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The following contains mild 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 39: Truths Past

I had intentionally set my alarm clock not to go off in the morning, so I was more than a little annoyed when I was awakened from a deep, dreamless sleep by someone knocking on my bedroom door.


"Mom...?" I croaked groggily. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand: 9:00 a.m. Well, I supposed it wasn't unreasonable to expect a person to be up by now, even on a Saturday. 

"May I come in?"

"Um...sure," I responded uncertainly, trying vainly to shake the heavy veil of sleep from my head. I quickly made sure I was somewhat presentable in my white undershirt and gray sweatpants. The room was still a little chilly as I sat up in bed, so I pulled the comforter up around my chest.

"I'm sorry to wake you," she apologized, taking a seat in the swivel chair in front of my desk.

"It's okay. I guess it's getting late."

"Did you have fun at the party last night?"

As the events of yesterday flooded back into my conscious mind, I felt a sudden urge to scream. It was like I had climbed aboard a roller coaster that had quickly gone out of control, starting with my embarrassing outburst at Mass yesterday. Thinking about Tom's comment last night, I wondered if everyone in school would now think I was gay? And if they did, would I care? The wild and surreal ride had continued with the pep rally with everyone applauding Morgan, and the unexpectedly personal talk with Father Marlen. It was so strange to think that such a quiet and dignified man of the cloth, along with his childhood friend, had gotten into the same sort of mischief as any other pair of youthful comrades.

  By early yesterday afternoon, it was clear that the roller coaster had definitely taken a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone, starting with the calculated, but highly charged sexual encounter with Jessica, and segueing immediately into the even stranger encounter with her homosexual brother and his tale of a failed gay high school romance. The wild ride had careened from there right into Jessica's lavish party, twisting and turning at breakneck speed with a shocking revelation about Miss Zimmerman, Morgan and Kyle tumbling into the Bainbridges' pool dressed in their Sunday best, and a disturbing conversation with Tom. His severe emotional distress and continued longing for something he couldn't have had actually led to my offering to let him blow me right there in the middle of the Bainbridge estate.  What had I been thinking? What if he had called my bluff? The final loop-to-loop had come with that ridiculous game of Truth and Dare, which had started out like a journey through a state-of-the-art haunted house and ended up in the Tunnel Of Love with my beautiful blond angel on his knees.

As much as I had enjoyed the climax of my wild roller coaster ride, I also knew that I didn't deserve the love and attention of such an amazing person. I wished he wouldn't take responsibility for Morgan's reckless roleplaying game the other day, or feel that he needed to share me with everyone who felt like they needed a little sexual encounter to get through the day. I knew it bothered him that Jessica and I were getting closer, but probably not half as much as it bothered me. Even though I had enjoyed Jessica's affection and attention, and the way she had played with my private parts in her bedroom while I lay naked on her bed, I knew that I had to break it off with for my sake and Jesse's... but when and how? And what was I going to do about Kyle's affair with a teacher? And what about Morgan and and his temper, and Tom and his frustrated crush, and Deanna and-

"Are you okay?" my mom asked, touching my head to check if I had a fever.

"It was kind of a...a long day," I stammered in my hoarse, morning voice. I shrugged. "I guess it turned out pretty good though. Um...what about you? How was your date?" I asked, wanting to change the subject as quickly as possible.

At first she smiled, but it slowly collapsed into something more pensive. "Allen is wonderful. An absolute gentleman."

"Is that good?"

My mom laughed lightly through her nose. "I think it is."

There was a moment of awkward silence as I thought back on all the events that had transpired at the Bainbridge estate, while my mom was likely reviewing her evening with the tall and debonair architect. "Do we need to do stuff before Uncle Ron gets here?" I finally asked. Usually, she enticed me to get up on a Saturday morning with the mouth watering smells of a home cooked breakfast: bacon, sausage, french toast or oven baked biscuits, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Oddly, I didn't smell any of those things today and I began to feel a sense of apprehension as to why she had felt compelled to come into my room and wake me up after such a long day and late night.

"Well, actually, I think everything's under control. I ordered a complete dinner from Vons--prime rib roast," she said, smiling because she knew it was one of my favorites, "so there really won't be much more to do there. It's just that...."

"What?" I asked, sensing that something more was on her mind than getting ready for the relatives' visit this afternoon.

"I was wondering if you might like to go for a little ride this morning?" she asked, and the way she said it sounded as if she was trying to sound casual. Yet underneath, I detected an unmistakable sense of urgency.

"A ride? Where?" I asked confusedly, my head still swimming with grogginess and all the things that had happened yesterday.

"Oh, down the coast...maybe toward La Jolla."

