“All right,” said Kurt as he finished off the last of his lager, “if you had to shag an animal, which animal would you shag?”
Susan choked on her drink. “For fuck’s sake, Kurt.”
“No, but think about it,” Kurt said. “Imagine you’re Simon. Haven’t had a shag in months, surrounded by nothing but forest and rivers and animals and just thinking, mate, fuck it. Take what you can get.”
Susan let out an exasperated sigh. Fucking Kurt. She reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out one of her cigarettes and her lighter. Took a quick scan of the room. Jenny had promised to be there; it would be a shit New Year’s Eve without her. And yet still no sign.
Brian scrunched up his face in confusion. “You can’t shag birds, or fish. Or reptiles. So if you’re in the rainforest, what’s that leave you with? Tigers?”
“Monkeys, Brian,” Kurt said, slapping his hand on the table for emphasis. “We evolved from them, so how bad can it be? And female monkeys have tits.”
“Do they?” Brian asked.
Susan made a valiant effort to stop herself from rolling her eyes. She didn’t quite succeed. “Lots of animals have nipples. Doesn’t mean you should go around trying to shag them.”
Kurt gestured vaguely at Susan with his empty pint. “Not randomly trying to shag them. In an emergency. How about this? If the only way to save the Earth was to shag an animal, which animal would you shag?”
“If it’s down to me and a random animal,” Susan said, lighting up her cigarette and aiming the first puff of smoke right at Kurt, “Then the Earth deserves to go.”
“What about those monkeys with the blue arses?” Brian mused. “Shaggable, do you reckon?”
JP came back to the table from the bar. He’d been there for nearly fifteen minutes, chatting up the new bartender. Good, Susan thought. Someone should pull tonight.
JP looked at Brian, then at Kurt, then at Susan, and then back to Brian. “What are we talking about?”
“Shagging monkeys,” Susan supplied.
“Aw, saving yourself for marriage not working out then, Kurt?” JP quipped.
Kurt groaned. “Fuck off.”
Susan frowned and took a long sip of her beer. Taking the piss out of Kurt was usually a laugh, but tonight she couldn’t bring herself to play along. She needed a real conversation, not whatever Brian and JP were banging on about monkey anuses.
She glanced over at the bar. Maybe she should try pulling someone for the night.
Just then, she felt a cool hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” Jenny said. “Sorry I’m late. Did I miss anything?”
Oh, thank god, Susan thought. She looked up at Jenny, and then smirked in Kurt’s direction. “Kurt wants to fuck monkeys.”
“And that’s surprising how, exactly,” Jenny deadpanned, raising an eyebrow at Brian, JP, and Kurt. Kurt squirmed like a student who showed up to Jenny’s class without his homework, and Susan felt her smile widening. She almost didn’t notice Jenny nicking her beer and finishing it off.
“Oi, that’s mine,” she started, but then Jenny’s hand drifted from her shoulder to her arm, squeezed lightly. The touch was oddly reassuring.
“Let me buy you another,” Jenny said.
Susan nodded, and she let Jenny lead her to a seat at the bar. She was about to order another lager when Jenny cut in.
“Glenlivet and soda, please. Two of them.”
Susan’s favourite drink. “Cheers, Jenny,” Susan said. “The boys never remember.”
“Course they don’t,” Jenny said breezily. She picked up both drinks as they arrived and handed one to Susan. “Come on, new year, what do we toast to?”
Susan shrugged. “Kurt never getting a shag?” she tried, but it was half-hearted. In truth, she didn’t have any expectations of the new year, except that it would be like the old year. Same job, same friends, same pitiful excuse for a sex life. But it was fine. It suited her fine.
Jenny wasn’t having it. “We don’t need to toast to that to know it will happen,” she said with a laugh. “Whole new year, Susan. No Simon, no Alec, and definitely no Peter. None of the old bullshit.”
It was the same no-nonsense optimism Susan had come to know from Jenny. She’d never taken much comfort from it; in fact, she was the first one to try to blow it to bits with well-placed rejoinders and sarcastic remarks. But this time Jenny was right: they’d rid themselves of so many of the men who’d been weighing them down. Perhaps a new world would open up for them.
Either that or they’d both get so desperate for sex that they’d have to shag Brian on alternating weeks.
“New year,” said Susan, raising her glass and trying to summon some optimism back. “Entirely new bullshit.”
Jenny’s face broke into a smile. “Hear, hear.” They clinked glasses and drank. The scotch burned a beautifully clear streak through Susan’s system and put her a bit more at ease. No one needed to have sex with Brian. There was no reason to worry about that.
