Something was up.
That was the first thought that crossed Kate Prater's mind when she glimpsed her son's guilty expression in the hallway. She was well aware that the start of adolescence was commonly marked by moody and secretive behavior, so it really shouldn't have been a surprise to find Jeremy acting this way. After all, his twelfth birthday was mere weeks away. With years of experience under its belt, her mom-radar beeped insistently when she noticed the alarm on Jeremy's face. It was somewhere between 'My curtains are on fire' and 'I just totaled the car'.
“Hi there, bud,” said Kate. “What are you up to?”
“Um, nothing,” said Jeremy. Wearing only his underwear, his hair was thoroughly tousled and his face an odd shade of pink. It was never a good sign when his blushing face threatened to match the fiery burnt orange of his hair. “How was your nap?”
“I couldn't sleep,” responded Kate. She had just come home from a long day at the hospital. “Are you hungry? I'm going to fix myself a snack.”
“Oh. Nice.” Jeremy subtly shifted so his shoulders squarely blocked the door to his bedroom. “No thanks, I'm not hungry.”
“Maybe I should do some yardwork too,” Kate mused. “I've been procrastinating about those flower beds for weeks now.” Perhaps if she waited long enough, he would spill the beans about his furtive behavior. Growing impatient, Kate regarded Jeremy's bare torso. “Where are your clothes, honey?”
Jeremy ignored her question. “Yardwork is a good idea,” he nodded, giving an anxious side-eye at the closed door. “So you'll be outside for a few hours?”
“What are you hiding in your room?” Kate inquired, cutting to the chase.
“Who, me? Nothing.”
Kate narrowed her eyes. “Jeremy, please don't tell me you're trying to raise turtles under your bed again.” She approached his door but he stubbornly blocked her path.
“Mom,” he began, “I really don't think you should go in there...”
“Why not?” she said, taking him by the shoulders and gently moving him out of the way. “Didn't you say there's nothing to see?” Kate grasped the doorknob.
“Mom, wait...” Jeremy said.
Not giving him a chance to continue, Kate pushed the door open. Peering inside the room, she was shocked at what she saw. “Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed.
Tiny white feathers covered every surface of the room. His bed, the armchair, the dresser... When she swung the door open, the whoosh of air sent the feathers on the ground upward where they floated in the air like snowflakes. In the center of it all stood Pam, wearing a sheepish grin.
“Oh! Hi Kate,” Pam said. She, too, was covered in feathers, although she was trying to dust herself off as best she could. Bits of white fluff clung stubbornly to her shirt and jeans. Her brown hair, pulled into a neat ponytail, appeared to be dusted with a layer of snow. White feathers were even settling in between the toes of her bare feet, nicely contrasting with the blue nail polish on her toenails.
“What happened in here?” Kate couldn't take her eyes off the mess.
“Just a pillow fight,” Pam explained. “You know, an impromptu one. Harmless too, until one of the pillows burst.”
“Impromptu?” Jeremy repeated. “Isn't that understood? No one plans for a pillow fight.”
“Oh, you know what I mean,” Pam said, waving her hand at him and inadvertently sending another cloud of feathers into the air. “Where's the vacuum cleaner?”
“I was about to get it,” he explained, “but I bumped into my mom.” Catching Kate's eye, Jeremy finally answered her question from the hallway. “I had to take off my clothes because they were covered in feathers. I didn't want to get them all over the house.”
Kate didn't dare step inside the room for fear of being covered in feathers herself. “Jeremy, you really need to play more gently,” she chided. “You hit Pam so hard with your pillow that it actually burst?”
The two of them exchanged a look. Pam finally spoke up. “Actually, I was the one that made the pillow burst.”
“Everyone always blames me,” Jeremy grumbled. “Pam is the one who needs to play gently.”
“Oh, come on,” Pam rolled her eyes. “I didn't even hit you that hard. I'm pretty sure it was a defective pillow.”
“Whoever heard of a defective pillow?” Jeremy countered. “Now you're just making stuff up.”
Kate backed out of the doorway. “Um, I'll just leave you two to clean this up.” As she left, she overheard them arguing about whether it would be better to use the vacuum or a dustpan to clean up the mess. They sounded exactly like a bickering couple. Kate ruefully shook her head. She had grown so accustomed to Jeremy being the instigator of trouble that she sometimes forgot that he wasn't a little kid anymore.
Nonetheless, Kate couldn't shake a funny feeling. It wasn't until later, when she was elbow deep in garden compost, that she realized what it was. After walking in on the pillow fight, there was the distinct feeling that she had interrupted something. Pam and Jeremy kept glancing at each other in a secret communication from which she was barred. It might have been her imagination, but Kate could recall a similar feeling in the past.
It left her with the unpleasant feeling of being left out. It was as though the two of them shared some rich life from which she was not included. A sharp twinge of jealousy made her realize that Pam probably knew her son better than she did. Feeling sorry for herself, she nevertheless resolved to keep an open mind. “Always presume good intent,” she told herself. A few days later, however, this mantra was tested following another incident.
After working an unplanned twenty hour shift at the hospital, Kate had returned home exhausted to the point of delirium. The sensible thing to do would have been to go directly to bed, but Kate found herself far too wired to rest. Her thoughts turned to tomorrow morning's brunch that she was hosting for her boyfriend David. It was his first visit to the house so everything needed to be absolutely perfect.
In her half-coherent state of sleep deprivation, Kate muttered to herself as she made a list of things that needed to be done before David's visit. “I need to clean that odd brown spot on the bathroom ceiling. I should ask Jeremy to bring up the spare dinner table chair from the basement to replace the broken one. I wonder if Pam has a good idea for dessert...” It occurred to Kate that she should be making a list, but she knew that she would forget most of it by the time she found a pen and paper. Instead, she continued pacing the house as she committed the list to memory.
By the time the to-do list grew to fifteen things, Kate was chanting it aloud to herself so as not to forget. “Number 16: find Jeremy or Pam and have them write all this down.”
On her way to the basement, Kate passed the living room where Jeremy was straddling Pam as she sat on the couch. Her head was tilted back while Jeremy bent over her in a distinctly intimate position. “I shouldn't disturb them if they're making out,” Kate thought distractedly. She was three steps past the living room when she stopped dead in her tracks.
Spinning on her heel, Kate poked her head into the room. “Ahem, hey there,” she said, clearing her throat discreetly. Was she seeing things? Jeremy's head was inches away from Pam's, his head tilted at angle such that she couldn't even see Pam's face underneath him. She couldn't help but notice how her son's hand was touching Pam's neck, while Pam's own hands rested on his hips as he straddled her.
“Hey mom,” Jeremy said.
“Hi Kate,” Pam said. If they were being intimate, they apparently didn't care that she was in the room. Pam said to Jeremy, “What are you waiting for? Just put it in already.”
“Are you sure?” Jeremy paused. “You're not going to blame me if it hurts, right?”
“It takes way more than that to hurt me,” Pam assured him. “I can handle it.”
Kate blinked. Was she hearing things too? “Uh, what are you guys doing?” she asked casually.
“Just a second, mom,” Jeremy said. His head leaned to the side as he moved even closer to Pam. “There... Done!” He swung his leg off of Pam, who immediately sat up straight and squinted.
Kate's head swiveled from Jeremy to Pam, then back to Jeremy. “Are you two going to tell me what's going on?” she asked.
He held up a bottle of Visine. “Pam is always telling me these eye drops don't hurt and I should stop being a baby,” Jeremy informed her. “So I told her that she should see how it feels.”
“See?” Pam said, still blinking. “It doesn't hurt.”
“So why are your eyes watering?” he challenged.
“That's just the excess eye drops,” she retorted, wiping her cheek.
Visine. Eye drops. It made sense now. When allergy season grew severe, it was the one thing that kept his eyes from itching. Feeling foolish, Kate was glad she hadn't said anything about her initial reaction.
“All right, your turn,” Pam said, holding out her hand. Jeremy reluctantly passed her the Visine. “Lie down on the couch,” she directed.
Kate watched them for a moment. Jeremy lay straight as a board on the couch while Pam knelt on the ground, bending low over his face.
“Quit breathing on me,” Jeremy complained, fidgeting. “It tickles.” Pam had the bottle poised over his face when he squirmed out of position.
“Sweet Georgia Brown,” Pam sighed, leaning back on her heels. “Is it impossible for you to be a big boy for ten seconds?”
“Hmm, I think I hear my phone ringing,” Kate muttered, meekly exiting the room. By this point, her to-do list has been thoroughly expunged from memory so she went upstairs and collapsed into bed. Pam and Jeremy had always been close, but it wasn't until now that she realized exactly how close they were. Had she found them kissing, it certainly would have been jarring... but not altogether unexpected. She wasn't sure how to feel about this.
Kate massaged her temples. “I need to stop working these twenty-hour shifts,” she murmured aloud. It was clearly affecting her mental state. Seeing things? Paranoia? Thinking back to her graduate school days, Kate wondered if she still had a copy of the DSM somewhere in the house. Hadn't there been some study about sleep deprivation and psychiatric disorders?
A good night's rest was exactly what she needed. When she woke up the next day, Kate laughed at her paranoid misgivings. Still on hospital time, she was the first one to rise so she quietly crept to the kitchen to make coffee. As she fetched the newspaper from the porch, it occurred to her that it wasn't Pam and Jeremy's relationship that was problematic. The issue was that she had grown too distant from her own son.
Even though she had cut back on her hospital hours, Kate realized that her time at home mostly amounted to superficial time instead of quality time. What were Jeremy's hobbies? What were his favorite subjects at school? She had no idea. If they were distant now, things would only get worse once he became a full-fledged teenager. Glumly stewing in guilt and pondering the ticking time bomb of adolescence, Kate was startled when her phone buzzed.
“Hi Kate, it's David.”
“Hi David. How was the night shift?”
“Not bad at all. One C-section, two normal deliveries, and no breaches.”
“Wow,” Kate said. “You can't ask for more than that.”
“Nope, it was smooth sailing. Say, you know that brunch we have scheduled today?”
“Let me guess. You need to cancel.”
