For Your Eyes Only
by Eliot Moore
Chapter 10 (March & April 2007)
In November Elizabeth Wendt, Nate’s girlfriend of the day dropped him like a dirty diaper. He was tedious about it. Justine and I listened to his anguish for two long weeks before he began chasing fresh tail again. For those two weeks though he was miserable and confused and didn’t mind letting us know. We put up with it because that’s what friends do. That March it was my turn but I had no one to turn to. I decided to immerse myself into the ebb and flow of life: school, helping dad, and childhood friends. Jessica tried to close the distance between us. When she found me unresponsive, she tactfully withdrew. Jasmine’s death was a convenience to me. It excused my melancholy mood and explained my new emotional distance.
The Monday after the funeral I sent Pino an email from school while Anthony tapped away at his keyboard beside me. I kept it brief and away from the game and its memories of what I had done on the third floor of my parent’s house. After the message was sent I let Anthony distract me with a steady stream of chatter. Before the end of the week I received an equally terse reply. It was something anyway and his few words gave me immense relief. It was frustrating being at different schools. There was no easy way to ease into a conversation that might let me talk this through with Pino. Glyn and I still walked together most mornings, shared classes and crossed paths. It was easy to imagine what things might have been like if Pino was with us. Another year and it would have been that way. A frosty grey March slipped by like the dull phrases and facts in my well used history text; people, places and events of little relevance to me. Still, you read on doggedly, because you have to and because you hope that eventually it will make sense. I scanned for Pino on the streets and in the stores and looked for some encouraging sign between the lines of each reply he sent to my messages. His replies told me a little. During our walks Glyn began offering updates on Pino’s world. Perhaps it was no more than I might have contributed about Justin or half a dozen of our mutual friends, but Glyn couldn’t know how much I hung on his news.
April brought the first real thaw. The snow yielded quickly to the strengthening sun and the icy melt fed gutter streams that invited makeshift boats. As children, Justin and I spent hours watching our homemade craft brave the roadside flood. In our imagination our boats rode the rippling melt downhill to where the icy runoff swelled across the street fronting the high school. The paper slips and wooden chips might carry our explorers safely for a time, but inevitably they hung on a snag or flipped their load into rush. Somehow we never gave up the dream. I thought about those times as Glyn and I climbed the hill toward my house. One sparkling Wednesday afternoon he nudged me as we stood on the corner, wary of the spray from passing tires, “Got some time?”
“Yeah, what do you have in mind?”
“Come over and hang out.”
I readily agreed. We detoured around the drowned park and sought the sidewalk running by the road. I let Glyn carry the conversation and thought about Pino. We found Pino with a friend playing Madden NFL in the basement. I lingered at the door as Glyn dropped onto the couch. “Hey Robert, what’s happening?” he asked casually. I focussed on the boy beside Pino as they began to talk. Pino shot one look at me and then returned intently to the game. I thought his mood was a black hole sucking Glyn and Robert into its dark mass, but Robert and Glyn seemed oblivious to Pino’s silence. Glyn turned to me to ask for an opinion and this drew me into their conversation. I sat down a distance from Pino and offered short responses to the pair.
Finally Pino dropped the controller beside him and pulled Robert up the stairs. Glyn and I claimed the game and fell back into the conversation that had carried us to his house. I tried gamely to keep up with Glyn, but my mind was upstairs. It was a relief when Glyn called a halt to the game and conversation to execute a raid on the kitchen. I sat with my eyes closed the whole time he was gone feeling helpless. He left me alone too long; my thoughts constantly on Pino and the chasm that my desire had opened between us. It was better when Glyn returned to divert me with two Dr. Pepper’s and a tube of Pringles. Glyn switched games and seemed content to play in silence. I did my best to ignore Robert back in Pino’s room. I cracked a can and took a sip.
It was Pino’s soft voice that finally broke the silence, “Simon?” I turned to find Pino hovering at the bottom of the stairs. He looked to Glyn and then called me over with a small gesture. He leaned against the jam, eyes locked on the shifting figures of Glyn’s game.
I stopped a foot away, thought better of it and took a step back. I’m so sorry, I telegraphed, it went too far, “How’s things?”
