A Class By HImself

Chapter 31

Sometimes my mind drifts when I'm riding the bus back home from Tanner's house. Hehehe, it's almost like being drunk on his lingering affection for me. There's, like...this euphoric bliss attached to everything that he is, and every hidden emotion that he seems to have an unrestricted access to in my heart...even when I don't. He makes me experience sensations of joy that I never even knew were there before the first time that his lips touched mine with the most intimate of collisions.

I struggle with it sometimes. Is that weird? That I feel like this is all some elaborate wet dream, and I keep wanting to wake up before I get so lost in the fantasy that the real world would become an unbearable disappointment. And yet...there's another part of me that never wants to let go. I want to keep kissing Tanner, holding him in my arms, tangle myself up in his loving embrace as we lie naked on a set of bed sheets that I'd never be able to afford. Hehehe, those things are SOFT!!! I always thought that blankets were just blankets...but nope! You can definitely feel the difference. Especially when your completely naked.

As the bus was reaching my stop, I heard an alert on my phone, and pulled it out to see a bunch of hearts and kiss emojis from Tanner on the screen. "Missing you already! I love you!" He wrote.

Sighhhh...he's so perfect. "Miss you too. Love always." I said back to him, and felt myself getting all squishy in the middle before getting up to exit the bus and walk the rest of the way home. Hehehe...he loves me. He really does. And he TELLS me so! Like...for no reason at all. Just...having him think about me is an emotional orgasm in itself. Am I smiling? Oh God, I'm smiling again. I thought that was just on the inside. I have to keep reminding myself how psychotic this must look to other people in public. Yikes.

Plus, smiling this much makes my cheeks hurt. My facial muscles can only handle so much.

When I got home, my mom was busy in the kitchen, cooking up something for dinner that smelled absolutely awesome! I can always tell when she's got a bit of extra energy and wants to make a really kick ass meal. I can see her myriad of spices and seasonings on the counter next to the stove. She might only use a tiny pinch of most of them, but she knows how to blend them in the best ways possible. I can hear the exhaust vent on high, pulling some of the smoke out of the kitchen...and she's got a little sweat on her forehead, and I can see two spoons and a couple of forks laying sideways on the cutting board. Oh man, it looks like she's throwing DOWN tonight! I'm getting hungry already.

"Hey, mom." I said, looking at what she had going on over there. Looks like some kind of seasoned chicken and pasta. With some diced potatoes and butter, and a few golden rolls in the oven.

My mom was too focused to really look away from her ‘mad scientist lab' at the moment, but gave me a warm, "Hey, baby. How was school?"

"It was fine." I said. "I thought you were working late tonight?"

I saw her add a few shakes of some random spice to her chicken as the heat began to make it sizzle, and she added a few diced onions into the mix. "I was, but Tina needed some extra hours so she could get the brakes fixed on her car, and I was honestly exhausted with that place. So I let her take my shift." She said, now adding a little pat of butter to the pan. "Besides, I know she'd do it for me if I needed it. It's good for us to look out for one another." I kicked my shoes off and put them by the back door, and she asked, "How come you're home so late?"

A bit hesitant, I said, "I just...I went over to Tanner's house for a little bit. Nothing major."

I was trying to make it sound as nonchalant as I possibly could, but as my mom was wiping her hands off on a rag and putting the cutting board in the sink...I could tell that I had definitely caught her attention with that comment.

"Really, now?" She said. "Tanner's house, huh?"

I giggled, hoping that my blush didn't give too much away about what went on over there. Not that my mom couldn't figure it out anyway. She just smiled and said, "I'm just going to picture you two playing cards or something, and leave it at that."

"That's probably for the best." I said, and she winked at me...but she also let me know that further details were not to be given. I'm fine with that.

Still focused on dinner, she said, "Baby, can you stir the Alfredo sauce for me. I don't want it form a skin on the top. And grab me the olive oil and garlic powder out of the cabinet, will you?" I grabbed the spoon by the stove and stirred the pot a bit. God, everything smelled so mouthwateringly delicious. I grabbed the stuff she asked for and handed it to her side of the counter. "We only had Parmesan cheese tonight. No Romano, so I had to substitute. It should still be pretty tasty though. I'll sprinkle in a little extra seasoning to see if I can brighten the sauce up a bit."

Sometimes...I just have to stare at my mom, you know? When she's cooking, she's so focused. So passionate. It's like she's composing music, the way she just throws her whole heart into it. It's inspiring.

I felt my phone vibrate, and I put the spoon down to check and see if it was Chris getting back to me. Surprisingly, it was coming from Joel's house number. Which...was a little unexpected. "Hey, Mom? It's Joel. I'm gonna take this, ok?"

"Yeah. Sure. Go ahead. Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes, so don't be too long."

"I won't." I said. "Everything looks awesome, Mom."

"Thanks, Sweet Pea." She smiled, and went right back to focusing on her food.

