Jack brought me back to my car. I had to run home to take care of a couple of things and get permission to skip dinner at home – usually not a problem – and Jack had to do the same. I parked on the street, since my mom would be home soon and my dad's car was already in the driveway. Until recently my dad had worked at an accounting firm, but they'd gone through another round of layoffs. One of their accounts, a tire chain, had gotten into serious financial trouble, and they’d discovered that one of the teams at my dad's office was skimming cash from the client's account.
How they survived as long as they did, I don't know. They'd been bleeding clients since the news came out. My dad had stayed out of loyalty, but the second round of layoffs had come just a week ago, and dad was now out of work. I opened the front door, and my dad called out, asking if it was me.
“Yeah, it's me,” I called out and followed the sound of his voice to his home office. “Hey, Dad. What's up?”
He looked at me over the rim of his glasses. He was seated at his desk, dressed comfortably in sweatpants and a tee shirt.
“Oh, just getting things in order here. I have to get my resume spiffed up and try to sanitize myself from the stink of my old company,” he said with a tired chuckle. “How was work?”
I leaned against the door frame. “Ken's a jerk. The bookkeeper bitches non-stop, because her normal person isn't there. The girl they put behind the counter in my place called out sick, so I was at customer service today. My lottery player tipped me ten bucks from a winner he had.” I shrugged. “Not bad.”
He chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “Maybe you should start looking around for a new job?”
“Jack said the same thing. We went over to the grocery store on Tremain. Filled out an application. Oh, and Luke stopped by the store with his dad. We're invited to their house for dinner. Is it cool if I go?”
“Sure,” he said with a nod. “Mom said she might be late; she's got a showing this afternoon. Fingers crossed, we could use the commission from a sale right about now.”
“Are we in trouble?” I asked.
“Nothing serious,” he said with a little smile. “It makes me nervous not having both checks coming in. I applied for unemployment. They have some programs I may be able to take advantage of to polish up my skills – been a while since college, you know.”
“Right. Okay, well, I'm going to do my chores and get changed before I go out,” I said.
“Okay. Um, hey, Derry,” he said in a thoughtful tone.
“How're things with Jack? I mean, are you happy?”
I was kind of surprised. My parents didn't really address my sexuality. By that I mean there was never a big coming out thing, and they also didn't go get woke or anything. It just kind of was. They liked Jack, I think, and included him like anyone else I was friends with, I suppose.
“Yeah. Jack loves me and I love him. He is a little thick. I have to tell him things sometimes, but I really love him.”
He looked at me steadily, and his gaze softened. “That's great, Derry. I'm glad you're happy. It's been, what, a few months now, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, warming to the conversation. “We met in early spring. We got warm weather early, opened up the pool – remember?”
“Yes! Beautiful weather. Maybe we should move somewhere where the weather is nicer year-round?” he asked, smiling.
“Um, not leaving Jack. Not now,” I said firmly, yet smiling.
“Whoa! Serious stuff!” he teased.
I shrugged and grinned. “Jack's great.” I was tempted to ask why he was showing interest, but what the heck? I was glad he was doing it. Wasn't that enough?
I went and emptied the dishwasher and wiped down the counter. I hated the job, but it was way less hassle than doing a crappy job or skipping it, as my parents would get on me about it. After I was done I ran upstairs to get changed. Closing my door, I tossed aside my work shirt and paused to assess myself in the mirror that hung behind my door. What the hell does Jack see that he likes so much? I look all right – I'm not down on my body or anything. But Jack looks at me and somehow sees something bordering on the divine.
I was a stereotype – red hair, green eyes and pale skin, with some freckles thrown in just in case. The summer sun burned my skin and lightened my hair. There was literally nothing special about me – yet Jack looked at me and he froze, only his mind and his fingers working as he transposed his version of me to paper. I rubbed a nipple and it perked up.
“Jack, you really need to spend some time getting handsy with me,” I muttered and went to look for a shirt to wear to dinner.
Dinner was okay. Mr. Benson was warm-ish and clearly glad to see Jack. Luke was funny, and Jared was his usually calm self. He regaled us with some weird facts, but the only one that stuck with me was that the medical term for a butt crack was the 'intergluteal cleft'. Kid was full of random facts. Jack and I retired to Jared's room after, and he dropped the bomb on us.
“So, Lauren and I are done,” he said.
“What? When?” Jack asked.
