New readers: This is the fourth story in a series. It has three prequels. Technically, if you know the books, you can get by just reading this one, but it will be a lot clearer and more enjoyable if you read them all in order. The first one is called The Girl I Like Was Struck By Lightning, and can be found here.
I really love this scene (as most Rob fans do) so please tell me how I've done!
My mom was laughing at me.
Oh, she might think she was hiding it, but I could tell. Just because she wasn’t actually laughing out loud didn’t mean she wasn’t laughing. But then, it wasn’t really anything new for me. My mom had been laughing at me a lot lately – sometimes out loud, usually silently. And always for the same reason.
I know this is just ink on a paper, or text on a computer screen, or something, but please, read that word with a full mental growl. And a glare. And maybe an arm-crossing.
Yeah. Now, try it again.
Quite possibly the bane of my existence, certainly the reason my mom always laughs at me, a very big thorn in my side, at times the most annoying human being I’ve ever met, psychic, not very girly, too young for me in the eyes of the law, too good for me in the eyes of most people in my town, and my girlfriend.
That’s her. Jess.
Only, I prefer saying Mastriani to saying Jess, because Mastriani is just, as a word, so much easier to say angrily, to growl out, to scold with, to yell, and you get the point. Jess is more suited to saying nice things, like declaring my feelings.
And I can’t do that.
See, the whole name issue – aside from the fact that Jess very often needs to be yelled at – really stems from the ‘my feelings’ thing. And the ‘eyes of the law’ thing. And the previously unmentioned ‘I’m irrationally scared of myself/Jess’ thing.
Because, well… The thing is, I’m pretty sure that I’m only two steps away from falling in love with Jess. And that’s illegal. And kind of terrifying.
Which is why I was planning on breaking up with Jess that night.
Of course, ‘that night’ was Thanksgiving. And somehow, during a particularly stupid moment, I’d invited her over for dinner.
Which meant I would be breaking up with her on Thanksgiving, after inviting her over to my house to eat with my family – or at least, my mom and her boyfriend, and don’t even get me started on him – which I was fully aware was a very shitty thing to do.
Actually, I hadn’t even really been the one to invite Jess. I mean, I physically told her she was invited, but Mom was the one who originally offered. She actually really likes Jess – and she told her, too, when Jess showed up just before dinner, toting flowers and smiling at us.
“We just don’t see enough of you. Do we, Rob?” Mom had said, somewhat pointedly, as she let Jess in. She was, of course, completely ignoring the fact that even seeing Jess rarely, on occasions like Thanksgiving, was still illegal for me. Technically, I guess I could invite her over and it would be fine, but I knew very well that no kind of encouragement I gave Jess would be interpreted as just the friendly kind. Granted, she had good reason to interpret it differently, but still.
Mom’s comment, and the fact that Gary had already been there for about half an hour, didn’t exactly ease my guilty conscience; instead, I just got more sullen and glared at Jess. “You could have called,” I told her grumpily, “I’d have come and picked you up.”
She waved my comment away – figuratively, of course. “Why should you have gone to all that trouble? My mom was fine with me taking the car.”
If anything, that annoyed me even more. “Mastriani,” I said – and just like I said before, it was much easier to sound scathing saying ‘Mastriani’ than it would be if I’d said ‘Jess’ – “I think you’re forgetting something.”
“What?” Jess asked me, confused, as Mom headed off to put the flowers in a vase.
“You don’t have a license.”
Jess rolled her eyes, and followed Mom, and that pretty much set the tone for the entire dinner. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Everyone else had a great time. It was just me that was not at all happy. And for some reason, Mom interpreted the cause for my anger to be nervousness.
Which brings me back to my original statement: my mom was laughing at me.
She even took time away from Gary and Jess to talk to me before dinner, while I was in the kitchen getting the drinks. Or tried to, anyway. Normally, I like talking with my mom, but Jess is one topic I don’t like discussing with anyone. Especially since Mom actually liked her.
And since, right that second, as I was pondering all of this, she was complimenting my mother’s pumpkin pie.
“Gosh, Mrs. Wilkins,” Mastriani said, “That was the best pumpkin pie I ever had.”
“You really think so, Jess?” Mom asked. I knew that the praise meant a lot to her, since she hardly ever cooks for anyone other than me. And of course, the fact that Jess’s parents owned a restaurant and were pretty famous around town for their cooking had something to do with it.
“Yes, ma’am,” Jess said sincerely. Who could blame her? My Mom’s pie really is amazing. “Better than my dad’s, even.”
“Well, I doubt that.”
And then Gary had to butt into the conversation. “Isn’t your dad a gourmet cook?”
Okay, so maybe he didn’t deserve that. But a lot of the things Gary says make me think a--h----. They didn’t, at first. I actually liked him, at first. Back when we were just co-workers. Before I introduced him to my mom.
