I stumbled into my house. The house I had just that morning declared to be a loathsome place. A place I could not wait to leave. A stranger was reflected in the entry hall mirror. A stranger who looked like me, except this person's shirt, wrinkled and precariously buttoned, hung open exposing one grayishwhite shoulder. Her large brown eyes stared back in fright. She looked a little like me, or at least the me who had bounced out of the house four hours earlier.
The familiar surroundings had a tranquilizing effect as I sucked in a deep breath of the safety represented by four generations of Berkshires. I exhaled in a slow jagged breath. I bit my lip, trying to hold back the tears that flooded my eyes and blurred the curving stairway. My stomach churned as I grasped the railing and rushed up the stairs, tripping on each step.
How could I have failed? It was when he began to paw me...
I sobbed as I remembered my disastrous evening. From the beginning of the party to the turning point when someone brought in a keg, everyone had changed. The same old struggle I had been fighting since puberty loomed up from the odor, the crude laughter, the sea of bodies, and shook its condemning finger at me.
I slammed my bedroom door, and dropped my purse at the foot of the bed. "Conform!"
I kicked off my shoe and gritted my teeth. When the dam of emotion burst I cried, "Brandy Berkshire, last of the lily white virgins!" I collapsed on my canopied bed and let it all out.
I had humiliated myself by failing to come across one more time.
I sat up straight, my disgust having been spent in a soggy wet pillow. At the dressing table I surveyed the damage. Swollen eyes and a twisted hair-do. I would have laughed if it hadn't been so sad, so important. Every song I listened to was about sex. Every movie showed the bare facts of sex. All my friends had experienced it.
"Only you, Baby Brandy!" I pulled the lace comforter around my head and dimpled my cheeks with my index fingers. I even tried to flip myself off with that gross middle finger, but that embarrassed me even by myself.
"That's it! No matter how disgusting it may be, you will not run, scream or throw up. At least, not until it 's over," I mumbled as I dressed, slinging my clothes in wild disorder, then raked a brush through the natural-curly hair that plagued every fashionable style. Slapping a thick coat of rarely used makeup base on my face and applying lip gloss, I rushed down the stairs. I promised myself, after tonight, no one would call me a prude, a tease, or a virgin ever again.
I grasped the cold brass door knob just as the bell chimed, startling me back into the present. Jerking the door wide, I puzzled at the brown eyes that smiled down at me through a curly lock of darker brown hair. A smile that spread into deep dimples placed the wellloved face in my dizzy brain.
"Hi, Short Stack!" Mark grabbed me by the neck and gave me a bear hug.
"When did you get home from the university? We didn't expect you until vacation." I snuggled in his neighborly, but sensuous embrace, loving it.
"I couldn't break the habit of seeing that funny face everyday." Mark tweaked my nose. "You're addictive."
"You didn't think that when you were a big high school stud." I could always get back at him with my shrillest 'Twilla Sue Martin (who adored Mark and used every inopportune moment to tell him so) voice'.
"But, now I'm a big college stud while you're still the kid next door." Mark's usual tease lacked its usual gusto.
"I'm glad you're home. The mail in Oklahoma must be limited to deliveries only."
"Indians!" he said with a face void of all emotion.
"Indians?" I repeated.
"I wrote you everyday, but we've been having trouble with the Indians hijacking our mail."
"That's suppose to explain why my letters don't get answered? Come in and I'll forgive you." I giggled. I usually did when Mark was around.
"You probably have a big date. I'll just run over tomorrow." Mark backed toward his yard as he spoke.
"No! I don't have a date. For heaven's sake, I'm glad you're here. Come in and I'll fix us a soda."
"Could we walk? I feel closed in tonight." Mark stuffed his hands in his tight jeans and strolled down the sidewalk. "I need to be out in the open."
I jumped off the porch, taking quick steps to match Mark's long strides. Neither of us mentioned the warmth of the evening, nor the faint smell of honeysuckle in bloom. With some people words aren't necessary. We walked the familiar path that ambled through the woods and down to the pond with our eyes lowered as though we didn't know it by heart.
Mark broke the silence. "College is tough."
"You're smart, you'll make it."
"It's not my courses, Brandy. I've never had problems with books, just people."
