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Author’s note: A two-part story this time (seems I’m getting more ambitious). Fair warning, though, there is not a lot of sex in part 1 (just a little bit). Hope you’ll still choose to stick around for the story.
Paul and I had reached a milestone in our relationship. Our first fight.
I’m not a dogmatic person. This despite — or more likely because of — my religious upbringing. But there is one point on which I refuse to compromise. My ambition.
The world is full of women whose careers have been strangled in infancy by men, whose careers have been shot down in full flight by childbirth, and (worst of all) whose careers have succeeded only because of the help men gave them. I have vowed never to be one of those women. I don’t mean I won’t accept male help or mentorship (a vastly overrated concept, in my experience), rather that I will only take advantage of them in a spirit of cynical self-advancement. In other words, I play tough, and if that doesn’t work, I play unfair.
So when Paul and I finally had a falling out, it was no surprise at all that the immediate cause was work. In truth it was a trivial thing, but underneath it all was a point of principle.
It happened on a Friday evening. I’d agreed to meet Paul in town for an after-work drink. We’d texted to and fro through the day, finally agreeing on a bar roughly halfway between our workplaces. While all this had been going on, one of the young developers — not one of mine, I might add — had got it into his inadequate male brain that late on a Friday afternoon was a good time to install an update on a customer system. As if violating this longstanding tech-world folk wisdom wasn’t bad enough, he then went on and botched the install. When his changes went down screaming, there was no rolling back to the old system, not without losing all the orders that had been put through by his crap code. The only option was to fix the bugs and manually repair all the corrupted transactions.
All of which would have been someone else’s problem were it not that Jamie Chen, his boss and my fellow project manager, was hundreds of miles away in an airport lounge.
So, like it or not, it was Lisa to the rescue. A complete shit-fest, in other words, and none of my own doing, but there I was in the midst of it all, in a filthy mood, splitting my time between glowering at the developer, pleading with my own crew to stay late and help out, and groveling before the customers — all of whom were managerial types who hadn’t the first clue about what was going on, an ignorance they saw fit to demonstrate by demanding the impossible and generally getting in the way.
By the time Paul got through to me I was covered in the blood of a bleeding martyr (metaphorically, I mean). When his first words were to complain about my not showing up at the bar, it’s possible I was less than sympathetic in my response. “Screw you too then,” he replied. “I’m going home.” This was pretty stern stuff for Paul, the archetypal mild-mannered guy, but at that point in time all I could do was park his outrage at the bottom of my mental in-tray and get back to more immediate concerns.
It was after nine when the mess was finally sorted. Jamie, to her credit, had come in from the airport, arriving just as the dust was settling. I didn’t notice her at first — a shadowy presence hovering in my peripheral vision, as if reluctant to come forward. Understandable, I suppose. I would have loved nothing better than to relieve my frustrations by bawling her out with a few choice pieces of professional advice, but in truth none of this was her fault either. She had only just started that week (her business trip being a meet-and-greet with some of our more far-flung customers), so hadn’t had the opportunity yet to make her mark, one way or the other. The whole catastrophe was more fairly described as a farewell gift from her predecessor.
When she finally did step up, she at least managed to look contrite. “Come on. Let me buy you a drink,” she offered, “I feel I owe you one.”
I certainly felt that someone owed me something, and seeing as she was the only one offering … I was mentally exhausted from all the rushing about; dealing with Paul right now was the last thing I felt like doing. A drink, on the other hand, seemed like a very good idea.
I told her all about it as we walked to a nearby bar.
“Why don’t you just apologize?”
“Because he knows. He’s in the same business. Work is work and nights like tonight happen from time to time. It comes with the territory.”
“Why didn’t you just text him to say you’d be late?”
“I was preoccupied, okay?”
“Still. It might be diplomatic to say sorry.”
“What? Just because I’m the one at fault?” I wasn’t in the mood for that.
She acknowledged this with a short laugh, then looked at me shrewdly. “I do know one way that might make it easier to ask forgiveness.”
“Do something worse that he doesn’t know casino oyna about.”
