I should have recognized the hand-on-the-upper-thigh maneuver. But I didn’t expect to be hit on by my happily married friend Celeste; we were just splitting a cab downtown. So I slurred on about the delicious and strong drinks we’d had that evening.
“Did you know tequila’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac?” I said.
“I didn’t,” she smiled, her hand lingering.
“Yeah. This bartender I dated…”
And she was kissing me. My brain swirled. She tasted like green margaritas.
We arrived at her apartment. When she hopped out, the hem of her skirt slightly exposed the waves of her ass.
“We have to do this again soon,” she said. The cabbie chuckled and we were off. On the ride home my thoughts roamed from, “That was awesome” to “Is she latently gay? Am I?” I opened the window for fresh air. The scent Celeste left in the cab — vanilla — was making me dizzy.
After a few months of being a laser-hair-removal technician on Madison Ave., I started waitressing at a sports bar in Hell’s Kitchen. Besides the occasional groping customer or shitty tip, the job was fun. I was working every Friday and Saturday night, pocketing double what I made zapping hairy vaginas and dicks, and making friends.
About a month in, the first week in December, I was scheduled to serve a private party on the third floor with a bartender I’d never met. I’d never had any sexual experiences with women, but have always felt an appreciation for the female body. And Celeste, the bartender, was beautiful: straight brunette hair down to her full breasts, skin the color of coffee with cream, full lips. She was the sort of woman who, I imagined, rarely heard the word “no.”
The party never showed up. While waiting for our manager to let us go, Celeste taught me how to mix and drink like a bartender. After three drinks and the typical exchange of “Why did you move to the city? How long ago?” the conversation began to comfortably ebb.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked. I did at the time, one I had been with for five years. He’d recently moved into my cramped Astoria apartment. In general, I told her, things weren’t swell — somehow we’d stopped having fun together and seemed to have run out of things to talk about.
“Sorry to hear that,” she said. I noticed the diamond on her finger.
“How long have you been married?” I said.
“Five years,” she said, all teeth.
“Do you believe he’s the one?” It was supposed to be a joke, but ended up sounding cynical.
“You know how people say, ‘you just know?’ Well, I really ‘just knew.’ It sounds lame, but he’s the love of my life.”
It was like a refrain from that cheesy Ben Folds’ song, “The Luckiest.” Celeste’s marriage reminded me of my parents’ white-picket-fence marriage — the kind of relationship that I rolled my eyes at, and probably secretly longed for. “That’s nice,” I said, and took a shot. Soon after, our boss showed up and Celeste and I stumbled our different ways.
Throughout the winter, we worked together sporadically. Each time, she slipped me a few drinks and we chatted about our lives. When Valentine’s Day rolled around, my boyfriend and I had broken up, and I decided I’d volunteer to work and keep my mind off the fact I was Valentine-less.
Celeste was not working — I imagined her at home, sipping champagne on a bed of rose petals with her husband. Red and pink paper hearts bobbed on wires from the bar’s ceiling, hitting me in the head throughout the night. But it was better to be at work — there were more miserable singles at the bar than there were bushy-tailed couples.
Both coming from broken families, my parents were high-school sweethearts, got married after graduation, and moved to a town actually called Eden, where they restored a tattered old country house and moved in. My parents’ marriage was the kind others envied: they were happy together being ordinary and quiet.
Maybe it was my family’s “boring” life growing up in Hicksville. Or maybe it was my father’s death the year I graduated from college. But I have always been skeptical of the “white picket fence” life — it never seemed to align with my ideas of happiness.
The first week after my breakup, I moved through all the stages of grief — denial, anger, sadness — and then landed on “horny.”
I’d starting going out with Celeste and some friends from work for dinner every week or so. At once such dinner, I was talking about single life, when Celeste asked, “Have you thought about hooking up with girls?” The others were at the bar ordering another round. “Not yet,” I said. I winked jokingly. “I’m picky about my women.”
I took the question at face value, until she asked, “So what’s your type?”
