A Storyby Theodore Wheeler
You should know that I didn’t own the house on Brentwood. I was only staying there, like a house sitter. So when Teddy rang the bell and stepped inside the foyer, I hesitated, I didn’t tell him to get lost like I wanted to. He was just as much inside the house as I was, if that makes sense—uninvited, without a word of welcome. All existence was tentative those days, the month I lived on Brentwood, so what else could I do but let him in.
Teddy was eleven years old. He was stocky, chubby, his cheeks so fat his eyes closed when he smiled and barely slit open even when he wasn’t smiling. His hair had been buzzed some time before and sprouted in mutinous blond wings off the sides of his head, like he’d slept on it and hadn’t showered. We sized each other up in the foyer. He in jean shorts and a too-tight T-shirt; me cinching the sash of a monogrammed silk robe I’d found upstairs, a robe I wore most all night and day over my own shorts and T-shirt. Teddy must have been a familiar sight to the people who owned the house. The Sinclairs were family friends, and that month they were touring Tuscany. They’d mentioned their travel plans during a party my parents had hosted a few weeks prior. I let myself in through an unlocked patio door when they were gone because I needed a place to stay.
You see how it was. I had no standing to refuse entry to Teddy.
He was probably a neighbor kid anyway, or a nephew dropping by to get the mail, so I should be nice. Then again, maybe neither of us belonged there. We were both a little strange.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“That’s my name too,” I said. “I’m Ted.”
Teddy nodded, smiled politely, then gazed into the house, inhaling in heavy, rapid breaths through his pug nose, like he’d run up the hill to the door. He went up the stairs to the living room, and I let him. I shrank away so our arms didn’t bump. I didn’t want to be near Teddy, not when he snooped around the living room, the dining room, not when he went to the kitchen, got a Pepsi, and downed the whole can in frantic gulps that were interrupted only when the fridge door swung into his back.
“How about we call you Little Ted and we call me Big Ted? How about that?”
I could tell he was against the idea. He smiled, a grimace-smile. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Then what do you suggest?”
“My name is Teddy,” he said, still not looking at me. He was so quiet I could barely hear him. “We can call you Hans.”
“I don’t get it. Why should I be Hans?”
“I made it up.”
“I’m Hans?” I asked him.
He called me that from then on.