“If you make them leave, all of them, you can do anything you want to me all night.”
It’s probably three o’clock in the morning, and this is Trashy’s last effort. Trashy is a girl who knows she’s hot. She’s been convinced by every man who ever touched her, every boy who ever looked at her, that it’s the only important feature of her life. She’s got a body built for sex. She’s crafted her walk, her talk, the flip of her hair, the smile, the eye, she’s practiced it all. But none of it worked so well as the blatant sexuality she uses, like a bare-knuckled punch to the senses, when she offers herself up for the taking. Trashy is desperate. She can see what everybody could see all night. She can see the direction it’s going, and it’s just not fair.
Now this is an important one, so we’re gonna back up. We might do this a couple of times. There are rules to these things, as taught by Grr, and G.I. Joe knows all the rules. He may have given up his jacket. He may be 21 now, instead of 13. A man graduated, out of high school, instead of a broken boy limping through sixth grade. But Grr taught him a long time ago how to get the attention of a woman. “There’s rules to these things, Joe,” she had said. So he put it together. He started the rumor mill, he sent the errant thought whistling through the air, and with confidence, he knew the girl he was obsessed with had been made aware he was looking at her.
Bekah is so many things. She’s almost all of them well. But far and above everything else, Bekah is a romantic. Her romantic life had been hopeless up to this moment. Every guy she found herself entwined with had been a mess in one way or the other. They had not valued her. They neglected her. She dated Brett and his ridiculous need for the ability to create art was her burden to bear, because she had to listen to him as he talked about how creative he was, how artistic he was, how special he was. Every dismissing look he gave her, every time he wanted to spend his hours with his friends instead of her, all of it said the same thing to her. All throughout her relationship with Brett, all throughout high school, middle school, all throughout her relationships with her other boyfriends, she had been told with every scrap of evidence set before her, that she was not cool, that she was not interesting.
And when I thought about that, it enraged me. I saw exactly what she was. A perfect, sexy, brilliant, artistic, drop-dead gorgeous, deserving girl who I would have strangled Brett for just if it meant I could only hold her hand.
They’d broken up and the break up left her raw. But Grr’s method is tried and true. And after sending word, I knew exactly what had to happen the next day.
I knew she was coming, so I got ahold of Precious. It was her senior year. And she was taking charge of her life. She was not going to allow the slightest scrap of fun to escape her. So when I told her I was having a party at my house, she brought her daddy’s cash and we went to a liquor store. I bought booze for all the minors who hung out at my house, kids who were one year younger than me, two years younger than me. Right on the cusp of being able to drink. The kids I’d grown up with.
We bought Precious’s strawberry boon wine. We bought Burg’s two 40-oz bottles of OE. Bell had to have his butter shots. And we bought three cartons of wine coolers.
Burg and Bell knew. They knew the night I was planning. They knew how I felt about Bekah and they knew that now she knew as well. She would be coming over. There was not a doubt in any of our minds. After hearing the rumor that I cared about her, the temptation would be too rich for her to keep herself away.
The night started like all nights in that tiny apartment. Everybody found a seat, everybody talked, people started drinking. When Bekah showed up, I met her at the door. I hugged her. I pulled back to look at her, to look at that face I had been so obsessed with for so long. I looked her in the eye, and she giggled. She was smiling. Since her break up with Brett, Bekah never smiled. I grabbed her shoulders, pulled her out just far enough so I could look her in the eye, and I said very softly, “Thank you for coming. I am so glad you are here.” I hugged her again, and I drifted back into the crowd. Let her see me at work. Let her see me moving.
She grabbed a wine cooler and sat down on the loveseat. Very quietly, very politely, she began to drink. As I talked and moved, I performed for her. I knew that every hand gesture I made, her eyes were locked onto. Every time I laughed, I wanted it to be the perfect image of the perfect laugh. I crafted every movement I made for her.
I loved every single person in this room. All in their own ways, all in unique ways, all in the same ways, even Trashy was a person I cared about. I wanted good things for all these people. And my apartment was where they came. My doors were always open, whether I was at work or at home or off in some corner of the city playing a DnD game. It got so bad that I would get off work and call my house to see if anyone there could give me a ride home. This was everyone’s home, so we all settled in.
The drinking became more profound instead of celebratory. Quiet and thoughtful. I pulled out a candle, pointed at the light switch. Burg smacked it off. And we were covered in a dark hush. I lit the candle, set it in the floor in front of me, and I waited. It would not be long. A few comments would be made, a few jokes, someone would say something quippy. Soon what would happen always happened, they would ask for a story, and when they did, I told one to her. I shut everyone else out. Burg and Trashy and Bell, Bliss, everyone was shut out. It was just me in the floor in front of a candle looking at a shy, heartbroken girl with a wine cooler and just a little hope.
I told a story. It was a good one. Could not have gone better. And when I was done, I blew out the candle and a quiet hush fell over the entire room. I had literally done everything I could. I played by Grr’s rules, I played by Smear’s rules, I played by Shadow’s rules, I had done everything I possibly could, but there was one person who had not expressed his feelings. One person sitting within this body ached for just the slightest chance to show her a fraction of what it might be like to be his girl.
When she had to go to the bathroom, she said she couldn’t get up. He took his chance, and Guardian stepped forward. He stood before her, offered her a hand, and lifted her to her feet. When I close my eyes and summon up an image of that moment, I can feel her hand in his. And I know she’s drunk, so I know she doesn’t notice how badly his hand is trembling as he leads her to his bathroom.
