Legal Notice:

The following contains descriptions of graphic sexual acts between consenting underage boys. It is a work of fiction and has no basis in reality.

Do not read this story if:

1) You're not 18 or over.
2) If it is illegal to read this type of material where you live.
3) If you don't want to read about gay/bisexual people in love or having sex.

The author retains copyright (2003) to this story.  Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.

Perry and Jesse:  The Incredibly Romantic (and slightly kinky) Adventures of Two Boys In Love   

Part IV  Brothers

Chapter 14   A Visit With Tom Pt. 1

When I opened the blinds in my bedroom on Sunday morning, it looked nice and sunny outside, but my mom warned me that it was colder than it looked.  Not only did she turn out to be right, the wind was also starting to build into powerful gusts, and that made it feel even chillier.  We got to church a half hour early again for my mom's choir practice.  It was a strange feeling to realize that I actually didn't want to see some people, even though I liked them and counted them as friends.  Of course, the one I least wanted to run into this morning was Jessica Bainbridge.  I had always found her attractive, and felt bad that I had unfairly judged her to be arrogant and unapproachable.  As I found out at Katy's party, she was really neither of those things, or if she was, they were only a part of a greater--and better--whole.  She even claimed to having feelings for me, though why someone as popular and sophisticated as this well-to-do suburban princess would have any interest in a dorky kid like me was beyond my grasp.

I thought about the brief time we had spent together at the rummage sale two weeks ago.  I was undeniably in an overwrought emotional state that afternoon, thanks to my run in with the hulking gorilla known as Fred Goreski and his giant sandworm.  It still turned my stomach when I thought about Goreski's disgustingly huge and thick tool hanging there not more than an inch from my face.

Jesse had gotten the perplexing idea that Jessica and I should spend more time together, and took full advantage of the opportunity that presented itself in the form of Jessica's sex crazed cousin, Clarissa.  I guess it wasn't too surprising that Jessica and I ended up enjoying our brief romantic interlude.  There had been some tender kisses and some tentative body contact.  We had undeniably connected in a way that went beyond the little thrill of copping a feel from each other. Now I didn't know what to say to her.  I couldn't deny that I felt attracted to her, that I even had some sort of feelings for her, though it certainly wasn't love.  It wasn't even purely lustful either.  I knew something about both of these concepts from my relationship with Jesse Taylor.  I loved him deeply for who he was and how he made me feel, and there was no denying the fact that I lusted after his flawless physical form.

So here I was, entering the church lobby, closely following my mom, hoping to sneak upstairs to the choir loft without being spotted by Jessica, Katy, Manny, Artim, Melissa, or anyone else from my class who might put me in an awkward situation.  Better to forego the social niceties, and have a calm and peaceful religious experience.  No, the ancient and repetitive rituals of the Catholic Mass didn't interest me very much, but sitting in the choir loft, thinking about my beautiful blond angel amidst the meditative atmosphere of stained glass windows and soothing choral music was just what I needed.

"Hi, Perry," came a familiar female voice from behind me, causing me to nearly jump out of my loafers.  I turned to see Jessica standing there in all her Sunday finery.  The way the sun was streaming in from the open church door and illuminating her from behind, seemed to make her glow with an irresistible virginal beauty.

I was still hoping for a quick and painless escape, but my mom also turned at the sound of Jessica's voice.  She immediately greeted Mr. and Mrs. Bainbridge.

Mrs. Bainbridge asked my mom about some unsold antique from the rummage sale and if it was still available for purchase and I was stuck!

"Hi, Perry," Jessica said, clutching her sleek black Gucci purse in front of her.  She was wearing a knee length blue dress with a simple white collar, nylon stockings, and shiny, black lace up shoes  with a medium high heel which actually made her stand about an inch taller than me.  Her long brown hair was tied back in a big pony tail by a shiny blue and gold ribbon, and around her slender neck she had a bejeweled crystal crucifix dangling from a diamond necklace that sparkled in the streaming sunlight.

"Hi, Jessica," I said shyly.  I realized I was blushing and I think that made me blush even more!

"You look very handsome today," Jessica remarked, noting my custom tailored dark grey Calvin Klein suit, blue DKNY shirt, and dark blue tie.  "I think we match," she added, noting the color scheme of both of our outfits.

" is like my favorite color," I stuttered, sounding like a little kid. 

"I know," she said with a sweet smile.  Her face really glowed today.  I knew she was wearing some makeup and eye shadow and stuff that wasn't usually allowed at school, but none of it was over done and it all worked just right to bring out the simple beauty of Jessica's high cheekbones, oval face, and light brown eyes.

"And...well..."  Gulp!  "You look...uh...really pretty today...too,"  I felt my throat closing up, making my voice sound like I was just entering puberty again.

I glanced at my mom, who was still chatting away.  I was shocked when Mrs. Bainbridge gave me a little wink!  What was that about?  Had Jessica told her about our little rummage sale rendezvous?  Did she think her daughter and I were a couple?

Jessica, who had her back to her parents, looked at me with a puzzled expression.  Of course, my big stupid eyes must have bugged out, giving away my surprised reaction.  "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing..." I said quietly, willing myself to take deep breaths and let them out slowly.

We stared at each other for about half a minute, before I heard my mom telling the Bainbridges that she had to get to her choir practice.

"Well, see ya later!" I said quickly, managing a lopsided smile before heading towards the staircase at the side of the lobby.

"Perry, hon, Mrs. Bainbridge wants to ask you a small favor," my mom said, causing me to freeze in my tracks.  Slowly, I turned around to face the four of them.

"Jessica and I were wondering if you could help us set out the Poinsettias?  They've already been placed in the vestibule behind the sanctuary,"  Mrs. Bainbridge explained.

Why me?  Why did I have to go up in front of the church and do a geeky thing like setting out potted plants with Jessica and her mom?

But looking at all those expectant pairs of feminine eyes, I felt whatever resistance I had inside me melt away.  "Uh... I...ah...sure..." I stammered defeatedly.  Gees, with all the kids from school watching my every move, this was going to be super embarrassing.

"And we were wondering if Perry would like to sit with us during Mass today?" Mrs. Bainbridge asked my mom.

I'm sure I turned white as a sheet.  What was going on?  Had I been secretly betrothed or something?  What would make the Bainbridge's think that I would want to sit with them all of a sudden?

The three adults looked at me expectantly while Jessica just gave me a sweet and oh so  innocent look.

"Well, gees, I don't know..." I stammered, hoping my mom would come to my rescue by saying that she needed me to sit upstairs with her for some obscure but incredibly sensible reason.

"That sounds like a lovely idea, Helena," my mom said before walking right past me.  She too felt compelled to give me a little wink as she passed.  What was all the winking about?  Had everyone suddenly developed a nervous tick?  I watched in disbelief as my mom disappeared up the stairs, leaving me alone with the Bainbridges.

