New Year’s SurprisebyLothario the Great©
Dumped on New Year's Eve. Brutal. Humiliating. And also... not so bad.
Ben parked in the driveway of his crappy little college house, a three-bedroom hovel he shared with two miscreants who wouldn't be invited back for their senior years if they weren't careful. Usually he had to fight for the driveway spot, but both roomies were out-of-town for the Christmas break. Oddly, he was kinda hoping one of them would be here when he arrived. Would've been nice to talk to someone...
He turned the car off, and with it the CD player. "Peaceful Easy Feeling" by The Eagles had been playing, "their" song, selected by Wendy, of course. Wendy commanded his car's CD selection every single trip. "Fucking Eagles," he muttered to himself, as he pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He took out the picture she forced him to pose for, at that cheesy place at the mall, Glamour Memories or some shit. He looked like a dancer in a Madonna video, and she looked like, well, like Wendy. She was beautiful.
Ben walked to the house, unlocked the door and stepped over the small pile of mail, pushed through the slot in the door. He plopped down in the recliner with the cracked leather and intended to watch some TV, to get his mind off Wendy. Just as he aimed the remote at the television, he saw a paper grocery sack on the floor, just in front of the hallway. He went to see what was in it.
One of the guys, apparently, had forgotten to take his loot with him. Two bottles of pop, raided from the fridge, both with Ben's initials on the lids. A roll of cookie dough, also Ben's, and a box of spaghetti noodles, theirs not his. Plus about seven VHS tapes.
The tape at the top of the stack caught his eye -- "Nikki," written in black marker on a plain white label. It was porn, and not just any porn. It was Ben's porn.
"Charles, you cocksucker," Ben muttered under his breath. That rat bastard had intended to "borrow" Ben's porn for his road trip, and probably got away with a few tapes in the grocery sacks he didn't forget. But hold on a sec. Charles, that libidinous sex pervert, had left for his parent's house on Saturday. This was Friday of the following week, and Ben had been in and out of the house dozens of times since then.
The pop bottles were cold to the touch. Someone set that bag there very recently.
A sound from down the hall, something knocked over or knocked against. Who the hell could be in the house? Ben immediately predicted he'd find Charles back early from his vacation. He walked down the hall and looked in Charles' room. No one there. But the door to Ben's room was closed.
"Damn it," Ben said as he burst into his own room, expecting to find Charles, or maybe Carl, jerking off on his bed.
Instead, he found a girl standing there, who screamed at the top of her lungs when Ben startled her. She'd been holding a stack of VHS tapes—Ben's porn—and they flew across the room when she screamed, hitting the wall with a clatter. She saw Ben, said, "Jesus," leaned against the wall, pressed her hands to her racing heart, said "Jesus" again.
"Tamara?" Ben said.
"Uh, hey," Tamara said. She almost seemed to be playing it cool, the way Ben would if he'd just gotten caught doing something wrong. That certainly didn't seem like Tamara. She was always so above-board.
"Hello," Ben said, unable to think of anything else.
"I should go," Tamara said. Then, nothing. Neither of them moved.
"I guess I have to ask..." Ben started. Then he noticed that a porn video was actually playing on the TV in his room, with the sound down. "Are you stealing my..." He couldn't say the word "porn." Blood pounded red in his cheeks.
Tamara's cheeks were red, too. "Oh my god," she said, unable to look at Ben. "Can I just leave now? God, oh my god."
Ben laughed without meaning to. Because the laughter surprised him, he tried to suppress it, but then he snorted, and that made him laugh harder. Tamara laughed, too, and soon they were going at it hard, the way only close friends can. After a few seconds, they were holding their sides in pain. Tamara, doubled over with one hand on the bed, pleaded through tears, "Stop, please stop."
"You stop," Ben said, which made him laugh harder.
"I can't!" Tamara yelled.
They found themselves sitting next to one another on the edge of the bed, shaking with after-giggles, still unable to look at one another. Finally, mercifully, they sat breathing way too hard, still coughing around the occasional chuckle.
Tamara reached out and turned off the TV, banishing the image of two hardcore lovers. "I'm so embarrassed," she said, her hand pressed to her mouth.
"I don't see why," Ben said. "It's my porn you're stealing."
They both burst into laughter again. When Tamara leaned against Ben's arm, struggling to gain her composure, he began to know they'd get through this, at least short-term, without any lingering ill-effects on their friendship.
