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I'm not sure which was more insulting, the fact that Jamie planted his hand on my forehead while I pin wheeled at him, or that he didn't bother to lean forward to give the impression he had to brace himself to hold me back. I had already called him everything I could think of. I was creative with the normal words. Inventive with my suggestions. Selective in my guttural sounds that really conveyed meaning when I ran out of words to express my inner feelings, once I ran out of the regular stuff. He had the good sense not to laugh, but he did struggle with a smile and that pissed me off too.
When Paul Cayman came into the room, I was standing by the oval dining table helping Jeanette set the last dishes in place. I froze and he stepped back. We stared. Then he just put his hand out, stuttered how I must be Jamie's new friend, and we took our seats. I was next to Lauren, who kept giving Jamie and me bad looks. Phil and Jeanette sat at the head and foot of the table. Jamie and Paul were side by side. Paul avoided looking at me; every time he did he turned redder and shook a little. He mostly managed to fight back the smile, but every now and then I heard this snort and I'd look and he'd duck me. Lauren and Jeanette watched us closely, Jamie was curious, but Phil was oblivious to it. We made small talk, they talked family stuff I knew nothing about. Jamie would try to get me into the conversation, but I was lost. Jamie eventually began watching Paul, and the way they looked at one another convinced me they had a silent communication. Jamie had a HINT that something was wrong, and then I think it finally began to shape up in his head. Sharper than a basketball, my Jamie. After that he wasn't much better than his brother and I could hear the two of them snorting apparently fighting back a case of the giggles. My ears burned and not even the cool air filling the room from the air conditioner kept me from sweating or shaking with anger. Nervousness, fear and anger, all at once. Every now and again Paul would look at me, and I could hear this little strangled sound in the back of his throat then he'd have to look away. Jamie fell in with his step, and I began to understand that being an asshole wasn't necessarily a genetic trait; from what I could see it was learned behavior, and these two had taught each other well.
Jeanette Cayman fixed both her evil sons with this deadeye look and suddenly they were five and twelve again, fearing the Wrath of Ma. Her eyes were blue, but a different blue than Jamie's, more gray in them. Right then they had a cold, flinty look and they were fixed on Half and Nit, the Wit brothers. That brought them back to reality and somehow we got through dinner without the blood hitting the floor. I don't remember what we ate, I just remember not eating much.
Remembering all that was what made me want to connect a fist with Jamie.
"I didn't know! I swear!"
"I told you about it just this morning, you miserable lying sack of-- "
"Chris, you never said what his name was!"
"Oh, like you didn't know where your brother was pulling duty?"
"Why the hell should I know that? He's a cop, in Salisbury. He could be anywhere. I know he's on the day shift, and aside from that not much else. If something happened he thought was interesting, he might bring it up but that's about it. He just didn't mention that he saw some skinny kid in a Speedo flashing his goods up and down the Rez acting like a man-trap! Besides, everyone knows all the real action is under the pier at the Frolics."
"Oh, and so now I'm a man-trap? I'm just a skinny kid flashing my goods?"
"Aw babe gimme a break! Even YOU said you were there looking to slut out!"
"I did give you a break! I didn't club you with a bat. First you invite me to dinner, a SPECIAL dinner reserved for family and people who are 'almost family', and then don't bother to tell me that you're out to 'em so there's only one thing they can figure from me being there. You DON'T tell me that your family's name is really Cayman, NOT Levesque, or that your brother -- no, your STEP brother -- is a Salisbury cop, even after I told you I had a little run in with a cop there a month ago. Hello? Is anyone home? Has dawn broken on Marble Head? Or does the football jock need it spelled phonetically? Would pictures help?"
His eyes narrowed. "That's insulting. I'm not stupid."
"No, you're not, which is one of the reasons I'm so pissed off right now. You are NOT stupid. Just dense."
He let his hand drop, and I let him have a good crack across the shoulder, which hurt me a damn sight more than it hurt him. Now my hand hurt as much as what was left of my pride. I think he was acting, but he rubbed his upper arm and made like it ached. He could see that my hand hurt worse, but made the correct assumption that I didn't want to hear that right then.
