Pam lounged comfortably in the reclining armchair. It was a quiet Wednesday night, made all the more cozy as Whiskers purred in her lap while she read a magazine. She had spent the last twenty minutes engrossed in article about BASE jumping. Who wouldn't want to don a flimsy wing-suit, jump from a great height, and have a friend film the ensuing aftermath? Granted, most jumpers landed intact, but there was also a man whose girlfriend captured still photos of his last moments before he crash landed. A shiver ran down her spine.
Gentle wisps of steam wafted from her mug of cinnamon tea, reminding her to drink it before it got cold. The ceramic cup felt pleasingly warm in her hands, especially in contrast to the wind that rattled the bare tree branches outside the window. As much as she enjoyed autumn, Pam always had a hard time adjusting to the fading sunlight and early darkness. After reading the article, however, she took a moment to be grateful of the Prater's warm living room instead of BASE jumping from a sheer cliff.
Behind her, there was the sound of a door opening. “Hello! I'm home,” a voice called.
“Hi Kate,” Pam answered.
“I was hoping to get home in time for dinner,” she said. “Did I make it?” Kate entered the living room, still wearing her blue scrubs.
“Sorry, not tonight,” Pam said. “Jeremy was hungry so I told him we could have an early dinner if he finished his homework first.”
Kate flopped into an armchair. “Oh, that feels good,” she sighed. “Did he go to Ashton's house? It's so quiet in here.”
“No, he's here.” Pam cocked her ear. “I think I just heard him get out of the shower.”
Kate propped her head on a fist. “Honestly, Pam... I have to ask. How do you do it?”
Pam set aside her magazine. “Do what?”
“This,” Kate said, gesturing about the room. “I come home and not only have you already eaten dinner, but the kitchen looks spotless. My kid already did his homework. He took his shower at...” Kate consulted her watch. “At eight o'clock? That's got to be a new record.”
Pam looked at her blankly. “I still don't understand.”
“Let me ask you this: what did you have for dinner?”
“Let's see,” Pam scratched her head, trying to recall something that happened less than two hours ago. “Um... Oh right, we finished the curried chickpea from yesterday. And then we topped it off with some udon noodles with chicken and shiitake.”
Kate laughed. “See? That's exactly what I mean. Let me describe how things would be if it were me in your shoes.” She began ticking off a list on her fingers. “One, Jeremy would be pleading for peanut butter sandwiches and Gatorade for dinner. Two, he would be, I don't know, lighting his carpet on fire instead of doing his homework. Three, it would be exactly two minutes before 10 P.M. until he agreed to get ready for bed.”
“Oh, it wouldn't be that bad,” Pam smiled.
“And four,” Kate continued, “the house would look like a hurricane just hit. Instead it looks like you just had Martha Stewart over for a visit.”
“It's not that clean if you look carefully,” Pam reassured her. “I made Jeremy vacuum in here and I'll probably have to do it again myself.”
Kate chuckled ruefully. “I know you're trying to make me feel better, but it's not working. I could wave a $50 dollar bill in his face but Jeremy still wouldn't help with housework. How do you get him to be so good?”
The cup of tea in her hands trembled, just a tiny bit. Pam quickly set it down. “Well, you know, Jeremy is growing up,” she pointed out. “He's not a little kid anymore.”
Right on cue, Jeremy strolled into the living room. His hair, still wet from his shower, was slicked back and he had changed into his pajamas. “Are you guys talking about me?” he asked.
“Actually yes,” his mom told him. “We were just discussing how you had blossomed into such a responsible young man.” She frowned. “Jeremy, your pajama pants are inside out.”
“Huh?” He looked down at himself. “Oh, I was wondering why they looked so weird.” He pulled off his pajama bottoms and stood in his underwear as he tried to sort it out.
“Hey, look at those girls walking by out front,” Pam said, sipping her tea. “Oh wait... don't they go to your school, Jeremy?”
“What?” he said. Alarmed, he used his pajama bottoms as a shield to hide his white underwear. Peering at the blackness beyond the living windows, he said, “I don't see anyone.”
“Are you ever going to not fall for that?” Pam asked.
Jeremy gave her a look. “Ha ha. Very funny.”
“Jeremy,” his mom began, “how come you're always so much better behaved for Pam than you are for me?”
“Probably because Pam lets me do whatever I want,” Jeremy shrugged. He successfully turned his pajamas right side out and pulled them on.
“Really? Kate said, yawning into her hand. “Like what?”
“Uh, hey, Jeremy, did you remember to brush your teeth?” Pam asked, changing the subject.
“Of course I did,” he said, offended. He leaned in close and began blowing his breath on her face. The warm puffs of air made her cringe. “See? Smells like toothpaste, right?”
“Okay, okay!” Pam shoved him away as Kate laughed. “I believe you.” Now properly dressed, Jeremy bent near the base of Pam's recliner. Realizing what he was doing, she set down her cup of tea just in time as he yanked the lever that returned the reclining armchair to its normal position.
“Whoa!” Pam exclaimed as her body snapped back into a sitting position. Whiskers yowled angrily and leapt from her lap, which was just as well since Jeremy was now wedging himself into the armchair.
“Quit hogging the blanket,” he complained, tugging at the throw she had arranged on her legs. Once he was settled in, Jeremy pulled the lever to return them to a semi-reclining position.
“Oh Jeremy,” his mom said. “Don't you think Pam needs a break?”
“A break?” he repeated. “A break from what?” He gave his mom a blank look as she shook her head. Returning his attention to Pam, he sniffed at her neck. “You smell like cinnamon.”
Pam knew her ears were turning pink. His lithe body was pressing against her delicate spots as he squirmed in the armchair. Trying to downplay his affection, she gave Kate a weak grin and shrugged. “It's my tea,” she told him.
“Can I try some?”
“Go make your own cup,” Pam told him coolly. “You know how to boil water.” Anything to get him off her lap. She felt like she was in high school, watching a movie with a boyfriend while his parents were in the room. The sound of a buzzing cell phone from the next room saved her.
“Is that mine?” Kate asked. She sighed. “I'm too tired to get up.”
“Go get your mom's cell phone for her,” Pam nudged Jeremy. She felt a wave of relief when he rolled off the recliner and trotted to the kitchen.
“Thank you, Jeremy,” Kate said, taking the phone from his outstretched hand. The moment she looked at the screen, Kate rose to her feet. “I'll take this in the other room so as not to disturb you two. Jeremy, you're not going to stay up late, right?”
“Pam said I could play Call of Duty.”
“You and your videogames. Not for too long, all right?” Kate tousled his hair before answering her phone. “Hello?” The sound of her voice trailed off as she went to her room. They heard the door close behind her.
Pam fumbled for the recliner's lever and returned herself to a sitting position. Retrieving her tea from the end table, she mused, “Is there anything cozier than the smell of cinnamon on a chilly autumn night?”
Jeremy stood in front of her armchair, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet. “I don't know. So are we going to play Call of Duty?”
“No, I meant are we going to play CALL OF DUTY,” he said emphatically. Jeremy looked at her with hopeful eyes.
“Oh, that Call of Duty,” Pam said, playfully eyeing him from behind her mug. She considered for a moment. “Can't you just do it yourself?”
