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Those Three Words
Most people don’t realize the potential gravity of a three-word sentence. Three words, any three words, can be manipulated and twisted into an epithet, a judgement, or a statement of hope and affection. My father had recently given me a three-word sentence, that carried the weight of all his years of dreaming, all his years of wishing, all his years of praying that I’d grow up and play football the way he had when he was my age. “Be a man,” was all he’d said to me yesterday, the most words he’d said in a month. Just three words.
Since today was the start of my senior year, and tomorrow the day of football tryouts, he’d decided to give me one last push in the direction of his path. He’d be sadly disappointed when he realized that his only son wasn’t Hugh freaking Jackman, and not even a fan of football besides. I don’t know what the reasons behind his ridiculous expectations were.
None of my lanky, six foot two, uncoordinated body would ever be as badass as the Wolverine, since my muscle definition was next to nothing. I’d spent the summer playing Call of Duty on Xbox Live. Video games just don’t bulk you up, y’know?
Wolverine’s hair wasn’t permanently stuck as the unfortunate color of ginger that, despite looking GREAT on girls, forces my face into a pasty, white mess of a color, that only makes my freckles more disgustingly obvious. I cringe and pull away from the mirror. Even my NAME made me sound like a loser. Who names their kid “Reuben Blake”, and then expects him to save the world? I cringed and pulled away from the things in the mirror that I didn’t want to see. The bus was coming in 15 minutes, there was no time for dreaming of things that never were. My apologies, Mr. Kennedy.
I pulled my worn jeans up over my boxers and forced myself to not think of Her. My father’s hopeful profession from yesterday still rang in my ears, and I was determined to not let him down the first day. Tomorrow, maybe, but not today. No matter WHAT She did.
With my pants securely fastened, ABOVE my butt, as was considered normal in my mind, I reached under my mattress and pulled out my composition book. The familiar stench of Sharpies invaded my nose as I briefly admired the desecrated cover and chucked it into my bag. It was NOT a diary, so don’t even ask. If you do, I’ll pretend that it doesn’t exist, and you’ll make us both look bad. Just don’t go there.
I sprinted down the stairs and out my front door in an effort to avoid my father. I don’t know what his problem is, but I- “HAVE A GOOD DAY AT SCHOOL, SON! BE THE MAN I KNOW YOU ARE!”, came the bellow from my father’s bedroom window. Damn. I wince and turn around, convinced that he’s waken the neighborhood. He winks at me, and I give a half-hearted wave to the window.
I jogged to the bus stop two blocks down, my bag clunking into my shoulders. I’m sure that my face, burning crimson with shame, looked lovely with my orange hair. Is it normal for guys to think about themselves this much?
The bus stop was just ahead, and I tried not to notice when my heart skipped a beat at the sight of her standing there. Bent down, rummaging through bag, face flustered. There She was. I approached, and dropped my bag next to hers. She looked up and flashed me a smile. “Hey, Reu!” Her nickname for me. Nobody else’s. “Hey, Jess...”, I mumbled, averting my eyes.
Her top was way too low-cut for her to be standing like that. A car drove by and honked, proving my point. Jesse gracefully stood up straight, flipped off the cretins riding in it, and resumed her search.
“Surely you haven’t lost something already?”, I questioned mockingly. “Summer reading list, perhaps? Class schedule? A shirt to put on over the underwear you’re wearing today?” She rolled her eyes and zipped up her backpack. I loved that she never accepted purses as proper item transportation like the empty-headed twits that populated our school.
“Actually, I was looking for your life. I knew you didn’t have one, so I bought one in Ireland, and brought it home for you as a souvenir,” she fired back. I was glad to see that a summer apart hadn’t damaged us too badly. I put a hand over my heart, and lay the back of the other over my forehead. “Oh, Jesse, thy tongue cuts bitter as the sharpest blade. Pray stay it and hug me.” She giggles, then complies.
I closed my eyes, inhaling the fragrance of her chocolate-brown hair. The smell reminded me of the earth after a long rainstorm. Fresh, and clean, with the promise of new beginnings.
My internal reverie came to an abrupt end, as two gorillas walked up to the bus stop. Not real ones, mind, but close enough to get an appreciation of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Jesse disentangled herself from my arms, then glomped one of the Missing Links. He bent down to kiss her, flashing me a triumphant look. “Hey babe, I missed you,” was all the thing could come up with to say. Sure, it was slightly more eloquent than MY feeble greeting, but it still pissed me off. “Pennesy.”, he acknowledged nodding in my direction. I don’t understand why guys call each other by their last names. It’s always seemed vague and pointless to me.
His buddy smirked at me and cracked his knuckles. “So, Pennesy, ya goin’ out for football tomorrow?”, inquired the Beast his voice muffled against Jesse’s neck. Yeah. Totally. I’m going to devote three hours of my life everyday for the entire fall to running and doing pushups, and getting beaten up by you. Sounds like a plan.
“I haven’t thought about it yet.” The Beast’s friend elbowed my side conspiratorially. “Aw, come on, your old man was wack back in the day. You prolly got summa that skillage in your blood. Why dontcha let us find out?” I eyed him sideways and pushed him off me. The Friend turned towards the Beast, wagging his eyebrows.
“Whoah-ho-ho, I think little Penny-boy’s actually got some fight in him!” The Beast shifted his posture, so that Jesse was now against his right side, and his mammoth head could look me over. “He’s too scrawny.” The visual assessment continued. “Not a threat?” piped the Friend. “Not a threat.” they concluded.
