JOCKED UP LOVE, read the headline beneath the red masthead of the NEW YORK INFORMER. Beneath that was a photo of Jesse, with specific focus on the blood streaming from his cheek, shielding his now-infamous baby blue eyes from the relentless media mob while holding Sarah’s hand.
“Can you believe this outrageousness?!” Jesse asked of his cousins as he displayed the headline on his ultraphone while they exited their house into the muggy air on an otherwise cloudless Saturday afternoon. “We destroy Wayne last night, I throw my ‘expected’ five touchdown passes, and all these vultures can focus on is my face!”
“Cuz, you’re still a handsome devil to me!” Matt quipped, the sun baking his black t-shirt. Jesse stared at him and folded his arms.
“Jesse, you realize this is your life now, right?” Mary stated as she slipped her sweaty hands into her jeans pocket.
“Yes, but why?!” Jesse appealed. “It’s a distraction!”
“Can we not discuss conspiracy theories today?!” Mary begged. “We’re going to Dromann’s for smoothies, then coming back to help prepare dinner! Just another normal Saturday afternoon, okay?”
“You’re lucky I love you, Mary,” Jesse sneered as the humidity saturated his hair. “I’ll behave so long as you guys entertain me.”
“You know I don’t have a problem with that,” Matt jested. “But please put that phone away before that bloodstream poisons my eyes.”
“Is Sarah okay?” Mary asked.
“Yeah, she’s fine,” Jesse replied. “We’re getting together after school Tuesday.”
“Things are getting serious between you two,” Matt entreated.
Jesse smiled as he fluffed his blue Everton T-shirt. “You ever hear the expression ‘love conquers lust when one finds that intangible quality that irrevocably unites two people?’ Well, I found that with Sarah.”
Matt chuckled under his breath. Jesse squinted in confusion and annoyance.
“What’s so damn funny?!” Jesse asked.
“Cuz, that is the cheesiest and dumbest line I’ve ever heard!” Matt derided.
“Who said that?” Mary inquired. “Isn’t that from LowBrow Man?” She then giggled along with Matt.
Jesse smirked. “No, from the greatest movie of the last twenty years about greed and the human condition: Barry J. Pollack’s line in Find Your Valuation.”
“That was the worst movie ever made,” Matt retorted.
“Have you ever seen that movie?” Jesse asked.
“No,” Matt bluntly replied. “I don’t even know who Barry J. Pollack is.”
“He probably attended the Astoria rapist execution,” Jesse murmured to himself.
As the Maiths approached the steel gates of the Clarkson district, they were flagged down by an enthused Robert Jacobson, dressed in a white Everton football jersey and plaid shorts, running in their direction. “There are my famous neighbors!” he hollered.
“Hi, Mr. Jacobson!” Matt replied as he, Mary and Jesse turned around to greet him. “Glorious game last night, huh?”
“Y’know,” Robert replied, “Fort Lee is our archrival, but I hate Wayne just as much, so that win… man, it was sweet!”
Then, Beth Jacobson appeared, wearing a gray hoodie with DRF scripted in gold across her chest, stressing her waved shoulder-length salty hair. “Hello there, Maiths!” she shouted in a gravelly voice. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mrs. Jacobson,” Mary replied. “You two will be over tonight for dinner, right?”
“Of course, Mary,” Beth replied. “And yes, I’m baking a batch of those cookies you all love!”
“Thank you!” Mary gleamed.
Then, Beth turned the conversation awkward. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she began. “Living in Clarkson. Thank Joshua we live in the safest, most beautiful neighborhood of all Freedomian suburbs. Living behind those electrified steel gates… seeing all the Kehoe hovercars gliding about, interacting with people you can relate to while walking the sidewalks smiling and laughing. It just makes you feel so safe, right?” Suddenly, Beth’s voice lost its normal sassy charm and began transitioning into a sinister tone as she muttered her next words. “Away from all those hoarders and beggars outside… some that still drive those ugly automobiles… disease-ridden degenerates that refused to work hard enough to escape the pryvie districts.”
Déjà vu. Jesse’s wrists tightened, for he had now seen an ugly side of both Jacobsons. Unlike his confrontation with Robert, however, Jesse concentrated all of his focus on keeping silent to not only appease his cousins, but from saying something he assuredly would regret later. Painstakingly, he forced himself to let Beth continue.
“And the damn mayor,” Beth continued in a menacing rumble, “liberal know-nothing; allowing pryvie districts to spring up in our parks, mooching off our damn tax dollars for healthcare, driving those wheeled vehicles on Bergen Boulevard in view of our windows, eating food we throw away. It makes me sick!”
“Well, at least they take Joshua Evans as their savior, hun,” Robert said.
“Thank God,” Beth growled.
Jesse froze, then glanced at his cousins, who remained intently focused on their now seemingly bigoted neighbors.
“Anyway,” Beth continued, her normal speaking voice returning, “I hope you three enjoy your walk, and we’ll see you tonight!”
“I hear they have a special at Dromann’s today,” Robert said. “This new Brazilian mango-based…”
“What happened to you two?” Jesse interrupted, sounding anguished.
“I’m sorry, hun?” Beth replied with a phony smirk.
As an awkward silence ensued, a series of black hovervans with antennas and oscillating satellites atop its roofs zoomed up Clarkson West. Tension turned to curiosity and concern when the vans parked in front of the Maith residence. As the Maiths and Jacobsons jogged toward the vans, a score of about twenty reporters and camera people disembarked and began stationing tripods and other makeshift apparatuses on the Maith’s front lawn.
“What the hell is going on?!” Jesse shouted. Immediately after, he realized he had made a mistake; for the reporters were there to see him. The horde immediately approached Jesse with a deafening wall of sound coupled with unintelligible chatter. Moments later, other Clarkson residents emerged out of their homes and approached the horde. “GET AWAY FROM MY HOUSE!” a panicked Jesse screamed. “GO QUESTION YOU-KNOW-WHO ABOUT REMEMBRANCE DAY! WHY DO YOU CARE SO MUCH ABOUT ME?!”
“HEY!” a voice shrieked from beyond the horde. Seconds later, Bob, dressed in a white polo and jeans, scampered toward his nephew and children. “WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING HERE? WHO GAVE YOU THE AUTHORITY TO COME TO MY HOME?! JESSE, MARY, MATTHEW, GET INSIDE NOW!”
As the Maith children bee lined around the reporters and re-entered the Maith house, Bob stopped the horde in their tracks immediately in front of the three-stepped brick staircase leading toward the blue front door. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE RIGHT NOW!” Bob screamed. “I KNOW CHIEF REILLY, AND HE’S DONE ME MANY FAVORS IN THE PAST, AND HE WON’T HESITATE TO GET ALL YOUR CREDENTIALS REVOKED IF YOU DON’T VACATE MY PROPERTY IMMEDIATELY!” Bob then slammed the door shut in front of him. Then in a surprising moment, Jesse greeted him.
“Thanks,” Jesse muttered.
“You can look at me when you say that, you know?” Bob pled.
“I know,” Jesse spluttered, still not making eye contact. “But… um, thanks for what you did for us.”
Bob nodded, then Jesse then retreated upstairs.