"I know," Andy agreed. "Snow days!"
"Well, that too," said Sylvia. "But I was thinking of sledding outside all morning. Then we'd go inside and get out of our wet clothes and curl up by the fireplace." She put just the right stress on the bit about getting out of her clothes, she thought with pleasure, and hoped he would take the hint.
"We didn't have a fireplace," Andy said. "But that sounds great." He curled up and hugged his knees, looking almost feminine. "I can just see you bombing down the hills, too, you daredevil."
"I did!" Sylvia agreed. "I was wild then." With the water heating up, she sat on the other side of the bed, drawing her legs up gracefully and crossing them at the ankles. She could hear her tights swish as she did, and wondered if Andy got a kick out of the sound. It looked to her like he did, or maybe that was just her imagination running wild. Either way, she felt encouraged.
"It's hard to imagine you like that back then," Andy admitted, looking his friend up and down. "You always look so put-together now."
"It's only work clothes," Sylvia said.
Andy smiled at her without saying anything. He seemed to be admiring her body, and Sylvia basked in the glow, feeling more confident than ever that the time was right. She could see in the corner of her eye that the snow was blowing everywhere outside. "Too bad we don't have a tree in here, isn't it?" she asked him. "I'm just bursting with the Christmas spirit today. I guess the first big snow always has that effect on me."
"It is already very Christmas-like with the snow and the hot chocolate," Andy said. "But yeah, I guess that would be a nice final touch. Already feels really cozy, though."
Something wasn't quite right, Sylvia could see. "Are you okay, Andy?" she asked. "You don't sound like your heart is in it on the whole holiday spirit thing."
"Oh, I'm fine," Andy said, but he still didn't sound it. "It's just, Sylvia, you know, when we were kids it was all about friends and parties and lots of fun. If you'd told me then that someday I'd be spending the holidays alone in a town like this..."
"You're not alone!" Sylvia protested. She drew herself all the way up onto the bed and curled up at his feet, which she touched playfully. "Or don't I count?"
"I didn't mean it that way!" Andy replied hastily. "I'm sorry, Sylvia. I love spending time with you. It's just, I mean, you know how we're always talking about moving to the coasts and getting on with our lives. Christmas means the end of the year, another year in which we didn't do that. And I guess it makes me feel lonely, even when I'm with friends."
"That's awfully melancholy for a season of joy, Andy, but I think I understand." Sylvia sat up now so she could regard him more seriously. "But think of the alternative. Do you really want to be alone in some shoebox in Manhattan where you can barely make the rent, or putting up with your annoying relatives at your mom's house?"
Andy's face broke into that grin Sylvia loved so, and he nodded his head. "Thanks. I needed that. Spending the holiday here is definitely better than those, isn't it? I...yeah, it really is. I guess it just does feel a bit incomplete this year, being here on our own. But it is a beautiful scene out there and it's great to have a friend to share it with."
Sylvia knew if there was ever to be a right moment, that was it. She scooted up alongside him at the head of the bed. "Well, there's one other thing that would really make this a season of joy." She reached out and brushed his hand. "Andy, I know we've always avoided this, but..." She wanted to complete the sentence, but the right words did not present themselves.
Andy returned the caress on her hand at first, and for a wonderful moment Sylvia thought the battle was won. But then he pulled his hand away and drew back as far on the bed as he could, flattening himself against the headboard. "Sylvia, stop!" he said in a tone that bordered on panic. "I'm sorry, but there's something you'd never understand."
Sylvia was taken aback. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't think that'd make you uncomfortable." For good measure, she stood up to give Andy some space. Of all the possible outcomes of her overture, this was not one she had considered.
"Well, uncomfortable is too strong a word," Andy said, relaxing a bit. "It's just -- awkward. We've been friends for so long, I kind of have this block about thinking of you as a woman as opposed to a friend. I dunno, it's awkward."
Sylvia felt slightly relieved. "So we're in the friend zone, and that's a problem for you? That's okay, Andy, you know we can take things as slowly as you want to. But if you don't mind my saying so, I think I've already been taking it about as slowly as I could!"
She heard his interjection, but waved it off. She had held her tongue for months, and now that the ice was broken, there was a lot to say. "I mean, if you're not attracted to me, that's one thing. But given how well we get along, I find it hard to believe you can't get past that! And being friends is a great way to start a relationship, that's what I've always heard! I've always wanted to be friends-first, and we've been so successful at that."