That woke me up in a hurry. She rarely spoke of the town where I was born and spent the first twelve years of my life, a time that seemed oddly out of synch with our current life in Santa Corina, mainly because there had been three people in our family instead of two. I got the impression from the intense way she was looking at me that she didn't want me to ask why, so I just looked at her expectantly.

"There's a little chinese restaurant--just a take-out place really, where they make the best doughnuts," she said nostalgically. "Your father and I used to go there two or three times a week when we were at UCSD. The Chinese food was passable, but the freshly made doughnuts were to die for."

Chinese? Doughnuts? "Okay...."

"I just have a craving," she explained, her voice still sounding a little distant, like her focus wasn't fully here with me in this room.

"Um, sure. I'll just hop in the shower. Give me like fifteen minutes, okay?"

She nodded, patted my shoulder affectionately, and left me to it. It was a clear but chilly December morning as we drove into Escondido and caught I-15 South. Then we took surface streets and ended up driving lazily through the UCSD campus. I was still pretty groggy, and we only talked briefly during the half hour trip from Santa Corina. I asked her again about her date with Mr. Vandermach, and was a little disappointed when she only answered vaguely that it had been nice.

"Are you gonna see him again?"

"Do you want me to?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Well sure, if he makes you happy."

"I already told you I'm happy," she reminded me.

"I know, but I think it's important for you to have someone your own age to hang with sometimes."

"Well, Allen is actually eight years older than me," she pointed out, "but I know what you mean. Thank you, my sweet boy." 

School was already out for the semester break, so the campus was quiet and serene. Even though the grass and landscaping generally stayed green all year long, the deciduous trees had all lost their leaves around the end of November, and the bare branches gave the place an even more forlorn feeling. My mom pointed out her old dorm and a couple of buildings where she had classes. Once we left the mostly deserted school grounds, we continued heading toward the coast. We pulled into a small, unassuming strip mall containing a laundromat, video store, hair salon, and the Lucky Dragon restaurant.

It was just a simple, unadorned store front with a take-out menu posted next to the hours of business. There were only a few bare tables inside and they were all empty, but I knew immediately that my mom hadn't been kidding about the doughnuts. The smell alone was enough to make my mouth water. There was nothing I loved more than hot, fresh, raised doughnuts with just the right amount of sugar sprinkled on top, not sickeningly sweet like Krispy Kreme. They looked so good, I was sure I could eat half a dozen, but knowing that they weren't exactly health food, I settled for two. My mom picked out a raspberry filled and a maple creme.

"Would you like juice or milk?" she asked.

"I wouldn't mind a coffee," I said a bit hesitantly, knowing that I was a little young to be starting what was generally considered an adult habit.

But my mom just smiled and ordered two large coffees to go. "It will be a bit chilly, I'm sure," she noted cryptically.

When we had our stuff, we returned to the car. Clearly, my mom had another destination in mind as she immediately started the car and once again headed for the coast. It was a typically clear winter day, and the ocean looked stark--gray-blue, flecked with white. After a few minutes, we pulled into the parking lot of Ellen Scripps Browning Park.

"Do you remember how we used to bring you here to watch the seals?" my mom asked as she got out, carrying our coffees in a cardboard box. I grabbed the small white bag of doughnuts and followed.

"Sure. Over at the children's pool." We had come here as a family occasionally, especially when I had been very young. It had probably been five or six years since I could last remember visiting this place.

It was a relatively quiet day, with most of the college students out of town. Still, there was the usual parade of joggers, inline skaters, and bicyclists. There were even a few skateboarders, and one blond haired high school student caught my eye as he rolled past, long hair flowing from under a black helmet, his gaze focused intently on the sidewalk ahead. I thought of Jesse and the wonderful Christmas gift he had given me last night. I also thought about the fact that I clearly didn't deserve it--that I didn't deserve Jesse at all--and yet, part and parcel with that thought , I also realized I couldn't bear the thought of not having him in my life.

We found a clean picnic table and sat, looking out across the green lawn to the narrow strip of sandy beach beyond. The surf was fairly agitated, creating white crested waves that roared to shore and rolled back languidly into the depths. Sea gulls chattered and spiraled above, and in the distance, I could hear the distinctive bark of the seals. I felt an unexpectedly strong wave of nostalgia course through my body and I had a sudden vision of myself  as a young grade schooler, my mom on one side and my dad on the other, each holding one of my hands as we cautiously picked our way down the rocky hillside towards the boisterous seal colony.

"It brings back memories, doesn't it?" my mom said, carefully pouring a small vial of cream into her still steaming coffee.

