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Authors: Tim Pratt

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Briarpatch by Tim Pratt (16 page)

BOOK: Briarpatch by Tim Pratt
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“No,” Orville said. In a sense, he had nothing to lose. This morning he’d been willing to die, and if things went disastrously wrong, if humiliation befell him, he could always take that ultimate escape again. “I’d like to call your friend.”

“All right.” Bridget clapped her hands. “Ismael always said sex—good sex, without head games—was almost as good as standing in the light of a better world, and for a while he tried all kinds of tantric things as a path toward transcendence, but it didn’t get him any closer to the light than drugs or music had.”

“Tantric? What’s that?”

“Don’t worry,” Bridget said. “We’ll start off slow.”

4

This time, Orville felt flush enough to take a cab, and gave the driver an address in Berkeley.

“She’s a grad student,” Bridget said. “In her last year. You’re lucky she was free to see you tonight.”

Orville just nodded, almost imperceptibly, because he didn’t want the driver to think he was crazy. The call had been relatively painless—he’d introduced himself as Bridget’s cousin, said she’d recommended he seek out Geneva’s company, and did she have an opening tonight . . . ? Geneva, very businesslike, said they could meet at a café in Berkeley, introduce themselves, and see what happened.

The cab pulled up to a curb, and Orville paid and got out, Bridget following. He wondered if Bridget really
needed
him to open the door, or if she could just pass through it; wondered how much her ongoing pretensions to physicality were born out of habit, and how much out of fear.

They went into the café, a big place with a tile floor, brick walls, high ceilings, and lots of square tables. “That’s her in the corner,” Bridget said, pointing. She’d gotten the hang of being confidently invisible. The woman in the corner by the window was dark-haired and dark-eyed, not at all what Orville had expected—he’d imagined a Barbie-doll blonde, for some reason, probably the influence of too much porn. Geneva was pretty, but not altogether conventionally, with a strong nose and a high forehead, her wavy hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a grey sweatshirt, and though he couldn’t see her lower body because of the table, he was willing to bet she wasn’t wearing a mini-skirt or latex pants. He didn’t look at her and think “hooker,” which was probably the point.

“Oh, it’s good to see her,” Bridget said, sad-happily, and Orville felt bad for so frankly thinking about Geneva’s body—this woman was a friend of Bridget’s, who didn’t even know she was dead. “Go over, say hi, and offer to buy her a drink.” Bridget made a shoo-go-on motion.

Orville approached, trying to smile—this body seemed to have better teeth than his original had, but he was still habituated to a lifetime of shyness—and said “Hello, Geneva?”

“You must be Orville.” She gestured to the chair across from her.

“You, ah, want something to drink?”

“Another coffee if you’re going up there.” She flashed a smile, and Orville hurried over to the counter, blushing furiously.

“You know, Orville,” Bridget said, trailing along, “I wondered, when you told me you were a virgin. You aren’t really bad looking—scrawny, and you’ve got those hangdog eyes, but I think your face has character. But now I see. You’re shy.”

Orville scowled as he waited in line at the counter. Of course he was shy. Social situations paralyzed him.

“So let me set you at ease a little. Geneva knows what she’s doing. Don’t leer, don’t drool on yourself, look at her face instead of just at her tits—she made that easy with the sweatshirt, considerate of her—and you’ll be fine.”

Orville bought a coffee for Geneva and one for himself—god, coffee smelled so good, no wonder people liked to drink it so much—and returned to the table.

“So you’re Bridget’s cousin?”

“Yeah. Grew up just down the road from her in Indiana. We’ve been through a lot together.” Just what Bridget had told him to say.

“Oh, yeah? You guys ever go mountain biking?”

Bridget, who was standing near Orville’s right side, laughed. “She knows I hate biking. I got in an accident when I was a teenager and never wanted to ride after that. She’s trying to see if you’re telling the truth.”

“I thought Bridget hated biking?” Orville said, and, at Bridget’s prompting: “She tried to teach me to surf once, but all I did was fall off the board a lot and get a sunburn.”
This is like
Cyrano de Bergerac, Orville thought. But it was easier, talking to this woman, with Bridget’s help.

“Yeah, we used to surf together sometimes, we’d go down to Santa Cruz,” Geneva said, seeming more relaxed now. “So how is Bridget? I haven’t seen her in months.”

“Ask her if she heard about me and Darrin,” Bridget said, and Orville did.

Geneva sighed. “I did, she called me a few months ago and told me they’d split up, that she had to work some stuff out. I only met Darrin a couple of times. He seemed nice—maybe like he lived inside his head a little too much, but nice.”

