into the yard. "Well, maybe I'll see you later when you finish up baling. Mom will probably have one of us make a jug of lemonade for you and your cousins and uncle, so stop by the house before you take off."

With that she turned and skipped away. I couldn't help but admire her rear-end as my cousins hopped out of the truck and came over to me.

"Chatting up Jyl, Paul?" John the older of my twin cousins asked.

"Just being friendly," I replied.

"Well, Jyl is cute," Ryan said. "But Jordan is beautiful. I'd rather be friendly with her," he said.

John laughed. "As if you stood a chance while Steve is still alive." Steve was the head jock and Jordan's boyfriend. John and I knew Ryan had a terrible crush on Jordan.

I laughed at Ryan's blush and then winced when he caught me with a punch to the arm. "You might be getting stronger, Paul, but I'll still knock you into next week if say anything. Not one word. I mean it."

Luckily, Ryan's dad climbed out of the truck finally. "Stop playing grab-ass and let's get to work, boys. Forecast is for rain tonight. I don't want to have to re-rake Jerry's hay, so let's get busy."

The third rack was loaded high by the time we finished and thunder clouds were on the horizon by the time we had all three racks tucked under Mr. Salaway's lean-to by his barn. I almost forgot Jyl's promise of lemonade, but Uncle Ben sent me up to the house to see if Mr. Salaway wanted to check where we had parked things.

"Hi, Paul," Jeryl greeted me softly. "Jordan had me make you guys some lemonade, if you'd like some." She had a pitcher and four large glasses of lemonade already poured, sitting in the shade on their porch. She was in an outfit similar to her sisters, but with no loose top covering her bikini top. She was not yet as curvy as her sisters, but it did not stop my from admiring her smooth, tanned skin and tight belly.

"Thanks, Jeryl. Does your dad want to check where we parked things before the rain?" I asked.

"Dad's gone to town with Mom, so I guess not."

I picked up a glass of the lemonade and waved to my cousins and uncle. I took a quick sip. "Thanks. That hits the spot."

"You're welcome. So I hear you're going to Fieldcrest instead of Standard next year."

I was surprised at her interest. "I think so. We'll see how my training and tryouts for football go before committing."

"You want to play football?"

I nodded. "I'd like to try."

She smiled. "I never pictured you playing football."

"Well he hasn't, yet," said John as he bounded up the steps to the porch and grabbed a glass of lemonade.

"But I will," I said. "I can already make the cut-off for the team based on what the coach told me."

"Bullshit," said Ryan as he came up.

"Watch your mouth," my uncle said as he swatted Ryan on the head.

"Sorry, Dad. But I'll bet you he can't do fifty push-ups right now."

"What do you want to bet?" I asked. I was doing more than that every morning already.

"I'll run home if you can do more than me. You run home if I do more than you."

"Okay, but Jeryl has to count them."

"Why me?" she asked.

"Because John would cheat if Ryan was losing and change the count, or step on my back, or something." It was an old gag they liked to pull for kicks. Besides, I wanted to show-off for Jeryl a little. I knew she was going to turn into a real beauty in the coming year.

Uncle Ben laughed. "Looks like Paul is getting smarter and stronger this summer. Ryan, you made a bet. Can you win it fair and square?"

Now there would be no backing down. Ryan scowled at me and set down his lemonade. "Let's go, cousin." He dropped to the porch and pressed his palms flat. I quickly did the same.

"All the way up and down, Ryan. If you don't touch the floor or lock your elbows, it doesn't count" I said. "Ready?"


"One -- two -- three." We began pushing them out and Jeryl took up the count.

We both hit thirty without trouble, but I could tell Ryan was fatiguing by the time we reached forty. I had not given him time to think about the challenge. For the last row of hay, I had been on the top of the rack pulling bales up, while he was at the bottom, pushing them up. His arms were fatigued, even if he did not feel it when he had posed his challenge.

"Fifty. Fifty-one. Fifty-two." I could see Ryan's arms shaking. He was close to done. I kept my pace with him.

"Sixty. Sixty-one." He paused, but could not hold his arms steady. Slowly we lowered ourselves.

