E4: Candyland

20 min read

(This is Season 1, Episode 4 of Momentum. The content deals with adult themes.)

Day 39
October 9
Lincoln City, Oregon

1,480 miles to Mexico

The Humble Pie Pizzaria

The bells over the door jingled, and a hooded figure entered out of the rain. She flipped back her hood, revealing a tight blonde ponytail that stuck out the back of her ballcap. The woman was in her late twenties. Very pretty, thought Jordan. He watched her approach the counter with gooey, mozzarella eyes.

“Mushroom slice!” the lazy-eyed clerk shouted back toward the ovens.

As one might tell from the typo. The Humble Pie Pizzaria wasn’t a very classy place. It had all the charm of a bar bathroom. The cheddar-colored walls were covered with scrawled notes of the HI MOM variety, and the checkerboard floors looked like they could use a good clean. But the Beatles were on the jukebox, and the lazy-eyed clerk was singing along brightly. “And I’ll send all my loving to you.” The pretty blonde woman stood patiently. There was just one vacant booth in the Humble Pie, and it was the one right next to Jordan. When she collected her slice and turned from the counter, he contorted his face into something resembling a smile. But the blonde woman stared right through him. She slid into the booth, making a point—he thought—of choosing the bench that faced away from him.

“All my loving I will send to youuuuuuuu.”

Tearing at his fingernails, Jordan ogled the downy hairs just beneath the edge of her ballcap as he tried to come up with a good pickup line.

There was a commotion at the only other booth in the pizza joint. The five-year-old girl at the next table over was bickering with her. He wanted her to finish her crust. “No! I don’t waaannnnnna.”

“Come on, Danielle. Finish your dinner. There’s kids starving in Africa who’d kill each other for this.” Jordan didn’t believe that was true, but he had to cut the dad a break—he was being relatively compassionate for a man with a tarantula tattooed right on the top of his bald head. Five-year-old Danielle wasn’t convinced either. She was focused on the pile of toys in the corner by the pool table. When her father lost focus for just a second, she slid beneath the table and beelined across the checkerboard floors.

“Goddamn it, Danielle.” Bald Spider Man slammed his hand on the table. “When are you going to learn to respect your father?” As he rose to his feet, Jordan glanced over at the pretty blonde woman, who had turned to watch the climax of the argument. The two of them shared the kind of eye contact that can only happen between adults without children. Then, Bald Spider Man scooped up his daughter like a football. The girl screeched. Her little legs kicked wildly as the bells over the door jingled, and father and daughter disappeared into the rain.

A calm settled on the Humble Pie. “She loves you, yeah, yeah yeah.”

Jordan turned to the blonde woman. “That’s one way to parent.”

The blonde woman nodded noncomittally. “There are many ways to parent.”

His pickup line wouldn’t end up in any how-to guides, but it did the job.

It had been three days since Jordan escaped Jack the Chicken Man, and if it wasn’t for the rain, he’d still be running. That morning, after waking up to the sound of clucking chickens pounding on this tent, Jordan decided that he had no choice but to take a rest day. He’d ended up spending the entire afternoon at the public library, reading every self-help book on the shelf. The answers may have been there, but he didn’t know how to ask the right questions.

The blonde woman’s name was Sam. She was a student at Oregon State—seventy-five miles inland, in Corvallis. She’d just started her masters a few weeks earlier, and she’d come out to the coast with some of her classmates for a get-to-know-you weekend. “I’m a bit of a loner,” she said. “I needed a bit of space.”

Jordan knew the feeling. Suddenly, his one-man tent felt as suffocating as a cocoon.

He could tell that Sam was defensive. He could feel that he was overeager. He tried to remember what the self-help books had said about getting girls to fall in love with you, but he couldn’t figure out how to make her feel safe when he felt like he was the one following apart. That humiliating pulsing sensation had shaken him, and he didn’t know who to ask for advice. He was even scared to talk about it with Paul.

He decided to play possom, letting Sam lead the conversation, letting himself get taken. Something about her felt good but also unsettling. When she spoke, Sam looked him in the eye in a way that felt neither flirty nor aggressive. It was confident. She’s just so here. So… so…

Jordan struggled to find the word, even though he’d read it, earlier, in the self-help books.