“Look,” Pino began, eyes still carefully turned away, “I just want to say, I know it was a dumb mistake; what we were doing.”
“It was my mistake. Don’t feel bad.” His words cut into me.
Pino finally met my eyes. “Don’t put it on yourself. I started it.”
“Well I pushed you with all that dumb stuff, I wasn’t thinking I guess. I wasn’t thinking about you.” I was conscious of Glyn close at hand and dropped my voice. “I didn’t want it to end this way.” Pino’s eyes flickered with uncertainty. “I miss hanging out with you,” I added wistfully, and then I wished I could take those naked thoughts back. He shifted slightly toward the stairs that would take him away from me, “I’m so sorry,” James, I added silently. Not willing to speak his name aloud, not willing to violate the rules of our suspended game, knowing that if I did it would signal the end of it all.
“Why?” Pino seemed puzzled by me.
“I embarrassed you.”
“Hey, I’m not the one that lost a sister Simon. When I think of what we were doing, I can’t believe you still want to talk to me.” I stared at him blankly. Pino looked toward Glyn. I followed his gaze. Glyn sat slumped in the chair eyes still intent on the game oblivious to our conversation. “I should go.” My eyes snapped back. Pino climbed a step, “Thanks for the emails. I’m glad we’re still talking Si, friends?” he added hesitantly, his eyes saucers. There was a hunger in his eyes that added to my confusion. All I could do was nod mutely and Pino mirrored it back. “I’ll see you around then.” He turned to go and then hesitated before continuing in the same apologetic tone he had started with. “You know, it’s all so unreal over there. You don’t take it seriously till someone close to you dies. It’s not a game then.”
We were on different wave lengths, “What?”
“We were laughing about it, stupidly pretending to be soldiers and then your sister died.”
“Oh,” I nodded, but the significance of what he was saying was slow to penetrate. I shrugged, “I guess that’s so.”
I wanted to reach out to him, but I didn’t dare. “Hang out with us.”
Pino smiled at me, but it lacked its usual warmth. He shook his head, “Rob and I were going to his place.”
“Sure” and again his tone seemed guarded. Pino moved quickly up the stairs.
I turned back to Glyn and dropped onto the couch beside him. He played on and my thoughts drifted to Pino’s words. I know it was a dumb mistake; what we were doing… when I think of what we were doing, I had misunderstood. Canadian soldiers, James Bond, terrorists, Pino thought I was offended by all that because Jasmine had died. I considered the idea and realized I felt no guilt. I caught Glyn’s profile out of the corner of my eye. With a twist, I shifted my feet up onto the couch and leaned back against the arm rest. Glyn’s blond hair fell across the side of his fair face. My eyes followed the contour of his face; nose and lips identical to Pino’s. Glyn’s long lashes flashed across glistening eyes intent on the game. I let my sock-toed foot snaked out to poke him in the side and I was rewarded with a flicker and a small smile. They were so alike. They were so close. It confused me not to remember that sense of closeness with Jasmine. How like Pino to assume I must feel the intense grief I realized he would have felt if it had been Glyn lost on that dusty Afghan road; the intense personal grief Peter clearly felt. I willed myself to feel some sort of shame or remorse that we had been playing childish war games as my only sister moved into harm’s way, but it would not come. All that came was a selfish relief that Pino had smiled at me and that comfort was quickly followed by the aching disappointment that he had left me again. Glyn tossed the controller in my direction. “So what’s Pino up to then?” He lifted his arms and with a stretch spread them over the back of the couch.
I toyed with the controller not much interested in returning to the game. “Guess he’s doing something,” I replied with an ill-concealed lack of enthusiasm.
“With Rob,” Glyn offered matter-of-factly.
“Yep,” I muttered and restarted the game. I sorted through Glyn’s car collection, selected one and wasted time tweaking it. Glyn offered a few criticisms but didn’t seem to mind I was spending all his money. He lapsed into silence as my 1970 Plymouth Super Bird accelerated into the first curve of the Hong Kong track with a menacing guttural roar. I was going too fast so I slammed into another car and let it carry me around the corner. Pino had his friends. He had mentioned a small circle of them at school. Alike in so many ways, the brothers were oddly different in that respect. Glyn drew people to him like a magnet. It flattered me that Glyn sought out my company and seemed to value my opinion when there were so many others eager for his time. Pino ought to have drawn at least as much interest. “James is cool, he should be up to his neck in friends,” I concluded to myself distractedly.
