One and a Half Virgins (PG-13)

Natalie Bigelow hired her former high school classmate Hipster Hipkins to paint out the interior of her mother's home. Natalie had inherited the house following her mother's death and she wanted to modernize the interior after years of status-quo.

She stood on the front porch and watched as Hipster backed his van into the driveway for his first day of work. Natalie wanted to make sure he was all set before she headed to work.

"Hey, Nat," Hipster said with a grin as he jumped out of the truck.

He was one of those guys who looked like an accountant but tried to act like a movie star (part of where his nickname came from). Hipster had shaved his head since high school but he was basically the same guy now than he had been then.

Natalie heard the passenger door slam shut and she saw a rail-thin guy with long curly black hair come around from the other side.

"You remember my friend Matt Lee, right?" Hipster asked.

"Fatty Matty?" Natalie asked before thinking.

"Yeah, him," Matt replied, giving Natalie an unappreciative stare.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Natalie said with horrified embarrassment.

"As you can see, he's not fat anymore," Hipster deadpanned as he headed to the back of the van, opening the door to start unloading supplies.

Natalie hurried off the porch steps. "I'm really sorry," she said, trying to approach Matt who joined Hipster at the back of the van.

"Don't worry about it," Matt replied, taking some paint cans and heading for the house.

"Nice going," Hipster said to Natalie.

"Well, look at him!" Natalie exclaimed once she knew Matt was out of ear range. "He must have lost a hundred and fifty pounds."

"And those dorky glasses too," Hipster added. "But that was still no reason to insult the guy."

"I didn't mean to," Natalie groaned. "It just came out."

"Don't worry about it," Hipster said with a shrug. "He's used to it."

"Didn't I hear somewhere that he was in a mental hospital or something?" Natalie asked.

"Psychiatric Treatment Center," Hipster qualified. "Where do you think he lost all the weight?"

"Wow, he looks good," Natalie remarked.

"So, you're one of the shallow ones too," Hipster sighed with disappointment.

"What do you mean?" Natalie asked defensively.

"I've know the guy since we were ten," Hipster replied. "He was a good guy then, he's a good guy now, and he was a good guy in between."

"I didn't mean anything by that either," a flustered Natalie insisted.

"Yeah? And how many times did you talk to him in high school, exactly?" Hipster accused.

"I guess I'd better leave before you make me out to be the worse person ever," Natalie sighed.

"Good idea," Hipster agreed as he started dragging a large tarp toward the house.

Natalie was humiliated as she headed for her car. Of all the stupid things to say. She really wasn't like that – shallow as Hipster accused. She was usually sensitive to people's situations and she tried not to be judgmental about people's appearances or luck in life. She didn't know Matt Lee. Worse, she didn't want to know him growing up and she went out of her way to avoid him. He was hard to miss, of course, a fat bowling ball of a kid waddling down the hallways, eating double lunches in the cafeteria, and mostly sitting by himself. Now that she thought about it, Hipster was the only guy who talked with Matt but he had been a social outcast too so it was easy to understand why. (The nickname Hipster was actually an insult as Hipster was one of the least hip kids in school).

Natalie felt horrible every morning when she saw Matt and Hipster arrive at her house to work. She didn't say anything to them other than to give a few directions on what she wanted done that day or to compliment them on the work done so far. The paint job was impressive and the house was looking brighter with every passing day.

One afternoon, Natalie came home from work earlier than usual. Hipster's painting van wasn't in the drive so she assumed they were done for the day and she entered the house ready to relax. She loved the new paint smell and she was pleased with how the interior looked so far.

Natalie walked down the hall to check out the paint job progression. She peered into the second bedroom and had a start when she unexpectedly saw Matt Lee standing with a paint roller in his hand painting out the walls.

"Oh. You're still here," Natalie said with surprise. "I didn't see the van."

"Harry's on another job," Matt replied. (Harry was Hipster's given name).

"Oh, okay," Natalie replied, glancing around the room. "This looks great!"

"I'm glad you approve," Matt said.

There was an awkward moment of silence while Matt kept his back to her, continuing to roll out the paint.

"Look, about the other day, I'm really sorry about that," Natalie said awkwardly, immediately wishing she hadn't brought it up when she saw the look on Matt's face when he turned to peer at her.

"I'm sure you are," Matt mumbled.

"Do you even remember me?" Natalie tested.

"I remember seeing you practically doing it with Castle McReynolds in back of the auditorium one day," Matt replied.

Natalie's face collapsed with shocked indignation and she almost lashed out at him but she bit her tongue, realizing he was simply getting back at her for her initial rude remark. She turned and quietly left the room.

Natalie was sitting on the living room couch trying not to cry when she sensed a presence. She looked up to see Matt standing in the doorway in his white overalls but without his paint roller.

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding sincere. "That was uncalled for me to say."

"I can't deny it," Natalie said with a sigh. "I had a reputation back then, didn't I?"

"I didn't keep up with that sort of stuff," Matt said.

"You were the fat kid and I was the slut," Natalie said openly. "I'm not sure who was the bigger loser to tell you the truth."

"I never saw you that way," Matt remarked as he stepped into the room, his voice soft and comforting. "I remember you from 'Little Shop of Horrors' and playing softball."

"Oh, I guess that's good," Natalie said. She glanced at him and tried to smile. "I'm really sorry for what I said."

"Me too," he sighed. "It's just that high school wasn't a great time for me."

"It wasn't my shining moment either," Natalie admitted.

"I remember what it was like being the fat kid," he said. "I shouldn't be so defensive about it though."

"And I remember how it felt to be called a slut," Natalie sighed. She glanced at him. "What was it like for you?" She asked.

