The party was in the ballroom of a downtown hotel. We arrived when most people were on their second cocktail, which was exactly where I wanted them. Though I don’t really drink, I like to know that others are. I tend to seize up in very large social situations. Drinking people are chatty people, and that works to my advantage.
Superprime found his people and introduced me. All the wives were lovely and looked slightly, indefinably out of place, much like I must have looked. And I wasn’t even a wife.
I took a glass of chardonnay and looked around. The company had splashed down some money on the shindig, which made me very happy. Not because of the money, but because in this age of bailouts, deficit, and recession, it’s heartening to see an organization actually acting like there is something worth celebrating: its employees.
After a while, Superprime’s boss joined the group. Over dinner – which was actually quite good – I began to relax a little better. His boss’s wife is Marla; I was seated beside her and we ended up having a lot in common. Conversation with her was easy, and within minutes, I felt like we were friends. So when she invited us and approximately forty others back to her house for an afterparty, I had no problem mustering the enthusiasm to accept.
When we walked through the door of their home, Marla grabbed my arm and said, “I have the best drink. I call it a Redheaded Slut. You’re going to love it.”
I looked to Superprime, who smiled encouragingly. At the bar, Marla handed me a martini glass full of a red liquid. The fumes coming off the drink nearly burned the film off my eyes. “You’re going to love it. So Christmasy,” she was saying, and poured herself one. “To new friends!” she chirped. I admit: I was completely charmed by her. I though she was an interesting person, and a genuinely kind person, and I could totally see us going out for drinks without the men. It was all very auspicious. Indeed, to new friends.
I clinked her glass and took a tiny, tentative sip. The red fluid was sticky and tasted like Hawaiian Punch and high octane jet fuel. I had a mild attack of tachycardia, followed by my ears burning – and possibly bleeding. The intense sweetness of coconut and banana was apparently designed to cover the disgusting taste of whatever evil alcohol she had used in the drink. I forced myself to swallow.
“Great!” I said, smiling with tears in my eyes. The room was starting to spin. I get tipsy very easily anyway; I am lampshade-on-the-head-dancing-around-in-my-underwear-drunk after half a light beer. But this wasn’t that silly kind of drunk. Instead, I felt like I was falling down a very long, vertical elevator shaft.
Two other women had arrived at the bar, and Marla busied herself making two of her Redheaded Sluts for them. I looked across the room to Superprime. He was talking to his boss, and the lights from the Christmas tree behind him created a sweet frame – this great guy, this man. I felt a wave of such tender affection for him that I don’t know how I remained standing. He felt the weight of my stare and looked over. He was smiling. Something coded and intimate passed between us.
I said to Marla, “I see Superprime, I’ll be right back.”
I set the drink on the bar and sidled up beside him as he was talking to his boss. There was a group of seven guys – his coworkers and boss – and they seemed tight. Watching him interact with the guys was an interesting experience, something I would have to jot down later in my anthropology notebook. I sort of leaned into him, my stamina mysteriously sapped from the drink. His arm came around me, and he pressed a kiss to my temple.
Marla was busy passing out her Redheaded Sluts. I was trying not to meet her eyes. Then she walked over, holding the glass I had left on the bar. “Is this yours? Did you not like it?” She looked so incredibly sweet, all blonde and blue eyed and endearingly proud of her drink. I imagined her practicing her Redheaded Sluts for days before the party, asking her husband and neighbors and kids if it tasted okay. Maybe she’d substituted gasoline for Belvedere Vodka because she ran out at the last minute and all she could think to do was siphon the Super Premium from the BMW in the garage.
I looked at Superprime and his boss, all his guy friends, and the women who were drinking elegant flutes of champagne. He and the guys looked so much like a team. There was just something about them that intrigued me, cohesion and respect and something male. But in that moment he was separate from them. He was looking at me and something delicate flickered in his eyes. Images kaleidoscoped through my mind: feeding me cupcakes in bed, the sweetness in his eyes, the softness of the skin of his chest, the way he traces his fingertips over my back when I am going to sleep, the way he takes care of me when I have a headache. The guys – his team – and his boss – were watching.
I smiled as I took the glass of the sticky Hawaiian Punch and jet fuel and in one long gulp, I drank it all down.