“A few days ago,” Jared said. “It's no big deal. It's like the third time, right? I just said ‘Fuck this,’ you know? She can be so shallow.”
“What did she do?” I asked. It wasn't even a question if Jared had done something – he'd have admitted it, I think.
“General bitchiness. I just hit a limit, you know? Hey Derry, you have a sister?” Jared joked.
“No, but Delia is single. Looking for a rental? She dumps guys every few months,” I replied.
“Delia? Hernandez?” Jared asked, tone curious.
“Pray to God there's only one,” I said seriously and chuckled. She'd kill me for setting her up with Jared, but he might be able to tame her a bit. And monkeys might fly out of my ass.
“Handful, huh?” Jared asked.
“Well,” I said, not wanting to run down my best friend. “She can be choosy. She's a good person.”
“Closest thing you have to a sister?” Jared asked, grinning.
“Pretty much,” I agreed. “I'm sorry about Lauren, for you. Delia told me she was a bitch.”
“Most girls seem to say that about other girls,” Jared said with a sigh. “I never know who to believe.”
Luke wandered in, and we all ended up in his room playing video games for a few hours before his dad reminded us everyone needed to get up for work the next day. Jack walked me to my car and leaned against my door, pulling me to him by my hips.
“So. You work tomorrow morning, right?” he asked.
I snaked my arms up behind his head. “Yeah. Unfortunately.”
“This is our first summer together. I hope you're ready to do a lot of modeling for me.”
I couldn't help but smile at him, though I felt silly. “No nudes.”
“Come on!” he whined. “It's for art!”
“Yeah, uh huh.”
We went our separate ways and I thought about Jack's request to draw me again. It was sort of old territory, and I didn't feel like Jack was pushing me; I just wasn't sure I wanted to do it. If he were to see me naked, shouldn't it be under different circumstances? I knew he was passionate about his art – I mean he made me look great – but it just seemed...odd. I wasn’t exactly uncomfortable with the idea, but...oh, hell, I wasn’t sure how I really felt. A little curious, a little excited, a little weirded out.
Patience isn't my strong suit, I'll admit – and that’s not something I can hide very well. Especially when I'm tired. Why was I tired? First, I went to bed thinking of Jack and decided to do something about it. Moments after I had, Delia called. Answering it was a monumentally bad thing to do, but I'm kind of like one of Pavlov's dogs – if the phone rings, I answer it. If it's a telemarketer I keep them on the phone as long as I can to fuck with them. So there I was, underwear puddled around one ankle – so I could better spread my legs – and with the back of my hand and my stomach a mess. With my left hand I fumbled to answer and push the phone up against my face.
“We did it,” Delia said, somewhat breathlessly.
“What?” I asked distractedly as I awkwardly got out of bed and went to my hamper for a tee shirt. I trapped my phone between my shoulder and my head as I wiped my hand and tried to look down to finish cleaning up.
“Ahmed. Me. Sex.”
I dropped the phone. I leaned forward too much and lost the phone while I was trying to clean up, but the timing was about right. I picked it up, checked for damage, and lifted it back to my ear.
“You did? You guys broke up!” I had just told Jared earlier that evening she was single.
“I know!” she said, as if it had been a surprise to her as well. “My mom got called into work, so I was home watching the rug rats,” she explained. “He came over and wanted to talk. I was bored and I'm single, so I figured sure – why not?”
“Uh huh,” I said, pulling underwear from a drawer and looking for a fresh tee to sleep in.
“So I went to the front porch and we sat and talked, and he got all flowery and shit,” she said. Her tone was aiming for offhand and dismissive, but I knew her too well. She was more than likely blushing and trying not to smile.
“Not the first guy to try that. I mean, close, but still – you've heard something like it before.”
She hesitated. “This was different. I don't know. He can be so sweet.”
“Whoa, what? You've never, ever said anything about a guy being sweet or kind or...anything positive besides maybe has a nice set of lips or something.” Delia guarded herself from admitting too much about what she liked. I think it was so she doesn't get disappointed. Her dad walking out was a huge blow to her – and her whole family – and she never invested much in her romantic relationships.
She sighed. “Yeah. I know,” she said quietly. “Did I tell you he cried when I broke up with him?”
I got back in bed, settling in comfortably. “No, I don't think so. Why does that matter? You were dumping him.”
“He cried, but he wasn't fighting me. He said he respected me and my decision, but that he'd be there if I changed my mind. He said he'd wait.”
