Narrator: Crystal Jennings
The lights were off, but I had lit candles on most surfaces. When he walked in, he blinked to let his eyes adjust. And he gasped in awe when he realized there was a trail of petals on the carpet. Then his eyebrows converged and his lips pursed.
"You feel out of place?" I asked, from where I lay on the bed against the wall of pillows in front of my headboard. Even the silk sheets of the bed, which usually had linens on it, were covered in red petals.
"Well, yes," he admitted. "But I expected to." He paused and sniffed the air. "The thing is, I'm miffed that you get the opportunity to roll out the proverbial red carpet -- is that incense?"
"Yeah," I said as I patted the spot beside me. "Don't tell my landlord."
"Heh heh, I won't." CJ slipped off his sneakers and put them on the mat by the door without me asking. I don't know how he managed to notice it in the dim light. Most of the light was near my end of the room. He shed his sweater, and gently rolled onto my bed. His feet nearly hung off the edge.
I looked at his face for a moment. It was a taller face than most. It was handsome in its own way, and had its charm, but was rather ordinary. I was fine with that, as I too was ordinary. At least, in that respect.
He was looking at me too. We were both silent, examining each other by the soothing, flickering light of the candles. Then abruptly, he smiled. "They say a face seems prettier when it becomes more familiar." He paused then, unsure of himself. "Can you do me a favour?"
"What kind of favour?" I asked, playfully, though I knew he wasn't about to ask me to suck him off. I knew I would have, if he'd have asked.
"Would you mind washing your make-up off? I want to see you as you truly are."
I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn't have been. I knew it was more than just trivial to him. He wanted me to shed what to him symbolized superficiality and objectification.
I suppose it meant the same to me, but I was too accustomed to following society's expectations. Greg's expectations. Men's eyebrows are naturally longer than women's, and he always loved it when I wore eye-liner.
"Sure thing," I said, after a moment of deliberation. "That sounds reasonable. But you've got to do something for me when I get back from the bathroom."
"Oh, umm... may I visit the bathroom after you do?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah, the door is right through here. Just lock the door that goes out to the hall, though," I instructed him for later as I entered it myself.
"Wow, your own bathroom," he exclaimed, as I shut the door.
Yes, it was fancier than most dorms. Suddenly, I felt self-concious that I was rich. But I got my mind off that when I looked down at the counter to see the test from this morning, indicating that I wasn't ovulating. I suspected that, after what his sister went through and put his parents through, he was still going to wear a condom. Then again, part of me wasn't even sure if the actual deed was on his mind.
I began to wash my face, rubbing water against my eyelids.
Perhaps our physical intimacy hinged upon our emotional and intellectual intimacy. That meant the key to seducing him might have come and gone. Or it could mean that it was to not seduce him directly, but rather to talk for an hour.
There was a knock on the bathroom door that led out to the hall. I was still dressed, and was nearly done washing my face, so I turned the handle and let them swing the door open for themselves.
It was Henry, my neighbour from across the hall. He entered as I dried my face on a towel.
"I thought you might be in here. I knocked on your door, but nobody answered."
"You guessed right," I said.
"How long have you been crying?" he asked. "That was an awful thing to do to you."
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I could feel some drops of water left on my cheeks. "Umm... what thing was done to me?"
"Y'know, how Greg bailed on you on the big night you had planned."
Darn, did Jason tell him!? "Look, Henry, I'm perfectly okay with Greg's decision. Hey, no, stop trying to hug me!"
He backed away.
"I don't need your comfort."
"Y're in denial, aren't cha?"
"No, I know exactly what happened and exactly how I feel about it. I'm happy for Greg and Kieth. Now, please, tell me, what did you come here for?"
"You sure you don't need a friend at a time like this?" he asked. The way he said 'friend' made me suspicious.
"Why would I need a -- Henry, what are you really here for?"
"I thought you could, y'know, use someone to..."
"No, I don't know!" I exclaimed. I didn't have patience for him at a time like this. I knew he wasn't stupid, not academically, but I don't think his social skills worked outside of bars, night clubs and locker rooms.
He looked lost for words. I wished, then, that Henry had an ounce of CJ's candour. Say what you think, think about what you feel, put feeling into what you say.
Then, it dawned on me. "You think I'm willing to use you as a back-up fuck!? Henry, give me a frickin' break, man. Unlike you and Jason, I don't sleep with friends just to satisfy my most primitive urges. Now, get out of my face!"
Henry didn't move from the doorframe. "I'm sorry Crystal, that's not how I meant it."
"It doesn't matter how you meant it, it matters what you meant." I could see in his eyes, now, how much he had been certain that I was a 'sure thing', an easy ride down the rabbit hole.
"I guess I had Jason seduce him for nothing," said Henry, and then he left, slamming the door carelessly in the middle of the night. Damn jock.
