There was a blip and the screen lit up, showing a new message:”party at Ellery Road 208, 8 o’clock. many chicks. bring beer”. He looked at the time. It was 6:30. The store closed at 7. He hurriedly put on a pair of jeans and darted out.
The week after there was a big exam that he really needed to study for. But that was still a week away. This week there was no exam, and, more importantly, tomorrow there was no exam. Thus, with a light a consciousness and 2 heavy packs of beer Jeremy headed to Ellery Road 208.
He arrived at the address at a quarter past 8, the sky already dark and heavy with clouds. It looked like it was ready to rain. He parked on the sidewalk, next to a group cars which he guessed belonged to the other guests. The house, a big suburban fortress in a well-off neighbourhood, had a big garden and a swimming pool, but in this cold and windy evening there was nobody outside.
He made his way to the front door, leaving the night behind and entering an aura of music, light and laughter that enveloped the house like an invisible but palpable cocoon. He knocked briefly on the front door and, knowing it was unlikely they could actually hear him, let himself in. Entering a new environment, he held the packs of beer forward as a sort of universal peace offering, which worked immediately and he was welcomed with open arms. Overall there were some 20-ish people scattered on the ground floor, drinking, dancing, talking in small groups, some sitting on the sofa, others directly on the floor. Soon enough he spotted Dan who came to greet him, pointing Jeremy to the kitchen where he deposited the beer in the fridge.
Aside from his friend he saw mostly unfamiliar faces, but that didn’t surprise him. Those were just the rules of college. You met new people, everyone was, generally, friendly with everyone else, things happened and you rolled with it. Without further ado, he helped himself to a drink and started mingling.
As a single man, it didn’t take Jeremy long to focus his attention on his top priority: the girls. There were many pretty ones at the party, some standing out with the dressed-up but hesitant air of freshmen, others with the negligée T-shirt-and-jeans attitude of seniors. But amidst the hectic buzzing, one of them was difficult to miss. The girl with the golden hair, the one everyone, sooner or later, turned their head towards. He spotted her almost instantly, that dazzling blonde, blazing from group to group, joking, laughing, hugging other boys and girls, then moving on, never lingering in place for too long. She wore her confidence with such casual finesse, perfectly at ease with everyone, spontaneously engaging with both the most popular people and the newcomers, bringing everyone together.
Jeremy exchanged a few words with her when she came to say hi to Dan, but he couldn’t get a name. As the evening progressed and the drinks piled up, he started to relax and to blend in almost naturally in most groups. By then, he had met quite a few people, shared topics of interest and dirty jokes and he was feeling among friends. But before he knew it, he found himself always looking for a chance to meet properly the girl with the golden hair. After all, Jeremy thought, you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take. He had to at least give it a try.
It was around midnight when an opportunity finally presented itself.
He was alone in the kitchen, raiding the fridge for ice and tonic for his gin, when he noticed she was standing a few feet away, waiting for her turn at the stock.
‘Hey’, he smiled at her ‘Can I toss you anything from here?’
She returned his smile, warm and inviting. Her black dress contrasted beautifully with her fair skin and her golden hair.
‘I was thinking of making myself a tequila sunrise’, she said. ‘But since you’ve got the fridge…’
Jeremy had never made a tequila sunrise before, but he had seen it a couple of times at bars and meetings. It was a fairly simple cocktail, the only thing was to get the gradient right. He grabbed the orange juice and the grenadine from the fridge and gave it his best shot.
It didn’t look barista quality, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He handed the drink to the girl and she accepted it graciously, rewarding him with another smile before turning around and heading back to her friends. Sensing the opportunity slip away, he decided to act.
‘I’m Jeremy, by the way.’
A foot already outside the door, she half-turned her head around and he immediately pressed further.
‘And how may I call you?’
If she seemed surprised, it was only for second.
‘Samantha’ she said.