“Not at all! I actually get to leave work early this morning. So, rather than go back to the apartment and immediately leave again, I was wondering if I could come over early to your place. Have coffee or something.”
“I guess that's fine,” Kate said. He normally lived several hours away but, thanks to a work exchange program, David was participating in a two-week residency at a local hospital and temporarily living in a downtown apartment. “When you say early, do you mean...”
“Can I come over in thirty minutes?”
It was 7 am. She had been expecting him to arrive at 11. Kate winced, remembering her long to-do list that she had mentally assembled and promptly forgotten. “Thirty minutes is awfully soon,” Kate demurred. “And the house is still a mess. I meant to clean up when I got home yesterday but I ended up sleeping for twelve hours straight.”
“I don't mind!” David assured her. “That's actually the main reason I don't want to go home. I know I'll just fall asleep.”
“Well... okay,” Kate agreed. “You can come over. But no fair judging the state of the house.”
“Did I ever tell you my great-aunt is Martha Stewart?”
“Ha ha. Goodbye, David. See you in thirty.” Kate hung up the phone. Glancing around the house, she decided that it was tidy enough. The more pressing matter was the fact that she had just woken up. It was way too early in their relationship for David to see her in this state.
It was that exact moment that Pam sleepily wandered into the kitchen. “Pam! Thank god you're up!” Kate exclaimed, startling her. “Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to frighten you.” Kate quickly explained the situation. “... So I just need to go shower and get ready. If David gets here before I'm out, can you let him in and, you know, keep him company?”
“I've got it totally under control,” Pam promised, yawning mid-sentence. She began filling the coffeepot with water.
“Thanks Pam! You're a life-saver!” Kate dashed upstairs to get ready. Despite her best efforts, it took well over thirty minutes for her to shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and put on makeup. She checked the mirror. Her sandy brown hair, naturally wavy, framed her fair skin and angular jaw. Though compact in height, she still had the same slim body she had in college, thanks to the hospital's rushed mealtimes and the subsequent hours on her feet. By the time she opened her bedroom door, she could hear David's voice downstairs. Following the sound, she found him in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on an egg strata casserole while Pam slid a tray of bacon into the oven.
“Hi there!” David said. He set aside the egg strata to give her a kiss. He was still wearing his hospital scrubs, but David was still dashing with his curly brown hair and neatly trimmed beard. The thick frames of his glasses and his tall stature gave him a distinctly professorial look.
“Hi!” He was so tall that she had to push herself up on her toes to kiss him.
“Thanks for letting me come over early,” he said squeezing his arm around her waist.
“Of course.” He already had a cup of coffee in front of him and the delightfully brown scent lured her to the coffeepot. “I see you've already met Pam,” Kate said, pouring herself a cup.
“Sure did,” he nodded. “She was just telling me how long she's known your family.” He glanced at Pam, who had shyly retreated to the opposite side of the kitchen with her coffee. “You were saying you've known Jeremy since...”
“Since he was six,” Pam said. “I was your typically poor college student. One of my friends said she knew a family that needed a babysitter.”
“And the rest is history,” Kate finished. “Now we don't even let her leave the house.”
“Ha!” David laughed. “So I'm guessing you're single, huh, Pam?”
Before Pam could answer, Kate chimed in. “Technically yes, but Pam does so much around here that she's practically married to Jeremy.” Both she and David chuckled, but Pam blushed furiously.
“Well, let's see,” David pondered. “You've known Jeremy since he was six and you were in college. So your early 20s, let's say. What's that? A fifteen year difference?”
“Scandalous!” Kate remarked.
They all laughed before Pam said, “It's not like that though. At all. Really.”
David stroked his chin. “This reminds me of the situation with the new French president,” he said. He laughed to himself before noticing their blank faces. “You didn't hear about Emmanuel Macron?” Rubbing his hands excitedly, he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “So it goes like this. This guy just got elected in May. He met his wife in high school, sweetly enough.” David paused.
“So what?” Kate said.
“High school love, right? So cute.” David took a sip of coffee. “Oh, I forgot to mention. She was his teacher.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. “Like a teacher-teacher? Or was she just an intern who was tutoring?”
“Right, good point,” Pam said, agreeing with her. “Was she just a few years older? Because that wouldn't be so bad. In my opinion.”
“Let me think.” David pretended to nonchalantly sprinkle pepper onto the egg strata casserole. “He was around fifteen years old. She was, oh, thirty-nine. So definitely his teacher. No big, right?”
Kate was aghast. “Fifteen and thirty-nine? Eww!” She glanced at Pam, expecting a similar reaction, but she was busy checking on the bacon in the oven.
“So you draw the line at a twenty-four year age difference,” David said. He was clearly amused that his story was going over so well.
“I draw the line at way less than twenty-four years. That's disgusting.” Kate made a face. “Doesn't France have laws about this? I knew they were sexually liberated over there, but this just takes the cake. “
“”But can you really make laws about love?” David asked, pretending to shoot a bow and arrow like Cupid.
“Another good point,” Pam said, nodding vigorously. “I like that.”
David abruptly stopped pantomiming with his imaginary bow. “Oh, did I mention that she had three children when she met him? Some of her kids were actually the same age as him.”
“I don't like that,” Kate said. She scrutinized him with suspicion. “Are you just fabricating this story to wind us up?”
“I'm not! You can't make this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction.”
She considered this. “And this guy got elected president? Was this public knowledge?”
David turned to Pam. “What do you think? Should they have tossed the lady in jail and thrown away the key?
Pam removed the bacon from the oven and replaced it with the egg strata casserole. “Well, it wasn't like she was forcing him to do something he didn't want. Right?” Pam glanced at Kate, then looked away.
“But she was so much older,” Kate objected. “She should have known better. I'm open-minded but fifteen is way too young. That would be like if Jeremy was involved with a...” She quickly did the math in her head. “... with a thirty-six year old woman. That's just a few years younger than me, for heaven's sake.”
“From what I recall, Emmanuel Macron was the one who put the moves on his teacher,” David told them. “The newspapers said he was a very mature fifteen year old. To her credit, she initially tried to rebuff him.”
“It takes two to tango,” Pam pointed out. “We shouldn't be laying all the blame on his wife.”
“Maybe,” Kate said. She shuddered before adding, “It's still gross though.”
David warningly wagged his finger at Pam. “There's your answer. Stay away from her son, Pam.”
Pam's face had turned so red that Kate was starting to feel bad for her. “How did we get started on this topic anyway?” she wondered.
“You said that Pam was practically married to Jeremy,” David reminded her.
“Oh, that's not what I meant. It was just a joke because Pam is stuck spending so much time with him. Although sometimes when they talk, it sounds like they're...”
The landline rang, something that hadn't happened in so long that Kate and Pam both momentarily froze, unsure what the foreign sound was. Pam went to answer it. Kate listened in, her instincts as a doctor telling her that phone calls before 8 am on a weekend were rarely good news.
“Oh. Hi dad,” she heard Pam say. Her voice then hushed, never a good sign either.
Kate turned back to David to give her some privacy. “So the breakfast menu is egg strata, bacon, sourdough toast, and some cantaloupe that hasn't even been sliced yet. No dessert, so I hope you weren't expecting something sweet.”
“I thought you'd never ask,” David said. He went to the entryway and returned with a box. Opening it with a flourish, he revealed the dozen doughnuts inside. Their sugary smell immediately caused Kate's stomach to rumble.
“Mmm,” she said. “Jeremy will flip out when he sees those.”
Pam returned, holding the phone as if it were a dead mouse. “Everything all right, Pam?” Kate asked, concerned.
She set the phone down on the counter. “It's my mom,” Pam said. “She somehow tripped on her morning walk and now she's on her way to the hospital. They're hoping it's just a bad ankle sprain. But she might have broken something too.”
“That's terrible,” Kate said. “Which hospital is she at?”
“They're on their way to St Bonifacius,” Pam said.
“You should go see her,” Kate urged.
“I will,” Pam began. She worriedly sipped her coffee. “The timing is bad though. My dad is due for eye surgery tomorrow so he won't be able to drive. And my mom definitely can't drive either, even if it's just an ankle sprain.” She paused. “Do you mind if I take a few days to...”
Kate didn't even let her finish. “Of course you can take a few days off,” she said. “You have to take care of your family. Take as much time as you need.”
“I better pack some things,” Pam said, dumping the rest of her coffee in the sink. “Excuse me. Oh, it was nice meeting you, David.”
“Nice meeting you too!” he called. The moment Pam was gone, he turned to Kate. “Did I screw up? She seemed a bit perturbed by the Macron story.”
“Really?” Kate said. “I didn't notice.”
“Maybe I was imagining it. But I hope she doesn't think I was accusing her of anything.”
“Don't worry about it. Pam has a good sense of humor. I think she's just embarrassed that she and Jeremy get along so well. Like two peas in a pod those two are.” Retrieving the cantaloupe, Kate hunted for a sharp knife. “You know, it occurred to me... if the genders were reversed and my eleven year old daughter was spending a lot of time with a twenty-six year old man? Yeah, I would be weirded out. I just don't get that vibe from Pam though.”
“She definitely seems way too nice to do anything like that,” David agreed.
A timer beeped. Checking the oven, Kate decided the egg strata needed a few more minutes to brown. She began cutting the cantaloupe. “So are you enjoying the residency exchange program?” Kate asked David.
“It's fun,” he nodded. He poured fresh cups of coffee for both of them. “That reminds me. I got an email last night from the director of St John's back in Springfield. He said they're looking to do something similar this summer, except it will be a four week residency.”
“Wow, four weeks is a long time,” Kate said. Having successfully sliced open the cantaloupe, she began scooping out the seeds.
“You should apply,” David suggested. “It would be four weeks in July. Summers are always nice in Springfield.” He paused a beat. “You could stay at my place.”
Kate hesitated. “That does sound nice. But I can't just pack up and leave Jeremy for a month.”
“Why not? Didn't you just say that Pam runs the show around here anyway?”
“That's true. But I still feel bad abandoning the two of them. Especially Jeremy. He's growing up so fast and I really feel like we should be spending more time together.”
“Where is he anyway?”
“Still sleeping, I guess,” Kate answered. “He and Pam must have stayed up late last night. I hope he'll wake up in time to meet you.”
