Group SexThe Last Laugh
Bess was taking a shower. I let her go first. The truth is she always took longer to get ready than I did. We had a double date that evening. She was bringing her man Rick and I was bringing some guy whose name I honestly can't remember anymore. This was going to be my third outing with him after having known each other for more than two months. He had cancelled on me more times than we had actually gotten together and I hoped that if I made a big deal out of this get-together, by including Bess and Rick, he would be more inclined to show up.
Mostly, I was excited to be going out with Bess. We had been roommates for almost a year and had proven to not only get along very well, but truly enjoy each other's company. There had been more than a few evenings spent finishing a bottle of wine while trading stories about ex-boyfriends. When we first met, neither of us were seeing anyone. Being single was a condition we could bond over. Looking back, I'm amazed that Bess was ever single. Her occupation as a fitness instructor kept her body firm and curved, which made for an irresistible combination with her cherubic face and the wild curls of her hair. She put a lot of effort into teasing that hair of hers to get the right effect. It was all part of the regimen that made her take so long to get ready.
I had been sitting in the living room just half-watching television and half-reading a magazine. No time to commit to anything. I was paying far more attention to the sound of the running shower down the hall. As soon as it stopped, that was my cue. I was still dressed in my waitress uniform, which had become something of a second skin. My own self-image had become married to that costume. Tonight, I wanted to divorce it altogether and slip on one of those dresses I bought once upon a time when I had plans. Not long-term plans, but plans nevertheless. Big or small, God always found a way to laugh at them. So far that evening I hadn't heard even so much as a giggle out of him. Little did I know we hadn't gotten to the punch line yet.
Seized with impatience, I kicked off my tennis shoes, without even undoing the laces, and hopped up from the couch, unbuttoning my blouse along the way to my room. The odor of greasy food, coffee and cigarettes, which I only ever noticed after I left work, infected my entire outfit, even my hair, so I was looking forward to this shower. Then again, when did I not look forward to a shower? Some days it was the only thing to look forward to. On these occasions, I did take longer than Bess. It's not that I would make more of an effort to get clean. The sensation of the hot water flowing over my body could unexpectedly give me chills.
To describe it as a thousand hands caressing me would have been inaccurate, but it might have been close. It was more like an all-encompassing presence that had no physical limitations whatsoever. Nor did this spirit rely on me to do the work. All I did was stand perfectly still below the continuous stream, until the heat within me exceeded the heat of the water, at which point I would have trouble standing still, and usually I ended up on my hands and knees trying to catch my breath. This had been the extent of my love life for longer than I cared to admit.
Tonight, however, there wasn't any time for that. With any luck, I was going to have some fun with. . .whatever his name was. Shutting the door to my room as I came in, I turned to the long mirror hanging on the back of it. I finally got my clothes off and evaluated the reflection of my naked body.
"Am I pretty?" I asked myself. The haggard 28 year-old in the mirror just winced at the question. I wasn't overweight. Actually, I was pretty thin. But I had no definition, so to speak. I really didn't recognize myself. The meaning of who I was had been lost. Every morning before I went to work, I would look in this same mirror to put on make-up, fix my hair, straighten my uniform, but I never saw myself. I had stopped looking a long time ago. Who I was had become a problem to solve and it was a lot easier to disregard the issue entirely than confront it, which I found myself doing this particular evening. I had to reclaim myself, piece by piece.
"Are those my eyes?" I asked.
"Yes," answered my reflection.
"Are those my lips?"
"Is that my nose?"
"Is that my hair?"
"Are those my ears?"
"Is that my neck?"
"Are those my shoulders?"
"Are those my breasts?"
"Are those my arms?"
"Is that my stomach?"
"Are those my hands?"
"Is that my. . ." I stopped short, suddenly at a loss for the patch of hair below my waist. Of course, that is what I could see in the mirror. It's what I couldn't see from this angle that I was struggling to find a name for. All the men I had ever been with had names for it. Usually it was the same thing, lacking imagination, as if they had all gotten together and agreed that this orifice on my body reminded them of a feline. I suppose it was better than some other names. It felt weird to say any of them to describe a part of myself.
