“Sorry I couldn’t help carry anything in,” Shaun said, nestled in Janine’s infinity scarf.
She nudged his head with her chin. “I don’t expect you to! Don’t be ridiculous, I got this.”
“At least let me get the door for you.”
She laughed and picked her way up the icy steps, arms laden with a stack of Tupperware filled with food. She pried the screen door away and kicked the front door until a bleary teenager stomped up and answered it. “Michelle! Happy Thanksgiving! How nice to see you!”
Michelle gave a half-grin and limply hugged her aunt with one arm. “Hi, Auntie Janine, c’mon in,” she said in a tired sing-song. She held the door for her aunt and closed it behind her.
A young man bustled past her and energetically assisted with whisking her dishes into the kitchen. “Hi, Aunt Janine! Bye, Aunt Janine!”
She shouted at his back, “You be careful with that, Fred! The deviled eggs are balanced on the green bean casserole!”
Michelle helped her off with her coat. “So, uh, did you bring your boyfriend with you?” There was a note of life in her niece’s voice, abruptly, and she twirled a lock of glossy black hair.
Shaun heard, to his horror, “Sure did! Would you like to see him?” Silently he begged her not to do this. The niece nodded eagerly, crackling with animation, and he felt his girlfriend shift and twist somehow.
“Here you go!” she said, jangling her car keys in front of the teen’s disappointed face.
“Not. Funny. Auntie Janine.”
Relief flooded through Shaun’s tiny body as Janine laughed at the girl. “You seriously think I’m that stupid, Michelle? After what you and your friend tried to do to him last Independence Day?” He could see Michelle roll her eyes, a broad, goofy smile of braces betraying her self-satisfaction.
“Anyway, the cousins are here tonight, they’ll want to see him.” With that, Michelle turned and thundered up the hallway in an over-sized plaid shirt and skinny jeans.
“That was a close one, eh?” she whispered into her scarf.
Shaun took on a serious tone. “I can’t stress this enough: You need to keep a close eye on me every second!” He didn’t mean to bark at his girlfriend but his heart was pounding. “She’s going to do everything she can to steal me away from you! Please don’t underestimate her!”
She laughed. “Listen to you! So paranoid.” She surreptitiously patted her scarf.
“Sweetie, if you don’t take this seriously−” But his words were drowned out by the roar of families: his own family drove in from the ‘burbs to where Janine’s lived, and they liked each other well enough to share the occasional holiday. Thanksgiving was a cacophony of sound, a blur of activity, and a myriad of smells. They both loved food-oriented holidays, and so many people in their families loved to cook.
A shrill voice broke through the crowd. “Hi-i-i-i-i-i! How are you, sweetie? How was your flight?” This was Evelyn McCoy, his mother, hugging his girlfriend. He saw the graying curls and festive bauble earrings through the scarf as the women hugged. “And did you bring my little ma-a-a-an?” His mom tended to sing her vowels longer than necessary. Her painted fingernails dug through Janine’s scarf, and aging fingertips winnowed Shaun out. “Aw-w-w-w-w! Look at your little suit! Is that velvet?” She raised her son to her lips and pasted garish lipstick all over his face, before handing him back to his girlfriend.
Janine daubed at his face with a tissue for just such an occasion, laughing. “Aw, she loves you! She loves her little man! Well, I do too,” she said, licking his cheek like a hug.
“Please don’t do that right after my mother kisses me,” he said, wiping his face on his sleeve. “I’m not in the right mindset.”
“Well, if you’re going to be Mr. Grumpypants…”
“Hello! Happy Thanksgiving!” Her father, Dennis Galvan, shouldered his way through the women in the kitchen. His domestic beer was on his breath, and his whiskers scraped her cheek with pleasant nostalgia. She hugged him tightly. “And did you, uh, bring the little guy?”
She lifted her hands before him. Shaun waved, sitting cross-legged in her cupped palms. “Hi, Dennis,” he called out.
“Oh, there he is.” Dennis furrowed his dense, wiry white eyebrows and nodded. “Can I get you a beer?”
“Thanks, three’s my limit.”
Dennis was taken by surprised and guffawed, turning slightly to sneak a slice of white meat from the carving platter behind him. An arc of silver warned his hand away. “Not until dinner, you snuffling old boar!” His wife, Judy, set down her knife and turned from the carcass to hug her daughter quickly. “So glad you could make it, dear. Keep an eye out for Michelle and the cousins: your boyfriend is all they can talk about tonight.”
“Thank you, Judy!” Shaun waved enthusiastically. He had always admired his girlfriend’s mother, a stern, no-nonsense frontierswoman if ever there was one. Judy wrinkled her nose cutely at him and went back to preparations.
On and on they went, reacquainting themselves with grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws, and friends of the family. How was it possible they were related to so many people? Shaun and Janine wouldn’t even see them if they didn’t fly in for the holidays.
The elderly family members lounged in the living room, while the more able-bodied socialized in the kitchen, milling and churning in cramped space to the chagrin of the people actually doing work in there. The teenage siblings, cousins, and friends lounged in the living room, faces blue and jaws slack as they commiserated over text messages with other friends about not being at some hypothetical other place. Occasionally one of them would show an expression, briefly, part of a goofy Snapchat photo.
