by Jane Black
He comes to our house to paint my mother's bedroom. She's decided on some complicated rectangular pattern for the wall at the head of her bed, a pattern that involves several colors and is intended to look like a headboard. Since she divorced my dad she's become more adventurous in her decorating, and her bedroom is the frequent target of her efforts. She knows that her painting skills aren't good enough for this project. So she hires Jack.
He's a professional and, judging by his looks, maybe a surfer. He's tanned, with unkempt blonde hair and blue eyes that crinkle at the corners. His arms are ropey, his hips slim. Because I've lived here all my life, I know the type well: Indigenous Southern Californian.
It's summer, I'm out of school and mostly on my own. I'm about to start my second year of junior college and I don't have much to do in the meantime. My mom is at work all day, my older sister is usually out with her friends. My sister wanted to go away to a college where she could live in a dorm but my mom said we couldn't afford it, so she's stuck living here and going to UCLA. Well, at least she got into UCLA. I didn't get into anywhere.
This summer my friends are all out earning $5.50 an hour at places like JC Penney's and Clothestime. My boyfriend works at the arcade on Santa Monica pier, so we don't see each other very much. I seem to be the only one on the planet who isn't working. Every summer my mom tells me I have to get a job but I'm too nervous to try it. The thought of having to do an interview and then talking to a bunch of customers scares me. What if I screw up and someone yells at me? No thank you. So I hang around the house a lot.
Jack the painter starts talking to me on the second day he's there. "What kind of music do you like?" he asks as he's painting the hallway. Mom has decided to have him stay for a week and paint the whole upstairs.
"English Beat, Flock of Seagulls, Eurythmics... you know, new wave stuff?" Those are the coolest bands I can think of, and I'm hoping he'll be impressed. He doesn't look impressed.
"How old are you?" he asks.
"Twenty," I say, then boldly, "How old are you?"
"Thirty-five." This seems impossibly old -- not as old as my mom, of course, but a lot older than any of my friends. A lot older than any of my friends' boyfriends.
He's surprisingly easy to talk to, given our age difference. There's a youthfulness in his speech patterns that feels familiar and comfortable. He probably hangs out with young people a lot. Soon we're having long conversations, and I tell him about my boyfriend and junior college. "But I'm planning on transferring to UCLA," I add quickly, not wanting him to think I'm a loser. He doesn't ask what I'll major in, which is good, because people keep asking me that and I have no idea what to tell them.
Jack talks about how he got into painting, and all the rock bands he's seen in concert. He's been to Led Zeppelin! And The Who! I haven't been to a single concert ever but I'm not about to admit it. I was right about him being a surfer: He tells me he's been surfing since he was thirteen.
One afternoon we're sitting at the foot of the stairs in my house and I'm watching him eat lunch. It appears to be primarily alfalfa sprouts. He's on a special diet and takes lots of vitamins to stay healthy. Then he explains that one of the secrets to his health is that he doesn't allow himself to come very often. "I don't have sex anymore because when a man loses his sperm, he's giving up the most powerful thing in his body." He says this casually, as if it's a widely known fact, and though I'm startled I try not to show it.
"Oh," I say, unable to come up with a better response.
He asks me if I've ever had sex, and I tell him, truthfully, that I've been sleeping with my boyfriend for six months now. I don't tell him that it hasn't been anything special, nothing like my fantasies of how sex would be. Mostly, it's been like being repeatedly slammed by a jackhammer. My boyfriend keeps an eye on his watch while he fucks me and announces the elapsed time when he's done. "Twenty-five minutes!" he'll say proudly, as though I should congratulate him on his stamina. I don't tell Jack about this, nor do I tell him that I don't really enjoy it. Already I know that men prefer women who like sex.
"I hope you're using protection," he says gravely.
I'm flattered that he cares. "Oh yeah, my mom told me to get on the pill when she found out," I tell him breezily. He nods and packs up his lunch box, then goes back to painting.
Later I tell my sister, in self-important tones, "Jack says it's healthier for men not to come very often."
