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Sellling Out

Chapter 1

I craned my neck to see past the cash registers and shopping carts to the windows overlooking the Farm Fresh parking lot. Light snow was beginning to fall, and I was a mile and a half from home, with my ten-speed bike chained to a tree outside of the store. Sighing, I grabbed a candy bar to add to my purchases and looked for the most oblivious cashier possible.

"Hey, Zack," I said as I set my stuff down on the conveyer belt. "What's up?"

"Danielle," he grinned as he started scanning my stuff. "You driving now?"

"No, I won't be fifteen until next month, and I can't get my permit till six months after that under the new law."

"Hey, that's not so bad. In a little over a year, you'll be driving to school." He scanned the bag of Attends without even glancing at them.

"Like I'll ever get a car. My aunt would lie under the tires before she'd let me drive hers, and I can't afford my own."

"That's why you gotta get a job," he said, hitting a button on the cash register. "Twenty-four eighty-seven."

I handed him the cash and stuffed my change in my pocket. "Maybe next summer. Anyway, have fun."

"Yeah, right." He rolled his eyes. "I don't get off till ten. Be careful out there."

I stuffed my purchases into my backpack and pulled on my gloves before going outside. I contemplated calling Aunt Jenny for a ride, but I'd told her I was only riding my bike up to the school to get my math book, and she'd want to know why I'd gone all the way to the store. Plus, she'd want to know what I'd bought. It was a long, cold ride home.

I put my bike in the garage and went inside the warm house. Jenny came downstairs to greet me. "Gosh, your cheeks are red. Make yourself some hot chocolate. You were gone for a long time; I was starting to worry."

"Sorry, I ran into some friends and hung out with them for awhile. I didn't realize it was getting so cold."

"Well, next time remember to bring home all your books, and you won't have to go back to school."

"Where are Caitlin and Cody?"

"Cody's at Patrick's and Caitlin's at Ariel's. We're going over there later for dinner."

"Okay. I'm gonna go start my homework."

She smiled. "You're such a good student. Caitlin has to be beaten upside the head to do her homework anyway, and now that it's flurrying she thinks there's not going to be school tomorrow."

I felt a little guilty for lying about where I went. I don't like to lie or anything, but sometimes I just have to. Because what am I supposed to say, I went to the store to get some diapers? I would never tell anyone that. Hey world, I'm almost fifteen years old, a freshman in high school, and in my spare time I wear and use diapers. Only two people know.

Two Christmases ago, my older cousin walked in on me when I was in the bathroom changing my diaper. At that point I'd been wearing them for several months without anyone catching me, so I guess I thought I was invincible enough to wear them to a family gathering. Needless to say, I don't do that anymore. But I don't even know if Jessica remembers that, because her son was born prematurely later on that night and she probably forgot about my little secret in all the fuss with his birth. And because I had to babysit for my cousins while all the adults went to the hospital with her (sometimes I think my aunt just keeps me around for convenient, free babysitting), I ended up still diapered, sharing a bed with Jessica's daughter, who heard the crinkling. But she was only eight then and maybe she's forgotten by now, I mean, who really remembers every detail of what happened to them when they were eight? Right?

I guess I'm in denial, because if Jessica and Ariel don't remember my diapers that night, they probably still do remember the night I slept over at their house and stole one of Ariel's diapers, because she wore them right up until last summer. She really liked them too, but for different reasons than me, I think. Because I know it sounds weird that I enjoy wearing diapers, but I've spent lots of time surfing the web and reading about this, and there are other people who wear them for fun. Adult babies, teen babies, and diaper lovers.

Adult and teen babies wear them to escape the stress of everyday adult life and regress to babyhood, secure in their mother's arms. They suck pacifiers and drink from bottles and sleep in cribs, too, which sounds a little screwy, but they're the nicest bunch of people you'll ever talk to, and everyone has different ways of coping. It's a lot less self- destructive than alcoholism or drug addiction, as long as it doesn't become an obsession. If Ariel had stayed in her diapers, she would've become a teen baby, and she's a normal kid. But that's not what I am. I'm a diaper lover, and we tend to get a little kinkier. Which is why I can't live with my mother, because even though she doesn't know about my diapers, she's about the most devoted Catholic you'll ever meet and we all know what the Catholic church says about masturbation. My mother and grandmother were willing to look the other way about the rumors that the supposedly virgin priest at the Catholic church we went to had an affair with the married choir director, but they can pull a dozen quotes from the Bible about the evils of masturbation and premarital sex. Jessica had Ariel when she was sixteen and if they could disown her from the family, they would. They practically did that with her mother, but I digress. Anyway, I've never slept with anyone, never gone past first base even though I do have a boyfriend, and I still go to church so why is this whole thing with the diapers so bad? I know my mom would hit the roof if she found out, because she was always bad-mouthing Jessica for letting Ariel wear them. She said it was a bad influence on the rest of the family. And I guess she was right about that influence thing, because I'm sure if Ariel and Caitlin hadn't worn them I never would've given diapers a second thought. Caitlin wears them, too. There's four of us cousins around here, me, Caitlin, Ariel and Cody, and three out of four wear or have recently worn diapers. Cody's the only one who hasn't worn them since he was potty trained, and ironically he's also the youngest of us, almost seven. Caitlin can't help it though. She wore them for bedwetting when she was younger, and then right after she outgrew them she injured her bladder in a car accident. She took off her seatbelt so that she could turn up the radio when a Britney Spears song came on, which is so Caitlin, and a nanosecond later a truck cut her mom off and she couldn't stop, and her body was slammed against something, probably the seat. At first I think she enjoyed wearing the diapers like Ariel did, but now she's almost eleven and starting middle school in September, where she'll have to change for gym every day. I enjoy my diapers, but if I had to wear them to school every day and the whole student body knew, I might hate them too.

Some of the people I talk to on the internet at all those AB/DL sites claim they've been into diapers as soon as they were out of them, making them out of towels and trash bags and all other kinds of weird stuff until they got old enough to buy them. Others were diapered for wetting the bed or weren't potty trained until they were older, but I only wet the bed a couple of times when I was sick and my mom swears I was potty trained at eighteen months because she was such a great parent (not!!!). So I don't think I would've ever given diapers a second thought if it hadn't been for the abundance in my cousins' lives. Between Ariel and Caitlin, I started to wonder just what diapers felt like, and that's what inspired me to try them. At first I wore Pampers like Ariel, but puberty got the best of me and now they don't fit anymore. Then I tried Depends before settling on Attends, because the local grocery store doesn't really carry very many brands. There's also a store brand I have yet to try, because I've heard that generic brands are very thin and notorious for leaks, and I really don't need my diaper leaking all over my bed and clothes. Some people swear by cloth diapers, but not me. I think the feeling is similar to peeing my pants, and one thing I've noticed (and there are a lot of stereotypes you can draw about ABs and DLs, some aren't really true but some are) is that it's generally the older ones who like the cloth, the ones who likely wore cloth when they were babies. It makes sense especially for the ABs; if you want to remember what it was like to be a baby then you wear what you wore when you were a baby.

My thoughts were interrupted by pounding at my door, making me grateful that I hadn't put on a diaper yet. I don't get much privacy around here. I opened the door to find Caitlin and Ariel standing there, dusted in snow. "You should come outside. There's already two inches!" Caitlin exclaimed, jumping up and down. They don't make enough Ritalin to keep that kid calm.

"I'm studying."

"Why? School's gonna be closed tomorrow, and it'll probably start raining by noon. Even Mom said we should enjoy it while we can."

I sighed. She was right, and the snow was more tempting than my history book that I was about to open. I could wear later. I put on some boots and my heavy coat and followed them outside.

"Let's build a snowman," Ariel suggested.

"No, a snow couple," Caitlin suggested. "The guy can be holding the girl's hand and in his other hand he could have the jewelry box that contains the engagement ring that he's going to propose to her later on."

"Isn't that expecting a lot out of snow?" I asked. "I don't even think there's enough for one snowman. Maybe a snow child."

"A snow baby. Wearing diapers," Ariel said.

"No, no diapers," Caitlin said. "Our snow baby is three years old and potty trained."

"But it would be cute! We could give him one of Joey's bottles and a blanket and build a snow crib and put one of your diapers..."

"No!"

"Nobody would know it's yours!"

"No!"

I could sense an argument brewing. I was on Caitlin's side here, I didn't want anything with diapers in our front yard, but as the oldest I have to play peacemaker. "I don't think the diaper would stay on very well in the snow, and think how gross it would be when it starts melting. Let's just make snow angels."

Ariel shrugged. "Okay." She's usually a pretty agreeable kid.

Caitlin gave me a grateful look, spread out her arms and fell backwards with a teeth-chattering thud. "Oof! It's cold! It's getting up my pants!"

Ariel giggled and fell back too. "It's not that cold. Don't you love just lying back and looking up at the sky?"

"Yep," I agreed, lying down myself. "It's peaceful."

"Until we hear Mom screaming out the window 'you all get out of that snow before you catch your death of cold!'" Caitlin mocked. "Who ever died from being cold, anyway?"

"Hypothermia? But I think that takes awhile. I've heard that freezing to death is very peaceful."

"What's so peaceful about it? You know you're going to die. I wouldn't be very peaceful," Ariel commented.

"I don't know. I guess whoever said that was on a deep spiritual level."

"I don't want to be deep. Your mom's deep and spiritual, Caitlin, and she feels guilty if she misses church. I want to be able to sleep in, miss church, and not feel bad about it." I thought Ariel had a good point. Life can be a lot more fun when you look at it from a third-grader's perspective. Like when she liked to wear diapers, she never worried much about what the other kids thought. Occasionally it bothered her, but never to the point that she just stopped wearing them. If for some reason the only way I could continue to wear is if I wore to school too, I think I'd stop in a heartbeat.

A familiar car drove by. "Daddy!" Ariel exclaimed, jumping out of the snow and running down the street towards her house. Caitlin and I trailed behind.

"Do you remember ever getting that excited about your dad coming home from work?" she asked me.

"When I was little...but by the time I was nine, I knew there wasn't anything to get excited about because he was just going to get drunk and not pay any attention to me, and then Mom would get on his case and they'd fight."

"I don't even remember seeing my dad coming home from work," Caitlin said. "I don't really remember him living at home at all." Her parents got divorced when she was five, and for the last six months or so that they were married, Caitlin practically lived at our house because they didn't want her to hear them screaming at each other all the time. That was around the same time that my dad started drinking more, so either way Caitlin had to listen to screaming. I feel sorry for the kid sometimes, but she seems pretty much unscathed. Being ashamed of her diapers is more likely to fuck with her head than listening to her parents ever did.

"Hey, princess," Ryan said as he got out of his car and gave Ariel a hug and kiss. He looked tired. "Hey, what's up?" he said to me and Caitlin.

"Nothing much," I replied. "Long day?"

He sighed. "Tell me about it. Complete with driving home in snow. Just think what you have to look forward to."

"It'll be worth it to be able to drive." I was thinking that driving in snow couldn't be any worse than riding a bike in snow.

We went inside Ariel's warm house, and Joey came toddling up to us. "Da da! Up!" he said, lifting his arms up in the air to get Ryan to pick him up.

"Joey! My man!" he exclaimed, lifting Joey high into the air and running towards the kitchen with him. "It's liftoff...and Joey takes off at a thousand light-years per second...right into the kitchen to say hi to Mommy!"

"Ryan! Be careful with him! I've got the stove on," Jessica exclaimed. She kissed Joey's forehead first and then kissed Ryan. "Hey girls. How was your day?"

"Good," Caitlin and I replied. Caitlin peered into the pot of soup Jessica was making. "I hope you didn't put any onions in it. I hate them."

"Caitlin! That's not polite to go over to someone's house for dinner and say that you don't like something!" I scolded. God, I'm turning into my mother.

Jessica laughed. "It's okay, Danielle. Ariel says stuff like that all the time, and Caitlin eats over so often she's like another daughter. No, it's cream of broccoli. No onions. It'll be ready in about twenty minutes, so call your mom and tell her to come over soon."

"Do you need any help?" I offered.

"No thanks. Ariel, honey, go set the table." Jenny has to argue back and forth with Caitlin for forever to get her to do anything around the house, but Ariel got some plates and took them into the dining room without complaint.

Jenny and Cody came over a few minutes later, and we all gathered around the table. I love family dinners. At Jenny's house we all do our own thing most of the time. Jenny reads the paper while she eats, Caitlin watches TV, and that leaves me and Cody to try to hold a conversation, if he doesn't get too wrapped up in what Caitlin's watching. But when we eat with Jessica's family, everyone talks. Even Joey tries to contribute to the conversation. He's only fourteen months old, but the pediatrician told his parents that he knows more words than a lot of eighteen-month-olds.

"Want to do a lesson after dinner?" Ryan asked me.

"Sure." Ryan's been teaching me on his acoustic guitar for about six months now. He usually gives me one or two lessons a week, but we don't schedule them. It's just whenever we feel like it. Eventually I want to be able to play while I sing, but right now it's hard enough to get the chords right when that's all I'm concentrating on. He's glad that he has somebody who shares his passion for music, because Ariel can plunk out a few things on the piano but never showed much interest in learning guitar, and Jess likes to sing but says she doesn't have time to learn an instrument.

"What'd you do at work, Daddy?" Ariel asked.

"Oh, I spent the whole day hearing about how N Sync wants the stage set up just so for their show. I'm so sick of arranging concerts for these bubblegum pop sellouts. If it's not them, it's some rap artist where the only thing you can understand in their music is the profanity. That's all anybody seems to want to listen to these days."

"What's a sellout?" Caitlin asked.

"Someone who goes against their own beliefs, or in this case, the kind of music they really enjoy doing, just to gain money or popularity."

"Oh."

We all helped clear the table and then Ryan and I headed for the garage to practice. But after my fifth mistake within about thirty seconds, I put the guitar down with a sigh. "I'm never going to learn this."

"Well, it takes awhile. And a lot of practicing."

"I know, I don't practice enough. But sometimes I just don't feel like it!"

"I wasn't saying you didn't practice enough. You should practice as much as you want to. Even if you practice three hours a day, and I don't encourage that by any means, it still takes a long time to get the basics down. Never force yourself to play, Danielle, because then you're just going to resent it. Remember, it's just for fun. And I can tell your heart's not into it tonight."

"Yeah, I guess not."

"What's on your mind?"

"I don't know...just me and Vince."

"Did you guys have a fight?"

"No. Not yet, anyway. It's just...does Jessica know everything about you?"

"Everything? Well, no, I think we know each other pretty well, but I'm sure there's a few embarrassing childhood stories my mom hasn't told her yet."

I smiled. "So you don't keep secrets from each other?"

"No. At least, I don't keep them from her, and I hope she doesn't keep them from me. Honesty usually works best in a relationship, at least a marriage. But at your age I don't think you need to tell your boyfriend everything, especially if it has nothing to do with him."

"I want to tell him though, just to get it off my chest...but I'm just worried about what he'll say. I mean, I don't think he'll break up with me, but what if he tries to change me?"

"Well, anyone who doesn't accept you for who you are isn't worth keeping around. Don't change yourself for a guy. There are other fish in the sea."

"But what if it's something that should be changed? I mean, say you found out that Jess was a kleptomaniac." He laughed. "Wouldn't you try to get her to change? Take her to therapy or something?"

"Well, yes, that's a good point. But I hope you're just talking about a harmless personality trait here and not some mental problem."

"To be honest, I'm not sure."

He looked at me closely. "You sure you don't want to talk about this?"

"Yeah. I'm sure. It's personal." If I can't get up the nerve to tell my own boyfriend about my diapers, I certainly could never tell someone in my family who I have to see every day. If Vince doesn't like it, I can say "Screw you" and never talk to him again, but I have to see Ryan every day.

"Okay. Well, if you change your mind, you know where I live."

Chapter 2

With April came warmer weather and by the time my fifteenth birthday rolled around, it was well into the eighties. Cody turned seven a week before, and he got a party with all his friends running around the house, but I just wanted money and that was what I got. Mom wanted to come visit but couldn't take time off work; she sent me a card and a gift and told me she couldn't wait to see me this summer.

A few days later, Vince came over after school to hang out. The only way we usually communicate during school is through my friend Sarah, who has a class with Vince first block, and he gives her a note for me, she sees me second block, I write back, and she gives it back to him third block at lunch. Vince and I don't even have lunch together, but Sarah says that's a good thing: if we break up, we won't have to deal with seeing each other at awkward times. I don't like to think about breakups. Even though we're doing really well right now, the chances of us staying together forever aren't great, just because people change...and whoever my future husband is going to be, I want to be totally honest with him about the diapers and so when the time comes to tell Vince about it, if it ever comes, who knows how he'll react?

Anyway, the note Sarah slipped to me in English from Vince read "Want to hang out after school?" I wrote back and told him to meet me by the library after the final bell, but we would have to hang out at my house because Aunt Jenny had asked me to watch Cody after school. Caitlin is at the age where she isn't old enough to babysit but doesn't need a babysitter herself, so she shouldn't have been any problem, but I was pretty sure Ariel's mom was working, which meant that Ariel would also be at our house. Caitlin's no problem by herself, and Ariel's no problem by herself, but put the two of them together and you've got trouble. I knew I couldn't count on having much alone time with Vince, which was okay with me but he'd be annoyed. Our relationship is a close friendship with the added bonus of making out, but sometimes I think if you asked him what the great thing about our relationship was he'd say making out, with the added bonus of a close friendship. I don't mean to imply that that's all he sticks around for, because we really are friends before anything else, but...well, he's a horny teenage guy, what can I expect?

We walked home together, trying to step around the puddles from the previous night's rain. "Dammit!" I exclaimed as my feet hit an unexpected patch of mud and I grabbed Vince to keep from falling down. "There go my new Sketchers."

"You know, there is a solution to this. We could take the sidewalks to your house. I don't think we're supposed to get chased through an ally by a rabid dog just to get home from school."

"That dog was not rabid! Besides, this way is much faster."

"So what? Safe, peaceful walks are nice. The kids can let themselves in if we're not there yet."

"I'm not worried about them. I just have to pee," I explained.

He laughed. "Dani, you always gotta pee. You pee every twenty minutes. It's not normal."

"You're exaggerating. Besides, I drink water all day long. It can't all stay in me."

"Well, either you pee two cups for every cup you drink, or your bladder's the size of a peanut."

"A peanut!" I exclaimed in mock anger, hitting him playfully on the arm. "I'll tell you what's the size of a peanut, Vincent!"

"Keep beating me, and you'll never get to find out!" he replied, rubbing his arm melodramatically.

"Aw, did you get beat up by a girl?" We were laughing, but I wish he hadn't reminded me that my bladder seems to be shrinking every day. Wearing diapers doesn't do much for bladder control. I'm so scared I'll get to the point where I actually need them, but at the same time I can't stop wearing. It's like asking an alcoholic to just stop drinking. I have sympathy for drug and alcohol addicts, because if I don't get to wear a diaper at least once every couple of days, I get irritable, depressed, and horny.

Vince noticed I had fallen into silence. "Penny for your thoughts."

"I don't think my thoughts are even worth that much," I replied, forcing a smile.

"Why do you always say that? Why can't you tell me what's on your mind?"

"Oh, so you're my shrink all of a sudden?"

"No, just your boyfriend and your best friend, for what it's worth."

"It's worth everything. But I'm not keeping anything big from you. Just sometimes I think about stuff that I really don't feel is important enough to say out loud. I'm sure you really don't want to hear the details of the quiz we took in English today on a book you've never read, or the bathing suit sale at Old Navy that we all talked about at lunch today."

"And that's what you were thinking about so intently back there? Bathing suit sales?"

I sighed. "Look, when we're together, we're not going to be talking every second, okay? You know that, I know that. When you're good friends with someone, you don't have to fill every second with forced conversation. But when we're not talking, I don't just turn my brain off. I still think, and I'm not going to blurt out every little thought that comes to mind because then what's the point of silence? You have no silence, it's just more forced conversation." We've had this argument before. He says I'm too secretive, I think he pries too much. Why can't he just accept that I might have some parts of my personality I'd like to figure out for myself before sharing them with others?

"I know. I'm sorry. Just sometimes I feel like you're hiding a big secret from me," he replied.

"Well, if you must know...I really thought your hair looked better before you bleached it."

"Nice save." We crossed my yard and unlocked the door. I ran to the bathroom. "Do you really?"

"Yep," I replied through the door. "You don't surf. Stop pretending like you do. Bleached hair just doesn't go with the whole band-debate team-honors student image."

"Maybe I don't like that image." I heard the front door opening. "Hurry up. Your cousins are home."

I came out, drying my hands on my jeans. "Hey, how was your day?" In response, Caitlin glared at me and ran up the stairs. "I guess that means bad."

"Yep. She was like that the whole way home. All I know is that Miranda said 'Your baby brother doesn't wear diapers, why do you?'" Cody said.

"Who's Miranda?" Vince asked.

"This really bratty girl in her class," Ariel replied. "Her and her sister Nicole think they're the queens of the school or something."

"Do you want a snack?" I asked her and Cody.

Cody shook his head. "I wanna ride my bike to Patrick's."

His friend lives right down the street, same side even, so I figured it was okay. "Go ahead. Don't forget your helmet. Call when you get there, okay?"