'Well ,Samantha, let me tell you what everyone’s thinking - you’re damn pretty', he spoke quickly, the words reaching his own ears after the fact. He realised how cliché it must’ve sounded.
'I know you probably hear this all the time', he continued, making it up as he went along, 'but for what it’s worth I really mean it, and not in a cheesy pick up line kind of way'.
'Thank you, Jeremy’, she replied, accepting his words for the truth that they were. ‘I don’t hear it as much as you might think; and besides, it’s always nice to receive a compliment.'
'It wasn’t a compliment', he insisted. 'You’re just pretty, that’s all'.
'And you’re a very forward guy', she laughed.
'Lady Fortune favors the bold, or so I’m told'.
'Really? Are you sure about that?’ she made a few steps towards him, eying him mischievously. ‘Maybe it’s just a myth, maybe she doesn’t'. Then she stepped even closer, pushing the kitchen door with her foot. She leaned in and whispered in his ear:
'But I do'.
She pushed him back and started talking in a low, hushed voice, the conspiratorial voice of counselors speaking to heirs to the throne, tempting them with the sweet promises of power and glory; she spoke with the voice of intimacy, of shared secrets whispered in the darkness. Her bold words leaving her lips like butterflies and her breath warm on his skin.
Jeremy was utterly stunned, unable to believe what this unbelievable girl was saying. She had seemed exceptional, yes, but he had never imagined her saying something like this… And then he knew. Before he had even started considering her words, he knew he could never refuse her proposal. It was a test, a rare opportunity, the hand of fate tossing him a golden coin as she went by. He had no choice. He said yes.
Half an hour later, he was climbing the stairs to the third floor, still unable to believe what Samantha had whispered to him in the kitchen. Could this be some sort of a joke? If so, to what purpose? But then again, if it was a joke, then what of it? He’d laugh it off, no big deal. But if it wasn’t a joke… He carefully put the condom into his pocket, trying to clear his head from the buzzing thoughts.
He took the corridor on the right and walked past a few doors. There were no guests up there and despite the music and laughter seeping from downstairs, there was still an eerie calmness to it all,as if the invisible muffled voices were making the air thicker.
He spotted the door - it was exactly like Samantha had described it - dark wood with a silver handle, a giant 'no parents allowed!' sticker splatted on top. It was closed. He laid his hand on the handle and, after a heartbeat of hesitation, pushed it open.
The room was dark. He hadn’t switched on the lights in the corridor, so all he had to work with was the dim and distant glow of the street lamps coming from the window. He made a careful step, then turned around, closed the door, cutting out almost completely the sounds of the party, then turned back, cautiously, and made another step in the darkness. In this absence of noise he was himself somehow compelled to keep quiet. His eyes adjusted more and more to the low light and silhouettes took shape - chairs, a desk, a computer, clothes laying around. Next to the desk there was a bed and on the bed, unmistakably, someone was lying.
The covers of the bed concealed the body but the long dark hair flowed over them, radiating soft amber. She lifted her head from the pillow and turned towards him, the covers sliding down, her hair falling to the side, her breasts a seductive outline in the dark. He couldn’t quite see her eyes but he felt her gaze - tense, awaiting. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it shut again, remembering Samantha’s oddly specific instructions.
He approached the bed, but she turned away before Jeremy could get close enough to see her features, burying instead her face in the pillow, completely still. His hand reached out, grabbing the covers and pulling them away in a messy bundle. Naked, her pale skin was covered with goosebumps from the missing warmth. He sat next to her, his weight on the mattress pulling them together. He slowly drew his hand along her spine and she followed the movement, arching like a cat.
He kissed her back, taking her by surprise, an electric impulse shooting through her body and making her gasp.
She felt warm. He kissed her again, and again, moving up her back, kissing her sides, her shoulders, her neck. He brushed her hair away and kissed the side of her neck repeatedly, covering every inch all the way up until finally he bit into her ear, earning a soft moan as a reward.
