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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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  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 23: A Special Message

As groggy as I felt the next morning, I also realized I was more anxious than ever to get to school to see my precious angel and that magical sparkle in his crystal blue eyes. Imagining for a moment that sparkle dimming to a dull lifeless gray made me shudder and I pressed my mom to take me to school early.

"Can you tell me what happened last night?" she asked cautiously, as we both cleaned up the breakfast dishes.

I sighed. I knew it wasn't right to hold things back from her, especially after everything we had been through. But I also knew that it was part of my responsibility to protect Jesse, and to protect what we had together.

"You went easy on us, didn't you?" I asked carefully.

The look of concern on her face slowly transformed into a slight frown. "Consider your punishment a symbolic gesture of how disappointed I was--how disappointed we both were," she told me earnestly. "Jesse's mother has gone through a great deal--more than you can know."

"I can tell she was worried about Jesse."

"She's worried for Jesse and for you."

"Why me?"

"She's afraid that her son will keep getting you into dangerous situations and--"

"It's not like that, mom!" I said, raising my voice in a way that wasn't very polite. "I mean, gees, I'm the one who ran off to Hode Ranch--not Jesse."

"I know. And we both understand that boys will get into a certain amount of mischief and--oh, really, Perry, we needn't go through all this again, must we?" She looked at me helplessly.

I nodded in agreement, feeling the shame burning on my cheeks that was more potent than any physical punishment could be. But she again touched my arm. "I didn't think you would take it so hard," she noted sympathetically.

I shrugged. "I guess I did get kinda upset. He is my best friend."

"And Jesse?"

"He felt so...guilty."

She nodded, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "I think I understand something now," she said, half to herself and half to me.

"What...?" I asked apprehensively.

"Why you boys are so close, why you're so drawn to each other."

Had she finally seen that look in our eyes, the look that said that what Jesse and I had went way beyond a simple boyhood friendship, that not only was there a passionate physical relationship involved, but the actual touching of souls? Had she seen that, or at least a glimpse of that through our tired and troubled expressions last night?

"You compliment each other. Jesse has lived a difficult, hand to mouth existence, plagued by his own abilities as a street fighter, and his need to defend himself from the sort of people that he encountered in those poor areas of the city where they were forced to live after his father..." Her voice trailed off. "And you, coming from a mostly sheltered, upper middle class suburban life, you were somehow drawn to the mystery and excitement of Jesse's previous life."

I shuddered when she said 'previous life,' thinking that could have well been his only life. But I tried to keep my expression inscrutable as she continued her speculation.

"So Jesse looks to you as a source of stability, while you see in Arlene's boy some of the adventure and thrill of living in those challenging circumstances as some sort of...street warrior."

"I guess..." I agreed vaguely. I supposed there really was something to what she said.

"And I also realize that it is not unusual for teenagers to bond quickly and deeply. You're growing up, and away...away from me," she noted wistfully. "And for Mrs. Taylor and I to wrench you two apart after all the...adventures you experienced in the last few months, I suppose it was a very traumatic ordeal for both of you. I'm truly sorry that I didn't see all that until it was too late."

"Gees, Mom...I think it had just as much to do with the orange chicken as with all that other stuff," I assured her. "I thought it tasted kinda weird last night." I was grinning now, hoping to steer things away from the dark and dramatic events of last evening. Finally we both laughed, giving us some sense of much needed relief.

"Well, I'll just have to have a talk with Mr. Chao next time I'm at the Noodle Palace," she noted with a half smile. She looked at me a little guiltily. "I suppose I'm making too big a thing out of all this--I really do want to put this all behind us."

"I really am sorry that I lied to you," I assured her. "And...I guess I am kind of an emotional guy," I confessed sheepishly.

"Oh, dear, precious boy. I think that's a wonderful thing, having such strong feelings for your friends. You're like your father that way. He's a very loyal friend and dedicated worker."

"Then how come he left?" I asked rather bluntly.

My mom's expression darkened and her eyes got that far off look. "Perhaps it wasn't meant to be..." she whispered uncertainly. Then her eyes seemed to come back into focus. "I promise, dear, before you go to New York, we'll sit and talk. I'll tell you...what I can about your father and me, okay?"

