Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 37

Always Room For One More

POV: Linda, Mikey

I was sorting things in my locker after 5th period Physics class—I decided to take the Physics book and my Problems of Democracy one home so I could do some extra work over the holiday weekend—I was especially worried about Maddox' Government class since we continued to differ on most things. He hadn't said exactly, but I could tell he was a Republican by the way the discussions went after each primary; there was always some point where he said the incumbent had scored higher marks than any of the Democrats—particularly Jimmy Carter, who he called the 'Peanut Farmer,' or 'Outsider', as if it was a bad thing. He was gloating inside, that Gerald Ford had won every primary for his party except the one in North Carolina at the end of March where Reagan had won—and he'd polled over 50% in nearly every race. In the meantime, Jimmy Carter had lost Iowa in January, to nobody, and lost Massachusetts in early March to a complete zero named Scoop Jackson; it tickled Maddox even more that it wasn't until North Carolina that Carter had won more than 50% of the popular vote. The thing that bothered me the most was Governor Brown of California—he was my choice, but hadn't decided to run yet, despite a lot of urging—if he waited much longer, there was no chance of him winning the Democratic nomination. The worst thing of all was that Ohio's primary was nearly two months away—the last one—and the race would be decided before then. Seven months until November—Brown could still do it!

I jumped, nearly dropping my books when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I thought it might be Benny since he was in the same Physics class, but it turned out to be Bobby Thomas. I frowned at him, and looked over his shoulder to see if Timmy Zane was lurking in the shadows. Since Monday's fight, when I'd broken up with Bobby, Zane had kept pretty close to him, and the few times he'd see me, I'd notice a smirking self-satisfied grin on his face. If it hadn't been for his misplaced homophobic remarks about my brother Jerry, and his having tried to lay every girl in our class, I'd have thought he had a thing for Bobby. I had long ago given up trying to understand boys—it was a losing battle. The look in Bobby's eyes hurt, since I still cared for him, but I wasn't going to weaken my resolve—I could not date anyone who condoned bigotry, even by association. Because I knew Bobby wasn't a bigot himself, I didn't brush him off right away. "What do you want, Bobby?"

The tall basketball player looked away for a second, then met my eyes again. "I was hoping we could talk about getting back together…I know you said that I had to stop being friends with Tim first, but…it's been almost a week now…." I could hear the stress in his tone clearly, and I knew how much he was hoping for us to start dating again—hell, I wanted it myself—but however much my heart wanted it, I couldn't do it, and look myself in the mirror in the morning. I had overlooked Zane in the past because I wasn't dating him—and I knew Bobby was a great guy—but since Monday, Zane had made this about my family with his slurs against Jerry and his attack on Jay. Bobby had sided with his best friend out of loyalty; I knew things about Zane he didn't, which might have changed his mind, but it wasn't my place to tell other people's secrets.

I felt the same hurt now as I had on Monday when I asked him the all-important question: "Are you still hanging out with Timmy Zane?"

"Lin, there are things you don't know about him—things which make him act the way he does—I'm the only one he trusts or talks to." His eyes were begging me to understand, to give him permission to remain friends, and date me at the same time…but I knew things about Zane too—what he'd done to other girls, and especially what he'd done to his cousin Jenny. It sounded like Bobby didn't know enough about his friend's behavior if he thought it could be forgiven. There was no reason good enough to make me forget the rape of his own cousin.

"Bobby, you may know a few things, but I can guarantee you that he hasn't told you all the stuff he's done—if he had, we would still be together, and he'd have to find a new best friend." I looked over my shoulder for a second, when I felt someone walk up behind me, and saw Benny waiting to drive me home. I gave him a quick smile, and turned back to my ex-boyfriend. "What I said still stands, Bobby—come talk to me when you've had a long talk with yourself, and are ready to face the fact that there's something wrong with that whole family."

I put my hand on Benny's arm as we headed out toward the parking lot, where I knew my brother and his friends would be waiting by his truck. I had been luke-warm about going to eat with a bunch of boys as it was, but the talk with Bobby had killed my appetite for the moment. Sure enough, Jay, Miles, Greg, and Dennis were standing around in the area between Denny's maroon Corvair and our old blue behemoth, and Jay had his hand on Calvin's shoulder as he was relating some story that had them all giggling and laughing. I could only catch a couple words: cows, milking and boners…then they all blushed red and looked at Calvin, who nodded, his face redder than any of the others. They burst out into gales of laughter, and Jay punched Calvin's arm in a friendly way before ruffling his long blond hair.

