I darted around with nervous energy, from my room to try and figure out what to pack, to my window to see if Derek and Hamster had arrived yet, and then downstairs to think about setting a few baked items out to feed my friends. I couldn't stop, though, because then I'd go to the windows in front of the house and wonder where the heck they were and why they were taking so long. Didn't anyone respect the word emergency anymore?
When Hamster's truck pulled up I opened my front door and urged them inside. They both had concerned looks on their faces and they were right to. This was a disaster! I needed advice and perfect advice to boot. Even though my friends had a mixed record they'd have a much better idea of what I could expect than Seth or Gray.
“What's the rush? Is that your pound cake?” Hamster asked as we entered the kitchen and I wrung my hands.
“Who thinks of eating right now? I couldn't eat!” I babbled as I sliced cake for my friends and placed it on the table.
“Jake, you're kind of manic. Wait,” Derek said and narrowed his eyes. “What did Jon do now?”
“Thank you!” I said, holding my hands out. “He's going to stress me to death! This time it's a real up and down thing, too! It's not like Jon could make anything easy, you know?”
“Why were you so hot to date him again?” Hamster asked and then stuffed half a slice of pound cake in his mouth.
I gave him a hard look. “Jon frustrates me so badly that at least twice a day I'm perfectly capable of taking his life. But then he'll do or say something and all my anger just...pfft! Gone.”
“Give me a for instance,” Derek said as he helped himself to a slice. I stood and explained as I brought milk and coffee to the table to go with their cake.
“Well, this is perfect in a way. So we're at the mall a few nights ago to buy shoes, right? Well, to shop for shoes for me. So I pick out a pair but Jon goes on and on about what I need in a shoe.”
Hamster looked at Derek and then back at me. “Something to protect your foot that doesn't look like your Grandpa would wear them to a walker race. Outside of that, what's the big deal?”
“Right!” I said with purpose. “But Jon goes on about me having a narrow foot and material that breathes well and has good arch support.”
“You have a narrow foot? Jon see that when your ankles were on his shoulders or what?” Derek snickered. I threw crumbs at him.
“I don't know how he noticed. It's a little odd, I admit, but that's not really the point. The shoes he wanted me to get were expensive and he was trying to buy them for me and he absolutely wouldn't take no for an answer!” I glanced from one to the other, sure they'd see my point.
“I don't get it,” Hamster said after a moment.
“Hamster, his family comes from money. Jon might not think that way, but I don't want his brothers to ever have an excuse to think I'm after Jon for his money, or rather his family's money. Plus,” I said with a snort, “I can buy my own shoes. I'm not a charity case.”
“Ah,” Derek said as he glanced at his boyfriend. “Pride. Okay, so, he aggravated you, but what does that have to do with why you're so upset? Clearly you have the shoes. Did his brothers say anything to you?”
“Well, no,” I admitted. “I compromised with him and borrowed a few dollars from Jon because I only had a hundred with me. I've been putting away what my dad gives me for allowance because I just don't have that many things I want, you know? I waited a few days so Jon wouldn't catch on and gave him the money back.”
“Why? Because I told him I'd pay him back,” I replied in confusion.
“No,” Derek said with a chuckle. “What do you mean about Jon not catching on?”
“I don't know!” I said with an unfortunate whine. “I could have gone back home and gotten more money but he was so insistent about the shoes and I kind of felt trapped. Plus...plus I have no idea. I was kind of caught in the fight we were having then, not thinking about going home for more money. Money hasn't ever been an issue between us, except that he treats me like I can't afford anything.”
Hamster chuckled and Derek just smiled at me.
“What?” I asked, my eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Well, you know,” Derek drawled as if I were stupid. “Sometimes a guy just shows that he thinks someone else is special by treating them.”
I frowned. “He never lets me pay.”
“Well, I do recall saying your boy likes to be in control, too. So how does Jon get out of this? You said he says or does something and you just forgive him?”
I smiled and felt a little shy as well as proud of Jon. “We had this big argument the other day. Yelling at each other and being snarky; just bad. So we were kind of making up and then he says this.” I held my hands up as if to tell them to get ready to be blown away. “He says that when he fights with his brothers, really fights like we had been, he usually hates them for at least a few hours. Sometimes days. But with me, he feels guilty and sad and angry when we fight but afterward, he just loves me.”
Hamster had let his jaw hang open. He looked at Derek and then back to me. “I knew Jon was slick but, damn!”
Derek smacked him and looked to me. “It’s official. I like Jon.”
“How's he doing, boyfriend-wise anyway?” Hamster asked idly as he seemed to weigh having another slice and then indulged himself.
I paused for a moment. I know Jon feels best when he calls the shots; it is a controlling thing but not in a negative sense. He doesn't try to control me, just the situation around him.
“You mean accepting himself or, you know, actually being my boyfriend?”
“Both, I guess,” Hamster replied. “Though I have to say, this doesn't sound anything like an emergency.”
“I'll get to that,” I growled. Clearing my throat and blushing a bit I continued, “He's making steady progress on accepting himself. He's not totally comfortable, but he doesn't seem to mind. It's almost like ...doing something scary yet exciting, I guess. He's dealing with the fear in the hope of whatever comes next, I suppose.”
“Funny, I thought Jon was already getting laid off and on,” Derek said with a snicker. Fuck crumbs, I threw a slice at him. I looked back at Hamster while Derek laughed at me, the shit.
“As far as actually being my boyfriend, he's pretty wonderful if it's just us and we're at my house or his. If other people are around or we're out in public, it's unpredictable. It bothers me, sometimes, but not too much. He's still adjusting and, considering where he started from, he's doing beautifully. I'm really proud of him.”
“So,” Derek said as he wiped his hands of the cake I'd thrown at him. “What's the emergency?”
I went very still and swallowed a few times before I could try and speak. My mouth felt dry and my fingers were suddenly beyond my control, tapping on my thighs. Jesus, Thayer! Hold still or twitch, pick one!
“Well, at the mall I had asked Jon if his family was done buying food for Thanksgiving. I was assuming that I'd see him, maybe bring a pie or something over in the evening after he'd had a meal with his family, you know?” I asked, nodding my head at them. They returned the nod and I blinked before continuing.
“So he tells me he's going out of town, not just for the holiday but through that weekend. He hadn't mentioned anything about going away and I was kind of pissed, you know? I mean, it's not like he has to clear plans with me or something, but if he's not going to be around for a few days, that seems worth mentioning to your boyfriend, right?”
“Yeah, that's reasonable. Parents make plans sometimes and we don't know or we just get swept up in them, and telling your partner is totally reasonable. I hear that,” Hamster replied.
“Thank you. So I fumed a little. I wasn't happy I wouldn't see him and less happy he hadn't bothered to tell me.”
“Well, did you say something to him about it?” Derek asked.
“No,” I said with a shake of my head. “I wasn't sure how to say it without sounding needy or controlling so I kept my mouth shut. Anyway, I told him how my dad will be working out of town for a bonus over that same holiday and weekend and then we just kind of left it there...until today.” I felt my blood pressure spike a bit as I looked back and forth between them seriously.
“So Jon saunters up to his car after school, acting cool—so I know something is up, obviously. He's pleased with himself, so I also know I won't have to wait long to hear what he's so happy about. So he tells me that he's worked everything out and I should pack to go to Thanksgiving with him in Boston. Can you believe it?”
They looked at one another and then back to me.
“So, naturally, you were...?” Hamster trailed off and rolled his hand to prompt me.
“Pissed! He didn't even ask me to go! He just told me what I was doing! I don't mind some of his controlling ideas, but I'm still a person with free will, you know? Shouldn't he ask me instead of assuming? Plus he had to go to his brother and get permission from him—he did that before even mentioning the idea to me!”
Hamster chuckled and I frowned at him. “Listen, Jake,” he said with amusement. “Jon's got control issues, but come on. Don't you think it's reasonable for him to assume that, given the choice, his boyfriend who is crazy in love with him would want to go away with him for a long weekend?”
I frowned. “Well, when you say it like that I just sound unreasonable.”
“Well, he should have asked, but I agree with Austin. I'd think you'd have reason to be upset if the issue had never come up or if he didn't want you to go. But...why is this an emergency, again?” Derek asked.
I opened my eyes wide and started to wiggle in my seat. “Because! He asked me away for a long weekend! Well, not ask, but you know! Isn't that important? I have to be ready, right? What should I do? He said something about us having our own room. I'm going to be sharing a room with Jon for four nights. You know?”
They looked at each other and started to laugh. Looking back at me they said more or less in unison, “Jake, you're gonna get laid!”
“This isn't funny!” I whined, but I was also kind of happy and I smiled at their laughter. “Guys, seriously. We haven't done much; I told Hamster that. Should I be ready to go all the way this weekend? What do I say if he wants to fuck me? What if I want to fuck him? I mean, he's had sex before so he's—what?”
“Slow,” Derek choked off as he laughed again. “Slow down, Jake. Let's dial it back a notch.”
“Yeah, okay. Dial it back,” I said and took a few deep breaths. “I just...I want this so badly but I don't want to...it's not just about how he looks, you know? It's not totally about being horny.”
“I know. It's sort of like a pendulum,” Derek said. “Emotions like love and lust kind of fight for dominance sometimes. But, you know, maybe Jon didn't say anything at first about you coming because he was nervous.”
“Well, actually, he said that after his parents died he and his brothers tried to make their own Thanksgiving for the next year or two, but they had varying degrees of success and, well, I think it was a little depressing in a way for them. So they do this every year and that's why he didn't think to mention it to me; it's just what they do.”
They sobered and Derek continued. “I admit that's a pretty good explanation. Hard to be mad at a guy for that.”
“Oh, I completely understood. It made me so glad I'd shut my mouth and not said something unforgivably rude before.”
“But that wasn't what I'd said,” Derek replied with a smile. “I said maybe he was nervous about you coming with him.”
“Nervous? Why?” I asked, completely baffled.
“Because, as I think you said, you'd be spending four nights in the same room together?” Hamster asked with a chuckle.
“You mean sex? Jon, nervous about sex? Please!” I said and laughed loudly. “I think the only worry Jon has about sex is if he thinks he's not getting any!”
They laughed with me, but Hamster brought me back to reality. “I did say that Jon was going at his own comfort level, or pushing that level, right? What if he's nervous about sex with you?”
That gave me pause. “What do you mean? Is he afraid because I'm a guy? Or because I might want to top him? What?”
