East Side Academy

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Chapter 21 - You & Me

“As long as I got you and me / Moving through this world as a two man team / I’ll always have everything I need / You don’t even realize, what you mean / No one can fall for you quite like me / No one can get me so perfectly / You don’t even realize (Ooh) / You’re all that I need ’cause I want / You and me, you and me” – You & Me, James TW

Arya

And that was the beginning of the story of James and me. We did our best to spend as much time together as possible, which between school, soccer, and both of us having jobs, could be a struggle. But fortunately, soccer was at the same time for both of us, so we wouldn’t be able to see each other anyway. For schoolwork, neither of us minded staying up a little late to finish it at night if it means we get to spend more time together. If anything, it’s probably made us more efficient with our schoolwork because we could only give ourselves a certain amount of time to do it. As for work, I generally just work Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons, and maybe one day during the week. James is the one that’s working consistently three nights a week and Saturday and Sunday at the minimum. And then him taking care of his mom and sisters takes up a lot of his time too. I don’t know how he makes time for me, but he does, he always does. I always just want more of him. And those next three weeks after our first date were amazing. It felt like we had known each other forever. That we were best friends, finally falling in love.

We did everything together.

Car Rides:

“I think I know the perfect playlist for this ride.” I say in the passenger seat of James’ car, flipping through my iPhone to find the right tune, and then I click shuffle on one of my old workout playlists and immediately start singing along to the lyrics, “You are…my fire, the one…desire, believe…when I say, that I want it that way!”

“Oh Lord,” James says.

“I know you know the lyrics,” I say, “Everyone does.”

And then, while still driving, James starts singing along too, “Tell me why?”

“Ain’t nothing but a heartache.”

“Tell me why?”

“Ain’t nothing but a mistake.”

“Now number five.” James sings in perfect imitation of Jake Peralta, and I just scream of happiness at the Brooklyn Nine-Nine reference, missing my cue of the song.

“You missed your cue, Arya!” James mockingly yells at me.

“I’m sorry!” I say with laughter, “I’ll restart the song!”

Movies:

“Why do you have such a large purse, Arya?” James asks me.

“For obvious reasons,” I say and then open my bag for him to look into before we head into the movie house.

“Popcorn, candy, chocolate, and…” James says as he looks through my purse, “Are those cookies as well?”

“Oatmeal chocolate chip!” I say, closing the bag on him.

“You’ve got a feast in there!” James says, “Never going to the movies without you again.”

Late Night Phone Calls:

“So, what are you working on?” I say into the phone, sitting at my desk, open textbook and notebook in front of me and a pen in hand. I look at my alarm clock and see that it’s 11:23 pm.

“Studying for a Biology test that I may or may not fail tomorrow,” James says.

“You’re too hard on yourself.” I say, “You always do great.”

“I could study all night and Lisa and your friend Diana would still leave me in the dust,” James says. I go silent at James naming Lisa in our conversation like it’s nothing at all. “Still there, Arya?” James asks.

“Does she still talk to you?” I ask.

“Who? Lisa?” James says and he takes my silence as confirmation, almost as if he can see my head nodding yes to his question. “A little, maybe? Honestly, if we do talk it doesn’t have much of an impact on me because I don’t remember anything she’s said.”

“Okay,” I say into the phone, thinking about Lisa talking to James, trying to get his attention. He doesn’t like her, he’s said he doesn’t like her, so why am I asking about her?

“It doesn’t sound like you’re okay,” James says to me.

“She likes you a lot, James,” I say, voicing the thoughts inside my head because I know James can always calm my worries. “And she hates me. If she could get rid of me, she would.”

“No one could get rid of you.” James says seriously, “For me, it’s only you Arya. I have no idea why you came to East Side nor do I care. I’m just glad you did. You are meant to be at this school, whatever brought you, it brought us together because we were meant to meet.” James sighs slightly, “So don’t let Lisa, or anyone else, make you think any differently.”

Meeting his Family:

“It’s so nice that you could join us for dinner, Arya.” James’ mother says to me as she finishes putting dinner on the table.

“Please,” I say, “Thank you so much for having me!”

“Well, I knew I had to meet the reason why my son was always out of the house and smiling at his phone constantly.” His mom says and I give him an elbow as he sits beside me, clearly embarrassed at the comment.

