East Side Academy

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Chapter 59 - How to Touch a Girl

“Do you know how to touch a girl? / If you want me so much / First I have to know / Are you thoughtful and kind? / Do you care what’s on my mind? / Or am I just for show? / You’ll go far in this world / If you know how to touch a girl” – How to Touch a Girl, JoJo

Arya

James is taking a while. I can hear him talking to his sister. I already took his notebooks out of his bag and left messages in the corners for him to read when he opens them. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. Or be annoyed by it, one of the two. I walk around the kitchen. I stumble across a picture in a frame and pick it up. It’s James with his whole family, including his father. It must have been taken not long before he passed away. James looks just like him. Same smile. Same eyes. A photo that was taken back when everything was perfect. When the family was whole. I put the picture down just before James comes back into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry about that. Now, where were we?” James says as he comes up to me. He immediately wraps his arms around me, pinning me against the counters. His hands just go under my shirt, so he is touching skin.

I put my hands on his shoulders. “I think you were about to give me one of those chocolate chip cookies behind you.”

“Oh, I was, was I?” James smiles. I nod and he brings his face close to me like he is about to kiss me. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

I bite his bottom lip and pull away slightly. “Everything I want is right in front of me.” And then he kisses me deeply, putting a hand to my neck and I move my hands to his chest. His hand moves up to my hair and I grab his shirt to pull him closer. But when he starts to weave his fingers in my hair, pulling it gently, I tense up and get scared. “Stop!” I pull back and push him away. My body did it before my brain could tell me not to.

“Arya?” James says surprised, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say. Just a flashback. A flashback of the last guy that intertwined his fingers in my hair. ‘You have five seconds before I smash your fuckin’ head against this wall.’ I don’t want to worry James. I don’t want him to think he has to be careful with me.

“Just tell me, Arya,” James says, and he grabs my hand. “I think we’ve established it’s better not to have secrets between us.”

I look him in the eyes, knowing that he just wants to understand. “James,” I start and think how I’m going to explain this to him. “That day, in the bathroom, when Eric was trying to…” I take a breath, “when he was trying to force me, he grabbed my hair at the back of my neck and was pulling it, so when you grabbed my hair…”

“Stop,” James says, “it’s okay, you don’t have to explain.”

“I don’t want you to think you have to second guess yourself around me. I don’t want to feel this way. I know you would never hurt me.”

“Arya,” James says, “you went through something traumatic. Of course you would have a trigger from that day.”

“But I don’t want to!” I say to him, “You aren’t him so why should I feel this way when you touch me!”

“Arya,” James says, “it’s okay. It’s okay to feel this way. It’s not about me. It’s about something that happened to you, very recently too. I just won’t grab your hair at the back of your neck anymore.” He makes it sound so easy.

He’s trying to make me feel better, but I’m still upset. I’m upset that a boy has done this to me. That he has this effect on me.

James grabs the ends of my hair. “I still like playing with your hair,” James says.

“I’m sorry, James,” I say. “I didn’t want to bring up that day ever again.”

“It’s okay,” James says. “Just know that you are not the only one to feel this way and that just because you feel this way now, it doesn’t mean you will feel this way forever.”

I grab onto his shirt and I can feel tears coming into my eyes, but I don’t want to shed them. He wraps his arms around me, holding me close to him. I start to cry into his chest. It’s not fair. I can’t believe that I pushed the guy I love away from me. He did nothing wrong.

He kisses the top of my head. “I still love you, Arya,” James says. “No matter what is happening, you can always come to me, whatever the problem is, we can work it out. Even when it seems like too much. Someone hurt you and I will spend the rest of my life making sure you never get hurt again. No one deserves that.”

“I love you,” I say into his chest, feeling the tears on my cheeks that are now on his shirt.

“I love you too,” James says, and he just holds me.

James

I had to hold back the anger I felt. I had to hold back my true emotions so that I could be there for her when she needed me the most. When she needed reassurance. It kills me that some low life has made her feel this way. That I put a loving hand on her, and she recoiled in fear. She pushed me away.

Beating him up won’t make a difference. I just have to be there for her and make her feel loved and safe. I can’t change everyone, this will keep happening, unfortunately, but I can try. As a guy, I can try to get rid of this culture of getting lucky with a girl is how you are a real man. It’s not. A real man knows how to respect women. He knows how valuable they are. And any man that is not respecting women, needs to be called out on his actions. If all the other guys turn against him, then he will have no one on his side, no one to joke around with, and he will be alone. Girls have faced too much suffering. It’s time for guys to step up.

“James Bartholomew Fox!” I hear the front door open. She got off early from work. I can hear her walking through the house. “I saw Arya’s bike out front. Just because I work nights doesn’t mean you can…” and then she walks into the kitchen. “Oh dear,” Mom says when she sees us and comes right up to Arya and puts a hand on her arm. “It’s okay.” And then I let go to let my mom hug her. She just cries even more in my mom’s arms. Mom doesn’t ask anything, she just lets Arya cry, holding her close as if she were her daughter. “Make her a hot drink,” Mom says to me.

