The bedroom was already filled and glowing with sunshine before Krista ever noticed. When she did, it was impossible to go back to sleep.
She moaned unhappily, pulled her blanket over her head, and rolled to her side. Two seconds ticked off before she yelped and jumped backward. “Tamas! Tamas, are you okay? Where are you? Did I hurt you?” Heart racing, she checked behind her before kneeling upright and smoothing out her bed sheets.
The tiny, naked man crawled out from under her pillow. “Not so loud. I like to wake up slowly, you know.” He grinned up at her and held out his arms to be picked up.
“Oh, my Goddess,” she breathed, swiping him up in one fist and settling back into the mattress. “I get so scared, every time I move and I don’t see you immediately. We’ve got to figure something out, some way to, like, strap you to me or something.”
“But you don’t want to wear a bra to bed.”
She shrugged, resting him upon her sternum. “I gotta be free. I hate feeling bound up when I’m sleeping. I have a thing about imprisonment, if you recall.” She sighed and rested her head back into the pillows, letting her fingertips lightly stroke the tender, bumpy, fragile form of the shrunken man on her chest. “I don’t really want to do this, today. Why can’t summer last forever?”
Tamas only spread his arms and legs and stretched out upon her skin. “Come on, it’ll be fun. A bold new adventure, neh?”
“But what’m I gonna do about you?”
“Same thing you’ve been doing for the past month: hide me, keep me on you.”
Krista sat up and caught him in her palms, level with her navel. “But aren’t you getting tired of this? Being cooped up, no room to run around, no other people to talk to?”
“There are no other people for me. I’m with you, and I love you−”
“You can’t say that.”
He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “−and if you’ll recall, I don’t come from anywhere. I was created, living and whole, in one instant for the whims of some super-perv. I don’t know anything else: all I know is being rescued by a beautiful goddess who is my entire world. What else could I want?” He rolled around until his spine curved against the full padding of her base digits. “What else should I want, Krista? Who am I supposed to be, if not your Tamas?”
“We should figure that out, sometime. In the meantime…” She frowned and complained and swung her legs out of bed. She looked at all the trophies and medals and photos that had to come down and get packed into storage. Her suitcase lay before her dresser which stood next to her closet, and all three were open and stuffed full of rumpled clothes.
The gentle knock at the door caused her to yelp sharply. Panicked, she stuffed the tiny man between her thighs and tugged her sheets over her legs. “What is it! Don’t come in!”
“I wasn’t going to.” Her mother’s voice, muffled by the door, sounded amused. “I just wanted to see if you’re up.”
“I’m up! Go away!”
“I’ve got breakfast waiting for you downstairs.” Her mother hung on the last syllable, letting it warble musically.
“Okay, I’ll be down in a second!”
“Do you need any help packing?” She spoke so slowly, it was evident she knew how much stress she was causing her daughter. “Don’t worry about your swimming trophies and stuff, we’ll pack those up for you. We might leave them up. Come on down for a nice breakfast and I’ll help you pack your clothes.”
Through gritted teeth, Krista sweetly assured her doting mother that everything was under control and she’d be down in a minute. She listened hard for the dull footsteps down the hall carpet, turning down the stairs, before twisting to scream into her pillows. Tamas, knowing which side his bread was buttered on (so to speak), lay perfectly still and basked in the moment.
“Did you have a good summer?” asked Krista’s father. Staring out the passenger window, she nodded slowly. “That’s good. What was your favorite part?”
Were she not lost in her own swirling thoughts, she wouldn’t have dreamily said, “Meeting Tamas.” But she did, and she turned bright red and her eyes went huge, and there was no way she could face her father.
“Thomas, huh? I don’t believe that name’s familiar. Where did you meet him?”
“L−lifeguarding.” Her palms sweat into her knees.
“Oh, that makes sense. Did he grow up in Fairview, or did he just blow in with the seasonal traffic?”
“He’s… from out of state.”
“But living here now?”
“Oh, yes. Very nearby.”
“You must’ve kept him your pocket. I’ve never seen any boys skulking around the house.”
