The penultimate story, Discovering Donnie is the most offbeat story in the collection. Jodie, a legal secretary, questioning the point of her work after a promotion, goes into a bar she doesn’t normally frequent. There she meets Donnie–sturdy, muscular, and oh-so-appealing. They fall for each other, but Donnie takes it slowly, too slowly for the impatient Jodie.
The reader knows, of course, that Donnie is butch, genderqueer–there are many labels you can apply if you like labels–but does Jodie know? She’s a straight woman (those labels again), what will happen when she finally gets Donnie in her bed?
I’m not a person who likes labels. Those awkward getting-to-know-you moments in workplace team bonding exercise, where everyone gets up and says something like, “I’m Susan, I’m 35, I’m married to Fred and I have two adorable children” and then plonks down again in their seat, relieved to have got it out of the way. Hate them. What Susan is doing here is defining herself by her age, marital status and parenthood. It doesn’t tell you anything about Susan herself, or why Fred (hopefully) loves her. Susan’s applied labels to her life, labels that come with preconceptions.
Donnie and Jodie’s story isn’t about labels. Donnie never announces his gender or sexuality; Jodie never asks. They get to know each other, realize they like each other–more than like–and are attracted to each other. It goes from there.
She drained her wine and slid off the stool. Donnie threw a couple of notes on the counter, and gestured for the door. She noted he was shorter than she, but stocky and well put together, with a flat stomach underneath the plain white tee, and faded denims that clung lovingly to his muscular thighs. She thought briefly that she should let a friend know where she was going. She shouldn’t be going out at all on a weeknight when she had to be up early for work. But instead she said, “I’m Jodie.”
“Donnie,” he said, and opened the door for her, a gesture as old fashioned as it was endearing.
He took her to a backstreet Mexican café, a homey place that she’d sometimes passed but never been inside. Over enchiladas and green chili, she told him about her work and the promotion with longer hours.
Donnie scratched his chin. “What would happen if you simply refused?”
“I think I’d find myself out of a job.”
“Is the job worth it?”
“No,” she said, simply, and her breath caught as he covered her hand with his own, rough finger pads passing over the back in a swift caress.
“Then ‘no’ it should be.” He glanced at his watch–a simple chunky thing with a battered face. “I’m going to have to drop you home now, Jodie. I have to be at work early tomorrow.”
She knew she should be relieved he wasn’t expecting anything from her but a small–okay, a large–part of her was sorry. She’d been expecting the pass, the kisses, the fumbles, the whispered entreaty to let him come up “for coffee”.
“I have to work too,” she said.
He dropped her back at her apartment, reaching past her to release the door of the pick-up.
“I like you, Jodie,” he said. “Would you come out for dinner again sometime?”
“That would be nice,” she said, and then he kissed her.
It was a swift, short passing of his lips rather than a kiss that would lead to more, but her stomach somersaulted at the touch of his firm mouth, and she wanted to pull him to her and feel his agile tongue, find out how his skin felt underneath her hand.
“Come to the bar again after work.”
The next day at work, she barely registered her new boss. Her head was full of Donnie. How he’d looked, how he’d tasted in that short, sweet sip. The fresh, clean smell of him. The litigation partner looked at her appraisingly, but she was oblivious. She was counting down the hours and minutes to five thirty.
Just after six, she walked into the bar again. She’d considered going home to change into jeans, but had reasoned that Donnie had seen her in work clothes yesterday, and besides, going home would take the best part of an hour. She couldn’t wait that long to see him.
He was seated at the bar, a Hefeweizen and two white wines lined up in front of him. Jodie’s eyes lingered on him, tracing his body with her eyes, seeing how his strong hands caressed the frosted glass of his pint. How would they feel tracing her body?
She slid onto the stool next to him. Immediately his hand cupped the back of her head, pulling her to him for a kiss.
Jodie’s nights fell into a pattern. They met at the bar for happy hour. Two wines, Buffalo wings for appetizers, and then they ate at small back street cafés. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, a family diner and back to the little Mexican café that Jodie now thought of as “their place”. And every night, a kiss and he would leave her on her doorstep. No more, no less.