On the fourth day, God gave light on Earth. He created the sun and the moon and the stars, carefully crafting each orb and arranging them in the heavens to illuminate the sky, separating night from day.
It is prophesied that all of this, a full day of the Lord’s work, will be rendered meaningless after the second coming of Christ. It is said that the sun will darken and the moon will reflect only the red of blood, and the stars will fall from the sky, shattering as they hit the ground. It is claimed that God would tear down every one of these lights for the return of His only son.
However, it has also been written that the second coming could arrive with less dramatics, sudden and quiet and unnoticed, until it’s too late, as a thief in the night. Perhaps it could all begin with a boy, stepping through the door of a classroom on a late September morning. The sun, still burning bright above, spilled its light through orange and yellow leaves, into the windows at the back of that classroom.
For the last week and a half, the skies had been overcast, the air frigid, so a day this warm and sunny was welcome, though it made the students in that classroom restless. Naturally, they’d prefer to be anywhere but that stuffy room, listening to their sophomore English teacher’s endless droning.
A distraction was exactly what they needed, and they so received. The door handle turned with a creak and stuck, just for a moment, as though whoever stood on the other side was hesitating. A few students noticed this, watching the door with curiosity.
Then the door opened, slowly, and the boy stepped in. Several more students looked up, though some still remained engrossed in their doodles and daydreams. The teacher stopped her lecture, mid-sentence, as she turned to look at this unwelcome interruption.
“May I help you?” she asked, when he didn’t speak, when he didn’t often an explanation of his presence.
Wordlessly, the boy stepped forward, crossing the distance between the doorway and the teacher’s desk. He was a wisp of a boy, short and slender, buried in clothing a few sizes too large. His well-worn, black high tops squeaked as he moved across the linoleum. His backpack, oversized as well, hung from one shoulder.
Between his fingers, he held a square of yellow paper, and upon reaching the teacher’s desk, he held it out to her.
She snatched it from him, frowning, and the room was silent as she read it to herself. She looked at the boy after she finished, and then she blinked and read the note again. Finally, she cleared her throat and spoke.
“Class,” she said, “We have a new student.” Except for a boy in the back row, who had fallen asleep at his desk earlier in the period, everyone was paying attention now. The teacher glanced at the new boy again, confusion written on her face. “Please welcome… Jesus–”
She pronounced his name the way one would in Spanish, and he finally spoke, cutting her off.
“Jesus,” he said, using the English pronunciation. His voice was clear and as calm as the day just outside the windows.
“It’s Jesus. Not hay-soos.”
“I’m sorry, is that a joke?”
“Do I look Hispanic?”
Several students laughed. The boy had deep blue eyes and a shock of blond hair, carefully styled to stick up and out in every direction, and fair skin, lacking even the faintest tan that some other students still had–the final remains of summer clinging to their skin.
“That’s not your real name,” the teacher said. “I don’t know who you think you are, but this isn’t funn–”
As she spoke, he pulled a wallet from the back pocket of his baggy jeans, unfolding it and removing an ID card–his learner’s permit. He held it out to her, stopping her in mid-sentence yet again, and, after she’d inspected it, she let out a huff.
“Class, please welcome Jesus Christianson.” More laughter. The boy didn’t react. The teacher waited for the class to settle down before she spoke again.
“Is there anything you’d like to share, to introduce yourself, Mr. Christianson?” she asked him, an edge in her voice. For a moment, he was quiet, thinking.
“No,” he said finally.
“Then please, take a seat. There is an open desk at the back of the room.”
Jesus Christianson, new student and English class disrupter, shifted the weight of his backpack and strode between the rows of desks, shoes squeaking, to the seat the teacher had mentioned, between the boy who had fallen asleep earlier and a girl with long hair. When he sat at the empty desk, he was bathed in sunlight.
Now, instead of being distracted by the weather, the drawings in the margins of their notebooks, or the magazines hide under their binders, the students were instead distracted by the new guy. They twisted in their seats to get a better look, whispering to each other, passing notes.
Jesus Christianson, the boy with strange hair and a strange name, now seemed to be the only one actually paying attention to the lesson at all, despite not having the novel the teacher was discussing in front of him. In her irritation, she had not bothered to provide him with a book, but he’d pulled a notebook from his backpack and begun taking notes anyway.
Something landed on his desk–a piece of paper, folded complexly, several times, and tucked into itself. He worked it open and read it. In purple ink, with wide, round letters, it read “You’re super cute. Want to go out sometime?” A heart and a smiley face were drawn at the bottom.
He stared at it for a few moments, then sighed and crumpled in it tightly and dropped it. When he looked up, a girl two desks up and one over was pouting.
It was only a few minutes later when another note was placed on his desk. The girl on his right had leaned over, her dark hair spilling over her shoulder, to deliver it. Would every class be like this? He wasn’t sure he could deal with that, girls constantly dropping notes on his desk. He unfolded the scarp of paper–this one was, thankfully, only folded in half. What was written in the small, slightly untidy writing surprised him. It read, simply “Do you need a book?”
He looked over at the girl on his right, who was watching him, awaiting his answer. He shook his head.
“Read it already,” he mouthed. He had spent a lot of time reading over the summer, and he had a used copy of the book on his shelf at home.
She raised her eyebrows and nodded, pretending to look impressed.
“Thanks though,” he added, silently.
She gave him another nod and looked away, turning her attention back to her notebook, which had more doodles than actual notes. Most of the class had turned away by then as well, to his relief. All the staring was making him feel uncomfortable. Fifteen uneventful minutes passed and then the bell rang, startling the boy on Jesus’s left awake. Many of the other students had begun gathering their books into stacks and sliding their possessions into their bags a few minutes before, and the room cleared out quickly. The girl to his right though, lingered, taking her time.
“What do you have next?” he asked her as he stood up, lifting his backpack from the floor and tossing his notebook and pencil into it. He pulled his schedule from his pocket and unfolded it.
“Lunch,” she answered.
“Same,” he said, after scanning the piece of paper.
“Do you have anyone to sit with?” She stood as well, sliding her notebook and novel into a large, slouchy bag that hung off her shoulder. She was shorter than him–not by much, just an inch or so, but he liked the difference. Shorter than the average fifteen year old boy, he felt he didn’t run into enough people who were shorter than him.
He shrugged and shook his head. “I just got here. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who isn’t at least twenty years older than me.”
“Do you want to sit together?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I thought I might have lunch in here.” He nodded toward their teacher. “I think we’re getting along really well.”
“Yeah, I guess you could do that.”
When he heard the dejected tone in her voice, he quickly said, “But… she’ll still be available tomorrow, right? I guess I could sit with you today.”
The girl had brought her lunch from home, so Jesus went through the hot lunch line alone, while she went to talk to her friends for a moment. He was glad to be on his own. He didn’t really want anyone to know he qualified for the school’s free lunch program yet. The first day at a new school was difficult enough.
Because the weather that day was so beautiful, they went outside to eat. The girl mentioned that, if he wanted, he was welcome to sit at her usual table, with her friends, the next day.
“Unless you find someone else you’d rather sit with,” she added. “Or you really do want to have lunch with Mrs. Vogel.” They sat on the pavement, side by side, leaning against a low brick wall that encircled a raised bed of shrubbery. The girl carefully arranged her skirt over her legs, and Jesus sat cross-legged, his foam lunch tray balanced between his knees. As he sat down, she noticed something written on the back of his shoe, but before she could read it, he’d tucked his foot under his leg.
“Am I going to learn your name anytime soon?” he asked, pulling open his milk carton.
“It’s Macy,” she answered. Then, after a moment, she added, “Burke.” She knew his last name, so it only made sense she tell him hers.
“Macy,” he repeated. “Okay. I’ll try to remember, but I’m really terrible with names. So forgive me if I get it wrong a few times.”
“Sure. I bet no one forgets your name though. Are you really called Jesus all the time?”
“No one actually calls me that,” he said. “Unless I’m in trouble, and then I’m called by my full name, but even that’s rare.”
“So what do you go by?”
“Um… I usually let people call me whatever they want. And no one wants to call me Jesus, go figure. Teachers usually call me Jay or Mr. Christianson. And um, my mom calls me Sunshine most of the time. But if I have to pick, I like Jeez.”
“Jeez? How is that any better? It’s still something people say when they’re angry.”
“Well, then it suits me,” he said, locking eyes with her for a moment too long, his tone suddenly hostile.
