“So who’s this girl we’ve been hearing about, Paris?” Jennifer Overstreet asked her son.
His little sister Roma giggled while their mother chopped onions for their dinner. Their mother didn’t look up from the chopping board, carrying on with her task as she tried to make idle conversation with her son.
“What?” Paris replied, arching his eyebrows and pretending he didn't know what she was talking about.
He looked at his mother in surprise. He had been very careful not to mention Mike directly other than to say he’d been hanging out with a friend. In truth, he’d had no idea of how to explain their relationship without revealing that Mike was… well… Mike.
“My girlfriend at work said she saw you at Horton Plaza with a girl at the Kebob Café. She was just walking by doing some shopping. You remember her --from the picnic we went to that one time for work...”
“Oh… that was Tabitha. She’s Peter’s cousin… She came down from Oregon to spend the school year. Mrs. Anderson had something come up at the last minute and asked me to show her around since everyone was so busy.”
He inwardly cringed. His mother was famous for her gossip and this could be a potential firestorm if it got out of hand.
“Terry told me that you two looked pretty cozy.” She beamed. “I hear she’s quite a cute one…”
“Mooommm… Come on…” He groaned. “Every girl I know is not a potential girlfriend…”
She put her hands up in mock defense. “I’m just saying… You’re at that age –I just thought you might be spreading your wings.”
Ohhhhh God… She’s not going to let this one go.
“We hang out. That’s it.”
“Oh? That isn't what I heard from Peggy the other day. She told me how you two were snuggled up together at the park while everyone else was at the bonfire. We should have her for dinner tonight. I’d like to meet her, and I’m sure your father would too…” His mother had a way of phrasing her imperial orders as a jovial invitation.
Paris slumped his shoulders in defeat. “I’ll go call her.”
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home….
Mike picked up the phone immediately. Paris quietly excused himself from the kitchen counter, hoping to be able to quietly dissuade her from doing anything rash.
“Are you kidding? Your mom’s food is to die for! I’ll be over there in twenty minutes. Just let me do my hair…” She chirped.
Arrrrggggghhhhh! They’re gonna know something’s up!
About thirty minutes later, Mike stood at his door. She looked stunning in a dark blue backless halter with wooden o-ring straps and matching Mirra flats. She wore her hair loosely about her shoulders, carrying a small hand purse and smiled warmly as opened the door.
You’re doing this on purpose…
He glared at her. She smiled at him, grinning from ear to ear. “Thank you for having me… I was feeling down about not having anything to do tonight.”
Paris leaned in close and growled so low only he could hear her. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Without breaking her perfect smile she answered. “I certainly am. Payback for the bet…”
“Hey, no retaliations for bets lost…”
“Which is why I’m going to enjoy myself right now…” Mike almost skipped past him into the house. His mother met the two of them at the entrance to the kitchen, wiping her hands off on a towel before extending it to her. “You must be Tabitha. I’m Jennifer…”
Mike positively glowed. She took his mother’s handshake warmly and with just the right amount of modesty to be thought of as gracious. Roma slipped out from behind her mother and stood between them, looking up at her. While Roma was particularly shy around most strangers, she did not seem to be the same way with Mike.
“You’re pretty…” Roma exclaimed. “Much too pretty for him…”
Mike looked back at him, looking him up and down while he squirmed.
This is gonna be a long night.
A few moments later, Paris’s father poked his head out of the Den. Jennifer paused in her small talk to introduce him. “This is my husband Milton… Under no circumstances are you to call him Sergeant Major –even if he says so. I’ve been trying to break him out of the habit since he’s got to retire sooner or later.”
“Fat chance. But for a pretty lady like you, Milton is just fine…”
Paris groaned inwardly. His father was notoriously crude, having served nearly thirty years in uniform. At forty seven, he showed little signs of softening. However, at the constant, consistent prodding of his wife, he’d come to an arrangement that allowed him to interact with polite society without sounding like a movie caricature of a drill Sergeant.
In the confines of their home, Mike was in her element. She could be charming without missing a step, and seemed to revel in making him uncomfortable. Before he knew it, his mother had seated the two of them together at the table while she sat opposite him, next to her father. Roma insisted on sitting at the other head of the table next to Mike.
“Are you his girlfriend?” Little Roma asked without blinking.
Mike smiled. “No, but we’re becoming close friends. He’s the first friend I made here…”
She playfully slipped her arm under his and pulled him to her side, resting her head on his shoulder. Paris looked down to see her smiling at him with a deliciously evil grin. He glared at her, hoping to convey his thought’s at that moment.
You are sooooooo dead…
Mike batted her eyelids as if to silently respond:
It is sooooo much fun that the consequences will be worth it.
She showed some mercy and let him go. He straightened himself up, and sat rigidly in his chair, not wanting to give her any more ammunition. Roma continued her assault.
“Mom says she was worried Paris might be gay…” Roma smirked slyly.
Paris nearly shot his drink straight out his nose. He looked across at his mother who only showed mild embarrassment at the statement.
