I awoke in stark terror, my heart pounding in my chest like a whole section of drums. My darkened room was silent to my sudden panic. I closed my eyes, scrunching them tight and seeing the remnants of my dream -- that great hulking mountain pinning me up against a wall in between classes. I saw people watching, as if we were gladiators for their sporting pleasure. Ok, gladiators was a poor way to describe it, maybe like being fed to the lions.
I climbed out of bed, a sheen of sweat drying on my forehead, and I headed for the bathroom. I ran a shower and climbed in, knowing I would get no more sleep tonight. Every time I closed my eyes, I felt his hands on me, the rotten breath, and that crumpled nose making warnings and thinly veiled threats. I stepped into the warm spray and felt the night terrors washing from my skin, as if it were a real covering on me.
I would have to deal with this issue somehow; I can't go on being scared all the time. Plus, there was this whole thing about Bryan and being able to let him go, as well as Jake and how I was feeling towards him. The two of them could make anyone lose their mind. I wasn't sure now what would happen when I got to this little party Jess was throwing today. My physical self was excited at the prospect of Bryan in as few clothes as is publicly decent, but another portion of my mind was thinking about Jake in the same state of undress. I guess I should be thankful that my daytime thoughts weren't dominated by visions of the human mountain.
At least not while my eyes were open.
I walked back into my room and pulled on a pair of work pants my grandfather had gotten for me, as well as a work shirt and a white undershirt. I turned to leave the room and caught my reflection in the mirror. I was obviously unrested, but the clothes made me look older, somehow more there. Who was this boy, masquerading as a real person and wearing clothes that looked more appropriate to playing dress-up with their friends?
I left my room and wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee pot. After filling it with water and adding less grounds than grandpa liked, I started the coffee and sat down to wait for it. I never used to drink coffee, but grandpa said it was his only vice, and happened to be his favorite beverage. I guess he was rubbing off on me a little bit, perish the thought.
The coffee pot gurgled to itself and I thought about myself a little more. Things were better overall than they had been for months and I was happy being happy. I was happy to know people like Jess, Bryan, and Jake seemed to genuinely care what happened to me. I just wish I could control that selfish part of me that wanted to keep Bryan all to myself.
While I am thinking about my friends, let's also talk about Jess. If life has taught me anything, it's that you can take people at face value until you know more about them. I knew Jess was smart, pretty, and hopelessly in love with Bryan. Everyone knew she was, but she wouldn't admit it.
This brings us to Jake Charbonneau. There was no question he was attractive, and let's not forget that he has a very good personality. He was smart, sweet sexy and ... oh God, what am I saying? These are things I was saying about Bryan not so long ago.
Of course all these things still applied to Bryan, too. Was this the first step on the road to accepting that he wouldn't be mine? If that was true, was my mind trying to replace him with Jake? Oh God, I don't think I can do this twice.
One thing nagged at the back of my head, however, and I guess I am too dumb to make sense out of it. Jess was up to something, and it definitely involved me and Jake. Not that I minded all that much. Jake was wonderful and I found that as time went by I liked him more and more. But, the real question was: where did her motivation come from? Did she simply want to give me access to friends that she liked and therfore deemed appropriate for me? It made a strange sort of sense considering that she was oddly protective of me, as if I were some sort of small child under her care.
So ok, let's examine that possibility. It sounds ok on the surface, but my gut just doesn't think it's entirely true. So what else is there? She knows I'm gay, somehow, and she is trying to get me together with Jake. Well, I don't think I'd fight that one too much, but how would she know? And that would mean that Jake was gay as well. Wait, is Jake gay? In this case, she'd have to know that he was, right? Something to think on.
The coffee machine gave one last tired wheeze and was finished. I grabbed my coffee, sweetened it, and added cream before test tasting it. Deciding that it would do, I headed out into the garage. I flicked on the lights and headed over to my car, its dull coat seeming somewhat sad in the early hours of the day. I shivered, the morning being brisk, and sipped my coffee as I approached my car.