Suddenly All the awkwardness and hesitation melted away, leaving only a warm haze and excitement. He got on top of the bed, shoving his knee between her thighs and pushing her down, never ceasing to kiss her back. It was a gamble, but it seemed to work - the girl gave out a soft moan of pleasure. He ran his hand from her shoulder down her arm, feeling the texture of her skin, the goosebumps and the tiny hairs, every perfect imperfection of every inch and every curve. His palm reached her wrist, grabbing it, squeezing, taking control and moving her like a puppet. He stretched her arm in front of her, placing her small hand on the head of the bed. Her other hand instinctively followed the same movement.
Her whole body was like a beautiful curve, starting from her smooth butt-cheeks, up in the air, down to her elegant waist and up again along her spine, up further still following the flow of her dark hair and her head buried in the pillow, tucked between her elbows in a shape so perfect and seductive in its simplicity.
His hand lingered on hers for a moment, their fingers interlacing in a lover’s dance. It was a strange thing that even in a moment like this, before this naked girl, this stranger that he’d never met before and probably never would meet again, lying naked on someone else’s bed, in someone else’s house, when they were about to have sex for the first and last time, without knowing each other’s names, still those seconds of their fingers interlacing remained the most vivid, the most sensual, the most intimate experience between them.
Then he took the condom out of his pocket, threw the remainder of his clothes away and the world seemed to blur, his heartbeat the only indication of tile. Jeremy penetrated the girl, slowly at first, then faster and faster, making her moan and gasp, dance in a rhythm complementing his own, her legs spreading apart and clutching to him from behind. He grabbed her chest and felt her hot skin dripping with sweat, her heart beating faster and faster as she gasped for breath, yet she refused to slow down, she kept going, faster and faster as they escalated to a mutual climax. They held tight, their bodies interlocked, his arm around her, grabbing her breasts, pressing her firmly against him. Tight. Then even tighter. She screamed, her fingers digging into the pillow. Her hair smelled of blueberries.
They lied exhausted in bed. The room was silent. Neither of them said anything. After a while, he reached for his clothes and got dressed. Before leaving, he gave her one last kiss on her shoulder. Somehow, she seemed surprised.
Her head was spinning. It took her a long while to gather her bearings and get dressed. When she finally managed to get up, she felt like the whole universe had turned upside down. She moved through a world of purple haze, a world that didn’t seem to make sense and yet it somehow did, and in this world she, awkwardly smiling, descended the staircase and submerged herself yet again in a world of very loud music and shouting.
She saw Sam, waiting for her on the sofa in the far end of the room, her expression overflowing with questions. Strangely, Lydia felt like laughing. A strange euphoria bubbled inside her and she hurried towards her friend, not so much hugging as burying her face in her, holding her as the last pillar of sanity in world that was crumbling around her.
'So…. how was it?' whispered Samantha.
'It was…. awesome' she managed to reply.
They stayed at the party a while longer and Sam pushed a glass in her hands, which she gulped down thankfully. It was sweet and spicy and it burned her throat but at the same time it felt amazing. It was exactly what she needed. She, who never had the habit of drinking was now greatly enjoying the sugary cocktail, its lightheadedness somehow bringing the world back into balance.
Afterwards they headed to her place where they could talk with a little more privacy. She tried to describe the events in vivid detail, but she kept jumping from one thing to another which resulted in a chaotic mess, but that didn’t matter very much. She was happy. Her friend was by her said and she could tell her everything, absolutely everything, all her thoughts and feelings. Ever since high school she had feared that they would drift apart, that Sam would sink into a world of her own, filled with people and parties and boyfriends and meetings, a world that Lydia would never be able to join. That feeling of hopelessness had slowly lurked in the back of her mind, building over the years, turning into a Damocles’ sword hanging over their friendship. Yet now here she was, together with Sam in her room, feeling as closer than ever.
