"I'll give you a dime for your shoes."
"My shoes are worth more than a dime," Alicia said warily. Jackie had meant his tone to be casual. But she had heard it, something sly, something that suggested motives.
"I don't wanna buy them. I'll give you a dime if you take them off." He tried to say it as if it were just something people do.
"Well, if you don't want a dime...."
They were in the shed behind Jackie's house. 'Way behind the house, clear out by the garage, where you could hardly see the house for the aspen volunteers that stood in the depression halfway across the yard. His mom called them "volunteers."
The shed was smaller than Alicia's room. She had her own room, just like his sister Mary. The shed had one window, a torn bedsheet draped over it, kind of pinky orange. "So people won't see what we have and break in," his mom said. She worried about people looking in their windows. She made his dad put it up. There wasn't much of anything in the shed. Some tools on a shelf. A stack of empty boxes that they had packed their stuff in when they moved to Sheridan. A couple pieces of pipe, plumbing pipe, scraps probably, lay on a small stack of red bricks by the door. Jackie had closed the door after Alicia stepped inside. He had glanced in the direction of the house, but his mom was out shopping with his sister and Alicia's mom, and the driveway was on the other end of the yard, so he'd hear them.
Alicia toed off her loafers, her eyes still suspicious. "You want them?"
"No. But I'll give you another dime for your socks."
You know things when you are eight. Alicia's face became knowing. "Where's my dime? I bet you haven't got two dimes."
Jackie stuck a hand in his jeans and made a great show of counting his money. "I got three dimes," he said, without looking up. He picked one up with two fingers and held it out for her. She took it. "And," he added, holding up coins as he identified them. "I got a couple of nickels, three quarters, and seven pennies. "And," he said dramatically, stuffing the coins into one pocket and then reaching into the other, "I got this." It was a dollar, rolled into a wad. He unfurled it for her to see.
"I want a quarter for my socks," she said.
"Your socks aren't worth a quarter!"
"Two dimes then."
"All right," he said generously. Three dollars was his allowance for the week, and this was all he had left. Twenty cents was a lot for stupid socks. But it would be worth it.
Alicia plopped to the floor and stripped off her socks. Her feet were pale, not like the butternut skin of her arms.
"No, you have to stand up," Jackie said. He sat down on the bricks, pulling his coins out and putting them on one of the bricks, on top of the dollar.
Alicia stood back up. "Now what?"
"What'll you give me for the nickels?" Jackie said.
"You mean just take off. I get it back." He nodded. "My watch."
"Ok. But also your headband."
She removed the watch, then reached up and pulled the elastic headband down and off her head. Her hair was kind of reddish-orange. Her T-shirt was redder than her hair. Jackie's mom had real red hair, red like that wood in Japanese stores. Jackie liked to smell her hair after it dried when she washed it. Alicia's hair smelled like Johnson's shampoo; he smelled it once when they were wrestling in the living room.
"You want a quarter for your T-shirt?" he said, glancing at his money to hide his embarrassment. She didn't have nothing on under the T-shirt; he was sure about that.
Alicia's eyes were wary again. "You gonna buy everything?" she said. She had been watching his reaction when she took off the headband. Her eyes on his, she had shaken her long hair loose, like she saw Kim Basinger do one time in some movie.
"What I can afford," he said smugly. Then he realized how foolish that had been. "I'll give you a quarter for your T-shirt."
"Fifty cents?" she said. He nodded. She glanced at the door before she pulled it over her head. She was waistless and breastless; Jackie wished she was older, maybe twelve, like Marsha Phelan down the street; she was a grade ahead of him, twelve, with a curvy figure and a little swelling on her chest. He'd seen girls' chests before, his sister's. She was six but she got mad when he looked in her room, on accident, and saw her in her underwear.
She was waiting. She stuffed her hands in her pockets.
"Ok," he said, taking a breath. "I'll give you the dollar for everything." It was a magic word, "everything," full of magic.
