The Messenger

by Joel Young

Chapter 6

I've Only Told You One Lie

Ben and I had a great time on the way back to my house from the antiques mall. We laughed during the entire trip. He told me about other plays he had done and all the things that had gone wrong. Some of his stories were hilarious.

I told him about some of the rumors going around school. "You know what I heard in the locker room last month?" I said to Ben. "Apparently, the Student Council President got his girlfriend pregnant. What I heard was that they were alone at her house, and one thing led to another. Being unprepared, they tried to improvise - but they found out that Saran Wrap and latex are not interchangeable."

Ben found that story so funny that I thought he was going to have to pull off the freeway until he could stop laughing.

When we got back to my house, I made some coffee for Ben. I also got out two bowls, and I put a big scoop of ice cream in each one. We sat on stools at the kitchen island to have our treat.

"Nice house," Ben said. He looked at the stairway that came down into the kitchen. "Is that a second stairway?" he asked. I nodded as I took a spoonful of the ice cream.

"Interesting," he said. "Looks like a great way for teenagers to sneak out of the house at night."

I took his comment as an invitation for some verbal sparring.

"Ben," I said. "Are you implying that I'm the kind of teenager who would sneak out of the house after his parents are asleep?"

"Maybe not," he said. "Things may have totally changed since I was a teenager. Maybe, teenagers today don't sneak out of the house, party and fool around with each other."

"Oh, things like that still go on," I assured him. "But you've got it wrong about me. You're close to the truth, but you don't quite have it right."

Ben hated being wrong - about anything. He ate some ice cream and took a sip of coffee before he finally had to ask. "Okay, Joel," he said. "I'll bite. What did I get wrong?"

"Well, as I said, you were close. But, I don't sneak out of the house, Ben," I teased. "I sneak other teenagers into the house."

I have to give him credit; Ben was quick on the draw. "Sneaking in can be fun too, I suppose. But, what goes in must come out. That's how the game is played."

I could sense that our sparring was about to become totally lewd. I almost gave in and called it off. But then, that nagging voice in my head insisted that I play to win. "He just made the cover topic types of games," I thought to myself. "Go for it!"

"In and out can be fun," I said. "But, it takes me a long time to relax enough to enjoy that game. I guess I'm just wound too tight."

"You learn to relax - with experience," Ben said. "Once you master that skill, it's the best game in town."

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe you're right. I am getting tired of Uno. But, I think I should try solitaire with a friend next."

"I've never understood the appeal of double solitaire," Ben said. "Parallel play is fine for youngsters, but once you're older than twelve, I mean, what's the point? The real fun is engaging others in the game."

Since I'd already decided what I wanted, I went for the win.

"I'm sure I'll agree with you someday, Ben," I said. "But for now, I guess I'm still too young. You know what my favorite game of all time is? Candy Land! I've always wanted to go camping in Lollipop Woods. You know, do a little exploring in the forest; climb the rock formations. Then, in the tent, after dinner, you and a friend can play some games – maybe with dominoes. I love the excitement of standing the dominoes straight up, and the tension that builds up as you align all your pieces close together, trying to keep them standing as long as possible, until finally, ..."

I never got to finish my double entendre. Ben choked on his coffee and almost spewed it over the kitchen island. When he caught his breath, he changed the subject. "When we use the sideboard as the altar in the church, do you think we should put a cloth cover over the top?"

I've learned never to answer rhetorical questions.

We finished our ice cream, and I put the dishes in the sink. We went into the family room.

"Ben," I said. "I'm sorry my wordplay got out of hand. Sometimes, I take things too far."

"Maybe," Ben said. "But, it's okay. It just surprised me. I don't often meet people who can hold their own in a battle of words like that. And, I've never met a teenager like you."

"Is my age a problem for you, Ben?" I asked.

"Well," he said. "It is a consideration. But, it helps that you're 16 going on 26. What about you, Joel? Is my age a problem for you?"

