Grin and bear it.
It’s a familiar phrase to those of us who spend most of our lives people-pleasing. But I, Keaton Henley, software saleswoman and best friend extraordinaire, don’t just grin and bear it at my favorite person’s bachelorette party. I grin and wear it.
“This is so much fun!” I say to the woman of the hour, Karina. We’ve been besties since our college days, back when the parties were in dimly lit fraternity houses and the drinks were almost exclusively mixed with cheap vodka.
I squeeze her arm, overwhelmed with a moment of nostalgia. She almost spills her mimosa on both of us.
“You’re not fooling anyone,” Karina whispers drunkenly to me, her brown eyes boring deep holes into my fraudulent enthusiasm.
“What? Are you kidding?” I lie, finger guns poised. “This is so. Much. Fun.” Pow, pow, pow.
The women around us at the bachelorette party sit in an amiable circle in the beautiful living room, lounging on plush couches and pillows, chattering about their latest sexual encounters. Ariana, Karina’s younger sister, roommate, and maid of honor, speaks in the loudest drunken whisper, explaining in heightened detail the unexpected pleasures of anal sex.
Everyone is much drunker than me, but that’s pretty normal in our friend group. At this time of day, I’m usually on my third cup of coffee, not my third cocktail. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still.
Karina raises her eyebrows at my smoking fingers. “You always use finger guns when you’re lying, Keaton.”
I shoot her again, just for fun. She rolls her eyes, so I grab her hand and plant a quick kiss on it.
“The estrogen level in this room is just higher than what I’m used to,” I remind her.
I work with a software sales team that is highly male-dominated. Reconnecting with our female college friends and meeting some of Karina’s female coworkers for the first time has been a change of speed that takes some getting used to. Usually, my daily conversations consist of maximizing sales, expanding our demographic, and developing new marketing techniques. Today, we’re all listening to Ariana talk about maximizing pleasure, expanding her list of partners, and developing new sex techniques.
“It’s all about trust,” Ariana says in that adorably frustrating been-there-done-that voice. She’s answered by collective head nods, led by my other friend Gabby, who raises her glass with triumph.
“To anal!” Gabby cries, winking at both Karina and me.
Gabby is probably the most sexually adventurous creature I’ve ever known; she’s had notches etched on her bedpost since she was fifteen. All curves and confidence, she got every kind of ass imaginable back when Karina and I were too busy getting every kind of blown off.
Karina finishes her drink in one big gulp and takes my hand. “Come on. I need something stronger.”
She yanks me up, and we scuttle away from the couches of the trendy living room into the even trendier kitchenette. Karina knows just where her sister’s whiskey stash is: tucked behind the olive oil on the top shelf. As she unscrews the cap and pours the contents into two coffee mugs, we listen to Ariana begin another story about an entirely different adventure of the sexual nature.
“Why does your sister always have the best sex stories? Isn’t she like, five years younger than us?” I ask mournfully.
Karina laughs, sipping on her whiskey with a smile. “She’s a tornado. Wait till you hear what she has planned for the rest of the party.”
“More drinking, I hope.”
“Oh yes. You’ll definitely need to drink more for what’s coming.”
That doesn’t sound promising.
As if on cue, there’s a knock at the door. My ears perk up and I lean around the kitchen island to get a look down the front hall.
Gabby races to answer the door. “Coming!” she calls, throwing open the door. Turning back to look over her shoulder at the rest of the ladies, she smirks and says, “Well, we all will be soon.”
A woman stands there dressed in a flouncy sundress with a matching picnic basket and bright red lipstick. “Hello, there,” she says with a smile, holding out her hand.
Gabby takes in her hand and then immediately stares at the unassuming woman’s boobs. “Whoa. Holy knockers,” she purrs.
Karina groans into her mug, and I laugh. Shameless, that woman.
Ariana is quick to the door, pulling the woman into the apartment she shares with her sister like she’s about to introduce us to the living embodiment of the cure for cancer. “Everyone, meet Claire! Claire is our best friend today, because she’s going to change our lives.”
“I don’t know about that.” Claire laughs. She looks to be in her mid-twenties.
Oh, to be five years younger and pull off that kind of cleavage again.
She begins to unpack the contents of her picnic basket on the coffee table—lotions, towels, cucumbers. Our friends lean in, intrigued.
“Oh yes, spa time!” I cheer, setting down my whiskey with a clink on the countertop, and then skip over to embrace my bliss.
“Somehow I don’t think that’s what—” Karina calls after me, but it’s too late.
I snatch up one of the cucumbers, looking at Claire with a grin. “Hi. I prefer these in my stomach rather than on my eyes,” I explain, pretty sure the whiskey has stolen my filter.
Claire’s red lips curl into a smile as my own wrap around the vegetable, preparing for a bite. “Actually,” she says, “those are for the oral-sex presentation.”
Crunch. I feel my cheeks flame up as my friends all explode into laugher.
“Oh, all right,” I mumble through a mouthful of cucumber. “Get it out of your systems, ladies.”
