Thank you for being patient. It took me longer to write this chapter than planned. I don't know how some people can post new chapters every few days. I'm still introducing characters and developing their personalities, but things are going to get interesting in the next chapter. That said, I am getting ready to move so there may be some more delays, but I will try to keep them short. Thank you for your comments and I look forward to more.
Things are Different - Chapter 3
Despite what Devon had said about the rain in Portland, it was another bright sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky. Mount Hood was clearly visible in the east out the living room windows, its peak still cloaked in snow. My grandmother took us to the west down the other side of the West Hills away from downtown Portland to the suburban land of pavement, cars and malls. This was a world I was much more familiar with than what I had seen of my new home so far.
Admittedly, I was a denizen of the poorest parts of Dallas. This was nothing like that, this was like the land of the American dream of suburbia and the mall she took me to was nothing like I had been in before. I never really hung out in malls much, so my experience with them is very limited. When you can't afford the mondo latte or the chili fries in the food court where you gather with your friends comparing the jeans or video game you just purchased, it is best to avoid the inevitable embarrassment and accompanying depression.
And as you cross the circle line, the ice-wall creaks behind ---
you're a rabbit on the run.
And the silver splinters fly in the corner of your eye ---
shining in the setting sun.
Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story's
too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody's on the stage, and it seems like
you're the only person sitting in the audience?
Skating away on the thin ice of the New Day.*
Because I always had to live on the margins I learned to, if not hate, to feel very uncomfortable in crowds and it was no different now in this mall. As my grandmother had said it was very crowded with families getting ready for the first day of school. It was Christmas, but with a tempering of anxiety for the kids that accompanied their parents and without the typical soundtrack, just the din of too many people talking at once in a granite and marble tiled soaring interior. Everyone was laden with bags.
Despite being very self-conscious of my shabby clothes and a little overwhelmed by the crowds I could not help but steal glances at the other young guys shopping and wondering if any of them were going to the same school as me. Not that I expected anything, but fantasies are free, easy and without complication. That is the way I liked things; without complications.
Of all places she took me straight into the Abercrombie and Fitch store. This is a store that I had never been in, but I had drooled over their ads and of course there is a ten foot poster of shirtless (almost pantsless) guy in the entrance that has nothing to do with clothes. I admittedly know nothing about fashion. My wardrobe consisted of what I could get at goodwill or if I was lucky Wal-Mart. That made my style jeans and t-shirts, which I had learned to be comfortable in.
"Okay, what do you like?" My grandmother pulled me over to a table of jeans that looked like Goodwill rejects with rips in them, but that had price tags that made me swallow.
I shrugged; I had never looked for clothes like this before. The idea of spending this kind of money on clothes made me uncomfortable, that fact that it was somebody else paying made me even more uncomfortable. Was I building up a debt I would never repay?
Even though the store was crowded and busy a very hot guy came over to us that looked like he came out of one their ads. His name tag said Dylan and I thought "a hot name for a hot guy."
"Hi, I'm Dylan, what can I help you with?" I tried to discreetly check him out. Stare without looking like I'm staring.
"My grandson needs some clothes for school, but he is kind of shy." That, of course, just embarrassed the hell out of me and I could feel my ears burn as I am sure the color rose in my cheeks. Fortunately it was dim in the store and I am naturally somewhat dark complected, made more so by the desert sun. I was sometimes confused for Latino with my dark hair. I hoped that Dylan did not see me blush.
"Sure, what size do you wear?" I thought he had a dazzling smile and clear blue eyes that fit with his long blond hair. He really looked the role of a surfer.
"Uh," I mumbled as I tried to twist around to see the tag on the back of my jeans.
"Here, let me help you." Dylan turned me around and reached into the waist band of jeans, where his hands touched the bare skin of my waist I swear I almost felt a tingle of electrical charge that made me jump a little. Not only that, but my cock filled out a little. I am sure the flush returned to my face at that as well.
"Here we go, I think these will be a better fit than what you have on. They also ride lower on the hip." He grabbed a pair of jeans from a pile.