"That's total bullshit," she says, annoyed. "He's bullshitting you."
I'm offended on his behalf because I know he's sincere. My sister thinks she's so smart because she's older than me -- but I think she's just full of herself. No wonder Jack doesn't talk to her. I'm glad she spends so much time away with her friends because when she's at home Jack sticks to his painting and doesn't talk to me, either.
The next afternoon is hot, so I put on my bathing suit and lie on the back patio. It's a Tuesday; Jack and I are the only ones in the house. My bathing suit is a light green one-piece, with slim bands that cut across my breasts and form an X below them, leaving their sides exposed. My nipples are clearly visible through the thin fabric.
Boys started whistling at me when I turned sixteen, and I used to always wear baggy sweatshirts to make them stop. In fact I have two whole drawers full of baggy sweatshirts (all of which my mother says are "ratty"). But lately I've begun experimenting with provocative clothing. This bathing suit is barely decent. Last week when I wore it to the beach I had three different guys offer to give me a ride home. It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.
In the late afternoon I come in from the patio and go into my mother's bedroom, still wearing my swimsuit. I want Jack to see me in it.
He's painting the door to the bedroom. I walk past him and flop down on my stomach on my mother's bed with the July issue of Glamour. I've been looking at it for a while, vaguely aware of the sound of Jack's paintbrush on the bedroom door, when he comes over to see what I'm reading. The magazine has a big picture of Brooke Shields. "Isn't she beautiful," I say.
"She doesn't really do anything for me," he responds, then waits a beat. "But you do." He's looking down at me steadily.
After a minute, I say "Thanks," and go back to reading my magazine as though we just had a completely benign interaction, as though my heart isn't now clattering in my chest. He walks back to the door and continues painting. I pretend to keep reading. Some time later he speaks to me again.
"I've been painting with a hard-on for ten minutes now," he says.
On the bed, I stop breathing. The words in the magazine blur.
He continues, "Can I give you a back rub?"
Immediately, my mind begins racing to figure out the proper etiquette for this situation. I've been drilled extensively to be polite to people, especially people who are older than I am, but this particular scenario has never been covered. I'm pretty sure that it'd be rude to reject his offer after he said that nice thing about the hard-on. I tell myself that lots of people get backrubs, it's perfectly normal. And after all, it's not like he's going to make a pass at me; he doesn't even have sex.
"Umm, okay," I say.
He comes over to sit on the bed next to me. I'm lying on my stomach with my arms out to the side. He begins rubbing my shoulders. His hands are rough, but strong and warm. I bury my face in the bed, pretending to be relaxed, glad to have a reason not to look at him. He's rubbing me rhythmically, working all the muscles around my shoulder blades, making small circles along my backbone with his thumbs. He rubs the back of my neck and gently reaches around to stroke the line of my jaw, beneath my ears. Then he moves his hands to my upper arms, and works his way out to my hands. As he leans over to reach the end of my outstretched arm, his erection rubs against my bare thigh through his shorts. It feels like a thousand fire ants.
He begins stroking his fingers up and down the sides of my body. With each stroke he brushes his fingers very lightly against the exposed sides of my breasts. My nipples tingle unfamiliarly, pressed into the bed. My face is burning. I'm not sure whether touching the sides of someone's breasts is a standard thing to do during a back rub. He doesn't seem to be tense, though, so I decide that it must be no big deal. I try to ignore the electric feel of his touch.
Now he moves his hands downward and starts massaging my lower back and hips. At this point I begin to wonder just how low this back rub is going to go. If he starts massaging my butt I should probably tell him to stop. But maybe I'm overreacting -- don't professional masseurs rub people's butts all the time?
He lifts his hands off of me for a moment and I'm simultaneously relieved and disappointed -- he's going to stop rubbing and go back to painting. Instead he settles his hands onto the backs of my thighs, which are pressed together. He kneads them firmly, and pushes them slightly apart. I have the sense of being laid open, exposed.