The word he was looking for was “present.”

Sam had just started studying for a biology master’s, majoring in mycology. “That’s the study of mushrooms.

“Ohhhh,” he said leadingly. “Mushrooms?

“Yes.” Sam was stone-faced. “I’m studying mushrooms.”

He didn’t think she got the joke, so he tried again. “Do you get to do mushrooms while studying mushrooms?”

“There’s a lot more to mushrooms than psychedelics.”

He glanced at her pizza. “Really? Enlighten me.”

She did. She told him that scientists were discovering incredible applications for fungi every day. Radiologists in Ukraine had found fungi growing in the Chernobyl reactors. Climatologists were down in the Gulf of Mexico, using booms of soil seeded with oyster mushroom spores to soak up the oil after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Certain mushrooms were being used in cancer trials. Other scientists were researching how mycological networks facilitated communication among trees in old-growth forests. As she spoke, Jordan remembered what Kelly had said—something about his predilection for brainy, spiritual women.

Sam was wearing a flannel shirt, unbuttoned slightly. Jordan fought the urge to look down and assess what was inside.

“You really know a lot about mushrooms.”

She cracked a smile. “It’s because I do a lot of psychedelics.”

The clerk was still singing along with the jukebox. “When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah.” They’d both long finished their pizza, but neither one of them seemed in any hurry to end the conversation. They had a lot in common. This summer, Sam explained, right before she moved to Oregon to start her master’s, she spent five months living in a tent in a forest in New Jersey.

“Wait a second. New Jersey has forests?”

She didn’t laugh. “Yes.”

He swallowed painfully. “What were you doing living in a tent for five months?”

“I was at an animal tracking school run by this guy who learned from an Apache Indian hunter.”

“I don’t even know how to reply to that.”

“It was amazing.”

Jordan puffed out his chest. “What’s one thing that you can teach a guy like me about animal tracking—a guy who is walking across the country?”

Sam frowned, then closed her eyes. A beat passed. Then another. He couldn’t tell whether she was thinking about the question or just waiting for an answer to arrive. He took the opportunity to study her face for imperfections, then let his gaze dip down towards her…

Her eyes flicked open. “Every step has an intention.”

He made a face. “Every step has an intention?” It sounded like something he’d read in the self-help books. It sounded like something that could have come out of Paul.

“No, it’s good science,” Sam insisted. She adopted a professorial tone. “Say you’re looking at a track. The first thing you do is collect data. How old’s the track? What other tracks are around? What’s the weather? Where’s the nest, where’s the food source? You take that data and compare it with what you know about the animal, like its habits, its motivations. You put two and two together. What you’re trying to deduce is the animal’s intention: where it was going and why.”

“No one’s ever explained it to me like that before!” he said, a little too eagerly. He reached into his pocket for Paul’s crystal, calming himself down. “It makes a lot of sense.”

“Every animal is different, but they mostly have the same categories of motivation.” She counted them out on her long fingers. “Food. Safety. Protection for their young. Play.” Her eyes met his. “Sex. In the forest, nothing is haphazard. The intention may be obscured, but the animal was always going towards something.” Sam took the last bite of her crust, then dabbed her lips with her napkin. Jordan had to tear away his eyes to avoid staring. “So, every step has an intention. That’s all I thought about for five months.”

“What was that like?”

Sam hesitated. Her eyes darted across his face. “Interesting.” She paused, but he didn’t say anything. “At first, I approached it like a scientist. I spent weeks walking through the woods, collecting data. Then one day I was walking through the forest when I suddenly realized that everything was responding to me. That was a huge mindfuck. That’s when things got deep. I started asking myself the same question I was asking the tracks: what’s the intention in this step? How about this one? How about that one?” She caught his eye and smiled. “You must think about the same thing.”

“Oh yeah,” he lied. “Totally.” Sam’s expression changed immediately. He could feel himself starting to panic. “Actually, if you want to know the truth…”

“What were you telling me before?”

He smiled and winced. “That’s all I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. I just never thought to call it my intention.”

This answer seemed to satisfy Sam. Her shoulders relaxed. “Can I share something with you? Something that might sound a little… strange?”

