Jack in the Box

Chapter 25

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : August, 2000

I woke up feeling no less lonely. It was early, still mostly dark outside, but when I looked at the empty bed next to me I felt sad as well as lonely. No Davy, and there wouldn't be a Davy except for long distance.

I tried to get back to sleep but I couldn't. I wondered what things were going to be like with him away, wondered what I'd do with myself without him. I also wondered at the fact that Davy had gotten so deeply under my skin in such a short time. Short time, hell. He'd gotten to me somehow that first night, made friends like it had been waiting to happen.

I worried about how Annie would feel if she knew I felt so strongly about Davy, if she'd give up on me. If Davy were only gay it would all be simple. Except for his smile, Davy wasn't anything like Jack. Davy was outgoing where Jack was reticent, wanted to try things instead of having to be coaxed into them. At the same time, Jack could be truly funny when he wanted to. Davy had a sense of humor and laughed a lot, he just rarely made the jokes himself. Davy was better looking than Jack at first glance, but Jack made himself seem beautiful with his smiles and grins.

Still, my feelings for Davy were similar to those I'd first felt for Jack, the feelings I had before I fell in love. It was this connection at first, the sense that there was nothing I could say that wouldn't have been understood, the idea that I needed to know everything about the other and that they were both open to sharing those things with me.

I tried to pull myself out of it, ashamed to be comparing in the first place. I had other friends, I just had to trust them, get closer to them. I tried to think about them, sort them out in my mind. Annie was first of course, but I decided to think about her later.

Tony had turned out to be a true friend, and much of what I thought of Jack and Davy applied to him. It was just different with Tony. I needed him and he needed me, but friends was what we were destined to be. I didn't think he'd change much as he aged, not personality wise anyhow. It wasn't hard to picture him as a rich old artist still sitting in his hut and creating his art, that beautiful view still his private domain.

Nope, it was different with Tony because Tony was different. I loved him, I really did, but not as a potential lover. I didn't want to knock myself, but even if Tony was gay he'd need somebody as special as him to make him truly happy. He wasn't gay though, and Paulina was a heck of a start for him. I didn't know for sure what her deal was with him, but her interest and affection seemed genuine. In a way, if it worked out for her and Tony, she would be perfect, able to fill in the blanks for him better than anybody. From what I knew, her family had been poor before they got adopted. That would explain her empathy. Now they were rich, and all the kids in the family seemed to deal with it like it was just another facet of their lives.

They hadn't become snobs or anything like that, they were just regular kids who were popular because they were regular kids. Even that's not fair, they were popular because they were nice kids who always tried to do the right thing. When they came to town it changed the population enough to be noticed, but nothing else changed except the level of smarts around. I didn't know about Jose and Nydia because they were younger, but Maria, Paulina and Hector were all honor students every marking term.

Paulina had told me a few days ago that she worked for her grades, that it wasn't a natural thing for her, and I believed her. Jack was smart too, but he worked hard to excel in school. I never thought I was dumb, I just wasn't smart enough to realize that all the subjects they taught were potentially important to my future. I always did fine in English and Social Studies, pretty good in science, rotten in history. Nothing mathematical ever interested me until I met Jack. He didn't have any particular interest in it either. He had a need to know, though, and he passed that on to me. Jack convinced me that math was essential, and we worked together until we both got better at it.

I looked at the clock and groaned, then decided to get up and stop thinking. I went into the bathroom and took such a long shower that I was all wrinkled up when I got out. I decided to shave after I combed my hair and brushed my teeth.

I managed that with no nicks for once, got dressed, and cooked myself a real breakfast. Paulina said I should take care of myself. Well, yesterday I had no real breakfast, a sundae in mid-morning and a mountain of chili at night.

It was all delicious but it didn't really qualify as taking care. Thinking about it, it probably wasn't a particularly healthy day. I decided to pan bake some eggs on top of tomatoes and have them on toast with a little ham on the side.