David stepped behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He kissed her neck, causing a very warm feeling to spread across Kate's insides. “It's not a big deal,” he said. “You should let him sleep in.” Still kissing her, his hand slid across her front until his finger nestled in her navel.
Though she was enjoying his attention, Kate said, “Wait a minute... did you have an ulterior motive when you asked to come over early this morning?”
“Not at all,” he responded. “I was honestly just really hungry.”
Kate grinned. “Me too, actually. You don't mind eating cold brunch food, do you?” Turning off the oven, she cracked open the door and then took David's hand. He looked at her questioningly as she led him from the kitchen. “Come on, I'll give you a tour of the house. We can start with the bedroom.”
It felt strange having a different man in her own bed. But Kate got over it, especially once David removed her underwear and dipped his face between her legs. Self-conscious about her son sleeping downstairs, she did her best to be quiet as his tongue teased and tickled. Ten minutes later, any thought of discretion was forgotten as she frantically grasped his head as he made her come.
“How did I do?” he asked as he crawled up to be at face level with her.
Instead of answering, Kate slid her legs apart, letting his hard cock slide inside her in a single thrust. “Oh god,” she whispered. “Don't stop.”
And he didn't stop, not for a long while. When he was done, they took a moment to cuddle on the mussed sheets. “That was nice,” Kate said, kissing his cheek. “Thank you.”
“You should have me over for brunch every weekend,” David said, smiling.
“Speaking of which, we should probably go back downstairs,” Kate said. She knew it was silly, but she would be mortified if Jeremy knocked on the door right now. Tossing David his shirt, she said, “Come on, get dressed. You said you were starving.”
But when they crept downstairs, there was no sign of anyone. Kate abashedly realized that Pam had left while they were upstairs. She wondered what she must have thought when she saw the untouched brunch on the table with no one in sight.
The egg strata was a bit dry and the cantaloupe room temperature, but David didn't seem to mind. They browsed the newspaper as they ate. It occurred to Kate that this simple, domestic scene could become the new normal. She and David enjoying brunch on a weekend morning while Jeremy snoozed in his room. She smiled at the thought.
By 10:30 though, Jeremy still had not risen and David was starting to fall asleep at the table. “You don't have to stay,” Kate told him. “Go home and get some rest.”
“I'm not tired,” he claimed, stifling a yawn.
“Yes, clearly not tired,” Kate teased. She hauled him out of his chair. “Come on, you can meet Jeremy some other time.”
“Are you kicking me out of your house?” David asked as she shoved him toward the front door.
“Yes. You've overstayed your welcome.”
“Is that so?” He pulled her close for a kiss. It began as just a brief peck on the lips but evolved into something more as Kate found herself backed against the wall, her hand still on the doorknob, while David leaned over her. She felt a thrill when she realized his beard was imbued with her own scent from having his face buried between her legs.
“Can't we go back upstairs?” he asked.
It was tempting but Kate knew they would never leave the bedroom. “You need to get some sleep,” she told him. “Plus, Jeremy will be up any minute now.”
“Spoil sport,” he said, kissing her one last time. “I'll call you tonight?”
“Okay,” Kate agreed. “See you. Have a good day of sleeping!” Shutting the door, she returned to the dining room and began gathering the dirty dishes. Feeling lazy, she soon gave up and took a seat. She was munching a slice of bacon when Jeremy stumbled into the dining room.
“Hi there, sleepyhead,” she greeted, checking the time. “It's almost 11:00 am, so you're still in time for brunch. Want some egg strata? It doesn't have anything that you don't like.”
Yawning, Jeremy examined the dish. “No thanks. Where's Pam?”
“She had a family emergency,” Kate explained. “Her mom hurt her ankle and they think it might be broken.”
“When's she coming back? This afternoon?”
“No, she packed an overnight bag so she'll be gone at least a day or two.”
“Oh.” Prowling the breakfast table, it didn't take him long to discover the box of doughnuts. He piled a plate with a cream-filled bismarck, two churros, and half a cruller. He then topped off his breakfast of champions with a handful of bacon.
“I still don't understand how you stay so thin,” Kate remarked. Jeremy set up shop at the kitchen counter since there wasn't space at the dinner table for him to open the newspaper to the comics section. Wanting him to eat something at least minimally nutritious, Kate poured him a glass of milk.
She began cleaning up the brunch aftermath. As she loaded the dishwasher, it occurred to Kate that there was silver lining to Pam's absence. This was an excellent opportunity for her to spend time with Jeremy. Though she often relied on Pam to entertain him, especially after a long day at work, Kate always felt guilty that she was neglecting her son. Now she had the perfect chance to address that guilt.
Emboldened with initiative, Kate turned to the counter but found it empty except for Jeremy's cleaned plate and drained glass of milk. “You're not getting away that easy,” she thought to herself. Wiping her hands on a dishtowel, Kate strode off with a determined bounce in her step. She found Jeremy in his room where he was hunched over his desk.
“Hi there,” she said. He didn't hear her because he was wearing earbuds. She knocked on his open door to announce her presence. “What are you up to?”
“Huh?” Jeremy said, distracted. He removed the pair of white earbuds.
“I just asked what's going on,” Kate said. His room, previously tidy last night, has somehow deteriorated into a state of chaos. Several dresser drawers hung open, each one with an article of clothing hanging from it, while small pieces of unidentifiable plastic were scattered around his desk chair. Moving cautiously, Kate entered his room and sat in the armchair, moving his crumpled pajamas out of the way.
He must have noticed her look of dismay. Jeremy hastily turned off the music on his iPod. “Am I in trouble?” he asked.
“No,” Kate laughed. “Can't a mom have a conversation with her son?”
“Sure,” Jeremy said. He re-inserted one of his earbuds, leaving his other ear free to listen to her.
This wasn't going the way Kate hoped. “You still love that iPod Touch, don't you?” she asked. It was her Christmas present to him several years ago.
“This is my iPod Nano from Grandma,” he informed her. “I broke the Touch a long time ago. Well, it wasn't actually me who broke it. It was technically the washing machine.”
“Oh, right,” Kate said. “I knew that. So, what are you working on there?”
Jeremy regarded her with suspicion, clearly not believing that she wasn't trying to trap him into some admission of wrongdoing. “I'm just putting together this model airplane,” he answered, pointing to his desk.
Kate strolled to his desk to look over his shoulder. “Wow, that looks really cool. P-61 Black Widow,” she said, reading the box.
Jeremy had begun poring over the instructions so he didn't answer right away. “Yeah, it's awesome.”
“I didn't know you were so obsessed with building models,” Kate ventured. “When did this happen?”
“I dunno. A few weeks ago, I guess. Pam got me that one first.” He pointed at a vintage biplane on his bookshelf. It was only then that Kate noticed the fleet of fighter planes and helicopters on top of his dresser.
“You built all of these? Good job.”
Kate was admiring his airplanes and trying to think of more compliments when she noticed a large mason jar on the dresser. Labeled 'Swear Jar', it was filled with a handful of coins and bills. “What's this?” she said, picking it up and giving it a shake.
Jeremy glanced at her. “That? It's, um, a swear jar.”
“I can see that,” Kate said. “But what's it for?”
He shrugged. “You know. It was Pam's idea. Every time someone swears, they have to add money to it. So it's motivation to swear less. Unless you're rich. Then you can swear as much as you want.”
“Smart. Quite a good chunk of change in there,” Kate observed. “Will I need to increase your allowance so you can pay the swear jar?”
Jeremy set aside his bottle of glue. “I haven't added that much to the jar. Just two or three dollars. It's mostly Pam. I've been making her swear a lot.”
Kate narrowed her eyes at him. “You've been making her swear?”
Jeremy suddenly seemed flustered. “Well... I mean, I've been catching her swear.”
“It's not cool if you're making Pam swear, you know.”
“I know! That's not what I meant.”
Kate squinted at the contents of the jar. “Is that a twenty dollar bill in there?”
“Uh, yeah. That was the day that Pam was really... mad.”
“I see,” Kate nodded. Jeremy kept his eyes glued on his model airplane but she noticed his ears had turned pink. She had apparently struck a nerve. Kate wanted to ask more questions about that $20 dollar swearing day but then remembered that she was supposed to be building bridges, not embarrassing him. She moved on.
“How's school going?” she asked, noticing the pile of notebooks and textbooks on the corner of his desk.
His short answers were starting to drive her crazy, but Kate persisted. “Are you glad to be almost done?”
“Yeah. I can't wait for summer.”
“Mind if I take a look?” Kate asked. She began paging through a geometry notebook that was filled with Jeremy's messy handwriting. All the numbers and symbols were completely foreign. It wasn't until she was paging through his biology notebook that she felt more comfortable. She was much more knowledgeable about ribosomes than rhombuses.
At the very bottom of the pile was an unlabeled notebook. Each page had an entry for his name, the date, a subject, and then a grade written in red ink. One entry, for example, consisted of:
Name: Jeremy Prater
Date: April 22, 2017
Subject: 3rd base
This was written in Jeremy's handwriting. There was a separate note, written in red ink, that read: “B+ Keep up the good work! --Miss Carpenter” Kate recognized this as Pam's handwriting.
“What is this anyway?” Kate pondered aloud as she leafed through the notebook. It was filled with nearly two dozen entries, the only difference being the date, the subject, and the grade.
“Hmm?” Jeremy looked up. “Oh, that's nothing,” he said, snatching the notebook away from her.
He moved so quickly that Kate was left staring at her empty hands. “Was Pam grading you on something?” she inquired.
“It was nothing,” Jeremy repeated.
“I'm not mad, just curious,” Kate assured him. “Can I please look at the notebook?” She held out her hand. After a moment, Jeremy reluctantly handed it over. Kate skimmed the pages again.
“I don't get the subjects,” she said. “1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base?”
“It's baseball,” Jeremy explained.
“But why would Pam grade you on baseball?” Kate said, puzzled. “Are you trying out for the school baseball team?”
“Yes, I am,” Jeremy answered. “But I didn't make the team. I'm not that good yet so Pam offered to help me improve. Can I have that back? We were just joking around.”
