The next week of school dragged by, mostly because Jessica and Steve were waiting for Friday to come so they could leave and have the next week together at the lake house.
She had taken Dustin to the arcade on Tuesday, where he had undecidedly let her know that she sucked at video games of all sorts. She was okay at Pac-man, but that was about it, and even then, her score wasn't anything to brag about. Then on Thursday, she took him to the comic book store and she bought him a new Superman comic and a new X-Men comic.
When Friday finally got there most of the teachers were basically warning the students that once they came back from break they would begin studying for their final exams, which basically meant they needed to refresh themselves on what they had learned that year.
Jessica knew she would have no problem, but Steve kind of freaked out about having to remember everything.
"It'll be okay. We'll study together."
Steve was walking her to her car like he normally did after school, and she grabbed his hand now to twine their fingers together. Steve had been getting more and more down on himself about school work, and she thought she knew why. He'd never really cared about his grades before, but now that he did, he realized it wasn't easy keeping them up. Plus, he wanted to be able to apply to colleges next year, and that was stressing him out too. He knew there would be placement tests and essays to write, and he didn't want to have to do either.
"Steve?" They had reached her car now, so she pulled him closer. "You realize that since you've been with me that you've brought each of your classes up a letter grade, right?"
"Well, yeah, but –"
"That means you almost have a 3.0 GPA. It's not perfect, but it's still good. You're doing good."
The stress in his face began to fade away and he wrapped his arms around her. She willingly rested her head against his chest and began to smile.
"I just – my parents are going to be with us tonight and tomorrow and I just know my dad's gonna say something. He always does."
"Well, he's not my dad. I can tell him to shove it, if you need me to."
His chest vibrated with laughter and his arms tightened around her briefly.
"I love you," he said.
"Love you, too."
"Hey, uh, do you think you can bring that blue dress you have? The one you wore on Valentine's Day? We have to have dinner with my dad's business partners tomorrow night and it's kind of a formal thing."
"It'll only be an hour or two and then it'll be over," Steve said.
Jessica pulled away from him slightly. She knew he would hate whatever time he had to spend around his dad's partners. He hated any time he had to spend thinking about how he might end up working for his dad because that was the only thing he thought was open to him.
"Okay. I'm mostly packed, I'll just add that in when I get home."
"Okay. Be ready to go by five?"
She nodded, kissed him quickly and said, "This is gonna be a good week, even if we do have to go to a business dinner."
"Yeah, okay. We'll just get through tomorrow and everything else will be good."
Once Jessica got home, she did what she'd said she would do and put her blue dress in her suitcase to take with her. If she was being honest with herself, she wasn't too happy about having to go to dinner with Steve's parents either – or his co-workers, for that matter – but she was glad that Steve would have a buffer between him and his dad.
After she added her dress to the list of things she was taking with her, she took a brief inventory to make sure she had everything – bathroom things, clothes, any homework her teachers had assigned for the break – and then went down to have a snack with her mom.
"You all set?"
"You call me when you get there, just so I know you did get there."
They continued back and forth like that until Dustin got home and then he came and sat with them in the kitchen. He normally would've just gone to his room – Jessica would've been on her way to work on most Friday's – and then he would've been off to Mike's to meet up with his friends.
Since she was leaving that day, however, both her mom and her brother were waiting with her for Steve to pick her up. She'd never been away from her family for any real length of time, and especially not over a holiday, so they were going to sit with her until she left.
Steve was right on time to pick Jessica up. He went inside to help her with her things, if she needed it, and to say hi and bye to Dustin and Ms. Henderson.
Jessica ended up having a duffle bag and a suitcase, so he took those to the car before heading back inside. Jessica, Dustin, and Ms. Henderson had already moved to the living room when he'd reached them. Jessica was hugging her mom; once she was done with that she hugged Dustin.
"You almost ready?" he asked after she had let go.
She nodded and gave him a small smile as she moved to his side and grabbed his hand.