My father always called them Turkish omelets. I didn't know where that name came from, but they were delicious. I had a glass of juice with it and then a glass of milk to round things out. It was all the basic food groups except cookies, and I felt pretty good about thinking to start the day off well.

I cleaned up and went outside to see what the day looked like. It was clear, but cooler than I expected. I decided to ride my bike somewhere and got it from the garage, taking the new one so I could get more used to it. The only real difference was that it had twenty one speeds instead of eighteen and little paddles to shift with instead of the old type shifter I was used to.

I pedaled out of the yard, first heading toward town, then thinking better of it, I turned toward the more open section of road that went to Arlington. There were was only one hill going that way. I wanted to crank out the bike to see what the extra three speeds bought me. I had the road to myself at that time of day, so I got going as fast as I could.

It was beautiful. There were still remnants of the sunrise on a few puffy clouds in the East, just some pinkness on the bottoms of them against the pale blue sky. The bike really worked like a charm. I didn't even mind the helmet, even though it was idiotic looking. I'd had my run-in with a mailbox before they passed the law requiring them on younger kids. I was past that age, but my parents passed their own law and I didn't argue often. I didn't always wear it, but I'd put it on this day.

I was more interested in what the extra gearing would give me. The answer is not much. This bike had three more speeds than my old one, but only one was on top. The rest only added to the shifting, but that was made easier by the little paddle things.

The technology didn't matter. I just wanted to go fast, and that's what I did. I was pedaling up a low grade all the way to the Arlington line, then I turned around and headed back. It was mindless almost, just speed and wind, enough attention to keep myself upright. The downhill return stretch was exhilarating. When I got near my house I briefly considered stopping, then continued down the road to the Anderson's house. I thought I'd pay a visit to Pat.

When I got there Mr. A. was in the kitchen having coffee. He waved me in. "Morning, Mike. What brings you here?"

I sat down and he offered me something. I declined. "I just came to see Pat. He's still in bed?"

Pat's father grimaced, "Yeah, we don't wake him up. He needs extra rest, more than most kids." He looked up at me hopefully, "You can go wake him up Mike, Pat needs friends more than sleep. He's pretty bored most of the time."


"Go do it. He's been pretty much stuck here since the accident. We didn't stay very late last night; he can get up now."

I asked, "Where's his room?"

"It's at the top of the stairs, last door on the right. I'll whip up some breakfast for us."

I followed his directions. The door to Patty's room was open and I took a step inside and looked around. The room seemed typical boy. It was painted a light blue and had a dark blue rug. It wasn't a real mess, but not what you'd call tidy either. There were two beds, one unused and made up, the other contained Pat, and he was flat on his back all snarled up in the covers and sound asleep. His hated glasses were folded on the night stand beside the alarm clock. I looked, and the other night stand only held a lamp.

I looked back at Pat. He was disheveled in his sleep, but still good looking. He looked pretty much like Jed, like me. Well, we all shared common coloring, the blond hair and darker eyebrows. It was enough of a resemblance that lots of people took me to be a relation of the Andersons. It really ended at our matching hair and eyebrow color. The Anderson boys were slender and Pat was almost fragile looking. I was more solid, more heavily built. I wasn't fat by any stretch, I just hid my bones pretty well.

I stood looking at Patty. It seemed a shame to wake him up, but I'd come to see him and his father said I should. I started to reach a hand to him, then discovered I didn't know just where he started. He was really tangled up in the sheets and blankets.

I took a chance and grabbed where a shoulder should have been. I thought I was successful, so I started gently pushing on it. "Wake up! Come on Pat, wake UP!"

He stirred and mumbled, "I'm sleeping."

I pushed his shoulder again, only succeeding in getting him to roll over onto his face and get even more hopelessly tangled in his covers. I kept at it, "C'mon Pat, I can't stay too long."

