Written by: Bruce Kalish
Shelby and I entered my apartment, our clothes soaked from the pouring rain. We kicked off our soggy shoes as Shelby laughed about my weather forecasting abilities.
“No, Shelby. You don’t need a jacket. The clouds are going to burn off. They always do. It’s Southern California” Shelby was mocking the speech I gave her two hours earlier when I picked her up from her apartment to go play softball.
It was Sunday and exactly two months to the day I suffered the head injury. Things were going well with Shelby, work was progressing and best of all, there were no more headaches and everything had seemingly returned to normal. At my two-month check-up, my doctor showed guarded optimism. I thought best not to discuss with him my celebrity visits, as I was sure I’d be locked up, and truthfully, I was starting to enjoy and look forward to them.
It was good to get back to playing softball, one of the two things I haven’t returned to doing since the accident. I went 1 for 3 at bat and committed only one error in the field, which you really can’t blame me, as I was I was thinking about Shelby sitting in the stands wearing that ultra tight t-shirt, and noticing I didn’t see any bra straps underneath. The ball missed my head by inches. But if thinking of Shelby’s body was the last thing I ever thought about before my untimely death, it was all right with me.
I was up to bat with the winning run in scoring position when the thunder and lightning started and though I wanted to play on, Shelby reminded me that the bat was made out of metal and with my luck…
I dropped the bat and we ran home as the skies opened up and it poured down on us.
She stood in my living room shivering. “Hot chocolate?” I asked, hoping Baron Goldberg, my roommate, hadn’t finished off the remaining packs I “borrowed” from my office’s coffee station.
“Yeah, sure. But first I need to get out of these clothes and into something dry.” Shelby was a girl who knew what she wanted.
“What you need is a hot shower,” burst from my mouth. Was this me trying to seduce Shelby or me channeling my mother’s irrational fear of catching pneumonia?
She looked at me with her soft eyes. “Sounds delicious.”
Despite a 137 IQ, I am an idiot. There she was standing inches from me in her rain-drenched t-shirt, no bra, nipples beaming like an army poster, pointing at me saying I Want You! Which reminded me of the other thing I hadn’t done since the accident and not as often as I might have claimed to friends before the accident. And even less times with someone else in the room. I wanted to say how much I wanted her right then. How I desired her. How I had to have her.
But what came out of my mouth was “Be careful, the hot and cold knobs are reversed.” Apparently I am not the stud I imagined myself to be.
Shelby smiled, not showing relief or disappointment. She stood there, looking at me for a good minute, then smiled at me. “You’re funny, Kyle.”
I’m not funny. I’m scared. I’m stupid. I’m weak. I’m losing you. I’m nauseous. Apparently, that blow to my head two months ago also knocked my balls off. So I just looked at her and smiled a half-smile. “Thanks.”
Shelby whipped her wet hair around and headed for the bathroom. I was going to ram my head against the wall but decided the noise might disturb Shelby. I am such a pussy! Before making the hot chocolate, I opted to take a quick shower in Baron’s bathroom to warm myself up or better yet, drown.
Though, I am a normal single male who cleans his apartment, when there’s a chance of a female coming over, by cramming dirty clothes from the floor into the closet or the empty pizza, cereal and cracker boxes into the darkness under my bed. Baron, to his credit, is not ashamed of who he is and the squalor he lives in. I’ve often thought of calling the television show “Hoarders” as Baron’s room alone would pay our rent for years.
It took me a minute or so to push the door open and make my way through to his bathroom, which was relatively clean in comparison to his room. Well, except for the several boxes of “junk” piled on the sink and the naked middle-aged woman amidst the bubbles in the bathtub.
“AGGGGH!” Was my first response as I backed up against the sink spilling the boxes to the floor. I scrambled to pick up the mess I created.
“I wouldn’t bother,” came the firm voice from the attractive woman in the tub. “I think your roommate has strudel on the noodle.”
“I am so sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here. I’m going,” I stammered as I turned around and tried to exit the bathroom, though the fallen boxes had jammed the door closed.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m the visitor here. I have all the vital places appropriately covered with bubbles. And, most importantly, I’m here to see you.”
She was so matter of fact about it all, I had to turn around. “You’re here to see me? Why are you in a tub?”
“It’s a good place to take a bath, don’t you think? And, I do my best thinking in the tub. I’m Esther Lederer, but you might know me better as Ann Landers.” She smiled and started to rise.