"It's good to finally meet you face to face, son," Mr. Bainbridge said, extending his hand.  He was a small, portly man with a peppered mustache and goatee, dressed very neatly in an expensive three piece suit complete with a gold watch dangling from a chain, and fancy Italian designer shoes.  I wasn't sure what he did for a living, but he reminded me a little of a grown up Jeremiah Oatner.  He looked to be quite a bit older than Mrs. Bainbridge and it seemed to me that he could  easily be a lawyer or even a CEO.  "Malcolm Bainbridge."  He was only about my size but I was surprised at the strength of his grip as he shook my hand.

"Uh...Perry...uh...Thompson," I managed to stutter.

"Our daughter's told us so much about you.  I understand you single handedly led the Crusaders to victory last Thursday, clinching St. Boniface a slot in the regional playoffs."

Oh my goodness!  Why was this happening to me?  Why was Mr. Bainbridge shaking my hand like he was welcoming me into his family?  Had I missed some important inter-family meeting or had this all been announced over the p.a. system during homeroom while I daydreamed about being naked with Jesse?

"It was just luck, sir," I explained.

Mr. Bainbridge thought this was funny for some reason and chuckled heartily as they say, his slightly rotund belly shaking  with the strangely guttural sound of his laughter.  He just clapped me on the shoulder and gave me a warm smile. Then he saw someone he recognized entering the church and excused himself.

"C'mon, Perry.  This'll just take a few minutes," Jessica said, a satisfied smile seemingly glued to her face.

Well, thank goodness the church was still mostly empty.  We did pass Manny Aguilera and his family.  While he didn't give me a wink, he did give me a rather clandestine 'thumbs up' gesture as I passed, walking along the side aisle towards the front of the church.

It turned out there were about two dozen of the red and green Christmas plants, and Mrs. Bainbridge seemed to know precisely where each one needed to go.  It took about twenty minutes for us to get them all set out to her satisfaction.  By then, the church was nearly full.  About half of our class was there, including Katy, Kyle, Melissa, Dana, and some of the guys from the basketball team.  By the time we were finished with the Poinsettias, I think my face was the same shade of bright red as the plants!

Just to make the morning even more interesting, the Mulroney's ended up sitting in the same pew as the Bainbridges (only three rows from the front) and somehow, I ended up spending the whole time between Jessica and Katy!  I kept my face buried in my liturgy as much as possible, although I was impressed with both of the girls' singing.  Katy especially had a strong, clear soprano voice.  Jessica's voice didn't project as loudly as Katy's, and it was a little lower, in the alto range I guessed, but I found it smooth and lyrical.

I occasionally glanced back to see if I could spot my mom up in the choir loft, but then I had to face Kyle and Melissa's families, who were in the pew behind us, and all their winks and various little signals of approval.  It was like everyone wanted Jessica and me to get married or something--two fourteen year old kids!  Okay, I wasn't quite fourteen yet, but close enough.  Maybe I should've just gone up to the pulpit and explained that I was madly in love with Jesse Taylor and I planned to marry him in what ever state accepted same sex unions as soon as we were both of legal age.

One good thing about sitting close to the front:  I did get a nice view of the two altar boys in their white frocks and red collars, stiffly going about their sacred duties.  I had seen both of them before as they were part of the usual rotation, but only from my usual spot at the back of the church way up in the choir loft.  I had vague thoughts that they were both kind of cute looking.  One was maybe eleven or twelve, with short red hair and a face smothered in freckles.  Up close, it seemed that he was rather plain--just the kind of kid you'd see at the park playing baseball on a hot summer day.  The other looked about my age or a bit younger, and was maybe Tom's height of five foot four.  He wasn't the least bit chubby, but he did have a round face, short but curly blond hair, and a small upturned nose.  He was cute in a typically boyish sort of way, but not what I'd call really good looking.  He did have one striking feature though, and that was his eyes, which I was seeing up close for the first time.  They were the same light blue color as Jesse's, and while they didn't have nearly the same impact staring out blankly from this bored kid's face, they did remind me in a very intense way of how much I missed my beautiful blond angel.

Since the plan was for my mom to drop me off at home and for Tom and his sister to pick me up from there after I had a chance to change clothes, I was forced to linger around after the Mass was over.  Some people would go across the parking lot to the social hall (where the rummage sale had taken place) for coffee and pastries.  Others would be rushing home to watch football or going out for brunch.  I headed for the stairs and got ready to bid Jessica and Katy a fond farewell for the day, but they beckoned me into a hallway behind the little bookstand next to the staircase.

Jessica immediately started loosening my tie.

"Doesn't that feel better?" she asked.  "You looked so uncomfortable in there."

"I think he looks really cute all dressed up!" Katy noted with a giggle.

"I think he looks cute dressed down too!" Jessica responded with a titter.

They both looked at each other and declared in unison, "Basketball shorts!" and then burst into a prolonged fit of giggles while I just stood there like a department store mannekin, not knowing what to say or how to react.

"I really should get upstairs," I reminded them.

"You need to kiss at least one of us first," Katy declared, putting her neatly manicured finger on my lapel.

"But someone will see..." I protested weakly.

"So...?" Katy answered coyly.

"If I know Perry," Jessica said, "he'll be so worried about upsetting one of us, that I'm sure he'll end up kissing both of us!"  Giggle, giggle, giggle...

"Um...maybe we shouldn't be doing this in church..." I suggested.

"Yeah, right!" Katy interrupted.  "Me first!"  She closed her eyes and puckered her lips.

Katy Mulroney wanted to kiss me in church!  This was like some weird pseudo religious dream where I'd start out kissing a pretty girl and then she'd suddenly turn into a hideous winged demon and rip my still beating heart out of my chest, blood spurting in every direction.

"What about Morgan?" I asked worriedly.

Katy opened her eyes for a moment.  "Morgan knows how I feel about you," she said dismissively.

Gees, Morgan knew?  Did that mean he wouldn't smack me quite as hard when he found out I was kissing his girlfriend?  Could she guarantee my safety?  I doubted it.  And how did Katy feel about me?  I really had no idea.  She had told me at the party that she'd been waiting a long time to kiss me, but what for?  Because I had big, pouty lips?  What possible interest could she have in me when she had the best athlete and most charming guy in school as her boyfriend?

Katy again closed her eyes and puckered up.  She had always been at the top of my list of girls I'd like to go out with but never intended to ask.  She was very attractive with her reddish blonde hair, light green eyes, and fresh and cheerful appearance.  Jessica watched carefully as I inched over to Katy and then gave her a light peck on the cheek.  I was shocked when she grabbed my chin and then forced her lips onto mine!  I could feel her sucking away while also smearing some of that slick waxy lipstick on me.  Still, she smelled like Jasmine and her lips were soft and I had always had a little of crush on her...

"Hey, leave some for me!" Jessica finally said in a mock irritated voice.

