“I hate places like this,” Jonah whispered to me.
We had just pulled up to the posh restaurant that Pristine was throwing Jonah’s welcome back dinner. The place was on a rooftop of an expensive hotel downtown. Everyone else was pretty much there already. I had volunteered to pull up with the guest of honor a little bit late. This was all about Jonah. He knew it and I knew it.
“Mr. Hill?” the concierge said, “The party is on the very top floor. It is a rooftop dinner. It’s very exclusive sir. Right this way.”
The elevator played slow music as Jonah and I made my way up.
“Let me fix your tie,” I stated, “You look like a Hill today. You look like you are worth a million dollars.”
He naturally had that Hill look that even after years of living in their shadow I could not come close to. It was this natural ease to be beautiful and look extraordinarily rich. He was so handsome in his tuxedo. He looked so uncomfortable though. This was the fifth time I had fixed his tie. He always undid it just a few minutes later.
“Don’t you feel suffocated by it?” he asked me looking into my eyes as we stood only inches away from one another.
His breath smelled like sweet cinnamon and it smelled natural. It didn’t smell like the synthetic fragrances. Everything about Jonah smelled like nature in the purest way.
“This life,” he stated shaking his head, “It’s suffocating. These people parade their sins in front of everyone. Everything has to be golden. Look the knobs. Look at the buttons. There are children in Africa starving and the Hills live in grandness.”
There Jonah was thinking again. He was frantically looking at the elevator. The elevator was a pretty fancy elevator. He seemed to be very nervous around really nice things. I could tell that he didn’t really like it. I could tell that he probably would have wanted to be anywhere else but here.
“Some people would kill for these things.”
“They’d be wrong. If everything golden goes…that’s how I choose to live,” he said shaking his head, “I want to get out of all their boxes. Do you know that when I was a child I used to reach out for Pristine wanting to hold her and she didn’t want to mess up her dress?”
I shook my head. I believed it fully. I didn’t believe anything had changed with Pristine either. Even now I had not seen her even hug her son. She hadn’t even embraced him. A part of me knew she cared but still…the basic things were lost to her.
Jonah was right. Everything was golden.
“It’ll get easier. You’ll get used to it,” I stated, “I’ve suffered through this just like you have.”
“That’s the thing. I don’t want to put up with it,” Jonah stated.
He looked so uncomfortable. The look on his face was saying it all. He didn’t want to be here. A part of me felt like he would make a run for it at any point.
“How about we make up a plan?” I state, “Whenever you are looking for the door you turn to look at me instead. And I’ll transfer over whatever strength I have.”
He smiled, “Transfer over huh?”
“Yep…with my kinetic powers. I’ll give you strength to get through tonight. Don’t sleep on me. I have magic powers. So how about that? Do we have a deal.”
He had stopped looking all around in the elevator and finally set his eyes on me.
“Lauren darling did you spill something on that new dress I just bought you?” Pristine asked shaking her head, “That is Valentino. We just started eating. Do you not have any table manners whatsoever.”
Pristine had already started digging in as soon as we sat down.
Mr. Hill sighed heavily and across from him Lauren rolled her eyes. Then there was Jackie and of course Aaryn. Adrian had been invited and had arrived even after Jonah and I.
“Well how about I excuse myself,” Lauren said.
“That sounds like a good idea,” Pristine stated.
Lauren said a few words under her breath and got up from the table. I could see by the look in her eyes that she was probably relieved that she was being excused from the dinner already. I could also see Jonah’s eyes. He hadn’t touched his food at all. He was just staring at Pristine and Lauren’s exchange with a lot of judgment in his eyes. I sat next to him and I had slowly been eating trying to keep it slow as well so that Jonah didn’t stick out too much.
“That girl is going to be death of me.”
“Oops!” Jonah said spilling something, “Look at that. It must be the hereditary…”
I could see the slight shade with Jonah spilling his drink on his tux at the point but I didn’t think Pristine even noticed.
“Oh darling it’s ok you are the guest of honor. Preston, Preston take off your jacket and give it to my son. He’s spilled something on his.”
Jonah looked heavily annoyed by this even more as the butler Preston took off his jacket and handed it to Jonah. Jonah didn’t wear his jacket though. He hung it on the back of his chair.
“I’m kind of hot.”
The tension was so clear but it seemed clear to everyone but Pristine. I assumed that Pristine’s group of friends were used to a lot more blatant passive aggression and the kind coming from Jonah wasn’t really leaving any dents in her world.