“Both of those are possibilities, sure, and maybe both a little right. But I think his bigger concern would be that he's going to bed with someone he loves. He's going to bed with his boyfriend, someone he's in a relationship with. Someone that Jon has basically changed his whole world for so that he could love him. Maybe it's safe to say the only person he's gone to bed with that he truly cares for. That a reason for you?”
I sat in stunned silence with my jaw unhinged. I wanted to argue the point because I'm just me. When has Jon ever had to fear me? I could never hurt Jon, not knowingly! The very idea made my blood boil but before I went too far down that road a thought occurred to me. Maybe I needed to look at this from Jon's point of view. If I did that and really accepted the outlandish idea that he hadn't cared for anyone he'd ever slept with...he'd never had a girlfriend as far as I knew. He'd said he'd never done the relationship thing and Richard had backed that up.
“My God. I'm a horrible person,” I said to myself.
“No, not even close. I just think you should slow down on packing the whips and chains until you've thought this through,” Hamster said with another chuckle. “Let's be honest, Jake, full on anal sex is a big step. You mentioned some slight groping so you guys got to second base, maybe? Sort of?”
I sighed heavily. “Yeah. He's been hesitant to get very physical and, honestly, I was thinking maybe he wasn't all that attracted to me. I kept thinking about what you said, Hamster, about guys and girls both being fun to kiss and I wondered if that was it? If he liked kissing me but going farther was just...not interesting to him or something. But...if he could be nervous...of course he'd never admit that to me, although....”
I thought back to our argument in the car about his sexting. He'd had a moment of real, exposed honesty when he told me he was afraid. Afraid he'd screw things up and that I'd leave him. He hated the idea of being alone, that's kind of what I'd thought and that may be true, but did it have more to do with...was it possible that it really was about me? Could I really, honestly mean so much to Jon that he was nervous to share a room with me?
“What are you thinking, Jake?” Derek asked softly.
My gaze flitted to him, to Hamster and back again. I licked my lips and swallowed. “I was just thinking. Something...see, I don't like that many people. It takes me a long time to warm up to them because, for years, people treated me like shit for being fat. I think, maybe some of that wasn't true. Some of it might have been just because I was sort of stoned from the meds. But I didn't have a really high opinion of people in general or myself at all.
“The idea that I could, somehow, be so important to Jon as to cause him stress or worry is just kind of...a foreign concept for me. It's a way of looking at Jon that never occurred to me.” I licked my lips again and continued. “We had an argument last week. Jon told me, after, that he was scared that he'd screw up and I'd leave. I can't imagine leaving him. I can imagine, vividly, strangling him sometimes but I can't see leaving him. I want him in my life some way no matter what.”
“Well, I think we should consider it,” Derek told me. “Even though Jon's had sex before, leaving out the emotions, it's different with a guy versus a girl. He probably has the basic idea but, you're right in that he may wonder who is going to fill what role. It's easy to take control with simple stuff—paying for a drink or buying shoes. But that sort of...dominance may not transfer into the bedroom. At least, not right away.”
I was still kind of stunned at the whole idea. Hamster was right, Jon had changed his whole world, challenged the idea of who he was for me. How could this intimate time not be stressing him?
“So what should I do? If I bring lube he might think I'm pressuring him, let alone condoms. Should I bring condoms?”
Derek smiled. “I advocate for safe sex and I encourage you to think about that. It's probably a conversation you and Jon should have, though. I'm assuming Jon used protection before?”
“He isn't a father, far as I know,” I said. “But I don't like the idea of something between us if we, you know, come to that. I mean get that far. Ugh.”
Derek chuckled. “Like I said, that's for you and Jon to decide. It's your relationship. There are reasons to play safe, and you guys should consider them. As far as lube, I think you should bring it. First off, guys use it for rubbing one out, so it's not completely aimed at intercourse. Second, if you do get there, you want plenty of that shit on hand. Third, you need to get good stuff, not hand lotion or something.”
I blushed. “I, um, read about guys...uh, using enemas before bottoming?”
Hamster said, “Enemas are bad for that. If you think you aren't clean enough or you're just not sure, use warm water and a squirt bulb. Same general idea but much better for you on a consistent basis. But I thought you wanted to top?”
I widened my eyes. “I want to, yeah. I also want to bottom for him. I want to do everything. Uh, I know this is weird but...do guys actually, outside of porn, lick...assholes?” My internal temperature reached, roughly, the equivalent of the surface of the sun.
“Why? You thinking of spreading Jon's cheeks and—”
“Stop!” I burst out and they both laughed. I cracked a smile and let out a few nervous chuckles. “I was just kind of wondering because, well, I'm pretty sure no girls will have done much with his butt. Which is totally their loss.”
“Derek is a fan,” Hamster said noncommittally. Derek narrowed his eyes and turned to me.
“I think making memories that are unique to you guys is a good thing. And, yeah, being eaten out feels pretty good. Also, given your man's desire for control, he should enjoy doing it to you as much as Austin does to me.” He paused and said deliberately, “It's not just one way pleasure.”
I'd exceeded the sun as a temperature gauge and was nearing spontaneous combustion at this point.
“Listen,” Hamster said as the chuckles died down. “This is what's important. You don't need a detailed report from Jon about what he's willing to try this weekend. Be okay with experimenting a little but be aware of him. His body language will let you know if it's a step too far, whatever you're doing, and you dial it back a bit.
“As long as what you're doing is for him as much as it is for you, I think you'll be okay.”
Derek smiled at me. “Austin just wants to swap sex stories with you, so don't push Jon too hard.”
“Hey, you liked the story about how Jake squeals when Jon goes after his neck!” Hamster teased.
I blushed some more but defended myself. “Hey. I found a spot on his neck, too. Right down by his throat. I made him whine. I'm telling you I could probably undress him and he wouldn't know it if I kept that up,” I said smugly.
“Oh. Well,” Derek said then coughed out a laugh. “It's good to know you have a plan for getting him out of his clothes.”
I shook my head as we all laughed. “I've seen his, um, manhood. Only a picture.”
“Theresa...girl at school. It was passed around, I guess. One of his previous attempts at sexting. Anyway,” I said with a tone that indicated, hopefully, moving the conversation along. “My new goal is to see that bad boy in person this weekend. If I get that far then I'm pretty sure Jon's going to give me a chance to make him feel good and I'm going to take that chance.”
“Perfect. So instead of worrying about condoms and lube you should worry about spit or swallow.”
I stared dumbly. “I, uh, guess I hadn't thought about that.”
“Yeah. So focused on getting Jon's ass you forgot about oral. That usually comes first whether it's foreplay or the goal, you know?” Hamster teased. “You do want to blow your boyfriend, right?”
“Yeah, of course!” I said immediately. “I guess I just kind of...jumped past that in my mind because he's probably had blow jobs before.”
“Again, not from a guy and not from someone he loves and who loves him back. Trust this, Jake, it's going to stay with him.” Derek paused. “Pineapple. Feed him some pineapple. Add it to his breakfast, pack it for a snack and it'll make that question a whole lot easier to answer.”
“Uh. So, any...tips? Besides, um, pineapple,” I asked, wondering what the hell difference that would make.
“For the love of God, mind your teeth,” Derek muttered and then leaned away from Hamster to avoid a swat from his boyfriend.
Changing the subject Hamster asked, “So, you taking sexy underwear with you?”
I paused. “Well, I have my...um, maybe?”
Hamster placed a hand on his chin and Derek frowned. “Jake,” Derek said. “I've seen those boxers you wear. You know, changing room?”
I, once again, blushed. It's a good thing I wasn't horny, because all the blood was in my face and nothing was left over for any other body parts. Naturally, I'd seen Derek too. I had a healthy respect for him, but he wasn't anything to sneeze at dressed down, either. Not like my Jon, but I was biased.
“Jake? Is that what you're wearing? Those boxers?”
I cleared my throat. “Um, I'm sensing the correct answer would be no?”
Derek smiled. “Two choices. Either you get used to going commando or we can go shopping for something nice—actually several something nices because you don't ever,” he lowered his voice and dropped his chin. “Ever want Jon seeing you in those boxers. Honey, they'd turn off a—”
“Okay! I get the idea!” I said hurriedly. “I'm fine with shopping for some new underwear.”
“We're going to burn your old ones when we get back. All of them.”
“Jesus. I never knew underwear was so important,” I muttered. Seized with a horrible idea I pointed at Derek. “Nothing weird. I'm not buying a thong or anything.”
“I was thinking something more like a sexy jockstrap,” Derek mused with a finger on his chin he turned to his boyfriend. “Something that gives easy access in the back?”
“I'm down with shopping. Well, at least I'd be more interested if Jake is modeling these new purchases. I mean, how can we tell him if they are the right fit if we don't see them on him. Right, Der?”
“Oh, totally,” Derek agreed and I contemplated simply transforming into a tomato. There was no way I'd ever model underwear for them but, with a heady rush, I suddenly wondered about sending Jon a picture. Shit, would that put pressure on him? Or would he be pleased? It was so worrying not knowing where his head was at.
“Are you going someplace fancy in Boston?” Derek asked.
Shaken from my thoughts I furrowed my brow. “I'd have to assume so, yeah.”
“Do you have nice clothes to wear?”
I mentally slipped through my closet and discarded everything. After all, Jon would have me there with his family. I had to reflect well on him and not look like a pauper, even though I was compared to them.
“I think I may need a few new things,” I admitted.
“Oh, did you ask your dad about going?” Hamster asked.
I slapped my forehead. “Fuck. I better start a list.”
“Okay, here's what I think,” Derek said as he rubbed his hands together. “We go get some underwear first. In all seriousness, you need something that hugs your assets and shows them off without being uncomfortable. Second, we need to get some nice things that won't waste the effort your underwear is making.”
“What do you mean?” I frowned.
“He means if the underwear makes your ass look great and shows off your basket, you don't buy pants that make them bunch in back or sag in the front,” Hamster said helpfully. “Trust me, Derek is good at this.”
I let out a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, um, let me grab my money. I'm, uh, thinking I should just bring it all. Just in case.”
“How much are you bringing? Like, what's our budget?”
I cleared my throat. “I have about seven hundred. But I need some of that for Boston because I'm not letting Jon buy me everything for one, and for two I think I should at least offer Richard some money for the expense of taking me along.”