Katy broke our liplock with a muffled giggle.  She looked at me and smiled.  "Carnation Red looks good on you, Perry!"  Both girls giggled some more before Katy took out a lacy kerchief and wiped the stuff off my lips.

"P...please don't tell Morgan..." I stammered fearfully.

"You don't have to be afraid of Morgan, silly," Katy chastised me teasingly.  "He thinks you're the greatest thing since the cell phone!"

Okay, I'll admit it.  It was kind of fun kissing girls.  They were soft and smelled like flowers and stuff and they giggled a lot.  I thought about the hard, desperate kiss Tom had given me a few weeks ago, and figured that, except for Jesse, I much preferred kissing girls.

"Well, I suppose I need to leave you two lovebirds alone!" Katy whispered conspiratorially.  She gave me a gentle squeeze on the arm and quickly brushed her cheek against Jessica's.  "We'll talk!" she said as she disappeared back into the lobby.

Jessica and I stared at each other some more.  I could hear the hubbub of the departing crowd diminish in the lobby even though I couldn't see it from where we were.  I was still surprised that no one had come back here.  I guessed that's why the girls had chosen this particular spot in the first place.

"So, Katy's kissed you twice now," Jessica noted, her smile becoming a little more mischievous.  "Is she a better kisser than I am?"

I had no response to that and my mouth just opened and closed a couple times with no discernible sound coming out.  I shrugged stupidly.

"What about your girlfriend in La Jolla?" she pressed.

Oh, you mean the one I totally made up to protect my relationship with Jesse?

"Well, I guess I haven't kissed her in a long time," I admitted.

The self pleased smile on Jessica's face slowly faded.  "Is she really that wonderful that you feel like you need to be faithful to her even though you hardly ever see her?"

I didn't know how to answer that.  I was very tempted to tell her that it had all been a big fat lie, but I think she would have felt embarrassed as well as angry, and I didn't want that.  I liked Jessica.  I just didn't know how far I could go with her without leading her on.  Or maybe I already was leading her on, in which case, I was a really bad person because I didn't know how to stop it.

Instead of answering her question, I asked one of my own.  "Why did you want me to sit with you today?"

Now it was Jessica's turn to blush, and that was a rare event!  "Actually, it was my mother's idea..." she offered.

"But why would she get it in her head to ask me?"

Jessica shrugged her slender shoulders.  "I might have told her something about the rummage sale..."

"What?!" I gasped louder than I had intended.  Surely, anyone in the lobby that was paying the least bit of attention would have heard my exclamation.

Jessica touched a finger to her lips and her precious little smile returned.  "I didn't tell her we made out or anything," she explained.  "Just that you and Jesse took us to lunch and we talked and had a great time and..."  She paused thoughtfully.

"And what?"

"And that I thought you were a really nice boy," she admitted quietly.

Well, that wasn't too bad.  It still didn't explain why her dad was practically handing me the keys to the Bainbridge estate.

"Are you upset with me?" she asked with what seemed to be genuine concern for my feelings.

I shook my head.   "I think you're really nice, too," I added lamely.

Jessica's smile widened and her eyes seemed to light up.  "I wanted to ask you something, Perry.  I haven't told anyone yet--well, except Katy of course--but I'm planning on having a big Christmas Party at my house--for the whole class, but I wanted you to be my..."  She tilted her head quickly from side to side as she tried to come up with the right word.  "Well, date, I guess. Do you know when you're leaving for New York?"

I was surprised that she even knew that I had to go to New York to spend Christmas with my dad.   "I think I'm leaving on the twentieth--that's a Saturday," I said.  "But I'm not sure."

"Oh, that would work out great!  We could have the party on Friday then.  We'll have the tree up and decorations and play games and sing carols and people can dress up in their best Christmas clothes and...Oh, Perry, say that you'll come!" she pleaded.

The whole idea of having to leave town for almost two weeks made me sick to my stomach.  I couldn't stand being away from Jesse for a few days and I didn't know how I was going to be able to endure being separated from him by a whole continent for such an extended period.  And if Jessica had her party the night before, that would mean I wouldn't even have a chance to be alone with him before I left!  I realized how childish and selfish I was being, and forced myself to calm down before my eyes started giving the whole show away.  Besides, a party with the entire class didn't sound like such a bad idea, and it would be fun to see who Jesse would choose as a date...

"I'll check with my mom about the trip," I said, "but otherwise, I think it sounds really...awesome!"

"Thank you, Perry!  It will be fun--and there'll be lots of mistletoe!"  She started moving towards me, her intention to kiss me very clear on her face.

Just then, I heard the trampling of feet on the stairs.  The choir members were obviously coming down from the balcony.

"Somebody'll see us for sure!" I warned her, taking a couple steps backwards.

"I don't care!  I want the whole world to see!" she exclaimed exuberantly, and grabbed my cheeks between her hands and pushed my face into hers.

 Jessica's lips pressed against mine, and while the kiss started mildly enough, it became increasingly more vigorous and passionate, especially on her part.  The floral scent of her perfume entered my nostrils at point blank range and made me slightly giddy.  To her credit, Jessica kept her tongue at bay the whole time.  I probably would have enjoyed the experience except that I was afraid that my mom or some other choir member would come down the short hall  and we'd be caught kissing in church!  For sure I'd be grounded for a month at least!

I finally broke it off as I started to hear the nearby murmuring of voices in the lobby.  Jessica's tongue was just starting to glide across my front teeth when I backed off.  We stared at each other wide-eyed for a few seconds, both of us trying to catch our breath.

"Who's the best kisser?" she asked with a devilish grin.

I just smiled, but I'm sure my eyes gave her the answer she was looking for.

It was really nice of my mom to take the time to drop me off at home before heading back for her rehearsal.  The kitchen crew was preparing a light lunch for the choir, and my mom would be lucky to catch the tail end of that.

"It looks like Jessica is making her move," my mom pointed out, a slightly amused smile on her face as she drove.

"I was really surprised.  I don't know why she did that," I admitted.

"I think it must be obvious even to you, my dull witted little boy," my mom teased.  "Jessica Bainbridge has her sights set on you.  Now, not only her family, but the whole church knows that you belong to her.  She's quite a clever young lady...and very pretty too.  Both of those attributes can be extremely dangerous weapons in the hands of a  female stalking her quarry."


"It means that she knows how to use her God given gifts to get what she wants," my mom explained.  "And it seems rather plain that she wants you."

"She's having a...uh... Christmas party before I go to New York," I revealed hesitantly.  "And she wants me to be...well...kinda like"  I finished awkwardly.

"Oh, Perry.  You're growing up so fast.  Before I know it, you'll be moving out for good and getting married and having children of your own..."  Her voice trailed off as her emotions got caught in her throat.

