A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 4
The last of a bottle of golden Moscato cascaded into Jennifer Lambert’s waiting wine glass. “Oh,” she said and smiled at Barbara. “Thanks.”
Barbara shrugged and set the empty bottle alongside several fallen compatriots on the black speckled granite countertop near the sink. “Looking glum. Certainly far too glum for a Christmas party.”
“Nah,” denied Jennifer, waving it away and masking with a smile. There was the smile that kept things nice and social and polite. That affirmed everything was a-okay. Nothing wrong with her life, her marriage, her sex life, nothing at all, thank you kindly.
Barbara looked at her a moment longer before taking her by the elbow and pulling her toward a small collection of women gathered around the chips and dip on the center island, directly below a hanging sconce. The cornerstone of Barbara Watkins’ McMansion had to be her well-appointed kitchen, laid out in oak and granite with tile floors and inset lights, halogen and LEDs, around the bases of the cabinets. Mood lighting when the main overheads were turned off. Now additionally adorned with several strings of white twinkle light garland.
Of the four woman surrounding the island, Jennifer knew Patti Morton, the wife of one of Ryan’s friends, and the sultry woman she’d briefly met in the entry way before Noah ushered them all in.
“I can’t go more than a day without the gym, anymore,” declared the woman, taking a healthy swig of her wine. Jennifer watched her swirl behind her perfect lips and felt a quivery feeling deep within that she couldn’t readily identify.
“I wish I had your energy, Paige, I really do.” Patti, giving her thirty-fifth year a third go, just now over the edge of tipsy, swirled her own wine in her glass, a pale simulacrum of a move that the woman named Paige had done moments before. “I always say I’m going to go more often. Doesn’t help that I can barely drag Sam off the couch.”
Paige caught Jennifer’s eye and winked, triggering an unexpected bout of self-consciousness within her. Had that wink been meant for her? Had Paige noticed that Jennifer had been staring at her lips for the last few…Quit staring, say something! “You, uh, you look great.”
“Well, thank you, Jennifer! Doesn’t come easy, believe me!” An effortless laugh cascaded from those same spectacular lips, glinting under the twinkle lights with a shine that didn’t seem to transfer itself to her glass. How did she do that?
Barbara offered a shrug. “They say you can become addicted to anything, provided you do it enough.”
“Every year I try. Make it until around the third week in January, then say…” Jennifer again felt the self-consciousness, afraid to say—
“Fuck it?” suggested Paige.
Jennifer laughed. “Yeah.”
“Well,” Paige held her wine glass between her palms and rolled the crimson wine back and forth within, then cocked her jaw and looked up, as though she were considering the wisdom of the ages. “You have to reward yourself after. I get a weekly massage.”
Patti expelled an audible sigh. “We could never afford that.”
“I didn’t say I pay for it!” Paige winked. “Bruce has magic hands!”
Barbara smirked. “I’ll bet.”
The Watkins house was full of people who were trying. This woman in front of Jennifer, Paige Shepard, was different. Paige was succeeding. And making it look easy. Jennifer couldn’t quite define what it was Paige was succeeding at, but she had…a quality. A quality that offered something very unique, in fact, deep within.
The warmth and velvety-smooth intoxication that descended upon Jennifer Lambert brought with it faint pangs of long-forgotten feelings, confusing and exciting, abstract and scary. For a moment, Jennifer was reminded of her eleventh summer, and a slumber party in a tent in her backyard with two girls from school. But as soon as the memory formed in her mind, it vanished again like smoke from a snuffed candle. Paige’s eyes were on her again, the faintest smirk on her lips, but as soon as Jennifer noticed, Paige turned her attention back to the group.
The memory and her sure to be noticeable leering brought Jennifer to the conclusion that she ought to make a hasty exit. Find Ryan, grab coats, keys, go. Barbara would be disappointed they weren’t staying for White Elephant, the game that Ryan always called Nasty Christmas, but she’d understand. Something Jennifer ate, maybe, a bout of luncheon food poisoning. She gulped the last of her Moscato down and spun to retreat to safety, beyond the reach of these indefinable feelings. Her flight ended quickly as she slammed into Paige’s husband.
