Theo suddenly appears beside my bed. It looks as if he’s accidentally downloaded himself into my room by hitting buttons on his phone at random.
It also looks like he’s got a giant boner.
I’d been half asleep, but now I jolt upright, scooting into a sitting position with my back against the headboard, my knees tucked against my chest. With one hand I hold the blanket up to my chin; with the other I aim my phone light at Theo. “Ew! You did not just download into my bedroom with a boner!”
“Huh?” Theo blinks in the semi-darkness, glances down at the comically-oversized pup tent pitched between his legs—and sort of creates his own real-time fail video, making as if to cup his hands over his groin, stumbling away from the bed and across the room, tripping, and falling into Jack Skellington and Co. He takes down my entire collection with a muffled gasp and a soft thud.
“Theo?” I whisper, muting my phone entirely so as to banish the sounds of fucking still blaring from his phone on the other end.
“Um, yeah?” he whispers back, lying crumpled between Jack and Sally.
“What in the world are you doing?”
Theo sighs. “Oh, just having some kind of twisted nightmare. Before Christmas.”
I reach beside my bed and flick on the lamp. “Har-har. Close your eyes.”
“I need to get my robe.”
“Um, hello? Bedtime, underwear, unscheduled boy in my bedroom, etcetera?”
Theo blushes, looks away. “Oh, right.”
Truthfully, I don’t really care if he sees me in my undies. If his little doll was telling the truth, he’s probably spied on me as much as I’ve spied on Jan, and even when it’s not on purpose, we’re always accidentally catching each other just out of the shower or when getting dressed for school, undressed for bed. It’s just the inconvenience of being on each other’s buddy lists for life. We’re not exhibitionists. Well, Lily is. Not intentionally. She’s…clumsy. She forgets things, and has lately gotten into the habit of falling asleep with her phone wedged against her butt crack. This is Lily we’re talking about, so, with the way her parents let her dress, who hasn’t seen her butt crack? But leaving it out overnight for all her SuperMegaNet friends to see? I know she’s a gymnast, and was supposedly a beauty pageant contestant when she was younger, so I’m sure she’s used to being ogled by strangers—but I can tell you right now she’ll change her tune when that first creepy fanboy hopscotches from buddy list to buddy list and right up her behind. She may think she’s been careful adding only people she knows or trusts to her list, but I don’t think she’s been as careful in considering that each of those people has their own list, and each of the people on those lists has their own list, and so on.
Watching Theo to make sure he doesn’t peek, I quickly get out of bed and pad over to the door. I grab my bathrobe from the hook and slip it on, cinching the waist. “You can look now.”
Theo nods, gets to his feet. “Uh, sorry for waking you up. I guess I’ll be getting back.”
I fold my arms and give him a smirk. “Back to watching porn and breaking into little girls’ bedrooms at four in the morning?”
“Don’t tell me what time it is!” Theo hisses miserably, covering his ears. “I’m not supposed to know what time it is!” He crumples back into the Nightmare pile.
(On the plus side, his boner appears to have taken leave.)
“Sorry,” I say, and sit at the edge of my bed. “I forgot about your BLT—”
“—or whatever you call it.”
Theo sighs. “That’s okay. I guess it could be worse.”
“It could be five in the morning.”
“So,” I yawn, “since when are you an obsessive-compulsive porn addict?”
Theo shifts into something vaguely resembling a sitting position. “Ernie’s dying wish was for you to catch me downloading porn on my phone.”
“Ernie’s still pretending he’s dying?”
“I don’t think he’s a good enough actor to pull off what I saw in that hospital bed.”
Wait—the hospital? “Ernie’s in the hospital?”
“It’s more of an online urgent care kind of place.”
Huh. “All right. Let’s say, theoretically, that Ernie’s really sick, and that, theoretically, I’m worried about his well being. What’s the matter with him?”
“He wasn’t inhaling enough food or watching enough porn or something. But he seemed to be getting better right before I, uh, downloaded on accident.”
“See for yourself.” Theo points at my phone.
Keeping the volume muted, I pick up my phone, peek at the screen. Ernie’s sweaty, flushed face fills his SMN window. He seems to be concentrating intently—on what, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. “He looks like his usual bloated self.”
“That’s because he’s watching porn.”
“Prescription porn. On your phone.”
Theo shakes his head in shame. “On my phone.”
“How is that even a thing?”
“The doctors said there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him, and that it was all in his head, but Mini suggested—”
“Wait, Mini? That little doll version of you that came to visit me earlier?”
“He came here?” Theo swallows hard. “I mean, er, doll? What doll?”
