Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
“Hi, it’s Hunter. Guess you haven’t gotten home yet, but I was just calling to see if you were interested in getting together this evening. Some of my friends are getting together at O’Connor’s and it would be a great chance to hang out. Anyway, whatever. Just give me a buzz. I’ll be home.”
Summer, arriving home a little later than usual that Friday, listened to Hunter’s message with powerfully mixed feelings. She most certainly did want to spend the evening with Hunter, and had counted on that, but after last Saturday’s fiasco… Summer certainly wanted to avoid a repeat of last Saturday night. No more clubbing like that. Certainly no more drinking like that—and it hardly seemed to have affected Hunter at all the next day! But Summer wasn’t a drinker, only enjoying the occasional glass with Lance over a fancy dinner or a thin glass of campaign at a party; this hard-liquor drinking didn’t sit well with her, although Summer did enjoy some types of beer in college.
She knew O’Connor’s by reputation as the most Irish of Irish restaurants in the area, and she had long intended to go there with Chastity some time. The venue didn’t sound bad at all, for Summer enjoyed the convivial atmosphere often found at such establishments. Then again, she had planned to ask Hunter over for just dinner (no shenanigans) that evening, and she had stopped at the store to stock up on the ingredients for her steak-and-lobster bonanza. The lobster was thawing on her counter right now.
Summer picked up the phone and dialed his number, not even having to look it up—although “look it up” would have meant checking her palm, where she had written it and re-written it for the past five days. “Hey, it’s Summer,” she said, almost instead opening “It’s me,” but half-fearing he would mistake her for some other woman. Summer had a vague sense that Hunter had led a rather…promiscuous…life before meeting her, and she wondered how many of his women friends were actually amiable ex-lovers. Continue reading.
“Hey babe,” he greeted her, “I just left a message on your phone not five minutes ago.”
“Yeah, I listened to it.” She still didn’t know what she wanted to do, and her voice’s rather flat inflection reflected this.
“So? What do you think?” He sounded cajoling, having picked up on her lack of enthusiasm. “Best shepherd’s pie anywhere outside of Ireland itself…”
“I don’t know,” Summer demurred. “I thought maybe a quiet weekend after last Saturday would be better. I—”
“Oh definitely,” Hunter immediately agreed, jumping in without letting her even finish. “O’Connor’s is totally laid-back and cool. Not at all like last Saturday, I promise.”
“I have heard good things about O’Connor’s.” Summer wavered, but knew even then what she would end up doing.
“Can you meet me at seven?” Hunter knew a triumph when he heard one, and Summer’s wavering had betrayed her. On his end of the line, Hunter grinned into his bathroom mirror and ran his hand through wavy blonde hair, disarraying it artfully and admiring the effect. Damn, he was hot.
“What the heck,” Summer agreed, finally acknowledging what they’d both known moments before. “Sure. I’ll be there in a bit.”
“Great, see you then.” Hunter hung up quickly, as he always did, and missed Summer’s adieu: “I love you.”
* * *
They met up with a group of Hunter’s friends, al lively 30-somethings, at the pub. It had that classic darkness of pubs promoted by polished wooden wall paneling and dim lighting, and accentuated by the fact that O’Connor’s was comprised of many small rooms rather than one big open space, giving groups and couples privacy when they wanted it. Each room’s walls were plastered almost completely with Irish-related paraphernalia, sayings, jokes, and images. Summer thought that the restaurant probably kept at least a half-dozen Irish tourist shops in business full-time, buying little knickknacks nobody would ever want and mounting them on the walls. She also thought they probably single-handedly employed an entire cleaning service to dust all the mounted decorations.
Hunter’s friends, a gathering of ten or twelve people, sat at three tables in one room and shouted lightheartedly across the intervening spaces between the tables. When they arrived, Hunter waded into the fray, carved out two seats, and motioned impatiently to Summer, who had hung back, to join him. She reluctantly seated herself in the midst of these chattering strangers, all of whom loved Hunter and, when introduced to her, spared her a glance and a “She’s your new one, huh?” for Hunter. How many other women had Hunter introduced to these people? It certainly seemed like more than Summer had imagined, and she had imagined a fair number. Summer wondered if she would ever be brave enough to ask Hunter about his earlier love life, or if she would just wonder and accept this joy for what it was, not asking for trouble.
