The Birthday Gift

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“Happy birthday, Kiddo,” I said into the intercom. “Wanna buzz me in?”

“Hey, Uncle Dave,” she said over the sound of the buzzer. “Come on up.”

I hadn’t seen my favorite niece in nearly four years. My brother was finishing up a lucrative contract job at a nuclear power facility in Saudi Arabia, and they’d sent Sarah on ahead so she could start college on time. I remembered her as a pudgy fourteen-year-old, with an adolescent’s intense curiosity and that sort of worrisome trepidation you see in kids when they’re not quite sure whether they’re ever going to be pretty or popular. I used to tell her not to worry; that she was just going through a normal adolescent stage, but she never seemed to believe me. I’d seen a couple of pictures the family had sent, but she was always dressed in frumpy clothes lurking in the background, so I had no idea how she’d actually turned out.

“God, it’s good to see you,” she said as she opened the door and flew into my arms before I had time to get a good look at her. I lifted her off her feet and, with the door closing behind us, swung her around, hoping to loosen her bear-like grip on my neck. She was light, probably no more than 90 or 100 pounds, and seemed to have grown only a couple of inches. When she finally let go, I held her out at arm’s length and took a good look.

“Wow!” I said, as she turned her head into her shoulder as if trying to hide. “You are gorgeous. I told you not to worry.” She wasn’t exactly gorgeous. In fact, cute would have been a better description, but I didn’t think that word would describe the kind physical maturity I was sure she hoped to have developed. She also didn’t seem to have aged much at all, still displaying that adolescent innocence I remembered.

“Yeah, sure,” she said, as she brushed a lock of reddish auburn hair from her eyes. “Like I don’t have a mirror. I mean, I’m eighteen today and I still look like I did when I was fifteen.”

I curled a finger under her chin and lifted her face. “I don’t give a damn what you think your mirror has to say, I’m telling you you’re beautiful. I’ll bet you had to beat the boys off with a stick over there.”

“I wish,” she said, burying her face in my sweater. “The so-called boys over there are all a bunch of religious nuts. Their idea of an ideal girl is one who wears a head-to-toe burka, and wouldn’t consider kissing until she’s married.”

I ruffled her hair gently. “So,” I said with a frown, “I guess you didn’t find yourself a boyfriend”

“Are you kidding? If it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t even have a male acquaintance. Even my tutors were girls. I missed everything, Uncle Dave. All the partying, the prom. Hell, I’m still a virgin for Christ’s sake!”

I was a little taken aback at her frankness, but I managed to cover it up. “Hey,” I said, gently shaking her shoulders, “what’s wrong with being a virgin? I know lots of boys who would kill to find one. They’re like an endangered species in the States nowadays.”

“Don’t I know it? I was one of the last ones left before we went away, and I was only fourteen. I even talked to Mom about it, and she admitted she and dad had sex when they were both sixteen. Of course, she said I should wait – Dad probably wants me to wait until I’m thirty – but that’s just what parents are supposed to say. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality, and the reality is that I’m way behind in that department.”

“Okay, okay,” I said with resignation. “But this conversation is getting a little edgy. How ’bout if we back off a little and talk about something else. How’re your folks? When are they due? What happened to all your freckles?” I was grasping, but my embarrassment was beginning to show and I didn’t want her thinking I was going to start agreeing with her obvious frustration at being a virgin.

“They’re fine. Be home in two weeks. The freckles faded. You can still see them if you look close, but I’m trying to help them along with some bleachy kind of cream.” This was all said succinctly, as if she were answering questions on a verbal test. She shut her eyes and tears began to squeeze from the corners, so I pulled her back against me and hugged her tightly. This is going to be tough, I thought, as she sniffled and shook her head against my chest.

“I really want to talk about it, Uncle Dave,” she managed to blubber through her tears. “You’re the only person I could ever talk to honestly, and right now I need that. I’m so goddamned frustrated I could die.”

I took a deep breath and tried to consider the impropriety of it all, the possible consequences, but I loved this kid and I knew I wasn’t going to get away with any more dodges. “Well,” I said, “since you put it like that, let’s take a little break, maybe order in some food. Then I promise we can talk about anything you want. Okay?”

