Monday, December 06, 2004

what caused me to start writing "Cacophony"

Warning: this is going to be a very long post. I'd originally envisioned Cacophony as a short story, perhaps ten pages tops. Well, it just kept going, and I hadn't really gotten to the point of the story itself. At least not much. Magda was originally supposed to be the focus, although I didn't know at the time what her name was. Christy was just supposed to be a plot device to get the narrator to Magda. And yet, as I continued writing, it was all about Christy.

The following was written over a period of a couple weeks, and there are obvious discrepancies within the text. Information about the characters changed as I was writing, and I never went back to correct it. I just wanted to ride the wave of these characters as far as I could before editing.

I don't know how much of this text will actually be used in the novel, but maybe it'll be of interest to see where some of the ideas for Cacophony came from. It's also not a bad reference point for me to use on occasion. The character who is most strikingly different in this story versus the novel is probably the narrator.

At any rate, here are the 38 or so pages of Cacophony's genesis, typos, plot irregularities and all (oh, and a lot more sex, which has not yet made it into the novel, but will):

Cacophony. That was the word that Christy used to describe the music building by day. And she should know. She lives in Chapin Hall, just across the parking lot from the music building. She says that people are in there practicing until they close the building at eleven o’clock at night. Which is about when I come in.

Maybe I should explain a little bit about Christy. She’s a Philosophy major. I’m not really sure what one does with a degree in Philosophy, but she’s going to get one. I tend to take a lot of electives in Philosophy, fulfilling the liberal arts requirement for my major. I don’t know why. Or rather, I do.

The first time I took a Philosophy course, it was an Intro deal. Someone, I don’t remember who, had told me that it was an easy A (it was). I was a sophomore then. Christy was a freshman, and was in the class. The class itself didn’t interest me that much, but Christy did, and I found myself signing up for a Philosophy course every semester until I graduated. Sometimes she was in the class, sometimes she wasn’t. Whether she was or not, it always gave us something to talk about.

It wasn’t until the second class we had together that we hooked up. It was a C-level course, History of Religion. The professor was her advisor. He was fairly religious himself, but also pretty damned tolerant. She liked to poke at him. In one class, she started questioning whether or not animals take pleasure in sex, and raised the example of her female cat. Based on her cat’s actions, she was certain that the cat not only had a clitoris, but was very aware of it. The professor blushed. I was enthralled.

We ran into each other at a party off-campus not long after that and started talking about the whole animals and sex thing. Before long, we were back in her dorm room, pounding away. And it was interesting. She gave me her phone number and I gave her mine, and we both pretty much understood that we weren’t going out, but that it’d be okay to call each other from time to time when the mood hit.

When I got the work-study job doing janitorial work, she and I hooked up again the night before I was due to start. I think I called her, realizing that my nights were going to be shot for a while. I told her what I’d be doing and where, and that’s when she told me the building was a cacophony. We did our level best to create a cacophony of our own. Did I mention that her cat often yowled while we were screwing? I don’t know how she got away with keeping the cat in her dorm room with all the noise it made. Pets were strictly verboten.

Anyway. That’s Christy. And that was what I was thinking about the first night I started emptying trashcans and mopping floors in the music building. But the building was closed, so it was dead quiet, but for the sounds of my work and the squeaking of my Nikes on the tile.

It was a fairly old building, although not one of the oldest on campus. It had probably been built in the forties or so. It was eminently practical in its way, but not very attractive. It was red brick with white wood trim. The paint was peeling away from most of the trim, exposing the wood to the elements. It didn’t seem that upkeep of the building was high on the administration’s list of obligations.

I found the work surprisingly soothing. There was a certain comfort in the activities of mopping floors, clearing debris, giving the forlorn building some much-needed care. The garbage I found even interested me. I neither play nor read music, but the discarded sheet music I sometimes found intrigued me. I had no means of understanding what the various notes meant; their patterns reminded me of hieroglyphs. There was something both romantic and lonely about the crumpled sheets of hand-written music. This was further reinforced by my discarding them somehow.

After I’d been working there for maybe a month, I heard Christy’s cat yowling from across the parking lot. Even though we didn’t have a relationship per se, it still sort of bothered me that she was attempting a cacophony with someone else. I systematically moved through the building and closed every open window to shut out the sound.

And that’s when I first heard the cello.

The strains of music were very faint, almost inaudible. Even the occasional ticking of the radiators was louder. Straining my ears, I tried to trace the sound. At times, it seemed to be growing louder. At others, I lost it completely. I tried to find the source of the music throughout the night, forgetting to tend to my cleaning duties until sunlight started scratching at the dusty windows. Startled by the time, I made a half-assed pass at the building, trying to get it in passable shape for the rest of the day.