I could feel Benny tense for just a second upon seeing Calvin being punched, even in jest, then he relaxed and grinned at me. "Trust me, Ben, you don't want to know—until you've done a few chores around a farm, you won't understand. It's a boy thing, and us girls aren't supposed to know about it."

The laughter trailed off as we joined the group, and 'heys' were exchanged all around. Benny moved over to stand closer to Calvin, and I caught a couple smirks from the others when he did that, but they were all good-natured, and the talk quickly moved to where we were going to eat. I put in my observation, "Just so you know, the cafeteria is serving hamburgers and fries today…so you could save money and eat here if that's what you want." There was a unanimous shaking of heads at that…nobody wanted to stick around any longer than they had to.

I noticed that Denny held back from suggesting places, and I remembered that even though he grew up in the area, he'd never gone to any of the local joints because he spent the last four-and-a-half years away at a private school in Maine. The few places closest to us, like Cal's Pizza and the diner, Ray's, on Broad Street at the north end of town, were quickly ruled out as either closed or full of old people taking breaks from their jobs or farm tasks. I cringed when Jay mentioned the I-70 Truck Stop down by the freeway entrance—I'd been there once with Bobby after midnight and it was pretty scary with all the truckers and the odd drunk—so I was letting out a sigh of relief when that was immediately turned down too.

"So can we at least agree on which direction?" Greg asked. "I vote for Reynoldsburg since it has more options." Everybody nodded at that, and it was back to what type of food they wanted. I saw Greg wink at Benny as he suggested White Castle's, and Mikey supported that, as it was his favorite burger. We cracked up when he mentioned his parents having an anniversary dinner there because they'd made the mistake of asking him where he wanted to go—it didn't matter that he was six years old then—everybody still laughed at him. Jay said he liked Burger King because it was broiled, and Mikey said those were good too. Burger Chef was turned down, as was Frisch's Big Boy when Ben put in his vote for Wendy's…then Denny reminded them that we wanted to be away from burgers, which we could eat here. "What about pizza?" he finished. That got a round of cheers and high-fives.

All the talk of food was bringing my appetite back a little, but I'd rather be at home with my current mood—like mor, if I spent a little time keeping busy, I'd cheer up again, so I resolved to do something in the kitchen. A glance at Mikey had me smile, knowing what Jay planned for him on Easter Sunday—I'd make some buckeyes—little balls of peanut butter-flavored soft fudge dipped in chocolate. With the prank letters we'd made for Mikey as part of our Danish Easter tradition, chocolates were the reward for guessing the sender's identity, and we knew he was addicted to the stuff even more than our mother was.

"I vote for Pizza Hut!" Mikey cheered, and then looked sheepish for having been so loud. Benny voted for Massey's, and a show of hands was about to be made when Jay punched his boyfriend's arm. "You just had Pizza Hut on Wednesday, remember?" That was where they'd had their one-week anniversary dinner. Mikey nodded, and said he'd liked it so much he could eat there every day, which caused Jay to let out a groan.

"Holy crap, I've created a monster." I noted he didn't object when the voting was for the big chain rather than Massey's, which was more local. Jay told everyone it was on Main Street in toward Hamilton Road, and said for them to follow his truck since he knew the way. It was a quarter after twelve, and the parking lot was half-empty since many seniors had decided to leave early too. The boys had started for their cars when Benny called out to halt the parade. "Hey guys! I have errands to do after we eat, so I need to stop at home first, and it's dumb for Cal to drive to town by himself…so I can bring him with me…let's say we meet you there at one?"

That got hoots from the boys, but not too badly, because they all knew what they'd do with a few spare minutes alone with their own boyfriends…and I cut in to lighten up the joshing Benny was taking. "That works for me, Ben…I'm not feeling up to eating lunch with a bunch of giggling boys. You can drop me at home, and then head up to Calvin's and pick him up." Benny looked at Cal standing next to him, and the blond nodded, saying he had to pick up his money anyway, since he hadn't planned on going out for lunch that morning.

