03: Interesting Introductions
I was more relaxed about school the next day as I’d gotten over much of my anger at Cate’s friends, though I had no intention of rejoining their table. I figured there wasn’t much sense in getting upset just because someone was disturbed about the changes they saw in me. After all, no one in the school really knew me after all these years. I was just the kid in the background that, years later, someone would say “He was always a quiet kid. I never knew he’d take a gun and….” I smiled at my own mental image of myself in the role of the misunderstood loner, though I hardly fit the role of dangerous outsider. It was clear that no one there had the slightest clue who I was. But I also wasn’t alone anymore, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that, at least!
“So, want us to drop you off at school again?” Allison playfully asked as she and Natalie joined me for breakfast, which Anh was fixing. Cate hadn’t made it downstairs yet.
“No, thanks,” I responded. “If I can avoid attracting any more attention, it’ll make life much easier, and it’ll make exposure less likely.”
“Just think about how much fun everyone had. You managed to brighten everyone’s day.”
“Including both Allison and Cate’s,” Natalie pointed out.
“My job isn’t to entertain my classmates; it’s to get through high school without attracting too much attention. Protecting you girls is my main goal. Once I graduate, then I can concentrate on finding new people. But trying it too soon is likely to generate the kind of bad publicity we faced in New Orleans.”
“Ah, you’re no fun,” Allison continued playing, feeling secure that Alex wasn’t taking her seriously. “What the heck are hot girls and sexy cars good for if lonely teenage boys can’t show them off?”
“Believe me; I can play with you all you want, but it’s safer doing it inside where we won’t attract extra scrutiny. As for the ‘sexy cars’, I’m perfectly happy with my crummy little car. It gets me where I need to go without any extra fuss.”
“OK, no dropping you off in my BMW in my short skirt by the front door,” Allison agreed with a smile. “But what about picking you up at the back of the parking lot in a nondescript car like Shani’s?”
Alex sighed heavily, setting his knife and fork down, his breakfast still unfinished. “Believe me, a bunch of sexually frustrated boys and girls would notice someone they’d never heard of socializing with a bunch of beautiful women. It’s still better keeping you at home, or even better, off working somewhere so you’re not waiting for me to come home every afternoon.”
“You’re always complaining,” Cate observed walking in the door. “Me, I’d be tickled pink if a bunch of hot guys were waiting for me to arrive home every day, and I’m not so sure I’d be so quick to chase them all away.”
“I’m hardly chasing them away,” Alex informed her. “But this is more a safety issue to keep us all out of trouble. After all, what would happen if the local paper reported about me like Albert Rodriguez did? Dad might be out of a job and we might even be shamed out of town.”
Cate replied with a simple shrug, unconvinced the rest of them had to worry quite a much as Alex was.
“So it K for old plain pepple like me to pick you up,” Anh replied, sitting down now that she’d finished with breakfast and joining in on the teasing.
“No, I don’t want to see any of you at school. I want to keep my school life separate from my personal life—especially because so many people are depending on me.”
“Me gree with Allison,” Anh replied, clearly enjoying herself. “You no fun!” However, the fact they all laughed demonstrated they weren’t serious about it.
“You know, Anh, you’re really picking up the language pretty quickly,” Cate observed as she grabbed a plate of breakfast herself. “You haven’t been holding out on us have you?”
“Me? No, I just practice now I need … communicate,” she replied, striking Cate how she struggled with simple English phrases and words, but had no problem pronouncing a word like ‘communicate’.
“The key,” Allison reminded Alex, “was to get all the young female cuties talking about you. I’m pretty sure we’ve accomplished that, so if you play your cards right, we won’t need to repeat it. But you need to strike while the iron is still hot. Otherwise, someone may have to stir the pot a bit more,” she concluded with another wicked smile, which I frowned at. I was tempted to lecture them again, but didn’t see any real point in it. I was already gaining enough of a reputation around school, and I still wanted to keep under the radar for the rest of my time there.
“Well, I’m done. Cate, you’d better grab something to eat on the run, ‘cause I’m out of here. I figure if I stay any longer, someone is likely to hatch yet another plan to embarrass me!”
Cate scrambled to grab some breakfast, but laughed all the way out the door, certainly not helping my outlook any, though I liked the fact that everyone could take my laying down the rules without getting upset. Despite the teasing, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t try anything else. At least nothing like they’d tried before. I’d just have to wait and see what they thought of next.
Once again I found myself the center of attention at school, apparently the news of yesterday’s events having made the rounds. Cate’s group wasn’t that well thought of as most of her friends weren’t very popular being the bookish sort, so having gone off on them seems to have won me even more points with most people. Even so, I was sure my notoriety would pass quickly, as things in school usually do. Pretty soon someone else would do something and everyone would completely forget who I was again. I could hardly wait for that to occur.
Cate and I sat with Betty during lunch again and detailed more of what we were looking for in people like her. I asked her to try to evaluate people for possible emotional responsiveness, especially close family members, since these abilities seemed to run in families. We also warned her she shouldn’t spread this information too widely, as it would likely be met with disbelief, and I wasn’t looking to attract a lot of attention. But I assured her it was OK to discuss it with her parents. I was sure her parents would just tell her I was crazy, but I wasn’t worried. Poor little Betty was hooked, but I planned to help her as much as I could.
