The interior of Theo’s house is nothing like the exterior. From the street, it’s just another well-kept, two-story home in the nice part of town. But as soon as Theo lets us in the back way, I realize that Ernie isn’t exaggerating all that much when he calls him a rich white boy (despite Theo’s obvious Asian half). It’s like stepping into some kind of fancy Japanese-themed resort—or the TARDIS booth from the Dr. Whom show my dad likes to watch in that this place can’t possibly, shouldn’t possibly fit.
“Are you sure this is the right house?” I ask.
“It’s the right house,” Theo replies.
“If you’re Dr. Whom.”
“Dr. Whom—you know, from TV?”
“No, I’m not asking who, I’m saying his name is ‘Dr. Who,’ not ‘Dr. Whom.’”
“Really?” I think for a moment. “Is that grammatically correct?”
Theo looks flustered, glances warily around as if this is most certainly not his house. “It’s his name. Take off your shoes.”
I set Ernie down and follow Theo’s example, taking off my shoes and putting them in the cubby beside the door. Then, hoisting Ernie again, I trail behind Theo as he tiptoes up the hallway. I’ve only ever downloaded into his bedroom; tonight I’m getting an improvised tour of the magnificent downstairs—and I’m beginning to see why he worries about everything all the time. In the event of a fire, tornado, flood, or other natural disaster, he stands to lose so much more than the average kid. Me, I have a futon and a dusty old desk in a corner of my parents’ living room (at least, I used to). If I lose it all in a fire, few tears will be spilled. If this place burns down or blows away…well, the more that you have, the more that can go wrong, and the more that you worry about what can go wrong with your various things, so many things to be broken, lost, or stolen. It’s the curse of affluence. And Theo, poor guy, he’s got it bad.
The hallway runs through the heart of the house, with laundry, kitchen, and dining room off to the left, several other doorways leading into untold banquet halls on the right. In order to reach the stairs, we have to round the foot of the staircase, which faces the front door—the front door that, as soon as I wonder if Theo’s parents are still chatting outside, starts to open—
—Theo shoves me hard through one of the doorways to the right. We tumble inside, into darkness, Ernie flopping out of my arms onto onto the floor with a gelatinous thud. It feels like I’m kneeling on a gym mat; I can smell remnant incense lingering in the air. That, and Ernie’s feet.
Quickly and quietly, Theo closes the door but for a crack.
Out in the hallway, his parents are talking:
“Why do we have him over?” Theo’s dad asks.
“He’s your boss,” Theo’s mom replies.
“So, I have to break bread with him, too?”
“Look at it as an opportunity. Most bosses never take the time to meet with their employees face-to-face.”
“I’m perfectly fine with my boss being just a name on some business directory plaque, tucked safely behind a pane of glass instead of meddling in my after-hours or ogling my wife.”
“Come on, Mike. He wasn’t ogling.”
“In denial this evening, are we?”
“He was being friendly, touching base.”
“He was being more than friendly, Anya. And as for what he was touching…”
I crawl over to the crack in the door, negotiating space beside Theo with my shoulder, peering through, trying to focus my pixelated eyes, wondering: what’s it like when a New Age couple argues? Will there be yoga moves? Interpretive dance? A calm and quiet written critique of each other’s flaws drafted over herbal tea?
“He’s a married man,” Theo’s mom says, and moves into the dining room, starts clearing the table.
Theo’s dad follows. “Exactly. That’s what married men do: they get bored of cooking at home, so they go after some take-out.”
“Not really, no.”
“He’s a fan of perky female bodies wrapped tight in form-fitting dresses, to say it plainly. You know what he was doing out there by the car, don’t you?”
“You say it first.”
“He was trying to cross the line.”
“Your panty line.”
“Foot in mouth, darling.”
(I can feel Theo, pressed against me, tensing up suddenly—as if he’s never heard his parents talk smack on their friends and coworkers before.)
“All I’m saying is, mixed messages,” Theo’s dad continues, kind of picking at the tablecloth while Theo’s mom does most of the actual cleaning and clearing. “You know what dressing sheer means to a guy like Nakayoshi.”
Theo’s mom looks annoyed. “Hang on. You’re saying because my dress is sheer, my intentions are, too?”
“Okay, let me start again—”
“I’m proud of my figure. I work very hard for it. Now, I’m not going to wear a bikini to the dinner table, but neither am I going to hide myself away just because certain men confuse dressing flatteringly with dressing provocatively.”
To and from the kitchen now:
“I’m not saying you’re being provocative,” Theo’s dad continues. “The whole gym look thing is in. I get it. But there’s a time and a place for the ol’ sports bra and compression shorts combo.”
“What’s wrong with my Nike compression shorts?” Theo’s mom asks. “I love my Nike compression shorts!”
“Yeah, but wearing them to the grocery store? In the car when you pick up Theo from school?”
“I dress for comfort.”
“Ordinary, everyday sweatpants are comfortable.”
“They’re not what I like to wear.”
“Because they don’t conform to your every curve and crevice.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Spandex is the polite version of naked. Everyone knows that.”
“Okay, wearing Spandex is not the same as going naked.”
“You could spray-paint your bare buns and get the same effect. Just saying.”
Theo’s mom snickers. “Spray paint shorts wouldn’t be shorts at all—you’d still be naked. Compression shorts have contour. They define, yes, but you still can’t actually see what’s underneath.”
“You don’t need to see what’s underneath. You’ve already got the gist of it. That’s the point.”
“Gymnasts wear leotards. Wrestlers wear singlets. Swimmers wear Speedos. None are naked, and I don’t think anyone would consider them exhibitionists.”
“Because they’re supposed to be showing off their bodies for reasons of scoring and presentation. Not one of them wears their competition uniform to the grocery store.”
“Mike, the problem isn’t the suggestion of a healthy breast or bottom that’s facilitated by form-fitting sportswear, it’s the lack of manners on behalf of the men who stare, the same men who’d stare at a woman’s behind regardless of how she’s dressed—and why are we even having this conversation?”
Theo’s dad pauses for a second, then responds with, “I think I’ve had too much to drink—”
“Finally,” Theo’s mom interrupts, “something we can agree on.”
“—but regardless, Spandex must die.”
Theo shifts beside me. He’s got this totally mortified expression on his face, made all the more exaggerated by the flickering glow of his broken cell phone, which he’s holding up for light.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“My parents are fighting about Spandex,” he replies.
Ernie stirs behind us. “Fuckin’…rich people.”