She put her drink down and saw that Jenny was staring at her with a mischievous glimmer in her eye. “What?” Susan asked.
“You need someone to kiss at midnight.”
Susan snorted. “Do I? I can hardly stand looking at any of the men here, last thing I’d want to do is snog them. And if you even mention Brian, then I swear to God—”
“I was going to mention Brian,” Jenny interjected coolly, “but only because you need to kiss someone who isn’t him.” She turned to look back at the boys, and Susan followed suit. Kurt and JP were deep in conversation, but Brian caught their eye and gave them a little wave. Jenny smiled, threw a quick, wicked look at Susan, and waved back.
“He’s been following you around like a very sweet and very large doberman puppy,” Jenny continued, teasing. “And he’d like nothing more than to lick you all over.”
Susan averted her eyes. “Ew, stop,” she whined. “I never want to think about Brian’s tongue again.”
“Really?” Jenny asked, sounding genuinely perplexed. She leaned an elbow on the bar and moved in closer to Susan. “He was an over-enthusiastic kisser, but he was much better with his tongue in other places. And did I mention what he did with his nose?”
Susan flushed. She hadn’t let Brian do that, even though he was keen to. And that was perfectly fine, she had every right to draw her own boundaries, but for some reason now she felt awkward and prudish. ”We didn’t… well.” She stopped abruptly to collect herself. “I just didn’t want to have to see Brian every day knowing he’d had his face in my vagina.”
Jenny barked out a laugh. Susan felt her flush deepening; she had no idea where that had even come from. She hadn’t even had two drinks and she was practically screaming about her vagina. God, what the hell was wrong with her?
“That’s fair,” said Jenny with an indulgent smile. Susan exhaled, and relaxed. “Plus with Brian, that might have just encouraged attachment."
“Precisely,” Susan said, picking up her drink and pointing it at Jenny. “One time. No mess. Just like you said.”
Jenny frowned. “It wasn’t supposed to be messy. I don’t understand. Did you cuddle with him after?”
Susan heaved a huge sigh and reached for her cigarettes. She was tense again, suddenly. She lit one and took a quick, unsteady drag.
“I don’t—I’m not a cuddler,” said Susan, flicking the ash from her fag into the ashtray. “So, no, I didn’t cuddle with him after.”
Jenny studied Susan intently for moment. She furrowed her brow like she did whenever she was trying to solve a problem, and Susan had to look away from the intensity of her gaze. Did Jenny not believe her? She probably saw her be affectionate with Simon, but that was Simon. Simon needed constant verbal and physical reassurance, otherwise he was prone to making disastrously stupid choices. Like running away to South America, for example.
And with Peter, it just wasn’t something they did. After sex, they’d light cigarettes and discuss psychological research or politics or what they were reading. It had felt so sophisticated when they first started dating, back when Susan was starting university and Peter was the charming older graduate student who marked their papers. But it did eventually became comfortable, and theirs. It worked for them, until it didn’t.
“Well, cuddling or not, you do have to cope with the mess now,” Jenny said. Her voice jolted Susan from her reverie. “But I think I know how you can sort it.”
“By finding a random man and snogging him at midnight?”
“Nope,” Jenny said, popping the ‘p’ and angling her whole body towards Susan. “By kissing me at midnight.”
Susan’s mouth fell open. She was struck totally dumb. “Kiss… you?” she sputtered out eventually.
“Don’t sound so excited, then,” Jenny said. Her tone was sarcastic, but her eyes were sparkling. “Just a bit of a snog to tell Brian you’ve moved on. I’m a better kisser than him, I promise.”
Jenny grinned toothily as she finished the last of her scotch. Susan couldn’t quite regain her composure; all she could do is watch Jenny flag down the bartender and order herself another drink.
“We couldn’t do that,” Susan blurted, surprised at her sudden breathlessness. She cleared her throat. “I mean, us snogging won’t chase Brian away. If anything, he’ll probably ask to join in.”
Jenny shrugged. Susan suddenly remembered Jenny’s joking offer of a threesome and looked down at the bar. Jenny probably wouldn’t turn down a threesome with Brian, she realized. Her stomach flipped over.
“He doesn’t have to see it’s me,” Jenny said, throaty and suddenly very close. She laid her hand at the back of Susan’s neck, just where the skin started peeking out from under her shirt, and then inclined her head towards a dark corner near the bowling lanes. “If we angle it right, he’ll be able to see you but not me.”
Susan pulled back and squinted at Jenny. “You sound like you’ve done this before.”
