Everyone calls him by his last name: Brooks.

His friends, his father, even his wife, Lee Ann. He has to calm her down all the time. Her temper tantrums are epic. She’s cold and mean, eyeing every last one of us with suspicion. To her, everything is an imaginary slight, like when Brooks forgot to hold the pickles on her burger at the drive-thru. That one made us all miss the first half of the concert. She is the match held next to the fuse in our collective powder keg.

Brooks is much older than the rest of us. He’s been sober longer than most of us have been out of school. Most of the time, when you ask him a question, he just smiles. There’s no vague answer, no sidestepping the question, only the smile that lets you know you’ll never hear the answer. His eyes are a closed door.

Our relationship is one of mild flirtation, but only when Lee Ann is not around. Brooks is a whole different person away from her. The undercurrent of churning anxiety smooths away. He relaxes, drops his guard just a little. Brooks becomes the fun guy, charming and quick witted. This is the Brooks we wait for, the sunny day in the middle of a month of thunderstorms.

I run into him at random, at the county fair. He’s sitting on a bench watching one of his kids ride the flying elephants. The sun has baked everything brown. I’m wearing a blue tie-dyed half shirt, and short shorts. It’s the fair, I’m on the prowl. I stand in front of him, chatting about whatever. He interrupts me. “I’d chew the buttons off that shirt any day,” he says. We hold onto a look, but I can’t think of anything to say.

Just then Lee Ann’s brother, Sean, comes back with a cardboard tray full of drinks and chili dogs. He won’t tell Lee Ann that Brooks has been talking to me, but it feels awkward just the same. I smile at Brooks, his eyes are hungry and it thrills me.

After a while, Brooks drifts in and out of our lives. He’s moved kind of far away, too far for us to afford the gas money on a regular basis. We do visit them sometimes, but the visits get farther and farther apart until Brooks and scary Lee Ann are dropped from our rotation of friends.

About a year later, Brooks shows up one day, just out of the blue. We’re at Manny’s house, playing cards. The door opens. No one looks up at first, people come in and out of Manny’s place all the time. After a minute, someone finally looks up and says “Brooks!”

It takes another moment to realize that Brooks is drunk. Not a little buzzed, but shit faced. He stands there, swaying, a beer in each hand. Brooks doesn’t drink. Brooks never, ever drinks. We all stare, like he’s grown a second head or something.

The Brooks we knew always went to meetings. Our Brooks gently talked to each of us in private if he was worried we were taking something too far for our own good. This Brooks is loud, some weird parody of the guy we knew. Lee Ann has left him for someone else, he tells us as he reaches for another beer from Manny’s fridge. I can’t decide if he’s mourning or celebrating. His eyes are puffy and red.

Like the old days, Brooks is always around now, but it’s this new, not improved version. He’s moved back, renting a room from his dad. The drinking never seems to ease up. We start to hide the beer when he comes around because he’ll drink it all. He wears on us, we all know it, but no one says anything out loud. Not anymore.

“Hey dude, you might want to ease up,” Manny had said to him one night. Brooks slammed the can on the table, sloshing it all over the cards. “I’ll tell you when I’ve fucking had enough,” Brooks raged. His anger was terrible and terrifying, it went on for hours. We left him alone after that.

Some nameless blurry night, we’re at Manny’s house, like usual. Brooks is drunk, I’m well on my way. Brooks and I are hurling flirtatious insults, everyone is laughing. One more drink and I’ve crossed the line from buzzed to completely fucking wasted and I need to go lie down.

As I get up, Brooks staggers across the room, helps me up the steep stairs. We stumble to the bed together and I pull my shoes off. I lay back, the room spins. I remember that day at the fairgrounds, and how much I wanted him in that moment.

“Brooks,” I slur, grabbing the edge of his flannel shirt and pulling him toward me. “Come here an’ fuck me.”

We fall back on the bed together, I turn my head towards him and wait for him to kiss me. He puts his arm around me. I nuzzle up to him, my head in the crook of his elbow. Brooks is silent and still for a long time, his fingers resting in my hair. Finally, he reaches for me, but lightly kisses my forehead instead.

“C’mon, fuck me,” I whisper.

