The L-Bomb

by Tess Hall

I knew I was in love over a bag of Cheez Doodles. We had been dating
just three months and one night, hanging out in my apartment,
stoned, shoving the cheese food-slathered corn morsels as fast as
I could into my face hole. I mentioned that I loved Cheez Doodles.
It was a passing comment, a mumble, with no ulterior motives. The
next night, Kern came home after a late shift with a bodega bag filled
with them—ten bags! It was the most thoughtful thing a man had
ever done for me. I knew he was the one.

“So, have you dropped ‘L-bombs’ yet?” my sister-in-law, Ayame,
asked me a few days later, after a few drinks.

I looked at her, confused.

“You know,” she said. “Have you told each other you love each other?
Are you guys in love?”

“We haven’t, said it, yet, no,” I said, starting to feel warm in my
cheeks.

“Well, do you? Love him?”

“I’m not sure.”

I was sure, but I was afraid to say I was. It made it real, tangible,
tacky. At home, in the middle of the night, face covered in orange
snack crumbles, under the influence of some good weed and cheap
bubbles, I was willing to admit it to myself. Not to him, yet, but to
myself, silently, as I stared at his large, soft lips. But here, in daylight,
to somebody else, I wasn’t ready. Then the words would be out
there, free to dart around the city and run into any one of New York’s
assorted characters—the guy who walks around with the cat on his
head, or the poster of Dr. Zizmor, the doctor with the miracle cure
for your bad skin. What if Dr. Zizmor saw Kern on the train and told
him? I didn’t know if I could trust the poster of Dr. Zizmor.

“You’re not sure? You know what, I don’t believe you.” Ayame
sloshed her martini as she called my bluff. “Your smile says every-
thing. When I asked, you had this little smile and this little twinkle
in your eyes.”

I blushed.

“You love him. It’s okay. How long have you been dating?”

“Three months. I don’t know, it feels too fast.”

“That’s plenty. After three months with your brother I told him I
wanted to have a baby with him. Two months later I was pregnant.”
Their relationship had moved quickly. “It’s true what they say: when
you know, you know.”

By the end of my third negroni, my doubts abated. I knew I loved
him. Was I so afraid he didn’t love me back? Of course he loved me
back! I felt butterflies in my stomach every time I saw him, and every
love song I heard was obviously about me. He’d bought me ten bags
of Cheez Doodles. Why was I so worried that it had only been three
months?

“You know what Ayame? You’re right. I fucking love him.”

“You love him!”

“I love him.”

“You should go tell him!”

“You’re right. I should go tell him.” I stood up, amped, then looked
down at my drink. Only a tired ice cube and a tiny sip of pink, diluted
liquor remained. Now standing, I felt the strong effects of what used
to be in that glass. I sat back down. “Maybe one more first?”

Drunk, confident, red-faced, and in love, I rode the subway home,
Beyoncé in my ear, ready to do it. To say it. Them. The words. The
train couldn’t get me to Brooklyn fast enough. I was in love and I
hadn’t felt that way in years and for the first time, I really thought he
loved me back. I had been unlucky in love before, had chased sensitive,
brooding, artistic types who loved everything I had to give but
had nothing to give me in return. Max hurt the longest. Dan disappeared
into the mountains, and made it a bit easier. Kern was different.
He was not a drummer or a poet; he didn’t smell, or write
shitty love songs I thought were glorious, or occasionally claim to be
a Buddhist, or think he was Jim Morrison. Kern was charming, adventurous,
intelligent, and handsome. He was far cooler than I was,
loved hip-hop, danced with me at a bar, and could go on about obscure
Marvel Universe storylines for hours. He’d taken me to my first
Comic-Con, and bought me perfume for my birthday. He was chattier
than I was—when we went to a family affair, he was off making
friends with distant family members I wasn’t even bothering to talk
to. Then when it was time for us to leave, he had to say goodbye to
just about everybody in the room.

I got off the subway and quickly walked the five blocks back to the
apartment Kern had already unofficially moved into. When I left for
work that morning he was still sleeping; he had gone to bed around
6 a.m.

I walked in the door to find out he wasn’t home.

Damnit. But. I was gonna say it. Them.

The three words I had been storing in my cheeks for this moment
dribbled out of my parted lips, fell to the ground, and evaporated
into the ether. I sighed.

It was silly of me to just expect that he’d be home—we were three
months in, after all. I had to laugh. Here I was, ready to make this
proclamation and put my love out there for Kern and Dr. Zizmor and
all of New York City and I hadn’t even bothered to text this man to
see if he was home! He had work later that night and must have gone
into Manhattan a little bit before.

Shit. I was ready!

