Legal Notice:

The following contains descriptions of graphic sexual acts between consenting underage boys. It is an original 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 © (2004) 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 V Truths and Lies

Chapter 20: Jesse's Story

I swear I woke up Tuesday morning with a smile on my face. The Disneyland trip had been a total blast! Sure, we had all had our little emotional moments, but I was beginning to accept that that was part of what being a teenager was all about. During my shower, I remembered everything Jesse and I had done together when we were alone in that hotel room, and I shot my load with such force and passion, I had to lean against the tiled wall of the stall for a minute to regain my strength. God, that boy was Sex Incarnate! Once I got dressed, I sat at my desk and after only a few moments of hesitation, picked up the cellphone.

"Perry! I was just thinking about you, my man!" my dad answered, sounding surprised but clearly happy to hear from me.

"Am I interrupting anything?" I asked cautiously. I had never called my dad at work before.

"Nope. Monday morning is usually wading through a bunch of depositions and memos. Got some meetings this afternoon...but hey, what's up? Don't you have school or something?"

"Yeah, I gotta get downstairs in a minute...."

"How was the big trip?"

"It was great. I took my new friend, Jesse--you know--from Illinois. It's so much fun to go with someone who's never been before....You'll be massively disappointed to learn that Space Mountain was closed down, by the way. I guess they're doing a major renovation."

"I suppose they're making it even more nauseating than it was before!" my dad joked.

"Yeah, hopefully...." I took a deep breath to calm the butterflies forming in my stomach. "Listen, Dad, I was thinking...about what you asked me on Saturday...."

"Yes...?" I could hear the sudden apprehension in my dad's voice, and I knew there was no way I could let him down. This really meant something to him, and he was my dad and I loved him in some way that I couldn't even understand since it didn't seem to make any sense with everything he had done to me and especially my mother.

"I'd be your Best Man." There was no response and for a few moments, all I could hear were my own heartbeats pounding dully in my ears. Maybe he had already asked someone else over the weekend. "That is...if you still want me...."

"Wow..." he finally said. And then there was another long pause. "Wow...I'm just dumbstruck. I wasn't expecting this. I honestly thought you were gonna blow me off!" My dad's voice was so obviously choked with emotion that I was starting to feel an empathetic tightness in my own throat.

"You're my one and only dad," was all I could think of to say.

"Thank you, Perry. You really made my day here. I can't wait to tell Staci...." His voice trailed off suddenly as he realized that I would probably have preferred not to hear her name mentioned. I decided to be a good sport.

"Be sure to tell her...hi for me," I offered.

"I sure will, Perry; I sure will," he replied, still sounding flustered by my decision. "And by the way, I emailed your mom over the weekend so she probably knows already, but I went ahead and booked your ticket. I made it for Sunday, December 21st--first class of course. I figured you might like a day to spend with your friends before you come out, and your mom mentioned something about possibly getting together with some of her folks before you left."

Now I was the one who was flabbergasted. "Gees, Dad! That's great!" And then realizing that my excitement might hurt his feelings, I added in a more restrained tone, "I mean, yeah, it would be nice to have a day off before I get on the plane."

"Thought you'd like that, sport," my dad chuckled. "But you need to stay until January 4th--that's the Sunday before school starts up again. I'm really sorry that it has to be like this. I know you don't like having to leave your friends and your mother just when you have the freedom to actually spend some serious time with them. I'm truly sorry for that." There was a pause. "And whether you believe it or not, it's one of the greatest regrets of my life," he sighed. "I'm not doing this to hurt you. But you are my son, and I want so badly to spend time with you. Can you somehow find it in your heart least understand why it's like this?"

"Uh...sure..." I said uncomfortably. While he was almost always a cheerful person, it was unusual to hear him sounding so...emotional.

"And guess what?" he added in a lighter tone.


"Staci and I will be flying back with you. We're honeymooning in Hawaii!"

"Oh...that's cool..." I said uncertainly.

"Don't worry. We won't put your mother in an awkward spot," he added quickly. "We'll only have about an hour layover before the plane takes off for Honolulu, so we'll just have time to stretch our legs and we'll be off the ground again."


"Don't worry, Per," my dad assured me. "I'll work everything out with your mother. We're really looking forward to you coming out," he said, quickly changing the subject. "We'll have to get you fitted for your tux first thing Monday morning. You'll have your own Armani penguin suit--what d'ya think of that?" he asked proudly.

"That's awesome," I said. Jessica would probably insist that I wear it to our own wedding some time in the Spring. "I hope you won't have to miss any meetings or anything because of me."

There was another long pause. "Gees, Perry...Is that really how you think of me? That you're just a...a distraction? That when you're not here, you're not in my thoughts?"