“No, honey, not like this,” he says quietly, pulling the blanket up to my chin. As he tucks me in, I look up at him. His guard is down and his eyes are so, so sad. He looks old and tired. On his way out, he switches off the light, leaving me alone in the dark, wondering what I did wrong.

“Let me sketch you,” Edward says on one of our first dates.

We’re in a museum, and we’ve wandered into the children’s wing. Kids are shrieking happily, making giant soap bubbles and pressing big red buttons that light up giant displays of frogs or dinosaurs. There’s an art area tucked in the corner, the only people sitting there are tired parents with armfuls of coats and sweaters watching their children run around the room at full tilt.

Edward sits down in front of a comically small easel, made of sturdy yellow and blue plastic. He tears off the top sheet of paper and arranges several colors of magic markers in front of him. For a long moment, he stares at me. Just when the feeling is getting uncomfortable, he picks up a black marker and furiously begins to sketch. The marker goes dry, he picks up the green one instead.

Within moments, with just a few well placed lines, he’s replicated me in multi-color: the bump on my nose, the loose hair falling from my ponytail. I look beautiful, and it surprises me. I’ve never seen myself through someone else’s eyes before. Continue reading

Alan makes me desperate for him, like a ridiculous drug.

He’s strung me along for years and I fall for it every time. Sometimes it’s a day before he calls again, sometimes it’s months. But when he does, I’m here, like always, an obedient, lovesick puppy.

We’re watching nothing in particular on TV, flicking through channels of game shows and sitcoms. He’s sprawled across the battered couch, I sit on the floor next to the couch, hoping he’ll make a move, but he doesn’t. He mostly ignores me, other than to occasionally ask me to grab him another Budweiser. Just when he senses I’ve had about enough and I’m ready to leave, he says “Wanna take a shower with me?”

Alan doesn’t really give me much choice, not that I would say no anyway. He takes my hand and leads me to the bathroom. The faucet squawks in protest as he turns the water on. It’s an old trailer home, so the bathtub is made of cheap molded blue plastic. The tile was white once, but it’s also cheap and it’s turned a tobacco stained yellow here and there. Every girl’s seduction fantasy backdrop, I’m sure, but it’s all I’ve got. Continue reading

This is one of those paramount moments,

the kind that echoes around in your brain forever. A moment of what-if’s and should-have-beens. I’ll give the ending away right now: We won’t kiss or caress, we certainly won’t have sex, fuck, or even make love, but this moment is enough. It’ll have to be.

I won’t even tell you the back story, it’s sort of complicated and mostly boring. I’ll fast forward through all the getting-to-know-you and mundane conversations. Just know that she’s Kim, my friend’s Tony’s girlfriend and I’m crushing on her, hard. I think the feeling is mutual.

We sit on her bed, talking, like we’ve done a hundred times before and she turns to me.

“Would you like to brush my hair?” She unloosens it from her ponytail as she asks, crystal blonde waves fall around her shoulders. I look around, and she points to the hairbrush on the dresser. In my mind, when I remember this moment, it’s a heavy old fashioned Victorian silver brush with an ornate handle and all the romantic trappings one can attach to a brush. The sun streams through the windows, the light catching every nuance in her shimmering hair. Continue reading

It feels serendipitous when Tony introduces me to Dean.

“He’s got a job and a car,” Tony whispers in my ear as he makes introductions.

I just turned twenty-five and I’m in a panic. Everyone else my age is getting married, people are talking behind my back. They already think I’m odd and snobby because I won’t go work in a factory.

Dean’s good looking in that beefy sort of way, dirty blonde brush cut, big blue eyes. He tells me how he had a football scholarship, about the blown out knee that killed the deal and the dream. We find that we know nearly all the same people. He’s not terribly bright, but he’s polite and attentive. He’ll do. I let him move in a few weeks later.

The sex is good, he can keep up with me. We spill our fantasies and skirt around the edges of secrets. Dean confesses he’s always wanted to see what it felt like to be fucked in the ass. I tell him I’d be happy to oblige. He says he thinks he might be bisexual. I’m cool with that.

We go to a shady sex toy store the next town over, but when we get there I get shy and refuse to go in. I wait alone in the car, shrinking down in the car seat, hoping no one spots me.  Dean comes out, hands me a paper sack. He bought a dildo for himself and a bondage magazine for me. I glance at the cover. Twelve dollars! A small fortune, but I’ll hang onto it for years, the only proof to me that someone else out there likes this stuff, not just me.  Continue reading

“I miss you,” Damon whispers into the phone.

