James was sitting on the patio, trying to laugh convincingly as he watched his drunken friends made asses of themselves. He felt nervous and didn’t want to meet Helen’s gaze. With lashes curled and lids lined, her eyes seemed larger, boring into him much hotter than the heat of the sun.
“Dude you better come here and try this,” one of his carousing friends called out. He shook his head but lifted his beer bottle in salute.
“I’m fine in my corner,” he called back, grinning, not noticing her leave the corner of his eyes and out of sight. He turned to see if she darted off to drinks corner.
“Can I talk to you for a sec?” Suddenly, she was by his side, standing over him. He slowly looked up then away.
“Sure. What about?” He wanted to kick himself for asking that, especially in a mumble. His hands were suddenly shaking so he started rotating his beer bottle, making little circles to make it less obvious. He felt perspiration form in his forehead and temples.
“You can come with me and find out,” she replied, speaking quickly with a hint of annoyance in her tone. From the corner of his eyes, he could see her fists ball at her sides. She didn’t like how he had to ask instead of simply following.
He stood up and let her lead the way. He tried not to stare, but Helen’s messy locks tumbled down her back, bouncing as she walked. Her dress did nothing for her figure but it made him want to take it off more. James was watching her back so intently that he almost missed the first step up the stairs, almost falling on his face.
Strange, he thought. They were going up to the rooms. Helen stopped abruptly in front of him. She turned her head to eye him before opening a door and going inside. James had to swallow a lump before he could muster the strength to go inside. The door behind him clicked close.
When he entered the room, his eyes first darted towards the small purple lights that encircled the corners of the four-posted bed. They glowed dully in the dimly lit room, suddenly reminding him of a forest scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. He took a swig of beer, trying not to say anything and ruin whatever moment that was coming.
Helen asked him to sit on the bed since the only chair in the room was piled with books. He cautiously sat at the edge of her bed, his mind only registering thoughts of whether he should inch further onto the bed or to inch back. It registered in his head that he was partially wasted, and the wave of nausea was completely normal.
Portishead started playing softly in the background, light as air. He took another swig of his beer and placed it on the floor. Helen was by her radio, finished fixing the volume and now watching him thoughtfully. She walked towards him and put a hand on his shoulder. She bent so her lips were level with his ears. “I like you,” she whispered and pressed her lips to his.
It was a chaste kiss. Helen shyly, hesitantly pressed her lips to his. His lips parted of their own accord and he let out a breath. She put her hands on his shoulders and climbed the bed. He supported her by her elbows until she had both knees propped on each side of him. When she was properly straddling him, she paused to meet his eyes and let out a long exhale. Her sigh came from her very being, releasing an expression of relief proclaiming, “Finally, finally”.
She put her forearms on his shoulders, her lips pressing on his. He used his lips to open hers slowly. She let out a small sound of hesitation. He instinctively held on her hips to balance her on his lap, inching her closer to him. “Open your mouth, yes like that,” he instructed in a whisper. The girl with the strong heart conceded to his leadership without qualms. James knew girls like her grew weary of always leading in life and wanted - needed guidance now and again.
Helen slid her arms back and rubbed his shoulders, massaging them slowly with her hands. She rubbed his neck as he parted her lips with his. James let his hands slowly travel upward, resting his fingers a moment on the small of her back, massaging it lightly. She moaned into his mouth and pressed her chest to his intimately.
The softness of her chest, the intimacy of her breath becoming his air, inhaling it in. It could unravel him, he could come undone. Instead, he opened his eyes and stopped. He stopped and his body grew sore as tiny pinpricks made their slow assault from his feet, up his spine. His heart thumped loudly and his sight unfocused before clearing. He didn’t let go of her, but his grip eased and he bent his head.
She made a confused sound and tried to meet his eyes. “Why? What is it?” she was breathless, summoning clarity in her tone. She bent, trying to coax his head up with her small hands. He could feel her panic, knew she deliberated how to go about this. She was a smart one, always in control and this was her first gamble. And oh damn, he realized. This was her first gamble and he was messing it up big time. In a levelled tone she asked, “Did I do something wrong?”
He shook his head but offered nothing more. His mind was racing. All the while, she was on his lip. With an irritated sigh, she swung her leg away from his side and sat beside him. He tried to offer help holding on her arm, but she pulled away. She put some distance between them. Now he watched her fixate her gaze on a point in the wall. Her hair was a tumble of newly-woken up mess but she did not seem to mind it. “I’ve never done this before,” she told him slowly, never looking his way. He shook his head, wanting to tell her this is not about that. “So you can’t be like this. You can’t treat me like this just because I don’t know-”
“It’s not that, at all,” he cut in, wanting to console her but knowing not how to. “You, are so great. So beautiful. I can’t offer you anything that is of any redeeming value.” He didn’t know what else to say. What else do you add to that? How can she understand?
“What do you think I want from you?” she asked quietly.
He didn’t know what to answer that could make things right. “It’s not just about what you want, you deserve-”
“Why would you think you can decide what I want or what I deserve?” Now she stood up and went to her vanity desk. She took a brush and hastily ran it through her hair.
“I’m not, but Helen, I don’t deserve you,” he tried; he wanted to let her know, have a solid chance at changing her mind. He could think of nothing she would want from him, could think of nothing he could give that would be enough. “You need someone who,” he searched for the words, his mind going blank. “Can take care of you, make your life easier, those kind of things. A good match.”
Instead, she made a sound of disgust and started applying lip balm and dabbing on gloss. But she stopped, looked at him with great dislike, and then threw her gloss at him. Then her lip balm. Her ivory-backed brush went sailing. A stuffed koala and a string of pearls. He managed to dodge most of them by shielding his face.
“I don’t remember saying anything about needing something or ‘those kind of things’, or any type of BS excuse you can think about,” her words were curt, but her voice was low, almost in a hiss. “All I said was I like you. That was that.” she was filtering the curse words out of her what she was saying. James remembered her Christmas resolutions of being good then felt all the guiltier.
“So good for you,” she continued. “You must be thinking how kind of you, how considerate to think of those things for me. Instead of fighting for me, or at the very least telling me honestly if you just don’t like me back,” her words were cutting. James felt every slice go through him, making him regret his choice of words the moment he made them. “I could have told you, how much I thought we would be a good match, not because of those kind of things but because we would make it work. But never mind. I don’t want you.”
Helen was done. She walked out of the room, muttering the word, ‘Pathetic’ as she went and shouting a greeting of Merry Christmas you pathetic wastrel while going down the stairs. And he felt it was the right term to describe him.