I heard a very muffled and garbled, "Mike?" then Pat tried to roll over, his situation with the bedcovers preventing much progress. I was normally a pretty sound sleeper and didn't move much during the night. While Pat tried to untangle himself I was amused wondering if he dreamed of a wrestling match or something. I checked that thought and hoped that wrestling was the cause of his thrashing, not something sadder.

When Pat finally figured out where he ended and his covers began he sat up and reached for his glasses When he had them on he turned a big-eyed smile to me. Untangling himself had apparently given him cause to come alert. He smiled, "Hi, Mike! What time is it? Whatcha doin' here?"

"It's seven thirty. I was just on my bike and figured I'd stop in. Is that okay?"

He beamed his approval, "Yeah, sure it's okay. It's great! You can't stay long?"

"Maybe an hour, I gotta help next door around nine."

"Cool. Um, hand me my bathrobe? It's right inside the closet door."

I got it out and tossed it to him, then started looking at the things in the room just so Pat could get out of bed modestly. After a few seconds he said, "I'll be right back. I hafta brush my teeth."

I heard him whoosh out of the room and thunder down the hall. He wasn't a big kid, but he sure had loud feet, and seemed to move at a mile a minute. I looked at the photo of Pat and Kevin that Tony had done his drawing from, looking for something different in their faces. I was darned if I could see anything, but Tony had, and that impressed me

Pat came back in a few minutes with his hair combed and, presumably, his teeth brushed. He grinned, "I'll clean up later, let's go downstairs."

He turned and thundered down the stairs with me right behind him. We went into the kitchen where his father was standing at the stove. He bent down and he and Pat hugged. "Mornin' Patty, you feeling good today?"

Pat smiled, "I'm fine. Mmmm... French toast! Where's Ma?"

"She took the car to get new wipers, then she's going grocery shopping. You boys set the table."

I didn't know where things were, so I just took what Pat handed me and placed them where I thought we'd sit. I already ate, but French toast sounded good.

When the food was ready we ate pretty quietly. I wasn't really hungry, but Pat and his father sure were. I only took two pieces and was just nibbling at it. They were wolfing it down like there was no tomorrow. Watching them made me feel better, less lonely. Mr. Anderson wasn't somebody you'd think of as a fun person, but he had a real connection with his kids. His love showed and I liked that. I had the same thing at home, love and connections with my parents. Tony had the love; that was easy enough to see. He just didn't have the connection with his folks that Pat and I did. I only barely remembered my father's mother, the rest of my grandparents had died before they were the age of Tony's own parents. I guess it was weird for him, but he never brought it up so I stopped thinking about it.

When we finished eating, Pat's father told us to get lost and he'd clean up. Pat and I walked outside, him still in his bathrobe.

We wandered out back into their little orchard. They had two apple trees, three peach trees, an apricot tree and a half dozen pear trees. I grabbed a nice looking apple while Pat picked a pear. We both sat so quickly that we ended up tight against each other. I was anything but hungry, but I took a delicious bite of the apple anyhow.

Pat said, "I'm glad you came over. Hardly anybody does. You really came to see me?"

"Yeah, who else would I come to see?"

Pat looked at the ground, "I just thought maybe Jed."

I looked at Pat and thought I knew where his sadness was coming from. It was the loss of Kevin first, of course, but he'd spent most of the summer alone like me. Pat was the only kid with lasting physical effects from that crash, the only one still alive who was still suffering from his injuries.

It was no reason he had to be lonely. I decided right then to spend more time with Patty.

He was pretty good to talk to once we got off the subject of his injuries and loneliness. He'd read a lot during the summer and told me about some of the stories. He was really excited about the Harry Potter novels even though they were supposedly kid books. He made them sound good enough that I ended up asking to borrow one. He also told me about holding hands with my sister at the fishing outing and getting yelled at by James Green for not wearing his glasses. He was fun to talk to.