“Well,” Jess said, not seeming to mind the comment as much as me, “I don’t know about gourmet. But he’s a good cook. Still, his pumpkin pie can’t hold a candle to yours, Mrs. Wilkins.”
See, there was another problem. Jess liked my mom, too. They actually got along very well. And I know that Jess genuinely liked her, because she doesn’t do idle flattery. Not unless she’s being sarcastic.
Kinda like me, actually.
“Go on,” Mom said, blushing. “Me? Better than a gourmet cook? I don’t think so.” She wasn’t being fake-modest. She’s just unaware of how truly amazing her pumpkin pie is.
“Sure is good enough for me,” – a--h----! – Gary said, and he started dancing with her.
I’m not stupid, believe me. My mom hasn’t been married to my dad since I was six – she’s bound to have dated people. And she has. I’ve met them before.
But I never introduced her to any of them. And none of them ever came over for Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, this was both my mom’s and my first time to invite people over. Which kind of says something, doesn’t it?
I left the room. I couldn’t take it any more. And not just Gary, either. Jess. I know I invited her, and everything, but I wasn’t exactly feeling happy about having her over. Especially since I needed to break up with her soon. Soon being sometime before she went home.
I flopped down on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV, glaring at it without really processing the images. I could hear happy voices in the background, and they just pissed me off even more.
And then Jess came in.
“Hey,” She stood there, looking at me for a moment, then sighed and sat down next to me. “Why so glum, chum?”
It finally occurred to me that I was watching football, a sport I am not fond of, and I changed the channel. “Nothing.”
“Is it Gary?” Jess asked. “I thought you liked him.”
God, this was awful. She had the incredibly annoying ability to get right to the heart of things. Not all the time, and she couldn’t usually tell what I was thinking from my face – which I am incredibly grateful for, most of the time, since a lot of it usually involves her – but tonight at least, she had gotten part of it on the first try.
I flipped through the channels faster, barely even pausing long enough to see what new channel I’d landed on before switching it again. “He’s all right.” Please, please drop it, Jess.
“Then what’s the matter?” She asked, and I snapped without thinking.
“Nothing, I told you.”
Great, now I felt even more like a jackass. It wasn’t Jess’s fault I was in such a bad mood. Well – it sort of was, but not in that she caused it, just that I was upset about her. And, I had to admit, Gary too.
But I couldn’t apologize, because then she’d just ask again. Jess can be a lot like one of those dogs, you know, the little ones that bite your ankle or pants or something, and just hang on and refuse to let go, even when you’re shaking them around the room.
So I just sat there in silence, flicking through the channels and trying not to feel guilty or hear the sounds from the kitchen. But when I heard the playful splashing coming from the kitchen, I just had to let some of it out. And besides, Jess wanted to know, right?
“It’s just,” I said, still staring at the TV, though I’d stopped changing channels. Animal Planet. A cheetah was chasing some kind of gazelle. “she has to work tomorrow, that’s all. I mean, the whole reason we stayed here instead of going to Evansville with my uncle is that she had to work tomorrow.” And I got the feeling Mom wanted an excuse to stay, so that she could have Gary over for dinner. But that wasn’t the point.
“Oh,” Jess said again quietly, and I started flipping through the channels again.
“I just hope he isn’t planning on staying late. Mom’s got the breakfast shift.”
Of course, Jess probably knew this, seeing as her dad owned the restaurant my mom worked at, but again, that wasn’t the point. I was venting. Maybe it was pretty bad of me to vent to the girl I was planning on breaking up with sometime within the next hour or so, but I was too angry to really care.
“I’m sure he’s going to leave soon,” Jess said with a smile, which just made me feel guiltier. “Hey, why don’t we volunteer to do the dishes, so they can, you know, visit?”
I made a face at that, but I turned the TV off and stood up anyway. It wasn’t like I was watching it, or anything. But when we got into the kitchen, it was pretty obvious that Mom and Gary didn’t exactly mind being left to do the dishes. They were both grinning, and there were suds everywhere.
“Mom,” I said, not-quite gritting my teeth. “Isn’t that your good dress?”
“Oh, yes it is.” Mom looked around, “Where is my apron? Oh, I left it in my bedroom…”
“I’ll get it,” Jess offered, and I might have been suspicious of her wanting to snoop – of course she did – were it not for my Mom.
“Oh, aren’t you sweet?” She asked, and sprayed Gary right in the chest.
I felt ill.
After Jess had gone, and a small fight over the nozzle had ended, Gary turned to me, and asked, “So that’s your girlfriend?”
Now I really regretted ever mentioning her to him at work. I hadn’t thought they’d ever meet. Of course, I’d also never thought he would ask out my mother, so I guess all bets were off now. I just nodded.
