Almost perfect, p.19
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       Almost Perfect, p.19

           Brian Katcher
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  Dalton had become horizontally drunk by the time we’d finished the game. I helped one of his frat brothers drag him to his room and deposit him, fully clothed, on his bed. When I returned downstairs, I found Sage waiting at the front door. Her hair was brushed, her makeup more or less in place, her jacket hung neatly over her arm. She was mostly sober; I think she’d been nursing the same rum and Coke since we’d all gone to the backyard to watch two drunks attempt to fistfight.

  I’d been less discriminating. While I hadn’t pounded back the shots like Dalton, there’d been a beer in my hand throughout the evening. Several beers. I had no idea where my sweater was, I suffered from temporary hearing loss, and I had the strongest desire to drink a gallon of ice-cold water.

  “You ready to go, Logan?” Sage was smirking at me. I ran my fingers through my hair to make sure I didn’t still have that bra on my head.

  “Yeah. No. We have to wait for Laura.” I hadn’t seen my sister for several hours.

  Sage danced from foot to foot. “I’m sure she’s fine. C’mon, it’s late.”

  “We need her to let us back in the dorm. Laura?” I called to the nearly empty front hall. “Hey, Laura?”

  Sage opened her purse and pulled out a plastic card. “Laura gave me her ID. It’ll get us back into the building.”

  “Why do you have it? How’s she supposed to get back in?”

  And then it hit me. Laura didn’t need her ID because she’d be spending the night somewhere else.

  I began to quake. “Mike’s a dead man.”

  Sage placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Your sister’s a grown-up, Logan. She likes this guy.”

  “Will she like him when his jaw’s wired shut?” I looked around for a weapon. There was a paddle embossed with the fraternity’s logo hanging on a wall. It was no Louisville Slugger, but it would have to do.

  Sage leaned down until we were eye to eye. “Do you want your sister to be happy? Or do you want her to be some kind of nun so she can live up to this Polly Pure image you have of her?”

  “That second one!”

  “Logan …”

  I deflated. Sage was right. “C’mon, let’s go,” I whined. Laura and I would have a long talk later.

  The night air was almost cold. I shivered in my short-sleeved shirt. Sage and I said goodbye to the man loudly vomiting into the bushes and trotted toward Laura’s dorm.

  We didn’t say anything for a while. The sidewalk seemed to wiggle and jerk suddenly, and I lost my footing more than once. Sage giggled at my staggering.

  “Logan,” she said as we approached the dorm. “Thanks. Back at the party, when those guys had me. It could have been bad.”

  I grew about a foot. “If I hadn’t stopped them, someone else would have.” I gave a modest laugh.

  “Well, I was afraid I was going to have to deck one,” said Sage, not ironically. “Or show off my chest.”

  “Hey, only I’m allowed to see that!” I replied without thinking at all. Sage made no response. She simply swiped Laura’s ID at the entrance to the dorm as I blushed.

  The lobby was totally deserted, a buzzing exit sign making the only noise.

  “I guess this is where I say good night.” I felt exhausted, and the prospect of sleeping in the garbage on Brian’s floor did not relax me.

  Sage pouted. “Not just yet, Logan. Come back to Laura’s room and have a soda with me.”

  I ducked into a communal restroom and washed my face, wishing I hadn’t left my toothbrush in Brian’s dorm. When I returned to Laura’s room, the door was locked. Sage opened it when I knocked.

  In the short time I was gone, Sage had removed her makeup and changed into an enormous T-shirt that came down to her knees. She had her hair bunched into a ponytail that emerged from the top of her head, like an eighties pop star. She handed me a bottle of cola.

  “Meeting me at the door with a drink in hand,” I lamely quipped. “Nice.”

  “Do you want a real drink? Laura has some wine coolers in her fridge.”

  The thought of more alcohol, even girly alcohol, twisted my stomach. I chugged the soda in under a minute, and Sage passed me another. I felt much less light-headed.

  Sage sat down on Ebony’s bed. Though there were two empty chairs in the room, I half collapsed next to her. The overhead light was off, and the only illumination came from Laura’s desk lamp and the glow of the parking lot lights through the window. We sat there, side by side, leaning against the wall, not looking at each other, not speaking, our bodies just barely touching.