When it was time to leave I told Pat I'd come back the next day and spend some more time with him. He said Jed was expected in time for the picnic later, and I got excited about seeing him again. I picked a few more apples to take with me and put them in the bag that Pat gave me with the book. He's tossed his pear, saying it wasn't ripe yet.

My loneliness had vaporized. As I pedaled up the street I waved at people who were out in their yards and stopped to briefly talk to a few of them. By the time I got home my bag contained some yellow squash from Mr. Hannison and some pictures Mrs. Rizza took when the picnic was at our house. It was kind of like the way things used to be. I always came home with what my father called 'booty' when I stopped and talked like that.

I put the squash and pictures on the kitchen table, the apples in the refrigerator and the book in my room. I didn't see any activity next door yet, so I hurried out to the barn to see if I had any e-mails. Boy, did I ever. There were eleven of them, four from Davy alone. I read his first. Three were from the night before and one was sent that morning. The three earlier ones were newsy things plus Davy wanting to know if we got a long weekend for Columbus Day. That was his first upcoming long weekend.

The one he wrote that morning really moved me, nearly to tears. He'd gone to bed the night before feeling lonely just like I had, and the loneliness was still there in the morning. It made me feel bad for Davy, but better about myself. At least the feelings I had weren't one-sided. I was trying to remember how to respond when I heard voices outside. I hurried out and saw James and Aaron talking to Tim and Dave. Buddy showed up in a few minutes and we spent the next three hours carrying stuff from one house to the other.

It was work, but not really hard. Everyone was in a good mood and it went by fast. There was already furniture in the new house, most of it brand new. It really was a beautiful place. There were some antique pieces here and there and they gave the house a lived-in look even though it hadn't been.

When we finished, Dave offered to make lunch for everybody. I called Annie to make sure she was still coming over before declining. Tim gave us each fifty dollars for helping, an amount that we all protested, albeit weakly. Wow! Now I really knew how Tony felt. I'd bet that it was the most money any of us ever had earned on our own. I thanked Tim profusely and ran home with the bill in my hand. There was nobody there to witness the event, but I could show them later.

I literally danced my way out of my clothes, then took a shower and spent a long time brushing my teeth. I was running around naked. I even picked up my room a little on the off chance that Annie might end up in there for something.

I was dressed and tying my shoelaces on the porch when Annie's mother dropped her off. I ran out to greet her, and she was looking great as usual, yellow cotton shorts and a very dark red tee shirt that ended just above her navel. I exchanged greetings with her mother, then helped get the picnic basket and table cloth out of the trunk.

When her mother backed out of the driveway we just stared at each other grinning. I said, "Hi," wondering about the fact that she looked better every time I saw her. With most people I would have started to notice imperfections by now, but Annie didn't seem to have any. She really was pretty, and she seemed happy to be there with me.

"Hi yourself. You look like you just got out of the shower," she said, leaning in to kiss me.

I liked Annie's little kisses. They were quick and meaningful at the same time. It wasn't like making out, but it seemed just as important. I grinned, "I did. I was all sweaty from working before."

"I'm glad then. Are we going for a ride or just hanging out in the driveway?"

I came to my senses and said, "Oh yeah! Let's go!" I took her hand and picked up the picnic basket in my other. "Do we need anything else? We have soda and iced tea."

Annie bumped her hip into mine, "Nope, I brought everything. I hope you like chicken!"

I did. I had to. We just about lived on chicken. "I love chicken, what'd ya make?"

"It's fried. I didn't make it, Mama did. She made it nice and spicy."

I grinned, "Cool. Remind me that I have some apples for later."

We put the stuff in the back of the duner and headed out slowly. It had turned out to be a nice day, cooler and less humid than it had been. I drove slowly out to the pond and we set up our picnic, deciding to eat before we did anything else.