Each night after that, I closed up all of the open windows as soon as I arrived in the building. I made sure to tend to my work, but kept my ears pricked for the music of the cello. Almost every night, I caught at least a few bars of something, but I often wondered if it had only been my imagination.

Two weeks passed and I hadn’t found the cellist. The weekend had arrived and I decided to call Christy. She seemed happy to hear from me and invited me over. We took another stab at creating a cacophony. I listened closely to her cat and was pretty sure that I was making it yowl louder than Christy’s other guest had.

When we finished and were lying in bed smoking, I told her about the cello. She propped herself up on her elbow, drew in another lungful of smoke and regarded me through lidded eyes as she let the smoke drift from her lips up over her face.

“You heard the ghost.”

If anyone but Christy had said that, I’d probably have laughed. I knew she was serious, though, and treated this revelation appropriately.

“What’s the story?” I asked.

“I dunno,” she said. “It’s one of those things they tell you during freshman orientation in the dorm. I remember there being a story about a ghost in the music building, but I was really stoned for most of that week, so I don’t remember much else.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “I’m pretty sure it was a woman, though.”

She stubbed out her cigarette and walked over to her window, which faced the parking lot. “C’mere,” she said.

I walked over to her and looked over her shoulder out the glass.

“Let’s try to wake her up,” she said, and heaved up the window.

I looked down at her and she placed her hand behind my head, pulled me down into a rough kiss. With her other hand, she reached down and started stroking me back to erection.

Breaking the kiss, she looked at me seriously. “Do me up the ass. We gotta be really loud.” I grinned in spite of myself. “I’m serious,” she said. “You know this isn’t about the sex. This is about waking up the ghost.”

I made an effort to compose my features. “Right,” I said. She continued staring at me and finally decided that I was serious enough. She nodded once, quickly.

“Okay,” she said. “Try your finger first.”

“Okay,” I replied. I moistened my finger in my mouth first, and then slowly slid it up inside her. She seemed to be holding her breath. Once I’d inserted it as far as it would go, she exhaled. “Okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “It kinda hurts, but that’s okay. Do another one.”

I couldn’t moisten another finger of the same hand without removing the first finger, so I very carefully inched a second finger up inside her.

“Ow, ow, ow,” she said.

“You want me to stop?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “But pull out your fingers and try to do your cock.”

“Are you sure?”


“Shouldn’t we use lubricant or something? It’s probably gonna hurt,” I said.

“I think it should hurt,” she replied. “We’re trying to wake up a ghost.”

I thought about this and sighed. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me if I should stop.”

As carefully as possible, I began to insert myself into her. “Have you done this before?” I asked her.

“Nope,” she said through gritted teeth. “You?”

“Nope,” I said, and continued pushing further into her. She made small, pained noises as I entered deeper and deeper, but didn’t tell me to stop. Finally, I was all the way in.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she said. She was pounding her fist against the windowsill. Tears were leaking out her eyes.

“You okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “This really fucking hurts.”

“We should stop,” I said.

“No. We’re gonna wake it up. Just give me a second.”

I held myself in her for a few moments while she took a few deep breaths. Once she’d stopped sucking air through her gritted teeth, she looked back at me.

“Okay, go.”

I slowly pulled out from her, feeling her tightly closing in around me as I exited. As I entered her again, she cursed, but with a little less vehemence. Before long, I felt her moving against me instead of just hanging on to the ledge of the window. Our breathing became more rapid and the sounds she was making sounded less pained, although just as loud.

I’d never heard her quite this loud in our love-making before. She was really starting to yell, incoherent things, animal sounds. Her cat was going insane, yowling so loudly I thought it’d explode. When we both came, we slammed into the wall, knocking a framed poster to the wall. Until that moment, we’d been able to hear nothing but ourselves and the cat. But then…

Then, as we caught our breath, we heard it clearly. Someone was playing a cello, playing it well, playing it loudly. Christy turned to face me. “The ghost,” she panted. “Let’s go.”

She practically leaped off of me, diving for a tattered terrycloth bathrobe on her floor. I threw on my jeans. Before I could put on anything else, Christy was out the door. I grabbed my shoes and shirt, and followed her, dressing as I went.

She was already at the door to the music building by the time I got my shoes fully on in the parking lot. She was rattling the door, but of course it was locked. I ran ahead and fumbled the keys out of my pocket. The cello was still in full force.

We had no difficulty at all following the music down into the basement, a disused portion of the building. Students rarely went down there, so there was rarely much for me to clean. Nine nights out of ten, I didn’t even bother checking it.

The music was emanating from a doorway at the end of a poorly lit hall. Christy reached the door first and had already opened it. She stood in the doorway as I arrived.