Everybody agreed that one o'clock at the Main Street Pizza Hut was fine, and we all sorted ourselves out for our rides. Greg and Denny hopped into the Corvair, and my brother and Mikey got into his truck, while I stood next to Benny's purple Barracuda as he exchanged a few words with his new boyfriend before saying goodbye. Calvin climbed into his old Buick and Benny shut the door, letting his hand rest briefly on Cal's before he turned to join me. I watched the mini traffic jam as the guys headed for the exit to the one-lane street; Denny followed Jay's truck heading south toward Route 40, which changed its name to Main Street in Reynoldsburg, only taking up the numerical designation once it left the area on the west side of Columbus. Ben turned left to take me home, and Cal's car was right behind us until we turned on the road heading east for our farm. "He's a nice guy, Ben…I approve."

Benny smiled broadly at me and blushed deeply. "It may be too early, but I love him, Lin. I think he's the one." I just nodded back, having heard of nothing but Calvin, Calvin, Calvin for the last four months…Benny had it bad for him, and judging from the looks I'd seen the other boy giving him, I was sure he felt the same way about my big wrestler.

I had to laugh when I got out of the car at my house and watched Benny tear out of the barn-yard to go meet up with his boyfriend. Over by the barn, I saw Gulliver toss his head and let out a soft whicker. Sometimes, I could swear that horse was psychic.

The ride west into town passed pretty quickly as I watched Jay steer the truck, shifting gears for him whenever he squeezed my hand—that was our standard practice now, and I was getting better at hearing when I should do it—but I'd always wait for his prompt just in case I was wrong. I'd have to ask my dad if Jay could drive my car—being mine, the title was in my name, but the insurance was in my dad's, and I didn't know if it would cover anyone outside the family. While we were getting the truck ready to be painted, it would be nice to keep the truck away from any damage from rocks thrown up by driving it around town. For me, the biggest advantage was that my Pontiac was an automatic, so I could sit as close to Jay as I wanted while he drove, and we'd each have an extra hand free to do something more fun than shift gears.

We passed the King Kone, noting it wasn't open yet, but in a few more weeks it would be busy with kids wanting ice cream after school as the weather heated up. There were some small businesses along the sides of the road, but a lot of the land was still farms or wood lots, with more houses as we got closer to Columbus' easternmost suburb. On the south side, I saw the big sign coming up for the drive-in and got a nice surprise to see that it was already listing the first movies for the season. "Look, 40 East is open!"

When we got closer to the huge enclosed area with its twin screens, I sighed when my boyfriend pointed out the small sign next to the entrance. "Sorry, kæreste—the small sign at the bottom says another week yet, weather permitting." Jay moved his hand to my thigh for a quick squeeze before putting it back on the wheel. "I don't know anything about Breakout, but maybe Mechagodzilla is good for a laugh." We both thought the old Japanese movies were a riot, and I told him that Death Race 2000 was supposed to star that Carradine guy from Kung Fu. "You mean that guy who was a Chinese monk in the Old West?"

"That's the one. The movie is full of cars getting wreckedand drivers score points by the number of people they hit during the race." Jay looked at me funny, probably wondering how I knew that, so I told him. "I read about it in one of those monster magazines…" It was a guilty pleasure of mine, that I used to love those things with titles like Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters…he'd seen my comic book collection of Magnus Robot Fighter, but that was okay since he liked robots too—but he thought all those old monsters were too funny to be scary. I tried redeeming myself by adding, "Rollerball is supposed to be cool with lots of motorcycle crashes and stuff…it's sort of like a mix of roller derby skating and motorcycle racing."

Jay grinned when he saw me shift on the seat and put my hand down to adjust myself in my jeans. One of the things we'd found out about each other was what television shows turned us on with their hot guys, and high on my list was Don Kirschner's Rock Concert…but we shared one more—watching the guys' teams doing skating on those roller derby tracks—usually wearing tank tops, shorts, long socks and a few pads. He'd laughed at my confession of trying to skate when I was six, and that I kept falling on my butt, until Linda told me he'd almost broken his arm by hitting a tree when he couldn't stop on his third try. "Huh?" I'd missed something Jay asked while thinking of him dressed like one of those skaters….

"I asked which one you wanted to see—the car wrecks with blood, or the motorcycle crashes with potential blood. I'm cool with either one, but I heard the price is going up to five bucks a car."

