by Megan Ranger
Robbie cut deep into Ma’s leftover lasagna, the nuked cheese oozing from the layers of noodles she had carefully stacked the day before. He twirled the gooey string around his fork and chewed richly on the starch, meat, dairy, and sauce. He caught the saliva that had built up to the point of eruption in the corner of his mouth, wiping it away with his sleeve. Using the plastic claws of his least-favorite collector’s edition Wolverine action figure, Robbie dug the chunks of lasagna out of the tracks of his braces. Marinara smudged the mouse of his computer as he feverishly scanned the numerous fan pages devoted to Annalise Thompson, who had recently starred in a movie based off of a World-War-II-vampire-young-adult-romance-mystery novel. He jotted down notes about her family, career, romances, childhood, convictions, and ambitions. Everything about her entire life was accessible through a persistent Google search.
A commanding knock on the bedroom door broke Robbie’s concentration and made him jump in his seat. He readjusted his glasses and spun around on the chair’s tired axis, nearly toppling over onto the mountain of dirty laundry that had been building up in the center of his room for weeks.
“Whaddya want, Ma?!” Robbie yelled as lasagna spit freckled his chin.
“How many times do I have to tell you, I will not be barked at from behind a door. I work two jobs just to keep this damn door up, the least you can do is talk to me like a man. Now open up before I take this thing off its hinges,” said Ma.
Robbie could have sworn he heard her hands authoritatively connect with her hips. He dragged himself away from his computer, his legs tingling from the sudden activity. He clicked the lock and swung the door open for his mother.
“Gawd, you’re so annoying. What is it?” he said. He rolled his eyes as he impatiently fiddled with the doorknob, eager to shut himself in again.
She gingerly smacked Robbie’s cheek as he itched himself through his basketball shorts. Her waitress uniform was neatly pressed and her hair was arranged in a tidy knot, and her eyes were heavily lidded with fatigue. She threw a small package onto his Adventure Time bedsheets.
“Your Proactiv came in the mail,” she said, “ I think it’s almost time to renew your prescription. You want me to leave a sticky note on the fridge to remind you?”
“I can remember by myself, Ma,” said Robbie, consciously picking at the newly formed puss socket on his chin.
His mother brushed off Robbie’s indignant tone as she fumbled for her keys inside of her purse.
“Fine. Listen, I gotta work late tonight, so you’re on your own for dinner. There’s a DiGiorno in the freezer for you. Don’t forget to turn the oven off after you’re done with it. Stay out of my beer.”
“Alright fine geez, just go Ma,” said Robbie, slamming the door in her face. He waited to hear the creaking of the garage door closing before he resumed his work.
Robbie opened up a new window which requested an email address. He typed in “firstname.lastname@example.org” and hit the “enter” button.
Forgot password? Please answer these three security questions: What was the name of your first pet?
Robbie smirked as he found the first answer on his first page of notes, causing his braces to get snagged on the fleshy inside of his upper lip.
“Queenie,” Robbie said as he confidently typed his answer into the square.
What was the name of your high school?
Robbie cross-referenced IMDB before entering “Playa Vista High” into the second field.
What is your mother’s maiden name?
It had taken Robbie a couple tries before he found the third answer on an obscure fan site outlining an oddly detailed family tree. He punched in “Beaudet” and waited for Annalise’s iCloud to lower its defenses.
Robbie penetrated Annalise’s firewall within moments of pressing his “enter” key. He scoured her emails and iMessages for images IMDB would never be able to offer him. Annalise’s hushed-up relationship with her co-star was stripped down in front of Robbie on his computer screen. He uncovered revealing sensual idiosyncrasies the public would crucify him for revealing, but would follow the link to see regardless.
Annalise posed naked for Robbie in twenty-eight pictures, the assets she only hinted at in her PG-13 films completely exposed for him. It was obvious she didn’t think to shave for some of them–a fatal career decision in the long run. Her eyes, brimming with palpable insecurity, seemed almost human to him.
Robbie was jarred back into the reality of his bedroom by an insistent knock on the door. It was a knock unlike anything he had heard on his mother’s front door before. A harsh knock with a small thwack in between confident blows. He didn’t have any friends, and wasn’t expecting any Amazon orders until the following Monday. Robbie felt obligated to peel himself away from his chair and slump downstairs to see who was causing such an unprecedented racket. He cleared the last two steps with a clean leap in tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and yanked the door open with an irritable energy.
“Who-“ Robbie said as his fingers lost their grip on the door knob.
A woman with white-blonde hair and buggy sunglasses smiled lazily at Robbie as she stubbed a cigarette on Ma’s threshold. Her face was blotched with day-old makeup and her pale lips were peeling around the edges. A clunky diamond ring made her hand seem heavy, but she had an air of being used to the burden. She was tastefully disheveled in her heavy leather jacket wrinkled, oversized flannel. A towering man with square shoulders and square sunglasses shadowed the woman and raised his square eyebrow as he took in Robbie’s patchy goatee and yellowing toenails. Robbie began to feel small as the realization of who was standing in his doorway smacked him in the face.
“S-sarah Mosby?” said Robbie, clearing the squeak out of his throat with a deep cough.
The woman in front of him was once merely two-dimensional, naked, and spread eagle on his computer screen. Sarah was a rising starlet on a bubble gum television station before Robbie published the pictures he lifted from her cloud storage system. Robbie knew everything about her, down to the first street she lived on and the brand of her first car.
“And you must be Robbie,” said Sarah. She took off her sunglasses and sized him up from under her sheet of razor-straight bangs. “This is Butch. He’s my bodyguard.”
