“Short Sheeting”

I was standing in the returns line at Macy’s when a little girl, probably no older than four, pointed at me and said to her caretaker, “Where’s her honey?”

I was there to return sheets. Those really rich satiny ones that make you want to lie spread-eagle against your mattress in the middle of a Sunday afternoon when you’re supposed to be out shopping for bread and cheese. I’d bought queen-size ones, but I didn’t have a queen-sized bed. I had thought the only difference between a full-size and a queen-size bed is that a full feels quite small when someone else is in it with you. Turns out the sheets are different too.

The caretaker looked at the little girl, “I don’t know.” She looked at me. “Maybe she doesn’t have a honey.”

This seemed like a pretty harsh sentence to be handed from a matron and a pipsqueak. What did they know?

They probably didn’t know about Sean. That sensitive lothario. With his curly blonde hair and intense swimming pool eyes and dumb genuine kindness. With his gaze that could lock on you like you were somebody. He and Tom had been at my house Tuesday night, like they were most Tuesday nights, when Sean would be talking about Sarah or Karen or Jackie or Crystal (when he TAed that drama class) or Agneiska (when he went through that foreign phase) or Ming (when he was studying archaeology) or Amy or Denise. Sean saw a lot of girls.

We were sprawled on the floor of the living room reading books. Tom absent-mindedly combed his fingers through his red beard. Sean opened Nabokov’s “Lolita”and read the first page out loud.

“Geez, tell me that isn’t beautiful,” Sean said.

“Nice job,” Tom said. “You really sounded like a pedophile.”

 

We went out. The bar around the corner was our hangout. We’d drink gin and tonics while Prince and Lynyrd Skynyrd played on the sound system. The place was a drag queen hangout too, connected through an alley to the club next door where the queens regularly performed.

A dark-haired drag queen with heavy grey eye makeup approached us. She was clearly drunk. “Hon-ey,” she said, touching my back with something between a caress and a slap, “you’rreeeally beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said.

My face flushed and I looked at Sean. He stifled a smile, his stare transfixed, amused. Tom coughed. The queen’s high arched eyebrows rendered her expectant and fierce, while smeared lipstick made her mouth sloppy. She combed a few acrylic nails gently through my hair. It was late.

“Reeeaaaally…”

“Thank you,” I said.

“…beautiful.”

“Raspberry Beret” came to an end over the sound system and she staggered away.  Tom laughed and rubbed his eyes. “I’m going home,” he said.

Sean and I sat for a while in silence.

“She’s right, you know,” Sean said. “You are beautiful.”

I looked at Sean, his eyes electric pools. He’d never said anything like that to me before. I wasn’t like Amy or Denise or Geniece (when he took that dance class) or Martina (when he directed that play) or Carla. I was just me.

Sean reached for my hand and held it in his. “Let’s go to your house,” Sean said.

 

On Sunday Tom came over. We ate bread and cheese. “The other night at the bar,” I said, “After you left, Sean came home with me.”

Tom raised his eyebrows.

“Did he tell you you were beautiful, like that drag queen?”

I nodded.

Tom nodded too.

“Didn’t think you’d be one of Sean’s girls,” he said.

“Me either,” I said.

He finished his bread. “I hope you changed the sheets.”

“Actually,” I said, “I bought new sheets.”

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About Nicole Beckley

Nicole Beckley is a writer and performer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, 7x7, Tribeza, and The A.V. Club, as well as in many small theaters and on at least one public access channel. She’s at work on a linked story collection titled Perfect Miss. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Communications from Stanford University and currently lives in Austin, TX. nicolebeckley.com