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Authors: Kevin Sampsell

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BOOK: This Is Between Us
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“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “But I can assure you that your, um, vagina is not too big in any sense.”

“Don’t try to change the subject,” you said.

I looked out the window, off into the shifting light of the cloudy sky. I searched the depths of my self-abusive lowlights. “We had a really fluffy oven mitt,” I finally said. “It was like my secret best friend.”


I’m not sure if this is okay or not, but I have become almost too casual, perhaps too unself-conscious, around you. I sit on the couch next to you and slip into an array of bad postures. I used to lean back so my stomach looked flatter, but now I pitch forward without thinking. My stomach looks like a giant ball of pizza dough. Sometimes I slap my hand over my belly button to make a pleasing
plop
sound, like a loose bongo. I reach my hand into my pants and maneuver my penis and balls into a more comfortable resting position.

I dramatically pluck hairs out of my nose and aggressively Q-tip my ears. I trim my ugly toenails and I wonder:
Does the grossness of my grooming outweigh the neatness of the end result? Why do I do all of this in front of you?

If I have to burp, I will not suppress it anymore. If I have to fart, I don’t think twice about it. Are these signs that the romance is dead?

I say “excuse me” and “sorry” but you just yawn or laugh at these things. It’s like you love me no matter what.


I told Vince that he should learn an instrument. “Like a guitar or something,” I said. He looked at me suspiciously and his posture deflated. He wanted to know why. “Because it’s fun,” I said. “Because it helps your math memory,” I said. “Because girls like it,” I whispered.

“Do you know how to play one?” he asked.

“Yes,” I fibbed a little. “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”

“What?”

“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.”

“Is that a band or something?” he said.

“Yes,” I lied. “It was a band I used to be in.” I was digging some kind of hole for myself to lie in later.

“Were you on the radio? Or
Saturday Night Live
?”

I told him no, we weren’t. But I started to imagine what that would have been like. Some quick visions of young groupies danced through my mind.

“What if I played a flute?” he asked.

I tried not to grimace. “Girls don’t like flute players,” I said.


One morning at breakfast, I held your hands on the table as the waitress refilled our coffee. I still felt myself waking up. I liked staring at your hands sometimes. There was something calming about it, like watching a cat sleep on a rug. Your fingers slid between my fingers, your fingernails shorter than mine and chewed down, like little kid fingernails. There was something precise about the weight of your hand in mine. “Squeezy pleasy,” I said, and you squeezed my hand, cracking my knuckles. The color of your hands like cream.


“I used to fuck girls,” your brother, Daniel, told me one night, while we were waiting for you to come home from work. He was already on his fourth beer. I knew he was getting buzzed because he was closing his left eye a lot, like it helped him to think.

“I was pretty good at it,” he continued. “But I knew I was just practicing for boys. The first girlfriend I had, when I was a freshman in high school, was a virgin, and for some reason I told her that my dick was nine inches. She didn’t really know the difference. She just took my word for it, especially because she was scared to look at it.”

I was concerned that the kids might be able to hear him, so I turned up the
CD
player in the living room. He just raised his own volume more.

“I knew she would talk,” he said. “It was genius. I even heard that a few people called me ‘Nine,’ in like a reverent way, you know? I felt like I got respect, even from some of the popular dudes who never liked me. Of course, those were the ones I wanted the word to get to.”

“Daniel,” I said, hoping my lowered voice would signal him to be more quiet. He paused for a moment, waiting for me to say more, but I didn’t. He was probably waiting for me to ask him how long it really was. But I didn’t take the bait.

“Well, I got busted, of course,” he finally said. “First, by this senior girl who was kind of a slut, and then by one of the football players.” He laughed at this, and I automatically laughed too. “I’ll always remember what this girl said. Her name was Cheri, like with a French accent, but she was Mexican. She said to me, ‘My last boyfriend had a nine-inch dick and
you
sure don’t have nine inches.’”

I thought I heard one of the kids get up, and I looked nervously toward the hallway. Daniel made a little snorting sound and said, “They’re not getting up. Don’t worry.”

“Just be more quiet,” I told him. I grabbed a new beer for myself. “What did the football player say?” I asked him.

“Oh, you should have seen it,” Daniel said. “He was giving me a hand job and then he suddenly pulled this tape measure out and said, ‘I want to see if the rumors are true.’ He didn’t seem to mind that I fell about three inches short of the mark, but I noticed that people stopped paying attention to me for a while after that. Like my mystique vanished!”

I heard your keys jingle from outside and the front door creaking open. “Little sister’s home,” Daniel said, and then he whispered, “Act normal.”

“What are you bros doing?” you asked.

“Talking about our dicks,” Daniel said. “What else would we be doing?”


Your friend Karla was getting married to a man fifteen years younger than she was. Also, he was Samoan. I didn’t know if there was anything relevant about that fact or not.

“If I was twenty-six, I probably wouldn’t mind being with Karla either,” I said. I had always liked Karla’s look, her long Scandinavian legs and bedroom eyes. “But what happens in ten years? She’ll be over fifty and he’ll still be young enough to surf and look at women in bikinis all day.”

“She’ll enjoy it while she can, I guess,” you said. “And then maybe she’ll move on to someone else.”

“You make it sound like she’ll be trading in a car,” I said.

“I don’t think she really cares if it lasts forever or not,” you said. “Her friends already know she’s crazy, and her parents are dead.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“It means she doesn’t have to answer to anyone.”