I pulled the lid off my own cup and poured in a couple of creams and two packs of sugar. I really didn't care for the strong, bitter taste of straight black coffee, but I knew it would do an effective job against the chill. While there was always a cool breeze blowing at the beach during the winter, today it was fairly quiet, with only occasional light gusts reminding us of the lateness of the season. I had my Northwestern hoodie on, but didn't feel the need to pull the hood up yet. My mom had her long brown tresses piled up under a San Diego Padres cap that I thought would still allow her to pass quite comfortably as a UCSD co-ed.

"We were happy," she finally said out of the blue.

My first thought was that she was referring to her date with Mr. Vandermach, but the look on her face told me that she was talking about someone else.

"We were in poly sci together. Even though we'd been in school together almost three years by then, we had never actually spoken, except in the most superficial way. He was incredibly handsome and charming of course, and like all the other co-eds, I would sit and stare at him from the back of class, watching him chat effortlessly with the prettiest girls in class, never imagining I would ever have a chance with such a dashing, self-confident young man."

It was strange to hear my mom talk this way, about handsome boys and pretty girls. She was my mom, and she made me breakfast in the morning, drove me to school, went to work, and then picked me up. She kept our house tidy, did the grocery shopping, and sorted laundry. She was a member of the church choir and the St. Boniface PTA. It was hard to picture a time that must've been nearly twenty years in the past when she and my dad were college students just like Noah and Georgie...well, maybe not just like them!

"Imagine my shock when he approached me exactly on my twenty first birthday, and asked if he could take me out for a drink!"

Was she blushing, or was it just the effects of the cool ocean breeze on her cheeks?

"I already had plans to get together with some of my girlfriends from the dorm, but this was Jake Thompson, the most handsome, dashing undergrad on campus, top ranked tennis player, president of the debate club...and I don't even know how he found out it was my birthday!" She sighed as she happily relived the memory. "I just couldn't refuse, even though I was absolutely terrified of the man." She giggled self-consciously. "Oh, Perry, it's so strange to be sitting here telling you these things!"

I just nodded and took a big bite of my doughnut, which was perfect in its airy texture and light, sugary flavor. It seemed to melt in my mouth without even any chewing. I was fascinated to hear this story for the first time and I didn't want to say anything that would disrupt her flow.

"Well, it was just like a dream come true...better, actually. In no time at all we were...comfortable with each other. We found so many things to talk about, and I ended up standing up my girlfriends. They were furious of course, until I told them who I was with!" She modestly covered her mouth with her hand in a way that looked surprisingly cute and girlish.

"It wasn't long before we were dating regularly, and after we had both graduated, he proposed to me." She held out her hand and I was surprised to see her wearing both her diamond engagement ring and her diamond encrusted, gold wedding band.

"I must be crazy, putting these things back on after almost two years, but...I just felt like it today," she explained sheepishly.

"Awesome ring," I assured her.

She gave me an uneasy smile and then looked out over the ocean. "Everything moved so quickly after that. With our parents' help, we bought a small house in La Jolla--the one where you were born."

I could barely remember that one, because we had moved to a much bigger house when I was five. Mostly, I relied on pictures and video to remind me of that part of my life. It always embarrassed me to see myself waddling around on short, stumpy legs, my long, dysfunctional hair flopping every which way, and drool leaking from my mouth. Yet, in almost every picture and video frame, I had a giddy smile on my face, and while I sometimes had a full set of teeth and sometimes was missing a few, one thing was for certain--I was a happy toddler in a happy household.

"I agreed to take a job as a paralegal while your father went to law school and worked part time as a law clerk in San Diego. We were both so busy...but after a couple of years, along came you!"

She turned and reached across the table to touch my cheek. "Oh, we were so blessed. No one had ever, ever seen such a beautiful baby before. Everyone who saw you fell instantly in love--except for me of course. I had to change your stinky diapers."

"What about dad? Did he ever change my diapers?" I asked teasingly.

But she took my question seriously. "Well, between school and work, he didn't have a lot of free time, but he was a wonderful father, Perry--please don't ever forget that. And yes, he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty when it came to taking care of you...'Tinky Boy, 'Tinky Boy!" she teased in a baby voice,  crinkling her nose.

"Mom!" I groaned.

"And of course, your father got hired right out of law school, by a big firm in San Diego that he had interned for during the summers. It was a very good paying position and we were soon able to move to the house on Ridgegate."

"That was an awesome house!"

She nodded in agreement. "Yes, yes it was," she said nostalgically. "I've never told you this, but sometimes...well, a few times now,  I've taken a long lunch and driven down, just so I could go past both our old houses, the church, your school, and the park where we spent hours pushing you on the swings and watching you go down the slide and...." She stopped abruptly, and I noticed her eyes were glistening with tears.

