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The following contains graphic descriptions of sexual acts between young people. It is an original work of fiction, and has no basis in reality.

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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 38: Truths And Dares

I hurried back downstairs and walked into the middle of a joyous rendition of "Deck The Halls." A long, glossy black, grand piano had been wheeled into the middle of the great room and I was happily surprised to see Tom pounding away at the keyboard, a look of intense concentration on his cute, round face. But even more astonishing was the sight of Jesse, replete with Santa hat, and Jessica sharing a leather bound folio of Christmas lyrics, standing in front of the piano and leading the rest of the group in song.

It was definitely a smaller crowd than when I had snuck out to the morning room with Jesse earlier. Notably missing in action were Kyle and Melissa, Deanna and Artim, and Morgan. I was sorry that Morgan had felt compelled to slink out under such unfortunate circumstances, but I couldn't help but think that there was something to Noah's warning. Morgan really wasn't the same guy who had taken me under his wing at the beginning of the 7th grade. He was a boy with serious problems. I didn't know if he did a lot of drinking, but clearly he had a fondness for wine, and I wouldn't be shocked if his dad indulged him with a beer now and then. He also had a quick and violent temper, as Derek, myself, the unfortunate basketball player from St. Luke's, and now Kyle, had discovered.

And then there was the whole thing about him being physically attracted to me. While I knew that he really did care for me as a close guy friend, I also knew that his lust for my body wasn't a healthy thing, nothing like the warm and energizing love of my beautiful angel. As I watched Katy standing there without a partner, a hearty Mulroney smile plastered on her pretty, lightly freckled face, I wondered what she was getting out of her relationship with the captain of the basketball team. I was both relieved and surprised to discover that she knew nothing at all about the problems that had been plaguing him these past few months. How he managed to keep all those fierce internal struggles concealed from someone as bright and sensitive as Katy Mulroney was a mystery to me.

I went over to stand by her, and she held her leather bound folder open so we could both read the lyrics. Now that I was standing next to her, I could see the lines of worry on her face and the slight, watery shimmer in her bright green eyes. She reached over with her free hand and found mine. She wrapped her fingers tightly around my fingers and squeezed. I squeezed back.

The caroling went on for a good half an hour, and it was after 8:30 when Tom was finally given a break. Under Jessica's careful supervision, Harvey, Eric, and Artim (who had shown up looking more than a little disheveled about ten minutes before the singing wrapped up), wheeled the piano back into the adjacent music room. The long tables Noah and I had so painstakingly dragged in from the pool house, still full of constantly replenished desserts and candies, interspersed with bowls of punch, hot cider and egg nog, were moved aside, leaving a very large open space in the middle of the great room.

"I hope everyone is having a wonderful time tonight," Jessica announced to the room at large, coming to stand next to me. "It's time now for a little dancing, and Eric Adams has kindly put together a very nice CD compilation with a lot of really awesome tunes. Of course, I told him to keep in mind that we would be in formal dress," she noted, curtsying in her lavish black and silver gown, "and based on his selections, I think he took that to heart. Thank you, Eric."  Everyone applauded Eric, who just waved away the attention. "But before we play Eric's party mix, we're first going to hear the lovely waltz from Tchaikovsky's ballet, Sleeping Beauty." There was some slight grumbling, but Jessica ignored it.

"A young girl has many dreams and fancies, and as she starts to get to that special age where we are now, it's possible for some of those dreams to start coming true," she began, as if this were a rehearsed speech. "When Perry Thompson first walked into our classroom at the beginning of the 7th grade, a shaggy-haired, bashful, skinny, freckle-faced boy, I had no idea that he would become part of those dreams and fancies. But in fact, to me, he is a dream come true, one of the most beautiful boys I've ever seen on TV or in real life." There was some polite applause; I wondered how I could possibly keep my cheeks from glowing the ferocious red color that was now radiating from my face. I didn't dare look over at Jesse, who had gone to stand dutifully with Merissa. "And one thing I've always imagined since I was a little girl, was waltzing around this great big room with the boy of my dreams." Jessica stepped back and extended her arm, her wrist elegantly bent in presentation.

The music started right on cue, filling the room with the lush sounds of a full symphonic orchestra. I actually recognized the music from the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. Mrs. Bainbridge and some of the other parents were standing huddled in one corner, well away from the kids, looking well pleased. I just stood there until Katy gave me a remarkably forceful shove. There were a few titters and snickers as I stumbled over to where Jessica was waiting and she offered me her hand. Having been forced to take some ballroom dancing lessons in school last year, I had a pretty good idea what I was supposed to do, and led her to the middle of the room.

While I had discovered, at Katy's un-Halloween party, that I enjoyed dancing, this was pure mechanics for me:  waltzing in formal fashion around Jessica's house, twirling first by the stone mantle and passing the double -doored entry way before catching a pungent whiff of pine from the towering evergreen as we sailed by it's opulently decorated boughs. People's faces went by in a blur and I was glad. I was so confused by what had happened this afternoon with Jessica, that it seemed easiest not even to think about it at all. Of course, the person I most didn't want to look in the eye right now was Jesse.

When I made the mistake of looking up from my feet and into Jessica's gold-speckled eyes, I felt a strange tingle go through my whole body. The way she was looking at me, you'd think she was waltzing with Kirk Vandriss himself. She was totally caught up in this, and while I knew the reality was something quite different, at this moment in time I really was her dream boy. I gave her a warm smile, realizing this was her day. She had laid her plans carefully, setting it up so that we would have time alone in the afternoon to pursue her more prurient interests, while the evening would be devoted to fulfilling some of her romantic notions.

When the waltz finally ended, everyone applauded. There was only a momentary pause, and then the pounding rhythms of a club version of 'Jingle Bells' filled the great room with pulsing electronic ostinutos and synthesized bells. People found their partners and soon joined Jessica and me in the typical gyrating, freestyle dance of our generation. Remembering the way it had happened at Katy's house, I let myself slip back into that mode, not giving a lot of thought to what any particular part of my body was doing, but just feeling the groove of the music and letting myself become part of it. Sure, Jessica was still within touching distance, but this was really a dance of individual expression, with only the occasional smile or nod acknowledging the other people in the room. I could see the girls in long gowns and high heels being forced to keep their moves simple and restricted, but it seemed like everyone was having a good time regardless. After the first heavily rhythmic track, the following selections were slightly more laid back rhythm and blues and a bit of bump and grind, although, with the Bainbridges and several other parents looking on from the sidelines, there really wasn't much bumping or grinding going on.

I noticed Deanna had reappeared sans blazer, allowing her more freedom of movement than most of the other girls. She really looked in her element, bouncing vigorously to the beat despite her bulk, while skinny and gangly Harvey did his best to stay out of her way. I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for Goreski's cousin; Jesse had made a fool of her twice now, and I had to wonder how close she really was to her uncle's son. The picture of his broad, flat-nosed face resting on an almost invisible stump of a neck, standing right in front of me in that stall in the fellowship hall of St. Agnus' caused me to shiver, and I just had to steal an occasional glance at Merissa and Jesse. He had removed his Santa hat and his long, golden blond hair, which now touched his shoulders, looked as lustrous as some of the fancy satin dresses swirling about the room. It was no surprise to me that Jesse was a great dancer, his moves effortlessly fluid and deliberate. The subtle movements of his hips and arms worked together to give him a sexy and sultry look that would have caught the attention of everyone on the dance floor of any club on the Sunset Strip. I would have loved to slowdance with him all night. By contrast, Merissa, in her garishly red Christmas dress, looked awkward and childish as she bobbed around a little too frantically, weaving back and forth around my beautiful, blonde boyfriend.

At the beginning of a mellow Brian McKnight tune, Jessica gave me a little nudge and gestured subtly toward Katy, who was standing behind one of the food tables, bouncing lightly to the beat all by herself. I nodded and went over to ask her to dance. She smiled bashfully, and only after receiving a confirming glance from Jessica, extended a hand. Despite being encumbered by a floor-to-neck ball gown, Katy moved with effortless grace and I followed along, watching her swaying hips and enjoying our few moments together.

After the fourth tune, I was ready for a break. A few of the other couples had also broken off, some even leaving the confines of the great room. Those that were still dancing had changed partners, and I saw Jessica bopping around with Jesse while Katy was busy gyrating next to Eric, who was doing a slick and funny hiphop thing, even though the music was really a little too laid back for that style. I thought briefly of what Morgan had said, but dismissed his concerns about our easygoing team mate. I was pretty sure Eric and Jamaica were a couple, despite his playful denial at the game last week.

