Jess was waiting when we got to the front doors, as were Jake and J.R. Jess walked up to me and threw her arms around me whispering how happy she was for me. Jeez, this was getting embarrassing! She positively beamed at me, and Jake blushed for me. Actually, he probably got the same treatment from Jess when he got there.
"I really wish you would have told me. We could have had so much more fun at the mall!" she giggled.
"Um, if you don't mind, I'd rather you not point out good-looking guys to him," Jake said in a low voice so as to not attract attention.
"Jake, get some self-confidence!" J.R. scolded him.
"Why don't you kiss my ass?" Jake snapped.
"That's his job!" J.R. burst out laughing while pointing at me. I reddened and shot him a nasty look.
Jake swiped at him and J.R. ducked and ran, Jake in hot pursuit. In some way I was grateful, at least it distracted Jake from being nervous. Matter of fact, his being nervous was starting to shake my own newly-found confidence. I was having flashes of uneasiness, wondering if this was all real or if my father had knocked me into a coma somewhere and Bryan, Jake, and Jess were just figments of my imagination?
"Hey," one of my figments poked me in the shoulder.
"What?" I asked.
"Are you happy?" she asked with a grin.
"Are you?" I shot back.
"Oh, touchy!" she laughed and we headed inside, Jake and J.R. long gone. I missed him already.
"I think you should know how happy Jake is right now, even if he is having a hard time showing it," Jess said to me conspiratorially.
"Well, Bryan is pretty pleased himself these days," I replied.
"You are going to make this difficult, aren't you?" she asked.
"Even exchange of information, ma'am."
"Just one question," she wiggled her eyebrows. "Is he a good kisser?"
She stopped and pulled me into an alcove much as the hulk had previously and I flinched instinctively.
"Kris, I am not going to hit you. It makes me feel bad when you do that. What I tell you stays between us, all right?" I looked at her without replying.
"He's the best kisser I ever met, satisfied?" She scowled at me.
"You make no sense," I muttered to her.
"And just why is that?"
"Bryan is wonderful to you; he's changing his whole way of doing things because he loves you so much and you make it seem like every square inch he gains with you is a war. Why is it so hard for you to love this guy?" I asked her.
"I'm afraid!" she hissed.
"So is he! Listen to me! I love him and I love you. The only thing stopping you from being happy is you. Maybe you should spend a little more time thinking about the one person that you mean the world to instead of concentrating on ... wait, Jess, I'm sorry." I said as she pulled away from me and into the hallway.
"Jess, wait, please. Please?" I said to her retreating back. Damn! Why did I have to do that? I grumbled on my way to class, unhappy with my actions and totally at a loss to explain them. The attention Jake and I had gotten this morning was aggravating me now as well, only because I wanted to talk to Jake this morning, not watch him try and run down J.R.
I slid impatiently through the day, increasingly fidgety until lunch. I sat down next to Jake and he continued his nervous act, dropping things and generally being weird. Still, I brushed against him several times during the course of the meal and he giggled each time like I was tickling him. I wonder if he needs to seek medical attention? At last it was time for science class and Jess would have no opportunity to avoid me. When I walked in, I saw a mule-like expression on Jess's face and I knew it was all uphill from here.
"I'm not speaking to you," she said as I sat down.
"Oh? What a shame." I replied. Why was I antagonizing her?
"I mean it! You be quiet."
"I will if you will."
The silence sat between us like a physical thing, a thick wall of air that neither of us wanted to broach. I could tell she was seething, but I was also aggravated and felt I had a point as well. True, I had no business delving into her relationship, but the reverse held true, too.
"You just think you know it all don't you?" she whispered savagely.
"Just what's plain to see!" I retorted.
"Not that it's any of your business, but Bryan is totally wonderful!"
"No shit Sherlock! Why do you think Jake and I pointed those facts out to you?"
"That's not the point!"
"What is then?"
"That...that I am still fucking scared, ok? You happy you got it out of me? I'm afraid all this `wonderful' that he gives me will put my dreams out of reach! What if he can't go to the same school I go to? What if he meets someone else? What if..."
"That's life," I said quietly. "You have to have a little faith in the person you're with. Bryan loves you. No one would work this hard for someone they didn't love with all their heart, and I think you are underestimating the power of a strong relationship."
Jess sat in silence as the science teacher droned on. He demonstrated the inner workings of a frog on the overhead projector. She chewed her lower lip, and I kept my mouth shut for once today.
"How can you say that about Bryan like you are so sure?"
"I think it's because Bryan was nice to me right from the start, and because he made me...love him too." I said with a small degree of surprise. Did I really just say that?