"I...I don't know..." I hadn't expected this conversation to get so heavy. I mean, it was only seven in the morning--at least for me.

"We'll talk, Perry. When you come out, we're gonna sit down and really talk. I owe you that, now that you're fourteen. I can't expect you not to have some resentment over what happened, and I can't expect you to just accept me as an important part of your life, but by God, Perry...You're my son, my beautiful, precious boy...."

"Hey, Dad. I'm sorry," I interrupted quickly. "I didn't mean to upset you or anything. I just wanted to tell you know...the Best Man stuff."

My dad chuckled drily. "Yeah...I know that. It's just that...I hear it in your voice...It's like--Who is this guy and why does he keep dragging me to New York? He's not a part of my life here in Santa Corina. He doesn't know my friends; he doesn't come to my games; he doesn't eat with us...Oh, Perry...We hafta talk, my man...."


I heard a sniffle and I realized my dad must actually be crying over there! "Okay, Perry, my man--my Best Man!" he emphasised. "Gotta get back to work here, and you need to get to school...Uh...Say hi to your mom for me, please?"

"Sure, Dad. I will, and...See ya soon!" I ended the call with some sense of relief. I sat there at my desk for a few minutes, struggling with conflicting thoughts and emotions. My dad was a cool guy as far as grown-ups went. He had lots of friends and always seemed well liked by everyone. But the thing he had done was inexcusable. He had obviously hurt my mom very deeply, and even though it had been nearly two years since he had moved out on us, it was clear that she was still trying to deal with her strong feelings for him. My mom was such a great person, I just hated to see her suffer like this. Why couldn't we be a happy, normal family? If my dad hadn't run into his old high school sweetheart in Vegas.... If he had just come home and spent time with his family and not gotten involved with her.... If they hadn't moved to New York.... What a sad mess....

"Is something bothering you?" my mom asked, as she put a stack of steaming hot pancakes on a plate for me.

"I was just talking to Dad. I wanted to tell him that I'd do that...that Best Man thing for him.... And it turned out...."

"I'm sure he was pleased to hear that," my mom said, looking at me with concern. "What is it?"

"I just don't understand..." I admitted. "It seems like he cares about me...and about you, but he still left us. Why would he do that?"

My mom set her pan and spatula down. I was sitting at the counter on my tall stool and she came up behind me and gently rubbed my shoulders. "Life is so complicated, Perry. I think you're old enough now, that we could sit and talk about it sometime...but the truth is, there are no simple answers to why things are the way they are. Just know that we both love you, and it tore your father's heart in two to leave you here. He wasn't abandoning you. But he knew it was for the best. He was completely for me bringing you back to Santa Corina and sending you to St. Boniface. We could have stayed in La Jolla, and your father would have helped to send you to Stella Maris or Delphi or any of those fancy private schools, and even though it was my idea to move here, he fully supported it."

"Are you glad we moved here?" I asked, thinking about all the problems and worry I had caused my mom lately.

There was no hesitation in her response. "Yes."

I thought about my beautiful blond angel, like a golden shaft of light breaking through a solid bank of menacing black clouds. "Me too...."

Even though it had only been three days since I was here, it felt more like an entire summer had passed since I last stepped foot on the grounds of St. Boniface. So many things had happened since I left school on Friday, giddily looking forward to my birthday trip. There had been some wonderful experiences and some horrible ones. I had betrayed the trust of the two people dearest to me, but I had made a new and unlikely friend in the person of Theresa Hernandez. I had learned why Gary had done the things he had at the rummage sale and that he felt a physical attraction for me that neither one of us was comfortable with. I had learned that Jesse had a gift for music in addition to his many other talents. I had learned what it felt like to be kicked in the gut by an altar boy. I had learned that Jessica Bainbridge wanted me to take her virginity from her at some point in the unspecified future, and that she was more than willing to suck me off if I only gave her the word. I also realized now that I was physically attracted to Jessica, although not to the degree I was to Jesse. I learned that in some ways, Tom was the most together of all of us. He knew what he was; he knew what he liked, and for the most part, he knew how to deal with all the intense and complex feelings these choices elicited. He said he loved me and I had to believe him, but he also understood that I couldn't reciprocate those feelings. Morgan remained something of a mystery to me, although Jesse and I had learned that he too had some sort of confused physical attrraction to me. I wondered if there was some weird pheromone I was giving off, causing all these people to see me as some sort of object of sexual desire. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see anyone that looked the least bit sexy. I was blessed with a clear complexion and my childhood freckles had faded to near oblivion, but otherwise I was rather plain and nondescript.

