I could feel her breath. She leaned in close, lifted up on her toes to reach his ear, and whispered something naughty. I couldn't hear what, but it didn't matter. I could tell it was naughty. Whenever she whispered like that, with her fingers fluttering at his waist and a hint of the almost-but-not-quite embarrassed blush that started right at her collarbone, I knew whatever she was saying was meant to excite her enthralled listener.
I should know. I taught her that.
She used to do that to me. When we were together, in the beginning, she'd stroke my side when we were together, just like she's doing to him now. It was easy for her to do that in public. No one had to know how intimate that touch really was.
And then she'd giggle, lift up on her toes, and whisper something salacious and suggestive guaranteed to make me shiver. Then she'd blush. And I'd melt. It was a cheap trick, and it worked every time.
I should know. I taught her how to do that.
Not the blush. The blush is all hers, and she gets a lot of mileage out of it. Some endearing little traits come naturally, but others definitely take work. Like a pre-teen schoolgirl practices putting on her eye shadow and lip gloss and blush in front of her vanity mirror, a young woman practices her laugh and her hand movements so they look and sound casual, yet lilting. She sits at her dressing table and practices looking up from under lowered lashes and giving just the right delicate shake of her head to make that errant lock of hair fall 'casually' over her left eye. After all, what better way to get Him to feel her perfect skin and to gaze deeply into her perfect eyes, and lean close enough to smell the delicate scent of her thirty-dollar-a-bottle shower gel and sixty-five-dollar-a-box after-bath talc, than to give him a reason to brush that lock of hair back behind her ear?
The men love that, the hair thing. Somewhere they've been told that it makes them seem more 'romantic, ' and they're convinced that we women will get completely butter-kneed and unable to resist their frighteningly transparent efforts to get in between our legs.
But no one tells girls that they're supposed to practice, to teach themselves how to be charming and sweet and sexy and sultry and innocent all at the same time. So most of girls go through their teen years desperately longing for a clue. Desperately yearning-as only teenaged girls can yearn-for The Answer, searching for the thing that will make the boys look at them like they look at Carrie Newell, head cheerleader and all-around favorite girl.
Then, if they're lucky, somewhere at the end of our miserable teen years, the penny drops, and the girls Get It. Carrie Newell wasn't born like that. Carrie Newell doesn't roll out of bed looking like God's gift to wet dreams. So, they sit at their mirrors and take stock of their good points. They experiment with honey-blonde rinses and Cover Girl blusher, they stop eating Mom's mashed potatoes, and they start practicing. They wink and giggle and flip their bangs back until they, too, know that the boys will be slavering and sniggling, and although they protest and stomp their pretty feet, inside they're thrilled to find out that their name is included on the "girls we'd do" lists that the boys pass around.
I was even luckier. I'm Carrie. The perky breasts and blonde hair and blue eyes and peaches-and-cream skin are God-given. I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. I couldn't understand why the girls got all giggly and silly around the boys, but it seemed like an important thing. But since it wasn't all that important to me, the pressure was off, and I could develop those feminine wiles, using my desperate, unsuspecting high school classmates as test subjects.
That was before it was "in" to be a lesbian, or to have lesbian experiences. That was back when lesbians all had to have short hair and tough-looking tattoos and no breasts. Perky blonde pretty cheerleaders couldn't be lesbians, and in rural Iowa, the only 'experimenting' that gets done had best be with a member of the opposite sex.
So I figured the liking-guys thing would come with time. Meanwhile I taught myself how to be attractive, and I tried to make myself want the boys. I had my sexual experiences under the bleachers of the football stadium like all of the other perky blonde cheerleaders. Fumbling, awkward experiences. There's nothing at all magical about two teenagers having sex. They're not smart enough about their own bodies to truly enjoy it. And what teens understand about the opposite set of genitalia would fit on the tip of my perky little teenaged nipple. So, I let the boys feel my breasts and I put my hand down their Levi's, and everything was as it should be.
It wasn't until I left small town high school that I was able to figure out what sex was supposed to be like. Actually, it wasn't until after I left small town college. After two years of flitting around majors and departments, and trying to find lust and love amongst the graduate student TA's responsible for giving me a passing grade in Chemistry 105 lab, I came to the realization that I didn't know who I was. And until I figured that part out, shelling out tuition money each semester was a waste of resources.
So, I left and went west. I kept going until I hit blue water and warm beaches and an entire state full of employers awestruck by anyone who got to work before 10:30 in the morning. I never thought that growing up in farm country would turn out to be an advantage, but there's something to be said for the Midwestern work ethic. I signed on with a temporary agency to do office jobs and discovered that I liked it. I worked when I wanted to, and since the jobs were temporary, I could take off and travel around southern California.
