and the Time-Stopper
Many of the faces he recognized and could name, clustered in half-familiar groups of threes and fours, and they recognized him-if only to gape with mild surprise, as if asking themselves, how does he rate an invite?) before passing on. The only person he knew to talk to was Lucy, and she wasn't around.
He'd come to expect things from parties put on by grownups. But there was no punch bowl here, no games to line up for, just a table of nibbles and various fizzy drinks. He was out of his league for sure. He asked directions to the lavatory and was pointed upstairs by a strange girl who seemed to find him a source of secret and scornful amusement.
He resolved to putter about in the lav for a few minutes-maybe Lucy would turn up by then. Then he'd fulfill his obligation to his Mum-tell Lucy thanks, then scarper home.
The bathroom was on
the left, but he caught a flash of pink wallpaper from a room angled across
the hall. A purple poster of Duran Duran's "Rio" album on the
wall made for a pleasant color contrast. If he peeked around the jamb
perhaps he could see Lucy's bed...
"Hello? Who's there?" He jumped, though the female voice was familiar.
"Sorry. It's Johnny Perkins. From school." He peeked around the corner.
She was sitting on the bed with a set of bongo drums. The drum skins were almost a match for her pale, round arms.
"Hello, Johnny Perkins from school. It's Lucy Jones. Glad you could come to my party."
"I was looking for-you." It sounded better than "the lavatory."
"Why thank you. Nice that someone paid tribute to the hostess. How's the party going?"
"Oh, it's fun. Well, honestly, I hardly know anyone down there."
"Neither do I. I didn't even want to have a party, not that much. Doreen and Rowena roped me into it. They said it'd be all right, no muss, no fuss." She looked at Johnny, while holding up the bongo drums, which he now saw had a rip in one of the skins. "More fool me. Were you looking for the lavvie?"
"Yes. I was just going to--"
"You're not leaving already, are you?"
"No. I mean, if you want me to stay-" He said, still flustered. Yet he no longer wanted to leave.
"Of course I do, silly. I wouldn't have invited you otherwise. The ones downstairs are all friends of Rowena and Doreen. You're the only one I invited, from school anyway. I noticed your notebook with 'Sarah Sutton' etched all over it. Is she your sweetheart?"
He was tempted to, with a wink and a nod, imply yes, but realized she was being funny. "She's on the tele."
"I know very well she's on the tele. She's on 'Dr. Who' and don't tell me you of all people don't watch it. There's no call to be embarrassed. I love the show."
"Really now? How do you like the new Doctor?"
"Not much. He's too young and looks rather ordinary. I miss the quirks. The jelly babies and all that." Johnny had thought that as well, but lacked Lucy's knack for words to say so.
"My favorite was 'Robots of Death,'" he said. "I hope they show it again sometime."
"I do too. It was a mystery story, wasn't it?"
"A whodunit. Hey, I made a joke. Who-dunit? Did you hear what I said?"
It took a second, but he laughed. He had to say his Mum was right, though whether she'd approve of what he and the "hostess" were doing was a question he declined to ponder.
"I wonder what everyone is up to downstairs," he said, when a space of silence threatened to linger.
"If they haven't found my parents drinks cabinet, then they're likely playing sardines. The snogging version, of course." Her eyes lit up, as if she'd just had an idea. "I thought of game we can play." She left him in the hall outside her parents' room. "Wait here."
She returned wearing a silver tiara, her hair piled up like a disheveled raven's nest. "Do I look like Nyssa?"
"Yes." Actually, she didn't -- Lucy's hair was red and straight, not brown and curly like Nyssa's -- but neither that nor her gap tooth spoiled the illusion.
"Who will you be? The Doctor? Not that nerdy helper boy Adric, surely."
"Oh no, not him."
"No, he's after your Nyssa, isn't he? You know, I bet they're lovers in real life."
Hearing this raised in him senseless alarm. "You really think so?"
"I have no idea, silly boy. They're actors, who knows what they get up to at night. Now we need to get into the Tardis, like Dr. Who does. I know a good place." She took his arm, raising a line of gooseflesh that made his skin feel like it was being squeezed.
In her parent's bedroom she opened up the folding closet door and closed the shutter behind them. The closet was a cramped space poignant with the cardboard smell of old boxes, thick and close with the rustle of hung dresses. He couldn't see her but he felt her breath on his cheek and smelled her scent. "Is that perfume?"
"No, I always smell like roses." She paused. When he failed to react she said, "Yes, it is. It's called Royal Blush. It's my Mum's. But never mind that. So this is the Tardis, and we're shuttling through space at the speed of light."
"No." He breathed hard. He was about to take a risk, and he didn't do that very often. "It's a dungeon. We're tied together."
She went along. "All right then. Who is keeping us?"
"I don't know," he thought, too agitated to match Lucy's attention to detail.
"Perhaps it's a time machine," she said. "But we have to hold each other to give it the psychic energy for it to work."
"Yes. It works through snogging," he said, daringly.
"Yes. A snog. Just not on my toes, you naughty boy."
Their noses got in the way at first, but he solved that by tilting his head at an angle to Lucy's face.
"It takes three kisses for it to start," she said. "Then time outside will stop. Nothing will change as long as we're inside. I'm a princess and you're a knight-errant come to rescue me. But not just yet."
She kissed him again. For a moment, Princess Nyssa became Princess Lucy. The dungeon walls fell away, replaced by a bridal path in a well-lit garden, the tiara becoming heavy with betrothal significance.
It was Johnny's first-ever kissing and he had to wipe his mouth a few times in the awkward breathe-pucker-breathe exercise. Once they knocked heads, and the spell was broken, and it was all over but the nervous giggling.
"We'd best go downstairs now and see how badly they've destroyed the house." In the light Lucy's face was flushed. She put the tiara up, her hair hung down in her face again. She was no longer Princess Lucy. But he liked her all the same.
"It was fun,' he said, as if talking about a day at the carnival.
"I'll see you in maths on Monday, then."
"Yes." He leaned forward, but things were different in the light. She averted her face, letting him peck her on the cheek instead.
He would kiss Lucy
only one more time, before she turned coy. Nyssa would depart "Dr.
Who" and go on to a modest career in television acting and he would
foster a similarly agonizing passion for the fortunes of Wycombe Wanderers
Football Club. Throwing all her energies into her youngest and smartest
son, his mother would fatefully gift him with a computer. He'd earn top
marks in information science at university, where he surprised himself
by wooing and marrying a vivacious American girl. His interest in science
fiction would wane, but now and again a stray "Who" sighting
would transport him back to a 1982 Clapham closet, where his own life
of adventuring had begun.