Today is the book birthday of the novel I wrote because I was *sure* it must be possible to write the story of a young woman experiencing her sexual awakening with a more experienced, older, more powerful man… in a way that’s feminist, sex positive, and, not least, medically accurate.
And you, dear blog readers, said, “Write that. You should write that.”
And darn it all, I did.
And it turned out, writing it was good for my soul, and I have continued to write because of that. Even if I never publish another romance novel after How Not to Let Go (sequel to HNTF), I will continue to write fiction, because it is good for me. And I’m grateful to you, blog readers, for being like, “Money where your mouth is,” and talking me into trying.
To say thanks, here’s chapter 1 of How Not to Fall:
My lips are dry and my heart is racing and he’s not even here yet.
This guy. He’s the postdoctoral fellow in my psychophysiology lab. Tall. Blond. English. A rock climber, for crying out loud. And he graduated from Cambridge University’s MB/PhD program when he was only twenty-three. Translation for civilians: he’s a fucking genius.
The man is a dreamboat. We’re all kind of crazy for him, all us undergrads in the lab – even Margaret, and she’s a lesbian. And I’m the craziest of us all. In fact, this is how crazy I’ve gotten: I’ve asked him to meet me for coffee.
The coffee isn’t crazy. We’ve had coffee before, he and I, to talk through papers or data or research projects. And the dry lips and racing heart are nothing new either – pretty much every time I see him (or, in this case, fail to see him), I feel this way.
But… I may have slightly led him to believe I’m struggling with some data, and that’s why I want to talk with him. (The data are fine. My senior thesis is practically done, and it has gone more smoothly than I ever expected.) In fact, what I’m going to tell him is – and see, I’ve got it all scripted in my head, so I don’t screw it up – “Charles: you know this is my last semester in college, and then I’m leaving for grad school. I think you and I have A Thing and so I would like to engage in a physical relationship with you before I leave Indiana. What do you say?”
This is as straightforward as it gets, right? I for one would love it if people approached me this unambiguously.
As I sit waiting for him, I consider including in my proposal a list of attributes I think make me a highly promising sex partner – the way you would in a cover letter for a job. Those attributes are, in descending order:
- My brain. An asset for every other complex task I’ve undertaken, and I see no reason why it won’t come in handy for this one.
- My athleticism. I don’t know exactly how this will help me either, but I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase “athletic sex,” and I’m sure I would like to try some.
- My enthusiasm. I feel confident it’s better to have sex with someone who’s really, really glad to be there with you, than with someone who isn’t.
And possibly also (4), my unblinking willingness to look like an idiot in public.
Am I a beauty queen? I am not. My nose has a great deal of character. My hair has some interesting ideas about its place in the world. My body is built more along the lines of a wristwatch than an hourglass – flat yet bendy. It works for me—I am my body’s biggest fangirl—but I recognize where it falls short of the culturally constructed ideal – specifically, right around the place where my breasts aren’t.
Still, having talked this through with Margaret, my labmate and roommate, we’ve concluded I should lead with my strengths.
I’ve just told you a slight lie. I said “we” concluded I should lead with my strengths. In fact, the conversation went more like this:
ME: I’m going to do it for real. I’m going to ask Charles to have sex with me.
MARGARET: laughs uproariously.
ME: completely straight face.
MARGARET: abruptly stops laughing. You’re serious?
ME: As a hemorrhage. (NB: I didn’t really say this. It’s the kind of thing I imagine myself saying. I think I actually said something pithy, like, “Yes.” Also, don’t be fooled into thinking I actually know how to spell hemorrhage. That baby is all spell check.)
MARGARET: But why not just ask him on a date?
ME: I don’t have time to date! I’m only here for three more months, and I’ve got a thesis to write!
MARGARET: staring mutely, in stunned disbelief. And… when are you going to do this?
ME: Right before spring break. I figure if it doesn’t go well, we can avoid each other for two weeks and then come back and pretend it never happened.
MARGARET: Dude. What are you going to say?
ME: Dude, I have no fucking clue. (NB: This is word for word what I said.)
We tried googling “how to ask a guy if he’d like to have sex with you,” but we found little of value. There was a lot of “how to tell if he likes you,” but I already know he likes me – he just thinks of me as his duckling. Professor Smith is the Poppa Duck, Charles is the Momma Duck, and all of us undergrads are the ducklings, quacking and waddling our way through the lab, with somewhere between a third and a half a clue what we’re doing.