"OK, Chris. Ok. Look, I already told you why I didn't bring up me being out, and if it weren't for Lauren you'd have just met my folks and that would have been it. Later I would have told you the rest, once you saw what they were like and you felt comfortable around them. Like my mom told you, she divorced my dad when I was like three. Phil Cayman is the only father I've ever really known and that's who he is to me -- Dad. Scotty Levesque's a stranger. I haven't seen him in maybe five years, and before that I might have seen him once or twice a year and that's it. Scotty's a fuckin' drunk and I don't know OR care where he is. Lauren knows even less about him. Paul is my brother in everything but blood. He's seven years older than me, and I can't remember a time when he WASN'T my brother, or treated me like I was anything BUT his brother. I've always trusted him with everything, and he's always trusted me. They're NOT the Caymans, they're my family."
"Paul's also the first person I came out to, back when I was a real mess -- and that's not long ago. Plus he's the one who helped me get through it all with mom and dad. That's Paul, period. And don't worry about him talking about your little meeting this summer -- he knows you're important to me just because you're here as my guest, and yeah, that means he's putting one and one together and coming up with us as a pair, so he's not going to do or say anything to embarrass you."
I stood there, looking at him. I wish I could say he had the face of an innocent, an absolute and impossible not to believe quality of purity. He didn't. He looked like a pissed off brute of a teenage boy rubbing his shoulder and trying not to look mad, not to be mad. Not much different than me, at least as far as the mad went. Difference is I wasn't a hulk and I didn't care if he knew I was mad.
"OK, there's still one thing, Jamie. When I told you that story this afternoon, why didn't you tell me your brother was a cop? Why didn't you at least ask me for the cop's name? Just in case?"
The anger seemed to ease out of him. I knew I had crossed a line when I slammed him, I knew it instantly, but I still didn't care. Jamie could have broken me in half without much effort. Part of me wanted to punch him in the face, but something else told me at the moment I began to haul back that if I did we would be finished, and angry as I was I didn't want that either. In two days Jamie had come from being this polite stranger to pretty much the center of my life. The 'l' word flashed though my mind, but I couldn't, wouldn't say that yet. Before I said that, I had to know that I meant it, deep down, all the way down; once I said that word I could never take it back, and if things went wrong I don't think we could even look at each other again. I wanted Jamie as my boyfriend, yeah, but I also wanted him to be something else too. I wanted him to be a lover. Keep your `partner' word, it's as cold and clinical as any of the other new-speak the PC language people come up with to neuter feelings and give things a more respectable and acceptable sound. Yeah, the word was abused to the point where it meant almost nothing. But to me it was important, something beautiful and magical. I had to ease up on him now, I knew that or I'd lose him. Jamie was so smart in some things, so utterly thick in others. I could understand what he said about Phil and Paul being his family, not just the Caymans. It was something natural and clear to him to think that way, not something he felt needed explanation to a third party because it just WAS. Probably every friend he had knew about it, and it just wouldn't occur to him that it needed to be explained.
"I got no explanation for that. I don't know why I didn't tell you. Maybe I was afraid it WAS him, and you wouldn't come tonight if you knew about Paul."
"Then you're ashamed of me?"
He just looked at me, mouth opened slightly. "Why on earth would I ever be ashamed of you? If I were, you wouldn't be here."
There was a light knock on the door, and the voice of Paul Cayman. "Jamie? Can I talk to you and Chris?"
Jamie looked at me and spoke softly. "Can he?"
I began to wind down. I wasn't sorry for what I had said or done, but I couldn't stay mad any more and I just nodded. Jamie opened the door, Paul stepped in and then he closed it. As a precaution, he eased a smooth rock half the size of a football in front of the door. No more surprises from Lauren. Paul Cayman understood the way of old houses, and little sisters too.
Paul Cayman was an opposite to Jamie, all dark to his brother's light, but a handsome man in a different way. Nowhere near Jamie's bulk, a sleeker but solid build. Shorter by two inches maybe, and deep brown eyes to match the hair. I hadn't seen those eyes behind the shades at the beach that one time, but they gave you a reassuring feeling. Soft eyes, gentle eyes... not the eyes of a cop. No resemblance at all on the physical level. Still, he managed to adopt the same sheepish expression. I guess the two of them were close enough even if they didn't share the same blood.
"I heard some of what you two were saying," he said softly. "I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but Little Miss Bitch was. What's wrong with Lauren tonight anyway?"
Jamie shrugged. "She's had this thing for Chris since last year, and she's pissed off 'cuz she knows she hasn't got a chance now."
He twisted his mouth into that same, lop-sided grin that Jamie used so much. "Woman scorned. I guess Lauren is all grown up. Doesn't look like she mellowed much." He shook his head.
