Peter Carter is pissing in the corner of the hallway. We’re on the second floor of a Boulder office building, plush, expensive, and the bathroom door is a foot to his right.
He says, “Sometimes a good piss is better than sex.”
I’d picked him up from Denver International six hours ago, three days before my wedding, one day before my bachelor party, at on a Wednesday, and he was already jazzed to the gills. When he first saw me –- through ridiculously big sunglasses and the bill of a Colorado Avalanche ball cap low over his eyes –- he skipped the offered hand and kissed me full on the lips.
He said, “Davis, my friend, seeing you up there, walking into a lifetime of pain, will bring me more pleasure than a glory-hole fuck in a Kansas gas station.”
I debated asking him if he’d ever been in a Kansas gas station, but decided against it. The key to Peter was just going for the ride and not hitting the brakes.
“You’re getting fucking married,” Peter said. “What the fuck?”
I shrugged and pulled onto I-70 going west. Traffic was already starting to thin out from rush hour, but with all the construction these days, I wasn’t holding my breath.
“Wow, things are changing around here,” he said, leaning forward, peering out at the downtown landscape.
“When was the last time you were back?”
“Few years. High school reunion.”
“Yeah? How did that go?”
Peter pulled out a pack of Camels and offered me one.
“I quit,” I said.
“Year and a half.”
“Fuck.” He lit up and I rolled down the back windows a bit. After a moment, he looked at me, started to ask a question, stopped, and looked away. You could always tell when Peter was thinking because he rubbed his nose as if he had a coke problem. Over the years, the tabloids have filled their copy with rampant speculation on the subject.
“I love her,” I said, unsure at that moment if I really did.
He put his feet on the dashboard and said, “Shit, Davis. I’ve been in love a dozen times, that doesn’t mean I married ‘em all.”
“You married three of them.”
He was silent. “Yeah,” he said, finally. “But you’re a better man than me.”
I met Peter at a party he threw eleven years ago. My -–
-- at the University of Colorado at Boulder, his junior. I was sitting in my dorm room having phone sex with Marnie, my girlfriend of three years who was still a senior in high school down in Denver, when my roommate, Adam Jones, burst in.
“Um, busy,” I said, my pants open, flag flying high.
“There are girls that can take care of that for you,” he said as he tossed me my coat.
That was the last time I spoke with Marnie, but it was getting old anyway. A month earlier, I refused to go down on her because I’m all about reciprocation. We’d spoken on the phone since, but hadn’t seen each other. I was glad to cut ties and roam the uncharted desert without care.
We arrived before the cops showed, but after the band started. I don’t know what I was expecting, my only real basis of comparison being high school parties, and, let’s face it, they aren’t even in the same lot, no matter what people tell you. It’s like comparing a bored-out V-8 ’65 Mustang with a Yugo. They can both get you somewhere, but until you can handle the curves, the acceleration, the speed, you’re just driving.
The best way I can describe this party was “three dimensional.” We grow up watching movies, yearning to toga with Otto, slam dance with Gutter, or streak with Frank-The-Tank, but we never truly experience the moments because they’re truncated versions of the truth. The best parts. The SportsCenter highlight reel.
I never caught the name of the band, but I’m sure it was Granola Death or Vegan Apathy or something apt for the town of Boulder. Regardless, they were loud. The moment we stepped in the door, sound encompassed all, leaving you to quickly obtain a master’s in lip reading or find someone selling a damn good fake.
Weaving between warm bodies, I followed Adam in search of the master of the townhouse. We found him, in the kitchen, doing body shots with mostly naked girls –- no, mostly naked women –- and this was when the third dimension truly kicked in because I could smell them, feel them, hear their unspoken whispers, bathe in their wanton desires.
And then, I realized I would have to talk to them.
Thank Granola Death for being so damn loud.
“Jonesy!” Peter said to Adam Jones. Or I thought that was what he said. What followed was jumbled with unintelligible lyrics from the band and Peter kissing Jonesy full on the lips.
He looked a lot like a young Matthew McConaughey, a mop of blond covering a high forehead, on the tall side, lanky. Already you could see his trademark side leer that would melt the hearts of millions of women across the globe.
We were all introduced -- no kiss from Peter, thank God, but also no kiss from the women, shitballs -- and were promptly handed shots already lined up on the counter.
After the third of these sweet shots, I was introduced to Hillary. Blond, pigtails, a small John Elway practice jersey cut to cover everything I wanted to see. She smelled of peppermint. She whispered of lust. We talked, but didn’t hear anything. I don’t think either of us cared.
After the seventh shot, I asked Jonesy what we were drinking. Something was wrong. Seven shots in twenty minutes and I didn’t feel a thing.
“Smooth, isn’t it?” he said, with a crooked, boyish smile. I knew I was in trouble. I could hear him clearly. They say alcohol dulls the senses, but there’s a moment between cold sobriety and the buzz where you achieve absolute clarity. Most people miss it, forget about it, or dismiss it as a figment of their imagination. It’s the moment when everything bad ceases to matter, where you stop thinking and everything makes sense. Where all the questions are answered and then forgotten. I call it the Wave. It sweeps over you and every part of your being relaxes. Tension transforms into relief. And you can smell the faintest of scents (Hillary’s designer conditioner), see the smallest of details (Peter’s slightly chipped front tooth), and pick out the sounds among the earsplitting cacophony.
