|"You don't need to
go out of your way, I can walk," I said to Jake.
"It's about a mile to your house, and with your little legs you wouldn't be home until sometime tomorrow," Jess snickered. I poked my tongue out at her.
"I just don't want to be an inconvenience," I nodded at Jake, "since it looks like he's dressed to meet someone."
"Actually I am on my way home, so...it wouldn't be any problem. I mean, if you want a ride. Um, a ride home, you know. Really."
This was too weird; I couldn't quite grasp what was going on here. Don't get me wrong, I had sneaky suspicions, and that was scaring the crap out of me. Did Jess know? Did Jake know? If she knew, what was she up to? If Jake knows, what is he up to? Is there any possibility that I had this all wrong and that Jess's motives were completely pure? Ok, we can safely throw that option out the window, there isn't anything pure about Jess. So what about Jake? Could she have outed me to him if she knows?
"So, I'll see you in class tomorrow, ok, Kris? Great! Bye, Jake, I appreciate this!" Jess swept towards the door and left me seated with Jake, who looked like he was uncomfortable.
"Jake, I'm...sorry. You don't have to wait for me; I don't know why she did that." I said to him.
"Um, it's ok, I don't mind," he replied, "I would care if it was her, she talks too much when she is a passenger. I hate back seat drivers," he cracked a smile.
"Sounds like driving with my grandfather, except that he drives and criticizes all at once," I replied.
"Yeah, I heard he can be a little strange, least that's the impression I get from Bryan," he replied.
"You and Bryan been friends very long?" I asked.
"Since forever, pretty much. My dad owns this little landscaping business and he has been doing their house for years, as well as their business."
"Bryan's dad owns a business?" I asked.
"Yeah, they run a little contracting supply place. There isn't any real local competition so they do pretty well, they don't want for anything. Bryan's mom doesn't even need to work, she just sits home and bosses some lady around to clean the place," Jake replied.
"He never told me that, I just know him through the work his Aunt has him do, `cause he suckers me into helping him."
"Yeah," Jake laughed, "He does that to me too, especially if he needs to do something himself to Maybelle. I swear, he could teach dogs to give a pleading look!"
I laughed along with him, knowing full well the power of Bryan's eyes. "So how did you guys get to be friends?" I asked while I swirled my straw in my empty glass absently.
"Oh, well, Dad used to bring me with him during the summers once I was like eight, gave me little things to do, but the business was small then and we couldn't afford a babysitter, so I met Bryan at his house and we started to hang out some and play while I was there. His mom is pretty demanding and used to have my dad there a few times a week to do one thing or another. Then she told her husband he should make his place look better and he hired my dad too. He did some really nice landscaping, used wood chips around the trees and got some real nice flowers and whatnot. Word got around that he did good work, so things got better with money.
Once I got a little older he let me stay at home and Bryan and I would play all the time, hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, some video games when his mom finally let his dad give him a system. JR started to hang out with us too, right about then, and he was pretty cool."
"So I guess his mom is pretty intense, huh?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's ok, just real...I dunno, pushy I guess. She talks a lot about what he could be, and she has never asked him what he wants to do. She'll like, start with some shit about how he could be a doctor and leave all this small town stuff behind, but when she says it? It's like she's including me in that 'stuff' category. JR says he thinks that's what she means too, like we really aren't good enough to be his friends or something," Jake said with a tinge of sadness.
"Bryan says you guys are pretty cool," I offered. He looked up and smiled at me.
"He better, we'll kick his ass!" he laughed and I smiled back at him.
"Bryan seems like he's a really good guy though," I smiled slyly; "I think he has a thing for Jess."
"No, really, Einstein?" Jake laughed merrily, "Bryan has liked her forever, since they were like ten. I'll be right back, I need to use the bathroom," Jake said as he got up and left the table.