Eventually dinner was served and people claimed their places at the tables—the kids had their own table, and two large tables had to be pushed together for all the adults. According to some mystical and unspoken system, they took turns bringing their plates into the kitchen to load themselves up with food. Janine, of course, shared her food with her boyfriend, and that was what they simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded. Obviously he was no secret to the family, he’d met them all before at other holidays and they’d all seen pictures. Yet they could count on awkward questions and gaping at each event, as though some people just couldn’t reconcile with the facts of their world. Amusingly, it wasn’t the older people who struggled with the idea of Janine falling for a tiny man. They shrugged their shoulders and rolled with it, while the next two generations still treated them as something like a freak show…
After he filled himself on a few shreds of dark turkey meat and smeared his stuffing in her mashed potatoes and gravy, it was time for Shaun to make the rounds. Janine watched him proudly, strutting around the adults table in his tailored velvet suit. He had to march right up to any adult he was speaking with, and they had to lean over to hear him over the sociable din, but everyone was more or less amenable. Granted, her family was a little freaked out at first by his physical anomaly—”How the hell’d ya pull that off?” Dennis bluntly asked Evelyn one Easter brunch, receiving Judy’s hand upside the back of his head for his curiosity.
“Well, his grandfather, my father, Sidney McCoy, from Rhode Island, he was an Anthropole too.” Evelyn built up her momentum, once again telling this story to the Galvans and Yeagers and everyone else. “Sidney is no longer with us.”
Dennis had been stunned beyond tact. “So… your father was tiny, but you’re normal-sized? How about your mother?” Judy would’ve admonished him but, honestly, Janine’s family was fascinated to learn about this recessive genetic condition from someone with experience, and Evelyn did not mind an audience at all.
“Oh no, my mother, Elena, she’s our size. I mean, a little smaller, she’s nearly 80, but you know, that’s normal.” Shaun’s grandmother never made it out to these family occasions, as she had been declining with dementia before he dated Janine and was residing in a facility. “Sidney had come back from surveillance work in WWII, two years before the war ended, this experimental program that recruited tiny people and sent them overseas on very dangerous missions.”
“Sidney was a spy!” Janine’s father, a huge WWII buff, was very impressed and regarded Evelyn and her son with extra favor from then on.
“How’s your freelance work going, Shaun?” Dennis asked him. Shaun explained loudly to that end of the table—Judy and Dennis, their parents Geneva and Clayton Galvan, Janine’s sister Lena and her husband, also named Shawn (to everyone’s tame amusement)—that there was quite a lot of work for him, size wasn’t an issue, and he was able to manage his projects and turn them around all in the office suite on his smartphone.
“Those phones these days, they can do anything.” Dennis whistled. “That’s gotta be pretty expensive, though, huh? A nice phone and a good connection?”
He assured Dennis that his work more than financed the phone: he was nearly supporting half the household expenses. Dennis thought that was swell, just swell, even if there was some doubt in his face. “As a matter of fact, the company I’m working for right now has a couple BigSuits on hand, one of which isn’t being used, so there’s a chance that−”
Evelyn cut in, “It’s just amazing what these phones can do!” and she basically repeated everything Shaun had stated, but hearing it from another parent somehow made the message more digestible to old boys like Dennis and Clayton. She couldn’t stop singing his praises: since the last Thanksgiving he’d started charging more for his work and it hadn’t cost him any business at all. Judy thought that was marvelous, grinning at the little man in his little velvet jacket, standing before the edge of her plate. He waved up at her, she simpered cutely at him, and he moved on.
“Tell us another piece of bullshit about WWII,” challenged his girlfriend’s uncle, Billy Yeager, well into his cups. This was a two-pronged attack: he wanted to stump the little guy, whose job included fact-checking on a broad range of topics; failing that, Billy was always looking for something with which to needle his brother-in-law, Dennis. “Tell us something about the Greatest Generation.” Judy glared icily at her brother, seated at the other end of the table, and patted Dennis’s hand.
Shaun cleared his throat and recalled that, despite all the hoopla about soldiers doing their nationalistic duty, “two-thirds of them were drafted into war, while two-thirds of the soldiers in ‘Nam were volunteers. More men dodged the draft in WWII than in ‘Nam and WWI combined.”
Billy grinned winningly at Dennis, who pretended to be otherwise engaged with shoving white meat around in gravy. The little man was never sure what personal battle he would be dragged into, at these occasions. He wove his way between water and wine glasses to say hello to Lena and Shawn. Once again, Shaun’s work situation was summarized, and he asked about their children. “Michelle would never admit it,” Lena said—her huge gold hoop earrings swayed with her golden layered bob as she glanced at her daughter at the next table—”but she’s very into choir and musicals. She’s really good, too! I don’t know why she hides it.” Shaun stared straight up her nose while she litanized all the classes Michelle and Fred were taking in school and how well they were doing in each. Shawn only caught the tiny man’s glance with a raised eyebrow, subtly toasting him with a wineglass, as though to say “this is my life now.” Shaun sent him up a sympathetic grin, then trotted over to Allen and Rosa Barrett, friends of the family, beside them.
“Michelle! Put your damn phone down and set a good example for your cousins!” Lena hollered at her daughter.
“Courtney? Chelsey? Sit up straight, honeys.” Allen followed with less enthusiasm. Two identical girls at the next table glanced at him and stiffened their posture… for a few moments.
“Hi, I’m Rosa,” his wife offered, reaching her large hand directly into Shaun’s personal space. She started to say how nice it was to meet him until he ducked behind a water glass. Rosa looked at Allen and Shawn in confusion.
Janine, across from her, spoke up. “It’s okay, Rosa, you didn’t do anything wrong!” (Shaun’s expression to her showed he felt otherwise.) “It’s just that we’re very, very huge to him, so if you want to shake his hand, just remember to move a little more slowly. And you just need one finger.”
Rosa looked at her, unsure, but nodded. “Can we try again, Shaun?”