“Thanks, mom,” James says.

“So what are your favourite subjects at school, Arya?” his mom asks.

And at the end of the dinner, his younger sister, Rachel, asks me, “Arya, I have something upstairs I want to show you.”

“I’m sure Arya has to get home now,” James says to try and save me.

“No rush.” I say and look to Rachel, “Show me your room.”

“Can I come too?” Grace, James’ youngest sister, says like any younger sibling that doesn’t want to be left out would.

“Of course!” I say and I follow the two girls upstairs to their bedrooms.

James

“She’s special.” My mom says to me when they are all out of earshot.

“Yes, she is,” I say, starting to clear the table.

“I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time, James.” My mother says and I just look at her, while she starts washing dishes. I know what she is really saying. She’s saying, ‘I haven’t seen you this happy since your dad was alive.’

“I haven’t felt this happy in a while,” is all I say back.

Arya

“So is James your boyfriend?” Rachel asks me as she sits on her bed.

“Yes,” I say, sitting on the bean bag chair in her room. James asked me to be his girlfriend when I asked how he was going to introduce me to his mother.

“Have you guys kissed?” Grace says, also sitting on her sister’s bed.

“Of course they’ve kissed, Grace!” Rachel says to her younger sister, “They’re dating!” and I just laugh at them.

“Will you be coming over more often now?” Grace asks me sweetly as if she would like me to.

“I would like that,” I say honestly.

Him Meeting My Family:

“Nice that you could join us for dinner, James,” Dad says.

“Thank you for the invitation.” James says, “Everything looks delicious.”

“So, Arya tells me you’re a soccer player as well,” Dad says to James.

“Yes, Sir,” James says.

“What team do you cheer for?” Dad asks.

“Steve, do we really want to be talking about soccer now?” my mom says to Dad.

“Just a question, sweetheart,” Dad says.

“Manchester United,” James says in answer to my father’s question.

“Ahh…” Dad says, “You have better sense than my daughter.” And then my dad winks at me and I roll my eyes.

Hikes:

“Come on, slow legs!” James calls behind him to me.

“I’m literally sprinting!” I say to him as I reach him, wading through tree branches, walking on a mixture of tree roots, rocks, and dirt.

“We’re almost there,” James says as we walk through a set of trees, walking along a giant cliff face, to find a gorgeous view of a river and what seems like endless trees.

“It’s beautiful, James,” I say, looking at the incredible view.

“I knew you would like it,” James says and then he takes a seat on the edge of the cliff. I come up and sit next to him and enjoy the view. “My dad used to take me up here a lot.”

“And have you been up here much since?” I ask. I want James to feel comfortable talking about anything with me. Including his dad, which I know is hard for him.

“Only a couple of times,” James says. “It’s always a mix of different emotions coming up here. I never know what I’m going to get.”

“How about now?” I ask, turning to look at him.

He looks over at me and just smiles. “Right now, I’m happy because I somehow convinced the most beautiful girl at East Side to be my girlfriend.”

“Smooth,” I laugh. “But your dad, James. How do you feel about that?”

He looks out on the water. “I miss him all the time, Arya,” James says. “Time doesn’t heal all wounds. For so long that night repeated over and over in my head. Nothing mattered unless it was important to my dad. That’s why my family, school, and soccer became the most important things in my life and took up all my time. Those were the things that were the most important to my dad.”

“And now?”

James looks at me. “He’d call me an idiot if I didn’t make you mine. And then he’d kill me if I neglected you.”

I smile. “Seems like a smart man.”

“You guys would’ve gotten along,” James says. “Even if you are a Chelsea fan.”

I slap James playfully on the arm. “I get enough grief from my father. I don’t need it from you as well.” I look at James. “Your father wouldn’t want you to neglect your friends either, James.”

“I know,” James says. “I’m lucky they have stuck by me all this time. I’m trying to make up for the past two years.”

“They don’t want that, James,” I say. “They just want you. They just want you back.”

Of Course, Arguments:

“You work too hard, James,” I say, “can’t you see it? You’re working yourself to the ground for your uncle.”

“I know what I am doing, Arya.” James says, “I can manage. I have to. I don’t have the luxury of someone else paying for me to go to university. I have to earn it myself. And I have to take care of my family too.”

“What are you trying to say?” I ask.

