Boyfriend Material

Debbie Coleman


"This better be worth it," Jerry sneered into Maria's ear, "dragging me out of bed so early on my vacation. You know how much I like being in bed." Maria did know, for they had hardly been out of theirs in the three days they'd been in St. John.
Their hotel offered organized day trips and they were headed to a smaller island nearby for yet another day of sunbathing and stunning turquoise waters. Jerry wondered why it was necessary to leave the hotel at all, as it was on a secluded bay and the water, sand, and sun were perfect just where they were. Eventually Maria convinced him to go and they stood with the other couples, roused out of their vacationing and honeymooning slumber at the thankless time of 8:30 am, waiting to board the hotel's boat to make their way to the Virgin Gorda.
"Come on," said Maria, "don't be such a spoilsport. We should see the sights while we're here. Just think of me as Julie the cruise director. You know, from The Love Boat."
Jerry grinned and put his arm around her. "I always did have the hots for Julie and her cute little clipboard." He gazed off into the horizon, as if he was contemplating a serious philosophical matter. "Boy, the things I wanted to do to her. I was one perverted ten-year old," he added proudly, looking back at Maria.
Maria had fantasized about Doc, the geeky cruise ship's physician, when she was a girl. She thought it an odd coincidence that she was on her first trip to the Caribbean with a man involved in medicine-not a doctor, granted, but a pharmaceutical salesman. Close enough.
"I do love the name of this place we're going, though," Jerry said. "The Fat Virgin, right? That's classic. No virgins around here, I'm sure." He squeezed Maria's shoulder for emphasis.
As the boat sped off into the open water, Jerry left Maria to sit alone and went to the front of the ship. He stopped and stood at the prow, his wavy brown hair blowing crazily in the wind. He wore a colorful Hawaiian-print shirt and it hugged his lean torso, hiding the colorless flesh underneath. They had met a few weeks ago at an art gallery opening. Maria liked him more than she wanted to admit. Jerry appealed to her because he made her both laugh and orgasm; his looks didn't matter too much to her, but he was handsome enough.
Maria surveyed the other couples. Including her and Jerry, there was a total of ten; most appeared to be in their late twenties and early thirties. Only one older pair was with the group and they remained apart from each other, she reading a book in the shaded interior of the vessel and he chatting loudly with the boat driver. The rest of the men and women clung adoringly at their mates, and sat on the upper deck with their eyes closed and heads tipped up for some early morning rays. A man Maria found very attractive kissed his partner's naked brown shoulder, then looked up at Maria and smiled. She remembered the two from check-in. She hated ogling them; they were on their honeymoon.
The older man approached Jerry and Maria watched as the two leaned into each other, trying to converse over the sound of the engine and the rushing sea air. The man pointed into the distance and Maria imagined him telling Jerry an interesting tidbit of local lore, or perhaps suggesting a secluded romantic spot for the younger couple to visit. A large white gull flew alongside the boat and it suddenly shat dangerously close to the two men. They leapt back quickly and Maria heard the man shout, "You see? Gotta watch out for those fuckers!"
The man's wife came over to chat with Maria; she was the only other passenger without her mate. The woman said she and her husband, who she referred to as "the General," came to St. John every summer and stayed in the same room at the hotel.
"Six years so far, every time in 104. Beachfront, first floor, just the way the General likes it. Personally, I prefer a room on a higher floor, but sometimes we must make sacrifices, right?" Shielding her eyes with a cheap paperback, she beamed at her husband, as if by mental telepathy she could will the short, balding man to glance back at her with the same loving admiration. He continued to talk to Jerry and did not turn around. Carrot colored lipstick stuck to the woman's teeth.
"Why the same room every year? Isn't variety the spice of life?" Maria said this without thinking. She had a habit of blurting out thoughts when she should have keep her mouth shut, and the practice caused her a good amount of trouble. In this case, she simply couldn't think of anything more boring than staying in the exact same room, year after year. On top of that, the woman's obvious passivity horrified her. Smiling widely, Maria tried to obscure her mistake by pretending she made a joke, but it was too late.
"That's an unusual comment for a newlywed." Now it was the woman who looked horrified. Her head cocked slightly to the left and her eyes were like two giant blue buttons, round and flat.
"Oh, we're not married," laughed Maria. Then she laughed again, louder, for the idea of Jerry as her husband was both amusing and frightening. She quickly changed the subject. "It's our first time. Here, I mean, in the Caribbean."
"I know what you mean, dear." The woman nodded and began to walk
away. The boat hit a wave and she stumbled, catching herself on the railing. Her drink, a pink, fruity concoction, spilled on her shorts and white geriatric looking tennis shoes. "Damn," she barked, then steadied herself.
My god, Maria thought, this woman is a zombie, or a CIA agent, complete with flip-down sunglasses.
She joined Jerry at the prow and stood behind him, pressing her braless breasts into his back. He put his hands on her thighs. The Caribbean made her feel very sexy.
"I'm convinced these people are aliens," she yelled over his shoulder. The wind screamed in their ears and they touched their faces together to hear each other. Jerry's face was scruffy with a two-day growth and his cheeks scratched hers, softly burning her sun-tender skin. He smelled like the sea.
"They are aliens, sweetheart," he hollered, using an endearment that surprised her. He twisted around and kissed her nose. "This is actually pretty fun. We can be whoever we want here."
"What's wrong with who we are?"
"Nothing. It's just funny, I mean, us with all the honeymooners and snowbirds, people like those over there." He gestured toward the older pair a few feet away. "You think we really belong here with them?"
"You're strange," said Maria, but she knew what he meant. She herself was with a man she hardly knew and he had access to her passport. This fact would terrify her mother; Maria had told her she was going on vacation with a girlfriend. After three lengthy, failed relationships, Maria was over thirty and still felt like an emotional kindergartener. She just couldn't get any of her relationships to work. It struck her then that perhaps Jerry was her soul mate, and the other men were wrong for her because Jerry was the one she had to wait for. Then she remembered she didn't believe in that romantic crap.

