Stephanie Esher – Siamak Vossoughi

First Lucas Hardisty lost his virginity to Stephanie Esher, then Nick Sando lost his virginity to her, then Will Eason lost his to her. They were close friends. It was the last year of high school and it just happened that way.

They were down on State Street a few days after Will. It was March and spring was coming.

“I think it’s great it went this way,” Nick said. He didn’t see any reason not to be happy about it.

“I don’t know,” Lucas said.

“What is it?”

“I didn’t think we were the kind of guys who’d all be with the same girl first,” Lucas said. “I’m not saying that because I was first. I’m happy for you guys. I just didn’t think we were those kind of guys.”

“What kind of guys?”

“The kind of guys who’d all be with the same girl first.”

“We’re not any kind of guys. We’re us.”

“I know. But if it makes her a certain way, then it makes us a certain way too.”

“She’s staying in Madison next year, did you know that?” Will said. “She said she might take community college classes.”

They were quiet as they thought about Stephanie Esher staying in Madison next year. Lucas was going to Minnesota, Nick was going to Colorado, and Will was going to New York City.

“It doesn’t have to make her anything,” Nick said. “It doesn’t have to make us anything either.”

“I just don’t want you guys to think I’m saying it because I was first.”

They went into Sticky’s and looked at tee-shirts. They saw some guys they knew from soccer across the street and talked with them for a while. Then they walked up to campus.

“I think it’s nice,” Nick said. “We’ll all have her in our memory. There’s nothing wrong with us all having her in our memory.”

“She won’t be the first girl in my memory,” Lucas said.

“If we’re all going to have her in our memory,” Will said “Then I wish she was going somewhere next year. It makes me too sad that she’s staying here.”

Lucas and Nick were used to Will’s sadnesses and they liked them.

“I think it’s nice because we didn’t plan it out that way,” Nick said. “It just happened.”

“I would’ve thought that Will would’ve been first,” Lucas said.

“Me?”

“She liked you best. She talked about how nice you were.”

“I didn’t think I had any chance,” Nick said. “We went to that dance together and I felt so stiff in that suit.”

“And you can’t dance,” Will said.

“That’s true. Maybe she felt sorry for me for how I can’t dance.”

“If dancing was the thing, we’d all still be virgins,” Lucas said.

They laughed and wondered if they would ever learn to dance.

“You guys think there were a lot of other guys before us?” Will said.

“At least Mike Rupe and Dave Kennison.”

“Mike Rupe?”

“At least.”

“Then it’s not so nice a thing that the three of us were first with her.”

“Why?”

“If I have to think about the three of us being with her, then I have to think about Mike Rupe too.”

“Just leave him out of it,” Nick said.

“I can’t leave him out of it.”

“She was always like that,” Nick said. “She could hang around the guys like Mike Rupe, and she could hang around the guys like us. She’s one of those girls with a lot of sides to her.”

Unspoken between them, but hanging in the air, was the statement She’s got a lot of sides to her all right. If they weren’t such good friends, one of them might have felt compelled to say it. The alternative to being the kind of guys who would say that seemed to be being the kind of guys who were silent, and they didn’t know what kind of guys those were. It did go through both Lucas’ and Will’s thoughts to say it. It even went through Nick’s thoughts to say it, even though he would have been responding to himself. Somewhere in each of them, buoyed by the sight of the campus and the city they loved and would be leaving soon, was the slightest thought that something might live in the silence that came with not giving in to the laughter, to the easy joke. Something might live in the silence and it seemed like that might have been the whole point of their friendship all along. Next year they would be spread out over the country, but if they were silent now, that silence would connect them each in the new and lonely silences they would discover out there, and somehow Stephanie Esher would be all of who she was in their memory, whatever that was, even if that was a girl who could be with Mike Rupe, even if Mike Rupe was a guy who could be like Mike Rupe, still their silence could hold all of that, and they each wondered if they would meet new friends in Minnesota and Colorado and New York City who understood silence, but the funny thing was that it didn’t matter – certain expressions spoken aloud, even very funny ones, could come and go, but silence lasted forever, and none of it answered the question of what kind of guys they were for all having lost their virginity to the same girl, but certain questions didn’t need answering, they only needed to be asked in the right way, and it seemed very obvious to them as they walked through the city that for the first time was a place they would be leaving what the right way was, which was, continuously.