He opens the door for her, closes it behind her. When she steps out, he’s waiting for her outside the bathroom door to walk her back to her seat. It was a whine. It was an exclamation. It was an expression of shock. It was all these things wrapped tightly in hope when she said, “You waited for me.”
No one had ever done anything like that for her before. She had lived a life where the people who were supposed to be treating her like gold would’ve walked her to that bathroom and left her to stumble back to her chair alone. It had not even occurred to her that Guardian might be on the other side of that door to take her back to her chair. In that one moment, my life began.
Guardian watching over Bekah for the first time, giving her the kindness and respect she had always deserved, had brought us to life.
Now, hours later, the room is winding down. Everyone is finding a spot of floor to crash on. Guardian leads Bekah to his bed, lays her down, and Trashy calls him over. She does not want this to happen. The part of her that has never been romanced, that has never held the trembling hand of an honorable man, is calling to Shadow. Because if he throws everybody out now, everybody except Trashy, and he sends them all home, even a drunk Bekah can figure out why.
Trashy has spent the night watching all of us performing for Bekah. And within her, anger has risen. She’ll break the coming romance if she can. So she offers up the only thing she thinks she’s worth. The one thing that has never failed her.
“If you make them leave, all of them, you can do anything you want to me, all night.”
“Trashy, I don’t have time for this. I need to go check on Bekah.”
She grabbed my arm tight with desperate fingers and squeezed, “Make them all leave.”
I shook her off. I crawled onto the bed next to Bekah.
“Just let me lay here for a minute. Trashy’s trying to make me scare everybody off. I just need to lay here long enough for her to leave. I don’t want everybody to leave. I want to be right here. On this bed. Next to you,” Artist whispers to Bekah.
A floppy drunken hand plops on his face and gently strokes it, “Oh, really?”
“Yes, right here. This is where I want to be. I’m gonna give you the bed when she leaves. I don’t have to stay here but—”
Bekah grabbed my arm. “Don’t leave.”
And Trashy kicked herself away. She stomped and kicked.
“Hey, what the fuck?” Burg yelled as Trashy’s flailing foot caught him in the head. She jerked the door open and slammed it behind her. She stood outside the door a long time before finally stomping through the gravel to her car and driving away. I wonder sometimes if, while she was standing outside that door, she was trying to come up with ways to turn it around. To go back in there and make the reality that she desired fact. What sorts of desperate plans were being sifted through in those two or three minutes she stood outside that door? I don’t know. I’ll never know. I don’t care.
I knew Bekah knew how I felt, but I had to play a little. We had to get past the I know you know and you know I know. And that can just get clumsy. So I leaned in close, and I whispered to Bekah, “I have a secret.”
She drunkenly blurted, “I already know what it is. Just tell me.”
I heard Bliss, in my living room, giggle.
“I can’t stop thinking about you. And I would do anything just to hold you tonight. You’ve been drinking. I would never let you take your clothes off or take mine off, would never allow things to get past a certain point with you in the condition you’re in.”
She pointed a floppy finger. “I’m not as drunk as you think I am.”
Guardian stepped forward and took her hand. “No matter what happens tonight, you keep your clothes on. Can I just hold you? Can I just put my arm around you and feel you against my body? Feel you fall asleep and maybe sleep with you?”
She looked up at me, her eyes wide, breath short. “Do you wanna kiss me?”
And I did want to kiss her. I wanted to kiss her so bad. I had seen her so many years ago. I had watched her with one bad boyfriend after the next. I had been looking for just the slightest chance to be with her. Every hug was a holiday. Every time she laughed I could breathe easier. I pulled her closer to me and she sank into all my spaces. And I kissed her.
I’ve had a lot of girlfriends. I’m a romantic at heart, and I had kissed a lot of girls. Something happened in that kiss I had never experienced before. The shape of the mouth, the way her lips moved against mine. It was a kiss I was not prepared for. The mechanics of it were different than I’d ever seen before. Those lips were like none ever built for any other woman before. To this day, I can’t describe what her lips do when they touch mine. I can’t feel it if I’m wearing facial hair, but when I’m clean shaven, to this day I can walk up to her and kiss her and it’s the first time again. It’s her lips moving in that unique way that no other woman’s does. When I’m clean shaven, I can feel that first kiss again, I’m back on that bed with her, holding her finally in my arms.
When I kissed her, she giggled. I pulled back and looked at her. Out came the floppy finger again. “You’re a really good kisser, Jesse Teller.”
We talked. We kissed. We laughed and we giggled. The night drew on. I knew I was going to fall asleep. The hours I worked dictated certain amounts of sleep necessary at certain times, and I knew as soon as I fell asleep I was out. I was gonna be out for a while. She had come to me drunk. She had kissed me while she was drunk, and let me hold her while she was drunk. So, before I fell asleep, I said, “Listen, you are going to wake up before me. If you wake up and you regret this decision—”
“Now you’re just interrupting me. If you wake up and you regret doing this—”
“I’m not gonna regret it, Jesse.”
I kissed her again. “Don’t interrupt the host. It’s rude.”
She giggled. That sound, that sound she made when she giggled was different than any I’d ever heard before. For a minute I got trapped in it, tumbled into it. “If, when you wake up, you decide you’ve made a mistake and you’d rather be friends, just don’t be here when I wake up. Just get up, leave me sleeping, and walk away. Get in your car and drive off. And when I see you next, I will ignore that this ever happened. I will not speak on it ever again. We can go back to being friends. This never has to be an issue. This can just be a wild thing you did one night when you were drunk. If you regret, don’t be here when I wake up. And if you are here when I wake up, then we’ll start a new life.”
When I woke up, she was gone.