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Break Me From This Rule

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When Becca’s ex-boyfriend kisses her, it doesn't suck. It tastes like woodsy cigarettes and cake—praline and hazelnut. Or maybe coffee? Of course that bitch Becca would have the good stuff.

Gretchen needs to come better prepared to these things. Bring a much larger purse and some of those giant gallon-sized sandwich bags. She could stuff an entire week’s worth of food in those things, though she always forgot to put them in the fridge when she got home. Two or three weeks later, she'd wind up finding it during one of her recreational Ritalin-inspired cleaning jags; a green, lumpy mess swishing in plastic.

Her kissing buddy tilts her face with his fingers, deepens their kiss, and the image is forgotten.

He snaps his head back from hers, sighing grandly in a way that works when she’s buzzed. Which she is.

“Fuck.” He blinks once.

She stares at his mouth, he moves it way too much when he talks—it’s enunciation as offense. Her response is a slow afterthought. “What?”

“They kicked me out.” He peers back inside, moving his head in a clumsy attempt to look past the corners of the lobby.

“Yeah, for yelling at the bride. I thought you didn't care?”

His black tie is undone. Gretchen yanks it, and he weaves forward, brushing his lips on her cheek. He pulls on his jacket, straightening it out, as if that’s going to hide the wrinkles. Or the fact that it's so short it's got what her grandma used to call “The Frankenstein Fit”. She smothers a snort.

“No, of course not.” He grins meanly and licks his lips which are faintly stained with her lipstick. “Fuck their miserable, self-congratulatory farce of a wedding. It’s just that I meant to grab another bottle before leaving. Doesn't seem right that that wretched duo of mediocrity should have all that fine champagne and me none.”

He’s so pleased with himself, this rumpled, not-that-cute guy who got kicked out of a wedding for being a jerk and is flirting with her like none of those things are true. He's got lousy posture and okay teeth. She's going to wind up fucking him. Goddamn it.

“Wait here,” she says and walks back inside.

Gretchen hurries, a little. Not to get back to him faster, she isn't that desperate, but to avoid Lindsay, who sees her across the room and tries to wave her over. She mimes back stomachache and gotta run and bedtime, and scampers away, with another bottle of champagne snug under her armpit. Her contraband clinks brightly against her purse strap and she follows the cooler outside-air through the gilded doors, to the red carpeted sidewalk.

He’s still there, tying his sneakers, another cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He sees her and stands slowly, smiling. She holds up the champagne bottle, exposing the foiled neck, turning it this way and that so the silver catches the light.


“Ooh, I like you,” he says, blowing the smoke away from her face.

“Most men do.” She reaches for his cigarette, does a quick boarding school French inhale, and puts the cigarette back in his mouth. Gretchen might have imagined it but she thinks she felt the tip of his tongue on her fingers as they touched his lips. “Now we have two.”

The other bottle of champagne that she'd been drinking from before stands placidly between them. He leans down to grab it and taps it against hers before taking a pull, wiping his mouth with his wrist in a careless sloppy way, lips bared, teeth exposed, spit-slick and hungry.

“Back to mine?”

He’s not handsome. He’s that weird combo of doughy and skinny. His hair looks like a banana that’s been melted down into a forward-combed emo-style 'do. His cigarettes are good though; expensive and harsh. He probably has some more at his place that she could snag after. And fuck it, it’s not like she has much planned for tomorrow other than moving to the other side of the country. 

“Yeah, okay.”

The cab is easy to procure. Once in, his hand reaches for her knee and he circles it idly with one finger, smirking out the window. He keeps to his side, otherwise. No sudden, unexpected, Uber face-eating. Which, good. Points for you, Johnny. Or was it Jimmy? 

She likes it; the feel of his hand, his fingers. They’re long. Maybe this means she won’t be giving clit-finding lessons tonight. A girl can dream, right?

His hand stills and the touch changes meaning. It’s doing something for her, this wisp of nothing. The warmth radiates from the point of contact. She's feeling something here, this is a feeling.

Why is it that some guys do the grope thing and it feels like picnic ants, and with others it feels like promise, blossoming and rich? It's not the men, not really. It's her. Mixed with them. Some weird glitch of chemistry.

Like Jimmy/Johnny here. It certainly isn’t interest that's getting things going. Gretchen barely knows the guy—Becca's sloppy seconds. It’s not his personality; he seems like a dick. A dick with a cool accent. But a dick. It certainly isn’t attraction. She prefers them athletic, dark, handsome, not whatever he is. Sickly European Gamer? Insomniac Asshole Vampire? Guy that wears sneakers to a wedding?

Without thinking, she puts her hand on top of his and slowly, they twine their fingers together. Gretchen had expected his hands to be softer, weaker, but they’re not. Their strength is unexpectedly exciting. Maybe he doesn't have a country estate and a Jeeves, like her imagination initially gave him. Maybe his parents are bricklayers. Not that she cares. It's not like she needs to know this shit. Or think about it. She won't be seeing him again after tonight.

He moves their hands between them on the leather seat, looking out at the passing hills, dark but dotted with interspersed light. It feels comfortable, the motion of travel, the night, her hand in his. Like they've done this before. Comfortable. That shouldn't be hot.

They head towards Silver Lake, that's where he told the driver to go. Predictably. LATFH living in hipsterville. Fuck it, she'd probably live there too if she could. Gretchen likes to believe that she's too self aware to be a hipster but knows that all but assures that she is one.

She should just embrace it as part of her new East Coast self; find a place in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. Start fucking dudes with beards and tattoo sleeves. Is New York cold already? Will she have to buy sweaters? Or one of those cute circle scarves? One of the downsides of Linds cutting down on blow—less knitting, less surprisingly well-made birthday gifts.

His thumb presses into the spot between her index finger and thumb, bringing her back. He has good hands. Yes. 

“I’m thinking about how much I want to kiss you again but I’m not keen on cliches, so I’ll wait. What about you? Any brilliant thoughts?”

She looks up, mouth slightly open. She'd forgotten she was a person, she thought she was just hands.

“You have good hands, dude. They're not wimpy.”

Jimmy/Johnny Winters-Hamme or whatever-his-name-is laughs a single laugh and offers a quicksilver flash of a smile. There’s something to his smile, she hadn’t registered it before. It’s dangerous. Not “I’m a 'nice guy' who’s gonna lock you up in a basement” dangerous. The good kind. Where the sex might actually be kinda fun. Maybe this hook-up isn't such a terrible idea.

“Not wimpy, eh?”

“Whatever, Mr. Three Names. I doubt it means much.”

He smiles again and it stays this time; fixed and almost sunny. Gross. She into it though. Keep smiling like that, she thinks, when what she should be thinking is: why did she tell him the truth, when she could have lied?

When they get to his place, a house, up in the hills, they both reach out to pay and awkwardly split the bill. Gretchen watches the taxi take off, tail lights blinking and disappearing on the turn.

“So, Doll, do you wanna come inside and see my etchings?”

She spins around to him. “Was that your attempt at an American accent?”

“Shut up, it’s perfect.”

He opens his door and she follows.

“Keep telling yourself that.”

Jimmy, not Johnny, definitely Jimmy, kisses her again before the door closes behind her. It tastes sweet, only sweet now, not smoky, and she takes her time enjoying the flavor. She doesn’t even like him but she likes his mouth and his hands, one up on the wall behind her, the other grasping at her hip. The purloined champagne bottle still pressed tight against her side, clinking against the one barely in her purse, with a festive sort of sound, and every pass at her lips is like bells.