What if a group of busy professional women in their thirties and forties created their own version of “hooking up,” designed to allow them a vibrant social life and plenty of sexual gratification, without commitment? What if the men they selected for their evenings out were interesting creative and artistic types, all good-looking and well educated? Could such an arrangement work? And could it last?
Meet the Libertine Belles.
- Emily’s Tipple
Emily Swanson chose a corner table at My Tipple and told the server she was expecting three friends. She ordered the Bertha, a house specialty made with tequila, honey and lime juice, and a plate of nachos for the table. Tipple was her favorite bar in Philly because there were usually plenty of other women there, the streets outside were well-lighted, and it didn’t feel like a singles bar or a dive, but more of a friendly neighborhood meetup. The only negative was the noise; My Tipple always sounded like loud conversation, clashing dishware, and Fleetwood Mac.
Before the drink and food arrived, Kim Kavanagh and Tina Overholt appeared in the doorway and quickly spotted her. Though in her late forties and the oldest member of the group, Kim was still a knockout, a tall curvy blonde who favored pink or black leather jackets, the new skin-tight jeans, and spike heels. She worked as a sociologist at Parnell, and taught courses like “Deviance and Social Control,” “Sex and the Single Human,” and “Masculinity in American Society.” Twice divorced, Kim had been known to hook up with graduate students in her program, as long as they weren’t under her direct supervision. Emily admired Kim, but couldn’t imagine herself with a man ten years younger— or more.
Tina worked at the Philadelphia Institute for Fine Arts in “development,” which meant she was responsible for donations to the museum. She was forty, just a couple of years older than Emily, and similar in physical appearance— both had medium-length, light brown hair, blue eyes, and slight figures. At least, both had been slight until Tina decided to treat herself to a sizable new pair of breasts for her fortieth birthday. “I always wanted them,” she told Emily, “so I’ve decided to go for it.”
The procedure itself and the recovery had been surprisingly harrowing, causing Emily to give up any ideas she herself may have had in that direction. Tina showed her the long, bruised incisions under her breasts, and confided that the swelling and pain lasted for six weeks afterward. She insisted, however, that she was pleased with the results, and took to wearing lower necklines to show off her new D-cup assets. “Are you getting a lot more attention from men?” asked Emily, and Tina nodded. “Oh yeah… but they’re not always the ones I would choose.”
Kim and Tina ordered Berthas too, and another round of nachos with extra sour cream. As the drinks arrived, Valerie Cardinale sat down, the last to arrive but the newest member of the group. She was a bottle blonde, hip and Emily’s age. Though her background was New York Italian, she looked and acted like a rich California girl.
“Now, ladies, I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here today,” said Kim in her husky, sexy voice.
“Not really. Don’t we come here every month or so?” Emily replied, looking around the table.
“Darling.” Kim cast an indulgent eye on Emily but shook her head slightly, as though in reproach. “That was simply my way of calling your attention to the fact that I have something to discuss with you. Ellen Bartlett came by to see me yesterday. She teaches history at Parnell, she’s been divorced for a year, and she wanted advice on how to meet men. I thought we might consider inviting her to join our little group.”
“Sure,” said Val, “but I didn’t realize that we have to have everyone’s permission for someone else to tag along. Are we some kind of a club?”
“Of course we’re not a club,” snapped Kim, “but it strikes me as the considerate thing to do, to talk to you all first. I’d appreciate it if you do the same,” she added, her eyes on Emily, who had once brought two new acquaintances to a meetup at Kim’s condo. The women, Jenna and Jessica, had been younger than Emily, and had become unexpectedly rowdy, drinking heavily and dancing suggestively with male partners and each other. Eventually Jessica removed her top in order to demonstrate something called the Texas Twirl, much to the delight of the men in attendance. Around midnight the two women left, taking with them Angus Brodie and Charlie House, and were the talk of the group for several weeks afterward. In fact, Charlie had only just left off urging Tina to reveal her new Twirlers to the group, and comments about Twizzlers, tassels, and Texas hold ‘em were still being made at every opportunity.
Emily sighed and finally said, “It’s my fault. Kim doesn’t like it that I brought some friends and they… didn’t work out. But how come the guys get to bring anyone they want? You never complained when Hugh brought that woman who looked like a Forties version of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Or when Jaime brought those really horny guys with porn on their phones.”
Kim shrugged. “All men have porn on their phones. And as for Hugh, he almost never hooks up. If he found someone he liked for the evening, who was I to grudge him?”
Emily didn’t reply, but it occurred to her that Kim hadn’t answered her question. There were rules, and they were different for the men. She resolved to give more thought to the matter. Nobody ever said what the rules were, and yet, if you broke one, you got in trouble.
“So what’s this Ellen like?” asked Tina.
“She’s mid-forties, nice-looking, very smart… and innocent. A little conservative. I don’t think she’s ever had a man other than her ex,” said Kim with an incredulous laugh.
The group will take care of that, thought Emily. The men fell over themselves any time someone new showed up.
