Taking Off The Mask

Chapter Twelve

“I thought you didn’t like him?” Jackie asked when I told her I had invited Dion to join us to go to the movies.

“I sort of got pushed into it,” I confessed. I then told her how Mr. Wilbur had persuaded me to ask Dion to join us. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” she replied. “But don’t expect me to try and get him to talk. It didn’t work the last time he joined us.”

“He has his reasons,” I said. Jackie gave me a puzzled look, but I quickly changed the subject.

“You look nice tonight,” I said. Jackie had returned to dressing like the Old Jackie I once knew. She was wearing her glasses, and she wasn’t wearing make-up.

“I still don’t know why I listened to you,” she said angrily. “Roy’s going to hate me when he sees me looking like this.” I smiled to myself, knowing that Roy was going to like seeing Jackie look more like herself.

Just then Roy appeared at my bedroom door and knocked. Jackie walked over and gave him a hug. “You look great!” exclaimed Roy.

“I do?” Jackie had a surprised look on her face. “James made me dress like this tonight.”

“Thanks, Buddy.” He walked over, and we fisted as Jackie gave us a puzzled look. “We ready to hit the road?”

He reached out and grabbed Jackie’s hand and led her downstairs. My mother was in the kitchen and noticed Jackie’s appearance. “Jackie,” she exclaimed. “Come with me to my bedroom and I’ll help you get ready to go out.”

“No!” Roy and I shouted in unison.

Roy grabbed her hand and led her to the door. “She looks just fine, Mrs. Hoskins.”

Mom looked over at me with a questioning look. “I’ll explain later,” I remarked.

“Have fun, kids,” she said as she headed to her office. Since I was with Jackie and Roy, she hadn’t set any curfew. She knew that I would be safe with them. I hadn’t told her, though, that Dion was going with us. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever mentioned him to her.

Dion lives on the other side of town from us. It is near the downtown area. Most of the homes are situated close to each other with very small yards. His house is a two-story, wood frame home with a large front porch. It contains two rocking chairs and a porch swing. It seems like the kind of place where you can sit late at night and watch people strolling down the street.

I asked Jackie to go with me to get Dion, but she insisted that it was something I should do alone. “He is your date, after all.”

“It’s not a date,” I replied angrily.

“Yeah, sure,” she said as I climbed out of the car. I turned and flipped her off.

Nurse Dorothy greeted me at the door. She pulled me into the living room and hugged me. “James,” she said cheerfully, “you have no idea how happy I am right now. Dion hasn’t been out of this house in months to do anything fun.”

“We’re just going to a movie,” I replied.

“It may be just a movie to you,” she replied, “but it’s much more to me. Now go have a seat, and he’ll be down in a minute.”

I sat in the living room and looked around. It was sparsely furnished, but the room was neat and tidy. I could hear several small children playing outside in the backyard. Suddenly, a little boy about five or six years old came running down the stairs and jumped into my lap.

He was adorable. He had long, black hair which had been braided with beads tied to the ends. His eyes were round and filled with boyish innocence.

“Dion told me to tell you he’ll be ready in a minute,” he said excitedly. “Who are you?”

“I’m James,” I informed him. “Who are you?”

“I’m Marky,” he grinned. “I’m five years old.” He held up four fingers.

He looked at my face, and then he reached out and rubbed his hand gently across my cheek. “You’re pretty,” he said. “And you got blue eyes. Look at mine,” he pointed to his. “They are brown.” By this time, my face was blushing from Marky’s inquisitive nature.

“What’s these?” He pointed to the dimples on my face. “I don’t have these on my face? Do I?” He felt the corners of his mouth.

“They’re dimples,” I informed him.

“How did you get them?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “They were there when I was born.”

“I wish I had some,” he said, poking his small fingers into the corners of my mouth. “They’re cool.”

He then ran his hands through my hair. “Your hair isn’t like mine,” he observed. “It’s soft and smooth.”

“Well, yours is nice too,” I said as I pulled on one of the braids.

“Do you like Dion?” he blurted out, taking me by surprise.

“Yeah, I guess,” I stammered out.

“He likes you,” he stated. “He’s upstairs getting all pretty for you. He put some smelly stuff on his face.” He giggled as he wrinkled his nose up.

Just then Nurse Dorothy walked into the room and pulled Marky off my lap. “I see you’ve met Marky, our little terror,” she laughed. “I hope he didn’t embarrass you. He has a way of doing that.”

“No,” I replied. Even though I was glad she had come in and saved me from his inquisition, I didn’t want him to get in any trouble. “He’s been fine.”

