It was Thursday afternoon. Melissa was home alone, as she always was at 3:22 p.m. on a school day. Both her mom and dad worked and never arrived home earlier than 5:45 p.m., and then always her mom. Mr. Kendall usually hit the front door somewhere between 6:30 and 7 p.m. He had a long commute.
Melissa was busily texting away on her new iPhone 6, a birthday present only three days old, grinning widely at the bang she'd just put on a fellow student at Martin Luther King High School. Melissa and her friend Dee Dee were both ninth grader's there, same as the victim of her snarky remark. She liked Adriana, but she was so irritating sometimes.
Deciphered, her text message read: I almost asked, is that a burka? But I wasn't sure she'd know what that was and didn't want to explain it to her, you know?
Dee Dee came back with an LOL, followed by: Burkas are so hot though, aren't they? Maybe we can go shopping for one this weekend?
Grinning to split her face in half, Melissa replied, OMG Yes! Aeropostle has them...
Aeropostle was not a store she or any of her friends would set foot into now.
I do want to go shopping this weekend, Dee Dee wrote.
Melissa replied: Mom might not let me. She is SO bugged out over Monday night. I don't know what the big deal is. So I got a little high. She gets high all the effing time, you know?
Melissa looked up, and then around the room, blinking. What was that noise? Then she heard it again and her naked upper body erupted in gooseflesh, her eyes bugged out and a shudder like an earthquake tore down her spine. Were those footsteps coming up the stairs?
Oh, my God! Oh, my God, she thought, panicking. She was wearing nothing but panties, her bedroom door was wide open, and someone was climbing the stairs to the second level. A sound that scared her even more escaped her throat. She tried to swallow and couldn't. She tried to move, and couldn't. Her stupid nipples were suddenly so hard they effing ached, and again, she made that frightening mewling sound.
"Hello?" She grimaced at how badly her voice cracked. "If there's somebody there, I'm calling the police right now!" Her three-day-old, 15th birthday present slipped from her numb fingers, fell between her bare feet, and bounced backward between her legs. She couldn't stop her frightened yelp of dismay. Then the house shook as though Godzilla had stomped down a huge foot right next door and Melissa screamed in terror, bouncing along with everything else. She landed on her narrow derriere, right atop her new cell phone, and thank God it didn't break. Grabbing it, she convulsively clutched hands and phone to her chest. She was this close to hyperventilating.
"Hello?" she repeated. She listened to the cacophony of car alarms blaring up and down the street. It was actually only three of four alarms, but it was a cacophony to her.
"I swear I have my thumb on 911 right now!" she cried. A lie; she wasn't sure she could even remember her four digit pin right now; she hadn't yet activated the thumbprint reader and had changed her pass-code from the simple 1-2-3-4 she had used with her Android.
Her heart was beating so effing hard. She thought she had peed her panties a little bit too. Struggling off the floor, she crept to the open bedroom doorway and peeked out. Half the framed photos had fallen to the floor during the earthquake-was that what she'd felt, an earthquake?-but no rapist hulked in the empty hallway. Instead of performing the sensible act of putting something on, making that mewling noise again, she tiptoed to the end of the hall and looked down the stairs. No would be rapist sprawled on the steps or at the foot of the stairs, either, so that was good. Not so much, the big crack running up the stairway wall to the ceiling. That was pretty effing scary. Gypsum dusted the carpeting white below the jagged crack, two inches wide in places, exposing the underlying wood studwork, which appeared cracked too. Had something hit the house?
Her iPhone buzzed and she screamed and dropped it on her right foot. This time it bounced all the way down the stairs and out of sight into the dining room. She was close to hyperventilating again, and maybe suffering a heart attack, she thought? "Fuck!" she muttered angrily. Are you intent on breaking your new iPhone? Good luck, getting another.
To her immense relief, the phone continued to buzz down there on the carpet out of sight. She rushed down to retrieve it before Dee Dee hung up. Only it wasn't DeeDee calling, but her mom.
"I'm okay," she assured her frantic mother.
"Are you sure? Is the house okay? Melissa, the building next door to us collapsed!"
Melissa was half-horrified at the news. As horrified as any ninth-grader can be about anything not affecting she or her friends directly.