“Yes.” His voice had suddenly turned hoarse.

“I used to spend hours walking around the woods, asking myself that question. These… answers would just pop into my head. I didn’t know where they came from, but they would always be there. The intention in this step might be trust. Or this one might be paying attention. Sometimes, they were shallower things like getting water or food, but there was always an intention. That surprised me. That something was… I don’t know how to say this… like, calling me in a certain way.”

He leaned forward. “I think I know exactly what you mean.”

“So you know?” She held his eye.

“Know what?”

“That this“—she knocked on the table—”isn’t all there is.”

He nodded, then looked down at his lap. “I know. Though it really scares me to talk about it.”

She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone before?”

He leaned forward. “Yes.”

“Sometimes, I’d be walking in the woods when I’d suddenly get the sense that all the ferns and the tree branches were all reaching out, almost like the whole forest was trying to touch me. Then I’d suddenly realize that my intention was love.”

“That’s beautiful.”

“So are you,” she replied. “Can I buy you a drink?”

He blushed. “I’m not drinking right now. But you can buy me a water.”

The bells jingled over the door. Jordan’s heart was racing as he followed Sam out of the Humble Pie.

Hungry hearts

It was a short walk arond the corner to reach Sam’s car—an early 2000s GMC Jimmy with California plates. The Jimmy was parked on a quiet and dimly lit street. The rain had slowed, and a gentle mist was visible in the beam of the streetlights.

Opening the passenger door, she revealed the elderly dog inside. “This is Doc,” she said, helping the dog down to the asphalt, then leaning over to remove the velcro that affixed a diaper over his hind legs. Sam stood back as Doc tinkled a few drops onto the bright moss encrusting the curb. Doc hardly paid any attention to Jordan. “Kidney surgery,” she explained as she reaffixed the velcro. “The vet thought I was crazy. Doc is fifteen. The vet thought that the surgery would only buy him a few weeks. Maybe a couple months at best. But it’s been more than a year now, and he’s still here.” She leaned down, so Doc could weakly lick her cheek. “What was I going to do, let him die? He’s pretty much been my oldest friend.”

Jordan peered into the JImmy through the open passenger door. A half-dozen plastic storage tubs were stacked neatly on the folded rear seats. “Are you moving?”

“No. We live in here.”

“You live in your car? With your dog?

“Yes,” she said, matter-of-factly. “The surgery was expensive, and after tuition, I didn’t have enough to afford rent. Hopefully, it’s only for a few months.” She bent down, hefting up Doc and setting him down on the bed atop the center console.”

Jordan was in shock. “Butwheredoyousleep?”

She shrugged. “We’ve got a place down near the student center. It’s safe and quiet.”

“But… But… wheredoyoutakeashower?”

She made a face. “Where do you take a shower?

“Publicshowers. Likeatstateparkscampgrounds.”

“Us too.” Sam turned her back. She rounded the front of the vehicle, unlocking the driver’s door and sliding behind the wheel. Jordan was still standing frozen on the asphalt. “You do get in cars, right?”

“Rule Number Three: Only Get In A Vehicle If The Driver Promises That They’ll Drop You Off Exactly Where They Picked You Up.”

She laughed. “Do you always talk in capital letters?”

“Capital letters? What do you mean?”

“Never mind. Are you getting in or not?”

“Yes,” he squeaked. He shut the door and immediately buckled his seatbelt.

Sam rolled down her window a crack, then lit a cigarette. She reached for an ancient iPod attached to the stereo through a cable that disappeared into the tape deck. Silently, she took a drag, taking her time as she scrolled through her music library. A moment passed. Jordan was shaking.

The inside of the vehicle was just about as homey as an early 2000s GMC Jimmy could get. Sam had converted the dashboard into a kind of garden. It was decorated with neat groupings of dried plants: sage, sweetgrass, lavender, mint, a chunk of redwood bark and a fist-sized lobster mushrooms. A dreamcatcher dangled from the rearview mirror. Suddenly, a long, mournful note filled the inside of the car. Sam returned the iPod to the drink holder, then turned up the volume. “This is my favorite song,” she said.

