My legs burned from sitting at my computer all day, and beyond that I had a wild itch to get to the Ding Dong Lounge—never thought I’d say that—pull up beside Ziggs at the bar and just . . . relax. It had been a long time since I’d had so much fun with a woman without getting naked.
Unfortunately for me, the more time I spent with Ziggy, the more I wanted it to morph into something that involved being naked. Which felt like a cop-out, like my brain and body wanted to fall back on the familiar comfort of sex over emotional depth. Ziggy pushed me, even if she didn’t know it; she made me think about everything from why I did my job to why I kept sleeping with women I didn’t love. It had been forever since I’d felt like I wanted to take over someone’s sexual history, completely overwrite it with my hands and dick and mouth. But with Ziggy, I couldn’t tell if that was because sex would somehow be easier than the way she had my brain all twisted, or if it was because I wanted her to twist me in other ways entirely.
So I stayed away until around ten, wanting to push her to socialize and spend time with friends from her lab. When I arrived, I spotted her at the bar without too much trouble, and slid up next to her, bumping her shoulder with mine. “Hey, lady. Come here often?”
She beamed at me, eyes lit with happiness. “Hey, Player Will.” After a pause pregnant with some strange, mutual inspection, she said, “Thanks for com . . . showing up.”
Biting back a laugh, I asked, “Did you have dinner?”
She nodded. “We went to a seafood place down the street. I had mussels for the first time in years.” When I made a face, she shoved me playfully. “You don’t like mussels?”
“I hate shellfish.”
She leaned closer, whispering, “Well, they were delicious.”
“I’m sure they were. All floppy and chewy and tasting like dirty ocean water.”
“I’m happy to see you,” she said, abruptly changing the subject. But she didn’t shrink away from the proclamation when I looked over at her. “Outside of running, you know.”
“Well, I’m happy to be seen.”
She looked at my eyes, my cheeks, my lips for a long moment before meeting my eyes again. “Your smoldering might eventually kill me, Will. And the best thing is I think you have no clue that you look at women this way.”
I blinked. “My what?”
“What can I get for you?” the bartender asked, startling us both when he slapped two cardboard coasters down in front of us and leaned closer. It seemed like Ziggy’s lab friends had left, and the Ding Dong was uncharacteristically quiet; usually the bartenders here took my drink order from halfway down the bar, while pouring someone else’s beer.
“Guinness,” I said, then added, “And a shot of Johnny Gold.”
The bartender looked to Ziggs. “Something else for you?”
“Another iced tea, please.”
His eyebrow rose and he smiled at her. “That all you want, sweetheart?”
Ziggy laughed, shrugging. “Anything stronger and I’ll be asleep in fifteen minutes.”
“I’m pretty sure there are plenty of strong things back here that could keep you up for hours.”
What he said made me draw back, look over at Ziggy to assess her reaction. If she looked horrified, I might have to kick this guy’s ass.
She laughed, oblivious and embarrassed for having been called out on being square in a bar, and spun her coaster in front of her. “You mean a coffee with Bailey’s or something?”
“No,” he said, resting on his elbows right in front of her. “I had something else in mind.”
“Just the iced tea,” I cut in, feeling like my blood pressure had gone up about seven thousand millimeters. With a smirk, he stood and left to get our drinks.
I could feel Ziggy watching me, and I grabbed a cocktail napkin in order to have something to studiously shred.
“What’s with the stern tone, William?”
I blew out a breath. “Did he not see me sitting here with you? He was all over you. What a dick.”
“Taking my drink order?” she asked, giving me a baffled stare. “What a jerk.”
“Innuendo,” I explained. “Surely you speak it.”
“Surely you’re kidding.”
“ ‘Something strong behind the bar that could keep you up for hours’?”
Her mouth formed a tiny O as she seemed to figure it out, and then she grinned. “Isn’t that the point of our little project? To get some more innuendo in my life?”
The bartender returned and set our drinks in front of us, winking at Ziggy before walking away.
“I suppose,” I grumbled, sipping my beer.
Beside me, I saw her sit up a little straighter and turn on her stool to face me. “Not to change the subject, but I watched some porn last night.”
