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February 19, 2024

Life Less Love 3

By Peter Driscoll

Straighten Out Your Crease Dear...

I

The two sat staring at the television, neither moving. On the screen, USC's quarterback was rushing towards his receiver with his hands held up in celebration. He joined the crowd of teammates already clutching the jersey of the receiver, slapping his helmet and yelling.

Jaylin blinked, his eyes crusted with pain as the blood pooled at the top of his eyelids rushed down. He held them shut, spots of light bursting and disappearing through the blackness behind his eyes. A mixture of relief and dull pain lingered in the black. He wondered how long it had been since he last blinked.

"Hey, USC just scored," his roommate said lethargically.

Jaylin opened his pulsating eyes and saw Kenny slowly turn his head. Both their bodies cemented in their identical reclining chairs.

"Did you hear that?"

"No. Hear what?"

"I heard a knock, dude. Like at the door."

"What door?" Jaylin shook his head and closed his eyes again, they screamed in relief.

"The door to our apartment, man. I swear to God I heard a knock. Then another one while you were talking."

"You're tripping man," Jaylin said in seriousness. Then realized the truth behind his statement and started giggling. Kenny laughed too.

"So are you. Wait, there it is again," he tensed up.

"Well then, damnit, go see who it is," Jaylin opened his eyes to a commercial.

"Are you expecting anyone?"

"No, are you?"

"I don't think so, but I don't know. Oh shit, am I expecting anyone?"

Kenny rose from his chair, buckling the leg extension under him and sitting up slowly. He grabbed a broom from the corner of the room and curled it in his right hand, tucking it behind his body as he crept to the door and reached out with his left hand.

He twisted the knob with care, his body hunched over like God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and let gravity sway the door open.

"Oh, hey Marissa," he said, still hunched over in the same position. The end of the broom handle protruding over the top of his head.

"Were you guys still asleep or something? I've been knocking for like five minutes."

"We're watching TV, we couldn't hear you at all. I only got up randomly. You got lucky."

Marissa shifted passed him, staring strangely at him first, then the broom. She made her way to Jaylin, whose eyes were closed again now, and kissed him on the cheek.

"Hey, I know we didn't have anything planned for today, but I had lunch with Kim at BC and figured I'd swing by to see what you boys were up to."

Jaylin nodded slowly, a stupid grin on his face.

"Football," he said as his eyes plucked open. "USC and Notre Dame."

"Are you betting on this game?"

"I don't know."

"What?"

Kenny came back, broom still in hand, and sat back down in his chair, popping the leg extension up.

"What is wrong with you two? You guys are acting so weird."

"Nothing," Jaylin said. "We're just watching the game."

"And tripping balls," Kenny giggled.

"You're kidding," she looked back and forth at the two of them. "Oh my God, you are. You guys took fucking mushrooms?"

She took a step back, so they were both in her view. They remained staring at the television. She wasn't sure to be pissed off or just horrified.

"Why?"

They both giggled.

"I don't know, babe. Why not? Kenny knew a guy who could get them cheap and neither of us was doing anything today."

He took Marissa's wrist in his hand and pulled her closer. She reluctantly let him.

"You're not mad are you?"

"No, not really. Just confused. I thought people stopped doing that kind of stuff after college. I just, just didn't think you did this kind of thing."

"C'mon, I don't. This is one time. You know me, I don't even smoke pot. We were just bored and thought we'd do it for old times sake. Like you said, for college." He laughed. "College. That's a great word to say."

"The list!" Kenny said. He leaned forward in a struggle and groped for a piece of paper on the coffee table in front of him. After a few tries he caught it between two fingers and lifted it up, stained with a variety of substances, and looked it over.

"Ah, we already have collage on here. College and collage are practically the same. Doesn't count."

He held the paper up and let it go as it wafted back down onto the table and into a fresh puddle of something.

"Well, Jaylin, just make me a promise. Next time you do mushrooms make sure you invite me along, too. I don't want you doing them by yourself."

Jaylin looked surprisingly up at her then over to Kenny.

"Wow, dude. That's a keeper right there," Kenny said, shocked.

