Affirmative Consent

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Affirmative Consent

“I can’t believe we have to sit through this.” I shifted in the padded auditorium seat with an audible squeak. “How many different kinds of sensitivity training does it take to go to college?”

My new buddy Jax laughed. “You don’t seem to be taking this too seriously.”

“We’ve been sitting in this goddamn auditorium for hours! I think my ass is asleep.”

“Kayla, if you’re having a problem with your ass, just say the word. I’m here to help.” Jax’s dimple showed up as he winked one of those brown eyes at me. Damn. He knew how hot that was, right? Yeah, he knew.

“I think you need some of this training,” I said, nodding at the stage, where a couple had just started some role playing. “Stop slacking and pay attention.”

Jax snorted and turned to look at the front of the room. The girl and the guy had red cups in their hands, and they were pretending to be at a party.

“Hey, do you wanna get out of here? My room’s just upstairs.” The two actors had about as much sexual chemistry as a pair of wet socks, but the girl said yes anyway — must have been her line. They walked over to a bed on the other side of the stage and sat down next to each other.

“Is it okay if I kiss you?” The guy said, putting down his drink on the bedside table. The girl nodded, and they enacted the most awkward kiss in the history of theater. I snickered and shot Jax a look. He just raised his eyebrows and looked back at the stage.

“Can I take off your shirt?” The girl asked, and the guy said, “Sure.”

“I… what is even happening here? Is this supposed to put us off sex for the rest of the year?” I leaned towards Jax a little and he leaned in, too, putting our arms in contact for the briefest of moments. Unlike the couple on stage, we definitely had some chemistry. I felt a little electric charge buzz across my skin where we’d brushed against each other. Damn.

“Affirmative consent,” Jax whispered in my ear.

“Uh… what?”

“They’re trying to model affirmative consent. You know, anytime you want to take things a step farther, you have to ask. Make sure the other person wants to do it.”

“Yeah, um, I’m pretty sure she’s not all that into him,” I said. The guy was asking if he could take off her shirt, now, and she was shaking her head.

“No, I’m not comfortable with that,” she said, and I finally felt a stab of hope that our pain might be over soon. Good lord, this was annoying. And also I had to pee.

The skit was over, finally, and everyone in the audience dutifully clapped and then got up and started buzzing around. As shitty as that day of orientation had been, it was the first week of college and I could almost smell the excitement and adolescent hormones in the air. People around us started filing towards the door, talking about where the best parties were going to be tonight.

“Got any plans for after dinner?” Jax asked, holding the door for me. He was acting all casual, like he didn’t really care what I was doing that night, but I was smart enough to figure out that if he asked, he wanted to know.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was thinking of heading to the Alpha Epsilon Pi party?”

“Yeah? Sounds fun. Need a wingman? Someone’s gotta look out for you, make sure nobody’s slipping roofies into your cup.”

I laughed. “I don’t think girls are supposed to bring a wingman to a party. If you bring a dude that’s just called a date.”

“I don’t really care what you call it.” Jax shrugged. “As long as you wear something hot.”

“And what are you going to wear?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

***

Jax showed up at my dorm at 9 to walk over to the party. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Why did he look so hot in jeans and a t-shirt? It didn’t make sense. Only James Dean was supposed to try that little and look that good. Jax smoothed back the long-ish dark hair framing his face and flashed me the dimple again. “Ready to go?”

I was not, in fact, ready to go. I hadn’t even put on any makeup yet, and I was still debating whether the sundress I was wearing was too daytime for a party, but since I was out of time, I decided to just go with it. If nobody liked it, well, they could suck it.

We walked over to the party and I chattered to Jax about my schedule and how I had to drop two classes in order to fit in another one that had a lab, so then I was still looking for a fourth, and my roommate seemed to have some kind of incense fetish, so our whole room smelled like an ashram, and also my mom couldn’t stop texting me, like she was obsessed with getting me to text her back, which was driving me crazy. He just laughed.

“Kayla, you think too much. Did anybody ever tell you that? It’s your first week of college. We’re going to a frat party. Let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves.”

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. Because I didn’t just spend half of my day learning about how I’m going to be sexually assaulted at one of these.”

Jax turned to me, his face suddenly beşiktaş escort hard. “I would never let that happen,” he said, his hand on my arm, gripping me so tightly it almost hurt.