  “Logan, why didn’t you leave with that girl?” Sage asked out of nowhere.

  I shrugged. “I didn’t want to leave you there.”

  She frowned. “I’m sorry. You didn’t have to do that.”

  I repeated myself. “I didn’t want to leave you.” It was the truth. I’d enjoyed playing that dumb drinking game with Sage more than I would have enjoyed groping for kisses with Erin.

  Sage squirmed and readjusted her position. We were now leaning against each other. I laid my hand on hers, which was lying on her bare thigh.

  I knew it was time to leave. I knew I should creep on over to Brian and Paul’s dorm room, and try to sleep as they played video games all night. But for some reason, just sitting in the dark with Sage, half drunk and completely exhausted, felt more pleasant.

  I almost dozed off. I probably would have if Sage hadn’t spoken.

  “I think I can do it, Logan.”

  “Do what?” I mumbled. Sage’s hand was no longer in mine. My fingers rested on her leg.

  “Go to college. I mean, go as …” She trailed off.

  I woke up a bit. “You’re doing great. You’re going to have the time of your life. We’re going to have the time of our life. Lifes. Lives.”

  A strand of Sage’s hair tickled my nose. It smelled like shampoo, but in a good way. I was sure I smelled like the smoking lounge at a brewery.

  Sage whispered in my ear. “I feel brave when I’m with you.”

  I didn’t know why, but that comment really touched me. It was just such a sweet thing to say. I took my hand from Sage’s leg and placed it on her cheek. I savored her big sad eyes, her countless freckles, her quivering lips, her exploring tongue …

  We were kissing. Deeply. Very deeply. I was kissing Sage, and I was not nearly drunk or sleepy enough to excuse it.

  Sage’s kisses were eager, like she had to get in as much lip time as possible. She probably expected me to jolt away at any second. But my only reference point was Brenda. Meanwhile, I was still lacerating my tongue on Sage’s braces.

  It would be so easy to leave. No explanations. Neither of us would bring it up again. Just a couple of friends who’d enjoyed a moment of forbidden passion. Something we could treasure.

  But I didn’t want just a moment. After half a year of knowing Sage, I could finally admit I wanted her. I wanted this beautiful, strange, wonderful woman. I didn’t want some friend of my sister’s. I didn’t want to go on awkward dates. My best friend was a beautiful girl! What was wrong with that?

  Plenty. Logan, she’s a—

  I DON’T CARE! I kissed Sage harder to drown out the voice. I wrapped my arms around her waist. We kneeled awkwardly, facing each other on the bed, holding hands across our laps.

  I didn’t care. I didn’t want to care. Sage was so wonderful. I could worry about everything else later. Right now, I was making out with a special, special girl.

  I’ll be just fine. I mentally repeated the drunk driver’s mantra as I lowered my arms. When my hand cupped Sage’s rear, she let out a long, almost painful groan and leaned back. When she looked at me, there were tears in her eyes.

  “Logan, I’m so sorry.”

  Was she apologizing for kissing me? Or for what we were about to do? It didn’t matter. I grasped the hem of her shirt and began to lift.

  “Turn off the light, please,” she said shyly.

  I couldn’t reach the lamp from the bed. I nearly went sprawling
over the sheets when I got up, and then I couldn’t find the lamp’s switch. I pounded it with my fist until the bulb’s filament broke and the light from outside was all that shone.

  When I turned back around, Sage was sitting on the bed wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. She was looking down at the floor, her hands pressed between her knees. I’d never been so turned on in all my life. I thought, for a strange moment, of Brenda. I was suddenly glad that we’d never made love.

  I removed my shirt and sat next to Sage. She smiled at me. When I tried to kiss her, she fell backward onto the bed, her body on display. She was mine, if I wanted her. I touched her skin.


  “Yes, Sage?” God, why were we talking now?

  “Please be gentle. It’s my first time.”

  I kissed her. But not on the mouth. “Mine too.”

