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Do not read this story if:

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3) If you don't want to read about gay/bisexual people in love or having sex.

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

Part V  Truths and Lies

Chapter 17  Disneyland part 3  (The Karate Master)

 It was a good thing we put on our jackets because there was definitely a chill in the air as we strolled out of the hotel right onto the main street of Downtown Disney.  It seemed like an idea borrowed from Universal Studios up in L.A. where the Citywalk was a popular attraction.  It was a combination of open air mall, theater complex, and various upscale and casual dining venues.  There were fountains, strings of colorful lights, street vendors, portrait artists, and music stages, all with a heavy dose of Disney imagination thrown in of course, and there was yet another massive souvenir shop!  Besides the ESPN Zone, there was a Rainforest Cafe and a House of Blues.

It was about ten after eight when Jesse and I arrived at the massive, free standing ESPN Zone building.  It was decorated with bas relief sculptures representing all the major sports and each one had some movement built into it, giving the ancient art form a twenty first century upgrade.  The first thing that struck you when you walked into the large building was the cacophony of sounds.  It was like a massive arcade combined with a gym combined with a huge sports bar and grill all spread across two sprawling levels.  Everyone was there waiting for us by the host station and one of those perpetually cheerful, Disneyized waiters led us to our table.  

"This is awesome!"  Morgan exclaimed wide-eyed, noting the mountain climbing wall, virtual bowling alley, golf course, and shooting gallery.

The walls were covered with autographed photos and memorabilia of famous athletes past and present and there were big screen TV's everywhere, showing all the sporting events that were going on all over the world live.  After we put in our orders we all leapt up and started running around like kids in a high tech candy store (which is what we were!).  Jesse took Miranda around to see what she wanted to do, while Morgan tried to entice Tom and me to take a crack at the Extreme Glacier climbing wall.  I wasn't particularly afraid of heights, but I wasn't very fond of them either, and since Tom didn't look very enthusiastic, we left Morgan to it.  We watched as they buckled him in his harness.  There were four levels of difficulty and Morgan immediately chose the third.

If I had ever had any doubts about Morgan's all around athleticism (which I didn't), they were certainly put to rest as we watched him scale the sheer wall like a lizard, quickly finding hand and foot holds, moving horizontally as well as vertically, and reaching the top barely out of breath.

"Piece of cake!"  he called down to us from thirty feet in the air.

I gave him Kyle's patented wink and finger gun and he shot me right back!  

"I've gotta try the harder climb!" he said as he quickly made his way back down.

"Okay, we'll just check something else out.  You can catch up to us when you're done,"  I said, feeling dizzy from watching Morgan's climb.  Tom noticed an interesting contraption called the Extreme Karate Master 3000 (yes, just about every game here had the word 'extreme' worked into the title).  There was a young man there, maybe in his mid twenties, sparring with a computer generated guy in a karate outfit on a sprawling, slightly curved screen, about eight feet high and ten feet wide.  It seemed like he was trying to impress his girlfriend, who stood by looking only half interested.  There was a sign that asked players to Please Remove Your Shoes Before Challenging The Karate Master, so the young man was standing there in black socks, his squaure-toed Kenneth Coles off to one side.  It turned out the screen was somewhat flexible and allowed you to strike out forcefully with your hands and feet against the computer generated image on the screen.

He punched the button that activated the countdown sequence.  We watched for a few minutes as he made a few contacts, but also got 'hit' several times as well.  Another display screen showed if he had been hit hard or just a glancing blow.  The player and the Karate Master each got points, and who ever had the highest total after three minutes was declared the winner of that round.

"He's doing Tae Kwon Do,"  Tom noted, pointing to the young man.  "But he's not very good!"  he whispered in my ear.

Well, you had to give the guy some credit.  Dressed in tight jeans, and a long sleeved dress shirt, he wasn't exactly decked out for a serious kumite.  It turned out to be a close match, but the computer ended up winning by a few points, thus ending the game.  He hadn't even gotten past the third level.  Nevertheless, his girlfriend lauded him with  mindless platitudes as he scooped up his shoes and they headed back to the bar.

"I gotta try this!"  Tom said excitedly.  He pulled off his hoodie and handed it to me, and then stooped to untie his new orange Nikes and quickly tugged them off.  He wiggled his toes through his white socks and I flashed on the bizarre fetish game we had played in his bedroom that had ended with my sweet Hispanic friend sinking his teeth into my left foot.  Hmmm...Extreme Foot Biting...Maybe I could pitch them the idea!  Tom quickly sprang up and popped in the required amount of tokens, causing the large screen to come back to life.

