Unbelievable. We’re living in the digital age, an age of cell phones, wireless Internet, HDTV, Super-fucking-MegaNet, and here I am riding the bus like it’s 1982 because the gang’s gone AWOL, because Beta can’t drive (well, he probably can, but he’s afraid of being hassled by the feds, or by a gang of rogue programmers from one of Taurus Labs’ competitors, or by human rights activists looking to string him up as an example of the dangers of modern-day technology)—because little Theo’s growing up and getting his spunk, and he’s being a total dick about it. Or not being a dick, as the case may be. And here I am, perched precariously on a smelly, slightly moist seat inside this moving purgatory on wheels as it ambles in the general direction of Ernie’s neighborhood. Because if I don’t do anything about Theo’s spunk, no one will.
You may be wondering how a walking, talking, preadolescent plush doll made it out of the bedroom, down the street, and onto a public bus without being confiscated by some random brat or tossed into a lost and found box. Allow me to explain. It’s simple, really: utter astonishment. See, the general population is a hopelessly complicated mess of bumbling idiots stumbling over one another on the way to and from the office, the supermarket, the DMV. It functions because everyone is too beside themselves to do anything whenever something extraordinary happens. Watch any of Roland Emmerich’s doomsday movies and you’ll get it. When someone sees an uprooted tree tumbling toward them do they stop and stare dumbly, or do they turn and run? The former, of course. That’s utter astonishment. That’s them thinking, “I don’t believe it!” or, “This can’t be!” when clearly something can be without you believing in it. Someone gets his wallet lifted in an alleyway, and he doesn’t go running after the thief; he merely stands there dumbfounded and yells the obvious to passersby: “He took my wallet!” Thieves are aware of this social flaw and exploit it on a daily basis.
The flaw’s what keeps people who see me from doing anything about me. They don’t believe in me. They assume my toddling is a trick of the light. Anything I say is disregarded as a misfiring of the ol’ eardrum. And so I have leeway as long as I don’t exceed the threshold by drawing undue attention to myself. That means no flirting, no picking fights, no interpretive dancing.
But enough about all that. The nuts and bolts of my existence within the societal paradigm are unimportant. I need to focus on the job at hand: reinstating Theo’s spunk.
I know what you’re thinking: He’s only twelve, he doesn’t need to be thinking about girls and their various intriguing parts, and my obsession with his lack of obsession regarding the subject will only serve to rob him of what’s left of his childhood, his innocence, right? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not instigating anything here. Theo was already thinking about girls when I came onto the scene. He was already thinking about girls when, during a morning shower back in June, he discovered a handful of wispy secondary sex characteristics sprouting at the base of his kickstand. That’s why—consciously or subconsciously—he personified me: as an outlet, a means of self-expression, an exploratory aide. He’s nipple-high in his own adolescence, and he needs to learn how to swim before the current pulls him under, before he goes and gets himself caught up in something worse than New Eyes.
Take a look at the nerdy college kid sitting across from me. As careful as he’s been to make it look like he’s engrossed in a copy of Megatokyo, Vol. 6, he’s not really reading at all. Nor is there any sound coming from his earbuds. No, see his eyes? See how he keeps looking over at that leggy blond in the tight-fitting T-shirt? He’s reading her, listening to her—he’s hanging on her every word as she jabbers cheerfully on her cell phone. Not in any kind of creepy stalker/rapist way. Rapists smile and stare you down with that twisted, fucked up look that says, Oh, yeah. I’m going to rape you. Nerd Boy here just wants the privilege of being in the same room as T-shirt Girl for any length of time, maybe share a table at Starbucks and talk Big Bang Theory or C++ programming with her as a more realistic alternative to dropping to his knees and begging for permission to spend a couple of days buried alive between her fabulous thighs. He wants her more than anything in the world—but he’ll never have her, because he doesn’t have the spunk to speak up. He probably rides the bus with her to and from the university every day; he can probably tell you what her favorite Coldplay song is, what classes she’s taking, what she likes to put on her frozen yogurt. And yet he probably doesn’t even know her name.
How do I know this? I’ve seen the same look on Theo’s face a thousand times since the start of the school year. To illustrate, why don’t I replace Nerd Boy with a six-years-from-now version of Theo—
Pop! Nerd Boy disappears, replaced by an older, taller, ganglier version of Theo.
