A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 7
Jennifer slid her toes across the leather couch closer and closer to Bruce’s leg. She knew she was in dangerous territory here but did it anyway. He was in the middle of a fabulous story, of which she’d long since lost the main thread, but she still made a point to laugh when he looked at her with that grin. The signpost warning that the bridge is out was miles back. The velvety haze of red wine drunk had arrived, and Bruce kept refilling her glass. The one in front of her, a Barbaresco, was deep red, almost black in the dim light of the great room.
“To continue our tour of Italy,” he’d said as he gingerly handed it to her. “You will let me know when you’ve had enough of my unquenchable need to hear myself talk, yes?” She’d nodded, perhaps with a bit too much enthusiasm. Since then, she’d kept her movements to a minimum.
The current story involved Bruce and Paige’s children. Jennifer felt certain it was a positive story, that he wasn’t complaining about his family, but couldn’t recall more than that. Once thing was for sure, “You must be exhausted.”
Bruce flicked his eyes in her direction, a quizzical look in them. “No, no. I’ve got a nice buzz going on. And you’re a delightful conversational companion.”
She giggled. “No! I mean, in general. ‘Cuz of…” she stammered, realizing that she’d already forgotten the names of the children. “Your kids. Kids are tough.”
“Do you have any?”
“Me?” Jennifer made a pssht sound and then immediately regretted it, sure she’d launched some saliva in Bruce’s direction. She tried to recover while keeping her visual search for wet spots on his pants on the down-low. “No, I just infer that they are. We’ve, Ryan and me, I mean, we’ve always waited for that moment to come, down the road. The one where you’re all, ‘I want to be a parent.’”
“I remember that moment. You’ve never felt it?”
“No. So many of our friends did, and we’d hold the babies and just feel…nothing.” Jennifer recalled when Sam and Patti had brought their infant to one of the Watkins’ brunches. Perhaps no more than three months old at the time, little Dorothy had been all giggles and bubble blowing for about ten minutes, as everybody cooed and goochie gooed over the child. The tiniest pang had come, perhaps, but more an “I wonder” than “I want,” and that pang had vanished almost immediately thereafter when Dorothy tired of the grownups and decided to raise some holy hell. The crying started, which begot sobbing, which begot wailing, which begot screaming, which begot the Mortons making a hasty retreat from the brunch and not returning to an event for nearly a year, when they’d finally realized that babysitters might serve an actual function.
“So I figure leave the babies to the baby…wanting people.” Jennifer grimaced and shook her head. “Not the most eloquent.”
“Perhaps not. Yet a valid sentiment that so few actually seem to subscribe to, and so often ignoring that instinct makes one miserable. Kids are indeed tough, even as they get older, maybe especially as they get older.”
As Jennifer finally allowed her toe to touch Bruce’s leg, he looked down at it for a moment, then put his warm hand on her foot. She thought he was going to push it away, to maintain the bubble of polite social decorum, but he rested his hand there, giving her foot a light squeeze.
“I assume it’s gotten easier to have time for yourself as they’ve aged?” She tried to remember how old but came up with only the vaguest idea of high school. He’d told her, she was sure of that. There’s not going to be a quiz, Jen, just pay attention from now on!
“Oh, of course, they have lives of their own, girlfriends. Now we get to decide if we’re going to be parents that police their sex lives. Limiting alone time. I didn’t have a girlfriend when I was a sophomore, certainly. So I’m not sure what they get up to. Kids today are light-years ahead of where we were. Fuck!” Bruce rubbed his hand down his face and shook his head with a chuckle. “I can’t believe I just said ‘kids today.’ I’m that guy.”
“You’re not that guy.” After watching the confidence with which he’d played the evening, Jennifer found the view behind the curtain quite intriguing.
“So yes, their aging helps, but one must be more calculating with the lies.” He smiled.
“The lies?” The idea struck Jennifer as somewhat absurd. As the adult, the person in charge, why would you have to— Wait, had her mother lied to her? When she told her the dangers of— Jennifer’s eyes widened.
“Oh, Jennifer, tell me you’re not still laboring under the delusion that your parents not only knew what they were doing with you, but somehow never had to fib about it either.”
“I guess I didn’t really think about it.”
“The lie planning is of utmost importance. So is being able to roll with a challenge to your story.” He laughed and leaned back on the couch. “Just the other day, in fact, Adam, the older one, told me he knows we’ve been lying to him his entire ‘adult’ life. But now he sees through it, he knows what Paige and I are up to.”
Jennifer leaned in, intrigued. “And what is that?”
He turned to her, as though himself caught in a lie and smiled. She returned it.
A tinkle of glasses, a louder thump. Jennifer looked to the sidebar and saw Paige and Ryan together, looking at the bottles. She jumped, withdrawing her toes to the circle of acceptability and pulled her knees in tight. Ryan had a smile on his face as he looked at her. Genuine, warm. Nothing weird. No question of what she was doing with this guy. Just a smile of love.
Look at this girl, thought Ryan. Sometimes it was hard to imagine there could be conflict between them. Sometimes he could forget the therapy and the need for mantras and just look at her the way he’d looked at her that first week, month, when things were new and different, when he couldn’t even believe he got to kiss this girl goodnight. The whiff of jealousy came, that she seemed so comfortable there on the couch with Bruce, that handsome, charismatic, real and true man. He’d probably never have issues getting it up, he’d probably never turn down sex in favor of finishing level 8-3, ‘cuz it’s so damned hard to get there, and this time I made it with a fire flower for chrissakes!
But a whiff was all it was, and it dissipated into the ether again, and he saw his beautiful wife and this man that he himself would like to get to know, because Bruce had…a quality. He didn’t know what that quality actually was, and if said quality could be taught, but the man had something undefinable there. Ryan pursed his lips into a kiss for Jennifer. Her face turned from what might have been minor concern to blowing a kiss back, followed by a smile.
“What do you think of this?” asked Paige, holding up a Hogue Late Harvest Riesling. “It’s about that time of the evening, isn’t it?”
He looked at the bottle, then back at her. He was clearly expected to say something in confirmation or refutation, but he only knew that whatever was in that bottle, if she’d chosen it, would probably be better than the wines he simply knew as “red” or “white” back home. Oh, and “pink.” Sometimes pink. “Yeah, looks perfect,” he offered.
Bottle in hand, Paige lifted two empty glasses from the sidebar and walked to the couch. “Can I offer you two some Riesling?”
“About that time, I think,” said Bruce. In a fluid motion he knocked back the last of his red wine, deposited the empty glass on the side table, and took hold of the glass from his wife as it was filled. Paige tilted the tall brown bottle to Jennifer.
Jennifer looked from the bottle in Paige’s hand, to her half full glass, and back to the bottle. She blinked a few times and shook her head.
“She can have a taste of mine,” Bruce told Paige.
She leaned down and kissed her husband. “I’ve saved Ryan from juvenile boy talk in the basement so he can have an adult conversation.”
“Enjoy, Ryan,” Bruce told him. “My wife is quite the cunning linguist.”
Ryan wondered how drunk Jennifer was. He made eye contact with her as best as he could hold her attention. Still lucid. His eyes asked everything okay?
She nodded back, then smiled wider.
Paige returned to Ryan’s side and tilted her head toward the hall, her curls bounced with the gesture.
When she left the room, he followed.