“Pino likes his space and he is really a shy boy.”
I realized I had voiced my final thought. The Super Bird slowed slightly and I watched the pack slip past. “Shy?” My mouth suddenly dry, I felt the caution Kevin Stonechild’s disapproving dad had instilled in me at the age of nine. Pino was the kid brother; the rerun of Glyn that you were only supposed to tolerate because Glyn got along with him. He was my friend by default, sort of like Nate. Pino was really background, not the boy you dreamed about when you were assumed to be scheming how to finally have sex with Jessica Prefontaine. Pino’s social life was really not my concern.
I felt a toe wiggle into the soft flesh above my hip. I smiled at Glyn’s counterattack. I grabbed his foot with a free hand and wrestled it away from my side. He brought his other foot into play, so I dropped the controller and the tussle escalated amidst low grunts and giggles. After a time I managed to lock both of his legs under my arm. He responded with a head lock that forced my shoulders back against his chest. We rocked on the couch momentarily before toppling off the cushions and onto the carpeted floor. My shoulder slammed into the heavy coffee table as I went down with Glyn on my back.
“Ouch,” I commented weakly.
Glyn ignored my injury and tightened his lock around my throat. I was conscious of his groin pressing into my rear. “Pino takes friendship pretty seriously; hard opening up to people.”
I grunted and twisted suddenly beneath Glyn. He let me slide around until his long length trapped me between the coffee table and the couch. His breath was on my lips and his belly pressed into mine. I might have felt his heart against the back of my forearm as I pushed against his chest. Glyn’s proximity was arousing me. His gently parted lips invited a kiss. The impulse was strong. I lifted my head and then jerked my head back. I’d never even kissed Pino. Our eyes met briefly, as if Glyn was finally conscious of our intimacy. He pushed himself up and slid down until he straddled my thighs, our crotches safely separated. Glyn balanced on my legs with his hands on his thighs. Eyes shifted around the other’s faces in apparent frankness, me avoiding the cotton fabric stretched across his groin and he avoiding the half-erect length of me pushing against the denim between his legs. Glyn was a reflection of Pino and equally fascinating, but the warm glow I felt for the one was not the familiar scorching heat I felt for the other.
“He’s a dreamer Simon, like you maybe?” Glyn resumed thoughtfully.
“Don’t we all dream Glyn?” I offered evasively. A shadow hand of desire reached up to take a fistful of Glyn’s shirt to pull him back down so I could feel his groin against me once more and taste his lips. The hand evaporated, but the desire lingered longer. Glyn cocked a head in puzzlement.
“Not always for ourselves though; Si, why was Pino …” but he never finished his thought. I wondered what he intended to ask me. Glyn might have been aware of Pino’s solitary visits to my house and the book store. For all that, Glyn must see Pino as background, my friend by default because he was the kid brother; surely Glyn would think it nothing more.
“I have my dreams Glyn,” I thought of my rebranded Wallace Books and my father proudly offering me my great grandfather’s business that none of my brothers seemed to want. Pino had glimpsed my dream and his encouraging smile drove the foolishness of it all away. “The best dreams are shared,” I concluded wistfully. Our eyes locked in an unexpectedly solemn moment. I felt a different sort of warmth for Glyn. There was a satisfaction in exchanging something other than the all too familiar trash-talk and surface banter of our adolescent lives.
“Share this,” Glyn quipped and the moment passed with a fresh assault as he began tickling me again. We tumbled about the room testing our strength and revelling in the safer closeness of two friends in combat.
At home, in Peter’s old room which had abruptly become mine, I collapsed on the bed and thought back over my conversation with the Fleming brothers. I didn’t want to jeopardize my growing friendship with Glyn. In the eight months since I had met him in the park we had drawn closer. I wondered if it might be better if I stopped thinking of Pino. My friends would think the game of make believe was childish. It recalled that summer day I played Tarzan with Justin. I was almost fifteen. It was time to grow up a bit; make things work with Jessica. Pino didn’t want to play the game anyway.