He stepped out from behind the glass, a little red in the face. “I’m sorry, it’s just reflexes. I wasn’t ready for that. It’s very nice to meet you, Rosa.” He held out his hand and this time she more gently extended her index finger. He placed one palm on her painted nail and the other on her fingertip. She let her finger go limp as he raised and lowered her thick digit as well as he was able, grinning up at her. She could only stare at him with the fascinated expression he was accustomed to from most women, especially at first contact: her eyes were huge and unblinking, and her mouth opened slightly with a dreamy grin. He released her fingertip and she only retracted her hand slowly, blushing a little when Allen asked if she were okay.
“He’s so… little…” She giggled at her husband, never taking her eyes off Shaun.
“Yeah. Yeah, he is,” Allen said, kind of smiling, confused by his wife’s reaction. The tiny man waved up at him and trotted around a bread basket to greet Janine’s aunt, Jo, and her husband, Stanley.
To do this, however, he had to skirt around Billy’s plate, but Billy found it amusing to take up his dinner knife (dull enough but still menacing) and pretend to jab at Shaun with “hi-yahh!” noises. Ready for something like this, Shaun leaped away from each strike, ducked behind a salt shaker, and waved to his girlfriend when he had a chance. Janine, however, was straining to hear a long and drawn-out story that Grandma Geneva was attempting to recall, with prompts from her husband. Not for the last time, Shaun wished he had a buzzer in his pocket that could send an electrical shock to his easily distracted girlfriend’s wrist or something.
Jo elbowed Stanley, who pointedly slid Billy’s wineglass out of his reach. “What gives?” the single uncle complained, but Stanley only shook his head gently at him. “Aww, we’re just kidding around. Aren’t we, Shaun?” Leering playfully, Billy pretended to bump the edge of his plate with his elbow. The plate shot forward, catching Shaun in the knees, and the tiny man pitched forward and landed in a pool of gravy and mashed potatoes on Billy’s plate. This set the uncle off braying with laughter, which finally caught Janine’s attention.
“Goddamn it, Uncle Billy!” she yelped across the table. But Stanley was on it: he knocked the tablespoon out of Billy’s hand, before he could scoop the tiny man out of his own food (and God only knows what he’d do next, in the name of comedy), and plucked Shaun away as respectfully as he could, setting him between Jo and her mother, Charisse.
“When are you gonna get tired of disgracing yourself, Billy?” asked his father, Earlie. Humiliated, Billy threw down his napkin, loudly kicked his chair back into a flatware cabinet, and stormed out of the room.
Jo watched him sadly. “Guess it wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving without one of his displays.” Down the hall a door slammed. Stanley slipped an arm around his wife’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze.
Shaun had shucked his velvet jacket, and Grandma Yeager was dunking it in her drinking water. “Oh, honey, hold on, you’ve got some gravy on your shirt,” Jo said, thoughtlessly reaching for him. “Let me get that.” Before Stanley could respond and faster than Shaun could duck, his girlfriend’s aunt caught him up in a fist and hauled him up to her face.
Shaun gasped in surprise, watching Jo’s expression—matronly and concerned—racing at him. Her fleshy fingers wrapped around him tenderly, but firmly, and he struggled against her mere thumb. Stanley could only clear his throat and murmur “uh, dear?” before Jo had mashed her diminutive nephew into the soft, hot bedding of her lips. Her warm breath gusted over his face and chest from her large slitted nostrils, and then her broad, pink lips puckered and covered his chest and belly entirely. Shaun’s tiny hands pushed away at her upper lip, his minuscule fingers laced between fine, dark hairs. She began to suck at him, locking onto his chest, air hissing around her lips as the tip of her tongue nudged into the gravy that ran down the front of his shirt.
“Jo! My God!” Shaun’s voice seemed to disappear up her nostrils. Her lips pulsed into his body as though she couldn’t hear him over the noise. All he could do was brace his arms against her upper lip and nose, while her overwhelmingly strong hand kept him jammed against her face.
Stanley’s voice, rumbling not far from his wife’s palm, was heavy with meaning: “Is that really the best way to clean him up, dear?”
This seemed to break the spell Jo was under. “Oh my God, Shaun!” She pulled back her palm, leaving the tiny man sprawled in it. “I’m so sorry! I’m just used to… kid’s clothes, they get so many stains… don’t know what I was thinking…” She dumped him hastily to the tablecloth and covered her face in her hands, prompting Charisse to inquire as to what was the matter; Jo only shook her head and leaned on her husband.
Shaun smoothed his hair back. “Hey, uh, thanks for helping out with Billy, Stan,” he called up. “I know he didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just really awkward for everyone.”
“Don’t think anything of it.” Stanley nodded, patted his wife’s shoulder. She wouldn’t even look up. “How’s work going?” And Shaun launched into it all—by now a very lean and meaning-dense elevator speech—for this end of the table: Charisse and Earlie, Jo and Stanley, and across from them Janine’s older brother Cody and his wife, Alma. She came to the family with a daughter, Audrey, seated on her right; their kids, Chelsey and Courtney, were at the next table.
“What exactly is a BigSuit?” Alma wanted to know. She looked down upon Shaun skeptically, as though he were somehow a trick. Anthropoles—”tiny people”—were a fact of life and had been for decades, but some people still managed to go their entire lives without seeing them except for in tragic news stories.
Audrey, for her part, pretended to not be interested in the conversation. With Billy’s empty chair before her—signifying an end to the dramedy—she could only field Janine’s questions around Evelyn’s head throughout the dinner. But now that tiny little Shaun was standing before her mother’s plate, she couldn’t keep from gawking unabashedly.
