Every woman has one. That name you Google at two o’clock in the morning. That intoxicating connection that somehow never solidified into anything real; that particular memory you still visit every now and then, for that guaranteed hit of pure, sugar-packed dopamine. It’s that story that starts with “There was this one time” and ends, reluctantly, with “but I guess . . .”
Tonight, I’m going to see Eamon Roy again, for the first time in more than seven years. My one and only one-night stand; the lone exception in thirteen years of not-on-the-first-date sex. It’s not that I put a lot of stock in rules when it comes to dating; I just don’t find it appealing to sleep with a guy until I know I like the idea of waking up next to him. I liked waking up next to Eamon. I liked it a lot. And every other guy I’ve been with has felt the same way about me—including, notably, the man I’m planning to marry. But Eamon was different. Eamon was a first and last in several categories.
“Sarina! Penis straws or penis shot glasses?”
Oh, my good holy lord. They’re back to the party favors again.
My roommate, Danny, perches his pointy elbows on the edge of the restaurant table, swinging one long, loafer-clad foot expectantly. He’s serving as Best Gay, a Technicolor hybrid of best man/maid of honor/wedding planner/emcee, for his business partner, Jay, and Jay’s fiancé, Dominic, who are getting married this fall up in Palm Springs. Tonight, his self-appointed mission has been to convince the reluctant couple to throw a raunchy double-bachelor party here in Austin a few weeks before the wedding.
I glance at Jay for guidance, but all I receive is a bug-eyed headshake. Clearly Jay wants neither straws nor shot glasses. Too bad for Jay.
“How about penis pops?” I suggest, relishing Jay’s gape of horror.
“Genius!” crows Danny, clapping his hands so loudly that more than a few heads swivel toward us.
“They had them at this bachelorette party I went to a few months ago,” I continue, straining to be heard above the din of the crowd filling the back courtyard of the restaurant. “Cherry-flavored. Lots of anatomical detail. I’m talking veins and everything.”
Jay grabs one of the leather-backed drink menus stacked on the table and swats my shoulder with it. “Danny, we are not having penis pops, for the love of god.”
Danny raises a peremptory hand. “Yes we are. You ceded control when you put me in charge of this whole thing.”
“Well, then we have to have it somewhere other than Albion,” says Jay. “I’m not giving our staff a photo op of me with a red candy penis in my mouth.”
“Nope, it’s happening here. Though it’s cute you think they take you seriously as it is.”
Jay, who treasures his status as the enforcer of their managerial duo, starts to protest, but Danny quells him and the conversation moves on to other details of the party. My work here is done—the back office at the restaurant will be festooned with high-fructose genitals for weeks.
While they talk, I study the teeming courtyard, savoring the perks of ownership: free drinks and food, a permanent spot on the cushy banquette in the corner, and guaranteed proximity to one of the heat lamps that help take the edge off the cool March night. Austin is in the midst of the South By Southwest music festival, and every place that can scratch out enough floor space for a drum kit and a couple of guitars has morphed overnight into a music venue. We’re packed to the rafters with the young and the painfully hip: it’s a national convention of stovepipe jeans. The person I’m looking for is nowhere in sight, though. And somehow, I don’t think he’s going to be rolling up in stovepipes.
After a moment, the small figure-eight shape of my friend Nicole pinches into view, tacking her way between hipsters, a glass of Chardonnay clutched in each hand like a priceless relic. Nic is my fellow POW, who staggered with me through the five sleepless years of drafting, models, and presentations that was RISD architecture school. She’s also the link that brought me into this circle: when I moved to Austin almost eight years ago she introduced me to Danny, her best friend from high school, and we immediately got on like a house on fire. “Literally, flaming,” Danny likes to say when we explain this to people, with accompanying fluttering movements of his hands.
“I brought you another glass of vino,” she says, plunking down beside me as she hands it over. She takes a lingering sip of her own wine and sighs. “God, that’s good. It was almost worth missing out on alcohol for nine months, just to be able to have it again.”
“Should I remind you of that next time?” I say.