“So Jonah,” Mr. Hill said changing the subject, “How does it feel to be back?”
“Great,” Jonah stated, “Was hoping to see some of Lauren but I think I’m satisfied with spending a lot of time with this young gentleman here.”
“Who? Quashie?” Aaryn asked.
“Yeah of course,” Jonah stated, “Quashie’s been…amazing.”
I was surprised by how he said it too as his stare kind of lingered on. At that moment I realized what had been happening all night. Everyone’s eyes were on Jonah studying him and Jonah’s eyes were on me. Jonah barely looked at any other person at the fancy rooftop table for more then a second or two.
Adrian was the one who shook his head, “Quashie, looks like you got a fan.”
Adrian. Nothing had been settled since earlier today. I knew there was a lot of tension still going on. He had given me an ultimatum and I still hadn’t answered him.
“Quashie always reminded me of Jonah,” Jackie stated, “Free spirits…”
“What does that even mean?” Pristine stated laughing playing with the pearl necklace around her neck really quite amused by it.
Jackie shrugged, “You know…artsy…Aaryn what’s the word?”
“Flamboyant,” Aaryn stated.
She was looking at me as she said it. I was far from flamboyant. Ozzie may have had a few moments here and there but I was very masculine and so was Jonah. It was clear she was just reaching for under the radar jabs at this point.
Mr. Hill brought the topic back to Jonah, “How do you like the food Jonah?”
Jonah was still looking at me, “What do you think Quashie?”
“My father’s question.”
It was strange how Jonah was talking. Even though he was getting all this attention it seemed almost more then clear that his interest was in having a conversation with me. His eyes were still on me. In the corner of my eyes I could the moon reflecting off his decadent eyes.
“It’s pretty good…” I said laughing.
“Well if Quashie likes it then I like it,” Jonah stated shrugging, “Before I did kind of think it tasted like a richman’s version of cardboard. Quashie I didn’t know if I could stare at you any harder.”
I had told him to stare at me when he wanted to leave. I guess I wasn’t doing a good job transferring my strength.
I had just so happened to be drinking at that point and ended up spitting the drink out in a almost immediate sense of wanting to leave. Luckily for me I wasn’t left hanging because Jonah joined into the laugh. However that was when it became awkward when it was just Jonah and I at this table laughing while everyone else seemed quite serious.
“I don’t get what’s so funny?” Adrian stated.
Aaryn piggybacked on Adrian almost immediately, “Me either.”
There was this awkwardness as Jonah continued to look at me with his beautiful eyes but the awkwardness was with everyone else. With Jonah and I there was such a comfort.
Jonah whispered over to me, “This dinner is awkward.”
“I had a feeling it would be.”
“I am so not eating this stuff. I don’t eat meat. How many animals died to so that Pristine Hill could brag?”
At that moment Pristine’s eyes darted across the table. Jonah had been whispering but the table was so quiet that it was clear that we were whispering back and forth with one another.
“What are you two talking about?” Pristine asked, “Maybe you should share it with everyone. This is civilization now isn’t it?”
The way she said it was cold. It was clear she was taking a dig at Jonah having not been around people for so long.
“I was just complimenting Quashie on how handsome he looked tonight,” Jonah lied.
He smiled across the table. I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to make them feel more or less comfortable. I could almost laugh again at the strange stares going back and forth. EVERYONE was uncomfortable. Jackie looked like he wanted to get out of there asap. Aaryn was fumbling in her chair. Mr. Hill’s eyes were unnaturally glued onto his meal. Pristine was giving me and Jonah death stares from across the table.
“Well I wouldn’t want Quashie stealing all your attention,” she stated, “We brought you here for the whole family.”
“I’m sorry…Quashie was the only one who seems—well nevermind,” Jonah stopped mid-sentence, “What would you like to talk about Mrs. Hill?”
Mrs. Hill. The formality of the way he said it didn’t seem to be missed by me or anyone else for that matter. I could see Adrian raise his eyebrows. Hell…I thought Lauren got under Pristine’s skin but Jonah was making Lauren look like a saint right now.