Marissa smiled at both of them and turned toward the door.

"Call me tomorrow, Jaylin, I want to talk to you about apartments. I think I found the perfect one and I want you to come look with me."

She walked out the door and he smiled to her as she waved goodbye.

"Apartment? Is she moving into a new place or something?"

Jaylin ignored him, continuing to smile, and closed his eyes as they rejoiced by blinding him in pain.

II

Jaylin drove down the street he grew up on. Pulled into the driveway with its tilted basketball hoop, the backboard wood rotted and stained a damp brown. The red square no longer visible above the rim. He parked under it and opened the door. Gazing out past the backyard and into the endless woods behind the house. The old treehouse, dilapidated and unused, visible among the leafless trees. Etched in his memory.

"So this is where the memories and instances that make up Jaylin were forged," Marissa said from the other side of the car. She was looking at the quaint two-story house. Stone steps baked into the lawn as they led the way to the porch.

She waited for her boyfriend to come around and join her. They walked together up the path, Marissa holding an apple pie covered in tin foil. Jaylin rang the doorbell and stood back. He looked at Marissa and gave her a nervous smile.

"Worried?"

"No, I'm sure your family is wonderful."

"Jaylin," his father said as he opened the door. He stood at the doorway and waited for his son to grasp his hand. They shook and Jaylin walked past him into the house. "And you must be Marissa. So nice to meet you dear." Jaylin's father kissed Marissa on the cheek and hugged her at the shoulders, then led her into the house.

In the living room several people were getting up from their various seated positions and Jaylin was going around to each of them. Marissa waited for Jaylin to finish and then he turned to her.

"Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Marissa."

They all turned to look at her and she smiled as best she could, only able to hold eye contact for a few seconds before shuttling them to the ground.

"Marissa, this is my sister Gwen and her husband Tom," Marissa approached the couch nearest the door and shook their hands. Asleep next to them was a baby, its head sloping off a stroller. "This is my brother Kyle and his boyfriend."

Hoping she didn't break her smile, she moved from the couch to two chairs obviously brought out only for today. She shook the two men's hands.

"Hi, I'm Stephen. This is my first Thanksgiving too, don't worry, you aren't alone."

Marissa laughed and followed Jaylin's voice around the room.

"This is my Aunt Linda and Uncle Nathan, and my cousins Felicia and Fae."

She was now on the other side of the room, standing in front of an L-couch. On the end of the couch sat the only person in the room not standing.

"And this is my Grandma. My Nana."

Marissa bent down to give the old woman a hug.

"It's very nice to meet you, dear," Nana said from her seat, her smile bright and genuine. "I think you might be the prettiest girl Jaylin has ever brought home."

"Come on, Nana, I've brought lots of pretty girls home, haven't I?"

"Not like her, she could be a model," she chuckled.

"That's so nice of you to say," Marissa blushed. She turned to Jaylin. "I think I'm going to like your Grandmother."

"Everyone does. Come on, my mom's probably in the kitchen waiting for us to come see her."

"Hurry back, Jaylin, the second half is about to begin," his uncle said through a mouthful of chips and dip.

"Oh, Jaylin, she's so pretty."

His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, and stood when they came in. She gave her son a big kiss on the cheek and then hugged him.

"I've missed you so much. It's so good to see you. And Marissa, it's so good to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you."

"It's good to finally meet you too, Mrs. Thompson. Thank you for having me over for Thanksgiving," she held out the pie. "We brought this for dessert. Is there a special place to put it?"

"Oh, let me take it, dear. I'll put it with the rest. You didn't have to do that," she said with a smirk as she set it on the kitchen table. "But thank you. I'm sure the boys will all love it."

"Speaking of that, how long before everything will be ready, you think?" Jaylin asked.

"Oh I don't know, an hour maybe? Not everyone is even here yet. In the meantime, though, you should show her your old room. I bet she'd love that."

"I dunno about that, I haven't even seen it in what, two years? Who knows how I left it. I can't remember."

"Oh come on, Marissa wants to see it. Don't you Marissa?"

"Actually, I would. That sounds fun."

Jaylin shrugged. "All right. It's good to see you mom."

