AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my submission to the "Winter Holidays" contest, so make sure to vote if you like what you read! I am also working on a companion story to my Summer contest submission, "What She Knows," so look for that if you liked either that story or this one. Thanks!
"I swear, I knew it would happen. He couldn't finish the last day of class without doing it -- you know that guy I told you about. You won't believe what he said to try and get me to sleep with him..." Sara began talking before taking her seat. She unpacked her books without breaking rhythm, barely noticing Brian's disconnect.
The two sat at a small table near the front of a quaint coffee shop downtown, and the afternoon sun was buried in thick, grey clouds made deceptively whiter by the falling snow. Brian had an impulse to walk away from Sara's soft voice and step into the snow. The emptiness of the mid-Saturday streets looked serene and inviting. He even shirked the desire to warm himself with a coat from the cold that crept in through the glass.
He didn't look at Sara while she spoke, but hung on her every word just the same. It was in his nature to put the well-being of others first, and he even did so covertly.
"...but that was fine for about two weeks, then they broke up. Then, magically, he wants to spend all this time with me, and just...it's so obvious. I mean, you're a guy. Well, you know what I mean. I just, I want the easy way out sometimes... and just tell this guy the way it is, that whatever he thinks ain't it, it just ain't. You know what I mean?"
"I guess," Brian replied.
She clicked her pen several times, but it didn't pop out. "Well, it is what it is. That final is over anyway, so at least I won't have to worry about him anymore. Hell, I don't have to worry about class anymore! Oh shit, do you have a pen?"
He simply pointed to his bag without saying anything, and she started rifling through it until she found one. In the process, her eyes fixed on a book.
"Really? 'Sexuality and Art'?"
"It's for class. We're learning about..."
"Bullshit. I know what your classes are. You totally got this for yourself. That's really cool. And... surprising."
"Why is it surprising?"
"Well it's just... you never talk about sex. You're always just so... straight-edge about everything."
"If you say so."
Sara noticed something somber in his tone. And something she might have called resentment.
"Is everything ok?"
He hesitated. For a moment, he wanted to tell her no, and to tell her everything. He would have trusted her.
She was staring at him, and every second that passed he felt more and more defenseless. He and Sara had been friends since high school. They had been through hell together, and no one knew him better than her.
"Yes, I'm fine," he finally said.
"It's nothing, don't worry about it."
Sara closed her notebook, making sure to do so as conspicuously as possible. She looked at him sternly with a smirk, and waited for him to look back at her. When he did, he knew it was over. He felt a mixture of anxiety and relief.
"Look, I don't even know what's wrong."
"What are you thinking about?"
The word that came to his mind was "women," but didn't want to say it. That would be simplifying it, he thought. She would pick up all the pathetic bits of what he felt, but know very little about what he really thought. This was hard, but he'd been sliding emotionally for months. Something had to give. He had to tell someone.
"I just... I don't know. I have nothing to be proud of."
"That's crazy! You finished your senior film way before your class... totally blew everyone away. Everyone's talking about it. Shit, they're talking about it in my classes."
"I don't feel like I thought I would feel, though. I can't explain it."
She smiled at this. "You don't have to. You're an artist, Brian. I've always known it, and if there's one thing about you that makes you an artist it's that you're never satisfied."
"That's not fair. I'm satisfied with that film."
"You should be. It doesn't look like a student film at all. That's why it got into festivals already." After reading his expression, she added, "Buuuut... this isn't about that, is it?" Brian looked back out the window, and Sara finally responded, "Who is she? Give me all the details."
"It's not what you think."
Sara let out a big but short laugh that made her sit up straight. She was about to ask for more, but Brian continued.
"I've been thinking about Samantha."
Sara's smile softened, and her amusement turned into puzzlement.
"What about her?"
"I don't know. How close we were. I don't know, it's probably nothing."
"No, it's something alright. Only time I see you get like this is when you don't have anything going on. Are you going back home for the break?"
"I just don't really feel like being around a lot of people I have to smile for, you know? I just saw the family for Thanksgiving. It's no big deal."