But above and beyond all that, was my growing relationship with Jesse Taylor. I had put him in the middle of a horrible predicament by running off half-cocked to Hode Ranch on Friday. It had forced us to reveal to our mothers several violent incidents that had transpired since Jesse had arrived in Santa Corina, incidents that echoed a troubled past that the Taylors had been hoping to put behind them. And yet, he still wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with him. The fact was that we needed each other, that neither of us was complete without the other. It was also clear, as Christmas vacation and my forced exile to NYC loomed like an endless black tunnel, that dependence, both physical and emotional, was only growing stronger.

Still, here we were, eighth graders at our little Catholic school in northern San Diego County, just trying to live our lives and deal with all the changes that were going on in our young teenage minds and bodies. I would do anything I could for my friends: Tom, Morgan, Gary, and even Jessica, but nothing could stand in the way of my relationship with Jesse--nothing.

I headed first for the office, where I was cheerfully greeted by the school secretary, Mrs. Scott, mother of the seventh grade twins, Melissa and Billy.

"Good morning, Perry!" she said with a warm and sincere smile. While she had Melissa's fluffy, light blonde hair and warm blue-grey eyes, she was rather short and plump--more like her son Billy.

"Uh...Hi, Mrs. Scott. Yeah, it was a great trip. We all had lots of fun but...Well, I guess I kinda lost my student I.D.," I admitted sheepishly.

"Oh, that's no problem, dear. Everything's in the database now, so it'll be easy to make you a new one. Come back at lunch time, and it'll be ready."

"Gee, thanks, Mrs. Scott," I said, relieved that no one was giving me a big hassle about it. Of course, if they had any idea where I had actually lost it....

"By the way, we just love the beautiful artwork!" Mrs. Scott noted, gesturing to the side of the tall counter with a pudgy arm.

I nearly had a heart attack, suddenly being face to face Tom's overheated version of me. It was starting to get a little creepy, looking at that thing. I knew I didn't really look like that, but still...There was enough of a resemblence there to make me feel weird about having a giant drawing of myself sitting on a large display easel in the school office. And thinking about that drawing, and that Sunday afternoon in Tom's studio brought back a lot of weird feelings as well. It had only been a little over a week ago that Tom first confessed that he really had deep feelings for me, feelings that went beyond a mere physical attraction and closer to the deep emotional connection that I had with Jesse. Of course, I didn't have those kinds of feelings for Tom, and the best I could do was reveal to him my interest in feet, a fetish he apparently shared. It was clear to me that I owed him more than that, but I wasn't sure what I could offer him since I was interested neither in a romantic or physical relationship with him.

"Oh...yeah...It is good...Tom's a really good artist," I offered, "and it sorta does look like me...if you kinda squint a little...."

Mrs. Scott laughed rather boisterously for someone who worked in an office.

As I entered Sister Mary Margaret's homeroom, I glanced nervously at Morgan, who still looked uneasy and distracted. I wondered if it had something to do with the 'appointment' we had set up for some time in the near future for him to jack me off, basically returning the favor I had done for him the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But I quickly realized how self-centered of me that was. Morgan had plenty of other things on his mind: personal issues, worries about his brother Derek, his relationship with Katy Mulroney, and his rather explosive temper to deal with.

The frienship band given to me by Jessica felt tight and uncomforable clinging to my ankle, hidden from view by my sock. When I hesitated putting it on this morning, it occurred to me that I was actually scared to upset her. What if she asked to see it and I wasn't wearing it? I wondered what power females had over males to make them cringe in fear at any sort of rebuke. I didn't have those kinds of feelings about Jesse. If I fucked up, I looked forward to apologizing as best I could and to kissing and making up. And speaking of Jesse, all thoughts of the elastic band around my ankle that proclaimed me the property of one Jessica Anastasia Bainbridge, evaporated when he walked briskly into the classroom, hardly the shy, fragile looking boy who had first entered our classroom with his head bowed and his features partially concealed by long bangs of golden blond hair almost three months ago. Today, he held his head high and gave both Morgan and Tom a confident nod of greeting. As he approached the back of the room, where his desk sat directly in front of mine, his face broke into a cheerful grin of bright white teeth and I felt my heart warm and my dick twitch.

Jessica chose today to announce her party plans to the class. It was to take place at her house starting at six, a week from this Friday. Everyone was to dress in their most Christmasy wardrobe, and there'd be egg nog, cookies, cakes, and pizza of course! She wanted to do a secret Santa thing and we'd pick names tomorrow. Only eighth graders were invited and she wanted the boys to ask the girls to be their dates. Several people announced that they wouldn't be able to make it, including Dana Dupres and Gene Rauch. I was disappointed to hear Gene wasn't coming, and I had been curious to see who he would ask to be his date. And since Dana wasn't coming, that left Tom wide open!

"I've already got my date!" Jessica tittered, glancing knowingly in my direction. I consoled myself with the fact that the Friday before Christmas break was a half day and hopefully I'd get to spend a little time with my beautiful blond angel before having to get all dressed up for the big soiree.