He was likely home again, back from his friend Robert’s home. I hoped it was back from somewhere else, perhaps the mall. I wanted it to be somewhere comfortably public; a place where the two boys would be distracted by some incidental convergence of friends or the allure of video games and sports equipment. I preferred to imagine a trio of girls interrupting the pair’s comfortable pairing. Lying there on my bed, I could visualize Pino’s grin and hear his alto voice responding to the girl’s vivacious chatter. My incidental allies would naturally push Robert to the side as they focussed on Pino’s golden face and bright accented voice. Pino would be home now though. I wondered if he lay in his room stealing a quiet moment before dinner. I imagined him stretched on his bed as he used to stretch on mine, one leg dangling off the edge, the other bent at the knee while the fabric stretched across his groin. The image stayed with me as my hand strayed down to my own heat. It was hard not to keep thinking about Pino after that. I couldn’t shift my thoughts to Jessica. I guess it did not occur to me to try.
The weather warmed and I shed my winter coat. Glyn came by most mornings so we could walk the last few blocks to school together. Once a week he would entice me across the tracks to his house. I went gladly, but we were rarely alone. It would usually be an assortment of his neighbourhood friends. We hung out in his basement as you might expect. Pino came and went with his friends and Robert was a frequent, if unwelcome companion. At times, Pino and his friends would already be there in the basement. Our trek was longer. Naturally, Pino’s friends liked Glyn so he was always welcome to join them. The two groups shared the space and shared the games. It seemed unnatural not to join the banter. The first time I joined the teasing and trashed one of Pino’s awkward moves he shot a shy smile my way. It was our first unguarded moment. I hoped the thaw would continue between us.
I kept my distance while I sought a convincing answer to Pino’s comments about our game. We played a game of musical chairs in which I think we both consciously avoided anything that might bring us physically together until a moment when Glyn forced me from the safe edge of the couch and into the centre where Pino sat hunched over a controller. After Pino impulsively responded to a taunt with a punch and I retaliated with a swift elbow, we forgot our shyness. In this way, as time went on, the shadow that lay between Pino and I faded, but something between us was still lost.
Despite the thaw in my relationship with Pino, I made more of an effort to improve things with Jessica. I was determined to take it as seriously as Justin felt I should. I dated her more often. Generally, this meant attaching ourselves to a crowd of friends for an afternoon or evening. I felt more comfortable when we were surrounded by companions. One Thursday I suggested we join Glyn and Brittany after school. Looking back, I’m amazed how much the afternoon foreshadowed what was to come. Glyn and I followed the girls to the bottom of Main Street. For a while Brittany lead us from one shop to another. At one point I drifted away and stepped into the Coffee Corner. In my imagination, the coffee shop was mine. Fifteen years old and I was captivated by a good looking teen busy behind the counter. I should have been shadowing Jessica; instead I was watching this tall seventeen-year-old frothing milk. He worked with an unconscious grace, strong hands busy. He was wearing a white dress shirt rolled up to his elbows so that I could see the fine hairs on his forearms. A bored woman behind the counter caught my eye and asked me what I wanted. I didn’t need anything, but I bought three mochas to excuse my visit. I reflexively glanced at the cut of the teen’s black slacks when he came to the counter with my drinks. He spared a smile before turning to his next task. I caught him watching me as I cautiously manoeuvred through the front door juggling the three cups. I mean he was really looking at me. The memory of the quiet journalism student in Wallace Books came back to me with a blushed.
I found Glyn and Jessica animatedly talking on a bench in the cold spring sunlight. Glyn slouched easily, long legs stretched out to the curb as if to soak in the spring sunlight. Jessica leaned toward him, arms wrapped around her knees. They accepted the hot drinks gratefully. I perched on the arm rest behind Glyn and listened to their happy conversation. I sipped Brittany’s drink. Glyn turned to me and casually draped his arm on my knee. His touch engaged me more than Jessica’s slim figure and light voice. I’d swallowed half the drink by the time Brittany appeared with a senior I vaguely recognized from school. I offered Brittany the dregs of my mocha and then finished it when she dismissed it. “Dwight invited us to hang out at his place guys,” she volunteered brightly. Dwight shrugged his shoulders. I noticed he was carrying two brightly colored bags from Brittany’s recent foraging.