"I don't understand."
"Can we talk about this somewhere else?" I asked.
She nodded in tacit agreement, and we remained silent until the end of the lecture. My mind certainly wasn't on the frog's gonads or any other part of its reproductive systems, though the science teacher seemed to think this was fascinating. I knew we would talk later, and somehow I would have to convince her to trust Bryan and to have some faith, but how can I even begin to tell her that when I am not sure I can do the same with Jake?
I stopped at my locker at the end of the day, just to drop some books off and get what I needed for homework. As I opened the door, a small piece of folded paper fell out. I dropped my books in the bottom of the locker and grabbed the scrap, unfolding it curiously.
I have to go help Bryan get some kind of present for Jess. I think he said it's a two-week anniversary gift or something. I'll stop over tonight when I get back...
My cheeks felt hot as I read the note, smiling and feeling a lightness in my chest. Love. Could that really be true?
"Amazing how a note can make you feel like a total idiot, huh?" Jess asked as she appeared at my side.
"Yeah," I agreed as I tried to hide the note, "Jake has that effect on me. Although," I closed my locker door, "he also seems to bring out a more aggressive side of me that I never knew I had."
"Yeah, tell me about it. You almost took my head off this morning!" Jess scoffed.
"I'm sorry about that, I really am. I wanted to talk to Jake and all that extra crap happened. I don't have any classes with him so I don't normally see him, except for lunch. J.R. and his sense of humor kept Jake distracted, but I guess it's better than him being all nervous and stuff."
"Tell me about it. He has been nervous since the first time he laid eyes on you." Jess rolled her eyes for emphasis and I felt some heat in my face.
"No worse that Bryan when he talks about you," I retorted. "He gets this dreamy look and stares off into space, `Jess, Oh Jess'."
"Oh, that's nothing," Jess commented as we climbed into her car. "Jake was so wound up he couldn't even approach you. He needed to get a haircut and be all dressed up just to boost his confidence to meet you at Nelson's."
"He told me he had a family picture that day!" I told her.
"He lied oh so bad, it was all a setup!" she laughed gleefully. "I mean, my mother's car really was in the shop, but we just took advantage of the situation."
"Co-conspirators, huh?" I snorted.
"Well, like I said to you before, Jake is pretty smart about some things. But when it comes to you, he makes no sense at all."
"Bryan has been pining for you for so long, I am surprised he has any thought patterns left over for, say, breathing. How are his classes going anyway?"
"He got an eighty-seven on the history test. We have a nice point system worked out, and it seems to be helping his grades."
"Oh yeah? Enquiring minds want to know!"
She smiled demurely and faced the windshield as her face colored, "For every right answer he gets a kiss."
"I need to institute that system somehow!"
"So you never answered me. Is Jake a good kisser?" she asked. I sighed deeply in response, remembering the second kiss at his house. I then recalled the third and fourth, one melding into the other the sweetest of memories. "I'll take that as a yes!"
We arrived at my house and went inside, pausing long enough to introduce Jess to my grandfather. We sat at the kitchen table, Cokes in hand before she started off.
"Ok, so explain all this about why you think I should drop my fears and trust Bryan. Oh, and also that bit about loving him too."
I guess I should have felt embarrassed, but it seemed as though there would eventually be few to no secrets in this group. I also truly believed that this group would never hurt me, so it was ok if they knew whatever they wanted to. So thinking, my words came out uninhibited.
"I love Bryan. Not at first, but he grew on me so fast I was actually kind of shocked at the way I felt about him when I realized what the emotion was." She motioned for me to continue, so I did.
"I actually met Bryan the first day I was here. I had taken off walking down the street after my grandfather pissed me off. Bryan gave me a ride: a perfect stranger. If you ask me, I think my grandfather had something to do with that. Anyway, since then he's been good to me; comforting me and making me feel as though I was important to him. I even wondered if he was just friends with me because you and I got along so well, maybe to try and get in good with you.
"But the things he does, the things he says, and I admit, the way he looks made me love him." I finally did squirm a bit, breaking eye contact before looking at her again. "You see, once I knew he loved you, I knew that I had to help him because I loved him. I realized that loving someone isn't about me, it's about him. I saw that he felt that way for you, would do anything for you, so I knew I had to give him up. I knew I had to help him because I loved him...and because I was sure, completely sure, that he loved you."
"You amaze me, Elf," she said in a near whisper. "Have you done anything that was just for you?"
"Of course. I know Jake can make me happy and I discovered that I wanted to make him happy. I hadn't planned on telling him so soon, but that's just the way it worked out."