Okay... Maybe Jesse and I could adopt.  Or maybe Jessica would let me fertilize some of her eggs and Jesse and I would raise them as our own kids.  There were definitely possibilities.  I just wasn't sure my mom was ready to hear them.

"I could sense there was something different about you lately," she mused out loud.  "At first, I thought it was your friendship with Jesse.  You boys just seemed to take to each other like a pair of comfortable old gloves...But it's like, well, if you were a girl, I'd say it's like you've been positively glowing!"

Gees, mom, you'd glow too if you were having steamy hot sex with the most beautiful boy in the world!

"Now I know what it is," she said with a satisfied smile.

"What?" I asked apprehensively.

"You have a little crush, don't you?" she asked coyly.

A little crush...?  No, not really...


"On Jessica," my mom revealed.

I didn't say anything. 

"Well, am I right?" she asked playfully.

"Jessica's not all stuck up like I thought," I offered cautiously.

"Her family is a little snooty," my mom agreed.

"But Jessica's not really like that...when you get to know her..."

"So, you're getting to know her?" she asked, her tone becoming less playful and more inquisitive.

"Well, you at Katy's party..." I stammered, never imagining that I'd be having a conversation about girls with my mom.  "She was a lot of fun to be with...I mean to dance with and talk and stuff..." I explained.

"I'm glad you got to know Jessica better.  She obviously has feelings for you."

"But mom, do you think I should be dating and...and...stuff?" I asked worriedly.

She concentrated on her driving for a while, finally turning onto our street before responding.  "That night that Jesse stayed over, when you came to my room dressed in your robe and...well, not much else, I guess it really dawned on me for the first time that you're not a little boy anymore.  I've tried to bring you up as best I can, Perry Thompson.   I expect that, whenever you deal with the opposite sex, that you'll treat them with the same respect you do me."  She hesitated.  "I don't suppose we need to have that little talk about the birds and the bees..."

"Mom!"  I felt like jumping right out of the still moving car.

We pulled into the driveway, and my mom shifted into park and turned to look at me with a thoughtful expression on her face.  "I trust you, Perry.  I look into your eyes and I see nothing but a perfect gentleman--a very handsome, perfect gentleman."

"I'd never do anything crazy," I assured her.

"That's my boy," my mom said with a gentle smile of satisfaction.

I raced up to my room and called Tom.  I could hear the sense of anticipation in his voice as he told me that he and his sister would be there in about ten minutes.  I hurriedly got out of my church clothes, stripping down to my boxers.  I hung up my jacket, tie, and slacks and put my loafers back in the closet where I wouldn't have to look at them for another week.

I had carefully considered what to wear to Tom's house, bearing in mind that he had admitted to me that he liked boys and that he had some strange feelings for me.  Instead of my snugger fitting Calvin Klein jeans, I wore my good ol' reliable Levi's.  I chose a grey St. Boniface Crusaders T-shirt, and considering how cold and windy it was today, pulled on a dark blue sweatshirt that would serve the dual purpose of keeping me warm and giving me a rather bulky, shapeless appearance.  After tugging some clean white crew socks on, I slipped my feet into my new Reebok basketball sneakers, tightly lacing and zipping them up.  They still looked shiny and new, and still felt light and comfortable.

I went in the bathroom and brushed my teeth for the second time that day.  I didn't want to have bad breath in front of Tom's sister.  I tried brushing my hair, but it was getting too long and unruly.  It just didn't seem to want to stay the way I wanted it.  I stuck a flat brush in the back pocket of my jeans and went back downstairs.

I was thinking about having a Coke, but then I realized that my mouth still tasted like toothpaste.  And just then, I heard a car coming up the driveway.  I grabbed a jacket and went out, making sure the alarm was set and the kitchen door was locked.

I vaguely remembered Tom's sister, Liliana, picking him up from school once in a great while, although now he mostly rode his bike.  She still had the same maroon colored Honda Civic that looked like it might be nine or ten years old.  It seemed like it was in pretty good shape though, and the engine didn't sound extra noisy or anything.

Tom got out of the car as soon as it came to a stop.  He had a grey Quicksilver hoodie on, along with well faded, slightly baggy jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and his signature black hi-top Keds.  A big, noisy gust of wind blew through, totally messing up my hair, and he quickly gestured for me to get in the back seat of the small car.  He slid in next to me and closed the door.

There was some rhythmic Latino music playing on the radio.  It might have been Shakira.

"Hey,  Lili--this is Perry.  He's like the most popular kid in our class!"

Oh please, not that again.  I smiled shyly and couldn't help blushing at Tom's absurd platitude.  "Why do you say things like that?" I whispered to him through gritted teeth.

Lili turned her head to look back at us.  She had long straight black hair with just a few  striking, platinum blonde highlights, a longer face than Tom, but with the same wide eyes, painted with a dark mascara.  She had long lashes and thin eyebrows, a wider mouth and full lips colored a dark burgundy.  She was wearing a Vons uniform under a thin black leather jacket.

"Hey there, Perry.  I'm Lili.  I think I've seen you at Tom's baseball games last year."

I nodded.

"You've certainly done some growing up since then!" she said with a little laugh.   Then she said something to Tom in Spanish.  Tom immediately blushed.  I waited for someone to translate. 

"I told Tom that his taste in friends has improved!" Lili explained.

I didn't know exactly what she meant by that.  Maybe she was thinking about Derek, and how he still looked like a little boy.

Tom and his sister exchanged another couple of sentences of rapidly spoken Spanish.

"Sorry, my sister's just being silly," he apologized.

Lili made some off handed remark and started backing the car out of the driveway.

"What'd she say?" I asked.

"She said you're 'muy guapo'--that means...uh...really handsome," Tom admitted.

"Is she making fun of me?" I whispered.

Tom just shook his head frustratedly.

We drove in silence for a few minutes, heading in the general direction of St. Boniface.  "So, Perry, are you going to Holy Trinity next year?" Lili asked.

"Yes, ma'am," I replied unthinkingly, just trying to be polite.

Both Tom and his sister started laughing.

"Ma'am?" Lili repeated with exaggerated shock.  "What do I look like, your freakin' abuelita or something?"

I knew abuela meant grandmother, and I got her meaning.

"Sorry...ah...Lili," I stammered embarrassedly.

"Anyway, I hope you plan on working out over the summer, Perry.  You're gonna need your strength to fight off all the estrogen crazed females who'll be after your cute little ass next year!"

I guess she meant that as a joke, since I imagined there'd be some pretty impressive jocks at Holy Trinity, which took kids not just from St. Boniface, but also St. Joseph, Robertson, and even some from over in San Juanito.

"I'll be sure to take my vitamins," I assured her, not quite certain how to handle Lili's strange sense of humor.

"Lay off, would ya?" Tom urged his sister, and I gave him a quick glance of gratitude.

Lili shrugged her shoulders.  "Fine hermanito, but if I ever catch him off his guard at our house--I'll consider him fair game!"

