It was only four when she got home, and it was still a beautiful day. Monica went inside, avoiding her mother, who she was sure didn’t want to see her daughter with puffy eyes and ran mascara. She made it to the bathroom, and started to wash off the streaks on her face when she started crying again.

But here, she didn’t need to drive, and with the water running, she didn’t need to worry about how she sounded, and just in case she turned on the stereo. Aja had left her CD in it, and somehow this only made Monica worse.

Two songs ran and she realized she couldn’t stop crying. She wished her mother would hear her and break down the door, but as soon as she thought that, she made sure it was locked. The world was blurry for the second time that day, and she stumbled through the blur to the bath. She started pulling her clothes off, shirt first, a shoe, a sock, that stupid rhinestone pin she’d wore in her hair and then she saw herself in the mirror.

She’d done a terrible job cleaning off the mascera and only smeared her lipstick, and her hair was a mess and her eyes were swollen. Her lips, those big, full lips she was so proud of, were trembling absurdly and she still couldn’t stop crying. She closed her eyes, tore off the rest of her clothes, and lowered herself into the bathtub, half-full.

Damn, stupid, small tub, she thought, and cried harder. It was never big enough for the kind of baths people take on TV. She always had to pick between overfilling it and sloshing water onto the floor or making do with soaking her legs and her top in turns. She hated it, this stupid bathtub, and then she realized she was laughing.

It continued to fill up, and Monica thought about how silly she must have looked, raging against a bathtub. She laughed a little more, as the tub filled, and she felt at peace, for the first time since the dressing room. It was all like this stupid bathtub, it was all silly and not worth going so crazy over. She sprinkled saffron bath salt around her, and closed her eyes. This was the trick, to filling the tub right, she thought, as that warm water reached her nipples and she shut it off with her little brown feet: Do it while you’re in it.

Time, however much it felt like it, did not stand still. Monica could hear her phone buzz under the pile of clothes, but she didn’t answer it. The water cooled, and it was a different kind of pleasant. There was a tentative knock on the door.

“Monica.” Her mother’s voice was so lyrical, it seemed a shame to answer it. “Monica?”

“Yes, Momma, I’m here.”

“Honey, your father is home, we’ll be eating in an hour. I’ve made your favorite.” Monica smiled.

Lita showed up at 6:58.

Monica stayed in the den with her parents, talking about school and politics, until she started to see how much her parents liked Lita. Lita couldn’t believe the double standard applied to Israel, and that would have been enough to make her parents happy. But Lita was blunt and smart and had everything together. Lita was going to Hastings. Not her first choice, but they’d offered her a free ride.

No, Mrs. Ijrah, Lita wasn’t seeing anyone right now, she didn’t have time with her studies and her volunteer work. Yes, she worked down at the clinic. Oh, she majored in biology, she’d thought about being a doctor. No, it wasn’t so much that it was more money, just less blood. They all laughed so much.

When Lita finally mentioned studying, the two girls were ushered upstairs by Monica’s parents. Monica followed Lita into her room, leaving the door open. Lita set down her bag and closed it.

“You smell so good,” she said, as she grabbed Monica around her hips, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you the whole time down there, it was torture!”

Monica stiffened, and she stayed silent as Lita smelled her neck and then kissed it. Lita went on, “You even taste good! I want to lick you everywhere!”

“Lita.” It was all Monica could get out.

Lita stepped back, very dramatically, and smiled, “I’ve been thinking about it, how all this happened, and I think you’re right. Everything’s happened so fast. I, I kind of thought this is how it would go, but I’m going to tone things down, so that you feel comfortable.”

And then Lita smiled, and it held such seriousness and compassion that Monica felt a thousand pounds lighter. Everything was okay. Hey, she thought, maybe it would be fun. Maybe, but she was sure that this was just an opportunity to tone things down to nothing. She’d been avoiding James, out of guilt, and she feared her phone and her E-mail. Lita reached into her bag, producing two small silver objects.

Monica smiled, “What are those?”

Lita tried, but failed, to hide her excitement, “That’s a vibrator and this is my digital camera.” She sounded like she did when she was talking about law school, “This way, at least this way you can keep me company when you’re not around.” Then she saw Monica’s eyes, and Lita’s smile cracked a bit, “I promise, I’ll just stand over here. You, you don’t have to think about me.”

Lita handed her the vibrator, a long, silver egg. Reflexively, Monica took it. She looked at it, stunned. Lita reached over and said something helpful as she switched it on. It buzzed. Monica’s look didn’t change.

“Well,” Lita offered, “You’ll have to take your pants off, you should probably take everything off, it’ll help you relax.”