"I'm fine, Mom, I'm fine. There's a crack in the stairway and whoa ... Jesus Christ," she muttered breathlessly. The house across the street was destroyed like Godzilla had stomped it flat.
"What is it? What is it?" her mother cried. Melissa retreated into the dining room as one of her neighbors-that creepy Mr. Davenport--dashed into sight and stopped in her front yard, gazing frantically around.
"Nothing, Melissa," said hurriedly. "The Renfro's house collapsed, that's all."
"What?" her mom cried.
She crossed her arms and hunched in case creepy Mr. Davenport happened to glance back at the house and spot her through the wide bay window. Her mom continued to bray over the Renfro's destroyed house, but Melissa was less concerned with her mother's dismay (if she even realized it was directed more at her, than the collapsed house) than she was about being spotted almost naked by creepy Mr. Davenport. It never occurred to her to wonder if someone across the street was home, or was injured in the demolished structure; no one her age lived there, after all. But then, she did wonder, displaying a little unexpected maturity. The house shook again, violently.
The car alarms started up again. Melissa hadn't been aware they had tapered off to nothing in the few minutes since the initial quake, but now they were blaring again crazy. God, she hated car alarms! A tremendous cracking noise like maybe a telephone pole had broken in half made her cry out in alarm, and suddenly the power went out. Melissa only knew this because the red, back-up-battery light started flashing on the keypad by the front door. She looked down, and was mostly unsurprised to discover her iPhone had not only dropped the connection to her mom, but also showed the no service icon at top. That meant all the local cell towers had gone down? Was that even possible, she wondered?
"Mom? Are you there?" Mom didn't answer. She tried texting a message to Dee Dee, and that didn't go through either. She was cut-off and alone, mostly naked and paralyzed with fear, in a house that might or might not be ready to collapse around her ears.
Creepy Mr. Davenport turned around and looked directly in through the front window. Melissa froze, becoming part of the furnishings. Mr. Davenport's gaze skipped over her-she made a quailing little squeak of abhorrence-but continued on after only a moment's hesitation to took at the house as a whole, during which time Melissa could have made her escape. Melissa could be polished marble though; she didn't even breathe. Then creepy Mr. Davenport angled across the front yard to the walk and disappeared as he approached and climbed the front steps. A moment later, he knocked loudly on the door.
"Melissa? Are you in there?"
"Nooooo," she moaned. "Go away!"
"Melissa, I know you came home from school! If you hear me, please answer the door or come to a window so I know you're okay!"
Melissa cursed vehemently under her breath. "Go away, you creepazoid!" she muttered. To her horror, the doorknob rattled ... and then the effing front door opened and creepy Mr. Davenport stuck in his head and looked around. He spotted her cowering against the wall behind a skeletal floor lamp that did absolutely nothing to hide her nakedness, and jerked violently at her high-pitched scream. He yanked his head back even as Melissa scurried away into the stairway and back upstairs.
She was so effing humiliated. But she had calmed enough to don a t-shirt and open her bedroom window and call down to her creepazoid neighbor.
"I'm so sorry, Melissa," he apologized for the dozenth time. "I had no idea you'd be downstairs. I thought ... I was just looking ... I didn't mean too..." He took a deep breath and continued. "The important thing is you're okay. Have you talked to your mother?"
Melissa nodded, and then said, "Yes," realizing he couldn't see her. "She's on her way home. Dad too," she added hopefully, knowing that he would be no less worried about her than her mom. It distressed her, how much she wanted them home. She normally wished they were in another state.
Her cell phone rang. Which didn't make sense, as there was still no service per the freaking icon. She answered it anyway, clumsily, almost dropping it again, and scowled at the weird static blaring from the speaker.
"Is that your mom?" Mr. Davenport called up.
She didn't know who, or what it was. The house trembled strongly again and she yelped, dancing away from the window and looking everywhere at once. "Dammit!" she heard Mr. Davenport exclaim from the front yard. Everything on her furniture skittered about, some right off the edges to drop to the floor to bounce and roll around. She looked down, making sure there was nothing sharp underfoot to step on.
"Are these earthquakes?" she shouted out the window.