“It’s okay about Mike Rupe,” Nick said.

“It’s okay,” Will said. “I just wish she was going somewhere.”

They walked through the familiar streets and every inch of the city was propelling them out into the world. Was Stephanie Esher a part of that as well? They knew she didn’t have to be, but it was hard not to think it when they were all going and she was staying.

“We should tell her,” Will said.

“Tell her what?”

“That she doesn’t have to stay here next year.”

“‘Hi Stephanie,'” Lucas said. “‘We all lost our virginity to you and we want to tell you that you don’t have to stay here next year.'” He said it mockingly, but at the same time he laughed about how wonderful it was.

“Sure, why not?”

“Just show up at her house together?” Nick said. “The three of us?”

“Sure.”

“She knows she doesn’t have to stay here next year,” Lucas said.

“The point isn’t whether or not she knows it. The point is whether or not we say it.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s really important that she’s the first girl we each had sex with.”

“Of course it’s really important. But that doesn’t mean she’ll listen to us.”

“I just want to tell her. You’re worried about being the kind of guys who all lost their virginity to the same girl. Well, what if we all told her together? Then we’d be us. Then we’d be something different.”

“We’d be something different all right,” Lucas said.

“I’ll do it,” Nick said. “If you really want to, I’ll do it.”

Will was very happy to think of it. “It’ll be great. She might think that we just talk about her like three guys who had sex with the same girl. She might think we talk about her the way Mike Rupe would talk about her. But we can do better than that.”

“Okay,” Lucas said.

They walked around the campus fields, thinking of how wonderful it would be. It would be a good way to send themselves off into college. They wanted to be young men who had sex with girls and talked about them with something in the neighborhood of respect. They didn’t know what that meant. There were guys like Mike Rupe and Dave Kennison who’d had sex with girls long before them, but this could be a thing to be ahead of those guys in.

“I’ll call her,” Will said. “I’ll call her and tell her we want to talk with her.” He was sure he would do it out there next to the fields. There was nothing strange about it at all. They would just sit down and tell her that she deserved to think of herself as a girl out in the world. Maybe she wasn’t as interested in school as them. That was all right. It didn’t have to be school. It could be anything, anything that said that the world was more than Madison.

They walked back the way they’d came in the bright afternoon. They wondered if there would be afternoons like this in the places they would be going, this particular blend of the sun and the cold and of friendship. The sun and the cold didn’t seem like they would take much, but none of the three boys honestly expected to find two friends as good as the two others, and they were all right with that, and even happy.

It was good in a way that somebody would be staying behind here. It was a hell of a beautiful place to have grown up. If they talked to Stephanie Esher and she still decided to stay, they could take some solace in that. There was still a lot of life to be had here.

As the evening came, the possibility that Stephanie Esher was making a real decision grew in their minds. She had made decisions in regard to the three of them, decisions they were thankful for, and it was possible she was being just as decisive in staying.

“If you want to talk with her, I’ll do it,” Nick said when they were saying goodbye.

“Me too,” Lucas said.

“Okay,” Will said.

“It would be something different,” Nick said.

They looked for the feeling that it would seal something between them before they left for their places in the world. When they couldn’t find it, they came face-to-face with the possibility that it was already sealed.

“Okay,” Will said. He looked off in the distance, already trying to understand why he wasn’t going to call her. He said goodbye and started walking home, feeling very foolish. He felt thankful that next year his foolishness would get lost amid the noise and rush of New York City.

***

Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, lived for many years in San Francisco, and now calls Seattle home. He has had stories published in Glimmer Train, Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, West Branch, and Columbia Journal. His collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.