This made me sit up and take notice. We’d just arrived at the bar and my attention so far had been divided fifty-fifty between Jamie and getting some wine into me. It was a low-key sort of place — in a generous frame of mind you might call it a cocktail lounge — catering to the after-work crowd from the surrounding offices. Still fairly busy, this being a Friday night.
“A girls’ night out? I’m new in town and your plans for the evening appear to have fallen through.”
A girls’ night out didn’t seem much of a crime. We were two girls. We were at a bar. Ipso facto, a girls’ night out. Perhaps her standards for misbehavior were tamer than mine. Or perhaps she had something else in mind. Either way, I still wasn’t ready to let the previous subject go.
It wasn’t as if I could blame Paul. If I could it would have been so much easier. I could punish him for a bit then magnanimously forgive. No problem at all. Instead I’d got myself into this little difficulty all on my lonesome — to apologize to Paul I would first have to apologize to myself. But then to apologize about putting work first would be to step onto that slippery slope that ends in a life of housework. I explained all this to Jamie between frequent sips of wine, in terms somewhat less coherent than those I’ve managed here.
“Girls’ night out,” she said. “Face it. It’s the only way forward.”
“Girls’ night out,” I conceded, raising a glass. She seemed so determined to be cheerful, what else could I say?
And — to give her credit — she had been a good listener, by which I mean she asked the right questions and didn’t try to inject her own experiences or advice. By the time I remembered that avoiding the topic of Paul was why I was here, I’d pretty much said all I wanted to say on the subject anyway.
Jamie was locally born Chinese, the descendent she told me of people who had left their homes to chase a goldrush or some such illusion, many years ago. Her black hair was cut to the shoulder and she had a flat, squarish face, lightly freckled, more paddy field than fashion catwalk. Not unattractive as such — it was a face a lover could love. Its beauty, to those who could see it, would have been of a rugged, outdoorsy sort. She admitted at one point in the evening that she liked to go hiking and it made perfect sense.
I hadn’t seen much of her at work — our teams work for different customers, so despite having the same job title, the overlap was minimal — and what impressions I had formed certainly weren’t of a girls-night-out sort of girl. In fact, the impression that dominated all others — and this is going to sound kind of weird — was that she reminded me of Tim, my former boyfriend. It wasn’t her body — she was a little taller than average and athletically proportioned, as was Tim — but that wasn’t it. Rather it was something in her face. Not the freckles this time, but something else. A tentativeness, I suppose you would call it, as if conscious of an imminent threat that nobody else could see. Tim had been the same: the only person I know who is smarter than I am (that I’m prepared to admit) but someone who could never quite bring himself to trust a world that — he suspected — did not trust smart people. With Jamie, the source was a little different. I diagnosed it as a case of underlying seriousness, a desire to do things the way they are meant to be done, but not being entirely sure how. As if she were fragile on the outside but not on the inside, if such a notion can make sense. Someone to be handled with care, but who would forgive you if you got it wrong.
I swear I never used to have this tendency to deconstruct people. I blame my job, which when it comes down to it is all about manipulating others into doing what I want them to do. If you pull people apart to see what makes them tick, you also learn how to wind them up. You’re probably going to argue that people aren’t clockwork — but this is work we are talking about, where superficial is often deep enough. Just the way it is, folks. Blame capitalism if you need a culprit.
She told me about her experiences growing up, how she had always been conscious of being different. “I was a tomboy, I suppose, but I still wanted to be pretty. Only pretty was a Blonde Barbie and I was never going to be that. My hair was the wrong color and my face just wouldn’t do at all.”
I’d heard other Asian girls say similar things. I gave a little prayer of thanks to the God I didn’t believe in for saving me from this experience. Growing up in a closed religious community didn’t have much to recommend it but it had protected me from the presumptions of the outside world (loading me up with an entirely different set of prejudices instead, but ones so absurd I’d like to think I’ve shrugged them off with ease). The only doll I recall was homemade; a hand-me-down thing with green hair, something I’ve never felt canlı casino the urge to emulate.
Jamie laughed at this last remark. I was finding her to be good company, though with a feeling that, on some level, I was the one doing her a favor. That if I hadn’t agreed to come out she would be at home alone right now.