“BigSuits are like these cyber-bodies people like me can wear,” Shaun said. He hated the slang term Tinies and refused to use it, even when it made for easier conversation. “You’ve seen them around town, usually on cops or firefighters. We ride in the helmet, a screen enlarges our face for conversation, and the suit’s built to look just like one of you, but with all sorts of tools and software embedded in it.”
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen those,” said Cody, a little too quickly. “Firefighters and police use those. They’re very handy, I bet.” Alma smacked his shoulder, and then smacked Audrey’s hand away: she’d slowly been snaking her hand around her mother’s plate, one finger extended. Shaun saw it and had braced himself for a poke in the tummy, not an uncommon reaction from younger women. Older women tended to stare and ask lots of questions, while children simply lashed out with the quickness of a snake, seized him in a fist, and ran away as fast as their little legs could carry them. Shaun thanked Alma for her vigilance and shot a dark glance at his girlfriend, who was locked in a conversation about teenagers with Rosa across from her.
“So yeah, Software Dance, the magazine I’m contracting with, has a couple of these, and we’ve been talking about how it’d be useful for these meetings they want me to attend.” Without his jacket, Shaun felt his miniature white shirt looked stiff and blocky. He untucked it from his pants and struggled to find a casual standing position, without staring at Alma’s low-cut top.
The wife of his girlfriend’s older brother (Shaun labored to recall these relationships) had quite large breasts that rested heavily on the table before her, piling just a little over the edge of her plate. The last thing he wanted was for Cody to catch him ogling her. “I’ve had meetings with them before. It’s easier when I’m telecommuting, my phone’s camera has great resolution, but the in-person meetings are a little awkward, what with me standing on the table, surrounded by…” He trailed off: Alma was very intrigued by everything he was saying, leaning forward on her elbows, her medium-length black hair swaying in space above her plate.
Her cleavage now was positively abyssal, one thin gold necklace glinting before voluptuous tan boobs and plunging darkness. She seemed to be self-unconscious of how she looked, heavy-lidded eyes peering down her nose at him, her thick lips hanging in a graceless, if sensual, gape. Shaun’s heart pounded in his chest: he glanced at his girlfriend, who still wasn’t paying attention to him, but now he noticed Audrey leaning forward on one elbow, blocking his path to his mother and resembling Alma in their reverie. He glanced at Alma’s wineglass, noticing it was down to the bottom, but was that at the end of one glass of wine… or three?
Now Audrey was licking her lips. Alarmed, Shaun looked at her place setting, and there was also a freshly empty glass of wine. Audrey didn’t look quite old enough to drink, but doubtlessly someone poured her a glass for the family celebration. Shaun wondered what her tolerance was, gleaning answers from her lazy posture as she leaned on one arm, the rose tint to her cheeks, and the guileless display of emotions on her face as she gawked at the little man, expressions of fascination… and intent.
“Hey Cody,” Shaun screamed above the ambient din of table chat, “have you met my mother?”
Evelyn’s radar picked up on her mention like an electric shock to her spine. She spun away from chatting with Janine’s parents, picked out Shaun behind Audrey’s elbow, and politely shouldered the young woman away as she introduced herself to Alma and Cody with irresistible force.
The abrupt activity shook Janine’s senses and she too glanced over at her brother’s family. Seeing Shaun on his own, seemingly with nothing to do, she cheerily waved him over to her plate. He hustled to respond, which Alma began to protest but was swiftly overridden by the force of nature that was Evelyn, proudly extolling the virtues of her son and inquiring deeply as to their own children.
“See? There was nothing to worry about,” chided Janine to her little boyfriend. There was a tap on her right shoulder: Courtney was at her elbow.
“Can we get some of your cranberry sauce, please? Ours is all gone.” Her niece looked up at her with bright eyes, frizzy hair, and missing two front teeth.
Janine bent to kiss the girl’s forehead. “How’re you guys doing over there?” she asked, reaching for the sauce in front of Lena. The girl gave no response—she just received the cranberry dish, stared up at Janine, then slowly turned and walked back to the kids’ table.
“That was weird,” Janine muttered, turning back to discover her boyfriend missing. Her brow furrowed. “Shaun? Where’d you get off to?” She glanced around the table: everyone seemed to be locked in conversations with everyone else, but there was no little man slipping between the dishes and glasses anywhere.
“‘Scuse me,” slurred Audrey, struggling out of her chair between her mother and Shaun’s. “Gotta go lie down.”
Narrowing her eyes, Janine likewise excused herself and followed the young woman at some distance. She noticed the kids’ table was nearly cleared but for the Galvan twins picking at the cranberry sauce with their fingers, bright scarlet dribbles running up their pretty peach dresses.
Janine took a quick inventory of the kids: beyond their table Jack and Fred lounged on the floor, scrutinizing their phones and going on about sports scores. That left Michelle and… Jack’s sister… who…
“Jack! What’s your sister’s name?”
His voice little more than a grunt, he said, “Lorene.”
“Where is she?”
Jack only shrugged and returned to commenting about the Detroit Lions this season.
Janine stomped over to him and placed her shoe in the center of his chest. The boy’s eyes went wide as he stared up her stockinged leg, up her sweater, and into hell at a low boil. “Where is she, Jack?”
“I dunno, she went off with Michelle somewhere.” His eyes drifted down to her knee and Janine realized what kind of skirt she was wearing, withdrew her leg. The Barretts were only friends of the family, but still, who knew if she just gave this kid a complex? Cursing, she ducked back into the hallway to see where Audrey was sneaking off to.