I sighed in frustration as soon as he was out of earshot. Since he was ten? I was just fishing for information; I didn't expect to get something like that though. I was hoping for something a little more...hope inspiring. Knowing this, I was completely demoralized about Bryan and the possibilities with him I had begun to hope for. If you have wanted someone since you were ten, well, you probably wouldn't swing to meet someone you just met, right?
It only made sense, I tried to tell myself. You saw the signs, how he reacts when you mention her name, or when he sees her he looks like a lost puppy. And Jess? Does she like him or not?
"So, um, you and Jess seem to be pretty tight, huh?" he asked as he retook his seat.
"Well, we get along pretty well, when she isn't abandoning me on her unsuspecting friends," I smirked at him as I tried to hide my sense of loss. Why was this so hard? It wasn't like I even knew him well enough to ask him out or something, but jeez, this was unexpected. I guess...I guess I was hoping for something more than I realized.
"Well, that's just about the worst thing she does, besides forbid you to talk about the fact that she likes Bryan as much as he likes her," he smiled slyly.
"Yeah, I kind of figured that one out on my own at the mall last week," I replied.
"Oh, let me guess," he smiled at me knowingly; "you said Bryan and she threatened to castrate you?"
"Something like that," I replied dryly.
"Yeah, she's a little sensitive about that. I just wish she could see that he's a good guy and would be good to her, and for her."
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
"Well, her big problem is she wants to get out of here, and she doesn't want anyone to hold her back. She's a smart girl, when she has kids she wants to plan it, so she can take care of them. She doesn't want to be leaning out of a trailer with snot nosed kids running around in hand me downs, she wants to be able to provide and she doesn't want to have to rely on someone else to handle that for her. So, if she gets her education..." he inclined his head at me in a knowing fashion.
"Then she doesn't have to rely on someone working the third shift at the fertilizer plant in Pulaski, right?" I asked.
"Man, she needs a new line. I mean, that was funny the first time, but she needs to get new speech writers or just buy a new phrase," he shook his head and laughed softly.
"But Bryan wants to stay here," I said with a small frown.
"Well, Bryan doesn't really know what he wants, except that if it's not what his mom wants, he's all for it."
"Has he talked to you about that?" I asked, remembering that Bryan had said he couldn't have these sorts of conversations with JR or Jake.
"Not in so many words. Bryan isn't a bare your soul kind of guy, he does drop hints though, and if you pay attention, you can decipher his form of sign language."
"I'm not sure I understand," I replied, but I was starting to get a glimmer of that in the back of my mind. He tells me that he can't talk to Jake and JR, but then he keeps us separated so we can't share information either. Is that one way he performs sign language?
"Well, he drops hints. He likes to read the Popular Mechanics magazines, stuff like that. You won't see too many of them, but if you ever slid through his stacks of Sports Illustrated or the occasional Playboy, you'd find them. He doesn't flaunt it, but one time he saw this article on the nuclear mechanics of a submarine and he was talking about it for a few days. If you ask about those things, he shuts down, especially since his mother says stupid shit like," at this point he looked down his nose at me and tried to muster a regal voice, "he should aspire to more lofty goals than a mechanic."
I goggled at the mind boggling concept. Let's check the facts here; he's a smart kid who gets good grades, unlike me who gets average grades in almost everything. He's smart and he helps his aunt out. I mean, sure he gets a few bucks from her somewhat illicitly, but I can't see him doing anything harmful. Me? I stole cars, peddled Mary Jane cigarettes to kids in my grade and just tried to avoid getting hit in my snot locker. Who wouldn't want a kid as good as that? Why would you ignore the opportunity to let that child grow into their dreams?
I was hit by an epiphany right then. That's a good word, huh? Makes some people look at you like a dog does when it hears a funny noise, all cocked off to one side and shit. See, that means that you come to this big, life changing realization. I guess most of the time an epiphany is supposed to be a good thing, but this time it sucked.
Oh boy, did it suck.
Realizing that my chances with Bryan were about as good as my chances with having my parents show up all clean and sober and wanting me, that was unexpectedly crushing. Realizing that I also had to give him away because I had grown attached to him, maybe even loved him a little, well that was enough to break my heart.