"I don't know what they are!" Mr. Davenport shouted back. "It feels more like-" The house shook again and Melissa squealed again, panic-dancing in place, which would make a great Internet video, guaranteed to go viral; a panicked teen in a t-shirt and panties? Duh!
The house quieted. Melissa stood there panting, toes curled under and her eyes wild. An arrow-straight crack in her ceiling extended halfway down the wall beside her closet door. Dust settled like fine white snow. Her bedroom furniture was askew, her iMac face down on her desk. Stuff littered the floor. A creaking noise from above made her cower away.
And then, magically, she was back standing bare-chested in her bedroom, thumbs busy on the iPhone's screen, a grin stretching her red lips, answering Dee Dee's reply about her mom getting high, which of course, she did not. There was no memory of being in a panic, no house coming apart around her, no creepy Mr. Davenport outside.
Then she was in her demolished bedroom again, the house still creaking as it settled around her, a layer of gypsum dust coating her hair and bare shoulders. She was not yet aware that her t-shirt had vanished and she was once again topless. She did remember composing the text to Dee Dee, however, and held up her phone in wonder. It was off, the screen black, all the icons gone. It was then she realized that her upper body was bare and that she wore nothing but her blue and white panties again. She cursed silently, turning around and around.
"Melissa, are you okay up there?" Mr. Davenport called up.
She had to get a hold of herself. Something crazy was happening here, and if she didn't want to end up out in the street, topless and screaming her head off for her blinking mommy, then she better get it together. "I'm okay!" she called down breathlessly. Turning, she eyed her nearly naked self in the vanity mirror. She looked down, discovered her t-shirt on the floor where she had snatched it up earlier, bent over and grabbed it again. She shook off the dust and pulled it on over her head.
For a moment, a boy she recognized from school and whose name she thought was Jason Something stood watching her from beside her open closet door, and then he was gone. Jolted, Melissa just stood there, staring open-mouthed at the spot where he'd been. He just saw me topless, she thought numbly. No boy had ever seen her topless before-hell, she had never even taken a selfie of herself! And now some boy she didn't even know had seen her naked except for her panties? How was that efing fair?
She shook her head, aware there were more important issues than some boy seeing her bare breasts. She gazed in her mirror again, flustered at how awful she looked. Her hair was a rat's nest, covered with white powder and her t-shirt wrinkled, stained, and torn beneath her left armpit. It was her bum around shirt for her bedroom, worn almost daily, never meant to be seen. None of her friends even knew she had it. Shaking her head, she went to her bedroom window and called down, "What do they feel like, Mr. Davenport? You said before you thought they felt more like something else, before the last one hit."
Mr. Davenport didn't answer.
Still no answer. Melissa pressed her face against the screen, looking down. Mr. Davenport was no longer in the front yard; in fact, he was nowhere to be seen at all. Neither was anyone else, she realized, and how weird was that? The neighborhood should be just teeming with people, inspecting the damage, talking about it excitedly, waiting for police to arrive. Melissa counted not a single neighbor out in their yard. Not a car moved. Not a-
She was topless in her undamaged bedroom, texting with Dee Dee, her smile mirthless, a gleam in her eyes, thumbs composing a snarky comeback to her friend's latest stab. She was having so much freaking fun with this. She loved her new iPhone. She was oblivious to the boy dressed in a t-shirt and shorts standing bedside her closet door, enjoying her nearly naked body from the look on his face. Melissa would scream in panic and panic-dance again if aware of his presence, but she had no clue. Therefore, she stood in an unflattering, stoop-shouldered slouch, tummy thrust out, passing gas not quite silently, secure in her aloneness. She giggled as her thumb fired off her latest missive.
She was at the window, staring aghast at the spot she'd been just a moment ago, texting. She was topless, her crumpled t-shirt back on the floor, her bare breasts visible to anyone looking in the window, though she didn't really care about that right now. Her worry was that she was losing her mind. Jason (his last name was Milne, she thought) observed her calmly from just beside her open closet door. She didn't cover up. She breathed slowly and raggedly through her open mouth. Her nipples tingled maddeningly, were becoming embarrassingly erect under his gaze-and he was looking right at them, no doubt about that-and this made her clench her hands and grind her teeth together.
