BY : OriginalCeenote
Category: Comics > Archie & Co.
Dragon prints: 2118
Disclaimer: I don't own the Archies fandom. These characters belong to Archie Comics. I make no money from writing this piece of sh- I mean, fanfiction.


Summary: Big/Big. Oneshot. Away from the shelter of his high school alma mater, Moose tries to find himself. He finds an old classmate along the way, and things change.

Moose’s alarm clock nagged him from dreams of his touchdown against Midvale High with the obnoxious blare of the campus radio station. He groaned, rolled over and slapped the snooze button in irritation. “Shit.” He cursed himself for signing up for an eight o’clock class, but he needed to get his general ed out of the way.

As soon as he rolled upright and planted his feet on the chilly dorm floor, his skull reminded him why going out to Thirsty Thursday was a bad idea. He groaned again, wondering who invited the jackhammering gnomes into his head. He leaned his head into his palms.

His roomie showed him no sympathy. Ambrose’s dorm key crunched into the lock and he kicked open the door, a half-eaten donut clamped in his teeth while he juggled a Starbucks cup and his Jansport backpack. “Ooh!” Moose grunted.

“Thirsty Thursday, huh?”

“Get bent.”

“I’ve got Tylenol in the drawer. Go take a shower. Ya kinda look like hell.”

“How long have you been up?” Moose’s blue eyes were drowsy slits.

“I went for a jog. Got up at dawn.” Moose glared at him as he stretched and lumbered to his feet.

The lure of college night life was strong for Moose, as was the freedom of being away from home.

Being single again might have motivated him the night before, even if he didn’t choose it. Midge proved him wrong that dating for all four years of high school cemented their status as inseparable. Two months into his first semester at state, she texted him that they wanted “different things.” He stared numbly down at his smartphone, convinced that he wasn’t seeing the tiny words. He hit the “Call” button and wandered outside, away from the clamor of the frat house. He abandoned his half-empty Solo cup and plunked himself down on the short flight of steps. It rang four times, each tone feeding the knot in his gut. “C’mon,” he muttered, ignoring the party guests that filed past him, brushing against him as though he wasn’t there.

“Hey.” Midge’s voice was familiar but wary.

“What do you mean, ‘different things?’”

“Moose,” she hedged.

“No. Wait. When you say that, what are you saying? Are you seeing someone else?” He heard her sigh and low tsk of frustration, and he felt a hot flush swamp him. Moose combed his fingers through the hair at his nape and continued. “Seriously, Midge?”

“I’m not seeing anyone else yet,” she insisted.

“Yet?” She might as well have kicked him in the balls. “So you want to date someone else?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“That’s what you meant.”

“Moose, I’m sorry.”

“No,” he blurted, voice choked with confusion and barely checked anger. He pushed the “End” button on the call and let his phone drop from limp fingers onto the step under his feet. He was shaking. The phone chirped at him with another text, but he wasn’t ready for it yet.

A handful of his new acquaintances stopped him as he walked back into the house, but he waved them away and discarded his cup, dumping its contents into the sink first. He lost his taste for the beer and the blaring music, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, Moose Mason needed to be alone.


Moose gathered up his towel and shower gel while Ambrose made short work of his bagel, booting up his PC. “Did you study for that econ mid-term?”

“Kind of,” Moose muttered. He’d skimmed the chapters and had taken haphazard notes. It wasn’t his favorite class. Moose was interested in doing well enough to “get by” and to maintain a good enough GPA so he could play football. Unlike his roomie, Ambrose, who was a diligent student who wanted to be the next Stephen King, Moose still felt the same insecurities in academic settings, to an extent giving up before he tried. The old voices kept coming back, whispering to him that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough.

Midge’s rejection hammered his assumptions into his consciousness. He’d lost the loudest voice in his cheering section. He dug into his trunk for a tee shirt that wasn’t too wrinkled, settling on his old, faded Quicksilver one that had a tiny bleach stain from his first attempt at doing his own laundry. His mother put her foot down at the enormous, straining sack of dirty clothes that he’d hauled through the front door on his first trip home. Moose laid out his clothes and managed to find two matching socks while Ambrose printed out his homework and cleaned out his backpack, excavating a week’s worth of old quizzes and snack wrappers.