"Shit," he said as his arms failed him.

"Sixty-two. Sixty-three." I resumed my regular pace. "Sixty-four. Sixty-five. Sixty-six. Sixty-seven. Sixty-eight. Sixty-nine." I thought about stopping there for a juvenile ending, but pushed out one more. "Seventy."

I stood up and extended an arm to Ryan.

He grinned up at me and tried to pull me down to the ground as he levered himself up.

"Nice try," I said.

"Good thing I like you, cousin." He said, still grinning. He turned to Jeryl. "Ma'am, thanks for the lemonade, but I better get running or I'm going to get wet." He waved at us all and started jogging out of the yard. It was three miles to their home. I was pretty sure he was going to be wet before he got there.

"We had all better be going before that storm hits. Paul, do you need any help with chores this evening?" Uncle Ben asked.

"No, sir. Do you want the tractor in the machine shed or is it alright to leave it out?"

"Out's fine. Come on John. Thanks for the drink, ma'am," he said to Jeryl with a tip of his hat.

"Your family is funny, the way they always call me or my sisters ma'am when your Mom or uncle or aunt are around," Jeryl said.

"My Mom says that manners is what separates the men from the boys, and she expects us all to behave like men."

"Well, you were pretty manly beating your cousin." She grinned at me.

"We're having a party down by the pond this Friday, if you want to come by." She blushed a little as she said it.

"No car, no license. How could I get here?" I knew any party by the pond was not one to have my mother drop me off at.

"Have your cousins bring you. They can come too. Steve is out of town until the end of next week." Jeryl was a very observant girl, obviously. John and I kidded Ryan about his crush on Jordan, but I thought only I knew that John felt the same way.

"Friday night. What time?"

"About eight. We'll have a bonfire, so bring something you can roast. And anything you want to drink. We'll have some sodas."

"Okay. It sounds like a date." I blushed as soon as I said it. "I mean..."

Jeryl laughed. "It's just a party. It can't be a date unless you take me to it."

The pond was about a half mile from the Salaway's house, surrounded by grass and small oak trees. You could swim in it if you were brave, but since it was fed by a natural spring, the water was always pretty cold. By the time we got there, the fire was already going a few cars and trucks were parked along the short lane leading from the gate by the road to the small field along the north side of the pond. Two large dome tents were set up away from the pond, tucked under the line of trees that separated the grassy field from the corn field that surrounded the secluded area.

I helped my cousins carry as cooler of beer and soda close to the fire and wondered at the mix of people the Salaway girls had invited. They each seemed to have invited their best friends. Ann was in Jordan, John and Ryan's class. She had long blond hair and blue eyes. She was expected to be the co-captain of the cheerleading squad along with Jordan and had the build one would expect. Kris was Jyl's BFF if that term had existed in 1979. She was a pixie cut redhead, with a tight body and ready smile. All of the cheerleaders were cute, but Kris is the one people wanted to see take the floor. She could easily cover the length of the basketball court doing back flips and was always trying more athletic tumbling runs and tricks. Kay was in Jeryl and my class. She had dirty blonde hair and green eyes. She was more developed than Jeryl physically, but I did not think she was nearly as nice.

All the girls were drinking pink lemonade, and based on their laughter and behavior, I was certain it was laced with something. Aside from my cousins and I, there were only two other boys. Gary and Bill. Gary was a belligerent sophomore. My recollections of him were as a bully. I knew he was the youngest of five brothers and probably took a lot of grief at home growing up, but it did not make him have to act like an alpha male all the time. Bill was the only junior in the crowd. He was a bit of an intellect, but played basketball, baseball, and ran track and cross country. If history held for him, he would win an appointment to West Point and have a long career in the Army.

So, six girls and five boys. It was an interesting mix.

"Glad the Taylor boys could make it," Jordan said as she bounced up to us in her cut-off jeans and a soft gray jersey hooded sweatshirt. She was a lot more open and bubbly than I had ever seen her before. "Did you bring anything fun?" she asked.

"Just some beer and soda," John said.

"And some marshmallows for the fire," Ryan added.

