The next day, I rode my bike around the neighborhood talking to Abe on the phone (my ex-boyfriend). It was a good long talk, typical stuff. He was looking for work but couldn’t find any. I challenged how hard he was trying, knowing his parents cover all his expenses. He lives a low key life, likes smoking cigarettes, smoking pot and thinking about numerology, crystals, the Old Testament, Mayan history, and philosophy. Once he told me, “I don’t think I am supposed to work, I am just supposed to think all day.”
He is also the drummer for a Christian Rock band, even though he is Jewish.
“Well, that’s the truth. I am glad you finally said it out loud,” I said.
There was a silence, then, “Ooo-k,” he said, “What else is going on?” I told him about how my father insists on defecating in my bathroom and my theory that it’s a form of claiming territory.
“People are funny about their space. I have noticed, when I leave a dish in the sink, Mike (his roommate) leaves a glass on top of my plate. If I leave anything in the sink, he has to place a dirty dish on top of my dirty dish. There always has to be something touching my dish. And then a week ago, there was a piece of broken glass on the sink. It hasn’t moved . . . it’s weird. I wonder what he thinks I am going to do with it,” he said. I do miss Abe and his twisted, paranoid, cannabis-inspired monologues.
“Oh, there is the drug dealer. He is waiting for me again, at the end of the street,” I said, making big, slow circles in the middle of the road on my bicycle. Lawrence (my parents called him “the drug dealer”) was habitually riding his bicycle back and forth in front of our place. He was in his 50s, had long silver hair braided behind his head and always wore a baseball hat with sunglasses. He also started walking his junkyard dogs up and down the street, passing me and my dogs by every morning on our walk.
When my parents spoke to the neighbors, they were assured, “Don’t worry about [StarFire], she is too old for him. He only likes the little girls.”
“He already hit on her!” they said. My Father would shake his head whenever he saw Lawrence or stare at him from the blinds. I thought it odd he was so protective of me when he and my Mother seemed to dislike me, in general.
QB (my neighbor/teenage quarterback/co-worker) referred to Lawrence as my boyfriend the first month I worked at the Hotel. The jokes went on about how I would wake up in his basement with the other victims. Or I could be his next child bride and carry water back to his shack for him. (Lawrence had no running water and always smelled of BO) If I wore pigtails, I would say, “Fixed my hair up for my boyfriend today.” Everyone would laugh.
“He used to follow me in my jeep,” QB said.
“I wonder why . . .” I asked.
“Because he wants to fuck me. He likes little kids,” QB said.
“I have heard the same thing about myself,” Lawrence said, “but there is no truth to it.”
“That is still a troublesome rumor,” I said.
“Yeah, it is. My neighbors’ had a couple kids who told their teachers I was touching them. Really it was their parents not me. Its just because people in this town are out to get me. You know . .” he said in a nasally voice.
“Why are they out to get you?” I asked, flatly in that way only meant for smart people.
“Because I went to high school with them, same bullshit,” he paused and smiled at me. He was creepy, leering behind his sunglasses like an insect sizing up his prey. “We should go out sometime and I can buy you a beer.”
“I am not sure I can let you go,” he hissed. “A woman has her place.”
“Don’t you think so?” he said, raising his voice again like a reptile spinning his tongue.
“I am standing in my place,” I said. It occurred to me somewhere deep down inside that I looked forward to my chats with Lawrence because I was lonely, no matter how uncomfortable he made me. The attention was reassuring in an odd way. Now that I had my car, I didn’t need to limit myself socially to Lawrence and the kids at work. Vancouver was a bust. On my next day off, I went to Hood River.
Twenty miles away, east of Skamania, along the windy, mountain highway, and across a very narrow bridge into Oregon, there is the city of Hood River. The town itself is very small, but it is built for tourists. Quaint breweries and restaurants, quirky coffee shops with fancy drinks turn into absinthe bars after dark, expensive clothing boutiques for women, their babies and their dogs line the quiet streets where SUVs and sports cars drip lazily from one block to the next- it has a very yuppie smell to it. Parasailers and windsurfers come to the Gorge during the summer for recreation or to train for the Olympics, Hood River is where they usually stay.
With my mini laptop, I parked my car and walked up to the nearest brewery on the hill, Big Horse Brew Pub. I sat down, checked my email and waited for service. A small cluster of female servers looked on from behind the bar but didn’t move until an older couple walked in and sat down. One of the servers left the group to hand them a menu and returned behind the bar. So I left.
