Part One: Appetizers
The cold wind snapped at my face while I was fumbling with my keys, trying to find the right one that would open the door. The early morning sun was obscured by thick clouds, hiding most of the light and warmth. Last night was cold, but not as cold as two nights ago when the temperature dropped to the low 20s F. The news two nights ago warned of a hard freeze; that was really freezing cold in these parts. In fact, it was so cold that I actually closed my kitchen window; usually, I like to keep it open when I'm home; I like the fresh air.
Finally, I got the door open, went inside and closed the door quickly. Ah, it felt good to be back home. I locked the door, kicked off my shoes, and dropped the keys on the coffee table. I really needed to take a long, steamy, hot shower so I could feel clean. But first, I wanted some hot tea to warm me up this morning. As I made my way to the kitchen, I saw my answering machine blinking. Three messages. Huh, wondered who that could be. Soon as I set up the water to boil, I pressed Play on the answering machine, half expecting it to be messages from telemarketers. Bastards.
But surprisingly, it wasn't telemarketers. In fact, all three messages were from the same person. It was a friend of mine that I had seen yesterday evening no less. Earlier in the week, she had invited me over for a holiday dinner party held last night at her place. Two of her messages were left the night before. The first one was a thank you for attending and she hoped I had a good time. The second one was her checking to make sure I got home safe. The third message she left early this morning, wanting me to give her a call. It didn't sound urgent, so I debated on whether or not to call her now. I really needed to hit the shower so I could feel fresh and ready to deal with rest of the day. But I decided to wait for the tea to be ready before I made up my mind. In the meantime, I set stereo to play CDs at random while I dug through my cupboards, trying to decide what I should eat. I also started thinking about the events of the evening before.
Flashback to the evening before...
The chilly air stung my cheeks and ears as I rang the doorbell. I held bottle of wine in one hand and a bag with half a gallon of pistachio ice cream in the other. Waiting for the door to open, I looked around at the holiday decorations surrounding the house. A flashing snowman by a flashing reindeer on the lawn; white lights wrapped around a tree; a bunch of twigs fashioned into an ugly wreath hung on the door. Seriously, it was an ugly bundling of sticks topped off with a bright red bow. I hoped they got this piece of crap as a gift or at least handmade it themselves; Halloween was a few months ago! They should've hung that kindling then when the jack o lanterns were out. That would've scared the children. I certainly wouldn't pay money for that eyesore, much less hang it on the door. And that door was opened to reveal my friend, who had invited me over to her place for dinner tonight.
Flashback Alert! Fade to the past...
I've known her for a few years now, since college, actually. Back then, she was working in the business center of a grocery store, where people went to pay their bills. She had started working for this grocery store chain while in high school, starting off as a cashier. Now, a few years after getting her business degree, she was the manager of the business center at one of the busier and newer grocery stores. I'll call her Shopgirl. Shopgirl was a party girl in college. If there was music, she would dance; and if she had alcohol, she'd dance on the tables. It must've been a grocery worker thing, because most of her friends from the store partied just as hard--and I loved partying with her. She was no stranger to body shots and bar hopping. Then I introduced her to my friend, Tools.
Tools was an old friend I had met at work, right after high school. We met at a new employee orientation, and ended up working the same section for a few years. A bunch of us young guys became good friends. This was probably because we were on our own for the first time, and there was an excitement in doing new things together, having only each other to rely on in a strange, new place. The last year I worked for the company, Tools got his calling; and being the good Mormon boy that he was, took off for a year long mission in Africa. We kept in touch with sporadic letters and the occasional care package I sent him. When Tools was done with his mission, he signed up for military service for a few years. When he got out, he got a job working as a crew chief repairing helicopters and airplanes for the military. We got in touch again when he transferred to San Antonio, just a few hours from where I went to college. I found out that he had actually left the Mormon church, after coming to the hard realization that he couldn't support many of the Church's positions and teachings. I was surprised at that, especially since he had spent some time ministering to people about his faith. But that was before he had an awakening, and I was more disappointed that he and his family had a falling out over this. But Tools seemed happy, so I was happy for him.
