A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 9
She’d turned her back toward Bruce what seemed like ages ago, resting against his shoulder, listening to him talk. Jennifer had seen him consume nearly two full bottles of wine now, if her count was remotely accurate, and he was showing no sign of intoxication. The storyteller in him seemed to expand to fill the room.
She let go of a bit more of her cautiousness when he offered to rub her shoulders. A long day spent filing had really put a kink in her left. At first she thought she’d only let him rub the one shoulder, and only until the kink was relieved, but Bruce’s large hands knew how to detect and work problem areas. Soon her worries and cares were forgotten thanks to his aptly named “magic hands.”
She drifted in and out as he spoke, sometimes apologizing for missing something. “That means I’m doing a good job,” he assured her.
“We used to come to parties worried about how long we’d have to stay, who we’d interact with, how we’d put on the show,” he told her, thumb sliding deep along her shoulder blade.
“The show?” Jennifer wondered if she’d told him then that, before they’d met the Shepards, they weren’t likely to stay past nine o’clock.
“The married show. The aren’t we happy and in love and everything’s good and wonderful and so on and so forth.”
She started. “But aren’t you? Isn’t it?”
“Didn’t say we aren’t, just that it was something we used to worry about.” He slid his index and middle finger along her spine, searching for more trouble spots to work.
“But you don’t anymore?”
Bruce shook his head. “Doesn’t really come up anymore.”
“I need one of those tonight, too, I’ve got a thing!” Paige flopped onto the couch, close enough for Jennifer’s feet to brush her thighs. She reached back and rubbed her own shoulder to demonstrate her thing.
“Anytime, angel.” Bruce transitioned from deep rubbing to a gentle back and forth on both of Jennifer’s shoulders, then a tap that seemed to indicate that he was done.
“Hope he hasn’t been boring you,” Paige said to her. “The massages are his cunning way to get people to listen to him.”
“Not at all,” Jennifer said. “He’s been wonderful.”
Paige leaned over and put her hands on Jennifer’s feet, a move she found surprising. For a moment, Jennifer considered pulling them back, but found that her impulse seemed driven by what she was expected to do, not what she wanted to do.
“That is delightful to hear,” said Paige. “I’ve had a great conversation with your lovely man as well.”
Jennifer felt a pang of relief that there wouldn’t be one of those rides home where they picked at each other because one had enjoyed themselves and the other had not. It was a recurring theme, and a prime reason they didn’t often go to parties. “Aw, good.”
Paige let her eyes drift from Jennifer up to Bruce, giving him a little head tilt.
“Well, Jennifer, my dear,” he said, “Paige has to be up early.”
“Sorry.” Paige scrunched her face and squeezed Jennifer’s toes lightly.
“Okay, well, we’ll have to get together sometime, maybe, just the four of us,” suggested Jennifer.
A lingering look passed between Bruce and Paige. They both smiled at her. “Just say the word,” said Paige.
Bruce stood and helped both of the ladies off the couch. He and Paige both hugged Jennifer, saying how glad they were to have met. “And to think,” said Bruce, “we almost didn’t come!”
If you only knew, thought Jennifer. “That would’ve been tragic. Or something sad that doesn’t trivialize tragedy.” She laughed at her own joke. They smiled politely, something that might have seemed incredibly patronizing, coming from anyone else at that party, but somehow the Shepards pulled it off.
She found Ryan in the kitchen. He stood in front of the massive stainless steel fridge, vainly pressing buttons on the panel in front, holding an empty glass at its spout. Jennifer watched from the doorway.
Beep! Nothing. Beep! Nothing. Beep! Nothing.
She felt a wistful sadness when he stopped pressing the button and set the glass down next to the fridge. I love you very much, she thought, willing the words in his direction. How do we stop feeling lost all the time? How do we stop feeling so ill equipped for life itself?
He looked up at her. “Hey, there you are.”
“Were you looking for me?”
“I assumed you were in good hands.” He lifted his empty glass. “Do you know how to get ice out of here?”
“No,” she said, “But there’s ice in the drawer in the bottom.”
Ryan slid the large bottom freezer drawer out. “So there is.”
“Are you good to drive?”
Ryan downed a glass of water, finally feeling equilibrium returning. It had taken its damn sweet time. “Yeah, I’m good.” He smiled at Jennifer, she smiled back, eyes drifting shut momentarily. “You look blissed out.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s awesome.” He gave her a quick kiss. “I’ll get the coats and meet you in front.”
In the hall, Ryan noticed very few coats left on the rack. A quick count showed that perhaps only ten people were still at the party. He checked his watch, just after ten. Early night. He grabbed Jennifer’s red wool overcoat and his nondescript black wool coat.
“Leaving.” It was more of a statement than a question coming from Noah behind him, who now held a small steaming cup of coffee. Even from across the room, Ryan could smell that it was Irish.
“Yeah, though I’m surprised everyone took off so early.” He threw the coats over his arm and offered a hand to Noah to shake.
“The hell are you talking about? You’re here later than you’ve ever been.”
Ryan stared at him, then glanced at his watch again. Shit! It’s ten ‘til two! “Whoa. That’s…surprising.”
“I guess when you have the right company, time flies.” Noah’s words came out flat.
Ryan frowned. “Is there a—”
“There’s something I think I ought to tell you.”
Ryan waited, and when it was apparent that Noah wasn’t going to continue, he elongated the word “Okay…”
“You’re going to want to brace yourself.”