Clarice had come out of nowhere. She had no place in their world or in Peter’s life, at least that’s how Joanie saw it. Just because Clarice and Peter had attended the same lectures during their final year of law school, didn’t make it right. As it turned out, Clarice didn’t pass the State Bar Exam, but by then her sights had been set on marrying Peter, so the Bar didn’t matter very much anymore.
Joanie sighed as she remembered the first time Peter had brought Clarice back to Charleston to introduce her to his friends and family. At that time they were just friends. Clarice didn’t fit in then, and according to sources, she didn’t fit in now. Sure, she was attractive, with her lanky, five foot seven frame and ample breasts. A man’s dream. At first all the guys had been jealous, particularly Kevin. Kevin – Joanie’s only brother, and best friend. That had been the worst betrayal of all. But she didn’t blame him. She couldn’t.
“Man she’s hot,” he said in a shallow whisper to no one in particular, unable to take his eyes off her. “How do you find that at Law School? Sign me up.”
“Kevin!” Joanie groaned, elbowing him in the ribs.
“Aw, c’mon Joanie. It’s a guy thing. Get over it.”
But she didn’t, and neither did he.
Clarice had treated Joanie with underhanded cruelty from the get-go. Was it because Clarice always sensed the special closeness Joanie and Peter shared, a closeness Clarice couldn’t touch? So, she put Joanie down in front of all of her friends, belittled her at every opportunity. It began one Friday night when they were all home for reading break. Peter brought Clarice to Joe’s Bar & Grill so they could all get to know her better. Perhaps Clarice had had too much to drink, which is never a good way to make a first impression, or perhaps it was because Kevin was directing most of the conversation to her. Looking back, Joanie thought, it had been a ridiculously juvenile discussion. But it wasn’t so much the discussion as it was the innuendos.
“I don’t know why more women don’t strut-their-stuff. I mean, you only live once right? If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Clarice fingered a curl from her long, golden locks. Kevin looked up at Clarice and winked.
“Just because your type of women flaunt it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, or should be accepted,” Joanie fumed. “Some women like to remain mysteriously alluring. It doesn’t mean they want to be ignored.”
They had just finished watching a screening of Basic Instinct at the old Movie Review on Elm Street, and were debating the role of women and sexual promiscuity. They had ordered three large pizzas and the beer was flowing.
“I think women were created for men to admire, so women ought to darn-well show it off,” said Clarice, who seemed to enjoy stating her opinions openly. “I think any woman who denies that fact is kidding herself.”
She tilted her head toward Kevin and grinned coyly.
“Will you be a sweetie and pour me another glass of beer Kev?”
They had known each other for less than twenty-four hours and Clarice was already flirting shamelessly. Kevin, in return, immediately picked up the half empty pitcher of draft from the table and refilled her glass, not taking his eyes off her, mimicking thirst by licking his lips. She had giggled. Kevin had laughed out loud. Peter just looked away. It was clear he was beginning to feel uncomfortable, but he said nothing. How could he? Peter of all people held fast to the dictum of free speech, but Joanie knew this was beyond that. Peter saw the way Clarice had returned Kevin’s gaze. There was a sexual tension no one at the table could deny, a spark between them that couldn’t be ignored. After realizing the type of person Clarice was, Joanie remembered the feeling of helpless frustration seeing her brother behave in this manner. Then frustration turned to shock when she understood that Kevin was just as bad as Clarice. For some strange reason that, at the time Joanie could not comprehend, her brother had turned into someone she didn’t know or understand anymore. She wondered if it would ever be the same between them again.
“Well I for one am not trying to kid you, or myself, into believing that the role of a woman is not to be an object for mans desire alone,” Joanie cut in, fire in her eyes. Clarice was making her blood boil. She had decided she was going to step up to the plate and attack with gusto. Frankly, she couldn’t see what Peter or Kevin saw in her.
“Hear, hear.” Peter raised his pint in Joanie’s direction. She blushed. He had stood up for her, even in front of Clarice. She had liked that he still cared enough to bail her out, but had wondered if this was retaliation for the fireworks going on between Clarice and Kevin, or if it was in genuine support of her. As Peter’s gaze bore into her, and a faint grin formed in the corners of his mouth, she had felt the familiar flutter in the pit of her stomach, felt the blood rise to her cheeks sending another rush of warmth through her body. She knew it was his way of saying Yes Joanie, it’s still me, Peter.