The game was set up so that each match represented a level.  If you won the first round, you became a white belt, two rounds, a yellow belt, then green, blue, brown, and finally black.  Then you could go up to a fourth degree blackbelt.  Glancing at the high score list, no one had ever gotten that far.

A computer generated Asian man of indeterminate age and menacing features appeared and impassively bowed towards the front of the screen.  Tom dutifully bowed back.  Both Tom and the computer took a defensive stance as large red numbers counted down from ten next to the screen.  A fierce, reverberating voice yelled, "Fight!" and the computer guy immediately moved in to attack, uttering all the appropriate grunts, groans and battle cries of a real martial arts combatant.  

It was pretty cool.  The screen and the floor pad must've been full of sensors that could tell where the player was, what he was doing, and how powerful his attacks were.  It could also tell if the computer's moves had been successfully blocked or not.  I was really impressed with Tom's technique.  He had a smooth and confident style, and seemed barely challenged by the first level, which he easily won.

"That was awesome!"  I said excitedly.

"That was nothing," Tom assured me.  "Anyone with a month of training could have beaten that."

The computer opponent once again bowed and the countdown began.  I noticed there was more kicking in this round, and I was impressed that the screen could handle the powerful beating it was taking, even though Tom wasn't wearing shoes.  I was dazzled as he lashed out, blocked, spun, and landed a powerful kick to his opponent's thigh.  I noticed his points went way up after that, and I applauded,  but there was no pause in the combat until the time ran out.  Tom seemed a little out of breath this time.

"You wanna try it?"  he asked.

"No way!  You're doing great!  I'm totally impressed!"  I assured him enthusiastically.

"We gotta get Jesse over here!"  Tom noted as it was once again time to bow to his digitized opponent.  My energetic Hispanic friend made it through the third level, although it was definitely becoming more challenging for him.

"I'm a brown belt at my dojo,"  he informed me, "but this is tricky because it's mostly flat, like your opponent is behind a glass or something.  You can't use space the way you would in a real sparring match."

"You're doing fine!" I said encouragingly.

I caught a glance of Jesse and Miranda walking around the upper arcade looking for a game to play.  I tried to get their attention, but Miranda suddenly grabbed her brother's hand and pulled him off somewhere that I couldn't see.

Morgan had joined us by the time a thoroughly winded Tom had gotten through the fourth level.  He had a good sweat going now.  Not only was his face glistening with droplets of moisture, but there were definite dark stains under the arms of his short sleeved silk shirt.

"Whew!  I think that's about it for me!"  Tom noted, wiping the sweat away with his bare arm.

"C'mon dude, you're blazing!"  Morgan encouraged him.  "Go for it!  Two more levels and you're a blackbelt!"

I sensed that Tom really had had enough, but somehow, I think he felt like he had something to prove to Morgan.  Maybe it had something to do with Morgan's offhanded remark about gay people liking Small World.  With a determined expression, he pressed the button indicating that he wanted to go on.  Tom was noticeably more aggressive this time, launching into the screen with a force I didn't think him capable of.  Still, the computer got in plenty of blows as well.   In the end, Tom prevailed by a few points.  He was an ESPN brown belt!

"Okay...that'" he gasped.

"No way, dude!"  Morgan said.  "C'mon.  You gotta go for the blackbelt!  You gotta show this stupid machine who rules!"

"I think I did okay," Tom noted breathlessly, bending over and grabbing his knees for support.

"Yeah, you did great, but you look really tired,"  I said with some trepidation.  "You must be thirsty..."

Tom nodded.

"Oh man, what a wuss!"  Morgan taunted.  I'm sure he meant it in a harmless, jockish sort of way, but I could see that it stung Tom.  His face hardened.  He walked back to the machine and punched the button telling the computer to go to the next level.

"Tom...don't..."  I warned him.

"Let him,"  Morgan said, totally fired up with testosterone.  "I bet he can do it!"

"I don't know..."

"Tom needs to challenge himself like this,"  Morgan explained.  "I mean, this is his thing.  He's good at it, and he's gotta get better; he's gotta push himself!"

If it had been anyone other than Morgan, I would have dismissed it as a lot of macho bullshit, but I had seen Morgan push himself to the extremes of his abilities and endurance in every basketball game we played.  It was a philosophy he truly lived by.  Still, I was worried that Tom was overexerting himself.  After all, it was only a game.   By this time, a small crowd had gathered around us, mostly younger kids, but some teens and adults as well.  They began chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!"  and for a few frightening moments, I felt like I was once again locked in the Cage with the Altar Boy Of Doom!

