The smell of dried piss and mildew gave way to the sweet, pungent tang of sweat. She was close, almost at the point of no return. A quick look around the cramped tiled room. Even the sallow, brown grime crusted on the lip of the urinal and soggy wads of tissue by her knees weren’t enough to shake two hours of martinis and tequila shots at Sonsie. She didn’t look up as she customarily did with Rob, but began, absent of guilt or further hesitation.
Sonsie was more to Jennifer’s suiting. Open and inviting. Men wore pressed oxfords and women didn’t streak their hair an ungodly red that looked like spray paint. That’s where Sheila led the party after Cosmopolitans atop the Prudential and caviar and salad nicoise washed down with champagne at the Four Seasons. Through it all Jennifer had to wear the white chiffon veil that flopped into her face with each roast incited guffaw.
At Sonsie, Sheila unveiled the scavenger hunt: a kiss from a millionaire, one from a CEO, another woman, a college hunk, a professional athlete and so on. The list was easy to achieve, the participants eager. Each conquest produced a cackling uproar and flashes from cell phone cameras, which in the back of Jennifer’s alcohol addled mind, made her a bit nervous. What if Rob saw? He wouldn’t care, she thought, downing another shot, it’s just silly fun. He was the perfect man: successful, confident, smart, accomplished and athletic; and she, his Ivy League bookend, able to hold her own, and when the time came, she would trade her corner office for a quaint colonial in Lexington or Weston and raise the next generation of world beaters. It was a tidy, well-laid existence that often bothered Jennifer.
The top of the stud was warm, not the cold steel Jennifer had expected. Her tongue flicked around to the bottom of the post where she anticipated a sharp point, but there too, was a smooth metal ball. The revelation made her more comfortable in her task. Strong fingers pressed into her scalp and Henri emitted a low rumbling groan.
Henri wasn’t his real name. She couldn’t remember what he had told her when she asked him for a pen.
“Do you have any piercings below your neck?” was what she wrote on the napkin. Henri was her fourth candidate. They had come to the dark cavernous watering hole, illuminated only by a red neon glow, when the last item on the list proved impossible to satisfy at Sonsie.
“Bukowski’s!” Shelia said with eyes popped wide as if she had just told a dirty joke.
“Bukowski’s?” Jennifer repeated, stumbling with the pronunciation.
“You know, the dive named after the drunk author. It’s where all the punks and bike messengers go.”
“Isn’t he a misogynist pig?” a party member with botoxed lips and sculpted biceps asked.
“Was,” another rebutted, “Bukowski is dead. His writing is total crap and no one would give a dang about him if they didn’t make that movie about him with Mickey Rourke.”
“I love Mickey Rourke,” Sheila gushed.
“Me too,” Jennifer echoed.
“‘Nine 1/2 Weeks’ was so hot.”
“Who knew a refrigerator full of leftovers could get you so wet?” Jennifer said with a wide-eyed shrug. The martini circle bought the mock innocence for a moment before erupting into laughter.
Henri slid the napkin back to Jennifer. She watched it move across the pitted dark surface transfixed by the transmogrified Cerberus and Chinese serpent on his forearms. To fit in, the posse had fanned out through the narrow bar, which Jennifer felt was like the inside of a school bus revamped for a rock band. The veil too was gone, tucked into Sheila’s Gucci as they crossed Boylston Street.
The reply on the napkin said: “Buy me a beer and I’ll show you.”
Behind her back, Jennifer flashed Sheila a thumbs up. “What are you drinking?” she shouted to hear herself above the cacophonous din of animated conversation and a punk anthem so distorted, she doubted even the artist would recognize their work.
“A pint of,” he paused, “of what ever you’re having.”
“Yeah, make it a UFO.”
“Why do they call it that? What does beer have to do with a flying saucer?”
“The nectar of aliens? An other worldly experience?”
“Right,” Jennifer snapped her fingers, “some harebrained marketing scheme meant to be cute and hip.”
The beers came and they clinked glasses like old friends.
Jennifer tried to relax and finish. She was only supposed to take a picture and get a peck, and possibly a signature on her belly, as some of the others had done when a felt-tip pen made itself available, but booze, pheromones and a rash of abandonment got the better of her. She was now acutely aware of the Prince Albert being rammed down her throat and the stench of the bathroom, yet committed to finishing. She had only gone this far with three others besides Rob and she always finished. She prided herself on it, relishing the power of control, the ability to elongate the moment, if only for her amusement, and the eternal thankfulness that poured forth in the aftermath. But the titillation of a strange man in a strange place proved disappointing, and worse, banal. She just wanted it over and to return to her friends, and her world, and Rob, and their bright future together. She tried to think of Mickey Rourke and “Nine 1/2 Weeks,” but instead wondered how a man urinated with a spike through his penis. Then, as the stud began to rake the roof of her mouth with greater rapidity, she found herself trying to recall what Henri’s given name was. Her mind worked furiously. Tears welled up in the corner of her eyes. She received the daub of salty secretion on the back of her tongue that signaled the beginning of the end. Then it came to her. She gagged. His name was Phillip, the same as Rob’s best man.