“Wait! I’m not ready…”
“You haven’t had sex since the Bush administration. You’re ready.” She shoved a glass of champagne at Jenna.
“Dialo Banin! This is Jenna Jones. Jenna, this good man has been dying to meet you. Talk amongst yourselves, while I go bounce a few VH1 reality show whores.” With that rushed introduction, Elodie dashed off into the crowd. Dialo stood in front of Jenna, affixing her with a brilliant white smile. He was wearing an achingly expensive suit, a tangerine day scarf arranged just so, and aviators. Indoors. At night.
“So…what were your other two wishes?”
“Where’s your sense of humor, hon?” he asked, smiling. “It was an icebreaker.”
“Oh! Well, ice broken.” Coming from this man, with his florid accent, in that getup, the “wishes” line sounded like a come-on that Truman Capote would’ve delivered at a dude disco in Vegas.
“Would you like to sit down?”
“I’d love to,” she said, making a mental note to destroy Elodie for this. Dialo touched her elbow and led her over to an itty-bitty reserved cocktail table flanked by two high-backed, wrought iron chairs. He sat back in his chair, stretching out his legs. There was now no room for her under the table, so she wrapped her ankles around her chair legs, like a schoolgirl. Nervous, she folded her hands in her lap, and then accidentally lasered-in on Dialo’s burgundy velvet YSL slippers. Jenna understood exactly who Dialo was. He was one of those fake-flashy Euro neo-dandies who hung “WC” signs on the bathroom doors in their Murray Hill rentals.
“I have to admit, I’m not a book enthusiast. But I’m glad I came,” he said, stroking his chin. “You’re lucky to be here.”
“I know, it’s a great party.”
“No, I mean you’re lucky to be here. With me. I don’t usually date black women. But when I Googled you on my phone, I had to make an exception.”
“Huh. But you’re black. Why don’t you…” She stopped talking, because she noticed that Dialo wasn’t even looking at her. He peered over her shoulder. She darted her eyes in that direction, and saw a group of twenty-year-olds in tiny dresses – the knockoff version of hers.
An hour before, Jenna had felt a degree of excitement while getting dressed for her first night out since returning to New York. She’d almost felt like a dewy-eyed recent college grad, heading out for a naughty night of club-hopping and hopefully getting pawed by a baby Leo DiCaprio in VIP. But her options were no longer limitless. She was decades older, and being ignored by a fancypants douche she wasn’t even attracted to.
“I’m black,” he continued, “but not American black like you. I’m from Ghana via London. And relax, I just find white women to be more easygoing.”
“Ohhh, you’re one of those.” Jenna swirled her straw in her drink, trying to figure out how to lose this bozo. “But I’m clearly black, so why are you here?”
“I do enjoy some biracial women, which is what I figured you were from your pictures. So you get a pass, love.” He cackled.
“Nope, not biracial. I’m one hundred percent all-American black. So black that my middle name is Keisha.”
Dialo grimaced. “Anyway, when I found out you used to be a famous fashion editor, I was impressed. I have a superb publicist, should you need one. He’s so stylish. He hooked me up with this Matthew Williamson scarf.”
“That’s a woman’s piece, you know.”
“But it works with a strong seamed jacket.”
“Indeed.” Jenna vowed to kill Elodie. “So, should a radiologist have a publicist? Isn’t that breaking some sort of Hippocratic oath?”
“I mostly have A-list clients, so…” he trailed off. “I must say, you look just like a girl I went to Yale with. But surely you’re a good ten years younger than me, little lady.”
Jenna grinned, deciding to mess with him a little. “Doubt it. I’m forty-five.” She added on five years, just to watch his head explode. “How old are you?”
“Forty-five? I’m forty-three!”
“So, we’re contemporaries.”
“But I thought…wow, forty-five? I wouldn’t have guessed.” His entire body language changed. He shook his head, as if rejecting the entire notion. And then actually looked at his watch. She signaled a waitress. “Sweetie, could we get some napkins?”
“Why do you need napkins?” Then Dialo lowered his voice and asked Jenna, “Am I making you wet?”
Jenna finished the rest of her champagne and then stood up, slowly rearranging her dress. As she did, she allowed her bag to tip the remaining splash of his cocktail onto one of his velvet slippers. As Dialo squealed like Babe, she hurried away, grabbing two glasses of champagne from a cater waiter’s tray. He was vile. But the worst part? He wasn’t at all unique. He was the classic New York mover-and-shaker. A doctor with a publicist. Straight, but so fey you could smell the Kiehl’s eye cream.
