Chapter 9 – Tom & Jerry – The Black Cherry


*cough cough*

Being around Salem when he smoked a cigarette was a new and slightly unpleasant experience for me to be honest. As we were walking past the little bodega shop which was deemed as the town’s mini mart with a small liquor store inside that many locals & teenagers used in order to purchase their little pick me ups throughout the course of the day, I side glanced my new ‘boyfriend’ take a puff of his Marlboro menthol cigarette. As I did, he, unknowingly, exhaled a large cloud of the black second hand smoke right into my face as I was breathing causing me to choke & wince. Bleh. My nose wrinkled as I thought- “How could he take this smell?” Seeing him walk his little walk in a slightly speedy pace with his bud in his hand and taking it out of his mouth, he inhaled deeply, relishing the long hit of tobacco he had just taken into his lungs. I saw him almost moan in pleasure as he closed his eyes facing the sky, enjoying his smoke. I’ve seen that face before. Uhm. He makes it when he feels good. Believe me… I know. Jeez. Was smoking really that great?

“What?” He asked as he took a side glance at me, continuing to walk as he took another puff, not once slowing down.

I couldn’t help it. I tried not to do it; this was not the time & place. But, I giggled my wiggle giggle that I do whenever I try to hold my laughter inside. Oh, god. Remember? Its power is relentless.

What?” He asked a bit louder. “Is there-is there something on me? AUghh, …man.” He checked the chest of his burgundy colored hoodie to see if he had a stain or some other foreign & unwanted substance on the apparell which he was wearing as he continued to walk.

“Uhm. No. It’s just…” I stammered my answer.

“Yeah?” he questioned.

“How can you, like, do that. Doesn’t it taste bad?” I wondered & finally asked him.

“Hmm… nah. Oh, you… you want some? Sorry. Here. I got another.” he offered me the half lit burning bud.

I gave the look you would give someone if they handed you a live cockroach on the palm of their hand for you to eat. “Eww, no.”

He sort of curved his lip like I was… I don’t know… a loser & scrunched his little nose. “What’s the matter? …Oh, come on. It’s no big deal. Yah never had one before? Here, babe. Try.” he said wrapping his arm around my shoulder and giving it a small and warm brotherly rub, sweetly.

Babe? He called me ‘babe’? Okay, I’m not gonna lie. Hearing him call me that was kind of cute. I smiled to myself as I looked at the ground with his arm around my shoulder. It made me feel so, I don’t know, girly. But, I LIKED it. I liked it in some weird & kinky way. It was sexy to me. I guess, I’m weird for that. But, I don’t care. I liked it, okay? It was so hot for me to hear that come out of his own mouth, knowing that it was directed at ME.

I laughed. “Uhmm… I don’t knooooow…” I hesitated. I really didn’t like the smell. It sort of made me want to gag. But, instead of doing so, it would just make me cough. I took the bud in my fingers, slowly. Giving him a wince and a look that just told him- “I’m doing this for you, but, I really don’t wana.”, I put it in my mouth & was bombarded with the burning smoke from it’s end going STRAIGHT into my nose making my brain feel like it fried for a second before I ‘sipped it like a straw’ the same way that I heard on TV, once, when someone described how to correctly smoke a cigarette on some show.

“Kkkkeeacckk.” Okay, I basically choked. Turning my head to the other side, I gave him back his smoke without even looking at him while I agonized the flavor which made me want to puke and inhale vanilla ice cream for some reason to try and neutralize and bring me some relief from the aroma and sickening residue that was left on my tounge.

“I mean….” he said, obviously, commenting on how much I hated it. “It’s not that bad. …God.” I liked Salem. I did. But, this habit, I couldn’t pick up for the love of me. It was gross.

“It tastes like death, dust, and metal.” I turned to him.

He laughed and said, “Mmhmm. It does. Can’t argue, there. Too, bad. You’re kinda sexy when you do that.” he bit his bottom lip as he gave me this evil grin and pinched my butt! Is he crazy? We’re on a sidewalk.

“Salem, Oh my God!” I opened my mouth and gave him a little shove and grinned to myself.

“Hay, I like it. Don’t hate. Makes you look… kinda bad. It’s hot. Can you hold it again?” He asked.

I gave him a look that just said- “Please….” as we continued to walk to his house for one final meal of that week on Thursday as my mom, once again, had to work which I didn’t mind one bit. It was the day after that I was dreading.

_____________

“Why???” I moaned to my mother even though I had been taught never to complain to her or anyone else as a way of formally controlling my emotions and behavior in front of her, my family, and any others in accordance with her standards of how I should carry myself in a respectable manor.