"Sure. Thanks!" I was glad he was going. Caitlin probably would be more willing to talk to me if I wasn't paying attention to him.

Vince and Ariel and I got some cookies and sat down at the table. "Is that all that Miranda said?" I asked.

"Well, she also kept calling Caitlin a diaper-ass, but usually that doesn't bother her."

"You'd think people could come up with something a little more original," I said. "She needs to learn to fight back."

"She knows how to fight. It's just you get suspended if you do it on school property."

"I don't mean fight like that. She needs to tell them off."

Ariel nodded. "I wish she would, too. She's been in a bad mood all year long, and I'm sick of it. It's like she's mad because I got potty-trained. Last summer she told me I was doing the right thing, and now every time I try to make her feel better about Miranda she comes back with 'What do you know? You're potty-trained.'"

"I feel sorry for Caitlin. It's only gonna get worse when she starts middle school," Vince commented.

"Why do you say that?" Ariel asked.

"Middle school kids are evil," I told her. "It's awful. If you don't highlight your hair, pierce your belly button, and shop at Abercrombie, then you're nobody, and if you've got something that sets you apart from everyone, like diapers, you're below nobody. You're an outcast. You get picked on all the time. And the teachers are too busy keeping kids from writing on the walls and making sure nobody gets stabbed or shot to worry about the kids getting teased."

"Wow," Ariel said, wide-eyed. "Is high school that bad?"

"Nah, it's a lot better. But Caitlin never looks that far into the future. She thinks if school sucks now, it's always going to suck, and she's got another seven years of it, at least."

"That is a long time," Ariel agreed. "But I still don't think her mom should let her get that operation."

"What operation?" Vince asked.

"Her doctor thinks he could repair some of the nerves in her bladder," I explained. "But he's not sure if it would be successful at all, and even if it was she would probably still need diapers at least at night. Jenny says it's too risky, but Caitlin doesn't care."

"I'd want it too, if I were her," Vince said. "Poor kid. She probably never really feels like she fits in. Diapers are so obvious unless she wears a skirt, and nobody else wears those either."

"So you're saying she should only get it so that she can fit in? Next year all her classmates are going to be trying out for the cheerleading team and throwing up their lunches to be skinny, are you saying she should do that too?" I argued. I don't think Caitlin should have surgery to fix her bladder, at least not yet. All she wants it for is to fit in. She's too ignorant to the risks.

"You're comparing apples and oranges. Surgery really isn't that risky. If people go under the knife to get their noses straightened out, then it's understandable why someone would want to get their bladder fixed so they didn't have to wear bulky, stinky diapers all the time. And wearing diapers is probably really inconvenient for her, always have to get changed," Vince replied.

"Not anymore than always have to go to the bathroom," Ariel pointed out. "Caitlin's a dummy. She just wants to fit in with the snobs in her class. I got potty-trained, and do you see me hanging out with those people now? They'd find some other reason to tease her."

The doorbell rang then, and I got up to answer it. Ryan was standing on the porch steps carrying Joey, who stays with a babysitter while they're at work. "Hey, did you get off early?"

"Well, sort of, considering that I've been there since six this morning. I worked my ass off so I wouldn't have to do overtime."

"Hi, Daddy," Ariel said, coming in with her backpack.

"Hey, princess. Do you have a lot of homework?"

"Not really, just math and language arts."

"Good, because I figured we could rent a movie and spend some time together before your mom gets home."

"Cool!" Ariel said happily, probably already thinking about what movie she wanted to see. I felt a little jealous. My parents never spent time with me like that.

"Well, have fun. I'll see y'all later," I said.

"Hey, hold up. I was wondering if you could babysit later tonight, around nine. Jess and I wanted to go out. I know it's short notice, but we'll pay you extra, and all you really have to do is get Joey and Ariel ready for bed, and you can stay the night if you want to."

I hesitated a little, since that was going to be the only diaper time I got tonight, but Ariel pulled on my wrist. "Please Danielle, please? You never come over anymore. It's fun when you spend the night!"

I think what she meant was that it was fun waking me up in the morning by jumping on my bed, but I never could resist that little girl's begging. Ariel gets away with everything because she's so cute, even now that she doesn't wear diapers anymore. "Sure. I'd love to." I figured I could still wear a diaper once they'd gone to bed anyway.

They left and I went back to the table and stood in front of Vince. "Hey," I said, giving him a kiss.

"Ooh," he replied, giving me a longer one and attempting to pull me into his lap almost like a baby. "Aack!" he cried as the balance shifted and his chair tilted back. He struggled to balance the chair and grab me at the same time. "That didn't work."

"Clumsy," I said, giving him a wet, sloppy kiss. His hand started to work its way up my shirt, and suddenly I heard Caitlin standing beside us, saying petulantly "Well, I came down here to talk to you but obviously you don't want to listen."

"Caitlin!" I exclaimed, standing up to see her running up the stairs. I sighed. "I should go talk to her. I'm sorry we aren't getting to spend more time together."

"That's okay. I should get home anyway. It's my night to cook."

"Oh," I said, disappointed. It probably was Vince's night to cook, but it always seems like he runs out whenever my family seems too intense, especially since he really doesn't have much of a family. His parents both work and don't talk much to him, and his older sister is never home. And it especially seems like he runs off when the topic of conversation is diapers. "Okay. I love you."

"I love you too," he replied, giving me a kiss and gathering up his books. I walked upstairs to Caitlin's room and knocked.

"Come in." I was expecting to find her crying, but instead she was lying on her floor with her legs elevated about a foot up.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing. And I know what you're going to say, and you can spare yourself the trouble. People won't make fun of me forever. I won't be in school for forever. Someday I'll find friends who accept me for who I am. It seems like people spout off a lot of crap about someday, instead of trying to do something so that right now doesn't suck quite so bad."

"Well, what do you want me to do?"

"Tell Mom to let me have surgery!"

"You know your mom..."

"I know, I know. It's dangerous," she mocked, imitating Aunt Jenny's voice. "Yeah, well what if I told her that all those kids making fun of me makes me want to shoot myself? Isn't that a little dangerous too?"

"Do you really want to kill yourself?"

"No, but I bet if I told her that I did, she would let me get my bladder fixed."

"Maybe, and you'd also scare her half to death and she'd probably send you to a shrink." Caitlin rolled over onto her stomach, grabbed her ankles, and started rocking back and forth. "Really, what the heck are you doing?"

"I found this site on the internet that said doing these exercises would help my bladder."

"Caitlin! You're going to hurt yourself."

"Maybe if I tear a muscle, I'll have to get surgery to fix that, and they can fix my bladder too. You know, I don't get it. If, say I tore a ligament in my knee and had to have surgery, would Mom let me get that fixed? Or would she say that walking is unnecessary too?"

"You know that's not the same thing. She just worries a lot, and she feels guilty that you got hurt in the first place even though the accident wasn't her fault."

"It wasn't. That guy came out of nowhere. Besides, I should've kept my seatbelt on! That was so stupid!"

"Yeah, but she thinks if she hadn't taken you guys out when it was raining really hard things would've been different. She doesn't want to take any more risks with you."

"Then does she even send me to school? I could be walking down the hall and one of those big literature books could fall out of someone's locker and hit me on the head!" Caitlin sat up and looked at me seriously. "Can't you talk to her? She listens to you more than me." "Your mom would never listen to me about anything like that! She thinks of me as an adopted child. The only person she'd listen to is Grandma, who doesn't want you to have surgery either, or maybe Jessica."

"I bet Jessica thinks I should get it!"

"Maybe you should talk to her then." Good, then maybe I won't be the one torn between saying she should get the surgery because it would be good for her self-esteem, or she shouldn't get it because there's a small risk anytime you cut into someone's body, and also her being in diapers makes me not feel quite so strange about wanting to wear them myself.

"I wish I could just be normal again," Caitlin sighed, falling back onto her bed as a sign of hopelessness.

So do I, I thought. Instead I said, "You are normal. You're smart and pretty, and you have a lot of friends who don't care if you have a disability, and you go to school and play soccer and video games and do normal ten-year-old kinds of things."

"Eleven in June," Caitlin reminded me proudly.

"Whatever, and so you have a scar. That's really what it is. It's not any different than that scar I have from stepping on broken glass a few years ago, remember?" I flinched at that memory. "The only difference is, your scar makes it so you have to wear diapers. It doesn't change who you are. All it is is a slight inconvenience."

"I know. I guess you're right," Caitlin said, sighing. "But when the kids tease me, it makes me feel so bad. I never used to get teased. I used to be one of the cool kids, and now I'm one of the dorks I used to tease."

"Well..." I didn't really know what to say to that. "Now you know how it feels. You're a better person than you used to be." Caitlin looked skeptical. "I'm serious!" I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. "You used to be this little brat who thought you were better than everyone else, and now you're actually nice. I mean, you still have a little attitude sometimes but it makes me laugh and you're a lot more fun to talk to now that you don't think you're the coolest person on earth."

She smiled and blushed a little. "I never thought I was the coolest person on earth." Then she grinned, the same grin she used to get when she was teasing someone. "Maybe the second coolest, but not the coolest!"

"Oh yeah? Who was the coolest?"

"You," she said, serious again.

"Really? But you usually weren't even nice to me!"

"Maybe, but I thought you were cool. That's why I followed you around and tried to borrow your clothes and stuff. You thought I just did it to be annoying, but I wanted to be just like you."

I smiled, but I really couldn't think of anything to say to that. It's flattering that my little cousin thinks I'm cool enough to want to be just like me, especially since I'm not the most popular person either. It makes me wonder, if I told her I wore diapers for fun, would it make her feel better about having to wear them? But before I said anything stupid, I heard the door opening downstairs and Jenny yelled "Could someone come help me bring in groceries?"

I jumped up, relieved to escape the awkward moment. "I'll go help her."

Jenny and I chatted as we unloaded the heavy paper bags from her trunk. "I got some tomato sauce and cheese so that we can have lasagna tonight," she mentioned. "I hope that cheers Caitlin up some. She's been so down lately."

"I think the kids at school are giving her a hard time about her diapers."

"I know, and she's upset with me for not letting her get her bladder fixed."

"Well, she thinks it's kind of silly that you're so worried about it."

Jenny sighed. "Honestly, I'm not that worried about it anymore. Her doctor went over the procedure with me, and there's not much risk. The worst that'll realistically happen is that it won't help her any, although I'd hate to see how much that would disappoint her. But I'm kind of reluctant to let her have surgery just because kids in her class are teasing her. Caitlin has to learn to accept herself for who she is, instead of running to fix whatever the other kids in her class don't like. Wearing diapers is part of who Caitlin is. It's as much her as her brown hair or her nose or her figure...and in a way, I feel like if I let her get surgery to fix her bladder, it would be like letting a ten-year-old get a nose job or breast implants."

"Caitlin with breast implants. That would be funny," I replied.

Jenny laughed. "It's hard to picture...and maybe this sounds funny, but after three years, it's hard to picture her without her diapers, too." We carried in the last bags and started unpacking. "So what are you up to tonight?"

"Oh, Ryan asked me to babysit, and I'm going to spend the night at their house. I'll leave around nine."

"That's really nice of you, to spend your whole night with Ariel and Joey."

"Oh, I don't mind." As long as they go to bed early so I can still wear my diapers, I thought to myself.

Chapter 3

"Danieeeelllllllleeeeee!" Ariel yelled, running into the room to greet me and giving me a huge hug that nearly knocked me over.

"Ariel! Calm down!" Jessica scolded. "You know better than to run in the house."

"Sorry. Dani, I'm so glad you're here. I've been doing homework for forever!" Ariel exclaimed, rolling her eyes skyward to express her disgust with endless homework assignments.

" ' Forever' is actually an hour," Jessica explained. "She was working on her social studies project, and I told her that once you got here she could stop for the night."

"Oh, is that why you're happy to see me?" I asked, smiling. "I feel so loved."

"Well, I'm also just glad to see you cause you're my favorite cousin," Ariel added, smiling sweetly.

"Dani!" Joey cried, running in on his chubby little legs. I picked him up and spun him around.

"Joey, you're not supposed to run in the house," Ariel informed him. "Ewww, you stink."

"Like your diapers never did," I replied.

"Did he poop again? I just changed him a half hour ago," Jessica sighed.

"Don't worry, I'll do it."

"Thanks. If we don't leave soon, we're going to be late. Ryan!" she called.

"Coming!" he replied, running down the stairs. "Hi, Danielle. Ariel, Joey, you guys behave yourselves and mind Danielle."

"Okay," Ariel said.

"Bye-bye, Dada," Joey said, giving Ryan a hug around the knees. "Bye-bye, Mama."

Jessica scooped him up in her arms. "Bye-bye, sweetie, I love you. Ariel, bed by nine-thirty."

"But it's almost nine now!" she complained.

"Then you'd better go ahead and get in the tub. And don't forget to wear..."

"I KNOW, Mom," she replied, turning red. "I hardly ever have accidents anymore anyway."

"I know, but just in case. Be good. I love you," Jessica replied, kissing Ariel on the top of her head. "Night, Danielle."

"Have a good night," Ryan told me. He ruffled Ariel's hair. "Bye, kiddo."

"Bye," we replied. Ariel waved at them from the front window and tried to get Joey to wave to them too, then turned to me as soon as the car was out of sight.

"Can I stay up until they get home? Please?"

"Nope. Go ahead and get your bath, and you can have a snack and then it's bedtime."

"But I don't like to go to bed when Mommy's not here," she insisted.

"Well, your mommy won't like it if she gets home, and you're not in bed." I knew the game Ariel was playing. She was used to her mom being gone enough that she didn't mind going to bed without her, especially if the babysitter was me. But if she could get away with sticking her lower lip out and acting like she was three years old again and had separation anxiety, she'd do it. "Come on. Upstairs now or you won't get your snack."

I changed Joey while Ariel was in the bath. "Yucky poo-poo," he said as I took his messy diaper off.

"Yuck," I agreed. "But we will get you all clean and smelling like a rose."

"Rose pretty?" he asked.

"Roses are pretty. And you are one very handsome man. I bet the girls at preschool are all over you," I told him, wiping off his bottom. I wonder if anyone remembers back to having their diaper changed as a toddler. I wonder if that's why I like wearing diapers now, to make some memories of being cleaned with the fresh-smelling wipes and rubbed all over with lotion and powder. Except my only memories of that are from doing it myself, and it's just not the same.

I put a clean diaper and some pajamas on Joey and lifted him off the changing table. Giggling, he ran away from me and began pulling books off the small bookcase in his room. "Joey! No books now. It's time to go sleepy."

"No sleepy!" he cried.

"Yes sleepy! I'll tickle you until you're sleepy!" I announced, tickling him gently on his belly. He burst into giggles again and fell down on his thick bottom. I picked him up and carried him to the rocking chair, humming softly.

"He never falls asleep," Ariel said, walking in. "Mommy rocks him for forever and every time she gets up to put him in his crib he wakes up. She just has to turn the light out and leave him in there."

"Yeah, I know, but the rocking at least gets him sleepy."

"Will you brush my hair?" she asked.

"Go downstairs and get your snack while I put Joey to bed and after that I'll brush your hair. Are you wearing a pull-up?"

"They're not pull-ups, they're goodnites. Pull-ups are for babies being potty-trained."

"Sorry. Are you wearing a goodnite?"

She sighed. "I wish I didn't have to wear them. I hate it when I wake up in the morning, and it's all squishy from the cold pee."

I kind of like that feeling. "You probably won't have to wear them that much longer."

"I hope not. How come you don't have to wear them?"

"Cause I don't wet my bed."

"Would you if you didn't wear diapers?" she asked slyly.

"What makes you think I wear diapers?"

"You used to. I saw them. Don't you still?"

My heart sank. I wish I could brainwash that kid so that she would forget certain things. Same thing with her mom. "Go put on your goodnite and get into bed. I'll tuck you in."

I met her in her room a few minutes later. She was wearing purple satin pajamas and her curly hair was loose, frizzing around her face instead of pulled back like it usually is. She looked very young and sweet as she climbed into bed. I gave her a kiss and rubbed her back for a few minutes, like my dad used to do when I was little, and just when I thought she was asleep she spoke up.

"How come you don't like to talk about diapers?"

"I don't mind talking about diapers," I said shortly. "I'd just rather not discuss whether or not I wear them with you."

"I know you tried them at least a couple of times, so it's not like you're hiding anything. I think you're ashamed of them or something, and you shouldn't be."

"Go to sleep," I told her.

"Does your boyfriend know you wear them?"

"What? Vince? Why would I tell him?"

"Because he's your best friend in the world, and it bothers you that he doesn't know. Doesn't it?"

"No...when you get older you don't necessarily want your friends to know everything about you."

"Well, I know it would bother me if I kept a secret that big from my best friend. And I don't think Vince would mind at all. If he really didn't like it, maybe he's not that good of a friend at all." Ariel yawned and rolled over onto her back and looked up at me. "Because diapers make you happy, and don't you think your boyfriend wants you to be happy?"

"When did you turn into my therapist?"

"Caitlin says that some guys think that it's sexy when girls wear diapers," she continued. "I don't get that. Why would a guy think that's sexy? I mean, you pee in diapers. That's just gross."

"Okay, I think Caitlin needs to spend less time on the internet," I said, standing up. "And save your sex questions for your mom. Good night, Ariel."

"Night!" she said, closing her eyes. I turned out the light and left the room, somewhat rattled. I don't care if Ariel thinks it's funny or cute that I wear diapers. I don't want my nine- year-old cousin trying to convince me to tell my boyfriend my darkest secret.

After grabbing the phone, I retreated to the guest room, which is really just an extra bedroom with a constantly deflating air mattress, not a nice room with a queen-sized bed like TV families always put their guests in. When Jessica and Ryan have company, they drag up the more comfortable pull-out sofa that's usually in the rec room, but supposedly family and company aren't the same thing, and if I want a more comfortable bed I can drag it upstairs myself. So in the mornings I usually wake up with the mattress sagging onto the floor underneath me and around me it's all puffed up. The guest room is a sad place to sleep, anyway, if you know that it was originally planned to be an eventual bedroom for Joey's miscarried twin sister.

I pulled a diaper and my math book out of my backpack, using my free hand to dial Vince's number. "Hey, it's me," I said when he answered.

"Hey, how's the babysitting going? Are they being bratty? Did you sit on them yet?"

"Nope, they're both in bed."

"Already? Whenever I watch Vickie, she doesn't fall asleep until at least midnight."

"You just need to let her know who's boss."

"Oh, she knows who's boss. And it's not me. You know my parents spoil her cause she's a girl."

"It's not because she's a girl, it's because she's the baby."

"No, even when I was the youngest, they never spoiled me like that." Vince has two sisters, one who's nineteen and hardly ever home and the other is six. "If she so much as scrapes her knee, they give her ice cream for dinner and let her stay up late. When I was her age, it didn't matter if I broke my leg. 'Be a man, son! Suck it up and keep running!'"

"Oh, they did not. You poor thing. Cry me a river..."

"Build a bridge and get over it," he finished for me. We started laughing. I used to always say that, and now he says it more than me.

I put the phone between my head and shoulder and put my diaper on, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror as I did so. The first time I wore one, I thought I looked ridiculous, standing there five feet three inches tall, with hips that were starting to become noticeable and a chest that might not be big but didn't look like any baby's either, wearing this puffy diaper that looked like a Pamper except it didn't have any cartoons on it. Well, I'm working on that. I actually wrote a letter to Proctor & Gamble pretending to be the mother of a three-year-old who wasn't potty trained yet and outgrowing Pampers size six, asking them to make a larger size, and I also told them I didn't like the cloth-like cover because it leaked, which is true. Pampers size six are too small for me now, but if they made one size larger I could probably get into it. But adult diapers aren't as bad as I thought they would be. I pulled on my pajama bottoms too, in case Ariel got up.

Vince was going on about something that happened at school today. "Anyway, did you start reading Summer of My German Soldier yet? I thought it sucked so far, but maybe you'll like it."

"Not yet. I always get the worst out of the way first when I do homework, and reading isn't bad." I like to lie awake in bed reading with a diaper on. "But yeah, everyone's telling me it sucks. What can you expect? We never read anything good in school. Last time it was that stupid Hemingway book that put me to sleep after three pages." I made up my air mattress excuse for a bed, climbed underneath the covers and pulled down my pajamas so that the cotton sheet touched my bare legs and diaper. I didn't have to pee yet, and when I still didn't after talking to Vince for another few minutes I decided to change that. I reluctantly climbed away from the warm sheets and headed downstairs to make some hot chocolate.

As soon as I opened the cabinet door to get a mug, a glass came flying out in my face, hit the counter, rolled to the floor and shattered. I gasped and jumped, and when I did, I peed a little bit in my diaper.

"Are you all right?" Vince asked. "What was that?"

"A glass just fell out of the cabinet! It almost hit my head! It's like their kitchen is trying to kill me!" I cried, rattled both by the flying glass and the fact that I'd peed without meaning to, like a little kid.

"Oh, relax. It must've just been stacked on something and leaning against the door. They should free up some cabinet space."

"Ariel must've unloaded the dishwasher. She always tries to stack stuff up everywhere where it won't fit," I said, calming down a bit. I filled a mug with water, put it in the microwave and grabbed the dustpan and broom to sweep the glass up.