I had to laugh at him, because he was going to take me to a real theater to see one movie on our first date—which would have cost each of us half what we'd both be paying to see two at the drive-in. At least here, the concession stand had a wider selection of food and snacks than the place at Eastland Mall. "If we got some of the other guys to go with us…" he suggested, but I cut him off.

"No dice, elskede—I want our first time to be just us. If we go next Friday, it will be close to our second anniversary…so it'll be my turn to pay." I took a quick look around at the traffic, and leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek before scooting back to my spot next to the door. "We can go with the guys next time….Hey, look—it's the store where my mom works!" I pointed to the right where a row of stores formed a miniature mall, with an old drive-in restaurant closest to the road, and the biggest store at the far end was the Scotts 5 & 10.

We were hitting more lights now, and Denny's Corvair got separated from us when we made one they didn't. I mentioned that to Jay, but there wasn't anything he could do since we were in one of the center lanes; I kept glancing behind us, but lost sight of them when they missed a second red light. Jay chuckled as I kept up my vigil. "They can't miss it, Mikey—it's got a big sign, and it's the only one out here…see—there it is!" I looked ahead as Jay signaled and made his way into the turn lane, waiting for a gap to shoot through. When it came, he took over the shifting and we made it into the parking lot, which seemed mostly empty. He parked close to the side entrance, and his truck was easily visible from the street. A few minutes later Denny pulled up and took the spot next to us, leaving Jay the closest to the street for Cal and Benny to see. We stood around a few minutes talking when Greg mentioned he saw us kissing, and I turned red as a beet. That got laughs from all three of them, and I said we should go inside to wait for the other two boys. The smell of pizza coming out was making my mouth water, and I heard Jay's stomach rumble, so we all went in and waited for the server to seat us.

I don't know why, but I was surprised that this restaurant looked almost identical to the one in Heath that we'd been to on Wednesday…it even had a small salad bar in the same spot near the center. Reds and browns, just like the other one, even the same fake shutters on the windows. The server turned out to be a guy with brown hair about our age, and Jay asked for the big curved corner booth on the far side of the dining room. "Just the four of you," the guy asked, grabbing menus.

"There's two more of us coming in a few minutes, and we'd prefer it to one of the tables." Greg said that with a hint of his drawl, and the young man gave him a smile before picking up two more menus, leading us past the salad bar to the booth we wanted. He put the menus in front of us as we were seated, and said the lunch special was an eight-inch pizza, a salad and small drink for $1.49. Jay said that was a good deal, so we decided to go for it. "Can our friends have it too, when they get here?"

We watched as the guy thought for a second, then returned Jay's smile. "Well, you guys just made it, but since they're with you, I'll stretch it for them too. What do you guys want to drink?" The menu listed Coke products, which was a disappointment, and I was told that Pepsi was served at some franchises, but this one was a company store, and only sold Coke products. I decided on Root Beer, while the others had Coke, to be brought out with the pizza. The waiter shook his head, and laughed. "Guys, refills on soft drinks are free…so I'll bring them out now. Check out what you want on the pizza while you wait for your friends."

Our waiter, Bill, returned a few minutes later, carrying red plastic glasses with the Coca-Cola script in white on the sides, laying out straws and silverware at the same time. Our paper placemats had some green thing with the history of pizza-making on it, and Jay was explaining the menu to Greg and Denny who had never been to a Pizza Hut before. About ten minutes later, Bill was back with a basket containing pieces of garlic bread with cheese on top. He put a stack of oval plates in the center of the table and said the garlic bread was his treat. When Jay asked why, he smiled at Denny and gave him a wink. "Family has to stick together," were his parting words.

I didn't get it, but I saw Denny blushing. "It's my fault—I was holding Reb's hand when he came back with the drinks." I wanted to laugh, but I'd been doing the same thing with Jay, only I didn't get caught. There were voices coming from the doorway, but we couldn't see who it was with the salad bar in the way, but it turned out to be a group of four, three guys and a girl, who sat together at a booth closer to the door. Bill took their orders, and then served their drinks. He was heading back to the counter when he turned to see who the newest arrivals were. Seconds later, Cal and Benny followed him, and took the places on Jay's right, which put us in the middle of the big 'U-shaped' seat. "You started without us?" Benny asked, looking hurt.

