Without Whom

@theo

Jan grins at me as I take a seat at our usual table outside the giant gingerbread house that is 3 Hags’ Doughnuts. “I saw you on the news over the weekend.”

“You did?” I ask, swallowing hard and loud, and vaguely recalling having received a text from him implying as much.

“Asia Afrodesia’s pregnancy announcement. That was your bedroom, right?”

Suddenly grateful that I brought along my laptop, I open it and hide myself behind the ginormous screen. “Oh. Um…that. Yeah, I guess.”

“Being a webmaster looks like fun.”

“It’s, um…interesting.” I’m cringing, but I’m also secretly more okay with talking about Asia rather than what I’m ninety-nine-percent sure Ernie caught me doing in bed this morning. I’m still hyper-aware of everyone and everything around me, as if I’ve got some misplaced lock of hair or splotch of dried spunk giving away my personal private wang-related activities. But of course that’s ridiculous. I’ve showered and changed clothes in the hours since, have checked myself from head to toe for any sign of masturbatory evidence. Anyway, Jan is his usual detached self, absorbed in his phone, scratching offhandedly at one of several Band-Aids on his arms. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care as much as I think he does about one dirty little boy in one little part of town playing with himself.

Eva downloads after a few minutes, sparkles briefly in the dinnertime power hour light as she sets down her spray bottle and takes a seat. “Nice to see the world hasn’t ended after all,” she says to me.

“Huh?”

“You’ve gone fundoshi while default.”

That I have. After what happened at the swim party, I guess it’s kind of pointless to still be faking as Tommy Carlton. I knew everyone would notice, but I’d hoped no one would say they’d noticed.

“And you’re sporting a new cloth.” Eva nods at Jan.

Huh. I hadn’t even noticed that he’s ditched his flimsy surgical number for a chic-looking designer loincloth. And a chain necklace.

“Dollar store sale,” Jan explains. “My parents went wild.”

Eva looks at me. “So, where’s fat boy? Usually he’s a couple bear-claws toward a diabetic coma by the time I get here.”

I definitely haven’t seen him,” I answer just a little too defensively.

“He wasn’t at school today, either. Did you hear that ruckus this morning?”

“What ruckus?” asks Jan.

“I’m not sure. I just remember waking up and hearing Ernie screaming, ‘I’m pregnant! He’s got a hentai crotch! Inches for days! Oh, the humanity—my eyes are bleeding!’”

“I must’ve been out.”

Eva waits expectantly.

“Beats me,” I say, and shrug oh-so-suspiciously. “I never understand half of what comes out of Ernie’s mouth.” For good measure, I nod casually at Jan’s various Band-Aids and ask, “What’s up with your arms?”

He resumes playing with his phone. He looks self-conscious, embarrassed, even. “Ah…just some random minor injuries I got helping my dad at the store. What does everyone want today?”

(Why am I reminded of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer pretended to be a robot because he couldn’t build one?)

“Cherry Danish,” Eva replies.

“Standard glaze, gluten-free,” I say.

I don’t remember bringing him, but Mini, having set himself beside my laptop, adds, “Bacon maple bar.”

I glare at him. “You don’t eat.”

“So? I like the smell.”

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Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.