After Jasmine left, I had no clue what the fuck to do. I must have sat on that fucking trampoline for hours, just touching my lip and then smacking my palm against my head over and over again, repeating what had happened again in my mind. I had kissed Jasmine. Even if she initiated the action, I fucking kissed back. It was killing me inside, slowly rotting away at my core. Her contagious laugh and calm demeanor was now becoming a fucking infection that I couldn’t get rid off of. No matter how many times I tried to divert my attention to something else, thinking about anything - like my mother or father or my Goddamn chemistry homework - it all worked its way back around to her. I could still feel her lips on mine and her waist in my hands. I started to rub my hands together furiously in the morning air, trying to scrape off a thin layer of skin so I could start fresh again. I finally found the strength to do the same with my lip, using my teeth to graze over the sensitive skin, stopping suddenly when a recollected voice came into my head.
Don’t bite your lips. It will leave marks.
Fuck, I thought, ignoring the infernal voice and scraping even harder. I plunged my front teeth into my bottom lip, dragged it out over the blood vessels that were already throbbing for a little while, and then let go, not breaking the skin. I relished in the sudden swelling feeling that my lips gave off, temporarily distracting me from what was at hand. Jasmine was the vice was filtering through my head, when at first, it had been Gerard and only Gerard. I wanted it to stay as only him, even if the images I was getting of my forty-seven-year-old artist were now horrid and guilt-ridden. I had cheated on him, and what was worse, it had been with a girl. A woman, I corrected my thoughts, then mentally slapped myself in the head for even trying to defend her. I wasn’t supposed to like women, I told myself again and again. I was gay. I had a boyfriend, lover, or whatever the fuck we were calling it. I had had Gerard’s cock in my ass and fucking liked it. I had done the same to him, and even sucked on it a few dozen times. I was Frank the Ass Fucker. My friends knew it, I knew it – why the hell didn’t Jasmine get that? Why was she kissing me? And why had I done it back? I was not supposed to like the opposite sex.
But here I was, still touching the same lips that had been pressed against a girl’s, and on the same trampoline it had happened on. I threw my hand down in aggravation, letting out a sigh to match. I struggled to get off the smooth material, my feet sliding and my body thrown off balance by my anger and the material. I just wanted off that fucking thing. I hated it now. It didn’t let me fly, I realized as I stepped away and backed myself up into the fence. It had only let me fall deeper and deeper down into my fucking useless spiraling thoughts. I had thought things were bad when I was just missing Gerard, when I was stuck here with my idiot friends, and a whole lot of shame for the life I was living in secret. Things were ten times worse now, just when I thought they had a chance at getting even remotely better.
Jasmine had been so cool last night, so nice to me when no one even gave me a chance. She had not wanted to get high or drunk or shit-faced. She had wanted to come out to her trampoline and jump until her little heart was content. We had talked about birds and doves and I had thought of Gerard with a big beaming smile on my face. I was his dove, and he was my keeper, and I had kept those thoughts alive inside of me until I had gone to bed, where everything seemed to get filtered through and separated into the subconscious while I slept, and now, everything was void when morning came. Maybe it was my lack of a proper sleep that made me kiss her back, I suggested to myself, trying to make myself feel better. I shifted against the back of the fence, feeling my tailbone ache from the awkward sleeping position. In the morning, my mind didn’t work properly. In the morning, my mind was tired and I didn’t think things through – that had to be the reason I had acted how I did. But did morning mean that I was automatically straight for an hour? An hour of temporary insanity? And could I really tell that kind of excuse to Gerard? He’d see through it in a second, just like he had all of my other thoughts.
“Ughhh,” I sighed, my stiff body slinking down the fence and resting myself onto the soft grass. I let my hands fall down at my sides, totally defeated.
I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I twisted and pulled at some of the random grass blades I saw, pretending each one of them was something I hated, and getting rid of it temporarily until it grew back again.