"Kris, jeez, you ok? You look like you just lost your best friend."
"No, no I'm fine," I mumbled, "just thinking." And I did think, something like Pooh bear in his meditative state. You know the one I mean? He sits under a tree and says over and over 'think, think. Think, think.' It was like that, stuck on one thought over and over. I have to give him up before I even got him. I have to give him up before I even got him.
"Um," Jake looked down at his watch and became distinctly uncomfortable, "You want me to bring you home?" he asked. I was on auto-pilot and simply nodded my head at him. He stood, and I followed him, zombie like as my mind tried to wrap itself around the knowledge that the boy I wanted wasn't ever going to be a possibility. More so that I had to help him, was compelled, maybe even obligated to see him happy. After all, if you love someone, you have to do what's best for them, right? It's not about you, what you want or what you dream, you have to take care of them, of their dreams and their needs. You see, that was the real meaning of my epiphany, love isn't holding someone tight and strangling their dreams, it was about helping them to realize those dreams.
Even if it means helping them to achieve love with someone else. Love sucks.
"So, um, am I forgiven?" Jake asked and I started out of my fog to see him standing by the car with the door held open for me, a slightly apprehensive look on his face.
"I'm sorry?" I asked, truly at a loss.
"I said I didn't mean to bring you down, you seem majorly bummed now." He had an earnest expression on his face and I felt stupid again for forgetting that I was with someone, who I was now shutting out because I was lost in my own little drama.
"No, you didn't do anything, Jake; I was just thinking is all. I'm sorry," I said.
"No harm, no foul. So, you want that lift?" he asked. "Not to influence your decision, but if you don't ride with me, Jess will assume I insulted you and rake me over the coals, so..." he smiled at me and gave me a pretty decent puppy dog look, and I broke down pretty fast under that. I nodded and climbed into the car and he closed the door behind me.
I was expecting his car to be something like Maybelle, being as he was a motor head, according to Bryan. Instead he drove a little Volkswagen Golf, a stick shift that he handled very well.
"Is this your car?" I asked.
"My mom's, actually. They are looking at new cars now, but she really likes this one so I am going to have to fight her to get it. It's awesome, little pocket rocket, man!" he smiled as the car accelerated and bounded down the street. I had to admit, the car was better for your long term hearing than Maybelle, and Jake's obvious talent with the shifting made the car seem to really jump.
"Wow, this little thing really can move," I said as I strapped my seatbelt.
"It's a GTI, you can do all kinds of things to the engine to make it really fly, but Mom says I drive too fast as it is and so she only takes it to the dealer so neither myself or my dad can get it hopped up," he said as he downshifted and took a turn, making the front wheels jump and chirp on the pavement as they bounced in their effort to scrabble purchase and shoot forward down my street.
"I don't know where she would ever get that idea from!" I laughed as the car shot down the street and just as quickly decelerated in front of my grandfather's driveway, turning down the drive and approaching at a sedate pace so as to make a decent impression on my grandfather, no doubt. Poor Jake, he didn't know my grandfather already had ideas about him and his reputation.
"So what were you dressed up so nice for?" I asked by way of conversation as we pulled up in front of the garage door.
"Family picture, Mom wanted to put one together for my grandparents for Christmas, so they decided to get it done early."
"Plan ahead kind of people, huh?" I asked.
"Pretty much, Mom does the company's books, and a few other people's, like doctor's offices and stuff."
"So I guess you guys don't want for much either then, huh?" I commented.
"We have what we need. I remember what it was to be poor, having soup and sandwiches for dinner `cause it was cheap, not `cause it was what we wanted. But my parents worked hard and things got better." Jake shrugged his shoulders at me and gave me a soft smile.
"That's cool, sounds like your folks are pretty cool then," I commented. I also felt a twinge of jealousy at the idea that my parents couldn't do the same for me. Again I had to remind myself of who and what I was, and Jake I was not. Quiet, unassuming, and charming in an unusual way.
