Monday, June 28, 2010

Molly's Tantrum (PG)

Something terrible happened to Peter when he fell in love with Molly; he fell even more in love with her mother. He knew it was terrible the way only people who truly are in love can know that it is terrible, and dangerous.

Peter was left there alone with her. No, the "her" was really "them." Tom would be at the station for two more days, and it was almost time for the kids' nap. He sweated inside, and it threatened to escape, trapped as he was between action and agonizing inaction.

He was playing with Molly, and she alternately bossed him into being a dragon and a prince, depending on her whims. It made little difference to him, as long as he could keep the delighted giggles and prattle coming.

Peter had no children, and feared to. He feared for them, the way he feared for Molly. Today she had a friend. Now, he could be that for her. In a few years, he could not, and she would come home from school, when she went to school, and cry as he had used to. She would get over it, as he had. She would learn too, and probably even sooner, that she wasn't bad or stupid, but that her brain simply worked differently than most, better in some ways.

Molly was safe now, though. It made him happy. But he knew the same thing made her mom, Victoria, even happier. It was an opportunity, the kind he had trained himself to see, the kind that hid behind the meanings of spoken words, that flitted mysteriously in gestures, faces, tones of voice--all a foreign language to him that he had recently begun to learn.

Virginia was in and out of the living room. She carried baskets of laundry to and fro, and occasionally skulked into the kitchen to keep tidying dishes and cleaning between loads. She did all this, of course, to the extent that she could do these things and endure little Todd's demanding cries. She never raised her voice to the baby, working with seemingly effortless devotion and patience. None of this diminished her.

The books on the shelves were her's. The home she'd created was safe and beautiful.

She strode in. She strode out. Those legs, he could not but help but notice. Even in sweatpants-

It was like junior high school, feeling the need to hide what he felt, and yet hoping the object of his attention would notice and appreciate it.

"Go in there!" Molly shouted, her white-gold hair, floating wildly, tickling her face as she pointed her chubby little finger at him.

"Okay, okay," he obeyed, scooting deeper into the makeshift cave with walls of felt blanket, tenuously strung over stools, a piano chair, and an end table. The top of his head brushed the ceiling of Princess Molly's living room castle. Molly was not even two, but could speak in sentences and read. What would she be imagining, he mused, when she was twelve, or twenty? Would she survive until then?

"Molly." Virginia's warning voice came from the laundry room. "Didn't we talk about being so bossy?"

Peter heard her coming down the hall. She poked her head around the corner, her pretty brown ponytail brushing down around her chin. Every look he got felt a little like stealing, and so he did what he could not to linger on her eyes, or her hair, or anything else she might notice. He wasn't confident that he could know if he'd been caught.
Molly looked abashed, but only a little. As soon as Mother was safely down the hall, Molly repeated the order, this time more quietly, though he had already obeyed.

"Go in there!"

A washing machine lid closed. Todd began, again, to fuss and gurgle. Virginia muttered gentle words to him. The frustration leaked out, though she was earnest and soothing.

Whatever it was she had said, it wasn't good enough. Todd's noises escalated to wailing, and Virginia's tone grew more discouraged--hopeless, even.

"Please stop," she pled.

"You're in the dungeon!" Molly proclaimed, confident now that Mother was too occupied to notice her relapse into tyranny.

Peter sighed, grateful for a chance to sit still for a second.

"Okay. I'm in prison," he acquiesced, raising his hands. "Can I have visitors?"

"N-n-no!" she barked. She was trying to drop her infantile squeak as low as it would go. A little bigger, a little older, he thought, and she'd be genuinely scary. Not scary enough, he was sure.

Todd was only louder now. Virginia walked out of the back room, striding like she was on her way to halt one of Molly's tantrums. But she was clutching the baby to her shoulder, pacing back and forth. Todd's face was bright red as he wailed.

Her eyes were clamped shut. Her jaw was clenching, grinding.

"Please stop. Please stop."

She sounded defeated.

Now almost a whisper. "Please stop."

"Anything I can do to help?" he tried to say, croaking on nerves. He winced.

"Sorry, what?"

He cleared his throat and tried to be heard over the baby.

"What can I do to help?"