“But I like it better when you do it for me.”
“I don't know...”
“Please? You said we could do it any time I wanted.”
Pam frowned. Did she really say that? “That was just pillow talk,” she informed him.
“What's pillow talk?”
“Never mind,” she told him. “I don't know if this is a good idea, Jeremy. After all, your mom is home.”
“Yeah, but it's that one doctor calling. You know, the one who lives in Springfield? Whenever he calls, she always spends at least an hour on the phone.”
Pam mulled the issue at hand. She found it awfully hard to say no to him, especially after a shower when his skin had a delightfully clean, soapy smell and his wet hair rendered him unusually angelic. “All right,” she conceded, finishing her tea. “You twisted my arm. And then straight to bed afterwards, right? We should make it a quickie.”
“I can be quick,” he said earnestly.
“Right, right.” She let him take her hand and pull her off the armchair. Pausing briefly at the foot of the stairs, she could see a thin shaft of light emanating from under Kate's door on the second floor. There was the indistinct sound of muffled conversation, but Pam tiptoed away nevertheless. Once they were safely ensconced in Jeremy's room, Pam sighed in relief. Despite having lost count of the number of times they had fooled around together, Pam still felt a conspiratorial sense of anticipation each time.
She was just about to close the door when Jeremy spoke. “Um, I think the Coppertone is in the basement, by the way.”
“The basement? What's it doing there?”
“I don't know. I guess that's where we last used it.”
“I'll get it. When was the last time you played Call of Duty by yourself, anyway?”
He thought for a second. “I can't remember.” Jeremy shrugged. “I told you, I like it better when you do it for me.”
Pam stifled a giggle of affection as she headed for the basement. Outwardly, she was feigning exasperation, but the truth was she found it charming that he had grown so dependent on her. With great power comes great responsibility, she thought to herself. Her feet silently padded through the hallway, her eyes once again checking Kate's closed door. So far, so good.
When she returned with the bottle of Coppertone in hand, she found Jeremy already in bed with his sheets pulled up to his chin. Pam closed his bedroom door. “How are we supposed to play Call of Duty,” she said, squirting some Coppertone into her hand, “when you're all tucked into bed?”
“I took off my pajamas already,” he noted, pointing at a pile of crumpled clothing on the floor.
Pam knelt at his bedside, reaching under the blanket. “We're not going back to that shy boy phase, are we?” she teased. Her hand gingerly hunted under the blanket, taking care not to get the Coppertone on his sheets.
“I'm not shy. It's just that you said I should go to bed afterward.”
The only illumination in the room came from a small lamp on his nightstand. To an unknowing bystander, it may have appeared as if Pam was merely praying next to Jeremy as he lay in bed. It occurred to her that it was a good thing for Jeremy to be hidden under the sheets, particularly with his mom being home. It lent an air of excitement to the proceedings as her hand hunted for its unseen target. One last time, Pam glanced over her shoulder at the closed door before finally finding what she was looking for. He was already hard.
Pam was busy making herself a second cup of tea in the kitchen when Kate entered. “That was quite the phone call,” Pam commented as she set the kettle on the stove.
“Oh, I've been chatting with this doctor at St Stephen's about streamlining some of our hospital paperwork,” Kate said. “You know, work stuff.”
Pam nodded. “I'm making some more tea. Would you like some too?”
“That sounds wonderful,” Kate said. She opened the refrigerator and studied its contents. “I suppose I should have dinner too. Is Jeremy still playing his video game?”
“Uh, no,” Pam answered. She set two mugs on the counter and placed a teabag in each. “He's already asleep. Out like a light.”
Kate shook her head in wonderment. “Some day you'll have to show me how you do it.”
“Oh you know. Sometimes he'll go to bed early if he's tired.” Pam changed the subject. “Before I forget to tell you, tomorrow will be his team's last soccer game of the season. They had to cancel the remaining games due to the cold weather. Did you want to come?”
Kate was about to answer when they were interrupted by Jeremy toddling into the kitchen. “Just need some water,” he mumbled, clearly half-asleep. Without even bothering to identify if it was his own water, he took a swig from a half-full glass on the countertop. Then, wiping his lips with his sleeve, he shuffled back to his room like a zombie.
“Good night, sweetie,” Kate called after him. Jeremy didn't turn around but he did manage a half-hearted wave at her. “Poor kid. He did look really tired. I hope he's not coming down with something.”
“I'm sure he'll bounce right back tomorrow morning.” Pam said confidently.
Kate frowned as she watched Jeremy's sleepwalk back to his room. “I swear... are his pajamas inside out again? How on earth did that happen? Didn't he just fix them in the living room?”
“Haha. I suppose that's boys at that age,” Pam said. She distracted herself by pouring boiling water into the waiting mugs.
Kate sniffed the air. “Hmm, Coppertone.” She sighed and shook her head. “Do you think he's ever going to outgrow that? I still don't get why he likes it so much. The cashiers always look at me like I'm crazy for buying suntan lotion in the middle of October.”
“Probably just a phase,” Pam agreed. Kate was digging in the refrigerator, not paying any attention to her. Casually, Pam pretended to scratch her upper lip. She had washed her hands already but the sweet scent of suntan lotion was still detectable on her fingers. Alarmed, she began washing her hands once again at the kitchen sink.
The next day, Pam dropped Jeremy off at the soccer field before running some errands. She was supposed to be back in time for the start of this game, but had gotten ensnared in rush-hour traffic. She arrived at the soccer field just as Kate was leaving. “How's the game going?” she asked.
“Pretty good,” Kate replied. “They were down 2-0 but now they're tied at 3. Jeremy is annoyed because the coach took him out of the game when he landed funny on his arm.”
Her stomach wrenched. “Jeremy got hurt? Is he okay?”
“I checked him out,” said Kate. “I think it's just a mild sprain. Amazingly enough, he's still playing fine without his left arm. The other team scored all their goals when Jeremy was out. Now that he's back as goalie, they're getting shut out again.”
“Attaboy Jeremy,” Pam approved.
“That reminds me,” Kate said. “You remember his soccer nickname, don't you?”
“Wait, don't tell me.” She thought a moment. “Tiger J?” she ventured.
“I'm impressed! Don't forget to call him Tiger J when he's on the field. I got the stinkeye from him because I clapped and shouted 'Yay Jeremy!' after he blocked a shot.”
“I have to get back to the hospital,” Kate said. “Can you tell him I'm sorry I couldn't stay the whole game? He'll be glad that you made it though.
“I'll let him know,” Pam nodded. “See you tonight.” The grass was soggy from a morning downpour, but the fields were in better condition than she expected. Several soccer games were taking place so she had to hunt for the field where Jeremy's team was playing. His team was named the Dragons and they wore appropriately colored dark green and white uniforms. The problem was that every other team seemed to have minute variations of the same hues. The search became easier when she narrowed the criteria to goalies with floppy red hair.
Jeremy was adjusting his gloves when she finally located him. He wore a fitted long-sleeve shirt under his usual dark green jersey, though his legs were bare except for shin guards that were caked with mud. Pam compared him with the other boys dashing about the field. He was, by a large margin, the most handsome though she had to admit some boys looked a little cute. Especially in their soccer uniforms.