Jenny chuckled. “Might have done.”
Susan crossed and uncrossed her legs. It was obvious she wasn’t going to pull tonight, and the last thing she wanted was to get more entangled with Brian. And what was a little snog between friends?
Susan knocked back the rest of her drink and slammed the glass down decisively on the bar. “Fine,” she said. “You can kiss me at midnight. But you try anything… Brian-esque with your tongue and you’re doing my dishes for a week.”
“I can live with that,” Jenny said. She smirked at Susan and hopped off her stool to join the others.
Susan lingered at the bar. She traced a circle over the rim of her empty glass and watched the bartender mix what looked like a gin and tonic. He was rail-thin and pale but otherwise innocuous, yet JP had recognized him as gay as soon as he saw him. How did that work?
Susan summoned him over with a wave of her hand. “Can I have another one of these, but hold the soda?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “You got it.”
“Cheers,” Susan said, but the bartender had gone. She stared back at where Jenny was sitting with JP, Brian, and Kurt. Jenny caught her looking and stared right back. Licked her lips and smacked them together dramatically.
Susan swallowed. What the fuck had she gotten herself into?
It was almost midnight and Susan was hiding in the bathroom.
She did her lipstick, rubbed it off, did it again. Lit a cigarette and blew smoke straight up to the ceiling. Threw the cigarette into a nearby toilet.
It was just a dumb snog, for Christ’s sake.
She took a final look in the mirror and then stormed out. She walked straight up to the bar, ordered a shot of vodka, and downed it in a single gulp.
“Easy,” the bartender warned. A woman now—JP must have taken the other one home.
Susan tried to swallow the last of the vodka down, but it was lodged at the back of her throat. The bartender must have sensed her struggling from where she was standing a foot or two away, and slid her a glass of water.
“This should help,” she said. Susan took the glass and sipped carefully. The burn from the vodka began to ease.
“Thank you,” Susan rasped. The bartender ducked her head and chuckled. Susan didn’t recognize her; she wasn’t anything like the slim blonde bartender who Simon once tried to pull (with predictably terrible results). The energy around her was warm and gregarious, and everything from her messy dark braid to the bright glow of her eyes to the haphazard way her towel was thrown over her shoulder drew Susan in. They looked at each other across the bar, and she flashed Susan a curious smile before finishing up someone’s drink and ambling over.
Susan gripped her water glass. She didn’t have a single thing to say to this woman, and the thought of talking to her left her panicked in a way she didn’t quite understand and couldn’t identify.
Just then, someone from across the room started counting down from sixty. Susan cursed and almost tripped over herself in her rush to get away from the bar. She bolted to the dark corner near the bowling alley, exactly where Jenny said she’d meet her.
But Jenny wasn’t there.
Right, of course, Susan thought. Get all worked up about it and Jenny doesn’t even show.
But then she appeared, emerging from the smoke and the din of the pub. She walked toward Susan with her hands in her pockets, her shoulders back, and her hips swaying purposefully as she moved. It seemed like she was closing an impossibly long distance in agonizing slow motion.
Jenny did eventually reach her. She touched Susan’s arm and gently spun them both round, and then eased herself backwards into the wall. Susan followed her lead, unsure of how close she should get.
“There,” Jenny said, moving fully into the shadow cast by a nearby pinball machine. “Now no one can see me.”
It occurred to Susan that she should look to make sure Brian was watching them. But she couldn’t bear to look away from Jenny.
“Am I…” Susan started, and then bit her lip. She shuffled towards Jenny awkwardly and reached out to touch her, but at the last moment, she lost her nerve. She rested her hand against the grimy wall. “Am I okay?” she asked.
Jenny smiled. “You’re just right.” Her hand settled on Susan’s hip, and she drew her in so the tops of their legs were touching. “Happy New Year, Susan,” she whispered.
Six, five, four, three, two, one…
Susan wasn’t sure who moved first, but they were kissing before the shouting started and the noisemakers went off. Jenny’s lips were so much softer than any man’s, and they moved over hers confidently, deliberately. There were a thousand little things that Jenny was doing with her tongue and teeth, sucks and nibbles and delicate bites, that left Susan utterly unbalanced and scrabbling for some kind of purchase. She wrapped her arms around Jenny’s neck just as Jenny’s tongue gently pushed past her lips. Susan let out a soft mmph before opening her mouth.
Jenny was a fucking good kisser. She moved her hands to Jenny’s shoulders so she could keep Jenny where she was, make sure she didn’t stop kissing her.