"What are you making, anyway?" Vince asked.

"Hot chocolate."

"Yum, make me some."

"You're not here, silly."

"I could come over."

"Um..." Then I would have to take my diaper off. "You'd better not. Jessica and Ryan might get mad."

"Yeah, I guess it wouldn't be a good idea to lose your best babysitting client."

"And that whole thing with them being family might be a problem too," I added.

"How are your guitar lessons with Ryan coming?"

"Good, I guess," I replied. "I still can't sing while I play, though."

"Oh, that can be tricky. I couldn't sing while I played piano for like two years." Vince has been playing piano since he was five, and singing since he was four. Sometimes he does accompaniments at our chorus concerts and the orchestra concerts. I only took chorus because it seemed like an easy elective and he was in it, but then I found I really enjoyed singing.

"Are you going to make mads next year?" I asked Vince now. Madrigals is the highest honors chorus in our school. Chorale is in the middle and mixed chorus is at the bottom, which was what we were in now because freshman can't be in honors. Vince couldn't be in Chorale though since it was all girls, and I was hoping I would do well enough in my audition to be in Madrigals with him.

"Well, I'm definitely going to try."

"Oh, you'll make it. I don't know if I will, though. I need to figure out what to audition with." We talked for a few more minutes about auditions and final exams, which weren't for another six weeks but we were already getting excited about the end of school. Caitlin and Cody were spending July in Georgia with their dad, which was a in a way a relief since oncoming puberty and her increasing disgust with her diapers made Caitlin constantly cranky and hard to live with. Jenny was planning to spend her days without her children at the office, so I would have the house to myself on weekdays until I left for Mom's in August. Vince and I hardly ever had an empty house with no homework to do, so we were excited about the increased freedom but I also wondered exactly what he was expecting from me. I'm barely fifteen years old. I don't know if I want a relationship as serious as Vince wants us to be. I have a hard time just telling him I love him.

I drank my hot chocolate and went back up to the room I was sleeping in, and sure enough, pretty soon I had to pee. I have a hard time wetting a diaper when I'm around other people, but I'm getting better. A few weeks ago I was wearing a diaper under sweatpants and helping Jenny make dinner, and I was able to wet it while talking to her about whether to put pepper in the mashed potatoes, even though I was terrified it'd leak. I would never poop when I was around someone else, though. I don't poop in diapers very often anyway.

So Vince and I were talking about how much we hated the girls on the field hockey team, and I just let it out. Warm pee spread through the diaper faster than it could be absorbed, which I think is just the best feeling in the world. I mean, most people enjoy hot baths, so what's so different about peeing in a diaper as far as how it feels? I was sitting on the floor in a diaper so soaked I thought it might leak, and I felt more relaxed than I had all day. And Vince had no idea.

"Hey, Dani?" he asked. "Can I call you back? My mom needs the phone."

"Sure." I needed to clean up anyway. "Actually, don't worry about calling back. I need to do my homework."

"Oh, I see how it is," he joked. "You love your homework more than you love me."

"Sorry honey, you just don't turn me on the way studying photosynthesis does." We always have this conversation when one of us has to hang up to study, and one time I started to say that he didn't turn me on the way diapers do and caught myself before the word came out. Ever since then I've been a lot more careful to think before I speak and catch those Freudian slips.

"Oh, I'm sorry I'm just not as good for you as your biology book is," he replied. I could tell from his voice that he was smiling. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay? I love you."

"Love you too," I replied quickly. We hung up and I grabbed my novel for English and snuggled under the covers of my makeshift bed. Might as well enjoy my diaper before it got completely cold. I wish Vince could change me, but I need to find out how he feels about TBs and DLs in general before I tell him about my diapers.

After a few minutes, I realized I had to pee again. If I was in my own bed, I'd just pee again in the diaper but I didn't want it to leak here and have someone think I wet the bed, so I went to the bathroom to change. I pulled the tabs away from the sides of the diaper and pulled it off. It sagged in my hand from the weight of urine. Just then I heard a knock on the door.

"Danielle? Hurry up, I gotta pee," Ariel announced.

"Go use your mom's bathroom. I need to take a shower," I replied, startled. At least she knocked. I wish I could say the same for her mom. Ariel sighed loudly and I heard her walking away. If she'd been more awake she probably would've nagged me more and it might've occurred to her that I was taking so long because I was changing my diaper, but she was groggy and just wanted to go back to bed.

I left the diaper on the bathroom floor while I took my shower, and after I got dried off and back into my pajamas I put it in one of the plastic bags kept in the bathroom for Ariel to put her goodnites in. I sealed the bag and went out to the garage and put it in the trash can, came back inside and went to sleep.

Chapter 4

Summer came quickly and went even faster. Caitlin turned eleven in June and spent the rest of the summer checking her chest to see if it'd grown any yet. Cody freaked when one of her bras got mixed in with his underwear in the laundry. Vince and I saw each other nearly every day in July and not at all in August since I was in Georgia. My mother hadn't changed any. She cooked my favorite foods and took me shopping the first week I was home, and spend the next three weeks nagging me about how I should get my hair out of my eyes, go to church more, gain some weight, try to find a boyfriend who wanted to be a doctor or lawyer, turn my music down, get a job and earn money for college if I wanted to go, and stop wearing such low-cut shirts because men didn't respect women who showed off their bodies and if I dressed like a whore I'd end up with a man like my father. Then she cried when she said good-bye at the airport, kissed me and told me she was going to miss me. She'd started dating a guy named Harold who pronounced my name "Daniel", wore shorts that stopped way above his knees, and never talked about anything except gardening and what a wonderful politician Colin Powell was and how one day he would be president. He answered the phone once when Jenny called to see how I was doing, and the first thing she wanted to know was if he was gay. I told her probably.

So I was glad to be back in Virginia Beach. It felt more like home to me now than Georgia did, and even though I occasionally missed my mom I felt closer to my aunt and cousins. It was fun seeing my old friends, but we'd grown in different directions. I had lots of close friends in Virginia Beach, including Vince, whose constant presence sometimes got annoying but I missed it when I was gone.

I started tenth grade and it wasn't bad. It was nice not to be a freshman anymore, but senior year still seemed a long way off and I had a hard time putting any serious thought into college or career plans. Cody seemed thrilled by second grade and talked about it all the time. This was a change since Caitlin used to be the one to chatter constantly about school and friends. But ever since she'd started sixth grade and middle school, she was quiet at home. When Aunt Jenny asked her how school was, she usually shrugged and said "fine." But we noticed that she didn't seem to have friends over as much.

I got home late one afternoon a couple of days before Christmas break started and found Cody riding his bike around the street in circles. "Hey," I said.

"Hey," he replied. "Caitlin's home."

This was unusual. The middle school got out late and she was never home before four-fifteen. "Is she sick?"

He shrugged. "I think she got in trouble."

I was only slightly surprised. Although it hadn't happened as much in recent years, Caitlin was prone to say things to her teachers or classmates that weren't exactly respectful or appropriate, and her mom would get a call to come have a conference. They would come home a little while later, Jenny would lecture her for awhile, Caitlin would nod and say "yes ma'am" when required but always look a little proud, and then Jenny would take away her TV privileges for a week or so. I figured this was something similar but inside Caitlin was playing Playstation and Jenny wasn't around.

"They called Mom to come pick me up from school," she explained before I could ask anything.

"Why?"

"Cause I beat up a girl in my gym class," she said calmly, never taking her eyes away from the screen.

I was both shocked and confused. Cat fights happened all the time in middle school, but usually it was some girl trying to pretend she was from the ghetto and was therefore justified in kicking someone's ass for staring at her. Caitlin wasn't like that. Furthermore, she knew the consequences for fighting were severe. Suspension was a given, and if the fight was bad enough you could even be expelled. And it certainly seemed like if Caitlin was in that much trouble she wouldn't be calmly playing Nintendo, and Jenny would certainly be making her presence known.

"Where's your mom?" I asked, deciding that I probably wasn't going to get any more information from Caitlin.

"I'm right here," Jenny said, coming down the stairs. She sat down beside Caitlin and put her hand on her shoulder. "You feeling better, honey?"

"I guess."

Jenny saw my puzzled look. "I got a call from her school today around one to come talk to the principal because she'd been in a fight. He said she punched another girl multiple times for no reason, and I get down there and find out..."

"They stole my clothes!" Caitlin burst in with sudden anger. "I was taking a shower after gym because we played soccer and I got really sweaty, and I had my regular clothes and my school clothes sitting on the bench in my stall along with a clean diaper. And I get out of the shower, and everything's gone except the diaper! Someone came in there when I was showering because the stupid locks are all broken! I had to just put on the diaper and walk to where everyone was getting dressed, and I asked who took my clothes and they all started laughing at me. Lindsey told me Odessa took them and that they were in her locker. She and her friends are always picking on me. And, and Lindsey loaned me her gym clothes to wear cause she's the only friggin friend I have in that whole school, but you know how she's like four feet tall so I had to put on these sweatpants that came like halfway down my calves and were really tight, and my diaper was sticking out. I was so pissed but I didn't even say anything to Odessa then. I went and told the teacher like they tell us we're supposed to do, and, and..."

"And the teacher told her he couldn't search Odessa's locker because there was no proof she'd stolen the clothes!" Jenny interrupted.

"Yeah. She went in the locker room and talked to everyone and said whoever did this needed to give me back my clothes. But she didn't even yell, and Odessa wasn't gonna say she did it cause she knew she couldn't get caught. Then my teacher told me to double-check my locker because I'd probably just misplaced my clothes and they would turn up."

"Like it was all Caitlin's fault that her clothes were missing!" Jenny burst in.

"So then the bell rang and I had to go to class wearing Lindsey's clothes and by this time the whole sixth grade knew what had happened. All through math I kept hearing people whispering my name but I didn't know what they were saying, and I couldn't concentrate knowing that my diaper was sticking out through my pants and my teacher yelled at me because I didn't know what problem we were on. Then I went to lunch and while I was standing in line Odessa came up and she laughed about stealing my clothes, and then asked why I even bothered wearing pants, since everyone could see my diaper anyway, and it must be a pain taking them off all the time to get changed, and I said" Caitlin grinned, remembering, "I asked her why she even bothered wearing a shirt, since everyone knew she was such a slut and it must be a pain taking it off all the time."

I stifled my laughter.

"Caitlin!" Jenny exclaimed. It was obviously the first time she'd heard that little detail. "We're going to talk about that later."

Caitlin looked rather proud. "Then she told me to take that back, and I said no, and she said 'take it back or you'll be sorry,' and I told her to make me and then she grabbed for my sweatpants. Well, Lindsey's sweatpants that I borrowed. And I don't know if she was going to rip them or just yank them down so everyone could see my diaper, but I didn't let her. It wasn't even like something I thought about. My arm just reached out and grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back, and she fell back against the rail, and then she tried to push me away and we just started hitting each other and pulling each other's hair, and I wasn't thinking that it was wrong or that I would get into trouble. I wasn't thinking at all. I just heard everyone yelling 'fight, fight' and I just kept hitting her. It was like, you know that movie 'A Christmas Story' when the kid beats up that bully? It was like that. I just kept doing it and I felt like I wasn't even myself, like I was standing beside me just watching it all and I couldn't do anything to stop it." Caitlin talked very rapidly and her face was getting red. "I'm not trying to make an excuse. That's what it felt like to me. I don't know how long it lasted, probably only a few seconds, because there are tons of security guards in the cafeteria. They pulled us away and suddenly I could think again, and I knew to stop punching and I was just thinking, oh my god, I'm gonna get kicked out and Mom's gonna kill me. I couldn't stop shaking.

Then in the principal's office, they made us write out these incident reports and called Mom and her parents. Oh, and Odessa had a bloody nose and a split lip, and she went to the nurse for that." Caitlin appeared uninjured.

"The way her parents would tell you, she had internal bleeding," Jenny said darkly. "They threatened to sue me since Caitlin supposedly assaulted their daughter totally unprovoked. I gave them my attorney's card and said to give him a call, and they shut up about the lawsuit real quick after that."

"You have an attorney?" I asked.

"Oh, back from when I got my divorce. I haven't talked to him in years. But they don't know that."

"Sweet."

"Caitlin told the principal about how everyone picked on her, including what happened in the locker room today. They had most of her and Odessa's teachers in there at one point, including their gym teacher, and wouldn't you know it, every single one of those people said they knew Caitlin was being teased. Most of them said that Caitlin had told them at some point that the other kids were picking on her, and apparently they gave the other kids a talking-to and not much else. Told them to be nice to Caitlin because it's not easy having a disability. Then the principal suggested that this never would've happened if I'd had her placed in a 'special' class with other 'special' students like her, where she belonged! She does not belong in special education! She is not mentally retarded, she has no learning disabilities, she's not even in a wheelchair! She wears diapers! Since when does that affect her ability to learn math or even dress for physical education with a bunch of other girls her age! Now they want to say she has behavior problems too, but she's never been in trouble before. She wants to be treated the same way as everyone else, but they try to single her out the same way the kids do and it ticks her off. It ticks me off, too. And maybe if instead of saying to the other kids 'Caitlin's different, we need to be really nice to her,' they let Caitlin show them that she's a normal sixth-grader capable of doing everything everyone else does, the other kids wouldn't even notice she wears diapers."

"Oh, they would too, Mom," Caitlin said irritably. "You don't go to my school. You don't know what these people are like."

"It hasn't been THAT long since I was in school, you know," Jenny said. Caitlin and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Whenever parents and teachers pointed out that it hadn't been THAT long since they were in school, it did nothing but show that it had definitely been a long time since they were in school.

"The different isn't the students, it's the administration." Jenny launched into full-blown preaching mode. "When I was your age, we knew what to do with bullies. It was okay to show someone that they weren't the biggest or smartest fish in the sea. If someone picked on you, you either fought them yourself or got your older brother or your best friend to fight them if you couldn't. Danielle, your mother took care of a few bullies for me."

"My mom?" I asked, shocked. "She used to get into fights?" No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't picture my mother, who was rather short and stout and worried constantly about her hair and clothes, rolling around on the ground with the Odessas of the 1970s.

"Well, not physical fights, because she was usually a lot older than the bullies and there were rules about fair fights. But she let it be known that they'd better not pick on her little sister again or they'd be sorry. And they left me alone after that. Nowdays, the school would see that as someone threatening a younger child. But back then it was sort of a social Darwinism, and it worked. Kids didn't get teased then like they do now. And the school didn't really see fighting as inappropriate until high school unless someone really got hurt. If a couple of eleven-year-olds got into a fight like you did today, it was just kids fooling around and the most you might get was a talking-to from the principal."

"And you know what else," she continued. "Back then kids didn't feel so isolated that they felt their only way to get revenge was to bring a gun to school and shoot everyone who ever picked on them. We didn't fear for our lives in schools. And they try to say schools now are safer because fighting isn't tolerated? Now they tell kids they should go tell a teacher if someone looks at them cross-eyed, yet when you actually do what they tell her to do, they tell her she's too sensitive. And I don't care if this person is just an eleven- year-old who thinks she's better than you, who thinks she has the right to verbally abuse and humiliate my daughter because she has a disability, she's still a bully and you have to stick up for yourself! Who else is going to bring her down?"

"So what's your sentence?" I asked Caitlin. I figured she hadn't been expelled or Jenny would be ranting and raving even more.

"Suspended until Christmas break. Then after school starts again Mom has to bring me back and we have to meet with the principal and Odessa and her parents to talk about conflict resolution."

"Well, enjoy your extra-long break," Jenny told her. "You earned it."

"Don't you think we could maybe avoid all this trouble if I didn't have to wear diapers anymore?" Caitlin asked hopefully.

"Oh, Caitlin," Jenny looked sad. "We'll see."

"That's what you always say. I was hoping maybe this time something could actually change."

The door opened. "Mom?" Cody yelled. "Mommy?"

"In the living room," Jenny called.

"Mommy, I fell off my bike," Cody said, limping in. His right knee and elbow were all scraped up.

"Poor thing!" Jenny jumped up. "Come on, let's take care of that. Girls, go wash up for supper."

"Lucky break," Caitlin mumbled in the bathroom. "Every time I bring up getting surgery, she finds some way to change the subject."

"Right. I'm sure she sent out telekinetic powers and made Cody fall off his bike."

"I know she didn't plan that, but it seems like she always finds some way to avoid talking about it." Caitlin dried her hands. "Come on, I'm hungry."

I was quiet during dinner and tried to think about what I could say to make her feel better. Afterwards I went up to her room and knocked on the door.

"Come in."

"Hey," I said. "I wanted to tell you something."

"Um, let me guess. You broke up with Vince."

"No!"

"You're pregnant with his child!"

"No!" I laughed. "I don't think you would guess this."

"Okay, tell me," Caitlin said eagerly. She seemed to be feeling better already.

I sat down on the bed next to her. "Um...well this is really hard for me to say. I mean, I've never told anyone this before. But I'm telling you because I trust you and I think this might make you feel better. I, uh, well I sort of wear diapers too. I mean..."

"Damn, Danielle," Caitlin interrupted. "You don't know me too well, do you?" She looked sad.

"Huh?"

"First, don't think you shocked me with your little confession. You must need mental help if you honestly believe nobody around here knows you like wearing diapers! I've known for forever. I mean, even if nobody saw your empty Attends bags, size small, in the garbage can, squished up in a little ball, we all know that there's no way you could be studying all that time you say you are, when you're in the bedroom with the door closed. Nobody thinks you're doing drugs, either, even though whenever one of us knocks you lunge to hide stuff in the closet. Jeez, Ariel and I talk about you and your little diaper fetish all the time. Fetish. I learned that word on the internet, trying to research why you're so weird! Isn't it cool?" Caitlin asked bitterly. "It definitely doesn't describe my problems. Anyway, Cody figured it out somewhere along the line. He asked me once to be sure, and I told him yes. You freakin told Ariel! Do you think she forgets that easy? Yeah, I think her mom knows too, and it would really, really surprise me if my mom didn't."

"What about Ryan?" I asked quietly. Ryan's more like an older friend than family.

"Well, if Jessica hasn't told him, Ariel probably has. Heck, maybe Joey did, you probably steal his diapers."

"I do not." I turned my face towards the wall to cover up the tears that were on the brink of falling.

"Don't worry. Nobody's told your mom, and nobody's told your boyfriend. If you're so anxious for him not to find out, you know there's one way to make sure! You don't have to wear diapers, Danielle! You could wake up tomorrow and say 'I'm never gonna wear another diaper again,' and Vince would never know. None of your friends would know. Mom would probably attribute it to some phase you went through, and heck, we're all family, we don't judge, right? Why do you think it would make me feel better to know you enjoy wearing diapers and can stop at any time? Don't you get it? I wake up wearing a diaper, I go to school wearing a diaper, and when I come home, I wear a diaper! Everyone knows! There is not a person in the world who knows me who does not know I wear diapers, and that's the most humiliating thing for me in the world, and I have no choice! I can't stop wearing them. When I meet guys I like, I don't have to worry about when I'm going to tell them, because if they don't see it sticking out of my pants, they hear about it from someone else, and then it's all they can think about. Everyone in the family, and all your friends, and probably everyone else you go to school with, they all talk about how smart you are and how pretty you are and blah blah blah, but nobody except Mom ever says anything about me except that I wear diapers. And even Mom acts like I'm four years old, and have to be protected because I can't handle my own problems. I don't think I'm butt ugly, and I don't think I'm stupid either, but it's not like anyone notices. Maybe if I could take off my diaper they might, but nobody does. And you bitch because you wish you had more time to wear these things? Why would you ever choose to wear them? I smell like pee all the time, except when I smell like shit, and I get rashes all over me, and sometime in the next couple of years that beautiful thing called puberty is supposed to happen and then that's another bodily fluid I get to have smeared all over my butt until I can find a couple of minutes to go get changed. Ever try telling your teacher that the reason why you're late for class is because you were changing your diaper? God, you and Ariel just have no idea."

"Ariel?"

"Oh, she still likes diapers. She just hides it because she thinks her mom doesn't like her to wear them. I wish we could trade moms, because my mom sure doesn't seem to mind having a kid in diapers."

I turned around again. I thought my tears had subsided enough that I could save them for my own bedroom. "Maybe when you grow up a little you'll figure out that your mom would rather have a kid in diapers than a dead kid. And maybe you'll figure out that there are better things in life than getting to sit at the 'cool' lunch table and all the little popular girls calling you at night so you can all sit around and diss the class misfits. And any decent guy doesn't care if you wear diapers anyway, but you're only in the sixth grade. You have the rest of your life to have friends and a boyfriend."

"Oh, you think that's what this is all about. Well, then, I've been ranting to a wall, and I'm tired and my throat hurts, so get out of my room, and don't come back for awhile."

I stood up and walked out but turned around in the doorway. "Once in awhile you say something that makes me think you're much more mature than most eleven-year-olds. But since I only think of you as someone who wears diapers anyway I guess I still treat you like you're four. And then you kick me out of your room, and I realize there's a reason why everyone still treats you like you're four years old, and it has nothing to do with diapers!"

"Go to hell," Caitlin said, shutting the door in my face.

"Tis the season to be jolly!" I yelled at the closed door. I stormed off to my own bedroom and automatically went for the Attends bag in the closet. After pulling one out and staring at it for a few moments, I put it back in the bag, shoved the bag to the back of my closet, opened my door and started my homework.

