Soft

Soft

You’re the girl with the penetrating, flint-gray eyes, the one ladling greasy ground beef and watered-down sour cream into tortillas and taco shells on the other side of the glass divider. Your cheeks are chiseled planes and your hair is cut like a boy’s, and every time I come in here, you’re here too, laser-beaming me with your knowing smirk.

The air is rich with the scent of spiced beef and warm corn. Wild guitar music pours from speakers in a mustard-colored ceiling—Jimi Hendrix, I think—an odd choice for a taco joint and yet somehow it enhances the bustling, casual atmosphere. A line of people stretches behind me to the door, and as you finish with the customer ahead of me, my chest tightens, same as it does every time. I have two minutes max to interact with you.

“Hard or soft?” you say without looking up. You’re plucking stray shreds of lettuce off the stainless steel countertop and tossing them into what I guess must be a trash can at your feet. Hard or soft?

It’s not natural, my husband says. The Bible is clear on this subject.

I say, What about my cousin Dillan? He’s such a good person.

“Soft,” I say.

Your hands move fast, snatching a tortilla and tossing it into a machine that’s like a waffle maker but it’s just two flat metal plates warming the tortilla between them. Your lean arms flex with wiry, feminine strength. A tattoo of a key runs the length of one forearm, on the inside, the sensitive part. I picture you in the tattoo artist’s chair with your inner arm turned up, the tattooist’s gloved hands steadying the needle as it injects your pale skin over and over again with ink. I imagine how the muscle in your cheek must have pulsed as you gritted your teeth against the pain. That muscle flexes sometimes when the restaurant door opens and you turn your head to see who’s arrived, your eyes searching and wary for a fraction of a second—that’s when the muscle flexes. Then your face breaks into a welcoming smile. Why the wariness? Do you fear someone specific or is this a habit you’ve cultivated from years of experience?

You’re still tidying the food prep area in front of you, brushing away bits of food without looking up at me, and you say, with a trace of impatience in your voice, “Meat?”

“No, thank you.”

Finally you raise your eyes to mine because what kind of ingrate doesn’t want meat in her taco? My face broils, but I have your attention now, and your recognition. You smile, so faintly I almost doubt you are really smiling, and you tip your chin down just slightly, drill into me with your eyes. For a moment there is a rushing in my ears so loud it drowns out the music and conversation all around me. Yes, you recognize me.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, my husband says. I love your cousin, but we both know he’ll spend eternity in Hell. I don’t argue with my husband. Can’t argue with him. I would appear sympathetic.

My husband doesn’t know I’ve checked his laptop’s search history. Doesn’t know I’ve seen girl-on-girl, lesbians-fucking, pussy-licking-sorority-girls.

He sure wouldn’t like you. You’re the real deal, with your steady energy and your naked face and your hard, unapologetic angles. You are so clearly not for his consumption. You are not for anyone’s consumption. You are entirely your own.

You wave another worker over to take your spot and then follow me down the line to the register, ringing up my order even though that is supposed to be someone else’s job. You hold your hand out for my credit card. I hang onto it, holding it just in front of my abdomen, unable to make my hand bridge the distance between us—I might brush your fingertips, and then what? What would happen to me then? My heart is banging too hard in my chest and my lungs aren’t keeping up with my need for air; I have to open my mouth. You’re contemplating me with your steely gray eyes, your lips pressed into that barely there smile, and I get the same feeling I get every time I come in here, which is that you see me. Just by looking at me for a couple of minutes a week, you see me more than anyone else ever has.

I watched some of the videos from my husband’s search history. In one of them, one woman tells the other, “Mmm, you have such a beautiful pussy” and then buries her face in the pink wetness. I was sitting at my husband’s desk, tears pouring down, cheeks clamped between my teeth, knees pressed together and hands fisted in my hair, pulling out clumps, unable to register the pain that should have come from tearing my follicles from their roots. I was throbbing down there, cramping with desire, strangling on a sin I hadn’t even dared imagine myself committing.

You’re still staring at me with your hand out for my credit card. I float my hand forward and you take the card gingerly, without touching my fingers, as if you sense that would be too much for me. What must I look like to you? Ironed in every sense of the word, from my slick golden hair to my white button-down and prim A-line skirt. Blue-eyed, long-limbed, freckles across the bridge of my nose. A modest gold cross hangs from a thin chain around my neck. You’d like to corrupt me, wouldn’t you? I bite my lip, only realizing my nervous habit could be perceived as seduction when you smirk at me and drive my credit card down the slit.

You hand back my card and eye my skirt. “Need help with that?” Your voice is a low, smooth tenor, the serpent’s voice to Eve, syrupy with knowledge.