I must have made a face because Jonesy said, “What? You don’t like vodka?”
Peter lined up the shots for a refill -- vodka with a splash of sweet and sour. Hillary giggled at my look of horror. I could hear it, and yet Vegan Apathy was still kicking, the cops yet to arrive. I blushed. The next round of shots wasn’t as smooth. I gagged.
Peter slapped me on the face and said, “Congratulations! You’ve just taken your first step into a larger world!”
Peter Carter. The closet geek.
Five hours later, I was horfing in the back bushes, my home and garden since I bailed when the cops showed up an hour earlier. I was sure my ears were bleeding from the sonic pounding and my stomach had detached itself in protest, relocating to my small intestine.
“There you are,” Peter said. “Hillary was worried about you.” He must have read my face. “Pigtails.”
Ah. The memories started to return.
Jonesy spoke the truth about the party, and in my book, a man’s word is his bond. I’d met him just two weeks prior, always unsure of new people, and now if he shouted, ‘Thar be barmaids there!’ I’d battle the elements and sail with him the wrong way around the Horn.
“Remind me to thank Jonesy for walking in on me and Marnie,” I said.
“Who’s Marnie?” As I started to reply, Peter said, “You know what? I don’t care.”
Fair enough. The less I explained, the more I concentrated on Peter’s voice and the more I concentrated on Peter’s voice, the less the world spun.
“Here.” Peter took out a Camel from a pack and put it in my mouth. I didn’t have the strength to protest. He lit it and I was soon coughing.
“You act as if you’ve never smoked,” he said.
“Ah, but you’re in Rome, my boy. You don’t want to upset the status quo.”
My lungs voiced their protest, quickly followed by my stomach. No wonder the empire fell.
As we talked, I learned that Peter was the oldest of four brothers, Catholic, not Mormon, he was quick to point out, and his parents were in the oil business.
“Which sucks because now that I’m out of the house, they start making a bundle and the three jackasses behind me ride the high life.”
But he loved them, you could tell. The way he told childhood stories -- inevitably someone broke a bone, got maimed, cut, bruised, or just plain embarrassed -- it was evident that he would die for them in a heartbeat. As it turned out, one of those jackasses, Ian, knew Jonesy in high school and Peter made it a point of ensuring all of his brother’s friends enjoyed their college life. It was oddly refreshing knowing that I could blame a faceless person for my current lot. In that moment, I understood the underlying force behind every protest in history. Blame the man, move on with life.
Peter was in his third year of a five-year plan in the film and theater program, and when I asked why he chose theater he said, “Because the chicks are hot and the guys are gay, so there’s no competition. Plus, I get to act, so I play to both of my strengths.”
I looked at him for clarification and he said, “Fucking women and being a fool.”
Hard footsteps neared. I let gravity take over, my head rolled to the side, and I was nose to nail with red open-toed fuck-me pumps. Hillary knelt, smiled, and handed me a glass of something crimson. “Hair of the dog,” she said. “Now, if you drink it, you’ll get a spanking, young man.”
“I think I’ll leave you two alone,” Peter said. But before he left, he glanced back. “Davis?”
I looked at him. After a moment, he said, “You enjoy yourself?”
I glanced at Hillary, her blond pigtails, my shirt, and realized I was wearing the small John Elway jersey. A flood of memories hit me.
“Some,” I said.
He nodded, unsmiling, sage-like. “See ya next Friday.”
And he did.
Peter started to fiddle with the radio. He settled on KBCO -- Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Fall Down” -- sat back, and smiled. “This. This is what I miss from this place. Not the people. Not the friends, no offense, but the fucking radio. Best damned radio in the country.”
I said, “Not the women?”
Peter’s blue eyes widened, as if he’d remembered a past love. In this case, many. After a moment, he said, “Jonesy still live in Boulder?”
I changed lanes and prayed to whatever God controlling the flow of traffic that our new route be an even one. Then I thought about Peter’s first time down the aisle -- this to Pamela’s best friend Naomi -- about the last time Jonesy and Peter had spoken, and knew in my heart it wouldn’t be.
I said, “When was the last time you saw him?”
Despite spending the past couple of days wondering the best way to raise the subject, I still felt like a dicknose for asking. I didn’t want to destroy Peter’s cheery mood, nor did I want to delve into any realms of guilt he might have hidden away. I simply felt it best to acknowledge the stress so as to lessen a potential breakdown of any future enjoyment.
I needn’t have worried. My fears were squelched as Peter slapped me upside the head with a classic demonstration of tactical obfuscation.
Peter said, “So, I fucked one of your students on the plane.”
I blinked once, twice, cocked my head to the side and said, “Excuse me?”
“You do know her, yes?”
“I do know a Vivian Miller, yes.”
“So, you’re telling me you know Vivian Miller.”
“I thought we were talking about Jonesy.”
“Jonesy knows Vivian Miller?”
“Not that I’m aware of, no.”
“He should. He’d like her.”
“Wait, you know Vivian Miller? My student?”
“No,” he said, thoughtfully. “I don’t.” He was looking out at the passing houses, the passing cars, all reflected in his ridiculously big sunglasses. “But I fucked her. First-class bathroom. Those suckers are cramped.”
I blinked, started to speak, stopped.