And most important of all, she had finally done it! She had slept with a boy, she had managed to breach that inexplicable barrier, that invisible wall that had always prevented her from even talking to men, let alone having an intimate experience with one. She lied on her bed, smiling like an idiot. They had talked for hours and the sun would soon be up in the sky. She was not in any condition to go to classes but that didn’t matter at all. Things were so much better.
‘Thank you, Sam’, she whispered, holding her hand.
The bowling ball left straight ahead, at first going fast, then slowing down, until it finally hit the pins, scattering them in a clear strike. Sarah raised a fist victoriously, screaming with joy. Now it was his turn. He gave it his best, but after the two shots barely 6 pins were down. Oh well. There was time enough to learn.
There were eight of them gathered tonight, the closest you could get in college to a tight circle of friends. Everything had started with Sarah, a fellow biology student that he had befriended in first year during a common research project. The she started going out with Max and Alex himself found Samantha, expanding the small group from two to four. Jennie and Paulo, two international students, started tagging along with the group soon after. They were originally only supposed to stay one semester, but once it passed they decided that they liked it here well enough to apply for a visa and continue with their studies. And then there was Lydia, Sam’s awkward friend. She had sort of lurked in the background, joining them from time to time without ever really standing out or forging a deep bond with anyone. Alex thought he had seen her go shopping with Sarah once or twice, but really, that was about it...
He shot a glance at Lydia. While the others were playing, she was sitting on the table, slightly apart, sipping a mojito and sketching something in her book. He had to admit, she was pretty. Maybe not gorgeous and dazzling like Sam, but there was a calm beauty in her, an air of serenity and a touch of mystery, something that had always underlined her character. She spoke so little. It was difficult to know what she felt or thought.
Lydia continued drawing, completely immersed in the page. She didn’t look bothered not be playing with the others. In fact, she looked happy.
He had heard rumours of the party. He didn’t believe them at first, but when he confronted Samantha, she didn’t deny the story. Yes, Lydia had slept with a random guy. Yes, Samantha had chose him. “Chosen”? It didn’t make any sense. And he couldn’t get her to tell him the full story either, only fragments and half-truths. He couldn’t believe it. Lydia, this shy girl who could barely look a boy in the eyes? He knew for a fact that only a few weeks ago she hadn’t even kissed a boy. At least that’s what Samantha had said.
And now he couldn’t look at her the same way. His mind twisted her image, imagining her long black dress falling off, revealing a completely naked body, her shy smile turning into a lusty grin, her fingers dancing on a lover’s body…
It was absurd. It couldn’t be. This wasn’t Lydia. His mind was stuck on a loop, failing to reconcile the truth of what he head heard with the girl sitting next to him, shy and innocent as always. And yet… there was something different about her. He had to admit that she seemed more at ease, a little bit more certain of herself.
Lydia took a moment from her drawing to lay back and sip from her cocktail. Had he seen her drinking before? Then she looked at him, their eyes meeting for a long moment. Alex was so used of her always looking away that he just stood there, staring sheepishly. After a few seconds she eventually lowered her gaze back on her notebook, but in those few long seconds Alex saw every piece of her clothes fall to the ground.
She had never worn anything like this before.
The skirt was black and pink, with a dark leather belt reminiscent of something she had seen the cool punk girls wear in high school. It was barely long enough to be considered decent in public. Well not really. When she thought about it, many girls actually wore similar things, but she had never had the courage to put on something like that.
Lydia turned around in front of the mirror. It looked good on her. Or rather…she looked good in it, she dared thinking. Then she cringed. Clothes had always been an issue. She wanted to look pretty, but pretty clothes often made her feel out of place, as a servant girl dressing up in her mistresses’ fancy dress - it was something to have fun with, but not something to be seen by other people. She just didn’t know how to behave in something daring, and yet she wanted to, she desperately wanted to learn, to allow herself to be pretty, to be sexy. But for the moment, she was stuck in the dressing room.
This was about facing the truth. Not the truth that she had slept with a stranger. Neither the truth that she had liked it. A lot. It was the truth that she wanted to do it again .She bit her lip.