Gerard didn’t teach me how to deal with this, either, I thought acrimoniously, reefing on a blade. He didn’t teach me how to handle myself around girls that probably liked me. Though I didn’t want to sound vain, I knew Jasmine liked me. Why else would she have kissed me? Before, I could have written off her behavior as just being the friendly person she was, but a kiss? That was too intimate; too personal. I remembered how worked up I had gotten when I wanted to kiss Gerard. I had liked him for a long time by that point, and I was dying inside to place my lips on his own. Was Jasmine the same way? I got a sick pang of fear in my stomach, wanting to dismiss and swallow my thoughts. If Jasmine liked me as much as I had liked Gerard after that first kiss… then everything was going to get a lot more difficult, and awkward. Maladroit beyond belief.
Questions of Jasmine’s interest in me and the kiss had a spiraling effect, and I was left to turn my interrogation back on myself. If she liked me and kissed me, and I had kissed back, did that mean I liked her, too? Did feelings work that way? I knew I liked her. I had already established that she was the only nice person to me, but I didn’t know if anything went beyond that. Logically in my mind, it couldn’t have, it shouldn’t have, but fuck, I didn’t know anymore. I was so confused in the real world that I just didn’t know what was happening anymore.
In reality, though, the cottage wasn’t a proper environment. It was secluded away from everyone else, away from my town, nestled in some random cottage country of Jersey. It was another world, and not a practical setting. Anything that happened there I knew I couldn’t dwell on too much. I shouldn’t bother even trying to understand and learn from this experience, because I would only end up not using its lesson ever again. The art and culture that was alive in Gerard’s apartment had no application in the real world, and the nature surroundings here didn’t either. There was no art in the city, nor was there nature. Everything here was pointless. This place wasn’t real, just like Gerard’s apartment. I may have been living in both of them, but there was no point in retaining anything but memories. No knowledge could come from this.
For the first time that morning, my thoughts made sense. Considering the amounts of drinking and pot smoking that was going on in the small cabin, no one would remember much of anything from here. Why should I even bother?
I shifted my weight, going to cross my arms over my chest. I felt a bit better, knowing that this was just complete and utter bullshit that I should ignore, but still slightly miffed that I couldn’t just let it go. I was always such a fucking woman about these types of issues (yet another reason why I had to be gay). I hit my cigarettes, still loaded into my pocket and another idea occurred to me.
I could smoke this all away, burying every last despicable feeling that was coursing through me. I needed to give into one addiction, because I couldn’t get at my other two; wine and Gerard. The wine was too far away and too sophisticated for these shits, and Gerard was too far away, in more ways than one. My shaking hands rummaged through my pocket, clasping the pack in my hand steadily, and my worries already feeling alleviated. I lit the first cigarette easily, taking it to my lips for a brief second before I let it slide between my two fingers. I watched it burn for a while, not wanting to suck back too much smoke too soon and choke from not smoking in so long. As I watched the white paper of the stick curl and blacken away from the orange tip, I started to wonder if I really was cheating on Gerard. Jasmine had come onto me first, but I had kissed back. We had slept on the same trampoline and touched, but I wondered if that meant anything to Gerard. Everything meant something to Gerard, though, and I began to feel my chest tighten with anxiety.
Would I have to tell him about all of this? I debated inside my head. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to let him down and say that I had kissed someone else. I had waited and fought for so much just to kiss him; I didn’t want him to think that he wasn’t important at all, because God, he was the most important person in my life right at that moment in time. No one had helped me the way he had, even if it was all turning out to be drivel in the real world. No one had wanted to help me as much as he had, and no one had cared for me as much as he had. I felt my heart swell for him, just thinking about it. I knew that we could be torn apart at any moment, and I didn’t want him to think that I was moving on early, because I wasn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just acting on impulse. I kissed her back, because I had wanted to, as awful as that sounded. Blame it on the morning or my missing of the man I really wanted, or whatever, but I had wanted to kiss her.