"Are you doing this?" she demanded.
He seemed startled by the idea. "No, why?"
She looked at him, askance. "You're in my bedroom?"
He shrugged, accepting the accusation. "I don't know why. I was over at Tim's house. We were playing Medal of Honor..." He stared at her bare breasts again-Melissa refused to cover up-" ... and suddenly I was here in your bedroom, looking at..." He made a gesture with his hand, completing the statement.
"Can I put on my t-shirt?" she asked tightly.
"Sure, go ahead," he said with an embarrassed shrug.
She walked stiffly across to the shirt, bent down and snatched it up, yanked it down over her head again. "How long were you looking at me?" she demanded.
Jason shrugged. "I'm not really sure. This thing..." He gazed around, blinking. "You're name's Melinda, right?"
"Melissa," she corrected edgily. "Kendall. You're Jason Miller," she half-asked, purposely misstating his last name. To her surprise, he nodded absently.
"We were in Science together, last year," he said. "You were..."
"I was what?" she wanted to know. It was grating on her, knowing this dork was the first boy to ever see her bare breasts.
His brow furrowed. "You don't like me very much." It wasn't a question.
Melissa shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know you. It doesn't help that you're here in my bedroom, staring at me."
"I'm not staring," he protested. His red face said otherwise, of course.
Melissa unconsciously crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders. "You didn't answer my question. How long have you been watching me?"
He laughed softly. "You're worried about that? With this?"
Melissa frowned as he gave the room-and the world outside it-an encompassing wave.
"You're not the one who was being stared at!" she reminded him fiercely. "I-"
She was busy with her iPhone while Jason gazed at her bare back and right breast, or a tantalizing good portion of it, including her small nipple, visible between her ribcage and slender biceps. Her breasts were in fact quite small, even for a recently turned 15 year old, but Jason obviously still appreciated the opportunity to see it. And there was no doubt he appreciated the rest of her body too, the bare back, her blue and white clad rear end, her long slender legs...
"Will you stop that!" she cried. This time she did cover her breasts, frustrated and flummoxed, bare-chested again, standing beside the open bedroom window. In the distance, the wail of multiple sirens rose and fell, emergency vehicles responding to the catastrophe. Then she heard nothing but absolute silence outside. She muttered a string of aggravated curses.
Jason walked to where her t-shirt lay on the floor, picked it and then thought better of it. "Maybe you should put something else on, you know?"
Melissa nodded. Still mumbling curses, she walked past him to her chair and her school uniform, picked up her brassiere and donned it with her back to the interloper. Then she slipped on her white blouse and buttoned half the buttons before...
She was thumb-busy on her iPhone again, laughing softly at the remark she'd just fired off to Dee Dee. She was suddenly aware of Jason standing behind her. "I'm not alone, am I?" she asked in a choked voice
Jason cleared his throat. "Don't turn around, okay? I really can't see much of anything right now, and maybe you'd like to keep it that way." He crossed to her chair and picked up her bra and white blouse, walked over and held them out beside her. Hunched protectively, she struggled into the blouse, buttoned it clumsily with the phone in her hand and then half-turned to face him. He kept his eyes away from her chest.
"What are you doing in my bedroom?"
He only shook his head
"Why am I not panicking to find you here?" she asked, more to herself than to him. She looked at him with a grimace. "How much did you see, anyway?"
"Not enough," he joked, unwisely as it turned out. "Sorry. Don't get mad at me, okay? I don't know what I'm doing here."
Bra clutched in hand, she grabbed the skirt off her chair and stomped into her closet and slammed the door. After a very uncomfortable few minutes for Jason, she reemerged, plainly out of sorts and distraught.
"Why do I think something really terrible is about to happen?" she asked. Following his gaze downward, she discovered her blouse was badly misbuttoned and emitted a word she almost never used, and that made Jason flinch. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I didn't mean you."
She was at the open window again. There was yelling outside and somebody let loose a volley of shots that had her skipping away from the window, keening frantically, right into a surprised Jason's arms.
"Do you mind?" Incensed, she slapped his hands away. One had been dangerously close to a bare breast. "This is just fucking ridiculous! Will you stop, please?"
