She looked tiny in the doorway.
“Hey, ‘Seymour,’” I smiled. “Come in, come in.”
Her eyes were turned away. She looked up and attempted a smile. It came off more like a grimace.
“Thanks.” She held her arms close to her torso and shrank still smaller. She edged her way past the door, turning her back to me.
My eyes followed her as I closed the door.
“Seymour” and I had agreed to meet on Monday, the day she had reserved to pick up someone on Craig’s List.
“If you fuck a random stranger,” I had asked, “What makes you think you will fare any better than your first two attempts?”
“It probably won’t feel like anything, really,” she said. “But, I don’t know, it might. I don’t know.”
“May I make a suggestion? Meet me instead. Let’s meet in person. If you want to have sex, you know I’m easy. If not, that’s cool. But either way, at least you know the person you are meeting is not an asshole.”
“How do I know that?” she argued. “I mean, you seem nice, but so do a lot of people. I mostly know you from your blog, which you write, so maybe you only make yourself seem nice.”
“Perhaps I am an asshole,” I conceded. “Then again, perhaps I’m genuine. You could judge for yourself if we met.”
She relented. “Okay, I’ll come over. But we can’t fuck. I can’t have sex with anyone I care about.”
How sweet, I thought. She cares about me.
She looked up at my bookcases briefly, her eyes scanning for familiar names. Suddenly, as if she caught herself doing something she shouldn’t, she dropped her eyes to the floor.
I noticed that she wore black-and-white checked Vans.
She grabbed her elbow, almost urgently. “So, um . . . how does this work?”
“Well, when I’m meeting someone for the first time, I often find that an icebreaker helps.” I tried to a note of ironic levity to acknowledge the awkwardness she felt. “For example, I might ‘overwhelm’ her from the start, with lots of kissing or some such.”
I stepped away from the door. She stepped back.
“Um, no . . . don’t overwhelm me.” She looked up to see if I had moved any closer. I hadn’t. She returned her gaze to the floor.
“In that case, may I suggest we sit on the couch?” I waved a hand in the direction of the living room. “Would you care for water or anything?”
“No, I’m fine.” She made a halting step toward the couch. “I’m fine,” she repeated, more to herself than to me.
Her arms were folded over one another and pulled close. Her back was stiff as she leaned back into the pillows; her posture couldn’t have been more rigid if she had been strapped to a pole and propped against the furniture.
I sat a distance away, my hands folded in my lap. I smiled.
She grimaced and looked away.
“So, ‘Seymour’ . . .” I began.
“Please, that’s funny and all, but you can call me ‘Cody.’” She looked down, addressing the floor. “God.”
“Right. Cody. So, Cody, I’m glad you came over today. I know it was a risk.”
She looked up. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. And to reiterate—I know you know this—we don’t have to do anything sexual, unless you decide you want to. I’m glad that we have this time to talk to one another, face to face, rather than in emails and instant messages.”
“Yeah, well, thanks. I mean, I don’t see how we would have sex. I mean, you seem nice and everything, but you are some old guy with a blog.” She paused. “Sorry, no offense.”
“None taken. I am some old guy with a blog.”
She looked up, a slight smile on her lips.
I grinned back.
She pulled a strand of hair from her face, tucking it behind one ear.
Everything about Cody’s appearance suggested that she was not to be looked at. Her pretty face was disguised by heavy layers of make up, with her eyes outlined in thick cords of black mascara. She wore her raven hair long, ready to be pulled forward like a curtain. Her skinny body was covered in layers of oversized clothes, with jeans that hung from her slender hips.
I didn’t ask about the awkward wide bandage on her left forearm.
She’s right handed, I noted.
She seemed to be waiting for me to say something. To make conversation, I began to talk about my blog, as we had that in common. I mentioned a story I had recently posted, and a comment it had generated.
“I saw that!” she exclaimed. “I swear, what is up with people? I mean, God, it’s a blog. Get a life, people.”
Cody became animated as she spoke. I picked up on that and went on to discuss how that comment related to other. She sat up on her knees and encouraged me to go on.
