|I dont believe
it! That absolute bitch! My grandfather bellowed from the living
room. Jake had long since departed and I completed what little homework
I had. Grandpa had made chicken cacciatore for dinner, while instructing
me on how rice really could be made without it being usable for building
walls. I wandered out of my bedroom to find him sitting in his chair,
a copy of the TV guide at his feet, cover held in his hand.
Everything ok, grandpa? I asked.
I didnt think she had the balls, Kris, but by God, he chuckled as he waved the cover of the magazine at me, the old bag is craftier than I thought.
What do you mean? I said with a small grin.
Eleanor has been gluing this weeks cover to last weeks TV Guide so I cant tell when my programs are on.
How do you know its her? I asked.
Well, who do you think it is? Divine intervention made cats change the cover of my TV Guide? He snorted in amusement before announcing he was going to the store to buy a new TV Guide. I retraced my steps to my room, intent on nothing more than sleep; my mind had other ideas, however.
Jake was a total enigma to me. He was a nice guy to be sure, and a fountain of information about Bryan and people in general. Another plus was he didnt make fun of my car. I now understood the difference between a ratchet and a wrench and I now knew why I needed more than one manifold. I also knew that Jake had really smooth skin and being close to him was a very pleasant feeling. I would say it was calming, and at the same time exciting. Plus there was the fact he had put on some of my sweat pants and an oversized tee shirt I had. Ok, honestly, the tee is oversized on me but fit him just fine. He has one fine body hidden under all those clothes he wears. In fact, he shouldnt be allowed to wear clothes.
In case you havent been paying attention, I hadnt exactly run a full social schedule before coming here. Already I felt like I had a home and friends. I mean, I missed Jay once in a while, but to be honest, I didnt think of him all that often now. Does that make me a bad person? Should I be missing him more than I do now? I find myself wondering about that more and more and wondering what that says of me as a person. Jay hung out with me when others wouldnt, and he never pushed me about my folks or the shitty situation I was in. I miss him most when its dark out, I miss his not judging me. I miss you Jay.
Jess was great fun, but I suspected she was up to something and it didnt make any sense. I figure part of it is getting the focus off herself and her obvious interest in Bryan, but outside of that I just didnt know. Did my eyes rest on Bryan just a little too long at some point?
Then there was Bryan, and how was I supposed to deal with all these feelings about him? This wasnt like lusting over Jonathan Taylor Thomas! Bryan was here, he talked to me on almost a daily basis. What would he think if he knew how I was feeling? What would he say if he found out? Would he care or would he just shrug, say its all good, and move on to the next form of entertainment? What would I do if he found out? Ok, at last one I can answer.
Run screaming and crying like a little bitch.
As I lay in my little angst driven state, the phone began to ring. I trotted out to the living room for the cordless phone and answered.
Kris? Its Jess.
Hey, whats up girlie? I laughed into the phone as I pictured her scrunching her nose at my comment.
Well, someone is in a good mood. Did you run over a small child or something? she asked with a chuckle.
No, just chillin while I wait to fall asleep. Whats up? I asked.
Well, I wanted to apologize for sticking you with Jake. I really did forget I had to pick my mom up at work, her car was in the shop for new tires, she said sounding a little recalcitrant. Jake was nice to you though, wasnt he?
Yeah, he was, I bit my tongue as I realized I was about to say he was sweet, nice. He was really understanding about you just dumping me, so that was ok in the end.
Thats good then, Jake is a real sweetheart. Im hoping hell wear his bathing suit on Saturday, that would definitely make the party worth it! She giggled into the phone.
You have a pool? I asked. My mind was filled with Jake, without his shirt and dripping wet. One trickle running down his smooth chest, hanging on a nipple .
Hello! Jess said into my ear.
Im sorry, what? I asked a bit flustered.
I said yes, we have a pool. Can you swim? What, they dont have pools in New York? she sniggered.
Yeah, they do I just How do I tell her I had an unbidden image of a seductively succulent Jake in my head?
Dont worry, I can give you water wings for the deep end, she laughed out loud and I turned scarlet on my end of the phone. Once in a while I get these awful, terrible, fabulous ideas. I had one just then.
Well, it sounds like fun, but I dont think I can go, I said smoothly.
Why not? she said sharply. She took the bait, now to close the trap!
Bryan and I are going to work on my car that day. I dont mind missing the work, but Bryan has already cleared his schedule to help me out, you know? I said feeling quite smug.
Why do you insist on hanging out with him? Im telling you hes a bad influence, she muttered.
I think there is more to Bryan than you give him credit for, Jess, I replied breezily.
I disagree, but you have to come to the party! she whined. I had her now!