“What are you angry about?”
He dropped the attitude quickly. “Nothing. Sorry. Jeez is, um… it’s a lot less to live up to. And it’s awesome.”
“Do your parents expect you to live up to…?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. She’s never said. But I mean, he’s just a guy in a book. She could have picked a better character. She could have named me Gandalf or Holden or Batman.”
“So you don’t believe in…?”
“I told my mother I was an atheist when I was twelve. Why? Do you?”
Macy shrugged. “I don’t really know. I go to church most weeks, because my parents believe in it, but sometimes some of it doesn’t make sense to me?”
“At least you’re thinking. I mean, I don’t care what other people believe. As long as they aren’t pushy about it, you know? So I guess we’ll get along. A lot of people in my life are very religious, so… you know, I’m not one of those people who thinks everyone has to think like I do.”
He sighed and took a large bite of his chicken sandwich. She wondered if she’d said something wrong when she’d asked about his religion. She didn’t think she had, but she changed the subject anyway.
“You have really pretty eyes,” she said. She’d noticed as he’d locked eyes with her a moment before. From a distance, they’d simply appeared dark blue, but upon closer inspection, she’d found that they were actually a light blue, with a dark blue ring around his irises, and a green ring around his pupils. She’s never seen anything quite like it before, and she found it beautiful.
Truthfully, she found his whole face beautiful, and she really did find herself thinking “beautiful” more than “handsome” as she admired him. His face was heart shaped, his chin pointed and cheekbones high, and the rest of his features delicate, with a sort of angelic androgyny. There wasn’t really a good way to tell someone you liked their face, was there? She really liked his face.
He wrinkled his nose. “Thanks, I guess.”
“You’re not good at taking compliments, huh?”
“I don’t like my eyes.” He shrugged.
“Why not? They’re gorgeous.”
“Would you quit that?”
“No, seriously, what’s wrong with them?”
He let out a breath. “I’d just… rather be complimented, if I must be, on things I can control. If I had been able to choose what I look like, these are not the eyes I would have picked.”
“Your hair is pretty cool too.” She gestured around her own head, indicating the extravagant spikes. That was something he had chosen; no one else was making him style like that.
He let out a small laugh. “Thanks.”
After he’d finished eating, he put his tray on the ground and looked over his shoulder, toward the school building.
“Can anyone see us from here?” he asked. “From inside?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it.” The shrubs were high enough to hide them, it seemed.
“Awesome.” He pulled a small box from his pants pocket, tapping it against his palm. He flipped it open and slid out a cigarette, placing it between his lips.
“You can’t do that here!”
“I thought you said no one could see us.” He stuck a couple fingers into his pocket and wiggled out a small, plastic lighter. He lit the cigarette as Macy turned around, glancing over the bricks. She could hardly see the door from where she was, so it seemed possible they were out of sight. “How long have you smoked?” she asked, trying to hide her shock.
He stood, huddled in his sweatshirt, outside of his apartment building on a chilly spring day. Dried tears streaked his face. A woman–another tenant in the building–stood a few feet away, smoking a cigarette. He had never so much as held a cigarette before, but something possessed him, and he didn’t think twice about asking if he could bum one off her. She didn’t ask his age, didn’t question him at all. She just handed one over and even let him borrow her lighter for a moment. He coughed after the first couple drags, and the woman smirked at him before she went back inside. Even as it burned his throat and lungs, he felt a euphoric feeling spreading through him. And he needed it, needed it more than anything.
“Why’d you even start?” Macy asked. “It’s disgusting.”
He met her dark eyes as he took another drag, and then he turned his head away, exhaling and sending smoke spiraling off in the opposite direction.
“Stress,” he answered.
If Jeez Christianson had a dollar for every time he’d heard those words in the course of a school day, he could probably just retire after graduation. He could just forget going to college and relax. He certainly wouldn’t have to put so much effort into trying to earn a scholarship.
He was a senior now. Two years had passed since his first day at this school, since he’d walked into his sophomore English class, and he’d grown up. At least, he liked to think he had.
In the last two years, he’d gotten somewhat popular, though he wasn’t sure why. If he were honest with himself, he didn’t like this school much. It wasn’t that it was a bad school or that he didn’t like his classmates. It was just he still often found himself missing his old school, his old neighborhood, his old classmates. It was so hard to go to school in one place for ten years, to grow up with people for all that time, only to be uprooted and dropped somewhere else.
He was constantly reminding himself that he was very lucky to have the fresh start. That completing his secondary education at his old school would not have gone as smoothly as it had gone here. He knew he should feel more grateful.
“Hey, Jeez,” someone said, passing him in the hall.
“Hey,” he said back. He always said hello back to everyone–he tried not to be rude–but he often found himself blanking on names. A lot of people seemed to know him better than he knew them, and of course, there was the fact that he was, and always had been, terrible with names.
Thinking on it, he supposed he’d been reasonably popular at his old school too, at least in his own grade. But there, he’d been liked since the first day of kindergarten and hadn’t ever known anything different. Here, he’d watched it happen. He’d sat with Macy and her friends on his second day, and on the third day, someone from one of his other classes had asked him to come to their table. It seemed like he was approached more each day. There were always people asking him to have lunch with them, to work with them on group assignments in class, to hang out after school. And he certainly couldn’t ignore the love notes occasionally slipped through the slats of his locker–a practice he found strange and juvenile. He always got several before school dances, but he never replied, never sought out the senders. He’d skipped all the dances.
Despite the attention he received, he didn’t forget the things and the people who mattered, like the girl who had been more concerned that he had a book for class than a date. He only had one class with Macy Burke this semester, and their history teacher preferred less talk and more studying, so he made a point to visit her locker when he could. This morning, he brought coffee. “Hey,” he said, standing next to her, watching as she rearranged the items on the top shelf of her locker. He looked at himself in the small mirror she’d stuck to the inside of the door.
“Hi. Your hair looks fine,” she said, not turning her head to look at him. “You use that more than I do, you know?”
“That’s because your hair always looks perfect.” The previous year, Macy had chopped off all of her long, shiny hair, and she’d kept it short ever since. Jeez liked the pixie cut; he thought it suited her.
“Yeah, right. I don’t know why you worry about yours so much. You use so much product, your hair doesn’t move at all.”
“That’s what you think.”
Jeez had learned how to dress over the last two years. He’d discovered that he couldn’t hide how small he was under clothes that were too large, so now he wore shirts that fit, and often wore sports jackets over them because he liked how he looked in them. He wore jeans that fit now too, finding that he liked knowing that his ass looked good. But he had kept his hairstyle, the long spikes that stuck out in every direction around his head. He was known for it now.
Macy had misplaced something in her locker, and was focused on finding it. She had never been particularly organized, but she had always known where her stuff was when they first met. She hadn’t misplaced things so easily. He wondered if school–or something else–was getting to her. He knew senior year could be stressful, but they were only two months in and she looked perpetually exhausted. The friends she had introduced him to two years prior went unmentioned now, and he wondered if she still hung out with any of them. But if anything was bothering her, she never said, and he was unsure of how to bring it up.
“Good weekend?” he asked.
“It was okay,” she said. “Nothing interesting.”
“Same.” He looked away from his reflection and into the locker, carefully balancing the coffee holder in one hand as he reached in and pulled out her pencil case with the other. “Is this it?”
“Yeah. God. How do you do that?”
He shrugged and handed it to her. “Art class, right?”
“Yeah. Hey, do you want to do something later?” She tucked the pencil case into her bag.
“Today?” He looked at the two paper cups he was holding and figured out which was hers, handing it to her.
“Thank you,” she said, taking a sip. “Yes, today.”
Jeez was a little surprised. They hung out outside of school occasionally, of course, but usually it was at his prompting. He’d invite her to coffee shops and movies, sometimes to the library to study, and, since starting their senior year and gaining a free period, out to lunch. She’d been to his house, but only out in his yard, and it was the same for him. He considered her to be his closest friend at this school, but they’d always kept each other at a distance.
“I have some stuff to do after school,” he said. “Work.” He held his coffee out to his side, as far away from his body as he could get it, letting out a small sigh.
Suddenly a force from behind him pressed against his back, shoving him into the locker door, his body bounding against the wall with a metallic clang.
“Goddammit,” he grumbled, backing away from the cold metal, rubbing his chest. He brought his coffee back and took a sip. He’d gotten popular over the last couple years, but not everyone liked him.