I just nodded. I really wasn't looking forward to hearing another heart-rending tale that would cause that huge ocean of feelings and emotions inside me to once again overwhelm my already weakened defenses. I realized that I was indeed a person who sometimes let his emotions get the better of him, and that I really needed to strengthen those defenses. I needed to be able to somehow put things in their places the way Jesse did. As he had said--I needed to grow up. Maybe it was more important that he teach me that than how to flip people and block punches.

"Things will be better now," she said as if trying to convince herself that her words were more than just an idle wish.

At school, I couldn't find Jesse anywhere, and I ended up shooting hoops with Morgan, Eric, and Reggie for a few minutes, trying my best to release some nervous energy. Finally, the warning bell rang. Now I was starting to get worried. Maybe last night's confession had been too much for my emotionally fragile angel. Maybe he didn't feel like he could face me today after admitting to me his most shameful secrets. I thought about my own disgraceful performance. Jesse had come over last night looking apprehensive, not because he was concerned about the fleeting punishment to be administered by our mothers, but because he had already made up his mind that he was going to share with me something that had both affected and haunted him deeply. I had reacted like a petulant child, refusing to listen, refusing to acknowledge the enormous difficulty of what he was trying to communicate. Besides getting sick to my stomach and puking up my dinner, I recalled how enraged I had become when Jesse tried to repeat the self-deprecating mantra I had heard so often these past few months.

I realized again that the closer you felt to someone, the more that person could tap into your most powerful emotions. I thought of Tom biting my foot in a moment of unbridled passion and of Morgan striking me in the face in a moment of blind rage. Had I really cursed at my sweet angel in the foulest language I could muster? Had I really intended to strike him? I was just getting that empty, aching feeling in the pit of my stomach when Jesse walked briskly into class, his long blond hair shiny and neatly parted so perfectly down the middle. There was color in his cheeks and he looked like he had had a good night's rest. He gave me a warm smile as he took his seat. But I suddenly averted my gaze, thoroughly shamed by my embarrassing and childish behavior last night. Clearly, I was the one who was undeserving.

Just before he sat down, he discreetly flicked a small piece of folded paper onto my desk. Without thinking, I quickly snatched it and hid it away. Between the end of morning devotions and the start of our math class, I carefully opened it.

It was a simple, handwritten messgage: God told me to stay with you.

I felt all the blood leave my face. My hands began to tremble as I realized I had stopped breathing. I gasped and staggered to my feet.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Thompson?" Sister Mary Margaret asked with genuine concern. Of course, the eyes of the whole class were on me once again. I quickly shook my head, the tiny note clenched securely in my fist.

"If you need to--"

But I was already headed for the door by the time she had reached the middle of her sentence. Once outside, the cool morning air felt incredibly refreshing and I breathed deep and long of it. I started to head for the bathroom, and then realized I had no business there. I just stood outside in the quiet of the surrounding hills and pines, Jesse's message echoing over and over in my head.

Could it just be a coincidence? I had been asleep or close to it when the beautiful vision of Jesse had come to me and whispered soothingly in my ear. But those words...those very same words.... Could it be that Jesse had actually spoken them sometime during our emotional encounter? I vaguely recalled the feelings of confusion and disorientation I had experienced as he struggled to tell me the true story of little Bobby Cohen. Then there had been his description of the moments before he himself had awakened in the hospital after taking an overdose of his mother's antidepressants. Had I really been the one to 'rescue' him? There was nothing in science or even religion that could explain such a thing. And yet, it had somehow rung true. Just as I knew Jesse was in my heart, I knew I was in his, and if that were indeed the case, then his mysterious vision and the words written on that tiny piece of paper still balled up in my fist made some sort of sense. I had a sudden, chilling realization that there were Powers in the world, Powers well beyond my understanding. And at the same time, I realized that if there was a Power at work here, it was a Power for good. It was a Power that had somehow defied time and space to bring two young souls--one knowing that it desperately needed but fearful to reach out, the other unknowingly empty, blissfully ignorant of the true meaning of life and love, together against all the odds of the vast, cold universe. Two souls that were meant to be together, perhaps even destined to be together. And if that Power turned out to be God, what of it? Weren't we taught that He was all powerful, all knowing, all forgiving? What was there to fear, except for the vague and disquieting possibility that something or someone could somehow, someday tear us apart. There was no reason to believe anything like that would ever happen. I just knew that Jesse and I were meant to be together for the rest of our lives, whether those lives were short or long. I felt a warmth permeate my being that I knew didn't just come from some inner physiological source, trying to rebalance the chemicals that had nearly sent my body into shock a few moments before. My gut told me that Jesse had some direct influence in the sense of calm and peace that were starting to push the confused and troubled thoughts from my mind. It was just like the soothing coolness of this December morning and the smell of the pines and the mindless twittering of the birds nestled in the evergreen branches. It seemed clear to me that Jesse and I were now truly joined in some way that science could not explain. I was nearly inclined to think it was some sort of mir--

"Are you okay?"

