I was digging through my old fiction files (I’m pulling together an erotic fiction collection), and I came across this story, which I wrote years ago and had forgotten about. I started the story thinking it would be erotica, but I never found a good place to put the sex scenes in, and it wound up seeming like a better story without the sex actually in it.
I hardly ever write fiction, except for porn, but I’m fond of this one. I never found a home for it, so I’m publishing it here now.
“I’m on a mission,” she said.
We were in the women’s bathroom at the Cafe Rio. I was zipping my jeans back up and tucking in my T-shirt. “A mission,” I said. “Am I one of the heathens you’ve come to convert?”
“Kind of,” she laughed. She pulled off her latex gloves, the ones that had been in her purse about fifteen minutes before, and threw them in the trash. “My shrink suggested it, actually.”
“Your shrink suggested that you fuck strange women in cafe bathrooms?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Well, okay, no, not in those words. She, we were talking about — you know how hard it is to meet women sometimes? How dykes will sit in a bar for hours before they get up the nerve to say hello?”
I nodded. “Lesbian sheep.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Huh?”
“Lesbian sheep,” I repeated. “This biologist, he was doing research on wild sheep, some species where the males have all this gay sheep sex with each other. Somebody asked him if there were lesbian sheep too, and he said there was no way to tell, since what female sheep did to initiate sex was to just stand there.”
She giggled. “I’ve been to that bar.”
“We’ve all been to that bar.”
“Yeah. Well, anyway, I was talking to my therapist about this, and she said, ‘What do you think would happen if you made the first move? What are you afraid of happening?’ Kind of a good question, I had to think about it for a while. Anyway, a little after that I came into some money, sort of unexpectedly. Not a ton, but enough so I could quit working and travel a while, if I did it on the cheap.” She spread her hands and grinned. “So here I am.”
I stared intently into the warped mirror, trying to fix my lipstick. “Here you are what?” I asked. “You were talking to your therapist about lesbian sheep, and now you’re traveling around the country hitting on women in cafes and saying you’re on a mission?”
“More or less. It’s sort of an experiment. I’m seeing what happens if, every time I want to have sex with a woman, I ask her.”
I practically jammed the lipstick up my nose. “You’re asking every woman you’re attracted to, to have sex with you?”
“That’s the idea. I chickened out a few times when I first started, but I’ve been close to 100% for almost four months now.”
“Wait. I’m still kind of… every one?”
“That’s it. I’m on a one-woman mission to rid the world of lesbian sheep syndrome.” She giggled again. “Lesbian sheep. That’s good. I’ll have to remember that.”
She looked at her watch. “Shit. I need to get going. I told my friend I’d meet her at six for a movie.” She reached out and shook my hand. “I’m Julie, by the way. I’ll be in town for a few days. Maybe I’ll run into you again.” She kissed my hand and scurried out of the bathroom.
That was the first time I saw her.
The second time I saw her was at a party. I’d just put down my bag and gotten a drink when Jola raced over to me, the fire of gossip in her eyes. “Oh, my God, Jordan,” she quivered. “That woman? In the black minidress and yellow tights? She just totally hit on me! She strolled right up and said, ‘Hi, I think you’re cute, would you like to have sex with me?’ She didn’t even tell me her name! I mean, what the hell?”
I looked in the direction Jola was conspicuously looking away from. It was Julie. She was, indeed, in a black minidress and yellow tights, like a bosomy lesbian bumblebee. “Her name’s Julie,” I said. “Yeah. She does that.”
Jola looked disappointed. “You know her?”
“We met a few days ago. At the Cafe Rio.”
“Did she ask you to have sex with her?” Jola smirked.
“As a matter of fact, she did.”
“Oh, my God. What did you do?”
I stared for a moment and blurted, “I had sex with her. That’s what I did. In the cafe bathroom,” I added.
“You had sex with that woman in the bathroom at the Cafe Rio?” she squealed. A dozen or so people turned to look at us, including Julie, who gave me a little wave and trotted over. Jola turned purple and scooted away. “So how are you doing tonight?” I asked.
Julie shook her head. “Zip squat so far. And I think your friend thinks I’m a freak.”
“She’s not really a friend.” Jola would have been surprised to hear this, but it was just now occurring to me that it was true. The fact that we’d been going to the same classes and studying at the same cafes and hanging out with the same crowd for a year and a half suddenly didn’t seem like much of a friendship.