Next to him, Macy cringed. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s not your fault.”
Macy’s ex-boyfriend, Greg, was already at the end of the hallway, turning the corner without so much as a backwards glance. He and Macy had been broken up for almost a year and Greg still found a way to push Jeez into something on a near daily basis. Jeez had gotten very good at predicting when he’d show up, and had learned to always be on the look out. Today he hadn’t spilled a drop of coffee.
“It’s not. Anyway, yeah, work. But you can come if you want.”
“What kind of job do you have where I can come with you?”
“Why don’t you know what I do for a living?” “I figured you were into carpentry.”
“I can do some pretty amazing things with wood. Not paid though.” Jeez rolled his eyes and took another sip of his coffee.
“What, like, whittling?”
“Not exactly. Did you want to hang out while I work? Or we could just reschedule.”
“No, I’m interested.”
“Awesome. Meet you in front of the building after school?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. The warning bell rang–five minutes until their first class started.
“Gotta go,” Jeez said. “See you later.”
At the end of the school day, Jeez sat on the low brick wall in front of the building, his backpack resting against his leg as he read. Sunlight warmed the top of his head as he bent over the novel, his hair glowing.
He’d always liked reading, finding that he preferred it to watching TV most of the time. There was the added bonus that, if he was focused on his book, he’d be left alone. He didn’t mind attention, even thrived on it sometimes, but sometimes, and especially after a long day of school, he felt the need for a few minutes of peace.
When the stream of students leaving the school lessened, he bookmarked his page and put the book down on his lap and held his hands out in front of him. When Macy approached him, he was counting his fingers, silently.
She waited while he counted. He’d picked up this habit at the end of their junior year and he seemed a little annoyed when he was interrupted. Not that he ever explained why he was doing it.
“Hey,” he said, putting his hands down. He slid his book into his backpack. “Nice day, huh?”
“A little cold,” Macy said, “But yeah, it’s nice.”
“I wish I could schedule myself around the weather; I’d never work on days like this. Ready to go?”
She nodded and he stood up, pulling one of his backpack straps up to his shoulder. “Come on.”
He lit a cigarette as they walked through the parking lot. His smoking didn’t shock Macy anymore, though she occasionally tried nagging him to quit. Whenever she brought it up, he agreed with her, he should quit, but then he’d add that he wasn’t “ready”. Macy didn’t know what that meant, and Jeez never cared to elaborate. He’d just shrug and tell her not to worry about it.
It was easy to find Jeez’s car in the lot; there wasn’t another like it. He drove a beat-up Chevy Lumina, easily over a decade old, with a custom paint job. The previous owner had decided to paint it lime green. Jeez wasn’t sure why–he found the car’s body to be so dorky looking that he couldn’t fathom why anyone would paint it such an awesome color. He was pretty sure it had been black before–there were a few scratches and chips in the paint, revealing the black underneath.
It was a ridiculous, ugly little car, and Jeez loved it very much. Macy remembered how excited he’d been when he bought it. He’d managed to save enough money to buy it at the end of their sophomore year, and he’d been one of the very few sophomores to have his own car. He had said that he’d earned every dollar that paid for it, and he put a lot of time and effort into maintaining it.
He leaned against the side of the car to finish his cigarette–he refused to smoke in the car.
“I won’t have another until past six, probably,” he said. “Can’t.”
When he finished and put his cigarette out, they got into the car and he started the engine. It was a short drive before he pulled into another parking lot, in front of a small building that stood beside a fenced-in playground.
“You’re going to have to stay in the car. Just a few minutes,” he told her.
“Is this a preschool?”
Jeez pulled the Lumina into an empty parking space. “Daycare. I’ll be back in a minute.” He climbed out of the car and headed for the building’s front door.
It took more than a minute. More than five. Macy took a sketchbook out of her notebook while she waited, drawing casually. And then Jeez emerged from the front door again, holding the hand of a little boy–he couldn’t have been more than four years old. Under Jeez’s other arm, he carried a booster seat.
When they reached the car, Jeez let go of the boy’s hand for a moment, opening the door to the backseat on the driver’s side. He put the booster on the seat and the little boy took off his backpack before Jeez helped him into the car. The boy was talking, barely stopping to take a breath, about something that had happened at daycare that day, while Jeez strapped him in. Then Jeez put the small backpack on the seat next to the boy, and that’s when the talking stopped suddenly–he’d noticed there was someone else in the car.
“Ready to go?” Jeez asked. The boy didn’t respond. “Oh. Ty, this is my friend Macy. Macy, this is Tyler.”
“Hi, Tyler,” Macy said.
“Hi,” Tyler said back, his voice quiet.
“Come on, buddy, you’re not usually this shy.” Jeez ruffled Tyler’s hair and shut the door, returning to the driver’s seat. “Sorry it took so long. The ladies in there really like me for some reason.” He started the car and carefully reversed out of the parking space.
“Is he yours?” Macy asked in whisper as they drove toward their next destination.
Jeez laughed. “Are you serious?”
“He’s four. I’m seventeen. Like, really, Macy?”
“I don’t know!”
“I would have been thirteen when he was born!”
“You don’t think I might have mentioned having a kid? Like, you don’t even consider that he could be my brother or something?”
“You said you were an only child.” “Yeah, and I’d mention that but not my son? Macy.”
“So why do you have him?”
“I babysit him. He lives across the street from me. Both of his parents work; someone has to pick him up and watch him for a couple hours.”
“You’re ridiculous sometimes, you know.”
“You don’t see a whole lot of guy babysitters.”
“But there are so many responsible thirteen year old fathers.”
“So this is your job? Just babysitting?”
“No, this is only part of it.”
“What else do you do?”
“It must be exhausting trying to act so mysterious all the time.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, grinning.
A few minutes later, he pulled his car into the driveway of a small, mulberry-colored house. Macy had been here a few times before, in the backyard in the summers as Jeez mowed his lawn, or after school on warm sunny days, when they did homework together.
She and Jeez got out of the car, and then Jeez helped Tyler get out, making sure he climbed down from his booster seat safely. Once the boy was on the driveway, Jeez handed him his backpack, which Tyler pulled onto his back. Then Jeez grabbed his own backpack and headed for the front door, Macy following him, Tyler running ahead.
“Can I do the key?” Tyler asked.
“Yeah, okay.” Jeez handed Tyler his keyring and let him find the correct key–he picked the incorrect one on his first try, but got it right the second time–and stick it into the keyhole. Jeez had to turn it for him, as Tyler wasn’t quite tall enough, and the three of them entered the house.
Tyler led the way to the kitchen and dropped his backpack on the tile floor.
“Can I use your crayons?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Jeez answered, placing his own backpack down on the seat of one of chairs around the kitchen table before picking up Tyler’s unzipping it, and finding a coloring book inside. He placed the book on the table before hanging Tyler’s backpack over a chair. Macy followed his lead, putting her bag down on another chair. “Do you remember where I keep them?”
Tyler nodded eagerly and darted to a door in the kitchen, pulling it open, and disappearing into it. While he was gone, Jeez empties his pockets, putting his possessions into a small pile on the counter, out of the way. After a moment of thought, he shoved the cigarettes and his lighter back into his pocket.
Then he washed his hands and opened the refrigerator, removing several food items.
“What are you doing?” Macy asked.
Tyler reappeared, a large yellow box in hand. He shut the door behind him and put the crayons on the table. He climbed into his chair, where he began coloring in the book Jeez had taken out for him.
“This is a lot of food for dinner,” Macy commented. The counter and island was now cluttered with things Jeez had taken out of the refrigerator and pantry.
“It’s a lot of dinners.”
Macy sighed and Jeez grinned.
“I make dinners for families that don’t have the time or the energy to do it themselves. My mom worked when I was a kid–still does, actually, but not quite as much–and we didn’t get to eat together a lot and, I don’t know, I think it’s pretty important. Eating together. There’s been studies about it, you know? How kids do better if their family eats together. So I make family-sized dinners, freeze them, and deliver them to families that pay for them. And they heat them up when they need them.”
“Oh. That’s really cool, Jeez. So you run your own business?”
“Your college applications are going to love that.”
“Hope so. And, um, sometimes, if I have extra, I try to donate to families who can’t afford it. Cuts my profits but…” He swallowed. “That’s important too.”
