Fiction from Sutton Strother
When I Say You’re Welcome What I Mean is My Pleasure
Over the wine coolers we’ve smuggled into her dorm room, Jenni confesses she’s never touched herself. I thought it was dirty she murmurs like she’s still not certain it isn’t, and suddenly I wish I was someone better than the girl who dared her to deepthroat a breadstick in the campus cafeteria and laughed when she didn’t know what rimming was. I’m an asshole, but her roommate’s gone for the weekend and tonight I’m the asshole she reached for, so this asshole says things like I’ve done that twice just today and But of course you never did, you poor stunted sheltered baby and What chance did you have, with a mother afraid of her own shadow and a heart on fire for no man but Jesus? She swigs from her bottle, face pink as the strawberry sludge inside. I think of what I’d like to say next: I’m so sorry, lie back and let me undress you, let me guide you through it, let me kiss your bare knees while you unlearn shame.
What comes out instead is You really ought to buy a toy, it would make things easier and Jenni says Okay, or rather the wine coolers say it, because Jenni never would.
I know at least three good sex shops in town but can’t abide the thought of her ogling so many cock-shaped offerings let alone taking one home. I’d be more jealous of a dildo than I’ve ever been of her boyfriend’s real cock; his at least is two hours east of here and anyway he won’t put it to any use his pastor wouldn’t condone. Instead we end up at the Spencer’s Gifts in the mall sorting through the pocket rockets in the store’s blacklit back corner. Wonder stretches Jenni’s lips into a slack O as she browses the shelves. Her perfect white teeth shine violet under the blacklight, tongue gliding guilelessly over their surface, and I imagine crawling inside her mouth, just climbing in and living in there like some hermitic pervert, too pitiful to be reviled.
She traces a manicured nail along the edge of one box and notes that the vibrator inside comes with five interchangeable heads. One of them is covered in a cluster of plastic spikes. The idea of this thing touching her makes me itch. If you’re into that sort of thing I say then sneer to clarify exactly where I stand on the matter. Her finger withdraws and her hand hovers in the air like she’s about to cast a spell before it settles over a different box. The sleek pink egg it contains is waterproof and whisper-quiet. Her fingers close around it, claiming it, but her eyes are anywhere else. They examine the crusty carpet. They tally up every shopper standing between us and the cashier. They land on me. They stay on me.
Before she can second guess, I slide the box from her hand and walk it up to the register to pay for it myself.
Thank you she whispers later, back in my car. She folds the Spencer’s bag around the box inside, creasing the plastic with a care my hands have never managed or even bothered with. I never thought she begins, stops, tries again. I never would’ve.
In the quiet what I hear is Make me brave.
I tell her about the black satin bag of toys under my bed and the items inside, what each one does and how it feels. I tell her about sleeping with the frat boy from our Cultural Anthropology class, about wanting to sleep with the soft-eyed horse girl who lives on the floor below us. I tell her I don’t know either of their names. Horse Girl is Marissa Jenni offers, and I tell her I preferred the not-knowing. I tell her about the first time I touched myself, thinking about The Rock in his wrestling tights, and the last time, reading fanfiction in a library study carrel this afternoon. I tell her about the first boy I kissed, the first girl I saw naked, the first porn I watched, the strap-on I found in a friend’s parents’ closet, the hand job I gave under a blanket in a crowded living room, the blow job I gave in a church baptistry. I tell her about everything I like and don’t like and the things I’d like to try and the things I’ll never do and the things I can’t do without. I give her these pieces, not knowing what they are, what she’ll make of them, but then when we’re parked on the curb outside the dorm, I look at her and see how she’s weaved them into chainmail, so that when she leaves me, she leaves armored.
I get myself off that night using only my hand. I think about Horse Girl and her soft eyes, Frat Boy’s shoulders and pouty mouth. Both of them crowded into this tiny bed with me. Eager. Easy. Nameless. I don’t think of her. I don’t. I don’t. And when it’s finished, another fantasy: I rise from the bed and pad quietly to the end of the hall. When I raise my hand to her door, it begins to vibrate under my touch, so I press harder, until I start the whole room trembling and glowing pink, and her with it. I coax her onward. I say Yes. I say Perfect. Do what you like. Whatever you like. You’re doing just fine. You’re doing so well. Only when the hum of the room is loud enough to drown me out do I say words I’ve never spoken in a voice I’ve never used before.
Sutton Strother is a writer and English instructor living in New York. Her work has been featured in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets @suttonstrother.