Sex Crimes (Jenefer Shute)

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  Finding my way to the bedroom mirror, I confirmed, by staring hard at my blotchy drained face, that I was indeed drunk. My skin, which was pale at the best of times, had a greenish cast: I tried to address the problem with Angelica's lipstick, but a slash of vermilion only made it worse. I tugged down my short black skirt, which was riding electrically up my thighs, and decided that, for me, the party was over. I'd have one more drink, kiss Angelica goodnight, and hop a cab home.

After a few minutes, I managed to catch Angelica's eye across the room and, inclining my head to the door, pantomimed the idea of leaving; she grimaced and, making a don't-move-yet gesture, began to squirm through the crowd, holding a cigarette in one hand and a champagne flute high in the other. Just then, someone yelled "Kristy!" and I saw she meant me. "Chris?" I asked modestly, as if willing to stand corrected on the question of my own name. Who she might be, I hadn't a clue. Platinum hairdo, Marilyn lips, great pointy-bra'd breasts...

"Brenda!" I cried, remembering them. She'd been black-dyed and ghoulish before, waiting tables at a trendy little place where I sometimes stopped for a drink, but now, she told me, she had a stand-up routine. "It's about growing up Mormon," she said, "you'll have to come see."

By the time I'd assured her that I would, I would, and she'd assured me that, by the way, I looked great, and she'd headed toward the kitchen to find a lime for her Perrier--no more booze for her, those days were long gone--and I'd moved on to the bar again, Angelica was nowhere in sight. So I poured myself one last Stoli, why not, and shouldered my way, spilling some, through the crowd, scouting for a familiar laugh or flash of bare flesh. I cruised the long table littered with baguette crumbs and olive pits, before remembering that Angelica never ate when she drank. I waited for a while by the bathroom door, but no-one came out, though I could hear at least three different kinds of giggle inside. Taking a final wincing sip from my drink, I poured the rest into a potted plant, from which, as a decorative touch, I then dangled the cup. When it slid off and hit the floor, I gave up on that project and sank into a small green love seat, striving to recall where I had left my coat.

"There you are," someone said, startling me, materializing from the right and dropping, splay-legged, onto the other end of the couch. "I've been looking for you."

"I've been here all along," I replied, trying to figure out who the hell he was. He looked vaguely familiar, but then so did most of Angelica's friends, who tended either to work at fashionable restaurants or to display themselves there. He was young, dark, very drunk, with short rough hair, blue-green-grey eyes--couldn't tell in that light--and a full, sullen mouth. His jeans were ripped across the knees, an affectation that annoyed me, especially in winter. He was compact and muscular, with a full-body slouch; a hands-in-pockets kind of guy, not my type at all.

"Scott," he said, realizing that I couldn't place him. "We met."

"Ah yes," I said, still blank. And then, reluctantly: "Chris."

"I know," he said, draining a plastic cup of what looked like Jack Daniel's, then holding the rim of the empty cup between his lips while he folded his arms across his chest. He flapped the cup up and down a few times, in lieu of conversation. It slipped out and fell on his lap.

"Nice," I said.

Still without a word, he leaned back, yawned and stretched, then began, ostentatiously, to knead the muscles behind his neck, rolling his head from side to side like an actor doing warm-up exercises.

"Stiff neck?" I asked, amused, recognizing my cue.

He nodded, still rolling, making a sharp little "Ahhh!" when he rolled too far.

"Rough night?"

"No," he said. "It's from hauling my equipment around, I think."

OK, I thought, I'll play.

"You in a band?" I asked.

"Nah," he said. "Used to be in one but now I'm trying to make it as a photographer. For Things, mostly." It figured: Angelica did most of the design work for Things, which had begun life as a radical weekly and ended up as a hip but postliterate guide to urban consumption.

"Hmmn," I said again, letting my gaze roam the room while in my mind I prepared my exit line.

"I read about you," he said. "In the Globe. I recognize you from the picture."

"God," I said, "I hope not." The most recent piece had been about the Haitian project, and the photographer had caught me at my most stern and self-righteous, wagging a pen.

"Your hair's a bit longer now," he said, then "Ouch." He was still trying to de-kink his neck, cocking it parrot-style to one side.

"You should try doing this," I suggested, bowing my head while pulling gently, overhand, on the base of my skull.

"It gets me right there," he said, then reached over and demonstrated with a heavy warm hand on the back of my neck. An army of tiny feet marched instantly down my spine, with small contingents peeling off along my arms and the backs of my thighs. My skin and nipples contracted, as if chilled.

I raised my head and looked him in the eye. He looked unblinkingly back at me. Some kind of nasty pang scrabbled around inside me. I looked away.

"I suppose you want me to offer you a back rub," I said, to recoup, "but really, that's such a lame approach."

He laughed, surprised. "No," he said, "not a back rub. That's not quite what I had in mind." He managed to look, at that moment, both cocky and callow, not without appeal.

"Whatever," I replied, shrugging, feeling in some obscure way that I had lost that round. "Because I wasn't planning to volunteer anyway."

"No," he said, and paused. "But I might have."

I paused too. The pang resumed its scurrying inside me, like an agitated small animal in a cage.

"Luckily," I said, picking my empty cup from the floor and peering into it, "I'm in no urgent need of a back rub tonight."

"Oh," he said, "I think you are." We looked into each other's eyes again, much longer than etiquette allowed, and again I was the first to break the gaze.

He was right. It had been quite a while--six months at least. Six months since Andreas, who had left me, like a burn victim, first flayed then scarred.

I thought it over for about thirty seconds. What did I have to lose? This one--what was his name, Scott--was too young to take seriously, twenty-five or -six, I guessed, while I was pushing thirty-eight; drunk, like me; willing and, I hoped, able. It might be an entertaining way to start the new year.

"That was fun," I said, some hours later, pushing my damp hair from my face, "but now I think it might be time for you to leave."

"Now?" he asked, propping himself, rumpled and blurry, on one elbow to read the clock. "Now? At eight A.M.? On New Year's Day?"

"Sorry," I said, meaning it. "I told you I couldn't sleep with a stranger next to me. And now I need some sleep."

"Yeah," he muttered, dropping onto both elbows, face-down, and rubbing his raspy hair as if to get the circulation going in his brain, "you warned me, but I guess I didn't pay too much attention at the time."

I wriggled closer to kiss his left nipple, the only spot I could reach. He inhaled sharply and reached for me.

"Not again," I said, rolling from his grasp. "I can't. You've done me in."

"OK," he said, and then, after a pause, nonchalant: "Do I get to come back?"

"Don't know," I said. "Probably not."

He nodded, made a wry mouth.

"No reflection on you," I added. "I had a great time."

I'd known we'd be good together. I'd felt it the moment he touched me on Angelica's sage-green sofa.

When we'd stumbled back from the party, we hadn't, at first, even made it up the stairs. On the third-floor landing, he'd pressed me against the wall and kissed me until--perhaps I was still drunk--I thought I might faint; I'd unzipped his jeans; he'd pushed up my skirt; and there, with the stucco cold and rough against my backside, we'd fucked. Then I'd led him upstairs and the night began.

Not my usual style, but, as you will recall, it was New Year's Eve, I was drunk, thirty-eight, and alone.
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Excerpted from Sex Crimes by Jenefer Shute. Copyright © 1996 by Jenefer Shute. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.