“Mama!” Jeez–not yet called Jeez–was four years old. And he was wailing. It was dark–he’d been put to bed hours ago. But now, he was hungry. So, so hungry. “Mama!”
The light turned on, and his mother, Brenda, lifted him from his bed, stroking his golden hair, mussed from sleep.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Shh. Did you have a bad dream, my Sunshine?”
“I’m hungry,” he told her, sniffling.
Brenda kissed the top of his head, still stroking his hair. She was quiet. Jeez didn’t know, and at four, would hardly understand, but Brenda had lost one of her jobs that week, and, after paying the rent and utilities, had struggled with groceries. And even though she’d made him dinner that night, it obviously hadn’t been enough. Her growing child was still hungry.
“It’s okay, baby,” she said. “Come on, we’ll get you something to eat.”
She carried him through their dark apartment and sat him down at the kitchen table. She flipped on a light and looked through the cupboards. He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his superhero pajamas as she found an orange package on one of the shelves. She filled a small pot with water, bringing it to a boil on the stove.
“Just a few minutes, okay, Sunshine?”
And, as promised, a few minutes later, she brought a bowl of chicken-flavored ramen noodles to the table for him.
“Hot,” he said, looking at the spirals of steam rising over his head. “Can I have an ice cube?”
She got an ice cube from the freezer and dropped it into the broth. She sat down at the table as he stirred his noodles, blowing the steam away. When he decided it was cool enough, he began spooning it into his mouth, and Brenda watched her son eat. He finished most of the bowl.
“Better?” she asked him.
“Let’s go brush your teeth and get you back into bed, baby.”
“Will you read me another story?”
“Yeah, that is important,” Macy agreed. “You’re a good guy, Jeez.”
He made a face. “If you say so.” He had several things going around the kitchen now, water boiling and meat browning, and he watched the stove while chopping vegetables. Macy was helping a little, when he asked her too, mainly stirring things. She could follow directions, but didn’t know a whole lot about cooking otherwise.
“Can I help?” Tyler asked. He had finished the page he was coloring and, apparently not interested in going on to the next, so he’d joined Jeez and Macy, standing on tip toe to look over the counter.
“Yeah,” Jeez answered. “Come here.” He lifted Tyler and placed him on the countertop, safely away from the heat of the stove and the knife he’d left on the cutting board. “Stir this, okay?” He have Tyler a wooden spoon and a plastic bowl that he’d filled with ingredients–with all the multitasking he was doing, he’d filled the bowl and then gotten distracted and left it. Tyler nodded and began, putting a lot of effort into mixing everything together.
“Good boy,” Jeez said, grinning. “Tell me when you’re done.”
Jeez moved down a couple feet, back to the cutting board, and resumed dicing a pile of vegetables.
A few minutes later, Tyler decided everything was sufficiently mixed, and announced he was done.
“Okay, buddy, I’ll be right there.”
While he was waiting, Tyler scooted sideways down the white laminate counter, toward the pile of things Jeez had removed from his pockets, tucked away next to a blender. He picked up a yellow, smiley faced stress ball that rested on top of Jeez’s wallet. He squeezed it, giggling as the face stretched. It took a few more moments before Jeez realized Tyler had moved from the bowl.
“Ty, please don’t play with that,” he said.
“Because it’s important to me and I don’t want anything to happen to it.”
Jeez put the knife down on the cutting board and approached the little boy. He crouched down in front of the counter, bringing himself closer to Tyler’s eye level.
“A friend gave it to me. And my friend is gone now, and…” Jeez paused, searching for the right words. “And when I see that, it helps me remember him. If something happened to it, I’d be really sad.”
“Oh. When your friend comes back, can I play with it then?”
Jeez just looked at Tyler for a few moments, expression lost. Finally, he swallowed and spoke again.
“My friend isn’t gong to come back.”
“Why?” Tyler was no longer squeezing the stress ball. He just stared back at Jeez, wide-eyed.
“What does died mean?”
Jeez let his head drop for a moment, looking down at the tile floor, rubbing his face with his hand. When he looked up again, he just said, “You have to ask your parents, okay, buddy?”
“Can I have my ball back?” Jeez held out a hand. Tyler slowly placed the stress ball in Jeez’s palm, looking more than slightly disappointed.
“Thank you, Tyler.” Jeez smiled and slid the toy into his pocket, standing up straight again. “Do you know what you stirred?”
“It’s batter for cornbread muffins. Do you want to help me pour it into the muffin pans?”
Tyler nodded eagerly, a smile appearing on his face, disappointment forgotten.
Jeez had a lot of work to do, but he was experienced and had everything well-planned out. With a lot of multitasking and a little help from both Tyler and Macy, he was finished just after six pm. All of the meals were sealed in disposable aluminum pans that he kept stocked in a cupboard, and stacked in the freezer. He mentioned that he’d be delivering the food the next day, withTyler as his sidekick.
But now, it was time to take the little boy home. They packed his coloring book back into his backpack, and Jeez gave him a fresh cornbread muffin to take home with him–apparently, they were his favorite thing to eat, as well as help make.
“Can you hang out here for a few minutes?” Jeez asked Macy. “I just have to walk him across the street.” And then he sighed. “And I have to talk to them about… ugh. Ten minutes, okay?”
“Come on, kiddo,” Jeez said to Tyler. He grabbed his keys and wallet, slipping them into his pockets, while Tyler pulled his backpack onto his back. He extended a hand and Tyler grabbed it, walking along with Jeez as they went out the front door. “Be right back,” he called over his shoulder.
As he’d said, Jeez returned about ten minutes later. Macy had sat down at the kitchen table, her sketchbook out again, occasionally utilizing the crayons that Tyler had left at the table. She used paint and colored pencils regularly, but not crayons. It was fun.
“Gah,” Jeez said, slamming the front door. “That sucked?”
“What?” She looked up from her drawing.
He walked through the living room, into the kitchen, and dropped into the seat next to her.
“I had to explain the conversation I had with Tyler to his parents. You know, so if he asks them any questions, they… I don’t know, expect it, I guess. Kind of weird for your kid to ask you what ‘died’ means out of no where, right? So they can figure out how they want to handle it.”
“Couldn’t you have just explained it?”
He shook his head. “I’m the babysitter. It’s not my place to explain things like that. I don’t know what they want to tell him, like if they want to use the heaven explanation or… something else, I don’t know. I don’t know what else parents use to make it easier, honestly. I got the heaven explanation.”
“Were they mad?”
“It wasn’t too bad. It just stresses me out. The food makes me way more money but I really would be bummed to lose the babysitting job. I love Tyler like a little brother.” He stood abruptly. “I really need a cigarette. Come outside with me?”
“Sure.” Macy slipped the sketchbook into her bag as he dug through his pockets for his lighter. They headed out the front door, sitting down on the porch steps. He lit a cigarette.
“Who was your friend?” Macy asked.
“No one you’d know.”
“Someone from before you moved, then?”
He nodded, exhaling, eyes closed.
“How did he die?”
“He killed himself.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Why hadn’t she expected that answer? She didn’t know what she had expected, but it wasn’t that. “Were you close?”
A small smile crept across Jeez’s face, then faded fast. “Yeah.”
“What was his name?”
“And he gave you that stress ball?”
“I gave it to him. Got it back… just before he died.” He shrugged. “Don’t really want to talk about it right now, okay?”
“Yeah. No problem.”
Jeez finished his cigarette in silence and put it out.
“So, do you want me to drive you home, or…? I kind of wanted to fill out some applications tonight, but I could hold off until tomorrow if you wanted to hang out some more.”
“I actually have some homework to do,” Macy said.
“Home, then?” He stood.
“Yes, please.” She stood up too, and he tugged his keys from his pocket, unlocking his car.
“No problem.” They got into the Lumina, buckling their seat belts, and he started the engine, reversing out of the driveway.
“Where are you applying?” Macy asked. “You did mean college applications, right? Or were you looking for another job?”
“Yeah, college. I don’t need another job. And um, everywhere, really.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I’m planning to study psychology. Work with kids. Teenagers.”
“You really like kids, huh?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I guess.”
“So is that what’s next? After college? House, marriage, kids?”
“House is. Definitely want a house. On a cliff maybe. Near the ocean would be really cool, I think. A bunch of cats.”
“Come on, Jeez, seriously?”
“Seriously? Probably not cats. I think I’m more of a dog person. I’d like a dog.”