But Kate continued flipping through the notebook. “I always thought soccer was your thing, not baseball,” she commented. She was well-versed in soccer because of Jeremy's interest, but she only knew enough about baseball to be dimly aware of the terminology. “Why all these bases?”
Jeremy hesitated. “Those are the positions I was practicing for. You know, 1st baseman, 2nd baseman... All that.”
“Oh, I get it.” Kate stopped at one entry. “You got a C- for 2nd base,” she noted. The accompanying comment in red ink stated, “'For the love of Pete, please be gentle...'”
Kate glanced at her son. “What's that about?”
“I, um, threw the ball at her too hard that day.”
Jeremy stood by her side, one hand on the notebook, but she wouldn't let him take it. “Looks like your grades are good for 2nd base and 3rd base,” Kate observed. “I see a lot of Ds and Fs for 1st base though.”
“I got a B for 1st base last week,” Jeremy protested.
“Did you?” Kate found the entry. “Ah, here it is. 'B. I'm glad you're finally taking these lessons seriously.'” She guffawed. “The comments are the best part. Pam is so funny.” Kate thumbed through the pages to search for them.
Don't rush, it's not a race
Good improvement from last time
Would it kill you to pay attention to your work?
Amazing... thank you!
Kate frowned. The last comment was for 3rd base and the page was covered in drawings of tiny hearts, as well as exuberant A+ written in extra large handwriting. “How come this entry has all these hearts?” she asked.
Jeremy took the notebook from her and shoved it under his pile of textbooks. “I don't know. Pam was just being girly. Girls draw hearts on, like, everything.”
Kate tried to remember what else she knew about baseball. “I didn't see any home runs listed in there,” she mentioned. “Think you'll be hitting any home runs soon?”
“I don't know, mom. Maybe.” Jeremy returned to his model airplane. “Are you going to spend all day going through my stuff?”
Kate spotted his sketchbook. “What about this? It's safe for me to look at this right? You're not going to yell at me?”
Jeremy sighed. “Go ahead.”
Kate eagerly began perusing his sketchbook. The first entries were filled with space monsters, superheroes, and explosions. As the pages progressed, however, the drawings became much more skilled with more attention paid to shading and line weight. The comic book sketches petered out, replaced by still life drawings of everyday things like glasses of water, flowers, and fruit. A head-and-shoulders portrait of Pam caught her attention.
“Jeremy, this is really good!” She held up the page for him to see.
“Yeah. It's okay. I did that last summer.”
A series of landscapes were next: oceans, deserts, forests... These were well-drawn too, but it was a figure drawing that caught Kate's attention. The sketch depicted a person in a half-reclining position, one knee bent and a hand resting on the leg. The head was missing though.
“I like this one too,” Kate said, holding it up.
Jeremy paused from his work to look up. “Yeah, that's Pam. She was eating potato chips on the couch.”
“How come you didn't finish it?”
“I was getting frustrated because clothes are really difficult to draw,” Jeremy explained. “Fabric drape is really tricky.”
“You won't get better if you don't practice,” Kate told him. She returned the sketchbook to his desk.
“That's what Pam says too.”
She looked around the room in search of more things they could talk about. Drawing a blank, she said, “Are you going to work on that airplane all day?”
Surely she could lure him away somehow. Kate tried to remember how they used to spend time together. “Want to go on a mother-son date?” she offered.
Kate put a hand on his shoulder. “You know. An outing. Just the two of us.”
“Like right now?”
Kate laughed ruefully. “Please contain your excitement. Come on, it'll be fun. I'll take you out for lunch, your choice. We could get ice cream. We can go that rock shop you like so much.”
“I gave up rock collecting years ago.”
Inwardly deflated, Kate did her best to remain cheerful. “Oh. Well, we can still have fun. Like what do you and Pam like to do together?”
“I don't know. We just hang out.”
“Just hang out? There must be more than that. I know you two have adventures all the time.”
“Yeah, but we don't plan them. They just sort of happen.”
Kate yanked him to his feet. “I know I'm not Pam, but we're going to have some fun. Go brush your teeth and get dressed.”
Trying to set an example, Kate remained upbeat as they drove off but Jeremy was as excited as an office worker at a mandatory happy hour. The first stop was the museum downtown. As they walked up the steps, Kate couldn't help but reminisce over Jeremy's obsession with the lion sculptures when he was little. Knowing he would be chagrined if she brought it up, she kept the memories to herself. Letting Jeremy choose the itinerary, they first visited a medieval war exhibit, replete with shiny knights in armor, sharp lances, and bedazzled horses. Next they walked through some drawing rooms that had been re-created from miniature models.
When they left the museum a few hours later, it was close enough to lunchtime. They ended up wandering into the district where ethnic restaurants and grocery stores congregated. There were Mexican grocery stores selling tamales, Muslim butcher shops with halal meat, and a smattering of Vietnamese restaurants offering pho. Jeremy paused in front of a Chinese grocery to scrutinize the whole ducks that hung in the window. They were roasted a crackly shade of orange-brown.
“Can we have duck for lunch?” Jeremy asked, his nose pressed to the window.
Kate stared at the ducks that still had their head and feet attached. “How about sandwiches instead?” she suggested, steering him to a banh mi shop. After securing their sandwiches and bubble teas, they decided to eat outside in a tree-lined park. A bubbling marble fountain and a colorful garden of pansies and violas made it feel as thought they were temporarily transported to a European city.
Jeremy loudly slurped at his mango bubble tea, sucking up the large tapioca pearls through the oversized straw. “Mmm, this is really good,” he noted. “I bet Pam would like this flavor. I've never seen mango on the menu at the place we usually go to.”
Kate smiled wryly. He apparently couldn't go five minutes without mentioning her. They unwrapped the white wax paper from their sandwiches She began eating hers but Jeremy carefully opened his and began poking around inside it. “What are you looking for?” Kate asked.
“There's usually a super spicy pepper in banh mi sandwiches,” he told her. “Oh, here it is...” He extricated a long, thin strip of green pepper and set it aside. Only then did he begin eating his sandwich.
“That's just a harmless bell pepper,” Kate said, inspecting the discarded pepper on his napkin.
“No, it's not,” he contradicted. “Are you sure you don't want to take yours out? There'll be steam coming out of your ears if you eat it.”
Kate was about to reply when two girls walked past their bench. “Hi Jeremy,” the older girl said. Her willowy frame was emphasized by a sky blue dress while a pair of expressively dark eyes matched the long hair that fell to her waist. Holding her hand was a younger girl around three or four years old.
Jeremy hurriedly swallowed his mouthful of sandwich. “Oh, hi Gabriela,” he answered.
“Are you having mango bubble tea? That's my favorite.” She smiled warmly at him and tucked her hair behind her ear.
“Um, yeah,” Jeremy replied. “I usually get hazelnut but this is pretty good.”
Gabriela shifted her weight as an awkward silence ensued. “This is my little sister Lucia,” she told them. The younger girl warily tried to hide behind Gabriela, who shook her hand encouragingly. “Can you say hi?” Instead, the girl blushed and looked away. “She's kind of shy,” Gabriela explained.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said. Kate noticed that he was mashing the straw into his bubble tea instead of looking at Gabriela. Finally remembering his manners, he said, “Oh, this is my mom.” He nodded brusquely at Kate, then added, “Gabriela is in the same grade as me at school.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kate smiled. She never would have guessed they were the same age. Gabriela was a solid six inches taller than Jeremy, plus her blossoming girlhood was a direct contrast to his skinny boyishness.
“Nice to meet you too,” Gabriela said politely. She stood with one arm at her side while the other reached behind her back to clutch her elbow. Jeremy was still avoiding her gaze. Gabriela reached for her sister's hand. “Well, I guess I'll see you on Monday?”
“Yeah, see you then,” Jeremy said. “Bye!”
The two girls shuffled away. They were still within earshot when the younger girl whispered to Gabriela, “That boy's hair was on fire!”
Jeremy blushed as Gabriela turned to giggle at him. “That's not fire, silly,” she told her sister. “He just has red hair.”
They resumed eating. “She seemed nice,” Kate commented.
“Gabriela? Yeah, she's all right.” He shook his bubble tea in an attempt to dislodge the clump of pearls at the bottom. “She beat me in the spelling bee last month,” he added as an afterthought.
Kate nodded, then gave him a sly elbow. “She likes you, you know.”
Jeremy coughed on a tapioca pearl. “You mean she likes likes me?”
“You couldn't tell? Come on, Jeremy. It was obvious.” Kate paused. “Do you think she's cute?”
“I don't know,” he said. Jeremy occupied himself with a big bite of his sandwich, but she could see his ears turn pink.
“I thought she was very pretty,” Kate announced. “I bet if you asked her, she would be your girlfriend.”
“No way,” Jeremy told her. “Gabriela is too annoying. All she does at recess is giggle with her friends.”
“So she's not your type,” Kate guessed.
“So... what is your type?”
“Beats me.” The moment he said it, she noticed how a passing jogger caught his eye for a split second. She was a younger woman, college-age probably, wearing form-fitting spandex tights and an overburdened sports bra that barely contained her ample bust. Kate's mind immediately returned to David's story about the Emmanuel Macron and his older wife.
“Or, rather, what would make Gabriela your type?” she quizzed, trying to forget about the French president.
“Um, I guess it would be cool if she knew more about video games. Or, like, I tried talking to her about stuff like X-Men and Star Wars once and she had no idea what I was talking about.”
His answer filled her with relief, but Kate tried to think of a tactful way to break it to him. “Hmmm,” she said. “That's a rather high bar for a girl to clear.”
“Pam knows about all that stuff,” Jeremy informed her.
All roads led back to Pam, Kate thought to herself. “Okay, so let's say, hypothetically, that Gabriela knew about all this random stuff. Would you like her then?”
“I don't know,” Jeremy demurred. “I guess she's pretty good at soccer. So that's cool. But sometimes she'll laugh at my jokes and I feel like she's only doing it to be polite.”
“Sense of humor is important,” Kate agreed. “Okay, so Gabriela isn't the one. Who else is out there? Any secret crushes I should know about?”