The musician was not a ghost. There, in a room perhaps five feet on a side, sat a middle-aged woman on a folding chair. Her head was thrown back, almost orgasmic, and she took no notice of us as her arms churned across the instrument. Her clothing lay in a neat pile on the floor next to her. Her body moved against and away from the cello as she played. I would have sworn until that moment that my sexual energy was spent for the evening, but the sight of the cellist playing was arousing me again.

Christy stood, transfixed, and I watched over her shoulder. We scarcely dared to breathe. Minutes passed and still the woman took no notice of us. She seemed so attuned to the cello that Christy and I could’ve yelled and she’d not have noticed us.

Christy turned to me and I saw that she was crying. “Go,” she whispered. “Just go.”

I backed out of the room and Christy followed, closing the door gently behind us. She looked at me again. “I told you to go. Get out. Go away,” she said. I hesitated.

“I really shouldn’t leave you in here.” Her eyes flashed.

“Get the fuck out,” she said.

I wanted to respond, but had no idea how. Instead, I turned away. At the end of the hallway, I looked back. Christy was lying in the corner of the hallway, tucked into a fetal position. I couldn’t hear her over the cello, but I could see from the movements of her back that she was sobbing.

I didn’t hear from Christy again for several months. I also didn’t hear the yowling of the cat or the playing of the cello. I started to hate the job. Even the mysteries of the sheet music no longer held my interest.

I tried to call Christy several times, but always got her answering machine. Sometimes, I’d leave a message, but I always knew she wouldn’t call back.

Finally, toward the end of the school year, she called. I was watching a movie with a girl I’d just started dating. I don’t even remember her name now.

“Hi,” Christy said.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Do you want to come over?”

“Yeah. I’d love to.”

“I don’t want to fuck, though. Is that okay?”

“That’s totally okay. I’ll be there soon.”

“Okay. Bye,” she said.

I hung up the phone and started putting on my jacket.

“Where are you going?” asked my date.

“I gotta go,” I said. I couldn’t think of any possible explanation that would satisfy her.

“Should I wait?” she asked.

“If you want to,” I said. “But I might be late. I’m really not sure.”

She nodded and I bent down, gave her a quick kiss. Within five minutes, I was knocking on Christy’s door.

The person who answered was not the Christy that I’d remembered. Gone was the day-glo green hair. Gone, too, was the inside-out nose ring. Gone, in fact, were just about all of the things that visually defined Christy. Instead, she’d let her hair return to its natural dishwater blonde color. She was wearing blue jeans and a university sweatshirt. In short, she looked like just about every other girl on campus.

“Hey, c’mon in,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, something else I’d never imagined her doing.

I took off my jacket and tossed it on her bed, as I’d always done before. No cat leaped away this time, though.

“Where’s your cat?” I asked.

“Huh? Oh. I don’t know. She’s probably at home.”


“Yeah. My dad’s house.”

“I thought she lived here.”

“No. She just always seems to show up whenever I’m going to have sex. Weird, huh?” She laughed a nervous laugh. She just didn’t seem at all like the person I’d seen two months earlier.

“So your dad lives nearby?”

“You didn’t know that?”


“Yeah. He’s a professor in the seminary here.”

I realized that I had never really known very much about Christy before. We’d never really talked about our personal lives at all. We rarely talked at all, in fact. When we did talk, it tended to be about philosophy or about a professor we had in common.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked. She smiled.

“That’s perfect, actually.” She motioned to the bed and then bounded to a chair by her desk. She sat in it Indian-style and looked at me for a minute or two as I settled on the bed. “There’s something I wanted to ask you.”

“Shoot,” I said.

She kept her eyes fastened on me until I was still. “Do you think I like myself?” she asked. I started to open my mouth, but she stopped me. “No, don’t answer right away. You’re not thinking about it. I want you to give me a well-considered answer.”

I closed my mouth and thought about it. Leave it to Christy to come up with the mental equivalent of “Do I look fat in this?” Did she like herself? Shit. My face must have registered my discomfort.

“Okay. Now you can answer.” Until then, she’d had her arms folded across her chest, assuming a defensive posture. Very slowly, she uncrossed her arms and laid them gently on the arms of the chair, hands gripping their ends.

I sighed. “No,” I said. “No, probably not.”

She puffed out her cheeks and blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes. “Why do you say that?”

“Shit, Christy. I don’t know. I don’t think people who are happy with themselves ask that kind of question.”

“Are you happy with yourself?” she asked.

“I really haven’t thought about it.”

“So you are,” she said.

I thought about it for a second. “Yeah. I guess as much as it’s possible to be, I’m happy with myself.”

She digested the information for a moment and then nodded. “Well, that just sucks. I mean, I’m happy for you, but that just doesn’t seem fair.”

“What about it doesn’t seem fair?”

She blew the wisp of hair from her eyes again. “You sleep around?”

She had a way of asking question that made me crease my brow. “Some.”

“Okay, that’s what’s not fair. Why is it that a guy who sleeps around is just sleeping around, but a girl who sleeps around probably has self-esteem issues?”

