By Anji Nolan, author of The Cormorant Club, Desperate Obsession, Love Will Find a Way, and Love is in the Air
How Many Freakin’ Frogs Do You Have to Kiss? are the bawdy tales of Sara Sullivan, an independent, modern woman who manages Warwick House, a boutique hotel in Salem, Massachusetts. Like most of us she’s looking for that perfect man. And like most of us, she is kissing frogs in search of her prince. Here’s what she’s up to now:
CHAPTER TWENTY – One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison
By September, an unusually long, dry summer had made Warwick House a certifiable goldmine. However, my love life was certifiable in an altogether less positive way. Fall is my favorite time of year, and Mother Nature did her best to cheer me with vibrant red and gold foliage, running from the house down to the ocean. I spent more hours than I probably should watching the Atlantic’s churning waters crashing white heads onto the dock. And as the late afternoon presented the sultry femme fatale, a smidge past her prime, Chris Bigelow cruised into my life.
I was crossing the road as he and Aaron, my architect tenant, pulled up in a natty British racing green Morgan, like those you see in old Peter Sellers movies. I knew Aaron’s car was in the shop and assumed that as the two exercised together; Chris had brought his spotter buddy home in exchange for dinner. One more to feed is never a problem at Warwick, and being a sucker for classic cars, we got chatting. As Chris shamelessly flirted, it was clear he had more on his agenda than fricassee. And while a previous debacle d’amour should have convinced me to never again subject myself to the complications arising from dating a tenant’s friend, when my brain said ‘don’t go there,’ my mouth agreed to go out with him.
At four-thirty the following afternoon, Chris called for me. And yes, I do know the whole early-bird special smacks of desperation. But I have to say, I haven’t seen a more choice 185 lbs of all-American beefcake in a very long time, and I was aching for male companionship.
He drove us to a seafood emporium that cooks and sells the fish they catch each day. And with its dining room hanging over the dock, it looked like a stiff Nor’easter would launch it into the bay. However, inside it was a perfect balance of rusticity and sophistication, which totally reflected Chris’s personality. I’d learned he was a thirty-five year old commodities broker, originally from Omaha who lived in a five bedroom home with ‘the girls’. Divorced two years from his plastic surgeon wife, he had neither kids, nor alimony, to interfere with how he lived his life. Moreover, as he tells it, the only females he’d had any real feelings for since the divorce, were Laverne and Shirley. Not particularly religious, not particularly devoted to family, and not particularly bothered about money, probably because he has a bunch; Chris appeared to have no hang-ups. And now I learned he was without pretension. No let-me-prove-how-rich-I-am. No look-how-much-money-I’m-prepared-to-spend-on-you. He was a refreshing change for a gal who’d become ever so slightly jaded by the trappings of wealth, and I was definitely warming towards him.
After dinner, we went back to his house in Swampscott, an up-market enclave of large single-family homes overlooking the ocean, and there, I meet his “girls”; two rambunctious and absolutely adorable Labradors called Laverne and Shirley. I fell instantly in love, for I’ve always wanted a chocolate, black and yellow Labrador, but couldn’t, because of where I lived. Now, by a truly happy coincidence, I had two thirds of the triumvirate bouncing at my heels.
Chris gave me a quick tour of his lovely house and despite my blatant flirting and come hither-ing; it seemed he wasn’t in any rush to get to know me better. In fact as we walked into the kitchen, he opened a closet and reached for a jacket.
“About this time,” he said, “I take the girls for a constitutional along the beach. They’d be your friends for life, if you joined in.”
It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but he seemed like the love-me-love-my-dogs type and I wasn’t about to pass up a pair of furry friends. “I’m game, lead on.”
He smiled and looked down. “Can you walk in those shoes?”
“They’ll be off as soon as we hit the sand.”
“Or, I can carry you,” said he, casually.
“You’re not that strong.”
He smiled and flexed impressive muscles. “I lift weights; me big strong hunky man.”
“Yeah,” I grinned, squishing the bicep. “I can feel that. Now how about Mr. Hunky lends me a warm jacket and let’s go before I change my mind.”
I needed a brisk walk to dowse my smutty thoughts, but the moonlight off the ocean and the smell of his Bulgari aftershave did little to calm my ardor. And while the girls’ antics distracted me, I experienced considerable below the bellybutton fluttering when he twice carried me across rocky outcroppings. Summarily impressed that he can lift me and maintain his footing, I thanked him with a peck on the cheek. He attempted no return kiss. Moreover, apart from hands or shoulders touching as we walked, he made no suggestion we dally a while, and indulged in nothing remotely romantic. Given my encouragement, that seemed unusual, so I dropped another humungous hint feeling sure that with an okay to proceed, something would develop. It did not.