Not that they were friends in the strictest sense of the word. Tamara was Benjamin's sister's roommate. His sister, Beverly, also his twin, had been parading Tamara around Ben for the past twelve or thirteen years, and in a contest to see who most closely fit the bill for his third sibling, Tamara would have won hands down. Same age, same friends, same classes in school, same parties -- as kids they had all three been very close, unless the girls were ganging up on Ben, or Ben and Bev were sharing a "twin moment" which Tam couldn't quite grasp. Close moments between Ben and Tam were less frequent, but they did occur. Now Tam and Bev shared an apartment, as well as, obviously, a key to Ben's house and the knowledge that he kept a porn stash in his room.
"You're hoping I won't ask," Ben said.
"Do you even need to??"
"Well, duh, Ben. I'm stealing your porn."
Tamara rolled her eyes. She stood, putting distance between them. "What do you think it's for?"
Ben blinked. "I know what I use it for." A looooong silence. "I guess I just never thought of you as..." Another silence. "... someone who... liked to..."
Tamara fell back against the wall, then slid into a puddle on the floor. "Oh my GOD."
"I'm more curious," Ben said, changing the subject, "how you know I have this stuff."
Tamara blew out some air, regaining composure. "Hell, Bev and I knew you watched porn back in junior high."
"JUNIOR HIGH? Oh... my... I... want to die... until I am dead."
The girl on the floor chuckled. "Benjamin, buddy, wake up. I'm not taking it so I can rat you out. I mean... we've also been... you know... since junior high."
"Ummmmmmmmm..." Ben had no words, what with the questions and images flooding his mind. What was Tamara trying to tell him? That she and Beverly had... well... WHAT was she trying to tell him?
Tamara said, "I think I'm gonna throw up." She really looked like she might.
"This is just so embarrassing."
"For you or for me?"
"For both of us."
Finally, Ben found a lifeline he could follow back to reality. "Well look, Tamara, if that's all that's bothering you, I mean... I can keep a secret if you can."
Tamara chewed the tip of a fingernail. "It's a start."
"And also..." Ben searched for just the right words. "I mean, we can either both be embarrassed about this, or we can both decide NOT to be embarrassed, and either way we'll be on equal ground, since no one knows this ever happened anyway."
The girl took another deep breath. "Keep talking."
"Except I know you tell Beverly everything. EV. Ree. Thing."
Tamara shrugged. "I don't have to. There's a first time for everything."
Ben laughed. "Oh ho ho. So you're telling me, that one day next month, you won't confess you came to steal these tapes, just so you and Bev could have a good laugh about it?"
"I told you already," Tamara said with a mysterious grin. "Bev knows about your tapes."
Ben's stomach sank back down. "Oh yeah. Shit."
"Hey, don't worry about it. It's okay, really. Look, she's ALWAYS known, and she never said anything, to your parents or to anyone. She didn't even mention it to you because she didn't want to hurt you."
Then Ben remembered what he had been about to ask. "But you guys didn't just keep it a secret. You... you watched it."
Tamara pursed her lips. "Yeah."
"Yeeeee-ah." She studied her hands.
"And now you're... borrowing it... to use it. Alone."
"So..." Ben was just so confused. "Did you two ever... use it... together?"
Dead silence, long and thick. Just a lot of damn silence. Sometimes their eyes met, sometimes they looked away. At last Tamara said, "Let's go in the living room. I need a drink."
Ben followed Tamara down the hall, through the living room and into the kitchen. Tamara opened the fridge and asked, "Didn't you have Diet Coke in here?"
"You were about to steal that too, remember?"
"Oh yeah," Tamara said. She went back for the pop, brought it to the kitchen and unapologetically poured herself a glass. "Short on cash this week. I was going to pay you back for the pop."
"I know. It's cool. But I was pissed when I thought it was Charles taking it."
"Yeah, that's like him. Oh hell, I bet you thought I was Charles in your room."
"Yeah, I did."
They leaned against the cabinets in the tiny kitchen, facing one another. Tamara asked, "So what the fuck are you doing here? I thought you left Saturday with Wendy. For Christmas and New Year's?"
"Yeah, about that. Wendy changed her mind about having me there for Christmas."
"What? But her parents bought you the plane ticket."
