F. Scott Fitzgerald once said ""The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function..." The eternal argument about open vs closed marriage; about sharing vs exclusivity is one where I honestly can see both sides. I'm no genius; my wife - and every one else - is very clear about that – but here's a little diatribe about this anyway.
Edited by my good friend NoneTheWiser, who has a habit of coming up with better names for my stories than I do.
There is no sex in this story.
Sam was sitting at the bar, sipping his Bud Lite – 'Diet beer', his thirteen-year-old son called it, razzing his dad gently – while kind of watching the game on the big screen.
He looked around and counted. There were twenty-six different screens in the sports bar, showing twelve different sports. At least two of them he had never even knew existed. He shrugged. No wonder no one talked any more. Too busy watching other people do things than to do them themselves. Smart phones; TV's in bars; why actually bother with physical social interaction at all?
Speaking of that – and not even appreciating the irony -, he pulled out his phone to check the time. Damn, Jesse was late. He was never late. What the fuck?
He was into his second beer by the time Jesse arrived, plunking himself down on the stool next to Sam unceremoniously and without comment. He just nodded to Sam, and then gestured to the bar keep for a beer.
"What'll it be, sir?" the man enquired.
Jesse glanced at what his friend was drinking, wrinkled his face up when he realized what it was and said, "Well, it won't be the horse piss this idiot is drinking, that's for sure. A Sam Adams I think. It's cold outside. It fits."
The bar keep nodded appreciatively, doing his best not to make the same face at the Sam's "drink", and wandered off to the rack of beer taps along one wall, to pour the drink requested.
Jesse turned to Sam and said, "So, what is it that couldn't wait? I know it's Thanksgiving weekend, but I'll see you Monday at the office. What's up, man?"
Sam's face wrinkled in return, hearing the 'man' part of the sentence. Eighteen months in LA and his friend had returned with his speech peppered with "man" and "dude" and other California-ism's. He wouldn't have minded, but Jesse was forty-eight, balding and was never going to be mistaken for a surfer dude. He was still a fine figure of a guy – no appreciable fat on him, but he was also 'decidedly of the older persuasion', as Sam's son described his father. The description worked just well for Jesse as Sam.
He shook his head momentarily and said, "Lets get a booth. We're gonna need a little privacy for this."
He got up, moving towards the row of booths on the far side of the bar. Jesse picked up his beer and followed along, saying, "OOooh, now you've got my interest! Cloak and dagger stuff. Do you want to pat me down to see if I'm wired?"
Sam just glanced back at Jesse, a little annoyed at his free manner. This was going to be hard enough, without Jesse making jokes. He had to mentally gird up his loins to tell Jesse what he had to say. It was going to destroy him enough, without him thinking it was all a joke.
"Just ... sit, Jesse. There's shit to say. And I don't think you are gonna think it's good shit."
Jesse stopped and looked at Sam, trying to read him.
"Not good huh? Ok ... not liking the sound of that. Lead on, MacDuff."
They settled in the end booth, next to a wall and two away from the nearest occupied one.
"So, go on then, this is your party. Shoot."
Sam took a deep breath, considering his thoughts and how to express what he needed to say. Jesse and he had been friends for over fifteen years, off and on. They were casual friends at college, had ran into each other at a mixer three years after graduation, then worked together at a small advertising agency. They started to hang out together, their wives became friends, and five years ago started their own business together. Unlike a lot of business partners, they actually managed to remain friends. They'd even vacationed together twice, once on a cruise and once in the Bahamas.
Their business had done well in the last couple of years. They'd earned the marketing account for a small indie movie, made in LA but showcased at Sundance, and constructed a funny and imaginative marketing campaign around it for peanuts - when the movie won a short story Oscar, they'd been thanked in the acceptance speech. Suddenly the phone was ringing off the hook.
