I Never Smoked More Cigarettes Than When I Was With You

 

Adam took his iPod classic out from the inner pocket of his large pea coat and scrolled to Alcest. He selected "Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde", placed his earbuds snuggly in his ears, and pulled out the Marlboro box to light his fourth cigarette. He had told Shannon to meet him in front of Kohl's. She was already late, but she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from showing up. It’d been two years.

His foot wouldn’t stop jiggling even with his legs crossed. He uncrossed them and put his head in his hands. He wondered how she’ll take the part about drinking champagne in the apartment after coming back from the clinic. It was boxed white wine, not champagne, and she was the one, after all, who had suggested to pour the glasses.

The Alcest song continued to play. It was always awkward cumming and then hearing the swell of the instruments like he had just plowed the elf princess of Middle Earth into his mattress. Shannon had gone through a phase where she always had to have this song playing while they did it. He hated it, but he usually zoned it out as they fucked. She would get out of the bed, squat down in her bare feet on the wooden floor, and plug her iPod into the speaker system with such needless finesse. If only she could have been so sensual putting the condom on.

‘Hey!’

Shannon crept up and stood in her ankle-boots, thick black stockings, heavy loose black sweater and large-framed glasses. He instantly wanted to take her back to New York. As she sat down next to him on the bench, her shoulder length blonde hair wisped by his face and gave off the scent of Bath & Body Works perfume, some scent like Serenade at Moonlight. He gave a muffled chuckle without thinking.

‘What?’ She responded playfully and smiled.

‘Nothing.’ He smiled and put his head down and shook it. He put his hand over the bottom of his face and gave it one stroke downwards. Shannon went into her bag and pulled out her cigarettes. It was a new pack and she spent a few extra seconds futzing with the wrapping. After she lit her first cigarette, she’d probably never shut up. With the one second he had left to himself, he made the conscious decision he wouldn’t light it for her.

Shannon lit up, inhaled, and let out a soft stream of smoke. Her actions seemed slightly forced. She was nervous. Whenever she was nervous she would act as though she were envisioning the situation as a movie and herself as the character everybody loved, even if they loved her in a tragically sympathetic way. It was something Adam had always been fond of about her, despite the fact that it sometimes had gotten in the way during sex.

‘So, may I see them?’ Shannon asked.

‘Yes — of course — yeah.’ Adam stuck his cigarette between his lips and reached into his pea coat’s inner pocket.

In the glance that he caught of Shannon’s breasts, he thought they might have gotten bigger since last — but then again, she had always worn those little bralets. From his pea coat’s inner pocket Adam pulled out a black Moleskin notebook. Stuck inside were a thick stack of loose pages folded. He had printed out the short story that he’d written and felt was his responsibility to have Shannon read before anyone else.

He paused with the pages in his hand. His insides felt tight as he caught a glance her knees covered in thick tights. Sometimes in bed he had felt like he would break her. He had to say something.

‘You know I don’t think I’m a very good writer. I’m still convincing myself I can write at all. It’s always frustration and disappointment and — two Advils with a glass of water. Even though I think I should bump the dosage to four now.’ He jerked his head as if suggesting that it was a joke, but with some seriousness.

‘Mhm.’ Shannon continued to smoke with self-conscious motions.

Adam lit another cigarette and then, with his legs crossed, he crossed his wrists on his knee, papers still in hand. He continued to avoid her eyes.

‘Sometimes it’s easier when I’m with Jim and Karen and there’s coke. But I jot stuff in my notebook and I feel like everyone is watching and smiling affectionately at me, which is nearly the same as laughing, and I don’t take it well. Especially when I looked back over it and realized that somewhere in the middle of things I started writing my own name instead of the protagonist’s while he’s sliding down her panties.’

‘Which panties?’ she asked with lots of cheek.

‘What?’

‘Which pair of mine are you remembering?’

‘Uhm, I don’t know, the black ones? The high-waisted ones that were always a pain in the ass to take off. I think you stopped wearing them ’cause you stained them one month.’ He added the last part for detail. He thought she’d like that.

‘Eventually I stain all my underwear,’ she said with spite. ‘You never did pay attention. You were always so anxious to slide everything down every time.’

Adam wanted to object, but then he thought to let her have her jabs. She was really just wildly swinging into the air anyway, considering that whether he ever looked at her underwear or not was completely irrelevant to anything at this point. How long can someone look at underwear when hard and ready anyway? He’d let her make something pointless significant. He could grant her that.

She looked at him with a devious half smirk, took the papers from his hands, and unfolded the middle crease. Her legs were crossed and she kept that smirk as she dragged on her cigarette and read.

Maybe she hasn’t grown up at all since, Adam thought. Maybe she’s happy just knowing she got what she had hoped would happen to her when she went off to the city. She had never told him what she’d thought about at sixteen, but he had always known it. He knew just from the way she smiled. He knew it the first time he had brought her up the steps, more than tipsy, to his apartment and she sat on his full bed and smiled. When she had gone to sit, she plopped down so that her dress ballooned up and he caught a glimpse of her underwear through her see-through stockings. He had wondered how many times she had done this before. She had seemed so young then, sitting there, beaming at everything. He’d looked at her flushed cheeks and bright eyes and went to the bed without the joint that he had rolled earlier and placed on his desk. He had come onto the bed and put his hand under her thigh and felt the shape of her. She’d crooned softly and the snow had not entirely melted from her hair. He had laid her down on her back, and she sighed with a rare anxious innocence. One that only results when her and the boy she lost her virginity to only had sex six times before that moment when you have her on the bed. When she was a sophomore, she had looked at him like he was some sort of poet when he was really just an English major in senior year.

He glanced over at Shannon reading. He knew he shouldn’t say anything. There was nothing to say no matter how badly he wanted to explain himself. She flipped to a new page and then turned to her bag, got out another cigarette, lit it and continued reading. The smirk completely wiped from her face.

She was completely absorbed in what he had wrote, but he wasn’t even sure if what he had written is what he had even meant. Watching her slowly lift her cigarette, drag on it, and lower it was making him more nervous than he could have imagined. He clenched his hands together hard and kept exerting that force to keep his feet from jiggling.

He tried to distract himself, since he was finding the way Shannon casually crossed her legs difficult to accept. The tighter she squeezed them together the more it seemed like she was wrapping herself and the story’s character into one. In itself this was completely fine, but it was her seeming thrill of the association that was aggravating.

