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As I pulled into the parking lot of the little strip mall, I was somewhat concerned about the nature of the pizza restaurant at which Jessi had asked to meet. Four of the ten storefronts in the shopping center were vacant, and other than Joe’s Pizza Shack, which is where I was headed, the other businesses consisted of a laundry mat, a comic book store, a pawn shop, a thrift store, and last, but not least, a bail bondsman. The whole place looked more than a little dilapidated to me, and I noticed that only about a third of the lights in the parking lot were illuminated.
The pizza restaurant was located between the laundry mat and the comic book store. I found a place to park, pulling in next to a large, bright blue late 60s or early 70s American-made convertible. I thought it might be a Buick, but I was not sure. After seeing the incredibly large doors of the old car, I backed out and parked in a spot further away, even though it meant being out in the bitter cold a few steps longer. I could only imagine the damage one of those huge doors could do to my car had someone carelessly flung one open.
As I exited my car and hurried toward Joe’s Pizza Shack, I saw a man quickly leave the pawnshop and rush two doors down to the bail bondsman. As I quickened my step toward the door of the restaurant, I wondered if that were a common occurrence, and if such occurrences were the reason for the pawn shop being located in this strip mall.
Inside, the pizza place was warm, and the delicious smell of baking pizza hung in the air, but I was amazed to find that the inside of the restaurant was not as much brighter than outside as I might have expected. It appeared that only about half of the lights in the restaurant were on. As I walked through the gloomy corridor between two rows of booths, I activated my phone. Although I knew what Jessi’s text had indicated, I still read it as I walked toward the back of the restaurant.
“In booth – back left,” she had written, and sure enough, that is where she was.
The booths had high-backed benches, making it impossible to see if a particular booth was occupied until one was almost beside it, especially if the person in the booth was sitting with his or her back to the front of the restaurant, as Jessi was. I did not even know if she was in the booth until I was right alongside her.
“Hi Jessi,” I said as I slid into the booth so that I was sitting opposite of her, the table between us. Jessi was wearing a large, green sweater and her red glasses, which I had not seen at all the prior two times we had been together. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore little to no makeup. She looked very pretty, but also quite young. Had I not known better, I might have thought her a teenager.
“Hi Mark,” she said, our eyes meeting before she dropped hers.
It was obvious why Jessi had asked to meet here, at Joe’s Pizza Shack. Not only was it dimly lit and sparsely populated, but the way the booths were constructed and arranged gave us almost complete privacy. Unless someone sat in the booth across the way from us, no one would be able to see Jessi at all without coming back to where we sat, and I doubted anyone could even see me unless they were within a few yards of our booth.
“I ordered the pizza already,” she told me, glancing up at me briefly. “I got peperoni, onion, pineapple and half jalapeno — I remembered that you said that’d be the perfect pizza.”
“I did say that, didn’t I?” I commented, smiling at the young blonde woman sitting across from me even as I wondered what I would do about the jalapenos. When she had offered me cold pizza our first evening together, I had told her that jalapenos would have made her peperoni, onion and pineapple pizza perfect, but my comment was not meant as an expression of a true preference; rather, it had been intended as a way of heading toward a joke about her being both sweet and hot. However, Jessi had commented on the sweet and hot aspect before I had the chance to say anything, thus nullifying my attempt at humor. I had never told her that I had meant it to be playful.
“Yes,” she replied. “The pizza I had then was from Joe’s.”
“Do you come here often?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” she shrugged. “It’s nice and private back here. But usually I just pick it up and take it home. My apartment’s just a few blocks around the corner.”
Jessi had looked at me once while she was talking, but the rest of the time she looked down at the table. I could tell she was nervous. I did not know whether her nervousness was caused by being with me at the restaurant, by the conversation we had come here to have, or by some combination of the two. I wanted to reach out and take her hands to comfort her, but she had put them in her lap while she spoke. Instead, I nodded and smiled at her when she was done speaking.
Several seconds went by, and it seemed as if Jessi was not going to say anything else. She did not look at me even once during that time, and her hands kuşadası escort remained out of view. Unfortunately, I was struggling to find any words myself, and I was worried we would just remain sitting in silence, despite the fact that both of us had indicated, not more than an hour before, that we wanted to talk to each other.
