Ron asked himself why he had accepted that invitation? Why he was getting involved with Missy Jenkins? The strong preferences in favor of it expressed by cosmic rhythm and karmic balance aside, of course. Those two obviously thought that getting involved with Missy in every way he could manage was a splendid idea and had started to bring along an associate named primal instinct every time he set eyes on her. That one insisted that if any other guy ever so much as looked at Missy that way, Ron would be obliged to turn him into toast. If any other guy tried to touch her, there would be burnt toast on the menu.
In grade school, they’d gotten along fine. But in high school, Missy had been the sister of a jock, and Ron and his brothers had usually been on the outs with the jocks. Sure, maybe he had called her "Miss Cheerleading Ditz" a few times, but what could a girl whose parents gave her the totally ridiculous nickname of "Missy" expect? It was barely less absurd than Muffy and Buffy. Not that he had any right to make comments about ridiculous names, given that his own official monicker was Elrond.
Then the high school had stuck them into the accelerated schedule, the one that dumped a half dozen kids abruptly into the real world after summer school. She really hadn’t been a ditz, he now realized. That had just been his own prejudices at work. She’d been a cheerleader because everyone expected Chip Jenkins’ sister to be one. She’d been one of those four girls every squad needed. The indispensable ones who made up the base of the pyramid. The ones who held up six perky, bouncy girls. Without wobbling.
He’d thought of her as "Miss Utterly Bourgeois." Her father had been a businessman; Ron’s father had been a hippie. Now his father was a businessman, too . . . a successful one. In point of fact, a very wealthy one, now. And, uh, really . . . Ron was a businessman himself. Probably also wealthy, if he sat down and figured it out.
Once Ron asked himself the question, he had to admit to himself that he actually was getting involved with Missy. Beyond the mutually enjoyable experience of making out until he ached, every chance they got (which he deemed to be insufficiently frequent) and as far as she would let him go (which he deemed to be nowhere near far enough). That was the "plus" in "friends plus."
Sometimes it seemed closer to "friends minus." Missy had picked up a very clear understanding of the limited reliability of down-time birth control. Some of it, he was sure, came from the health classes during their last two years of high school. He’d sat through those himself. More of it, she said, was based upon advice from Jewell Johnson, the retreaded home economics teacher at the middle school where she had worked as an ESOL aide. Mrs. Johnson had felt quite free to dispense certain types of practical advice to the girls working in the ESOL program, since they had already graduated and attained legal adulthood, advice that perhaps even the health teacher at the high school might have flinched at.
"In my day," Mrs. Johnson would say cheerfully. She made no bones about the fact that she had been born in 1934. "Her day" had been the era before the pill – the great generation gap between the 1950s and the 1960s. Another world. One in which Grantville couples, when they went up to the quarry to neck, took along a length of clothesline to tie the girl’s ankles together.
Unfortunately, he knew that she was right. The various things that people were using for birth control were better than nothing, but . . . not all that good. Birth control now meant, as his dad put it, that over ten years, a well nourished fertile couple on good terms with one another would probably have a statistical two or three kids rather than a statistical four or five kids. If they were consistent and determined.
Except, of course, for the method Missy was using. Reliable old standby. Keeping her legs firmly crossed and his hands off sensitive spots. Exactly what, during those last two years of high school, the recalled retired teachers who remembered life before the pill had drilled into the girls and Mrs. Johnson had reinforced. In this fourth year after the Ring of Fire, there were a lot of ways that life in Grantville didn’t resemble the twentieth century any more.
"It’s almost funny," Missy said. "Nobody talks about it, but you can practically look around town and see which couples opted for a permanent method up-time, once they had as many kids as they wanted. And which ones didn’t. Which guys have had it done since the Ring of Fire, once an unexpected addition to the family showed up. And which ones apparently won’t, no matter how hard the doctors and midwives push it." She giggled. "When my cousin Bill was detailed here by the army to get his EMT training last year, he was calling Susannah Shipley ‘Dr. Snipley.’"
Ron nodded. In spite of everything the medical types had thought up, there were a lot more babies coming along now than there used to be. One thing he had noticed right away when he got back from
"I guess I could go through with an abortion, "Missy said. "If I was raped by Croats or something, and absolutely had to. But I don’t want to. I sure don’t intend to get myself into a pickle where I even have to think about it."
Why did he even want to put it on her sturdy, square-ish body? When she was seven or eight, he remembered, she’d had plump cheeks and dimples. The plumpness was long gone. Missy wasn’t elfin, like a gymnast, nor graceful, like a figure skater. Very definitely female, almost maddeningly female sometimes. But a guy could see why, when a larger, masculine version of the build turned up on her brother, Chip had played football much better than basketball.
Grantville had quite a few girls who were prettier than Missy Jenkins. Up-timers and down-timers, both. The little Gertrude from
"Confirming something I suspected."
"I’d still be lying here wanting to put my hand on those parts of you if you’d never stopped being a dumpling or had already turned into a
"Ron, that’s gross."
"I think it’s pretty basic data."