I'm perched on the bench, half naked, sunburned, and sandy. I'm not really sure what the protocol is this house. Do we group shower? Do I race everyone who is staying here to their bathroom? Do I shotgun a beer and wait my turn for hot water? I'm along for the ride in a group of fifteen people, but the sand in my crotch is starting to annoy me. I need answers, people. I need them now.
"Ok, Mallory and I call the outside shower. Who wants to come with us?" Three more people jump in, but Ashley leans over my way. "Do you want to shower with us? Please?" Eh. I want to get clean, not wait for five people to use up all the hot water. I'm contemplating how to turn her down gracefully, when Jordan looks across the group and catches my gaze. "Do you want to come shower with me? There's one upstairs."
The question catches me off guard. We're all friends; it shouldn't surprise me. I feel the most comfortable with her, even though I've known several of this group much longer. I jump at the offer and supress the small, fluttering feeling deep down. "Sure. Ashley, that's a lot of people in one shower. I'm going upstairs with Jordan."
Ashley makes a pouting face. Christ, maybe I made a mistake when I agreed to split a hotel room with her. The others had booked this house months in advance for our beach trip. I screwed around, waited too long, and jumped at whatever was available. We'd only been around each other six hours, and her need to have my constant attention was already wearing me thin.
Thoughts swirl around as I follow Jordan up the tiny winding staircase with my bulky bag. I also feel a sense of trepidation getting naked around someone for the first time. The sun has long ago burned through my buzz; there's no alcohol to smother my anxiety. I set down my things in her room, awkwardly rummage for clean clothes and shampoo. I don't know why I'm even worried about this. We're all friends. Right? Right. And it's not weird that I'm just showering with Jordan, right? And it's not weird that the girl she is dating is my ex-lover, right? And it's not weird getting naked with someone you barely know?
I stumble around her and turn the hot water on. She climbs in behind me, and I turn half away, trying to be polite and not stare at her naked. She looks different than I expected, but I suppose no one has ever looked naked the exact same way I imagined. She grabs around me for her soap, and we laugh. It hits me so intensely out of nowhere: I want to kiss her. She is so brutally close, so very naked, and when she smiles, I feel like a deer in headlights.
What the fuck.
No, really, S. What the fuck.
I scrub my face and dart out of the front end of the shower. I never touch her. When she hops out a minute or two later, I keep my distance, turning my back to her and pulling my clothes on too quickly. "Hey, Jordan, do you mind if I take a nap in your bed? Driving from NOLA and the beach just zapped my energy. I'll set an alarm, and I won't be long."
"Sure, no problem." I drop eye contact as soon as she looks at me. I crawl into the rented bed, wishing there was a bigger comforter. I want to hide from my thoughts, from the remnants of my head cold, and from my exhaustion.
The plates clang against the stainless steel sink as Mallory washes up. I throw the last bowls of cheese and taco meat into the fridge, grab an unclaimed beer, and disappear through the glass door into the darkness. The porch lights are off. I can actually see the stars. I want to leave, walk down to the beach, feel the surf and sand washing over my toes.
I don't hear Jordan come up behind me. She slides her arms around my waist, and I almost jump out of my skin in surprise. She's much taller than me. She rests her head against mine, her chin near my ear. She says something, but I don't register it. My skin is aflame with the unfamiliar feeling of her touch. It feels... good. Scary. Soft. Confusing.
"It's gorgeous out here. Wow. I wish we could see the stars like this in New Orleans." I hear her this time, and my throat releases long enough for me to respond. "I was just thinking the same thing."
She pauses. I like the feeling of her silence.
"What's the plan for tonight?" The words fall out of my mouth. My anxiety needs to fill this space, even though everything else craves it.
"Everyone's getting ready to go. Some bar they've been to in past years, down closer to the bridge. You coming with us?"
"Sure. It's not like I have somewhere better to be. I'm up for whatever."
The door pops open fifteen feet away from us, and I hear Ashley's voice. She pulls away immediately. "I'm going to get ready," I hear my voice echoing inside my head. I run inside to dig up my shoes. All the feelings are racing in circles. My waist feels foreign where she touched me, the trace of her touch following me through the house. What does this mean? Is she hitting on me? I suspect so, but I don't want to believe it. I don't know what I would do with it. I... fuck. I can't stop smiling at her, and I pray that the dark hides it.
What the fuck am I doing.
Hundreds of women linger through the entrance, around the stage on the beach, crowding at tables in the bar, milling in crowds. It's a veritable lesbian smorgasboard. I remember my ex's story about taking her roommate to a lesbian bar for the first time. I hear her voice saying, "Do you want chocolate, vanilla, strawberry? Whatever you can want, it is in front of you."
Our group immediately gets separated, but I try to cling to my best friend in front of me and Jordan behind me. I lose both, and wander a few minutes looking for Jordan. It's a bit intimidating being surrounded by so many women. I can potentially fuck most of them, if I make an effort at it. If I wasn't so painfully horrible at picking up women in bars. I have no idea why I'm making such an effort to find everyone I came with. But my anxiety kicks through my sobriety. I can't handle all these strangers. I can't handle the thought of going up to any of them, starting a conversation, putting in the effort.