He spotted to his left a little girl in a pink ski jacket trying to pick up some mulch from below a distant tree. The girl’s mother came over and started shaking the little girl’s hand with the mulch in it. Eventually, she dropped the mulch and gave the mother a look that had as much disdain in it as a little girl could muster. Shannon had looked at him in the same way in the clinic’s lobby when he’d suggested they go outside and smoke a cigarette while they waited. She had been shaking so much, and he had just wanted to help at the time. He couldn’t think of any way to help and needed a smoke.

‘I forgot that we drank champagne afterwards.’

Adam turned and Shannon was looking at him. With a faint smile she handed him the stack of papers. He kept his glance away from her; the complacency in her voice was adding to his agitation. He had thought at this point there would be a tear down her cheek and he’d have his hand on her knee or an arm around her shoulders.

‘It was wine, actually.’ And she had gotten sick after two sips and thrown up all over his bed. He had the sheets washing in the washer while she’d sat on the dryer sobbing, puke on her shirt and jeans. He had tried to help, but she’d refused to undress and throw them in the wash. All she allowed him to do was keep her in sight. So he sat on the concrete floor, smelling the vomit and the detergent and drinking the boxed wine himself.

 ‘I know, but that’s only because we didn’t have champagne.’ She smiled faintly as if looking at a boy who didn’t understand the ending of a rhyme.

‘It was a fucking creative adjustment, Shannon, for the sole purpose of making our fucking shit show interesting.’

‘Ours? Or Yours?’ She snapped. ‘You wouldn’t be coming at me with this if either one of us were where you’d hoped we’d be at twenty-seven and twenty-five. Don’t act like you wouldn’t have just forgotten the whole thing.’

Adam raised his hand. As he brought it up, there was a strain, a tightness in his upper arm, a hotness in his palm. He lowered it.

Shannon’s eyes were wide. She didn’t say anything. He didn’t know if she thought that he’d actually do it. But, she would be an idiot if she thought that he would. She gazed off into the distance with her hands in her lap and rubbed the tip of her middle finger over the nail of her pointer finger.

‘I wasn’t making room. I was making a decision, Adam, so that I could like her in your stories as much as I do.’

The smile suddenly faded, and she looked right at him as though she was about to think about kissing him. He kept still, shocked that he didn’t act on her slightest inclination.

She got up abruptly and started to leave. ‘I have to go to work.’ 

He watched as she crossed the parking lot. The last time had been from behind. It was a good one. He told himself it was a good one. It would have been if she hadn’t played off so defeated and used after it. Something she must have seen in some pornographic tumblr GIF. Her biggest downfall had always been her wanting to be great-- more than great. 

That Didn't Make It Into My Snapchat Story

She’d rather take her chances than go along with plan B. Last time she had taken the pill she’d been bent over the toilet, clenching the skin above her uterus, crying for her life. At least, that was the case for the ex-girlfriend of Felicity’s best guy friend; Felicity, of course, being who Shannon had heard all this from. Yet, for other girls, whom Shannon had heard of or had talked to, it was just like popping an Advil. This dubious game of chance had always been why Shannon had stood away from birth control which, ultimately, has led her to standing out front Rite Aid waiting for Felicity’s boyfriend to come purchase her last resort.

Of course, it looks horrible having your best friend’s boyfriend purchase the morning after pill for you. Especially when that best friend’s boyfriend is someone who you wouldn’t mind being seen with while purchasing the morning after pill. And since Felicity will have twenty or so missed calls and nearly as many ‘please, please call me’ texts and two Gchats (saying nearly the same thing), there is the chance Felicity might terribly misconstrue this outreach for pleas of ‘I’m so sorry I fucked your boyfriend’.

Since David has to take the G to get on the A it’d probably be a while. Better to keep busy and text Felicity. Even if it’s just for peace of mind.

‘Hey girl — so I tried reaching you but, long story short, you know that article you wrote and messaged me? Well, Adam pulled out (at least, best he could) and now I’m freaking the fuck out. I want to take the pill but I have literally no fucking money and I don’t want Adam to know I’m freaking the fuck out ’cause he wasn’t into it to begin with and I’m really fucking scared so I messaged David on Facebook cause I didn’t have his number and asked if he’d cover me and I’d pay him back. He’s on his way to Rite Aid now. I want to die, I’m sorry. Call me.’

Shannon had heard in a psych lecture once that if you force yourself to smile you’ll feel happier. The concrete sidewalk was covered in smuck and the black and blue mark on her shin was pissing her off, so she glanced to her left and saw David. Her face quickly dropped, but he had seen the uncoordinated grin.

As David walked nearer Shannon started to text Felicity: ‘I am an idiot.’

‘Is that Felicity?’

‘Yeah.’

David’s demeanour was so even  — yet there was definitely some resistance in it.

‘Can you ask her if she wants me to pick up anything else?’

‘Uhm.’

‘Or at least ask her if there’s a certain brand of this she wants me to get.’ He looked bemused while glancing down the street.

‘Uhm, well, like I told you — this is for me.’

‘Oh.’ He looked right at her and seemed a bit thrown off guard, yet not thoroughly convinced.

The mix up was much more loaded considering Felicity had just started cheating on David casually and he, in turn, had casually accepted it, seeing it as it was a playmate and not a threat. Even so, Shannon felt compelled to say -

‘Felicity takes the pill every day.’

His eyebrows rose. ‘Well let’s go in then!’

The thought dawned on her that Adam’s sperm could be fertilizing her egg as they stood around. She quickened her pace through the automatic doors and then, realizing how awkward it looked if people in the Rite Aid did think this was her guy, turned around as she walked and gestured for David to shuffle his feet a little quicker.

She made a sharp right and headed towards the pharmacy in the back. She had misjudged the aisles. On her left, the shelves were lined with boxes of condoms, gels, and little chode vibrators. As her face got hot, she became mindful to keep her glance facing forward towards the pharmacy and pretend that she had no idea they were in the Planned Parenthood aisle.

‘Hey,’ David called.

She turned to see him facing the shelves of sex with searching eyes.

‘Do you think it would be in this aisle?’

Oh god. There were other people down the aisle. Then again, if you’re going to be thought to be buying warming gel, it might as well be with the debonair twenty-seven year old. So as composed as she could be, aware that every second the sperm could be covering ground, Shannon walked over to David.