"You think about those times a lot?" I asked cautiously.

She nodded and then shrugged. "I honestly try not to, but sometimes it's hard. There were many, many good memories, Perry. We had a wonderful life together."

"Then what happened? How come you guys stopped talking to each other and stuff?"

"Well, this is a little hard to explain," she began hesitantly as she dabbed the moisture from her eyes. "You know how a baby is conceived and grows in the womb for nine months before it's born, right?"

"Sure, of course." It seemed like an innocent question about something that was common knowledge to anyone over the age of ten, but for some reason I started to feel tense in my stomach. Suddenly, the doughnut melting in my mouth didn't taste quite as perfectly delicious as it had just seconds before.

"Well, once your father was settled into his new job and we had settled in the Ridgegate house, and you had started the first grade, we decided that it would be a good time to have another baby. I would quit my job to raise you and your...little brother or sister, and things would be...just...fine." It seemed like it was getting harder and harder for her to get the words out.

"Gees, mom. You don't have to tell me about this now," I said, starting to feel a sense of panic welling up inside. "I mean, if this makes you sad and stuff-"

"I want to tell you," she said with emotional determination. "I need to tell you. I don't want you going to New York, thinking that your father was to blame for...for everything that happened. It is hard to talk about, but I need to, as much for myself as for you."

"Sure, okay," I said uncertainly.

"It took awhile, but I finally conceived. Things started off a bit rough. I immediately began to get morning sickness--something I didn't have with you, but the doctor assured us this was perfectly normal and that my body would react differently to each pregnancy. During the ultrasound, we found out it was going to be a boy....You were going to have a baby brother," she informed me in a hushed voice filled with wonder, as if this was something that was going to happen soon, in the present, instead of a time over eight years ago.

That struck me hard for some reason.  I felt that ever roiling ocean within me surge up just as the vast Pacific did before me now, filling my whole body with a powerfully tangible sense of loss. But unlike the chilly waters spread before me, the inner ocean felt warm and thick, and seemed to be sucking me down into its depths. My chest became heavy and tight.

"His name is...was...Benjamin. Benjamin Alexander Thompson."

I had a little brother named Benjamin? It was staggering to think that right now, I should have a little brother who was nearly the same age as Miranda.

"Wh-what happened to him?" I asked with a desperation that surprised me with its intensity.

A tear trickled from my mother's eye and she didn't bother to catch it. "You see, near the end of the first trimester, I was still getting terribly ill--it was hard to keep anything down. I was so weak, I ended up spending most of my time in bed, taking medications for nausea. Your father would take extended lunch breaks to come and see me, or take time off of work to take me to the doctor. He was so good. And even though he was so busy, he never forgot to spend some time with you every day. Do you remember when mommy was sick?" she asked in a child-like voice.

I hadn't until she mentioned it. At the time, I had been too busy dealing with my first year of going to school all day, and it was confusing and daunting and tiring, and there were kids that I liked to play with and others that just seemed to want to disrupt things all the time, and I remembered being scared of those kids, and not understanding why they just couldn't play nicely like everyone else. And when I came home, I had my PB&J sandwich and watched TV and played video games, or ran around the neighborhood with some of the other kids my age until it got dark and it was time to come in for dinner. I just assumed mommy and daddy were happy and going to take care of me and things would just go on the same way they always had, forever and ever.

But I vaguely remembered how we started eating a lot more take-out food, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and even Thai, although I didn't like that very much, and I missed my mom's cooking.

"But I remember we always had dinner together even when you weren't feeling good," I offered. "And sometimes you would read me bedtime stories and sometimes it was dad."

"I did my best," she assured me, grasping my hand in hers. "We didn't want you to worry about me and yet...we also felt it wouldn't be good to tell you about the new baby too soon, just in case...."

"Just in case what?"

"It was at the end of the first trimester. The doctor had been assuring me for weeks now that the acute morning sickness I was dealing with almost twenty four hours a day, seven days a week would soon be a thing of the past, and the rest of my pregnancy would likely proceed in a normal, healthy way. And then one happened."  She paused and the cries of the sea gulls suddenly seemed plaintive and full of meaning.

"What?" I asked cautiously.

Tears flowed freely down her cheeks now, and still, she did nothing to stop them or wipe them away. She grasped both my hands across the table and wrapped them in hers.

"Benjamin's in Heaven, Perry. You're little brother's an angel."


"I had an awful pain. I stayed in the hospital overnight.  Grandma and Grandpa stayed with you while Jake stayed with me. And then...then it was over. Little Benji was gone."  She released my hands so she could cover her grief stricken face.

I got up and went to her side of the table and sat on the bench next to her. I wrapped an arm around her back and felt the heavy sobs shaking her body.