I locked it, as quickly as I could, in case he turned around. And then, I realized what he'd been referring to. It hit me like a bucket of cold water, the fickle-minded infidelity of Greg. And my immediate urge, oddly enough, was to worry for Kieth. I didn't care, as far as I could tell, that I'd been cheated on, because that was over. I cared far more about the present and future. Just how stable was the Greg-and-Kieth relationship? Was it all just puppy love to Greg?
No, save that admonishment for the morning, I told myself. My new boyfriend is here, and one interruption is more than enough to drive me insane.
I opened the door.
"Who was that?" Cameron asked. "He knocked on the door three times, and then swore."
"The bonehead who lives across the hall. He just thought he could come over here and take advantage of my jilted state and get himself laid."
"Oh, and it turns out his roommate was fucking Greg all this time, behind my back. That explains a few odd moments."
"Woah. Are you being serious? Because you seem rather unfazed."
"I'm worried about Kieth's relationship. I fear that Greg is only capable of transient puppy love, or maybe it's all just an act and he just wants to fuck. But it's late, I'll call Kieth tomorrow."
"Well, I'll see him tomorrow. You've gotta drop me off there at eight in the morning, story being that I was out for a morning walk. They don't wake up 'til nine at the earliest, it's their sleep-in day."
"We aren't gonna get much sleep, hah hah, are we?" I chuckled.
"Nope," CJ said, grinning at me adoringly. "Thank you."
"No problem," I said. Then I added, sarcastically, "Just a horny jock."
"The lipstick didn't want to come off, did it?"
I smiled. "There are other ways to get lipstick off."
"Hah hah... hah... not so fast, please," he said, dragging my hand away from the zipper of his jeans.
Geez, I felt like such a tramp at that moment.
"I'd rather just cuddle... for now."
"I'm fine with that," I said, as he leaned against me, wrapping one leg between mine. "How do you do it?"
"How do you do it?"
"How do you say no when so many would say yes?"
"I guess I just want to wait... for when the time is right. If that's later tonight, or a whole year from now," he sounded hesitant, and then even forlorn when he said 'a whole year'.
"It's not easy, is it?"
He sighed. "God, no. I don't think you have any idea how hard it is. I mean, you can probably imagine the moral discipline and upbringing, but this situation is new for me. I'm overwhelmed with the urge to... do a lot of things to you. Some that even disgust me. And... I just keep holding on, I guess."
I looked him in the eyes, watching the reflection of the candles in his blue eyes, trying to make out those golden flecks of rust in his irises even in the dim light.
"I'm going to give up eventually," he admitted. "Damn the media. And damn your pretty face, too."
I laughed, playfully. "Good. Give up." His embrace was warm, and I was beginning to feel too warm for the clothes I was wearing. His fingers ran slowly through my hair, distracting me. I brought a hand to the nape of his neck and grabbed the base of his ponytail. I slid my fingers down through the middle of it, and then brought them back up to the hair elastic, which I pulled down and off.
"You have really thin hairs," I observed, as I slid the hair-tie into his other hand, so that he could keep it on his wrist.
"So I've been told," he said as he continued to comb through mine with his fingers. "In most places, at least."
I laughed, not expecting him to make such a comment. But I dared not continue the discussion down that road, as I knew that's not what he wanted. And it pained me, in a way, to take things so slow at a time like this.
"You're not as innocent as you seem," I accused.
"No. I can feel it. I can see it in your eyes. You shouldn't deny it."
"I know. It's not healthy. But... it's not like I don't have my vices."
"What do you mean by that?"
He suddenly looked nervous. "It's hard to explain. I don't know whether to be ashamed or boastful about it."
"About what?" I asked, prying playfully at him, knowing he couldn't bring himself to lie to me. "I don't judge."
"Look, I've confided in four people. My sister, Adam, Penny, and my doctor," he listed them. "My doctor was so disbelieving that she wanted me to get some tests done. Tests a virgin shouldn't have to take. But I know the condition, I've read about it. It's no STD."
"The correct term is now STI," I pointed out, trying to understand what he was talking about.
"It can be treated with cold baths just like described. The only part that doesn't fit is that it's more common with single men in their early twenties."
"CJ, what are you talking about?"
He grinned. "You'll just have to wait and see, if you want to learn my... dirty little secret." Damn that wink!
I rolled my weight onto him, and spoke agressively, "I could force the answer out of you."
"Oh, that's precisely what I intended," he said, trying to be condescending. "As long as I get to force something out of you afterwards."
Now, it seemed as if he was giving up. But I couldn't be too sure. I was dying to know what he was keeping from me, and that made it all the more intoxicating as he pulled off my shirt and then I pulled off his his before his fingers could move to my bra. His jewelry hung from his neck, the cross necklace seeming very out of place. I took off the two loose string necklaces, and then yanked him onto me by the silver choker around his neck.
Oddly enough, he had his legs spread wider than mine. Putting his weight on his knees and arms, his body hung over mine. Then he leaned down and kissed me fully on the lips. He gave me control, as I rubbed my tongue against his, sucking at it, trying to get a good taste of him, of what he was. A taste I wanted to get to know very intimately.