Chapter 5

"I'm not going back to that school." Caitlin sat at the kitchen table with her arms folded firmly across her chest.

Jenny sighed, frustrated. "Will you please try to be reasonable? You cannot drop out of school!"

"Maybe I could study on my own and if I could pass the eighth grade SOLs, they'd let me skip to ninth grade and at least everyone would be more mature. Danielle, you took those tests. Don't you think I could pass them if I studied? Maybe you could help me."

"Don't ask me. You can take care of yourself. You're not four years old anymore."

"I said I was sorry about all that," Caitlin whined.

She had said she was sorry, which was a big step for her. I'd never before heard any apology out of her mouth that wasn't prompted by her mother. I'd said I was sorry too, but the chill in the house was definitely not due to the December temperatures.

"Maybe you could pass them, but I don't think they'd let you skip two and a half grades because you passed a few tests." I ate my last bite of roast beef and grabbed a couple of cookies, sprinkled with red and green sugar, from the platter in the middle of the table.

"What does SOL stand for, anyway?" Cody asked.

Caitlin smiled, proud to share probably about the only thing she'd learned in sixth grade with her brother. "Standards of Learning tests," Jenny said hastily.

"That's not what everyone at my school calls them," Caitlin said.

"Maybe you don't need to go back there after all," Jenny remarked

"See? Mom, all I learn there is obscenities."

Jenny sighed again. "Look. I can't home-school you. I'm not certified and besides that, I have to work. You may well get more of an education at home reading and watching the Discovery channel, but the state of Virginia says that you must attend some form of school. We could try to switch you to another public school, or look into scholarships for a private school, but I think any school you go to is going to have its share of jerks."

"It's not fair," Caitlin complained. "Stupid Virginia. Stupid school. I already know how to read and write, and I know algebra so what else is there to learn?"

"You don't know algebra," I told her.

"I do too. If 5x equals 25, then x is five. See?"

"Oh, that's baby algebra."

"Stop arguing," Jenny pleaded. "Caitlin, come January, you are going back to school. Period. Now let's drop this and have a nice holiday. Danielle's mom will be here soon, and we don't want her to think all we do around here is fight."

"Oh, believe me, she's used to it," I said.

"When will she be here?" Cody asked.

"Her flight gets in at eight-fifteen." Jenny checked her watch. "Which means we'd better leave soon. Girls, clear the table, and Cody, it's your night to rinse the dishes off and put them in the dishwasher."

"Are you excited to see your mom?" Caitlin asked me.

"I don't know if that's the word I'd use. I feel like I swallowed a bullet." We cleaned up the kitchen quickly and left. Vince's house was the first stop. I'd begged him to come along.

"I hope your mom likes me," he said in the car.

"Oh, she'll like you," Jenny assured him. "You want to go to college, and you don't look like her ex-husband. She'll like you."

As we got off the interstate near the airport, Jenny announced "Okay, kids, you know how Grandma and Aunt Stephanie are. So this is what they need to believe. We go to church every Sunday and every holiday, regardless of how long the service is supposed to be or how tired we are. Danielle, I have never bought you a ticket to an R-rated movie. Caitlin, I've never taken you to see a PG-13 movie, and we only rent G and PG movies. Cody, you go to bed at eight-thirty every night, and you're not allowed to have soda or candy. Vince, you don't come over on school nights. Got it?"

"Got it," we replied skeptically.

"Oh my god!" Jenny cried.

"What? Mom, will you please relax?" Caitlin asked.

"I forgot to tell you guys to clean your rooms."

"I cleaned mine," I volunteered.

"I cleaned mine too," Cody said proudly. We looked at Caitlin.

"If I cleaned my room, they'd know we were faking all this stuff for them," she pointed out.

When we finally got to the airport, it took forever to find their gate and Jenny was shoving us along and ranting nervously about what her mother would think if we were late. As it turned out, we got there just as everyone was walking out into the waiting room. We looked around for them, and heard a familiar voice coming from the terminal.

"I can carry my own bag, thank you! I might be an old woman but I'm not a cripple!"

"Grandma!" Cody exclaimed, and ran up to give her a hug. Never much of an affectionate person, she tentatively put her arm around him.

"My goodness, you've gotten big! And who's that young lady with your mother?" Caitlin blushed and smiled politely.

"Danielle!" There was my mother. I had time to notice she'd grown her hair longer and how expensive her fur coat looked before she gave me a hug and all I could notice was how strong her perfume was.

"Mom, you look nice! Where'd you get that coat?"

"Oh, that was a Christmas present from John."

"John? What happened to Harold?"

"He's history. I think he was gay. I met John through work. He's the executive vice-president of the corporation," she bragged, I guess expecting me to be impressed. Leave it to my mom to make sure her boyfriend could keep her clothed in dead animals.

"Well, I guess as long as he's got money, that's all that's important." Before she could reprimand me for being smart, I grabbed Vince's arm and dragged him beside me. "Mom, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend, Vincent Rogers. Vince, this is my mother."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Harding," he said. I cringed inwardly. How could I have forgotten to fill him in on this important detail?

"Ms. Miller, actually," she told him. "I switched back to my maiden name after my husband and I divorced."

"Oh, I'm sorry." When my mother turned away to greet Jenny, Vince glared at me.

"She hates me already."

"Sorry I forgot to tell you about that. She doesn't hate you. She'll forget about it soon."

We went to go get their stuff. I thought maybe Jenny had better check with them to make sure they had gotten round trip tickets, because from all the suitcases it looked like they might be staying years. Neither of them seemed to notice that Vince lugged two of those suitcases out to the car.

"So where's everyone else? I was expecting the whole family," Grandma complained.

"Ariel and Joey are both recovering from strep throat, and Jessica didn't want them out in the cold," Jenny explained. "But you'll get to see them tomorrow."

"Seems like Jessica could've left them with her husband and came with you all. They're still married, aren't they?"

Jenny sighed. "Yes, Mom. You'll see them all tomorrow."

"How do you like school, Vince?" Mom asked. "Are you in Danielle's grade?"

"Yes ma'am, but we don't have any classes together except chorus. School's fine. My favorite subject is history."

"That's nice. Where do you want to go to college?"

"Well, I was thinking about the University of Virginia, or William and Mary."

Uh-oh, he'd said the wrong thing.

"William and Mary?" Grandma asked. "My younger sister went to William and Mary."

"What did she major in?"

"Political science or some nonsense like that. But she never graduated. After our daddy spent his savings to put her through the first three years, she dropped out, moved in with a man and had a child a couple of months later, and then finally got around to getting married. They both died in a car accident two years after that."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"This is what happens when you have a child out of wedlock. You understand?"

"Oh - yes ma'am." Vince glanced at me nervously.

"Vince is a very good student," Jenny put in hastily. "He's on Student Council, and he had a solo at their Christmas concert for chorus. He gets straight A's, don't you, Vince?"

"Well, I think I might have a B in chemistry for the semester," he admitted. "But usually."

"Caitlin, how are you doing in school?" Grandma asked. "You started middle school this year, didn't you?"

"Yeah. School's okay."

"Danielle, Caitlin, Cody and Ariel all made honor roll on their report cards last month," Jenny said, still looking to impress.

"I worry about them going to those schools in that big city," Grandma replied. "It seems like every time I turn on the news I hear about how bad public schools are. Kids bringing drugs and guns and who knows what else there. I can't imagine anyone actually learns anything anymore."

"Well, as much homework as they get, they'd better be learning something," Jenny replied, a little irritated. "Virginia Beach's schools are really very good, especially in our district. Danielle's school had the highest scores out of all the high schools in the city on the state standardized learning tests."

"That doesn't mean they're safe," Grandma replied. "All these northern kids are into drugs and violence and that awful rap music. The kids in Pineview aren't like that."

I rolled my eyes. Grandma obviously hadn't been to my old school in a long time. You could get lung cancer just walking into a bathroom on the first floor there, and high walking into a bathroom on the second. Most of the kids at my school now at least waited until school was over to pull out the pot.

"Oh Mom, kids are the same everywhere," Jenny insisted. "They go to good schools. Maybe they're a bit bigger than the school in Pineview, but it's good for them."

Jenny might as well just talk to the wall, for all Grandma was listening. What it really boiled down to was that the "northern" schools didn't have all the white, Catholic kids whose grandparents Grandma had gone to school with. The same white, Catholic kids who hung out after school cursing their teachers and drinking the beer they'd stolen from their daddies.

Vince looked uncomfortable. I was starting to wish I hadn't brought him. I'm sure he did too.

"Why don't we stop by Jessica's on the way back?" Mom suggested. "We haven't seen her in so long. She never writes us."

"She might write you more if you two got online," Jenny replied. Grandma didn't even have a computer, and Mom had one with no internet access. She said it was a waste of money since she could use the internet at work, and that even if she sent me e-mails I would never reply, since I never replied to her letters. Grandma maintained that at the age of 63, she was too old to worry about a computer, like a computer was some kind of child she'd have to look after.

Jenny called Jessica to say we'd be coming by. I don't know what Jess said to that, but since she didn't shriek in horror and slam down the phone, Jenny figured this was good enough to try to convince Grandma that the whole family just couldn't wait to see her.

"Vince, would you like me to drop you off at home?" Jenny offered. "I know your mom likes you to be in by ten." That was possibly the nicest thing she'd ever done for Vince, because his mom could care less when he got home. But she knew he'd had enough of my family for one night.

"Oh, yes ma'am, please. I forgot how late it was getting. You won't be mad at me, will you?" he whispered to me.

"No, I just wish you could take me with you. Don't worry, they're just picking on you because you're new." I was a little surprised he was bailing out so soon, though. They hadn't even been that bad tonight.

When we pulled up to Jessica's, the first thing we heard was loud crying coming from the living room. Ryan answered the door. He looked weary, but gave Grandma and Mom a hug and told them how good it was to see them again. Jessica joined us in the living room carrying a screaming, sobbing Joey.

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "He's not feeling well at all. He has a fever and..."

"And he just threw up all over the couch!" Ariel interjected. Nobody had sat down yet but we all edged away from the couch. Mom and Grandma took the chairs, and Jessica covered the piano bench with a towel and sat down on it with Joey. The rest of us stood around awkwardly.

"I thought he had strep throat?" Mom asked. "Didn't you take him to the doctor?"

"Of course! They're both on antibiotics, and Ariel's feeling better. But Joey's stomach is really sensitive. He has a hard time keeping food down anyway, and when he's sick it gets worse. We're hoping he'll outgrow it."

"Last year he got pneumonia and lost two pounds, so they put him in the hospital and fed him through a tube," Ryan said. "But he's not nearly as sick now as he was then."

"Oh, I hope not," said my mother, who I imagined expected Joey to break out into leprosy or scarlet fever next. "Maybe you should take him to see Danielle's old pediatrician in Georgia. He was forty-five minutes from our house, but he was worth it. Danielle hardly ever got sick, but of course that might've had something to do with the fresh air in the country."

"Auntie Lizzie," Caitlin began. My mom hated being called that, but Caitlin never seemed to remember. "Joey'd be dead by the time they got all the way down to Georgia."

"Is he that sickly?" Grandma asked.

"No," Jessica said, sighing. "Caitlin just likes to exaggerate. I'm sure you remember."

"So how are you, young lady?" Grandma asked Ariel. "Last time I saw you, you were about six inches shorter and wearing a..."

"I'm fine," Ariel said quickly. "And I don't wear those anymore. I was only eight then. I'm ten now."

"I know. We mean to get up here more often, but there just doesn't seem to be the time." Time? Mom had two vacation weeks every year, and Grandma didn't work. "Of course, you could come see us."

"I know," Jessica said apologetically. "We keep meaning to, but Ariel has school, and then during the summer Ryan gets even busier with work." I knew that wasn't the real reason. Ryan had once said that if they were going to fork over the money for four plane tickets, they'd go someplace where they'd actually have fun.

"How's your job going, Ryan? Do you still work at that concert place?"

"The Amphitheater? Yep, it's going well. Sometimes I feel a little burned out, but it pays pretty well so right now I think I'm going to stick with it."

"Ryan's teaching me how to play guitar, Mom," I volunteered, even though I knew my mom didn't think much of the guitar as an instrument. She'd taught me how to play piano when I was four, but I never practiced anymore.

"Danielle's doing really well," Ryan said, smiling. That was a lie but it was nice of him to say so. "We started about a year ago and just do lessons whenever we have the time."

"A year? How come you didn't tell me before now?" Mom complained. I shrugged. Probably because whenever we talked on the phone, she went on and on about her life and never listened to what I was saying.

Joey had fallen asleep in Jessica's arms, and she stood up carefully. "I think I'm going to go get him ready for bed. I'll be back down in a few minutes."

Grandma smiled at him as they left. "He's so cute. He's what, two, now?"

"Two on Christmas Day," Ryan said proudly.

We left pretty soon after. For once we'd been able to have a night of polite forced conversation like my friends' families and no yelling. I tried to see what Mom and Grandma thought of Vince but they wouldn't give me any specific opinions except "he seemed like a nice boy."

That was two days before Christmas. By Christmas morning I was still waiting for the bomb to drop. Holidays never seem to go smoothly in my family. My dad always added too much rum to his egg nog. One Thanksgiving Grandma and Mom got into a heated argument with Jessica. Then another year Jessica went into labor on Christmas Eve.

I did pretty well for gifts. The best ones were a CD burner from Mom and a $50 Old Navy gift card from Jenny. Jessica's family came over for lunch, and we exchanged gifts with them. Since Joey was the birthday boy, he got quite a few.

"Here, Joey, this is for you," my mom said, handing him a large package.

Joey gleefully grabbed for the ribbon but it was tied in a knot that held firmly. Ryan had to take it off for him, and then Joey was free to tear the paper off in shreds and toss them up in the air, grinning broadly.

It turned out to be one of those little potties that kids use when they're being toilet trained.

"Joey, look, soon you'll get to sit on the potty chair and be a big boy! No more baby diapers! Won't that be fun!" Ariel said, a little sarcastically.

"Well, I thought it would come in handy," Mom said, looking a little insulted. "He is two now, after all. He's ready to be trained."

"I don't know about that," Ryan replied.

"It will come in handy," Jessica said quickly. "Thank you. It's cute."

"Take it out and let him sit on it," Grandma said. "The first step to training is letting them get comfortable with the potty."

Jessica looked a little hesitant, but she didn't want to start an argument so she unpacked it. Joey stuck his hand down inside it, rolled it around some, and finally, with a lot of encouragement from Grandma and Mom, sat on it.

"Great," Caitlin said glumly. "Soon I'll be the only one in this family who wears diapers."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," I replied. Joey had gotten up and started putting the alphabet blocks he'd gotten from Jenny in the potty.

"Clean up," he announced.

"No, Joey, toys don't go in there," Mom told him, emptying the blocks out. He frowned at her and immediately began throwing them back in.

"It's really a useful gift. Thank you," Jessica said again. "We'll keep it in the bathroom and let him get used to it."

After lunch I carried some of my gifts up to my room. Mom followed me upstairs. "Did you get everything you wanted?" she asked.

"Pretty much. Thanks again for the CD burner. I really wasn't expecting that."

"You're welcome. Did you and Vince exchange gifts yet?"

"Yeah. He went to Chesapeake today to see his grandparents, so we did it last night."

"What'd he get you?"

I hadn't been planning on telling her. "A ring with my birthstone."

"Your birthstone is a diamond!" she exclaimed. "Let me see it."

"It's a small diamond, Mom." I gave her the box. "Don't get scared. It's not an engagement ring or anything. And his mom works at a jewelry store so he got a discount."

"I don't care! That's not an appropriate gift for a 15-year- old girl to get from her boyfriend!"

"Well, we are really good friends."

"Do you love him?"

"I don't know," I admitted.

"You are too young to be in this kind of relationship! I wasn't even allowed to date when I was your age! The first ring I got was an engagement ring from your father."

"Don't worry, Mom." I tried to make light of the situation. "The engagement ring I want is $20,000 at Tiffany's. It'll be years before he can get me that."

Mom frowned. "I don't like this. Does he come over here when nobody's home?"

"No," I lied.

"I don't want you over at his house or him over here unless there's an adult home. Is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Good." She hesitated. "You're not...having sex, are you?"

"Mom!"

"Well, it's a reasonable question! If the guy's giving you diamonds, I'd say it's a pretty serious relationship!"

"No, we're not having sex."

"I brought you up to believe that you should wait until marriage for sex. But I guess that's old-fashioned now. You probably go to school with kids who are having sex." Probably? Caitlin probably went to school with kids who had sex. In high school, it was a given.

"Yeah, I guess."

"It's not just that it's immoral or that sex leads to babies. You're way too young for that kind of relationship. Right now your focus needs to be school and friends."

"I know."

"Well, that's what you tell me. You tell me you know cigarettes are bad for you and the next thing I know you're hiding out in the cornfield with a bunch of your friends smoking."

"That was years ago, Mom. I've grown up a lot since then."

"How am I supposed to know you've grown up? You never tell me anything. I didn't know you were in such a serious relationship. I didn't know you made honor roll in school this fall. I didn't even know you were learning to play guitar."

"I just forgot to tell you. It's hard to tell you every detail of my life in a phone call. Besides, you hadn't told me about breaking up with Harold or your new boyfriend."

"It's because you always seem to dislike the men I date."

"You don't seem to like Vince very much either. Mom, it's weird with you dating guys besides Dad."

"Well, it's weird with you dating at all. I remember when you were Joey's size."

"And I remember when you were married."

"Danielle, it's just something you're going to have to get used to. I'm not even forty years old yet. Do you expect me to just sit in my empty house and watch TV the rest of my life? Maybe if you were still there, I wouldn't have to go on dates."

Here she went again, trying to make me feel guilty. "Mom, you dated before I left. So, are you having sex with this John guy?"

"Excuse me? Young lady, that is none of your business, and that was totally uncalled for."

"You asked me. You just told me I should wait for marriage so I just wanted to see if you were following your own advice. Besides, it is my business. I don't want a little brother or sister."

"Danielle..."

"I mean, he's buying you all that stuff, I figure he has to be getting something!"

There was a knock on the door. "You guys want some hot chocolate?" Jenny called.

"We'd love some," Mom replied, looking relieved. She started for the door and turned around to face me again. "Danielle, I love you."

"I love you too, Mom," I said awkwardly. She looked like she wanted to say something more, but instead she smiled a little and we walked downstairs in silence.

Chapter 6

"Danielle! Danielle!" Caitlin ran into my room one day after school, red-faced and excited.

"What? What?"

Caitlin flopped down on my bed and smiled. "There's this new guy in my class."

"Is he hot?"

"Hot? He sizzles. He looks like a younger version of Milo Ventimiglia."

"That's pretty damn hot."

"And I told him he looked like Milo. I mean, I didn't say I thought Milo was hot, I just told him he looked like him. And he said he liked Gilmore Girls too."

"Oh, then he's gay."

"Seriously?" Caitlin looked disappointed.

"Probably not. It's just a stereotype."

"Well, anyway, I didn't think he was going to talk to me, because hot guys never talk to me, but he sat down beside me at lunch. He asked why I wore diapers. Not in a teasing way, just curious. I told him I was in a car accident, and he said he was sorry. Then I asked where he was from, and he said New Jersey."

"So does hot guy have a name?"

"Nick."

"Well, that's boring."

"Yeah. But anyway they're having a dance at school Friday night, and he asked me if I wanted to go! Me! Stupid little me wearing diapers! He wants to go to a dance with me!" Caitlin couldn't sit still anymore and jumped around the room some. "I gotta go tell Mom!"

"That's great, honey," Jenny said a couple minutes later after Caitlin told her. "See, I told you that you'd meet some friends who don't care that you wear diapers."

"I still want that surgery, just so you know."

Jenny sighed. "So what are you going to wear?"

"Oh God! I hadn't even thought about that. I've never been to a dance before. Do you have to wear a dress?" she asked me, making a face.

"No, but you should wear something besides jeans."

"You could wear those black pants Grandma gave you for Christmas," Jenny said. "They look really cute on you."

"But they're tight. You can see my diaper."

"But that means he can also see your butt," I said. "Guys like that."

Caitlin laughed. "Danielle," Jenny sighed. "You're no help. I think those pants look very nice on you, Caitlin. Don't worry about your diaper. It's really not even that noticeable."

"Oh, I know what they'd look good with, too," Caitlin replied. "Ariel has this dark blue top that's kind of sparkly. I'll ask her if I can borrow it."

"Sounds great," Jenny said. She looked really happy. Caitlin hadn't been excited about anything having to do with school all year.

I was just ready for summer. I was tired of dragging myself out of bed every morning at six. In July, when I turned sixteen and three months, I would get my driver's license. I'd already passed driver's ed and my behind-the-wheel test at school. Even though there was no way I'd get my own car, I figured Jenny would let me borrow hers sometimes, especially if I offered to take my cousins wherever they needed to go.

But I still had three months of school to get through first. Things got a little more interesting the next day when I was in chorus. We were having a chill day, which basically meant that our teacher, Mrs. Cardilla, was so far behind that she wanted to take our class period to do her own work so we could do whatever we wanted as long as we didn't get too loud.

