Sunday was a work day, but not a fun one – the manager was there due to the assistant suddenly quitting. Or being fired. She was close-lipped but for telling us the former assistant was 'no longer with the company'. Bitch also put my stash back on the shelves.
I was folding some jeans when Kari's grandparents came in with her little twinkie brother. The boy is too skinny for me, kind of angular like Bruce, but that doesn't mean he's not seriously cute. Kari introduced me and I made a lewd wink at her brother just to rile him, but he surprised me by pantomiming me. I like this kid.
Moments later Bruce came in, and he didn't even try to pretend he was looking for clothes. He made a straight line to me, and I held my hand up.
“No. Not going to do it. She already wants to sacrifice me on the alter of whatever unholy thing you guys have going on. Not today, Satan!” I said to him and started wagging my finger back and forth.
“Ah, come on, Hunter!” he whined, smiling at me. “It's going pretty good!”
“Bruce – she wants my nuts for earrings as it is. I can't be seen with you,” I told him. I glanced down at him then up. “But since you're wearing those sweats that hug your butt, I will watch you walk away.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You've checked out my butt?”
I scoffed. “Of course.”
He opened his mouth, but instead of whatever he'd planned, the voice of hell itself washed over us. “I knew it! Stop fucking helping him! I'll fucking kill you!”
I sighed. “Damn it, Bruce.” The next five minutes was just a bad trashy moment. Andy left in front of Bruce, but I had no doubt he'd calm her, because he was really why she was so wound up. Bruce did that to her.
At least I got to check his ass out as they left. I also checked out Kari's twinkie brother leaving, and for a skinny guy, he's got an ass on him.
Monday morning Andy still was barely speaking to me, and I guessed that might be because she was officially dating someone for the first time and madder than a wet hen about it. I mean, if Bruce meeting us in the school parking lot was any indication. He gave me a little chin jut in greeting, smiled and then turned to his lady fair, who was glaring at me.
Some people just don't want to be happy. I was, though, because I got to check out Bruce's butt again.
That was the way of things until Wednesday; I planned my costume, Andy mostly ignored me, Bruce seemed very happy with events, and my dad brought me some damaged conduit to work with. At least Andy wasn't stressed with finals, which kicked off that Thursday, and I don't mind saying I was sweating a little. It didn't help that I'd stayed up the night before to study, and Andy had been giving me shit. Again.
“I don't know why you're so resistant to getting laid,” she'd said, lounging in my doorway in an attempt to look casual – which she totally failed at.
I looked at her with my chin down. “With who? I won't want anything from any of these people. I will never be at a reunion because I don't want to see them again. Why would I choose someone from this group that has left me so freaking miserable for so long?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you shove me under the bus with Bruce?”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Because you liked him already? Have fucked him already? He likes you back? Seemed pretty low risk to me.”
“So all this is over Brett.”
I looked away from her. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“You know. Brett. The guy that you used to blow. Your first boyfriend.”
I forced a breath slowly through my nose. “As it ended up, we were never boyfriends.”
“But you liked blowing him.”
“So. There are a ton of guys from school, and I'm pretty sure they all have dicks.”
I glared at her.
“I can see if Bruce will take one for the team.”
“Go where your vag has gone? Pass,” I said with a snort.
“But you like Bruce,” she said, teasing.
I rubbed my forehead. “What do you want? I thought you were ignoring me.”
“Oh, no. I'm just working my angles for revenge.”
“For what? You having a successful relationship?” I asked with a snort.
“You forced it.”
I must really have a death wish. “Where did he take you for a date?”
She stared for a minute. “I refused anyplace fancy.”
“I told him I wouldn't dress up.”
“I don't think he'd ask you to.”
She looked like she was grinding her teeth. “We went for ice cream.”
“Well, that'll make page six,” I said with a roll of my eyes.
“Dick,” she said and turned to go.
“How you can get ice cream and dick and still be unhappy I don't know.”
She paused, straightened her back and left the room, closing the door harder than necessary. I heard her clop down the stairs and I sighed. I should have left the Bruce thing alone. My romantic nature always got me into trouble...and Brett had been the biggest black eye for my efforts. He wasn't romantic himself, but the idea of him had been. It was a classic porn story – jock meets artistic nerd, delicious tension, then there are a few blow jobs – and the unavoidable tragic ending.
I can still see him fixing me with eyes that I had always thought were so soulful, and right then looking dead and hard as a stone. His dad was reassigned – military – and he was leaving. He didn't want to stay in touch because I couldn't give him blow jobs through a phone. He actually said that. We fought. I demanded for him to say he hadn't loved me and he did say that – that he never had. He wasn't gay, just happy to have a constant place to park his dick.