And as I dragged the still lit cigarette to my lips, I couldn’t breathe in a breath. It wasn’t the smoke anymore; I had gotten used to the tar filling my lungs. It wasn’t even that I didn’t feel like smoking, because I could feel my nicotine craving kicking it in. It was the whole act of the smoking that I couldn’t do; the forgetting and calming of nerves. I couldn’t just forget what had happened last night. I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep the memory of us rolling around on the trampoline, giggling with our shoulders side by side as we looked up at the stars. Jasmine had told me some of the constellations before we fell asleep, and I had honestly thought it was the most beautiful thing in that moment. We were in the country and there weren’t as many city lights blocking out the real beauty of the stars. They were so much more visible, so clear, and I swore I saw the balls of gases actually twinkling. It was gorgeous. I had loved doing it; it reminded me of being with Gerard, that night in the park where we had touched ourselves under the very same sky. And fuck, I didn’t want to forget either of those memories, especially the one from last night. Jasmine had accepted me, even when people had labeled me The Ass Fucker. Jasmine had talked to me and she wanted to be a dove, too. She understood me, and I needed to hold onto that for as long as I could. It would keep me sane while I was up here. I didn’t know what would happen when I got back, but that was in the future. Gerard told me not to worry about that, or the past. The kiss was in the past.
I just hoped that it wouldn’t happen again in the present; I wasn’t sure I could control myself if she started again. I knew I could hold my ground by myself. I could keep my head filled with thoughts of Gerard waiting for me at home, releasing the old memories I had of us together to get me through any weird sensations I may have had for Jasmine. If she did anything to me, though… I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions, because I wasn’t even sure what those actions would be. I was pretty sure I had only kissed her back because she had done it first, setting a catalyst for the rest of the events. Once she opened the floodgate, I didn’t know how to stop it. I could keep the water flowing at an even level, but I just hoped she didn’t pull anymore tricks.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” a voice came barreling into my thoughts, sending me jumping out of my own skin.
I knew who the voice was right away without looking. It was too high of a frequency to be anyone else but Jasmine - the girl that was taking up all of my thoughts and causing me to use the cigarette I still had poised in my hand. Or, not use it. I looked down at the stick wedged between my two fingers, arm resting on my knee. I had already let it burn down halfway, the ashes falling off and onto my jeans. I hadn’t even put it to my mouth again after that vain attempt before where I couldn’t breathe anything in. I saw no need to even try and get some use out of the thing anymore. I flicked it out of my fingers, stamping it out onto the lush grass with my shoe. The feeling of it being crushed under my shoe was invigorating, almost like I had consumed the cigarette myself, and I was stomping out my problems. If only.
“I don’t very often,” I finally answered her, my face staring straight ahead. She was at the side of the house, by the door where we came in and out of, a few feet away from me. She was standing tall like she normally did, her hands propped behind her back. She was still wearing her jeans and tank top, but her hair looked as if it had been brushed, at least from what I saw out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want to look at her full on, just yet, for many obvious reasons.
“Just when you’re nervous,” Jasmine added to my statement, the clear and all-knowing tone in her voice. I laughed a little, leaning my head against the back of the fence and closing my eyes. I put my hand over my forehead, trying to make it absorb my mental anguish.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” she stated, some concern in her voice.
“I know,” I answered, dull and limp.
She was quiet for a bit, for the first time, unsure of what to say. She shifted her bare feet in the grass before piping up again, promoting her love for the bouncy play thing in front of us. “If you’re really nervous or pissed off, the trampoline helps a lot. Trust me.”
I could feel the smile in her voice as she talked, but it did nothing for me.
“No thanks,” I said quietly. I removed my hand from my head, staring at the object in question, not wanting to admit it, but her suggestion striking an idea in me.
You can fly on the trampoline, I told myself. I wanted to, needed to, fly the fuck away from here. Maybe this time, though, I could forget about being a dove for one fucking minute and just jump until I really did get high enough to get away. Or fall down and break my neck. Either way.
I lifted myself up from the ground, still trying not to look at Jasmine, and walked forward to the object. I cleared away the twisted mass of blankets and pillows in a hurry, before swinging my leg up onto the object and walking carefully out into the center, my arms stretched for balance. I could hear Jasmine getting excited, feeling her smile radiate onto my back, and as I turned around, about to jump, my thoughts were confirmed. She had moved a little closer to her favorite oversized toy and had her hands pressed together happily in front of her face. I felt a sting of resentment collect within me, realizing that she was obviously not as torn up about this whole kiss incident as I was, and it had just happened an hour ago.
She probably thinks I like her back, or something, I told myself irately. She probably thinks we’re going out now, too. I added to my cynical thoughts over and over again, building myself up anger-wise. I finally just let out a large sigh, and began to fucking bounce. If this helped her be so Goddamn infectiously happy, then maybe I can at least grate away my bitterness.