Moose was lucky enough to get a decent roommate, and Ambrose was a welcome discovery on his arrival at the dormitory, making it seem smaller and less imposing. Once they introduced themselves and found out that they were alumni from Riverdale Elementary, Moose’s transition into college life became easier. Moose didn’t recognize him initially; Ambrose clarified that his parents had moved out of the area before middle school. Ambrose was active but not particularly athletic. His personality was mellow and wisecracking, and he had a fantastic imagination. He enjoyed things that Moose considered slightly nerdy, and he had member accounts on a lot of fanfiction Web sites that he wasn’t familiar with, but Moose wouldn’t hold it against him.

Moose’s head throbbed less after ten minutes under the steaming water. He combed a squirt of gel through his brutally short blond hair and left the tiny dorm room reeking of Old Spice. Moose shoved his meal card and keys into his pocket, cursing under his breath when he saw the time. “Catch you later,” he tossed over his shoulder.

“Yep. Later, bro.”

The line into the dining hall was a mile long; Moose didn’t stand a chance of getting to class on time. His stomach picked that moment to complain loudly up at him. Moose considered his options as me made his way toward Basic English Comp. There was a coffee stand outside the hall that had decent bagels. It would have to do.


Ethel did a double take at the tall, beefy blond in a light aqua shirt and black Dockers that hurried past her. “Moose?” she murmured incredulously. Was that him? It was hard to tell from the back, but she thought she recognized his lumbering stride and haircut. The stranger had the same ears, too, that stuck out like jug handles. Ethel was a people watcher, a habit spawned from spending a lot of time alone. She turned back toward the dining hall, annoyed at the long line for breakfast. She wanted coffee more than anything else; her calculus mid-term promised to be a bear. Ethel managed a meager scholarship, and her parents sent her a monthly allowance, but they made it clear that she would need to come up with whatever was left of her expenses on her own. She had to keep her grades up if she wanted to maintain her financial aid.

Her social life hadn’t changed much since she graduated from Riverdale. She spent her holidays and random weekends at home and usually called Betty and Nancy for movie dates or trips to Pop’s. Veronica was seldom home for the weekend, and what time she spent there was usually monopolized by Archie. Ethel’s roommate didn’t make much of an effort to reach out to her, and Melody had little in common with her, anyway. She wasn’t certain how the residence administrator matched them up when she reserved her dorm for the year. Mel was – in the nicest way Ethel could possibly describe – a ditz. Nice enough, but just… goofy. Girl didn’t have a clue. Ethel’s first indication that they weren’t that compatible should have been the overwhelming flurry of pink on one side of the room when she dragged her duffle and trunk inside.

Unicorns. My Little Pony dolls and knick-knacks. A pink feathered dream catcher in the window. A framed Pussycat Dolls poster hanging over her bed. The spread, throw pillows, Melody’s shower caddy, towels, sheets, backpack, and trunk were all hot pink. Melody’s desk hosted a pink iPad and iPod Nano, a stack of leopard-printed notebooks, and a framed photo of her with two other girls, all dressed in bizarre-looking cat costumes with ears and tails. “Ooo-kay,” Ethel muttered under her breath.

“Hey, roomie!” Melody squealed, and Ethel just had time to set down her duffle before she was enveloped in a perfumed hug. “I finally get to meet you! Aren’t you stoked? Isn’t this awesome?”

“You’re Melody?”

“Melody Valentine,” she clarified. “You can call me Mel.”

“Cool. I’m Ethel.”

“Wow! That’s my grandma’s name,” she told her cheerfully. “What kind of music do you like?”

“Uh…I dunno. I like a lot of stuff, I guess.”

“Take your pick! Let’s make a playlist!” The bubbly platinum blonde bustled around the room, fiddling with her speakers. “Music’s my thing. I’m a drummer in a band!” She whipped out a pair drumsticks – glittering, pink drumsticks, no less – and tossed one up in the air with a little twirl. “I’m so glad you’re here, we’re gonna have so much fun!”

