Tess finally found Barry in the college library, a heavy, dog-eared text open in front of him, marking his habitually scrupulous hand-written notes into a ruled yellow pad. She sat down across from him, leaned as far across the broad table as she could reach, her long blond hair falling down around her face. She brushed her hair away and stage-whispered, “Barry! I think I’m pregnant!”.
Barry barely flinched. Not even raising his eyes to her, he continued with his note taking. Finally, reaching the end of a paragraph, and carefully holding his place with his finger, he looked up.
“And?”, he asked wearily.
“I think you’re the father”, hissed Tess. “When was the last time we had sex?”
Barry leaned back from the table, but carefully so as not to dislodge his finger from its assigned position. He ran his free hand through his floppy, lank dark hair. “Valentine’s Day. You’ve had your period since then”, he replied flatly. He didn’t bother to lower his voice, and a couple of other students cast warning stares at him.
“That doesn’t prove anything”, pouted Tess.
“Seriously? Christ, Tess, I know I’ve not had much sexual experience, but I’m not a complete idiot”, sighed Barry. “Let’s take this outside” he added, noticing the stares of the other students. He pushed the textbook onto a nearby cart for shelving, shoveled his notepad and pens into his tattered canvas messenger bag, took Tess by the elbow, and steered her outside into the still-warm evening air.
They sat down on the steps in front of the library portico, an architecturally illiterate mishmash of Greek and Roman elements that some coal-rich benefactor had inflicted on their small-town mid-western college. As the price of his munificence, his name was carved indelibly in stone over the entrance, but to generations of students it was known simply as The Hangar, a tribute to the charmless, spartan interior, a warehouse for books and students alike.
“Valentine’s Day? That sounds very specific. Are you sure?” asked Tess.
“Very sure”, replied Barry. “You were mad at Graham – or maybe Danny, I forget who you were dating after me. Anyway, whoever it was hadn’t sent you flowers, and you were mad, so you came to my room and we slept together. You stayed the night, I made you scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfast. When you got back to your room later you called to tell me that the flowers had been waiting there all along, and we haven’t seen each other since. That was, what, five weeks ago? And about three weeks ago you told Margo to tell me it was OK, you were having your period, because you thought I might be worried. By which you meant, you wanted Margo to know you’d slept with me again, just in case she might be thinking I was available.”
“Wow”, said Tess, “were you, like, taking notes? Does one of those pads of yours have your sex life flow-charted and cross-referenced with dates and what page you were on in the assigned European history text at the time?”
“You know this isn’t the first time you’ve tried this stunt on me, right?”, said Barry.
“No. About a week after we first slept together I figured out that you were sleeping with other guys too, so I broke it off with you. A couple of days later you said you thought you might be pregnant, and I was stupid enough to believe you, and we got back together. And a week after that when I asked you if you were still late, you had no idea what I was talking about. So I guess I’m not the first guy you’ve pulled that on?”
Tess stared at Barry for several long seconds. She lowered her eyes, bit her lip, and tried fruitlessly to squeeze out a tear. Barry leaned back, folded his arms, waited patiently. She looked up, cross.
“Dammit, Barry. Why are you the only guy who won’t fall for that?”
“Because the moment I do, you’ll lose interest in me again”, he answered flatly. “Do you want to get pizza?”
Tess took his hand, and he didn’t pull away. They ambled across campus in silence to the cheap pizza franchise that, as far as many of their fellow undergraduates were concerned, provided at least two-thirds of their dietary needs. Soon, they were sat next to each other on a torn plastic bench, two slices of greasy pizza on paper plates in front of them.
“Can I ask you a personal question?”, he asked after a few moments of silent chewing.
“You can ask. I don’t promise I’ll answer”, she replied.
“How many guys have you actually slept with?”
“Assuming you mean had sex with, not literally slept with?” She furrowed her brow in concentration, and he watched her fingers moving on the tabletop, ticking off the count. After a minute or so she answered, “Forty-ish”.
“Ish?” he asked, perplexed.