“I did want to share with everyone that the psychiatrist has stated that even though Jonah was secluded for so many years he has excelled academically,” Pristine changed the subject, “His IQ is well above most students in the state. With the new school year opening I’m thinking I can pull my associates at Harvard. I know a few people in admissions. What would you want to study…Jonah? Law…medicine…”
Pristine looked over at her husband and he just looked down at the plate as though wanting to stay out of this. Her face was PRICELESS. I had never seen her look so completely shocked.
“It is the systematic and rational study of concepts of god and their influences and of the nature of religious truths.”
Pristine stuttered, “I know what theology is! Why the hell would one be so academically advanced and want to study fairy tales.”
Her husband just remained quiet.
“Fairy tales?” Jonah asked, “Faith is far from fairy tales.”
Jonah looked offended. I had to admit what she was saying was extremely offensive. I knew Pristine was no where near religious. None of the Hills were religious from what I knew of them. The idea of her completely trashing Jonah because of his beliefs though seemed to almost stab me in my side. When I saw Jonah’s face I just wanted to defend him.
“It might as well be. Where is the money in that? What am I going to tell the women at the country club? My son plans on being a bible thumper?”
“Pristine,” I stated almost out of order, “That isn’t fair. Whatever knowledge and talents Jonah has is completely his own doing. He was self-educated. We should be happy he’s back not trying to control his life and knock his beliefs.”
“Excuse me?” Pristine stated.
I didn’t repeat myself. It was clear that I was overstepping my boundaries with the family.
It was Preston who broke up the awkward silence that followed.
“We are serving desert in the atrium at this time.”
Everyone seemed more then happy to get up off of the table. Jackie and Adrian immediately started a random conversation with Aaryn. The others followed close behind making sure to get out of the way.
I was surprised when Jonah came up behind me and pulled my seat from under the table in the most gentleman-like way I had ever encountered. I smiled as he did it. He smiled back.
“Why don’t you go ahead Jonah…I’d like a moment alone with Quashie,” Pristine stated.
Everyone had gone from the table at this point. Jonah hesitated though. Hell he looked like he was damn near refusing. He didn’t move an inch when she said it. He didn’t even acknowledge her.
“Quashie…” he stated putting his hand out as though to usher me away personally.
“It’s fine. I’ll stay and talk,” I told him.
He looked at me hard and then looked across the table at Pristine who looked like she was growing more and more impatient the longer he defied her.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I nodded, “I am.”
He didn’t say anything. I could tell he didn’t want me staying there. He seemed a little annoyed that I had even given into her. He walked away to the atrium to meet with everyone else who was having dessert.
Pristine picked up a glass of wine.
We were alone now at the table. The only ones around were her servants who had all gathered around quickly and were clearing the table.
“What do you think you are doing?” she said to me in the most rude and obnoxious tone I could imagine.
“This…thing you have with my son. What do you think that is?” she asked.
“We’re friends,” I stated crossing my arms, “We got close since he came back. We are a lot alike. I’m sorry about speaking up at dinner but I had to express myself to you. I want us to think clearly about this—”
“No I want YOU to think clearly about this,” Pristine stated, “I saved you…you little orphan Annie. Don’t you forget that. The next time you want cut me off and talk down to me, you’ll be on the streets. Do you get that? I don’t care how close your parents were to this family. You are NOT a Hill. Do you understand that?”
Thank God I wasn’t a Hill.
The way she was talking to me made me shake all over. She was talking down to me. It was almost like I was nothing to her.
“I just want you to listen to your children,” I stated still trying to save this discussion even a little bit, “Listen to Jonah. He ran away for a reason.”
Did she even care?
“Don’t worry about Jonah,” she stated, “I have the TOP paid psychiatrists looking into him. Now Aaryn seems to think you have some unnatural perversions about you…”
Aaryn had told Pristine that she thought I was gay. I couldn’t believe Aaryn. She had played her role as the family pet so flawlessly all the years.
“Yes. Whatever you do in your personal life is your business but if it effects this family…if it comes to light we’ll have an issue. We will have an even bigger issue if you target those perversions to my son. Jonah is back but he’s mine. Not yours. And if for ANY moment in your mind you do have any sort of relations with my son I am not just going to kick you out on the streets. I am going to make sure you rot on those streets for the rest of your miserable life. Now—Quashie, how would you like some baguettes?”
I stared at the city on the rooftop for most the rest of the night. Everyone was already leaving the little dinner party already and hell that was completely fine. I couldn’t believe Pristine was down to threatening me now. The city was beautiful at night. The lights of the downtown area were bright and in the backdrop the moon lit up the mountains.