That remained to be seen, Ethel supposed. She liked Melody well enough, but they just didn’t have anything in common. Melody was a night owl, and she brought a never-ending stream of visitors, mostly male, into their dorm. Ethel often escaped to the computer lab for something resembling peace and quiet. Once in a while, though, Mel could be fun. Sometimes she brought ingredients for s’mores and they would wander into the dormitory kitchen to nuke the marshmallows just until they were gooey. Melody would grouse about boy problems while Ethel listened, rapt.

“I don’t know if he’s going to call.”

“So, call him,” Ethel reasoned.

“It doesn’t work that way!” Melody scolded, as though Ethel were three. “He’s supposed to call. That way I know he’s into me. If I have to call him, it doesn’t count.”

“Why doesn’t it count? Did he give you his number?”

“He wrote it on my hand at the club,” Melody qualified. “He wanted to write it on my boob.”

“Right,” Ethel shrugged. That indicated interest, she supposed. She glanced down at her own meager assets briefly and sighed. No one would accuse Ethel Muggs of trying to attract a man with anything other than her sterling wit and sparkling personality. At least, not to her way of thinking. Melody Valentine was a seventies pinup come to life. Her skin was peachy and perfect. Her body was illegal, or should have been, and she raided Hot Topic on a monthly basis. Ethel avoided conversations between them that started with “Does this make my butt look big?” Melody had big, blue puppy dog eyes and a loopy smile that made her want to pat the blonde on the head.

Melody was a music major, no surprise. She was constantly humming, and when she spoke, she always seemed to be singing the words, a habit that took some getting used to for Ethel. Melody’s bookshelves were stuffed full of sheet music, sharing space with her high school year book and a handful of photo albums. As far as Ethel could tell, Melody had truly enjoyed high school, and she was often nostalgic.

Ethel had despised it.

One thing that she appreciated about campus life was the anonymity. She could start over, where no one knew her as “Big Ethel.” The state college campus was diverse and large, and she enjoyed how she managed to get lost in the crowd. Ethel wasn’t the skinniest or tallest person she saw walking around for a change, which was refreshing. No one made disparaging remarks about her teeth. Braces had corrected the worst of her overbite by senior year, but she still had a noticeable gap. Ethel decided it gave her face character, if nothing else. Who said she had to be perfect? To her own disparaging way of thinking, perfect teeth wouldn’t put her in league with her roommate, anyway.

In contrast to Melody’s side of the room, Ethel’s was sparsely decorated and study in dark fabrics and clean lines. She didn’t like clutter. While Melody’s bed was populated with stuffed animals, Ethel had a couple of framed Escher prints and an Ansel Adams calendar hanging on the wall. A dark blue damask bedspread dressed her bed, and a framed photo of Ethel, Betty and Nancy taken at the beach sat on her desk next to her laptop. Ethel left most of her knick-knacks at home, for the simple reason that she didn’t know who could come through the dorm in any given day, and she didn’t want any of her belongings taken.

Ethel made her way into the dining hall and let the desk attendant scan her meal card. She selected a bagel and cream cheese, filling her mug with bland, but thankfully, hot coffee. She sugared it liberally and found herself a table, alone, in the back of the cafeteria. Ethel thumbed through her calculus notes, etching the formulas in her memory. Ethel Muggs was a bright girl, but she despised math. She looked forward to spring semester and the chance to take an elective or two.

She checked her day planner. Calculus mid-term. Computer lab. Sociology class. English mid-term. She scanned down to the last item she had penciled in. “Shoot,” she hissed.

Work. Life Art Drawing I.

She’d forgotten that she started work that day. Ethel wolfed down her food and transferred her coffee into a to-go cup with a lid, tossing the dishes into the metal carousel by the exit. Butterflies clamored in her stomach.

When Ethel perused the job boards the week before, she kept her options open. All of the spots working in the library filled up fast, and it was just as difficult to score a job in the campus bookstore or in the dining hall. Ethel was running out of options, and she needed something part-time to supplement her tiny allowance. Text books weren’t cheap, and she babied them out of necessity, no longer making notes in the margins like she had in high school. If she wanted to sell them back, they needed to be in pristine, mint shape.

