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Choices - 8. Chapter 8

Part III Choices


Chapter 8 Rummage Sale Pt.II


It seemed like it had been days, rather than the hour or so that had actually transpired since I first headed for the john. Life at the rummage sale seemed to be going on much as it had when I left. It didn't seem like anyone had missed us...

“There you boys are!” I heard an elderly voice say. I looked around until I saw Mrs. Jenkins waving to us from the cashier’s table.

“Sorry, Mrs. Jenkins,” I apologized as we walked over. “I uh...had to show Jesse where the bathroom was--he’s never been here before.”

“Of course, I understand,” Mrs. Jenkins said with a smile that barely stretched her sagging double chin. “Are you boys okay?” she asked with sudden concern as we got closer.

Jesse and I looked at each other, but we both seemed reasonably intact--hair and clothes-wise--considering what we had just been through. My cheek was probably still a little red from where Goreski had slapped me, because it still felt warm and kind of numb. We did look a little harried for sure, and were sweating more than a stroll to the bathroom would warrant. I took a deep breath, trying to clear my lungs of the musty basement air.

“I told you we shouldn’t have drank all that coffee,” Jesse said, playfully bumping me with his shoulder.

“Oh yeah...I guess that wasn’t such a good idea after all,” I said, slowly catching on to Jesse's little fib.

“You boys are too young to be drinking coffee!” Mrs. Jenkins declared.

We both nodded sheepishly. Everything felt so normal again that it made me want to smile. I wanted so badly to believe that the terrible business with Goreski had never happened, but the horrible images of that last hour were burned strongly into my brain.

I was so glad to have Jesse here by my side. I so clearly drew strength from his presence, ands it seemed like it should be visible as some physical distortion in the atmosphere between us. Looking at my beautiful blond angel, standing there smiling sheepishly for Mrs. Jenkins sake, it was hard to believe that he had just taken out a two hundred and fifty pound brute in the bathroom just down the hall.

A weary looking mother with two small kids was standing impatiently by the cashier's table, three big boxes of clothes and shoes sitting on the floor next to her.

"Could you help Mrs. Porcano with these boxes?" Mrs. Jenkins asked us kindly.

"Yes ma'am!" Jesse said enthusiastically, as he reached down to stack one box on top of the other.

I picked up the other box and we followed Mrs. Porcano out to her car.

I took a deep breath of the fresh and chilly air as we stepped outside and headed across the bustling parking lot. Again, I wanted to convince myself that the incident with Goreski just couldn't have happened. People couldn't just grab you and force you to do horrible, disgusting things whenever they felt like it, could they?

As we loaded the boxes into Mrs. Porcano's beat up old Corolla hatchback, I couldn't help glancing around, looking for...him...the hulking brute...the vengeful monster...

"You okay?" Jesse asked, touching me lightly on the arm.

I nodded, giving him an apprehensive smile. Jesse closed the hatchback and we headed back inside.

"Even if he's still here, he won't try anything," Jesse assured me. "He's going to go off and stew about it. It's going to be hard for him, trying to explain to his friends what happened…"

"Yeah, like this really cute thirteen year old kid came in while he was taking a piss and knocked him on his ass!" I laughed, looking at my friend with the highest esteem.

Jesse stopped and turned to me, the look on his face pensive. "Don't say that, okay?" he requested gently. "It doesn't feel good, hurting people like that..."

"But that guy, he totally deserved it!" I insisted.

"You're right, he did," Jesse agreed uneasily. "But it doesn't make me feel good about what I did--does that make any sense?"

Of course it did. My beautiful friend was a kind and sensitive soul. The thought of harming another person was abhorrent to him. It riddled him with guilt. I'm sure in Jesse's mind, his amazing martial arts abilities were more a curse than a gift. Still, remembering what my mom had said a couple of weeks ago, it was only that he was complicated, not troubled...

"I know you don't feel good about it, but...you've saved me twice!" I reminded him. "That was a good thing...I think," I added hesitantly.

"Of course it was," Jesse said with a warm and loving smile.

When we went back inside, Father Mike was waiting for us. He took us to a quiet table to talk. His gentle smile gave no indication of what he was going to say. Had he heard everything? Had he called Fred’s parents and told them what Jesse had done to him?

“Well, it seems like Fred Goreski has bailed on us,” he said calmly.

We just looked at him, knowing it was best to say as little as possible.

“Apparently he fell suddenly ill. His friend Arnie Hollister volunteered to take him home.”

”Did you see Fred?” Jesse asked cautiously.

Father Mike shook his head. “Just Mario Hernandez, another of Fred's close friends,” he said, his gentle smile now turning into a subtle frown. “I must say, I found his story a little puzzling, since Mr. Goreski seemed perfectly fine an hour ago...” Father Mike sighed. “Be that as it may, I just wanted to let you boys know that I’ve put someone else in charge of the youth volunteers.” He turned and waved his hand. Even though it seemed obvious, I was still surprised to see Gary slowly make his way over to us. He was definitely nervous, and I could tell there were a lot of things going on in his mind, because he would only glance up at us furtively as he worked his way past several tables and jostling shoppers.

