“Jules” by Samantha Tetangco
Jules has eyes that speak what her mouth never does and you love her, or at least you think you might. There is something about her that makes you feel calm. You met her at a party, one of those out-of-control-wake-up-the-next-morning-and-don’t-remember-a-thing-but-ask-your-friends-if-you-did-anything-stupid kind of parties. She was holding up the wall and nursing a drink the way you used to do when you had been less damaged and less inclined towards self-destruction. You’ll learn later that she was drawn to the way you wove through the drunken tumble of people as if you possessed some sort of purpose. You didn’t, but you never tell her this and she never asks. You were wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. She asked you if you were cold and when you looked down, you noticed the goose bumps blushing across your bare breasts. She gave you her sweater and with her heat mingled Tide detergent, Jack Daniels, and something that made you pulse inside and want to push her against her wall. To taste her tongue while your hands slipped onto the small of her back.
Born in Ontario, a town on the eastern border of Oregon, she learned how to be a white person with brown skin. She found other people’s cultures in lecture halls at UC Berkeley; she thinks herself an artist. You’ll recognize yourself through the way she captures the color of your right shoulder, her brushstrokes thick with unsaid words. But this comes later.
It is nine months before she finds you again—long enough for you to birth a new break-up. You sit with your heart fermenting. Across the bar, she holds you with eyes so dark you have to get closer. She smells of popcorn and sweat and possibilities. The world slows down; your blood pumps blood again. She takes you home. The sheets are newly damp when Jules tells you about the way she spent her dating years tangled in a relationship that took longer than it needed to end. It is her only relationship; you have had too many to count. She is not damaged; you have been recycled over and over until you are no longer sure if any part of you is still pure.
When you stop and pay attention, you realize that she now fills your weeks, your days, your hours. And when the sex turns to love, you both feel it, and Jules cries. Your chin is still dripping when she guides you to her with fingertips. She kisses you, kisses herself. Buries her head into the crook of your neck. Asks you to hold her even though in a moment, you will slip away.
You know what you are about to do. It’s a fear of intimacy thing, a mistrust thing, an undeserving thing. And you know that if you let it, it could work. It could work. But you find yourself following her roommate upstairs while Jules sleeps. You know why Rachel asks you in. Why she opens a bottle of wine and tells you she is too lazy for glasses. Why she watches the way you lick the wine off your lips as you drink it from the bottle. It is—in its way—inevitable.
Rachel tastes like oranges.
The intake of breath pulls across your bare skin. You feel the indecisive lingering. And then it is gone. Her door closes quietly, a sound so soft it could be in your head, and you should follow her. But the ache in your chest rises to the back of your throat. You stifle it, but it leaks out of your eyes. Rachel’s ignorant kisses wipe it away. And so you stay with her fumbling hands and leave Jules to her silence.
This is how you teach her what it is to love.