When Maria and Jerry first arrived at the hotel, they had checked in behind the handsome man from the boat and his new bride. Maria had noticed his dark hair glistening with scented hair product, and she thought his wife resembled every sorority girl she knew in college: perfect hair, tits, and teeth. Jerry had leered at the bride, staring at her toned legs and ass, and Maria squeezed his arm. He gave her a look that said, What? She overheard the hotel clerk telling the couple they had the "Honeymoon Deluxe" package. Hearing the name made Maria think of a cheeseburger, one that she was not allowed to eat.
The young couple was grotesquely in love, and Maria had found it both sweet and disturbing. She could tell they wanted to get to their room quickly. Even in the humidity, the newlyweds glowed, while Maria and Jerry were sticky, wrinkled, and pale. But Maria started getting horny from the sweat and the heat, and as soon as they got to their second-floor, non-beachfront suite, she and Jerry screwed hard and fast against the black granite bathroom counter. During sex Maria had briefly thought of the couple, probably doing the very same thing, but maybe on the bed and not a countertop. She did not want to think of newlyweds fucking in the bathroom, but guessed that on occasion they did just that. When they finished, she and Jerry hit the beach.
August was the slow season in the Caribbean and the sand was mostly deserted. The setting sun melted crimson and orange into the sea, an oil painting dripping from its canvas. Jerry and Maria splashed in the ocean. They were giddy from the sex and their good fortune to be in such a fantastic place. Although she had only recently met Jerry, she was happy to be there with him and not any of her ex-boyfriends. When they stopped goofing they stood quietly in shallow water, listening to the lapping waves and the wonderful, strange noises of the island at dusk. A symphony of chirping and clicking came from the trees that surrounded the bay. Birds called to each other with exotic, lonely wails. Maria reached beside her for Jerry's hand, but he had already started in towards the shore.