I look to Karina in the kitchen with a desperate plea for help.
She merely raises her mug to me. “Let’s get started.”
• • •
Standing in the front hall of Ariana and Karina’s apartment, I hug Karina good-bye, swaying back and forth in my tipsiness. The other women are changing into their sexy bar outfits, waltzing around in various levels of undress.
They’re ready to hit the town after pregaming with Claire and her cucumbers. Me? I’m ready for bed.
I whisper drunkenly in Karina’s ear. “I love you so much—so, so much. Please just kill me now while you’re at the prime of your happiness and I’m at the lowest of lows.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” she says, patting my back.
It was that bad. I slobbered all over my cucumber, making a complete mess of myself and becoming tonight’s source of entertainment for all our friends. Their stomach muscles are probably aching with how hard they laughed at me.
“I wish you could stay.” She sighs. “I never get to see you anymore. And I’m getting married, which means I probably will be no more fun and I’ll see you even less.”
“Nonsense,” I say, planting a kiss on her cheek. I’ve learned my lesson about staying out late with these ladies. Don’t—unless you have time to nurse a wicked hangover in the morning.
“Okay.” She pouts, reaching up to straighten my glasses, slightly askew from our bear hug. “See you soon?”
“I promise, missy.” I smile.
“Promissy,” she slurs back.
“Gabby,” I call over Karina’s shoulder, and Gabby pokes her head out of the bathroom, wearing only her underthings and wielding a curling iron. “Please remember to watch out for our girl tonight? And don’t disappear with some rando?”
She smiles and flips me off. It’s just like college again.
“Love you all!” I declare to the masses, and am met with a chorus of love from my favorite people. I close the door behind me and release a deep sigh.
A sense of restlessness courses through me as I stand on the street, waiting for my Uber to arrive. The night air is jolting, seeming to magnify my every emotion.
God, that was humiliating. I curse at myself for being so sexually behind everyone else. I thought my blow jobs were average; I didn’t think I was that bad. Claire’s annoying little twenty-something smirk had me sweating balls.
I remember how I dropped the cucumber on the floor, my hands slick with nerves and my own spit.
Claire had smiled encouragingly and said, in front of everyone, “Don’t worry, Keaton. I doubt you’ll make anyone’s dick fall off . . . Well, not unless you bite down, that is.”
My Uber pulls up. I climb inside the dim interior and slam the door with more force than necessary, worried that I’m going to turn into a scary, angry, sexless woman.
A small voice in my head reminds me that I’m good at so many things. I went to a goddamn Ivy League school, for crying out loud. But perfect attendance and an honor roll certificate don’t mean that I know how to roll my tongue around a cock, and that’s what I’m currently fixated on.
I pull out my phone. Lists always help me sort through my thoughts. I recall Ariana’s stories and tap my fingers against the screen rapidly.
Keaton’s To-Do List for Sex
Number 1: Blow jobs.
Number 2: Dirty talk.
Number 3: New positions.
Number 4: Anal.
My typing is interrupted by a nagging thought. Keaton, it pokes, you’re single. Are you going to go out every night and hook up with randos, hoping they’ll be cool with you experimenting sexually on them?
That sounds exhausting. I groan, tossing my phone in my bag. My head lands with a thud against the uncomfortable headrest.
“You okay?” the driver asks.
“You bet,” I say, finger guns popping.
Buzz. Someone is texting me.
I dig around my bag for my phone. Slate Cruz, it reads.
You guys done with the bachelorette thing? I need my wing-woman.
I respond with lazy thumbs.
I’m done, but I’m in no state to be anyone’s wing-woman.
The Uber pulls up to my apartment building. I thank the driver and hobble to the elevator, fumbling for my keys. I need some ibuprofen and a blanket to bury myself in forever.
Drunk? Or tired?
Both. Long day.
I can hear the familiar sound of Penny’s aggravated meowing before I even open the door.
She glares up at me with her big green eyes, flashing all her teeth at me. Feed me.
“I know, Pen,” I mutter. “Way past dinnertime.”
I shed my coat, purse, and shoes before shuffling to the kitchen to dig out some food for the little monster. Penny follows close on my heels, pissed that she has to depend on a human for her sustenance. Which I totally get. I depend only on myself, which is just the way I like things.
“Here you go. Go crazy,” I say, sneaking a quick stroke across her back as she dives into her meal. She rarely lets me pet her now that she’s grown, the little grump. I take what I can get when she chooses to dole out her affection.
I shuffle into my room to put on lazy clothes. I’m in the middle of piling my hair into a messy bun on top of my head when my phone buzzes again.
I’ll pay for your ride here. Come on. I’m desperate. Look at me.
A picture message pops up of a coffee table covered in horrible snack foods: a half-eaten pizza, an opened energy drink, and some kind of nachos with . . . chocolate dribbled on top?
I’m spiraling in boredom.
I can’t suppress a snort. My fingers fly across the keypad.
You don’t need me by your side to get laid. Besides, I’m home now. I’ve taken off my bra. I’m in for the night. These are unchangeable truths.