It was between 5th and 6th period when, standing by my locker, I noticed someone standing over me. Looking up I saw one of the football players. Not being a fan or someone who attended their games, I wasn’t sure who he was, but he was glaring at me. He wasn’t overly tall, though clearly taller than me, but he was still huge. He had a wide chest and thick arms. His face was actually nice except it was so twisted in his scowl it was hard to find it attractive. He had a much darker complexion than Shaniqua, with his hair done up in braids that were tied together behind his head. Always one to confront trouble first and ask questions later, I jumped in with both feet.
“Yeah?” I asked, sure I’d stricken fear in his heart with my sharp-witted response, causing a slight grin to appear on my lips.
“Stay away from Kitty!” he warned ominously. He was clearly hoping to intimidate me, but being a big people watcher, always watching instead of actually interacting with them, I knew the unwritten rules of interpersonal conduct that others might not. I knew he wouldn’t actually be able to do anything to me unless I reacted to him first. There are a lot of unstated rules of conduct, one of which is that you don’t punch someone without a perceived provocation without looking like a nerveless ass. All I’d have to do to avoid a fight was to keep my attitude light and not threaten him, while making it clear I wouldn’t be taking any of his shit.
“Who’s Kitty?” I asked, actually having no clue who he was referring to.
“Don’t act stupid with me. Kitty Washerstein,” he stated, reacting like I had to be a complete idiot to not recognize who he was referring to.
“Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell,” I replied, turning back to my locker to remove the notebook for my next class. Once I got it, I turned back to him as if this were just a casual conversation. “I take it she expressed an interest and you think I’m invading on your territory?” He looked at me strangely. This didn’t seem to be playing out like he had originally planned.
“Yeah,” he replied, sounding less sure of himself. “Leave her alone or you’ll be sorry,” he reemphasized, trying to reassert his dominance.
“Well, thanks for letting me know she’s interested,” I replied to his threat in a pleasant voice and a nice smile. “I didn’t realize it before. That was really nice of you.” He just looked at me for a second before figuring out what to say next.
“I’m not telling you she’s interested. I’m warning you not to get involved!” he blustered.
“Yeah, I got that,” I replied, closing my locker, seemingly not paying him any attention while I was actively watching him out of the corner of my eye, trying to determine how he was reacting to me. “The whole ‘I’m a big jock and you’re supposed to be afraid of me’ vibe kind of gave that away.” We’d already begun to attract quite a bit of attention. If I was intelligent I’d just let it blow on past, but I just wasn’t in a mood to put up with much anymore. He obviously wanted me to react in a particular manner so he’d know what to do. I wasn’t doing what he expected. Instead I was confounding him, which was something he wasn’t used to.
“Look creep, stay away from her, or else!”
“Or else what?” I asked, turning back and addressing him directly. “You’ll impress her with your witticism and obvious intelligence, as well as your gentle manners? I take it that approach hasn’t worked yet, has it?” This clearly got to him. Although I was sure he wouldn’t throw a punch, apparently this was a bit much and he reacted by shoving me back with his large, beefy hands, sending me backwards onto my ass. Being limber and spry, I simply tucked and rolled, something I’d learned in gymnastics when I competed earlier, and ended up immediately back on my feet, facing him with a cocky little smile on my face.
“So, did that make you feel any better? Did pushing someone a hundred pounds less than you make you feel like a big man?” I prompted. The kids around us started crowding around. They were sure there was going to be a fight. I hated to disappoint them, but that certainly wasn’t my intent. I just wasn’t about to be cowed when I didn’t even understand the initial accusations. I wasn’t quite that easily intimidated.
He was clearly upset by my flippant attitude and had no idea how to respond to my light banter. He was having trouble putting together a coherent response to my comments, but he knew if he lost it and punched me it’d be all over the school that he was just a mindless brute who couldn’t hold a simple conversation. He was hoping I’d either try to avoid a confrontation or else try to fight him. The approach I was taking just didn’t fit into his pre-established playbook.
“Ha, just go home to your old lady girlfriend,” he sneered, finally coming up with a comeback.
“Really, that’s the best you can come up with?” I asked, tilting my head and grinning at him, as if examining him from a new and more humorous angle. “It’s hardly the kind of comment that’ll offend me or require me to defend my honor. I happen to like beautiful women. I’m not overly concerned with prestige, nationality, language or age.
“Look, I’ll talk to this, what was it, Kitty?” I continued, offering him a lopsided olive branch. He didn’t respond to my question, simply looking at me with a frustrated expression. “Anyway, I’ll talk to this Kitty and try to work things out. OK? Anyway, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got to get to class.”
Despite my bravado I didn’t turn away. I wasn’t about to turn my back on this creep. That’d just be too easy. Just then the bell rang. People hesitated momentarily then began shuffling away a bit at a time, still trying to see if this was going to escalate. Eventually my opponent, even though I wasn’t aware who he was, reluctantly backed down, turned and headed off to class. As he retreated he mumbled, “It’s not like there aren’t plenty of girls talking about you. Shit, even my sister’s ranting about you.”