"What happened? Why did it happen?"

She shook her head. "There doesn't have to be any particular reason. A slight change in body chemistry. Some minute flaw in the the baby...anything."

I waited for the worst of the sobs to subside.

"You don't know what it was like," she sputtered, her voice muffled by her hands. "How hard it hit me."

I wasn't sure about that. Something had hit me pretty hard, and there was a knot the size of a cantaloupe in my stomach. To think that I had a little brother that I'd never get to talk to. I'd never get to feed him, or bathe him, or take him to the park, or teach him to swim, or play Kingcarver or shoot hoops. I'd never get to tell my friends, 'Oh, that's just my little bro. He's kinda hyper, but he's really okay,' knowing in my heart that I loved him and cherished him and would never let any harm befall him, even if I was too cool to say those things out loud.  But none of that was to be.

We just sat like that for a long time, and the chilly breeze was starting to burn my cheeks, but I didn't want to move until Mom was feeling better. Strangely, my eyes remained relatively dry. I was too worried about my mother and the powerful reaction she was having by reliving those painful memories to feel sorry for myself. Finally, she seemed to run out of tears and reached in her purse to take out some Kleenex. She opened her compact and made a disgusted face.

"Look what a mess I've made of myself!" she half sniffled, half laughed, her nose still running and her eyes still watery.

"You look fine," I assured her.

She turned and held my hands, forcing a smile. "Maybe it was too much to ask," she said.


"Having a wonderful, beautiful son like you, and then wanting still another. Maybe that was greedy and selfish of us...of me."

"I would love to have kid brother," I told her sincerely.

She nodded and sniffled. "Yes, I know you would, and I'm so sorry it didn't work out."

"But that was a long time ago. Why didn't you go ahead again?"

My mom sighed heavily and she turned her head to stare out across the nearly empty parking lot.

"I don't  know if I can explain to you, how it is when you're pregnant," she said, speaking slowly and carefully. "There's a bonding that takes place, almost immediately between you and the unborn child. You see, to me, it was like I had already known Benjamin for nearly three months before...before he was taken up. I loved him fully for three months just as if I'd held him in my arms. It didn't matter that I couldn't see him, except for the blurry ultrasounds of course. So when he...when I had the miscarriage, it was like I had lost a son...lost another Perry. It hurt so much."

I thought she might start crying again, but it seemed like the tears really had run their course, and all she could do now was keep from hyperventilating.

"But your father...he said the same as you. 'When you're feeling better, we'll try again...and again and again until we get it right.'  But you see, I didn't want to try again. I had gotten it right the first time. I loved Benjamin; I loved your little brother."

I didn't know what to say. It seemed like I was missing something here. This had happened eight years ago. There had been plenty of time for my mom's womb to heal and for them to try for another baby. But I didn't say anything. I just looked at her, waiting for her explanation.  She seemed to be having a hard time looking me in the eye though, and kept turning her gaze outward, to the parking lot, the gently rustling palm trees, the rolling hills, and beyond that, to the dark and silent buildings of the campus where she had met my father.

"You see, Perry, your father, he cared about me very much, but...he didn't know Benjamin. He didn't love him, not the way I did."

"How could he?" I asked, hopelessly confused.

She looked away. "I loved him. Every morning when I woke up, the first thing I thought about was Benjamin, up in Heaven. I imagined what it would be like if he were here, with us, with his family, and I...I missed him so."

Suddenly, she got up and started slowly walking down to the rocky beach, her long brown hair blowing haphazardly from under her baseball cap. I hurried to catch up, but she suddenly stopped, staring out at the  cold gray expanse of the ocean, the biggest waves crashing only a few yards from our feet.

"You father couldn't understand," she said, her voice almost impossible to hear above the crashing waves. "Months went by. I cried every morning for my Benjamin, and Jake was patient, but he didn't understand."

"Understand what?"

She finally turned to look at me. "Understand that Benjamin was real to me, a real person, not just an unformed fetus. He was a real person that I talked to for almost three months, sang to, shared my hopes and dreams with. I told him about you, Perry. What a wonderful boy you were and how lucky he was to have you for a big brother. I told him about his father, and what a hard working, loyal, decent man he was. We shared everything....."

She started walking slowly, parallel to the ocean, her white Nike trainers scuffing on the small rocks and pebbles. "I remember the first morning I didn't cry for Benjamin. That was eighteen months after...."

I couldn't believe that my mom had mourned for this unborn child for a year and a half, while I went ignorantly on with my life, finishing the first grade, spending my summer vacation in childhood bliss, and going merrily through the second grade.

