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(This flash builds upon events in the previous episode, Birthday Boy)

Barista

Jesse 5, by Merkin

Brian was foaming the top of a cappuccino with his special signature swirl when he heard someone clearing his throat. He glanced over and saw a man standing in front of the counter. ?I?ll be right with you,? he said cheerfully, ?just give me a minute to finish this.? He quickly topped off the cap and passed the cup to Janice, who was waiting to serve it to the only other customer in the coffee shop area of the bookstore.

Brian turned and smiled. ?How can I help you??

?Brian?? The tall, slender man smiled back. ?Have you got a few minutes to talk? I?m Jesse?s uncle Fred. He said I could find you here.?

?Jesse Schofield?"

?Yes.?

?Is he O.K.??

?Oh yes, he?s fine. I just wanted to talk to you about him.?

Brian wrinkled his forehead. ?Let me tell the boss I?m going on break. Find a seat and I?ll be right over.? He leaned through the doorway into the back room, spoke a few words, then pulled off his apron.

?I?ve got about ten minutes," Brian said as he slid into a chair opposite Jesse?s uncle. ?Whaddaya mean, you want to talk to me about Jesse??

?I?d like to know about your friendship with him.?

?We just sorta know each other, from school.?

?I?m talking about the birthday card.?

?You are??

?He told me what you said about why you sent it, but I wondered if there might be a little more to it than that.?

Brian fidgeted and looked away, thinking hard. Fred waited.

?I?m not gonna be able to explain this very well. Did Jesse tell you about the valentine?? Brian blushed.

?Yes, he did." Fred smiled encouragingly. ?Let me introduce you to someone.? He waved to a man who had just entered. ?This is my partner, Dave.?

Brian?s eyes widened. He looked back and forth as Dave approached their table rattling the car keys. ?You?re...?

?We?re gay. Does that help??

Brian swallowed hard. ?Were you out...? He stopped.

?In high school?? Fred asked. Brian nodded.

?No way. That was the dark ages, by your standards. Do you think I wanted to get my ass kicked all over the campus??

Brian snorted, then took a deep breath. ?O.K., so I?m gay,? he said softly. ?Maybe being gay is easier today, but it still matters. So I don?t go around announcing it.?

Dave gave Brian?s shoulder a little squeeze, then sat down beside him.

Brian continued. ?But Jesse knows. And he?s cool with it. He saved me from a lot of embarrassment when I tried to impress someone with that valentine. So we started talking and getting to know each other. Now we?re friends.?

Fred nodded and looked expectant.

?That doesn't--" Sometimes when Brian got very intent his voice still squeaked. He cleared his throat and tried again. ?That doesn?t mean I?m after Jesse. I get that you?re protecting him. Can you also get that I know Jesse is still too young for me to be interested in that way? He?s a great guy and really smart, and he?s just finishing eighth grade.?

Fred and Dave exchanged looks. ? ?Still too young? ?? Fred said.

?I really like that we?re friends, but he?s still a kid. I mainly want to make sure he doesn?t have a rough time.?

?With...??

?With heading into high school and figuring things out.? Brian said flatly. ?He doesn?t know what he wants yet but I can see he?s working on it. He?s maybe interested in boys. I don?t know for sure, and I certainly haven?t pushed that on him. But we talk about things.?

?So you are like a mentor?? Fred sounded a little incredulous. ?His gay guide??

?What?s wrong with that?? Brian asked.

?What if one of you decides to want more??

Brian looked steadily at Fred. ?I won?t take advantage of Jesse. That?s not who I am.?

?And if Jesse...?? Fred persisted.

Brian nodded slowly. He obviously had already given this some thought. ?Jesse may be young now, but everything changes. Next year we?ll both be in the upper school.? Brian paused, gathering his thoughts. ?I?m happy to be his friend. Sometimes friendship can lead to something more. Sometimes not. We both have a lot to figure out. Isn?t that how the relationship thing is supposed to work??

Dave looked at Fred and raised his eyebrows. ?It might be enough,? he said.

Fred stared intently at Brian, then gave a little nod and said, ?Could there actually be two kids who have their act together?" He reached for a napkin. ?Here, let me give you our phone number. Don?t hesitate to call if it begins to get complicated.?

Brian looked back and forth between Fred and Dave. ?I?d appreciate that. But only if we include Jesse in any other conversations concerning his future.?

Dave smiled. ?I like this boy,? he said.

_____

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