I Was Ravished by a Man Wearing a Cape and No Shirt – Elaina G. Smith
Leah read Her Bodyguard aloud every evening we were at band camp—so, for 5 days straight. I tried to listen but always caved and turned my iPod up until I could hear nothing but music, or covered my head with a pillow, or begged her to stop. The other girls in the room either laughed or shifted about uncomfortably.
“Bethany, how much could we pay you to read a romance novel?”
Bethany, an odd combination of extreme femininity with her waist-length hair and a tomboyish predilection toward wearing athletic shorts and t-shirts to any and all functions, considered talking about sex a strange thing. “Why?”
Leah scrambled up into Bethany’s top bunk, To Love a Thief in hand. “If I pay you $10, will you read this entire thing?” Forcing Bethany to read smut was akin to pushing someone into a lake and just standing, laughing, as your friend swims to shore covered in mud and scum.
Bethany sighed, long-suffering as usual. I added my voice to the group—yes, yes, read it, read it! Anything to end my own humiliation. “Fine, I guess. Give it to me.”
“You have to read the entire thing,” Leah pressed.
“I’ll do it.”
Bethany read the book on her to bunk within a day, reading silently and with only occasional disgusted facial expressions. We all giggled as she read; or at least, I tried to giggle. I found myself simultaneously amused and disheartened that this book I read for pleasure was treated as a great joke, a torture device.
Handing the book back to me when she’d finished, Bethany told me it was awful. “How do you read those things?” she asked.
I have come full circle. When once I sneaked romance novels into my bedroom as a teenager and hid them under my side table, now I display them openly on my shelves and review them for a well-known blog.15
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and shake my teenaged self, who was convinced the entire world was watching her and cared what she was doing or, in this case, reading. I’d tell her that wanting to read about romance and sex didn’t make her weird, but absurdly normal, that her fascination with sex and men and orgasms and courtship and declarations of undying love weren’t shameful—just human.
When people come to my apartment now, I occasionally consider putting my romance novels in a plastic bin under my bed: easier to avoid stupid questions. But I’ve realized that I no longer care what people think and that in the end, no one else really cares either.16
15 Dear Author, if you’re curious.
16 Except maybe my mother.
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Elaina G. Smith received her MFA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has been published in [PANK] and The Monarch Review. She was also the Managing Editor of the online literary magazine Revolution House. She currently lives on the Kansas side of Kansas City with her collection of cats..