At the foot of the bed, I pull my naked body together. My elbows lock around my knees. I can feel my hair against my back. It’s dry and sweat-less where it should be damp. I feel for Joe’s hand. She is silent for a moment. I hear myself again: What the fuck? It’s a question directed inwards. I don’t understand my body. I don’t understand why it’s working against me.
Tears. I feel vulnerable. I can’t fall apart but I can’t seem to pull my self together, either. Not broken, but cracked.
The room is warm from our friction. My skin feels hot. I’m embarrassed. I’m angry. ‘Talk to me,’ Joe says.
And she’s perfect. Joe is everything I need. She says the right things. She touches me the way I want to be touched. It was easier, in the beginning, when she hadn’t learned my body yet and we could use that as an excuse. Now there is no excuse. The only answer is that my body doesn’t want me to come.
I don’t understand why.
My body loves Joe. It curves and bows and arches into her palm. My body has never been desperate for boys the way it is for Joe. She’s my first girl. She blacks out everyone before her.
‘I can’t,’ I say. I want to, have words building up in my throat, but I can’t. My body loves Joe, but that doesn’t make it easier for my mouth to form words that could leave us even more vulnerable than we already are. My body and I are a united front against desperation, loss of power, and need.
We’re struggling with how much we need her.
‘Vent to me,’ Joe says. I turn and look at her. She lays on her back, breasts bare, legs hidden beneath oversized sweatpants. She is exhausted. She is damp with sweat. She is beautiful. I think about the first time I saw her breasts and the word rack flew into my thoughts. It had never been a word I used to associate with a woman until her. I’d needed to touch her, but I’d been so afraid of messing up.
She’s the most terrifying human I’ve ever met.
I think that’s a part of why I can’t come with her. I can come with myself. I can come with her next to me. But to have her make me come is to give her all of the power in the world. It’s the only thing I’ve held back.
It’s so fucked up.
But it’s how it is.
I want to articulate this to her, want to tell her that I know she cares about me, but I also know that I (will always) care more for her than she does for me, want to tell her that I am so scared of giving all of myself to her. I want to tell her everything that enters my head, to be able to give her my thoughts, to be able to vent with her. Friends first, right? is a thing that we say, but as she lays naked beside me it’s impossible to remember that she’s already committed to this friendship.
I’m so afraid of losing her.
I sit at the end of the bed, naked and clutching my knees to my chest. I think of how Joe tells me that I’m beautiful. I think of how she says mine when she wakes up some mornings. I think of how she says she wants to cuddle with me, forever and ever, amen. I unlock my arms from my knees and I crawl to the top of the bed.
Our bodies align. She wraps her arms around me, and I don’t wipe the tears from my eyes. I don’t want to draw attention to them. I am broody and miserable and frustrating. Joe is open green eyes, waiting.
‘Talk to me,’ Joe says again. I bite my lip, stare at her. I will words to my lips.
‘I just don’t understand,’ I say. Joe doesn’t look away. ‘I think I just can’t completely relax around you.’ I hold her hands, tightly. ‘I trust you. It isn’t like I don’t trust you.’ I think of how I must look to her, lying beside her, my own hand between my thighs. Hers had grown tired. How many times would her hand grow tired from my failed results?
Joe touches my hair. I try not to think about how I look right now.
‘I think that it’s hard for me to give you everything,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry. I know this is a stupid thing to be upset about.’
‘Don’t apologize. It isn’t stupid.’
‘It is, though. Everything else with us is so good. This could be so much worse,’ I say.
Joe smiles. ‘You’re allowed to have feelings.’ She squeezes me against her side. She is warm. ‘You don’t have to give me everything. Just give me as much or as little of you as you can.’
I cry. She tucks me closer into her side. The stubble on her leg, bare from her sweatpants pushing up to her knees in our frantic grinding, brushes mine. I wipe the tears from my eyes. It is just one day. I tell myself this. I remind myself of this. I step outside of this moment, two twenty-year-old girls grasping each other on wrinkled white sheets and trying not to need each other too much. I become the pillows discarded on the floor. I become the angle of our toothbrushes touching in a glass by the sink. I become the air between our mouths. I become thoughtless. I become wordless.
I become a being incapable of saying anything at all, and I am excused for another afternoon.
Rachel Charlene Lewis is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at University of California – Riverside. As a biracial bisexual, she exists in the in-between. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Quaint Magazine, The Allegheny Review, Lumen Magazine, The Susquehanna Review, Metazen, and others. Rachel tweets about lit and feminism at @RachelCharleneL.