A few ads wanted tutors or typists, but she needed more regular hours than that. There were a few listings that looked like scams. Several jobs were just volunteer internships. Ethel had a few hundred hours under her belt of volunteering as a candy striper at Riverdale General, but working for free wasn’t an option now.

A small, neon orange index card caught her eye. She tugged out the thumb tack and removed the card from the bulletin board. “Hm.”

Life Art Class Needs a Model. MWF, 10AM-12PM. Min. starting wage. Must be open-minded, cannot be shy. Apply at Hurley Hall School of the Arts office before Oct. 5th. Ethel tucked the little card into her purse and headed to the east end of campus, quickening her steps before she changed her mind.

The woman in the personnel office looked like an artsy type. She wore lots of jewelry made from glass beads and natural stones. Her long hair was a champagne-tinged auburn and reached down to her waist. She eyed Ethel appreciatively. “Are you here about the modeling job?” she inquired before Ethel could state her purpose. It took her by surprise. Ethel fished in her pocketbook and withdrew the card.

“Um, yeah. I am. So, it’s Monday, Wednesday, Friday?”

“Do those hours work for you?”

“Sure. I can manage it okay.”

“You’d be a great subject. How tall are you?”


“Lucky girl. You’re very statuesque. Have you ever modeled before?”

“I wish… uh, not… really. I’m interested in something part-time while I’m going to school.”

“That’s fine. This is the application. Try to have it back by noon today. We’re going to be interviewing candidates tomorrow.”

“Great.” Ethel took the proffered application and tucked it into her homework folder.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem a little bashful,” the woman told her. She smiled engagingly, and Ethel felt even more awkward.

“No, just… I’m pretty laid-back.”

“All right. And before we go any further, just so you know, life art drawing usually includes nude models. We offer the job to people with different body types. It keeps things interesting to have different subjects, so the class can stay challenged.” Ethel’s mouth went dry.

“Wow. Okay. Cool. So, by noon?”

“Noon.” She stood up and extended her hand, and Ethel noticed they were of a height. “Call me Greta.” Ethel peered down at the name plaque on her desk as she shook her hand.

“Greta Grundy?”

“Uh-huh.” Her face was long and narrow, with a distinctive, prominent nose.

“Do you have any family from Riverdale?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. I come from a family of teachers. My sister, Geraldine, works as an English and history teacher at that high school.” Ethel’s face lit up.

“She was my favorite!” Greta clapped her hands.

“Small world. She must have done right by you if you’ve made it here.”

“She was the best teacher in the world. I miss her.”

“Me, too. We haven’t visited in a while. Ethel, it was nice to meet you.” They shook hands again, and Ethel hurried to her next class.

She completed her application, and her interview was brief. Ethel met two of the art professors whose classes she would pose for, and their demeanor put her at ease.

“So, you’ve never modeled before?”

“No. Does that matter?”

“Not at all. How good are you at sitting still?”

“I think I can manage.”

“Plan on being able to hold a pose for at least a half an hour to an hour. You have nice, clean lines.” The compliment struck Ethel as peculiar. “You’ll be a fun subject to draw. When you show up for class, bring a little robe or something that you can pull on between sketches. We try to keep the room warm, but you might still get a draft.” Ethel broke out in goosebumps.


“See you next week!” Ethel felt euphoric, practically floating out of the office into the afternoon sunshine. She had a job.

She was terrified.


Moose struggled through his econ exam, breaking out into a queasy sweat. He regretted the half dozen or so Keystones from the night before, and he craved a bottle of water. The answers seemed to blur on the page. He checked the majority of the choices “true” and tried to sound like he knew what he was doing on the three essay questions. As long as he didn’t leave behind a blank page, he had a chance, Moose figured. He scrawled out a somewhat feasible description of supply and demand as the clock over the door ticked too slowly.

“Time,” his professor barked. Moose scribbled his name at the top of the page and hastily zipped up his backpack. He added his test paper to the stack, willing his answers to be correct. “See you Wednesday,” his professor promised with a curt salute. Moose nodded and took his leave, merging with the flow of students in the corridor.