Pam waited for a break in the action before waving to him. “Let's get it done, Tiger J!” she called. Jeremy turned in surprise as he sought to locate the voice. He bounced on his heels when he spotted her on the sideline. Once the action resumed, Pam did her best to follow along, tuning in whenever the action neared Jeremy's goalpost. Otherwise, she passed the time by observing the other players, assigning naughty or nice tags to each one as she saw fit.
The game remained tied at 3 for a long time. After twenty minutes of play, a timeout was called as the coaches conferred with the referee. The players were then gathered for an announcement that Pam didn't catch.
“What's happening?” she asked a nearby parent on the sideline.
“I think the coaches decided the game was going on for too long,” the woman said. She wore a puffy down coat that hung to her knees, which Pam thought was overkill. There was a damp chill in the air, but it really wasn't that cold yet. The woman continued, “So they're calling a penalty shootout to end the game.”
“This shouldn't take too long,” a man said, overhearing their conversation. “Did you see that little runt of the litter playing goalie over there? That kid doesn't have a chance in a shootout.”
Pam's eyes narrowed at the remark. The man was wearing a black and gold sweatshirt for the opposing team. The thick cotton material did nothing to mask his oversized beer belly. “I see you're a Hornets fan,” she said.
“Darn right,” he nodded proudly.
He was now standing next to Pam. Wanting to distance herself, she turned to the woman in the down coat. “What happens in a penalty shootout?” Pam asked.
“Each team will get three shots,” she explained. “Whoever scores the most will win the game. If they tie kicks, the process starts over.”
The Dragons were the first to kick. After a brief conference, three players were selected from the team. The first boy's kick was successful, causing a great deal of cheering and clapping from the team. But the second boy's kick was too high and the third was blocked. The mood turned grim as the players headed for the opposite goal. Since the Dragons managed only one goal, the opposing team had three chances to make two goals.
To her surprise, Pam found herself getting nervous as the other team chose its kickers. Jeremy, however, calmly manned the goal as he waited for the referee to put the ball in play. Wearing an expression that was serene yet focused, he did some stretches to stay loose. When the referee set down the soccer ball and blew his whistle, Jeremy spat on the ground and adjusted his shin guards.
“Do you think they can pull this off?” she overheard one of the men in the crowd.
“I don't know,” someone else answered. “The Hornets led the region in penalty kicks this year.” Pam's heart sank a little.
The first boy approached the ball, stopping about ten feet from it. Pam hadn't noticed before but all the boys on the other team appeared much older than the Dragons. All three of the chosen kickers seemed to be at least a head taller than Jeremy. Her palms were sweaty when she heard the familiar thud as the ball caromed off the kicker's foot. With the gracefulness of a swan, Jeremy leapt off his feet to catch the ball in mid-air.
Pam could clearly see him wince from extending his injured elbow, but he successfully defended the first attempt. There was muted clapping and cheering, but she was too focused on the next kicker lining up. She saw Jeremy brush himself off and reset at the goal. The second kick was a low one, barely floating off the ground but kicked at a great velocity. Jeremy was forced to dive sharply to the left. His body went completely horizontal, his outstretched form managing to punch the soccer ball out of harm's way with his one good arm.
“Can't believe he got that,” someone in the crowd muttered. “Come on, Hornets!”
“No, no. Go Dragons!”
The crowd on the sideline continued the friendly banter, but both teams were silent after the attempt. The opposing team knew they had only once last chance to tie it up and re-start the process. The Dragons knew that victory was in their grasp. Pam almost couldn't watch, but then she saw Jeremy scanning the sidelines. Finding her among the crowd, he gave her a confident smile. Pam laughed. He was completely fearless, while she had been reduced to a bundle of anxiety.
She held her breath as the last boy started his approach. His footwork was taken in precise, obviously practiced steps. There was a ripple of anticipation from the crowd as he planted his foot and swung his leg. The kick sailed high to the right corner of the goal.
“That's the side of his bad arm!” Pam wailed internally. Once again, Jeremy leapt off the ground, this time twisting his body in mid-air so that he could use his good arm to defend the goal. The kick was so high that Pam wasn't sure if he could reach it. But he did. The ball's trajectory suddenly altered, causing it to clang loudly against the top of the goalpost. The ball rebounded powerfully, but harmlessly away from the goal. It hadn't even landed yet when the Dragons took to the field, cheering at the top of their lungs.
“Tiger J! Tiger J!” the boys shouted. Jeremy was soon mobbed in a sea of green and white jerseys. A mixture of groans and cheers came from the crowd of adults on the sideline. Pam herself was jumping up and down, punching her fist in the air, until she realized the other parents were merely clapping in a polite manner.
“Is that your son?” the woman in the coat asked.
“Uh no,” Pam said, checking herself. “Just a friend of the family.”
“Well, congratulations anyway!” They both laughed.
The fat man in the Hornets sweatshirt leaned in from the other side. “Did you say that's your son?” he asked, apparently missing part of the exchange. “For being so small, he's an okay goalie.” Smiling broadly, he hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans, a move which only served to draw attention to his paunch.
“Oh, thanks,” Pam said, not bothering to correct him on either count.
“You know, I don't think I've seen you at these league games before,” he said. Pam caught him trying to peer at her left hand. “My name's Steve.”
“Pam,” she said, ignoring his outstretched hand. “Excuse me, I just need to, you know, go over there...” she pointed at the group of boys cheering on the field and scurried away.
The Dragons were in a state of uncontrolled mayhem. Some boys were rolling on the ground, forming a hog pile. Others had removed their shin guards to fling them in the air. Another group was manically jumping and hollering with Jeremy at the center of the scrum. The coach stood off to the side of it all, looking dazed and exasperated.
“How long do you think it will be before they calm down?” Pam asked her.
She shrugged in reply. The coach appeared close to her own age, perhaps just a few years out of college. “You know, honestly? I'll just be happy if we can get out of here without any broken bones.”
“Let me know if you want me to dial 911,” Pam volunteered.
The coach laughed. “I saw you talking with Kate Prater,” she said. “Are you the famous Pam we keep hearing about?”
“Um, yes,” Pam felt her ears turn red. “Do I want to know?”
“Oh, it's all good,” she assured Pam. “Jeremy talks about you a lot, though. The other boys always make fun of him for having a girlfriend.”
“Ha, well, it's not like that. At all. Really.”
“Oh, no one is accusing you of breaking any laws,” Amanda assured her. “It's actually kind of cute.” She held out her hand. “I'm Amanda, by the way.”
Pam shook her hand. “Um, sorry about my sweaty hands. I was kind of nervous during those last few minutes.”
“Not me,” Amanda said. “You're never nervous with Tiger J back there. Even with the season on the line.”
Pam laughed but she was inexplicably embarrassed by all the praise for Jeremy.
“So anyway... What does he say about me to his friends?” she pressed.
