So I had a lot of advice now from girlfriends about the advisability of trying for a sex life. There was just one obstacle – Jeremy seemed to be really tentative when it came to intimacy. I was sure he’d like if he gave himself a chance, and I was more than willing to give him time; Lee Ann suggested four months. On the other hand, if I could change back sooner, I’d hate to miss the opportunity to see what it was like for a girl, so I really did need to understand what I was dealing with – and it seemed to me that the one person who would have the key to Jeremy was his friend Janine.
Finding her was pretty easy – she was listed as one of his friends on Facebook – so I sent her a message, asking if we could meet Tuesday afternoon, or at any rate some time before the study session. The next morning I had both a positive answer and a friend request, and as agreed, made it over to her dorm room after lunch.
“I’m so glad you contacted me, Marsh,” she said, opening the door. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for ever so long; I’m so glad you and Jeremy got together. I’ve been really worried about him.”
“Worried?” I laughed, as I followed her into her room. “He’s a big boy; he can take care of himself.”
“In most things, sure. In relationships…?” She sighed. “I just wish I’d known who you were, that night in the bathroom.”
“It all worked out,” I assured her.
“So,” she said, offering me the only chair and sitting on her bed, “Jeremy has told me a little about you. I know you’re a sophomore and that you’re in Sweeney Todd, and that’s about it. Oh, and that he really likes you. A lot. But I’m guessing that’s not a real surprise.” We both laughed, and she went on. “That’s just about all. I don’t even know if you’ve picked a major, or what you do besides acting and studying.”
So I told her about myself and my major and my sewing, and if it seemed that I was talking more about Marsha than myself, well, of late it was getting harder to tell where she ended and I began. It was a bit awkward, though, when she suddenly snapped her fingers and said, “Wait! Your name is Marsha and you do alterations?”
“Yes…” I answered, figuring she must have seen some of the ads I had around campus.
“This is so funny! It has to be you!” and when I looked curiously at her, she said, “Last year, I was admiring this outfit a girl in one of my classes was wearing and she said that a student named Marsha had made it for her out of an old dress that used to be her mother’s. That was you, wasn’t it?”
“Um… yeah,” I managed. Was she talking about Celeste, or had Marsha done the same thing for another girl?
“I just wanted to tell you, the design was brilliant.” She smiled. “I’m surprised you don’t want to be a fashion designer or something like that.”
“Uh… thank you?” I answered, trying not to be embarrassed at having been praised for something Marsha had done. “I… just always wanted to be a doctor, is all.”
“Marsh, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said, putting her hand on my arm. “It’s just so nice to see you as somebody really unique!”
You have no idea, I thought.
“So, anyway, you said you had questions about Jeremy? I really want things to work out for you guys – I mean, this is the first time I’ve seen him really interested in a girl since… well, forever.”
So I told her about the New Year’s Eve party where he’d freaked out about my sitting on his lap, and she nodded, not looking at all surprised. She looked as though she was about to say something, but when I paused, she said, “Go on – it sounds as though there’s more.” And of course there was. I told her about his nervousness while trying to take off my bra, and she looked pained. “It’s been three years,” she murmured. “I’d hoped he was over that.”
“Over that?” I echoed.
She nodded. “Did you know that he and I had dated a few times?”
“Yes, he mentioned that, but he said it wasn’t anything serious.”
“Oh, it definitely wasn’t. But I did try to sit on his lap at a party once, and well… he pretty much reacted the same way.”
We looked at each other. “This sounds like a real problem,” I noted. “But he has no problems with… um, cuddling in private. So what’s the problem, here?”
“I wondered the same thing,” she answered, “but I didn’t get the whole story until last year.”
“The whole story?”
“Did he ever mention Meredith to you?” she asked, and I shook my head. She took a deep breath. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my telling you, and I think you really need to know. Meredith was his girlfriend in high school.”