I walked into the living room and headed up to my room as I answered the phone. "Joel? What's up?"

"Nothing much. Life was just feeling a bit weird at the moment, so I figured I'd call you up to get back to normal for a little while." He said.

"Weird? What's weird about it?" I asked.

"It's my mom...dude...I think I broke her or something. She's never this nice to me. Like...ever." I thought it was strange that he would be opposed to having his mom acting like...well, like a mom. But I guess if it's not what you're used to, then it would feel a bit out of character. "Derrick, she's kinda freaking me out these days. She's been going to this...addiction therapist, or something like that. And now she's a totally different person. I think she talks to herself too. It's like living with one of the body snatchers from that movie. You know which one I'm talking about?"

"Oh believe me...I know the one." I smirked. "It's a good thing though, right? I mean...isn't this what you wanted?"

"I don't know, man. I keep expecting her to fall back into old habits any minute and smack me upside the head or something. This just feels wrong."

"Hehehe, face it, Joel...your mom is on the path towards being a better person. You'll just have to deal with it." I said.

"I guess so. But, I swear...if she wakes up early to make me breakfast one more time, I'm gonna start checking to make sure she's not poisoning me or something. I don't know if I can get used to this kind of thing." He sounded like he was snickering a bit, despite his discomfort with his mother's new lease on life since he ran away and finally returned home. From what I remember, Joel and his mom have never had the best of relationships, but...if nothing else...they had an obligation to play the role of mother and son for one another. There was a balance, you know? I think she's trying to make things better for the both of them. Joel can be a stubborn son of a bitch when he wants to be...but he knows a lucky ticket when he finds one. "I sure could go for one of your mom's award winning burgers right now."

I grinned and said, "Well, she might be out of your price range soon, if all goes to plan."

"Out of my what? What do you mean?"

"I think I got my mom a shot at cooking in a restaurant. Like a real restaurant, dude. A fancy place, with cloth napkins and everything. If I can just get her an audition, I just know that she'll be able to knock it out of the park on the first try."

Joel sort of scoffed at the idea. "Really, dude? This sounds like one of your rich punks' ideas." What the heck was he talking about? "A fancy restaurant? Cloth napkins? Dude...they're not gonna give your mom that kind of shot. How do you think the rich stay rich? They do it by keeping people like us down at the bottom of the barrel where they think we belong."

Sometimes, I just have to ignore Joel's comments and write them off as him just being negative and passing it off as being ‘realistic' in his mind. I said, "My mom can finesse her way around a kitchen like nobody's business. All she needs is a chance to give this guy a taste of her food, and it's a done deal after that. Trust me. She's gonna nail it!"

"What guy?" He asked.

"Well, he's Chris' father. He's opening a new restaurant right around the place where I go to school, and..."

"THAT asshole???" Joel said. "Are you crazy? That kid doesn't give a fuck about you OR your mom? Isn't he the reason that you're getting bullied in school? Didn't they put bruises all over you and send you home bleeding and sore???"

"That wasn't Chris! And he just...look, it's a long story, ok?"

"I'll bet it is. Weren't you in detention for close to a month? He called you ‘poor'. He nicknamed you ‘Slug'! This is who you turn to for help?"

"You don't understand, Joel, ok?" I said. "And this isn't about me. Or him. My mom is getting an opportunity to do what she really wants to do with her life. How is that a bad thing?"

Joel replied, "Derrick...sometimes people do things that seem nice...but they only do it to put you in their debt. If you accept this favor from him, he's gonna act like he OWNS you for the rest of your life. These people don't have any empathy. They don't do ‘random acts of kindness' without expecting some kind of serious payback. You HAVE to know that by now! Those entitled sons of bitches think you're only on this planet to serve their needs, and you're immediately a failure if you don't! If this Chris asshole is offering to do you a favor...it's only because he wants to demand a bunch of favors back from you later...with interest. Rich people don't give from the heart...they just invest in something that will give them a greater return in the end. Don't be so gullible."

At that moment, I heard another call coming in, and I took the phone away from my ear to see Chris' number show up. Joel was just being his usual paranoid self, and honestly...I wasn't in the mood for it today. Chris has played a few mean tricks on me in the past, and he's gone over the top in his pursuit to get me to love him over Tanner...but I think Joel has him all wrong. Deep down, in a place that he might try to deny his true self, Chris is probably one of the coolest guys around. He's got more heart than he'd ever be able to admit. I know because I've seen it. And I trust him. I really do.

"Joel, I've got a call coming in. I'll call you back later, k?"

"Whatever." He sighed. "Just remember what I said. Some people only think about themselves and what they want. They don't care about you. They don't even THINK about you unless you're giving them what they want from you. Being in debt to people like that is a BIG mistake!"

"Got it. Talk to you later." I said, dismissing his warning completely before hanging up. Geez, did I ever sound that bitter and angry? I hope not.

