I worked early on Saturday and got done at three. My phone had more than a couple of messages from Cathy and Ginnie, begging for details on Zack. I smiled and thumbed through my contacts to send him a message. I didn't call him Zack Rowan in my list. Nope, he was Perky Tits.
Me: Hey. So the girls want to know how our hook up went last night. What should I tell them?
I chuckled to myself, confident that he'd find it humorous. I motored home and walked into the chaos that was always in effect in that house.
"Jerry!" my little sister cried out. "How do I do this?"
I walked into the living room where she was playing Minecraft. "I don't know. What are you trying to do?" I asked.
"This. Look. It's broken."
"Why did you break it?" I teased.
"I didn't!" she said defensively. I sat down on the floor with her and started trying to figure out what she was doing. My phone vibrated and I fished it out while trying to help my sister.
Perky Tits: Tell them I don't put out on the first date. A laughing, crying emoji followed it and I chuckled.
"Jerry!" my sister whined at my divided attention.
"Okay, okay," I said with a chuckle and set my phone down and played with my sister for a while. She got bored kind of quickly, though, and I headed upstairs to get out of my work clothes and get showered; if I didn't I'd smell like burgers and fries for the day. I was kind of over the smell and taste of fast food. I sat down on my bed with my school-issued laptop and started going over the work I had due for English. It was a poetry paper, and while I didn't really like poetry, I was secretly pleased whenever I understood one of the works in a way other than the obvious. My teacher was always trying to show us the relevance of lines and kind of decoding them, and I was the first to say it didn't always work. But when it did, it was sort of like solving a puzzle and I felt like I'd discovered something.
I was interrupted by my phone ringing. "Hey, Cathy," I said, my eyes lingering on my screen.
"So is he gay or what?" she asked without preamble.
"Is who gay?" I asked, distracted.
"Who," she said in frustration. "Zack Rowan! Jesus, Jer, I thought you'd tell me if you got a boyfriend!"
Her tone pulled me fully into the conversation and away from my homework. "Zack? No, he's not gay!" I said firmly and rolled my eyes.
"It's just weird," she said a little petulantly. "You just said a few days ago you'd do him, now you're hanging out and not returning my texts?"
"I had to work today," I told her with a sigh. I pressed on the bridge of my nose with my fingertips. "Look, Zack is straight. He's actually really nice, and I will say that if he was gay, I could see dating him. He just invited me to play video games with a couple of his friends." I decided not to complicate things by telling her I hadn't realized he was inviting anyone else.
"Who was there?" she asked after a slight delay.
"Seth Kilgallon and..." I swallowed as my face heated up. "Brandon McCall."
"Oh." She fell silent for a moment and I cleared my throat. As if none of that had been said she then asked, "What are you doing?"
"The poetry homework," I replied, feeling as if I were on safer ground. Don't ask me why.
"You want to go to the JV football game? Ginnie has her eye on some freshman," she said, the derision plain in her voice.
"Um, no, thanks. I'm going to finish this and get the math done so I can do what I want tomorrow."
"Oh, all right." She paused again. "You would say if you were seeing someone, right? You sound different."
I chuckled. "I'm not seeing anyone, Cath. Wish Gin good luck with her fishing trip."
I struggled to get back into the poetry assignment after her call. I kept coming back to how I reacted when Brandon's name came up. I can so clearly remember how nine-year-old me had been bursting with weird emotions, and that led directly to kissing Brandon on the playground. I could pull up that feeling as if it were kept close in case I needed it. On the heels of that heady, drowning feeling I was slammed with the shame of being pushed away, of people laughing at me. It felt oppressive and the old anger rose in me. It must be nice going through the world as Brandon McCall. The fucker.
I went down for dinner with my family, and that pushed thoughts of Brandon, Cathy and Zack out of my head for a while. Cal was trying to hurry because he had a date. He was dating a pretty cool girl, Liv Fitzpatrick, and I was silently jealous of him and his successful dating life. My older sister - the oldest of us kids - was out at a concert with friends. She was crazy for this band and my parents were afraid she was going to hop in someone's van and follow the group around the country or something.