She told me how she had taken the job as a fresh start, wanting a new town and a new life. Something about a relationship breakup, but she seemed reluctant to go into details and I was still too wrapped up in my own concerns to press her about it.
“We could be friends,” I told her. “Allies. Nights like tonight aside, the company really isn’t such a bad place to work.” She looked so pleased with this that I congratulated myself on choosing the right tone. Meanwhile, the conversation meandered on of its own accord, keeping thoughts of Paul walled off for a time. Well almost.
“How about you?” I asked. “Are you going to tell me about your own boyfriend troubles?”
Jamie laughed again, a little more forced this time. “Not much chance of that. I have a girlfriend problem, but only because I’m single.”
I stared at her, open mouthed. “You’re gay?” So much for gaydar. The possibility had never crossed my mind.
“You couldn’t tell?”
I shifted back a fraction to appraise her once more. The place had been pretty full when we arrived with no chance of a table to ourselves, forcing our choice of a spot by the bar. She was still dressed in her work-day suit, of course, perched on her stool in a way that stretched the fabric of her skirt across her thigh, emphasizing its musculature and that of her stocking-clad calves. The resemblance to my old boyfriend felt stronger now I knew what she was. A hint of boyishness superimposed on a lean figure that was still unmistakably female.
I was on my third glass of wine by this point, well into the sweet spot. I’d never had a lesbian friend before and curiosity is my middle name. I bombarded her with questions.
“I do kinda get it,” I told her. “I mean, basically, men are pigs, right? And they can be … I don’t know … so underwhelming at times. The good-looking ones are all self-centered and infuriating while the not-so-good-looking are clumsy and embarrassing. And infuriating.” Backing up over what I had just said, it seemed a touch more radical than I’d intended. I added a qualification. “I mean, it’s not that there aren’t lots of good men out there, but it’s like those ones belong to other women already. It’s tough on a single girl.”
“So why not try the other team for a change?”
“Aw, you’re just propositioning me to cheer me up.” I took another sip of wine.
“Not at all. You’re an attractive woman, Lisa. Not just to men.”
The way she said it sounded so earnest. I batted an eyelash or two. “You really think so?”
I’ve never been with a girl. Bi-curious, perhaps, but never bi-get-down-and-do-it. Mainly that’s from a lack of opportunity; an opportunity I’ve never done anything to seek out. “I know I can be a bit … not butch … let’s say a bit bossy at times,” I told Jamie. “You might have expected that to attract some interest but it never has. Perhaps it’s just too obvious that I don’t swing that way, and you’re the first one brave enough to ask.” I toyed with the idea. “Who knows, perhaps I’ve been admired from afar and never realized.”
Again, I loved the way she took this last comment at face value, not as a joke.
I’ve never been in any doubt about my own straightness. Even the idea of being like that with another woman makes me a little bit queasy. But only a little bit. I have to admit, there is something enticingly transgressive about it. It felt strange, too — though in a good way — to be talking about the possibility of sex in such matter-of-fact terms. Almost clinical. I couldn’t imagine having a conversation like this with a man. All this added to that transgressive feeling.
In fact, the more I thought about it, going with a woman seemed to have all sorts of practical advantages: levels of personal hygiene, lack of facial hair, zero risk of pregnancy — all except the one that mattered most. Guess it’s true what they say: you can’t help who you love.
“But it doesn’t have to be about love, does it?” Jamie responded. “It can be — I don’t know — a kind of sport.”
As I processed this comment, Jamie started telling me more about lesbian sex: things that I probably didn’t want to know but couldn’t help but be fascinated by. The crowd had noticeably thinned since we’d arrived, passing back over the threshold that transforms a bustle of people into a collection of small groups and individuals. Listening to what Jamie was saying, no doubt with a look of delighted horror still plastered across my face, I scanned the scene around me, accidentally catching the eye of a man sitting further down the bar.
Scratch that, there was nothing accidental about it. He must have been staring at us for some time. kaçak casino Worse, I thought I recognized him — someone from our building. A client? I wasn’t sure, but not someone I could just tell to go to hell. My heart sunk as he started coming our way.