The beaches on Virgin Gorda were exactly like the ones on St. John: soft, ivory sand and warm, clear water in varying shades of azure and teal. Maria carried a bag filled with books, sunscreen, and a stack of
Jerry's pharmaceutical brochures, which he pulled out and began perusing as soon as they settled into their beach chairs. Maria observed the General and his wife, cloaked in hats and shirts, sitting nearby. The General slept; his wife sipped on a cocktail.
"I thought the plan was to relax," Maria said, lying down next to Jerry. She picked up one of his pamphlets and waved it in the air, threatening to fling it into the sea. "You shouldn't be working here."
He grabbed at the booklet and whisked it out of her hand. "My work is what got us here, remember?"
The trip was Jerry's prize for having the highest sales six months in a row. Maria wasn't surprised that he won; Jerry was one of the most convincing people she had ever met. He got her naked in his apartment after only a few hours of knowing him. Generally she was not an impulsive person, but Jerry brought out her spontaneous side, hidden to her close friends and family. Maria relaxed around Jerry, thought him the kind of guy women took their clothes off for because he made them feel special. She guessed this had something to do with his abilities as a salesman. People trusted him when they had no reason to. Maria was impressed by such qualities, and quietly aspired to be more like Jerry herself.
She wanted to ask if he was glad she was with him, and not some other girl, but thought better of it. Her friends told her that in situations like these it was better not to press your luck. You never know what's too much with guys like Jerry. Say the wrong thing, apply just a little excess pressure, and you won't ever see him again. It was best to simply play it cool, to be a "cool girl," which was what Jerry called her. She liked that name and what it implied.
Maria read her book while Jerry reviewed the latest pills, sprays, and potions his company had to offer. The attractive newlyweds from check-in trudged past them and claimed a set of loungers a few feet away. After dropping her bag and towel on the sand, the girl took off her top. Her husband stood beside her with his arms crossed, clearly disturbed by his wife's exhibition. The girl must've consoled him, for the two then sat down and kissed, ending the discussion. Maria watched them over the pages of her library copy of Madame Bovary.
"Will you look at that," she joked. "I can't believe it. I'm shocked."
"What?" said Jerry, sitting up, but she didn't have to answer. Shamelessly, he took a good look and turned to Maria, eyebrows raised. "Nice view, huh? I'm glad we went on this day trip after all."
"She doesn't have them on display for you, I'm sure. And you shouldn't oogle. They just got married."
"Oh, don't get your panties in a knot," he said, lowering his sunglasses and lying back down on his beach towel emblazed with the Viagra logo. "It's not like I can go after her now, for fuck's sake. As you said, she's spoken for." His tone was disappointed resignation. Maria didn't
like it.
"You know, he's not so bad either. Maybe he'll take off his bottoms."

Jerry leaned over and poked her in the ribs. "Settle down," he said,
as if she was an overexcited Labrador humping a stranger's leg.

She wouldn't mind seeing the guy undressed. He was tall and beefy and reminded Maria of an underwear model she had seen in several magazine ads. He still looked annoyed, lying next to his wife's breasts, exposed for the world to see.
"Maybe we can get them to party with us," Maria joked. "Give 'em some of your pills, swap partners. Do you think they'd go for it?"
"Definitely, yes," Jerry laughed. "I bet if we had some drinks together we could really have some fun with those two. Probably wouldn't even need to give them pills."
Maria found the idea exciting, if not a little disturbing. "Are you
serious? They're on their honeymoon, Jerry."
"So what? It's not like we'll ever see them again." This last comment gave Maria a jolt. It's not like I'll ever see you again. Jerry glanced over at the couple, at the wife's perfectly shaped breasts, and said, "Take your top off too, why don't you? It'll help us blend in." He shook his head at Maria. "You really gotta loosen up, babe."
A while later, at Jerry's encouragement, Maria joined the girl when she entered the water. The groom's name was Zach, and he and his wife April were from New Jersey. Maria kept her top on. She knew exactly how to start the conversation.
"So, how big was yours?" Maria's sister was married, and she understood that when it came to weddings, size mattered, and women loved to talk numbers.
"Um, about two hundred. What about yours?"
"Us? We eloped." Maria, pleased with herself, came up with this one on her own.
April drew in her breath slightly. "Wow."
"What about your nipples?"
"Excuse me?"
"Do they burn easily?"
"Oh, yeah, "said April, "but Zach helps me with the sun block." She smiled and kicked her foot through the water.
"That's sweet of him." Jerry's right, Maria thought, it is liberating to be able to say anything to her. "Maybe we can meet up for drinks later, back at the hotel. Can't stay locked up in our rooms all night, can we?" The invitation was Jerry's idea. He was convinced he could lure the two lovebirds into a sordid situation, if he had the opportunity. Maria was helping him get that opportunity, but as she did it, did not know her role in the adventure or if she could even stomach doing what Jerry planned to do.
"Well, Zach and I sure could!" April said, clapping her hands. She is a child, Maria thought. April's face was wrinkle-free and freckled; she had the look and manner of a teenybopper pop star. Maria suddenly felt old, foolish and powerless.
"Jerry and I eloped after only knowing each other two weeks." The lie tasted good on her tongue. "We just knew we were soul mates."
"Us too," said April, and then turned, waved at Zach, and shouted out that she loved him.

