Authors: Ray Garton
Jen envied the ease with which her brother got so many A's. And he spent less time than most on his assignments, breezed through homework, never had a nervous moment before a test. He had lots of free time on his hands to give Jen a little help with her homework. But he never did. There were a lot of things he didn't do.
When her mom married George – Jen had been calling him Dad since he'd adopted her right after the marriage – Jen liked the idea of having a big brother. She looked forward to the two of them getting to know one another and growing up together, being close the way Jen always thought brothers and sisters were supposed to be. But it didn't work out that way.
Jen knew a lot of girls whose brothers were relentlessly cruel to them and she was glad Robby wasn't one of
. But she also knew girls whose brothers were their friends and confidants and she wished Robby
one of those. Unfortunately, he was somewhere in between.
Sometimes she felt like she wasn't growing up
Robby, but rather growing up
to him. She'd been trying since they'd first met to get to know him, really know him, the way the kids at school and the teachers and neighbors never could. But she was beginning to think it was impossible.
He wasn't exactly cold, just preoccupied or – no, it was
. His distance did not seem intentional, it was just ... Robby. Jen kept trying to bridge that distance. She'd talked about it with Tara – one of the twins – but all
said was, "You've got a crush on him."
!" Jen always replied.
"Sounds like it to me."
Both Tara and her brother Dana taunted her about it, but of
Not ... exactly.
Maybe she'd had a small crush on him when she was little, but she'd outgrown that. Well ... mostly.
, she thought, her pen poised over an unfinished sentence in Diana's letter.
Back when Jen had a little crush on him, she had managed once to get a peek at the Robby no one else ever saw. It was by accident, and she'd never forgotten it.
It was on a summer afternoon six years ago when Jen had sneaked up on Robby's bedroom window. Robby had been putting together a model at his desk facing the half-open window. She'd intended to jump up with a shout and give Robby a scare, but as she crept through the bushes and hunkered below his window, she heard his bedsprings squeaking slightly and decided to listen a moment before popping up. When she heard him breathing heavily, she knew he wasn't working on his model anymore. Instead of jumping, she peered carefully over the edge of his window and her eyes grew twice their size because –
– Robby was lying on his bed with his legs hanging over the edge, knees spread, pants bunched around his ankles, and his ... his
– at least, that was how she thought of it back than – was sticking
! Robby held it in his fist, running his hand up and down, up and down, faster and faster.
Jen watched, amazed, and watching something so private, so
, stirred a strange excitement inside her. She'd never seen a boy's thing before, and she'd
never seen a boy doing
to his thing. She hadn't even known that boys
... whatever this was.
Robby squirmed on his bed as he continued to play with himself, and then something fascinating happened: milk squirted from his thing. At least, it had looked like milk to her then; she knew better now. Robby groaned, panted, moved his hand faster, slurping it through the white fluid. Then he calmed, slowly relaxed, and became still.
Jen couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. Whatever it was, she became enamored of it and was terribly tempted to ask Robby about it – why he did it, how it felt, and maybe, just
, if she could watch up close while he did it again. She never did, of course, and now the very idea that she'd thought such a thing made her slap a hand over her eyes and groan with embarrassment.
But still, every once in a while, the memory haunted her, rose up in her mind like a ghost and danced behind her eyes. It used to give her a little tingle of excitement when she thought about it, but now the tingle was deeper, lower ... and a little scary.
In her bedroom, Jen heard Robby's door open. She stepped into the hall quickly and he stopped, turned to her.
"I saw you talking to the new neighbor," she said. "What's she like?"
Robby raised his eyebrows, shrugged and said, "She's, um ... nice," then lifted a hand and said, "See ya."
She watched him go down the hall, then back to her bedroom with a sigh.
* * * *
George took a shower when he got home from work. He'd gotten little sleep the night before, overslept, and only had time for a quick wash before leaving the house; he'd felt dirty all day. After drying off, he glanced out the bathroom window to see Robby going across the street.
Wrapped in his terrycloth robe, George went to his bedroom, tossed his robe on the bed, and –
– something stung his bare right foot and spat a long wet hiss from under the bed.
"Son of a
!" George barked, hopping a few times on his left foot as his right began to bleed in four long thin stripes that ran from his outer ankle to the knuckle of his big toes.
Karen's Manx cat, Monroe, peered up at him from the dusty darkness under the bed. Hatred burned in the cat's black and yellow eyes as it bared its needle-like fangs and hissed again, then snarled and backed out of sight.
George swept one of his slippers off the floor, dropped to one knee and slapped at the bottom of the bed, grumbling. "You miserable goddamned – “ But the cat dashed out from under the bed on the other side and George heard the heavy thump of its paws as it ran for the door. He looked up in time to see Monroe's jiggling tailless ass – and, worst of all, his dirty bare rectum – disappear from the room. Swearing again, George threw the slipper down and sat on the bed to rub his slashed foot, muttering, "Nine years. Nine goddamned years."
That was how long he'd put up with the only animal he'd ever encountered that he actually hated. He didn’t like admitting that to himself because he was an animal lover. But the cat had hated him first. Monroe had been a tiny kitten when George and Karen married. The cat hadn't liked him then and seemed to hate him more with each passing year. George never knew where the animal was hiding or when it was going to attack him next. Each time, the temptation to give Monroe a swift kick was great, but George always resisted, knowing that if he actually hurt the cat, Karen would be furious, probably even hysterical. Sometimes he thought she cared more deeply about that vicious, neurotic cat than she did for him.