I could sense her disappointment, but she finally pulled back and nodded. “I made dinner. All it needs is a little nuking. I didn’t çankaya escort have much else to do over there, so I watched a bunch of Galloping Gourmet reruns and actually learned how to cook.”

She handed me the TV remote. “Sit down. I’ll get you a beer.”

***

“That was incredible,” I said as I wiped up the remaining curry with a chunk of French bread. “Do your mom and dad know you’re drinking wine?”

“Sure they do,” she said, the sarcasm in her voice making it clear she didn’t mean it. “They also told me to jump the first American male I saw and rape him.”

“I see,” I said, playing along. “And did you do that? You’ve probably seen a few dozen so far, on the plane, at the airport. Was he surprised to have such a lovely girl attack him?”

“I tried,” she pouted, continuing the ruse, “but every male I approached ran off screaming something about statutory rape and going to prison. Wouldn’t you?”

Now there was a question. Unfortunately, the answer was probably yes, but I couldn’t say so. In fact, as I searched her face for signs of humor, I found myself fantasizing about helping her past this obvious self-image problem myself.

“Listen,” I said, “I understand what you’re trying to say, but we both know it’s silly. Any man in his right mind would jump at the chance to be your first. No matter what you say, you are a very beautiful and bright young lady, and you have literally tons of sex appeal.”

“Oh, yeah? How do you figure? The sex appeal bit, I mean?”

I thought for a moment, then decided to be honest. “Honey,” I said, “you have no idea how sexy innocence can be to a man. And when you combine that innocence with beauty and brains, it’s probably the world’s greatest aphrodisiac.”

“Okay, then. How about you? Would you like to be my first?”

My throat tightened at that, but I recovered in time to keep from sounding insincere. “Of course I would, Kiddo,” I said. I was shocked that I’d so easily spoken the truth, and to save myself I quickly added, “But, come on, you know that can’t happen.”

“Why not, Uncle Dave?” she whined. “Would you really want me to just go out on the street and pick some stranger? ‘Cause that’s what I’m thinking of doing. I promised myself before I came back that I would end my virginity before I entered college, and I damned well mean to keep that promise.”

“Whoa there,” I said. “Let’s hold on a second here. Don’t get me wrong, I meant what I said, but not only am I old enough to be your father, I happen to be your father’s brother, and he’d kill me if he even knew we were talking about such things. I’d love to help you out. I mean I would really love to help you out, but I can’t, at least not in that way.”

She started clearing the table. “Who says Dad ever has to know?” she said as she headed for the kitchen. “Besides, wouldn’t it be better for me to have someone with experience teach me, rather than some young stud who doesn’t know what he’s doing?” Over the clatter of dishes in the sink, she continued. “You know, in many cultures around the world, virgins are deflowered by elders in sacred rituals, sometimes as soon as they’re capable of having a child. I’m majoring in anthropology, in case you couldn’t guess.”

Before she came back into the dining room, she stood for a moment, backlit by the light from the kitchen door. She put her hands on her hips and assumed a defiant posture, and despite my growing sense of concern, I found myself looking at her in a different way—as an attractive and vulnerable young woman, rather than as my niece. She wore loose-fitting shorts that dropped just below her nicely rounded hips, and she stood with her smooth slender legs parted as if preparing to do some kind of cheerleading routine. The tails of her blouse were tied in a knot below her small breasts, leaving a swatch of bare skin visible down to her belly button.

But most of all, it was her face that gave me pause. As she slowly walked toward me I noticed for the first time a somewhat fearful glint radiating from her light hazel eyes—pretty eyes, above a small upturned nose and thin lips pursed in an expression that spoke of budding maturity, but not quite confident enough to match her obvious attempt to look tough.

“Listen,” she said almost in a whisper, as she held out a hand. Without thinking, I reached to grasp it, and let her pull me to my feet. “I understand what you’re saying, but just listen to me for a minute, please?” She led me back into the living room, then turned me around and pushed gently on my chest until I sat down on the couch. I was about to protest, but she remained standing, cocking her head to the side and slowly closing her eyes. After a couple of moments of silence, she continued.

