“Of course it has a smell,” Suzy said. “How could it not?”
Pam had met her friend Suzy for a coffee date. Even though they hadn't finished their lattes, they had become so highly caffeinated that it was impossible to sit anymore. Now they were strolling through the neighborhood among the brickstone buildings and abbreviated boulevard gardens. The sidewalks were soaked from a morning downpour, but the sun had peeked out from behind the clouds by mid-afternoon. The scent of late springtime permeated the air: wet mud, fresh grass, blossoming flowers, and leafy green shrubs. The trouble had started when Suzy took a deep breath of the outdoors, then giggled craftily.
“Are you sure?” Pam said. “I've never noticed before. It has a smell?”
“Well, duh. You're serious? You've never noticed the smell of jizz?” She sighed. “This is what happens when all you do is penis-in-vagina sex that's...”
“Don't say it,” Pam warned.
“... strictly missionary,” Suzy finished. “Of course. Of course you wouldn't know that semen has a smell. The only time you've ever seen it is when it's floating in the toilet after you pee.”
“That's not true!”
But her denial fell on deaf ears as Suzy continued, “And even then, I bet you're too timid to lean over and take a good look. If you did? Then, yeah, you would have noticed that jizz has a very unique scent to it.”
Pam tried her best not to blush. She hated when Suzy was right. “Okay, fine, so jizz has a smell to it,” Pam conceded. “How it is possible that you just caught a whiff while we're walking the city streets? What, you think some guy just jacked off into the bushes right before we rounded the corner?”
“It's a tree or something,” Suzy said patiently. “I'm telling you, I smell it every spring. It blossoms this time each year. Whatever it is.”
“Well, what does it smell like then?” Pam wondered. She stopped to sniff the air. “All I smell are these peonies. Which smell amazing, I might add.” Pam bent low to inhale the fragrant perfume of a mass of creamy peonies demanding attention with their showy, crimson-flecked blooms.
“I'm not telling,” Suzy said. She smugly took a sip of coffee. “It'll be your homework to discover for yourself what jizz smells like.”
“I hate you,” Pam told her friend, but Suzy was momentarily distracted by a lone dad pushing a stroller. She watched as Suzy quickly sized him up. Though he sported several days of stubble, the man was slim and trim in his jogging outfit. As she expected, Suzy gave him a warm smile.
“Ladies,” he said, tipping his head and smiling back. Pam could tell he was about to initiate a conversation but the baby in his stroller began to wail. Shrugging apologetically, the man tended to the infant as Pam and Suzy continued walking.
“You can tell his boys are swimming,” Suzy said wistfully.
Pam shook her head. “Don't tell me you're ready to start cranking out babies.”
“Hell no.” Suzy turned to catch a fleeting glimpse of the man still bent over the stroller. “It's just that he is a very fuckable dad.”
“Right, right.” Pam hoped her friend had forgotten their earlier conversation.
“Anyway... Didn't I warn you?” Suzy asked, dashing her hopes. “Didn't I say there would be consequences if you held your breath every time a guy came in your mouth?” Suzy regarded her with great sympathy. “Are you still spitting?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I haven't spit in a long time.”
“Uh huh. And are you still doing mouthwash immediately after?”
“No! That was, like, one time that I used mouthwash afterward.” Pam groaned. “That was years ago! Why do I even tell you these things?”
“Don't be embarrassed.” Suzy patted her shoulder. “This is how a person learns. Now you know to take a sniff the next time you get the chance. You know, when you're messing around with a guy.” Suzy paused. “Or, rather, if there's a next time you're messing around with a guy.”
Pam shot her a look. “Hey! I have a...” she hesitated. “... special guy in my life.”
“Ah yes,” Suzy said with condescension. “Your secret boyfriend that you never tell me about and whom I never get to meet.”
“He's great,” Pam informed her friend. “He's sweet. He loves to cuddle. He makes me laugh.”
“Does he have a big cock?” Suzy's eyebrow arched expectantly. Pam hesitated again. Suzy laughed. “Say no more. I can see why he's your 'secret' boyfriend.”
“It's not about size!” Pam said stubbornly. “I'm having the best sex of my life.”
“Really,” Pam repeated. “The best ever.”
“How long have you been dating?”
Pam counted on her fingers. “Um, we've been messing around for about a year now.”
Suzy nodded. “And he's been giving you totally awesome orgasms that whole time?” Pam's eyes fell toward the pavement. “Ah ha!” Suzy exclaimed. “I knew it. When was the first time he made you come?”
“Last month,” Pam mumbled, temporarily defeated. “But it's not because there was something wrong with our relationship! He just... had a lot to learn.” She abruptly stopped walking when she noticed a worm squirming helplessly on the sidewalk. Using her foot, Pam gently shoved it back to the safety of the grass. After it rained, Jeremy often prowled the sidewalks in search of worms that needed saving. Pam had somehow picked up his habit as well.
“Yeah, a lot to learn,” Suzy said skeptically. “If you guys are so hot and heavy, how come you had no idea that jizz has a signature scent to it? And don't tell me it's because he always comes inside you.” She tossed her coffee cup into a trashcan. “These days, it's impossible to find a guy who doesn't want to come on your face.”
This time she couldn't hide her blushing. Suzy immediately saw it. “Oh my god. You've got a boyfriend and you're not even doing it, are you? Is that it? Did you decide to be a born-again Christian and now you're waiting until marriage?”
“No!” If Jeremy were old enough to ejaculate, Pam would undoubtedly be drowning in the stuff. Times being what they were, though... “He's just not that kind of guy,” Pam stammered, searching for words. “He doesn't feel the need to spray jizz everywhere. It's actually kind of cute.”
Suzy scratched her head. “You know, it's supposed to be fun hearing friends talk about their sex lives. But with you, it just becomes this exercise in abject confusion.” She threw up her hands in disgust. “Fine. Whatever. You're having the best sex of your life, but it's somehow so chaste that you're clueless about the properties of jizz.”
“Don't judge,” Pam retorted. “What about you? What's so great about your sex life?”
“I hooked up with this guy last week,” Suzy confided, “and he stayed hard even after he came.”
“After?” Pam frowned. “How is that even possible?”
Suzy shrugged. “Beats me. All I know is that I could hardly sit down the next day. We did it for two hours straight. He came at least three times, but it just wouldn't go down.”
“Maybe he was faking it.”
“I don't think so,” Suzy laughed. “You should have seen my sheets the next morning. He was definitely leaving his mark.”
“I guess that's hot,” Pam said doubtfully. “But I kind of like it when a guy gets tired afterward. It's so sweet when he falls asleep in my arms.”
“If snuggling is all you want, then you could just get a dog,” Suzy said helpfully. “Or a kid.”
“Very funny.” Pam checked the time. “I have to go.”
“What are you up to tonight?” Suzy asked. She held up her hands. “Wait. I got it. You're taking Jeremy to his soccer game. Or Jeremy needs help with his math homework. Right? Hmmm, or maybe Jeremy wants to see the latest superhero movie. Which is it?”
Pam regarded her friend without a trace of amusement. “I'm taking Jeremy to a birthday party,” she said stiffly.
“I knew it had to be something about Jeremy.”
“Leave me alone,” Pam muttered, fishing her keys out of her purse. “What about you? Another date with Mr. Everhard?”
Suzy nodded thoughtfully. “That's not a bad idea. Maybe I'll text him later.”