My heart leapt as I whirled, thinking it was Jesse, but it was Jessica standing there, a concerned look on her face. She was the last person I wanted to see right now, but I resisted the urge to just bolt into the woods.

"Jesse..." I croaked, my mind still reeling from the huge thoughts slowly forming in my tiny, fourteen year old brain. "Jessica..."

"Jesse told the Sister that you'd gotten sick last night. That you maybe had gotten a little food poisoning from some Chinese food."

I slowly nodded.

"Do you want me to take you to the bathroom?"

"I'm feeling better now. It was just a...passing thing. I just needed some fresh air." I offered her a tentative smile.

Jessica looked at me skeptically, but her expression quickly reverted to that of a concerned friend once again. She approached me, and seeing that there was no one around, embraced me lightly, but not in a sexual way. It was more of a comforting, almost motherly gesture. Now I was glad that it was her that had come out to check on me. If it had been Tom, or Morgan, or even Jesse, I wouldn't be able to get that warm human contact I so desperately needed right now. Later, it would be Jesse--had to be, but for now, I was glad for her sympathetic touch.

"Sometimes you scare me, Perry Thompson."

"I do?"

"Sometimes it seems like there are things going on in your head...things you don't talk about."

"What kind of things?"

"Oh, I don't know...lots of thoughts swirling around, sort of fighting with each other, like you're just trying to make sense of everything." She gave me a thoughtful look. "Like maybe it's that you're too good of a person--too pure. Maybe this world--this crazy, wild, sinful world is too much for your...your innocent spirit to handle, and you just become overwhelmed, trying to imagine how you're going to deal with it--survive it all."

I pushed us gently apart. "Nah...nothing like that," I assured her with a shaky smile. "It was just the Chinese food, like Jesse said."

She looked at me in a way that showed she could be tolerant and patient if need be, but that she really didn't buy my story.

"And Jessica?"


"You shouldn't think those things about me. I'm not especially good or...or anything--really. I'm just a normal, mixed up kid."

"Well...for sure you're not normal," she said, but there was a sweet smile on her face now.

"Okay...maybe that's a stretch," I admitted sheepishly.

"If you're feeling okay, we should go back inside before the Sister comes looking for us with a yardstick!"

I discreetly pocketed the crumpled piece of paper and stuffed it in the pocket of my Dockers.

"I do feel better...just...embarrassed, I guess. That's twice in a row that I've...uh...made a scene in class."

"Perry, you make a scene every time you walk into a room."

"I do?" I asked stupidly, taking her literally.

"When the most beautiful boy in the world walks into a room, people notice," she assured me with a warm and loving smile.

That was true. Jesse took my breath away each and every day when he walked into our homeroom, and today was no different. I thought again how lucky, how blessed, how special I felt to have him in my life. I also realized that it was a big responsibility to nurture his delicate spirit. There was pure goodness there, but buried beneath guilt, shame, remorse, and regret. But if God Himself had indeed told him to stay with me, then I was going to make sure he did just that. My beautiful blond angel. My life.

While I got plenty of stares when I returned to class, I could barely be bothered. I tried my best not to stare at Jesse as I quickly made my way back to my seat, but I couldn't help but give him a quick wink as I saw the look of concern on his face.

I met up with him at our lockers as we put away our morning books and got our bag lunches out.

"Are you okay?" he asked with concern.

"Of course," I assured him with a warm smile. "It's just that...why did you give me that note?"

"Didn't you notice? I pass notes to all the cute boys in class," he giggled.

"No, I mean seriously. It's like...last night, when I was trying to get to sleep, I had I guess, of you coming toward me, looking so..." I lowered my voice even though there was no one directly in earshot of our conversation, "looking so beautiful. And the last thing I remember is you whispering in my ear--"

"God told me to stay with you," he repeated.

I nodded uncomfortably.