I laughed at something she said. She laughed at something I said. Our conversation began to find the semblance of ease we had established in our correspondence.
I reached the end of my story. I looked at her and smiled.
She realized it was her turn to speak. She froze.
Cody fell back on the couch and dropped her eyes. We were silent for a moment.
I followed her gaze to a dollhouse on the floor.
“That belongs to the imaginary neighborhood created by my daughter Lillie. See? Hello Kitty lives around the corner. Han Solo has the attic apartment. That orange block is his car. He uses it on dates with Barbie.”
She grinned. “I love Lillie. I mean, in your stories. She’s adorable.”
I scowled. “She’s no good is what she is.” Cody laughed. “She’s a juvenile delinquent in training, that one.”
“Oh stop,” Cody laughed.
“I’m serious. Last week she asked me to install a pole so she can practice her stripper routine.”
Cody laughed again, putting her hair behind her ears.
“The other day, I found hypodermic needles in her lunchbox. I asked if she was using again. She swears she was just carrying for a friend.”
“Stop! That’s awful. She’s a kid.”
“I’m no dummy,” I shrugged. “I know to look for track marks.”
We began to talk about my kids. In a roundabout way, this led us to talking about Bukowski.
Our conversation followed a pattern. When we found a groove, we spoke rapidly, our sentences colliding and laced with humor.
When we reached the end of a thread, she would fall silent. I would watch her for a moment or two before launching a new subject.
Finally, I broached the subject that had led to her SOS.
“So, this sex thing . . . ,” I began.
She pulled her arms close and looked at me. “Yeah?” she asked warily.
“Tell me how you decided to fuck strangers. I know you’ve told me in writing, but I’d kind of like to hear it from you. If you’re comfortable with that. I guess I’m mostly interested in the impulse behind the decision.”
She tugged her shirt. “I don’t know,” she began, pausing. “I guess I thought it would be a way to connect with someone . . . not a real connection, I don’t even know if that’s possible, but something, I don’t know . . . something that felt real.” She looked up at me. “I don’t even know if that makes sense.”
“I think I follow. Go on.”
She kept her eyes on me for a moment before looking away. “It’s just ridiculous. I mean, I’m twenty. It’s stupid that I’m a virgin, or I was until last month. But ugh, that kid I fucked, that felt really incredibly stupid.”
“That kid you picked up,” I nodded. “But, you know, there’s no reason why you have to lose your virginity or be sexually active, just because you reach a certain age . . .”
“I know, it’s not just that, really. It’s more like: what’s wrong with me that I can’t be normal? Why can’t I have normal friends, and laugh at stupid jokes, and have sex with guys, or whatever?” She drew a deep breath. “I’m just broken. Which is a retarded way to put it, but whatever.”
“And you thought that by having sex, at least, you would be doing something normal.”
“I guess. It’s a normal thing to do.”
“Well, what’s normal for some . . .”
She grinned. “Like you would know about ‘normal.’”
“Hey!” I feigned indignation.
“You have more sex than anyone,” she said. “I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about.”
I looked at her. “Do you want to have sex with me?”
She looked up, taken aback. “Are you serious?”
“Hypothetically. Do you think you reached out to me because you wanted sex with someone who wasn’t so anonymous? Granted, you didn’t know me personally, but you read me, which was more . . . I don’t know, to use a word, more intimate than what you had encountered with the Craig’s List pick ups.”
She looked at the bandage on her arm.
I went on. “I mean, I was still safely distant, but at least you encountered me in the familiar terrain of words. You could read me, like a book, or a character in a book.”
“Yeah, it’s like you’re not real.”
“ . . . and yet, I am real.”
She dropped her hands in her lap. “But how do I know that?” Her tone was practically beseeching. “How do I know you aren’t phony, like that whole thing is made up . . . ?”
Her eyes looked up into mine. She let them linger a moment longer than before.
I moved closer. She looked away.
“Hey.” I took her chin in my hand. I guided her face upwards. I closed my eyes and lowered my lips to hers.