He came down Spring Break week to stay with me, and I held a party where I introduced him to all my friends, including Shopgirl. That was a meeting I'll never forget. Shopgirl was instantly smitten. Tools was into her as well. For the rest of the day, Shopgirl stuck with Tools, laughing, talking, touching his arm. It was so bizarre not seeing her getting plastered; she declined to do body shots; even stranger, she wasn't on the table grinding to the music or flirting about shamelessly with other party goers. When Tools went to the restroom, Shopgirl pulled me aside to say, "Oh my gawd! Why didn't you tell me your friend was so hot!"
I raised an eyebrow and said, "Um, I didn't realize I was suppose to classify my friends as hot or not."
"Shut up!", she said,"He's cute. What kind of girls does he like?" There was an urgent, almost schoolgirl like anxiety in her voice. I found that hilarious.
"Um, he likes girls, I guess."
She gave me an exasperated look, "No, you idiot! I mean does he like blondes or brunettes? I mean what kind of girl does he go for?" Clearly, she was crushing on Tools.
So I repeated, "Um, he likes girls. Look, he's a nice guy."
She cut me off, "Oh my gawd!, " she had this horrified look on her face, "He's a missionary! He probably likes those church type girls--all prim and prissy and proper!"
"Ex missionary," I said, "Ex Mormon, actually." But she wasn't paying attention.
She suddenly turned to me, pleading, "You have to tell him good things about me."
"What?," I asked. Clearly, the girl had lost her mind over the boy.
She repeated, "You have to tell him good things about me. Make me sound really nice and wholesome."
It was too funny watching her like this. I couldn't resist, "So you want me to lie to him?"
"No!," she hissed!,"I want you to tell him all the good things about me. About how I'm a caring, charitable person. I'm a nice girl with family values."
"So that's a yes?," I said, "You want me to lie to him?"
"Shut up!," she hit me on the shoulder, "Muthaf*cka! Just tell him I' m really a really good catch! I'm a down to earth, wholesome kind of gal! Just sell him on the thought of me, you jackass!"
"Ya know, " I couldn't help saying, "good girls don't use that kind of language; and girls who need pimping are called whores."
I laughed out loud, but she quickly hit me again on the arm, harder this time, "Ow!", it stung!
She had this determined look in her eyes and said, "If you were my friend, you would do this for me or else!"
"All right," I said, "Just chill, girl. I'll hook you up. But you know, I'm pretty sure he'll like you for who you are."
"Yeah, well, for today, I'm someone else! Here he comes! Now start selling!," she whispered.
Truth was, I didn't really need to sell Tools on Shopgirl. Chemistry, I guess. They just clicked. Within a year they were engaged. After a while, they got married. The rest is history. Of course, ever since Shopgirl got married, she decided that my being single was a disease, and she had the cure. She started setting me up on blind dates. I didn't mind at first, because some of the girls were fun. But most of them were looking to get married. Total mood killer. Look, there's nothing wrong with wanting to get married. I'm just not feeling it.
When I stopped accepting Shopgirl's blind date set ups, she got clever and tricked me a few times. Shopgirl knew my weakness for free food; I'm all for it! So she started inviting me over to have dinner with her and Tools whenever I was in town. Lured by the promise of free food, I'd show up with an appetite, and I'd inevitably meet some unfamiliar girl Shopgirl had invited. Clearly, the blind date set ups had evolved. After being tricked this way a few times, I started to get wary, and every time I was asked to dinner, I always made sure to question if this was blind date setup. Most of the time, Shopgirl told the truth. But she couldn't resist surprising me a few times by having some girl show up at the last minute. In a twisted way, I know that she does it because she cares; sometimes, I just wish she didn't care so much!
Eventually, I outmaneuvered Shopgirl. A few times, I'd show up for dinner bringing a date! That made for some awkward fun at Shopgirl's expense. Tools thought it was hilarious. Eventually, Shopgirl stopped trying to set me up. But she still threw rocking parties that were attended by lots of fun people. Still the party girl. And that's what I looked forward to tonight.