“She was a year behind him and they dated for about three years before he came to Piques. From what Jeremy told me, I gathered that she was really inhibited – I mean, a lot of girls do say no to sex with their boyfriends, but she went way beyond that. I’m pretty sure she never even let him take her shirt off, but he really liked her, and well…
“So she came up to visit him at Piques freshman year, and you know how aggressive some of the girls are. Jeremy says it was mostly just girls on his hallway being friendly, but I think some of them were leaning on him a bit more than necessary, touching his shoulders and arms… you know.” I nodded.
“Well, apparently Meredith really didn’t like it, and fought a bit with him, but he said he calmed her down. That was her first campus visit. Do I need to point out that she slept in the room of one of the girls on his hall, and not in his room?
“Anyway, she came back to Piques a few weeks later, and I don’t think she had anything to drink or something, but they went to a party, and suddenly she was all over him. I mean, sitting on his lap wasn’t new, but then she turned around to face him and wrapped her legs around him…”
“At a party?!”
“I know, right? Even his friends thought she was going too far. He was really embarrassed. He wouldn’t tell me everything she did, but I guess it was pretty bad – and way out of character. I think she just decided that if she didn’t want some other girl stealing him, that she had to do more than they did.”
“OK,” I said, “I see how that would put him off a bit, but… just one time? I’m surprised they didn’t just talk it out and resolve things, afterwards.”
“Well, as I said, it was way out of character for her, and he was so used to her acting a particular way, and he was comfortable with it. But that wasn’t the end of it.
“He took her back to his room, you know, to make out they way they usually did, and she got all seductive and did a bit of a strip-tease for him, down to her underwear, and then invited him to take off her bra. Well, he was already a bit uncomfortable with this sudden change, but he is a guy, and he obliged, or tried to. He says he was really nervous, and I’m sure he was exaggerating, but to hear him tell it, he was working on her bra strap for like forty-five minutes, and she started getting really mad.
“She accused him of not really trying, of being sexually satiated by all the girls at school, at deliberately teasing her… after a while, she just pushed him away, undid the bra herself, flashed him, stuck out her tongue and sashayed into the hallway and back to the room where she was sleeping.”
“… topless? On a co-ed hall?”
“And probably in just her panties, yeah. And then she wouldn’t talk to him when he followed her, and the next day she dumped him, and said some more really unpleasant things. Well, I didn’t know about it at the time, but I asked him to go to a party the very next week, because I was upset about breaking up with my boyfriend, and I sat on his lap… and I guess that probably wasn’t a great idea under the circumstances.”
“I see. So you mean, he’s traumatized from one girl on one date?”
“Plus me stupidly reinforcing it the very next week, yeah. Remember he got used to a very celibate kind of relationship, and he’s shy in general, so he hasn’t always been eager to try very hard with new girls. I mean, seriously, you’re the first girl he’s been with for more than a few dates since Meredith. And… I think there may have been another disaster date somewhere along the way, that is, another girl pushing him faster than he was ready to go.”
“So you’re saying I need to be patient with him.”
“Yeah, he’s a very traditional kind of guy. Let him take the lead. It’s not as if you have to throw yourself at him, after all; you already know he likes you.”
I nodded again, thinking hard.
When I got to the study session the next evening, Jeremy was nowhere in sight. I put my books down on one of the tables, figuring that he was would join me later, and pulled out my logic homework. It was definitely getting easier than it had been, but it was much more of an effort than it had been when I was Marshall. I was starting to grow philosophical about it, though. Marsha had had her own strengths, and that’s what I was living with, now.
I looked up in response to a tap on the shoulder. It was Janine. “He’s on his way,” she whispered. “Now remember – be patient.”
“I’ll try,” I promised. She went back to her own work and pulled out my logic homework, but didn’t actually start it. Janine had just handed me the answers to some mysteries about Jeremy, and I needed to think about what it meant.
I was still pondering that when Jeremy rushed in, a bit out of breath. “Sorry I’m late, Marsh,” he murmured, dropping his books next to me. He dashed over to Janine and handed her something, and I heard him say something like, “I hope this was what you meant.”