"I was always overweight as a kid," Matt told her, taking a seat I the arm chair across from her. "Even when I was little I was off the height and weight charts at the doctor's office. The height eventually leveled off but I was always the heaviest kid in the class."

"At least I wasn't always the slut," Natalie said, wiping a tear away from her eye.
"Remember when the new school opened?" Matt asked.

"Sure," Natalie replied.
"I didn't want to go because of the new swimming pool," he sighed. "I knew I'd be the kid who had to wear his tee shirt in the pool or get laughed at if I didn't."

She looked at him but didn't say anything.
"The worse day of the school year was when the school pictures arrived," Matt revealed. "I hated looking at pictures of myself, especially in the group shots where I stood out like a basketball in a marble set."

She smiled sadly. "I'm guessing you never kept any of those photos."
"I was convinced that gym class was designed just to embarrass me in front of everybody," he said.

"Gym class is where I got to chase the boys," Natalie remarked.

"Oh, God, girls," Matt moaned. "I repulsed them."

"But look at you now," she said.
"Harry was my only friend back then," Matt revealed. "I wasn't a joiner. I was shy and withdrawn, insecure and paranoid, no self confidence. I remember never wanting to call any attention to myself because it would usually mean a negative response. I didn't join any activities and sports were definitely out of the question! I probably would have dropped dead of a heart attack. I remember feeling different than everybody else and having nothing in common with anybody. Nobody wanted to hang out with me. I was a lost kid. Never had a date. I missed out on a lot."

"I read somewhere that you can relive your childhood any time you want," Natalie commented.

"I don't want," Matt said with a shutter. "It was misery."

"What made you so…..big?" Natalie asked.

"My mother was a big woman," Matt revealed. "I guess a lot of it was inherited. As was the lifestyle and eating habits. My mother was a junk food junkie and I learned to stuff myself like that too."

"What about your Dad?"

"He was never in the picture," Matt revealed. "He was just a sperm donor."

"My dad died when I was nine," Natalie said sadly. "That's probably one reason why I acted out so much chasing boys. I just wanted to be loved by a man again."

Matt peered at her as if he was seeing her for the first time.

"When I was sixteen I started hanging out with an older crowd, drinking into the wee hours of the morning," Natalie told him. "I met an older guy and things just sort of clicked. I had the biggest crush on him. He was the cutest and coolest guy I had ever seen. He had a great smile and he said I was his little fox."

She sighed heavily at the memory.

"The thing is he didn't care what I thought or how I felt or what I wanted," she said. "That I liked to act. That I played softball. He just saw that I had a foxy sexy body and that's how my life went after that. I got my attention by sleeping around. It took me years to come to the realization that if someone wanted me based solely on my appearance then they were the ones missing out on a great personality, not me!"

"I'm sorry that had to happen to you," Matt stated.

"Now I try to live true to the philosophy that says 'the bod may be pleasing to the eye but it is what's inside the bod that truly matters!'"

Matt laughed. "That's a good attitude to have," he said.

"You too," she reasoned.

"In third grade a group of kids came up to me and started calling me Fatty Matty. I started crying and they laughed at me. It hurt me really bad but I vowed that day to never cry again and I haven't."

"That's the saddest thing I've ever heard," Natalie said as she stared at him. "You've never cried since?"

He shook his head no.

"I wouldn't have died a long time ago if I couldn't cry," she said. "It's the only way to let it all out."

"Being the fat kid was the hardest thing I ever went through," Matt revealed. "But I was determined not to be defeated by it. I'd been overweight all of my life and I gained even more weight eating. It was a vicious endless circle. I'd feel depressed for being fat so I'd eat and get fatter. I was the brunt of jokes and was called all sorts of names. Beefy was one that sticks in my mind. My grades sucked. I never talked in class or participated in any of the group activities. I hated myself and I came close to committing suicide a couple of times."

"Is that how you ended up at the…treatment place?" Natalie wondered.

"No, I just went nuts one day for that," Matt said, laughing at himself. "I went nuts at the all you can eat place when they shut me off. I snapped."

"I'm sure that was just symbolic of something much deeper," Natalie offered.

"Being committed saved my life," Matt revealed. "I changed myself both physically and emotionally while I was in there. I began lifting weights thanks to this guy who was a fitness guru, obsessed with working out. He was crazier than I was but he got me in shape. There was also a dietitian there who got me eating the right foods. No junk food, period. I started waddling around the grounds. Eventually I was fast walking. Then power walking. Then jogging. And finally running. I was up to five miles a day by the time I got out."

"That's really great, Matt!" Natalie beamed.

"It still takes discipline and it's still a daily struggle and will be for the rest of my life but I'm doing okay," he told her.

"Same for me," Natalie said. "I haven't slept around in years."

"I guess we were both pretty vulnerable," Matt remarked.

"You can't make anyone think more of you or treat you the way you want to be treated until you think more of yourself and treat yourself with the respect you want from other people," Natalie said. "It took me a long time to figure that out. That sex wasn't my only way to be valued."

"Strange how you were never alone because you were always chasing guys while all I remember is being and feeling alone, the one kid left standing alone when nobody wanted to pick me. No one talked to me. No one spoke, waved or even looked my way. Being fat ruined my life and took away my youth."

"I was probably more alone than you even though I must have slept with fifty guys in high school," Natalie sighed. "None of them cared about me. They just wanted the sex. I'm still ashamed of how I behaved."

"It's over now," Matt said.

"They always told me how pretty I was and what a great figure I had," Natalie recalled. "I liked the attention and popularity even though it was for all the wrong reasons."