"It's good to see you too, honey," she hugged her son again. "I'll call you when dinner is ready."

As they left the kitchen and headed to the stairs the front door opened. A man who strongly resembled Jaylin popped in out of the cold and looked around.

"Vance," Jaylin shouted to him. The man turned to the voice.

"Jay, hey what's up, man?"

"Nothing much. I didn't think you'd be home for the holidays?"

"Eh, mom kind of guilted me into it. I'm only in town for the day though. Then it's off again. Who's this?"

"Oh, hey, this is my girlfriend, Marissa. Marissa, this is my brother, Vance."

"Nicely done, Jay. Good to meet you, Marissa," he said while shaking her hand. "Hey, we'll catch up later, all right."

"Sure," Jaylin said as Vance disappeared into the living room.

In his bedroom, Jaylin thumbed through the spines of some old video game cases shelved in his closet. Marissa sat on his bed and gazed around at the various posters and novelties strewn about with purpose.

"You have a very neat room."

"Only cause I'm not in it. When I lived here my room was always a mess," he laughed. Then he paused. "You should probably know that about me."

"It's okay, I'm messy too. That shouldn't be a problem. Do your parents know we're moving in together?"

"No. I'll probably tell them after we actually find a place and put the security down on it. Have you told yours?"

"No. I was going to wait until after the holiday. Just in case they don't like the idea. I don't want to ruin Thanksgiving."

"That's kind of what I was thinking too."

She got off the bed and walked over to the closet, putting her arms around his neck.

"I've got a few places picked out that you should take a look at. I think we should do this before Christmas, get it out of the way. We don't have to be moved in totally by then, just as long as we are in a place together."

"That's fine with me. I think you're right."

She walked him over to the bed and laid him down on it, kissing him.

"Do you have any idea how much I want to have sex on the bed you grew up on?"

"I'm sure my parents would love that."

"How would they know?"

"Cause we've already been gone for fifteen minutes. Five more and they will think something is up. My family is very suspicious."

She laughed. "Fine, let's go back down before they start accusing me of being a harlot."

"Oh, I already told them you were. Was I not supposed to?"

"Shut up, Jaylin, you did not."

"Maybe, maybe not. You'll know for sure when they break out the Bible and holy water."

She got up off the bed and went to his dresser.

"Your family is going to love me. And just in case, I'm taking this with me. To hold as ransom until you make them love me."

She took a tiny baseball trophy, the smallest one in the collection on the dresser, and slid it into her purse, smiling shrewdly at him. He smiled back, shaking his head, as he followed her out the door, down the stairs, and back to family life.

III

"See, what all of you are failing to realize is that no matter what I am right now, no matter how liberal and open-minded I am, I will be, by comparison, a bigot in the future. There is no denying it."

Around the table protests were announced by the shaking of heads, the throwing up of hands, the exasperation of air from lungs to the room.

"That's crazy," the one named Martin said. "You are always the same person. No matter how society changes, you are always the same person. The environment can't change you. You'll still be you."

The table settled as Martin spoke. Aspen broke in as he was finishing his final sentence.

"Exactly. Exactly. Just because society tells you that smoking is wrong or that abortion is wrong doesn't mean you have to listen. Look at it this way. We have no fucking idea what the future generation is going to think of us. The child that I will have in the future is going to grow up with a whole different set of rules and values than what I grew up with. The fact that we're using cell phones at all right now might be what drinking while you were pregnant was in the 1950s. We just don't know any fucking better. And it's easy for people to look back and be like, how stupid can you be, but right now we're doing all sorts of stupid things that we don't even know about."

Someone else started bringing up a point too, no doubt a reiteration of all the things spewed since the debate was somehow entered into, sometime between dinner and dessert and glass after glass of wine.

Teagon broke in before the person could make their voice heard.

