"I feel like I can confess something to you now." He began the entire descent into sexual servitude quite innocently. I almost feel sorry for him in retrospect. I clarify that ‘almost.'
We found ourselves at the park again, that same old war memorial carved in stone, the same old donut shop cocoa in his hands, steaming in the cool March air. I didn't want to drink anything that afternoon; a knot had formed in my throat about two months ago, and had been growing like a malignant tumor as a reminder that the time was slowly approaching for me to cross the line. The knot, which felt like a lump of candlewax resting just out of my tongue's reach, wasn't from fear, or anxiety, or anything so tragic. On the contrary, I was so thrilled that my giggles of sheer delight seemed to gather in a ball at the back of my throat, making it impossible to talk most of the time when I thought about how extremely close I was to making this all right. The plan relied on perfect timing. I had to strike after he became comfortable enough to confess something, anything, to me, but before he had the chance to become suspicious of my intentions.
And so I told him, go ahead.
"Well, I hope you aren't going to suddenly think I'm being way too open with you. It's just that you're the best psychoanalyst I've ever had and I think I might as well take advantage of that because who knows when you'll decide to make me start paying you, you know?"
He spoke in run-on sentences, always sounding like he was explaining himself before a tribunal of authorities. Always sounded like he was a lying. It was a brilliant tactic, though; I came to expect such swift, harried speech, and therefore became accustomed to listening carefully for every word. He stuttered in an almost laughable way, catching himself on ‘o's. It worked with his mouth, which was so small and so round that it looked natural falling into that ‘o' formation. For the record of irony, I had made a ‘B' on my last vignette because of run-on sentences.
I forced that warm, adult smile, and pushed my hands harder against the bottom of my jacket pockets as I turned to him.
"Harrison, I'm not going to run off. Oh, sure, we have different lives and you've experienced a lot more than I have–" I purposefully turned away so he wouldn't feel inhibited about cutting me off. I knew that about him.
"–actually, Helen, from what I've heard, I've missed out on a lot."
He sighed. A bone-liquefying sigh so undeniable that I had to collapse onto one of the benches. It was the one with the USAF crest chiseled crudely in black. I no longer felt the need to have my hands in my pockets–that sigh had sent a rush of heat through my body so quickly, I would've been fanning myself off had the risk of curiosity on his part not been too great.
I scoffed to cover for my stumbling composure. "Just say it."
"I think it's the reason for what I've been telling you lately–in fact I know it's the reason for what I've been telling you lately. You know, my insecurity, my paranoia, my insomnia, my–"
"Say it, dumbass."
He grinned. My straightforward brashness paid off again. Why he liked it so much I'll never know–even I despised language like that sometimes.
"I haven't had sex in over a year. Actually, about a year and a half now."
The ball in the back of my throat was now a super giant with its own gravitational pull.
You know that euphorically anxious feeling when you're climbing the first big hill of a roller coaster? That Jesus-what-did-I-get-myself-into-mommy-can't-save-me-now moment? That moment, that feeling, was suspended in time as my mouth came unloosed from its hinges and I stared, unblinking, at Franklin Harrison.
His grin faded quickly and I realized just as he did, with the exact opposite reaction, that I hadn't been the one to cross the line after all.
"Helen, maybe we should go on home now. I am really sorry. Don't think I was trying to–"
"No, no," Think, dammit, think! Say something, anything, you stupid bitch, don't let him leave right now! Right at this instant you have him by the balls. This is the moment that will make or brea k your plan and it has to last! "No, it makes complete sense. I feel very sorry for you."
Liar. I had no idea what he felt like. But, even though I'd never technically let some hormonally obsessed boy make a woman out of me, I knew that the moment I started I wouldn't want to stop, not for anything, certainly not for a year. I felt a hitherto absent connection with Harrison, a deep-seated pity that affected just enough to move me to lurid psychoanalysis while not falling into the Trap. The Trap, oh yes...it was looming now. I had already written it into the equation. I forced my face to harden slightly and I held back the pity. Pity is a self-defeating emotion, especially in my position. I could say I was sorry for Harrison, and I could certainly set myself up to be the answer to all his problems, but never, ever would I truly believe that I was doing any of this for him.
