The following contains mild descriptions of sexual acts between consenting underage boys. It is an original work of fiction and has no basis in reality.
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Jesse's story clung to me all afternoon like a wet coat. Somehow I managed to get through another one of Mr. Walsh's droning lectures, but during Spanish, I just started to feel really weird. I kept thinking about those two boys. There was little Bobby Cohen, a shy, nerdy kid who had somehow discovered that he was attracted to boys. Maybe he had been caught staring at some of the better endowed guys in the showers after P.E. Maybe he had even been bold enough to try approaching another boy that he found attractive. But for whatever reason, he had been clearly labeled as a fag, a pariah to the rest of the student body.
Then there was Ron Halwicki. Maybe he was also coming to the realization that he was attracted to boys, or maybe, like me, it only became clear when he first laid eyes on the beautiful vision that was Jesse Taylor. But Jesse's past experiences, some of which he had told me about that first afternoon he had come over to my house, had caused him to withdraw, to become guarded and maybe even overly cautious about making any new friends--especially the close and affectionate kind--and possibly starting the whole cycle of problems and violence again. So sensing Jesse's reticence, Ron slowly warmed up to Bobby instead.
And yet, like two trains starting out hundreds of miles apart and hurtling towards each other on the same track totally unbeknownst to each other, Bobby and Ron seemed headed for inevitable disaster. I sincerely believed that Jesse had tried his best to help without getting himself involved in a way that would have caused his mom a lot of heartache. I was glad that he had been able to avoid any fights, and just maybe, his final months in Illinois had been good ones. Sister Mary Margaret had announced, that day Jesse first came to our class, that he had been an honor roll student at his last school.
But I kept trying to imagine those critical few moments at the top of the stairs, the sounds of shuffling feet, slamming lockers, and chattering kids echoing in the high ceilinged passage. Sweet little Bobby was looking forward to being with another boy over the spring break. Maybe they had already been kissing and cuddling with each other. Maybe they had even jacked each other off. In all likelihood, he was probably thrilled that another boy was even interested in spending time with him at all after having been shunned by his classmates for who knew how long. He had probably spent every night dreaming about the special day he was going to have with his new friend Ron. Maybe they'd shoot hoops, or have lunch at McDonald's, and maybe his parents wouldn't be home or he'd have a nice, private bedroom where they could be free to do whatever they wanted. Maybe Bobby jacked off every night and every morning thinking about Ron. Maybe even that morning.
But Ron was probably more torn--undecided about the whole 'boys liking boys' thing. I imagined him vacillating back and forth, first trying to convince himself that he was straight and that he should just tell Bobby to cool it, and then admitting to himself that he really did enjoy being with another boy, enjoyed being held by another boy, kissed by another boy, maybe even being touched by another boy. And that, he had surely been brought up to believe, was wrong, bad, sinful, and evil. So that morning, when Bobby had enthusiastically bounded up to him, and purely on impulse attempted to give his boyfriend an affectionate peck on the cheek, fear and confusion had overwhelmed Ron Halwicki and he had instinctively pushed the other kid away. I was certain that he had no malicious intent, no idea that he might be sending poor little Bobby to his doom. But they had been right at the top of the stairs, the floor wet and slippery, and it had only taken that one little shove....
I just stood right up at my desk while Regina Harpetian translated the paragraph that had been part of our homework over the weekend. Everyone turned to the back of the room to look at me and for a moment, I wondered, just like everyone else, what the hell I was doing.
"Is there a problem, Perry?" Brother Conner, our Spanish teacher asked in a patient voice.
"I...uh...I..." What was the problem? Why did thinking about those two unfortunate boys from Jesse's past have such an odd physical affect on me? I felt like there were tiny bugs crawling all over my skin; my heart was beating far too rapidly, and I couldn't decide if I felt too hot or too cold, if I was thirsty or not, if I needed to....
"Could I please be excused to use the restroom?" I asked sheepishly.
There were a few snickers, even though eighth graders were theoretically the most mature kids on campus.
"Of course," he said, giving me a look that suggested that he could see something on my face, or in my big stupid eyes that gave some hint of my distress.