Tom bowed to his opponent and the countdown began.  Immediately at the beginning of the round, the computer program went at Tom with every kick, chop, and blow I had seen up until this point.  Tom deflected most of them, but had no time to score any points himself.  When he did manage to get a couple of blows through, his opponent immediately went on the offensive, swinging, chopping and even flipping across the screen in a way that was starting to resemble the fights in the Matrix Trilogy more than the kumites you'd see in a local dojo.

Tom was grunting and groaning with exertion, totally involved with his on screen opponent, and I thought he was doing a great job defensively.  But in the end, he hadn't accrued enough points himself, and the game reset to level one again.  The crowd still gave him a friendly round of applause before dispersing.  A couple of excited older teens stepped up, anxious to test their own skills.

Tom looked totally wasted.  "Let's get back to the table so you can drink something!"  I said, reaching for Tom's arm.

He shrugged me off grimly.  "I fucked up!"  he grumbled.  "I guess I really am a wuss!" he muttered as he stuffed his feet back into his basketball sneaks.

"No way!"  Morgan said with an encouraging smile on his face.  "You were totally awesome, Tom.  You really put up a great fight.  No one could've beat that crazy computer!  You rock, my man!"  he said, pounding Tom heartily on the  back.  I could see Tom wince with pain.  Nevertheless, Morgan's approval seemed to lift Tom's spirits somewhat, but I could tell he had really wanted to win this one last round.

"Wow!  That was impressive!"  Jesse said, coming out of the dwindling crowd to offer Tom a high five.

Their palms smacked together and Tom grimaced.  "Ouch!"  he complained.  "I think I'm going to be sore all week!  Hitting that weird, rubbery screen isn't the same as hitting a person with protective gear on..."

"Did you see it?"  I asked Jesse excitedly.  

"Yeah, we saw the crowd gathering and I was surprised to see Tom whacking at this screen.  You can't really tell what's going on from up there, so we came down in time to see his last round."

"He was great, huh?"  Morgan said proudly, as if it had been his encouragement alone that had driven Tom to perform at the peak of his ability.  I guessed I understood a little of what Morgan had been trying to do, but I didn't think it was really necessary.  I also didn't like it that Tom felt that he had to impress Morgan with his athletic prowess or manly perseverance.

"You don't look so cute with your face all yucky and sweaty!"  Miranda declared to Tom, before racing ahead of us to our table.

Tom, down on one knee retying his laces, looked at her with an expression of perplexed astonishment.  Then he smiled weakly.  "Hey, I'll take that as a compliment!"  he winked up at me.

"Jesse, you gotta do this!" Morgan said as we approached our table.

He shrugged disinterestedly.  "I'm pretty tired."

"C'mon, man..."  Morgan began egging Jesse on.

"My goodness, Tom--what happened?"  my mom asked, shocked out of the intimate discussion she had been having with Mrs. Taylor.  I wondered if they had been talking about our punishment...

Tom thirstily chugged down his Coke before heading for the men's room.  I didn't really have to go, but I thought I'd just tag along to make sure Tom really was okay.  The bathroom was pretty cool.  There were TV's on the walls, and the sports pages of all the major newspapers were posted over the urinals.

"Why did you play that last level?"  I asked with concern as Tom splashed cold water in his face.

"You heard Morgan.  I didn't want him thinking I was a wuss!"

"But you're not.  And I don't think Morgan really thinks so either."

Tom looked at me thoughtfully as he grabbed a pile of neatly folded paper towels off the counter and dried his face and hands.  "Perry, what I told you about Derek--what we did yesterday afternoon...Would you ever want to do something like that...with me?"

That had come totally out of nowhere!  Having just had the mother of all jack off sessions with Jesse less than an hour ago, the idea of running around Tom's studio butt naked, waving our dicks at each other had no appeal at all.

Tom obviously recognized my hesitation and I saw his expression become a little more sullen.  "That was a stupid question,"  he muttered, obviously irritated with himself.

"It's not that..."  I said, stalling for time while I tried to come up with a nice way to basically say I wasn't the least bit interested.

"I thought maybe if you saw that...that I'm not just some limp wristed fag, you'd feel better and stuff..."  he said disappointedly.

"Tom, I never thought that about you.  Well, except for that waist squeezing thing--that seems a little gay,"  I admitted teasingly, looking around and making sure no one else could overhear our conversation.

But Tom was looking at me seriously.

"Tom, you're one of the most amazing people I know, and I was really impressed by what you did tonight..."

"I bet Jesse was laughing behind my back!"  he snorted self deprecatingly.

"He'd would never do that,"  I assured him.

"Anyway..."  he said, trying to hide his disappointment, "I think it's gonna be fun with Derek."  The way he said that lacked a certain amount of enthusiasm.