"I told you, I'm not doing it!" he protested again. "I was-"
"You were at you friend's, playing Medal of Honor!" she spat. "I heard you the first effing time!"
"Then why do you keep thinking I'm to blame?"
She gave a belligerent shake of her head. "You're in my room?"
"What's that got to do with it?"
"I'm not in your room, am I?" she accused. It occurred to them both that she was standing there bare-breasted and erect-nippled. Why did they keep doing that, anyway? She hurriedly covered up and brushed past him angrily. "And how come I remember what's going on in here-" She indicated her disordered room. "But not when I'm texting?" The question was rhetorical. She didn't expect an answer. At least, not a logical one. "And how come I keep ending up with no shirt on!" she demanded indignantly, picking it up.
Rather than don the shirt, she turned around and stared at him, miffed and confused. "Maybe... ?"
She was bare-chested with the iPhone in her hand, grinning evilly at the thought of Adriana with snot-green gook in her hair, which Dee Dee had just suggested, appalled when she put her hand back and discovered it. That made her laugh. Which, from the look on his face, made Jason wonder what she was thinking.
His eyes roamed the length of her body, up and down, lingering on the side of her bare breast and just distinguishable right nipple. Then he canted his head, looking confused, as Melissa raised hers. Confounded, she glanced over her shoulder and discovered him standing there.
"Goddammit!" she shouted. "When is this going to stop?"
Jason shook his head. "Might as well put that on," he observed.
She looked down at the ratty t-shirt in her hand. She was standing just where she'd been before returning to her texting. That was an improvement ... or different, anyway. "I thought maybe..." She slipped the t-shirt over her head.
"That covering up was somehow triggering us back to your room?" He shook his head. "Doesn't look that way, does it?"
"No," she admitted, dispirited for no reason. Did she want to be forced into toplessness? "You're not gonna tell anyone, are you?"
He blinked, confused.
"That you saw me topless!" she said impatiently. "You're not gonna tell your friends that you saw me bare-chested! Shit!" she exclaimed, seeing his sudden understanding. He grinned and she grit her teeth.
Holding up his hand, he laughed. "Would anyone believe me?"
She gazed around the room. "No," she said grumpily. "I guess not. I don't believe you myself."
Jason said: "Why you? Why me?"
"What do you mean?"
Not it was his turn to look impatient.
"How should I know?" she protested indignantly. "I'm the one who keeps ending up naked!" She hurled the shirt at him ... and then stared down at herself, stunned. She had put on the effing shirt. Now it was in his hands, held loosely, and he was blinking in confusion.
"Did I take that off?" she asked, bewildered.
He shook his head.
"I did put it on, right?" she wondered.
He nodded. He was staring at her breasts again. He stopped, when she gestured, "What's up?" at him angrily.
"Do you want it back?"
She looked at him, exasperated. "Thank you," she said, catching and slipping it on over her head. Shaking out her hair, she yanked the hem down around her hips doggedly. She clutched it with both hands, daring it to undress itself again. She was so effing exasperated.
"Promise me," she insisted.
"Say it, Jason! I want to hear you say it. And don't you dare roll your eyes at me either, asshole, not if you know what's good for you!"
He grinned at her sheepishly. "All right, I promise."
"Thank you," she grumbled. "And I'm sorry I called you an asshole." She looked at him through strands of her disheveled hair. She would brush it out of the way, but no way was she releasing the bottom of her t-shirt. Not for anything.
"I wouldn't have told anyone anyway," he said. "I wouldn't do that to you. Or any other girl," he added hurriedly, blushing noticeably and cutting his eyes away. It was then that Melissa scoped how much he actually liked her. Oh, for God's sakes, she thought disgustedly. (Or the teenage equivalent of Oh, for God's sakes.) Another effing geek fawning over me. Just what I need.
It might explain a lot, though, at least why he was in this nightmare scenario with her. And let's be truthful: he wasn't geeky as all that. In fact, in a geeky way, he was kinda cute.
Stop it, she thought, not wanting to entertain ideas like that. Michael Gearson was the boy she liked. He was hot, and definitively in her circle of acquaintances, not like Jason Milne. Or Miller, or whatever his effing name was. But this had to be addressed.