"Marshmallows! Perfect." Jordan grabbed the bag and lead us all to a pair of blankets lying not far from the fire. "Girls, the marshmallows are finally here. You know the rules."

They all laughed and got up from their seats and singled out a boy. Jeryl came straight for me.

"Paul, do you think you could cut me a stick to roast a marshmallow on? If you do, I'll roast one for you, too."

She was in loose khaki shorts and a green t-shirt with sandals on her feet. In the evening light and glow from the fire, I desperately wanted to kiss her. Instead I nodded. We headed for the trees and soon found two suitable branches. I pulled out a small buck knife that I always had on me around the farm and whittled points onto both sticks. Jeryl grabbed them from me as soon as I was done and then surprised me with a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks. And thanks for coming tonight."

"My pleasure, ma'am." She grinned at me, grabbed my hand and led me back to the fire.

As we got closer to the fire again, I looked at who was paired up and thought I saw a little method to the madness. Ann had grabbed John, which I think surprised him. Kris was standing possessively close to Ryan. Jyl was with Bill, and Kay was by Gary. Since Steve was not here, Jordan was on her own. She was obviously the mistress of ceremonies.

"Guys, we have a little game we like to play at these sorts of parties. The rules are simple. The first girl to roast three perfect marshmallows for her partner gets to name the next game. I and the boy get to decide if the marshmallow is perfect or not, so no burning them and eating them anyway. Also the guy who's partner wins, gets a kiss from each girl, while the losing partners have to drink a beer."

For teenage boys, it wasn't really "losing", obviously. It was more a matter of which outcome was a bigger win. The girls took to their task with relish. Each applying the roasting technique they thought would work best. Kay moaned as her first marshmallow caught fire from being too close to the flame. "No kisses for Gary," Ann teased.

I sat back and watched the interplay, trying to figure out what the girls' game was. While my hormones were beyond my control, my intellect was still sharp. This was carefully orchestrated, but I wondered why. Jyl and Ann were virtually tied showing Jordan their first marshmallows. She inspected them carefully and nodded. Both raced to their partners and presented them before reloading their sticks and turning back to the fire.

Jeryl was third to present to Jordan, and was quickly approved. I savored the marshmallow, wondering what my slow eating would do to their game, but Jeryl was ahead of me. She had no sooner handed me the stick with the marshmallow than she was putting her second on the other stick we had cut and going back to the fire.

Kris and Kay got to Jordan at the same time, and soon all five girls were well on the way to making their next treat.

After the second round, Jeryl, Jyl, and Ann were tied. The third round is where it got interesting. Jyl got to Jordan just in front of Ann and Jeryl. Instead of looking, this time Jordan popped the marshmallow in her mouth.

"Nope, it was still stiff in the center. Try again." Jyl stuck her tongue out at her older sister, but then winked and headed back to the fire. Ann's marshmallow was perfect. Jodan nodded at her and she raced over to John as Jeryl waved her stick at her sister, got a nod and ran back to me. It was too late. Ann had won.

John grinned across the blanket at me. "Looks like John wins, ladies," Ann said. She promptly sat on his lap and kissed him thoroughly. The other girls groaned and then lined up to kiss my cousin while Jordan grabbed five cans of beer and passed them out to the rest of us. As each girl kissed John, they then refilled their own plastic cups with their pink lemonade.

Jeryl sat down next to me on the blanket and took a sip. "Sorry we lost," she said.

"I'm not," I replied. "I don't want to kiss all the other girls." I meant it as a compliment, but I'm not sure she heard it that way.

"Oh, but you will," she said and then blushed. "Oops." She quickly took another sip of her drink. I had suspected things were planned out.

The kissing was done and most of my can of beer was finished as we all sat around the two blankets. Conveniently, or by plan, we were arranged girl-boy-girl in order. Jordan was on my left. Jeryl on my right. John and Ryan were across from me with Ann between them.

"Ann, what's the next game?" Jordan asked.

"Spin the bottle," Ann said without embellishment. She proceeded to hop up and go over to the cooler the girls had been getting their lemonade from. She returned with an empty vodka bottle.