“Johnson.” she said, sternly. She buttoned up my shirt which she had me wear to look ‘nice enough for the event’ as we were about to head out and leave. “There aren’t many of these shows left in your life at your school to enjoy. Now, I want us to enjoy ourselves, have some fun, relax, and grab something to eat as well, afterwards, at that nice café that I have been meaning for us to try. I can use an espresso decaf.” She said already planning our evening that Friday night of the school talent show.

Why were there even any talent shows in high school in the first place? Didn’t these end in middle school? Going to this show just reminded me of Kieran and when he would do his Magic act every year. He was always into magic and would invite me over to his house where we would, sometimes, watch those vintage ‘how they do the act’ magician specials which reveal to the viewers and fill them in on how the professionals in the show bizz are able to achieve their tricks and magical acts behind the scenes. It wasn’t really a personal interest of mine to watch them to be honest, but, he was my friend & would always get such a thrill whenever we would get together to view them & raved about how cool that he thought they were; he enjoyed viewing and learning how the acts were meticulously and professionally executed and would watch them with a great big smile. His own energy just made my own mimic his radiance of joy; he made me so genuinely happy. He would always make me smile, despite, how bad my day was or whatever I was currently going through. He would often make us his favorite popcorn flavor, “Kettle Corn”, and we sat down on his couch in the basement and would snuggle up under a blanket together and he would, sometimes, put his head on my shoulder as we watched them.

Whenever he did his act, he was extremely professional about it and took it very seriously. In real life, he looked like such a sweetheart, which I always loved. But, in his acts, he wore a white mask & a dark black hat with a fitted outfit to complete his mysterious ‘look of shadows’, perfectly. The whole image transformed him, entirely; it completely changed him & even made him look scary with a bone chilling and creepy vibe that was so easily viewed and felt by the audience as he glared at them behind that expressionless mask from time to time as he slowly moved around in order to perform his carefully planned and well executed act. It gave you that nerve shattering feeling that just made you want to keep on watching, almost, worried & wondering what would happen. He almost looked like that Phantom of The Opera guy. That’s exactly who he reminded me of.

I still missed him & I couldn’t deny it even if I wanted to. He was always chosen by the school to be the final act of the day, clearly, due to the level of serious showmanship that he carried throughout his entire performance as an added part of the show that was deemed as the final flare that they wanted in order to end the event in a dynamic and exciting manor.

I frowned thinking of him. This school already reminded me of how badly I missed my home. Or- ‘Old Home’. WHATEVER! I DON’T wana go. Ugggggh. And, this shirt is too tight on my neck. It almost made me want to gag in the exact same way that Salem’s cigarette made me want to gag and throw up as I coughed when he gave me his half burned blunt.

“And, speaking of eating…” my mother continued as she began applying some burgundy colored lipstick onto her lips, using our decorative mirror that we had in our living room to see what she was doing. “That nice boy, Salem, has had you over at his family’s house more than plenty of times for dinner while I have been busy or away and they have also invited you to their family business for a time well spent, multiple times. I think it’s more than fair that he had a meal here, too. You never have him over. That’s not right, Johnny. Your friends are always welcome, here. Andnnnnmmhh” her speech cut off as she applied the final touch onto her bottom lip in order to complete the look that she was trying to achieve right as we were about to leave. “And, I think it’s about time that I formally met and introduced myself to that fine family and thanked them for having you as company.”

My eyes winced and, then, widened at the same time. My mother wants Salem in our house for a meal? She wants to meet his family? Uhm, There’s not only many things that can go wrong, here, but, she clearly had a point. So, I couldn’t even really argue or debate with her about the subject, whatsoever. She was right.

“I’m going to the TALENT show.” I texted my old best friend. I was annoyed and wanted him to know for some reason as if me not notifying him that I was going without him even being there would be, somewhat, wrong or disrespectful in some way. Why do you think I quit gymnastics? BECAUSE, MY FRIENDS WOULDN’T BE THERE, ANYMORE. And, now I have to go to this- this stupid show! Is this the time that Salem would smoke a cigarette? Is this when he would sneak a drink? Hmm. I’m starting to understand the origin of the little habit and what inspired the behavior pattern in the first place. It started to not sound so bad to me. Maybe, I need something to ‘numb the pain’. Maybe, I need my version of a smoke. Maybe, I’ll go to him for something. Maybe, I will…

