Brooke was the first girl to touch me in a way that made my stomach tremble. We were in Kindergarten, shoving hands down the front of each other’s pants in the darkened Planetarium. There was something fuzzily “wrong” about what we did, enough for us to keep our hands to ourselves outside certain, lightless venues.
Then there was Eva, the second of four kids raised by multimillionaires that refused to clothe their children in anything they didn’t find on sale at Target. It seemed like every time my mother dropped me off in front of their mini-mansion, they’d added something new and bourgeoisie to the backyard; first it was a hot tub, then a swimming pool, followed by a tree house, two tennis courts and a quarter-pipe for her brothers, aspiring skaters that bored of the installment before summer’s end.
Her older brother walked in on us “playing doctor” in our underpants. I remember the shame of her mom walking in shortly thereafter and telling me I had to go home. My shame intensified when, instead of getting angry, my mother gently told me not to take my clothes off at other peoples’ houses.
Hope had a real down-home quality about her: the kind of girl that looked good in mom jeans and hiking boots. She had blonde hair and big boobs two years before the rest of us even had the chance to worry about growing up. Her mom forced her to start wearing a bra in fifth grade, but neglected to have a discussion about deodorant. Slumber parties at her house usually ended with us in her bed, spooned against each other. There was something about her musk — half Herbal Essences and half sweat — a mix just earthy enough for me to feign sleep as I breathed the scent of her hair. I never told her that I liked her; somehow I just knew it was wiser to keep my mouth shut.
And my freshman year of high school, there was Dana. She had been transferred across school districts for being a troublemaker. She was conventionally pretty, perfectly described by every imaginable cliché: a cut-and-dried, all-American, girl next door. Everyone wanted to be her friend; she was hot, she was fun, and she had a car. She warmed up to me — inexplicably — and soon we were joined at the hip the way teen girls so often are. I slept over at Dana’s house enough for her to give me a drawer in her dresser, enough for my mom to be suspicious and for her parents to be sure their daughter had finally met a well-behaved friend from school.
I was desperate for a cool, older sister figure, and she was quick to take on the role. Dana taught me how to play pa-diddle when riding in the car with cute boys, how to hide the smell of cigarettes, how to steal makeup from the grocery store. Soon we progressed to lying with a straight face and lessons in drinking Absolut vodka without wincing at the aftertaste. She didn’t teach me how to drive drunk or pick up older guys, but I could have learned just by watching her succeed at both.
Usually we would sneak back to her house after a night of heavy drinking; tiptoeing down the stairs and into the huge room they’d relegated her to in the basement. We’d pass out alongside each other together in her bed, never touching — nothing outside of the realm of normal female friendships expressed in advertising and primetime TV.
One of the only times she ever slept over was while her parents were out of town, and my mom knew she was supposed to be spending the night. We stumbled up to my bedroom, stifling giggles when I pulled the twin-sized trundle from beneath my childhood daybed. Dana’s face contorted in mock horror as I struggled to make the lower mattress pop up off the floor. “Forget it,” she said. “I’ll just sleep with you.”
We faced opposite walls while changing into our pajamas before turning out the lights. It quickly became clear that the two of us could not fit on a twin mattress without touching. I fought to retain unwelcoming body language, mannequin stiff against Dana’s back.
“Birdie,” she whispered huskily, “Birdie… are you asleep?” Dana’s hands ran down my side before slipping under my shirt, fingers tickling like a thousand butterfly feet. I started to tremble well before she neared any erogenous zone; surging with hormones and nervous anticipation, unsure what to do once she’d had enough panting and ear-biting to guide my hands down the front of her shorts. Beneath Dana’s silky panties and viable thicket of pubic hair, I found myself lost with what to do to the fleshy fold between her legs. “I want you to…” She rocked her hips forward, not finishing the sentence. Despite not knowing how to do what was being asked of me, the implication was clear. While her forwardness has surprised me, it was nothing compared to bumping the tips of my fingers against something quite solid shortly after sliding them inside her. “It’s fine,” she insisted, obviously aware of my hesitation. “Just keep going.”