After a refreshing cup of ice cold punch, I headed for the bathroom. When I came out, Tom was standing there, looking a little worse for wear, his cheeks still flushed from his musical efforts, his light gray jacket slung over his shoulder and his tie hanging loosely from his neck.

"Hey, Tom! Having a good time?"

He nodded, but the look on his face was less than joyful.

"You were great on the piano. I mean, dude, what can you not do well?" I asked in genuine awe of my friend's endless gifts.

He shrugged. "Thanks," he muttered half-heartedly. "But obviously, there are plenty of things I'm totally lame at."

At that point, the conversation seemed to peter out and we stood there in the hallway, exchanging awkward glances.

"So, you'll be gone for two weeks, huh?" Tom asked.

"Yeah. But it'll go fast with Christmas and my dad's wedding."

"Fast for you," Tom noted sullenly.
"So, what're you guys doing over the break?" I asked, ignoring his comment.

He shrugged. "Nuthin' much. My mom's got people in Riverside, so we'll probably go there at some point, and we'll probably have Christmas at my uncle's, now that my abuelita's gone."

I remembered the remarkably detailed drawing of Tom's grandmother that he had shown me in his studio. Even though it didn't make any real sense, I felt like I somehow knew her just from viewing that meticulously crafted work.

"And you and Derek-"

"Can we talk somewhere, like private?" Tom asked, a pained expression on his smooth, round face.

I tried not to show my apprehension. It wasn't that I didn't care for him or his feelings--he was one of the most precious people in my life right now, but to go through another emotional encounter tonight, after Jessica, Morgan, Noah, Jesse and Kyle, just seemed like more than I could bear.

"Are you feeling okay?" I asked, stalling for time.

He shrugged and nodded unconvincingly.

"Jessica and Martha are probably looking for us already," I reminded him.

I saw Tom's shoulders sag in disappointment. "Sure, yeah. Whatever." He turned to head back to the great room.

I quickly caught up with him. "Wait," I said, and opened the door to the small office where Katy, Jessica and I had spoken for a few minutes earlier in the day.

Fortunately, the room was empty. I gestured for Tom to go in and I followed, closing the door behind me. We just stood there again, exchanging those same awkward looks.

"So...uh...what's up?" I asked with pointed hesitancy.

I saw the bland expression on his face tighten into a frightening mask of anger and frustration. "This is stupid. I'm stupid. I don't know what I'm doing here," Tom berated himself. He turned to head back out but I caught his shoulder and turned him to face me.

"Wait Tom, please. You look so...sad."

That seemed to trigger something inside and he suddenly looked like he was going to cry. I could see his chest heaving as he took in several deep breaths to calm himself.

"I tried so hard..." he muttered.

I glanced over at the closed door, wishing now that I had thought to lock it as well.

"With Derek?"

"No," he shook his head impatiently. "With you--I mean, without you--I mean, trying to not...think about you that way. But the way you look tonight...I mean, how could anyone not notice?"

"Notice what?"

"I hate Jessica!" Tom spat, turning and slamming his balled fist on the top of the desk.

"Wh-what?" I stuttered, as I nearly jumped out of my suit.

"I hate seeing all those girls ogling you, lining up in front of the mistletoe, kissing you like you were some kinda prize. And it pisses me off to hafta just stand there and watch."

"You mean, you still have feelings for me?"

"Duh!" he laughed coldly. "I mean, when do you think they stopped? After I creamed myself in your room? After I bit your foot? After you caught me jacking off with your socks?" I cringed, hoping no one was standing outside the room, listening in. He laughed again in a harsh, self-deprecating way. "Obviously, everything's under control there."  Clearly his emotions were still getting the better of him and his lip was trembling. He turned his back, resting his palms on the front of the desk, but I could still sense how wound up he was.

"Hey, Tom--look!" I got the mistletoe out of my pocket and held it over my head, giving him a big, cheery smile when he turned. "Merry Christmas!" 

But instead of rushing up and planting a big wet one on my lips, he looked at me like I had just shot his mother.  Slowly, I felt my smile collapse.

"What the fuck is this?" Tom asked, somewhere between anger and tears. "Some sort of pity thing?"

I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment. "Gees, Tom...I didn't mean-"

"I know you didn't...I know," he assured me quickly, again taking more deep breaths in an attempt to get his emotions under control. "This is all my fault," he muttered through clenched teeth, half turning away again.

I quietly slipped the mistletoe back in my pocket. Even though I did feel sorry for him, I also realized that he wasn't looking for pity and I suddenly felt ashamed of myself.

"Know what would make a great Christmas present?" he asked in a strangely cold voice.

I shook my head warily.

"Suckin' your dick!" He paused to let the words sink in, and there was nothing close to a smile on his face. "Yeah, I wanna get down on my knees and suck it until it's hard and pulsing. I wanna feel it in my mouth, roll my tongue around it. I wanna drink your cum so bad."

"You're joking right?" And when that didn't get a response..."C-can't you do that with Derek?" I asked, trying to not look as shocked and disgusted as I felt.

"Perry...por favor...Sometimes I think you''re so dense. What does Derek have to do with...with anything? He's just a friend, a horny guy that gets off messing around with another horny guy just cuz it's easy. That's all there is to it, and sooner or later, he's gonna get sick of it. And when he does, who knows? Maybe he'll just decide to turn around and kick my sorry gay ass--him and some of his jock buds cuz just maybe he doesn't want to be associated with a horny, pathetic joto like me!"

"Tom!" I cried out. "Stop...please...."

Tears were trickling from his reddened face now. What kind of friend was I? What kind of person was I to cause such misery to the people I cared for the most?

"I'm just a stupid little cocksucker," he noted through gritted teeth. We both stared uneasily at each other and it was like Tom was offering me a dare.

"Fine," I said quietly, and then with more determination, "fine." I went over and locked the door. "Let's do it then." I stood in front of him and tugged down the zipper of my dress pants.

Tom looked at me and then down at my crotch. He was obvious. Of course, there wasn't much to see, except for maybe a hint of my boxers. I wasn't hard or anything. It seemed like he was tempted, and his eyes narrowed. But then his face again took on that tightened, squinty look of anger.

 "Stop it!" He stepped away from me, deliberately avoiding looking down at my unzipped pants.

"But you said-"

"I know what I said," he responded in a pained voice. "But don't you get it? I know you, Perry. I know you don't really want me to do it but you'll let me do it just cuz you have some crazy idea that you-you have to do everything your friends want or...or I don't know what. You think they'll be mad at you or you'll go to Hell or something."

Okay, this was by far the worst moment of the party so far. Tom was more upset than I'd ever seen him before, and I shuddered to think that I was a big part of the cause.

"I do want to make you happy, Tom," I insisted, still standing there with my fly open. "Just tell me what you want from me," I pleaded.

Quite suddenly, he lunged at me. I thought of pushing him away as I had Al-Jihuad's minion at Hode Ranch, but instead, I just stiffened, prepared to take a beating if that was what it took to make Tom feel better about himself and about us. I just stood there, cringing. My eyes were closed, and when, after a good thirty seconds, nothing of a violent nature occurred, I slowly opened them. I also remembered to start breathing again.

Tom had actually moved away, further into the room. He plopped down on the small paisley sofa and held his head in his hands. "Ha, that would just top it all off, wouldn't it? Here I am, with the boy I love more than anything, and I'm going to beat him up because...Ha, what a pendejo I am! What a fucked-up idiot!"

I zipped up, walked over, and sat beside him. After a few agonizing heartbeats of silence, I carefully put my arm around his back. He didn't move away, but I could feel the tension in his muscles.  He could have seriously benefited from Jessica's kneading fingers, and I wondered for a moment if getting a massage like that from a pretty girl would make him hard the way it had done for me. Finally, he turned his head toward me, his eyes brimming, but no tears shed.

"You were gonna let me, huh?" he asked fearfully.

"It's okay if you need to hit me, or something," I assured him. "I deserve it for making you feel this way."

Tom laughed uncomfortably and then released a heavy sigh. "I meant the bj. You'd have let me go through with it, huh?"

I shrugged. "I can't stand to see you suffer like this...because of me."

"You would've liked it," he said with sudden enthusiasm, and then he slouched. "No, you don't deserve any of this."

"I'm so sorry I make you feel like this," I apologized.

Tom snorted. "It's not you, Perry. For whatever crazy reason, God made me this way. I thought maybe it was cuz I wanted to be an artist. Artists are supposed to suffer, ya know? And what could be better for that than turning a guy into a fag?"