“I like you.” He ran over and jumped again in my lap. “Do you want to go outside and play with me? You can throw me a ball. I catch real good.”

“Marky, come with Granny.” She reached out and pulled him off my lap. “Let’s leave James alone until Dion comes downstairs.” He waved goodbye as she led him out of the room.

Along one side of the wall were built-in shelves. It was filled with pictures that I assumed were members of Dion’s family. Many of the pictures featured Nurse Dorothy. Marky was also noticeable in quite a few with who I assumed were his mother and father. He seemed to enjoy getting his picture taken.

Dion was in only two of the pictures. One was with his mother in which he appeared to be receiving an award. In the other, he appeared to be around ten years old. He had his arms wrapped around an older boy who was holding a basketball. By their facial features, it was evident they were brothers. I was saddened when I realized that this could be the brother that Mr. Wilbur told me had been shot.

“What are you doing?” I was startled when I heard Dion’s voice behind me. I quickly turned and saw a sorrowful look on Dion’s face. Without saying a word, he walked over and yanked the picture from me. He gently ran his hand over it before he carefully returned it to the book shelf. His eyes were misty when he turned back to me.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing for removing the picture or because his brother had died. There was an awkward silence while we stood staring at each other.

“You look nice,” I finally said. It was obvious he had spent a lot of time getting ready to go out. His clothes were neat and fit him perfectly. I had never seen him wear them before. The first thing that ran through my mind was that these were probably his Sunday clothes, the ones he wore to church each week. His hair was carefully brushed; and like Marky had said, he smelled good from the cologne he was wearing.

“Thanks,” he responded bashfully. “You do too.”

“Are you ready?” I asked. He nodded, and we headed to the door. As we started to leave, Nurse Dorothy walked out of the kitchen, quickly followed by Marky. He ran up and threw his arms around my waist.

“Are you boys leaving now?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied Dion politely.

“I wanna go,” whined Marky as he pulled on my waist. “Can I go, James?”

I bent down and looked into his hopeful face. “Maybe, next time. All right? I’ll come by and we’ll toss the ball in the backyard.” His face broke out in a broad smile, and he gave me a big hug.

“Promise?” he asked.

“Promise,” I replied, pulling him into another hug. He was quickly gaining a place in my heart.

Nurse Dorothy walked over and whispered something into Dion’s ear. He appeared to blush, and then he looked down at the floor. I watched as she slipped some folded money into his pocket. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

She opened her arms, walked over and pulled me into a hug. “Thank you, James,” she whispered into my ear. “Now, you boys go have a good time.”

When we walked to Roy’s car, Jackie and Roy were kissing and didn’t see us approach. I gave Dion an evil grin, and then I started pounding on the car window. They both jumped apart, and Jackie gave me an angry scowl.

“You scared the shit out of us, you Asshole!” she shouted as we climbed into the back seat.

I started making kissy sounds, and watched as Roy turned about ten shades of red. “Well, next time, get a room,” I remarked as Dion started giggling next to me.

It was about six thirty when we arrived at the mall. The movie wouldn’t start until eight, so we had a little time to kill. “Roy and I will meet you at the theater in a little while,” Jackie said as she pulled Roy away. I knew she wanted to go somewhere to be alone. I looked over at Dion. He was looking around, amazed at the sights around us.

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” I asked. He shook his head.

“No,” he confessed. “We usually shop downtown.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I said without thinking. I then realized what his mother had said about him hardly ever leaving the house. He started to say something, but I grabbed his arm and led him down the sidewalk.

“Let me be your guide, Kind Sir,” I giggled. “You’re about to embark on a venture of America’s greatest teenage pastime.” We walked casually around the mall as Dion took in all the sights. He seemed particularly interested in the shoe shops, like Foot Locker. We spent fifteen minutes in one shop while he handled every sneaker on display. I looked down and realized that his shoes were well-worn. They had probably been handed down from an older brother.

“We’d better head to the theater,” I suggested after looking at the time. It was 7:45, and we still had to find Jackie and Roy.

As we approached the theater, I stopped and grabbed Dion’s arm. Raymond Saunders was walking our way with a smirk on his face.

“Well, well, well,” he said snidely. “What do we have here? Are you two lovebirds out on a date? I heard you’ve got a nice ass, James.” He walked up and prevented me from going around him.

“Get out of my way, Raymond.” I tried to sound threatening, but I knew that he could see the fear in my eyes.

“What are you going to do about it, Hoskins?” He raised his hand and he poked my chest. Suddenly, Dion grabbed his hand.

“Leave him alone,” he said coldly. Raymond winced when Dion continued to pull his hand back. He stepped away and stood angrily before Dion.

