The newly minted Jonathan exhaled heavily and giggled.
- Apparently, in any world, gatherings with older relatives end with viewing or mentioning childrens photos, awkward content, for teenagers, ha-ha-ha-ha. Its a pity for the girl, a black stripe for an even blacker one. But now her life is getting better, new parents, new home.
- She reminds me of someone with her appearance, the name is also familiar. Okay, Ill remember later. What happened next in little Johns life before my appearance?
After an extremely awkward conversation for teenagers about childrens photos, the evening was nearing its logical conclusion. The children ate a lot of goodies, and the adults had a good time talking and joking with the students. The smile did not leave the faces of the elderly couple. Isolde rejoiced at Jessicas smile, after a difficult day for her. And Vladislav cast malicious glances at his grandson, hinting at him to hit on the girl. John pretended not to notice his grandfathers looks and rolled his eyes. Jess, on the other hand, was just glad that her life was getting out of a hopeless black streak, that her old aunt Isolde remembered her. And that Jonathan is the one who will protect her at school, while remaining a friend you can rely on. Unaware of her nascent feelings, Jessica stealthily took the boys hand in her small palm, feeling comfortable warmth and security in his presence.
- Its time to go home. Get ready, children, we will take Jessica to the shelter, and John still has horses waiting for him, which needs feeding and cleaning
Vladislav Petrovich said. Suddenly, his wifes eyes lit up with an idea.
- Baby Jess, can they let you go for the weekend? Maybe you can spend them with us, since someones birthday is this Sunday? If necessary, I will come and talk to the shelter manager. Shes an old witch, of course, but I know how to negotiate with her. How do you like this offer?
- I don mind, theres nothing to do there on weekends anyway. I hope you can persuade the headmistress to let me go.
- Thats nice, then to the shelter for things for the night and weekend .
An old lady got up from the table, pointing her finger towards the exit of the cafe, like a real sea captain.
At 6 p.m., the company reached the shelter. Isolde went to negotiate with the manager, and Jessica went to get her things. The conversation and packing took exactly half an hour, and the road to the ODwyer farm took another half hour.
At seven in the evening, the sun had just begun to sink behind the mountains. The elderly couple went into the house with the girl, and John was given a key to the barn and a horse brush, telling him to finish with four horses before nine in the evening.
While the boy was busy with his duties, the girl settled in the guest room. After finishing sorting things, she got bored, going downstairs Jessica watched the fumbling in the kitchen. An elderly lady was busy cooking, telling her husband what to bring and how to cut vegetables. Vladislav was responsible for preparing the meat.
- Oh, Jessica, come down to us. Its almost 9, go get John, well start cooking my signature shashlik soon.
- What is it?
- Oh, I completely forgot that you grew up in America. Shashlik is meat cooked on coals, somewhat similar to American barbecue, but the principle of cooking and meat are different. I make it out of a pigs neck, try it and tell me how you like it.
- Okay, thanks Uncle Vlad. And where can I find John?
- Go out into the yard and youll see a red barn and a blue one, you
e in red.
- Whats in blue?
- My workshop is there, nothing interesting.
- Ill be back soon.
A well-groomed, red-and-white barn, like in old movies, greeted the girl with the lights of oil lamps, on each side of double doors. Coming closer and looking inside, the girl watched John. The guy with a smile cleaned the horse, stroked them and fed them. Finishing taking care of the horse, the young man took off his shirt, put on gloves and began dragging bales of hay. Sweat from hard work and dim lighting gave the young mans body a special seductiveness in Jesss eyes. Forgetting about Grandfather Vlads request, the young lady spied on John for about ten minutes until she heard a fake female cough from behind.
- Ahem, as far as I can see, you liked my grandson, didn you? Can you come in already? Ahahah!
What could a fifteen-year-old girl caught peeping do? There are many options, but the most likely of many, escape from the crime scene, under the cheerful laughter of Isolde.
- Finish up and go to dinner, the old man is making your favorite barbecue again. By the way, youd better get dressed, otherwise you
e embarrassing innocent girls who are spying on you. Ahahahahahah.
- Thats the one. Maybe you can offer her an evening ride on horseback? The director of the shelter said that her foster parents are going to take her to the big city in two weeks, create some pleasant memories for her in the remaining time.
- Okay, Grandma, but its too early for your great-grandchildren.
John said with a crappy smile on his face.
(Clap!) The guy got a ringing slap on the head.
- Those aren the good memories I was talking about, you little **! Its a pity that only your relatives know this facetious side of you.
- Yes, its for the best, Granny. But you will immediately understand if the person I communicate with is a real friend for me.
- But in the last 7 years, not a single one has appeared.
- Its okay, its better to have 1 good friend, not 10 bad ones.
- Johnny, you only communicate openly with two old men. You need friends your own age. Don waste your childhood on two old ruins.
- Granny, what are you talking about? Ive always liked your Fairy tales and Grandfathers stories about the Great Patriotic War. Besides, as my grandfather used to say - "Im my own **ing best friend!", ahahaha.
- The tongue, Johnny. And Vlad will get it again, for teaching you to swear in Russian!
- In general, Im going to take a dip and come to dinner. Ill be there soon!
John shouted, running away from his grandmother, heading for the lake.
A calm autumn evening in the foothills of West Virginia. The sun has almost set, leaving behind faint glimpses of reddish sunset rays breaking through the peaks of snowy mountains. The calm silence of nature calmed Jessicas thoughts. After escaping from Isolde, the girl was very ashamed. She was caught spying on boy how to meet John and her aunt and uncle now. Only when she calmed down did Jess hear footsteps approaching quickly, and then a splash of water.
- "What is it?"
Thought the girl, looking out from behind a tree, peering into the twilight.