"Umm, look, I don't know. I just-"

A knock came at the door, rhythmic and musical. Todd stopped screaming, gently whimpering now, his attention fixed on the source of the noise.

"Trisha!" Molly screamed. She ran to the door and flung it open.

"Oh, Trish. Hi! You have no idea how glad I am to see you."

Virginia's desperation melted a little.

A girl, around eleven, stood in the doorway, smiling at Molly. In a flash Molly was wrapped around the girl's calf, squeezing tight.

"You can help me decide what to do with my prisoner!"

"Do you think you can just look after these two while Pete and I get some things done around here? I'd really appreciate it."

"Yeah, sure!"

"Really? I'll make it worth your while, honestly. You have no idea what good timing this is."

"Yeah," Trisha said, "I was passing by and it sounded like you could use a little help. She eyed Peter. Probably wondering why I couldn't handle it, he thought. Anticipation, however, throbbed louder in his chest than any resentment ever could.

Trish managed to pry Molly off her, and draped Todd over her shoulder. The boy was quiet now, his contented murmurs threatening to turn into giggles. Trish settled down on the couch and hummed to the baby, squeaking away at him in a high baby talk while Molly waged a ruthless campaign for her attention.

Virginia sighed, long and deep.

"Peter," she said, as though he had just arrived, and couldn't be more relieved to see him. "Can you come on back and help me tackle the mess back here?"

"Sure," he said, trying not to sound too eager.

He followed her back to the laundry room, his eyes eagerly wandering where they would as she strode down the hall in front of him. If only this house had a longer hall, and more hidden corners.

Virginia set-to, wasting no quiet moment. Peter looked around, thinking of what to talk about.

"How can I help?"

Laundry covered the floors, the top of the drier. Some of it was half-heartedly folded. Most of it was part of the mess.

"If you can wear it, fold it. If you can't-I don't know. We'll figure it out later."

Strands of her hair were falling down in her face, coming loose from the ponytail. She wiped beads of sweat off with her sleeve. Certain he might be making a horrible mistake, Peter spoke.

"You know I've been reading some really insightful books lately." Insightful? He prayed he had used the word correctly.


"Yeah. How's that English degree going? You going to graduate soon, or-"

"Oh, I never finished. I want to go back soon, but--."

"That'd be tough, I guess. With the kids and all."

"Tough. That's the word for it. School," she said, wrapping the sleeves of a long-sleeved T around her shoulders, folding the fabric up, meticulous work. "You know how it is, though, I guess, right?" Sure, he knew, having barely graduated himself, single and unattached.

Peter worked absently, his mind turning with what to say next, his palms sweating.

Common ground. That was supposed to be a good place to start.

"So, like I said, I've been reading a lot. If you wanted to, uh, you know, like, get together and talk about books or something-"

A scream came from the living room. Molly was probably just playing. Virginia didn't seem to think so. She moved her head closer to the door.

"Everything okay out there?"

Molly was balling now. He could hear Trish say "I told you that wasn't safe! Oh, you're okay. I think someone needs a time out."

Virginia was already on her way out. She snatched up her child and carried her to the kid's shared bedroom.

She said nothing. Molly protested, screaming all the way. She kissed the bump on the head the way a customs official stamps a passport. In a moment the child was behind a closed door, wailing and pounding on the door in protest. Trish was hushing and calming the baby in the front room. A moment later Molly's fit had faded into the background, and even began to burn out.

Nap time. Compulsory, perhaps, but right on schedule.

Virginia rested herself against the door, her eyes closed. She tried to rub the spreading exhaustion out of her face.

"So, what do you think? You can go ahead and pick the book, if you want, you know, we could read it. And I was thinking we could maybe get some coffee sometime-" Peter rambled, oblivious.

Virginia looked at him blankly, incredulous.

"Coffee," she muttered. "What makes you think I have time for coffee?" She hadn't raised her voice, but it might have been less of a blow to Peter if she had.

He stammered. And then stopped, holding his breath.

"Look, it's cool. Just an idea," barely audible.

He looked away. She studied him for a long moment. He wondered if she was wishing his head to explode, or if she would ask him to leave. He wouldn't know, but neither happened.

"Sorry," he muttered.

