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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

First Encounters - 3. The Mall

My mom insisted on having dinner with me at the mall that night. There was a little French style cafe that she liked and that had a pretty good ‘Bistro Steak.’ I agreed reluctantly, not really wanting my friends to see me eating dinner with my mom. My only condition was that we go early! So it was a little after six when we got to the mall. The show wasn’t until eight, but I had agreed with my buddies to meet at the ticket booth no later than seven fifteen, since it was the first night of the show and there would probably be a crowd.

The small restaurant was filled with Friday night diners, so we had to wait a while for a table. We ended up sitting at a little round cafe table at the front of the restaurant, in plain view of the wide mall corridor--not the most private way to enjoy a nice meal, but then again, it was fun to watch all the people going by. Of course, whenever some particularly cute guy or gal did catch my eye, I immediately compared that person to Jesse and found them lacking. There was no one like him and it thrilled me to think that I was going to be spending the evening with him at the movies.

We were just getting ready to order, when I was astonished to see Jesse walk past. He was on the other side of the wide corridor, his attention on the big music posters in front of the Sam Goody's. He didn’t see us. I pointed him out to my mom and she insisted that I chase him down. While I was glad to have him join us for dinner, I was a bit concerned as to why he would be here so early. It was then that I noticed he was still in his school clothes--white polo and khaki pants--with his backpack slung over his shoulders. He had obviously come straight here from school. That would mean he had been here for almost three hours already!

I hurriedly pushed my way through the thick, Friday night mall crowd and tapped Jesse lightly on his backpack. The speed with which he whirled to face me almost caused me to loose my balance! He had a tight, defensive look on his face as if he was expecting a fight.

“Shit, dude, don’t kill me!” I pleaded, only half facetiously.

Jesse’s face immediately relaxed and he smiled shyly in recognition. God, how I loved that smile!

“You’re early,” he said, leaning up against the wall next to the music store.

“I could say the same for you,” I said, gesturing to his backpack.

Jesse seemed embarrassed and I wished I hadn’t said anything. Before he could reply, I pointed across the corridor to the restaurant.

“My mom and I are eating at the Petite Bistro,” I said. “We were hoping you’d come and join us!” When Jesse hesitated, I added, “My treat!”

Jesse smiled shyly as my mom gave him a little wave. “I...well, I was just going to grab a taco or something,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your dinner with your mom.” The way he said it, I could tell he was being totally serious, not like he was poking fun at me or anything.

“Ruin my dinner? You’ve got to be kidding! You’d be saving my ass by eating with us. It’ll save me all those annoying ‘mom’ questions,” I explained sincerely. “You know, ‘how’s math class,’ ‘how’s English,’ ‘how’s history,’' do you have a girlfriend'...” At this last remark, we both broke up in giggles.

I could see he was tempted. In fact, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was really hungry. I didn’t know what was holding him back. Pride, or bashfulness, or what? I was beginning to realize that our different financial situations was going to be a bit of a stumbling block in our relationship, but I was determined to make him feel wanted and comfortable around me and my surroundings. I knew that my mom and I were better off than a lot of kids in my school, but there were some who were much better off than we were--it was all relative. But most of my friends lived in pretty nice houses, and managed to surround themselves with the stock amenities of suburban life. Most had two parents working to keep things afloat. I was beginning to think that Jesse’s situation might be extreme. They lived in one of the seedier areas of Santa Corina, and it seemed like his mom worked at night as well as during the day. Still, she was able to send her son to a private school and that wasn’t cheap. So they were making sacrifices I guess, and that made me feel even more intent on being his friend. I would help him out every chance I got--as long as he would take that help, of course.

“Please?” I said, looking him directly in the eye. “I’d really, really like you to join us...?”

I could see his resolve crumble, and he reluctantly gave me a little nod. I practically dragged him over to our table. I had the waiter bring him a menu, but he didn’t seem to know what to order. I told him I was getting the ‘Bistro Steak’ and I know he looked at the price on the menu because I could see his beautiful blue eyes open wide in shock.

“I’ll just have the 'Continental Burger,'” he said, but I insisted he have the steak.

“It’s really very good,” my mom added encouragingly.

He finally agreed and we had a nice supper. We learned, mostly through my mom’s very delicate and subtle probing, that his mom did indeed have two jobs; she worked as a receptionist for a small import company in San Juanito, about ten miles away, and then worked as a waitress several nights a week at a fairly nice Italian restaurant in Oceanside, about a half an hour drive away.

“Have you eaten there?” I asked.

“It’s really expensive,” Jesse said by way of an explanation, but sometimes she brings stuff back for us--I mean, me.”

Actually, my mom and I had eaten at that very same restaurant last spring on a little day trip to the beach. The truth was that it was really only a medium priced place, the kind where middle class families went for a nice dinner, but certainly not expensive, like some of the places in La Jolla or San Diego.