I coughed, putting my beer down on the rounded edge of the bar, then barely catching it before it spilled all over me. Even so, some of it slopped over the lip of the glass, and onto my lap. “Christ, Ziggs, you have zero filter.” I grabbed a small pile of cocktail napkins and wiped my pants.
“Don’t you watch porn?”
I stared at my shot of whiskey and downed it, before admitting, “Sure.”
“So why is it weird that I did?”
“It’s not weird that you watched it. It’s weird that it’s the start of a conversation. I just . . . I’m still getting used to this. Before Project Hot Chick, I just knew you as the dorky little sister. Now you’re this . . . porn-watching woman who had a breast reduction and develops theories about hymen restoration. It’s an adjustment.”
That, and I find you almost irresistible, I thought.
She waved me off. “Anyway, I have a question.”
I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. “Okay?”
“Do women really make those noises in bed?”
I stilled, grinning over at her. “What noises, Ziggy?”
She didn’t seem to realize I was completely fucking with her, and she closed her eyes, and whispered, “Like, ‘Oh, oh, Willll, I need your cock’ and ‘Harder, harder, oh God, fuck me, big daddy’ . . . and so on.” Her voice had gone soft, and breathy, and I was horrified to feel my dick lengthen. Again.
“Um, some do.”
She burst into laughter. “It’s ridiculous!”
I fought a smile, loving her natural confidence even on a topic I suspected she had little experience with. “Maybe they do need my cock. Wouldn’t you like to want someone so much you need their cock?”
She took a long pull on her iced tea, considering this. “Actually, yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted someone so much I would beg for it. A cookie? Yes. A cock? No.”
“That would have to be one hell of a cookie.”
“Oh, it was.”
Laughing, I asked, “What movie was it?”
“Um.” She looked up at the ceiling. Not blushing, not even a little embarrassed. “Frisky Freshmen? Something like that. A lot of college girls having sex with a lot of college guys. It was kind of fascinating, actually.”
I fell quiet, losing my thoughts down a weird trail from college coeds, to Ziggy at work in the lab, to Jensen’s hope that she would make new friends, to the bartender hitting on her right in front of me, to my still-lengthened cock.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
She put her tea down, and turned on her stool to stare at me. “How is that possible? How can men say they’re not thinking about anything?”
“I’m not thinking about anything of substance, how’s that?” I clarified.
“We’re talking about porn and you’re not even thinking about sex?”
“Strangely, no,” I said. “I’m thinking about how naïve and sweet you are. I’m wondering what I’ve agreed to do here, when I said I would help you figure out the whole dating world. I’m worried I’m going to make you into the most vulnerable bombshell in the history of the planet.”
“You were thinking of all of that just now?”
“Wow. That’s something of substance.” Her voice had gone quiet, and soft. Kind of like her pretend porn voice, but with real words, and real emotion. But when I looked over at her, she was staring out the window. “I’m not naïve and sweet, though, Will. I know what you mean, but I’ve always been kind of obsessed with sex. Mostly the mechanics of it. Why different things work for different people. Why some people like sex one way, and others like it another. Is it anatomy? Is it psychology? Are our bodies really organized that differently? Things like that.”
I had literally no idea how to respond to this, so I just drank. I’d never thought about these things, had instead preferred to just try anything and everything that a given woman wanted, but I found that I really liked that Ziggy pondered all of this.
“But lately, I’m kind of figuring out what I like,” she admitted. “That’s fun, but it’s hard not having a way to figure it out firsthand. Hence, porn.”
She took a long drink and then grinned over at me. Two weeks ago if Ziggy had said something like this to me, I would have been secondhand embarrassed for her to be so open in her inexperience. Now I found that I wanted to protect it, just a little.
“I can’t believe I’m encouraging this conversation, but . . . I worry porn might give you a false sense of what sex should be like.”
“Because the sex you see in porn isn’t very realistic.”
Laughing, she asked, “You mean most men don’t have a Pringle can in their pants?”
This time I didn’t choke. “That’s one difference, yes.”
“I have had sex before, Will. Just not much variation. Porn is a good way to see what rings the old bell, if you know what I’m saying.”
“You surprise me, Ziggy Bergstrom.”
She didn’t respond for several long beats. “That isn’t my name, you know.”
“I know. But it is what I call you.”
“Will you always call me ‘Ziggy’?”
“Probably. Does it bother you?”
