Re: But somehow, I was still twelve years old ー New Ch.3-4 (15 Mar 2017)
Chapter 5: Christie’s switch
“So SR latches really are clever little contraptions. Look here. In a normal circuit, you change the inputs, the output changes. But SR latches loop back in on themselves, keeping the same charge regardless. If you store zero, the SR latch will continue to output zero. Until you flip the switch, it’ll stay the same, even as the system around it changes.”
The room was hot, just like Christie had programmed the thermostat to make it. Leaning into Rob as his finger traced the diagram, Christie could smell his sweat, his clothes, the mint gum on his breath. She kept her bare shoulder lightly pressed against Rob’s shoulder. But it seemed Christie was only one getting distracted.
“Does that make sense?” Rob asked.
“Um, so they’re like merry-go-rounds?”
“Um, yes,” said Christie dumbly, reviewing the breadboard. “What’s the difference between a latch and a gate again?”
Rob leaned back, smiling. “Maybe we should take a break. Do you have more iced tea? We emptied that last pitcher in no time…”
“I’ll go get some!” enthused Christie. “Could you carry the board down to kitchen for me? It’s a little hot up here.”
“Sure. I was thinking of stretching my legs anyway.” Rob yawned and pushed off from the desk as Christie bounced out to the stairs.
It was 4:42 now, and they were alone. Shelly had made good her escape ten minutes earlier. Her phone had vibrated — probably a timed alarm, but she acted like it was a text. She’d acted flustered, said she needed to help Sam, who lived a mile or so away. Christie had lent Shelly her bike, and Rob had extracted a promise to return by six.
That left Christie seventy-eight minutes. Seventy-minutes to make an impact. Christie squeezed the folds of her skirt.
At first, Christie had harbored hope that subtle signals might win the day. She had squeezed his arm to her breasts, after all. Christie blushed even remembering that. She had squeaked her chair close to him, tugged at his shirt at difficult parts, brushed her skin against his. She had even tried the trick she’d practiced, dropping a pen and crawling under the table with her back arched just so.
But Rob showed no signs of noticing. He didn’t blush, stammer, or lose his place in the project. When she crawled under the table, he knelt down and searched with her.
Christie ground her teeth. She should have known better. She’d tried all sorts of subtle tricks in junior high, and he’d never batted an eye.
“Boy, my sister’s the worst, isn’t she?” Rob asked, setting down on the couch.
Carrying a tray with glasses of iced tea, Christie twisted her lips cutely.
“You’re always doing the hard parts, aren’t you? In these projects, I mean.”
“Oh, I don’t mind!” she said cheerfully.
Christie preferred working alone anyway. And it’s not like there was anyone else to pair with.
“Yeah, but still. You’re best friends, so…”
“Best friends?” Christie blurted out, and then grimaced. She’d forgotten her cutesy voice.
Rob looked confused. “You’re not?”
“Oh, no no no no. Shelly’s super! We’re, uh, real close. It’s just that, you know, I have other friends… and it’s kind of disrespectful to… you know?”
“Like that boy from band?” Rob said, grinning.
“I told you, there’s no boy!” Christie whined, and then remembered to try her childish pout.
“So what do you do with your band friends? Besides, you know, play in the band.”
Christie panicked. This conversation was moving in a bad direction. “Oh, not much. Just hang out.”
She broke up the topic by pouring iced tea. Frankly, iced tea was the last thing she wanted at the moment. She’d been drinking liquids at regular intervals for three straight hours, and her stomach was bursting.
Rob folded his arms behind his neck and contemplated the ceiling. “When I was in ninth grade, I hung out with a group that spent a lot in the woods, ATVing. And… other things on occasion.” He smiled sheepishly. “My friend Joe’s dad had a Yamaha and a Kawasaki. It was a lot of fun. Guess it’s kind of a guy thing, though.”
Christie pretended to sip iced tea in grateful silence. Until Rob continued: “So what do you tend to do? For hobbies, I mean.”
“Hobbies?” she stalled, mind racing. “I don’t really have any. I guess I’m a little boring…”
“There must be something.”
Rob laughed. “Ah, come on. You’re always like a little clam with this stuff. Just fess up!”
And just like that, Christie was backed into a corner. She had no idea how to answer. She could give generic answers: “books”, “music”, or “TV”. But then there would be follow-up questions. What would she answer then? Would she answer “paranormal romance”, “pop punk”, and “cartoons”? That was an uncomfortable level of exposure. She could always lie, but what if there were MORE follow-up questions?
