The annual Halloween party at Greg and Tina Masterson’s house was a success as usual. I made my second bathroom trip of the evening, tipsy but happy. Smiling at myself in the bathroom mirror, I washed my hands and finger combed my hair. When I opened the door to return to the party, she was waiting for me in the dark guest bedroom. Lilian.
I saw a flash of her face before I hit the bathroom switch behind me, turning off the light. She grabbed me and pressed me up against the bedroom wall, her lips on mine before I could say her name. She tasted like candy corn and Grand Marnier.
Lost in the taste of her, I did not resist as she moved her lips to the curve of my neck and giggled into me, her breath tickling the edge of my hair. A flash of desire overwhelmed me before I managed to pull myself together enough to ask, “What are you doing, Lilian?"
"Oh, now, don't call me 'Lilian.' Nobody calls me Lilian. Call me 'Lily.'” Her fast hands pulled my shirt out, undoing all the post-pee tucking I’d done. “What does it feel like I'm doing?"
Our fellow partygoers’ coats and purses were piled on the bed; at any minute, someone might decide to leave and come looking for their jackets. Grabbing her hands as they went for my belt buckle, I pulled her into the bathroom, shutting the door behind us.
Lily didn’t fight the idea of going into the bathroom. Instead, she took the opportunity to kiss me again, her arms wrapping around my neck, pulling me closer. Pushing against her enough to free my lips from hers, I tried reasoning with her. ”Lily. . .Lily! You're drunk. Look, splash some water on your face and let me put my clothes back in order. You've got lipstick all over me!"
I grabbed the soap dispenser and considered trying to clean up, but I didn’t want to get my shirt wet trying to remove the lipstick smear. Maybe everyone would assume sloppy application on my part. Lilian stood behind me, kissing my shoulder. I glanced at my flushed face in the mirror. She slid her arms around my middle and started undoing my shirt buttons, her breasts pressed up against my back. I turned around to try to stop her, and she kissed me again, her hipbones against mine as she pressed me up against the counter.
"I'm not drunk," she said, reaching for my belt buckle again, having finished unbuttoning my shirt. “And neither are you."
"That still doesn't answer what the heck you think you're doing. What if someone comes back here?"
“If anyone knocks on the door, we'll pretend I got sick, and you're taking care of me.” She smiled wickedly and then purred at me: “Please, Sylvia, take care of me."
I gave in, kissing her hard, allowing myself a few seconds of wild abandon before I pulled myself together and left the bathroom.
I returned to the party to find everything as I left it. Ted Nelson, the department chair, and Grad Student Jane remained in their corner discussing William Blake's etching methods. Tina continued to flit back and forth from the oven to the counter, refreshing the finger foods lined up on the kitchen island. I smiled at her before heading to the bar, wondering if their marriage would last or if Greg might be wooed by a new, promising, young, petite-yet-over-endowed graduate student. I held out hope for them, but I knew lasting departmental romances were rare.
I poured myself a double shot of gin. Watching the partygoers, I realized despite my careful avoidance of sleeping with graduate students and colleagues I was now one of the faculty participating in departmental incest.
I looked for Lilian, wondering if somehow the other partygoers could see some difference in us from earlier in the evening. Were our kisses visible on us beyond the lipstick smear on my shirt? I spotted her standing next to Ted. I wondered how much her wicked smile of satisfaction was from our tryst and how much was due to her interruption of Ted’s attempt to get in Jane's pants. She caught me looking at her and wrinkled her nose in my direction before flashing a huge smile and motioning me over.
At first, I considered turning away and walking in the other direction. After all, I could put a stop to whatever this was between Lily and me. What’s a lipstick smear on a woman’s shirt? There was still time to save myself.
On the other hand, socializing at a party is perfectly normal behavior for colleagues. I told myself blowing her off would be weird and would start a whole different rumor mill within the department.
Obviously, I had no choice but to join them.