"You're so gross!"  Tom exclaimed.  Then they exchanged what sounded like fairly mild mannered insults in rapidly spoken Spanish for a couple of minutes.

Tom and his older sister seemed to have an easy going, playful relationship.  I wondered what it would be like to have an older sibling, someone like Georgie Rauch who you could literally look up to, both strong and gentle, or maybe someone a little streetwise and sassy like Lili Espinoza.

We passed within a few blocks of the school and then kept going in the general direction of Jesse's apartment.  I immediately recognized Tom's neighborhood when we reached it though.  It was very different from the rows of apartments that lined Jesse's street, and also very different from the big, cookie cutter style houses of my suburban neighborhood.  It consisted of long, neat rows of very old one and two story houses, all with front porches and small detached garages set back off the street.

We finally pulled into the driveway of a two story Craftsman.  The wooden beams that typified that style of architecture were painted a nice earthy yellow color, as was  the railing on the stairs and the one around the porch.  There were three gables on the second floor and the roof's shingles were a dark green.  The front yard was small, but very well tended, with a small rectangle of bright green rye grass bisected by a narrow sidewalk that led up the small stairway to the wide porch.  There were also neatly trimmed hedges and beds of Pansies and Geraniums.  Everything looked very unpretentious and inviting and much less artificial and suburban than my neighborhood.

"It was nice to finally meet you, Perry.   I expect to see more of you--much more of you," she laughed, "but I have to get to work in like, five minutes, or they'll fire my hot Mexican ass!"

"She's a cashier at the Vons over on Maple," Tom explained.

I didn't know if I was worried or relieved to know that she wasn't going to be at home with us.

"It was very nice to meet you, Lili," I said, reaching a hand across the front seat for her to shake.

"You've got to be kidding!" she exclaimed again.  She quickly unbuckled her seatbelt and turned around and gave me a not-so-quick peck on the cheek.

"Ay, Lili, tu chica loca!" Tom complained loudly.

"Uh...bye..." I managed, before getting out of the car.

"She's crazy!" Tom said with an affectionate smile as we watched her pull the Honda back out onto the street and go rocketing off with squealing tires.  He took a moment to wipe his sister's lipstick off my cheek, giving me a nod of approval when he apparently had it all off.

There was a little stone path that led from the driveway to the main cement walk.  We quickly trotted up the small flight of stairs to the porch.  There were a couple of wicker chairs and a table set out, but the wind was really starting to kick up now and I just waited anxiously for Tom to first open the screen door, and then unlock the front door. 

We stepped into the small foyer.  There was an old fashioned coat rack there and a bench.  Tom pulled off his hoodie and hung it there.  He was wearing a reddish plaid shirt underneath.  I noticed his hair looked a little different today, and I realized it was because it wasn't full of gel like it usually was.  His curly black hair looked fluffier and softer this way, and I kinda liked it.  I slipped my jacket off as well and hung it on the coat rack next to Tom's hoodie.

"Wow, you really dressed warm today," Tom said, referring to the fact that I had been wearing both a jacket and a  sweatshirt.

The foyer opened onto the main room, which had polished wood floors and a high beamed ceiling.  There was an inviting stone fireplace.  Above the mantle was a portrait of the Espinoza family.  Judging by Tom's appearance, I guessed that it was maybe a couple of years old.  There was his dad, a broad shouldered chunky man with heavy eyebrows, curly black hair, and a bushy mustache, and his mom, a Caucasian who was lighter skinned than the rest of the family with dark brown hair that was mostly straight but curled nicely where it touched her shoulders.  It was now clear  where Tom got his big eyes and charming smile from.  Lili looked much nicer than she did in the car dressed in her drab cashier's uniform.  In the portrait, she had her hair done up and a sleek, black, sleeveless dress on. Tom looked like a happy little Hispanic boy, his curly black hair longer than it was now, almost forming a kind of frizzy helmet around his head, and clear dimples on his cheeks caused by his wide, toothy grin.  Rounding out the family portrait was Tom's younger sister, who looked barely out of kindergarten when this was taken.  She had a sweet smile with several of her front teeth missing and her dark brown hair done up in two long pig tails.

All the Southwestern furniture looked well worn and comfortable and everything had a neat and tidy appearance.  Even though the room was not very large, it had a real sense of openness, with a staircase leading upstairs on one side with what looked like a den or study behind it, and the dining room pretty much open to the main room on the other end.

"Wow, I like your house!" I said.  "It's so warm and cozy looking, and everything is so clean and neat."

"Of course it is.  How do you think I get money to spend at the arcade?" Tom asked with a knowing smile.

Tom did the housecleaning?  That was impressive.  I complained if I had to do a load of laundry once a week.  I only had to use the vacuum cleaner when it was some sort of emergency like spilled cereal or something.  Otherwise, my mom and the maid pretty much took care of everything.  "Man, you do a really good job," I said earnestly.

"Let's go in the kitchen and have some lunch," Tom suggested,  leading me past the dining room with its heavy Mexican Arte table and china cabinet.

There were several pictures of religious figures hung on the walls, but one in the dining room really caught my eye.  It was  an oil painting of a sleepy Mexican village.  The view looked down a dusty street.  White adobe walled houses with terra cotta tiled roofs lined it on either side.  There were bits of colorful pottery scattered around, and in the distance, there was a little boy playing with a dog.

"This is cool!" I remarked.  I didn't usually pay much attention to art, but I liked the way the bright colors of the pottery contrasted with the earth tones of the street and buildings.  There was a sense of comfort and warmth in that painting that reminded me of Tom's house.

"Oh, that's my dad's pueblita--or at least, that's the way it used to look when he was a boy," Tom explained.  "I just had an old photo to go off of."

"What?!  You mean you painted that?" I asked in astonishment.  I looked closer at the right hand corner and could vaguely make out the meticulously small, stylized lettering: T. Espinoza.

"Yeah, you like it?" he asked shyly.

"A lot!  I mean, I hardly ever notice paintings and stuff, but this really caught my eye.  I knew you were a good artist, but this is just...really good!"

Tom laughed self-consciously, leaning in the open doorway that led to the kitchen.  "I hope you're not just saying that, 'cause it really means a lot to me that you like it," Tom said.

"Why would I say I liked it if I didn't?" I asked plainly.  "Of course I like it!"

Tom just nodded, still blushing a little, but with a satisfied smile on his face.  He headed into the kitchen and I followed.  He rolled up his sleeves and started getting things out of the refrigerator.

"Can I help?" I asked.

"Well, you could get some plates out," he said, gesturing to a cabinet over the long tiled counter next to the sink.

I laid the plates out on the small round table which the family probably used when they were just having an informal meal like breakfast or something.  I also figured out where the silverware was and got that out as well.

