tagInterracial LoveThe Tell-Tale Touch

The Tell-Tale Touch


It was time to turn a new leaf. Or perhaps, less of a turning a new leaf as starting a new book, or a new journal. I had been packing my belongings and given away most of the things I didn't want to move with me to graduate school. Today was the last day before the drive north. My parents and I had driven up earlier in the summer and had found a studio apartment to rent not far from campus, and my girlfriend Erin was going to help me drive my car, pulling a rented U-Haul trailer. I had accumulated more stuff than I realized over the last couple of years living off campus in college in an apartment shared with Erin and our roommate Paul. In addition to clothing and some basic kitchen wares, my mother and father had also let me pick some of the furniture from our house - a small but functional couch, a coffee table, some shelves and milk crates to accommodate my books, and a trestle table to act as both dining room table and desk until I found something better to eat on. I had decided that I should find a bed or futon in Ann Arbor rather than drive one up from York, Pennsylvania. And then there was my guitar, which, though I didn't play it very well, was a necessary release valve.

Erin had been trying to be supportive and excited for me, but I could tell underneath all that understanding she was extremely stressed out. We had talked about what a long distance relationship meant, whether we should try to maintain our exclusivity with each other or just go with the flow. Both of us had the feeling we had no idea what we were doing. We were playing with fire here.

"We need to establish our limits, honey," I said, sounding like my mother even to my own ears.

"Otherwise it's too easy to assume the wrong thing and get ourselves into loads of trouble. Like, are we going to see other people?" I looked at her sideways, trying to gauge her reaction.

"I'm going to miss you so much, sweetheart. I don't want to see other people. I want to try to stay together, keep our relationship going. Don't you?" she asked.

"That's what I'd like, but are you sure? Maybe we should consider dating others?"

"Is that what you want?" she said, turning to me full face with a rather pinched expression, trying not to sound judgmental and not succeeding.

"No, honey. I'd like to try to stay together despite the long distance, but it feels like a lot to ask," I said, hoping to defuse the tension between us.

In truth, I didn't know what I wanted. I wanted to have her come with me, and at the same time graduate school was a new adventure, a new beginning. I knew I'd make new friends, that anything was possible. Erin and I had been seeing each other for about eight months, and we were close, loving, compatible. But we had never been challenged. I honestly didn't know how much I loved her, and how strongly we were tied to each other.

"I think we should see how it goes for a while. See how hard it'll be. Then we can discuss it again in a few weeks or months. I mean, you're going to be meeting a lot of new people, right? Perhaps you'll meet someone else..."

"Erin, I'll be so busy with school, I can't imagine having any time other than to miss you."

"That's sweet, Grant. But you'll want to go out, meet your fellow grad students. Do stuff with them. I'm sure not all of them are men," she said, folding shirts and placing them neatly in one of the open boxes.

"And I'm sure I will do some of that. But my classes sound hard. The first year, new professors. I'll need to find a lab to do my research in. And I'm going to need to work on top of it all. I didn't get a teaching assistantship this semester, so I had to take that weekend job at the hospital. The rotating shifts in the clinical micro lab."

"Ugh. That sounds so tough, working at night like that."

"At least it won't be too busy, I'd guess."

"That might be even harder, you know. When you don't have anything to do in the middle of the night like that, it will be easy to fall asleep."

"Come here, you. Let me show you what is hard now," I said pulling her to me and embracing her.

I couldn't help squeezing her more tightly. Only a few hours left until my drive to Ann Arbor and not seeing Erin for at least a month or two. I kissed her lips and let myself wander across her cheek to her jaw, underneath to the sensitive skin under her ear. She arched into me, grinding her pelvis into my groin, rubbing back and forth across the bulge that had been swelling in my jeans.

"You know, Paul won't be home for another hour or so..." she whispered in my ear. "We can make as much noise as we want."

"Aaahhh, sweetheart, I want to raise the roof with your screams. But my parents are on their way with more boxes. They could be here anytime."

I laid kisses across her chest, dipping farther down her breasts. She had beautiful, silky skin, just slightly tanned, and her nipples were already swollen and poking at the confines of her bra.

"Damn, Grant, don't tease me like this. I hate you!" she said, laughing, her arm snaked around the back of my neck.