“I want to climb up there with you one day,” I heard his voice say.
I could recognize the voice almost immediately as someone walked over to me. I realized it was Jonah as he crossed around the corner. He put his arm over my shoulder and stared up at the mountains in the backdrop of the city with me. They seemed endless. I wondered where they led. They went up to the clouds and seemed to disappear.
I looked behind me making sure that Pristine wasn’t around. Jonah and I did have a chemistry. It was hard to deny. He didn’t seem to ignore the fact that he was more interested in talking to me then any of his family members.
“Maybe…” I stated.
“You ok?” he asked, “Why are you looking around?”
“Because I don’t think your mother would be ok with us climbing mountains together,” I admitted pulling his arm off my shoulder.
“She said something to you,” he said looking around.
“Don’t…it’ll just make it worse.”
“She can’t keep getting away with this,” he said, “I’ve been independent for 7 years. I make my own decisions.”
“I’ve never really seen her threaten someone like she just did me,” I stated, “She does the passive-aggressive thing. Threatening has never really been her style.”
“If she is threatening you then honestly I think she is threatened by you.”
“Threatened by me?”
He laughed a little bit, “Yes. Do you believe in God?”
“I used to go to church and be so religious when my parents were alive,” I stated and shook my head almost saddened, “Ever since I moved in with the Hills though it seems like I was completely stripped up my beliefs. Pristine just says its fairy tales. She doesn’t want any of it in her household.”
“But what do you believe…still…deep down.”
He put his hand on my chest.
It was an open palm and he placed it on my heart.
“I do…I believe.”
“Good. Can I tell you a secret?”
“God sent me back here. He spoke to me when I was high in the mountains. It was so quiet up there that you can hear God. You can actually hear him. He told me to come back and I’d be guided to make a big difference. I’d be guided by an angel. When I look at you, I see that angel from the party. Maybe Pristine sees it too. That’s why she’s so threatened…”
It was Jonah’s first day at school. I wasn’t surprised when Jackie took him around everywhere. For the most part it was clear that Jackie wanted his brother around. I wasn’t surprised at the huge crowd that Jonah attracted as well. He may have not been socially aware like his brother but he was definitely handsome. I could already see the girls hoarding him. At the lunch table he was sitting with the popular kids and I was sitting…well I was sitting with Ozzie.
“We should go over there,” Ozzie immediately stated, “You are letting Jackie hog Jonah. Everyone is talking about him.
I looked over at the table. Jonah looked a little taken back by it all.
“I prefer not to be at that table.”
“You and Jackie are cool now I thought.”
“But I still hate Aaryn…”
I looked at Aaryn. She had also been in on the conversation with Jonah. They were all definitely kissing ass at that table. It kind of annoyed me. Even Jackie annoyed me. Jonah wasn’t used to being around a ton of people like that.
Didn’t he think Jonah would be uncomfortable at that table?
“He’s coming over here…” Ozzie stated.
“Jonah is coming over here. Be sharp.”
It was just like Jonah to leave a swarm of people to talk to me. I looked over and saw him walking towards me. Jackie and the others looked a little puzzled by it. I could tell Jackie wasn’t all that happy. I could only imagine Jonah didn’t even excuse himself. He just walked away. Did he have any idea that he was coming to the loser table.
“Jonah,” I said acting surprised, “I didn’t even notice you…”
“Oh please, we’ve been talking about you this whole time,” Ozzie stated.
I shot Ozzie a death glare as Jonah smiled at what Ozzie had stated. Ozzie was such a sellout. He was giving Jonah that look that he gave Jackie. I gave him a swift kick under the table and Ozzie let out a shriek.
“Are you ok?” Jonah asked.
Ozzie laughed, “I’m fine.”
“Oh god they are all coming over,” Ozzie stated.
I looked to my right to see Jackie leading the charge and migration of everyone to our table. The only person who remained at the other table was Aaryn and she looked HIGHLY annoyed. She was just staring at my table with this sense of betrayal. It was as though I had intentionally called her whole crew over to my table.
“You mind if join you guys?” Jackie asked.
Ozzie jumped at the opportunity, “Sure Jackie, there’s a seat right here next to me.”
Jackie smiled and sat. His entourage all took seats around us. Most of these guys were the IT kids of the school. Others were followers who made sure to follow Jackie’s crew. Then there was Adrian. He sat on the other side of me. He had this quiet demeanor and didn’t say anything.
