The first time you sleep with a man is with him.
It’s been a long time coming; the two of you have spent weeks dancing around one another like binary stars waiting for the moment of brilliant collision. A few drinks at a party among friends, long conversations, then gentle artistry traced on the back of your hand by long paintbrush fingers, masterpieces that spread to your thighs, hovering almost-not-quite kisses shadowed by the mid-May light. By the time you share a bottle of wine in your apartment, the sun threatening to wash the sky in the same melancholy blue as his eyes, you’ve long been ready to make your two halves a whole.
He kisses you, and you can taste cheap cabernet sauvignon and Marlboros on his lips. He kisses you soft and slow, a topographer tracing the terrain from jawline to mouth as if he’s afraid to hurt you (or maybe as if he’s afraid to hurt himself; you can’t tell the difference). He kisses you on the couch, a hand venturing beyond the boundaries of t-shirt hemlines. He kisses you, and he says, “It’s getting late.” He kisses you and says, “We should go to bed.” He kisses you as you nod, and as you stand up in tandem, and when your fumbling hands turn out the lights, and when you melt into the bedsheets with all six feet of him hovering over you, kissing you and kissing you and kissing you.
You’ve never quite learned how to swallow your pounding heart, but your share of the bottle of wine has taught your brain to play nice, to save the worrying for later, to focus on one thing at a time. When you free him from his denim button-down, you have schooled your hands into steady, wide-eyed schoolchildren with the discipline of a Catholic nun, and you give them their first lesson in cursive on the blackboard of his chest, writing your inhibitions into the definition of muscles drenched in moonlight.
He stops kissing you long enough to strip away the blouse he’d seemed so fond of, to whisk away your jeans, to press his face into the virgin territory of your untouched neck to whisper sweet nothings that sound like, “Just one thing.”
“What?” you ask. He’s hard against your leg, and it’s thrilling. You want to keep kissing him. Kissing him makes an oft-ignored part of your brain buzz in a way completely different than the way the wine is making you feel – happy, excited, eager, not laid-back and murky. He is beautiful – always beautiful, but especially now, especially here, where the soft light and his pained expression makes him look like the subject of a painting of a long-forgotten era, a face bearing nuances that will haunt the gallery of your memory like coy half-smiles in restored medieval halls.
“You know… this…” He pauses, kisses you. “We aren’t serious. I have… .”
Of course, you want to tell him. You have almost-girlfriends calling your name, you want to tell him. Do you think I’m stupid enough to think we could be serious? you want to ask him. Do I look like I want to be serious? you want to ask him. But you can’t. The words don’t even well up in your throat for fear that seeing them slip past your clenched teeth will force you to understand them as lies.
You nod instead.
There is worry carved into every feature of his face like the names of lovers whittled into the bark of trees; your answer-non-answer does nothing to alleviate it. He kisses you. Against your lips, he murmurs, “Well. One more thing.”
“We can’t… no one can know.” He trails off, but you understand. You feel the meaning in the way his jaw tenses; the hunch of his shoulders could write novels of betrayal on the girl whose relationship status you’re sure to see change in the morning, his name in tandem with hers.
You should know better. You should stand up, walk away, build physical distance, build emotional walls. You hold yourself to a higher standard than this, because you know you deserve more than being the woman on the side. You are not a secret to be hidden to preserve the emotions of a girl you know nothing about, to preserve the integrity of a man who does not befit the term just because of a sense of misplaced adoration.
(And the fact that you can describe it as that – as adoration – is all the more reason why you should walk away. The last thing you need is an emotional dependence on someone who will never view you in equal romantic terms – the last thing you need is emotional dependence in the first place. He is beautiful, so damn beautiful, with a smile that glitters more brilliantly than millions of myriad suns reflected from the waves of an ocean and a laugh that steals the breath from your lungs, and he will never want you the way you want him to. Get up. Walk away.)
“Okay” is what you say.
And he kisses you.
The first time you sleep with a man, he comes half on your chest and half on your bedsheets, breathing out a name that could be yours and could be hers – you can never quite be sure.
He falls next to you, onto the violated bed sheets that can no longer be your private safe haven, his lazy gymnast fingers performing a routine atop the peaks and valleys of your hipbone, as gentle as spring breezes with enough biting chill to sap the strength from your bones and replace the marrow with veins of fragile ice. You twist your limbs with his, trying to spread your roots in his earth, trying to establish a presence, trying to say I belong here; not anyone else, no one but me me me me without having to compromise yourself with words.
The first time you sleep with a man, he leaves you within the hour, rising with the sun to the call of a woman you wish you could be. He will go home to her, crawl into her bed, let his kisses decorate her skin in all the subtle shades of dawn. He asks you once more, please don’t tell anyone what happened. He waits for a nod of acquiescence to come from your papier-mâché body before he sifts through your tangled clothing to find his jeans, before he buttons his shirt, before he tucks his hair in place. You watch as, in the earliest light of morning, he smooths away every trace of you.
He kisses you.
The first time you sleep with a man, you feel the impressions his body made on you long after the bruises of his kisses fade.