“Whoa,” he said. “Let’s not be hasty.” He put a hand on her shoulder, looking down and smiling at her. His hand was cold and smelled of tobacco, the idea of which usually repulsed Jennifer, but the scent also called to mind the past. Other summers’ evenings on her front porch, neighbor smoking a cigar. The momentary regression made her smile and look away.
“Not leaving already, I hope,” he said with a smile.
“No,” said Jennifer. “I was—”
Paige caught the eye of her husband. “Bruce! Speak of the devil.”
“And the devil appears,” returned Bruce. “Didn’t want to drop this in the yard, Barbara, my dear.” He held up the final remnants of a snuffed cigar, and the comforting smell again captivated Jennifer.
Barbara held out her palm. After a moment’s hesitation and a nod from her, he put the cigar into her open hand. “Thank you,” she said.
“Thank you!” He clapped his hands together. “Good stuff to speak of, I hope.”
Paige brought her hand to his bicep and gave it a light squeeze. “Magic hands.”
Bruce gave a laugh, hearty and true. “These old things?” He held up his hands to the ladies.
Paige’s hand dropped to the small of Bruce’s back, and the effortlessness of their interaction overtook Jennifer. These two made marriage look easy. Smiling at each other with genuine smiles, not the semi-glazed looks that so many of their friends carried around to exchange with their significant others, their life partners, their better halves. Somehow Bruce and Paige seemed to have stepped from out of a movie screen, showcasing the kind of heightened-reality love story that comes without problems, regret, envy, jealousy. Somehow…
“Doesn’t everyone look just marvelous here.” Bruce’s smile was wide, without a tinge of smarminess. He made eye contact with Jennifer. Smoldering chestnut brown eye contact. Then he pointed at the empty glass in her hand. “Jennifer Lambert, you need more wine.”
She raised her hand, unsure how to proceed. Moments ago she’d been desperate to leave and now, despite the words “Oh, no, I probably…” spilling forth from her mouth of their own accord, she held up her glass toward this man, desperate to have another drink. Desperate to have him bring it for her.
“What do you like, beautiful? Merlot, Cabernet, Chianti, Chablis. I can go on, but please stop me when I get somewhere. Pinot Gris, Char—”
Jennifer nodded. “Yes.”
Despite the understanding in Bruce’s eyes, he questioned her. “Yes?”
Paige whispered in her ear. “He knows oodles about wine, why don’t you go with him.” Her hot breath on Jennifer’s neck sent shivers down her spine.
Bruce offered his arm. Jennifer looked to Paige for approval. Could it be this woman was actually sending her off with her husband? People didn’t do that. That would be wrong, somehow, wouldn’t it? At a party, indeed, people would talk. But Paige smiled and nodded, so Jennifer hooked her arm into his and followed him from the room.
“Will you allow me to surprise you with something?” asked Bruce, looking back over his shoulder.
“Something?” Jennifer asked, uncertain, the amount of wine already in her system making her thoughts dance in and out of focus, playing tricks on each other, shoving and scrapping.
He laughed. “With some wine, my dear, nothing nefarious.”
“Oh,” was all she could find to respond.
He suggested she sit as he perused the bar, lined with bottles she was sure outclassed anything on their fridge-top wine rack at home. She obliged and sat.
The overstuffed leather sectional couch seemed to stretch out for miles in what Jennifer had once heard Barbara Watkins call their “great room.” She sat, legs stretched along one exceptional wing of the couch, her back to a cream leather pillow against the cream leather armrest of this cream leather island.
Bruce sat mere inches from her toes. He leaned over to hand her a new glass of beautifully deep crimson wine, his charcoal sport coat brushing against the tips of her toes clad in black tights.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling mildly naughty that here she sat with another woman’s husband; freely given, to be sure, but alone, off somewhere, at a party. That’s always when you hear someone speak up, in the distance, saying something like “Has anyone seen Jennifer?” and “I think I saw her with Bruce” and there’d be a to-do. There was always a to-do.