Dead end: Audrey hung a left to the guest bedroom and collapsed upon the twin bed covered in coats. Janine only distantly wondered who gave her that much wine as she pulled the dozing girl’s boots off and switched off the light on her way out. She went back up the hallway, taking another left and a short flight of stairs to the kids’ rooms. Uncle Billy was snoring on Fred’s bed, and Michelle’s light was out. A frosty panic began to spread through her chest as she very clearly recalled her boyfriend’s urgent tone of voice at the beginning of the evening. But this was her family! She couldn’t accept that they’d let this happen, nor that no one had noticed anything.
Yet when she returned to the dining room and asked Lena where Shaun was—and after her husband lamely raised his hand with a chortle—she realized that no, everyone was wrapped up in their own little chats and desserts and coffees, and no one had seen a thing. Janine tagged her sister and her aunt to begin to scour the house; Alma volunteered as well, to Janine’s surprise.
After Janine turned out the light and closed the door solidly, Michelle and Lorene waited another 20 seconds before peeking out of the guest room closet.
The room was dark, with only as much light as came in off the nighttime street: two distant streetlights, and the overcast sky hid the stars and moon. Outside the bedroom door their families roared and laughed and ate some more. Closer, some gentle snoring came from the pile of coats: Michelle noted her cousin was pretty well passed out and wouldn’t cause them any trouble.
“Michelle,” Shaun said steadily, “take me back to Janine right now, and I’ll make sure you don’t get in any trouble.”
The raven-haired girl looked at the tiny man clamped in her two small fists. “Just shut the fuck up right now, little man,” she hissed. “You’re not even family. You can’t tell me what to do.” Lorene’s eyes were huge, watching the two of them, but she wasn’t about to scream or tattle or anything. She had that glint in her eye that… well, Shaun had seen that glint many times before.
“Don’t be scared,” said Michelle to her friend.
“I’m not. What do we do now?”
Michelle grinned. “We should get pictures. No one’ll believe this.” The girls opened up their camera apps. “My friends are gonna be so jealous.”
They made Shaun stand on Michelle’s shoulder, where she tucked her hair behind her ear, with Lorene hovering on his other side. He jumped down only once: Michelle immediately caught him and dumped him into her cousin’s boot, covering the cuff with her hand. Shaun could hold his breath for a long time, but not when the teen started shaking the boot violently. Stunned, he tumbled into her palm when she upended the footgear, and she easily extracted a promise from him to behave.
He stood carefully on the wicked young woman’s shoulder, one hand gripping her earlobe to steady himself. Lorene panted with excitement right next to him, smelling of bubble gum, as Michelle lined up the shots. The flashes were powerful and disorienting, but eventually they were done.
Lorene laughed goofily. “Now what?”
“Well, we gotta Snapchat this.” Michelle turned her head toward Shaun. “I wonder if facial recognition will even pick you up!” She laughed, and her friend laughed, but Shaun’s stomach was sinking.
“Can I hold him?” Lorene asked, and Shaun nearly fell off when Michelle shrugged. Lorene had no experience with handling Anthropoles, but his cries of pain and fright were ignored by the other conscious person in the room. The girls only grinned over him, Michelle’s braces sparkling in the dim light from the streetlights outside. Lorene laid Shaun down in one palm and spread out his arms and legs, examining him with all the senselessness and entitlement as though he were a toy and not a person. “Cool,” she breathed.
Shaun stared up into her face: huge round and clear eyes, pale skin without a pore or a flaw, and a cartoonish gaping mouth with uneven teeth. His heart pounded fearfully as her face hovered just above him, with darkness all around. Lorene’s hair, a frizzy mane, fell about her hand like a shroud. “Take me back to Janine, please,” he said to her. Her fine, thin eyebrows furrowed for only a second, and then her grin widened as she shook her head. Her frizzy hair blurred around him in the darkness and it was very disorienting. He could only close his eyes to block it out, but then his senses focused on her clammy and sweaty palm.
Michelle’s palm slammed upon him and yanked him out of the grove of the girl’s hair. The air whooshed out of his chest and he groaned. Michelle felt no compunction to limit her strength when she clutched him. She rolled him around between her fingertips and held him against her cheek: her huge face and his tiny body showed up in the display screen of her smartphone, where a green square struggled to recognize anything about him. Her face was hideous with delight and smugness. When his legs swung by the corner of her mouth, she lined up a shot and stuck her tongue out to lap at his miniature shoes.
“If you post these pictures,” he said suddenly, “even if you just share them with friends, you’re distributing evidence of kidnapping and abuse of a vulnerable adult.”
That wiped the grin off Michelle’s face. “Fuck,” she sighed, lowering her hand and resting him briefly in her lap.
Lorene wasn’t smiling either. “Is he serious? Are we gonna go to jail?”
People stomped around outside. The tone of conversation had changed from laughter to loud conversation… serious conversation. Michelle recognized her mother’s voice yelling at someone.
Shaun pounced on their hesitation. “Seriously, Michelle, just return me to Janine and I’ll tell her to go easy on you. You know, we’re going to be married someday. I will be related to you. Not to boss you around, but… this is pretty creepy, what you’re doing.”
The black-haired girl glowered at him. “We’re not doing anything, just taking pictures.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble, Michelle.” Lorene started to rise. “Maybe we should−”
“Hold on a second.” Michelle seized the younger girl by the wrist. “Just a few more pictures. It’ll be awesome.” Lorene sank to sitting on the floor once more. “What would be the most hilarious picture we could take?”
Lorene’s huge eyes flickered from the tiny man to the teenager. “What if you kissed him?”
In one voice, Michelle and Shaun both shot that down. She looked down at the little man. “What’re you acting grossed out about? I’d never want to kiss you.”
Shaun grimaced. “And I don’t want to kiss you, so we agree.”
“I wouldn’t want to be kissed by you!”
“Believe me, I was never going to do that.”
“I didn’t want you to!”
