Let’s get this out of the way, I say. It’s time.
Time, he says.
Neither of us are smokers but we’re on the curb, coated in the smell. Sticks to you in the April cold. Everything’s thawing, potholes dot the downtown like plague. Drunks talk shit and hack darts in huddles under the old sign. It’s not a Chinese food place anymore but the food is good and the beer is cheap. They plastered the tables with old hip-hop cassette covers and they taxidermied a bobcat and for some reason Home Alone is always playing on the TV. Inside our friends are shouting, buying shots.
What do you mean, he says. Get it out of the way.
Fuckssake open your jacket, I say. I’m freezing.
He tugs at the zipper and I slide my hands inside, head on his chest. Thump thump. Rabbity because of me, or because of the booze. Our breath coated in whiskey. I fumble for his phone.
Call a cab, I say.
I will tell you this: I was clueless. Last summer his girlfriend stops talking to me. Two weeks after they break up he invites me over. August haze, breeze from the big lake in his backyard. His grass is overgrown and I pull at it with my painted toes. He plunks down next to me on the deck steps. Hands me an over-full glass of wine. Tilts his to mine, splashing some on my white sundress.
Heavy hands, I say.
No girl’s ever complained, he says.
I click my tongue, fingering the red stain.
He asks me what I’ve been listening to. I tell him about the album and how I play it loud after midnight when it’s too hot to sleep. Fuzzy on my headphones, cold tile under my feet while I dance. Songs that sound like sex. Sometimes I cum to them and when I tell him he chokes on the wine.
You’re right, I say, it’s a cheap red.
It’s all over your mouth, he says.
I pull out my phone and flip the camera to selfie mode—more stains. Run my tongue over my
lips and teeth and when I look up from the camera he’s still looking at my mouth. Panic grips me.
Last week I told some guy I love him, I blurt.
And? he says.
He hung up, I say.
He drops his gaze to his empty glass, wincing. Flexes his toes next to mine in the grass.
Like the movies, he says. What a fucking idiot.
When I go home and slip my hand between my thighs and play the song after midnight I think about his eyes on my mouth and only after I cum do I realize. Wasn’t about the other guy. He meant it about himself.
I don’t remember much. Little bits before, maybe. Breathing slutty things in the back of the cab and the way he threw the bills at the driver and fumbling with my keys and jesus fuck I’m drunker than I thought. Hand curled on his jacket lapel. Head bouncing off the wall he pressed me against. Hot breath on my neck. Rough hand yanking the zipper along the curve of my spine.
Sharp exhale when my dress pooled at my ankles.
But the act itself—nothing. I don’t know if he talked or if he was rough or if he was gentle or if he moaned and bit my clavicle when he came.
We woke to find he’d run out of condoms. I live next to a church and the Sunday bells toll. Unbearably hot in my apartment. I kick the covers off and stretch. Self conscious about my body in the bare sunshine but before I can say anything he plants his head on my chest, pulls me close. I run my fingers idly through his hair.
“Whatta mop,” I say. “You could make history on the Ed Sullivan show.”
He drags his palm slowly over the soft roll of my stomach, lets it rest on the curve of my hip. Thumbs the crease where my cunt meets my thigh.
“I want a do-over,” he says.
I will tell you this: I was an asshole. There’s this thing inside me that balks when the feel grows big and stupid. You are not going to hurt me, it says. You will not figure me out. You cannot know how sweet and soft and sticky my heart is. Maybe that’s carved in my stars or settled in my blood, who knows. Either way the big feel makes me a little mean.
On his birthday he finally confessed.
I have this thing, he says.
This better not be about redheads, I say.
We were born a week apart in December. Mom told me it was a green Christmas. Three days of labour because I’m late for goddamn everything. Somebody exploded cranberry sauce in the microwave and booze flowed among the cousins and they toasted to me, their little turkey. So it’s almost my birthday, too; people press pint glasses into our hands.
Let’s go, he says.
We tumble into a van with his buddies. I’ve made out with four of them, but not him. When we get to his house he tugs me into his bedroom and leans in. I stop him. Pull him into his bed, my back to his chest. Cab slips and coins spilling from our pockets. He breathes sadly into my hair.
Why them, he says. Why not me.
I wanna explain about the green Christmas, about how I am late for goddamn everything. I’m not there yet. He wants to love me; I don’t know how to let him. But the feel is growing big and stupid, so I get mean. Tease him harder, suck face with his dipshit friends.
It’s different with you, I say. It matters.
We find his car, go to the store. He emerges with a pack of ribbed-for-her-pleasure and a case of soup.
Condoms, I say, and fucking Campbell’s Chunky?
It was on sale, he says.
I could tell you how we did the do-over and over and over. I could tell you how the sun crept across the room then dimmed again while I tilted my head, moaning crude prayers to the ceiling. I could tell you how the window next to the bed was sweating against the April cold. I could tell you where we left marks. I could tell you how it feels to bite your tongue for nine months then finally let someone’s name slip past your teeth. I remember everything, now. I could tell you, I could tell you, I could tell you.
But I won’t.
The only thing you need to know is someone can stare with sweet, stupid awe while you’re trembling above them and that it can change your life, being looked at like that. Sing so loud you split atoms. He’d play you in any key, just to hear.
I hope you get that, one day. You’d never be cruel to the mirror again.
I will tell you this: I was in love. But we got it out of the way and then—nothing. Stare at my phone for weeks. Wonder was it because I was clueless or because I was an asshole or because I am late to goddamn everything. I don’t know. Sometimes I hear songs that sound like sex after midnight and still wonder.
See him again next August. Same bar, same buddies. When I pass the table they punch his shoulder and go woooooOOOOOOoooooooo. He owes me a concert ticket, but it’s at his house. When I’m back in his bedroom I put my hand out for the ticket. He holds it over his head, goading me. Knows I’m too proud to lean, let alone lunge. But he tries anyway.
Instead I crawl into his unmade bed. Stare at him with wet eyes til he lies down with me.
You didn’t call, I say.
Neither did you, he says.
I won’t ever be the first to call. Last time, someone hung up. Let someone else sing love songs to a dial tone. The big feel inside me balks.
I’m seeing someone, I say.
Bullshit, he says.
He’s going to be a doctor, I say.
He sits up and hunches over the side of the bed. Ticket clenched in his fist. I hate myself for being mean and kneel behind him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders. Lips at the base of his neck.
One day, I whisper, when we’re older. With our mortgages and in-laws and pensions and deadlines and wrinkles. We’re going to think this time was simple. This moment is proof that it’s not.
He curls a hand around my wrist, holds me there a little longer. I palm the ticket and slip from his sheets for the last time.