Summer sat between Hunter and a very skinny woman with long bleached hair, a skeleton’s face, and hemp-looking clothes that reminded Summer of her childhood. The woman’s maroon skirt and white, baggy, peasant-shirt type top screamed “hippie movement,” something with which Summer was intimately familiar with thanks to her rather unconventional upbringing. But she had escaped that, the stigma imposed by her parents’ strange behavior, and aside from her name lived an extremely conventional life with no desire to break the comfort of its normality.
She held Hunter’s hand under the table, feeling a little lost as the group talked about things she left behind after college—Marxism, the environmental movement, liberal politics, philosophy, genocides in Africa, pirating music. They talked so excitedly about this thing and that event, and all Summer wanted was a quiet evening at home watching a movie and snuggling on the couch with Hunter, maybe a little heavy petting. Then sleep. During the first half hour there, she spent a great deal of time watching Hunter, seeing how fish-in-water he looked among this gay crowd. He had an animated look on his face and his eyes sparkled with excitement. he jumped in, often interrupting in his eagerness to be heard—as did the whole rowdy crew. This resulted in a small roar, muffled from the outside by the room’s walls, which Summer found almost totally incomprehensible.
But they all ate, and Summer loved to eat. She ordered the shepherd’s pie and that went down easily, as did its accompanying glass of beer. Then she and Hunter shared a dessert and another drink, and then everybody nibbled appetizers forever. Through it all, the beer flowed like a river, and though Summer tried to limit her intake, Hunter kept encouraging her both with words and with these compelling looks that wrenched Summer’s heart and made her want to do anything he desired. Besides, sipping a drink gave her a reason not to join in—acceptable in a way simple shyness would never be—and so Summer sipped almost constantly.
Until she realized she had long ago passed the buzzed and had entered a stage several steps beyond, somewhere around totally smashed. At that point, Summer didn’t really care that much, though, and she actually joined rowdily into the conversation, at one point even hollering at the very drunk man across from her to get her argument across. She no longer felt shy or tired, although somehow her eyelids did seem to have lead weights attached to them; they kept trying to close and th
is delicious lethargy had crept over her. Summer floated happily in a beery bath, knowing somewhere that she might regret this, but never wondering if she should do anything besides sit here with Hunter and hang out. Because this was hanging out, as she had never experienced it—it was what cool people in college had meant when they said hang out, and Summer had never quite made it to that level. She had always been the cool person’s hanger-on, the person they went to for homework help but not for a good time. And now Summer was one of them, not a hanger-on but really part of the group, laughing and enjoying herself with the best of them.
Hunter leaned over then and kissed her firmly. She liked the feel of the questioning way his tongue probed and she opened her mouth more, deepening the kiss unashamedly. She liked the way he rested his hands on her shoulders and cupped her face with them. She liked the way nothing seemed to matter when he kissed her like that, not even that all his friends could be watching them right now.
“You go, Hunter!” one woman in fatigue pants and a tight black top encouraged. Summer blushed and started to pull away, but Hunter held her a moment longer, kissing her firmly, possessively this time, and then let go. He had an extremely self-satisfied look on his face, showing his gleaming white teeth in a Cheshire cat grin.
For her part, Summer basked in the joy of feeling needed, even possessed, in this way. Lance had always loved her solicitously, almost as if he expected her to sue him if he manhandled her or acted aggressive at all, and Summer accepted his love as natural. But now, feeling Hunter’s passion and aggression wrapped into a tight, vibrating bundle just barely under his control, and knowing that she caused him to feel those things, Summer thought she had missed something all those years with Lance. She had never felt like she fired passion in Lance; she had never felt any passion in him at all, aside from the driving desire to make partner at McCab & Bain. Then again, apparently he had enough passion to run away with Charmin, so perhaps it had been his relationship with Summer herself that had gone amiss. In any case, Lance and her old marriage felt a thousand miles away right now, in this dark smoky room with Hunter’s arm around her and a heedful of alcohol that gave everything a romantic glow.
