3rd Place – January 2023

Dinner as Foreplay

By Jennifer Juniper

This is getting a little ridiculous, I think to myself. So many guys look so good. Smell so good. And I can’t keep my hands off of them. Was it physical–my body saying I didn’t have much time left? Was it psychological–my mind thinking I didn’t have many chances left? At a time when my girlfriends were all talking about their bodies changing, their eros winding down, mine was winding up.I seemed to be the only one with a vagina on a farewell tour like it was Keith Richards or with a bucket list all its own–like it was Keith Richards.

Whatever it was, you could cut the pheromones with a knife; and they were taking me from the cold open of, “How’s it goin’?” to the warm breath of, “How do you like it?” at daring speed.

“What are you thinking about?” my date breaks into my silent reverie.  

Oh. . . I didn’t dare say. All the ways my imagination was going from intermingling to intertwining with him. Removing the barriers of clothing between us, maybe slowly, cautiously peeling each piece away, or clawing frantically and passionately until there was nothing but skin between our souls. Kisses keeping step. Tenuous at first, then building into desperation becoming a wave we ride, twisting and touching each other always as it crests and crashes us, bliss-filled onto the beach. 

Good thing eating escargot takes concentration. I need my mind to wander off the undressing it’s already doing. He’s sexy, smart, and funny. A trifecta that would make me do him right here. On this table. Under the stares of strangers. That’s the glory and the fervor of getting older–I just don’t give a damn what people think anymore. 

I care more about freedom than judgment, and am finally gaining immunity to the opinions of others. I want to define myself, not by some stereotyped moral code–or a Maybelline commercial: “Maybe she’s born with it….” of course she’s born with it! … “maybe it’s Maybelline.” (Maybe it’s a greedy corporation trying to fill its coffers by preying on the insecurity women have about their bodies, getting them to color, crimp, and curl themselves into a different image).

There is beauty in my essence, and certainty at my core. Years of swimming upstream from the constant conditioning to finally know who I am and what I want. And right now I want sex.   

“How’re the snails?” my dimpled companion asks.

“Hot…and slippery.”

I grin slyly under the veil of the napkin, dabbing at the moist corners of my mouth. As I lay it back in my lap, I feel it’s not alone there. His hand is resting on my thigh. He squeezes it ever so slightly, asking a question. Inviting me. The champagne wasn’t going only to my head, but bubbling and sparkling its way to other parts. And I could feel those parts answering, ‘Mmmm…yesss.’

Another squeeze, a little stronger this time, a little higher up. An intuitive response saying he’s ready…willing…and, scanning his physique once again…definitely able

They say women hit their sexual peak in their forties and men in their twenties, an imbalance I’d always found a little unfair. But tonight, the scales are tipping into my favor. The man at the other end of this hand is a grad student, in Biology, nonetheless. Young enough to keep up with my appetite and so avid about anatomy that a tattoo of deconstructed DNA circles his bicep. Joey should really know his way around a body. My body. 

A brief moment of reason interjects and I excuse myself. Once inside the ladies room, I try to reel in my reflection. I can see by her hungry eyes I’m gonna need back-up.

Calling on Flo, the cycle tracker app, it opens up with flowers blooming. Figures. I lift my head, “You cannot have sex with this guy tonight,” hands on the sides of the sink in solidarity. “You’re ovulating. You’re not on anything. Remember the plan: close on the house, pack up the car, put this town in the rearview mirror.”

My reflection, throwing caution and Flo’s flowers to the wind, makes a counterplea. “We need a palate cleanser after that Rich break-up.”

The double meaning of my ex’s name makes me smile. My last attempt at a long-term relationship. No fear of that with Joey; he’s sixteen years younger than me and my house has an accepted offer on it. My belongings already sorted into piles of what to take and what to donate–I haven’t yet sorted out why Rich broke up with me so, I am on all counts (physically and emotionally) safe. Taking a lover would be harmless, as long as I didn’t get pregnant. 

Maybe even helpful, the girl in the mirror seemed to think; judging by her sultry grin.

The closer I grew to the table, the more unsure I was who won back there.

We’re standing outside on the corner. I’ve always loved buildings on a corner: doors on a slant, teetering there on the edge. Looking over at our bikes, I begin assessing. . . the darkness, the glasses of bubbly, this unfamiliar part of town.

“I’m not sure how to get home from here,” I say into the night sky with stars winking back at me, a crescent moon tipped into a smirk. 

“You don’t have to.” Joey points across the railroad tracks and down the street. “I live right over there.”

A mixture of mischief and confidence, his smirk looks like he knows a few different ways to turn me into a puddle in the middle of his bed.

And it looks like he’s going to be late for school tomorrow.

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