"No, I'm sorry," she said, coming to herself. "I shouldn't have-I'm sorry. It sounds good, really. Maybe if I could carve out some time, hire Trish or something. I don't know if it's such a good idea for me right now, though, you know? I mean, I used to go to a book club and all. I just don't have a lot of reading time these days, as you can see."

"Oh, hey, whenever. It's cool."

Peter heard the door open.

"Hey," he heard a male voice in the front room, and his heart almost stopped.

"Tom, hey," Virginia said, her long legs striding out to the tall man in the front room.

Peter almost didn't follow. He didn't know if hiding back there or coming out would look more suspicious.

The tall man hugged Virginia, firemen's arms wrapping down around her little shoulders. She gave him a short kiss, but it bore no resemblance to anything a customs official would do with a stamp.

"Howdy, Pete," Tom said. "What brings you around here?"

Peter swallowed, trying to avoid his brother's cool eyes. "I could ask the same," he said, trying to feel brave.

"They had a mix-up on the schedule at the station. Or I had the mix-up. Anyway, I've got duty tomorrow. Not today."

"Pete was just over to play with the kids. Kinda giving me a break, you know," Virginia said.

Tom eyed Trish playing silly face games with Todd on the couch.

"Look," said Peter. "I gotta go."

"Yeah," said Tom.

"Sure you don't want to stay for dinner or something?"

Dinner. A kaleidoscope of faux pas, discomfort, foot-in-mouth disease, and worst of all, the possibility of awkward, one-sided confrontation. All worth delaying, if not entirely avoiding.

"Nah. Thanks, though." He headed for the door. Not too fast, he hoped. Don't run from dogs or bears, he had been told.

"Thanks Pete," Virginia said.

He turned, and got a last look at Virginia before he waved to them all and left.

He kicked small stones down the sidewalk on the way back to his studio apartment. It'd be best not to go back there for a long while. Cool it off, maybe. Leave it be for a while.

When the kids get a little older, and have school. Firemen work long shifts.

He looked behind him, half afraid Tom would be following him. He feared a knock on the door, or a call.

When he got in the door, his place it was silent and still.

He slumped in a chair, breathing deep, speaking to himself in the language of his own thoughts: the only one in which he was truly fluent. Molly would miss him, and not know the name for what she missed, or remember his face.

He could not go back.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Maturity (PG)

Note: I know some of you have read this one before, but the story I was going to post this week just didn't work out. I can promise new content next week, however. I hope you enjoy it.


I took a seat on a bench and fished a treat out of my pocket for Bryce. Stretching my legs, I breathed the crisp air deep. Bryce was pretty naughty that day. The entire jaunt consisted entirely of either pulling me ahead so he could get his nose on some sweet spot on the grass, or holding me back, forcing me to drag him for the same reason. It was irritating, but not really all that unusual for Bryce.

People were out that day, milling around the park on casual strolls, out enjoying the early fall weather just cool enough to promise the last vestiges of comfort before the snow arrived. Anyway, Bryce had plenty of wiggles to get out. I suppose I had a few wiggles of my own. Sitting at a computer five days a week and one builds up a lot of tension. In spite of Bryce being a pill, and the crowds I was breathing deep, feeling the blood flowing, and enjoying one of the last nice days of the year.

Kids were playing on the nearby toys, and I smiled. I won’t deny it had an edge on it. Sandra and I had been trying for about five years with no luck. It didn’t seem to matter how much we tried, or how much money we threw at the problem. I listened anyway, and tried to just enjoy the sound without wondering about whether or not I’d ever have any kids of my own. To me, the screams and prattle were musical. Most of the kids sounded like they were older, maybe ten or so. A few were much younger.

I closed my eyes, listening, and breathed deep. Bryce settled down and finally quit tugging on the leash. After a few deep breaths, I was almost in a meditative state. I focused on the sounds of the children, letting the random shouting and squealing overcome me.

I needed this.

Then there were new voices. Two women had sat down on the bench nearby. They were talking about baby clothes. I tried not to let my concentration slip when I started hearing the coos and gurgles of the infants they had with them. It was more than two babies, though; it was three. One of them had twins.