“This is Gary Van Driesen,” Father Mike said, getting up as Gary approached. “He’s a junior at Holy Trinity--a fine addition to the varsity basketball team there. He's volunteered to take Fred’s place for the day.” He turned to Gary. “This is Perry Thompson and his friend, Jesse Taylor--Perry is quite the promising young basketball player himself,” he added with a friendly smile.

“Cool,” Gary mumbled, somewhat halfheartedly. While he looked like he had somewhat recovered from the physical pain of his encounter with Goreski, there was an unmistakable reddish splotch on his face, and he still seemed visibly shaken to my eyes.

Father Mike couldn’t help but notice that we were all looking a lot more uncomfortable than the situation warranted. Jesse, Gary, and I were all avoiding eye contact as much as possible.

“Is there something wrong, boys?” Father Mike asked.

I shrugged. “We're just sorry to hear about Fred--hope he gets better soon.”

”As do I. He was counting on getting those community service hours today. Now he’ll have to find something else, I suppose.” Father Mike took one more look at the three of us, still not sure what to make of our subdued reactions. “Well, I have so many other things to attend to--this is our biggest sale of the year, you know."

His gaze focused on the discolored patch on Gary's cheek. "Perhaps you should put some ice on that," he suggested. "And next time, don't try to move those large items without sufficient assistance!"

Gary nodded sheepishly. He must have told the Father some inocuous story to explain the injury.

"Well then, I’ll leave you boys to get to know each other a bit. God bless you and your labors!” And Father Mike quickly disappeared into the bustling crowd.

There was quite a long silence. Gary stood uncomfortably at the other end of the table where Jesse and I were sitting, our minds still reeling from our recent encounter with Fred Goreski.

“Hey, guys...” he mumbled in that distinctively smooth, low voice. His eyes kept darting around, but would occasionally fix on one of us briefly, before focusing elsewhere. “Could I talk to you...for a minute?” he asked, and there was a humility in his tone that made me again feel some sympathy for him, despite Jesse's misgivings.

I wasn’t surprised to hear he was into basketball, as he was well over six feet tall, and it made me feel like we had something in common. The sincerity of his concern for me made me wonder why he'd be hanging out with a guy like Goreski, who was all about being the center of attention and having people grovel around him.

“Sit,” Jesse said quietly.

Gary nodded gratefully. He sat on my side of the table, and near enough to us that he could speak in a low voice amidst all the din of the large hall.

“Look,” he said, daring to make firm eye contact with each of us for the first time, “I know what I did was wrong. I knew exactly what Fred had in mind, and I should've never let it get as far as it did. It was one of the stupidest things I ever did, and for what it’s worth, I really want to apologize, okay?” He looked at us, waiting for some kind of absolution.

“Don't worry about it," I said, even though I was still really shaken up. "Maybe I overreacted to the whole situation--I mean, Goreski didn't seem to think it was a big deal at all. Maybe I was getting all girlie and freaked out for nothing..." I didn't really believe that, but I also didn't want Gary to feel bad about it. In the end, he had saved me, and I couldn't help but be grateful to him for that, especially considering he had ended up getting pretty banged up in the process.

Jesse looked like he wanted to say something, but he held his tongue.

Gary looked at me with a thin smile on his beleaguered face. "Perry, I don't even know you, but somehow I just get the sense that you're an incredibly awesome person," he said quietly.

I felt myself blush. I didn't feel very awesome. Instead of whining like a baby, I should have stood up to Goreski, pushed him away, stomped on his foot, did something more proactive than just whimpering and hoping Jesse would come to my rescue.

"That's not true," I replied softy.

I felt Jesse's hand touch my thigh under the table. I wasn't sure if Gary could see it or not, but at that moment, I didn't really care.

"What are you doing hanging out with a jerk like Goreski?" Jesse asked skeptically.

Gary shrugged helplessly. “Fred’s pretty hot stuff around school. It's like a big fuckin' deal to be seen with him--ya know? I never thought I'd be hangin' with him--he automatically looks down on anyone who's not a senior--but then I started dating this girl, Theresa Hernandez--she's a senior, a few months ago. We were getting along pretty well, so she introduced me to her brother, Mario, who's one of Gary's--I don't know if you'd call him a friend or not--but like one of his crew, I guess." Gary half raised himself from the table and looked around, then sat back down. "Don't see him now, but I'm pretty sure he's still here..."

"You need to point him out for us," Jesse insisted.

Gary nodded in understanding. "Anyway, Mario and Arnie would do anything for Fred--they practically worship him..." Gary shook his head slowly, as if he were having a hard time accepting that the guy he had admired had turned out to be such an incredible monster.

