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Coming of Age Funny Friendship

Jerry heard his mother in the hallway a second too late to avoid getting caught red-handed, perched on his desk chair with one hand deep in the reaches of the top shelf of his closet. “What are you doing in there, sweetheart?” she asked from the doorway.

“Oh, nothing!” Jerry said much too emphatically, even he could hear that as he let go of the contraband magazine and pulled his hand out. Along the way he knocked something out of place that he couldn’t make out in the darkness, and it came tumbling out – an old heart-shaped box.

“I hope you’re not planning to give that to some girl at school,” Mom said. “And if you are, why hide it from me? I even would have bought you one, honey.”

“No!” Jerry said. “I’m no sissy, and I haven’t got a girl anyway.” He stepped down from the chair, hoping not to arouse her suspicions as to what else might be on the top shelf.

“There is no need to be rude, young man. Did you buy that for yourself and you didn’t want me to know you were eating junk food?”

“Mom, it’s –”

“You know you can buy candy and I won’t complain unless you’re absolutely stuffing your face with it. Is that what’s going on?”

“No! It’s last year’s! You gave it to me!” He held up the old box, hoping she would recognize it.

“Oh, so it is,” Mom said. “Why have you still got that kicking around anyway?”

“Dunno.” Jerry looked down at the dusty red box. “Valentine candy is for little kids, isn’t it? And girls!”

“Good Lord, Jerry, you sound like one of your snotty little friends! You’re fourteen years old, and I know how you love chocolate. Speaking of which, weren’t you going to meet one of them downtown?”

“Yeah…Guess I ought to go now.”

“It’s not Sully, is it? You know I don’t want you seeing him anymore, after what Mrs. Saukulous had to say about him.”

“No,” Jerry lied. “But what does Mrs. Saukolous know?”

“She knows how he treated her daughter. I don’t care how manly you think you are, Gerald Poirier, I won’t have you spending time with boys like that.”

“I wouldn’t believe everything Cathy says,” Jerry said. “You know how many boys she does let do what she says Sully did?”

“That’s enough of that, young man!” Mom grabbed Jerry by the shoulder and pulled him out into the hallway and pointed down the stairs. Go get your shoes on, and get out of the house! Don't come back until dinnertime! I won’t have you talking about girls like that! And on Valentine’s Day of all days!”

Jerry was kicking himself all the way down the stairs – all he’d needed was for Mom to go on about her business and he still could’ve retrieved the magazine. Sully would be pissed.

At least Jerry had an excuse to stay downtown all day long. As he pulled his coat on and fished his gloves out of the basket in the front closet, once again he wondered why anyone thought midwinter break was a good idea. Five days off school when it was too cold to go outside and there was no dodging Mom’s temper. Just two days in and already the bitter cold didn’t scare him anymore compared to the only alternative.

That it was Valentine’s Day just made it all the worse. Who needed their nose rubbed in the glory of love in a family that didn’t seem to have any of it anymore?

Finding that old candy box hadn’t helped. As Jerry shut the door and shuffled down the snowy steps, he tried to remember just why he had saved it. Just one year ago, back when things had seemed so much happier and he really hadn’t cared about the girls at school and he hadn’t yet gotten mixed up with Sully and the rest of their gang at school, the only ones who didn’t seem to care that Jerry was smart and no good at sports. Back when it had seemed okay to get excited about a box of chocolates. Back when it felt like sometimes he could have a civil conversation with Mom.

He missed those days so. But there didn’t seem to be any way of ever getting them back.

Jerry was forbidden from riding his bike in the snow. Sully wasn’t, and Jerry could see him pulling wheelies on his beat-up old Huffy well before he got to the plaza. Sully finally noticed Jerry just as he was crossing the street. He hopped off his bike and let it fall over with a clatter on the frozen concrete. “Didja bring the ‘Popular Mechanics’?” he asked with an eager smirk.

“Couldn’t,” Jerry said. “My mother caught me trying to get it out of my closet.”

“Fuck her!” But Sully didn’t attack Jerry like he’d feared. “Want to go look at this week’s copy?”

“I don’t know, man, you know, I think it’s really a little gross…”

“What are you, Jerry, a queer? Half the school think you are, you know!”

“Am not!”

“Then let’s go look at ‘Popular Mechanics’!”

Jerry knew the battle was lost. He waited just inside the door to the little mall while Sully locked his bike up, and remembered how much busier the place had been when he was younger. The bookstore they were headed for was one of the few shops that hadn’t changed since then. Jerry remembered his mother offering a trip there to get a book if he behaved himself on her errands. He hoped the people working there today didn’t remember that.

“I didn’t much like the girl in that last copy anyway,” Sully said when he came in a moment later. “Too plain.”

“Is that why you made me keep it?” Jerry asked.

“No. You know what my mom or Sheryl would do if they found that crap in my room? Oh, that reminds me, I saw Sheryl naked yesterday!”

“And that’s a good thing?” Jerry asked. “Man, she’s your cousin!”

“Yeah, so what? She lives on our couch, I got a right to a show now and then. And she’s been there long enough to notice that crack in the bathroom door. If she ain’t gonna cover up, it’s her problem.”

“And you liked her problem, I guess?”

“My dick was about twenty feet high, if that answers your question.”

Jerry could identify all too well as they stepped into the well-lit book shop. But he also felt filthy, not to mention grateful the woman behind the counter was too busy with a customer to take any notice of them.