"Uh, thanks," was all I could respond as I took the jeans. I hated it, but I was hoping for another brief brush of his hand as he passed the jeans to me. It didn't happen. When did I start getting like this? I always looked, discreetly at guys, but all of a sudden that didn't seem like enough.
"Well, let me know if I can help out with anything else." Was that smile for me? Did it mean something more?
"Okay, this is a start. Let's find you some shirts too. I'm afraid I am the wrong person to help you though. What do I know about clothes for a sixteen year old?" My grandmother was looking through a rack of shirts.
I was casually browsing through some graphic t-shirts with prices that I could have bought a dozen shirts for at Wal-Mart. My hesitancy to pick out anything prompted my grandmother to start grabbing everything I touched and pile it into my arms. Finally she just pushed me into the fitting room with a load of clothes.
Without any other choice I dutifully started to change into the clothes.
"Don't just try them on, I want to see you too," she called through the door.
The jeans fit well and lower on my hips as Dylan had mentioned. The shirt fit snugly on my trim frame. Looking in the mirror, I had to admit I liked what I saw. More than that, I thought it was sexy and I started getting hard again. Shit, how could I go out like that? But, god, was it wrong, I liked what I saw?
The knock on the door almost made me jump out of my skin, but it had the right effect and I quickly deflated.
"Let me see."
"Okay," I stepped out into the fitting area, which was much more brightly lit than the rest of the store.
"Well, I think you look like a model." She stepped back accidently bumping into a teenage girl looking at cologne. "Oh, please excuse me."
"That's okay." The girl said to my grandmother, and then catching a look at me I could have sworn there was a nod of approval. Or was that me just being vain in these sexy clothes?
"I hate to impose on you, but I am here with my grandson and I am sure he doesn't appreciate an old lady's opinion, could you help with your personal opinion?" Of course this embarrassed the hell out of me. This time in the lights of the fitting area I am sure my blush was clearly visible. I just looked down at my feet.
"Hot," that made me look up. "Oops, I'm sorry. I meant; it looks very good." I looked down again.
"No, I think you have the right idea." My grandmother laughed like a school girl with this . . . school girl. I don't know if I liked her so much anymore.
"The green in that shirt really brings out the color in his eyes." The girl added -- I think as a compliment to make me feel better. It had the exact opposite effect on me. I was now more uncomfortable than ever, but it also made me check her out more closely. The girl was very attractive, just a little shorter than me with red hear and the freckles that said it was her real color. Her own eyes were a striking emerald color. I hate to admit, but I also noticed her breasts, which amply filled out here A&F hoodie. She laughed with my grandmother. While I just stood there wanting to crawl under the nearest table, but glued to the spot, because really what can you do? Cry "Grandma!" like a whiney little kid. No I just stood there shuffling my feet.
"He does have the most gorgeous eyes doesn't he?" I really wanted to be that whiney kid right now.
"I wish I could get my boyfriend to dress like that. He is all chinos and polo shirts. Maybe I can at least get him to wear some of this cologne." Changing the subject, maybe she could tell how uncomfortable I was, she held up a bottle and spritzed into the air.
"Oh, that does smell nice. Jayson, would you like some of this?"
"Uh," do I start all my sentences that way? "Maybe we can leave that for her boyfriend."
"By the way, my name is Sue and this is my grandson Jayson." She motioned me over, so I shuffled over in my stocking feet giving one of those pitiful shy person waves from waist. You know, the kind where you barely lift your hand from your side and just sort of twist your wrist back and forth.
"Hi, I'm Danielle. Dani for short." At least she didn't try to shake hands.
"Jay for short," just because I don't like Jayson and having to explain how to spell it.
"Jayson just moved here and he is starting," she looked at me "your sophomore year in high school, right?"
"Um, yeah, my sophomore year."
"That is so great, I'm a sophomore too, what school are you going to?" Her face lit up and I was hoping that we were not going to the same school. Of course, I didn't know what school I was going to attend so I had to look at my grandmother.