“Let me think,” pondered Amanda. “Like how you're always taking him out to Dairy Queen. Or buying him stuff at Target. You know... stuff that would impress boys.” Pam nodded politely, but inwardly she was praying that she wasn't somehow throwing off suspicious vibes. Amanda continued, “I think they're at that in-between age where they're still pretending to be grossed out by girls, but secretly think about girls all the time.”
“How interesting. I never thought of that,” Pam said, lying through her teeth. “Makes sense.”
The throng of boys had dissipated somewhat as other parents wandered through the field and retrieved their offspring. Jeremy suddenly zig-zagged through the crowd and greeted Pam with a big hug. “Pam! Did you see me? I did it! I did it!”
“Of course I saw you,” she said. “Those were some smooth moves, Jer-- uh, Tiger J.” Now that she could see him up close, Pam noticed the dirt streaking his face and the grass stains that covered his uniform. His unkempt appearance was too cute. She suddenly wished she could give him more than just a hug.
“Jeremy, I've been your coach for two years,” Amanda said. “How come you've never hugged me? Is it because I'm not your girlfriend?” She winked at Pam.
“Aw, be quiet,” Jeremy muttered gruffly as he let go of Pam.
“I'm just kidding,” Amanda said. She put an arm around his shoulder and gave him a half-hug. “Good job out there. You saved your best for last.” Her attention diverted to some boys scruflling on the far side of the field. “Excuse me, duty calls. Tiger J, I'll see you at the end-of-season pizza party next week. Don't forget to bring home your soccer balls over there.”
“Nice to meet you, coach!” Pam called. Amanda waved as she hurried to break up the group of rowdy boys. Jeremy went to retrieve his water bottle next to the goal as well as a large mesh bag filled with soccer balls. He was clearly favoring his right arm.
“Why don't you let me take that?” Pam offered, taking the mesh bag. She slung it over her shoulder.
“Thanks, Pam.” They began walking toward the car. The fields were still busy with several different soccer games, forcing them to navigate crowds along the sidelines. Some parents sat in lawn chairs, sipping from thermoses, while others sprawled on blankets. Small children, presumably the younger siblings of the soccer players, darted in and out of the crowd. At one point, a group of Dragons caught up with them, tackling Jeremy.
“Tiger J!” they shouted. A brief melee broke out but Pam kept walking. The boys eventually began following her again as they chatted about their victory. She didn't pay much attention to them, instead wondering what she might serve for dinner that night. Pam was so lost in her thoughts that she only vaguely heard the shout, “Heads up!” followed by a nearly simultaneous, “Look out, lady!”
Pam turned her head just in time to see a soccer ball flying right at her face. Then there was a blur of motion from behind her, followed by the punchy sound of a deflected soccer ball. It all happened so fast that Pam wasn't sure what had occurred until she saw Jeremy sprawled on the ground in front of her.
“Hey, nice save, kid!” someone shouted.
“Are you okay?” she asked, helping him to his feet. Behind her, she could see the group of Dragons with a stunned look on their faces. They looked at each other for a moment before breaking out into a fresh chant.
“Tiger J! Tiger J!”
Jeremy had to raise his voice to be heard above the din. “I'm okay. Did the ball hit you?”
“No. Not even close.”
“You saved me,” Pam said. Touched by his heroics, she placed a hand on his shoulder. Then, unable to resist, she followed it up with a kiss. A perfectly harmless one, on the only mud-free spot on of his face, which ended up being near his ear. But the moment she did it, Pam realized his friends were intently watching. Sure enough, the boys broke out in whoops and jeers. Jeremy turned bright red. “Um, sorry,” she whispered. They resumed walking. The mesh bag of soccer balls had grown heavy on her shoulder, so Pam began dragging it on the ground.
“Hey, Jeremy... do you always let your girlfriend pull your balls?” The group of boys broke out in guffaws.
“Shut up, Conor.” Jeremy retorted.
“Do you think she could pull my balls too?” That comment sent them into gales of laughter. Jeremy used his good arm to give Conor a healthy shove.
Pam's eyes narrowed. “Hey Conor,” she began. “How many goals did you score today?”
The boys looked at each other, then at Conor. “Uh, none,” he admitted.
“And Jeremy, how many saves did you have today?”
“I don't know, I lost count. Probably seven or eight. Coach would know for sure.”
“Tell you what, Conor,” Pam said. She stopped walking and turned to face the group of boys. “The next time you single-handedly win a game for the team, I promise I will pull your balls. But until then, I'm sticking with Tiger J.” Surprised by her interjection, Conor withered under her steely gaze. Pam was rewarded with a silent group of chastened boys for the rest of the walk.
Upon reaching the car, Pam pressed the button to unlock the trunk. Jeremy was reaching for the rear door when she stopped him. “Why don't you sit in the front seat?” she said, well-aware that his teammates were still watching. She tossed the mesh bag into the trunk.
“I mean, I'm not even twelve yet. Aren't you supposed to be at least thirteen to ride in front?”
“Since when did you start caring about the rules?” she asked.
He got in the front seat.
Pam slipped behind the wheel but paused before starting the car. “Sorry about kissing you back there. Are you mad at me?”
Jeremy shook his head. “Why would I be mad?”
“I thought maybe you were embarrassed by me.”
“I'm not embarrassed.”
Pam recalled her conversation with Kate yesterday in the living room. Perhaps it was true after all that he was growing up. She squeezed his knee. It was the one bare spot of accessible skin, discolored with grass stains, between his soccer shorts and shin guards. “Let's get going. Got your seat belt on?”
The parking lot was a congested mess that took several minutes to navigate. They finally reached the exit but had to wait some more when Pam missed the green arrow to turn left. Another car pulled up alongside them at the red light. “Hey, that's Conor's car,” Jeremy noticed. He rolled down his window. “Hey Conor! How's the view from the back seat?”
“Shut up, Jeremy!” Conor shouted back.
“Don't be that way,” Jeremy admonished him. “One day you'll be big enough to ride in the front seat. One day.” Right on cue, the light turned green. Pam sped away as Jeremy chuckled to himself. “That was awesome.”
“Good job, Jeremy,” she approved.
“Tiger J,” he reminded her. He turned on the radio and fiddled with the knobs.
“Good job, Tiger J,” she said dutifully. “Want to get some drive-thru for dinner?”
“Really? You mean it?”
“Of course. We need to celebrate, right?” She knew Kate wouldn't approve, but at least they were going to a locally owned fast-food restaurant. They pulled into Atomic Age, a restaurant that befitted its name with old-fashioned signs and vintage uniforms for the staff. Circling the lot, Pam was relieved to see there wasn't a line at the drive-thru. She opened her car window. Instead of talk box, Atomic Age had a vintage rotary phone that customers used to place orders.
Pam lowered the volume of the car radio. “What do you want?” she asked, reaching for the phone.
“An Atomic Cheeseburger and Radioactive Fries,” he requested, referring to the restaurant's special sauce. “Can I have root beer too?”
Pam hesitated at first. “Okay, sure. Don't tell your mom about the root beer, okay?” After placing his order, she requested a grilled chicken sandwich and side salad for herself, knowing she would be able to pilfer some of his fries. She pulled up to the next window to pay and pick up their food. Once the soda was safely in the cup holder and the bag secured on his lap, she headed for the restaurant exit.