Peter said, “She says hi.”
“Vivian Miller. She says hello.”
“Nice girl. Flexible. I never thought anyone could wrap their legs --”
“Exactly at what point did my name come up in conversation?”
“Actually,” he said, “you were my in.”
“I was your in?”
“Yups. She didn’t fall for the usual ‘I’m A Movie Star So Fuck Me’ vibe I put out.” He paused and for a moment, rubbed his nose in memory. “But then I saw the school logo on her t-shirt and I asked if she knew you.”
“Wait, she only slept with you because --”
“She said it made her feel safe, but not too safe. Just enough to keep the mood, but take the edge off. Because I knew you, I was no longer your run-of-the-mill movie-star pervert.”
“But … you are.”
Peter sighed. “I am.”
After a moment, I said, “Did you ask how old she was?”
“Her age. Did you ask her how old she was?”
“Not by policy.”
“You have a policy?”
“It’s a loose policy.”
“She’s not seventeen.”
“She could have been. A lot of freshmen are underage.”
Peter removed the Colorado Avalanche ball cap and scratched his mop of blond hair. “They are?”
“I was seventeen half of my freshman year.”
“Odd … she didn’t taste seventeen.”
The key to Peter was just going for the ride and not hitting the brakes.
Twenty-eight minutes later, the three of us stood outside the bar on the ass end of Pearl Street in Boulder. Jonesy had buzzed his auburn hair since I last saw him, but he still looked the spitting image of David Bowie. Thin, pale, sour, although he was one of the most affable men you’d ever meet.
It was May, and spring is one of the best times to see the beauty of the area. But you have to be careful, or you’ll get whiplash. The moment you spot a stunning college girl, you’ll see another out of the corner of your eye and your natural instincts take over. I’d considered becoming a chiropractor in Boulder just for this reason.
Peter said, “They closed it?” It being the James, a frequent choice of ours because of the dollar beers they served after “How could they close it?” Peter was still wearing the ridiculously big sunglasses and the ball cap low over his eyes, despite the lack of sun.
“Fire-safety violations,” said Jonesy.
“Beer beats fire. I don’t understand the problem.”
“Garnished with a handful of health-code violations.”
Peter arched one brow. “That’s why the pretzels wiggled?” He turned around completely, as if surveying the land. “Well, shit. What else ya got?”
As we trekked, Peter ignored the unspoken tension between him and Jonesy and proceeded to give him the third degree about married life.
“How you handling it?”
“How many times have you cheated?”
“But you’ve thought about it, right?”
“Every man thinks of it.”
“How many times does your wife put out in an average week?”
“None of your business.”
“I bet you’re like rabbits. All over the house –- the kitchen, the dining room, the bathroom, the --”
“Fuck off, you don’t --” Peter swung around and put his hand on Jonesy’s chest, stopping him. “You have kids?”
“For five years now.”
“You have a kid that’s five-years-old?”
“You have a five-year-old son?”
“And a one-year-old daughter.”
“You’re not fucking off.”
“You’ve had a son for five years and you never told me?”
“It’s not as if I’ve kept him locked in a box.”
“That’d be cool if you did though.”
Jonesy blinked, and after a moment of staring into Peter’s eyes, started laughing. Hard. Bent over, hands-on-his-knees laughing until it became coughing. And Peter waited it out, smiling his crooked smile, but not in amusement, in reflection.
When Jonesy was finished, he straightened, looked at Peter, and said, “You’re forgiven.”
Peter looked away, shook his head. “I shouldn’t be,” he said. “I’m sorry I dropped out of your life.”
Jonesy shrugged his thin shoulders. “You had your reasons.”
“Yeah, but they weren’t very good.”
“They sucked, actually.”
And they laughed some more.
As they walked, Peter learned that Jonesy had sold his software business just before the economy crashed and had opened up a wine shop called The Old Cork, a few blocks away. Debbie, his wife he’d met his senior year in a C++ class, was consulting from home, and together they had weathered the storm and were stronger than ever.
“You weren’t in the market?” Peter asked.
“A bit. But mostly in gold.”
“Yeah. As the dollar drops, the value in gold rises. I bought in about seven years ago when the economy was at its peak.”
“Seven years?” Peter looked down at his hand and counted off the fingers. “That would be your senior year.”
“An actor and a mathematician?”
“Where’d you get the money?”
Jonesy shrugged. “Dead aunt. I never really knew her, but she seemed to think she knew me and I’ll make damn sure my kids know all about her.”
“Immortality through generosity,” Peter said. “Shit. I lost a house and my third wife when things turned. I’m gonna fire my guy and hire you.”
“You lost your wife?”
“Yeah. You seen her?”
“Read about her. Didn’t you cheat on her with Rebecca What’s-Her-Name from your last movie?”
“Yeah. But that was after I lost her. We’ve a big mountain lion problem in the hills of Cali and she likes to jog. I tried to find her, but after one, two hours, I gave her up for dead. Who knew she was out to lunch with her mom?”
“Hey, I’ll be the first to admit, I panicked. You ever see a mountain lion up close?”
“Not lately. You?”
“No. But the Discovery channel on a big-screen TV? Very persuasive.”
I slowed and let them walk ahead for a bit, then pulled out my cell and called Pamela to tell her we wouldn’t be home until whenever. She told me not to forget to pick up Donald and my mother in the morning.
