Tradesies - Kelsey Lawson-Rogers

I got my first period in late 2002 or early 2003. It was around then too that I had a second set of braces removed, shed my childish Keds tennis shoes for whatever the cool kids were wearing at the time, and effectively gave up my daily sock, color coordination routine (ya know, circa 1991).


Unfortunately, Aunt Flo’s official arrival brought none of the goods—no butt, no boobs. But having by then become quite fluent in the art of pretend, I expertly curated curves where none existed, gradually replacing my Walmart padded bras and white cotton panties with the more expensive “natural-looking” Victoria’s Secret push-ups and matching thong underwear. And thus commenced a ridiculous game that I’ve since coined the “Battle of Bare Ass.”


The rules were simple: hear the dryer ding, race Father to the laundry room so as not to keep having to fish pairs of “butt floss” from various garbage cans around the house. For a while I had him convinced that every single pair belonged to my best friend, Breanna. Her unmentionables were not out of place in our laundry considering how at that time, she spent ninety-five percent of her days and nights at our house. But eventually Dad wised up because “there’s no way she was going through that many pairs of panties” or more likely, he didn’t approve of her wearing them any more than he did me. His always-concern was what people would think. This was also my concern, but for very different reasons. Quite the little smart ass, I came up with the most remarkable of dramatically rational pro-thong arguments: “Dad! People are far more likely to notice a panty line than the lack thereof!” Once or twice, I might’ve even spouted off how every time he tossed my “butt floss,” he was (by way of my mother) effectively trashing ten or more of his own dollars. I was such a little shit.


By December of 2003, my sophomore year of high school, there were no more panty raids and I was no longer a virgin. As far as I can tell, there’s no actual correlation here. Maybe so, but more likely the loss of innocence had much more to do with my having by then also tried (and really enjoyed) alcohol and (respectively) competed for the title of Miss Louisiana Teen USA. Funny, until recently I never quite realized how similar the feelings produced by these things; but the realization definitely explains a lot:


I was fifteen years old and realizing, for the first time, my highly dramatic love-hate relationship with the world as I knew it. It was a very small world indeed but that mattered not; for as far as I was concerned, those moments were little more than stepping stones—why not recklessly enjoy each and every one with as much reckless abandon as I could muster?


I was having the time of my life. But as we all know, there’s no such thing as a fairy godmother and wands don’t actually work outside of Hogwarts, so living life as if immune of consequence was probably not the best idea.





I lost my V-card on a Friday night. He who took it was a beautiful, intelligent older man—a senior at my high school who’d recently been accused of rape. Perhaps accused is too strong a word. Actually it was more like a rumor, started when his most recent conquest got all worried what our school peers would think when they found out she’d had sex—OH MY! I still don’t know what it amounted to—accusation, rumor, or twisted words—and honestly it doesn’t really matter because he wasn’t particularly forceful with me, and I was a highly willing participant besides.


It was mid-October. I was still getting used to the whole “being popular” thing, living on the high of placing third runner-up at Miss Louisiana Teen USA (i.e., the high of being assured that I was damn pretty and thus, perhaps actually worth something), and nursing a major case of teenage hormones when Darren, Mr. Virginity Taker, caught my eye. Naively I assumed that no one, least of all him, noticed the infatuation; though really how could anyone miss it?


For a whole month Darren and I didn’t speak. Rather, just after lunch I’d rush immediately to the hallway housing my locker and his next class. (I realize now that I gave him little choice but to meet my feverish gaze day after day, but at the time I imagined our glances were sexy and knowing.) I also imagined that these frantically coy encounters were mine and Darren’s little secret—surely no one else was the wiser. I was wrong.


One day, my cheeks still pink from the sexy smile, my first real boyfriend, Shawn, grabbed my arm hard and demanded loud enough for everyone including Darren to hear, “Do you like him?” That was the day it all became clear: I was head over heels in lust with Darren and so totally over my shaggy-haired, Hollister model-pretty actual boyfriend. And so I spent the next class hour planning our breakup.