Dwight was of an age with the good looking seventeen year old I had been watching at the Coffee Corner moments earlier. He lacked the other’s height and clean lines. Dwight measured me in turn as he took a long drag on his cigarette. “Sure, why not?” he said unenthusiastically. His eyes lingered briefly on Glyn before lighting on Jessica. Dwight’s interest annoyed me, but it was Glyn who replied first.
“I don’t know Brittany. I thought we were heading home soon.”
Brittany turned impulsively toward Dwight and pressed the palms of her hands against his chest, as if to urge him to be patient. She leaned over the back of the bench bring her face close to Glyn’s. “The guys have beer and some weed Glyn,” her plea was soft and she tongue flicked over her lips. The guys, I thought not really wanting to drink with Dwight’s friends on a Tuesday afternoon.
“Even so Brittany,” Glyn answered quietly. His arm still rested on my leg and I suddenly realized I has holding on to it as if to keep him from leaving. I let go quickly and Glyn glanced toward me before turning back to his girlfriend. He left his arm where it was.
“Yes Brittany, I promised mom I would be home by six,” Jessica added. Dwight and Brittany shifted their attention to Jessica. Brittany frowned slightly.
“You sure?” Dwight asked with considerably more interest than he had shown for Glyn or me. “I’ll give you a ride home. You won’t be that late.”
“No thanks,” Jessica replied lightly. Brittany looked put out by our lack of interest. I waited to see how she would handle it, knowing Brittany was drawn to the excitement of the older boy and the lure of a car ride. Her eyes drifted to me and then she dismissed whatever thought she was entertaining. I held no weight in the matter. “Glyn and I promised to stop at the book store with Si before we head back.”
“Right,” Glyn added happily. “Look Brit, it’s okay.” He released her with a smile.
“Sure?” She asked him. He nodded and she gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Brittany pulled the bags away from Dwight and pressed them in the space between Glyn and Jessica. “Do me a favour honey, can you take these bags home, bring them to school tomorrow?” She turned away without waiting for a reply and began towing Dwight away. The senior glanced at Jessica once and then allowed her to lead him away. Jessica and I shared a look. Brittany was so predictable. The resentment I could never muster for the way she had behaved with me swelled suddenly when I was confronted with the way she treated Glyn. I flicked the side of his head, signalling my protest at his passive acceptance. He retaliated with a light punch to my belly that almost sent me over the back of the bench arm rest. As I fell back a strong hand gathered the loose fabric of my shirt and pulled me back and around until I lay sprawled between them partly across Glyn’s legs, my head between Jessica’s parted thighs. She grabbed my shoulder to keep me on the bench. I felt Glyn’s hand press into my flesh. I felt it right through to my spine. He was too good for Brittany by far.
“You guys are crazy.” Jessica giggled. I looked up between her legs and we shared a smile. Glyn started tickling me right there on the street.
“Cut it out Pino,” I protested. His fingers paused abruptly and I used the moment of respite to twist away from them. I dropped to the dirty pavement in front of the bench and bounced up, brushing the muck off my pants. Then I stalked off down the sidewalk with my fists jammed deep in my pockets. Jessica and Glyn caught up to me before I had gone twenty paces. Jessica slipped an arm around mine and Glyn draped a friendly arm across my shoulder. They pressed me close for a moment and then we walked on together till we reached the end of the block. Once we crossed the street we moved apart. Jessica stopped to look in a window while Glyn and I stood side by side. When she moved on, we took turns walking beside her as we threaded our way through the light afternoon crowd. Finally I fell into step behind them, Pino much on my mind.
Glyn decided to take the bus home. We stayed at the stop to keep him company. When he left, clutching Brittany’s shopping bags, he called to me to phone him. Jessica and I watched the bus pull away and then began the long walk home. She slipped her hand into mine as we walked. “What’s on your mind Simon, you seem sad.”