"Uh, so Tom, where's your folks--and your little sister?"  I asked in as casual a tone as I could.  The truth was, I had been expecting Tom's family to be here today.  I was afraid that some of the feelings he had for me might tempt him to try something...unusual...again.  I wasn't sure that would be a good idea, and I also wasn't sure I had the heart to resist him.

"Oh, they took Teracita and her friend to Legoland after church," he said as he stuck a tray of something in the microwave.

"Didn't you want to go?" I asked.

"It's for little kids...You ever been there?"

"Yeah, but not for a couple of years," I admitted.  I had actually thought it was fun, but it was true that it was definitely geared towards the younger crowd.   "It's kinda cold and windy.  Do you think they'll stay long?"

"They won't be back until late," Tom assured me as he dished some orangish colored rice out of a big pot on the stove.

"Oh," I said a little uncertainly.

"You're worried that I'm going to try to get in your pants again?" Tom asked with a playful smile.

I was more than a little taken aback by Tom's boldness.  "Well...I..."

"Man, Perry--if you just knew the things that go on in my head!  I mean, you're so fuckin' hot, and you're so nice to me and..."

Just then, the microwave buzzer went off.  Tom stopped what he was saying and went to retrieve our lunch.  He came to the table with a ceramic tray full of enchiladas.  They had a greenish sauce and melted cheese all over them and they looked as good as anything I'd ever seen at El Torito.

"These are carnitas enchiladas," Tom explained, scooping one out for me.

"Are they spicy?" I asked a little worriedly.

Tom shrugged.  "They might be if you're not used to them, but they're not really hot or anything.  Just try one and see if you like it..."

He didn't even sit down, but just stood there waiting expectantly.  I picked up my fork and sunk it into the soft tortilla.  I didn't really mind the taste of spicy foods.  It was just that, sometimes, if I ate this kind of stuff at night, I ended up going to bed with an upset stomach.  But it was only noon, so I'd have all day to digest.  I put it in my mouth and it just seemed to melt on my tongue--even the meat!

"Mmm...this is great!" I exclaimed.  "Did your mom make these?"

Tom shook his head.  "I made these last night.  I'm glad you like them."  He went to the fridge to get us some drinks.  "You can have a Coke if you want, but you might want to go with milk.  It helps your stomach deal with the spices."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," I agreed, especially since I had already decided I was going to have two or three of these things!

Tom also served up some Spanish rice with little vegetables in it.  I realized I was starving and I ended up eating about two and a half enchiladas before my stomach started sending me signals that enough was enough.

"Uh, sorry...but I don't think I can finish this last one!" I apologized with a heavy sigh.

"That's okay--I'll take it," he said, scooping up what was left and putting it on his own plate.

"Gees, Tom. What other amazing talents do you have?  You paint, you cook, you clean house, you pitch a mean fast ball..."

"Man, Perry.  If you don't want me kissing you on the lips again, you'd better knock it off with the compliments..." he warned me with a sly grin.

I was surprised to hear him joke about something that had been so serious to him just a few weeks ago.  After he had first revealed to me that he liked boys, we had embraced and he had inadvertently kissed me on the lips.  I had been caught totally by surprise and naturally freaked out.  I remembered how upset Tom had been...

"I don't mind the kissing so much," I confessed, "as long as there's no tongues..."

Tom thought this was funny and just narrowly avoided squirting milk out of his nose.  "How about some ice cream?" he asked after he had calmed down a bit.  "It's also good for keeping those spices under control!"

"Uh...maybe later.  I'm really stuffed.  That was just so great, I..."

Tom came over and leaned against the table right next to me.  "I told you to knock it off with the compliments, didn't I?" he asked seriously.

"Well, I..uh..."

"Now you owe me, dude.  One kiss for each compliment oughta do it."  He started counting on his fingers.  "Let's see:  there was the house cleaning, the painting, the cooking and...oh, yeah--the pitching--that's four!" he said, holding his fingers up for confirmation.

"Gees, Tom.  We just ate.  I'm stuffed and my breath..."

Tom didn't wait to hear about my breath, but lowered his head and pressed his lips to mine.  At first, there was that strange sensation of having another boy's lips pressed against mine.  I mean, it wasn't like when Jesse and I kissed.  I loved him so much and he made me so horny, that it was all I could do to keep from eating him up completely.  But this was mostly just Tom pressing against me without much sucking.

"That's one," he said with an intense look on his face.  The next one he planted on my cheek.  This kiss was more forceful, and I could feel him sucking on my soft flesh.  "Two..." he whispered.  Then he brushed my hair aside and started kissing the tender area between my neck and my shoulder, tugging lightly on the collar of my sweatshirt to more fully expose the flesh there. He began kissing again, and sucking, and kissing, and sucking, and sucking and...

"Hey!" I said, getting to my feet and rubbing my neck.  "What was that about?"

"Desert!" Tom said with a gleeful smile.

"God, you were sucking so hard--did you leave a mark?" I asked worriedly.

Tom came closer and studied my exposed neck.  "Chill!  It's just a little red.  It'll go away in a bit."

"You almost gave me a hickey!"

"I can't help it--you taste better than ice cream!" Tom giggled.  "Anyway, that was three.  I'll hold the fourth one in reserve..."

Hanging out  with Tom since he had admitted to me that he liked boys had become something of a surreal experience.  He had told me that he had feelings for me for a long time, but that they had remained unrequited.  Then he told me that he'd pretty much lost interest in me and had a crush on Derek.  Now what was going on?

"Do you wish you hadn't come?" he asked a little despondently.

I shook my head.  "You're my friend, Tom.  Of course I like to hang with you.  It's just that...I guess I don't understand what's going on..."

"You know how I feel about you..."

"How you felt about me!" I reminded him.  "I thought you were over...all that stuff!"

"Remember, I said there were other things I wanted to tell you?" Tom asked, leaning against the table, idly playing with a teaspoon.


"Well..."  Tom began clearing the dishes so I joined in.  "My feelings for you never went away," he explained as he rinsed some of the dishes off in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher.  At least, he didn't sound all stressed out like he had the last few times we had spoken.  Maybe, since he had gotten his big secret out in the open, everything else seemed smaller in comparison.  I had to admit that it was also easier for me to hear what he had to say without freaking out.

"In fact," Tom stated in a fairly calm voice, " after the last time we got together, I think my feelings for you have gotten even stronger..."

While Tom sounded almost serene as he discussed his feelings for me, I was starting to get a little concerned again.  Apparently, I didn't have the whole picture down the way I thought I had.  Here I thought everything was going to work out.  Tom would get over me.  Derek would get over Jesse.  Tom and Derek would get together and live gayly ever after, and Jesse and I would get married, grow old, and raise Jessica Bainbridge's children together.

" sound so calm," I remarked nervously. 