  We didn’t speak again for another two hours.

  chapter twenty-eight

  I AWOKE to the sound of gunfire and screaming. My head throbbed, and I felt like I was covered with bugs. I couldn’t get my bearings. I wasn’t at home, but I wasn’t in Laura’s room, either. I was facedown on a floor somewhere.

  It felt like I’d been sleeping for hours, but darkness surrounded me. I focused on a square of light. A computer screen. Brian, who sat in the same position as when I’d last seen him, and his roommate, Paul, were playing a shoot-’em-up computer game.

  I smothered my face into the gym bag I was using as a pillow, trying to drown out the noise. A desperate thirst attacked my throat, and I had to pee something terrible. Still, I attempted to get another half hour of sleep. Only when I noticed the ant-covered pizza crusts under the bed next to me did I decide to get up.

  “Hey, sleepyhead,” said Brian, not looking at me.

  “Urgh.” My cheek was sticky with drool.

  “You look like hell. Want some coffee?”

  The coffeepot was half full, but was so dirty it looked like it was overflowing. I shook my head, attempting to get the room to stop revolving, grabbed my bag, and stumbled to the bathroom.

  I think I blacked out at the sink. Apparently, I brushed my teeth and washed my face while sound asleep. I came to in the dank public shower stall, struggling to remove my clothes.

  The water was ice cold, but I didn’t turn it to warm. I stood there in the torrent with my mouth open until the buzzing in my head grew faint. Finally, as I distractedly soaped, I let myself remember what had happened the night before.

  Sage. Me. Naked. Well, I was naked. Sage had never removed her shorts. Things had started slowly. Touching. Kissing. More touching (Sage, I discovered, was amazingly ticklish in certain areas). Then—I turned the water even colder, remembering—the sweat, the touch of her mouth, the prick of her nails, the noise of the bed as it scooted across the floor.

  Lying there afterward, absolutely spent. Sage burying her face in my chest and crying for ten minutes, then laughing. Snuggling with her, face to face, half awake, running my hand over her soft back. Then, just as the sun started slanting through the window, throwing on my clothes, kissing Sage, and staggering off to Brian’s room.

  There were no excuses this time. There was no deception. No being caught up in the moment. Even the alcohol had pretty much worn off. Everything we did, I wanted. Just remembering it in the shower allowed me to carry my towel without using my hands. We had crossed a line that could never be uncrossed. Sage and I had done something that could never be undone.

  We were two great friends who had suddenly become a whole lot more. Two young people with their entire lives ahead of them. And just one little complication. One teeny, little, microscopic, enormous, universe-sized complication.

  Last night, when the world consisted of the two of us, nothing else mattered. But in the harsh light of Sunday morning, I could think of a million reasons to worry.

  Sage’s father, with his huge knuckles and garage filled with lawn mower blades. He’d crucify me if he found out what we’d done. And what if someone else discovered Sage’s past? Locker rooms, bureaucratic screwups, confiding in the wrong person … a lot could go wrong in four years of college. If Sage’s world came crashing down, would I be willing to stand beside her?

  Of course, all of this was just sidestepping the big issue. The night before had been wonderful. But there were certain things Sage couldn’t do, parts she did not have. She’d said it might be years after college before she could afford the surgery. How long could I date a girl who didn’t have a vagina?

  Well, I dated Brenda for three years, hee hee.

  Sage had kept her shorts on. But if she ever got careless one day and I actually saw it … that would be an image I could never forget. It would turn me off so much that I’d never be close to her again.

  Someone in the bathroom let out an enormous fart, and I tried to get a grip. Turning the water to hot, I continued to lather.

  In spite of everything, my worries in the morning didn’t compare to the beauty of the previous night. And not just after we got back to the dorm. The party. The drive. Hanging out with my sister. And even before that: Seeing Sage in her bikini. Going to the movies. Exchanging Christmas presents. In fact, since the night we didn’t see the comedian, I’d enjoyed every moment I spent with Sage. Every moment. That was too rare, too special to toss away.

  I shampooed with gusto. We didn’t have to plot out our entire lives right then. That was the mistake I’d made with Brenda. Sage and I had months, years even, to figure things out.

