le rouge et le blanc

     She says, ‘Can’t we be still like see each other once in a while and have lunch or see a movie? Just to be friends?’ I said ‘Yeah, friends, I think I know what you mean. I’ve become some kind of emotional tampon that you need four or five days a month when no one else will take your FUCKING bullshit. But we don’t FUCK, right? Isn’t that what friends is, we don’t FUCK, right?

—Sam Kinison

Rachel tells Michael that she loves him. Her love is not romantic. It is general love. Rachel loves many people that way. She loves Michael’s dogs the same way. Once upon a time, she professed her love for Michael’s friend Mischa. She was mistaken. She was desperate for love. Her sex with Mischa was the best in her life. But he was too disgusting. Mischa is a man-whore. He has no spine. He cursed Rachel after they broke up. He is still spying on her. He speaks badly of Michael behind his back. Michael should be careful with a “friend” like that.
    Michael is not sure how to please Rachel. She spans across the two kinds of his former lovers.
    He met Marilyn at a gangbang in his 21st year. Marilyn was engaged to be married. She was working out her kinks. Her clothes came off in a drinking session with his dojo mates Joe and Kevin. Kevin was born in South Korea. He was two years younger than Michael. Marilyn was the first girl he saw naked. Joe lived across the alley from Marilyn. He belonged to the largest Polish community outside of Warsaw. He read meters for the gas company. He met many housewives during the day. His sexual experience ranged far and wide. Joe was recently divorced. He was exploring his options. Once he came home with another man. Being penetrated was not all it cracked up to be. Joe demanded an early withdrawal.
    Joe mounted Marilyn first. Michael and Kevin observed them. They had seen each other naked in the locker room. It was not a big deal. The redhead writhing on Joe’s waterbed was something else. They looked like they were sparring. Joe’s pumping became more intense. Marilyn took her cues from his strokes. Her heels guided his cadence. Her desire startled the men with its urgency.

    Michael approached the bed. Marilyn looked him over approvingly. His upper body had swelled in a spurt of growth since the end of his teens. He stood loose-limbed and relaxed by martial training. His lust was unschooled. He came too fast. Kevin took his turn before Michael regained his composure. Joe was the next to go. Marilyn’s moans shifted their mood. Her blunt imperatives dissolved into lazy concessions. On his second round, Michael felt a hand probing his butt. He thrust back his heel. It connected hard. Joe grunted and ambled away.
    Two days later Marilyn came to see Michael at his Astor Street apartment. Her skin taunted his touch. She drew in his cock. His erection was unrelenting. The woman clutching his body was a factitious abstraction. Spurting inside her brought no relief. He remained hard all night. In the morning Marilyn boasted of feeling like a truck had driven between her legs. Michael strutted to his office for two miles along Michigan Avenue. His gait was elastic. Sportfucking left him numb.
    Marilyn’s fiancé happened to work at Michael’s company. He seemed undisturbed by her dalliances. Joe reported furtive sounds coming from Marilyn’s bedroom closet during his visit. Marilyn took them in stride. Michael gave no thought to his reputation.
    His friends held him in a new regard. They all met at the Sugiyama dojo down the block from the Belmont L train station. Michael cycled there on his Raleigh Professional. His cleated soles were strapped to its pedals. His cadence spun at an easy 80 rpm. His skin seethed with sweat. After practice, he scarfed sushi and quaffed sixpacks. The girls appeared on weekends.
    Kal was a partner in an ad agency. He was born in Ohio of Lithuanian parents. His ex-wife still lived there with their daughter. He was fitfully entangled with a recent divorcée. Kathleen was studying to be a lawyer. She had little time for her boyfriend. Kal lived in a high rise two blocks away from Michael. His apartment had a downtown view. They often went there after practice to stare at the skyline and drink beer. They listened to Randy Newman and Tom Waits. The songs were wistful, angry and ironic. The men bonded through sodden self-pity. Agency creatives dropped in to comfort them.
    Lynn came to Michael’s apartment with Kal and Janet in the summer of 1980. Father Cunningham was already there, primed for clerical devotions. Janet’s family raised Irish wolfhounds. Their cultures melded straightaway.
    Lynn was more cautious. She wore a long white dress with a blue floral print. At 23, she radiated the older woman allure. It was an occasion for hard liquor. Michael’s challenge evoked a defiant pact. Two hours later, she was belting out an Al Jolson tune in his arms. Michael fell into an odd conformance with his cock.
    Lynn was a lithe blonde. Her father was a Croat. Her mother was of German descent. They were personally related to Jesus Christ. She belonged to Mensa. Her apartment was decorated in faint shades of white. Its only notable appurtenance was a black cat. A pumped-up Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union stood out like a billy-goat in a convent.

    Lynn worked in mysterious ways. Aloof in intercourse, she was a frenetic fellatrix. Michael’s impression of her oral services was entirely disconnected from her diffident technique. As her hands kneaded his buttocks, his balls erupted with staggering intensity. He clutched at her hair to stay upright. Was it true love?
    Lynn glommed onto Michael’s magniloquence. They professed their feelings. The words rang hollow. It was high time to raise the stakes. Lynn broached the subject of marriage. Michael considered their prospects. Volcanic blowjobs failed to forebode domesticity. Matrimony would make a meal of mayonnaise.
    Lynn moved on. Michael felt crestfallen. His feelings were disconnected from amatory particulars. Their occasional reappearances buttressed his awareness of lifelong privation. Twenty-four years later, his lack of love remains unrelieved.
    It is May of 2003. Michael and Rachel have been dating for a year. Rachel still worries about Michael’s life. She does not want to be anybody to Michael as long as his life is all about his stupid lawsuit. She does not know much of the story. She is not really interested in knowing it. She does not want to affect Michael’s decision in any way. As a friend, she wishes him well. She has no other friends at this time. Michael is the only one she can confide in or depend upon.
    Michael is a nice guy. He is good hearted and so knowledgeable. She urges him to move on. There should be more beautiful scenes ahead in his life. Money can be lost and regained, but he must not be lost because of it. But Michael does not care about the money. He has been used and deceived by his best friend, threatened and menaced by her family. He wants a reckoning. He will not relent till he gets it.
    The year before Rachel went to China and came back. She had tried to break up with Michael in the meantime. She did not try very hard. When they first met Michael told her about seeing a couple of girls. Their company left him unmoved. He lacked the courage for a regimen of solitude. He spoke with Serge Gainsbourg: his soul is monogamous by nature; his cock is polygamous by necessity. His love life is a natural striving for the impossible. Rachel’s jealousy makes him redouble his efforts. He will no longer play fuckbuddies with Isabelle.
    He has not felt close to anyone for many years until he met her. He regrets his hasty reaction to this development. Maybe their intimacy would have worked out more smoothly, had he not pushed for her company or her commitment. Maybe there was a time and place for letting things unfold in their natural sequence. Michael had hoped that his passion would just rub off on Rachel. She cannot blame him for trying.
    Rachel remains aloof. She is lying in bed next to Michael. Her skin is flushed. They had been fucking for over an hour. She came many times. She wants them to be friends. Michael wants them to be lovers. She challenges him to a contest. Only one of them will prevail. Building a shell is easier than growing a spine.
    Michael’s life is changing. His father has lost his job of 20 years. His mother had her kidney removed in a cancer scare. He is working hard. His parents need his help. He has many needs of his own. But being Rachel’s friend with benefits is not one of them. She can be his woman or she can be a stranger. It’s up to her.

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