I had never seen Tom so bitter and sarcastic before, and it frightened me.

"But why would he make me fall in love with someone I can't have? That just seems so...cruel."

"You're already a great artist. Even Father Marlen says so."

"God forgive me for saying so, but the Padre creeps me out," Tom announced.

Well, that was somewhat understandable. The good Father always did seem to have an air of mystery about him. It was easy to go a week or more without seeing him anywhere, and then one day, it seemed like he would just suddenly be there, quietly observing, strolling along, or casually chatting with a member of the faculty or even a student. He had that mellow, deliberate way of speaking and he was careful to hide whatever emotions he experienced behind an impassive mask of serene gentility. The only place he seemed to show up with any consistency was at baseball games and the occasional practice, and that made some sense now, knowing that he had been a pitcher in his youth.

"I think he's okay. He talked to Jesse and me really nice after Mass. Told us about when he was a kid and stuff. It was kinda funny."

"You guys didn't get in trouble?"

"Well, yeah, I guess we did. We have to help him straighten out his studio or something like that, but not till school starts up again."

Tom nodded, and for the first time since we had met outside the bathroom, a small grin played across his face. "You were laughing about Jesse's rod, huh?"

I blushed but nodded sheepishly. "I don't know why. It just sounded so...funny." I also couldn't help smiling as I recalled the giddiness I'd felt while the Father was reading that prophecy from the Old Testament.

"It was fuckin' hilarious, but...don't you think that was just a little" Tom asked cautiously. "I mean, thinking about Jesse's,      y'know...rod?"

I stiffened and realized I was swimming in dangerous waters. "Was it?" I asked stupidly.

"I bet Jesse started it, huh?" Tom asked before I could respond. "That guy's got a wicked sense of humor--totally bizarre."

"Yeah, I guess it takes some getting used to," I admitted, remembering the first time I had been exposed to Jesse's strange sense of humor at his apartment, back in early November. The first time we had seen each other naked. That seemed so long ago now....

But Tom just shrugged it off. "It was funny," he declared, the smile broadening on his flushed face. It seemed like he had lost some of his anger, and I saw he wasn't breathing as heavily any more. The way his big brown eyes swam now with unshed tears made him look like a magically impish boy out of some fantastical painting. I imagined a swirling purple and orange sky filled with dragons with wings the size of school buses, wearing long stocking caps, and towering castles made of Skittles, encrusted with a translucent rainbow assortment of Jolly Ranchers, and in the midst of it all, a beautiful mocha-skinned boy with bright, shining eyes standing there, clutching a baseball, staring in wonderment at it all.

"What?" Tom asked, with a wary smile.

"I was just thinking that you'd look great in a painting. Have you ever tried to do a self portrait?"

Tom's face fell. "That would be a total waste. When I take the time to create something, I want it to be beautiful, something that'll give people pleasure. Staring at my ugly mug would just give people gas or something."

I laughed but Tom didn't. This was no joke to him.

"You mean, you really don't like the way you look?" I asked with genuine astonishment.

Tom snorted. "Shit. Look at you. Look at Jesse. How could I ever compare to you guys?"

"Jesse doesn't think he's particularly good looking," I assured him. "And, well, you know what I think about myself," I added sheepishly.

"It doesn't matter though...about myself, I mean. What's the difference what I look like? I'm still a fag. Me gusto ninos! I like boys!" he reminded me bitterly.

"Well, for what it's worth, I think you are...good looking, I mean. Everyone does. Katy wouldn't have invited you to her party otherwise."

That seemed to throw Tom for a loop, and he didn't seem to have a sarcastic reply ready to fire back.

"Hehe...That's kinda gross. Inviting people to a party cuz of their looks. How come she didn't invite Jesse?"

"I think cuz he was new and they didn't have anyone to match him up with."

"Oh yeah, like me and Dana were a match made in Heaven." He managed a lopsided grin. "You really think I'm good looking?"

I shrugged with embarrassment.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. I mean, that's cool...that you think I'm...okay to look at. Thanks." His cheeks were definitely tinted that rosy brown tone that meant he was blushing.

I decided it would be better if I just kept my mouth shut at this point, so I waited for Tom to say something, but he just sat there, staring at his hands in his lap. "It's hard sometimes, thinking know...what might've, what could've happened if things had been a little different, if you were, nevermind!" he sighed frustratedly.

Tom Espinoza was a very cute, bright-eyed boy, and with all his incredible talents, a genuinely remarkable person. I had to wonder if, under different circumstances--like if Jesse hadn't shown up this year--we might have somehow gotten together in the way he wanted. After all, he had outted himself to me one traumatic afternoon, and as far as I could tell, that had nothing to do with Jesse. While I felt none of the overwhelming passion for him that I did for Jesse, it seemed possible that, given some time and a little tentative experimentation, that maybe we could have eventually gotten involved in something that would have satisfied both of us.

"Sorry," Tom apologized quickly. "Another stupid thing to say. It's just that, you're so nice to me, sometimes I forget you're straight!"

"I dunno. I don't feel very nice most of the time," I confessed. "Seems like I keep messing up peoples' lives--especially my friends'...."
"You're wrong there," Tom pointed out unhesitatingly. "You're a good guy, a really good guy, and if you have a fault it's maybe just that try too hard to please everybody."

He'd really hit the nail on the head there. I had the sudden epiphany that maybe, if I was less concerned about other people's feelings, and what they thought about me, that I could focus more on Jesse. He certainly deserved my full and undivided  attention. Still, to just dump Jessica, to tell Tom and Morgan to go solve their own problems, to ignore my younger cousin Derrin...I just couldn't turn my back on any of them.

"Derek's okay, you know," Tom said, shaking me out of my brief reverie. "I shouldn't of said those things about him. That wasn't fair."

"Yeah, he seems okay to me too," I added, thinking of poor, confused, frustrated Derek sobbing his bright green eyes out behind the school that morning almost a month ago, after writing Jesse a very explicitly sexual note.

"Jessica really, really likes you, huh?" Tom asked uncomfortably. It was if he was trying to make peace with me once again.

"She can be a little pushy and stuck up sometime," I admitted, "but I guess to me, she's pretty hot."

"I know. I can still tell a pretty girl from an ugly one," he giggled. "Personally, I think Jessica's the prettiest girl in our class, but don't straight guys like chi chis boobies, like Melissa's?"

I shrugged. "I don't really know much about...uh...boobs," I admitted. "Deanna has big boobs and I don't feel attracted to her--at all."  I paused and shrugged. "This is all pretty new to me."

"Me too," Tom agreed.

We sat in contemplative silence for a few minutes. I could hear the muffled sound of dance music drifting in from the great room.  It was after nine, and I knew the evening would soon be drawing to a close, and none too soon for me.

"Feeling better?" I asked.

Tom looked at me for a long time, first with an unreadable expression on his face. Then a thin smile formed and his eyes seemed to brighten once again.

"So you're gonna be okay?" I asked hopefully.

He shrugged and then nodded uncertainly. "I'm sorry if I said some...bad things before."

"Horny bastard!" I joked.

"Red silk boxers with Christmas trees!" he fired back.

I was momentarily stunned that he had caught that clear a glimpse of my underwear, but after all, I'd been the one to unzip.  I stuck out my tongue to cover my embarrassment. "Bite me!"

"Been there; done that," Tom pointed out sarcastically. But he was still smiling. "I wish I had a picture of you, wearing just those boxers and a Santa hat!"

"Jesse has a Santa hat," I pointed out.

"And I bet we could get a camera from Jessica!" he added excitedly. "And fuck the boxers!"

I just looked at him in shock. Then he burst into heartfelt laughter. "Gotcha!" he said.

I rolled my eyes in relief. He tentatively reached over and touched my arm through my suit coat.

"Friends?" he asked hopefully.


Tom and I tried to slip back into the great room unnoticed during one of the more boisterous tunes. But I hadn't even recovered from the shock of seeing Artim and Deanna freak dancing when Jessica caught sight of me.

"There you are!" she declared, not bothering to ask where I had been nor acknowledging Tom in anyway. Instead, she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the middle of the yuletide mosh pit, a small, churning sea of teenagers glistening with perspiration in their fancy dresses, suits, and sweaters.

Fortunately, there was only one more song, after which everyone applauded Eric once more for his Christmas mix. Then a traditional version of "Jingle Bells" began playing over the speaker system.