At lunch, Tom quickly announced that he was going to sit with Derek, and Katy almost immediately scooped up Morgan, leaving Jesse and I a few moments to ourselves. While I didn't want to ruin our peaceful and private lunch with any negative thoughts, I couldn't help wondering what was in store for us. It was more than likely that Mrs. Taylor and my mom had discussed the possible punishments Jesse and I were to receive for all the fights, lies, and deceptions we had been involved in.

"Was your mom really mad when you told her about the mall, and Gus, and the rummage sale stuff?" I asked, between mouthfuls of ham and cheese sandwich.

"Well, I'm not sure 'mad' is so much the word as 'disappointed,'" he said. "I told you I was getting into lots of fights back in Chicago, and I'd promised her it would be different when we moved out here, so you can imagine...."

"I'm so sorry I got you into this mess."

"Well, if there's anyone who should apologize, it should be me," Jesse countered. "If I hadn't accepted Gus's challenge...."

"Gary said that Gus got arrested and he's in deep shit!"

Jesse just nodded disinterestedly at that bit of news.

"I guess Billy got away..." I noted uncertainly.

At that, he did bristle a little. "Good...Maybe we'll meet someday..." he noted coldly.

That made me shiver and I steered the topic back to my original question. "What'll your mom do?" I asked worriedly.

"I'm not sure..." he said. "I think the fact that they didn't involve anyone from school, and that no one filed any complaints or anything, will work in my favor. In other words...I've been in worse trouble before," he admitted with a sardonic grin.

"Gosh, I'm so sorry..." I apologized again.

"I got through that stuff okay...mostly," he assured me with a hesitant smile, "and I didn't even have you with me!"

I smiled back, wanting to reach across the metal lunch table and hold his slender hand in mine. But such an open display of affection was something that was denied to us for the moment, and maybe for a long time, but certainly not forever.

"I'm so sorry I made such a mess of things...."

"I'm not saying you did the right thing exactly, running off to that ranch," Jesse offered, "but if you were trying to impress me with what an amazing person you truly are, then you totally succeeded!"

Before I could protest that unwarranted compliment, Manny and Artim came trotting over, slightly out of breath. "Hey dudes!" the tall Armenian exclaimed, and there were the requisite high fives all around.

"What's up?" Jesse asked suspiciously.

"Miss Zimmerman is putting together a basketball scrimmage! You guys wanna play?" Manny asked excitedly.

That sounded like fun to me. It was a brisk enough day that I wouldn't get all sweaty and uncomfortable before going to my afternoon classes. "Sure! Just let me finish this up," I said, taking another hurried bite out of my sandwich.

"Jesse, dude?" Artim asked.

"Shouldn't you be at football practice?" he asked Manny.

"I don't hafta be there for another fifteen mintues yet--I just skip eating."

"That's not very healthy," Jesse pointed out. "Anyway, I think I'll pass. I'm not very good and you guys are like a championship team...."

"C'mon!" I urged him, chugging down my sandwich with a healthy gulp of Sunny D. "Jesse's one of the most accurate free throwers I ever saw!" I informed the guys.

"Kewl!" Manny exclaimed.

"Hey...check it out!" Artim said, gesturing over to a table near the pine trees.

At first, I didn't know what he was talking about, and then I saw it: Tom and Derek sitting alone, on the same side of the table right next to each other. They were playfully bumping each other with their hips and both had big grins on their faces. I thought it was really cute.

"Man, that is so gay!" Artim declared.

"Fuckin' fags!" Manny chimed in. "Morgan's gonna kill Tom!"

I wasn't even sure where Katy and Morgan were at the moment, although I doubted that they could see what the younger Kipner was doing.

"Let's go razz them!" Artim suggested enthusiastically.

"Let's not," Jesse suggested right back.

"It'd be for their own good, dude!" Artim insisted.

"I've got a better idea," Jesse said calmly. "You guys go hit the court, and I'll tell them to knock it off, okay?"

Manny looked at Artim and there was a definite sense of disappointment there. "You comin'?" Artim asked me.

"He should probably come with me," Jesse decided. "He's closer to Tom than I am."

"Man, that drawing Espinoza did of you was fuckin' awesome!" Manny declared with genuine regard.

"It didn't really look like me though," I quickly pointed out.

Manny and Artim just exchanged puzzled looks. "Anyway, turns out all the really talented artists are fags," Manny announced solemnly. I wondered what the source of his information was.

"Really?" Jesse asked. "I thought they were all supposed to be alcoholic skirt chasers...."

Manny laughed. "I don't see Espinoza chasing any skirts!" he noted.

"Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but what about you two?" Jesse asked in an inordinately polite tone of voice.

