The Underwear

by Renee Pale

THE UNDERWEAR WAS BEAUTIFUL. THIS WAS BEFORE MY PREFERENCE for the classic white cotton bikini and so I'd made a collection of silken pairs. These had a black background and a paisley design the color of green jewels. They were not expensive (I was in high school at the time), but they seemed terribly sophisticated to me. I wore them only occasionally, under a perfect-fitting pair of jeans or a whirly sundress. That night I had them on because I was going to a party—an important one with the potential ; to propel one further into the social stratosphere.

The party was in the meandering Victorian where my friend Melinda lived, a house so large it seemed to tilt against the sky. Everyone I knew or wanted to know was there—a brutally edited group, but perfect for the narrow purposes of a high-school party. There were people on the porch in groups of three or four, people dotting every corner of the blue-green lawn, people under the trees and in the dining room, people sitting on her parents' monastic, prim-looking bed. They were everywhere, spilling drinks, touching one another, laughing wildly while Melinda's parents were off vacationing somewhere; their daughter hosting a just barely controlled evening.

I walked outside to search for my best friend, Jamie, and eventually found her on the lawn. Some easy hours passed as we sat outside, swatting mosquitoes, drinking cups of beer, flirting with friends and strangers.

After a while, I wandered back in and took the narrow kitchen stairway up to Melinda's bedroom to look at myself in the mirror. It felt necessary to make sure I looked passable enough to be having as much fun as I was. When I turned to leave, he was there, sitting on the window seat. "I brought you a beer," he said, holding a brown bottle toward me. Not even a keg beer, but one he had opened himself (his forearm flexing against the opener?!). This was one of the boys, a few years older, probably nineteen to my sixteen. He was one of the Legends, as guys my own age mockingly but enviously referred to them.

Even in that old T-shirt his body showed through. He always moved as if in a state of extreme relaxation, his walk so loose it seemed vaguely uncontrolled. I noticed, even beneath the worn khaki pants, that this was incongruous with the forever-flexed appearance of his legs, practically equine in their taut-ness. He had white, even teeth and a small, deep scar on his cheek.

He led the way through some verbal sparring, which after a time led to him touching me, which eventually led to him talking about finding some "privacy" so we could "be alone." This was suddenly urgent. People continued to peek their heads in and mill around in the hallway, so he stood up and led me, absurdly, to Melinda's bedroom closet. As comic as it seemed at first, by the time he had me across the threshold, we were both smiling and leaning into each other's bodies, colluding. It was better than if he'd ushered me into a lavish ballroom, his hand at the small of my back. Once inside, he maneuvered us with real skill (had he entertained in this particular closet before?). We lay on the floor, the blessedly shoeless floor (Melinda must have had one of those nifty shoe bags on the door—I never thanked her for that) with shirtsleeves dangling above our heads.

For a while—maybe it was two minutes or it could have been ten—the boy took his time, easing me out of jeans. Then, in one efficient tug, he ripped my underwear. Tore it right off my body. Not in a fumbling, groping manner but in a hungrily efficient, eyes-on-the-prize move that shocked me silent. I was amazed by this flourish! The usual period of negotiation had already been hastened by those magical hands, those pink lips, and now this—the savagely dismantled underwear. It was an exponential turn-on. Still, I felt a pang of tenderness for myself. Only hours before, I had lifted them reverentially from their perfect triangle fold in my dresser, blind to their future.

I never wanted to leave the closet. In the light of the room it would be imperative to conceal how knocked out I was. More i mportantly, I'd have to craftily repair the underwear if I hoped to rejoin the party. And I had to rejoin the party, if only to gloat among those not blessed enough to have been spirited away to the delightful closet in the corner bedroom. Of course, tossing the underwear was out of the question. They were a souvenir. Plus, what if someone discovered them in the waste-basket—they could be traced back! They had to be rebuilt.

The boy pulled his T-shirt on over his head in that bunched up, mysterious fashion that in my experience was employed by especially attractive males. He looked as competent doing that as he had taking it off earlier, one-handed with a tug between his shoulder blades. We parted with an exchange of pledges and promises, and then he was gone.

Immediately my mind turned to chasing down a solution for mending the torn bikini. The search was confined to Melinda's room. Rifling through junk drawers in the kitchen was impossible. The glances it would have prompted and the discomfort of glissading about down there, trying to look nonchalant in semiattached underwear seemed a crazy tableau. My options were stark. There was no desk in the room which might have yielded considerable booty—any form of affixing object—a rubber band, a lone paper clip nestled there in a little dugout for the taking.

On top of the dresser there was a sprinkling of earrings, twisted hoops and bent studs, some without a mate. There was a remote control and a blue pen cap with forensic-worthy dental imprints. And then I saw them. A pile of index cards, blank and poised. Why did she have these? For what—flash cards? The prospect was quaint, but made all the more poignant by the fact that the cards were fastened into a stack by a black and silver binder clip. I harvested the thing and made my way to the hall bathroom, moving past people like a ninja.

My legs trembled, not unpleasantly, as I stood before the mirror. The two strings of fabric hung lamely, sadly even, like a demolished chastity belt on my thigh. I pulled the crimped fabric taut and placed the strings in the jaw of the clip. It dug into my hip a bit, but this was a minor penance to endure for the elation of the closet encounter.

I was downstairs grinning like a fool when I felt the clip lose hold of the underwear with a dull pop. I raced back to the bathroom, accompanied by an odd limp, the clip wedged painfully between my jeans and my thigh. I muttered something violent, thoroughly cursing the clip for being a medium size when I'd needed the mini.

This time, the bathroom door wouldn't lock. The mechanism spun like a saucer in the jamb and the burden of this produced a constellation of pink panic splotches on my neck. How could my bliss be forfeited to this predicament? I could have strong-armed the knob into place but I was phobic about getting trapped in small rooms. I set the ball of my foot against the bottom of the door and pulled down my pants. Again. Someone knocked. I reached for the faucet and smacked it on, the innocent sound of running water meant to convey that nothing gruesome or humiliating was going on in there, just a quick soaping of the hands. After a series of frustrating attempts, wherein the fabric repeatedly slipped from the vise, the clip went briefly airborne and landed on the octagonal tiles. It ultimately came to rest in the shadows behind the toilet, a terrain too inhospitable to plum. I capitulated and made the only available correction—the simplest approach, and the one I should have thought of from the start (and would have, had my head not been spinning). I double-tied a neat, tiny bow of black silk at my left hip. Lopsided, but festive.

Back downstairs, I discovered that one of the boy's associates had similarly introduced himself to Jamie. He had backed her into the pantry or the stair landing, some servants'-quarterish space, seedy or sexy depending on your mood. They had pursued us in a calculated way, unaware that we even knew each other. We loved this. Her Legend was the kinder of the two, certainly more gentle. Mine was better looking, with a growing reputation for being pathologically generous in bed.

Almost everyone had gone by the time I returned from rigging my undergarments, so Jamie and I decided to leave, too. She offered me a ride, but I decided to walk. It was humid that night. The air vibrated with busy insects. My arms were slick with sweat and my lips salty. I walked through deserted neighborhoods, cutting across wet lawns and over garden fences, the blue light of television sets spilling out of dark houses into the street.

More than his hands on me that night, or all the times we met after that, I remember one thing with total clarity: I took the winding, macadam path through the woods that usually petrified me, the darkness as solid as a wall, and crossed the elfin footbridge totally unafraid. The proud, perfect bow I had made rested on my hip and rubbed against my jeans as I walked. It felt erotic and triumphant. Legendary.

Renee Dale is a writer living in New York. She's working on a novel and hopes her parents never come across this story.

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