We were saved when a voice came through the speaker above us.
“Jessi, sweetie, your pizza is ready,” the male voice said.
Jessi looked up at me, and for the first time that evening, she locked her eyes with mine in that somewhat disconcerting, typically Jessi stare.
“Would you mind going and getting the pizza, Mark?” she requested. “Please?”
“Sure,” I agreed, standing up.
“Tell Joe you need a glass for your drink too,” she added.
“Okay,” I told her, walking toward the front of the restaurant, wondering about Joe. Jessi had told me she only really connected with other people through sex, but she seemed quite familiar with whoever Joe was, and furthermore, he had called her sweetie. As I approached the counter, I could feel the jealousy creeping through me. I imagined Joe as a young man, one who likely could better keep up with a sexually aggressive twenty-year-old than I could.
“I am here for Jessi’s pizza,” I told the very large man at the counter.
Joe, as it turned out, was a 6’5″, 350 pound Samoan man in his late thirties or so. He grinned at me and said, “You the one Jessi was waitin’ for, huh?”
“Yes,” I replied. As I was not sure what else to say, I asked him for a glass for my drink.
Joe set a red plastic cup, two plates, and a handful of parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper packets on the pizza box that he handed to me. He then grinned again.
“I don’t know how you did it,” he confided with a wink. “It took me almost two years just to get her to say more than ‘hi’, and that had taken a couple of months itself. She just recently started giving me a smile or two. I never thought I’d see her eat with anyone else. When she said she was waiting for a date here tonight, I thought my hearing was going.”
“We just hit it off, I guess,” I told him self-consciously, wondering what the big man was thinking about the age difference between the blonde and me.
“Okay. Well, have a good dinner, man,” he said as he headed back into the kitchen.
After I took the pizza to the table, I went back to the front of the store to fill my glass and also to top off Jessi’s drink. I selected ice tea for me, and I added more cola to Jessi’s glass. When I returned to the table, I found Jessi had put two slices of pizza on my plate as well as one on her own. The slices she had given me had several jalapeno pieces each.
“Thank you,” I said as I handed her the now full glass.
“Thank you, Mark,” Jessi replied, and for the first time since I had arrived, I saw a small smile cross her pretty face.
“So you are not going home for either Christmas or New Year’s?” I asked her after I had taken a bite of my pizza and doused my mouth with tea, which did not help as well as the milk had the night before when Jessika had served me her grandmother’s chili seared chicken.
The young blonde shook her head before saying, “No. I don’t go home for Christmas.”
Remembering she had mentioned some problems with her mother the last time we were together, I decided not to bring up her family again. Instead, I resolved to invite her to spend some time with me.
“I am not doing anything for the holidays either, so we could always find something to do together,” I suggested, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted the way I had phrased them. I did not want Jessi to think she was just an alternative to being alone for me.
Jessi stared at me as she chewed a bite of her pizza. I was not sure whether to go on our wait for her to finishing chewing, so I decided to take another bite of pizza myself. Unfortunately, I must have bit off several jalapenos in that bite because I had to swallow quickly and gulp down my tea to try to ease the burn. Even after drinking nearly the entire glass, my mouth was still on fire and my eyes were watering.
“Too hot?” Jessi asked, obviously concerned.
“I just need some more tea,” I managed to tell her before I stood up and hurried to the front of the restaurant. Once at the drink station, I filled my cup, drank it all down, and then filled it again before heading back to the table.
I picked the jalapenos off the slice and a half of pizza left on my plate, and if Jessi thought this was odd, she did not say anything. In fact, she looked to be deep in thought.
“So, what do you think?” I inquired.
“I don’t know,” she replied, staring at the partially consumed slice of pizza on her plate before whispering, “I think I am too slutty for you.”
“About that…” I started, but Jessi looked up at me, her vivid blue eyes full of pain and doubt, and held my gaze. She looked so sad and so vulnerable that I was not able to finish my thought.
“I know that I am,” she told me, still staring. “So, I’m not sure why you want to spend time with me, unless you want me to be a slut.”
