Jon was a gentleman in every way but one.
He was handsome and built like a horse. He had great big hands. When I met him, at first I thought he was Hercules, but he was more than a man who could pick you up and toss you.
Inside his huge skull was a huge brain. A problem-solver. When your laptop wouldn’t turn on, he could resurrect it like he was Jesus Christ.
When he met me, he instantly recognized how desperately I was in need of saving. He told me so. He said he had already forgiven me for everything I would do wrong.
Could it be true?
Jon’s voice was oaky and sweet, and when people spoke to him, he looked them right in their eyes. He was polite, and he was one of the first people to listen to me.
He bought me a new suitcase shortly after we started spending time together. Before that, I carried my things around in a black garbage bag. Jon said he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about us. I didn’t understand why my garbage bag might implicate him in any way, but I knew he knew what he was talking about.
He was friendly with the women who took his credit card at the front desk of the hotels he brought me to; I could see him smiling at them. Jon usually asked me to hang back while he checked in. It was easier that way, if I waited in the car while he settled things.
Sometimes after he’d fetched me, the women behind the front desk would see us as we were making our way to the elevator together, and they’d give me a look I wasn’t sure how to interpret. Sometimes they’d furrow their brows, and sometimes they’d cock their heads ever so slightly.
Jon was chummy with the young men who carried my new suitcase up and into the rooms he paid for. Jon would wink at them and make jokes, then he and the those young men would laugh and laugh. They laughed so hard with Jon that they seemed not to notice at all when he pressed folded bills into their hands. Jon was a master of discretion.
You’re a gentleman and a scholar! Jon would tell them, and they’d laugh some more.
He was a charmer, absolutely. He was so funny.
Jon wore reflective sunglasses when he picked me up, and a chic scarf, and a hat. Brown leaves scratched across the street I crossed to climb up into his clutches. It was the autumn after I’d graduated from the high school where Jon had been teaching science since before I was born.
I had just turned eighteen. I was absolutely a grown up—and—as Jon had marveled at, I was remarkably mature for my age. He was always saying that.
There were cut daffodils on the dashboard. Poet’s narcissus, he told me, for my little poet. It was so special, we agreed, to be a scientist and a poet. Aren’t they the same thing? he would muse. I would twirl and giggle, bringing him back to Earth. It was so special.
Jon drove out of the neighborhood where I lived with my grandmother. He drove past our high school. He drove past the local shopping mall where I worked twenty hours a week and past the diner where, up until recently, I would join my friends until late in the night to smoke cigarettes and talk about things we were going to do after high school.
He drove past the convenience store where, earlier that year, the police had made me point to the “NO LOITERING” sign and then asked me if I was able to read it.
Once we were over the line into the next county, Jon took off his sunglasses and hat. I pulled back my hood and opened my coat.
Jon drew his breath in sharply. The lace trimming my clinging satin minidress tickled my bare thighs.
Do you like it? Jon said that he did, and we both squirmed in our seats. For the rest of the ride, we were silent. It was a game Jon had taught me.
After about an hour, we arrived at the gardens. They were world famous, Jon had told me. People flew from all over the world to see what he would show me. He said I wasn’t going to believe it. From the hothouse of orchids to the three-foot-diameter water lilies to the Italian fountains, he was sure the gardens would blow my mind.
He was right! I had never in my life been somewhere so nice.
He opened my door for me. Before I could jump out, he gathered me up in his thick arms and spun me around. My little shoes fell off my little feet.
It was my first time visiting the gardens, but not Jon’s. His uncle had been a horticulturalist, and so Jon had spent thousands of hours wandering the premises, reading in the shade of the fountains’ pump-room, and examining each specimen’s identification card.
When we entered the lobby, an elderly woman handed me a map of the grounds, which I began to open.
We won’t be needing that! Jon told me, playfully snatching the map and handing it back to the woman. I could walk through here blindfolded. He said he could tell me anything I wanted to know.
We walked past topiaries cut into teddy bears and perfect pyramids and imperfect spheres. I considered how difficult it must be to make a sphere out of anything. Jon gave an impromptu lecture on the physical and philosophical properties of pyramids and spheres, stability vs. possibility, strength vs. balance. He asked which I thought I was as we dawdled under purple wisteria hanging in clumps, tethered to the thick support. I said I wasn’t sure.
