“Here, hide this,” Mini says, handing me Theo’s Linux T-shirt the moment I get back to the pool deck.
“What’s this?” I ask. I take the shirt.
“The final lingering embers of Theo’s boyhood.”
I follow Mini’s gaze. I’d only left to use the bathroom, but in the minutes since the party’s become lopsided (the sky’s also turned frosted pink—that’s another matter altogether, though), with most of the girls gathered in a tight group near the snack table and converted into…chibis? I try to get a peek between packed shoulders, arms, and legs. It looks like one of Summer’s gymnast boys is lying in a fetal position on the deck while the girls take turns poking and prodding him and asking what his favorite things are—wait. That’s Theo. Shirtless. Ripped. Ripped and shirtless and what now? I know he spends time at the gym, but he always wears such baggy clothes, I never gave his physique a second thought. I certainly never imagined him as built, not all big and musclebound like Jan, but compact, powerful, and one-hundred-percent WTF.
I have to look away after a while; it’s kind of messing with my head. Over on the opposite side of the deck, several of the boys (I don’t know their names—they arrived as part of Summer’s posse) are waiting out the huddle by taking photos of each other flashing gang signs while striking gymnastics poses. Ernie’s brooding alone in his own corner of the pool. He’s got several plastic plates floating around him, each one containing a hefty piling of junk food.
I climb onto the deck, pad over to Ernie, sit beside him, my legs dangling in the water, Theo’s shirt bundled in my arms. “What happened to the sky?”
Ernie points accusingly across the way. “Theo took his shirt off.”
“That’s why the sky’s pink and the girls are all cartoony and everything smells like cotton candy?”
“World’s off its axis, bug eyes. Up is down, left is right. Group paradigm’s for shit.”
We have a paradigm? “Huh?”
“Duh. Geek, jock, gurl, fat kid. That’s the natural order of things.”
“Now it’s jock, jock, gurl, fat kid. Theo’s cheerful calves and washboard abs have thrown everything off balance. I’ve been further marginalized. Don’t you feel marginalized?” Ernie pauses, realizing the candy bar he’d been nursing has fallen into the pool. Quickly, he makes sure no one (besides me) is watching, reaches into the water, grabs the candy bar, and shoves it into his mouth. He chews loudly as he continues: “He’s supposed to be the nerd, the geek, the poindexter. It was bad enough when he ditched the glasses, but this, this! Mark my words, these are dark times!”
I unfurl the Linux T-shirt. “Fit or not, I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about Theo not being a nerd.”