I cant just drop Bryan, Jess, I said in my best patient voice. You know the voice I mean, the one you use when you have to speak to someone really slowly, because if you go to fast you will confuse them?
Ok, ok, fine, she sighed dramatically, bring him along too.
Seriously? I asked, grinning like a madman inside.
Yeah, I guess so.
Thanks Jess, thats nice of you. Hey, Ill tell him to bring his bathing suit too, maybe you can get two for the price of one?
You, she snorted, are a very bad little elf. Absolutely wicked.
I am not, I replied as the telltale click of a line being hung up sounded in my ear. Ok, I definitely got a few points back on her. Plus I get to see Bryan in a bathing suit, and he and Jess will be at the same function!
I could barely sleep while wondering what
Bryans backside would look like in wet shorts.
School the next day was uneventful until third period, which is just before lunch. I was heading out of the room when I was snatched into an alcove, which scared the shit out of me to start with. This hulk of a guy stared me down, the dim spark of intelligence in his eyes looking as if it were waxing and waning like a weak candle flame in a hurricane.
Words of advice, stay away from Jessica Hussey. Shes my girl, he looked at me intently and then remarked coldly, Dont you forget it.
He moved through the crowd, away from me thankfully, like a snowplow moves through covered streets. For my part, I was shaking uncontrollably in the alcove at my close encounter with the massive boy-mountain. The tremble quickly grew beyond my control and my knees suddenly could not keep me standing, and I dropped to the cold marble floor. My mind screamed to get off the floor, because those little bits of concrete would soon be approaching and pounding my ribs and before you knew it, my snot locker would be bleeding again. That always happened if you were unwise enough to drop to the floor, it was no sanctuary. Curling into a ball was worst, it infuriated the concrete and they would rain down in earnest, and so I refrained from making myself into a ball.
The walls of the school faded from my sight and I was confronted instead with the stained walls of my parents house. The stink of alcohol and stale cigarettes lay heavy in my nostrils. My minds eye conjured up the image of my father and overlaid the smells on his breath as he leaned in and told me where he was going to make me hurt.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the sounds of people in the halls and the murmurs they make in conversation brought me back to the real world once again. I still shook somewhat, and beads of sweat stood on my forehead and ran down into my eyes, fear took hold in my heart again.
I sat in the auditorium for lunch, not feeling hungry and not being able to go anywhere else. The large room was empty, green velour type cloth covering the seats with gold trim to match the school colors. My eyes were haunted, I am sure of that without the aid of a mirror. Panic was only a few heartbeats away as I curled up in the seat and tried to calm myself. Who was that mountain of a kid? Why did he think he owned Jess, and why would he think I was seeing her or something? Ok, second one I can figure out, but Jess wasnt dating anyone. I thought that was common knowledge. So I am the victim of some nutcase who spends his time in a closet fantasizing that he is in a relationship with Jess?
The image of the guy towering over me, in my face suddenly cowed me and froze my thinking again. I pounded my fist on the seat cushion next to me in impotent rage; I thought this was behind me! This was supposed to be my past! My body shuddered and I fought for control of my twitching muscles.
Science class was extremely uncomfortable, and Jess knew something was up. She apologized for hanging up on me, she tried everything she could I imagine, but I was wrapped tight around my fear, worried that I would be found out if I talked to her and be punished. Paranoia, just what I needed right now.
All I could muster was a sad look and shaking my head at her as I left Science and headed for my last class of the day. I left school in a daze, slowly walking home as my mind stayed in overload. Why had that happened? Obviously there was a misunderstanding, but how could I keep this goon away from me? In the space of six hours I had gone from just fine to the bottom of the barrel again.
Maybelle growled up by my side, a fact not even my distracted mind could ignore and there was Bryan, smiling and confident behind the wheel of his baby. Why couldnt fate have smiled on me and made me like Bryan? With his roguish good looks and devil may care attitude, why couldnt I be like that? I could excel then too, I could not be afraid of things.
Hop in, bro, and he pushed the door open for me. I stared at him blankly for a moment and his smile faltered for a second. He was here for me, he would protect me, and my mind quieted in sudden relief at this notion that Bryan was my protector. I climbed into the beast, my knights rusting steed.
You look pretty zoned, whats up? Bryan asked as we pulled away from the curb.
I looked at him sadly. Did I really just think he could help? Did I actually think he could or would want to help me just a moment ago? I was suddenly awash in a huge wave of depression as I felt trapped once more, slipping into a sullen silence. Maybelle growled and farted as we cruised down my street, and right past the garage. I glanced at Bryan, but he simply drove, a neutral expression on his face.
