Last time I saw her, she was seventeen, unwashed, and covered in hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans. Now her jeans fit delightfully, her long-sleeved T-shirt showed off her voluptuous, athletic figure, and she cleaned up remarkably well. At twenty-seven, she looked like a woman.
She squinted around my apartment. “Anything to drink around here?” she asked.
“As a matter of fact, there is,” I replied and directed her to the kitchen, where I showed her a bottle of vodka. “We have potatoes.” I held up some gin. “We have juniper berries.” Waving at my collection of scotch, whiskey, and bourbon, I told her, “We have various grains. And finally…” I indicated the tequila; “whatever the hell this is about. Worms or something.”
“I’ll take the worms.”
“Of course you will.”
Between us, we exchanged a half-dozen shots, three joints, and a mea culpa or two. With all of this behind us, she said at last, “I’m exhausted. Where am I supposed to sleep?”
“You’re tired?” I asked.
“This has been a hell of a day,” she replied.
I sighed and pointed. “There’s a lumpy mattress in my room right over there.”
“Where are you supposed to sleep?”
“On the same lumpy mattress.”
“Interesting.” She strolled down the hall, shaking her hair out of its clip and pulling her shirt over her head. As she reached back to unhook the clasps on her bra, she peered over her shoulder and purred, “Don’t look now.”
I turned my wide-eyed, bewildered attention to the liquor. “Um,” I said and poured myself a shot out of the closest bottle without looking at it. I gagged. It was the gin.
“Coming to bed?” she shouted.
Since I’d known her, she’d been constantly careening through various moods and identities. Adapting to these had become a routine for me–a jarring, sometimes terrifying routine, but a routine nonetheless. Clearly I’d fallen out of the habit, because I had no idea what to do with the seductress currently in my room.
After blessing myself with the sign of the cross, I inhaled and peeked around the corner. She’d long since covered herself in a T-shirt and a blanket while having stripped away all the suggestion from mere moments before. Relieved, I plopped down on the mattress and removed my boots. I asked, “Anything you want to do while you’re in town?”
She appeared at my side immediately, brushed her thick hair behind her ear, bit her lower lip, and glanced down at my mouth.
Crap. I knew where this was going.
“Yeah,” she breathed and kissed me.
It was the longest kiss of my life. Of course, I’m not referring to the duration. What I’m referring to is how it felt. She and I had been the oldest and closest of friends; she protected me from bullies, and I protected her from herself. Not once did it ever occur to us to try this, but here we were, twenty years after we first met, ten since we’d last spoken, our lips and tongues probing each other.
Until we stopped.
“Anything?” she gasped.
“Nothing,” I replied reluctantly. “You?”
“This is really awkward,” I said.
She rolled onto her back. “I guess we know the answer to that question.”
We stared at the ceiling even longer than we’d spent trying to kiss, waiting for the other to say something that might dig our way out of this silence.
She was a woman of action; I was a man of words, and therefore, it was up to me: “You know, this isn’t the most embarrassing thing we’ve done together.”
“It’s the most embarrassing thing we’ve done to each other.”
Another long hush smothered us.
I said, “Want another drink?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”