"Guys, the rules are the girl sets the pace. You have to sit on your hands if you are being kissed. Clear?" We all nodded.

She kneeled on the blanket and leaned into the middle and gave the bottle a spin. It stopped, pointing almost straight back at her, but just a little to her left. She looked at John on her right and shrugged before turning to Ryan and giving him a slow, passionate kiss that definitely got all of the boys' attention. This was not going to be a quick peck on the cheek type game.

When she backed off Ryan she grinned. "Your turn," she said.

Ryan spun the bottle and it ended up pointing at Kris. She quickly crawled across the blanket and planted one on my cousin before taking her turn.

I was surprised when the bottle pointed at me. Before I could really prepare, Kris had my face between her hands and pressed her lips to mine. She must have been expecting to shock me. She probably thought I'd never been kissed before. She was in for a little surprise.

I focused on the softness of her lips and felt her tongue brush my lips. I relaxed my jaw a little and let my own tongue join her dance. I concentrated just on our lips, not worrying about anything else, just being in the moment. She pulled my head tighter to hers and tried to force her tongue into my mouth. I relaxed into it. It was hot.

"That's enough, Kris," I heard Jordan say.

Kris broke our kiss and sat back panting. "Wow," she mouthed silently.

"Your turn, Paul."

I rocked forward on my knees, glad the kiss had not produced an obvious erection in my shorts, and spun the empty bottle. It came to rest pointing between Jordan and Gary on her other side. I turned and smiled at her. I had noticed she did not kiss John during the marshmallow contest. I wondered how she would play this.

Jordan glanced at Kris and then made sure I had my hands under my thighs before leaning in to press her lips against mine. It was another magical moment. I let my tongue trace her lips lightly and sucked her lip gently as I focused just on her. She too was panting when we separated.

The game continued, with pretty much every girl kissing most of the guys. Jeryl kept her kisses short, but seemed to linger with me. Ann was as aggressive with me as she had been with my cousins. Kay was surprisingly tentative while Jyl was soft and shy right until her lips touched mine.

We played for about an hour before all of the girls seemed to finish their drinks at close to the same time. "Okay, let's take a break and we'll decide what to do next," Jordan announced.

The girls all stood up and headed to their cooler of lemonade while we guys went in the other direction. Everyone but myself grabbed another beer.

"What's the matter Paul, too much of a pussy to drink a beer?" Gary asked. I had been wondering when the macho would come out. Gary had spent the least amount of time being kissed, and it had been obvious.

"Just don't want anymore, Gary. Obviously I don't need it to win the women." I should have kept my mouth shut. I had two beers, though and did not have the tolerance years of drinking might have provided. I also refused to be bullied this time through. Gary was strong and fast, but that was it. I had practiced Tai Chi for fifteen years. I had added many of the forms to my morning stretches. I knew I could avoid him if needed.

"You little wimp," he said as he dropped his empty can and narrowed his eyes. He had not seen me all summer and had not bothered look closely at me earlier this evening.

I turned toward him and came to the balls of my feet. When he lunged at me, I pivoted away and gently pushed his shoulder to help him stumble and fall on the ground. He rolled up with hatred in his eyes. He would have bounced up and come at me again, but suddenly all the other guys were close around us.

"That's enough of that, Gary," Ryan said.

"I think it's time you go home, Gary." Jordan said. She must have seen the whole thing, she was there so quickly.

"I'll have to drive him," Bill said. "I'll make sure he gets home ... without trouble, right Gary?"

Gary saw all the eyes on him and then nodded.

"I'll ride with you, so you have some company coming back," Jyl said.

Bill smiled at her. I nodded to myself. I was certain now who Jyl had invited to this little party.

Soon, the eight remaining of us were back on the blankets, but the mood seemed to have stalled. Jordan turned on a battery operated cassette player with some Little River Band playing softly.

"Let's get this party back on track, gentlemen," she said with a smile. "Since Ann did so well in the first contest, and picked such a good game for the second, I decided she got to set the rules for the third round as well. Ann?"

We all looked at Ann.

"Truth or dare, of course," she said. "No back and forth, and if you say no, you're out of the game." She leaned into John and smiled. "John, truth or dare?"