I didn't cry until I'd left him behind, but to say my heart had been broken was an understatement. I had been dreaming big – school dances, driving out and parking under the stars to make love by candlelight – although I admit I rethought that last bit. The candles might fall off the side of the truck and depending where we parked, it could have been a huge fire. This is also what I mean when I say I can't even dream the right way – always having stuff come up to block me.
I did learn, though. Relationships...they're for other people. I couldn't even tell whether someone was gay when I had my mouth on his dick – which I'd thought was a pretty good indicator! I'd felt stupid, betrayed by both him and my heart – so I don't usually listen to either of them. Brett did reach out a few months after he left, but I never read his messages. I admit listening to my heart about Bruce was a mistake – look at how much grief Andy was giving me.
My mother's voice could travel through concrete. I stood and went to my doorway, leaning out to project down the stairs.
“Come here, please,” she said in a clipped tone, which meant she wasn't happy. Andy ascended the stairs with a smug look and I had to wonder what fresh hell she was opening up for me.
“Coming,” I called. Looking at her I demanded, “What did you do?”
“Just continuing to get even,” she said with more snark than I thought she had.
I went downstairs, figuring I'd never get back to looking at my studying the way the night was going. My parents were in the living room, the TV was muted and mom had her tablet out.
“Hunter, would you please explain this?” my mom asked and handed me her tablet.
I frowned and accepted it, turning the screen to face me. I looked back from the screen – I mean, it was a picture of me – in running shorts, sitting and tying my shoes. I was trying to be sexy, and frankly the more skin you show the more looks you get, but come on – this wasn't even racy.
“Well, I was going for an athletic vibe in this one. I can't really do motion – like maybe with a treadmill, but this was all I could think of. Why?” I looked up at her and she clearly thought I was screwing with her.
“Hunter, why do you have pictures of yourself on Only Fans?” my dad asked, sounding tired.
“Well...people will pay for them,” I said, trying to not sound like that was sleazy in some way. Because as far as I can tell everyone whores themselves out one way or another – what's the difference if it's in front of a camera versus for some corporation?
“Son....” My father seemed speechless.
“Hunter, firstly you're a minor,” my mother began.
“I don't post nudes or anything,” I said.
“Well, thank goodness for tender mercies,” my father muttered.
“I don't see the big deal,” I said with irritation. “If you take your shirt off or wear shorts or go barefoot, pictures get more likes. I'm just asking people to pay for that instead of putting it up there for free. I'd have posted the same things on my Instagram and it would have been completely within the rules; this just gets me some income.”
My parents looked at each other and then my mom looked up at me. “I'd like to see your account.”
Resentment at my sister flared, and irritation at my parents as well. “Okay.”
She handed me her tablet and I set to logging into my account.
“Son, I don't know if it's such a good idea for you to put things like that out there for everyone to see. People may get the wrong idea,” my dad said.
“They aren't porn or anything,” I said defensively. “I'm not comfortable showing off like that, anyway.”
“But it can have negative repercussions,” my dad said. “Future employers may not look positively at that.”
“Some might be more interested that I used tools at my disposal to move ahead. That shows initiative,” I countered and handed the tablet to my mom.
“But...selling your body?” my dad demanded.
“You do that everyday by going to work, lifting heavy crap and letting all those people take a mental toll on you,” I replied. “You come home everyday and pop ibuprofen and tell mom how much of a jerk this guy was or that guy or your boss. How is it different?”
“You're getting philosophical,” my mother murmured as she skimmed the images on my account. Looking up she said, “There are different ways of doing the same thing, and some ways are more acceptable than others. What you're saying is true in theory, but it's certainly not the future your dad and I would want for you.”
“I thought you just wanted me to be happy?”
“And clothed,” my mother added with a tight smile. “So these images, I can see what you're saying – they aren't risqué. The guys that are paying for them have to be asking you for more revealing things. I don't want to see you heading down that path.”
I crossed my arms. “I'm not posting nudes, if that's what you mean. If they put dumb stuff up there, I just delete it. It's not like I'm dating any of them.” It's also not how I met Gary, I thought.
“And yet...I'm not against people making money in this way on a philosophical level,” my mother said, before looking up at me. “But it changes when it's my child.”
“If I was posting them for free, that'd be okay? But because they pay me for the same thing, it's wrong?”