“I guess I’d like to have kids, one day, but I probably won’t.”
“Why not? It seems like you’d be a really good dad–”
He pulled the car into her driveway. Perfect timing. He liked Macy, liked her a lot, but she was awfully nosy sometimes. He knew it was just because she was interested in his life, but he was thankful her house was close anyway.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” he said.
She studied him for a moment, then sighed.
“Okay,” she said, grabbing her bag. “See you later.”
Macy was at a party. Alone.
Not exactly. Early that day, at school, she’d asked Jeez what his plans were for that evening, and he’d told her he was going to a party. And when she asked if she could join him, he had shrugged and said he normally went alone. He said he’d take her, if that was what she really wanted, but he wouldn’t be available to hang out with her once they were there.
She wasn’t sure why she agreed after that. What a dumb idea. She wasn’t interested in partying, just in him. He had picked her up from her house, drove her to the party–she didn’t even know exactly where they were, except that it was in a different school district–and promptly vanished. She didn’t have any idea where he’d gone, and now, she was bored. She’d sat down on a couch and people-watched, and eventually, a cat had come along and sat down next to her. She patted its head, scratching behind its ears, and it purred. It was probably the most interesting thing she could do at the party. It seemed like everyone else was drinking, and she figured she could drink too, but she didn’t see the appeal. She wondered if Jeez was drinking, wherever he’d gone off to. She hoped not; she had a feeling he wouldn’t let anyone else drive his car.
Suddenly, someone was shouting, loud enough to to be heard over the pounding music. And then the music was shut off and the voice became clearer. Macy heard the word “cops”. Chaos ensued as people began to leave, running or stumbling past. The cat hopped off the couch and darted away.
Macy wasn’t sure what to do–Jeez was her ride, after all, and his car was parked a few streets over. Should she just sit here and wait for him? Aside from being present at a party where the music was probably too loud and where underage drinking was occurring, she hadn’t done anything wrong.
Suddenly there was a hand around her wrist, tugging, pulling her to her feet. “Come on, follow me!”
She was pulled through a few clusters of people, through the house, and finally, out the back door, trying to keep up with the long blond spikes that ran ahead of her.
“Run!” Jeez urged, his hand moving from her wrist to her hand, his fingers entwining with hers, still tugging her along. She felt very aware that he would be running a lot faster if she weren’t attached to him. “Run, run, run,” he said. “I don’t wanna get arrested again. Come on, Mace.”
She was running, but Jeez was on the varsity track team and she didn’t even have a physical education class this semester, and keeping up with him was difficult. They sprinted through backyards, across streets, toward the evening’s last bit of sunlight, the sky streaked with orange and pink above them. And then, finally, Jeez decided they had run far enough and stopped, grinning and out of breath. He let go of her hand and leaned forward, hands on his knees, looking around as he caught his breath.
“Where the hell did I park?” he asked.
“I think we passed it.” Her lungs were burning, out of breath as well. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d run that fast, and to think he could run faster.
Jeez laughed, hard. Macy didn’t. She didn’t see what was so funny about passing his car. About any of this. She was so pissed off she couldn’t even feel excited about the fact that his fingers had just been woven together.
“What’s wrong?” he asked after he’d collected himself and stood straight up again.
“Nothing,” she said, voice spiky. “Your shirt’s on inside out.”
He looked down at his chest. “So it is.” He shrugged off his jacket and held it out to her. “Could you hold that for a second? Please?”
She sighed and took it.
“What’s your problem today?” he asked. He peeled off his t-shirt and turned it inside out. “I did tell you we weren’t going to be hanging out tonight, so you can’t be mad about that. I didn’t lie to you.”
Sirens wailed at the end of the street and Jeez jumped, turning toward the sound. The noise was gone almost as quickly as it had started, fading as it headed for the next street over. As Jeez gazed down the street, Macy noticed lines on his back, lighter than the rest of his skin, stretching from the base of his neck to the small of his back, and then from one side of his back to the other, just below his shoulder blades. She’d never see him without a shirt before; even on the occasions they’d hung out in the summertime, he’d always worn a t-shirt. Was that why?
“What were you arrested for?” she asked.
“Huh?” He turned back toward her.
“You said you didn’t want to get arrested again. While we were running, just now.”
“Oh, right. Which time?” He pulled his shirt on, over his head, correctly this time, and took his jacket back from her.
“You’ve been arrested more than once?”
“Yeah,” he said, far too casually. “First time for possession, second for trespassing. Whatever.”
“Possession of what?”
“Macy. Don’t worry about it.”
It figured. Of course he wasn’t going to tell her. This happened so often–she’d ask him something and he’d tell her not to worry about it. Maybe it was true that he didn’t lie to her, but he didn’t tell the truth much either. She sighed and rubbed her arms. The running had kept her warm for a moment, but now, standing in the dark, it was freezing.
Jeez took his jacket back off and handed it to her.
“It’s not going to keep you that warm, but…” He shrugged. “Come on, let’s go find my car.”
“Yeah, okay.” She slipped his jacket on. It was warm from him wearing it, and it was suddenly a little harder to be mad at him.
They headed back, cutting through backyards again, until they found the lime green Lumina. They got in and Jeez started the engine, turning on the heat before he pulled away from the curb.
“What happened to your back?”
“You have…” She drew the shape in the air.
He groaned. “You could see that?”
“I guess I hoped it might be too dark. Um,” he thought a moment, trying to select the right words. “Someone tried to kill me once.”
“It’s a very unpleasant memory, so I won’t be taking any follow up questions today.”
She sighed again. One night and she’d learned about two arrests and an attempt on his life and she was still clueless. So what if they’d been friends for two years. Suddenly it was obvious that she didn’t know Jeez Christianson at all.
“Do you want to go to another party tonight?”
Jeez asked as they walked out of their History class together. He’d have asked earlier, but their teacher hadn’t allowed them to talk at all that day.
“So it can end like last time?”
“I can’t make any promises about the cops showing up, but I’d hang out with you this time. Promise. Or we could do something else. Or nothing. It’s up to you.”
It had been a week since the last party and Macy was basically over it. But she still hesitated. He had been honest when he said he wouldn’t be around last week, so why wouldn’t he be honest now?
“Come on,” he urged. “I need an answer; I’m gonna be late.” His next class was on the other end of the building.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s party.”
He grinned. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”
Any time Jeez picked Macy up, he was always exactly on time. Not a minute early, not a minute late. She couldn’t figure out how he managed it.
So that evening, his car was in her driveway at seven pm, and he was on the front porch, ringing the doorbell.
Normally, when she knew he was coming by, she’d try to answer the door before anyone else did, and he preferred when she did. If one of her parents answered the door, they’d make him come inside and wait in the living room for her. Both her mom and her dad liked to ask him a lot of questions about his intentions for their daughter, and he could never tell if they were joking or serious.
This time though, it was someone else. She looked a lot like Macy, but this girl had much longer hair, a slightly more pointed nose, and brightly colored clothing. Macy, for whatever reason, tended to favor grays.
“Hey,” Jeez said. “Is Macy here?”
“Yeah,” the girl said. She turned her head and yelled back into the house. “Macy, your boyfriend’s here!”
Jeez sighed and looked away from the door, across the lawn, hands in his pockets.
A moment later, Macy was at the door, bag over her shoulder.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said, under her breath.
“Yeah, but you wish he was.”
Jeez continued to focus on the neighbor’s heather bush. That was a joke, right? It had to be a joke. Macy’s sister was funny, like her parents. It ran in the family. It had just skipped Macy.
He smiled at his own joke.
“Shut up,” Macy said.
“Have fun.” Her sister gently pushed her out the front door, shutting it behind her. Macy let out a sigh.
“Sorry,” she said. “Why do you look so happy?”
“No reason,” he said quickly. “I didn’t know you had a twin.” They stepped off the porch, walking down the narrow stone pathway that connected the front door to the driveway.
“We aren’t twins. She’s two years younger than me. And two years more immature. Maybe you noticed.”
Jeez shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know; she seems fun.”
They got into his car and he turned the key in the ignition, adjusting the volume on the radio.
“Yeah. I always wanted a sister. Or a brother. I wasn’t picky.”
“You can have her.”
“You know you’d still see her when we hung out.”
The drive this week was shorter–he only drove a few miles before pulling his car up to a curb.
“Here we are,” he said.