But Jenny broke the kiss anyway. Susan’s immediately looked at her lips, and then became aware of herself and stepped back. She kept her focus firmly on Jenny’s eyes.
“That wasn’t Brian-esque, was it?” Jenny murmured. There was yelling and whooping all around them, but Susan could still make out the soft slur of Jenny’s voice in the racket. She tried to nod, but she couldn't trust herself to move at all. Because all she wanted was to—
It was just that Jenny was good at it, right? And she needed someone good at it, especially after Brian treated kissing her like he was embarking on a deep sea exploration. So it was fine to have another go. Right?
And besides, she was drunk.
“This is because of the booze,” Susan said, stern as she could manage.
Jenny nodded in mock seriousness. “Because of the booze,” she echoed, and then Susan backed her fully into the wall and kissed her.
And it was because of the booze that they stood there kissing for what felt like hours to Susan’s dizzy, intoxicated mind. And it was because of the booze that they snogged in the alley next to the bar, and again against Jenny’s car, which they were both way too drunk to drive, and then again in the taxi on the way to their flat.
It was only when Susan led Jenny to her sofa bed and guided her down to the hard foldout mattress that she realized she couldn’t blame the booze anymore. But at that point, Jenny had one hand in Susan’s hair and the other on the hot skin on the small of her back, and Susan didn’t know how to stop. She could only listen to her lizard brain, which was telling her to kiss, to touch, to get closer.
Oh God, what the fuck was she doing?
Susan pulled away, or at least, she tried to. Problem was that Jenny chose that precise moment to shift her hand to Susan's bum, beneath her jeans but over her knickers. Susan heard herself make a noise that was part groan, part squawk, and fully humiliating.
She pressed her thighs together. Her knickers were damp. Christ.
Jenny freed her hand from Susan’s jeans. She shook her head, whispered something that sounded like fuck to herself. “Sorry,” she muttered, a little louder. She couldn't meet Susan’s eyes. “Too much.”
“No,” Susan blurted out. “I mean… I didn’t want... “
“No, don’t worry,” Jenny said. She rolled from her side to her back, hoisted herself up on her elbows, and sat up. She studied her hands. “We’re drunk," she said, with something that sounded like resignation. "We got carried away. It doesn’t have to be anything.”
But I want it to be, Susan thought, and it startled her. She tried to take a deep breath, convince herself that she was drunk and telling herself things that might not be true. But then Jenny finally looked at her, and Susan saw something warm and unfamiliar in her gaze. She was reminded, briefly, of the bartender, and her eyes.
She did want Jenny. A frisson of heat rushed through her and then, just as quickly, a wave of nausea. Maybe she wanted that beautiful bartender too; maybe they had shared an unnamable thing that only happens between people that are both—
That are both—
She swallowed. She couldn’t finish that thought, not right now.
Susan sighed. “It’s just that… ”
Jenny’s mouth was set on a firm line. Guarded, Susan thought. “What?”
Susan sat up on the bed. She tucked her legs under her and shifted so she was facing Jenny. This felt bigger than her, than them, but she needed to start somewhere. “Did we really get carried away,” she began gently, “or do you reckon it might be, I don’t know,” she cut off, and then forced herself to keep talking. “Do you reckon it might be something else?”
Jenny bristled. “Dunno what you mean,” she said, sharp as a prick to the skin. The teasing, tender thing that was between them dissipated, and it left Susan feeling like all the air had gone from the room. She wasn't sure what she had done wrong. “I'm drunk, you're drunk," Jenny went on, gesturing dismissively between them, "and, oh, I don't know. I'm not Brian, and you’re not a terrible kisser. That's all there is to it.”
Susan closed her eyes, tried to breathe. So this was nothing to Jenny. Susan could barely look at her without feeling she might vomit, or catch fire, or throw herself at her like some sex-crazed maniac, but Jenny was just absolutely fine. Well, then. Good for her.
“A ringing endorsement,” Susan muttered bitterly. Her fingers itched for a cigarette.
Jenny rolled her eyes. “Come on, don’t do that.” Her voice was harsh and low. She angled her body away, and Susan missed the closeness immediately. Hated herself for missing it. “Don’t overthink it," Jenny said. "Just... forget it even happened.”
Too fucking late, Susan thought. She chewed her lip, and then shook her head. “I thought maybe if we talked—”
“Have you even kissed a girl before?” Jenny snapped.
Susan tensed. She remembered Brian at the pub, pausing to ask whether or not the person Jenny was sleeping with was a bloke. Brian probably wanted a reason to justify whatever fantasies he was having about Jenny, which was just absolutely typical, and she should have paid it no mind.