And I explored. Not only were the employers awestruck, the men of Southern California were all-too-willing to be part of a young, relatively innocent, pretty farm girl's West Coast education. I dated men from bars, from my apartment building, from the offices where I worked, from the corner grocery store. I went to dinner, and I went to clubs and, with some of them, I went to bed. Men who were charming and smooth and confident at dinner or on the dance floor, I figured would be charming and smooth and confident during sex. If a man could move my body to the beat of the music, I hoped he'd be able to move with my body in a sexual rhythm that I knew I had somewhere inside.
I discovered that even grown up men don't really understand a woman's body. I knew I was missing out on something. I watched the electric connection between couples on the boardwalk and I longed to feel what they were feeling. I dated. I dated and dated and dated. Men from bars, men from offices, men from the club. Professional men, surfer boys, older men, father figures, and grandfather figures. They'd lie over me, or beside me, and thrust their fingers into my KY'd pussy in their obligatory foreplay attempt. Then they'd spread my thighs, and push and pound and grunt and groan for five minutes. I closed my eyes and tried to make it feel good.
Then I found out that men may not understand a woman's body, but another woman does. Beautifully.
The first time was a surprise. I was nursing a vodka-on-the-rocks and eating chips and salsa on the veranda of a Tex-Mex café, watching the sun set over the ocean when Anita joined me. She didn't ask, she just sat down without saying anything, drank her drink, and ate my chips and salsa until all that was left were corn-chip crumbs in the plastic basket, melting ice in our glasses, and red streaks reflecting on the water.
Then she spoke.
"I haven't seen you around before. Why not?"
And, despite my attempts to be California-cool, Iowa-cheerleader answered her. "I've only been here a few months. I'm still getting my bearings."
California-cool arched eyebrow. "Oh? Tell you what. Come back to my place and I'll help you get your 'bearings.'"
I could have feigned ignorance and left, but I didn't. Had a man used that line, I'd have picked up my purse and walked out. But this was a woman, and a beautiful woman. Where I was perky blonde American Beauty cheerleader, she was exotic Like Water for Chocolate sensual. Ebony hair, tanned skin, chocolate brown eyes, and a voice that reached between my thighs and did very pleasurable things to my insides.
So, I threw aside the Iowa small-town reservations, and I went. And her voice wasn't the only thing that did pleasurable things to my insides.
Her name was Anita, and we stayed together for the next six months. She opened herself up to me, and she was so patient. She let me explore her body as I'd only previously explored my own. We spent whole weekends in bed together tracing erotic pathways over each other's breasts and thighs. She touched me the way she wanted to be touched, and I imitated her finger strokes. We'd lie on top of the cotton sheets next to the open window and let the salt breeze wash over us as I learned what it was like to have an orgasm brought only by someone else's tongue. Gone were the painful and fumbling pokes and jabs and thrusts that I remembered from under the stadium bleachers.
She took me dancing, and introduced me to places I'd only imagined. Bars full of women, openly admiring each other. Clubs packed with women of all shapes, sizes, colors, butch and femme, dancing together, holding each other, sharing drinks and secrets and strokes and kisses. Gatherings where no one was furtive. Where being a lesbian wasn't being "different." I felt as though I'd finally come home.
It didn't last. First romances rarely last. We drifted apart, congenially, but there was a finality to our parting. She was my first, and I'll always love her for that. She taught me how to be with a woman, and I'll always love her for that.
I spent the next year wandering from casual relationship to casual relationship. It was easy. There were women all over the place. Tanned women, fit women, bikinis and sarongs and sunglasses and breasts and lips. I never lost the look of my Iowa Farm Girl naÔveté, and I reveled in the attention of the women ready to help me explore the delights of their body. They all taught me something new.
Bekka taught me how to wrap my lips around her clit and suck ever so gently, delicately drawing the moans from her throat until she whimpered. Lori taught me to listen to her breath come in gasps and starts and not to stop my tongue until she tightened her thighs around my head and collapsed in a quivering heap on the bed. Chris taught me that men are bedroom simpletons and all of the wonderful, flirty poses and giggles and sighs that I'd perfected were transparent to the women who had also perfected the same poses and giggles and sighs. Holly taught me that there's no way to equate the rough thrusting of a single, thick, stiff cock with the gentle brushing, twirling, flicking and fluttering strokes of two flexible moving fingers.
From them all I learned how to finally let go. How to discover my own rhythm with another person. From all of them I learned that sex is amazing. I had always been beautiful, but now I was beautiful and confident. I fell into Southern California with fervor.