Jonathan was swimming in the dark water, he had left all his clothes on a big rock near the shore. Honed by years of physical activity, the body glistened on the surface of the water, mesmerizing Jessica so much that she was lost in time and came to her senses only when John came out of the lake, dressed and whistling a strange melody went towards home.
- It was hot!
The girl muttered after Jonathan, showing her approval of what had happened with her thumbs up.
The dinner was hearty and delicious. Meat cooked on birch coals and fresh vegetables with black, freshly baked bread. A new dish and a combination of flavors for an American, but so native to the soul of an old Soviet grandfather. Isolde, on the other hand, looked at Jessica slyly all evening.
- How did you like my cooking?
- Unusual, but very tasty. What kind of bread is this? Ive never seen anything like it.
- This is sweet "Leningrad" wheat bread. With raisins and nuts. It goes well with tea. For hot tea, and not the stuff that is poured in this country as a drink for burgers.
At the end of dinner, Isolde reminded John of her offer, with a light kick on the leg under the table.
- Jess, do you want to ride horses? There will be a full moon tonight and the stars will be clearly visible.
- Maybe , but Im not good at riding.
- Its okay, Ill bring you a Belka, shes the calmest of our horses.
- What does the name "Belka " mean?
- Well, its in Russian, its hard to explain right away. In general, she is "white/belaya ", therefore "Belka/Squirrel". Come and see for yourself.
Once again in the ill-fated red-and-white barn, Jessica shyly watched as Johnny saddled horses and packed things for a ride. Having finished with the preparation, the guy brought two horses to Jessica, a black horse and a white mare.
- Meet, this is a "Belka/Squirrel", but you may call her Bella, she also responds to this name. Here are a couple of carrots and sugar. Feed her and she will become your best friend. And this is Sleipy, Bellas son. My handsome man, Ive been taking care of him since I was 12, hes my best friend.
- Beautiful. Is it just me, or is he bigger than Bella?
- It does not seem, he is already 180 centimeters tall, it looks like he will grow to two meters. He doesn let anyone else ride him but me. Okay, lets go, we have to get back before 12, we have almost 2 hours.
A quiet horseback ride created a romantic atmosphere between Jessica and John. Half an hour of talking about nothing and jokes turned into an easy and cautious flirtation between young people. John was opening up to the girl from a new side. Always a serious, sharp and detached guy joked with her and told funny stories.
Having reached the opposite end of the lake, John offered to make a halt and build a fire. Taking a blanket and marshmallows out of the bag.
- This is my secret place.
John said in a mysterious tone.
- I usually come here in the evenings to watch the stars and sit alone.
Dismounting and helping Jesse to get off, the guy tied the horses to a tree and held out his hand to the girl, inviting her to follow him. At the very shore of the lake, a bonfire of large stones was built, and a thick log lay on the side of the forest.
- A couple of minutes and we will have a small fire, I have prepared branches and firewood in advance. Heres a blanket, make yourself comfortable, Ill leave you a lamp and Ill be back soon, just collect some dry twigs for kindling.
- Ill be scared here alone, shall we go together?
- Come on, its not far.
After taking a few steps along the shore, John stopped. He grabbed the edge of the cloth lying on the ground and pulled it. Chopped firewood, dry branches and a few small twigs with foliage were compactly laid under the cloth.
- Here we are, ahahaha.
- I could have said right away that its so close.
- It wouldn be so much fun to watch your reaction.
A sly smile stretched from ear to ear on the guys face.
e a fool, Johnny.
- Come on, lets go back. Its already a little chilly and marshmallows won fry themselves.
Returning to the parking lot, John quickly lit a fire, laid a blanket and handed the girl sticks and a bag of marshmallows.
In the silence and darkness of the night, the crackling of the fire with orange flames, fenced off the couple from the outside world. Gradually, Jessica moved closer to John and eventually put her head on his shoulder.
- Thanks for sticking up for me, John. This may sound like a formality, but Im really grateful. I have no friends to whom I could turn with my problems. And the last few months have been very difficult.
Tears appeared at the corners of Jessicas eyes.
- You know, over the past month Ive often thought that I shouldn have survived that accident. Maybe it would be better if my brother was in my place, and not me. He was a strong and good man. Maybe its all just a terrible dream and Im about to wake up and see my parents again. But the days pass, and I still wake up in the shelter. I don run to the kitchen in the morning, following the smell of moms pancakes. I don see my father at the table, flirting with my mother while reading the morning newspaper. My brother doesn play board games with me anymore in the evenings. I am very tired and I am afraid that I will remain alone.
The girl spoke in a quiet, hysterical and almost tearful voice.
- And today, when these three started bullying me, I thought that no one would help me. After all, everyone who needed me and everyone who cared about me died.
Tears of sadness were already streaming down the face of the defenseless girl.
- But you interfered, John. You helped me and punished those who wanted to harm me. My aunt and uncle also stood up for me before the director and the parents of the three jerks. I feel needed by someone again. And now, for the first time in a long time, I feel happiness, not longing but joy, not sadness but warmth, instead of cold loneliness. I am very grateful to you and your family.
The girl finished her revelation, with tears of joy.
- I hope that I am not causing you problems with my presence and that you will become my first real friend. So thank you again Johnny, thank you for showing up at one of the most difficult moments of my life.
The girl, blooming in front of her eyes, smiled and hugged the teenager very tightly. Pressed against his broad chest so hard, as if all the good things she had left depended on his presence.
John remained speechless, not knowing what to say or do. He was too young and too inexperienced to support his new friend. So he did the only thing he could and just hugged her back.
So they sat hugging each other for the next ten minutes, until Jessica finally calmed down and realized what position they were in.
Embarrassed, the girl awkwardly muttered something and again buried her face in Johns chest. Hiding a face as red as wine