Jane has dreamed of men touching her in a thousand different ways.
She has dreamed of their hands on her legs, her back, her shoulders, her hips, her breasts, her neck. She has imagined touch a thousand different ways, in some versions urgent and harsh, in others slow and lingering, sometimes literally like a spark of static, sometimes as relaxing and natural as wrapping a shawl around herself. John, in the past month, has been all these things to her. Every dream she never dared (or perhaps deigned) to vocalize, every fantasy she thought no man could ever really live up to, he has fulfilled and exceeded. He is a sweet lover, tender but unembarrassed to touch her. He acts as natural kissing the space between her breasts as Jane would act punching someone in the exact same place (a hit in the sternum is a good way to take someone’s breath away, but John’s mouth on her is equally effective).
Now, John stands behind her, his hands twining through her hair. It is a form of intimacy that she never really considered before him—the intimacy that comes not with the immensity of sex but with the quiet moments afterwards. He’s never been embarrassed to touch her, and now it no longer embarrasses her either.
Though she still doesn’t think this is necessarily a good idea.
“I’ve worn braids before,” she says. “They don’t come out well.”
He does not respond. His hands are deft, easily tugging her hair this way and that, never light enough to be ticklish but never too hard either, never too tight. It’s not an unpleasant feeling so she lets him continue even though she knows when they’re done he’ll be disappointed by the result.
John knows this goes a little outside of Jane’s comfort zone.
Yes, he knows why she is a little bit nervous, not of his hands but of the eventual results. After all, they used to wear braids all the time, back at the orphanage. And no, they didn’t come out well.
She learned how to braid from the workers at the orphanage, and they always braided too tightly. She would cram her hair into braids as if she needed to compress it into the smallest imaginable volume, as if she wanted to hide the fact that she had hair at all. Always two braids, too—pigtails, they called them. They didn’t look good on her, of course. Those didn’t look good on anyone except the little angels who would look good in absolutely anything. The little girls with thin faces that still somehow radiated health and goodness (always false, of course—they were always really the biggest brats of all) whose hair was perfectly silky and had just the right volume already, thin but not too thin, very manageable. They nearly always got adopted too, those girls. Not that Jane had particularly aspired to be adopted.
She was always very independent, after all.
When she wore braids, it made her face look too fat. And the tightness would pull at her scalp, and it would hurt all day, and hurt even more when she took it out. So when she left the orphanage she fairly swore off braids. She was not terribly fashionable, just respectable and healthy for the most part, but at least there she would do her image a favor. A girl who looked like a pig would never get a job as a hostess in outer space. Besides, she had her pride to consider.
John knows how Jane felt then, knows how he felt at this moment with hands in his hair, knows how Jane feels right now. She is considering her pride again now, and the fact that John, who knows her absurdly well for their affair being so brief, for some reason thinks she is beautiful. She is thinking she doesn’t want to look stupid in front of him and sure, it probably won’t turn him off too badly, but it might make him laugh. He’s laughed at her before, but it’s always felt like an inside joke, like he is half laughing at himself. She does not want to laugh at her because he finds her ridiculous, a sexless little girl with a pig face once again. She knows he won’t, and still she thinks: He might.
John pauses to put a hand on her shoulder and squeeze. “Don’t worry,” he says. “I know what I’m doing.”
He never did before. But this is the day that changed it for him, that will change it for her. He remembers what it was like to have John’s hands (his hands, but he can’t quite process that even now) in his hair. John braided differently from the way Jane. She pushed and pulled her hair viciously, as if it were an enemy. But he, with better perspective, good memories of how this should go, and a position where he can actually see her hair instead of doing it with a mirror and an awkward angle, is able to do it more skillfully. It also helps that he is not a child anymore. Even when he was Jane at this age, he was already not the little girl she remembers. And tonight he is going to show her that.
The difference at its most basic level is simply this: There is only one braid. It is loose, and allows a little of her hair to still hang down at the sides of her head before tucking it into the folds and curves of its twisted knots. And at the bottom of it he ties a little pastel pink bow.
He saw it in a shop earlier today when he was looking for a gift for her, and remembered what John did with it last time around. That was how he knew today would be the day. That is why today he told her he wanted to play with her hair, and that is why he knows that if he does this right now, it will be…well. A good evening for her, at least. One of his fonder memories even now, to be honest.
He pats her back lightly and guides her to the mirror. “Here,” he says. “I don’t think it looks so bad.”
Jane is a bit worried as she approaches the mirror. John says she looks fine but she has two caveats here: One, it’s possible he’s doing this to poke fun at her, which he does not do often but does do on occasion. Two, it’s possible he simply knows nothing about what looks good on a woman and what doesn’t, that he has no taste. Since he’s already been dating her for a month and has not so much as looked at another woman, no matter how beautiful, she finds the second option really very likely.
She looks in the mirror.
All right, it’s not perfect. She still thinks she prefers her hair down. But it actually looks somewhat feminine, and rather than making her cheeks look huge it actually accentuates their full curve. It’s loose and delicate, and while she still thinks she’ll probably pull it out in a little while (no, it’s not going to become a habit), it is rather nice to see her hair in an arrangement that isn’t just hanging loose. Makes her feel a bit more womanly. So…perhaps she likes it.
She turns to John. “I suppose you’re good at this.”
“I guess I’m all right.”
He says he came from an orphanage too, a boy’s orphanage. No sisters to practice it on, no mother who would encourage him fiddling with her hair. “You’ve done this before. Whose hair do you usually braid?”
He shrugs. “I have friends.”
“I’ve never met them.”
“They live a distance aways. You’ll meet them someday.” He puts an arm around her waist.
“And you braided their hair,” Jane says. “Did you kiss them, too?” She does not ask whether they had sex. She’s done a lot of things with John in the past month and maybe it shouldn’t make her uncomfortable, but surely it’s none of her business, and her small prudish streak runs deep.
“None of them? You didn’t kiss anyone?”
“My first kiss was with you,” John says. “I never loved anyone before you.”
“Oh,” Jane says. She nods slightly.
Is it stupid for her to believe that?
Is it petty that she jealously, desperately wants it to be true?
He is far too talented at touching her and kissing her and fucking her for her to be his first, for this to be his first affair. But she does not argue against him, and when he pulls her in for a kiss, she responds with a fervor that will surely erase any others from his mind and heart.
(By the time the evening is done, her braid is utterly demolished, and she can’t even find the pink ribbon. But she remembers the way it looks. And one day, she puts her hands into the hair of a girl and tells the girl to hold still and trust her, it will look just fine…)