It wasn't too hot, so we stayed near the car at the sunny end of the pond. Annie had done herself proud with the meal. The way Annie set it up was nice to begin with. She had real dishes and silverware and set it up just like a table. The spot we chose was really pretty, right next to the water and almost to the woods. Annie was pretty herself, and she kept giving me little looks as if she wanted my approval of everything. I approved. I was hungry and the food looked good, but I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I was there alone with Annie of my own volition and I felt good about it. Heck, I was excited to be there with her, to see the effort she'd put into making our little picnic perfect.

When everything was ready and we sat down side by side I couldn't stop smiling, didn't want to stop smiling. I nudged Annie, "This is great; you went to a lot of trouble."

She said, "No trouble at all," and handed me a dish of sliced peaches in syrup. While I started eating that she buttered up some rolls and handed me one. Then she picked up her own plate and started on the peaches.

We made a little small talk while we had the appetizer, then Annie served up the chicken and potato salad with some sliced and very ripe tomatoes. The chicken was battered instead of breaded and was indeed pretty spicy. It was delicious as was everything else. When I spoke again it was with a greasy mouth and fingers. I had just set my plate down, fully aware that there were still four pieces of chicken that hadn't been eaten. If I had any more right then I think I would have exploded. I licked my fingers, then picked up the linen napkin and wiped my hands and lips properly.

"It was delicious, Annie. All of it! If I eat anymore I'm gonna bust a seam."

She put her dish down and wiped her hands and mouth, then leaned into me. "I'm stuffed too. You really liked it?"

I draped my arm around her and kissed her cheek, "Delicious, every bit of it."

Annie kissed my cheek in return, "I'm glad you liked it. I know you're itching to drive that car but I need to let my stomach settle a little. Let's put this stuff away and we can lay down on the cloth for awhile, okay?"

More than okay, I felt the same way, as if I'd just finished Thanksgiving dinner. We packed everything up quickly and flipped the tablecloth over, then stretched out on our sides facing each other. I think we were both doing the same thing, searching each other's face for signs of how to proceed. We ended up in a long, gentle kiss that elicited sighs from both of us when we finally separated.

Kissing Annie was fun, and I resisted the temptation to call her chicken breath, but the thought made me giggle.

"What?" she demanded.

"Nothing... just this," I said just before kissing her again.

We lazed like that for awhile, kissing and joking, until we both felt a little less overstuffed. Annie asked, "Can you turn the radio on? We can dance."

"Dance? What, again?" I kidded.

Annie rolled back with a little pouty look on her face. I jumped to my feet, "Music comin' up!" and hurried to turn the radio on.

I started turning the dial and yelled, "Tell me when something sounds good!" I started turning the knob, sorely disappointed when Annie let me go right past the country rock station.

She cried, "Back up! That was Dickie Betts!"

Yes it was! Was this girl made in heaven or what? I turned the dial back only to get the fading final notes. As I was walking back to Annie " Bougainvillea" started to play, a nice slow song. I held my hand out and helped her up. We danced right there in the grass in the broad daylight. It was nice just holding on to Annie and swaying to the music. We weren't really dancing, just holding on. I don't think either of us had any particular intent right then other than to be close. It was a long song and by the time it ended we were kissing again.

We kept at it, not kissing passionately but enjoying ourselves for a little while. I loved Annie's company and being alone and so close made me feel like a whole person again.

The radio in the dune buggy was still on, and under the pretense of not wanting to kill the battery, we went for a ride. I took it nice and easy, not wanting to give Annie any bruises. I was pleased with my ability to shift smoothly most times, no bucking or jerking this time, just a steady ride. I surprised myself that I could drive like that and didn't squeeze the gas until Annie indicated that it was a nice car, but couldn't it move faster?

I showed her that it could, still not trying to scare her. It was fun and Annie seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. We were near where we'd had our picnic when Annie cried, "STOP!"

I slammed on the brakes and looked at her. She was looking at our spot, which was now occupied by Buster sprawled out on the cloth. The picnic basket was on its side. I drove there and stopped the car. I said, "Buster! What did you do?" as I was getting out. He raised his head and started thumping his tail at the sound of my words, then he formed his mouth into a little 'O' and burped.

