By the second week of summer, Shirley was going stir-crazy. No kids, no classes, and she could only spend so much time shut up in her kitchen trying to make a gluten-free vegan brownie. She hadn't planned quite enough distractions from all the pointless thinking about Andre and hoping he'd come back, even though she knew it wouldn't happen. That was how she found herself in the magazine section at the bookstore near the mall, flipping through the latest US Magazine. Or maybe it was OK, or In Touch—they all bled together.
Then a familiar voice in her ear muttered, "You watch Jersey housewives?"
She startled, and turned. "Jeff!" It was odd, she'd only just seen him a few weeks back, and yet, seeing him out of context like this made her just a little nervous, like it was strange that he knew her.
"Well, do you?" he asked, smirking.
Shirley forced herself to look him in the eye, and threw her shoulders back. "Yes I do," she said, trying to look unashamed.
But the hipster condescension she expected didn't come; instead Jeff smiled and leaned over to bump her shoulder with his. "How much do you love Caroline?"
"Oh my goodness, I love her!" Shirley said, grinning with relief. "But I hate Danielle."
"You hate her because she's an amateur. You would make a better conniving villain than she does."
"Do you really think so?" Shirley asked, strangely pleased.
"Ashley is a brat."
"If I had ever talked to my mama the way she talks to Jacqueline I wouldn't have a tongue left in my head, I'll tell you that."
"And when Teresa flipped the table?"
"Prostitution whore!" Shirley said, giggling.
"Oh my god, I literally have no one to talk about this with. I've been so desperate I've been going on the Television Without Pity boards." He made a face.
"I can talk about it whenever you like," Shirley said. "It's like gossip except about people we don't know."
"Right?" Jeff said. "Or even better, we could watch it together."
The way he said it made Shirley feel a little dirty, though she couldn't think why. "Well, I must admit," she said, "it's on very late. Sometimes I don't even make it and have to watch it on the DVR the next day."
"Oh, sure," Jeff said, waving a hand. "That's fine. We can still talk about it." And he looked—Shirley couldn't quite believe it, but he actually looked a little disappointed.
"Or you could come the next day, earlier," she said. "We could even eat dinner while we watch."
He brightened. "I'm not saying no to a meal," he said. "But what about your boys?"
Shirley sighed. "They're with their father for the summer," she said. "I'm glad he's stepping up, but the house is a little empty."
"Summer is weird now that we're back in school," he replied. "But sure, next week. I'll be there."
"Great," she said, and just like that she had something to look forward to, something that didn't include Andre. Which meant, something that was actually going to happen.
Jeff coming over on Tuesday to watch Monday night's episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey quickly became routine. It was easier for Shirley to wrap her mind around being a single girl who really wasn't that old when she was eating her dinner off the coffee table in front of the TV, something she never did when the boys were home. And Jeff was becoming a girlfriend who came over for gossip—or maybe one of those gay friends that white girls always seemed to have on sitcoms.
Jeff would scrunch down on the couch and rest his water glass on that very flat stomach of his. "It's just not the same without Dina," he said, sighing. "But good for her to miss the Posche fashion show. Those clothes weren't even attractive and I think Kim D is actually made of leather."
Shirley giggled. "I wanted to see something happen to that nasty Danielle," she said, "but pulling on a woman's weave is just wrong. I would have punched her in the head for that."
"I love your violent side," Jeff said, grinning.
"Do you think she'll really sue Ashley?"
"Nah," Jeff said, making a face. "It's just nuisance stuff. I could beat her with one hand tied behind my back."
"Jacqueline doesn't deserve it, anyway."
"She needs to get better friends," Jeff said.
"And a spine," added Shirley.
"Teresa isn't any help," Jeff said.
"All that 'say hello to me' business didn't fool anyone," Shirley replied. "She is a pot-stirrer! She stirs the pot!"
"Takes one to know one," Jeff said, and they both laughed.
"Oh Jeffrey," Shirley said. "I'm glad we did this."
"It's actually been … pretty cool." He scrolled through his phone. "You know, next week is the first reunion show. Can't miss that."
"Nope," Shirley said. "Gonna stay up for that one." She paused. "They're going to have a marathon all night, I think."
"Yeah, they usually do," Jeff said.
"We could watch it live," she said, avoiding his eyes and feeling shy, though she wasn't sure why. She'd never been /shy/ with Jeff before. "You could even sleep on the couch, if you didn't want to drive home so late."