She took a long sip and felt warmth in her mouth. About to swallow, she hesitated, watching Bruce admire his own wine in the light, swishing the liquid in his mouth, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes. Then swallowing.
Jennifer gulped and hers went down as well. She coughed, and the cough turned into a laugh.
“Superb, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “What is it?”
“Amarone della Valpolicella,” said Bruce. He set his glass on the equally expansive ottoman/coffee table/island next to them, folded his hands together and leaned an arm on the back of the couch to tip himself in her direction. “We bought two cases when we were there. Have you been?”
“Have I— What?”
“Damn, sorry. I hate when people do that.”
Jennifer smiled at him. He was flustered and she had no idea why, but at least now she wasn’t the only one. “Do what?” She leaned over her legs towards him.
“Make assumptions of wealth.”
“Ah,” she nodded, then shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t really care.” She blinked slowly and realized that things were getting smoother. “This is really…really…good.”
“Packs a wallop too,” he said as she finished her glass. He took it from her and set it on the ottoman. “It’s from Valpolicella, just north of Verona, actually.”
“Ahh…” she drew out the sound of the word longer than she should’ve and nodded again, ignoring the inner warning bells sounding that she’d crossed that warm and welcoming threshold of alcohol into the foyer known as tipsy. “Fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”
Bruce’s laugh was hearty, the laugh of a Viking, she imagined. “Indeed it is. Shakespeare fan then?”
“A master’s thesis worth, anyway.”
He dropped an eyebrow as he squinted a bit, sizing her up.
Maybe he’s wondering whether he should be hanging out with a drunk girl. How many glasses did we have tonight? Jennifer frowned. Well, we had two in the kitchen, one from Noah when we arrived, and hmm, maybe I shouldn’t—
“Should I have brought the bottle?”
“No, no, no,” another indicator, the repetition of words. Abort, Jen. “I’m silly enough already.”
“So this is silly Jennifer Lambert, then?”
Jennifer leaned forward again and wrapped her hands around her feet, bent over now almost in two, to get as close as possible to Bruce. Smelling the scent of his aftershave, just a hint beneath the still-lingering effects of the tobacco. “The potential is certainly there, as I seem to have had one or two more drinks than I anticipated having tonight.”
Bruce dropped his lower jaw in a look of mock shock.
“Indeed! I could break out the silly at any moment.”
“I’m a big fan of the silly drunk.” He put his hand on her hand, and she felt the weight and warmth transfer to her foot. So intimate, touching one’s feet, even just a finger brushing, even in tights. “I myself turn verbose and introspective when drunk.”
His thumb moved across her index finger, drawing its way upward to the ball of her foot. She straightened, suddenly. He has a wife. “And, um, Paige?”
Bruce didn’t miss a beat. “When drunk? Well, Paige is a nympho.” The cat that ate the canary grin appeared. His eyes moved behind her and he smiled wider.
Jennifer tipped her head back, a move she immediately regretted due to the spins it brought on, and saw Paige in the doorway, leaning casually on the frame, glass of wine in her hand. Jennifer let out a quick gasp as her face turned hot. Why would she have sent me with him if she didn’t want us talking? she wondered, mind scrambling and unscrambling itself.
She turned her body quickly, swinging her legs to the floor. “Oh, um, Paige, I—” Bruce grabbed the wine glass out of her hand moments before a spill.
Paige stepped forward, palm toward her. “Oh, no, I was happy to see you hanging out. He usually just spends time in the yard. I’m glad he found a friend.”
Jennifer didn’t have a response for that.
“Can I borrow him for a moment?”
“Can, what?” Now with both feet on the ground, Jennifer was bodily steady, but the blush held firm on her cheeks and she could feel the throb of her heartbeat.
Bruce handed her wine glass back to her. “I do hope you’ll stay.” He stood.
Jennifer took another sip and nodded, keeping her gaze on her glass, as Paige and Bruce disappeared from the room.