“No.” Jeremy shifted uncomfortably on the bench. “Are you done eating? Can we go now?”
“Let me finish my sandwich first,” Kate said. “No crushes? Really? You can tell me, I can keep a secret.”
“Mom, you're embarrassing me.”
He had turned so red that Kate took mercy on him and changed the subject. “Want to know how I knew Gabriela liked you? When she was standing there, she positioned her arm like this.” Kate stood up with her arm at her side. “But she kept twisting her arm at the elbow so the underside of her wrist faced you.”
Jeremy gave her a skeptical look. “That means a girl likes you?”
“Sure,” Kate said. “It's a totally subconscious gesture, but it has a lot of hidden meaning.”
“Huh.” Jeremy considered this as he finished his sandwich.
Noting the thoughtful look on his face, Kate continued, “It's not foolproof, though, so don't get yourself into trouble. Sometimes a girl might do it and it may not signify anything. I mean, I think I've seen Pam do the same gesture at you.” Blushing again, Jeremy crumpled up his sandwich wrapper. Kate was surprised at how uncomfortable he looked. Had she inadvertently implied that Pam disliked him? Amending her words, Kate added, “I mean, sure, Pam likes you. But she doesn't like like you.”
“So, you really like this new doctor guy?” Jeremy asked, changing the subject.
“You mean David? Yes, he's really sweet.”
“What do you guys do together?”
Kate flashed back to earlier that morning when David's tongue was buried in her pussy. Instead, she said, “We watch movies. Go out to restaurants. Tell stupid jokes. You know, stuff that couples do.”
“Oh.” Jeremy looked away.
She could tell her answer had somehow dissatisfied him. “What is it?”
Still not looking at her, Jeremy said, “Do you ever think you and dad might, you know, get back together?”
Kate hesitated, torn between telling the truth and softening the blow. “I don't know, Jeremy,” she said. “It doesn't seem... I mean, I'm seeing David. Your dad has Marla. Don't you think everyone is happier now?”
“I guess so.” He kept staring at something across the park.
“I wanted to tell you the truth,” Kate confessed. “Are you mad at me?”
“I'm not mad. Just... disappointed.”
“I'm sorry,” Kate said, touching his hand. “I know this doesn't make sense right now. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about it. I think it will become clearer. Eventually.”
Kate desperately groped for something to reassure her son. At a loss for words, she took a bite of her forgotten sandwich. She was chewing when a burst of heat blossomed on her tongue. The spiciness was pleasant at first but kept growing in intensity until tears came to her eyes. Kate swallowed the burning mouthful while loudly gulping air.
Jeremy glanced at her. “I told you it was a spicy pepper.”
“It's not that bad,” Kate said, trying not to wheeze. Thinking it might help, she took another bite of sandwich, but this only compounded the flames on her tongue. The heat grew so intense that she quickly grabbed the empty paper bag for the sandwiches and spit out the half-chewed contents from her mouth.
“I'm really glad no one saw you do that,” Jeremy said, looking around the park.
“Holy smokes, that's spicy,” Kate gasped, taking a long draw of her bubble tea. The straw made a crackling sound as she reached the bottom of the cup. “Can I have some of yours?” she requested, trying to maintain an air of dignity before snatching the cup from his hand.
“I can drive home if you're not feeling well,” he offered.
Kate stuck out her tongue and fanned it. “Vewy funny,” she mumbled. “I fine. But yeth, 'aybe we thould go howe.”
Retracing their steps, they returned to the parking ramp to retrieve the car. It wasn't until they were almost home that Kate felt her tongue was no longer on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Having regained her powers of speech, she said, “That was a nice day. Thanks for hanging out with me.”
“Yeah. It was fun,” Jeremy agreed.
Kate's fingers thoughtfully tapped the steering wheel as she drove. “I know my answer about your dad wasn't what you wanted to hear. But we should really talk about it more someday.”
“It's okay. I was just being stupid.”
Kate squeezed his hand. “It wasn't stupid,” she told him.
He remained quiet for the rest of the drive, then disappeared into his room once they arrived at home. Kate, meanwhile, went to kitchen to find some ice cubes for her stinging mouth. That didn't seem to help, so she pulled out her phone to search for a remedy on the internet. Drinking a glass of milk appeared to be the general consensus for neutralizing the burn of capsaicin. Desperate for a cure, she poured herself some milk and gulped it down. To her surprise, it worked like a charm.
All this mother-son bonding was wearing her out, so Kate took a nap. An hour later, she awoke feeling much better. Wandering downstairs, she found Jeremy watching TV. “What are you watching?” she asked, taking a seat next to him on the couch.
“Nothing good, that's for sure.” Jeremy turned off the TV and moved to the large window overlooking the front yard. He peered up and down the street. “When did you say Pam is coming home?” he asked.
“I didn't. It depends on how things go with her mom. But it'll be a few days.”
“Oh.” He heaved a gusty sigh and pressed his nose against the window, leaving smudges on the glass. He reminded her of Whiskers, restlessly staring out the window and longing to be let outside.
“Will you survive without her?” Kate asked.
“Yeah, I'll be fine,” he said.
The listless tone of his voice indicated otherwise. “If you're bored, I'm up for doing something,” Kate proposed. “We could play a board game. Or watch a movie.”
“I'm not bored. I just wanted to show Pam something.”
“You can show me,” Kate offered.
“It's not that important,” he replied, brushing her off. There was that mysteriousness again.
“How come you want to show Pam, but not me?” Kate asked. She was equal parts disappointed and jealous.
“It's nothing,” Jeremy said. “I'm going to finish some homework.” He headed for his room.
“But it's Saturday night!” Kate called. He didn't respond. Discouraged, Kate wondered what he wanted to show Pam. She thought they had made some progress after today's outing. It was all about baby steps, she supposed. Doing her best to respect his privacy, she didn't bring up the topic again.
It was strange having just her and Jeremy in the house. Things seemed quieter. Sometimes a pall would settle over the house as Jeremy mopily wandered from room to room. When he came home from school, his first question was, invariably, whether or not Pam had called to say when she would be back.
Friday came with no sign from Pam. They muddled through the week, experiencing both highs (playing soccer in the backyard) and lows (Kate expressly forbidding him to utter the phrase “That's not the way Pam does it.”) While part of her enjoyed the time spent with her son, Kate guiltily breathed a sigh of relief when Jeremy left to spend the weekend at William's place. Being a single, full-time parent was exhausting. As far as she was concerned, the money they paid to retain Pam's services was dollars well-spent.
Kate felt better by Sunday afternoon when she was waiting for Jeremy's return. It was pleasantly sunny so she made a pitcher of iced tea to enjoy on the front porch. She was just starting her second glass when she saw William's car pull into the driveway. Jeremy tumbled out of the rear seat, carrying a overstuffed duffel bag in addition to the backpack strapped to his shoulders.
“Hi mom,” he said, giving her a quick wave. “Is Pam back yet?” He headed into the house without even waiting for an answer.
“Jeremy!” Kate was appalled, but not terribly surprised, by his manners. “What kind of hello is that? Get back here and give your mother a kiss.” Still wearing his backpack, Jeremy dutifully trotted to where she sat on the porch and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“How was your dad's?” Kate inquired.
“Great.” He cupped his hands around his eyes to peer into the living room window. “So Pam's not back?”
“No, but she said she'll be here sometime this afternoon.”
“Okay.” Jeremy remained on the porch, but she spotted him tapping his fingers against his legs.
Kate sighed. “You may go,” she said, dismissing him. Jeremy disappeared into the house. William, meanwhile, had stepped out of his car to join her on the porch.
“Hi Kate,” he said.
“Hi William. Did you guys have a good weekend?”
“It wasn't too bad.”
“I hear a 'but' in there,” Kate said. William never stayed after dropping off Jeremy so she was taken aback when he lingered on the porch. Deciding to be polite, Kate gestured at an empty chair and poured him a glass of iced tea. There was a time when she would have been annoyed at his presence, but that was no longer the case. Thinking back to Jeremy's wish for them to be together, Kate realized that, though a true reunion was unlikely, she and William could at least physically co-exist in the same space.
“It wasn't too bad,” he said again, laughing as he took a seat in a wicker chair. “But Jeremy was hyper the whole time.”
“I'm guessing you mean more hyper than usual?” She regarded her ex-husband. Judging from the state of his hair, he had been wearily running his fingers through it all day. His normally neat brown locks (it was a mystery how Jeremy inherited his curly rust-colored hair) seemingly stuck out in every direction.
“Pretty much.” He drained half of his iced tea in a single gulp. “He was bouncing off the walls so much that the neighbors actually complained.”
“Like literally bouncing off walls?” Kate clarified.
William shrugged. “That's our son.”
Certain walls inside the house were adorned with Jeremy's sole imprints, but Kate decided not to mention this. “You're not giving him tons of sugar are you?”
“Of course not.”
“What about fruit juice?” Kate pressed. “That counts as sugar too.”
Kate rattled the ice cubes in her glass. “I'm not sure what else we can do, other than cutting him back to a diet of bread and water.”
“What about screen time?” William proposed.
“What about it?” Kate dismissed. “He doesn't have his own phone.”
“Doesn't he have an iPod Touch?” he frowned.
Kate clucked disapprovingly at her ex-husband. “He broke his iPod Touch ages ago. Get with the program.”
“Oh, right,” William said, chastened. “But he still plays a ton of video games.”
“Does he though?” Kate said. “I don't see him playing games that much anymore. Definitely not hours and hours like he used to do.”
“Are you kidding? That's all he does at my place.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the creaking sound of the garage door opening. Looking up, Kate saw Pam's car pull into the driveway and then park in the garage. Pam emerged a few moments later carrying her overnight bag. “Hi Pam,” Kate called. “Welcome back from… are you okay?”
Pam's face was pink and her lips tight in a dark scowl. It was a far cry from her usually sunny expression. “It's nothing,” she said. Her feet thumped loudly on the wooden porch steps. “I was at a red light and the guy in the next car was catcalling me.”
Kate made a sympathetic face. “I'm sorry.”
“It's not a big deal,” Pam said. Based on her sour face, Kate was sure this wasn't true. Nevertheless, Pam nodded politely and said, “Hi William.”