I turned my eyes away from that area and looked at my legs. The very thought of asking if they were mine suddenly felt exhausting. I looked back up to face myself.
"Who is this?"
My reflection simply stared back as if to say, "You tell me."
Without dwelling any further on these questions, I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around me before I stepped back into the hallway. I didn't hear the shower running anymore, so at least I didn't feel intrusive as I gently knocked three times on the bathroom door. Bess probably didn't hear me, but she certainly didn't answer. So, I knocked three more times, perhaps a little more insistently. Didn't want to be pushy. Bess could be pushy. On the rare occasion that I made it into the shower before her, she would skip knocking on the door and barge right in to yank on the shower curtain after only a few minutes. When she still didn't answer after politely knocking twice, I couldn't feel too guilty about barging in myself to see what she was up to.
Immediately, I hit a wall of steam as I stepped inside. Clearly, Bess had taken an extremely hot shower and I started to worry that I may be stuck with nothing but cold water for mine. Feeling as if I was walking out onto a pier through a dense fog, I was finally able to make out her naked figure at the other end of the bathroom. It was a spacious bathroom, but filled with mist, the distance between me and her appeared to be even greater than it was. She was standing at the sink with her back to me, shaking her head from side to side at a rhythmic pace. The rest of her glistening body, still damp from the moisture in the air, moved accordingly with each metronomic tick. Her hips swayed, her heels alternately lifted and fell, and various portions of her musculature took turns with the tension.
Of course, Bess was listening to her Walkman. I noticed the headphones over her wet hair, slicked back straight down to her spine. As I came closer, my eyes studied the tiny rivulets flowing across the arch of her back, emptying into the crevice between her rear end cheeks. The light from over the sink shown through her legs, illuminating the lush garden adorning that place I still had no name for. I had become an explorer, carried to the edge of an untamed world that I had never seen on any map. Oddly enough, it was a mystery that was as much mine as it was hers, and I began to wonder if I was unwittingly coming home as I found myself comforted by it all. Like drums in the jungle, a faint but steady hum emerged from this otherwise silent world. But instead of calling me inward, it returned me to the matter at hand when I realized it was just "Bessie's Awesome Mix Tape."
I tapped her on the shoulder.
She jumped and almost dropped her Walkman as she spun around.
"What's wrong?" Bess shouted unnecessarily due to the volume of the music.
"Nothing!" I shouted back.
Bess took a deep breath and turned down the volume. "What do you need?"
"Can I use the shower now?" I asked almost laughing.
"Well, I'm not using it am I?" she answered with annoyance.
"You might want to save the dancing for later," I suggested as I stole another glance at her physique. Bess had small breasts. Hers truly were tits, sharp and pointed. One night, a few months before, she described to me how men loved sucking on them and that if they had previously preferred big boobs, one night with her would change their opinion. My breasts weren't particularly big or small. They had a nice shape to them, but they didn't command attention like Bessie's did. "Aren't we still going to the club tonight?" I asked rhetorically.
"Sure, we are!" she screamed, this time intentionally. "I'm just getting warmed up," she continued. "Besides, Rick only likes to dance the slow songs. I gotta shake when I can!"
Bess had a way of being goofy. It still didn't make her any less appealing. To me or to any man. She puckered her lips like Mick Jagger, clutched the Walkman with both hands and turned the volume way back up as she bounced around to face the mirror over the sink once again.
I had seen Bessie naked before. Many times, in fact. She thought nothing of walking through the apartment without any clothes on. Not for any extended period, of course. For her, it was just us girls and what did it matter? I was not so confident. I couldn't help but feel as if I were making advances of some kind if I had ever been so blatantly exposed in front of her. Only rarely did I stop to ponder why I would be so afraid of doing something that supposedly I would never do with any woman.
This question came to me again as I carefully took off the towel covering my torso. I was hanging the towel up when I caught Bessie's reflection in the mirror. Still bopping to the beat, she was unexpectedly looking right at me. Perhaps even more unexpectedly, I didn't look away until a sly grin came over Bessie's face, as if she knew what I was thinking. That's when I took refuge in the shower, drawing the curtain as fast as I could. Here I could deliberate a while and decide if my imagination was to blame for these suspicions. I could also take a shower. Finally.