Lita began to unbutton Monica’s slacks, but Monica pushed her away, set down the vibrator, and undid them herself. Robotically, she started taking off her shirt, slipped out of her panties and let her bra fell off. The entire time, her gaze kept going back to the strange object on her bed. She looked up, and Lita was touching herself, gently, her eyelids half-closed, her mouth just barely open.

Monica sat on the edge of her bed, her legs straddled open. Lita leaned against her dresser, fumbling with the camera. She aimed it and pressed the button, but nothing happened. She looked at it, fiddled with it and pointed it again, this time a beep and a flash confirming success. She smiled.

“I,” Then Monica stopped, “I rub this on my special spot?”

Lita laughed, “That’s not your spot, your spot’s inside. That’s your clit.” Then she added, helpfully, “Yeah, that end. Just like you’d do with your fingers,” and then, with relish, “but so much better.”

It felt strange, when she started. Monica was nervous, it tickled, but Lita was right, it felt good. She heard the beep again, but her eyes were closed, and James was kneeling in front of her, his hands on her thighs, his tongue on her clit. He kissed it, and she was startled by his rough lips. He squeezed her thigh, running his hand from her knee up to her belly.

The sound of the camera distracted her, but only momentarily. He moved away, teasing her lips, and his hand rested on her inner thigh, pressing with each lick. Monica imagined him swirling his tongue, and she could feel his lips, just slightly, as his head moved up and down.

The hand moved from her thigh to her breast, gently cupping it, rocking it in tune with his tongue. She wrapped her legs around his head and he playfully slapped her, then pinched her nipple, harder than she ever thought she’d like. She pushed his head into her crotch as her toes tingled and her back arched. She could hear him groaning, and could only respond with whimpers.

She came so hard that her eyes opened, and she saw Lita, feet dug in to the carpet, the top of her pants open. A tiny bit of peach-colored fabric was all Monica saw of her underwear, Lita’s hand desperately moving underneath it. She still held her camera, but it had been forgotten.

Monica closed her eyes and tried to find James, but he wasn’t there, and all she could think of was that long, tanned arm resting on a tightly extended leg. She still came, thinking about the hand gripping that camera so tight that it looked like it would snap any second.

She heard Lita start to moan, and whisper Monica’s name, and all Monica could think was how mad she was at her. It was better than anything she’d ever felt—at first. But when she opened her eyes, it was like turning off a faucet, and it ruined it. She’d felt guilty before, but this was different, this time she felt absurd and disappointed. She fell back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling as Lita’s desperate, gasping orgasm grew in volume.

Monica sat back up, ready to tell Lita to shut the hell up before her parents heard something, when Lita abruptly quieted. Her body still looked tense, and her eyes were still closed, and then she gave out a long, sighing groan and loosened. She looked up at Monica and start laughing like a naughty schoolgirl.

“That rocked so much!” Then Lita looked at Monica and her expression of obvious discontent, “You came, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” And you ruined it with your stupid camera, she thought.

Lita looked confused, “Do you want me to do anything?”

“No.” Monica’s voice said angrily.

“Okay.” Lita said in a small voice, and Monica felt she could have told her to do anything and that would have been the response.

Lita looked expectant, standing against the dresser, and Monica watched as her face shifted from expectant to concerned. She smiled, a fleeting and vulnerable thing, and said, “Look, Mon, if there’s anything I can do? Anything. I don’t want to lose you as a friend, even if it means losing this.”

The list, Monica thought, of things you could do. She was still angry, but Lita seemed so desperate, with her plaintive eyes and trepidatious half-smile. They were still friends, Monica realized, and they’d stay friends, and Lita was finally seeing what she’d done and how it was tearing Monica up. Monica smiled and let out a deep sigh, and she could see the hopeful response from Lita.

“I think I just want to go to bed,” and Monica laughed and started looking for her shirt, “it’s been such a long day.”

“You’ve got it,” Lita said, quickly and happily. But it wasn’t happiness, Monica could tell, it was relief, because she was starting to realize how she’d been acting the past two weeks.

Lita walked right toward Monica, whose eyes widened. But instead of reaching out for her nipple or cheek, she took the vibrator, somewhat sheepishly. Lita smiled that same smile—of guilt mixed with repentance—and pulled a little washcloth out of her bag. The sticky piece of silver plastic, once wrapped, was slipped it into a side pocket. Finally, she threw on that gorgeous, cream-colored long coat, and tied the long belt in a jaunty knot.

It was when she put the camera in her coat pocket that Monica remembered the pictures and said, “Could you…” and she stopped, hoping Lita would finish her sentence, but Lita only responded with a confused look as she walked toward the door, “Delete them?”

Lita stopped, her hand on the doorknob. There was a second of inaction and Monica remembered that she wasn’t even wearing panties. The look of confusion hardened on Lita’s face, and before disappearing out the door, she said, “Why would I do that?”

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