"You seem so much more confident than you did yesterday," she smiled and covered my hand with hers.
"I know for sure someone loves me; it makes all the difference," I said with a blush and a smile.
"You really believe in Bryan, don't you?"
"I really do. I'd follow Bryan through the gates of Hell if he said that's where he needed me to go. I'd go through those same gates if I thought Jake was on the other side of them. Or you," I broke eye contact again.
That type of dramatic statement hung in the air between us, and we simply looked at one another. The depths of these feelings Bryan gave me, awakened in me seemed to have allowed me to become more alive than I remember.
"Oh my, this is pretty heavy stuff!" Jess waved her hand at her face as if she were too hot.
"Yeah, I guess it is a lot to take in all at once."
"We need to lighten the mood!"
"Bryan looks especially good in khakis, bent over." I said with a grin.
I always avoided the tire machine, it just looked dangerous. It reminded me of some medieval torture device, what with the spinning bar in the middle and the threaded shaft rising out to impale some unlucky person. Besides, it smelled funny. My grandfather operated the device, putting the last of my tires onto the aluminum rims. As he completed them, I took them to the balancer and attached tiny weights to the rim at points the machine indicated. This kept the steering wheel from vibrating in my hand and improved the life of the tire, he told me.
Once they balanced, we wheeled them over to the car and attached them, torquing the lugs to the prescribed amount of foot-pounds. They looked sharp on the car, nice clean rims glinting under the light of the overhead lights. My grandfather handed me a box, pronouncing its contents to be a starter and that I should install it.
Jess walked out in a set of coveralls that my grandfather had and walked confidently up to me.
"You sure about this?" I asked her.
"Very," she nodded. "Call me crazy, but this car has spent time with all of you and I think I could use some time with it too. Kind of makes the car special to all of us, you know? We all had a hand in helping to bring it somewhere. Or something," she shrugged and I just shook my head at her.
"Okay," I said while lying down on the creeper and sliding under the car, "Hand me the ratchet with the seventeen millimeter socket."
Quiet greeted me, and then a small mutter, "This is going to be harder than I thought. Which one is the ratchet?"
"The thing there, the round one," I was pointing distractedly.
"This funny looking thing?"
"And you want seventeen sockets? You can't use them all at once can you?"
"I need the seventeen millimeter socket, Jess."
"Oh. Is that the one with the little seventeen on the side?"
"It's kind of cute!"
"Can I have the damn socket now?"
"Oh, yeah, sure!" she rolled the socket to me under the car. I proceeded to undo the wires for the starter, getting the fourteen myself as I figured it would be faster. Jess had contented herself with polishing the dash and other small cleaning chores. She had found a screwdriver and had removed the lenses from the taillights and was cleaning them out. I ducked back under the car and went back to work on the starter.
"Kind of looks like that scene from the Wizard of Oz, you know where the witch is under the house and only her legs are sticking out?" Bryan commented. I hadn't heard him get here, even!
"Hey, I like those legs. Weren't you paying attention at the pool?" Jake chimed in.
"Jake!" I said from under the car.
"I liked them too, hi Bry," Jess said. I watched her shoes make their way over to Bryan's and then stretch up as her face undoubtedly met his. I still felt a minor pang of jealousy, but I had that ripped away from me when I was pulled out from under the car by my legs.
"Hey, Bryan just got a kiss, I'm feeling left out!" Jake said to me, eyes sparkling. I would have been indignant, except he used the eyes on me, and you know how I can't resist that.
Life was good.
After Jess and Bryan cleared out, Jake and I walked around putting tools away and I kept shooting longing looks at my car. Unfortunately, it was still a ways off from being roadworthy. Grandpa said all the hoses needed to be replaced, and he discovered the radiator was rotted beyond all hope of holding fluid. The belts were here, at least, and the starter was in. My grandfather walked out, knuckling his back and glaring at me.
"What?" I asked.
"Your doctor's appointment is all set for Wednesday afternoon. Do you think you can tear yourself away from Jake long enough to go?"
"Very funny," I muttered, "Why do I have a doctor's appointment?"
"Yeah, he feels fine to me," Jake quipped and I threw a small wrench at him.
"Because you haven't had a checkup since you got here for one, and for two you need to have a doctor clear you so you can get your permit in this state."
"My permit?" I parroted.
"Yeah, you need one of those to drive," Jake said to me in a serious tone. I shot him a look.
"We need to get that done so you can drive this thing once it's done." My grandfather eyed me, "Unless we're just fixing it up for shits and giggles?"
"I guess I just—it never crossed my mind."
