by Jim Powell


I'm picking her up at her parents' house out in the snowy farmland, knowing I will get laid, my first time. Knock on the door and little brother answers, looks up at me through the storm glass. He gives me a twisted little smile and nods me inside where a TV's singing out the welcome medley to The Wonderful World of Disney. Sunday night, seven-thirty.

"Terry's upstairs getting ready," her mother says as she hangs my heavy jacket on a coat rack. "You met her at Marcia's party, Joe? Did you have a nice Christmas? Go sit down. Root beer or lemonade?" she says, then heads off down a hallway and my nerves settle.

Their Christmas tree glows in the otherwise dark dining room. In the living room, father in his big stuffed recliner nods at me with a tight smile. I sit on the end of the couch away from the kid. Dad leans forward and holds out a bowl. "Popcorn?" he asks. "We're going to watch Disney." Tinker Bell makes the fireworks explode on the TV screen over the Magic Kingdom's turreted castle.

No defenses here, just the isolated comfort of farm living. He's wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a brown wool vest, those slippers with the furry lining. Does he know his daughter is easy? His furrowed face holds seeds of country wisdom, not worldly knowledge.

An ad comes on the TV with cartoon ballerinas and the little boy bounces the couch then reaches for a handful of popcorn. He nods at me, tries to connect. "You like my sister?" he asks. "Girls—yuck!" Was I ever like him—wanting to be the center of everyone's attention?

"Be polite, Brian," his father says, speaking around me. "Your sister is popular." He smiles. "You're the oddball, buddy."

I wait for him to say something like, 'you'll like girls soon enough'—the kid's eight or nine—but no such male bonding is forthcoming. Dad bends his small mouth in apology, but there's a kind of sizing me up. Has he reminded himself what 'popular' might really mean? Did guys like this ever get any before they got married? I know lots of farm boys and they're plenty ready to stud.

The kid glares at me as if I'm to blame for him getting the lecture. He chomps down more popcorn and slurps his root beer. Mother brings a pitcher of lemonade, pours a glass for me, fills the dad's, leaves again. A summer drink in winter, I think, anxious to get to the booze, Southern Comfort at Terry's request. Rounded it up from a friend's older brother who's loaning me his apartment. He gave me some tips on Terry—"kiss her neck, man, and all will be yours." Does the mother, flowing around in her slippers, her round hips rolling beneath her house dress, have a sweet spot, too?

Dad catches me following her movements but seems almost flattered as he watches her himself. They have two other kids, a boy and a girl both in college like me, but I'm an only child. Terry's a high school senior. The boy must be an afterthought.

The Disney episode comes back on and I settle back, wondering what's keeping Terry so long. I sip the tart lemonade. It's Babes in Toyland, a movie I was too old for even when it came out years ago, despite Annette Funicello with her fantasy breasts in the major role as Mary Quite Contrary. Says the kid, "We watched the first part last week. It's pretty weird." He looks at me as if we might become friends, squirms on the couch and shakes his head in dramatic yeses.

I hear footsteps gallop on the stairs, and father chuckles just as Terry pops into the room. Is he laughing at the goofy costumes on the screen—and sheep!—or Terry's joyful entrance? She likes attention, a girl just this side of cute and a few pounds overweight, but the plumpness improves her chest, and that I know I like. She's got a funny kind of mouth, small with uneven lips always a little twisted. I hear she does nice things with it, but will I know if it's really good? First time for that, too. I feel about as green as the kid.

The smile and wink she gives me should surely signal trouble to dad, but what could he do about it anyway? So he focuses on the TV, pointing out classic fairy tale references the kid may have forgotten. It occurs to me that TV has replaced fairy tales. I think that's a pretty smart thought, my brains hopefully one of the reasons Terry's happy to please me. That plus of course I'm good-looking in a budding, long-haired hippie kind of way, a disturbing quality to fathers, including my own who lets me know it. Plus I went to high school one town over, surely making me a suspect stranger. But her dad doesn't seem to care. Terry sits down next to me and leans her shoulder against mine. "Daddy, Joe goes to Purdue," she says, almost cooing. "He's friends with Marcia Bowman, so he comes highly recommended." Marcia's a girl from a neighboring family whose brother knew what I needed.