“Roma, I don’t know where you get these words from… Shhh!” She laughed.
Mike smirked, doing her best not to howl with laughter. It was a losing battle. His father was a lot better at maintaining his composure, but his usually stoic visage had cracked into a smile, which was essentially the same as howling laughter coming from his father. He cringed inwardly.
Please let this night be over soon…
“He’s not gay…” Mike answered in his defense. “He’s just too manly for his own good…”
The Sergeant Major seemed to take a keen interest in her point of view. Mike elaborated without missing a step.
“Paris doesn’t own a cell phone, he has a job which is outdoors and requires actual effort, and he is barely on the computer more than thirty minutes in a day. That’s like a death sentence on a teen’s social life these days. If you don’t have an online presence, then how will the millions of other teens who never leave the house ever able to communicate with you…”
His father leaned over his dinner plate, riveted. “You seem to know him pretty well…”
Mike whipped out her phone. “I tried to get his phone number when he first took me out, but I didn’t get anywhere. At first I thought he turned me down…” She clutched the phone to her chest, playing the hapless love-struck girl to the hilt. “But then he took me by the hands and explained how much he didn’t like those things. I thought it was soo cute –I don’t have to worry about him texting anyone else because he doesn’t text.”
I’m sooo gonna get you for this, Mike.
The rest of the dinner went just as badly. Mike took advantage of every opportunity to cling to him, taking full advantage of her femininity. For the most part, his father observed them both together silently, while his mother steered the conversation of the evening. Paris spent the entire time shuffling in between being horrified, embarrassed or flustered –much to Mike’s delight.
After dinner was over, Mike even offered to help his mother clear the table and ended up even helping him with the dishes. Roma contented herself with watching TV, while he sat quietly with his father in the kitchen. Relaxing for the first time that evening, he leaned back in his chair watching the two of them working together by the sink in the kitchen. His father got up from his chair, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and motioning him to follow him to the back patio.
His father sat in one of the patio chairs, taking an unlit cohiba from his shirt pocket. Paris sat down beside him. Milton Overstreet was a walking contradiction, having earned his Doctorate in classical English literature while serving full time in the armed forces, he passed on a commission as an officer, preferring to remain enlisted. Among his peers, he was gruff, crude, and generally a terror as Sergeant Majors go. As a father, he watched Paris grow up with pride, especially when he showed an interest in building trades.
He took a wooden match and struck it against the box, lighting his cigar in an unhurried fashion. Milton enjoyed the sea air and the outdoors and took great pride in turning the back patio into his own private room, rather than anywhere else in the house. Paris always enjoyed the opportunity to sit quietly with his dad and talk about unimportant things like books or sometimes women. His father was a gifted storyteller in his own right.
“You mind telling me what’s going on, son?” He began.
“I’m not sure I follow you?” Paris answered.
“I love your mother dearly, son. But she wouldn’t know a bat if it bit her. You’re a lot closer to that girl than she’s noticed yet. Wayyy too close for only having just met.”
Paris looked down at his feet, trying to avoid directly looking at his father. He didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t know if he should part with Mike’s secret.
“There’s an answer, Dad… I just don’t know if I have a right to say it.”
He took a puff from his cigar, blowing smoke rings into the night air. He preferred having just the lawn lights on, which allowed the night to provide a certain ambience to the back yard. It accented the cherry of his cigar and the woody smoke of the hand rolled cigars he smoked occasionally.
“Ok, son... I'll cut you some slack on this one, but it's plain as the nose on your face you really like her.”
He slumped back in the lawn chair, sighing heavily. “Yeah, but it comes with a whole set of new problems.” Paris added.
“Oh? Like what?”
“It’s great while it’s the summer. We get to hang out everyday… but I know that when school starts things will be different.” He hung his head. “Mike’s gonna be the center of attention… With different classes and all, we’re probably not gonna get to spend a lot of time together…” Paris looked at his father with eyes of worry and doubt.
She’ll leave me behind…
“You really think that, son?” His father asked.
“Yeah…” He answered without looking up. “It’s got to happen sooner or later. I’ve always been a… sidekick, and we all know what happens to sidekicks.”
His father mulled his words over carefully while puffing slowly on his cigar. Milton didn’t seem to be worried. Paris wished that he’d inherited just a fraction of his father’s confidence.
“I think you’re selling yourself short, son… And I think you’re short changing her, too. If you were just a sidekick, then I don’t think she would be in there washing dishes with your mother. No matter what people say, their actions speak louder. You shouldn’t forget that.”
His father got up and walked to the patio door. Paris followed him. The two stopped short at the door, allowing them both a clear view of the kitchen. Mike was gingerly helping his mother by drying the dishes, oblivious to the fact that they were being watched. His mother smiled and laughed the entire time, while Roma had stopped watching TV and was leaning over the back of the couch so she could follow the exchange. Gazing upon them, Paris felt the pangs of doubt slowly melt away as he looked at her. His father watched his expression change from the worried expression of before to a warm and genuine smile.