"Ho, ho, ho!" came a robust voice from underneath an arch that led to the music room, an area marked as off limits to us party go-ers. The short and stocky figure of Mr. Bainbridge, dressed in full Santa regalia, was still clearly recognizable behind the thick white beard. He was carrying a big red velvet bag, which he carefully set down next to the Christmas tree. He went through the usual Santa routine and asked who'd been naughty and nice in a surprisingly deep and resonant tone, before finally reaching into his bag to start distributing the Secret Santa gifts. Since there was a twenty dollar limit, no one was expecting anything fancy, but it was sort of fun seeing who got what from whom.

The outside of the wrapped gift contained only the name of the recipient. You had to open it to discover who your Secret Santa was. Jessica announced that we would all open our gifts at the same time, but that didn't stop the more curious and impatient members of the class from shaking, probing, and otherwise scrutinizing their gift in agonizing detail as they waited for all of the packages to be distributed.

"Please be sure to thank your Secret Santa!" Jessica reminded everyone before they started tearing off the wrapping paper. I was about to ask Jessica what she had gotten and from whom, when she made a distasteful face and held up a framed (and autographed) photo of Kyle in his football uniform, looking appropriately suave and jock-like. I felt a little frisson of fear, knowing what I knew about him and Miss Zimmerman. The easiest thing for now was simply to push it to the back of my mind. It was a problem that would have to wait until the new year. 

Jessica quickly put the framed photo back in its box and closed it up, setting it carelessly on a nearby end table. While they had dated some last year, and Kyle was a good looking guy, I still felt a small swelling of manly pride knowing that she preferred me over the captain of the football team. 

Tom got a nice set of paintbrushes from Katy, a thoughtful and useful gift. I was glad to see the surprised look on Jesse's face as he unwrapped a hard bound copy of Dune. For twenty bucks, it was probably used, but it looked like it was in great condition. He looked somewhat dumbfounded at first, but then went over to thank Soon-ji with a grateful hug. She seemed startled but well pleased to be getting this kind of attention from the hottest boy in our class and I could tell he was asking her how she knew that was one of his favorite books. She shrugged modestly, wringing her hands the whole time. Then he turned to catch my eye across the room and gave me a knowing wink.  I put on my best blank expression, pretending not to know what he was going on about.

I watched Martha as she carefully removed the green foil wrapping paper from her small gift. She opened the red velvet box and after reading the name card, opened her eyes wide as she searched me out. I hadn't actually wanted her to catch me observing her, but now that she had, I smiled bashfully. Soon she came up and gave me a rather wet and noisy peck on the cheek, pretty much the same treatment I had gotten earlier in the evening, when she had taken her turn kissing me under the mistletoe.

Do you like it?" I asked uncertainly.

"Me gusto mucho," she assured me, and gave me another kiss. She handed me the bronze chain link and turned so that I could put it on her, lifting her thick mop of course black hair. She turned and beamed at me, the small, stained glass crucifix nicely reflecting the small, twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.

Finally, I unwrapped my gift, which was also in a small cardboard box, this one wrapped in silver foil printed with a poinsettia pattern and tied with a fancy bow of silver and gold. I looked at the card and smiled knowingly when I saw it was from Jessica. Inside was a small, blue velvet-covered box, not unlike the one I had given to Martha. I opened it and nearly dropped it when I realized it was a ring! I looked at Jessica with disbelief. For one terrifying and confusing moment, I thought Jessica was proposing to me! But I finally blinked my eyes and came back to my senses, my heart pounding furiously from my imaginary scare. Scrutinizing the ring more closely, I realized the silver band set with turquoise had to be worth much more than twenty dollars.

"It's okay," she assured me, probably seeing my look of skepticism. She rubbed her hand along my arm. "It belonged to my grandfather. Mother and Father said I could give it to you. And besides, it's like a companion piece to the antique brooch you gave me," she pointed out quickly.

While it definitely broke the rules of the gift exchange, it was Jessica's party and Jessica's house, and if I looked at it as an exchange of family jewelry, maybe it wasn't such an outrageous gift after all. Of course, she hadn't known about the brooch--or had she?

"Do you like it?" she asked anxiously.

"It's too much," I complained gently.

"Maybe for any other boy; not for you. It's just right," she assured me. "Go on, look at the inscription."

I took the ring out of it's case and was surprised at its substantial weight. I held it close enough to see the scroll-style etching on the inside of the thick silver band: P & J Xmas 2003.

"You do like it!" she squealed with relief, squeezing my arm.

That's when I realized I was smiling. Perry and Jesse Xmas 2003. What could be sweeter?

"Look inside the box," Jessica urged.

I lifted the small cardboard frame that had supported the ring to reveal a wallet sized portrait of the two of us at Katy's party: Jessica beaming as if she were a hunter who had just bagged her first grizzly bear and me, before my haircut, with my shaggy mop of dysfunctional hair spraying out in all directions, staring cluelessly in the general direction of the camera. I only vaguely recalled the moment, with Katy excitedly snapping pictures of all the couples at the small gathering. I turned it over and red the tiny, meticulous writing on the back.

Dear Perry,
you are the boy of my dreams and I cherish every moment we spend together. I hope that our relationship will continue to blossom throughout the rest of our time at St. Boniface and beyond.

Beyond?!  I swallowed a lump in my throat. For some reason, the image of getting kicked in the ass by Deanna Kennedy behind the basketball court and falling into a pungent bed of pine needles came vividly to mind. Jessica wanted to have a serious relationship. She wanted me to take her virginity. She wanted to marry me. She wanted to bear my children and go to the Emmys with me! I felt suddenly woozy and quickly plopped into the nearest chair, oblivious to the fancy scrolling on the high back, or the expensive fabric of the upholstery supporting my pathetic ass. Jessica quickly came up, a puzzled look on her face.

"Is something wrong?"

I quickly shook my head and forced a smile onto my face. "No...thanks, it's just's been a lot today...a lot of stuff's all really...nice."

"Let me put it on!" she said excitedly. I started to lift her hand. "On you, silly!" she giggled.

I held out my left hand and I breathed a sigh of relief as she slipped it on my index finger rather than my ring finger. She held my newly bejeweled hand and scrutinized it.

"It's beautiful," she said, stroking the top of my hand. She stared at me expectantly, rocking impatiently on her heels. Then I remembered and pulled my Kenneth Cole wallet out. I dutifully took Jessica's photo and carefully inserted it into the little clear plastic holder that was probably meant for a driver's license.

"Now you can take me with you to New York," she said, leaning over and giving me a kiss on the cheek. I wondered if I now had a big red lipstick stain on the side of my face, but I was afraid to wipe it off and hurt her feelings.

I nodded, still confused and overwhelmed by the awful predicament I had gotten both of us into. I already had the crucifix and the friendship band, a turquoise flavored candy cane in my pocket, and now the ring. It seemed like it was Jessica's plan to cover me from head to toe with baubles that would constantly remind me of my obligation to her. That's when I noticed Jesse staring at us from across the room. He still had on his Santa hat and was clutching his new copy of Dune like a prized possession. While the expression on his face seemed cheerful enough, I was sure he had seen Jessica slip the ring on my finger and I felt my stomach twist.

"Are you sure there's nothing bothering you?" she asked again.

Should I tell her that she was wasting her time with me because I was already in love with someone she could never compete with, someone with beautiful golden blond hair and crystal blue eyes, the wisdom of a forty year old, and a really cute dick that poked almost straight out when it was erect? Or should I tell her that her brother was gay, had tried to seduce me in the pool house, and had told me in explicit detail about his long and passionate affair with Gene's older brother back in high school? Or should I just tell her why Kyle and I had been talking by the pool and why Morgan had reacted so violently? Fortunately, I was saved from having to fabricate a passable lie by a full-bodied ho ho ho from Mr. Bainbridge. "Is there a Jessica Bainbridge here?" he asked in a jovial voice.

Jessica smiled uncertainly at me and raised her hand childishly, her expression changing quickly to a more contrived expression of joy as she skipped over to stand next to her father.

"I wonder if you could see that every good boy and girl gets one of these?" he asked, handing the half empty bag to her.

"Only the good ones?" she asked coyly, and her father ho ho ho'd some more. "Of course, Santa," she said with a little curtsy. With that, Santa was on his way and everyone applauded his buoyant performance.

Katy and Merissa came up to help her distribute party gifts to everyone. The girls received small bottles of designer perfume, and the boys got gift cards good at the local AMC multiplex, the infamous scene of our frightening encounter with  Jorge, Rooster, and Julio at the Santa Corina Mall. It seemed like ages ago that I had gone to see that Jackie Chan movie with Gene, Tom, and Jesse. That night, after we escaped Jorge and his thugs, Jesse had hugged me for the first time, and it had changed my life forever.