______________

*Applause*

Mmhmm. Yeah, okay. Whatever. I thought as I sat with my arms folded at the talent show which the school held at 7:47pm as the final act of the show was about to begin. Gosh. Salem’s attitude is starting to rub off on me. But, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to even be there. This school takes these shows more seriously, apparently, due to this being a high school event, so having them done after school hours with tickets being purchased in order to enter the show was all standard procedure for the program. They even named it a different name other than a ‘talent show’. They called it- “You Are A Star” with fancy stars surrounding the entrance name with glitter and shiny lettering. It WAS a nice show, actually, & the auditorium was packed. Some people were dressed nicely as well. So, I understood my mom’s requirment for us to dress nicely- me wearing a white button up, black pants, and a pair of shiny shoes. She wore her deep red skirt with black high heels. I even caught some fathers and teenagers staring her down and giving her ‘the look’ with some smirks. EW. Gross. That’s my mom, guys. Lord, gimme a break. Can this night get anymore annoying?

“Oh, cool! That’s neat. Lemme know how it goes. Why so late?” My old best friend texted me back his answer, making me feel even sadder. Yeah, he was always cheerful even in the darkest of times. Leave it to him.

I almost answered him, but, they announced the final act and I instantly perked up as I heard- “…playing the musical medley of the Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joblin, & the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Friska, musical exchange student, Salem Tyler Claymore…” The old announcer said. Wait… WHAT? Salem is in the talent show? Wait. Salem plays the piano? Wait. Salem is a music exchange student? Wait. Salem has a middle name? Wait… Huh?

Ohhhhhh, yeaahhhh. He plays the piano. Haha. Oh, wow. I forgot! This should be- My mind shut off as it stopped thinking. Walking up on stage, I saw a sophomore dressed in all black, with a little fancy burgundy bow-tie, midnight-shining black oxford shoes, a white button down like the one that I had been wearing, and he straightened up his tux-like top all fancy like and sat down at the piano.

My mind was kind of numb as I watched him. It didn’t even feel like I was watching Salem. It felt like I was viewing some random TV show special with a professional stranger about to play a piano piece. It just seemed so foreign. He seemed so ‘far away’ from me if that makes any sense. It was like I wasn’t allowed or able to touch him. It was like he was a “Star” for a moment and I was too far away and forbidden to interrupt his glory during his time to shine as he showcased whatever it was that he was about to do. He looked and acted like a million freaking bucks! What’s he gonna whip out a cigar & a bottle of brandy and drink that, too? I mean, how’d he even get the money to buy that type of suit? ….I ignored the dark possiblity of the answer to that question which popped into my head at that moment in order to not allow his hidden past to negatively interfere with my mood.

Silence filled the air and I just couldn’t help but stare at him and feel my throat tie in a knot as my heart thumped louder than it ever had in the past. Only, that time, it wasn’t anger and sadness that was tying my vocal chords together, stopping me from breathing, it was a kid that I’d been secretly crushing on for the past two months who I just shared a smoke with the day before that I was, now, watching as the final act of Chestnut High School’s talent program.

Salem looked and acted completely different. I mean, am I even surprised, anymore? But, this was different. This was wayyyyy different. Like- Who is that!? He just had a very serious face on as he sat down. It looked as though he was really focusing on the thought patterns that were swirling around and processing inside of his mind as he looked at the 9 ft. grand piano which was owned by the high school.

Remember that ’46 year old millionaire’ persona that I got a subtle glimpse of that I thought was sexy when he formally and almost playfully introduced himself to my mother? That was it. That was him. He was sitting right there. He was right in front of me as dead silence filled the room almost begging for something to fill it’s void with any noise. It made me nervous. I got the jitters for some reason. And, I didn’t understand why I had the butterflies that were swirling around in my stomach which made me uncomfortable &, honestly, want to run away, hide, & use the restroom.

He was acting all, I don’t know… fancy. Hehe. It was so cutee. It was so weird to see coming from him! Haha. He began playing this song and I perked up even more than I already was in the exact same way that he did when he was sitting alone all sad- like when he saw me walk into Nelly’s, last week, right before he gave me my new laptop. He sounded so- so professional! My mouth kind of stayed opened to the point were all of my saliva dried up. I would have closed it, but, I was too dumbfounded to register exactly how to utilize my body’s basic motor funtions at that moment. It sounded like an old song from the 1950’s or something that folks would jam and dance to as it would be playing in the background at some old vintage party, back in the day. It was so happy and fun sounding. It sounded like something that would play in an old saloon or a Disney park.