Bill explained the special, and told him we waited to order, then went off to get Diet Coke for Benny, and Root Beer for Calvin. It only struck me then that there were six pieces of garlic toast in the basket, so he'd thought of our friends in advance. He pulled out his order pad and started taking down our pizza requests: Benny and Greg ordered thin crust, while the rest of us opted for the thick and chewy; Jay and I had pepperoni and Italian sausage, Greg and Benny had pepperoni only, and Calvin and Denny had sausage and mushrooms. He said it would be about fifteen minutes, and told us to help ourselves to the salad bar.

I got my salad with lettuce, a little red cabbage, slivers of carrot and croutons, and then I saw the little cherry tomatoes and put four of them on the side of my plate. I sprinkled a little salt on top then went back to my seat. Jay slid in next to me with pretty much the same thing, except his had Italian dressing. The other guys ran the entire gamut of what was up there; Benny was the only one besides me who didn't get dressing either. I was glancing around at my friends as we talked about all sorts of things, except school, when I felt Jay's foot rub my ankle, just as he'd done when we were at the restaurant in Heath on Wednesday. When I turned my head to say something, the sneaky bastard popped a piece of lettuce into my mouth with his fork! "Eat it," he whispered. "You don't like trying new stuff…so I had to be tricky." He watched me chew for a few seconds, and then grinned. "Tell me you didn't like the Italian Dressing," he challenged.

Okay, it was good…and I wouldn't have tried it otherwise, but I had to set rules. "From now on, Jay Beckel, I want to see what you stick in my mouth." Denny, who was seated to my left, had been taking a sip of his Coke, and choked as I said those words to Jay. Greg began patting his back and rubbing little circles between his shoulder blades, but it still took a few minutes for his boyfriend to stop and catch his breath. I missed the look Benny gave Calvin, so my mouth dropped open in shock when he looked Jay in the eye and whispered, "Gee, it's so small you have to tell him it's there?" I wasn't good at this kind of joking so common among jock types, so I tried explaining that it wasn't small…which made Jay turn red, and the other guys to start howling with laughter.

Jay told me there were only two ways to answer jokes like that: the first was to insult the guy right back, and the second was to say 'Fuck you'. Apparently, you never, ever tried to explain. How was I to know? When we got to my house after lunch, he gave me a sound kissing, and followed that with a practical demonstration of how well he could fill my mouth with his dick. I moved around to return the lesson, and before long, we both received the proof that we were talented students.

As we ate our pizza, Bill would come back to refill our drinks, or see if we needed anything else, and I wondered if he was being extra nice to us; but I wasn't sure because he checked the other occupied tables too. Greg asked him for a menu, and when he brought it back, he looked at it for a few seconds, and then asked him a question in a very soft whisper. "Do you have a boyfriend, Bill?" The guy looked around in a panic, but Greg leaned closer, pointing at the menu as if showing him what he wanted. He let his fingers pat the waiter's hand, which held a shaking pencil, then went on. "We know it can be tough…we all took a while to find our special friend…" he noticed the quick look at Benny, and nodded. "Yes, him too." Greg looked around at all of us and I got what he was doing at last—giving the young man the opportunity to talk to people who would understand. One by one, each of us nodded. "If you want to talk about it, or hang out sometime, you can give me a call. You're not alone. How old are you?"

Bill stammered a bit as he whispered back, "I..m s-sixteen. I just got my license, and this is my first job. You'd…really let me call you?" He sounded like it was too good to be true, and I saw his hand shook just a bit as he laid the check on the table for us to divide amongst ourselves. Nine dollars was a great deal for all the food they ate—and each boy put two singles on the table, except Greg who put down one of his new two-dollar bills with a grin at Denny. "I'll be back with your change, guys." Greg held up his hand to use his pencil, and put a check next to the 'garlic toast' and added the dollar for that to the total…then tore a piece off of his paper placemat to write his name and phone number down. "We don't want you to get in trouble for the free toast, so you take part of the extra cash to cover it…the three bucks left over is your tip. Here's my number—please call anytime you need to." He was about to hand the paper over when Calvin grabbed it and put his own phone number and name on it.

