I’m lying sprawled on my bed, muscles aching from wrestling practice, brain reeling from too much schoolwork, when I hear Theo calling to me:
“Eva, we need to talk.”
Totally disturbing—for three reasons: one, I’m not expecting visitors; two, I didn’t see the door open; three, since it’s almost bedtime, I’m kind of in my underwear.
Doing this sort of improvised, awkward back roll, I shift into a defensive crouch. “Theo? What are you…?” I pause, glancing down at the floor. The cutest little plush Theo doll has just squeezed its way through the crack beneath the door, and is now toddling toward my bed. Halfway to the point, it stops in its tracks and gawks at my non-existent breasts.
Ugh. Boys. Even in doll form they only have one thing on their minds.
I scowl and quickly put on a T-shirt.
The doll shakes its head, freed from the Siren-like effects of my chest. “Theo and Ernie are in trouble.”
“Okay…” I reply, slowly, uncertainly, half-amused as my brain jumps to the nearest conclusion. I know my birthday’s coming up at the end of the month; my parents are aware of my affinity for dolls, and, for some reason, have decided to gift me early with, er, a motorized doll. Of Theo.
“You’re a doll,” I say, “and you’re talking.”
“You’re a gurl, and you wrestle,” the doll shoots back.
I narrow my eyes, getting out of bed and cautiously padding over to where the Theo doll’s standing. I sit after a moment, reaching toward it. “Do you mind?”
The doll shakes its head, and I pick it up with both hands, poking, squeezing, feeling for batteries.
“Oh, baby,” the doll sighs. “You don’t know how long Theo’s been waiting for you to touch him like this. I’m Mini, by the way.”
I frown, quickly removing my finger from between the doll’s legs. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Really? You don’t know?”
I shake my head.
Mini shakes his head harder. “He likes you.”
I let Mini go, setting him back onto the floor and folding my arms. “He does not like me.”
“Babe, he stares at you like you’re a steak dinner with all the trimmings.”
“Theo’s a vegetarian—he doesn’t eat meat.”
“Well, he wants to eat yours.”
Oh, yuck. “I didn’t need to hear that.”
“No, really. Remember the New Eyes thing? That was all for you.”
“Mm-hm. He thought that by getting rid of his glasses he’d stand a better chance against Jan at, er, hacking your GirlSpace page, so to speak.”
“You’re making this up.”
“You don’t even know! You’ve been too busy fantasizing over the impossibility of ever handling Jan’s honey buns to notice that all along Theo’s worshiped and adored you.”
“I thought he was being attentive, sure, but I…” Huh. Now that I think about it, Theo does tend to look a little dazed whenever he’s around me. I always assumed it was because he was the shy, introverted type—now I don’t know what to think. I mean, Theo’s nice and all, but he’s not the kind of boy you really, er, want. If you know what I mean. Glasses or not, he just looks like someone’s little brother. And at times he can be a little—a lot—smart-alecky. Not like Jan. Jan who hates me, but Jan whose bulging biceps and darling accent make me want to play hookey and snuggle with him all day. I try to imagine Theo snuggling with me, and it just seems wrong—like one of those perverted babysitters you hear about on the news who’s hired to watch someone’s kid, but instead ends up getting pregnant with his child.
Ew, ew, ew. “That’s gross, Mini. He’s nine.”
“He’s twelve. Like you.”
“Not where it matters.”
“I happen to have it on good authority that Theo’s hiding the body of an Olympic god underneath all those geeky clothes.” Mini winks at me conspiratorially. “And you know he’s a health nut, so no zits once puberty gets into full swing—and with all the ginseng he drinks, you know he’s got, well, stamina. Wink-wink. Get my drift?”
I want anything but to get his drift! “Why are you telling me this? I thought you came here because Ernie and Theo are in some kind of trouble?”
Mini nods. “Theo’s got a bad case of virginitis, and Ernie’s dying.”
“Oh, please,” I say, rolling my eyes and purposely ignoring the part about Theo’s supposed virginitis. “Whatever Ernie’s doing, he’s not dying. He’s…exaggerating. Remember the time he imagined an evil cassette tape of banda music was downloading into girls’ bedrooms and getting them pregnant?”
“This is different. He’s really, really sick.”
“He probably just ate too many Sara Lee cheesecakes at dinnertime—why am I having a conversation with a plush doll?”
“Because you’re bored!” Mini insists. “Your mom and dad have locked you down so that between school and wrestling you only have a measly hour to yourself at the end of each day. You’d jump at the chance to fill that hour with something meaningful. Make this hour matter, Eva. Come with me—you’ll be sticking it to your parents and saving someone’s life in the process.”
Okay, that’s creepy. This doll shaped like a miniature Theo just confirmed one of my deepest, most carefully-hidden secrets, something no one but Mom could possibly know. “How did you…?”
Mini shrugs. “I’m a terrific judge of character. So’s Theo, by the way. You should talk to him sometime, confide in him, share a bubble bath…” He trails off, catching the Evil Eye I send hurtling his way. “Uh…too far too soon?”
I shake my head. “Are you some sort of programmable spybot? Did Dad buy you to check on me? Make sure I’m being a good little girl?”
“Look,” Mini says, lifting his shirt, dropping his pants, and standing spread-eagle. “No cameras, no mics. Now, are you going to help me or not?”
I sigh, getting to my feet. I’ve had enough. Mini’s touched a nerve—and he’s anatomically correct. This is crazy. “I’m obviously suffering some kind of psychotic breakdown. I’m going to bed. But first…” I reach down and pick up Mini. I carry him over to the window; I open it and toss him through.
He lands on the grass with a soft thud.