"Even then, after all that time, your father was patient with me, waiting for me to recover. But things weren't the same for me. Even though I had run out of tears, my feelings hadn't changed. I...I wasn't a good wife, Perry. Do you understand what I mean?"

"You were a good mom," I assured her.

She brushed the hair back from her face, trying to tuck it back under the baseball cap, and smiled, but it was an empty, tired smile. "I don't think so, Perry. I tended to you, fed you, clothed you, read to you, took you to the park, to birthday parties, went through all the motions of being a good mom, but I really wasn't.  Because all the while, I was thinking how much Benjamin would enjoy the scent of the fresh ocean breeze that day, or the color of the balloons at one of your friend's birthday parties, or how he would love to go to the zoo or the wild animal park, and see all the animals for the first time. I couldn't get over his loss and frustrated your father."

"Did you tell him how you were feeling?"

"I...I...tried. But it was difficult."

"But if you just told him what you told me just now...."

She nodded. "Yes, perhaps. I've had a long time to think about everything, of course. At the time, it was just too difficult to articulate. He knew I was sad, and he knew it had something to do with the miscarriage, but he didn't understand why I couldn't move on. And it took me a long time to understand it myself. You see, honey, I think, after Benjamin, I was afraid. Afraid to try again, to get pregnant again. I couldn't risk bonding with another child and then...losing that child. It would've been...just unbearable."

"So you guys didn't try again?"

My mom nodded in affirmation, staring out to sea so that the gusty breezes lifted her long brown tresses and threw them back behind her head.  I finally pulled my hood up against the chill.

"I was selfish, Perry. I could only think about myself."

"You were thinking about Benjamin."

She nodded. "Yes, maybe. But that didn't make sense to your father. How could it? How could he understand a person who mourns for  someone who wasn't even born? Mourns for almost two years?"

"So he got frustrated?"

"Eventually, yes. He mistook my reluctance try for another baby as a rejection of him as a husband. He even told me he couldn't understand what he was doing wrong, why I had turned away from him. But really, it was myself I was turning away from. The mother who didn't dare to be a mother again." She shook her head despondently.

"It was all so foolish," she noted. "I should have gotten over it; we should have tried again. You'd have a lovely little sister or brother now and in all likelihood, your father would still be with us."

So my mom seemed to be saying that it had been all her fault that the marriage had failed. That she had shut him out, had refused to make love to him, had not been able to make him understand the attachment she had to her miscarried fetus, or the fear she had about getting pregnant and losing another child.

"And then he went to that damn symposium in Las Vegas, and met...her," she continued. "I'm sure he hadn't gone expecting anything to happen. Your father wasn't like that. But I see now that he felt rejected, and that had a lot to do with how he reacted to seeing his old high school sweetheart again. I didn't know at the time of course, but they kept in touch after that, and eventually, they got together and-"

"I know," I said quickly, not wanting her to go down yet another painful road of memories. By that time, I'd been old enough to understand something about what was going on, that another woman had entered the picture, and that our family was threatened. But to me, it still seemed that my dad had abandoned my mom, abandoned us, running off with a pampered woman who had never borne a child, who was smart, ambitious, and successful, and came from a wealthy family.

"So now you know, Perry," she said, turning to me, her eyes bloodshot, her face sagging. "You mustn't blame your father for what happened. It was my-"

"He didn't have to get involved with Staci!" I said angrily, somehow ashamed that my mom felt that she was responsible for the events that led to the divorce. "He didn't have to run off with that bitch and leave us!"

That's when she slapped me, and I was stunned into silence. It hadn't been a hard slap--nothing like the blow I got from Morgan, but still, I didn't remember ever being hit by my mom or dad before. As the initial shock wore off, I noticed my mom was just staring at me, apparently just as surprised as I was by her action.

"I'm s-sorry," I apologized humbly for my angry outburst.

But those didn't seem to be the words my mom wanted to hear, because her face contorted in pain, and she dashed off, across the rocky beach, up the slope to the grassy picnic area. At first I just watched her go with a certain amount of detachment, as if I was watching some character in a TV melodrama. Then I remembered this was my own mother, and I loved her more than anything or anyone and it broke my heart to see her hurting like this.

"Mom!" I cried out as I gave chase. I was a fast runner and it didn't take me long to catch up to her.  I reached out a hand and grabbed her shoulder, but she quickly shrugged it off and kept going. I followed just a few steps behind her as we reentered the parking lot.  She got to the Lexus and leaned against it, breathing heavily, her eyes closed, her hands holding her head. I had never seen her face so distorted with emotion before.

"Please, mom. I'm really sorry I-"

"Don't apologize!" she screamed, her eyes popping open and staring me right down the throat.