We continued to pack, teasing each other the entire time with rubs and nudges and a kiss here and there. When I bent to tape a box shut, she snaked her hand down the back of my jeans, sliding an ice cube deep between my buttocks, causing me to yowl. I reciprocated by pinging her butt with a rubber band while she was folding the sheets I was planning on taking. I had a great view of her stretched out, arms above her head holding the sheet corners, her breasts pushed out against her T-shirt. She was all sinuous curves, from the gently concave flex of her back blending into the sharper convex one of her ass, rolling into the backs of her thighs, knees and calves. She jiggled and laughed as the rubber band hit her. I abandoned the rubber band to pull her into me, and she wiggled her cheeks into my groin but did not let go of the sheet. I simply couldn't resist taking advantage to run my hands across her midriff, pulling the T-shirt up to her breasts and above, sneaking my thumbs underneath the band of her bra and over her extended nipples. Her skin was smooth and soft and irresistible every time I touched her. Another swirl of her butt across my groin would have had me drag her onto the couch to bend her over and screw her there and then, if my parents hadn't rung the bell and pushed the door open without further preamble.

I had just begun to stack the filled and taped boxes near the door. When my parents arrived, I helped my father bring up empty boxes, while Erin and my mother continued packing.

"Grant, when did you turn into such a pack rat, sweetie? Do you really need this shirt?" my mother groaned as she held up a smallish Western shirt with pearl snaps. "It can't possibly fit you. You were what, in junior high when it last fit you?"

"No, Mom, it isn't mine," I rolled my eyes. "It was a friend's - remember Dani? Danielle?"

"Oh yea, I see now it's a girl's shirt. Wasn't she your first girl friend? Yes, I remember her. Cute girl. A little ditzy perhaps. Laughed a lot."

"Yea, her. I must have kept the shirt as a reminder."

"Of?" Erin straightened, paused folding a sweater, and looked at me. Her brown eyes were curious but cautious. I'd noticed she' been prone to ask questions about past girlfriends lately.

"Do you remember a few years ago we had that horrible snow storm? It shut down the whole damn state, I think. I was stuck at Belinda's house for a couple of days. Her parents were out of town visiting her grandmother. We were there for a few days. A couple of our friends came over and played D&D with us. We cleaned out their entire food pantry by the time the storm passed and the streets were cleared enough for us to drive home. Her parents weren't too happy about us being in the house all alone."

"Where were dad and I?"

"Hmmm. Europe, I think? One of his sabbaticals."

"Huh," said Erin. "And the shirt?"

"It's just a shirt."

"Aren't you going to tell us why it's so memorable that you still have it?"

"Ummm, I forgot to give it back?" I tried, but her cocked eyebrow said my attempt had fallen flat.

"Well, that's a little embarrassing... maybe later..."

Fuck, I didn't want to tell them about the shirt: not my parents, and especially not Erin. For one, I didn't want to give her any ideas.

"Huh? How bad can it be?"

"It was part of an April Fool's joke," I said, keeping my tone as flat as I could. If they smelled blood, they'd go for the kill. I was not prepared to give them the details. At least not the real ones.

"Well, dearest, do you still want to keep it?"

"No, thanks. I certainly don't want to take it to Ann Arbor with me."

"OK, I'll put it in the Salvation Army box."

"Umm, mom? Look at it first. I'm pretty sure the Salvation Army won't want it." Just as soon as I said it, I could have kicked myself. Way to "not" draw attention to it, Grant.

My mother shook the shirt out, holding it by the shoulders.

"What's wrong with it, Grant?" "Ummm, look at the back?"

She turned the shirt, and her expression was even more confused. There, right in the middle of it, was a completely bleached roundish spot about three inches across.

"Do I want to ask?" she asked, her right eyebrow hiking up towards her hairline.

"Only if you want to embarrass both of us. It was a few years ago. High school."

Mom nodded. "Well, let's put it in the donation box and let them decide."

Erin was watching me, smiling. Her look said I was only getting away with this temporarily. I shrugged slightly in her direction and kept packing, suddenly aware that my jeans had become tighter than they'd been. Erin came to add a stack of books into the box I was working on, and as she bent down to pack the books in tightly, she rubbed her shoulder against my groin. I sucked in a breath, a little exasperated.