“Jax! Relax. I was just joking.” I smiled at him, but he was still looking serious. “It’s okay, nothing’s going to happen. It’s just a party.”

He let go of my arm, but the smile he plastered on looked fake. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s go.”

I turned to him as we walked, wanting to ask him what was up with him, why he’d reacted like that, but he had gone back to Normal Jax, his eyes warm and gooey like the inside of a s’more, and I forgot all about what I was going to say. Deep thoughts were fairly impossible when he was looking like that, so my mouth just went on autopilot.

“Thanks for coming with me. I really didn’t want my roommate tagging along; it’s not just the incense, she’s totally weird. I woke up in the middle of the night to pee yesterday and she was lying on her bed stock still with her eyes wide open. I asked her the next day if she sleeps like that, like a fucking wizard or something, but she said she was meditating. It was two in the goddamn morning! What the fuck?”

Jax laughed and did that thing with his hand and his hair again. Ugh. Why did my only friend at college so far have to be so sexy? I was all for having a buddy; I wasn’t one of those girls who thought men and women can’t be friends, but… God.

“Anyway, she was kind of asking me about where I was going, looking all hopeful, but when I told her you were coming, she just…” Actually, she’d stared at me with her mouth hanging open and said ‘you lucky bitch,’ but I wasn’t about to report that part to him. “…gave up,” I finished, finally realizing I’d been talking for ages and maybe it was about time that I shut up.

“What about you?” I glanced up at Jax, who thankfully looked amused at my story. “How’s your roommate?”

“I have a single,” he said, shrugging. “I guess they decided I’m so fucked up nobody could stand living with me.”

I let out a short laugh. “Uh, yeah. Definitely. You’re horrible. I can see why they’d protect the rest of the student body.”

Jax shot me a look. “Whatever, Kayla. You’ve only known me for a week. Maybe the horror takes longer to uncover.”

I’d like to uncover some things, I started thinking, then shook my head. FRIEND ZONE. WE ARE IN THE FRIEND ZONE. DON’T BE CREEPY. God, it was hard to remember that.

When we got to the frat house, there was loud music blasting from the speakers inside, partiers spilling out onto the lawn with their red cups, just like in the skit. Only instead of two people there were hundreds, and frankly they didn’t look especially concerned with affirmative consent. Most of them already looked plastered. There were a bunch of shirtless dudes with AEPi painted on their chests; the brothers, I guessed? It was too early for pledging. A long line of guys in khaki shorts and girls in miniskirts had formed by the keg in the corner.

“Want a beer?” Jax asked, and I nodded. Beer tastes like what I imagine mountain dew would taste like without any sugar, but if you also crushed up an aspirin and mixed it in there. At least, that’s what I’d decided the only other time I’d had one. But I was at a frat party, and drinking beer is what you do at those. We slid into line behind one of the shirtless dudes and his female companion, a leggy girl with a very short, skintight dress on, who was leaning against him and giggling. That looked like a sexual assault skit right there. She was definitely drunk.

“See, this is why the whole affirmative consent thing is bullshit,” I said to Jax, watching the couple in front of us. “Both of them are wasted. If they go upstairs and screw now, which one of them raped the other one?”

Jax eyed them skeptically. “Both? I don’t know. Maybe the rest of us, if we let that happen.”

I laughed, but then I saw that he was serious. “Um, I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like a rapist right now.”

“Of course not.” Jax reached down and grabbed my hand. “But I’m just saying, if they’re both too drunk to give consent, somebody who’s not drunk should be looking out for them. That’s the only way to stop people from being assaulted.”

“You definitely paid more attention to that training than I did.” I frowned. “I’m not even sure I want to be at this party anymore. I can’t handle the responsibility.”

“Relax. Just try not to turn a blind eye to anything obviously sketchy. I think we can do that.”

“I guess.” We made it to the front of the beer line and Jax grabbed a pair of red cups and held them up under the tap. The guy pouring the beer looked me up and down and then gave Jax an exaggerated wink and a thumbs up with his free hand. Eww. Jax shot him a disgusted look and we walked off with our drinks.

I don’t know how I even managed to force down two beers, but I was feeling pleasantly buzzed after I did. We’d been beylikdüzü escort at the party for an hour or so, wandering around and laughing at the crazy shit that college kids did at frat parties, so I definitely wasn’t drunk, just sort of… happy. So this was why people drank beer. It definitely wasn’t for the aftertaste; my mouth felt rank.