My dad leaned forward. “It's more a question of degrees. The slippery slope argument. Today it's tame stuff that you get a few bucks for. Tomorrow you're not getting the same bucks, so you take off something else. Where does that end?”
“It ends with me still wearing clothes because I'm not comfortable with anyone seeing me naked.” God, I can't believe I have to say that out loud.
“But then the money dries up. What then?” my dad persisted.
“Social media isn't all about the money, Dad,” I said. “Look, you manage these followers so that you have a large number of them. Yeah, sometimes you can monetize them, but other times it creates other opportunities. Like I'll be able to use my designs to help make a portfolio for college if I want to do design or be in costume creation. If someone higher up sees I have a large following and they have similar themes, then they may want to collaborate, which puts me in touch with professionals I wouldn't have met otherwise. It's like networking, but you know, modern. We don't hand a fax to a dinosaur and send it over anymore, you know?”
“Carrier pigeon,” my mother said distractedly as she scrolled on her screen. “What about these people asking to buy your underwear?”
My mother looked up at me, over her glasses. “There seems to be a lot of that.”
“Yeah, socks too. It's a fetish. One I think is gross, but whatever. They can say that, and they follow me, and that's what they are good for. Oh, and by the way, Andy knows all this so I don't know why she's ratting me out now.”
My mother shared a look with my father before turning her gaze back to me. “I want access to this as long as you are here. I hate the idea of you undressing for money.”
I crossed my arms. “That's amazingly intrusive and completely not trusting me. If I wanted to send nudes – which I totally don't – then I have a phone. What I'm saying is, you couldn't stop it. This is a pointless attempt to gain control over something you can't control.”
Dryly she said, “You do realize that argument makes me want to put all your electronics in a microwave and lock you up in the root cellar?”
“We don't have a root cellar,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “Look. I hate you looking at everything I do, because it implies you don't trust me.”
“I do, but I also recognize you don't know as much about the world as you think you do – just because you understand electronic communication better than we do,” she said. “Next thing I know, you'll have some sugar daddy buying you a car and trying to keep you sequestered in an apartment and not going to school in the fall like you should. Why are you blushing so much?”
“Because you're embarrassing? And because I'm going to flatten Andy's tires for giving me this much grief?”
My dad grunted and looked at me. “You two are usually thick as thieves. What did you do to rile her up?”
“Got her a boyfriend.”
His jaw dropped. “Why did you do that?”
“Because they like each other and she just didn't want to admit it? And now she's mad at me because they are dating and happy and my sister can't do happy,” I said in frustration. “I mean, God! He knows what kind of engine is in her truck – he likes her!”
My dad raised his eyebrows. “That's serious. Then again, she tells everyone what sort of engine she has in that thing.”
I tapped the side of my head. “He listened and remembered.”
Dad grunted again. “That's serious.” He looked up at me. “You had this coming.”
“What?” I demanded. “How?”
My mother chuckled. “You interfered with her, now she interferes with you.” She sighed. “Okay. I'll compromise, only because I do actually trust you more than you're stomping your feet and whining about,” she said, smirking. I do mean that in the proper definition too – it was a knowing, shitty smile that said she thought she knew more about he situation than she did. Shit. Does she actually know about Gary? I shivered at the thought.
“What's this compromise?” I asked warily.
“I won't ask for passwords, but I want this free account thing so I can verify that you're not going too far.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. But then you have to register for Only Fans, and you can never, ever tell anyone that you – my mother – have an Only Fans account.”
My mother looked at my father. “People take their clothes off on here. Think we could make a buck?”
“If you're taking clothes off, Rose, I'm in,” my dad said with a leer that was really disturbing.
“Going to kill my sister now.” I turned on my heel and headed back upstairs. I poked my head in her room. “You know I was going to tell Bruce the best way to get to you would be to deny you sex, but I figured with finals and everything that would be cruel. Now I'm reconsidering my choices and thinking I didn't go far enough.”
“You interfered,” she said.
“Andy...he was being so sweet I low-key wanted to do him myself. You know you can walk away anytime.”
She pursed her lips and looked up at me. “I'm not sure I can. And I don't like that.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay.”
She let out a breath. “I'll stop being such a bitch.”
“I won't give Bruce any more ways to make you happy.”
She nodded and I retreated. People. We're so fucked up.
I got to work early Saturday morning so I could drink my coffee in peace while I hunted up as many of my stash items as I could find and looked for a better hiding place. I wish I had lower standards so I could just steal the clothes, but I'd feel guilty. I mean, I could probably get over it, but still. Guilt is a real bitch.