Maria wondered how a man could be attracted to every woman he saw, but Jerry flirted with all of them: the uniformed hotel maids, who giggled shyly when he smiled at them; the flight attendants on the trip down here; the elderly women who stayed shaded under umbrellas at the edge of the beach. Dating Jerry would've been impossible. He was not boyfriend material.
Maria's ex-boyfriend Charlie wasn't either, but that didn't prevent her from living with him for three years. He cheated on her repeatedly, often with her friends or acquaintances. She ignored his affairs because everything else about the relationship besides the infidelities pleased her. She didn't even mind when she and Charlie stopped having sex with each other. Eventually, Charlie got a job with Microsoft and moved to Seattle. The breakup was mutual and polite. When they dated, Maria thought she and Charlie were best friends, but after he moved he rarely called. It was as if she just stopped existing for him. She saw him once more, on television; he was at a Sonics game and the camera panned over him. Cuter than she remembered, he was with a pretty, younger woman.
She liked that she didn't have to worry about Jerry cheating on her. But still, she didn't appreciate him staring at other women while she was with him. Strangely, though, she agreed to Jerry's plan, which would enable him to stare at April all he wanted. When they returned from the day trip and were back in their room, she told him about her lies.
"So now we have to pretend that we're married and we eloped?" Jerry was amused. "Very nice, Maria."
"It was an accident, I swear. I was caught up in the moment"
He took her onto the bed. Maria was happy having so much sex. She supposed Jerry was a gift from somewhere, a reward for having been deprived for so long. After Charlie, she had been celibate for almost a year.

Maria and Jerry met the couple at a bar near the hotel. The place was empty save the four of them, a few locals, and a crabby-looking bartender and an equally crabby waitress, both wearing t-shirts with the bar's name, Petey's. Maria marveled at how people could be cranky on such a pretty island, even if they did have to sling food and drinks.
Zach wore a tight black t-shirt made out of a shiny, stretchy material, and Maria desperately wanted to rub her palms over his chest. She and April introduced the men; Jerry shook Zach's hand and quickly shifted his focus to April. Maria and Zach made small talk, but for the most part sat quietly, smiling and drinking. Jerry's ability to hide his contempt and desire for April intimidated Maria; she was out of her league around him. That night, though, she was determined to make Jerry proud of her. After a few rounds of tequila shots Maria calmed down, and was almost able to enjoy herself. She asked Zach about his job (he was a claims adjuster, but hoped his band would make it big so he could quit) and he asked about hers (she was a paralegal and didn't play any instruments).
The women chatted together as well, about the great deals at duty-free shops and how much they liked the hotel. At one point while Maria was speaking, April's arm shot up into the air like she was a student responding to a teacher's question in class. Maria looked at her quizzically.
"Hang on a sec," said April. "Where are your rings, guys?" April and Zach both wore plain silver bands, which looked to Maria like ones
purchased at a cheap jewelry kiosk in the mall.
Maria looked at Jerry, slightly panicked. "Well," he said, "we really
couldn't afford both the rings and the trip. Thank god Maria was cool enough to wait on the ring." He pinched her thigh under the table. Then he added, "I wanna get her something big."
"Jerry fell in love with me because I'm cool. I'm a cool woman," Maria said, by now very tipsy. She needed a lot of alcohol to get through this night. Her voice slightly slurred, she went on. "You know, we actually met while on vacation. Both alone, we hooked up. Been together ever since. Made everything official in the Bahamas." Maria couldn't quite remember if this story jelled with her earlier lies on the beach, but it no longer mattered.
"That is so neat," said April, as if this was the most romantic story she had ever heard. "I fell in love with Zach on my twenty-first birthday. My boyfriend threw a party for me at his house and Zach was there." She gave him a knowing look. "After that night, I wasn't with my boyfriend any more."
"That's for sure," said Zach, grinning.
"Way to go, Zach," said Jerry. "But remember," he continued under his breath, "if they cheat once, odds are they will again." He seemed proud to relay this bit of wisdom.
"April's done cheating." The girl in question was silent. She simply smiled and dreamily put her head on Zach's shoulder.
"How old are you guys now?" Maria said, eager to change the subject.
April crinkled her pert little nose as if smelling something foul. "Now I'm the ripe old age of twenty-three. Practically a hag, huh? Zach's twenty-four, but I don't think he looks it." Maria wasn't sure what twenty-four looked like.
"Is that right?" Jerry said. He leaned in over the table to meet the younger man's eyes. "Hey Zach, ever been with an older woman?"
"What did you say, man?" Zach's voice was low and thick, tinged with an East Coast accent. He appeared to get bigger as he spoke, the veins in his neck pulsing as he raised his head to look at Jerry.
"Relax," Maria said, putting her hand on Zach's bulky, tanned arm. As if she had the right to tell anyone to relax. She didn't know what she was doing anymore. She was scared but went along with Jerry, afraid of what he would do if she backed out now. "It's just a question, no big deal."
She smiled at the handsome face and gave Zach her best Mrs. Robinson look. His eyes widened, asking her for help.
"Yeah, Zach, it's okay," said April, turning to him. "We're in the Caribbean, drinking tequila with our new friends here. Our parents aren't around, we aren't gonna get in trouble." Maria supposed Jerry was right, at least about April. Maybe she would go a little wild with some strangers, even on her honeymoon.
Zach was anything but relaxed. He looked nauseous. He glanced around the table doubtfully. At once, Maria saw the couple clearly: they were just two kids, probably barely out of college, and completely, stupidly in love.
She also figured Zach could snap Jerry like a twig. She didn't want to play anymore, and no longer cared what Jerry said or thought about her. It wasn't right to mess with April and Zach. They'd find out the realities of love soon enough, without her help.
"It's really brave what you did. Getting married." Maria said to April. "I don't know if I could do it." Her words were quiet and thoughtful, and she as she spoke she looked at her hands in her lap.
"What about Jerry?" said April. The girl was plainly baffled.
"What about me? What do you want to know, sweetheart?" Jerry was working fast now; April wouldn't hold up long against him.
"Quit it, Jerry," said Maria. "I'm sorry, but I can't go through with this." She put her face in her hands.
Jerry laughed. "Oh, is that so? A little late for that now, don't you think?"
Zach stood up, his chair falling backward behind him. "What the hell is going on? Do you guys work for the hotel or something? We didn't do anything wrong."
April chimed in. "Yeah, we really are married. We aren't trying to scam the hotel, we swear." She pleaded with Maria. "The travel agent said we didn't have to show proof to get the honeymoon package."
"She did, did she?" said Jerry. He seemed about to lecture April for some wrongdoing; he reminded Maria of a high school principal. If she hadn't been so drunk, she would've sprinted for the door. "Let's leave now, Jerry." She touched his shoulder but he shooed her away as if she was an annoying insect. He continued to stare at April.
"Not until the blushing bride here gives me a kiss. April, that is."
"Get away from her, you fuck," Zach growled, his face purple and menacing. His handsome features vanished, but what Maria saw instead was far more striking. He would do anything to protect what was his. "These jerks aren't married either."
April's hushed voice remained steady. "Just one kiss, okay?" The girl looked at Jerry when she spoke, but Maria wasn't sure which one of them April was asking.