Part Two: Drinks
Return to last night...
Shopgirl was smiling as she hugged me and greeted me. I walked into her home to hear the sounds of Christmas songs playing on the stereo. I spotted her Xmas tree, all white but trimmed in gold ornaments and silver tinsel; quite the stylish, stunning tree as opposed to the wreath horror that hung on the front door. Tools came over and greeted me, a quick hug and we headed towards the kitchen to drop off the wine and put the ice cream in the freezer. Pistachio was Shopgirl's favorite flavor of ice cream. I looked around and noticed most of the guests were drinking wine; a few had eggnog. I was offered a glass of wine, but I refused, saying that I was driving. So I took a glass of non alcoholic eggnog instead. Is it still eggnog if there's no alcohol in it? I suppose it is since it still contains eggs, but I think it's really more of a protein shake now without the rum or brandy.
I was introduced to some of the guests I didn't know: A lovely blond girl from Shopgirl's pilates class; she worked in a jewelry store selling diamonds, so I'll call her Bling. Then a few neighbors--the airline pilot and his wife, Mr and Mrs Sky Capt. Then there was Cupcake; she worked in the bakery, one of Shopgirl's coworkers. And finally, Prodigy--he was a fire starter, actually a fire dancer. Seriously, dude worked as a bookkeeper in the day and performed fire tricks at raves and clubs and parties at night.
Then I headed into the living room. A quick scan and I noted a few people that I knew. Some I said hello to, and others were busy singing and dancing to Xmas songs. I finished my eggnog, and returned to the kitchen to leave my glass. I was going to get more eggnog, but I need to use the restroom real quick. After I was done there, I washed my hands and stepped back out. But before I headed towards the kitchen, I noticed the den was open. I peeked inside and was glad that I did.
By fortunate chance I had found one of the most alluring creatures I've ever known, Belladonna. She had a reputation for being a maneater and a wild child. She was as bewitching as she was poisonous, tempting me but circumstances put her beyond my reach. Perhaps I should be thankful, because my mind kept telling me to stay away, and that she was dangerous to my sanity and well being. But the loins pay no heed to reason, the attraction was primal and instinctual.
She was one of Shopgirl's best friends. Childhood chums, actually. She was on a volleyball scholarship to the same college that Shopgirl and I attended. And I tried to go to every game she played. I'm a big fan of women's volleyball--indoors and beach. Any sport where women showcase their incredible athletic skills have my support. And here she was, sitting on the sofa. She was slowly flipping through some photo albums, giving no indication that she was aware that she was being watched.
She was pale, tall, and had long, straight, black hair that reached her waist and bangs that almost touched her eyebrows. She had the longest, smoothest pair of porcelain white legs I had ever seen. And she was doing that same maddening thing that drew me to her the first time I noticed her. She was sitting crossed leg, the right leg on top of the left, with her sleek, black shoe dangling dangerously on her toes. I was entranced by the delicate and graceful movements of her toes, measured, deliberate circles that caused her shoe to dance on the edge of falling. I could've watched that for a while, but then I felt aware that her eyes were on me. And I looked up and connected my gaze with her brown eyes. Electric. I smiled, said hello; she did the same.
"Mind if I join you?," I asked.
"Not at all," she replied.
I walked in and sat on the same sofa she was on. It's not like we were strangers or anything. We've met before and we've hung out at gatherings. Trouble was, there were always people there so we couldn't really spend time alone. Plus, either she or I usually brought a date at those gatherings. There was never a right time, though I've always felt a connection there somewhere. And I think she felt it, too. There've been a lot of time when I'm at a party and I've felt her looking at me. I would turn slowly and sure enough, she was staring, giving me a quick smile before she looked away for a second, only to look back at me. Then she would move on with her date. It was like a game of tag we were playing; except I wasn't entirely sure who was chasing whom.
