Get your mind out of the gutter. Do. I’m not that kind of girl… or, at least, I’m not anymore– there was certainly a time when I engaged in the occasional menage a trois, but only with the addition of a lady, & never with two people who have as much collective history, sexual & otherwise, as the three of us. Nor was said threesome the reason J. was lounging on Z.’s couch when I arrived that evening– unable to resist the opportunity, I cracked a joke about it, eliciting a groan & a snarky remark about being finally able to “grope J.’s gorgeous ass” from Z., all as he ushered him out the door.
They’re both stoned; I can tell the moment I walk in the room. J.’s eyes are red. They wear the drug differently: J.’s usually alert, inquisitive face is somehow obtuse, a slate that’s been smudged rather than wiped clean, while Z. is his usual self: lounging next to me on the couch, long, graceful limbs outstretched, tossing off a spot-on impersonation of a British girl on the television, taking my small foot in his hand with implied permission, & running his thumb along its bottom.
Already, I’ve surprised myself with two distinct feelings:
My laminations have suddenly & visibly merged, & I don’t like it. I thought if the three of us did finally end up in the same room, I would be bemused, light-hearted, I would play it off like some kind of bon vivant– Ventnor’s Leading Literary Harlot, chucking her playthings under the chin. Instead, I’m distinctly uncomfortable: the ease I feel alone with Z.– the ease I feel alone with J.– the swift slide into conversation, which leads to, depending on the man, either delicious, surrender-laden sex, or aggressive, laughter-laden sex, has been replaced with anxiety. Because that feeling, that swift slide, that rough & tumble delight, depends almost entirely on the one-on-one– You are the only person in the room… Generally speaking, one is not usually in the same room with two men one has dynamic sexual chemistry with, unless one lives in a Penthouse Forum letter, in which case, high jinks always ensue. Instead, I find myself wishing J. would leave, & quickly, & plant myself catty corner to him on the sofa, drawing my legs up beneath me. Without my usual attention magnet– or rather, with my usual attention magnet split into two opposing poles– I feel almost itchy.
Of course, this is also partly because J. is high, & as such, is not J., in the way that W., my ex, my son’s father, went on a nasty little vacation from himself when he took opiates. The recognition I usually see in his face, when he sees me? The twinkle in his eye? Vamoosed. In its place, there’s a dumb aggression, a petty meanness, that turns me off as surely as a hand to a spigot. More than that,
“I sent you a present, kiddo,” I tell him, inhaling my cigarette, grateful to have something to do with my hands.
“Oh, yeah, I saw that, the other day…” he says, trailing off. The Trial. I had it delivered, with a note, to his doorstep: From your favorite Leftist Lady Friend; a novel I think you’ll identify with. We haven’t seen one another since the last time we slept together, just about two weeks ago. My one phone call went either unnoticed, or unanswered. Either way, I was spooked; if he didn’t want to call, then I wasn’t going to chase him. At least, that’s what I told myself. But I felt real sadness. Sex or no sex, I had been having so much fun with him. We’d even discussed the possibility of dating, actually dating: lying in bed, post-coitus:
“We’d be a terrible couple, we’d kill each other,” I said, staring up at him, feeling his weight on top of me.
“No, we wouldn’t, what are you talking about?”
“I dunno, I mean…” I realized I was speaking not only out of turn, but out of my proverbial ass. My Go-To: Oh, this would never work, we’d be a trainwreck… now let me wash my hands of you, & be out the door! So I can go find another you. & another. &…
“We get along great, we never get tired of one another, we have really good sex– I mean, we’d make great roommates; great roommates who have great sex. What else is a relationship?”
“So, what, you wanna date me, C.?” I asked, calling him by his last name, & running my fingernails down his thickly muscled back.
“Well, I mean… it might not be the best time…”
“Ha! Ha. I knew it. I knew it! See? You only brought that up to get me to say that I want to date you!”
“Nah, it’s not like that, Em. I mean, I don’t know, we could; I don’t know.”