"Alright, here we go. Based on what I heard standing out there, Chris is right, Jamie. You SHOULD have told him your brother was a Salisbury cop after he told you about the run-in we had. Maybe he didn't bring up my name, but I'm pretty sure he read my nametag that day, and you could have asked him. Or asked for a description. That's just common sense AND decency if he is what I think he is to you." He looked at us both when he said that, eyes from face to face. "Uh-huh. I see that you are. And I think that's great. You guys shouldn't have to be alone just because you're gay, but there's not much I can do about that except try to help a little along the way. Chris, I tried helping you that day whether you know it or not."
That was news. "You scared the shit out of me. I got the hell out of there."
"Which is exactly what I wanted you to do. You were being targeted for a sting."
He let that sink in, and looked steady at me. He wasn't judging, I could see that in his face and hear it in his voice. "Salisbury is a resort town with a bad honky-tonk image. Drugs, hookers, and hustlers used to be all over the place. The town has been fighting that image for years and they're just starting to change their reputation, bringing back a lot of the family trade they need, desperately need, to survive. Plus there's a group around there who have been trying to bring in casino gambling for about ten years now, they even have a state senator leading the push. There's a lot of money at stake if they get it through, but only if the town cleans up its image to bring in the investors. They've done some pretty extreme things, and they're always running these little secret stings to scare away the trash. No Chris, I'm not calling you trash so don't think that. There are a lot of guys out there on my force who have a more personal agenda, and they use these stings for their private kicks. They love grabbing some guy and arresting him just to make his life hell. Fag baiting with the law. They've been watching you for awhile, and I knew what was coming so I had to do something about it."
"Was I that obvious?"
He widened his eyes. "Let me see. Speedo, half hard all the time, pretty much pushing it all out every time someone walked by you thought might be interesting. Only guys though. Yeah. That can be kind of obvious to some people, the ones who get paid to watch anyway. You wanted to get laid, and I could see the chicks hitting on you same as the other guys did, and you weren't having anything to do with them. On the other hand, let a good-looking guy come by and you did a `Wile E Coyote' double take out of a Road Runner cartoon. So that left only one thing to think. The boys were pretty sure what was going to turn you on, and you were maybe ten minutes from a little trap with a messy arrest and being paraded through the jail. Since it was on the Rez, well that's commonwealth property, so that means the state cops get brought in. Once they're in there's no chance of smoothing things over. That means the `Sex Offenders Registry' even if you are a minor."
He was just so damn sure about everything and I was defensive. "What makes you so think I would have tumbled?"
"Do you remember seeing this built guy, early twenties, short black hair and red trunks?"
"Yeah," was my one word response. He was hot.
"If he came up and got real suggestive and close, you think you might have let your crotch do your thinking?"
I swallowed. This really was embarrassing.
"Don't answer. I know something about horny teenagers," he said, and gave Jamie a side look. "Especially horny gay teenagers who are cut off from the normal outlets to meet people." Then to me, "Normal, as in meeting other people in a conventional way. There's nothing for you guys out here. In the big cities they have centers and organizations to help. Out here... well, just because the state says the schools have to allow organizing outreach programs doesn't mean they have to do the organizing. Schools will just sit back and wait for someone else to do it, then let the school board fight it out. There was a lot of publicity a few years ago with that kid from the Whittier School District coming out at his school, even the national press carried the story. I know the gay lobby made him the poster child for coming out. That was really great-- but he was the captain of his football squad, real popular, and big enough not to be messed with. Bam-Bam over there could get away with it, but what about the kid who's 5'6" and maybe 120 lbs. who's in the chess club? He'd get eaten alive. The rest of you kids are out in the cold, nowhere to go and nowhere to meet. I don't have a problem with a gay guy; it's no big deal to me. Like I told lard-brain over there awhile back, my best friend since grade school came out to me when we were in our mid-teens. I had him talk to this one when he needed it and I can have him talk to you if you want. You can think about that one, I don't need an answer right away.