"Being an only child of a single parent and having difficulty making friends because of my weight caused me to rely on myself for my own source of friendship," Matt remarked. "I went through the pain of rejection from my peers and learned early on that people could be shallow so I didn't worry about making friends. I guess I became calloused and uncaring and detached but when I landed in the loony bin I searched for my soul and rebuilt my self esteem. It was a long slow process because I was very introverted and I had a paranoid fear of rejection. Ironically, being fat taught me compassion for people in pain though so I guess I'm a better person because of it."

"I suppose," Natalie agreed.

"That's why I shouldn't have said what I said to you either," he sighed.

"Well, you didn't exactly call me a slut," she said.

"Pretty close," he argued.

"After hearing your story, I forgive you!" She smiled.

They heard Hipster's van in the driveway and Matt stood. "He's going to be pissed I didn't finish the room because I was out here talking to you," Matt groaned.

"I enjoyed our chat," she said with a smile.

"Me too," Matt replied, smiling too.

"You finish?" Hipster asked as soon as he came through the door.

"No, I was talking his ear off," Natalie intervened. "Sorry about that."

"Great, now you'll have to come back tomorrow," Hipster frowned at Matt.

"That's okay," Natalie said with a smile. "I don't mind."

Hipster exchanged looks between the two and then rolled his eyes. "You two probably deserve each other," he mumbled as he headed out the door. "Clean out the rollers and let's get out of here."

Matt quickly cleaned up for the evening and then headed for the front door.

"See you tomorrow," Matt told Natalie who came out of the kitchen to see him out.

"Yeah, tomorrow," Natalie agreed happily.

Matt trotted out of Natalie's house and joined the waiting Hipster in his van.
"I'm not paying you to sit around shooting the shit with a chick," he complained.
"Dock me an hour if you want," Matt replied.
"Ah, how often do you chat with a broad?" Hipster laughed as he pulled the van out of the driveway. "Maybe you can finally get laid. Natalie used to put out in high school."
Matt didn't say anything in reply, still embarrassed to be a virgin at twenty-five.

They returned to Hipster's house on the far side of town, a "work in progress" as he called it, a run down aged dump he purchased at auction, mostly for the large garage and workshop that housed his painting business. Matt moved in following his release from the hospital, taking the small room at the end of the hall that had nothing more than a box spring and dresser inside.
Hipster would never win any Martha Stewart awards for good housekeeping but Matt was grateful for the place to stay - and the job - while he tried to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
"So, Natalie, huh?" Hipster grinned when Matt came into the kitchen to eat his usual salad, tonight with a few pieces of chicken tossed on top.
"What does she do again?" Matt asked as he took a seat at the table with salad in hand.
"She's Dr. Lyman's administrative assistant," Hipster reported. "You know, answering the phone, scheduling appointments, running insurances."
"And that's her mom's house?"
"Yeah," Hipster said. "There must have been a little money or I doubt she would have hired us."
"I'll finish the job tomorrow," Matt said.
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Hipster grinned as he ate his TV dinner.
Hipster usually went to the bars most nights but Matt rarely ventured out, content on hanging around watching television or playing computer games. Occasionally, Hipster would stumble in with some woman he picked up and Matt would try to fall asleep despite the sex going on in the next room.
On this night, Matt turned in early while thinking about Natalie and the things she had told him today. It was the first time he had talked about his fatness with anybody outside his therapy and support group and he hoped Natalie didn't take him for the nut case most people did.

###
In the morning, the hung-over-as usual Hipster told Matt to take the second (junkier) van to Natalie's house to finish the job while Harry went on to the bigger job. Matt assumed Natalie would be gone to work by the time he arrived but he saw her car still parked in front of the house when he pulled into the driveway. He tentatively approached the front door and knocked lightly.
"Come on in, it's open!" He heard Natalie yell.
Matt stepped inside and saw Natalie coming out of the kitchen dressed for work with a coffee cup in her hand.
"Aren't you going to be late?" Matt asked.
"Oh, I've got time," Natalie told him. "Just wanted to make sure you were all set."
"There's not that much left to do."
She followed him into the room he had been painting when she got home the day before and watched as he prepared to start anew.
"I remember your Mom," Matt said. "She was a good teacher."
"She was also a drunk," Natalie revealed. "That's what killed her, finally."
"I'm sorry," Matt replied, a little surprised by her honest revelation.
"I loved her, of course, but alcoholism is a progressive disease and she was getting pretty bad near the end. I was going crazy watching it happen."
"I couldn't live with my mother after I got sprung," Matt said as he began painting.
Natalie watched him work. "How's she doing?"
"About 300 pounds now," Matt replied. "Disabled. Too big to work. Too many health complications. She's only fifty but she looks seventy-five."
"That's too bad," Natalie said with sympathy.
"Kind of strange that we both had absent fathers and dysfunctional mothers," Matt noted, stealing a glance at her over his shoulder.

"I guess that's why you were fat and I was a tramp," Natalie sighed with sorrow.

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Matt advised.

"You either," she smiled.

"You know, I was having a hard time figuring out ways to make friends," Matt told her. "I have my group therapy folks and people I meet in the twelve-step halls, but Harry's still my only real friend."

"I don't socialize much either," Natalie revealed.

"My plan is to mooch off of Harry for a while and then eventually make it on my own."

"Doing what?"

"I'm not sure yet," Matt revealed. "Re-meeting you never even occurred to me as a possibility of circumstance though."

"I hope I don't seem too pathetic," she commented.

"I'm the weird one," he reminded her.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," she said. She paused for a moment. "So, would you like to go out sometime?" She asked, her voice shaky.

He stopped painting and looked at her. "You'd want to go out with me!?"