"Slumber party?" He fiddled with his phone again, nervously. "Well, sure. Not like I have anything else going on."
"No 'hot dates'?" she asked, using her fingers to mark the scare quotes.
"I'm actually … taking the summer off from dating," he said. "Things got a little—"
"You mean with the two grown women fighting over you in the cafeteria like some kind of teen drama?" she asked.
He winced. "Yeah, like that. My therapist suggested I try celibacy. I'm thinking of it as a cleansing juice fast for my love life"
"Well, abstinence does bring a soul closer to the Lord," she said, and then added under her breath, "I should know."
Jeff looked at her for a long moment, and she couldn't quite read his expression. It made her nervous.
At last he said, "Well, we'll watch real housewives, and be glad we aren't one, or married to one."
"Exactly!" she said, patting him on the knee. "This is so exciting!" she said.
Jeff gave her that look, the one that meant she wasn't being very cool at the moment, but then he smiled. "It is, kind of, isn't it?" he said.
But come that next week, Shirley wasn't feeling quite herself. Andre had come by that day, without the boys, to announce that he was a changed man, that he would work hard to make it up to her and win her back. The very thing that she'd convinced herself would never happen had come to pass. And rather than running toward it with relief and willing the past to disappear, she had no idea what she wanted to do.
She knew what her pastor would say, that she should take Andre back, that she'd made a vow, that he was apologizing and willing to work to make things better. She knew what her girlfriends would say, that she'd always let him get away with everything, that she was better off without him, that she needed a man who would respect her enough not to run around on her. But she wasn't the same person he'd run out on, even if she did want him back, and she wasn't entirely sure how the whole thing would work, even if it could.
So it was a relief to open the door and see Jeff standing there, no different than any other week this summer, with a large bag of food in his hand. "I brought PF Chang's!" he said.
"Great," she said. "I'll just get the plates, then."
"Hey," he said, touching her elbow. "You seem kinda nervous."
She was going to stall, but what was the point? "Oh, it's Andre," she said. "He wants to come back."
"He left the stripper?"
"A long time ago, he says," she said. "That's why I let him have the boys for the summer." She slumped down onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table, feeling suddenly exhausted, like actually telling someone meant she didn't have to keep herself together anymore.
"So Andre wants to come back, but what do you want?" Jeff asked, sitting down next to her.
"Oh I don't know! He said he wouldn't do it again, and he's never done it before, but isn't it once a cheater, always a cheater?"
"I only ever saw the cheaters," Jeff said, shrugging.
"But he's the father of my children."
"Do you love him?"
"Of course," she said.
"Then you're going to take him back," Jeff said. "No matter what anyone says, or even what you say. All we can do now is damage control. So what do you want?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean now that you're the one with the upper hand," he said, "it's time to renegotiate, and get what you want that you weren't getting before."
"Like jewelry or something?" she asked.
"Sure, but remember when we took that ridiculous class from Professor Seize-the-Day?"
"You got up in front of the room and said that you had a faint memory of two bland orgasms," Jeff said, "and that's just wrong. You have two school-aged children. He should have given you thousands of orgasms by now."
"Oh my, Jeffrey, I don't—"
"No, seriously. You deserve as many orgasms as your body can handle, Shirley Bennett, and your man should be giving them to you, and if he isn't, then you demand them, and if he doesn't know how then you show him how."
She stared at the table and ran a finger along one of the grooves. "But what if I don't know how?" she whispered.
Jeff sighed. "Okay, maybe your religion doesn't believe in masturbation, but Oprah does, and she's as good as a religion anyway. So if you don't know, I can show you, and then you can keep practicing and then you can show him."
"What, you don't think I can give a woman an orgasm?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Britta always thought you'd be a selfish lover," she said.
"That doesn't mean I leave people high and dry," he said, scowling.
"What about your abstinence juice cleanse?"
"I figure if my penis isn't involved, that's still me being abstinent."
"So I wouldn't have to—"
She thought for a bit. She knew it should feel wrong, like cheating, but the heck with that. Andre had been with that stripper for months while she'd only sort of dated two people, and one of them was only in it for the chicken fingers. "All right," she heard herself saying. "Let's do it."
"Great," Jeff said, standing.
"What, now?" she asked.
"You don't want to have sex after a heavy meal," he said. "Trust me. Sex, then food, then housewives."