“Hi Pam,” he said. “Say, Kate and I were talking about something and we wanted to get your opinion. Do you think Jeremy needs more limits on screen time?”
“William thinks too much screen time is making Jeremy hyperactive,” Kate interjected.
Pam paused to consider this. “I don't think so,” she answered. “There aren't that many devices for him around here. Just the iPad really. And I think the novelty wore off a long time ago.”
Kate nodded.“Not to take sides, William, but I have to agree with Pam. To be honest, sometimes screen time makes him quieter.”
“Quieter?” William repeated, baffled.
“Sure,” Kate said. “Pam, what's that game Jeremy is always begging you to play? Courage and Duty?”
“Call of Duty?”
“Yes, that's it.” To William, she said, “They usually play Call of Duty for maybe twenty minutes and Jeremy doesn't get hyper. Or, at the very least, he's quiet as a mouse. Sometimes I check on him afterward and he's napping.”
William was flabbergasted. “Are you kidding? At my place, he and Zep play video games and they're yelling at each other for hours. And Jeremy can barely sit still for dinner afterward.”
“Zep?” Kate said. “Who's that? And what kind of a name is Zep?”
“He's Marla's daughter's boyfriend,” William informed her.
“It's short for Zephyr,” Pam added helpfully.
Kate was unconvinced. “Oh. I thought maybe his parents loved Led Zeppelin or something.”
“That's what I thought too,” Pam agreed.
William impatiently shifted in his wicker chair. “We're getting sidetracked,” he said. “The point is that Jeremy needs more limits.”
“He does have limits,” Kate contradicted. “What are you implying?”
Instead of answering, William glanced at Pam. “You don't let him play Call of Duty whenever he wants, do you?”
Pam suddenly seemed uncomfortable. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, she said, “Um, no. Not whenever he wants. Only when he's been good.” Kate couldn't help but notice how she blushed when she said this.
William must have noticed too. He gently cleared his throat and said, “Pam, I know you're not a parent yet, but just a word of advice: don't worry about being his friend. He'll walk all over you. You shouldn't feel bad about saying no when he asks to play Call of Duty.”
Pam's discomfort was growing even more apparent so Kate leapt to her defense. “Please, William. Get off your high horse. No one's asking you for your parenting advice.”
William sat back in his chair and sighed. “See? This is exactly why Jeremy is so difficult. Neither of you are setting limits on him.”
Pam tentatively raised her hand as though she were in a classroom. “Actually, just the other day I wouldn't let Jeremy play Call of Duty because he was being rude.”
“Really?” Kate said. “What happened?”
Pam nervously picked her fingernails. “Well, let's see. We were playing... I mean, he was playing Call of Duty when he belched really loud. So I told him he couldn't play Call of Duty for a few days.”
William nodded vigorously. “A brilliant idea. I think he would really benefit from a video game moratorium. Like, say, no Call of Duty for a month.”
“He's just a kid!” Kate objected. “We should let him play Courage or Duty...”
“Call of Duty,” Pam corrected.
Not missing a beat, Kate continued, “... let him play that video game sometimes. It would be cruel to cut him off cold turkey.” William appeared skeptical, so Kate had to look elsewhere for support. “Don't you think so, Pam?”
Pam spoke slowly, carefully choosing her words. “Sometimes Call of Duty is a useful carrot to dangle in front of him. Like when I need him to do homework or help with chores.”
Kate looked triumphantly at William. “You see? Perfectly harmless.”
William shook his head at her. “Isn't there anything else besides Call of Duty that will motivate him?”
Kate didn't like agreeing with her ex-husband, but she had to admit he had a point. “Maybe you're right,” she conceded. “From my perspective, I mostly feel bad that Pam has to put up with so much Call of Booty...”
“Duty,” Pam prompted.
Kate was starting to get annoyed with the constant corrections. “... Call of Duty if that's the only carrot she can dangle.” Kate gave Pam a look of sympathy. “Aren't you getting tired of it? We need to brainstorm something better for you.”
Pam immediately shook her head. “I'm not tired of Call of Duty,” she said. There was an emphatic declaration to her voice that caused both Kate and William to simultaneously turn their heads. Pam blushed again. She continued, “I mean, it's better than using sugary treats like ice cream or cookies as a reward. Plus it's, you know, free. Like we're not paying for the arcade or the movie theater.”
William ran a weary hand through his hair, the same motion that Kate had imagined him doing all day. “This started as a discussion about Jeremy's hyperactive nature, but we're now reviewing the merits of some video game.” He glanced at Kate. “The reason I brought it up in the first place is because I've been thinking. Do you think Jeremy would like to go to summer camp?”
“Like one of those three day trips?” Kate clarified. “Like the one the Fosters sent Ashton on last year?”
“I was thinking a longer summer camp,” William proposed. “Like six weeks. It'll be good for him. Fresh air, the outdoors. Wildlife and campfires. He'll love it. Plus the best part? No screen time.”
Kate nodded thoughtfully, remembering David's invitation to stay at his apartment during his hospital's month-long residency program over the summer. Moving to Springfield, even temporarily, had been an unfathomable notion. Unless, of course, Jeremy had plans for the summer. Intrigued, Kate said, “That's not such a bad idea. I think he would like summer camp.”
William continued, “I've already done the research. There's a great place up north that isn't too expensive and it got great reviews. Kids love the place.”
Pam raised her hand again. “Six weeks? Shouldn't we ask Jeremy first if he really wants to go?”
William dismissed her suggestion. “He'll love it. Remember him and that tent last summer? He spent more nights in that tent than in his own bed that June.”
“Can you send me the link to the camp?” Kate asked. “I'm sure it'll be fine but I'd like to read up on it.”
“I'll send it when I get home,” William told her. “There was an informal reservation list so I already added his name. I can finalize it whenever you want. We just need to send a deposit to officially hold his place.”
Kate was already daydreaming about the hospital residency program. “I'll let you know by the end of the week, but I'm leaning yes.”
“I'm glad you agree,” William told her. “I was actually afraid you would say no.”
“Jeremy was so bored last summer,” Kate said. “This is a good chance for him to get away and have a change of scenery.” The more they talked about it, the more sense it made. Kate thought of Jeremy's desire for them to be back together. Perhaps living in this house, with all its reminders of the past, was the reason the divorce weighed so heavily on him.
William got up to leave but Pam stopped him. “Um, aren't we being too hasty? Summer camp is a big commitment. What if Jeremy decides he doesn't like it? He's a picky eater too. What if he can't eat their food? What if...”
Kate smiled at Pam's concern. “I'm touched you care so much about him, Pam. But he'll be fine. Really.”
“If it's the money you're worried about,” William began, “we would definitely keep you on through the six weeks. It's not like we'll throw you onto the streets and cut off your paycheck.”
“Of course not,” Kate agreed. She expected Pam to be pleased by this bit of news, but, to her surprise, she only seemed to become more agitated.
“That's nice of you,” Pam said, clearly trying to be gracious, “but that's not really what I'm worried about.”
Kate saw William's perplexed expression. “What are you worried about?” she asked, gently setting down her glass of tea.
Once again, Pam shifted her weight from foot to foot. Kate noticed she was scowling again, the same expression as when she first arrived at the house after being catcalled. “I just...” Pam stammered. She trailed off, then abruptly said, “It's nothing. I'm just feeling out of sorts today. Excuse me.”
Without another word, Pam hurried inside the house, letting the door slam behind her. William looked at Kate in astonishment. “Was it just me or does she not want Jeremy to go to camp?”
Kate nodded slowly. “They've gotten somewhat... attached. I think she's just fond of Jeremy. And he feels the same about her. Plus, Pam is very much a routine-minded person. Regimented, you know? She always has oatmeal for breakfast. Vacuums if it's a Tuesday, laundry if it's Thursday. The gym at 2:30 sharp. I think she's just shaken up by the idea of having her life with Jeremy interrupted.”
William nodded sympathetically. “I feel kind of bad,” he admitted.
“She'll get over it,” Kate said. “You know how I cut back hours at the hospital a few months ago? At first I thought it was my imagination, but I'm pretty sure she was miffed at me for changing up the schedule. Like she was annoyed I was around. But she eventually got used to it.
William considered this. “You're sure she was annoyed with you?”
“Like I said, it's the routine. She got used to picking up Jeremy at the bus stop, the two of them having dinner, Courage and Duty, or whatever, bedtime.” Kate paused in thought. “Now that I think about it, I think that's why she and Jeremy get along so well. They're both creatures of habit.”
“I thought you were an obstetrician, not a psychologist,” he joked.
William stood up. “I need to get going. I'll send you that camp info tonight.”
Kate began gathering the iced tea glasses. “Thanks William. Hey, is Jeremy's birthday party still planned for your place?”
“Definitely,” William answered, climbing into his car. “I reserved the pool last month.”
“Thanks again. Bye!” Kate waved as he drove off. Carefully balancing the tray of half-filled glasses and pitcher of tea, she maneuvered her way into the house. Opening the door was tricky and then she nearly tripped over Jeremy's shoes, but Kate made it safely to the kitchen where she found Pam sitting at the kitchen counter with her head in her hands.
“Are you all right, Pam?” Kate asked, successfully sliding the tray onto the countertop. Her relief about the tray quickly changed to alarm when she noticed the tears in Pam's eyes.
“I'm sorry I let Jeremy play too much Call of Duty,” Pam whispered, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand.
“Why, Pam, no one's blaming you for anything,” Kate said, hurrying to her side. She consolingly placed a hand on Pam's shoulder. “I'm sorry you got that impression. That really wasn't why William and I were having that conversation.”
“But it's t-true,” Pam said, covering her eyes as a fresh set of tears rolled down her wet cheeks. “I just let him play Call of Duty because it's the easy thing to do. And he's too young to know any better that I... I'm just being selfish.”
“Pam, no, that's not true.” Kate was at a complete loss for words. “Please don't cry. You know we all think the world of you. Me and William. And, of course, Jeremy. He's been asking for you all week. He said he has something special to show you. He wouldn't even show it to me. His own mother!”