"Yes," she smiled, pulling out a piece of paper out of her pocket. "Here's my cell number. Give me a call."

She was amused by the look on his face. "What?" She teased. "Nobody ever give you her cell number before?"

"No," he answered honestly as he took the paper from her. "This is a first."

"I'm honored," Natalie replied. "I need to get going."

"Have a nice day."

"You too."

The smell of her perfume lingered after she was gone until the paint fumes overtook it. It didn't take Matt that long to finish the job and when he was done cleaning up and dragging the paint and equipment back to the van, he made one more sweep of the house to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. He stopped in the doorway of Natalie's freshly painted bedroom. The smell of her had replaced the new paint smell and he lingered there for a few moments taking in the essence that was her.

He reached into his pocket and felt the crispness of the paper with her phone number on it but how could he possibly call a woman has fantastic as her when he had nothing to offer her in return?

He left the house and went to join Harry on the other job.

###

Two weeks passed since Matt finished the paint job at Natalie's house but he hadn't called her. He was too nervous. Too insecure. Too frightened. Too much of a loser to know what to say to her. Or where to bring her. Or what to do when he was with her.

Hipster bugged him a few times about Natalie when he noticed Matt hanging around the house doing nothing as usual when he wasn't working but Matt couldn't bring himself to take action.

"You know, sometimes I think you're still the same fat loser you always were, only without the weight," Hipster complained with disgust, frustrated by his friend's inability to socialize.

"You're probably right," Matt sighed with defeat, pissed off at himself for still being so socially retarded after years of self-imprisonment.

A couple of days later, Hipster came home with two bags of groceries in his arms.

"Hey, guess who I saw at Fontaine's?" He asked Matt who came into the kitchen to help him unload the shopping.

"I have no idea," Matt confessed.

"Natalie!" Hipster laughed. "She said she's still waiting for her phone call."

"Oh," Matt said sheepishly.

"The broad gave you her phone number and you never called?" Hipster asked with disbelief. "Man, there really is no hope for you."

"What am I supposed to say?" Matt asked with defeat.

"Who cares what you say?" Hipster replied. "It doesn't matter what you say. You just need to call her, damn it."

Matt sighed and collapsed into a chair. "I don't know what to do."

"Look," Hipster said with forced patience. "You've been waiting all your life for a chance like this," he said. "Isn't that what you always used to tell me? How you just wanted a chance? Well, here's your chance and you're going to blow it because you're too chicken-shit?"

"I'm not chicken-shit," Matt insisted.

Hipster had finished putting the groceries away. "Then call her," he urged. "Relax. Take deep breathes. Be friendly."

"And then what?" Matt worried.

"Who knows? It doesn't matter!" Hipster laughed. "The point is you've got to try. Sure, you'll be nervous and shy but you probably won't do as badly as you imagine yourself doing. It might start out awkwardly but you'll pick up steam as you get more comfortable and you'll do better."

"You think so?"

"You've already talked to the chick, haven't you?"

"As her painter, not as her date," Matt reasoned.
"Remember how nervous I was when Mellissa finally agreed to go out with me?" Hipster asked. "I was an over-hyper mess who made an ass of myself but she continued to see me. What's the worse that can happen?"

"That she'll hate me. Reject me."

"So what?" Hipster asked. "That's the chance everybody takes."
"I'm twenty-five and I feel like I'm twelve," Matt sighed.

"Seize the moment, Matt, or everything you accomplished the last few years won't mean anything," Hipster advised. "You got your act together, you lost the weight, you've changed your lifestyle, you've worked on yourself and now its time to put it all into action or what was the point?"

"Was she pissed at the store?" Matt worried.

"Nope," Hipster said, sitting on the kitchen counter eating an apple. "Kind of hurt, I think. Confused as to why you hadn't called. I think the only reason she said something to me about it was because she hoped I'd say something to you."

"She could have called me," Matt protested.

"Yep, she could have," Hipster agreed. "But she didn't. So, what are you going to do about it?"

Matt looked at his friend and shrugged. "I guess I'd better call her."

"Good man!" Hipster grinned, jumping off the counter and leaving the room.

Matt nervously took his cell out of his pocket and dialed Natalie's number, which he had memorized the first day she gave it to him.

"Hello?"

Her voice sounded lovely.

"Hi, Natalie, this is Matt Lee calling."

"Well, there you are," she said. "I was beginning to think you dropped off the face of the earth."

"No, I'm here," Matt said.

"So Hipster told you he saw me, huh?"

"Sorry I didn't call," he mumbled.

"What's your excuse?"

"I don't have one," he admitted. "Except I was scared."

"Of me!?" She laughed.

"Yes," Matt replied.

"Geez, Matt."

"This might not be a big deal for you, but I've never called a girl….a woman….in my life. I've never even been out on a date before."

"Relax, Matt, I was never exactly the dating butterfly either. I usually skipped the dating part."

"Oh," Matt remarked with some relief. "You mean you feel awkward on dates, too?"

She laughed. "Why do you think I made you call me!?"

There was a long pause.

"So…," Natalie finally asked. "Are you going to ask me out?"

"Oh, yeah, would you like to go out on…..Saturday night? He asked nervously.

"That sounds great," Natalie replied easily. "How 'bout you pick me up at seven?"

"Okay," he agreed. "I'll pick you up at seven on Saturday evening."

"See you then, Matt," Natalie replied gently. "See," she laughed. "That wasn't so bad!"

The call ended and Matt sucked in his breath. It really wasn't so bad.

Matt got his hair trimmed and bought a new pair of slacks for the occasion. He couldn't very well pick up Natalie in Harry's painting van so he took the junkier van to his mom's house and borrowed her car. She rarely left the house anymore anyway.

