Sal was grounded until his birthday, which was in a few weeks. He had worried about getting kicked out, but Tyler and Brenda still wanted him. Though Michelle had quite a few words to say to him over the phone. But his fate had to have been better than Russell’s. Russell was probably dead.
But Russell’s parents must have let him live, for he sat in his usual spot in English class. Sal’s heart fluttered. “You’re alive!”
“Yeah, and I have something for you.” Russell held out Sal’s phone. “My mom found it in the car.”
Sal took the phone from Russell. He had suspected he left his phone there. Brenda had asked for him to hand it over, but he couldn’t find it.
“And it would be nice if you’d get with the program, and put a lock on your phone,” Russell said. “So nosy parents can’t snoop through it.”
Sal furrowed his brow as he flopped into his chair. “What?”
“My parents know about us.” Russell gave him a serious look. “They snooped through all our messages and put two-and-two together.”
“What!” Sal pounded his fist on the table. “That is a serious violation of privacy. They had no right-”
“I know,” Russell said. “That’s how they’re like. And if you were like me, you would have locked it to prevent such a thing from happening.”
Sal tapped his phone against the table. “But then I’d have to deal with passwords every time I want to check my phone. I don’t have time for that.”
“You have a fingerprint reader built in it, you know. Set that up and you’ll just have to tap it.”
Sal winced. “I have to give this thing enough personal information, without adding my fingerprints to it.”
Russell rubbed the sides of his nose, but said nothing more on the subject. “In other news, I’m banned from seeing you, and banned from driving. My parents now drive me everywhere.”
None of that surprised Sal. What did surprise him was the familiar sweatshirt Russell wore. “That’s my sweatshirt.”
“What? This?” Russell tugged at the collar, smirking.
“I was wondering what that cop did with it.”
“He must’ve put it in the car. My mom found it and gave it to me.” Russell grinned. “It’s mine now.”
Sal leaned forward, grabbing at the rolled up sleeve, but Russell pulled away. “Give it back!”
Russell grinned again. “No.”
“It’s 80 degrees out!” Sal made another grab for it, this time latching onto the hood, but Russell shoved him.
“Take it off-”
“Yeah Russell, take it all off for Sal,” Brad said, strutting past the two boys towards his desk.
Sal released his hold, blushing.
Russell flipped his hair over his shoulder. “I already did that last night. I don’t need to do it again.”
Brad groaned. Sal hid his burning face by taking his notebook out of his backpack.
Since the two boys had next to no time together, they ate lunch alone that day. On their way to their spot, Sal told Russell about the party and how they got arrested, since Russell couldn’t remember a thing.
“We should have gone to prom instead,” Russell said, taking a seat on the concrete steps.
“I’d rather have stayed home and played video games.” Sal sat next to him, and pulled out his usual peanut butter sandwich.
“Why do you always eat peanut butter sandwiches?” Russell asked, pulling out his jelly sandwich.
“Why do you always eat jelly sandwiches!” Sal snapped.
“Jesus Christ, calm down. It was only a question.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Why are you always like this?” Russell asked, voice raised. “One minute, everything is fine, and then someone makes an innocent comment and you explode.”
Sal stared at his sandwich, its peanut butter scent emitting waves of memories involving his mother. “My mom used to make them for me everyday.”
“Oh.” Russell dropped the subject at that.
“Why do you always eat jelly sandwiches?” Sal asked again, but kindly this time.
“No reason. I just really, really, really like jelly sandwiches.”
Struck with sudden inspiration, Sal pulled napkins out of his lunch bag and, after setting them on the ground, took Russell’s uneaten jelly sandwich from his hands, peeling the slices apart. Russell stared.
Sal held up the slices. “Jelly. Our passion. The mushy feelings we get when we’re around each other. The butterflies. The sweetness.”
He set the jelly slices down on the napkins, and grabbed his own, uneaten peanut butter sandwich, taking apart the bread slices.
He held them up. “Peanut butter. Our companionship. It is what keeps us together through thick and thin. It might be tough to swallow, but if it wasn’t so sticky, the jelly would slide all over the place. There would be no meaning.”
Sal placed his peanut butter slices on top of Russell’s jelly slices, forming two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “That’s love. It’s butterflies and rainbows, but it’s also staying by each other’s side.”
“Wow, that’s deep,” Russell said, taking a sandwich from him
“I know,” Sal said, proud of his profound symbolism. I could be a poet! He took a bite of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and swallowed. “Perfect. Like us.”
Russell shook his head. “We’re going back to eating with Terry and Stewart tomorrow.”
* * * * *
June 2nd. Sal’s 18th birthday had come. He actually forgot about it until Tyler wished him a happy birthday.
School was a typical day, although he walked into the cafeteria to find a chocolate cake on his table.”