‘It’s behind the counter,’ she said, once she’d shifted enough centimeters from his arm that the situation between them would not rise to new levels of awkward.

There were about four customers ahead of them in line at the pharmacy, along with the complementary kid running around. She starting biting the skin around her nail while David kept his hands in his pockets, very nonchalant and relaxed. When his eyes fell on her, she shot her arm downwards away from her mouth. She brought her hand up to her mouth again when she realized that the gesture was decent evidence for David that he really wasn’t going to be a baby daddy.

‘I’m going to look at cards for my mom.’

‘What?’ You’re getting her a thank you card? This isn’t an abortion pill. ‘Why?’

‘‘Cause Mother’s Day is this month and —’ he gestured absently ahead — ‘this line isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.’

‘Oh, well, okay,’ but I’d really rather you stay by my side so I can pretend that I’m dating some twenty-seven year old man with a job at a law firm who remembers that Mothers Day is in May. As David was about to turn down the aisle and be out of sight, Shannon clenched her hand into a fist and anxiously called, ‘Come back quick! Please.’

The female baby boomer directly in front glanced behind her and Shannon, smiling sheepishly, thought, Yes, I’m in this line ’cause I don’t want my boyfriend’s cum to turn into a group of cells that will rinse all my dreams I had while playing Barbies down the drain. However, even if she were a virgin right now, she would still feel like there was only a slight chance of her actually achieving her dreams. The cum was only part of it.

Realizing that being in a Rite Aid pharmaceutical line wasn’t incriminating in and of itself, Shannon coughed. She figured if she really built it up in the chest and spaced them out every so often it would seem plausible enough to throw people off. Especially the middle-aged bitch in capris in front of her in line. If you’re wearing denim capris chances are things didn’t work out right for you in life either.

The line inched forward. Cough.

Magazines lined the bottom of the pharmacy counter. Why do celebrities get pregnant ‘accidentally’ when they can afford to entirely prevent that from happening? There has to be more to it, otherwise they would get that t-shaped mechanism inserted up there. Actually, according to the Planned Parenthood quiz, that was the sperm blocking option for her, but the quiz obviously overlooked the money factor. Could it really all be a publicity stunt? Of all the possible scenarios, it’s not so bad being impregnated in the act of experiencing unprotected sex for the first time with your boyfriend. Not so bad if it was an attempt to prove to yourself and to your boyfriend that you love him more than your gold-digger best friend cared about her twenty-seven year old man.

The line inched forward again and now Shannon was next in the line. Her knuckles started to get stiff and her palms were getting moist. She realized she’d forgotten to cough for a while and let a forced little hack that surely undid all the deception. She turned around to an elderly gentleman hunched over and supporting himself with a cane.

‘Excuse me, can you hold my place? I’m going to be right back I just need to get my boyfriend.’ She’d probably said boyfriend a little too loudly — but apparently not loud enough ’cause the man didn’t catch any of what she had just said. Before she started again, this time with hand gestures, the woman in front of her had finished and Shannon was next.

‘I’m sorry, my boyfriend is in the card section. I just need to get my boy — him, before we — I, pay,’ she told the pharmacist. She took a quick mousy sweep of her surroundings in order to read everyone’s body language and be sure that they caught the drift that she was coming right back.

She found David with several Mother’s Day cards in his hand, and she had to make sharp cuts through the air with her arms to signal that there was absolutely no time to put the cards back in their appropriate slots. When he blankly looked at her she just took all the cards that were in his hands and shoved them into a card slot. Some of them fell to the floor, but Shannon was already down the aisle before she could really notice.

All the blank stares indicated that she had now successfully convinced everyone that she was getting mood-evening pills or antipsychotics. Completely believable for a twenty-two year old to be getting.

‘What can I get for you today?’ asked the pharmacist.

Leaning in so that she was bent over the counter midway, she answered in a very low voice, ‘Plan B,’ and straightened up.

A little unnerved and a little irritated he asked, ‘Excuse me?’

Shannon thought about bending over the counter again but she was aware she was drawing attention so she started searching the countertop for a pen. She found one on a silver chain attached to the table and looked up with searching eyes that read, ‘paper?’

In her time of need she was going to use her New Yorker eccentricity card (even though, like most in New York, she wasn’t a New Yorker) and own it. A hot pink pad of Post-it Notes appeared in front of her and she wrote, Plan B?

The pharmacist didn’t look amused or terribly annoyed. He just strongly resembled the way her high school gym teacher looked when it was her second week in a row asking for a skip.

‘Generic brand or no?’

‘Which is a hundred percent effective?’ she asked, trying to keep herself calm and cool, aware that as they spoke Adam could be impregnating her.

‘Neither.’ He was starting to get annoyed. ‘They work the same but, the name brand is fifty and the generic brand is forty.’ He took a glance at David who was standing next to her, very observant.

She wasn’t going to trust a moustached balding forty-something year old man in a Manhattan Rite Aid with educated decisions about her reproductive health, so she decided to consult the internet. She pulled out her phone.

‘Just a quick second, I want to look this up.’

Meanwhile another pharmacist had come to the counter asking to take the next person in line. She whipped out her phone and tapped the globe labeled ‘Internet’. The screen went white and at the top the address bar appeared with the last web address that she had been on. Orange started inching its way across the web address bar and then stopped. The Internet wouldn’t load.

‘Does your Wi-Fi work?!’ she demanded, whipping round to face David.

David made a sort of discombobbled gesture, not thinking he’d be addressed. He lightly slapped his pockets in search of a phone and then said, ‘We’ll just take the name brand one.’ David’s wallet was already out before he had even finished his sentence.

There was definitely a stack of green in there but, to be polite in the situation, Shannon asked, ‘Is this okay with you?’ It ended up sounding oddly like asking from across the table if the salmon was too expensive an item off the dinner menu.

‘It’s fine,’ David swatted the question from the air.

‘Alright, let me just get that for you,’ chimed the pharmacist, sadistically jovial.

Shannon and David stood in a respectful silence. David’s knuckles started knocking on the counter. He side-glanced her and took a loud and uncouth sniff.

Touching his arm, Shannon tenderly remarked, ‘We’ll be okay.’

He jerked his arm away, insultingly puzzled.

‘Well, here you go!’