I began to pick up tools and replace them in their proper storage places while I continued to ruminate on my friends and where things were going, or where they could go. By the time nine o'clock rolled around, the shop was pretty well cleaned up. I was just sweeping up when my grandfather wandered out with a cup of coffee in his hands, work clothes tossed on, and a squint to his eye.
"What the hell are you doing up so early? I thought teenagers slept in."
"Not when they have nightmares, then they wake up all fidgety." I replied.
"About your dad?" he asked as he walked towards the garbage can I was emptying my dustpan into.
"No, not exactly. It was about that kid that pinned me against the wall in school yesterday. I guess I just need a little time to process it and get over it."
"Yeah, I guess so," he replied slowly. "Working on your car today?"
"Was thinking about it." I said.
"Well, lets just see how far along you are." He shuffled over to the car's raised hood and I tilted the broom and dustpan up against the wall before following him. I was pretty pleased with the car, actually, proud of the work that was going into it. In fact, I was pleased about all the things my car was teaching me. Between the time spent with my grandfather and with Jake and Bryan fixing it up, I had met some really good people.
"Why don't you grab me the torque wrench and we'll double check Jake's work on the head bolts," he told me. I went to the drawer and retrieved the torque wrench, a funny looking device with a spinning handle to set the amount of resistance. I also grabbed the allen socket used on the head bolts. I handed them all to my grandfather who looked somewhat surprised, but proceeded to check the torque on the bolts.
"Well, Jake is good people I guess." he stated.
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
"He taught you what a torque wrench is, what type of socket fits your head bolts, and he did the work right. I guess he taught me that he's not his old man, and maybe that his old man isn't so bad if he's got a good kid like Jake."
I grinned wryly at him, "Glad you approve of him, grandpa." Whatever he was about to say was stopped in his tracks as Jake poked his head in the door.
"I thought I saw the lights on," he smiled as he came through.
My grandfather looked at his watch and muttered loudly, "Another abnormal teenager." He shuffled back into the kitchen to pursue another cup of coffee.
"I don't think he likes me," Jake said as he approached me.
"Actually, he does. What are you doing here so early?" I asked.
"Bryan called me, said he wanted my help to get brakes on your car and start on the exhaust." Jake replied.
"He did?" I asked.
"Yeah, well, he figured since you told Jess he was working on the car with you this morning that he shouldn't make a liar out of you." He grinned at me and I reddened a bit.
"Yeah, I guess I should tell him when I commit him to something, huh?" I grinned sheepishly.
"Well, he is so grateful you got Jess to talk to him, I think you'll be forgiven."
"Yeah," I laughed, "He asked me for advice about the party and I told him to wear a small bathing suit." I giggled and Jake looked at me questioningly.
"Well," I said as I prepared to make Jake blush, "Jess said if you wore a small suit that would make the party worthwhile." I watched him as he turned colors like a sunset.
"Yeah, she's funny." He smiled in embarrassment.
I just laughed at him and he hit me in the arm. I was still giggling as I walked away from him. My car sat in the corner, hood up and waiting the next phase of its resurrection. Jake's voice suddenly rang out across the garage as he followed me.
"So, are you wearing a small suit?" he giggled.
"Don't I have to by default?" I asked.
"I meant some thing revealing?" he looked at me as I faced him with a curious expression. "I mean, if Jess wants a show...."
"I don't think I'll be swimming," I replied.
"Yeah you will, you'll get tossed in." he said gravely.
"Um, ok, maybe I'll wear shorts at least."
"Jess's swimming pool is the place to be for the winter you know," Jake opined.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"`Cause it's indoor and heated."
"Oh, excellent." I replied.
We set about getting the rear end off the ground and onto jack stands. The car looked funny, as if it were in flight with all the wheels off the ground, jack stands somewhat hidden underneath.
The door opened behind us and Bryan entered, flashing us a grin as he approached.
"Morning! Ready to tear into this bitch?" he asked.