I gnawed on that one for a while. “It’s societal,” I said, finally.

“Damned right it’s societal. And it sucks.”

I smiled. For that one moment, she sounded like the Christy I remembered. “You’re right,” I said. “It sucks.”

She stuck the end of her thumb in her mouth and gnawed on the nail. “Do you know how much sex I’ve had since the last time I saw you?”

I coughed. “I haven’t heard the cat.”

“Exactly.” She laughed. “Damn, you’ve known every time I’ve had sex with someone else, haven’t you?”

“Yep,” I said.

She gnawed on the nail again. “Okay, here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. Guess how many guys I’ve had sex with more than once.”

I thought about it for a moment, doing mental gymnastics, trying to come up with some formula based on the numbers of times she’d likely had sex and guessing at when she’d lost her virginity.

“I’ll save you the trouble,” she said. “Ask me how many.”

“Okay,” I said. “How many guys have you had sex with more than once?”

She held up both fists. Very deliberately, she unclenched her index finger.

“One?” I asked. I didn’t believe her. She turned her hand so the finger was pointed at me and made the motion of a gun firing.

“You got it, bucko.”

“But that means…”

“Yep.” She accented the “p” sound. She seemed to enjoy watching me squirm.

“Why…” I couldn’t quite finish the question.

“Why you?” she finished it for me.

“Yeah. Why me?”

She sighed. “This is so pathetic.” She locked her eyes on mine. “You were the only guy who didn’t call me first.”


“Every other guy that I hunted down… before I had the chance to get horny again, they all called me. And I ripped all of ‘em new assholes. You didn’t call. I was all set to go out hunting one night and realized that you hadn’t called. So I called you.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Wow.” I leaned back on my elbows, looking at her.

“Know something else?” she asked.


“Almost every guy tried to make a relationship out of it. Some even told me they loved me. Can you believe that? We sleep together once, and they think they love me? What is that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe guys have a self-esteem thing, too.”

She thought about that for a minute. “But you like yourself.” She blew the wisp of hair from her eyes again.

“I guess so. Like I said, I don’t really think about it much. Maybe I’m avoiding thinking about it.”

“Maybe.” She nodded slowly. I didn’t want to pursue this direction of the conversation. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem to, either. I realized we were both picking at invisible lint on our clothes.

“Okay,” she said. “Here’s the deal. You want to stay tonight?” I must have hesitated too long or betrayed something in my expression. “Oh, shit,” she said. “You have somebody waiting for you, don’t you?”

“Sorta,” I said.

“Is it serious?” she asked. There wasn’t a hint of jealousy in her tone; she seemed genuinely interested.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t know.” She laughed. “But you left her to come see the psychotic chick that you occasionally screw. You’re an idiot, you know that?”

I laughed, too. “Yup,” I said. “That’s me. Idiot.”

She threw a pillow at me. “Go home, you dumbass.”

“Wait,” I said. “You want to know why I came?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

I puffed out my cheeks, blew the air out in a slow stream. “I didn’t think I’d get another chance to see you again.”

“Ah,” she said. She crossed her arms over her chest again.

I regarded her closely. “What happened that night?” I asked. “Who was that woman? You recognized her, didn’t you?”

“Shit,” she said. “I was afraid you’d ask.”


“And… I don’t want to talk about it. Yet.”

“Yet?” I asked.

“Right,” she said.

“Meaning you’re not going to disappear again.”

“Right,” she said.

I scanned her features until I was satisfied that she was telling the truth. She’d grabbed another pillow and was hugging it to her body. She returned my gaze openly, though. I could see it took some effort.

“Okay,” I said.

She breathed a huge sigh of relief and her face lit up. “Yay!” she said, and bounded across the room to the bed. She flopped herself down next to me. We lay next to each other, staring at the ceiling. We didn’t say anything for several minutes. Every now and then, we’d turn to look at each other. We were both smiling. Finally, she propped herself up on one elbow.

“Okay,” she said. “You need to go home. But… I want to see you tomorrow. Okay?”

I thought about it for a second, then shook my head.

“No?” she asked. The smile was gone. I shook my head again. “You don’t want to see me tomorrow?”

“I do want to see you tomorrow,” I said.

“But?” she asked.

“But nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow. But if it’s okay, I’d rather stay here tonight. What’s at home isn’t important right now.”

She processed the information. “Dumbass. She’s going to dump you.”


“And?” she asked.

“And that’s fine. If it’s okay with you, I’d rather lie here staring at your ceiling, catching you smiling at me than go home and explain where I went.”

“Dumbass,” she said. But she was smiling again.