At 6:58 and thirty seconds on Saturday night, Matt pulled up in front of Natalie's house and nervously approached the house. He was wearing a polo shirt under a suit jacket with his new slacks and a pair of sneakers. He waited until exactly 7:00 on his cell phone clock before he rang the doorbell.

The door opened and Natalie stood before him in a pretty skin tight black dress with heels and Matt's mouth dropped open. "Wow," he said.

She laughed with delight. "Thanks, Matt."

She was just as pretty now as she had been in high school, although she dressed better now because of her job. Her auburn hair hung to her shoulders and she wore it parted down the middle.

Natalie was doing the chit-chatting as they drove to the Greenville Grille across the river but Matt wasn't paying attention. He was more concerned with what he was going to say next, trying to come up with some clever topic of conversation. His anxiety was at critical stage as he tried to think of something original to say, something that would indicate he could be charming, intelligent, and witty but he'd settled for hopefully not being a moron or the loser of his past.

They arrived at the restaurant and Matt nervously escorted Natalie to the young hostess's station and the hostess showed them to their table.

"Is there some sort of secret code I don't know about?" Matt asked once they were seated.
"What do you mean? Natalie asked.

Matt glanced around the restaurant and saw couples engaged in what looked to be interesting conversations. He felt cheated, like there was some secret how-to guide for dating that he never experienced

"I feel like everyone got the copy of the dating operating instructions but me," He said. "This is all so new and I don't want to make a mistake."

Natalie leaned over the table toward him. "My palms are sweaty too," she whispered.

"So, we're just two late bloomers," Matt said.

"It must have been hard for you," Natalie realized. "Growing up, missing all this."

"When Harry got a date with Mellissa Harting of all people. I knew I was the last guy at Hillsboro High who hadn't been out with anybody," Matt admitted. "Everybody else had discovered girls up-close and personal. Meanwhile, here I sit with the dating
experience of a seventh-grader."

"You must have been incredibly lonely," Natalie said.

"I was a computer game expert and I'm a master at TV Trivia because that's all I did – watched television, played computer games, and ate."

"Well, no guy ever took me to a nice restaurant like this before," Natalie told him.

"How can that be?" Matt asked. "You're the perfect date."

She smiled with appreciation.
Matt couldn't believe he was sitting across the table from Natalie Bigelow, out on a date at the Greenville Grille. His head was spinning and his mind scanned through a pre-programmed list trying to match the correct phrase with the situation. How could he pass for normal when he had zero experience to back it up?

"You okay?" Natalie asked, noticing the look of panic on his face.
"I'm wondering if there's a necessary skill set for dating that I never learned and I'll be continually humiliated trying to figure it out," he sighed.

"Don't stay on that self-fulfilling prophecy of yours that prevents any potential blooming," Natalie warned. "You're doing fine."

"So aren't you," Matt said.

"Our big moment," she giggled.

"Now I'll have nothing to say and the big moment will go up in flames," Matt feared.

Natalie smiled at him and suddenly everything changed. Matt felt himself relaxing and he stopped worrying about the silences.

"There's no secret handbook," Natalie whispered. "It's about going with your gut until you don't feel so clueless and you realize that even the guys who seem smooth don't have it down perfectly either, let alone your date!" She laughed. "Besides, dealing with potentially embarrassing situations isn't nearly as difficult for you as it is for an insecure teenager!"

The rest of the date went surprisingly well. They talked about high school memories, teachers remembered, working and living with Hipster, and Natalie's job at Dr. Lyman's office and how she got to see half the town almost every day! They avoided topics such as obese and drunk mothers, mental hospitals, fat kids, and slutty girls.

It was the first time Matt had been to a nice restaurant in a long time and he enjoyed the meal – salad and a fish plate with no sides. Natalie went with a chicken pasta selection.

When they were done with the meal, Matt walked Natalie to the car and drove her home but now he was getting nervous again. He knew he had to walk to the door, but then what? A handshake would be beyond lame. Hug? Kiss!? His stomach was turning in knots.

"So, next Saturday I take you out," Natalie announced when they reached the door.

"You mean you want to go out again?" Matt asked with surprise.

"Of course, silly," she laughed.

"You had a nice time?"

"Yes, Matt, I had a nice time," she smiled. "You're humorous, you're intelligent, you're interesting, and you're my first date since the ice age. Why wouldn't I want to go out with you again?"

"Oh, okay, that's great then," Matt said.

"Call me later in the week," Natalie told him as she unlocked the door with her key and opened it.

"I will," Matt promised.

"You'd better!" She warned humorously.

"I will!" he vowed.

"Good night, Matt," Natalie said, slipping through the door which solved the whole hug-kiss problem.

"Good night, Natalie," Matt replied.

So, that was what a date was like Matt thought as he drove home with a happy smile pasted on his face.

###

"Did you get laid last night?" Hipster asked when he saw his roommate seated at the kitchen table with a huge smirk on his face the next morning.

"Never on the first date," Matt replied.

"Is there going to be a second date?" Hipster asked as he went to the refrigerator.

"Yep," Matt replied with more confidence and savvy than Hipster had ever seen displayed before.

"Holy shit," Hipster remarked, glancing at is friend. "Is the caterpillar finally changing into the butterfly?"

"Maybe," Matt said hopefully.

"Let's wait and see how the second date goes," Hipster advised with a grin on his face.

Matt called Natalie on Thursday night. She told him to be ready at 5:00 and that she would pick him up this time. Matt gave her the address to Hipster's place and he was ready and waiting at 5:00 when she arrived.