"Where were you yester-night?" my little sister asked suddenly. Non-sequitur, thy name is pre-teen.
"I went to a friend's house," I told her. "Nosy."
"Cathy?" she asked brightly.
I wrinkled my brow. "No."
At this point every face was looking at me. I looked around at them, miffed. "I have friends!"
Cal cleared his throat. "So. Is this friend...cute?" He started to snicker and I flipped him off.
"Hey. Not at the table." My dad pointed his fork at me, then smiled. "What's his name?"
I rolled my eyes. "Zack. He's not gay."
"Is he nice looking?" my mother asked.
"Yeah," I conceded. "He's nice. Pretty cool."
"How do you know him?" my dad asked.
I sighed. "Remember that party people are talking about? Where all the kids got caught by the cops?"
Heads nodded, rapt in attention.
"Well, I crashed it, got drunk, stuck my tongue down Zack's throat and - ow!" I exclaimed, leaning back from my mother so she didn't smack my arm again, laughing as I did.
"Brat!" she said with a laugh. "Tell us about this friend. You haven't bothered with anyone for a while."
I laughed at her and shook my head. "He was at the party. He doesn't usually go, but this time he went and had too much. I helped him out when the cops got there." I shrugged. "He said I treated him like a friend and he wanted to hang out. Kind of see if we were missing out on each other, I guess."
"That's awesome. Although," Cal said with a snicker, "I was kind of hoping you did lay one on him. I hear drunk guys are easy. I know I am!"
"Hey! No drinking!" my father said, his voice getting deeper.
"I'm kidding!" Cal said with a laugh.
"You're not funny! Stop laughing!" my dad said, the corners of his mouth curling despite his words.
"I promise, no drunk sex," Cal said, unable to contain his giggles. I was laughing too and my mother had her mouth covered.
"What's drunk-ex?" my little sister asked.
"Oh, honey," my mom said, mastering her giggles. "Big people kiss and do other things with their bodies. But if you have alcohol, you don't always make the same choices you would if you were sober. We don't want Cal to make mommy and daddy into grandma and grandpa, not just yet."
She scrunched her little nose. "What's sobers?"
My dad picked up the explaining and I looked at Cal and snickered again. My parents never shied away from explanations. They said we saw violence and language on TV and at the movies; human bodies were small potatoes in comparison. It made a lot of sense to me, and I credit that kind of thinking as the reason my brother and sister hadn't gotten anyone, or themselves, pregnant yet.
Cal leaned over while my parents were busy being explainers. "Zach. You mean Zach Mosher? Artistic nerd or maybe...Zack Rowan? Soccer nerd, right?" Almost everyone is a nerd of one sort or another to my brother.
"Yeah," I said with a nod. "Soccer. You know him?"
"Not really," he said. "I'm all about the idea of college, you know? Can't wait for my senior year to end so I can get on with life. Still, I heard he's a nice guy." He paused and looked at me for a minute. "I don't know if it would be a private thing to you, but he's got a good rep. I'd approve of him as your first official boyfriend."
Official. Because sneaking around with that snake James hadn't been.
"He is really nice. If he were gay, I really think I'd be happy with him. But he's not. We really are just friends. New friends," I said, keeping my voice low.
"Okay. Well, I hope you tell us if your boyfriend status changes. Then the parents can worry about you having drunk sex instead of me," he said and said the last part loudly enough for our parents to over hear and start chiming in. Cal was the devil, man, but cool as fuck.
After dinner I finished my homework and texted with Ginnie and Cathy. They were still going on about the dick pic of Hunter's, though now there was some doubt as to whether it was him or not. In a way I liked the idea of Hunter not being hung like a fucking horse. It made him more human. I picked up my laundry off the floor before I went to bed. Sunday is our chore day - funny story about that. When I was about five I remember my parents giving us a choice of church or chores. My sister said church since anything sounded better than chores. One sermon was all it took and we'd been doing chores every Sunday since.