“I’m doing okay.” I smiled at her, but my heart was not in it. I squeezed the slender hand to reassure her. Her long legs kept pace with mine as we continued on.
“Seriously,” her tone contradicted mine.
“Well it bothers me the way she treats him. He is great, you know?” I remember looking at her and the sidelong look she shot back at me.
“Good looking.” She contributed.
“Sure,” I conceded, “But he’s a good friend; really decent to people.” I thought of Anthony. “He thinks about how people feel. She is pissing away a good thing, using him.”
“Like she used you?”
“That was different.” Glyn was the kind of person I couldn’t imagine giving up. It perplexed me that Brittany could leave him at a bus stop. She had to know Glyn cared for her. It must be obvious to her.
“Because you didn’t really care,” Jessica was right of course. Glyn had worried when Brittany had thrown me over to be with him. He never quite believed it didn’t matter to me, or that he had not hurt my pride. Even before that I guess the relationship had not seemed real to me.
“Well you know Brittany.” Despite the warning Glyn forced out of me, I did not think he understood her. “Anyway, it depresses me to think Glyn might get hurt. He takes it all so seriously.”
“What about you Simon?” I imagined reproach in her tone, though looking back I don’t believe there was. I stopped and pulled her around. The afternoon sun glowed on her skin and her honest eyes held steady on mine.
“There’s nothing serious about Brittany. You are cool. I’m glad we’re friends, I mean my girlfriend, us together now.” I stumbled through it somehow. She seemed to be waiting for me to continue so I gave her a quick hug and a smile. She smiled back faintly, put her hand on my chest, and stood as if in thought.
“Come on Simon,” and she turned to continue on. I caught up with her and we walked on lost in our own thoughts. “I’m glad we’re friends too Simon,” she offered.
“We should do something together. I mean alone, just us.”
“We could go to a movie Friday.”
“What movie do you want to see?” She considered the question, offered a film I didn’t care for, and so we fell into a good natured negotiation; each trashing the other’s taste. I let it come back to her first choice because it seemed right to let her have her way or perhaps it was because Jesse Spencer had found his way into the movie and even if he was Australian, he reminded me of the Fleming brothers.
Jessica and I arrived early at the theatre. I played the dutiful boyfriend and joined the long line waiting for snacks while she fended off some girls wishing to sit with us. I watched them as I inched slowly toward the counter. Lauren Wendt was in a number of my classes and Melissa Wahpooseyan was in eighth grade. I recalled she was Jessica’s cousin. The way the two girls repeatedly looked my way and then leaned close to giggle something to Jessica made me blush. I was not accustomed to the scrutiny of girls, accepting that most would pass right over me. Justine’s regular features seemed acceptable to girls and his confidence with them seemed to compensate for the rash of acne beginning to plague him. At the thought, my hand briefly went to my chin where I had fussed with a few angry intruders. I envied Glyn’s complexion and popularity, and wondered how he managed it all with such easy grace.
My eyes were on the counter waiting for my chance, but I did catch Jessica’s smile when Lauren and Melissa finally moved away in the direction of a swarm of boys milling around the arcade games. It was a happy smile and I mirrored it back to her. She was a beautiful girl, everyone kept telling me so, and I was a lucky man. Brittany’s casual mistreatment had not done much to build my confidence. I realized suddenly that it might not be me at all. She treated Glyn the same way and he was fashion-model beautiful in my eyes. Maybe I’m not a troll, I bit my lip to hold back a foolish smile, then it slipped free anyway as I leaned on the counter to place the order. The young attendant might have agreed with my secret thought. His eyes flickered over me as he waited for me to hand him the slip. I liked the curl on his lips and a dimple that had not been there a moment ago.
“What can I do you for?” His warm voice fed the glow I was feeling. Despite the rush to fill orders before the film started, he seemed to be content to wait for me.
“Just two cokes please.” I slid the slip toward him and his fingers twined with mine casually as he pulled the paper out from beneath. He studied the slip as if it were my passport to some forbidden country.