The song seemed like a strange choice for someone’s favorite. It had a funereal quality: the lone instrument sounded like a wheezing organ, and the lyrics were sung in a deep baritone, in a language that Jordan didn’t recognize. Sam put the vehicle in gear. She pulled up to the junction with the coastal highway. “Where should we go?”


Sam flipped on her indicator and turned south.

The song’s tempo increased slightly. The wheezing organ was joined by backing vocals and bells. It had the feeling of a monastic chant from some grand European cathedral, but the language didn’t fit. Where have I heard this before? he wondered, as they zipped past the public library and edged into the woods on the way out of town.

Suddenly, something clicked. The lyrics were in Sanskrit. It was kirtan—Hindu devotional music. Jordan shivered. How did India find me here? The emotion was overwhelming. It shocked him. He suddenly felt on the verge of tears.

Sam was taking long, slow drags on her cigarette. Neither of them had said a word since the song began. Jordan’s imagination was suddenly flooded by a monsoon of memories from traveling with Sally in the subcontinent. They arrived in flashes. There they were, in Varanasi, watching a bonfire steadily consume a dead body, as nearby children laughed and backflipped into the Ganges. Poof. The memory vanished. Now, there they were, sitting side by side on the stoop of an open door of a fast-moving train. The sun was setting over the mustard fields. They were drinking sweet chai. Sally was resting her head on his shoulder. They were waving at the people they passed: farmers leading water buffalo; women in beautiful saris, carrying water; young boys taking shits off the edge of the railway berm, smiling and waving all the while. He could feel her cheek on his face. He could hear the clattering of the tracks. He could feel her knee pressing into him. Then, poof. Gone.

I loved her, he thought suddenly. I loved her with everything I had, and it still wasn’t good enough.

Suddenly, he realized that the self-help books had been right. He was grieving.

Sam interrupted the silence. “What do you think he’s singing about?”

Jordan took her question literally. “It’s a devotional song,” he exclaimed. “It’s all about the gods!”

Sam furrowed her brow. “I always thought that he was describing some mystical, enchanted forest.” She hesitated and turned back to the road. “But maybe that’s the same thing.”

The coastal highway curved back toward the coastline. It passed a few restaurants and a few small neighborhoods before following along the edge of a sheer cliff that separated the road from the beach. Out Jordan’s window, the sky over the Pacific was pitch black. A sign by the roadside advertised a hotel with a rooftop bar. Sam flicked on her indicator and turned into the parking lot across the street. The same song had been playing for nearly eight minutes; the tempo had slowed again as it neared its climax. Then, just as Sam pulled into a parking stall, the singer switched suddenly into an American-inflected English. Sam cut the engine, but not the battery, and the two of them sat staring out the windshield at the hedge in silence as they listened to the end of the song:

Calling out to hungry hearts
Everywhere through endless time
You who wander, you who thirst
I offer you this heart of mine.

Calling all you hungry spirits
Everywhere through endless time
Calling out to hungry hearts
All the lost and left behind
Gather round and share this meal
Your joy and your sorrow,
I make it mine.

Jordan had goosebumps. It wasn’t until the instrument made one long, dying wheeze that Sam finally switched off the stereo.

The first picture he ever took of Sally.

Seeing double

The evening moved like it had a destination in mind. It had a flow. A momentum. First, they sat together in the rooftop bar, facing the windows that looked out to the endless blackness. College football highlights from the TVs over the bar reflected on the glass. Sam had a mojito. Jordan sipped a water. They danced around one another tenatively.

Next, they took the elevator down to beach level. The howling wind was so strong that Jordan could lean into it at a forty-five angle. The tide was out, and the air was frigid. They ran out across the sand, taking shelter behind a rocky boulder. Though there was no one else around, they still spoke in whispers, edging closer and closer, until Sam’s eyes drifted across Jordan’s lips.

As wounded as he felt, he wasn’t naive enough to miss the signal. He leaned forward and kissed her.

Sam’s tongue responded immediately. Her mouth tasted like an ashtray.

They pawed one another through their layers of flannel and down.