In the morning I had breakfast and cleaned my room. I didn't think I was overly slovenly, but my mother disagreed. Once that was done I was responsible for cleaning the living room, so I dusted, vacuumed and generally spiffed the room up. Cal had the bathrooms and Janice had the halls and stairs. My baby sister, Amanda, was still being trained on her room, but my folks were also having her empty garbage to teach her responsibility. My parents always did the kitchen, but then they liked cooking together, so I think it's a special space for them.
Zack called around eleven-thirty. "Hey. I'm bored. What are you doing?"
"Almost done with chores. What do you have in mind?"
"Iced coffee. I got a craving, man," he said and groaned a little into the phone.
"Oh, well if you groan at me like that, I'll take you wherever you want," I said with a snicker.
"Yes! Free rides for life!" Zack said with a laugh. "You feel like hanging out? The Beanery has comfy chairs."
I glanced at the clock. "Yeah, totally. I need, like, an hour though."
"Sweet. See you there."
I finished up my chore and went into the kitchen. "I'm finished in the living room. Is it okay if I shower and head out to meet Zack at the Beanery?"
My parents shared an exaggerated look.
"Not you guys, too," I said with a groan. "We're just friends! I promise, if I get a boyfriend it won't be a secret!"
"Okay, sure," my mom said with a grin.
"Oh my God!" I groaned as I left them to their silliness. Freshly showered and dressed, I headed out to my car with a pop in my step. The Beanery is a small chain, but they don't act all corporate. Zack was leaning against his car and looking at his phone.
"Hey," I said in greeting. He looked up and smiled.
"Hey, J." He bobbed his head and put his phone away. "I so need this iced coffee. My parents read some article about how bad caffeine is or something and they are cutting it out. Decaf coffee, sodas, you name it. I need a fix, man!" he said with wide eyes and grabbed my arm, giving it a good shake. I just laughed at him.
"Let's get in line then, junkie," I said with a snicker. We queued up and placed our orders, then moved to the end of the counter to wait for them.
"Did you hear about Hunter and Julie?" he asked, turning to me quickly.
"Uh, no?" I asked. "Cathy didn't say anything. Why?"
"Holy shit, dude!" he said, grabbing my bicep and practically bouncing. "Seth was out with Malina last night at the movies, right? And all of a sudden Julie stands up and starts screaming at Hunter in the movies about how he's flashing his dick all over town and how he's too small to be bragging! She totally flipped her shit!"
My mouth dropped open. "No way! So it was true? He was sending Sarah Goldman dick pics?"
"You knew?" he asked, shock in his voice. "You've been holding out choice gossip, man!"
Our order came up and we retreated to a corner and ensconced ourselves in comfy chairs. Zack sipped through the straw and rolled his eyes. "God, tastes so good."
I laughed at him and sipped my own drink.
"So you knew he was sending out pics? When did you hear?" he asked.
"Cathy told me Friday," I replied, leaning back into the soft chair. "Sarah sent the pic to Ginnie who showed me." I frowned. "Come to think of it, Cathy was going to tell Julie that night. I wonder if she did?"
"You didn't ask her yesterday?"
"No," I said with a sigh. "She's still convinced we're dating," I said, letting my finger wave back and forth between us. "Even my family is busting my balls."
He tilted his head. "That's so weird," he said and gave me a lopsided smile. "I've heard guys joke about dating, but I've never had someone think I was, like for real."
"She's just going off the things I told you," I said, a little embarrassed, but glad Zack seemed so easy-going about it. "She knows we weren't friends, she knows I gave you a hand when you got drunk - and she's convinced we hooked up - and then when you invited me out Friday. She thinks all that adds up to I'm sneaking around with you."