A look back when they got to the magazine rack confirmed she was still busy, and Sully lost no time in slipping a Playboy into a Popular Mechanics. “Look at that new model,” he said, tracing his finger along the centerfold’s body. “I’ll bet it’s great on the curves!”

Jerry laughed so loud he was sure he’d caught the cashier’s attention, and he slunk away to the performing arts section and pretended to be browsing rock star biographies. Sully, apparently knowing no fear, had pulled a pencil and a scrap of paper out of his pocket and was writing something down in a hurry when Jerry dared look up again. “Got it!” he whispered as he set the Popular Mechanics back on the rack, without removing its hidden treasure.

“Got what?” Jerry looked up from a book of great rock albums just long enough to see the cashier was on her way.

“I know nothing,” Sully said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Jerry put the book back and followed his friend. They were almost to the unguarded cash register when he heard the woman say, “I guess you know you’re a man when you leave a Playboy in another magazine for some other poor soul to find!”

When they’d stopped laughing, Sully pulled the scrap of paper out of his pocket. “Come on, let’s go find a pay phone.”

“Who’re we calling?”

“Sylvia’s.”

“Sylvia who?”

“It’s just the name of the company. If you say you’re eighteen, they’ll send a girl to us.”

“Come on, Sully, you know that won’t work. Besides, I want to save my quarters for the arcade.”

“You a queer, Jerry?”

“I told you I’m not!”

“Then prove it.” He handed Jerry the paper, which had a 900-number scrawled on it. “Look, I’ll even split the bill with you.” He dug two quarters out of his pocket and handed them to Jerry.

The nearest pay phone was on the edge of the plaza. Jerry dialled the number and inserted Sully’s two quarters and three of his own. He was expecting a saucy foreign voice, but the woman who answered the phone sounded perfectly ordinary. “Sylvia’s, can I help you?”

“How much is it?” Jerry couldn’t believe he was even asking.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“I’m eighteen.” All at once Jerry realized that was why Sully wanted him to make the call – Sully’s voice hadn’t dropped yet.

“Oooh, for you, it’s fifty-five dollars an hour!”

“Fifty-five?” Jerry looked at Sully, who grinned and gave two thumbs up. “Yeah, okay?”

“Now ask her how soon they can come here,” Sully said.

“Uh…where are you located?”

“Sir, who are you talking to over there?” the woman asked.

“My brother. He wants to know how soon you can get to our town. We don’t have a car.”

“Your brother? Ah, you’re just some kid, aren’t you? Don’t call here no more.”  She hung up, and Jerry looked at the receiver like he thought it might slap him.

“What’d she say?” Sully demanded.

“She said they don’t come here.”

“Yeah, right!” Sully was furious. “Gimme the fuckin’ number, I’ll show you how to do it, you queer.”

“Where are you gonna get fifty five bucks, anyway?” Jerry demanded.

“We’ll worry about that when we get a girl up here!” Sully dialled the number and popped in the change. “How much is it?” “Eighteen.” “Yes, I am! Here, my dad’ll tell you I’m eighteen!” He handed the receiver to Jerry.

“He’s eighteen,” Jerry said.

“Wasn’t I just talking to you?” came the same woman’s voice.

“No, ma’am, that wasn’t me,” Jerry said, to no avail as the line went dead again.

“You fuckin’ queer!” Sully raged as Jerry hung up the phone. “You know how much trouble I coulda gotten into copyin’ that number, and now I can’t even call her again!”

“Do you have fifty five bucks?” Jerry retorted. “And do you really think if they sent a girl up here, she’d believe you were eighteen?”

“They don’t care, if you say you’re eighteen. They’re a bunch of perverts, they probably love little boys!”

“Yeah, right.” Jerry turned to walk away.

“Where you goin’?”

“The arcade.”

“Got any quarters I can borrow?” Sully’s venom had, as usual, vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

“No,” Jerry said.

“Asshole.”

“See you at school next week.”

“Yeah, sure you will, you queer.”

Jerry danced off an hour or so on his favorite racing car game at the arcade before lunchtime. He had just enough allowance money left to get a hotdog and a cherry coke at Woolworth’s. Then it was up the street to the library, where he found a romance novel he wouldn’t want anyone at school to see him reading, and curled up at the far end of the stacks to read all afternoon.

He still felt a little dirty when he finally walked home as the winter sun was setting. At least he could say it wasn’t his idea, and it wasn’t as though he had any hope of getting fifty-five dollars together anytime soon. Even so, he spent the walk home inventing safer adventures he could tell Mom he’d been on all day with any of his other friends.

When his house came into sight, he saw the alibis wouldn’t be necessary for the moment. The windows were dark.

Jerry let himself in and turned on the light to find a note on the closet door. “Jerry, your father and I went out for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Leftovers in the fridge. Please eat some of them before you open your gift. Love, Mom”

Gift? What gift?

Jerry went out to the kitchen to get the prescribed leftovers. There, on his place-setting at the table, was a new, still-wrapped box of chocolates.

February 16, 2022 06:34

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1 comment

John K Adams
21:39 Feb 23, 2022

Seems life hasn't changed much since I was that age. The dialogue felt real. The character's priorities, false bravado and struggles with other's perceptions of them all rang true. Nice ironic ending.

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