"Anyway, I knew you were going to get set up that day, I heard them talking about it in the barracks. You been the 'Little Speedo Fag' since the `Fourth' to them. The guy in red trunks was gonna get you all hot by talking, and then you were going to get an invite back to his car. Sooner or later he was going to get you to reach out and touch. Lewd and lascivious behavior, they call it. Bang. Busted. He's a summer appointee, wants to make the force permanent, and he kind of likes being used for bait, I think. Take my word, the locals weren't going to make your life easy once it got to court, which I can guarantee it would. Your name wouldn't have made the paper because you're still a minor, but it does mean calling your family. Also, I knew you had to be at least seventeen since you drove, so they COULD petition the court to try you as an adult and then all hell would break loose. That would depend on the judge, and they're not exactly progressive in Newbury District Court. Small fine yeah, but the Sex Offender Registry isn't much fun. Conviction even for a misdemeanor like that means registering everywhere you live as a convicted sex offender, which is an open public registry. That's why I scared you off, and I wanted to make sure you cooled it. I meant to scare hell out of you, hoping you might think things out. Didn't see much of you after that. That was a good thing.
"What you were doing wasn't all that bad Chris, but the wrong people were getting involved for no better reason than they could." Then he turned to Jamie, "And at least you were in a public place, not like someone I know trying to set up meetings through the net. In parking lots. After the stores were closed." He let that one sink in. "I won't ask how much you know about the pier at the Frolics. They're ripping it down this fall, so I won't have to worry about that, will I?"
Jamie was as red as I was now.
"OK guys, I think that wraps up some problems. So, li'l bro, I assume Chris was your hot date this weekend? The reason I have to tell Ma you been at the beach with me?"
"Uh-huh. Don't ask, don't tell. Clinton's contribution to the world. To bad Monica wasn't in on the deal. Ok, I'm going away the end of September. It would be nice if someone took care of my condo while I was gone. It's no big deal if he has some company, but I need someone with a brain to remember things like locking the doors and watering my plants, and all I ask is the sheets get changed before I come back. Gee, Chris, how would you like to housesit for me? Maybe you have a thick sculled but harmless friend who'd like to visit with you till Monday?"
Then he slipped out of the room, smiling. Jamie and I sat on the edge of the bed through it all, and we just looked at one another. He was as embarrassed as me. This time, I leaned in and gave him a kiss. It wouldn't hurt to take the lead for a change. We held each other after, and went back downstairs to his family.
* * * * *
The evening slowed down after that. They really did their best to make me feel comfortable. They tried to include me in the conversation, but there were just too many holes to fill in, things they all knew and understood but I was lost. I settled for nodding and smiling, but I gave them points for trying. Jamie sat next to me on the couch. Lauren passed in and out, giving her brother and me some dirty looks. Phil began to mellow, Paul was just the same but without all the snickering, and Jeanette... she just watched me carefully. I was being weighed, measured, and decisions were in the balance. Unlike her son, Jeanette was very hard to read. I wondered if Lauren would ever develop that same veil between her face and the rest of the world. Lauren had a mean streak, and if she developed her mother's capacity for distance and study in addition to her own nature the straight boys of Haverhill High were in for a nasty shock.
About the only other surprise I picked up on was that Jamie would no longer be playing football. He loved the game, but was told he wasn't willing to work hard enough. The coach had given him an option -- work harder or be gone. Jamie figured that his academics were more important than the game and had turned in everything months ago. "He thinks we're in the NFL and we should spend all our time training. Only way these guys will see inside the NFL is with a ticket or HBO." I didn't mind him leaving the sports field at all. It just meant more time with me.
Time... yeah time. It was going to be an important factor. This week, we had some mornings together when we could-- well, you get the idea. Evenings after work we could at least get together, but after this weekend everything was going to be changing. The fall term loomed its ugly head, made only a little better by the thought it would be the last fall term for both of us; at least in high school. Jamie was serious about his grades, and wanted to get into a decent school. I knew I could get into a good, not great, but good college. Boston has a lot to offer in the private sector once you get past the fact that the only way you'll see Harvard is if you're invited over for a visit. The money is impossible, and most never stand a chance for the academic requirements. There are still a lot of good schools north of the city. There was U-Mass at Lowell which has some excellent programs and then Merrimack College was also respectable. Haverhill featured Northern Essex Community College, and was the home of Bradford College until it went bankrupt. That's where Phil Cayman had worked. Right now he was split as a part time instructor at NECCO and Merrimack. The school's closure had shaken the family, but they were rebounding. Phil's chances at Merrimack looked good. Jeanette still had a solid job as an assistant superintendent of the Haverhill schools. I learned that Jamie planned on headed for U-Mass in a year; the distance was commutable and would save them money.