“We’ll worry about it later,” I said, & the topic ceased. But we went out again, the next night; he wouldn’t let me pay for anything, & we finished the evening in much the same manner as the night before. I left with the sneaking suspicion that he was a secret romantic: as he walked me to my car, I looked up at the moon, cut neatly in half & lit an unusually bright yellow. “The moon is gorgeous,” I said, stopping dead in the middle of the street to stare, my head slung all the way back.
“It is.” His arms around my waist from behind, we both began to call out constellations we recognized; beside the moon, Venus shone steadfastly, masquerading as a star. J. lives at the South end of the island; much of the light pollution from Atlantic City is filtered out, allowing, on clear nights, for an incredible view of the sky. Not a quarter mile east, the ocean crashed & pooled; you could hear it. He spun me around, & kissed me again, gently twisting his hands in my cropped brown hair. “Drive safe,” he said.
I left pretty sure I’d hear from him, as we’d been steadily in touch for the better part of six weeks. Alas, dear Reader– I should be smarter than that, by now: Oh, swear not by the moon… This is the first time I’ve laid eyes on him since, across from me, on Z.’s couch. Only, like I said– inconstant moon– it’s not him. It’s some disengaged J., some other. Which brings me to my second surprise– how disappointed I am in him. I don’t want him to be like this. It’s a side of him I’d forgotten existed. Between them, J. is the more reliable, the more adult, of the two, by a landslide, & someone whose friendship, especially in the very recent past, I’ve enjoyed tremendously.
Z., on the other hand, is a lover. A boyfriend-type. Butterflies & weak knees, fat, arrow-pierced hearts drawn on coarse canvas binders, my name linked to his with a plus sign, cheeks blushing hot pink, hands rubbing cherry scented lotion into my own two legs: I want to look, & smell, & taste, as perfect as I get for him, every girlish instinct nurtured in me by thirty-two collective years of books & film & tv’s flat-screened teenage queens comes roaring to the surface when he calls my name. Oh, whistle & I’ll come to you, my lad… Gender studies, schmender studies. I. Enjoy. Being. A. Girl. Which, thanks to my own considerable time spent studying gender, I know is merely a reflection of how very much I love to play-act. I am not the daughter of a theater major for naught– remember, Dear Reader, that adage about apples & trees. Which leaves me to conclude that it’s no small coincidence that Z. is also an aspiring actor, who regularly attends auditions in Manhattan, & was going, in fact, to one the very next morning. Which is why, thankfully for me, he showed J. the door in fairly short order– as usual, our time together was limited.
But not before My Big Mouth made the threesome crack, & not before J. said something blunt & just a tiny bit nasty back, & not before he said, “Emily’s slumming by hanging out with us,” & smirked at me. See? Mean. Antagonistic. All his best qualities– all the best qualities of our interactions: being challenging, but respectful, & always light-hearted– are marred, exaggerated, by whatever chemical reaction’s firing off in his brain at the moment.
I fucking hate drugs. Which is something we’ve argued about before– he loves to lose control. I hate it. Unless, of course, it involves sex– the rarest kind– with someone who makes me lose myself entirely during the act, forget where I am. Forget who I am. Someone, of course, like Z. Old friendships & capricious bartenders aside– pheromones are pheromones, & they will not be argued with or against, although they can, if one works hard enough, be ignored, or at least shoved to a dark corner of one’s memory: his long fingers wrapped almost entirely around my waist as he kisses my jutting hipbone, the way his lower lip feels between my teeth, his body rising up over mine, that helpless sound he makes when he comes. He has written on my body with his own.
& it’s worth noting that his own body is my own personal prototype for male beauty, that he actually physically recalls the first person I ever loved– well over six feet, angular features, long, lithe limbs. “Another skinny boy,” I texted him a few months back, from a boring family party. “I’m wiry,” he replied, & I swear, I could see him grinning. Am I just on a quest to recapture that first, perfect love, which, too, ended in total heartbreak & disaster, which tore me to shreds? Have I ever really recovered? J. & Z. stand in the threshold, one the literal embodiment of my desire, past & present, one his own, separate person– who?– against a consequence of cold & distant stars.