“Don't talk like-” Ken said behind me, but he was cut off, first by the Important Guy hollering about his groceries, now soaked in milk, and then, surprisingly, by Mr. Maddox. I paused in the doorway as the old guy just went off.
“The quality of this store has gone completely downhill since you arrived. I saw you stand here and allow this self-important prick to abuse one of your employees and do absolutely nothing! Next you'll be kissing his ass. I plan to call your regional manager and let them know exactly how you treat your employees.”
“Sir, hang on, if you could just give me a moment,” Ken was begging, caught between Important Guy and Mr. Maddox. Hah. Let him be on the defensive for once. I headed out into the parking lot, my anger fading, and the worry began to set in about how I was going to pay for insurance and gas, among other things. Maybe I should head over to that other grocery store to try and get hired before they found out about this little meltdown. I leaned against my car and decided I needed to enjoy this before I beat myself over the head with reality.
“Derry! Yo, Derry!”
I glanced up in confusion at the guy and girl that had been with the Maddoxes. The guy was waving his hand and trotting toward me with a grin while the girl followed at a slightly more sedate pace.
“That. Was. Epic!” the kid said to me and held his hand up. With a bit of wry amusement I slapped his hand, and he grinned. “You're a legend, dude.”
I chuckled. “Yeah. Ways to make sure you never work in a grocery store again.”
The girl joined us and grinned. “I got it all on video. This is going to be the best thing on the internet.”
I raised an eyebrow. “How did you happen to film that?”
“When that guy with the phone was being a douche, I started to record. The way you finished him was just epic, though.” She grinned widely and I laughed.
“So you guys are Maddoxes?”
“Maddox,” the boy said. “Isaac.”
“Sweet,” I said with a nod and glanced at the girl.
“I'm Kari Fremont. My brother is married to...he's one of his dads. I'm still not good at explaining it.”
Dads? Huh. “So you guys are hanging out with-”
“Can you believe that asshole?” Mrs. Maddox said, stomping up to our group. “What a jerk! No one should have to put up with that!” She looked at me. “While I was greatly amused, I hope you didn't just screw yourself.”
“I was wondering that myself,” I admitted, a little off-balance from her entrance.
“My husband will help you with that,” she said with confidence. She looked at Kari, “Did you get it all?”
“It's posted,” she said, nodding. “That guy was such a douche. I'm addicted to my phone-”
“Duh,” Isaac teased.
“But I know to put it down if you're talking to someone,” she said, giving Isaac some side-eye. Well, they had sibling dynamics down. Her brother being Isaac's adopted dad...part of a 'dads' parenting team had me curious, though – and asking about that seemed way better than thinking about where to get a new job.
“So...” I said, letting my finger go back and forth between Kari and Isaac. “Brother sister? Kind of act it, but you said your brother is his dad so...nephew?”
“She's my sister-aunt,” Isaac said evilly and Kari frowned at him.
“Stop saying that, twerp!” she snarled.
“Yeah, going with brother-sister,” I said with a chuckle.
“My son, Brandon, married Hal, who is Kari's older brother. Brandon already had Isaac with him, but technically Kari is a half-sibling and an aunt by marriage,” Mrs. Maddox said. “And Isaac plays the evil little brother too well, even though they are only a few months apart in age.” Her tone was doting, so she obviously thought it wasn't a big deal.
“As your aunt I should kick your ass,” Kari said taking a step toward Isaac, who danced back and laughed at her. Yeah, brother-sister for sure.
“What. An. Asshole.” Mr. Maddox joined the group and nodded toward me. “You have a temper. Good to know.”
“Well...yeah,” I said with a smile and shrugged. “Might be better to say I have a limit.”
He nodded and smiled widely. “That was brilliant and quite entertaining. Have you ever walked off a job like that before?”
“Nah. I've worked here for a little over a year, and it was fine until Ken came along.”
“I noticed the Dingbat Barbie he put in customer service,” Kari said and tossed her hair. “She's dumb.”
“I always thought you were polite and professional,” Mr. Maddox said. “You even poured his milk efficiently and didn't spill a drop!” He roared with laughter and I got the impression he'd been holding it in.