Jeremy looked out his window in alarm. “Wait! Where are we going?”
“We're going home,” Pam told him.
“Why? We should eat here.”
“In the parking lot?” Pam said, baffled. “Wouldn't you rather eat at home? At a table?”
“What's the point of getting drive-thru if you don't eat it in the car?” Jeremy insisted.
Giving in, she maneuvered the car into a parking spot outside the restaurant and turned off the engine. “I guess this might be the last warm night in a while,” she excused. “Plus those French smell pretty good.”
Jeremy opened the bag and inhaled deeply. “I love the smell of fast food. Don't you?”
“I like it too,” Pam said. “But nevertheless...” She opened the rest of the car windows. “This car might be six years old, but I'm trying to preserve the remnants of that new car smell,” she joked.
“Oh yeah,” Jeremy agreed. “New car smell is a good smell too.” He paused to unwrap his burger. “What else is there?”
“I like the smell of rain,” Pam volunteered. “Like that smell of wet dirt that hasn't turned to mud yet.”
“I like the smell of gasoline.” He took a bite of his burger and looked at her, waiting for her to take a turn.
“I like the smell of...” Pam trailed off. A few weeks ago, the two of them had returned home from soccer practice and played Call of Duty while Jeremy wore nothing but his shin guards. 'I like the smell of an eleven year old boy after soccer practice,' Pam wanted to say.
Of course she couldn't say that out loud. At least not without blushing. “I like the smell of grapefruit,” she offered.
Jeremy nodded as he chewed, waiting until he swallowed before talking. “I like the smell of a new can of tennis balls.” Now it was her turn again. Try as she might, her mind was stuck on the image of Jeremy in his shin guards. She was saved when he turned up the radio.
“Hey! This is our song!” Jeremy began emphatically rapping along with the radio. Pam eyed his soda cup. One of the drawbacks of Kate's healthy diet was that it made Jeremy very susceptible to sugar overload. Judging from his hyperactive rapping, he had already arrived.
“Your part is coming up,” he quickly reminded her in between a streaming chatter of words. Pam self-consciously cleared her throat and sang about the off-black Cadillac and bright city sky. Jeremy beamed with approval.
They finished eating. After tossing the trash in a nearby bin, Pam asked him if it was okay to go home yet. Jeremy, frantically playing air guitar to the radio, paused just long enough to give her a thumbs up. “I knew that root beer was a bad idea,” Pam thought to herself.
She turned down the volume of the radio so he could hear her. “When we get home, do you want to shower first and then do homework? Or homework then shower?”
“Neither! Can we go out for ice cream?”
“I think you've had enough sugar, Jeremy.”
“Tiger J wants sugar!” He turned the radio back up.
Exasperated, Pam turned the radio off. “Tiger J needs to get his homework done,” she said firmly.
Easier said than done. When they got home, Pam parked him at the dinner table with his homework but he wasted twenty minutes sulking before even getting started. Soccer hero + drive-thru sugar had created something of a monster. Pam had to threaten his videogame time to get him to finish, something she hadn't need to resort to in a long time. In a final act of defiance, Jeremy pouted and dilly-dallied when it was time to get ready for bed. She had to physically march him into the bathroom and then waited outside until she heard the shower running.
“I'm never letting him have soda again,” Pam muttered to herself. After tidying the kitchen, it was time for her own shower. She was enjoying the hot water when she heard a knock on the door. “Yes?” she called.
The door cracked open an inch. “Pam? It's me.”
“Yes, Jeremy, I know. What's up?”
“I'm out of toothpaste. Can I just skip brushing my teeth tonight?”
Pam shook her empty shampoo bottle in an attempt to get the last drops out. “Ha ha, nice try,” she told him. “Go to your mom's bathroom and use hers.”
“I can't. She has that weird toothpaste that leaves a rash on my lips.”
“All right, fine,” Pam sighed. “Just use mine.”
“Okay. Can I play video games until you're done in here?”
“No, just go ahead and take the toothpaste. Come in.”
“Um, you mean, like, right now?”
The bathroom door opened fully. Jeremy entered, cautiously, as if he were sneaking into a forbidden zone. Pam was busy working her hair into a healthy lather but she still caught him sneaking a peek through the clear glass door of the shower. She pretended not to notice.
“Um, which drawer do you keep the toothpaste in?” he asked.
“The middle drawer, top row.”
“This one?” he pointed. Jeremy glanced at her again, but not at her face.
“Uh huh.” She closed her eyes and began rinsing the shampoo from her hair. Pam wasn't surprised to see him still in the bathroom when she opened her eyes again. “You really don't want to brush your teeth tonight, do you?”
“Huh? Oh right.” He meekly exited the bathroom.
But less than a minute later, Jeremy was knocking on the door again. He poked his head into the bathroom before she answered. “Pam? I brought back the toothpaste for you.”
“Thanks, Jeremy. You can just leave it on the counter.” She noticed he had brought along his toothbrush, from which an oversize blob of toothpaste was precipitously dangling. “Geez, did you really need that much toothpaste? Hold it over the sink. It's about to fall off.”
Jeremy moved the toothbrush over the sink just in time. The toothpaste dripped from his toothbrush and plopped into the sink. “Oops,” he said. “I'll just get some more.”
“Use a little less this time,” Pam advised. “Think pea-sized.”
“Like this much?” he asked. He held up his toothbrush for her to see. “They use way more in the commercials.”
“That's plenty, trust me.”
He jammed the toothbrush in his mouth (“Finally,” she thought) and began brushing. He stole one last glance at her as he strolled out of the bathroom. “Hold up there,” she called after him. “I don't want you dripping toothpaste all over the hallway. Just finish brushing your teeth in here.”
“Okah,” Jeremy said, his voice muffled from the toothbrush. He came back into the bathroom. His back faced her now, but she saw his eyes wandering across her naked reflection in the mirror over the sink.
“Was this your plan all along?” she inquired.
“Wha oo you mean?” he asked innocently.
“Never mind. Brush gently, Jeremy. Or else you'll wear out your gums.”
He sighed and took his toothbrush out of his mouth. “You're always criticizing everything I do.”
“That's not true. Everything?”
“Maybe not everything. But a lot of things.” His eyes kept flicking back to her figure in the mirror. “I won a soccer game today, you know.”
“I remember. I let you sit in the front seat.”
He removed the toothbrush from his mouth for his retort. “Yeah, and then you made me do my homework.”
“But before that I also took you out for some drive-thru. You love getting drive-thru.”
“And now you're making me get ready for bed,” he said gloomily. “Remember when I saved you from that soccer ball?” Jeremy spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink and began rinsing.
Sometimes, Pam just couldn't understand his mood swings. How to cheer up an eleven year old boy? “Hey, do you think you could help me out in here?” she asked.
“Help what?” he said. He dried his face with her towel. Pam bit her lip and let it go.
“I need some help, um, soaping my back.” She slid open the glass door of the shower, sending out a billow of steam.
Jeremy hesitated. “Should I take off my clothes?”
“Yes? Unless you want to go to bed in wet pajamas.”