I sat quietly and awaited my fate, not sure why Bryan would be mad, but sure that I deserved it somehow. Maybe he thought I was trying to date Jess too and wanted to explain the pecking order on that matter? Maybelle slowed and turned into a tree lined drive that ended in front of a modern looking house. Cast concrete lions sat on either side of the door and a brass knocker hung form the red door. The house was done in white, with a muted red trim, but the door was bright as a drunks nose on a bender.
Maybelles engine performed a faux death, coughed and turned over a few more times, then quieted for good.
Come on inside, Bryan said in a quiet tone. I climbed out of the car and felt the tremble start in my hands. I folded them in front of me, gripping the loop of my book bag to steady them. Musnt show fear, it always feeds the fury. He climbed the few cast concrete stairs to the red door, past the sentinel lions and I followed him. We walked to the back of the house to the kitchen, done in tan tile and dark wood trim, complete with a center island. He waved me to a stool on one side of the island.
Coke? he asked. I looked at him with fear and he threw up his hands in frustration. I ducked, not just flinched, but ducked outright.
Jesus, Kris? I wasnt going to hit you, man. Kris? Its ok, no ones gonna hurt you, he murmured while I stood in fear and chided myself for being in this state. He stood a few feet away from me, hands out in front of him, open and palm up. He spoke in soothing tones as he moved closer to me, as though I were an exotic and skittish animal prone to bolting at sudden movement. He eventually made contact with my arm, slowly closing a hand around my bicep, and steered me slowly but insistently back to the island.
I sat, at his direction, and he moved to the fridge, opening two sodas and placing one in front of me before seating himself on the other side of the island.
Kris, I dont know whats up, but I think you need to talk. Why dont you tell me whats going on? he asked in a soothing tone. I looked at him as if he were sprouting a penis from his neck, was he insane?
Kris, I want to help, he said.
You cant help me, I said softly, No one can. Its starting all over again. I thought it was over, I thought I was safe but Im not. No one can help me. I was surprised at the loss in the words, the hollow sound of a voice that could surely not be my own. Could I possibly sound that whiney and pathetic? I sure hope not.
Jesus, I knew it was serious if Jess talked to me, but Kris, tell me whats going on? he asked softly.
I couldnt bear to tell him, I just couldnt. He was being so nice to me, how could I tell him how fucked up I really was? How do you tell s a nice upper middle class guy you dont know all that well that your fathers image rears up at you when you feel threatened? How do you tell him that that you are afraid someone is going to beat you until you have trouble breathing, like your father used to do? How do you tell someone how a creak in the floor can send your heart beating like well, like Bryan Shantz in a nice set of cargo pants?
The image brought a softening to my face, and I suspect, it brought me one step closer to being back in the here and now and not in my fathers house. I was once step closer to not being able to smell the stale breath and the stink of his sour sweat. No creaks to worry me right now, I had Bryan.
Kris, um, I know we havent been friends for, like, years or anything. But, uh, I shared some pretty personal stuff with you and if you need to say something anything to some one, Ill listen to you, his voice hitched, If you want me to.
Bryan, I whispered. What do I say?
Yeah? he asked.
Thank you, I mustered. He sat across from me, mute as I slowly settled back into a reality where Bryan was my friend and my father was hundreds of miles away, not close enough to reach me with his concrete feet or creaky floors.
Kris, are you ok? Bryan asked.
I My voice faltered and my mind wondered, are we ok? Are we really, really ok?
Kris? he whispered.
No, no Im not ok. Im a pretty fucked up guy, I said with a grim smile. I have a lot of things that I have to deal with and some things, well, I guess I just didnt expect them to come up.
Ever have a dislocated shoulder? I asked.
No, I dont play football or anything.
I dont play football either, but I had a few dislocations, I sighed and tried to still my fidgeting hands, My last one was from going down the front steps of my fathers house in New York, I fixed his gaze with my own, I got there because he punched me in the jaw and I landed on my shoulder.
Holy shit, he breathed, Is that how come you live with your grandfather? he asked and I nodded in response.
I could I shuddered and mustered my strength to continue, I could always tell when I was going to get it. I could hear the creaks as my father walked towards my room, his feet were very very hard and he I sniffled a bit, but gathered my strength, he hit me a lot.
Kris I never Im sorry, he looked at me sincerely.
You couldnt have known, I . I sighed deeply looking down at my hands before speaking again. I didnt want anyone to know.
Yeah, I guess I can see why you wouldnt. Thats pretty evil, man, beating on your own kid? Bryan gave a heavy sigh.
It happened everyday, sometimes more than once a day. I thought it was normal up until a few months ago. I figured everybodys parents drank and fought, and then one of them would knock their kid around. The night my father knocked me down the steps I was high as a kite, I had stolen a car and .
You stole a car? Bryan looked at me incredulously.
Yeah, I did, I said softly. Im not proud of it, and I dont smoke anymore either.