He also told us about his Aunt Ruthie, who lived in Oceanside, and who had been the one to finally persuade the Taylor’s to move out to California. It had been she that had steered them towards Santa Corina and St. Boniface, it being her old home town and her alma mater. Jesse even admitted that she had helped with the tuition--otherwise he could never afford to go to a private school. He seemed very grateful for her help and support.

My mom mentioned that St. Boniface was also her alma mater, and asked what his aunt’s name was back in school.

“Well, my mom’s maiden name is Finnegan, so I guess she’d be...”

“Ruth Finnegan!” my mom said with wonderment in her voice. “She was two years ahead of me! What an amazing coincidence!” she said excitedly. We spent the next half an hour with my mom describing what Ruth Finnegan had been like back at St. Boniface--a real go getter, straight ‘A’ student, and basketball star, and Jesse countering with his description of his Aunt Ruthie: mother of three, successful owner of a flowershop, and married to a dentist! My mom insisted on knowing exactly where the shop was, so that we could stop by the next time we were in Oceanside.

"What about you're mom, Jesse? Didn't she go to St. Boniface too?" I asked, anxious to learn as much about his family as I could. I thought it would be an amazing and wonderful coincidence, if Jesse's mother had maybe known my mother way back in the Stone Age!

Suddenly, Jesse's cheerful expression faded. I realized I had unwittingly said something wrong and worriedly glanced at my mom for help. She looked at me helplessly, not knowing what the problem was.

"That's okay, Jesse. You don't have to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable," my mom said gently.

I was turning red with embarrassment.

"It's okay," he said quietly. When he saw how embarrassed I was, he gave me a little smile. "It's just that when my mom's parents got divorced, my Aunt Ruthie moved out here with her dad and his new wife, and my mom stayed in Evanston with her mother."

It took a little while to get over the awkward moment, but my mom eventually drew him out of his shell again. I sighed with relief (and blushed a little) when Jesse described to my mom how I had come up to him on that first day, as he was sitting under a tree. Apparently, he had been terrified to make eye contact with anyone.

"But your son just kept bugging me and bugging me," Jesse said with a sweet smile. "I wanted to throw my book at him, but it was one of my favorites!" He gave an exaggerated shrug. "So I guess I had no choice..."

That was embarrassing, but in a much better way, and we all had a good laugh.

It was almost seven fifteen when the waiter brought our check. The time had passed quickly, and Jesse and my mom got along great. He seemed to be more at ease talking to an adult then he did speaking with kids his own age. I mostly kept my mouth shut so there were no more awkward moments. Besides, I just enjoyed being in Jesse’s company. He was cheerful and talkative, and even had a sort of off beat sense of humor that I loved. And the more I looked at him, the more beautiful I thought he was. All concerns about my sexual identity seemed to evaporate when I was in his presence.

Jesse and I were splitting a delicious blueberry topped piece of cheesecake and my mom was having a cappuccino, when Gene nearly walked past us and then did a double take.

He was always very polite and I felt a bit of pride, knowing that I didn’t have to be embarrassed by any of my friends in front of my mom. They weren’t an affected, rude bunch of teenagers. We got up from our table to head for the movie. I told my mom I’d call her on the cellphone when the show was over.

“And Jesse, we’ll be glad to drop you off at home,” my mom said, and with such authority that Jesse could only nod and thank her.

The three of us strolled towards the theatre area. Gene seemed to always be in one of two moods: happy, or content. He was one of the older kids in our class, having turned fourteen before the end of seventh grade. He was the most ‘jock’ looking guy in our group, with closely cropped sandy blonde hair that he occasionally spiked (not tonight), and a round face and a thick neck like a football player (which he was!). He was in good shape and looked like he worked out in addition to all that early morning jogging (urgh!). He enjoyed shooting hoops as much as the next guy, and I know that he occasionally played golf because he had asked me a couple of times, but I always had prior commitments. I intended to go out with him one of these days. Of course, he loved to read, the one special thing our little group had in common. He liked space operas and adventures, even some of the older stuff by Asimov and Heinlein, but his passion was for Stephen King. He was just a cool guy to be around and he also moved in other circles at school besides our little bunch. I envied him for that.

“So, you guys had a romantic dinner together, eh?” he asked with a wink. I knew he was just teasing, but also had to wonder if he knew how close to the truth he was.

“Perry’s mom made me!” Jesse insisted petulantly, not with out a little tongue in cheek as he spoke. My mom just smiled, apparently finding Jesse as cute and lovable as I did (well, maybe not as lovable!)