“What the fuck is your problem, Dick Head?” he shouted. “I’ll kick your sorry ass right here.” He stepped forward, but Dion grabbed his arm and placed his foot behind Raymond’s leg, tripping him to the ground.

“Come on!” He grabbed my hand tightly and we ran to the theater. We kept looking behind us to see if Raymond was following.

“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked after we reached the theater lobby. “You knocked him on his ass.”

“I have two older brothers,” he replied. “They taught me how to defend myself.” Just then, Jackie and Roy walked into the theater.

“What’s wrong with you two?” Jackie asked. “You’re both out to breath.”

“Later, Jackie.” I looked over at Dion and smiled. “Let’s get our tickets.”

For a Saturday night, the theater was sparsely populated. One of the reasons was because we had decided to see a movie that had been running for a couple of weeks. Everyone else was seeing the latest arrival.

“Wow!” Dion remarked as we took our seat. “This is cool.”

“Wait until the movie starts,” I laughed. “The sound system here is great.” I looked around, but Jackie and Roy had disappeared and were sitting in the back row. I guess they wanted to resume the kissing session they had started in the car.

The lights dimmed, and the previews came on. I watched as Dion looked on in amazement. It was hard for me to realize that someone had never been to a modern movie theater. I enjoyed watching the excitement on his face. He caught me staring at him, and he looked over and smiled.

“Thanks, James,” he grinned. “I’m having a good time.”

About half way through the movie, we began to fight over the armrest. Before that, Dion would always quickly move his arm away when it touched mine. However, after a few minutes of playfulness, he rested his arm against mine. We continued to watch the movie with our arms touching when he shifted in his seat and rested his leg against mine. My first instinct was to move away; but since he had been the one to initiate the contact, I continued to sit with our legs pressed against each other.

The movie we were watching was a thriller, and it was approaching a tense scene where a murderer was waiting to kill an unsuspecting victim. Dion tensed up as the music was drumming out a suspenseful climax. When the murderer jumped out from behind a wall, Dion jumped and grabbed my hand. He clutched it tightly as the scene on the screen became more violent. I laughed as he turned his head and closed his eyes when blood splattered across the screen.

“Are you all right?” I whispered, still squeezing his hand tightly.

“This is gruesome,” he responded. “I didn’t know it was going to be this violent.”

“The more blood, the more money,” I laughed. The action on the screen changed to a scene that was much less dramatic. However, Dion continued to clutch my hand. Suddenly, he looked down, and a horrified look appeared on his face.

“God, James.” He quickly pulled his hand away and scooted away from me. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right, really,” I whispered. “I don’t mind.”

“I can’t do this.” He jumped up and started to leave the theater. I reached out and grabbed him, pulling him back down.

“Please don’t leave,” I pleaded. “I don’t want you to go.” He reluctantly sat back down, and we continued to watch the movie. I would look over at him occasionally, but I could tell his mind was no longer on the movie. His face was taut, and he appeared to be very uncomfortable.

When the movie ended, I followed him into the lobby. He had a sad expression on his face. I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I hadn’t tried to pressure him into anything. He had been the one who had initiated everything. He was the one who started wrestling for the armrest, and he had rested his leg against mine. He had also grabbed my hand and held it. I was confused now by his actions.

When Roy and Jackie came out of the theater and into the lobby, Jackie took one look at us and knew something was wrong. She whispered something to Roy, and then she walked over, took my arm and started leading me away.

“Where are we going?” I asked as we walked down the sidewalk. I turned and saw Roy and Dion take a seat on a bench outside the theater.

Once we were out of sight, Jackie walked over and sat down on a bench. I reluctantly sat down beside her. “Okay, spill it,” she said. “What’s going on between you and Dion?”

“I don’t know,” I insisted. “One minute we’re getting along, and the next he’s cold as ice. He’s driving me crazy!”

“Do you like him?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I confessed. “Sometimes when I’m with him, I really feel there’s something going on between us, and then he’ll panic and completely shut me off.”

“Is he gay?”

“Will you believe me if I tell you I don’t know?” I sighed. “Like tonight. He reached over and held my hand, and then he freaked on me.”

“Maybe you should just forget about him,” she suggested. “You don’t need to get involved with someone who is so confused. You’ve already been hurt once.”

“Dion’s nothing like Donovan,” I protested. “He’s just been through some shit in his life. I think it’s messed him up.”

“What kind of shit?”

“I don’t want to go into it right now,” I said. “I don’t think he knows that I know about it. Mr. Wilbur told me.”