"Don't you all see? You're making my point. Society never stops evolving. Year by year we are getting more and more intelligent. It's the nature of civilization, to get smarter. And smarter means more open and accepting to all people, not just the ones in control. So, we are continually bettering ourselves as a whole. I use the decade as an easy measure of elapsed time. Who I am ten years from now is a better person than who I am now, just because I'll have to be, because society will be. You are right, Martin, I will be the same person. But I'll be forced to be better by society. So, the me right now, the one talking before all of you, is a bigot and a bastard by our future society's definition. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I'm just saying that I could be the most open-minded person in the world, the deep-routed and intrinsic things about me force me to still not be a decent human being by our future standards."

The table mulled over what he said. After a beat, someone broke in with a counter-argument and the table erupted again.

"Who has time to think of these things?" Jaylin whispered to Marissa.

She took a sip from her wine.

"We're private school teachers, but we don't always want to be. We like to think about things outside of the normal sphere."

Jaylin looked around the table, seeing mostly interested faces pointed towards whoever was speaking. He saw a few lost in their own world, like him.

"The thing is," Marissa chimed in when there was a slight break in the conversation. "Whatever we think shapes society. So by your definition, you are making yourself a bigot. Society, as a whole, decides what and what isn't passé. And if we are all a part of society, then we all have a say in it. So, basically, your future self doesn't like who you are now. That could be you just evolving or it could be that we all just hate our past selves."

Marissa sat back in satisfaction as the table chewed over her words. Happy to contribute without immediate dismissal.

"Oh man, Marissa, where did you get that, off of one of your Law and Order shows?"

She ticked. She looked to Jaylin, his sly smirk curling on the right side of his lip. He looked around the room for approval, returned with blank and empty stares, a few vague smiles from those unwilling to stand up for her.

There were seconds that past, when the room was vacant of carbon dioxide, save for the few remnants already floating in the air. All of it held in the mouths of the eager dinner guests, hoping something would erupt.

Marissa merely took another sip from her wine glass as Jaylin stared at her, that wicked grin still on his face. Teagan broke the silence.

"I agree. I have no doubt that I hate my past self now and will continue to do so in the future. I often think about how I used to be, the lack of intelligence I used to have, and I cringe. I can't even think of myself a year ago, I was an idiot then. You're right, we're constantly evolving, but I like to think that my views of the world, my own prejudices, or lack thereof, never change. I like to think my morals are unfettered."

He continued on, speaking in response to Marissa's statement, but addressing everyone, but she was non-responsive. She was looking down at the hem of her dress. Waiting for someone to say they were tired and leave, so that she could follow their escape.

"I can't believe you fucking said that? That was totally bullshit!"

"What?"

Jaylin sat down on one of the chairs and turned on the television. Untucking his shirt in relief.

"You embarrassed me in front of all of my friends. You made me look like an idiot. You looked like an idiot. You ruined the whole night!"

He looked over the edge of the couch. "I did?"

"How could you say that to me?" she was on the verge of tears now. Looking into the reflection of the chrome sink.

"I'm sorry, Marissa. I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry though."

"Law and Order? I don't even watch that! What did what I had to say have to with some stupid television show?"

"Nothing. I know you don't watch it, it was just a joke. Everyone seemed too serious so I thought I'd lighten up the mood. A few people found it funny."

"No one found it funny! No one laughed. They all felt sorry for you for being so stupid and for me for being with you!"

"Oh sorry, Marissa, I didn't realize all your friends were such pretentious assholes! Why don't you just leave then if you feel so sorry for yourself for having to be with me? God, you're the one who made me come along to the stupid thing. I didn't want to meet any of your dumb coworkers."

"You're the dumb one! We were all having an intelligent conversation and you ruined the whole thing. With something that wasn't even true. You don't always have to be the center of attention, you know? You don't always have to say something, you know? You can shut up and listen for once. You might learn something."

"Fuck you, you're the one who never shuts up. Sorry for feeling out of place among your friends and trying to be a part of it. Sorry for trying to fit in."

Marissa turned from the sink, wiping the dust of her tears away, and walked towards the door.

"You weren't trying to fit in, Jaylin, you were just trying to embarrass me."

"Where are you going?" he yelled as she grasped the hallway doorknob.

"I can't spend the night here, I just have to be alone. I have to think."

The door was open now.