They had it! The life-saver pill. David looked at the receipt, hesitated, and then handed the white paper bag to Shannon.

She wanted to rip the bag open, tear open the box, puncture the silver and pop the little pill into her mouth, and she would have, if she didn’t need water so badly to swallow pills. The thought of choking on her own saliva really overpowered her sense of reason. Her first survival instinct was to avert embarrassment at all costs.

‘We should pick up one of those pregnancy tests,’ David suggested.

For a second, Shannon pictured peeing in the toilet while David sat across from her with a tumbler of whiskey ready to be chugged, and then she said, ‘Felicity, is —’ she paused as a woman walked by carrying a pack of ten rolls of toilet paper ‘— fine. Besides, I already have one…’ From that time she gave Adam a hand job and then went to the bathroom not long afterwards without washing her hands. ‘It expires in a year.’

David put his hands in his coat pocket, ready to part ways. ‘Are you coming over tonight?’

‘Yeah! Even though I have to study for art history.’

‘Well, make sure you bring that —’ he gestured towards the white paper bag ‘— with you.’

I Love The Way I Am, lol

‘I don’t love you because you have a penis,’ Shannon stressed to Adam, who was lying on the full bed with his chest to the loft’s high ceiling and his long legs stretched out. From the far corner of the mattress Shannon’s words fell flat on the floral bedspread. Adam, absorbed in the New York Times app on his iPhone, looked like Tumblr soft porn in his grey Hanes boxer briefs and white undershirt. Not loving Adam for his penis wasn’t something that really needed to be said. However, it needed to be said — to justify to herself, more than to Adam — that she was hip enough to have him on her mattress. Being hip, after all, really just means having enough obscure knowledge and progressive thought to convince yourself it’s not your fault you and the world aren’t where you want them to be. Adam, being one of the best copers of them all, could use ‘schadenfreude’ properly in conversation.

Although unnecessary, commenting on her relationship between herself and Adam’s penis was appropriate having just finished typing up a two-page paper for WMST 311. It had taken eight hours to write said paper. A two-page paper easily takes eight hours to write when it takes twenty minutes of pacing to come up with the right thing to say, and then a whole ten minutes to sit in the chair and write the well-crafted sentence. The fact that a picture of Adam in his current state would get an easy ten thousand reblogs if it were posted on Tumblr was a minor detail.

‘Did you hear what I said?’ Shannon asked. She knew that he hadn’t, yet she also knew that if she repeated herself, he still wouldn’t. ‘Adam!’ She grabbed his hairy shin and sharply shook him before cowering back to the corner of the mattress.

‘What?’

‘You never listen to me. You’re always looking at your phone.’ She decided she would take it there and added, ‘Seriously, we’re all looking at screens all the time instead of interacting with the human people right in front of us… we’re taking the social out of our beings! Confidence comes from social interaction, you know.’

‘Oh Jesus Christ.’ Adam rolled his eyes as he would at any too-shrewdly-developed scene in an indie film crafted to pull at the heartstrings of the ‘millennial experience’. This, of course, was what Shannon had been going for, yet the hope was that Adam would have acknowledged it a little more subconsciously.

The warm sweat between her thighs as she kept her legs tightly crossed that weekend night they met on a dilapidated couch in someone’s apartment was so long ago. Clear Christmas lights strewn everywhere and people (who she only knew from mutual friends’ Facebook photos) stepping on her feet as she gripped a warm Colt 45. Adam had taken enough shots of gin not to mind her comment that the plight of the internship was the defining characteristic of their generation. The Colt 45 that was then in his hand helped him to brush off her ‘what?’ when he mentioned how they were all the Precariat. Even then, she knew that if she had been any older than a sophomore he never would have taken her home that night. Only now, as a senior, was that part beginning to irk her.

Lowering his phone, he asked, ‘Well, what did —’

Shannon pulled her Droid out of her back jean pocket.

‘What the fuck?’ Adam blurted.

‘What?’ she asked, somewhat sardonically, as a confounded Adam pointed to her phone. ‘Oh. I sent my paper to Felicity for her to print ’cause I don’t have ink.’

Shannon quickly finished responding to Felicity, and then let her body keel over onto the mattress. She nudged herself up the bed a little and lay on her side facing Adam, who was now back on his phone. ‘Why is Felicity’s life so perfect?’ Shannon sighed as she fiddled languidly with the loose threads in the comforter. It was ripping at one of the seams and Shannon, knowing how that rip started, longed to tear it more with some of Adam’s help.

‘Felicity’s greatest talent is how much alcohol she can consume on that many antidepressants,’ Adam said, still not looking up from his phone.

‘But she’s so talented.’

‘Most of the time she’s just watching Mad Men and getting wasted on champagne,’ he said, ‘and then you have to hear her blab about how offended she is by like half the characters.’

‘Just because she did that that one time Adam —’

‘The thing is, your life must be pretty comfortable if you’re perfectly content writing for fifteen dollars an article for some blog that writes commiserable shit. For example, writing about why women should be able to say “I don’t want to dance with you” at a bar instead of the surefire deflector, “I have a boyfriend.”’ Like, what was that article?’

‘Well, maybe it’s nice that we are so at peace that we can work on perfecting the imperfections in this society.’

Scrolling rapidly through his texts, Adam let his agitation diffuse itself. He tossed his phone about six inches from on the mattress. ‘I will say, I do sort of like those weird little paintings of hers.’

‘They reflect her mental state in the moment she’s painting them.’

Adam snorted derisively.

‘Do you hate me?’ Shannon asked.

‘Oh my god, no! Why do you ask that? Why does every girl, ever, ask that?’

Shannon softly placed her fingertips between Adam’s belly button and his junk. She never noticed how long his body hair was before. Taking the strands between her fingers she gave a few light tugs.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’

‘I don’t know.’ Shannon sighed with dignified embarrassment. ‘I read it online, this guy says when his girlfriend does it… I’m probably just doing it wrong.’

She began to gently tug at the hairs. She wasn’t sure if she should tug on each follicle individually or in a clump.

‘Shannon, stop,’ Adam said assertively, brushing her hand away.

She folded her arms and turned her back on Adam, before letting out some small tears.

‘Shannon — what? What is it?’ Adam sat up and wrapped his arms around her, his chest pressing against her arched back.