"Yeah, and she made them eat it. I didn't have a way to get back to Maine, so I called on the phone and listened as Mom and Dad opened my presents for me. Beverly called from Tony's and did the same thing with her presents. Apparently she hasn't gotten dumped yet."
"Dumped yet? Is Tony going to dump her?"
"No, but Wendy dumped me."
"When she took back your plane ticket?"
"No, this morning. Via text message."
"NOOO! That little bitch."
Ben had to laugh. "You never liked her."
"What was to like?"
It was Ben's turn to talk, and what he said next surprised him. "Where to begin."
Tamara sipped her pop and didn't speak. She had always been a good listener, and a good friend to Ben, especially now that they were approaching the drinking age. Suddenly, like a ray of light through gray clouds, Ben was grateful for Tamara being there, no matter how it happened. Beverly had been the first person he called when Wendy committed the crime, and when he couldn't reach her, he didn't know where else to turn. Now, talking to Tamara, the answer seemed so obvious.
The words fell from Ben's mouth. "She was a good cook, and a great kisser, and she never complained when I tried to go to second base. She screamed when she saw a turtle in the highway one time, and made me stop, get out of the car and carry it to the shoulder. She always asked for a burger instead of an expensive restaurant, even on Valentine's Day. She smelled nice, and her voice wasn't annoying, and she really seemed to like me."
"Seemed to," Tamara said.
Ben took a swig from the pop bottle. "Her voice may not have been annoying, but her perfume burned my eyes. She sure liked turtles more than the other girls in her sorority, and I'm fairly certain she would have demanded I speed up, not slow down, if she saw one crossing the street. Sometimes, she just made it harder than it had to be. Arguments lasted too long. Grudges, too."
"Still... New Year's Eve."
"Goddamn right. Of all the days. Here, read this." Ben pulled out his cell phone and called up the message Wendy had sent:
"BEN. No easy way 2 say this -- its all gone wrong... i want to break up. Forgive me, i lov u. DON'T CALL. Goodby."
Tamara shook her head. "Look at this spelling. Sorority girls."
"Don't be so hard on sororities. Wendy was a bad writer all on her own. That's how we met, in a study group. I corrected her essays with a red pen. Maybe that's why she kept me around."
"I'm sorry, Ben."
Ben looked up suddenly. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be with your boyfriend, too? Where's he from, Georgia, Alabama..."
"Tennessee. Damn, boy, that girl really did pull you out of society for a while, didn't she? I broke up with him, like, two weeks ago."
"Really? That's too bad. I liked him."
"He just looked like he treated you nice."
"He did, that's true. Actually, he treated a lot of girls nice."
"Oooooh. That sucks."
"Yep." She held up her glass. Ben toasted her drink with his pop bottle, and they both put a swallow down the hatch. "My question is this," Tamara said. "Does Wendy now not have anyone to kiss at midnight? And if she does, how the hell does that work? Did she act like there was someone else beforehand?"
"Believe me, I'd love to know. We spent less and less time together the past week, but does that mean there's another guy? Honestly, I have no idea, none at all. That almost hurts worse than getting dumped."
Tamara pushed her curly brown hair out of her eyes. "For me, the question was why. Why aren't I good enough? Why choose someone over me? Forget about the boy, screw him anyway. If there's a part of me that wants him back, it's the part that wants to prove I could pull it off. I'd teach him a lesson, you know?" Another drink of Diet Coke. "Bullshit. We'll never speak again, not if I can help it. But I'd just like to know. Two months wasted."
"Six for me."
Tamara shook her head again. "That bitch."
"So," Ben said.
"So," Tamara said.
"I guess your plan was to re-stock my pantry and my porn drawer before I got back next week."
Tamara looked away. "We're back to that, are we?"
Ben chuckled. "It's just, you think you know a person."
Their eyes met. "You know me," Tamara said.
Ben nodded. "I do."
"I mean, seriously." Tamara spoke as she walked back to the living room, with Ben following. "You guys are twins, for christ's sake. Don't tell me you didn't know your sister played with herself."
At first Ben thought about dragging out some tired chestnut about how he was uncomfortable talking so frankly about sex, especially with Tamara, especially about Beverly. But the truth was, he had seen far too much of the world, from under the covers, from the tapes in his room, to have any real shame left about the subject. He sat in the recliner as Tamara found a spot on the smaller of two threadbare sofas.