I grinned at Annie, who had seen it. "So much for seconds, did he break anything?"

She had knelt to put things back in the basket. "Nothing's broken." She looked at me and smiled, "The food's gone, the garbage is gone and the dishes are washed." She turned her smile to Buster, "Nice Doggie! How'd you get the lid off this Tupperware?"

Buster lifted his head a little and gave Annie an 'I'll never tell' look and twitched his tail, then his eyes closed and he resumed his nap. I thought it was hilarious and Annie didn't seem annoyed, so I laughed out loud.

Annie needed the bathroom. We took what we could and headed back to the house, leaving Buster on the cloth. Just when I was approaching the bridge he bounded past us headed home. I grinned at Annie, "Must be dinner time," and went back for her tablecloth.

When we got to the house I showed her where the bathroom was and waited in the kitchen for my turn. When she was done I did my business then asked her, "Do you know how to work e-mail? I have a bunch but I don't remember how to answer them."

Annie smiled, "Clay said you were new to it. Where's your computer?"

"It's not mine, it's in the barn next door." I tried to read her face to see if this was an annoyance and didn't detect anything negative in her expression. "It's not my computer, Tim and Dave are lettin' me use it. Tim showed me how to use e-mail but I can't remember how to answer them."

Annie grinned, "Come on, show me where. I'm a pro at e-mail. Is it Outlook?"

I led her toward the barn, "I think so. I got a bunch from Davy already. I can't really type either."

Annie took my hand and I led her to the PC. She sat down and I stood behind her. There were a few new e-mails but I told her to look at Davy's. I leaned behind her, kind of hanging on her. She looked at the pictures and commented on them, then eventually got to the one I'd received that morning.

She looked at me, "You need to answer this, Davy really misses you." She grinned, "You talk, I'll type." She looked at me quickly, "Watch what I do, you just click 'reply' to answer the same mail. Click 'new mail' if you want to start something on your own. Here, you click so you'll remember."

I reached for the mouse and got another lesson in e-mail from Annie. I pulled up another chair and we sat side by side.

Annie could type almost as fast as I could think of things to say. Together we wrote a nice note to Davy. When it was done I said, "Tell him I love him."

She looked at me, "You mean sign it love, Mike?"

"No, say 'I love you, brother' or somethin' like that."

Annie gave me a curious look and started typing. When she finished she looked at me and said, "You mean that, don't you?"

I was surprised by the question. "Yeah, why?"

She cuddled up against me, "You don't say that to me."

Uh oh. Annie was right, I hadn't said anything more than I liked her. "Um, you want me to?"

She whispered into my ear, "Only if you mean it."

I hesitated, "It's different Annie. I feel love for you like I do for Davy, more even. I... I don't know what to say here."

There was silence for a moment while we both thought, then Annie asked, "Would you feel different about me if I was a boy?" She shook her head, "Never mind, that was a stupid question. Of course you would." She gripped my arm, "What I mean is, ah, would it be easier for you if I was a boy? "No, that's not it either." Annie had my wrist with both hands and leaned her head against my shoulder and spoke quietly. "I think I need to know if you can like me, care for me, the way I am. I'm a girl Mike, born and bred that way. I just need to know if you can love me because of that, not in spite of it."

Oh, damn! If a person's entire body can possibly groan without a sound escaping it, mine just did. I had to collect my thoughts. Part of the answer was easy. I could love Annie, I already did in a lot of ways. I wasn't twisted, I loved her as a girl because that's what she was. I wasn't trying to make her into a girl version of Jack, though it was hard not to.

Annie had most of Jack's strong points and few, if any, of his weak ones. She was smart, funny, loving, caring, and a good thinker from what I could see. Those were the things I loved about Jack, outwardly at least. Those were traits though, and it was hard to determine whether what I felt about them was love or admiration. Either word worked in the subjective sense.