John stammered a little and then managed to regain a sense of bravado and said, "Dare."

Ann grinned and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I dare you to jump in the pond and cool off a little, tiger."

The girls all laughed and John blushed before standing and heading to the pond. Once he was out of the circle of light from the fire, he stripped off his shirt and threw it back at the blanket. With a yell, we heard him jump in the pond, shriek at the cold water and then climb up the bank.

He cam back to the blanket, dripping but smiling. "I'll get you for that, Ann."

"No back and forth, John. You've got to pick on someone else," she laughed.

"The night is long, young lady," he said as he pulled his shirt over his head.

"Jeryl, truth or dare?"

Jeryl was suddenly not grinning. "Truth?" she answered meekly.

"What boy do you like best here?" John grinned as he looked at me.

"Um, Paul, I guess."

"Wow, Paul, aren't you the ladies man," John said as he laughed at me.

Jeryl blushed. "Ryan, truth or dare?" Jeryl asked.


Jeryl smiled at John this time. "I dare you to throw Ann in the pond."

"What!" Ann cried. "You can't do that!" But it was too late. Ryan had laughed and then grabbed Ann's wrist as she tried to fend him off. "No, I'm out!" She yelled as Ryan easily pulled her up and over his shoulder.

"It's not your dare to say no to!" John said as he laughed at her predicament. Soon we heard another splash and shriek. Moment's later when a soaked Ann came back by the blanket we laughed harder.

"It's not funny," she said as she shivered and then stood by the fire. Jordan continued to laugh, but got up and ran to one of the tents. Moments later, she was back with a large towel that she wrapped Ann in. Ann looked at Ryan, stuck her tongue out at him, and then proceeded to shimmy out of her wet shorts and t-shirt while remaining hidden under the towel. She threw the wet garments at Jeryl. "I'll get you for that, little girl," she said. Then, with her remaining dignity, she walked to the tents and disappeared inside.

"Ryan," Jordan said as she came back to the blankets. "I think it's your turn."

Ryan's gaze had been on Ann as she walked to the tents. Her swaying hips, wrapped only in the towel had mesmerized him. He shook his head and looked at Kris.

"Kris, truth or dare?"

The petite redhead smiled. "If it involved the pond, I might be out. Dare."

Ryan smiled. "I dare you to..." He paused. I could almost read his mind. If he was too bold, she would quit. If he was too timid, she would be disappointed. "I dare you to spend five minutes alone with me on the other side of the pond."

Kris smiled and jumped to her feet. She grabbed his hand, and then paused before pulling him away. "Jordan, truth or dare?"

"Dare," Jordan said without thought.

"I dare you to make out with Paul for five minutes in the other tent." Before anyone could react, she pulled Ryan's hand and led him around the pond. Jordan looked at me, then Jeryl, and them me again. She stood up and motioned me to follow her.

"A dare is a dare. Jeryl, you watch the time. It starts once the tent is zipped shut."

Jordan probably expected to take the lead as she had playing spin the bottle, but I was worked up enough to have other ideas. As soon as she turned from zipping the tent flap shut, I took her face in my hands and kissed her passionately. She melted into my embrace and wrapped her hands around my back and pulled me closer with by my shoulders.

I felt hard nipples poke my chest through her soft sweatshirt and dared to lower my hands to her sides. Our tongues danced as I gently stoked my fingers upward to feel her hot smooth skin. She must have been ticklish. She squirmed against me as my fingers stroked her sides and slid upward.

She broke our kiss for a moment. "You are too hot for a freshman," she whispered before kissing me again. My hands came higher until I realized she had on no bra under the shirt. I gently moved my hands to her front and caressed her firm breasts. I lifted her shirt and dropped my head to quickly capture a stiff nipple between my lips.

Jordan moaned and stroked my hair. "Oh, god, that feels good." She dropped her hand and gently cupped my erection. "So does that."

We continued petting, kissing, and rubbing each other until, we heard Jeryl call "Time!"

We broke our embrace and adjusted our clothes. It would have been too easy to keep going. Jordan looked at me in the dim light and brushed her fingers along my cheek. "We just kissed, remember that."

