Darren doesn't remember hearing the trucks, they must have come when he was super sick, with the high fever that didn't bother him much because it was amazing, feeling weightless and hovering over everything, like Iron Man.
Stephanie tells him he would nod at her without opening his eyes and say, “I am Iron Man.”
“You said that like two thousand times.” Stephanie is sitting on his bed watching him eat a Hot Pocket.
“I did not.” The Hot Pocket is too hot and he feels a piece of pepperoni burning the roof of his mouth. But it's better than the healthy stuff his mother is always bringing up to him and he shouldn't be mean to Stephanie since she was nice enough to smuggle him a Hot Pocket.
“You said, 'Whoosh,' too. It was kind of scary.”
“It was the fever.” He doesn't remember saying “Whoosh” or “I am Iron Man,” but he's sure Stephanie isn't making it up.
“Do people ever die from a high fever?”
“I don't know.”
“Suppose Mom and Dad hadn't taken you to the doctor?”
“Then I'd be dead. And you could have my room.”
Stephanie shakes her head. Darren's room is bigger than hers with a window that looks out to the second story of the house next door. “My view is better,” she says. “I hope I don't ever get mono.”
“It's not so bad. This is the worst part.” At first the novelty of having to stay upstairs in his bedroom was okay – lots of resting and watching TV and people bringing you meals on a tray. But now, a couple weeks in, it's boring. Fortnite, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, they blend together. He's binge watched “Stranger Things” so many times he can quote the dialogue along with the actors.
“It's lucky you didn't hear the trucks,” Stephanie says. “Or the noise. Mom told me the Vails demo-ed their whole master bath. At least it's done.”
He isn't sure what she's talking about. And he's tired. He could take a nap. Or watch the last season of “Stranger Things” again. Eleven is really cute. Why aren't there any girls as cute as Eleven at his high school?
Stephanie is looking out his window. “They haven't put curtains back up yet.”
Darren doesn't say anything. He's fallen asleep, the half-eaten Hot Pocket on the plate in front of him.
He thinks it's a scene from “Stranger Things” or maybe a dream, but the way things appear and disappear these days, who knows?
She's old. Not as old as his mother old, but way older than Stephanie or Eleven. He watches as she pulls her blonde hair up and over her head and twists a scrunchie around it.
He doesn't know her name. He thinks he heard his father refer to her as “Wife Three” and his mother said that wasn't very nice and they should at least learn her name and his father said, “What's the point? Wife Four is right around the corner.”
Her husband, Mr. Vail, seems nice enough. He's seriously old, grandparent-y old. Grey hair, but he's slim and fit and Darren sees him walking in the neighborhood a lot. “Keto,” he shouted out to Darren one morning and Darren waved back, not having the slightest idea what Keto meant.
Wife Three is standing in front of her bathroom window. The lights are on, but Darren's room is dark. It must be nighttime, Darren thinks, but he's never sure if it's day or night, stupid fever. He also can't remember if the Vail master bathroom used to have curtains. Or shutters. Snippets of his mother talking about the bathroom remodel come back to him, “At least $30,000 and I think they redid it five years ago, why throw away money like that?” “Yeah, who wouldn't love radiant floor heating?” “And of course they went with granite, Mrs. Vail told me it – the same granite Tina Fey used for her beach house, big deal.”
He props himself up on his pillows and notices a gigantic glass-walled shower, big enough to fit a dozen people. Darren and Stephanie used to share a bathroom until one day she told her parents it was too gross so she uses the guest room bathroom now – score for Darren because he has a bathroom to himself.
He closes his eyes and wonders if he should nap. Wife Three is pretty, he's never really noticed her before. His mother said something about how she teaches Hot Yoga, whatever that is. She's reaching for something, oh, a button on her shirt. She undoes the top button. Interesting. For a second, maybe less than a second if there's such a thing, Darren considers looking away.
One button, two, three buttons, she allows her shirt to slip to the floor. Darren realizes he's holding his breath.