I didn't know what to say. Annie rescued me by grabbing me by the neck, "I'm sorry Mike, I wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable. I know you like me, and I like you. I just want to know if I have a chance, because," she nibbled my ear, sending a shiver through me, "I really like you. Want to know why?"

Boy, did I ever want to know. I was queer, used to be queer, whatever. Why would Annie like me to begin with? She already told me, but I wanted to hear it again. Annie was one of the minuscule group of people who could make me feel good by saying nice things about me, saying how I did things in some way that made them feel better. I got it from other people, but they were adults. With them it was always like they were saying they were all grown up now, and somehow proud of what I was doing to change things for myself. It was nice to hear, it just didn't mean anything.

When Tony or Davy or Annie said nice things they were really nice things, words that I wanted to hear. It was a difference in relevance. When my parents, or Dave or Tim or Andy, said anything it was like an observation, like Oh, Mike, you're doing so much better these days. My own friends were different. They might say how I made them feel, but they also wanted to know how they made me feel. There was a bingo in there somewhere but I wasn't getting it while trying to think what to say to Annie. Just when I was about to open my mouth to say something it dawned on me.

It was the new people in my life who were making the difference. Oh sure, I'd known most of them forever, but that was a peripheral knowledge, a knowledge of their existence. Davy and his uncles next door were the only really new people in a long time, it was my new awareness of the others that was making the difference.

Anton Wolfe... my enemy. Tony Wolfe... my friend, my best friend in Morton. Jed Anderson, Buddy Early, Clay Nettleton... my harassers, now my friends. I snuggled up to Annie and we kissed. I wanted to know something and I was afraid to ask it.

I finally whispered in her ear, "Annie?"


"This is embarrassing but... oh, man... um, is there any way I can... ah... give you what you give me?" My face felt hot and I was probably red from head to toe, "I mean... I don't even know... I don't know the words either." I lowered my voice to the point that I wasn't sure she'd hear me. I wasn't sure I wanted her to hear me. "Um, can girls get off? I mean, is there anything I can do to make you feel as good as me?"

Annie sighed and whispered back, "The term is orgasm, and of course girls can have them." She kissed at my ear, "I've never had one."

My embarrassment was complete. I suddenly felt like a wicked person. I'd been having orgasms since I was eleven, fruitful ones since twelve. Poor, sweet Annie had never had one, and I was certain it was because she was too nice and decent a person to play with herself like I did. I didn't know what to say, what to do. I just fidgeted nervously until she whispered, "Want to try? I've, um... been wondering if you'd ask."

I started sweating, "Here?"

She had a few beads of sweat on her own forehead, "No silly, not here. Let's go back out by the pond, I think it's a beautiful spot."

* * * * * * * *

Clay came to pick up Annie at about five thirty. They asked me to ride to the picnic with them and I wanted to, but felt it was high time for me to make an appearance at home. When they drove off I danced into the house and found my family in various stages of getting ready for the picnic. My mother was packing up whatever she'd made to bring and my father was on the phone with someone. Both bathrooms were tied up with sisters, so I went to the seclusion of the side yard to pee, then hurried back inside. I went into my room and pocketed the fifty that Tim had paid me and straightened my hair to the reflection of the happiest looking me that I'd seen since Jack was alive.

I picked up Jack's picture from my dresser and hugged it to my chest, then I kissed it about a hundred times before placing it back in its sacred spot.

I felt like I weighed nothing, like a whispering breeze could lift me and float me away like a feather, no worries in my mind. I had just spent the best afternoon possible with Annie and I was flying high. When Annie and I first started seeing each other I felt that I was borrowing her strength of soul, using it for myself. Now I knew that she was helping me build my own inner strength.