“Come on! I don’t bite!”
Her hips began to tighten. “Well…”
But then… oh yes, the Clumsy-Spill plan! This was the perfect moment! She wouldn’t even have to act rattled! Christie’s hand jumped out for her glass and…
… knocked it directly into Rob’s lap.
“Oh cr… oh my gosh!”
The ice tea landed with a slosh, soaking into Rob’s shirt and jeans. “Wait a second, I’ll…”
“No, it’s fine Christie, just–”
Leaping for a wad of napkins, Christie tripped on the coffee table. Pain shot up her knee. The table rang out with a thud, and Rob’s glass toppled. Ice tea raced in a film across the table, spilling off the edge, soaking the carpet and Rob’s sneakers.
Christie completely lost her head at this point. As soon as her hand found paper napkins, she was tearing out wads and blotting wherever the ice tea had landed. “Ohmigoshididntmeanthis iwasnttryingtospillitonyou, iwouldntdothatnotonpurpose iwasjustspillingonmyselfsoyoud…”
When Christie came to her senses, she was she kneeling down at Rob’s feet, vigorously rubbing a wad of paper towels onto his fly.
Christie’s hand stopped. So he wears boxers, a small part of her brain noted. Christie looked up. Her eyes met Rob’s. She stared at Rob. Rob stared at her. Christie started to blush. Christie looked down to her hand.
All at once, Christie yelped, bounced a foot into the air, and scrambled back like Rob’s jeans were covered in tarantulas.
Rob smiled and examined the furniture. “I didn’t mean to be intrusive,” he said, voice just a tad wobbly. “Wow, that must be the first time a girl’s thrown a drink at me. I always wanted to take it cold, without reacting, like in the movies.”
Christie covered her eyes and cradled her head like a child. How could Rob make jokes at a moment like this? Didn’t it bother him to have her touch… touch…! Christie wanted to die.
“Don’t worry, Christie. You have baking powder in the fridge, right? Just coat it on the carpet, and this shouldn’t leave any stains.”
Were there any nifty cleaning solutions for Christie? Could paper towels descend from above and soak HER up?
“O-okay. But your clothes, do you need…?” Christie trailed. What clothes could she give him? Only she and her mom lived here, and neither of their clothes would fit. Was this the end? Was Rob going home?
“No problem,” Rob said. “I had gym clothes in my backpack for a run. Could you help me clean up though? Just throw these in the sink and scrub some baking powder, please? Use warm water.”
Without warning, Rob kicked off his sneakers, stripped his shirt, undid his belt, pulled off his jeans, and handed everything in a messy pile to Christie. He stood in the middle of the living room in his wet boxers.
Christie clutched the pile dumbly to her chest, gawking. Rob grabbed his backpack by the front door and rounded into the hallway. The bathroom door opened and closed with a thump.
With all said and done, Operating Clumsy-Spill had literally backfired.
“He really doesn’t see me that way,” she whispered to herself. “Not even a little bit.”
She had spent an entire day scheming to fluster Rob, but the only one getting flustered was herself. Her clothes looked ridiculous. Her cutesy voice made her sound like an idiot. None of it was doing anything.
She set glumly to spot-treating Rob’s clothes in the sink, rinsing them under the warm tap and watching dirty water swirl into the drain. She scrubbed baking soda into stains, holding the fabric tight. She blushed as she worked. It felt somehow indecent, like she was intruding on his privacy. But that was stupid. Rob never got embarrassed over stuff like that.
Everything Christie had done seemed stupid. Even if the plan worked, what was the point? Rob bared himself easily — she suspected he’d even admit to the diaper stuff if she asked point blank — but Christie couldn’t tell him anything. She couldn’t even tell him what music she liked. Everything Christie did was an act.
But if she didn’t act, how could she get close to anyone? She continued washing, the same paradox as ever rolling around in her head.
Rob returned from the bathroom wearing nylon shorts and a varsity tee. He gave her a quip and a smile, and after borrowing the washing machine, he suggested they sit at the kitchen table to work on the circuit. This was convenient for Christie, so she agreed. They focused, connecting wires to nodes and checking the outputs. Rob seemed content to let questions about her hobbies and friends drop.