I couldn't help but laugh a little with him. “Not my best move, but I'm glad the performance was good, anyway.”
“Besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Mr. Maddox's mirth trailed off and he put his hands in his pockets. “So. What's next for you, then?”
I blew out a breath. “Probably go over to that grocery store a few blocks over and check up on my application, then go get some lunch with my boyfriend.”
He frowned lightly. “Do you really want to go back into the same line of work right away?”
I shrugged. “I'm not sure they'll hire me, but it's my first stop.” I tapped the side of my car. “Need to pay gas and insurance.”
“I hope you two are paying attention to priorities,” Mrs. Maddox said with a comical wink at her grand kids.
“Priorities would be not pouring the guy's milk out, Gram?” Isaac said with an impressive eye roll. “No offense. It was epic, but it won't pay your bills unless you can make a channel and get a paying following. It's not stable like being a streaming gamer, you know?”
“Streaming games is a stable income? Who told you that? Tim or Liz?” Kari asked with a chortle.
“It's legit,” Isaac said in a bored tone.
“Leaving that heady discussion for a moment,” Mr. Maddox said in an indulgent tone much like his wife's – they must really like their grand kids – he turned his gaze back to me. “I used to work for the school district. I got Isaac a summer job doing maintenance for the summer that starts next week. I could pull a string, if you might be interested.”
“Aw, yeah!” Isaac said with enthusiasm. “After I do this for the summer, next year I can apply to landscaping places. Do you have any idea what people pay just to have someone else mow their lawn? It's nuts!”
Hmm. I'd be outside, which I like. Have to bring sunscreen, but having weekends and every night for myself would be ideal for my practices and being with Jack. I looked at Mr. Maddox. “I'd appreciate that.”
He smiled warmly. “I'm glad to help. Give Isaac your number and I'll get it to June Hughes over at the school. She may call you today to get you to fill out paperwork, so be near your phone – as if you kids are ever far away from those things!” he said with a laugh.
“Thank you, Mr. Maddox,” I said and held my hand out. He smiled warmly and shook my hand.
“Now I just need to find a lucky person to run my lottery, and it's not what's-her-name,” he said with a chuckle.
“Dingbat Barbie,” Kari said without looking up from her phone.
I gave Isaac my number and we parted ways. I decided to delay going home long enough to have lunch with Jack. When I arrived Jack wasn't behind the counter, so I texted him to let him know I was there. Moments later he came to the front desk to greet me and I ordered some of their specialty hot dogs and took a table where he'd be able to come chat off and on. That was the plan, but there was a rush of people and my phone rang while I was polishing off a hot dog.
“Hi, is this Derry?”
“Yep,” I replied.
“This is June Hughes. James Maddox told you to expect a call?”
“Oh, yes!” I said, realizing who it was. “Yes, he did.”
“Good,” she said, sounding better at my enthusiastic response. “Can you swing by the district office over on Farson street? It's by the old Endicott-Johnson building.”
“Sure. Any time better for you?” I asked.
“I'm going to lunch now, so after one would be great.”
“I'll see you then,” I said with a grin. This was a stroke of good luck in the middle of all the weirdness that my life was turning into. I glanced at my phone and figured I had time to go home, shower and look decent for Mrs. Hughes. As I tossed my trash Jack popped over by my side.
“Hey. Sorry, got busy there. How are you?” he asked.
“Quit my job this morning, have an interview at one. I'll fill you in tonight?” I asked.
Mild shock and confusion warred on his face. “Um, yeah. You okay?”
I tilted my head to one side. “Not completely, but I have you so...I'll be okay.”
His features relaxed and then morphed into a pleased, if somewhat shy smile. “Okay, see you tonight.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“Little sorer than I thought I'd be. Not doing a lot of sitting today,” he said and I flushed.
“I meant...you know, our parents and stuff,” I said.
“Oh!” he said, and that was just my lovable, clueless Jack. “You know, I have you and...I hate what they are doing, but it's bigger than me. Easy to say, but I'm trying to hang onto that – and remember that I have you. I'll be okay, eventually.”