“I just want you to be yourself, Jessi,” I assured her, taken aback by the sudden turn our conversation had taken, even though I had been worried about this very issue since Jessika and I had talked the night before. It was important for me to let Jessi know that I was not just with her for sex, but I also wanted her to know that I did not think poorly of her because of the sexual activities in which we had engaged. However, I was not sure how to say any of that, and my indecision let Jessi keep talking.
“But it turned you on when I was talking about other girls,” she pointed out, and I wondered where her hesitancy in discussing this topic had gone. She had been barely able to even speak about it on the phone earlier, but now she was staring me down and talking matter-of-factly.
“It did, Jessi,” I admitted, wanting to be as honest and open with the young woman as I could be. “And I thought it turned you on as well. And it was fun to think about…”
“Is that what you want?” she demanded, interrupting me, and something blazed in those blue eyes that was neither hurt nor doubt.
“I had not thought about it before then, when you mentioned your experiences with other women,” I said, trying to figure out how to move the conversation back to where I wanted it to be. “It is arousing to think about it, but I it is not anything I would say I actively want.”
The young blonde continued to stare, causing me to blink several times. I was just about to try to explain how nothing we had done had caused me to think less of her when I saw the fire in her blue eyes dim to a simmer. Jessi also noticeably relaxed; she had been leaning forward as we spoke, but now she sat back. Finally, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh.
As she sat there, eyes closed, I asked, “Were you angry about this when I left Saturday morning?”
“Yes,” the blonde breathed, eyes still closed. “I could barely look at you. But when you blew the kiss to me, I felt it start to go away, my anger that is. Then when you were gone, and I started worrying about it all.”
“I think I understand why it upset you, Jessi,” I told her. “But why did you believe that I would think you were, umm… a… umm… slut. I do not think that about you.”
Jessi opened her eyes, and I could see incipient tears forming in the corners of them. At that point, I no longer wanted to talk about any of this. All I wanted was to take the young woman in my arms and hold her, to reassure her that I did not think poorly of her.
“Nice girls don’t talk about those things,” she sniffed, her tears now fully realized. “So, when we were in the shower, I wanted you to do to me what I deserved, since I am not a nice girl, and when you did, that tuned me on so much I got myself off, and that made me feel even worse.”
“I am sorry, Jessi,” I apologized, while trying to make sure I heard and understood what she was saying.
“Why’re you sorry, Mark?” she asked, a confused look clouding her face. “I’m the one who is fucked up.”
“Everyone is, Jessi,” I asserted, “just differently. And I am sorry because I did not realize what was going on. No, it is more than that. I enjoyed it all, even though I should have known it was bothering you, and I am sorry for that.”
“I enjoyed it too, even though it was tearing me up,” she admitted, looking down again, her cheeks now burning red. “That’s part of why I am so worried about it. I can only imagine what you think of me.”
“I think you are an exciting, vibrant, incredibly sexy woman, and I believe that I am lucky to be able to be with you like this,” I declared.
Jessi looked up at me and sniffed, and I saw that her eyes were mainly dry again. A small smile appeared as she held my gaze.
“So, is that just a nicer way of saying that you like it that I am a slut?” she asked, what might have been amusement shining in her eyes.
“Ummm… I would not… uh….” was all I managed to say.
“I am going to pay for the pizza and take my part of it home,” the young blonde woman announced before standing up.
I watched her walk to the front of the restaurant, so dumbfounded that I barely noticed how nicely her jeans clung to her small but well-formed rear end. Just when I thought we might have been close to understanding one another, she was withdrawing again. My mind was in overdrive, trying to figure out something to say to get her to stay, but I came up with nothing. So, when she came back to the booth, I just sat there while she put what remained of her half of the pizza in a box she had brought back with her before she grabbed her coat from her side of the booth. I stood up, opened my mouth to speak, and was completely blindsided when Jessi, now swaddled in a large, black coat, hugged me. After a couple of heartbeats, I hugged her back while enjoying the smell of strawberries emanating from her soft hair. A few more heartbeats later, Jessi broke the hug. Looking up into my eyes, she put her hand on my neck and pulled my lips to hers for a quick kiss, after which she smiled and winked. Then she grabbed her pizza, turned, and walked away without another word. I wanted to call her back, but all I could do is stand and watch her leave. It was only after she had walked out the door that I realized I should have at least offered to pay for half the pizza.