Smiling, I locked my locker and turned as well. Grabbing a random kid I asked, “Just who the heck was that?” He just stared at me like he couldn’t believe me.
“That’s Bulldozer,” he replied. “His name is Darrell Jones. He’s the….” He lost me when he started describing his role on the high school football team. I really didn’t care about that.
“Thanks,” I told him. “That’s all I needed to know.”
Asking around, I finally found out who this Kitty Washerstein was. I didn’t manage to talk to her that day, but I’d try to soon.
“What the hell did you get into today?” Cate asked when we met up in the parking lot after the final bell.
“What do you mean?” I asked, playing dumb as I climbed into the driver’s seat.
“I heard you almost got into a fight with Bulldozer Jones. I heard he knocked you down but you just brushed it off and got back in his face and told him you were going to date whoever you wanted.”
“That wasn’t quite how it played out,” I told her, not exactly denying any of it.
“Alex,” Cate sounded exasperated, “Bulldozer is one of the biggest guys in school.”
“Yeah, I noticed. He is fairly large. Not overly bright but fairly bulky.”
“Alex, I hate to tell you this, but you aren’t exactly large enough to go getting into fights with whoever you feel like.”
“I wasn’t going to get into a fight with him,” I patiently explained. “We just had a little talk, that’s all.”
She stared at me like I was crazy. “That’s your idea of a calm talk? What was to keep him from pummeling your face?”
“Well, there are certain rules involved in public fights that—”
“And what do you know about fighting, Alex? Your only fight so far ended up with you flat on your back in a backwoods community in New Orleans.”
“That only happened because I was distracted. Besides, it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? In this case, it was hardly a fight,” I protested. “He simply shoved me and I rolled and stood up again. No harm done. If anything, he looked silly for trying to push his weight around against somebody a hundred pounds lighter than he is.”
“Alex,” I could literally hear Cate’s voice travel up an octave or two in her recital of my name, “he could have creamed you! What were you thinking?”
“He didn’t do anything. All in all, he’s just a sweet guy. While I’m not too impressed with his approach, I kind of like him. Of course, he’s gonna have to refine his interpersonal skills some.”
“Alex, don’t antagonize him.” Cate seemed to like to repeat my name when she was worried about me.
“Don’t worry, I won’t do anything. I didn’t even realize who the girl was when he first started talking about her. As a result I didn’t have a chance to talk to her yet.”
“Alex!” Cate yelled.
“What? When someone tells you that someone is interested in you, it’s only polite to ask about it, isn’t it?” That seemed to flummox her. “Besides,” I continued just as innocently, “he also mentioned that his sister was interested in me.”
“Alex, you’ve got to be kidding! Do you want to get the crap beat out of you? Did you decide you didn’t get beat up enough down in New Orleans?” Cate reiterated. Given Cate’s reaction, I was wondering what I would be facing once I got home.
“Don’t worry about it, he’s not going to do anything. Besides, I’m not looking to cause him any trouble. He just let me know that a couple of potentially cute girls are interested in me.”
Cate groaned, but quickly figured out that pushing me about it was just likely to make me act out even more. That’s the best thing about intelligent women, they eventually realize the futility of trying to change a guy’s basic personality. Stubbornness and spite are two of my strongest traits.
When we got home, Cate immediately stormed into the house. I rushed to catch up with her and got in the house just in time to hear, “…and then he said he was not only going to chase the girl, but that he’s going to go after his sister as well!”
Apparently Cate had encountered my normal welcoming committee, as both Allison and Shani were standing there, staring at me. I knew Natalie was out checking a few places in Carbondale today and wouldn’t be arriving until later. It didn’t take long until Anh came out as well, and my mother wasn’t far behind.
“What you do fight at skool?” Anh asked. I guess once you’re a mother, the mothering instinct never leaves you. Still, it was strange to be getting this response from her when my own mother was standing quietly beside her.
“Honestly, it sounds worse than it was. He was just warning me off of getting involved in someone he’s interested in. Personally, I don’t think he’s had much luck with her himself.”
“Mom, Bulldozer hit him and knocked him over!” Cate protested, applying to a higher authority.
Mom simply cocked her head at me, waiting for my response.
“He never hit me. He got frustrated since I never gave him an opening. He simply shoved me. I rolled it out and stood up. Actually, I think he lost points for showing how little control he had and how ineffective his threats were.”
“All the more reason for him to pummel you!” Cate insisted.
“Nonsense, there are rules to these sorts of things,” I reminded her.
“And what would you know of—” Cate begin getting excited again.
“Cate, you’ve had your say,” our mother interrupted. “It sounds like Alex knows what he’s getting into. After all, it’s his neck on the line if he misjudges this. Alex, do you have this under control?”
“Yes, Mom, I believe I do.”
“And may I ask what you hope to get out of antagonizing him?”
“He mentioned not one, but two different girls that are interested in me. Since I’m looking for girlfriends, I figured it’d make sense to start with girls that are already interested. I’m trying to avoid those that are only interested because of any rumors about me.”
“That sounds reasonable. Girls, if you’ll handle anything else,” she said, wiping her hands of the whole thing and returning to the other room.
Cate simply stared at her retreating form. “Wha… What just happened? Alex, maybe you really do have some kind of unnatural influence over her.”