“No I’m good to go.” I bit my lip apologetically and gave him a small shrug. I was letting him down it seemed. Broad shoulders shrugged back, as if to say it was my loss and turned to fetch the drinks. We traded glances as he filled the cups. Our fingers touched again when he slid the drinks across the counter. “Thanks,” and I worked to suppress another foolish grin.
“No problem, be careful with those, enjoy the movie.”
“You too,” and that was a stupid thing to say, so I blushed. It simply made him smile more and for some reason I did not mind that. “See you around,” I added helplessly. I moved over to where the lids and straws lay strewn across the counter and finished with the drinks. The teen was dealing with the next customer, his face stamped with the same harried look as all the other people behind the counter. He looked my way as he turned to the drink dispenser, brushed his hair off his forehead, and gave me a friendly nod. I went back to Jessica energized and less concerned with how I looked or what I was going to do that night.
Jessica held my focus as we went down the soft carpet to the entrance to the theatre. Small yellow lights and the flickering screen lit our way. We paused at the bottom of the steps and scanned the rows for the best place to sit. Jessica pointed out a comfortable island of empty seats half way up and when I nodded, she led the way. As you might expect, I also searched the shadowy rows for familiar faces. I caught a few here and there. Nate waved at me from the far end of a row where he sat with a group from the neighbourhood. He waved me over but I shook my head and pointed at Jessica. He replied with an evil grin and turned back to the others. We were sitting well above him, so I knew I would not have to worry about an audience. I was out with Jessica. That would reassure Justin when the news got back to him. We started down the row toward the seats Jessica picked. The theatre would likely fill some more, but we would be alone. Jessica turned back to me to confirm I was satisfied with her choice. I nodded my agreement, and then I saw Pino.
Pino sat behind us five seats farther toward the end dead center in the theatre. He was beside Robert and with a heavy set boy named Kyle. Pino sat ridged in his chair; hands holding a bucket of popcorn tucked between his thighs, the glittering surface of his glasses hid his eyes. Robert noticed me first and gave Pino a nudge and I heard him say “Simon,” before he pointed. Pino’s head jerked my way once and he nodded to his friend. Robert turned to listen to something Kyle said then reached a hand between Pino’s thighs. My eyes burned into Robert. His fist came free clutching a plump handful. Robert grazed from his hand pausing now and then to track down a stray kernel that fell to his chest. When his hand was empty it strayed back toward Pino’s lap. Pino moved suddenly, snatching the bucket from his crotch and thrusting it at his friend. When Robert took it, Pino’s hands tugged once at the fabric covering his thighs, clawed at the dark denim, and then thrust his hands between his legs. All the while, I stood staring stupidly at his face, Jessica temporarily forgotten, my certainty vanished. All the while, Pino’s eyes remained fixed to the flickering screen, body poised as if ready for flight. Jessica tugged at my hoody and I came back to my surroundings. I sat beside her and took a ragged breath. I distracted myself as the audience filtered in watching the interminable advertisements. It came to me that I had said nothing to Jessica since we had entered the theatre so I began offering comments. By the time the previews began I was breathing easily. Jessica claimed the armrest between us and I remembered to hold her hand. As the surround sound swelled we had to bring our heads together to be heard. Each time I turned to say something I caught a glimpse of Pino. He had slumped deep into his chair, his left leg braced against the seat in front, and his head resting on his arm. Jessica leaned toward me as the movie began so I squeezed her hand. She pulled it away to reach for some gum and then put it back between us. I forgot it there while I watched and thought.
It was Jessica’s movie and she became quickly absorbed in it. She was a good person to take to the movies. Rows below, I could see Nate offering unsoliscitated remarks on the movie. It grated on my nerves most of the time. Justine obliged him, but when we watched a movie by ourselves we limited our reactions. Jessica turned to me once or twice, but seemed content to watch. That suited me because my mind was spinning.
Halfway through the movie I began teasing Jessica about the romance unfolding on the screen. I could turn my head and look past her shoulder to where Robert leaned close to Pino. With Jessica’s scent flooding my senses I remembered Pino. She jogged my elbow and pointed down to where Nate was kissing Courtney Biblow, his latest girlfriend. Jessica smiled at me. We were all alone and I knew what I should do. I leaned close and kissed her. Her lips were liquid against mine. We pulled away and she smiled. I smiled back, masking my feelings. It came to me that I had never kissed Pino.