“W—what?” In my mind’s eye, I’ve just watched you tug my skirt down my thighs.

“Your tray. Need me to carry it to the table for you?” You press your lips together, eyes dancing as if you’re trying to stifle a laugh.

My ears ache from embarrassment. My throat is too constricted to speak, but I nod because I can’t say no to twenty extra seconds of your attention. You take the tray and follow me as I weave among tables packed with customers, lighting my back on fire with your eyes, making me think dirty words, words like touch and yes and wet and wider.

I scoot into a booth with your body heat burning into my personal space. You’re leaning across me with your breasts close to my mouth, smelling like soap and cilantro, pretending to organize the salt and pepper shakers while you murmur, “At the end of the back hallway, past the bathrooms, there’s a door. In ten minutes, open it.”

I stare down at my taco and chew my lip and blink, blink, blink, and you leave before I can access the part of me that knows I must tell you no. I glance at my phone. The clock reads 6:22 p.m.

Behind the counter, you’re back to taking orders, hands flying, the key on your pale forearm a rippling beacon. I pick up my taco and touch it to my lips, but I can’t make myself bite into it. You’re watching me. I can’t put something in my mouth while you watch. Eat it, you mouth at me between customers, and I know you mean the taco but I feel your command between my legs. I take a small, careful bite, hyperaware of my lips and how they seem to linger too long on the warm tortilla, how my slow chewing suddenly feels like a sexual act. You grin and suck your bottom lip into your mouth, turn back to your customers.

My clock reads 6:24. Eight more minutes. I won’t go to that door. I take another small bite, staring down at the table in front of me. You’re trying to corrupt me. I close my eyes and touch my index finger to the cross at my neck.

One more small bite. Need help with that? I thought you were looking at my skirt. I saw you sliding it over my hips. Now I see your hands gliding down the length of my naked thighs. I see you slipping a hand in the gap between my legs. Eat it, you commanded, and I obeyed. It would be a bad, bad thing to go to that door. I’m hot all over now, my chest and belly and between my legs. I think I’m wet down there.

6:27.

I can’t take any more bites. My mouth has gone dry. My insides are whirling like they’re being sucked down a drain. What will happen if I go to the door? Will you kiss me? Touch me? Where? Would you be slow and gentle, or rough, insistent? Maybe we’d just talk. Maybe this is a joke you’re playing on me. Maybe my inauthenticity disgusts you. Under the table, I rub my damp palms on the hem of my skirt. I venture a glance up at the counter. You aren’t there.

6:30.

I’ll just leave. I’ll throw away my food and leave and never come back here, never see your gray eyes again. I stand up fast and rush my barely eaten food to the trash, dump it in. But my hands are shaking and I drop the tray when I try to set it on top of the stack. I pick it up and place it more carefully. Peek into my purse at my phone. 6:31.

I glance across the restaurant toward the hall where the bathrooms are. It’s shadowed and empty. The door to the ladies’ room opens and a woman emerges and makes her way back to her table. And then, somehow, without my having told them to, my feet are carrying me toward that dark hallway. I’ll just… wash my hands. My insides are still whirling. My skin has turned to cotton candy, gossamer and dissolvable.

In the bathroom, I wash my hands, dry them. Blink at my reflection. I look like cotton candy too, wispy and pink, ready for unraveling. I can’t seem to register the other details I know are in the mirror, my stick-straight hair, my thin little collarbones with the gold chain and cross, my tasteful white button-down.

Back in the hallway, I stand before a red door marked Employees Only, my hand resting on the metal lever, my heart hammering painfully in my chest. It is 6:33. I almost turn to flee, but then the lever drops and the door opens and you’re on the other side of it, pulling it open, taking my hand and drawing me in. We make eye contact and your face is different, not smirking anymore. Your eyes are soft. You lead me down a short, brightly lit hall that has a bulletin board on the wall with lots of papers tacked to it. There is a door on the other side marked Manager, and you tug me through it and push it closed without turning on the lights. Before the door clicks shut, I see a desk with a computer and a neat stack of papers, in the corner a tall filing cabinet. Now I see nothing. Your arm brushes my side, reaching past me, and I hear the metallic click of the door lock.

Your fingertips find my hips in the dark and nudge me backward until my shoulder blades make contact with the door. You step closer, so close that I can feel your body heat, can smell the cilantro again, the herbal soap underneath. Your hands rest light on my hip bones and your lips float against my neck, my cheek, my ear. My breath is pouring out of me in ragged bursts, as frantic and tremulous as if I’m hiding from a monster.

I am.

“Please,” I whisper. “Please.” I don’t know what I’m asking for.