I told Jax I needed to find the bathroom and I’d be back in a little while. I wandered around for a while and then found a line of six girls in an upstairs hallway, half of them hopping from one leg to another and squeezing their thighs together. Well, okay. Guess I was in the right place. By the time it was my turn, I really had to go. I slammed the door shut and locked it, then did my business, washed my hands and rinsed my mouth out and popped in a piece of the gum I always carried around in my purse. Not that I thought I was going to get kissed anytime soon, but I didn’t want to be talking to Jax with beer breath all night.

It was harder to find him than I’d thought it would be. The party was really getting huge now; the hallways of the frat house were choked with people, and the stairs were a serious obstacle course, with drunk people climbing over the bodies of even drunker people. The whole thing was a major fire hazard. Was I the only one sober enough to realize that?

When I got to the bottom of the stairs I found out I wasn’t. Jax was there, arguing with a guy who had his arm around a girl who was one step away from passing out, by the look of her. The guy wasn’t sober either, but he was at least still standing up and talking, unlike his lady friend, who was sort of leaning against the wall, her eyes wandering aimlessly.

“Dude, where do you think you’re taking her?” Jax looked angry, like he was getting ready to throw a punch.

“Mind your fucking business, asshole,” the guy slurred, trying to pull the girl up the stairs with him.

“The emergency room isn’t up there,” Jax said, getting up in the guy’s face, “and that’s the only place anybody should be taking this girl.”

“She’s fine,” said the guy, waving his hand and splashing some of his beer on the girl’s dress. “We’re just going upstairs to talk.”

“Oh, yeah, she definitely looks like she’s ready to have a nice conversation with you.” Jax moved to put the girl’s arm over his shoulder to help her down the stairs, but the guy shoved him.

“Back the fuck off. Find your own,” the frat boy said, and Jax’s already pissed off face turned thunderous.

“Let go of her now, or I will make you.”

I finally found my voice. “Hey, Jax, calm down. Let’s just find this girl’s friends and get her out of here.”

The music was still loud, but the voices around us had mostly died down as people were staring at the confrontation. “Does anybody know this girl?” I called, trying to ignore the mortification of shouting into a silent crowd. “She needs some help getting home.”

“She needs to go to a goddamn hospital,” Jax muttered, but he still wasn’t punching anybody, so I considered that a win.

“What’s your name?” I asked the girl, and she blinked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about. A second or two later it sank in, and she said, “Melody.”

“Um, does anybody know a Melody? Anybody here come with her?”

The frat boy was turning red now, with everyone on the stairs and nearby staring at him, and he finally gave up. “Fuck you,” he spat at Jax, and he stumbled over some bodies to the next room and disappeared.

A pair of somewhat drunk girls came up to us, giggling. “Hey, we know Melody. We’re her suitemates. What is it?” one of them asked.

I gestured to her in despair. “Um, can’t you see? She needs some help.”

“She’s probably got alcohol poisoning,” Jax said, helping Melody off the stairs to her friends. “If you two came here with her, you should help her get to the hospital. I’ll call campus police for an escort.” He pulled out his phone and pressed a couple of buttons.

“No! We’ll get in trouble,” the other girl said.

Jax shook his head with the phone still held to his ear. “No, you won’t. Weren’t you at the presentation this afternoon? They have a safe rides program. No questions asked. Though,” he said, “they’ll probably take one look at her and take her to the hospital, like I said. But you still won’t get in trouble.”

The girl shut up and put her arm around Melody, who looked like she might fall over.

“You already have campus police in your phone?” I whispered to Jax, and he nodded and put a finger over his lips. He headed outside where the music was quieter and I followed.

After the police had shown up and taken Melody and her friends away, another couple of cop cars appeared down at the end of the street, and Jax took my hand and started walking me quickly away from the party in the other direction.

I looked back at the frat house and frowned. “Is there about to be trouble?”

Jax shrugged. beyoğlu escort “Not sure, but why hang around to find out?”

His hand was warm, and the wind blowing through the eucalyptus trees was suddenly chilly. I’d forgotten that California evenings could be cold even after a hot day. Jax saw me shiver and let go of my hand, wrapping his arm around me. He smelled amazing, like what you’d imagine David Beckham smelled like (before playing soccer). Did David Beckham have his own cologne? Because if he did, that’s definitely what it should smell like.