"Pretty much. One thing though, do we have the new exhaust to hang?" Jake asked.
"Old man Nickles said he got the stuff; we can ask him as soon as the old one is down," Bryan responded as he took off his coat and tossed it on the hood of an old Toyota Supra that my grandfather was restoring. His tee shirt was a little tight and his chest stood out in relief as he stretched.
We proceeded to rip out the exhaust, from one end to the other and at some point my grandfather came out and began to help with removing the catalytic converter, apparently to save it, as they were expensive. He and Jake went to clamp it in the vise and torch the bolts, while Bryan pulled me back towards the car.
Bryan and I began to work on the brakes, he showing me what was what. He glanced at Jake and my grandfather working and then caught my attention.
"You know, Jake started to talk to me the other day. He and I came up with this plan that includes some pretty tough courses." He looked at me, "If I'm really going to try and win Jess, I'll need my friends to help me."
"You know I'll do what I can." I gulped.
"You know something? Things have started to really change around here, and I mean for the better. I am really getting to know Jake on a different level, and he's such a great guy. I had no idea he knew me as well as you said he did. How does someone go so long and not see the signs of what someone else sees in them?" he asked.
"I guess you can't always see things through someone else's eyes." I replied.
"Right. I learned a lot about Jake, and I'll tell you some thing Mr. Kristopher Nickles, you are good for us. For Jake and Jess and me for sure. So whatever it is you are doing, whatever plan you have in mind, you just keep doing it."
"I have no idea what you are talking about," I said in true confusion.
"Well, you made us all happy in a new way. I won't say anymore than that. I can see I am embarrassing you, but it's true. Jake's really happy to have a friend that sees the world like he does, and if Jake's happy then I am too. See? This is what I mean by the changes you have made. I really care about how Jake feels, about what makes him happy and I want that for him. I really learned who my friends are, I mean who they really are. I plan to talk to JR this weekend `cause I realize it's important. You made me see that when you told me what Jake reads in to me."
I sat there doing my tomato imitation, but unable to break my eyes away from Bryan's soft gaze. "That's great, Bryan. I don't think I had that much to do with it, but I'm glad you're my friend."
"Always, buddy, always. Let's get these brakes fixed up."
Jake and Bryan both headed home to get cleaned up and my grandfather and I were looking at my car, suspended in mid-air. The motor was back together and it looked much more sensible than it did when we began to break it down. Grandpa said we still had to change its fluids and get new brake lines on it. Then we needed to replace the struts and shocks, and at least one coil spring that had snapped.
It wasn't done, but it was getting closer. I grabbed a quick shower and headed into my room to change. I glanced at the clock, realizing that Bryan should be back soon to get me.
I was flying high from his comments this morning as it turned out he was much more sensitive than I ever gave him credit for. I didn't believe all the things he said, but it was enough for me that he believed what he said. For the first time since that lug had pinned me to the wall, I felt good, necessary.
I dressed quickly, not wanting to delay Bryan. I was in the shop and waiting for him when he walked in, dressed in his cargoes and with a nice polo top. He smiled and held up a small bag.
"Picked these up on your advice," he said. I gave him a quizzical look and he slowly withdrew the garment, a Speedo style bathing suit. He was blushing furiously, but grinning as well. My jaw dropped as my imagination filled with the thought of Bryan in this suit.
"You did say a small suit." He told me.
"Yeah, you sure do follow directions." I gulped.
"Ok, let's roll."
The trip took all of ten minutes, Maybelle snarling the whole way. Bryan tapped his fingers absently on the wheel as we drove. The car slid into a space in front of what can only be called an elegant home. Large arched windows displayed a warm, aristocratic sitting area complete with stone fireplace. The furniture was like something from an Ethan Allen catalog; fine prints and elegant wood completed the effect.
I had my hand on the door handle, ready to get out when Bryan placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. I looked at him quizzically.
"Kris, if you knew something , and it had to do with a friend and it might make them happy, do you think you have an obligation to tell them that?" He looked at me pensively.