His head placed on her shoulder felt like a genuflection. She liked that. When Adam noticed that she, like Felicity, could be on meds, things always began to feel more even. All she’d have to do is go to the school counseling center and they would give her a referral for someone who would hand her over something. All on account of her being a twenty-two year old college student — a commodity in surplus.

She had the floor to speak as a victim now. This dialect came quite easily and, knowing words between sobs are like words between drinks, she began.

‘I think I just failed that paper, but I just wanted to hand it in.’ Her body swelled with large quickening inhales that she used to create more tears. ‘What if I don’t graduate?’ The word “graduate” came out coarsely just like the word “sex” had when she was still a virgin. ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’ The dark ambiguity of the phrase was too satisfying.

Adam’s lips grazed against the back of her shoulder and her breathing became sharp as she felt the affection pierce her. She flung her arms, causing Adam to loose grip.

‘I don’t have anything! I don’t have anything! And I bit my nails all the fuck down.’ She slammed her hands down on the mattress. ‘I can’t give to the homeless child because I might as well be the fucking homeless child!’ She hated that she said that — but she did believe that.

‘Shannon, you’re going to be OK.’

‘I love you, Adam,’ because I can completely lose my shit around you, ‘and I want to have sex,’ because that would be such a wonderful way for me to release all this tension.

‘Uhm, okay,’ he said and began gingerly rubbing her shoulders. ‘Come here,’ and he took her in his arms. Within seconds of being deep in his embrace she began rubbing up against his thigh. Buttocks on his kneecap. Adam perked up and held her shoulders, ‘Shannon, are you doing that weird masturbating thing?’

‘I just wanted this to be a good one.’ She tucked her hair behind her ears.

‘Why does this always have to be a song and dance every time?’

‘You didn’t even want to have sex a second ago,’ she insisted. What would a few extra minutes be?

‘Well that was before you said you wanted me to fuck you,’ he clarified.

She’d lose him if she made the case that that wasn’t what she had said, because that is what she meant.

‘I want this to be special. I want to feel close to you.’

‘You don’t feel close to me when my penis is inside you?’

‘Here —’ Shannon stretched out on her side ‘— why don’t we talk about stuff and then —’

‘You want to talk?’ Adam asked incredulously.

‘Yeah, like what I was trying to talk to you about before.’

She moved her hand and placed her fingers between the elastic band of his underwear and his skin. She began to fiddle with the elastic, but it didn’t seem to be achieving the effect she had hoped.

‘Like, why does society condition us to believe that we have to love people based off of what —’ she fell sheepish ‘— genitals one has?’ Really should have finished out strong.

Adam put his hand to his forehead. ‘You seriously want to be talking about this right now? Shannon —’

‘Felicity talked about it on the blog she writes for.’ Sitting up, she pressed her lips against the skin on Adam’s cheekbone and said, ‘We’ll just use the pull-out method. It’s when you —’

‘I know it means to pull out,’ Adam responded, his voice flat.

Scrunching her eyes closed, she whined, ‘Please, I know it’s stupid but we’ve been going out for over a year, and I love you, and just do this for me. Let’s do it right now. They say you haven’t even had sex till you have it without a condom.’

‘Thank you, Shannon,’ Adam remarked darkly.

‘Let’s just share this together, the two of us, right now. I’ll light a candle! Except the mint chocolate chip one is the only one that’s wick isn’t totally fucked. Is that okay?’

Adam kneeled over Shannon with a knee on either side of her hips. He fumbled with the button of her pants and slid down the two-inch zipper. Shannon let out a little moan because it’s far safer not to be saying actual words at this point.

The two of them shimmied her pants down and Adam’s boxer briefs slid down.

‘Get your leg up.’

Shannon’s calf started to cramp.

‘Shannon can you just like get your leg up? You’re not making this easy.’

No new tear in the floral comforter was made. Adam’s fingertips outlining her hairline suggested what his cumming expression already vouched for. He had lost a second virginity and the sheets were going to need to get changed for a second time this week. She only had two sheet sets.

In the artless quiet they shuffled their bodies so Shannon could lay her head in the crevice between Adam’s chest and bicep. The overpowering scent of Old Spice was making her nauseous. She dropped her arm like dead weight onto Adam’s stomach; body language being so much more effective than words when the message is so stupid.

Adam laced his fingers with hers.

‘Stop it,’ Shannon snapped as she brought her hand in close to her chest.

She let the lunacy hang in the air a moment.

‘I bit all my nails down. My hand looks horrible.’

‘Shannon, you have to ruin everything, like all the freaking time. Do you enjoy making everything difficult?’ There was a pause and then, with his pointer finger, Adam gently tapped at the largest beauty mark on her arm, softly smiled and said, ‘I think your hands are beautiful.’

Adam’s male approval meant nothing. She didn’t want to have no nails. Her nails could be healthy and strong if, like Felicity, she could drop out of school, live on her parents’ cash, and afford eight dollar OPI nail strengthener. It took just a moment for the teeth to clench the end of a nail too hard and sever it from the nailbed. It took just a moment (and gosh can there be so much pleasure in a moment) and then so much regret after.

‘I’m sorry.’ Straining her neck, her lips just managed to touch Adam’s cheek. If she kept her neck stretched, she’d pull a muscle. ‘I just talk too much when I’m sad.’ I always sound dumber than I am.

Prayers Over Pizza

‘So I ordered us a vegetable pizza with gluten-free crust,’ Felicity said to Shannon as they walked single-file up the apartment’s narrow staircase. ‘The pizza will come, you’ll see that Adam didn’t knock you up, we’ll get dressed, and then we go out.’

‘Shhh!’ Shannon whispered while hustling past Felicity on the stairs. ‘People will hear you!’

‘Oh my god,’ Felicity continued loudly. ‘As long as there’s sex, there will be knocked up tests.’

Shannon scuttled into her studio and quickly closed the door behind Felicity who walked straight in, turned on her heel, and dropped her shopping bags and purse onto the hardwood floor.

‘Okay, so Gina says she knows this photographer who can get us into that club on Macdougal.’ Fully expecting a rebuttal, Felicity hastily added ‘I’ll pay for your drinks, but wear a little lipstick so I’ll just have to pay for your first one.’ She giggled. Whenever talking about guys, Felicity always acted like she was already playing footsies under the bar.

‘Oh god!’ Shannon suddenly stood rigid.

‘What?’