Two sets of three word condemnations floated through my mind. Rage boiled through my veins, and I balled up my hands into fists. The Friend noticed. “Aw, how cute. Penny-boy thinks he can-” His words were cut short as my fist exploded against the side of his face. Nobody had ever told me how much it hurts to throw a proper punch.
Or how good it felt to see the body of a guy twice my height and girth crumple to the ground because of it. In instant, the Beast was on me, and I I punched blindly, not daring to lift my head.
I vaguely remember Jesse screaming at us, trying to pull him off of me, and the bus pulling up and angrily punching the horn. The Beast let go. Helped his friend off the ground. Kicked my bag across the pavement as he dragged him onto the bus.
I groaned softly when I noticed the bag’s contents strewn about the ground. I barely noticed Jesse’s sympathetic expression as she helped me pick up my stuff. “Thanks, Jess.”, I mumbled, before following her onto the obnoxious yellow monster that would escort me to my doom.
It was third period before I noticed that the composition book was missing. I froze. The composition book, while definitely NOT being a diary, contained four months worth of my opinions and thoughts. Four months of secrets that no one was supposed to know. Four months of doodles, and dreams, and observations. Four months of confessing my love for Jesse.
“Oh, shit!” I exclaimed, a bit too loudly. The teacher stared at me through his thick-rimmed glasses, and asked curiously, “Mr. Pennesy, are you alright?” I began to sweat the horribly clammy, cold sweat of a man who’s just realized that his life is over. “I-I...”, I stuttered. “I don’t feel so good....” The teacher pushed his glasses further up the ridge of nose, and I briefly registered that they made him look like an owl.
He beckoned me to the front desk, and handed me a hall pass. “Take as long as you need.”, he said, eyes full of concern. I nodded, then stumbled out into the hallway, shutting the door behind me.
“Oh My God....”, I muttered over and over, turning the three-word proclamation of horror and disbelief into an incessant litany. I reeled dizzily down the hallway and fell through the bathroom door. Luckily nobody else was there. I didn’t think I’d be able to coherently convey how screwed I was. I wouldn’t have known what words to use, even if I was capable of speech.
I splashed cold water on my face. What if the Friend found out? What if the Beast Himself found out? What if JESSE found out?! I slumped to the floor and knelt with my head on the sink. I didn’t move until the nurse came an hour later to take me to her office.
I’ll admit that I was never actually sick. My pallid, sweaty face and mention of stomach nausea was enough to get me sent home. My father left work to come get me. Not a word was spoken the whole trip home. I couldn’t tell whether or not he actually thought I was sick, but I thanked every god that could possibly exist that he took me home. I would never have made it the whole day.
He pulled his truck into the driveway and cut the engine. “Here, drink this.”, he said, handing me a bottle of ginger ale. Three words, no emotion, no clues as to what he was thinking. I took the bottle, offered up a meager, “Thanks,” and trudged into the house.
It was nice having the house to myself. I relished the opportunity to play Xbox. The fridge was well-stocked, and I began to feel better.
The good feeling evaporated as the doorbell rang.
My father never arrived home from work earlier than eight, so you can imagine my surprise at the sound. I paused, hoping that whoever it was would leave. The bell rang again, more insistently this time. I stumbled off the couch and padded down the hall, a ball of tension growing in my stomach. I decided that if the Beast was at the door, I would escape out the back and make a run for the road. By the time he realized that I wasn’t there, I’d be halfway to the library- the one place that the Beast would never dare step foot inside.
Tentatively, I peeked through the eyehole, every nerve of my body tensed to run. Imagine my surprise and relief when I realized that it was Jesse. Alone.
I quickly let her in, slamming the door behind her. “What’s up, Jess?”, I queried, keeping a nervous eye on the road through the front window. She looked at the floor. “Jess?” Nothing.
I turned away from the window and looked at her. “JESS!” Her head snapped up, and I almost missed the deer-in-the-headlights look that so rarely contorted her features. I rushed over and placed my hands on her shoulders. “Jess, what’s wrong??”, I asked desperately, terrified of the tears that filled her eyes. “I-I”m so sorry.”
It only took three words in the form of an apology to shoot icicles through my heart. “For what? If it’s about this morning, it was totally my fault, and-” She raised a hand, cutting me off. More tears fell, and she reached into her bag. To pull out my composition notebook. Oh my God.
She looks away, holds the notebook out in my direction. I take it with a trembling hand. “I didn’t mean to take it, I just...”, she trailed off helplessly. I stared at the cover of the book, mentally tracing the contours of the splotchy design on the cover.
“Did you read it?”, I ask quietly, knowing the answer. I don’t look up as she admits that she did. Admits, in three words, that she knows everything. And all of a sudden, I remember all those pop-culture sub-references about not writing anything down that you don’t want people see. And I realize, that more than anything, I wanted her to know.
“Reu...” I look up to see her standing an inch away. Her blue eyes glisten with tears, but there is also a fierce determination in those eyes. I don’t move as she stands up on her toes, drags my head down and kisses me. REALLY kisses me. It feels like everything she’s ever said, and that I’ve ever felt are wrapped up in this one moment.
She breaks the kiss. I wish for it to have lasted longer. I barely register when she reaches for her bag, and pulls out a t-shirt. “I forgot to give you your present.” She wraps it around my neck, laughing.
Puzzled, I remove it and hold it up. “Pog mo thoin, I’m Irish,” it read in gold script. “I figured the green would look good with your hair,” she explains, laughing again. She pushes me back to the couch. “Now, at least pretend to be sick. I was worried.” I mock salute. “Yes, ma’am.” She drops a small kiss onto my forehead, and walks to the door. And utters the most beautiful three words I could ever hope to hear...
“I love you.”