Once I saw a boy who was not stupid


"Wow," said Mahandra, looking around at the knitted afghans on the overstuffed sofa, the wooden cat that read A Home is Made of Purrfectly Loving Hearts, the Hummels on the fireplace, the moose-shaped suncatcher. "This is so not what I think of when I think 'Karen Tyler'."

Aaron stepped up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. "She had the decorator do this place in 'vacation chic'," he said. "And this is what she got. Let's not talk about my mom, mmkay?" He nibbled on her earlobe.

Mahandra turned in his arms and kissed him. For several minutes, she was lost in the warmth of his lips, the feel of his arms gripping her, sliding down to her butt. Finally she pulled back. "It's just... it's just so cute," she said. "Can you imagine what Jaye would say?"

"I don't have to imagine what Jaye would say," said Aaron, leaning down to lick her neck. "I heard Jaye say it herself, every summer for years, until she got old enough to refuse to come." He ran his hand up her side and cupped her breast. "We're alone. We're in Maine. You're not at work; I didn't bring my research. Do we have to talk about my family?"

Mahandra smiled into his hair "Good point," she said, and gripped his hips. This time she didn't call a halt to the kiss.

Until, that is, the moose suncatcher said, "You go, girl, and don't come back."

"What was that?" she asked, jerking away.

"That was my talented fingers," said Aaron, and demonstrated.

"No," said Mahandra. "Someone said something."

"You go, girl, and don't come back," said the suncatcher again, obligingly.

Mahandra shook her head. "Okay, that's a really weird gadget. I know I said I wouldn't keep getting distracted by this place but that was really weird."

"What was? Aaron asked.

"That moose thing," said Mahandra. "What is it, like that singing fish thing they have at the bar? Does it have a motion sensor?"

Aaron looked puzzled for a moment, and then his eyes got big. He put his hands on her shoulders and held Mahandra at arms' length. "The moose sang to you?" he asked.

"The moose talked, if that's what you're saying," Mahandra said. "I didn't think it was singing. You heard it too, unless that kiss was pretty mind blowing for you." She grinned, but Aaron didn't smile back.

"Is it catching?" he said. "Or is it people who are around me? Is it something in the air in Niagara Falls? This is fascinating."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Mahandra was getting annoyed. "Also, we're in Maine."

"You go, girl, and don't come back," said the wooden cat.

"Wait, what the fuck?" She whirled on the wooden cat and pulled it off the wall, looking for batteries. "That's kinda annoying, Aaron. Couldn't they say something a little bit less rude?"

He looked at her attentively, as if she were about under a microscope, as if she were... well, as if she were Jaye. "What do you hear them saying?" He held up a hand to forestall what she was about to say. "Just humor me on this, okay? It's the cat and the moose?"

She glared at him. "They are both saying 'you go, girl, and don't come back', as you very well know," she said. She thought about getting revenge. Maybe she could sic Jaye on him? Though that would probably be a bad idea.

"Things with faces..." he murmured, and then, louder, "Jaye hasn't talked to you about this?"

"About what?" she said, thinking about getting revenge on Jaye, now. Maybe the best way to get revenge on Jaye was to talk about her weekend in Maine with Aaron.

"Crap," he said. "We should probably call Jaye. If I talk to you about this before she gets a chance to -- well, Jaye's revenge is horrible. There was that time in fifth grade when I told Hideki Suzuki she had a crush on him, and the next day she'd painted every single froot loop in a box of froot loops with laxatives."

"God, I know," said Mahandra. "In ninth grade I nominated her for class president, and she snuck into my room while I was sleeping, took a bunch of pictures, and sent them to the yearbook office." She shuddered. "I was wearing Big Bird pajamas."

Aaron chuckled. "I remember that yearbook," he said. "Ow!"

Mahandra put down the wooden cat she'd smacked him with.

"You go, girl, and don't come back," said the cat. She cringed and dropped it.

"Okay, let's call Jaye," she said, staring at the cat as if it would bite her.


One strained phone call later, a slightly hysterical Mahandra sat on Aaron's bed, surrounded by the detritus of his childhood and adolescent summers.

"You're going to be okay," said Aaron, putting an arm around her.

Mahandra's fingers clenched on the Happy Bunny mug she'd been fiddling with. "No," she said. "I'm going to be as crazy as Jaye."

"Jaye's not so bad," said Aaron.

Mahandra just raised an eyebrow at him.

"Well she's not," he said, defensively.

"Nuh-huh," said Mahandra, derisive. "Tell me that without crossing your fingers. I'm going to be as crazy as your crazy-ass sister, and I'll be living alone in a cabin in the woods, following the advice of my stuffed animals and my salt and pepper shakers and my Big Bird pajamas. And nobody will come near me because I will be a crazy woman who talks to inanimate objects, except maybe your sister, who will talk to inanimate objects with me."

"Hey," said Aaron, and tightened his arms. He tried to kiss her but she moved her face away, so he kissed her ear instead. "Hey." He kissed her ear, her hair, her eyebrow. "I'll still talk to you, even while you're talking to inanimate objects." He kissed her eyelid, and flicked his tongue to catch the tear which was welling at the corner of her eye. "I'll chase away all of the annoying stuffed animals. I'll buy you salt and pepper shakers that are in no way anthropomorphized. I'll get rid of your grizzly bear boxer shorts."

"And those towels I have with little wolves on them?" she asked, and softened slightly in his hold.

"And that little porcelain turtle you keep on the dresser," he said.

"And my jungle Lego set." Mahandra smiled, just a little.

"And that T-shirt with Spuds MacKenzie."

"And my Hello Kitty vibrator."

"You have a Hello Kitty vibrator?" At the horny awe in Aaron's voice, Mahandra's tiny smile grew wider. Aaron touched her chin to hold her, and moved forward to kiss her once again. This time she didn't shift away.

"I will, you know," he said against her lips. "If you let me."

Mahandra hid her face in his shoulder. "What am I going to do?" she asked. "When I'm with you, I feel like I'm falling. Like I could just fall madly in love with you and never turn back, and rely on you and let you take care of me."

There was a moment of silence. At last Aaron whispered, "what's wrong with that?"

"Because that's not me," Mahandra said, almost as quietly. "I'm not a romantic person. I don't rely on people. I'm like Jaye. One more way I'm like Jaye."

Aaron sat frozen, his hand on the back of her neck stilled. "You could try. You don't have to be like Jaye, not in this."

"God, I want to," she said. "I want to follow this whatever-it-is wherever it's going. I want to become a romantic, and I want to leave the old me behind. I want to stop being like Jaye."

"You go, girl, and don't come back," said the Happy Bunny mug.

So Mahandra did.