“Happy birthday,” Terry said. “I baked a cake for your ace ass.”
“How’d you know it was my birthday?” Sal asked.
“Russell mentioned it.”
“Happy birthday,” Stewart said. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything. I just found out it’s your birthday.”
“It’s okay,” Sal said. “I didn’t get you anything for your birthday either.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Stewart shoved his school food aside, and attempted to cut himself a large slice with his plastic spork, only succeeding in making a mess all over the table. Chiding him, Terry grabbed a napkin and swept the crumbs into a pile.
“I got you a present,” Russell said. “Close your eyes, and hold out your palm.”
“Sounds familiar,” Sal said, and complied. Something small dropped into his hand, and he opened his eyes to find a small, wooden figurine of a snail in his hand. He smiled at it, though he couldn’t imagine why Russell would ever get him anything snail-related. “Why a snail?”
“Because snails reproduce asexually.” Russell failed to keep a straight face.
Sal punched his shoulder.
“You gave me a pan. It’s only fair.”
“You’re lucky this snail is cute.”
The snail ended up being his only present. Brenda told him they only had one thing for him, but he wouldn’t be getting it until a later date. She didn’t specify how much later, or even hint at what it was. But she and Tyler took him out to eat at a high-end Italian restaurant. He was allowed to bring Russell, but Sal told them he was still grounded for the party fiasco. Which was half-true. He left out the part where Russell was banned from seeing him again. He’d rather not get into that.
On the way back from the restaurant, Sal realized he could have invited Stewart. I’m a terrible friend, he thought as he sat on the family room couch, plate of cake in hand.
Brenda sat next to Sal. “What are you going to do once you graduate?”
“I’m thinking of moving to Oregon.” Sal took a large bite of cake, to stall time for the question he knew would come next.
“Why Oregon?” Tyler asked from his chair.
Sal chewed his bite slowly, wondering how to answer. When he couldn’t chew any longer, he swallowed it.
“Well?” Brenda asked.
Sal shrugged. “It’s cheaper there.”
“Still no to college?” Tyler asked. “There’s still time to apply to the local community college.”
“And you can keep living here if you want,” Brenda added. “As long as you’re going to school.”
“I appreciate it, but college isn’t for me.” Thankfully the conversation was left at that.
“What’s Russell doing?” Brenda asked.
Sal found himself wishing to go back to the previous conversation. How could he possibly answer that question, without his secret relationship being revealed? But there was no avoiding it. “I think he’s going to college.”
“You think? You don’t know what your best friend is doing?”
“I mean, he is,” Sal said to his plate. “He’ll be leaving at the end of the summer.”
“Where to?” Tyler asked.
Sal wanted to lie. He had to lie. So he blurted out the first state that came to mind.
Of course Oregon would be the first state to come out of his mouth. He mentally cursed himself. Maybe they wouldn’t make the connection. Hopefully...
“So you’re moving there with him?” Brenda asked.
“I don’t know,” Sal mumbled. “Maybe.” Warmth flooded him, and he had to fight the urge to abandon his food for his bedroom.
“You must like Russell a lot, to move all the way to another state with him,” Brenda said, her tone light and casual.
She knows. Sal struggled to keep his hand from shaking as he shoveled more cake into his mouth. But how? And should he deny it?
Her eyes were still locked on him. So were Tyler’s. Sal couldn’t hide the truth from them forever. They’d find out eventually. Brenda already seemed to have worked it out somehow.
Sal set his plate down on the coffee table with trembling hands. “I do. A lot.”
“As friends?” Tyler asked.
Sal found himself chewing on his thumbnail, and put his hand on his thigh. “Not exactly.”
“You’re dating him?” Tyler gawked at him. “No.”
There was no going back. Sal squeezed his eyes shut. “Yes.”
“I knew it!” Brenda pointed her finger at Tyler. “I told you!”
Sal flinched. He should’ve known Tyler wouldn’t have accepted him. And now that he was 18, where would he go?
“Now I’m out $40.” Tyler pulled his leather wallet out from his pocket, and took out two 20 dollar bills, handing it over to Brenda.
It took Sal several seconds to process what Tyler was really upset about. He blinked. “You- you placed a bet on me?”
“I knew there was something going on between you two. You were so obvious.” Brenda slid the bills in her pocket, smiling.
“Now I have no cash.” Tyler looked inside his empty wallet. “Wanna drive me to the bank? I think you’re ready to take that test.”
Sal didn’t know whether to be relieved at Tyler and Brenda’s acceptance, or offended that there was a bet placed on his relationship with Russell. What he did know, was that a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. No longer did he have to hide his feelings. The only problem now was, how would he and Russell maintain their relationship after graduating? Sneaking around Russell’s parents would be quite difficult.