Manny and Artim looked at him dumbly.

"You guys are always hanging out with each other and I don't see any gals around."

I could see Artim bristle at the insinuation, but Manny actually looked a bit concerned by Jesse's implication.

"It's not the same thing at all--Fuck You, Taylor!" Artim sneered dismissively, and quickly turned and headed for the basketball court, where Eric, Harvey, Reggie and some others were already playing.

"The battle cry of the guilty!" Jesse called out to his back.

Artim didn't return fire, but Manny stood there for an awkward moment. There was indeed a guilty look on his face and I didn't know if it was because he was feeling bad about accusing Derek and Tom, or if it was because of what Jesse had said. Then his face hardened.

"You really pissed him off!" he said, more an observation than an accusation.

But Jesse took it as a threat, or pretended to anyway. "Ooooh, I'm so scared!"

Manny looked at the two of us uncomfortably, attempted to form a scowl on his smooth round face, couldn't quite manage it, and took off after Artim.

"Two morons in search of half a brain," Jesse noted bitterly.

"They're not so bad," I offered, thinking about Goreski, Hernandez and Hollister.

"Not now; this school is so small. But get a few more like that in one place--like at Holy Trinity, and you've got Bullies Inc. for sure."

"What're you gonna say to Tom and Derek?" I asked, noting that the two were still sitting there, playfully shoving each other and laughing rather girlishly.

"Story time," he said as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and headed across the lunch area.

"Hey, guys!" Jesse called, loudly announcing our approach.

Tom smiled as he saw us, but Derek looked a little annoyed at the disruptrion. Jesse sat across from the pair and I joined him.

"Manny and Artim think you're gay," Jesse reported without preamble.

"They're morons!" Derek declared dismissively.

"No one listens to anything they say," Tom added.

"Oh, like when they told everyone about the rummage sale fight?" Jesse reminded them.

Now Derek looked a little uncomfortable, but Tom's cheerful disposition continued unabated.

"We weren't doing anything wrong," he insisted.

"What you were doing looked very gay," Jesse contradicted him flatly.

"But I'm not..." Derek began to protest.

Jesse held up a hand. "Look, you guys have to make up your own minds how you want to handle this. I mean, you both have some martial arts training, and I figure you can hold your own against the likes of Manny and Artie...." Jesse nodded confidently at Tom, "but there are jerks out there who make those guys look like the Olsen twins."

"We should just stop," Derek said nervously, and the way he said it, it was clear he wasn't just talking about their affectionate lunch time horseplay.

Tom looked at me fearfully.

"Don't get your panties in a bunch!" Jesse said, and Derek scowled.

"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?" the younger Kipner asked.

"Okay...bad choice of words," Jesse conceded, although there was a little smirk on his face.

"You guys said you were going to be careful," I reminded them.

Finally, Tom looked a bit regretful. "Gees, a couple of buds goofing around at lunch shouldn't be a big deal," he noted sheepishly. "When girls do stuff like that, no one says anything."

"That's true," Jesse agreed, "but that's how things are. Artie and Manny probably aren't even serious about their accussations, but that doesn't mean they're gonna stop making comments and spreading rumors. It's how they get attention."

"All right," Tom conceded. "We'll be more careful..."

Derek looked like he had just had his hand physically slapped and hung his head shamefully. Somehow he looked really cute like that!

"Last winter, I got in a pretty big fight at the school I was going to in Cicero, and it ended up that...well, it was just better that we moved," Jesse said, apparently deciding that it was time to tell the story he had been hinting at for some time now. "We didn't have much money of course, but eventually we ended up back in my hometown of Evanston--except not in a very good neighborhood."

He glanced at Tom and Derek to make sure he had their attention. They seemed as interested as I was. It was so rare that Jesse actually talked about anything that happened to him before he came to California.

"My new school was called Gregson Middle, and it was a big, ugly public school, sixth through eighth. I was in seventh of course, and I didn't know anyone, of course...."

I was already beginning to feel a tightness in my gut. Just thinking about my beautiful blond angel being all by himself in some huge school with hundreds of kids in each grade, big grey halls lined with dented lockers, dull, lifeless teachers who didn't care about anything or anyone, kids from every walk of life all randomly mixed together, one group hating the other group, kids taking drugs and boozing....

"I tested into some of the advanced classes, so I ended up hanging out with the...nerds, I guess you'd call them. I wasn't really close friends with any of them, mainly 'cause I just wanted to be left alone...stay out of trouble, ya know?"

"Why are you telling us this?" Derek asked curiously.

"I think you guys could benefit from hearing this," Jesse explained patiently.

"Perry too?" Derek asked.

Jesse shrugged. "He doesn't have to stay if he doesn't want to. It doesn't really affect him...."

