I could feel her eyes on my back.
We had only spent a moment at the door exchanging glances and bussing cheeks before I took her coat.
We had never met. We didn’t know one another’s names.
Yet she had come to New York to spend a weekend with me.
Now, as I turned to hang her coat in a closet, she was giving me the once over. I took my time, allowing her to look. It was only fair; after all, I had the home court advantage.
I closed the closet door and turned to reciprocate her gaze.
She smirked, shifting her weight from one hip to another.
“You might have told me,” I said, reprimanding her.
“What?” she sassed. “And ruin the surprise?”
I liked that. I stepped forward to take her face in my hands. I kissed her deeply.
She had told me her name was Esther, but I assumed that wasn’t true. No one named girls “Esther” nineteen years ago. Nineteen-year-old girls are named “Ashley” or “Jennifer” or “Madison,” the last after that Daryl Hannah movie that had been popular a few years before they were born.
“Esther,” or whomever it was now standing in my apartment, had contacted me after reading my blog. Her introductory note was complimentary and polite, which is always pleasant, but more unusually, it avoided common words when more exact options were possible. The more syllables per word, the better.
This gal is either wicked smart, I thought, or she’s damned handy with a thesaurus. Either way, I was enticed . . . if not inveigled.
We traded notes now and then until she faded from my inbox. She later wrote to apologize, noting that the end of a semester with a double major could be exceedingly onerous.
Our correspondence resumed.
We never traded photographs. She didn’t request one, and I didn’t really care what she looked like. She had me going with wit and a vocabulary that was gorgeous, lavish, luxurious, splendid and sumptuous—that is to say, in a word provided by my thesaurus, impressive.
After a month or so of trading intermittent bon mots, I asked if she had a web cam. Of course she did; she’s nineteen. I suggested that we instant message with cams.
As her image came into view, I was glad to see that she was easy on the eyes. “You didn’t have to be attractive,” I wrote, “But it helps that you are.”
“Likewise,” she wrote back, her lips slightly pursed.
The truth was, though, that I really couldn’t tell much about her appearance. Her camera was trained on her head and the dorm room behind her. Over one unseen shoulder was a well-crammed bookcase; over the other, a white wall bare but for a poster.
She wore a newsboy cap, pushed forward and down, and glasses that were scarcely visible in the forest of dark hair that hung in her face. Only the lower third of her face was unobstructed.
She was evidently pale and had lips. Beyond that, I couldn’t have picked her out of a line up.
No matter, really. I was glad to put face to words, naturally, but I was after other quarry.
I wanted to take her fine-tuned vocabulary for a spin.
As we traded quips—cracks, jests, sallies, drolleries—I soon realized that I was barely keeping up. She parried my every sentence by three, coming back fast with pithy humor and precisely chosen words, each typed without error and burnished—buffed, polished, shined, furbished—to crystalline sheen.
This much was clear: whoever it was behind those glasses, she wasn’t fudging her smarts. She appeared to be the real deal, the sort who could waltz her way across the Mensa ballroom.
Still, I was only seeing the cards she dealt. I was looking right at this person on my screen, but her face was hidden in a disguise of cap, glasses and hair. I was conversing with her, but she hid herself in a thicket of words. All of that was wrapped up and presented under an unlikely name.
After an exchange that had been agreeable, congenial, pleasing and engaging, we signed out. Our correspondence continued without cameras; we had satisfied that curiosity as well as we could.
Still, other curiosities remained.
Finally, I took a step that was perhaps inevitable, ineluctable, ineludible and certain.
“If you are ever in the city, it would be a pleasure to meet,” I wrote.
“I can come during the winter break,” she replied.
“That would be great,” I said. “And, well, if you need a place to stay, I can put you up.”
“You are certainly complaisant,” she responded. I reached for my dictionary before thanking her for the compliment.
Now, she was in my living room, her masks intact but for the one secret she could no longer keep.
As I kissed her, I placed a hand on her hip.