"You guys be safe," Ms. Henderson said. "Remember to call when you get there."
"The drive is about three hours," Steve said. "We might not get there until after eight."
Ms. Henderson nodded. "That's fine. I'll be waiting."
"I love you guys."
Once they were in the car and on the road, Jessica grabbed his hand once again.
"I'm glad I'm going with you, but it still feels weird knowing I'm going to be gone all week."
"I get that," Steve said.
Jessica was close with her family. As far as he knew, she'd never been away from them for any real length of time. Even when they happened to go away somewhere over summer vacation or any other holiday, they were always together, they never left anyone behind.
She turned the radio on, setting the volume high enough to hear it but low enough so they could talk if they wanted to.
It was warm enough outside that they could have the windows down a bit, but she didn't want to have to fight her hair later, so she only put hers down about halfway.
"So what do you usually do when you're at the lake house?"
Jessica had never been, so she wasn't sure what to expect.
"Well, we're not so far away from a town that we can't go explore, so there is that. There are places to eat, this one place has the best pizza I've ever had, and we have to go there before we go back home. Hanging out on the pier is cool; it makes you feel like you're moving, but you're really not. There's a path you can walk through around the lake, about a mile or so. It's pretty open, not completely in the woods. But we can still watch movies and stuff, if that's what you want to do."
All that sounded great to Jessica. She knew she'd have a good time no matter what they did because they were going to be together.
A couple hours into the trip, Steve had to stop for gas. He picked up a couple sodas at the gas station and a bag of chips for him and Jessica to share. He planned on picking up a pizza from the place he'd mentioned just because they were going to be getting to the house late and he knew his parents would have picked something up already for them. They had actually left earlier that day, before school had even let out, so they were probably already at the lake house.
Jessica had been dozing off and on for the past hour, but she was awake when Steve got back to the car. She gave him a smile when he handed her a Coke. She took a few swallows before closing the bottle back up.
"So what are the sleeping arrangements for this week?" she asked.
Her tone was careful, which Steve picked up on because she was usually really open with him. He was open with her too.
"Uh, honestly, my parents won't care if we share a room. But there's an extra room if you want it."
She shook her head. "No, I was just wondering. I didn't know if sharing would be a problem."
To be completely honest, Steve's dad had given him the sex talk before Steve had even been interested in sex. The year he'd started high school, his dad had set him down and explained stuff that Steve already knew about, but had basically told him that whenever he did decide to start getting serious with girls to be smart about it. They didn't want him getting some girl in trouble, was what his dad had said.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"I just – did you bring . . . ya know, what Mom said to bring?"
Steve nodded. "Did you think I would forget?"
"No. I just . . ." Steve watched her bite her lip before she took a deep breath. "I mean . . . I know we talked about it a little, but I'm still nervous."
Steve couldn't stop the swell of tenderness that filled his chest as her words reached him. He grabbed her hand and squeezed. He wouldn't admit it out loud, but he was a little nervous too. He loved Jessica; he'd never slept with a girl he cared so much about.
"You know nothing has to happen," he said. "Right? I mean, there is absolutely no pressure."
"I know. I want something to happen. Like I said, I'm just nervous."
"You don't have to be. At least not tonight." Steve grinned. "All that's happening tonight is pizza and sleeping. Maybe kissing."
Most of the tension left Jessica's body as she allowed a few laughs to come out.
"Good to know, I guess."
"Yup. And Jess, you really don't have to be nervous. If at any time you want to stop any of what we're doing, you just say so. Okay? And that's ever, not just the first time. I don't ever want you to feel like you have to do something with me, because you don't."
"I know." This time she squeezed his hand. "I love you."
"Mm. I love you too."
By the time they arrived at the lake house, it was after eight just like Steve had said it would be. They had picked up a large pizza, but Jessica called her mom before they started eating.
Steve's parents had already eaten and they were seated in the living room with the TV on. Jessica noticed that they were sitting together but not super close, not like Jessica and Steve would've been sitting. She would've been leaning against him and he would've had an arm around her, holding her close to his side. There was none of that intimacy between his parents.