I actually backed off a couple steps, frightened by her sudden outburst and that fierce gaze. Now we just stood there in the mostly empty parking lot, oblivious to the rustling of the palm fronds above our heads, the constant call of the gulls, and the distant barking of the seals. From somewhere in the distance came the muffled, but steady thump of a slow hip hop beat.

"Perry...?" she whispered, averting her eyes.

"Yeah, Mom?"

"Are you all right?"

"Of course."

"I never...hit you before."

"That's all right. It was no big deal. I guess I was-"

"No!" she exclaimed, getting that cold, fixed stare again. "No, Perry, no. Just stop. You didn't deserve that, and it was wrong of me to hit you. Horribly wrong."

I just stood there, not sure what to say.

"I'm so, so sorry. I'll make it up to you, Perry--I promise."

I shook my head and offered her a hesitant smile. "There's nothing to make up for. I think I understand how hard it was for you to tell me...all that stuff.  I mean, I know this sounds weird, but I think I miss Benjamin too, even though I never knew him."

That was all my mom could take, and she lunged forward and wrapped me in her arms, pressing me close to her leather jacket. She leaned her head on my shoulder and I could hear her sniffling even as I felt the occasional shudder of a sob wrack her slender body. Finally, still holding me firmly by both arms, she pulled back.

" I'm so sorry, my dear, sweet baby. Can you forgive Mommy?" she asked in a pathetically child-like voice that I found disturbing.

"Yeah, I forgive you," I told her plainly, refusing to let the tears spill out of my own bleary eyes.

"I just wanted you to understand that...things could've been different if I hadn't been...." Her words trailed off into deep emotions and sad memories.

I nodded, gently shrugging off her hold so I could dab the unspilled tears from my own eyes. "All right, you told me," I said with conviction, "but that doesn't mean you were to blame for everything. Dad still left us for Staci, and no matter what, that was wrong."

I stiffened, prepared for another outburst, physical or verbal. But she just looked at me with wet, reddened eyes.

"You were sad about Benjamin, and I think I get that, but I still don't understand how dad could've abandoned" I muttered quietly.

She offered me a shaky, but sympathetic smile. "You're right, of course. How could he turn his back on you? You're the most remarkable person to ever come into my life, and his too-I know that for a fact."

"I don't think I've been a very good son," I told her bluntly. "I-I haven't always been honest with you, and I know that I was kinda spoiled. I made dad and you do things for me just cuz they were important to me."

"Oh, were a child. Of course you wanted things; of course you depended on us to provide those things. That's only natural, nothing to be ashamed of. You've been a wonderful son, a blessing in every way. You've brought so much joy into our lives."

"Then why?" I asked helplessly.

Finally, she had to shrug. "I can only guess, really," she admitted, dabbing her reddened eyes and nose with a tissue from the small purse slung around her shoulders. "At the time, it probably seemed to your father that I had somehow...fallen out of love with him. That in a sense, I had abandoned our marriage. I was so involved in my own feelings, so unable explain to him the way I was able to explain to you just now," she confessed. "Your dad and I are just a few months apart age wise, but here was this beautiful young lady--she'd been a sophomore when your father was a senior in high school. They were both from back east. She was the smart, successful daughter of the senior partner of a prestigious law firm in Manhattan.  And quite frankly, I think she swept him off his feet at a time when he was really vulnerable."

"He was weak," I said, not bothering to hide my disdain.

But Mom only shrugged, not arguing the point with me. "It didn't happen overnight, you know. They didn't actually see each other for nearly a year after Vegas. It started with e-mail, and then phone conversations and then...Your father told me he needed to go back to New York to attend to some family business having to do with his mother.  She'd already had one bout with breast cancer and she was getting frail, so it all seemed reasonable. As far as I knew, that was the first time your father and Staci got together as...lovers."

I felt embarrassed and angry at the same time. It was true that my grandma had been really sick at the time, and that she had died only a month after his trip. Still, nothing my mom could say would convince me that it was her fault the marriage had ended. My dad had simply taken off for greener pastures when the going had gotten tough at home, leaving my mom holding the bag, and leaving me, in essence, without a father. I wondered briefly if my sense of abandonment had anything to do with my interest in boys. But that was too much for a fourteen year old to think about with all the other things going on, and I pushed the half-formed thought aside.

My mom gently touched the cheek that she had slapped only a few minutes before. "I never ever thought I was capable of such a thing," she said, her ragged voice tinged with regret and wonder. "My God...what got into me?"

I shrugged it off. "It didn't really hurt or anything," I insisted.

"I'm so sorry I cut you off from Jesse," she said out of the blue.


"Poor baby. I kept you from your best friend. What a foolish thing to do. What was I thinking?"