I was shaken out of my reverie by the ringing of the door chimes. Parents were arriving in small groups, each collecting their child, and saying their thank you's and expressing their holiday wishes. In less than fifteen minutes, nearly everyone was gone. The caterers were already clearing the folding tables of punch bowls and platters.

"Won't you stay?" I heard Jessica ask Katy.

I could see that Katy was more than ready to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow anyway," she explained as her mom said her farewells to Mrs. Bainbridge. "We'll finish packing." I remembered that they were going on a ski vacation together.

"Thanks for all your help!" Jessica said, giving her friend a kiss on the cheek. "I'm so sorry about Morgan," she added quietly.

Katy and Jessica had a long, sisterly hug before the Mulroneys left, with everyone carrying leftovers in dishes covered with foil. It wasn't long before it was just me, Jessica, Jesse and Merissa. Now, if we could just get rid of the girls....

Jessica and Merissa immediately began pitching in, clearing tables, and gathering up dishes and cups. Jesse and I joined in as well, going around the room picking up all the piles of discarded wrapping paper.

"So, when's the wedding?" Jesse chided, nodding toward my ring.

I instinctively put my hand behind my back, and then, feeling ashamed, brought it back up. I slid it off my finger and handed it to Jesse. "Read the inscription."

He did, but his face showed no discernible expression. I put my hand out to retrieve it, but Jesse suddenly dropped to one knee.

"Please, please marry me, Perry Thompson, or I'll most certainly suffer an attack of the vapors!" he crooned in a faux southern accent.

Merissa giggled at Jesse's clownish antics, but Jessica scowled.

"That's not some plastic magic decoder ring from a box of cereal, you know!" she pointed out acidly, hands on her hips.

"Really?" Jesse said, getting up and shaking it as if it were a defective watch. "I thought it was magic. You of those talking rings that're all the rage in Botswana or Belarus or someplace like that." He held the ring up to his ear and knitted his brow in concentration. "What's that? Jessica Bainbridge is a bi...what?!" He looked shocked and quickly handed the ring back to me.

"Man, I don't know where that ring was made, but it sure has got some mouth on it!"

I couldn't help but let the laugh building in my belly burst out, starting with a loud and ungraceful snort.

"Perry, are you going to let your friend get away with such a crude remark?" Jessica demanded.

I immediately stopped laughing and tried to look serious, but then burst into laughter again. "Don't be jealous," I begged. "You know I'll end up marrying the one with the biggest house!"

Jessica wasn't amused.

"Oh man!" Jesse groaned. "You were my last hope. Now there's nothing to stop Deanna from taking my vir-"

Suddenly, Mrs. Bainbridge came striding in, clapping her hands to get our attention. "Here, here, children. This is your party. You're supposed to be having fun, enjoying each other's company. I assure you the clean up operation is well in hand. Why don't the four of you run off some place where you won't be underfoot?"

I couldn't believe that Jessica's mother would actually insist that four young teenagers go off on their own recognizance and vanish somewhere in the middle of this cavernous mansion. However, Jessica quickly thanked her mom and wasted no time in leading us down an arched corridor. After several turns, she opened the door to what looked like a sewing room. It was about as large as my bedroom, with a sewing table and machine along one wall, surrounded by spools of thread in every color of the rainbow. There were shelves stacked with folded fabric of every kind and color imaginable. Shelves were jammed with thick reference books, patterns and magazines. There were also large posters on the wall of models dressed in lavish outfits and I was reminded of Mr. Broyhill's--I mean Ms. Colescu's--office at Nieman-Marcus.

"This is where we're gonna make out?" Jesse asked, and I couldn't tell from his tone if he was serious or not.

There was a little sitting area with a small sofa and several padded arm chairs. Instead of answering Jesse's question, Jessica motioned for Merissa to have a seat on the couch before she seated herself. She gestured for Jesse and me to take two of the arm chairs. Jessica immediately leaned forward and unstrapped her high heels, leaving her weary, reddened feet bare. Melissa looked a little uncomfortable at the idea, but then went ahead and slipped off her pumps as well, leaving her feet in tan nylon stockings. I wanted to see if Jesse would shuck his loafers, but he didn't so I kept mine on as well.

"What an evening!" Jessica sighed, and if she'd had a big paper fan in one hand, she would have fit in nicely with the cast of Gone With The Wind.

"Imagine--Morgan and Kyle tumbling into the pool like that!" Merissa said, giving me a strange glance. "What could have gotten into those two?"

That got Jessica to looking at me in a suspicious manor, and I just shrugged. "It was a misunderstanding."

"About what?" Jessica pressed.

"Anyone got a pack of cards?" Jesse asked, pulling off his Santa hat and carelessly combing his fingers through his long golden locks. "I know some tricks."

"I think we've had quite enough of your tricks for one night," Jessica noted haughtily, but with just a twinge of genuine hurt.

Jesse stuck out his tongue but didn't smile.

"We're going to play Truth or Dare," Jessica announced in such a manner that it wasn't open for discussion.

I shot Jesse a look of wide-eyed panic, but he just snorted disdainfully. "That's a girl's game!" he declared dismissively.

Jessica did her little pretend pout. "It's my party!" she reminded us all petulantly.

Merissa nodded excitedly, of course.  I was pretty sure she would jump off the roof if Jessica so decreed.

"Does everyone know the rules?" Jessica asked, glancing quickly at each one of us. "It's a game, but a serious game. You have to tell the God's Honest Truth or you have to take the dare."

"If it's a dare, it has to stay in this room!" Jesse insisted.

"Of course," she agreed.

"And nothing worse than PG," Jesse warned. 

I was somewhat relieved, having heard all sorts of horror stories of kids having to strip to their underwear or even expose their private parts on a dare, and I'd had quite enough of those kinds of games for one week. Jessica didn't seem to think much of that restriction, and shot him a challenging look. 

"PG-13," she countered. He just stared at her unflinchingly with those icy blue eyes, and I could see her resolve crumble. Boy, I wished I could handle Jessica like that. But Jesse suddenly backed down and shrugged disinterestedly.

"Fine!" Jessica declared triumphantly. "I'll go first. I get to challenge each one of you; then it'll be the next person's turn," she explained quickly.

"That's not how you do it," Jesse protested. "You get to choose one person, and then that person gets a turn to ask whoever they want."

I could see that Jessica was really starting to get pissed now, and that Jesse was clearly ready to dig in his heels as well. 

"I think it'll be fun this way," Merissa said, nodding approvingly toward Jessica.

Jesse seemed like he still wanted to argue, but I also got the sense he didn't want to cross Merissa. It was hard for me to believe that my brave little angel could be cowed by this cherubic but unsophisticated 7th grader, but I guessed he was just playing the part of the straight boyfriend. For whatever reason, he shrugged again and slumped down a little further in his seat.

There was no way I could hide my apprehension. Truth or Dare? Just as Katy's party had been the first time I had ever participated in Spin The Bottle, it looked like tonight, I was going to be indoctrinated into another traditional teenage party game. And yet, this one seemed fraught with much more real danger then a simple makeout ritual. There were so many truths bobbing around in my head that I didn't want the girls to know, that I felt like screaming 'fire!' and running out into the chilly winter night.

"Perry--are you okay?" Jessica asked, apparently noticing the fact that I had turned white as a sheet.

"I don't think I like this game," I admitted uneasily.

"We haven't even started."


Jessica looked like she was giving my concern some serious thought, when Jesse interrupted. "C'mon, Perry. It'll be fun. Since Jessica's gonna do all her turns at once, you'll be able to get your revenge when it's your turn, and she won't be able to do anything about it!" he pointed out gleefully. "And wait 'til it's my turn..."

Jessica gave Jesse a squint-eyed glare before letting her face relax into a pleasant-looking smile again. "That's true," she pointed out with a girlish giggle.

Merissa giggled with her and Jesse just let out a heavy sigh. "Let's get this over with," he said impatiently, and I saw Jessica bristle.

Wow, he was really getting on Jessica's nerves.  How cool was that?

"All right--Jesse," she said, sitting up very straight with her hands folded neatly in the lap of her glittering dress as she turned her head in my friend's direction. "Truth or Dare?" she asked quickly.

"Truth," he replied without hesitation.

Jessica nodded, pursing her lips and tilting her head slightly in a thoughtful looking pose. "Who's the hottest looking guy in our class?" she asked shrewdly.

I stiffened, trying to imagine how Jesse would respond.