Time. Yeah, I was talking about time remember? Well, that was going to be a problem. We'd still be working our jobs, and though I was sure I could get Karen to help us out scheduling my hours, it still had to be fair to the other part-timers. Karen balanced us the best she could, trying to make sure everyone got an even break especially on weekends, and divvied up Sundays, which were overtime. I didn't know how much flexibility Jamie would have at Old Navy. I hadn't even asked just how reasonable his boss was.
Jamie was off Monday, I worked a day shift. Tuesday he worked an evening, and I was off. We connected for Wednesday and Thursday with us both on nights, and it went to hell again on Friday with him in the morning and me closing at Borders. Still, it wasn't that bad. The coming weekend was Labor Day, but it was also my birthday on Friday, something Jamie seemed to know. He knew a lot of things he shouldn't, and it bothered me.
"How do you know so much about me?"
"Mom's the Assistant Superintendent, it wasn't too hard to look in your records."
My eyes widened. "You get into my records?" I didn't like that at all.
"Just the basic stuff. I can get in for small things like date-of-birth, address and telephone number, parent's names, things like that. Grades and private files are in a secure field, you need a specific password to get in there and they're all logged. I'd never even try that anyway. I just looked at your basic info 'cuz I was curious. I'd check your class schedule each term, then switched mine around so we'd have classes together. I never played with any of yours, just re-arranged mine."
"Why the hell did you do that?"
Only Jamie could turn that red, starting from the ears and working down. "Um, well, just because I was afraid to talk to you, doesn't mean I didn't want to at least look at you."
We were in his room again, with the door secured. I just stood on my toes and kissed him and he leaned down for me and took me into his arms. So that's how you knew where I lived, Jamie. That's why you were always in my classes. We said good night privately in our own way and he walked me to my car. He slipped a hand into mine as we stood in the dark, squeezed it, and said good night again.
* * * * *
The 'rents were home I saw, but they must have gone directly to bed, even though it wasn't much after ten when I got in. I watched some TV in my room and drifted off to sleep. Seven came with an irritating buzz of a clock carefully placed on the other side of the room, guaranteed to get me out of bed. I waved good-bye to my dad on his way out the door and my mother was getting ready to head for her realty office. She gave me an odd look but didn't say anything different than any other morning. I didn't think much of it, made myself a cup of coffee and some toast and pulled myself together. Border's opened at ten, but I would have to be there at nine to get the store ready for the day. Karen wouldn't be in until one, so that meant the morning with Mr. Prendegast, the general manager.
His nametag said Daniel, and he never really said anything about it, but you always understood that he was Mr. Prendegast. He really wasn't a bad guy if you did your work, just stuffy, so the morning flowed fairly easy, setting up some new displays for the fall reading lists. Jesus, even the calendars were beginning to show up and Dave and I cleared a section at the front of the store and started building. I noticed a nice beef-cake weekly planner and made a note to quietly buy one when Karen came in. We weren't allowed to ring up our own sales, and I didn't want either Dave or Wynona ringing it up for me. Dave wouldn't have said much I'm sure but he would have remembered it. Wynona was not a favorite person with me or anyone else in the store except for Mr. Prendegast. Wynona was a full-time associate with an eye to the managerial ladder, and decided that since she really wasn't that bright her best course for advancement lay in brown nosing. She was good at brown nosing. Even Karen commented more than once that all she needed were two more legs and an extra long tail to become the perfect rat. Want the boss to know something? Say it in front of Wynona.
A small rush from eleven to one kept us busy, and when Karen came in Mr. Prendegast slipped off to his office in the back. No one knew what he did there. Dave said he had all the back copies of `Penthouse' back there and probably jerked off all afternoon. I half suspected it was more like 'Freshmen' or 'Unzipped' but Wynona was close by so I kept my mouth shut. I nudged Dave and pointed to her with my chin. He just whispered "Hey, so she reports I think he's straight. That ought to make him happy," and laughed. I wanted to say something but didn't. I've known Dave long enough to know he wasn't really a homophobe or anything, and the remark was pretty much on target with Mr. Prendegast.
Jamie dropped by a little after Karen took over and she sent me to lunch, but not before she took a long look at him standing on the sidewalk outside the store. Damn, he looked fine. White shorts, red muscle tee and black wrap-around shades. The sandals again too. I could tell Karen liked the sight. Wynona fairly drooled. Did I mention Wynona looked a lot like Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch from `The Wizard of Oz'.