It was so easy. Falling in and out of love, falling in and out of lust. I was enthralled with the smooth skin and soft bodies. So different from the sharp angles and sandpaper-rough chins. It was easier to click with the women. The bullshit back-and-forth that is so fundamental between men and women was pushed aside. They knew when I was full of crap. And it really was enough for a long time.
I met Chlo" at the office. I had stopped working temp jobs and settled into a secretarial position at a California steel building company. Construction workers and project managers and designers and contractors. It was a big firm with enough employees to keep the workplace from becoming too cozy. We were all friendly, and there were the occasional Friday night, just won a big bid celebratory drink bashes, but on the whole we did our jobs and went our separate ways when the workday ended. With the exception of baby showers and divorce announcements, I couldn't have told you much about the personal lives of any of my co-workers.
Until Chlo" started.
She was a project engineer. A project manager brought in to help oversee a massive office/hotel/convention center job we'd just successfully bid. She looked like a construction project manager. She had graduated from actual construction work, but from the wonderfully defined lines of her shoulders and the delicately sculpted muscles of her biceps it was obvious she'd paid her dues working with a welding torch and she also knew her way around a set of blueprints and specs. There were the initial, obligatory passes made by the men-it was a sort of initiation-and Chlo" held her own. She gently, but without question, made it clear that she was the boss, and not to be trifled with.
The week after she started, some wiseass left a trashy pinup taped to her wall of her cubicle, some black-and-white spread beaver shot from a cheap magazine. Chlo" didn't blink twice when she saw it. She pulled it from the wall, glanced at it appraisingly, and muttered, "nice tits" before wadding it and tossing it casually in her trash. The guys pretty much left her alone after that. She knew her job, she called bullshit on the men when they deserved it, and, once they saw her leave for lunch, arm-in-arm with an engineering consultant, the dyke jokes pretty much stopped also. That's also when I stopped looking seriously. She was beautiful, but not charming. She had beautiful eyes and great lips, but there was awkwardness in her demeanor that kept people from flocking around her. She laughed too loud at the big boss's jokes during project meetings, or she didn't laugh enough at the jokes told by everyone else at the water cooler on Monday mornings. She wore jeans and sweatshirts that hid the curves I suspected were longing to be exposed. But she apparently had her man, and I had enough female friends. So, I took her off the possibilities list and put her out of my mind.
Until the day I found her in the Ladies Room. I heard crying. I could hear it from the hallway and it's not something you can ignore. If it's bad enough to be bawling at work about it, someone needs to do something about it, and construction firms-even large ones-are critically lacking in the compassionate female category.
Chlo" was in a closed stall, but I could see her shoes under the door. I knocked gently-I wasn't sure if she'd be open to my overtures.
"Chlo"? It's Carrie. Can I help?"
The door pushed open and I stepped back against the sink. She was a mess. Her eyes were puffy and swollen. Tears left black mascara-tracks down her cheeks.
"I don't understand men, Carrie. I just don't get it."
"Fuck, Chlo". Men aren't that complicated. Give 'em the remote, and a beer, fuck 'em, and compliment their skills at the grill. What could be easier?"
She burst into fresh tears. Okay, it wasn't the right moment for smartass.
"Oh, Chlo". I'm sorry. Tell me what happened. Maybe we can fix it."
"He found someone else, that's what happened. And he told me today. Over lunch. I was happily enjoying my soup and, out of the blue, he asks for his apartment key back. He's got my stuff packed up, and he'll bring it by tonight, and could I have his stuff ready for him to pick up? Damn it, Carrie. He didn't give me any warning. I thought things were great. I don't know what happened."
"I don't know what to tell you, Chlo". Men are pigs. Do you want him back?" I ran a paper towel under the cold water and handed it to her.
"Here. Dab, don't rub, you'll only make it worse. You're a mess."
More tears, but with less heart behind them now.
"I don't know if I want him back, but I want to know why there's always a someone else they're leaving to. What is it, Carrie?"
I thought for a moment. I knew what it was, but there was no nice way to tell her. Especially not right now, as she stood appraising her streaked and puffy face in the hideous florescent lights of the Ladies' room. Men left her because the penny never dropped for her. She never learned how to play the games. She was an intelligent, capable woman, and although men think that's what they want, pretty soon they start to wonder if it wouldn't be better to have flirty and giggly and perky instead. The trick, the lucky girls learned early, was to get that perky thing in as bait, then hook them with the intelligent-capable combination. She didn't have the bait. But it was the wrong time to mention it. I figured it was girlfriend time. Female bonding in a male-dominated building.