"Mario introduced me to Fred--told him I was on my way to being starting center for the varsity basketball team, and he kinda took a liking to me and I guess it made me feel important--I’m like one of the few juniors he allows to hang out with him.” He looked at me with those deep, piercing eyes, which I now saw in the better illumination of the hall, were actually a very dark brown. His jet black eyebrows only helped to add to his darkly intriguing appearance. For some reason, I compared him in my mind with Jason Tarentino, whom we had only met briefly last night. They were so different, and yet both of them seemed to go out of their way to treat Jesse and I like human beings, rather than dismiss us, as most older kids did, as annoying little punks.

“I don’t see what the attraction is!” Jesse said with obvious distaste. This street tough, bitter side of Jesse scared me. I shuddered to think what kind of damage he could do with his amazing abilities if he wasn’t such a purely good person at heart. Life had dealt with him so unfairly to this point, that it really blew me away to think that Jesse could still have such a noble and caring outlook after all he had been through.

“Hmmm, well, after today, Fred’s really going to have a lot of problems to deal with at school,” Gary said thoughtfully. “So maybe you can take some comfort from that.”

”Do you think I enjoyed hurting him?” Jesse asked through gritted teeth , barely able to keep a calm demeanor.

“Hey, I didn’t mean anything by that!” Gary insisted, holding his hands palm up to fend off Jesse’s angry accusations. “He deserved everything he got. He really was out of line...” Gary shook his head in dismay. “Look, none of us really wanted to be here today, so fuckin’ early in the morning, wasting our Saturday like this," he admitted, "but we all had neglected putting in our service hours this semester--you know what they are?”

I nodded since it seemed self evident to me. Jesse remained expressionless, his beautiful features frozen in a mask of hidden emotions.

"So I guess Fred was just itching to stir things up a little. He's so used to getting his way..." Gary shook his head. "Well...he got what he deserved, and what you did Jesse, was just incredible--I've never seen anything like it, except maybe in a movie or something."

"It's not a movie; it's real life, and people get hurt, and they get humiliated, and angry..." Jesse said bitterly.

Gary looked at me in disbelief, then back at Jesse. “Look, Jesse, I’m so sorry that this happened, but he had it comin'! It’s not like you did any serious damage, even though I’m sure you could've if you wanted to. I'm sure he walked away, maybe rubbing his sore ass a little. Shit--Fred’s a fuckin’ wrestler--he’s used to getting knocked around!” he said and smiled sardonically. “Knowing Goreski, you hurt his ego more than anything else.”

"That's what I'm afraid of," Jesse said worriedly.

"Look, guys, I'll do my best to keep an eye on Goreski. I doubt that he'll let me hang with him any more--even if I wanted to, but hopefully I'll still be on good terms with Theresa. She'll know what those guys are up to."

Jesse said nothing, and my heart was aching so badly for him that I thought I might cry out, right there in front of everybody. With more restraint than I thought I could muster, I managed to place a friendly hand on his shoulder and give it a squeeze. I hoped that it didn’t look like anything more than a simple gesture of friendship and support. Jesse didn’t look up at me, but he didn’t brush me off either.

“You two must be really close,” Gary said with genuine admiration.

I nodded and felt Jesse squeezing my thigh under the table…

“Yeah, I can see that...it’s totally cool,” Gary said approvingly. There was an awkward moment of silence, and he still seemed uneasy.

Jesse slowly took his hand back. "There's more than you're telling us," he said quietly.

Gary looked at him like he didn't know what Jesse was talking about, but the younger boy's icy blue eyes seemed to bore into him. Then the high schooler's expression changed. It was as if Jesse had uncovered some secret he had been trying to hide. Now there was something like fear in Gary's expressive eyes.

I wanted to tell Jesse to take it easy on the guy. After all, he had overcome his own fears to come to my aid, not to mention the mess he had made of his own social status at school.

"Okay," Gary said in such a quiet voice that I could barely hear him over the ambient hubbub of the busy social hall. "The truth is, when Fred said he was going to get him some, he asked if I was...interested..." Gary's eyes dropped to the table top. "...And I said...yes..."

I saw Jesse stiffen, and again he reminded me of a cat with it's back arched. I couldn't believe what I had heard. Gary wanted what Fred wanted? He had just been waiting outside the can for his turn? My stomach, which had just begun to settle down, turned queasy again.

"You have to believe me--I've never done anything like that before. I mean, Goreski--everyone knows he does it...keeps the freshmen trembling in their sneakers..."

I sensed Jesse bristling next to me. I also sensed that he was biting his tongue, giving Gary free rein to confess his sin.

"I'm sorry, Perry," Gary said, his eyes moist, "I don't know what got into me. I guess that...I don't know. I couldn't take my eyes off you two during our first meeting with Father Mike this morning. I mean...I'm not...like that...I have a girlfriend for fuck's sake, but..." His voice had trailed off to an inaudible whisper and he seemed to be struggling to hold back the tears. His hands were resting on the table top, so tightly clasped that his fingers were turning white.