‘Fuck, I peed just before I went down to let you in,’ Shannon said with her hand on her head, forgetting that pee doesn’t happen just once every twenty-four hours.

Felicity was already sitting on the floor, shuffling through her bags of optional outfits for the evening. ‘Why would you do that?’ she answered, unamused at the tedious drama.

Shannon, with her arms at her sides, started shaking her wrists so her hands started flopping about her thighs. ‘I pee when I get really nervous.’

Felicity looked up from her pieces of ensemble for the first time since she opened her bags. She surveyed Shannon. ‘Good, just keep doing what you’re doing then.’

Shannon ceased flailing and walked just a few steps behind Felicity to the kitchen table.

From the floor, Felicity turned around, ‘Oh god.’ A Clearblue pregnancy test box stood upright in the center of the small round table.

With initiative Shannon grabbed the box, stepped over Felicity’s three pairs of heels on the floor, and walked into the bathroom.

Through the closed door there was a muffled ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ followed by, ‘pizza should be coming soon.’

A new purpose was now given to the toilet. The box was sealed with masking tape after the first time she had done something stupid. Like ripping a three-day-old Band-Aid, Shannon shut her eyes and ripped the lid off the cardboard box, spilling all the contents onto the linoleum floor.

‘Shit!’ Is it still going to work?

‘Felicity, if you drop a pregnancy test is it still going to read accurately?’

‘I dunno. I can honestly say I’ve never done that before.’ Felicity’s tone suggested that it would read accurately.

Unfolded, the test’s directions looked like the iTunes agreement that she had never read, printed. None of the words were registering. ‘Felicity, how do I do this?’ she called through the door.

‘Didn’t you use the first one in the pack?’ Felicity asked.

‘Adam read the directions!’ There was a short pause after which she added, ‘And did everything else.’

‘Oh god, have some agency over your body. Just stick it between your legs and pee on the part that it looks like you pee on.’ There was a pause and then Felicity added, ‘You got the good kind. It just tells you yes or no.’

Shannon felt better knowing now that she “got the good kind”. She had been wrong about every other test prior. This was the test that stood between her and smiling at graduation.

Realizing she was going to need more spreading room, Shannon shuffled to get her pants over her ankles and tossed the jeans and the panties into the corner. At first she took the test in her hand like a pencil. Then like a chopstick. Until, finally, she just grabbed hold of it like a poking stick.

Thinking of something relaxing was challenging. Sex can be relaxing. She could always think of that one time, but —

Ding! Ding! Ding!

‘I’ll get it!’ Felicity called on her way out the door.

Seeing the pregnancy test between her thighs, she realized sex may not be the most terrific thing to think about. This less about relaxing than peeing anyway. Waterfalls, waterfalls in the rain forest, (are there waterfalls in the rainforest?), waterfalls with rainbows above them —

‘The pizza is here!’ Felicity reported.

Creeks are calming and they’re bodies of water.

‘Hey how’s it going in there?’ Felicity asked from the other side of the bathroom door.

‘I can’t pee.’

‘Run the water,’ Felicity suggested.

‘What?’

‘Run the bathroom faucet.’

‘I can’t do that! I pay for water!’

Felicity tapped her knuckles gently against the door.

‘Can I come in?’ She tried the knob of the bathroom door. ‘You locked it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You’re just taking the test, right... you don’t have any sharp objects near, do you?’

‘No — what the fuck?’

‘Sorry!’ Felicity said with flustered self-consciousness. ‘I watch a lot of TV.’

Shannon leaned over and unlocked the door. She kept her legs closed. Felicity had only ever seen her vag through lace at this point.

Felicity clonked in with her three-inch heels and started futzing with her eyelashes in the mirror.

‘Felicity, you being here is not going to get me to pee any faster.’

Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzz.

Felicity patted Shannon’s jeans on the floor. ‘Your mom’s calling,’ Felicity said as she handed the phone over. As Shannon hesitated to answer the call, Felicity walked out.

‘Hi mom,’ Shannon tried to sound happy, but not too happy. How does she usually sound on the phone with her mother? When does she ever sound too happy?

‘Hi, Shannon. How are you?’ Her mom sounded like she could be grocery shopping.

Felicity walked back in with a slice of pizza and sat on Shannon’s pants and underwear.

‘Gooood.’ Her mom would probably misconstrue that for cockiness.

‘Hi, Mrs. Minston!’ Felicity loudly interjected from the corner, pizza in hand.

‘Oh, is that Felicity?’ Shannon’s mom asked. Once you hit twenty, and in some cases even earlier, moms like when your friends make them feel like they would be friends if they were twenty.

‘Yeah, Felicity is here,’ Shannon said.

‘Oh, okay, well I’ll let you go then. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sending coupons in the mail. Things you use.’

Shannon suddenly spread her legs open wider. She couldn’t see where to stick the test.

‘The envelope is lavender and has a Marie Curie stamp on it ’cause that’s all they had at the post office.’

Shannon pulled the test out from between her legs and handed it over to Felicity.

‘Thank you so much, Mom,’ Shannon said with great elation.

‘Okay, I’ll let you girls go then.’

‘Okay, bye Mom.’ Shannon hung up the phone. ‘Yes or no?’

From the floor Felicity tossed the test into the wastebasket next to Shannon.

Arms open wide, Shannon asked in elated disbelief, ‘I’m not pregnant!?’

Felicity took a large bite of her pizza. ‘You can’t pee three drops on it, Shannon.’

Shannon’s head dropped onto her knees. That’s another ten bucks. That’s a family-sized box of Cheerio’s and milk. That’s like eight meals.

‘Here, how about we get ready, go out, and while we’re out I’ll pick it up for you when I go to buy Gatorade,’ Felicity suggested, picking all the mushrooms from her pizza and placing them on a piece of toilet paper laid out on the bathroom floor — as if Shannon didn’t have an ant problem already.

‘Felicity, I’m not taking a pregnancy test in some club bathroom,’ Shannon said with her head her hands. Suddenly, she felt some odd feeling of guilt for going out to the club, but then she remembered that she had almost had this exact same feeling earlier when she told Felicity she’d rather stay in.

‘Oh no, honey, you don’t want to do that,’ Felicity said, as if Shannon had considered doing so, for even a millisecond. ‘We can just try it out in the morning.’ Noticing Shannon’s look of distress, she elaborated. ‘If you are pregnant —’ Felicity raised her hands ‘— and you really probably aren’t — you can have one more night with none of this on your mind.’