As I started to jump, my cynical nature began to get the best of me as my findings actually proved to be correct. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. The first jump had been awkward and bumpy, but once my legs got used to the motion, I was sailing away high and fast. I had wanted to be in a bad mood, to keep my pissy feelings inside of me for all the shit I had been through, but as I felt the wind whip against my face, the beginnings of a smile began to form on my face. I wanted to repress it, to crush and kill it, but I let myself smile. I hadn’t done it genuinely in so long, that I forgot how good it felt. Jasmine started to cheer me on with my jumps, and I actually let her voice inside my head, not trying to kill it like I had wanted to before. She was just a nice girl, I told myself. I just needed to enjoy myself now.
“Yes, Frank!” she cried again, raising an arm in the air with a crooked smile.
I looked down on her and beamed in spite of myself, jumping higher and higher. It really did feel like I was flying. With each jump, I seemed to be able to see more and more, getting higher and higher. I could see the rooftops of the other cottages, the treetops lost deep within the woods surrounding us. At one point, I was sure I saw the highway we had come in on, the condensed traffic and exhaust blending into one as I soared past it. I saw into other people’s backyards, at their makeshift gardens and patio sets, some people sunbathing, and people sleeping outside with remnants of beer cans all around them. I felt like I could see anything and everything – like there was no limit as to how far I could go. I could see how and why Jasmine loved doing this so much. She was even smaller than me and could probably go higher and higher into the air. And like Jasmine, I never wanted this to end. I wanted to keep jumping, because I knew I wasn’t ready to fly yet. This wasn’t really flying – I knew that. Jasmine had said it just felt like flying; it wasn’t the real thing yet. The real thing, just like the real world, I was not ready for yet. I could accept that. But pretending to fly with a safety net was far better than attempting without wings.
“I’m so glad you’re being a kid again,” Jasmine stated, aside from her normal cheer, making my motions stop. I stopped pushing into the tarmac that held me up and looked down at her, feeling the left over ripples go through me and bounce ever so slightly.
She was right. I was becoming a kid again, but when I looked down at myself, and went through my mind at the index of thoughts, I realized that nothing had changed except for the smile on my face. I had thought being a kid, being young, and being in your youth was bad. It meant shitty friends and the horrid beer that I had crashed and broken at Gerard’s place. Childhood was a good thing to get rid of; I never wanted it back. If you were able to grow up, you could be free. You could have the capability to do whatever you wanted without the restriction of parents and the school system. You were able to do a whole lot more, even if the negative aspects (like bills) were included.
But what I had started to realize was that childhood too possessed its own kind of personal freedom. You weren’t able to move out and pursue a career or anything you wanted, but you were able to smile. You could act like a kid, sit in a sandbox and fucking jump on a trampoline and just be happy. You didn’t need to worry about things; there was a carefree nature to the freedom of childhood. Neither setting in life, adulthood or childhood, overrode the other, but people always presented it that way. Gerard wanted me to grow up so I could follow my dreams without someone attaching shackles. He wanted me out of the high school holding pen so I could do what I wanted. And Jasmine wanted me to forget everything and just jump.
Before, I had been trying to fight both of them at the same time, trying to find out who was the most accurate. As I flew through the air and combed through the answers, I realized that they weren’t wrong. They were both right about their ideals of freedom, because that was the beauty of freedom – it could be anything and anywhere, if you let it. I had been fighting it in both regards before. I didn’t want to be a kid. I didn’t want to be an adult. I was stuck in limbo, but denying that fact. I had to embrace them both, instead of shoving them aside. I had the freedom to choose what I wanted. And I was choosing to listen to both sides.
Something washed over me instantly on that trampoline. It was a revelation, an epiphany, or something out of this world. The earth disappeared around me, but came back in a whole new light. What I had, what I felt, wasn’t the youth I had possessed before. It wasn’t entirely adulthood either. I was growing into that adult chronologically, but I was still dipping into the seasonings of childhood pure bliss, easing around the sharp corners of my transition. Childhood didn’t have to be bad. Childhood was good on a lot of the days; the pure joy that I was experiencing a normal existence from a simple task. I had forgotten about that, and it had turned me into something I wasn’t liking, worrying about every goddamn aspect.