Then he came back and sat next to me. “Sorry again. I told Janine that I would pick up something for her and it wasn’t ready when I got there. How’s the logic homework look today?”
We studied together for a couple of hours before we both decided we were done. As we got up, I caught Janine’s eye and silently mouthed, “thank you.”
As usual, we headed back to his room to drop off his books before he walked me home, only this time I noticed him starting to look a bit nervous. “Are you still worried about what happened on Friday?” I asked him. “Did you want to talk about it?”
“It’s not worried so much as embarrassed,” he said, looking a bit chagrined. “It shouldn’t have been so hard. I just didn’t know what I was doing.”
“I’m not judging you,” I reassured him.
“I guess you’re used to guys who aren’t so… inexperienced.”
We had reached his door, and I stopped and put my hands on my hips. “If you’re asking about my own experience, Jeremy, there was one boyfriend in high school and that’s it.” I lowered my voice, even though there was nobody around us. “And I didn’t sleep with him; I know you were wondering. So stop feeling sorry for yourself; there’s lots of people who are pretty innocent at physical relationships.” Well, I was physically a virgin, anyway, and I wasn’t really experienced as a girl.
He nodded. “You’re right, you’re right. I just have this idea that guys are supposed to know things… so I did a bit of research,” he continued, and as I looked sharply at him, he looked away, but not before I noticed him starting to blush.
“Research…?” I asked, staring. “You don’t mean… how to take off a girl’s bra?” For a second I imagined Janine helping him with this research and I saw red.
“Um… yeah, I looked it up on the web.”
I had to bite my lip. “On the web…? Jeremy, that is so…” I started to say nerdy, but changed it to, “… so adorable.”
He shrugged. “I just thought…”
“… that you might want to practice…?”
“If that’s OK…”
Well, Janine had said to follow his lead… Once in his room, I lifted my arms for a kiss, and only then did it occur to me that I hadn’t exactly prepared for this. Unlike on our date, I was wearing a dress rather than a blouse and skirt, which meant that I was liable to wind up a bit more undressed that I had intended. Oh well, I thought, as he started kissing me and stroking my back, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.
When I woke the next morning, I was bit disoriented at not finding myself in my own bed. What’s more, the décor of the room seemed to be distinctly masculine, and I wondered why I was in a boy’s room. Then I saw Jeremy watching me and jumped in surprise. I would probably have fallen out of bed if I hadn’t been on the side against the wall; as it was, I banged my head.
“Are you OK?” he asked, concerned.
“Y-yeah… I’m fine…” I stammered, trying desperately to calm myself. “Um… I think I need to get going. What time is it?”
He peered at the clock on his desk. “It’s only a quarter to seven. Why don’t you stay and have breakfast with me?” I shook my head, and he asked, “What’s wrong? Did I… hurt you?”
“No, I’m fine,” I answered hurriedly. I took a breath. Calm, calm, I chided myself. “I just need to get going.” I tried not to look at him as he got out of bed to get out of my way, but I forced myself to kiss him on the cheek. Just a peck; it was the most I felt I could manage.
“Well, then, I’ll get dressed, too, and walk you home,” he declared.
“Jeremy… I think you should stay here. Look, I have rehearsal tonight, but I’ll be done by about ten. Call me? I need some time to think.”
“And… could you turn around while I get dressed?”
I watched him face the door and stripped off the T-shirt he had leant me to sleep in and quickly put on my dress and coat, not even worrying about my underwear, which I stuffed into my bookbag. “Goodbye,” I said, resting a hand on his back. He turned and kissed me, and I didn’t struggle, but as soon as he released me, I was out the door. “Thanks,” I called as I left.
Stupid, stupid, I thought as I walked through the wintry morning. Without tights, my legs and bottom were freezing, but I barely noticed. You can’t let this go on, I chastised myself. By the time I reached my room I was feeling pretty low. I knew my roommates would be up, so I wasn’t surprised to see Terry in her pajamas staring when I unlocked and opened the door.