Once it was done, I felt no remorse. I was, after all, much too concerned with myself to worry over Shawn’s pining, broken heart, and besides, his formerly sweet Golden Retriever-like qualities had become over the top as of late. (Eventually I found out that the clinginess was the result of a rapid decline into hard drug addiction, but I then had no point of reference for anything like that. Notably, there were times then and more recently when I felt personally responsible for his self-destruction; but as I’d later found out firsthand, addiction is a purely selfish disease.)


Darren drove a decked out pearl-white Chevy S-10 on airbags. By week two of school that year I knew the sound of it from a mile away. In fact, even before I knew his name my hands grew clammy at the sound of racing mufflers and deflating airbags, though I’ve never been what anyone might regard as an autophile. But Darren’s thick, straight, jet-black hair, smooth skin, chiseled face, and “pimpin’ ain’t easy” swagger conjured for me a millennial Prince Charming, and that truck was his literal white horse.


Shawn and I had been together for nearly two years, which meant that by the time of the breakup, when Darren finally learned my name and then somehow obtained my (first ever!) cell phone number, I was a virgin in only the most technical sense of the word. And as it was, the rape accusation against him did nothing to deter me. In fact, if anything, it seemed to further fuel my need to have his perfect hands ravage my young, supple body.


It is an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in late November when a girlfriend pulls me aside. “Shawn is telling everyone that you’re going to sleep with Darren tonight. That’s so not cool. You need to tell him to stop.” She seems genuinely concerned, and considering that she is far more experienced than I, both in the ways of the popular girls and sex, I have the wherewithal to act absolutely appalled, though the rumor is true and frankly, I feel a sick sense of satisfaction in knowing that people are actually whispering about me. For the sake of the gossip mill, I thank her loudly then march the ten or so feet to where Shawn stands alone, waiting for his ride.


“What the hell is your problem?” I shout at his back. He turns slowly, his face reddening, then stares at me with those damn puppy-dog-sad eyes for long enough to make me fully uncomfortable before finally asking, “What?”


“You heard me,” I demand, though less assertively now, having noticed a teacher eyeing us just a few feet away. His blank stare makes me wonder though if he has actually heard me. I grab his arm and pull him away from possible eavesdroppers. Let them think what they want—that’ll make for a more interesting retelling later.


“Shawn. Seriously. I’m sorry I hurt you or whatever but you have no right starting rumors about me.”


“What rumor?” he asks, further perplexing me.


“That I plan to fuck Darren tonight!”


This comes out louder than intended and the teacher looks towards us again, a worried look on his face.


“Don’t you?” he asks, monotone.


“Well … I … it’s none of your business but actually, no. So stop telling people that.”


The sputtering is not an act. I’m just suddenly completely unsure how a conversation like this should go.


“Whatever, Kel,” he says, and his pet name for me stabs a little.


He turns then and moves so he’s standing closer to the teacher.


I feel triumphant and ride the wave home, then straight over to a friend’s house. Debbie’s parents are super laid back, letting us do whatever we wanted, whenever, and with whomever. Plus, she’s the only one of us to already have a driver’s license. My excitement ebbs (but only slightly) when Deb confronts me, also about the rumor. I lie mercilessly from my station in her bathtub where I spend a good hour shaving every nook and cranny of my still adolescent body.


“Ugh! Deb, you know me better than that! I would never just have sex with someone I barely even know.”


Saying this aloud makes me giddy with anticipation and I turn the faucet back on so as not to hear her response. Debbie, unlike me, believes Darren fully capable of rape and is thus suspicious and untrusting of his very being. As it’d turn out, as it always turns out when it comes to her assessment of guys in my life, he really wasn’t to be trusted. (But probably, even if I had known what the near future might bring, I’d have still done it. Hey self: sorry, not sorry. Also, Deb—it’s been years, but you deserve to derive at least a little pleasure in my saying this: you were so right and I was so wrong.)


It’s dark when we arrive at the address Darren texted earlier. The excitement and spreading warmth in my lower abdomen are just enough to outweigh the sketchy feel of the scene. The evening is slated as a “bonfire” at one of Darren’s pals; but the run-down, seeming abandoned trailer home is set so far back from the road that we drive past it three times before finally spotting the opening in a sagging, vine-covered chain link fence.