“Evening ladies. Having a good night out?”
“Very nice, thank you,” I replied, doing my best to sound as insincere as I could. I was firing telepathic darts at him — fuck off and leave us alone — but his shields were up and they bounced off to no effect.
“You I recognize,” he said, nodding my way, “but who is your friend?”
I was half-way through making a formal introduction when Jamie did a little pantomime: clutching her handbag and then extracting a phone and peering into it. “Oh sorry,” she said. “I’m going to have to take this. I won’t be long.” She shuffled off in the classic call-taking pose, slightly hunched with one hand holding phone to ear, the other pressed against the opposite ear to keep out the noise of the room.
I gaped at her. What the hell? A minute ago we were swearing a tactical alliance. Now here she was, bailing out at the first sign of trouble.
The man was in his mid-forties, I guessed. Not obnoxiously drunk, but still talking louder than circumstances really required. He worked at the law firm two floors up, he told me. “I’m sure I’ve seen you around,” I said, keeping my show of interest as fake as I could make it. He had just launched into a story about what great friends he was with our sales manager when Jamie returned.
“I’m so sorry, but something has come up. I’m going to have to leave you.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The man next to me, on the other hand, didn’t seem at all put out by the arrangement. “Never mind,” he said. “I’ll keep her company.”
“No, I’m afraid Lisa will have to come with me. I’m so sorry. Maybe another time.” In a show of urgency, she tugged my sleeve at the shoulder.
“Well, if you say so.” I made my own apologies and we teetered toward the exit with as much dignity as we could summon. It was only when we got outside that the giggles began.
“My God, you had me going for a moment there. I thought you’d abandoned me.” Her phone act seemed so out of character, I was laughing at that as much as the situation itself.
“Oh, I’d never do that,” she said, the tone of her voice transforming her instantly back to her serious, tentative self. She waited it out as my humor subsided, peering at me with that same hunted look I’d first noticed back at work. “Well,” she asked, “what now? Do you want to go on somewhere else?”
The change of scene, the chill of the night-time air — these had sobered me, bringing back all the work-day weariness that the wine had been holding at bay. I was about to say no when I registered the look on her face. And after all, the conversation had just reached the interesting bit. I compromised. “I don’t think I could face another bar. How about my place? It’s not far and we can Uber it?”
So that’s what we did. I’d promised Jamie more wine, but on arrival had found the cupboard was bare. I made jasmine tea instead. Given that my capacity for alcohol was near its limit this was probably no bad thing.
Settling down at the dining table with the teapot between us, we resumed our previous topic.
She told me all about it — her former girlfriend and how it had ended — leaning in conspiratorial. As if she were a member of a secret society, the Masons or some such, spilling their innermost secrets. And I listened. After all, she had been so sympathetic earlier in the evening when I was wittering on about Paul, a subject that, in retrospect, can’t have been of much interest to her.
“Give me my dyke raking,” I asked her, a little later on, giggling again. “I’m curious to know how I score.”
“You make it sound like a horoscope. Like reading your palm.”
“Tell you what, I’ll show you more than my palm.”
I stood up to give her a better look, pushing out my chest and wiggling my ass. Have I mentioned before how proud I am of my soft and unblemished skin? I think maybe I have. When she was slow to offer a comment, I started to unbutton my blouse, wanting to present myself to maximum advantage. I’d only intended to take off my top, but having done so I realized how unflattering my work-day bra was so I just kept going until I was down to bra and panties.
“How about that?”
Was it wise to be stripping in front of someone you will be at work with on Monday morning? That would have been the question of any sensible person (such as me, now, for example, after the fact), but that wasn’t the mood at the time. I was conscious rather of the difference between being with a woman and with a man, the absence of that sense of physical vulnerability in male company that you can never entirely escape. Feeling safe with a man was a mark of something special, when it should be the default setting. Take your clothes off in front of a man and you had sure as hell better mean it. Right now, I really had no idea what I meant or what I was doing, nor did I feel any hurry to find out. It was almost like a return to childhood. Playing dress-up in reverse.
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