I nodded and leaned in for a quick last kiss before opening the tent and heading back to the fire.

Jeryl avoided looking at me for a moment, but then smiled up shyly. John was grinning. Ann was back at the blankets, in an outfit that closely matched Jordan's. Jordan, always regal in her bearing sat down and cleared her throat. "Kay, truth or dare?" She asked.

Kay had been watching things, but saying little since spin the bottle. She was usually fidgety, but now sat suddenly still. "Dare," she said softly.

"I dare you to streak around the pond," Jordan said with a grin.

Kay looked stricken. Strip and streak or quit the game. She glanced at Jeryl, then at Ann.

"Go on," Ann said. "At least you stay dry doing this."

Kay stood and hesitated as she looked at her feet. She had on tennis shoes, which would help her run safely, but taking them off and putting them on would make her go slow in the light of the fire after undressing. She suddenly made up her mind and quickly pulled her t-shirt up and over her head. She had on no bra, but the white tan lines almost looked like one in the light of the fire. Her breasts were still small, with large, puffy areolas. The word that came to my mind was cute. Without missing a beat, she pulled open the snap of her shorts and quickly skimmed them down her legs along with a pair of dark underwear. I saw her tight, round ass before she was off like a shot into the night.

Ann and Jordan were cheering her on and making jokes about two moons as she left our sight in the night. She was back a couple of minutes later and quickly grabbed her clothes from the blanket before continuing to streak to the far side of the fire to get redressed. This time by, I saw the soft tuft of hair just starting to be prominent at the top of her legs. The whole show was sexy. She was bright red in the face when she finally came back to the blankets.

"Truth or dare, Ann?" She asked as she sat down.

Ann looked at her for a moment and then grinned. "Truth."

Kay pouted. "That's hardly fair after you egg me on to do a dare."

"But I didn't dare you to do it," Ann replied. "Truth, please."

Kay thought for a minute. "Describe the first time you had sex," she finally said.

It was Ann's turn to blush. "What kind of sex?" She finally asked.

"You know, intercourse. The dirty deed."

"Um, I can't."

"So you quit?"

"No, I can't. I'm still a virgin," she finally admitted.

Kay and Jeryl looked at her in disbelief. I probably did as well. Ann always had a date and her dates always seemed very happy with her. We all assumed she was putting out. Most of the jocks would have said something if she wasn't.

"Then what have you done," Jeryl asked.

Ann shook her head. "Sorry, I answered with the truth. It's my turn now. Truth or dare, Paul."

I was surprised. I had expected her to ask Jeryl. "Um, dare, I guess," I said.

"I dare you to take Jeryl in the tent and make out for five minutes."

"I'll keep the time," Jordan said as we all stood.

Jeryl went into the tent ahead of me as Jordan grabbed my hand. "Just kissing, Paul. She isn't ready for anything else, Okay?"

I nodded and then ducked into the tent as Jordan zipped the flap shut. Jeryl was lying on one of the sleeping bags. I crawled alongside her and then stroked her cheek. "We don't have to do anything, if you don't want to," I said.

"What did you do in here with Jordan?" she asked.

"Just kissed," I lied.

"Then we can do that."

Her kiss was soft and gentle and I let her set the pace and tone. After what seemed like hours, our tongues danced against each other. When we separated, she was panting again. I kissed her throat and nibbled on her ear. She moaned into mine and then rolled over to lie on top of me. Her groin ground against mine as she leaned down for another long kiss. When she pushed back t sit up, my erection must have ground into her. She gave a little wiggle.

"I guess you to like me a little."

I wrapped my hands around her waist, almost imagining I could encircle her with my fingers. "I like you a lot. Thanks for inviting me."

She leaned down and kissed me again. I could not help but cup her ass in my hands. It was tight, and hot through her shorts. She ground against me before pausing again.

"You know, now that you're not going to the same school my Mom teaches at, you could ask me out."

"I'd like that," I said.

She kissed me again.

"Time," Jordan called as she began unzipping the tent door.

"Shit," Jeryl and I said together.