Jimmy.Jim.James by Bennett Durkan
Jimmy lay in bed, on his side. The lamp burned behind him. His shadow reached over the bed and settled on his right hand. He studied the fingers and the folds between each segment. When he curled his fingers, the shadows shifted. The folds darkened. He cupped the hand. The fingers twitched. The hand dropped. He focused on the edge of his bed, where the creases in the sheet became elevations.
“Jimmy,” he said. “Jim. James.”
The bed squeaked as Jimmy rolled onto his back. He started at the ceiling. The stucco created patterns, which the low light accented. His eyes roamed the texture, the dips and curves. He lifted his right hand, and it dropped like a weight onto his chest. He closed the fingers, holding them for a few breaths before releasing them. The hand drifted. He started at a patch of ceiling. The hand reached his mouth. He inhaled the scent of soap mixed with his flesh. He pressed his lips against his fingertips.
“Jimmy,” he said, lips brushing fingers. “Jim. James.”
The hand left his lips and returned to his side. He closed his eyes. He inhaled through his nose and exhaled through his mouth. He frowned and rolled onto his left side. He curled his legs. He dug both hands under his pillow. The lamp burned on the nightstand. He frowned and tensed the muscles in his face. After some time, he resumed his curled position. After some more time, he pulled the sheet up to his chin.
In the car, he looked out the window. The underside of clouds trapped and held shades of purple. The rest of the sky looked pink. When he sighed, his breath fogged the glass. A finger scratched a circle in the fog. The circle disappeared when he sighed again.
His mom drove. He glanced at her. She glanced at him. She moved her head a few degrees, smiled, and then returned her attention to the road. Outside the car, streetlamps passed. Suburban houses stood in rows. The car stopped at a stop sigh. Jimmy peered down the intersecting street, which curved up a slight incline. Another house obstructed the end of the street. He sighed, again, and drew another circle on the glass.
“Okay,” his mom said, “that’s the third time. What’s up?”
Jimmy jerked from the window. He straightened and stiffened his back. He adjusted the seatbelt’s shoulderstrap, but it slipped and rested against his neck. He looked to his mother. She gave another smile. He smiled. A sound tripped in his throat. He coughed.
“Nothing,” he said. He looked at his hands, which sat in his lap. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” He ran the fingers on his left hand over the palm of his right. His cheek twitched. He smirked and blushed.
“It’s okay to admit you had fun.” His mom turned to him when the car stopped at another intersection. “See, I told you that you wouldn’t want to leave. You don’t need to feel embarrassed that you were wrong.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. When he looked, she transferred the hand to his head. She ruffled his hair. The car accelerated. He leaned into the seat. He brushed his hair. From behind his raised arm, he saw his mom’s profile. He watched her and the scrolling scenery behind her. His body rocked when the car slowed and stopped again. After returning his eyes to the sky above his window, he brushed fingertips along fingertips.
Jimmy heard his mom call and burst from the closet. Out of breath, trembling, he answered. He checked over his shoulder. Andrea, his cousin, bounced out of the closet, pulling her shirt over her stomach. A rose color sat on her cheeks. Their eyes met. She grinned. His breath caught. His eyes shot to the beige carpet. In his periphery, he saw her slide closer. He turned his head, eyes landing where the carpet met the bed’s skirt. The collar and sleeve of an inside-out t-shirt stick out from under the skirt.
“Take it,” Andrea said, “and think of me.”
Jimmy’s mom called again. He swallowed. Straightened his back, and faced the door as he answered, again. He then turned to his cousin. She combed her hair with her fingernails. With her other hand, she reached and tickled Jimmy’s wrist. He nodded. Her grin grew and showed a few teeth.
Jimmy jogged from the bedroom and then ran to the stairs. Each step echoed. Two steps from the bottom, he jumped and landed in front of his mom. He kept his head down and peeked at her. She raised an eyebrow. She stepped closer. She dipped to the side and examined his face. He blinked and sniffed.
“Are you out of breath,” she said, “just from running down the stairs? Maybe you’re not getting enough exercise.”
His mom looked up, and he followed her gaze. At the top of the stairs with one foot on the first step, Andrea leaned against the railing. She waved to Jimmy’s mom, and Jimmy’s mom returned the wave. She then waved to Jimmy, who shrugged. His mom clicked her tongue. She shook her head. She placed a hand on his back, between his shoulders, and they walked through the house. When they passed Jimmy’s aunt, sitting at the kitchen table with a steaming mug in her hands, she and Jimmy’s mom exchanged nods.
Outside, Jimmy waited by the car. He watched an unmoving cloud while his mom searched through her purse.
“I usually don’t have to call twice,” he mom said. “You must’ve been having fun.”