I hadn't expected this topic to come up in the middle of all our talk about my dad and what had happened to our family, and I was cautious in my response.

"You were right to punish me. I deliberately lied to you. I'll never forgive myself for that."

She shook her head. "You were trying to help your friend. It was the goodness in your heart that motivated your actions. I knew that, but I let my own feelings of anger and betrayal cloud my thinking. I was selfish to take Jesse away from you."

"Well, we see each other at school, and um...we do IM," I admitted.

She nodded. "That's good. Having a best friend is so important--more important at your age than having a girlfriend, I think."

She wasn't kidding there!

I didn't want to say anything else because, as much as I loved Jesse, and as much as I had suffered from not being able to be with him physically, I knew that I really did deserve my punishment--and probably worse. If not just for deceiving my mom, then at least for dragging Gary Van Driesen into a very dangerous situation for no good reason. Whenever I ran through the series of events that transpired on my fourteenth birthday, I shuddered, realizing how many different ways things could have gone wrong, how many different ways I had put both Gary and myself in mortal danger.

I could see by the way her eyes darted to my face and to the cracked asphalt pavement and to the ocean beyond my shoulder, that my mom was dealing with a lot of strong, but conflicting emotions all at once. I wondered if she was going to break down again. Somehow, the thought of that made me angry. I was suddenly appalled at how unmitigatedly selfish I was, always thinking about myself and how much I wanted to be with Jesse, while my mom was all alone, working full time, keeping house, paying the bills, and dealing with what I now realized was one of the most frightening and difficult things anyone could ever have to deal with: a teenage boy.

"I love you," I said, leaning in and giving her a powerful hug.

I heard her heavy breathing and I could tell she was fighting back the emotions and the tears that threatened to overwhelm her once again.

"No...I don't deserve..." She stopped and swallowed deeply. "Yes, Perry. I know. Thank you. I love you too. I love you so much; I don't know what I'd do without you."

We stood there for a long time in the chilly December ocean breeze, in that quiet parking lot next to the ocean. Before we got in the car, she insisted we say a prayer for Benjamin. Much of the drive home was spent in silence. At some point, I switched on the radio, content to listen to the latest repetitive hiphop track to top the charts on KIIS-FM.  It wasn't until we had gotten back on the I-15, passing the dry, rolling hills, and fast food stands, and the occasional strip mall, that she finally spoke.

"You have a wonderful gift, Perry," she said with quiet resolve.

I immediately thought of yesterday's conversation with Father Marlen. He had said that both Jesse and I were gifted individuals. And while it was blatantly clear what would prompt him to say that about Jesse, I saw nothing in myself, nothing exceptional, nothing outstanding, nothing that could be called a gift or even a talent.

"I do?"

"You see so clearly what's in a person's heart. And not just that," she explained, mostly staring straight ahead as she drove.  "You're also able to touch that person's heart in a way that's unassuming and yet deeply moving. It's really quite remarkable."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I told her truthfully, feeling a little disappointed that even my own mom couldn't think of anything truly special to say that would somehow set me apart from any other kid in this world, and instead, had to fabricate something vague and sappy, and ultimately meaningless.  And the more I thought about my own inconsequence, the more I was puzzled by Jesse's passionate dedication. What did he see in me that I couldn't? And then I had a truly frightening thought: What if I lost whatever it was in New York? How would I even know? What if Jesse didn't like me anymore when I came back?

I was shaken out of my disconcerting reverie when I noticed that my mom was smiling at me, her eyes still red and puffy. "You helped me, Perry, helped me to realize that I was blaming myself entirely for the divorce. But the truth is, your father did choose to leave. And even though I know he loves you, I simply can't imagine how he could have...abandoned you like this." Strangely, there was no real anger or contempt in her voice. It was more like she was recalling a fascinating fact from a documentary on the Discovery Channel.

"I think maybe he only says that he loves me," I offered, even as I felt my own doubt that such a thing could be true. Our last phone conversation had been powerful. My dad had sounded sincere and emotional. But he was a lawyer, and was used to manipulating people's feelings to achieve his goals. "I mean...I dunno," I ended weakly.

I could see the worried look on Mom's face as she pondered this possibility. Then she resolutely shook her head. "I don't think it's like that. I think it was me he was leaving--our relationship, whatever was left of it.  Maybe, being a lawyer, he knew better than most that his chances of taking you with him were almost nil. Joint custody was the best he could ever hope for, and he didn't want to uproot you, make you travel back and forth across the country on a weekly or monthly basis, so he settled for Christmas and summer vacations."

"And being with Staci and getting that job with her dad, I guess that was a big deal for him, huh?"

"I guess," was all she had to say about that.

We drove on in silence.


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

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