Well. That was some seriously romantic shit right there. I narrowed my eyes. Suspiciously I asked, “Did he tell you he'd been waiting long enough? Did he manipulate you?”
“What? No! God, Derry, don't be a pig,” she snapped. “Do you think I'd fall for that, even if he did?”
“Everyone's human, even you, Delia,” I reminded her. “I just don't want to see you get hurt.”
“I didn't. I won't,” she said, sounding conciliatory. “Anyway. We talked on the porch, and after a while a cold breeze kind of set in-”
“Okay, fine! I wanted to go inside, but I was enjoying talking to him! Jesus, you can't cut me a little slack?”
“Slack? That wasn't slack. That was lying. Moving along.”
She made a small noise, blowing air between her lips and I knew she was pouting. “We sat on the couch. He smelled good. One thing led to another and...well, I'm not a virgin.”
I held my tongue for just a moment, thinking about her and Ahmed. Ahmed was a decent looking guy, and I'd liked him well enough, but then I hadn't been dating him. He was too skinny for my tastes. He maybe reminded me of a much darker version of myself, since I think I'm too skinny. Not thin, skinny. As in could use a few pounds. It was a point Jack and I disagreed on.
“So. Did you like it?”
“Um. Some, yeah.”
“Well, it was kind of awkward seeing him naked. Plus hard. Never seen a dick in person, you know?”
“I can relate,” I said, glancing down at the bump of my sated sex. “Then what?”
“I don't know. Trying to get in position. Fumbling around.” She hesitated. “I touched it. It was...good. I don't know! What are you supposed to say when you've had someone's dick in your hand? I mean really? Who tells you what you're supposed to say?”
I chewed on that for a moment. Jack and I hadn't been that far, but then we were only a few months along – you were supposed to wait or something. Right?
“So...did you, you know, like the sex?”
“I think...I could have liked it more. It was really, really short. He only had the one condom. I don't know, it's not that romantic to pull one off and slap a new one on to go for round two. Right?”
“Doesn't sound like it,” I admitted. “So. Are you guys, like, dating now? Or friends with benefits or what?”
She sighed. “I don't know what I want. I think...for now, I want to try seeing him naked again.” She giggled a little and I chuckled.
“Well, I guess he must look okay without clothes, then.”
“Don't you be digging for information on my man's D,” she said, teasing. “You have your own man, who would probably worship your naked body if you'd let him.”
It was my turn to let out a noise, blowing air between my pursed lips. “If Jack wanted that, he's not really trying.”
“I bet if you pose naked, he won't be able to resist.”
“Yeah, I'll take that under advisement,” I said with a roll of my eyes. We hung up shortly after and I went to my bed to pick up my underwear. “Jesus. I spent an entire phone conversation naked while Delia tells me about getting laid.” I glanced down and thought of Jack asking to draw me nude. And would he be unable to resist me, considering how plainly attracted he was? My dick seemed to think so as it began to plump.
“Jack,” I said with a sigh. “You really need to take a hint.”
After that I'd slept all right, but I had to be up really early to head to the store. I stopped for a hot breakfast on the way and wolfed the sandwich in my car, electing to take the coffee inside with me. Once inside my day took a turn for the worse when I spotted Kimberly-Anne punching in just outside of the office. Shit. That means Ken scheduled her behind the customer service desk, and with that thought in mind I glanced at the express lane. Well, of course it was empty – no need for it yet, but you wait. Ken was going to stick me there.
“Hi, Derry,” my nemesis said.
“Hi, Kimberly-Anne,” I said tiredly.
“I so needed a beach day yesterday,” she said, and I noted her face was a bit darker – she'd clearly gotten some sun. “My boyfriend has a convertible, and we took the drive down to the lake and cooked out and had such a nice day!”
I raised one eyebrow. “Ken said you were sick.”
“Mental health day,” she said with a grin.
“Morning, you two,” Ken said, practically appearing from nowhere. “Kim, are you punched in?”
“Yep!” she said sunnily.
“Great. Go check in with Tonya. Derry, grab a drawer and open up on four. At nine, switch on the express light.”
“Ken,” I said with a sigh. “When you took me from CS you asked me what I preferred to do. The only thing I asked you to keep me from was the express line, but it seems like I spend most of my shifts there.”
He looked at me steadily. “Done?”
I was slightly taken aback. “I just thought-”
“Doesn't matter. When I get more cashiers hired, you won't have to worry about working express. But so we're clear? Business needs always come before personal preference. Job is a cashier right now and on the express line. You don't like it, there's the door.”