It can be as simple, I thought to her, as this.
I pulled away, sitting back on the couch. I rested a hand on her thigh.
“I dunno, Jefferson,” she stammered. Her eyes were on my hand. “I like you and all, but . . . you know . . . I can’t connect to people, so . . .”
“Let’s do something simple,” I suggested. “Let’s be naked together. Let’s touch.”
She snorted. “You’re not serious.”
“I’m serious. Obviously, you don’t have to. I suggest it because it may not be as complicated as you worry. It might just be okay—and it sounds like you sort of skipped these first steps with those two guys you picked up. You didn’t allow yourself to care, or to be touched. You don’t have to have love to have sex, of course. But it’s good to allow yourself to feel things—and I’m not just talking about the physical sensation of being fucked.”
She looked up at me.
“I’m not pretty. I’ve got scars . . .”
“I’m not pretty, either,” I sighed. “I’ve got a zit on my shoulder and my fingernails need clipping.”
She grinned. “And what’s up with your hair?”
“Let’s not go there.” I stood and gave her my hand. “Instead, let’s go to my bedroom.”
She stood still in my bedroom, looking around. “God, your room is twice the size of mine. And you have, like, real furniture.”
“I’m a grown up,” I replied, standing close. “I don’t live in a dorm.” I tugged at her shirt.
“God, are we really doing this?”
“We can stop at any time,” I assured her, pulling the shirt over her head.
I undressed her. I stopped when I reached her panties. “Very cute,” I said. “Stripes and bright colors! I was expecting black and skulls.”
“Yeah, well . . .” Her words trailed away into her thoughts.
I didn’t keep my eyes on her body. I registered the scars on her belly, her thighs and arms. They struck me as randomly cut, deep and jagged. But that was not my place to observe, not now. I wanted to reassure her.
I kissed her again. This time, she returned my kiss, awkwardly.
“Let’s lay on the bed,” I suggested. She nodded, barely looking up.
I undressed and reclined. She stood looking at me, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Take off your panties,” I said. “And come here.”
She nodded and took down her underwear. I caught a glimpse of her smooth slit.
She came to the bed. She sat with her back to me, and then lay back slowly. I edged closer. I put a hand on her, gently touching her belly, my eyes on hers.
Her eyes were somewhere between brown and hazel, somewhere between frightened and terrified.
“I know, it’s scary,” I said softly.
“It’s safe here, though. It’s me.”
“Whoever you are.”
“Yeah, whoever I am.” I kissed her cheek. She twitched involuntarily as my fingers touched her breast. “Whoever you are.”
I held her close, my body against hers, touching her slowly. My kisses were light and gentle.
I really wanted to get this right. I wanted Cody to have a positive experience with sex and the connection she sought to something she could identify as “real.”
Her body was rigid.
I touched her face. She looked away.
“Cody?” I asked. “Are you crying?”
“I’m sorry,” she sniffled. “I’m just . . . broken.”
I took my hand away. “Are you okay? Should I . . . ?”
“It’s fine, it’s not you,” she frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m this way.”
My heart went out to her fragility. I wanted to ease her anxieties. It’s hard to be with people sometimes, I wanted to say. It will get easier with experience, I wanted to assure her. You can’t put every hope and fear into each encounter. You can learn to let things be as they are.
I said none of those things. I knew Cody would rebuke platitudes.
I touched her. I caressed her. I let her feel my breath on her skin. I wiped the mascara tears welling on her cheek.
I sat up and held out my arms. “Cody, come here.”
She wiped her nose and struggled up on her elbows.
“All the way, Cody,” I urged.
She sat up, slouching slightly forward. I wrapped my arms around her.
“This was brave,” I whispered. “Thanks for taking the risk.”
She stared off over my shoulder. “Yeah, well, whatever . . .”
I held her close. Her arms were limp in my embrace. I released her slightly to adjust the placement of my legs. As I moved, my hand accidentally brushed against her nipple.
She gasped involuntarily as her body lurched in reaction to my touch.
“Cody . . .” I whispered. Gently, I cupped her breast in my hand. She gasped again.