“Nonsense,” Shani replied. “Alex has clearly thought this out. True, it may have been an off the cuff decision, but he’s had time to think about it. Anh and I both agree that he needs to learn to trust his natural instincts, and this is clearly the case here.”
Cate then turned to Allison, who simply shrugged her shoulders, showing she agreed with everyone else.
“Don’t you all understand what could happen to him?” she asked the room at large, hoping to find a sympathetic ear.
“Yes, we’re all aware of it. However, we have faith that he can handle himself. You may want to consider where your priorities lie, Cate. Are they in protecting Alex from everything in his life, or in helping him grow and learn how to influence and assist others?” Shani asked her. Cate simply growled and stomped up the stairs leading upstairs to our bedrooms.
“I just don’t want to see my favorite brother get hurt, OK?” she called as she disappeared from sight.
“You sure you know what do, Alex?” Anh asked me.
“As sure as I can be, but I feel pretty secure in what I’m doing. Yes,” I answered.
“Good. Call us if trouble you get,” she insisted as they all welcomed me home.
“Hey, Alex,” Becky said after she called me later that evening, “I just wanted to tell you I’ve been working overtime trying to arrange some basic tests for you. I think I can arrange some simple ones this weekend, just to rule out a couple of things that I don’t think are responsible for what’s happening. Anything else will probably require access to some expensive hospital tests, and those would require a medical diagnosis.”
“Hey, I understand. Thanks for arranging what you can. Do you have a timeframe in mind yet?”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I’ll call with the details, though. Oh, by the way, you remember when Melinda asked if she could help? Well, I thought of something that would be right up her alley. I figured if there’s anyone else like you around, they’d likely be some news of it on the web. I think I’ll have her try to do an extensive internet search for anyone talking about the kinds of things you described. I know this doesn’t really need your approval or anything, but I just thought I’d let you know before I talk to her about it.”
“That’s fine, Becky. I’m sure Melinda would appreciate the chance to get her hands dirty in, uh, internet dirt, as it were. I’ve been wondering about that myself. I find it hard to believe that I’m the first person in the whole history of mankind ever to have this particular ability!”
“There is that,” she laughed. “Anyway, I’m talking on the company’s dime so I’d better ring off. I’ll talk to you later,” and she proceeded to finish the conversation.
“You know,” Cate said, breaking her silence the next morning when we walked to the car, intending to drive to school a little earlier than normal, “I’ve been rethinking my response yesterday.”
“Your response?” I asked as I unlocked the door, not clear what she was referring to.
She sighed, glaring at me like I was being intentionally dense. “About you purposefully putting yourself at risk,” she answered before turning to address me directly. “I think I can understand everyone else’s point now, and while I still don’t like it, I think I can live with it. After all, as everyone says, it’s your life, and you have to decide how you’re going to live it.”
“Well, thanks for th…,” I started to say before she wrapped me in a hug, effectively shutting me up.
“Good luck with whichever crazy thing you try,” she said, releasing me and stepping back. “I won’t try to control you, and from now on, I’ll support you no matter how demented it is.”
“Uh, thanks?” I asked, unsure exactly what kind of response she was expecting.
“Is there anything I can do to help? Besides calling the paramedics if it all goes south, that is,” she replied with a playful smile.
“Well, if anyone asks, just play the whole thing down,” I suggested as I opened my door to unlock hers, even though it looked like she wasn’t ready to get in yet. “I don’t need anyone making a fuss and embarrassing Darrell. To be honest, I think I was so assertive with him yesterday simply because I was so fed up, but I’m feeling better now,” I reflected, not bothering to mention it was because of a combination of things: the tremendous boost to my ego from having multiple women telling me how wonderful I was, knowing I had a mission in life and mostly, simply not caring what anyone in the school thought anymore. Altogether, I didn’t feel like I’d be the easy pushover I had always been before. Besides, I liked speaking up for myself.
“OK, I can do that,” she answered, climbing into her side of the car. “I’ll also spread the word to my friends. Hopefully we can save Darrell’s fragile ego.”
Once I entered the school, I asked around until I found Kitty’s locker. By the time I found where it was, it was already too late to talk. I considered speaking to her during lunch, but most people eat with their friends, and I knew better than to ask a girl out in front of a crowd of her friends. So instead I waited until everyone was leaving at the end of the day. I managed to catch her as she was headed for the door.
“Hey, Kitty,” I said, flashing her my best smile. However, she quickly glanced left and then right to see who might be near enough to overhear us.
She was pretty, but not what I’d describe as gorgeous, so she might have been overlooked by a lot of the typical high school guys. She was thin with short hair, I mean really short hair, almost shorter than mine, and I kept mine pretty close to my head. She had large expressive eyes with thin eyebrows and a big grin that made you think she was always teasing, with surprisingly full lips. She was almost as pale as my sister was, clearly not an outdoor type. She wore a simple tank top that revealed a fair amount of a moderate sized chest, with these really cute blue stone earrings. I could definitely envision escorting her out someplace romantic.
“Hey, Alex, isn’t it?” she asked with a shy smile, finally allowing herself to flirt with me, though she still seemed a bit ill at ease.