“Okay! Come on, Jake, you can be my personal Ken doll,” Derek said with a laugh. “I'm taking you to a place where they'll do a manicure and pedicure, then we get underwear and some clothes, and did you want a hair cut? Or to get it styled differently? It's gorgeous hair and plenty to work with.”
“Um, wait. This sounds kind of like a makeover or something. Am I crappy to look at or what?”
“God, no!” Derek exclaimed. “You're adorable! I was just thinking that since you don't always feel like you look your best we should do everything to spiff you up and boost your confidence! You'll look good, and that will help you feel good and feel confident.” He paused and winked. “I think it'll get Jon's attention, too.”
I swallowed and smiled at him. “Can't say no to that. Let me get my money and, well, fix me up, Derek!”
I climbed into the backseat of Hamster’s truck and we headed for the mall over in Binghamton. Derek was sitting sideways and talking to me through the gap between the two front seats.
“Okay, so is Jon a leg man, ass man, chest…?”
I widened my eyes. “I have no idea. He’s never said anything to me.”
“Well, haven’t you caught him looking at you?”
I furrowed my brow. “I’m not sure I’d call it catching him. He just looks at me.”
“And what’s he looking at?”
“My...face?” I shrugged. “He’s never mentioned anything specific he likes about how I look. I mean, when we kiss he likes to play with my hair, some. He does that when we spoon too. He bought a shirt at the mall that he said made my eyes stand out so, maybe he likes my eyes?”
“I’m sure he does. They look like electrical sparks are lighting up in your head,” Derek said with a grin. I smiled back at him, pleased with the compliment. “Well, it gives us someplace to start. Has he mentioned anything he liked about any girls?”
“Uh, no. He was pretty good about not talking to me about that, especially once he knew I was into him.”
“You know, I sort of get the idea Jon doesn’t want anyone to find out he’s a decent guy,” Hamster said with a chuckle.
I thought for a moment. “He is if he cares about you. After that I think he’s as decent as the next person.”
“Okay, so. Little hair trim, nothing major because we think Jon likes that. Colors that show off your eyes. Anything else?”
I blushed and rubbed my arm. “Uh, maybe my neck? He spends some time there. Um.”
“Oh! Right, so,” he said and tapped his finger on his lip, “nothing with a collar. Let’s avoid v-necks, because that doesn’t show off the neck. That’s more for pecs. Does he like your chest?”
I threw my hands in the air. “I don’t know! He likes...me, I guess. My eyes, my neck, my hair and something, maybe, about my feet, since he knows they’re narrow or something. Look, for all I know, if I were to press him, he’d say something romantic and unexpected like the curve of my face or how I feel pressed close to him and I’d forget to be miffed that he didn’t swoon over my ass, caress my legs or eye my crotch. Jon knows just what to say when he needs to and it kind of leaves me in the dark on specifics.”
Hamster and Derek looked at one another and laughed. I chuckled but had to admit I had no idea what Jon saw in me, physically. I suppose I could make a radical change and see what he said, just to try and gauge him, but it seemed more productive to just ask him. After all, he did say I should be talking to him about a lot of these things. Of course, he’d likely evade answering me, but I have no idea if that’s because he had no ready answer or if he wasn’t attracted or what. I think he has to like something about me though, right? He bones up, so there has to be some interest, at least from a part of him.
While my mind was pondering the puzzle that is Jon Ellesier, we’d arrived at the place where Derek wanted me to get a manicure and pedicure.
“Why are we doing this again?” I asked on the sidewalk.
“Simple. You said it would be Jon’s family and some extended family, right?”
“So, people with money and people in power frequently have their hands cared for because a lot of people see them. It’s part of being exceptionally well groomed.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “They may not notice you made the effort to meet that standard but your hands will be seen and they won’t be inappropriately groomed.”
“So, sort of like insurance. If I don’t do it, someone may notice my peasant hands and if I do then they won’t comment.”
“Peasant,” Derek said with a snort. “But yeah, essentially. So we’re not aiming to reflect well on Jon with this, just trying to avoid stuff that we can. This is an easy one. If they use a bunch of silverware, that could be tough.”
I shook my head. “Okay, what about the pedicure, then? No one will see my feet.”
“Well, Jon will. And he knows they are narrow so maybe they mean something to him. They may as well look their best,” Derek reasoned.
I wondered about that for a second and then realized Jon would say something about delicate arches or something and I wouldn’t care if he had a foot fetish and wanted to suck my toes. Actually, thinking about it, at least I’d know something about me he liked physically. I tried and failed to come up with an image of Jon barefoot, just for comparison’s sake.
The manicure wasn’t so bad, though the lady did poke under my nails a little more than I’d have liked. The pedicure was a whole other matter. First I kept laughing and twitching at her touching my foot. She pursed her lips, muttered something in another language and started rubbing some oil or something into my soles and tops of my feet. I squirmed at first but very quickly my feet must have gotten more used to the handling and I began to relax and enjoy what was, in essence, a foot massage. I leaned back and groaned under my breath as I relaxed each of my feet.
Satisfied with my level of compliance she then put wedges in between my toes and started to clip and sand the ends, and then sand and smooth the tops of my toenails. She did something to the cuticles but I’d stopped watching because, now that my feet had reached a sensory balance, it all felt good. It was a little weird when she put clear nail polish on my toenails, but the old bag was insistent so I let it go. I was a little disappointed when it was over but I figured if Jon was amenable, foot rubs were in my future. I had to wait for the polish to dry and so I looked down at the end result. I guess they looked better. I hoped I wouldn’t feel dumb for doing this later. What if Jon didn’t notice at all?
From there we went to the mall. After checking my waist size Derek went to a rack of, uh, interesting looking underwear. They had bright colors, thick bands with brand names on the top and some had piping over the edges. Some had special pouches for larger, um, packages. Or maybe it was made to work like one of those support bras that makes breasts look perkier past their prime?
Derek picked one and guided me, surreptitiously, to a changing room. He glanced around and then pressed the garment into my hands.
“Listen, all seriousness, we have no idea what’s going to fit you well. Try these on and let me see real quick so we can use that as a baseline for finding a few more pairs, okay?”
He dropped his chin to his chest and looked at me. “Really, Jake? I’ve seen you in the locker room.”
“Yeah? Well, I’ve seen you, too!” I spluttered.
“Good. Now go try on the sexy underwear before a sales clerk comes by. Move it!”
He shoved me and I grudgingly went in and pulled off my pants and underwear. The ones he’d handed me were black with red piping. They had one of those pouch things in front and I wondered if I had enough to really require such a thing. I slipped the garment on and looked in the mirror. I turned and smoothed the fabric slightly. Huh. It made my butt look pretty good was the first thing I thought. I reached around the front to adjust and then examined my package in the mirror.
“I’ll be damned. I kind of like this. It seems like false advertising but….”
A tap came from the door and I pushed it open. Derek and Hamster crammed into the changing room and then made me turn around for their critique. I have never felt so stupid or embarrassed in my life.
“These are great. How do they feel?”
“Okay then. Let’s see Jon not notice these!” Derek said and rubbed his hands together. “Meet you out there, hang onto these.”
Once they left I turned back to the mirror. With my heart hammering I quickly pulled off my shirt and socks and took in the way I looked with just those sexy underwear on. A nervous smile played about my lips and my heart quickened. Would Jon like what he saw? I thought I looked pretty decent.
“Jake! Come on!”
I jumped and pulled the underwear off before hurriedly redressing. With the garment feeling warm in my hand I exited and was met by my friends with a few other choices.
“Guys, I thought I was just getting some for this weekend?”
“Uh, no. Burning all your old underwear when we bring you home tonight, remember? You need good stuff from now on.”
“Because, silly,” Derek said while holding up a pair that had too little thread to properly be called a garment, “you never know when you and your boy are going to be in the mood. And when your pants come off, you want him to like what he sees, not think he’s dating his great uncle Milton.”
I frowned lightly. “Are you saying I look like someone’s perverse old uncle in my boxers?”
“I’m saying,” he said turning the hanger in his hand toward me, “something that shows off your assets is better for arousing Jon than hiding them behind something...frumpy.”
Firmly I stated, as I pointed at the hangar, “I’m not wearing that. I may as well go commando rather than wear that. It’s like...something you catch small fish in.”
Derek laughed at me and we continued to shop. I ended up with several sexier types of underwear that were also comfortable and supportive, though that took a little getting used to. Then Derek wanted me to start things off right, as he put it, by getting some new jeans and a shirt to wear to school and on the road. The jeans were a little more snug than I was used to, but it seemed to be a day for changes. He liked them so much I ended up with four pairs.
Next he had me get two pairs of slacks made from some semi-stretchy material that, he claimed, would accentuate my ass while not looking painted on. When I saw them in the mirror I had to admit they defined me a little better.
“How about legs? Has Jon ever said or touched them?” Hamster asked as he looked critically at my pants.
“Um. Once or twice. Nothing crazy just, you know, a casual touch.”
“You’ve got a nice leg gap. The cut of these pants makes it clear you have two nice separate legs.”
“As opposed to what? A mono leg?”
“Some people like seeing some space between legs. At least it sounds like your legs are just as important as any other of your features.” Derek hummed to himself and started going through shirts. He was quite choosy, discarding most immediately due to a collar that would cover my neck. He went for a few with a circular edge that, he claimed, would show off my neck invitingly and then, despite his earlier statement, he picked a v-neck with a modest plunge to it. He did choose one formal shirt for dinner and a tie that, I had to admit, did make my eyes look like electricity was dancing in them.
Finally he had me pick out dress shoes to go with my slacks and then chastised my socks. Replacements consisted of no-show athletic socks and calf length dress socks with a colorful pattern, as well as one black pair that he claimed were multi-purpose. The colorful dress socks were supposed to be playful and, he reasoned, would draw Jon's’ eye to my feet, which he may or may not have a thing for.
Seemed like a lot of guessing to me. The bill wasn’t as horrible as I’d feared, though Derek encouraged me to consider getting a few more pairs of jeans in a similar cut and getting rid of some of my older ones. My waist and, frankly, my whole body had gone through a sea change in the last year, and my dad had bought less expensive clothes, because you just didn’t know how long I’d actually be wearing them. It made sense to me, but now I thought my body had settled into a more or less permanent shape and I could stand getting things that were a bit more expensive and fit me better.