"God's Honest Truth," she reminded him.

"That's easy--Kyle," he said carelessly. "Nothing personal, Per--you're still my best bud!" he said, flashing me a perfect rendition of a Kyle Richardson wink.

Jessica seemed satisfied with that answer. I wondered why she had asked that particular question. "Hmmm...actually, you're cuter than Kyle in some ways," Jessica stated matter of factly, "but I figured you wouldn't be vain enough to name yourself."

"Or Perry," Melissa pointed out helpfully.

"Maybe you should've said Perry," Jessica noted sympathetically.

"You said God's Honest Truth!" Jesse reminded her, and somehow, by throwing her words back at her, I understood that he was assuring me that he wasn't taking any of this seriously.

"I think we hurt Perry's feelings though," Jessica said, her voice suddenly taking on a tone of genuine concern.

I shrugged sheepishly. "You didn't hurt my feelings.  I know I'm nothing special to look at," I stated emotionlessly.

Jessica suddenly got to her feet, gripped my hand tightly and leaned over to give me a wet and sloppy kiss on the cheek. "You're very special!" she insisted. "And there's nothing wrong with the way you look. You are--Oh My God--the hottest looking boy in Santa Corina, but you know Jesse would never say that." She turned to look at my seemingly disinterested friend. "We might think he's gay!" she teased, but there was an edge to her voice that seemed to suggest that she would have liked to stick something sharp and pointy  between Jesse's ribs.

My cheeks were burning with embarrassment and as usual, Jesse came to my rescue.

"Okay, okay. How do I know which guy's hot? Could be Artie for all I know! Who's next?" Jesse asked impatiently.

Jessica gave my hand one more meaningful squeeze before retaking her seat. I knew that, whatever faults she had, whether it was arrogance, pride or whatever, she really did have strong feelings for me, and that went a long way toward humanizing her for me.

"Merissa," Jessica said, once again sitting up straight and nodding her head at the sparkling blonde 7th grader who was probably her biggest fan.  She gave the younger girl a penetrating look, as if she were peeling away whatever walls or barriers blocked her direct scrutiny of Merissa's thoughts.

For her part, Merissa seemed to be focusing both inwardly and outwardly at the same time, as if she was the second last kid standing in the National Spelling Bee, prepared to receive the word that would take her to the brink of victory or to the pit of utter defeat. The look of intense concentration on her face contrasted rather significantly with the big red bow tied in her hair. She nodded slightly to indicate that she was ready to play.

"Truth or Dare?" Jessica asked with a tinge of excited anticipation in her voice.

Merissa seemed to ponder her choices for a few seconds before settling confidently on her answer. "Truth!" she stated with a sweet and confident smile.

"Who at St. Boniface do you think is gay?" Jessica asked with a look of intense curiosity on her face.

"Boys or girls?" Merissa asked, frowning at the question before lowering her head in thought.  She clenched her fingers tightly in her lap.

Jessica seemed at a loss for a moment, as if she hadn't considered the two possibilities. "Boys, of course," she answered dismissively, as if girls weren't even capable of being homosexually inclined.

"That's a stupid question!" Jesse sneered. "You're just trying to embarrass Merissa," he accused in a way that made it sound like he was trying to protect his girlfriend's feelings.

Jessica practically scowled at Jesse. "It's a good question!" she insisted snippily. Really? I asked myself, thinking about Noah and his cigarette breath kissing me in the poolhouse.

Jesse rolled his eyes and shook his head disapprovingly. Boy, he was really letting Jessica have it tonight.  For a while there, when they were standing shoulder to shoulder leading the Christmas caroling, I had thought that maybe they were on their way to becoming good friends, or at least amicable ones. But now I wondered if they would end up coming to blows like Kyle and Morgan, with my beautiful blond angel flipping Jessica over his back so she would end up sprawled on the floor like a big silver pancake!

Merissa slowly lifted her head, glancing shyly at Jesse and me before getting up the nerve to look Jessica in the eye.

"Well, Robbie Frieberger...maybe...?" she offered timidly.

Robbie was a slight, somewhat uncoordinated 7th grader who had played on the baseball team last year, but had spent most of his time on the bench. He didn't seem to be very popular in his own class, although I did notice him hanging out occasionally with Jeremiah Oatner, which would seem to imply that he had a serious IQ. I thought how sad it was that people automatically thought that introverted, brainy, or unathletic kids were homosexuals, and being labeled as such, meant they were somehow inferior to everyone else.

Jessica nodded approvingly at her answer.  Jesse just shook his head in disbelief.

"Who else..what about the 8th grade?" Jessica asked.

"How many questions is that?" Jesse wondered sarcastically.

"It's the same question," Jessica insisted. "I didn't say to name one person...."

Merissa seemed oblivious to the snipping between Jesse and Jessica, and instead, focused on coming up with a response that would get the approval of her idol.

I figured, after fingering poor little Robbie, she'd go after Jeremiah next.

"Tommy...Espinoza...?" Merissa ventured hesitantly, cringing a little as she glanced over at Jessica.

"This is stu-pid..." Jesse murmured in a rising, sing songy voice, pretending to glance casually around the room.

My heart was suddenly pounding in my chest.  Why had Merissa fingered Tom?  Was it that obvious?  If she thought Tom was gay, then what about Derek, or... me?!

"Personally, I don't think Tom is much of anything.  The only thing he's interested in grabbing is a joy stick," Jesse noted carelessly.

We all looked at him in shock.

"In the video game arcade," Jesse finished quietly, with a smugly innocent look on his face. At first, there was a moment of intense silence in the room, but then Merissa burst into girlish giggles.  Surprisingly, Jessica eventually joined her.

"What?" Jesse asked with a knowing smirk.

"You're wicked!" Merissa giggled approvingly.

"You're incorrigible," Jessica noted, but for once, there was no edge to her tone.

"Next...!" Jesse groaned, stretching the word out while he again rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

"Fine," Jessica said stiffly, carefully smoothing out the lap of her Christian Dior gown. She turned to me and I felt like a huge spotlight had been pointed right in my face.

"Perry, sweetie...Truth or Dare?" she asked, her eyes lighting up as she leaned slightly forward in anticipation of my response.

The last question had been a little too close to home for my taste. My necktie suddenly seemed way too tight, and my throat felt dry. I could lie of course, but at the moment, I had no doubt that Jessica would see right through anything I said. I nervously cleared my throat, trying to sneak a glance at Jesse, but he was deliberately avoiding eye contact.

"Dare..." I muttered reluctantly.

"Oooh--this is exciting!" Jessica tittered, clasping her hands in front of her. She and Merissa exchanged some sort of girlish facial signals and Merissa shyly covered her mouth.

I stiffened, waiting for whatever humiliating motions I'd have to go through to satisfy this surprisingly sadistic side of Jessica's nature.

"Perry..." she said, swiveling so that the whole top half of her body was directly facing me, "I dare you to...kiss Jesse Taylor on the lips!"

Both girls collapsed into a fit of hysterical giggles while I felt the blood rush out of my face and my mouth drop open.

"For ten...whole...seconds!" she added between giggles.

Before I could even respond, Jesse burst out angrily, "No fuckin' way!"

"Language!" Jessica scolded him in an appropriately disgusted manner.

"No way," Jesse repeated sullenly.

"It's just a game," Jessica reminded him off-handedly. "It's just a game," she repeated more gently, turning once again to see my petrified expression. "Like Jesse said before--you can always get your revenge later," she reminded me.

Well, obviously, kissing Jesse wasn't the problem.  I was more concerned about being able to stop after only ten seconds. While I had somehow been able to push back the panicked feelings that had been plaguing me, knowing this was more than likely the last chance we would have to be together before I left for New York, Jessica's silly dare was bringing it all out front again. I felt a tightness in my chest and moisture began to blur my vision.

"I'm not sure this falls into the P-13 category," Jesse noted doubtfully.

"It's just a kiss on the lips," Jessica said dismissvely. "I'm not asking you to french or anything."

Merissa thought this was outrageously hilarious and burst into another fit of titters and giggles that left her face as red as the bow on top of her head.

"This is sick," Jesse muttered, shaking his head. I hoped that he would make enough of a stink that Jessica would drop the outrageous request. "Let's just get this over with, Per," he said instead. With a deliberate sigh, he turned to me.

"Can I change my mind?" I asked nervously.