“Well, I hope he doesn't cause any internal hemorrhaging with his magic penis.” Pam began walking in the direction of her car.
“What a way to go,” Suzy said cheerfully. “Death by sex!” As Pam walked away, Suzy called to her. “Hey! Keep me in the loop if you and your secret boyfriend do something kinky. You know, like if he comes in your mouth or something. Hot!” Suzy mockingly fanned her face in reaction to imaginary flames. Rolling her eyes, Pam waved to Suzy with one hand while flipping her off with the other.
“Pam, hurry up! It's already 3:30. We're going to be late.”
This was the third time he rapped her bedroom door with a reminder of the time. She was truly running behind if Jeremy was the one worried about being late. “I'll be there in a second!” Pam called back. It was one of those days where eyeshadow and eyeliner had taken longer than expected. Picking up a brush, she applied a light layer of rose blush to her cheekbones. She double-checked her work in the mirror before grabbing her purse and cardigan.
When she opened her door, she nearly tripped over Jeremy's sprawling form that lay on the hardwood floor. Wearing a black sweatshirt and shorts, his gangly limbs were artfully spread in a death pose, the kind seen on television where chalk outlines were drawn around the body on the street. His eyes were closed and a lollipop stick dangled from his lips like a cigarette.
Pam nudged him with her foot. “Oh, get up. I didn't take that long.” When he didn't respond, Pam plucked the lollipop from his lips and popped it in her mouth. “Mmm,” she said, tasting it. “Root beer. My favorite.”
That got his attention. “Hey,” he said, sitting up. “Give that back.”
Pam handed him the lollipop. He jammed it back in his mouth and held out his hand. Grasping his wrist, Pam helped him to his feet. Then she turned, pulling aside her hair to reveal the nape of her neck. “Help zip me up, will you?”
He did as she requested. “Why are you all dressed up?” Jeremy asked. “It's just a birthday party for Apple.”
She was wearing a long dress, white with a black geometric pattern of flowers, that fell to her knees. The strapped top had a sweetheart neckline that exposed her shoulders so she had a cardigan at the ready in case she got cold. “I just wanted to look nice,” she replied. “That's all.”
That was half-true. She also knew Apple would be dressed to the nines, as usual, and Pam didn't want to be outdone. She spun in a circle. “What do you think?”
“It's pretty,” he approved.
“Look again,” Pam requested. “Be honest.” Whenever she asked him to size up an outfit, his eyes always started and ended at her breasts. This time, he thoughtfully added eye contact after sizing her up.
“You look really nice,” Jeremy said. “I'm not used to all this makeup though.”
Turning at the waist, she contorted herself to check her backside for any visible pantylines. The dress was fitted on top and flared at the bottom, but it was constructed of a thinner cotton. “You can't see my underwear, can you?”
“Whew. I was worried I'd have to buy a thong just to wear this dress.”
“What's a thong?”
“You know. It's that kind of underwear where it's just a narrow strip on the back.”
“I didn't know you had underwear like that!” Jeremy's eyes lit up like a pinball machine.
“I don't have any thongs,” Pam said, causing his face to fall. “What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“How come you don't have any?” he persisted.
“I've never needed them,” she said. Pam peered at a mirror in the hallway to check her makeup. “Could you really picture me wearing one? I can't.” Glancing at Jeremy, she caught him staring at her backside with an entranced expression. Apparently, he had taken the suggestion to picture her in a thong. His lollipop dangled precipitously from his ever-so-slightly slackened lips.
A few more seconds and he would have been drooling, so Pam snapped her fingers to get his attention. “Hey. I need you to focus. Do you have everything you need for the weekend? Your dad said he's getting tired of buying you new clothes every visit.” While she was accompanying Jeremy to the party at William and Marla's condo, the plan was for him to spend the night while she returned home.
“I packed everything I need,” Jeremy assured her. He patted his duffel bag.
“Everything? Pajamas, socks, underwear? Allergy meds, toothbrush, stuff?
“I didn't pack the stuff,” he informed her. “I told you, I never play Call of Duty over there.”
“That's what you're saying now,” Pam countered. “But what if it's an emergency?”
“Emergency?” he repeated. “What, you expect me to carry the stuff around all the time? That would be crazy.”
Ever since that fateful vacation to Florida when he had been deprived of his precious Coppertone, Pam had considered carrying a small bottle of lube in her purse. What if she picked him up from school and his report card was nothing but straight As? What if they were on a road trip and the car broke down in the middle of nowhere? She had to be prepared for these things. But the prospect of K-Y leaking inside her purse had ultimately deterred her from the idea.
“All right, don't pack the stuff. It's your funeral.” She dug through her purse for her keys. “Can you finish your lollipop before we go? I don't want any more of your trash accumulating in my car.” Pam winced as his teeth crunched loudly on the lollipop. Seeking relief from the noise, she stepped outside.
The weather had gotten even nicer since her outing with Suzy a few hours ago. The damp chill had disappeared, replaced by an unusually warm day for April. Spring had truly sprung. Remembering the conversation with her friend, Pam sniffed the fresh air but detected nothing out of the ordinary. If anything, the springtime air possessed a damp and earthy quality that held promises of things yet to come. It was so nice that Pam rolled down the windows as they sped off. Jeremy manned the radio station in search of music that matched the pleasant weather.
“Does Apple's mom have any weird house rules I should know about?” Pam asked.
“She doesn't like it when you accidentally put trash in the recycling bin,” he answered. “And if you see a jar of weird sludge in the fridge, it's just her chia seed drink. It's really gross so don't bother trying any.”
“What about shoes?” Pam said. “Off at the door?”
“Oh yeah. Even if your shoes are completely brand new.” Listening to the radio, Jeremy tapped out a rhythm on the gift-wrapped box on his lap. “Are you sure Apple is going to like this umbrella?” he asked. “I would be really mad if someone gave me an umbrella for my birthday.”
“She'll love it,” Pam said. She had personally chosen the gift: a summery umbrella decorated with dozens of rainbow-hued beach balls. “It's totally her style.”
“I think she would have liked that matching outfit that I picked out.”
“The one that said 'Juicy' on the butt?” Pam clarified. When they were at the mall, Jeremy had tried to convince her that Apple wanted a baby blue Juicy Couture hoodie and shorts combo.
“Yeah, that one,” he answered. The song on the radio finished so he began skipping stations again. “She already has the pink version. She wears it all the time.”
“I don't know,” Pam dithered.
“We could have bought a pair for you too,” Jeremy reasoned.
Pam tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “Yeah, well, I'm not a slut like Apple,” she muttered under her breath.
Jeremy turned down the radio volume. “Sorry. What was that?”
“I said I'm not a hipster like Apple,” Pam told him.
“Sure you are,” Jeremy said. “I think you're cool.”
She gave him a quick glance, searching for sarcasm, but found none. “You're so sweet,” she smiled. Keeping a hand on the steering wheel, she kissed her fingertips then reached over to touch his forehead. “Mwah,” she said. For good measure, she kissed her fingertips once more and tapped the crotch of his shorts. Jeremy looked out the window, but she spotted his bashful smile.
They continued driving, the cityscape slowly giving way to a deceptively suburban area that pretended to be rural. The condo shared by William and Marla was located across town in a planned community called Arcadia Falls. Pam followed the directions from her phone as she drove along winding roads lined with manicured green lawns and unobtrusive playgrounds. The neighborhood was composed of dozens of clustered condominiums that bordered a golf course and a thicket of woods which contained the eponymous waterfall.