I was still a boy, but I was convinced for the first time in my life that I'd grow up to be a man. I don't mean that I'd decided that I was gay or straight or just something in between. Annie had made it perfectly clear that she intended to be a virgin until her wedding night, but she ruled out nothing else. She also made it clear that, in her mind anyhow, I didn't have to put on a flannel shirt and split wood with an axe to become a man. It wouldn't mean anything negative if I did that, it just wouldn't subtract from anything if I didn't.

Heh, Annie liked my 'sensitive' side. I liked all of her sides, and we'd spent two hours by and in the pond discovering them. We had skinny dipped unashamedly. We'd both seen the normally covered parts of each other, touched and caressed them. I had the opportunity to compare male orgasms to female ones. It was three to one in my favor quantity-wise, but mine were the usual spasmodic things that lasted a few moments and left me panting. Annie's was almost the reverse, kind of like what a guy has when he's building up to one. Hers came on in great rolls of pleasure, like the waves landing on shore from a wind-whipped lake, seemingly endless and unstoppable, so much more powerful than a man could ever hope to achieve.

I'd shared it with her though, happy that I could bring to her the pleasures she brought to me. Our collective messes were part of the beauty of it all. We were at the dark end of the pond, and when we jumped into the water to clean off we held hands and grinned beneath the surface as the little wisps of whiteness from our bodies separated and headed upwards.

We swam away from it, and Annie's body in the crystal clear water seemed to be the most beautiful thing on earth. Her normally covered parts hid no flaws, and she said the same thing about me. I liked that she liked that, I'm not sure why. I'd seen naked females before, my mother and my sisters. We kids had become more modest as we'd grown, but we already knew what made a boy and what made a girl, and by extension from seeing our parents on occasion, what made a man and what made a woman.

What I'd never seen, and I trusted that Annie hadn't either, was what made a teenage body so beautiful. If there's such a thing as perfection, Annie was the picture of it. She was more woman than little girl, but some of both was still evident.

Her skin was so smooth you'd swear it was painted on, yet she had all the parts of a grown woman. Annie had more than beauty and charm, she was intelligent, witty, and both poised and graceful in a way that belied her age.

I was pretty sure that I'd never again look better than I did right then either. I was just-turned fifteen, bigger than most kids my age, hadn't started shaving regularly, but I was in good shape, had good skin and, according to Annie anyhow, I was just cute all over. Uh huh.

So, was I in love yet? Not really, but there wasn't a thing about Annie that I didn't love. It had taken many months of almost constant contact with Jack before I knew I was in love with him, there was no reason to think that things would or should move faster with Annie.

I felt very close to her though, she had a warmth and sweetness about her, and that was what had me walking on air. I was much less inhibited with her sexually than I had been with Jack, and I wasn't sure why that was. I suppose a lot of it was that I had matured to the point that sexual release was more of an imperative, but it would be dishonest to say that was the only thing involved. To be sure, if Annie's Dad had witnessed our actions that day my head would have been mounted on his trophy room wall by then. If anyone else had seen us they'd think something like, 'ah, two kids in love, that's normal... they get started so young these days.'

It wasn't like that with Jack, not at all like that. We didn't really live in fear, but we shared plenty of apprehension about being caught in the act. It was a crying shame, but our love was witnessed by no one outside of our immediate families. Even though we were out at school, we did nothing in public that was any different than any other kids our age. One ill-considered sentence had escaped my lips and that had been enough to cause us to suffer a year of torment at the hands of our peers. I'm certain that if anyone from that school had so much as seen us hold hands or kiss, then things would have become violent.

It was too late to worry about it; good thoughts had overcome the sadness in me.

I'd had fun all day, I had money in my pocket, and I was on my way to the picnic to spend time with my friends.

Time with Tony and Paulina, time with Pat Anderson, time with Jens and Clay, maybe even Jed. We'd have a good time, we always did.

Best of all I was going with Annie.

And maybe with Jack.


© Copyright, 2018-2019, the author. All rights reserved.