The three made a beautiful, random chorus of little voices, and song-like vocalizing. I deliberately relaxed my mind. The sounds washed over me as I focused on the noise, tuning out the mom’s chatting. The breeze troubled my hair, and the sun warmed my closed eyes. My mind was clear. I was noticing my sensations, almost as though I wasn’t myself, watching the sensations I felt as though from a great distance.

Then thoughts drifted through my mind. The thoughts weren’t my own. I was reacting to ideas. Then I realized baby’s babblings were babblings no more; they had meaning.

“What do you think? I’m feeling inclined towards accounting, but I’m not sure.”

“Do you think you’ll have the right head for numbers?”

“I really can’t be sure, of course. How sure are any of us. We’re supposed to know though, right? This won’t last forever. Childhood will be here before we know it. The only way to secure anything for sure is to make a firm decision.”

“I know. I just hate the pressure of it all.”

The third spoke up. “We’ll be speaking before you know it. It keeps me up every night.”

The meanings slid through my mind at first. I didn’t add them up. It wasn’t unlike the times my wife goes on and on about the details of her day at work, full of jargon and research terms all of which I tuned out, focusing instead on her feelings, reacting to those rather than the words themselves. Then the babies’ words strung together and I tried to make sense of them.

“Do you think your mom will be a lot of help?”

“I’m concerned she’s a little too rigid. She hasn’t expressed any plans for my future, but dad keeps talking major-league baseball. There might be trouble when I tell him I intend to be a bookstore owner. But you know how it is. You have to pick what’s right for you.”

This coherent idea woke me right up, no longer meditating. How could I help but listen intently to the conversation?

Something had happened in the moments of my reverie, as though I had tapped into something secret. Did all babies plan their own futures like this? Did people plan their lives while they were babies? I certainly can’t remember anything about planning my own future, at least not at that age. If all babies could do this, then there was a secret about human development nobody had yet discovered. I could hear everything they said as clearly as I could hear what their mom’s were saying. I decided to do some casual tests.

Did my hearing them depend on how close I was? I decided to move a little closer. I slid over on the bench about a foot to the right: no change.

I got up, walking further away, trying my hardest not to look like I was listening. Of course, the mom’s would be worrying that I was listening in on their conversation. How would the looks on their faces be if I told them I was actually eavesdropping on what their children were saying? I stopped about seven or eight feet from the bench. Bryce was as confused as anyone looking on would be. I still heard and understood the infants and their conference.

I stepped a few more feet away, hoping Bryce would take the opportunity to take a dump and make me look a little less like a nut. Of course, the little poop wasn’t going to play along. I tried to find something logical for me to look at, looking around at the trees, the leaves on the ground, the cars in the parking lot. Hell, I’d even have taken a good-looking jogger to gawk at. No luck. I had to face the fact that I was acting very strange.

And why shouldn’t I act strange? Something strange was happening. Nobody else seemed to notice that these kids were talking coherently, discussing their future career paths like a pack of overly-serious high school seniors. Why was I the only one that could understand what they were saying?

I walked on another thirty feet or so. Their voices were small, and I could make out very little at that distance, but I could make out a few words. How long would this last? Was it just my meditation? Was I imagining things? Did somebody slip something in my zoloft?

There seemed to be no easy answers. I decided to keep following the direction I had been heading, entertaining the idea of just going home and forgetting about the whole thing. My mind raced with the confusion. I barely noticed Bryce continuing to be a stinker. Bryce has a talent for detecting when I’m distracted or otherwise occupied, taking advantage of any excuse to misbehave and get away with it. Well, that day he could’ve chewed the leash off and I might not have noticed.

What would I tell Sandra? “Hey honey, you wouldn’t believe what the infants in the park were talking about today!” I couldn’t go home now. I needed a little more time.

I decided to do a lap around the park, keeping an eye on the two mom’s and their strollers. Bryce and I crunched through the leaves while I tried to slow my mind down a little, and not look over towards the mom’s and their strollers too often. They seemed to have settled in for a while. I could probably afford to come around them again, listening to see if it still held up. Better yet, I just might run into another babbling baby or two on the way over there.

I turned the corner, trying not to fret too much. If I got over there, and the mom’s had left, ah well: no big deal. I would see what would happen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear those babies talk again or not. Part of me wanted to have just had a wild flight of imagination, or a misunderstanding. I almost convinced myself that I would pass the babies again -- that they’d babble normally, the way they would if everything was in its right place with the world.