Shannon dropped her head onto her knees again. She saw a spot she forgot to shave on her leg and began to run her finger back and forth across the stubble. It would be nice to put off knowing. After all, they had never stopped each time and weighed the odds that the condom they were using would break. At twenty-two, what is nice is often foregone for what is convenient; conveniently, she wasn’t the only person to blame for her circumstance.

‘I think we should call, Adam,’ Shannon told Felicity.

From where she sat, Felicity tossed her pizza crust into the trashcan. ‘Gina is going to be so pissed,’ she sighed. ‘Okay call Adam-baby. How are you going to tell him?’

‘Expressionlessly,’ Shannon said as she found Adam in her recent chat history.

‘What?’

‘I’m going to text him. Okay, so I’m saying, “Adam, I’m taking a pregnancy test now because of that one time (I know you know what time). Can you come over?” What do you think? Should I add a smiley face? It seems insensitive.’

Felicity looked right at Shannon, raised her eyebrows and said, ‘It’s fine. He’ll be fine. Smile at him when he gets here.’

‘Should I put some mascara on before he comes over?’ Shannon asked.

‘No. Well, it’s up to you.’

‘Oh my god! He texted back!’ she cried, her elation evident in her voice. ‘He said he’ll be right over — just to give him twenty minutes to get here.’

Felicity seemed unamused, outlining the detail of the cabinet door of the bathroom sink with her finger.

‘I’m going to ask him to pick a test up on his way. I’ll explain the situation to him. Are you going to stay?’

‘Yeah,’ Felicity answered. Then, still outlining the detail of the cabinet, she let out a sigh and said, ‘You guys are going to take this so personally.’

I Took A Stab

I’m sitting on the floor with my legs crossed and my underwear drawer pulled out all the way to where the wheels won’t budge any further. Ashley is going to think I’m so peculiar.  She isn’t looking at me though. Maybe she’s pretending not to notice. If I can see her out of the corner of my eye, I’m sure she can see me too out of the corner of hers. Let me just push it in a bit more to be a little more discrete. Okay try not to make this last another ten minutes. Do I wear a thong? It will sure get him on my skin faster. What message does a thong send? I love this lacy floral pair. I lost my virginity in this pair. Am I being irreverent to that memory if I wear this? Fuck it, this is more important.

“You alright?” Ashley asked me from where she sat on her bed in sweatpants and a tank top with the laptop on her lap.

“I’ll need your opinion in just a moment.” I grab the outfit from the closet that I had fallen asleep the last few nights putting together. Well, actually I’d really fallen asleep to the thought of tonight and if Ashley hadn’t been sleeping in the bed next to me I could’ve masturbated and fallen asleep a whole lot faster.

“What mood do you think this creates?” I ask as I hold up the forest green dress and clothe blue floral purse.

“Oh it’s cute! I like it.” She says.

Ugh, I’ll try to get out of it as soon as possible.

“Cool!” I say. “Do you think heels? I don’t know if I want to deck this up with them.”

“Well, where are you guys going?”

“Uhm, no where. Well…. his place.” Wow, I said that so nonchalantly. Her eyebrows show she caught my intent.

“I don’t think the heels are necessary” she said.

In the blistering cold I’m really regretting wearing a cotton dress and thin stockings from CVS late in November. The loss of feeling in certain areas of my body makes me think about turning back around.

Instead, I pull out a cig from my purse and light it. I’m not sure why.

I bet I’m still tight. Dylan never got deep enough. Literally and, also, in any other regard.

I swipe my university ID at the scanner and go into the lobby.

Don’t tense up. Don’t tense up. Relax. It will only make it harder later. Just think about Mark. Think about Mark. Think about how cute his smile is. How sweet is. How much you care about him. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be great. It’s going to be fine.

“Hi Danielle,” Mark says as he’s standing in front of the front desk.

“Hi Mark! How are you?”

“Fucking freezing. Let’s get away from the door.”

It’s interesting how people use “fuck” to verbalize both good and bad emotion. Such a mature usage of the word when you think about it. Fuck! the wind totally wrecked my hair.

At the front desk the man takes my ID card and writes down Mark’s room information. He barely gives us a glance. He doesn’t care about our faces. It’s like he knows he won’t see them again. I bet his shift ends before the morning.

The stairs are concrete and graffiti-stained with all sorts of trash and shit speckled over the steps and little landings before the doors of each floor. I’m paying more attention to wear I step then where I’m going. Soda is trickling from a tipped cup and up the next flight six or eight beer cans lie crushed. There’s an opened Five Hour Energy placed snugly in the corner on the next landing and right in front of the door we enter there’s three empty single slice pizza boxes from Seven Eleven.

We make it to room 710. Quickly we’re inside and Mark locks the door. I don’t know if that’s a subtly or a loud blinking signal.

“Well this is my dorm. This is the living room, that’s my record player, and my room is over here.”

“Is your roommate home?”

“I don’t think he is. Chris! CHRIS! … No, he’s not here.”

“Oh okay.”

His bed is so neatly made. If I put my purse on his desk would that look like I’m making myself too at home? I’ll just put it on the floor.

“Uhm, may I sit on your bed?”

“Oh yeah of course!”

Okay sure! He decides to sit in his desk chair. I wonder if I’ll get to know what the underside of this blanket feels like after all. He’s more beautiful when he’s paying attention to me. He claps his hands together lightly and looks at me and, oh how could I ever have doubted that he is beautiful...

“So what would you like to do? It’s pretty cold out but we could get something to eat if you’d like.” He glances out the window. “I don’t have a lot of cash on me though. Hey, I could make us some popcorn and we could watch a movie!” Then he looks at his laptop on the desk. “Chris and I share a Netflix.” He turns his attention to me. “Sorry. Is this really lame?”

He seems really concerned. I’ll just give a little hesitation so I don’t seem too anxious. Not just to him, but to myself as well. Just let things happen.

“Uhm, we could watch a movie. Would you wanna do that?”

“Yeah. We can do that. They’re on my computer here. What do you want to watch?”

Honestly I don’t give a fuck. Well, I lie. Since I have the choice nothing with too heavy sex scenes. I’m not that experienced to have a means of comparison right next to me.