She's wearing a bra, but not like one of his sister's bras (he saw once by accident, gross!). This one is black and lacy and a little sparkly. It pushes her breasts up towards her neck. Her rather large breasts.
Breasts. Boobs. Titties.
Oh, shit. He should close his eyes. Pull the covers over his head. This has got to be some kind of sin, right?
She reaches around to her back. Her arms are strong and muscular, must be the Hot Yoga.
So what if it's a sin? Fuck it.
She's going to take off the bra.
It's not a sin, it's a test, like he's on a TV show. When the mono was really bad, they put hidden cameras in his room and now they're waiting to see how long it is before he says anything. All he has to do is tell the producer, “Okay, I know what you're up to. I'm not going to watch so you can turn off the cameras. Ha ha, joke's on me.”
She's biting her bottom lip. Even from a distance he can see the white of her teeth against her lip. Uh-oh, it looks like the bra is hard to take off. I could volunteer. Climb up your trellis, Wife Three, and help you remove your bra and you'll let me touch your tits as a thank you, right? Please?
The bra drops. Darren is sure he's stopped breathing. Are his lungs even working to full capacity these days? Shit, it would suck to die right now because of some kind of mono-induced lung failure.
Her breasts are glorious. Round and perfect and for some reason he thinks of volleyballs, only soft delicious flesh-colored volleyballs with round pink nipples, nipples he'd like to kiss only maybe it's the fever talking again. He closes his eyes. When he opens them again, she'll be gone. Poof.
When he opens his eyes, the bathroom is empty. Good, he thinks. Because even though it's crushingly disappointing, at least he knows it was just the fever and he's getting better. See? I can make the imaginary naked woman go away if I want. Although I should have waited a little bit longer.
She appears again, stepping into the giant shower. She turns on the water and steps out. Approaches the window. Does she know he's watching her? He sinks back into his pillows and tries to be invisible.
She's moving towards the window, closer and closer until her breasts are pressing against the glass. Round and glorious, the nipples flat. Curving, looping volleyballs, a series of circles and he remembers learning about the radius of a circle in math class, but why the fuck is he thinking about the radius of a circle right now? When she steps back, her nipples are hard and pink, pencil erasers.
Behind her, the shower is filled with steam.
He is slipping away again, he feels the feathers in his pillows begin to move, floating up towards the ceiling, and he is lost in a snowstorm of down.
He's not sure when his mother comes in to check on him. “You're burning up,” she says. “I'll get an ice pack.”
He thinks he says thank you. The feathers are back inside the pillow now, that's a good thing. The light in the bathroom next door is out, that's also a good thing.
Later he imagines hearing shouting from next door – Mr. Vail and Wife Three, now wearing a fluffy robe. “I wanted six,” he hears her say.
“Nobody needs six shower heads.” Mr. Vail's voice sounds low and hard.
“And only two hand showers.”
“You got your overhead rainfall shower.”
He sees Mr. Vail moving close to Wife Three. He's much taller than she is.
“You said you'd give me anything I wanted.”
“That was before I knew you were a greedy bitch.” Mr. Vail grabs Wife Three's wrist. Her robe opens and if he wanted to, Darren could probably see her breasts again.
But the feathers are fluttering and he pushes the cold pack against his forehead to make them go away.
When he's finally better and eating breakfast at the kitchen table, his mother asks if he's heard the trucks.
“I thought they finished the bathroom,” he says.
“They're doing it again, can you believe it? I ran into Mrs. Vail the other day and she told me. Something about the shower.”
“Mr. Vail said it was okay?”
“I don't know. We haven't seen him, he's on vacation,” his mother says. “Mrs. Vail told us he left a week ago.”
“Probably on the hunt for Wife Four,” Darren's father says, not looking up from the sports page.
“She said she's not sure when he's coming back.” His mother hands him a piece of toast. “Eat up, you look like skin and bones.”
Ann Lewis Hamilton is a writer living in California.