"Dammit!" I exclaimed. I threw my queen of spades into the pile of cards in front of me and collected them. "Well, that gives me at least a hundred points. Game over."

"A hundred and five, actually," Vince said. "Let's see, that means you owe Christy twenty-three cents, thirty-five cents for Sarah and eighty cents for me, since my score was only twenty because I..."

"Shot the moon three times," Christy interjected. "We know that."

I counted out the change for Christy, Sarah and Vince. "Vince, do you think maybe you can loan me some money? Because that was my lunch right there. You got my ice cream money in the last game."

"You shouldn't play unless you can pay," he replied.

"Yeah, well if you'd stop cheating I wouldn't have lost so much money!"

Mrs. Cardilla stood in front of everyone and clapped her hands a few times. When everyone kept talking, she turned off the lights. We quieted down gradually. "Thank you," she said. "As you all should know, our spring concert is May 20. That's a Tuesday. We'll be doing the four pieces I handed out to you last class, plus 'Seasons of Love' and of course 'Under the Sea' again this year for our senior send-off." Everyone groaned except for the seniors, who clapped and cheered.

"Mrs. Cardilla, how come we gotta do 'Seasons of Love' again? We did it in the fall," someone complained.

"Would you rather learn another new piece? Maybe we could learn 'Ode to Joy' and get the orchestra to play with us." We all kept quiet. We knew better by now than to complain about any of the stuff Mrs. Cardilla picked out for us, even if it meant having "Seasons of Love" stuck in our heads for months, because she'd be sure to find something worse.

"The orchestra's spring pops concert is May 15," Mrs. Cardilla continued. "This year, they're going to be doing selections from 'Moulin Rouge'. I assume most of you have seen that."

"We should watch it in class to get ready for their concert," a loudmouthed guy named Antonio announced.

Mrs. Cardilla crossed her arms and glared at him. "We have five minutes before the bell rings. If I keep getting interrupted, I'm not going to have time to tell you all about these great solo opportunities." We perked up a little. "Mr. Matthews is having auditions next Monday after school for the leading and backup male and female roles. Right now it looks like we'll need people for 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend,' 'Come What May,' 'Elephant Love Medley,' and then just one female for 'One Day I'll Fly Away' and a male for 'Your Song.' As far as I know, Mr. Matthews isn't going to censor any of the lyrics. We'd like to have the same people for the leading male and female in all the songs. I've got music up here, you guys can pick it up on the way out. Oh, and Mr. Matthews has invited Kellam's chorus students to audition, too." We groaned. Kellam High School was our biggest rival, but we shared an orchestra teacher with them, and he was always inviting their chorus students to participate in concerts.

The bell rang. I stopped to get the Moulin Rouge music before leaving with Vince. "Are you going to audition?" he asked.

"Sure. I probably won't get a part. The juniors and seniors always get them. But wouldn't it be cool if I did? I mean, it's Moulin Rouge. I have the soundtrack. I already know all the words. But I find it really hard to believe that Mr. Matthews will let someone get up there and sing stuff like 'The only way of loving me, baby, is to pay a lovely fee.'"

Vince laughed. "Well, I wasn't even going to bother auditioning. There's too much else going on, and AP exams are in May too. Plus, I wanted to take the SATs this spring."

"Come on, we're only sophomores. Stop stressing so much."

"You should take yours, too. The earlier you take them, the more times you can retake them."

"Oh, you think my scores would be so bad I'd need to retake them four times," I said, pretending to be insulted.

"Not going there. Anyway, what I was saying, before you interrupted me, honey, is that I wasn't going to audition, but since you are, I'm going to too. Because then if we both get the leads, we'll get to sing all those love songs together."

"You want the lead male part."

"Yeah..."

"Vince, have you seen Moulin Rouge?"

"We went and saw it together on the last day of eighth grade. It was our first date, unless you count going skating. Don't you remember?"

"Oh...yeah."

"I can't believe you forgot about that!" We were entering the cafeteria then, and Vince didn't bother holding the door for me.

"I didn't forget! It just wasn't the first thing on my mind." I caught the door before it shut in my face. "I can't believe you actually want to get up there and sing Elton John cover songs to me."

"It's not that I want to sing Elton John covers to you. I just don't want some other guy singing Elton John covers to you."

"So you're willing to give up your study time and have the whole school thinking you're gay?" That wasn't really such a problem. At our school, it sometimes seemed like there were more gay and lesbian couples than there were straight couples.

"I thought you would be happy I was auditioning with you."

"I am. But what if you get the part and I don't? Then you're committed to it and you wouldn't have had to worry about me singing with some other guy."

"We won't get it anyway. You know sophomores never get anything except the backup parts."

"Yeah, but you're one of Mrs. Cardilla's pets, too, and I'm not." We put our backpacks down on the usual table and headed for the lunch line. "Hey, so, can I borrow a couple of bucks? I'm starving...and it's Pizza Hut day."

I knew better than to play hearts with my lunch money, but the real reason I was broke was because Wal-Mart had a sale on diapers that week and I'd stocked up. I'd also needed more wipes and some diaper rash cream. I never had a problem with diaper rash, probably because I went through tube after tube of Desitin. After all, how could I ever tell Jenny I needed to go to the doctor for a diaper rash? But Vince and I practiced for our auditions all week after school, so I didn't get a chance to be diapered until Friday evening. Vince wanted to come over to chill and watch a movie, so I told him to come around seven-thirty, when everyone else would be gone and we could actually cuddle together in my room instead of having to sit four feet apart on the living room couch with Jenny popping in every three minutes to check and make sure we weren't making any babies and covering it up by asking if we wanted popcorn. I also figured this would give me a little while to wear a diaper after dinner.

We ate early, since Caitlin had to get ready for her dance. It was my night to do the dishes, but I ran upstairs after dinner, put on a diaper, put some sweatpants on over it and ran back downstairs.

I got myself a glass of water and started clearing the table. With my hands in the warm dishwater, it wasn't long before I had to pee, but I held off as long as I could, crossing my legs and shifting my weight. Part of it was that I thought the eventual release was much more satisfying when I couldn't hold it anymore, and part of it was that I wanted to keep the thick gauzy-cotton diaper that was pressing up between my legs dry for as long as possible.

Caitlin came into the kitchen, ready for her dance except her hair was a mess. "Will you brush my hair?" she asked me. "I tried to curl it, but it looked awful, so I dunked it in water to get the curls out, and then it dried all frizzy."

"Sure." I took the brush from her and started brushing her long brown hair.

"I wish I had natural curls like you and Ariel," Caitlin sighed. "And blue eyes. Or green eyes. Brown eyes and brown hair are so ugly. And I wish I had boobs and was skinnier. I bet I inherited the flat and fat genes in the family."

I was surprised. The thing is, Caitlin is very pretty. Her hair is reddish-brown and pretty long, with a silky texture. She wasn't ultra-skinny but certainly not fat or even chubby. The adults on our side of the family do tend to be a bit chubby, Caitlin's mom and my mom both were, and Grandma was just plain fat, but Caitlin wasn't showing any signs of growing in that direction yet. She didn't have much of a chest yet, but there was a little there, and she was only eleven.

"Curls are a pain," I said finally. "They frizz majorly unless you spend like an hour putting gunk in your hair every morning. Half the time, I just end up straightening my hair, but then it rains and it looks like it's been struck by lightening."

"But you can do all kinds of cool stuff with your hair, like put it up with a pencil. Whenever I do that, it just slides right out."

"Well, you can get away with brushing your hair for five minutes every morning and it looks fine for the rest of the day. And I think brown hair and brown eyes are very pretty. At least you don't have to put up with dumb blonde jokes." Caitlin smiled a little. "Besides, you're not fat. I don't know how you can even say you are."

"Well, maybe not, but my butt looks big because I have to wear a stupid diaper."

"You can't do anything about that, but really, it's not even noticeable." I had to pee really badly by now but didn't want to do it in front of Caitlin. Even though she wouldn't notice, hopefully, it just felt weird when we were standing right next to each other. "Hey, if you run upstairs and look on my dresser, I have a royal blue headband that would look great with that shirt."

Caitlin ran off to get it and I returned to the dishes. As soon as the warm water hit my hands again, I started peeing. I smiled a little and relaxed my muscles, which were clenched from trying to hold it, as the warm liquid spread out in my diaper. I felt a little guilty, like always, for doing something a little forbidden, but it was a good feeling of guilt, the feeling I used to get when my friends and I stole beer from my dad and drank it in my bedroom. Like I had broken the rules and gotten away with it.

Caitlin returned with the headband, and I fixed her hair. I then stepped back and examined her. "See, you look beautiful. Nick is going to faint when he sees you. He'll have the hottest date at the dance."

Caitlin blushed. I could tell she was pleased, even though she said, "You're just saying that because you're my cousin."

"Well, we'll get a second opinion. Hey, Cody, come here for a second," I called. He was in the living room watching TV. "How do you think your sister looks?" I asked, giving him a stern look that left no doubt what his answer should be.

"Okay," he replied. I kicked his foot. "Ow...you look pretty," he added reluctantly.

"See, Cody thinks you look pretty," I said lamely. Caitlin rolled her eyes.

Cody sniffed. "It smells like pee in here. Maybe you should change before you leave." My heart started beating faster.

"I didn't pee," Caitlin said, looking at me meaningfully.

I tried to avoid catching her eye. "I don't smell anything. Are you sure you're not just smelling yourself, Cody?" Caitlin laughed.

"I do not smell like pee!" he exclaimed.

"No, you smell worse. Pee smells like roses compared to what you smell like," Caitlin replied. I was relieved that I'd diverted their attention but made a mental note not to pee in front of them again.

Jenny came in. "Caitlin, you look beautiful! I can't believe you're going to your first dance. I want to take some pictures."

"Mom, it's time to leave."

"Okay, I'll take some when we get home then." Jenny turned to me. "After I drop Caitlin off, I'm taking Cody to the mall to get some summer clothes. Do you want to come?"

"No, that's okay. I'm just going to chill here."

"Are you sure? Why don't you invite some friends over?"

I knew by "friends", she meant girlfriends. I wasn't supposed to have Vince over when nobody else was home. It wasn't just my mom's rule; it was Jenny's too. "Maybe I will. But I'm tired."

"Well, get some rest. We'll be home around ten."

After they left, I finished doing the dishes and drank some more water. I didn't want to leak, but my diaper could usually hold two fairly large wettings. I peed some more. I was starting to feel like I was sitting in a bathtub of warm water. I always had liked warm baths.

I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my closet. I didn't think I looked ridiculous. I think I looked cute, not like a baby, but just like a teenager wearing a diaper. What was so different about wearing a nice, thick diaper instead of fancy underwear? Guys liked girls in pretty panties. I had plenty of those, I liked wearing cute underwear almost as much as I liked wearing diapers, but what was so different about a diaper? How come fancy underwear looked sexy but a diaper, even a dry diaper, didn't to most people? And what was so bad about a wet diaper? Girls and guys had other bodily fluids that they didn't find disgusting. They even found them to be a turn-on. What was so different, so gross, about urine? I didn't know if I would really want to see Vince pee in a diaper, but I wasn't so sure I'd want to see any other bodily fluids he produced either, at least not yet.

I sat back down again, and my diaper made a squishing sound. The phone rang. It was Vince saying he was on his way over. I took my diaper off, cleaned myself off with a baby wipe, and changed into a pair of those panties that were supposed to be so sexy and a denim skirt. I was throwing the diaper out in the garbage can when the doorbell rang.

"You look nice," Vince said when I answered the door.

"Thanks," I replied, kissing him quickly.

"Hey, is that all I get?"

I gave him a two-minute, tongue-rubbing, wet sloppy kiss in response. "Is that better?"

"I think I might have to get some more of that later," he replied. "I brought over two movies. Moulin Rouge, and American Pie 2."

"That's quite a contrast," I said. "I don't think I can stand to hear those songs anymore. Besides, Moulin Rouge always makes me cry. Let's watch AP."

"We should do some more practicing, you know."

"Let's do it tomorrow."

He looked skeptical. "Well, you're the one who wants to audition so much, but we can wait until tomorrow."

"I just feel like watching a funny movie tonight."

"Well, I guess as long as I get to spend time with you, I'm happy."

We went upstairs to my room and put the movie in. I sat in Vince's lap and rested my head on his shoulder. He put his arms around me. "Your hair smells good," he said.

"It's just Pantene and de-frizzing gunk."

"Well, keep using it."

"You know, tonight Caitlin said she'd rather have curls everywhere like mine than straight, sleek hair like she has. Isn't that crazy?"

"Caitlin has pretty hair," he agreed. "But yours is beautiful. You got the best looks in your family."

"You're crazy."

"Well, if being crazy means I get to date you, then I hope I never get better."

"You're the best boyfriend," I said, giving him another kiss. The previews were over and the movie was starting. "Oh, I love this scene."

"It's better than the first scene in the original," Vince agreed. We laid down on the bed to get more comfortable.

Even though we'd both seen the movie before, it seemed to get funnier every time. We fell over laughing during most of it until the end.

"That's so sweet," I said as Jim and Michelle kissed onscreen after he showed up at band camp. "How come you never do anything like that?"

"Because I'm not a band geek," Vince replied. "I'm a very special boy."

"Honey, you might be good at singing, but acting's not your strong point."

"You're so mean," he said, giving me a kiss.

"Am I?" I put my hands on his chest and pushed him onto the bed so that I was sitting in his lap and he was lying down under me. "Am I mean?" I asked, kissing him again.

"Very." Vince reached up under my shirt and unhooked my bra. "I should punish you."

"Oh, you would never do that."

He lifted my shirt up and I held my arms up so he could pull it off. "See, that's what you get for being mean."

"Like that's a punishment."

"Well, you look cold now without your shirt."

I glanced down. "Then why don't you warm me up?"

He kissed me again and I felt his hands moving over my breasts. I took his shirt off, kissed his chest, rolled off him and pulled him up on top of me. He kissed my neck.

"Don't leave a mark," I warned.

We laughed. His hands were moving all over me now and he unbuttoned my skirt and slid it off. The movie was over and the TV was blaring but neither of us really noticed it. Vince's fingers were inside me. I gasped, turned my head a little and my eyes landed on my closet door. It was open just a crack, but I couldn't see anything. My diapers were in there. I'd never told Vince about them and still didn't know if I wanted to. If I told him, how would he react? Would he be caring and understanding or would he be disgusted? And if he was disgusted, if he wanted nothing to do with them or me, what would happen if I'd already slept with him?

He had taken his pants off now and was just in boxers. I could feel him pressing up against me. "Vince," I said softly. He kissed my lips.

"Vince!" I said, more firmly.

"You okay?" he whispered.

"Maybe we shouldn't...you know."

"Oh." He rolled off me and lay there beside me. I put my head on his chest and he wrapped his arm around me. "I'm sorry."

"I...I want to...it's just I'm not ready yet...and we don't have anything."

"I have a condom."

"I know...but that's not enough. I could still..."

"I know." He stroked my hair. "I'm sorry. I went too far."

"No, I didn't mind...I enjoyed it...just, let's hold off on sex for a little while."

"I love you."

"I love you too," I said, kissing him. We lay there for a few minutes until we heard a car pull into the driveway.

"Shit!" I exclaimed, jumping out of bed. We put our clothes back on quickly. "Go! Go out the back way," I said as we ran down the stairs. He disappeared out the back door just as Jenny, Caitlin and Cody came in.

"Did you have a nice night?" Jenny asked me. "What did you do?"

"Oh...just hung out. I watched a movie."

"That's good."

Caitlin could hardly stand still. "Danielle, can I talk to you?"

"She's been dying to talk to you since we left the school," Jenny said. "She won't tell us what's up. She says it's 'woman to woman.'"

Caitlin and I went up to my room. "How was your dance?"

Caitlin paced my floor. "I think Nick really likes me," she said happily.

"Cool!"

"Yeah. He's really nice. He said he didn't care that I wore diapers. He didn't see why everyone made such a big deal about it. He said the worst part about it was that I hated it so much, but he was glad I just didn't get hurt worse in the car accident."

"That's great."

"The only slow song they played was 'I'm With You.' We were dancing during it and he kissed me." Caitlin pointed to the right corner of her mouth. "Really fast, right here."

"Aww, that's sweet!"

"Yeah. I hope maybe someday we'll be like you and Vince," Caitlin smiled and blushed and looked at the floor. "Well, I think I'm going to go call Lindsey and Ariel. Night."

"Night." I got ready for bed, feeling a little bit guilty. I didn't want Caitlin to be like me and Vince. I didn't want her to think her older cousin, who wore diapers for fun and snuck boys in her room when no one was home, was someone she wanted to be like. But I thought about how I felt when Vince was on top of me and didn't want to change, either.

Chapter 7

The audition results were to be posted outside the chorus room Tuesday afternoon, and it seemed like my last class would never end. I squirmed in my seat while Ms. Erwin dragged on and on about tangents and cosines. Finally the numbers on the clock flipped to 2:00, and I was out the door before the bell had finished ringing.

Vince was already there, and I thought by the look on his face that we hadn't done well. "How was your day...Satine," he asked. (Satine is the name of the leading female character in Moulin Rouge).

I screamed. "Omigod! I got it? I got the solo?"

Vince nodded and smiled. "Congratulations," he said quietly.

I stopped jumping up and down. "Oh...honey. I'm sorry. Who got it instead?" I moved past him to look at the list.

"Andrew Leuzzi," I read. "Don't know him."

"Me neither. He must go to Kellam."

"They always take all our parts!" I said, frustrated. "I think Mr. Matthews has something going on with the chorus teacher over there."

"Well, I'm not upset I didn't get it. I didn't have time, anyway." Vince gave me a half-hearted smile. "I guess I'll see you later. I have a student council meeting."

"Okay. Bye." I took one more look at my name on the sheet of paper and walked off to the locker I shared with Sarah. She was already there, struggling to get it open.

"Let me try," I said. I re-dialed the combination, pulled up, and yanked as hard as I could. The door flew open with enough force to send me stumbling backwards. We laughed.

"Maybe we ought to clean it out," Sarah said, looking at the thick pile of papers that had gotten stuck in the lock. She picked one up. "Do you want your French test from November?"

I glanced at it. "Not with that grade. Oh, I remember why I saved it. I was going to try to get my teacher to give me a few more points and then I couldn't find it. I guess she's probably not still open to those points."

"Probably not. Oh, weren't you supposed to find out how your audition went today?"

I nodded modestly. "Yeah. I did okay."

"Okay?"

"Well, I got the lead female solo," I said, smiling a little.

"Oh my god! That's so cool. Congratulations!" she said, giving me a hug. "I'd take you out to celebrate, but I have to go to work. But tomorrow at lunch, I'll buy you ice cream. I promise. So did Vince get the part he wanted too?"

"Well, no. Some guy from Kellam got it."

"Oh, that sucks. Is he jealous?"

"Oh, I don't think so. I mean, Vince gets a lot of parts. I'm sure he'll get a solo for districts or something."

"Yeah, but this time he could've been singing with you." I shrugged. "It's just a solo. It doesn't mean anything. He didn't really want it anyway."

"Well, I better get to work."

"Yeah, I better get home. See you tomorrow. Don't forget about my ice cream."

"What ice cream?" Sarah joked. "Don't give me that look! I won't forget. Bye."

I considered calling Jenny for a ride but decided just to walk home. It was a nice day and the heat felt therapeutic after all the snow we'd had that winter. I practiced the songs from Moulin Rouge in my head as I walked home. I was surprised I'd gotten the part. I hadn't even thought my audition had gone very well. I hoped this guy Andrew would be okay to practice with and not someone who would sigh impatiently every time we had to start over. The concert was only a couple of weeks away, and we had a lot of practicing to do. Practices started the day after tomorrow, and I had to do a couple of individual ones with Mr. Matthews, the orchestra teacher, and then there were a few scheduled with the entire orchestra. I could see why Vince said he wouldn't have the time.

As I turned onto my street, I heard a horrible scream, followed by sobs and more screaming. Joey was sitting on the sidewalk in front of his house, beating it with his fists, red-faced and howling. I rushed up and saw Jessica, calmly unloading groceries from her car.

"Joey, what's wrong?" I asked, rushing up to hug him. He turned away and continued screaming.

"Oh, he's had a bad day," Jessica said. "I picked him up at preschool in the middle of his nap, and he couldn't get back to sleep in the car. Then he wanted a Sponge Bob pop from the ice cream truck, but they were all out. I told him we could go inside and have some chocolate ice cream but," she sighed, "you know how they are at that age."

"At that age? Caitlin threw a fit this morning because I was taking too long in the bathroom. She didn't actually beat her fists or cry but she would've if I'd been in there one second longer."

"Yeah, come to think of it, Ariel still does things like that too. And I bet she'll be even worse when she's Caitlin's age," Jessica said. "I am not looking forward to her being a teenager. I wish I could either freeze her at the age she is now, or send her back in time. Anyway, do you want to come have some ice cream with us?"

"Sure." I grabbed a couple of grocery bags and followed her into the house. Joey was still out on the sidewalk screaming, but as soon as the screen door closed behind us, he ran up to the porch and stood there, crying hard.

"Poor Joey," I said, coming back out and picking him up. He stared at me with his bloodshot eyes open big and blue. "You're going to have so many girls chasing after you one day, with that dark hair and those blue eyes, you know?"