I do, while Mom brings her to the couch in the other room. By the time I put a steaming mug in front of her, she’s sitting up straight and drying the tears on her face with the tissues my mom put in front of her. They sit on the couch facing each other and I stay standing.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Fox,” Arya says. “I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s quite alright,” Mom says. “Is there anything you want to talk about?” she shakes her head. “Do your parents know you’re here?” she shakes her head again. “Have your drink while I talk with James for a moment.”

Mom ushers me back into the kitchen. “What happened?”

“Something traumatic happened to her,” I say, “and then she got a flashback of it.”

Mom looks at me and I can tell she already has an idea of what happened. I think a lot of girls have had something like this happen to them. “Take care of her, James. Be gentle with her and remember it’s not about you. You have to take her home though.”

“I can’t just leave her,” I say. “How can I force her to go back home when I’m the one that triggered it?”

“James,” Mom says, “it’s late and her parents don’t know she’s here. You need to take her home. Take the long way, it’ll be good for both of you. I’m going upstairs to shower, and she had better not be here when I come back down.”

“But mom,” I start.

“Take the long way, James,” Mom says. “Now go.”

I eventually get Arya in the car. She was adamant about taking her bike, that she has lights and everything, but I eventually convinced her. We take the long way. We drive for a while in silence, just the music playing.

“I’m sorry James,” Arya says. “I didn’t expect that day to have such a lasting effect on me. I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful for someone that loves me like you do.”

“Don’t apologize,” I say. “Please, never apologize for showing your emotions in front of me. Your passion is one of the things I love most about you.”

“Thanks, James,” Arya says. “For being the guy I can count on no matter what.”

“Like I said before, whatever you need, Arya. Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you,” I say.

“And like I said before, just you, James,” Arya says. “I just want you.” We are on her street and before we reach her house she says, “pull off here. I don’t want to explain coming out of your car to my parents.” I oblige, put the car into park and look at her. She kisses me, softly, putting a hand to my neck. “Just keep being you, James. That’s all I need.” She must have seen that I needed reassurance as well.

“One good thing is that my mom didn’t catch us making out,” I say, and it makes her smile.

“Better for her to see me as a blubbering idiot,” she jokes.

“Your tears turned her from angry mom to consoling mom so fast!”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time we’re in a sticky situation,” Arya says, her mood lifted. “I should go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I kiss her hand before she leaves the car. “Night, Arya.”

“Good night, James.”

And then she leaves, walking up the sidewalk to her house. Just make her feel loved, make her feel safe. It’s what she needs. It’s what she deserves.

“You got her back safely?” Mom asks when I come through the door. She’s in her PJs and was waiting for me before she went to bed.

“Yes.”

“Good,” Mom says. “So tell me, what was Arya doing here so late on a school night?”

“We were just talking,” I say. Mom raises an eyebrow at me. “We were!”

“I’m your mother, James,” Mom says, “I’m not an idiot. Do you think you can have your girlfriend over here at any time of the night while I’m gone? When her parents don’t know she’s here?”

“I didn’t invite her over,” I say, “she just came as a surprise. What was I supposed to do? Kick her out? Mom, you have always taught me to be a good host,” I smile, trying to get her to break.

“Your father was a smooth talker as well,” Mom says, “you are more like him than I would like sometimes.”

“I promise it won’t happen again,” I say.

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Mom says. “What kind of example are you showing to your sisters? Having a girl over here this late. I don’t want either of them thinking this is appropriate behaviour.”

“Mom,” I say, “Arya’s my girlfriend and she means the world to me. I think I have been setting a good example to them on how they should be treated by a guy. They see me respecting her and taking care of her all the time.”

“Just like your father,” Mom says softly, almost to herself. But then says, “Well I don’t want Rachel thinking it’s okay to sneak over to a guy’s house at night, especially since she’s going to high school next year. Your relationship with Arya is an important influence on her whether you realize it or not, James. Arya is like an older sister to her and I can guarantee she will do her best to be just like Arya when she’s at high school. So, if Arya is sneaking over to her boyfriend’s house, then…”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I say, “Rachel will have no fun with boys on my watch.”

“Funny, James,” Mom says. “This isn’t the first time, is it? She has snuck over here before while I’m working?”

“No, she hasn’t. She didn’t even ‘sneak’ over this time,” I say, “She just stopped by. She didn’t know you weren’t here.”

“Her parents didn’t know she was here and neither did I,” Mom says, “so it’s considered sneaking over. Your sisters are just upstairs, James. What if one of them had walked in on you?” I have to bite my bottom lip to keep my face straight.

“I promise, I keep it PG around the house, Mom. The worse they can walk in on is me kissing her,” or making out with her. “PG-13 is for my bedroom, right?” I joke.

“James Bartholomew…”

“I’m joking!”

“This is funny to you?” Mom says.

“Just your face,” I smile.

Mom crosses her arms and gives me a look. “Just remember, if you get Arya pregnant, I promise you will rue the day you were born.”

“Oh, gosh, Mom,” I say, looking at the ceiling and then back at her, “I know. I won’t. Dad already gave me this talk when I went into high school. A part of me still thinks he would come after me, even from the grave.” She laughs and I laugh with her. It feels good talking about my dad in a joking matter as if he’s still a part of our lives.

“Who are you the most afraid of?” Mom smiles.

“Between my angry mother and ghost father?” I say and then think about it. “Dr. Secord.” She bursts out laughing.

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