We lay there on her bed for a while, just staring at the ceiling and smiling, even giggling occasionally. Every now and then, I’d turn and look at her and see that she was still smiling. I’d never seen her smile quite like that before, without a hint either of derision or lust. Other times, as I stared at the ceiling, smiling myself, I’d feel her eyes on me. One such time, I turned to meet her gaze.

“Know what?” she said.


“We’ve never just kissed. Kissed for the sake of kissing.”

“No,” I said. “We haven’t.” Our smiles turned more serious, then, and we moved toward one another. We kissed.

In describing our sex, I realize now that I haven’t been exactly shy, but there was something about that night that I have difficulty sharing, even now. It was probably the best kiss of my life. We didn’t cram our tongues down each other’s throats. We used tongues, yes, but far more gently than that. Our mouths weren’t wide open, plastered to each other, devouring each other. It was… I want to say exploratory, but that suggests that a goal beyond it was in mind. Tentative is another word that comes to mind, but it wasn’t exactly that, either.

The kiss lasted a very long time. I caressed the curves of her face, sometimes letting my hand go to her neck, but never any lower. Our sense of touch were both very involved in the kiss, learning one another’s faces better than we’d known them through months of sex. I don’t know if I’d been in love with Christy before that night. I know that I was completely in love with her at that moment, though. At least some small part of me has been in love with her ever since. The kiss, at risk of sounding like a Harlequin writer, held that kind of promise.

I won’t lie and say that I was never aroused. I was frighteningly aware of my arousal. I felt, though, that Christy had set the parameters for the evening during the phone call and then again during the invitation to kiss. When at last we broke the kiss, we lay with our foreheads touching, our hands on one another’s cheeks. We didn’t speak for several minutes, our eyes traveling over our faces.

“Christy?” I said, finally.

“Yes?” she said. I started to speak again, but she stopped me, seeming to suddenly wake up. “Wait,” she said. “Don’t say it. I’ll believe you if you say it and I don’t quite want to believe it yet.”

“Not saying it doesn’t change it.”

“I know,” she said. “Just don’t. Don’t say it. Not yet. Okay?”

I thought about it. Every bit of me wanted to tell her I loved her. I’d never said it to anyone before and meant it. I’d thought I’d meant it before, but suddenly realized it had always been some form of lust. It felt like a monstrous defeat not to be able to tell her, but I had the horrible feeling that if I did, she’d run away again. And this time, she wouldn’t invite me back. “Okay,” I said.

She smiled. “Thank you.” She could see that it hurt me not to tell her. “Maybe tomorrow. Okay?”

I smiled back. “Maybe tomorrow.”

She beamed. She started to say something, then caught herself. She laughed.

“What?” I said.

“Damn it. I almost said it.”

I beamed. “So,” I said. “What’s tomorrow?”

“How much of my tomorrow do you want?”

“As much as I can have.”

She laughed again. “Dumbass,” she said. “Okay, tell you what. Why don’t I tell you what my tomorrow is, and you can tell me which parts you want. Deal?”

“Deal,” I said.

“Okay. Sundays are my favorite days. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.”

“Nope. Tell me about your Sundays.” I settled back a little from her, resting my head again on my hand.

“Get up. Breakfast. Sunday crossword.”

“Okay,” I said. “You can have the crossword if I can have the funnies.”

She laughed again. “You call them the funnies?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Although they almost never make me laugh anymore. When I was a kid, they were all funny.” My brow creased. “How odd.”


“I don’t think I ever really realized that the comics don’t make me laugh anymore. Just sort of occurred to me now.”

“Ziggy just doesn’t do it for you anymore?” she teased.

“Ziggy sucks,” I replied, and found myself smiling again.

“Okay, enough of the Sunday paper. After breakfast, shower.”

“I like that.”

“Alone,” she said.

“Okay. Alone. Next?”




“Huh. I wouldn’t have guessed that.” Church absolutely did not fit my image of Christy.

“Any given Sunday. I never miss church on Sundays unless I’m too sick to get out of bed.”

“Okay. Church,” I said. “Then what?”

“Usually, I study, but the middle part of the day there’s no set routine. I don’t have anything planned for tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay. Let me think about the afternoon. I’ll come up with something.”

“Nothing sexual,” she said.

“Okay. Sunday afternoon, something together, no sex. Got it. Sunday evening?”

“Dinner at my dad’s house.”

“Ah. So I get you through the afternoon, then?”

“You don’t want to have dinner?” she asked.

“You want me to go to dinner at your dad’s house?” I was surprised.

“Actually, that’s the one part of the day I was most hoping you’d join me.”

“Wow,” I said. “I figured… I mean, I just sort of assumed you wouldn’t want me at your dad’s house. I thought it’d be weird.”

She laughed. “It will be weird. But I want… well… is it okay if I don’t tell you why I really want you there?”

“Why does that sound ominous? You’re not going to tell him you’re dropping out of school or that you’re a lesbian or something, are you?”