"Okay," she replied, and led him into the bedroom.
"Sit down," he said. "I'll do everything." He kicked off his shoes and put his phone and watch in one of them, like he was at the beach.
She thought of putting on some music, but it seemed silly, so she sat at the foot of her bed. "Is that all you're taking off?" she asked.
"I hadn't really thought about it," he said. "Do you want me to?"
"I'm not going to be the only one naked. Besides, I've already seen it." There had been naked billiards, after all.
"True," he said, smiling a little, then started to unbutton his shirt. He wasn't stripping exactly, wasn't doing silly flourishes, but he was taking his time, so Shirley relaxed and enjoyed him revealing his flesh inch by inch. He draped his shirt over one of the bedposts, then slid off his skinny jeans, folding them and placing them atop his shoes. And Shirley wasn't immune to Jeff's physical charms—she could feel things down below starting to stir. Maybe she could do this.
"Good?" he asked, kneeling on the bed next to her.
When she nodded he said, "Okay, now you." He reached down to the hem of her pullover shirt, and she tensed.
"No, no, no," he said. "That is the freak out of what-underwear-am-I-wearing, right?"
"It's fine," he said. "You're not a woman who has surprise sex. You're completely unprepared. You've probably had two kinds of sex: special occasion sex, where you wear lingerie that makes you feel pretty and that Andre might not even take off all the way; and every day sex, where you put on some cool jazz because the kids are in bed and you don't want them to hear anything, and you've already changed into your nightgown so you're not wearing any underwear and it's not like he's really looking anyway. Am I right?"
"Right now you're wearing everyday cotton underwear with little flowers on it—"
"Polka dots," she said. "Blue and brown polka dots."
"—Polka dots, okay, and your bra is a little worn and probably beige. And that's fine. Everyone has everyday underwear."
She looked down at his boxer briefs, which were the same sort of striped shorts she'd seen on him at the billiards game. "Do you have everyday underwear?"
"No, but I have a life filled with surprise sex. Well, not this summer, but before that."
Shirley looked at him, and knew she wanted to do this. "All right."
"All right then," he said, and pulled off her top.
She closed her eyes, trying not to think about how he was looking at her back fat right now when he sat down behind her, straddling her back, and pulled her back against him. His arms were strong around her waist and his body warm; she could feel his chest hair rough against her back. Jeff was longer and leaner than Andre, and his legs seemed to go on forever alongside her shorter, rounder ones. She could feel his penis half-hard against her rear—nothing demanding, just enough to know that yes, he was interested in the proceedings.
"I've been thinking about this for a while," he said, running his hands up her arms, gentle but firm enough not to tickle.
"About me?" she asked.
"I think about every woman I know at some point," he said.
She squinted. "You thought about Annie?" she asked.
"Annie is over eighteen, and no I'm not proud of it, but this is about you," he said. His hands came up over her breasts then. "God, they're so soft," he said, caressing them through the fabric of her bra, his thumbs passing over her nipples, and she gasped. "How could I not think about them?" He was breathing a bit heavily into her ear now, his chin hooked over her shoulder so he could see what he was doing.
Then suddenly, before she knew it, her bra was off. But oddly, she didn't feel nearly as exposed anymore. No, she felt covered by him, by his body wrapped around her. "You're very good at that," she said.
"I've had practice," he replied.
His hands were back on her breasts, holding them from underneath, his thumbs slowly rubbing around her nipples and then brushing across them, and she sank down into his arms, letting her head fall back against his shoulder.
"That's it," he said. "Your skin is so beautiful. Feel how your nipples are getting hard?"
"Feel it between your legs, too?"
She hadn't thought about it, his hands on her breasts distracting her, but she did feel a little wetter down there, so she nodded.
He shifted to the side sightly, just enough to bend over her further, and pull one of her nipples into his mouth. Her back arched slightly, shamelessly pushing up into that wet heat, and when he pulled his mouth away she felt the chill of the room. "Does Andre do that?" he asked, his breath passing over her wet skin.
"Sometimes," she said, surprised at how breathless and husky she sounded already. "Not very often."
"Make him," he said. "Look how you're responding. And breasts like this should not go to waste."
His right hand slid down over her stomach and onto her thigh, where his fingers fanned out. He hummed, low in his throat, and the idea that he was enjoying groping the rounder bits of her body made her head spin. Then both of his hands were at her waist, unbuttoning her jeans and sliding the zipper down. "Lift up," he said, and when she did he slid her jeans down, quick, and when she sat back down she kicked them off.