Bumping along the potholed gravel drive the streetlights become fully obscured. My stomach twists uncomfortably as the blackness envelopes us, and I’d probably have told Deb to turn around had the pearl-white chariot not appeared, as if by magic, a moment later. The steel-stallion glows from beneath with lazily changing rave-colored lights and I immediately feel the vibration from its bass. My nether region dampens and my resolve resettles—tonight is the night.


A few moments later Breanna, Debbie, and I tumble from the car in a cloud of cigarette smoke and heavy perfume. I immediately break out in a nervous sweat and curse myself for having dressed for the month rather than the weather. Checking myself out in Deb’s mom’s full-length mirror before we left, I felt oh-so-sexy in low-slung white Hollister jeans, a clinging burgundy sweater, and knock-off Birkenstocks, but now, as the cigarette smoke from Deb’s car mixes with that of the smoke-only “bonfire,” I wish fervently for a change of clothes and a hair tie. Few things can ruin a hair-straightening job like Louisiana humidity.


Both doors of Darren’s truck stand wide open since it’s apparently acting as the evening’s sound system, and it takes my eyes a moment to adjust before I notice him resting, near vertically, in his own passenger seat. He doesn’t rouse but smiles slowly and sexy in my direction, then gestures for me to come close. Despite the nervous sweat I feel on my back and the ever-increasing poofiness of my hair, I don’t hesitate.


When I’m close, he shifts as if scooting over to make room for me, but I notice that his body doesn’t actually move, not even a centimeter. He holds out an arm indicating I should take my place beside/half on top of him and again I don’t hesitate. Even so, I can’t force my body to relax into him and find myself thoroughly uncomfortable, rigid with nerves as I watch my friends a few feet away gather around the sorry excuse of a fire. Deb sulks and lights another cigarette. Breanna instantly becomes the center of everyone’s attention, swaying her perfect curves in time with the truck’s rumbling music. Every few seconds she laughs loudly so that her ample breasts jiggle seductively. I watch with a strange mix of envy, hate, love, and lust. For sure, she’s in her element and I am so not.


Before tonight Darren and I have not discussed the status of my virginity, so I know that he doesn’t necessarily know that he will have the honor of taking it. Even so, I can tell by the way his lips keep grazing any exposed skin he can find, that neither of us expect anything less.


“Do you want to go inside?” he whispers, after only a few minutes. I’m not sure if it’s the words or the fiery sensation of his breath on my already too-hot skin, but any slight chance of my working the “hard to get” angle dissolves quicker than the smooth shininess of my hair. I nod, my throat suddenly very dry. He shifts as if to rise but I don’t move to let him. Instead, I boldly stroke his upper thigh. His breath catches and his jeans grow instantly tauter. It’s nearly my immediate undoing, but nerves and/or self-preservation tell me we just can’t disappear unnoticed, so soon.


I tease, stroking his hardness playfully, secretly, and he relaxes back into the reclined seat, a quiet moan escaping his throat. I giggle at this and my own boldness—so new and exciting—then turn to explain. But his lips find mine and my resolve wavers further when his silky, expert tongue flicks my own. “Just a few more minutes, okay?” I whisper into his mouth. He moans again, agonized, and my response, “I know,” is muffled by an even deeper kiss.


I stroke his desire more persistently until, abruptly, he pushes me to my feet and rises behind me. He stays where he’s at for a moment, adjusting I assume, and I can feel his eyes on me as I move to make small talk with the group of his and my friends crowded awkwardly around the too-smoky makeshift firepit. When I can take it no longer, I ask loudly where the bathroom is. I’m staring at him pointedly when I say this, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.


“Um, Darren?” I say, louder now.


Slowly, he pulls his eyes from their point of focus behind me. I wink surreptitiously but it takes him longer than it should have to note my motive. His eyes flick behind me again and I turn, curious, barely catching the smirk on Bre’s lips before her head whips in the opposite direction. Somehow emboldened by this, I move to reach for his hand, effectively and quite purposefully blocking his view. He waits a beat then takes my outstretched hand.


“I was wondering where the bathroom was,” I say for the benefit of anyone close enough to hear. “Can you show me?”


His eyes move from my face to the fire, then slowly back to me. He nods and a smile plays on his perfect lips. Stupidly, I believe it a smile just for me.


