I start with candles. People say that candles are sexy, especially the scented kind—smell is linked to memory and all. I choose a few small vanilla and cinnamon scented tea lights and place them in little glass containers around the bathroom. I strike the match, and the moment the sole wisp of smoke evaporates into the air, I’m surrounded by smells reminding me of fresh-baked goods at the coffeehouse. And Erin. I picture them in their flour-splattered apron, handing me a perfect scone made especially for me. There’s a wink involved, behind which says a lot without words.

This is how I’m trying to seduce myself. Twenty-two, virgin, and I’ve never had an orgasm. I’ve never tried. It’s not that sex doesn’t interest me, more that I’m intimidated. Connecting with another person—even myself—in such an intimate, physical way, is hard to imagine.

Or it was. I feel connected to Erin in a way I’ve never felt with anyone before. They’re wonderful. They get me. The intensity of this emotion is immense to the point I sometimes don’t know what to do with it. I get this stirring in my belly when they look at me. My palms go sweaty when we hold hands. My thoughts linger over small details of our interactions long after they’ve happened, filling me with joy and anticipation for our next date. What began as friendship between us tunneled under my skin and into my bones, weaving romance—and the first time, desire—for something more. We’ve talked about taking things further. There’s no pressure at all, which I like. But I can’t go further without knowing what a body—my body—can do first. I need to prepare.

I picture Erin’s bright eyes when I turn on the faucet. I catch my skinny reflection in the mirror and pucker my lips. Erin does this every time, right before they laugh. It’s so funny. I hear my own giggles as the hot water fogs the corners of my image in the small space. I pull my shirt from over my head and toss it at the hamper in the corner. Next I strip off my jeans, boy shorts, and socks. I close my eyes as I drag my hands over my skin the way Erin did a few nights before.

It began with a friendly hug, followed by light touches sliding down my forearm, giving me satisfying tingles I felt stretch down to my toes. We spoke a lot that night. We laughed until there were stitches in our sides. We held hands. I felt safe, happy, as I do now. I give myself a hug and copy the light stroke of Erin’s touch, reliving the memory of tingles until goosebumps overwhelm me. This is so different—wanting this intimacy—I’m smiling when the image of the human before me goes fuzzy in the mirror.

I turn off the water when the tub is half full and popping with suds. I dip my toe and decide the temperature is agreeable before I step inside. Baths are so relaxing. It’s a good idea to relax. I admit I’m nervous. My older sister gifted me a vibrating-rabbit-dildo-thing for my eighteenth birthday—that’s her kind of humor—and I’ve never taken it out of the package until now. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever held in my hand: eight inches of purple silicone penis reproduction with a pointy thumby-thing protruding from the side. The texture isn’t skin-like, but probably is as realistic as man-made can be. Part of me is glad it’s synthetic. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I currently have no curiosity to hold the real thing. I’m not sure I need this device, but it’s part of my preparation whether or not I use it. I eye it with caution where it rests—in the triangle nook in the wall above the bath and next to the radio.

I flip a switch as I recline into the water. Whatever is on the radio is fine with me. It’s a jazz station and they always play the sweetest melodies. Slow or a bit peppy doesn’t matter; it’s mostly just background noise to accompany the popping of the soap bubbles and the swish of the water as I move my limbs about. Cupping handfuls of warm liquid, I bring it up and over each arm and let it cascade down my chest. Deep breaths in and out.

How do I begin?

I’m not sure, despite full knowledge of my anatomy. I feel silly, then even sillier as I remember my sister—when gifting me the sex toy—joked about flicking the bean. This memory makes me feel small, like I want to crawl into a ball. She laughed of course, seeing my embarrassment at her gift, but she told me someday I wouldn’t be such a prude. I sigh and toss the memory aside. I should focus now on testing my body. The whole point of this is learning and preparing for when Erin and I both agree we want more to happen.

My body clenches some as I slide my left hand down my torso, over my wild terrain, and between my thighs. I find my labia and slide two fingers along either side and immediately withdraw. I’ve been holding my breath. Despite my best efforts toward relaxation, I’m still not in the rest headspace.

I take a few deep breaths while I let my body float. I hear the music, watch the candle flames flutter, and steam cloud around me. I think of Erin. It’s easy to think of them. They’re so beautiful. Their hair is shiny and often smells of fragrant shampoo. I picture the shape of their ears just hidden by the length of their dark locks, the curve of their elegant neck under this, stretching to not-defined, but still powerful shoulders. Erin’s arms attach there like stable branches—perfect for soothing hugs, or even the close, reassuring side-brush. Their torso is equally self-assured. My vivid imagination visualizes the power of their patient heart, lifting off them like light coming at me, surrounding me. And without knowing it, my hand flutters back down between my thighs. I inhale.

My whole body reacts: my breath hitches, mouth goes dry, calves go rigid. A curious tingling sensation zips up my torso as I tap my finger on what I know to be my clit. I tap a few more times and lose whatever pleasure I just caused. I guess I’ve stopped concentrating.

I think of Erin again, a memory. We walk along the lakeshore near my house, eating ice cream. Watching their mouth is hypnotizing. Every wide gulp they take smears mint chocolate chip over their lips, leaving a shiny sugar coating behind. They lick this with their tongue and begin all over again. They see my fascination with this simple action and ask to link arms with me. I almost melt like my own, still untouched cone.