Krista nearly shit herself. “He, ah, doesn’t get out much. He’s also been working all summer.”
“At the pool? How lucky for you. Is he nice?”
A wave of amazement washed over her: so far she wasn’t technically lying. How far could this go? “He’s okay. He’s very sweet, but he has kind of a protective streak.”
Her father chuckled. “You could do worse than that. You could be stuck with some insensitive, self-absorbed jerk like your mother is. Just be sure you let him know who wears the pants in that relationship.”
Krista was riding high on her relief when she said, “Oh, no, he doesn’t wear pants,” and came crashing back to earth. But her father only glanced at her, laughed, and turned on the radio.
In no time at all they arrived at Fairview College and were parked in front of Spurius Hall. Her father unloaded three overstuffed suitcases from the back seat and trunk. “Next time, only bring half your library,” he grunted, kneading his lower back, “and I’ll have your metal lathe shipped to you.” Krista did manage to hold the doors open for him and clear a path to the elevator, and six floors later they trundled into her dorm room.
Before he could make any comments about the smell of education, she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tightly. “Thank you for everything, Dad. I had a great summer. Thanks for letting me crash with you, tell Mom too.”
He kissed the top of her head. “It just didn’t make sense for you to have to get an apartment in town. You were working and building up savings for school. You’re plenty responsible and don’t need any more lessons from us on dealing with the harsh realities of the real world.” He dragged the suitcases out of the doorway and toward an Ikea armoire. “Your mom’s sorry she couldn’t make it, but today’s her day of meetings.”
“It’s not a big deal. I’ll call her tonight.” Krista scanned the bunk beds and took a seat on the lower mattress. “What’re you gonna do with all that empty space and free time, now?”
Her father shrugged. “Keep pitching my articles to the local publications, keep freelancing. Keep looking for work. That’s a full-time job by itself, you know.”
“Is Mom worried?”
“Quite the opposite. She’s the one telling me to let myself off the hook and relax for a year, focus on my writing. Did she tell you she’s thinking of taking me down to South America?”
Krista grinned. Her mother was starved for travel but her father was a dyed-in-the-wool homebody. “You should do it, Dad! You’ll love it.”
He snorted. “I’ll send you a nice exchange student from Bogota with a condom of cocaine up his ass. You need anything else?”
She didn’t, they exchanged pleasantries, and Krista began to unpack for her sophomore year of college. Student Housing hadn’t notified her of an incoming roommate, so it was likely she’d have the room to herself. And that’ll come in handy, she thought, dead-bolting the door. She took a seat at the featureless writing desk, bolted to the wall, and tugged down the neck of her shirt to fish around inside her bra.
She placed Tamas carefully upon the desk. “Thank you for holding still and not irritating me the entire time,” she said, motioning as though to thwack his impertinent head clean off his neck. “Thanks for not getting me insanely aroused right in front of my damn father.”
“It wasn’t easy for me, either, you know. Trying to lie there in your bra, pretending to mind my own business, while your cute nipple’s getting harder and harder, poking me in my face.” He gestured in the air, demonstrating how best to engage with a huge, distended nipple.
“A-hurr-hurr-hurr,” she scoffed. “Yeah, we’ve definitely got to figure out something better. I can’t stash you in my bra or underwear every time I go out, and I’m not okay with just leaving you in this room while I’m out at classes.”
“Why not? It’s not like housekeeping’s gonna barge in on me.” He strutted around the broad, open desk. “Look at me, I don’t have to hide myself anymore. I can really stretch out, like you were saying. You can get me, like, a fishtank or something, if you’re worried about me getting into trouble.”
“Can’t have pets in Spurius Hall.” She pulled out her orientation booklet. “That’s Romero Hall that does pets. Regina Hall permits smoking? Oh, but they’re expensive.” She slid out of her chair and rolled onto her bunk, kicking off her shoes and unbuttoning her jeans. Tamas laughed and sprinted but could not outrun her hand, shooting across the desk. “C’mere, you owe me big-time,” she said. Her knees peaked like mountains, she jammed him under the waistband of her panties and slid him over her labia before returning to the brochure. He was pleased to discover how wet she’d gotten—a little proud of himself, truth be told—and he sank his arms up to the elbows in the folds of her skin, getting himself ready for a workout.
