Moving through the house, avoiding my father’s eyes, wishing for invisibility, I tiptoed into my mother’s refuge at the dining room table, her sewing machine on one end, fabric dancing under the needle, and whispered, “I’m leaving.”
She frowned at my mini-skirt, then glanced toward the den where my father was listening to Dodger baseball. A quick smile. “Be good.”
I walked across our stubbly lawn to the neighbors. Mr. Porter opened the door. “Right on time.” His eyes made me blush. I dipped around him to get inside, feeling heat from his body, both glad and ashamed I’d washed and set my hair. As if I’d done it for him.
“Still going to Berkeley?” Mr. Porter asked.
“Not going to be a hippie? Join the SDS?”
“My dad would kill me.”
“That’s a good girl.” Mr. Porter rested his hand on my shoulder. I turned, my body tingling as his fingers fell away.
The kids waited in the family room, Monopoly set up on the maple coffee table. They cheered when they saw me. In this family, I felt pretty, even hip.
The Porters said goodbye and Debi rushed them for kisses. Todd, twelve, stayed on the floor, sorting money. I waved. “Have fun!”
After the game, we made popcorn and cocoa and watched Gunsmoke, me in the middle with Debi in rainbow pajamas on one side and Todd in plaid PJs on the other.
Debi said, “Isn’t Miss Kitty pretty? I want a cat name.”
I said, “We could call you Puss.”
“No way. Puss in Boots is a boy!”
Todd whispered in my ear, his breath hot and soft and smelling of chocolate.
“How ’bout Thomasina?” I said.
Debi beamed. “Yeah, Jackie! I love Thomasina.”
“We’ll call you Tommy for short.”
Todd poked me in the ribs as Debi’s face clouded. “That’s a boy’s name!”
Debi went to bed after Gunsmoke, but Todd stayed up. He flicked through the channels until he found an old sci-fi movie.
We watched as the handsome doctor, the star of the movie, listened to a boy blubber that his mother wasn’t his mother; she was cold, hard, vacant. I looked at Todd; he looked back, eyes widening.
“You seen this before?” he asked. I shook my head.
The doctor’s friends found a half-formed body in a large pod on their pool table, and when more giant pods were discovered in the doctor’s greenhouse, Todd grabbed my hand and squeezed. His fingers were strong and hot and damp. I didn’t let go.
By the time the doctor and his girlfriend figured out that aliens were taking over the townspeople, stealing their humanity, Todd’s body and mine were pressed side by side, his shoulder against my arm, his hip near mine, our legs running alongside each other, not moving, just there. For me, the connection was unexpected, arousing, and had nothing to do with the movie.
I slowed my breath and focused on the places where Todd’s heat slipped through my skin, feeling it travel into my chest, my stomach, between my legs. My mouth fell open as I let each sensation take over. Me, snatching his warmth, giving in to the contracting, coiling, growing tickle inside.
He still had my hand, or I still had his, both of us hanging on at each twist in the story. Did he know what I was feeling? Did he feel it too? Would he tell his mother who’d tell my mother who’d tell my father? What was wrong with me? He was only twelve.
Todd’s eyes were glued to the TV, yet, yet, yet, the moment I moved my own eyes back to the screen, his thumb began to rub my palm. A jolt went through me. I swallowed; stroked back.
The doctor and his girlfriend were running away from town, she wanted to stop, she wanted to lay down and sleep, but the doctor wouldn’t let her, he dragged her, yelled at her, begged her to stay awake, and then for a moment and only a moment, he looked away, let down his guard, and when he turned back, she was there, but it wasn’t her any more. She’d fallen asleep—it didn’t take much time to change—and become a pod person.
The doctor was on the highway, a raving lunatic, and no one listened to him until two trucks collided and their cargoes of thousands of pods spilled across the asphalt.
Something rested on my upper thigh on the hem of my mini-skirt. Todd’s hand, my hand. I let go, stood up fast.
“That was a scary, wasn’t it?” I didn’t look at him, didn’t want to read anything in his face I would be ashamed of. Rushing into the kitchen, I dug through the refrigerator.
He followed me, bare feet poking out from under his pajamas. My face burned, my whole body burned, but it was no longer the warm curling pleasure of closeness.
“Jackie?” his voice was soft and rough.
“You want a Coke before bed?” I asked, not taking my eyes off an uncovered pork chop on a shelf.
“Just this once, Todd, it’s okay. It was a scary movie, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. You think there really could be pods like that?”
I handed him the soda, kept my eyes in the fridge. “Nope. No way. Now be a good boy and go to bed.”
I turned and strode toward the family room.
He stood in the doorway, the unopened Coke in hand, the kitchen light bright on his face, the hall dark behind him. I noticed for the first time the blue of his eyes, a sharpness to his chin, the movement of an Adam’s apple in his throat.
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