"You have to be patient with him, let him sort through his feelings,"  I told him.  "I bet this is just the start of a great relationship."

"Really?"  he asked, sounding like he wasn't convinced but wanted to be.

I nodded.  "I think Derek has a lot of inhibitions to get past.  You already know who you are and what you want.  He's still trying to figure it out."

I saw Tom moving in for a hug, but I quickly stepped back.  "Dude, anyone could come in here!"  

I saw him look at me with those forlorn puppy dog eyes and my heart went out to him.  He had been trying to impress me tonight, not Morgan!  

"Look, Tom,"  I said seriously.  "Give it some time, but if you really feel like it's not working out, then...maybe we could do something together."

"Really?!"  Tom's eyes opened wide.

"But promise me you'll give Derek some time..."

Tom nodded quickly in agreement.  "I really do want it to work out with Derek.  And I don't want to force you to do anything you don't want to do..."

"You wouldn't be forcing me..."  I assured him.  "I'd do it because your friendship means a lot to me...and your happiness."

By the time we got back to the table, our food had arrived.  My mom had the Sun Dried Tomato and Penne; Mrs. Taylor had the Salmon and Rigatoni; Miranda had the Chicken Tenders; Morgan had the Baby Back Ribs (which looked delicious!); Tom had the Italian Sausage sandwich (was there some significance to that?); Jesse had the New York Strip, and I had my all time favorite, a huge, medium rare Filet Mignon with all the trimmings!

We were just finishing up when, much to my eternal embarrassment, the entire serving staff came out and circled our table as I was presented with a huge slab of chocolate fudge cake with a massive sparkler-like candle sizzling in the middle.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday and applauded as I blew out the candle.  Only after the flame had flickered into nonexistence did I glance over to see the small pout forming on Miranda's face.  I told her to come sit with me and share my cake and that seemed to make her happy.  

Our mothers didn't seem interested in dessert, but Morgan ordered a piece of cheesecake and Tom had a piece of carrot cake.  Jesse didn't order anything and I offered him some of my dessert.  I wasn't a big cake fan; for me, a little went a long way.  But he refused.

Then it was time to open gifts.  Tom gave me a copy of the ponderously huge fifth volume of the Harry Potter series.  Morgan gave me a hundred dollar gift certificate which I could redeem for Laker tickets.  It would be so cool to plan a trip up to L.A. sometime and see a game at Staples Center with the guys.  Miranda handed me a large gift bag.  Inside was a black hooded sweatshirt with Northwestern written across the front in big arching purple letters.  I knew that Northwestern University was located in Evanston, and that it was Jesse's birthplace, and somehow I found that very moving.  I really wanted to go there someday, see where he was born, where he went to school, where he played as a kid...

"Hey, are you all right?"  Jesse asked with a cautious smile.

"Thanks..."  I said, holding the hoodie tightly and wishing it was Jesse that I was pressing against my chest.   "Thanks, everyone.  This has really been a great birthday...the best ever!"

Everyone applauded and we finished our desserts.

"We should be heading back to the hotel,"  my mom said, noting that it was nearly ten o'clock.

Frankly, after everything I'd been through since Friday, combined with a long and fun filled day at Disneyland, combined with the amazing sex I had just experienced with Jesse, I was definitely ready for bed.  But Morgan and Tom insisted we stay for a while, and Jesse seemed somewhat neutral.  Miranda wanted to stay too of course, but her mom rather forcefully insisted she go back to their room as well.

"I don't want to be dragging a sleepy little girl through Disneyland tomorrow," she pointed out, and that seemed to be all the convincing Miranda needed.

She gave Jesse and Tom each a light peck on the cheek but went around Morgan.  Then she came up to me and gave me a big hug.

"Happy Birthday, boyfriend!"  she declared, and dug around in her Lilo and Stitch purse for something.  She handed me a piece of half unwrapped green bubble gum.  "On your birthday, I get to buy you gum!"  she declared.

"Thanks!"  I said, and bent down to give her a little kiss on the cheek.  But she moved quickly, turning her head so that I ended up kissing her right on the lips!

"Rindy!"  Mrs. Taylor exclaimed in shock.

"That's okay,"  I said, quickly straightening up, my face red with sudden embarrassment.  Miranda thought that it was hilarious and she tittered and giggled until she started having a coughing fit.  

"Not too late, boys,"  my mom pleaded.  "Are we meeting for breakfast?"

I looked at my friends and the answer was pretty clear.  "Um...I don't think so."

"Well, go ahead and order room service if you want," she offered generously.

"Cool, Mrs. Thompson!"  Morgan said.