"Huh," he said, leaning back. A thoughtful look settled on his face. "Have you dated before?"
I cleared my throat and looked away before looking back at him. "Sort of. I told you about James Plessy."
"That's not dating," he said with a slow shake of his head. "I mean going out in public, hanging out and just being you. Not what he wanted."
A stinging passed through my eyes, and I blinked it away. "No. When you put it like that, I haven't."
"Maybe she's just hoping you are?" he asked and shrugged.
"She thinks I'm not telling her everything." I paused for a second. "I guess that's true. I didn't tell her you had a friend that came out to you. I don't know if that would be better or worse, though."
He shook his head and sipped from his drink before replying. "Does that always happen? I mean, you hang out and people assume you're screwing?"
"No," I said, truthfully. "I just don't have any guy friends. I mean, it's new, you know? They speculate because their lives are empty and they need something to do." I started laughing at the end and he joined me.
"Well, no offense, I hope it doesn't get in the way when I ask Amy Gates out tomorrow," he replied.
I thought for a moment, trying to picture the girl. "She have long, curly hair?"
"Amy? Yeah," he said with a bob of his head.
"She dated Patrick Peterson last year?"
"Really? You have to bring up an ex?" He fixed me with a sour look, but the edges of his lips were curling.
"Don't worry, you're nicer than he is," I reassured him and he laughed.
He sipped his drink and then started to bounce his leg, the toe of his shoe flexing. "I've had my eye on her for a while. What do you know about her?"
I thought for a minute. "Not a lot. She hangs out with the drama kids. I'm pretty sure she sings in the choir." My eyes lit up and I turned to him. "Oh! She helped set up that collection last year when that family had that house fire, remember?"
"Right," he said with a short nod. "It was part of a student government thing. She's pretty, you know? Not like, runway model, but more like a real person."
"Zack," I said teasingly. "You sound like you're in love."
"Yeah. Maybe," he said and then chuckled. "I've talked to her a little. We worked on that science project at the end of last year. I don't know, she seems...cool."
I took a sip from my drink and said, "There will be so many gossips that will be let down when we don't date. You know that, right?"
He blushed a little and laughed. "We'll have to get you set up next, then."
"Yeah, no thanks," I said with a laugh. His phone rang and he reached down to answer it. While he did I sent a quick text off to Cathy.
Me: Heard Julie flipped shit in public. Details?
"I'm over at the Beanery with J. Yeah, meet us. Sweet, see ya," Zack said as he disconnected and tossed his phone on the small square table between our chairs.
"Seth?" I asked, nodding toward his phone. "I'd love to hit him up for details of that meltdown."
My phone buzzed and I glanced down as Zack replied, "Nah, Brando. He's close by, going to come join us."
I paused at his reply. Shit. Brandon McCall. Why did he have to be friends with Zack? "Cool," I replied absently, reading Cathy's reply. "I guess Cathy did tell Julie Friday night. They had some kind of fight, but Cathy didn't mention it because she and Julie fight all the time anyway. I guess Julie confirmed it, though, so she went nuclear on Hunter. Guess he's not getting laid for a while."
"Holy shit. That's epic," Zack said with a giggle. "I'm not taking pictures of my Johnson for anyone."
"Aww. Come on, Zack," I teased him as I tapped a reply to Cathy. She'd asked what I was doing, so I told her I was out with Zack. She immediately called so I answered. "What's up, hag?" I asked her.
"You're out in public with Zack?" she demanded.
"Yes," I replied with a roll of my eyes. "Zack and I decided we could be friends in public. Jesus, Cath."
"Put me on speaker," she demanded. Ugh. Women. Check that. Nosy women.
I put the phone down on the little table and hit the speaker icon. "Okay, Cath. You're on speaker."
"Zack?" she asked.
"Yo," he replied, much too heartily. I think he was enjoying this. Weirdo. I think I like him a little more.
"Where are you guys?" she demanded.
