Necking by Titus Burley

Claire sought amidst the distraction of minted breath and soft kisses to remember the guy’s name. Guilt stabbed even as desire propelled. One should know the name of the dude with whom one was making out. But then, everything about the encounter felt off kilter – like a love song strummed on an out of tune guitar.

She should never have let her office pal, Julie, talk her into this Halloween bar hopping escapade. Claire wasn’t twenty-one anymore. Bars were for kids on the make or forty somethings on the rebound. Respectable thirty-three year old, unattached, cat rescuing, career women didn’t costume up and grow progressively bleary as they wove an erratic path in high heeled grandeur from one bass pumping hot spot to another.  But that was what she and Julie had done. Talk about breaking one’s personal rules. Claire had definitely thrown her rule book out the window this night.

The guy nestled against her, though generously doused in a bold cologne, smelled faintly of mildew – like his rented, or perhaps thrift store acquired, costume had been left in the washing  machine a little too long before getting transferred to the dryer. Steffen, she decided. She’d refer to him in her mind as Steffen; the pulled back pony tail, dark eyes, and high forehead resembled Steven Segal before he had gone to seed.  Julie had appraised him as “eastern euro hot,” and though the high collared frilly shirt and dark cape were gothic cliché, Claire could not but agree. And so, empowered by the liquid courage imbibed throughout the evening and a naturally competitive spirit that intrinsically believed there is nothing Julie wants that I can’t have, she had revved up her soused charms to capture the affections of a man whose name she knew not.

Lingering mildew aroma aside, the guy was a good kisser.  In fact, compared to his savoring languor, Claire worried her reciprocal responses were amateurish, like a spastic first night dance student being whisked around the floor by an Arthur Murray pro.  But that didn’t stop her from trying. And who was to say if there was a right way and wrong way for tongues to wrestle? Steffen certainly didn’t seem to be complaining.

His gloved hands – and how surreal was that to be caressed by a dude wearing silk gloves – moved slowly from her shoulders to her waist. Uh-oh, the minority part of Claire’s remaining reasoning ability warned, Things are getting real. Ditch this guy while you can. He gently disengaged his mouth from hers and his tongue worked a slow wet path from the edge of her mouth down to her neck.

Claire let out an inadvertent moan of pleasure and her eyes fluttered open. Could anything be weirder than to be dressed in a naughty nurse costume while making out with a complete stranger in the rain soaked back alley of a bar surrounded by covered trash bins? An aroma of decay that she hadn’t noticed before pervaded the air and gave the moment a tawdry, unclean feel. The anchor chain of guilt continued to pull at her dizzy mind as she considered her gypsy garbed buddy, Julie, likely growing panicked as she searched the bar in vain for her compatriot.

But those caressing gloved hands continued to generate sensation and that plying tongue continued to tickle her neck. Her three inch heels brought her to a height nearly equal with the tall, lean figure embracing her and she whispered reflexively in his ear a breathy, “Oh baby.” Her vocal admission worked the kind of magic that such sounds often produce in males, and Steffen’s body grew taut and his breathing furtive. His hands slipped from her waist to her buttocks. And his mouth opened wide on her neck.

“Ouch,” she yelped, pulling away from him. “Bastard! You bit me.”

“Just a nibble, love.”

She raised two fingers to her neck and felt liquid warmth. “I’m bleeding, you jerk.”

“You taste exquisite.”

“Freak!”

“Really?” he asked. “You seemed to be enjoying it as much as me.”

“Kissing, maybe. But cannibalism? No thank you.” She turned to leave, but he moved quickly and blocked her path.  Her mother had warned her repeatedly in life, Careful what you wish for you just might get it. Good advice, but usually heeded too late. Like now. Nothing  good ever happened after two or three drinks and tonight she had downed four. Perhaps she should begin screaming. Panic and holler like women in peril always do in the movies. That would certainly get him to move out of the way and some cook in the kitchen to burst out the back door brandishing a large spoon or meat cleaver.

“I would never devour flesh,” he said. “But I admit my weakness for your essence: your mouth, your neck, so beautiful. I’m sorry. Let me heal the wound.” He pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his dark slacks.

“You think I’d let you touch me after that. I’m out of here, dude. You’re a freaky weirdo and I’m not into fetishes. “

“You should let me explain what will happen now-“

“Shut it, pal. I was drunk. You were hot. This was all a huge mistake.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“No, it isn’t. You suck. Literally. That’s a problem. So now, you move your ass out of the way or I start screaming.”

“I’ll be around when you need me to explain-“

“And I’ll get a restraining order if I have to.”

“So be it, my love.” And with a gesture of the cape he cleared the path for Claire to walk away.

“I mean it,” she warned, moving as quickly past him as her stiletto heels would allow. “Stay away.”

. . .

“Where did you go really?” asked Julie during the drive back to Claire’s apartment. After reuniting, the tandem had spent the next hour and a half drinking coffee and sobering up. “I know you said you were in the bathroom, but I checked there twice, was freaking out so bad that I even asked the women behind the stalls if they were you.”

Claire’s head pounded and she responded to Julie’s incessant patter as little as possible. But she owed her friend something. “Remember that Dracula looking guy? I ended up talking with him outside for a while. I should have told you.”

“But I looked out front. I went halfway up and down the street.”

“We were in the back.”

“Oh.” The faucet that was Julie’s mouth suddenly shut off.

“Nothing happened. Really.”

They had been out so late that the night sky had morphed from black to purple to gray during the drive home. The lightening sky affected Claire’s throbbing head so profoundly that she closed her eyes to avoid the discomfort of the encroaching morning. She wanted nothing more than to sleep . . . and to have something to drink. Bizarre, she thought, to have imbibed so much liquid during the course of a night and still feel thirsty. And not just thirsty, but insatiable, like something essential, something life giving lingered near. Her eyes blinked open and she found herself staring at Julie – not at her manicured finger nails on the steering wheel, or her colorful gypsy scarves, or even her dangling snake earrings, but at her neck, her lovely inviting neck.