They dropped me off at home with my bags and I thanked them for all their help. They were gracious and actually thanked me for thinking of them when I needed something. Hugs were had and then they were gone. I took my new things inside and my phone buzzed as I mounted the stairs to my room. I heard my dad in the shower, getting ready for work I guessed. I set the bags down in my room and decided I should make sure the coffee pot was running for my dad. As I descended the stairs I checked my phone and smiled a little to see the message was from Jon.
‘So...mad at me?’
Entering the kitchen I walked to the coffee pot and leaned against the counter. ‘Why? What have you done now?’
I smiled to myself since I figured he was now circling back to see if I was miffed at his steering me into the weekend. I did feel a little twinge, to be truthful, about everything being paid for but I had to be realistic. I could never afford to take Jon away like this, and the room was paid for whether it was just Jon in the room or the both of us. Likely the Thanksgiving meal was similar; one price for the group. Plus I was being invited to a family event, not a BYO cook out where Jon bought all our food or something. So as long as I could help out a little in other meals or something I could live with it. Plus there was the ultimate decider, a whole four days with Jon.
I changed the filter and put new grounds in, then rinsed the pot and got it brewing.
‘Nothing to worry about, of course. What are you doing?’
I bit my lip. He’d done something, but the other shoe hadn’t dropped yet. He probably wouldn’t tell me over a text; in fact he’d probably avoid answering until he was trapped like a rat and we fought. I wonder if we’d ever reach a point that he’d just tell me first instead of this goofy, maddening dance we go through so often? ‘Making coffee for my dad, he’s getting ready for work. You?’
‘Did you pack that green shirt I like?’
‘Well, wash it.’
‘I don’t have enough for a full load.’
I sighed. ‘Jonathan….’
‘You’re bossy, you know that?’ He capped it with a smiley face, which saved him. My dad came down the stairs in a towel and his eyes went right to the coffee maker.
“Oh, thanks. I was just coming down to start that so it’d brew while I got dressed. Where were you?” he asked as he turned to go upstairs and I trailed behind him.
“Derek and Austin took me shopping for some new clothes.”
“Oh yeah? Finally spend some of that money you’ve been hoarding?” he teased.
I blushed a little. “Yeah. They helped me get some nice stuff.”
“Let me pull some pants on and you can show me,” he said and slipped into his room.
“Okay,” I said with a wavering voice and fairly ran to my room to dig out the underwear and hide them. I would be wearing them daily but they were a big change for me and there’s no way he wouldn’t notice. Shortly he poked his head in and I spent a few minutes pulling out clothes and laying them across the bed so he could see what his money had bought. He was making nice comments and all was going well until his foot came down on the carpet and crinkled...on the receipt that had fallen to the floor.
He bent to pick it up and, as he did, blood rushed from every extremity and straight to my face. His eyes scanned it briefly and he gave me the slip of paper.
“Looks like your friends are good shoppers. I’d say you got good prices on everything. Uh, listen, Jake...son.” He paused and I struggled to swallow. He turned his eyes on me, so much like my own, and said, “You’ve come such a long way since we got back into each other’s lives. I don’t know if it matters to you, but I like Jon. He’s a good kid and I think you guys are good together. I know your heart belongs to him right now. I...realize this weekend could be important for you. I’m just going to ask that you respect yourself and know I’ll be there for you if—why are you looking at me like that? What did I say?”
I let out a controlled breath. “Why is this weekend important to me, dad?”
He looked puzzled. “Aren’t you going away with Jon for Thanksgiving? I feel bad about working but the bonus money is going to go a long way. Besides, once this chain sells or goes bankrupt, that cash will be gone. Strike while the iron is hot, you know?”
“Dad,” I said in the most patient tone I could muster. “Jon only told me today. How did you know?”
He blinked. “Oh, that. Well, he came to me first, obviously. I guess he wanted to line up all his ducks before he popped that question to you. Kind of traditional if you ask me, not that I would tell you who you can sleep with.”
“Oh my God,” I covered my face. “I’m going to shoot him in the head with a bazooka.”
“Did you say yes? I figured that’s why you bought all the underwear. Jake?”
Even though I’d had similar thoughts I realized in that moment my friends were right and, through my fingers and keeping my eyes closed I said, “We’re not that...not to that point. It’s just about spending time together, Dad. Honestly.”
“Uh. Okay. But, just in case, get water based lube. The other stuff breaks down condoms, okay?”
He chuckled and placed a hand on my shoulder. “I’m teasing. I’m glad to hear you’re not there yet, that would be fast. But,” he said as he peeled my hands away from my plum colored face. “I’m glad you can spend time with someone you love for the holiday. Hotels and Chinese restaurants aren’t the way to spend a Thanksgiving. I will miss you, though, so don’t forget to call me, okay?”
I leaned in and hugged him. “Okay. Thanks, Dad. Really.”
Once he’d departed I grabbed my phone and stabbed the screen violently. ‘I’m going to kill you in your sleep.’
I went out into the hallway and pulled the chain on the door that gave access to the attic and climbed up to get a suitcase. I used my phone for light since there was no bulb up there and sighed when I saw the ancient suitcases. I wondered if my family tree extended back to some old country somewhere and they’d come to this country with the clothes on their back and whatever these crappy things could carry. I wonder if my dad had a spare? My phone shook and I glanced back down.
‘I forgot we were supposed to burn your dowdy boxers. I’ll need video proof.’
I chuckled. ‘Working on a suitcase right now. Maybe later.’
I headed down the steep steps and poked my head into my dad’s room. “Dad? You have a spare suitcase? The ones in the attic look like they came over on the Mayflower.”
“Yeah. The set I have has two suitcases and a carry on. Take the big suitcase, better if you overpack than under. The small bag is fine for me, plus I can take the carry-on if I need more room.” He pointed with his chin to his closet door and I nodded in thanks as I headed over to grab the case and turned to head back to my room.
“Hey,” he said speculatively, “if that case doesn’t work for you, I guess you could call Jon. See if he has a spare.”
I gave him a baleful stare. “He’ll be lucky to make it to Boston. I know you think it’s cute, but I don’t understand why I’m the last to know what’s on my boyfriend’s mind.”
“Hmm. I think you have a communication problem, then.”
Any reply was cut off by my phone shaking in my hand. Sullenly I looked down at my phone.
‘Maybe we need separate rooms.’
I walked from my dad’s room, poking my screen so urgently I imagined I could hear glass cracking. ‘You asked my dad’s permission first? Did you trade him a goat and three chickens for the privilege?’
I tossed the bag on my bed, unzipped it and took stock of my new clothes and the space I had to work with. I wondered if the hotel we’d stay at had a pool? I don’t even know which hotel we’re going to. Maybe I should ask my dad, I thought sullenly.
‘Actually it was a cash transaction. I thought he’d ask more but I guess five bucks is a popular amount to pay for someone.’
‘I’m glad you’re amused. That makes one of us.’ I sighed. ‘Does the hotel have a pool? Should I bring a suit?’
I started taking tags off of my new items and folding them. There was something of a thrill in wondering what Jon would think of my new wardrobe. Oh, hell, I like to hear his opinions about a lot of things, but I’d never bought new clothes with the intent to impress him. Would it work? Would he care? I felt a little like the dowdy secretary who gets her hair done and waits to see if anyone will notice.
‘Yep, they have a pool. You want to swim?’
I thought about it and then went to my dresser drawer where I kept shorts. My swimsuit was a little...too big for me. Shit. Should I bother to get a new pair? Or should I not bother with swimming?
‘Maybe not. My suit is from my fatter days.’
‘I have a spare. Want me to bring it over?’
I thought for a moment. ‘No. I got some new clothes. That calls for a new swimsuit, doesn’t it?’
‘Fine, I’ll buy you a new one. Pick you up in ten?’
Jon was trying to rile me up now, I knew it. I took a deep breath and set my phone down. He’d probably be pleased with himself if he irritated me to the point that I broke my phone. Then he’d smirk, that oh so smug look, and offer to buy me a new one. Maybe my best revenge would be to cut his card in half.
I turned from my phone and Jon’s blatant attempt to screw with me—probably full of himself for ‘winning’ my coming with him this weekend. I mean, fuck, I won too, but he always made it seem like he’d scored some big outmaneuver of me or something. Didn’t the idiot know by now I wanted to spend time with him?
I placed the new socks one atop the other, except for the white ones. Those I just tossed in my drawer, still in the package. I was kind of surprised Derek hadn’t wanted my old socks burned too. It would be in keeping with the underwear.
My dad called out a goodnight and I replied. The front door closed and I heard his car start up. I watched as his headlights pulled away and illuminated his way up the street. My phone buzzed again, but I ignored it for the moment. I reached out and touched the window frame and looked out at the night that was growing darker by fractions. I wondered if the hotel room I’d share with Jon would have a window overlooking the ocean. I’ve never seen the ocean and, though it’d be fucking cold, I was thinking I might take the chance and walk barefoot on the beach. When might I ever get that chance again?
I imagined, for just a moment, looking out of our room and down at the rolling surf. In my mind’s eye I saw Jon slip behind me, wrap his arms around me, and set his chin on my shoulder as we both shared a charmingly simple moment. Then he’d kiss my neck and I’d lean back into him, turning my head and offering his lips an unobstructed path across my skin. One hand would curl up into my hair, teasing it softly while holding me in place.
Man. That was the best time to spend with Jon, when his lips were engaged and he was unable to speak. I let out a wistful sigh and crossed the room to see what he’d said.
‘What new clothes did you get?’
‘Derek and Hamster made some suggestions for our trip.’ I knew having been out with Hamster would irk him a bit. He’d assume I’d talked about him and, of course, I had. But it was so I didn’t kill him so, really, he should be grateful.
‘Oh? What did you get?’
I bit my lip and smiled. ‘Some pants, shirts. Socks. Some underwear.’
‘You needed underwear and socks? Why did you need the two of them for that?’
I felt foolish and yet a thrill ran through me. ‘Why do you think?’
I busied myself with taking off the tags and folding things. I wasn’t sure what to do about the swimsuit, yet, but if Jon had a spare maybe that was the best course to follow. It would give me more money to spend in Boston, too, and besides, I don’t travel much. I may never use it again and then it really would be wasted money.
‘I think I’m wondering why my boyfriend is out buying underwear with two other guys. Did they get decent stuff?’
