He walked in wearing a cowboy hat. I was a sucker for cowboys. It was something about the way they wore the nuthugger Wranglers with the big shiny buckles and the outline of a chewing tobacco tin in the back pocket. Cowboys like that just radiated statements like, “Get in the kitchen and cook some grub for me, woman.” I don’t know why that appealed to me, but give me a guy in dusty leather boots, and I’d practically roll over on the floor and beg them to fuck me.
Well not really, and besides, this guy didn’t have the Wranglers or the horse crap smell to him. All he had was the battered hat. His name was Mark, and he was the roommate of the president of our outdoor adventure club. He was quiet like a real cowboy. It was cool, but it made me really nervous about talking to him. Of course, I didn’t talk to a guy without it being romantic in some way, and since I was dating another guy in the club, I didn’t really talk to Mark for a long time. Didn’t want to make my boyfriend jealous, you know?
Mark started dating one of my good friends from school. Jane was also in the club, and by now it was a regular dating service. I mean, why did you think I joined it in the first place? Outdoor clubs don’t usually attract a great deal of girls, and I figure it boosted my chances of finding a hot, outdoorsy dateable guy quite a bit. And it did. For me and Jane both, as well as the president, who was dating the secretary, and another couple that had joined together at the same time.
Anyway, Jane decided around April that she didn’t really like Mark, but she did like his roommate. You remember, the president of the club right? His name was Martin. So, Jane was dating Mark and liked Martin, and I got to listen to her ramble about it every day during our lunch period. It was quite the fascinating topic to her. I wasn’t really interested. Well, until she asked me about how to give a blowjob. That perked my ears up a bit.
I guess I had a good deal of knowledge of the subject. The last boyfriend that I’d just broken up with hadn’t been into my stance on keeping my virginity, and I hadn’t been into the idea of not having a boyfriend. Anyway, I was quite the precocious one in our group of friends with the sexual stuff. Not actual sex, but all the stuff that leads up to it.
I was always the one to start something first and finish it last. Like when I started wearing a bra in 5th grade, it was practically scandalous to the other girls. So I gave it up until I was in 7th grade, when everyone started making fun of me for not wearing one.
So here I was giving Jane lessons on blowjobs when I wouldn’t lose my virginity to my current boyfriend.
“You have to be careful to use your lips to cover up your teeth so you don’t hurt him when you’re going up and down on it, you know?”
She shook her head yes and sucked her lips in over her teeth to show me that she understood what I meant.
“Is it gross when he you know…” She trailed off, but I understood what she meant.
“Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, it’s really nasty.”
“Eww. Do you spit it out?”
“No. I think it’s kind of rude. At least, that’s what I’ve been told,” I answered. My stomach twisted with the thought of it.
“Oh,” she murmured, twirling her hair and staring at her feet.
We talked more, but it wasn’t a conversation worth remembering. Besides, I don’t like to think about it now.
Two weeks later, I went on a skiing trip with the club. Jane couldn’t go, so I was stuck rooming with some girls I didn’t really know. But Mark and Martin went, so I hung out in their room a lot. One time, I came in and it was just Mark. I flopped down on Martin’s bed.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey back,” Mark shot back.
“What are you thinking about? You look like you’re thinking something”
“Well, first I wanted to thank you, and then I wanted to know if I could ask you a question,” he said. He was rubbing his knuckles with a finger.
“Uhh, sure, but why did you thank me?” I asked.
“Because you’re a good teacher,” he said winking. I blushed profusely and stared at my feet.
“Umm, you’re welcome I think. She told you?” I asked, embarrassed to have lost my previously spotless reputation. My face was about three colors of red now.
“Yeah. So… do you think Jane’d be mad if I broke up with her?” he asked me.
I thought for a second about how much she talked about Martin and how little she seemed to care for Mark. I looked at Mark and pitied him, for not having a girlfriend that honestly loved him.
“I don’t know. I don’t think she would really at all, but you never know,” I said, tracing the patterns on the rug with my foot.
“But you don’t think she’ll go psycho on me?” he asked.
“Nahh. I mean, it’s always a possibility that anyone could flip out, but Jane should be alright,” I said, thinking about all the medication Jane was on for depression. I wondered if she’d be mad at me if she could be a fly on the wall. And then I looked into Mark’s grey-blue eyes and decided that I didn’t really care what Jane thought. She hadn’t treated Mark very well, why should I protect her?
“Okay,” Mark said, and hopped off the bed. “Wanna go to the hot tub? Martin and the girls are down there.”