I said, “I thought they were taking a cab.”
“You don’t make your parents take a cab. That’s rude.”
“They don’t care. How many times have they said they don’t want to be a burden?”
“Davis, it’s your parents. They deserve --”
“I’ll pick them up.”
“And be nice.”
“You’ve been cranky of late.”
“I wonder why.”
“Nothing. I’ll pick them up at ” I hung up before she had a chance to say anything else. Instantly I felt the tremor along that oft-traveled road between my stomach and my conscience, forcing me to think about the way I’ve acted to her of late, about my entire questioning of the coming events. But then my neck snapped to the side -– a brunette, short skirt. Was she wearing any panties? She definitely wasn’t wearing a bra -– and the tremor ceased.
I said, “Beer beats fire, braless beats guilt.”
I smiled and caught up with the guys.
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting at The Border Cantina with three of their fishbowl-sized-margaritas. Surrounding the chest-high table was a standing-room-only crowd, the happy hour a sight to behold. The killer prices attract the young, poor college girls, which attract the young, horny college guys, which attract the young, horny college girls. It’s been likened to a feeding frenzy. No blood, but if you were a hound, you’d go crazy with the amount of pheromones in the air.
“To the Captain of the Rooftop Fuckballers, Davis Robertson,” Peter said, puffing out his chest theatrically. “May his remaining days be painful and plentiful.”
We clinked glasses, began to drink. That was when the ebb of the bar switched to flow, and a jock the size of a Volkswagen bus accidentally fell back into Peter, causing his ridiculously big sunglasses to slip off his face.
It was as if I were watching a slow-motion shot in an action film –- the mask falling to the ground, revealing the villain to be a close, trusted friend of the hero. The sunglasses hit the table with a small splash from the condensation ring left by a marg fishbowl.
The hungry trawlers picked up the scent.
“You’re Peter Carter,” said a redhead, her eyes widening. A pair of blonds within earshot spun toward us, one of them spilling her beer as she knocked into the other. If they cared, I didn’t notice. Because what I saw sent chills to the bone. A wordless wave of awareness –- as if we were the epicenter of a hormonal quake -- swept across the crowd as predators turned our way.
When I glanced to Peter, I saw an all-together different reaction. Rather than feeling the chill of excitement, as if he were about to be engulfed in ecstasy at any moment, his head was down, his shoulders slack.
I leaned in to ask if he was all right, and froze as I saw Peter age before my eyes. His face collapsed. Wrinkles swelled, cheeks drooped, hairline receded. For a moment, he was twenty years older and thirty years weaker. But then he took a deep breath, pulled back his shoulders, looked at me with a shine in his eye, and it was gone. He had rebuilt himself. Better … Stronger … More advanced. He smiled a half smile, and with a wink, a shrug, he was sucked away from the table to be devoured alive by wild hyenas.
Jonesy said, “He never changes, does he?”
I thought about the momentary look of exhaustion, knew by his comment that Jonesy hadn’t seen the transformation, and was silent.
He said, “You ever wish it was you?”
I shrugged. “You all planned for tomorrow?”
Jonesy slapped me on the back. “You just try not to think of the wedding and leave the rest to me.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“Doesn’t it? When was the last time you slept?”
I saw Peter, smiling a wide, shit-eating smile in a throng of women, all trying to get close for an autograph, a picture, a nuzzle. I said, “I don’t know. February?”
“Hot blond beats cold feet.”
“Nothing. You see the game last night?”
“Some. The highlights. Abby made some nice saves.”
“We’re playing terrible. We have a team of all-stars and not a heart among them.”
“They’ll pull it together.”
“I don’t know. The Wings are looking damn good. Who knew Cujo would bounce back after the crappy beginning?”
“I still get freaked out when I don’t see the human weeble-wobble behind their bench.”
“No shit, right? At least then I knew who to hate.”
“The Avs will pull it together. Have faith.”
“Or what? You gonna renounce your fanship?” he said. “Is Pammy feeling it too?”
“Nah, she hates hockey.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant, is Pammy feeling --”
I said, “I know what you meant,” and was surprised at the ferocity of my tone, the way I spat the words. But rather than apologize, I stared into my fishbowl, finding solace as my vision rode the crests and falls of the vast, ever-changing alien landscape.
Jonesy put his hand on my shoulder, drawing me back to reality. I looked up, saw the sorrow behind the mask of joviality in his hazel eyes, and wanted to punch him for his gall to pity me in my hour of confusion; wanted to hug him for his sympathy and understanding in my hour of bewilderment.
He said, “Is she feeling the stress of the wedding?”
“Yeah. Sure. No. Shit.” I returned to my alien landscape, wondering if I could drown in the frozen goodness. I surmised that I could, but only if I tipped the fishbowl just right and squished my head to the side. But even then I’d only fit half of my face, my nose, and a portion of my mouth inside the fishbowl, and I’d most likely end up with frozen margarita down my shirt and one hell of a neck-ache.
A shout from the crowd. Jonesy and I turned to see Peter on the bar, his shirt off, the pair of blonds licking salt off of his chest before they each did a shot of tequila and took turns kissing him in lieu of sucking the lime.