“That's it over there,” Jeremy said, pointing to a condo that looked exactly like the others. Pam pulled the car into a designated guest parking spot. The exterior of the condo was painted a dull brown that made the building disappear into the surrounding trees. Jeremy hopped out of the car and headed for the door. He walked right in without ringing the doorbell. Pam cautiously followed.
“Hey, we're here!” he called.
Pam remembered to take off her shoes. The interior of the condo was modern yet anonymous in an Ikea sort of way. Immediately to her left was a small kitchen and adjacent dining area. It was a split level design where downstairs led to an open-floor living room while upstairs presumably led to the bedrooms. She hung back while Jeremy disappeared into the kitchen.
William came down the stairs. “Hi there, Pam,” he said. Sticking his head in the kitchen, he said, “Hi Jeremy.”
Their relationship had grown even more impersonal since the divorce. William nodded politely at Pam. “Good to see you. How have you been?”
“Good,” Pam said. “How are you?”
“Doing well. We were just on our way out the door.”
“You're not staying for Apple's birthday party?” Pam asked, surprised.
The jangling sound of bracelets announced Marla's approach. “Hi Pam,” she said. Having heard Pam's question, she answered, “No, we had a little brunch celebration for Apple this morning. Tonight's birthday party is strictly for her friends.”
“Marla and I are jealous that you get to be at this party,” William told her. “I guess Apple didn't want any adults over 35.”
Marla glanced at the dinner table laden with various bowls of pretzels and chips. She seemed perplexed. “William? Did you see how much food she made for this party?”
“Yes, there's quite a spread in the kitchen too.”
Marla frowned. “She told me she was just going to have one or two friends over.”
“That's what she told me too,” William said. He glanced at his watch. “We better get going if we're going to make our dinner reservation in time.”
“Just a moment,” Marla said. “I want to have one last word with her.” As she disappeared up the stairs, Pam heard her say, ”Gwen? Tell me again, how many friends did you invite for this party?”
Pam and William exchanged a bemused look. He helplessly held up his hands. “I'm so glad I only have one kid to worry about,” he said. He began lacing up his shoes.
Pam found Jeremy in the kitchen. “Did Apple's mom just call her Gwen?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said. “Apple isn't her real name. It's just a nickname that stuck. When she was three, she started telling everyone to call her Apple.”
“I see,” Pam said. “You sure know a lot about Apple. Anything else you'd like to tell me?”
She was just joking, but Jeremy absentmindedly said, “Well, her belly button is an outie.”
“Uh huh.” Her amusement fading, Pam continued, “Is she ticklish anywhere?”
“Bottom of her feet.”
“Who do you like more, me or her?”
Jeremy picked up a paper plate, then paused. “Hey, Dad! Can we start eating? Or should we wait?” Jeremy asked.
“Go ahead,” his dad called back.
Jeremy was clearly dodging the question, although there was a remote possibility it was his one-track mind at work. She decided to let it go for now. This probably wasn't the time or place to delve into that particular question anyway. She distracted herself by studying the banquet that Apple had prepared.
A built-in buffet, separating the kitchen from the dining area, was overflowing with an array of dishes labeled with a dainty hand-written etiquette. Shrimp cocktail. Meatballs in grape jelly. Deviled eggs. Lipton onion dip. A glimmering ruby Jell-o mold in the shape of a fish. Iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing on the side.
“This food seems kind of weird,” Jeremy noted. “I've never heard of any of this stuff. Dessert looks good though.” He bent over to study a platter of cupcakes with chocolate frosting and candied hearts.
“I think Apple is throwing a 1950s themed party,” Pam guessed. Though she was starving, she reluctantly passed over the high-calorie party food. In the end, her plate was composed only of carrot and celery sticks, a handful of almonds, some pretzels, and a few deviled eggs. The only concession was her beverage. She just couldn't resist the crystal punch bowl, filled with an effervescent pink liquid. Using a ladle, she nudged aside the decorative ice ring that floated on the surface and filled a matching crystal teacup. A nearby bowl held some atomic-colored maraschino cherries so she added one as a garnish. Taking a cautious sip, Pam was impressed by the flavor explosion on her tongue.
William and Marla reappeared. “We're leaving now!” his dad told them. “Pam, please don't let the kids burn the place down.” Pam laughed but Marla gave him a look. “I'm kidding! Apple's a very a responsible young...” His words were cut off by the closing door.
Pam seated herself on one of the stools lining the kitchen counter while Jeremy hovered near the food, preferring to sample small bites of everything. She was already close to cleaning her plate when Apple sashayed into the room. As Pam suspected, the teenage girl was impeccably dressed in a navy dress with white trim at the collars and sleeves. It was a housewife style dress with buttons down the front, its vintage feel accentuated by Apple's exuberantly blond hair and bright red lipstick.
“Hi Pam! Hi Jeremy!” she greeted.
“Hi Apple,” Pam said, glad that she herself had chosen to dress up too. “Happy birthday!”
“Happy birthday!” Jeremy chimed in, his mouth full of onion dip. “This food is really good.”
“Definitely,” Pam agreed. She held her empty plate in Jeremy's direction. “Can you get me some more veggies and almonds?”
He began filling the plate. “Want some blue cheese dressing for your celery?” he offered.
Pam was tempted but the dressing was clearly a calorie trap. “No, thank you.” The moment Jeremy handed her the plate, Apple approached and placed her hands on his shoulders.
“Can I borrow him for a second?” Apple asked. She sat on the stool next to Pam and wordlessly handed Jeremy a hair brush. Pam lost her appetite as he began brushing Apple's hair in careful strokes. Based on their mutual demeanor, this clearly was not the first time he had done this. Pam immediately thought of all the weekends he had chosen to spend with his dad at Marla's condo. She wondered what else he had done with Apple.
“So what's new with you, Pam?” Apple inquired. She munched on cucumber slices as Jeremy continued brushing her hair. “I haven't seen you since Florida.”
Florida. That seemed like a lifetime ago. Since then, she had given Jeremy his first kiss, let him eat apple rings off her chest, and taught him to use a sex toy on her. “Um, not much interesting has happened since Florida,” Pam answered.
“Me and Pam are doing a new jigsaw puzzle at home,” Jeremy interjected. “It has a thousand pieces.”
“That's cool,” Apple said. “That reminds me. We need to add to our marble raceway. I have like a ton of new rolls waiting.” Noticing Pam's confused look, she explained, “Jeremy and I have been building a race chute out of old paper towel and toilet paper rolls. When it's done, it's going to run from the third floor all the way down to the first floor.”
“Oh. Wow. Jeremy hadn't told me about it.” Their jigsaw puzzle suddenly paled in comparison. A marble raceway. Why hadn't she thought of that? That sounded much more fun than some old jigsaw puzzle. She wanted to one-up Apple, but couldn't think of anything. Last week, she and Jeremy had played ping-pong in their underwear while waiting for the dryer to finish its cycle. Why couldn't she say that?
Apple grimaced as the hairbrush caught on a tangle of her blond hair. “Hey.” She turned to give Jeremy a reproachful look. “Why do I always have to remind you? Brush gently.”