"Obligated?" I grew wary, what could he be talking about? "It depends I guess, on the information. If it could make them happy, or could it make them unhappy. I guess you have to decide that first."
"It's weird because I was asked not to say anything, but all I can think is how much easier things would be if it were all out in the open. You know?"
"No, Bryan, I really don't." I replied truthfully. "I think that when someone tells you something in confidence they are trusting you with a part of themselves they don't share with everyone. I think it's important that you respect peoples wishes, after all they must have a reason for asking you not to say anything, right?"
"Yeah, that's true. But, if they are just afraid and you know that you could change that just by saying something...."
"Then the person that asked you to keep a secret would probably never trust you again." I replied.
"Yeah," he sighed. " I guess you are right."
"C'mon, let's go inside." I said to him and climbed out of the car. I heard his door open and close, the Autumn weather on the cusp of turning to winter, and we stepped up to the door. After knocking, it took only a few minutes to open up, Jess decked out in shorts and a tank top.
"It's about time, you two!" she said with a grin. She pulled me in and said hello to Bryan, which I considered a good thing. He smiled at her, a very warm smile that had his eyes alight.
"Hi, Jess." he said shyly. Bryan was acting shy! That's so cute, the way he has just a little bit of red on his cheeks. This boy was definitely in love. Jess smiled back at him and led me by the hand towards the back of the house and into a large enclosed area.
"It's daddy's one excess, his swimming pool." Jess explained as we walked. She played the good hostess and glanced back to be sure that she couldn't be accused of ignoring Bryan. He basked in the attention, and Jess seemed to be enjoying the ability to spend some time with Bryan as well. I could be full of shit, of course, all wishful thinking; but I don't think so.
Jess began to explain about the swimming pool but I was in shock. It wasn't an Olympic sized pool or anything, but it had a skylight and brick walls shaped in an oval to match the nice sized pool. I guess the shock factor, which you are surely wondering about, was on the diving board. The board was only about six feet away and Jake turned around to face us as we approached.
"Kris!" Jake waved. He glistened from water, beads dotting his body. His upper legs showed some lightening of the skin, probably due to wearing shorts in the summer. Black hairs dotted his toned, firm legs. A small happy trail ran from his navel to the top of his bikini style swimsuit, and his chest was smooth, toned and tanned. He backed to the edge of the board, glancing over his back to gauge the distance, then did a back flip.
My heart and stomach flip flopped as one. He broke the surface and swam back to us, walking over, dripping as he went. The term `a vision' did not do justice to the feelings he was creating in me. I wasn't sure that I was breathing anymore, and I didn't really care. The best thing I can say was that I had the feeling as though I were looking on a masterpiece by a craftsman of some renown -- something that was being seen in proper lighting for the first time; I felt very privileged.
"Hey, glad you finally made it!" Jake said, shaking me from my trance and I returned his grin.
"I was waiting on pokey here," I replied crooking a thumb at Bryan, or where he had been. Bryan and Jess had walked off to one side of the pool. Jess was actually talking to him, and I saw that Bryan was paying attention to each and every word.
"Well, it looks like she listened a little after all," Jake said from my side. I tried to face forward and not stare at his chest.
"What did you say to her?" I asked.
"Basically that if she wasn't nice to him I'd spread the word that she was a lezzie." He laughed.
"That was low. Why would you do that?" I asked.
"Because, she's not being fair. Bryan has never done anything to her, and I know what he really thinks about her now." Jake said as he placed a hand on my shoulder. I gulped before turning my head to meet his gaze.
"Bryan and I talked, I mean we really talked. It was amazing, I have known him for so long and now realize we really knew so little about each other." He lapsed into silence as I felt absorbed my his eyes. "I just wanted to say thanks, you know?"
"I didn't do anything." I said breaking my paralysis. "Bryan seems to have this misconception that I have a master plan or something. He thinks I am affecting change all over the place. I'm not doing anything, Jake. Just trying to get by."