Jeremy undressed. Now it was Pam's turn to spy on him. She noted with satisfaction that there was barely any hesitation on his part before pulling down his underwear. In no time at all, Pam was joined in the shower by the naked young boy. Wafts of steam from the hot water hung in the air, encircling both of them in a fine mist before condensing in fat droplets on the tile. “What should I do?” Jeremy asked.
Pam handed him a container of shower gel. “Could you do my back?” she requested.
“Okay,” he said. “How come you use this and not a regular bar of soap?”
“I like this stuff better. It makes my skin really soft.”
He uncapped the bottle and squeezed out a handful of purple liquid. “It smells like strawberries,” he said, sniffing cautiously.
“Why do you think I always smell so nice?” She turned away, presenting him with her backside. Jeremy began dutifully scrubbing. His hands felt small and slippery against her skin. He traveled from her shoulders, down her spine, and all the way to her lower back before stopping a modest distance from the curve of her bum.
“Lower,” Pam asked. His hands moved downward, perhaps a half-inch.
With her encouragement, Jeremy applied the creamy shower gel to her rounded cheeks. Pam enjoyed the sensation of his small hands on her feminine curves. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that his eyes were mesmerized in his work. Another part of his body was keenly interested too, she noticed.
“Mmm, that feels nice,” Pam said. She turned to face him. “Could you do my front too?”
“Um, no problem,” he nodded. Pam placed both hands behind her neck, waiting while he fumbled with the bottle of shower gel. He started on her lower ribcage first, then her stomach. His fingers glided along her collarbone as he skipped the middle portion of her chest. Great gobs of sudsy lather were gliding down Pam's body now.
“Should I do, uh, everything?” Jeremy asked.
He began soaping her breasts. Tentatively at first, his fingertips barely making any contact, though Pam shivered as he glided over her nipples. Jeremy gradually grew bolder until his palms fully touched her as he worked. She smiled when she realized her breasts still dwarfed his small, cupped hands. A warm glow enveloped her senses.
“Is that good?” Jeremy asked.
It took Pam a second to realize he meant if that was enough. She decided to enjoy a moment of selfishness. “Could you do a little more right here?” she asked, pointing to her nipples. “I want them to be extra clean.” He obliged, eliciting another shiver from her. A deeper one this time.
Jeremy stopped. “Are you okay?”
“It's all right. You made me shiver is all.”
“No, it was a good shiver.” She smiled at him, letting that sink in. Jeremy smiled back, with a hint of pride in his eyes. They were suddenly conspirators.
Jeremy glanced at her crotch. “Um, do you shampoo the hair down there too?” he asked.
Pam had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “No, silly.” She detached the showerhead and handed it to him. “Help me rinse off?”
It took several passes until her chest was free of the shower gel that he has so lovingly applied. The water ran in rivulets across her skin and around her curves. Pam turned to let him do her backside. When she looked over her shoulder, she almost melted when she saw his expression. He was reverent. He was intoxicated.
“Did you get it all?” she asked.
“Maybe I should do your front again,” he ventured.
It clearly wasn't necessary, but Pam humored him. Holding her arms straight up, she let him enjoy an extra session with the showerhead, even when it became obvious that he was rinsing off parts that didn't need it. She could tell he was disappointed when it was finally time to turn off the water.
“Thank you, Jeremy,” she said, returning the showerhead to its proper place. They stepped out of the shower. Pam began drying herself off with the lone towel in the bathroom. “Did you need a towel too?” she asked him.
“I guess so,” he said looking at himself. “I'm not as wet as you though.”
“No, probably not,” Pam agreed. Though he had caught random sprays of water, Jeremy was more damp than anything else. His rusty hair had drooped a bit from the steam until it matted against his wet forehead. Another part of him, however, was not drooping at all. His erection stuck out like a hitchhiker's thumb as he watched her dry off.
“Did I do a good job?” he asked shyly.
Pam smiled. “See for yourself,” she said, turning to present her bum. Taking his wrist, Pam guided his hand over her skin. “Pretty soft, isn't it?”
“Yeah. Really soft.” Jeremy ran his fingers across her backside. In the mirror, Pam could see their reflection. What she saw sent a frisson of energy along her spine. Her body was slightly bent over at the waist, thrusting her perky cheeks in an undeniably sexual pose at a boy who was clearly younger than her. The curve of her full breasts and the darkened triangle of her pubic hair stood in stark relief to his gawky hairlessness.
Pam turned around again, this time taking him by the shoulders so they stood face to face. “Take a sniff here,” she said, moving her breast so close to his face that her nipple could feel the breath from his nostrils. “What do you smell?”
“Do you like it?” Her fingers intertwined in his damp hair as she held him close. Unable to resist, she glanced in the mirror again. He was a full two heads shorter than she was, but that just meant he stood perfectly at breast level.
“It smells really good,” he nodded.
Pam wrapped her towel around him. “Let me help dry you off,” she said, rubbing it across his shoulders and back. Jeremy stood patiently with his arms at his sides. Pam dropped to one knee to dry off his legs. Saving the best for last, she used the corner of the towel to gently dab at his jutting penis and globed scrotum. His perfectly hairless skin had turned the slightest shade of pink from the hot shower.
“Can I give it a kiss?” Pam asked, still crouching. “It's just so... cute.”
He looked embarrassed yet bemused. “Uh, okay,” Jeremy acquiesced.
His penis felt delightfully hot against her lips. It was just a peck, but Pam's head pounded so hard she thought she might pass out. She looked at Jeremy but he didn't say anything so she leaned in for another kiss. A lingering one. His skin was so soft that her lips glided effortlessly across its silky texture. Jeremy's hand gripped her shoulder as she knelt. Unable to help herself, Pam let his erection slip past her parted lips, her tongue wriggling against him. He tasted like a clean boy.
“Oh!” Jeremy said, jerking his hips away. Pam had never been so disappointed in her life as when his penis popped from her mouth.
“Sorry!” she apologized. “I couldn't help it.”
“A little bit.”
Pam reluctantly rose to her feet. She wrapped the towel around him before pulling on her robe. “Hey, I was thinking... maybe you're right. I criticize all the time and don't let you have enough fun. So to prove it, we can do anything you want until bedtime.” Pam tied her bathrobe in place. “But let me remind you, bedtime is in thirty minutes. No exceptions.”
“Anything. Within reason, of course.”
Jeremy thought a moment. “Hmm, what about ordering a pizza and rice crispies from Tommy's Piece 'o Pies?”
“We can do that.”
“Um, what about... playing dodge ball in the backyard?”
“We can do that.”
“What about... going to Walmart and buying me a BB gun?”
“Yes to the first part, no to the second.”
Pam leaned against the bathroom counter and looked at her bare wrist. “Look at that, twenty-eight minutes until bedtime. Are you just going to spend the time asking me hypothetical questions?”
Jeremy's eyes lit up. “Oh, I've got a good one! What about going to the drugstore and buying me a dirty magazine?”
“Uh, sure, I would do that. So what's your final decision?”
“Umm, I don't know.” Jeremy tapped his feet in unison. He did the same thing at the ice cream shop when he was trying to pick a flavor. “This is really hard to decide.”
“We could play Call of Duty,” Pam suggested.