Jenna stormed through the party, looking everywhere for Elodie. Since she was nowhere to be found, she planted herself next to a bar and downed both glasses. Just then a group of guys swept by her, all Suits. She’d known them peripherally for years – and tonight, they were surrounded by six hotties in their twenties (in outfits Jenna would later describe as being a cross between “Atlanta Prom” and “Who Gives a Fuck”). The guys gave Jenna air-kisses, and the May-December group went on their way.
“What is this?” she murmured out loud to no one, shaking her head in frustration. The room swayed a little bit. Steadying herself by grabbing the edge of the bar, she asked the willowy bartender, “If you have a Brazilian and no one sees it, does it exist? You know, like the tree in the forest thing?”
The girl giggled. “What’s wrong, doll?”
“Can I get another glass of Prosecco?” The chick slid her one, Jenna’s fourth, and she threw it back. She was well on the road to sloshed. “What’s up with the twenty-year-old girls? These men are my age. The guys get older, the girls get younger, and where does that leave me? I was with one man my whole life. I’m forty and basically dating for the first time. I have no idea how to naviglate… nafligate…navigate this world.”
Finishing her drink, she saw one of her Suit friends catch her eye and then point at his model’s ass behind her back. He leered. Jenna shot him her middle finger. “Honey,” said the waitress, “why don’t you go sit down for a little bit?”
“Speshtacular idea.” Jenna spotted an empty chaise in a dark corner, half-hidden by one of the swaying curtains. She managed to weave her way through the crowd and plunk herself down on the little couch. She must’ve dozed off, because the next thing she knew, someone tapped her shoulder.
Jenna sat up straight, jerking her head up so fast that her hair got caught in her lip gloss. A man sat next to her. A kid, really — he looked barely out of his teens, wearing Jordans, distressed jeans and a black tee that shouted “Blame Society” in red typeface. A busy swirl of tattoos erupted from his shirtsleeve and covered his arm, stopping at his wrist. His look was effortlessly crisp, in a Red Hook hipster-meets-hip hop way. Lanky and tall with I-play-basketball-allweekend biceps, he looked like a person who was well aware that he was, by far, the coolest sophomore at NYU.
He eyed her with furrowed concentration. “You okay?” he repeated.
“Yes! I’m fine. I’m great great great.”
“Yeah, you sound it.” He smiled. “How many drinks?”
“Four. No, five. Are you as drunk as me?”
He nodded, lifting up his glass. “And high. On too many things.”
“But you’re like, eighteen. Are you even legal? What are you doing here?”
“I’m twenty-two! I have a seriously elite college degree from USC Film School.”
“USC Film? Color me impressed! If I wasn’t in fashion, I’d be in film. In high school, I thought about being a film historian, but my mother was like, what the hell is a film historian, so I never…” Aware that she was rambling, she stopped herself. “She has a very strong personality. Anyway, that’s fantastic.”
“Not even. None of us can get jobs. The acceptance rate at USC Film is lower than Harvard Law. We worked our asses off for no reason. I’m here to pick up my boy, one of the waiters. Yo, this guy’s one of the illest cinematographers of my generation, and he’s serving moscato to a Basketball Wife.”
“Yikes, Elodie’s gonna be furious. She didn’t want any reality people in here.”
“They’re here. I was just over in the fake butt section.” He shuddered. “I haaate plastic surgery. Hard, balloon breasts. And what’s that thing women do when they suck the fat out of their thighs?”
“Terrible. I like for women to have…” He paused, making grabby gestures in the air. “Smush.”
Jenna got comfy, curling up against the back of the couch. “I’ve always wanted smush, but I’m too skinny. I’ve had curve-envy my whole life.”
“You have smush somewhere. Besides, you’re not skinny, you’re…svelte. Sinuous.”
“You like S words.”
“Yeah, I had a lisp in kindergarten, so I like to stunt with my superior “S’ game.”
“I’m cutting myself off.” He put his glass down on the cocktail table, shaking his head. “The lisp? Information not to disclose upon meeting a staggeringly pretty girl.”
“You think I’m staggeringly pretty?”
He nodded. “Absolutely. You’re, like, next-level fancy. Incapable of having a tacky moment. I was just at a party with girls filming twerk videos on Vine, so I can say this with authority.”
