He’s gone. Ben Sheppard is gone. Danny’s side of the bed is empty. The house has a vacant quiet to it. I’m sad and a little angry until I see a note on my nightstand next to a glass of orange juice.
It’s a single piece of paper tented with a fold. Written on the side facing me is my name. ‘Tess’ is written in that precise script of his with a fine point blue pen. The way he crossed the T of my name and the angle of the two Ss is elegant and simply pretty. I want to keep looking at it, but curiosity gets a hold of me and I unfold it.
It reads: “I have to leave early for Crittenden. You are too beautiful to wake just to say something as simple as ‘goodbye’. I would love to see you again and get to know you better.
P.S. Breakfast is warming in the oven.”
I run my fingers over the words and smile. I lay back and stretch. The stone in my stomach seems to have moved lower into my abdomen. I push on it. It still feels hard. I put my thumbs up to the furrow in my brow. I can still feel it there. Maybe it’s not as intense, but I run my thumbs across my brow like I do every morning.
I pull on my robe and leave it open as I walk to the kitchen. I like feeling the air flow across my skin. I also makes me feel sexy. I can’t do this with Danny here. It’s fun.
Ben has cut some fruit for me and left it on the kitchen counter. I peek in the oven. There’s three waffles, sausage and some crisp bacon and a carafe of coffee. I skip the plate Ben put on a placemat on my kitchen island. I grab the fork beside it and devour the meat and waffles right off the pan. After those are done, I turn my hunger on the fruit and empty the carafe of coffee.
It’s my entire day’s calories in one fifteen minute binge, but I don’t feel guilty and I’m still hungry.
I put the pan and bowl into the sink when I realize he made breakfast and did the dishes. I even have to step back to make sure they’re not hidden. Nope. This fact, on top of everything else, makes me laugh and I throw my arms up like a cheerleader.
“Whoo hooo,” I hear myself yell to the empty house.
I catch my reflection in the long mirror that hangs in my hallway. The robe is open fully. My legs look okay. My pubic hair is shaggy still, but Ben didn’t seem to mind. I skip over the soft part of my lower tummy. No need to look at that. My breasts are small, but I’ve always liked my wide pale nipples. My bed head hair gives me an insane, just-fucked look. I like it. I’m smiling at myself. I give another “Whoo hoo”. God Bless you, Ben Sheppard. I’ve been fucked and fed and I feel good.
I resist the urge to call him. I resist the urge to get in my car and drive to Crittenden to watch him work. To watch him build those conveyor machines he designs. To watch him lead men. Heck, I’d like to just watch him eat his lunch. I’d be his lunch. I giggle at the thought.
I walk up close to the mirror and look at my face. The furrow in my brow has lessened. There’s still those two parallel creases. I frown at them, but they aren’t as deep as yesterday. I worked with this guy named Blake a few years ago. Anytime I’d be having a bad day he would say, “Maybe you need to get laid.” I hated him more every time he said that, but was Blake right? Did I just need to get laid? No. I was with Josh back then. I didn’t need to just get laid. No. I needed to be made love to by a real man—a man who knew how to make love to a woman.
I chase Blake out of my mind and run my hands over my neck. I turn my head side to side and tilt it upward. It’s faint, just some red splotches, but there is a thumb mark on the left side of my throat just below the jaw line and on the right a row of finger marks running down my neck. Not too noticeable, I tell myself. I rub them. I hold my hand over them. My fingers don’t quite reach as far as Ben’s did, but I give myself a squeeze and I feel my pussy loosen slightly and I become a little moist. Why does that do that to me? Why am I just finding out that it does that to me? What does that say about me? I pause. I feel good, I tell myself. Let it be. Don’t spoil how you feel by thinking about it too much.
I put the second of my three allowed monthly Xs on my running journal and draw a bath. I am slightly sore. My pussy is a little tender, but it’s mostly my abs and lower back that ache. All that coming, I guess. It’s a good sore—like running a 18-minute 5k. It’s a soreness my body needed.
I sit in the tub until the water gets cool then dry myself off, dress and head into work.
Danielle isn’t at her desk when I get in. I walk into my office and there’s a dozen pink roses and a small gift wrapped package on my side table.
I smile at the roses, smell them and pull out the card. There’s simply a smiley face drawn in Ben’s hand with his fine point blue pen then below his initial B with a period after it. It makes me chuckle. I carefully open the package. It’s wrapped in a crimson paper and I feel bad when I tear it a little. I unfold the flaps and open the paper and see an elegant pair of panties. I shut my door quickly then go back to them. I lift them up and a card falls away. While it flutters to the ground, I notice Ben’s script on it. I bend down to pick it up.
“To make up for the pair I tore last night,” it says.
I blush and unfold the panties. They’re the same style and size as the ones he ripped off me, but I finger the fabric and look over the stitching. They’re much nicer than my pair. Wait, I think. The ones from last night? I didn’t notice them on the floor or in the bed this morning. Where were they? Did he take them with him? I’m a little creeped out but more excited at the thought of my dirty panties in his pocket right now.