“Yeah,” I replied, gently steering her outside where we could speak in private. “I managed to run into our common friend, Darrell Jones. He mentioned that you might be interested in me.” She just looked at me, blinking in surprise.
“He told you that?” she asked, not quite believing such a thing would ever occur. I took it she was familiar with his personal style of interpersonal communications.
“Well, not in so many words, but yeah. So, is there any chance you might want to go out sometime?”
“Aren’t you afraid Darrell might get upset?” she pressed, trying to figure out my angle.
“Darrell? Nah, he’s a pussycat,” I assuaged her. “Although, I have to tell you, I think he’s interested in you as well. Honestly, I got the impression you might not be too impressed with him, but I think you should give him another chance. He kind of tries to project this tough guy image, but I think there’s a bit more to him than that.”
“Are you serious?” she asked, clearly not believing I could be.
“Sure, I’m always serious. Except when I’m not,” I teased.
“So are you asking me out or asking me to ask him out?” She was confused by the whole discussion.
“Both. I think you should go out with both of us and honestly determine who is a better match for you.”
“You must be pretty sure of yourself,” she exclaimed as she picked some lint off of my shirt for me.
“No, I just want what’s best for everyone involved. He seems interested but isn’t very good in the social skills department. He tends to come on a little strong. I just figured maybe I could talk you into giving us both the benefit of the doubt.” She looked me in my eyes, something I missed from dealing with my girls.
“What will your other girls think about you going out with me?” she asked me archly, stressing the fact she already knew I had other interests.
“Oh, you might be surprised. My sisters are bound to like you,” I assured her.
“No,” she replied, rolling her eyes at my denseness. “I meant all those women that followed you back from New Orleans.”
“Oh, them,” I replied, as if I simply hadn’t thought of them having any impact on the discussion. “Again, you’d be surprised. They’re honestly interested in what’s best for me. True, they’re interested in me as well, but they kind of want me to spread my wings a little first.”
“Spread your wings?” she asked, needing a little more information to figure out what I was implying.
“Well, I hate to talk about what someone else told me in confidence, but I think they’d understand it in this case. They’ve told me that they firmly believe in first love, and that they didn’t want to take that away from me. So they sent me out to find out about it on my own. Now, I don’t really know you from Eve, but you seem interesting and I’d like to find out more about you. It may be that we hit it off. Then again it may be that you hit it off with Darrell instead. There’s really only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
“So wait, your multiple current girlfriends want you to lose your virginity to someone else?” she gasped in disbelief, making several assumptions and skipping to the specific question we both knew I was talking about.
“Well, you’re assuming I’m a virgin, but you’re correct in that. I know it’s a bit odd, but they’re really interested in my best interests. They think first love is a big deal, and I think I agree with them. I’d like to experience it firsthand. Again, I’m not promising anything, but I’d like to go out with you.”
“And after we finally agree to ‘do it’, then what? You run back to them?” she pressed, her doubt about the entire enterprise clear in her tone.
“No,” I gasped, shocked at the suggestion, “I’m not that kind of guy. If we hit it off, and if you decide you want to make some sort of commitment to me, then we’ll sit down and discuss various things. One of which is our backgrounds. Mine happens to include a few women who care for me deeply. So I’d express my desires. You scream and shout and issue demands and we try to compromise. Depending on how convinced I am that you feel for me, we work our issues out. That’s how relationships work.”
“Says the relationship expert who’s still in possession of his virginity,” she smirked.
“Yeah, so he says,” I laughed. “Anyway, they won’t try to interfere. As I said, they’re interested in my exploring life on my own. They won’t bother either of us or attempt to undermine me.”
“And you wouldn’t have any trouble with me dating Darrell at the same time?”
“Hey, I know it’s strange, but I’m really not the jealous type. I figure if a girl’s interested in me, she’ll treat me right. If she wants a commitment from me, but strays anyway, then I figure she just wasn’t that committed to the relationship and I give her what she really wants. Sure, it’ll hurt like a son of a gun, but I’d rather deal on an honest basis like that than pretending that I own another person, just because they think I’m somewhat cute.” This last statement seemed to confuse her even more than the others had.
“You’d just up and walk away if someone cheated on you? You wouldn’t try to win her back or anything?”
“Hey, if she really wanted me she wouldn’t feel the need to shop around. If she wasn’t serious, then she shouldn’t make an emotional commitment to me in the first place. I’d just figure I’d be doing us both a big favor letting her have what she really wanted all along. I guess I’d be willing to let her tell me about it. Maybe if she was tied up and forced at gunpoint to have an affair I might listen, but she’d have some convincing to do. I’m sorry, but if you want jealously and a big front, then you’d better just pick Darrell right now and save us both a lot of trouble.”
“No, no, I’m not ready to dump you over it just yet. Especially before our first date,” she giggled. “I’m just interested in how you think. So, if you’re willing to walk out on somebody who cheats, what kind of latitude do I get in dating Darrell?” I was pretty sure she was just teasing, but I decided to play along.
“Well, I’d expect you to be sure before you commit to anything. I’d also expect if you were interested in a car that you’d check under the hood. See how it runs and all. Then, if it tests well, you could then make an informed choice.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if I slept with both you and Darrell at the same time?” she asked, her eyes clouded with uncertainty.