"No," I said, shaking my head. "Just the opposite."

We looked at each other, letting what we'd just talked about sink in. "What now?" I asked.

"You choose," Ben said. "Truth or Dare?"

His question caught me off guard. "I've never played that game," I said.

"Would you like me to explain the rules?" Ben asked.

"No, I know how it works," I said. "But, since this is my first time, I think I'd better start out cautiously. I choose Truth."

"Okay," Ben said. "When we were in the teacher's lounge that night, did you think I was 'coming on' to you?"

"No, I didn't," I said. "I was upset at what you said, but now I realize you were just afraid of being too casual with a student."

"What did I say to upset you?" Ben asked.

"Oh no!" I said. "I'm not giving you two questions in one turn. Truth or Dare?"

"Let's see," he said. "I've played this game before, so I'm not afraid to be a little bold. Dare."

I had no idea what kind of dare I should make. "I dare you - to - let me finish the back rub I started in the teacher's lounge."

"Have at it," Ben said. He turned so that his back wasn't against the sofa cushions. I got up and went over to him and massaged his back for a minute or two. Then, I returned to the chair in which I had been sitting.

"Truth or Dare," Ben asked.

"Truth," I said

"We seem to be focused on that night in the teacher's lounge. What did I say to upset you?" Ben asked.

I didn't want to answer that question. I wanted to let it go, but the game required me to be truthful. "You apologized for talking to me 'as if' I were one of your friends. That kind of hurt my feelings. I thought that maybe we were already friends. Then, you added that you didn't want to kiss me."

After answering Ben's question, I was very uncomfortable. So, I moved the game along quickly. "Truth or Dare, Ben?" I asked.

"Truth," he said.

"Okay," I said, "Why did you start a game of 'Truth or Dare' with me?"

"Because I want to know what's going on in that mysterious mind of yours. And, it's working," Ben said. "I had no idea that you thought I was rejecting your friendship. Truth or Dare?"

I had chosen 'Truth' twice. "Dare," I said.

He thought for almost a full minute. "I dare you to stand up," Ben said.

I stood up, feeling a little nervous about why Ben wanted me to stand.

Ben got up and stood in front of me. He took hold of one of my hands, got down on one knee and said, "Joel, will you do me the honor of being my friend?"

I was totally embarrassed! "Ben!" I said. "Get up! I don't need a proposal to be your friend."

"Is that a 'yes' or a 'no' to my question?" he asked. "I insist on an answer."

"You're embarrassing me!" I said. "But, yes. I will be your friend."

Ben got up and walked back to the sofa, and we both sat down. "Thank you," he said. "So, from one friend to another, it's your turn."

"I think I've had enough of this game," I said. "You win."

"We at least have to finish the round," Ben said. "You have one more shot."

"Okay," I said. "But then were done. Truth or Dare?"

"Truth," he said.

I decided on a question that would test his willingness to be entirely truthful with me. "What lies have you ever told me?" I asked.

Ben smiled but hung his head as he thought. Looking up, he said, "I've only told you one lie."

"I worded my question very carefully, Ben," I said. "I asked what lies you have told me. You have to answer what I asked."

"Okay," he said. "But, we both have to be standing for me to answer truthfully." He got up, came over to me, and reached for my hand. He guided me as I stood up.

Ben took a deep breath. "Remember when I said I didn't want to kiss you? I lied."

With that, Ben leaned toward me and placed his lips on mine. It was a soft, sensual kiss. I put my arms around his neck and returned his kiss. Before things became passionate, however, he pulled away.

"That was very nice," he said.

I rested my head against his chest. "I've wanted you to do that for several weeks now," I said.

Ben put his arms around me and pulled me closer. "I kind of thought so," he said. "But I wasn't sure. You're hard to read sometimes."

"No one has ever said that to me," I told Ben. "Most people think I don't hide my emotions well enough."