We met up with Tom, who had his curly black hair glistening with gel to make it stand up straight. The cuffs of his jeans were stylishly rolled up to show off his Keds. For a few seconds, I fantasized about Tom coming back to my house, flopping down on our big recliner, tugging off those Keds, and putting his white sock feet up on the leg rest. Now that’s entertainment!

I had plenty of cash in my wallet, so I treated everyone to popcorn, sodas, and candy. We had to sit pretty close up to get four seats together because the theater was packed. Still, it was a great evening. The crowd was mostly kids and young adults and we were able to crack jokes and point out stupid things about the plot or the acting without anyone shushing us from behind.

Gene, Tom, and I all got on our cellphones to call for our rides. My mom said she needed to put some stuff in the dryer and thus she’d be a little late, so Jesse and I decided to hang out in the mall atrium in front of the box office for a little bit, even though all the stores were already closed for the night. Gene and Tom said their good-byes, and we were alone...well, except for all the people still going to the late shows.

“I need to take a leak,” I said, feeling the gallon of Coke I had sucked down during the movie starting to take its toll.

“I’ll join you,” Jesse said. He seemed to be genuinely happy and I realized how rare that was, just from the two weeks I’d known him. It made me feel good, even though it was probably as much due to the company of Gene and Tom, and the silly movie we had seen, as it had to do with anything I did. Still, I felt like maybe I had something to do with his good spirits and it made me feel closer to him.

When we went in the bathroom, there were three tough looking guys standing in front of the mirrors, preening and strutting. They looked to be high school sophomores or seniors, dressed in black leather jackets or denim vests and baggy pants, with lots of chains hanging around their necks and waists. They all had their hair cut short, and had various parts of their faces pierced. Every other word that came out of their mouths was ‘fuck’ or ‘shit.’

I decided to go for a stall, feeling a little uncomfortable with those three creeps loitering around. Jesse just stood near the door. I guess he didn’t really need to go.

Once my stream started and I was feeling a little relief, I noticed the high schoolers weren’t laughing and joking anymore. The tone of their voices had become more controlled and more serious. I felt a wave of fear surge through my body. I flushed the toilet and came out to see these three big guys looming over Jesse, who looked like a ten year old next to them.

“Hey, it’s that little fuck we saw wanderin’ around before!” one of them said.

“Yeah, wouldn’t let us check out his fuckin’ backpack,” another one added.

“We seen you wanderin’ around and around,” the third one, who seemed like the leader, said. He had a grey wool beanie over his closely shaven head, and was the tallest of the three. “Why would a little fucker like you be wanderin’ round and ‘round the fuckin’ mall with a backpack on? What you been stuffin’ in there?”

“Nothing!” Jesse said. I could tell he was trying to sound brave, but his voice just seemed thin and childish now. I was really getting scared. So far, they seemed to be ignoring me. I thought about getting out my cellphone, but who could I call that could get here fast enough to prevent trouble? And why would those guys just stand around waiting for my call to go through?

“Probably got some CD’s and some DVD’s and shit like that, huh? Any kid who’s gotta wear his school clothes to the fuckin’ mall probably ain’t got much cash to throw around--am I right?” the leader asked pointedly.

”Perry, let’s go!” Jesse called bravely, ignoring the thugs’ taunts.

“What’s your rush?” the leader asked in an undeniably threatening voice.

“Just show us what’s in the fuckin’ backpack and you and your little girlfriend can run home to your mommies!” the heaviest one offered, a very unpleasant grin on his acne ridden face.

”It’s just my school stuff!” Jesse said, finally pulling the backpack down off his shoulders. He opened it up for them and one of the thugs grabbed it and started rifling through it.

“Fuck--he’s right--just school shit!” he said angrily.

“I can’t help but be disappointed,” the leader said, sounding like a bad impersonation of a Mafia boss. He gave Jesse a sudden shove, pushing my friend harshly against the wall next to the blow dryers. I think I felt the jolt almost as much as Jesse.

“Leave him alone, you bastards!” I said in as brash a voice as I could muster, even though the quiver of fear came through loud and clear. I wasn’t scaring anybody, that’s for sure.

“Stay out of this, little girl,” the shortest one said, not even bothering to look at me.

The leader grabbed Jesse by the front of his collar and pulled him forward, pushing his flat nosed puss into Jesse’s angelic face. “Got anything for us, you little prick?”

“You’d better knock it off before someone comes in here!” Jesse warned them.

This seemed to actually get to them, but instead of letting Jesse go, the leader gestured for the short one to go out and stand watch. Of course, the heavy set guy, who probably weighed in around two hundred and forty pounds, stood by his leader, his arms crossed. His wide flat face seemed to dwarf the backwards baseball cap on his shaven head. When the other stooge left, the leader forcefully swung Jesse around, slamming him into the door of one of the stalls, just a couple of yards from where I was standing. It banged shut as Jesse hit it.