"Maybe, but you shouldn't be alone. You should have Christmas with my family. They always love having you."
"I guess so."
Adding a little pep to her voice, she asked, "Hey, what are you doing right now?"
"Studying with you."
"Screw that. It's Saturday. I have something that might cheer you up."
After they packed up and headed out into the cool, calm snowfall, Brian instantly felt a thousand times better. He even felt silly, in fact. He hated being the downer.
But suddenly, it felt like old times. He didn't know how many times he and Sara went on walks together, and how many of those times were walks through the snow. She was an explorer, like him, and they always got lost together. Only she would have known how much a simple walk through the snow would change his whole attitude.
She'd seen him through many hard times, just like he helped her through one heartbreak after another. He saw so much goodness in her, even when she made bad decisions. He thought she was one of the most forgiving, generous people he'd ever known. And watching the snowflakes come to rest on her long, brown hair, he was also reminded of just how beautiful she was.
They walked until they reached the park, and they circled the lake, watching the ducks. They talked about silliness and life, but not a word of what was really bothering Brian.
She might have thought, as they later arrived at her doorstep, that it did the trick. But she knew him too well. He just wasn't the same, and she could sense it.
So she invited him in for some Cognac and said she had something to give him, and he agreed.
The first thing he noticed upon entering was that her place was less than tidy. Sensing his judgment immediately, she shot back, "Don't judge me. In a week I won't have to worry about my defense 'cuz I'll be done, and I'll be done with school, and then I can worry about this shit."
"No it's not that. I wasn't judging..."
She walked into the kitchen, saying, "Keep talking."
"I don't see a mess, ok? I see you busting your ass. Believe me..."
"Damn straight. Same as you."
"Not exactly. If I hadn't wasted three years of my life doing nothing, I'd be getting my Master's too."
"You still can." She entered the room with two glasses filled with Cognac and handed one to Brian. Brian took a sip, but timidly looked out the window, even though a tree was blocking most of the snowfall.
"Talk to me."
Brain tried to appear more shocked than satisfied by the statement. He wanted to talk. Boy, had he ever. But that didn't make it easy.
It was several awkward minutes later, after finding a spot on the couch and looking down into his drink, that he said anything.
"I don't know. Lately, I've just been thinking about women a lot."
"...being with them, you know."
"Like a girlfriend?"
"No. Well, not really. I just mean... I see them everyday, and one day, I won't."
"So you're worried that if you don't find a girlfriend now, that you'll never find one?"
"No, I said... it's not about finding a girlfriend. I just... there's this hump that I've never been able to get over with women, and it makes me feel... like I'll never..."
She started to grin, as she guessed what he was getting at. "Are you talking about sex?" His response to the question gave it away, and she delighted in getting it right. "Gosh, you are such a romantic! You can't even say the word. It's cute, though." When she said this, he opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off, saying, "BUT... you can't bring yourself to sleep with a woman you don't care about. I get it. It all makes sense now. That's why you're thinking of Samantha again."
"I'll never be as close as I was with her."
"Do you still love her?"
"God no, that was years ago."
"What was the sex like? I mean, if you don't mind my asking?"
"You were together for like two years. You mean to tell me you two never did it? Not once?"
Brian had always enjoyed her playful optimism, and she always brought it out in full force whenever she was trying to be a listener. But now, he found it painful to see. And she had no idea how hard it was to be telling her this stuff.
"It was going to be Samantha. I loved her, and I wanted it to be her. But I had too much pride. And I had this silly idea that it would make me a better person to wait. That's why I wanted to wait, but only at first. Then, we started fighting. She knew every button to push to set me off, and she brought out a very dark side of me. Sex was one of them. She would say things like 'what kind of a man doesn't fuck his girlfriend?' And she was right. I should have. Not just because I loved her, but if I knew then that it would be the only real chance for someone like me..."
"Wait... are you still a virgin?"
Brian didn't respond. He just sighed and downed the rest of the Cognac, then leaned back on the couch, staring straight ahead. He knew that she had all the information now, and he couldn't look at her.