Taking a deep breath, I followed what limited direction she gave me, the see-sawing motions tapping my fingers against the cotton obstruction. This had to be wrong — didn’t that hurt? There was something alluring about the nastiness of leaving it in, of her urging me to do it harder. Dana pulled my hair and moaned, never loud enough for me to worry about waking my parents. Time moved strangely; my drunken glow elongating every anxious second of my same-sex awakening. Whether she came or not was subject to debate — she had writhed and groaned until, panting, she told me she was done.
Haltingly, I climbed out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom, careful to shut the door all the way before turning on the lights. I stared at myself in the mirror for a few minutes before delicately splashing water on my face. The prospect of facing Dana once I exited the bathroom was terrifying. My anxiety ebbed once I emerged into the darkness, greeted by soft snores from the balled-up figure in the middle of my mattress.
In the morning my fingers smelled heavy and unfamiliar, somewhere between damp earth, blood and flesh. I studied the dried, flaky remnants of the night as we got ready, wordlessly washing my hands, careful to lather the webs between my fingers thoroughly before for heading to school. In class I realized I should have scrubbed under my nails and along my cuticles, too.
I spent that day thinking it was a one-off — some drunken foolishness not to be repeated — and when we climbed into bed a few days later and nothing happened, I was convinced everything was back to the way it was. But in the morning she was strangely tender, lingering next to me after she turned off her alarm.
My hands found their way between her legs again, but without the liberating haze of alcohol to mute the potential awkwardness of the situation, I found myself looking at a girl who refused to open her eyes. After her orgasmic mewlings subsided — real or faked, I wasn’t sure — she passed me a hand towel and rolled off the bed, leaving me to remove the evidence of our encounter from my fingers before it began to dry.
It was hard not to marvel at the thick whiteness of it and the way its scent permeated her bedroom. Dana lit candles as she sashayed across her bedroom, turning the stereo up to a conversationally blocking high volume when she saw me looking up at her. I stared at the roundness of her ass while she picked through her closet, knowing that putting my fingers inside her was continuing to warp our friendship. The room smelled overpoweringly of baby powder and flowers as we got dressed; never making eye contact.
Our intermittent fuckery relied on an unspoken agreement: I was to say nothing until she wanted me to do something. Every stilted morning after was punctuated with a heavy, viscous sensation; it started in the back of my throat, filling my nose and mouth until the sensation grew intense enough to make me dizzy.
I continued to occasionally find myself wasted and three fingers deep in Dana after she got into arguments with her parents or her boyfriend. I was sleeping over at her place four nights a week, though we only fooled around once or twice a month. For a while, everything seemed liked it would be fine. Of course, eventually I got tired of being her bedwarmer. No one wants to feel like a sexual last resort or tactic for revenge. The charade got to be too much.
I told Dana I loved her as she was driving us to school one morning. Instead of responding, she became hyper-focused on the road. The rise and fall of the foothills we drove alongside looked like a sound wave, a thought which only further accentuated her silence.
“Listen, Birdie…” Something about the tone of her voice, the way she dragged out the last syllable of that mollifying nickname made my stomach churn. “I love you, too — but not like that, you know?”
The words were a swift punch to the gut; I couldn’t tell if I was going to puke or cry. I wound up doing both; just one good heave, enough for a sampling of the morning’s cereal to land in my lap. I could see Dana watching me from the corner of her eye for a minute before turning up the volume on the car’s stereo.
When we got to school, Dana turned off the car and unlocked the doors without so much as a word. “Dana, listen—“
“Stop.” Her voice was flat, even, distant and removed. I looked at her imploringly as she took a breath and let it out before continuing. “Just don’t ever say shit like that to me again, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, barely audible over the lump in my throat. She slammed the car door before calmly walking across the parking lot to class.
By the end of the week, I was catching the tail end of whispered conversations that ended every time I walked into the room. Dana didn’t ask me to sleep over any more after that; none of the other girls seemed inclined to, either.