Thirty minutes of walking, not much in the way of conversation, and nothing in the way of romance, brought us within sight of Warwick House. This was a first for me. I had walked home from a date, and despite the conversational and emotional vacuums, had actually enjoyed the experience. And, there had been clear method in Mr. Bigelow’s un-macho madness, because now I’m desperate for more of him. As we approach the crosswalk, he leashed the girls, and when we reached my door, I invited him in for a nightcap. Read anything into that you like, because it’s moot; he declined.
Now I don’t know about you, but if his intent was to confuse me, he did a bang up job. However, just when I felt I’d completely misread his initial signals, he drew me into his arms and kissed me with such passion, I all but turned to jelly.
“I had a wonderful time,” he whispered, “and the girls really like you.”
“I like them too,” I gasped, desperately searching for something to make him stay. “Why don’t you bring them inside; maybe they’d like a drink or something, even if you don’t.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he replied. “I’d certainly like to take you up on the ‘something’, but I have a meeting in New York tomorrow, and my flight leaves Logan at six.”
“Oh, early flight, thank God. I was beginning to think—”
“Think what?” he asked, all wide-eyed innocence.
“You didn’t like me as much as I thought.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” he grinned. “Have you looked in a mirror, what’s not to like?”
“Stuff you can’t see; I’m bossy, opinionated, aggressive—”
“Whoa Nelly, and here I am thinking you’re perfect.”
“Perfect, right, that’s me. Are we going to see each other again?”
He looked puzzled. “Thought that was a given.”
“Given what?” I asked. He kissed me again and man, he knew exactly what to give me.
“Will you call me when you get back from New York?”
“Do you have my number?”
“Oh, yeah,” he grinned. “I have your number.”
As I watched a delicious man and his adorable girls disappear into the night, I practically drooled.
I spend the next day imagining a scenario worthy of the previous evening’s sexual innuendo. But fell soundly to earth when Chris called from New York to say his meeting was running long. He was catching a later flight, but still wanted to see me. Then he asked if I could swing by his house and while I’m waiting for him, feed the girls. No way would I leave those beautiful creatures hungry, so I agreed.
Arriving at the house around five, I made a beeline for the spare key hidden under a rock alongside the front steps. However, despite foraging under everything loose, not a good thing with damp leaves and icky, sluggy, goopola abounding; I found nothing. And it’s at that moment I discover I’ve left my phone at home. With no way to call for help, I have two options. One, elicit help from a neighbor, although they don’t know me from a hole in the head. Two, walk back home to get my damn phone…no car either—don’t ask. Then I remember there’s a dog door…umm, option number three.
So my choice is easy. However, the dogs had heard me rooting within their boundary, and began kicking up enough noise to wake the dead. Encouraging words and bobbing head over the five-foot high fence, didn’t help. They don’t immediately recognize me as a friend, and continue their baying serenade. I’m now involved in a mission, and being one thousand percent sure the girls aren’t vicious; I prepared for an assault on the fence.
I have on a skirt—I know, but sometimes one doesn’t sufficiently plan for storming the barricades—and after tucking it in my panties, I find a knothole in which to jam the toe of my expensive pump. I hoist myself upward, perch precariously astride the cedar and reach down. And as I softly ask Misses Laverne and Shirley to quit their noise, happy wagging and slobbery recognition greet me. Détente however, is short lived. Within seconds, the yipping and frantic howling resumes, as doggy friends protest my reluctance to join them. Having gone this far, I’m game to climb over the fence, enter the house through the dog door, and feed the noisy hounds.
Taking a deep breath, I look down to find my expensive skirt is the proud possessor of two wicked snags and an enormous glob of dog spittle. But schmutz is the last thing on my mind. So, despite the specter of a splinter-riddled descent, I kick off the impractical pumps, and haul my sorry-ass self over the fence. A freakin’ nail holds fast to the back of the skirt, but I land almost upright in a mess of slobbering pups. Their enthusiasm smacks of team spirit, and we bounce our way to the back door.
Now we all know I’m a big-boned gal, and we are talking dog door. But having watched Laverne and Shirley hurtle through the thing in tandem at break neck speed, I have no doubt I can shimmy through. Jeez, the things we do for love, lust, or dogs; take your pick.
While I decide exactly how to tackle entry, Shirley, the more timid of the pair, pops through the flap. Then, when her head reappears beneath the hole’s plastic with a ‘look how it’s done’ smirk, I drop to the floor. Laverne, for reasons only known to an alpha dog, lay down on the deck appearing to cover my back. It was very comforting to know such a caring canine brigade was on my side, although feeding time probably had a lot more to do with them letting a virtual stranger into the house.