“Then stop hinting at it!”
Michelle looked like he (or a larger version) slapped her. “I’m not hinting at anything! Gross!”
“You’re trying your lame-ass teenage reverse psychology on me!” Shaun folded his arms, resting his elbows on the thumb that pinned him to her palm. “If you don’t want it, why are you talking about it so much?”
“You’re talking about it! Maybe you’re reverse psyching me!”
Shaun scoffed. “Don’t even dare to dream. Janine’s the only one I want. You wouldn’t even know what to do with me.”
“I don’t want to do anything with you!”
“Then how come you won’t let me go, huh? How come you snatched me away from your friend like that? Jealous much?”
Michelle thought her head would explode. She struggled to come up with the next twist in this tortuous argument until she heard someone thumping down the basement stairs. She shook her head sharply and narrowed her eyes at the tiny man in her grip. “You’re stalling. Lorene, we need to think of some pictures to do with this little asshole.”
Shaun sighed. The girl somehow saw right through him. Impressive… and dangerous.
“Maybe if you sat on him,” Michelle ventured, “I could get a picture of that. You do it and I’ll do it.”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” her friend said. “I don’t know how much he can take. I don’t want you to hurt him either.”
Great-Grandma Yeager was calling to someone from the dining room, asking for the twins.
“What about our feet?” Michelle said. “Pull off your socks, make him smell your toes, I’ll get a picture of that.”
Lorene winced. “That’s gross. I’m not doing that, you do it. What do you want a picture of that for anyway?” Shaun informed her she was a very smart young woman.
Michelle frowned and started to peel off her socks with one hand, when Audrey gasped for air and started to snore. The girls started with surprise. Then Michelle slowly grinned at Lorene and told her to turn the flash on her camera.
“What are you doing, Michelle,” Shaun asked darkly. “If you do something stupid, Janine’s going to kill you.”
“Then I’d better make this good while I’m alive, right?” She laughed to herself, rising to her knees and crawling over to the pile of coats in which the young woman had passed out. She adjusted her grip on the tiny man, pinching his lower leg and letting him dangle freely in the air.
Her friend came up with her camera. “Okay, it’s set. What are you gonna do?”
“Watch this.” Michelle leaned against the side of the mattress by Audrey’s shoulder, stretched her arm up dramatically, and held Shaun directly above the woman’s sleeping face. Her eyes looked sad, closed in slumber, but her mouth was gaping wide open with snoring.
“Oh, fuck. Michelle, don’t do this.” Shaun wanted to kick and flail, but he forced himself to hold still, completely unconfident in his future niece’s coordination.
The raven-haired teen only grinned, slowly bringing her hand down. “Uh! Uh! Down you go,” she chirped. Though Shaun held still, Michelle still waggled him above the unconscious woman’s face. Lorene watched the whole thing through her smartphone, then the room flashed in white.
“Dammit, Lorene! Warn me when you’re gonna take a picture!” Michelle rubbed her eyes with her other hand. Shaun covered his face only briefly, more worried about his predicament.
“Sorry. Lower him down some more, I want to get a shot of him and Audrey’s face together.”
Michelle found no problem with this. In the darkness of the guest bedroom, she crouched beside her cousin’s head. Her brown hair spilled all over the pillow in a silken mess. It was a little exciting for the teen, to be so close to her and undetected. Audrey’s teeth glowed dimly in the ambient light, and Michelle lowered the tiny man between the two sets of incisors.
That’s when he lost his cool. Shaun swore at Michelle, flailing, grasping at the sleeping woman’s teeth. Both his hands gripped her upper incisors and he briefly halted his descent, but Michelle easily saw what was happening and tugged him off her upper jaw. She swung him back and forth, preventing him from getting a grip.
Shaun could smell the Thanksgiving spices and red wine on Audrey’s breath. So far she seemed motionless, snoring like a hellbeast but otherwise not stirring. When Michelle swung him closer to her mouth, he reached for anything he could to block himself from going in. Inches below, Audrey’s wet tongue roiled and pulsed, flexing when she gasped for air. He had to wonder whether she’d wake up if this idiot teen dropped him in there, or if she’d just swallow him by reflex. When he screamed at the girls, his own voice echoed sharply within Audrey’s gaping jaws.
“Okay, cover your eyes,” Lorene murmured.
Michelle did so but Shaun was taken by surprise, distracted by the threat of his own death. He looked at the younger girl just as the flash glowed to line up the shot, then went off a second time. Dazzled, he couldn’t see anything that was going on. His shoulder brushed against something hard, probably Audrey’s upper incisors, so he curled himself in half and strained to clutch his knees. He heard Michelle’s laughter and then Lorene’s advisory of another impending flash. His eyelids strobed red as he clenched them shut this time.
“Should we get another one or should I just drop him in?” Michelle asked her friend.
“Fuck! Don’t drop me, Michelle! Your mom’s gonna kill you! You’ll… you’ll choke Audrey!”
Michelle laughed. “She’ll figure it out in time. She probably won’t eat you. And if she does… oh, well.”
The doorknob clicked and the guest bedroom flooded with light. Activity still roared outside, but a woman’s voice quietly asked, “What’s going on in here?”
Janine kicked some empty cardboard boxes around in the basement, moving them out of the way of rough wooden shelving.
Lena asked, “Are we looking for the girls, or are you searching for Shaun by himself somewhere?”
“I don’t know.” Janine held her forehead. “Does Michelle smoke?”
“Oh, she’d better not.”
“No, I mean… does she go out for walks around the block? Should we be looking outside for them?”
Lena stiffened. “Goddamn it, this neighborhood… After we tear this house apart, we’ll go driving around and look for them. Separate cars.”