Did Jesse want me to leave? Was the story he was telling for Tom and Derek's ears only? Well, that was okay...really. I could go join the guys on the basketball court. I started to get up.

"Don't go, Perry!" Tom pleaded.

I glanced at Jesse, and the look in his eyes told me that what he had said was purely for Tom and Derek's benefit. I almost smiled, but quickly checked myself as I sat back down.

"Did you have to take showers in P.E.?" Derek asked.

"They were optional, so of course, only some of the bigger jock types did it. The rest of us could only look on enviously..." he noted with a thin smile.

"Because they had hair and stuff down there?" Derek inquired anxiously.

Jesse rolled his eyes. "Gees, Derek..."

"Okay, okay..." he acknowledged sheepishly.

"Just let me get through this," Jesse said. "There was this one kid, Ron Halwicki, that sorta latched on to me more than the others. I guess he was trying to be my friend but I sorta kept my distance. We didn't see each other outside of school or anything. But one day, I asked him about this other kid I'd been noticing. He was in my homeroom and our advanced math class. His name was Bobby Cohen." Jesse paused, and I sensed that these memories carried with them some strong emotional baggage. I could sense that he was struggling to keep a calm demeanor as he told the story.

"I noticed that Bobby was always alone. No one talked to him in either of the classes we shared. The lunch room was huge and packed with kids, especially in the winter when it was pretty much impossible to eat outside, but when I did catch a glimpse of Bobby, he was clearly sitting alone. I finally asked Ron about him and he said that there was a rumor going around that Bobby was gay."

"Oh..." I heard Tom whisper, a small but unmistakable sound of genuine sympathy for this lonely boy from Jesse's recent past.

"I just nodded and didn't say anything more about it. I had some idea of what a gay person was, and I wasn't really creeped out by it or anything, but like I said, I wasn't really looking to make any friends. I had a feeling that, if I approached this kid, he'd be stuck to me like a barnacle to the Navy Pier."

"You're so cute!" Tom blurted out.

We all looked at him in astonishment and he smiled sheepishly as his mocha colored cheeks took on a soft reddish glow.

"He is..." Tom muttered stubbornly.

Jesse rolled his eyes and continued. "But one day, I noticed him carrying his lunch tray around, desperately looking for a quiet spot to sit and eat. He happened to glance our way and he looked so pathetic, I just instinctively waved him over. A few of the guys groaned and complained, but I just ignored them. Bobby's face lit up with a big smile, and well, it was pretty hard to resist. Turned out though, he was a lot like me, very bashful and hard to get to open up. But the next day, he came and sat with us without any sort of enticement. After a few days, I noticed he and Ron were starting to hit it off and I was glad for that."

I felt the emotions beginning to swell in my own chest. While I wanted to hear the story of Ron and Bobby, I was mostly thinking about Jesse. I so wished I could have been there for him, and I was more glad than ever that I had walked up to him that first day. I realized now that that was probably the last thing he had been expecting or even looking for when he showed up at St. Boniface. No doubt he would have remained a loner as long as he could, although it was a more difficult thing to maintain in such a small school. I had a strong suspicion that if it hadn't been me, Tom or Derek or even Jeremiah would have tried to befriend Jesse, although I had no idea what sort of success they might have had.

"Well, some of the other guys apparently didn't approve of having someone who'd been labeled a 'fag' sitting at lunch with us, and this was despite the fact that they were card carrying geeks themselves!"

Derek snickered.

"In a way, their attitude was justified, because one day, when Bobby was carrying his tray and looking around for us, some butt-headed eighth grader tripped the poor kid. The crashing tray made a really loud noise so pretty much everyone turned to look. I saw his food--and his glasses--go flying up into the air as he fell forward, probably flat on his face. Of course, everyone thought it was hilarious."

"Did you go help him?" Tom asked worriedly. The extent of his empathy and compassion for someone he didn't even know was truly touching.

"No I didn't," Jesse confessed. "And neither did anyone else. In fact, Ron started to get up and I stopped him. I knew what it was like to get on the wrong side of a group of bullies."

"That wasn't very nice!" Tom said disapprovingly. "You could have kicked that guy's ass!"

Jesse took Tom's criticism without rancor. "You have to understand that it was a big school. The bully that tripped Bobby probably had four or five friends of like mind hangin' with him. I'd already had to leave two schools because I got into too many fights with guys like that. And I certainly wasn't going to let a scrawny bookworm like Ron Halwicki put himself in harm's way. So the way I look at it, I did save someone that day, and I did it without getting into a big showdown."

There was some quiet reflection at our table. While I totally sympathized with Tom's frustration, I had to admit that Jesse made a lot of sense. He knew what a dangerous place the world was, and he had learned to act with a sense of perspective for the big picture.