I never would have thought Im sorry you had to go through that, Kris.
Its all Im good for, Im not smart like you. I wont have the same things, the same opportunities and .
Kris, thats just fucked up to say that.
Its true, though. Im supposed to go through life getting my ass beat on and never feeling safe no matter where I am, I looked away from Bryans eyes, Im a loser.
That is just total bullshit. I am definitely not a moron, and I dont hang around with losers. Neither does Jess or Jake or JR for that matter, and no one is going to beat your ass, Kris. You have friends, and dont forget that. Bryan said firmly.
I sighed and replied, You just dont understand.
Well, why dont you explain it to me then?
Someone cornered me this afternoon, they threatened me and I I got scared, like I was gonna get beat again, I managed to say between ragged breaths as my body tried to break down in sobs. I refused to cry over things my father had done to me, I just had to resist!
Who was it? Bryan growled at me.
I have no idea, I sighed.
We need to find out who, he said determinedly
I sat, woolgathering and returning to my normal state of mind when something Bryan had said came back to me and I saw an opportunity to change the subject.
Bryan, did you say Jess talked to you? I asked.
Well, yeah, actually she did, he squirmed in his seat. A smile worked under his lips, not well restrained by any stretch. I felt a pang of jealousy and also one of sorrow.
What did she say? I asked calmly.
She said you seemed to like me and that she was worried about you. Asked me to talk to you, thats all, he said. His flushed cheeks told a different story. I thought for a moment, wondering what could make him blush since she hadnt said anything particularly .wait. Wait just a second here, Ill bet there was just one more thing she said.
Did she say anything else? I asked. Calm, have to stay calm Kris. You know hes not yours, you know he never belonged to you. Its not healthy to vacillate on your ability to let this boy go.
Well, she did ask if I could give you a ride to a small party at her house this Saturday. I guess there will be kind of a picnic crowd there. I cant believe she invited me, Kris, maybe she doesnt hate me after all.
No one could hate you Bryan, they just fear you, I replied without thinking.
Why would anyone be afraid of me? Are you afraid of me? Were supposed to be friends? he asked me with a surprised look on my face. I froze. What the hell do I say now?
Kris, are you afraid Im going to to hit you? He asked, his face begging for the answer to be no.
That one was easy, anyway. No, I replied softly, unable to meet his hazel eyes and that gaze that held sway in my heart.
Why would you say that then? he asked. He had to know, he couldnt just let this go.
Its just that, well What do I say?
Kris, this is really important to me, please, tell me whats on your mind.
I think that Im afraid of you because I like you so much and Im afraid that Im afraid that My voice hitched and I had to control my bodys attempt to bawl once more. Im afraid once you find out how fucked up I am you wont want to be around me. I know Jess is afraid of you because she likes you and My eyes went wide as I looked at him, realizing I had spoken more than I should have.
Ok, first you have to do better than be fucked up for me to stop being friends. Plus, its not you, your rents sound like real assholes. He looked at me expectantly and I slowly nodded in response.
So, Jess likes me? Why wont she ever talk to me or go on a date with me then? He asked with the cutest, most adorably hopeful look on his face.
I sighed, Do you have any idea how much trouble I would be in if I she knew I even said as much as I have? She threatened to change my religion the last time you came up in conversation!
Well, what can you tell me? he asked in obvious frustration.
I thought carefully before hitting on a solution, Study hard, take some real interest in where you might go to college and what you would really like to do for a living. Like if you wanted to be a nuclear engineer or something, then you should try to do that. She doesnt want to be a small town girl forever.
He sat back and mulled over my words in silence. I realized my hands hurt and looked down to see that I was still gripping my book bag handles as if it might try to take flight at any moment. I slowly released it and it dropped to the tiled floor.
So where did that idea come from about a nuclear engineer? he asked me with a curious expression. I decided to expand his world a bit.
Jake told me, I replied smoothly.
Jake? How would he get an idea like that? Bryan seemed to muse to himself.
Because he is more observant than you give him credit for, I replied. He knows you better than you realize and if you wanted to have a real talk with him, I think youd be pretty surprised about all the things he knows that have nothing to do with horsepower or custom wheels.
Um, when did you and Jake compare notes on me? he asked. I laughed, a surprising sound and he smiled in reply to it. I told him about Jess abandoning me to his mercy the day before and our subsequent conversation and mechanical successes.
Jake is an awesome friend, I guess I never really gave him his due, Bryan mused. He looked at me thoughtfully, his lips curved into a sexy smile and asked the question that really set the ball rolling.
So, any advice for me about this party we are going to? Bryan asked. My mind exploded with the possibilities, but only one thing made it from my mouth.
Wear a small bathing suit.