Once in the john, I splashed cold water in my face and I felt a little better. I glanced at myself in the smeared up mirror. Looking back at me with a somewhat wide-eyed and confused look on his face was a kid: just a skinny, brown haired, regular looking kid. I stood there trying to imagine what Gary's friend Shane looked like, or Jesse and Ron's friend Bobby. They were just kids too. I wondered, beyond their fateful friendships, what their lives were like. Surely they were, for the most part, regular kids: playing ball games, having to constantly be reminded to walk instead of run, forgetting to tuck their shirt tails in, and wiping their mom's kisses off their cheeks with childish disdain. For sure they went to school every day and lugged their overloaded backpacks around and wore sneakers which they unthinkingly stuffed their feet into without first untying the laces, and watched Saturday Night Live when their parents thought they were asleep and laughed at dirty jokes and felt horny all the time.
I was cold. It was the second week of December and it was a balmy day in the low sixties, but still, I felt unnaturally cold. I began to shiver like I sometimes did on a chilly, damp New York winter's day waiting for my dad to bring the Beamer around or waiting for a cab to take me to the mall or whatever. I wrapped my arms around myself and leaned weakly against the wall, and now I saw in the mirror across the room, a disturbing sight. That skinny, brown haired, frightened boy looking back at me, that could be Shane, or Bobby or Ron Halwicki, or even my sweet angel. It was just too much, growing up, being pumped full of hormones, growing hair in weird places, having feelings that were too strong to control, suddenly getting these strong sexual urges, that irrational need to be liked, to be part of the crowd, to desperately require the approval of your peers. I could well imagine poor Ron, feeling awful about what had happened to his dear friend, finding himself drowning in despair and confusion. Had he just reacted instinctively? Had he really only intended to push Bobby away to avoid an embarrassing incident? Or did some part of him understand full well the implications of his violent gesture? That they were standing at the top of the stairs, on a muddy, slippery floor, and that Bobby was gay and Ron thought he might be gay but didn't really want to be because of the shame and stigma and what would his parents say and how would they....
The door opened and I froze. But when I saw Jesse walk in, I didn't hesitate for a moment. I ran right up and threw my arms around him as if I was running from the most awful fright of my life. I nearly knocked him off his feet and his back hit the closed door.
"Umph!" Jesse groaned. "What is it?" he asked, not pushing me away, but not quite sure how to react.
"Don't let go, Jesse. Don't ever let go." I grabbed the short sleeves of his polo shirt in my fists and leaned my head against his chest. "I need you...I need you so much...I'll never make it without you...never..." I blubbered hysterically.
I felt Jesse's arms wrap around me and felt whatever supernatural energy he had inside him flow into me. Oh, that was good, that was so fuckin' good!
"Just hold me," I sputtered, occasionally shivering a little. Jesse rubbed my back and brushed his lips against my cheek.
"Brother Conner sent me to see if you were okay," he explained. I didn't say anything, because obviously I wasn't okay. He held me for a few more heartbeats. "Does this have something to do with the story I told to Tom and Derek?" he asked.
I nodded. "How could such horrible things happen...to kids?" I asked, my voice tight and whiny. "I mean, they were just kids, and they wanted to be together and people think it's wrong, but it's not wrong to just like someone--how could it be? It makes everyone feel good and happy and then something terrible happens and kids are so fragile...."
"Perry...you need to grow up," Jesse whispered gently.
I hadn't been expecting that and I pulled away from him. "W-What?"
He looked at me a bit fearfully, as if he might have said the wrong thing. "You need to understand," he continued more cautiously, "that life is full of bad things, tragedy, things going wrong."
I just stared at him, wondering how he could be so calm about all this.
"If you keep thinking like this, you'll end up just like Bobby...a human vegetable."
He was right of course. Bad things happened all the time. Last Friday had been a big eye opener for me.
And Jesse, as usual, seemed to be reading my mind. "You were so lucky, Perry. So lucky that something truly awful didn't happen to you at that ranch. Do you understand how lucky you were?"
I slowly nodded.
He didn't look entirely convinced and maybe the truth was that I really wasn't able to get my mind completely wrapped around everything that had happened last weekend, not just at the ranch, but with Gary and Theresa and Morgan as well.