“Shit,” she said. “For a dumbass, you’re too smart.”

“You’re a lesbian?” I joked.

“No, you dumbass. I do want to take some time off from school. Not actually drop out, but… that is something I want to tell him tomorrow.”

“And you want me there? He’s going to think it’s my fault.”

“Well, that’s still not the reason I really want you there.” She started gnawing on one of her fingernails.

“Then what?” I asked.

“I really want to wait to tell you that.” She must not have liked the look on my face. “It’s nothing bad. Please?”

If she gnawed on the fingernail much longer, she’d have bled. “Okay,” I said. “But I don’t like it.”

“I know. I wouldn’t like it, either. Thank you,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “So, dinner. After that?”

“Nothing planned. But if we don’t study in the afternoon, I should really study tomorrow night.”

“Gotcha,” I said.

“So which parts do you want?”

I grinned. “I’ll take ‘em all.”

“Even church?” she asked.

“Especially church. You in church I have to see.”

She laughed again. “It’s really not that exciting.”

“I still want to see it. The girl who wears a cross inside her nose going to church.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are such a dumbass.” I tickled her. “Stop it. I already have to pee.” I stopped tickling. She caught her breath, and started to speak, then stopped.

“You caught yourself about to say it again, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Pretty smart for a dumbass.” She grinned at me again, then leapt from the bed. She retrieved her toiletries and headed for the bathroom. I knew what she’d been about to say because in that moment, I’d caught myself wanting to say it, too. I didn’t know it then, but we were in that phase when every single thing your lover does or says is a delight. I wanted to run to the roof of her dorm and shout across campus how I felt about her.

While she was out, I stripped down to my underwear and climbed under the covers. When she came back in, I was staring at the ceiling again, grinning like an idiot. Her face was red from scrubbing. It made the blue of her eyes stand out. She reached under her sweatshirt and removed her bra, then kicked off her jeans. Like me, she was wearing men’s boxers.

From the doorway, she said, “Good night, dumbass,” and flipped the light switch.

“Good night, John-boy,” I replied. She padded across the tile and wormed her way under the covers. She gave me a quick peck on the nose and then turned away from me, sliding into the curve of my body. We lay like spoons until I heard her breathing deepen. I kissed the back of her head and mouthed the words, “I love you.” Despite her hair tickling my nose, it wasn’t long before I fell asleep.

I have found over the years that there is at least one moment of potentially excruciating embarrassment in every relationship. Such a moment happened that night. Nestled against Christy, sleeping together chastely for the first time, I had a wet dream. The suddenness of it bolted me awake, and I snuck from the bed. I stubbed my toe in the unfamiliar dark, but eventually found her dresser. Working by feel, I found another pair of men’s boxers in one of the drawers and slid them on. They were tight, but just made it over my hips.

I felt my way back to the bed, banging the big toe on my other foot this time. Christy stirred, but didn’t wake. At the bed, I stuffed my own now sticky boxers between the mattress and the box springs and slid back between the sheets.

Sunlight through the window woke me before her. I lay in the bed lazily, enjoying the sensation of waking up next to the girl I loved. Everything in my life felt perfect. I stayed perfectly still, watching the early rays playing across her sleep-tousled hair, listening to her soft snore. Before long, I fell back to sleep.

When I awoke again, it was to the sound of the door shutting. She was just coming in, bearing a Sunday Times and a bag and drink carrier from McDonald’s. “I hope you didn’t have any big expectations about breakfast in bed,” she said. “Sausage McMuffin okay?”

“Perfect,” I said. She tossed me the bag and the paper.

“How do you take your coffee?” she asked.

“Lots of cream, no sugar.” I pulled the food from the bag, two McMuffins and two hash browns. After she’d finished putting three creams in my coffee, she returned to the bed and handed it to me, setting her own black coffee on the nightstand next to her.

She then went to her closet and grabbed a robe. She whisked off everything but the boxers and put the robe on and then got back into bed beside me.

“Gimme,” she said. I handed her a McMuffin and a hash brown. She wolfed down the hash brown immediately. “You know I hate the corporate greed of McDonald’s,” she said, “but damned if their hash browns aren’t the best thing in the world on a Sunday morning.”

I raised my coffee cup. “To greedy corporate hash browns,” I said.

“Amen to that.” She gulped down half of her coffee and made a face. “Too bad their coffee sucks.” She did a little scooting dance with her butt then, settling into the perfect sitting position. “Now where’s my crossword?”

I leafed through the paper and handed her the appropriate section, then found the comics for myself. I read in silence as she moved the pen rapidly across the squares. “Ziggy still sucks,” I said. She held up her hand to me, palm out.

“No talking during crossword. It’s the law.”

I finished the comics and silence and rooted out the Sports page. Reading through the box scores, I was amazed by how many names I didn’t recognize. Had I really stopped paying attention once I’d hit college?