"I mean, this is awkward for me, too, Andy! But really, that can be part of the fun, if you let it be! It's something we're in together, and we know each other well enough to handle that. Even if it doesn't work out. And I hate to spring it on you, but I've been ignoring my feelings on this for much too long now. I gave you your space when you needed to get over Alicia, didn't I? Don't try to tell me you didn't know how I envied her, Andy. Anybody could have seen that!"
"Stop!" Andy screeched. "Sylvia, please. Stop. I'm sorry I snapped at you, but that's...that's just a lot to process at once, isn't it? And none of what you said is the reason why I reacted like I did. Please. Give me a chance, and I will explain, I promise."
Sylvia was a bit surprised at his interruption, but on a moment's reflection she realized he was right. "I'm sorry, Andy. It's just that I've been having to tiptoe around all this for months now, and it's a beautiful winter's day, and..." her voice trailed away as she heard it shaking. "It's just, I've waited so long for a moment like that, and I never imagined you'd react the way you did." Hearing the water boil, she turned around to tend to the cocoa, but added over her shoulder, "I'm listening. I won't cut you off again."
"So..." Andy began uncertainly. "Wow. I mean, no, I didn't know how you felt about me when Alicia was here. I'm sorry, that must have been terrible. If I'd known, I wouldn't have brought her in the house or anything. And thanks for giving me some time after we broke up. I'd have been in no shape for another relationship right after that, for sure. The thing is, I never told you the real reason why Alicia and I broke up, and I'm afraid it could be a problem for you and me just like it was for her and me."
Sylvia had mixed the cocoa as he spoke, and now she turned around with the two mugs. She handed him one, and sat at a respectful distance at the other end of the bed. "Well, that's another thing about being friends first, Andy. You're better at communicating that way."
"I don't know if that's going to help," Andy said. "You see..." He closed his eyes, and set his mug down on Sylvia's nightstand. "This is so embarrassing..."
"You have nothing to be embarrassed about with me," Sylvia told him. "You know that."
"I know you won't give me a hard time about it," he admitted. "But that doesn't make it any less embarrassing."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Sylvia asked. She was almost frightened now.
Andy opened his eyes and shook his head slightly. "I'm...I'm a virgin, Sylvia."
Sylvia felt a guilty rush of pleasure mixed with her relief and surprise, but she knew better than to let on even in the heat of that very long moment. The words that came weren't quite the right ones, but she couldn't stop them: "Is that all? Andy, you scared me!"
"Is it all?!" Andy demanded. "I'm twenty-five, Sylvia. Do you have any idea what it's like to tell anybody you're a virgin at this age? Never mind even trying to explain why!"
"Well, no, I don't," Sylvia admitted. "But, look, the reason why is nobody's business, including mine. Sex is such a personal thing, Andy, the right time is going to be different for everybody and you usually don't even really know when it comes." Even as she spoke, Sylvia was still coming to terms with the news -- Andy a virgin? Sweet, sensitive Andy had never been to bed with anyone? It couldn't have been for lack of opportunity! He could surely have had Alicia, he could definitely have had Sylvia herself...why? But she had already said it wasn't her business. When it was clear Andy had nothing to add at the moment, she thought of something else to add. "For an awful lot of us, we realize later on that we started too soon rather than too late, you know. I certainly did."
"That's what I was afraid of at first," Andy said at last. Looking as nervous as she had ever seen him, he stood up and began pacing slowly alongside the bed. "There were girls in high school who probably would have let me, you know, but back then I had it in my head about waiting until marriage. We weren't super-religious or anything, but it just seemed like the safe thing to do in this day and age. Plus, I was shy. Really shy. So when I got to college..."
As he seemed to be groping uncomfortably for something, Sylvia repeated, "You don't have to tell me anything, Andy, if you don't want to. You don't owe anybody an explanation."
"Thanks. But I feel like now that the cat's out of the bag, I should explain things. If you think you're in love with me, Sylvia, you should know everything anyway."
"Thanks," was all Sylvia said. Privately she agreed with him, and more to the point she was delighted that he seemed to be open to their possibilities together.