“Really? So you don’t only go to parties out of town?”
“Nah, I almost always do.”
“And today is different because…?”
“Because I promised you something.” He got out of the car, shutting his door behind him, and Macy did the same.
“So, if I hadn’t wanted to come, would you even be here?”
“What would you be doing tonight, if not for me?” she asked as they walked up the front lawn.
“If you hadn’t wanted to hang out at all? I don’t know. Didn’t plan that far. Probably a different party? I haven’t heard about any other tonight though, so maybe not.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Does it matter? I’m here, you’re here, let’s try to have a good time.”
He led her into the house, the environment basically the same inside as it had been at the last party. It was dark in the house, music already pounding, the bass pulsing through the walls and the floor. Macy found herself hanging close to Jeez, who, all at once, seemed to belong there and stand out, a spark in the night.
They moved through the party, Jeez occasionally glancing back at her. Eventually the reach a less crowded spot–at the bottom of a flight of stairs–and stopped for a moment.
“I’m going to get a drink,” Jeez said. “You want me to get you something?”
“You’re no fun,” Jeez called over his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen. Macy rolled her eyes.
He took a while and Macy began to wander the party herself. She was sure he’d be able to find her even if she didn’t stand in one spot. She tried to stay out of everyone else’s way, sticking to less crowded areas of the house, and she found herself stepping into a den, which was a much quieter room.
And then she froze.
Sprawled on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, was her ex-boyfriend, Greg. On the floor, two of his friends, Brian and Clayton, sat, passing a joint back and forth.
“I can't believe that asshole showed up here. I don't fucking get why everyone loves him so much,” Greg said. “He's not that fucking great.”
“He's not that bad,” Clayton mumbled.
“Fuck you. What do you know? He is. He's shit.”
“You're just pissed because Macy left you for him,” Brian said.
“That's not why.”
“Yeah it is.”
Greg let out a huff. "Think I'll teach him a lesson later.”
“For coming here. That pretentious fucker can stay at his goddamn out of town parties.”
Clayton looked up as Brian passed him the joint, looking right at Macy.
“That's a big word, G,” he said before taking a hit. “Pretentious.”
Macy backed out of the room and hoped desperately that Clayton wouldn’t say anything about seeing her. She was thankful it hadn’t been Greg. She turned and hurried, trying to return to the bottom of the stairs.
And then she ran into someone, smacking hard against them.
“Ow. God, I’m sorry,” she said.
“”Hey, watch where you’re going, lady,” Jeez’s voice said. He was grinning, until he saw the expression on her face. As he handed her a cold can of soda, he frowned. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” With her free hand, she ran her fingers through her hair.
“So what do you want to do?”
“What do you usually do at parties?”
“Nothing we’re gonna do.”
“I don’t know why you’d even want to. What else…? Do you want to dance or something? I don’t really know what else you’d do, if you don’t want to drink.” He shrugged. “That’s basically all these parties are. Parents go out of town and kids try to have some grown up fun. But it’s just lots of puking and crying and hooking up.”
She gave him a strange look. “So why do you go to so many parties?”
“All of the above. Let’s go outside.”
He led her to the back door, slid it open, and they stepped outside. There was a bench win on the patio and they sat down on it, side by side. He lit a cigarette.
“Isn’t it kind of harsh for you to judge everyone for having ‘grown up fun’ when you do the same thing?”
“I’m not judging anyone; I’m here too,” he said. “But I’ve smoked since I was fifteen and I don’t do it to feel like an adult. Or for fun. Thought you knew that.”
“You aren’t just smoking,” she said, looking pointedly at the red plastic cup he held between his knees.
He rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to get drunk off one shitty beer. I don’t get wasted at parties anymore.”
“Anymore? When did you stop?”
“Like a year ago? I don’t know. I used to be lots of fun.” His last sentence was dripping with sarcasm.
“So you haven’t gotten drunk at all in the last year?”
“I didn’t say that. I just I just haven’t gotten wasted at parties,” he clarified. “Sometimes I get drunk by myself.”
“Oh. How is that an improvement?”
“Probably isn’t, but at least I don’t have to drive home.”
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “I don’t get drunk that often. I know where my limits are.” He took a sip of his beer. “I don’t like beer all that much either, so I don’t usually want to drink enough to actually get drunk. I like rum better, but you try getting that at a high school party.”
“Do you want to talk about your other adult activities?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said innocently.
“What do you do at parties when you go alone?”
“None of your busine–”
The back door slid open, slamming against the drama, the loud noise stopping Jeez mid-sentence.
“Hey, holy asshole,” Greg said loudly, stepping out on to the patio, looking directly at Jeez, followed by Brian and Clayton. Greg came up with some of the stupidest insults. And unlike most people, Greg had never gotten over Jeez’s name.
Jeez groaned. “What do you want?”
Greg didn’t answer, instead moving toward him, grabbing the front of his shirt and yanking him away from the swing. The beer spilled on the pavement, the cigarette landing in the puddle.
“What the fuck?” Jeez demanded. “Let me go!”
So Greg let him go, shoving him toward the lawn, causing Jeez to stumble. As he was catching himself, Greg stepped toward him again, swinging an arm back and punching Jeez in the face.
Macy let out a yelp, then covered her mouth with her hand, watching in horror.
Jeez staggered back from the impact of the punch, but managed to stay on his feet.
“Dude, leave me alone,” he said. “I’ve never done anything to you.”
Greg was either not listening or didn’t care. He swung again, but this time, Jeez dodged it. The first punch had caught him off guard, but now that he knew to expect it, it wasn’t difficult to avoid Greg’s fists. Greg was drunk, and that made him clumsy.
The fight–if one could call this one-sided spectacle a fight–started to catch the attention of a couple people inside, and they stepped out onto the patio to watch, calling to their friends in the house.
“Hit him back, Jeez” someone finally yelled.
The next time Greg swung his arm forward, Jeez didn’t hit him back. But he did grab Greg’s wrist, preventing the punch from landing.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” he said, voice low. And then he turned and stormed away, pushing through the crowd that now blocked the back door.
“Jeez!” Macy yelled after him. She stood and went after him, excusing herself as she nudged her way past everyone. Inside, she could follow him through more crowds of people by following his golden hair. She tried to keep up as he went straight through the house, and out the front door.
“Jeez!” she called again, once they were outside. He didn’t turn to look at her, instead focusing on his car, pulling his keys from his pocket. He fumbled to unlock the door.
“Get in,” he snapped, pulling the driver’s side open and dropping himself in. Macy did as she was told, watching him carefully.
“Are you okay to drive?” she asked.
“I had half a fucking beer. I’m fine.” He twisted the key in the ignition. That hadn’t been what she’d meant, but she didn’t correct him. As he pulled away from the curb, the tires squealed on the cement.
Just as it hadn’t been a long drive from Macy’s house to the party, it wasn’t a long drive from the party to Jeez’s house. He parked the Lumina in the driveway and got out of the vehicle without a word, immediately lighting a cigarette. Macy got out of the car as well, keeping her distance, sitting on the concrete porch steps.
Jeez paced back and forth on the driveway, frantically puffing on his cigarette.
“Jeez,” Macy said softly. He ignored her, grumbling under his breath. When he finished his cigarette, he dropped it, stepping on it to put it out, and then pulled another one from the box in his pocket. He lit it.
“Jeez,” she said again. “Please relax.”
He seemed to walk faster with each moment that passed, and he kept finishing cigarettes, putting them out, and lighting new ones. Macy gave up on trying to get him to calm down. He’d have to eventually, right?
His phone went off and he pulled it out of his pocket, flipping it open. He’d had that same flip phone the entire time Macy had known him; it stunned her that it still worked. He read something on the tiny screen, finally standing still, and typed a brief reply, holding his cigarette between his lips. And then he started pacing again.
“Who was that?” she asked him. No answer. It was another few minutes before he spoke to her.
“Tell me you didn’t sleep with that fucker,” he said finally, voice angry. He spoke too loud; Macy was sure half the street would be able to hear him.
“Would it matter?”
“You deserve a hell of a lot better than that.”
“Like you?” she asked, voice vaguely hopeful.
He froze, looking at her strangely. “No,” he said, voice calmer. “You deserve better than that too.”
He took another hit off his cigarette and resumed pacing. She sighed.
