Thanks, everyone, for your incredibly helpful responses to my question about polyamory. Your thoughts changed the scene, which I’d thought of as awkward but comic, into one that raises much more serious questions, ones the protagonist then wrestles with through the rest of the story.
Here’s the scene — if you have any feedback (either about the scene, about the woman’s questions, or about Gina’s answers), I’d love to hear them! (For reference: Gina, a black pre-law student, has been in a quad with three guys — Jim, Matt, and Sam — for the previous month. If you’d like a peek at their story, you can get a very NSFW preview here.)
The Visitor Rises (Preview #1) — Streetcar
Most mornings, Gina rode the streetcar with her earphones in and her head stuck in a book. This morning, though, she was too happy, too excited. She found herself humming, thinking about going dancing that night with her boys.
“Someone’s happy!” An Asian women next to Gina grinned.
“It’s my birthday.”
“Someone bring you breakfast in bed?”
Gina nodded and then leaned close. “My boyfriends.”
The woman’s eyebrows shot in different directions, as if she weren’t sure that she’d heard right. “Boyfriends?” she whispered. “Like, plural?”
Grinning even more broadly, Gina held up three fingers.
Now the woman’s fine-plucked brows shot straight up. “No shit?”
“Like, all at the same time?”
Forcing herself not to giggle, Gina nodded. “Aw, Hell, yeah.”
“I know, right?”
“Um, do you mind my asking… I mean, was it just a one-time thing?”
“Oh, no, we live together, the four of us. It’s a, um, ménage à quatre.”
“Double damn.” She leaned closer. “So, was one of them your boyfriend, and then…?”
Gina shook her head. “Nah. They’re all roommates. I met them all at the same time and… We’ve all been together for a bit over a month.” Four weeks, five days.
“You and three guys? You must be exhausted!”
Gina laughed, “Maybe. But I’m very, very happy. And they are too.”
“Wow!” The woman gave a smirk. “My guy and I have been together for a couple of years, and at this point, I’m lucky if I get him to make me happy once in a month. How often…?”
A bit embarrassed, Gina shrugged. “Well, not every night. But most.” Absurdly, Gina found herself remembering Barbara’s very unromantic lessons on avoiding urinary tract infections and other polyamory pitfalls.
“Lucky,” sighed the woman, then squinted. “You’re using protection, right?”
Gina had gotten this question a lot — from her family, from her friends. She shrugged. “Well, I’ve got an IUD. And we’re careful.” Condoms for anal sex. Lots and lots of lube. Frequent pee breaks.
“Well, I mean, are any of you with other people as well? I mean…?”
“No. Believe me, we’re all into what we’ve got.” (And even if we weren’t, none of us would have the energy for another relationship.) “Polyamory don’t mean we sleep around, you know. Just that there’s four of us, instead of two.”
“Sure. That makes sense. Well, I couldn’t do it, I don’t think, and I know my Carl would never be able to share me, he can’t share potato chips, but it makes sense.” The woman raised a finger to her lips. “I mean, I know you’re not necessarily thinking about kids and stuff, but… Wouldn’t it bother them not to know who the father was? Sorry. Random.”
Now Gina shook her head. “Don’t think that would be a problem. One’s a redhead off an Indiana farm. One’s a Persian from Marin. And the other’s from New Zealand, but his family is from Korea.” She found her throat tightening, though she wasn’t sure why. “They’re all… gorgeous. Wonderful. But very different looking.”
“Damn.” The woman shifted. “I guess I just figured they were all black.” After a moment she whispered, “Which I guess is kind of stupid. I mean, I’m Chinese on both sides, but I’ve mostly dated white guys. Heh. My mom always said Korean men were crazy in bed.”
Gina shrugged. Crazy was certainly one word for Jim, in bed or out.
“So do you have a, you know, favorite?”
“Uh… I mean, they’re all different, but they all—”
“Oh, sure, I can imagine — well, I mean, I can’t really imagine, I don’t think I could do that. I mean don’t they get jealous?”
“Don’t think so. I mean, two of them are bi, so it’s not just me, you know?”
The woman’s already high, plucked eyebrows arched even higher. “So…” She blinked rapidly. “Wow. Sorry. I keep saying that. It’s just, it’s so wild. So do you do it alone sometimes? Just you and one of the guys, or just the two queer guys alone?”
“Um. Sex-wise? Sure. Sometimes. But we all live together.”
“Must be a big bed!” laughed the woman.
Gina laughed, not sure whether she was relieved or nervous. “Aw, hell, yeah!”
“But don’t you, you know get…. I mean, isn’t it hard to know that two of the guys are off boffing without you? I’d be afraid they’re going to just, I don’t know, just sort of use you and lose you? Or that the other guy — he’s straight?”
“Damn. My boyfriend, he’d never go for that. I think the idea of two guys boffing would make him run screaming out of the room.”
“Sam’s okay with it,” Gina said, though she wasn’t feeling sure of anything any more.
“I don’t think Carl would be able to see me touching another guy, to be honest.”
Gina started to try to explain, to talk about trust and respect and all of the stuff that she and Lea had talked about all those months before, but the woman didn’t give her a chance. Smiling thoughtfully, she said, “Mind, I’d love three mouths making me feel good. That must be amazing.”
“It is.” (And not just in bed…)
“But I’d want someone who was just mine. Don’t you want that? I mean, doesn’t that bother you?”
They rode in silence for a block. The woman looked up a bit apologetically. “I mean, I’m sorry, asking all these questions. I’ve just never actually talked to someone… I mean, everyone has fantasies, right? I used to think about these twin brothers I went to school with. Um. But yeah, here, you’re living the dream.”
“That I am.” Gina found herself saying this with more emphasis than she’d meant to.
The woman didn’t seem to mind. She was looking out the window. “I guess I just… All I can keep thinking is, Damn, where does everything go? I mean, you know, dicks and stuff, but also… I mean, arms and legs and —” She looked back at Gina with a smile and shrugged.
“Well, they’re professional dancers. So they’re really comfortable with each other, and really good at… at making things move around, you know?” (And we do spend time doing things other than fucking.)
“Oh, wow. Chippendales?”
“Oh.” For the first time, the woman blushed. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Gina said, trying to let go of the discomfort that the conversation had been raising in her. “I mean, if I didn’t know what a ménage à quatre was like —” (If I didn’t have a family full of polyamorous relationships.) “— I’d have lots of questions too.”
They rode in silence for a few blocks.
“Well, all I can say,” said the Asian woman, shaking her head, “is my boyfriend certainly has some catching up to do.” She chuckled, shaking her head again. “Funny thing: when I got on this morning, the most interesting thing I thought I had to look forward to was some old dude with a scraggly beard talking to himself.” She flicked her head across the aisle to where a homeless man — with a scraggly beard — was muttering something about furling under his breath. The woman stood. “My stop. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” Gina said, returning the woman’s smile.
But she was thinking about jealousy. And about how she was leaving for Atlanta in three weeks and two days.
And what then?