Jesse was now looking at me. He too seemed on the verge of tears. Up until now, Jesse had obviously gone through great pains to keep his emotions hidden, allowing Gary to come to his own decision to confess, but now I could see everything from guilt to anger to sorrow, all playing across his expressive face. I knew he wanted me to say something, to tell Gary to go fuck off, or something, but I just couldn't do that. Van Driesen had come through for me, no matter what his original intentions may have been. My heart told me that he wasn't one of the bad guys...

"I...I think maybe you should go..." Jesse said softly, his raspy voice barely under control.

Nothing seemed to happen for a minute, and I refused to look up. Then Gary slowly got up and I could tell he wished he could say something to Jesse and me to explain himself, but he just stood there silently, looking sad and frustrated.

He sighed heavily. “Look guys, don’t you worry about work today. I’ve got everything covered. Go home if you want to...or just stay here and help Mrs. Jenkins out, that would be fine by me.” With that, Gary slowly turned and merged into the bustling crowd of the rummage sale.

"Are we going to just let him go?" I asked, sadly.

"You heard what he said," Jesse reminded me pointedly. "He wanted to do the same thing to you as Goreski did. It's disgusting...It makes me sick..." Jesse had bowed his head and his blond bangs hid his face from me.

"But in the end, he did the right thing..." I reminded him. "And he knew Goreski would be totally pissed--you could see the look in his eyes when Fred had him up against the sinks..."

I was surprised to hear Jesse laugh. It wasn't a warm, mirthful laugh, but more of a cold, throaty kind of sound.

"Jesse...?" I asked nervously, wishing I could see his face.

"You know what this is, don't you?" he asked, his head still bowed. He didn't wait for my reply. "It's the old--'the glass is half full--the glass is half empty' routine."


"I look at Gary and see his worst characteristics--his wanting to be part of the in crowd at school, his willingness to blindly follow a total moron like Goreski wherever he leads, his willingness to take a sweet, innocent boy..." Jesse's voice choked up at this point and he silently swallowed the rest of his words.

I was about to tell him yet again that I was okay now, but he started speaking again.

"...And you, dear Perry, see Gary as the guy who was willing to stand up to someone he was clearly intimidated by, willing to sacrifice his social standing, willing to overcome his own fears, in order to do the right thing...It's kinda funny isn't it?"

There was nothing funny about it, of course. And the thing of it was, I wasn't so sure that Jesse was entirely wrong. It was more like a weakness of mine, this gullibility, this need to see the good in everyone...

"Maybe we're both right...and both wrong..." I suggested. "Maybe all those things you said were true. Gary's just like everyone else--a mixture of good and bad things."

Jesse smiled lovingly at me and it filled me with some much needed warmth. "You look so cute when you're right," he said.

Looking at Jesse's beautiful face, I was starting to get hard again. Thank goodness, Mrs. Jenkins called us over. There were boxes to be carried and we both jumped to it, glad to have a break from our heavy conversation. It was nearly lunch time and the rummage sale was in full swing now. I kept glancing around of course, keeping an eye out for Fred Goreski, but I guess he really had taken off. I did occasionally catch a glimpse of Gary Van Driesen. He seemed to be taking his work very seriously, moving from one section to the other, giving instructions, but also jumping in himself, hauling boxes, computers, TV's, and even refrigerators to wherever they needed to be taken. I decided that I wanted to talk to him some more. It was just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to come up.

It was nearly one o'clock when Jesse and I had our first real break. While we were both aprehensive--especially me-- we had little choice but to use the restroom. We walked in on a couple of tall high schoolers smoking. One of them reminded me enough of Artim Khouladarian that I suspected they might be brothers. They seemed totally disinterested in us, but they made me nervous anyway. There was no sign of the scuffle that had taken place here just a few hours ago. We tried to hurry through our business and get out as quickly as possible.

When we returned to the main hall, Mrs. Jenkins had another load for us. There were quite a few boxes, and the woman who had bought the stuff looked pretty well off: sleek leather jacket, perfectly coiffured hairdo, manicure, make-up, and the whole nine yards. As we made the second trip out to her BMW, I wondered what a well heeled person like her would want with all these used clothes. Apparently she sensed my puzzlement (it must be my big stupid eyes, always giving my thoughts and feelings away!) and gave me an understanding smile.

“These clothes are for the Spousal Abuse Center in Escondido,” she explained. “I always send a truck full of clothing and other items to the women there just before Christmas. They’ve been forced to flee their own marriages because their husbands are so brutal. It’s just a frightful phenomenon.” And when the smile flickered slightly, it dawned on me, in a flash of Jesse-like insight, that she had gone through, or maybe was still going through, something like what she was describing. And perhaps, because her husband was rich and successful, a pillar of the community or whatever, she couldn’t or wouldn’t leave him. And this was her way of dealing with her own demons. Thinking about all the things Jesse and I had talked about this morning, it occurred to me that God truly was at work in the world, and that good could come from bad. I wished I could make Jesse see that somehow.