“The one that dropped by unannounced and said that Ernie was sick, and that you liked me. Then he showed me his penis. That was a joke, right?”
Theo looks like he wants to die. “I’m so sorry. He’s this…weird kind of, uh, perceptive flux manifestation thingie. He says he’s supposed to represent my suppressed ego or whatever. I don’t see the resemblance. If anything, he’s more like a miniature, non-fat yogurt version of Ernie. Only instead of food, he’s got girls and sex on his mind 24/7.”
Uh-huh. “Was he telling the truth?”
“When he said you have a crush on me—is that true?”
Theo stumbles to his feet. “I should get going.”
“Do you have a crush on me?” I ask again, suddenly very interested in the topic for no discernible reason.
Theo shifts from foot to foot; he nibbles his lip, picks at one of his cuticles.
And oh, my gosh, even without the immediate awkwardness, it all seems so obvious now. Well, I guess it’s always been obvious, hasn’t it? I just never paid any attention, never even thought to look at Theo as more than a classmate or casual friend. I was always too busy trying to get Jan to notice me. At my old middle school, I had several crushes on several boys—but none of them ever returned the interest. They made fun of my eyes, or my resolutely flat chest—or they ignored me altogether and went for the cute girls, the precocious girls, girls that were skimpy on clothing, heavy on makeup, exploitive of their burgeoning curves. This is my very first crush from a boy rather than the other way around—and it’s from Theo, of all people. Little someone’s-younger-brother-looking, plush-doll-carrying, computer-programming, Glass Hammer-fanaticizing Theo.
Okay. Not that I’m even considering considering it at this point, but…what if? I picture a thought bubble above my head, and in that thought bubble Theo and I are together at the mall, the movies, holding hands, maybe kissing, and I’m thinking dating Theo might not be so bad. Then suddenly the thought bubble wavers, and the two of us are crammed naked in a bathroom stall, and we’re doing all the naughty, scandalous things I’ve been wanting to do with Jan, and—
—so, so wrong.
“Listen, Theo,” I say, clearing my throat, forcing the naughtiness to the very back of my mind. “I’m super glad that you’re my friend. Really. But I’m just not interested in dating right now.”
Theo continues to nibble his lip, which starts bleeding. “You like Jan.”
Heck yeah, I like Jan—or any boy, for that matter, who’s older, bigger, more mature-looking, and has a prize at the bottom of his cereal box. “He doesn’t like me.”
“It takes two to make a thing work.”
Ah, crap. I was hoping Theo would go all bashful on me, and that would be the end of it, but he’s standing his ground. “Yeah, I like him. But I can’t make him like me back, so it is what it is, I guess. He’s my friend. You’re my friend. Ernie’s…some kind of gaseous anomaly. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten past that first week of high school without you guys. I care for you. Just not in that way. You know?”
Theo shrugs without conviction. “You don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m not one of those creeps who’s going to stalk you until you say yes. I can act mature about this.”
Regardless, there’s blood trickling down his chin.
“Let me clean you up,” I say, sighing and getting to my feet. I grab a cotton pad and some witch hazel from my dresser, then motion for Theo to sit beside me at the edge of my bed. I moisten the pad, dab it against his chin, his lips. Nice lips, I guess. Not as full and pouty as Jan’s, but nice now that I’m noticing them. And those big brown eyes—and that absolutely smooth complexion. I may not be swooning with passion, but I will admit to being jealous.
Finishing up, I replace the witch hazel on the dresser, toss the used cotton pad into the wastebasket, and return to the edge of the bed—and before I realize what’s happening, I’m saying, “Okay, how about this: a simple test. One kiss. No tongues. If it’s a creepy little brother kiss, we go our separate ways and never ever speak of it again. If, on the other hand, it’s not an incest kiss, then…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Agreed?”
Theo swallows, stammers, “Are you sure? We don’t have to—I mean, it’s okay if you just…I mean—”
I cup my hand over his mouth and close my eyes, puckering up. “Whenever you’re ready, Casanova.”
I remove my hand and await first contact—which Theo clumsily makes, first with his nose, then with his forehead.
“Ow!” I pull back, opening my eyes and glaring at him.
“Sorry,” he apologizes.
“Do over.” I close my eyes once again, and this time it goes better. Our lips actually meet, and we kiss, briefly, politely before separating and looking at each other expectantly—
—I shrug and get up. “Nope. Little brother.”
Theo does likewise. “Agreed.”
“See you at school.”
I grab my phone and tap the “send home” button.
Theo winks out of the room.
That was my first kiss, I think to myself. My first semi-serious, boy-girl kiss, anyway.
And I gave it to Theo.