"It's nothing too diabolical, really," Andy continued. "It's just, I got to college, and like most freshmen I was really still just a kid, acting big like they all did, but when it came to dating I had no idea what I was doing." Sylvia was tempted to interrupt that no one ever really knew at that age. But seeing how difficult it was for Andy to open up to her, she kept her mouth shut. "And I wanted to concentrate on my studies anyway. I'd been kind of an underachiever in high school and I wanted to prove I was past that. One thing about college, the women love a smart guy, not like high school! So I made a lot of female friends, but the thing is, once you've been friends for a while...I don't know how to phrase this, you know what I mean?"
"It gets to be like imagining sex with your sister," Sylvia said. "I know the feeling."
"Exactly," Andy continued. "There were a few friends here and there who wanted to take it to the next level, and I tried, but -- maybe we always took it too slowly, but the right time never came. I kept waiting until I would be comfortable getting intimate with her, and I never really did get comfortable, and the girl always got frustrated and gave up on me."
"I'm sorry," was all Sylvia could think to say; and immediately she wished she hadn't. It sounded pitying, and that was the last thing she wanted Andy to think she felt for him. Feeling restless now, she stood up so he could talk to her at eye level.
"I guess I developed kind of a complex along the way," Andy went on. Now he was folding his arms tightly against his chest and looking everywhere in the room but at Sylvia. "It's gotten so I'm almost afraid of thinking of a woman in that way."
"Gynophobia, huh?" Sylvia hoped to lighten the mood a bit.
She succeeded, as Andy broke into a mild laugh. "Right, I guess so." He set his mug down and took a deep breath. "When I care about a woman, even if it's just as friends, there's a kind of purity about the whole thing. Sex doesn't come into the picture, even if I'm attracted to her as more than a friend. It isn't sex, it's love, you know? And I mean, I love you as a friend, of course."
For a wonderful moment, Sylvia thought he would hug her. But he didn't. So she just said, "Thanks, I love you too," and he went on.
"And then there's sex, and there's the whole sensory overload, seeing her body and feeling everything and all the noises you make. It's so intense. And it kind of scares me. It's like, what if I can't handle that with my friend? It's so much easier to just leave that whole issue aside and leave sex out of the picture. So I'm careful not to go down that road at all."
"Because you want to still respect her in the morning." Sylvia understood, much as she didn't want to.
"Yes! I mean, that's what I hope would happen. I'm sure after I slept with someone, I would still respect her, totally. But it's not the same as before with her, ever again. She can't ever not be the one I saw with nothing on, who made all those noises, you know."
"Well, that's what makes intimacy so wonderful, Andy," Sylvia said gently. "You get to share all those beautiful secrets with only that one other person. And if it's your best friend as well, so much the better."
"That's a lovely thought," Andy said, now looking a bit more relaxed. "I guess it's just that I've never been any good at getting over the boundaries of friendship."
"You don't have to keep those boundaries with me, Andy. You know that. We can talk about anything." She tried to make that "anything" sound as seductive as she could, but even she thought it sounded silly. "Besides, I am a woman whether you think of me that way or not. You don't need to pretend I'm anything else. We don't bite." With an evil grin she added, "With either mouth."
Andy looked confused for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Okay! I needed that. Right. It's just, there's love and there's friendship, and I haven't had a lot of luck combining those. Guess I have a complex about sex, like I said, since I waited too long."
"Is that what went wrong with Alicia, if you don't mind my asking?"
Andy nodded. "I never pushed her too hard to do anything, obviously, and she liked that at first, but then she started pushing me to go further, and I didn't have the guts to tell her...tell her what I just told you about myself. So I guess she thought I didn't want to sleep with her, when really I did -- sorry! -- but I didn't know how to deal with my issues about it all. I'm pretty sure we could have worked our way through it if she knew everything -- I mean I've had all these months to go over that in my mind and think of how it could have worked out -- but I couldn't tell her I was a virgin, Sylvia."
"She said some things along the way that made it clear she wouldn't understand. Stuff about how anyone who didn't lose it in high school was a loser and probably a mama's boy and so forth. Very insensitive. And I laughed along with it and let her think I was nothing like that."
"You are nothing like that, Andy," Sylvia reassured him."
"Thanks. But she wouldn't have understood, not like you do. I figured all along you would, actually, but I swear I never knew you were interested in me."
"What about that time I tried to hug you and you wouldn't let me?" She hadn't wanted to bring that up, but now she couldn't resist.
"Oh, that. I'm sorry, Sylvia. I guess I was just feeling shellshocked after losing Alicia, and I was questioning then whether anyone at all would understand. And I didn't want to risk my friendship with you by complicating it. But I'm sorry, I should have hugged you."
