“Caught with His Pants Down”
(Continued from last month’s Overheard at the Mixed Grill.)
For the briefest of moments Jesse clung to Elise’s naked body while he bartered with time. He knew the loud and fatal crash that had come from the family room did not bode well for anybody. Thirty minutes he pleaded in his head. Just back life up for thirty minutes.
But of course time didn’t have the ability to salvage what had been the best moment of his life transformed into this fuel-driven panic that now seized them both.
They were not alone.
The scramble that ensued was as ridiculous as it was urgent. The two of them unceremoniously uncoupling, stumbling over the couch and each other to retrieve their clothes. Him not having a clue about how to deal with the condom quickly so it ended up in his pants which was such a bad idea. Still, once he had his shirt back on, he bounded from the screened porch into the family room where he found the smashed shell-filled lamp. He proceeded into the kitchen and throughout the house, finding no one. He hit the screen door to the front porch and looked right and left down the road that ran in front of his grandparents’ cottage. No one.
Being the Princeton student he was, he didn’t pretend that he and Elise were in the clear. He just prayed it was his father who had inadvertently walked in on them. His father he could reason with. Lovie the Judge, not so much.
He shouted to Elise that they were alone and then headed into his bathroom to pull himself together. Elise was standing at the door when he came out.
“What do you think happened?” she asked.
Jesse rubbed a hand over his hair. “Gramps and Gran aren’t in town. I think we surprised either my father or my mother and, in their attempt to back out of the house unnoticed, the lamp got knocked over.”
“So, no hope of a raccoon meandering in and causing the crash?”
He shook his head in the negative.
“What’s gonna happen?”
“I’ll get a lecture. If my mother is involved it will be brutal.”
“Will they hate me?” Worry colored her pretty features.
Jesse pulled her to him. “They won’t hate you. They’ll make life hell for me, but they won’t take it out on you. I won’t let them.”
“So,” she said wearily, pulling back from his embrace, “that’s one way to start our summer off with a bang.”
Jesse swallowed. “You can say that again.” He let out a long release of breath.
“Let me use the bathroom and then let’s get out of here.”
The two of them didn’t speak as Jesse drove them out of the Forest and toward the Dairy Queen. What was there to say? Gosh, that felt great right until the end? Sorry we were too stupid not to find a place where we wouldn’t be discovered?
“What do you think will happen?” Elise asked again.
Jesse shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, Elise. I love you, and unfortunately, they’ll realize to what extent. But it doesn’t change things.”
“No. It doesn’t change things,” she agreed. “Do you think I should tell my parents? Like, maybe I should let them know before your parents tell them.”
“I doubt my parents will tell them.”
“But they might.”
“They might. I don’t know.” He pulled into the DQ and parked, but left the motor running and the radio playing softly. He turned to Elise and then leaned in to press a gentle kiss against her lips. “I’m sorry this is how our first time has ended. That’s all on me.”
“It’s not on you.” She grinned. Her adorable, all’s-right-with- the-world grin. “I was the instigator. I thought we had all night.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I did, too. They must have forgotten something. Come on. Let’s get ice cream and hope the sugar high makes us feel better.”
It did. The sugar high got them back on track. Pushing the incident to the backs of their minds and reminding them how lucky they were to finally be together and have the whole summer in front of them. They ended the evening feeling apprehensive about what Jesse may be confronted with, but the love energy was definitely winning out.
Until the next morning.
Jesse took his time getting out of bed, not interested in facing the music until he smelled breakfast cooking and the call of his stomach got the best of him. “Here we go,” he whispered to himself, taking a deep breath and pulling his shoulders back to fortify himself against whatever was about to happen.
“Good morning,” he said cautiously as he entered the kitchen, both his parents busy preparing a large meal. The table was suspiciously set for six.
His mother didn’t bother looking up. “Take a quick shower, put on something presentable, and be sitting at the table in fifteen minutes.” She’d barely opened her mouth, her jaw was so taut.
Jesse turned without a word and did as she’d ordered.
Elise and her parents were in the kitchen when he reentered.
“Oh shit,” he murmured, heading directly to Elise and reaching for her hand.
“Everyone have a seat,” his mother ordered. “We’ll serve family style.”
It was all so very awkward. The tension in the room almost unbearable. Jesse cleared his throat as he helped Elise into the chair next to his. “Mr. and Mrs. Thompson—”
His mother snapped her fingers at him. “Not a word!”
He took his seat and eyed Elise whose alarmed expression almost broke his heart. He’d have done anything not to have put her in this unbearable situation.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas sat while trying to lighten the mood by commenting on how delicious everything looked and, without preamble or permission, started to help themselves to crisp bacon and scrambled eggs. They passed the platters as his parents took their seats, banking the ends of the table.
Lovie the Judge snapped her napkin into her lap as if it was a gavel to signify the start of proceedings. Once everyone’s plates had been filled and she’d taken her first bite of food signaling everyone else should start, she began. “Paul and Linda, I want you to know how much Redmond and I value your friendship. Elise, darling, there is no better girl out there for my son. I am in no way opposed to you and Jesse dating once you graduate from high school.”
Jesse startled. “Mom!”
“Lovie,” Mrs. Thompson soothed. “Paul and I are extremely fond of Jesse. We’ve been aware these two have had feelings for each other for a while now.”
“How enlightening,” his mother said through clenched teeth.
Oh shit. Not helpful. Not helpful.
“That is to say,” Mrs. Thompson went on, “Elise will turn eighteen in a week; there is no need for them to not see each other.”
“She’s a senior in high school,” Lovie stressed.
“Who is turning eighteen,” Mrs. Thompson stressed back.
“I’m sorry.” Lovie shook her head. “I’m concerned. For Elise. For Jesse. For all of us.”
His father cleared his throat. “What Lovie is concerned about is the whole of our reputations. The Forest is small and loves to gossip. We all know this.”
“Exactly,” Lovie agreed.
“So that’s what you’re afraid of then? Our reputations?” Mr. Thompson asked.
“Aren’t you?” Lovie countered.
“I thought that was why you asked us to brunch. So the six of us could contain the incident.”
“I have no doubt that this incident will be contained.” She eyed Jesse and Elise with her stern judge’s face. “It is the next incident I’m concerned about.”
“Mom,” Jesse pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” she said to him. “I get it. I do.” Her whole body seemed to soften as she put down her utensils and clasped her hands together. “But I am unwilling to take the chance of anything upsetting the bright futures I see for both of you. I know it seems unfair and maybe it is. But I can’t give my blessing on this relationship until Elise is in college.”
“Fine,” Jesse said. “We’ll wait.” He felt Elise grasp his hand underneath the table.
“I appreciate that,” his mother nodded. “And to facilitate that, I’m going to look into getting you an internship at your brother’s law firm.”
“What? You can’t do that. I’ve got a job to do here. They are counting on me.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You can’t stay in the Forest this summer.”
Jesse stood abruptly. “Why the hell not?”
Nothing but deafening, accusatory, awkward silence.
There was so much he wanted to yell at them. About how he and Elise had been careful. How they had waited. About how much he loved Elise and how his mother’s concern for their reputations was breaking his heart. But he knew his mother well enough to know when to hold his tongue. He needed her to calm down before he presented any arguments for his defense.
He took a deep breath and said, “I apologize for raising my voice.” He retook his seat. “I would just like to state, for the record, that I am in love with Elise Thompson and I have no intention of leaving the Forest.”
Two days later Jesse found himself in Henderson, North Carolina.