"Bobby wasn't so lucky, although I guess he could still come out of that coma some day...."
"Like that guy in the Dead Zone," I offered hopefully, referring to one of my favorite Stephen King novels.
"Yeah, something like that," he concurred.
"What about Ron?"
Jesse sighed and looked away. I saw his eyes get teary. "Well...Ron...What can I say?" His voice was quivering now. "Who knows if he really meant to push Bobby down those stairs or if it was just an unbelievably stupid accident? I think that not knowing had just as much to do with his suicide attempt as anything else. I'm sure he had conflicted feelings about his own sexuality, and if he didn't--if he really knew that he was gay, then he probably went through all that stuff about not wanting to be that way, worrying what his friends and family would think, worrying about being shunned or even hurt at school."
"It sucks!" I shouted loud enough that my voice reverberated through the empty tiled room.
Jesse nodded. "It sure does." We were both quiet for a few minutes, both lost in our own thoughts. "That's why what we have is so good, so important," he offered quietly.
"But you keep trying to push me away!" I pointed out petulantly. I wasn't angry with my beautiful angel, just confused.
"Because I don't want to see anything bad happen to you, Perry. Seeing you get hurt, or knowing that I was the cause of that hurt.... It'd be too much for me to bear. I'd rather you didn't have anything to do with me than see that happen."
"But I need you," I pointed out again.
"I know, and I need you too, more than you know. But it's more important to me that you're safe and healthy, than it is for me to serve my own needs."
"You said you were selfish..." I pointed out, and I didn't mean it in an accusatory way. I was so confused and so emotionally overwhelmed that I was just trying so hard to understand...something...or anything.
"If I wasn't, I would've left St. Boniface by now. Even though my Aunt Ruthie was a big help, it's still a financial strain on my mom to send me here, working two jobs and dealing with me. I honestly don't even know about next semester yet."
The thought of Jesse leaving school terrified me even more than the story of Bobby and Ron did. It was undoubtedly a selfish fear, totally tied to my own selfish needs, my own selfish desires. And yet I had to be completely honest with myself. I was a selfish person. I did put my own needs in front of others. I did need Jesse in my life, regardless of how difficult or inconvenient it was for anybody else.
"I'll pay your tuition out of my own bank account if that's what it takes," I assured him.
"My mom would never go for that," Jesse said, and then seeing the look of despair in my stupid eyes, quickly added, "but let's hope it doesn't come to that. Things'll work out. They have so far, haven't they?"
I nodded and couldn't help but smile. We had found each other, we had expressed our deepest feelings to each other, we had managed to spend some amazing times together, gone through some crazy adventures together, and still we had managed to keep the true nature of our relationship a secret, even from our parents and closest friends. God, we were so lucky.
"I just feel really, really bad for Bobby," I admitted, realizing that I was experiencing something like guilt even though I never knew the kid.
"That's okay. I feel bad for him too--really bad. But we can't dwell on it, okay?" There was clearly pain in his voice when he said that.
I nodded reluctantly, not sure I could get any of this out of my head anytime soon.
"I don't want you becoming a human vegetable too," he repeated. "You're too important to me. I really need you," Jesse pleaded.
Jesse needed me too--he needed me! He was here because he wanted to be with me! Every selfish bone in my body tingled. That was so what I needed to hear just then and I knew he meant it just as I did. It seemed like my mind was slowly coming back from wherever it had run off to when I started going crazy. "You mean...like a turnip or something?" I asked, trying to make a dumb joke.
Jesse smiled and briefly closed his eyes in relief. I was back once again from another round trip to Planet Hysteria. I tentatively returned his smile, although it was a shaky one, and he came right up to me. "Yeah, that would be just awful...cuz I'm strictly a meat eater!" And he gently rubbed the crotch of my Dockers and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both.