They went to the movies and that was like being a foreign land for Matt, wandering through the lobby with a woman by his side, mixing in with the other handsome couples. He had gotten so fat as a teenager that he couldn't fit in the theatre seats so he stopped going to the movies.

The romantic comedy was enjoyable and after the movie Natalie drove them to a small café not far from the Green College campus which had interesting deli sandwiches, although Matt went with a spinach salad. They discussed the movie and Matt was struck by how pretty Natalie looked in her tight skirt and sweater.

When they were done eating, Natalie suggested that they take a walk to the nightclub she knew around the corner.

"Maybe we can do some dancing," she said.

"I've never danced in my life," Matt revealed.

"Oh, it's easy," she laughed. "Just hop around like a bunny rabbit!"

The place was dark and loud and Matt found himself awkwardly hopping to the music until well after midnight. They left, finally, and Natalie drove them back to her place instead of Hipster's which got Matt feeling nervous.

"Why don't you come in for a nightcap?" She suggested.

"Isn't it kind of late?" Matt asked with hesitation.

"Yes, it is," Natalie agreed as she climbed out of the car. "It's about ten years too late for me, Matt. What about you?"

He slipped out of the car and followed her into the house.

"Look, there's no point in either of us playing hard to get," Natalie told him as she went into the kitchen and returned with two bottle of seltzer water. "I haven't been on a single date in years and I have no interest in taking things slow. We either take a chance with each other or we go back to our pathetic lonely wasted lives."

Matt was taken aback by her brashness. "I have no idea what to do," he confessed.

"I know," she replied. "That's why I'm being the aggressive one. Otherwise five years will go by and you'll still be trying to figure out how to get a look at my ass!"

Matt blushed but then he grinned. "Everything about this relationship is weird and kind of pathetic," he observed.

"Oh, you noticed too?" She asked, finally handing him the bottle of seltzer water. "I don't drink anymore," she informed him a she took a seat on the couch. "Not after what I went through in high school and then watching my mother."

"It's okay," he said. "I don't drink either."

"So, maybe all this can be amazing and we won't be able to get enough of each other's company."

"Do you think so?" He asked hopefully.

"Let's just drop the whole "date" thing," she said, making a motion for him to have a seat next to her on the couch.

He obeyed and then looked at her with a smirk.

What?"

"Nothing," he said. "I just can't believe I'm actually here like this."

"I'm surprised you came in, actually," she admitted.

"Me too," he said sheepishly

"Why?" She asked. "Because you're a virgin?

He blushed and looked away. "I didn't come in here looking for sex, Natalie," he said.

"It's okay," she said quietly. "I consider myself a virgin too. Well, a half virgin anyway."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I read an article about reclaiming virginity," she explained. "How you can basically reset the clock psychologically and emotionally and establish the mind set that you're starting all over."

"Oh," he said.

"I haven't had sex for a good five years, Matt," she revealed. "I want you to know that."

"Why did you go celibate?" He asked. "Because of your past?"

"Because I figured I had enough drunken sex with enough different men by the time I was eighteen to last me a life time," she answered. "I blame being single now on the fact that I always ended up with emotionally unavailable men for one night stands. I really was a tramp."

"That's not true," he said.

"Yes, it is," Natalie replied knowingly.

"You were just messed up," he consoled. "Like me."

"I bet I hated myself more than you hated yourself," she offered, her eyes welting up with tears.

"I don't hate myself anymore," Matt let her know.

"I don't either," she said, sucking in her breath deeply.

She wiped away a tear and sighed. "You know, I took all the precautions. Birth control. Condoms. The works. But I still got pregnant."

He looked at her with surprise, once again caught off guard by her honest revelations.

"God, I was so afraid to tell my mother," Natalie said quietly. "I knew that would drive her over the edge."

"What happened?" He asked gently.

"I miscarried," Natalie revealed, tears rolling down her cheeks now. "I didn't know if that was a blessing or a curse. I was eighteen years old and I thought I was going to be a mother but just like that I was just a tramp again."

"Shh," Matt whispered.

Without thinking about it, he reached out and pulled her into him. He felt so sorry for her and sympathetic about her past that he forgot that he didn't know how to be touchy-feely with a woman. He fiddled with her hair and she relaxed into his side.

"Are we having a cuddling session?" Natalie asked after a few minutes of enjoyable quietness had passed.

"I guess," he said.

"This is nice," she said happily.

"Is it?" He asked hopefully. "After five years?"

She laughed. "It was worth the wait if the right guy comes along," she said.

"And the right girl," Matt said quietly.

"I really grieved the loss of that pregnancy," Natalie said. "It brought to the surface all my submerged emotions and feelings about how I was grieving my entire life. My Dad dying. My mom's drinking. Me acting out sexually. I was eighteen years old and I didn't care if I lived or died."

"I'm sorry you went through that."

"Did you ever feel that way?" She asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"So, after being semi-comatose for a month or two, barely able to function, my mother finally made me go see a counselor."

"That was a good thing," Matt said.

"I know," she said. "For you too?"

"Yes," he said.

"What was your diagnosis?"

"Severe depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome," Matt revealed. "I didn't realize how much my mother emotionally abused and enabled me growing up. It's like she wanted me to be fat just so she wouldn't feel alone."

"After I got my act together, I took a medical correspondence course and then got the job with Doctor Lyman's office," Natalie explained. "My mother's liver issues started around that time. I had been in there a lot as a family member and then I was an employee."

"At least you got your life back on track," Matt observed.

"It was still hard," she sighed. "Living with my mother. Watching the addiction progress. Doctor Lyman told her she would die if she didn't stop drinking and he was right."

"I suppose my mother's killing herself too," Matt said.