"Tell me about it," Jessica said. "I think he was trying to pick up the cashier at the grocery store today. He looked at her all wide-eyed and gave her this big smile and she was just about to die, she thought he was so cute."

I laughed and put Joey down at the table. Jessica scooped some ice cream for all of us. "Did school go okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, it was fine."

"Have you found out yet how you did on those auditions for the Moulin Rouge solos?"

"Yeah. I got the parts I wanted, but Vince didn't. He lost to some guy from Kellam."

"That sucks. Is he jealous?"

"Why does everyone keep asking that? Of course he's not jealous. He didn't want it that much in the first place."

"Well yeah, but you got it, and he wanted to get to practice with you and now it'll be some other guy up there singing those love songs with you instead."

"Yeah, but it's only for chorus, and Vince lost, fair and square," I said, shrugging. "He's mature enough to accept that."

"He really likes you," Jessica said, smiling. "How are Caitlin and her, uh, boyfriend doing?"

"Well, last week she thought he was really cute, Friday night he was the hottest guy alive, over the weekend he became the hottest guy not just alive now, but to ever walk the earth, and now they're madly in love. Or they were this morning. By now they could have broken up."

"That's cute, though. I'm glad she met him. She needed something to get her away from that 'I hate the world' attitude she's had going on for the past year."

"Yeah, we were getting pretty sick of it. I hope he lasts for awhile. It's hard to find guys in middle school who aren't three inches shorter than you."

"Joey, use your spoon," Jessica sighed, wiping ice cream off his face and hands with a paper towel. He wrapped his chubby fist around his special spoon, which had trains and cars printed on the handle, lifted a big spoonful of ice cream towards his mouth, and managed to get most of it in there. "That's my big boy! Good job!"

Joey grinned and got another spoonful of ice cream. He held it out to me. "Aww, thank you, Joey," I said, taking a bite.

"You welcome," he replied.

The front door opened and Ariel came in, carrying her backpack. "Hi, honey," Jessica said. "How was school?"

"Fine," Ariel replied, dumping her backpack and jacket down beside the door. Jessica stared at them but didn't say a word. "Fine!" Ariel exclaimed. "Don't give me that look. I'll take them to my room. I come home after a hard day at school. I've been working hard and everyone's just chilling and eating ice cream, and my mother doesn't even care that I had to multiply three-digit numbers on my math test, she just wants my backpack..." her voice trailed off as she went up the stairs.

Jessica sighed and got up to fix Ariel a bowl of ice cream. "Just think, she's not even a teenager yet."

"What's wrong with teenagers?" I asked, pretending to be offended.

Ariel came back downstairs, still rambling on "...and I know Joey is your favorite child, and you don't love me, but that's okay, I'm going to run away and find someone who couldn't have kids who will love me..."

"That's fine, honey."

"See, you don't even care. I will run away. Just wait. Tomorrow I'll be gone."

"Okay," Jessica said, rolling her eyes. "Eat your ice cream before it melts."

Ariel grabbed her bowl and sat down at the table. "Oh, hi Danielle. I didn't notice you were here."

"I didn't expect you would. You were too busy complaining."

"It's just I don't see how I can be expected to do 213 times 547 without making a mistake somewhere," Ariel complained, picking at her turquoise nail polish. "That's too much math."

"I'm sure you did fine," Jessica assured her. "Danielle got her 'Moulin Rouge' solo."

"Oh, that's good. Did Vince get it too?"

"No, some guy from Kellam got it instead it."

"Too bad. Is he jealous?" I buried my head in my hands in frustration. "No! Vince is very mature about these things! Why would he be jealous?"

"Well, is the other guy cute?" Ariel asked patiently, like she was explaining something to a small child.

"Who cares? Probably! They have lots of cute guys there! But Vince has never met him and even if he has, he says he can't tell if a guy is cute or not."

"Oh, that's so not true," Jessica objected. "Can't we tell if a woman is beautiful? Guys are just more homophobic."

"Well, it doesn't matter. Vince shouldn't be jealous. If he is, it's his problem," I said, a little annoyed. I glanced over at my youngest cousin. "Joey! Are you supposed to be eating with your hands?"

Joey looked worried for a minute, then said "yes" and smiled. He had ice cream all around his mouth and all over his hands, almost up to his elbows. It was in his hair, too.

"No, I don't think so," I said, taking his bowl away from him. "No more ice cream until Joey can eat like a big boy."

"Mommy!" Joey complained.

"Danielle's right," Jessica said. "Big boys use their truck spoons."

Joey pinched up his face like he was about to cry but then changed his mind. "I use spoon," he said, picking it up.

"Good. Show me how," I said, handing the ice cream bowl back to him, which was almost empty anyway. He scraped the rest out, but even with the spoon some still got on his hands and face.

"Joey, let's go clean you up and go potty," Jessica suggested. Before he could protest, she lifted him from his chair and led him off.

"How's that going, anyway?" I asked Ariel.

"The potty-training?" she asked. "It's okay. Some days he uses the potty the whole day, but then the next day he doesn't at all. He's been cranky today so I bet he peed in his pull-up. Mom's always worrying he's too young, but everyone else says he's ready."

"Well, he turned two like four months ago," I said. "That's not young. A lot of kids are potty-trained before they turn two."

"Yeah. All the kids in his class at preschool are wearing pull-ups. Some of them are completely trained already."

I knew why Jessica was worried about training Joey too soon. She thought one of the reasons Ariel had worn diapers when she got older was because she'd forced her to potty-train too young, even though Ariel was almost three. I thought her theory was stupid. Ariel wore diapers because they felt good and she liked being babied. She still liked being babied even now, only just not as strongly. Sometimes when I babysat I'd find her in Joey's crib, drinking one of his sippy cups, and she'd always say she was "just playing." What difference would a few more months in diapers have made to someone who, at ten, still liked to drink from a sippy cup?

Speaking of diapers, I hadn't worn one since Friday, so I was determined to wear one to sleep that night. The next morning, I woke up a few minutes earlier than usual needing to pee. I'd wet once before I'd gone to bed but changed so I wouldn't be sleeping in a cold smelly diaper all night. I couldn't pee while I was sleeping even if I had a diaper on. This was a little disappointing to me because I thought it'd be cool to wake up wet and know that I'd had completely no control while I was sleeping, but I was relieved, too. If I wet a diaper when I slept, what if some night my body forgot I wasn't wearing one and I wet the bed?

Since I had a few minutes, I lay there in the dry diaper. It felt warm and a little humid from sweat, but not like one day last summer when I'd woken up to find that the power was out so the air conditioning wasn't working, and it was 90 degrees outside. That was one time when I couldn't wait to get out of a diaper. Now the gauzy-cottony material brushed against my skin gently, which felt like heaven especially since the morning air coming in from the open window was a little chilly.

I went ahead and peed and lay there for a few more minutes. I didn't want to get up, put on underwear, and go to school. I wanted to lie here in a diaper, dry or wet, for forever. But my clock flipped to 6:00 and the alarm began beeping loudly. I sighed, got up, and turned it off. I sat on my bed for a minute, staring at nothing in a dazed, sleepy way, and finally got up and went to my closet. All my clothes were so same-old same-old. I wanted a completely new wardrobe. My eyes landed on an ankle-length, flowing skirt. Some relative had given it to me for Christmas. It fit, but it wasn't really my style. A diaper would hide really well under that, I thought. Why did I just think that? I was starting to get a very crazy idea...

Chapter 8

An hour later, as I ran out the door for the bus stop, late as usual, I was questioning my sanity. I was wearing a loose, velvety top that came down a couple of inches past my waist, the peasant skirt, and a diaper underneath. I'd dug around for the thinnest, quietest diaper I could find. It was probably also a diaper that would leak a lot, but I wasn't planning on wetting it because there was no way I was going to bring extra and change. I just wouldn't drink much that day and if I did have to go, I'd pull the diaper down like underwear and use the toilet. So why was I so nervous? The diaper didn't show. Probably because I was sure there was some kind of diaper radar emitting from me. Something that would tell everyone instantly that I was wearing diapers, and I couldn't do anything about it.

I didn't see Vince on the bus, which was a relief because I didn't want him to hug me and notice that my crotch area was a little more poofy than usual. I hadn't even thought about how to keep him from finding out, but we didn't have any classes together today, so maybe I wouldn't see him. Thank goodness for block scheduling that allowed me to avoid my boyfriend every other day, if necessary.

I went to my locker after I got off the bus. Sarah was already there. "Hey, peasant lady," she greeted me. I froze. She recoiled from the odd look on my face. "What? It's just that long skirt and that shirt make you look like a peasant. But it's a cute outfit. I've just never seen you wear anything like that before."

"Oh...yeah...I haven't done laundry in forever," I stuttered. "I didn't have that much to choose from. I don't even have any clean underwear." Why in the world did I say that?

Sarah looked at me in surprise. "Too much info! I don't want to know if that means you're wearing dirty underwear or none at all. Don't tell me."

I grinned. She had no clue, so I decided to play with her. "Ahh, it's so breezy today," I said.

Sarah laughed in spite of herself. "I said don't tell me! I better get to class. You enjoy yourself. See you at lunch."

"Bye." The rest of the day went surprisingly well. I went to the bathroom after lunch and pulled the diaper down like underwear, just like I'd planned. Nobody had any clue. By the time I got to my last class, I was feeling really confident. I could do this every day if I wanted to.

About a half hour before school was supposed to end, I had to pee again. As the pressure on my bladder increased, it automatically tightened up so I could hold it. This seemed pointless. I was going to be home in less than an hour, and I didn't think this was going to be huge wetting. I could pee in my diaper. Nobody'd know. I shifted a little in my seat and let it out. It made a faint sound that I hadn't thought about, the sound of urine hitting the cloth of the diaper. I leaned forward a bit, trying to muffle the sound, while keeping my face neutral so nobody would know I wasn't completely focused on the discussion of "Siddhartha", which I thought was the worst book I'd ever read.

Just then, the secretary's voice crackled over the intercom. "Mr. Bolander?"

"Yes?" answered our teacher.

"Could you send Danielle Harding down to the office for a minute?"

"Sure, I'll send her down." At that, all the other kids started saying "ooooooh" like they always did when someone was in trouble. Mr. Bolander filled out a hall pass for me. "I told you all those times you skipped my class were going to catch up to you," he said in a mock-stern voice.

"Very funny." I wondered what the office wanted from me. I hadn't done anything to get into trouble for, but my homeroom teacher was a little out there and sometimes turned in the wrong attendance cards, so maybe they thought I'd been absent when I wasn't.

Mr. Matthews, the orchestra teacher, was waiting for me inside the office. He's a really tall, thin guy who always looks stressed. He's also rumored to be the slackest, most passive teacher at our school, until concert time comes around, and then nobody wants to be near him.

"Danielle, I'm glad I got to talk to you," he said. "Andrew, the guy from Kellam you're singing with, can't make the rehearsal tomorrow after school, but he's free this afternoon. I know it's short notice, but do you think you could stay after today instead?"

"Yeah, I guess so," I replied. Why not? I didn't have much homework and I didn't think Aunt Jenny would care.

"Oh, thank God. Thank you. I'll meet you two at about 2:15 in the chorus room."

After school ended, I called Jenny and bought a bottle of water to get me through two hours of singing. I went to the chorus room. Nobody was there yet, so I sat on the risers, drank some water and looked over my music for a few minutes until the doors opened. I looked up at a guy who was about six feet tall, with brown hair that could stand to be trimmed, wearing a 17th St. Surf Shop t-shirt, shorts and sandals. "Are you Danielle?" he asked.

"Yeah..."

"Hi, I'm Andrew. I guess we're going to be singing together. What are you, a sophomore?"

"Yep. I just turned sixteen a couple of weeks ago."

"Oh, cool. Happy birthday. You're an Aries, then?"

I was a little taken aback. "Yeah. I was born April 11."

"Cool. I'm a Leo. My mom does astrology for a hobby. She planned my younger brother based on what zodiac signs would get along best with Leo."

"That's weird," I commented.

He laughed. "Yeah. My family's crazy. Oh yeah, by the way, I saw Matthews in the hallway. He said he's going to be late because he forgot it was his afternoon to go pick his daughter up from school, so he has to go do that, and we're supposed to practice until he gets here."

"He has a daughter?" I asked, surprised.

"You didn't know that?"

"I guess I did, but it's just weird to think about him..."

"Having sex?" Andrew asked.

I laughed. "Ew!"

"You think that's scary...my precalc teacher weighs like two hundred and fifty pounds and she's got pictures of her four kids on her desk. Think how many times she'd have to do it to get four kids! You ever want to lose all respect for any authority, picture them in bed."

I had a brief but very scary thought of my mom and dad. "Ugh!"

"I bet Matthews is a complete sexaholic. It's always the ones who seem completely asexual. Look at the music he picks out. I mean, Moulin Rouge is about a prostitute who doesn't want a relationship with a starving artist. One of our songs is completely about me trying to get inside your pants. I mean, my character trying get inside your character's pants," he explained quickly, turning a little red.

"Dress," I corrected him.

"Huh? Oh yeah, she always wore those long fancy-looking gowns."

"Yeah, I'm supposed to wear one for the concert, but I don't have anything like that."

"Prom stuff's on sale now. You can get a dress really cheap. My ring dance date got her dress for like $30 two days before the dance."

"Is she your girlfriend?" I asked.

"Not really. We're just good friends. With, uh, benefits." "That's lucky. I've got a boyfriend without benefits. Well, benefits, but not the whole deluxe package," I explained, laughing.

"Ahh, the discount deal, huh?" he said, laughing too. "That's okay. Actually, Lisa and I haven't done anything since ring dance. She's interested in someone else now."

"That sucks." We didn't say anything else for a moment and then I tried to change the subject. "Do you surf?" I asked, looking at his 17th Street shirt.

"Yep. Since I was five."

"Five!"

"Best time to learn anything is when you're young. That's why I think it's really stupid that we aren't offered foreign language classes until middle school. By then it's a lot harder to connect those neurons in your brain. Do you surf?"

"Do I look like I do?"

"No. Well, you should come with me this summer. I'll teach you. I have a feeling we're going to have some pretty decent waves once hurricane season rolls around."

"Oh, great," I said sarcastically.

"Come on, just give it a try."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Well, uh, to surf, you probably need to know how to swim, right?"

He looked at me like I was crazy. "You don't know how to swim?"

"Not exactly," I admitted.

"How could you have grown up here and not know how to swim? Even if you don't go to the beach, look in any direction and you'll see about six pools!"

"But I didn't grow up here. I grew up in central Georgia. Look in any direction and you'll see more corn than you ever knew existed."

"That explains your accent," he said. "Well, you'll have to learn. They have adult swimming classes at the recreation center."

"That's all right."

"Oh, come on. You have to learn how to swim. How am I going to teach you how to surf if you can't swim?"

"I don't want to learn how to surf!" I exclaimed. "I have no desire to ever go in the ocean. I have managed not to set foot in the ocean as long as I've lived here, even though every summer my whole family drags me to the beach and I sit there and watch my cousins swim like friggin dolphins all over the place, and it's the hottest and most miserable few hours of my life."

Andrew sighed. "If it's so miserable, then why don't you go in the ocean? You won't drown if you don't go out very far."

"You want to hear about my horribly traumatic experience at the beach when I was little?"

"Sure. We've got time. Matthews probably forgot how to get back to the school."

"Well, when I was four, my mom and my dad and I went to a beach in Florida for the weekend. My dad was going to teach me to swim. We were out in the water and my mom was watching from the towel. Dad was holding me above the water and I was kicking my legs and he kept saying I was doing really well and then suddenly I felt this horrible burning pain in my right foot. It was the worst pain I'd ever felt in my life. I started screaming and looked at my foot and saw this huge purplish blob by it..."

"You mean a jellyfish?"

"It was not just a little jellyfish," I protested. "I think it was one of those Portuguese things."

"You mean a man of war?"

"Yes."

"I really doubt that. I don't think there are any on the east coast."

"It was!" I exclaimed. "You weren't there, were you? It's my traumatic experience, and I say it was the most poisonous kind of jellyfish that exists."

"Okay, okay. It was a man of war."

"I started screaming and closed my eyes and I just saw blurry red and felt really dizzy. My dad ran out of the water with me and my mom and a lifeguard met him and my mom started crying and yelling at my dad that he shouldn't have taken me there and that just made it worse. They took me to the hospital and the doctors wanted to give me a bunch of shots in my foot, but I was still so upset that they had to hold me down. After that my foot just went numb, but it was swollen up so big I couldn't get my sandal on and my parents decided to leave early and they fought the whole way home."

"And that's why you don't go in the ocean now?"

"Yes."

"Okay, even if it was a man of war that stung you, I promise you we don't have them here. It's too far north."

"There are sharks, though."

"They don't bother anyone. I've never even seen one."

"What about that one that killed that kid two years ago? That was like three miles from here!"

"That was a bull shark, and it was really warm that summer," Andrew reasoned. "They usually don't come that far north."

"Just like man of wars don't come this far north?"

"All we have around here usually are sand sharks and little ones like that. Besides, it was one person out of how many hundreds of thousands came that summer and weren't bit? My friends and I go surfing almost every day in the summer and the worst thing that's ever happened to any of us is being pinched by a crab."

"Oh, that's pleasant," I said sarcastically.

Andrew sighed. "Tell you what. We'll start you swimming in a pool this summer and work our way up to the beach."

"Fine," I agreed, although I was still a little bit nervous. People drowned in pools every summer around here, too.

"So you're from Georgia?" he asked then.

"Yeah. I lived there until I was thirteen."

"How come you moved here then?"

I told him all about my parents' divorce and not getting along with my mom, and about my family, leaving out any parts that had to do with diapers.

Mr. Matthews came in then and looked at us in surprise. "Oh. Sorry I'm late. I thought you would be in the orchestra room."

"No, this is where you said to meet," I reminded him.

He still looked confused. "Oh. So I did. Well, how's the practicing coming?"

"Good," we said.

"Why don't we start working on 'Come what May?'"

We worked on that one song for over an hour. It wasn't that hard of a song, but my voice sounded really shaky on a part near the end when I had some high notes. Part of the problem was that the notes were a little higher than I was used to, though not out of my range, but mainly it was because I was distracted. I'd finished my entire bottle of water pretty early on. I'd almost forgotten I was wearing a diaper, until I realized I had to pee. Peeing again in the diaper was out of the question. It was pretty soaked from earlier. In fact, it was getting pretty uncomfortable, and I was worried it smelled, too. I tried to stand as far apart from Andrew as possible, although we were supposed to be standing close together and holding hands. At the end of the song, Andrew was supposed to take me in his arms and kiss me on the lips, and I kept pulling away.

"Danielle, you look completely disinterested in Andrew," Mr. Matthews said at one point. "He's supposed to be the love of your life by this point. You want him to kiss you."

"I don't bite, I promise," Andrew assured me with a smile. Fortunately, he seemed to think the reason I didn't want him to kiss me was because I had a boyfriend. Actually, I just didn't want him to notice that I smelled like pee. I didn't mind being kissed. It wasn't every day I had the opportunity to be kissed by a rather good-looking guy who wasn't my boyfriend and pass it off as acting. My friends would be jealous.

Finally Mr. Matthews said "Okay, let's go through it one more time, and then you can go." I managed not to mess up any of the notes, and I stood close enough to Andrew to satisfy Mr. Matthews. At the end of the song, Andrew kissed me gently. I stood there for a minute, thinking he must use chapstick to get his lips that soft. I'd better start using some, and I'd have to make sure to wear smudge-proof lipstick on concert night...

"Danielle? We can go now." Andrew interrupted my thoughts. "Do you want a ride?"

I did, but I had to pee really badly by now. If he gave me a ride, I'd get home sooner, but what if I couldn't hold it even that long and my diaper leaked in his car? That was something I couldn't risk. Andrew was a cool guy and I was hoping we'd be friends even after the concert, but peeing in his car would definitely reduce the chances.

"No thanks," I said. "I need the exercise."

"No you don't," he replied, smiling.

"Well, I like walking."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself. See you Thursday."

"Bye." I left the school as quickly as I could, although walking fast made me have to pee worse. I took the fastest way home, which also avoided most of the roads and gave me a little privacy. I had to pee so bad. I wanted to hold my crotch like a little kid but I wasn't sure I had enough privacy to do that. After I'd been walking about ten minutes, I couldn't stand it anymore. I stopped, crossed my legs, held my crotch and did all of the traditional "I gotta pee" dances of a three-year-old. "Just a two-minute walk alongside this nice little pond here, and then I just have that short stretch of sidewalk left..." I told myself. Too late. I knew I wasn't going to make it before I started peeing.

"Ahh...shit," I said, at the same time smiling with relief. The diaper wasn't going to hold it. I felt it going down my legs. Wearing a skirt was definitely a good idea. At least there would be no big wet spot around the diaper. It stung my thighs a little bit though. I saw a dog standing up against a fence watching me. "Hey, don't give me that look," I said. "You do this all the time."

I walked the rest of the way home. I wasn't looking forward to seeing my family, who would inevitably pose several detours on my way to the bathroom. There was never any hope of privacy if I wanted to do something I couldn't do strictly inside my bedroom. Plus I smelled like pee worse than I had before, and my diaper was making squishing sounds.