Pam's eyebrow twitched in a nervous tic. “How many people are coming to your party?” she inquired, changing the subject.
“Not too many, actually,” Apple said. “Just a few friends. And Zep!”
Zep strolled into the kitchen, one hand holding a present and the other behind his back. Apple slid off her stool to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday,” he said, handing her the wrapped box first before presenting her with a bouquet of yellow daffodils and white lilies.
Apple sniffed the flowers and smiled. “Zep. You're the best!”
Jeremy, still brushing Apple's hair, paused long enough to give the teenage boy a high-five.
“Hi Zep,” Pam said. They exchanged a fist bump. “I like your hair,” she told him. His hair had been a free-flowing orange the last time she saw him. Today it was jet black, buzzed short on the sides and back but long enough in front to nearly cover his eyes.
“Thanks. Apple doesn't really like it though.”
“Not true,” Apple protested. “I like it a lot.”
“I brought over a copy of Rogue One,” Zep told Jeremy. “Want to watch that Darth Vader scene at the end?”
Jeremy's face face lit up the same way as when she explained thong underwear. “Can I go?” he asked Apple.
“I suppose so,” Apple answered, holding out her hand. Jeremy returned her hairbrush and rushed off with Zep. “They're been sort of inseparable,” she told Pam. “We like to joke that Zep is the big brother he never had.”
“That's so sweet,” Pam said. “Does that make you the big sister he never had?”
“Oh, no,” Apple laughed. “I'm much more than a big sister.”
A sour taste in her mouth made Pam blanch. Before she could politely inquire what the hell that meant, the doorbell rang. Leaving to answer it, Apple returned moments later with two friends.
“This is Pam,” she introduced. “And this is Rose and that's Becky.” Feeling somewhat out of place, Pam waved awkwardly at the two teenage girls. Like Apple, they were both wearing vintage-looking dresses that were fashionable decades ago. Rose was a mousy girl but she compensated with stylishly unkempt brown hair and blue eyeshadow. Becky's dark blond hair was pulled into a pony tail in back and bangs in front. She wore glasses with square frames that fit her angular face.
“I can't believe you guys showed up on time for once,” Apple remarked.
Becky rolled her eyes as she poured herself some punch. “Rose picked me up twenty minutes early,” she said. “You know her. She'll always be on time if Zep is going to be around.”
“That's not true!” Rose denied. “I told you. My hair dresser finished early and I got tired of hanging around the mall.”
“Sure,” Becky said. “You got a new outfit, then got your hair done. It's just a coincidence that you're seeing Zep today.” Rose sputtered for a response. Becky winked at her and said, “If you're not careful, Apple will kick you out.”
“I like to keep my friends close,” Apple intoned. “And my enemies closer.” She gave Rose a hug.
“I used to have a crush on Zep,” Rose admitted. “But that was in fifth grade! Give me a break.”
Zep returned to the kitchen with Jeremy in tow. “Who's getting a break?” Zep asked. The boys seated themselves at the kitchen counter.
“No one,” Apple said cheerfully.
Zep shrugged. “Hello ladies,” he nodded.
“Hi Zep,” Rose and Becky said in unison. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion, but Pam thought she saw a brief moment of meaningful eye contact as Zep greeted Rose. The two teenage girls glanced at Jeremy who was entertaining himself by spinning in circles on the kitchen stool.
“This is Jeremy,” Zep told them.
“He's my mom's boyfriend's son,” Apple added.
Jeremy waved politely. “Hi,” he said, followed by his trademark shy grin. He always reserved that smile for members of the opposite sex, Pam noticed.
Apple surveyed the small pile of presents that had accumulated on the table. “Can I open these now?” she asked.
“It's your birthday,” Zep said. “Go ahead.”
Apple opened Zep's present first. She carefully removed the lid of the flat and square box. Inside were dozens of beautiful origami cranes in midnight blue and creamy white. Nestled among the cranes were five individually wrapped brownies.
“Wow, Zep,” Apple breathed, holding a bird in her palm. “These are beautiful. Thank you.”
“Did you fold those yourself?” Pam was impressed.
“Can you teach me how?” Jeremy asked.
Zep nodded. Apple picked up one of the brownies. “Is this what I think it is?” she asked. Tapping his nose, Zep answered with a sly grin. Rose and Becky exchanged a knowing glance.
“I made some for everyone,” Zep proclaimed as Apple distributed the brownies.
Jeremy was crestfallen when Apple passed him over. Based on the way the teenagers giggled, Pam had hunch about what was going on. She fingered the wrapped brownie. “I'm guessing these are not ordinary brownies?” she asked Zep.
“Old family recipe with a special secret ingredient,” Zep winked.
Pam tried to remember the last time she smoked pot. College, probably. No matter how often she tried it, the result was always the same: bone-rattling paranoia. “I'll save this for later,” she said, returning the brownie to the box of origami cranes.
“Can I have it?” Jeremy reached for the brownie.
Pam snatched his hand and yanked him toward the buffet. “Let's have some cupcakes instead,” she suggested. She didn't really want anything sweet at the moment but she had to distract him somehow. Jeremy unwrapped a cupcake as the teenagers dug into their brownies. Pam re-filled her cup of punch and added several maraschino cherries.
Apple began opening her next present in between bites of brownie. Pam watched as she unwrapped the gift from her and Jeremy. “Oh wow,” Apple said. “Check out this cool umbrella!” She popped it open, revealing the colorful beach balls that cascaded from the center. Twirling the umbrella created a swirling illusion of tumbling beach balls. Rose and Becky took turns with the umbrella. Even Zep seemed impressed with it.
Pam popped a cherry stem in her mouth. “See, I told you she would like it,” Pam said quietly to Jeremy.
“You don't always have to point out that you're right,” he complained. As a peace offering, she removed the cherry stem from her mouth and handed it to him. Jeremy examined it quizzically until he noticed the neatly tied knot in the middle of the stem. “Hey! How did you do that?”
“Watch this,” Pam said, holding up a fresh cherry stem. Placing it in her mouth, she carefully manipulated it with her teeth and tongue. Thirty seconds later, she triumphantly pulled out a knotted stem. She handed him that one too.
Jeremy waved urgently to get everyone's attention. “Hey, you guys. Look what Pam can do!”
Now entertaining an audience, Pam self-consciously popped another cherry stem into her mouth. There was a murmur of excitement when she held up the knotted stem. Rose, Becky and Zep started clapping, with Apple joining late.
Zep picked up the knotted cherry stem. “Wow. I've never known anyone who could do this.”
Pam had to conceal her delight when Apple gave him a dirty look. “Yeah, it's awesome,” the teenage girl said without much enthusiasm. “I'm going to open the rest of my presents now.”
Rose handed her a box. “This one is from me.”
Apple excitedly unwrapped the present. Pawing inside the box, she pulled out several brightly colored objects in the shape of daisies. “Ooh, bath bombs!” she reported. “They smell so nice.” These were followed by some chocolates and a necklace. Last in the box was a small bottle that caused Apple to frown at Rose. “You are such a jerk,” she said.
“What is it?” Zep asked.
Becky peered over Apple's shoulder to read the label. “It's lube,” she told the room. “Pina colada lube, to be exact.”
“Flavored lube? Is this supposed to be a present for me or for Zep?” Apple demanded.
Rose couldn't stop laughing. “It's for both of you. Win-win, right? Especially since you said you don't like giving...”