"I stopped the sexual antics but I couldn't seem to keep a relationship going so I swore off men," Natalie said. She glanced at him. "Does it bother you being a virgin?"

"It used too," he said. "I knew no girl would want to be with me. That hurt. I resented good looking girls and I hated guys who had it so easy."

"What about now?"

"I know that things will happen when they're supposed to," he said. "I mean, except for the people in my therapy groups and in the hospital, you're the first woman I've really ever talked to on a one-to one basis. The first girl I've ever gone out on a date with."

"I'm glad it's me," she said. She peered at him. "Do you still feel like you're in seventh grade?"

"Sometimes," he admitted.

"Me too," she smiled. "My mode of operation was to always have sex first and then worry about the rest after. I'm glad that I'm getting to know you. This is nice."

"It is," he agreed.

"So, why don't we just take it slow and go with the flow for a while?" She suggested. "No pressure. No worries. We'll just pretend we're in seventh grade together and see where it goes, okay?"

"Okay," he agreed with welcomed relief.

"Maybe it will all just be natural."

"Maybe," he agreed.

"I don't think I ever knew any of the guys I slept with," Natalie sighed.

He glanced at her and nodded.

"That's pretty sad, isn't it?"

"We both had tough goes of it," Matt said.

She nodded and stood. "Come on, I'll take you home."

Matt stood, smiling with relief. He had thought when she invited him in that she was going to try to seduce him and while a part of him was intrigued by the possibility, most of him was scared shit-less. But now that the pressure was off and he realized that Natalie was just as damaged and frightened as he was, he knew it was going to be okay.

####

And so they acted like seventh graders, at least that's how it felt for a while. Going out to dinner, taking in a movie, watching a community theater production, and going to a Serguci League baseball game at Beano Field were all "hang out activities" they did together (instead of calling them dates).

"They're more like play dates," Natalie teased.

Very innocent and platonic, with carefree banter and conversation, tidbits from their past, along with hopes for the future,

Hipster would tease Matt whenever he came home from time with Natalie. "So, did you get laid yet?" he'd ask but it was more out of genuine interest and wanting for Matt's happiness and welfare than it was out of adolescent-like immaturity or perversion. Matt and Natalie even went out with Harry and his current girlfriend a few times.

Matt also took a chance and brought Natalie to his mother's house to meet her. It was awkward and uncomfortable, with Matt's mom complaining and whining and bitching and moaning and not paying any attention to the fact that her son had shown up with an attractive woman for the first time ever.

When they left the messy, dirty, and smelly house after that visit, Natalie gave Matt a needed hug. "You don't have to bring me back here again," she told him.

"Every time I come here, I fear I'm going to be like her again," Matt admitted.

"I won't let that happen," Natalie assured him.

They held hands for the first time when they visited a craft fair in South County. Their first kiss came in an innocent way, at a back yard family cookout at Harry's sister's house. Some of Harry's nephews and nieces were teasing Matt and Natalie about being "girlfriend and boyfriend" and how come they hadn't kissed all day, so Natalie leaned over and gave Matt a smooch in front of everybody. It happened so fast he didn't have time to feel awkward. Actually, he rather enjoyed it!

More than three months had passed since Matt and Natalie's first 'date' at the Greenville Grille. They joked that they were out of seventh grade and in high school now. Matt felt comfortable being with Natalie and didn't worry about the sex issue that still hung over his head because of the 'V word' as Hipster often phrased it.

Natalie was pleased with herself that she had gone so long seeing a guy without sleeping with him but she knew that sooner or later they were both going to have to take the next step or decide they were destined to be platonic friends only. For Natalie, it was her first serious, healthy and normal relationship and for Matt, it was his first relationship, period.

They didn't talk about the sex taboo that hung over both of them like a lead balloon. Matt was in no position to be assertive or aggressive because he had no idea what to do and Natalie was being cautious, fearful that one roll in the hay might bring back all the painful ugly memories from the past.

One rainy evening, they sat in the screen in porch at Natalie's house watching the rain fall.

"Are we going to be one and a half virgins forever?" Natalie asked as she sipped on her ice tea. It was a late summer's evening and the Red Sox were on the radio from the west coast.

"I try not to think about it," Matt admitted.

She glanced at him. "You know, there's a first time for everybody," she said gently.

"I know," he replied.

"I'm ready to have my first time the second time," she let him know.

Matt felt his hand shake and his heart thump. He began to get sweaty palms and his first reaction was to bolt for the door.

"I don't know what to do, Natalie," he confessed.

"It comes naturally," she assured him. "Just let your instincts take over."

For twenty-five years he had been waiting and wondering and longing and hoping and grieving and now here was Natalie Bigelow, the only woman he really knew, the only woman he ever "dated", offering herself to him.

"Why don't you stay tonight?" She asked.

His first instinct was to fight it, deny it, and turn her down. But then he felt himself letting go and deciding to let things happen as they might.

"It will be okay, Matt," Natalie told him. "I'll help you."

She smiled seductively as she stood and reached her hand out toward him. He stood too and took it and allowed her to take him into her bedroom.

"Stay here," she said quietly. "I'll be right back."

She brushed past him and disappeared into the bathroom. Matt sucked in his breath, turned out the bedroom light, and pealed down to his briefs and tee shirt before sitting on the edge of the bed.

After a while, the bathroom door opened and Natalie emerged. She had left a dim light on and he realized from the shadows that she was naked.
"I thought you would want to see me," she said, smiling at him as she stopped at the window to glance out at the falling rain in the night.
"Yes, I want to see you."
He saw mostly the silhouette of her in the dark, the shape of her breasts in the dimness, the roundness of her rear before she turned and faced him. She was as beautiful as he imagined and he smiled at her loveliness as she stepped closer to the bed.
"This is what I want, Matt," she said as she sat next to him on the bed.

