“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone before.”
James had never been good at thinking on his feet, and he was completely unprepared for the question. He had been focusing most of his attention on trying not to stare at Brie’s ass as she attempted to balance on the wooden barrier lining the sidewalk, while simultaneously asking himself questions like is this a date? Should I grab her hand? When do I make the move? It occurred to him that her soliciting such personal information from him might just be the sign he needed, but when the moment came he completely froze.
It was the first weekend at college. Brie and James were fresh meat, and met each other in a theater class. They hit it off talking about Shakespeare and musicals, and made each other laugh with various movie quotes. James was shocked when Brie dropped by his dorm room to say hey that Friday. They hung out in his dorm for at least an hour, and he couldn’t stop staring at her. She was cute, with freckles, dirty blonde hair, and stunning eyes. But she wasn’t just cute. She was hot. When she came into his dorm and sat on his bed, he couldn’t stop thinking about moving from his desk chair to the bed, sitting next to her, laying down with her, and doing things that parents think all the boys and girls do in college…
But he didn’t want to think about her that way. Not just yet. He respected her, and wanted to get to know her deeply, what her dreams were, what motivated her, what excited her intellectually. So in order to get his mind out of the gutter, and hopefully create a date-like setting, he suggested going for a walk, to which she happily agreed. And that is how it happened that approximately thirty minutes later, a few blocks away from campus, Brie asked James to divulge a piece of extremely privileged information, information that only the people most special to him are allowed to know, and he couldn’t think of anything.
You loser! He thought to himself. This is it! She’s practically throwing herself at you! This wasn’t just a standard, every day getting to know you conversation. This was an intimate conversation. A sexy conversation, in a way. And he couldn’t think of anything!
“I dunno.” James replied with a shrug.
“Aw c’mon, dude!” She pressed, giving him a playful smile.
Dude. He didn’t love the sound of that. But she was insisting on getting this information from him. There had to be a reason she insisted, right? And yet, in the search for just the right nugget of information, not too revealing so as to frighten her off, but not so tame as to make him come off as a prude, his brain came up totally dry.
“I can’t think of anything.” He said, desperately trying to hide his nervousness. “You go first.” There. That ought to buy you some time. And you can decide what to share based on what she says.
“Okay.” She said. “I sent nudes to a guy I met online once.”
James’s brain nearly exploded. So much for keeping your mind out of the gutter he thought.
Brie continued: “I know it’s not that crazy. Lots of girls in my high school have done it. But it was a big deal for me. I don’t want to share my body with anyone until I get to know their mind. And my parents would have killed me if they found out. But the guy was cool, and it was online so it seemed harmless. Plus I was kinda drunk when I did it.” She chuckled as she finished her explanation.
So she’s a drinker James thought. He knew most people he met in college would be. But she’s not a slut. He knew he had to say something in response. There were a million questions going through his mind, most of them extremely distasteful. What did you show him? Was it full frontal? Were you...doing anything in the pics? But he landed on something fairly neutral: “How did you feel about it afterward?”
Her cheeks had begun turning bright read, but she smiled and replied: “Right after, I felt really excited. It was a thrill, doing something risque like that. And it made me feel kind of free. Like I was a genie stuck in a bottle and finally let myself out. But a while later, I felt really anxious and paranoid. It made me feel really exposed. I stopped flirting with the guy and I was worried for months he was gonna post the pics online or something.”
“Did he?” I wonder if I can find them he thought, then immediately scolded himself. Stop it! You’re disgusting.
“Nah. I never heard from him again.” She replied
“Oh, well, that’s good.” He said, feigning casual disinterest.
“Alright, your turn!” She wasn’t going to let him off the hook. He smiled at her nervously, and she unleashed a halfway-decent Hannibal Lecter impersonation: “Quid Pro Quo, James!”
Shit! He had begun to panic. Nothing he could say about himself could match her. The story she shared, how she carried herself, the energy she put out into the world. She was a free spirit, full of curiosity and passion for life. She was guarded but eager to explore. And she had a sexual yearning that was encapsulated by a patient calmness. James was just a nerd. An antisocial virgin who spent his childhood observing life from the sidelines and had failed to develop a personality. Some people found his quietness endearing but no one had any interest in looking below the surface. Brie was the first one to go digging for his deep dark secrets. Sadly, he didn’t have any.