She shrugged, swiveling on her stool to face me again. “A little maybe? I mean, it doesn’t really fit me anymore. Only my family calls me that. Not, like, friends.”
“I don’t think you’re a kid, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, that isn’t what I’m worried about. Everyone grows up being a kid, and learns how to be a grown-up. I feel like I’ve always known how to be a grown-up, and am just learning how to be a kid. Maybe Ziggy was my grown-up name. Maybe I want to let loose a little.”
I tweaked her ear, and she squealed, pulling away. “So you start to let loose by watching porn?”
“Exactly.” She studied the side of my face. “Can I ask you some personal things?”
“You need my permission now?”
She giggled, shoving my shoulder. “I’m serious.”
I slid my empty pint glass down the bar a little and turned to meet her eyes. “You can ask me anything you want if you buy me another beer.”
She raised her hand, catching the bartender’s attention immediately. Pointing, she said, “Another Guinness,” before turning back to me. “Are you ready?”
Leaning forward, she asked, “Guys really like the anal, don’t they?”
I closed my eyes for a beat, holding in a laugh. “It’s just called anal. Not the anal.”
“Don’t they?” she repeated.
Sighing, I rubbed my face. Did I even want to go there with her? “I guess? I mean, yeah.”
“So you’ve done it?”
“And you don’t think about how you’re in—”
I held up a hand. “No.”
“You don’t even know what I was going to say!”
“I do. I know you, Ziggs. I know exactly what you were going to say.”
She made a face, turning back to the television above the bar, where the Knicks were killing the Heat. “Guys can just turn off their brains. I don’t even get that.”
“Then you haven’t had sex worth turning off your brain for.”
“I think you turn your brain off even for mediocre sex.”
Laughing, I admitted, “Probably. I mean, you had mussels for dinner. That’s like . . . sinewy, chewy sea shit. But still, you could give me a blow job and I wouldn’t be thinking about how you just swallowed mussels.”
I detected a hint of a blush beneath her cheeks. “You’d be thinking about my awesome blow job skills.”
I stared at her. “I . . . what?”
She started laughing, shaking her head at me. “See? You’re already speechless and I haven’t even done anything yet. Men are so easy.”
“It’s true. Guys would fuck every orifice they could.”
“Every fuckable orifice.”
Turning on my seat to face her, I asked, “What?”
“Well, not every orifice is fuckable. Like a nose. Or an ear.”
“You obviously haven’t heard ‘The Man from Nantucket.’ ”
“No.” She wrinkled her nose, and I glanced at her freckles. Tonight her lips seemed especially red, but I could tell she wasn’t wearing makeup. They were just . . . flushed.
“Everyone has heard this. It’s a dirty limerick.”
“With me?” She pointed to her chest, and I struggled to not look down. “This doesn’t increase the odds.”
“ ‘There once was a man from Nantucket. Whose dick was so long he could suck it. He said with a grin with some come on his chin, if my ear was a cunt I could fuck it.’ ”
She regarded me steadily. “That’s . . . kind of gross.”
I loved that this was her first reaction. “Which part? The come on his chin or the ear fucking?”
Ignoring that, she asked, “Would you suck your own dick if you could?”
I started to say there is no way in hell, but then reconsidered. If it was even possible, I probably would at least once, just out of curiosity. “I guess . . .”
“Would you swallow?”
“Jesus, Ziggs, you’re really making me think here.”
“You have to think about it?”
“I mean, I would sound like an asshole if I said there is no way I would swallow, but there is really no way I would swallow. We’re talking about a hypothetical situation where I’m sucking my own dick, and I like it when girls swallow.”
“Not every girl swallows, though.”
My heart picked up, not only faster but harder, as if it were punching me from the inside. This conversation felt like it was careening quickly out of control. “Do you?”
Ignoring that, she asked, “But guys don’t really like going down on girls, do they? I mean, if you’re being totally honest.”
“I like going down on some girls. Not everyone I’m with, and not for the reason you’re thinking. It’s intimate, and not every woman is totally relaxed about it, which makes it hard to have fun. I don’t know, for me a blow job is like a hand job, but feels way better. But giving a girl head? I feel like that’s a little farther into a relationship. It requires trust.”
“I’ve never done either. They both seem pretty intimate to me.”