After dressing and shaving, he went down to the kitchen and asked Karen, "Where'd Robby go?"
"Across the street to help that woman arrange her furniture and unpack."
"Oh. And Jen?"
"At Al and Lynda's."
Al and Lynda Crane had twins Jen's age – a boy and girl – and if she wasn't at their house playing or eating with them, they were at hers.
"Aren't they going to eat?"
"Jen's eating with the twins and I guess that woman's going to cook dinner for Robby." She removed two plates from the cupboard and set them down in front of the fat white Oster food processor.
"Oh?" George stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Then we're alone this evening?" After the thoughts he'd had while trying to sleep the night before, he'd felt horny all day.
The microwave beeped and Karen pulled away from him to take out the food.
, George thought, a little surprised by the bitterness he suddenly felt. "What's for dinner?"
He watched as she dished up the chicken and vegetables. She was frowning, as if she were angry about something.
"You're staring," she said. "What's wrong?"
"You looked upset, is all."
"Oh. Well, I'm just ... don't you think it's strange, George?"
"That woman – “
"She has a name, you know."
" – asking Robby over like that. Cooking dinner for him."
"What's strange about that? She needed the help and she wanted to do something for him in return. That's all."
Still frowning, she shook her head. "I don't know."
"What, you think she's going to seduce him?"
"I just ... thought it was strange," she muttered. "That's all."
George took his dinner in the living room and turned on the news. Through a two-inch opening in the curtains over the front window, he could see the lights in Lorelle Dupree's windows across the street. Two silhouettes moved back and forth inside.
With a smirk, George wondered if maybe Karen was right. Robby wasn't a bad looking kid. He was no jock, but he wasn't a geek, either. For all George knew, maybe Lorelle Dupree was the Mrs. Robinson type, the kind of woman who liked to break in young men. He closed his eyes and imagined her with his son, both of them naked. He imagined the sounds Robby would make as Lorelle introduced him to things about which he'd only fantasized, and he wondered if Robby would be as overwhelmed as he had been the first time. As the image crystallized, became vivid, George's smile dissolved. He turned to the television again as Karen came into the room with her dinner and sat across from him on the sofa.
She wore a simple blue shirt-dress, no stockings, barefoot, makeup washed off. Yet she looked no less attractive than she had that morning, freshly made up and dressed, on her way to work. She watched the television without looking at him and he watched her, trying to relax and get that feeling back, that feeling of ... ease. He wanted to put down his plate and go to her, nuzzle her neck and curl up on the sofa with her. But he knew better.
Monroe was coming.
The cat crept out from under the end table, lifted his bulk onto the sofa and placed his front paws on her thigh to peek over the edge of her dinner plate. She smiled as Monroe touched his nose to each piece of food on the plate.
George turned away from his wife as he winced disgustedly, then looked again to see Karen passing a hand over Monroe's orange fur as the cat curled up on her lap. George remembered when he and Karen used to eat dinner together, sitting close, touching one another, often exchanging smiles. He had been replaced by the cat. They used to lie on the floor together, too, curled up on pillows to watch television. Now she curled up with Monroe, and George didn't dare get too close to the cat for fear of being clawed. It was something he'd always tolerated, but over the years, it had become more and more difficult.
As Monroe began to purr, George's eyes returned to the opening of the curtains, to the shadows moving in the windows across the street, and his brows slowly huddled together, rippling his forehead.
If Karen was right and Lorelle Dupree
planning to seduce Robby, George had to admit that he was envious.
, he thought, as his dinner grew cold,
not envious. Jealous
"Mind if I change the channel?" Karen asked.
George turned away from the window slowly, frown diminishing, and sighed, giving her the best smile he could without looking at the cat. Before biting into his chicken, he said, "No, hon. Whatever you want."
As Sodom and Gomorrah sniffed around the furniture, inspecting their new surroundings, Lorelle stepped back against the wall, put her hands on her hips and carefully scanned the living room. "What do you think, Robby?"
"Yeah," he said with a nod, "I think it's fine." They'd already moved the living room furniture around four times – not to mention arranging the dining room and bedroom furniture and assembling the large desk in the spare room after lugging it in from the garage – and Robby was tired. So was Lorelle, who was still pale and appeared weary.
Lorelle moved to his side and put an arm around his shoulder. "So do I. Now I just need to put up some curtains and hang some plants and it'll be home."
They'd been so busy the last ninety minutes that Robby had no time to feel self-conscious. Now he had to force himself not to squirm nervously under the gentle weight of her arm and the warm touch of her hand just below his right shoulder. A strand of her hair brushed his cheek and he caught a faint whiff of her dark, musky perfume.
"There's just one thing missing," she said, nodding toward the big wooden crate in the middle of the floor and said, "I'll be right back," then hurried out of the room.
They had been working around it all evening and Lorelle had refused to tell Robby what was inside, insisting it was to be a surprise. The crate was six feet long and stood about five feet high and when he tried to slide it out of his way while moving the sofa earlier, he realized it was