She didn't move for a moment. It was late summer, and the shed, sheltered by Russian olives, was cool out of the midday heat. She didn't look cold. She looked at the money on the bricks. She looked a little worried. Did she think he'd cheat her? He didn't want to give her the dollar until she did it. He picked up what he owed her, eighty cents, and handed it to her. She stuffed the coins into her jeans, glancing at the door. She looked at the bricks, where the rest of his money lay. "Everything?" she said.
"Yeah," he said. They faced each other for a moment. Then he said, "You can have it all." He'd be broke anyway; what can you buy with thirty-two cents? For a moment he regretted a week without candy. But no, it was worth it. He gathered up the dollar, the dimes and pennies, the whole mess, and placed it at her feet. She had old nail polish on her toes, chipped and red as fire engine paint.
She unsnapped her jeans and pushed them down, looking down at them for a moment when one heel caught on a cuff, then balancing on one foot to pull the other loose. Her panties were white, cotton, with little blue flowers on them, like on a baby blanket. Jackie licked his lips. She looked at him again.
"Do I have to take off my underwear?" she said.
Jackie felt cold, not hot like he would have expected. He thought he was going to faint; he shivered. "If you want the dollar you sure do!" he said, with more firmness than he really felt. He hated the shaking; he hoped she couldn't tell. She could.
Her eyes were as accusing as his mother's, he thought, glancing at her face as she stared at him. She was looking at him, her eyes full of judgment and seriousness. Then she reached down and pushed off her panties. When she stood upright again, she had a hand over her between her legs. But she was naked. He was helpless with wonder. His lips parted. She watched him. He did not meet her eyes.
"Take your hand away," he said, his voice shaking.
"You don't have any more money," she said, smiling triumphantly. Then she took her hand away.
He did not want to touch her, just look. He only wanted to see. He had seen pictures, in magazines, like, but this was flesh, real, and as wonderful as he had imagined. There was no hair, like those women in the pictures, and her skin was ghost-white where her panties or a bathing suit always covered her. He would have liked to see inside of her, between her legs, but he didn't have any more money. He would save up for two weeks. He could do that, he thought, putting his hands on the bricks to steady them. His mom and Mrs. Andrews would go shopping again and take Mary with them, or he would just get Mary to come with them, and he'd get them both to undress. Or maybe he'd take his clothes off and they'd all see each other, naked.
"I'm telling," Alicia said, like cold water in the face.
"No," he said involuntarily. "Don't tell," he added.
"I'm telling your mom," she said then.
"Allie, please don't tell my mom! I paid you!"
She looked at the money. She looked older than Jackieadult, wise, and strong. He was going to cry.
"I don't want your money," she said. "I'm gonna tell your mom. You made me take my clothes off."
"Allie, I'm sorry. Don't tell her. You can have the money."
"I don't want it."
"I didn't make you. You wanted to."
"You can't tell. Allie, please."
"You never should've done it."
"I didn't do anything! I just wanted to see."
"You wanted to look at me. There."
"I just wanted to look. I just looked."
"So I'm going to tell her."
He tried another tack. He was nearly hysterical, but he tried to sound fierce. "You better not."
"You just better not!"
"What'll you do to me?" It wasn't working. Her voice was still strong; she wasn't scared at all.
"Allie, really. Don't tell. You're my friend. We won't be friends if you tell. My mom won't let us play together any more"
"I don't care," she said firmly, interrupting him.
"I thought you were my friend," he said.
"Stop saying that!" he cried. "Stop it!" One piece of pipe was about eighteen inches long. When he hit her head, it made a "whump" noise like a dropped pumpkin. It wasn't like TV. Blood spattered, but not on him. Her eyes went funny and she fell down and away from the blow. He had to hit her again, and three times more, but with her T-shirt over her head so blood wouldn't spatter. It was hard to stop. Then there was a bad smell, really bad. It wasn't at all like TV.