"I'm not afraid to tell you how I feel anymore," Tom said, wrapping up some of the leftovers and putting them in the refrigerator.  In fact, he hardly looked at me as he spoke.  "I don't want to struggle with myself anymore," he said.  "I've had feelings for you for a long time, Perry, and now that you really know who I am, I just don't see the point in covering them up anymore."

This was bad.  If I told him plainly that I didn't have those same feelings for him, would it crush him?

"But what about Derek?" I asked almost desperately.

Finally, Tom closed the refrigerator and looked at me thoughtfully.  "Yeah, I think things are going to work out with me and Derek.  I guess I kinda wish that Jesse hadn't been so harsh with him though..."

"Harsh?!" I asked, bristling with sudden  irritation.  "Jesse wasn't harsh.  Derek wrote that weird letter and Jesse hardly freaked out or anything!" I pointed out.

"What letter was that?" Tom asked curiously.

Oops!  Had I messed up yet again?

"Well...yeah...the letter...Derek wrote to Jesse.  It was like...pretty gay..." I admitted hesitantly.

"Really?" Tom asked with a slightly arched eyebrow.  Why was it that he was the one who was acting so calm and mature, and I was the one who suddenly felt like the world was crashing down around my ears?  Maybe it was those spicy enchiladas...

I just nodded, afraid to say anymore.

"Well, I guess that's not surprising.  Jesse's such a hot looking guy.  It just shows that Derek has really good taste in boys!"

I couldn't argue with that!  ", you wanna be with Derek, don't you?" I stammered.

"Sure, I've been waiting for the right time to tell him about myself.  Now that I know he's the same way, it should be pretty easy!"

Tom was nothing if not eternally optimistic.  I was all for him and Derek getting together--as long as they could keep their relationship a secret.  And if it also helped Tom to forget about me--except as a friend of course--that was even better.

"I shrugged.  "I...I don't really know how those kinds of things work..." I admitted. 

"You mean how two boys would start a sexual relationship?" Tom asked.  It sounded like he was discussing a science project or something.  It was so different from the hysterics of a few weeks ago.

I just nodded.

"I don't really know either, but I've got a good feeling about it though.  Derek and I are so comfortable together as friends, I don't see why it should be a big problem to take it to the next level."

"Well, that's fine," I admitted.  "Just remember what Jesse said about being really, really careful," I reminded him.

Tom nodded soberly.  "Yeah, he said he wanted to tell us some story.  I wonder what that was about?"

"I'm not sure, but the kind of life he lived in Illinois was a lot different then here.  I'm sure he saw a lot of...bad things there."

"Speaking of which, what was your cousin talking about yesterday morning?" Tom asked curiously, as he finished tidying up the kitchen.  He really was good.  It didn't even look like anyone had eaten in here less than ten minutes ago!  Of course, I wasn't going to tell him that...

"What do you mean?" I asked, clumsily feigning ignorance.

"You know, the stuff about the scary clown guy trying to hurt you..." Tom reminded me.

" was nothing really..."

"Perry--you realize your big, beautiful eyes totally give you away, don't you?" he asked with a slight smile.

I immediately began an intense survey of the kitchen floor.

"It's too late for that, dude!  I know something serious happened.  Why won't you tell me?"

"Why, Tom?  Why would you want to hear about my stupid problems?  It has nothing to do with you, and I really want to keep it that way--for your sake!"  I told him as persuasively as I could.

"Does it have something to do with that guy Jesse beat up at the St, Agnus rummage sale?" Tom asked pointedly.

I slumped in my chair.  "Artie and Manny!" I cursed quietly.

"Yeah, they said some big high school senior was trying to hurt you in the john, and Jesse came in and beat the crap out of him.  They said he's some kind of ninja street warrior.  Is that for real?" Tom asked skeptically.

I shrugged, and then nodded.  "Sort of.  Jesse does have a blackbelt in Karate..." I admitted.

"That's so awesome!" Tom said excitedly.  "I wonder how good he is--I mean, shit, to beat up a senior, he'd have to be!"

I nodded in agreement.  "He's really good, Tom.  He's so good that it's sort of scary."

"I wish I could've seen that!" he said enviously.  He went through a few of what I assumed were his Tae Kwon Do moves, grunting as he jabbed at the air with his fists, then  spinning and freezing in an impressive defensive pose.

I shook my head.  "Believe me, you wouldn't want to have seen that!  I mean,  it was all my fault anyway.  Now this guy is really pissed at both of us, and he's got some stupid friends..."

"The scary clown guy?"

"Yeah, and at least one other guy..."

"Who are these morons?"  Tom pressed angrily.  "I mean, maybe my sister knows them..."

"The guy that Jesse beat up is named Fred Goreski, and the scary clown guy is Arnold Hollister, and the other guy is Mario Hernandez..."

"Shit!  Lili knows Hernandez!  I think they were dating for a while last year."  Tom was leaning against the refrigerator now, obviously having a hard time taking all this in.

"I...I didn't want to tell you, Tom.  It's just a stupid mess, and I'd never want you to get involved or get hurt or anything!"

"Oh God, Perry.  I'll kick all their asses myself if they ever lay a hand on you!" he said, fiercely jabbing at the air a few more times.  Then his countenance softened and he came over and put his hands comfortingly on my shoulders, much as I had done for him when he told me for the first time that he liked boys.  After a few seconds, his arms wrapped all the way around me.   I felt his cheek pressing against the back of my head.  "Mi pobracito..." he whispered soothingly. 

While I appreciated Tom's concern and affection, I was really missing Jesse.  I was counting the hours until I'd get that phone call tonight and hear the raspy teenage voice that sent shivers down my spine...

"I didn't want to tell you..." I reminded him.

"I'm glad you did," he insisted.  "You know, Lili can talk to that Hernandez guy, tell him to lay off you or that he'll get reported to the police-- "

"No, Tom!  Don't do anything like that--it''s better to just let it go.  Jesse can take care of himself and I...well...I should've had some common sense and none of this would've happened!"

"So you're saying your lack of common sense is why this Goreski wanted to hurt you?" Tom asked in puzzlement, taking a seat next to me.

I shrugged, and then nodded, and then shook my head.  "I...I don't know..."

"What did he do to you?" Tom asked, gently putting a hand on my arm and staring at me with real concern.  At that moment, I could clearly see the depth of his concern.  It really touched my heart in a way that none of that sex stuff ever could.

"He wanted me to give him a blow job..." I heard myself admitting, my voice filled with shame.  "He even tried to pay me..."

At first, Tom was shocked by what I said, and then his expression turned more thoughtful and then...he smiled!

"Wow...So what you're really saying is that, you're so hot, even high school seniors want to have sex with you!" Tom said, as if that vindicated his own feelings for me.

I glared at him angrily.  "No, Tom!  That's a lot of bullshit!"  I got up and paced around, finally stopping at the doorway that led back into the dining room.  I could feel the anger burning my cheeks.  I was breathing heavily and my heart was pounding and the enchiladas...well they were doing some weird things down there too...