  I toweled off and dressed. Even half hungover and bleary eyed, my reflection was kind of handsome. As I walked back to Laura’s room, I remembered the MU blanket Sage had made for me. I wished I had kept it.

  I found Laura sitting at her desk, already showered and dressed like she was about to host a high tea for the Princess of Wales. I had used the clothes I was wearing as a pillow, and it still felt like there was a garbage truck revving in my skull. Sage was not in the room.

  “Where’s Sage?” I asked, pulling a bottle of water from the minifridge and collapsing on Laura’s bed. On Ebony’s side of the room, the bed was made and Sage’s belongings were neatly packed. There was no sign of what we’d done.

  “I should ask you that,” she replied coyly. “I just saw Brian, and he said you didn’t show up until after six this morning.”

  “Hey, look who’s talking!” I barked. “What’s up with you and this Mike guy?”

  She smiled. “I guess you could call him my boyfriend.”

  “I’d like to call him something else.” You’re my sister, not some kind of … woman!

  Laura shoved my feet off her sheets. “You’d really like him, Logan. He’s a physics major. We met at a basketball game last semester.”

  I narrowed my eyes and she socked me in the arm. “Hey, Logan, I made an effort to like your girlfriend. I even stayed at Mike’s so you two could have some privacy.”

  “She’s not my …,” I started to object from pure force of habit. But after last night … “I mean, well …” What was I supposed to say?

  Laura just laughed. “I knew it! She was drooling over you all last night. I kind of figured even you weren’t that blind.”

  I looked over at the empty bed, remembering what Sage and I had done only a few hours before. “Do you really not know where she is?”

  “She left a note. She had to go meet with her academic advisor, but she’ll be back soon.”

  I rubbed my eyes, picking at the mucus the shower hadn’t removed. So what would I do when Sage came back? Nod politely? Give her a big hug? Smile secretly?

  No point in playing it cool, not after the night before. I’d give her a little kiss, let her know I wasn’t ashamed or regretful. We could talk a little on the way home, when we had some privacy.

  When Sage returned five minutes later, all I ended up doing was staring. She was wearing a sundress, a yellow strapless outfit that left her arms and shoulders uncovered. Details of the previous night returned. The skin that I’d to
uched, the places I’d kissed, the soft hands, the warm mouth …

  We kissed. Right there in front of my sister, and not the friendly little peck I was planning. Laura giggled at us and mussed my hair when we disengaged.

  Sage blushed a little from the attention. Unlike me, she didn’t look like she’d slept in a cat box.

  “Can I buy you ladies some breakfast?”

  Sage allowed me to take her arm as we left the dorm.

  It was actually a lot later than I thought, so we grabbed lunch at a Ninth Street bar called the Heidelberg. It was a beautiful day, so Laura took us on an insider’s tour of downtown. We ducked in and out of various head shops, bookstores, used clothing places, and coffee bars. Laura gave us advice on hangouts, organizations, and meal plans. She told me there were good jobs with campus security, if I didn’t mind directing traffic at MU Tigers games.

  I barely paid attention. For the first time since Brenda, I was unashamedly holding hands with a girl.

  Sage was not her usual brash self. She barely talked all afternoon. I wondered if she was as confused and scared and happy as I was. We never unlocked hands. Sometimes Sage gripped my fingers so tight it almost hurt.

  We returned to campus and cut across the quad. I recalled the night we were here a few months before, when Sage and I had cleared the air and I’d promised I’d be her friend. It had seemed like such a big deal at the time, being willing to hang out with someone like Sage. And now she’d given me a back rub while we were both almost naked.

  Laura was lecturing about the life-sized statue of Thomas Jefferson and didn’t notice when I stopped walking. Sage stopped short. I placed my hands on her cheeks and kissed her again. She returned my kisses and then some.

  My sister had to clear her throat several times before we stopped making out. But hell, she was dating someone, too. I magnanimously decided I wouldn’t break Mike’s nose the next time I saw him.

  The sun began to hang low in the sky, and Sage reminded me that we had to get back. As I walked through campus, one arm around my girlfriend’s waist, the other clutching a bag of her clothing purchases, I felt almost serene.

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