"Roosevelt," she interjected for me.
"Wow, me too. I'm sure I will see you there. Do you know your schedule yet?" This is not what I wanted. What was my grandmother trying to do? Get me a date?
"He just arrived last night, so we won't know anything until the first day of school. His moving here was kind of a last minute deal"
"Oh," Dani responded, but she didn't ask about details, which I was eternally grateful for.
"Well, hopefully you won't have Mr. Williamson for any classes; he is a real tough one and loads on the homework. Oh, and if you take French I think the teacher is gay. He sort of has a lisp, so of course all of his students speak French with a lisp too."
"Well, it is so nice to meet somebody so well informed. I have an idea," I knew where my grandmother was going with this and I did not like it, "maybe you can join us for a little bit and tell us about the school. I am sure Jayson would prefer your input over mine." She did it. She just invited a total stranger to my total humiliation of shopping.
"Oh, I would hate to impose, but . . ." Dani paused, for effect? "I love shopping, so sure."
"That's wonderful. Jayson needs a lot of new clothes and some other stuff too." My grandmother seemed far too excited about this for my taste. As for me? Mortified is a word that comes to mind. What else am I going to do expect play along? At this moment I felt as trapped in this store as I ever felt trapped by my mother's drug abuse. Except that as much as I hated to admit it, these clothes made me feel good about myself and the attention I was getting from Dani felt good too. She was just looking at me and didn't know anything of my past, now if my grandmother could keep her mouth shut about that.
It didn't look like that would be problem. She and Dani were already assembling another outfit for me to try on. It will be easier to go along with them rather than fight them. So that was the way that it went, they would assemble outfits, hand them to me, I would have to go the dressing room and come out to model it for them.
When I was back in the fitting room I the first time I paused to look in the mirror on the back of the door. I have gorgeous eyes? I don't think I ever really looked at them before. I brought my face mere inches from the glass, intently studying my face and eyes. They were green, but not the striking emerald of Dani's, more of a dark moss green with a darker tinge of forest green around the edge of the iris. Interesting, I thought to myself, but not gorgeous. The skin was darker around my eyes and my eyelids looked a little heavy, like I had not had enough sleep. Did I always look like that?
This was repeated at Hollister (I did not know that Hollister was the same company as A&F, but it fits) and Aerospatial. At each store they would pick out clothes -- including underwear, which was even more embarrassing, but I didn't have to try that on for them -- and I would model them for them. Despite my shyness, I started to enjoy it, like a game. It was almost like I was a model on a catwalk. I kept an eye on other shoppers, especially the guys also trying on school clothes. More than one of them seemed as uncomfortable as I felt. At least I didn't have a mother checking the fit at the waist and spinning me around to examine me. Dani and my grandmother just let me change, come out and show them how things looked. Sometimes they had me try a different shirt with a particular pair pants, but mostly if it fit and I said I liked it, the clothes went in the shopping bag. My grandmother just kept pulling out a credit card to pay. I kept a mental tab and worried about how I was going to pay her back.
I ended up with quite the wardrobe and we were all caring bags when we finally took a break at the Cheesecake Factory.
Despite how hard I tried, I couldn't bring myself to not like Dani. She was everything I was not and not more than a little like my grandmother. Both were outgoing and had a way of drawing you into whatever they were doing. Dani even got into a conversation with the waiter about his love for video games, his high scores and his rivalry with his fiancÚ on a particular game. How do you do that?
"So what brings you to Portland, Jay?" Dani finally asked and I just sort of stopped. We were on desert, cheesecake, of course.
Fortunately, I was again saved by my grandmother. "There was a family tragedy and I was the closest relative Jayson could stay with for awhile."
I mentally thanked my grandmother for answering for me again, something I had been letting happen a lot.
"Well, I can't wait for my boyfriend to meet you." She changed the subject, "he will be so jealous."
"Jealous?" Jealous? Why? Of Me?
"Oh yeah, I so am going to act like you and I are a hot and heavy item. That's what he gets for abandoning me all summer."
"Uh, is that very nice?"