My mom gave us a little wave and we dashed off back to our games.  There was a regulation free-throw game so we did that for a while.  We each took a turn and it was a good way to let our dinner settle for a little bit.  Morgan got eight out of ten, but Tom, as worn out as he was, didn't seem to be concentrating and only made four of his.  I was now feeling bloated as well as tired but still managed to tie Morgan.  Jesse, taking his own sweet time with each shot, nevertheless managed nine out of ten.

"You know, you're full of surprises!"  Morgan said as he gave Jesse a well deserved high five.  "Now you've gotta go up against that Karate thing!"  It sounded more like a demand than a request and I could see Jesse hesitate.  

I knew he really was tired, not just because of the long day and the strain of riding all those roller coasters, but because of our little hotel room rendevouz.  I also knew he wasn't the kind of person who liked to show off.  If anything, he preferred to blend into the background.  But Tom started in on him too and we slowly sauntered over that way.  I had to admit that I was curious to see what Jesse could do against this highly sophisticated martial arts program.  No one was playing at the moment and Jesse looked over the game console and screens with more than casual interest.

"Hmmm...You can actually start on the blackbelt level," he noted.

"You better not!"  Tom warned him earnestly.  "That's a killer."

"Yeah, I saw,"  Jesse said distractedly.

"All right!  Jesse's going for level six!"  Morgan gushed excitedly.  "This is going to be totally awesome!"  I had a feeling that if Morgan had a choice between living in his big, beautiful Coronado Hills estate home, or the ESPN Zone, he'd have chosen the latter!

"Jesse, you look really tired,"  I noted, hoping, for  his own good, to talk him out of it.  I had seen what this crazy game had done to poor Tom and I didn't want Jesse to end up a basketcase as well.  "It's ten thirty already.  Maybe we should just call it a night."

"Let's get this over with," he sighed.  He turned to Morgan with a deadpan expression on his face.  "If you think I'm gonna beat this fuckin' machine, then you really had way too much cheesecake!"

I could tell by his expression that Morgan didn't know how to take that comment.  I gave Jesse a fistful of tokens and he popped them all in.  He quickly toed off his sneakers and pushed a couple of buttons, causing the level six indicator light to come on.  The Karate Master materialized on the big screen and immediately bowed to us.

"Back up,"  Jesse said calmly, watching the screen but not bowing back.

We all held our breaths as the countdown dropped to zero and the computer voice shouted, "Fight!"

It was clearly a sophisticated program, because it certainly didn't do the same things or repeat the same patterns that  it had used against Tom.  Still, Jesse blocked every aggressive move as if he had played this exact version of the game a hundred times before.  I noticed that he was being totally defensive, keeping his opponent from scoring, but also not landing any blows himself.  It was amazing to see how effortlessly he anticipated and blocked every kick, punch, and jab while expending the minimum amount of energy.  Tom was just staring with his mouth hanging open and Morgan had a huge, satisfied grin on his face.

It wasn't until the last thirty seconds of the three minute round that Jesse finally launched an attack.  He still had to spend most of his time blocking the computer's moves, but he managed to score a hundred points to the computer's zero.

"Wow!" Tom gasped as the round ended.

"Fuckin' amazing!"  Morgan exclaimed.

"It was a good work out,"  Jesse acknowledged, looking barely winded.  

"You gotta keep going!" Morgan insisted.

He gave me a look that told me he clearly was ready to walk away.  A small crowd had once again gathered around, and due to the lateness of the hour, it was mostly adults, some of them slightly inebriated.

"Go for it, kid!"  someone shouted encouragingly.  There was a small round of applause.

Jesse looked at me and I shook my head.  He had nothing to prove to me.  I already knew he was amazing in every way.  But I sensed that it had more to do with Morgan than anything or anyone else.

Jesse punched the button, launching the next round.

The instant the computer yelled:  "FIGHT!"  it was like watching some sort of surreal, high speed ballet.  Jesse was so precise with his movements that it seemed like he was hardly trying.  It was breathtaking to watch him spin, crouch, strike and kick, his long blond hair flaring from his head as he rapidly moved from position to position.  I noticed that this time, he scored a large amount of points immediately, and then went back into a more defensive posture.  By the end of the round, the computer had only managed twenty points to Jesse's two hundred.

Even some of the staff had gathered around at this point.  One middle aged guy with a serious beer belly was even taping this on his camcorder.

"I see what you mean now about Jesse being scary..."  Tom whispered.  "I would've never believed he was this good--shit!"

"If I win this round, can we go back to the hotel?" Jesse asked Morgan tiredly.