Every turn brought me some new and breathtaking sight. I was nearly overwhelmed. Jon held my hand as we walked through an expansive room emulating a jungle. The ceiling and walls were glass, but huge waxy leaves blocked the sun. The growth was dense. A walkway wound itself through, with a tall fence on either side.
I paused before the tropical trees, and Jon crouched behind me like a bear, pressing my body into the iron bars of the divider. As he pointed, identifying the different species of banana trees, his lips brushed against the back of my neck.
The air around us felt balmy and close. My hair stood on end.
I was seeing stars, but Jon couldn’t be stopped. He led me by the hand out of the conservatory and back into the blazing sun. Surrounding the exit were bushes with thousands of dainty white flowers. He paused to look at them, and so I did, too. Jon squeezed my hand, and when he had my attention, he pointed out a single pale orange flower almost floating against the white lace of the rest of them.
And there you are, he said to me.
After walking a ways, we came to a great meadow, where trails were cut through a sea of tall grasses and native wildflowers in fading yellow and purple. At the entrance, Jon knelt so I could jump on his back, and as he carried me, he talked about how much time he’d spent racing up and down these paths when he was my age. I rested my face on his broad shoulder and listened, until a grasshopper leapt up and into my hair. Then I shrieked!
Jon spun me around his waist, and then before I realized what was happening to me, I was laying on my back in the grass. He tickled my thighs, and then between them, and then he was upon me, kissing me. I forgot about the grasshopper and melted into the grass.
He stopped abruptly and stood up, breathing heavily, extending his hand. For a moment, his eyes were wet, and he stared into space. He swallowed audibly, then he returned to me, smiling brightly again. He brushed bits of detritus from my back and gave me a playful spank. The sun was setting.
Should we get you something to eat?
Jon took me to his favorite steakhouse downtown. On the ride, again, we were quiet. I opened the window and hung my head out of it, feeling the cool air become cold. Summer was over; there was no denying it now. Jon put his hand on my knee.
Inside the restaurant, Jon was recognized by the maître d’. He shook Jon’s hand and said something that made them both laugh to fill the ceiling, but he never looked at me. He asked if Jon wanted to sit at his usual table by the window, but Jon said not tonight; he didn’t want to be distracted by the passing cars and pedestrians. He wanted to sit somewhere more private, if that would be okay. I was the only thing worth his attention.
When the server’s assistant came to ask what kind of water we would prefer, I didn’t know what to say. I had never been in a restaurant where the servers had assistants, and I had certainly never been in a restaurant where there was a choice of water. I asked what kinds of water there were, and Jon beamed at me. He let the air out of his lungs slowly, and for a moment he appeared drowsy. I apologized for my ignorance, but Jon said it was part of what he liked so much about me. He said I wasn’t pretentious.
Reading the menu made the back of my neck burn. I had brought all the money I had, plus twenty dollars my grandmother had given me when I told her I was going to the diner with my friends. I still didn’t have enough to buy myself dinner, but then Jon saved me again. He told me I shouldn’t concern myself with anything so indelicate as price.
You, my little orange flower, can have anything you like.
The server asked Jon if the new school year was off to a good start, and smiled toward me, but didn’t look me in the eyes. He asked Jon what I would like, and Jon told him I would have a filet, medium rare, and a glass of bordeaux. Now the server looked at me, if only for a second, and then back to Jon. He apologized to Jon, told him his choice was excellent, but then asked if perhaps bordeaux was a bit dry. Jon paused, smiling at the table.
Yes, he agreed, she does look sweet, doesn’t she?
I tried wine for the first time that evening. Shiraz. It stained my dry, cracked lips into a rounded pout, like I’d been sucking on a cherry lollipop.
When the steaks arrived, I picked up my utensils, and began to cut into mine. Jon reached over the table and gently touched my arm. Wait, he insisted. May I…?
I didn’t know what he was asking permission for, but I said yes. He sliced a thin morsel of meat from my little medallion, and then gingerly raised the fork to my mouth.
I smiled, and Jon smiled. He asked me if I liked the shiraz. I loved it. He ordered me a few more glasses.
Between dinner and dessert, Jon reached his huge hands over the table, and enclosed mine in them. He stared into my eyes, and my mind swam in deep red romantic feeling. I was thirsty.
Without warning, Jon let go of my hands and stood up at the table. In a swift, fluid motion, he moved toward and leaned down over me. He kissed me deeply, with his hands cradling my head at the base of my neck.
