“Released from Henderson”

(Continued from last month’s Overheard at the Mixed Grill.)


While Jesse made the best of his summer in Henderson—how could he not with the insane carryings-on he was continually immersed in—he did manage to finally lay eyes on Elise on his way back to Princeton. She raced out of her parents’ front door in DC and into his arms as he met her halfway.

     “Oh my God, I missed you, I missed you, I missed you,” she said as she clung to him, her pretty head tucked into the side of his neck, her feet off the ground. He moved in a circle with her in his arms, him kissing her cheek, her hair, anywhere his lips could reach.     “I missed you, too. So damn much,” he implored as he finally let her feet touch the ground, still holding her close so he could finally, finally kiss her lips. “I love you,” were his first words after the kiss. He realized then he must have grown taller since he’d been away, because Elise seemed shorter. Still open and fresh, still all his dreams wrapped up into one glowing auburn-haired, green-eyed girl. “How was your summer? For real?” He’d worried about her nonstop. Hoping so much she didn’t resent him for being gone. And although they’d talked plenty on the phone, he definitely wanted to vet her in person. “It went faster than I’d imagined it would considering how miserable I felt after you left. But I really liked my group of kidlets and I loved being their counselor. Plus, with all my besties being fellow counselors, I was kept from sulking too much.”

“I bet. How are Nola, Charlotte, and Regan?”     “Good. They’re all good. They all know about us. I swear, the worst thing your mother did was send you away. Everybody was up in arms that the great Jesse James wasn’t coming back to help run the camp program. No one could understand why you up and left. The speculation was insane.”     “Don’t I know it. I spent the first two weeks in Henderson responding to texts from everyone in the Forest.”     “Hey Jesse,” Mrs. Thompson called from the front door. “Come on in. I’m hoping you’ll stay for dinner.”     “I’d like that Mrs. Thompson. Thank you.”     Elise took him by the hand and practically skipped toward the house. She was happiness personified and he felt the thoroughness of it spread in his chest. There was nothing he wouldn’t do, no summer he couldn’t survive, to be around this girl.     The Thompsons could not have been more welcoming and Jesse was certainly happy about that. They never brought up his banishment from the Forest or the reason for it, thank God. When Elise walked him to his car later that evening she whispered to him that she was on birth control pills per her mother’s insistence. Jesse wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.     “Elise,” he started. “What am I supposed to do with that?”     “What do you mean?”     “We didn’t exactly have the summer we’d hoped to bolster our relationship before I head back to Princeton. You’ve already started your senior year, and I guess I’m a little bit unsure about where I fit into your life.”     “Jesse,” she breathed, all reassuring smiles and empathetic eyes. “You declared your love for me in front of your parents and my parents. If I hadn’t already been crazy about you that would have made me fall hard.”     He grinned sheepishly. “I put it all out there, didn’t I?”     “You did.” She grinned back. “And your parents were as sweet as they could be to me whenever our paths crossed this summer. Because they believed you, and probably felt bad for separating us—ruining our summer.”     “Not bad enough to let me come home,” he grumbled.     “No. And I’m almost afraid to ask. Do they know you’re here?”     “Did I mention that I was stopping to see you on my way to college? Ah-no. Are they smart enough to assume that’s what’s happening, ah-yeah. I think my mother and I are in don’t-ask-don’t-tell mode right now.”     “Because she doesn’t want us dating until I’m in college.”     “Until you graduate high school. At least that’s how I’ve interpreted it.”     “So we might not want to let her know that my parents are not opposed to me taking the train up to Princeton for a weekend in the fall and to see you play in the spring.”     “Under the circumstances, that is very generous of them.”     “They like you. They know you are a solid citizen. I think they really like you for me. They think you’ll help ground me somehow. As if I need that.”     Jesse smirked. All the attributes that made him fall in love with Elise were probably the same attributes which caused her parents to feel she needed a little grounding.     “I’m happy to be the rock you’re tethered to. Look,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him as he leaned back against his car. “I want you to have a great senior year. And I know you will. But if you need me to come down and be your date for your Ring Ceremony or anything really, I’m in. If I can get Coach Dickson to let me off campus for the weekend, I’ll be here. What my mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”     “We’re not doing that.”     “Doing what?”     “Chancing that the great Judge James won’t find out. There are too many mutual acquaintances in the DC area. We aren’t pissing her off any more.” When Jesse started to object, Elise reassured him. “I’m not interested in dating anybody but you. I’m also not interested in pissing off your mother. So we do it her way. Until I graduate.”     “Except for you coming to Princeton a couple times.”     “Except for that.” She grinned.     Jesse wanted to dig a little deeper. Wanted to burrow inside that head of hers and understand her level of commitment. Because he was all in. Elise Thompson was it for him even if they never got their summer romance in the place he loved best.     “The summer went fast,” she assured him. “The time between us meeting up will, too.”     “I’ve got a friend I want you to meet,” he told her. “His name is Davis but he goes by Pinks. He’s originally from Baltimore but he was my buddy at this internship in Henderson. Anyway, he plays the drums like a freaking badass and since I didn’t have you to spend time with, I pulled out my guitar and managed to strengthen my skills. A couple weeks ago we played in public and we were a big hit.” (He did not mention that he’d let his ego get the best of him and, acting out his inner rock star, ended up jumping off the stage at the end of the set and locking lips with Piper Beaumont. Which led to him getting punched in the jaw by Vance Evans. He’d probably tell Elise about it at some point, but not while his time was so limited.)    “You. In a band?” Her eyes were so wide they caused him to laugh.     “Yes, me. In a band. How did you not know I play the guitar?”     “Apparently there are all sorts of things I don’t know about you. Like you have a friend named Pinks.”     “He’s cool. A lacrosse bro. We see eye to eye. And he’s smart and ambitious. Not a bad connection to have made on a whole lot of levels. He wants me to go back to Henderson next summer.” And if Jesse was being honest, he couldn’t imagine not going back. If it wasn’t for Elise he’d have already committed.     “But if you could get an internship in DC it would be so much more ideal. Better yet, Annapolis. I’m going to be a counselor again, and Jesse, we really need to be in the same vicinity next summer. Because I have no idea where I’ll end up in college.”     “I hear ya.” He leaned over and kissed her lips, giving up his Henderson dream before it could take hold. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for this girl.


To be continued ….

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