I smiled, shook my head, heard Jonesy say, “You talk to Hillary lately?” and felt the time was right to flag down the waitress –- a blond spiky punk-meets-goth look, athletic –- and order another round of sweet, lovable, generous fishbowls.
Jonesy said, “You sure you need another one?”
“Oh, I’m gonna need a lot more with the doors you’re wanting to open.”
To his credit, Jonesy kept his composure, nodded. “Fair ‘nuff. But if you don’t answer the question, I’ll ensure you don’t see another drop of alcohol tonight.”
I pulled my fishbowl close to my chest. “You wouldn’t.” Then, marveling how my speech was already beginning to slur, I said, “No. I haven’t spoken to Hillary in a while. I did send her an invite, but I doubt she’ll come.”
“You know, I ran into her the other day. She’s certified now. Has her massage-therapy shop near the North end of Crossroads.”
“Good for her.”
“You should stop by and see her. Get some of that tension out.”
I blinked twice, sure I hadn’t heard him correctly. “You’re kidding.” He was quiet, drinking his marg. “You’re not kidding.”
“Look, I’m not advocating cheating, but if you’re going to do it --”
“I’m not going to see Hillary, okay?” I unthinkingly took a huge draw on my marg fishbowl and, in a heartbeat, a sharp pain stabbed the back of my throat. My vision tunneled, the world spun.
I don’t get brain freeze. I get throat freeze that travels down my esophagus and into my stomach. What follows is usually a quick moment of nausea, akin to a hangover, a bout of vertigo, and the sensation as if someone is driving an ice pick into the base of my skull. Over the years, I’ve mastered the art of breathing deeply until it fades, but this one caught me off guard and I gagged.
Soon, the pain faded.
“Well,” I said. “At least I’m awake now.”
What Jonesy didn’t know was that I had already been cheating on Pamela. What Jonesy also didn’t know was that it had been with Hillary. What he did know was that I hadn’t spoken to her in a while. You know how some engaged couples who have already been having sex try to abstain a month or so before the wedding? My take on it was to stop fucking around on Pamela a month before the wedding.
It was killing me.
I’d run into Hillary –-
Six Years Earlier – The Renaissance Festival
-- after Pamela and I started getting serious, and we’d hit it off as if we hadn’t spent three years apart. She’d dropped out of college her sophomore year to pursue a career in modeling, and although I thought I’d seen her once in a phone-sex ad in the back of a Penthouse, I’d assumed that she’d given up the whole idea and picked up her schooling again somewhere. But apparently, she’d decided to join the wannabe twelfth-century circus.
Down in Larkspur, Colorado, Jonesy and I were tanked. Debbie and Pamela were off somewhere trying on dresses and drinking. Debbie would later buy a corset-crunching long dress with poofy arms, I forget the name of it, but she thought it made her look hot. She was right. The next day she would learn she was preggers and the dress would sit in a box in the attic yearning for the curiosity of a precocious teenage girl to stumble along.
Later that night, in bed, Pamela would rest her head on my chest, her dark brown hair still wet from the shower, and tell me: “I thought about buying a dress, I even picked one out and oh God, was it beautiful, but not practical and I hate it when I’m faced with deciding between beautiful and practical because it’s like choosing between your head and your heart and you just know that later they’re going to fight about it and those fights just suck because they last forever and my head starts to scream about how often would I really wear a renaissance dress and so I walked away from it, I really did, but then my heart remembered how beautiful it looked when I put it on and so I just had to return and try it on again because -- and I don’t know if I can stress this enough -- it was so beautiful so I thought about it some more and looked around and after a long time agonizing I decided not to purchase the dress because in the end I realized that I’d only wear it once a year at the festival, but now I’m kicking myself because maybe I could have worn it on Halloween and New Year’s if we have a themed New Year’s, which I’d have pushed for because I’d have bought the damn dress, but what’s really getting to me is that I missed a golden opportunity to be impulsive.”
And I marveled that somehow Debbie had calmly waited this out.
Hillary was working the festival circuit as a busty wench, hocking beer. She played the part perfectly, her breasts nearly spilling out over the top of her dress. She laughed as she saw that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
“It helps with the tips,” she said.
“Right,” I said.
“It does. The more you show, the more you make.”
“Sounds like advice from a pole dancer.”
“How’d you know?”
“Who do you think you’re fooling, Hil?”
“I’m not fooling anyone.”
“Come on. This is me. Davis.”
She looked at me, her green eyes full of lust. “Okay,” she said, biting her lower lip. “Maybe it also turns me on.”
Fifteen minutes later we were back in her tent.
Before she took her lunch break, Hillary told me she had been seeing the sword swallower, and I’d confessed that I’d been seeing a second-year law student from DenverUniversity. For some reason that made it better -- that we were both about to cheat. We both could feel it, but didn’t speak it aloud. There are things you can just tell in a look, and when you suddenly run into an ex-girlfriend, you know the signs without thought. It’s like riding a bike. You look at the pedals and know they’re designed for one thing. The look Hillary gave me was her pedals. Only there for one purpose. Not teasing, not promising for later. Wanting it now and only now. I returned the look without question.
“Equally yoked,” she said.
I asked her what that meant.
“‘Do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?’ It’s from the book of Corinthians,” she said.
I asked her if she had found religion since I saw her last.
“No. But I was fucking a priest for a while in Albuquerque.”