I shook my head and smiled at him. “Jared will be so jealous if you don't tell him you need him to get you through this.”
“That's both fair and amazingly unfair,” he said solemnly. “I feel bad enough that I haven't told him, yet.”
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I was teasing.”
“He'll be there for you, too, you know. He's a good friend.”
“I know he is, Jack...but I don't need him. I need you. Okay?”
“Yeah, I'm just saying...can't have too many good friends. Right?”
I nodded. “Yeah. You're totally right,” I admitted.
“Order up!” the cook called out and Jack bobbed his head before taking off to deliver the order. I headed home, kicking myself about Jared. Why had I said that? I really didn't have anything against Jared, or Luke for that matter – was it just plain jealousy? Maybe I just wished Jack and I had the years of a relationship under our belts like Jack did with Jared. Was I that bad? Once home I had every intention of heading right to the shower, but my father was in the kitchen and saw me come in. My step faltered as I saw him and I came to a stop.
“You're home early,” he said softly. “Everything okay?”
“I quit,” I said, for some reason feeling surreal.
His brows drew down. “Quit? What happened?”
“Ken's been dicking me around since he arrived. Today I had a rude customer and...I just hit my limit.”
He pursed his lips lightly. “Well, that's unfortunate. What's your next move?”
Interesting. No 'Derry, you can't do things like that.' No 'Derry, you have responsibilities – you have to work though things.' Not even that old one of his, 'Derry, no matter where you work or learn there will always be people you have to learn to get along with even if you don't like them.' It wasn't interesting enough that I'd ask him about it.
“I have an interview for a maintenance job at the school for the summer at one.”
He took on a thoughtful expression.”That's one way to land on your feet.”
“Have you...heard from mom?” I asked.
He shook his head slowly. “I figured I'd let her decide when to talk to me. She needs some space and time.”
I bit back a retort, wondering how he thought he knew what mom needed. Instead I nodded and headed up to shower. I spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning dried cum from my pubes and was aggravated. I was sure Jack'd had time for a shower this morning, since we'd been at his house, but I'd had to put up with the pulling and general annoyance of having my crotch glued in place. I glanced at my alarm clock and thought of Jack, stuck at work for three more hours. I pulled underwear from my dresser and glanced down at myself, smiling slowly.
I was going to have fun and get even with Jack for having gotten away with not having Glue Crotch.
First damn thing I did was lock my door, then I opened the curtain so that it spilled bright natural light across my bed. Then I stretched out and texted Jack.
I placed the underwear over my dick and leaned back, holding the phone so that it would take a picture of me from about the shoulder down and he could see I'd covered up. He'd also get a bit teased with the rest of me exposed. My dick started to inflate as I thought about how Jack would feel, seeing me like this. Who was I that suddenly was ready to send my boyfriend racy pictures? Well, why shouldn't I? He'd appreciate them more than one way. I felt good that he'd stare, that his fingers would twitch with the desire to touch me and draw me all at once. My phone buzzed.
Yeah. Stuck until 3.
I grinned to myself. Maybe this will make the time go by faster. I added a wink, because I'm feeling like a tease. I waited impatiently for him to reply.
My jaw may never close.
I snorted and then laughed giddily. I tossed my phone aside and pulled my underwear up over my soft-on. “I'm not touching you in case Jack wants to touch you later,” I told my dick. Okay, that's twice as weird: once for talking to my appendage and twice because Jack and I had had sex just the one time. Who says he's going to want to touch it again? Well, okay, that's dumb. Jack loves me and he's attracted to me. Wasn't it weird though that we went from cuddles to full on sex? No in-between, no first base, second base – I hit a fucking home run, so of course he was going to want to. Right?
Just in case, I might ask him to let me touch his.
Shaking off the thought, I dressed in khakis and a thin, long-sleeved tee. The darker color of the shirt made my skin pop, and my eyes were brighter just because of the contrast. Minutes later I was on the road and headed to my interview.