After the third load had her trunk and back seat full of boxes, the woman offered us each a twenty dollar bill. When we explained that we would accept the tips only with the understanding that we were going to donate everything to the church, she gave us both a hug. Then she reached in her purse and handed each of us another ten dollars each, insisting that we keep it for ourselves. I tried to protest, but she made us promise that we’d spend the extra money on ourselves. People could be so nice, sometimes. It really made up for scumbags like Fred Goreski or Julio and his crew.

“That was cool,” I said, feeling much better after that encounter.

“But it’s sad that she has to suffer with her own dark secret,” Jesse observed.

“Yeah, I sensed that too,” I said, stopping before we went back inside. “But I was thinking that it really shows that good things can come from bad things,” I said encouragingly, still thinking about Gary Van Driesen.

Jesse sighed, a slight smile playing across his face. “I guess you’d make a good priest,” he said.

“I could never be celibate,” I assured him.

“You could leave the rectory window open for me,” Jesse suggested.

Once again returning to what had become ‘our table,' in a relatively quiet corner of the bustling hall, we gratefully sipped a couple of Cokes the kitchen ladies had provided.

"Jesse, would you be upset if I talked to Gary...sometime?" I asked hesitantly.

"It has nothing to do with me," he assured me.

"If you think it's wrong I mean, if you think he's a bad person..."

"I don't think he's a bad person," Jesse said tentatively. "It's like you said, everyone has good and bad things about them...except you--you're all good!" Jesse finished draining his cup and he let his straw noisily slurp up the little puddle at the bottom. He looked at me with a sly grin. "Sucking on a straw just doesn't cut it anymore, dude!"

I felt the heat on my cheeks that indicated I was blushing. Still, I wanted to be sure Jesse was okay with Gary, or at least the idea of trying to get to know him a little better. “I’d tell Van Driesen to go to Hell, if you wanted me to,” I told him earnestly.

“I would never tell you to do that, Perry. Besides, maybe some of your goodness would rub off on him.”

It was funny how other people saw you. I never thought of myself as an especially good person--just a regular kid who liked to play basketball, read, hang out with friends, and maybe had a goofy thing for feet...I slid my butt slightly closer to Jesse’s on the bench. I wanted to lean in and kiss him, but I knew I couldn’t. Instead, I just whispered in his ear, “I’d rather just rub off on you!”

”Hehehe, that’s cool, Perry, but maybe not with your mom watching...”

“Huh?” I followed Jesse’s gaze and spotted my mom making her way towards us.

“Hi, boys, working hard?” she asked in a slightly sarcastic tone.

“We just helped this rich lady carry a ton of clothes out to her Beamer!” I replied defensively.

“Yes, I saw. She also bought a few pricey antiques as well. She told me about the Spousal Abuse Center--it’s wonderful what she does for them.” She brought out her cellphone.

“Jesse, your mom is on the phone. She wants to talk to you.”

Jesse seemed surprised by this bit of news, but took the phone.

“Hey, mom,” he said uncomfortably. I knew he had been having some disagreements with his mother, and that they had to do with him wanting to spend more time with me. I wanted to avoid anything like that happening again, but I didn't know how to broach the subject. “I’ll just find some place a little quieter,” Jesse explained to us as he got up. He went around the kitchen into the long corridor that led to the restrooms and basement.

“Is everything okay with Jesse’s mom?” I asked with concern.

“Yes, everything’s fine,” my mom said. “But I’ll leave it up to Jesse if he wants to tell you about it,” she added cryptically. “I hope you boys aren’t too bored here. I know that most of the other volunteers are older.”

“Yeah, we met a few,” I answered. “Some of them are cool...”

“To think that you’ll be in high school next year...” my mom said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Do you think Jesse will be able to go to Holy Trinity?” I asked, knowing that it was more expensive than St. Boniface, and that the Taylors were already struggling financially.

“I don’t know, Perry. Mrs. Taylor is having difficulties just keeping them afloat the way it is. The only reason Jesse is even at St. Boniface is because his aunt paid for his first semester. Mrs. Taylor has been putting some money aside for next semester’s tuition, but it’s going to be really tight.”

“But there’s scholarships, right?” I asked hopefully. “And Jesse’s really smart...”

“Yes, he certainly seems to be,” my mom agreed. “One thing about Catholic schools though--they sometimes seem to favor athletes over scholars.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I didn't have a chance to pursue the topic further. Jesse came strolling back, the phone still pressed to his ear. “Okay, mom, I promise...have fun...Yeah, me too...”

”Thanks, Mrs. Thompson,” he said, handing the phone back to my mom.

Mom slipped the cellphone back in her purse. “Are you boys getting hungry?” she asked.

I automatically glanced at my watch and was surprised that it was already after one!

“Maybe in a bit,” I said. Jesse nodded in agreement.

“Well, the kitchen staff will make you a burger or a sandwich if you want, of course, but if you want to get out for some air, I guess there are a couple of fast food places within walking distance.” She began fishing twenty dollar bills out of her pocketbook, as if she had no clue that you could practically buy the whole menu in those joints for just one of those.