“Leave him alone!” I shouted, and with no thought as to the implications of what I was doing, lunged for the guy.

The heavy set guy moved in, easily slamming me against another stall. I now knew what they meant when they said someone was built like a brick wall. Before I could recover, he slammed his fist into my stomach. I was already feeling a little queasy from the big dinner and the popcorn, and I felt the bile rise in my throat, although I didn’t actually throw up, thank goodness. I doubled over in pain and groaned loudly, surprising myself with the loudness of my exclamation. I had never felt such a powerful jolt before, and it hurt like hell.

As I blearily looked up through the tears that were forming in my eyes, I saw the guy pull his fist back, intending to pop me in the jaw no doubt. Then--he was gone, vanished from my field of vision. I leaned against the stall, holding my stomach, trying to get my breath, and was shocked to see the guy who had been about to slam his fist into my jaw, slumped in front of the sinks.

I turned to see the leader taking a swing at Jesse’s head and couldn’t believe what happened next. Jesse easily dodged the swing and stepped back. The high schooler quickly lunged forward, swinging away with his other huge, hairy fist. Jesse blocked the guy’s fist, pushing the attacking arm out of the way. In almost the same instant, he brought his knee up into the guy’s groin--hard! The big guy crumpled over in agony, his narrow face reflecting both pain and surprise.

“Let’s get out of here!” Jesse gasped breathlessly, scooping up his backpack, and not looking to see if I was following.

The lookout guy was shocked to see us come out.

“I think your friends had too much to drink or something,” Jesse muttered as we walked quickly past. His face was very serious as he spoke.

We walked quickly until we got to the mall entrance. My mom wouldn’t be here for probably another ten minutes or so. The sensible thing would have been to find the nearest security guard, but I was too stunned to think about that until much later. Right now, I had to know who this boy was standing next to me, the boy I thought was just a cute, bashful, kid who, I realized now, I was falling in love with. I seriously wondered if I had seen him in one of those Three Ninjas movies!

“Dude, what the fuck was that all about?” I asked in total awe, for the moment completely forgetting my own fear and the pain in my gut.

I could tell that Jesse was really wired. He had been afraid too, but had still been able to handle those two bullies with what seemed like the greatest of ease.

“Nothing,” he muttered as we stood just inside the glass doors. “I should have gotten us out of there right away. I knew those guys were trouble. I’m so sorry, Perry, really!” There were tears in his eyes! I couldn't believe it--he was apologizing to me!

“Fuck that!” I said, feeling angry that the kid who just saved my ass was apologizing to me. “What you did was...just amazing!” I said, finding myself grasping for the right words to express everything that was spinning around in my head just then.

“Those guys were hassling me before...before I met up with you and your mom. It’s totally my fault you got hurt!” The tears were now flowing down his flushed cheeks, his sapphire blue eyes glistening with moisture.

My heart ached to see his pain. “Aw, man! You didn’t know what those morons were gonna do,” I insisted. “I mean, anyone smaller than them could’ve walked in and those bullies would’ve pounded on them. They were total dickheads!” There were tears in my eyes now, and not from the lingering pain in my gut.

Without even thinking about it, I threw my arms around Jesse’s shoulders and over his backpack. My arms slid down and found their way under his backpack to his hard, smooth back. I pulled him towards me until our chests touched. Our faces were side by side.

“You were so cool in there, Jesse, so fucking awesome!” I whispered right into his ear. “You saved me!”

Jesse didn’t say anything, but I could feel his body trembling. Slowly, his arms came up and embraced me. I can tell you truthfully, that I had no sexual feelings at that moment. It was just such an incredibly wonderful, comforting feeling to hold and be held by Jesse like that. It was a moment I would never forget...

We were just starting to recover a little of our wits, when we heard voices from down the hall .

“There they are, those little fuckers!” a familiar voice growled.

We let each other go and turned in time to see the three goons making their way deliberately towards us, the looks on their faces unmistakably dark and threatening.

“Oh no,” Jesse moaned. Even though I had seen him do those incredible things in the bathroom, I was worried that he was so overcome with emotion, that he might not be in full command of those amazing abilities right now. We backed towards the big glass doors together and almost lost our footing as they swung open. We stumbled outside. There were still people showing up for the later shows, but I was still really scared. These guys were bullies--extremely pissed off bullies. Would they really think twice about exacting their revenge, regardless of the potential witnesses all around? That wasn’t a chance I was willing to take, and I could sense that Jesse felt the same way. We began to walk at a brisk pace into the parking lot. I had a pretty good idea where my mom would be pulling in and I started heading that way.