When they left not long after, Summer actually staggered standing up. They all laughed, and she laughed with them: they were all her friends now, too. She had made a round dozen friends in the course of only a few hours, and Summer understood with perfect clarity why Hunter had asked her along. He knew she was alone, and here he had this entire circle of kindred spirits who were perfect friends for the new, Hunter-supplemented Summer. Although Summer very much doubted, even then, her ability to remember all their names, or even any names, she knew that when she saw them again they would share this evening and that bond would draw them together just as it drew her closer to Hunter.
Summer insisted that they call a taxi when they got outside and neither could stand up firmly. She slept very, very well that night cozied up in her apartment and woke up headache-free, thanks to Hunter’s parting injunction: “Take a couple Tylenol and drink a bunch of water before you go to bed.” Still no “I love you” in person, but Summer knew it would come soon.
* * *
On Sunday afternoon, Summer and Hunter stopped for coffee in the Cup of Seattle after a long ramble along the Sammamish River Trail. The weather had turned sunny but cold, more New England than Washington state, and lots of people had joined them on the trail. The wild chickens along the trail not far from Hunter’s apartment complex looked fat from a fall of feeding and extra downy feathers for the winter; chubby squirrels chattered at them from the overhanging yellow-leafed trees. Summer thought it was the perfect day, golden and crystalline, the way all fall days should be, even if it really was closer to winter by now. They walked for miles, sometimes holding hands, sometimes just walking, all the while commenting on the people passing them by, the cyclists and runners and power-walkers and rollerblades and even a very intense-looking man on roller-skates. When they got cold they turned back into downtown Bothell, stopping at the Cup of Seattle downtown by the old Safeway to warm their fingers around a hot cup of coffee.
Sitting in the cheerful warmth of the coffee shop, Summer waited at a table and watched Hunter wait for their drinks. The barista, a young woman with black shiny hair in cornrows and a small diamond set in her nose, grinned at Hunter in an inviting way. Summer couldn’t hear his response, but his back looked relaxed and cool—not a man concerned about anything. He leaned forward, motioning with one hand, and the barista laughed. Summer noticed, irrelevantly, that she got cute dimples in her cheeks when she laughed. Then Hunter laughed, too, loudly enough that Summer could hear from across the shop. The barista made a swiping kind of motion with her hand as if saying, “No way!” as Hunter nodded his head earnestly in a vigorous show of truth-telling. Summer felt a knot form in her stomach as the barista handed him the beverages—their hands touched right then, unnecessarily she thought—and Hunter turned back to her with a broad smile on his face. Behind the counter, the barista smiled, shaking her head and wiping the counter down.
“What was all that?” Summer asked in her coldest voice. “It didn’t look like you were just getting the coffee.”
“Oh no, you won’t believe this,” Hunter assured her. “I was just making small talk, and it turns out that she’s my mother’s best friend’s daughter! We actually played with each other when we were babies, and then they moved away, and here we are. How crazy is that?”
“Crazy.” Sounded suspicious to Summer, whose voice conveyed the fact quite clearly.
“Seriously, Summer. She wanted to know what I did and I told her I studied mushrooms, and she made fun of me. Said she thought I’d’ve grown up to be an actor or an artist or something.”
“Well, she’s a barista in Cup of Seattle. Not exactly a rising star herself, is she?” Summer asked nastily, but felt a little better. If the woman really had said that, it showed she certainly knew Hunter, who did look more like an out-of-work artist than a scientist.
“Aw, come on,” Hunter cajoled. “You know I’ve got eyes only for you.” He leaned over and kissed her across the table and their coffee cups; but when Summer opened her eyes she caught a glimpse of Hunter’s gaze shooting to the barista. Even so, she couldn’t resist Hunter’s charm for long, and his patter seemed more amusing and clever than usual, his manner more animated. When they walked out of the café, Summer had forgotten her doubts about Hunter in the whirl of his charismatic personality. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.