The thing about Julia was that she was perfect. It couldn’t be put any other way. She cooked for him, she cleaned for him, and it wasn’t that he forced her or asked her to play the role of housewife. She honestly enjoyed doing these things, and he honestly enjoyed watching television while she did it. They talked as she went along, they had fun, and they watched movies. They slept together at night in their apartment and their sex life was booming. There was nothing wrong with his life and he had a promising, enjoyable future with this girl that he wanted to spend his life with. Except for one thing. She was his first. He had never been laid before this one, and it just happened that the first girl he slept with was the love of his life. This wasn’t true in the reverse. Julia had had many sexual escapades, she had taught him how to screw.
Josh often thought about this. He was going to eventually enter marriage and spend the rest of his life with this person, and never ever know what was on the outside. He had no idea what other women would be like, no way to scale the experience against anything other than the experience itself. To solve this problem, he’d have to cheat. He thought about it often, what it would be like, and it wasn’t that he wanted to thwart Julia or hurt her, that had nothing to do with it. It had nothing to do with her. It was pure experimental curiosity. Yet he would never act on it. Couldn’t. He often worried that just thinking about it would lead to the action and he would, against his will, wreck the perfect relationship. But deep inside he knew that he’d have the final decision.
The thing was, he had a lot of decisions to make. He wasn’t bad looking, and girls often, if furtively, offered themselves to him. It wasn’t obvious, just a leaning over to help him with his textbook in the lounge, or maybe touching his shoulder in more than a friendly way. He took this as a compliment, and enjoyed telling his girlfriend about the events when he got home. It drove her up the wall and made her absolutely adorable. Still, he couldn’t help staring at them, too. They flirted with him, he took it as a compliment, and he stared right back. It was as if he were sending out signals, they were receiving them and responding, and then he did nothing. It must annoy them as much as it worried him.
So eventually it came down to this: Did Josh want to have this one experience, this one experience that would probably yield none of the understanding he expected, and potentially ruin the perfect life with the perfect girl, or live on, never knowing what lay over the stark walls of monogamy and pass away having missed one of the essential experiences of a life? The former made him feel like an asshole, the latter like a monk. He didn’t like either of those and was torn. Julia was none the wiser, because he didn’t act any differently. He loved her to death. Again, he convinced himself, it was completely apart from her.
He began to analyze the prospects. Just fantasies, really, no actual plans. Just what-ifs in skimpy skirts and tight shirts walking back and forth down the hall, sometimes giving him a toothy smile, a caressing touch in passing. Of course, he smiled right back as always. So it was really only a matter of time. Except he’d never do it. He could live off fantasies – indefinitely, couldn’t he? There were always alternatives. He could watch others in pornography or maybe even convince Julia of a threesome. But he knew the first would never keep him forever and the second would never happen. Would he like it if she invited a second man in?
So torn. Yet he knew that to do it, would be to break perfection. He would never be able to look at her again. Perhaps never even look at himself. What would probably happen would be that he’d become an asshole, one of those guys with a different girl every weekend until he got so old that the different girl every weekend dissolved into lying to his friends about the girl he got on the weekend, with no real prospects and a lonely life in front of him. But all this would really only be a front, to protect himself from himself. If he had to acknowledge what he’d done as himself, it would damn him eternally. It was much easier to take on another mantle with a different outlook. He could follow these what-ifs to the end of his lifespan and still they wouldn’t satisfy him. Just the idea of it wasn’t enough. He wanted to know.
How long did it go on like this? He couldn’t tell. He felt like he was cheating even by thinking it…but maybe if he did it just once, he’d have it out of his system, and be okay. Or would he become addicted to the thrill?
Eventually the waiting ended. Eventually one girl, Sarah, broke it for him. She was not the kind of girl to be secretive or suggestive. They were acquaintances from class and he knew that she had caught him staring many times. He knew that she liked it. And because of that, he liked it too. But before, that’s all it had been. A little bit of excitement in mathematics, to heat things up. Nothing more. But she had obviously had enough of that. One day she came up and simply asked.
“I noticed you staring at me. Would you like to stare at me some more?” She said, tilting her head just a little, the other students streaming around them like an indifferent river of black, white, and other colors.
Josh was simply taken aback. The shock of actual, obvious confrontation scared him and thrilled him at the same time. It was as if the words were both fuel and poison. A cold shiver went down his spine. This was the moment. Would he adventure or would he never know?
The words formed before he could control them. “Yes,” was all it took. And he was so foolish to think that he would have the final say in things.
She handed him her number. She told him tonight she didn’t have much homework, and told him which dorm she was in. Her friend would be out, and she had some interesting clothing she’d like to show him. She was going to give him a fashion show.
He left the class elated, feeling somehow free from all the previous worry. At the same time, something deep within him shifted uneasily. Was it his conscience? Maybe. More likely it was that little bit of him vaulted in behind his testicles that still retained reason, still retained the ability to look ahead. It said, masturbate. It said, go home and don’t go out. Do your homework.