Lunch was quick, and I picked up a salad for Karen. No Number 5 (super sized) today. She must have stepped onto a scale that morning. It was Wendy's again, but different from the last time. Monday is dead in retail as a rule, and while the theatre complex was open it didn't get the crowds you see on the weekends. We sat in a larger booth off to the side of the dining area where Jamie was able to at least stretch out his legs into the aisle. I liked looking at those legs. I could think of a place where I'd rather see them, but that wouldn't be happening any time too soon and if I thought of it too much I'd wind up embarrassing myself when I stood.
"How about I drop by this evening and meet your parents? Not for dinner or nothin', just me coming in and saying hi before we go out. Kinda get them used to me being around."
I had to think about it, and Jamie watched me closely. It made sense of course, because Jamie WAS going to be around a lot. There was more privacy in my house, no little sister and all. For this week anyway I knew Jamie would be coming over on the nights we both worked. It made me nervous, but it wasn't like I was going to say, "Hey, see this guy? He saved my ass in a rest area then pumped it silly."
"Sounds good. Figure about seven-thirty, then we can do something."
"Great. He-he, I got an idea what I'd like to do, but I think we might be too noisy."
I turned red and looked around the dining room, hoping no one heard that one.
We walked slowly across the lot. At his car we just stood in the row, shielded from everyone but I only had the nerve to just let him take my hand and give it a squeeze. "Kisses, baby. See you and my new in-laws tonight."
* * * * *
The day wound down, and I finished my shift and drove down the highway to my exit, running over the last few days and just looking at how much things had changed. I was no longer a solo act, desperate for companionship. Yeah, it took some incredibly stupid things to bring us together, but we did them even though I don't think I could have gone through it all again. Somehow I'd made it through. Somehow I'd come out a winner.
My dad was home even if my mother wasn't, and he said he was impressed with the work on the a/v system, how neat it all looked. I told him the truth that it was mostly my friend Jamie Levesque, and he was dropping by tonight so he could thank him personally. I went up and showered and changed into something more comfortable, and by the time I got downstairs again my mother was home. Dinner was quick and cold, just the thing on a warm night. I told her we would be having company that evening and was it my imagination or was she still looking at me strangely? She didn't say anything unusual so I let it pass.
Jamie came in and I introduced him. My father recognized his picture from the Gazette sports section and they talked football. Ok, dad was conquered. He was a football fanatic and I'm sure one of his big disappointments in life was that I had never given a single damn about that sport or any other. He was disappointed to hear that Jamie's playing days were done, but he did like the idea of having someone around that knew the game, and they were talking about his dropping by on Sundays when the season started. Great, I thought, my dad is kidnapping my boy friend. I was a football widow already.
My mother watched him quietly, slowly nodding her head, taking note of the gleam in my father's eyes and Jamie's pleasure in talking with him. She watched them, and kept glancing at me. It was making me uncomfortable. Then my father threw in a dig about me being a complete wash-out about sports. Jamie jumped right in and defended me, saying that there were a lot of things he had seen me do at school that beat hell out of throwing a ball around. My mother's attitude changed, her face softened, and she smiled. "Are you Scott Levesque's boy? Jeanette's son?"
"Yeah, but they've been divorced for years, Mrs.--"
"Please, call me Dorothy. If Roland says to call him Rolly, you can call me Dorothy."
That was a major point score. I had never heard my mother invite any of my friends to call her by her first name. "You look just like your father, Jamie, and it took me back. But I see there's a lot of your mother in you, too. I knew Jeanette years ago, we were good friends when we were young. So, what are you boys up to?" Just as I had been weighed and measured by Jeanette Cayman, so had Jamie been passed by Dorothy St. Jacques.
* * * * *
Nothing much happened the rest of the week. Jamie and I grabbed as much time as we could together, made the most of our mornings. I asked Karen about the last week in September, for a whole weekend away. She was skeptical at first, wouldn't give either of us an answer. Finally she got tired of both my long face and Jamie's coming over to whine and she gave in. "I'm gonna have to pull a fast one with the schedule, so when you see it don't freak. I need some back up on this, and I have some arranging to do, because it means screwing Wynona."
I shuddered. "There's an ugly thought. Better you than me."
"She can buy her own strap on. Just leave it to me. BUT you are going to pay."
I shook my head and looked at the sky. "Why me? Why am I always the one who has to pay?"
Smugly, "Because I'm the boss, and you're the one that needs a favor. Unless you would rather forget about it?"