Down the block and around the corner was a little diner with a long, wood bar inside. I grabbed a booth, ordered a $2 PBR and started writing. It wasn’t just that it was away from my parents, there was energy around me. The bartenders flirting with the regulars. The shoppers drifting up and down the sidewalk. The traffic, the music, the smell of food on a grill, the clanking of glasses and town gossip, all those things I missed being hidden away in a room for so long.
When I was done with whatever I was working on, I ordered some food and decided to sit at the bar next to some strangers. A good looking couple, around my age, were splitting a side of tater tots.
“Do you want to try my tater tots?” the man asked.
“Sure,” I said, grabbing a couple and popping them in my mouth. They immediately fell to pieces on my tongue, and the taste of potato tumbled down the back of my throat in warm oil.
“Aren’t they good? I don’t think I have had tater tots since I was a kid,” he said. “So, I am glad you came to sit down because I need someone to talk to and make my wife jealous.” His wife was a beautiful mixed race woman with short hair, politely engaging in conversation with a lumpy, hairy local in overalls and a baseball hat.
I spoke to the husband for a while, and he ended up buying me two more beers. We chatted about writing school, about France and my sexual adventures, then, around the time my posture shrank to the shape of a spoon, we inevitably spoke about Huck, my last lover from writing school.
“He said he was going to hurt me, so it isn’t as though I didn’t know any better,” I shrugged with my bottle of beer.
“No, I don’t like that,” the husband dismissed, his eyes in half moons, “I don’t like that he said that to you so he doesn’t have to take any responsibility. That is a set-up. No, no, no. I don’t like this guy.”
“Thank you,” I said, chuckling. I was getting over Huck. Talking about him didn’t throw me into a rage or reduce me to tears or shake me with longing. He was becoming a memory now.
“Whatever happens now, keep living life the way you are and please keep writing about it. Do it for the rest of us who have boring lives,” he said, smiling. That made me happy. His wife was now involved in the conversation and listening with a more sober presence.
“What are you writing about now?” she asked.
“Love. Can I fall in love in 7 days? I guess you have to first ask yourself what is love, and the most common answer is to love someone more than yourself,” I said.
“I don’t know that is true,” she said looking from me to her husband, “I wouldn’t say I love him more than myself. I would say . . . I love us more than myself.”
“Hm,” I said, nodding with a tater at my lips.
A very tall guy came up to the bar and started chatting between us. He had a t-shirt and a baseball hat on, definitely a local. Immediately we started flirting and the husband threw up his fingers and said, “I won’t interrupt if you would rather talk to him.”
I looked over to see if the man’s pretty wife cared that her husband was behaving like my jealous boyfriend. She was looking over the taters, trying to make the right selection before popping them in her mouth. I kind of threw my hands up in the air, staring at the husband with wide eyes, trying to pass the psychic memo not to fuck up my chance at finally getting laid. He turned away.
I wish for the life of me I could tell you how I got on this topic with the tall boy in a hat, but things quickly moved from small talk to “I can give you an orgasm.”
“Mmm,” I said, sipping the new froth off the neck of my beer, “Thank you.”
“I could give you 4 orgasms,” he said again, smiling.
“Even better. The good news is I am multi-orgasmic,” I said.
“I will give you more orgasms than you have ever had,” he said, leaning back. He almost looked like Vin Diesel with his macchiato skin and big features; wide nose, excited eyes, black cherry lips.
“That would be difficult,” I said, “since I have given myself 23 orgasms in one sitting before.”
“Whoa,” he said, “Seriously?” He pushed his baseball hat back like this factoid blew a gust of wind against him.
“Seriously,” I said, “but that’s ok. That was really too many. It isn’t really satisfying at that point, it is just a numb forearm and sweaty pajamas.”
He pulled aside another guy, smaller than him and blonde, equally attractive, “This chick says she has given herself 23 orgasms.” I winked at the other guy and finished my beer.
The bar got crowded fast. The beer cast a shadow over conversations from the bar, to the two guys’ in their booth, to conversations outside under an expanding cloud of cigarette smoke. I wasn’t brooding or depressed, the alcohol hadn’t altered my mood, there were no tears and no texts- there were just conversations, kisses with one guy and then another.
The taller guy with dark skin and big hands asked to take me home, along with the guarantee of now 6 orgasms. After I agreed, I found myself cornered in their booth, alone with the smaller one, the blonde. He was grabbing my hip underneath my shirt and pushing me in for a kiss.