"That's pretty cool," he noted, seemingly unflustered by the cosmic coincidence of it.

"You-you're not freaked out?" I stuttered disbelievingly.

"Perry," he said in that patient voice that sounded like he was talking to someone more Miranda's age than his own, "there are lots of things in this world we can't just explain away, scientifically or otherwise. When it comes to you, I know there's something special that binds us together--and it's not my blackbelt!"

"But how...I mean, what..."

"If you're asking if I've started hearing strange voices talking in my head, or that I'm turning into some sort of modern day Joan of Arc, the answer is no--at least, I don't think so." He grinned and shrugged. "I just saw it--saw myself passing you that note. It seemed like a sweet thought so I went ahead and did it." He paused, the smile momentarily disappearing from his angelic countenance. "Thank you so much for being my friend, Perry. I was really prepared for the worst last night...That you would tell me to get the fuck out of your life or something."

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

Jesse shrugged. "Maybe it was my own guilt coloring my thoughts. Anyway, I just wasn't sure so...thank you."

"You're welcome. So what's my reward?"

"You mean for only hurling once during my story?" he asked with a knowing grin.

"That was pretty disgusting, huh?"

"Thought we were gonna see a repeat performance in homeroom!"

"Nah...It just...well, it did freak me out when I saw those words written on a piece of paper. Gosh, Jesse. The world is such a weird and spooky place, isn't it?"

"I guess...sometimes. If you think about it, it can be pretty overwhelming. I get scared too, sometimes...thinking about it."

"What're we gonna do?" I asked desperately, feeling that overwhelming sense of the entire universe spinning wildly around us.

"Well, I don't know about you, but God gave me my marching orders." There was no fear in those crystal blue eyes, no regret in his raspy voice.

"Yeah, you have to stay with me forever--hah!"

I figured Jesse would come back with some witty remark, but he just looked at me, and that look was Love.

Before we even got to our table, Jessica intercepted us and took me to one side. Jesse waited patiently as she excitedly informed me that our moms had planned a shopping trip to Fashion Valley on Saturday. That was an upscale mall down in the Mission Valley section of San Diego that had a Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany's, and a bunch of other snooty stores. But it also had some cool stuff like Field Of Dreams, Pac-Sun, Anchor Blue, and Abercrombie & Fitch. The idea of an all-day shopping trip with Jessica didn't sound particularly appealing, but knowing that a visit with Jesse was out of the question, and the fact that it was close to Christmas and I really needed to pick out gifts for a number of people anyway, made me feel better about it.

"Sure, okay, but I promised Gene I'd go to the football game first..." I cringed inwardly, fearful that she'd want to come along.

"Eew! Football!" she said, crinkling up her nose in a cute way. "I guess we can wait for you then," she offered.

"Ooh, shopping with Jessica! Don't let her get you alone in one of those changing rooms!" Jesse teased.

Jessica stuck her tongue out at him in a way that I supposed was somewhat facetious, and he boldly returned as good as he got.

"Gees, you have a dirty mind!" I scolded him as Jessica sauntered away, obviously feeling good about things. Then I had a sudden thought. "You know Macy's, the one at the Santa Corina mall, has a really nice changing room. We could meet there sometime and like, each get a couple of shirts to try on, and then go in together!"

"And I have a dirty mind?" Jesse laughed.

Morgan looked uncomfortable as we took our seats at our usual lunch table. Tom, with Derek noticeably absent, also looked uneasy and most of his glances fell on Jesse.

"What's up, guys?" Jesse asked cheerfully as he opened his bag lunch. "Everyone got all their dicks in a row?"

Neither Tom or Morgan seemed to find this strange little pun humorous.

"Are you feeling better?" Tom asked.

I nodded. "Just some bad Chinese food last night."

"The Noodle Palace?" Morgan asked.


"They're usually pretty good," he noted. "Sorry you got some bad shit."

"Mexican food is healthier!" Tom declared.

"It's too fuckin' spicy," Morgan replied irritably.

"Only if you're not used to it," Tom argued.

"What about that English assignment?" I asked, trying to disrupt the tense atmosphere. On Tuesday, Mrs. Rollingford had assigned us to write a complete short story 'of significant length' as she put it. It would be the largest project of the year so far, along with our semester final in January. It was due next Monday, which meant most of us would be spending a large part of our weekend doing homework. I, of course, had my Saturday already planned out, so I knew I needed to get a head start. I figured Jesse would just pull something out of his closet (after taking all the sex stuff out of it first, of course) and he'd be all set.