“Yeah,” Bridget said, a little sadly.

“Yes,” Orville said. “I guess she’s still trying to figure things out.”

“Aren’t we all,” Geneva said. “I think we can work together, Orville. Would you like to come over to my place?”

“Tell her nothing would please you more,” Bridget said.

5

Geneva’s apartment was a neat one-bedroom with a spacious living room, on the third floor of an apartment building just a block from the café.

“Have a seat,” she said, pointing to a cushiony white sofa. “I’ll be right back.” She disappeared into the bedroom and shut the door.

Orville glanced over at Bridget, who was perusing Geneva’s bookshelves. “Um,” he said. “Are you going to be . . . in there . . . with us?”

She looked around, eyebrow raised. “Do you have an exhibitionist streak, Orville? Do you want me to be in there with you? I can stay out here if you go in the bedroom, if that’s what you want. It’s not far enough away to hurt me.”

He didn’t know how to answer. The idea of Bridget watching them should have mortified him, but he was also nervous about being away from her.

“I did watch Geneva work once, with a guy who got off on having another girl in the room, just watching. It was easy money. I didn’t mind. I wouldn’t mind with you, either, if you think you’d need encouragement, or—”

“Please come,” Orville said.

“Will do. Oh, offer to pay her when she comes back out. Better if she doesn’t have to ask.”

Geneva returned a moment later in a short red silk robe, her hair loose. “So, Orville,” she said.

“Do you mind, could we settle the, ah, business part, so I’m not thinking about it?”

“Sure.” She told him the price, a significant percentage of his poker winnings, but about what Bridget had said to expect. He paid her, and she put the money in a little silver box on the coffee table. She curled up on the couch beside him, and he sat still, so nervous he could barely imagine moving. Geneva leaned over and kissed his cheek, putting her hand on his thigh. “You can touch me,” she whispered in his ear. “You can tell me what you want.”

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t possibly. Orville was on the verge of rising and fleeing the apartment.

Then Bridget whispered in his other ear. “Go ahead, Orville. I want to see you touch her. You deserve it. You deserve some happiness.” There was no breath in his ear from her voice, but the hairs on his neck stood up anyway. “She’ll talk dirty if you want,” Bridget said, “or she’ll be sweet, whatever you like. Touch her. I’ll be with you. I’ll be with you all the time.”

“Would you like to take your jacket off?” Geneva said, and Orville nodded, shrugging out of it. Geneva knelt on the floor, her body between his legs, and unbuttoned his shirt. He reached out tentatively, caressing her cheek, and she nipped at his fingertip and drew it into her mouth, sucking on it. Then she leaned forward and kissed his chest. Orville trembled.

“Ask her to take off her robe,” Bridget said. Her voice was strangely breathy, even though she didn’t have breath.

“I’d—could I—I’d like to see you without the robe.”

Geneva looked up at him—her face so close to his—and smiled. She stood up. “I didn’t know if you liked lingerie, or what kind, so I hope this is all right. I just wore . . . nothing.” She let the robe fall.

Orville had never seen a nude woman in the flesh—had always been too afraid to even brave a strip club. He said what he thought: “You’re so beautiful.”

Geneva smiled, and dimples appeared in her cheeks. “Your turn.” She drew him to his feet. She knelt again, and unbuttoned his pants, pulling them down. She caressed his cock through his boxer shorts. “Is this for me?” she said. “How nice.” She ran her fingernails up his length, and he gasped.

“Easy now,” Bridget said, sitting on the couch. “Don’t lose control of yourself. Try thinking about the multiplication tables.”

2 x 2 is 4
, he thought.
4 x 4 is 16. 16 x 16 is . . .

Geneva pulled his boxers down, and conjured a condom from somewhere, ripping it open with her teeth. “Sit,” she said, and he did gratefully, as his legs were shaking. She leaned forward to roll the condom on, then stopped, and touched his upper thigh. “Oh, I like this tattoo. What is it?”

“Tattoo?” Bridget said. “You never struck me as the tattoo type.” She leaned forward, the top of her head nearly touching Geneva’s, and the sight of the two women so close together was enough to make Orville moan slightly. “It looks like a bridge, Orville, a little arched footbridge.”

“It’s a bridge,” Orville said, trying to keep his voice calm. He’d known this was a new body—the tastes, the smells, the unbroken legs. But a
tattoo
. . . that was something more. It suggested more than another body; it suggested another
life
, a life he might have had, one that allowed for the possibility of tattoos.