That wasn’t entirely true. He had secret thoughts. Secret fantasies. Secret desires. Secret rage. She didn’t want to know the true James. She didn’t want to see the things he’d already done to her in his mind. She didn’t want to see the monster that had been growing in his heart, bred by years of rejection and loneliness. She didn’t want to experience his sexual yearning, which was about as far from calm as one could get. All she wanted was for him to be as vulnerable with her and she had just been with him. But that was the biggest secret of all. James was always vulnerable.
Jesus dude. You’re making this way heavier than it has to be. Just make something up! Say you smoked pot once or stole something from school! Why can’t you just be cool for once?! But before he was able to fabricate an answer, they were interrupted by a voice.
“Hey Brie! What’s up!” A tall upper-classman wearing a letter jacket and carrying a beer was approaching them. Behind him, James saw a large house with three greek letters fixed to the door. The front porch was filled with rambling students. They had wandered in front of a frat house.
“Chase!” Brie yelled. She ran to him and gave him a hug. A long hug. James had almost begun counting the Mississippi’s before she finally let him go. “James, this is Chase, we have chemistry together!”
You mean the subject right? James almost asked, realizing he had become very salty. “Nice to meet you.” He said meekly, shaking Chase’s hand without fully making eye contact.
“We’re having a party, do you wanna come in?” Chase asked Brie, clearly only speaking to her and not to the pair of them.
James opened his mouth to inform Chase that they were just out for a walk when Brie spoke at the same time: “Yea definitely!” James felt his heart sink into his stomach, and looked at Brie with his mouth hanging open. “Do you want to go?” She asked. There was a twinkle in her eye. She had become filled with an intense excitement, of a kind James had not yet seen in his few interactions with her.
James stuttered nervously: “Uh...well…I...erm…” No! I don’t wanna go to the frat party! Are you nuts? I thought we were just doin’ our own thing here! Uncertain how to express his real feelings, he settled on an evasive maneuver: “Well I don’t know anybody in there.”
“Neither do I! We can meet some people, c’mon it’ll be fun!”
James looked at the beer in Chase’s hand. He had drunk alcohol a few times but never at a party. Never in a place where he could get busted. And he suspected there was more than alcohol in that house. James had never done any drugs before, and the idea of being around them terrified him. And there were so many people in the house. He could hear the roar of a million conversations and rap music blasting on a stereo system. He was amazed he hadn’t noticed it sooner. His stomach was forming tight knots at the thought of going into that house, even with Brie. He wanted to throw up.
“Nah.” He said pitifully, wishing Chase wasn’t standing there observing his absolute and total lameness. “I think I’m just gonna go back to campus.”
“Well you’re not gonna let me go in alone are you?!” Brie was expressing some shock of her own. She clearly wanted him to go with her. She was insisting again. Why was she insisting?
“I mean, do you want to just go back and hang out?” James asked. It was a feeble last ditch attempt to salvage the night, but he feared he’d already put the last nail in the coffin. He’d never felt less cool in his life. Brie seemed to be wrestling with a genuine dilemma for a few moments, and then she pulled a quarter out of her pocket.
“Alright, heads I go to the party, tails I walk back with you.” And with that, she flicked the coin up into the air.
While the quarter spun, James did some rapid fire analysis and decided that Brie was scared of the party too. Maybe almost as much as James was. But she was excited by it, despite her fear. It stimulated her thirst for adventure. After all, adventure was what college was for, right? And she wanted James to come because she trusts him. He comforts her. Makes her feel safe.
But he doesn’t excite her. That was the rub. Brie was looking for a party. She wanted James to come along for the party. But to James, Brie was the party. It was in that moment, as the coin hit the pavement, that he knew he had already lost her. He didn’t even need to look down and see the silver face staring up at him to know he was going back to his dorm alone.
“Alright man, I’ll see you Monday.” She came in for a bittersweet hug, and said in his ear: “You’re on my shit list!” And before James could react, she was walking with Chase up to the frat house.
James stood on the sidewalk, watching her walk away, feeling pathetic and empty, and suddenly thought of the one thing he’d never had the guts to tell anybody:
I love you.