On the second story of a two-story apartment, my girlfriend and I lounged on a bed with another couple, all of us sloppy from too much domestic beer. Porn flickered on a television in the corner. Music blared from the party going on downstairs. Across the bed, Tatum, who I had been dating for three months and for whom I was still uncertain about my feelings, looked stunningly beautiful. I could not take my eyes off her. That inability became a problem when, seconds later, she began to make out with the other girl.
I had just been introduced to the couple that night. Kevin and Nancy first met while attending the grad program in which I had recently met Tatum. That was how she knew both of them. In the program, my girlfriend was a year ahead of me, her two friends a year ahead of her—which is to say, in the apartment that night, I found myself surrounded by three people who were older and, I assumed, more sexually experienced, mature, and culturally sophisticated than myself.
“You guys want to join in?”
Honestly I couldn’t tell which girl, Tatum or Nancy, had said those six little words. They seemed to have both asked the question at the same time. On top of barely made sheets, the two girls waited for an answer, their lips still wet with kiss. Tatum rested her temple on Nancy’s shoulder while gazing in the direction of Kevin.
“Well.” I looked at Tatum. “Not really sure that’s my kind of thing.” I looked at Kevin. “See.” I looked at Nancy. “It’s just I’m not into making out with guys.”
Everyone laughed. What was so damn funny? I had no problem with various sexual preferences, be they homo-, be they bi-, be they hetero-, but I preferred to practice only my own. Was my inclination so weird? That I had been mistaken about the specific pairings in the situation became clear when Nancy left my girlfriend’s side to let me know in a roundabout way she had recently been chewing spearmint gum.
“Got it,” I said. “My bad.”
Kevin said something along the lines of, “No need to worry about it, man. I’m not into that either,” before he began to make out with my girlfriend. A Foley artist would have recreated the sound of their kissing by mixing a bowl of Jell-O with bare hands.
Although I considered myself reasonably free-spirited in regards to nooky—one time in college on the way back from a spring formal I’d had sex with my date in a two-person seat on a crowded bus—I started to feel something I used to pride myself on not being able to feel. I mistook it for proprietorship at the time. On a stranger’s bed in a stranger’s apartment, playing tonsil hockey with another man’s girlfriend while the other man played tonsil hockey with my girlfriend, I figured my concern was similar to the problem with toys I’d had, as a child, whenever I went on play dates with friends. I don’t like to share.
The guffaws rumbling from the party downstairs blended with the moans coming from the television. Perfunctory best describes the manner in which I swapped spit with Nancy. She was as dispassionate as I was apprehensive. Instead of enjoying what most guys would consider incredible luck, getting to cheat on my girlfriend with an attractive woman at no risk to the relationship, I began to worry, like an amateur actor, about inconsequential things, such as what to do with my hands. Were boobs fair game? My biggest concern, however, was what would, possibly, happen next with us.
That evening was not my first time to be on the worrisome cusp of having sex with more than one person at the same time. Once in college my friend Sam and I had almost gotten involved in the less desirable of the two kinds of three-ways. Alcohol was the culprit. Despite my willingness, back then in my dorm room, to give it the contextually apt college try, I was relieved, in the sober light of the next morning, the girl had gotten second thoughts and stumbled back to her room alone. My relief had to do with what I had seen of Sam by accident one time in the communal shower. His eight inches would have put my microscopic peter to shame.
I kept my eyes closed during the make-out session with Nancy, not for fear of seeing my awkwardness reflected in the gaze of a girl I barely knew, but because I could not stand to look at Tatum necking with another guy. My tongue performed awkward gymnastics inside Nancy’s mouth while I chastised myself for not predicting this scenario. One of the things I liked best about Tatum was her wild nature. Scratch sensuality and discover bi-curiosity. Finding the two of us currently involved in a foursome should have made perfect sense.
Throughout my life I’ve dated many different “kinds” of women—the kind of woman who licks the knife after she eats a steak, the kind of woman who smokes a bowl before her morning coffee—but Tatum was my favorite: the kind of woman who would come with her boyfriend to a strip club. That we had never gone together to a strip club did not matter. Just the willingness made her unique.
If what I liked best about Tatum, it occurs to me now, was her forward thinking, her pluck, her nerve, her fearless sexuality, then why was I getting so upset, it occurred to me then, by our situation with the other couple? She was simply exhibiting the qualities that had convinced me to pursue her in the first place.
Not only did the words belong to my girlfriend, but also the nostalgia in their turn of phrase. Suddenly I felt homesick. Tatum had stopped kissing Kevin, and I had stopped kissing Nancy. Everyone sat upright. On the bed I clocked my gaze from Nancy to Kevin, wondering about the nightmare of a combination that was to come next, when Tatum slowly began to crawl towards me. “My turn,” she said. “Missed you.”
The sight of her eyes, the taste of her mouth, the touch of her fingers: Only by being sensed by Tatum was I able to sense her in return. I didn’t think about where her lips had just been, and I didn’t think about where my lips had just been. Everything I thought while kissing my girlfriend was encapsulated by what I managed to say afterwards.
“There you are.”
Next to my ear Tatum asked if I was ready to leave. Even though just moments earlier I had been praying for such an offer, ready to sprint away in a puff of cartoon smoke, leaving a hole in the wall shaped like my body, I now smiled at my girlfriend, gave her another kiss, and said I was ready to go whenever. Again I mistakenly believed my recent anxieties over her as well as my current alleviation of them were caused by selfishness. Tatum said bye to Nancy, and I said by to Kevin.
It was almost midnight by the time we got a cab. On our ride home, trying to avoid the cab driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror, I told Tatum I never, ever wanted to do that again. She asked why. Unable to think of an adequate response, I looked out the window, where the view provided me with one.
With too many cars on the road a collision seemed inevitable. “Because I care about you so much,” I said to Tatum. “Because I don’t want us to get hurt.” Who knew I was such a sensitive guy? I felt like a complete asshole.
“Not even if it’s just with another girl?”
What I said next in the cab, telling her no, betrayed my fellow man. Among the secret tenets in the fellowship of male lust—“Never reveal to women exactly how often we air-hump each other when in groups,” “Always get permission before stealing lines from a friend’s online-dating profile”—one is more inexcusable than all others. Thou shalt not tell a woman you’re not into three-ways. Doing so makes it harder for other guys to have the opportunity. Tatum said, “All right.”
She put her hand on the part of my shirt where I had just placed my most vital organ, causing a notable increase in blood flow to another of my most vital organs. The cab driver said, “This you?” while coming to a stop. At the curb next to Tatum’s apartment building, inside of which we would soon have, just the two of us, the best sex of our relationship, I realized what I’d felt earlier that night wasn’t proprietorship, some inability to share, but rather that most profane of four-letter words, love.
I told the cab driver this was us.