"If you can't get hold of Greg, call me…I was pretty scared before I met my friends here, so I can relate to how you feel better than Greg." He handed the paper and pencil back to the waiter, and stuck his tongue out at Greg, making them all laugh. Bill looked at the numbers, and then took a harder look at Benny.

"I thought you looked familiar, but until I saw the phone numbers I didn't get it—you wrestle for the Wildcats, right?" Benny looked down for a second, and blushed, but nodded his head. "Yeah, thought so—I was at the match watching you guys take on my cousin…he's about your size, and you kicked his ass, but the Hornets still won!" He laughed as the big wrestler made a fake grab for the paper, growling that he didn't want his boyfriend to talk to any fucking Licking Heights Hornets fan. Bill put it safely in his pocket and took a half-step back. "Nope, that's my cousin…I go to Reynoldsburg, so that makes me a Raiders fan."

There were some more jibes back and forth, but everybody was smiling and laughing about it, so we all got up to leave. Jay patted the boy's shoulder and issued another invitation before we went outside. "We saw the drive-in will be open soon—call one of us in a week or two and we'll all go see the show." That got more cheers from the others, and Bill said he'd do that, especially if it was a Saturday night when he got off work by five. As we left, Bill waved goodbye to us and rang up our bill at the register, pulling out the ten dollars to cover it; Jay saw him frown and count the money a second time, but it still seemed to come up the same—his tip should have been two dollars since Greg had put the garlic bread on the sheet, but he had three left over when he put the total in the till. It took Bill a second to work out what had happened: one of them had put the extra dollar down so he'd still have the same tip as before. Jay said he was still grinning as he watched us talking by our cars, and we all waved at him before we drove off.

"That was nice, what you did for that guy," Jay said as we made our plans for the rest of the day, addressing Greg and Calvin. "Do you think he'll call?" I smiled at Jay for once more putting others first. Calvin looked at Greg and shrugged his shoulders, and Greg took a few moments to answer.

"He might—I hope he does because I want him to feel good about himself—but I promised Denny that I wouldn't call any more guys…" We all knew now about his dirty phone calls while he was searching for a boyfriend, so we understood what he meant. "I still want to help other kids like us find themselves, but it's up to them to make the next move now." He blushed deeply before he made one last comment. "Don't you think we ought to help others find the happiness we have now…even a little bit?"

When Calvin said that was why he put his own number down, the rest of us nodded one by one, leaving me to be the last to nod. I was all for it, but I wasn't ready to even consider being out to my parents—they were older than my friends' parents—especially my dad—and it seemed to me that they were probably more conservative than the rest. They seemed okay with blacks, encouraging me to do those little trips with the Martins, but being gay was a lot bigger deal. There had been a few After School Specials and a movie or two that all hinted at bad things happening to kids like us, and then there was that whole Air Force thing last year when they dishonorably discharged Sgt. Matlovich for being gay. Nope, I wasn't going to risk it—but I had a vague idea of using his lawsuit for Mrs. Wilson's final project….

Jay's voice brought me back to the present. "No thanks, guys…me and Mikey are going to try to find the radio my brother bought for the truck, and then after dinner we're heading into town to visit some guys at OSU who we met at the mall last Saturday. We'll pass on the shopping trip." I was confused for a second before I saw Benny nod, and then get turned down by Greg and Denny too. Denny said he had a surprise for Greg, but wouldn't let on what it was, and that got a lot of grins and ribbing from the rest of us, with Jay asking them if they wanted to see the barn. Calvin looked confused, but I think Benny got it when he saw Greg's blush…maybe not the details, but he looked pretty sure he had the gist of it.

We split up, Benny's Barracuda headed west toward Hamilton Road and the clothing stores, while Denny and Greg followed us back east on Route 40, until Jay turned left to head up to town and my house. I watched as Denny's Corvair kept going east, and figured he was heading to Greg's house. As Jay pulled into my driveway, I hopped out to grab the mail, and followed him up to the garage where he parked. There were a couple bills, and I saw four letters in colored envelopes with no return addresses. All were hand-printed, so I had no idea who they were from; each had an Easter-lily stamp for 13¢ and was postmarked from our local facility. I tossed the mail on the kitchen counter, and paused when Jay asked if I was going to open them.