I thought back to Gerard and realized that even if he had grown up, matured and destroyed any aspect of his youth, he still had that pure childhood joy dotted throughout his life. The way he smiled and laughed when I came over, his excitement to see me and the way he talked with Vivian and myself. That showed his youth; that was pure joy. It was what kept him from being just another middle-aged person in my mind. It was that joy that had allowed both of us to be with each other and to make it work.
And suddenly, I held that joy in my hands and under my feet from the trampoline I stood on. Not stood – standing was for adults and adults alone. I was jumping on that trampoline, like a little kid again, but thinking and making philosophies like an adult. It was the perfect mix. I let my cheeks be turned up again into a grin as I began to jump again. The wind seemed to filter through my legs and hair, and I stretched my arms out, trying to catch everything around me.
“I told you, you would like it,” Jasmine jokingly chided, still standing and watching me.
I nodded back down to her, realizing yet another thing. The youth that I had managed to pertain again, had not come from Gerard’s teachings, but from her. Though Gerard had shown me his pure joy, he never told me where it had come from. He had never had a lesson on happiness, and I didn’t know if he ever would have. It had been Jasmine and her trampoline that made it okay for me to be a kid again. And she wasn’t even my teacher, or my keeper.
Just like any other little kid, Jasmine soon wanted to come and join the fun. It was mere moments after her last comment when I suddenly felt the weight of the trampoline shift, her small body stepping on. I had been spinning around as I jumped when I came to my realization, and her face meeting mine was a surprise at first. She gave me a child-like grin, her teeth and lips seeming to be stretched across her face as she shrugged her shoulders, picking up a bouncing rhythm right next to mine. It was a little bumpy at first, having two people jumping at the same time, on almost the same space, and not to mention quite awkward. My smile fell into a weak grimace as she went closer to me, grabbing onto my shirt for balance when she almost fell off.
“Sorry!” she cried out, her mouth open and her hand going up quickly to cover it as the trampoline began to rock even more.
I could feel something inside of me flinch, and I knew that I had to get out of there quickly before I was tempted. Again. We had been having an okay time only moments earlier, but when physical contact was present, I began to grow nervous and didn’t want to fuck up. I liked Jasmine, but Gerard was my main priority. He had to be.
“It’s okay,” I assured her, taking her hand off of my shoulder and trying to move away from her. I hopped onto the spring area that kept the black centerpiece held tight. It was less bouncy and I was able to stand properly, not being dragged down into the middle.
“I think I’m going to get off now, though,” I informed Jasmine as I started to sit down where I stood semi-awkwardly.
“Oh,” she uttered, her chipper voice falling down to disappointment. I kept my back to her and started to get up and walk away, not getting very far.
“Frank, wait a second,” she called after me. I heard the squeaks of the trampoline stop and her little body jump down onto the grass, walking over to my side. I stopped easily, not really sure where my destination had been in the first place.
“Come sit with me,” she stated, reaching forward and grabbing one of my hands. I felt my insides flip and cringe, fighting feelings against each other in a complete and utter suicidal battle. I wanted to just grab my hand back and run away from her, but I couldn’t. I still liked her, if only as a friend, and I couldn’t stand being mean to her. Instead, I just let myself grow heavy like dead weight. She grabbed my hand, hers so much smaller than my own, but screwed up her face when she saw I was not cooperating.
“Frank,” she said, her voice dipping at the end to show her slight aggravation. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I lied. I didn’t say anything more, because I was honestly afraid of what I would confess. There was actually no reason for me to be this upset, in theory. As far as she knew, I was a perfectly healthy straight teenage boy. I liked girls and I liked to kiss them. I should have liked her, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“Bad liar again,” she accused me. She let my hand go, watching as it fell to my side with a thud. She began to stare at me, studying my face and I crushed my eyes shut. I hate scrutiny like this. She knew something had to be up, because I was a far different person than I had been on that trampoline. I was falling now instead of flying, though it felt like the same thing.
“Is this because I kissed you?” she asked suddenly, not hiding the surprise in her voice.
I opened one eye and looked at her, just as equally surprised. She was talking so smoothly about this, like it was an every day occurrence. Did she do this to everyone who went to her cottage? I thought back to the other guys in the living area, and wondered if she had just gone around and done it to them while I had been out here in the backyard, ripping up grass blades like I was a human lawn mower, worrying over apparently nothing.