Kate had tacked on this last sentence as a joke, but, for some reason, her words only made Pam cry harder. Wincing, Kate retrieved a box of Kleenex and tactfully set it within arm's reach of Pam. She obliged by wiping her tears and blowing her nose several times. Kate sat down on the stool next to her.
“Pam,” she began, “if I'm being too forward, just say so. But I'm guessing you don't want Jeremy to go to camp, do you?” Pam sniffled several times before barely shaking her head.
“Is it because you care about him?” Kate asked. Pam exhaled slowly, her breath shaking. She nodded slowly.
“I know you do,” Kate continued. “I can see it in the way you interact with him. The way you talk to him, the way you treat him. And I get it. You're worried he won't be okay without you. And I'll admit that the past week without you has been rough. But... don't take this wrong way, but Jeremy is going to be just fine. Without you. Without me. Without William. He's a strong kid. Right?”
Pam reached for another Kleenex to wipe her face. The counter was now littered with crumpled tissues. She remained motionless for a long moment before finally saying, in a small voice, “I guess so.”
Sensing an opening to further defuse the situation, Kate touched Pam's arm. “Sometimes I think you fuss over Jeremy more than I do. And I mean that in the best way possible.” She was relieved to see a small smile form on Pam's face.
Kate cleared her throat. “You know, Jeremy complained about my cooking all week long.” Pam was blowing her nose, so her reaction to these words was a chuckling snort. “Even at breakfast,” Kate continued. “I would put a bowl of cereal in front of him and he would make a face, muttering something about 'this isn't the way Pam does it'. Then he would sulk when I told him to eat it or go to his room.”
Pam laughed. “That reminds me,” she said, standing up. “I should get started on dinner.”
But Kate stopped her. “Why don't I handle dinner tonight? Jeremy will survive one more night of my cooking. Probably.”
“Are you sure?” Pam asked. “I feel bad because I've been gone all week.”
“Not a problem at all,” Kate assured her. “I want you to take it easy. Are you sure you'll be okay?”
Pam wiped at her eyes again. “I'll be fine. To be perfectly honest, there might be some monthly hormones at play. And that asshole who catcalled me didn't help things either.”
“He was probably compensating for his non-existent romantic life,” Kate sympathized. “Those guys are the worst.” She watched as Pam began gathering up her tissues. Despite the brief moment of levity, she had the air of a glum and defeated woman. It broke Kate's heart to see her this way. Remembering why she had been gone all week, Kate asked, “How's your mom, by the way? Is she doing better?”
“Sort of,” Pam shrugged. “The doctor said it will be six weeks before she can walk. And even then she'll need crutches for another four weeks.”
“Goodness,” Kate said. “Will your parents be able to manage? Didn't you say your dad can't drive because of his eye surgery?”
“That's right,” Pam answered. “But I think they'll be fine. I signed them up for an online grocery delivery service. They had no idea such things existed. My dad was surprised that his computer was good for anything other than Minesweeper and email.”
“Ha! At least your dad knows about Minesweeper,” Kate said. “My dad still thinks computers are the size of refrigerators. I offered to get him a laptop and he said he wouldn't have room for it.” Kate pulled out a notepad. “Any requests for dinner? I was just kidding about doing any actual cooking. I'm thinking of picking up some Italian from that new place on Buchanan and 24th.”
“That sounds great to me,” Pam said. Her cheeks were finally dry but her eyes were still puffy from crying. “Are you sure you don't want some help? I could-”
“Out!” Kate interrupted, giving Pam a stern look as she pointed in the direction of the living room. Smiling bashfully, Pam padded out of the kitchen. Retrieving a pencil, Kate perused the online menu and began jotting down her order on a notepad. After calling to place the order, Kate swung by Jeremy's room.
“Hey mom.” His face was hidden behind a comic book and he was plugged into a pair of earbuds. “Is it dinnertime?”
“I need to run some errands, but then I'm picking up some Italian takeout,” she told him. “I'll be back in an hour or so, okay?”
“Sounds good,” Jeremy said, not lifting his eyes from his comic book.
“Say, I need to ask you a favor,” Kate said. “Pam's back, but she had a really long day and I think she needs cheering up. Can you help with that?”
“Sure thing, mom.”
Kate patted his foot. “That's my boy. I'll be back in an hour. Don't spoil your dinner, okay?”
“Got it. See you later.”
Kate was just about to leave the room when Jeremy spoke up again. “Hey mom?” She turned as he pulled out one earbud. “Is Pam home yet?” he asked.
Confused at first, Kate's eyes narrowed when she heard the loud music wafting from his free earbud. Crossing her arms, she said, “You didn't hear a word of that conversation, did you?”
“Um...” His eyebrows guiltily knit together.
“You were just giving me stock answers,” she stated.
“Well... I heard most of what you were saying. You're going somewhere. I need to help with something. Don't spoil my dinner.”
Kate tapped her foot several times, reminding herself to be patient. She had several options. Confiscate his earbuds. Ground him for a week. But there were more pressing matters at hand. “Okay, number one: don't you ever pull that earbuds thing with me again.” Pausing, she enjoyed a satisfying parenting moment as he shrunk under her stern gaze.
“Number two: as a matter of fact, yes, Pam is home,” Kate said. Jeremy excitedly tossed aside his comic book as though she had told him a Ferrari was waiting in the driveway. He was already halfway to the door when Kate stopped him.
“Hold up a minute,” she said. He froze in mid-stride. “I know for a fact that Pam had a bad day today.”
“It wasn't my fault!” Jeremy began.
Kate held up her hand to stop him. “I know, I know. What I'm trying to say is that Pam had a rough day so I want you to be extra nice to her. Okay? Can you do your best to cheer her up?”
Kate gave him a hard look. “Promise? This is not the time for one of your stock answers.”
“I'll cheer Pam up,” Jeremy said, solemnly raising his hand.
“Good.” She glanced at his comic book. “Cheering Pam up is your monster superpower, right?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Mutant superpower, mom.”
“Mutant, monster... whatever.” Kate pointed a finger at him. “Go cheer Pam up. I'm going to run errands but I'll be back with dinner. It won't take more than an hour.”
“Out!” Kate said, her voice stern but her eyes twinkling. Pam gratefully left the kitchen under her watchful gaze. Taking the box of Kleenex, she retreated to her bedroom where she decided to change into something more comfortable. Even though she hadn't had dinner yet, Pam pulled on her favorite bedtime t-shirt that read 'Spring Break 1967'. The shirt would have been oversized even on a football player, but on Pam it hung almost to her knees.
She lay on her bed for a minute but the room seemed stultifying. After uselessly tossing and turning, it became clear that her bedroom was the wrong place to be. Pam went to the quiet living room and sank into the couch. That was better. Though she tried to think of something else, her thoughts kept returning to the conversation on the porch.
Jeremy, gone, banished to some godforsaken camp for six weeks? Aside from the fact that she would be bored out of her skull, Pam was also crushingly disappointed because she had already been making plans for them that summer. Six Flags. Backyard camp-outs. Mini-golf. Popsicles for breakfast and frozen waffles for dinner. None of that would happen now.
There was, of course, Call of Duty as well. Jeremy being home all day would have meant a virtually endless supply of private time.
Six weeks. The last day of school was in mid-June. If he left at the end of the month, that meant he wouldn't be back until the middle of August. Pam would have a single week of summer vacation with him, then school would start again at the end of August. Reaching for another Kleenex, Pam blew her nose. It just wasn't fair.
Complicating matters was the increasing guilt she felt over their illicit relationship. Pam had felt like an outcast ever since that breakfast conversation with Kate and David about the new French president. Sure, she had temporarily fooled herself into thinking her relationship with Jeremy was perfectly normal. The two of them could exist perfectly well in a vacuum. It was the outside world that posed a problem, that world filled with normal people and their everyday desires.
Normal people wanted flings with people their own age. They wanted vacations in Cancun and a house in the suburbs. People her age would get drunk in bars on Friday and Saturday night, then go to work on Monday morning. They would stumble through the week and repeat the process the following weekend.
That used to be her. How did she stray so far? How did she get to this point?
Her relationship with Jeremy notwithstanding, Pam had begun to notice a change in herself. She would feel a forbidden tingle of excitement when driving past a boy biking down the street. Or perhaps she would purposely linger near a group of rowdy boys at the mall. Her imagination would surge when hearing the phrase “soccer uniform” or “skateboard park”.
That was the problem. Normal people didn't feel any of those things. Normal people didn't sense a glimmer of self-recognition when hearing about the fifteen year old boy and his relationship with a thirty-nine year old woman.
Pam lay down on the couch to stare at the ceiling. Sometimes, more than anything, she longed to be a normal person. Her life would be far less complicated. She wouldn't have to dodge when talking about relationships with her friend Suzy. She might actually have an answer when her mom would inquire when she was getting married.
Pam couldn't forget the look of disgust on Kate's face when David mentioned Emmanuel Macron and his much older wife. In her most secret of dreams, Pam often imagined getting caught in a compromising position with Jeremy. Perhaps Kate, having forgotten something, would return to the house to find her and Jeremy in the living room, surprised and in a state of undress. In this fantasy, Kate would initially be surprised, but then the shock would wear off. She would give her blessing to Pam.
“If Jeremy's happy, then I'm happy too,” Kate would tell her.
Armed with such free reign, there would be no need to conceal their activities. It would undoubtedly be awkward at first. Kate would tiptoe into Jeremy's room in the morning to kiss him goodbye while Pam lay snuggled at his side. Or maybe Jeremy, ever the prankster, would peek down her shirt as he squeezed past her at the dinner table, earning himself a disapproving look from Kate. But everyone would eventually get used to it.
This, too, was nothing but a hopeless dream. Kate was clearly horrified by the Macron situation. Pam, for one, didn't see what the big deal was. Even when she tried her best to be objective, pointedly setting aside her interest in young boys, she had difficulty in recognizing the outrage. Emmanuel Macron had been fifteen, for crying out loud, an age at which some boys were already shaving. Pam knew this for certain because she often spotted them in public, proudly sporting patchy goatees and wearing their ever-so-helpful letter jackets embroidered with their graduation year.