As I lifted the door’s flap, I saw Shirley pacing inside. Laverne continued to monitor the perimeter, and notwithstanding the pleading looks of a pair of large hungry dogs, I took a minute to decide what angle was best suited to getting my not inconsiderable bulk through the portal. Figuring my shoulders are as wide as anything below; I elect to go through head first. Things are fine until I get to my hips. At that point, and I say this with no anatomical provenance whatsoever, I figured I’d be skinnier if I skewed my weight to one arm and leg and position my hip bones top-to-bottom rather than the wider side-by-side. It worked fine until I hit the meat of the matter. Remember the Botticelli thing, small boobs, thighs built for comfort not speed—ergo, when I drop one leg over the other to squeeze through; I stick fast.
Imagine your Aunt Mabel’s old sofa. To get that thing out of her tiny apartment, didn’t you have to turn the bulky sucker on its side, push it upright, and kiddy corner it around the door jamb? So here, I now reside; Aunt M’s freakin’ sofa. The difference being, I can’t make a meaningful ding in the door jam. Neither can I gouge out a chunk of my horsehair padding and stuff it back later. I am a big delicate-fleshed immovable object, who has her fat ass wedged in her new boyfriend’s dog door. And, I don’t even have the memory of sizzling sex to balance out the absurdity. It’s not funny people. Being permanently melded into a doorway is not the sort of situation one learns to deal with along life’s journey. And try as I might, I can’t jiggle, shimmy or slither on through. I am wheels locked, tow truck needed, ain’t no way you gonna move that sucker this side of Halloween, stuck. Moreover, as I lay exhausted with my thighs throbbing, my bladder is busting. All I can think of, besides my desperation for the porcelain, is what the press will make of the situation when they find my cold dead body a week from now.
It took seconds for me to discount calling for help as Chris’s house is some distance from its neighbor. And after a nanosecond of reflection, I realize I don’t have the chutzpah to lay there here until Chris comes home. Besides, if I didn’t get to a bathroom soon, something unpleasant was going to happen.
Why is it you can go all day without peeing, but when you’re in no position to go, you have to?
Anyhoo, I have little choice but to risk bodily injury and force on through. And joy upon joy, with the decision made, I’m not the only one wanting to get in out of the cold. So is Laverne. She is now nudging my legs, clearly indicating I should get on through the door, and allow her in. I can do little more than flap my legs, hoping she’ll back off until I have it worked out. Wrong. Daft dog thinks it’s game time, and bounces back and forth yipping, nipping, and grabbing at my skirt. “Judas Priest,” I mumble. “That’s all I need.” And when Shirley hears me and Laverne emitting game noises, it sets her off. Hovering over me, slobbering at my face, I try to push her away. It only makes her more kissy face. I can’t help but see the comedy in it all, and start to laugh.
Good grief, I’m now thinking. How in hell do I live this down if a neighbor is taping my state of discomfort for America’s Funniest Home Videos? And my laughter turns to the sort of desperation that only comes with the threat of embarrassing media exposure, and a full bladder. It is now, or a soggy never. I take a deep breath, twist my body and ignoring the flesh-tearing consequences, force myself through the opening.
As I flop onto the kitchen floor, like a beached whale, my skirt disappears through the dog door. It’s one of those elastic waist peasant jobs and I look back to see it trailing behind Laverne, as she charges triumphantly around the garden. Too busting to care, I leave her playing canine flag bearer, and stagger to the bathroom. When I emerge, swathed in one of Chris’s bath towels, more relieved than I can describe; there is no sign of Shirley. And, upon opening the back door, I see why. She has joined the romp and now the dogs are using my skirt as a pull toy.
Had they been Chihuahuas, or Pomeranians, or some other teeny-weenie canine, things might have been different. But as it stood, two sixty-five pound behemoths are playing tug-of-war with my bloody skirt. By the time I get within two feet of them, a two hundred and fifty dollar, crystal and ribbon embellished Nanette Lepore, is in shreds.
“This a girl thing, or can anybody play?” asked a voice from behind.
The dogs recognize the voice, let go my tattered raiment, charge across the darkened garden, and leave me bathed in the gentle glow of a patio light.
“Jesus,” I snap, turning so fast my towel slips. “Chris, is that you?”
“You were expecting someone else?”
“I wasn’t expecting anybody until I sorted out this mess. My God, you scared the shit out of me.”
He stepped into the light, and picked up the soggy remains of my skirt. “Think this is beyond sorting, what happened?”