Or maybe, I was drunk. I collapsed onto the couch. This was okay; I
would see him later, and I would tell him then. No big deal. Tragically
hilarious, but no big deal. I passed out right on the couch and woke
up hours later, after midnight. He had texted me:

Hey baby, how was work? Sorry I left before you came home. I went
to get a haircut. It’s pretty slow here. I’ll come straight home after work.
Can’t wait to see you.

I closed my eyes and remembered his face and smiled. Then I texted
him back: Work was rough today. It was crazy busy. But then Ayame
texted me she was in NY for work or something, so we had a few drinks
when I was done. It was really nice actually. I’ll tell you about it when you
get back. Hope the rest of your night goes well babe. I fell back asleep on
the couch.

Hours later, I woke up to a phone call from him. He sounded frantic.

“Babe, I need you to do me a favor. I’m in a cab rushing home now.
Can you run to the bodega and grab a gallon of milk? Shit! Fuck! I
ate a habanero and then went to pee and I touched my dick and now
it’s on fire.” I could tell he was holding back pained yelps as he told
me this. “The cab driver is speeding me home but please go get me a
gallon of milk please? Fuck fuck!”

I ran to the 24-hour bodega, did as he’d asked, and he was home
quickly. I heard him run up the stairs. He burst through the door,
grabbed the milk from my hands, ran to the bathroom, shoved his
pants down, jumped in the tub, and started pouring the milk over his
spicy dick. He sighed immediate relief.

“Oh my god, babe. That was horrible. Tess, you have no idea. I
hope you never have to feel this way. I thought I washed my hands
properly! Fucking habanero pepper.” Without thinking, he scratched
his eye. “Goddamnit! Ah!” The pepper’s devilish oils were resolute—
trace amounts still lingered on his fingertips and were now laughing
at him from his eyeball. Another “Goddamnit!” as he splashed the
milk jug toward his face. He hadn’t taken his shirt off so now it, and
he, was soaked. I stood there in the bathroom, watching the whole
scene, holding back laughter. I felt bad, but this was pretty funny.
Instinct told him to touch his eyes again but I watched him stop himself
just in time.

“Babe, I know this sucks now but soon this is going to be a hilarious
story,” I said, breaking my silence. He resigned to sitting down
in the tub, now filled a half-inch of the way with bodega whole milk
(on sale for $2.49), and decided not to move a body part until everything
felt better. When the tension slipped away, I took my clothes
off, stepped into the milk-splashed tub, and sat down across from
him. He looked at me, smiled, and started laughing. Then I started
laughing. This was pretty fucking ridiculous.

“Wow, this is embarrassing,” he said, inspecting himself, naked
from the waist down but still wearing that now wet t-shirt. Milk
dripped down his face, his neck, his arms. His penis, no longer aflame
and feeling relaxed, bobbed out just slightly from the milk bath and
looked at me, as if to say, “Thank you.” We sat in silence for a very
long 60 seconds.

“Hey. I love you.” I looked straight into his eyes. There. It was done.
No turning back now. Do what you will with this information, Dr.
Zizmor.

I studied his face for as long as I could before reality climbed into
the bathtub. He was not ready for this. Perhaps it was the setting or
perhaps it was because it had only been three months or perhaps it
was something deeper, more sinister; I couldn’t read much from his
eyes other than pure and honest stupefaction. I looked away, ready
to cry now.

“Shit, babe, it’s okay,” Kern started, sensing the tears welling up
in my downturned eyes. “I just, it’s just, can we talk about this later?
I’m sorry, this crazy thing just happened, and we’re both sitting here,
and, I don’t know, can we just talk about this later?”

“Yeah, sure.” My face was too red now to stay here, sitting across
from him. I got out from the tub, looking away, threw on my bathrobe,
looking away, walked to the bedroom, calm, and plopped on the
bed. Well that sucked.

I cried a little into my pillow as he stayed in the bathroom. This had
happened to me before. With Max. With Dan. They never loved me
beyond friendship. They merely wanted me for the emotional support,
the adventure, and, occasionally, the sex.

I knew I had to put these men away on the shelves in my brain
labeled “first love” and “second love” and come back to the present.
Kern was different; our relationship was real, adult, and mutual. He
had bought me a plant, taken me on dates, and almost entirely moved
into my apartment. He slept over every night, and never wanted me
to leave his arms in the morning. He bought me ten fucking bags of
99-cent Cheez Doodles.

My back was facing the door but I heard Kern come into the room
as I chewed on this information like it was Laffy Taffy. Without a
word, he crawled into bed, wrapped his muscular, smooth arm around
me, and squeezed me as close as he could to his body.

“I’m sorry baby. I’m just not ready yet,” he said as he started to kiss
my neck, my back, my hips, my ass. “But thank you for telling me.”

He loved me. I knew it. I just had to wait a little bit longer.

He turned me onto my back, took my robe off, grabbed my legs,
and pulled me towards his face.

I guessed I could wait a little longer.