And it was a cold one. I turned the knob on the wall all the way to the left and it still felt like being sprayed with frigid ice pellets. At least it took my mind off things. It forced me to act fast, rubbing the shampoo in my hair and rinsing it out in record time. As I lathered my body up with a bar of soap, I didn't even feel tempted to tease myself like I normally do. It was a waste of time. This was a shower without pity, forcing me to cleanse my mind as much as anything else. I needed to forget who I thought I was in order to discover who I may become.
Hoping all my fear, shame, and regret was being lost down the drain, I reached for the knob to turn the water off, not because I lacked resistance to the cold water, but rather that maybe I now had a thicker skin than before. I pulled the shower curtain open, like a diva ready to face her adoring fans, only to find I had had no audience. Bessie had apparently evaporated with the steam and was no longer in the bathroom. The only proof she was still a physical being was that she had taken the time to shut the door when she left. It still wasn't enough to muffle the sound of her hair dryer coming all the way from her bedroom. She was already deep into her preparation ritual.
As I began to dry my hair with a towel, I allowed myself to dwell for a moment on how I never put as much effort into my appearance as Bess did. For any occasion. I never felt I was worth it. The evening ahead of me was supposed to be special. I debated shaving my legs, but I could get away with being a little prickly. At least I had a great dress. It was simple, yet flattering, as they say. I could only imagine what sort of wild outfit Bess was planning to wear. No doubt, she had some crazy jewelry to match. Whatever the fashion, she always wore it assuredly. This is what occupied me as I returned to my room to "prepare" as well. Soon enough, without quite knowing how I got there, I found myself sitting on the couch again, albeit dressed for my date, half-watching television and half-reading a magazine. Half-living life.
Engrossed in celebrity gossip to the point of being almost numb, the alarming sound of the intercom buzzer by the front door barely pierced my self-induced coma. Somebody was here, either my date or Bessie's man, Rick. Neither possibility excited me at this point. But I couldn't leave whoever it was standing outside. I went to the intercom and pressed the "talk" button.
"Uh, hi," said a male voice through the intercom. Even then I couldn't identify the voice of my date.
"Who is this?" I asked.
"Oh, it's me!" he excitedly confirmed. "Is this-?"
Before he could finish, I pressed the "door" button to let him in, dreading the fact that I would have to make small talk until Bess was finished primping. The enthusiasm expressed by the voice suggested it wasn't my date. I had never met Rick before. All I knew about him was that he was good at keeping Bess up at night. The few times he came over, it was after I had gone to bed. But I would be wide awake after hearing Bessie's bed slamming against the wall that separated our rooms. At first it was annoying. Bad enough not to be getting any sleep, but to be simultaneously reminded of not getting any sex was painful. There was no way to drown out the noise, as loud as they were. I had no choice but to listen. Rick kept pretty quiet for the most part. Didn't usually hear him until the very end. Naturally. But Bess would make these sounds that contradicted every possible orgasmic moan I could imagine. Were these distress calls?
It is this question which changed my reaction to their nocturnal activities. Suddenly I became concerned. I couldn't lie down anymore, I had to sit up and ready myself for action. My failure to intervene constantly made me feel guilty, but it got to a point where I didn't want it to end. I would stare at the blank wall, trying to imagine what Rick was doing to her on the other side, wanting to share the experience. Somehow, not seeing what sort of compromising position they were in, or what Rick even looked like, made it more vivid to my other senses, and it didn't take much effort on my part to be overcome by an ecstasy that was equally agonizing as I would shove my face into a pillow to muffle the lamenting release. If they were to hear me, my participation may not be so welcome.
I was in denial. As I heard him knock on the door, my attempt at acting disinterested in finally meeting Rick failed completely and now I simply had to maintain composure and not appear too excited. No matter what, the idea of carrying on a conversation wasn't something to look forward to. I was bound to give myself away.
So, I opened the door, trying to project boredom.