"Of course I knew," Ben said matter-of-factly. "We talked about it sometimes."
"But all you did was talk."
"Wow," Ben said, looking at the ceiling. "Just what do you think went on?"
"I know what went on. Nothing. We talked about everything. We still do."
"So why did you ask?"
"I guess, it just wouldn't have surprised me, is all, if you two felt safe enough one time to, you know, show and tell."
"Fair enough. But no, that never happened. Why, are you trying to tell me something?"
"Something like what?"
"Just come out and said it, Tamara. Did you and Beverly ever... holy shit, I don't even know where to begin."
"You mean, are we lesbian lovers?"
Ben couldn't help laughing nervously. "I don't know what I'm gonna do if the answer is yes."
Tamara pointed in the air, like a college professor preparing to lecture. "Let me just say this right off the bat: It's different for girls. Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about."
If Ben had learned anything from watching more than a decade of hardcore porn, it was that girls more naturally fell into the rhythms of homosexuality than boys did, and they didn't always come out the other side wearing the "lesbian" or "bisexual" labels. Maybe things worked that way 50 years ago, but this was the 21st Century. People just got exposed to so much. Further complicating the matter was the fact that some lesbians, a few Ben knew personally, still sometimes slept with boys. But straight boys never "experimented," not ever, not unless they were stranded on a desert island... for at least twenty years.
"I'll buy that," Ben said, his brief response summing up all that he knew.
"So... let's say... hypothetically... that something did happen between me and your sister... one or more times."
"Even so, it's something we've definitely grown out of, and even at the time it was a little confusing, but nothing to be ashamed of."
"Fair enough. I'm not judging anyway."
"It's different for girls."
"But I don't need the details."
"Oh GOD, I wasn't going to anyway—"
"Just making sure."
"Right. I mean, it was just between us. It was private. But while we're on the subject, you should know, it was partly your fault."
"MY fault? How the hell do you get that?"
Tamara gasped indignantly. "Come on, Ben. Where do you think we learned about sex in the first place?"
"No, you dolt! From the tapes in your closet. Half of every tape was lesbian and group sex. It was just a matter of time until we tried some stuff for ourselves."
Like a lightning bolt, Ben remembered one very important detail about his junior high porn collection. "Oh no."
"I thought you weren't going to judge."
"No, no, oh god no."
Tamara realized Ben was changing the subject. "What?"
"You said... since junior high?"
"Yessir. Right from the start. She knew when you bought your first one. From Desmond Coolidge, I might add. He was one weird kid."
"So you saw... the one tape..."
Tamara knew instantly where he was going, and her blushing cheeks were accompanied by a wide, toothy smile. "Oh yeah. THAT."
A strange, paradoxical feeling washed over Ben, revulsion mixed with the unmistakable stirrings of desire deep in his crotch. "You AND Bev? You watched that together?"
"Oh no, not that one. I mean, she watched it, but when I told her I wanted to... do something with it, she left the room. That tape was all for me."
Another profound silence filled the space between them. In a weird way, everything that had happened since Ben stepped through the door had been leading to this moment. There sat Tamara, twenty-years-old and majoring in applied chemistry, wearing the same jeans and sweater she'd worn since adolescence but wearing it in a much more mature way, looking across the room at the boy she had grown up with, now also a man, sharing a conversation about a decidedly adult subject that had the unexpected effect of transporting them both back in time to when they were more naïve and innocent, relatively speaking. And now, in the context of the time warp, Benjamin was learning for the first time that not only had Tamara been even more sexually aware than he had been, not only had she known everything about his own masturbation practices, but she had even seen the tape he made of himself, a three-hour performance piece starring himself, naked and cumming all throughout his childhood home, every part of him laid bare for the camera-and-tripod to record, sometimes with baby oil.
Now, whether they liked it or not, the truth had come out, and they shared a new connection that would last a lifetime. The depth of the situation was immense, and the psychology major in Ben stared fascinated into the depth. In one fell swoop, Benjamin and Tamara found themselves bound closer than either could ever imagine possible, since Benjamin never knew Tamara's insights, and Tamara never intended to share what she knew.
"I don't know how I feel about that." Ben could sense his features hardening. He didn't mean to be angry with Tamara, but a violation had occurred, and it had been perpetual.