Maria and Jerry didn't speak on the way back to the hotel. When they got to their room, Maria started to undress. She became abruptly shy around Jerry, who sat down on the bed to watch her. She covered her chest with her shirt.
"You were a real jerk back there," she said, going into the bathroom.
"And you flaked out on me. Thanks for making me look like an asshole."
"You didn't need my help for that." Maria caught her reflection in the mirror. Her face was burned a ruddy pink and she almost didn't recognize herself. She reeled from the tequila. She hung her head over the sink, hoping not to be sick. Her whole body throbbed.
"Why'd you do that to me, anyway?" Jerry said, poking his head in. "I thought we had a plan."
"Gimme a break. You were like a different person."
"How can you say that," he said, lowering his voice, "when you don't even know me."
This was true, and it both frightened and thrilled her. She came out of the bathroom and saw Jerry leaning against the wall, waiting for her.
"Besides," he went on when she emerged, "I'd never marry a girl like you-that is, if I ever decide to get married. Which I won't. You're a fun girl, but not marriage material."
Maria got into bed. She put aloe vera cream on her sunburned shoulders and the stiff white sheets stuck to her. She imagined she was a mummy.
"I wish I didn't have to say that," Jerry continued. "I hope it doesn't ruin the rest of the trip."
Maria closed her eyes but Jerry kept on talking. She was already somewhere else and she could barely hear him. In her mind she was with her family, with Charlie, with April and Zach, the General and his wife-anywhere but where she was. She was a little girl again, raking leaves with her father. She was learning how to drive, graduating from high school.
She would leave this place in two days and get on with her life. Maybe she would move or find a new job. She wouldn't see Jerry when they returned home; Maria knew that now and it didn't bother her. She was tired of men, no longer sure what pleasure they truly gave her. Most of her friends were unmarried and single, and many of them had resorted to vibrators. Jerry's voice was very far away now, a muffled noise that could not penetrate Maria's thoughts. She focused then on the sound of the ocean outside their room, imagined herself carried away by the waves. Darkness enveloped her. She was a solitary figure, drifting, searching for a place to land.

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