"Good," he said. "Oh, there are those polka-dots. Spread your legs a little more for me?"
She did, and then more as he stretched wider.
"It's okay," he said. "Pilates."
She had to giggle at that, which was better than feeling self-conscious at how far she had to spread her legs for him to get his hand between them. His hand was still on the outside of her panties, just lightly stroking, like the worst tease.
"You've gotten them all wet," he said. "Nice. See what a little foreplay can do? You should be demanding that, too."
"I will," she said, because damn it all felt so good; she felt ready for whatever came next.
"All right, let's get them off," he said, and then leaned even closer to her ear. "Take your panties off for me, Shirley," he said, and nipped at her earlobe.
She shuddered, but quickly did as he said—a little awkward, perhaps, but they were on the floor soon enough and he was spreading her legs wide again.
"Okay now I want you to watch me," he said. "Watch where my hand goes."
"I will," she said, looking down, and she didn't have a lot of practice looking between her legs, felt shy that she didn't go in for all that waxing business.
"Good. You don't have a problem with the word 'pussy', do you? Because vagina is pretty terrible."
"No, pussy is fine," she said, though it felt strange on her tongue.
He ran his fingers lightly between her legs, against her pussy, firmer than before. "You're so wet; no wonder Andre gets away with no foreplay. Okay, so right here, right at the top of your pussy? Feel where I'm pressing?"
"Yes," she said. "Feels damn good."
"Here, give me your hand," he said, and put it where his had been. "Feel that little bit right here?"
"Oh my god," she said, stroking the little bit of firm skin, but feeling it down to her toes, like electricity coursing through her body.
"That's your clit. Just keep rubbing it."
She hesitated. "I can't. It's too much."
"You can," he said, putting his hand over hers. "Go past too much, come on."
He moved their hands faster, then slower, then faster again, until she couldn't quite breathe. She was pushing her body back against him and then up into their joined hands, even more shameless than before, more than she'd ever been with someone or by herself. She felt it when they went past too much, when her body became liquid, and yet she could feel herself chasing something just beyond her reach and was that her voice she could hear moaning like that?
"That's it, Shirley," he said. "You've got it."
She felt like she was shivering all over, and she was very glad he was behind her, supporting her, saying sweet things in her ear about how pretty she was, because this was going to make her shake apart. If she'd had a brain in her head she would have felt bad about the moaning and the grinding but right now she didn't care about anything but making this feeling go on as long as possible. Then suddenly her muscles tightened up and everything was very, very still—and then it was gone.
When she opened her eyes again, she was slumped against him, though he held her weight easily. "Oh my," she said, panting. "It was never anything like that."
"Well, it should be," he said.
She brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face. "Thank you, Jeffrey. Truly."
"Oh we're not done," he said.
"No?" she asked.
He was grinning widely. "Spread your legs again. We're going to do a little spelunking. Just slip two fingers inside, and I want you to reach up and forward …"
Shirley sat on her couch eating orange beef and drinking a coffee shake. Jeff had led her to three orgasms—four, if you double count the multiple one—and then they'd showered and nuked the gone-cold food before settling on the couch to watch the Jersey Housewives.
She was also pretty sure he'd masturbated in the shower, and she smirked a little to think she'd done that, too.
"So now you have some tricks to show Andre, and I'm bet you can figure out some more on your own." Jeff said. "You /are/ going to show him, right?"
"Are you kidding me?" she said. "Once a woman finds out she's multi-orgasmic she doesn't go back, Jeff."
"That's my girl," he said. "So, think Danielle will be back next season?"
Shirley turned to the television. "I hope not," she said. "She's an amateur. Though, I wonder what that business was with Teresa's nephew?"
"I know, right?" he said. "She had another prostitution whore moment there."
"And that Kim G. wants on this show so badly she can taste it."
"God, she's so boring," Jeff said, closing his eyes. "If she's going to be another housewife she should at least get some better hair."
"It's a rat's nest, isn't it?" Shirley said, giggling. She glanced over at Jeff, noticing his hair still wet from the shower, and said, "Oh my, I can't believe we were in the bedroom and now we're just eating Chinese food and watching these women make fools of themselves."
He winked at her. "Welcome to the twenty-first century, Shirley."