I bit my tongue so damned hard. “Okay,” I grunted.
He nodded his head as if we'd had a meeting of the minds and stalked off to wreck his next thing for the day.
The next two days were like that. I kept hoping I'd hear from the other grocery store, but nothing was happening as I wanted it to. Jack was a bright spot. The other thing I loved was to sing. I'm not great, I'm the first to say that, but I can carry a tune and dance at the same time. The group I was working with for the summer was doing a section on the FM Staples as a Billy Joel review, and I looked forward to the rehearsals. I had my part of the songs down cold, as we only sang a line or two at a time, but the rehearsals got us dancing as well, and I needed to have the others around me to make sure I was doing the right moves. It's easy to miss a step, practice like a maniac and then when you group up, well, you discover you've left a step out and feel like an idiot – and you can screw the others up.
Thursday night I was exhausted. I'd danced my ass off, and my voice was a little raspy from singing for the last few hours. I hopped off the stage and waved at our piano player, Elliot. Rumor was he'd been bound for Julliard, but something had derailed him. I was sorry for him for losing that opportunity, but I was thrilled to have someone with his obvious talent and love of music to help us. I was pleasantly surprised to see a handsome, athletic looking guy wrap his arms around Elliot's waist from behind and nuzzle his neck lightly, causing Elliot to grin and squirm a little. Huh. Nice couple.
“I didn't know you could dance.”
I turned with pleasant surprise to find Jack drawing up beside me. “I can't, really. It's just a lot of practice so it looks like I can.”
“You really can't take a compliment,” he said with a grin.
“I don't think that's true,” I protested. “If you'd said I sing pretty well, then I'd be more inclined to agree with you.”
“Well, you sing like an angel,” he said.
“Not that good,” I demurred.
“See? Can't take a compliment,” he said, snickering.
I smiled at him thinking he was so clever. Jack looked down as he put his sketch pad into his messenger bag, and I had a moment. Once in a while there are these little slices of time where something is damn-near perfect. I think Jack has those moments when he draws me, because I don't look nearly as good as he makes me look. Jack is handsome – not cute. Handsome. He's solid, but not filled with muscle. He had a big frame and a gentle heart. He'd done football with Jared as a social standing kind of thing, but his real passion was his art. I suppose people might stereotypically think of an artistic soul as someone who was skinny, absent minded, maybe emo or egotistical. You know, a snob who knows he's good. Jack was just figuring out he was good – special – at what he loved. He didn't look like an artist. He looked like some guy who may be able to body slam you, yet the thought would never occur to him.
But in that small slice of time when he glanced at me, a little smile on his lips as he looked down to put his sketchpad away, something about him hit me deeply. Somewhere near my core there was this...echo. A reverberation – and for the first time in my life, I had a song for a moment.
“What?” he asked.
I tilted my head a bit to one side and smiled at him. “How long were you here?”
“Um, I got here just as you guys were finishing the group warm ups. Why?”
“Did you hear me sing? When we would pop forward and get a few lines?”
He smiled. “Yeah. You were spot on.”
I felt a blush coming on. “I wasn't so sure about doing the Billy Joel review part of the show,” I confessed as I pulled a hoodie from my bag and got ready to leave. “But the director was really passionate about it. I still wasn't convinced, but he's the director, right?”
“But the little bit I sing...makes me think of you.”
His lips curved into an inquisitive smile and he paused for a moment, perhaps in thought.
“This is the time to remember,” I said sotto voce, and tried to give him an affectionate look. I have no idea what my face actually looks like when I aim for that, but I think it worked. His eyes got damp in a heartbeat – and there was that sweet soul looking back at me. I could see it in his eyes, that artistic gentleness that was at odds with his physical self.
“I love you,” he said, tone gentle and delicate like spun sugar.
I felt light, like I could get back up and dance and sing as if I hadn't been doing that for hours and been exhausted just five minutes ago.
“I love you most, so I win,” I told him.
He swallowed and smiled. “I wanted to say that to you before, but I wasn't sure if I...you know.”
“I don't. Tell me.”
He moved his lips together, squishing this way and that. “I just carry guilt from how I made you feel after our first kiss.”
I pursed my lips and let out a slow breath. “You have to let that go. I have. Why do you beat yourself up? Still?”
His expression fell a bit. “Because I hurt you. I don't want to do that. And it makes me...disappointed and sad that I did.”