It was hard facing this, but she had no other choice. Always finding it very difficult to open up to other people, to speak to them, to tell them the truth of how she felt and what she thought, Lydia had realised very early in her life that it was an absolute necessity that she be honest with herself at least. She was her own only council. So she had to give herself at least that. Honesty.
She took the bus to campus and walked over the few blocks to Samantha’s residence, calling her along the way to make sure that it was a good time. Once in her friend’s room, Lydia sat quietly on the bed, idly toying with books and posters while Sam finished up a few facebook conversations. They were supposed to be studying that afternoon, but with no immediate exams on the line, it was okay to take a moment and to relax.
So they chatted idly about this and that, Sam telling her a mixture of gossip and cool stories, Lydia taking her turn with the new books and series of the month. Once they had exhausted the usual topics, there was a laid-back pause, each of them sinking in their own thoughts. It was a good moment, Lydia thought.
‘Sam’, she nonchalantly began, ‘there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you’.
‘Yeah?’, Sam replied over her shoulder, off-handedly texting.
‘Uhm….’ - she hesitated - ‘it’s about that night’. Her voice must have trembled, her uncertainty showing on her face. She wasn’t sure how her friend would react to what she was about to say.
Samantha turned around, alert. There was a worried expression on her face as she peered into Lydia’s eyes, trying to read her.
‘You’re starting to regret it, aren’t you? I’m starting to doubt whether it was the right choice myself. I feel like I’ve dragged you into a terrible mess, Lydia, and I want you to know that you have every right to blame me…’
Lydia chuckled, interrupting her. Samantha stared at her in horror.
‘It’s not like that, Sam! Sorry, I couldn’t help laughing at your expression’ she have her a reassuring smile. ‘I know I’m often not the most transparent person, which is my fault, really.’ She rolled on the bed, piling the pillows on top of herself. ‘No, it’s not that. I don’t regret it. In fact…. quite the opposite.’
She paused, unsure whether or not to continue, afraid of the words she wanted to say. But it was too late to backtrack at this point. She took a deep breath.
‘I’ve been slowly coming to terms with it myself. But you know how it is. I have to start somewhere. Being honest with myself is a good place. And since I have to be honest with myself, I have to be honest with you too, Sam. You are my only friend.’
Her own words hurt her a little, a dull and bittersweet pain shooting through her heart like a cursed arrow. She couldn’t be happier to have Samantha as her best friend. But still, sometimes, it hurt to admit that she only ever had one friend.
‘I’d like to do it again, Sam’ she pursued, her voice trembling. She forced herself to keep on talking. ‘I know it was meant to be a one time thing to get me going with boys, pushing me in the water to help me start swimming. But it hasn’t helped! Not enough.’ - she raised her voice - ‘I’m still drowning! I’m still unable to hold a conversation, let alone start one. I still can’t look a boy in the eyes - even Alex. Alex! He’s around all the time, I should be used to him by know. And yet I can’t. I…’ Her voice waivered.’You know what? Fuck it!’ - she shouted, the words pouring out of her mouth without her accord - ‘You deserve more than a lousy excuse, Sam. I deserve more than a lousy excuse. And these are just that - excuses. So fuck it! The fact is that I want to do it again. I don’t know why and I won’t insult you with lies. I don’t know what I expect from it. There is nothing to gain. It’s not..’ - she inhaled, the words tumbling like stones in a landslide - ‘it’s not a real relationship. It will never be. I just want… to be loved… is that so bad?’
She felt hot tears running down her face. She hadn’t realized when she had started crying. The words had swept her like a dark, deafening wind, blinding her, leaving her alone in the midst of the storm, small, confused, sad.
When she opened her eyes, Sam was sitting next to her, covering her with a blanket. She wrapped it around Lydia. It was soft and warm.
‘You don’t need to give me explanations, Lyd’, she said. ‘Just do what you want to do. It’s that simple.’