Mr. Harrington had a small tumbler of scotch in his hand, while Mrs. Harrington had a half-filled glass of wine.
Steve and Jessica decided to eat in the kitchen where they wouldn't be disturbed or do any disturbing themselves.
"So, what do you want to do tomorrow?" Steve asked as he got two plates down from a shelf.
Jessica shrugged. "The pier sounded like a good idea. Peaceful and relaxing. The walk around the lake sounded good too."
"The dinner starts around seven, so we could do both. Maybe a picnic lunch?"
Jessica nodded. She was not really a nature person, but the picnic by the lake was something she'd never done before, so she was all for it.
After dinner Steve went back out to the car to get their things and then they took them up to his room. The whole house was made in a two-story log cabin type of design, so Steve's room was no different.
The room was only slightly smaller than his room at his house in Hawkins, but it wasn't as personal as his other room. There weren't any trophies or posters or trinkets from when he used to travel with his parents when they would go on vacation over the summer. It made sense; his family only used this place for maybe a month out of the whole year; what would be the point in decorating when they spend so little time there?
There was a dresser pressed against the wall, on the right as soon as they walked in, and Steve dropped their suitcases right in front of it. She dropped the dufflebag there as well.
"You can put your stuff in there if you want to. I mean, we're only going to be here for a week, but still . . ."
The only thing Jessica decided to take out of the things she brought was her blue dress. She hung it up in the closet, so that it wouldn't be too wrinkled when she had to wear it tomorrow. In fact, she might even run it through the washer and dryer before dinner to make it look even neater.
They had a few hours to kill before Steve's parents would probably decide to go to bed, so Jessica suggested doing some of the homework they had been assigned over break.
"Jess . . ." Steve pouted playfully. "Why? Break just started."
"I know, but if we get it done this weekend, we have all of next week to do whatever we want. It makes sense in a time management type of way."
So they started on their homework. They both had questions they had to answer for history, which Steve was at least semi-interested in, and it was mostly just review of what they had learned that year.
They didn't have to concentrate that hard to fill out the packet of questions, so Steve put on some music and let it play softly in the background.
"So, why is this dinner a formal one? Where are we going to go?"
"There's a country club close by. They always meet there at least once when we come here."
"Ah, hence the formal wear. Okay. But only for an hour or two, you said?"
"Yup. And most of that will be just my dad going back and forth with his business partners. He'll only include me in the part where he talks about me working for him after I graduate."
Jessica already knew how Steve felt about that. He didn't want to work for his dad at all. She also knew that until recently Steve thought it was his only option. That was before he'd started studying with her and bringing his grades up. Now he really had a shot at getting into a good school, maybe not the best school, but still a good one.
"You know, I think once you start applying and showing how determined you are, he might change his mind about everything."
"That would be nice."
Steve's parents were in bed by eleven that night, which left the living room and TV free for him and Jessica to use.
There was a small collection of movies that he and his parents kept at the lake house. He let Jessica choose, so they ended up watching Grease 2. They kept the volume down low, but it didn't keep her from singing along with the songs when they came on.
Once the movie was over and Jessica had finished her one girl show for him, they took it out and put it back in its proper place. There was an old black and white movie on the screen now, but neither of them paid attention to it as Steve began kissing her neck, just small butterfly ones, enough to tickle and make her giggle.
He was encouraged when she turned to him and wrapped her arms around him so she could rub his back. They didn't do much more than kiss, but they did it long enough for Jessica's lips to turn red and become kiss-swollen.
"You really are beautiful, you know," Steve said, to which Jessica shook her head and blushed.
"I'm glad you think that, but pretty sure you have to. You're my boyfriend."
Steve knew she was joking. Many guys had shown interest in her over the years since they had started high school; she had just never shown any interest back.
They stayed up for maybe another half-hour, but then they decided to go to bed. They had a long day ahead.