Mike paused as if she could feel his eyes on her, looking over her shoulder towards the patio door. Upon seeing the two of them, she paused for a moment, smiled and then waved in his direction. Paris waved slowly back at her, surprised at the anxious feeling that was building in his chest.
“I suppose you could do worse, son…” His father quipped.
Paris snapped his attention back towards his father. “I don't know how she feels, Dad. So I try not to think about her like that.”
Milton Overstreet threw up his hands in defense, then slapped a meaty arm around his shoulder, laughing heartily. “Just can’t see the train comin’, can ya?”
He excused himself while his father was still laughing, sliding back the patio door and stepping back into the house. Mike literally skipped out of the kitchen to greet him.
“So what were you talking about?” She put her hands on her hips while scrutinizing him with authority.
Paris mulled it over for a moment before he answered. “I think it’s time to walk you home, Tabitha…” He took her by the arm, gently but firmly to emphasize that he needed to speak with her privately. His mother leaned back from the sink.
“It is ten thirty already. I guess you’d better escort her home.”
Outside the front door, Paris finally let his façade collapse. “Are you trying to ruin my life, Mike?”
Looking remarkably pleased with herself, she batted her eyes innocently. “Me? Why whatever do you mean?”
“Right now, as we speak… Jennifer Overstreet is phoning all of her friends an coworkers… But this time tomorrow morning, everyone will be calling you my girlfriend! You know the kind of gossip machine she is…”
Mike looked at him, still unfazed by the implication. “Whatever. It was worth it just to jerk your chain for a bit. I haven’t been able to mess with you at all like I used to. But it’s nice to know that I can get you in other ways…”
You smug little…--
“Awww, come on, Romeo.” She smiled coyly. “You know you can’t do anything... I’m a girl. You can’t hit me or push me or grab me without getting in trouble. Whereas I can do the same things to you and it’s almost expected. This is a completely sweet deal… I own you…”
He looked over her shoulder. His mother was staring at the two of them through the windows, with her ear already glued to the telephone, parting the curtain with her other hand. Paris felt the urge to do something, only there was nothing he could do. His mother would have his guts for garters if she caught him roughhousing with a girl. Such things were simply not done.
“That’s righhhttt, Paris… Run it over and over again in your mind. You may have gotten me with your bet, but I’m gonna get my licks in. So if the rumor’s are gonna fly –so much the better for me. I’ll be able to own every facet of your life, and your own mother will be my unwitting accomplice.”
“I can see you've given this a lot of thought…” He said dryly.
“Actually, no. It just came to me…” She continued to smile, impressed with her own deviousness.
Paris knew that he didn’t have anywhere to go. She’d backed him into a corner and there was no escape. Jennifer would welcome the opportunity to add more gossip fuel to the fire. If he didn’t so something… anything… then Mike would end up with free reign to do whatever she wanted. She raised her eyebrow as she watched him dangle back and forth looking for some way out.
In the light of the street lamps her dark brown eyes looked luminescent, drawing in all the ambient light. She was close to him now and he could smell the hint of jasmine in her favorite lotion. Her skin was radiant, complimented by her simple blue dress and flats. Mike had managed to turn a simple dress into something elegant an alluring –without even realizing it. He wanted to touch her more than anything. Without realizing it, he had been leaning closer and closer to her the entire time.
The look in her eyes changed as she realized their proximity. “What are you doing?”
Two can play at this game…
He took her by the shoulders. As he leaned in, he noted that his mother was still watching them both. Mike was too shocked to pull away immediately.
“The only thing I can do. You said yourself I can’t hit you or roughhouse with you, so I’m at your mercy, right? But there’s a flip side to that, too. Now that my Mom is thinking you’re my girlfriend, I can do this all I want…”
He slid his arm around her waist, drawing her closer. Mike glanced sheepishly back over her shoulder.
“That’s right. She’s looking…” He smiled. “You can give up any time now, Mike… Say you’ll stop, and I’ll stop…”
“You wouldn’t…” She whispered. “You don’t have the balls to kiss me…”
He leaned even closer. Mike shifted in his embrace, but did not pull back. Her lips parted, revealing a wicked smile underneath. “You won’t…”
As his lips pressed against hers, she let out a half-yelp, half-whimper, placing her hands firmly against his arms.
Serves you right…
Only she didn’t pull away. Unsure of what to do next, he stood very still. Her eyes, still widened in surprise, were locked with his. Part of him wanted to let go immediately, thinking that the joke had gone too far, but another part of him –the part that won out; continued to press further into the kiss. With his hand pressed in the small of her back, he could feel her softness pressed against him. Mike parted her lips ever so slightly, tilting her head to a more comfortable angle and closing her eyes.
She’s not pulling back… What do I do?
She gripped at his arms, squeezing them firmly as they embraced. His hands wouldn’t obey him, gripping her tightly. He could feel the soft, warm flesh of her back coupled with the feel of her breasts pressed against him. He felt his own body moving with hers, entwined in an embrace he was not eager to break. This was no longer a contest of wills –it was an expression of emotion. His mind went blank as he continued to match her.