My mom picked me up from basketball practice and I was sitting there, feeling bad that Morgan would be warming the bench at the game tomorrow. It was a little after five o'clock and dark outside. We stopped at the Noodle Palace to pick up some dinner. My mom was just as untalkative as I was, although I didn't notice it at the time, being so wrapped up in my own thoughts and concerns. Jesse's shocking story continued to have a strong hold on my mind, and I just couldn't shake it. Thinking about poor Bobby Cohen lying in a coma and Ron Halwicki barely surviving a suicide attempt, led me inexorably to think about Gary's childhood friend, Shane, who had succeeded in taking his own life. If only he hadn't, if only he had been granted a second chance. I sighed, my mind simply not able to grasp the concept that the simple fact of boys liking boys could cause so much horror. It wasn't until we finished a quiet meal and I was getting ready to head upstairs for a much needed shower, that my mom dropped her bomb.
"Jesse and Mrs. Taylor will be stopping by around seven, so you might want to wear something other than your sleeping clothes," she noted soberly.
"Tonight?!" I asked in disbelief. "You mean to talk about...? Is this about the...?" I couldn't say the words, but it was clear from my mom's expression that the hammer that had been hanging over our heads since last Friday night was finally about to come crashing down.
I stayed in the shower for a long time, trying to imagine what this evening was going to bring. I had already seen my mom come to some sort of peace with everything that had happened since I ran off to Hode Ranch with Gary on Friday afternoon. I had deceived her, put myself and Gary in real danger, and finally revealed the truth (to a large extent) about the violent encounters Jesse and I had experienced since that first incident at the mall in early October. Clearly I had shattered her image of the innocent little boy she thought I was. She was relieved and even a little proud of the way I had gotten through my harrowing adventures at the ranch, but she was deeply disappointed in her discovery that I was fully capable of, and readily willing to lie to her if I thought the reasons were justified in my own mind. How Jesse's mom felt about all this was still an unknown quantity. He had said that she had been upset, but that he had been in worse predicaments before, and he hadn't seemed too fearful of what the consequences of our acts and deceptions might be.
As I combed my hair in the still steamed up mirror, a white towel around my waist, I wondered again what Jesse saw in me. I now realized, after the story he had told Tom, Derek, and me at lunch the other day, that his chief goal in life when he arrived at St. Boniface had been simply to stay out of trouble. But since he and I had become friends, and then, much more than friends, things seemed to happen so quickly: the bully incident at the mall, the encounter with Julio and Gus on the basketball court, the frightening run-in with Fred Goreski at the St. Agnus rummage sale, the fool's errand to Hode Ranch. Whose fault had all this really been: His? Mine? Or was it simply the way things were meant to be? All I knew for sure was that I needed Jesse in my life and that for whatever reasons, he needed me in his. Even though he had tried more than once to push me away, it wasn't because he didn't love me but because his love ran so deep, he didn't want to see me get hurt, especially if that hurt was somehow caused by something that he did. It was clear to me that, for good or ill, we were bound together by our very souls. I was fearful about the upcoming confrontation, but I decided that whatever happened tonight, we would endure it, and our relationship would ultimately be the stronger for it.
I dressed in a maroon henley, Levi's, and my Vans sneakers, and walked confidently down the stairs as I heard the doorbell ring. My mom had already answered the door by the time I reached the bottom of the steps. Mrs. Taylor smiled in greeting, but there was no disguising the look of tension on her weary face. She was wearing a simple paisley dress under her quilted beige winter coat and her hair was held in a loose bun by several ordinary hairpins.
Jesse followed behind her, looking pensive and uncomfortable, but still as beautiful as ever in a long sleeved black T-shirt with the logo of a karate school on it: Kensai School Of The Martial Arts, Evanston, Illinois. His golden blond hair, which he had not had cut since he first showed up at St. Boniface, now completely covered his ears and spilled over the collar of his shirt in the back. Those long shiny bangs hung close to his face and I sadly recalled his reason for wearing his hair the way he did.
I had wondered if Miranda might be coming along, but as my mom closed the front door, it became clear that she had been left behind, maybe with Mrs. Lopez or even Joe. Jesse locked eyes with me briefly and I tried to show him that I was feeling confident about what we had and I wasn't going to let whatever punishment we got tonight come between us. He looked surprisingly apprehensive though, and even his crystal blue eyes seemed to lack their characteristic sparkle.