He did have homework, didn’t he? If he just went home, and did that, this all would amount to nothing. It’d be even better: the girl would never bother him again. But the professors drop two homeworks every semester. So he’ll be fine, won’t he?
Four hours later and he was walking. Normally he rode his bike but for some reason the idea of getting to the dorms in fifteen minutes terrified him. Prolong the inevitable as long as possible. Except, it wasn’t inevitable, was it? It was cold out and he didn’t sweat during the walk, as he normally did. Thank God – didn’t want to smell bad, did he?
Julia was out, she worked as a server so for all she knew, he was at home doing his homework. He’d just say he played video games instead, if she asked why he was staying up so late to complete it.
He thought once about what his father had said to him. They had been talking about secrets, dangerous ones like cheating. He once said that if you accidentally screwed your secretary, of course you’d feel guilty. You’ll tell your spouse. But what would that really do? It would hurt them, and make you feel better. How selfish is that? He said that the better thing to do is to never do it again and live with it yourself. That was true love. But the circumstances were different there, weren’t they? He said that the secretary had attacked you originally, and you had been thrust into the situation. This was premeditated. Hell, he was walking there right as he thought this, having over forty-five minutes to contemplate it!
So then where does the justification come from? Curiosity? Scientists have built weapons that have killed millions just because they were curious enough that they disregarded their own morality and the consequences. It often had nothing to do with the money. It was the same thing here. So what was he, a monster in the making? Or was he already a monster? These thoughts nagged at him interminably as he saw the high ridge of the dorm hall draw closer.
Josh at the door of the building. Only an elevator flight up and then, warm, sweet, release. But wouldn’t it actually be the reverse? Instead of release, a caging? A closing of the jaws of guilt about him that he couldn’t escape? Now, so close to damnation, he knew this was a fact. Josh got on the elevator, pressed the correct floor, and the doors closed.
The hall was empty when he arrived, ominously silent. The whole world was watching him now, he could feel it, judging him. But was he judging himself?
The door. He raised his hand to knock. A moment of hesitation, a deep breath. The door opened and he dropped his hand. She had been waiting, and anxious. She invited him in discretely and shut the door, locked it. There were two beds, desks, various papers strewn about, and, behind him, a skimpily clad eighteen year old hottie whose name was Sarah. He turned and gulped it in. The dark lingerie on the pearly white skin, such different skin from his Julia’s. So good, so creamy. He wanted just to taste it – just once.
“I thought you might never come,” she said, and fixed one bra strap.
Again, without thinking: “I think I may still come.”
She smiled, but it was half hearted. Something was wrong. Josh glanced about, hands stuffed in his pockets. How awkward. Then he knew why. There, on the desk, a picture: Sarah with another man, holding each other. It was such a close press, such an intimate photo, Josh immediately knew these two had been dating for a while, like him and Julia.
She followed his glance and then their eyes both met once more. How strange it was, looking in a mirror. She reached for her bra strap again without a word, slid it down. One bare, pink nipple. She beckoned him, almost begged him to make the first move, all without the slightest gesture, the slightest whisper.
Josh’s hands left his pockets. For a second, the entirety of the universe and all of time pivoted about this one movement, this slow, lingering bob of his hand towards her breast. And then it was on the nipple, and they were kissing, passionately, more intimately than he had ever kissed Julia. And yet there was a foreignness to it, an unfamiliarity in the taste that he immediately didn’t like. He drew back in unintentional revulsion, and strangely enough, she did too.
“I think I liked it better when it was just a game,” she said, not meeting his eyes.
He let go of her. “So did I.”
She folded her arms, suddenly ashamed, he saw. “Why did we ever need to know?” She asked. “What was the point, when love is so much greater?”
“I don’t know,” was all Josh could answer.
“I wanted to give up the perfect man just for this, just for a single experience. An entire life for an orgasm,” she said sulkily. “What kind of monster am I?”
Josh stared at the floor, unblinking. He asked himself the same question. What kind of idiot had he been? He’d nibbled the forbidden fruit, but thank god he hadn’t eaten it whole. There lies damnation.
“I think it can still be okay,” he tried to convince her, and himself. “We stopped.”
She nodded. “I keep…trying to imagine it like we are characters in a story who grow and change. In real life nobody ever does that. They are who they are and there is no climax and no lesson learned. So what is this, then? Are we just afraid?”
Josh stuffed his hands back in his pockets. “I better go,” he said, and moved towards the door. She didn’t stop him.
The walk home was the longest he’d ever taken. Trading eternity for sex? What kind of idiot had he been! Curiosity over happiness? When had his IQ dropped? Walking instead of biking? Jesus! He laughed at himself. Suddenly, all the tension broke and suddenly he was pleased, smiling, seeing the beauty in every rock and nook on the sidewalk. Release. Lifelong happiness awaited, and there was nothing he wanted more than that, nothing he would ever risk for it. He was the luckiest man alive.
A girl in a skirt passed by him. He didn’t turn to look.
When Julia got home, they had a late dinner, watched a romantic comedy, and then went to bed.