“I couldn’t find the key.”
“So you fed my dogs your skirt?”
“Don’t be a jerk, this isn’t funny.”
He grinned. “Maybe not from where you’re standing but—”
“Quit it. I’m cold and in no mood for a wise-ass. What the hell’s the time?”
“Christ, I was stuck for nearly two hours.”
“Stuck?” he asked, offering me my skirt.
“When the key wasn’t under the rock; I had no choice but to go in through the dog door.”
The jerk was suppressing a laugh.
“By the looks of you, I’d say it was a tight squeeze.”
“No shit Sherlock, and quit the snickering. Let’s just get in the house before the neighbors call the cops.”
“Then you got some splaining to do, Lucy,” he quipped, in a Ricky Ricardo accent.
I gave him my most withering look, mumbled something about being an insensitive clod, and followed the pack into the house.
“Was it an expensive skirt?” he asked.
“Wickedly,” I said, attempting to reconstitute it about myself. “And it’s totally trashed.”
“I’ll gladly pay for it.”
“Duh, hellooow…that’s a given. In the meantime, what do I wear?”
“I’ll lend you something.”
“You just happen to have a selection of ladies apparel hanging about?” I adjusted my towel, and caught sight of myself in the kitchen windows, rendered mirror-like against the deepening dark. “Jesus, look at me…”
“Don’t you dare say anything. You’re not exactly the host with the most right now. The girls haven’t been fed, neither have I, and frankly you better have some wine chilled because that was my favorite skirt, and I’m a smidge away from being out of control.”
“Is that blood,” he asked, pointing to the towel.
“Oh jeez, must have done it on the last push through the door.”
“Stand still and let me see properly.” He lifted a corner. “Whoa Nelly,” he gasped, stepping back. “You look like you tangled with a weed whacker. That’s gonna hurt like a sum-bitch tomorrow. Stand still, I’ll get some antibiotic…what’s this in your hair?” He pulled out a glob. “It looks like regurgitated grass.”
I smiled thinly. “Shirley was attempting moral support.”
“Look, no offense Sara, but you’re a mess. Take a shower while I feed the girls and open some wine.”
I’d shampooed and rinsed when I heard his voice at the bathroom door.
“Have wine, will travel,” he shouted. “You want a mouthful in there?”
“Come on in.”
He had a hand over his eyes.
“Put your hand down you doofus, you’ll fall, then I’ll have to rescue you.”
“But you’re naked.”
“Sort of goes with the whole shower experience.” I shimmied around the shower glass and took a sip of wine. “You want to join me?”
“Sipping or soaping?”
I’ve never seen a man strip so fast, and shelving the wineglass, he stepped beside me.
“Wow, you smell good,” he mumbled. Then enfolding me in his arms, he buried his face in my hair. “Thanks for taking care of the girls.”
“Didn’t get that far, remember.”
“You kept them entertained enough that they didn’t eat my furniture.”
“Was that likely?”
“Why do you think I asked you to stop by? Last time I was late, one of them took a chunk out of the dining table leg, and its mahogany.”
“Good, you’re laughing again. I was a bit worried there with the skirt and all. I’m so glad you and the girls get along.”
“That important?” I asked, as I soaped his back.
“Oh yeah, love me, love my dogs, that’s the rule.” He turned to face me, and as my body felt his unmistakable hardness, it was clear rules weren’t uppermost in his mind.
“Got any more rules?” I giggled, sliding back the shower door.
“Just one,” he answered, touching his lips to mine. “You want to use my shower, I’m gonna make you sweat.”
“At any other time, that would be a good thing, but my legs are pretty banged up; I’m not sure I’d give of my best.”
“So don’t do anything,” he said, following me from the shower. “I’ll towel you off, carry you to bed and you simply lay there.”
I grinned. “Now that, I can do.”
Chris Bigelow was not only aptly named, but knew exactly what was needed to divert my mind from shredded legs. Moreover, true to his word, as I lay selfishly enjoying his gentle ministrations, he tended to every inch of my body.
Chris and I saw each other every night for the next ten days, saw, being a loose term for what we shared. I invariably drove to Swampscott, shared dinner with him and the girls, and after a rambunctious beach constitutional, adjourned to his bed. And while a seemingly unlimited supply of testosterone was certainly up there on past lists of this gal’s immediate desires; now, I experienced a severe case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for. Undoubtedly, the most attentive and physically satisfying man I’d been with, Chris Bigelow exhibited conversational impotence. It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to strike up conversations, I did, to no avail. We always ended up in bed, on the sofa, across the kitchen table, half way up the stairs; you get my drift. In fact, I was at a point where if sex were removed from the equation, I couldn’t be sure whether it was Chris, or the unconditional love of his dogs that actually interested me.