“The real point is that there’s a lot I need to know before I go out into the big bad world looking for love, especially if what you say about my innocence being an aphrodisiac is true. escort çankaya Don’t you see what an easy target I’d be, how vulnerable my inexperience makes me? Not to mention the fact that I still look like a fifteen-year-old kid.” She sat down on the edge of the coffee table and put her hands on my knees, staring intently into my eyes.

“I’ve spent most of my time the past few years burying myself in my studies because I was deprived of any kind of a social life, especially one that included boys. So I have absolutely no experience with sex. Frankly, I’ve been scared to death of even reading about it, because it would only frustrate me more to know what I couldn’t experience for myself. I need you to help me, Uncle Dave, if for no other reason than to protect me from what might be out there waiting.”

I was doing my best not to let my libido take over and start screwing with my brain, but the feeling of her hands on my legs, coupled with her fresh-faced innocence, was doing a number on my psyche. Besides, she did have a point and her plea for help had no hint of an overt attempt at seduction. She wasn’t trying to turn me on or drag me into bed, only to learn, to get past the mystery of sex and prepare herself for womanhood. Then, before I could say anything, she let something slip that almost sealed the deal for me.

“You know I’ve always had a crush on you. I mean, I understand it’s just a childish thing, something I will probably get over in time, but …well, I guess what I’m trying to say is that, not only do I need help learning about sex, but the fact that I’m sort of in love with you right now makes it even more proper that you be the one to teach me. I’d hate to have to learn from someone who might not know as much as he thinks he does. I’ve known you practically since the day I was born, and I know you care about me and want the best for me. So could we at least talk about this? Maybe just let me ask some questions or something?”

With that, she had me dead to rights. How could I possibly refuse to help? In the back of my mind a voice kept trying to warn me of what might lie ahead if I didn’t simply say no and put a stop to this right now. But I was already way beyond that, and it wasn’t only altruism that kept me from stopping. The feeling in my groin and the butterflies in my chest made it clear there was something more going on, and I knew how difficult it was going to be to keep a lid on it. But I also knew it was the right thing to do for Sarah, for her well being, her safety, her future. So I let a little bit of a smile creep into my face in order to reassure her and lightly touched the back of her hand.

“What exactly do you want to know, Honey?” I said. Then, before she could answer, I went on. “You’re going to have to be completely honest with me, you know that don’t you?” She nodded. “I mean, some of this is going to be pretty embarrassing to talk about, and the things you’re going to have to tell me and that I’m going to have to tell you might be a little hard to say and hear. But we can’t let that stop us from being truthful, okay?”

Her face flushed a reddish pink, but then she jumped joyfully onto my lap, nearly strangling me with a hug. “Oh, Uncle Dave, I love you so much,” she said, her voice jerking with tears. I stroked her hair and patted her back until she calmed down, then gently pushed her away and looked in her eyes.

“I love you too, Honey,” I said, and I realized that what I meant was a lot more than familial love. I finally managed to urge her off my lap, until she sat next to me on the couch. Then, still holding her hands, I took a deep breath and said, “Now, maybe you could start by telling me what you know about having sex.”

She looking down at our hands, then shrugged. “Well, I know some of the mechanics from sex-ed at school and a few medical sites I found online, but all that stuff is really cold and factual. None of it addresses the emotional side of things, or the techniques, the pitfalls, the physical feelings, that kind of thing.”

“You know, there are lots of websites that do talk about those things,” I said. “And there are chat rooms and forums where you can talk directly with kids about their own experiences.”

“Yeah, I know, but I never had the nerve to go on any of those sites. Mom always warned me about Internet predators and how they pose as kids to draw girls out and get them to meet in person. I guess she scared me out of that kind of stuff. Plus, I don’t want to hear it from strangers anyway.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, accepting the inevitable. “So, where do you want to start?”

“Well, uh, like I said, I sort of know what happens, but what I don’t know is what it feels like.”

“Right,” I said, fishing around in my brain for the best way to start. “Okay,” I said, clearing my throat nervously, “let me ask you a question. Have you ever been touched . . . I mean, on your breasts or . . . down çankaya escort bayan there?”

“Not really.”

“What do you mean, ‘not really?'”