"Ya know, except for stuff we've had to read for class, I haven't even looked at a book since September," Morgan noted a little sadly. "I have no fuckin' clue what I'm gonna write about."

I knew what he meant about keeping up with my own reading. I had started one of the Dune sequels and found it to be a weak echo of Frank Herbert's original masterpieces, and then moved on to Stephen King's latest Dark Tower novel, but had only gotten through a quarter of the book in a month's time. Usually, I could read two normal sized novels in that span in addition to keeping up with my class reading. But it seemed like there had been so much going on, especially since the rummage sale, that I just didn't have the time--or energy--to sit and relax much anymore. How weird was that?

"The new Harry Potter's good," Tom noted unenthusiastically.

"You can't write fan fic for the English assignment," Morgan pointed out testily, and Tom sort of glared at him.

"I know--I'm not stupid!"

There was a long and awkward silence and I sensed that Morgan was about to lash out at Tom or...or just anybody.

"Gees, everyone get up on the wrong side of the bed today?" Jesse asked. "Why don't we just shoot some hoops?" he suggested and I knew immediately that he had said the right thing.

Morgan's face brightened up a little. "Let's go!" he said determinedly, as if accepting a major challenge to his athletic skills. He chucked his empty lunch bag in the nearest trash receptacle and headed toward the empty court. Jesse got up to follow him.

"I'll be right there!" I noted, indicating that I wanted to finish the rest of my roast beef sandwich first. Jesse flashed me a smile full of bright white teeth and it sent a little thrill right down to my groin.

It took me a few moments to notice Tom was still sitting, seemingly intent on watching me munch on my sandwich, a pensive look on his face.

"Have fun at Disneyland?" I asked.

That finally elicited a hesitant smile. "Yeah...It was great. I loved spending time with you, and Morgan was mostly pretty cool and Jesse...."

"What?" I asked, seeing the frown come to his face.

"I guess I felt like I was starting to warm up to Jesse a little, and that he was sorta loosening up with me," he noted uncomfortably.

"They always say, try walking a mile in somebody else's shoes to see what they're really like!" I joked.

"Yeah...well..." While he did blush slightly at my comment, I could tell that whatever was bothering him had nothing to do with his kinky little masturbation session. "I mean, I sorta got a glimpse of how he's probably like with you...when you guys are alone."

"Yeah?" I asked nervously.

"Yeah. He's really funny and clever and...."

There was obviously more to it than that. "But what...?" I asked with more concern now.

"I guess...I was really bothered by that story he told the other day."

"You're not the only one!" I assured him.

"I understood why he told it, and I felt so sorry for both those guys. God, Perry. Liking boys...." He suddenly lowered his voice. "Liking boys is such a...a hard thing to deal with sometimes. If I didn't have you, if I hadn't been able to tell you about all that stuff, I think I would've gone crazy by now."

I shuddered for a moment, not wanting to bear the responsibility of keeping Tom from going over the edge. It was enough of an emotional roller coaster just dealing with Jessica, Morgan, Gary, and my sweet angel. But I quickly realized that was weak and selfish of me.

"You know I'm here for you," I assured him.

"Yeah, I know, Perry. And thank you so much for...for offering know...."

I guessed he was referring to our conversation at the hotel where I had told him that I might be willing to mess around with him a little if things didn't work out with Derek. But considering how horny Morgan's younger brother was, I doubted if that would ever really become an issue.

"It seems like Jesse thinks being gay is a bad thing," Tom concluded disappointedly.

"You mean because of what happened to Bobby and...uh...Ron?"

Tom nodded. "It really freaked Derek out. I don't think he wants to get together any more!"

"Oh...." Well, Jesse had intended to scare these two horn dogs into being a little more discreet, but it was an undeniably powerful story--even the somewhat fictionalized version he told to Tom and Derek. I could easily understand why Derek, who was already skittish about what he was doing and why, would get cold feet.

"Do you want me to talk to him?" I asked, trying my best to be helpful.

"Actually, I think the person who needs to talk to him is Jesse. You know Derek has a...a crush on him, and if Jesse thinks being gay is only going to get everybody killed and shit, then of course he's gonna believe that."

"Then why don't you mention it to Jesse?"

