"You have good sex stories," Chris tells me, nestled into the pleather couch in Taste Budd's. I don't know why they would bother driving all this way - Chris lives in Beacon now, an hour away - to sit in this café. Sarah T says there is no better place between this town and mine, and I am unable to formulate a contradiction (there is one, Bank Square, in Beacon, but I admit that it is not as cozy).
I cannot promise my proximity to the café is wholly outside its potential charms, though they come irrespective of my residency in this town, especially as I have declined to emerge from my lair several times they were within a half mile of me.
"I don't have good sex stories," I correct. "I have good almost sex stories." Sex stories would be bragging and no fun to hear, particularly in a café where Chris is glaring at the noisy, free-range children. Times I fail to have sex are rife with farce. I inspired Chris's declaration by relating the best friend who asked me to help her wax her legs as a prelude to something more salacious, only I wouldn't presume "accidentally" seeing her nude in the shower when she insisted I hang out with her in the bathroom, then her dressing in pajamas without underwear, constituted a signal. (Also, I cannot discount that we were in her religious mother's house, who would tear me to shreds if I were found face down in her daughter's lap.) I then detailed the acquaintance who wanted to nap with me as undoubtedly a prelude to more, only I had a girlfriend and suspected her motives more than I did my self-control around pretty Vietnamese women. I mentioned the night in a high school ex's dorm room - after having been rendered utterly vulnerable from having just seen my college ex - who needed only bridge the foot between us on her bed to have me, only she didn't and I wouldn't. I told of a lesbian friend with whom, in exchange for rides to misadventures, I fooled around the summer between tenth and eleventh grade, who, one night while pulled out of sight on train tracks, her shirt off, breathily whispered that I had to promise not to orgasm in her. While I declined and escaped her car, my immediate thought was not "No, I am a virgin and my first time will not be this" but "I have a condom [that has surely expired] in my wallet." I cringe in relating the girlfriend at sixteen who tried to push me into her, our friends only a few feet away behind a curtain, my virtue intact only because I would not remove my hand from her pudenda.
"It's like Dead Like Me put it," I conclude, "'Death is kind of like sex in high school. If you knew how many times you missed having it, you'd be paralyzed.'"
Chris expresses surprise that I have so many stories like this, but I explain it is brute force; I had interactions with so many women that a few were sure to try to push further. Chris was homeschooled by physicist parents and had an upbringing that put him into less contact with new girls. Also, it was possible that I was a touch to open to affection if I could believe it might have something to do with love.
In retrospect, aside from the woman while I was in a relationship, I have small regrets that something more didn't happen. Not sex, certainly, but the memories seem half-finished and hypothetical, easy to deflect and deny, easy for them to say, "Oh, surely that wasn't my intention, Thomm! I would never have done anything so forward."
Sarah reminds that I've said I will not have sex with her.
"Yes, well, I am a happily married man," I say, repeating the line I've given her in jest a few times already in our friendship. "No offense."
"I do take some small offense, actually," she says, and I wonder how many times in my life, times I am sure not to remember unless pressed, I had assumed that a sincere offer was merely flirting as a joke. (Once, a girlfriend propositioned her friend in front of me and, when the woman laughed it off, said girlfriend insisted, "No, seriously, Thomm and I will sex you up." No such sexing up ever occurred, and I do not regret that, but it is hard not to appreciate the bluntness.)
I am not proud these things happened, or nearly did, but I do enjoy having turned these awkward moments into entertainment for people who did not live through them. Had I been in a different story or a more confident character, I can't tell how many subplots would have turned out differently or been avoided entirely. I lost my virginity in part because we had mutually reached a tipping point, but also because it was a good story in which to star: the best friend turned girlfriend-next-door when left alone for a few minutes, after a failed attempt days before, the comic mishaps of a Godzilla movie marathon and a call from her grandmother she had to take to keep her cover from being blown.
If it had not been her, if we had waited a little longer or she cheated a little sooner, it would have been some other spritely girl who contrived the right moment. Maybe it would have been Kate - I would have liked that, since I still like and respect her - but it might just as likely been some girl from Summer Scholars, the ex who swore her virginity to me, or someone I did not meet because my history proceeded this way and no other. The moment I lost my virginity makes for a good story, more or less. Not an emotionally or morally clean one, but it evokes a cringe and a laugh, which is close to the best I could ask for as a born author.
My adolescent romantic history amuses me, the man my teen self has become, because what he did and why is so different from what I would have. I would recoil at his mores and what I wish he would have done so I could have better stories and stranger memories.
I'm not sure I need friends as much as people against whom I can brush to shake stories lose.
Amber and I had seen Sarah, sans Chris, the night prior. It was supposed to be earlier, but she was emotionally compromised by a vindictive meeting at work and needed a few hours to recover before we could socialize. We chatted with her while she ate a noodle bowl at Yum Yum. Once she put off coming up twice, Amber and I settled in for pizza and a movie and so sipped at miso soups and an iced tea.
Chris and she come to this area more frequently than I might in their shoes - Sarah says Chris likes to drive, while I only tolerate it as a means to an end - and tend to only invite us to meet them for dinner once we've finished our own on weeknights. I decline because I have to be up early to teach and Amber to intern. We are, in Sarah's words, "in our PJs" by that point.
Sarah is surprised not only that I came to meet them today, in the early afternoon after I've grocery shopped for the week, but that I hung out with them for so long.
When I give Amber a breakdown of the evening while preparing her dinner - what good is an experience if I cannot retell it? - she points out that Chris and Sarah are likely not a couple, only good friends. I agree that no one announced anything formal to me ever. I merely presumed from their interactions that they were together. If someone were as cuddling with me as Sarah is with Chris, I am sure I would revisit the topic of "So, what are we?" often enough that they would not spend time with me any longer. This liminal space is how, at fifteen, I ended up in steamed up backseats, half-dressed with girls I liked, lusted after, but could never love.
Or Chris and Sarah could be a couple and not inclined toward thousand word public declarations as to the nature of the other's kisses. I've warned them individually that I am a walking paper trail.
When I later confront Chris, as politely as I can manage in my crass desire for clarification, as to the nature of his relationship with Sarah, he informs me that they are best friends, and sometimes a little more than that, as was the case when I first encountered them. I consider this configuration and call them "cuddle buddies," the appellation that a college girlfriend applied to the men with whom she had dalliances, but not relationships, after me. Chris jokingly chides me for trying to apply labels to everything, as they are a tool of the patriarchy, and we mostly leave it at that. Inasmuch as it is any of my business, I can work with them being cuddle buddies. Her flirtation is less curious that way.
I wonder, too, what Chris and Sarah think of me. I am animate and more like myself this day, as I was the night before. This is closer to how I want them to think of me, but I wonder if this is all defense. Sarah told me that Chris agreed with my assessment that I am a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, and she adds that he refers to his other friends, the one with whom he goes on trips, as the "Man-Boys." I do not think I am one of these.
While I am with them, if I am more fully in my proper mind, I do not wonder how they think of me. It is only later, in the telling, that I am given to reflect. I run the story through for Amber and she points out things that are obvious in my telling that I missed in the living, akin to the time when a woman froze when I complimented her galactic tights, only for Amber to explain later that this woman clearly thought I was cat-calling her about her breasts (with a bit of a drawl).
Soon in Xenology: Meaning. Anxiety.