“Shush!” Apple silenced her friend. Zep was even more reticent than usual as he quietly poked at his plate of food. Becky glanced nervously from Apple to Rose as they glared at each other. Pam was greatly amused by this turn of events but Jeremy was utterly lost.
“Here's my present,” Becky said, thrusting a festive gift bag into Apple's lap.
Apple cooed in delight as she unwrapped a container of shower jelly, pink and wobbly, as well as decorative soaps in the shape of ladybugs and pink flamingos. “These are so cute!” she told Becky. Apple stopped to glare at Rose before continuing, “It's so nice to receive thoughtful and appropriate gifts.”
“Um, actually,” Becky began, “there are two more presents in there.” Reaching eagerly into the gift bag, Apple's grin faded as she pulled out a pair of handcuffs and a pink blindfold.
Rose made a gurgling sound of approval. “Nice!” She elbowed Becky. “I should have thought of that.”
The metal cuffs clinked in Apple's hands. She delicately placed them on the counter. “What is with you guys?” she said, annoyed. “I didn't give you gag gifts for your birthdays.”
Jeremy headed back to the buffet for the third time. He stopped to eyeball the novelty handcuffs and blindfold. “What's this for? Are you guys going to play Cops and Robbers?” Apple's friends tittered, causing Jeremy to blush in consternation as he shoveled a gigantic spoonful of meatballs onto his plate.
“It's for, you know, bedtime fun,” Rose said. “Like in 50 Shades of Grey.”
Nodding blankly, Jeremy said, “Oh. I never saw that movie.” He returned to his stool next to Pam. “I've been meaning to ask you...”
Pam discreetly made a slashing motion across her throat. Jeremy trailed off, but everyone was looking at him now. Realizing he was on the spot, Jeremy groped for something to say. “Can you use less jelly in my lunch sandwiches?” he asked. “The bread keeps getting soaked through with grape jelly.”
Pam inwardly groaned, but no one else seemed to notice his non sequitur. Wanting to take a picture of her presents, Apple artfully arranged the umbrella with origami swans, bath bombs, and ladybug soaps. “Ugh, this kitchen lighting is awful,” she noted, frowning at her phone screen. “I'm going to try taking some pictures outside.” Apparently needing to stick together, the rest of the teens followed Apple out of the kitchen.
Jeremy waited until they were out of earshot. “So what's up with 50 Shades of Grey?” he inquired. “Ashton and I watched the trailer at his house. But it didn't make sense. What's so great about blindfolds and handcuffs?”
“Some people think it's sexy, I guess,” she said. Pam wanted a cupcake but she knew she would regret the calories after eating it. She half-heartedly nibbled some celery instead.
“That's weird. The guys at school said the lady in the movie gets spanked. In her underwear.”
“Yeah. It's a real barn-burner of a sex story.” Pam had tried to read the book, but the dialogue was laughably horrific. Besides, BDSM was a mystery as far as she was concerned, on par with speaking Mandarin or the popularity of lumbersexuals.
“Why would anyone want to be spanked?” Jeremy said, mystified. “Doesn't it hurt?”
“Some people like it,” Pam explained. “It's like their version of Call of Duty.”
“Huh.” Jeremy unwrapped his second cupcake. Pam gazed at it with yearning eyes. “Do you like being spanked?” he asked.
“I don't know,” Pam answered. “I've honestly never tried it with anyone. I suppose it depends on who's doing the spanking.”
Taking a huge bite of cupcake, Jeremy examined the bottle of flavored lube. Since it was pina colada, there were palm trees and coconuts decorating the label. Pam took advantage of his inattention by swiping a finger on the chocolate frosting. He gave her another puzzled look. “I don't get it. Why would someone want flavored stuff?” he asked.
Pam helped herself to more chocolate frosting. “Do the math, Jeremy.”
He began thinking out loud. “I mean, it's not a like a guy is going to lick it off his hand after he's done jerking off.”
“True,” she said. “What else could he do with it?”
Jeremy continued, “He could put some on his thing, then it would taste like coconut. But who cares about that?”
“Who indeed?” Pam said. Looking him in the eye, she suggestively sucked her finger clean of chocolate frosting.
“Ohhh,” he said, the light finally dawning. “You.”
“Yes,” Pam answered. “Me.” She opened the lube and took a sniff. “You know, I've always liked pina coladas. It's been so long since I've had one.”
He didn't pick up her hint though. “I've never had one,” he said.
Trying again, she continued, “But I wonder what this stuff tastes like. Do you think they got it right?”
This was going nowhere. Pam balanced the bottle of lube on the crotch of his shorts, then smiled brightly when Jeremy gave her a questioning look. “Please?” she asked.
Jeremy returned the bottle to the small pile of presents on the countertop. “But this belongs to Apple,” he said. “We can't just take it.”
Pam sighed. “You and your excuses.”
The teenagers returned to the kitchen in the middle of a conversation. “Remember our old birthday parties?” Becky was saying. “We would stay up late watching movies and playing games.”
“We should play Truth or Dare,” Rose proposed.
Apple nodded excitedly. “I haven't played that in so long!” Pam and Jeremy looked at each other, but neither of them said a word.
“We played Kiss and Guess once too,” Becky remembered. “Except it wasn't very exciting because there were only girls at the party.”
“Let's play that instead,” Rose said. She held up the pink blindfold from Apple's pile of presents. “Of course, it would be just Zep.” Rose and Zep exchanged another secret look that did not escape Pam's attention. She wondered what kind of history they had together.
Horrified, Apple held out an arm, separating Zep from her friends. “Hey! Stay away from my man!”
“Come on, it'll be fun,” Rose pleaded. She looked around the room for support. “Jeremy could play too!”
Sitting up straight, Pam fought the urge to mimic Apple and stick a protective arm in front of Jeremy. “Oh, I don't know,” she said. “I think Jeremy's too young for that.”
“What's Kiss and Guess?” Jeremy asked, not helping the cause.
“It's easy,” Rose told him. She sat Jeremy down in a chair. “We just put a blindfold around you, like this, then we'll take turns kissing you. And you'll have to guess who it is. Doesn't that sound fun?”
Pam frowned. She didn't think it sounded fun at all. The pink blindfold looked rather ridiculous on him as he sat quietly with his hands in his lap. “He shouldn't have to play if he doesn't want to,” Pam interjected.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Jeremy?” Becky asked.
There was the slightest hesitation before he answered. “Uh... I don't know,” he stammered.
The three teenage girls pounced on his answer with a series of hoots. “That's a yes if I ever heard one,” Becky declared.
“Who is she?” Rose demanded.
Jeremy squirmed in his chair. “It's a secret.”
“Well, better not tell her you played this game with us,” said Rose. “She might get mad. It's the bitchy and possessive girlfriends that you have to be careful with.” She pointedly looked in Apple's direction.
“Eff you,” Apple answered, giving her the finger.
Rose went first. She tiptoed over to Jeremy, bent over, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Pam saw him fidget nervously as his ears flushed pink. “Um, now I have to guess?” he asked.
“Right,” Becky said.
“That was Rose,” he said confidently.
Having been caught, Rose made a face. No one said anything though. If they told him right away, the game would have become too easy by sheer process of elimination.
Becky was next. She sidled up to Jeremy and kissed his forehead. “Becky,” he immediately stated. She shrugged and returned to her seat at the kitchen counter.