Jeremy shrugged. “Yeah, but I know you would do that. It has to be something you wouldn't normally let me do.” Pam blushed as he saw straight through her ruse. “How about we...” The wheels turned in his head. “Can we watch a movie on your computer? And snuggle? In your room?”
Pam ticked off her responses on her fingers. “Yes, yes, no. You know my room is off limits. We can watch in the living room.”
“But you said anything I wanted,” Jeremy complained.
“Your room is within reason,” Jeremy argued. “I think your room being off limits is completely arbitrary.”
Pam held up her hands. “Whoa, stop the bus. Did you just the word 'arbitrary' in a sentence? Correctly, no less?”
“It was in last week's vocabulary test for my English class.”
“Aren't you the smart one.” Perhaps it was crazy, but Pam realized she liked it better when Jeremy questioned her authority by whining instead of employing logic. It was much easier to shut him down when it was the former. As it was, she found herself wavering. Kate's night shifts at the hospital were fairly predictable. She sometimes came home early. But never before midnight. And it was only nine o'clock besides. A small voice spoke inside her head. What was the harm?
“Come on, please?” Jeremy took her hand and squeezed.
That did it. “All right, if that's really what you want,” Pam caved in, well aware that her raging hormones were playing a significant part in the decision. She led him to her room. “But thirty minutes is not long enough to finish a movie, you know.”
She closed her bedroom door. Her heart skipped a beat at the sound of its soft click. Despite the fact that it was still the Prater's home, her bedroom was very much her sanctuary. She considered it her private space and Kate respected that. She had never invited Jeremy inside before this moment. It suddenly occurred to her how charming it was that, granted an open-ended wish, the eleven year old has asked for this.
Pam pulled open a dresser drawer to find some pajamas. But then she remembered how much fun Jeremy had soaping her up in the shower. Wanting to take things further, Pam undid her bathrobe. Hesitating only for a split second, she slipped it from her shoulders and hung it on a hook behind the door. Then she grabbed her laptop from the desk and slithered into bed, naked as a jaybird.
“Come on, are you getting in?” she said, throwing aside the covers to invite him in. She felt her nipples hardening as the cool air met her bare breasts.
Jeremy looked unsure. “Um, should I just keep wearing this?” He gestured at the damp towel around his shoulders.
“Just hang it up on my chair,” Pam said nonchalantly. She pretended to be engrossed in typing her password.
He did as she directed. Now naked as well, Jeremy gingerly got into her bed. “Brrr!” he said. “These sheets are cold!”
“I know, I haven't had the chance to switch to flannel yet,” Pam said apologetically. “I bet we'll warm up if we go like this...” Laying down, she pulled the covers over both of them before placing the laptop on her blanket-clad stomach. After that, it was only a matter of getting Jeremy situated as he nestled into the crook of her arm.
“Can you see the screen?” she asked. His head rested against her shoulder, his cheek against her collarbone.
“Um, yeah,” Jeremy said.
“You can scoot a little closer. It'll be warmer that way.” Jeremy shyly inched closer until Pam could feel his erection poking her thigh. Her breast was mashed against his skinny chest but it was not at all unpleasant. “Snuggling and watching a movie in my room. That's what you asked for, right?” She planted a kiss his forehead. “What do you want to watch?”
“Can we watch the first Iron Man movie?”
“Sure. Let me pull it up.” Her arm, cradling the young boy, wasn't able to reach the laptop so Pam had to make do with one-handed typing. After a few tries, the movie finally started playing.
“Are you comfy?” Pam asked.
“Uh huh.” His toes tickled her shins under the covers.
Despite having seen the movie countless times, he was thoroughly engrossed. Pam herself was not terribly interested in the movie. She was, however, greatly interested in the hard knob of flesh that had not stopped poking her ever since they began cuddling. Her one hand held the laptop steady on her stomach, but the other was free to stroke the soft skin of Jeremy's hips as he rested in the crook of her arm. His pelvic bone jutted out so much from his skinny frame that it was easy for her to trace its contours. But as nice as that was, she wanted to touch more.
It was frustrating. Try as she might, her arm simply would not bend enough to reach between his legs. Having no choice, Pam gently eased his hips downward, twisting him at the torso so his chest remained pressed at her side but his lower body lay flat on the bed.
Pam softly ran her fingers across his body, luxuriating in the contrast between his hard penis and squishy sack. It was a deeply enjoyable moment, the kind where Pam couldn't believe her luck. Here she was fondling her favorite young boy while he calmly snuggled at her side, absorbed in the movie and occasionally scratching his chin that rested right above her breast. She could even feel his exhalation, warm and teasing, on her bare chest.
Long minutes passed. Pam let her fingers roam across his soft skin, idly, as if she were in twiddling with her hair in a classroom. Other times she took a break and simply let her palm rest against his boy parts. The only thing that remained constant was Jeremy's erection which never once flagged. If that wasn't proof enough that he was enjoying the attention, he would occasionally pulse against her resting hand, urging her back into action.
They were at the thirty minute mark of the movie when something unexpected happened.
Jeremy let out a long breath. Pam thought he was sighing at first, but it was followed by another burst of warm air that swept against her skin like a warm summer breeze. “You all right?” she asked, worried about his heavy breathing. Was he sick? Jeremy's hand suddenly dug into her hip. Hard. It wasn't until then that she noticed his eyes were closed.
“Sorry!” he whispered, his voice shaky. His whole body shuddered once, then twice. “I couldn't help it!”
Pam had no idea that her casual touching had pushed him beyond the edge. “Oh, sweetie, it's okay,” she consoled. “Don't be sorry!” Her fingers curled around his penis, fondling it with firm but (she hoped) gentle strokes. She had never before brought Jeremy to orgasm without the aid of Coppertone and without the waving off motion. Deprived of both, she was amazed at how different the tactile experience could be. Pam felt every pulse, every contraction, every spasm beneath her fingers. It was wonderful to be so intimately aware of his most intimate moment.
The movie continued on her laptop, though now completely ignored. A seemingly endless series of shivers wracked Jeremy's body, each one transmitted to Pam as he tightly clutched her. His cheek nuzzled her chest in time with the waves of his orgasm, his barely parted lips making a quiet “uhhh, uhhh...” sound. Pam had never heard him make these noises, vocalizations that fell somewhere between moans and whimpers. She mentally filed away the noises, knowing she would breathlessly recall them the next time she was alone with a free moment.
At last, Jeremy emitted a deep and satisfied sigh before going limp in her arms. An explosion and gunfire sounded from the laptop speakers, but he did not stir. Pam quickly paused the movie and slid the computer off her stomach. Jeremy took advantage of the extra real estate to clasp an arm around her torso. His face burrowed a little deeper into her chest.
The reality of the situation unfortunately tugged Pam back from the hazy depths of her arousal. “Hey,” she whispered, nudging him. “Jeremy, don't fall asleep in here. You have to go back to your room. Okay?”
“Yuh,” Jeremy mumbled unintelligibly, his eyes closed. He yawned and did a face plant into the crook of her arm.
“What was that?” she shook him again. “Stay awake, please, just for a little bit? Come on, just sit up. I'll help you to your own comfy bed and...”
