Before We Were Strangers: A Love Story: Chapter 10

That’s When You Had Me


Matt was gone in the morning. There was no question I was putting his self-control to the test.

Pornsake acted normal in the practice room on Saturday but Tatiana looked at me strangely. “You’re kind of glowing, Grace. Oh. My. God!” She leaned over her chair to get closer to me. “Did you bone Pornsake after class yesterday?”

“God, no! And be quiet.” I looked around to the other students, who were watching us.

Dan made an announcement, which saved us from the uncomfortable attention. “To those of you who are interested in going abroad next year with me as part of an orchestra I’m putting together, please stick around after practice. We’ll be doing tryouts this afternoon.”

I packed up my cello and followed Tatiana toward the door. Dan grabbed my arm. “Grace, you’re not trying out?”

I looked down at his hand at my elbow. Dan was getting a little too close for comfort. “I should have told you. I’m applying to grad school. I turned in my applications this morning.”

“But we talked about the tour last night . . .”

“Dan . . . Professor, I’ve been planning to go to grad school since my freshman year. I’m not sure that I can just up and leave for a year and a half.”

“Grad school will always be there, Grace. I regretted not doing more things like this when I was your age. That’s why I’m taking the time off now.” He seemed frustrated.

“This isn’t about . . .”


“Never mind.” I sensed jealousy from him. I tried to clarify. “The sooner I’m finished with my education, the sooner I can start making money.”

“It shouldn’t be about money, Grace. We’re talking about music here. You have more passion than any other student I’ve come across.” I glanced at Tati, who was standing in the doorway, listening.

“It’s about money for me because I have none.” I laughed bitterly. “And I have a shit-load of student loans to pay back.” I pulled out of his grip.

“I see,” he said in a biting voice. He nodded and I hurried toward Tati.

Once we were outside the classroom, Tati bumped shoulders with me. “I think you just broke Pornsake’s heart.”

“He’s so nice but he doesn’t understand.”

“I guess I don’t really either.”

“What do you mean? I have no money and no support. Do you think traveling Europe is free?”

“I don’t think that’s the only reason.”

I knew she wanted to mention something about Matt. “Don’t even say it. If you think it’s such a good idea, then you go try out.”

She stopped abruptly. “I think I will.” She turned around and headed back into the class. “See ya, Grace.” Tati didn’t have to try out for anything. She was that good. I knew Pornsake would take her but I think she wanted me to go, too. It was frustrating that she didn’t understand my situation.

On my way back to the dorm, I passed by Orvin’s shop. He was sitting on a bench outside.

“Hi, Orvin.” He looked up at me and squinted. “It’s me, Grace. Remember? I came in with Dan?”

“Oh yes.” He patted the bench beside me. “Sit down, sweet girl.”

It was already getting late and cold and it was especially windy that day as taxi after taxi zoomed by. “The new bow is fantastic, by the way.”

He grinned up to his eyes. “I’m so glad to hear it, Grace.”

“I can’t believe the difference in the sound.”

He continued looking forward but he put his hand over mine. “Don’t forget, those are just tools. The music travels through the instruments, but it comes from you, from your soul.”

Wow. “Yes,” I whispered, full of complete understanding.

“Dan has a lot of faith in you.”

“He does. But I get tired of the classical stuff, and that gets me into trouble.”

“Ha!” He chuckled. “I get it, dear. The best musicians are rule-breakers. The thing is that you have to know the rules before you can be any good at breaking them.”

We sat there in silence for a long time. I closed my eyes and then he said, “There’s music all around us, isn’t there?”

I could hear cars screeching, horns honking, children laughing, and the constant clanking of pipes emanating from the manhole covers. And then, suddenly, all of the muddled sounds became clear and merged together into the most beautiful symphony. The score to my life.

Opening my eyes, I looked over and noticed that Orvin was watching me. “See what I mean? It’s within you.”

My eyes were misty from the wind but more from the emotion. “Yes.”

“You have to learn to fly before you can soar.”

I thanked Orvin over and over. Each day, I was learning how to simplify my life. Maybe that’s what growing up was really all about. Adults always say how complicated life gets as we age, but really, I think we just look for bigger challenges to overcome. Our biggest fears stretch from sleeping without our beloved teddy bear to finding out that we have no purpose in life. Did time, maturity, and overcoming obstacles offer the kind of contentment so evident in Orvin? Or did we just simply give up and surrender to the life we were already living?

“Come back and see me soon,” he said as he rose from the bench.

“I definitely will.”

In my wallet, I had a calling card I had won in the monthly dorm raffle. I found a pay phone and called my mom.