“How about this one? Is that good with you?”

“Yeah, whatever you want to watch.”

He starts to set up a makeshift stand so that we can watch the movie from the bed. He gets up from his desk chair, glides it over towards the bed, and puts his laptop on it. He’s on his hands and knees fooling around with extension cords. He looks a little embarrassed, but I understand. We’re in college and we’re all trying to make due with what little we have.

He pushes the play button and takes his classic Vans sneakers off by just sliding off the heels and comes to sit on the bed. Our backs are up against the white wall. There’s a space between us. It’s strange to think that I want nothing more than for him to want me, but I am thoroughly turned on by his restraint. Why is him holding back so enticing for me?

I haven’t a clue what’s going on in this movie. I’m just staring at the computer keys right below the screen. I’m sure it looks like I’m actually watching the movie. I just don’t want to be sitting upright much longer.

A jolt pulsates throughout my body especially in my groin. His hand is over my hand. Try not to tense up. Try not to tense up. Now it’s my turn. I have to let him know it’s okay. Putting my head on his shoulder should be subtle and yet loud enough. Fuck. I would put my temple right on his shoulder bone. Just deal with it. Don’t show you’re uncomfortable. Just fuck my life.

He’s tilting his head in. I’ll just tilt my mouth upwards a little bit.

“I’m really glad you came over, Danielle.”

His lips are against mine. Our lips change position. I press back. He’s opening up his mouth. I guess I have to too. There’s his tongue. Now I’m on my back. He’s over me. I have to gasp for air.

“Can we go under the covers?”

“Yeah” he breathes the word.

I just grope the covers and fling them down. He must have worked so hard on making his bed so the room would look nice when I came over. We all work so hard toward aims until something happens and the work means nothing anymore. I waited very long to have sex, and then, I had it.

His hand is on my rib cage. His lips are still pressing against me. I feel the tension in his hand. I wish he’d just move it up. He is a little. He’s so cautious. So slight. Just a little more. I would have pulled back by now if it wasn’t okay.

And now his hand is over my breast. He’s light and gentle. I should probably moan just a little. He kisses harder. Now he’s squeezing harder. Now the moans are just coming out. I should reciprocate. I found his hips I guess its the equivalent. Oh I don’t know what to do! Now he’s on my neck. I’m falling so behind. I’ll put my hands up his shirt onto his bare back. That’s what Dylan liked. That’s what I use to do with him. I just realized I don’t know how to have sex with Mark. Fuck. I’m just going to go for his belt.

I get it unbuckled and he whispers, “Take this off” and tugs lightly on my dress. His tone gives me chills and makes me uncomfortable. It’s filled with-- passion?

He helps with the buttons but there’s no way that he’s going to get it off so I sit up and do it myself putting everything at a lull. It seems to take forever to get it over my head. I try to gracefully fall back onto the bed. That did not happen like it does in the movies.

When I fall down to his side his shirt is already off. Our lips are pressed against one another’s again. At this point no more communication is needed as my bra is unsnapped and my panties slided down. He never even saw what they looked like.

Now his finger is in me and it’s difficult for me to kiss him back. I close my eyes and just try to moan and make little sounds to distract his attention. But now he’s just going faster and I feel like maybe I’m producing too much cum. I’m just going to reach down his pants to get him out of there.

I grab his… penis? Dick? How are you suppose to reference these parts during sex? Is the act biological? Is it a vulgarity? No, no it’s not.

I’ve barely been touching him long and he whispers in a tone still driven with something that’s not quite passion,

“Want to have sex?”

Being offered what I wanted, I suddenly question it. Did I make this happen? How did this happen? Should this happen?

“Yeah” I answer. This is what I wanted. I like him. I like him a lot.

“Okay” he answers and then he gets up out of the bed and leaves. He’s leaving right before the ultimate act of intimacy! I’m not sure if that’s any less tacky than Dylan keeping it under the couch cushions.

He comes back with a condom. Right now I’m owing so much to it. I hope he payed attention in his high school health class. Should I ask that? No, don’t ask that. How about ‘Do you do this often?’ No, definitely don’t ask that.  

He has it on. It sort of smells like I’m at the doctor’s. He’s about to go in. Don’t tense up. Don’t tense up. Don’t tense up. As his penis hangs over me and my body is pulsating with tremors and an anxiety and an expectant euphoria, I realize that maybe that’s all I ever wanted of him.

Ow! Shit!

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah."

Eventually I calm down and now it feels pretty decent. I just keep focusing on the in and out motions. In and out. I’m having such a hard time focusing on him. Maybe it’ll feel better if I think about him. What’s to think about? He clicks his pen a lot in class.

The moans just keep coming out. I can’t help them. Does he think I’m faking this? I wish he’d say something. I wish guys moaned during sex more often. I’m so embarrassed. Just keep my eyes closed.

I hear him sort of shudder. He pulls out. It’s over. That’s it.

“Scuse me.” He says and he leaves me again. I know why he left but, whatever.

He comes back.

“Excuse me,” I say as I too make my way to the bathroom. I’m not getting a urinary tract infection over this.

I’m back and he has his pants on.

“Want to have a smoke?”

 “Sure,” I say.

We get dressed, but my clothes feel sort of unnecessary. Then Mark unlocks the door and we step out to make our way outside.

The least thing a guy can do for a girl after he has her in bed is offer her a cig. I appreciate the offer. I can always go for a cigarette. For me they are the perfect anxiety-relievers and companions when I am with someone who is not.

We make our way out into the freezing cold and find a bench close to the dorm entrance to sit on.

I take a deep drag and feel a little funny. It’s probably the cancer settling in. Maybe it’s all this nameless feeling. Feeling lucky to have been in control the whole time we were on the bed.

Mark just inhales and exhales quietly. He doesn’t have to talk to me now because he’s smoking his cig.

So crazy to think he was just inside me. Much like this cig is between my lips.

Marks finished his cigarette. He’s trying to make little fists and keep his fingers tucked under his sleeves. But, it’s not that cold for what he’s wearing.

I’ll toss my cigarette so he doesn’t feel third wheel.

“Can I stay over tonight?” I just want to verify what is probably already mutually understood. I can’t walk home by myself at this hour.

He gives a little amused chuckle, but there’s no derision. He answers, “I figured you were.”

“Thanks.” I said, feeling powerless for the first time that evening.