"I know, it seems to be a natural thing for you. It's one of the cooler things about you." He shifted his gaze and I followed it as Jess pointed to something resembling a closet door. Bryan nodded and went inside while she turned and strode to us.
"What?" she asked. I looked at Jake and he at me, but it was he that spoke.
"He's ok," she conceded. Jake let out a whoop and I giggled. "Don't you get all excited. I just said he was ok." Jess warned.
"Considering at the beginning of the school year you hated him, this is a breakthrough!" Jake smiled.
"Elf, come on, I'll take you inside so you can change," she said, pointedly ignoring Jake and his comments. He whooped again and jumped into the pool.
"I am so glad Jake wore his small suit, I'll have sweet dreams tonight!" Jess whispered to me.
"Wait'll you see what Bryan bought," I told her as we walked back inside the house proper. She gave me a questioning look and I held my peace on that. I couldn't wait to see the look on her face or Bryan for that matter.
"Jess, can I ask you something?' I asked.
"You can ask," she said raising an eyebrow. I smiled at her.
"Will you please tell me how come you dislike Bryan so much?" I asked. She stopped and looked at me, a measuring look if ever there was one.
"He's dangerous to the things I want." she said.
"Do you think he could be part of the things you want?" I asked.
"Why is it so important to you?" she asked.
"I want him to be happy. I think that he'd make you happy too."
"Who says I'm not happy?" she asked.
"Jess," I said with a sigh. "Do you really think he's that empty headed?"
She gave me another long, hard look before responding. "He just told me about some ambitious plans for himself. I admit, I was a little shocked."
"So, he'll need some help to learn it all, but if he's willing to work hard for you ... I mean, for the grades to go to college," I looked up at her.
"He's taking these classes to impress me?" she asked sharply.
"He's taking them because he finally figured out what he wants from his life," I said to her. "He wants to make you happy, Jess. Hard as it might be for you to accept, he's willing to do what it takes to earn the right to be next to you. I guess what I want to know is: will you give him that chance?" I asked her.
"Well, that's a tough question. I don't want to compromise my goals," she said in a thoughtful tone.
"But you need someone too, right? No one can do everything on their own," I said quietly.
"I smell a setup," she said with a smile. "Quit using that face on me!" she said.
I smiled at her. "Just give him a fair chance, get to know him. I'm sure you'll love him just like ... like it should be." I finished lamely.
"Elf, I'll give him a chance but you better still be my friend if he ... if he breaks my heart," she looked at me seriously.
"He would never hurt you, I know it." I said quietly. She stood before me, vulnerable having laid her feelings out on the table. I reached out and gave her a hug, since it looked like she needed one. She held me for a moment, before holding me at arms length. "You must be an elf, the things you do around this town are like magic," she commented. She showed me to the bathroom, and was waiting for me when I came out.
"You realize if I start something with Bryan, you have to take care of Jake for me." I looked up at her sharply.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," she said throwing an arm around my shoulders and walking me back to the pool area, "He and I usually hang out a lot and I know he'll miss me, so someone has got to pick up the slack. Since you're making all these changes, I figure it should be you."
"Ok," I grinned. Spending time with Jake, I could do that.
We stepped back into the pool area to find Jake in Bryan's arms, cradled like a baby and at the edge of the pool.
"In you go!" Bryan yelled as he attempted to toss Jake into the pool. Jake held fast to Bryan's neck, though, and they both went tumbling into the pool. They came up laughing and Jess giggled before departing to get the door as more of her guests arrived. Bryan and Jake came up laughing and splashing each other.
The sunshine filtering from the skylight
touched their skin and I wished suddenly that I had a camera to
record this moment. They were both happy, and I was there to share
it with them. Bryan would get what he wanted. I did love him and
so I would help him. What of Jake? I wasn't sure, but I did know
that my place was with them. I pulled my shirt off and yelled as
I cannon-balled into the pool beside them. Yeah, this is the life.