“Hold on, what’s this word?”
“I can’t see,” he called out, running his hands along the length of her labia.
He laughed. “Sounds made-up. What’s the context?”
“‘Anthropoles are permitted in all residence halls, but students must provide proof of registration, pursuant to Fairview §220.1.’ So it’s something you can bring with you? Like a weapon?”
“Well, anthro means man.” He did not permit the conversation to interrupt his deep-tissue massage. He only planted his feet upon her panties and leaned his shoulders in, with controlled breathing.
“Goddess, you’re so good at that.” Krista pulled the scrunchie out of her hair and nestled into her pillow, feeling the warmth spread from her crotch. “But where do they get the pole from, ‘many’ or ‘city’?”
Tamas growled, frustrated that the gigantic woman wasn’t going to let herself relax until they settled this. Springing from her underwear, he threw his arms upon the stubbly hill of her pubic mound and hung down her vulva. “So it either means ‘many people’ or ‘city of man’? Those aren’t things you can bring with you. Anyway, that’d be anthropoly, and I’ve never heard of that before.”
Krista turned through several pages. “It’s, like, all over this booklet. What the hell? This has to be a prank.” She tossed the booklet to the desk and flumped her arms by her sides, and ordered her little man back to work.
“Well, it also means ‘sell,’ ‘gray,’ or a literal pole,” she whispered into her shirt, seated in the college library. “None of those make any sense.”
Tamas, behaving himself, slithered around the gentle curve of her boob and peered up at her. “Gray men, men for sale. What the hell. How is it used for ‘sell’?”
“I thought that was ‘in many, one’.”
She leaned over the almost cartoonishly large reference volume. “That’s ‘e pluribus unum.’ This means ‘exclusive control of a commodity’. What the hell…” Imagination and possibilities began to wash over her: was everyone in on this joke? Was it the college or the whole town? What did she miss while she spent a seeming eternity in that other−
She shuddered so hard, Tamas begged her to tell him what had happened. Instead, she patted her tit gently and muttered, incoming! The tiny man’s eyes went huge and he struggled to backtrack down to his girlfriend’s underboob.
A woman shrieked Krista’s name, someone hissed for her to shut up, and then two young women were shrieking, and Tamas was mashed between bouncing, squeezing hills of flesh and fabric. “Krista! I haven’t seen you all summer! How’ve you been, what’s new?”
“Mari! I missed you so much!” They took seats and one-arm hugged again. “Not much, just working my summer job, you know. Pretty boring. How about you, did you stay in town?”
“No, my family went out to Hintertux. Again!” Mariana waggled her head, setting her henna ringlets to dance. “I’m like, okay, we’ve done it, we’ve proven we’re just as good as the Joneses. Can we please go somewhere interesting?”
Krista grinned tightly and nodded. “Welp, welcome back to little ol’ community college in BFE Fairview.”
Her friend punched her arm. “Oh, don’t be like that! My folks would let me bring you along if you wanted.”
“Nah, some of us gotta work all summer.”
“I guess, if that’s what you’re into. Not me! What’re you looking at?”
Krista slammed the tome with a meaty thud, just as Mariana began to peer at the pages, then realized there was no need to. Her friend raised her dark eyebrows and said, “Well, now I’ve gotta know.” Krista lifted her hands away and let Mariana spin the heavy book around and leaf through its pages. “This is just Greek and Latin medical and legal terms. This is what you do for fun after summer break?”
“I was just trying to look up where a word came from,” Krista said coolly.
“Anthropole.” Inside her bra, Tamas gave her a congratulatory rub on a clever job.
Mariana laughed and shoved the book away. “It just means ‘little people.’ Come on, let’s get something to drink.”
Krista started to stammer, “Wait, what do you mean?” but Mariana was up and on her feet and dragging her to the door in a second.