“You act as though you’re ashamed of it,” I whispered.
“Not at all,” she asserted, her voice firm, revealing none of the open passion of her kiss.
I stood back. “Well, may I at least appreciate it?”
She leaned a hand on a bookcase. “Go right ahead.”
She wore a white cotton shirt, so tight that the buttons barely met. Her nipples were hard and clearly visible, for she wore nothing underneath.
“This is a lovely sight,” I said, caressing her shirt. I nuzzled into her neck. “And your clothing smells so fresh. Still, I want to remove this.”
She began to shudder as my fingers moved down the buttons of her shirt. The front opened to reveal flesh, but I averted my eyes to undo her cuffs. When her wrists were free, I removed her shirt and tossed to one side.
“It’s cold outside.”
“It’s very warm inside. You’re nervous, and that’s fine.” I pressed my body to hers. “It’s alluring, actually.”
I took her mouth back into mine. Her kiss was immediate and slightly clumsy.
I stood back to stroke her torso. I turned her body so that I could look at her back.
“This is very nice,” I said, touching the black skirt that draped to her knees. “But this, too, needs to go.”
“Yes,” she said, a slight frog in her throat.
“So brave,” I whispered.
I unbuttoned the skirt, unzipped its side, and knelt to lower it to the ground. She stepped from the skirt, gently raising her high heels.
I looked up at her, touching her legs and torso. I savored the responses of her trembling flesh.
“Cute panties,” I observed, touching lace. “Did you wear those for me?”
She stopped trembling, resuming her composure. “I often wear cute underwear for no reason at all,” she smiled.
“Yes, well, I’m afraid these also need to vanish.” I lowered her panties slowly, offering a hand to steady her as she lifted her heels. I put the panties aside and allowed my eyes to take her in.
I nuzzled my nose in the soft, sandy blonde pubic hair that gave away another secret—her dark brown hair was a deliberate choice. Perhaps she had become a brunette for effect, to dramatize her smooth pale skin. But now that I was in on the larger secret, I suspected it was a diversionary tactic, intended to make her appear somewhat mousy, like the bookworm she preferred people to see when they looked at her.
Looking up to her face full of hair, I still had no clear sense of the color of her eyes.
I stood and pushed back her hair. She looked at me, now trembling again. Her eyes were pale, limpid aquamarine, the color of a clear sky viewed from underwater.
I traced a finger to her waist. I needed to address the secret she had kept from me.
“You didn’t tell me about this,” I chastised. “You must’ve assumed I would want to know.”
“Now you know,” she said, shrugging. “I have an hourglass figure.”
“Yes, you do have an hourglass figure. That’s the right word for it. I might’ve said you are built like a brick shithouse.”
She laughed. “Ever the Southern gentleman.”
I nodded and leaned to kiss her. My finger moved across the slight curve of her tight belly, and down to her slit.
I toyed with her moistness.
“Wow,” she said, for once at a loss for words.
I kissed her ear lobe.
“It’s . . . it’s been a very long time,” she added.
“Since?” I whispered.
“Since I’ve been with a man,” she said, shaking under my touch.
I placed a steady hand against the base of her spine. “How long?” My tongue traced the curve of her neck.
“Just that one time,” she answered. “When I was fourteen.”
“How old was the boy?” I nibbled her clavicle.
“My age,” she swallowed. “Well, fifteen.”
“An early predilection for older men,” I noted, cupping a firm breast. “And only girls since then?” I took a nipple in my mouth.
“Unh, yeah. Girls.”
I stood to kiss her. That mouth, so adept in forming words, was still learning to kiss.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t be gentle.”
She held me close. “Who is your favorite modernist poet?” she whispered.
“I go for Frank O’Hara,” I answered, kissing her eyelids each in turn.
She looked into my eyes. “I’m a Stevens girl.”
“We’ll meet at Rilke,” I said, taking her hand. “Now come with me. I want to show you what happens to Stevens girls.”