"What?" I knew it. Now he wanted to deny that he had even said such a thing.
"Harrison," I explained, offering him a seat on the bench next to me. He straddled the next bench over instead, the one with the Navy crest, and faced me. His eyebrows clenched in an odd way on his forehead, and when I noticed once again those perturbed creases which insulted his youth, I knew I had to keep going, keep talking, and proceed to the next scene, which came as easily to me as breathing and blinking. I had practiced this speech in front of my bedroom mirror. I had written and rewritten the presentation, as zealous and obsessed as a religious scribe. It was the Thesis for my plan. It was mandatory that I recite without flaw, "I'd say we know each other pretty well by now. I mean, how long has it been–two months–since you started driving me home?" I waited for him to nod, and made sure to smile, "and Christ, I've been in your class all semester–that makes it three, really. I guess what I'm saying is, you can trust me to tell you the truth, because I'm beyond being just your student. I mean, this is nothing new to me, some of my best friends are a lot older to me...I don't think age matters in any case, it's all how you think, and how you act."
I paused and glared at him meaningfully. He stuck out his lower lip contemplatively and nodded. "Absolutely."
"I mean, I know some men older than you who behave like ten-year-olds. So trust me here when I tell you that you're above most women."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean–let me put it this way–someone once said, ‘scratch a cynic and you find a romantic.' You act like you hate the world, Harrison."
"I do not!"
"Yes you do! Don't worry, I'm the same way, and for the most part, it's not so much that I hate the world as that I don't want the world to get the chance to hate me." This comment had been perfectly evaluated to pander to Harrison. Harrison the narcissist. Harrison the cynic. Harrison the incurably vain.
He lifted his head and I saw clarity suddenly descend. He blinked twice distinctively before looking back at me and saying, softly, "You know, that's probably the most righteous thing anyone's said to me in a long time."
"It's true, isn't it?" I stood up suddenly, to hit my mark, and began to pace in front of the benches, every now and then kicking at loose gravel, "being vain isn't a character flaw, at least I don't think so. I mean, you–"
"Hold on. Are you saying I'm vain?" He looked hurt for a moment. I almost balked. But deep down I reminded myself that in order to take full responsibility for the relationship, I had to start small at convincing Harrison that everything I said was the absolute truth.
"Well," I closed my eyes for a minute and laughed to soften the edge of my personality assessment, "you have every reason to be. If I were you I'd be extremely vain. I mean, you're smart, you're young, adequately successful, and very handsome. And you do preen a lot, you know."
"Preen?" This rendered him completely incredulous. But at least I had him interested.
"I don't feel ashamed to admit that I find myself watching you quite often," if I didn't know better I'd say I saw a blush start to spread in his cheeks, "and mister, you will pause for any mirror. You will check your reflection in a window, in a puddle, in a shiny doorknob. You touch your hair every two seconds–by the way, did you know that's a sign of–"
"I know what that's a sign of." He held up an arresting hand. A blush *was* spreading in his cheeks.
Giggle, Helen, giggle, and try to look innocent. "Anyway, you look nice. And you go to extremes to keep it that way. I think that constitutes preening."
He sneered and looked up at me with a ‘don't start this' look. "Trust me, it's not my intention. You should see me in the morning."
"Maybe I should."
Like sand in a hourglass, my remark followed his, smoothly and naturally, our eyes suddenly meeting and my heart no longer beating. His breath went short and he forced himself to smile, to convince himself once again that nothing was happening. I saw fear.
"That was cute, Helen."
"Yeah, I try," I shrugged, but did not change my tone or my posture. And I didn't stop there, "so really, what are you doing this evening, Mr. Lonely?"
"Gee, thanks," amazing, isn't it, how a simple joke tacked onto the end of a treacherous statement can completely change the way the mind reacts? I certainly think so, "I'll probably stay at home. Soup for one, watch a movie, grade some papers."
"Awww, you don't have to do that! Come on, let's go to a movie, do something. Let's get your mind off this whole mess!"
He stood, as if a gas burner had been lit below him. He held his hands up and turned his head to the side, completely put off by my sudden suggestion.
....to be continued. Check back for updates!