The car beeped. He opened the passenger-side door and scrambled into the seat. He buckled his seatbelt, sitting with his hands in his lap. His mom sat behind the wheel, checked the mirrors, started the engine, and checked the mirrors again. After putting the car into reverse, she reached over and forced a thumb across Jimmy’s cheek. He winced and tensed. She chuckled. The car rolled backward down the driveway. Jimmy focused on the headlights rolling over cracks in the pavement. When the car backed onto the road, Jimmy leaned his shoulder against the window.
Andrea removed her lips from Jimmy’s. Mouth open, he stood and blinked. Saliva dried and cracked in the corner of his lips. He wetted his mouth. He inhaled the scent of her lips that lingered on his top lip. When he exhaled, breath whistled across peach fuzz. She planted her feet, shifted her weight, and ran her fingernails through her hair. He looked down and saw his fists tremble. The fingers released one at a time. The hands still trembled.
“That’s what teenagers do,” Andrea said. She gathered her hair and draped the bundle over her shoulder. Jimmy wiped the right side of his mouth. Andrea traipsed in a small circle with her arms spread likes wings. A spin lifted her hair. She faced Jimmy. He stepped forward and then stepped backward. She tilted her head. He did the same.
“That’s not all we teenagers do,” she said. She rushed at him and grabbed his hand. “Gimme you hand.” She lifted his hand and folded it, aiming the palm toward her. A chuckle crackled behind her grin. She pulled the hand. The space between her and the palm lessened. Jimmy gulped.
“Wait.” She stopped pulling. She looked over Jimmy’s shoulder, at the door. She twisted, still holding the hand, and looked at her closet. The open door revealed a black, unlit space.
“Follow me.” She went to the closet, dragging Jimmy along. She pushed Jimmy inside. He collided with shirts. Plastic hangers rattled. She closed the door as she entered. A strip of light appeared at their feet. Their breathing echoed. Her fingers found his hand and manipulated it. With her assistance, his arm stretched. His fingers landed on fabric, cotton. The fabric moved, revealing skin. She moved his hand upward. Their breathing grew heavier. He closed his eyes.
“We could get caught,” she said between breaths. A sound from her cracked. He made the same sound. He pressed his fingers. He bit his lip.
Shoulder to shoulder, Jimmy and Andrea left their moms in the kitchen. Jimmy’s mom said something, and his aunt laughed. Andrea rolled her eyes. She elbowed Jimmy and, when he looked, she rolled her eyes again. She grinned. She waved a hand through the air. In the next room, she skipped to a couch and dropped onto a cushion. She stretched and pointed at the television against the opposite wall. Jimmy, hands snug in his pockets, stood by the couch’s corner.
“We could watch TV,” she said. “You probably want to watch some cartoons.” Holding the back of the couch, she crawled across the cushions next to him. She grinned. He shrugged.
“You don’t have to act like you’re older just ’cause you’re around me.”
“You’re only a year older.”
“But that year makes a difference.” She fell onto the cushions and then rolled onto the floor. She stood with a small pop. “I’m a teenager, now. I’m different.”
She poked his chest. He rocked backward. When he settled, her finger pressed on the hard bone in the center of his chest. He swatted the hand, but she replaced it with her other hand. He rolled his eyes. He shifted his weight backward. She kept her hand suspended for a second before crossing her arms.
“You’re not different,” he said.
“Yes I am.”
“Then prove it.”
Her arms loosened. She raised her thumb to her lips and chewed on the nail. Hips swayed side to side. Shoulders dipped from side to side. She gasped. Her thumb left her mouth. Her eyes narrowed. She aimed a finger at Jimmy.
“I’m a teenager, now,” she said, and Jimmy shrugged. “And I can do things that teenagers do. I can show you, but you probably won’t be good at them since, y’know, you’re still a kid.”
Andrea snapped her hand and caught Jimmy’s. She skipped to the stairs, pulling him along. She took the steps two at a time. He watched his feet as he ascended, one at a time. After he reached the second floor, she grabbed his hand again and led him to a door which led to her room.
He stopped in the doorframe while she skipped to the middle of the room. He focused on her, standing sideways with her hands on her hips. He smelled perfume. She pointed at the door. He cocked his head. She rolled her eyes and walked past him. He stepped out of the way and noticed the perfume on her. She closed the door. He saw her hand linger on the knob, fingers poised on the lock.
“We can’t get caught,” Andrea said. “That’s another difference. Kid’s do kid things, but teenagers aren’t supposed to do teenager things.”
Keeping her back to Jimmy, she straightened her shoulders. She swiped her fingernails through her hair which she then gathered into a bundle that she lay over her shoulder. Her other hand dropped from the doorknob. He watched the hand fall and swing. He raised his eyes from her hand, to her elbow, to her shoulders, to the back collar of her shirt, to the back of her head, where a spot of scalp showed. She turned her head, revealing the corner of her eye.