Apple winked deviously at her friends. She approached Jeremy with a determined look on her face. Pam watched helplessly as Apple planted a kiss directly on Jeremy's lips. Not expecting this, the young boy leaned back in surprise, but Apple moved a hand behind his head to prevent him from moving too far away. Her lips even lingered on his for a long moment. Pam felt like she was going to throw up.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Jeremy's stammered guess was even worse. “Uh... Pam?”
Rose and Becky covered their mouths in muted laughter. Apple triumphantly punched her fist in the air as she returned to her place at the counter. Motioning everyone to come close, Apple whispered to them, “He even kissed me back!” The three teenage girls broke into a fresh set of giggles. In the chair, Jeremy's ears were now a bright red as he heard the laughter. Zep was nonplussed. Pam was livid.
It was her turn. She walked up to Jeremy, knowing exactly where she was going to kiss him. She aimed for the spot just behind his ear, where her nose would be planted in his sweet-smelling boyish hair, where she could get away with running her tongue lightly against his earlobe. Pam had kissed him there so many times that his response was entirely predictable. As she expected, Jeremy shivered lightly, his shoulders clenching in an involuntary shudder of pleasure.
“Oh,” he said sheepishly behind his blindfold. “Um, that was Pam.”
“Great guess, Jeremy,” she answered. She removed the blindfold and glared at him. He gave her his best 'please don't kill me' look.
“I think Zep should go next,” Pam announced. He had been quietly eating cupcakes and drinking punch, but now all eyes were on him.
“No way!” Apple protested.
“Let's vote,” Pam suggested. “ All in favor of Zep going next?” She raised her hand. Rose's hand shot up immediately. Becky hesitated only a moment before raising her own. Jeremy cautiously raised his hand after Pam elbowed him.
“Four to one!” Rose crowed. She said to Apple, “You're outvoted. Democracy wins again.”
Becky removed the blindfold from Jeremy and affixed it to Zep. “I can't believe you're doing this to me on my birthday,” Apple grumbled.
Feeling a little better, Pam leaned back to watch the damage she had wrought. Perhaps it was the pot brownie kicking in, but Zep did a terrible job with his guesses. Becky went first with a chaste kiss on the cheek, but he guessed Rose. Then Apple parted the hair hiding his forehead for a kiss, but he guessed Becky, much to her chagrin. Finally, Rose planted a lingering kiss on his cheek. He guessed Apple, which only served to fuel his girlfriend's disgust.
Then it was Pam's turn. Licking the chocolate frosting from her fingers, she confidently strode over to Zep, tilted his head back, and planted a wet kiss on his lips, going so far as to thrust her tongue in his mouth and squeeze his leg with her fingers. Behind her, she could hear muffled gasps from the three teenage girls.
“Whoa, pro kiss,” Zep said. “That must have been Pam.” He pulled off the blindfold to confirm his guess.
Pam patted his knee. “Good job, Zep,” she praised. Rose and Becky were smiling but knew better than display any other signs of amusement. Jeremy regarded Pam with an accusatory expression. Apple, meanwhile, had been shooting daggers at Pam, but her fury now enveloped Zep as well.
“Pro kiss?” Apple demanded. “What's that supposed to mean?”
Zep shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “You know... Pam can tie cherry stems into knots and all that.” Realizing too late that this was the wrong justification, Zep shrunk under Apple's withering gaze. “Uh, happy birthday, Apple!” He pulled her onto his lap for a kiss. Though she pouted at first, Apple eventually began kissing him back. Everyone in the kitchen tried to look elsewhere while the two of them made up.
Rose cleared her throat to break them up. “So, who wants to play another game?”
Zep whispered something in Apple's ear. She giggled and slapped his hand. “We're not doing that now,” she said. She leaned against Zep as he wrapped his arms around her. “Truth or Dare sounds like it would be a disaster,” Apple said. “Let's watch a movie instead.”
“I brought over a trippy French movie,” Zep told them. “La Planete Sauvage. We could watch that.”
“Good idea,” Apple approved. “We can watch it on the big screen in the rec room.”
Everyone loaded up on snacks before they headed to the community rec room located a short walk across the neighborhood. Leading the way, Jeremy carried an enormous paper bag of popcorn while Pam carried his drink. The four teenagers trailed behind them, stopping to admire the blossoming trees or quacking ducks. They were a good twenty paces behind when Jeremy stopped to see what was taking them so long.
“Why are they staring at that wall?” he wondered.
The four of them stood transfixed by a brick wall covered with ivy. They were too far away to be heard, but Becky began brushing her hand along the green tendrils and the others followed suit. The marijuana in their brownies was clearly kicking in. “Beats me,” Pam said, shrugging. “Come on, they'll catch up eventually.”
The two of them entered the darkened rec room. Pam blinked as Jeremy turned on the lights. Foosball and air hockey tables waited in one corner while an enormous projector screen and speakers occupied an entire wall across the room. In front of the screen were three rows of chairs, the same kind as at a real movie theater, with hinged seats and adjustable armrests with built-in cupholders.
“Pretty nice, isn't it?” Jeremy said. He used a remote to turn on the screen. “Wait until you hear the sound system.” Pam took a seat in the middle row as he began flipping through channels in search of something loud to showcase the speakers. After surfing through one hundred channels, the most interesting thing he found was a nature documentary about cats.
“Let's just watch this,” Pam said. She was starting to get a headache from the channel surfing.
“Ha, look at that.” Jeremy chuckled as a lovely tuxedo cat returned a wandering kitten to the nest by gently holding it in her jaws. The mama cat then proceeded to lick the tiny kitten, starting with its ears and face. The adorable kitten blinked several times as it enjoyed its mother's lapping tongue.
“Aww...” Pam and Jeremy said simultaneously.
The four teenagers finally ambled into the rec room. Pam moved over to make room as everyone crowded into the middle row. “Look at the kitties!” Becky swooned. The stoned kids stared at the screen as more kittens tumbled into the frame, each one demanding attention from the mama cat who patiently began cleaning them one by one. While they waited, two kittens playfully batted each other with tiny paws while another chased its shadow.
It was undeniably cute, but Pam wondered how much longer the documentary would focus on the cat licking the kittens. Even Jeremy, sitting in the front row by himself, was starting to get bored. The older teens, however, were thoroughly enraptured, watching the TV with glazed eyes and slack jaws. Jeremy finally cleared his throat.
“Aren't we going to watch a movie?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” Apple said, getting up. “I'll put it in.” There was an impromptu game of musical chairs as Zep went to turn off the lights while Rose searched for a napkin. Jeremy, seeing an open seat next to Pam, switched to the middle row. Everyone else drifted back into place after the lights dimmed, Apple being last. Having been occupied by the DVD projector, she regarded their seat choices with dismay.
“Hey!” she frowned. “Where's the birthday girl supposed to sit?” Since there were only five seats per row, Apple was left out in the cold.
“We could move to another row,” Rose said, nudging Becky and standing up.
But Apple stopped them. “I have a better idea,” she said, squeezing past her friends. Apple raised the armrest between Jeremy and Zep, then wedged herself in the small space. “I know my boys always love an Apple sandwich!” she announced.