“Well, I might have a problem if it was at the exact same time, as I have this thing about crossing swords with someone, but I wouldn’t mind as long as we don’t expect more at the moment. Of course I’m not an idiot. I’d expect you to protect yourself and both of us. That includes things like birth control and being careful. Dating two competitive guys can be tricky, as at least one is likely to get his feelings hurt. You’d have to treat it carefully of course. Letting the guy down easily, whichever one it was. I’m also not big into theatrics. I’d rather not get into a fistfight over someone who really doesn’t give a shit.”
“And by being careful, I’m assuming you also mean I should protect all of us from any stray diseases?” she asked.
“Of course, that only makes sense. Personally, I’ve got no objections to wearing a glove. Since I’ve never had sex, I won’t know I’m missing anything.”
“Hmm,” she replied, “you certainly make an interesting argument. And you really think these women you have at home won’t object?”
“Yes, I’m sure they won’t. In fact, if you’re not sure, ask my sister Cate about it. She can tell you quite a bit about them and their motivations.”
“But clearly not as much as you know,” she commented, her emphasis stating more than the simple comment. I looked askance at her.
“If you’re asking if either of us would reveal private details, then no. Nobody likes someone who brags about what he did to someone else. But if you’re interested in their reactions, I’d suggest that instead of me picking you up, maybe you should come to the house and meet them. See what you think.”
“You’re serious about all this, aren’t you?” Kitty asked, just to make sure I wasn’t just playing with her.
“It would hardly be an auspicious beginning to a potential relationship if the first thing I did was to lie to you, now would it?”
“I don’t know about that, seems that’s the typical approach of most guys,” she commented, possibly reflecting on past experiences.
“Well, I’m afraid that I’m not most guys. If you choose to go out with me you’ll be stuck with just me, not everyone else.”
“No, actually I’d be stuck between you and Darrell,” she laughed, teasing me. “OK, sure, how about I come by your place on Friday? Is that too soon?”
“No, that’d be fine. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, Darrell also told me his sister was interested in me. You wouldn’t happen to know her name would you? I’d like to also ask her out. It seems those who show initiative should have first shot, no?” She just stared at me for several seconds. I was beginning to think I’d blown it with my cavalier attitude.
“Her initiative or Darrell’s?” she asked. “He didn’t really suggest you date his own sister, did he? What kind of relationship do you have with Bulldozer?”
“Please,” I replied, feeling uncomfortable calling someone that, “let’s not prejudice our opinion of someone by characterizing them as inanimate objects. But to answer your question, an initial one, that’s about all I can say. Oh, and don’t mention any of this to Darrell or anyone else would you? I wouldn’t want to embarrass the guy. In fact, don’t even bring my name up when you talk to him. No guy likes it when you talk about someone else when you’re talking to them.”
“Yet you do it with me,” she laughed.
“Hey, you brought it up, what am I supposed to do?” I asked innocently, holding my hand over my chest.
“I didn’t suggest you ask yet another girl out,” she commented, still in a teasing mood.
“No, but you brought up the other women in my life. After my little speech I thought it would be hypocritical of me to not mention someone else I might have a potential interest in.” She simply nodded, acknowledging her acceptance of my argument.
“So would it be OK if I had a couple of ongoing relationships as well?” she asked, still in a teasing mood, or at least so I thought.
“Of course, I’d expect that to be one of those things we talk about on Friday,” I replied with a wink.
“OK. You’re on,” she told me. “Friday night I’ll stop by at 8:00. You pick out where you’d like to take me. I’ll let you drive so you can surprise me. Somehow I have a feeling you’re going to be surprising me a lot. Oh, and Darrell’s sister is Chalise. Let me know what she says.”
I was honestly surprised that my approach—which had just struck me as I was speaking—had actually worked so well. I guess having your confidence bolstered by a couple of women willing to do anything for you does something for your presentation skills.
“Chalise, that’s a pretty name,” I reflected before reconsidering. “Not that Kitty isn’t an equally attractive name,” I laughed. “So it’s a date. And call Darrell too, would you? I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”
“I’ll do that Alex. I’ll do that,” she replied sincerely, seemingly quite pleased with the odd arrangement we’d just struck.
As we split I looked around and saw Cate eagerly watching us from beside the car. Walking over, she immediately started in on me.
“What do you think you’re doing, Alex?” she asked, her voice taking an unusual edge of concern. “I mean, I trust your judgment and all, but don’t you think Darrell is going to be a bit pissed at you?” she asked, unable to comprehend how her normally quiet, shy brother would suddenly be pulling everyone’s chain, exposing himself to their potential wrath.
“Probably not as much as he will after I call his sister when I get home,” I replied with a confident smile. I just loved the response I got whenever I surprised people with an unexpected response.
“You’re actually going to call his sister?” she gasped in surprise. “I thought you were just teasing.”
“Well, when we talked yesterday he mentioned that she was interested in me.”
“I can’t believe he’d actually do something like that,” she commented, shaking her head. “Why would he do that?” Why was it that no one believed me when I lied about that? Besides, I deluded myself, I wasn’t really lying. He really did mention it to me.