Sylvia set down her cocoa mug and gave him a welcoming look. "Better late than never!"
It was a risk given all that he had just told her, Sylvia knew that, but the time seemed right to give it a try. The risk paid off, as Andy's face broke into the embarrassed grin she knew too well, and he walked gracefully into her waiting embrace. In spite of the bomb he had dropped, the moment was all she had hoped for. His arms felt perfect around her, strong but gentle and warm against the snowy chill that was just beyond the window behind them, which let in the tiniest of cold drafts and made the hug feel all the warmer. Best of all, she could feel him getting hard against her through their clothes. In response to that, she squeezed him more tightly in hope that the press of her breasts against him would be just as thrilling to him. Thoughts of last spring and Alicia and thinking he'd been lost to her forever roared through her mind, making the moment all the more blissful.
Once the rush of euphoria was past, Sylvia felt she had to ask him: "Do you feel safe?"
"Completely," Andy said. "I'm sorry, though, I hope you don't mind my...you know...pressing against you..."
"Do I mind!" Sylvia forced herself to sound gentle rather than frustrated -- this was all new to him, after all. "Andy, it's a beautiful feeling!"
Still holding him tightly, Sylvia returned carefully to their conversation. "Do you want to talk anymore about what happened with Alicia? I take it she broke it off with you because you weren't ready for sex?"
Andy drew back just far enough to look at Sylvia. "I wish it were that simple. I mean, that is what happened, but not just like that. One night -- I remember you were watching a basketball game with Mr. Wells downstairs, and we were up here -- I went to the bathroom, and when I got back to my room there she was curled up on my bed, naked."
"Oh, no," Sylvia interjected.
"Exactly," Andy went on. "And I freaked out, just a bit, I mean -- I saw her and I gasped and averted my eyes and stepped back out in the hall. Totally involuntary, I didn't mean to offend her, but I did. Once I composed myself, I went back in and she was wrapped up in a sheet now and looking furious. 'What, Andy, do I repulse you?! You want to be a priest or something?'"
"Yeah! I mean, I tried to explain it away, but I couldn't. Not without telling her I was a virgin and why, and I knew by then she would never understand that. So she just said she'd had enough of me being such a cold fish, and she told me to get out and let her get dressed. Then she left and that was that."
"I think I remember that night," Sylvia admitted. It was a lie -- she knew she remembered that night quite well. No need to tell Andy now, though, of the spark of hope she had felt when she'd looked up from the game to see Alicia rushing out of the house in a huff, or how elated she had been later that night when she had discovered her hunch was correct. Figuring no good could come of her coming clean about that, she let Andy hold her in silence, still scarcely able to believe she was in his arms at last. If she received no other gift this year, Sylvia knew this would be the merriest Christmas in years already!
But she could not ignore the obvious forever. "Andy," she finally said. "If you're not ready for another relationship, I'll understand, but..."
"No! I mean yes, I am ready to try, especially now that you know everything...it's just that it'll still be an issue for me to think of you that way. You're a close friend, and I imagine having stronger feelings for you -- or actually now I know I do have stronger feelings for you, Syl, but I'm uncomfortable with what comes next. After the point of no return, you know."
Sylvia swallowed hard. Now or never. She drew back from him and sat on the bed again so she could address him at arm's length. "Andy, you trust me, don't you?"
"Of course!" He followed her lead and sat beside her.
"Then whatever happens, you know I'll work through 'what comes next' with you."
"And you want to...make love? Now?" He looked equal parts delighted and frightened.
"More than you can imagine," Sylvia said. "But I don't want to make you uncomfortable." She caressed his hand as she said it, but otherwise didn't touch him. "You know, I think I can understand what you're feeling right now, Andy. I know it's scary the first time. I've been there." Memories of her own first time had been fluttering around the back of her mind ever since Andy had revealed himself. A fleeting golden image of a rainy summer night in the arms of her Spanish tutor wafted through her mind time and again, but it was always quickly burst apart by her recollection of her real first time. After a deep breath, she told Andy about it. "Homecoming, junior year in high school, three in the morning in the back of the guy's parents' station wagon, drunk for the first time, it hurt like hell and left a bloody mess and the best thing I could say about it afterward was that it was over very quickly. I didn't even come close to an orgasm -- unless you counted a couple of days later when the shock wore off and I could say it was over with. And I think he had his orgasm a few days later as well, when he told his buddies about it in the locker room."