Jeremy interrupted her by clapping his hand over her mouth. Pam couldn't tell if he was being playful, but there was just enough force behind it to silence her next words. It would have been easy to pull his hand away, but Pam found this turn of events to be amazingly arousing. Surges of electricity crackled between her legs as she sniffed the boyish scent of his hand clamping her mouth shut.
The moment didn't last long, but it was enough to send Pam's hormones through the stratosphere. When it became clear that she would remain quiet, Jeremy pulled his hand away from her face. That disappointed Pam until he sleepily moved his hand onto her breast. Her nipple hardened under his fingers but she was fairly certain Jeremy didn't notice. Based on his breathing, it was obvious he had gone from half asleep to fully unconscious.
Pam kissed his forehead. “This is why I didn't want to do this in my room, little brat,” she whispered affectionately. Logically, she knew it would be best to haul the sleeping boy to his own room. But it felt so nice, having him attached to her like a barnacle.
“Just a few minutes,” Pam promised herself. “I just want to savor this moment.” She brushed aside the coppery-brown hair that covered his face. Was there anything better in life than a warm body on a chilly night? Pam wiggled her toes contentedly. It was one of those rare moments when everything in the world seemed utterly perfect.
Her eyelids, heavy with fatigue, swung shut. Blinking, Pam willed them back open. “I should really get up,” she thought. “Just... one... more.. minute...”
Pam awoke with a start. Why on earth was her bedside lamp still turned on? Groggily, she strained to reach the switch to extinguish the light. Her eyes immediately thanked her once the room plunged into darkness. There was also some cold and metallic pressing against her shoulder. Fumbling in the dark, Pam realized it was her computer. She closed it, placed it on the floor, and prayed that she would remember it was there in the morning when her feet swung off the bed.
Pulling the covers back on, Pam was just about to fall back asleep when she something moved on the bed. Had she let Whiskers into her room last night? There was the comforting feel of being spooned. By something with warm skin. Something that exhaled a ticklish breath on the back of her neck. Something that gently prodded her spine. Something...
“Jeremy!” Pam exclaimed, luckily remembering to modulate her voice to a whisper. Surely that had been a dream? She rolled over to face him. Upset by her movement, Jeremy murmured something she couldn't understand before cuddling closer. The contact of his skin against hers confirmed that they were both naked. He sighed quietly before resuming his muted snores.
Panicking, Pam blindly fumbled for her phone on the nightstand. It was 4:30 in the morning. Her heart clenched in fear. Had Kate come home last night? As if to answer, she heard the unmistakable sound of a kitchen cupboard closing.
“Oh shit.” Pam didn't bother whispering now. “Shit shit shit.”
She turned the bedside lamp back on. Squinting from the sudden light, Pam lurched out of bed and promptly stepped on her laptop. “Christ,” she groaned. Jeremy, unaware of the predicament, rolled onto his side to shield himself from the lamp's light and promptly fell back asleep. “Jeremy, wake up,” she whispered. “Your mom's home.” A woozy nausea descended as her body protested being snatched from its deep sleep. Pam skittered to her closet to find some clothes, her fingers trembling as she struggled to pull a t-shirt over her head.
But he remained motionless. What now? “Think,” Pam willed herself. The events of the previous evening whirred through her mind like a deck of shuffled cards. Had she left behind any incriminating evidence, save the naked eleven year old boy snoozing in her bed? As quietly as possible, she opened her bedroom door, looked left and right, and then crept to the bathroom once she confirmed the coast was clear. Jeremy's pajamas still lay in a crumpled pile on the bathroom floor. She plucked out his underwear and dumped the rest in the laundry chute before breathlessly tiptoeing back to her own room.
“Jeremy, wake up,” she commanded. “Put your underwear on. Please?” She shook his shoulder once, then twice. Nothing. Groaning inwardly, Pam pulled the covers off of him. She maneuvered his limp legs until each foot was planted in the leg holes of the underpants. After that, the only option was brute force to yank them up to his waist. Through it all, Jeremy mumbled a few incoherent protests but otherwise never opened his eyes.
“Okay, he's at least dressed,” Pam thought to herself. “Well, half-dressed. Now what? Do I stay in here?” She couldn't imagine going back to sleep. Simply having Jeremy present in her room was too troubling if Kate was home. No, she had to physically distance herself from him. Taking a deep breath, she opened her door and strode right into Kate in the hallway. Pam let out a small squeak of two parts surprise and one part terror.
“Sorry Pam!” Kate apologized. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
“Oh, hi Kate!” she said brightly. Too bright? Pam cleared her throat. “I didn't realize you were home.”
“I actually just got off my shift,” Kate said. She was carrying a mug of tea. “It was a crazy one for Thursday night. But now I'm finally home and off to bed.”
“Hope you get some rest,”Pam said. Her own body blocked the entrance to her room, but Pam closed the bedroom door anyway. If she were lucky, perhaps Kate would never know where Jeremy slept last night.
“Is Jeremy at Ashton's house or something?” Kate asked, dashing her hopes. “I noticed he's not in his bed.”
Pam was tempted to say yes. A sleepover at Ashton's was the perfect excuse! But that would raise further questions of why she allowed a sleepover on a school night. “No,” Pam answered. Her mind groped for an explanation. “Jeremy... had a bad dream. So he came to my room in the middle of the night.”
As if right on cue, the door behind her opened and Jeremy disapprovingly peered at them in all his shirtless and bare-legged glory. “Why are you guys having a conversation in the middle of the night?” he demanded, rubbing his eyes.
“Sorry kiddo, didn't mean to wake you up,” Kate said. “Heard you had a bad dream last night and had to sleep with Pam. Aren't you getting kind of old for that? And what happened to your pajamas?”
“Huh?” His confusion was evident.
“It's still really early, Jeremy,” Pam intervened. “Why don't you go back to sleep?”
“Maybe in your own bed,” added Kate, “since you're a big boy and...” She trailed off. Pam saw a funny expression crossing her face. Kate covered her mouth, hiding a smile. Pam was puzzled until Kate discreetly pointed at Jeremy's midsection.
His underwear tented so much that the cotton seemed in danger of bursting at the seams. Pam looked away as quickly as possible, then pretended to study her cuticles. No longer able to contain herself, Kate broke into a restrained giggle. “What's so funny?” Jeremy asked.
“Nothing,” Kate said. “Pam is right though. It's way too early for you to be awake.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Go ahead,” Kate stepped aside and ushered him down the hallway. “And then back to bed. Your OWN bed, please.” Jeremy mumbled an affirmative reply as he closed the bathroom door.
They both began chuckling the moment he was out of sight, although Pam's was more of a nervous laugh. Kate ran a weary hand through her hair. “Never a dull moment with him...” she sipped her tea. “I hope he didn't keep you up last night.”
“Not at all. I didn't even realize he was in my bed when I woke up,” she said truthfully.
“I'm glad you didn't wake up to THAT,” she said, gesturing toward the closed bathroom door. “Quite the ladies' man, isn't he?” Kate glanced at Pam, then laughed at her obvious discomfort.
“I wouldn't know,” Pam said, blushing.