“Well, I think it was kind of compensation for leaving Kitty alone,” I explained.
“Which you’re not doing?” she asked, not comprehending how I could be doing what I continually insisted I was.
“No. I’m not going to let some meat locker dictate what I do or don’t do,” I replied, enjoying a little unanticipated word play, hoping to further distract my sister with an unexpected response. I was beginning to enjoy this. I thought I’d found a new hobby.
“So you just expect him to react calmly when you ask out both his girlfriend and his sister?” she continued to press, expected me to change my stance just because she asked the same question in a slightly different way.
“I don’t believe she’s his girlfriend,” I reasoned. “She has a little say in the matter. Anyway, I talked her into giving him a chance. I think she wasn’t very interested before I talked to her.”
“You what?” my sister gasped, her mouth dropping open. “You asked out a girl, and then told her to date the guy that threatened you if you went out with her?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “that’s about the gist of it.” I smiled, glad she was finally grasping what was happening.
“Man, this is going to be so interesting. I’ll be telling it to all the nurses at your hospital.”
“You do that,” I told her while we both shared a laugh. “You do that.”
“Hello, is Chalise there?”
“May I ask who is calling?” The voice responding was nice and polite. An older woman’s, probably her mother or maybe an aunt or something.
“Tell her it’s Alex Jennings. If she doesn’t remember the name, tell her to ask Darrell. I’m sure he’ll remind her who I am.” The woman at the other end of the call seemed to consider that a moment.
“Very well, hold on a moment while I get her.”
“Thank you very much,” I replied, “I appreciate it.” She didn’t respond so I just sat there holding the phone while I waited, the women scattered around me anxiously waiting to see how the call went.
“Hello?” a new voice responded. It turned out that I’d actually spoken to her briefly the other day, but I doubted she’d remember the sound of my voice.
“Hello, Chalise? This is Alex. Alex Jennings. I was just talking to Darrell yesterday and he mentioned that I should give you a call.”
“Uh, is this really Alex?” She hadn’t said much before when I’d joined her and her friends at her table that first day, but I found now that I really liked the sound of her voice. It had a nice timbre to it, light with little rays of sunshine flickering through it. I knew I was reading things that weren’t there into it, but I didn’t care. I was in a good mood.
“Yeah, last time I checked my license that’s what it said.”
“And my brother told you to call me?”
“Well, not in so many words, but he did mention he thought you might be responsive to a call from me,” I hedged a bit. Why could no one believe Darrell would tell me something like that just because he was threatening me at the time?
“Oh, he did, did he? It seems to me I heard about a little altercation you two got into at school yesterday.”
Ah, a girl who dropped words like ‘altercation’ casually into her sentences. I already liked her. “Oh, I’d hardly call it an altercation. It was really more of a friendly chat between two potential friends.”
“He didn’t sound very friendly towards you,” she cautioned.
“Hence the ‘potential’ part,” I explained patiently.
“So, what’d you want to talk about?” she asked, finally changing the topic. I was getting tired of continually pretending that Darrell and I were best friends. No one believed it anyway, but I still thought it was worth the effort.
“Well, since your brother mentioned you might be receptive, I’d like to ask you out on Saturday.”
“Me? Saturday? Really? Uh…?” She seemed to be at a loss for words so I thought I’d better step in.
“Look, you don’t have to decide right away. Think about it before you commit. It’s always good to consider your options first.”
“But… but what about…?” Her ability to form a coherent sentence wasn’t improving.
“What about what, Chalise?” I prompted, hoping to get her speaking again. Maybe I could distract her with a little flattery. “Did I mention how pretty I think your name is?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she answered, waving me off, “what about those girls you supposedly live with?”
“Oh, they keep coming up in conversations lately. Look, I already had this conversation with a friend of your brother’s. Rather than repeat it all, you should just call Kitty and let her tell you about them for me.”
“You called Kitty? After my brother threatened you?” As much fun as constantly surprising people was, I was beginning to get tired of the same responses in exchange.
“Oh good, you already know who she is. And I wouldn’t call it ‘threatened’. It was more of a friendly suggestion.”
“No, I’ve never met her before, and whatever you want to call it, he’s gonna be pissed.”
“Why would he be upset that you’ve never met?” I asked, playing stupid for a bit before continuing. “And I don’t know why he’d be angry with me, I got him a date with her. Just don’t tell him that though, I don’t want him to feel obligated to me.”
“You called Kitty and asked her to go on a date with him, then called me up to ask me on a date?” she asked, still confused by this discussion. I should hand out cue cards during these discussions.
“Well, actually I asked her to go on a date with both of us, and to consider us both honestly and treat us honorably, whichever she finally decides on.”
“Man, this is too much. Are you serious?” Despite them all asking me if I was serious all the time, this was still a lot of fun. I was enjoying my new hobby.
“Look, I don’t call girls up and invite them out just to pull a practical joke on them and break their hearts. That’s just not who I am, OK?” I asked, as if she’d know who I was and how I’d act.
“Ok, Ok, sorry. So what did Kitty say?” she asked curiously.
“She said yes. She’ll be by on Friday to pick me up and to meet a few of the people staying here. I don’t know when she wants to meet Darrell, though. You’ll have to ask him yourself. Privacy issues you understand.”