"Won't you please have a seat," my mom said, gesturing to the rarely used living room. There was a tasteful set of furniture there, upholstered in a light silver fabric with slightly darker floral patterns woven into the sofa, love seat, and matching high backed chairs. There was also a glossy, dark wood coffee table and matching end tables, a couple of elegant lamps with broad shades and a gas fireplace that I had never seen lit.
Mrs. Taylor, still clutching her purse, sat stiffly on one side of the love seat and Jesse automatically went to sit across the room on one side of the long sofa. He looked so small and fragile, and I felt my own resolve starting to melt away.
"What can I get everybody to drink?" my mom asked politely.
"I think we're fine for now," Mrs. Taylor announced, apparently speaking for Jesse as well.
My mom glanced at me uncomfortably and then took a seat next to Mrs. Taylor. I went to sit on the opposite end of the sofa from Jesse. The room was filled with palpable tension.
"Can I speak first?" Jesse asked.
My mom and Mrs. Taylor exchanged glances and both nodded.
He took a deep breath. "I just want to say that this is all my fault, and I want to really apologize to everyone: Mrs. Thompson, Perry, and you, mom," he said humbly. "I really wanted things to be different when we moved out here, and I swear that I didn't go looking for trouble."
Mrs. Taylor sighed heavily, as if she had heard all this before, but Jesse seemed to ignore her.
"If the reason we're here is to talk about...punishments," he continued, "then let it all be on me. Perry doesn't deserve to be punished for something that I brought down on him."
Was Jesse going to make me burst into tears in front of both our moms? I realized I needed to be strong; I needed to act my age. I hated to see Jesse like this, so guilt-ridden, so beaten down. It was like his beautiful spirit, so bright and full of light and love, had been drenched in a soaking rain almost to the point of extinguishment.
"The fact is, Perry lied to me," my mom responded, and the tightness in her voice made it clear that she wasn't taking any of this lightly. "He concealed these dangerous, violent incidents from me, and manufactured an elaborate ruse to run off to that ranch on some ill-conceived rescue mission. He even dragged that poor high school boy into danger with him. Whatever Jesse's part in all this was, Perry has plenty to answer for. I didn't bring up a liar, and I won't tolerate it!" she finished adamantly.
Jesse and I dared to glance at each other briefly, but it was like I could feel the pain coming out of those big blue eyes and I shuddered, quickly diverting my gaze to the tasteful gray and silver carpet.
"It's very clear to me that we're starting to go through the same pattern of...violence that plagued us back in Illinois," Mrs. Taylor stated, her voice firm and a little harsh. I wondered if she smoked. "I had truly hoped that by moving to California, we would all have a chance at a new beginning, of having a life free of this constant trouble. But now...."
My mom looked carefully at Jesse and me, and I could see that she was having second thoughts about this confrontation. It almost seemed like she was on the verge of tears herself. "Arlene, perhaps we should just get on with this. I'm sure the boys are well aware of what they've done and how we feel about it," she suggested gently.
Mrs. Taylor nodded, the look on her face unreadable. I held my breath, realizing that the awful moment of truth had arrived, sooner than I had anticipated. It was clear why my mom hadn't mentioned anything about this meeting earlier--it would have turned me into an emotional wreck.
"I know you boys enjoy each other's company," my mom began, "and it seems fitting that your punishment should be to not be able to spend time together--outside of school that is."
"For how long?" Jesse asked cautiously.
"Well, you know that Perry is leaving for New York to be with his father over the Christmas break, and that's less than two weeks away," my mom noted.
"So the two of you are not to see each other outside of school between now and then," Mrs. Taylor declared flatly.
All I was thinking about right now was holding it all together. Come on, Thompson, you're fourteen freakin' years old now. You can handle a little slap on the wrist which was all this really was. You'll see Jesse in school every day. You'll get to spend time with him again when you get back--four weeks from now!
I gasped as I realized I had forgotten to breathe for half a minute or more.
"Perry, are you okay, dear?" my mom asked with concern. I even saw a glimmer of emotion in Mrs. Taylor's stern face as I felt my self control slowly slipping out of my grasp.