"That's cause you're too short. Your brain is too close to your asshole." My grandfather snickered and went inside. Oh, ok, now that means war.
Jake was giggling behind me and I shot him a look. He just giggled even more, and I hate to admit this, but he looked downright adorable doing it. How are you supposed to kick someone's ass and kiss them all over at the same time? I decided I'd kick his ass later, and moved into kiss him for the time being.
Ten minutes later, or maybe it was twenty? --time seems to become elastic when I am attached to Jake at the mouth--my grandfather not-so-gently informed us it was time for Jake to go home. I walked him to the door, and we took another five to fifteen minutes to say good night. Grandpa dropped an empty tool carrier on the floor as a warning shot. I closed the door and tried to catch my breath before turning to face my grandfather.
"You two are as bad as any randy teenagers I ever met. No pecker tracks on my couch," and with that he turned and went back inside. Pecker tracks? I thought I'd die of embarrassment. At least Jake wasn't there to hear it.
The next couple of days went by quickly, even the doctor's visit wasn't a big deal. Grandpa had to go with me for the insurance and stuff. It seems New York State apparently helped him with my insurance for taking in what would have been a ward of the state. As far as New York is concerned, they couldn't thank grandpa enough for getting me into Pennsylvania. So after all that and they declared me fit and healthy, and made no comments about me being short for my age, we headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for my permit.
DMV is the one place you do not want to go to in a big hurry. In fact, if you have any appointments the rest of the week—you may as well cancel them. I had never seen more apathetic people with the possible exception of students filing in for a math test. We took a number from the dispenser near the door. It read `109' and the lighted `Now Serving' sign read `58'.
"Ok, I got your birth certificate right here and your Social Security card, so we got your credentials covered. The forms are filled out, so all we have to do is wait for our turn and get your license to clear sidewalks," Grandpa grinned at me.
I think he was more excited than I was, if that was possible. I flipped through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation pamphlet for new drivers. It was pretty boring stuff, but at least it was concise. Just eighty-five pages, almost a freaking novella!
"Of course I can read that line, young man! Watch your tone!"
Grandpa and I both looked up to see Eleanor upbraiding some young DMV employee, who was anything but apathetic now.
"Ma'am, I assure you I didn't mean to imply..." he began.
"Imply nothing! Why don't you just announce you think I'm as blind as a bat? Didn't your mother teach you any manners Ronald? I know she did. You couldn't have grown up in that house and not be taught manners!"
"She is blind as a bat, but she still gets a license every year because she browbeats these young clerks!" Grandpa chuckled. "You have got to admire the forthright power of that woman."
"Why Grandpa, are you saying loving things about Eleanor?" I asked.
"I hardly call that loving, Kristopher."
"Ok, Grandpa. Whatever you say, Grandpa."
"Kris," Grandpa warned.
"Why are you hassling me, Ronald? Do I look like I have time for your shenanigans? I have several things to do, and quibbling with you isn't high on my list." Eleanor spoke stridently from across the room.
Moments later Eleanor strode across the room, license renewal in her hands and a satisfied look on her face.
"Impressive performance," my grandfather said.
Eleanor looked at us in surprise, but switched gears quickly.
"Well, these kids have to be reminded that old doesn't mean feeble-minded. How are you Kristopher?"
"Fine Ma'am," I replied.
"Congratulations, Bryan says you and Jake are an item."
"Oh, um, thanks." I said, my cheeks flushing I am sure. Eleanor took this as an invitation to sit down next to me.
"Are the two of you going to the prom together?"
"Prom, the dance. It's an important event, very romantic and all that. I know your grandfather doesn't know a thing about romance, but I hoped you'd be a little better off."
"I have more romantic notions than Hallmark," my grandfather harrumphed.
"So then you should think about suits. If it's a spring formal you'll want white of course," Eleanor prattled on. Was she out of her ancient head?
"We haven't really discussed it." Jesus, we just started dating. If Jake was nervous about just dating, he'd lose his mind over the prom. Still, he'd look edible in a white suit and a cummerbund to set off his eyes.
"Well, you should plan early especially if you want a limousine and all that."
"Well, I don't know if Jake wants," I began.
"Why shouldn't he want to go with you?" my grandfather asked. Oh shit.
"I didn't say he wouldn't want to."
"Well, you'll need a suit. My nephew runs a shop in town, makes the nicest suits."
"My friend Barney runs a limo place a couple of towns over, he owes me a few favors," my grandfather chimed in.
"Wait!" I thought frantically to derail these two. "My school probably doesn't allow same-sex couples."
"We'll see about that!"