“Are you guys new too?” one of Jackie’s friends asked. His name was Boris Blue but everyone called him Blue. He was Adrian’s other best friend and definitely popular in school.
“They’ve been here the entire time idiot,” Jackie stated.
“Oh…who knew?” Boris stated.
I saw Ozzie’s face get red as hell.
“It’s crazy how that works,” Adrian stated with a slight shade in his tone, “No one knows who you are the new boy comes around and all of a sudden you are someone.”
Was he coming at me? I could tell in his tone that he was pissed.
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you are alone,” Jonah stated, “I like loners. A casket doesn’t come with bunkbeds you know?”
One of Jackie’s other friends looked lost as hell, “Huh?’
Jackie pushed him, “You are embarrassing me idiot. Jonah just means you are going to die alone so it’s ok to live alone…right?”
Jackie didn’t seem too sure himself. These people were idiots.
“Exactly,” Jonah laughed, “I like loners.”
Rebecca jumped into the convo, “Like Lauren right?”
Jackie rolled his eyes, “No not like Lauren. Loners like Quashie. Lauren is a fucking loser.”
I couldn’t believe he was talking about his own sister like that in public. It was getting clear by Jonah’s facial expression that he had come to my table to avoid these people but they somehow managed to follow him.
Rebecca nodded, “Damn Jonah you are so smart…you are like…Gotti… or something.”
“Gandhi?” Jonah asked.
“Yeah that guy…except a lot sexier.”
“I’m far from Gandhi,” Jonah stated shaking his head, “I am very spiritual though. And I honestly believe we should start realizing that everyone has a soul. Some people’s souls have been battered like Lauren. We should definitely be more sensitive to that. I prefer getting to know lonely souls.”
They all looked confused as fuck. They were all looking at Jackie as thought seeing what he was about to say.
“Lonely souls…” Jackie stated nodding, “I like that…I like that…”
They all started nodding at that point. Across the room I could see Lauren sitting at the table by herself. A part of me wanted to call her over especially in a time like this. Maybe she would feel included. Every part of me was about to do it when Adrian quickly opened his mouth and ruined my plan.
Adrian looked over at Jonah, “Is that why you are so obsessed with Quashie, Jonah? You feel bad for his lonely soul or some shit?”
He had said it in the most demeaning way possible. Adrian was spiteful. It was clear now as he was sitting there. He was definitely PISSED at what I said.
“Adrian he’s not obsessed,” I stated.
“Maybe I am,” Jonah stated, “It’s not the fact that you have a lonely soul though Quashie. It’s the fact that you have a beautiful soul. I don’t understand how everyone else can’t see that.”
There was laughter around the table. Ozzie and me were exchanging looks.
I couldn’t BELIEVE Jonah had just said that in front of everyone as well. He didn’t give a damn. Adrian looked defeated at that point as well too. I guess his little jab didn’t work because Jonah was clearly agreeing.
“Stop fucking laughing losers,” Jackie ordered his army, “Jonah you should be careful of saying things like that. They can definitely come off as…as…”
“Gay,” Rebecca added in as Jackie struggled to finish it.
Jonah shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s how I feel about him. Those labels are ridiculous. Quashie is beautiful and I would love if he felt the same way about me that I feel about him…even though I don’t know if he does.”
Everyone’s mouths dropped open. Jonah was looking at me as though I was the only person in the room. It was almost like the whole entire room had completely disappeared.
Adrian was looking at Jackie. Jackie’s mouth had opened wide and he staring at Jonah. Ozzie was glaring at me with a half smile. Their tongues looked like they were about to fall out. Everyone was looking at each other. I was just looking around. I didn’t know what to feel.
What the FUCK was going on right now?
That was when I just had to utter words that I didn’t understand even come out, “Huh?”
Huh! That was all I could say. I hated myself at this moment.
“I’ve been wanting to do something for a minute. Do you mind?” Jonah asked.
I shook my head and muttered this sound. I had no idea what that sound was. I sounded like a FUCKING idiot. Thank god everyone else was in shock as well.
That was when Jonah did the unthinkable.
He kissed me.
His lips pressed against my open mouth. As soon as he touched me I relaxed and there was no one around either. I was kissing him open mouth, tongues…hands massaging the back of each other’s heads. He was grabbing onto my shirt pulling me close.
Jonah was fearless…real…beautiful.