She had finally said the words, and he couldn't bear to respond. He tried, but realizing how pitiful it made him feel, he had to turn away from her. He felt he had made a mistake telling her, and felt foolish for making it out to be a big deal.
"Hey, that's nothing to be ashamed of," she said. She leaned over and ran her fingers through his hair until he turned to look at her. "You're still young."
When he said nothing, she got up and left the left the room. When she returned, she brought the bottle of Cognac with her. "Somehow, I think we're going to need this."
She filled Brian's cup, but he still was at a loss for words. So she sat down beside him again and said, "Look, I'm here for you, ok? I know this is not something that's easy to talk about. I feel honored that you trust me this much, though."
"You're pretty much my best friend at this point, Sara. I had to tell someone. I feel horrible."
"And you're like my best guy friend! I hate seeing you so sad. You're the sweetest guy I know. I'd do anything to find someone for you. You deserve to be happy."
"Yeah, good luck with that."
"You used to be more confident. What happened?"
"What I need is a body like yours."
Without even hesitating, she said, "So you're a lesbian?" He wanted to keep to his misery, but the joke actually put a smile on his face. "See? You just gotta cut through all that shit, man."
"It's not just finding women, though. Even in the rare instance that a girl gives a loser like me a chance, it never get serious enough before it all goes to shit. So I can't commit."
"I don't think you have commitment issues. You're just afraid of women."
"Why would you say that? I'm sitting right here with one, aren't I?"
"That's different. I'm your friend. You don't see me that way, but that's beside the point. When you have a chance to be with a girl who likes you, you always back out. It's your choice, and I know why you do it, too. We've talked about it a hundred times and you never listen to me."
"What are you talking about?"
"You need to put your romantic ideals aside for a change and take a risk. Not every girl is gonna be the one you spend the rest of your life with. But if she offers you her body, it's not always an empty gesture. Like Gina."
"All she wanted was sex, though."
"That's not true. She really liked you. You would've liked her more if you had sex with her. I told you that at the time, but you didn't listen. And now she's gone."
"Look, it can't be like that. I can't accept that. I don't want sex dictating anything."
"But you want sex, don't you?"
"Well therein lies the real problem."
"Every guy that has a pulse wants sex. I just think you're scared."
"Well even if that's true, Gina was an exception. Girls who want me don't come along very often."
"They will if you want them to."
"That's easy for you to say. You don't have to work very hard to get guys lined up."
"You'd be surprised how hard I have to work!"
Brian would have normally laughed at this, but in this particular moment, he just looked down at his drink.
"I almost just want to do it and get it over with."
Then, seeing his sullen disposition in light of all that she'd learned, Sara had an idea. It formed an expression on her face that she wouldn't have been able to hide if he'd been looking up at her.
It was a smirk.
She took another sip of her drink, then said, "You can do it with me if you want."
Brian almost didn't believe she said it, and looked confused. She was smiling, which perplexed him even more. "But we're..."
"Friends? I know."
"So... what are you saying?"
"I'm saying we should have sex. You and me. Right now. On this couch, if you'd prefer."
"But, that would be weird, wouldn't it?"
"Do you have feelings for me?"
"Not really. I've never thought of you like that."
"Not even once?"
"Well, I do find you attractive, but..."
"...but you've always seen me as a friend first. Nothing more. Right?"
"Right. Then yes... we should definitely have sex."
"Brian, you've helped me through so much over the years. Frankly, I wonder why you're still my friend after all of the shit I put you through, because I feel like I'm never able to help you. But now I think I can help you. I know I can help you, and I want to."
"How is it going to help me to have sex with you?"
She put her glass down and slid closer to him. "I really think that once you finally have sex, you won't be so worked up about getting older and all that stuff. And I know you would never have sex with someone you weren't close to, cuz you're stubborn like that. But you and me... we're very close. I'm not just anyone."
"I understand what you're saying, and it does make sense. But it still feels weird. I don't know if I can."