“Don’t get up!” I leaned down and shook her hand. Of course I knew Ask Ann Landers, twin sister to Dear Abby, the two most famous advice columnists there ever were. “My mom loved you. She even wrote you for some advice a few years back. She signed it, Mother of a Nut in Hollywood.”
“I remember the letter well. I wrote her back, and I quote, ‘One in four people in this country are mentally unbalanced. Think of your three closest friends; if they seem okay, then you’re the one.’“ Ann took the bar of soap from the side of the bath and a washcloth and handed to me. “Be a dear and scrub my back.”
I started to get embarrassed and then realized if Ann is a figment of my imagination, then washing the back of someone who really isn’t there was perfectly normal. I took the washcloth and soap and got on my knees outside the tub and began to wash her back.
“Did your Mom ever seek psychiatric help for the entire family like I recommended?”
I shook my head no.
Without even looking around to see, Ann nodded knowingly. “That would explain why I’m here. Let me see how I can put this in today’s language and still keep it ladylike… Where’s your sack? You’re ball-less. You’re a pussy.”
Her words hit home, so of course, I denied it immediately and vigorously. “Me? Afraid? You don’t know as much as you think you do, Ann Landers!”
She turned and winked at me. “Probably not. But then, why are you in here, rubbing the back of a woman old enough to be your mother instead of in the hot steamy shower rubbing the back of your girlfriend?”
Advantage lady of the tub. I thought, what the hell, if I can’t talk to Ann Landers, who can I talk with. “Okay. Normally, sex doesn’t terrify me. But Shelby means something to me. It’s just different. I think I love her but I know I love our friendship. What happens if sex ruins everything?”
“Get my neck now, will you?” I scrubbed her neck. She sighed. “Love and friendship can coexist. Love is just friendship that’s caught fire.”
I thought about that and agreed. Shelby and I have certainly caught fire. “I can trust you, right?”
“I’m letting you wash my back, aren’t I?”
I couldn’t argue with that. “Well, Miss Landers, I’m not as experienced as I may come across to you.”
Ann turned around and just gave me a look. She immediately saw right through my false bravado and turned back around. “So you’re differentiating sex and making love. Sex is great. Making love, in my humble opinion, is better.”
“I can do sex,” I stammered. “It’s making love I’ve never done. Where do you learn how to do that?”
Ann Landers laughed, “Making love is not something you learn. You can’t read how to do it in a book or Google it online. It’s personal to each and every one of us. It expresses something inside of us for that other person, and they in return, for you.”
It sounded so easy and beautiful coming from her. “And if I’m not enough? Or I’m too quick? Or I mess it up? Or, I’m…?”
“Kyle, shut up. Your mother should have gotten you help when I suggested. Look, the first time is never perfect… and it’s absolutely perfect. It’s the first time and the first time will never happen again with you and that person. Hand me a towel.”
I took the last clean towel from the towel bar and opened it up. I turned away from Ann Landers as she rose out of the tub and took the towel.
“You can look at me again, Kyle.” I turned back, as she had wrapped the towel around herself. “Kyle, the beauty of being in love and making love… Is that you can do it over and over again until you think you have it right. Then when you do it again, you realized it even gets righter. ”
It’s really hard to argue with the common sense she was dishing out. So I didn’t. “I just go do it?”
Ann smiled. “Someone has to start it.”
“And how do I start it?” I asked.
“Okay, Kyle. My advice stops. If you want, I can send for Rudolph Valentino or Frank Sinatra if you really want to know.”
“That won’t be necessary. I get your point. Like the Nike ad says, Just do it.” I turned to look at myself in the mirror and saw a fire building in my eyes. When I turned back, Ann Landers was gone. There was no water in the tub, the towel was still on the towel bar. “Thank you.” With a new determination, I pried open Baron’s door and headed to my own bathroom.
I opened my bathroom door, Shelby was still in the shower. “Is that you Kyle?”
I could see her beautiful outline through the steamed glass of the shower door. “Yep. It’s me,” I confidently said as I stripped off my damp clothing, grabbing a towel and rubbing my shriveled, cold penis to bring some warmth and dignity to it.
“Did you make the hot chocolate?”
I opened the shower door and for the first time saw the astounding beauty of her nakedness. She turned, unashamed and looked at my nakedness. I stood strong, not running like almost every part of me wanted to do. “No. I don’t want hot chocolate. I want you.”
She looked deep into my eyes for what seemed like hours. Then a smile crossed her face that sprung me to life. “Good. Me, either. Get in here.” I did.