"I need to pick clothes for tomorrow, and figure out what to wear for tonight…I'll open them tomorrow when we get back." Jay got this glint in his eye and wrapped me in his arms, giving me a soft kiss. His hands felt good on my back, and I slumped against him as if my bones had turned to rubber, taking time to enjoy the contact for a while before he pulled away. He put the letters back in my hands.

"They look like holiday cards—maybe relatives sent you money?" I hadn't thought of that, but it wasn't impossible, so I picked one and put the rest down. Jay smiled and headed for my room at the far end of the house. "I'll pick out what you wear tomorrow—we're going to match so I can get my reward."

I wondered how bright it was for me to let Jay pick out my clothes, but I had to smile at his parting words—he knew he'd get his 'reward' no matter what, but we both enjoyed the game we'd been playing all week. His prize was a blow-job from me, but it always turned into us both getting one before it was over…and that suited me just fine. It was hard to say whether I enjoyed giving or receiving them more…and I hadn't failed to do him every day, though I'd tried not to the first day we didn't match underwear colors. Jay's sad looks eventually got to me---not to mention I was going insane with hormone overload by abstaining—and before he'd driven me home that evening, I'd nearly ripped his clothes off of him to get at his body.

I pulled the first envelope's contents out, and saw it was a fancy piece of paper cut into a nice design. When I unfolded it, I saw it was symmetrical, like those old Valentines we'd cut out in elementary school, each having a few lines of poetry printed on it. So much for the cash idea…there was nothing in them but the paper, or so I thought until the third one contained a single small white flower. I frowned as I looked at them, and it got deeper the more I looked. Each had a heading JOKE---JOKE---JOKE at the top, then the lines of verse…and no signature except a row of dots. I looked at the backs, but nothing was there at all. Just two with five dots and two with seven where a name might go.

These definitely weren't from my relatives. As I stared at them, the heading made me immediately think of Jay—he'd do a prank like this—but not four of them—or would he? "Jay—get your ass out here!" I yelled toward my bedroom. I heard his muffled reply saying he'd be out in a minute when he was finished, and asked for a Pepsi before we would leave. I poured him a glass with ice, and took a sip myself before turning back to the mysterious letters. I still couldn't tell if he'd done them, or had other people in on it too…then I began to read the verses more closely—each one was different The first one ended with five dots, and was only two lines:

My name is given by nails--
Be careful not to get stuck!
• • • • •

The second also ended with five dots:

My name is told by fleas--Be careful they don't jump!
• • • • •

The third one, which contained the flower, ended with seven dots:

Seven letters has my name,
Seven circles tell it plain;
The winter-jester fresh and pure,
Asks only that your love be sure!
• • • • • • •

The last one was more like a Valentine than the others were, and also had seven dots:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
Strawberries are sweet,
And so are you!
• • • • • • •

I didn't hear Jay come up behind me since he'd removed his shoes at the back door, so I jumped a little when he put his hands around my shoulders. I turned in his arms and held up the four letters, two in each hand. "What do you know about these? I can see your hand in this…"

Jay's hypnotic blue eyes met mine, and I could see the twinkle in them, and then a bit of a puzzled look took over. "Four? There should only be three…oops!" Without his shoes on, I had a greater height advantage, and used it to the full as I levered his head up to look me in the eye more directly. "I thought so—okay, you have five seconds to spill the beans before I start tickling you!" He didn't start talking until my fingers dove under his shirt for his ribs, then his pits…the worst spot besides his feet. He was begging for mercy between gasps of laughter, and I let up, once he agreed to tell me about it. I rewarded him with a kiss when he'd finished telling me about the old Danish tradition of prank letters sent between family members and friends, but when he mentioned a prize and penalty, I looked dubious.

"Let me get this straight, if I guess right, the person gives me a kiss…and if I guess wrong about who sent it, I have to give them a kiss? That doesn't seem like such a bad penalty—are you sure that's right?" I watched his blond hair move slightly as he nodded his head; it still seemed like something was wrong with that system, but who knew how weird old traditions could be—especially foreign ones. He split the glass of soda with me, and then I left a note for my parents saying I'd be home tomorrow evening; I followed him out into the garage, locking the back door before going into the second garage to grab the sander my dad let us borrow.

Before we left the garage, Jay kissed me again. "Next stop, Walker's Hardware."

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