With my father gone I pulled the new underwear out and laid them out on the bedspread. Was sending a picture of them a good idea? What if Jon got weirded out seeing them like that? I mean, I was hoping he’d like seeing them on me, of course—the idea sent a shiver of anticipation and fear up my spine. Well, I was always flustered with him, I guess payback is a bitch. So thinking I stood back and snapped a picture.
I didn’t have to wait long. ‘Will you be changing underwear for every meal?’
I shook my head. Of all the responses he could have given, like Oh, nice. Can’t wait to see them on you, which granted was a long shot, he’d gone with that. ‘You’re aggravating.’
‘Yeah, I know. It’s part of my charm.’ I could picture him, that smug smile in place. Doesn’t the fucker know I’d just about die to get a compliment out of him? Would it kill him?
‘You’re so confident you can talk your way out of anything with me, aren’t you?’
‘No. Sometimes I resort to making out.’
My eyes widened. ‘You’ve made out with me to win an argument with me or something?’
‘So you want me to bring this spare swimsuit? Not sure you can find something at the mall but if you want to go I can buy you one.’
‘Hang on, loverboy,’ I typed, my fingers pressing firmly. I called him and he picked up almost right away. “I want to know why you asked my dad before you asked me. Or should I say told me? No dodging.”
I wondered if that smug look I’d been sure was there faltered for a moment. “Well, traditionally if you’re going courting you ask the parents. This was kind of that important, wouldn’t you say?”
“Courting? My dad thinks you just wanted to fuck,” I said casually as I turned red and tried to sound nonchalant. “I told him you weren’t interested in that.”
“Your dad told me I had to buy you a ring first. Do you think he was serious?” Kill him in his sleep, I swear. Once again he evaded and drove me nuts.
I sighed and dropped my hand. “You’re so aggravating.”
“If I remember right you wanted to date me even after you knew what a mess I was.”
“And if I remember correctly you got all mad and jealous and ran off my last boyfriend and kissed me in front of the whole world. I think you were okay with the arrangement.”
He laughed. “Babe. I was trying to spare you.”
I furrowed my brow. “Spare me from what?” I asked suspiciously.
“Well, Richard told me the room was paid for and I figured if you asked your dad then he’d ask you all kinds of uncomfortable questions about where you’d sleep and where I’d sleep and what we might do when we’re not sleeping. So I just asked him so you didn’t have to go through that. Aren’t I a good boyfriend?”
“You’re a smug boyfriend which means most of that is probably crap,” I muttered. “I suppose you want a cookie now? I was mad when you didn’t tell me you were going out of town, you know.”
“I told you why, though.”
I nodded, though he couldn’t see. I started to gather my old underwear, smiling to myself about burning them. I guess they weren’t very nice looking. “I know. I understood after you explained. I don’t like that you asked everyone but me first. It’s not like I’d not want to go with you, right? Wait, you didn’t—”’
“So are you done packing?”
I sighed. “One day, Jon, it’d be nice if you’d tell me what’s going on in your head.”
“Oh, talk about your dark places,” he replied with a chuckle. “Uh, looks like I’m needed for a family...something. I’ll call later.”
I took one last glance at the oversized swim trunks and headed downstairs to find my keys and pull my coat on. Although I wasn’t really a fan of the discount store I had in mind, I was very familiar with it. Given the time of year the mall stores wouldn’t be stocking any swimwear, but this place was famous for being several months behind—more or less handling the stock that department stores hadn’t moved in-season.
I hated it because most of my clothes had come from there. As you might expect the items they generally had weren’t the nicest, but they were cheap as can be. I hadn’t cared as much before how I looked, and even now I wasn’t obsessed. Having them fit was important, though, and so I’d go out to this hated store and try to find something I could use. Of course, if that failed, I could borrow Jon’s old pair. Or maybe he had several, who knows.
When I pulled into the lot the only cars there were, likely, the employees. Canned music played through the overhead speakers as I walked through the aisles of assorted junk and made my way to the men’s department. To characterize the area as disorganized does a disservice to the word. Packs of socks were on top of folded dress shirts, ties were draped over shoes and pants were hung over the bar meant to hold hangers full of clothes.
With a sigh I began to dig around. Overhead an announcement was made that the store would close in fifteen minutes. Crap, I hadn’t realized it was so late! I moved as efficiently as possible through the bins and then struck paydirt. Well, pay crap maybe. One wire bin was full of clearance swimsuits and many of them I’d never wear. In our country the Speedo, the bikini style, hadn’t caught on. That was obvious here as there were tons of them in various sizes, which didn’t matter because I’d never wear one in public.
There was a stack of board shorts with wild patterns and mixes of neon colors that were mildly nauseating. I stumbled on a blue and white pair with horizontal stripes and a black palm tree. I fingered the waist and found that they were only a size big for me. These things had string on them to tighten them, so they should work. I bit my lip and kept digging and found an identical pair in my size. These would have to do.
I walked quickly to the front of the store and found all the registers closed, with final sales being handled at the service counter by none other than Gina Torrez. The things I do for Jon.
I placed the suit on the counter and pulled out my wallet. She glanced at me, did a double take and then gave me a wan smile.
“Did you find everything alright?” she asked timidly.
“Yes, thanks,” I said and pulled a few bills out.
She scanned the item robotically and I felt less comfortable by the moment. “Six dollars and thirty-seven cents,” she intoned. I handed over two fives. She dropped the bills and then scooped them up, then seemed to hit a few incorrect keys on her register before crushing the bills in her dainty hand and tapping the machine with her fist as though wanting to hit it much harder.
“Are you okay, Gina?” I asked, feeling stupid since she clearly was not okay.
She took a deep breath. “Did he tell you who I was?” she asked without looking at me.
“He? You mean Jon?” I asked tentatively.
She nodded slightly. “You’re d-dating him now, right? That’s what I heard.”
I cleared my throat. “Yes. He’s my boyfriend.”
She let out a tiny sigh and hit a button on the register and her drawer popped open. I was confused for just a moment, but then grew uncomfortable and a little angry. I knew he’d seen her once or twice, I wasn’t clear, but I had no idea how far they’d gone. Was she about to remind me of that? My anger cooled as she continued to be...meek. No, this girl wasn’t about to say something nasty. She was hurting.
“Gina? Is there someone I can call for you? You’re upset and...I don’t know what to do.”
She handed me my change and sniffled. She glanced toward the aisles, perhaps verifying we were alone, and then looked at me with a great sadness.
“I don’t blame him. Not really. I don’t have any business warning you, either. I…” She hesitated and then looked down at her fingers, twisting over and over. “My parents are very strict Catholics. They believe sex before marriage is a sin. They don’t want me to know anything about sex because, they say, if I know I might want to try.
“They went to a retreat. It’s for couples and it’s supposed to be spiritual,” she said and paused and then shook her head. “I stayed with my cousin, Maria Luz. Her side of the family isn’t as devout as my parents. We went out to a party. I met Jon.”
With a sinking feeling I knew what was coming next, but the sheer sadness rolling from this girl made me powerless to stop her as she told me her story in a near whisper, as if speaking it any louder might draw the condemnation of her God down on her.
A smile flitted across her lips. “He was nice. Cute. He made me feel like I was the center of the world when he talked to me. I’d never been to a party before so I didn’t know what to do. Maria Luz was somewhere else. I don’t know what happened to her. I...I won’t bore you with all the details except to say that, when it was over, I was laying in a stranger's bed and Jon was thanking me.”
My mouth felt dry as she lifted her eyes to meet my gaze. “He thanked me. It was my first time and...I started to cry. Jon...he’d been so confident before, but now he didn’t know what to do. He left me there. My...cousin found me later. She was so excited I’d hooked up, but I felt so empty. I’d just given myself away to someone and I hadn’t even realized what I was doing. I thought Jon must be in love with me the way he talked and the way he...but….”
I stood silently. I had no idea what to say, but neither could I turn from her as she unburdened herself to me, or at least I thought that’s what she was doing.
She sniffed and tossed her hair a bit and her gaze met mine, a defiant look in her eyes. “A few months later, we were into summer, and I tried to call him. I thought he should know or have some say. He was gone, though. I heard it was for the summer. So I called the only person I could...Maria Luz went with me to the clinic. I wonder, sometimes, if...I can’t look my mother in the eye, anymore. I’ve committed such horrible acts against my family and my God. I blame myself.”
I licked my lips. “Why are you telling me this?”
Her eyes became wet and she shook her head slightly. “You cannot make the horrible mistakes that I have. I hope you have better luck. He didn’t care about me. Maybe he will care for you.”
We stood still for a moment, staring at one another. The overhead speaker announced that the store had closed and it broke our reverie. I could think of nothing to say and so I turned and left poor Gina Torrez.
As I drove home I wondered if Jon knew a girl he’d slept with had had an abortion? If he didn’t, I could never tell him. I could be wrong, but Jon had always struck me as someone who’d gone to bed with people who were interested in doing the same with him. That, by her story, he’d gone from suave to speechless after he knew she’d been a virgin told me he’d not set out to take that from her. But how would he feel knowing she’d been pregnant? Something told me he wouldn’t take that news easily.
The story she’d told me weighed on me as I drove home. I felt badly for both of them, but there was no denying that she made a tragic figure. She was pretty, but in a fine boned way that wasn’t all that common, I didn’t think. I was pulled from my melancholic thoughts by my phone, a reminder from Derek about video proof that I’d disposed of my old boxers. Rashly, perhaps, I decided this would be a great distraction from the knowledge Jon had nearly been a father.
I went inside, gathered up my old boxers, and headed downstairs and out into the backyard to our old grill, long abandoned on the small patio. I’m not sure when we got the thing. I don’t know who my mother thought would use it, but it had been neglected to the point of scrap metal. I opened the top and was completely unsurprised to find spiderwebs galore and a tag inside from when it was purchased. Yep, its maiden voyage would be burning my underwear.
I tossed them in and headed into the shed to see if she’d also bought some fluid to start a fire with. Not finding any I grabbed the little can with gas for the mower, deciding that would do. I set my phone up to record and waved into the camera.
“I’m told this is required or something. If you ask me it just seems weird.” With a smile I poured some gas on the pile and then wondered how I’d get it started. Shit. I went back to the shed and hunted until I came up with an old box of long stem matches. I headed back, forgetting I’d been recording the whole time and felt stupid. I stopped the recording, erased it and started anew. After I repeated my dumb statement I touched the match to the soaked underwear and it went up with a whoosh!
