Spitting Distance

In fourth grade Jackie and a couple other girls called me over in the schoolyard during recess, which was unusual because mostly everyone ignored me, pausing only to mutter Fishface as they passed by where I was sitting against the wall of the trailer, reading Jesper or Lisa or some book about surviving in the wilderness with only a hatchet and your wits. So when Jackie and two other girls whose names were also Js – Jessica, Jennifer, Janice – called me over to where they were standing in the soccer field I plodded over surely as if I were a dog that had been whistled to. Popular girls can do that to you; no matter how much you curse them in your head, they have that magnetism.
Hey, Jackie said, whatcha reading?
Nothing, I said. She grabbed my wrist and twisted the book toward her face, in a curious more than a violent way.
Jesper, she said, pronouncing the j hard, like Jester. How is it?
What’s it about?
Um. It’s about this guy, who’s in the resistance against the Nazis, in Denmark…
You want to see a trick? she said.
C’mon, Jessica said. It’s a really good one.
Um. Okay.
Touch your toes.
I was confused for a second because I didn’t realize this trick would involve my participation. I thought tricks were something one person did for another person’s amusement, with some kind of fourth wall involved. So I hesitated.

C’mon, it’s a really good trick. Don’t you trust me? Jackie pouted a bit. She had a real theatrical flair. It was very convincing, even though I knew it was an act. The other two Js were starting to giggle. Just do it, one of them said. We’ll be your best friend.

I touched my toes. Immediately Jackie shoved her hand down the back of my jeans, under my panties, and squeezed my butt cheek, screaming GOTCHA GOTCHA BUTTCHA! All the girls started laughing hysterically like touching my butt was the funniest thing in the world. I laughed too; I knew I was supposed to be humiliated but instead I was just confused. This was not within the natural order of schoolyard jokes; after all she was the one who touched a private part. That made her a pervert, or at least put her within spitting distance of one. She didn’t act like a pervert, though. Instead she was laughing with a kind of innocent glee.

My uncle does that to me all the time, she said.

Oh. I blushed, not because I was embarrassed but because I suddenly felt a feeling towards her. It was a combination of giddiness and nausea, and more than anything a desire to get away and quickly. She was pretty and popular and had nice clothes and was the star of all the plays and had seventeen embroidered “friendship” bracelets on her arm from seventeen different boys, but at least at my house no one put their hand down my pants at family occasions.  This was the beginning of some sort of understanding that there is more to us than what goes on at recess.