Jordan’s hands moved with tentative purpose. He was twenty-nine; he’d done things like this before. Virtually all of his sexual experience consisted of one-night stands, besides a couple of girlfriends and Sally. He thought he understood what was expected of him. He hoped he’d be successful in giving Sam an orgasm. His fingers unbuttoned her jeans, then dipped into her underwear, dropping further, teasing the edge of her pubic hair. Sam stopped kissing. “Your hands are cold.” He removed his fingers immediately.

“Sorry.” He didn’t know what else to say. Even though there was no one else around, it seemed impractical to have sex on the beach. He wasn’t even sure that sex was what he wanted.

Still, he forced a smile that he hoped reminded Sam of George Clooney. “Do you want to find somewhere warm where we can get naked?” His voice cracked. The line came off forced. It was more Seth Rogen than George Clooney.

Sam closed her eyes again, just like back at the Humble Pie. She stayed still. He studied her, trying to figure out which answer he preferred. When her eyes snapped open, he scanned her face, desperately trying to read her expression. Then she relaxed into a smile. “Look.” She pointed over his shoulder. Beyond the shelter of the boulder, a single leaf was cartwheeling—end over end over end over end—as the wind carried it down the sandy beach. “My higher self told me to look for a sign. I think I just got one.” She kissed him. “Okay. Let’s go get naked.”

Jordan felt suddenly flooded with emotion. He wasn’t sure if it was desire—or relief.

Back in the hotel, all the doors on beach level were locked. They couldn’t force their way into the utility closet, and the ballroom was packed with high school kids in ill-fitting gowns. They rode the elevator up to the lobby on the top floor, but it was Saturday night, and the room rate was nearly two hundred dollars. Jordan had paid five dollars to camp at the State Park. The extra expense was hard to justify. “Do you want to go back to my tent? It’s not very big, but there should be…” His voice trailed off as Sam closed her eyes to think again.

“Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s go back to your tent.”

They got back in the Jimmy and drove north, retracing their path back to the campground not far from the Humble Pie. This time, the atmosphere in the car was nothing like it had been a few hours earlier. They laughed and flirted, and when he reached across the console for Sam’s hand, she squeezed back. They were consenting adults; they were both around the same age. Jordan figured that he knew what he was getting himself into, and he tried to slow himself down, so he didn’t get ahead of himself.

But when there was a brief lull in their conversation, Jordan’s thoughts immediately turned to Sally. He could still remember every detail of the night that they slept together for the very first time. It was in India, five days after they met at a restaurant called the Café Rendez Vous. That evening, Jordan was on the hunt for a woman like Sally. It was his third time in India over the three years of what he had come to call his Quarter Life Crisis. This time, he had a contract with a Canadian travel agency that had hired him as a researcher. His job was to visit the finest hotels in the country and send home pithy reviews about the size of their bathtub. It was a dream job for Jordan. He’d seen the worst of Indian poverty. Now, he was enjoying the contrast.

Sally had also been to India four times in the few years since graduating from Cambridge. She’d just spent the last four months volunteering as an English language teacher in a remote village, washing her own clothes, wiping her ass with her left hand. They smoked a joint together. Jordan explained that he was about to leave on a week-long, all-expenses-paid tour of the region’s finest hotels. His driver left in the morning. Might Sally be interested in… “I’ll think about it,” she told him.

Sally had shocked him when she appeared at his hotel the next morning and joined him in the back seat of his chauffeured car.

But there was a problem. Sally already had a boyfriend. Jordan assured her that his intentions were friendly.

Their first night together, they slept chastely, in their pajamas, on opposite sides of the bed in the honeymoon suite.

Sam parked the car at the campground. It was late, and the night was still. After taking Doc for a short walk, she secured him in the Jimmy and grabbed Jordan’s hand as they passed through the light mist. His tent was set up in the “hiker-biker” campsite that was set aside for visitors without vehicles. When he’d left for the Humble Pie earlier, his tent had been the only one in the communal campground, but now a half-dozen other tents had popped up like mushrooms in the grassy meadow. They smirked at the anonymous snores that pierced the cool night. Jordan unzipped his tent fly and stepped back magnanimously. “Welcome to my home.”

There wasn’t enough room in the one-person tent for them to lay side-by-side, but by now, they both knew that laying and talking wasn’t the point. Sam’s shirt came off quickly. Her bra followed. Her shoulders were well-defined, and her breasts were both crowned by metal piercings. Encircling his lips around her nipple, Jordan felt the metal click against his teeth. She arched her back and ground her crotch into him.