Jack continues kneading and pushing, kneading and pushing, until I'm lying spreadeagled on the bed. He runs his hands up the insides of my legs until his thumbs are massaging the very tops of my inner thighs. My internal debate on massage etiquette, while still in progress, becomes disjointed. I find myself becoming alarmingly aroused. My clit is throbbing like a bass drum and I surreptitiously try to press it into the bedspread. His hand is so very close...
After a few minutes of this I become aware that I am wet, dripping wet, wet enough that the crotch of my bathing suit is almost certainly visibly moist. My whole body blushes at this thought. I wonder if he can hear the thunder of my heart, or if he can see it pulsing in my neck.
I focus on keeping my muscles limp, trying not to react. It's very difficult. I can't seem to get enough air, but I don't want to pant. Panting would be so embarrassing. Part of me thinks that he probably has no idea of the effect he's having on me. If he knew how nervous I was -- or how aroused -- he might laugh. I imagine him saying, "What, did you think I wanted to have sex? With you?"
But another part of me is convinced that he is aware, that he's doing this to me on purpose. I think maybe he tricked me with his stories about not having sex and all along he was planning to try to fuck me. I know I should be angry, but what I actually feel is queasy with desire. I'm filled with tension, waiting for his next move. My brain and my body are in severe disagreement about what should happen next. If he asks to fuck me I know I will say no -- I've been raised to say no, and can only overcome this training with a lot of advance preparation -- but if he does it without speaking I don't think I can resist. I don't want to resist.
He doesn't ask. He climbs gently between my spread legs and puts his hands on the bed next to my sides. After a moment I feel his naked penis pressing hard against the crotch of my bathing suit. Pushing into me through the fabric, backing off, pushing again. I moan softly and then freeze, wondering if he's heard me. Behind my closed eyes the world is red, and it is very hot.
He sits back, slips his fingers inside my bathing suit, and skates them across my slippery cunt. There is no pretending now. He slides his fingers upwards, under my pelvis, and finds my little clit. He rolls it between his thumb and forefinger. I'm moaning and I don't care if he hears. This is not me anymore, this is an animal.
I arch my back as much as I can, raising my hips off the bed, giving him access to everything, everything. He pulls my bathing suit aside and grabs my hips. Then he thrusts his cock deep inside of me. My head jerks up off the bed and I cry out. Jack is pumping me slowly, maddeningly slowly, pulling my ass back to him with every stroke. I'm moaning, "please, please" and I can't stop. This feeling is unbelievable. My head is buzzing, my belly is aching, and I'd do anything to make him keep fucking me.
He's speeding up and calling my name and at the end he reaches around to roughly rub my clit. I recognize the growing ball of feeling because this is how I make myself feel, at night, when I'm having trouble falling asleep -- but this is a thousand times more intense. When he touches me there I come almost immediately, sobbing and gasping. As I clench myself around him he thrusts hard twice more then cries out and collapses on my back. His thighs are shaking. I can feel his balls high up at the base of his dick.
After awhile he gets up, and I turn my head away from him. He touches my hair but I don't move; I don't know how to speak or what to say. I hear him get dressed and he goes into the bathroom for a few minutes. When he comes out he simply packs up his paints and leaves my house without a word.
The next day he comes back to work, but we avoid each other. We say hello and little else; he finishes the job and is gone that afternoon. My mother complains that he wasn't as careful as she'd hoped. She says the painted headboard looks stupid, and she's right. I don't tell her anything about what happened. I don't tell my boyfriend, either, and I don't explain that Jack is the reason we're breaking up. I just can't do the timed fuck any more.
For weeks I'm restless and distracted. I masturbate two or three times a day, rolling my clit between my fingers and reliving the moment when Jack entered me. I'm still not angry with him, though I'm certain now that he was playing me from the outset. I'm not angry because I know that, in the end, the game became real.
I see Jack once again, six months later. I'm out jogging on a sidewalk in Santa Monica; he's driving in the opposite direction and when he sees me he pulls his car over to the side of the road to watch me. He raises his hand but doesn't smile. I stop for a minute and stare at him, then I turn and start jogging again. When I look over my shoulder a block later, he's still there, watching. The next time I look he's gone.