You are thirteen when Ellie Paciorek from second period pre-algebra asks if you can show her how to kiss a boy. You’ve never kissed a boy but you want to kiss her, so you say yes. “Just follow my lead.” She uses too much tongue but you don’t mind.
She pulls at your shirt and runs her hands up your back, and electricity vibrates through every nerve ending in your body. She leans in, her breath hot on your ear, and whispers, “So is this how you would do it — with a boy?”
The moms always wait up, say Did you girls have fun, say Do you want any snacks, say Oh, honey, I pulled out the trundle bed for you, and you say Thank you, and then you fall into her twin bed together, and her blankets are so soft and she is softer.
Fifteen in the dark beneath your paisley bedspread, Phoebe kisses your neck and then your clavicle, and your ears and lips and breasts. Lying in thin tops under sweaty eyelids, she falls into you and you to her, and she is nervous but tastes so sweet and your heart swells and you tangle together until you can’t tell whose hair is whose. “Don’t worry,” she whispers to you, kissing your cheeks and nose and brushing your hair out of your eyes. “You’re still a virgin. Girls don’t count. It’s not a big deal.”
You find any excuse to let your fingers linger on her skin too long. You’re nervous and it’s quiet and you can barely breathe. You’ve waited for her for months. You melt at her touch, at her lips and the curve of her waist and the way her face crinkles when she laughs about something stupid you’ve said.
“It’s not a big deal,” says your boyfriend freshman year of college at the Halloween party you attend in matching superhero costumes. You are kissing a pretty girl who lives a floor below you as he drinks cheap beer with his roommates across the room. “It doesn’t bother me. Do whatever you want, baby.”
Later, you run into a boy from your ethics class and you stop for a moment to talk — commiserate about the density of Kierkegaard’s discourses. He compliments your costume. Your boyfriend swoops in, puts his arm around your waist forcefully and pulls you away. “Why the fuck were you talking to that guy like that?” he demands stonily as you wait for the train.
You smoke a little bit then teepee trees in the garden and go to the playground on the Esplanade and climb to the top. You scream at the top of your lungs out onto the icy river, then tumble down, giggling wildly and kissing each other’s frozen lips.
You sit in pajamas with your new roommates the first night of sophomore year — comply with standard “boy talk.” They list all of the boys they’ve had sex with – four for Maya, who’s been in decidedly committed relationships since her first high school boyfriend. Kathleen’s number is a little higher – party hookups and booty-calls in between boyfriends. When you go, Maya is pissed. “That’s not fair!” she exclaims. “If you’re counting girls, I should be able to count blow jobs!”
You spend nights with butterflies in your stomach, lips almost touching before you spin away with drunken nerves. Your hands intertwine beneath jacket sleeves as you give sage boy advice to drunk friends about the cute guys who sit with PBRs at the next table. Your friends flirt, and you whisper incoherent secrets into each other’s ears, sip your beers, kiss necks softly.
Winter break and you’re at an impromptu dinner party with high school friends. You eat duck and asparagus and sip her parents’ expensive wine in her pristine kitchen and play truth or dare. You pick truth, and Ezra asks you what the kinkiest thing you’ve done is. You freeze, embarrassed, unsure of how to answer. Anna answers for you — “Well she fucks girls, so…” Everyone nods, satisfied with the response. “Damn,” the boys say. “That’s hot.”
She is nervous and sweet and her skin is warm and silk. You could keep your face on her neck, on her collarbone, down her soft stomach, forever, you think. You revel in the beauty that permeates when she’s silent, or thoughtful, the beauty in her intellect, her perceptiveness, her wit. In her eyes, Jesus Christ.
You fidget with your fingers as you sit with your brother in your favorite restaurant. You can’t meet his gaze when you tell him about her. You inhale sharply and think about her cheeks, their rosiness, the way freckles litter her forehead and the spaces where her eyes crinkle up when she speaks. You tell him you think you’re in love. He’s surprised, but smiles. “What’s his name?” he asks. “Her name’s Charlotte,” you say cautiously. His expression changes.
You can feel the shadow of her weight on your hip bones, and all this beer tastes like now is kissing her. You’ve memorized how her eyes look when they’re open, how the brown in them is gold and how the black in them is endless.
At a bar in JP, a cute guy with a scruffy beard and tortoiseshell eyeglasses buys you a beer. You thank him, but tell him upfront that you have a girlfriend.
He laughs. “Are you in college?” You tell him yes. “All girls are a little gay in college. You’re gonna end up with a man, don’t worry.” You tell him that’s presumptuous, ask him what he means. “Oh, come on,” he chuckles. “You’re too pretty to be gay.”
She gets quiet and you drive, because you’re good at that. You pull over when you tire, and sleep on backs, and she’s pulling your shirt with its collar, your body with its heart beating too fast. She whispers on about astrology, and children’s television shows, and plays with your hair, then she stops and watches, quiet, and she grabs your hand, and it’s making s’mores – snap crackle pop. You almost tell her you love her then, but let the sound of her voice sing you to sleep instead.
You run into your ex-boyfriend in the dining hall and he smirks at you. He’s heard you and Charlotte have broken up. “You missed dick, huh?” he chides. “Knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away long.”
You broke up because she cheated on you with an old girlfriend and thinking about her makes you feel like crumbling to pieces, but you don’t tell him that.