“Umkay,” I said, tilting my head and grinning at him.
When we were driving home, I asked Martin and Mark if they had any single friends for me. I’d just broken up with the last boy, and didn’t want to be alone for too much longer. Mark said he’d try to hook me up with his friend Richard.
The week we got home, Mark and Jane bit the dust. Jane bounced back pretty readily into Martin’s waiting arms. I muddled through a few dates with Richard, who seemed to always have to go to the bathroom, and never wanted to talk to me. I’m really glad I never kissed him. But it was coming up on prom season, and the only two people I could even begin to think of asking were Richard and Mark. And Richard was just such a dull date. Mark I was starting to have a bit of a crush on, but I didn’t really realize it. He hadn’t worn his cowboy hat in a while, so it was hard for me to recognize romantic feelings, you know?
That week, I was sitting at the lunch table discussing the dress I’d bought and all the minutia that goes along with prom, and Jane plunked down next to me. I stopped talking to say hi and she spoke.
“I don’t know what to do. I think I still like Mark. I mean, I like Martin a lot, but I miss Mark.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was either, “He’s mine, you ugly bitch,” or consoling her. I didn’t feel like consoling, but I didn’t want to be mean either. I mean, Jane and I had been good friends for three years now, and had known each other since we were six or seven. So I just sat there, mute, and let everyone else tell her what to do. Eventually, I chimed in. I think it was something about reminding her about why she didn’t like Mark. And I wasn’t being self-serving in the least.
That afternoon, I ran home from school, flew up the stairs and grabbed the cordless phone. I hustled into my room with it, and shut the door behind me with a whoosh. I dialed Mark’s numbers as quickly as I could, and Martin picked up the phone.
“Hey, is Mark there?” I asked, confident that Martin could tell who I was.
“Yeah, sure, hang on.”
I heard Martin’s muffled yell through the phone, and I could hear Mark run down the creaky stairs in their apartment.
“Hey, what’s up?” he answered.
“Oh, I just wanted to see if you wanted to come over and talk. I’ve got some Richard issues, and wanted to know your opinion. And we’ve got food over here,” I added, bribing him.
“Mmm, food, I’ll be right over,” he said half jokingly, half truthfully. He hung up without a goodbye, and I clicked the phone off and grinned at the ceiling.
When he came over, I fed him some cookies and then convinced him to go for a walk at the park by my house. It wasn’t too hard to convince though, he liked the park. He liked anything out of doors. A true cowboy at heart, even if he lived in a city.
I told him I didn’t really like Richard, but that I needed a prom date. I told him I’d thought of him and Martin, but since Martin was going out with Jane, he was the only one
I could think of.
“So, you’re asking me to go with you to prom?” He put it rather bluntly.
“I guess,” I spluttered. I mean, I hadn’t meant to ask him. He was supposed to ask me, but I guess he couldn’t really ask me to my prom, since he didn’t go to my school.
“Well, you’re going to have to do better than ‘I guess.’ Didn’t your mother ever teach you to ask nicely?” he gloated, blue-grey eyes shining with laughter.
“No, she taught me to let the boys do the asking,” I shot back, happiness spreading inside me. It felt warm in my stomach, like it did when I drank a cup of vinegar once.
He laughed, and said, “You have to ask me nicely. In fact, I want you to get down on your knees.”
“No way!” I glared at him, with the happy hostile glare I reserved for people I really liked.
We went back and forth like that a few times, and finally I kneeled in the grass at his feet. I looked up into his eyes, the color of a storm rolling across the prairie.
“Okay, Mark Lucas Johnson, will you give me the honor of escorting me to prom?” I could barely keep a straight face, but his eyes were so serious. And besides, his hiking boots were dusty. It was like a sign.
So we went to prom. It was a gorgeous night, everything that proms are supposed to be. And Mark and I left early to go to his apartment. He’d told me that evening that he’d gone out drinking with the guys the night before because tonight was his last night as a single man. I practically glowed with that knowledge.
We climbed up the stairs to his bedroom. I sat down on his bed, and he sat in a chair opposite. He fancied himself an artist, although he wasn’t very good. Jane supposedly owed him a nude sitting, for him going to a wedding of one of her relatives. I wasn’t about to let her do that. So I asked him if I could take her place.
So there I was, sitting on his bed. I couldn’t handle him watching me while I undressed, so I had him turn his head away. I peeled my shirt and jeans off and eventually worked up to getting the underthings off. Then I covered myself up with his comforter and told him I was ready, while the heat rose to my face. I lowered the blanket, and my head with it, so I didn’t have to see him seeing me. I looked down at my stomach and it was blotchy with red spots from blushing.