Pam managed to suppress a sigh but she couldn't keep from gritting her teeth. At this rate, she predicted her enamel would be worn down to nubs by the time the evening ended. The movie started but it was difficult to pay attention when she kept glancing over to keep tabs on Apple. Though her head leaned against Zep's shoulder, Apple also rested a hand on Jeremy's bare knee. Pam didn't like the look of her red fingernails against the young boy's skin.
“Hic.” Though Pam tried her best to remain calm, her uneven breathing had given her the hiccups. She attempted deep, even breaths. Inhale. Exhale. That seemed to help, until Apple helped herself to a handful of Jeremy's popcorn. When he protested, she mollified him by feeding him some of the pilfered popcorn, one kernel at a time. Apple giggled when Jeremy accidentally licked her fingers. Pam's blood boiled.
“Hic.” The hiccups had grown so intense that Pam's entire upper body was seizing up in involuntary contractions. This was getting painful, and not just the hiccups, though they had grown sufficiently loud that even Rose, at the other end of the row, was investigating where they were coming from.
“Are you okay?” Jeremy whispered.
“I'm (hic) fine,” Pam told him. She held a hand to her midsection in an attempt to support her aching diaphragm.
“Want a sip of my soda?” He offered her the cup. She took a grateful sip from the straw. Any hiccup alleviation was instantly negated when Apple held out her hand, took Jeremy's drink, and slurped loudly from the same straw.
Hic. “Ow,” Pam said, wincing. She stood up. “Excuse me. (hic) I need to go back to the (hic) condo.”
Jeremy followed her. “I'll come too,” he said.
“No, you can (hic) stay here if you want,” Pam said. He followed her nevertheless. When they exited the community building, she was pleasantly surprised to find it was still quite warm outside even though dusk had fallen. Despite the street lamps illuminating the path, Pam was uncertain of the way back to the condo.
“Is this the (hic) right way, Jeremy?” she asked. There was no answer. Puzzled, she turned to find that he had vanished. “Jeremy?” She had just begun re-tracing her steps when he leapt from behind a bench along the walking path.
“Boo!” he shouted, waving his arms.
“Eek!” Pam let out a strangled scream.
“Did I get rid of your hiccups?” he asked eagerly.
Her heart rate had shot sky-high and she was too startled to breathe. “I... (hic)” she panted. “Does that (hic) answer your question?”
“Why did you (hic) do that?” Pam complained, holding her side. “I think you just (hic) made them worse.”
“I was trying to help,” he said. He pinched her nose and put a hand over her mouth. “Try holding your breath.”
Pam pushed him away in annoyance. “Not now, Jeremy. Can we just (hic) go back to the condo?”
He led the way back. “Want to try a spoonful of sugar?” Jeremy suggested as he opened the front door. “That always helps me get rid of the hiccups.”
“That's not going to (hic) work,” Pam told him. “I just need to (hic) relax.” She toddled down the half-flight of stairs to the living room level and gingerly sat on the couch. It was covered in a slippery leather that forced her to sit up straight. Trying to concentrate, she focused on the ticking clock on the bookshelf.
Jeremy began prowling the buffet table again. “Can I have another cupcake?” he asked.
Wriggling her toes on the beige carpet, Pam tried to imagine a calm beach and ocean. “Have some (hic) veggies instead,” she said, not looking at him. “And wash your hands too.” She listened to his footsteps as he approached the kitchen sink and turned on the water. Satisfied that he was washing up, she focused on her breathing. Slow and calm. Her moment of zen didn't last as she immediately exhaled an exasperated breath. Turning, she fixed Jeremy with an accusatory glare. “Why are you in love with Apple?”
He was pouring himself a cup of strawberry-colored punch, but filled it too high. Jeremy hastily slurped to keep it from spilling. “I'm not in love with Apple,” he contradicted.
“Then why are you always (hic) doing everything she tell you?”
“You brush her hair for her,” Pam groused. “You let her (hic) feed you popcorn and let her drink your soda...”
“That doesn't mean I'm in love with her,” Jeremy protested as he assembled a plate with food. It was a lurid collection of deviled eggs, maraschino cherries and his leftover popcorn. Seating himself at the dinner table, he continued their conversation through the railing that separated the dining room from the living area down below. “I was just being nice. There's a difference between being nice and being in love with someone.”
“Whatever. You can't even tell the difference when she kisses you and when I kiss you.” Pam wanted an angry moment of silence to let that sink in, but she hiccuped instead.
“I was blindfolded!” he said defensively. The legs of his chair squeaked against the floor as he fidgeted. “Plus, I think Apple uses the same shampoo as you because sometimes she smells like you and that's why...”
“You are not helping!” Pam interrupted, glaring and hiccuping.
“Calm, calm,” Jeremy urged, waving both hands in the air as if he were petting an invisible dog. It was the same gesture Pam used on him when he had too much sugar.
“Don't tell me (hic) what to do,” Pam retorted.
“Why am I the only one in trouble? You kissed Zep. It was even an open mouth kiss.”
“Did that make you (hic) jealous? Welcome to my world.”
They quietly pouted, her in the living room and him in the dining room. After a moment, she heard him get up. Abandoning his paper plate of food, he carefully wiped his hands on a napkin then fished out Pam's hair brush from her purse on the kitchen counter. Joining her in the living room. He stood behind her on the couch and began gently brushing her hair. The slightest iota of tension seeped from her clenched shoulders. But it didn't last very long.
Hic hic. “I can't believe you do this for Apple,” Pam complained. “You've never once offered to brush my hair.”
“Shhh. You're supposed to be relaxing.” Neither of them said a word as he brushed her hair for several minutes, although Pam's hiccups would occasionally break the stillness. Grudgingly, she let herself enjoy the doting touch of his fingers as they tucked her brown hair behind her ears. She began slowly sinking into the thickly upholstered couch. Jeremy surprised her by setting aside the hair brush and massaging her shoulders. Pam stiffened at his touch.
Jeremy's hands immediately stopped moving. “No, I don't do this for Apple,” he stated.
He resumed her massage. The open design of her dress allowed him direct contact on her bare skin, but she kept sliding down the slippery couch. Suddenly embarrassed by her seething jealousy, she was glad he couldn't see her face as he stood behind her. She realized their fights always revolved around his messiness or her jealousy. Irritating issues, certainly, but also thoroughly petty.
Leaning back, she let her head rest on the couch so she could see his upside-down face. “I (hic) forgive you,” she told him.
“I didn't apologize,” he objected.
“Just say you're sorry, Jeremy.”
He hesitated, then gruffly cleared his throat. “Sorry, Pam.”
“Me too. (hic) Sorry, Jeremy.” She gently took his hand. When they placed their palms together, her hand was still bigger than his, although not by much. Pam didn't know what to say, so she impulsively kissed his fingers. She hoped that would end the floundering silence, but they continued regarding each other in a state of mutual embarrassment. Jeremy finally broke the impasse by tracing lines on her exposed collarbone. His finger caressed the soft skin at the base of her neck, causing Pam to shiver. Slowly, his hand inched lower across her chest. She closed her eyes when he slipped a hand inside the neckline of her dress.
His hand cupped her breast for a delicious moment before gently squeezing. Though impeded by her bra, Pam's nipple stiffened at his touch. His other hand touched her face, running along her eyebrows, stroking her cheek. When his finger drew near her mouth, Pam kissed it first then nibbled it with her lips. Her bum kept sliding down the leather upholstery, so she arched her back and dug her toes into the plush carpet to keep herself from slipping completely off the couch. It was as if she were bobbing in the water and Jeremy was in a lifeboat, reaching to save her.