"No, Marissa, wait. I said I was sorry. Let's figure this out. Don't go. We haven't finished talking about it," but she was already gone.

Jaylin remained there for a while, one of his legs propped up on the chair, the knee digging into the back cushion, staring at the door. He heard the methodical opening of his roommate's door as Kenny stepped out into the main area. He shifted down into his seat and turned to stare at the barely audible television.

Kenny set down two shot glasses in front of him and poured rum into both. Without saying a word they each took one and returned the emptied, opaqued glasses to the table.

Jaylin knew he was in the wrong, he just didn't know how to tell her he knew. And that it wouldn't happen again. He was pretty sure he should wait to call her, but he didn't know how long. If his relationship ended like this he was going to kill himself.

As Kenny poured two more shots, Jaylin realized he should have run after her. He should have chased her into the hall and stopped her and kissed her and convinced her to stay the night. Like a real man would have.

The downed glass returned to the table.

He should have told her everything was all right and he was just being stupid and it would never happen again. His thinking became more and more clear.

By the sixth shot he picked up his cell phone.

In her sister's arms everything was so much more comfortable. Symbiotic. She didn't have to explain everything, or really anything at all. She seemed to understand.

Marissa hated that she was crying over this. That she let something so stupid affect her. She knew Jaylin had been an idiot, but it really hadn't been that big of a deal. Sure, he had embarrassed her, but she was beginning to think he really hadn't meant it. He might not have even known what he was saying. After all, they all had had quite a bit of wine. Maybe she had overreacted. Maybe she should call and forgive him.

Kimberly held out the cigarette and Marissa peeled herself off her sister's lap, feeling better. In the kitchen, she heard her cell phone ring as she tried to blow smoke rings.

"Don't answer that," Kimberly said.

"That's my text ring, though."

"Still, don't answer it."

"I'm gonna."

Marissa swung her leg over her sister's head and sat up off the bed. She handed the cigarette off and then strolled barefoot into the kitchen. She dug through her purse for her phone, flipping it open and reading it as it illuminated a fluorescent blue in the dark room.

"He says he is sorry," Marissa called into the bedroom. "He says he knows tonight was entirely his fault and that he'll do anything to make it up to me. Awww," Marissa whimpered as she stepped into the frame of her sister's bedroom door. "He says he'll do anything for me to not break up with him."

Kimberly sighed. "You're going to take him back aren't you?"

"Yeah...I think so," Marissa smiled. "But I think I'm going to make him sweat first. I'll let him know sometime tomorrow...or maybe the day after."

"Well, all right. As long as you make him suffer a little."

Marissa hopped back on the bed and took the cigarette from her sister's fingers.

"Now show me again how to blow smoke rings," she said right before she inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with smoke and forgetting everything but the moment directly in front of her.

IV

He could see her from entrance of the restaurant. Standing in one of those tiny rooms that separates the doors leading to the sidewalk from the doors leading to the restaurant. A blighted ashtray/waste bin hybrid was the only other thing in the cold room. An old couple opened the door and sucked out the air, replacing it with the ice-tipped invisibility of the November wind.

They hurried past him and bustled through the hardwood doors that cemented the difference between the warm eatery and the frigid reality of the world. The warm mixed with the cold and goosebumps went up Jaylin's back. Or, at least, he was reminded that they were there in the first place and that he was freezing.

He slowly pushed through the door and headed towards the back, towards Marissa and her two companions. He ignored the hostess and she let him pass, feebly allowing him to go wherever he pleased.

The three stood as he approached the table, Marissa beaming. The man extended his hand and Jaylin took it firmly, standing as tall as he could, but not quite beating him. He took the woman's hand next and shook it lightly, smiling as genuinely as he could. He waited for the three of them to retake their seats and then followed suit. Marissa grabbed his hand under the table and squeezed as he was adjusting his chair. She was smiling with excitement as their eyes locked. Jaylin fell in love.

"Mr. and Mrs. Baker, you don't know what a pleasure it is to finally meet you."

"The pleasure is all ours, Jaylin. You are even more handsome than Marissa described," Mrs. Baker said.

Jaylin grinned and looked at his lap, then at his girlfriend from the corner of his eye.