It was odd to feel so invisible and unremarkable. Moose had football practice that afternoon, and he still ate, breathed, slept and lived the sport, but it was new to him not to be the best athlete at his school anymore. Being a freshman again left him at the bottom of the food chain. Practice drills were brutal. He ran twice as much, lifted twice as often, and his scrimmages on the field left him one burning mass of aches and pains, but it was worth it. Moose wanted it badly, and he needed to make the grade in the classroom. There was no room for failure.

Dilton had helped him with his online registration before he left for MIT. “You need at least one cake class. General ed’s important, but take at least one class that you know you can pass, something that qualifies as ‘enrichment.’”

“Like what?”

“How about art?” Moose scoffed.

“Gimme a break. Like I’m really gonna take an art class.”

“Might be plenty of cute girls,” Dilton reasoned. “You wouldn’t have to study. Just weekly projects and showing up to class every day. You might actually learn how to draw.”

Moose considered it. There were three sessions of Life Art Drawing I that fall. He could ease it into his twelve units, somewhere. Moose clicked on the first link, then “Add to Cart.” There was no turning back. He was officially a college freshman, full-time. His mom was proud, but his dad raised an eyebrow at his choice of elective.


What surprised him was how expensive the materials were for the class. The only text was “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” but the list of required stuff was a mile long. Moose spent a clueless half hour, browsing the choices of graphic pens, charcoals, pastel crayons and pencils, not knowing the difference between a .5 or .005 marker. His wallet winced at the cost of the Windsor newsprint sketch pad.

When he entered the classroom on the first day, he was surprised by the eclectic group that greeted him. Two-thirds of the class was female, as Dilton had guessed, but most of them were older women close to retirement. Moose nodded toward a couple of his teammates, figuring they had the same game plan of taking one “cake” class that semester. He pulled up a stool and took up the easel beside his friend Stan, and Moose began to set up his sketch pad.

“What’s up.”

“Time for some enrichment,” Moose quipped.

“My mind feels broader,” Stan deadpanned. “And we get to see boobies,” he muttered. Moose snickered.

His first week of class was unremarkable. Their professor showed them slides of stone statues to practice with using soft pencil. Moose effort to reproduce “The Thinker” on his eighteen-by-twenty-four pad was a little rusty. When he listened to the lectures on negative space and composition, he was lost. He got used to blocking in his figures, but when it came time to add detail, he grew discouraged.

Two more weeks of class found him more comfortable. They did ten and thirty-second speed drills to practice capturing the figure quickly to prepare them for working with a live model. Moose’s attempts still didn’t look like much to him. He felt uneasy whenever his professor materialized by his elbow.

“Think about your angle and your light source. Don’t just draw that hand to look the way you think a hand is supposed to look. Draw it the way you see it.”

“I’m trying.”

“If you look closely, there’s more space between those fingers. Foreshorten that wrist. It’s turned away from you.” Moose still had no clue what “foreshortening” meant. He stifled grumbles as he erased the hand and started again. The slide images of statues were beginning to bore him. He didn’t feel like drawing Michelangelo’s “David’s” junk anymore.


“All right. We’re going live today, folks,” Moose’s professor announced cheerfully. “Show our model some respect. Follow classroom conduct specified in the contract you signed. No disrespectful remarks, no flirting, no touching, no inappropriate requests. Make her feel welcome.” Moose continued setting up his easel and pencils, and a strange current of nervousness twisted his gut.

It was going to be strange seeing a real person nude, standing casually in the same room with him. In some of his most common nightmares, Moose dreamt of himself standing in front of the class in his underwear, unprepared for an oral exam. He couldn’t imagine someone being brave enough to take off their clothes for a group of adults and being stared at for an hour.

“Class, this is Ethel.”

“Um… hi.” Moose’s head jerked up at the sound of the familiar, shy-sounding alto. He dropped his kneaded eraser from nerveless fingers. He felt his face flush at the sight of the tall brunette in the middle of the room, shyly toying with the sash of her simple black robe. Her eyes scanned the room nervously, but she smiled and waved to the class. Moose ducked behind his sketch pad, trying to busy himself, flipping to an empty page. Stan elbowed him briefly.

“Dude… wow. She’s tall.”