My morning co-workers ended up being Kari and Will. Will is a college student who fits skinny jeans because he's a twig who can eat like a pig – carbs, sugar, entire farm animals – and never gains. And he has the nerve to complain about it. I'm like, if I even look at his plate I feel myself gaining enough mass to crack the sidewalk. He's got this great, floppy head of dark hair, good fashion sense, straight as a Baptist preacher and nicer than a box of puppies.
“Anita found your stash, huh?” Will asked as he noted my pile.
“Yeah. She delights in putting things back and threatening to fire me, but I think she likes the depressed look I get when she puts my shit back too much to actually, you know, fire me.”
He chuckled at me. “You should do what I do.”
“And that is?”
“Put your stuff in a toilet paper box over the bathroom.”
Because we were an outlet mall with a door facing the literal outside, we didn't have public bathrooms. But in our back room there was an employees unisex bathroom – and storage overhead where we kept supplies for the bathroom. I mean you literally had to use a ladder to climb up to the ceiling of the bathroom, and that's where we kept supplies.
“That...is genius,” I said, truly impressed.
“Hide in plain sight,” he said with a foppish grin. And yeah, he embodied my idea of the word foppish, which I only heard about in some British TV series; it sounded like bunny ears to me. Soft, kind of cuddly and funny all in one. Of course, that's probably not the meaning at all, but then I'm not British, so how would I know? And since we American's don't care about proper English, I guess it doesn't matter if I used a British word properly. Right?
Ugh. No. Not right. I'll have to look up foppish, now. I actually like words. I'm a bad American.
Kari's cute brother was there with...dads? Kari had dads? One was her brother, but he was married and doing the dad thing, but still brother and brother-in-law. Right? Her older brother was college agey and preppily pretty – I could do him. His husband – if I had this right – seemed more reserved, but I'll bet he had it where it counts. Although...the younger one looks kind of young to be Kari's dad..That must make things awkward when it comes to introductions, given her parents were dead. I wonder how they handle that? Bluntly stating the situation or trying to obfuscate and hope people are polite enough not to dig? I hate it when I have questions that are too personal to ask and too interesting to just let go. I won't think about this again until it's time to go to sleep, and then I'll be stuck on it until three AM.
I waited for Kari to settle in before I circled over to her under the guise of needing to straighten a display of artfully slashed jeans.
“So. Who was the hot guy with you this morning?”
She tilted her head and appeared deep in thought. “You know Issac, and I can't think of anyone calling him hot,” she began, going through her choices. “There was my brother and – eww, okay? I'm not sure Brandon makes any of this less cringe, but okay. What's your question?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Your brother, your brother and Brandon is who dropped you off? Is this some weird game show?” I looked around wildly. “Where's the camera? You need my consent to post this!”
She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. “Please. You'd love the attention.”
I leaned in closer. “Am I that transparent?”
She laughed at me. “You know Isaac. I'll introduce you next time, as long as you don't drool,” she said with a laugh at my stricken expression. “My brother, Hal, is married to Brandon. Isaac is technically my nephew by marriage, but we're the same age and he likes to tell everyone I'm his sister-aunt, like that sister-wife shit. He's a brat.”
“I think there is a clause in the little brother contract that specifically states he must be a brat to his older siblings,” I said with an attempt to sound sage. “So, non-traditional home life then. Is it fun?”
“Excuse me,” a lady with a severe expression and a pretty girl beside her said to us. “Do either of you work here?”
“Only between coffee breaks,” I said with a wide smile. “How can I help you?”
As a retail employee the road to hell is paved with phrases like 'How can I help you?' because some people, like my sister for instance, clearly do not actually want help. Severe lady was trying to discount every clothing choice the pretty girl with her was making, and I wasn't having any of it. I kept up a steady stream of compliments for everything the girl liked and thoroughly annoyed Ms. Severe Expression. I was kind of tired before I handed them off to Will at the register.
Of course I'd lost my momentum with Kari's family situation. It could be exciting. They could be international thieves on the run and dropping off stacks of hundred dollar bills when they could spare the time, I guess. I mean, if they hadn't passed away. Again, can't dream appropriately or whatever that would be called. A little ghoulish I guess.
Sometimes it's a curse to be imaginative.
I spent part of my morning in the back room, moving some toilet paper into the bathroom to make enough room for me to stash my, erm, stash in the hide-in-plain-sight hiding place that Will so brilliantly thought of. I should do something nice for him if only because he wouldn't be interested in me doing something nice to him. Of course that was part of his appeal – I couldn't have him.