“I’ve got money, mom!” I protested. She looked like she really wanted to give it to me, and I felt a little embarrassed, knowing that Jesse’s family was just struggling to survive.

“Oh, okay,” she said, a little disappointed. “Well, just let me know if you’re going out for lunch.” Then she reached over and kissed me on the forehead. I blushed with teenage embarrassment.

Mom!” I groaned, backing off a little too late.

She smiled at my discomfort and then leaned over and pecked Jesse on the cheek!

“That was for your mother!” she teased, and then headed off across the crowded hall.

“Wow!” Jesse said, an exaggerated look of surprise on his face.

“Cut it out, you dork!” I said, nudging him with my elbow. “What was the phone call about...that is...if you want to...er...”

“Er, er, er...” Jesse mimicked my stuttering playfully. I was glad to see he was in a better mood, although I doubted that everything was really peaches and cream. “My mom just called to tell me that Joe--that's her new boyfriend--wanted to take her to San Diego for a day trip--with Miranda. She wanted to know if I was cool with that, and I said sure,” Jesse explained casually.

Again, the idea of one of our moms actually dating, kind of blew my mind. Still, they were taking Jesse’s little sister along as a ‘chaperone,’ so I guessed that it was going to be more of a friendly trip than anything else.

“You seem happy about it,” I said, realizing I was smiling myself. It was just such a relief to see the good humored Jesse back again.

“I’m glad she found somebody to do things with. The only thing is, this is the second Saturday in a row that she's rearranged her schedule with the restaurant. I hope they don't get pissed at her.”

”What's he like?” I asked with more than idle curiousity.

Jesse shrugged. “Kind of a big guy, maybe a little older than my mom, but not by much. Soft spoken...good at fixing things, of course...Probably divorced, although I don’t know for sure. He does freelance electrical work in Santa Corina, San Juanito, places like that...” Jesse’s voice trailed off as he realized that was all the information he had to offer on the subject.

“I can’t imagine my mom going out on a date,” I said.

“It’ll happen,” Jesse said with confidence. “Your mom is way too cool. If she hasn’t been dating, it’s only been because she’s chosen not to so far.”

That was an intriguing statement, and I thought about trying to broach the subject with my mom some time.

“They're just leaving now. They'll pick up Miranda from her friend's house on the way." He paused somewhat dramatically. "Anyway, they won’t be back until late,” Jesse continued, a mischievous smile on his face. “So if you wanted to stop by after the rummage sale...and maybe help me set up my computer...for a few hours or so...”

“I get it, I get it!” I said with a giggle. “I’ll talk to my mom, later. I hope it’ll work out. I just want to be with you...alone.”

Jesse looked at me with love in his eyes, and that tough, steely eyed, foul mouthed, angry street kid had retreated to some small dark corner deep down inside. Good, I hoped he’d stay there!

Mrs. Jenkins had another customer. But there was just one box so I volunteered. I wanted Jesse to just chill for a while after the traumatic events of earlier in the morning.

When I returned about ten minutes later, I was surprised to see two girls standing next to our table, apparently talking to Jesse. As I got closer, I recognized Jessica Bainbridge by the long brown hair flowing half way down her back. I didn’t think I had ever seen the girl next to her--she certainly wasn’t from St. Boniface, but she did look a little familiar.

“Perry!” Jessica, said, her face practically glowing with delight. She looked great in her sleek leather jacket and tight designer jeans. She gave me a quick little hug which surprised the hell out of me, but withdrew before I even knew what hit me.

“I was just introducing Jesse to my cousin, Clarissa,” she explained. “She’s a sophomore at Harrington Prep in Mission Beach.”

That’s why she looked somewhat familiar. There was some resemblance in the overall build of the two girls. Both had slender figures and delicate features, although neither one was nearly as well endowed as Melissa Doering. Also, Clarissa was several inches taller, and her hair seemed to waver between light brown and dark blonde, complicated by the interesting use of magenta highlights in her long bangs.

“Hi,” I said shyly, giving her a silly little wave.

The look I got back was anything but silly. The way she looked me up and down, her eyes clearly stopping twice on the crotch of my jeans, I knew she wasn’t from around here. Mission Beach was very high end, just like La Jolla, where I lived before my parents split up. I’m sure Harrington Prep was a very expensive--and exclusive-- private school.

“I’m forgetting my manners,” Jesse said, a pleasant smile lighting up his beautifully angelic face. He got up and gestured for the two girls to have a seat. After they sat down across from Jesse, I went around to the other side and took a seat next to my boyfriend.

“What’s up?” I asked, trying my best to sound cool and casual, the way Morgan did when he was around girls. It seemed to come to him so easily. I felt clumsy and inadequate somehow--still picturing myself as the skinny, freckled faced boy I used to be not so long ago.