"No, no, its ok even if it is blackmail."
"It's not blackmail, just business technique. I need you to stay late Friday. Figure around 11:00, 11:30."
"C'mon Karen! It's my birthday!"
"Honey, I hate doing it to you, but it's the only way. I need you for some special set-ups. Dave's opening, so I can't keep him, besides he's still seventeen and I can only work him so late. Wynona pointed out that you turn eighteen Friday, so I can work you like a slave now, and she's tired of being the only one who ever has to stay late because all the part-timers are under age. That's the dark-side of turning eighteen. I can treat you like an adult now."
"You mean like dirt?"
"That sums it up nicely."
For the first time I cursed the fact that I was about to become legally an adult. I hadn't considered the trade-offs before. "Quit bitching," she said. "It's only a lousy hour and a half. You said the parents are gone Friday, right?"
"All Labor Day weekend. They're doing a stint at Foxwood Casinos to see if they can blow my college fund."
"Yeah, gambling Connecticut style. Thank God for Indian treaties so we don't need Atlantic City or Vegas anymore. Ok, so there's no problem. Jamie will just have to keep it in his pants a little later is all, then you guys can play rabbit when you get home. Now no whining. That's Jamie's job anyway, and if he starts, I'll just make him wait outside. Besides, if he's so hot for his honey, maybe he'll help and we can all go home early."
"You're abusing my boyfriend now?"
She shook her head. "I'm just giving you pointers is all. Abusing him is your job, but women are better at it. Look and learn."
* * * * *
Friday night. I was eighteen at last. My parents celebrated with me the night before, and I held desperately to the dream that dad would give me a key with the letters BMW engraved, but the check he handed to me was not to be sneezed at, even if it wouldn't cover the down payment.
Yep, eighteen today -- and I had to wrap up my first day as a mature adult hauling out cartons of books and setting them up. All my best bitching and moaning had gotten me nowhere. It was Labor Day Weekend no less, and who the hell was coming in to buy books on Labor Day? No one. Even the kids had wiped out the section of Cliffs' Notes to finish up their summer reading lists. The store had been dead all night and we could have done this hours ago, but Karen insisted on doing other things that could have been done anytime. At ten, Dave had shot for the door without a word, and Wynona gave me a smug smile and made a point of saying how nice it would be to get home early. Maybe she'd take a long cool, bath. I hoped her radio fell in the tub.
Jamie was here, I could hear him and Karen talking on the sales floor, their voices at least if not what they were saying. Maybe I could get him to help me out so we'd get out of here faster. I came through the door with a loaded two-wheeler.
The two of them stood there with these dumb hats on. Jamie had a fairy princess crown and Karen something like a dunce cap with streamers. They held out a cupcake with a dinner taper stuffed into it and stuck this silver and pink thing with a yellow feather on my head and sang Happy Birthday. But there was something else, too. I saw boxes on the counter, nicely wrapped boxes.
"Yup, he sees the bait. Let's go!"
Karen thrust a package at me, and I tore it open. Three semi-transparent boxes with video tapes inside. "I had a friend of mine brew these up special for you. He says the copies are so good, once he kills the lights and rips the cushions on a chair, all he has to do is kick the top off the cat box and its just like being in a porn house. These are re-mastered William Higgins classics. Pre-condom."
I looked over the titles. "The Young and the Hung", "Preppy Summer", and "Power Tool". "He said the pool table scene in 'Power Tool' is not to be missed."
Jamie picked them up carefully. "Gotta make sure nothing happens to them, babe. I'll guard 'em," and he slid another box to me.
I tore that open quickly and pulled open the lid. Inside was a black velvet box. I snapped open the lid, and stood staring at a beautiful silver Cuban link bracelet. I was speechless. Jamie reached down and put it on my wrist carefully. "They had to knock a few links out, so it won't fall off."
"Go ahead, runt. Kiss him. Place is empty and the security screens are down."
I did just that.
"Hey, don't forget the rest of your gift!"
I pulled the other package out. "What the hell are these for?"
"They'll help with your SPECIAL gift, from me and Jamie. Something you both can use." She handed me an odd-shaped package, something in molded plastic from the feel of it. I tore it open and nearly dropped it on the economy pack of C cells Jamie had given me.
"It's the 'Johan Paulik' model, honey.
They had a 'Jeff Stryker', but that took D cells and we figured it was
way over the top."
© 2001-2002 by Keith Mystery.
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