"Well, you're not supposed to," Jessica said uncertainly. And then, after a thoughtful pause..."I guess if you want to change to a Truth-"

"Nevermind. You'll just think of some other way to humiliate him. Let's just do this!" Jesse said, getting to his feet. He looked genuinely annoyed, and even his eyes seemed to suggest that he thought kissing another boy was about the grossest thing ever. Still, it seemed like he was really determined, so I also got up.

"Oh, I wish I had a camera!" Jessica noted excitedly.

"Don't even think about it," Jesse warned her through gritted teeth. He came and stood right in front of me. I could feel his warm breath on my face and I was starting to feel woozy being so close to this amazingly beautiful boy that I loved so desperately much. I was seriously and truly worried that, once we started, I wouldn't be able to stop. My tongue wouldn't be able to resist plunging into his hot, wet mouth while my hands would seek out his silky, golden blond tresses. I would start to get hard--in fact I was already beyond starting!

"H-how are we gonna do this?" I asked, trying to stall for time.

"I dunno...." Jesse grumbled, and then just leaned in and pressed his lips harshly against mine, nearly knocking me off my feet. I heard a gasp, but I couldn't tell if it had come from Jessica or Melissa. Either way, all laughter had definitely ceased.

I immediately felt that familiar, but thrilling surge of sexual energy course into my body directly from Jesse's lips. It was nothing like being kissed by Tom, Gary, Theresa, Noah, or even Jessica. I immediately pressed back against his soft boy lips and fought the urge to grab him by the shoulders. I love you, Jesse Taylor, I love you so much. You're so beautiful and smart, and hot and talented and sexy and-

Suddenly, Jesse was staggering away. He stumbled backwards a few steps and then leaned forward. His face was red and he began gagging like he was about to hurl. At first the girls tittered, thinking that Jesse was putting us on. But then....

"Oh!" Jessica exclaimed with genuine concern, rising to her feet. "Jesse?"

Melissa looked on with real dismay as Jesse bent over, hands on his knees. He gagged once more.

"Oh my! Are you going to...?" Jessica asked. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"

Jesse straightened himself up and cupped his hand over his mouth.  Red faced, he nodded vigorously.

"Across the hall!" Jessica said, opening the door and pointing.

Jesse hurried out, dashed across the hallway, and slammed the door shut. The three of us just stared at each other in disbelief. Then I found myself looking pointedly at Jessica.  

"What...?" she asked innocently.

"I...I don't like this side of you," I muttered, my lips trembling with emotion.

"I don't know what you mean," she answered quickly, standing there with her hands clasped tightly in front of her.

"Do you need to be mean to people just to have fun?" I asked accusingly.

"Perry, that's not fair!" Merissa protested in Jessica's defense.

"I wasn't being mean. It was just a game," she pointed out, but she looked at me fearfully now.

"It's a mean game," I pointed out. "One that's designed to embarrass people."

Jessica shrugged helplessly. "Well, I-"

She was interrupted by the muffled sound of Jesse gagging in the bathroom.  Jessica flinched and she and Merissa exchanged decidedly guilty looks. I just glared at them for a few heartbeats before striding across the hall.

"Jesse?" I asked.

There was no response. I knocked and called his name again. I heard him groan.

"Do you need help?"

His reply was another groan that might have been a yes or a no. Jessica and Merissa remained across the hall, standing in the doorway and looking strangely surreal in their outrageously lavish ball gowns. I shot them one more disapproving look and then tried the door. It was unlocked. I went in and quickly closed it behind me.

This was a much more normal bathroom than the opulent one in Jessica's bedroom. It was wallpapered instead of tiled, and there was a nice marble vanity, a gilded mirror, and a toilet. Instead of being crouched over the porcelain god as I had expected, Jesse was standing with arms folded, leaning against the other wall, as if he had just been casually waiting for me to show up.

I was about to ask him what the fuck was going on when he put a finger to his lips. He managed to make another horribly effective gagging sound and then a mischievous smile erupted on his face. He went and turned both spigots of the faucet on, letting water splash noisily into the marble sink. Then he came over and wrapped his arms around me, locking the door behind me before fully embracing me. Once again his lips were pressed against mine, but this time, there was real passion. Soon, our tongues were working frantically,  though neither one of us even spoke a word.

Then Jesse, in his tight black sweater and dark gray dress pants, was on his knees. He quickly unbuckled my belt, undid my pants, and unzipped the fly. He guided my trousers down to my ankles and smiled when he saw my red silk boxers with the little embroidered Christmas trees. After undoing the single snap at the front, he slipped his fingers in and I gasped. He worked my penis like a fine musical instrument, kneading, stroking, caressing, and every once in awhile giving it just a little twist. It was only half a minute before I was hard as a rock. Now his hand began kneading my ballsac through the flimsy, slippery fabric while he began planting long, sucking kisses along my upward curving shaft. I was leaning against the wall between the vanity and the door, feeling like I was going to collapse onto the floor in a puddle of ecstasy at any moment.

He unceremoniously pulled my boxers down past my knees, leaving my fully erect penis curving out boldly into the air. As precum beaded on the tip of my cockhead, he gripped the base of my hardened shaft firmly in one hand and guided it into his waiting mouth. His other hand slid from my bare hip to my ass cheek as I felt his lips curl over my dick and his tongue begin to swirl around the head and corona. All I could do was gasp at the intense stimulation, but even then, I managed to keep my wits about me enough to not cry out at the incredible thrill I was experiencing. He immediately began sliding his lips down my shaft, not stopping until he bumped into my pubic bush and then going all the way up to the ring...and then back down again, his long bangs flopping madly about his head. He sucked and pumped and licked himself into a frenzy of flying blond hair. The stimulation was maddening and I grabbed his shoulders for support. I suddenly felt like bursting into laughter, but managed to hold everything in except for one brief snicker. Hopefully, the running water would mask my giddy outburst.

Within an amazingly few moments, I was shooting my load and Jesse was thirstily drinking it in. Then it was over, and my head felt swimmingly light. I realized I was grasping fistfuls of blond hair in a way that must have been quite painful, and I quickly let go. He held me loosely in his mouth long enough to make sure that I wasn't leaking any more cum. I shuddered as he slowly slid his lips off my thoroughly moistened member. He dabbed at my cock with a couple of tissues before tucking my deflated boyhood back into my boxers. My whole body felt tingly and my knees felt like they were going to buckle at any moment. Jesse seemed to pick up on this, and slowly guided me down to the tiled floor, my pants still puddled around my ankles.

"You beautiful, beautiful boy..."  Jesse whispered, squatting in front of me and passionately kissing me again, first on the cheeks and forehead and then on the lips. "I'm so, so lucky...." I could taste my own salty cum as our tongues once again collided. A knock on the door sounded like thunder.

"Is everything okay in there?" Jessica's muffled voice asked with deep concern.

Jesse smiled and kissed my cheek one last time, getting ready to get back to his feet. But before he could get up, I grabbed him by both cheeks and pressed his lips forcefully into mine. My tongue probed furiously into his mouth, trying to go as deep as it possibly could. It wasn't until she called out our names that I finally let go. We both got reluctantly to our feet and I quickly got myself back in presentable order, being extra careful not to let my belt jangle around too much as I re-buckled it. Jesse went and turned the water off in the sink, and then flushed the toilet for good measure.

"I think he's okay now," I called with a raspy voice, leaning against the vanity while I waited for my head to clear. Jesse dabbed my face with a washcloth dipped in cold water and that helped bring me back to earth. We both pulled combs out of our pockets and took turns brushing each other's hair. I could barely resist running my fingers through those silky locks again. I took in the sweet and musky scent of Jesse's sweat and felt my weary dick jump. Then a shocking thought occurred to me.

"Are you okay?" I whispered, my gaze going down to the crotch of his dress pants.

He unzipped his fly and reached into his own boxers, pulling out a neatly folded handkerchief. He showed me the puddle of gooey cum on one side.

"Oh God...I'm sorry," I whispered guiltily.

"I'm not," he said in an especially raspy voice, wiping his hankie off with some toilet tissue.

After making sure we were both looking like neatly groomed straight boys once again, Jesse nodded for me to open the door.  The four of us stood uncomfortably in the hallway, sneaking uneasy glances at each other.

"I really am sorry," Jessica finally said in a truly apologetic tone. "I didn't realize that-"

"Don't get your panties in a bunch," Jesse said lightly. "I just had too much eggnog. I should've known better. I'm not used to all this fancy food and stuff, and it was just a little too rich for my system."

Jessica didn't look entirely convinced, but graciously took the out that Jesse was offering. I felt a powerful wave of shame and guilt as I realized how foolish I had been to allow Jessica to see me naked and play with my dick. I should have a warning tattooed on my shaft: "Property of Jesse R. Taylor-Violators will be flipped!"