"Ah," Ben said. "That's part of the problem. You do allow yourself to show emotions, but they can change from moment to moment. One minute, you're caring and vulnerable. But then, if someone challenges you, your killer instinct comes out immediately. You've got a wicked wit, and I hear that you have some martial arts skills. It's an intimidating package."

"I'm intimidating?" I said. "The whole cast is intimidated by your Drill Sargent persona. And, if you're not in a good mood, Ben, no one dares to ask you a question. And yet, you're charming. Most of the girls in the cast, and I suspect a few of the guys, have a crush on you. Of course, that may only be because of the sexy aftershave you wear."

"So that's it!" Ben said. "You like my Aramis! A guy I was crushing on a long time ago wore Aramis. I've liked it ever since."

"You know, Ben," I said. "I may say those exact same words someday."

"Does that mean you have a crush on me?" Ben asked.

"I'm impressed, Sherlock! Your powers of deductive reasoning are amazing!" I said.

"Hey, no need for sarcasm!" Ben said. He stepped back from me. "Let's sit down, Joel. We need to talk."

We sat down next to each other on the sofa. I knew that I wasn't going to like the conversation that Ben was about to have with me.

"I think it's clear that I have a crush on you, too," Ben said. "And, I wanted to kiss you just now. But, I shouldn't have done it, Joel. I crossed a line that shouldn't have been crossed. It wasn't right, and we can't let physical affection become a trend with us. I'm the Director of your high school play. I can't cross that line again - at least not until the play is over. I signed a Volunteer Services Agreement - with an ethics clause. If I break that agreement, I could be in big trouble."

"No one has to know," I said. "My boyfriend and I kept things secret - mostly."

"You have a boyfriend?" Ben asked. He seemed surprised.

"I had a boyfriend," I explained. "He left me. Well, actually, he moved away. But, he hasn't even called me since he left."

As always, talking about David made me very emotional.

Ben could see the sadness on my face, and he put his hand on my shoulder. "I know how it feels, Joel," he said. "I've been there. I know how it hurts. But, it gets better. Believe me. You've got great times ahead of you. You don't ever have to forget him; you just have to be open to new experiences, new relationships."

Ben's words were very comforting to me. I leaned over closer to him, and he put his arms around me. I felt safe and protected.

"Can we - you know - spend some time together after the show?" I asked.

"There's something I have to tell you before we talk about that," Ben said as he pulled away so that he could look at me. "Joel, I can see how hurt you are about your boyfriend leaving. I don't want to be part of hurting you again. I'm graduating, Joel. I've accepted an internship in Minneapolis. I'm moving a few weeks after the show is over. If we did explore our relationship after the show, it would only be for a short time - just for the time I'm still here in Detroit."

"You're moving?" I asked. "Are you ever coming back?"

"Probably not," Ben said. "The next step in my career is in Minneapolis. Then, I don't know where I'll go. But, I've got to follow my dream - wherever it takes me."

"If we did spend some time together, after the show - knowing that you're leaving - how would that work?" I asked. "I mean, would we go on a date?"

"Joel," Ben said. "You need to think about this - seriously. What would it mean to you? How would you feel once I was gone? Take some time. We don't have to make any decisions today. But no matter what, I won't let you get hurt. I never want to hurt you."

"I will, Ben," I said. "I'll think about it. But, I'm pretty sure what I want. If I decide it is what I want - considering everything - will you spend some time with me?"

"Of course," he said.

I could tell he was thinking about something. "There's another theater group putting on The Messenger the week after our show closes. It's at a small college near Ann Arbor. Maybe we could go. It would be fun to see how another group does the show. And, I think trying out some new restaurants and spending time together would make for a great weekend - if you found a way to get your parents to let you go."

"Are you sure I can't say 'yes' right now?" I asked.

"Think first. Then we'll talk," he said. "But now, I really should get going. It might be dangerous for me to stay any longer."

He got up, and I walked him to the front door. I was disappointed that he didn't kiss me again. "Bye, Joel," he said. "See you Monday."

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