Your mouth opens against my neck, hot and humid, and your fingers skate up to my breasts, slowly picking open the buttons of my blouse, laying me bare a few inches at a time.

“Is this what you wanted?” you whisper close to my ear, and goose bumps spring up all over my arms. You skim the naked skin of my sternum with your knuckles, then slide your hands under my flesh-colored, laceless bra and cup my virgin flesh. It’s virgin to you, virgin to this, inexperienced with sin. The women in the videos flicked their tongues for the camera, for the men who they must have known would watch and not for each other. I wished they would care for each other more.

My hands seek your curves, hesitantly tug your shirt from your waistband, explore the skin beneath. Out there you were all sharp angles, but here in the dark, you’re warm and soft. Your abdomen flexes at my touch, then expands with an intake of breath. You bring your mouth to mine but don’t kiss me—you just inhale my breath and lean your forehead against mine. The room is quiet, pulsing with anticipation and impossibility. My eyes are adjusting to the dark—the sliver of light from under the door is enough to see the outline of your face, to see that you are watching me, studying me. My fingertips tremble against your skin.

One of your hands slips out from under my bra, and I feel your knuckles brush my cheek. “Do you want this?” You whisper this with your forehead still leaning against mine, your warm breath flowing into my mouth, a sweet wind from a forbidden garden.

Please.” I palpate the ridges of your rib cage, timid and uncertain. I want to grab you and pull you tight to me, want to know how it would feel to have our bodies pressed together, but my hands won’t let me do it. I can’t move.

The hand at my cheek falls, then slides back under my bra. You squeeze my breasts, pinching my nipples between your fingers, handling me gently but firmly, slowly but resolutely, like you’re trying to convey to me in a few minutes all that I have missed over decades.

Your tongue slips between my lips and into my mouth, and something cracks open inside me, it’s like a lid being popped off a jar that’s had too much pressure building inside it. I don’t know how to do this, I’m sucking at you, your tongue, your lips, wanting you to feel my hunger, wanting you to feed me. Hard or soft? Soft. Do you feel how hungry I am? All those moments spent staring at you over the glass divider, but I’ve never eaten, never been sated, you know I am an empty vessel, Jesus, please bless this nourishment we are about to receive.

I moan into your mouth, and you say Shhh into mine and slide your hands down my body, down the fronts of my thighs and up under my skirt, between my legs, cupping me over my underwear. A gasp tears out of me and you whisper against my cheek, “You have to come quietly.” My knees go rubbery. I almost come right then into your unmoving palm.

Your other arm goes behind my back and pulls me closer, presses my pelvis into your hand. I writhe against you, buck my hips, and you laugh, quiet and whispery. Your palm cupping me over my underwear is so knowing, so gentle but sure. Your middle finger has found my center over the fabric and is circling, and I’m trembling, my whole body is vibrating. I have to hook my arms around your neck to keep myself upright. White spots glitter in my peripheral vision like stars.

Your mouth is at my neck again, warm and petal soft, exhaling your want on my skin, sending fields of goose bumps blooming down my arms and legs. You slip both hands up my back and unfasten my bra, then push the front up over my breasts, out of the way, and suck at my hardened nipple. Your thumbs hook into the waistband of my skirt and push it and my underwear to the floor and then your hand is between my legs again, swiping your fingers down my slit like you swiped my credit card, then sliding easily into my wetness, filling me. “Please,” I whisper again because you’re destroying me, upheaving me, replacing me. I never want it to stop.

You laugh again, that mocking, whispery laugh, because you know what I want, and you know I’ve never had it before. You saw right through me from the first day I walked in. You plunge into me with your fingers, in and out, filling me, and the words “eat my pussy” come rushing out of me, I can’t believe I said it, but it makes you gasp and jam your fingers deeper inside me, and I ride myself down on your hand while you drop to your knees and flatten your tongue against my clit and lick me in long, unbearable strokes. I grab your soft hair and pull, spread my legs and push myself into your face, and you grunt, moan into me, holy Christ you’re sucking my clit, you’re everywhere, in my every cell, crackling, sizzling, killing me, and with one more thrust of your fingers, I come undone. Hot waves of ecstasy roll over me in rapid succession, drowning me, submerging me, baptizing me.

You remain on your knees, your lips still softly kissing, soothing my flesh as my body trembles and seizes and tries to make sense of what has just been done to it. I’m still gasping for breath.

“What’s your name?” I whisper to the darkness.

“Emily,” you say and then you slide your tongue into my folds again, as if to make sure I never forget it. I won’t.

I put a hand on either side of your face and draw you up to standing, kiss my wetness from your lips. “Emily,” I whisper, our mouths still touching. “I want you to wreck my life.”

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