“Grace, how are you, darling?” She sounded busy. I could hear my father yelling at my siblings in the background.

“How is everyone?”

“Your father lost his job again.”

“Oh no, not again,” I said, though I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

She gave an exasperated sigh. “Yes, again.”

“I really wanted to come back for Christmas. I can get a seasonal job at the mall and help out.”

“Oh, Grace, that would be wonderful. Can you afford the flight?”

“I thought instead of getting Christmas presents from you and Dad, I could get a flight home instead?” A tiny glimmer of hope flickered within me.

Her next words snuffed it out. “We can’t afford it, honey. I’m sorry.”

I hadn’t been home for almost a year. I felt sorry for my mother and I didn’t want to burden her, but I was sick for home and I missed my siblings, their chatter, and the energy that I felt in our house, even when times were tough. The thought of spending the holidays in Senior House by myself was frightening. It was like the last weeks of summer when I was alone. Before Matt had arrived.

Cue long, uncomfortable silence. “Okay, Mom. Hey, I need to save the minutes on this card.”

“Okay, I understand. We love you, sweetheart.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

I spent the afternoon alone in my room, drinking cheap wine and feeling sorry for my mother, but mostly for myself. My door was cracked when Matt came down the hall after work late that night.

He pushed it open. “Knock-knock.”

“Come in. Hang out.” I was playing my cello near the window, wearing Matt’s Ramone’s T-shirt.

He came in and set down his messenger bag. “Guess I’m never getting my shirt back.”

I looked at him smirking near the door. Something came over me. I stood up and walked toward him, brazenly pulling his shirt over my head. I was wearing nothing but a bra and underwear. I handed him the shirt. “There you go.”

He blinked. “Um . . .”

“Kiss me, Matt.”

He kicked the door shut with his foot. “Are you drunk?”

“Kiss me.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck. His hand went to my lower back as he leaned in and then, finally, he kissed me.

At first the kiss was slow and delicate, but then we moved faster, tongues twisting, hands roaming. Our skin burned with heat, and everything felt more urgent. We kissed and kissed, and soon I was aching for him to touch me everywhere.

I fumbled with his belt.

“I got it,” he said, kicking his shoes off. While I removed my bra and panties, he took off his jeans. I moved my hand to the front of his boxers. “Will you?” I asked.

“Will I what?” he said, breathlessly.

“Have sex with me?”

He cupped my neck and tilted my head up to look him in the face. There was pure reverence in his eyes. “You want it to be me?”

I nodded.

He leaned in and kissed me again and then his mouth moved to my ear. “Grace, I have never wanted anything more in my entire life than to be inside of you right now.” Nerves shot through my legs and arms just thinking of him inside of me. “But we’re not going to do this when you’ve been drinking so much. Trust me. Okay?”

“I feel brave, though.”

“I know, but you don’t want to be numb.”

“Don’t I?” I whispered.

“No, baby.”

I knew he was right. “Okay.”

He held me to his chest for a few seconds before breaking away. I reached out and touched him through his boxers. “We can do other stuff.”

I saw the muscles in his neck move as he swallowed. “Get into bed,” he said, and I did. He slipped his boxers off. It was the first time I saw him like that, naked and vulnerable, and so painfully turned on that I actually felt sorry for him. It wasn’t the first penis I had seen, but under the circumstances it was definitely the most shocking. It scared me a little. I couldn’t believe I was practically begging him for it a second earlier.

When he saw my terrified expression, he said, “Don’t worry, it’ll feel good when you’re ready.”

He slid into bed behind me, spooning me. Our bodies were hot as we pressed against each other. He brushed my hair to one side and kissed my shoulder. I shivered and then relaxed into his arms and closed my eyes.

He held one hand around my waist and the other caressed the sides of my breast as he continued trailing kisses across the back of my neck.

“Why were you upset with me the other day? I meant to ask you,” he whispered. I shrugged. “Tell me.”

“Because Carey and Jason said everyone in the photo department has an orgy in the dark room on Fridays.”

His chest rumbled with laughter. “That is ridiculous. I’ll take you to the darkroom this Friday. There’s no one in there except a couple of art nerds, like me.”

“Why would they say that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a campus urban myth.”

I relaxed further into his body. The hand around my waist gripped my hip and squeezed. “You have to tell me what’s going on in your head.”

“At the moment, nothing. Your hands are making me brain dead.” I giggled, but Matt wasn’t laughing.

“What’s going on with Pornsake?”

“His name is Dan.”

“What’s going on with Dan the man?”