After a time, Christie looked up at the clock. It read 5:20. Her bladder was full to bursting, and she’d be cutting it close if she delayed much longer.
Here goes nothing, she thought. She closed her eyes and pushed.
“Christie, are you alright? You’re shaking…”
Christie flushed. How come nothing was happening? She hadn’t peed since early this morning. Since sixth grade, she’d never gone more than a few hours without going to the bathroom.
“I-I’m just feeling cold…”
“Really? It must be eighty degrees in here. You don’t have diabetes, do you? Are you dizzy?”
“Oh, no no no! If I just put on my sweater…” Christie said, reaching for the cardigan on the back of her chair. But then she reconsidered. “Actually, now that you mention it, I am feeling… mmm….!”
How hadn’t she thought of that? Being sick was the perfect setup! Didn’t sick people pee themselves all the time? She redoubled her efforts.
As Rob reached for her forehead, Christie closed her eyes. She squeezed her thighs and pushed. She tried to imagine pee streaming out, soaking her leggings and puddling on the floor. She thought of swimming in warm water, of sitting on the toilet. She tried visualizing her muscles relaxing, her bladder shrinking. She even pretended she was in diapers again, letting go and feeling them get warm and thick as she sat quietly in class. She tried to remember the cashier from this morning.
But nothing happened.
Rob’s face was painted with worry. “Christie, can you stand? Could you tell me your Mom’s number?”
In a last ditch effort, Christie leaned forward and, under the table, pressed her hands down into her pelvis. Her bladder screamed for relief. Groaning, Christie pushed with all her might.
“E-e-e-e…” Christie stammered, “Excuse me!”
She jumped up and bolted for the bathroom, leaving Rob sitting dumbfounded.
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do it. She slammed the bathroom door behind her, tugged her leggings down, and before she knew it she was sitting on the toilet, gushing pee like out of a firehose.
She couldn’t do it. She hadn’t even tried. Even as she’d been pushing, another half had been holding tight. She wasn’t brave enough to wet herself in front Rob. Even if he liked it, even if it meant becoming his girlfriend, even to win a million dollars, even to avoid public execution — she just wasn’t ready to be seen like that. Christie wasn’t strong enough to be seen as weak, let alone by Rob.
As the last drops dribbled out, Christie realized again how stupid she’d been. This whole plan existed because she wasn’t brave enough to ask Rob out. How could she possibly be brave enough to wet herself in front of him? Christie wanted to die.
After a few minutes, she headed glumly out of the bathroom. She tapped Rob with the door. He’d been standing there, his hand ready to knock when she came out.
“It’s nothing,” Christie said miserably. “I was just holding it, is all.”
Returning to the kitchen, Rob and Christie finished hooking the circuit with subdued efficiency. They talked, but only to debug, to double-check the jump wires. When Christie actually focused on the project, the work went smoothly. It was pleasantly all-consuming. Rob, maybe reading her mood, didn’t joke or needle, and after fifteen minutes, the SR latch was functioning correctly.
“Well look at that,” said Rob. “Perfect.”
The breadboard, once a mess of wires, now seemed an orderly thing. A few LEDs were straddled over the terminal strips on spindly legs, observing the inputs running into the latch. They blinked on and off by timer. The output LEDs stayed blank, however. As they’d intended, the latch was locked at
Christie looked at nubby little switch that controlled the SR latch. It was flipped to
CLOSED. As long as it was
CLOSED, the stored value would remain the same. Christie found herself imagining there was a nub like that somewhere on her body. She imagined scratching the back of her head, adjusting her shoes, or rubbing the small of her back; and finding it there. She would tap her forehead and chuckle, thinking, how silly of me. How did I forget about this thing. Christie would flip the switch
But there was no switch. Even if there were, she had no idea how to flip it.
“Why did you have to help me?” she whispered bitterly.
Rob had his hand on the base of the breadboard, ready to disconnect the power supply. Christie did not look into his eyes, but kept staring that the blinking lights.
“I didn’t want your help,” she said, without really knowing why. “Why did you make me your charity case? Do you know how hard that was for me? I would’ve been fine on my own. Things would’ve been easier on my own.”
Rob blinked. “Uh, the circuit?”
Christie bit her lip. “But how could you possibly understand that? You can do anything. You’re strong, you don’t need help. You don’t know how hard it is to be helped. Everything’s so easy for you…!”
