THE MAITH YOUTH COMRADESHIP.
As Jesse entered his room and turned on the fluorescent halogen lamp, he took off his polo shirt and spiked it in anger. Growling underneath his breath, he changed into a black tank top and red shorts, picked up a foam football next to the lamp, squeezed it as tight as he could, and snapped his right arm forward. A nanosecond later, the ball crashed against the wall, and he let out a primal scream.
Jesse relaxed on his bed and buried his head in his hands while his heart fluttered. Moments thereafter, though, instead of manifesting his anger violently, he decided on a more constructive coping mechanism. He produced his holotab, accessed his picture gallery, and he smiled as he began sifting through a slideshow of he and his cousins.
“Awww…” a voice squealed, un-entrancing Jesse.
“AHHH!” Jesse wailed as he snapped upward. The guffawing, slurred laugh of Matt Maith filled the air.
“You little sh-…” Jesse yapped as he attempted to calm his breathing.
“I can’t belie…eve…you didn’t notice…me entering! You…you…so gullible…it’s grrrreat!”
“How much harlowcane did you have?”
“Not enough, man…at least I’ll remember the party tomorrow…morning…best part about harlowcane is…no hangover!”
“Didn’t Bob ground you?”
Matt laughed hysterically and nodded as if to suggest his uncle had retreated to his den.
“Point taken,” Jesse mumbled.
Moments later, Mary joined them. “Is everything okay in here?” she urged. “I heard banging.”
“I’m fine,” Jesse responded. “And Matt’s in harlowcane bliss. How’s your night going?”
“Good, and yours?”
“Well, other than being with Sarah, the media threatening us, and Bob berating me for my cuts and bruises, just wonderful, thank you!”
“Sounds like my kind of night!” Mary sarcastically replied. “What are you looking at, anyhow?”
Jesse showed her the image on the holotab, as the three Maiths sat on the floor, Indian style, facing each other.
“Is that when we were at Ocean City?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jesse acknowledged, sounding somber. “Back in 10 N.G. Such an innocent time. Just look at our faces - teeth gritting, eyes drooping, tongues sticking out - before we became jaded. I miss these summer family weeks at the shore.”
“You seem so sad about it,” Mary beseeched. “Weren’t those the happiest times of your life? You remind us of this constantly!”
“Those days ended, Mare,” Jesse murmured. “Who knows how much we’ll enjoy them the way we once did; if we have another one?”
“Oh, come on, Jess!” an irritated Matt whined as he slapped his hands on his knees, shedding himself of inebriation. “For once, can you quit the woe-is-me garbage and talk like a normal teenage kid? Can’t we discuss that recent girlfriend of yours, how you dominated tonight, or, you know, hovercars or something? Why must it always be an existential crisis with you?”
“I agree with Matt,” Mary entreated. “You’re acting like the chief character of Dead Man Walking right now; like, a dead man walking! Frankly, you’ve been acting like that a lot lately.”
“Maybe I am Mare,” Jesse grumbled.
“Look,” Mary sternly continued, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have parents. But I’m sure you can understand what it feels like to be deeply concerned about someone we love.”
“Do you really want to know the truth?” Jesse asked.
“It’s the code of the Maith youth comradeship,” Matt pointedly replied. “We’re honest with each other, no matter how much it may hurt.”
“Well, Matthew, that’s my point,” Jesse stressed. “I think we put that to the test more often.”
Matt and Mary looked at Jesse in confusion, then looked at each other, searching for answers. “Ummm…” they simultaneously muttered.
“What I mean is,” Jesse firmly interrupted, “I need you both to indulge me in my so-called existential crisis for a little while longer.”
Reluctantly, Matt and Mary inaudibly nodded in approval.
Jesse then swiped his fingers on the holotab, producing a panoramic picture of himself, Matt, and Mary, arm-to-arm, smiling. “You guys remember the Grand Canyon?” he bittersweetly asked as he zoomed the image outward to reveal the brown canyon rocks behind them.
“Best vacation we ever had,” Matt recalled. “No drama. And honestly, it was the happiest I’d ever seen you.”
“Well,” Jesse continued, “you guys remember what we did not too long after that picture was taken?”
“I peed?” Matt asked, eliciting a slight chuckle from Mary.
“I mean after that, smartass,” Jesse replied. “You’re too inebriated to remember that while Bob and Stacy walked to the Endgame memorial, the three of us approached the edge of the Canyon, looked toward the horizon, and then, amid our bliss, originated the Maith youth comradeship?”
“Ohhh, yeah…” Matt acknowledged.
“And Mary, you know what else, besides honesty, we agreed to?”
Mary, heart fluttering, looked intently into Jesse’s blue eyes, and said: “that we would cherish every single moment we have together for the rest of our lives, never take each other for granted, and that we revere each other like Gods, or something stupid like that.”
“Exactly,” Jesse meditatively replied. “Guys, I want to reiterate that pact. This time, it will not be some cheesy, facetious moment. We’re in a strange time in our lives. Tomorrow, they will plaster my face all over the back pages of the newspapers and on the home pages of the interlink. They’ll make up buzzwords and whatever story-selling adjectives they wish to devise about me and the family to distract the pryvies and give self-serving nine-percenters something to whine about.”
“Cuz,” Matt replied, “you need not convince us to defend you if the media comes kicking down our door asking if you kissed Sarah, or not. But you need to tell Mary and I, right here, right now, the truth.” Matt then leaned inward toward Jesse with an austere look. “Did you two kiss tonight?”
Matt and Mary both smiled in anticipation. Jesse guffawed. “I hate you two so much,” he sardonically replied.
“So,” an eager Mary asked, “did you?!”
Jesse, after an exasperated sigh, finally conceded: “yes, we did.”
“AWWWWW!!!” Mary and Matt simultaneously gushed.
“All right, that’s enough,” Jesse pled. “In all honesty, though, I can’t expect you two to understand the pressure I am under. And there are a lot of other things on my mind, things you don’t want to talk about.”
“Such as?” Mary asked.
“You-know-who and New Alaska. Now before you both bust my chops about Project Driht and that I read too much news and all that, I will only reiterate you-know-who was giving a speech about New Alaska’s threat on Remembrance Day, which is the antithesis of every custom in his book and what this country supposedly stands for! But, like an exemplary member of the comradeship, I’ll spare you both any rants or raves about this stuff, at least for tonight.”
“Good for you!” Matt shouted. “You finally got something right!”
“Thanks, buddy,” Jesse droned. “Listen, I can’t force either of you two to keep an open mind about you-know-who’s intentions or if the w-word will happen again, but we need to remember that all we have is each other in this world.”
Mary then reached her right arm into the center of the virtual triangle between her and her cousins. “I’m with you both no matter what,” she emphatically declared.
Matt then reached out his right arm and gently settled it on top of Mary’s.
“Honesty, humility, devotion!” Matt shouted.
Jesse’s arm then sandwiched in between his cousin’s.
“BE FREE!” they all shouted in unison.