"J and I? Beanery. Iced coffee is my jam," he said, sounding silly. I covered my mouth to stifle a laugh and he grinned at me.
"J? You mean Jerry?"
I didn't hear his reply, because it slammed into me all at once. At most people might call me Jer, but for most situations it was Jerry. Unless I was in deep shit, then it was Jeremiah. Or my brother wanted to annoy me, then it was 'Miah. But a long time ago, there was someone that did call me J. He used to have trouble with the R sound as a kid and he always sounded like he was calling me 'Jewwy', so he'd modified it and called me J. Or Jay, whatever works for you. But now someone else was calling me that and I had to wonder...why would he talk about me?
"Gotta go, Cath. Brando is here," Zack said and glanced at me, rolling his eyes. He stood to greet Brandon, who looked hotter than fuck. His hair was damp, so it was darker at the root, but it lay on his head inviting someone to run their fingers through it. His tee shirt clung in the best possible way and his jeans were the very definition of a nice fit. So much to hate about him. Ugh.
Brandon smiled and waved at me and I nodded and tried to smile. He walked to the counter with Zack beside him, talking animatedly; probably about Hunter and Julie. I took the phone off speaker and put it back to my ear. "Just me, again."
"Are you hard? You're hanging around the hunger strike squad," she asked with a giggle and snort.
"Funny, Cath," I replied sourly. Fuck if she wasn't right, though. It just wasn't fair.
"Get me a picture of his abs, if you can," Cathy said, trying to be serious.
"Really? How do you suggest I do that?" I asked in annoyance. Brando - Brandon and Zack walked back over, Zack still bubbling along and Brandon with a juice in hand. Brandon was laughing, which somehow looked sexy. How does someone look sexy with their mouth open, eyes kind of squinted and sounding like a donkey? Okay, he didn't sound like a donkey. It was a cute laugh, but he needs some kind of flaw. Shit. I wonder if he has a pecker like Hunter?
"That still Cathy?" Brandon asked as he pulled another comfy chair over to join us.
"Yeah. She wants a picture of your abs," I said, mostly because I didn't seem to know what to say. Brandon blushed a little, then pulled the hem of his shirt up.
"Tell her not to share it like Hunter's dick, okay?" Brandon asked and started to laugh. His abs tightened, the perfect fucking golden tan of his skin practically glowing. I forgot to take the picture. Screw Cathy, anyway. I ended the call, forgetting to say goodbye, and picked up my drink.
"So yeah, I'm still not clear if Julie broke up with him or just shamed him to an early grave," Zack said and chuckled.
"Sounds like she dumped him. You think she would, J?" Brandon asked.
Jolted by my old nickname on his lips - the one he'd given me - I frowned. "He's awfully pretty. Even if he's hung like a field mouse, he's got a tongue, right? Still useful?" I shrugged and they both burst out laughing. I smiled, but more of a sympathetic response. My mind was trying to churn, but I was avoiding whatever that sneaky bastard was up to.
"I gotta hit the bathroom," Zack said as he stood and crossed the room.
"So, you coming tomorrow? Angelo's has a deal on slices on Monday nights," Brandon said, his tone kind of speculative. It was a weird fucking tone and it set my nerves on edge. Even more on edge.
I cleared my throat, which suddenly constricted and then sipped my drink. "Um. I could, I guess. I didn't know there was a...deal."
"Yeah. They have this shrimp Marsala pizza. I know, I know, it sounds rank, but it totally rocks."
I frowned. "That sounds horrible and interesting all at once."
He snickered. "Yeah." He went quiet for a beat. "You should come."
I started to take a deep breath and then, stupidly, tried to take a drink at the same time. I mean literally, my hand totally fucking betrayed me and shoved my straw in my mouth just as I started to inhale. I know my cock is a traitor, but my hand? Maybe they spent too much time together. I don't know if anyone else can breath a frappucino, but I wasn't very successful at it. I coughed violently and set my drink down while covering my mouth with the other hand. My throat felt as if it were on fire and my eyes were watering like someone was chopping onions. I was a little unaware of my surroundings for a minute or so, but when I started to process things again I was conscious of a hand on my shoulder and the most gorgeous green eyes looking into mine.