“Do you think we’d miss the rummage sale to end all rummage sales?” Jessica asked in a slightly self mocking tone. I had always thought she was a stuck up rich brat at school, until I got to know her a little better at Katy’s un-Halloween party. I found out that she could be a sensitive, caring person when she wanted to be. I also found out she had some kind of crush on me! In order to avoid getting tangled up in something I didn’t feel comfortable with (not because I didn’t like girls, but because I loved Jesse), I told her that I had a serious girlfriend back in La Jolla. As usual, I regretted lying, but in this case, I think the truth would have been way too much information.

“Clarissa’s staying over for the weekend, and we’re just bopping around, doing whatever--I think my mom’s talking to your mom, Perry,” she observed, her eyes darting across the hall for a brief moment before returning to me.

“Jessica says you’re new here,” Clarissa said to Jesse, her voice a little lower ( a little sexier?) than Jessica’s.

“He’s already at the top of the class,” Jessica remarked. How come everyone seemed to know about Jesse’s academic standing except me?

Clarissa looked impressed, although I didn’t think big brains were the main thing on her mind at the moment.

“Gorgeous and smart?” she said admiringly. “Like where are you from?”

Jesse blushed only a little, surprisingly at ease chatting with two members of the opposite sex. “Chicago,” he replied.

“I had an aunt there, in Evanston,” Clarissa said.

“That’s where we lived --most of the time...before we came out here.” Jesse observed.

“Nice little town. I was there once when I was like, nine years old,” she said, tossing her long mane of hair back every so often as she spoke. Her head always seemed to be moving when she talked, and her eyes had a way of piercing into you. While she had given me several good look overs by this point, she now seemed to have her sights clearly aimed at Jesse.

He shrugged. “Some nice, some not too nice,” he observed, and I knew that his flippant statement carried much darker undertones, but he was still smiling his best ‘straight guy’ smile, and it was a killer!

“So what do you guys do for fun around here?” Clarissa asked, addressing both of us.

“Eat a lot of fast food, hang out at the mall, bale hay, milk the cows...” Jesse had all of us laughing. I was glad to see him in such a good mood, but also wondered how a boy who was normally incredibly bashful around people he didn’t know, could be so relaxed and witty all of a sudden.

“What’s there to eat around here?” Clarissa asked. “I’m starving!”

“I thought we were having lunch at the mall,” Jessica reminded her.

“Are the boys this cute at the mall?” Clarissa asked boldly.

Jessica looked at both of us seriously for a few long seconds. “None cuter than this in the whole town!” The two of them exchanged giggles, while Jesse and I blushed ourselves red.

“What do you say, Perry,” Jesse said, turning to me with a boyish smile that reminded me of that slick tennybopper, Aaron Carter. “Should we escort these two young ladies to one of the fine eating establishments in the environs of historic St. Agnus?”

“I believe there’s a burger emporium just down the street that caters to the fairer sex,” I answered in a pompous tone.

“Who said we were fairer?” Jessica protested lightly. “I always cheat at Monopoly!”

This was going really well, mostly thanks to Jesse’s quick wit and charm. I was working hard, trying to keep up with him, and trying to not look foolish in front of Jessica and her cousin.

“Uh...I’ll go tell my mom then--that we’re going out,” I stammered clumsily.

“That’s okay, I need to let my mom know too,” Jessica said, quickly getting to her feet. “I’ll be glad to tell your mom that you’re treating us to lunch!” she giggled, hurrying off.

“Uh...sure...” I answered, but she was already gone.

“Now I can see why Jessica has such a crush on you!” Clarissa said, shooting me a sexy smile, outlined by bright crimson, high gloss lipstick. “Too bad you’re already taken..”

“Oh, yeah...” I answered clumsily. “Too bad...”

“It’s not like he’s married!” Jesse chimed in, and when Clarissa turned her attention to my blond friend, he added, “and me, either...”

Was Jesse coming on to Clarissa? This was starting to seem slightly unreal. I mean, it was one thing to see Jesse beat the living crap out of a two hundred and fifty pound bully without breaking a sweat, but to see him put on this incredibly persuasive, totally cool, straight guy routine, pouring on that natural charm of his (which up until now, I had only seen in private), was a leap of faith I couldn’t quite manage. Something weird was going on here...

It wasn’t long before we were strolling down the sidewalk. Herbie’s was the nearest burger joint. I actually kind of liked it and made my mom stop there for lunch on Sundays when we weren’t meeting her choir friends for brunch. Unlike the fast food chains, Herbie’s actually had fairly comfortable booths to sit in, and the food was always hot and fresh, if not terribly sophisticated. In other words, it was the perfect teen hangout.

It was already after one when we arrived, so it was still pretty busy. The two girls perused the menu board and told us what they wanted before picking out a booth. While Jesse and I ordered, Jessica and Clarissa giggled and talked, and talked and giggled, sometimes one leaning over to the other to whisper conspiratorially about something. Occasionally, they would glance our way, smiling and of course, giggling. The way they interacted combined with their physical similarities, made them seem more like sisters than cousins. I had no doubt they were planning something--speaking of which...

“What’s going on?” I asked Jesse as we stood waiting for our milkshakes.

