Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 36byrpsuch©
I did some advance work for my plan. I called his house when I was pretty sure he wouldn't be in. I spoke to Sunny and asked her to tell Jeff I would be by for him around 7:30, maybe a few minutes later.
"Is everything okay?" she asked. "You sound a little funny."
"No, everything's great." In that moment I learned a key lesson about lying.
I had practiced lying all my life and I considered myself quite good at it. Pick the emotion, the stress level, the sincerity you want to portray, feel them, then tell the lie.
But it was very difficult to lie to Sunny. I instinctively understood the reason: I cared what she thought about me. I didn't want being caught in a lie to lower her opinion. That created real stress as it tapped my conscience.
In the past, I didn't care at all what the other person thought of me. I had a position I wanted to get to and if lying did the job, great. If I was caught in a lie, oh yeah, I remember now, and make up a better one. Caring could really gum up the works. Just another danger to face in my brave new world.
I tried to cover up and Sunny graciously pretended to believe me, though I had no such illusions.
At 7:30 on the dot I pulled up in front of the Goldberg house, projecting cheer and confidence.
Jeff came out of the house and I was shocked into silence for a moment before I started a belly laugh. It kept expanding until there were tears streaming down my cheeks. It took me a good two minutes to get myself under control. I motioned him to go inside.
He had on a white golf shirt like his InTime shirt, with no logo. The collar was turned up for God's sake.
His brand new jeans were pre-faded and carefully pre-torn. To get a pair of normally-colored jeans this faded he would have had to buy them before his bar mitzvah.
He finished off the look with a pair of tan, Steve Madden flip flops with an almost squared-off toe. All he needed was an imported beer in his hand.
"What the hell are you wearing?" I asked him.
He didn't immediately respond. Sunny appeared from the direction of the living room.
"Sunny, how could you let him out of the house dressed like this?"
"I tried to tell him," she said.
"Jeff, what were you thinking?" I asked.
"Well, we had this party tonight with your friends, and you always roll your eyes at what I wear. So, I decided to get something cool. I went to the Izod store.
How do I put this nicely?
"Jeff, you're not cool like other guys. No matter how you dress, nobody's ever going to mistake you for a hip, cool dude.
"You're cool like Jeff. Nobody else is like Jeff. You know who you are and what's important and you're fine with that. That is cool.
"Other guys see a standard of what's hot now, in terms of clothes, music, language, whatever, and they conform skillfully. They're seen as cool. And in that sense, they are cool.
"You're cool just being you. You don't care what anybody thinks, except for today." I started waving my hands around, I guess expressing my confusion. "You've got to explain to me what this is. I have no idea. Why did you do this?"
My hands kept going the entire time.
"Well, last night you got me to thinking. You are the one doing all the changing and I thought I could try to make an effort to -"
"Stop right there. I went temporarily insane last night. You did nothing wrong. You've done nothing wrong. I just lost my mind and decided the sun is made of pickled herring."
I have no idea where that metaphor came from, but even more surprising, it was met with instant understanding; not a blip.
I had been speaking in a somewhat agitated voice because this caught me by surprise and I was embarrassed about my behavior the previous night. My tone became calm.
"Jeff, you haven't changed anything because there isn't anything important you have to change. You're Jeff. You're cool. That's it."
In the brief silence that followed, Sunny moved close to me and brushed the back of her fingers down my cheek. I waited for Jeff's response.
He tilted his head and gave us a sheepish grin.
"I was kind of confused."
"No kidding," I said. "If a street person walks up to you and shouts, 'The moon toppled the wall because the sidewalk was hungry,' are you a little confused? Well, a crazy person came up to you last night and said something like that."
"So, you don't think I look good in this?" He gestured toward himself with his hands.
A snort escaped before I could start to answer.
"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
"Strangely, I don't feel at all insulted by that," he said.
"And that's why you're so cool," I paused, "except when you try to be cool."
I opened my arms and we hugged each other.
"Thank God you didn't get your hair cut," I said.
"I have an appointment tomorrow."
"Cancel it. Now let's get you dressed for this party."
And that was it. I'd gone berserk, hurt him, shook him up, I acknowledged it, apologized and it was over.
He gave me a funny look for a few seconds on the way up to his room. Then his face relaxed. He never said another word about it.
I had a decent selection in his room, I had been working with him, but when I smelled it, I picked out the purple InTime golf shirt. He was always comfortable wearing it and it smelled so Jeff it almost made me dizzy.
I gave him sneakers, socks and a boring pair of no-name jeans he'd gotten at Marshalls. He could have gotten something with more panache at the Salvation Army. But he didn't need to - he was Jeff.
It was a nice party. All the right people were there. There were some riff raff, like Jeff, but the overall level of quality was sufficient for my parents to approve.
I invited Jen, who brought Rich. I didn't get to talk with her much, but things were moving pretty fast for them.
We needed little reason to have a party, especially in the summer, but this one was nominally in honor of my upcoming twenty-first birthday. A small group, mostly girls, was organizing a trip to a bar to get me legally blotto. Jen signed up with enthusiasm. Rich was not included in the deal.
Jeff caught wind of the plans and was a bit put off.
"I can vote. I can be killed in the armed forces without my consent to serve. I can graduate college and get a job that pays me a higher salary than the President. But I can't sit in a bar with you to be your designated driver because I'm not legally a responsible adult. It's absurd."
"If the law of gravity were absurd, would that make it any less enforceable?" I asked.
Jeff rolled his eyes and said, "Damn."
It was a gesture of respect.
"You know," I said, "not only are you under twenty-one, you're not even nineteen yet."
He took my mocking him awfully well. He drew me into his arms and gave me a really hot kiss. It was hot enough and long enough that when he released me I heard someone say, "Holy shit." That's how I felt about it as well.
"What was that for?" I asked.
"You constantly surprise and delight me to the point where I just can't help myself; I have to kiss you. It's like thirst - I have to slake my need to hold you and kiss you."
After that response, I needed some slaking myself. I pulled him to me and gave him one of those kisses he said I expected to enjoy. When I released him, he pulled me back in and returned the favor.
"Are you guys aware you're in public?" asked Jen.
I thought about the question. This wasn't like Jeff. He wasn't against a public display of affection, but he was usually reluctant to get too involved.
Whatever his reason, it was a good thing. If he was so carried away he didn't even remember we were in public that was a very good thing.
If he no longer cared about being in public because the need overcame his reticence, that too was a very good thing. The kissing wasn't anything to sneer at either.
Jeff enjoyed the party like I had never seen before. He was relaxed, comfortable. He joked with people. He moved from group to group.
From what he had told me, the few parties he went to in high school were pretty painful for him. After the little incident where I dismissed him so callously, his confidence was severely shaken. He could jump in with no problem when people were talking about something meaningful like a debate or even a discussion. But one-on-one small talk froze him like a deer in the headlights.
Not so tonight. He moved between people and groups with apparent ease. If he made a connection, he stayed and talked. If not, he moved on. He was like a different person. I'd never seen this before.
My curiosity demanded an explanation.
"I realized I could talk to someone or not. But mostly, we're celebrating your birthday and that put me on such a high, I couldn't help but have a good time."
What else could I say?