“Oh shit!” I hollered and stumbled backward and dropped my phone. I was frozen as the fire leapt up a few feet in the air and burned with a black tinge to the smoke. It didn’t take long for it to burn down and when I approached I stepped on my phone. Jesus, good thing it was on the grass. I picked it up and found it still recording. With a sigh I pointed it at the charred mess.
I think I’ll just throw the socks out.
I covered the mess and headed back inside, feeling like an idiot. I decided that Derek would just have to take my word for it that the old underwear were truly gone. In the kitchen I snagged a cup of coffee, since my dad had filled his travel cup and was long gone. Heading back to my room, I resumed packing and worrying if I were taking the right things. I mean, granted, I wanted to be desirable to Jon, but I didn’t want to look trashy to his brothers or the other members of his family. I just didn’t want to embarrass him.
I was pulled out of my thoughts by my phone ringing. Grayson. “Hello?”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much, just packing my suitcase,” I told him as I pulled things out so I could judge them more critically. “And you?”
“Walking home from work. Big holiday so I got out late, since they baked a ton of crap. I heard through the grapevine you have a big weekend coming up?” He chuckled at his understatement.
I groaned. “Does everyone know?”
“As far as I can tell. How excited are you?”
“Ugh. I go back and forth between excited and ready to puke,” I said as I set a shirt aside; I was sure that one wouldn’t work.
“Um, puke? Is he that big?” he asked and started to laugh.
“Oh, someone thinks he’s funny,” I grumbled.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a little contrition. “Why, though? Jon’s exactly what you wanted and now you have him and you’re going away. What’s the problem?”
“Uh. Well,” I dissembled. I set down the pants I was looking at and said, “How long did you wait? I mean, you and Logan? Like, for sex?”
“Uh, a long time, actually. He, Seth and I were kind of all together at once until, um, I literally blew it.”
I chewed my lip. “We haven’t gone that far but we’re going to be sharing a bed. So I’m kind of hoping not to screw this up.”
He laughed, the bastard. “You worry too much. Jon invited you, right? He must want you there and he knows there is a bed involved. Ergo he’s ready for something.”
“Ergo? Who says that?” I grumbled. “You don’t really understand Jon. Not that I think I do; every time I think I have one aspect nailed down he changes. One thing he just won’t do is tell me if he likes something I’m wearing or if he finds me attractive.”
“He’s dating you. Don’t you think it kind of answers the question?”
“Yes and no. He likes kissing me. That doesn’t actually mean he likes the rest of me.” I left out that he gets hard, because it doesn’t take much for a dick to get hard.
“Well, I don’t think I agree with you, there. Like I said, he knew a bed was involved. Wait, is the room one with a single bed or two?”
I paused. “Shit. I don’t know.”
“Well, let that go for a second. What’s this about not understanding Jon?”
I turned in small circles and tried to resist chewing on a finger. “Jon hasn’t really let me in on his thought process. I know he loves me and of course I’m crazy about him—he kind of makes me crazy, but that’s another story. Jon seems like a goal kind of guy, though. Like his goal was taking me with him rather than us being apart for four days. So he set that goal and then, after he obtained it, sees the results are us sharing a room and now he has to contend with that.”
“Same thing with dating me,” I continued. “He didn’t want to lose me, not that he would have, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. So he dates me and that got his goal of not losing me, but now he has to be a boyfriend, you know? This thinking ahead thing, I’m not sure it’s Jon’s strong suit.”
“Well, what are you hoping for?”
I paused and looked down at the mess that was my packing job. “A few things. I want his family to like me and to not embarrass him. I want this to be a good experience, a memory that I can really hold onto. But to answer what I think you’re asking...yeah. I want to see all that he’s got to offer. I think I’m ready to do whatever he’s ready to try.”
“I see. Why are you worried you’ll embarrass him?”
“Because his family is really important to him. I understand why—they have taken care of him since their folks died.” I was reminded of, but left out the mental hospital bit. Jon’s privacy was mine to protect, after all. “If they thought, for example, that I just wanted Jon for sex, I’m pretty sure the middle brother, Geoff, would take issue with it. I get the feeling Richard would notice more if he thought I was trying to soak Jon financially somehow. I have no idea about the Uncle and cousin we’re supposed to meet. It feels like a lot of pressure, though.”
“Well, you know his oldest brother, right? He’s met you a bunch at the house.”
“Yeah. I think I’m kind of in his good graces. I have no idea how that might change in front of the other relatives. Above all they’d protect Jon and the very last thing I want is them going to him and telling him I’m not right for him for whatever reason. Plus they have money, you know? I’m dressed in stuff from the mall. For all I know their shit is tailored or something.”
“Well, unless they are buying you new clothes, that circumstance is true of anyone they meet, then. So stop worrying about that.”
I stayed quiet for a moment and then said, softly, “I bought a bunch of underwear. Well, Derek picked them out, but...I don’t know how Jon will react when he sees them.”
“Jake, please,” he said with a chuckle. “Jon wants you with him. Maybe he’s freaking a little that you guys will share a bed, but honestly—I think that’s a good thing.”
“Because, man!” he said, snickering in amusement. “He’s going to bed with his boyfriend, someone he loves. Don’t you think he wants to get it right, too?”
I paused. “Yeah. Hamster said something similar.”
“See? I’m home. Call me, okay?”
We hung up and I spent a few minutes thinking on what he’d said. It was late so I started to get ready for bed. After stripping down I turned my attention to the bed and the mess from the new clothes. I set out some of my new things for the next day—just jeans and a shirt with the collar that exposed the neck. I folded all but one pair of underwear and packed all the socks save one pair for the next day.
I fingered the colorful socks; playful Derek had called them. They really weren’t my style, if I had one, but on a whim I pulled them on. They looked odd on my feet, I decided, but since Jon seemed to have an eye for my feet—maybe—I texted him a picture of my new socks. I set the phone down and pulled them back off and folded them together. I closed the top and zippered it before moving it to the floor at the foot of my bed. My phone buzzed and I opened Jon’s reply.
‘Cool. With the stripes you really can tell your feet are narrow. You see it now?’
I shook my head. I guess he liked the socks and he was consistent with the narrow feet thing, so maybe he was observant rather than turned on by my foot. I felt slightly disappointed because I’d started to feel I had at least one feature Jon would get excited about. I thought for a moment and then glanced over at the new pair of underwear waiting to be worn the next day.
I couldn’t. Could I? Jon had done worse, if you can call it that. What would he think? With nearly all of me on display he’d have to pick something, right? I hemmed and hawed as I weighed the choice. On the one hand I desperately wanted him to like something about me physically. On the other hand if my fear that he wasn’t actually physically attracted to me were true… In the end I’m not sure what tipped the scales, but I decided to take the risk. I shucked off my boxers, the last of my dowdy pairs, and pulled on the form fitting boxer briefs. I took a step back and looked at myself in the mirror atop my dresser.
I’d dropped a lot of weight, and compared to my old weight I looked pretty good. The problem was that I wanted Jon to want me. With that in mind I started to appraise myself, from the longer than normal hair to my face. While it could no longer be called fat, I did think my face looked a bit full. My chest is where my heart began to quail. I didn’t exactly have boobs, but neither were they hard pecs like Jon had. Our training had focused on running and combat, not weight lifting or push ups.
Below that, where Jon would have a desirable set of abs I had a soft stomach that, once again, wasn’t fat but wasn’t muscular either. Past my hips my thighs still looked heavy to me. All in all, I had no idea what Jon might see in me, physically. Not compared to him. Wouldn’t he be more interested in someone with abs like him?
I deliberated again and then picked up my phone before I could chicken out and texted Jon the picture. I sat on my bed, wondering what Jon would say. Goosebumps popped up on my skin and as I reached for the waistband of my underwear to place them back with my new clothes and dress for bed, my phone buzzed. I looked at the phone with apprehension. Would he be kind? Would he draw attention to the flaws I’d seen, or would he ignore them and bolster my ego?
I lifted the phone and woke it to see his response. ‘I thought you said the swimsuit was too big?’
Christ. I stripped off the underwear and tossed them on top of tomorrow’s clothes. With tears stinging my eyes I pulled on pajama pants and a tee shirt and angrily packed a set of sweats and two pairs of pajama pants so I could spare my boyfriend the sight of me. I dropped the suitcase with a thump and stomped downstairs to plug in my phone and leave his comment unanswered.
I brushed and climbed under the covers with my mind a mix of unwelcome thoughts followed by chides to have some faith in Jon. After all, even if he really wasn’t attracted to me and nothing happened and even if we broke up, I’d already promised him we’d still be family. I meant that. I loved him and I would still, even if he weren’t with me, but I wish he’d try to at least say the right thing or, failing that, something nice.
I couldn’t help but feel relieved with Jake’s answer about Thanksgiving - about this weekend. He’d pretty much confirmed what I’d been thinking - hoping - but there was always that fear he would suddenly think better of all this. This being dating me. I’m a train-wreck, I know that, and someone like Jake deserves stability, safety and all those other good S-words.
Stopping at a traffic light, I reflected that if I was a better person, I’d let Jake go. Let him find someone normal. It would hurt like hell, but it was probably best in the long run. Me, Geoff and Richard - loving any of us didn’t end well for anyone.
Whatever Jake said about my teaching him to stand up for himself, giving him confidence and all that - I was still convinced I took more in this relationship than I gave. True, my experience with relationships was kind of lacking, but some things you just knew in your bones. I needed him way more than he needed me.
That gave him all the power here, even if he didn’t see it that way. I was the happiest I’d been in a long time, but also the most vulnerable. Is that what love’s like for everyone?
Love. It was weird saying it to someone and meaning it. I’d used the word a few times before with a certain type of girl. The kind that needs you to spin pretty little lies you both know are bullshit but can lose yourselves in for the night. It’s fun to pretend sometimes - the problem is when they don’t realize the game is over.
This was different, though. I could feel it in every look, kiss and breath. It was love. I'm so for in over my head.
I turned onto the school’s street, slowing almost to a stop at the morning back-up of teachers, students and parents stuck with drop-off duty. A kid dashed across the road, weaving between the snail paced cars. Stupid - I honked as he darted past me, flipping him off when he turned around to glare over his backpack.