Then she took her lunch break and we went behind the festival where the tents and campers and such are crowded. And while Jonesy wondered where I went, and while Debbie and Pamela were trying on dresses, we got to it. Fast, unromantic. But something about the surroundings made it feel animalistic, hedonistic. Like it was right. Equally yoked in our wickedness. And I loved every second of it.
It was like a fix. A drug. The physical high keeping whatever emotional demons I deny possessing buried deep.
Later, as we were lying there, my pants around my ankles and her skirt up to her waist, she told me she was thinking about getting out of the festival circuit.
“It’s hard though, ya know? It’s like a cult. Not that they drug you or anything -- though, there’s plenty of anything if ya want it -- but it’s a lifestyle that you can’t have in the real world. You can’t have the free party, free sex –- being here, living here, existing here is almost without responsibility –- and it’s a culture shock when you return. Some lifers have said it’s like returning from prison. You don’t know how to relate to society because you’ve been removed from it for so long. So you’re inexorably drawn to the fringes. The dark coffee shops that aren’t named Starbucks and have yet to become trendy with the high school kids. You start to remember living the life. You start to role-play with dice. You withdraw until all you have is the past.”
She went on, but I stopped listening. I was role playing, wondering what it would be like to forget about all responsibility and just fall into the pit of sex and drugs. In my mind, it was something like the ‘60s with Woodstock and flower power and dancing in the mud and the rain. But everyone was dressed as they were at the festival. And all the women had their skirts up around their waists.
“Do you like photography?”
She glanced over, her green eyes still glazed in endorphin intoxication. “You saw that ad?”
The jocks ended up saving Peter, although Peter contends that he had the situation totally under control. One college girl had her hand down the front of his pants, nibbling his ear, another he was kissing and fondling, and a third had her hand down the girl’s pants he was kissing and fondling. All the while, he contends, he was going to talk the drunk and jealous boyfriend out of tearing his head from his neck, placing it on a pike, lighting it on fire, and running around the streets of Boulder as if he had the Olympic torch.
It started when a jock the size of a Chevy Nova came up to the jock the size of a Volkswagen bus who ran into Peter earlier, starting the whole feeding frenzy, and said, “Dude, I think I just saw some guy in the men’s room with your girl.”
Jonesy and I looked at each other, took off, and narrowly beat the Jock Brigade to the lav. Guys are like that. It’s the Mr. Spock philosophy in reverse: the good of the one out weighs the good of the many. It sounds dumb in theory, but in context, it makes sense to every guy and no matter how we explain it, women will never understand.
Plus, there are the perks.
Woman: “Why did you jump into the fight with the ninjas and circus midgets when you could have been maimed?”
Man: “You see this?”
Man: “In a month, it’ll be a scar.”
Woman: “A scar? I like scars.”
‘Captain’ Lance Murdock was dead-on when he said, as he lay in a hospital bed mentoring a troublemaking boy, “Bones heal, chicks dig scars, and the United States of America has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world.”
Once we beat the jocks to the lav, we quickly slammed the door and (thank Buddha) discovered it had a lock and clicked it. We then followed the moans to the far stall and swung the door open.
“Hey, guys!” Peter managed through the kissing and fondling. “You want in?” He then heard the pounding. “Did you lock the door?”
“Something you should have done or you wouldn’t be in this mess,” I said.
“But that’s just silly. I’m not going to make someone hold their water just for me.” You had to hand it to Peter. Somewhere deep inside, he cared about the little people. “You sure you don’t …?” He motioned to his harem and while inside I was all for it, I didn’t betray a bit of my yearning.
I said, “Escaping imminent demise beats lust.”
Peter said, “Since when?”
“Since we have about two minutes before the Jock Brigade either pounds down the door, or they find someone with a key and use his head to pound down the door.”
A toilet flushed in another stall and out stepped a skinny, drunk college kid clearly in need of acne medicine. He gave a cursory glance toward the sink and made a beeline for the exit.
Jonesy said, “You touch that door and you’ll be pissing out a straw,” moving to him with speed that caused the drunk kid to fall back against the wall. Jonesy, the usually quiet family man now determined to stop all hell from breaking loose.
“And you,” he said to Peter over his shoulder. “Do you ever fucking change?”
“Hey, I thought I was forgiven.”
I noticed a small window over one of the stalls. “Come on, Peter. We’re leaving.”
I moved to open the window, but stopped when he said, “Can’t. Playing a game.”
First girl: “It’s a good game.”
Second girl: “The best.”
Third girl: “Mmmmmm.”
Peter said, “If any of them stops, they won’t get the prize.”
I said, “Prize?”
First girl: “It’s a great prize.”
Second girl: “The best.”
Third girl: “Mmmmmm.”
The Jock Brigade was about to storm through the door and Peter was as cool as a man named Luke.
I said, “What do they get if you lose?”
All three girls looked up in alarm. Peter calmed them with an incredulous smile and a slight shake of his head. That was all it took. They relaxed, and went back to the game.
I took a moment to consider, looked at Jonesy. Then a decision was made. As Jonesy tried to grab Peter from his three- girl bliss, I forced the window open. But Peter wouldn’t budge. With the weight of the three girls added, Jonesy was hard pressed to get him standing. I jumped in to help, but stopped when we all heard a very loud ‘click.’