My fingers find the right spot again, and my body zings back up. The water feels warmer than when I first stepped in, and my breathing comes a bit faster. I think of Erin’s mouth on me—what it might feel like to be their ice cream—and grasp my small breast with my right hand. My flesh here, exposed out of the water, is cool against my searching fingers, and my nipple stands to point when I tweak it between two fingers. The combination of both hands working my body is lovely, and although there is growing anticipation in my core, I don’t know that my own hands are enough. Perhaps I need to do this more often to know what will work for me.

I eye the sex toy near the radio, watching the candlelight flicker over it. Toys are made for a reason, and lots of people use them. To prepare for sex, I might as well at least test it. If I don’t like it, then back inside the package it goes for however many years.

I grab the purple thing and splash it down into the water. Pushing the top button, I let it buzz against my leg. It feels very strange, but not bad. Drawing it up over my belly button, it tickles my skin and makes me giggle. It’s a sound I associate with being near Erin. Laughter comes easily to them, and theirs is the best. It’s one of those large, belting, mouth-open, head-rearing laughs that demands attention from anyone nearby. Their teeth gleam white against their tan skin. Their eyes tear up. And even if you’re not in on the joke, you can’t help but laugh along.

I bring the toy higher to my chest and feel it buzz over my nipple. I didn’t even know I’d closed my eyes, but I open them suddenly as pleasant sensations fill my whole torso. It feels like electricity. I sigh and drag it back down, drawing a pathway over my middle and down between my thighs. I tease myself now, bringing the length up and over each of my legs and then closer to my center. Despite being close with Erin for almost a year, I’ve only ever kissed them a few times, but I think of these kisses now as the toy works closer.

Lips are warm, soft, and give under pressure. They turn and twist, pull, suck, command or submit. They follow sometimes by a warm, skillful tongue, probing past teeth to discover an equally eager companion on the other side of the barrier. I find this when the extension of the toy contacts my labia and makes me gasp, the vibration crawling into me and causing me to grasp the edge of the tub for support.

A candle I placed there tinks off the edge and onto the tile floor. I stammer. There’s a rug here too. The tiny flame is still alive and hisses as I stand, splashing water all about. The toy bumps against my foot where it continues to buzz. I right the candle, place it further from me, and slink back down into the tub, heart racing.

I laugh when my dildo dances toward me, as the wave I created when I submerged crests against the tub walls. I’m taken out of the sudden urgency of possible fire and reminded of another time my heart thundered just as hard. I picture it easily and take the toy in my hands again.

Erin moves with confidence as we dance. I lack the necessary skills—all uncertainty and more than two left feet. Their comforting arm reaches up to the middle of my back. The space between us is minimal. The heat of their form is a snug pressure as we sway. Erin says how happy they are. I’m happy too. A full-body flush overwhelms me; a shiver runs the length of my spine. This is the first time I yearn for Erin’s touch and the first time I feel steered by impulse to attain it.

My hands bring the toy back to position near my groin, while my mind relives the bumping of my clumsy legs against Erin’s. The toy prods me just right. I want to be closer. I take a step back in my mind, Erin takes a step forward. We weave an unseen pattern across the dark dance floor until our bodies come back to each other.

I push the toy harder against myself as I think of being in Erin’s arms. I allow it to enter my body slightly, and the buzzing sensations—they cause me to squirm and flex—demand more depth. Erin spins me away and I plunge the toy into myself, the protruding thumb grazing my leg while the length fills me. It’s snug and foreign, but not uncomfortable. I turn it as I see myself spin back to Erin—back to their close proximity. The toy’s thumb hits my clit. I gasp as a smooth heat begins to overcome me, and I jerk through the water, splashing waves up the sides. Erin presses their forehead to mine and asks if they can kiss me.

I tell them yes.

My lips press against themselves while my feet brace the walls of the tub. A tremor in me matches the vibrations of the toy, probing at some internal mass I can’t name. It wants to be punctured, shattered, destroyed, let go. My hand on the toy moves on its own as I watch myself kiss Erin, watch our movements in unison, feel the warm breath and honest desire of their emotion for me.

I withdraw and plunge again. The tub becomes a storm of waves, crashing and breaking. My limbs don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going. I possess no tether to the earth. My muscles clutch and release against the toy’s length, continuing in urgent pushes as I hold it there, greedy for more. Erin’s mouth releases me and comes back, dotting me with every fading push the vibrating thing demands. But we keep kissing. I move the toy again, back and forth, and once again that unnamable internal thing grows—quicker this time—and wishes for destruction. I don’t hear the music anymore. I don’t see the candles. There is no tub. No water. Just Erin. Our kiss evolving into a full kiss-embrace on a dance floor, not caring who is watching or what they’re thinking. Two people who get each other.

My body ricochets and the storm is larger than before. I can’t control it. I didn’t know I could even do this. My body. Me. My voice rises in my ears as I vocalize the pleasure shooting through me and bursting past every obstacle it encounters. I’m free, like I’m flying. Like the sensation I feel in the dip Erin gives me as the song we dance to ends.

The toy falls out of my hand, still buzzing, as my body rests at the bottom of the tub. I am as still as I am when we retreat from the dance floor to sit down—comfortable, content, complete.

My Erin is my world. They are what I want. The person I want to share intimacy with, pleasure, joy, harmony.

I’m finally ready.

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