“I want you go down on me,” she whispered.

“Sure. Whatever you want.” He worked his tongue down her body, circling one breast, then the other, following the edge of her rib cage, eventually finding the downy trail beneath her belly button that led him to the edge of her jeans. His unused gear was piled up at the foot of his sleeping bag. He kicked it to the side, making space between Sam’s legs, shucking her jeans and then her underwear. He leaned forward, closing his eyes and sticking out his tongue. Sally had hated when he went down on her; Sally’s favorite position was on her hands and knees, with her face buried in the pillow. Once, Sally had told him that he could use her body however he wanted, so long as they never talked about it outside of the bedroom. But what he had wanted was a girlfriend, not a dog.

“A little softer. A little higher. Mmm. Just like that.”

He was so happy to know exactly how she wanted to be pleased. The encouragement made Jordan try harder.

When the relationship ends, what do you do with the memories?

Sally’s boyfriend was in England, waiting patiently for her to return. Her flight home was at the end of the week, and Jordan could hear by the way she talked about it that she was dreading going back to him. Her secrets came out over their long hours in the back of the chauffeured car, passing through wetlands, climbing up to the tea plantations. Later, Sally would tell their friends that she’d only gone along on the research trip because she was convinced that Jordan was gay. But he remembered sexual tension from the very start.

He understood that there was no potential for a relationship—Sally was going home in a few days, and he planned to stay in India until the spring; he would have tried to stay in India for the rest of his life if he could figure out a way to afford it. But he was also lonely and still trying to make sense of his inner crisis. And Sally was so unlike any woman that he’d ever met—she was so funny, talented, brilliant, and creative. Plus she loved India. Jordan was 28. Sally was 23. They were around the same level of maturity.

On the second night in a different honeymoon suite, they had drifted closer together. By the third night, they were cuddling. By then, he was smitten.

On the fifth day, they arrived at an old colonial mansion that sat on a rubber plantation. Tall, slender palms reflected in the infinity pool outside their suite. They went for a swim. While Jordan sat on the pool ledge, he could look straight down Sally’s top, and he caught a view of her pink nipple. He could hardly contain himself. Later that night, after a romantic dinner, after a joint and two bottles of wine, he had summoned his courage to kiss her. He was pretty sure that she would kiss him back—earlier, he’d snooped in her diary while she was in the shower and was titillated by what he read about himself in there—but it still felt like a risk. He felt triumphant the moment he felt her tongue. Finally, a woman had chosen him! They stumbled toward the honeymoon bed, tripping over their clothes, tripping over themselves to extinguish five days of buildup.

“Oh, fuck. Use your finger. Oh, fuck. Just like that, just like that.” Sam was groaning louder. He picked up his pace, following her instruction, feeling delighted when her hips bucked and she screamed out. For a moment, she suffocated him with her muscular thighs. As soon as she released him, he peered up at her face, inspecting for the color in her cheeks to confirm that she’d had a real orgasm. They were rosy. She had her eyes closed. Triumphantly, he kissed his way up her body, pausing at her nipples before presenting himself at her face.

Sam’s eyes were closed. His pants were still on. The inside of the tent dripped with condensation.

Opening her eyes, she kissed him tenderly, apparently unbothered by her scent in his beard. “Do you have a condom?” He found one in the pocket of his backpack, then handed it to Sam, kneeling beside her, watching her fumble with the wrapper. He’d only had sex twice since Sally left and both times had ended awkwardly. He felt like a virgin again.

Sam snaked a hand beneath his waistband. He tried to gauge her reaction when she held him for the first time. He knew that she was thinking that she wished it was bigger. Sam didn’t say anything. She guided him backward, letting him lay down on his sleeping bag. She handed him his extra clothing to ball up beneath his head. She removed his pants and underwear. He groaned as she put him in her mouth, tensing every muscle in his body to ward off his orgasm.

Sam continued, silently, for a few moments, as he distracted himself by listening to the snores outside. Finally, she rolled on the condom and shifted her position so she was on her back.