“You look kind of nice,” Delia said as we walked into her kitchen an hour and a half later. The interview had been nothing more than a formality; some paperwork, an admonition to be there at 7am sharp on Monday, and I was back in the car. I guess old Mr. Maddox really did have some juice in the school district.
“Job interview,” I replied as she reached into the fridge for drinks. “After you left I kind of hit my limit and quit.”
She handed me a can of soda and raised an eyebrow. “You? Quit?”
“I know,” I said, bobbing my head. “It was a weak moment. I just didn't want to take anyone's crap anymore. So...I didn't.”
“Huh,” she said and popped her can open. I followed her down the hall to the living room where we stretched out on her worn furniture. “So what about your parents?”
“Just...I don't know.” I sipped from the can and then cradled it between my hands and tapped its sides with my fingertips. “I've had a little time to cool down. My dad...he knows he fucked up, you know?” I looked up at her. “He's not dodging or anything. He's not making any excuses or giving me anything to stay mad about except he blew our family up.”
“Kind of a big thing,” she observed.
“Yeah, not trying to say it isn't,” I said. “Just that...it's hard to stay mad when I can see how sorry he is. I guess.”
After a few moments of silence she said, “I wouldn't know. My dad just went out for milk and bread and never came back. For all I know he died or he's out living with a new family or maybe joined a circus. At least your dad gives a shit.”
I nodded slowly. “I always hated that phrase 'at least'. Anything that starts with that kinda means you're scraping the bottom, right? Like it's the bare minimum?”
“Yeah, facts,” she said. “But besides unfucking Jack's mom, what else is he going to do?”
I shrugged and a feeling of irritation crept up my spine. “Do what he's doing, I guess. Tell me what's up, talk to his wife even though he knows it's going to bring pain.” I looked up at her. “I don't even know why he decided to tell my mom and me, or if mom found out or what. I was too pissed when he told me.”
“I would have been,” Delia said. “But Jack wasn't too weirded out?”
I shook my head. “Dad had told me that Jack's mom was supposed to be telling him that night as well, but she hadn't. When I got there I had to tell Jack – it wasn't fair not to.”
“That was the right call,” she said with a curt nod. “I don't play that 'tiptoe around things' game where you hope someone else does the dirty work for you.”
“Please. You love other people doing your dirty work,” I said with a laugh.
“True,” she said and then smiled. “But I like it when other people are honest with me, so I can be honest with them. You know, if I care about them.”
“Uh huh,” I said with a trace of suspicion.
“How did Jack take it?”
My suddenly sex-obsessed lizard brain retorted 'very well', but fortunately my mouth was still under my own control. Slowly I said, “A little stunned at first. Then angry. Very angry.”
I looked up at her. “No. His mother. I could hear him yelling all the way across the house.”
“Uncomfortable. What did you do?”
“I stayed in his room. Didn't want to make it worse somehow, you know?” I said. “I was looking at the latest thing he was making – he's amazing, you know?”
“I know. What was he drawing?”
“Of course. What else does he draw?” she asked and snorted out a laugh.
“It wasn't just me,” I said a little defensively. “I was on stage singing, and in the foreground he had our piano player, Elliot – and the details were so good. He's got such a talent, it's insane.”
“Yes, and all he needed was to draw you and it was all unlocked, I've heard it before, and yes – he's amazing.” She paused and got a devilish look on her face. “Does he still want to draw you naked?”
I tried my best at a poker face. “Probably more than ever.”
She tilted her head a bit to one side. “Why more – wait. Did you – oh shit! You're so red in the face! You did! How can you sit down?”
Her questions were so odd that I struggled to catch up for a second.
“Sitting has nothing – hey! Why would you assume that?”
She shrugged with perfect insolence. “He's a football player, and you're a singer and dancer. I'm guessing you're more flexible. Easier to put your legs behind your ears than for him.” She smiled wickedly.
I was going to reply hotly, but something in her posture caused me to think before I popped off. With a start I realized she was under the impression that we'd had some kind of...something less than what we'd actually done. Something less meaningful.