She taps her father's slippered foot to get at least part of his attention, but he just says, "I know, I know, now watch the show." He looks at us and remembers it's a date. "You're welcome to watch with us. Stay out of this awful weather," he says flatly.

It is cold, but it's barely snowing. If I said, 'oh, can we please, I just love watching Disney,' he'd keel over in shock. Annette is crooning moon-eyed with Tommy Sands, her breasts made modest—but even more tempting— by a Technicolor-blue milkmaid's dress.

Terry nudges my leg and kid brother watches her as he reaches for some more popcorn. Little spy. Probably got his sneakiness from one of those Disney dramas where kids are detectives. "Are you gonna kiss her?" he blurts out and Terry's face reddens.

"Brian, you brat!" she screams. She slaps at his hand and popcorn goes flying. "You little shit!" He howls and then giggles as he folds fetal into the couch's corner.

Dad springs up in the recliner so fast I think it may launch him into space. "You two, behave! Brian, clean that up!" He stands and glances sternly at Terry. "And you, young lady, watch your mouth." He shakes his head and looks at me with a kind of exasperation I can't place. "Are you going out, or what?" he asks, looking at both of us.

She smiles up at him and tells two fibs. "Daddy, we'd love to stay but there's a party at Lisa's and they're expecting us." She stands and wags her hand behind her round ass so I'll take it, the hand that is. Dad settles back into Toyland as we walk to the foyer. He doesn't say goodbye and I hope I haven't pissed him off, but I'm glad that, even though I bet he doesn't drink, he's not my father.

Little Brian is down on his knees picking up popcorn, staring at us. Dad asks him, "What'd I miss?" But the kid just sniggles. Dad doesn't like being ignored and says, "You, get upstairs," and the kid runs past us, glaring. Mom shows up, shaking her head, helps Terry and me into our winter jackets, straightening my collar like my own mother would. She looks me in the eyes, kind of sad, I think. Then Terry grabs my gloved hand and says, "We gotta go, Mom. Don't wait up," as we swing out the door onto the snow-patched porch. The cold feels good to me.

We trudge to my car and I open the door for her and she smiles as she climbs into the low seat, nervous maybe, or ready. I wonder why she's like this, so easy. I want to like her though I was only introduced to her at the party a few days ago. I hope I'll like what we're going to do. I open my own door, relieved to have made it out of their house, its rituals. I'm undamaged except for Annette and Tommy singing in my head. Who could have expected Disney and lemonade, for Christ's sake?

I start up the engine and its rev promises warming. Terry says, "You look so good, good enough to eat." She touches my thigh just where the jacket ends. "They drive me crazy. Especially that little ass Brian. But at least the others weren't there. They're home from school but they can get out of that house any time they want."

I wait for the engine to steady and the heat to even. The house is a puzzle of lights in the dark night—living room and its flickering TV, the dining room aglow with Christmas. Upstairs a light comes on in a window as Terry's fingers tighten on my leg and she bends into me. "Kiss me," she says. "You have to kiss me lots." And so I do, soft lips, and my hands finding other softness as she sighs with happiness. "God, I want you," she says. "I wanted to do it right there with the TV blaring. Right there in front of them." Her tongue is all over my teeth and her hand rubs my crotch, and I feel her farm girl strength.

"Hey, hey now," I say, and pull back. When she pouts at my resistance, I kiss her gently, trying to be kind or something. "Let's get out of here."

She slides a bit to the right and I fiddle with the shift. I turn on my lights and look forward to gauge the best route out, my tire tracks still visible in the snow.

Terry turns on the radio and rushes through stations so the music flashes from rock to carols, until she finds a romantic crooner's tune like our fathers might have dug at our age, Frank Sinatra maybe, to drive Toyland's sugar plums from our heads.

I turn the wheel as we start to roll, and scan the place we're leaving. It's easy for me to make out the boy's face pressed against the icy glass in the upstairs window. I imagine his little mouth puckered into a taunting kiss, his eyes wide open as they follow us into the darkness.

BIO: Jim Powell served as the Executive Director of the Writers' Center of Indianapolis (now Indiana Writers Center) for twenty years. He holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and teaches fiction writing at IUPUI. In 2010, he returned to writing fiction after a twenty-five years absence and "Toyland" is his first publication since his resurrection.