“Jack. We're going to piss each other off,” I said with a little chuckle. “Plus you didn't make a point of trying to hurt me, you were just in an awkward head-space. We both did fall for Luke once, after all.”
He grimaced. “I know. I mean, logically I know. It just bothers me that-”
“Jack,” I said, cutting him off. “Think about this. I feel so good right now that you said those words to me. You're kind of ruining it by beating yourself up and holding back from saying things like that to me because you feel bad over something we both should have gotten over. I have. I love you and I get you all the time now. Who cares that we had a weird road to get where we are? We can handle weird. Can't we?”
He smiled then, a genuine one. “If you spit out a random fact right now, you'll sound like Jared.”
I narrowed my eyes. “How come Jared has to talk to you the way I do? Are you and Jared a thing?” I was teasing, but he missed that as his eyes went wide.
“I'm joking, calm down,” I said with a chuckle.
“We've never been a thing,” he grumbled.
I picked up my bag and took his hand to lead him from the building. I nearly ran into Elliot, and we made awkward 'excuse me's to each other.
“Nice work tonight, Derry,” he said. “I could tune my piano off your voice.”
“Don't do that! I'm using your piano to find the right key!” I said with a grin. I lifted my hand, still holding Jack's. “Elliot, this is my boyfriend, Jack. Jack, Eliot is our piano player extraordinaire.”
“Oh, hi!” Jack said with more enthusiasm than I'd have expected. “You play so well. I really enjoy the practices with Derry singing and you playing. It's like a free concert.”
Elliot smiled in appreciation. “Thanks, Jack. I love music, and this is a great thing to help round out my experiences. Oh, I also love my own boyfriend, this guy right here – meet Nate.”
Where Jack was solid, Nate was athletic. The difference was between a workhorse and a thoroughbred – both beautiful creatures, yet functionally different. Nate smiled and gave a little wave. Jack and I greeted him, then we turned as a group and headed outside.
“If you like music,” Nate said to Jack, “You should hear Elliot's band.”
“It's not my band,” Elliot corrected. “I just play in it.”
“Yeah. He just plays in it like a grand slam is just a base hit,” Nate said with an eye roll. “They play out once or twice a week. You should totally check them out.”
“If you're going to do that, you should also come check out Nate's games – that way you too can discover a grand slam isn't just something on the Denny's menu,” Elliot said with a laugh. “Or you could, if he were playing locally. Summer travel league.”
“Baseball player?” I guessed. I know some terms, but I'm not a fan of anything in particular.
“Yep. Did some winter ball, had to leave this guy for some of that to play in Florida tournaments, but I'm mostly local for the summer.”
“He's going to be drafted,” Elliot said with certainty.
Nate gave a humble shrug and said, “We'll see.”
“Text me,” I said. “Jack and I like going out, so shoot me some dates.”
“Will do,” Elliot said, flashing two fingers. “Peace.”
“And I'll make sure he doesn't just send you my game schedule. Seriously, the band is fun and the company is great,” Nate said. Elliot laughed and swatted at him, probably for acting like he'd only include Nate's team information. We said good night and walked to my car. I wasn't surprised to find Jacks' car beside mine. He opened his back door and put his bag on the floor and then turned back to me. I'd just closed my trunk after depositing my bag, and I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Am I too smelly from sweating, or are you going to come kiss me?” I asked.
His only response was to pull me to him and...I liked kissing Jack the first time we did it. I'd thought I was decent at kissing and had been confused when that make-out hadn't turned into something else. Now that Jack and I had been making out for a few months, I could really appreciate the tenderness and thought he put into pulling me close, molding me to him and making it a full body experience.
And that was fine, most of the time. But sometimes...I wanted it to be a bit more...aggressive. Now was one of those times. So I escalated the kiss from the gentle stroke of his lips to one where I was grabbing his hair in my hand and trying my best to feel every inch of his tongue with mine. His hands held me tightly to him, and I could feel us both growing aroused. I couldn't take it anymore.
I reached down and cupped his package.
He jumped in surprise and started to cough. I took a half-step back from him as he started to inhale and broke down coughing again. Not really how I thought that might go. I patted his back as he coughed and his eyes watered – I guess he'd swallowed down the wrong pipe. Once he'd mastered himself we kissed lightly and said goodnight, but driving home I was obsessed with the feel of his length in my hand for that too brief moment.
That had to happen again, and soon.