We made small talk for a bit, making sure everyone knew everyone else in our little circle. The graduate student’s name actually was Jane, and she gushed about how much she enjoyed her first few weeks in graduate school. She asked me what I taught, and while I heard myself describing my courses to her, I kept thinking of the taste of candy corn and Grand Marnier on Lily's lips. And the fabric of her skirt, cool to the touch at the hem and deliciously warm as my hand slid beneath it and up the back of her thigh.
Ted, in his usual way, saved me from having to be coherent by launching into a discussion of his current project, effectively squashing all other topics of conversation. Jane looked relieved to have his attention focused on her again, and Lily pretended to be as enamored and interested as Jane at first, but she quickly lost interest in the game.
When Jane started asking questions, Lily made a show of draining her glass. She smiled at me and put her hand on my arm. “I need a fresh drink and a cigarette. Care to join me on the porch?" We made our way to the bar. As she poured herself a drink, I peeked back over at Ted and Jane. They hadn’t even noticed we’d walked away from the conversation.
I followed Lily to the porch where she reached into her bag and pulled out her cell phone and a cigarette. She offered me one, and I accepted, aware I wouldn’t finish it. Smoking gave me something to do with my hands, though, which I needed. Despite my earlier resolve and decision to nip things with Lily in the bud, I feared I might start touching her in plain view of the other partygoers. We stood smoking in silence for a couple of minutes before she started typing in a text message. She paused a minute, looking at me. "Okay, here's the deal. I rode over here with Ted, but this isn’t a date. I’m telling him you suddenly don't feel so great, and I'm going to walk you home."
My heart raced. If I put a stop to things immediately, we could blame a drunken fumble and make-out session in the guest bathroom on being drunk. Monday morning, this could all be a funny memory. Nothing more.
I took a drag off my cigarette and then stubbed it out in the empty flowerpot Tina kept on the porch for an ashtray. No one in our department smoked full time, but Tina was smart enough to realize we all reverted to our lousy graduate student behaviors once the bar opened. I perched the almost-new cigarette with the butt facing out so Tina or someone else could enjoy it later.
Inside my head, I heard myself letting Lily down easy. What came out of my mouth, though, was entirely different: “Tell him I'm sick--sick to the point you are worried about leaving me alone; I can drive you home later.”
I wasn’t drunk, but I certainly felt out of control. Something snapped when I had a taste of Lily in the Mastersons’ guest bathroom. Besides, this tryst hadn’t been my idea, and chances were Lily would end things before whatever this was between us turned into anything other than a one-night stand. After all, as far as I knew, she was straight. She and Ted briefly dated after she moved to Escondido and joined our department. I tried to remember if they were still together.
She finished the text, slipped her phone back in her purse and smiled at me. "Whenever you're ready."
Before I could chicken out, I grabbed her by the hand and took off at a trot down the sidewalk. I pulled her around the closest corner, and we disappeared from the view of others on the porch. They were not paying attention to us, but feeling like a kid running off from school in the middle of the day thrilled me. As soon as we were around the corner, I stopped and pulled her to me. I kissed her, reveling in my impulsiveness. When the kiss ended, we made our way quickly the few blocks to my house.
As I opened the front door, Lily worked on the buttons on my shirt. This time, I made no effort to stop her. We stumbled in the house, and I somehow managed to kick the door shut before kissing her again. I didn’t bother turning on lights before I led her through the dark house and into my bedroom.
We fumbled, anxious to get out of our clothes. I shrugged out of my shirt and pulled my mouth away long enough to say, "Let me undress you." In response, she moved her hands from my belt to my face and kissed me hard. I grabbed the edge of the light sweater she wore and pulled it up over her head, briefly breaking our embrace. Light came in from the streetlights and the moon, revealing the delicate lace on her bra. I kissed a trail from her chin down her neck. She reached back and unhooked her bra, letting it hit the floor between us before she buried her fingers in my hair.