After only a minute, we heard the pounding of many feet on the hard pavement. The three high schoolers, looking even more sinister as the harsh lighting of the parking lot reflected off their dark clothing and glinted off their jangling chains, were closing in. They were blindly enraged and they meant to get their vengence, come hell or high water.

“Run for it,” Jesse said quietly. He suddenly stopped and turned around. There was no fucking way I was just going to abandon my friend, so I stopped too. I was trying to imagine myself doing some of the incredible things that I had seen Jesse do in the bathroom, but I felt weak, like all the strength was being drained from my body by fear and panic.

“Get out of here!” Jesse said angrily. “I can take care of myself!” He sounded so noble and brave, it sent chills down my spine!

“You know I can’t leave you,” I said quietly, as the three thugs approached. I felt sure that we were going to get the crap beaten out of us. I felt an urgent and desperate need to let Jesse know how I felt about him.

“Jesse, I just wanted to tell you how much I...”

Just then, the three bullies were suddenly lit up by an oncoming vehicle. They stopped in their tracks, surprised to have the spotlight thrown on them like that. I heard the car beep its horn. I turned to see my mom’s Lexus puling up. I grabbed Jesse and pulled him into the backseat with me. When we drove past those three brutes, I just put my head down. I didn’t need to see their ugly, snarling faces again.

“That was close,” I said with a trembling voice.

“What was that, hon?” my mom asked.

I quickly realized that my mom hadn’t even noticed we were being chased. To her, it must have looked like we were just standing there in the parking lot, waiting for her. It had just been a fortunate coincidence that she had shown up in the nick of time.

Jesse and I looked at each other. We both looked pretty shaken up, and we both had eyes still glistening with lingering tears, but it was dark and I guess my mom hadn’t noticed. Thank goodness! I got out my handkerchief and offered it to Jesse. He took it gratefully and wiped his eyes. Then I dabbed my own.

“How was the movie?” my mom asked , blissfully ignorant of our close call, as she maneuvered out of the sprawling parking lot.

“Pretty good,” I answered in as calm a voice as I could muster. My whole body was still shaking, both with fear and the memory of holding Jesse close to me. Both experiences seemed equally as powerful, now that we were out of danger. My gut still ached a little, but I knew that I’d recover from that soon enough.

“You boys are being awfully quiet,” my mom chided.

“Just a little tired, I guess,” I answered truthfully.

My mom drove us out to Jesse’s neighborhood and insisted that Jesse tell us exactly which building to pull up to. We actually drove several blocks down from where we had first dropped him off. There was no question that we were in a ‘different’ part of town. The lights seemed dimmer, the streets narrower, the shadows darker. In this area, there weren’t even any of those small houses that you could still find around Maple, just row after row of small to medium sized apartment buildings.

“It’s the next one,” he said, pointing to one of the smaller, two story buildings. It had a short driveway in front that led down to a partially sunken parking garage, which was barred by a heavy black gate.

Jesse opened the door as soon as the car came to a stop. He grabbed his backpack and got out.

“Thanks, Mrs. Thompson,” he said. Only then did he turn to speak to me for the first time since we had gotten in the car. “Thanks, Perry--I...uh...call me tomorrow, please?”

And with that, he was bounding up the stairs to the second level of the building, where we soon lost sight of him.

I still didn’t know exactly where he lived, but I made a mental note of the address. We drove home in silence, my head spinning with everything that had happened.

I had been afraid that I’d spend the night having one nightmare after the other. Instead, I slept like a rock. It was after nine when I first glanced bleary eyed at my alarm clock. I was surprised to have slept so long and so soundly. Still, I had nothing I had to get up for. I vaguely remembered my mom saying that we needed to go shopping for something, but I couldn’t remember if it was groceries, clothes, or a speed boat. I’d find out soon enough, but for now, I sat up in bed, pressed #2 on my cell phone (#1 was my mom’s work!) and listened to the phone ringing on the other end.

It was Jesse who answered and he sounded very groggy. I could hear the raucous music and sound effects of some frantic cartoon show playing in the background.

“Hey, dude!” he croaked in a raspy morning voice that sounded incredibly cute. He sounded like he was half whispering and I suspected that his mom was probably still asleep. I cursed myself for being so over anxious.

“Hey, I’m sorry to call so early, Jesse. Did I wake you up? Is your mom still sleeping?”

There was a sly sounding giggle on the other end, followed by a quick dry cough. Jesse cleared his throat. “She got back from her date really late!” he said in a conspiratorial voice.

I didn’t know how to respond to that. I knew his mom was alone just like mine, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that they could date...just like normal people. It seemed to make Jesse happy though, so I just went along with it.

Okaaaay...” I said, stretching the word out in what I hoped was a ‘thanks for too much information,’ kind of effect.

Jesse giggled a little again. “It’s just that she works so hard, I’m glad when she goes out and has a good time.”