“I don’t know this place like you do.”
“Then let’s not think about that now.” Lena went over to her little sister, burying her face in her hands. “Hey, come on, we’ll find him. I’ll twist her head off and ground her for three lifetimes.”
“Were we ever this bad as teenagers?”
Lena laughed sharply. “I was much worse. You were a fucking brat, though.” She dodged Janine’s punch and suggested they check the garage. They trotted up the stairs and nearly ran into Alma, hurrying toward the stairs for the second level.
“We already checked my bedroom,” Lena told her, but Alma muttered something about needing the other bathroom and barreled past them. “Wow, how much did she have to drink?”
Janine narrowed her eyes, watching her sister-in-law hustle up the carpeted steps, but the cry of “Found ’em!” snapped her head around. Sprinting down the hall, she found her mother hauling the two teens out of the guest bedroom totally old-school: their ears firmly clamped between thumbs and forefingers. Judy released them only when Lena and Janine flanked them.
“Where the hell were you two? Where’s Shaun?”
Lorene stared up with huge, watery eyes but Michelle refused to make eye contact. “No idea,” she said, rubbing her ear. “We were just messing with Audrey. She’s drunk,” she added, smiling at the women, hoping for a deflection of attention. “She’s only 20.”
Judy’s face was cast iron. Her brass-lined throat rang out across the house: “Cody Galvan! Do you know what your daughter’s been up to?” With this she stormed off, rattling the house with each step.
Lorene tried to slip past but Lena stepped up and blocked her. Before she could complain she saw something over Lena’s shoulder that terrified her. “What’s happening over here?” asked Rosa, coming in from the living room. “Lorene, are you causing trouble at our friends’ house?”
The blood drained from the girl’s face. “No, I wasn’t, I swear! I… what’s the Wi-Fi password here?”
It was Michelle’s turn to pale, and she smacked her friend in the chest. Quicker than lightning, Janine seized the teens and confiscated their phones. “What’s your password?” she asked Michelle.
“None of your business!” The teen’s indignation was sincere.
Lena’s arm snaked around her head, and her fist knotted tightly in all that glossy black hair. Michelle yelped and cried out some numbers; Lorene’s phone was unsecured. The two sisters looked in the Photos folders, and Janine gave a little cry. Out of love for her sister she didn’t strike out at the teen, but Lena saw she was struggling mightily to restrain herself.
“Oh, my God…” Lena never relinquished the hold on her daughter’s head. “What have you done with that poor little man? And if you say you were just playing with him, I’ll hold you down in the bathtub with my own two hands.”
“I just want to see,” murmured Alma, slurring slightly. “I just want to see what this is like.”
Shaun backed away from her on the vanity, edging around the sink basin, but the larger woman only scooped him back into her cleavage. Her hand was too tall for him to hurdle over, and drunk as she was, she was still quick enough to catch him when he dodged.
“Alma, please just take me to Janine. She’s looking for me, I can hear her.”
She chuckled, and her enormous boobs shook around the Anthropole. She knelt on a step-stool in front of the sink, with her shirt pulled up and her breasts hauled out of their capacious bra cups, resting on the chilly vanity.
“Come on, I just want to see what this feels like.” With Shaun in place, she cupped the outsides of her breasts in her palms and slowly mashed them together. The tiny man stared up at her (angry or scared, she couldn’t see clearly) until her smooth, tan globes covered up his chest, then his shoulders, then rose up and swallowed his little head. She laughed again and jostled her boobs back and forth. The little mass between them was solid and warm and unmoving.
“You okay in there? You ain’t dead already, are you?” She looked at herself in the mirror: grinning, semi-undressed, her flaws lost in eyes that wouldn’t focus precisely. She looked like she remembered herself from years ago… just with much larger breasts. “Don’t you men all love huge tits? You must be in heaven right now.” She laughed and watched herself heave her bosom back and forth, the little man all but disappeared between them.
Finally he began to squirm. All at once, his tiny arms and legs kicked and poked at her boobs. Alma laughed and squeezed her breasts tighter, diminishing his range of motion. “There you go! Show me what you got!” She relented, and his minuscule hands poked up between her narrow cleavage. She heard a little gasp and some panting. “You ain’t jacking off in there, are you? That costs extra.” She laughed harder and sealed him up between her breasts again, slowly climbing off the stool and standing above the sink. She wanted to see if she could pinch him in there securely, without thinking about what it would mean if he fell.
Again his arms poked out and his little hands seized her thin gold necklace. Slowly Shaun pulled his head out of her cleavage and gasped for air again, his tiny face reddened and furious.
“Oh, you can’t breathe!” Alma found this hilarious as well. “Time for some CPR!” So saying, her thick fingers reached beneath her tremendous breasts and lifted the sloppy masses up to her face. Shaun’s eyes widened as Alma’s thick, red lips puckered twice, then parted. Her mouth descended upon him, her fat tongue pouring out of her mouth and leading the way into her own devouring cleavage.
The bathroom door, a hollow-core interior job, blasted open in a flurry of splinters. “I’ll pay for that!” Janine shouted over her shoulder. With fluid coordination her right fist ran through Alma’s jaw and her left hand jabbed into the woman’s solar plexus, catching Shaun deftly when the tremendous breasts flopped aside. Janine clutched Shaun protectively to her own chest, then bent away sideways and delivered a solid kick to Alma’s gut.
The intoxicated and lascivious woman staggered back and collapsed over the toilet. Moaning, she reached to touch the back of her head, where it struck the toilet paper holder, then collapsed into uncontrolled sobbing. Janine leaned back against the vanity and wept over her boyfriend. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” she kept repeating, but as much as he wanted to, Shaun didn’t feel much generosity to reassure her just then. He only buried his face in her familiar-smelling sweater and tried to control his breathing.
