What a project.
We'd worked together for about six weeks, mostly in a compact command post set up in a fish-bowl conference room at our main supplier's offices. Freelancers all, we each had our areas of expertise, with some overlap, and we all knew the complexities involved. We were a fairly diverse bunch: four men from their twenties to forties, and one thirty- something woman.
It was a job worth big bucks, one key part of a larger project worth many times more. The idea of a missed deadline doesn't exist here -- like a moon shot, you go when the planets line up or you don't go. It was especially challenging because so much depended on production teams outside our direct control.
What a blast. Under pressure your options are to cave or to thrive, and we weren't cavers. Designing workflows that cover a wall, then seeing items filled in and ticked off as the million-dollar train approaches, provides a rush like a drug.
If the people mix is wrong it can be a chore and a headache. But when it's right, it's camaraderie squared. Bantering, bickering, inside jokes, shared meals and miseries, all tempered with professional respect, make for what the army calls 'unit cohesion', and we had it.
When you're going a thousand miles an hour, and accelerating as delivery nears, you don't think about the sudden stop at the end. One day your world is four walls and a drop-dead date, the next you've successfully put yourself out of a job. Mixed with the pride there's a real sense of loss -- your team will never exist again. There'll be other jobs, other groupings, but this family is history.
Except for the wrap party...
"Hey, honey, another round here!"
The party started, as many do, at a bar. The five of us -- me (I'm Tom), Randy, Mike, Bill and the lovely Megan -- were on the loosen-up rounds, the ones before the serious drinking. We'd been fairly abstemious during the project, but there was no reason to hold back now.
I can't say there hadn't been any indulging. I'm pretty sure a little Peruvian marching powder got sniffed on some of those 15-hour days. I've been off that for years, but I don't think Megan needed to do her makeup quite that often. And Randy's been known to relax after work with some bud. I guess that makes us a cross-section of the population.
While we weren't exactly amateur partiers, we were out of practice. That night the booze tap was on and we were getting raucous. Bill was a fount of industry war stories and knew how to tell them. You know when there's one group whose outbursts are particularly loud, the cheer a bit hearty? That was us. Don't hate us for having fun.
Let's go around the table. Me (Tom, remember?), I'm an average guy in his 30s, in reasonable shape but hardly cut. Medium height, brown on brown -- you wouldn't pick me out of a crowd. Married but not too much.
On my left is Mike. He's a big guy, buff and dirty blond, a little younger than me. His size alone seems to attract women. He's also a charmer, the way garrulous Irish dudes often are.
Bill is, well, nondescript isn't being unkind. He's the oldest of the bunch, mid-forties and inexorably losing his shape, his hair and his color. Great guy, mind like a trap and a non-stop wit.
On my other side is Randy. Randy's not in any danger of losing his color, which he'd be the first to acknowledge with a grin. He's our youngest, maybe 26, very creative, with a good eye and a talent for drawing. And if rumor can be trusted, with the package black men are known for but few actually have.
Across from me is Megan. You know I'm going to spend a little more time on her, right? I mean describing her. Mind out of the gutter, dude.
Megan is a hottie. Thirty-two, five-five and I'd guess 125 lbs, pale skin, with hazel eyes and collar-length dark red hair. Never married as far we knew, no boyfriend, no girlfriend either -- we did speculate -- so there was a story she hadn't shared.
She always dressed conservatively, but she couldn't hide all her charms. Maybe not an hourglass figure, but pretty damn good for thirty-two. Nice rack, probably a C cup, with a butt two clicks short of bubble. Definitely a Betty.
Now, a crew of guys working together is going to have some crudity. We weren't being dogs, but nothing was off the table. Of course we started out cautious because there was a woman in the room, but Megan quickly set the tone by cursing like a teamster at one of our suppliers. After that it was anything goes.
Our work atmosphere was flirty but not overtly sexual. We had a job to do and while we could have fun, there were limits. Not to say we didn't have our fantasies -- I can only speak for myself, but I know how guys are, and so do you. And I didn't just imagine the sexual tension, we all felt it, but it never boiled over. Now here we were, and liquor was loosening the lid.
"Hey Meg, how come you never wear like jeans and a sweater? You're so stuffy in jackets and slacks and that shit. We don't get to see that hot bod. It's not fair." This was Mike, mister diplomat.
