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Everything was perfect before Alice unlocked her dorm room door.
“I want to break up,” Margot said.
Alice stood, stopping and starting whatever she had planned to say. Her mouth moved, forming shapes of words, but only tiny ticks of noise echoed in the back of her throat. A sharp, bruising ache crept upward from the pit of her stomach.
“I know this seems kind of sudden.” Margot had begun to wring her hands. One of the things she and Alice had in common was their aversion to direct conflict. “I wanted to wait until I moved out but I’ve really been thinking about things and it’s better to just get it out of the way now so I can focus on my finals. Instead of this.”
“Why?” Alice asked. Unable to meet Margot’s eyes, she stared at her arms crossed over her chest.
“Because you won’t have sex with me,” Margot answered.
Alice knew it before the words even left her mouth. Of course this was about sex—what else could it have possibly been about? She held her back straight, refusing to hunch her shoulders to hold the pain in. She allowed it to fill her, allowed that raging, anxious monster to spread. The tension in her legs kept telling her to RUN, but where would she go? They shared a room and still had a week to go before the semester ended. Eventually, she’d have to come back. Eventually, they’d have to have this conversation.
Couldn’t Margot just send her a breakup text like a decent human being?
“We had sex this morning,” Alice replied. Dread pumped through her veins, making her voice sound as skinned as she felt. “Twice.”
“That’s not the kind of sex I want to have,” Margot said. She tucked one of her wild blond curls behind her ear.
That monster flared white-hot inside Alice. The only reason why Alice bothered to have sex was to make her girlfriend happy. If Margot didn’t want it, what in the hell was the point?
“Sure fooled me. If I recall, which I do, there was a lot of happy screaming involved.”
“Because you’re good at it!” Margot stood, walking toward Alice, hands outstretched. “You know exactly what I like. I can’t say the same about you.” Margot sighed. “I want to touch you, Alice.”
“You touch me all the time.” Alice’s limp hands dangled while Margot held her wrists. “You’re touching me now.”
“I want to lie in bed and kiss you everywhere for hours. I want to be able to show you how happy you make me.”
“We do that, too. You know me: I need cuddles or I will die.”
“And that’s something I love about you, but when it’s time to get serious, it’s like you turn into a different person. I want to have passionate sex with you. It’s weird that I can’t reciprocate anything.”
“It is not weird.” Alice snatched herself away.
“It makes me feel weird,” Margot clarified, her voice pleading. “It’s like you don’t like me as much as you say you do. When we have sex, it’s because I want to. You never initiate it. I’m not allowed to do anything to you. On the rare times we do make out, I swear to God I can feel your mind wandering.”
“But I like kissing you!”
“And the worst part is you don’t trust me enough to tell me why.”
Why, why, why? Why did Margot need to know about the why? As if she were a problem to be fixed, as if Margot’s magic fingers could make it all better. She realized, before the concept of Them was even a blip in the universe, that Margot would never understand. Before they decided to be together, Margot had brought other girls to their room so often they had to create a Scarf on the Doorknob system so Alice could stop walking in on her frequent sexcapades.
Sex mattered to Margot.
And it didn’t matter to Alice.
“I trust you,” Alice said. Not a lie, but not the truth either. “It’s just hard to talk about.”
“I’m asking you to try. If you care about me, you will.”
The words I’m asexual knocked around inside Alice’s head. She knew she was, had known it for some time. She had also hoped she could wiggle her life around that truth like it didn’t matter or would never come up. High school had been hell, but college was a whole new beast dimension. Everyone seemed to be trying to have sex with everyone else.
And Alice was caught dead in the center of bloodied, shark-infested waters. It had gotten so bad, she had begun to give the disasters names: The Great Freshman Letdown: Robert Almanac Edition, followed closely by its sequel, Turns Out She Was Pansexual (And Totally Coming Onto Me), which then turned into an unexpected trilogy, Boys Like Girls Who Like Girls, and now it had become a quartet, The Hazards of Sex and Other Unwanted Lessons.
When it came to accepting that she was asexual, it was about an eighty-twenty split. That twenty part encompassed the fact that Alice could not call herself asexual in front of another person. So instead of telling the whole, hard truth, she danced with the definition.
Alice sat on her bed, finally allowing her body to fold in on itself. The time had come to hold that in, to feel that pain and keep it close to her heart. Brand it, press it down deep, right next to her old nickname, The Corpse. She stared at Margot’s baby-pink ballet flats with the tiny rhinestones near the toes. Alice had bought those for her.
“I don’t see the point,” Alice said. “I don’t need it. I don’t think about it.”
“Sex?” Margot laughed—a tiny giggle, as if Alice had told a mildly funny joke. “But you’re Black.”
“Oh Jesus, save me.” Alice covered her mouth with her hands and stared at Margot.
“What? I can tell jokes, too.” She looked confused for a moment before shame made her face turn red. “That was racist wasn’t it? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I swear it was a joke.”
(The perks of having a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend from middle-of-nowhere Iowa were endless.)
“But I’m not joking. I meant exactly what I said. I don’t care about sex. You’re right. I did it because you wanted to do it.”
Margot lowered herself down next to Alice, slowly, as if she were dealing with a scared animal. “Have you gone to a doctor?” she asked. She traced her delicate fingers over Alice’s shoulder, curving toward her spine. It tickled, but Alice didn’t show it.
“I don’t need to.” Number one, she thought.
“Were you abused? Is that it?”
“No.” Number two.
“Are you saving yourself for marriage?”
“I hope that’s a joke.”
“It was,” Margot admitted. Her sad smile burned in the corner of Alice’s eyes. “Then what? Tell me. People don’t just not like sex without a reason. It’s kind of not natural, don’t you think?”
To that, she had absolutely nothing to say.
After a few minutes (Margot had never been into begging), she left Alice’s side.
“I can’t be with someone who can’t talk to me,” she said.
The finality of the moment punched her in her stomach. “Margot—”
“And I can’t be with someone who doesn’t desire me. You could never love me as much as I would love you. You understand that, don’t you?”
Copyright © 2018 by Annie Camill Clark