I could see that my taller friend was seriously conflicted.  He had that fiercely competitive thing going on like nobody's business.  He loved pushing himself to the limit and he expected those he considered his friends to do the same.  But it was clear that Jesse was only doing this to satisfy Morgan's need to see a human beat the unflinching, coldly calculating machine and that he had no interest in pushing himself against this game of skill, no matter how challenging it was.  But even before Morgan could respond, the crowd that had gathered around began shouting words of encouragement.  There were even a few drunkenly tasteless slurs shouted out against the digitized Asian Master.

Suddenly, a tall, clean shaven man with a receding hairline and graying temples, dressed in an ESPN polo shirt came up.  "I'm Chuck, the manager.  Kid, if you can beat the next two levels of this thing, I can get you on the network!"

Cool!  Jesse on ESPN!

"You can do it, Jesse!"  Morgan said with unflinching confidence.

But Jesse looked at me with a thoughtful expression.  "I'll give it a try, but I don't think I can beat the last level.  And I don't wanna be on TV!"  he stated loud enough for everyone in the crowd to hear.

The manager shrugged helplessly.  "If that's the way you want it," he said disappointedly.  "No TV."

Jesse sort of scowled at the growing crowd like a grizzly bear stares out at the human onlookers from its cage at the zoo.  It was street fighting Jesse we were now seeing, of that I had no doubt.  He punched the button to move to the next level:  Third Degree Blackbelt!  I didn't think I was the only one holding my breath as the large counter descended from ten to zero.  


The crowd was respectively quiet, although someone would grunt or whoop when Jesse got in a particularly high scoring blow.  For his part, Jesse was incredibly fast, but the man on the screen seemed to be moving at an inhuman rate of speed--and why not?  He was only a computer creation.  He would rush back into his virtual space and then leap at the screen.  He would drop into a crouch and rake at Jesse with a pivoting leg.  He would spin and strike out unpredictably with hands or feet or both.  I honestly felt it was all Jesse could do to keep up with the thing.  As the bell rang sounding the end of this penultimate round, the score was a low one hundred and ten to seventy five, in Jesse's favor.  The crowd applauded and shouted, some even calling him The Karate Kid!  I had to wonder if Jesse could have taken Craig.  Surely, that curly haired imp couldn't possibly be faster than my beautiful ninja warrior angel.

Jesse looked at me, clearly winded although not taxed to the extent Tom had been after his battle with the Karate Master.  "I think I'm done," he stated quietly, giving me the slightest of smiles.  I breathed a sigh of relief, but the crowd didn't seem pleased.  Morgan remained quiet, clearly not wanting to push Jesse any further.

"C'mon!  One more round!  Don't wimp out!"  and "Go all the way!" they shouted.  Jesse ignored them as he stuffed his feet back into his sneakers until some drunk called out:  "You little pansy!  Scared to fight the fuckin' machine?!"

Jesse quickly turned, scanning the crowd to pick out who had made the derisive cat call.  By the embarrassed look on his face, it was clear that it was the beer belly guy with the camcorder.  Jesse bounded over to him, coming only up to the guy's double chin.

"I hope that's not how you talk to your own kids,"  Jesse noted, and the man looked like he was going to piss in his pants!  The crowd burst into appreciative applause and the man slunk away into the shadows.  The manager laughed and shook Jesse's hand.

"I've never seen anything like this, and I used to judge the U.S. Karate Open in Florida for years.  Some of the things you did were...very unconventional to say the least."

Jesse shrugged.  "I grew up in a tough neighborhood," he said without emotion.  Various people in the crowd were coming up trying to congratulate him, but Chuck wasn't done yet.

"I'll tell you what, kid.  You have an open invitation to come back and take on that last level whenever you want.  I'll treat you and your friends to dinner and you can play all the games you want for free.  What's your name?"  he asked, scribbling frantically on the back of his business card.

"Uh...Jesse Taylor..."

"Well, I was very impressed, Jesse.  You must make your sensei very proud!"

Jesse took the card and shrugged modestly.  I handed him a cold glass of Coke and he guzzled it down.  Morgan came and pounded him on the back.

"Amazing!"  he said.  "You're beyond good.  You're like an artist or something!"

"It was just a game,"  Jesse pointed out disinterestedly.

Morgan suddenly took me aside and his face stretched into a look of open fear.  "My God, Perry.  Imagine, I was trying to get him to beat me up!" he said squeamishly, recalling that crazy afternoon at my house when he had tried to provoke Jesse into some kind of violent encounter.  "I must've been totally out of my fuckin' mind!"

"He'd never do that to his friends,"  I assured him, gesturing back to the frozen figure on the screen.