“What do you mean?” he asked innocently, glancing over to the booth every now and then as we spoke, giving a little wave or a cute little wink.

“Hey, you never wink at me!” I whispered jealously.

“Of course I do,” Jesse insisted. “I wink at you all the time. You just can’t see it when I have my pants on!” he whispered in my ear.

“I think they have something in mind,” I said worriedly.

“Of course they do,” Jesse answered. “They want to make out. Jessica’s cousin is ready to jump my bones right here and now!”

“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

“Go with the flow, dude--go with the flow!

Before I could ask him what the hell he was talking about, our four milkshakes were ready. Jesse carried the tray to our booth and we all sat down. Someone would bring our burgers out when they were ready.

“Jessica was just telling me how hot you look in your basketball uniform,” Clarissa informed me.

How was I supposed to respond to that?

“Do you play?” I asked dumbly.

This was apparently a hilarious question, because both the girls erupted in a fit of giggles.

“Don't you just love milkshakes!” Jesse suddenly crooned, making a big show out of sucking the thick liquid up the straw. “So thick and creamy, ummmm!”

I thought he had lost his mind, but Clarissa had a wild and lustful look in her brown eyes that told me that she got exactly what Jesse was talking about.

“Perry, how’s it going with your mystery romance?” Jessica asked, trying, but not entirely succeeding, to sound casual about the subject.

Boy, she wasn’t going to let that go. Why had I lied to her in the first place?

“Uh...well...it’s a little hard,” I muttered in an unconvincing way.

“She’s in La Jolla--you’re here,” Jessica said understandingly.

“Yeah, it’s only forty minutes away, but when you don’t drive...” I let my voice trail off, hating to get deeper and deeper into my fictional romance.

For good or bad, I think Jessica interpreted my hemming and hawing to mean that I wasn’t as concerned with being monogamous as I had been at Katy’s party.

“Don’t you just want to have some fun, sometimes?” she asked, a twinkle in her eye.

“Of course he does,” Jesse said confidently. “Who doesn’t?”

“So, who’ve you made out with in your class?” Clarissa asked Jesse hungrily.

“I don't kiss and tell!” he responded evasively.

“Jesse’s usually bashful around other people,” Jessica observed.

“Doesn’t seem bashful to me!” Clarissa declared, her eyes locking on Jesse as she took a long draw of her milkshake.

“It’s a Midwestern thing,” Jesse explained. “We’re always cautious around strangers.”

“What about around friends?” Clarissa asked coyly.

“I’ve been known to let my hair down on occasion,” Jesse said suavely, and then glanced at me!

“Uh...” I stammered, caught off guard. “Yeah, once he’s got a couple milkshakes under his belt, he becomes a whole different person!”

I guess that was just witty enough to get me off the hook.

A half hour later, we were walking back to the church.

“What time did you tell your mom to pick us up?” Clarissa asked.

I didn’t even know that Jessica’s mom had left!

“Oh, we’ve got about another hour or so,” Jessica said casually.

“Know anyplace we can get some dessert?” Clarissa asked, glancing first at me, and then at Jesse.

“I might,” Jesse said with the slightest of knowing smiles.

Was Jesse serious? Did he really intend for us to make out with these two? He had told me in no uncertain terms that he was gay. Had Jessica’s cousin really smitten him that hard? And even worse than that, if I started to make out with Jessica Bainbridge, would I like it? Or worse yet, would I like it a lot?

Don't be shy! Check out the Perry and Jesse Forum! You can leave your comments and criticisms there, or browse through some of the other topics and articles, or just introduce yourself to the rest of the gang of hopeless romantics. Join us at: http://www.livejournal.com/~underthehood/

You are also welcome to email me at: 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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Not kool... wat is jesse playing at?? well i guess i may understand what with the whole in the closet thing... crap!!

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..."I mean, Goreski--everyone knows he does it...keeps the freshmen trembling in their sneakers..."


- seriously, he needs to be stopped and put away for good

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I get Jesse wanting to pretend to be straight for fear of what could happen if people find out and maybe this is somehow tied to the attempted rape of Perry...but it seems kind of shitty of him. He’s made it clear he’s fine with Perry doing things with other people but he’s kind of forcing him into this situation. Even if Perry enjoys making out with Jessica, assuming he does, he’s still not interested in initiating it let alone happy with with the idea of his boyfriend kissing someone else. It is kind of strange how Jesse’s personality can change so rapidly and I don’t get why this situation results in him being so much more outgoing compared to others. I’m guessing this is just a joke to him and he’s doing this for a laugh at Perry’s expense which is a terrible thing to do to someone you claim to love. I assume maybe it’s a joke or some twisted idea he’s doing this for Perry’s benefit because he knows he’s attracted to Jessica because of his claims of being 100% gay as I don’t get why he would want to make out with a girl for his own sake if he’s gay. He keeps making Perry jealous and sometimes it’s clearly on purpose like how he told Perry it was none of his business who he slept with along with how he refuses to tell Perry if he was attracted to Derek.

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