“I am already spoken for, by your friend,” I said, nodding towards the Dark one.
“He doesn’t care, trust me,” the blonde said, closing in on my mouth. I submitted, thirsting for the touch, the want and the lust. My eyes were kept open and I saw the Dark one across the room, rapping on the karaoke machine.
After his song, I pulled him outside and said, “Your friend is hitting on me in there. If I go home with you, I am just going home with you. I don’t want some weird set-up with the two of you. I really need to know what I am getting into, do you understand?”
“I understand,” he said earnestly. “I promise you are safe with me.”
“Ok, and six orgasms, right?” I asked, with one eye closed, like I was pointing a gun.
“Yeah, six,” he smiled.
We got in his car and waited for the blonde to find his way out of the bar to our parking spot. The two men lived together. The Dark one was from out of town but was childhood friends with the Fair one, the blonde. They were living together in a house across the river in White Salmon, Washington. They had a hot tub. That is really all I needed to know.
The Fair One decided to stay in the bar and try to pick up a girl of his own, so Dark and I crossed the bridge over the Columbia back to Washington. Each time you cross, you must hand over a crisp $1 bill to someone sitting in the toll booth. We fumbled for a buck, crossed and I felt the bridge under the tires, the sound filled the cab like someone spinning a big rubber bowl over our heads with a spatula.
“Movies? Like to watch?” I asked.
“Yeah, you know, movies. For fun,” he said.
This must be normal folk conversation. “Well, I like all sorts of movies, but right now I like watching ‘Natural Born Killers’, probably because of my parents” I said, though it is my favorite movie.
“Why? Is your Dad like Rodney Dangerfield in that movie or something?” he asked.
“No, because living with them makes me want to commit mass murder.”
He chuckled then pulled over to a liquor store. “I really don’t need any more. I am done drinking,” I said.
“Ok,” he said. Then his phone buzzed with messages. “That dick needs me to go pick him up at the bar.” I groaned and leaned back.
So we crossed the bridge again, handed over another crisp dollar bill and pulled up outside the bar so Fair One could jump in the back seat. “Those girls were bitches,” he said.
“You have to watch your mouth. You know we could have gotten those other two girls to come home with us if you weren’t such a dick,” Dark said.
“Which two girls?” Fair asked.
“The two who were laughing at all my jokes, then you called one of them a slut and they totally went cold on us. You have to keep your mouth shut,” Dark said. It was almost as if I hadn’t been sitting there all this time, to hear about how they fucked up not getting the two girls before me.
I wasn’t offended. My interest in Dark was purely sexual, so I listened as they bickered like brothers, and we handed yet another crisp $1 bill over to the toll booth woman and crossed the bridge one more time.
We got to the house, and it was on a hillside with only a few other houses. The stars scattered everywhere around us, and the evening was warm. As we pulled up to the house, the boys were still bickering. “You need to stop challenging him and relax. Have a good time. Stop arguing,” I said.
“Why don’t you stop being a bitch?” Fair said.
“See? Now when you use that kind of language, I am uncomfortable going inside of your house,” I said.
“Take it back, man. Take it back! Come on! Don’t fuck this up, too!” Dark said.
“I’m sorry,” Fair grumbled, stumbling out of the car.
Walking into their house, clothes and beer cans strewn about, I quickly said, “Ok, where is this hot tub?”
Dark smiled and pointed outside the back porch. He flipped on a switch so one light bulb could stand guard overhead, and the bubbles in the tub began their dance. I stripped off my clothes to just my panties and bra, then jumped in.
Dark took off his shirt and slid inside the tub with me. He pulled me onto his lap, we kissed and he unhooked my bra. I looked up and saw Fair standing just beyond the tub, outside the back patio door, staring at us.
He threw his hand at us in dismay and disappeared inside. “He is going to bed,” Dark said.
After a few more warm minutes, lips on my mouth and neck, hands on my skin, hot water churning around the base of my neck, and the night air teasing my hair, Fair appeared again. I climbed off of Dark’s lap and leaned against the side of the hot tub.
“Come on in, man!” Dark said.
Fair took off his shirt and climbed in the pool. The bickering started again, it was never over anything important. I arched my back so my bare breasts peaked just above the water, and my ears submerged in silence. I looked up at the stars and hoped my dogs were ok. I just needed this- the tub, the sky, the hands. Like a mermaid, I flipped my head back above water, plunging my breasts back under the heat. Both men had stopped bickering and were staring at me with open mouths. I wiped the chlorine out of my eyes and smiled.