”Yeah, it’s just that I never thought about our moms dating,” I said, still not real comfortable with the idea. But on to more important things.... "Anyway, about last night...” I started.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about what happened!” Jesse blurted out, and I could hear that outpouring of concern and guilt flood his voice in a slightly more subdued version of last night’s hysterics.

“Hey, I’m okay, dude, I promise!” I assured him. “I was aching more from all the popcorn and soda and shit than from that jab!” I laughed to let him know that I had no ill feelings.

“Well, that should have never happened, and I’m so sorry...”

“Don’t start that again, you dork!” I cut him off. “What I want to know is, who are you--Jesse Chan Junior or something?” It was a stupid joke but I expected to get at least a chuckle out of it. Instead, there was a pause on the other end.

“Uh, that was just the result of a little adrenaline rush,” he explained awkwardly.

“You knocked those guys around like they were rag dolls!” I said, not trying in the least to hide the admiration in my voice.

“Well, I took karate for a few years back home,” Jesse explained reluctantly.

“What are you, dude? Like what belt?” I asked.

“Oh, um...I’m a blackbelt...”

”You’re a fucking blackbelt!” I exclaimed, much louder than I had intended. I hunkered down further into my bed and lowered my voice. “That is so cool!”

“Well, where I came from, you had to do something to protect yourself. The lessons weren’t cheap but my mom worked extra hard-- as usual.”

“It sure paid off in a big way!” I said excitedly.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think last night was anything to be proud of. I walked into a trap and I let you just go take a leak as if there was nothing to worry about. I don’t know why I didn’t just grab you and push us both out the door as soon as I saw those guys. I guess I thought that here, maybe things would be a little different...” His voice trailed off sadly.

“It is different here, dude!” I insisted. “Back home you didn’t have me!” It was the closest I had come to actually expressing the intensity of my feelings for him. And then I remembered about last night, before we were about to get pounded into the mall parking lot. I wondered if I should say anything...

“You’re right about that,” he said, and I wasn’t quite sure if that was meant as a compliment or what.

“Anyway...” I started hesitantly. “I was starting to say something last night...but...uh...” I was stammering now, feeling like I had walked into a trap of my own making.

“You mean, just before your mom pulled up?” Jesse asked in a very innocent voice.

I felt a shudder go through my body. What was I going to tell him? Why was it so hard to just say what I was going to say last night? Was I afraid he’d think I was gay? Probably--but maybe I was for all I knew then. I was only thirteen (for two more months) for christssakes! The prospect of being gay paled in comparison to the overwhelming need I had to have Jesse in my life.

I swallowed hard and felt my heart thumping away in my chest. What could I say that was meaningful? I knew I wanted to say something to express the powerful feelings that had begun to evolve ever since he first walked into class. But last night, I was giddy with adrenaline, thrilled at Jesse’s daring do, and emotionally raw. Now I felt inhibited. What if I said the wrong thing and completely turned Jesse off? I couldn’t take that chance--not yet--not before we got to know each other a little better.

“I...uh...just wanted to say...you know, I was scared shitless and...” I stammered. “I just wanted to say how glad I was that you were there to save my ass! You were un-freakin’-believable!” I thought that sounded convincing, and hoped Jesse would to.

I heard a sigh on the other end. “Yeah, okay. I laid out a couple of morons who were asking for it. I hate violence and I hate hurting people--even jerks like that--it never turns out good in the end, so maybe the best thing is to just let it go.”

I was a little disappointed to have my hero berate himself so harshly. But I could tell he meant what he said about letting it go.

“And Perry, please don’t say anything to anyone about that...blackbelt stuff, ‘kay? Please?”

I had to admit, I was a little disappointed. I had been ready to tell my mom, to call Morgan, Tom, and Gene, and brag to everyone who would listen, how I saw Jesse dispatch two huge high schoolers without breaking a sweat.

“Okay, dude,” I sighed reluctantly. “But I just want to say thanks for saving my sorry ass, and...and...” I struggled to say something more substantial. “And that... that I’m really glad you’re my friend.”

There was a pause on the other end. “That’s cool,” Jesse said quietly, obviously touched by my words.

“So, are we going to be able to spend some time together over the weekend?” I asked hopefully.

“Well, I’d like to...” Jesse said, letting the sentence dangle.

“You could come over, if you want,” I suggested, feeling my body get all tingly at the thought of Jesse being in my house.

“I think I’d better just wait until my mom wakes up. It depends what she’s got in mind. She doesn’t get many Saturday’s off.”

I was really touched by that, and felt an even stronger desire to get to know this boy better. I was disappointed that we probably wouldn’t be seeing each other again until Monday, but at least I still felt Jesse’s warmth over the phone.