We went back to the table and got our jackets.  My mom had thoughtfully taken my birthday presents back with her.  The cool nighttime air felt refreshing after all the excitement inside.  The four of us walked in close formation along the nearly empty street.  The stores were all closed up, although a couple of the fancier restaurants were still doing good business.

"I'd really appreciate it if you guys didn't talk about this at school,"  Jesse noted hesitantly.

"I get it,"  Morgan acknowledged, still shaking his head in disbelief at Jesse's performance.

"Do you go to tournaments?"  Tom asked, as we headed for the hotel.

"I used to...but I stopped,"  Jesse replied enigmatically.

"Why?"  Tom asked with genuine curiosity.  I was also wondering about that.  I remembered seeing a poster advertising an upcoming Karate tournament in Chicago, dated a couple of years ago, hanging in Jesse's bedroom.

Jesse just shrugged, clearly not wanting to to talk about it.

We walked through the hotel and Morgan noted the corridor that led to the pool area.  "I checked it out on the internet.  They have two awesome pools--and one is always heated!"  he noted excitedly as we walked down the nearly deserted corridors.  "I'm definitely going in the morning.  Anyone want to come along?"

"I didn't bring a suit,"  I told him with some relief.

"Besides, it's gonna be freezing!"  Tom pointed out.

"It's a great way to wake yourself up--get the circulation going!"  Morgan noted, trying to drum up a little enthusiasm for the idea.

"Knock yourself out,"  Jesse added unenthusiastically.

"There ya go!"  Tom exclaimed with a smile, pointing to the sign that said 'To Arcade.'

"Yeah, we'll for sure have to check that out tomorrow,"  I said with a grin of anticipation.

When we got to the room, I used the keycard to let us all in.  The first thing we did was take off our shoes.  Everyone's feet were probably as sore and tired as mine after a long day of walking around Disneyland, and Tom's and Jesse's had had an even more intense workout tonight.  Tom had to sit to untie his hi-top Nikes.  I watched with a slight grin on my face as his eyes darted first to my sock feet, then to Morgan's, and then to Jesse's.  I guessed he was just waiting for Jesse to take off his socks!

"I call the sofa!"  Jesse said wearily, and plopped down on it to make his claim indisputable.

"Okay then..."  Morgan said, noting the two queen size beds.  "Perry's the birthday boy, so he should get the bed nearest the bathroom to himself.  So that leaves this one for Tom and me.  Any objections, my man?"  Morgan asked Tom.

"I want the window side,"  he replied sluggishly.

"Cool, then I guess we're set with that,"  Morgan noted, quickly taking charge of the situation, just as he did as captain of the basketball team.  There was a vanity outside the actual bathroom with a mirror and sink as well as another full vanity in the bathroom itself.

"Perry, you wanna use the bathroom first?"  he asked.

I liked the way Morgan had walked in and taken charge.  It somehow made things easier and I was really too tired to think anyway.  "Sure..."  I said, taking full advantage of my status as birthday boy.

"Tom, you want the sink?" Morgan asked.  Tom nodded, digging his toothbrush and toothpaste out of his overnight bag.

I took my bag in with me.  My mom had thoughtfully packed my striped pajamas, but I just couldn't wear them--not in front of the other guys!  I decided to just strip down to my boxers, T-shirt, and socks, all still relatively fresh from just a few hours ago.  I washed my face, neck and arms and brushed my teeth.  I was even giddy enough, after my beautiful blond angel's amazing performance tonight--actually, both of his performances!--to look at myself in the mirror.  Yes, I was still plain ol' Perry Thompson, nothing much had changed there.  The dashing teenage stud from Tom's drawing hadn't suddenly materialized when I wasn't looking.  Of course my hair was shorter now and just covered the tops of my ears, but at least Kouda had the good sense to leave me some bangs.  My nose was the same, sort of thin and turned up at the end, the last vestiges of childhood freckles only visible with my face practically pressed against the glass.  There was that innocent looking mouth with the big lips out of which amazingly stupid things kept pouring like water shooting out of one of those stone fish in the middle of a fountain.  There was a rather ordinary, but well defined chin, and yes indeed, those big, round Hazel eyes that informed the world about anything and everything I was thinking and feeling not unlike the giant Astrovision TV in Times Square.  There was nothing extraordinary to look at, of course.  But there was something else, some extra, intangible thing...If I looked beyond the weariness in my expression, there was definitely something different there in that face staring back at me, something that for sure hadn't been there a year ago.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I was now fourteen massive years old!