But her brain had circled it over and over again. Did Brian know something she didn’t? Did Jenny date women? If Alec were a woman, would Jenny have been quieter in bed? Or more passionate? Would it have been easier for Susan to live with them, or would she still have felt that thick, tangled knot of resentment in her chest whenever she saw them together? Would it have just been the same? Because Jenny would still have been spending time with someone who wasn't her.
Fuck. She’d fancied Jenny for ages, ages. And she had no idea.
“No,” Susan admitted. “But that doesn’t mean—”
“So why does it even matter?” Jenny cut in. Susan flinched. She couldn’t even begin to explain how much it mattered, and why. “If you’re just going to psychoanalyze me about it,” Jenny continued, biting into the words, “I think I’d rather go to bed, thanks.”
Jenny started to move off the the bed, and Susan didn’t think, she just acted. She reached out and grabbed Jenny’s wrist. She was still angry, and fucking confused, but she needed Jenny to see what was happening to her. For a brief moment, Jenny tried to pull away, but then her eyes widened as Susan lifted her hand to her lips and kissed her palm reverently. Jenny looked on in shock.
There was a long, heavy pause between them. “There it is, then,” Susan finally said, dropping Jenny’s hand and looking away.
Jenny folded her legs back under her and inched closer to Susan. Everything about her—her face, her eyes, even her proximity, the space around her body—seemed to soften. “When’d you work it out?” she asked quietly. Their pinkies brushed. Susan didn’t dare move her hand.
“Dunno,” Susan said. She looked up at the ceiling. She could keep her voice from shaking, but only just. “Maybe five minutes ago?”
Jenny smiled at her, a bit lopsided and unsure, but genuine nonetheless. With a shyness that felt so very un-Jenny, she cupped Susan’s face in her hand and kissed her cheek. “I was a twat, just then.” she whispered. She tucked a stray piece of Susan's hair behind her ear. Susan suppressed a whimper as the touch sent hot, thrilling echoes of itself through her body. “I thought you might have been having a go at me," Jenny went on, "and I only got defensive because I… I do like you, Susan.”
Susan made a sound that was somewhere between a disbelieving snort and a gasp. “Do you?”
“Yeah,” Jenny breathed out. Susan felt something that was bound tight in her chest suddenly release. Her heart sped up. This was real, now. "Forgive me?"
Susan nodded, dazed. She crawled toward Jenny and kissed her, and this time, she wanted to let herself enjoy what it did to her body. But as soon as she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss, Jenny pulled away. Susan nearly whined at the loss. “We should sleep it off,” Jenny said carefully. “Then… talk in the morning?”
“Yeah” Susan sighed. She fixed her gaze on the duvet and tried not to appear as self conscious as she felt. “‘S a good idea.” Jenny was right, of course. But Susan’s lips were buzzing, and she was hot all over, and she didn’t know how to stop herself from wanting to kiss Jenny, to touch Jenny, now that she'd started.
Jenny eased herself off the mattress and padded toward her bedroom. Susan looked up, and she watched her. She took in her shape, the careful and graceful sweep of her body, for the very first time. What would it be like when they finally had sex? To have all of that movement, on top of her, next to her, beneath her, inside her?
Jesus Christ. She was so wildly, utterly, terrifyingly fucked.
“Jenny,” Susan called after her. Jenny spun round. She looked unsteady on her feet, and it was probably because of the booze, but Susan hoped that it had something to do what had happened between them.
Susan didn’t have anything to say, not really. She just wanted to get one more look at Jenny before going to sleep.
“Happy new year,” she settled on.
Jenny smiled, big and fond and a little cheeky. It dawned on Susan that it was just the thing that had been driving her crazy for months. The smile, directed at her. Because of her.
“New year, new bullshit,” said Jenny, humor and warmth radiating from her voice. She lingered at the threshold of her room for a moment before she slipped inside and shut the door softly behind her.
Susan chuckled. There was moisture dotting her cheeks, and it took a moment for her to realize she was crying. What the fuck, she thought. She wiped the tears away, and but more were gathering in her eyes. It wasn’t that she was sad, it was just that she was… so much, and so quickly.
She collapsed onto the bed. The ceiling seemed to be vibrating above her, and everything was dizzy and strange. She was still drunk, a little. But this year, this fucking year. Things were going to be so different, now.
“New year, new bullshit,” she whispered into the quiet and the dark. She was far too wound up to sleep. So she curled up in the warm indent that Jenny’s body left in the mattress and waited for the morning, for the new year to truly begin.