“You’re so responsive,” I went on. I traced my hand down her hip. She looked up and kissed me.
My finger found her slit. She grabbed my shoulder as I felt her wetness.
We began to kiss ferociously.
“Cody, Cody, my God,” I croaked.
“Jefferson, God . . . ,” she whispered, her eyes closed.
“We need to fuck,” I said. She nodded.
I rolled on a condom and entered her. She was clenched tight in every part of her being.
I lay over her. “It’s okay, relax . . . relax . . .” She nodded, her eyes closed tight.
I moved slowly in her.
She turned her face and began to cry again.
“Oh, Cody,” I whispered. “I know it’s hard.” I thought I should bring her out of her head and back into her body, to the sensation of my body in hers. I moved faster in her.
She sobbed quietly.
“Cody . . . “ I stopped. “Cody, we need to stop, right?”
She nodded, her eyes wide.
I pulled out and lay beside her. I held her as she cried. I kissed her hair gently, waiting for the sobs to subside.
For a while, it seemed they never would.
In time, her breathing slowed and her tears stopped. She was still upset, but she had exhausted her sobs.
I held her limp in my arms. I talked quietly. She nodded or shook her head in response.
She had been overwhelmed.
I began to feel that she needed to be alone. For the first time, she had had sex outside her dorm room. To be alone, she would need to leave.
“Cody, I think you may feel better now if you aren’t with me. I think you may need to go back to your place.”
“But Cody,” I continued. “I want to talk to you tomorrow—and I mean, in person, or at least on the telephone. I want to be sure you’re okay.”
She nodded again. “Okay, well, maybe.”
“Okay. Thanks for considering it.”
I held her a while longer.
“Okay, Cody. Let’s get you put together.”
She nodded. I helped her up and took her to the bathroom. Her face fell when she saw herself in the mirror.
“God,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m so disgusting.” She began to wipe black stains from her cheek.
I took a tissue and helped her. “You wear so much mascara,” I smiled. “You look like a raccoon.”
She laughed sardonically.
I assembled her clothes as she reapplied her make up. She joined me to dress. I watched as she put on her clothes. She kept her eyes averted.
I took her hand in mine at the door.
“Tomorrow,” I repeated. “It’s important. I need to know how you feel.”
“Okay . . . ,” she averred, noncommittal.
I had to let her go. “Okay. Tomorrow.”
She looked back sorrowfully as she walked down the hall.
I closed the door. Nice work, Jefferson, I thought. That didn’t go at all well. I wouldn’t be surprised if I never saw her again.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she hurt herself because she met me.
The next day, she showed up at my door.
“Wow, I’m glad to see you!” I said, kissing her cheek. “No one gets a second date with Seymour Glass!”
“Yeah, about that,” she said, dropping her bag. “Look, I’m sorry I freaked out. It’s just really hard, connecting to people and . . . intimacy. I don’t have any ideas about that.”
“It’s okay that you freaked out,” I said, squeezing her right forearm. “I mean, I know that this is all very new to you . . .”
“Yeah, and that was fast, and I didn’t know what to do . . .”
“I’m sorry. I . . . well, I don’t think I handled that very well.”
She laughed nervously. “Yeah, what was that? You fucked me when I was crying? Who does that?”
“I know, I know,” I said, chewing a finger. “Stupid. I should learn to offer a tissue instead of my dick.”
She grinned. “It’s okay.”
I smiled. “You’re okay?”
“I’m glad you came back. I was afraid you wouldn’t.”
“I almost didn’t. But . . . there was something you said that made me come back. I knew it was okay.”
I cocked my head. “What? Something I said?”
“You told me I looked like a raccoon. No one says things like that. I realized why I like you—you’re not phony.”
Her face lit in a spontaneous smile. She looked away, as if embarrassed to have allowed herself to be happy.
I took her face in my hands. I kissed her.
She threw her arms onto my shoulders.
That afternoon, after three botched attempts, Cody finally lost her virginity.
We had sex every day for the next month.
The cuts on her arm gradually healed.