"I understand that there's to be a Christmas party on the nineteenth," Jesse's mom noted quickly. "If there are no further...incidents between now and then, Jesse has my permission to attend." I guessed she was trying to throw us a bone, but it was a tasteless and brittle one at that. There was no way Jesse and I were going to be able to get together the way we wanted to--the way we needed to--under the hawk-like gaze of Jessica Bainbridge!
"Yes, of course," my mom concurred. "The same holds true for Perry."
"Can I say something?" Jesse asked in a small voice.
"I really don't think there's anything left to be said," his mother replied dryly.
"This sucks." Jesse muttered.
"What was that?!" Mrs. Taylor asked, rising to her feet and staring down at her son.
"Nothing," he mumbled sullenly.
Mrs. Taylor put a hand to her forehead and sighed heavily. She shook her head despondently. "Jesse Taylor, you are going to be the death of me...if you don't get yourself killed first!" And true emotion finally flooded into her voice for the first time. "God help us." I could hear the longsuffering pain in her tone now, and I got a little sense of what she had to deal with all these years, and a glimpse of how things looked from her perspective.
"Arlene, maybe we could have some coffee...in the kitchen, and give the boys a few minutes to themselves."
But Mrs. Taylor instead locked gazes directly with me and I wished with all my might that I could just melt into the upholstery. "If it's okay with you, Trish, I'd like to have a word alone with Perry."
"What for?!" Jesse cried, springing to his feet. "What do you have to talk to him about?" he asked, his tone a mixture of anger and fear. "Just leave him alone!"
"Would you like to spend a little time with Perry tonight--or would you like to go wait in the car for me--right now?" his mother asked sternly, fists firmly planted on her narrow hips.
"Sorry," he whispered defeatedly.
"Jesse, dear," my mom said, coming up and hesitantly putting a hand on my tortured angel's shoulder. "Let's go in the kitchen and I'll get you something to drink. I think there's some cheesecake left over from Saturday night."
Jesse didn't respond, but just shuffled past us into the kitchen, his head hanging. My mom glanced first at Mrs. Taylor, and then at me, and I could sense her conflicted feelings. Then she quietly followed Jesse out.
Mrs. Taylor came and sat right next to me. She tried a comforting smile, but it came off forced and tense. "I want to thank you again, for befriending Jesse," she began in a soft voice. "You don't know how much you mean to him...and to me."
I didn't know how to respond, and I was afraid to open my mouth, thinking that it would just trigger the waiting flood of tears to come gushing out. I managed a slight nod.
"I'm so sorry that he got you into this awful mess with your mother."
"He didn't get me into anything!" I blurted out emotionally. "He's the best friend I ever had and...and..." I couldn't say I loved him, even though it must be written all over my face. There was a lump in my throat that I couldn't swallow, and I just bowed my head, trying to exhale through my nostrils all the strong feelings that were surging up from my insides.
"I understand. It's remarkable the way you boys bonded so quickly. I'm sure a new friendship was the last thing on Jesse's mind when he came to St. Boniface. But when he met you, it was like he became a new person: bright and witty, kinder and more responsible to his sister, so dedicated in doing his chores, excelling at his school work...."
I saw her reach out a hand, perhaps intending to rest it on my knee, but she pulled it back. "Perry, I need to ask you something...something that's a little difficult.... But it's important that you be honest with me, okay?"
No, it wasn't okay. I didn't want to be honest with her. I wanted to protect my relationship with Jesse and that was all. We would somehow endure this separation and I'd be more careful in the future about my lies and deceptions. It was my own naiveté and inexperience that had gotten us into this huge mess, but now I had learned my lesson. There were clearly things worth lying for, despite what my mom felt. Still, I looked at her as best I could and nodded.
"Has Jesse ever tried to...touch you?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked innocently, batting my long lashes and trying to keep my face as expressionless as I could. I could see how difficult this was for her, and I tried to determine whether she already knew that Jesse was gay, or if she just suspected it. My sense was for the latter, but my instincts hadn't been serving me well lately.
"I know boys like to play roughly...push each other, or box, or even wrestle," she said, trying to keep her own voice from quivering. "But I'm talking about something different, something...inappropriate." The last word came out as a whisper. She looked at me with a kind of desperation in her tired eyes. There was fear there, fear that her son was...one of them.
