The first being, “Are you joking?” and the second, “Can we please go to Denny’s instead?”
Max popped the surprise as we hurtled down the 405 North, costumed and jammed into his faithful jeep with the chipped silver paint. Minutes from finishing a two-hour drive, it seemed his timing was strategic. I’d look like a party pooper if I protested, and Max knew I would.
When Max and I first got together, we made certain to lay out all of our distinctions in a “take me as I am” way of offering ourselves to each other.
In a relationship, romantic or otherwise, mutual respect is the ground floor of a solid structure. Without this foundation, you have nothing.
If you don’t believe me, ask the top relationship coaches making a tidy living teaching respect is key in happy relationships. And, if respect is the ground floor, having enough of it to accept each other’s differences is the penthouse — way at the top.
Max was into BDSM and women. I liked to get steamy with my couch and a good video game. He liked swinger parties. I’m more of a Chuck E. Cheese kind of girl.
It’s the reason we, and I assume about 20% of the American population, entered into an open relationship. We had many similarities but wanted the freedom to exercise our differences.
As long as everyone is safe, who cares what people do?
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, Max understood and agreed. The last point one percent — this night — he tried to step across the line in a big way.
Before we’d started dating, Max once said with a laugh, “Remind me never to take you to one of the parties I like to go to.”
I guess he forgot.
“Do this for me”
The car rolled to a stop in front of a large house, its driveway dotted with party-goers. Max gave me a begging grin so wide I could almost see dimples through his beard.
“Come on, it’s a small crowd. Plus, there are people here from work, some guys who worked the haunt with us,” he told me, holding my hand the soft way boyfriends do. “You might have fun.”
But “fun” is the last word that came to mind when I stepped inside the muggy home, Halloween themed balloons littering the hardwood floors.
Feeling like a foreigner, I stuck close to Max as he started to mingle, giving a kiss to a pretty blonde dressed as a booty shorts-clad scarecrow. She placed her hand on his chest and called him “Maxy” as I looked away to survey the room.
If anything got me out of Max’s car, curiosity did. I’d pictured a potluck, homemade potato salad in the center of the plastic tablecloth.
Or an Eyes Wide Shut sex cult fantasy, every surface of the home covered in naked skin, ornate bird masks, and sweat.
But the party, with its chatting couples and dancing girlfriends, seemed average.
This is supposed to be a night of sin, I thought. Where’s the debauchery?
I tried to joke for tension relief. It didn’t work much.
“Do this for me,” Max told me, stooping to mutter in my ear like a parent embarrassed by their toddler’s tears in a store. He must’ve noticed the way my lips pursed.
Yeah, I should’ve tried harder to protest. Max didn’t have to coax me much to go inside. In his defense, maybe I did need to loosen up a little.
And, like any girlfriend, I wanted to be there for him, I did.
Yet no one can turn themselves into someone they’re not, or at least, they can’t and be happy. Max had to know this.
But, instead of communicating like a big girl, I said, “I’m gonna go outside and see if I know anyone.”
For whatever reason, the backyard was home-base for Seven Minutes in Heaven, minus the closet, the seven minutes, and clothing.
Maybe all the rooms upstairs had been filled and the party decided, “Once you’ve seen one person half-naked, you’ve seen them all,” before spilling onto the grass.
I found a seat on a weathered pool lounge, one of the only spaces not taken by a couple, and watched as a group started a round of strip volleyball in the shallow end of the pool.
In the dark, deeper end away from the floodlights, a bikini top bobbed in the little waterfall tumbling from a wall of rocks and into the water.
I did a fine job blending into the background, focusing on the most PG images I could — the forest beyond the fence, the small dog greeting guests — like an adult “I Spy” book. Nudity doesn’t bother me, so I zoned in on the game when a warm body sat beside me.
My hand met a random thigh as the plastic beneath me flexed to the ground under his weight and I stopped myself from tumbling into his lap.
“Hey,” the man said, brushing his dark hair off his shoulders. “I know I’ve seen you with a chainsaw covered in blood somewhere.”
Though I recognized a lot of faces from the theme park haunt we’d worked at, I didn’t remember his.
Maybe this unfamiliarity is why I let myself slip a little, turning to him instead of getting up and heading inside.
He was kind of hot, in an “I killed Sharon Tate” kind of way.
My new friend Manson placed a balled fist on the skin near my shoulder, which was exposed thanks to my mermaid seashell bra, and unfurled his fingers like a stretching cat.
He took my about-face as an invitation to run his nails, long, strong, metallic blue and each filed to a wicked point, down my arm.
I closed my eyes. Something was happening, but whether it was anxiety or arousal, I couldn’t tell.
“You might have fun,” Max had said, the same words I told myself as I relaxed into Manson’s touch.
But then, he let out a low moan — or was it a growl? — some animal noise causing me to bite back awkward laughter that said, “I can’t be here anymore.”
He stopped when I pushed his hand aside, shaking my head and standing.
“Fuckin’ prude,” Manson mumbled.
He now held a cigarette. The butt jammed between his teeth was stained with black lipstick.
“Why are you even here?”
I went inside to look for Max and a possible ride home, weaving through the crowd. He sat in the middle of the action on a couch tinted purple in the spooky lighting near the bobbing for apples station.
A young woman sat beside him, one of the go-go dancers from the haunt, a beautiful, friendly girl, Sky. Dressed in daisy dukes, a bikini top, and raver candy covering both wrists, she leaned into Max, her hand on his belly, chatting.
She turned to me with a smile when I interrupted, her blue eyes glazed from the E she was certainly rolling on.
“Can we go, please?” I asked, after an apologetic smile to Sky. “I can get a ride if I have to, and you can call me tomorrow.”
“The party ends at two. Relax, go find someone,” he replied.
Sky placed her hand on Max’s chest, using it as leverage to lean towards me.
“See that hot guy?” asked Sky, her soft lips pressed to my earlobe, and her chest to mine.
Her eyes traveled to a handsome, smiling, shirtless man with long blonde hair dressed as “Slutty Thor,” discoing with Mjolnir on the dance floor.
“That’s my boyfriend, Nate,” she said, tugging on my hand so I’d look at her again. “Listen, Maxy’s a good friend. He wanted me to talk to you. Nate’s great with first-timers if you want to try it out.”
Then her head bobbed twice as if to say, “you know, swinging?”
“There’s a free room upstairs.”
A few hours later, I lay in bed sending an “I owe you big time” text to the friend who’d driven out to pick me up and deliver me home. Then, I closed my eyes, replaying all that happened at the party after Sky’s offer.
After her proposal, I’d turned her down and started to walk to the front of the house, when Max stopped me.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Home,” I said. “Please, let me do this.”
“Why are you being a prude?”
There was that word again: prude. The way Max smirked after saying it, I could tell it was meant to embarrass me, the way I’d apparently embarrassed him, but I didn’t care.
Stand your ground
If having different sexual tastes means someone is a prude, I suppose every last one of us is. With over 7.8 billion people in the world and counting, it’s safe to say no one is exactly the same. No one.
I could tell Max hoped this accusation might get me to say, “No, I’m not,” and stay.
I wasn’t going to budge. I didn’t mind Max being there, I simply didn’t want to be.
Standing your ground and drawing clear boundaries is just as important as accepting people for who they are.
So, I left and didn’t regret the choice for a second.
If someone tries to make you do something you don’t want to do, they never cared much about you in the first place.
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