I did not attempt a search for “how to convince your academic Momma Duck that you’re not a duckling after all—you’re a sexytimes lady who wants sexytimes with him.
Margaret’s conclusion, having thought it through, was that I should not say anything.
“I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “It’ll be awkward.”
“I’d rather be awkward than never try,” I said. “I really think he and I have A Thing.”
And she said, “But maybe trying will actually make it less likely to happen, you know?”
I didn’t know. I don’t know. All I know how to do is try and keep on trying until I succeed, and then I usually try some more until I get good at whatever it is. That’s how it works, isn’t it?
So here I am, complete with dry lips, racing heart, and a coffee going cold in front of me. Because I decided it’s fine, either way. It’s no big deal. If he says no, he says no. We finish the semester, we go our separate ways; no harm, no foul. It won’t change anything. Whatever happens today, I’ll still graduate in May, wrap up my dance classes, go the World Congress on Psychophysiology conference, and then go home to New York City to accept free food and lodging from my parents for one blissful month.
And then I’m off to Boston, to begin what can only be described as the Harvard/MIT MD-PhD program.
(I know, right? I kind of impress me too.)
And nothing Charles might say or do will change any of that.
I just want to pause for a minute and say, for the record, I applied to the Harvard program basically as a joke. Like, doesn’t everyone apply to Harvard? Isn’t that just what you do? I applied for undergrad and didn’t get in, but last year I was looking at graduate programs and I thought, Do it. It’s not like you have to take a whole separate MCAT; it’s just one extra program to apply to, one extra essay to write. And the program is a-fucking-mazing, which is why everyone applies. But nobody gets in. You get rejected by Harvard, you go wherever you’re accepted, it’s fine.
Besides which, I spent my entire life expecting to go to Columbia University for med school – apart from a few lost years when I thought I’d be a dancer, but let’s not talk about that. My parents both got their medical degrees at Columbia. They met there. They fell in love there. I’m a Columbia baby. It was my destiny. Until I got the letter from Harvard.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, I know, and I am genuinely appreciative of all the opportunities I’ve had. It goes to show how little I have to lose right now. The day the letter came, I sat on my bed, surrounded by my various acceptance letters, and did the only thing I know to do under these circumstances: I Skyped my parents.
I pressed my palm into my forehead and told them, “It’s Columbia… or Harvard. I don’t know.”
My dad was like, “You gotta make the choice that’s right for you, Anniebellie.” (My name is Annabelle. Dad calls me Anniebellie sometimes. He’s been doing it since I was born. I have no expectation that he’ll ever stop, no matter how often I roll my eyes at him.)
And Mom was like, “Go with your gut, girl.”
In other words, they were no help. So I went for a run through Bryan Park, and when I got back to the apartment, all sweaty and panting, I Skyped them again.
“It’s Harvard,” I told them. And then for no apparent reason, I burst into tears.
My dad sighed and said, “We’re so proud of you. But you know what?” And he stopped for a second and sniffed. “We’d be proud of you if you lived in the basement apartment and worked at Starbucks for the rest of your life, because who you are is what matters, and you are a kind, beautiful person, Anniebee. You deserve it.”
This next part is embarrassing, but I want you to understand my state of mind. All I could say in that moment was, “Daddy,” as I sobbed in the direction of my laptop.
And my mom said, “Oh, eHug, honey. Hugs on electrons.” Which is the kind of thing she says. She’s maybe a little awkward.
So I laughed through my sobs and said, “I love you too, Mom.”
Right? I’m lucky. I’ll need to grow up eventually, I know; one day when I have a tough decision to make, I’ll have to call someone other than my parents. But you know what? That day isn’t here yet, and I’m not in a hurry.
Anyway, that was last week. And now here I am, still in undergrad, still at Indiana University. And even though, just at the moment, the idea of living in my parents’ basement and working at Starbucks is sounding pretty attractive, I know that in actual fact there are no consequences of rejection I can’t cope with. I’ve been rejected plenty, and accepted plenty too, and I’ll be fine.
And oh fuck. There he is.
IMPORTANT PS: Lots and lots of sex, plus a cliffhanger ending. Feel free to wait until December, when the sequel comes out, if a cliffhanger will make you bananapants.