"I don't know what you're talking about. Jesse's totally cool, and he's never done anything weird like that. Why would you ask?"
Mrs. Taylor seemed taken aback by my quick and succinct response and I saw her expression become more wary. Obviously, she was used to being lied to, and it would take more than a few calm words to reassure her. "Last spring, there was an incident at his school--a school he had only been attending for about a month. There was a rumor that he might have had an...inappropriate relationship with one of the other boys...."
"I don't know what you're trying to get at," I said confidently, feeling the lies coming to me easier than ever now, "but as far as I can tell, Jesse's a totally normal guy. He's even got a crush on someone!" Whoa! Where did that come from?!
"I...see," Mrs. Taylor responded hesitatantly. "Someone in your class?" she asked with more than idle curiosity.
Okay, I had backed myself into a corner. But this wasn't some six and a half foot tall, three hundred and fifty pound Asian bodyguard I was dealing with here. It was a slight and worried mother, full of fears and concerns about her only son. The least I could do was alleviate one of those worries. My mind raced through potential candidates: Melissa, Dana, Regina, Martha, Soon-ji, Deanna....
"It's Merissa...Merissa Scott! She's in the seventh grade!" For some reason, they just made a really cute looking couple in my mind, and that made me feel a little jealous!
"I see..." Mrs. Taylor responded ambiguously.
"Yeah...they've been exchanging notes and stuff for a while now...and Jesse was planning on inviting her to Jessica's Christmas party!"
Mrs. Taylor chewed her lip thoughtfully and then allowed herself the slightest of smiles. "I see. I must admit, I'm relieved to hear that. It's just that...well, you've seen this violent streak Jesse has...like his father, and it's just that, well, obviously, you're a very handsome b-- young man," she noted.
I felt a shiver go down my spine when she compared Jesse to his dad. Once more, it occurred to me that Jesse's martial arts training may have been a form of defense against his own father....
"And I just had to know...find out if...." Her sentences kept trailing off, and it seemed to me that whatever had been bothering her had somehow lost its sense of urgency.
"Jesse doesn't have a violent streak," I assured her. "He's a very cool, sensitive guy," I noted. "And he tries his best to help his friends. Ask Tom or Morgan!"
Mrs. Taylor smiled more confidently and I could see her whole body relax a little. "I'm glad to hear that," she said. "No doubt, you've been a wonderful influence on him."
I wanted to protest, and tell her that he had been the wonderful influence on me, and I had nothing to do with what a good hearted person Jesse was, but I was anxious for this conversation to be over, so I just shrugged. Mrs. Taylor finally did pat me lightly on the knee before getting to her feet.
"Thank you, Perry. I'm glad we had this talk. I'm truly sorry that we have to punish you like this--but your mother was insistent that you take equal responsibility for...for everything."
"It's okay," I said, knowing in my heart that it was wasn't. It was terrible...horrible...unbearable.
"Everything okay in here?" my mom asked, tentatively poking her head back in.
"We're just fine," Mrs. Taylor announced. "We had a good talk. You've been blessed with a wonderful son, Trish."
My mom looked at me skeptically. "I'd like to think so," she said hesitantly. "I don't know why I thought he would remain my innocent little Perrypoo for the rest of his life."
"Mom!" I groaned, shocked to hear her speak that childish name out loud in front of Mrs. Taylor and Jesse.
"I think I'll take that coffee now," Mrs. Taylor said with a slight grin.
Jesse came up and hovered quietly at the foot of the stairs, the look on his face tense but hopeful.
"Not too long, Jesse. Tomorrow's a school day!" his mom reminded him.
"Sure, mom. And I'm really sorry for saying that stuff. I already apologized to Mrs. Thompson."
Mrs. Taylor shook her head. "That boy, when he wants to pour on the charm, he could sell ice to the Eskimos!" she noted with an exaggerated sigh.
Special thanks to Blue for taking on the formidable task of editing P&J. Time is a precious commodity for all of us, and I greatly appreciate his devoting some of it to my little project. Hope everyone will give him a word of thanks for his efforts at the forum.
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