LAUGHTER IN THE RAIN[outtake from novel in progress; setting: U.S. university dormitory, evening, spring semester, 1982]
Just as I set the Irish Spring back down, the room fell into complete darkness. There wasn't even time to yell, because right away:
Click. The lock. "Eddie; it's me." Jennifer!
THUD. And now I knew exactly what those greased-up metal paddles in the emergency room do, how it felt to be on the receiving end. We've got a pulse, doctor—and it's climbing through the roof…
"Uh, Jennifer—" Stuck my dripping head out around the curtain, kept the rest shut tight. Steam dissipated the thin, faint light-bar leaking under the door, Jennifer an indistinct silhouette at the sink. "If you need to use the toilet—"
"I don't, but thank you. Here—take this." Mouth closed itself on my toothbrush; I pulled my head back in, drew curtain shut. Now what? So… I started brushing.
I'm not ready for this. Not yet. My hands were quaking—my chin was quivering, as though sleet were coming from most of the shower head. Yet my face was aflame. I… brushed.
Jen spat; pause; gargled; spat, rinsed. And—even through the water—the sound of fabric drawn across warm, soft skin. Oh, Lord; oh, Lord… And I spat, and set the toothbrush down on the shampoo rack; it fell through.
Stooped and grabbed; stood back up with it. And my arms were full of smooth warm Jenny, and one of my hands tossed the toothbrush over the curtain rod; thankfully the toilet lid was down.
Her mouth on mine, enfolding mine, caressing mine; her soft, delicate tongue, warm breath… I couldn't protest (would I have? Never.), speak even her name; prayed she liked the flavor of Crest I offered back to her—
A month or two later, she drew back, hands still on my neck, back of my head; her whisper: "You're really shaking, dear heart." Caressing my shoulder blade, ear to chest: "A mile a minute…" And she rested there; my hands hadn't moved, hadn't dared move, didn't move, from the dampening small of her back. Then, next, Jen pulled away once more and—three little steps in a dance—turned us so she was under the water, angled her head and full cascade of hair backward.
What do you do? Yes, I'd fantasized the more intimate feel and touch of her… but I'd never even gotten so far yet as to imagine—
…squeezed out some Prell, reached over, rubbed it in around the jets; again, again. She lathered. Another generous dab, and I helped out now; her hair that thick, there was plenty for both of us to work with.
Jennifer's fingers found mine twice, three times, in the aromatic mass of warm bubbles, guided them to shampoo temples, nape, behind ear; released; resumed.
Still my chin shivered, ears roared, face roasted. What do you do? With space and water rich-flowing between us, I gave her lips a peck—they returned it generously—but I pressed no closer.
She hadn't put her hands—or mine—anyplace they hadn't been before in public. Still, our single lingering clinch before we'd turned, curtain slid closed again behind her, had wordlessly revealed to the touch of her skin, and to mine, every last unglimpsed secret of ours; every undeniable immediacy and strength of response of my own.
The greatest wound Rachel had left behind last year—deepest, and longest to heal—had been trust. (Yes, my fault at least as much as hers; I'd brought much of it on, prodded her down our ruinous path…) And from the moment I'd recognized Jen across the library table from me, I'd been driven to not not-trust her. Trust. And now…
Quietly, through the bubbles and water and steam and tremors, stepping backward a few further inches: "Jen, you know this scares me. I'm all yours; this, though—" This is everything I've wanted for so long. And: this isn't what I wanted —not yet. Dear God.
Even her whisper in the water is beautiful. "I know." A hand slid over my cheek. "Ed, I'm here. And you know I'm not going away. That's the scariest part, isn't it?"
"It's the part I'm still not used to." Kissed the hand. "Not scared away. Not scared to; scared—"
I knew she felt my nod; now her hands on my arms half-pirouetted us once more, led us gently: "Your turn." Reached up and tilted my head back, too far back. So I opened wide, gathered a mouthful of hot water; spewed a stream upward like a fountain statue.
…with perfect aim; I heard the water come down on her head just as her fingers were slathering the night's second dose of shampoo into my own scalp; Jennifer giggled.
And… her breasts kissed, slid lightly down, my chest a brief eternal instant, as she dropped level again from tiptoes. It wasn't deliberate; she pulled back just enough that space and steam and flowing water resumed between.
And: "Could I have the soap, please?" I grabbed the bar, but—
"Wait. Rinse out before it gets in your eyes."
I did; asked her, "Just trim the top and sides a bit, ma'am; I still want to be able to feather it back a little when it's dry. You're new here, aren't you?"
Another giggle. And, voice returned to softer whisper, "If it doesn't scare too much, I can't reach my back—I'm not that kind of double-jointed."
"I can reach it. Jennifer,"—Trust.—"the next-scariest part is that I don't, I don't want to lose control." Deep breath. "Even more than I don't want to disappoint. Not you." Her bare back and shoulders were a wonder to touch and caress; she'd pulled her hair around front. "Your heart knows that."
"My heart and mind know it. And I—"
"—and this might be my very limit, Jen. What I want—"
"—is for this shower to go on and on, and on, and never run out of soap. Please."
I reached the bar into her hand, and she took over slathering her front side. Snort: "—is to rub and touch and caress and cherish every soft, warm inch of you."
"Jennifer. —with my heart, not only hands. My heart can't quite reach that far yet. Not today; not where I am right at this… really delirious moment."
The bar of soap was back in my hands; Jenny's other hand was under mine, stroked my fingers: "I'm not disappointed."
Thunder, or heavy surf, in my ears again; my tremor was back. Keep on; forward; trust: "If I lose control—at least, like this, Jen—then I'm not all yours. You deserve more than weak second-best." I'm not going away. I'm not either; trust: "And I want this shower to go on and on."
Jennifer turned us once more, rinsed off, front and back; hair first; and again we turned, and again she was a seal, an otter in my arms, a warm mermaid fresh lifted from the net. Unequivocally: "I didn't come in here to seduce you. And you're still shaking."
"I've been shaking since February. Why, then?" Answered it myself: "To play."
"To play, yes. To be with you." Her ear and wet, thick hair once more at my chest.
My right hand rested at her shoulder, the other at her waist, feeling even there the gentle swell of her breath. They wanted to stray, explore, to wander—not just stray: to stay. I wanted to be my hands themselves. Lightly: "You couldn't wait till I finished?"
Jenny eeled around me and cut off the water, returned to my embrace; slid up incredibly distractingly and breathed in my ear: "Can I tell you a secret?"
"Try me. —I mean, so to speak."
Even more quietly: "I really did want to use the toilet." And she was gone from my arms, the curtain pushed open, thick towel sliding from rod, pressed welcomingly into my hand.
I cinched it around my waist; handed her another to turban her hair into, and had a third one waiting for her to wrap up in, laughing, both of us laughing. We left the light off.