"You okay, J?" he asked. "Need some water or some fresh air?"
I shook my head, but the look of concern on his face was unmistakable. Just what the - you know what? I am just going to ask that question.
"What fucking game are you playing with me, Brando?" I asked sharply, my voice kind of shredded.
He leaned back, registering shock. "What?"
"No one has ever called me J, but you. Now Zack is calling me J. Which means you're talking about me. Are you looking to embarrass me again? Why don't you just do it now, huh? We're in public, you have a full house for an audience." I stared at him, my eyes still watery, but I was determined. No one screwed with my emotions more than Brandon McCall and it pissed me off.
He gave me a pensive look. Slowly he resumed his seat. God he was beautiful. Even through the turmoil of the situation, I knew my stomach was tightening and my pulse escalating just because he was himself. My shoulder was burning where he'd laid his hand and I just knew, with a feeling of self-loathing, that I'd be thinking of those green eyes later and how close he'd been. My cock was stirring just thinking about it. Fucking traitor.
"More iced coffee," Zack said happily as he dropped into his chair and resumed drinking. He glanced at us and seemed to become aware of the tension between us. "Um. Guys?"
"I was just asking J to come out with us after practice tomorrow." Brandon looked at me blandly, though even that was smoldering as far as I was concerned.
"You should totally come," Zack said, running with the idea. "If I'm lucky, Amy will be with me. What do you say, J? Up for it?"
I tore my eyes away from Brandon with an effort and looked at Zack. I knew it couldn't be coincidence, and it left a pit in my stomach. Why would Brandon be talking about me? What was he saying to Zack? What sort of little fuck game was going on? "Why do you call me J?"
Zack blinked for a moment.
In a measured tone I said, "The night you stumbled over drunk you called me Jerry. The next morning, you called me Jerry. All of a sudden, I'm J. Why is that?"
Zack stared at me for a moment and then I got my confirmation as he looked over at Brandon.
"Okay. I'm not sure what little bit of fuckery is going on, but I'm out," I said as I gained my feet.
"Wait," Brandon said, also standing. "I can explain. I just...why are you so hostile, J?"
My eyes wide I said, "Hostile. You wonder why. Seriously?" I stared at him and he lifted and dropped his arms helplessly.
"How about shoving me to the ground and the entire class laughing at me?" I demanded, my eyes prickling with fresh moisture.
He looked confused for the briefest of moments, and then Brandon's jaw dropped. "I was nine!"
"Well, I wasn't too young to learn my lesson!" I snapped.
He lifted an eyebrow. "Not to haul off and kiss someone without consent? And, Christ," he held his hands out to his sides. "Fourth grade? You've hated me since fourth grade because I didn't know how to handle another person kissing me?"
My lip trembled. "Yeah, I learned that lesson, too. What else I learned? I was different and no one let me forget it. I learned what fag meant and how to live my life without friends. Maybe it all ended for you when you pushed me away, but I've been paying for it ever since."
Brandon's eyes glistened and he nodded his head slowly. "Okay. I guess I can see that, now. I mean, J...I was nine. I'm sorry. I had no idea you were hurting."
"How about when my new name was Jerry the Fairy?" I said bitterly.
"I never, ever said that. I never called you that. I swear to God, J." His eyes shimmered with emotion and my body continued to respond with nauseating contradictions to his mere presence.
"I have to go," I muttered and slipped around Zack. He called out to me, but I felt embarrassed, hopeful, aroused and just plain tired. I climbed in my car and drove home. I took the stairs two at a time and flopped onto my bed before tears started to flow. I was too mixed up to think; all I could do was be carried away on the tide of conflicting emotions warring within me.< Next Chapter Previous Chapter