“Wow! Uh … these people … they’re the ones who…?”
“Yes, they’re the women that moved here from New Orleans after we met them last week. Kitty mentioned she’d like to meet them so I invited her over to talk to them.”
“She’s going to your house, to go out on a date, and she’s going to talk to your current girlfriends about it?”
“I don’t see what’s so odd about that. She was curious about their motivations, so I suggested they get together and talk. That’s why I suggested you talk to her as well. We had a long talk about them and I thought it’d be good for both of you to talk about it together. She’d probably like that since I told her not to talk to anyone else about it. The reasons why they’re OK with this is fairly complicated, so I’m not real eager to repeat all the arguments, but Kitty would probably like to recap it just so she can bounce ideas off of you.”
“Uh … OK,” she responded hesitantly, her surprise and confusion newly refreshed.
“Seriously, give her a call and talk about it with her. You can also ask Cate, my sister, what she thinks about them, but you may suspect that she’d be a bit partial to my side of the argument.”
“There’s an argument?” she asked, sounding like she was smiling as she did.
“No, we’re all in agreement about this. It’s just that I don’t expect you and Kitty to understand it quite that easily.”
“You got that right,” she readily agreed. “By the way, just how many women are we talking about? I’ve heard a couple of different stories.”
“Well, that’s a tricky one,” I told her. “Right now there are four of them here with us, but there’s a few more still in New Orleans. Plus there’s a couple I haven’t been … uh, intimate with, of both sexes, but who may occasionally show up. Just so you aren’t surprised or anything.”
“Double Wow! That’s quite a collection. You tell me you met and slept with a whole string of women and men, and they’re all likely to follow you here, and then you expect me to go on a date with you?”
“Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. First of all, I haven’t slept with them all. Secondly, I’m straight, so I haven’t fooled around with any guys. Finally, I’m still a virgin, so get your mind out of the gutter, young lady. Yes, I’ve fooled around a little, but I’m still trainable.”
She was silent for a while after that, trying to process everything I’d just revealed.
“You’re a virgin, yet all these women want to leave their homes and follow you back to this god forsaken place? What the hell are you, Alex Jennings?”
“I think there are several people asking that question right now, Chalise, including myself. Look, I’m not trying to brag or anything. I just want to be honest with you, and I want you to know that I’m not a slut or anything.”
She was silent again so I just let her think about it all.
“So why would they all follow you so readily?” she asked in a small, quiet voice.
“I’m hoping that’s something we can discuss on Saturday, if you’ll agree to go out with me. Although I’m sure you and Kitty can discuss it with them yourselves.”
“Wow, this is really a lot to take in all at once,” she stated, sounding overwhelmed.
“Well, to sum up, I really liked meeting you at your lunch table the other day, and I’d really like it if you’d go out with me. It’d probably be better if you didn’t mention it to your brother, though, at least until we get more serious, as I know he’d be concerned about you. It’s kind of a brother-sister thing. And again, don’t worry about the women here. They’re OK with this, and are perfectly willing to step aside in this case for me. You can decide for yourself whether you want to be involved with someone with quite so much baggage, but at least you’ll have an interesting time discussing it with Kitty afterwards.
“If you want to talk to them as well, you can do like Kitty and meet them before our date on Saturday, or better yet, since I asked Kitty out on Friday, you could just call her and ask how it went. I’m sure she’d be willing to dish the dirt on me and mine, so if I really blow it, you’ll be able to cancel before I can embarrass myself any further. Or if you’re only interested in knowing what the deal with them is, we can both avoid going any further. It’s a real win-win.”
“Uh huh, you actually expect Kitty to tell me the truth about how her date with you went? You really are trusting, aren’t you?” I guess that’s the thing when you continually surprise someone, they never seem to believe you when you suggest something.
“I don’t know about that, but I’d expect her to tell you the truth. Especially since you’re both walking a relatively rocky road together, I just expect you to help each other over the rougher patches. Besides,” I paused, grinning slightly, “if you suddenly cancel, I’ll know she’s been telling you stories. Something I’d want to know about her anyway.”
“So it’s actually a test?” she asked, the pitch of her voice going up slightly.
“Well, a very simple test. She either believes in the power of an honest commitment with someone she likes, or she doesn’t. But either way, I think I deserve to know how much she values such commitments,” I explained my thinking to her.
“Uh … I guess so.”
“OK, so call Kitty and call me back whenever you make up your mind. And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m a big boy and I’ll manage, I’m sure. Anyway, have a nice night and thanks for talking to me.”
“Uh … thank you, and you’re welcome, I guess.”
“Bye, Alex,” and with that I hung up. The girls sat up and asked me how it went. I kissed them and said I thought it went well with both girls, but only time would tell. It was a difficult situation for everyone involved, and each one would have to weigh the costs and benefits on their own.
“Not us,” they protested. Shani finished the thought. “We feel very secure in this. We want you to enjoy your life, and live it as normally as you can, despite having all these strange women calling you an Angel and a mighty Spirit, that is.”
“Thanks,” I said, kissing each of them, “I appreciate it. Now we just have to convince Kitty and Chalise.”