“Go get me a beer,” Fair ordered Dark.
“I was going to get her one anyway,” he said. Dark disappeared inside. Fair pulled on my leg like a fishing hook, found my thigh and slowly inserted his finger inside me.
“I am with your friend,” I said lazily, my eyes sinking with a faint smile of encouragement. Dark came back out with the drinks.
“I got to talk to you!” Fair said, climbing out of the tub.
Waiting outside, soaking alone, I took a few sips off the beer and then set it down. Leaning back further into the water, I waited . . . and waited as their voices grew louder and louder. Through the patio door, I could see them standing across from each other arguing. My arms hung down from the side of the tub and I pressed my cheek against the edge of the pool. “Fuck, am I going to have to get out of the tub now . . . ?”
Fair grabbed a duffle bag and threw it at Dark, who started collecting loose clothes off the floor and stuffing them in his bag.
“Fuck . . .” I said to myself. Getting out of the pool, I wrapped myself in a towel and opened the glass door. “What the fuck?” I asked.
“He is kicking me out!!” Dark said.
“Come on . . . “ I ached.
Fair approached me, earnestly, “You don’t have to leave, just him.”
“But he’s my ride, man!” I said.
They both stared at me and honestly, it didn’t matter who I had sex with. They were both attractive. I simply needed to pair off with the more grounded of the two, just to insure I could get back to my vehicle in the morning.
Dark grabbed his bag and jumped in his car. I climbed in after him, still wet, hair down, no bra and no shoes. “He fucking does this! He told me to leave you two alone so he could fuck you. I said, no, I promised her she was coming home with me, alone. I mean, I would have left you there with him if we didn’t have that talk, but you made me promise to stay with you so I said, ‘Fuck you, kick me out then!’ So now I have no place to live. Fuck this, I am going back to California!”
I sighed, “Do I have to have sex with both of you now?” I said, half joking, half fantasizing.
“No,” Dark said, “Fuck him. So, where should we go now?”
“Can we go park somewhere or something?” I asked.
“There is a school down here . . .” he said.
“That sounds appropriate.”
He drove us down a small, windy road and we parked. I thought about the two Englishmen in France I went home with, how it was both civil and erotic while shared between them. Here, in America, everything was a fight. He leaned back my seat and slowly undressed me. I liked how big his hands were, like he could hold me between all of his thick fingers. I put my feet up on his side of the car, propped up between the windshield and the dash. He removed my panties.
“Thanks,” I said, leaning my head back on my seatbelt.
“I almost want to eat this pussy it’s so pretty. Can I?” he asked.
“Oral sex requires a certain level of intimacy, lets stick with regular intercourse,” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders and entered me. In about three to four minutes it was over. Orgasms = Zero.
We shook back into our pants and drove back to Fair’s house, thinking he would be passed out or calmed down by then. When we arrived, Fair was nowhere in sight but there was a new guy on the couch playing video games. Dark enthusiastically retold the tale about their fight and being kicked out as I tipped over on the couch between both men and quickly poured myself into sleep without a care in the world.
Opening my eyes, the first thought I had was, “I feel good.” I smiled and looked up at the ceiling. The second thought I had was, “No nightmares.” My head focused on the ceiling and I turned my head to the wall. My third thought was, “Where the fuck am I?”
I bolted up, my contacts rolled back into place. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I stood up and shook Dark. “Get up! I have to go home! Oh fuck!”
I texted my parents that I was at a friend’s house and safe. It was still only 6am, but they were up by now. Hunting for my bra and panties, still hanging to dry in the bathroom, I pulled everything together. “Get up! Please! Hurry! We have to go! Drive me back to my car!” I said.
Dark slowly sat up like he was crawling out of a grave, rubbing his eyes, “What the fuck, man? Get some more sleep.”
“No, my parents are going to kill me!”
“Fuck them,” he said, laying back down. I pulled him back up and threw his hat at him. “Now! Up!” I said.
Pacing outside on the patio, I smoked a cigarette. I only had a few left after buying a whole pack the day before. How the fuck did I smoke so many cigarettes in one night? And why the fuck was I so worked up about what my parents thought when I was 34 years old? I was even shaking.