"Perry, what's the matter?" Jessica asked, noticing my condition.

"Bad case of empathy," Jesse noted with a lopsided smile.

It was nearly eleven o'clock as we went back into the sewing room, me to grab my jacket, and the girls to get their shoes and purses. Merissa seemed disturbed by what had just happened, and clung tightly to Jesse's arm as we returned to the great room. I felt the jealous urge to shove her out of the way and take Jesse's hand in mine, walking proudly together before Jessica, her parents, and my mom. But I knew it couldn't be like that, which made me and frustrated and irritable.

"I really am sorry," Jessica repeated in a mouse-like tone as we fell slightly back, allowing Jesse and Merissa to lead us back to the front of the house. I didn't respond and resisted the urge to give her a look of understanding or sympathy. I was a little surprised to see my mom in her sleek black dress and lacy shawl, already standing by the door with the always dapper looking Mr. Vandermach. They were chatting pleasantly with the Bainbridges as we entered. Mr. Bainbridge was in shirt sleeves and his hair still looked a little mussed. Otherwise there was no sign of the jolly old elf he had impersonated less than an hour ago.

"Here come the little troublemakers now," my mom announced with a gentle smile. "Have fun?" she asked as we approached.

There were a few unnerving moments of silence before Jesse responded. "It was an incredible party!" he noted enthusiastically.  "The fanciest thing I've ever been to."

Jessica and I exchanged uncomfortable glances. I knew she was still feeling guilty about our little Truth and Dare game, but what was bothering me more and more was what we had done earlier in the afternoon. Even as my brain rationalized that 'what was done was done,' and that it was perfectly normal for boys and girls our age to do such things, I realized I could never have feelings for Jessica that approached anything close to what I felt about Jesse. And coming so close on the heels of the frightening incident with Morgan, I felt dirty, like I was some kind of slut, flaunting my pathetic body for anybody who called him or herself my friend. I supposed that next, I'd be volunteering to pose nude for one of Tom's paintings.

While my mom introduced Jesse and Merissa to Mr. Vandermach, Jessica took me aside.

"I'm so sorry," Jessica apologized again, a worried look on her tired face.

"I know," I said, allowing just a hint of sympathy to enter my voice. "But it isn't that so much as...."

"What we did this afternoon?" she asked nervously, easily finishing my sentence.

I nodded.

Now she looked really concerned. "Perry, please," she begged as intensely she could without drawing attention to our whispered conversation. "What we did this afternoon, I'll cherish that for the rest of my life. I know that was...difficult for you; I also know you did it as a gift, to show how you really feel about me, and you need to know how much I appreciate it, how strongly I feel about you--it's not just a silly 8th grade crush."

I was tempted to placate her, to tell her that everything was okay and I had enjoyed our little bedroom romp as well, but I just couldn't.

"I don't know," I admitted. "I know it's done, but...I don't know how I feel about it."

I thought she was going to burst into tears right there in front of both our parents, Merissa, Jesse, and Mr. Vandermach. But I saw her take a deep breath. There was no question that Jessica was a strong person. She could control her emotions and outward appearance almost as well as Jesse.

"Can I call you when you're in New York?" she asked, as she nervously bit her lip, making her look suddenly very childish.

"Well, email or texting would probably be best--cuz of the time difference and getting ready for the wedding and stuff."

"Okay, whatever you say. Just please...don't be angry with me," she pleaded.

I hesitated to let her know that this wasn't something that was going to pass easily, but then shrugged and nodded. This elicited a tentative smile and she leaned in and gave me a careful kiss on the cheek. I didn't return it, but squeezed her hand affectionately. The fact was, she didn't know anything about the depth of my relationship with Jesse, and whatever misgivings I had about this afternoon, there was no one to blame but myself.

"Oh my!" my mom exclaimed, suddenly lifting my hand into the light so she could more clearly see the dazzling ring on my finger.

"That belonged to my Grandpa Bainbridge," Jessica announced proudly.

Everyone cooed and nodded in approval.

"It's very regal," Mr. Vandermach said.

"Thank you, sir," I responded.

"Thank you so much for the beautiful antique brooch, Mrs. Thompson," Jessica said politely, touching the poinsettia shaped jewelry pinned to her dress.

"You're very welcome Jessica dear," my mom replied. "It looks lovely on you."

Jessica made a bashful little curtsy.

"It's gratifying to see that some of our young people still remember how to behave in polite society," Mr. Vandermach noted approvingly.

"Where are your things?" my mom asked as we got ready to leave.

"Oh, I guess I-"

"Looking for these?" Noah sauntered into the room from the hallway where the mistletoe had hung earlier in the evening. He was still dressed carelessly in his camp shirt, baggy cargos, and flip flops. He was carrying both my overnight and garment bags, presumably with my discarded school clothes inside, as well as my hoodie slung over his arm, which I had hung up in the kitchen and probably would have left behind. He looked like an unkempt but dedicated valet as he brought them over and handed them to me one by one. Jesse helped by grabbing the now empty garment bag.

There were introductions all around, and I  noticed how Noah's gaze lingered on Jesse as the two shook hands. I wondered if anyone else noticed.

"You all look like you belong in a JC Penney Christmas Catalog," he noted, taking in the whole group. "Speaking of which...." He pulled a Santa hat out of his back pocket. "Does this belong to anyone?"

Jesse sheepishly raised his hand. Before he could take it, Noah placed it on his own head. "Ho ho--I dare say--ho," he declared drily and for some reason, with his deadpan expression, it was actually very funny and everyone laughed.  He then placed it on Jesse's golden blond head. "It looks much, much better on you," he said with a more-than-friendly smile.

"Um...thanks," Jesse muttered uncomfortably.

With that, we all said our final goodbyes, and Jessica looked on with concern as we walked down the long brick pathway, and through a small gate in the stucco wall that led to the street and Mr. Vandemach's Land Rover. The three of us sat in the back, Merissa going in first, followed by Jesse, and then me. I was glad to be able to rub shoulders with my beautiful angel, and spent the drive time to Merissa's house imagining myself reaching over and giving Jesse as good as I had got in the bathroom.

Jesse, ever the gentleman, escorted Merissa to the front of her modest house. I saw the distinctive, plump shape of Mrs. Scott peer through a curtained window, but no one came immediately to the door as Jesse and Merissa stood there by the porch light. Merissa gave Jesse a rather vigorous hug. Just as Jesse was giving her a peck on the cheek, the door opened and Mrs. Scott, in a bathrobe and curlers, waved past them to those of us in the Land Rover. She gave Jesse a quick hug and hurried her daughter inside. Jesse came strolling back, hands in his pockets, looking rather pleased with himself.

Now my heart grew heavy, filled with feelings of regret, guilt, and downright sadness, knowing I wouldn't see this amazing person for two whole weeks. And it wasn't even that we wouldn't be able to see each other, but the fact that we would be three thousand miles apart!

Jesse's house was only five minutes from the Scott's, and before I knew it, he was getting out of the car. I just couldn't help it. Tears began to well in my eyes. But Jesse seemed not to notice. Instead, he leaned into the passenger's side window.

"Are you and Perry busy tomorrow night?" he asked my mom.

"Just whatever last minute packing we might need to do."

"Well, if you want..." Jesse started hesitantly.

"What is it, Jesse dear?" my mom asked with a patient smile.

"Well, it's just that, I'm gonna be um...performing with the worship team the family Mass night and I was wondering if-"

"Mom!" I cried out. "Can we go? Please?" I didn't even care if I sounded like a spoiled brat. The chance to see Jesse one more time before the trip was something I couldn't resist.

"I suppose it's possible. We are eating an early dinner with your Uncle Ron's family, and I do have most of the packing done." She turned in her seat to look at my hopeful face. "You might want to go to bed early. Your flight leaves at eight. That means we need to get to the airport by six thirty at the latest."

"I'll be fine. I mean, I can sleep on the 'plane and stuff. Please, mom?" I begged again.

She nodded and smiled knowingly. "It'll be nice for us to be able to go to Mass together once more before you leave."

"Okay, so that'," Jesse said, definitely sounding a little tired. "I'll see you tomorrow night then. 'Goodnight, Mr. Vandermach. Thanks for the ride. 'Night, Mrs. Thompson. 'Night, Perry."

I had no words, but I hoped my big stupid grin said everything that needed saying.


Special Thanks to my editor-in-chief, AJ!

Also thanks to my Spanish advisor, Slayerfan!

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