I reopen the picture message. Yeah, that’s definitely chocolate on his nachos.
I don’t understand how this man lives. I met Slate during my freshman year of college through mutual friends, and now it seems like we’ve known each other forever. At first, I was floored by how ridiculously attractive he was. Tall, muscular, sharp brown eyes, soft brown hair, defined jaw, full lips, and a smile that could melt every heart in the room.
We became fast friends in no time. I was drawn to his fearlessness, his charisma, his sense of humor. Slate was totally willing to shoot the shit with me, unfazed by my “bossiness.” It left an impression on me that developed into one of the most comfortable friendships I’ve ever had with a guy.
Fine. Tell me about the party. Were there strippers?
You would ask that.
What? Let me live vicariously through you.
Slate, you get plenty of ass. Let’s not pretend my life is any wilder than it actually is.
He ignores this comment.
What’s a bachelorette party without strippers?
I sigh. Am I really going to tell him what the main event of this party was?
Why not? The buzz of three mimosas and a whiskey still has me warm and fuzzy.
Karina’s sister booked a blow-job class. I sucked. Literally.
There’s a slight delay before his next response.
I’m sure you were great.
No, seriously. I bit the cucumber.
Oh my God, you didn’t?
That’s like the only rule, Keat. No teeth.
That’s why I suck. I suck at sucking. And I don’t know how to get better.
The typing bubble starts, and then stops. Starts again. Stops.
I frown at my phone. What’s his deal? Finally, he figures out what he wants to say.
Are you actually upset about this?
I roll my eyes. What a guy thing to say.
Why wouldn’t I be? I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not a sexually talented person. It’s not exactly Christmas morning for me.
Oh, come on, you have to have skills. Besides, you’re gorgeous. You probably just need a little practice.
I blink past the compliment. Slate has a habit of saying really wonderful things way too casually. I’ve always told him he’s going to lead some poor girl on by being so nice all the time.
What I need is boot camp.
And then he ruins it. Classic.
Penny waddles into my room, her tummy full and round. She hops up on the bed and finds her favorite spot, curled up exactly in the center of the mattress. I’ve tried to fight her on this, but to no avail. I concede, wrapping my body around her warmth.
I’m not joking, Slate. I feel really shitty about this.
The thought that sneaks up on me next comes out of nowhere. Before Sober Keaton can ruin it, Drunk Keaton takes the wheel for a gentle spin past the point of no return.
Can I ask you something?
My fingers are damn little traitors, typing away against my better judgment. I’m already plummeting down this rabbit shit-hole. Might as well make a splash?
How about you stop making jokes and help me become a better lover?
Dead air. No typing bubble, no quippy response, nothing to break this tension I’ve created.
What have I done?
I toss the phone aside on my duvet and groan. Penny scoots away from me, displeased by my squirming. I’ve apparently interrupted something important, and she’s less than thrilled.
Oh shit. I scramble for my phone, nearly elbowing the orange puffball dominating most of the bed.
You want me to teach you how to fuck?
Well, that settles it.
Forget it. I knew you’d make it a joke.
As soon as the message is delivered, my phone rings. He’s calling me. Time for some damage control. I pick up.
“Hey, Slate, look—”
“I’m not making a joke.” His voice sounds tight. Almost rigid. Which is so not Slate.
I can imagine him sitting on the edge of his couch with that look he gets on his face when he’s really focused. Admittedly, it’s not a bad look—his brow furrowed, gaze focused, thumb pressing against his bottom lip. It’s kind of sexy, to be honest.
I let out a nervous little laugh. “I mean, I’m drunk. I don’t know what I’m saying. I know you’re probably not interested, anyway. Hell, you get more ass than a toilet seat at Taco Bell, and I’m not about to be sloppy seconds to your weekend plans. No offense—”
“Whoa, Keaton,” he says. “I don’t have any weekend plans.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, my heart now galloping. Is this happening? Am I on the brink of making one of my best friendships totally, irrevocably weird?
“It means I could, well, take a break.”
“Wow, so honorable,” I say with a sneer.
“Come on, Keat, don’t be like that.” He sighs. I can imagine him running a hand through his hair, brushing it over the back of his neck.
“Sorry,” I mumble. “I’m not even sure what I’m asking. I may not even remember this tomorrow.”
“It’s okay,” he says back. Softly.
What did I ever do to deserve such a good friend?
Just when I think he can’t surprise me anymore, he hits me with, “How about we talk tomorrow? We’ll both be sober. We can set some ground rules.”
“For . . .” He falters, only for a second. “Whatever this is. Or whatever this could be.”
“Okay. That sounds good.”
“Good. Talk to you tomorrow, Keat. Get some sleep.”
“You too,” I say, and we hang up.
Penny opens one eye, as if to say, What have you done now, human?
“I have no idea,” I mutter. This could be the most humiliating thing I’ve ever gotten myself into.
But then, without warning, I find myself grinning. Drunk grinning, which isn’t necessarily my best look, but I wonder if Slate is grinning too.
If anything, this is definitely going to be interesting.
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