I clicked over and said hello, hearing Chris' voice say, "Alright, so...I talked to my dad, and he wants your mom to come in to try out for the kitchen staff. I can't guarantee that she'll get the head chef position, but...if she works her ass off and anything happens to the initial staff, she could work her way up pretty fast. So...mission accomplished, I guess."

"Omigod, are you serious?" I asked, the biggest smile EVER on my face!

"Listen...she needs to be there at 4 PM this coming Tuesday." He said. "Tell her NOT to be late! In fact, don't even be on time. Be early! My dad is looking for chefs that are hungry, and he's a stickler for tardiness. If she's even two or three minutes late for her interview, he'll see that as a disrespect. She'll blow it before she even gets started."

"Got it! She'll be on time! I swear! Or...I mean...early. Whatever." I said.

"Also, if my dad asks...she worked in a restaurant and lives way out in Libertyville. NOT where you guys live now."

"Libertyville? Is that a real place? I don't even know what that is."

"I don't think my dad does either. That's why I picked it." He said. "But if you want your mom to sound like she comes from a decent neighborhood, background, and is worthy of the job...you might want to hold back on a few details until after she brings her skills to the table. You know what I mean?"

I'm not exactly sure why I should feel any shame about where I live...but if it'll help her to get a fair shot at the job, I don't have a problem with it. "Fine. Libertyville. Got it." I said, and then sighed, "Thank you, Chris. Honestly...you have no idea how much I appreciate this."

He took a moment to smile. I could tell. And then he said, "Anything for my favorite Slug." But after a brief pause, he said, "Besides...I probably owed it to you. This and a whole lot more...you know...after all the bullshit I put you through. And I know that you and Tanner are happy, I just...I don't think I'll ever stop wishing it was me. You know?"

Trying to walk the line between making things better and making things worse, I simply said, "That means a lot. Thanks. And don't worry...you turned out to be a pretty sweet guy...when you weren't being a jerk. Hehehe!"

"Well, you're the one that brings it out of me. So that's you're fault, not mine." He grinned. "But, all that aside...you've got to admit...I'm a pretty good kisser, aren't I?"

Without hesitation, I said, "Yes."

"A-ha! Wait! WHAT?!?!?!"

"G'night, Chris. Thanks a ton." I snickered.

"Wait, wait...what did you just say…???"

"Later!" Hehehe, I had to hurry up and hang up before I let him pull me in any further. Don't worry, my heart will always belong to Tanner, through and through...

...But Chris just has a way of making you feel warm and fuzzy inside sometimes. Just being honest.

I suddenly felt my phone buzz, and I got a text from Chris, saying, "You SUCK! But I love it! G'night, cutie pie. :)"

Alright...so now comes the hard part.

I made my way back to the kitchen to see my mom still slaving away over dinner. I swear, I've seen people juggling torches and chainsaws with less concentration. She was really maneuvering around five or six different tasks at once. She really is amazing, you know that?

"Hey, Mom?"

"Hold that thought..." She said, holding up a finger as she went back to check something on her handwritten recipe. "I feel like I'm forgetting something. The sauce needs a little something extra. It lacks that ‘kick', you know?"

"I'm sure it'll taste just fine." I said.

"Your mom doesn't do ‘just fine'. We do it right, or we don't do it at all." She opens up a cabinet and starts spinning around a spice rack, looking for something to add into the mixture.

"Say, Mom?" I asked, softly.

"Derrick, honey? Can you grab the laundry out of the washer and put it into the dryer for me? It stopped spinning at least fifteen minutes ago. I don't want everything to get wrinkled up too badly. I won't have the time to iron it all out until the weekend."

"I'll get it, just..."

"Don't forget the fabric softener this time. Ok?" She said. "I'm going to need my apron ready for tomorrow morning. Oh! The potatoes! Let me turn these off. Go ahead and set the table after the laundry. This is just about ready…"

"Mom. Seriously...I want to talk to you for a minute."

"We can talk over dinner, sweetie. Just let me finish this up while you grab the laundry. Ok? Then, I'm all ears."

"FORGET the laundry, Mom!" I said a bit louder, and this got her attention. Her forehead wrinkled up a bit, and she immediately started turning knobs on the stove to shut everything down, and she picked up a dish towel to wipe her hands off while offering me a chair at the dinner table.

"What is it, Derrick? Is everything ok?"

"Everything is...it's fine. Just..." I hope she doesn't flip out on me, or get upset about me doing this behind her back, but...this is BIG, you know? And she's never going to believe that she can do it if I don't stand by her and encourage her all the way through it. She did it for me when I wanted to leave that exclusive private school and just go back home. She inspired me to tough it out, and made me believe that it was possible for me to succeed there. Now it's my time to do the same.

I look out for her. She looks out for me. Just like it has always been...since Dad died.

"Mom...you might want to sit down for this."