Tom shrugged. "It's hard. I know he really is a good guy, and wants to be helpful but...I don't think he really understands what it's like."

"What what's like?"

"You know...liking boys," he whispered carefully.

Well, this was sure a weird conversation!

"It's not like I'm an expert," I was quick to point out.

"I know...but you're different, Perry. You're so sensitive and understanding. You have such a big heart. Jesse's different. He's kinda...hard inside, ya know? I guess cuz of all the bad things that happened to him when he was living in Illinois. Going to rough schools and being poor and stuff."

"Well, I think you're right that he's built up a lot of defenses, but I know that he's not hard inside. He really does care about you, Tom--I know he does. And he cares about Derek too. When Derek gave him that...that letter, Jesse was really upset...not because he thought some...guy (I almost said queer!) was hitting on him, but because he knew he had to disappoint Derek." Tom was unresponsive, so I added, "He really was upset and stuff."

Tom looked at me with those big brown eyes, and his normally expressive face was hard to read. "Alright. I guess I will talk to him then. It's not that I want to force Derek to do anything...It's just that..." Now his expression was clearly sad. He even brushed away a forming tear with the sleeve of his hoodie. "Derek and I get along so good as friends, and I know he's interested in messing around and...."

"And what?"

"I've gotta have somebody, Perry...since I can't have you."

If my performance at our lunch time pick up game was any indication, things were really going to go badly at St. Matt's this evening. I didn't know what to make of my conversation with Tom. Had Jesse really gone too far in trying to get Derek and Tom to behave themselves in public? Was the present homophobic threat really that serious? I couldn't see Manny or Artim--or anyone at our little school--actually trying to hurt my friends, and even Jesse had mentioned that, if it came down to it, he thought they could handle themselves in a fight. But Derek and Tom did spend plenty of time at the mall arcade, and there were all sorts of people there from all over town. I recalled the first time Manny and Artim had pointed out Derek and Tom behaving in an 'unmanly' fashion. Surely, others must've noticed as well, and one day, either out of true hate and ignorance, or simply out of boredom and the need to feel superior, a group of troublemakers might follow Tom and Derek out of the mall and try to confront them.

"C'mon, Per, focus!" Morgan urged as he easily slipped past my defenses. He slammed the ball into the hoop and looked at me with open concern.

"It's just not gonna be the same," I told him truthfully.

"Hey, you can't go in thinkin' like that!" Morgan said sharply. "You guys are a championship team, with or without me."

I wasn't convinced of that, but I nodded reluctantly. I noticed Tom and Jesse had moved off to the side of the court and were having their conversation. I was glad that Tom felt comfortable enough with Jesse to tell him what was bothering him, and I was sure Jesse would talk to Derek if that's what he thought was best. We broke up a few minutes before the end of the period to go to our lockers. Since Jesse's and mine were close to each other, we paired off.

"So, you talked to Tom...?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yes, nosy!" he said with a playful grin. Then his expression turned more thoughtful. "I'll talk to Derek. Things'll be okay."

"I so want Tom to be happy...and Derek too!"

"You want everyone to be happy," Jesse pointed out.

That was so true. I really did. "Is that a bad thing?" I asked worriedly.

"Well...Hey, wait!" he said, suddenly putting a hand on my shoulder. "I think I need to talk to someone," he announced, gesturing to a little cluster of seventh grade girls gathered a few rooms down for their next class.

"Wish me luck!" he said with a wink, and surprisingly, he looked a little nervous.

I watched as he casually sauntered over to the small clutch of seventh graders, his body language making it clear that he was now Mr. Straight: a little cocky, a little bashful, but all golden blond hair and dreamy blue eyes, teenybopper good looks and bright white teeth. He had his hands stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie and his head cocked a little to one side. A few of the girls noticed him before he got within speaking distance and their eyes opened wide with excitement. I could so clearly imagine what was going on in their heads: Oh-My-God!!! Jesse Taylor, the super-mysterious, boy band stud from the eighth grade, deigning to talk to us insignificant seventh graders--teeheehee!