Remember that fun & energetic mood that he displayed to me when he first asked me about how I did gymnastics? That was it! He was playing and acted so… free. It was amazing. He was- he was really good! Oh, wow! My grin forced itself opened. I tried to stop it, subconsciously, afraid that someone would spot me admiring the boy and that it would “out” me and my homosexual infatuation and hidden relationship that I had with him “off the books” as if my smile would give it all away. But, I just couldn’t. My mother looked at me and said- “Isn’t- Isn’t that YOUR Salem? He’s- he’s great! You didn’t tell me that he was performing, tonight. Johnny, why didn’t you tell me?” My mother said, actually, a bit upset as if I knew and kept it a secret from her. She said he was “my” Salem. My throat felt like burnt ashes from the hidden meaning that statement actually had without her even knowing about it.

“Uhm-uhh… I had no idea.” I said, blankly, as the audience clapped during one large chord progression that he completed as he nodded in aknowledgement of them all, silently thanking them for their displayed appreciation of his talent while he continued playing.

He, then, finished his first song and the crowd cheered and giggled from the gleeful energy that the song emanated in the room, especially, the old folks as that song was, unknown by me at the time, a classic of the early 1900’s of the ragtime piano era. I couldn’t even clap. I was just stuck as I heard him seriously begin his next piece. This one was way different.

Uhm. Uhhh. …wow. Wow. He started playing and it was so pretty and soft sounding. It was an actual hard piece to play. This wasn’t like your average middle school or even high school show stuff or anything. This was something that you hear at some concert and even pay money to watch and listen to as you are with good company or family for a well-planned evening of recreation. It was so soft and beautiful. It almost sounded sad like the piano was crying and singing you a secret lulliby as it was whispering to you the saddest secrets of the Universe from it’s very own instrumental spirit. It reminded me of those music boxes that play a pretty song with the ballerina that pops up and twirls around when you open the top of the box. His left hand even crossed over to reach the right side of his right hand multiple times in order to play the notes as his arms were crossed. That looked really complex. He must have practiced for hours…days…weeks!

I began to think. Maybe, that’s what he’d been doing at school in secret, sometimes, whenever he couldn’t meet with me. He never told me what he was doing. His family never told me, either. I guess he asked them not to tell anyone and they obliged to his wishes out of respect. But, this… was just a shocker. And, I still debated whether or not it was real or if I was dreaming. Then, it died off. And a repetitive note began to play as it got louder and louder and louder and more serious. It was wonderful. It was beautiful. It was so magical as the notes swirled around and danced in the air. It almost made you want to cry, but, you didn’t really understand the reason. The song reached it’s peak & his hands began playing these extremely complex and happy sounding chords in an entire medley of tremendously accurate and well written music that was just so satisfying and mesmerizing to listen to, almost as if you had heard it before, in a past life, but, could not recall when or where you heard it.

His hands were moving so rapidly, that, you almost couldn’t see his fingers at times from the quick motions and darts that they were making as the movements emanated and created the music which surrounded the entire auditorium. They were bouncing all over the keyboard. It was so fun to watch his slender fingers just dance around on those keys. He did it so… effortlessly. He did it so quickly and easily. It looked like he was just breathing as he played his song. It was so cute! I finally saw Salem’s potential, that, I just knew that he had. He was just… made for the piano. It was like bread and butter or peanut butter and jelly or cookies and milk. It was so obvious. It was so perfect. And, when they go together you are just like “Yup! That’s it! Perfect!” They just belonged together.

He looked like he wasn’t even trying. He owned it. It was nothing to him. It was just like how he made love to me for that very first time. He was ….so serious and just gave a look that an old man would give as he would be flipping pages of a very serious novel that he had been reading over a cigar in his study. It was incredibly meticulous looking as if a Lab scientist was carefully inspecting the contents of a test tube as he poured the chemicals, cautiously, into a jar over a heated jet fire in order to blend them perfectly together so as not to cause an explosion. I just blankly looked at him as his body bounced up and down while he hit some very difficult low chords and notes in a perfected rythm and sequence that could only be achieved with hours and hours of practice.

*Applause*

Apparently, the audience was very impressed with his work while he was playing. They applauded his song right as he was in the process of playing it. He showed no reaction. He was concentrated, only, on the song and piece that he was carefully playing in order to ensure that he played it with just the right amount of dynamic flare & attention on emphasis where the song demanded it in it’s original written sheet music that the composer wished for it to have in order to give the music the appropriate depth & feeling for the audience to interpret & hear. I was not only shocked, I was speechless. Salem is…is talented? No offense, but, he’s… smart?