It’s hard for a gal like me to sit in front of the mirror contradicting every notion she’d ever had about sex. Or, God forbid, admit she might be bored with it. However, no matter how I looked at it, after less than two weeks of Bigelow Bliss-ville, experiencing the sort of karma-sutra gymnastics I’d only read about; I was sexed out. What a predicament. Here I was experiencing my dream of ten years previous, and what I actually craved was something deeper and more meaningful that steam-out-my-ears sex.
As I primped for another predictable evening, this would-have-been-a-hooker-if-things-had-turned-out-differently told herself; okay, it’s good that all this activity has shed a couple of pounds, and I’ll have some interesting moves to add to my sexual repertoire. However, I’m ready to call it quits. Being sexually accomplished is a wonderful thing, but about now, I need some p.j. nights in front of the TV, with Mr. Haagen-Dazs, and a chick-flick. I want to slop about in my robe, getting icky-sticky from eating a ginormous piece of lemon meringue pie. And more important, I need a conversation that didn’t start, and end, with the actions of a four-letter word.
Head full of gentle ways to reject him; I drove to Chris’s house.
After a wonderful greeting from the girls, and a champagne supper from the man of the hour, I was left uncharacteristically nervous about spilling my guts. So began our third week of mattress-assaulting, spring-loaded, headboard banging, oh-jeez-not-again-ing, and all I could think about was whether there would be pie at the weekend. Now generally this gal is single minded during sex, but my momentary void in concentration must have activated some primeval distress beacon in Chris’s brain. He immediately stopped kissing and whatever-ing, repositioned, and proceeded to carry his tongue south. Always a winner in my book, I didn’t have to attempt to feign interest. Until…‘Sploooor-ta-ra-uumph’.
Instead of the heavenly dance his tongue usually performed on my person, he blew, very hard, into a place I feel sure was not meant for the trumpet voluntary.
“EEEEYEW,” I shrieked, backing away. “What the hell was that?”
“Klingon love horn,” he smirked. “I’m calling upon the Gods to bless our union.”
“Klingon, you know, Star Trek Enterprise.”
Oh jeez, I thought, beam me up, freakin’ Scottie. “Well frankly Chris, it felt like you had a leaf blower up there, and you’re not my gardener, so don’t do it again.”
“Didn’t you like it,” he said, deadpan serious. “In inter-galactic circles it’s widely accepted as a turn-on.”
“Er…hellooow, not an attractive noise. And for the earthly record, not the least bit of a turn on.”
He looked puzzled. “Thought you were the sort of gal who was game for anything?”
“Sort of was,” I said, leaping to my feet. “Until the love horn came into play.”
“It’s simply a Klingon variation on cunnilingus, and many alien cultures believe it’s a sign of a warrior’s deep commitment.”
For several seconds I just stared at him. “Well when the ambassador of planet what-the-hell is that, comes down and high-fives me, I’ll believe you. Until then, being more of a straight-laced Homosapiens cunnilingus sort of gal, I’m hitting the shower.”
As I dressed, I couldn’t help thinking back to see if Chris had ever before said or done anything that might have led me to believe he was a Sci-fi devotee bordering on nut-job. And remembering most of our interactions involved him asking me to turn over, lift a leg, move my butt this way or that, there had been no deception on his part. In fact, I was the deceiving one. I should have told him days ago that I needed more than sex in a relationship. Now, having used and abused the hospitality of this devoted Trek-head’s bed, I had to decide whether to accept the inter-galactic goodies offered, or take the next transporter beam out. A tough call is never easy, but someone had to do it.
As I tendered a heart-wrenching goodbye to Laverne and Shirley, Chris protested his actions as normal between consenting sentient beings. Then, before he could say anything else or beam me up, down, or sideways, I beat a hasty retreat from the mother ship.
It’s funny; while I was having difficulty in expressing what I felt about our sexual situation; a reenactment of something from a galaxy far, far away, guiltlessly enabled me to finalize our arrangement.
I drove home listening to that still small voice, which in matters of my heart, invariably screams a warning. You know the one I mean. It goes on ad nauseam, about the good, the bad and oft times ugly. It tells you to look, usually after your body has already leapt, and snidely repeats ‘I told you so.’
But really, I had imagined myself game for anything, and you’d think sexual experimentation would resonate well with a gal like me. Could it be advancing age changing things? Or is it that no matter how accomplished or well-endowed the Chris Bigelow’s of this, or any other, world, are, blowing anything, anywhere, up there, is just plain weird.