“We did something...beautiful,” I said hesitantly. “I know, everyone says things like that. Maybe your first time is always special in some way. But Jack and I...we needed each other. I've never felt so...necessary to someone.”
Delia's face cleared of her devilish look, and she asked gently, “Was it perfect?”
I barked a laugh and looked away. “I was a stereotype of every virgin boy everywhere – popping way too soon. But you know...he didn't care. And now I'm just craving him.” I looked up at her. “Do you feel like that? Now that you and Ahmed crossed that bridge?”
She looked away in thought and then said, “A little. People talk about sex like it's the greatest thing. It was...exciting, especially at first. I mean, first dick I've seen in person, so sort of cool.” She looked at me and grinned a bit. “It looks big on him since he's a twig otherwise.”
I chuckled nervously. “But how do you feel, now?”
She furrowed her brow. “Like this is a friends-with-benefits kind of situation. He said some of the right things, and maybe he believed it when he said it...but he's gotten what he wanted, right? That's probably all it was.”
I frowned. “He didn't seem like that. I always thought he liked you.”
“Well, yeah. Look at me. Lots of guys like me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Not that, you narcissist. I mean he liked you. Bitchy you, spontaneous you, happy you and all the things between that.”
She stared at me. “You're not going to sing, are you? I feel like I'm in a musical, and this is where the scene calls for a song.”
“Like now: Bitchy you.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I don't know, Der. I think I'm better off keeping him close enough to play with, but not so close he burns me.”
I shook my head slowly. “I'd rather Jack burned me to a cinder than to back off. I know him now. I completely understand why he's different from everyone else, and he's mine. I mean, he's not flawless, you know?”
“Name one way Jack isn't perfect,” she teased.
“He's spacey. He dreams instead of living now.” I paused and said dramatically, “He puts toilet paper on the spindle backward.”
“He's spacey and dreamy because he's thinking about your pale, naked ass,” Delia said while laughing. “And the toilet paper is just barbaric. Trainable, but barbaric.” Her eyes narrowed a little. “So, if Jack's a bottom...what did it feel like for you?”
“Um, what?” I asked, choking out a laugh.
“Well, I figured we'd always be able to talk about how it felt when a guy got all up in one of us, but you go and find the one guy in the world that thinks you're a top – don't you laugh at me!” she said, trying to sound serious.
“I-I can't,” I spluttered, laughing at her. “Jack and I both have dicks, why would one of us be one thing or another?”
“Well. Obviously you have options. I guess I just thought...Jack's a big guy. I guess I just figured that's the way it'd go.”
I trailed off into chuckles and smiled at her. “You have options, too. You can always peg Ahmed.” I burst out laughing. She did too, but cussed at me at the same time. She scrambled closer and leaned in.
“Seriously. What was it like for you?”
I smiled a little, shook my head slightly and said, “It was...unexpected. I felt – he felt – better than I imagined. It was more than I'd hoped for, honestly. I can't wait to do it again.” I paused. “He's the right person for me.”
She sighed. “I wish I had that...you know, being sure.”
“Is that like the clap?” she asked, pretending and then laughing at me. Composing herself she continued, “No, I mean...at first, when I talked to you, I was thinking 'Well, I want to try again' and I did. Want to. I still do, but now I'm second guessing if all his flowery talk was just a boy trying to get laid or if he meant it.”
“Sort of seems to me he'd have gone home, with or without getting laid,” I said. “Ahmed isn't your dad. You're right to be careful, but don't cut off things just because you're afraid.”
She studied my face. “Not the same, but what about if you're wrong about Jack?”
I let out a long, slow breath. “If I were wrong it'd hurt me worse than anything I can think of – even my parents. I always assumed my parents were...my now. My 'get me started right and let me go'. I never expected them to be my future, but now...all I can see is Jack ahead of me. It's overwhelming, sometimes. But...he really loves me. And I love him back.”
She leaned back slowly. “I'm not sure if I love Ahmed, or if I ever really did. But...I'm fond of the boy.”
I shrugged and smiled at her. “Gotta start somewhere.”
“Yeah. Guess so.”