He moves away from the group and lets go of my hand. My heart and confidence plummet, but still I follow him through tall, ominous-looking weeds toward the back door of the trailer. Once inside, I ask where his friend’s parents, the homeowners, are.


“Not here,” is all that matters.


He shows me to a tiny bedroom packed full of expensive-looking gadgets. An extravagant sound system and big-screen television crowd one wall while an unmade twin-sized bed cramps the other. The sheets on the bed are Batman themed. Some rap song I’ve never heard plays low from the speakers and the fluorescent display reads “Tupac.” All I can think is how impersonal and utterly romantic it all feels. The only light comes from the stereo and a stolen neon beer sign hanging above the door.


I look around slowly, showing far more interest than necessary in all the gadgets. I’m suddenly very nervous and for some reason have that strange sinking sensation happening in my gut again. Darren sits on the bed, answering my questions monosyllabically before finally, impatiently, reaching for me. He pulls me, awkwardly again, onto his lap and begins running his lips along my jawline. I forget all qualms immediately and shift so that I am seated next to, rather than on top of, him.


He runs both hands hungrily over my clothed body and dumbly, I blurt, “Who’s Tupac?” He grimaces and later I realize that this was probably the first real strike against me; or better yet, the second— the first having been bringing my beautiful, bouncy-breasted, blonde friend along for the night.


He doesn’t even try to explain, instead kissing me deep and smoothly maneuvering our bodies to a horizontal position. When I have reason, later, to explore the “what if’s”— all those things I should have done differently—I think how I should have stopped him there, as soon as he began to explore beneath my sweater. But in the moment, I am basically putty in his experienced hands and don’t hesitate for even a moment.


He pulls my sweater over my head and taking the cue, I do the same for him. I am on my back now and he props up on his side next to me, the easier for our mouths to meet. I traced the chiseled boniness of his chest and abdomen with a single finger, marveling while he kisses my ear, neck, then breastbone. When I make it as low as possible, his mouth finds mine and the taste—like desperate desire—fuels my courage. I reach for his belt buckle.


Once in his boxers, he slides to his knees on the floor next to the bed and begins working open the line of buttons at the crotch of my pants. He uses his tongue then and something about my writhing response makes him stop long enough to ask, “Hey, have you ever done this before?”


I don’t answer because I don’t want him to stop. Instead I sit up and pull on his arms until he’s half standing, half stretched on top of me. I use both hands to release and caress his erection. He lets out what sounds almost like a growl and I have to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from giggling. For a moment, I feel so powerful and I love it. He turns away then. Instinctively I know what he’s doing. I lay back to wait, listening to the telltale sounds of a rustling foil packet. A second later, he grabs my legs and gruffly pulls me to the edge of the bed. Just as he, groaning, maneuvers himself into me for the first time, I hear my phone ringing from the pocket of my discarded pants.


To be sure, it feels odd. But for me, that’s pretty much the extent of it. I try moving this way and that, touching and moaning the way I’ve seen in movies. I legit try everything I can think—an effort to feel anything besides the slight rhythmic ache between my legs and a strange, fast-spreading emptiness in the general area of my heart.


After an immeasurable time, I grow impatient, listening to my cell phone buzz again and again. Darren, none the wiser, just keeps thrusting, harder and faster. My “moves” clearly aren’t helping, so finally I let myself just lie back to wait, fake moaning every few seconds for good measure. I close my eyes and wonder why he isn’t kissing me anymore—aren’t people supposed to kiss when they make love? He gropes the pads of my bra, grunting, and I’m just starting to fabricate the half-lies I’ll tell Deb, when he stops … finally. He lets out a long, low, “ahhhhh” and I feel a new, too brief, almost pleasurable sensation. The contraction of his ejaculating penis and the knowledge that I “made” it happen are enough to turn me on again—just in time for it not to matter anymore.


Just as soon as his now-limp manhood is out of me, I sit up and fumble for my phone. I skim the call log and a series of ever-angrier texts as I dress.


“I gotta go,” I say, wrestling with my undershirt.