He grinned at me. Gary had a tendency to do that, as though we were friends. We hadn’t even been friends before he started dating my mother, just coworkers, and now – now it was out of the question. But he didn’t seem to get that. “Well, congratulations.”
I had to physically try not to clench my hands into fists. I stuffed them into my pockets instead. “Congratulations?”
Gary grinned again and winked at me. “Yeah. You’ve got yourself a real catch there – just make sure you don’t let her get away.”
Considering everything, that was very possibly the worst thing he could have said to me. I bit my cheek so as not to say anything and just nodded stiffly. After a couple more seconds during which I didn’t say a word, Gary started talking to Mom again, leaving me to simmer on my own.
How dare he! I hadn’t asked for his opinion! I could let Jess get away – I could throw her back in if I wanted! And what was with that stupid fish thing anyway? How did that even start? Asshole!
Mom was laughing at some joke of Gary’s when Jess walked back in, and luckily, my Mom took the time to look at my face and see that I wasn’t exactly having fun, so she said, “Rob, why don’t you show Jessica the progress you’ve made on your bike?”
I have no proof that she realized that she was basically inviting us to go make out, but I have a sneaking suspicion she did. As I said, my mom really likes Jess, and she trusts me enough to be okay with it.
Well, it was either that or she wanted time alone with Gary, and that idea was just disturbing.
So I led Jess out there, silently, and then I started to work on my Harley a little. Jess kind of watched me for a few minutes, and then she said, “Is this just because I drove here?”
I blinked up at her. For the few brief seconds I had gotten to work on the bike, all my guilt and anger had melted away. I’d almost forgotten she was here. “What are you talking about?”
“This,” Jess said, “I mean, if I’d known you were going to be so crabby about it, I’d have called you to pick me up, I swear.”
This instantly made me angry and stressed again. Partially because it reminded me I was breaking up with her tonight, and that this was probably the best time, but also because it reminded me of something else. A phone call I’d overheard.
Yeah. I didn’t mention that, did I? Didn’t mention that I’d walked past the kitchen when she was on the phone with her mom, assuring her that she was safely at her friend’s house, but warning her that Joanne refused to let her just take the history notes, so she had to stay here while she copied them, and…
That was when I’d walked away.
“No, you wouldn’t have,” I said, twisting the wrench.
“What are you talking about? I just said – ”
I sighed. “You didn’t even tell your parents you were coming here, Mastriani,” I said, not looking at her. “So cut the crap.”
“What do you mean?” She asked. “They know where I am.”
I put down the wrench at that, knowing that if I tried to continue working on my bike during this conversation, I’d probably break something. I folded my arms and looked her right in the eyes. “Then why, when you called to tell them you got here, did you say you were at somebody named Joanne’s?”
I could see Jess’s face fall as she realized I knew she’d been lying to me. Yeah, that had hurt, by the way, the lying. I’d actually thought, at first…
Right. Time to do it, then.
“Look, Mastriani,” I said flatly, “You know I’ve had my doubts from the start about this – you and me, I mean. And not just because I’ve graduated and you’re still in the eleventh grade – not to mention the whole jailbait factor. But let’s be real. You and I come from different worlds.”
Jess looked outraged. “That is so not – ”
I interrupted her. “Well, different sides of the tracks, then.”
“Just because I’m a Townie,” she said, “and you’re a – ”
I interrupted her again, trying to ignore the memory of Gary saying, Make sure you don’t let her get away, or my Mom’s words in the kitchen before I’d managed to escape: I just wanted to say that I know things have to be difficult for you, with Jessica, but I think you made the right choice. You two are made for each-other, Rob, and I’m glad you’re willing to fight for that.
I held up a hand. “Look, Mastriani.” Cold, distant, and blunt. “Let’s face it. This isn’t going to work.”
Jess’s face went blank, and for a minute, I thought that it was all over with.
And I wondered just how this had happened. I mean, I wasn’t lying earlier; I really did have my doubts about the two of us, but even so, I had been willing to fight for it, in Mom’s words. I had been optimistic about it, just a few months ago. How had that turned into this?
It was stupid of me to ask, because I already knew. It was, yes, a variety of things – the jailbait thing, the different sides of the tracks thing, the her not introducing me to anyone in her family or even telling them I existed thing – that were all pretty big deals, but mostly, it had to do with the fact, as I’d said earlier, that I was only about two steps away from being completely and utterly in love with her; and that was really not a good thing.
But then Jess’s face went from blank to angry, and she put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. I was suddenly a little afraid.
“Does this have something to do with that Gary dude?”
I turned back to the bike. Why couldn’t she just leave now? “No. This is between you and me, Mastriani.”
Jess ignored me. “Because I noticed you don’t seem to like him very much.”
I closed my eyes, trying very, very hard to stay calm. “You’re sixteen years old. Sixteen!”
Jess continued ignoring me, speaking very calmly. “I mean, I guess I could understand why you don’t like him. It must be weird to see your mom with some guy other than your dad. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take it out on me.”