Where was I? Right, love. So what did that mean for me and Jake? Now it meant I didn’t want to live without him, but what about a year from now? What was I signing up for? I had told Jake not even three weeks ago that you weren’t supposed to find “the one” in high school, and it’s true. Honestly, most of the time high school relationships hold about the same weight as kindergarten playground romances, at least in the big scheme of things. There were exceptions, obviously, but they just proved the rule. Geoff and Damien seemed to fit the bill. They met freshman year and basically completed each other, even before they got together.
Damien. He would have known what to do or at least had some advice for me. I wished I could talk to him. My chest tightened thinking about my adopted brother. We used to joke that he was literally the red-headed stepchild. I could remember Geoff trying to scowl and telling us to stop even as he fought to hide a smile.
I shook off painful memories as I eased the car forward. So did loving someone mean they were “the one”? Did something like that exist? The smart money was on no, so where did that leave us? The thought of losing Jake was almost physically painful - I used to laugh when I heard people talk like that and thought they were just being drama queens - but I guess they weren’t all full of shit.
Okay, so approaching it from the opposite side, what if there was such a thing as a happily ever after and this was mine? I would commit myself to Jake and only Jake for the rest of forever. The thought of that freaked me out too - was I ready for that? I wasn’t even eighteen, for crying out loud; I hadn’t lived even a fifth of my expected lifespan! Goddammit, I wasn’t even ready to choose a college major, let alone a life partner.
Jon, calm the fuck down. Freaking out about the future isn’t going to do anything but ruin the present. Stay in the moment - you have enough to think about here. I love Jake now, and because of that he’s coming to Boston with us this weekend. Where we will be sharing a room. Which means we will, barring a meteor or state of national emergency, be sharing a bed.
The prospect both excited and scared me like I was fourteen again. The excitement that it was almost definitely going to happen, tempered by the worry that it was, well, going to happen. Would I be good enough? How far would we go? Would I embarrass myself? I hadn’t had to second guess myself about this sort of thing in years. In fact, these first time jitters were even worse the second time around, since I knew there really was such a thing as bad sex. The only difference here was I actually cared about my partner - I wanted him to remember this as something good. Crap, should I have Googled this stuff? Maybe I could do a little research during the drive on my phone - as long as Jake or Geoff didn’t see. I’d never live it down.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been a problem if Geoff had been a little more helpful last night. We had a long conversation about, well, everything, and I was able to clearly tell him where I stood. I think up until last night Geoff had been thinking - or hoping - that this was just a phase, like experimenting. It sounds crazy at first, but I sort of see where he was coming from - he was scared for me. Hell, I was scared for me. People were beginning to find out - I knew Jake’s friends all knew about it, and it wouldn’t be long before it was public knowledge.
It wasn’t going to be a fun time when the news broke, but aside from the odd asshole and the Jesus freaks, people in this school didn’t seem to care. The Rainbow Brigade seemed to do alright and felt pretty safe. The problem was I’d sort of pissed off more than a few people since I’d got here, and they would come to settle scores when they smelled blood in the water.
I’m sure people would try and tell me there was nothing to worry about - these were “good kids.” They said that when Geoff was attacked in the locker room - the guys who had done that to him had been “good kids” too. People always just shook their heads and said, “Things like that just don’t happen around here.”
Yeah, they didn’t happen around here right up until they did. Good kids could still do stupid things. Oh, they might be so remorseful afterwards (at least according to their lawyers), but that did fuck all for the guy they almost killed.
I’d heard something like that happened here a few years ago - they say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but douchebaggery sure as hell could.
So Geoff’s point was valid, as much as it sometimes pained me to admit - standing out wasn’t always worth the pain of being a target. But Jake was worth it, I’d insisted, just as Damien had been for Geoff.
He’d turned to face me then and if looks could kill I would have been a pile of ash on a chair. I knew I had crossed a line by invoking Damien but I didn’t care. He hated when people did that, because surely no one could ever understand his pain or what he’d lost. Egotistical prick.
Geoff had stared at me for a moment, not saying anything and I hadn’t dared look away, before he leaned against the counter and sipped his wine.
“Do you think you love him?” he asked, still watching me closely.
“Yes.” I couldn’t help but smile, realizing that was the first time I’d admitted that to someone other than Jake. It’s some kind of milestone, I think, saying you love someone when talking about them, not just to them. It’s like it makes it a fact, if that makes sense.
Geoff cocked his head, seemingly unimpressed. Somehow that didn’t surprise me. Maybe I should have held off on what must have been a supremely dopey grin.
“Do you even know what that means?” my brother asked. “Why should I believe you mean it now any more than those girls you’ve said it to before?” My fist clenched. Yeah, that hurt - I felt worse about it than I had in a long time. Geoff saw this and pressed his advantage. “I won’t say you don’t care for him - in fact, I think you do, but think, Little Prince, before you make this into something more than it is and take a step you can’t take back.”
“So what does love mean to you, smart guy?” I snapped. “You know so much. Tell me how you know then.” He went quiet and I thought I’d maybe shut him up. Then-
“Does he make you want to be a better man?” Geoff asked simply.
The question took me by surprise, but it was an easy one. “Yes,” I answered without even thinking. I didn’t need to.
For a moment we were silent. Then he shook his head and smiled, chuckling softly.
“Like you’d actually say no,” he commented.
“What the fuck, Geoff? What’s it going to take-” I began.
“Chill. I believe you.”
“-for you to actually take me goddamn seriously…” I trailed off as his words sunk in. “Wait, what?”
“I said,” he reiterated, still smiling, “that I believe you.” He took another sip, clearly enjoying my confusion. “Well, more accurately, I believe that you believe it. I’ll reserve judgment until I get a chance to actually talk to him.”
“Why?” I asked cautiously, ignoring the qualifier. This didn’t make any sense. Why did he believe me - since when had he ever trusted me about something like this?
“Well, we’ve only really met in passing-”
“You know what I mean!”
“Oh, come on, Pinter. You think I can’t read you after all these years? You meant what you said. That’s good enough for me. For now.”
I remembered what Richard had said, about he and Geoff starting to let me make my own decisions. Hearing it was one thing though; seeing Geoff trying to follow through was something else.
He turned back to the counter to top up his wine. “So what does Brody think? He like him?”
I took a swig of my beer while I thought about it. “Yeah… I mean, it’s hard to tell what he thinks of him as a person but he’s okay with me dating him. Not that he’d really say something if he wasn’t. He usually leaves that kind of thing to you.” I gave my brother a pointed look.
Geoff just shrugged. “A good manager delegates. This is kind of a special case though - and I’m not here as much anymore so he’d have to do his own dirty work.” We both laughed. “But seriously, he’s not so mysterious. If he’s letting Jake come to Boston and hasn’t said anything to you, I think it’s safe to say he’s passed inspection. So anyway, your boyfriend must be all kinds of excited, hm?”
“Honestly? It’s kind of hard to tell sometimes,” I replied, thinking back to Jake’s less than stellar response to the news he was going with us. “Like, he says he’s excited and he’s got new clothes and stuff -”
“Shopping spree? Yeah, he’s excited,” Geoff cut in.
“Shut up, he’s not like that. I mean he was kind of angry when I told him - I think he feels I went over his head.”
Geoff looked at me over the rim of his glass. “Did you?”
“I...sort of,” I admitted. “I asked his dad and Richard first. I wanted it to be a sure thing before I talked to him, you know? I don’t get why he got all pissy about it.”
“He probably feels you took him for granted - like he was the last to know and didn’t get any say in this.” I frowned at this. It didn’t sound like Geoff was taking my side here.
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” I mumbled. “It would suck to tell him and then have someone say no, right?”
“Maybe.” Geoff smirked, “I think what you really wanted was to make sure he didn't see you fail - to see you as anything less than all powerful.” I opened my mouth to protest but Geoff raised a hand. “You figured you knew what he’d say - fair enough. That doesn’t make his feelings any less valid or mean you don’t have to ask about them.”
“I didn’t mean it like that though!” I complained.
“Of course not - that’s still the message you sent by asking everyone else first. So he’s ticked, even if he wants to go. He’s the one whose feelings you should check first, not last.”
It made sense, but that didn't make hearing it any easier. I would have expected Geoff, of all people to give me a little sympathy for my boyfriend being unreasonably angry with me. Over a trip to Boston of all things.
Though I knew it existed, it was always a little weird seeing this sensitive side of my brother, especially in the last year. He caught me looking at him and raised an eyebrow. “What? You think I could hold on to a guy like Damien for four years without learning a few things?”
“I always figured he stuck around cause he liked hanging with me,” I mused. Geoff made to throw his glass at me and I ducked, laughing. “So,” I continued once Geoff had taken a refill, “think Jake will have fun?”
My brother just winked. “That, is totally up to you, little brother.” He raised his glass to me. “Good luck.”
I could feel my ears reddening. “Yeah, about that....”
“Pack condoms and lube - that’s all I’m saying,” Geoff cut me off firmly. “I am so not up to having this talk tonight and there are some things a young man must figure out for himself.”
Dammit, what’s the point of having a gay brother if you can’t get decent advice about having sex with a guy?
That last part still gave me kind of a jolt. I was going to have sex with a guy - I was officially no longer straight - at least not entirely. But it’s not about being with a guy - it’s about being with Jake. Looking at it that way made it easier, less overwhelming. I just follow my instincts like I always do, but this time I finally get to see where they lead me without any interruptions. I don’t know for sure how far I’ll be able to go but I wanted to find out.
“Geoff,” I asked when a worrying thought cut through my alcohol fogged brain. “What about Michael?”
Geoff frowned. “What about Michael?”
“Will he give Jake a hard time? What about Jeremy?”
He shook his head. “For once, I doubt you have to worry about Michael. For all his faults, and there are many,” he scowled again, “being homophobic is not one of them. He adopted Jeremy, didn’t he? Besides,” he added with a wicked grin, “you’re his favorite nephew.”
He had a point. I sighed. “That still leaves Jeremy.” It was kind of funny, when you thought about it. All these years, I hadn’t given a damn about who was gay or straight but now that I had a boyfriend, it was suddenly very important to identify potential rivals.
That didn’t sound overly possessive at all.
Still, the prospect of Jake meeting Jeremy really put my fears about the Rainbow Brigade in perspective. They were all pretty much paired up, but Jeremy was “single and ready to mingle”, as he put it. Ugh, who talked like that? I’d have to tread carefully - killing Michael’s adopted son in a fit of jealous rage might put a damper on things.