Did he do this back at his home? Maybe- maybe, he was one of those ‘gifted’ musical kids in school. Maybe, that’s why his principal liked him so much. Maybe, his teachers all felt the same way that I felt about him. Maybe, they were all afraid of him and entranced by him all at the same time. Maybe, he always got in trouble and was constantly in the principal’s office, but, was also a personal favorite. Maybe, they saw that he had and displayed… potential. Maybe, there’s even more to his story. Maybe, there’s even more to this kid than meets the eye, that, perhaps, I or anyone else for that matter would have ever thought.

This just blew my mind. To be honest, as rude as it may seem, I never really thought of Salem as an ‘intellectual’. But, that’s exactly what he was. That was the ultimate trick that he had up his sleeve.

Salem was… intelligent. But, he hid it. He was a gang banger with a secret mind that, possibly, no one else had and no one would ever expect him to have. He was…. special. And, I realized that as I saw the look on his eyes as his bare fingers touched the piano keys. He was so focused. He was so careful. He payed so much attention to detail. I had never seen him like that, before. He really wasn’t joking around at all, here. There was nothing stopping him, whatsoever. There was nothing that could get in his way. There was nothing that would interrupt him. And, he wouldn’t allow it. And, even if there was, there was no way that he would remotely permit any interruptions to stop or disrupt him from mastering and correctly showcasing or achieving his craft. No one could mess with him or interfere. They wouldn’t dare to even attempt to do so with the look that was on his face. Why would they even want to, anyway? It was so surreal. It didn’t feel like I was looking at Salem at all. It felt like I was looking at someone else. It felt like I was looking at someone who deserved… respect.

It was as if he was glaring at the keys & told them- “You’re not in control, here. I am. I have power over you.” as he lifted the piano with his mind & opened & widened his arms in an awesome showcase & display of his almighty psychic powers for all to see. He was a powerful person. And, I guess that’s exactly what I admired about him so much. He was powerful. And, I sort of wasn’t, I suppose.

It was almost like watching a principal look at a kid’s record of bad behavior as he analyzed his student history right in front of him as he was about to judge and determine his punishment on a recent activity of mal behavior that he had just displayed in his classroom and you knew how much trouble that kid was in. It was almost scary to look at. You didn’t want to DARE interrupt him. And, you wouldn’t. You shouldn’t. You couldn’t. He was too powerful. And, that’s exactly how Salem was at that moment. He was not joking or playing around, whatsoever, even though he was technically playing an instrument. He wasn’t playing, and at the same time, he was.

It got softer and quieter, once again, mimicking the lulliby-sounding notes and feel that the entire piece originally started out with as he played a few calming and soothing notes. He stopped playing as dead silence filled the air for a moment. You would have almost thought that the song was over from the pause that the silence had created with absolutely no notes being played or sound being made, whatsoever, as he just sat there. Then, his hands quickly upscaled the entire piano, all the way from the lowest notes to the very top where the high notes resided in a perfectly sounding & fast paced melody as it’s rythm was played with extreme finesse & accuracy. Once his hands had reached the top, they, then, scaled all the way back down to the very bottom in a powerful frenzy, that, all created the song’s finale. Six large chords followed and, then, a final low bang completed the piece in a roaring and thunderclapping echo that circled throughout the entire auditorium that was so powerful, you would have thought that a violent gust of wind had blown right past you.

Silence haunted the air for a moment. Noise, immediately, filled and surrounded the room with the school’s cheers, whistles, and ear ringing applause as everyone got up. I did as well & clapped my little clap. I was kind of… dizzy, I suppose, almost, wondering what the heck was going on. I almost didn’t feel well. I sort of floated around the auditorium in half of a daze for the rest of the evening until we left and were outside of the school.

It was getting chilly and downright brisk, this time of year. December began the following day and I hugged myself from the cold as I stood, leaning my back on the ice cold bricks of the school’s walls outside with my mother as everyone was leaving main doors of the building and my mother and I were waiting for Salem’s family to appear with him outside of the entrance.

Sigh. She insisted. She wanted to meet them all, ESPECIALLY, after his act. I couldn’t blame her one bit. But, I was a bit nervous.

“My goodness. You were so wonderful!” I heard her voice hollar from behind me to my left as my head was turned away and I saw her walk up to him and give him a hug. A hug? My mom is hugging him? What the heck? I just saw him grin.

“Oh. Thank you.” he looked at her and waved at me.