He doesn’t respond and I don’t have time to wonder about this—Deb is fed up and she and Bre are leaving me. I speed walk back the way we’d come a half hour prior, fumbling all the way to get my sweater back over my head. Just as I reach the door, it bursts open and there’s Deb, her face splotched red with fury. “We are leaving, now,” she growls, turning back as soon as she spies me, clearly disgusted. I follow, trying in vain to get my arm in the right sleeve. She’s fast and, well, furious and I’ve barely closed the back car door before she’s speeding down the dark driveway, gravel flying, smoke billowing from her open window.


“Deb, I’m sorry. Really. I mean, we didn’t do it, I swear. We were just messing around.” I ramble lies because the silence is suffocating. She acknowledges my words only by turning the radio to full blast and lighting another cigarette.


It’s only a few miles back to her house but it feels like the drive takes hours. I pull out my tiny blue cell phone to check for a message from Darren. Nothing. I put it away and stare out the car window, trying to gather my thoughts over the insanely loud music. I pull my phone out again, just to check. I text Breanna who sits in the front seat, so close I can reach out and touch her: what the f is her problem?


A moment later, I see Bre pick up her phone. She stares at it for a long moment, clearly reads my message, and sets it back into the cup holder next to her. She turns and stares out of her own window and I can see the smugness, even in profile, even in the dark. A sort of vibration starts somewhere deep in me, radiating out until my teeth are chattering, though I’m not physically cold. I don’t understand what is going on—with Bre, with Deb, with Darren, or with me.


When we get back to the house the other two girls go straight to Deb’s room and close the door behind them. I hesitate on the other side, unsure what to do with myself. I pull the plastic phone out of my pocket again. The screen is normal, indicating no missed calls or messages, but I check the message log anyway, just in case.


Nothing.


I stand frozen in the hallway for several minutes before finally getting angry enough to slam into the room where I can hear my traitor friends snickering in the dark. Neither of them acknowledges me. I grab my overnight bag, slam the door behind me, then slam the door of the bathroom across the hall for good measure. I flip the switches for the vanity light and heater and study my face for a long time. It looks no different which dumbly surprises me. I check my phone again. I run the bath water as hot as it’ll go and undress. I place the phone on the edge of the tub then sink into the nearly-scalding water to wait—for his call, and more important now, for the trembling to stop.


I stayed this way for hours, checking my phone so often that eventually it died. I’m unsure when, but eventually the heat or the act of bathing or emotional exhaustion eases the quavering.


When I finally emerge, both friends are sound asleep effectively taking up all bed space, ensuring I have nowhere to sleep. Normally I’d have just scooted Bre over since we sleep in the same bed most nights anyway but tonight, something stops me. Instead I find a blanket on the floor of the laundry room, ignoring how it smells slightly of wet dog, and lay down alone on the couch in the living room. I can’t sleep and so I replay in my imagination, again and again, the events of the evening. I contemplate my next move and what I should do different next time … if there is a next time. I think how important it is that I start playing hard to get; Bre’s always telling me how men like a challenge.


Falling back on memorized movie sex scenes, I contemplate ways to make sex better for both he and I. And then, just before sunrise, it dawns on me: I’m just no good at it; I lack some innate instinct—sex appeal? I want too much, to please, to gain reassurance rather than physical pleasure. Neither that night, nor in all the years of solicitous encounters that will follow, will my objective ever be purely physical, and apparently the male species has some radar for that. The deepest need was—would always be—to feel special, wanted, and affirmed, and that was, as Bre always points out, so unattractive.


Eventually, Darren does call (or more likely, text) and at some point I find myself bold (or desperate) enough to reach out to him myself. I’m horny, I type when the loneliness became too much, and so our whole “relationship” consists of several more hurried trysts until one day, as if he’s finally figured out what my code word actually means (horny=oh so needy), he gives me the ultimate shaft.


Not even three months after I gave him my “most precious gift,” he sweet talks his way into Bre’s pants, ultimately capturing her “gift” too and with it, our friendship.


Lesson learned …


If only.

Kelsey Lawson-Rogers is an MFA-Creative Writing graduate candidate at Mississippi University for Women and has just completed her first full-length work. A memoir-esque collection of personal essays, "Dark Horse: a re-Collection" details the ups and downs of childhood in the Deep South, focusing particularly on years spent as part of the beauty pageant circuit. Currently, Kelsey's time revolves around her brand new twin boys born at just 29-weeks gestation.

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