Joanie remembered how she had struggled to continue the discussion she was having with Clarice as thoughts of Peter swam in her head, taking her away from the present into a fantasy of her own. From across the table she had felt his breath against her exposed neck, even though she knew he was too far away for that to be real. But in her daydream, nothing was as it appeared. Even though she was mildly aware of the din around her, she felt as though she was no longer in the room, but suspended, hovering just above the scene of them sitting around the table at Joe’s.
She thought of Peter, imagined what his soft touch upon her body would feel like, how his eager mouth upon hers would taste. With closed eyes, Joanie had let herself drift. All she knew was him then; the feel of his strong, sinewy chest against her own slight frame, his muscular arms securely wrapped around her. The natural scent of him, mixed with a dash of Lacoste, hung in the air, as familiar to her as breathing air. In her mind’s eye it was his hand that stroked her cheek, moving down the front of her, unbuttoning one pearl button at a time until her bared breasts reached up for him. It all seemed so simple, the way he knew her body, what she wanted, what she needed. She’d reached toward him, her desire leading her farther and farther away from Joe’s and into his waiting arms.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Clarice proclaimed, her irritating voice interrupting Joanie’s reverie. “I think men should do the same for us women. There’s nothing like a guy with buff abs and pecks, who wears a tight tee shirt, or has his shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest. Oh, my God!” Clarice placed her palm against her cleavage, fanning herself dramatically.
“And what woman here has not been totally aroused seeing Chippendales? Come on.”
But Clarice’s voice was heard through a fog – slow and slurry. Instead, Joanie was attuned to the heat running through her veins, the tingling sensation that enveloped her entire being. For the moment, Joanie had no interest in Clarice at all, not what she said or what she stood for, which in this case was her competition. She wanted to stay right where she was, stuck in this lusty dream-land.
“…Joanie…Joanie, are you even listening?”
Faint and distant at first, Clarice’s voice had slowly become clearer so that, against her own desire, Joanie began the climb back to reality. Better, she thought, to wait until later to let her imagination run wild, when she could indulge uninterrupted. Instead, she caught up with the thread of the conversation she was having with Clarice, and continued as best she could.
“Well…er…I mean, one can’t deny the attraction of one sex to another…and dare I say, in some cases, the same sex,” Joanie managed, just able to construct a coherent yet, she thought, challenging retort.
“Oh God, let’s not get started on that debate,” droned Clarice as she rolled her eyes and flipped her blond tresses over her shoulders. Joanie didn’t pursue it.
“I’m just saying,” Joanie continued. “Women should care about their looks, but for themselves, not for men. The same goes for men. I’m certainly more attracted to a man who takes care of himself, who puts some thought into what he wears or how he looks, but it’s not all about that. That’s just the physical. I also need to be able to enjoy a reasonably high level of conversation with him and be able to have a good laugh, not to mention honesty and loyalty.”
Joanie knew she was rambling but she was determined to win this argument and make her point. She took another sip of beer and faced Clarice, ready for the come-back.
“We’re way past all that, aren’t we? I mean honesty and loyalty? How naïve. And then the whole gay rights issue. Pleeease.”
“Well…” Joanie stammered. “I mean…”
“Yes. Go on, we’re waiting.” Clarice leaned in toward Joanie. Elbows on the table, her chin resting in her fists, Clarice had showed off more cleavage than Joanie needed, or wanted to see.
Joanie’s ears had burned with rage. How dare Clarice make a fool of her in front of her people, her family. If she disliked Clarice earlier, she detested her now.
“Listen Joan, you’re young. You’ll figure things out eventually – or not.” Clarice had looked demurely at Peter, then Kevin, and let loose a devilish laugh. Kevin had laughed too. Then Joanie remembered how he had bent over Clarice, while reaching for the pitcher of beer, and brushed against the full breasts that spilled out of her top. There he had lingered, and Joanie had watched as Clarice leaned into him, pressing against his brawny chest. How could she, and in front of all of them? Peter only sat there, staring straight ahead. When Joanie had turned to him in support, he had looked away.
Six months later Clarice and Peter were married. Joanie had barely made it through the ceremony that she had felt obligated to attend, against her better judgment. But Peter had begged her, claiming his day would not be complete without her there. What the hell did that mean? Would he not have gone through with the wedding had she not attended? She wondered about that to this day.
That humiliating night at Joe’s when Clarice had made a fool of her, when Kevin and Clarice took their flirtation too far, and when Peter had publicly renounced her, had been bad enough. It was after their wedding that Joanie made the decision to return to New York and stay away from Charleston for as long as possible, unable to face seeing Peter settling into a new life with a woman Joanie loathed. That was ten years ago.
...Stay tuned for Chapter 7 of 'More Than Just Friends' next Tuesday, May 3rd...