“Well, once when I was with this bunch of American kids who had come over on an academic trip, we all sort of piled into the back seat of this car and were jumbled together.”

“And?”

“And, well, some guy’s hand ended up sort of between my legs.”

“So what happened?”

“Nothing, really, much I mean. It took us a while to get to where we were going, and this guy’s hand was moving, and it felt, I don’t know, kind of weird.”

“Good weird, or bad weird?

She hesitated a moment, but then seemed to gather her resolve. “Good weird, I guess,” she said. “He was really good looking and I was … I don’t know, complemented, I guess, that he—that anyone—would want to … you know, touch me, so I didn’t try to stop him.”

“Did you get wet?”

Again, a slight hesitation, then, “Uh, yeah, I think so.”

“You think so?”

“Well, I thought I felt something at the time, but it wasn’t until later that night when I took off my underwear and saw the … stain, that I put two and two together, so to speak.”

“So, you know what that was all about, right?”

“Yeah, sort of. I’ve read a little about it. I guess it’s because a girl needs to be lubricated in order to have sex—intercourse, I mean.”

“You’ve got it. That’s the reason. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Unfortunately, there are a lot of young boys who don’t know that, or who do and don’t care, and that can make things pretty painful for a girl. It all has to do with something they call foreplay, which is a little like what happened with that fellow’s hand in the car.”

“I’ve heard that term,” she said, her voice growing more confident. “But I never really knew exactly what it meant. Can you fill me in a bit?”

I thought for a moment, realizing that we were running into things that were going to be hard to get across with words alone, so I decided to put this one off and backtrack a little. “I can, but let’s talk about something else first.” I put my arm around her shoulder and drew her to me. “This is going to be one of those tough ones, but I want you to tell me the absolute truth, okay?”

“Okay,” she said, jerking her head up and putting on a resolute expression.

I took a deep breath, then said, “Have you ever touched yourself?”

“Of course I have … oh, you mean like that, like that kid did.” Suddenly her resolute attitude seemed to evaporate, and she grew silent. But before I could say anything, she said, “I’m not avoiding the question, Uncle Dave, it’s just that I know what you’re talking about. It’s called masturbation, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, and before you go on, you need to know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Just about everyone on the face of the earth does it, regardless of whether they admit it or not, and it is a very healthy thing to do.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve read enough to have come to that conclusion, which is why I don’t have any excuse.”

“What do you mean, excuse? I just got through telling you that it was—”

“What I mean is I don’t have any good excuse for never doing it. For some reason, it always seemed strange to me, like something only perverts did, so I’ve been scared to.”

“Well,” I said, “there’s one thing we’re going to have to fix.”

“Why, Uncle Dave? I mean, if you have a boyfriend you can have sex with, what do you need that for?”

“You don’t exactly need it under those circumstances, Honey. But even married people do it from time to time. Sometimes a person’s sex drive—his or her need for sex—doesn’t match up with their partner’s, and that can be frustrating if there isn’t some other outlet.”

“Outlet? What do you mean, ‘outlet?’ You make it sound like sex is an addiction, not just something that feels good, something you can take or leave if you want.”

“Well,” I said, “In a way it is an addiction. At least nature made it that way in order to perpetuate life. If living things could do without sex, then eventually there wouldn’t be enough offspring and they would die out. And that goes for humans as well.”

She contemplated this for a moment, then said, “But what is it exactly that makes sex addictive? I mean, it certainly can’t be like heroin or crack or anything, or I would have been dead a long time ago. I want to have sex; in fact, I’m really frustrated that I haven’t yet, but it’s obvious that I can do without it. Is there some kind of switch that gets thrown or something once you start?”

“Yep. I never thought of it that way, but the switch thing is a pretty good analogy.”

“So, what’s the switch?”

I had wondered how we were going to work our way up to this, but fortunately, her line of questioning had naturally led us there. “The switch, my dear, is something called an orgasm.”

“Oh, yeah. I know about them. Or, I should say I’ve heard about them, but I don’t really know anything. Can you explain what the big deal is?”

Her innocence was so honest I almost laughed, but I caught myself just in time. “Well, Kiddo, I said almost under my breath, “that’s going to be a problem.”

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