“All things considered, that wasn’t one of our worst Thanksgivings,” Dennis offered weakly. At Judy’s glance he shrugged and shuffled off to say goodbyes to Geneva and Clayton and the Yeagers.
“I’m so sorry this happened, sweetie.” Judy embraced her daughter by the front door. “Shaun, I’m so ashamed. The Barretts are talking to their daughter. Lorene’s easily led, I guess, but that Michelle’s a little hellion.” She clucked her tongue. “Lena and Shawn have their work cut out for them with that one. But I just can’t apologize enough to you.”
A tiny arm poked out of the infinity scarf and waved up at her.
“He’s a little touchy right now,” Janine said, adding hastily, “and I don’t blame him. I really let him down in the worst way tonight.” Her face screwed up. “He tried to warn me and I wouldn’t listen. Those little…”
Judy hugged her tightly again. She asked her daughter if she was okay to drive; Janine assured her she was, then hefted her empty Tupperware under one arm and made her way down the front walk.
The Galvan twins were already strapped in to their minivan, leaving Cody to wrangle his drunk daughter and drunk wife. He looked up as Janine walked by, leaving them dazedly struggling with seat belts for the moment. “I’m so sorry about tonight, sis,” he said, backing off at Janine’s glare. “I don’t know how it got so out of control.”
“Just… put a fucking leash on them or something.” She grudgingly accepted a light hug from her brother. “Be sure to let them enjoy their hangovers tomorrow, at least.” Cody laughed, apologized again, and returned to his labors.
The Lasters happened to be parked in front of Janine. They weren’t leaving their own home: Shawn was using the car for some very harsh words with his daughter, who from Janine’s angle appeared to give little indication of listening. Not far away, Fred and Jack leaned against a large oak, their faces glowing blue above their phones, until Allen and Rosa walked up with their sobbing daughter and collected their son.
Lena stepped away from the driver’s side door and hurried up to her sister. “I am so, so sorry about this, Janine. I can’t even tell you. I’m sick to death over it.” Lena looked as though she’d been crying, herself. “I haven’t even told you about what she’s getting into at school. Later, when we have time. Coffee next week.” She glanced at her car. “Still… she’s giving me a break, compared to what I used to do to Judy.”
The sisters laughed and hugged. Janine kissed her sister’s cheek. “Kill her for me, would you?” Lena promised she would and stalked back to the car of pain.
“Janine?” From the front door of the house, Evelyn’s voice called out into the night.
Janine had forgotten all about Shaun’s mother. “Oh, my God!” She ran up the yard and unfolded her scarf before the woman. Evelyn’s hands fluttered around her son, wanting to embrace him but not wanting to make anything worse. Ultimately she kissed her fingertip and brushed him gently across the forehead with it.
“You’re sure you’re okay? Oh, my poor little boy!” Evelyn scowled at Cody’s minivan and the Lasters’s car. “Teenagers these days, I just don’t know what their parents−”
“I’m okay, Mom. I’m just gonna need some time alone.” He sighed but put on a brave smile for his mother. “We’ll get plenty of that on the plane tomorrow. It was good to see you again. I’ll call when we get home.”
Evelyn looked far from appeased but nodded. She looked Janine in the eyes, mournfully, with a little fire. “Take better care of my little boy,” she said quietly. “His grandfather was an Anthropole, too, you know, rest his soul, and… I couldn’t take it if…”
Janine promised repeatedly that she’d protect Shaun and apologized repeatedly to her. After sufficient time had passed she was permitted to retire to her own vehicle, Evelyn quietly sobbing in the background.
Janine slumped into the driver’s seat of their rental car, exhaling slowly, then tossed the Tupperware in the back seat and started the car to warm up. “Shaun, I’m so sorry, and I’m so mad at myself. I really hate myself right now. I don’t know why I didn’t take you seriously.”
Her little boyfriend stirred in her scarf until his head peeked from within the folds. “Well, Janine, sometimes when you really want something to go a certain way, it’s like you don’t think anything else can happen. You saw a festive celebration in your head, and…” Shaun sighed and shook his head. “But what you want doesn’t have much effect on reality. I begged you to protect me against those kids. You knew they were going to try something.”
“They’re fucking sneaky! I didn’t expect them to get the twins in on the act!”
There was a long pause. “I need you to expect everything, Janine. I need to feel safe with you when we go out. And maybe that means we can’t go out to family dinners anymore.”
“Or maybe I could wear you in a little cage, on my necklace?” She smiled apologetically.
“This wasn’t my fault! I didn’t do anything wrong! I was talking to your family like you wanted me to!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Shaun, I didn’t mean it like that…”
Another long pause. “I’m sorry for snapping. I know this was an accident. I’m just really volatile right now.”
“I understand that. Can I touch you?” Janine gently placed her hand over Shaun, covering him in her scarf, sharing her heat. “I would have died if anything happened to you… little guy.” The affectation was a test; Shaun didn’t seem to mind. “I love you more than anything, and right now I’m ready to kill those girls. But I hate myself for being so stupid around them. I will never let anything like this happen ever again, Shaun. I promise you I’ll always protect you.”
“Hold me close to you?” he asked quietly.
She pressed him through the yarn against her breast, where her heart pounded.
“Keep me forever?”
She would, demonstrably.
They drove off and slept in their hotel, kissing and making up and healing. They woke up bright and early, they shared a seat on the plane, and got drunk while doing crossword puzzles. When they got home, she left their bags in the living room and took him straight to bed, where they watched videos and cuddled and snacked and shut the world out.