"Just think of it like I'm teaching you how to ice skate or paint or something. It's just an activity that two friends are doing together. Except, more like therapy. Doesn't have to be weird at all."
"You're serious? You want to have sex?"
"And you don't think it will change things?"
"It's likely to make us closer, but that's just because of what it is. If anything, it'll strengthen our friendship."
"Look at it this way." She straightened up and turned to face him more directly. "If you needed help painting a house and I had paint to give you, you know you could come to me to help you, because I have paint. And while I may be your friend first... I'm also a woman. And what you need is a woman's body. And I...," she added with a grin, "happen to have one of those."
"I just feel pathetic. Like you're doing this out of pity."
"Brian, pity is the last reason I'd have. I care about you. That's why I want to do it. I wouldn't do this for just anyone, if that's what you're thinking. You are the sweetest, most awesome guy I know, and you have yourself to thank for that. That's why I'm doing it."
He found her arguments persuasive, and she could see that he was loosening up. His demeanor was lighter, almost hopeful.
She put a hand on his thigh and moved it down between his legs, then felt his crotch gently. He felt his penis harden instantly to the touch, and it stunned him. It all seemed like just talk, but her hand made it real.
"I'll take that as a yes," she said, smiling.
She now was now more excited than she'd ever been. She knew what it meant to reveal her body to the closest friend she'd ever had, but she buried her nervous anticipation. She chose to undress herself as she would if no one were watching. Casual, like the everyday event that it was.
She removed the shirt she was wearing first, then unclipped her bra. When she slid it off, she fought the urge to look at Brian to see his reaction. She wanted to know right away what it made him think and feel, but knew she should act nonchalant. His eyes were drawn instantly to her breasts. He followed them as she leaned over to pour another drink, liking the way they moved and bounced slightly with her body.
She could feel his eyes on her, and it was starting to turn her on.
She turned to Brian handing him his glass, making eye contact for the first time. She found his look of innocence truly precious, and she looked away for fear that he might take an uncontrollable chuckle from her the wrong way.
She stood up instead, holding her own glass. "To your first time," she said, holding it out. They toasted and drank.
Then she put the glass down and began to remove her shoes and socks. She was short, and her long, brown hair hung down like a curtain as she bent to pull her socks off. The hair slid along her breasts until she threw it back behind her ears, gingerly. She unbuttoned and unzipped her blue jeans and slid them down.
To Brian, it might have been weird if she had tried to be sexy when taking off her clothes. Had she behaved as he'd imagined she did with other men, he might have put a stop to the whole thing. But instead, she was very natural. He could easily imagine her undressing the very same way on some not so special day for a very typical shower.
This oddly calmed Brian, because he didn't want to see Sara as anything but the Sara he knew. And it gave him comfort. She wasn't trying to be anyone but herself. She was just Sara.
And Sara must have been thinking the same thing. She smiled at him before finally removing her underwear, and even her smile was simple and sweet. It said, "I'm glad we're friends, and I'm happy to be doing this for you."
He thought she was going to approach him right away, but she didn't. She stood there, studying his reaction. This time, she couldn't help herself.
But she justified it to herself by concluding that if he really was afraid of women, she should give him all the time he needed to be comfortable with one. She found that his eyes were fixed on her pussy, but was surprised by how long he looked at it. Then she joked, "Getting a good look?" She laughed, but Brian immediately looked away.
"Don't be," she said with a chuckle. "Have you ever actually seen a woman naked before? Be honest. And movies don't count."
"I've made out with them lots of times. And I've seen tits before."
"But never naked?"
He shook his head.
"Look at me," she said. He turned his head back to look at her and found her still in the same pose, with her hands at her hips.
"You're absolutely beautiful."
"Oh stop it Brian. I don't need you to give me compliments. Just look at me. Look as long as you want."
It all started to click for Brian. He realized that she was right. He was scared, because it was different.
But it was beautiful. Like he had always seen it in movies, only now it was in the flesh. And he could never have expected that the first woman he would be seeing completely naked would be Sara.