“Sheets” by Annierra Matthews
I was a black girl virgin; my roommate’s moans and sighs and the repetition of her lover’s name—Danny—reminded me of that. She must’ve thought they sexed quietly in the small dorm room we shared. From the time they stumbled in, the wall I looked at spared me. I didn’t have to see them cover their mouths to stifle giggles or watch them trip over her sandals and his shirt when they undressed. I listened: to their come-here whispers, an unbuckled belt, a squealing mattress, the breaking of a thin condom wrapper.
If I’m honest, the progression of their sex sounded snug, like grainy, wet sand mushed between toes. He curbed small grunts; she whimpered for more. The wooden bed clanged—not too loud, steady. His head was probably in her neck while hers rested on a pillow. Her nails must’ve dug into his lower back. One of his hands could’ve held his weight as the other clenched her thigh. Or maybe she could’ve been on top of him, swiftly humping until his name reached the cobwebs in the ceiling corners. His hands could have squeezed her breasts or her ass—whichever was to her liking. It didn’t matter which way they screwed; they orgasmed either way.
She could hardly say his name; it barely reached the darkness they fucked in. He stuttered hers, remained on the K sound. They stilled, caught their breath. Someone got out of bed, slipped on their pants.
“Is it mine, Kate?”
She chuckled. “My pussy won’t ever be yours. How many times do I have to tell you?”
He sucked his teeth. “Really? After all this dick I gave you?”
She mimicked him.
“Don’t call me next time,” he said. “Maybe Jenna will pick up the phone. Hoe ass.”
Jenna was a prior lover she had over a couple weeks ago. Their parting was sweet, almost shy. They kissed once, twice, six times before Jenna left. And before she did leave, she told Kate to call her if she wanted anything else. She wasn’t demanding.
A slit of light fractured the dark room. Then a slam. I hid my face under the covers, hoped my roommate was okay.
“Niggas sometimes,” she mumbled.
Light from the bathroom creaked in. Drawers opened and shut. The door closed. The shower spilled from its head. I removed my covers, rubbed my eyes, and squinted at her sheets. They bragged about sexcapades I didn’t have. Hers with sweat and gripping fingers and bit bottom lips and bright climaxes. Mine with dreams of lovers and my brown nakedness they wanted. I often wondered how good they’d make me feel. How’d they’d say my name. If they’d be one minute or one hour. If my first time would ache. If they’d be pleased with my tricks. If I’d like theirs.
From her springy, natural, 4c hair, her sleek dark skin, and her extensive legs, Kate had a power and a freedom I envied. She did whatever she wanted, fucked whoever she wanted—boy or girl, wore whatever she wanted. Very intelligent. Straight A’s every semester. STEM major like me. Dean’s List. Academic scholarship recipient. Alpha Kappa Alpha president. I thought she was the shit.
An unapologetic black girl.
She wasn’t limited to “Your body is a holy temple” like I was. I knew nothing but purple-robed choirs; shiny, damp, preachers; the Trinity; warm peppermint breath when I turned to my neighbor; and refreshing baptisms.
“Did we wake you, Leslie?” she said when she exited the bathroom.
“Oh, no.” I blushed at my covers. “I didn’t hear a thing. Heavy sleeper.”
“You said that last time, but okay.” She smiled.
My virgin-self couldn’t help but overhear her and Jenna. They kissed precise spots and muttered dirty, pleasing things. I wondered if I’d ever get an experience like that before I became forty. I was twenty, and I haven’t even kissed anyone yet. I was as untouched as they came. It was laughable. Absurd. It was my truth.
“Mind if I turn on my lamp?”
“Go ahead,” I said.
After she switched on her lamp, Kate stripped her bedding down and threw it in her laundry basket. She went to her closet for a new set.
“I heard you got the highest grade on that chem test, Les. Higher than me this time. I’m proud of you, girl.” She unfolded her comforter.
“We’re gonna make the best grades in the class.”
I nodded. “Hopefully. Did you two have fun?”
“Yeah. Until he ruined it. I’m done with him.”
She told me what I already heard as she fixed up her bed.
“He’s a jerk.” I paused. “Are you okay?”
She waved her hand. “I’m fine. Some people think because they give you a good fuck that your body automatically belongs to them, that you need them for fun. I can have a swell time all by my goddamned self.”
“Does it ever bother you?”
She fluffed her pillows. “What?”
“Hearing people say stuff like that?”
“Sit by me.” She patted a spot beside her.
I joined her, leaned against the wall.
I grabbed her hand, listened to her as she recounted high school. Her first time was with a girl named Courtney. It was sophomore year. Fall. Courtney’s room smelled like butter popcorn and hairspray. Kate gladly spread her legs on a three-shades-of-pink High School Musical comforter—Courtney was in Drama and crazy about musicals. They were clumsy, bumped noses and poked around for what felt good, accidentally scratched. It was nice, comfortable, unrushed. They ended it in summer when Courtney moved.
Then she had a boyfriend senior year. Jonas. He struggled to put his penis where it was supposed to go, but they found a rhythm. He touched her well. His tongue turned tricks. They had fun. Didn’t make it long-term either. He went to an out-of-state college. Long distance was too much for her.
Needless to say, students believed she was a t.h.o.t. They believed it in college, too.
“That’s not true,” I said. “You’re not a hoe because of that.”
“No, it’s not.” She paused. “I like a nice fuck. I own that. Lots of guys sleep around. It’s never a problem. It’s frustrating, really. Maddening. I have a right to freely express my sexuality. What really gets me is that some people think they own what’s implicitly yours when they don’t. Or they like to dictate, tell you what to do with your body, who to save it for.”
I wanted to shout amen and raise my hands to the ceiling.
She squeezed my hand. “It’s okay, you know? That you’re still a virgin. That’s okay. Own that. You are always yours first and foremost. You belong to you.”
If my cheeks weren’t so brown, they’d be red right now. We were up one night, talking from our beds in the dark. We asked each other random questions: What’s your favorite color? What are your parents like? Why did you attend Carter University? We got on the subject of penises and vaginas, sex toys and porn. She thought I was kidding when I told her. I wished I was, so that I could avoid that odd-girl-out feeling. I felt like my virginity was noticeable, like Rudolph’s ruddy, bright nose the other reindeer teased him for. I assumed people saw it as soon as they looked at me.
“I ask myself if there’s something wrong with me. Why no one has really paid attention.”
Girls or guys didn’t flock after me like they flocked after Kate. I attempted to make moves on the few crushes I had. Neither of them wanted to go rock climbing after a study session or gorge on pancakes at the 24-hour diner in town. They stared at their shoes, trying to find an excuse. It disappointed me.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Leslie.”
She kissed my forehead. “Absolutely nothing. Your time will come.”
I nodded, though I didn’t really believe her.
Kate got out of bed, slung her book bag over her shoulder. “You need my lamp?”
“No.” I went back to my own bed.
“I’m going to go study. Sleep tight.”
When she left, I stared at her covers again before I examined mine. Both were still unalike. Kate was free; I wanted to be free. I wouldn’t utter the names of pretend lovers in this empty room. I wouldn’t ponder which of the nine circles of Hell I’d go to if my legs fell open for someone, if they fell open for myself even. I’d let Kate’s words catch me: You belong to you. I’ve never quite given myself anything. But as I slid my fingers in my underwear, parted my thighs, and circled my clit, I decided I would give myself this.