"So by the end of that week, it ended up with just the three of us sitting together. I have to admit I kinda liked it, because we were sort of shunned by the other kids--even the nerds, and the less people I had to get involved with, the better."

"What does this have to do with us?" Derek asked again.

"Well, it may have nothing to do with you," Jesse noted with some annoyance, "so if you have somewhere else you need to be...."

Tom gave Derek a mildly reprimanding look and that was enough to cause the younger boy to wilt. "Go on..." Derek muttered sulkily.

"That next Monday, I noticed that Bobby was looking even more withdrawn than he had before. He wouldn't talk to me in homeroom and during math, he just seemed to cower in his lonely corner. I noticed Ron was looking really weird too. I was surprised at lunch that Bobby was again sitting by himself. I went to sit by him, but Ron grabbed me and pulled me away. We ended up sitting with our usual group again. Ron started telling us how Bobby had invited him over on Saturday and had tried to kiss him. And he was talking so loud, that anyone sitting around could hear. But I think that's what he wanted--to make sure that everyone understood that Bobby was the fag and Ron was an innocent victim."

"That Ron seems like a real bastard!" Tom declared.

Jesse shrugged. "You have to understand that Ron and all these other guys I hung with, they were always living in fear. They were mostly small and weak and constant targets of every bully that roamed the halls--and there were plenty of those. So, to have the added stigma of even being suspected of being gay only would've added to their troubles...well, you can kinda understand why they didn't want anything to do with that."

"Bobby was just looking for someone to share his feelings with," Tom speculated sympathetically.

"That might be," Jesse concurred, "but he should've been a lot more careful about it. He should've gotten to know Ron a little better before he made a pass at him. Anyway, Ron was really pissed and embarrassed about the whole thing. I know I should've gone over and talked to Bobby but...."

"You didn't want to get involved," Derek finished, and he said it in a nonaccusatory, matter-of-fact sort of way.

"Yeah, it wasn't right, but I just couldn't risk getting in any more trouble. My mom was really at the end of her rope and she was struggling just to pay our heating bill through the winter in the shitty little apartment we were living in."

I felt myself shiver, having experienced winter in New York and trying to imagine what the undoubtedly harsher, Midwestern version was like--piles of blowing snow, icy streets, frigid, below zero temperatures....

"A couple of days later, while I was waiting for my bus after school, I thought I recognized Bobby and Ron. It was March and still really cold, and when everyone's bundled up in their big coats, scarves and hats, it's sometimes hard to recognize people right away," he explained to us spoiled southern Californians. "They were up against a wall along the side of the school and there was a group of four kids starting to cluster around them. It was pretty clear to me what was going on...."

"Did you kick their asses?!" Derek asked excitedly.

Jesse shook his head. "I pointed it out to one of the teachers on bus duty, and she got some help and cleared things up. After that, I noticed Ron starting to sit with Bobby again and I joined them, but it seemed like they would have preferred to be alone. No one mentioned anything about the little after school scene. So things went on quietly for about another week, and it was pretty clear that Ron and Bobby were starting to get close."

"Close how?" Derek asked.

"Like when they talked, they giggled a lot and shoved each other around and just seemed way too...cheerful...."

"You mean 'gay'," Tom noted soberly.

Jesse nodded. "Yeah, I was starting to get worried for them again and I warned them not to get themselves into any potentially dangerous situations. But twelve year olds have short memories I guess, because they did get themselves in trouble again. They tried sneaking out around back by the dumpsters one day during last period. It wasn't that unusual for some of the more frisky hetero couples to do things like that, but for two boys...Some bullies that were ditching classes found them and tried to beat them up."

"But you saved them?!" Derek asked again.

"No," Jesse admitted. "I was in class, so I didn't find out about it 'til later. It turned out they mostly just got roughed up--with threats for worse things to come if they ever got caught messing around again..."

"Gees, that sounds like a dangerous school!" Tom noted with exasperation.

"I guess there's about two hundred fifty kids here, from kindergarten through eighth grade, right?" Jesse asked. I nodded. "Well, there were more than six hundred kids at this school. Everyone was vying for attention in their own way. If you were an eighth grader, or you happened to be physically a little bigger than most of the other kids, the easiest thing to do was to be a bully. Find someone, or some group weaker than you to pick on. The guys I hung out with got teased all the time. Kids would get tripped, or shoved into their locker, or have their books spilled in the corridor...."

"What about you?" Tom asked.

Jesse shrugged. "Like I said, I tried hard to stay out of trouble. The last thing I wanted was for the whole school to know I was a blackbelt."

I remembered how important it was to Jesse that I keep his secret. But circumstances, and the big mouths of Manny and Artim eventually won out and now pretty much everyone had heard at least some variation on the incident at St. Agnus. Whether they believed it or not was a different matter.