Last time we met, I found out that she was with some dental student; I'll call him Floss. Of course, I hadn't see Floss here, yet. Not that I was eager to talk to him; and it didn't have have anything to do with jealousy. Well, I did feel a small sense of dismay when I found out that Belladonna was dating Floss. Bastard. But really, I didn't want to talk to Floss because he was so dull! The first time we talked, I was trying to be polite when I asked him what he did. First he said he was a dental student. Then he launched into a lecture about waxed floss vs unwaxed floss and the pros and cons of mouthwashes! I tried to change the subject, but every time there was pause in the conversation, Floss would inevitably bring the conversation back to bleaching and brushing. I thought, Good gawd! When this man gets his first patient, he's not going to need to use anesthesia. He just needs to start talking and the patient will pass out from boredom!
Trying to make conversation, I asked Belladonna, "So, is Floss around?"
She stopped twirling her shoe with her toes, looked at me with a stoic expression and said, "He's not here."
All right! I thought, Excellent!, "Oh, okay."
But she continued, "We're kind of taking a break from each other."
"Ah," I said, but thinking, Yeeehaaa!, "I see. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she answered.
But she didn't look fine; for a brief second, I could see anger flash in her eyes. I thought about pressing her for a real answer, but decided to change the subject instead. "So, seen any interesting diseases lately?"
She laughed, "Just the usual." She was a microbiologist at one of the biggest hospitals around.
"No newly discovered germs that would wipe out mankind?," I jested.
"No. Not this week at least," she replied.
"Are you sure?," I asked, "Maybe you haven't been looking in the right places."
"Oh, really?," she asked, "Like where?"
"Like the front door, for instance. Have you seen that abomination trying to pass itself off as a holiday wreath hanging on the door!?!", I asked.
That got her laughing again. It was a sweet, melodious sound. The moment only made more surreal by the hair toss at the end of her laughing. "You know, Shopgirl worked really hard to put that thing together."
"So? It's still a fugly piece of crap! Was she on drugs when she made it? Friends don't let friends hang up crap!," I said, "All you've got to do is declare that thing unsanitary and a public health hazard and we'll get Prodigy to burn it! Hell, we'll turn it into yule kindling! It'll be a holiday celebration and recycling at the same time."
That got her laughing out loud again and when she stopped she said, "Oh, I needed to laugh."
"Well," I said, "You should laugh more; you've got such a great laugh."
Soon as I said that, her smile changed, becoming somewhat more mischievous; she looked me in the eyes and tilted her head slightly to the side as asked, "You think I've a great laugh?"
Electric. I said, "It's one of the many great things about you that I find so fascinating."
"Really?", she asked, "Tell me, what else about me fascinates you."
I smiled, "Well, how much time do we have? Because this could take a while."
And she let out another laugh followed by her hand tossing her hair back. And then that hand came to rest on top of sofa, just inches away from my own hand. Heart beating fast, temperature rising, time slowing. Now or never. I slowly slid my hand towards her til our fingers touched. Electric. Passion pulses through my body, sending shivers of joy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up. Time stops, eyes locked. Smiles uncertain, a strong sense that something big was about to happen. Magic moment. And I was ready to seize that moment.
"There y'all are! Come to the table and get something to eat. Everyone else has." It was Shopgirl. Damn you, woman!
Belladonna stood up, and looked at me and said, "Perfect; I'm feeling a little hungry for something." Then she looked at Shopgirl, smiled and walked out. No, she moved like a cat, slow, graceful, a hint of tightly wound energy just underneath the smooth, swaying curves.
I got up and Shopgirl gave me this puzzled look, as if she were calculating something in her mind. Then she said, "Come on; I've saved you a seat at the table."
I was hungry, too. But my appetite was craving something other than food. I felt like I was full of tension and tingling with anticipation. My senses seemed sharper, I felt restless, like I needed to release a lot of energy. I wondered if this is what predators felt like before they hunted down prey. And I couldn't help but wonder, just for tonight, which one was I, the hunter or the hunted?