“That old guy at the nursing home?” she asked. “What did he tell you?” I knew that once she started questioning me, she wouldn’t stop until she got the answers she wanted.

“He saw his brother get shot when he was about twelve,” I told her.

“Shit,” she hissed. “No wonder he’s the way he is.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “That must be some heavy stuff to deal with.”

“You sure you want to get involved with someone like that?” she asked. Again, I knew she was just being protective.

“I don’t know, Jackie,” I responded. “He needs a friend. Would you believe tonight is the first time he’s ever been to a theater? His mother said he just stays at home by himself and never does anything. I really feel sorry for him.”

“Just be careful,” she warned. “I don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

“He won’t hurt me like Donovan did,” I insisted.

“There’s more ways to get hurt than someone hitting you,” she cautioned. “I don’t want to see you get your heart broken. I can tell you’re really starting to care about Dion, and I don’t know if he’s willing to open up to you.”

“I’ll be careful,” I replied. “I just need to see what’s behind the mask.”

“What mask?” she asked. “You’re always talking about masks. I swear. The older you get, the weirder you get.”

“Someday I’ll try and explain it to you,” I laughed. “Right now, we’d better get back to your boyfriend.”

“You mean get back to yours,” she giggled. She grabbed my hand and pulled me up.

“Yeah, right,” I replied. I hadn’t really considered anything romantic happening between me and Dion. I just wanted to see if I could get him to remove a little of his mask and at least become a good friend.

Dion and Roy were still chatting quietly when we approached. Dion didn’t seem as tense as he was earlier. I guess Roy had said something to calm him down.

“You guys hungry?” Roy asked as we approached. Jackie sat down between Roy and Dion. I took a seat on the other side of Roy. I looked at my watch and noticed how late it was.

“The food court is closed,” I said.

“Dion and I thought we would go to the pancake house and get a late-night breakfast. How’s that sound?” Dion got up, walked over and sat down beside me.

“Is that all right with you?” He was looking pleadingly at me.

I began to smile. “Yeah,” I replied. “I’d like that.”

We headed to Roy’s car. Roy and Jackie walked ahead of us, holding hands. Dion walked close to me, occasionally letting our sides rub each other. One time our hands brushed against each other, and I wished that I could hold his like Roy and Jackie were doing.

“I’m sorry for acting like an ass earlier,” he whispered after we got outside. I looked over and smiled.

“It’s all right,” I replied. “I’m sorry if I pushed you.”

“It’s not your fault,” he responded sadly. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You didn’t either.” I reached out and squeezed his hand. Surprisingly, he held it for a minute as we walked in the darkness to the car. Roy turned and noticed, but he didn’t say anything.

Jackie showed up in my room Sunday afternoon. She came waltzing in and sat down on the bed. “I think I’m in love,” she announced.

“You’ve only known him a week,” I remarked. I knew Jackie well enough to know that she didn’t just jump right into anything. She was the kind of person who had to analyze every situation. For her to say she was in love seemed a little out of character.

“I can’t explain it,” she said dreamily. “It’s just like we were meant for each other. We even like peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”

“Oh, gag,” I laughed. “That doesn’t mean he likes you. It just means he has no taste.” Jackie hit me on my arm.

“He asked me last night to be his girlfriend,” she said. “I’m now officially Roy Reed’s girlfriend!” She squealed.

“And next, I’m going to be an uncle,” I warned. “After the way you two were carrying on last night, I might already be.”

“No,” she replied. “That’s just it. He doesn’t want to have sex until he gets married. Can you believe guys like him still exist?”

“I told you,” I laughed, “he’s gay.” I ducked when she threw a pillow at me.

“Well not all guys are sex fiends, you know,” she said angrily. “Some do think with their other head.”

“So, it doesn’t bother you that he doesn’t want to have sex with you?”

“No,” she insisted. “You know I’ve always told you I was going to wait until I got married to have sex.”

“I just thought you were saying that because you couldn’t get laid,” I laughed. This time she didn’t miss with the pillow.

“What happened when you took Dion home last night?” she asked. “You seemed awfully quiet when you came out of his house.”

“We went into the living room and sat for a minute,” I said. “He kept telling me he had a good time.”

“He really did,” she replied. “Roy told me later that when you and I left the theater to talk, that he and Dion talked a little, too.”

“And?”

“He likes you,” she said. “A lot.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” she continued. “He opened up to Roy a little. When Roy asked what was going on between you guys, he said he was having trouble showing you how he feels about you.”

“So he likes me?” I asked hopefully.

“Roy seems to think it might be a lot stronger than that.”

“You don’t mean?”

“Yeah.”