“That we are different.” James says, “I love spending time with you more than anything, but I can’t make you a top priority. I can’t afford to do that. Maybe one of your past rich boyfriends could have, but I can’t.”

“First of all,” I say, “I don’t have any past boyfriends. You are the first. And second of all, I don’t care about myself. I care about you, I care about how much work you do and how much pressure you put on yourself, it’s not healthy. Especially not at this age.”

“I’ve been able to take care of myself just fine all these years,” James says, “I don’t need you to tell me I ‘work too hard’.”

“But it’s true, James!” I say, “You work too hard for your uncle. I have never even met him, and I can already see that. Why can’t anyone else?”

“Just stick to your stupid cashier job at Metro, Arya!” James yells at me.

“Excuse me?” I turn on him.

“Let me take care of working for my uncle. You are not in this world so you can never understand what it’s like.” James says.

“Then help me understand, James.” I say, “I just want to be there for you. You are what I care about. Let me help.”

“Then please just stay out of the way, Arya.” James says, “My uncle is a hard person to work under, but I can handle it.” He comes up close to me and puts a hand to my neck. “I promise to come to you when the burden gets too heavy, but for now I’m fine.”

No, you’re not, I think to myself. You are not fine, James, and I know you would rather die underneath that burden before asking anyone for help. But I will oblige your request. I will stay out of the way and I will be your safe haven to come to whenever you need.

“I am sorry for yelling at you and for what I said.” James says, “I did not mean it.”

“I understand that our lives and our families are different, James.” I say, “Just please don’t shut me out because of it.”

“I’m not shutting you out, Arya.” James says, “My uncle, his company, all of it is things you don’t have to worry about. Leave it for me to take care of.” And then he kisses me softly on the lips, but I know my boyfriend carries a weight too heavy for him and that he might never come to me for help.

Target Practice:

“This is my uncle’s favourite rifle to use,” James says in the tiny shed that can’t fit more than four people inside with all the extra stuff in it. A shed near the back of James’ uncles’ farm. There’s a table at the open window where James will shoot from. He shows me the weapon and I just nod as he smiles. Then he sits down in front of the table, lying the weapon flat on it, and puts his earmuff hearing protection and I do the same, standing as far away as I can from him in this little shed. I watch him load and cock the rifle with the confidence of someone that has done it many times and then he aligns himself. He takes his time, slowing his breath and I just watch him. I hear a click and then he shoots. It’s loud, even with the earmuffs on, and then he fires again and again and again. Five shots. The max that is allowed in a magazine he told me. I hear the click again and he lays the weapon flat on the table, facing the window. “Let’s check it out,” he says, getting up and heading out the shed. I follow him and we take our earmuffs off to walk out to the field to the target he set up. “See these five shots?” he points them out to me. All five of them are close together, but they are in the upper right-hand quadrant of the grid, not on the target. “It’s a grouping. It’s more important to have a small grouping than it is to be right on target. You can adjust the sighting to fit the person shooting.”

“Cool,” I say looking at it, having no knowledge of weapons at all. James was showing me the different types of weapons that his uncle has here. How to hold it, how to put the different weapons on safe, how to load and cock it. Explaining the different terminology to me. I was confused when he said magazine before realizing that’s where the rounds are loaded. I watched, nodding along, knowing that this is something he is very passionate about.

We head back into the shed. James grabs another magazine that is loaded and puts it on the table. “Your turn,” he says.

“What?” I look at him with big eyes. “No way. I’m good to watch.”

“Come on, Arya,” James says, “it’s fun.”

“I’m good,” I say. I don’t want to touch it.

“Arya,” James says, “I know you are just afraid of handling a weapon, but you shouldn’t be. This is the problem with the stigma around weapons. If you know how to operate them, then there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I’m not afraid,” I say, even though I am. “I just don’t see the point.”

“Not saying it will happen,” James says, “but if you are ever in the situation where you need to use a weapon, you’ll be much more confident if you know how it works.”

“You think the world would be better off if people knew how to operate weapons?” I ask.

“Yes,” James says flatly, “once you learn how to work a weapon, you realize it’s a useful tool. A way to hunt, a means of protection. You learn that a weapon is only dangerous if you make it dangerous. And that teaching people how to safely use a weapon is better than leaving people fearful of weapons. It’s the people that don’t know anything about weapons that want them banned.”