Rick wasn't at all what I expected. I had pictured a rock star of sorts with long hair, muscle bound physique, leather jacket, torn jeans, and cowboy boots, maybe. If not a rock star, then someone who wanted to be a rock star. Instead, I was confronted with a guy in a corduroy suit and penny loafers. He wasn't muscular, but at least he wasn't puny. He could stand to attend one of Bessie's work out sessions to let off some of his paunch.
All I could think of was asking him what his bedroom secrets were. Perhaps I could do them to myself. After all, I can't expect to listen to him and Bessie for the rest of my life. But I started to doubt if he would even have any answers for me. We shared an uncomfortable silence while exchanging puzzled looks. He appeared as if he may have had more questions for me than I had for him.
"Hey. . .there," he said, looking back down the hallway as if he was beginning to think he had come to the wrong place.
"Hi." At this point I was just trying to act as if we had met already. Perhaps all the "getting to know you" chit chat could be avoided.
"Are you. . .Linda?" Was he expecting a prize for getting my name correct?
"Yes, and you are Rick. . .I'm afraid."
"Oh, no need to be afraid," he said with a fearful laugh. Again, he looked back down the hallway, planning his escape. He dared not enter unless invited.
"Do you want to come in?" This may have been the only instance in my life where that question was not meant to be rhetorical.
"Why not?" Rick summoned enough courage to cross the threshold into the apartment. I closed the door after him and he spun his head around fast, as if realizing he was suddenly trapped.
"Can I get you something to drink?" This was a question that came naturally to me as a waitress.
"Uh. . .yeah. Sure." He didn't seem sure. Was he expecting me to poison him?
"I'll get you a beer." Unlike working at the diner, I didn't have to wait for him to make up his mind.
"A beer's good. Yeah. A beer." It almost seemed he was trying to convince me that he knew what a beer was. I had my doubts.
Daring to leave him alone for a moment, I stepped into the kitchen and went to the fridge. There were a couple bottles of Bud left. I didn't even like beer, still don't. But I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a drink to keep me occupied while I kept Rick occupied.
Returning to the living room, I found Rick standing exactly where I left him, as if I had forbidden him to move. I handed him a beer and he slowly exhaled with relief.
"Thanks," he said with his last breath before tilting back his head and emptying the entire bottle down his throat. I was about to take a sip myself, but I had to stop so I could behold this natural wonder. Or circus freak. Now I really did need a drink. I took a slug and suggested we have a seat on the couch.
After a solid minute of silence, it became clear that he wasn't much for talking. Apparently anxious about something, he relegated himself to fondling the empty beer bottle in his lap. Was he nervous about tonight's date? He should have been over the butterflies by now. Which made me think of a question to ask him.
"Is it true you only like to dance the slow songs?"
"Bess told me that when you guys go out dancing, you never dance the fast songs."
"Yeah. No. I don't."
"I'm just not that. . .physical."
"But that's, like, Bessie's favorite thing to do."
"Well, it's not like I'm stopping her. She always finds another partner. Sometimes it's another guy, sometimes it's another girl. Truth be told, I like watching her dance more than I like dancing with her."
Now I really started to wonder if this could possibly be the same man that gave Bess such immeasurable pleasure. In fact, I started to suspect he and I may be kindred spirits.
"But, at the end of the night," he continued, "she does come home with me. Or, I go home with her, whichever. I don't feel like she needs to belong to me, but I do belong to her. It's good to belong." I couldn't agree more. To belong was not a state of being I was terribly familiar with.
"I see you two are getting to know each other." Rick and I turned around to see Bess standing over us, like a beast who had trapped its prey. She was wearing a pink tank top and black miniskirt, which was strikingly simple. With a collection of various bracelets adorning each of her wrists and a pair of elaborate earrings dangling from her lobes, she managed to carry it all while undoubtedly balancing herself on stiletto heels that I knew she had on, even if I couldn't see them.
And then the phone rang.
We all just looked at the phone as it rang three times. I was fairly sure I knew who was calling, but I didn't want to talk to him anymore. Didn't want to hear another empty promise of how he'll make it up to me and we'll do something next weekend for sure.
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