There’s a knock on my door and I put the new panties in my purse—deep in my purse.
Danielle pokes her head in like I might be changing, gives me a goofy smile, eases into my office and closes the door.
“So dish,” she says.
“Your date. You never date. Danny leaves town with Josh and all of a sudden there’s a man in your life. He sends yellow flowers yesterday, pink ones today. The only thing I know about him is he has wonderful tastes in flowers and he’s got a sexy phone voice.”
“You have me ready for my two o’clock meeting?”
“With your friend Susan?”
“With my client Susan.”
“Yes. There’s not much to put together.”
She waits a moment but can’t contain herself.
“So, tell me”
“There’s nothing to tell. I met him yesterday at Frank DiTella’s place and he asked me to dinner.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a designer, an engineer, I guess. He designed DiTella’s new piece of equipment.”
I don’t like talking about Ben to her. I want to keep him all to myself. Sharing him, even by talking about him, seems to devalue what Ben Sheppard and I shared last night.
“Hmmmm, an engineer. A smart guy. What’s he like?”
I could see I wasn’t going to get out of this. She’s not going to stop.
“What’s he like?” she repeats.
“He’s tall. Six three or so. Good looking in a clean cut way. A bit older than me.”
“Ohh. Are you working out some daddy issues with an older man?” She laughs at her joke, but I don’t. “Did he kiss you goodnight?”
“Jeez, Danielle, what is this? High school?”
“I’m just wondering. I thought maybe I’d never see you dating.”
“I was married, Danielle. And it was just a date. We’re not dating. Anyway, he’s only here for a month then has to go back to Milwaukee.
“So this isn’t L—O—V—E, love?”
“It was a D—A—T—E, date. That is all.”
Danielle isn’t buying my insouciance, but I’ve given her enough to be satisfied for now. She gets up and opens the door.
“Well, he may only be here a short while, but you look absolutely great today. If there was more than a kiss, I’d expect to hear about it.”
Why am I letting my assistant getting away with talking to me like this?
With me coming to the office late, I try to bulldoze through as much work as I can. I have Danielle get me a salad from the little restaurant downstairs and I eat at my desk. When one-thirty rolls around, she reminds me about my two o’clock meeting.
Danielle was right, my meeting is with a friend. Actually, she’s my oldest friend. We go back to freshman year of high school.
Susan runs a second hand store in a neighborhood that’s hip and trendy. Skinny, interesting-looking young people with complicated eyewear and porkpie hats live there because it’s affordable and there are a couple nice bars and restaurants. In about five years, once they decide to clean up the streets and nice galleries and boutiques replace the pay-by-the-month appliance shops and storefront churches, the current crop of hipsters will have moved on to the suburbs to escape the city schools their children would be forced into. The future hipsters will give up on the neighborhood as too bourgeoisie and move on to another neighborhood that is looking to exchange its intergenerational poor for a bunch of twits. It will be a place with the dual cachet of affordability and making mom and dad nervous for them living there.
It’s perfect for Susan. She prefers to work in a place with a lack of judgment and low standards. College was the perfect environment for her. She thrived in college. She was the leader of our little pack mostly because she was the most forceful. Her twenties weren’t so great because people started asking her what her plans were. She never had any—not really. But people gave her a pass because she was still young and Bohemian. Now that, along with me, she’s thirty-three, judgments are tougher on her. What was cute at twenty-three starts to get sad at thirty-three.
Susan’s always been the alpha in our relationship. We applied and were accepted to the same small liberal arts college and we became roommates. The school wasn’t for me, but at eighteen I was nervous to be away from home and Susan had all kinds of confidence I could hide behind. So I followed after her and she was happy to be followed.
Once we were enmeshed in campus life, good-time Susan disappeared quickly.
It started with a women's studies class she took freshman year. After a few weeks of that, everything became sexual-identity politics with her. Everything. Food, sex, music, literature, children—there was nothing that couldn’t be explained by or had been shaped by the politics between the sexes.
O, the cruel patriarchy and the soul-crushing misogyny!
She fell in with a group of like-minded women, or womyn as they liked to spell it then, and, as usual, I followed right along after Susan. They were nice girls and our core group pretty much stayed together the entire four years. That was mostly because it was a small school in the middle of nowhere. I, however, being the business management major, was the outcast. The words ‘business’ or ‘profit’ were like a cross to a vampire to these womyn.
There was a group of boys who flocked around us and even took some of those womyn’s studies classes. At first, I thought it was because they were the most progressive, enlightened and open-minded men on campus. I thought they appreciated powerful, independent women like us and understood the baggage the historic subordinate role of women had placed on our shoulders. I realized the true reason they hung around. It was because—like all the other guys on campus—they were trying to get laid. The girls who played sports wouldn’t have them because they had no chests or physical coordination. The sorority girls wouldn’t have them because they were usually ugly and smelled of B.O. and patchouli. The Honors College girls wouldn’t have them because they had no ambition. That left us womyn.