"Bite it, Mikey. If I wanted to strut my stuff I'd be a stripper, not an account exec." Megan could give as good as she got.
"I bet you don't even own anything sexy."
"If I do you'll never see it. I could be wearing flimsy silk underwear for all you know. But hey, I wouldn't be surprised if you're wearing a thong -- mucho machos like you are all overcompensating, right?"
"Nope, tighty whiteys. I'll show if you will, Meggy. C'mon, give us a peek." As Mike reached for his zipper, Megan snorted, pushed back her chair, grabbed her purse and wandered off.
The rest of the us had been talking sports while those two needled each other, but Megan's exit shut us down. "Mike, what the fuck? Did you just make her split with your bullshit?"
"No way, Bill. Just a piss call, you'll see. Besides, she wouldn't go home without taking me, would she?" Mike's infectious grin took the edge off his braggadocio.
We fell back into guy talk, and after a while I looked up to watch Megan work her way back through the tables. I felt a little like a voyeur. She was a fine woman, and I wasn't the only one who noticed. She was swaying a little, but still managed to slap away an errant grope. Men.
Her eyes were brighter as she plopped back down. I knew that look. Even 10 years off blow, I remembered the one good thing -- it let me get stinking drunk and still maintain. But oh, when the bill came due, you paid and paid...
"Meg -- doing OK?"
"Sure Tom, I'm great. Great. So we gonna talk or drink here?"
We did both. Another round and Bill was fading. I wasn't far behind, and my inhibitions were right there with me. I caught Megan's eye, raised a questioning brow and tapped the side of my nose. She caught my meaning and nodded her head with a jerk toward the restrooms. No one noticed.
"Right back, guys, too much ice in these drinks." I stood a little unsteadily and made for the rear. A second later Megan got up too. "Good idea, tinkle time." This caused a woo-hoo from the rest. "Don't fall in, girls! And no dishing!" Oh, ha ha.
The restroom corridor was empty. I leaned against the wall as Megan caught up. "You can tell?" she asked warily.
"Yeah, but only because I used to do it too. I'm sure those guys are too busy looking at your chest to notice your pupils."
"Those fuckers. Guys are assholes." She was slurring a little -- good thing she lived just up the street, because no way was she driving. "Leas' you're a gentleman." Gemmin.
As she said this she leaned into me but misjudged the distance. As I reached to steady her she fell right at me, so I ended up with my arms around her as she pressed against my chest. "Whoopsie, sorry. God, I hate a sloppy drunk and now I are one."
I hate me a sloppy drunk too, but a pair of firm tits and there goes my standards. Did I mention she's great looking and sexy as hell? Yeah? I thought so. Why wasn't this one taken?
"Nothing a little tune-up can't cure, at least for a while. Got a taste for me?" I asked. As we disentangled, my hand stroked her breast, an honest accident. Honest. She brought out a small vial and a tooter from her purse. Ah, memories.
I waited for another patron to pass, then took one on each side and felt that familiar tingle. Megan did the same, then again. Apparently not a rookie. She got a thank-you peck on the cheek, and I hit the head with renewed energy.
She was back at the table before me, and Mike had started in again on the subject of her wardrobe.
"Ah, you know jack. I've got lots of other clothes. A closetful. I can dress for business and I can dress for... not business. I got church clothes and party clothes and dance clothes and..." Megan was oiled up, and motor-mouth had set in.
Randy interrupted, getting into it for the first time. "But Meg, we're at a party now and you're not wearing party clothes."
Megan gave him a narrow look, the kind that lets you know drunk logic is at work. "We came right here. Didn't change. But I got 'em."
"Oh really? Can you prove it?"
Prove it. The challenge was laid, the glove cast down. "OK, mister Randy, I live right over there..." -- an arm swept vaguely toward the north -- "... and thass where they are. You don't believe me, I'll go change and you'll see. Party cloze," she concluded smugly.
"Aw, Meg, you're too wasted. You go home now and we'll never see you again. C'mon, we'll all go. You can show us at your place."
Megan was indeed more wasted than us, which was odd considering her fortification, and she couldn't find the right way to deflect that. So she just said, "Fine. Fine. Go to my closet. I'll show you."
.... There is more of this story ...