My mother made no hesitation, whatsoever, in extending her hand to Nelly who was sporting a dashing looking long NY style coat which was velvet blue in color. That man can sure bring style and flare to something. I’m starting to notice where Salem gets his style and dashing sense of attitude from. “Lauren Applebee.” she stated to him. “I wanted to thank you for having my son over at your place. Such a kind and fine young man you have, here. He is more than welcome at our house, anytime.” she said to him. Sarah looked at me as she said that. We were both thinking the same thing. I just knew it. Sigh.

“No. No. The pleasure has always been mine. Your son’s business was always appreciated at our restaurant. He’s like family to us. Anytime.” Nelly shook her hand and smiled at her. There was a pause as they looked at one another. Sarah cleared her throat as they both fidgeted for a moment and continued to talk briefly & I walked up to Salem for a few moments; we slightly separated from them.

I hugged him. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t care who saw. I looked at him. And, I felt just as nervous, then, as I did when I saw him glare up at me when I walked into Nelly’s which was the very second time that I ever met him as I cautiously walked up to the register counter, debating how I should ask him if he had seen my missing wallet that I had lost the day prior.

“Wow. Uhm. You were REALLY good! Like, You’re amazing. Heh. Wow.” I beamed at him and he grinned at me. “Where-Where did you even learn to play like that?” I was genuinely curious. Where DID he learn to play like that? Was he a music student of some sort? Did he practice back in Brooklyn, NY? Where did he practice? Did he practice at his house in his old hometown? Surely, that much skill must have had alot of meticulous teaching and practice; that much showmanship must be taken very seriously in a consistent manor in order to achieve & develop that level of skill. It wasn’t just talent. This was on a higher level. This wasn’t a hobby. This was borderline… professional. It made no sense to me, really, and so many questions were flying around in my mind as I pondered their possibilities & potential answers.

He looked, blankly, at the horizon in the distance and subtly smiled as he was in thought and quietly said to me- “…my mom taught me…”

“She-.” I began to say something, but, I heard my mother speak loudly as her and Nelly were walking away from one another to go back into their cars.

“Yes. Y-Yes, on the main Street. Yup! We’ll be right there.” She walked up to me. Apparently, my mother had invited them to join us at the cafè that she had been meaning to try; this being that same cafe that Salem had ordered his blueberry muffin from, which was entirely, unknown to her.

As I was in our black Volkswagen Jetta & my mom was driving us to the main Street of the town, I debated, whether, or not I should be thrilled or downright nervous & horrified for the possible outcomes of what was about to happen. We were all going to be together in one place at one table. And, that was, either, very good or it was very bad…

Walking inside of “French With A Bench” cafè, once more, the smells of an entire days worth of coffee brewing, pastry baking, frosting, & homemade sandwiches filled the air in a pleasantly thick blanket of aromas which, instantly, made you want to buy something even if it was not your intention to do so when you initially walked inside. The first time that I had ever been inside of it’s walls, Salem and I had just departed from his house after the violent confrontation we began to have inside of his bedroom which was, then, interrupted by our first kiss. Only, this time, our families joined us for an evening meal that we were about to share with one another. And, it made me feel sick, happy, and nervous all at the same time. What would happen? What if they don’t like one another? What if something bad happens? What if Salem does something misconstrued right in front of my mom!? Oh, God. I remember pulling my fingers, nervously, as I walked up to the register counter.

Sitting at a booth, located, not by the window, but, inside of the place where a small wall which was topped with a few small plants to baricade the dining area from the walking area of the cafè, we decided to order ourselves our food. For a café, this place sure had a wide variety of dining and food options. We settled with warm buttered crossants, which were at a valued price since they are typically baked fresh in the mornings and it was already late in the evening, drinks, a large grilled chicken salad topped with many fall seasonal toppings for Sarah, a butternut squash soup for her father, a salmon steak for my mother, and a tuna sandwich for Salem. Tuna? Interesting, Salem. Interesting, indeed. As for me? No meal, really. I was still dumbfounded and shocked by the evening we had just experienced back at Chestnut High School.

Salem plays the piano? I still couldn’t get over that. Salem’s display of massive talent and pro-showmanship kept me lovestruck, smiling, jittery, and half wondering if this was all still even a dream. Was this all really happening? Really? It couldn’t be. No way. Right? Were we all really just- dining with one another and enjoying ourselves? Do I have permission? Is that even allowed in my life? Isn’t that against the rules of ‘the life of Johnny Applebee’? I questioned the Univerese & almost debated with it & with the laws of ‘my world’ wondering, contemplating, & doubting the actual outcome of that evening. I thought- ‘What’s the catch? Hmm? What’s the catch, here?”

It dawned on me, as I glanced at everyone around me at our table, that, all of the people that had been a major impact on my life and were the life savers of my sanity throughout the course of those last 5 months, were all just sitting with one another, surrounding me in one room, harmoniously.