“Have you kissed anybody?” she said.
“Of course.” Jimmy scoffed and looked away from her.
“I don’t mean, like, your mom. I mean a real kiss.” A moment passed. She face him. “See, you’re still a kid.”
Still looking away from her, he started to speak. The sound formed in his open mouth. Then, she rushed him. Her hands landed on his cheeks. Her lips collided with his. She took a step forward. He took two backward. His cheeks slid from under her fingertips. She looked at him without an expression.
“That’s what I mean,” she said. “And that’s not even the realest kiss. There are other kisses which are more real.”
He touched his lips. The skin stuck, but the adhesion faded. She moved closer. She eased his hand from his lips to his side. A second later, he jerked his hand from hers. She chuckled. She shook her head. She dropped hands onto his shoulders. He stumbled. As she moved closer, her arms encircled him. They overlapped on his back. She laughed. She swayed, and then he swayed with her. Beat by beat, their movements slowed. When they stood flatfooted, one of her hands traveled to the back of his neck. He relaxed his arms. He touched her back. She laughed once, her lips next to his ear.
“Maybe after this,” she said, “I’ll call you Jim.”
He gulped. He closed his eyes. The pressure on his chest lessened. He peeked. She, eyes closed, held her head to the side. He tilted his head the other way. Their faces drew together. He closed his eyes. He held his breath.
When they finished, their mouths separated. Andrea still held onto Jimmy’s neck, and he still held onto her back. They looked at each other. She blushed. He bowed his head and looked at their feet, less than an inch apart, pointing at each other.
“That was good practice,” she said. “Wanna try again?”
“Sure.” He voice cracked. He cleared his throat. He used a lower tone. “Sure.” They repeated the same actions.
Jimmy’s mom parked the car in the driveway, outside the garage. She exited. He groaned, opened the car door, and dropped heels on the pavement. He trudged to his mom’s side, and they walked to the backdoor. His mom opened the door and called. Jimmy’s aunt answered. He and his mom entered via laundry room. Jimmy lagged a step behind his mom as they continue to the kitchen. Jimmy’s aunt left her seat at the table and lifted her arms. The sisters hugged. Jimmy’s mom sat while his aunt went to the cupboard. She grabbed two mugs.
Footsteps sounded behind Jimmy. He pivoted and saw Andrea hop into the room. Beside him, she stretched and straightened her back, growing half an inch. Jimmy slouched. She pushed his shoulder with a playful fist. He groaned and inched to the side.
“It’s been a while, Jimmy,” Andrea said.
Jimmy gave his mom a look. She shook her head then shrugged. Jimmy’s aunt returned to the table with two mugs of coffee. After giving one mug to her sister, she returned to her chair. The two conversed in a tone one grade above a whisper. Andrea maneuvered in front of Jimmy.
“It really has been a while,” she said. “What’s new with you?”
Jimmy shrugged. Andrea chuckled. She skipped to the refrigerator, rifled through its contents. Jimmy shifted his weight. He looked at the grid pattern that the black lines of grout made between white tiles. His mom and aunt mumbled. When his mom gasped, his aunt laughed. Andrea danced around the kitchen, opening and closing doors and drawers.
“Mom,” she said, stretching the syllable, “there’s nothing to eat. There’s nothing to snack on.” She skipped to her mother’s chair and shook the back of it. Stopping, she drifted backward a few steps. She pouted.
“Why don’t the two of you,” Jimmy’s aunt said, “leave us alone and find something to do. Go watch TV or something. Just give us some privacy.”
Andrea smiled. She skipped to Jimmy and directed him, with a hand on each of his shoulders, toward the other room.
Hands in his pockets, twisting and untwisting his foot, Jimmy watched his mother search the counter drawers. She pushed aside pens, letters, and pads of off-brand sticky notes. She closed the drawer and moved to a ceramic bowl full of rubber bands and change. She hummed. She scratched her head. She slid the purse of her shoulders, dropped it on the counter, and checked the pockets.
“Why do I have to go?” Jimmy said.
“Because I like to talk with my sister,” his mom said. “Because I feel like I deserve these weekly breaks. Because I can’t leave you home alone.” She found the keys, jiggling them in the air.
“But Andrea will be there.”
“So? You two used to get along.”
“She still calls me Jimmy.” He slouched. He looked at the grid pattern the beige grout made between beige tiles. “My name’s Jim. It’s been Jim for a year.”
His mother bent and put a hand on his shoulder. The keys poke through his shirt.
“You’ll just have to deal with it, dear,” his mom said. She smiled, tilted her head. “Jim.” She turned him around and guided him through the backdoor. Outside, a dark but still blue sky appeared between two, large, gray clouds.
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