“Uh-huh.” Ethel had been the tallest girl he’d graduated with. Every class picture found her standing in the back row. He risked a brief glance at her as the professor led her to the platform. Ethel’s tote holding her clothes sat beside his desk. Moose’s professor turned on a small lamp and fiddled with the angle while Ethel untied her robe.

Panic filled Moose’s chest. Shit! She was really going to do it. His mouth went dry at the sight of the panels of her robe falling open, revealing milky-fair flesh, and his heart pounded. There was something so unsettling about seeing her this way… He squeezed his eyes shut as the robe slithered to the floor.

“Go ahead and spread out on the floor. Or use the stool,” his professor suggested helpfully. Moose heard her faint, bare footsteps padding across the wooden platform as she settled in. He cracked open an eye and watched her crouch down and take a seat, barely daring to glimpse at her from around the edge of his sketch book. His hands felt clammy.

“She’s striking,” one of the women behind him remarked. “This should be fun. I like the line of her back.”

“Great profile,” her friend agreed.

Moose’s memories of who Ethel was to him came back in a rush.

He remembered cutting in front of her in line in the cafeteria. Tugging on her short pigtails at recess. Teasing her that he could see London and France when she wore a skirt to school and climbed the ladder to the slide. Ethel was always awkward and an easy target. Ethel’s friends were the pretty girls, but it hadn’t rubbed off on her or worked to her favor. Moose recalled tinny braces glinting in her mouth and knobby collarbones and elbows. At school dances, she warmed the bleachers during slow songs and mooned over Jughead, playing that hated game of trying to work up the nerve to ask him for a turn around the floor.

“Okay. So maybe we don’t get to see boobies,” Stan said under his breath.

“Dude… don’t,” Moose snapped.

“What? Just being honest.”

“Shut up,” Moose hissed. “I know her. Knock it off.”

“Got it, I got it,” Stan conceded. “Damn, she’s big.” Moose silenced him with a glare. He resigned himself to his assignment and finally risked a long, assessing look at his subject.

Ethel wore her chin-length hair back in a ponytail at the crown of her head, revealing the long line of her slender neck. She sat with her knees pulled slightly into her chest, one foot extended farther than the other. Her arms draped across her knees, hands dangling loosely, and she had her face turned slightly to the side. Moose blinked. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her body. He could see the faint outline of her ribs and the perfect, sharp pearls of her spine. Her skin was alabaster and smooth in contrast with her jet black hair. Moose focused himself on his work and began to make hesitant lines on the fresh page, attempting to capture her pose. His professor flicked the switch on the speakers to his laptop, and soft music filled the studio, quieting some of Moose’s unease.

The first pose was five minutes. Moose found himself erasing frequently, never feeling as though he was capturing the angles of his body correctly, and doubting every line he made. He felt self-conscious about it. He knew her. That made it different. It wasn’t a random stranger providing him with fodder to sketch. Ethel had pouted at him during dodgeball when he tagged her out too hard or run off with her yellow crayon during art. Ethel was the one who always sat alone at lunch and in study hall. She’d always greeted his amused stares with ones of annoyance and resignation as she hurried along on her way.

He couldn’t do her soft expression justice. There was something judgmental about recreating her look on paper. What would she think of how he sketched her long feet? Did he make her nose too prominent? He was lost in his musings when the professor called for Ethel to change poses.

“Go ahead and stretch, kiddo.” Ethel obeyed, arching her back to rid it of a kink and wiggling her toes as she extended one long, tapered leg.

“They just go on forever,” Stan murmured appreciatively. “She’s cute.”

“Dude, quit it,” Moose growled.

“I’m not hating, bro.” Stan blocked in some more shadows on his sketch. “She’s fun to draw.” Moose begged to differ. He looked at his own efforts with a jaundiced eye. His professor peered over his shoulder.

“Not too bad. You do better with a live subject, I take it?”

“Sure,” Moose allowed. “I guess.”

“This is one of your better efforts. Watch that foreshortening, and try a little more shading. You don’t want to miss out on her contours.” Moose mumbled a thank-you and turned over a new sheet with a low flap.