I couldn’t begin to interpret the implications if what I had just heard was real. Maybe these three were all just geniuses, but then other people would be able to hear their conversation too. What if their powers extended beyond communicating with other babies? Was this a new genetic mutation that we should fear? Were there other mutations manifesting themselves in other kids? Were other people’s babies talking to animals, or shooting deadly venom out of their mouths?
There was my imagination running away again. It’s too bad I don’t have a leash for that like I do for Bryce.
Coming out of my reverie I realized Bryce and I were getting near the path the mom’s had been sitting by. I looked over and didn’t seem them. I kept walking down the path, striding faster now.

If I could hear those babies talking again, I could at least confront the problem from there. Having only had that brief moment of attention and listening, it was simply too easy to dismiss it and never mention it to anyone again. I dearly wanted to pretend that nothing had changed with the world, that everything was always as it had been, that babies babbled until their little brains had developed enough to grasp speech.
I lead Bryce down the path towards where the mom’s had been, hoping to get past the line of Maple trees that obscured the view. Getting closer, I realized that the mom’s had left. Part of me didn’t want to believe it, and I looked around hoping to catch them somewhere else.

They were gone. No other babies to eavesdrop on either. In fact, it was getting a little late. I checked my phone and saw that it was about time to grab some dinner. No messages from Sandra, though. That was considerate of her, knowing that I really needed some alone time. She’s always been good about that.
The next morning was Sunday. Sandra and I slept in. She woke bleary, her hair tangled, her smile lazy and pretty. I kissed her good morning. Then I did what I had promised the day before I wouldn’t do; I told her about the talking babies. I chickened out though really, because I told her it was just a weird dream. Part of me knew this was a lie, but it wasn’t a very big part.

Denial: it’s a talent.

She began telling me about her own dream, something to do with her mother and a big railroad car full of donuts. I honestly didn’t listen too carefully. My own denial must’ve been taking too much available RAM. She didn’t seem to notice my distracted state anyway. She gave me another good morning kiss, went into the bathroom and closed the door.

A few minutes later she was still in there. I threw on my robe and grabbed the paper from the doorstep. I started the coffee going, and padded back to bed. I had just winnowed out the sports section and the funnies when the bathroom door opened.

Sandra stood in the doorway and sobbed silently. She smiled through her tears, holding up the small plastic pregnancy test.

The first trimester flew by, and it was already time for the ultrasound. Following the small talk, Doctor Duffy started with the stethoscope on Sandra’s belly. She gazed into space as she listened.

She smiled.

“There it is,” she said. “Good strong heartbeat.” She looked up at me, her eyebrows raised. “You want to hear?”

“Uh . . . yeah! Can I?” I had the awkward-out-of-place-husband-in-the-OB’s-office routine down cold. She sterilized the ear buds and handed it over to me. I put them on as she held the chest piece just so on Sandra’s belly.

And there it was: a healthy, strong little heartbeat. It was unmistakable. I closed my eyes.

“Hello, little one,” I said, my voice low and soft. Then through the stethoscope I heard something else.

“Hey, Dad. Can I have a chemistry set for my birthday?”

I had always pictured the little one following in Sandra’s footsteps.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Naked Hero (PG)

I had to pick someone to tell. It wasn’t really a tough choice. I’d thought of telling Megan first, my best friend at the time. She had a gossipy streak, though. I needed someone who would keep my secret. I needed Kyle.

My palms were sweating that day as I contemplated my situation. I realized that it could have been much worse. Sweating palms could have turned out to be my power. I could just wipe my palms on the bad guys, greasing their clothes with my repulsive perspiration. I pictured the grizzly no-goodnicks ralfing in some alley after I caught them mugging someone.

I almost smiled at the image. I had just finished junior high school and constant tormenting had exhausted my sense of humor about myself. What would those kids say about me now? When I found out what I could do I felt elated. And it was real, too. My mom’s scream when an empty set of clothes came to the breakfast table served as irrefutable evidence. I could turn invisible. No more problems, right?