She threw a manicured hand over her shoulder, gesturing at the man behind her. Robbie recognized him from the countless paparazzi pictures of Sarah he absorbed during his preliminary research. Butch swiveled the toothpick in his mouth with his tongue, ignoring Robbie’s sheepish wave of acknowledgment.
“How did you—” Robbie said.
Sarah lifted a sharply filed fingernail to his mouth and pursed her lips to signal for silence. Robbie felt a tingling sense of powerlessness creep all the way down to his bare feet.
“You think you’re the only one who can do research? We just shook off some paparazzo on the freeway, but those motherfuckers always find their way back. C’mon, are you going to let us in, or what?” Sarah pushed Robbie aside with the back of her hand. Her diamond ring stung his arm through his sleeve, causing a hot shiver to travel up his spine. Butch nodded toward the living room as he deadbolted the door shut. Robbie reluctantly followed Sarah further into his own house, trailing her scent of Marlboro lights and leather.
She took a seat on his mother’s couch and slowly patted the cushion next to her. Robbie lowered himself onto the groaning sofa as Butch remained standing at attention behind them. He felt his face grow red as he swallowed thickly and began to choose his words.
“Listen, I’m assuming you’re here to talk about the pictures. Let me just start off by saying—“
Sarah plucked a cigarette out of her purse and lit it with a rose-gold Zippo, the plumes of smoke making a wreath around her sallow face. Her eyes met Robbie’s indifferently under stale-mascara crusted lashes.
“You cant smoke in here, my mom would lose it,” Robbie said. He cringed as the tip of the cherry broke off and burnt a hole in the cushion.
“I’m sure she would,” said Sarah, exhaling a train of perfect rings.
“Well, like… okay, so—“
“Listen Robbie,” said Sarah, knocking her knee against his as she shifted her weight on the couch, “I’m not interested in hearing you out. I’ve lost three contracts, two clothing lines, and one publishing deal because of you. There’s nothing you can say that I give two shits about.”
“Because of me?!” Robbie said. His vulnerability became indignation. “I didn’t make you take those pictures. You should have known better, you’re a goddamn celebrity. If you didn’t want anyone to see your dumb naked pictures, maybe you should have never taken them in the first place. You were asking for it.”
Sarah put her cigarette out on Ma’s coffee table and positioned herself on Robbie’s lap, getting so close his eyes crossed as they tried to focus in on her.
“Let me ask you something,” said Sarah, the last of her smoke streaming out of her nostrils. “How old are you?”
Robbie became very conscious of Butch’s hand resting on the couch, slightly tugging the hair on the back of his neck. He looked up and noticed Butch was still wearing his square sunglasses and that his square jaw was fixed in a grimace.
“I turned thirty-six last week,” Robbie said.
“No shit? Jesus christ, maybe if you focused your energy on something more productive than raping women’s iClouds, you could afford to move out of Mommy’s house,” said Sarah. She threw her hair into a messy bun as she regained her composure. “But that’s neither here nor there. Have you ever been fucked before?”
Robbie choked on dry laughter. “What? That’s definitely none of your—“
“Answer the question.” Butch’s fingers drummed heavily on the couch, a slight smirk betraying his stoic demeanor.
Robbie’s jaw was clenched in bitter defiance. His lips were pursed so tight, his braces began to draw blood.
Sarah ignored his discomfort. “Have you ever seen a woman’s naked body…What do you dweebs call it again..’IRL’? Ever had an orgasm that wasn’t produced by your own hand?”
“I dont need to take this crap from you, sl—“ Robbie was silenced as Butch planted a solid hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll take that as a big no. So, this explains why you’re so fixated on finding naked pictures. I hate to break it to you, but a bottle of your mom’s Lubriderm and a box of kleenex is probably the closest thing to intimacy you’re ever gonna get, kid.”
Robbie tried to throw Sarah off of his lap with a sudden jerk of his thighs. She delivered a venomous backhand across his face, the ring on her finger leaving a stinging scratch on his oily cheek. She wiped her hand off on Robbie’s shirt and continued.
“What I don’t understand is: there’s a world full of porn out there. If you want to see a pair of tits, all you have to do is Google them. So, why do you spend so much time and energy trying to find naked pictures women never wanted you to see? Does it make you feel smarter than us, or more powerful, or even a little bit important to us for once? I totally get the power thing. I get turned on when I’m in control, too.”
Sarah turned her attention to Butch, gesturing upstairs with a subtle nod. Butch made his way up to Robbie’s room, his broad shoulders brushing against the hallway as he went. They heard his hard footsteps overhead, and a thud as Robbie’s desk toppled over.
“Hey, you cant just come in here and go through my personal—“
She squeezed Robbie’s face, digging her nails deep into his cheeks.
“I dont think you’re in any position to ask for privacy.”
In a cacophony of electrical crunches and short circuits, Robbie’s computer came smashing down onto the hardwood floor. Robbie hid behind his hands as bits of hardware flew like shrapnel across the room. His eyes itched with tears as he took in the wasted terabytes and demolished files.
Butch lumbered down the stairs, ripping Robbie’s keyboard in half like a loaf of bread. He threw the pieces onto the pile, scattering letters and digits across the room. He pulled Robbie’s prized Boba Fett figurine out of his back pocket and shrugged.
“I’m keeping this,” Butch said.
Feeling neutered, Robbie picked up the remnants of his keyboard and sobbed. He fell to his knees and cut his hands open as he tried to scoop up the sharp plastic and metal. Sarah patted him heavily on the back before picking her way through the destruction to the front door. Butch followed behind her, crunching computer under his heavy boot.
“Don’t spend too much time crying, kid,” Sarah said over her shoulder, clenching a fresh cigarette in between her teeth. “You gotta clean this mess up before Mommy gets home. I’m sure this is something you’d rather keep private.”
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