After signing two new and lucrative deals, they'd looked at each other, gone out and got very drunk and decided there was no option but to open an office in Los Angeles. Jesse 'volunteered' to go out and start it up, hire people, and stick around until he felt it was capable of operating without constant oversight, at which point he, and his wife Debra, would return to Minnesota. Sam would hold down the fort at home until Jesse returned.
It had been a relatively easy decision. Sam and his wife Janelle had children in school, and Jesse did not. Debra had a degree of wanderlust in her anyway, that Janelle simply did not, and so it hadn't been a decision the two disagreed over.
Jesse and Debra had moved to the Beverlywood area in LA, just off Venice Boulevard, set up shop in Santa Monica, and twenty-two months later returned in triumph to their four-bedroom house in Stillwater, Minneapolis.
They'd been back almost three months and Jesse had settled back in immediately. Sam had worried that there would be friction – they'd both been relatively on their own for the past couple of years, and working together again might have been hard, but none of his fears were realized. They'd fit together again almost immediately. They had, apparently, that type of friendship where they could be away from each other for a long period of time, and just pick up immediately from where they'd left off. Of course, they had been in constant communication and had seen each other on occasion during what they had called "Jesse's Journey".
And then, Janelle had come home after an evening out, cornered Sam after the kids had gone to bed and words had been exchanged. Now here he was, sitting with Jesse, his old friend, trying to find the right words to express and explore an extremely volatile situation.
"Ok. Well ... er, ok. I don't know how to phrase this without bein' fuckin' blunt. I know we are ad guys, but this isn't Mad Men and it's not nineteen sixty-five, and if I beat around the bush, I'll be waffling for the sake of it," said Sam, fully aware that he was doing just that. Sam's speech was decidedly more blue collar and 'colorful', as his mother in law had described it after meeting him the first time. The more uncomfortable or emotional he was, the more the bad language came out. It was another reason why he'd stayed home and Jesse had gone to Hollyweird land. While Sam was the better negotiator, willing to indulge in brinkmanship, Jesse was the easier to approach and talk to initially. Sam was way more blunt than Jesse. Jesse liked that about his friend – you were never wondering where you stood with him, although he could be considered aggressive by those who didn't know him – and even by some who did.
"I don't know if you know, but Janelle is part of a ... well, it's sort of a book group. Only, they sort of take it a stage further. Personally, I think it's a load of horseshit, but you know how women are. It's something this group started in college – they still get together now and pick a book and talk about it and all that other crap that women do when they've got too much time on their hands. You know what I mean," he said, rolling his eyes at Jesse, who nodded with understanding...
"Anyway, this little group goes further than just reading the book, right? They try and, well, involve themselves in whatever the book is about. I mean, it sounds fuckin' stupid to me, but they get their jollies out of it, and it's all very safe, so whatever, right? Keeps her happy, I'm all for it."
"'Involve themselves'?" asked Jesse, using air quotes.
"Yeah, well, I did say it was pretty stupid. But if the book is about, oh I don't know, police work or something, they go to a cop bar and yammer on about the book. Surrounded by real cops. If it's about horses or something, they go find a farm themed restaurant to talk. I dunno, explaining it to you, it sounds even stupider than when she told me about it. Whatever." He said, forcefully, trying to bring himself back to the point.
"So, right. The last book they decided to read was Dracula. The original version, by Bram Stoker. Lots of gory shit, so I'm told, all against some bullshit romantic old world backdrop." Sam was having trouble disguising his disgust.
"Apparently the only place they could figure out to talk about this was some gothic nightclub called 'Ground Zero'. Some sort of gothy place, with all sorts of weird events. Leather and lace night. Bondage night. I don't fuckin' know. Whatever." Sam was obviously embarrassed just bringing it up.
Jesse grinned at Sam, and took a large drink of his beer.
"Yeah, well. Here's the hard part. Janelle told me that it was not a place she would normally patronize, which made it all the more surprising that she saw someone else she knew there. She saw Debra there. Your wife Debra. Doin' shit."
Jesse stopped smiling. Instantly.
.... There is more of this story ...