Jax’s arm was still on my shoulder. I kept trying to think of it like a friendly hug, but the feeling of his hand on my bare shoulder was hard to interpret in a platonic way. Like, I just kept wishing he would brush the strap of my dress off my shoulder. God, my first frat party in my first week of college and I didn’t even get kissed. What was the point of drinking those beers anyway?

I leaned into Jax’s chest a little. “You know, you’re a good friend to go to a party with, but a shitty wingman. You didn’t even try to help me get laid.”

His hand gripped me a little tighter, but he kept his voice casual. “I don’t know, you did leave the party with a guy. How do you know you’re not going to get laid?”

I almost felt a spark of hope, and then I remembered how he was at the training, and then at the party. Nope. No hope. “Haha, funny. I’m with Mr. Affirmative Consent. No sexy business, right?”

Jax looked down at me, his eyes narrowed and his jaw tense. “Affirmative consent isn’t sexy? Are you so sure about that?”

Suddenly I wasn’t. No, wait, I still was. “Um, were you watching the same skit I was? It was about as sexy as dental work.”

Jax laughed, but he didn’t take his eyes off me. “Affirmative consent wasn’t the problem there. I think it was… everything else.”

“Um, sure. Not that I don’t appreciate your knight in shining armor schtick, since you did stop a girl from being raped tonight, but… don’t you think it’s sort of antithetical to sex?”

Jax stopped walking. We were in the middle of a sculpture garden, and towering painted and carved logs surrounded us. “No,” he said slowly, “I don’t.” He released my shoulder and turned to face me, and I saw a hint of amusement creep into his expression. “Would you like me to show you?”

I raised an eyebrow and folded my arms, the breeze raising goosebumps on my bare flesh. “If I say no, will it stop you?”

Jax laughed again. “Yes. But then you won’t find out what I mean.”

I tapped my foot like I was making a tough decision. “Okay, fine. I’d like you to show me.”

Jax stepped closer to me, so that there were only a few inches between our bodies. I could feel my heart beating faster, and I hoped he couldn’t see how he was affecting me. I wasn’t embarrassed that I was attracted to him — who wouldn’t be? But I didn’t want to make him feel weird about it. He was seriously the only person I really thought was my friend so far, so it would suck if things got awkward.

“Okay, well the first step is to figure out if the person is interested in you,” he said, his voice low in the silent eucalyptus grove. There were people walking around outside the garden, but nobody else had chosen our shortcut, so there wasn’t anybody close enough to hear us. He raised his hand and brushed some hair away from my face, and I swallowed. Was he…?

“I like to try a sort of innocent touch, something that won’t make them feel too uncomfortable if they’re not interested,” he continued. “It’s good to take it one step at a time, moving into their personal space gradually. Since you were okay holding my hand and having my arm around you, I moved on to touching your hair.”

I stared at him in the dim light of the streetlamps shining through the trees. Was this some kind of a joke?

“You didn’t back away when I moved close to you, and when I touched your hair, your pupils dilated,” Jax said. “You also tipped your head back slightly, exposing your neck to me.”

I felt a shiver go down my spine as he talked. He lifted up his hand again and traced a line from my ear to my collarbone.

“This is a very vulnerable spot on a woman,” he whispered, leaning in towards my ear. “If she’s uncomfortable, she would try to protect it. When you showed it to me, I knew that you were definitely attracted to me.”

Was I supposed to say something? Maybe I was supposed to say something. “Wow. Um, this is definitely sexier than the skit.”

Jax laughed then, a warm sound that reminded me of the brown eyes I could barely see in the half-light. “That’s the point.” He put his hand into the hair at the nape of my neck, his thumb brushing the back of my ear. I sucked in a deep breath, feeling like I suddenly needed more oxygen. He tightened the hand into a fist, pulling gently on my hair, tipping my head back farther. Was I even breathing? I was still breathing. I was almost positive.

“We still haven’t even gotten to the affirmative consent yet. I’m just feeling out whether it’s a good situation to ask for it first. And when you go slow enough, you can read all the signs.” Jax’s mouth was almost on my ear. This was definitely not just an explanation. I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but I couldn’t say for sure I wasn’t about to get fucked in a sculpture garden.

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