“Lee Ann,” she called, “Marsh just walked in!”
“She what?” Lee Ann called from her bedroom. Then she came out and looked at me, and said in a worried tone of voice. “Oh Marsh, you didn’t.”
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t.”
“You didn’t?” asked Terry, surprised.
“No, I…” I dropped my books and my coat on the floor. “I’m OK, I just…”
“Yes…?” Terry prompted. So I explained about Jeremy and his research. “He was kissing me and he unzipped my dress…. Then he kept on kissing me and stroking my face and he undid my bra with one hand. That must have been some web site.”
“Well, considering that him seeing my breasts was a first for both of us… um… I wasn’t really ready for what it felt like when he put his mouth on me… and I sort of…”
“We know about that,” Lee Ann said. “Maybe I should have warned you.”
“Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was completely naked, and his shirt was off, and I was reaching for his belt…”
“Marsh… you know you haven’t been on the Pill long enough for it to be safe.”
“I know, but I wasn’t really thinking clearly. I was just… too busy feeling, and it felt great and I wanted… anyway, he pushed my hands away and I said it was OK, and he said it wasn’t and that Janine… that’s his friend. Did I tell you about Janine?”
“No…” Terry said, “what did…?”
“Well, she got engaged this summer to a boy Jeremy introduced her to, only she’d slept with a guy her sophomore year so she wasn’t a virgin and it bothered her.”
“Why…?” Terry asked.
“Well, to hear Jeremy tell it, she decided that it would have been special if she and Carl – that’s her fiancé – could have been each other’s first, only she didn’t wait and then she was sorry when she met him – that she hadn’t waited, I mean.”
“What does any of this have to do with–?”
“I see where she’s going, Terry,” Lee Ann said, stopping Terry with a hand on her elbow. “So Jeremy didn’t want to take your virginity, you mean?”
“Uh huh,” I nodded. “He said that you only get one chance, and that I would probably wish one day, you know, when I was a lot older, that I had waited, and he didn’t want to take that chance away from me.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Terry snapped. “So are you saying that the only way you’re going to be able to have sex with him is if you cheat on him first?”
“I think it’s kind of sweet, actually,” Lee Ann said. “I mean, Stephen and I have never been intimate with anyone but each other, and it’s really kind of special. It shows that there’s one part of ourselves that we’ve never shared with anybody else.”
“Yeah,” I continued, “and anyway, he said he didn’t want to deprive me… and then he said, ‘I couldn’t do that to the girl I love.’” I just let the words hang there.
“He said he loved you?” Lee Ann asked quietly.
“He said it just the way I told you. I don’t know if he even realized what he’d said. “I mean, I like him a lot, but I don’t know that I’m ready to say love.”
“But you spent the night after he said that,” she pointed out.
“It didn’t register until he’d fallen asleep. And I was already dressed for bed and his arms were around me, and I was tired and it was really cold outside….”
“You know, you really got lucky, Marsh,” Lee Ann said.
“Except for the whole ‘no sex’ thing,” Terry muttered.
“Yeah. Anyway, thanks for talking it out, guys. I need to wash up; I don’t know if I’m going to make it to breakfast.”
Of course, I still had stuff I wanted to talk about – things I didn’t want to share with my roommates. Fortunately, Nikki wasn’t too busy when I had a break at rehearsals that night, so I told her the whole story, with one additional detail.
“You thought you were a guy again?” she asked, after I was done.
“Well, I was really disoriented when I woke up and for a moment I thought I’d changed back and I was back in my suite with my old roommates – and then I saw him in bed with me and I kind of freaked.”
“But you covered it up.”
“Yeah, I think he figured I was upset about spending the night with him, and now I have to reassure him that I wasn’t.”
“You guys are really out of sync here, Marsh. He’s thinking he loves you, and you’re not even sure what sex you are.”
“So what now?”
What now indeed?