Susan had serious relationships with four of these guys in college and a few marijuana inspired one-night hook ups with a few more. The serious relationships all had the same story line which I now know as Susan’s pattern. It’s all love and roses. At least, it was Susan’s version of love and roses—ferocious respect and equality. At the three month mark, however, the guy would do something—anything—that would show Susan his true male misogynistic nature. It could be something as slight as him opening a door for her or telling her she looked nice. Susan would rail at him that womyn were perfectly capable of opening their own doors or didn’t need masculine validation of their looks. I think she believed it. However, she would never break up with these guys over the alleged slight right away. She’d spend a few months punishing the poor guy for an offense he never even knew he committed. After four years, I was used to spending my nights listening to her having sex with a guy for three months followed by hearing her scream anger at the guy for several more.
She earned a degree in “Social Justice” that confused her father and mother and prepared her for nothing after graduation. She worked as an ‘unpaid volunteer’ on several political campaigns and ballot initiatives and sold her soul clerking at various ‘ethically challenged’ national big box retail stores.
By this time she’d moved away from her hippy, smelly white guys and moved on to black men. She was inspired by a book she read that the only way to end racism was to end the races themselves. Thus we all had a responsibility to mate with someone from another race and after a few generations we’d all have just ‘fucked ourselves brown’. She had a whole plan worked out and there were three African-American men that she dated. These relationships were more like interviewing subjects for a sociological experiment for this grand experiment than anything romantic or tender or human, even. Except by this time, the three months of bliss was followed by a few years of punishing the poor guy.
Luckily, no brown ‘end racism’ babies were created and when Susan turned thirty she started wearing uncomfortable looking jeans, jack boots and men’s plaid shirts. She shaved the sides of her head into a checkerboard pattern and announced that she was a lesbian. Since then, I’d seen her with a few girls but none that seemed serious. I think she was having a hard time getting the hang of being a lesbian.
Susan always judged me as a sell out for being a business major and working for an ‘evil bank’ helping them make a ‘profit’. I never saw it that way. Her college politics were not mine. I was just hanging out. But that didn’t stop her judging. When I split with Josh, she didn’t fully take my side. So he didn’t work and couldn’t provide for his family, she reasoned, he was the real man for not being co-opted by the system.
Well, Susan may be against profits, but she was a-okay with me arranging a loan through my bank for some inventory for her store and my putting my 770 credit score at risk by co-signing a lease for a her little store front too. This was our informal meeting to see how the shop was going. So far, what little of those ‘evil profits’ Susan made went into her small salary.
“There’s something up with you,” she says after some chit-chat. She is affecting a more manly stance since deciding she was a lesbian, but to me she was still my best friend from high school and I am still wanting to share with her the news about a boy I met.
“I went out on a date last night,” I say.
“Yeah. How was that? Been awhile, hasn’t it?
“I haven’t dated since Josh.”
“Sleep with him?”
“You know all heterosexual sex is rape, right. In one form or another.”
I remembered this line from college. I wasn’t going to fight it.
“Susan, it was just some good news I was sharing. I like him. He’s a great guy.”
“You haven’t been romantically involved in a long-time, Tess. I just don’t want you to get wrapped up in the traditional gender roles that society force men and women into and that always hurt women. He may be a great guy, but he’s no knight in shining armor and you’re not a helpless damsel in distress. I just don’t want to see you get hurt or hurt him. Like Josh.”
I still don’t like her saying Josh’s name. Even now, after the divorce. Before I started seeing Josh, he had been one of Susan’s one night marijuana fueled encounters. After we’d been dating a few months, Josh told me—like it was no big deal—that he’d fucked my best friend. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was to me. Mostly because of the nonchalant way he said it—just tossing it out there. And mostly because Susan never told me, but she knew I knew. It always seemed she thought her fucking him first gave her a claim to part of Josh. That pissed me off.
“Susan, you’re pissing me off.”
“Sorry. Truth hurts. I don’t want you walking around like all these couples holding hands having babies thinking they’re happy when they’re just conforming to archetypes Western society has imposed on us.”
Normally, Susan doesn’t sound so harsh to me. On most days, I’d chalk up this kind of talk to Susan being Susan. I was used to it—like a person who lives next door to a landfill grows accustomed to the smell of garbage. But not today. Not when I’m feeling so good.
I don’t want to hear about or discuss the politics of sex when a man finally shows me how good sex could be. There were no politics in what he and I did last night. Ben and I were a man and a woman. We weren’t predetermined archetypes. Was there the Western notion of modern love? I don’t know. Not yet. Love would have made it nicer. Either way, last night there was a man and there was a woman. There was long, hard fucking and explosive orgasms and it was good.
I’d like to, but there was no way in hell I was going to tell Susan how Ben Sheppard’s firm hand on my throat made me so turned on.
“You exhaust me,” I say. “You always have. I’ll come back when I’m less happy. That’s the way you like me best.”
I gather up my paperwork and leave her with the bill for the fair trade organic coffee that smelled of cocoa and manure.