“Please relax, Jeez. Maybe we should go in.” He didn’t smoke inside, and she’d lost track of how many cigarettes he’d had, just standing out here. Four, five? She really wanted him to stop. She’d even settle for another ride in the car, even if it meant more angry silence.
“Fine,” he said. “Let’s go in.” He dropped the cigarette and dug his keys out of his pocket again, striding past her and unlocking the door. Macy stood, scrambling to follow him. He stalked through the house, not bothering with any of the lights, and she moved carefully behind him, trying to follow him exactly, less familiar with the layout of the furniture. Once in the kitchen, he opened the door that, a few weeks before, Tyler had gone through to get crayons.
“Stairs,” he mumbled as a warning. He was down them in a moment. Macy placed a hand on the wall–there was no railing–and proceeded slowly. Couldn’t he just turn on a light?
She stumbled when she ran out of steps, abruptly finding herself on the basemen floor, still holding the wall for balance.
“Jeez?” she said into the darkness. “I don’t know where I’m going. Could you…?”
A light clicked on and she saw that they were in his bedroom. He had flopped down across the bed, laying on his stomach, head down on folded arms. The light he’d turned on was on his bedside table.
The furniture in the room all matched, each piece modern, square and black. There was a bookshelf, tall and completely crammed with books, on the far end of the room, next to one of the bedside tables, and on the opposite wall, there was a desk with a laptop on it. On the other side of the bed, there was another bedside table, and then an armoire.
On the wall across from the bed, there were two doors, both shut, with a dresser standing between them. Over the bed, he had two posters, each displaying a different nebula. Macy didn’t know which they were. Jeez had never mentioned an interest in space.
The whole room was much tidier than she expected, and she wondered why she thought that. Maybe it was just because her own room was untidy.
She stepped toward the bed and Jeez rolled onto his side.
“Come here,” he said softly.
She hesitated. He wanted her on his bed? With him?
Macy slipped off her shoes and laid on the bed, scooting across the turquoise bedspread until he was next to him, looking into his beautiful eyes. He slid an arm under her, another over, and, wrapping them around her back, pulled her close. And then he shut his eyes and buried his face in her shoulder, clinging tightly to her.
“I get really sick of it,” he said, voice muffled, “Of him. Wish he’d just fuck off and leave me alone.”
“Don’t say you’re sorry. Dammit.”
He sighed, muscles relaxing, shoulders slumping.
He pulled away enough that he could look at her again. “What?”
Not thinking twice, she pressed her lips against his. He reacted slowly, at first just letting her kiss him, and then kissing back, a hand sliding up her back. This wasn’t the first time they’d kissed, but it had been a long time since then.
“We shouldn’t–” He pulled away.
“Yeah, we should,” she said back, breathlessly, kissing him again. This time he didn’t kiss back. He pushed her away, sitting up and getting off the bed. He sat down in the rolling chair in front of his desk. He had pushed her away the last time too.
“Anyone but me, huh?” she said, sitting up.
“What? We go to a party, you come running down the stairs with your shirt on inside out, and you don’t think I know what you’re doing? I’m not a child, Jeez.”
“So what? I’ve said it before; it’s not your fucking business. Recently I’ve been wondering why we have such a formal relationship, like, why I’ve never invited you over here, and I remember now, it’s because of shit like this.”
“Why can’t it be me?” No anger, just sadness, in her tone.
His voice softened. “You don’t want me, Macy. Neither of us would be happy.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do, all right? Leave it alone.”
They were both quiet, neither looking at the other for a few minutes, and then Macy spoke again.
“I just get scared I’m going to end up with someone like him. I already picked him once.”
“You’re supposed to learn from your mistakes.”
“Do you really think he acted like that when he asked me out? I didn’t see what he was really like until it was too late.”
Jeez studied her. He didn’t know many of the details of how Macy’s relationship with Greg ended, just that she’d broken up with him and he’d wanted her to take him back. He remembered that she’d cried a lot. That she’d cut her hair right after and hadn’t let it grow back out. And he’d had suspicions about what had happened, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to ask her.
She ran a hand through her hair. “I didn’t have sex with him. I haven’t had sex with anyone. But he wanted me to. And… there was other stuff. I don’t know. He was so… it took so long for me to see what he was really like. I just… I don’t want it to happen again. And… I know what you’re like. And I’ve always…” Liked him. She had been fascinated by him on the day they met and she’d only grown to like him more and more with each passing day.
“I don’t want to be your boyfriend.”
She was quiet for a few moments more, and then she said, “That’s okay.”
He blinked, confused. “So, what, you… you just want to sleep with me?”
“Yeah.” She stood and walked toward him, leaning over his chair. She kissed him again, hand on his cheek. She slid into the chair, onto his lap.
He reached up and took her hand, holding it as he removed it from his face.
“Is this gonna solve something for you?” he asked.
“I think so.”
“And you really want this?”
He frowned. “And you’re a virgin?”
“Is that any of your fucking business?” she asked, quoting him.
“I just… I don’t sleep with virgins. It’s kind of a rule for me.”
“You have rules?”
“Please. For me.”
“I just… I’ll do it, okay? I don’t think it’s a great idea but, I mean, if you really want to… I’ll do it. If it’s important to you that… You know, I really think… I mean, virginity doesn’t have any real value, I know that, but like, I really do think people should have their first time with someone they love. That’s why I don’t like sleeping with virgins; I… I pick people up at parties. I know there’s no emotions there.”
“Your first time, was it with someone you love?”
“Yes. I really was capable of being in love with someone once, believe it or not.”
“How old were you?” He hadn’t dated at all, as far as she was aware, the whole time they’d known each other. She couldn’t figure out when he could have possibly–
He shrugged. “I’m sorry, didn’t you want something from me? We have to talk about some stuff.”
“What do we have to talk about?”
“I just need you to understand that this is a one time thing.”
“Yeah. I get it.”
“And… I want you to promise we’ll still be friends after this.”
“I… the relationship we have is really important to me. If us sleeping together is going to make it weird, I’m not going to do it. Honestly, I’d rather you be mad at me for a while than us not be friends at all.”
“We’ll still be friends,” she said quietly. “Promise.”
Delicately, he leaned forward and kissed her. She reached up to touch his face again, kissing him back. He slid an arm around her back, another under her knees and stood, lifting her. She gasped and wrapped her arms around his neck. It was only a few feet to the bed, but it surprised her to be picked up. He wasn’t the strongest looking guy she’d ever met.
He dropped her on to the mattress and sat down next to her. She pulled him down toward her, kissing him, and he placed a hand on her waist. His other hand slid up, into her hair, tugging gently.
“Don’t,” she said.
“Pull my hair.”
“Gotcha.” He untangled his fingers from her short hair and rolled onto his back, pulling her on top of him. As they continued to kiss, his hands moved under her shirt, tracing lines in her warm skin. They broke apart for a moment and he pulled her shirt up, over her head, and tossed it to the floor. She bent forward to kiss him and he cupped her face. With his opposite hand, he traced her spine with his fingertips, up to the band of her bra. One-handed, and with almost no trouble, he unclasped it and tossed it aside as well. He kissed her neck and then her breasts, squeezing one gently. She let out a shuddering breath.
“Feel good?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Her hands moved to his waist, under his shirt. He sighed softly and sat up, lifting his arms so she could take his shirt off. Still upright, he pulled her close and kissed her, hard, sucking on her lower lip, before pushing her back against the mattress.
He focused on kissing the parts of her that were already exposed, her neck and collarbone and breasts and stomach, then he unbuttoned her jeans, unzipped them.
“Lift,” he said. She lifted her hips and he tugged her jeans down, working them over her ankles and flinging them to the floor. “Cute underwear.” They were orange, with dinosaurs printed on them.
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
“Are you sure you want to keep going?”
“Has anyone ever told you no before?”
“And? What do you mean, and? I stop, Macy. What else would I do? Are you saying no?”
“No, I… I want this.”
Jeez unbuttoned his own jeans, slid them off, and let them fall to the floor. He hooked a finger under her underwear and pulled them down, tossing them aside too.
“Wait,” she said.
“Do you… you know, do you have…?”
“Condoms? Yeah. Of course I do.” He leaned over and opened the bedside drawer. It took a moment as he moved a few other things aside, and then he produced a brightly colored foil square. “Okay?”
“Do you mind if I turn off the light?”