We were all having a wonderful time. We were talking. We were laughing. We were smiling. It was heartfelt and it felt like a ‘real’ & genuine night. We felt like… a family for some reason as we shared with one another our own lives & information about ourselves as we expressed who we truly were with one another & genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. It was such an enjoyable & fullfilling evening. It made me smile. It made me smile as I stared into nothing and heard the echoes of everyone’s voices & giggles over food, wine, decaf espresso shots, & pleasant conversation. And, it meant alot to me. It really did.

Cheesecake. My absolute favorite dessert of all time was what I begged my mother to order for us all as our final desserts to seal off our meals of the evening. Cherry Cheesecake was what I loved to have back home from the old bakery by our Denver Colorado house which was owned by a sweet old woman named Daisy. The dessert that I favored & ordered is drizzled with a finely sweetened black cherry sauce reduction & topped with a fresh black cherry. It’s flavor paired, perfectly, with the sweet & slightly tangy bite that the NY strip cheesecake offered along with it’s buttery, cookie crumbled crust. I was anxiously waiting for my slice to be served throughout the entire course of the meal as I just took a little nibble of my mother’s salmon here & there in order to pass my hunger, occasionally, sipping my orange soda. Yes, I got my soda. Good thing they have it here. Hehe.

“Listen. I like tuna. It’s good. Okay?” Salem responded, defending his choice of his meal of the evening after I questioned him on why he ordered it with a slight wince of my eyes as if they were telling him without words that his decision was a bit weird. Heh. Okay. Okay!

I smiled. “Oh, okay.”

“It was just, incredible. You should be proud of this young boy. How did you learn such a thing? You are so skilled.” My mother responded to Salem, then, looking at his father as she addressed his son’s hidden skill and then back to him.

He was quiet for a moment and stared at nothing, then, smiled at her and grinned.

“Lots of practice.” he paused and thought to himself for a moment. “It’s like hockey. You need a coach to show you the ropes and the keys to play. But, like, the rest is up to you. You know? You gotta take yourself seriously. You gotta take what you’ve learned and make the most of the tools you’ve been handed in order to make the most of yourself. You can’t expect someone to make the goals of the team for you and be the star. They’ll show you how to do it, but, like, ultimately, you’re the one who decides whether or not you’re the best. You can’t just expect to be the best without putting IN your best, everyday. So, I acted like it was a sport. I kept going. You know? Why would I stop? Who’s stopping me? I didn’t stop until I was good. I never did. I never will… Oh, and, thank you, ma’am.” he said to her.

Everyone was speechless, including me. He has a point. You can’t just expect what’s perfect to come up without putting in the work that IS perfect. Salem… inspired me that night when he said that in ways that I never would have thought of as I looked at him.

My mother smiled at him as she nodded and lifted her wine glass. “Well, cheers to that.” And, we all ‘clinked’ our glasses together as we continued eating our meals.

As I stared at him as he was listening to those headphones singing to himself and bopping his head subtly to whatever song he was listening to & Nelly and my mother were at the register paying for our meals and Sarah was in the restroom, leaving Salem and I at the table alone, I thought to myself.

Salem tricks people. He tricks people into thinking that he’s a bad kid. But, he’s not. He just had bad things happen to him. He was amazing. He was smart. He was genius. He was beautiful. He was magnificent. And, I wasn’t the only one who saw that. I think many people did. But, he failed to see it in himself. I realized what I liked about him so much. He had a hat full of secrets, and sleeves filled with tricks. Just like my old best friend, Salem was a magician, too. And, tonight was his show. Tonight was his magic act at the end of the program just like him. And, he tricked me.

I just knew it. I, finally, concluded to myself, that he was one in a million. He was like the magical 8 ball on the pool table. He wasn’t like any of the others. He had the potential and perhaps the destiny to make a major change and difference in this world. I just felt like he’ll do something incredibly important one day just like Edison, or Newton, or Benjamin Franklyn and it made me nervous for some reason. I just felt it. Call it intuition. I just knew it. Something was coming.

That’s what I liked about him so much. I guess, from the very beginning, I secretly always knew that he was unique in hidden & secret ways like a treasure chest of forbidden magic waiting to be unburied & opened to reveal it’s powers. It was like a 6th sense. It was like my soul saw him and said “Oh, I know what you are.”

