The Healthy Animal Moves Towards Pleasure 

“No, really, I’m fine.” she had said. “Really. I actually drive better when I’m a little bit drunk.”

“Isn’t that right, Jonathan, honey?” Jonathan was her son. Four years old now, and asleep on her shoulder. It was this last part that was, as they say, the coup de grace.

She didn’t know why she’d said it. It really wasn’t very like her at all. And they meant well. They were all very sweet, really, even Ken, in his way, though his way whatever it was exactly most certainly involved her naked in some fashion or another, which wasn’t perhaps so sweet after all—although it wasn’t really so not-sweet either, everything else considered.

He was crap as an escort, though. Useless. Which she supposed was only to be expected after a half-dozen or so Jack-and-Cokes.

The surprise had come off fine. Melissa had had no idea; or, at any rate, she’d pretended she’d had no idea, though it wouldn’t have been like her to pretend, at least not so well. Alex had almost blown it by arriving late—they’d been turning into the subdivision when Melissa’s mother had called Greg and told him to play for time, that Alex had called to tell them he was running behind, was just then getting onto Pleasantdale up by the mall.

“Your Mom wants us to pick up some eggs,” Greg told Melissa, and he’d U-turned and gone back out to the road and the store where in addition to buying the eggs he’d stalled for a minute or two more in the wine aisle—“just a bottle for dinner”—while figuring in his head how much longer Alex would need.

“Do you know him? Is he a friend of Greg’s?” Linda had asked her while they waited. “I can’t believe he’s late. He knew what time it started, right?”

She, on the other hand, had been there for hours. “Come early,” Mrs. Brubaker had told her when she’d called with the invitation. (Mrs. Brubaker had called to invite each of them personally.) “You and Jenny can help us get ready.” Dale and Linda would be there with their kids as well, she’d said, so Jonathan would have someone to play with. It was somewhat more involvement than she had planned on, particularly given her appropriate place at the periphery of things, but there was about Mrs. Brubaker a certain “all hands on deck” ethos, something in the voice at the other end of the line that insinuated obligation. She had felt fairly certain it was expected that she would arrive in time to help out. So she had. She had sliced carrots into sticks for dipping and washed out the ice chest the beers would go into. Linda had handled the lasagnas.

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