I tried to come in the front door as quietly as possible. The silence of a still house greeted me. It would certainly be a first if nobody was home when I didn't want them to be. I hustled up the stairs and grabbed some clean clothes before anyone could come popping out from somewhere and start pestering me. After changing, I sealed the diaper up in one of the plastic bags I kept in my room for such occasions and left it there while I went to figure out where everyone was. I found a note on the kitchen counter:

Danielle - We're at Jessica's having dinner. Come on over when you get this. Jenny

I sighed with relief that I'd gotten away with everything and went to go throw away the diaper.

Chapter 9

After that little disaster, I didn't plan on wearing a diaper in public ever again, but two things happened to change that very quickly.

The first happened the Saturday morning after that practice with Andrew. I went to bed wearing a dry diaper, and when I woke up, the diaper was soaked. I lay there for a few minutes wandering what was wrong with me, physically and mentally. I was screwing up what had once been a perfectly reliable bladder. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I'd never had a problem with wetting the bed. Only once did I ever remember wetting the bed, when I was about eight, had pneumonia, and was on so many drugs that I slept for fifteen hours at a time. I considered giving up diapers but that seemed too hard.

The next night, I didn't wear a diaper, but I did spread a towel underneath my sheet, hoping it would protect the mattress if I peed again. I went to the bathroom before bed like I always did, but I didn't make any effort to limit my drinks. I wanted to see what happened under normal conditions when I wasn't wearing a diaper.

Much to my relief, I was dry the next morning and the morning after that, and the morning after that. So I wore a diaper Tuesday night, thinking the wetting incident was just a one- time thing. The next morning, I was wet. I didn't wear a diaper to bed the next two nights, and stayed dry. Then I wore one again, and sure enough, I was wet the next morning. This was an interesting pattern, and I wished I felt comfortable enough to discuss it with a doctor. I wondered if my body just knew when it was okay to not hold it all night, like classical conditioning. Maybe I was no smarter than a dog who associated a bell with meat and drooled for it. I associated a diaper with peeing freely. Just the same, I decided to limit how often I wore a diaper to bed. Before, I'd worn one about three times a week, and I decided to cut back to once a week. It would suck, but I was scared of what I might do to myself otherwise.

The next thing happened a week or so later during rehearsal. The concert was the next evening, and Andrew and I were rehearsing with the entire orchestra onstage. The main point of this rehearsal was to practice coming on and offstage at the right times and get used to singing in the auditorium. We even had an audience. A lot of people had invited their friends to come watch, and then some teachers, including my biology teacher, decided to stop by. We'd been working on "One Day I'll Fly Away" for awhile. I was getting quite a bit of practice singing solo, since Andrew wasn't in this song. There was one part towards the end where the violins did a tricky part, the music crescendoed, and then I came in. The violins were having a lot of trouble with this. Mr. Matthews' face was turning pretty red and he kept yelling at the orchestra for not practicing enough.

"This time I'd like to have just the first violins, at bar 75, please" he told them. I stood there holding the mike, waiting for the soft hum of the violins. The first violins started and right before I was supposed to start singing again, I saw Vince come in the auditorium door, and then I missed my cue. I started a half- second late with "One day I'll fly away..." and in that moment of nervousness, felt myself starting to pee. I caught it quickly and only a little drop came out. Flustered, I stopped singing at about the same time as Mr. Matthews stopped us.

"I - I'm sorry," I said. "I just..."

"It's all right," Mr. Matthews interrupted. "Let's try that one more time with everyone."

That time, we all got it right, and after a few more things Mr. Matthews let us go for the day. I went to go meet Vince.

"You sounded great!" he told me.

"What are you doing here? I thought you had Spanish club...honey."

He looked a little hurt. "We finished early. I thought you'd like me to hear you sing."

I sighed. "I do. It's just having you there made me nervous."

"Well, you're going to have to get used to singing in front of people. The concert's tomorrow."

"Don't remind me," I said with a sigh. Now I was nervous about more than just messing up my notes. All I needed was to pee myself in a moment of stage fright. Vince's eyes moved sideways to peer at Andrew, who was talking to Mr. Matthews. "So is that our Ewan McGregor?"

"Yes. You want to meet him?"

"He looks like he should be in an Avril Lavigne video."

"You don't exactly look like Ewan, either. He's a good guy. He gave me a ride home from rehearsal a few times."

"What, on his skateboard?"

"Oh, stop it. Besides, I don't think he skates. He surfs."

Just then, Andrew caught my eye, smiled and came over. "Hey, I'll see you tomorrow night, okay? We're gonna kick some Moulin Rouge ass."

"If we don't suck ass."

"Oh, relax. Pretend everyone's in their underwear."

"What, so I can puke?" I glanced over at Vince. "Oh, by the way, Andrew, this is my boyfriend Vince."

Andrew stuck out his hand and Vince, with slight hesitation, shook it. "Nice meeting you, man. Your girlfriend's really cool."

"I think so too," Vince said, putting his arm around me.

"She talks about you all the time," Andrew added. Vince relaxed some and smiled. "Go to bed early," I told Andrew, getting into concert prep mode. "Drink some tea."

"Forget tea," he replied. "A few shots of Peppermint Schnapps will clear up anything you have. Of course, then you can barely stand up, but if you were able to sing, you'd sound great."

I laughed. "Okay. See you tomorrow." By the time I got home from school the next afternoon, I was sure I wasn't going to make it through the night. There was my stomach, for one thing. I'd started feeling like I was going to puke right after lunch and the feeling still hadn't let up. Probably a virus which would spread to my vocal cords, no doubt. I also felt slightly dizzy and when I thought about getting up in front of all those people tonight, my heart started pounding.

"I can't sing tonight. I'm sick," I announced to Aunt Jenny, who was working on her computer in the office.

She didn't even look up. "What's wrong?"

"Well, I've got some kind of stomach bug and I keep feeling like I'm going to faint, and I think I've got some kind of heart anomaly because it's beating really fast," I said dramatically.

She still didn't appear very concerned. "I think you're just nervous."

"Well, you would be too if you were on your death bed."

Jenny felt my forehead. "You're just nervous," she said again.

"I can't sing tonight," I moaned.

"You have to," she said calmly, turning back to her computer. "Why don't you get a snack? I was going to take you kids out to dinner after the concert."

"I can't eat a thing. My throat is constricting."

"Mmm hmm. What time do you have to be at school?"

"6:15, but I'm not going."

"Well, be ready to leave by six, then," Jenny said, typing busily. "If you don't want a snack, go start your homework. I need to make a phone call."

I wandered around the house for awhile, wishing I'd never auditioned for this in the first place. I was going to embarrass myself in front of the whole school. The same scenario kept playing over and over in my head:

It's seven o'clock and the auditorium is completely packed. The orchestra plays a few songs and then it's time for me to come onstage. Andrew and I walk on, take our mikes and wait for our cue. I begin to sing but nothing comes out except a croak. Then suddenly I realize I have to pee. Really badly. Can't hold it. It's burning my legs, forming a puddle at my feet, soaking my dress and shoes. The audience starts to laugh loudly. The orchestra stops playing. I'm standing there holding my mike, dumbfounded. Andrew is staring at me with disgust and horror. Vince is in the audience sitting with some of his friends. "Isn't that your girlfriend?" one of them asks. "Uh, no," he replies. Finally I'm able to think again and I drop my mike and run offstage and towards the exit, stopping at the pay phone to inquire about plane tickets to the furthest country possible. My family finds me. "Joey is better potty-trained than you!" Ariel says. "You should've worn a diaper," she adds, shaking her head sadly.

This scenario played like a weird dream but it didn't seem too unlikely to me. Except I wasn't going to be able to afford a plane ticket anywhere, so I'd likely wind up at school the next day.

Without really thinking about it, I went into my closet and got out my bag of diapers. I'd wear one for a little while before I had to get ready. Maybe it would help me relax. I put one on under my jeans and lay down on my bed to watch some TV.

A few minutes later someone knocked on the door. Quickly I pulled my comforter past my waist and said "Come in."

Vince came in carrying flowers. "I know you're supposed to give the flowers afterwards," he said, holding them out to me. "But I know you'll be great, and I wanted you to know how much I love you when you go onstage."

I smiled and gave him a kiss. "I love you too. They're beautiful. Thank you."

He sat down on the bed beside me. "Are you nervous?"

"Yes," I said miserably, putting my head in his lap. "My stomach hurts."

"Poor baby," he said, rubbing my stomach.

"Will you sing for me?" I asked, giving him a wide-eyed sad puppy dog look and putting out my lower lip.

"I'm sorry, honey, I don't think I could hit the high notes. Besides, I wouldn't look nearly as good in the dress."

I sat up a little and kissed him. "I love you."

"I love you too." Vince began rubbing my shoulders. "Does this help you feel better?"

"Yes. Actually, I think an all-over body massage would make me feel much better," I said innocently.

"Really now," Vince said. "I might just have to do that then."

"That would be nice," I said, laying back.

Vince lay down beside me and moved his hands from my shoulders to my breasts. "Does that feel good?" he whispered.

"It's very relaxing," I said, kissing him again.

"I was wondering something. Yesterday when I met Andrew, he said you talked about me all the time. What have you told him?"

I grinned. "I told him you gave good oral."

"You did not!" he replied, slapping me playfully on the arm.

"How do you know? Maybe I like to brag. Maybe I can't stop thinking about it."

"Well, I might just have to show off my skills then," he said, reaching for the button on my jeans. Suddenly I remembered my diaper.

"Wait!" I said, grabbing his hands.

"What's wrong?"

"You can't," I said desperately. "I'm - I - it's my time of the month."

He gave me a weird look. "No way. You had your period like two weeks ago."

"It's been longer than that," I lied.

"No, you definitely had it that night we went to the mall, because remember we came back to my house and made out, and that was Friday before last..."

"Oh. Maybe. Well, sometimes I'm irregular like that."

He was still looking at me strangely. "Maybe you should get on the pill or something."

"Yeah," I said, relieved to have his hands away from my diaper area. "But keep rubbing me. That felt good."

"So why are you so nervous?" he asked. "You sounded great at rehearsal yesterday."

"I know, but I'm just worried I'll mess up or do something dumb and humiliate myself."

"What could happen that would be so awful?"

"Well...yesterday when you came in, I got startled and almost peed in my pants." He burst out laughing. "It's not funny!"

"Yes it is!" he said, almost choking on his laughter. "Maybe you should borrow one of Caitlin's diapers."

"Not funny!" I said, whacking him with a pillow. Even though he'd been joking, I thought that wasn't a bad idea, given the circumstances. I could wear a diaper under my dress or take my chances with getting nervous and shaky and peeing myself. I really thought, even taking recent events into consideration, that I was more likely to puke than pee, but it couldn't hurt to be protected. The only person who might notice was Vince but I didn't think he'd be feeling my butt with the family around.

The diaper didn't show under my dress. Jenny did my hair and makeup for me and after that I watched TV and dutifully ate some bagel bites, hoping to settle my stomach. They didn't really help much. I stared at the TV, mouthing the words to the songs that I'd be singing in front of a few hundred people soon.

"Ready to go? It's six o'clock," Jenny finally said.

The mile to the school felt like the longest car ride I'd ever had. I stared out the window like a zombie until Jenny finally dropped me off in front of the auditorium entrance. "Now just relax, because you're going to knock 'em dead," she said brightly. "We're going to pick up Vince on our way and be here around 6:45 and meet Jessica and all them. We want to get good seats."

"What if I told you they changed the time and the concert's not until nine?" I asked hopefully.

"Nice try," Jenny said, pointing to a banner strung up over the entrance that read "Orchestra Concert May 15 7 p.m." "See you later. Break a leg!"

"Yeah, thanks. Bye." I headed for the orchestra room. The orchestra was noisily attempting to tune and play a few practice scales. I thought I was nervous, but Mr. Matthews looked ready to explode.

"We're still getting our act together," he yelled at me over the sound of bows screeching on strings. "Andrew's in the practice room warming up if you want to go over there."

It turned out Andrew wasn't practicing at all but rather was sitting down with his legs stretched another chair, listening to Tool and sipping a Pepsi. When he saw me, he paused his CD. "Hey."

"Hey. What are you doing? We're supposed to be practicing."

"Somebody's a bundle of nerves."

"Well, we are. We go onstage in 45 minutes!"

"We're not going onstage for forever. You know it's going to start late anyway, and then the orchestra has their other shit to get through before we come on. Besides, we've been practicing this for forever. Is another 45 minutes going to make any difference?" I sighed. "You know it won't," he assured me. "The best thing we can do at this point to ensure we won't make asses of ourselves is to try to get rid of our nerves. You look like you're about to pass out."

"I've never sung in front of this many people before!" I blurted out. "I'm not that worried about making a mistake with the music, but what if I trip in front of all these people? Or fall off the stage?" Or they figure out I'm wearing a diaper, I added silently.

Andrew rubbed my shoulder reassuringly. "That's why instead of thinking about the concert I just chill beforehand. Want a lunchable?" he asked, pulling a couple of the pizza ones out of his backpack.

"Oh my gosh, I haven't had one of those since I was 8," I said, plopping down into the chair beside him. "Sure."

"Here, take a Pepsi, too. I would've brought us some beer, but the last time I did that before a concert my teacher kinda frowned on it."

I laughed uneasily, not sure if he was joking or not. I often felt that way with Andrew. I tore open the lunchable.

"So that guy at practice yesterday was your boyfriend?"

"You mean the one who walked in late and made me mess up? Yep, that was him."

"Wow. He looked..."

"What? He looked what?" I asked.

"Hey, don't get defensive. He just didn't look like someone I would think was your type, that's all."

"And you think you know who my type is?"

"I have a sixth sense for these things. I think it's because my mom's into all that astrology stuff."

I rolled my eyes. "I don't know about Vince. He's sweet. And he's smart. He wants to go to UVA, be a doctor."

"The University of Virginia," Andrew said in a mock-preppy voice. "I hope you weren't planning on going with him. They hate out-of-staters."

"Hello, I live in Virginia too, in case you haven't noticed."

"Yes, but you're from Georgia originally, and they'll be able to tell that you weren't born in Virginia. You don't make references to Thomas Jefferson every other sentence, for example, or wear khakis to football games."

I laughed. "Vince is a good boyfriend. I guess we don't have a lot in common. But he's always been very sweet to me."

"That doesn't make him a good boyfriend, though."

"What would you know about being a good boyfriend?" I asked irritably. "You don't have a girlfriend. You just have fuck- buddies."

"Ouch. I'm sorry. I won't say anything more about him."

"Good," I muttered.

"Okay. So...how's the lunchable?"

We talked for awhile, and when Mr. Matthews came by to check on us he didn't even seem to notice we weren't practicing. Finally it was time for us to go backstage and wait for our cue. I was supposed to come onstage after the orchestra finished "Lady Marmalade," which was being sung by a group of senior girls wearing loud, showy dresses. I would sing one song by myself, and then Andrew would come out, sing a song to me, and we had two more together. While we stood backstage, I peeked out from the curtains. I could see that the 1000+ seats in the auditorium were nearly full. My whole family was sitting in about the middle row center. Aunt Jenny, with her video camera, Caitlin, Cody, Jessica, Ryan, Ariel and even Joey. Vince was between Jenny and Caitlin. Dear God, was that my math teacher sitting two rows ahead of them? And my gym teacher with her husband and kids over in the left section? Sarah and some of my other friends were sitting towards the back.

"There are way too many people I know out there," I told Andrew shakily. "And my aunt didn't tell me she was bringing her video camera!"

"Just imagine them in their underwear," he said.

"What is it with you and underwear? Do you think I want to imagine my aunt in her underwear?"

"Well, I don't know. I've never met your aunt. Is she hot?"

"She looks way too much like my grandma to be hot." "Lady Marmalade" ended.

"Oh my god, that's my cue!"

"Underwear!" Andrew hissed, giving me a shove towards the certain. "Mr. Matthews in his underwear!"

I was too busy thinking about Andrew's underwear fetish when I walked onstage to notice the audience. I took the mike, realizing that I was nowhere even close to peeing my diaper, and on Mr. Matthew's cue, began singing.

I would give a detailed account of all the songs, but they went by in a blur. The only real disaster was that Andrew's mike made a horrible noise when he was trying to get it off the stand and for the first time all night, he looked slightly rattled. I also had almost forgotten about the kiss Andrew was supposed to give me at the end of one of the songs and managed to look appropriately startled. Our voices waved on the last notes and died out. I stared out at the black mass of audience, so silent. Andrew and I stared at each other. Then a huge wave of applause began, with some cheers and soon people were beginning to stand on their feet. Andrew and I stood there grinning. I thought I heard Ryan cheering, and then I heard a voice that was unmistakably Caitlin's.

"Danielle, you're fucking awesome!"

A few people gasped, a few more laughed, and heads turned towards the middle row center. Even in the dark I thought I could see Jenny's face turning red.

"Who was that?" Andrew asked me.

I shrugged. "Who knows? People really ought to get babysitters if their kids can't handle an event like this."

"Yeah, really," he agreed. We looked at each other and started laughing. The whole situation suddenly seemed completely ridiculous all of a sudden. I was standing there wearing a diaper that was slightly damp from all the nervous sweating I'd done, I'd just sung a bunch of corny love songs with a guy I'd only met three weeks before, and my cousin was swearing in public. Still laughing, we ran offstage.

I met my family in the hall. "You didn't tell me you were going to kiss him!" Vince exclaimed as soon as soon as he saw me.

Jenny handed me a huge bouquet and gave me a big hug. "Honey, you were great. Your mom would've been so proud. Good thing I got everything on video."

"Everything?" I asked. "Even the end when people were cheering?" Jenny pursed her lips. I smiled. "Where's Caitlin?"

"Waiting for us in the car," Jenny replied primly.

"Why didn't you tell me you and Andrew were going to kiss?" Vince asked. Nobody was paying much attention to him.

"You were so good!" Ariel said. "I want to sing just like you when I get to high school."

Andrew was coming down the hall with some of his family. "Ooh, let's get a picture of you two together!" Jenny exclaimed. Andrew put his arm around me for the picture. I could see Vince glaring behind Jenny.

"Hey, I think I'm going to take off," he told me when we were done.

"What? You're not coming out to eat with us?"

"No, I've got a lot of homework."

"But it's almost the end of the year! Why don't you relax a little?"

"Look, I just have a lot of stuff to do, okay?" he said irritably. "Go and have fun with your family, or whoever. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Well, at least let us drop you off."

"No, I want to walk. I want some time to think."

"Okay..." My post-concert elation was gone. I gave Vince a kiss. "I love you."

He looked down. "I love you too," he mumbled and then pushed his way through the crowd. I watched him disappear. I didn't feel so great anymore. Why was he so upset? It wasn't like him to be jealous. Maybe I should've told him Andrew was kissing me, but I hadn't thought it'd be that big of a deal.

"Ready to go celebrate?" Jenny asked. I put on a smile I didn't feel, and we worked our way out to the car. People kept stopping to tell me congratulations. I felt like a minor celebrity.

Caitlin was sitting in the backseat of Jenny's van, looking cranky. I settled in beside her. I wished I'd brought underwear with me, because my diaper was making my waist itch and in the quiet of the car it was crinkling a little. I tried not to move.

"So I was fucking awesome?" I whispered to Caitlin.

"You were the shitnay," she replied, grinning.

"Everyone onstage thought it was funny. Even Mr. Matthews smiled and that doesn't happen very often."

"Everything all right with you and Vince?" Jenny asked loudly from the front seat.

"Yeah, I don't know what his problem was."

Caitlin snorted. "I wasn't even there, and I can tell you what his problem was. It starts with an A."

"Andrew likes you," Cody said. "He was looking at your butt."

"Excuse me?" I said, thinking of the diaper I was wearing on my butt at that moment.

"I didn't notice that," Jenny said. "But he seems like he'd do that. He's certainly got enough self-confidence." She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. "Anyway, I thought we'd go to Lulu's. You like that place, don't you?"

"Sure. Anywhere is fine." I was glad we were going someplace close by, so we wouldn't have tons of time in the car to compare Vince and Andrew.

But as soon as we got there and met Ariel and her family, Jessica said to me, "So where's Vince? He sure seemed jealous back there."

"Okay, let's play a game," I said impatiently. "Let's play the 'Let's not talk about Vince' game for the rest of the night, okay? Vince will be fine! He's too freakin' jealous! He's always been controlling like that; you guys know that. I can't be expected to fill him in on every little minute detail of my life. It's not my fault he has like no self-esteem, okay? So let's not talk about him!"

Everyone just gave me a strange look and went into the restaurant. I suddenly felt stupid. Let Vince be miserable. He knew I cared about him. I was a good girlfriend, wasn't I?

Chapter 10

School ended a few weeks after the concert and with nothing better to do besides lie around all day watching TV, I got a job scanning groceries at Farm Fresh. It wasn't a bad job, and it felt good to earn some money. I was going to get my driver's license in a few months and hoped to eventually buy a car. I also came to the frightening realization that college was only two years away, and I had no idea how to pay for it. I knew I couldn't count on much help from my mother. So I tried to put most of my paychecks into my savings account.