She looked up with feigned innocence: "I'm just trying to help. Anything wrong?" and as she lifted from her crouch, she steadied herself by placing a hand on my thigh just next to my crotch, close enough to make the fabric shift against my balls and pull across my shaft.

I reached for her shoulders, pulled her closer to me and gave her a hard kiss, looking straight at her as I ground my crotch against hers.

"Careful, little girl, don't start anything you can't finish," I whispered, low enough that my mom, who'd shifted to taping the box full of clothes for donations, couldn't hear.

Erin continued smiling innocently, but I knew better - she was goading me and I was happy to respond. As she turned to walk away, and I swatted her behind. A very shapely behind it was, too - I loved to watch it and rub it and lick between her cheeks.

"Hey, my beautiful man," she patted my cheek. "We need to finish the packing and get you to sleep to you can wake up early, or you won't have a hope of getting there tomorrow tonight. OK?"

I grunted. "Not much chance of getting me to sleep. Too keyed up."

I didn't even want to think about leaving tomorrow. It was all I thought about. We had hoped Erin could drive up with me, but her work schedule didn't allow it, so my father had offered to do it instead. We were going to spend this last night together after having a family dinner, and my father was going to pick me up in the morning for the eight- or nine-hour drive.

"I think I might know a way," she smiled, patting my cheek.


Samples were coming to the lab at longer and longer intervals, a sure sign that the evening was winding down. I went through the lab, picking up here and there, straightening out and making sure all the paperwork had been filled out properly and filed correctly. I had already handled the transfer of all the old samples and recorded the results. Had handled all the new samples. Had checked all the equipment and the temperature settings on the incubators, fridges, and freezers, checked the air and CO2 tanks on the incubators, It was one of the weekends when I started at 4 o'clock and got off at midnight, and I still had a couple of hours to go. Everyone else had already gone home, and I was the only one left in the clinical lab - the only thing the doctors could expect when samples were dropped off is that the correct tests would be set up to identify whatever "bugs" were growing in whatever infection site they'd sampled, and that the results would give some insight into what had brought their patient into the hospital. I could take out one of the articles I'd brought with me and work on the homework due Wednesday but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

I was getting into the swing of graduate school, enjoying the difference between it and college. I had done well enough in college but it had seemed like everything I learned was simply a stepping stone to something I could do when I finally finished classes. Graduate school was different. Not because it was the end-all, far from it, but because we got in deep, dug at things and how they worked, what made things click the way they did. My cohort of students was pretty large, we were sixteen altogether, but we had bonded nicely, helped by some of the more outgoing personalities in the group, and had organized dinners and pub crawls, and even an evening a month when two people were supposed to each present an article they'd read and thought of particularly broad interest.

In addition to my homework, I'd brought a couple of journals to flip through, looking for things I might present a week from Monday when it was my turn to talk. It was my first time, and frankly I wanted to impress. Most of the people who'd gone before me had done a really good job - had picked not only an interesting article but analyzed it in an interesting and original way. It made me humble in a way I wasn't used to. Still, I was too tired for any serious reading.

Finally, I gave up, put on the eye mask I kept to black out the annoying brightness of the fluorescent bulbs, and balancing my butt on an arm chair with my feet up on a stool, crossed my arms and closed my eyes.

I woke up with a start, not sure how long I'd fallen asleep. A sultry vision in a white lab coat was standing by my side, a smile half-way between amused and annoyed on a gorgeous set of full lips.

"Wha... excuse me, I must have just fallen asleep."

"Your definition of 'just' must be a bit different from mine. I've been coming in and out of here for the last fifteen minutes, thinking you'd wake up."

There was nothing I could say to that to make things better, so I ignored it. "Do you have some urgent samples? You could have rung the bell..."

"No, not urgent or I would have. But I do have a patient who's a real puzzle, and I thought maybe his labs would help. I was hoping to get you to let me look at the results a bit early."

"You know they have to be looked at by a full med tech before they're released..."

"Aren't you a real med tech?" she cocked her eyebrow, ready to scowl.