“Yeah,” I enunciated, trying to add importance to it, but only coming off as a pompous bastard.
“Well, don’t worry about it,” she shot back at me, slightly offended at my remark. I softened my face a little, and shifted my weight, trying to portray my sincerity.
“I can’t, though,” I tried to explain to her, daring to open my mouth for more. “You kissed me and I kissed back. It’s…” I trailed off, failing to find a word that did this all justice, without giving it everything away. I came up blank, and thankfully, Jasmine just started talking again.
“So?” She crossed her arms over her chest, getting a little defensive. “It was a kiss. That’s it. Haven’t you ever just wanted to kiss someone? For the sheer sake of it?” She looked at me, probing me for details.
When she phrased what had happened the way she did, everything didn’t seem so bad anymore. I could relate to that feeling; the feeling of just wanting to kiss someone. It had happened with Gerard. It had always been like that with Gerard, during the first few weeks at his place when he was teaching me so much and getting so close, I just wanted to thank him profusely, but there were no words to do it. I tried to ignore the sexual connotations that my kisses ended up being led to with Gerard. In the beginning, my urge to be near him was not sexual. It was purely a bonding thing, a thanking notion. That was all it was with Jasmine, I told myself. The stronger feelings for Gerard had only started to develop after a few weeks. I would not be spending a few weeks with this girl – a week, at most, and probably less if I got my way – so I didn’t have to worry about her emotions growing stronger. And if hers didn’t, then mine wouldn’t either. I was already starting to debate the friendship we had, but I was determined to not let it get past a deliberation.
Sometimes a kiss was just a kiss, I concluded inside my head. It was simple and pure and didn’t have to mean anything other than what it was. My muscles started to loosen again, relaxation spreading through my joints. My back was no longer stiff and I even felt the beginnings of a smile spread across my face. My thoughts that had been too fast before to register were now clear as the sky above us. It was making so much sense now.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding as both of our bodies relaxed. I hadn’t even realized it, but she had been standing in a standoffish stance, her arms still across her chest and her body angled to the side, ready to defend her next words. She relaxed again, seeing my reciprocal understanding, and we were no longer a threat to each other. We were just friends.
“Good,” she declared, chipper returning. She clasped her hands together in front of her body, straightening her back and nodding her head diligently. Her actions were overzealous, grabbing my attention and diverting us away from the heavy nature of the conversation. “I’m glad we got over that.”
“Me too,” I gushed.
“‘Cause I like you and I didn’t want to fuck this up so soon,” she teased, brushing her hand over my shoulder to extend the joke. She bared her white teeth at me, flipping her hair to the side.
“I like you, too,” I found myself saying, my insides swelling all over again. It was only friendship, I told myself, but I had a feeling it was going to be a strong friendship.
“Good,” she declared again. She stepped beside me and interlocked our arms again, beginning to casually stroll forward. I walked with her slowly, listening as she continued. “I was hoping you would accompany me for an in-town run?”
I giggled at her formality of the mundane situation, replying with an affirmative and just as cordial, “Of course.”
“Good,” she declared yet again, nodding her head and over-exaggerating everything.
She dropped her high class stature as we walked around to the front of the house via the backyard gate, skipping the sleeping and passed out teens laying across the living room. I could see their bodies, just a mass of band shirts and pot smoke, on top of each other through the side window. It was an absolute mess inside, and I was pretty sure I saw vomit in the corner. Jasmine was going to have a tough time cleaning all of this shit up, and I certainly hoped that she’d make her brother do everything.
I watched them, like Gerard had instructed me to watch people, and I was still just as scared of them as I had been the day before. Even in their sleeping state, and through the small window on the house, they still seemed to threaten me with the chance that I was looking at what I could become. Or what I had narrowly avoided.
“You coming?” Her giggles broke me out of my stare. I was still paused at the window, watching the contents of the kids inside. I looked over at her, hands on her small hips, shaking her head at me. “We don’t have all day.”
I smiled despite the serious thoughts that had been passing through my mind and began to plod over to her. I didn’t need to worry about being alone, I realized. I had Jasmine.