The skinny, drunk college kid had regained his wits and unlocked the door. But when he chanced a look back, he froze again in fear.
Jonesy said, “Oh, shit.”
I said, “Oh, fuck.”
Peter said, “Oh, baby.”
And then the Jock Brigade forced open the door, slamming the skinny, drunk college kid back into the wall and out cold.
I jumped in front of the jock the size of a Volkswagen bus, but he knocked me aside as if I were Campus Security trying to shut down a kegger. He grabbed Peter by the neck, began to haul him effortlessly to a stand, but stopped when Peter pulled out of his kiss and calmly said, “You don’t want to do this, Michael.”
Michael the jock stopped and said, “How do you know my name?”
Peter nodded to one of the girls. “Celeste told me. She’s told me all about you. She hasn’t been able to shut up, actually.”
Celeste, her hand down Peter’s pants, her own pants full with another girl’s hand, stopped kissing Peter’s neck long enough to say, “It’s true. I told him we’re in love.” The other girls moaned in agreement.
Michael the jock balked for a moment. That’s all Peter needed. He said, “Michael, are you telling me that were you in Celeste’s shoes, you wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing? You wouldn’t be going for it? I’m not talking about with me. I’m talking about with a woman. A hot woman. A famous woman. You’re telling me that if Jennifer Garner walked in that door right now and said, ‘Michael. I want you to put your hand down my pants as I kiss you,’ you’d say no? You’d actually say, ‘Sorry, Miss Hot Famous Woman Who I’ll Probably Never See Again In My Lifetime, Let Alone Get People To Believe I Saw Her Or Had This Chance With Her, but I can’t do that because my girlfriend would be upset with me?’ This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. How many times will Jennifer Garner say that to you? Once, maybe. Twice if you’re me. But you’re not me, so you take the chances when you have them. That’s the understanding we have with each other. That’s the understanding you have with Celeste. And that’s what’s happening here.”
Michael the jock, who still held Peter by the neck, but had lost the focus to squeeze, said, “So … Jennifer Garner is asking me --”
“To put your hand down her pants. Yeah. Hell, yeah. Celeste?”
“Mmm?” Blinking as if she had just woken from a dream.
“Tell Michael, the man you know and love, that if he had the opportunity to put his hands down Jennifer Garner’s pants that you’d let him.”
“Jennifer Garner?” she said.
“Yeah,” Michael the jock said, his jaw muscles dancing in nervous anticipation.
“The chick from Alias?”
“Yeah,” Michael the jock said, adding squinting to his dancing jaw muscles. As if he were the one caught with his hand down someone’s pants.
“I don’t know, Michael,” she said.
And for a moment, I braced for the inevitable fight. But only for a moment.
“I think I’d like to have my hand down her pants, too,” she said.
That was all it took. Michael the jock broke into a stupid grin, released Peter, and watched as Celeste pushed the other girl aside to shove her tongue down Peter’s throat, her hand still down his pants. As she moaned, Michael the jock turned to his friends and, after a moment, they, too, broke into stupid grins and started slapping each other’s hands in celebration.
“Jennifer Garner,” Michael the jock bellowed. The others mimicked him as if he, in fact, just had his hand down Jennifer Garner’s pants. It was amazing to watch, but at the same time, it wasn’t. This was vintage Peter Carter, the man who could seemingly talk his way in and out of anything. The man who talked his way out of all math and science classes in college, and somehow talked his way into receiving the credits anyway. The man who talked his way into a pop-star-slash-actress-whose-name-rhymes-with-Randy-Door concert, talked his way backstage, and talked her out of her panties that he later sold on eBay and donated the proceeds to one of those Sally Struthers charities. No wonder he’d made millions upon millions of dollars, been married three times (and counting), and still made women of all ages swoon at the utterance of his name.
Jonesy shook his head. I shrugged. But Peter, with the stall door open and at least a dozen people watching, continued the show. Sticking to his strengths. Fucking women and playing the fool. The fool who doesn’t believe rules apply to him and somehow lives a happy life without a conscience.
But there are always the critics.
As the jocks celebrated their conquering of Jennifer Garner, a man dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a cowboy hat shoved his way through the crowd and, when he saw Peter and the girls, almost did a double take.
“Jennifer Garner, dude,” Michael the jock said to the Urban Cowboy, holding his hand up to slap.
The Urban Cowboy ignored Michael the jock, narrowed his eyes at the sight in the stall, and said, “Gabby?”
The girl now nibbling Peter’s ear, her hand down Celeste’s pants, looked up fast. Stunned. Worried. And very guilty.
Peter looked up at the Urban Cowboy. “Arnie,” he said in his calm, ‘I’m hooking up with your girlfriend’ way that only he could pull off. “You don’t want to do this.”
The Urban Cowboy said, “Who the fuck is Arnie?” and then lunged at Peter.
Michael the jock helped me pull the Urban Cowboy off Peter before he did too much damage. A bloodied nose, a split lip. The Bouncers took over, tossing out the Urban Cowboy, but not his girlfriend.
Despite his harem still intact, the excitement had caused Peter to lose his enjoyment. “I had it under control,” he said, kicking the trashcan. “Fucking kids. I had this under control.”
And with that, we left.
But not before Peter turned to the girls and said, “You girls are eighteen, right?”