Ethel though thought she heard a familiar, low rumble across the room, but she ignored it in favor of choosing her next pose. She felt almost proud of herself for making it this far through the class without dying of embarrassment. She didn’t see judgment in any of the faces in the room. They weren’t critical of her small breasts or big feet. She wasn’t a supermodel or a porn star, and she didn’t have to be. Ethel warmed to her job, selecting a graceful pose, heedless of whether she was pulling her stomach in. She adjusted her hands, letting one rest just shy of her collarbones, but not obscuring her breasts, even though it was tempting.

A tiny vein throbbed in Moose’s temple and his mouth went dry again. Look at her. His eyes ate her up, consuming her taut muscles and the graceful bones of her shoulders, legs and throat. It was inevitable that he would have to look at her breasts…

… they were modest, not much bigger than powder puffs, and her nipples were taut from the slight draft in the room and a blushing shade of pink. They fascinated him, and his groin warmed with the brief, shameful impression of how they would feel in his palms. Her flat belly was blessed with an inny navel, easily captured with his two-B pencil and a little blending from his stump.

He sketched furiously, doing his best to use his time well. He wondered how she was able to sit still for so long. Moose was someone who had never been able to sit still. Classes found him fidgeting and scribbling in the margins of his notes, constantly rearranging himself at his two-small desk. But Ethel was serene and still, earning her wage and inspiring sketches that celebrated her spare, graceful physique instead of criticizing it.

Class ended too soon. His professor clapped his hands. “That’s it. Time to pack up, and I’ll see you all next week. Ethel, nice job.”

“Thanks,” she replied easily. She rotated her wrist a few times, working out a cramp. Moose scrambled to put away his pencils, cramming them into his case, but in his rush, he knocked over his easel, pitching his sketch book to the floor. Ethel’s eyes darted toward the sound, and they widened when she met his gaze.

Time stood still. Her pupils dilated and he heard her sharp intake of breath, making the little knob in her throat dip as she swallowed. She licked her lips and ducked her face away, flummoxed as to how to disappear. She glanced back up at him, and embarrassment was written across his boyish features.

“Shit,” she hissed.

“Oh, God,” he muttered. His cheeks were on fire, and he was rooted to the spot.

It was all over.

Ethel fumbled for her robe, scrambling to get into it. “Great work,” the professor informed her cheerfully. “There’s a private studio that you might be interested in checking out, Ethel. They need a model for their evening class. Smaller group, but they pay well.”

“I’d consider it,” she offered numbly. She knotted her sash in quick, sharp motions. Some of the older women in the class smiled and waved to her on their way out. Moose finished packing up his gear, still blushing furiously and feeling tingles wash over him at being spotted before he could make his escape. Ethel scooped up her tote and escaped into the back room. The door’s glass pane had been thoughtfully covered in brown postal wrap anchored with duct tape, offering her privacy as she quickly got dressed. Ethel couldn’t stop the hot flush that swept over her, and her fingers went numb with shock, making it difficult to do up the fastenings of her clothing.

What on earth was Moose Mason doing here? It was surreal. The sight of him robbed her of speech and coherent thought. There went her anonymity, she thought miserably.

She was grateful when she stepped out into an empty classroom. “See you next week,” she called out to her professor.

“Yup! Thanks again!” She darted out of the classroom, fuming with embarrassment. She was almost home-free until she heard a familiar baritone.

“Ethel?” She whipped around and found herself staring up into his curious blue eyes. The corners of his mouth were tight and he had a white-knuckle grip on the strap of his backpack. “Hey.”

“Hi. Long time, no see. I didn’t know you were going to state.” Ethel needed small talk in that moment, anything to circumvent the elephant in the room.

“It was my first choice,” he mumbled. Ethel began walking, and he fell in step beside her. She was still reeling with embarrassment, waiting for her heart to stop hammering in her chest.

“Mine, too. They have a great liberal arts program. I want to teach.”


“That’s my goal.”

“Wow.” She lunged to open the heavy door, but he beat her to it, holding it open. She brushed against him briefly, and her light perfume tickled his nostrils; she shivered at her brief contact with his bulk and warmth. “You were always smart.” She beamed, then blushed.

“It’s going to be more competitive. I’m going to have to work harder to be accepted into the credential program.”



“Um… so, why were you naked in there?”

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