I started to envy that about Karla, her fleeting impulses. I wondered if I might be able to have meaningless sex with her someday, just for fun. I almost said something to you about that thought, but I didn’t want you to turn the tables on me and say something about having sex with the Samoan. To rephrase the cliché, I wanted to have my cake and smoosh it in your face. And then eat it without giving you any.

You looked like you were daydreaming now too. Maybe about the Samoan, maybe about cake, or maybe about forever.


We took in a stray cat that we found one day in the grocery store parking lot. At first, we worried that the cat would trigger Vince’s allergies, but he didn’t have a problem with it. We became enamored with the cat, a large tabby with perfect Tigger-like markings, and we wondered what his past was. One of your friends was a pet psychic and we decided to make her dinner one night so she could tell us more about the cat.

“His name was Peanut, but he didn’t like that name very much,” the psychic said as she held the cat against her shoulder. “His owner used to live next door, but something bad happened—like a divorce, or maybe someone got arrested—and he was left behind. He doesn’t really like to talk about it.”

We raised our eyebrows at the word
talk
. But maybe the cat really was talking to her somehow.

“He likes his new name much better. Maybe not Walter but he likes it when you call him Walt. He also feels like you’re his family now. He feels a lot of warmth for both of you,” said the psychic, and then she looked at me seriously and said, “But your voice bothers him sometimes. He doesn’t want you to talk so much.”

I stared at the cat and he gave me an uneasy look, as if I had just learned a valuable secret. I started talking loudly, “What is it he doesn’t like about my voice? Should I use a singing voice instead? What if I’m just reciting the alphabet, like a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p . . .”

I watched the cat squirm and claw at the psychic’s shoulder.


I liked going out with my friend Todd because he’s six foot three and handsome, and I sensed more women glancing my direction when I was with him. He has blondish-brown hair and is built like a professional tennis player. He’s probably my best-looking friend—the kind of guy that all women like, or the kind of guy I would like if I were a woman. When I mentioned Todd to you, though, you shrugged and said that he didn’t do anything for you. I almost got defensive. I’m not sure why. I should have felt good that you didn’t find him attractive, but I found myself almost pimping him to you. In my own mind, I feel like Todd probably rates close to a ten and I’m a seven on my good days.

“What do you want me to say?” you asked me.

“I want you to tell me the truth,” I said. “You don’t have to pretend for my benefit.”

“You’re so shallow,” you said. You grabbed my face and looked in my eyes, searching for a sign of anything behind them.


There was a time we never really talk about, about six months after we moved in together, when we were going to have separate apartments for the summer. You wanted to live somewhere with a pool, and Maxine was going to be away with her dad. You said you just wanted a little space. We didn’t call it a separation or give it any kind of name. Maybe it was a test.

So you moved some of your stuff to a place on the other side of the bridge and went out and bought a new bathing suit.

That summer, you spent one night in your own apartment and the rest with me. You wore your swimsuit only once. You were in the pool for fifteen minutes.

Three months later, you were back at our place. We didn’t say anything about the other apartment. You hardly had to clean it when you moved out. It was kind of a joke.


There were times when I thought you might be a lesbian and that you’d be happier with a woman. I suggested that you get a female lover and try it out.

I imagined you with a woman, lying poolside after rubbing sunblock on each other, your backs to the sun and your eyes on each other. Or I imagined you and your female partner at Whole Foods, arguing over what kind of bath oil to get. For some reason, I saw her as being tall and a redhead and obsessed with jogging.

You told me no, that’s not what you want.

I kept thinking of those ads in the back of the weekly papers:
Are You Bi-Curious?
But you didn’t seem curious at all. I realized I was more curious about your sexuality than you were.


I have an empty perfume bottle that I took from my first girlfriend a long time ago. We were together for three years. I have very sweet memories of her. She was the first woman I spent the night with, went on trips with, and bought real gifts for. Even though it’s empty, I can still smell the way she smelled. Her neck and arms and chest.

I’ve thought of buying a new bottle of it, either for myself to hide away somewhere or for you to wear, but maybe that’s too strange. It’s like if you made me wear an old boyfriend’s jacket or made your ex-husband’s favorite drink for me. We want to brand our own identity, make our own automatic sensory responses.

But I did it anyway. I bought you my first girlfriend’s perfume and pretended I hadn’t inhaled it off of someone else’s belly before.

You put some on and came close to me. You danced against me in a slow, seductive sway. It really was like an old romantic memory brought back to life. I should have said something or stopped you, but it felt too good. I didn’t care if it was wrong. When I closed my eyes, my nose smelled a ghost becoming more real, even if my mind could only picture an empty dress.


Did we really worry about other people breaking us up? I thought about this and I knew it would always be possible. Even when I thought about my best characteristic, I knew that someone out there would always be better. I might have good hair, but there is someone who has better hair. There are men with smoother singing voices, whiter teeth, more aptitude with tools and fixing things, and a deeper knowledge of those movies from the fifties that you love.

Did you worry about all the women with bigger tits, more tanned skin, an enthusiasm for basketball, and a sweeter morning disposition?

There are men with bigger cocks out there. I’ve seen them on my computer screen.

Maybe I’m not funny enough. You’d find someone funnier than I am.

You knew I had developed a thing for Asian girls. Did that worry you? Were you afraid you weren’t Asian enough? Do you even have any Asians in your family?

When I thought about these things, I just wanted to close my eyes and hold you for several minutes, preferably lying down. Then I wanted to feel my spirit float to the ceiling as I started over with my thoughts.

I wanted to become a room full of air for you to breathe in.

BOOK: This Is Between Us
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