“So there’s something I’ve been thinking about,” I said. “About this mission. Why the traveling? Why didn’t you just hit on every hot woman you met in… wherever you come from?”
“Portland. Yeah, right,” she snorted. “That’d be a great idea. Hit on half the women I work with. Including my boss. And my boss’s nineteen-year-old daughter. Plus my roommate. Plus my sister-in-law. Plus…” She shook her head. “I may be a freak, but I’m not an idiot. I knew if I was going to do this, it’d have to be with strangers. On the road. Like Kerouac, only not lame.”
“Are you writing it down?”
“Like a memoir? Nah. Too Kerouac. Anyway, there’s too many road movies in the world.”
“I was thinking more like a journal. For yourself, to keep track. What’s your batting average, anyway?”
She bristled. “It’s not about that. Jesus. I’m not some frat boy carving notches in his –”
“I get that,” I said. “I’m just curious. How many dykes are out there who’ll have sex with a woman they never met?”
“Oh.” She relaxed. “Well, I don’t have an exact figure. One out of five? Kind of hard to say, it varies from place to place.”
“Doesn’t it get hard?” I asked. “Getting rejected that much. I’d think –”
“You’d think,” she said. “But in a lot of ways, it’s easier this way.” She smiled wistfully. “Actually, one of my favorites was a no. She was sitting at a bus stop when I asked her, and she thought for a minute and said, ‘Not today, I think. But thank you for asking. It was very thoughtful of you.’ I liked her a lot. I really wish she’d said yes. Speaking of which — would you like to have sex again?”
“You’re unbelievable,” I said. “How many women have you hit on at this party, anyway?”
“Three. No, wait, four. Five, including you.”
“Wow. Fifth choice. Flattering.”
She rolled her eyes. “You just got here ten minutes ago.”
“So you’re saying if I’d gotten here earlier, I’d have been your first choice?”
“I’m saying that you’re being a putz. I still want to have sex with you, though. How about it?”
I looked at her grinning face and bumblebee tights, her expansive cleavage and worn-out high-tops. “Sure,” I said. “What the hell. My place or yours? I’ve got kind of nosy roommates…”
“I’m at a youth hostel. Twelve cots in a room.”
“Nosy roommates it is, then.”
The third time I saw her was at the bus station. She was sitting on a plastic seat, resting her feet on her backpack, reading the New York Times. I plopped down in the seat next to her. “Hi,” I said. “You wanna have sex?”
“Jordan,” she replied. “What a lovely surprise. Here?” She looked around thoughtfully. “Nah,” she said at last. “Bus station bathrooms, that’s too skanky even for me. Appreciate the thought, though.”
“Not here then,” I said. “My place. Miss your bus, you can get another one tomorrow. Come on. Third time’s the charm.”
She grinned. “First and second time were pretty damn charming.”
“Well, exactly. Come on over, we’ll –”
She shook her head. “I can’t. I’m running out of money, there’s a fee for switching tickets. And besides I–” She shook her head again. “But good for you for asking. Tell you what. Give me your number. If I come back to town, I’ll give you a call.”
I pulled my card out of my wallet and flicked it at her. “I bet you have a thousand of these.”
She opened her wallet and carefully tucked in the card. “I don’t, actually. This is the only one.”
“Uh-huh. Why do I rate the special treatment?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to pry.”
“No,” she said. “I mean that’s why. You ask a lot of questions. I like that.” She touched my wrist. “How did you know I was here?”
“I didn’t. I always come to the bus station cruising for chicks.”
Her laughter came out of her chest like a hacking cough. “No, really,” I went on. “It’s quite the scene. Every dyke in Minneapolis knows about Monday at the bus station. Stick around, you’ll see.”
“I’m sure,” she said. “Look. Here’s the thing. I have two, maybe three months before my money runs out. Less if I hit Manhattan. I really want to finish this thing, and I don’t… making a lot of promises is kind of… But I tell you what. If I do come back, I’ll call you. I doubt it’ll be any later than August.”
The loudspeaker interrupted. “Next bus to Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, now boarding Gate 3.” Julie stood up. “That’s me,” she said. She kissed me lightly on the lips. “Oh, don’t look like that. I’m serious. I might come back. I like Minneapolis.”
She picked up her backpack and boarded the bus. She didn’t turn around at the door, but when she got to her seat, she gave me a little wave through the window before she picked up her newspaper. I waved back, shrugged, and made my way out through the building. When I got to the street I took out my datebook, opened it to August 31, and wrote, “Stop waiting.”