Geoff was watching me with an amused expression that annoyed the fuck out of me. “From what you’ve told me, Jake’s too devoted to you for Jeremy to work his...charms. Also, Richard says Michael is trying to play nice so he’ll probably keep his son in line. And if he doesn’t,” he gave a thin smile, “I will.”
“With charms of your own?” I teased.
“Shut up,” Geoff growled.
“Honestly, I think there was a bit of chemistry there…” I was on thin ice but liquid courage drove me on.
Geoff snarled and like that, my self preservation was back in the driver’s seat.
I was pulled back to the present when I almost missed the turnoff into the school parking lot and spun the wheel to swerve in at the last second. Apparently, the guy in front of me decided that was a great time to make a dead stop and I slammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending him. I pounded the horn and without thinking, lowered my window and leaned out.
“What the hell, man! Learn to fucking drive!” The outburst earned me more than a few glares from the car’s passengers. There were at least four kids crammed in there. I sighed when I saw three faces with the same combination of pale skin and dark hair - from where I sat they looked almost identical.
Great, I’d gone and cussed out Robin Kirkwood - head of the Rainbow Brigade and what looked like half his family. I was going to be hearing about that from Jake.
It only got worse when I looked past the car and saw why Robin had stepped on the brakes. A kid was crossing the road with his family - mom, little siblings and - goddammit - even a puppy. As if I didn't look like enough of an asshole.
I retreated back into my car before a karmic truck took my head off and did my best to sink into my seat as I pulled into my spot.
Waiting in my car a few minutes to make sure I didn't bump into the Kirkwood clan, I went back to considering the upcoming weekend. Jake had made it clear that the last thing he wanted to do was pressure me, but I’d made up my mind we were doing something this weekend and I wasn’t going to wuss out. It still felt like I owed him something, for lack of a better word. I smiled, imagining his reaction if he ever heard that. Outraged would be too mild a word. But it wasn’t an obligation - we both wanted it and I wasn’t about to let something stupid like nerves get in the way. He said he’d wait as long as I needed, but he’d waited long enough and stood with me through all of my bullshit - he deserved this. Even if I didn’t deserve him.
Despite hanging back in my car, I couldn’t avoid bumping into Robin on the way to my locker. I gave him an embarrassed wave and he returned it with a friendly smirk - yes, those exist - before falling into step beside me.
“Morning,” he greeted cheerfully.
“Hey,” I replied. “Sorry about earlier, I didn’t realize-”
Robin held a hand up to stop me.“It’s okay, Jon. We all know you’re a dick.”
I looked over to find him smiling at me, pleased with himself. “Fair enough,” I said after a moment, feeling a smile tug at the corner of my mouth.
“Besides, we all have our road rage moments. That’s nothing compared to what my brother’s going to be like when he starts driving.” He gave an exaggerated shudder and I laughed politely. An innocent look smoothed over his features. “So, looking forward to getting laid over Thanksgiving break?”
It took a second to register. “Wait, what?”
“Isn’t Jake going away with you? I know what that means when I go away with my boyfriend.” He paused. “Actually, when I go anywhere with my boyfriend. He’s kind of a pig.”
“That’s not any of your - who told you about Jake?” I asked, still trying to regain control of the conversation - not that I’d really had it to begin with.
Robin flushed lightly. “I’m sorry, I guess that was pushing it. I heard you guys were going away and just, you know, took an educated guess.”
My first instinct was to deny it before I felt a rush of shame. I couldn’t do that - I wasn’t ashamed of Jake, this was just...new. I’d promised him he wouldn’t have to hide. That we wouldn’t hide.
“Yeah, he’s coming with me to Boston when we go to see some family. I guess he told you?”
“Nah. He and Derek have been working overtime to get him ready to go. I just hear about it afterward.” He stopped and looked at me with a half smile. “I’m so jealous. That first big trip in a new relationship? Man. Nothing like it.”
He sounded like part of an old married couple. And I told him so.
He started to laugh. “You are kind of right, actually. Lucien and I have been a couple for three years. I mean, three years in high school. We’re going to the same college….” he shrugged and smiled a little more. “We’ve just been through a lot, seen others go through a lot. I guess we just have some...perspective.”
“I guess you would. Jake was actually kind of ticked when I first told him,” I chuckled.
“Oh? I don’t get it. Why was he mad?”
“Cause I hadn’t told him earlier, basically. I wanted it to be a surprise, but he felt like I kind of sprung it on him, I guess.” I shrugged. After talking to Geoff it made a little sense - even if I did still think he had overreacted.
Robin frowned. “Isn’t that the nature of a surprise? Am I missing something?” He paused and hitched up his backpack.
“Thank you!” I couldn’t help exclaiming. “Finally someone gets it!”
Robin tilted his head. “Well, okay. Does he not like surprises?”
“He doesn’t like being out of control.” Wow, Jon, projection much? asked a little voice in my head. Shut up, Shoulder-Geoff, I mentally snarled.
“Oh? Interesting that he went for you, then, huh?” he asked with a chuckle and pushed my shoulder lightly.
That was almost too perceptive. I’d hung out with the group before, but they couldn’t know everything. I fixed him with my best X-ray stare (yeah, after Jake called it that the name stuck). “Just how much have you heard about my love life, dude?”
Robin held a hand up. “Nothing, actually. Sorry if I struck a nerve. I just saw you guys together when you’ve been over or we hung out and I’ve noticed a few things is all. Maybe I’m wrong. Forget I said anything.”
Whenever someone utters those four little words, it’s guaranteed to make the listener do anything but forget. I didn’t believe for a second that Robin didn’t know this.
“No, tell me,” I prompted, taking the bait anyways. Was I interested in Robin Kirkwood’s opinion? If I was honest with myself, yes. He had perspective, like he said. Couldn’t hurt to hear what he had to say - I already liked him better than Trace, anyways.
He looked at me for a moment, perhaps gauging my sincerity. “Are you sure? I don’t want to piss you off or start trouble. I mean,” he said with a sneaky smile. “I don’t mind pissing you off if I mean to. But this? Not meaning to.”
Did I want to know? Curiosity killed the cat, after all. But satisfaction brought it back. “Talk,” I stated, motioning with my chin while giving him a haughty smirk, knowing the show of attitude wouldn’t tick him off.
His eyes sparkled with humor. “Okay, well, we all like Jake, but Derek is on the soccer team with him so that’s how the rest of us met Jake formally.” He paused to see what effect his words had, though he hadn’t said much, then resumed. “Derek and Hamster have—you know Hamster? Austin Hamilton?”
“We’ve met,” I answered. And he might know what my boyfriend’s thinking even better than I do, I added to myself. It wasn’t a big leap to assume that he and Derek had filled in the rest of them - which Robin basically confirmed when he next spoke.
“Cool. So they have been hanging out and I guess Jake has been pinging them for advice. Relationship advice. Derek and Hamster don’t gossip about it, but it’s not hard to put a few things together. Like,” he held up a finger, “Jake has his first boyfriend. Rumor has it this boyfriend never dated a guy before. So you have a nervous virgin and a nervous...bi-guy or something? These guys are going away for the first time and, well, everyone wants this to work for you guys. Am I close?”
We reached my locker and I cocked my head. Assuming that Robin and company were really just being good samaritans, as Richard would call them, what he said made sense. Couldn't say I was thrilled with my business being discussed, but it wasn't like I could tell Jake not to say anything. He was going to talk about it with his friends. It was just tough getting used to not knowing who knew but thought I knew that they knew - Let it go, Jon. You're going to give yourself a headache and the trip hasn't even started yet.
“You’re in the ballpark,” I admitted. Then I smirked. “Any advice, old man?”
“Old? As in been where you are and done what you’re about to do? Okay, here’s something.” I’m not sure how he managed it but Robin looked sympathetic without pissing me off. Tentatively he put a hand on my shoulder and shook me kind of violently.
“Stop it. He’s already yours and he’s going. What do you have to be nervous about?”
Everything, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Think back to your first big trip or whatever. I think you’ll get it.” I watched his face for a moment then added - “But thanks. Really.” He smiled and let go of my shoulder.
“Anytime.” He glanced down the hallway and smiled. “You have your troubles, Jon. And here comes all mine.”
I glanced down the hall despite myself and saw Robin’s boyfriend Lucien headed in our general direction. Next to him was Sophie.
“You and Lu? Trouble?” I was a little surprised to hear the question and more so to realize I’d asked it. I glanced back at Robin before feeling my eyes drawn back to Sophie.
Robin shrugged. “We argue, sometimes. You know how it is, right?”
Actually, I didn’t really “know how it is,” seeing as I’d never really dated anyone seriously, let alone for three years - but I shrugged anyway. Still, it was nice to see that even the resident perfect couple in this school had their issues like the rest of us mere mortals. They always seemed so in tune with each other, but part of that must have been a front. Would Jake and I be like that one day? It was hard to imagine, considering how out of sync we were sometimes. Maybe that would come with time.
Lu joined us and flashed a brief smile at me. “Morning. Robin? You giving Jon a pep talk for his big weekend?”
Goddammit, should I just announce it from the loudspeakers and be done with it?
“Actually,” Robin replied with a smile playing about the edges of his mouth, “I was just talking about couple fighting.”
Lu’s eyes narrowed. “What are you going to start with today? We already have Tae Kwon Do, I’m not joining the special forces or something.”
I had to chuckle at that. “Well, there’s still Krav Maga…”
“Bless you. What the hell is that?” Lu asked.
“Krav Ma-what?” Robin added.
“The martial art for all the cool kids, obviously.” I gave one of my winning smiles and swept past them. “Later, losers.”
“I bet he just made that up,” I heard Lu mutter. “And we’re not doing any more of that crap!”
“Google it!” I called over my shoulder. Yeah, maybe the attitude wasn’t totally necessary, but I was making a point. A childish part of me wanted to assert that even though they might have helped me out with a bit of advice and knew more about me than I’d like, I didn’t need them. Not by a long shot.
Though I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to shoot the breeze with them, like I used to with Greg…. I squashed the thought - it wouldn’t do me any good - and headed to homeroom.
I hope you enjoyed the continuation of the Js storyline, as Israfil and I like to call them. Did you know there are email links at the top of each chapter to tell us what you thought? Did you know you can donate to the site for the upkeep and presentation of all the stories hosted at the top of the main page? Did you know you can buy your very own paperback copy of Wayward Son by Dabeagle? Did you know you can commission stories about your favorite characters?The more you know, you know?