“You are amazing, Jesse,” I said in a quiet voice full of admiration. “I really enjoyed hanging with you last night.”

“Even the part where you got punched in the stomach?” he asked, teasing me a little.

“I have to admit, that was some pretty serious shit for a dorky suburban boy like me.”

”I think you handled it pretty well,” Jesse remarked. “I bet there’s a scrappy street kid buried somewhere in there, just bursting to throw a brick through a store window or two.”

I realized that last night, I had witnessed something from Jesse’s past. Maybe his life in Illinois had been difficult. Apparently his father was out of the picture, although I didn’t yet know why. I thought about asking, but something told me that Jesse would reveal that information when the time was right for him.

“I don’t know about that, but I bet no one messed with you back in Illinois...”

“Oh, you’d be surprised...” Jesse answered enigmatically. I detected a hint of pain even though he was trying to sound flippant. I realized that it was probably best to take things slowly when it came to Jesse’s past. But now that I felt we had truly bonded, both through my little fit of hysterics at school, and our amazing adventure at the mall yesterday, it seemed like there was hope for us after all. I had such a good feeling about Jesse and me.

Maybe I’ll call you tomorrow,” Jesse said, but it didn’t sound like that was going to be real likely. Of course I understood that his mom came first. That was totally cool with me.

“Call, dude!” I urged him.

“’Kay,” he answered simply. “See ya.” And he hung up.

I lay back in bed for another half hour. I was hard again (of course), but determined not to soil another pair of boxers. I got up long enough to find an old towel in the hamper that wasn’t still damp and took it under the covers with me. I thought about our embrace and how Jesse was shivering with emotion and how it felt to have his chest pressed up against mine...

The next morning I got dressed in my Sunday best and went with my mom to church--good ol’ St. Agnus, a rather dark and dreary old building. She loved to sing and sat upstairs with the rest of the choir. I sat close to her in the balcony with the families of other choir members. Father Mike, the younger of the two priests of this parish, was giving Mass today. There was actually some nice things in his sermon about the devotion of parents to their children and the respect and honesty that was required in return by those children towards their parents. I actually stayed interested for most of it, and only drifted off a couple of times, mostly wondering if Jesse would call. Right after church I checked the voice mail both on my cellphone and our home phone. No Jesse.

We went to a pretty fancy brunch with a friend of my mom’s who also sang in the choir. She was one of those big busted women who could shatter chandeliers with their high notes. She had a little brat of a kid named Tyler. He was nine or ten I think, and kept looking through his little sack full of Digimon cards. All during brunch, he kept showing me different cards and telling me about the creatures and how rare the cards were and on and on, and I just smiled and tried to be tolerant. Finally it was over. We were both stuffed. They had one of the best omelette and waffle bars I had ever encountered, and I had probably overdone it a little...or maybe a lot!

When we got home, I plodded to my room and got out of my Sunday clothes as quickly as possible, even taking off my black socks and T-shirt. I just lay on top of the bed for a little while , dressed only in my boxers. I didn’t even take the precaution of locking my door. I just lay there like a bloated whale, wondering how I would ever digest all that food, when my cellphone rang...

“Hello?” I asked with nervous anticipation. I could tell, just by the little inhale on the other end, who it was.

“Hey, Perry,” that sweet voice said. He sounded a bit distracted, like he wasn’t at home.

“Where are you?” I asked curiously, just lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, the phone pressed to my ear.

“My aunt’s house in Oceanside,” he answered heavily. Obviously, this was not where he wanted to be. I could here the voices of several young children in the background and I immediately sympathized.

“No one our age there?” I asked.

“Just one--a girl,” he said unenthusiastically.

This was enough to get me seriously thinking that maybe Jesse was like me! If he was, I mean, even a little...that would be so awesome! I wanted to tell him right then and there how I felt about him, but I knew this wasn’t the time, and I had already worked out my big plan to get together with him.

“Is she hot?” I asked somewhat facetiously. Most girls our age didn’t do much for me, but the ones who did, like Katy Mulroney, definitely kept me on the fence as far as my overall sexual preferences were concerned. I figured I still had a few years to work that stuff out. Right now, the only thing that mattered were my feelings for Jesse.

“Short, pudgy, thick glasses...a real brainiac,” Jesse said with obvious annoyance. “I think she’s got a crush on me or something. She keeps following me around, trying to start conversations...” He sighed in frustration.

“Who can blame her?” I said, and then giggled, hoping that Jesse wouldn’t take that remark too seriously! Not yet, at least.

“Anyway, I wish I could come over, dude,” he said, “but that ain’t going to happen...” His voice trailed off and I could here the other kids shouting in the background.

“But that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, dude!” I said excitedly. “I haven’t had a chance because of all the excitement on Friday, but you know, the Friday after next is a half day--teachers stay, we play!”