“They kill people, James,” I say, “the gun violence in America? People take a gun to a school and can shoot up the whole place in minutes.”

“Those people,” James says, “have a problem. And the weapons they use aren’t legal anyway. Everyone shouldn’t have to suffer because of some mentally deranged person. The mentally deranged need help, that’s where the system is failing.”

“James…”

“This is a five-round magazine, Arya,” he holds it up to me, “five shots. You don’t shoot up a whole school with a five-round magazine. What they are doing is illegal. Banning guns won’t help. They’ll find another way. The dangerous people will always find a way to get their hands on a weapon. Or they’ll use something else. I mean, for Pete’s sake, now vehicles are being used to kill people.”

“I think you’ve made your point now, James,” I say.

“I just know that people would see weapons differently if they knew how to operate them. They wouldn’t be something scary anymore,” James says. “There will always be a black market, Arya. A gun ban will only hurt the people that already follow the rules. It won’t stop the ones that don’t.”

“Then please teach me your ways, oh Sensei,” I say to him and he laughs.

And he does. He teaches me everything, even how to hold the weapon properly. He steps away from me to let me take my first shot. It’s loud and I can feel the recoil and it’s more than what I expect. I readjust myself, which James said not to do because it will ruin the grouping, but I do and realign myself. I shoot the rest of the magazine, this time expecting the recoil, and fire them off one after the other, never moving, just firing.

“How was that?” James says, coming up to me.

It felt great. It felt amazing, and nothing went wrong. It feels empowering. And now, I just want to do it again. Damn him for being right. “Amazing,” I say, still in the same position.

“Put in on safe, lay it on the table and let’s see how you did,” James says. Oh, lord. I didn’t even think of that. What if I’m terrible? I do what he says, taking my earmuffs off and follow him back out to the target. “Not bad,” James says, and he points out my shots that are in the bottom right quadrant, somewhat close together, but nowhere near his grouping accuracy.

I bend down to look at it more closely. “I only see four,” I say. “Where’s the fifth?”

James looks over the target board. “Here,” he points in the center above the target. “That was probably your first shot when you readjusted yourself.”

“I didn’t expect that recoil,” I say, rubbing my shoulder.

“I warned you,” James says. “So what now?”

“Can I do it again?” I smile.

“Of course,” James says, happy that I enjoyed it and not making fun of me for initially being scared and for him being right.

“When’s your uncle coming back?” I ask as we walk back to the shed.

“Late,” James says. “We’ll be gone before he and my aunt get back.” Because that’s how James planned it.

“When do I get to meet him?” I ask.

“I thought you didn’t like him?” James asks.

“I never said that,” I say, “just that he works you too hard.”

“Maybe another time,” James says, but I know he doesn’t mean that.

Cliff Jumping:

“The water’s not that cold Arya!” James calls to me from the bottom of the cliff. I have no fear of jumping off the cliff, James is just the one that jumped off immediately when we got to the top.

Hot and sweating, I run to the edge of the cliff, jump into the air, and land in the cold, cold water, sinking very deep, but never touching the bottom. And just when I feel like I can’t hold my breath any longer, I immediately swim up as fast as I can to the top, taking a big gulp of air when I break the surface. James is there, waiting for me, and then we swim closer to the shore so that we can stand in the water.

“How was that?” James asks me.

“Amazing,” I say, and then I see James look to the shore to see if there is anyone around and upon finding the place empty, he comes up to me, putting a hand to my neck, and pulls me in for a kiss. The kiss is soft and sweet, and when I put my hands on his naked chest, he pulls away.

“Can you promise me something, Arya?” James asks me as he pulls a piece of wet hair behind my ear.

“What is it? I ask.

“That you’ll always stay this way?” James asks.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say.

“Happy, kind, adventurous.” James says, “Mine?”

I look up at him and come close to him as if I’m about to kiss him, but right before I do, I say, “Always, James.” And then we sink into that deep kiss again that I can never get enough of. I wrap my right arm around his neck, while my left hand feels his strong arms and chest. He grabs hold of my legs and wraps them around his waist. Being so close to him with little clothing on, being able to feel each other’s skin on skin? It’s incredible, and all I want is for us to always stay this way.

But like I said before, all good things come to an end.

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