"Um, yeah, so..." Jake smiled again.
"Oh, yeah, you probably want to go home, huh? Right," I said as I unbuckled my belt and opened the door, "thanks for the ride, Jake."
"Yeah, um, so you'll give Jess a good report on me, right?" he said, giving me the puppy dog look again. You know, he does that pretty well.
"Well, you didn't cut me into little pieces and try to sell me off on ebay, so yeah," I smiled, "good report it is."
"Cool," he smiled back, "Uh, can I use your phone before I go?"
"Sure, come on in," I said as I closed his door and headed for the door on the side of the garage as the main door was down.
"Kris, will you get me the impact fourteen and the air gun?" my grandfather asked from beneath a late model Jetta.
"The fourteen what?" I asked, feeling stupid.
"Fourteen millimeter socket," Jake answered me, "Six or twelve point?" he asked my grandfather.
"Six," he answered. I opened the drawer with the sockets and Jake located the socket while I got the gun. At least I knew what that was!
My grandfather mumbled his thanks and the air gun sounded quickly three times before he scooted out from under the car. He squinted at me and then focused on Jake.
"Well, maybe you can teach him tools, he refuses to learn from me," he shook his head and went on about his work while I slunk towards the door to the house, demoralized from Jake's news and my grandfather's mild recrimination.
"Phone's on the wall," I said, making a dismissive wave as I passed the kitchen and slumped onto the couch. I heard Jake make his phone call, dimly though as I really didn't pay much attention. This thing about Bryan was bothering me way too much, and I wasn't completely sure why. Jake entered the room and stood at the end of the couch and I looked up at him. His cheeks had a bit of color to them and he looked every inch the shy guy, and as much as I felt some amount of resentment at his bearing bad news, but seeing him wiped that from me, leaving a guilty residue.
"So you learning about mechanics?" he asked me.
"Yeah, my grandfather is trying to teach me, but I guess I am a slow learner," I replied with a rueful smile.
"Well, if you want some help, I'm a little bit of a motor-head," he replied with a small grin.
"Well, my grandfather gave me my own car, but it doesn't run. The last friend I showed it to laughed at me," I said, giving him the one eyed squinting glare that my grandfather probably had trademarked.
"Scout's honor, no laughing," he said with his hand in the air like a scout's honor kind of thing.
"Ok, but I warn you, any laughing and I may have to kick you in the shins," I smirked at him and he laughed.
"Deal," he said and I got myself off the couch and headed back towards the garage. We headed over to the far left hand corner from the door where my car sat, hood up and quite the disaster.
"My car," I said with a grand sweeping gesture. He looked at me uncertainly and then walked over to the car. He switched on a drop light and focused it on the engine, belts hanging off their pulleys and hoses dangling like great sewer pipes in an alien landscape.
"What are you guys doing to it?" he asked.
"We are doing what is known as a resurrection," my grandfather said as he walked over to us, "you know something about cars?"
"Yeah, I help Bryan with his sometimes, and I work with my dad on his stuff," Jake replied easily.
"I thought your dad took his stuff to the dealer?" he squinted at Jake.
"No, he gets some parts there, but he's always done his own work," Jake informed him.
"Oh, who knew?" he said with a shrug, "We're pulling the head, the gasket's blown. I had Mr. Goodwrench here drain the fluids and pull the valve cover. The manifolds have to come off and then the head bolts," my grandfather told Jake, who apparently understood the conversation. Manifold? What the heck was a manifold?
"Ok, that shouldn't be that hard," Jake said to me with a reassuring smile.
"Well, go to it, boys," my grandfather said as he walked off, resuming his paying gig.
"Ready, Mr. Goodwrench?" Jake asked with an ill concealed grin.
"What about our deal? No laughing!" I reminded him.
"I wasn't allowed to laugh at the car, you never said anything about you!" he said, beginning to giggle, and that sound was infectious. Once we settled down, we got changed and I began to learn how to remove manifolds. Why do I need more than one?