I run into Jordan as I come around a corner. We're both totally lost. "Fuck it," I shout over the deafening crowd. "Come dance!" I find the nearest picnic table facing the stage, and we climb up. She looks unsure. The song changes, and the rapper onstage starts into "I Put On for My City." Immediately my heart leaps to NOLA. I'm screaming the lyrics and shaking my body, because this song is everything I want for my city. She's laughing with me, and I stop thinking and stop worrying so damn much.
A security guard pulls me off the table, and I don't even care. We skirt the crowd, looking for the group and a place that feels comfortable. She points out the bay, which looks formidibly dark and hidden from the lights of the stage. "Come see it with me?" I pull her forward. I want water, big bodies of water. I want my feet in the sand.
We stumble through the sand, down some very steep steps. The water rises almost to my knees. I can hear the music from here, but it's nice to be far from the crowd. She puts her hands on my hips, and I grind against her. It would be incredibly romantic to kiss her under the moonlight, standing in the bay, in our own little world. But this thought terrifies me. I can't turn back to face her. I pull myself out of the bay, back toward the bar, unsure how to even look at her. "Let's go find the group."
I'm circling the pool table like a shark, looking for something, anything. I'm not very good. She crosses my path, catches my eye, and slides her hand across my ass as I pass. Yeah. There's no missing that one. I write off every doubt. She's hitting on me. I lean over, line up my shot...and miss. Fucking figures. I don't even care.
"You're playing with fire, you know that?" I finally have a few more beers in my system, and I'm no longer so unsure. I can stare her down, if I want to.
"We'll both get burned."
"I'm aware." She turns away with a sheepish look, and I wonder if she's weighing her options the way I am.
We make another pass around the pool table as she leans over to shoot. I run my hand down her shoulder, across her hip, down her ass. She turns just as I finish. Her face is inches away from mine. "Where are you staying tonight?' she asks softly.
"I don't know. At the hotel, I guess."
"Stay with me."
I don't think the full weight of this offer has hit. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." Ok, S. Stop questioning her consent, she clearly knows what she is saying.
I realize I am holding my breath. "Ok."
I peel the contacts out of my eyes, and try to shove them in the plastic container. She's lying in bed, waiting for me. I'm still not sure how we got here. What am I doing? Oh, right, contacts. Brush teeth. Fuck someone else's girl. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The freak out in my head needs stifling, immediately. It's 4am, my car is on the other side of the island. I don't have any options left. I chose door one. Time to do this.
The tension and my anxiety feel like walking through a fog.
I turn the lights off and climb into bed half dressed. I reach out to find her. She's there. Waiting. I kiss her, and it feels distant and unsure and apprehensive. She pulls me underneath her. I'm grateful someone else is taking charge right now.
I hear her breath, in and out, in and out, in the bed next to me. It's extremely early. I'm an emotional trainwreck. I want to reach out for her, but it's done. It's over. There's no touching in the morning. That's reserved for couples and established lovers. We're far from either.
She rises, and the bed creaks. I pretend to be asleep, because I don't want to face her. WhathaveIdonewhatwillhappennowwhatwilltodaylooklike. I don't want to get out of bed, ever. I close my eyes, pull the sheets up, and fall peacefully back to sleep.
It's almost 3pm before she speaks directly to me. I've kept myself low and quiet all day, alone with my thoughts amid the thousands of people camped out on the beach. She's running back to the car, and she asks if I will come with her.
I feel myself almost shaking. I try to keep my anxiety under control. I need to talk to her. I have to talk to her. I'm terrified to say anything. I'm still swimming in the anxiety in my head when she starts talking. Her voice cuts my thoughts. "I'm going to tell her. I can't lie about something like this. I hope that is ok with you."
Her tone tells me I don't have a choice. "I would, too, if you didn't," I reassure her. "I think it might go over better coming from you. Who knows."
We discuss her, her lover, the possibilities. What will the fall out look like? What are we most afraid of? I let go a little and spit out my fears. I don't want to lose friends. I don't want the shaming. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't... I shouldn't have. I don't regret my actions, but I do. I don't want to see her hurt, but it will happen. We weigh our options and try to plot what the next few days will feel like. And then she asks me the one question I wasn't prepared for:
"What happens between us now?"
My brain short-circuits, and I totally stop all activity and thought. WHAT. I don't even know how to fathom this question. I let the doors open up a little. I imagine her kissing me again. I remember the way she felt, the way I craved her, the way I wanted to keep fucking her again and again all night. It feels like my brain is exploding. What does this mean? Can I tell her this? Can I say the truth? What is the truth?
A piece comes out of my mouth before I can chase it back. "I don't know. I would sleep with you again, if you would let me. Past that... I don't know."
But in my head, something else is chattering too loudly to ignore.
You love this girl, my brain says. Even if you don't know her at all. You will find this.
And the rest is... well, I suppose, history.