By the time I’d finished reading the sports, she’d finished the crossword. She looked over at her clock. “Thirty-two minutes. I’m slowing down.”

“Show-off,” I said. She kissed me on the nose again.

“Church starts in about an hour. Let me get you some soap and stuff for the shower.”

“Am I going to be okay dressed in jeans?” I asked.

“Yep,” she replied. “It’s casual. But you still need a shower. You’ve got serious bedhead.”

She rummaged around in her closet and brought me a bucket with soap and shampoo in it. She grabbed a towel from over the radiator and tossed it to me. Then she grabbed her own toiletries and headed to the women’s bathroom.

I got out of bed and stretched. I hadn’t noticed, lying in bed that morning, how tight the boxers were. Stretching, I noticed. Looking down, I saw that, although they were boxers, they’d been made specifically for women. The words “Riot Grrrl” were printed all over them. I quickly stripped them off and wrapped the towel around my waist. I tossed them into a pile of laundry on her closet floor and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

It had been a while since I’d showered in an unfamiliar dorm. When sleeping with Christy previously, I’d always headed home after waking up and showered there. Walking down hallways past the doors of people I didn’t know, wrapped in a towel always gave me an awkward feeling. On that morning, I had to step over one impromptu poker game, three guys and a girl. The girl wolf-whistled as I passed. I resisted the temptation to flash her, but made sure to drip on the cards coming back.

When I reached the room, Christy was already dressed. I flipped the towel at her. She whistled, too. For her, I had a smile. I grabbed my jeans from the floor and put them on sans boxers.

“Ooh. Commando,” she said. “Aren’t you forgetting these?” She held my semen-stained boxers, dangling from her finger. I blushed furiously and grabbed them from her. “Aw, can’t I keep them to get me through lonely nights when you’re working?” I held them in my hand for a moment and then tossed them back to her.

“Shouldn’t you be thinking of something else before going to church?” I asked.

“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed,” she replied, and tucked the stained boxers in her underwear drawer. “And I really hope you were thinking about me when you did that.”

“Actually, I was thinking of Mother Theresa,” I said as I tied my shoes. “Can we go now?”

“Yep,” she said. “Let’s go. But I have to tell you. I’m seriously rethinking that ‘no sex’ thing I said about this afternoon.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the hall. Once in the hall, she pulled me into a deep, long kiss and pulled the door closed behind me. Something about the action made me feel as if I’d assumed the female role in the relationship.

We walked to the church hand in hand. It felt right. I don’t think I’d held hands so deliberately since high school. It was an unseasonably warm day, one that tricked birds into returning north too soon. It felt like Spring, like everything in nature was going to start fornicating at the whisper of a breeze. And we were going to church.

The church was about a mile off campus, a long enough walk to exchange stupid jokes and grin like idiots a lot. Between the smell of the air and the still new realization of love, it was all I could do not to throw her down in the grass and go at it.

The church was fairly modest, a Methodist structure built in the 1940’s. At its construction, it probably served mostly housewives praying for the safe returns of their husbands. Over the years, the congregation had evolved into an interesting mix of townies and students. Many of the people we saw greeted Christy by name.

Inside, we found our way to the middle of a pew toward the front, perhaps five rows back. The minister delivering the sermon looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. He was perhaps fifty years old. He stood about 5’8”, was balding and wore glasses at the tip of his nose that he removed from time to time.

The sermon he delivered was about Lot’s wife. I barely caught any of his meaning. Rather, I was completely wrapped up in his bearing as he spoke. He seemed unbearably sad. I’m not unusually empathetic, but I found myself wanting to cry for this man as he discussed a woman who couldn’t bear to leave her past behind and died for it.

Occasionally, as the sermon progressed, I was aware of Christy’s hand on my thigh, digging in as a specific point made an impact on her. I looked at her at those times, but her face was unreadable, focused completely on the minister.

It wasn’t until perhaps 45 minutes into the sermon that I began to notice a resemblance between Christy and the man speaking to us. At first, I thought that was why I thought the minister looked familiar, but I quickly realized that wasn’t it. I’d seen him somewhere else before. I was almost sure of it.

The resemblance between the two picked at me, though. Finally, after Christy had squeezed my thigh again, I leaned over and whispered into her ear. “Is that your father?”

She just shot me a look as if to say, “Duh.” She’d told me she was a preacher’s kid. Why I hadn’t made the connection, I have no idea.

When the sermon ended, we all filed out as usual, but I found my palms getting sweaty in anticipation of talking to her father as he shook hands with his parishioners. When we reached him, Christy made no motion to introduce me. I stuck out my hand and thanked him for the sermon. He held my hand a bit longer than the other parishioners and looked over at Christy. She was stony-faced.