I stopped, quietly thanked the bartender when he put the beer down in front of me, but had no idea how to restrain the weird victory surging in my blood. What was that even about? It wasn’t like I was going to be her first head. It wasn’t like I could go there with her. Besides, Ziggy was so up front about what she wanted . . . with a tightening of my gut I realized that if she wanted me that way, she probably would have already said it. She would have walked up to me, put her hand on my chest, and said, “Would you fuck me?”
“See?” she asked, leaning closer to grab my attention. “What are you thinking about now?”
Tilting my bottle to my lips, I said, “Nothing.”
“If I was a violent woman, my palm would be smacking your cheek right now.”
This made me laugh. “Fine. I was just thinking that it’s a little . . . unusual for you to have had sex before but not given anyone oral sex, or been on the receiving end.”
“I mean,” she started, leaning back a little on her bar stool, “I guess I kind of gave this one guy a blow job, but I literally had no idea what I was doing, so I ended up just going back up to the face zone.”
“Guys are pretty easy: you stroke up and down and we shoot.”
“No, I mean . . . I get that. I just mean for me. How to do it and breathe, and not worry that I would bite him? Have you ever walked through a china section at a fancy store and you have that panicked moment where you’re totally sure you’re going to flail suddenly and break all of the Waterford crystal?”
I leaned over, laughing. This girl was fucking unreal. “So you’re worried when you have a dick in your mouth you’re just going to . . . bite?”
She started laughing, too, and then before I knew it we were doubled over at the prospect. But almost at the same time, we died down a little and I realized she was staring at my mouth.
“Some guys like teeth,” I said quietly.
“ ‘Some guys’ . . . like you?”
Swallowing, I admitted, “Yeah. I like girls to be a little rough.”
“Like, scratching and biting and stuff?”
“Yeah.” A charged thrill ran through me just hearing her say those words. I swallowed heavily, wondering how long it would be before I’d be able to get the image of her doing those things out of my head. “How many guys have you been with?” I asked.
She took a sip of her iced tea before answering. “Five.”
“You’ve never given head but you’ve had sex with five guys?” My stomach dropped into an abyss, and although I knew my irritation was wildly hypocritical, I couldn’t rein it in. “Holy shit, Ziggs, when?”
She rolled her eyes, actually laughing at me. “I lost my virginity when I was sixteen. The summer you worked with my dad, actually.” Covering my mouth with her hand when I started to protest, she added, “Don’t even start on me, Will. I know you probably lost yours when you were thirteen.”
I closed my mouth, sat up. She’d guessed right.
With a knowing smile, she continued. “And please. I’m sure you’ve had sex with hundreds of women. Five is not that many. I slept with a few guys over the next couple of years and then decided I was doing it wrong. It wasn’t very interesting. I had one boyfriend in college for a little while but . . . I feel like I’m broken. Sex is kind of fun until the actual sex part. Then I’m like, ‘Hmmm, wonder if I have enough cells plated to run the dose response curve with the tool compound tomorrow.’ ”
“Sex is not boring.”
She studied me, and then shrugged. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be boring. I think it’s boring because most guys my age have no idea what to do with the female body.” She looked away, and I almost told her to come back. I was growing addicted to the buzz I felt when she was looking directly at me. “I’m not blaming them. That’s some complicated stuff down there.” She waved a hand over her lap. “It’s just been so long since I met anyone who made me want to see what the big fuss is about.” She looked at my lips before blinking away and studying the wall of draft beers on tap.
I blinked down to my beer in front of me, turned it in little circles on the coaster. Of course she was right, and so many women I knew had sex for reasons other than getting off. Kitty once told me she felt close to me after we fucked. She said it right as I’d begun mentally cataloging my fridge. I felt so much closer to Hanna right now than I’d ever felt to Kitty before, during, or after sex.
Something about her made me feel hungry, like I wanted to be as honest and calm about everything in my life as she was. I wanted to know Hanna, to hear her thoughts on everything.
I paused, my fresh beer partway to my lips, and registered that I’d thought of her as Hanna. It sort of felt like letting out a long-held breath.
Ziggy was Jensen’s sister. Ziggy was the kid I never knew.
Hanna was this uninhibited, self-possessed woman in front of me who I was pretty sure was going to effectively wreck my world.