He straightened his spine again when he was through and cleared his throat as he sat back down in his chair. People were looking at us. I demurred, but I was only pretending.
My dessert arrived complete with a slim, long-handed silver spoon. I had never had crème brûlée. I cracked open the crust and was delighted to learn those crusts conceal smooth, sweet custards.
When it was time to leave, Jon put his jacket around my shoulders and his arm around my waist. We walked out and down the city street in the chilly moonlight. Music poured from the decks of chic bars, and Jon told me what a wonderful time we were having. I concentrated on not throwing up in the street because I didn’t want to end our night prematurely.
He took me to a hotel. We got into the elevator, and I pressed for the wrong floor. Jon laughed, pressed the correct button, and then squeezed me in his arms. He kissed me, and he reached under my dress and gripped my underwear, pulling me tightly against his body.
The door separated open, and Jon picked me up in his arms. He carried me down the hallway and into our suite. I was a princess. I was giggling and kicking, and Jon made a big show of shushing me, but he tickled me, too.
I kicked my shoes off, and Jon lay me on the blindingly white down bed. I felt as if I might pee myself, but I didn’t want to spoil the moment.
Jon loosened his belt, then stood at the end of the bed. I could only see his looming silhouette. He whispered darkly to me.
I am going to ruin you for other men.
He was right.
At least he was partially right.
Jon gave it his best, and he was great. He was careful at first, and then wild. He took his time, and he used his hands. He was skillful and intuitive. He was creative.
He put a condom on without being asked.
Afterward, Jon kissed my hands and stroked my hair for a while, and then he got into the shower. He hadn’t asked me if I’d come, but, through no fault of his own, I hadn’t.
I wanted to, so I jerked off the only way I know how: the way that feels good. I felt like some roughhousing, so I did that.
I was almost there when Jon sauntered out of the shower. He stopped in his tracks suddenly and gasped, his lips pulled tightly away from his teeth and his eyebrows lifted in the middle. He was white as the sheets.
No! No! No! he exclaimed, don’t be so rough with it! You’ve got to treat it gently.
He modeled an example. Like this, like this.
Did Jon earnestly worry I might damage my genitals? Didn’t he know I can feel it when my body is touched, and that when I hurt it, it hurts? Didn’t he know that of course I avoid being hurt?
Did he believe that, if treated roughly between the legs, I too would fall to my knees and fold around my pain, struggling to bring air back into my chest?
Was it beyond him to imagine I’d be shrieking wet instead?
Jon liked me best when my tumbled golden hair was threaded with wild daisies. He liked me tip-toeing through gardens in white cotton sundresses. He liked to pick me up and hold me in his hand, and he liked seeing my face in soft little orange flowers.
He enjoyed my giggling and prancing. When we walked together at night, he enjoyed when I became fearful of the dark and shrank against him.
I think Jon fantasized my body couldn’t withstand coarseness, that I might fall apart. When he witnessed the fury of my jerking and jostling, he staggered backward, and knocked over the rose-tinted glass sculpture he had constructed of me.
He tried scooping the pieces up, and he still had shards of glass in his hands when he joined me on the bed to show me how I should be touching myself.
Like this, he said, gently, like this.
That night, on that bleached, overstuffed comforter, there was no bewildering glass jungle to make my way through. There weren’t any wines with names for me to mispronounce. There was nothing I wanted but didn’t have enough money for.
There was only me, and I had revealed myself. I wasn’t a little orange flower praying the wind didn’t blow too hard; I was a bull-fighter.
I didn’t caress or pet—I jerked off. I was proving my self-interest, and my resilience. I was witnessing my own elasticity.
Don’t be so rough with it! he insisted.
After showing me the correct way to touch myself, he chuckled softly. He glanced over to the shower, still steamy and fragrant.
What were you doing that for? he murmured. He had been in the other room, in the shower. Hadn’t we just had sex? What could possibly be the point of this vulgar display? He lay down, irritated.
What were you doing that for?
He fell asleep before I could tell him.
Beaumont Sugar is a writer, painter, and poet based in Amish country, PA. They are the winner of The Forge 2022 nonfiction literary competition, and have been nominated for Best of the Net. You can find more of their stuff in Ruminate Magazine, The Whorticulturalist, AnchoragePRESS, Appalachia Journal, Red Ogre Review, and many more.