Soon they appeared in River House Tavern, Mariana chatting a mile a minute at a dazed-looking Krista. “Not only was the food terrible,” she was saying, “but the portions were so small! Anyway, when did you move in to campus?”
“My dad dropped me off today. Hey, look at this,” Krista said, reaching for her friend’s beer bottle.
“I’m moving in tomorrow. I’m just running around, reconnecting with everyone while they’re moving in. I’ve got a roommate this year. Do you have a roommate?”
“No, I don’t think so. But look at this−”
“You’re so lucky! You deserve a break, after watching all those screaming brats all summer long. Was it hard?”
“No, actually, it was scary,” Krista said, “but I don’t want to talk about that. Tell me what’s up with these bottles!”
Mariana reared for the second time that afternoon. “O-o-o-okay, someone’s in a mood.”
“No, just…” Krista sighed heavily and apologized for being brittle. “I’m just freaking out a little because there was an incident this summer. A kidnapping,” she added, returning to the tactic of not-totally-lying.
Mariana’s exquisitely manicured nails flew to cover her O-shaped lips. “Oh, my Goddess? Seriously? Were you there for that?”
“Yeah, I was on shift.”
“Did you see anything?”
“I never saw the guy, it happened immediately, but…” Krista closed her eyes, selecting her words carefully. “They came back. It’s okay. It was just really scary for a long time. Seemed like forever.”
“I bet it did! Oh, that’s so scary. Are you okay?”
Krista nodded. “Sometimes I go back to it. You know, wondering what I could’ve done differently.”
“You can’t do that!” Mariana gripped her friend’s shoulder tightly. “You’ve got to let it go. It’s gone, it’s in the past, you can’t beat yourself up over it and you can’t change the past.”
Krista let that sink in for a minute before hugging her friend. “Thanks, you’re right. I’ll try. Now, what kind of beer are you having?”
“Don’t even think about it, sister! This round’s on me.” She raised her hand, a gesture dutifully ignored by staff.
“No, I mean, literally.” She reached over and took up her friend’s bottle. Mariana was drinking a Musculum IPA by Caligula Brewery, and Krista tapped at the image on the label. “What’s that? What’s up with the leprechaun?”
Her friend threw back her head and howled. “You are so racist! You’re only allowed to say that around me, okay? That’s an Anthropole.” She patted Krista’s arm. “I mean, I still call them Tinies once in a while, but technically we’re supposed to call them Anthropoles. They’ll cover that in orientation, after the ‘please try not to rape anyone this year’ lecture.” She smiled crookedly. “Remember? Like last year?”
Krista shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mariana gave her a funny look and pointed up to an enormous TV behind the bar. Slowly Krista turned to see a news report, in which a Black woman stood beside an agitated White man who was furiously denouncing an attack on Tiny marriage supporters, “and we will not let this display of lawless, petty hatred deter us!”
“Who are they, am I supposed to know them,” she murmured, but the bar noise subsumed her entirely.
“Rather, the desperation of this act only underscores the necessity of our cause! The depravity of this act only underscores the righteousness of our cause!” He waved and nodded as an unseen audience roared in approval.
Krista squinted to make out the chyron, but it was too small from where she was sitting. “Where’re you going?” Mariana said as Krista slipped out and squeezed between two bar stools to read the TV.
“MAYOR CARVELLE ENDORSES RORY BRIGHT, DOUBLES DOWN ON §220.8: ‘HUMAN-ANTHROPOLE MARRIAGE WILL HAPPEN’,” scrolled the white letters over a red ribbon. The mayor and the candidate stepped back and gestured toward the microphone, a gesture which made no sense to Krista, to say nothing of the fact that she’d never heard of these people before in her life. Then a man arose from behind his lectern and an aide reached from off-camera to adjust the microphone. The microphone and the hand were impossibly tremendous, or else the new man was…
Krista heard Mariana calling her name from a great distance as the darkness welled from the corners of her vision and wiped everything out.
Note: This story picks up after “Obscured by Focus.“