Hurrying from the restaurant to my car, the box with the remainder of my half of the pizza in my hand, I noticed that the big convertible was gone, and I wondered if it belonged to me slender blonde enigma. It seemed like it would be too much car for her, but somehow it also fit. The twenty-year-old blonde was a walking, talking bundle of contradictions.
I was back home, enjoying a piece of pizza (from which I had removed the jalapenos) when my phone buzzed with an incoming message. I was hoping it was from Jessi, as I felt we really had not resolved anything. However, it was a message form Jessika telling me she had arrived at her parents’ house. We texted back and forth for a few minutes about how she was feeling (she told me it was better but she was not planning a repeat performance for a while) and about her happiness at being home for Christmas with her family (her parents had surprised her by having one of her sisters and her brother there as well).
After texting with Jessika, I thought I might try to do a bit more work on the short story I had started revising and was now rewriting, I had just sat down at my computer when a new message arrived. This one was from Jessi, and for the first time in several days, it was a media content only message. When I clicked on the link, a picture of a smiling Jessi wearing a tight black t-shirt popped up on my screen. Emblazoned across her modest bosom was the word ‘Slut’ in ornate, pink script.
A few seconds later, Jessi texted, “I want 2b ur slut since u r ok w/that.”
I read and reread her short message. I knew I should try to formulate a response, but I was still just staring at my screen when another text from Jessi appeared.
“Id luv to spend xmas w/u,” she wrote. “wanna come to my apt?”
“How about we spend it at my house. I do not have decorations up, but we could do that tomorrow — Christmas Eve — and then you could spend the night and be here Christmas morning” I responded. I had decided at that point it was better to not address her earlier picture and text message.
A few seconds later, my phone rang with an incoming call from the young blonde.
“Hi Jessi,” I said when I answered the phone.
“Hi,” she replied, then in a rush said, “I’m not sure about coming to your house…”
“Jessi,” I interrupted, “I would love for you to come over. I will make you a Christmas Eve dinner, and then we can decorate a little — I brought some stuff in from the garage a couple of weeks back but never put it up.”
“Ummm… it is a little… uh…scary for me,” she admitted in a quiet voice.
“I promise you will be safe,” I responded. “I would not hurt you.”
“I’m not worried about you, Mark,” she proclaimed, her voice suddenly sure. “I mean, I’m not worried about you hurting me.”
“Then what…?” I started, but Jessi cut me off.
“Coming to your house, decorating, planning to spend the night,” she clarified. “It’s all kinda scary. I don’t do stuff like that.”
“Would it help if I told you I wanted you to come over so I could fuck your brains out?” I blurted out, exasperated by the entire situation.
I did not know what to expect from Jessi after I said that, but the snicker I heard coming from the phone would not have been high on my list.
“Fuck yes, it would help,” she laughed. “That I get.”
I shook my head, wondering, not for the first time, whether I would ever understand the young woman. Just hours before, she had cried because she was afraid that I might think she was a slut. Now she was fully embracing it and laughing about it.
“Okay, let’s do it this way — you come over to my house, we will have sex, and then we will see about putting up the decorations,” I suggested, not quite believing that I was saying what I was saying.
“I will be there, Mr. Warner,” the young woman proclaimed. “Tell me when and where.”
At a quarter before 7:00 the next evening, I opened the door to find Jessi standing on my porch, her soft blonde hair, her voluminous black coat, and a purple duffle bag all covered with a dusting of snow. I said hello to her as she entered my house, but Jessi did not respond. The lovely blonde walked into my living room, set her bag down, turned around to face me, and dropped her coat to the floor just as I looked around from shutting and locking the door. I felt my mouth fall open as I stared at the young woman standing in front of me. The only thing she was wearing was a black collar with the word ‘SLUT’ written in metal studs on the front of it.
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