“Well, it depends what you count as sex”, she elaborated. “Forty-three if you include anal but exclude guys that I only blew but never fucked.” Mistaking his stunned expression for a desire for more explanation, she added: “In high school I did some really stupid things.”
“Like sleeping with the entire football team?” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
“No”, she giggled, “like blowing a guy and getting no satisfaction in return. Or believing guys that told me that anal didn’t really count. It wasn’t until I was a junior that I decided that I deserved to be having some fun too.”
“So I was number…?” he asked.
“Do you really want to know?”, Tess replied.
Barry thought about it for a moment then answered, “No. I really don’t want to know how many guys you’ve had since me. Or while me, as it were. “
“Can I guess your score now?”, she asked him.
“OK,” he said warily, “but you know you could count my partners on my right hand”.
She pretended to think hard for a moment, then: “I’m going to say two, if you include me but exclude your right hand.”
Despite himself, Barry burst out laughing. “Yeah, but thanks for at least not thinking I was a total virgin.”
Tess blushed slightly. “If we’re being totes honest with each other? Actually, I did think you were a virgin before I had you, but I was trying to be polite. OK, now you have to tell me about your first time!”
“Really? OK, but not much to tell. There was a party in my dorm the first semester of freshman year, and my roommate Michael’s older sister was in town. To my astonishment she took me back to her hotel room and we… well, you know. She went home the next day, I never heard from her again, her brother doesn’t know. ”
“So how was it? Was it sweet?”, asked Tess, rapt.
“Are we still being honest? It was awkward and disappointing. I was so anxious, I couldn’t finish. In the end I had to fake an orgasm so we could both get some sleep.”
“Wait, guys can do that?” said Tess, genuinely surprised.
“Oh sure,” said Barry. “You just breathe a little hoarsely, say ‘oh my god!’ a few times, then give a big shudder and a gasp like in the movies. If you’re wearing a condom, she’s not to know. I’m guessing she had to fake it too, but on the plus side she did congratulate me on my stamina.”
The two of them cleared their table and walked outside. The night was a little cooler now, the air crisp, stars twinkling in a completely clear sky: it would certainly get cold later.
“So you haven’t had sex with anybody since me”, said Tess, as they began the walk back. “Don’t you miss it now that you’ve had it?”.
Barry thought for several moments. Finally: “Some, I guess. Actually…” Barry paused and started over. “Actually, my biggest regret is that I still haven’t had a blow job. Everybody says they’re great. And I can’t believe I just said that out loud.”
Tess laughed. “You haven’t? I never did you? I’ll blow you now if you like. For old times’ sake.”
Barry’s face turned deep red. “That’s very sweet of you to offer,” he said, “but I think I’ll save my oral virginity for somebody special.”
Tess punched him playfully on the shoulder. “Oh Barry. You’re still such a romantic! Don’t ever change!”
They were in front of Tess’ dorm now. Barry took both her hands in his, looked her in the eyes and said “Tess, can we be like this from now on? Forget about the sex, just be fun together. I think we can be really good friends – and I don’t even mean friends with benefits. I feel like I can trust you, confide in you. And you in me, of course.”
Tess smiled as gently as he had ever seen; for a moment she seemed like a little girl. “Sure”, she replied. She leaned in, kissed him lightly on the cheek, and turned to go inside. He stayed and watched until the door closed behind her.
Ten minutes later, Barry arrived back at his own room. Before he could get his key in the lock, the door opened from the inside. Michael was on his way out, pulling on his jacket and stuffing his wallet into his jeans pocket. “Oh, hey, Barry”, he blurted as he pushed past. “Uh… you and Tess are still broken up, right? Because she just called me and… well, if it’s OK with you, pal?”
“Oh sure”, replied Barry, “take your shot.”
“Thanks, pal!”, said Michael, hustling down the corridor. As he reached the outer door, Michael turned and called back, “Hey, is it really true that you once faked an orgasm?”, but he didn’t wait for the answer.
Barry watched him disappear, then went inside and pulled the door shut behind him. He undressed to his tee-shirt and shorts, climbed into bed, and turned out the lights. “Good luck, Tess. Good luck, number forty four”, he murmured, and slept by himself.