This is part of a much larger fiction (!) piece I started last summer and… stare at from time to time. But the world is crazy right now and I’m hoping putting writing into the world will actually get me to, ya know, write.
You never felt like a pretty girl. You had a lifetime of being chubby and awkward and brown in a world that didn’t want any of those things, and so “desirable” was something you had never seen in yourself. The only way you got boys, it felt like, was if you went out and got them. You were aggressive and flirtatious. Subtly was not your strong suit.
That’s how you’d gotten Brian. He was in one of your elective writing courses and seemed so much cooler than you— the English department darling, bright blue eyes. He was way out of your league. And yet after a few weeks of very targeted flirting, you hooked up (making out and some under the shirt action— you were still very uptight and confused by your body). That led to actual dating, which led to a serious relationship all through college. Brian stayed and cheered for you when you switched to a journalism degree. You stayed as he graduated and decided to make writing into a career. You both stayed through the first year of your internship at the local paper. You had stayed close to home for Brian and, at 22, were planning a life together.
But the seams were starting to rip on the relationship. You had outgrown each other, in many ways— his love of niche, fantasy literature were at odds with what you felt were “real world problems.” You hated following him to networking parties; he didn’t connect to the reporting you were doing. There was a lot of love, yes, but there were long fights, uncertainty, and confusion at where the spark of your young love had gone when you were both in your early twenties.
So, when Andrew joined as a summer intern a few months after you, you were happily surprised at the connection you felt. You didn’t think much of it– when had things like that ever panned out for you?– but it was nice to have someone who shared your interests and sought you out in the lunchroom. You made it a point not to mention Brian, which you knew was terrible, but you justified as “not that big a deal.” Women were punished and put in boxes for their relationships all the time. You didn’t want to be known as the girl who only talked about her boyfriend, you reasoned. It was just good career skills.
When Andrew invited you to get a drink, you didn’t think anything of it. You didn’t get pursued or asked on dates without reaching for it. He was way too cute to be interested in you– a tall, lean former cross country runner with glasses and a big goofy smile. So, you agreed. Did you put on a cute dress and make up? Sure. But you were just putting your best foot forward for a colleague. That was all.
Except it wasn’t. Andrew took you to a little Mediterranean joint, laughing as he told you about his life and his plan to eventually go to medical school and eventually Doctors Without Borders. Your fingers touched as you split pita bread. He asked you about your latest article, gave clear and thoughtful feedback, and insisted on paying. You were roundabout about Brian, making it unclear if you were single or not. He didn’t pry. As you were walking out, he recommended a good dive bar a few blocks away. Then there was beer. A shot. Karaoke. He admitted to you he’d just gotten a tattoo on his bicep, the snakey medical symbol, to remind him of his own plans.
You smiled as he told you, and he must have seen you bite your lip before asking you coyly, “Do you want to see it?”
You had never had this before, a man offering his body to you, even in this small way. You always felt as if yours body was the one that needing to be proffered. You nodded slightly and he rolled up his t-shirt sleeve to show you. It was intricate and beautiful, black with blushing red on his white skin. Without thinking, you reached out, then hesitated. “It’s okay,” he smiled slyly. “Touch it. Go ahead.”
Your breath caught in your throat at the small innuendo. You couldn’t help it– you bit your lip again. What bad movie is this? You scolded yourself, but the alcohol had already numbed your mind so much that rationality had left you long ago. So you reached out and felt the heat of his skin under your thumb as you traced the tattoo, your fingers dancing on his arm, chicken skin arising on you both.
“Does it– does it hurt?” You gulped out. You looked away from his arm and into his eyes for what seemed to be the first time that night.
The brown of them danced under the tacky flashing of the bar’s party lights. He took a breath and then smiled. “No. Not at all. It feels nice.”
You breathed quietly, taking the moment in, looking into his eyes again.
Then there was water and the check (he covered again, despite heavier protests from your end). He guided you to the car, lightly by placing a hand on your lower hip, and drove you home, the conversation continuing nonstop. Finally, you were outside your apartment. You blinked a few times, trying to ground yourself. What is going on? You try and figure out exactly what in this experience is real as you look at the dashboard. You are not just drunk on alcohol, but on the experience itself. This man was actively flirting with you: grabbing your shoulder, encouraging you to touch him, encouraging you to speak more, looking at you so deeply you didn’t know you could be seen in that way. This did not happen to you. You didn’t know what to do with it.
You realized he was silent, and looked up at him, the orange of the streetlight casting across on pale skin, a glint on his glasses and in his eyes. Your mouth went dry. He reached across, taking a strand of your hair and putting it behind your ear. Seriously, what movie– he kept his hand in your hair, his thumb lightly stroked the side of your face as he kept looking into your eyes. Your mind went blank, buzzing. You knew that this was too far. You knew that this was wrong. You have only kissed three boys in your entire life, and the one you thought you will marry is waiting at his house for you to text him that you got home safe.
Then, without a word, he leaned across the center console and kissed you, so softly you barely felt it. You had never done anything like this, never thought you would, and even though you knew it was wrong you closed your eyes and let it happen. When he stopped and looked at you, you said nothing, and so he did it again, harder this time, and without thinking you leaned into it, feeling his hands cup the back of your head and pull your body into his. You’re still not sure who pulled away first. You stumbled out of the car, said something about calling him, and ran upstairs to your apartment.
Without thought, you texted Brian, “home”
He texted back immediately, “You okay?”
You breathed hard, felt your throat constrict before typing. “Yeah, some folks from the office joined us. Lots of fun lol and found a new mediterrean place to try. Gonna knock out.”
You held your breath waiting for his response. Would he buy it? Would he follow up? What if someone had seen you?
“haha ok glad it was fun. love you.”
You heaved a heavy sigh as you typed back, “love you too.”
You felt your way to the bathroom in the dark, flipped on the light, and looked in the mirror. Your face felt like it was broken into parts– swollen lips, lined eyes, messy hair. You tried to take it all in as it swirled all together. You blinked hard, then said aloud, “I cheated. I cheated on Brian. I’m a cheater.”
You looked at the image in the mirror. Who was this girl? Who had you become?
You stared harder. You thought you would cry, thought you would feel a wave a guilt overcome you when you said the words. You thought you’d burn up into a million pieces right there.
But you felt nothing. You knew you would not get caught, and knew you would be able to go on without anyone knowing. You kept looking into your own eyes, trying to find something more than, “He doesn’t know and he never will.”
But nothing was there.
You flipped off the light and stumbled into your bed into a night of dreamless sleep.