—and a six-years-from-now version of Eva.
Pop! T-shirt Girl gets swapped out with an older, bustier, leggier, less bug-eyed version of Eva.
Now do you see what kind of trouble Theo’s in? Look at him: eighteen, thick-framed glasses (for effect, as I’m well aware he doesn’t need them anymore), oversized “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe” T-shirt, unintentionally baggy jeans, bare feet in flip-flops. Shudder.
Eva, on the other hand, has blossomed, grown some gentle curves, lost her boyish, compact, flat-chested wrestler’s build. She’s become teh hotness.
The two of them sit shoulder to shoulder. Theo’s pretending to be occupied with Megatokyo and his iPod, flipping pages and scrolling through his playlist with ADD-like intensity; Eva simply stares straight ahead, looking bored, waiting it out.
After a while, her cell phone rings.
Answering it: “Hi, Summer. Yeah, I just got out of class. Heading home. Weekend plans? Hm…studying, laundry, church. How about you? Uh-huh. Tonight? Let me see…” She nudges Theo in the ribs. “Hey. Summer’s having a clothing-optional slumber party tonight. It’s girls-only, but she says you can come if you bring your Wii.”
Theo’s eyes very literally bulge out of their sockets, and he drops his iPod. It slides across the floor, disappearing under one of the seats toward the rear of the bus.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, swallowing, wiping a sudden sheen of sweat from his brow. “I’ve got homework, and a couple of Web sites to work on—”
“If you don’t want to go, just say so.”
“No, really, I’m all about getting naked and playing Wii Fit with you and the girls all night…but, well, duty calls. You know?”
Eva looks disappointed and starts talking to Summer again as Theo leaves his seat, gets down on all fours, and crawls down the aisle, searching for his iPod and muttering an embarrassed “excuse me” whenever he bumps into someone’s feet. By the time he finds it and returns to his seat, Eva’s gotten off at her stop.
Theo stuffs his earbuds back into his ears, and is once again jogging blissfully through his playlist when a middle-aged guy sitting a few seats over very casually moves into the seat beside him, leans over, and slaps him across the forehead.
“Ow!” Theo exclaims, his iPod tumbling out of his hands and down the aisle again. “What was that for?”
“Come on!” the middle-aged guy exclaims. “Friday night? Naked slumber party with your sexy girlfriend? And you want to stay home doing homework?”
“Girlfriend?” Theo blinks, clueless—then he smiles, laughs nervously. “Oh, you mean the girl who was sitting next to me? Naw, we’re just friends.”
Narrowing his eyes, the older dude slaps Theo again. “I can see why.”
“Ouch! What was that for?”
“The ‘Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe’ T-shirt. That and the fact that you’ve blown it again.”
Theo massages his forehead and looks genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not fooling anybody!”
“I don’t understand—”
“Junior, you’ve been riding this line for two years, morning and night—so have I—and the way you stare at that girl you’d think she was the proverbial Siren.”
“Most guys look at a girl like that for long enough and they figure out a way to get her. You, why, you just pretend you’re her sister.”
“I don’t pretend I’m her…just because we aren’t…what’s wrong with just being friends?”
“It’s not healthy.”
“Who says that just because she’s a girl and I’m a guy that she has to be my girlfriend and I her boyfriend?”
“Who says you don’t?”
Theo sighs. “We’re really good friends. I wouldn’t want to spoil it.”
“It may spoil things, it may not. That’s not the point. The point is that you won’t even try.”
“Again, who says I have to?”
“You do! Everything you say, everything you do revolves around that girl. Look, if you were gay, or truly disinterested it wouldn’t be an issue. But you want to be more than just friends.”
Theo gathers his things, stands up. “Okay, um, thanks for the advice, but I’m going to stand for the rest of the trip.”
The middle-aged dude shakes his head. “No one ever fixed a problem by running away from it. Remember that when you’re home alone waiting for your Netflix to cue up.”
Theo ignores him. On his way to the front of the bus, his cell phone rings. He answers it. “Hi, Mom. No, I’m not doing anything tonight. Bingo? Sure, I’ll swing by the Dollar Tree on the way in and pick up some magic markers…”
Fuck that temporal nightmare. It’s made me sick to my stomach. But it doesn’t have to happen.
I won’t let it happen.