An hour later, we were sitting between the narrow aisles of The Old Cork, Jonesy’s thriving wine store, our backs propped up on the sturdy oak racks lined with bottles. Although Jonesy opened the shop three years ago, it had the feel of days gone by. Old world. But not American old world. European old world. “What is this?” I asked Jonesy.
“Home-grown mystery wine. Every once in a while I get a batch of mixed grapes from someone, brew ‘em up, carboy it, and wait until the tannins soften. What you’re drinking was bottled three years ago, five years from the carboy, eight years from scratch.”
“You sound as if you actually know what you’re talking about,” Peter said, draining his glass and holding it to Jonesy for a refill, ignoring any lingering anger seeping his way.
“Wait,” I said, doing the math. “This is eight years old?”
Jonesy smiled a toothy smile. “I considered calling it Chateau de Bathtub, but it just doesn’t flow off your tongue.”
I said nothing, marveling at the percolating memories. I was drinking something I’d helped to create on a whimsical moment early one Saturday afternoon during our –-
-- while we procrastinated studying for midterms. Jonesy and I had fled our apartment in search of something, anything, and had come across a used winemaking kit at a yard sale. The owner was parting with it upon discovering he didn’t have the patience for the fermentation process.
We grabbed the kit, got some grapes from the local home-brew store on Pearl Street, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen and bathroom whipping it up. But after a few months, I discovered I, too, was short on patience, and Jonesy bought my half of the equipment for a week of drinks.
Eight years ago … Eight years ago I was a junior in college, unsure of what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with. Yet I felt happy doing everything at once and rolling with what came my way.
What happened? When did I change?
Jonesy said, “I’ve been checking it twice a year, and it finally came around about eighteen months ago.”
Right about when I got engaged.
“Right about when you got engaged,” Jonesy said.
And there it was. Eighteen months ago, I got a hair up my ass and proposed to Pamela. Eighteen months ago, I decided to change. I decided to be with the same woman for the rest of my life.
I took a large swig of the wine, and swallowed hard, forcing the fear of reminiscence back into my gut. I suppressed a small cough, and said, “It’s good. Not too sweet.”
“We got lucky,” said Jonesy. “I’d say one of three batches of mystery wine turn into anything worth drinking.”
“What do you do with the rest?” asked Peter. “The leftovers?”
Jonesy mimicked a magician, replaced the bottle of Chateau de Bathtub with another, unmarked bottle, and refilled Peter’s glass. “Nothing but our finest for Hollywood royalty.”
Peter looked at the glass, at Jonesy, back to the glass. “I fucked up again, didn’t I?”
Peter shrugged and drank up.
The hush that followed began as a normal pause, but soon transformed to strained silence. We didn’t need to ask what the others were thinking. We knew it, we felt it. But surely I was alone in stepping from the shore of current tensions and wading into the inky waters of discarded memory.
Before that moment, I’d chalked it up to cold feet, my wanting to run, my anxiety. But as I sat there, I felt something … What was it? Was I holding onto the past? Was I fearful of growing up? Frightened of losing my independence? Or, was it something deeper? More primal? Was it simply human nature rebelling against society’s traditions? Or was it much more mundane? Was I just feeling trapped? Strapped down while a hooded figure slowly cut away an identity I had fought so hard to obtain and only recently began to understand?
As we walked back to the car, I realized I didn’t want to go home. Not now. Not ever. But at the same time, I wasn’t going to be ‘that guy.’ I wasn’t going to rabbit. I wasn’t going to be the guy who ruined her life, who destroyed her magical day. But where did that leave me?
Selfishness beats selflessness?
Selflessness beats selfishness?
“I need to pee,” Peter said.
“My house is fifteen minutes from here,” Jonesy said.
Peter stopped, rubbed his nose, and looked around. A wicked grin formed on his handsome mug. “Hey,” he said. “I know this place.”
He took off in a trot. Jonesy shook his head. I shrugged. We followed.
The night was starting to cool to bearable with a chance of breeze. Very quickly, the mystery wine within my system joined forces with the still powerful regime of fishbowl margaritas. Together they affixed a strobe light to my optic nerves. The bustle of Boulder fluttered as we ran onto Pearl Street, in and out of similarly buzzed college goers, narrowly missing the occasional late-night biker, the traffic crossing the pedestrian mall at the lights, the local flora and fauna.
College dropouts, feeling an existence within a world of perpetual marijuana haze and patchouli oil lathering was preferable to obtaining a higher education, were scattered about the outdoor mall, creating a veritable minefield of unwashed distaste. Couple this with uneven brickwork that whispered a comfortable, soothing history, but betrayed a malicious desire to strip the skin from your limbs or bestow upon you a subdermal hematoma, and we nearly lost Peter. Thankfully, he made enough hoots and shouts for a deaf cripple to follow his tracks.
Eventually, we found him standing outside an office building, looking in the dark windows.
“Okay,” said Jonesy. “We passed a dozen places with a bathroom. What gives?”
I sat down, marveling at my lack of cardiovascular endurance.
Peter said, “Do you guys remember Archer Phillips?”
The name rang a bell.
“Tall guy, wore a duster, loved tomato sauce.”
A big bell. A loud bell. A painful bell.
“My roommate. Friday Night Club.”
Holy shit! How could I forget?
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