But I had seen too many comic book movies, and (I confess) read a few too many actual comics. I couldn’t pretend that this unforeseen left turn in puberty would be simple and fun. Yeah right, I hear you say. The first thing I would do if I found out I could turn invisible is have as much fun as possible. Well, smarty-pants, I did have fun. It was a blast playing around in front of the mirror, giving my dog and my kid brother a scare, but that’s entertaining for only so long. It was day one, after all. I wasn’t too willing to get adventurous with it yet. So I was excited, but that’s not the point.

You see, powers make everything complicated. I could only imagine then how those complications would ripple through my life. The drama with my family had already started. What would happen at school, though? Could I trust my friends anymore? Some of them would surely feel envious. Some just wouldn’t understand. If my secret got out (and I had no doubt in my mind it would have to stay a secret), I had a strong feeling I would have to get used to hearing the word “freak.”

My friends would have to be few and loyal. One comic cliché gave me comfort; y’know, how the hero would have a close-knit posse of one or two compassionate, infinitely understanding non-super friends who closely guarded the secret and helped share the hero’s burden? I knew it was a cliché because it rang true. What else did I have to go on? Anyway, it had to be true if I was going to survive this. I needed a posse, even of just one person. I needed someone who would understand the plight of a pimply fifteen-year-old girl who can turn invisible, and spends her evenings solving mysteries and fighting evil-doers. I would have to rely on the people around me.

I think that scared me more than anything else.

Kyle and I didn’t talk much anymore. Our parents had been friends for years, and we had lived next door to his family before they moved across town. We had last played together at his twelfth birthday party.

The next year he got quiet. That fall when school started I noticed him in the halls. We were friendly with each other --saying hi in the halls, and suchlike-- but we never hung out or anything. I noticed him at lunch eating alone, poring over notebooks, shuffling papers printed off the internet. I basically let him keep to himself, and didn’t intrude. I figured we each had to handle our new adolescent stress in our own ways. He didn’t seem to have too many friends, but at least he had interests. He and I were lab partners one semester, and we worked on a project together at his house one evening. His parents were always nice to me. He was the only boy I felt remotely comfortable being around. If you can’t trust the guy you ran around naked with as a toddler not to betray your secrets in the jungle that is junior high, who can you trust? Besides, he was the quiet type. He always sat in the back of class, and he never seemed to feel like he had to prove anything to anyone: confident, but quiet. He was tall, a little on the chunky side, and cute.

That’s right; I had a crush on him. I wish I could say I didn’t hope me telling him about my power would bring us closer somehow, like MJ and Peter Parker, but I can’t.

So, leave it to me to make a complicated situation absolutely impossible. Not only was I going to have to come up with the guts to tell him about my power, but my fantasies also ran away with me so it felt like I was also about to ask him out.

I rode the bus across town. I remember wishing, for the first of many times, that I could be invisible with clothes on. I didn’t want anyone to see me, look at me, or know that I existed. Anxiety intruded, and rattled my thoughts. Had I gone completely crazy? We hadn’t ever really talked. What if he just called me names, kicked me out, and that was the end of it? What if he exposed me as a circus freak and sold tickets? I tried to calm myself, taking deep breaths, reassuring myself that I could trust Kyle. He’d never betrayed me before, right? Then again, I’d never really given him the opportunity to. Who else did I have, though? Megan blabbed. Kyle had a clean, if short, track record. I was a slave to circumstances. As my mind surrendered itself to complete vulnerability and utter powerlessness, a strange thing happened.

I calmed down. I was fifteen and terminally self-absorbed, so the irony was not lost in me that I should need to discover a super-power to realize just how fragile and powerless I really was. The bus slowed and I checked where we were.

My stop.

I made my way to his street, my heart racing. I tried to will it to slow down. I tried it on my shaking hands, but it didn’t work there either. I wiped my slimy palms on my jeans, swallowed hard, and rang the doorbell. His mom greeted me and asked me in.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

She must have noticed the frantic, constipated look on my face. Apparently the whole “turning invisible” power package didn’t come with the ability to keep my feelings from showing on my face. Superman still had to be Clark Kent. I supposed Invisigirl (or whatever I was going to call myself) still had to be Annie Ludo.

“Can I get you something?”

I politely refused.“Actually, I’m here to talk to Kyle. Is he around?”