“You are, Celeste,” I said and blew a kiss, suddenly aware that I was flirting back. Our friends returned with heaping shot glasses, salt, and a cup full of limes.
Several hours later, in the back of a yellow cab, Celeste pulled the hand-on-the-upper-thigh maneuver and we made out until we arrived to her apartment. I was back in the cab, on the way home, when I got a text from her: “ Come back.” Heady from our make-out, I told the driver to turn around.
Celeste’s husband was asleep in the bedroom, so the couch made do. We fell on each other — making out soon escalating to full-blown sex. And it was liberating; I never would have done it if I’d still been with my ex. As she kissed my inner thighs, I felt as if at any moment the living room would detach from the building like a luminous soap bubble and drift off into the night, bobbing above the taxis, rooftops, and stars.
Now, I’ve never been one to regret things. “Life’s too short,” and all of that. But the week that followed our tryst was a disconcerting one. Celeste wasn’t just a woman, she was married. And, in my eyes, that was still a big deal. I called her to set up a lunch at Mexicana Mama; I wanted get her chest off my chest, so to speak.
“About the other night,” I said. She smiled.
“You taste good,” she interrupted. I was taken aback — a woman had never hit on me so bluntly.
“Don’t you think your husband would mind?”
She laughed. “We have an understanding,” she said. “As long as I stick to women and not men, I can do what I want with girls.” She didn’t really consider herself a lesbian or even bi — but she’d been hooking up with women periodically since high school. “My husband knew I wouldn’t give that up when he proposed.” I’d never heard of such a thing; for me, relationship was a word that was synonymous with “vanilla” and “boring. And if the idea were thrown on the table, the guy had to be present.
“Your husband’s never gotten jealous?”
“Never,” Celeste said. Although she admitted that there was one weekend getaway — more intense than ordinary — at a ski resort she’d gone on the previous winter, with a girl that he didn’t know about. “That was a little too relationship-y. He might have been upset about that.”
But basically, he was comfortable with his wife hooking up with other women — and didn’t even care if he was present for it — as long she came home to him after. I thought about my parents’ relationship: coffee and eggs at dawn, tending the garden, dinner at dusk, warm milk. Celeste presented a radically different — and intriguing — image of “marital bliss.”
“I’m actually thinking about renting a hotel room with some girlfriends,” she said, again, grinning. We were waiting for the check; Celeste was sitting across from me. Her foot touched my leg. “Four of us total. We just need one more.”
My initial reaction was to ask, “Where do you want to go?” But then I got it: where wasn’t really the point. I couldn’t say “no.” So I asked, “When?”
“Soon,” she said.
For about a week, my stomach did something strange each time I thought about a hotel room filled with four, slightly inebriated women and what we would do. And, I was still downtrodden about my breakup. But Celeste was helping dissolve my malaise. I wasn’t falling for her, per se. Rather, I was falling for the idea of her life — glamorous, sexually adventurous, polyamorous. And it was nice to see living proof that fun and new experiences didn’t automatically end when one fell in love.
Of course, “soon” slipped into several weeks and then into several months. Celeste bartended less and less and starting missing nights out with the girls from the bar. Finally, one Friday evening at the end of April, I ran into her. We did the typical catch-up chat, waiting for our friends to meet us at Hudson Terrace.
“So what happened to the hotel idea?” I asked. I knew I was sounding needy, but I was; I was antsy, nervous, and excited to experience my first all-girl orgy.
“Well, I ran it past my husband,” she said. “He wasn’t happy.”
“I thought he didn’t get jealous,” I said.
“He’s not,” she said. He was lonely. For Celeste, kissing random girls had increasingly turned into all-night and all-weekend affairs; she had been focusing so much on his permission for her to play with women that she had forgotten her promise to be his wife. Celeste had been missing for two months because she’d been busy rekindling her marriage. “He’s the love of my life. If that means giving up a few hot experiences with women, so be it.”
Our friends arrived. And after a few drinks, the awkwardness between Celeste and me dimmed. A few weeks later, I quit the bar to pursue a writing job; Celeste and her husband moved. I haven’t seen her since.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories in 2011.