Pam wasn't exactly sure how she started sucking on his finger. One moment his fingernail was merely tapping her teeth and the next she had completely engulfed his finger. Leaning her head back, she could recognize the look of surprise on Jeremy's face, even though it was upside-down. The eleven year old boy's finger tasted of sweet maraschino cherry and salty popcorn.
It was a slice of paradise, letting her tongue swirl around his delectable finger. Sweetening the deal, Jeremy's fingers shifted across her chest to knead her other breast. It was times like this where she wished he had three hands. He was doing quite well with two, however, teasing her to the point where her cotton bra did little to contain her hard nipples. A very warm glow rose from between her legs.
Despite her best efforts, the slipping and sliding on the couch caused her dress to ride upward. She primly adjust the hemline of dress, pulling it back toward her knees. That motion must have inspired Jeremy because he extricated his hand from her neckline and reached between her legs.
“Wait,” Pam said, grabbing his wrist. “Stop.”
“But I was just getting to the good part!” Jeremy protested. His cheek was pressed against hers as he strained to reach.
“I know.” Pam reluctantly stood up and straightened her dress. “But I don't think it's a good idea to play Call of Duty right here in the living room.”
Jeremy, having draped himself across the back of the couch during their play, somersaulted over it and sprawled on the soft leather cushions. His shorts could barely contain the erection tenting out from his crotch. “Why not?” he demanded.
The sound of the front door opening caught their attention. “That's why,” Pam said, relieved that she had listened to her instincts.
“Uh oh,” Jeremy said. He hid the bulge in his shorts with two cupped hands as the teenagers strolled into the living room.
“We're back!” Apple announced. Zep collapsed into an armchair across from the couch. Rose and Becky took the loveseat.
“How was the movie?” Pam inquired. She took a seat on the couch. Jeremy, deeply flustered, still lay across the it, but she was at least blocking his midsection from view.
“It was okay,” Apple said. “We didn't finish it because everyone started getting dizzy. I mean, except me. I think Zep's brownies had varying doses.”
Pam nodded sympathetically at the dazed teenagers. Zep stared at nothing on the ceiling while Becky rested her head on Rose's shoulder. Only Apple seemed her usual perky self. Wielding a feather duster, she began cleaning the bookshelf.
“Luck of the draw,” Zep mumbled. “Some brownies were sativa but others were indica.”
“What's the difference?” Rose asked.
“Sativa is more energetic,” Zep explained. “Indica is the classic stoned high.”
“I'm pretty sure I got a sativa brownie,” Apple said. She tidied a stack of magazines and then fixed the vase of drooping flowers on the end table. “Anyone want to play frisbee golf?”
Her friends made indistinct noises of dissent. Pam glanced at the red-faced Jeremy still hiding behind her. “Just run upstairs and walk it off,” she whispered.
He shook his head. “Someone will notice.” Apple was still alert, but Pam was certain that no one else would have batted an eyelash if Jeremy had sprouted wings and flown away.
Apple squeezed into the loveseat with her friends. “Did you get rid of your hiccups, Pam?”
Pam touched her side in surprise. She hadn't even noticed they were gone until Apple mentioned them. Forget about holding your breath or drinking water. Apparently, the trick was to suck on Jeremy's finger while he wandered around second base. “I did,” she confirmed.
“How did you do it?” Apple asked.
“Um, Jeremy helped me.”
“Really?” Apple said. Unable to see Jeremy because Pam was in the way, she had to lean over to peer at him. “You'll have to show me what you did. Sometimes it takes forever to get rid of my hiccups.”
“I don't think it will work on everybody,” Pam said, drumming her fingers on the couch in annoyance. Spotting Jeremy's duffel bag on the floor, she had an idea. “Why don't you go get ready for bed?” she said, handing it to him.
He stared at her in disbelief. “It's only 7:30!”
“Well, at least put this away before someone trips on it,” she said, moving the duffel bag over his lap.
“Oh,” he nodded. “Sure.” Carefully holding the bag in front of him, Jeremy dashed from the living room.
Apple bounced up from the loveseat. “I have a great idea! Who wants to play Twister?” She frowned when no one answered.
“This is one mellow crowd, huh?” Pam commented. Thirsty from sucking Jeremy's finger, she headed to the kitchen to find some water.
Following her, Apple sighed in agreement. “Just say no to drugs.” She stirred the punch bowl, disintegrating what was left of the melted ice ring. “At least I have you and Jeremy to keep me company.”
Pam sipped her water. “Actually, I should really get going. I'm meeting someone after this.” The second part was a lie since she had no other plans that night besides catching up on laundry. Truthfully, Pam wasn't sure if she could stomach watching Apple flirt with Jeremy all night.
Apple seemed genuinely disappointed. “Okay. Thanks for coming! That was nice of you to stop by.” She surveyed the platters of food on the table. “Hey,” she called toward the living room. “Anyone hungry? There's still plenty of food.”
Again, there was no answer but Zep eventually shuffled into the kitchen. He half-heartedly helped himself to a handful of potato chips. “There's still a brownie left,” he observed, picking it up with eager hands.
“That's Pam's brownie,” Apple objected.
“I'll be fine without it,” Pam declined. “I'm not as big a partier as I used to be. It's all yours, Zep.”
“I should probably save it for later,” he mused. He placed it back on the counter.
Jeremy reappeared, nonchalantly entering the kitchen with his hands in his pockets. Pam cast a quick glance at his shorts, relieved to see that they were back to normal. He gave her a grateful nod.
“There you are,” Pam said. “Hey, I'm going to head home okay?”
“I don't want to stay too late,” Pam told him. They regarded each other awkwardly. She usually gave him an affectionate goodbye, but Apple and Zep were conspicuously watching. She ruffled his hair instead. “Stay out of trouble!” she said lamely.
“See you later,” Jeremy replied.
Apple and Zep waved at her. “Bye, Pam!”
“Bye!” Pam poked her head into the living room, but found Rose and Becky asleep in the loveseat. Deciding not to disturb them, she put on her shoes and crept out the door.
Pam was halfway home when her phone dinged twice. Carefully, she tried to glance at the screen while keeping her eyes on the road. Unknown caller. She let it go to voicemail. A minute later, however, her phone alerted her again. This time it was a text from a number she didn't recognize. Since she was slowing for a red light, Pam checked the message.
“pam, it's apple. please pick up.”
She had scarcely finished reading when the phone dinged with another phone call. Peering at the stoplight, Pam decided that the light was not going to change anytime soon. She answered the phone.
“Pam? It's Apple.”
“Hi Apple. What's up?”
She heard Apple clear her throat. “Uh, do you think you could come back?”
“Why? Did I forget something?” The light turned green. Pam accelerated slowly through the intersection. She didn't like driving without both hands on the wheel.
“No. But I...” Apple paused. “This is an emergency. Remember that brownie you didn't want? The one with, you know, marijuana in it?”
“Jeremy just ate it.”
Pam blinked once, then twice. Tossing the phone onto the passenger seat, she quickly swerved into a left turn lane, eliciting several honks of protest as she cut off another car. The tires squealed as her car slammed to an abrupt stop. Spotting a sliver of an opening in the oncoming traffic, she made a sharp u-turn then buried her foot on the gas, causing another loud screech as her car sped away in the opposite direction.