“See you tonight, Dad,” she said. “Set an extra plate.”

He nodded once again to me and gave Christy a kiss on the cheek. “See you tonight,” he said to her, and then turned to the next parishioner in line.

Once we’d gotten a reasonable distance from the church, Christy turned to me. “Thanks for coming with me,” she said.

“I enjoyed it,” I replied.

She took a step back and looked at me. “Really?”

“Yeah. It’s like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. That just gave me another piece. I have no idea how it fits yet, but it’s good to have the piece.”

She shook her head, bemused. “You’re weird. You know that?”

I smiled. “I’ve been called worse.”

“So what now?” she asked. “Afternoon was your part of the day.”

“I want to go back to my apartment and put on some clean clothes. Then maybe some lunch. Cool?”

“Cool.” She slid her hand back into mine and we walked back toward campus, bumping hips, generally being idiots.

I lived in the basement unit of a house that had been converted into apartments. It was fairly small: a bedroom, a closet, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom. My bedroom doubled as my living room. The television and my computer were both in there.

When we entered the apartment, everything seemed to be in its usual place. I pulled a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt out of the closet and pairs of boxers and socks from my dresser. Christy flipped on the television and started laughing.

“Looks like someone has a very high opinion of you,” she said. Written in lipstick across the TV screen was the word “ASSHOLE.”

“Shit,” I said. “I totally forgot I left her here last night.” I grabbed a pair of boxers from the pile of laundry on my closet floor and wiped the screen clean. Looking down at the boxers, I grinned. “I always wanted to have lipstick stains on my underwear.”

Christy laughed. “Thanks. Now I can see Doug Lewellyn properly.” I rolled my eyes and stripped off the shirt I’d worn the previous day. “Hey,” Christy said. “Have you ever thought about me when you’ve masturbated?”

I stood with the clean sweatshirt held over my head for a second, thinking about it. Pulling it on, I responded. “Honestly?”


“I almost always look at porn when I masturbate. So no, I don’t think I have.”

“So last time was the first time you ever came thinking about me that we weren’t actually having sex?”

“Yeah.” I unbuttoned my jean and was starting to unzip them while she considered this.

“Can I watch you masturbate?” she asked.

“What?” I stopped unzipping.

“I’ve never seen a guy make himself come.”

“I thought you said nothing sexual for this afternoon,” I said.

“Well, we’re not going to fuck. I’m leaving my clothes on,” she replied. “I just want to watch you. Please?” She said the “please” like a five-year-old asking for candy.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never masturbated in front of anyone before. I might get stage fright.”

“Please?” she whined again.

“I usually have something to look at.”

“You can look at me,” she said. “I want you to look at me.”

“But you’re not taking your clothes off.”

She thought about this for a few seconds. “How about if I describe something to you while you do it? Would that work?”

It was my turn to consider it. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. What did you have in mind?”

“Take off your clothes and lie on the bed,” she said. “I’ll sit over here.” She got up and moved to the one chair in the room. I hesitated. “Pretty please?”

I heaved a sigh and finished unzipping my jeans, then pulled them to the floor. The fresh sweatshirt soon followed. Walking to the bed, I noticed that I was starting to get hard. Stage fright probably wouldn’t be a factor. I lay down on the bed, propping myself on pillows to look at Christy. She licked her lips. I folded the fingers of my right hand around my penis and started gently stroking. She wriggled in her chair.

“Ooh, this is fun,” she said. “Okay.” She composed her features and looked at me seriously. “I’ve just come over and we haven’t seen each other for a week. I’ve been thinking of you all the way over from the dorm and I’m totally wet. As soon as you open the door, I give you a really wet, deep kiss. My hands are opening up your jeans. Your hands start to go under my shirt, but I stop you. I want to tease myself, make my excitement really last. So I pull away from you. I put my hands in your waistband and pull your jeans to the floor, dropping to my knees. Your cock is huge. You’ve been thinking about me, too.”

“Oh, Christy,” I moaned as I continued to stroke myself. Her concentration wavered.

“Do you usually make any noise when you masturbate?” she asked.

“I guess not,” I replied, frowning.

“Then don’t. I want you to do it just like you usually would, except you’re thinking about me instead of using porn. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said. My breathing was already starting to become ragged.

“I cup your balls in my hand, trailing my nails backward almost to your ass. I lean forward and gently kiss the tip of your cock. I feel you tremble.” On the bed, I did tremble at precisely that moment. “I gently lick the slit, tasting your pre-cum.” Her eyes were locked on my penis and I’m sure she saw the pre-cum already glistening there. “Slowly, my lips open and slide over the head of your cock. My tongue is rotating around its perimeter. I can feel it pulsing against my lips. I wrap my lips tighter around your head and suck as hard as I can, hollowing out my cheeks. My teeth press lightly into the tender flesh just underneath the head.”


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