“Hey!” Robert’s voice drew my attention. When I turned, Pino was on his feet moving silently along the row of seats toward the aisle. He walked rapidly down the steps toward the exit. I made my decision.
“Hey,” Jessica turned toward me, “I’ve got to go for a minute.”
“Just need the restroom,” she nodded and I patted her hand to reassure her. I quickly followed after Pino.
The lobby was quiet. I saw no sign of Pino at the snack counter, just the smiling teen I had met earlier. I turned to the restroom. For a while, I hesitated in the doorway and then went into the white-tiled room. Pino was leaning at the sink under the harsh glare of the florescent lights staring at his reflection. I moved closer and his eyes shifted to my reflection in the mirror. He looked older to me at that moment, more like Glyn and less like the kid who tackled me in the park in August. Dark spatters marred Pino’s hoody. He had been splashing water on his face and I imagined the cool dampness on his pale cheeks. He looked back at his own reflection and reached for the glasses he had set beside him. I did not know where to begin.
“The movie’s not bad.” His eyes were on his own reflection and his voice deeper as it echoed in the room.
“I suppose, Jessica really wanted to see it.” I moved behind Pino and pressed my forehead against a stall door before turning around to watch him. Pino’s fingers fluttered until he shoved them deep into his pockets. Our reflections stood side by side as he stared into the mirror. “It’s predictable.”
“Yes, very,” Pino seemed to draw in a long breath and then he turned to look at me. “Jessica is beautiful. Glyn says she is cool.” I was lying with my eyes, just staring intently at him. People say the eyes are windows to the soul, but I don’t believe it. Perhaps in an unguarded moment, or an honest moment that would be true. But there was no honesty here, just fright. Standing there I thought Pino’s eyes were as veiled as mine. He brought a smile to his lips, “I’m happy for you.”
“I didn’t think of it like that.”
“The game, there was nothing wrong with it. It was just for us. It would not have changed a thing.” His guard remained and he was frozen in place. I suppose anyone might have come in at that point and stopped me, but mercifully we were left to ourselves. “It was…” but I strangled on the words. I could not see the path forward. I just knew I was sick to death of the bigger game I had been playing with myself.
“I guess,” Pino contributed ambiguously, “Not a big deal.” I was desperate to know what he meant by that. The forced smile slid into place again. “I guess the guys will think I fell in. I better get back, find out how it ends.” Pino turned to go.
“They get together of course. That’s how it always ends.” The moment was slipping away from me.
“Does it? For all of them maybe; say hi to your girlfriend for me.” It was slow motion and it was a panicked rush. There was so much I had left unsaid.
“James, wait.” He froze at his name. He had never heard it from my lips. I had ended our game with the simple word. Looking back, I can see an adolescent awkwardness to this all; an inarticulate fifteen-year-old coming clean to a cautious boy not yet fourteen. The angst is tempered now, but I remember the sense of release when I went on, “Jamie, I’d rather be with you.”
“No, listen, please,” I had to cut him off before he shut me down, “You’re all I think about.” James faced me and leaned against the counter with his arms crossed. His eyes glittered. “I want you Jamie,” words were not adequate, “tell me you don’t know that.”
“What we did …”
“All that, I’m sorry, but that is who I am.” I stepped toward him slowly watching his eyes, waiting for him to signal I was making a mistake. I closed the distance before I tried to speak again. Perhaps I thought I could hold him there. “I had to tell you. I know it might not be what you want.” He stopped me suddenly, sealing my lips with a few fingers.
“Enough,” and then he sighed, “It is what it is.”
I glanced quickly toward the door way and then leaned slowly toward his lips. Like a frightened deer, I would have bound away at the slightest warning. Our lips hardly touched before I pulled back to measure his response. James’ head tipped forward and our lips met a second time. I felt his hands on my hips. He smiled when we broke and I felt the blood surge through me. In my fierce joy I wanted to grab two fistfuls of his hoody and pulled him back into the restroom. He might have come willingly, but instead I pushed him away gently with a smile and he followed me back into the theatre in silence.
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