The teenage boy drove a black Trans Am with an eagle on the hood. He was friends with my babysitter Rita and her friends, and she would invite them over to drink beers and blast David Bowie and T. Rex on my dad’s stereo system. One night the girls raided my parents’ bedroom and dressed me in a wig and a glamorous old gown and painted my face with lipstick and rouge. The teenage boy had long brown hair just like the wig I wore. “Look at us with our lovely locks,” he said, shaking his curls. The girls took Polaroids to show my mom, and the pictures bloomed on the little black squares like oil on rain.
Rita took pictures of the teenage boy leaning against the Trans Am with his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans. She unbuttoned his shirt even though it was winter and the wind was cold. He spread his arms wide as the eagle’s wings.
Rita was in love with the teenage boy. She made me promise not to tell. She took me to his house up the street when his parents were away. “Check it out, guys,” he said, spinning himself on the little stool behind his drum set. He turned on the strobe light, and while it pulsed like a camera flash, he pummeled the drums and crashed the cymbals, and didn’t his arms look cool frozen into rapid snapshots? He watched himself in the mirror and made Rita and me watch, too. Then he took Rita into his bedroom while I waited with the drums.
The next time he came over, Rita told him to get lost but he came in anyway. He said, “Let’s leave these girls to their music and beer and do something for us men for once,” and he led me around the house on a search for porn. He found some magazines in a drawer in my parents’ bedroom.
“What do you think of those?” he asked.
He really enjoyed it, so I felt like I should, too.
“Yes, I like those,” I said. “Those boobies.”
“Shit, we should look for Christmas presents, too,” he said.
It was two weeks until Christmas, and my mom hadn’t taken me to the mall to see Santa. I wanted to ask him for an Atari so I could play Space Invaders. I told the teenage boy.
“Well I’m here to tell you a special secret,” the teenage boy said. “I’m here to tell you your parents are Santa. You knew that, right?”
He found the Atari in the hall closet, covered in mittens and scarves. “I tell no lies,” he said. I was ecstatic.
My parents banned the teenage boy from our house for ruining Santa and sex. They banned Rita and her friends, too, for everything else. My dad moved the porn magazines to a different drawer, and the next Christmas my mom hid the presents in a different closet. But after a few years I knew where all the hiding places were.
I became a teenage boy. I grew my hair long, and it puffed out thick and wiry like a scrub brush, so I cut it short again. Kids in gym teased me for keeping my underwear on in the shower. No one took pictures of me. No one unbuttoned my shirt. I didn’t have a Rita or a teenage boy of my own to love.
One night I found a stack of those old Polaroids in the back of my dresser drawer. I didn’t remember keeping them. In one, the teenage boy drapes his arm over Rita’s shoulder as she presses her lips to his cheek. A little boy in a brunette wig and sparkling green gown stands in front of them, lipstick-smeared and rouge-cheeked, looking up with his mouth open. The camera flashes before he can speak.
Wyatt Bonikowski’s stories have appeared in Atticus Review, Fairy Tale Review, NANO Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and others. He teaches literature and creative writing at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.