I pretended to sort through my books as I stood and watched. Of course, I couldn't hear what was being said, but I saw Jesse single out Merissa Scott. The two strolled away from the rest of the group onto the nearby grass. I could see that Merissa's round, rosy cheeked face was just brimming with an explosive smile that wanted desperately to burst out. But she was somehow managing to keep control of her expression, and she nodded delicately in response to Jesse's inquiries even though she was wringing her hands nervously. They exchanged a few sentences and then Merissa's eyes opened wide. Obviously, Jesse had just asked her if she wanted to be his date to Jessica's Christmas party. Her hand went over her mouth and she stared wide-eyed back at her friends, who were watching enviously. Her cheeks turned such a bright red I figured she could replace Rudolph at the head of Santa's sleigh this year!

Jesse said something else and Merissa just nodded, covering her mouth again to keep from giggling like a...well, like a school girl. Jesse took a few backward steps before turning around and heading back towards his locker. Merissa just stood there in shock and her friends soon came running up and gathered around her to get the dish.

"Whew! That wasn't so bad," Jesse said with obvious relief as he approached.

"I take it she said 'yes.'"

Jesse winked and gave me the old trigger finger. "Looks like I'm gonna be gettin' me some head!"

"Really?!" I asked with open shock.

Jesse giggled. "Sure, if you're open for business!"

It was hardly worth it for our little team to hire a bus for our away games, and we easily got by with Mrs. Kalbert's SUV and a minivan. I rode to the game with about half the team, including Morgan, in Coach Riegert's Dodge Caravan. It was unfortunate that our star player had to come along, even though he'd only be able to watch helplessly from the bench. While it was clearly intended to be part of his punishment for his violent outburst a couple of weeks ago, I wondered if Coach realized that it hurt the rest of the team as much as it hurt Morgan.

Still, we did play a good game. It was only in the last few minutes that we fell behind by two points. Harvey passed the ball to Reggie who passed it to Eric. My assignment was to keep St. Matt's star player out of the way long enough for Eric to get under the net. For some stupid reason, I glanced over at Morgan for about half a second, but that was enough to let the guy slip by. Eric got double-teamed and St. Matt's grabbed the ball, playing out the rest of the clock and handing us our first defeat of the season. Somehow, the loss seemed to be made worse by the fact that Morgan hadn't been able to participate. If he had played, and we had lost, it would have felt more right somehow.

My mom showed up before the end of the second half and she invited Morgan to drive back with us, since none of the Kipners had attended--for obvious reasons. It was a quiet ride back from Escondido, and the Lexus reeked of more than just my musky perspiration. When we got to the Kipner's, I walked out with Morgan. When we got to his kitchen door, he turned to me and I saw tears pooling in his eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Per! I let you down...I let everyone down!"

Having some idea now that one of the reasons Morgan was so stressed was because of his mixed up feelings about me, made my stomach ache.

"It was mean to make you sit there and watch like that," I noted sympathetically. "Still, we didn't do too bad...."

"You guys did great. I could see you wanted to win this one."

"It was my fault," I confessed. "I let number fifteen get by me...Eric got double-teamed."

"I know," Morgan admitted guiltily. "I saw you glance over at me."

"I don't know why I did that!"

"Oh man...It's all because I fucked up!" Morgan groaned with a strained voice.

"No, I think it was all my fault," I corrected him, and I hoped he understood that I wasn't just talking about tonight's stupid blunder.

"I'm the one who's all fucked up!" Morgan said through gritted teeth. He quickly wiped the tears from his eyes. He looked at me intensely and I couldn't tell if he was angry, sad, or scared--or all three at once!

"We'll beat St. Joe's next week. And we've already clinched a playoff spot," I reminded him, just wanting to hear those reaassuring words spoken out loud.

"Yeah, I'm not worried about that," he said dismissively. "It's just that...." And his voice trailed off.


He stared at me for a long time and I thought maybe he had forgotten what he wanted to say. " smell so fuckin' good," he remarked out of the blue.

How could that be? I was still in my uniform, wearing a warm up jacket over my jersey, and I was drenched in cold, wet, pungent sweat. Even I could hardly stand it!


"Crazy?" Morgan asked.

I didn't say anything, but realized that I couldn't look my friend in the eye anymore. We just stood there in an uncomfortable silence that seemed very wrong to me. I couldn't help but recall that dreadful Sunday afternoon when he had begged me to jack him off, and then impulsively hit me when I hadn't let him return the favor.

"I...uh... better get going--I really need a shower!" I stammered awkwardly, beginning to slowly back up towards the waiting Lexus.

"Goodnight, Per. Thanks for the ride and...everything...."

Yeah, right.

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