“Oh, sure. Let me get him.” She called him down through the house intercom system. A few seconds later he tromped down the stairs. He seemed surprised, but why wouldn’t he be?

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I said back. He gave his mom a look, and she discreetly left without saying another word. She didn’t even have a twinkle in her eye. Good lady, I thought. I’d always liked her. I wish I could say I didn’t picture her being my mother-in-law in that moment, but I can’t.

He kept his hands in his pockets. His eyes looked suspicious. “What’s up?”

I checked the doorways into their front room. Sound seemed to carry too well. I got closer to him without getting in his bubble, and lowered my voice, which had to be shaking.

“Um . . . can we go talk someplace? With some, y’know,” I swallowed, “privacy?”

He looked surprised, but nodded. He looked me over, and must have seen my distress. Now he looked worried. It was quite sweet of him; he seemed to be genuinely interested in what was wrong. No backing out now. He would be ready to hear it or he wouldn’t. He would betray me or not.

He led me to the back yard. His mother’s prize-winning garden looked immaculate and manicured. Sorta romantic, I thought. I pushed that idea out of my head and tried to silently rehearse what I would say as we walked to a bench in the corner near a babbling fountain. We sat. I took a deep breath, and felt like I finally had it clear what I would say.

He spoke first.

“So what’s goin’ on? Are you okay?”

“Oh, no -I mean- I’m fine. I think. Just,” and I held up my hand, begging his pardon, and asking for patience.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Take it easy.”

I nodded. I felt more confident than ever that Kyle was the right person to talk to here. I used the silent pause to rally my courage.

“I’ve got something to tell you. But maybe it would be better if I just showed you.” Looking back now, I realize how that must have sounded; he probably thought I would kiss him or something.

I concentrated, flipping that subtle, now familiar mental switch my little magic trick requires. My clothing became an empty shell, barrette and contact lenses hovering over the open neck of my empty t-shirt.

He smiled.

“Well?” I asked nervously. His eyes darted towards the house before checking the perimeter of the yard.

“I’ve got something to show you, too,” he said. He sounded elated. “Take my hand.”

I hesitantly reached out with my invisible, sweating hand and he took it. He looked towards the house, intently focusing on a single spot on the wall facing the garden.

Suddenly, I lost my breath. Stars danced over my eyes and I tried to blink them away. I shook my now-visible head to clear it. I looked around, realizing we were sitting in his bedroom. I had the sudden need to go to the little super-girl’s room. It clicked in my mind what had just happened, and I was hugely relieved. A weight was off, and the adrenaline of anticipation raced through my chest and made me feel warm.

“You mean, you can-“

“Teleport. Yeah. I have to see where I’m going though,” he said, gesturing towards the window that looked out on the bench we had been sitting on a moment before. “But that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve got something else to show you.” He walked past me and opened his closet door wide. He walked in and sat down at the computer desk inside. It looked like some kind of secret cave with gobs of hanging clothes dangling over his slick, new-looking computer. I looked around, and noticed the large box and over-flowing packing material it must have arrived in.

“Come here.” He opened a browser, and entered some passwords. Several windows opened -- video screens. They were the views from security cameras. Some peered behind store check-out counters; some watched over bank tellers, another showed uniformed workers unloading an armored car.

“Until your uh . . . demonstration I wasn’t sure how I would get past security,” he said, looking at me pointedly. He smirked. “We’ll be richer than we ever imagined.”

The warm feeling left. My stomach hit the floor in disappointment and fear. My thoughts began a caffeinated scramble to determine my next step. I knew what I would have to do. The implications—or complications, if you will—came crashing down on me like shelves of painfully heavy books.

I made up a lame excuse and left. When I got home, I started packing. I packed light, because I realized I wouldn’t be wearing clothes a lot. I left my mom and brother a note and hoped they would understand.

So that’s where it started, and that’s why I’ve spent the better part of my life nude and totally invisible.

I’ve since made some friends like Peter Parker did, but only because I chose them a little more carefully than I did with Kyle. I was right about hearing the word “freak” more often.

I wish I could say that I always managed to stop Kyle from doing terrible things. I tried. I wish I could say that I managed to turn him around. I tried there too. I wish I could say that he and I became friends again.

I wish I could say those things, but I can’t.