He ran his hand along her cheek and then began to caress the back of her neck while he ran his other hand up and down her arm to (hopefully) sooth her.

"I know this moment has to feel monumental to you," she said softly. "I want you to know that I understand. It's important to me too."

They stared into each other's eyes for several moments.
"Are you scared?" She whispered.
"No," he whispered back. "I'm with you."
She smiled happily. "Matt, I want this to be wonderful for you. If you're not comfortable or if things feel like they're too overwhelming, just tell me."
She could hear his breath coming in short, quick inhales. She knew his heart must have been pounding as hard as hers. They continued staring at each other. There was nothing more to say. They both knew this amazing night would come eventually, a night they would always cherish and remember. Everything they had shared as friends and as fellow lost souls had led to this moment.

"How do I look?" She asked.

"You are magnificent," he assured her.
Natalie pulled him softly into her and kissed him deeply. Going totally on instinct and desire, Matt met her kiss with fervor, running his hand around her back and pulling her into him while squeezing her buns. They explored each other's mouths hungrily. "I'm so happy it's come to this," she said as she chewed on his bottom lip.

"I never thought something like this could happen to me," he confessed, kissing her passionately. "I can't believe its happening.
"That we're about to make love?"
He nodded.

"Are you okay?"
He nodded again, knowing he had let go of any inhibitions he had left. He felt her soft tongue searching his mouth and he melted into her and continued to run his hands along her back and sides, feeling her in places he had never felt a woman before. Natalie wrapped her arms around his shoulders and giggled, running her tongue in a circle over he lips. Matt once again let his hands drift down onto her bare rear and she responded by wrapping her leg around him.
Matt marveled at the feel the firm roundness of her ass beneath his hands. His heart skipped a beat as he ground himself gently into her, squeezing her tightly. She moaned with satisfaction and then they broke their kiss and looked into one another's eyes.
"Natalie..." he began, but she cut him off.
"Matt, I want you." She said with authoritatively, putting both hands on his face and staring at him.

He slowly and seductively ran his hands up and down her body again. Her shoulders heaved with the depth of her breathing, anticipating his touch on her wanting flesh. He bravely brought his hands to her bare breasts, giving them a gentle squeeze. Her head dipped back and she exhaled deeply. Matt cupped both breasts gently and he squeezed them firmly, letting his thumbs trace little circles around her nipples. He stared with amazement as her sensitive areolas begin to tighten and harden as the blood rushed into them.
Matt repeatedly ran his thumbs over her nipples which had hardened to fullness. Natalie moaned deeply and then pushed her mouth into his. She gave him a little push and they both fell onto the bed, breaking the kiss. Matt gazing at her and Natalie met his gaze for a moment and then she broke eye contact, letting her eyes drift to his crotch hardened in his briefs and he felt himself twinge.

Natalie grinned before reaching out and pulling his underwear down his legs and off his feet. He blushed but she put a finger to his lip.

"It's okay," she said softly. "I want to see you too."

Matt let himself fall on top of her into a deep kiss, pushing his tongue past her lips and into her mouth. She curled her tongue around his and sucked it gently with her soft lips. She ran both of her hands down his back onto his ass and squeezed hard, causing him to jump.

"It's okay," she whispered.

Matt groaned into her mouth and thrust his hips into her. She broke the kiss, letting her tongue lick his teeth and lips on its way out and fixing her gaze in his eyes, her jaw hanging open.
"You don't know how long I've waited, Matt," she said pleadingly.
"Me too," he said, almost painfully.
Her breath came in shallow, ragged gasps now and Matt felt his own heart pound in his chest as she reached up and pulled his tee shirt off over his head. Their eyes were locked for a moment in amazed ecstasy.

"Now we're both naked," she whispered.
"I never thought it would happen to me," he whispered back, letting his eyes ride her exquisite body lit seductively in the dim light from the bathroom.

"It is now," she assured him.

Matt drank in the heavenly sight before him. Natalie's perky breasts heaved slightly with her breaths, her dark brown nipples standing taut and erect. Her tummy was soft and just slightly swelled in the middle with a pleasant little roundness swelling gently around her navel. But it was what was between her legs that was an absolute vision to behold. Matt eyed her pubic hair that covered her treasure that hinted to him in a tight curly little patch on her womanly mound. The patch was not large but it grew thick and dense in a little triangle that narrowed as it approached the secret chasm between her thighs. The hairs were tightly curled and grew thickly together in the patch. The sight of her beautiful womanhood made Matt's heart skip a beat knowing he was seeing the alluring mystery for the first time. It was gorgeous and glorious.
He stared at her sex for a moment, his mouth agape. Then he looked into her eyes again. "You're so beautiful," he said breathlessly.
"Am I?" she asked.
"Yes."
"I'm pretending we're kids," she whispered. "I pretending you're the first to see me."
"You're amazing."
"I want to look beautiful for you."
"You do." He took her by the arms and pulled her toward him. "You are absolutely breathtaking."

He ran his hands down her arms and then onto her back. Her skin was warm and soft and he let his hands roam down to the small of her back, holding her close. She looked into his eyes.

"Let me show you," she whispered. "Let me teach you. Let me make love to you."

He nodded with approval.

And so she did. She showed him, demonstrated to him, taught him, let him, and did him. They made love through the night and when they had no more energy to give they lay in each others arms as dawn began to lighten the eastern sky.

Natalie felt wetness on her face and she realized it was tears falling from Matt's eyes.

"I thought you said you never cried," she whispered.

"For everything there is a first time," he replied happily.