Afterwards, we curl together, pink and sticky, like cocktail shrimp. I ask you, How many other women have you slept with?
—Nine, you say, definitively, without hesitation.
Who were they?, I ask.
—First there was Miranda, the summer before I started school. We loved each other, often, with a pure intensity like…like Vasco daGama rounding the Cape of Good Hope. We did this for four months until we were bored with the Passage by Sea to India, and it was over.
—Then there was Carla, the summer after my freshman year, who was five years older than me and also worked for the roads dept. survey crew. At night I would come into her room (she didn’t have a roommate, unlike myself) and we would massage the day’s dirt and frustration from each other, in the shower, usually, or the full bathtub, and we’d drink beer and watch television, and make each other just feel good.
—Then there was Jessica, for nearly three years…I almost married her. By the end, the act had become another routine, something done twice weekly, like the dishes or watching Star Trek. I became spoiled, because whenever I found myself wanting sex, I knew all I had to do was wait a day or two.
—During Jessica there was Evangeline, a girl I met in the dorms. We flirted, knowing the danger, until… I slept with Evangeline only twice, and although I enjoyed it, it was the first of what was to become a habit of sorts: that I would sleep with a girl and then spend the rest of the night freaked out because I was lying next to a naked stranger.
—Then there were The Virgins. I was living in a party house with six other people, popular people, who knew a lot of pretty freshman women for some reason. I slept with three of them…three of the freshmen, I mean…all of them basically virgins:
—First was Ellen, who had had a lot of boyfriends in high school but hadn’t slept with any of them. That should’ve clued me in.
—Then there was Diane, who had only ever had one boyfriend and didn’t really like him putting his tongue into her mouth. That should’ve clued me in.
—The last virgin was Kate, who…I don’t know, I feel like an elephant, trampling all over impressionable young girls.
—And then there was Luisa.
You sigh.—And now there’s you.
I encircle you with my arms, press my lips against the back of your head. You don’t ask about my sexual history. My apartment is unheated, and the back of my arm, exposed, is much colder than the almost-too-hot parts under the sheets.
—I saw Mimi today, at the Safeway on Camino Real.
—Mimi…Miranda Perez, my first girlfriend. Everyone called her Mimi. I didn’t even know she was back in town…
What’s wrong? I ask, Was it a bitter breakup?
—I just dumped her, that’s all. I thought I didn’t love her anymore, or more likely I was just bored, and I just dumped her. We still wrote each other some, for a year or two, but she was from Costa Rica and…I just never thought I’d see her again. So all this time I thought I’d gone and really broken her heart, that I’d really hurt her.
I don’t know what to say…
—No, that’s all right. She…she looked really very good, very different. She’d lost a lot of weight and cut her hair short and…didn’t seem really very excited about seeing me.
You turn in my arms, kiss me briefly. —I have to use your phone.
It’s on the floor, I say.
You keep the blanket wrapped tight around you as slide one arm down to the floor, pick up the phone and dial.
—Hi Luisa, you say, when the line connects, —It’s…about ten thirty and I’m…I’ll be late tonight. Actually, I think I’ll just stay on the couch at the lab, and catch the train back into the city tomorrow morning. Love you hon. Bye.
You hang up the phone and turn back towards me, into my arms, stirring restlessly again. I want to cry; I want to ask you, What if you hadn’t gone to the Safeway on Camino Real at lunchtime? You kiss my neck, my breasts, my belly, my thighs. I shut my eyes tight together, so I won’t imagine you with the girl when you were a teenager.