The summer was shaping up to be pretty good. Some of my friends could drive already and when I wasn't working, we often went to the movies or shopping or bowling, or sometimes just went to the strip. Maybe it was Andrew's influence, but I was starting to see the benefits to living near the beach. I still didn't want to have anything to do with the water, but there were quite a few buff, tan guys walking around with their shirts off. The stores down there also had much cheaper clothing than the mall.

I also tried to devote quite a bit of time to my favorite hobby, but it wasn't always easy. Caitlin seemed to want my company whenever I wasn't out with my friends. A lot of times she didn't even want to talk but would just bring a book in my room and read while I did whatever, or we'd sit in the living room watching TV together. I thought she'd be glad to have a break from school, but with nothing to do all day she seemed bored and restless. She didn't get to see Nick as much as she would've liked, because his parents worked all day, and Jenny wouldn't let her ride her bike over to his house. She said it was because he lived too far away, but Caitlin and I knew that wasn't the real reason. I thought Jenny was being ridiculous. Caitlin and Nick never did more than hold hands and occasionally share a quick kiss, and I knew Caitlin had no plans to do anything more than that.

Sometimes Caitlin's friend Lindsay came over, and sometimes she and Ariel went to the pool together, but they didn't seem to spend as much time together anymore. Often when Ariel came over, Caitlin was so moody that she didn't stay very long. So Caitlin spent most of her days sprawled out in front of the T.V. Jenny offered to sign her up for summer softball or swimming lessons at the recreation center, where Cody was in day camp, but Caitlin didn't seem interested in either, especially the swimming lessons. We also had a pool down the street, but she didn't go a lot, and when she did she always wore board shorts in the water. It didn't take a genius to figure out why.

One Friday afternoon I invited Sarah over. She brought her Sex and the City DVDs and we spent a good portion of the afternoon refreshing our memory of Carrie and Aiden's doomed relationship. They were breaking up at Charlotte's wedding, and we were both in tears when the phone rang.

"Danielle, it's for you," Jenny yelled.

I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hey, Dani, it's Andrew."

"Andrew!" He had called me a couple of times after the chorus concert, but I hadn't heard from him since school ended. "Hey. How's it going?"

"Not bad. What've you been up to?"

"Not much. I've been working at Farm Fresh."

"I know. I've seen you in there a couple of times, but you seemed busy so I didn't say hi."

"You shop there? But I thought you lived way out in Pungo! There's a Farm Fresh closer, you know. And Wal-Mart, and Food Lion."

"Thanks for the geography lesson. My mom says the one you work at has better produce. Plus, I enjoy the thrill of making a left turn across General Booth Boulevard during rush hour. And the cashiers are prettier."

I felt my face getting red. I didn't know what to say. "Well...what have you been doing, besides grocery shopping?"

"Just chilling, doing some surfing. The waves are pretty good this summer, but you wouldn't know, would you?"

I rolled my eyes. "No, and I never will."

"Oh, just you wait. Anyway, the reason why I called is that my parents are out of town, and so I was going to throw a little party tonight. Just a few people my brother and I know from school, nothing huge. I was wondering if you wanted to come. Bring some friends."

"Oh, well I'd like to, but I'll have to see. My aunt kind of has this thing about parties where nobody's parents are home, so I'll have to come up with some excuse."

"Well, if you want, I could get a girl to call your aunt and say she's my mom and that she'll be home, and I could come pick you up."

I laughed. "Maybe, but I think I can figure something out. Thanks."

"Alright. I'm about to burn some CDs for tonight. Any song requests?"

"Maybe 'Shake Your Tailfeather'?"

"Maybe try again," Andrew said. I could almost see him rolling his eyes on the other end of the phone. "I do not play Nelly at my parties, thank you."

"Oh, well, excuse me. I don't care what you put on your CDs. Surprise me."

"Oh, and one of our neighbors is about to go get the keg, and she's making a trip to the ABC store before it closes. Any requests there?"

"Excuse me?"

"You want any specific kind of liquor? Don't worry, I'll keep the good stuff hidden in my room. I like tequila, personally. Everyone says it fucks you up, but you just have to take it kind of slow. Last party I had, we took the blender into my room and made margaritas."

"Uhhh...again, surprise me."

I heard him laughing. "Okay. Well, let me give you directions."

I scribbled down the directions and then hung up. I headed back into the living room. Caitlin had joined Sarah in front of the TV. "Hey, want to go to a party tonight?" I asked Sarah.

"I do!" Caitlin said.

"I didn't ask you," I said.

"I wish I could. That sounds a lot more fun than going to visit my grandma for her birthday," Sarah said, looking depressed. "We're spending the weekend there. Actually, I should probably be getting home."

I walked her to the door and right after she left, the phone rang again. This time it was Vince. He wanted to know if I wanted to see a movie with him that night.

"I can't," I said. "I...have plans."

"What's going on?" he asked.

I sighed, remembering the way he'd acted after the concert. "Andrew's having a party at his house."

"Oh," he said flatly. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. "Well, have fun. I guess I'll see you later."

"Do you want to go?" I blurted out. I don't know why I suggested that. I hadn't had any intention of inviting him. Vince isn't really a party person.

"Sure!" he said, obviously faking enthusiasm.

"You don't have to go if you don't want to."

"I wanted to spend time with you tonight. If you're going to the party, I'll go with you. It's worth it."

I wondered if he wasn't going just to make sure Andrew didn't try anything. "That's so sweet," I said weakly. "Do you think your sister could drive us? You know how Jenny is about parties. I was just going to tell her we're going to the movies or something."

"She probably would, as long as we give her gas money. I think she's trying to make money by driving people around and charging them for gas to go the slightest distances. She got fired from Burger King, you know."

"Oh - that's too bad." We talked for a few more minutes and then I went up to my room to figure out what to wear. Caitlin stopped by.

"So you're going to a party tonight? With Vince?"

"Yeah, at Andrew's house."

Caitlin sighed loudly. "I guess I'll just be left here tonight by my lonesome."

"I suppose you want me to invite you."

"Well, I wouldn't be offended if you did."

"Hon, this is a high school party. You're too young."

"I know what goes on in high school!" Caitlin said. "I've seen 'American Pie' and I read 'Sweet Valley High.'"

"Forget it."

"Is it a sex party? Is that why you don't want me to come?"

"If it was a sex party, do you think I would've invited Sarah? Besides, nobody I know actually has sex parties. High school isn't like it is in movies, you know."

"Are people going to be smoking pot?" Caitlin asked, eyes lit up. "Is anyone going to be drinking?" I sighed. "They will! There's gonna be booze there!"

"Can you please go find something else to do?"

"Dani's gonna be drinking," Caitlin chanted softly. "My cousin's a wino. Dani's a wino..."

"This is not one of your more mature moments, you know. And you know what? If you even think about mentioning my name and any word that's a synonym for alcohol, beer, booze, wine, liquor, whatever, in the same sentence to your mom or Cody, I will take that sheet of paper where you practiced signing your name with Nick's last name, and I will mail it to him. Do you get my drift?"

"You don't know his address."

"No, but I know his last name, thanks to your little sheet of paper, his phone number is right by the phone, and we just got a new phone book, so I could find it."

"Okay, okay. You know I wouldn't tell Mom, anyway. Just don't do anything dumb, okay? Are you going with Vince?"

"Yeah."

She snickered. "Well, I know you'll be safe as long as you're with him."

"What does that mean?"

"Vince won't even stay out past the citywide curfew. I know he's not going to drink, and if he sees you having even a sip of anything, he'll be giving you Alcoholics Anonymous brochures."

"True." I opened up my closet. "So what do you think I should wear?"

Jenny didn't question me when I told her Vince and I were going to the movies, and we left around nine. I thought nine might be a little bit early, although I'd never been to a no- parents-and-drinking kind of party so I wasn't exactly sure what time to get there. But Gina, Vince's sister, was meeting her boyfriend somewhere after she dropped us off so she made us leave early. I was relieved to see Andrew's house looking alive; loud music could be heard as soon as we turned down his block and there were lots of people standing around on the lawn holding cups. It was a good thing he lived out in the country or the cops would've been there within five minutes.

"Thanks for driving us," Vince said, handing Gina a five- dollar bill. "I'll call you when we're ready."

"Yep," she said, stubbing out her cigarette on the dashboard of her Pinto and lighting another. "You'll have to go out on his side, your door don't open on the inside," she told me.

Vince was struggling to open his door and finally leaned on it, pushed with his shoulder and it fell open. He got out and I slid across the stained seat and crawled out, accidentally kicking a used condom that had been on the floor into the street. "Nice," Vince muttered, kicking it into the gutter and slamming the car door.

"At least we know she's being safe," I said.

"Yeah, that's kinda surprising," he replied.

"Hey, Dani!" Andrew exclaimed, emerging from the throngs. "Hey man," he said to Vince, giving him a high-five. "Good to see you again."

"Hi," Vince said awkwardly.

"I was kind of worried we'd be too early." I had to yell to be heard over the music.

Andrew glanced around. "Yeah, there aren't too many people here yet, but don't worry. I'm sure a lot more will start showing up around ten."

"This isn't a lot of people?" I asked, amazed. "Damn, it looks to me like half of your school is already here."

"I don't know all them. My neighbor invited some of her friends who go to ODU and a lot of my friends brought their own friends from other schools. Anyway, you want something to drink? The kegs are in the backyard or I could take you up to my room."

"What?" Vince exclaimed.

"The liquor's in his room," I explained.

"You didn't tell me people were going to be drinking here," he said.

"Oh honey, lighten up. It won't kill you. You know, I'm told this is what the normal people at our school do on weekends."

"Vince!" A couple of guys who looked vaguely familiar came over. "Hey, what's up? Haven't seen you in forever!"

"Hey!" Vince suddenly looked considerably happier. "Danielle, you remember Brad and Chris from Honor Society?"

"Yeah, hey, how's your summer going?" I asked.

"Okay," Brad said, before the three of them began talking about a bunch of Honor Society gossip that I couldn't follow.

"Oh lord," I muttered to Andrew. "This is all I'm going to hear about all night."

"Well, come on," he said. "I'll introduce you to some of my friends."

"Vince?" I said tentatively. "I'm gonna go talk to some people. I'll be back in a bit." He merely nodded.

"Want to come upstairs?" Andrew asked. "I'll make you a drink."

"Good god," I said once we were in his bedroom. There were at least twenty different bottles of liquor sitting around. "What'd you do, rob the store?"

"Nah. Some of it I took from my parents' liquor cabinet. I mean, a shot here, a shot there, they won't know the difference. My neighbor bought the rest for me. I don't get the expensive stuff and I'm lifeguarding this summer, making pretty good money, so it's not that expensive. Besides, I only do parties like this once a year. So, what do you want to drink?"

I shrugged. "Umm...to be honest, I've never drank much."

He smiled. "You mean you've never drank at all."

"That's not true," I said defensively. "I'll have you know I drink wine every Sunday morning."

He laughed. "Wow, Danielle. One sip of watered-down wine in church every Sunday! You're an alcoholic!"

"Well, my dad used to make himself martinis every night when he got home from work and once I tried a sip. It tasted like Pine-Sol."

"Yeah, martinis are nasty." He poured stuff from various bottles into a glass and held it out to me. "Here, try this."

I took a small sip. "Hey, this is good! What's in it?"

"Sprite, Midori melon and citrus vodka. But you need to be careful. It's got more alcohol in it than it tastes like."

"So this is tequila," I said, picking up a bottle. I took the cap off and sniffed. "It doesn't smell that bad."

"It depends on what you drink it with," Andrew said. "My theory about tequila is everyone tries it, says 'oh this stuff is awesome!' and drinks too much. Then they get sick and for the rest of their lives they tell everyone else to stay away from that tequila shit. You have to take it slow."

"Can I try it?" I asked curiously.

"If you want..." he said doubtfully. "Here, pour some salt on your thumb."

"What?"

"Here," he said, taking my right hand. "See that skin between your index finger and your thumb? Lick that."

"Huh? Why?"

"Cause we're gonna pour some salt on it."

I was still confused but I wanted to look like I had some idea what I was doing, so I licked my hand and held it out to him. He sprinkled some salt onto it and cut me a lime wedge. "Okay. I'm gonna take this one with you. You're going to lick the salt, take the shot, and then put the lime in your mouth, quickly. It won't be so gross this way, and you won't throw it back up."

"You're making me really want this, you know?"

"Well, you gotta learn sometime."

I took a deep breath, licked the salt off my thumb, threw the shot down my throat, and, coughing, stuck the lime between my teeth. "That wasn't too bad," I said, although my chest was burning. "Can I have another?"

"Maybe that's not such a good idea..."

"Just one more." I poured some more tequila in the shot glass and got my salt and lime ready. This time swallowing wasn't quite as easy and my stomach churned. I took a big sip of the mixed drink Andrew had made me.

"You okay?" he asked cautiously.

"I'm great."

"You want me to make you some more of that?" he asked, gesturing at my almost-empty glass.

"Sure." After he'd made me some more we went downstairs. Vince was still in the same place I'd left him. I gave him a kiss, which he barely noticed, and went to go meet some of Andrew's friends.

"Danielle, this is my good friend Lisa."

You mean your fuck-buddy? I thought. "Hi, it's nice to meet you." Lisa was tall and skinny and had long red hair. She also had huge breasts that I had to notice because she was wearing a top that didn't leave much to the imagination.

"You too," she said. "Andrew talks about you a lot."

"Really?"

"You weren't supposed to tell her that," Andrew said.

"Sorry, babe, I'm starting to feel it." She put the arm that wasn't holding her beer cup around him. "Where have you been? I've been here for like 45 minutes. You weren't jerking off in the closet again, were you?"

"Oh haha, you're so funny," he said, rolling his eyes.

"Jerking off in the closet?" I asked. "That's a story I'd like to hear."

"Yeah, she was just kidding," Andrew said, turning red. "Where's Justin?"

Lisa shrugged. "We're taking some time off."

"Oh," Andrew said flatly. I couldn't tell if he was happy about that or not.

"Hey, I'm going to get some more beer," she said. "You guys want any?"

"Hell yeah," I replied. Maybe that would settle my stomach some. I was pretty used to beer because my friends and I had drunk it when I was younger a few times.

"You sure you don't want to take it easy?" Andrew asked.

"Oh, don't baby the girl," Lisa said. "I'll be back." She disappeared into the crowd.

"Want to sit down?" Andrew said to me. We sat down on a couch. Actually, it felt more like I fell down. I was starting to feel a little dizzy.

"You okay?" he asked, putting his hand on my arm.

"Yeah, I'll be fine." He left his hand on my arm for a little bit. I took it off reluctantly. "Oh, no you don't. You better not do that. My boyfriend will be mad."

"Hey." He held his hands up defensively. "If you were my girlfriend I'd be mad too. But he's got nothing to worry about. We're just friends, right?"

"Right." Lisa brought us the beers and I took a long sip. "Now if I didn't have a boyfriend I might want to make out with you. I mean, you're cute and all. But I have Vince to think of."

"Did I miss something?" Lisa asked.

"Danielle was just telling me she wants me in bed," Andrew said, grinning.

"I did not!" I replied, shoving him playfully.

He pushed me back. "We'll see what happens after you've had a little bit more to drink."

The three of us sat there talking for another half hour or so. Lisa kept refilling my beer, which I thought was really nice of her. After awhile I saw someone familiar out of the corner of my eye.

"Hey Brad!" I yelled. "Brad! Hey!"

"Oh, hi," he said, wandering over. "Your boyfriend's looking for you."

"Is he? I'd better go find him," I told Andrew and Lisa. I stood up and nearly fell back down. "Whoa. Hey, this is cool!"

"You okay?" Brad asked doubtfully.

"Yeah. Where's my boyfriend? Oh, there he is!" Vince was standing over in the next room talking to a few people I vaguely recognized from school.

"Vince!" I yelled, waving at him. I ran up and hugged him. "I missed you!" I said, giving him a big kiss.

"Uhh..."

"Honey, Andrew made me the greatest drink. It had Sprite and I think two kinds of liquor and it was really really good. You have to try it. He introduced me to some of his friends and they're really cool. I'm having the bestest time. That's not a real word, is it?" He shook his head, looking stunned. I dissolved into giggles. "I mean, I'm having the greatest time," I said, still laughing. "I don't know why this is so funny. I'm glad your sister drove us. It was worth the five dollars. It wasn't my money though so I guess it doesn't matter." I laughed harder, started to choke and cough a little, and took a sip of beer to soothe my throat.

"Oh, this is awesome," he said sarcastically.

"I'm sorry," I said, giving him a hug. "I guess maybe I drank a just a teeny little bit too much."

"Maybe a little," he said, playing with my hair. "It's cause you're skinny."

"And I never drank much before," I told him. "But that stuff was good!"

"Yeah, why don't you let me try a little of that?" he asked, reaching for my cup. He took a sip and set it down on the table behind him.

"Oh, I see what you're trying to do. You're cutting me off. You don't want me to have anymore."

"No, no, you can have some more later," he said patiently. "I just think you need to take a little break right now."

"Look, I'm not drunk, okay?" I said as I tried to push past him to get the beer cup. "I'm maybe a just a little bit tipsy but I'm not drunk." I grabbed the beer and he pulled it out of my hands. It splashed out of the cup onto my shirt.

"Look what you did!" I exclaimed. "You got my shirt all wet."

"I'm sorry."

"You don't want me to have any fun. You're always trying to control what I do!"

"Honey, let's get in the bathroom line, okay?" he said, putting his arm around my waist and steering me towards the long line of people waiting for the bathroom.

"See what I mean? What if I don't want to go to the bathroom?"

"Well, you've had a lot to drink and the line is kind of long, so by the time you get up to the front of it you'll probably have to go. You always have to pee. You have a peanut-sized bladder, remember?" he said, smiling.

"Oh, you think you know me so well," I snapped. "You don't even know why I have a peanut-sized bladder."

"Hon, you're being kind of loud."

"If I were at home, I wouldn't have to worry about standing in this long-ass bathroom line because I could just put on a diaper!"

His mouth fell open. "You mean one of your cousin's diapers."

"No, I mean the ones I have in my closet that I wear to bed and around my room for fun sometimes! Those diapers! Half the time when you call me at night and we're talking, I'm wearing one! Sometimes I pee in it and you have no clue! See! You don't know me at all!"

He looked down at the ground, cleared his throat, and shifted his weight from one foot to another for a few seconds. Then he sighed. "No. I guess I don't."

"Don't what?" I asked.

"Never mind. Exactly how much did you have to drink?"

"Ummmm..." I couldn't remember exactly. I wasn't sure how many times I'd asked Lisa to get me more beer or if I'd had one or two tequila shots. "That really good stuff Andrew gave me, plus some tequila, and I think maybe three cups of beer?"

"Oh, lord."

"I would've gotten to have more beer if you hadn't taken mine away," I said. "Where is it, anyway?" I picked up a cup on a nearby table.

"No honey, that's not yours," Vince said, taking it out of my hand. "You don't want to drink someone else's spit."

I started laughing. "Eww!" I quickly tried to stop and pressed my legs together, since laughing made me have to pee worse. "How much longer do I have to wait? Now that I think about it, I really do need to pee."

"Only a few more minutes."

"Ooh, I don't know if I can hold it that long."

Vince sighed. Just then I saw Lisa near the front of the line. "Hi, Lisa!" I yelled and then whispered loudly to Vince, "She's Andrew's fuck-buddy."

"Awesome," he sighed. "This is all just awesome. I'm so glad you talked me into going."

"Are you being sarcastic?" I asked.

"Hey," Lisa called back. "Andrew and I have heard you talking ever since you left us."

"Oh, sorry," I giggled. "I guess I was a little loud, huh?"

"That's cool," she smiled. "Want to cut me in line? I can wait a little longer."

"Yeah, thanks!" I got in front of her and was soon in the bathroom. I yanked my underwear and pants down together, sat down heavily and started peeing. I felt like a water balloon someone had pricked a hole in and squeezed. After I finished I pulled my pants back up and looked in the mirror. My hair had come out of its clip and was frizzing everywhere. I laughed at myself and suddenly felt nauseated.

Lisa started banging on the door. "Hello...did you fall in?"

"Sorry." I tried to turn the knob and realized I'd locked the door. Clumsily I unlocked it and stumbled out. She smiled at me and slipped in.

"Feeling better?" Vince asked.

"Actually, I kind of feel nauseated."

"Oh, shit," he said.

"Vince..." I said, and then I started heaving. I put my hands over my mouth. Vince grabbed my elbow and started pulling me through the crowd. Dizzily I saw people quickly moving out of the way. A few laughed.

Andrew came running up. "You okay?"

"Thanks for getting her drunk," Vince snapped. "Leave her alone."

I took my hand away to tell Vince it wasn't Andrew's fault, but when I tried to talk I heaved instead, right as we were going out the back door. I leaned over into the grass and vomited up what felt like everything I'd ever eaten in my life. Vince held my hair back and rubbed my back, looking awkward.

I finally finished, sat down in the dewy grass, which soaked my pants, and burst into tears from embarrassment and some vague sense that something was wrong. "Vince!" I sobbed, putting my head on his chest. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get drunk. I didn't mean to tell you all that stuff. I didn't mean..." I closed my eyes briefly and the ground started spinning, faster and faster, everything was spinning and spinning and I opened my eyes and nothing was still, like a merry-go-round out of control, and I felt sick again, closed my eyes, started throwing up, and passed out

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