“Christie, calm down. You’re very smart, trust me, it’s just that you’re in ninth gr–”
“Yeah, aren’t helpless girls great? Girls who can’t do anything for themselves. Girls who need someone to handle their problems…”
“Girls who are clumsy, who cry, who get worked up nothing. Girls who can’t speak right, who can’t grow up, who feel awful all the time. Girls you can look down on! Aren’t they just great?”
Christie was choking on tears at this point. Leaning back in his chair, Rob was staring with eyes wide. He stared as if she was a stranger, an unknown fifteen-year-old girl who had broken into the house and was sitting in Christie’s chair. He didn’t seem to know what to do. His hand reached out toward her, but she batted it away.
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Is it something I said?”
“It’s nothing to do with you,” she lied, wiping her eyes with her forearm. “Thanks for your help tonight. If you don’t mind, I’m tired. Tell Shelly I went to bed when she gets back.”
Without waiting for an answer, Christie cleared the table of glasses, grabbed her cardigan, and hurried to her room, closing the door behind her. Not bothering to undress, she lay face down on the bed. She buried her head in the pillow and calmed her breath. How would she finish the project on her own? she wondered. What would she tell Shelly tomorrow? How would she manage to avoid seeing Rob again for the next four months, when he went to college?
And was that really what she wanted? Christie reviewed what she’d done tonight. Manipulating Rob. Lying to Rob. Yelling at Rob. And now, keeping Rob away. Was that really what she wanted?
Why did nothing ever go right for Christie? Why did she always lie when she wanted to tell the truth, keep distance when she wanted to get close? Why did she get angry at kindness? Why did she hate people who helped her? Christie felt like she was emitting a kind of magnetic forcefield, a push-away field, a cloaking shield, the maintenance of which consumed all her energies. She had poured everything into the shield to protect herself, had let the field grow stronger and stronger. But after so many years, she no longer remembered how to turn it off.
Christie lied to everyone about everything. She concealed everything from everyone. Everything she said or did was fake. And she could not even imagine any other way to live.
With these and other problems rolling around in Christie’s mind, she fell gradually into a light, restless sleep.
Christie dreamed she was in homeroom again, and Shelly’s group was presenting their physics project. But somehow, Christie was still twelve years old.
The project was immensely complex, a maze of wires and lights, all tangled and flashing and beeping. Christie was a part of it, a little LED taped to her wrist. Sam was explaining that, with a D-Gate activated, their circuit would remain in stasis. Then, at the appointed moment, Shelly pulled out the control switch. “But if we flip this,” she said, “it will begin to accept new inputs!”
She flipped the switch. The LEDs kept blinking, blinking, blinking.
Christie woke groggily, twisting away from the drool on her pillow. What time is it? she thought, and looked around. The lights were on. She felt like she’d fallen asleep a couple of minutes ago. Her body felt weak, sticky all over.
It had been a couple of minutes, it seemed. The digital clock on her dresser read 5:58pm.
Christie wondered what had woken her up. She’d slept barely four hours in forty-eight, and she’d been hoping to sleep through till morning, when Rob, Shelly, and her memories would be at safe distance. But now Rob would still be here. Shelly would probably arrive back in a few minutes, Christie realized with dread. She decided to stay in her room and pretend to sleep.
But then Christie remembered the bags. Oh crap, she thought, the bags. They were still in her room, sitting by her desk, and Shelly and Rob would need to retrieve them. Christie cringed.
Could she tiptoe out and leave them outside her door? If Rob noticed her, she’d be forced to say goodbye to Shelly. But if she was really quiet…
Christie rolled over on her sheets. It was only then that she noticed.
The front of her printed skirt was warm, sticky, and wet. Her panties clung to her skin. When she sat upright, she felt her bottom damping, and her bed made the sound of water being wrung from a sponge. Christie’s heart started to race, and sweat formed on her brow. There was no way…
A light knock sounded. “Christie, are you awake?” came a quiet voice from her bedroom door. It was Rob.
Christie’s throat was locked, her lungs paralyzed. She couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening? This was impossible. She was in high school now. Christie tried to say something, but her voice gurgled out indistinctly.
“Shelly’s back. I’m coming in,” the voice said, and door creaked open.
And just like, Rob walked into Christie’s room. He found her sitting on her bed in her printed skirt, knees to chest, clothes and sheets soaked, staring at him with wide eyes.
Christie’s lips began to quiver.