I feel like…. he’ll be a great leader of some sort & would possibly change the world in one of the most dynamic ways possible for some reason. I just had that feeling & I didn’t understand exactly, why, I felt it. I just can’t see him working in a cubicle at some office like everyone else. He wasn’t like that. He wasn’t like everyone else. It was like putting a tiger in a cage. No way. No way would that happen.

It may sound weird, but, as I looked at him sitting across that cafè table from me as he was casually singing to himself and playing with his fork on the plate, I felt that he was ‘chosen’, somehow. And, it was downright nerve shattering & scary to me for some reason. It made me extremely nervous. I couldn’t explain that. It was so strange. It was like something was happening…

Maybe, that’s why all of that bad stuff happened to him. Maybe, it was the Universe testing him. Maybe, the Universe tests all of us to see if we can destroy our past & neutralize our own turmoil and from the ashes, burnt soil, and pain, grow something incredible and amazing for all to see. Maybe, he’ll lift his darkness that had been haunting him & his life with his mind’s powers & give it one, last deadly look of defiance & wild rebellion as he completely obliterates & disintegrates it once and for all and, from the ashes, creates and builds something amazing & absolutely spellbinding. Maybe, that was his destiny. Maybe, that’s what he’ll do some day. And, maybe, he’ll teach me to do the same.

I saw him drink his orange juice. It was his favorite. I smiled as I saw him drink it. But, I, also, felt a grave sense of remorse as I was reminded of when he asked me for some of the drink while he was curled up on my bedroom floor last month after he had revealed to me his ‘loose’ past.

I was dumfounded. I thought to myself- this previous child prostitute had just been meticulously playing the piano at our school’s evening talent show and was, now, sipping his orange juice right in front of me in a café. It was sort of sad to me, actually. But… I don’t know. I thought it was, sort of, cute. I thought it was cute, okay? I thought it was cute as I saw him, subtly, smile to himself after taking his sip, enjoying the fruity flavor of the drink.

Three more minutes had passed and my thought patterns were interrupted when I heard, “Will you- Will you be my peasant?” I heard him say to me as he smiled. Huh? I looked at him wondering what he was saying. Then, he started laughing as he held his belly and couldn’t stop in this weird and uncontrollable way. I saw his empty cappuccino glasses, 1/4 filled orange glass, and empty plate. Wait. Was Salem- was Salem hyper? Haha. Was he on a sugar high? Hehehe! Salem’s hyper! This kid is nuts. I swear. I started to giggle to myself as I gave him a look. No more sugar for you, sir. I thought, scrunching my nose and widening my eyes. God.

His energy was that fun energy that I remember he had when he repeatedly asked me to play basketball with him for the very first time. He threw his straw paper wrapper at me. I winced. This one woman looked at us. “Oh my god. Stop.” I thought, getting annoyed and laughing a little bit against my will.

“Salem… stop.” I said.

“Nnnno, you.” he giggled. I sighed.

A few minutes later, I started to actually eat my Cheesecake. It was delicious. It was exactly the way that I wanted it to taste & even exceeded my own expectations with it’s sweet & rich flavor. It was perfect. Salem had his headphones on, again, even though his father and sister told him not to do so as it was rude behavior in a cafe, but, I guess he forgot being that he was so happy and sugar rushed. I saw their faces as they looked at him and rolled their eyes while Nelly wiped his forehead in a manor, slowly, that just spoke how tired he was already about the whole situation and whatever else was on his mind, and they let it go, apparently, that one time as they let him have his way, possibly, just relieved that he was in a good mood.

I saw him tickle Sarah as she was sitting back next to him.

“Ugh! Stopp.” She said annoyed and he giggled to himself as my mother was walking back to our table with a receipt in her hand & Nelly folded up his wallet, who had already been sitting for over a minute. And, it was at that moment when I stared at that black cherry on my cheesecake, that I realized my true feelings for him.

I-I loved him. I cared about him alot & I just loved him; I couldn’t even deny it if I tried. I smiled to myself. I loved Salem. I loved a guy. And, as weird & gross as that would have been to me, it was just me stating the reality. It was just a fact. It wasn’t my fault. It was the same way that cheesecake was my favorite dessert or mint green was my favorite color. I just liked him. He was my favorite. Hehe. I thought that as I picked up the cherry that perfectly topped my cheesecake & put it into my mouth, tasting the tart, deep, & rich flavor as it’s simple, yet, complex sweetness carressed my mouth & tongue with it’s juices. You know how some people say something is “The Cherry on the top” of the sundae? That was it. That’s what he was. Salem was the “Black Cherry” on the top of my cheesecake. He was the Black Cherry of my life. And, I liked it. He’s exactly what it needed.

Black Paper
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