“Twerk videos on Vine?” Jenna paused, and then frowned. “Actually, I don’t even know what or where Vine is.”
“You’ve never heard of Vine?”
She shrugged apologetically. “I’ve been away.”
“See? I feel like you’re a different breed of woman. Like you’re from a planet of angelic goddesses who are, like, made of the sugary oozy stuff inside Cadbury eggs and speak in Ezra Pound stanzas. And own tiny condos inside of rainbows.”
Jenna’s mouth opened, and then she howled with unselfconscious laughter. “I’m what? You’re so weird!”
“I know,” he said, looking bashful. “I read too much science fiction.”
“So do I. And weird is good. I love it.”
“As long as you love it,” he said. And then he grinned at her. Jenna’s heart almost stopped. His smile tore through her like lightening. She felt it in her thighs. Jesus, that mouth. Those puffy, bitable lips…
“You know what else you look like?”
“Tell me,” she said.
He folded his arms across his chest and studied her, long and indulgently. Jenna’s stomach flip-flopped – she was mesmerized. His eyes were arresting, almond-shaped and beyond black, like ink dipped in water. God, he was beautiful. Finally, his mouth curled into a secret smile, and Jenna smiled back, and then they were two strangers smiling giddily at each other, for no reason.
“You look like you need to be kissed. Badly.”
“How could you tell?”
“’Cause you’re staring at my mouth with laser-like focus.”
“Well, it’s true. Your mouth is really…good.” Was it the alcohol, or was he the most fuckable person she’d ever seen? Jenna bit her bottom lip, her mind racing. She could feel her cheeks getting hot. She wanted to rip this kid’s clothes off. Was she drunk enough to do this?
“Do you want to kiss me?” she asked.
“Is that rhetorical?”
She shook her head, scooting a bit closer to him.
“If you knew what I wanted to do,” he said, “you’d call security.”
“Kiss me, then. We’re both wasted. That means we won’t muh-member…I mean, remember any of this tomorrow.”
Oh, I’ll muh-member.”
They both peered over the back of the couch to see how conspicuous they were. They were facing a corner, and the almost-sheer panel billowing from the ceiling was half-shielding them. Everyone was busy doing whatever people do at parties for dog books. Plus, it was really dark.
“No one’s looking,” she said. “So give me your best kiss. Your A-plus kiss.”
“I’ll give you the B-plus one. ‘Cause I’m a gentleman.”
“Lana Turner said a gentleman is a patient wolf,” she whispered, tipping her face up to his.
“Lana Turner was correct.” He leaned in, his lips almost touching hers.
He brushed his lips across hers, barely grazing her. A thousand tingles shot through her body. He kissed her again, his lips soft, but firm. Then things got serious. He slid his hand into her hair, angled his mouth over hers and kissed her deeply, languidly. A moan escaped her lips – she was totally caught off guard by how electric it felt. He pinned her against the chaise, tonguing her mouth with such sensuous rawness, it was like he was inside of her – and it was so achingly good that she forgot where she was, hiking her leg up around his waist, the hem of her dress sliding all the way to her hips. Holding her still by her hair, he kept at it, unraveling her, all giving, no taking – so that all she could do was grip his sides and drown – until an unimpressed waiter bumped into Jenna while collecting their drinks. Jolted, they drew apart and just looked at each other. Stunned.
“Your turn,” he said, his fist still tangled in her hair. “I want your B-plus.”
“I’ll give you my B,” she murmured. “I don’t want to destroy you.”
Jenna pushed him back and climbed onto his lap, straddling him. Holding the top of the couch for balance, she kissed him with total voraciousness, letting loose all the lust and sexual frustration she’d had for years. He matched her intensity, bruising her lips with his and gripping her where her ass met her thighs.
“Smush,” he growled into her mouth. “Told you.”
“I…I can’t believe I’m making out in the middle of a party,” said Jenna, breaking their kiss. “I’m too old for this, we have to stop!”
“Yeah, definitely,” he said, planting hot, open-mouthed kisses down her neck.
“I swear to God,” she panted, “I think I love you.”
“I know I love you,” he murmured against her throat. Then, he looked up at her. “Wait, what’s your name?”
They both looked up in surprise at Elodie and her intern, Misty, who was struggling not to laugh. They tore away from each other, landing on opposites sides of the couch.