He began to draw, and eventually, I calmed down enough to ask him why he wasn’t embarrassed or blushing. He told me that the blood wasn’t going to his face because it was going elsewhere and winked. I didn’t get that comment until later.
“So, when are you going to ask me out?” I said cheekily.
“Later. I have to think of a good, original way to do it.” He fell silent again, and I watched the veins on the back of his huge hands pulse. I’d always thought being able to see peoples’ veins was cool. I couldn’t see mine, and sometimes I wondered if I were dead, and came back to life, but didn’t have a pulse, if anyone would be able to tell. You could see his pulse. It was beautiful.
After a while, he paused to speak.
“So, now that you’re naked on my bed, wanna be my girlfriend?”
We cracked up. It was original indeed, and would make a great story to tell my friends later. Somewhere deep down inside, I felt a twinge of guilt or embarrassment or something. I ignored it, and kept smiling.
When he got done, he moved quickly to the bed, and started making out with me. I was surprised and put my locked arms between his chest and mine. But I kept kissing him back, and eventually I snaked my arms around his neck and pulled him down to me. His hands moved down me, towards unmentionable places. He asked if we could have sex, I said no. I guess he could have raped me if he’d wanted to, but he didn’t. Instead, I went down on him, because I felt bad for saying no to sex.
After it was over, I felt sick to my stomach. Things had moved too fast, and I felt horrible about it. But I still liked him, and wanted him. It was hard to ignore the nausea. But I swallowed it down with a glass of orange juice, and he took me back to my house so that I could go to church with my parents. He came with us. It was a very odd situation. I was so tired, and still kind of sick. He didn’t want to be there. I wanted him to want to be there. But the rolling sensation in my stomach didn’t really care.
We had a great three months. He got what he wanted and I had a guy that looked like a cowboy. When summer rolled around, he left to work at a local camp. Jane and Martin and a couple more of our friends were working there too. I wanted to work there with them, but my dad wouldn’t let me have a real job until I got out of high school. So I sat on my butt all summer and went on family vacations, which were torture to me. And every once in a while I’d drive out to the camp and hang out with my friends. Mark called me once to ask if it was okay if Jane gave him a backrub. Everyone was joking around, laughing and talking in the background. It sounded like a party. I was so jealous, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.
“Yeah, sure I don’t care,” I lied. After all if there were that many people around, nothing could happen.
I hung up the phone, afraid the jealousy would work its way out of my head and into my mouth.
My parents and I drove to Colorado. We were walking around in some tourist trap town, Durango or Silverton or Estes Park, I don’t remember. I do remember that it was a Saturday. I stepped out onto the porch of a t-shirt shop, and across the street from me, a guy walked out of some store. He looked so much like Mark that I gasped. He had on a battered cowboy hat, and tight jeans. His flannel shirt was tucked in. I followed the line of clothing down to his boots. He saw me looking at him. I blushed and he tipped his hat and walked away. I thought about Mark, wondered what he was up to, and missed him. I crossed my hands across my stomach to soothe it, and pictured his face in my head.
We came back and I invited Mark over. I’d bought him some little trinket in Colorado, and wanted to give it to him. He showed up on my doorstep and I ushered him up to my room. We sat on the floor and leaned back against the bed.
“I bought you something,” I said, handing the kachina doll to him.
He thanked me profusely, and then said, “I love you and I have something I need to tell you.” He brushed my cheek with his hand.
“What?” I asked
“Well, you know how I have a tendency to screw things up?”
“I screwed things up.” I was all set to offer him a helping hand to get him out of whatever financial or academic mess he’d gotten himself into. So I told him that.
“I can help you. If you need anything, I’ll try to get it for you.”
“No, you don’t understand. Okay, after camp got out, while you were on vacation, Martin and I and some of the other camp staff threw a party. Only Martin left after he dumped Jane, and the guys all went with him.”
“He dumped Jane?” I asked, surprised.
“Yeah…. I guess she lied to him about some stuff.”
“What?” I asked
“Well she told him she wasn’t a virgin to get him to sleep with her and then she was.”
“Whoa. That’s kind of big stuff to him I guess.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Well, so he left her there, and I was there, and no one else was there. And we’d been drinking a little, and we kind of got carried away.”
I couldn’t speak for a moment. “You slept with her?”
“I didn’t sleep with her, we just did stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?” I asked, curiosity overcoming my outrage.