I stuffed my dirty clothes in my overnight bag and came back out.  Morgan had also stripped to his T-shirt and boxer briefs, and I couldn't help but glance down at his crotch and the massive lump there, remembering the magnificent organ I had clutched in my hand a couple of weeks ago.  He gave me a little nod and a pat on the back as he took his stuff in the bathroom with him.  Tom was on the other side of his bed (the window side), dressed in briefs and a T-shirt.  He quickly pulled his sweatpants up to his waist as I came out.  Seeing me, he gave me a bashful smile.  He came around the bed and I saw that his feet were bare. 

"You look good,"  he noted quietly, "real good."

I shrugged.  "Don't say that Tom."  Then I remembered the pledge I had made to myself to let Tom express himself without me putting him down.  "Thanks...It does feel pretty good to be fourteen!"

"Take it from someone who knows these things," he whispered with a wicked grin on his face.  "You were the hottest thirteen year old on the planet, and you are without a doubt one of the finest looking fourteen year olds ever!"

I blushed and looked away.  I saw Jesse curled up on the sofa, his face towards the cushions.  He was still fully dressed.

"You okay?"  I asked worriedly, quietly padding over to the sitting area.

"'Night, Perry.  Happy Birthday,"  he mumbled.

"You're gonna wear your clothes to bed?"  Tom asked, maybe thinking Jesse had been serious when he had declared that he preferred to sleep in the buff.

"'Night, Tom--ya did good tonight...."  His voice trailed off wearily.

It seemed like that was all we were going to get out of Jesse for today.  I looked at Tom and shrugged, and then went to the closet and got out an extra blanket.  Tom helped me cover him and we both stood there looking at him.

Wow, he's really beat,"  Tom noted in a hushed voice.

"What about you?"  I asked, remembering how drained Tom had looked after his battle with the Karate Master.

He nodded, as we walked back towards the bedroom area.  "My hands and feet are still throbbing--I'll be sore tomorrow for sure."  The sound of running water was coming from the bathroom.

"Can you imagine what it would be like to get into a real street fight with Jesse?"  Tom asked, his voice mixed with fear and awe.

"I've seen him,"  I reminded him unenthusiastically.  "He's very fast; very good."

"He's not what you'd think of as a tough guy, huh?"  Tom asked.

"I guess not.  I mean, he's not big.  When I first saw him come to our class, I thought he was kinda frail looking."

"Yeah, I got the same impression.  That he was kinda delicate and pretty--like a movie star or something.  Have you ever seen him with his shirt off?"

While that wouldn't normally be such an unusual question,  considering that it was coming from Tom, I hesitated before answering.  "Well...yeah.."

"Is he like totally ripped?"

"Um...well....not really..."  I stammered awkwardly.

"You're so funny, Perry!"  Tom giggled.  "How come you're so shy about that kind of stuff?"

I shrugged.  "Well, goodnight, Tom,"  I said, pulling the bedcovers down.

Tom looked like he wanted to say something else, but then changed his mind.  Noting that Morgan was still in the bathroom, he leaned in to give me a kiss on the cheek.  

"Thanks for coming, Tom,"  I said as I leaned against the bed and peeled off my maroon socks.  "It was really great to see you doing your Tae Kwon Do thing tonight."

Tom shrugged self-consciously.  "Considering who I am, and the choices that I've made, I have a feeling that stuff just might come in handy someday."

The way he said that filled me with emotion and concern.  Sitting on the edge of my bed, I took his hand in mine and squeezed it lightly.  "For what it's worth, I'll always be your friend,"  I told him plainly and sincerely.

He seemed to be moved by my declaration, but didn't seem to know how to respond.  He gave me a tentative smile even as his eyes gleamed with moisture.

"Goodnight, Perry..." he whispered as he pulled his own bedcovers down and climbed in.  I glanced at the clock on the night stand.  It was nearly midnight.  It had indeed been a very long day.

Morgan came out a minute later.  "Hey, everyone in bed already?"  he asked disappointedly.  "Even Jesse?"  he noted, peaking around the corner.

"We're pooped!"  I informed him, my voice muffled by the pillow pressed against my face.  

"Lights..."  Tom requested.

"You guys..."  Morgan said with an exaggerated sigh as he flicked off all the lights.

There was still a little illumination in the room and I noticed there was a nightlight plugged into a socket next to the bathroom.  It was in the shape of Donald Duck's head and I liked that, because it reminded me of where we were!

"Does that bother you?" Morgan asked considerately.

"Nope.  Better than someone stubbing their toe on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night."

"Okay then..."  Morgan said, still lingering between the bathroom and my bed.

"You need something?"  I asked wearily.

"No.  Everything's totally cool,"  he assured me.  "'Night, Per."

"'Night, Morgan..."

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