Jordan kneeled between her legs and placed himself at her entrance.

As he slid into Sam, he remembered touching Sally’s body for the first time. It felt strangely cold. He remembered thinking that her movements were forced. But her diary said that she was into me. He tried to be attentive and follow her lead; he wanted to be a Good Guy. But he was also drunk and stoned and horny, and—on the surface, at least—Sally seemed to be enjoying what he was doing. He thought he really cared for her. He thought he was simply instigating what they both wanted. He thought instigating was his responsibility as a man. There wasn’t much foreplay. He asked for consent and, when he got it, he slid inside. Immediately, he felt himself racing past the point of no return. Neither of them had discussed condoms, and he pulled out just in time, ejaculating onto her athletic stomach. Sally made a face. “Is that it?” she said. It was. He rolled off of her. The bed was enormous. They laid there in silence, as the ceiling fan whipped away the tension above their heads. They had sex again later, and it was better. But in retrospect, Jordan could see that first moment of intercourse had been the beginning, the end, and the most intimate moment of their entire relationship all at the same time. And after that…

“Where did you go?”

He looked down. Sam’s hand was on his chest.

“Nowhere.” He shook away the cobwebs. “I’m here.”

“Slow down. Let yourself enjoy this.”

Enjoy this? He had no idea what she meant.

“Here. Let me.” Sam shifted their position so that he was lying on his back. She straddled him, but rather than returning him inside, she lay her lips against the underside of his shaft. Jordan thrust forward, but he missed his target. She guided him up so that he was sitting cross-legged. Gently, she put her arms around his shoulders and touched her cheek to his. He thrust forward again—she’d already had an orgasm, but he felt like he owed her at least four. “Shhh,” she whispered. “Slow.” She rocked her hips. Her lips slid up his shaft, caressing him like a feather. With nearly unbearable patience, she allowed him to re-enter her.

A long deep breath pushed her belly into his. He hung his head in shame. He felt like he’d already failed her. He remembered the only time that he’d used this position with Sally. They’d fucked tenderly for a while, until suddenly Sally’s expression shifted, and she spat directly in his face. He was enraged, so he flipped her over and gave her what he thought she wanted. What did he want? He didn’t know. Sam’s hips were moving in tiny increments. She was caressing him, squeezing him, touching him with the same gentle motions on the inside and out, and whispering kind things into his ear. “You’re beautiful. You’re brave. You’re inspiring.”

When she touched his cheek, he suddenly realized that he was crying.

Then, he started feeling a familiar sensation—that same intense pulsing that he’d felt, three days earlier, with Jack the Chicken Man. This time, though, the sensation felt welcome. Held by Sam, safe in his chrysalis, it struck him that the setting was incredibly sacred, though he hardly knew what that really meant. The pulsing was building in intensity, and as it did, it seemed to travel from his groin into the small of his back. Suddenly, he felt what fireworks erupting inside of him. The sensation was beyond ecstatic—it was up there with the best orgasms he’d ever had. He was astonished that it didn’t end in ejaculation. Even though he had all the triggers of convulsion and warm feeling, he was still hard as the sensation began coming down.

Breathlessly, he kissed Sam deeply. “That was incredible,” he said, “How did you…”

“Don’t you mean, how did we?” Sam’s eyes were smiling. “Do you see what happens when you let go of control?”

Something important had shifted. He was no longer seeing double. Sally was—for the moment—gone. Sam’s body dripped with sweat, and she lay back, spreading her legs wide, inviting him to have her. His body came to life. From the front, from the back, from the side, reverse cowgirl—sweat dripped and skin slapped as Sam put on a show. This was more than just sex—this was the most intimate lovemaking that Jordan had ever experienced, and he couldn’t believe that he hardly knew her.

Their pace picked up. So did their groans. “Faster, faster! Deeper, deeper! Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck! I’m going to come!” They were both careening towards orgasm, and they cried out when they reached their destination together. Jordan collapsed on her breast and lay there for a long time, listening to her heart beating. A raccoon shrieked. A stranger snored. Light moisture tapped on the tent. Neither one of them moved nor said a word as he flickered in and out of sleep, shriveling inside of her.

The morning after Mushroom Sam.