"Nope, but it could be fun. I don't think I could carry it off for very long anyway. I'm a terrible liar. I just want to see how he would react if he saw me with some other hot guy like you."
"Oh," me hot?
"So tell us a little bit about yourself Danielle." Thanks grandma, I thought.
"Oh, well I was born in Chicago, but we have lived here since I was nine. I love Portland and all, but I want to go back to Chicago when I graduate."
"Do you want to go to college there?" Grandma was much better at this sort of conversation than I was. Hell, anybody is better at "polite conversation" than I am. It's not that I am not curious about Dani or dislike talking to people (wait, yes I do dislike talking to people), but if I ask questions then they will ask question about me.
"I want to go to the art institute. Where are you from Jay?"
"Most recently Texas, but I was born in California."
"Hmmm, I don't hear any Texas twang, so you must not have been there very long."
"Good. We lived there a couple years, about as long I lived anywhere."
"I can totally see you as a Cali boy, on the beach, with a surf board and long hair. All the girls hanging on you."
"Uh, thanks, but I was like eight or so when we left California."
"Oh, so I guess you don't surf or anything like that? Not that you can really surf here. The water is too cold, but people do."
"Never in California, but I used to boogie board in Hawaii when we lived there."
"You lived in Hawaii?" That was actually my grandmother asking, not Dani, though you could tell the exclamation was on her lips as well.
"Yeah, after my dad died, but it really wasn't that great." I was thinking I had talked too much and this was going to places I really did not want to go, so I just looked down and concentrated on the remains of my cheesecake.
"Hmmm," was the only sound out of Dani. I did not look up and did not see what kind of affect my words had on either of them.
"So what video games do you like to play" Dani finally asked after an overly long and awkward silence when I had completely cleaned every last crumb off my plate.
"I've never really played any, except the occasional game in an arcade." Which was in fact was a lie; I could never justify dumping quarters in a machine and getting nothing back. I had to keep track of my pennies, much more any quarters I had. But that brought up the fact that I needed a computer.
Dani walked into the Apple store with us, which was more crowded than any other store, making me just want to disappear, but not Dani. She literally grabbed a sales clerk (person, associate, sales geek?) by the arm and brought him over to me where I was just standing looking at a sleek, white laptop afraid to touch it.
"We need to get Jay here set up with a computer." She directed the very tall, bespeckled guy.
"Great, what are you looking for in a computer?" He asked. I think my blank expression said more than anything that could have come out of my mouth. "Is this for school?" I just nodded my head. I was honestly starting to feel a little claustrophobic with the crowd and the noise of all the excited conversations going on about me.
Dani finally took over for me outlining what she thought I needed. She was an Apple person apparently. The sales geek and Dani walked me through the features of various models while my grandmother just stood on the side. I tried to avoid touching the computers, afraid of showing my ignorance, but Dani drew me in, using whatever magic of personality she possessed and by the time they showed me the last model I was even asking questions, regardless of how inane I thought they were.
We walked out with not the most expensive or thinnest model, but the price made me wince. My grandmother did not even bat an eye as she handed over a black American Express card for the umpteenth time that day.
I felt like I won the lottery, but at what cost? What did I owe for all of this?
Before we left the mall, my grandmother even got me a cell phone on her account. An iPhone to match my computer. My first cell phone, my first computer, the first time I had really new clothes. I was exhausted by the time we got ready to leave.
"Okay, I have to go meet my boyfriend." Dani held up the small bag that contained the cologne she had purchased.
"It's been wonderful, having you join us and I am sure Jayson will look forward to seeing you in school."
"Um, yeah." I was going to shake her hand, but my arms were laden down with bags. She just leaned in and gave me a hug. People must hug a lot here, I thought. I don't like hugging, but I could get used to Dani's hugs.
"Thanks," I said again.
That is how Dani came into my life; as my personal shopper and apparently my grandmother's new best friend.
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. And since there was a comment about it: Yes, Patrick is my real name.
*"Skating Away on The Thin Ice of The New Day" Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)