“Just stuff.” He reached for my hand, and I drew it away.
“Were you naked with her?” I asked
“Yes. Anyway, I wanted to tell you I was sorry for screwing things up. I understand if you don’t want to see me anymore.” His voice was very calm, even, as if he’d rehearsed this speech a hundred times.
“I… I… forgive you, I guess.” I said. In my mind, I was hearing the echoes of ‘forgiving seventy times seven.’ I was beet red, and proud of myself for doing the right thing.
“Will you forgive her too?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I lied, meaning, of course not, who would ever forgive that kind of heinous thing. She slept with my boyfriend. Anger rushed over me in a cold, calming wave.
“Can you try?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I said, getting angrier that he was trying to defend her. “Can I just ask you one thing?” I said.
“Sure,” he said, reaching for my hand. I let him take it, and rolled over towards him. I laid my head on his chest.
“Will you promise me that you won’t ever see her alone again? I’m not saying that you can’t still be friends with her, just don’t be alone with her.” I looked up at him, with tears intentionally filling my eyes. I made my chin tremble just a bit. When he said he’d do anything, and agreed not to see her alone, I put my head back on his chest and let the tears spill into his flannel. He hugged me. I hugged him back, weakly.
I spent that night lying awake in bed, wondering what I’d done wrong. She wasn’t prettier than me, I didn’t think. And she hadn’t been nicer to him. The only thing I could come up with was that she’d been willing to have sex with him. Or maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was really a manipulative bitch and he was trying to punish me. Maybe he didn’t like my personality. Maybe I was too prudish. That had to be it. I was a prude. I wouldn’t let him have sex, and I wouldn’t do anything other than what I’d done before. He’d told me I was a good teacher. Had he been lying? I mean, I had given him the out of sleeping with someone else if my ministrations weren’t enough for him. I just didn’t think he’d ever actually do it. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t been around town enough. It wasn’t my fault that my parents made me do all this stuff. But I was smart. I’d helped Richard with his college assignments. I was funny. Jane had always told me I had a great sense of humor. Maybe I was just ugly and didn’t know it.
I fell asleep, content that I was a prude, and he needed someone more well…. Is slutty the right term? I can’t think of it right now. Experimental, maybe. In any case, I slept fitfully, wondering what they had actually done and if it was love or just the need for sex.
The next day, we journeyed over to the park again. I walked to this one place we’d discovered months earlier, and motioned for him to sit down next to me. I put the moves on him to show him that I truly forgave him and that I was better at some things than Jane. Who knows if I really was or not, but that wasn’t the point. And he followed my lead.
After it was done, I didn’t feel any different. Okay, I felt nauseous and stretched, and goopy, but it didn’t seem very obvious at the time. Well, the nausea was obvious. The rest was just extra. He didn’t speak, just rearranged himself. I did the same, and then stared at the green grass and wondered if I wasn’t a horrible person. And then I decided I was. It hurt inside, a burned, scraped feeling. I could hardly stand, but I did. I walked home, silent as him.
He drove off in his truck, and I went back up to my room, and contemplated the status of the relationship. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I dug my fingers into my palms to stave off the anger that rolled through my insides.
The weekend rolled around, and a bunch of us girls went on a road trip. My friends’ mom drove us up to House on the Rock in Wisconsin and back down the next day. Jane was among the revelers, and the whole way up, she talked about camp, and Mark and Martin. I don’t think she knew I knew about it yet. I put my headphones on and turned them up really loud and drove my nails into my palms again. I think I made half moons so deep they were visible the next day.
Coming back, Jane mentioned the party, and how everyone had left. I was seeing the scene flash before my eyes. I threw up. Some of it got on her. Oops.
The day after we got back, I called Mark’s place. Martin answered.
“Hey, is Mark around?”
“Uhm, no he’s not. Can I take a message?” he said.
“Nahh, but do you know where he is?” I asked.
“He’s driving someone home.”
“Someone who?” I asked.
“Just someone,” he said, annoyed.
I hung up the phone, threw myself down on the bed and cried in frustration.
The doorbell rang. I got up to answer it. My parents were gone. It was Mark, standing there in the rain, looking like a drenched cowboy. I let him stand out there.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked sweetly.
“Out.” Why is it that boys are so monosyllabic when you need them not to be?
I replied “Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah.” Another single word.
“Good,” I said. And then I shut the door, and locked it.
The storm grew noisier outside, drowning out his cries, and my stomach growled. I wandered to the kitchen and grabbed some chips.