“Because… I want the lights off? Whatever. It’s not important.” He slid his boxers off and tore open the condom wrapper, rolling the condom on. He could feel her eyes on him. It made him a little uncomfortable. Skinny and scarred, he always preferred to keep the lights off. It didn’t matter who he was with.
“You have a really nice body,” she said.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I mean it.” He was thin, he always had been, but Macy saw what he didn’t seem to be able to–he had faint muscle definition in his arms and especially in his legs, and in his chest and abdomen. He was small, but he looked strong. Healthy.
“Whatever. You wanna be on top?”
“Oh. Um, I don’t kn–”
“Ah, come on, you started this. Take control.”
Jeez rolled onto his back, laying his head on a pillow. Macy straddled him, eyebrows furrowed with nervousness.
“Take your time,” he said. “I’m not in a hurry.” He placed his hands on her waist, tracing delicate lines into her skin. She moved against him, leaning forward and planted a kiss on his lips.
All they did was kiss for a while, and he rubbed her back, and, briefly, stroked her hair. She rested her forehead against his, closing her eyes.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She lifted her head again. “Just…a little nervous. You don’t get nervous at all?”
“Of course I get nervous.”
“And right now?”
“Um… because I’ve never had sex with someone I consider a friend before. And because I have to do a really good job because I’m going to have to actually see you after this.”
He grinned. “I’m messing with you.”
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
He reached down, between them, and guided himself into her.
“Oh,” she said. It didn’t sound like a good oh and he froze.
“Am I hurting you?” he asked.
She took a deep breath, waiting a moment. “I think I’m okay.”
“I heard if you relax, it hurts less,” Jeez said. Not that either of them had any actual experience. “Do you want me to stop?”
“Just for a minute. Maybe you can help me relax.”
Jeez smiled and they kissed, hands wandering, their bodies warm, pressed together.
A few moments passed and he tried again and–
“Oh my God.”
They were connected and staring, wide-eyed and panting, at each other.
“You okay?” Jeez asked. “You feel really good.”
When he received a nod in response, he grinned and began moving his hips…
Jeez tried to focus on where he was. He didn’t need to be thinking about his first time; he needed to imagine he was with a stranger.
“You’re in charge,” he told Macy, hands on her hips again. “However you like it.”
She leaned forward, using her arms to balance herself as she moved. And she couldn’t believe this was happening, that he was inside her, that he was touching her like that, that he was looking at her like she was the only person in the universe that mattered, regardless of what he’d said earlier. He reached up for her, touching her face, her neck, her breasts. His touch was so gentle, so warm. And she was so ecstatic about the whole thing that it was easy to ignore that small bit of pain, so she moved faster, rode him harder.
The bed frame creaked as they moved, and they moved for a while.
“How long can you go?” Macy asked, breathlessly.
“How long do you need? We can change positions if you like.”
She did, laying on her back, and for a moment, they came apart, and he rolled on top of her. He thrust into her, kissing her neck as he did. She could see the scar on his back over his shoulder.
“How are you doing?” he asked after a few minutes.
“I’m… getting kind of sore, honestly,” she admitted.
He stopped. “Have you…?”
“Didn’t think so. Okay.” He pulled out of her, kissing her again, trailing small kisses down her neck and chest, and, pushing her legs apart, he buried his face there. The spikes of his gold hair tickled her thighs, his tongue urgent, insisting.
“Oh my God,” she panted. He gripped her legs to keep her from squeezing his head between them and continued. “Is that my name?”
He glanced up at her and shook his head, but changed the movement pattern of his tongue anyway, and she could have sworn she could feel him grin between her legs.
And then she came with a small squeak, her muscles clenching around him. She covered her face with her hands for a moment, as he sat back, wiping his mouth on his arm. He got off the bed as she was recovering and was gone when she finally sat up, propping herself up on one elbow.
“Oh my God,” she said again, this time with a contented sigh, relaxing her legs. “Jeez?”
“I’ll be right there,” his voice called. One of the doors across from the bed was partially open, a beam of light extending across the carpet. She heard water run for a minute–it was a bathroom, evidently–and then shut off.
“Hey, did you… um… finish?” she asked.
He appeared in the doorway between the two rooms and she sat up to get a better look at him–as long as he didn’t change his mind, this was the only time she’d get to see him naked. She thought she should cherish it.
“Nah,” he said.
“I thought guys had to, or it hurts or whatever.”
He laughed. “Who told you that? It’s not true.”
“Was it good for you though?”
“That’s all that matters. Then it was good for me too.” He climbed on to the bed with her. “Look at my face. I’m gonna get a black eye.”
The skin around his left eye was red and swollen. She gently touched his face.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Why? You didn’t punch me in the face.” He got back off the bed, moving toward his dresser. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out a clean pair of boxers, pajama pants, and a plain t-shirt. He began dressing. “I’m gonna go have a cigarette. You can come out with me, or you can stay down here, up to you.”
He grinned as he pulled his shirt on. She got off the bed and started putting her clothes back on. He picked up his jeans from the floor and found his cigarettes in the pocket, sticking them into the pocket of his pajama pants. He slipped on his shoes and a hooded sweatshirt and waited for her to dress and then gestured toward the stairs. “Come on.”
Jeez let her go first up the stairs, but then stepped ahead of her to lead her through the dark house. As they walked through the living room, he patted the pocket of his sweatshirt.
“Ah, shit,” he said. “I forgot my lighter. I’ll be right back.” He turned around and went back toward the kitchen. Macy stood alone in the dark living room, and looked around. She hadn’t spend much time there before.
Her eyes landed on a crucifix on the wall, a small wooden cross with a gold figure of Christ attached. She approached, inspecting it closer. She didn’t see very many with the figure; her own family just had a small cross on the wall in the kitchen.
“”Do you know what happens when someone’s crucified?” Jeez’s voice asked behind her. She jumped–she hadn’t heard him come back up the stairs, and hadn’t expected him back so soon. He was fast.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, what the cause of death would be for someone who was crucified?”
“No. Never thought about it, honestly.”
“Sometimes it’s just dehydration. But most of the time, you asphyxiate. When you have your arms stretched out like that, you have to pull yourself up with every breath, and every single breath hurts, more and more, until you just can’t breathe anymore.”
Macy was quiet, unsure of how to respond.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s stop looking at it. I really don’t like it.”
He turned and walked away, and, after one moment more, looking at the crucified figure on the wall, she followed him out to the front porch.
He’d already lit a cigarette, sitting down on the step. She sat down next to him.
“So, what are your rules?”
“No one who goes to the same school as me. No one gets to know my real name–I just use Jay. No virgins. And, not that I’ve ever had to think about it, but no one I’m already friends with. I mean, don’t get offended or anything, but I was pretending I was having sex with almost anyone else because it really does weird me out to think about fucking my best friend.”
“I’m your best friend?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah. Well, second best, because my I’ve known my best friend since we were both five and he gets seniority. But yeah.”
She was quiet for a few moments and then returned to the original subject. “Have you broken all the rules before?”
“Yeah. All but the last one; that’s new. All at once. But it was an accident; I didn’t know until after.”
“How’d that work out?”
“We kind of dated. Didn’t last long. Weird circumstances.”
“I thought you didn’t date. Well, I guess you must have, to lose your virginity to someone you actually loved. Do you ever regret it?”
“Having sex at fourteen. Do you regret it?”
“But a little?”
He sighed, blue-gray smoke spiraling around his head like a ghost. “It’s really complicated. I guess… no. I don’t regret doing it because, if everything in my life went exactly the same way except that I waited longer, it would have been with a different person. And I think I would have regretted that.”
“I get it. But you don’t date now?”
“No. I’m all about anonymity now. The broken rules dating stuff was a one time thing.”
“That seems really sad.”
He shrugged a shoulder, but said nothing.
“Is that why you go to parties in different school districts?”
“Because of Greg?”
Jeez raised his eyebrows. “Why would I avoid parties because of him? No, I never really went to parties here. Just when I was specifically invited, or before I had a car. Why would you think…?”
“I just…overheard him say something about it. While you were getting drinks earlier.”
“Oh. Yeah, it’s not because of him. I was doing it before he got all weirdly obsessive.”
She nodded and fell silent.
“Was your sister serious when she said you wished I was your boyfriend?” he asked after a few moments of silence.
“Does it matter?”
“I guess not. I’d be a shitty boyfriend though; you’re really not missing anything.” He put his cigarette out on the step. “You know I really do love you as a friend though, right?”