"Would you like some wine, Jaylin? Hope you don't mind, we ordered a bottle while we were waiting."

"That would be great, Mr. Baker. Thank you. I hope you haven't been waiting long, I got a little caught up at work."

"Not long at all," Mr. Baker said while pouring the glass. "Just long enough to sit down and order this bottle."

"Fred thinks he's a wine connoisseur. He put that poor waitress through hell asking her about wines," Mrs. Baker laughed.

"I just wanted to know what they had for Vintage stock, I didn't realize it would be such a problem," he smiled wryly at Jaylin and handed him the glass. "Let me know what you think of this."

He took a sip from the wine while looking at Marissa, who was still beaming.

"It's very good, Mr. Baker. I'm not used to drinking wine like this."

"Oh really? Well I guess we know what to get you guys for Christmas, then."

"Oh, stop," Mrs. Baker tapped her husband playfully. "We are not getting the kids alcohol for Christmas."

They laughed to each other and the four sat in silence. Jaylin took another drink from his glass.

"So, how was the flight in?"

"Not bad at all. Marissa was able to pick us up at the airport and we had no delay or long lines or anything. It all worked out pretty perfectly."

"Let's hope it works out that well on the way home too."

"When are you guys going back?"

"Trying to get rid of us already, Jaylin?" Mr. Baker smiled and Jaylin laughed back. "No, we're actually leaving tomorrow. Unfortunately, I have to get back. We really wanted to come for Thanksgiving, but Marissa's sister is due in a month, and we didn't want to be away just in case."

"Wouldn't it be so perfect if Shelly gave birth on Thanksgiving," Marissa chimed in.

Mr. Baker laughed. "Well, we're all hoping that doesn't happen. It's a hectic enough holiday as it is, that would only make things even crazier. And you know how your sister gets, she would be so miserable."

"She already is miserable," Mrs. Baker said from behind her glass of wine. "I swear, I don't know why someone who hates giving birth so much continues to do it. This is going to be her fourth child, Jaylin."

"Wow, Mrs. Baker, that is pretty impressive."

"She doesn't hate it, mom. She just hates that it takes forever. All of her children have been 24-hour babies."

"Is everyone ready to order or do you all need a few more minutes?" The waitress asked approaching the table.

"I actually haven't even looked at the menu yet, I'm sorry," Jaylin said to the table and the waitress. "If you could just give me a couple minutes that would be great."

"And could we get another bottle of wine in the meantime?" Mr. Bates said while pouring the last of the contents into his glass. "Another Cab. Thanks."

Marissa hugged her mother while her father hailed a taxi. Jaylin hugged her too and then shook Mr. Baker's hand. Marissa hugged her father goodbye and her parents got into the backseat of the cab.

"I'll call you guys tomorrow, we can get lunch before you leave. Thanks so much for dinner."

"All right, honey. Jaylin, it was great to finally meet you. Hopefully we can see both of you at Christmas time."

"It was a pleasure meeting you too, sir. And thank you for dinner. Goodbye, Mrs. Baker, have a safe trip."

As the green and white car pulled away the two young adults followed it with their eyes until they were locked on each other. Marissa got on her toes and kissed Jaylin quickly on the lips. He smiled and she started to giggle.

"How was it?" she asked, biting her lip.

"Really, really good, actually. Your parents are two very nice people."

"They liked you too!"

"Oh yeah? How do you know?"

"Cause I know, don't be smart."

"I thought you liked smart people?" he laughed.

"Well, fine, then don't be fresh," she laughed too.

"I think you're right, though. I think that went well. I actually kind of look forward to seeing them again."

"Virginia is pretty far though. I don't know if I can make it there for Christmas this year, and I know they can't make another trip up."

"You'll see them soon enough," he kissed her forehead. "Don't worry about it. They real thing you have to worry about is meeting my parents."

"What?" she flouted. "Your parents are going to love me."

"Yeah, but like your dad said. Thanksgiving is a hectic time. It can drive any normal person crazy. I have hope for you with my family on a regular day...but Thanksgiving? I don't know," he laughed.