“Cool!” Jesse said, apparently unaware of this little bonus.

“It makes it sort of a three day weekend, with Columbus Day on Monday. My mom’ll be home that day--but she has to work the Friday before...”

“I see...” Jesse said, still not catching on.

“And I was really hoping you could come home with me after school, and spend the afternoon...”

There was a long, pause on the other end, filled with the random noise of small kids playing in the background. “I’ll...I’ll have to ask my mom...” Jesse stammered. His nervousness was obvious. I prayed that he was as excited as I was! Was it possible he had the same strong feelings for me as I did for him? Even if he was feeling only half of what I was, it would still be the most thrilling thing to ever happen in my life! I wanted to be with him in any way possible, and I really wanted to express my true feelings to him! I just wanted the moment to be right. And having all that Friday afternoon together--alone--I was determined that the right moment would be there someplace. And if it turned out he wasn’t like that, I was still determined to be good friends with him--as frustrating as that would be for me.

“Yeah, well just let me know, dude,” I said, struggling to keep my voice calm.

“I really want to come...” Jesse managed to say. “Oh, shit...”

“Oh shit what?” I asked.

“It’s Amanda--that girl I told you about. She’s standing across the room staring at me. I have to go, dude! Later!”

And with that, our conversation was ended. I got up and put on my favorite Calvin Klein jeans and a T-shirt and went out to help my mom putter around in the backyard. Laying around definitely wasn’t helping my digestion any!

I had only been out for about ten minutes, down on my knees pulling some weeds from one of the flowerbeds, when I heard my cellphone ring, back in my room. I ran for the house, clumsily brushing the dirt off my hands and knees as I went, hearing my mom scream something about not tracking dirt in the house. I bounded up the stairs and grabbed the phone before it rang four times, at which point it would go to voice mail.

“Hello?” I asked, gasping for breath.

“Perry--dude?” Jesse’s puzzled voice asked. “Why are you breathing like that?”

”I was just outside helping my mom in the garden,” I said breathlessly.

“Garden? That must be cool to have a garden...”

It always caught me by surprise, the things that impressed Jesse that I just took for granted. There was that awkward, rich boy/poor boy thing that made me cringe. Still, I had to admit that overall, Jesse handled that quite well. He seemed to know when it was okay to take and when it was right to refuse. He seemed impressed by the things I had, but he didn’t sound envious--well, not very. I hoped he wasn’t really jealous or resentful of me--that would have hurt too much, but I could also understand if he had those feelings. It was probably something we should talk about in depth at some point, but right now, it was low on my list of priorities.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Oh, I...uh...asked my mom about Friday...and she said it would be okay as long as it was okay with your mom!”

My heart, which had already been pounding away from my dash into the house and up the stairs, nearly doubled its rate! I couldn’t think of anything to say! I had wanted this so badly, that I couldn’t even imagine what I would have done if he had said he couldn’t make it. And he had called back right away, so he must really want to come over!

“Hello...?” Jesse asked after a long silence.

“That’s totally awesome,” I said, hoping that throwing around a few macho words would make me sound less girlie than I was actually feeling at the moment. I was practically gushing with excitement and anticipation. How would I get through the next two weeks, waiting for that Friday afternoon?

“Okay then...” Jesse said. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, right?”

“You bet. I can’t wait for you to come over, dude!” And then I added, “I have a lot of cool stuff to show you!” I know that sounded stupid, but I felt like I had to add something so that it didn’t sound like I was just going gaga over him. On the other hand, it must have sounded like I was flaunting the things I had that he probably didn’t, and I cringed yet again. I was determined to be more careful about the things I said, otherwise Jesse would think I was some kind of spoiled rich kid or something. “I mean, I have a lot of video games and shit--it’ll be fun!” I finished awkwardly.

“I know it will,” Jesse answered. I could tell he was also trying not to sound overly excited. “Okay, gotta go. See ya on Monday!”

Jesse was coming over to my house! It would be great! I had so many things I wanted to talk to him about. And then there were all the things I wanted to do with him that didn’t involve any talking! It was still almost two weeks away, but I couldn’t wait!

I have received many favorable responses to the story thus far. Thank you, they are very encouraging.

Comments and constructive criticism are welcome: underthehoodster@netscape.net

Copyright © 2011 underthehoodster; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I like this story very much and I like the humor in the story. Perry and Jesse starting to grow on me.

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This chapter highlights the financial gulf between the two boys and their respective families but Jesse is able to pay Perry back for the meal and save his future boyfriend with some heroics after the show.

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One does not have to be fourteen to feel giddy when love walks in the door, it can happen at any time. Enjoying the story as the layers of social differences are appealed back. The Bruce Lee karate kid was a big surprise

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