"Stop saying that stuff about me looking hot and all that crap!  It's not true!"  I immediately felt bad about yelling at Tom.  He couldn't help the way he felt anymore than I could help the way I felt about Jesse, although I wasn't anywhere near as good looking as my beautiful blond angel.

"I was so stupid..." I admitted, feeling the tears starting to come to my eyes as I thought about Jesse, and how he and Gary both risked themselves to rescue me that day.  "If only I had been better able to take care of myself..." I sighed.  "I'm so stupid and helpless...and some people just think they can do whatever they want...and...pick on weak people and...and I shoulda just done it and got out of there instead of acting like a big baby!"

I looked up through tear blurred eyes to see Tom still sitting at the kitchen table.  His eyes were closed and his hands were clasped in his lap.  His lips were moving but I couldn't make out any words.  I realized that I was ruining what could have been a fun afternoon with my friend.  I had to learn to keep my emotions under control, or I was going to end up losing everyone I cared for.  Even Jesse had told me that he'd have to go away if I kept bursting into tears every time he walked into the room.  God--what was wrong with me?!

"I'm sorry, Tom.  I shouldn't have yelled at you," I apologized meekly.

I saw Tom make the sign of the cross before opening his moist eyes to look at me.  "I prayed for you, Perry," he said quietly.  "I prayed that God would send his best guardian angel to protect you."

"Uh...thanks..." I said, genuinely touched by Tom's thoughtfulness.  I had to smile too, realizing that God actually had sent me a guardian angel--the most beautiful one there ever was.

The curly haired boy came up to me, his big brown eyes locking with mine.  Without warning, he threw his arms around my neck and leaned his head against my chest.

I panicked, thinking Tom was making some sort of amorous move on me.  I pushed him away.  "Jessica made me sit with her in church today!" I blurted out.

Tom first looked startled, but then his expression became more thoughtful.

I nodded, letting the words pour quickly out of my mouth.  "Yeah, and she made me move those Poin....Poinsi...those Christmas plants in front of everybody and her dad shook my hand and Katy was there, and after Mass they...they kissed me in the hall by the staircase--both of them!"

"Jessica's dad kissed you?"  Tom asked with a giggle.

I just scowled at him.

He shrugged helplessly.  "Jessica sure knows how to get what she wants!"  he noted with what sounded like admiration.

I guessed he was thinking the same thing as my mom: that Jessica was somehow laying 'claim' to me.

"It was weird. I don't know why she wanted me to sit with her..."

"What girl wouldn't want to show all her friends and the whole church that she had snagged the hottest boyfriend in town?!" Tom declared.

I shook my head despondently.  "Don't, Tom.  Don't say things like that.  I know you're trying to be nice and all...but that's not me.  I'm not hot; I'm not good looking; I'm not any of those things you said.  People keep teasing me--like your sister..."

"No one's teasing you, Perry," Tom said sincerely, putting his hand against my chest.  "You need to take a good look in the mirror and see who you really are.  I don't know why you keep denying it.  Shit, I'd love to look like you!"

The carnitas enchiladas were definitely starting to act up now.  I felt some strange rumblings in my belly...

"I...I just need to go to the bathroom," I said.

"Are you okay?"  he asked worriedly.

"Yeah, maybe I ate a little too much," I told him truthfully.

Tom nodded and pointed the way down a long hallway.  "Second door on your left," he said, his eyes still filled with concern.

As I stepped into the bathroom, I heard Tom speaking quietly behind me.  "Look in the mirror, Perry...please?"

Well, I definitely had other business to take care of first.  But while I was washing my hands, I got this sudden and irrational fear.  What if I looked in the mirror and still saw the same skinny, brown haired, plain faced kid I had always seen?  What would that mean?  That I was blind?  Or that Tom and his sister, and my mom, and Aunt Rosemary, and Derrin, and Jessica and Katy were all blind?  Even Jesse?  If I looked in the mirror and couldn't see this handsome, kind hearted person everyone kept talking about, would it mean that I was crazy?  I shuddered.  I literally couldn't do it.  I kept my head bowed as I finished washing up and dried my hands.  I flicked off the bathroom light and stepped back  into the hallway without getting more than a glimpse of myself in the large mirror.

Tom was standing there waiting expectantly.  "Well...did you look, Perry?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"That's okay," Tom said, sighing resignedly.  "If you saw yourself the way others do, it would probably change you into...someone else...someone I wouldn't like as much," he admitted.

"Maybe I should go," I offered, seeing that I had pretty much ruined the day for both of us at this point.

"Please don't!" Tom begged.  "I'll be good--I promise!"

"It's not about you being good--it's about me making you miserable," I said.  "Just like I make everyone miserable..."  Gees, now I was really feeling sorry for myself.  What a pathetic mess I had become.  I wondered if Jesse would even want to bother with me anymore...

"That's funny.  What I see is people wanting to be your friend--like Manny and Artie, wanting to be your girlfriend--like Jessica and Katy, wanting to be your best friend--like Gene, Morgan, and me--I think we're all a little jealous of Jesse...I see the way your cousin Derrin looks up to you like you're some kind of god to him..."

I didn't want to get into why Derrin was behaving so strangely.  I'd have to go into a long explanation about the difficult family problems he was trying to deal with (or not deal with) while at the same time also trying to deal with his own sexual awakening.  He was stressed and confused and I had been the only one on hand to comfort him and guide him to some extent.  I realized in hind sight that I had probably messed up in a big way with him as well.

"Why would all these people want your attention...want to be with you,  or even kiss you, if you were making them miserable?"

I shrugged.  If I only knew the answer to that question, maybe I really could start making people genuinely happy.

Tom gently picked up my hand and I could feel he was trembling.  First he rubbed the top of my hand like he was petting a beloved dog or cat.  Then he brought my hand to his lips and lovingly kissed it, like people did in old movies sometimes.  "That's four..." he whispered.

It boggled my mind to think how trusting Tom was.  He was perfectly willing to show me just who he really was regardless of the repercussions.  I'd never intentionally betray that trust, and as long as the true nature of my relationship with Jesse remained a secret, I was willing to do whatever I could to make Tom happy.

"Hey, I'm feeling a little better now," I said, forcing a smile.  "Not that those enchiladas weren't great--they were just a little strong!"

"Yeah, even my mom thinks I add too much spice sometimes," Tom conceded with a giggle.

"So what do you want to do?" I asked.  "Play video games or something?"

"We could.  Actually, I really want to show you my studio--well my room.  My dad spent the whole summer fixing it up and it came out just awesome!" he said excitedly, leading me to the staircase with its polished wooden banisters and well worn stairs.  He waited for me on the landing, half way up, barely  able to suppress his excitement. 

I followed him the rest of the way up.  There was a small landing at the top with a door straight ahead and one directly to our right.  He opened the one on the right and gestured for me to go first.

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