After work I headed home and had something to eat before gathering up my gears and heading to the workshop. It took me almost forty minutes to find the spot-welder, and then to clear enough space to use it without the possibility of welding myself, somehow. My plan was to put two to three of the smallish gears together at a time to make a clockwork tiara of sorts. There were a few rods with gears that I could use as a kind of connector – welded in place, of course - and then add some metal stock to each end so I could secure it under my hair.
The next part would be more difficult. I needed to grind the back of the gears so that they would be flat, and then I could use spirit gum or a similar adhesive to stick them to my skin – I was even thinking of a trail of increasingly smaller gears trailing down from one eye like mechanical teardrops. Oh, that would be so cool!
I set about my spot welding, then wasted another hour looking for the materials to braze the metal stock to the end of the clockwork tiara, then I bent the metal stock so it would sit-slash-be secured to my head long enough for a photo shoot. Then I started grinding the backs of the gears – lost a few in that process because, let's face it, something that small going off flying into the air in that workshop was never to be seen again.
I decided to forego the idea of putting gears over my nipples or surrounding them as Andy had suggested, because my nipples weren't the point. I mean they could be if they got cold, but not really what I was trying to do here. Instead I took some gears, fresh from grinding their backs flat, and tacked them together in small groups that I could put on my chest and stomach to simulate being my innards. If I were or knew a good artist, I'd draw in something complementary on my skin to make the gears look more real – or the idea that they were actually my guts look more real. Something like that.
But I wasn't and I didn't, so I wouldn't.
Now. Would this be a waist-up shot? Skin sells, so if I wore something skimpy and added some gears – Jesus, did I have enough gears for all this? Panicked, I sorted through what remained. I was marginally reassured that I could still do this – I would just have to be careful. Or I could add more gears to my torso and forgo the sexy underwear part. Hmm. Given the parental interference that was probably wise, but that just irritated me.
Oh. Maybe black boxer briefs with some gears drawn on in glitter or paint pen – note to self, avoid the crotch area with that stuff – and then maybe a few gears on my thighs? That might be more interesting. I whiled away the afternoon working out how to best use my remaining gears and wondering if I should sacrifice a pair of underwear I owned for this or if I should buy some cheapies and modify those.
Sunday was another work day, but I ended up studying that evening instead of working on my project. Monday through Thursday were final exams, and I can't stress enough how stressful they were and how much I wanted this to be over. Thursday night I was lying on my bed, sketching – badly – the way my gears would be placed on my body and thinking about making stencils to paint the gears onto the underwear I'd bought for the occasion, when Andy wandered into my room.
“Are you lost?” I asked.
She held up two fingers. “Peace.”
Ah. The formal end of hostilities. “Glad that's over with.”
She frowned as she took up a space beside me to lounge. “You shouldn't have done it.”
I sighed. “Maybe you're right. If it's any consolation, my meddling came from a good place. He's really sweet when he's being romantic, and you know how defenseless I am against that.”
“It is a pretty deep character flaw,” she said.
“Yeah. Screwing with someone's life and then justifying it through your own flaws means it has to be a pretty damn big flaw. No self control, you know?” She turned her head slightly to look at me from the corner of her eye.
I sighed again. “Okay. Maybe it is a sizable flaw.”
“What are you working on?”
I turned my pad to her and detailed what I'd come up with so far. We spent the next thirty minutes or so going over ideas, but it was pretty much what I thought I wanted to do. I wanted to ask her how things were with Bruce, but putting my head in the lion's mouth seemed kind of stupid at this stage – not that I usually let that stop me.
“Stress relief party this Saturday. Last one we'll have,” she said quietly.
“Last one at the Montgomery house, anyway,” I said. “I'm sure we'll keep up the tradition for ourselves.”
She grunted. “Not the same. Everything is changing. I thought it would start in a few weeks, after school ended, but really you can see it all happening now. The end of some things. The uncertain beginnings of something else to take its place – or not. Some things will just end. If they change – like the party – they won't be recognizable.”
“I thought you don't really like the stress relief parties?”
“I don't. But...in a strange way, I'll miss them, too. The predictable lameness of them.”
I scrunched my lips up. “I'm not sure you're allowed to miss something you don't actually like.”
She shrugged. “Still happens. I missed you, so there's the proof.”
“I can see this is still a fresh wound,” I said, trying to sound worldly. She put her lips together and made a farting noise. Pure class, that one.