A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 2
“We’ll stay an hour, maybe two,” said Ryan, fishing a grocery bag stuffed with chips and dip out of the back seat.
“I don’t know, hon,” Jennifer slung her purse over her shoulder and held a hand out for one of the bags, but Ryan shook his head. “It seems like we’re always the first ones to head out at—”
“We work, they know that.”
“They all work too.”
She held her hands out again, this time with more insistence. He relented and slung one of the grocery bags around her right wrist. They both took a deep breath and turned towards Barbara and Noah Watkins’ house, set far enough back on the lot to allow its upper middle class mini McMansion status to play its intimidation game with those who weren’t able to park in the driveway.
Jennifer began to stride across the lawn, but Ryan didn’t follow. After a moment she looked back at her husband, standing in the moonlight, two Jewel grocery bags at his side, shoulders slumped, hair falling in his face a bit, and there, for a fleeting second, she felt the stirring that has been so long slumbering, that bit of warmth, the tingle. Let’s just skip this party and go home and fuck…Stop this making love pressure and just go fuck for chrissakes!
But the words didn’t leave her lips. Instead she half smiled at Ryan, and he half smiled back.
“Are you driving us home tonight?” she asked him as he joined her on the front porch.
“Do you want to drink?”
“I don’t know.”
Ryan’s phone appeared, and he swiped through his calendar. “I need to be downtown by noon tomorrow.”
“Maybe we just shouldn’t drink.” But oh, after the tingles, she felt that a drink might be essential.
“Yeah.” Ryan rang the doorbell. “Just let me know when you’re ready to bolt. They’ll understand.”
“I hate doing that,” Jennifer sighed heavily. “Do I look okay?”
“You’ve got something…” She pulled a fuzz off his lapel. “Got it.”
The door swung open, revealing Barbara Watkins in all her hostessing glory. Tall and slender, clinging to the last scraps of her thirties, Barbara looked every inch the sort of woman who drove an impeccably clean white SUV, sunglasses on, black hair pulled into a ponytail. Her cocktail dress, midnight blue, was far showier than it needed to be, of course, but what should one do with money but spend it? “I’m so glad you guys could make it! Wouldn’t be a Christmas party without the Lamberts! But what about that other thing you had?”
“Got canceled,” said Jennifer, dismissing their excuse. She breezed into the house.
“Great! Well, not great, but, you know what I mean.”
Ryan’s smile appeared genuine when he told her they were glad they could be there. Jennifer marveled at his ability to do that. He was always able to seem at home, even when uncomfortable. Able to seem happy, even when—
“I’ll take the food.”
Jennifer snapped out of her momentary melancholy and realized what was missing. “Do you have the wine, honey?”
“Crap, it’s in the trunk. I’ll get it.”
Ryan relished the momentary opportunity to vanish from the foyer and walk, all on his own, back across the massive front lawn. Moments alone weren’t infrequent, but he hesitated to take them lest it be thought he didn’t want to spend time with Jennifer. Rarely did he find himself able to stroll. Tonight he strolled, because Jennifer was with her friend, and while she might be thinking about how long his trek back for the wine was taking, she’d be at least partially distracted by some discussion of Christmas shopping or the Watkins’ children. Surely something more interesting than Ryan Lambert.
“What’s the plan?” The question drifted to Ryan’s ears from a few feet distant, where a handsome man walked towards the house with his companion. Dark hair, very roguish, mid-forties, he had a woman of spectacular grace on his arm. Ryan had always felt that Barbara and Noah Watkins, while lovely people, were posers of class. Never sure quite how to do it right. But this couple, strolling up the walkway instead of cutting across the grass like a cad, exuded worldly class, and Ryan couldn’t take his eyes off them.
He closed the trunk and hung back so he could observe, staying a moment behind in step.
The woman tightened her grip on the man’s arm and rested her head on his shoulder, bunching her wavy cascade of strawberry-blond hair against him. “I don’t think we need a plan, darling.” Her voice was deep, velvety, almost having a weight of its own.
“Gotcha,” said the man. “All vanilla tonight, right?”
The woman smiled, devilish, and bit her lip. “Unless someone surprises us, yeah.”
The man laughed.
She swatted him. “Remember, I work with her! So—”
“I will be on my absolute best behavior.”
She laughed hard at that. “Yeah, I know what that’s like.”
Re-entering the foyer, Ryan stood behind the man and woman as they removed their coats. Barbara returned with Jennifer.
“Oh!” said Barbara, a strange cautiousness in her words. “I didn’t realize you knew each other.”
It was only then that the classy man and woman turned and noticed him. Ryan Lambert lifted his hand in a weak wave. “I was just behind them.”
“Were you?” the woman asked, making eye contact with him, as though she were asking a much more important question.
“I was getting the—” Ryan lost his train of thought in the woman’s crystal blue eyes before his own fell just enough to begin to appreciate the expanse of bare skin below her neck, plunging downward into spectacular—
He looked back up. Jennifer waved at him. Ryan swallowed hard.
“And now here it is, and here you are, and I’m Bruce Shepard.” Bruce Shepard extended his hand, exuding the sort of confidence Ryan had only ever seen in men to be cautious of: sales folk, convention speakers. But somehow, as he took Bruce’s warm hand to shake, he didn’t feel the same concern. While holding Ryan’s hand in his, Bruce made eye contact and smiled, dipping his head into a short nod, then relaxing his grip.
“Ryan Lambert,” Ryan announced, and pointed with the bottle toward Jennifer, who took it from him. “My wife is—”
“Jennifer,” she said, and gave them a wave Ryan felt must have been eerily similar to the one he’d provided moments before. “Hi.”
The woman turned back to Ryan. “I’m Paige, and she is gorgeous.”
Jennifer coughed back a laugh.
“And lo, in my foyer came Shepards, keeping watch over my flock by night.” Noah Watkins appeared, a touch wider than he’d been before Thanksgiving, neat Scotch in one hand, the other open for a high handshake that always became a half hug and a clap on the back. He delivered one of these to both Bruce and Ryan.
The women each received a kiss on the cheek, then Noah suggested that the four of them “join the festivities.” He led the party as though out of Hamlin, with Ryan lingering behind, suddenly uncertain about whether or not they belonged here. Surely they did, their friends had invited them, but they didn’t have the money, the class…
Bruce, at the end of the pack, looked back. “That man may have already had his limit.”
“Now that we’re old friends, shall we?” Bruce raised his hand and led the way into the party.