"So, I'll try to wrap this up," Jesse said, glancing at his watch. "Ron and I had a private talk one day when Bobby wasn't there, and it turned out they were doing some messing around together...."

"Like what?" Derek asked with more than idle curiosity.

"Well, he told me it was mostly just cuddling and kissing and stuff," Jesse said, but he sounded a little skeptical.

"You mean, they didn't jack each other off or anything?" Derek asked disappointedly.

"Well...uh...not from what he told me...."

Derek nodded.

"So it was early April, about a month after I first invited Bobby to sit with us, that there was a big commotion going on when I got to school. There was an ambulance and a fire truck parked outside with all the lights flashing. It turned out that Bobby Cohen had been seriously injured...."

Tom gasped. "What happened?"

"Everyone was saying that he had slipped and fallen down a flight of stairs. It was kind of a slushy day, being early spring, and the floors got pretty slick with so many kids shuffling around, so it's possible..."

"But that's not what really happened?" I speculated.

"Well, I didn't see Ron at lunch that day, although I didn't think anything of it at the time. The next morning they announced over the P.A. that Bobby had broken his leg and gotten a pretty bad concussion...."

"Oh no..." Tom moaned as if Bobby were his own friend.

"Yeah, but the worst thing was that he had slipped into a coma," he reported sadly.

There was a heavy silence at our table and the sounds of chattering kids, thumping basketballs and occassional boyish shouts or bursts of girlish laughter suddenly seemed to retreat into some distant world.

"When I saw Ron at lunch the next day he looked really...weird. We snuck outside to talk. That's when he told me that he had pushed Bobby!"

"No way!" Derek gasped disbelievingly.

"It seemed that Bobby had caught up to him on the way to their lockers that morning. They were standing on the landing of one of these big staircases where five or six people could walk side by side. Apparently Ron and Bobby had some kind of plans to get together over the upcoming spring break, and Bobby was really excited. He'd never had a close friend before--especially one that liked to mess around, and I think he just lost his sense of perspective. He started to kiss Ron right there in the open!"

"Shit!" Derek gasped, now totally drawn into Jesse's dramatic story.

"Well, it just so happened that a couple of the bullies that had been hassling them were coming up the stairs at the same time, although apparently no one was really paying any attention to the two little guys standing at the top of the stairs. But Ron panicked anyway and he pushed Bobby away and..."

"Oh no..." Tom said, and he sounded like he was about to cry. Derek sat in stunned silence and I tried my best to keep the emotions stirring in my chest from causing tears to pour out of my own eyes.

"Fortunately for Ron--I guess--no one actually saw him push Bobby. There were about twenty other kids around when it happened and Ron panicked and started blubbering that Bobby had just slipped."

"Wouldn't it have seemed obvious that Ron had been the one to push him?" Derek asked suspiciously.

Jesse shook his head. "Ironically, the guys Ron recognized as two of the bullies that had been hassling them, actually backed up his story."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because they knew that Bobby and Ron were an item--or at least more than friends if you want to think of it that way. It never occurred to anyone that one little gay dweeb would deliberately push another little gay dweeb down the stairs. So, there was an investigation, but Ron was cleared, not only because Bobby was in a coma and not talking, but because of what these guys said--weird, huh?"

"But Ron didn't really mean to push Bobby down the stairs, did he?" I asked.

Jesse shrugged. "I tried to make him see that, but he really felt like it was all his fault. He had pushed Bobby away, not wanting to get caught being kissed by another boy in front of the other kids. He said he should have thought about where they were standing, and that he had been impulsive and reckless."

"So what happened to Bobby?" Tom asked.

There was a rather long pause, and I could see Jesse barely able to contain the powerful emotions this story was bringing up. "As far as I know, he's still in a coma."

"And Ron...?" I asked.

"After that day he talked to me, he never came back to school. It was he had just showed up to tell me how guilty he felt and then..."

"Did you try to find out what happened to him?" I asked.

Jesse nodded. "Turns out he tried to commit suicide. Took a bunch of painkillers, got really sick...ended up in the hospital for a while, and then just home schooled for the rest of the year. When I found out what hospital he was in, I wanted to go see him right away, but he...he didn't want to see me..." he revealed sadly. "I think he was really ashamed about...everything...."

"No one can understand how hard it is when you like boys," Tom noted dismally, visibly shaken by Jesse's story.

Derek seemed moved, but still a little skeptical. "Is this story for real...Or are you just trying to scare us?"

"Both," Jesse replied simply.

Special thanks to Blue for taking on the formidable task of editing P&J. I was very impressed by his meticulous and professional approach to the job. Hope everyone will give him a word of thanks for his efforts at the forum.

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