Get Acquainted with Julian Tepper’s Balls

But my body, Henry…my body tells me something different.

And if Henry were interested in pursuing a meaningful relationship, she might open her ear and listen to what her body had asked of her, of him, ever since he first walked through her door.

Henry wanted to jump her right there. The doctor sensed this.

Not yet, she said.


Soon. Very soon, Henry.

They met two evenings later at a restaurant in Chinatown. Henry showed first. When the doctor arrived she kissed him on the mouth before sitting. Long and hard, the kiss—their first—made clear to him he could have her whenever he was ready. However, after returning to the doctor’s apartment and having sex, right away Henry wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake. Something about her didn’t sit right with him. In bed she was clearly very experienced, her impulses were good, he could let himself go and be taken fully in the moment.

With their bodies enfolded under the covers and the large white disk of the moon facing down at them through a window, she said:

Henry, you have so much inside you that needs to come out. I want to help you. That hasn’t changed. Okay, Henry? Are you awake? Did you hear me?

Yes. I am. I heard you, he said.

His body was stiff under the covers, his heart filled with dread.

In the morning, after making love, Henry walked Andrews to work. On any street corner while awaiting the light, the doctor kissed Henry, and her hands held him powerfully at the waist. She asked if he’d cook dinner that evening. He said he would. The rest of the day was spent aggravating over how to cancel—something which he failed to do. Neither did he buy food to prepare. Nevertheless, having arrived at his apartment and learned the fate of their dinner, the doctor said she wasn’t even hungry. She told him to make love to her. When they finished, she asked him:

Did you like that?

I…yes…I did.

I thought about you all day.

Is that true?

It is, Henry. And did you think about me?

Yes, he answered.

At least twenty times he’d meant to pick up the phone and tell her he couldn’t make it. But there was no point in saying this.

There’s a meeting of the World Psychiatric League in Phoenix next week. I want you to come with me.

Henry waited a moment before speaking. He told himself to say no, he couldn’t go away with Andrews, that was impossible. He didn’t want to. He wouldn’t.

If it’s a matter of money, Henry, I’ll buy your ticket.

Money is tight.

He thought of all he had paid her. He’d never let her know it had ruined him financially.

He said, I couldn’t accept. That would be too generous.

Too generous?

I think so.

The next day the doctor surprised Henry with a plane ticket. He couldn’t believe it. How could she! His shock quickly led to an argument, their first. She accused him of not being honest with her. And why he couldn’t be that, she didn’t know. Was he a coward? Was he not a man? Was that it?

It was early evening and Henry had just arrived at the doctor’s, ready to take her to dinner. But the doctor locked herself away in the bedroom and stayed there for thirty minutes. When she finally emerged, she ran straight out the apartment, disappearing for another hour. Henry waited for her to come back. He felt terrible, she was right, he was lying, he was a coward, he didn’t have the guts to tell her that they shouldn’t see each other anymore. Why that was true, he didn’t know. If he were to theorize, as the doctor had about his emotions for over seven months, he might say it was because she was fragile, a needy person, one who latched on tight. He didn’t want to hurt her. When she returned to the apartment he saw no way to tell her any of that. She was even angrier. By the time Henry had calmed her down, it was two in the morning. She told him he was no longer invited to Phoenix. She didn’t want his company. She’d rather be alone.

Henry, soul-worn and dizzy, could hardly believe it himself. There he was, on his knees and saying, But I want to go with you.

No you don’t. You’re lying, Henry.

I’m not lying.

You are. You don’t mean it.

I do.

Then look me in the eye, Henry, and tell me you want to come with me.

And for some reason Henry did look her in the eye and tell her this.

She said, You really do?

Yes, Penelope.


I want to go away with you, he said.

Now, despite Henry’s lying, it remained a good trip. On the plane home from Phoenix with the doctor asleep on his shoulder he even wondered if he wasn’t falling for her. He could admit to a sort of new, amorous feeling growing inside him. It had been a while since he’d heard her speak the words 9/11. There’d been no talk of the Taliban, all of that seemed done, over, in the past. That pleased Henry. He was still dizzy, his filter unchanged, his music dormant. But the doctor’s idiosyncrasies, her penchant for repeating the same stories, her fear of drinking New York City tap water, rather than annoy him, were coming across as charming. Their sex life was becoming more satisfying, too. It was true, he was growing fond of her.

Then two months later the bombs exploded in the London underground, also tearing apart one double-decker bus, and Andrews called Henry to her office. He found her there as he had on so many days, seated in her chair in a short white dress. Her eyes were dark but the intensity of their look was magnified by a streak of black liner at the corner of the lids. Her mouth was sternly composed. She told him to sit. She was so worried about him, she feared the day’s tragedy would derail his progress. How was he? Any dizzier? How was his filter? Grayer? Darker?

Do you want to talk about anything…anything you’re feeling after this morning’s events?

Not at all, he answered. But he thought terrorism was in their past. Why are we talking about this?

Because this is important, Henry. Realize, new attacks on our cities open old wounds. It wouldn’t surprise me if you feel terrible.

Andrews looked at him in a posture of serious consideration. Her chin rested between her fingers, the middle and fore of the left hand, which formed a V. Her eyes squinted, her lips curled. Henry, she said, I think the wisest decision would be to stop having intercourse for the time being.

Excuse me?

To discontinue intercourse.

What? Why? What are you talking about?

The doctor explained how it would be wrong to reward his psychological pain with any sexual pleasure in the aftermath of the attack. It would teach his mind to link the good of sex with the horror of terrorism.

Do you understand what I’m saying, Henry?

I don’t. Not even a little.

When the shock of London dies down, we’ll start to do it again. I promise.

How long are you thinking, Penelope?

Three weeks max.


She came forward and embraced him. I’m here for you, she said. I will help you through this.

What do you think?

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About The Author

Julian Tepper

New York native Julian Tepper is a man of many talents. As the bass player for the indie rock band The Natural History, he co-wrote Spoon's hit "Don't You Evah" and helped produce his band's two studio albums, Beat Beat Heartbeat and People That I Meet. Film director Stephen Daldry casted Tepper in a featured role in 2011's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Julian is the co-founder of the The Oracle Club, a salon and workspace for artists and writers in New York. Balls is his first novel.

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