"Oh, shut up. Now hurry up and get me home so I can thank you for tonight."

V

For a second, Jaylin thought it was her. It wasn't until she smiled that he realized he was mistaken.

"Is your sister home?"

"No...she's at work. Like you probably should be."

"And you," he smirked.

"I'm in school."

"Well, then you should be in class."

"I don't have classes on Friday," she responded.

"No part-time job?"

"No, I don't need one."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Why aren't you at work? It's two in the afternoon."

"Cause I work nights. And I have tonight off. And I just came by to see if your sister was home."

"She doesn't like it when guys just drop by unexpected," she said shortly.

"How do you know what your sister likes?"

"Cause she's my sister, you jerk. I know more about her than you ever will. You're just a fucking time killer for her."

"Who the fuck do you think you are? Don't talk to me like that."

"Listen to me. I know guys like you. I see you coming a mile away. I know what you want. You are not going to screw with my sister, all right? I will cut your fucking balls off if you ever hurt her."

"What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, taking a step back.

Kimberly was leaning out the doorway, six inches shorter than Jaylin, looking up with an intensity he had never seen on a human being's face before. Even people who were about to punch him in the face. He stood in the hall without comprehension of what was uncoiling in front of him.

"Nothing," she said, rocking back on her heels.

"Is there something going on? Something I should know about?"

"I don't know what her intentions are with you, or how long you'll be around for, but you need to be warned. Do not fuck with my sister."

"You don't know me, Kimberly. You don't know anything about me. And I don't know you or why the hell you are acting so strange. But if there is something I need to know about your sister, you need to tell me now. I care about her. I want to be there for her. Not hurt her."

Kimberly looked back into the apartment, as if to see if Marissa might actually be at home. She turned back to Jaylin, her right arm grabbing her left elbow.

"No," she said quietly. "She isn't home, you should go."

Jaylin stood just outside the door as Kimberly closed it. He stared at the peephole for a few seconds then knocked. He waited ten seconds then knocked again, forcefully wrapping his knuckles on the door until they hurt. Slowly, Kimberly opened the door again.

"What is going on?"

"Nothing. I'm just protective of my sister. She trusts too much. She needs me to look out for her. And I don't trust you."

"Why don't you trust me?" he asked.

"Cause you're all the same. All you really care about is yourself."

"What happened?"

"What?" she was looking at the floor.

"What happened to Marissa that makes you have to protect her? I haven't done anything to your sister."

"Nothing happened. She just doesn't see jerks the way I do. So I have to help her out. Now go away."

Kimberly started to close the door and Jaylin stopped it with his foot. He slammed his fist against the cheap wood and gritted his teeth.

"Tell me now. You are really starting to make me paranoid. What is going on?"

"Fuck you, asshole. You can't threaten me! I'll yell for help, then I'll kick your ass."

"I'm not threatening you, I just want to know what you're hiding," he pleaded.

Kimberly remained silent, pouting. She looked away from Jaylin, into the corner of her apartment.

"I'll just go to Marissa then and tell her you told me about her secret. Your sister will find out you told, anyway. If you're going to be a bitch."

"She had an abortion, you asshole!" Kimberly snapped, flinging the door open and stepping out into the hall. "Okay? He wouldn't support her. He wouldn't take the test or believe her. He ran away," her voice was rising as she spoke. She pushed up against Jaylin. "He left, like any guy would. Like any of you would. Get out! Leave like you will eventually anyway! Get out of my apartment!"

She was screaming now. She pushed Jaylin back against the wall in the hallway and slammed the door shut. The hinges rattled on their screws. He heard two bolts lock shut and Kimberly still yelling inside. A few doors down someone opened their door to look out. Jaylin pulled himself off the wall and walked past them towards the elevator.

He contemplated as he waited. A bigger man would walk away from their relationship. Would see her as tainted and damaged. But he was small and weak and found her too beautiful. As he entered the elevator he dialed her number on his cell phone. Hoping she'd pick up and accept his invitation to dinner, but prepared for her voicemail if she didn't.

Article © Peter Driscoll. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-04-05
Image(s) © R.Voza/S.Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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