“You are a fucking adult. So what if I stayed out. That is my business. Jesus,” I said to myself, trying to calm down. The sky was the color of a freshly sliced peach, and the air was so fresh it cooled the tobacco over my lungs. If my parents didn’t have such a hold on me, I would enjoyed the morning. Instead I was frantic, my throat was sore, my eyes foggy and the day uncertain.
Dark came out and slowly got in his car. We drove back over the bridge and offered another crisp $1 bill at the toll booth.
He told me about how he was back in Washington to visit his two kids, one was only a year old and the other was four. Dark was 30 years old, but married to a 24-year-old who kicked him out a little over a year ago.
“We aren’t divorced yet, but its in the works. I just wanted it to work so I could be with my kids. But she met someone else now,” he said.
“Well, women change, especially young women. She must have been very young when you two started, like what? 20?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I thought she was it for me, you know? I wanted it to work.”
“People change, especially young people. Its ok. Do what’s best for the kids. I don’t think people should stay together just for the kids. It sets the wrong example.”
“Yeah. The one year old is totally used to just seeing me every so often. Its the four year old who doesn’t understand,” he said.
“That’s hard, I am sorry.”
“Its ok. Its just weird having her call this other guy ‘Daddy’,” he said.
“What does she call you?” I asked.
“Daddy #1,” he said smiling. “Wait, how old are you?”
“34,” I said.
“Why don’t you have kids?” he asked.
“No, seriously, why don’t you have kids?” he asked.
My first thought was, “So I don’t have to deal with bullshit like that!”
My second thought was, “Because I use birth control.”
My third thought was, “Make a joke about abortion.”
“No, the last person I was with was my wife,” he said.
“Ok, but she may have had intercourse with someone else. I am not saying that to upset you, I just want you to understand my concern.”
“No, not since I have been with her. How about you?”
“I haven’t been tested recently, but I have had unprotected sex with other people,” I said. I rolled down my window so I could breathe in the air off the river and mountain. It almost tasted like snow.
“You don’t have to worry about disease unless you have had sex with black guys. Have you?” he asked.
“I wish I had sex with a black guy,” I responded. Fucking ignorants. Jesus.
We circled around the town until we found my car on top of the hill. “You are a really cool girl, I almost wish we could stop for coffee and talk some more or have breakfast or something,” he said, searching my face for affirmation.
“I really have to go back to my dogs. I have their organic kibble in my car,” I said. He parked the car and walked me to my door.
“I had a really good time, sometimes its weird after one night stands, but I feel really good about this one,” he said.
“Good, I am glad,” I said smiling. He was handsome. I liked this muscle thing occurring in these Northwest boys. Their arms had some curve and their hands some callous but not too much. They were used to working with their hands, so they knew how to touch something with the intention of molding, learning and mastering it instead of monotonously pounding buttons on a keyboard and expecting a result. They were taller than me with broad shoulders that could block the wind and sun from my eyes so I could see their faces. And they all liked to smile, which gave the exchanges a tenderness.
“You also have a great pussy,” he said.
“Thank you, I appreciate that.”
“No problem,” he said.
“You should probably take the morning after pill,” he said.
“No, that’s ok. It fucks up your whole hormonal system and I am not ovulating anyway,” I said.
“You know that stuff? That’s cool. No seriously, you should take it. My sperm is really strong,” he said.
“I will be ok,” I said.
“If anything happens, you are on your own,” he said, stuttering, slicing his hand through the air.
“Don’t ruin this. Just stop,” I said. He did.
We kissed goodbye and exchanged numbers without the intention of calling. Then I drove back, bracing myself for an argument.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into my parents driveway, opened my trunk and carried the dog kibble in over my shoulder.
My parents were out on the front lawn with the dogs. Brad, my smallest, saw me first and ran to me like a rabbit. The two other dogs followed, leaping towards me, smiling with their tongues out of their mouths. I laughed light-heartedly, and let everyone in so I could get a pot of coffee brewing.
“Good, you have dog food. If you came back empty handed, I would have had to say something,” my Father said. I offered a smile but didn’t say anything.
“We are going into town, are you going to stay home for awhile so the dogs aren’t left all alone? We don’t have time to watch them all the time,” my Mother said.
“I will be here,” I said, stoic.
“Good, because we have to go out too, you know,” she said.
When they drove off, I stretched out on the couch to watch some TV and cuddled with the dogs. Then I read a book. My stomach felt strong for once, and the gravity of fatigue made the day chimerical, slow and warm. I lazily hung out in my pajamas and snacked on food, flirted with the dogs, tried to nap but made tea instead.
I went back to my room.