"A medical technician, not a medical technologist. I only set up the samples, process them, do the tests. I can record results but I'm not allowed to interpret them. Only an actual medical technologist is allowed to do that."

"That's OK, I don't want you to interpret them."

"Excuse me, perhaps you didn't hear what I just said..." Now I was getting annoyed. I hated pushy doctors who thought they could just waltz into the lab and demand whatever they'd dreamed of in the last five minutes, come in and snap their fingers, and have the clinical techs fall over at their feet acceding to whatever demands they'd barked out.

"I heard you well enough, and I understand, really. But I was hoping... listen, I'm worried I might have made a mistake with my patient. I'd rally like to check. If I did, the earlier I know the earlier I can correct it, and the better off it'll be."

I looked at her, wide awake now and thinking about how to respond. I hoped she wasn't asking me to help her cover up something. I looked over her shoulder, caught the time: 11:12 pm. Another 50 minutes to go. I looked over at the sample drop-off counter - as clean as I'd left it before nodding off. I looked back at her - she'd set her mouth, ready to do battle, but she'd already woken me up and I had nothing to occupy my time with till midnight when my shift ended. She was beautiful - on the tall side for a woman, slender, beautiful chocolate skin that probably meant black or mixed parentage.

"I'll help you, up to a point. I won't do anything illegal, but I'll dig up the plates and see if there's anything helpful."

Her shoulders relaxed, the tension eased out of her mouth and forehead. She had strikingly large brown eyes framed by long, black lashes behind black-rimmed glasses, and the creases at the corners had disappeared.

"Thank you," she breathed out, relieved.

"Come, sit over here. Whose samples am I looking for?"

She handed me a slip of paper with the patient's name and record number. I entered them in the computer to pull up the information I needed to track the samples and nodded to myself, then went to several incubators and a couple of fridges, looking through the stacks of petri plates and racks of test tubes.

"Here's what I have. Most of the plates are clean. Nothing's growing.... But let me see something... I need to look one more place."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it."

I hadn't looked in the anaerobic incubator yet, where we kept the plates to look at growth of oxygen-sensitive bacteria, because it was a bit harder than just waltzing up to the other incubators. Most of the incubators look like fridges, but the plates incubated anaerobically are first placed inside cylinders that are purged of oxygen, to which some bacteria are exquisitely sensitive. None of the other plates had shown any growth, bust since I'd told her I'd help her, I felt I owed her to be thorough. So I grabbed the particular cylinder that held her patient's plates and took it over to the anaerobic hood. You couldn't tell what might grow on these plates without first taking them out of the cylinder. I placed the cylinder in the hood's antechamber, then purged the chamber of oxygen and introduced nitrogen instead. Then I could safely open the inner door of the chamber to move the cylinder into the hood proper, and finally open the cylinder so I could look at the plates one by one. It always took some time.

I could tell she was holding her impatience in check. She'd pulled a rolling stool next to the chamber, a little ways away from me, giving me just enough space to not feel claustrophobic but not enough space to forget she was there. And it was hard to ignore the slight bobbing up and down of her knee, a tic she was having a hard time keeping in check. I kept my attention firmly on my task - it was easy to screw this up, and I didn't want to jeopardize either her patient's samples or the hood. As I finally unscrewed the top off the cylinder and slid the plates out, I heard her roll closer to my elbow, straining to see. I concentrated on looking at each plate carefully before turning to her.

"Yes, there are some anaerobes growing in her samples. The colonies are still very small, but they're there. They'll be easier to see tomorrow. Anaerobic bacteria grow quite a bit slower than aerobic ones."

"So, can you tell anything about what they are? How many? What kind?"

I couldn't control a smile. Though she was the M.D. and I was just a lowly medical technician and grad student, I had the advantage here. Just goes to show you - never assume someone earning less than you actually knows less. But I had to give it to her so far - she'd been more polite than most of the other doctors who waltzed into the lab day in, day out, demanding the impossible from the med techs. Aren't our samples done yet? How come the results aren't in? Can't I get them any faster? No, dude, the bacteria take time to grow. They do it in their own time, and we can't do jack shit about it, so calm your ass down and read the instructions. You'll get the results like everyone else. Of course, I didn't say any of this to her. She hadn't done anything to deserve it. Yet.

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