I’m broken. He left me the day we got our marriage license. For the past three months, I’ve done nearly nothing other than sit in a rocking chair and stare at the phone, waiting. Waiting for this.

He went back to his ex-girlfriend, now they’ve split up. He wants sympathy from me, and I give it to him. Damon tells me all the ways Julie was such a fucking cunt, how he was wrong to leave me. How she left him for someone else, stupid bitch. I tell him I forgive him for everything. For the split lip, for leaving me, all of it. I love him, I tell him over and over, hoping to erase his pain.

“Come home,” he says finally. So I do. Continue reading

The emptiness swells.

It fills the room, threatens to break windows and smash furniture. I’ve masturbated the entire day, it’s not enough.

I make phone calls.

“Fuck me,” I plead.

“Can’t,” a voice whispers back, “The girlfriend is here.”

“Can’t,” another voice answers, “Have to go to work.”

The world feels like a blank space between my hands, like I should be holding something in them, but there’s nothing to grasp. I reach for something that isn’t there. My mind races along, thoughts shoot out in a hundred directions, all of them leading nowhere. Continue reading

I come in a blurred frenzy as Jay works his hand in and out of me.

I arch, buckle, scream, curve, collapse. Jay carefully wipes his hand off on a towel, then lies down next to me.

“That’s really the last time, you know,” he says sorrowfully. I rest my head on his shoulder. He wraps an arm around me and pulls me closer.

“I know,” I answer, trying to speak over the lump in my throat.

We’ve had our one last time for the third time now, we’re reluctant to stop. She’s come back, and he needs to know. Things are getting too complicated. It’s painful, we’ve been over every angle dozens of times, but the only solution is to stop being lovers.

“I’ll call you,” he says, and I know he will. We stand on my porch and hold each other for a long time. His arms are warm, safe. I nuzzle the space between his shoulder and neck, inhaling his earthy scent. I want to keep this next moment from happening, but it does. As Jay plants a kiss on top of my head, I feel him wipe away his own tears. This is really it, no more one-more-times. Continue reading

“Finally!” I think as JD rips my shirt to shreds.

I try not to be annoyed, it’s one of my favorites. I can see by the bulge in his grey sweatpants that he’s hard and excited, so I bite my tongue and just roll with it.

Tearing off more strips from my shirt, JD binds my hands to the bedposts. He uses the last strip of shirt to gag me, then stands back to examine his handiwork. “I’ve got a surprise for you,” he says gleefully.  “Another one?” I think. I’m plenty surprised now and getting wetter by the moment. JD goes into the bathroom, I can hear him rummage around, opening drawers and cabinets. I test my bindings, he’s got me tied tight. The gag tastes like fabric softener, not a very April Fresh flavor at all.

I wonder what triggered this. JD is vanilla with a capital V. This marriage isn’t really working anymore. Everything was fine as long as he had two jobs and was never home. Ever since he lost one, we’ve discovered we’re nowhere near as compatible as we liked to pretend. The sex, however, has always been lackluster. The closest he’s ever come to kinky was producing a half-used bottle of cherry flavored body oil, left over from a tryst with an ex-girlfriend. I’ve tried to talk him into tying me up, roughing me up a little, but all I’m met with is nervous laughter and another round of the missionary position. Over the years I’ve sent him dirty emails, dropped hints, bought toys, all to no avail.  I’m eager to see what he finally has in store.  Continue reading

Blue moved in a few months ago.

More accurately, he came to visit one day and never left. I’ve just never gotten around to taking him home, and he’s never asked me to. Blue is my companion in loneliness, an island neither of us is quite ready to leave. Our ghosts rattle loudest at night, so we’ve fallen into the habit of sleeping together, curled up against each other like shipwrecked children.

I’m in that in-between place, not quite asleep, but not awake either, when I feel his hand move up my thigh. I roll towards him, finding his lips waiting for me in the dark. We’ve kissed before, but only for the sake of kissing, this feels different. Hands search, clasp, unclasp, wander, return. I let him pull my top off. I tangle in the sleeves, he runs his hands down my sides as I pull the shirt over my head.  Continue reading