"You're a man of the world now, out of this small town and its old-fashioned morality. Haven't you heard? This is the happiest time in our lives." My encouraging words were colored with self-pity.
"My happiest times were here, with you when I was fat and clumsy. Of course, you were the only girl that would talk to me then. You were ten and didn't know better." He squeezed my shoulder.
The muscles in his arms rippled through his knit shirt, drawing a sigh from some area halfway between my throat and stomach. No fat there! Then the thought hit me. This hunk could be the solution to my problem.
"These last few months haven't qualified as the happiest, that's for sure." As he continued to tell me about the stress he had been under with classes, the disappointment he'd felt when faced with the real world, in my mind I was bragging to all the catty girls that called me "virgin". Just as I pictured how I would tell them that I had made it with Mark Grayson, just as I imagined their faces green with envy, I realized I couldn't do that to Mark! He was more than a good-looking guy, he was my friend.
You're so sweet, Brandy."
Mark was looking at me in a way he never had and I was struggling to remember what he had said that produced the look of warmth reflected in his eyes. Both hands were on my shoulders, pulling me closer. Then his lips, soft and gentle, were caressing mine. He didn't break apart, but pulled me tight. His powerful arms were around me as his hands made delicious circles on my back. All the sensations that had made me ill earlier that evening, now made me limp with pleasure. It felt good, so good it scared me.
My heart beat wildly. I didn't notice the tremor in Mark's arms or hear the hushed sob that escaped his lips. His arms tightened and his fingers grabbed at me as a child would in fear.
Then Mark sank to a rock and began to cry. "There was this girl. I met her at a party. She seemed different. Perfect. It was just one night. I planned on asking her out again, but I just don't have time to date and it all seems like a meat market at times." He paused as if he wasn't sure he wanted to tell me more. "This last few weeks I started having a great deal of burning and pain in my... you know." He dropped his gaze to the rocks at his feet. "All those sexaully transmitted diseases we learned about in health class came to mind. I'm so scared."
Mark wiped at the tears that streamed down his face. "Last week I saw her and asked her if she had something that she hadn't told me about. She laughed and said, "Doesn't everybody?"
He gazed into the sky and struggled for control. "Why I ever thought she was pretty, I don't know? When I told her that I trusted her, she got mad and called me Saint Mark, good boy of the campus."
Mark looked at me like he wanted me to hear words too painful for him to speak. Confused, I remained silent." She told me I had my choice of herpes, genital warts, or maybe she had picked up something new during spring break." Mark spit the words out in bitterness. "The next day she left for a weekend party with one of my friends."
His voice was husky with the feelings he tried to hide. "I'm so scared. God, I wish I were sixteen again, to begin all over, to be clean. To be like you: sweet, innocent and anticipating all the good things life has to offer."
"You need to go to the doctor, Mark. Nothing is as bad as not knowing," I said.
"I found a clinic in the phone book. I have an appointment tomorrow." He bit at his lip. "I just need a friend to talk to...someone who understands wanting to wait. I really loused everything up. What if I have something that canít be cured? What if I have to tell the girl I want to marry that I have this problem? I had always hoped...I had promised to wait. Now..."
His emotion showed now only in the small muscle that flexed in his jaw.
I felt no judgment of Mark. I only shared his repentance. All he was confessing to me, I had done tonight in my mind. I just felt sorry for Mark and thankful. Thankful there would be no consequence for my mental actions, no morning after regret, no visits to the doctor.
Hopefully, I had a better knowledge of who I was, and maybe a better understanding of how hard it is to keep promises. May be with the help of a friend I could keep that promise I had made to myself, and one no person or group could change or force me into actions I'm not ready to take.
ďIím here, Mark. Iíll be here anytime you want to talk. I need your help, too.Ē
Mark took a deep breath of the sweet spring air and with it seemed to inhale an awareness of the surroundings.
"This place has changed since we were kids, all grown up in brush. The trees are taller." He soaked in the atmosphere of our thinking spot. "I don't remember those flowers by the pond."
"That's a lily," I whispered. "A white one."
He stood up and took my hand. "It's beautiful."
THE END Copyright pfreeman 1990 No part of this may be used without the written permission of the author.