My Life On Rye: Natural Light

Written by
Nathaniel Kressen

Part 3

[Continued from last week]



She was a girl who never stopped half-dancing, and her red triangle tongue flicked into view in slow sweeping motions. Her teeth could have doubled as lighthouses. When I tried asking what happened to her bra strap, the closest I could get to an answer was, “They cut it.”

We never got the opportunity for substantive conversation. Instead, she drew me into her own internal rhythm, we half-danced with contact, I smelled the sweat and perfume in her hair, she snaked her hand inside the waistband of my jeans, and we began to furiously make out.


As we crossed campus, the pockets of shadow didn’t seem so dark. For a moment, it seemed like we might do it up against a tree. It turned out that she lived in the same dorm as me. On the same floor as me. To get to her room we had to pass mine, where my roommate was still likely going at it.

Try as I might, I couldn’t subdue the memory of a joke that Macey had made the day before. The three of us had been hanging around the room, each doing our own thing. I’d been practicing ahead of the gig, starting on the new song, when she said, “You know, with that guitar, you might never even have to use your penis.”

And here my roommate was, making the beast with two backs with someone else.

“Shhh,” said my new friend as we entered her dorm room. “My roommate is sleeeeping.” She kicked her shoes off and pinned me against the door. The knob stabbed me in the side of my back. Unaware, she pushed her mouth against mine.

In the dark, it could have been anyone’s mouth. Kitty’s mouth. The mouth that had made me forget the world in a combustion of peaches and toothpaste, and feel like I belonged somewhere for once in my life.

She jerked me toward the bed. She brought my hands to her tits and asked me to squeeze. Our tongues made disjointed spirals.

“Fuck me,” she said, falling back on the bed.

I paused. And I asked myself if I was really doing this. Did my brain and my heart really lack all power to subdue the whims of my cock?

She pulled me down on top of her. She shoved my hand down her pants. She moaned like a balloon loses air.

“I can’t,” I said, stopping. “I have a girlfriend. I love her.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, scratching her fingers up the back of my shirt. “You should go.”

Her hair. My God, the scent.

“I’m a bad person,” she said, arching the front of her hips against me.

“You know I want to fuck you,” I said. “You can feel how much.”

“I want you to.”

“It’s not you. I just can’t.”

“We could do other things.”


We kissed again. My shirt came off. She bit my nipple and I discovered that I liked it. I touched her. She touched me. The universe was swirling at breakneck speed and it nearly killed me to rise off of her. I told her again, desperate this time, that as much as I wanted to I just couldn’t go through with it. Her roommate, silent until now, piped up and told me to either leave then or fuck and get it over with. “Some people have a test in the morning.”

The hallway was vacant. I drifted past taped-up photos and paper cut-out names, realized I had gone the wrong direction, turned about, retraced my steps, passed her door, passed my own farther on, took the stairs down and exited into the night. Wondered how in the hell that had just happened. I’d been drinking but I didn’t think I was drunk. Every step had been a decision — leaving the party together, following her back here, passing my room, walking through the open door she held, ignoring the very real fact that I belonged to someone else. I navigated the nonexistent stars down abandoned streets where every house seemed to cry. The lights were on in only one destination — Kitty’s apartment. I could see her up there studying.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said, when she opened the door.

“No, I could use a few minutes’ break.” She leaned in, pulled back. “Why are you kissing me like I’m your sister?”

I stepped inside. “Could we maybe have some tea, or something?”

“I have something stronger.”

“Tea’s fine.”

“Okay.” She went to the kitchen and filled the kettle. The oven clicked a good ten seconds before lighting. “So?”

“Um. Maybe we should sit.”


We sat in our usual spots, her on the chaise, me on the floor. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” she said.

“No, I really mean it,” I said. “You’ve been so busy. I’ve missed you.”

“Can you just tell me what’s going on? You’re kind of freaking me out.”

I glanced around her apartment, memorizing details. Fabrics of yellow, orange, and red tossed over every lampshade. Beaded curtains. Books piled high. Furniture that no one else could have seen working together.

“I haven’t really talked to you about my dad,” I said. “For most of my life it was just him and me — and whoever he was dating. He usually had one or two girlfriends going. Naturally, I wasn’t supposed to mention any of them to each other, but I couldn’t help getting attached, sometimes. I’d think, ‘She’s okay. I like her. If my dad would just, you know, maybe we could have a family again.’ I grew up watching him play out this same cycle over and over. He’d start off charming, they’d be smitten, he’d end up getting bored or whatever and take up with somebody else. Or, maybe not even bored. Maybe he was always invested. Or never invested. Bottom line, they wanted more from him then he was able to give. Even though I was a kid, I could see that. So I swore, somewhere along the line, that when I grew up, I would care. I would be honest.” I met her eyes, she cracked her knuckles. “Do you remember, our first night together, when I told you my first time was with my best friend’s ex?”

“In her mother’s minivan.”

“There was no minivan. And it wasn’t my best friend’s ex.”

“Let me guess. You looked up a hooker in the yellow pages?” She sighed. “Listen. This sounds like it’s going to be juicy and I want to be here for whatever you’re going through, but I still have a lot of studying to get done.”

“It was one of my dad’s girlfriends. He sent her into my room the night I turned sixteen.”

“Wow,” she said. “I guess I wasn’t that far off.”

“He never had any money. Believe me, I’ve wondered.”

The kettle started to whistle, she rose to fetch it.

“He’s not a bad guy,” I called after her. “He just is who he is.”

“Is there a reason you’re telling me all this?” she asked, fixing our tea.

I took a breath. “I did something stupid. Tonight, after my gig. I went to this frat party —”

“You, at a frat party?”

“It was terrible.”

“I would pay money to see you trying to fit in.”

“Kitty,” I said, “What I’m trying to tell you is —”

“You slept with somebody,” she said, carrying our tea over. She handed me a cup and sat back down. “I get it. I think it’s sweet and completely in character for you to tell me the full background of your sexual awakening first.”

I glanced down at my tea leaves steeping, amber spreading through the water. “Why aren’t you upset?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about it. But, I mean… this was never going anywhere.”


“You’re nineteen. We haven’t done it in weeks. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you tried to screw the kettle on your way in.”

“I’m not some horny freshman.”

“I know, Puppy.”

“And I’m not some sweet, predictable kid,” I said. “How could you say this was never going anywhere?

“You have a really good heart,” she said. “And I care about you, I do. But you have all of college left, and I’m going to be buried in books and residency until I’ve pulled all my hair out. You don’t want to be dating a bald chick, do you?”

“Don’t crack jokes.” I set my tea down, weighing my next words.

She reached down to squeeze my hand. “Consider this your passport to freedom, okay? You can go out and sleep with anyone your heart desires — but be smart about it, because this is a breakup with an asterisk. I reserve the right to call you over when I can’t stand my life choices anymore and need a good long tutoring session.”

I reached again for my tea, burned my mouth, failed to swallow and spit it back into my cup.

“Can I get you a napkin?” she asked, hint of a chuckle.

Shaking my head, wiping my mouth, I said, “I was working my way up to tell you something.”

“Cheer up,” she said, pulling me onto my feet. “I’m going to get sick of all this before you know it. But for now, I do need to kick you out so I can dive back in.”

Before closing the door, she gave me a peck on the cheek.

“Go,” she said. “Get some rest. You have a lot of sex ahead of you.”

This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group.