I still couldn’t look at her – but I had to at least try. “Jess. You’ve got to see that this can’t go anywhere. I’m on probation, okay? I can’t get caught hanging out with some kid – ”
I know that had to hurt, but when she interrupted me, Jess’s voice didn’t sound at all mad. I kind of wished she were. I would have preferred it if she just punched me, as she is known to do to guys that annoy her, and stormed out.
“What I hear you saying,” She said calmly, “is that you don’t want to see me anymore because you feel that our age and socioeconomic differences are too great – ”
“Don’t even tell me you don’t agree,” I warned her, “Otherwise, why haven’t you told your parents about me? Huh? Why am I this dark secret in your life? If you were so sure that we have something that could work, you’d have introduced me to them by now.”
I hadn’t meant to sound so bitter, but it didn’t matter anyway; Jess just ignored me again.
“What I am saying to you in response, is that I believe you are pushing me away because your father hurt you, and you can’t stand to be hurt that way again.”
I turned my head to look at her over my shoulder. She looked serious. I said the first thing that came to mind. “You’re nuts.”
Jess just took a step closer, shaking her head. “Rob,” she said, “I just want you to know, I am not like your dad. I will never leave you.”
Where the hell was she getting this? “Because you’re a freaking psycho,” I told her, but she still didn’t get angry.
What the hell?
“No,” Jess said, as I turned around fully to look at her. Maybe she’d hit her head on something coming into the barn. Why else would she be acting so weird? “That’s not why. It’s because I lo– ”
Two steps away.
“Don’t!” I shouted, suddenly realizing what she was about to say, and feeling completely frozen with fear. I shoved the rag I use to wipe off my hands after working on the Harley out in front of me, as if it could shield me from what she was about to say. “Don’t say it! Mastriani, I am warning you – ”
It was a feeble attempt to distance myself from her, from the whole situation, and of course it didn’t work. Jess just continued on like I’d never spoken. Again.
I wadded up the useless rag and threw it across the barn, not looking at her. “I told you not to say it.”
It. I love you. She had told me she loved me. Jess Mastriani had just told me, Rob Wilkins, that she loved me.
“I’m sorry,” Jess said, perfectly innocently. “But I am afraid my unbridled passion was simply too great to hold in check a moment longer.”
She loved me.
I couldn’t help it; I reached out, grabbed her by the shoulders, and yanked her towards me until I could reach her lips and start kissing her.
And kissing her.
She loved me.
My eyes were closed, and I wasn’t aware of anything else in the world at that moment. I was kissing her, and that was all that mattered. I didn’t care that I had been trying to break up with her. I didn’t care that I had plenty of perfectly good reasons to do so. I didn’t even care that we were getting more and more into the kissing and it was not only against the law, but my mom knew we were out there and besides, we were in a barn in the middle of the night in November, and I had never planned on getting very far with Jess.
But Jess did. The next time we pulled back for a moment to breathe, she said, “I think I should go home now.”
I didn’t want to stop kissing her. I didn’t want her to go home. She loved me. I did not want her to go.
But she was right. I rested my forehead on hers, staring into her eyes and still breathing hard from the combined effects of our kissing and the shock of hearing that she loved me!
I couldn’t stop saying it to myself.
“That,” I told her, still panting, “would probably be a good idea.”
I waited outside while Jess went inside to say goodbye to my mom. I didn’t want to spoil the moment by seeing Gary. I was no longer upset. Confused, yes, and having no idea where this was going, but not upset. How could I be?
“Well,” Jess told me, as she got into her mom’s car, “Seeing as how we aren’t broken up anymore, do you want to do something Saturday? Like go see a movie or whatever?”
I knew she was making fun of me, and I needled her right back, but I wasn’t annoyed, “Gosh, I don’t know. I thought you might be busy with your good friend Joanne.”
“Look,” Jess said, “My parents have a lot to deal with right now. I mean, there’s the restaurant, and Mike dropping out of Harvard…”
Okay, now I was kind of annoyed. “You’re never going to tell them about me, are you?”
Jess couldn’t quite meet my gaze. “Just let me give them a chance to adjust to the idea. I mean, there’s the whole thing with Douglas and his job, and Great-aunt Rose, and – ”
“And you and the psychic thing,” I added, not too bitterly. I didn’t resent it for nearly killing her several times, or anything. “Don’t forget you and the psychic thing.”
“Right,” Jess said. “Me and the psychic thing.” She sounded just a tinge bitter, too.
“Look,” I said, straightening up. “you better get going. I’ll follow behind, and make sure you get home okay.”
“You don’t have to – ” Jess started, but I cut her off.
“Mastriani,” I said, but this time I was smiling. “Just shut up and drive.”
For once, she listened, and I followed in a very good mood.
She loved me.