The first night. Midrange hotel bar. Green felt cloths. Warming trays of meatballs and chicken wings and mini eggrolls shining moistly in their own grease, nothing I can, at this moment, eat.
He comes and hugs me. Fucked-Up Guy. First hand, two years ago, end of the event and we flirted over bad burgers and catered potato salad and he drank open bar while I nibbled orange slices and maraschino cherries out of a fruited Shirley Temple. He wanted a shower before the long drive home, I offered my room (I once bought ten pairs of underwear shopping with his girlfriend, hoping that new lacy things would make Husband love me again), he considers for a moment and shakes his head, “If it’s the first time, it shouldn’t be rushed,” he says and when the beer begins to wear off he’s on the road, headed for good fathership.
Second deal, we’ve Myspaced a bit but nothing committed, neither taking the step of recognizing or asking what’s going on. In the bar, Fucked-Up Guy launches immediately into the story of his relationship, Chapter Now. They are living separately, she could no longer stand how he minimized his email every time she walked into the room. He gave up all his passwords, he has to be good, she might be watching. He and I have never had problems finding sex on the road, he’s having a hard time knowing whether to enjoy being separated or practice being better at being together. I can’t tell, so I ask, after the second time he mentions his room number, “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be respecting your limits or pushing you over the edge.”
“I don’t know, either.” He’s rueful, he has no cards in the hole. I’m strung up like a high E wire, It’s been three weeks of housing close enough to not bother to pack my toys, shared time, shared car, so much work I can’t even step into a bathroom with a likely prospect. The meet and mingle drifts to a close, I’ve located my room, Fucked-Up Guy calls over his shoulder on his way upstairs, “I’m in Five-Oh-Three!” Raise. I call his bluff, and spend the evening giving myself a facial. The kind that comes from Wal-mart.
Play with your equals. Don’t use superior ability to overwhelm the young, the inexperienced, the awestruck. If they’ve never played this game before, take the time to find out what they think the rules are, what they hope for, what they fear.
Don’t take advantage of people when they’re down…
The next day, shoulder to shoulder, I end up kneeling in front of him several times, innocent context made naughty by my look. I ask, “Let me know if you want to be shoved.” “Last night I wouldn’t have had any resistance,” he says, looking down at my upturned face. “I know.” It’s not fun to play if you know you’ll win. Uncertainty is the spice, the goad, the challenge. Why play with someone who has to be coddled along? Raise, raise, raise. Strike your strongest blow and lose your balance when they pull... “I’m your friend, first,” I say. “If it happens, great. If it’s weird for you, tell me, I won’t be hurt.” Fucked-Up Guy knows I’m cool with whatever happens, he knows I know it’s not me. “That’s why it has to be now, in daylight, this is when I can make a real decision,” he says. We are playing with all our cards on the table. The question is not who is bluffing, but can we assemble a decent hand from what we’ve got.
That night, he’s drunk and dressed as a queen. Don’t ask. Again, I sleep alone, restless, strung out. I’m also not so much flirting as enjoying a barely concealed antagonism with another fellow on this project, BitterMan. I like assholes, every now and then I get a thing for someone who treats me with slight contempt. It’s a challenge.
The next day, Fucked-Up Guy smiles, rearranges his schedule to leave early, whispers, “thanks” in my ear. “I don’t take advantage of drunks,” I tell him and he laughs. We take a group photo. I lean against him, his body is so strong and solid, his hand around my back, he jokingly reaches for my breast and stops, my hand on his ass. There’s something so reassuringly big about him, I feel like I am leaning on a wall of comfort. I want this. Just not today.
At the elevator after a long and flirty dinner, I know BitterMan is hunting PowerGirl and we all know it’s not going to happen, but I’m past the point of reasonable caution and I stop for a moment. “Let me know if you’re up for it.” BitterMan is blindsided, it takes him a minute to process. “What?” “I lobbed a pass. You missed it.” He’s so not into me. I’m busted, flushed. I pace my room, debate calling for a second try, and foolishly do it, leading to only more embarrassment. Fortunately, it’s Harry Potter night. So I drive into the fog and search the city for a book I’m pretty sure I can’t get either, the white air around me veiling my humiliation.