“Nothing. He’s nice. He’s my teacher. He bought me a bow and offered to buy me dinner. End of story. Oh, and he’s forming this orchestra to go abroad, all over Europe. He wants me to do it.”

I felt Matt stiffen. “For how long?”

“A year and a half . . . but I’m not going. It’s too long and I don’t want to postpone grad school.”

He kissed my ear. “Okay.” I felt him relax again.

His hand snaked down farther and I gasped when he made contact with the most sensitive part of my body. He made slow, deliberate circles at first, gently, and then he added more pressure. I felt the air on my nipples and tingles down my spine. My legs jittered.

“Has anyone ever touched you like this?”

“No.” The word came out in a rush of air.

He kissed my ear. “Have you ever touched yourself like this?”

I nodded.

“Tell me what you like.”

“What you’re doing?” I moaned.

“I want you so bad, Gracie.”

With all the tension that we had built up for each other over the last few months, and after several minutes of Matt’s handiwork, I felt it happening. He never changed his motion; he knew exactly what he was doing to me. It was almost painful how worked up I was, but I knew I needed it for the release. I put my hand over his so he wouldn’t stop. My stomach clenched and cold surges of electricity shot through my legs. I thought for a minute about what Matt was witnessing and the good feelings started to subside.

He whispered, “Relax. Let go.” And then I did, and everything built up again, more quickly this time, until there was no stopping it. My body pulsed over and over. He held his large, warm hand against me as he kissed and sucked at my neck until the quaking stopped.

My head pressed back hard against his shoulder. “God,” was all I could say.

He ran his hands up and down my arms. “You’re so beautiful.”

I had experienced that feeling before, but only alone, and I never expected to feel comfortable enough with anyone to be able to let go like that. Matt knew exactly what to do.

I turned to face him, and we kissed. “Thank you,” I said near his ear. I tried to deepen the kiss, but he stopped and said, “Bedtime, young lady.” He pinched my butt.

“Ouch, jerk!”

“Go to sleep, Grace.”

“Don’t you want me to do stuff to you?”

“Yes, soon, before I die. But not tonight.”

“Where did you learn it?” I asked, my voice raspy.

He was on his back and I was on my side, lying in the crook of his arm, looking up at him.

“Where’d I learn what?”

“What you did to me. Do all guys know it?”

He was quiet. I could see his eyes blinking as he stared up at the ceiling. I think he was trying to figure out how to answer the question. A faint glow came through the window from outside. There was just enough moonlight peeking through the shade for me to see Matt’s lazy smile. “I don’t know if all guys know how, but if I told you how I learned it, you’d laugh.”

“Oh, you must tell me now.” I bit his arm. “What, are you like a porn connoisseur?”

“No. Men learn nothing from porn. I think porn is more about pleasing men.” Matt was wise beyond his years.

“Hmm, maybe I should watch some then.”

“You’ll be fine. Your mere existence is pleasing enough. Trust me.”

Pushing myself off his arm, I rolled onto my other side, facing away from him. “Oh please, Matt. I know nothing and I’m going to embarrass myself when we do it.”

He rolled over and tucked me against his body, spooning me. His voice was low. “Don’t think about doing it anymore, okay, Grace? Let’s just let it happen naturally.”

“Fine.” I said through a yawn.

We lay in the hazy light, teetering on the brink of sleep. “My mother taught me.”

“What?” That woke me up. “Your mom taught you what?”

“Well, she’s kind of a hippie-feminist. It’s not that she showed me what to do. She was always trying to teach my brother and me how to treat women equally, and I guess this was just part of it.”

“And so . . . ?”

“She gave me a book on the female orgasm and basically said, ‘Don’t be an asshole.’ ”

I laughed so hard that my body curled into a little ball. “Wow!” I chuckled. “I really like your mom, Matt.”

“You two would get along.”

“So you read the book?” I asked.

“Every goddamn page. Many times.”

“Well, you certainly aced the practical test, although I’m sure it wasn’t the first time you’ve taken it.”

“No more talking, Gracie. Close your eyes.”

“Maybe I’ll get to meet your mom sometime.”

“Yeah.” It was quiet for few minutes. “I hope.”

I woke up alone the next morning. On my nightstand sat a bagel, coffee, and a note.


I had to run. Daria had bagels so I snagged one for you. Just eat it, don’t smell it first, or else you’ll catch a whiff of fish sticks.  What is wrong with her?! I have to work tonight, but you should come to the PhotoHut so we can talk and figure things out. I’m going home to California for Christmas. You want to come with? You can meet my mom and thank her for my mad skills. Peace, M

The thought of spending Christmas with him put a huge smile on my face.


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