The sound of footsteps interrupted her reverie. “Hi Pam.” Jeremy poked his head into the living room. Carrying his iPod and his earbuds in one hand, he approached her cautiously as if she were an injured bird that he had discovered in the backyard. She didn't blame him. Her eyes felt so puffy that it was a wonder she could still see out of them.
“Hi Jeremy.” A sliver of sun poked through the dark clouds in her mind. “You're a sight for sore eyes.”
He had been sidling up to her, but now he paused. “That means you're glad to see me, right?”
That made her lips curl into a tiny smile. Instead answering, Pam swept aside her collection of Kleenexes littering the couch. When he sat down on the cleared space, she wrapped an arm around him. Jeremy instantly cozied up to her, his shoulder fitting perfectly into the space under her arm, despite the oversized t-shirt that draped from her frame.
Jeremy began unraveling the tangled cord of his earbuds. “Want to listen to some music?” he offered. Pam expected him to hand over both earbuds, but he instead plugged one into his ear and handed her the other one. She had to tilt her head towards him to let it reach. As he pressed the buttons on his iPod, Jeremy's elbow dug into her side but Pam didn't mind.
As the music started playing, he leaned his head against her shoulder. She returned the favor by tilting her head so it rested atop of his. She wasn't really listening to the music though. It made her feel warm and fuzzy to be connected to him through the earbuds. Pam realized that she would have been content even if they just stayed like this all summer long. The thought made her lip tremble. She was about to start crying again when Jeremy spoke up.
“I should play you this new song I found,” he said, pressing more buttons. “I mean, it's actually an old song, but it was new to me. It's really cool though.”
A song began playing through the earbuds. Despite the fact that she was only listening in one ear, the song sounded very familiar with its jaunty piano and drums. It wasn't until the singer entered, in a pleasantly squawky and screechy voice, that Pam recognized the song.
Jeremiah was a bullfrog / was a good friend of mine
Jeremy started out by tastefully bobbing his chin to the music, but eventually he couldn't resist an all-out performance of air drumming. Not having a choice, Pam swayed along with him to avoid getting pummeled by his flailing limbs. For the chorus, Jeremy began singing along in his charmingly off-key voice.
Joy to the world / all the boys and girls / joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea / joy to you and me
Like most people, that was all Pam knew of the lyrics. Jeremy must have been listening to the song non-stop because he had the entire song memorized. Pam listened as he belted out the words.
If I were the king of the world / tell you what I'd do / I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the wars / and make sweet love to you
Pam stopped listening, her brain stuck on that verse. It was one of those rare moments where the staged set of the world melted away, revealing the artifice underneath: the lights, the props, and the trompe l'oeil... The hidden trap doors and the carefully painted sets... The actors, the actresses, the costumes and the makeup. All of it designed to conceal and obfuscate.
The only reason any of it existed was because people felt obligated to follow the script.
“I'm crazy, but not that crazy,” Pam thought to herself.
When the song ended, Jeremy capped it off with a cymbal flourish. “Pretty good song, isn't it?”
Pam nodded. “Yeah. Thanks. I needed that.”
Jeremy had begun coiling up the earbuds, but suddenly paused. Leaning over, he gave a kiss on the cheek. Then, flushing in embarrassment, the young boy returned his attention to the earbuds.
Pam was touched by his affection. “Did you miss me?”
“Did I ever,” he said, setting his iPod on the coffee table. “I was so bored that I assembled three entire model airp-” He suddenly broke off and gave her look that was both excited and nervous.
“What?” Pam asked.
“Um, I have something to show you,” Jeremy said.
“Okay, let's see it.”
Jeremy glanced nervously around the room to ensure they were alone. “My mom said she's running errands, right?”
“Yes. She'll probably be back around 7.”
Rising from the couch, Jeremy stood in front of Pam. After a moment's hesitation, he unzipped his fly. Pam raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Okay, umm, give me a second,” he muttered, turning his back to her. Pam couldn't see what he was doing, other than fumbling around between his legs.
“Everything okay there?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jeremy answered. “It's just... well, this works better when I'm... Hang on.”
He had something to show her. Pam's heart skipped a beat. Surely he hadn't started ejaculating while she was gone? Her heart sank in disappointment at the thought of missing his first time. She was away for one single week and look what happened... Her lips pursed in resignation. Given the way everything else was going today, this additional misfortune made perfect sense. The universe was mocking her.
“Well, I've got the Kleenex right here,” Pam told him, “so at least we'll have an easy clean up.”
Jeremy twisted his neck to look over his shoulder. “What are you talking about? Why would we need Kleenex?”
Pam breathed a sigh of relief. “Never mind.”
No Kleenex meant no ejaculation. She hadn't missed anything after all. Her relief was only temporary, however, as another panicked thought entered her mind: what if his first time would take place at summer camp? The thought of missing it literally pained her, as evidenced by the sharp, stabbing sensation in her side.
Pam tried to focus on the present. “So what are you going to show me?” she asked.
“Just a second,” Jeremy said, a hint of frustration in his voice. “It's so weird how you get hard when you don't want it, but then you can't get one when you do want it.”
Pam had to repeat that to herself before she understood what he meant. “You're trying to get hard, but you can't?” she clarified.
“Well, this sounds like a job for Pam Carpenter.” When he turned to look at her again, Pam smiled brightly and began humming the Superman theme.
“You're really going to help?” he asked.
Pam stood up. “Of course.” When he was within arm's reach, she lifted the hem of her oversized t-shirt and pulled it over his head. Jeremy was now hidden under the shirt, the top of his head not even reaching the neck hole. The oversized t-shirt was just the right size for two. She couldn't see Jeremy's face, but surely there was enough light under there for him to see she wasn't wearing a bra.
“What's the matter?” Pam said, pulling him close until she felt his lips graze her nipple. “You're acting like this is your first rodeo.” She resumed humming the Superman theme, which grew progressively more difficult as Jeremy began kissing her breasts. She managed for several bars but gave up once she felt him nibbling on her nipple. They could have stood there for much longer, but Pam remembered he had something to show her.
“How did I do?” she asked, lifting her t-shirt to free him. Peering at his unzipped fly, she noted with satisfaction that he was now fully erect. She returned to her seat on the couch. “So what were you planning to show me?”
“Um, okay, watch this,” Jeremy said, bashful again. Holding his penis with one hand, he used his other fingers to grip the tip. With a single smooth motion, the eleven year old boy tugged his foreskin until his head popped into view, like a turtle emerging from its shell. Pam blinked several times. She wasn't accustomed to seeing the light purple at the tip of his boyhood.
“Whoa.” Pam's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. After all this time, Jeremy was finally able to retract his foreskin. “Gosh. Look at that.”
She could tell Jeremy was caught between shyness and pride at her unabashedly impressed reaction. Puffing out his chest, he said, “Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah, I'll say,” Pam mumbled, still wonderstruck. “How did this happen?”
“I don't know. I was, um, playing around the other day. And it just sort of happened.”
Pam dreamily imagined Jeremy exploring himself in bed and his look of surprise upon discovering this new ability. The sight of his head made her sit up straight. All this time, it had been concealed but now she could finally see it in all its glory. She admired the helmet-like curve of his corona and the adorable little slit at the tip. Also catching her attention was the contrast between the creamy skin tone of his shaft and the more delicate pink that composed the underside of his foreskin. The whole experience reminded her of fifth grade science when the teacher showed them how a caterpillar would cocoon itself and emerge as a butterfly.
“I can even make it go back to the way it used to look,” Jeremy said, pulling his foreskin forward. For a moment, he looked exactly like the regular Jeremy she knew and loved. Then he retracted his foreskin to reveal the delights underneath.
“Do it again,” she requested.
Pam watched intently as that malleable strip of skin covered up the shiny purple tip of his penis, sliding so far forward that there was the slightest overhang at the erect tip. Then Jeremy gently tugged the skin back to miraculously reveal the head of his penis again. It was like a trick. The best magic trick she had ever seen.
Pam eagerly leaned forward on the couch. “Uh, can I try doing that?”
Kate staggered into the house with two armfuls of grocery bags. “Hello? I'm home!”
No one answered. Setting the bags on the counter, she stepped into the living room where Pam silently waved and held a finger to her lips. Kate was puzzled until she noticed Jeremy sprawled across the couch, sleeping with his head in Pam's lap while she read a magazine. A throw blanket covered him from chin to shin, at which point his bare feet comically protruded.
“I got us a feast,” Kate announced, not bothering to keep her voice down. He needed to wake up for dinner anyway. She fished a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket. “Mandorli speziate, bocconcino, fettucine con cinghiale, ravioli di zucca, and insalata di stagione,” she recited. “And also piccola pasticceria for dessert.”
Pam's eyes widened in delight. “I don't know what any of that means,” she smiled, “but it sounds great!” She gently extricated herself from the couch, replacing her lap with a pillow to support Jeremy's head. “I'll go set the table.”
Kate was glad to see a genuine look of pleasure on her face. Jeremy stirred when Pam left the room, but he didn't open his eyes. Crouching down, Kate poked his arm until he woke up.
“Huh? What's going on?” he said sleepily.
“Oh, wake up.” She yanked away his blanket. Groaning in protest, he curled into a fetal position. Kate stood with her hands on her hips. “What was the one thing I told you before I went to run errands?”
“To stop pretending I'm listening to you when I'm wearing earbuds,” Jeremy mumbled.
“The other thing!”
Grumpily sitting up, he scratched his chin as he tried to recall their conversation. “Um... you told me to cheer up Pam.”
“Correct. I told you to cheer up Pam, not take a nap,” Kate admonished. “What gives?”
He shrugged. “I did my best.”
“How? By getting some shut-eye? Please.” She glared at him as he rubbed his eyes and yawned. From the kitchen drifted the sound of clanking silverware mingled with Pam's humming. The melody seemed familiar. After a moment, Kate recognized it as the Superman theme.
“She sounds cheerful to me,” Jeremy remarked. “I think I did fine.”
Shaking her head, Kate took him by the shoulders and aimed him toward the dining room. “You know, Jeremy, I'm doing my best to teach you about women. I really am. But I can't help but feel sorry for your first girlfriend. She's going to need the patience of a saint to deal with you.”