“Come on,” he says, coaxing me into a kiss. “Tell me.”
His accent sounds like someone lodged a boiled egg in the back of his throat. He attended boarding school in England and has the fashion sense to prove it. Our fingers are laced in a web of knuckles, white and bulging. He guides my hands back and forth like he’s maneuvering a puppet.
I am straddling him—both of us fully clothed—on his white couch. And because we haven’t broken physical contact for a while, I feel emotionally closer to him than I really am. He must feel the same because now we are guessing each other’s numbers.
“10? 15? Higher or lower?” Without the hard R, the end of his sentence floats up in the air and surrounds us.
We are lounging on his sofa in a post-meal lull, polishing off the bottle of Pinot Grigio left over from dinner. Behind me, the sixth story window lets in a slice of the steely Back Bay skyline. His monthly rent costs more than my small intestine on the black market. His toilet water flushes blue and he has a doorbell that lights up. Comedy Central plays in the background and I hear a shrill female voice criticizing modern sex etiquette. This is dating in the real world, I suppose.
My blazer is draped over a boxy armchair and my nude heels sit by a shoe rack of leather, rubber, and canvas. It is only our second date but my belongings have settled into their surroundings, coloring themselves a shade less vibrant.
Before judging each other’s laundry list of sexual partners, we went grocery shopping at Whole Foods and discussed our family histories. We debated what it meant to be a patriotic citizen. He doesn’t understand how I can accept a nation that doesn’t fully accept me as an Asian American. Those are his words, not mine. I tell him it’s my home.
We haven’t seen each other naked so the whole getting-to-know-you act still has weight. He’s an investment banker and sees everything as a function. He says the way people perceive actions are a function of whether or not they already like the person. Because I’m already at his place, I think him saying that is deep. He drinks his coffee black and eats his steak rare. This much I know. We run through recycled conversation like loops on a treadmill and keep our clothes on as a courtesy.
We are now in our cool down lap and I’m still on top of him. He nudges me in the waist. “Tell me.”
In flashes, I envision the meaningful sex, the rebounds, the calculated friends with benefits. Instead, I throw out an arbitrary two-digit number higher than my actual one.
He draws back, eyes wide. “Is it really?”
“No,” I confess, but he looks skeptical. “Would you like me less if it was?”
“No,” he says right away, “I’d just be surprised.” Somewhere in the world, a bull is fertilizing the earth.
We play hot or cold until we reveal our actual numbers. I’m a terrible liar. I lean over him, my dark hair curtaining our intimate conversation.
“So that means you’re twice the slut I am.” I smile. His eyes challenge mine and he squeezes my thigh. “But I’m a guy.”
It doesn’t make me mad, just mildly annoyed because what he says holds truth. We kiss anyway and he holds me like I’m already his.
As a woman, I am allotted a few free passes—long-term relationships and one or two rebounds—before I am labeled “easy.” Even if I feel the same hormones and urges as my male counterparts, it is my obligation to hold back because of the notion that my numbers are to be rationed and used judiciously. I should know better because my number reflects me as a person. A man’s number is just a number.
As I make out in a semi-stranger’s apartment, suburban mothers tell their teenage daughters to be smart about their bodies when they climb into Jeeps with older guys all named Ethan. I have a false sense of security about this one because that’s not his name.
He flips me over so he is on top and blows a raspberry into my belly button. His playfulness is only attractive because I know he’s brilliant. He traces the exposed skin where my shirt rides up. Physically it’s nice, but I know he suffers from the special snowflake syndrome of wanting the girl who usually doesn’t do this. I weigh his satisfaction against the shame that will be dealt by the next guy.
He pulls on my shirt collar and kisses my shoulder blade. It’s hard to reason when I’d rather be doing other things. There’s pressure between our bodies, but I can’t tell if I’m pulling him closer or pushing him away.
“I want to take things slow,” I say into his hair. I speak softly because part of me doesn’t want him to hear. He breathes a trail up my neck and I regret saying anything at all.
“I’m serious.” I laugh, but I am.
He brings his head to level with mine. “If that’s what you want,” he kisses me on cheek. “I respect that.” I’m disappointed when he stops.
There hadn’t been true silence until now. It’s like that disorientation you feel when a television episode ends and you are back in real life. It’s uncomfortable, but you shuffle around and eventually figure out something to do.
“I’m meeting a friend for drinks later,” he says, though he never mentioned it earlier.
“Guy or girl?”
“Guy.” I still feel jealous.
“I should get ready,” he says. He pushes himself off the couch and walks to the middle of the room before turning around to face me. “Come shower with me.” He smiles and nods toward the bathroom. Relentless.
“Yeah,” I laugh. “I’m okay.” It feels like turning down the last slice of pizza, watching somebody else eat it, and feeling hungrier.
“You smell terrible actually, you should come shower.” He’s damn cute about it, but he looks at me like I should be grateful for the offer.
I walk over to him and we hug in a deescalated way.
“I should get going,” I say and we make our lips touch again in a way foreign to kissing. The front door is feet away from where he stands, but he doesn’t walk over with me. He stays right there. I slip on my heels and linger at the door, not sure what I’m waiting for.
“Well, have fun with your friend.”
“Thanks,” he says and I’m surprised I can hear it because we feel far apart. We mumble our goodbyes. I am seconds from leaving, but he is already on his way to the bathroom, all before the door shuts. I am entirely outside his apartment now and do an instant replay of his turned back in my head, though there was nothing special about it. I walk down the hallway of lit doorbells like a stewardess on an evening flight. I want somebody to instruct me to be seated because it’s nice to feel safe and thought of. The isolated space is quiet and compressed, so I feel relief when the elevator takes me away.
The doors part to reveal a warm and yellow lobby. A doorman shuffles from behind his desk toward the exit. With a gloved hand, he pushes open the glass door before me. I hate how diligently he performs this unnecessary job.
“Have a good evening, miss.” He sees me out the building and treats me like an absolute lady because as far as he knows, I am one.