Geneva leaned forward and kissed the tattoo, and Orville gasped—who knew that part of his body could be so sensitive?

She rolled the condom onto him deftly, then closed her hand around his cock. He moaned again, rather less softly.

Geneva took him into her mouth.

Orville sat, his mouth open, his whole body faintly trembling.
I almost killed myself
, he thought.
I almost killed myself without ever feeling this.

He looked at Bridget, who sat beside him on the couch. She smiled at him beneficently, maybe even proudly. “Don’t look at me,” she said. “Look at the beautiful woman going down on you. And when you fuck her, ask if you can take her from behind. She told me that’s her favourite. And, anyway, I’d like to watch.” She grinned, a wicked grin, a grin that made her seem entirely alive.

12 x 4 is 48
, Orville thought.

6

“You’re sweet,” Geneva said later, and patted his cheek. “You can come back sometime if you want. And tell Bridget to call me.”

“I wish,” Bridget murmured from the office chair across from the bed.

Orville nodded. “I’d like that. I had a nice time.” He stole a glance at Bridget. When Geneva had led him into the bedroom, Bridget had followed, watching them with hungry eyes. Watching Geneva, yes, but also watching
Orville
, and her gaze had excited him, almost too much. Orville didn’t think he was an exhibitionist. Having anyone watch him wouldn’t do. But somehow, because it was Bridget . . .

There was a nude woman beside him in bed, for the first time in Orville’s life. And yet, his eyes didn’t linger on her skin. His gaze kept shifting to Bridget in the corner, still in her red coat, and even so, he found her more alluring than the naked woman at his side.

“Do you want to shower or something before you go?” Geneva said, rising and putting on a fuzzy blue robe far more modest and comfortable-looking than the short silk one she’d worn earlier.

“Uh, no, no,” Orville said, and gathered his own clothes together. The room smelled of sweat and something else—sex, he supposed. Oh, the smells—her hair, her wetness on his fingers, the hollow where her neck met her shoulder. He wondered what Bridget smelled like. As a ghost, she was as odourless as Orville’s whole world had been before he swapped bodies. If Bridget hadn’t died, Orville would never have met her, but now he would never know her alive. Longing swept through him. Even dead, she’d done so much for him, given him ice cream and winning at cards and sex and a new body with a tattoo . . . and the willingness to live his life. This was better than being dead. In its sensual physicality, he even thought this was better than the light of the other world he’d glimpsed as he fell from the bridge.

Once he was dressed, Geneva walked him to the door. “You’ve got my cell,” she said. “I guess the number Bridget gave you? But for this sort of thing, here’s a better number.” She passed him a business card, and he mumbled thanks, trying to decide if having a prostitute’s card meant he was pathetic or worldly. He decided it didn’t matter. He’d had a good night.

Geneva shut the door, leaving him alone in the hall and at a loss for a moment, until Bridget stepped into his vision. “Well, Orville, was it good for you?”

“Very.” He set off down the hall, toward the elevator. “It was amazing.”

“You looked like you were having a fine time.” She seemed sad.

“Are you okay?” A stupid question, in any fundamental sense, but he already trusted her to know what he meant.

She sighed. “I guess it’s true that sex is mental. I mean, I’ve always liked watching, Darrin and I were like a gender-stereotype-reversal that way, he can take or leave porn, but I love it, and I like watching couples too. Seeing you and Geneva was nice. I always thought she was beautiful, and it was hot the way you kept looking over at me—”

Orville blushed, and at the same time, felt aroused.

“—with her not even knowing I was there. So without really thinking about it I reached down to touch myself, and . . . nothing.” She waved her hand as Orville pressed the call button for the elevator. “I couldn’t even feel myself. I read once about this neurological disorder that destroys your sense of where your arms and legs and hands are? It’s like that for me when I try to touch myself. I can affect things in the world, push them around a little, but it’s clumsy, like trying to play piano while wearing oven mitts. There’s no pressure, no friction. I thought not being able to eat was the worst.” Orville got into the elevator, grateful it was empty, and Bridget followed. “But losing my body? It’s so much more than just never having a hot fudge sundae again. Once, in the briarpatch, Ismael and I ran into this
thing
, all floating and ragged at the edges, whispering and grabbing at vines and branches, but it couldn’t get a grip on anything. Ismael said he didn’t know what it was, just that he’d seen them before, and they were harmless, but I wonder if maybe it was something like me, someone who left their body, got lost, and went crazy.” She looked at Orville now and said “I don’t want that to happen to me, Orville.”

BOOK: Briarpatch by Tim Pratt
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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