Thursday, December 27, 2007

It was shortly after ten o'clock in the morning, and Russell Gutierrez was sitting alone in his family's apartment with nothing to do but watch cartoons on Nickelodeon and eat Fruit Loops while his parents toiled away at work to pay the bills. Such was the joy of being sixteen, without responsibilities and on break from school. Sure, classes would resume next week on the day after New Years', but until then, Rusty was free as a bird. Free to use clichés to describe his situation, free to suppress tears of unrequited love from falling into his bowl of cereal, free to spill said bowl onto his clothes—which of course consisted only of a t-shirt and boxers—and to curse loudly about it.

It was in the middle of cleaning up the carpet and yet another episode of Spongebob that the doorbell rang, thus exposing an already barely clothed, fairly unkempt boy to something worse: a dilemma. Between the first and second rings of the bell, Rusty pondered whether to greet his visitor speedy like Gonzalez or slow like Rodriguez. This was decided for him when he heard, "Rusty, it's Claire, open up!" and he nearly tripped in the rush to get back onto to his feet and over to the door.

"M' lady," he said with a bow as he pulled the door open.

"Ew, you're unshaven," Claire remarked.

Though at sixteen, he was only just starting to develop some semblance of facial hair, his friend's comment was enough to remind him of how itchy that hair could get, and he immediately scratched his neck.

"And you're in your underwear," she added with a nod. "Classy."

"I wasn't expecting company," Rusty shrugged as he turned to invite her in.

While the pretty green-eyed brunette easily surveyed half of his apartment on the way inside, namely the couch in front of the television (and the accompanying accident that had preceded her arrival) and the dining table beside a small kitchen, Rusty followed and asked, "So, what did Jimmy do now?"

"What?" Claire said with a sudden turn around. "You automatically assume this is about Jimmy? You think I don't enjoy your company on its own merits?" After a short pause, she cleared her throat and admitted, "But yeah, it is about him."

Rusty nodded. "It's nice to know he can still be a dick from halfway across the country."

"Actually, he's been sort of all right since he left," Claire said, though the look on her face was one of genuine surprise. "He called me on Christmas from Nebraska, and I know it must have been the holiday cheer, but the two of us somehow managed to get through a conversation without pushing each other's buttons."

"Let's call it a miracle and leave it at that."

"Agreed."

"So if he hasn't done anything to piss you off since we all went to the movies on Saturday, then what are you here to cry on my shoulder about?"

"He's a dick, Rusty."

"And yet you continue to date him."

"I do," she said with a sigh. "I realize now that last weekend's endeavor at the movies was ill-advised and futile."

"He didn't pass the test."

"Of course he didn't. He still treats Kent like shit."

"And yet…you continue to date him."

Claire lifted a finger. "I believe I've come to a solution, however."

"Break up with him?" Rusty said.

"No," Claire said. Before Rusty could throw in a sarcastic response, she stopped him: "Look, he needs to understand what's at stake here. Otherwise he can't grow as a person, right?"

"Right, except he already knows what's at stake," Rusty said with a visual inspection of her body, "and he doesn't care, so he's never going to grow as a person. If his manipulating you into having sex with him didn't tip you off, Claire, nothing will! Seriously, there's no point in—"

Halfway through his attempted motivational speech, Claire started to appear annoyed, and where Rusty would have expected an abrupt interruption to shut him up, he instead received the sight of her pulling off her shirt. He gasped, glanced back and forth several times between her dark purple t-shirt resting on the living room floor and the beige bra that was the only thing separating her naked bosom from his eyes to be sure that what he was seeing was real, and then, finally spoke. More accurately, he stuttered, unable to get words out.

As Claire kicked her tennis shoes off and Rusty's eyes returned to hers, she explained, "What Jimmy fails to understand, Rusty, is that I can end this relationship at any time if he continues to treat my friends like dirt." She slipped her first sock off and tossed it aside. "If he buries them, then I'll bury him." The second sock joined its partner on the carpet while she finished, "And if that happens, then my body will no longer be his to share with, and he'll just have to find a way to deal. This," she said as she pointed her hands like arrows from head to toe, "is to give him an idea of what that might be like."

"So…" Rusty began, raising an eyebrow, "you're cheating on him. With me?"

Claire shook her head, though the impact of this denial was somewhat lost in its coinciding with her unbuttoning her jeans and pulling those down, so she was now in nothing but her underwear, much like him. "No," she insisted. "That would be wrong. I'm simply teasing you both." She looked down at her skimpily clothed body and said, "Honestly, this is no different than if I were in a bikini, right? And you've seen me in a bikini, Rusty."

"Holly, too," Rusty said, fondly remembering that day at the beach the summer before last. "Awesome, awesome day."

"Here's the plan," she said. "I'm going to spend the whole day with you in my underwear, Rusty. The whole day," she repeated.

"The whole day?" Rusty laughed. "What if we have to step outside at some point? Are you going to tease the rest of the world, too?"

"No, just you, Rusty," she said with a laugh and a grin. "I'll get dressed again if that happens, though. And then undressed again when we get back."

"You do realize this is borderline cheating, now, don't you?" Rusty said, to which she gave him an affirmative answer. "How do you think Jimmy's going to feel about this?"

"Hopefully nothing. We'll keep it a secret."

"But if the whole point of this is to tease Jimmy, then why the hell do you want to keep it a secret?"

"Because I think we both know that's just some bullshit excuse for me to actually bring myself to this level." She and him both made quick glances at her exposed body. "I mean, I'm in my underwear in your house, Rusty, what do you care? I need some catharsis from all the shit Jimmy and I have been through lately, and who's been a better guy friend to me all these years than you?"

"There are so many things wrong with this predicament," Rusty sighed. "And yet, so many reasons I don't care."

"There's only one rule," Claire said. "Now listen, because this is important. No touching. If we touch, and I'm dressed like this, it's cheating, game over. Think of me more like a stripper, I guess. Here for your ogling pleasure, but no more. Although there isn't a chance in hell I'm getting any more undressed than this, and you damn well know it."

"Not unless you come to your senses, dump his ass, and just get it over with."

"Yeah, like I'm really going to do that over the phone."

"Because this is a guy so worthy of your respect."

"When you've been dating someone for nine months, let me know how easy a time you have breaking it off."

"This is patronizing."

"Should I get dressed?" she said, knowing full well his answer would be "no."

"No," he replied quickly, and only slightly less quickly he lifted off his shirt until he, too, was standing there in his underwear. As the two of them carefully examined each other's barely clad bodies, he said, "I think if you can be in your underwear, I can be in mine."

"Yes, you can," Claire said, her gaze fixated on his chest as his had been to hers many times before. "I haven't seen you shirtless that often. How…?"

"I was in football last year, remember?" he smiled, while remaining surprised that he was getting such a positive reception to his near-nakedness. "Until I realized, like you, the theater was my stadium of choice."

"Well, in any case, some lucky lady's missing out."

"Maybe not." Their eyes realigned to look at each other, and then he simply asked, "Do you want to play Guitar Hero?"

"Oh, hell yeah!"