Her free hand drops to her soft little belly, which she still refers to by Danny’s title, the War Zone. “Don’t say ‘next time’ yet! Let me get through a year with the first one before you sign me up for another.”
“How is the little dribbler?” I ask. “Does he like those alphabet blocks I brought him from Argentina?”
“Yes! I meant to tell you. He’s obsessed with them.”
“Oh, good! Noah will be so pleased. You should have seen him in that store, examining all the toys to make sure they were all safe, and handmade . . . no plastic factory-made crap for Gabe.”
“Aw, you guys are sweet. Though I think Gabe’s taste is hardly as discriminating as Noah’s.”
“No one’s could be. He’s going to be the most high-maintenance parent on earth.”
The effect on her is like pumping the gas pedal on a Mustang. Nicole has been referring to Noah as my future husband since our third date.
“Whoa!” she yelps, and slaps my knee with her drink-free hand. “Did he finally get you to talk about timing for getting married?”
“No, you didn’t miss anything. We have to get through this separation before we can think about that for real.” Noah, who’s a partner at an international finance law firm, is two months into a yearlong rotation with the firm’s office in Buenos Aires. He’s working on some huge corporate merger about which my information is strictly need-to-know.
“I don’t see why,” she says. “It’s not like it’s a mystery that it’s going to happen. And actually, the masterstroke would be to get the whole shebang planned out while he’s not around to split hairs over color schemes and song lists. Voice of experience here,” she adds, waggling her hand in the air like an overeager student.
“He’s not that bad. The only thing he’s going to care about is the menu.”
She takes a measured sip of Chardonnay. “How many minutes did you say it took him to decide on one acceptable toy for my four-month-old son?”
Balls. “You do, as usual, have a point.”
“It’s a gift,” she says, breezily brushing her apricot-colored curls back over one shoulder. “So have you thought about it at all?”
“Thought about what?”
“Wedding details. Or even a general idea of when you might let the man make an honest woman out of you.”
I wipe the condensation from my glass in one neat stripe after another. “Nope. Seems premature until we’re actually engaged. But when that occurs, I promise you my inner wedding planner will come roaring to life.” I dart another look over her shoulder, hoping she won’t notice.
“I saw that,” she says. I should have known she would bust me; it’s what she does. “What time was he supposed to be here?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, whether he makes it or not, you look hot. Which is completely by accident.” She takes another deep sip of wine but slides me an elaborately nonchalant high five.
“Absolutely,” I say, slapping her outstretched palm. She knows I painstakingly assembled the perfect sexy-without-trying outfit before coming out tonight: my favorite leather cuff bracelet, black Frye boots, a fitted black V-neck T-shirt, and—with a tiny pinch of guilt—the jeans Noah swears make my ass look like the answer to world peace.
In fact, she expressly commanded me to wear the jeans. “Noah may have touching rights, but he doesn’t get to be the only guy who notices you have a sweet ass. Let the stupid bastard get a look at what he missed.” It doesn’t matter to her that Eamon’s rejection of me is seven years in the past; Nicole’s Don Corleone loyalty means no slight is ever forgiven.
She’s also the only friend who ever knew how much I’d liked him, and understood how crushed I was when I heard he was seeing somebody, a couple months after we slept together. My sense of connection to him had just been so immediate and effortless that I couldn’t comprehend his not feeling the same way. Even though it became unmistakably obvious—once I had run out of the excuses you make for guys when you’re in your early twenties—that he didn’t. The sting was so sharp that even after I finally shook it off, I still maintained a perfect record of avoiding him every time he came back to Austin to visit Danny and his other friends. Even after I was in my own relationship, in love and deeply happy. It just seemed easier that way.
Until this time, when I suddenly decided that enough was enough—I was thirty-one years old, our fling was ancient history, and instead of forgoing a Friday night at Albion during SXSW because Eamon was in town, I was just going to fucking grow a pair.
A male voice bellows out Danny’s name from across the courtyard. We all turn to look for the source, then Danny shouts a delighted “Ame!” and launches himself off the banquette. And there he is in the doorway to the courtyard, looking past Danny, finding my eyes and smiling right at me.