“But I like her,” Kim was saying, “and I think you will too. I asked her to stop by tonight— ah, there she is.” She raised her hand and waved to Ellen, who was standing uncertainly just inside the door. They all watched her as she made her way to the table.
To Emily’s eye, Ellen looked younger than her years, forty perhaps, tall, and rather professorial. Probably she had come straight from work; that would explain the khakis, loafers, oxford shirt, and cable-knit sweater. She didn’t wear makeup, or not much, though she had well-defined, arching brows. Her dark, wavy hair was parted in the middle and gathered low at the neck with a barrette. The only thing missing was a pair of reading glasses hanging from a beaded chain. Definitely the type Kim would approve of, as she was attractive, but didn’t offer much competition in the sex bomb category.
Ellen was introduced to everyone, and ordered a dry martini. “Thanks for inviting me,” she said. “I was married for twenty-three years, and this is the first time I’ve thought about getting back into the dating world.”
“Dating? None of us really does dates,” said Tina.
“You don’t?” Ellen was surprised. “What do you do, then?”
“We hang out. Sometimes it’s at a bar or restaurant, and sometimes we host our friends. People come over, and we have a regular crowd. They’re fun.”
“I see,” said Ellen, though she clearly didn’t.
Kim finished her drink and said, “Ellen, are you looking for a relationship right now? Or do you just want to spend some time socializing with men, and enjoy yourself without worrying about commitment?”
“I’m definitely not ready for anything serious,” said Ellen.
“Then it’s perfect. You’ll meet some interesting men, maybe hook up every so often,” replied Kim. “And you’ll enlarge your social circle. I know what it’s like after a divorce. You lose all your married friends.”
Ellen nodded slowly. “Hook up? What does that mean?” She looked around the table, and focused on Emily, who mirrored her nod. What did it mean, in fact? She waited for Kim to reply.
“It means that at the end of the evening, you spend some time alone with a man,” said Kim. “There’s no expectation that you sleep together. It’s left completely open. You have the freedom to do whatever you want.”
“But don’t expect a call the next day,” interjected Tina.
“That’s right,” said Kim. “We don’t try to control each other’s lives. We live and let live.”
They could see that Ellen was taken aback. She was silent for a moment, then drained the rest of her martini, and said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but are you… swingers?”
Kim laughed. “No darling, definitely not. We just enjoy a good conversation and the company of the opposite sex. You’ll see. How about my place this Friday, if you’re in the mood? I’ll leave it up to you.”
“Thanks,” said Ellen. She looked genuinely grateful, and Emily’s heart went out to her. Emily had never been married, but she imagined that a divorce must be one of the most terrible things that could happen to a person, almost as bad as the death of a spouse. Tina’s husband had died, in a car accident, six years ago. Sometimes she drank far too much, when she had Bryan on her mind.
They ordered some hummus with fried pita strips and olives, and chatted about events coming up: a gallery opening at the Institute, an upcoming concert by Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Philly, and the Who concert in Atlantic City. Kim was planning to see a Celtic punk band called Flogging Molly, and asked if anyone wanted to tag along. This caught Emily’s attention.
“Flogging Molly?” she asked. “What’re they like?” Tina and Val looked at each other and giggled. “We know why you want to see them,” said Val, and accidentally snorted some of her Singapore Sling up her nose. “Maybe if you go backstage afterward, you’ll get lucky and one of them will take a cane to you,” Tina teased her.
“Emily, ignore these two.” Kim gave Val and Tina a quelling look and cast a supercilious glance at Val’s garish red Singapore Sling, with its pineapple and cherry garnish. Emily’s face was flushed, and she looked down as she sensed Ellen’s questioning eyes on her. For as long as she could remember, even as a child, she’d been turned on by the idea of being spanked. She had confided this to the others, who were generally supportive, but they still couldn’t resist making fun of her every now and then.
Her favorite man in the group was Angus Brodie. One night, perhaps the fourth time they hooked up, she tried to give him a hint by mentioning that she liked the movie Secretary with James Spader. He hadn’t seen it. Then she tried provoking him by stealing his lighter, but he thought she really meant to steal it. “Lassie, I’d make you a present of it, but it’s got sentimental value,” he said, sounding chagrined, and she mentally kicked herself for her inability to ask for what she really wanted. After another drink, she even draped herself across his lap with her bottom up, but he turned her over so he could unbutton her shirt. They hadn’t been together after that, but more than once he’d suggested hooking up again, even though he clearly thought she was a kleptomaniac. He seemed to take her refusals as a challenge.
Finally Ellen spoke again. “So, the men you know. What are they like?”
“They’re creative types,” replied Kim, who controlled the selection and rejection of male and female regulars in the group. Emily thought she was like one of those French hostesses from the eighteenth century, carefully curating the composition of their salons to create the desired atmosphere. Kim’s taste ran to artists rather than bankers and lawyers, and Emily, who owned a gallery for local painters, approved. The professional men she had spent time with talked only of investments, golf, and ski vacations. They bored her. Yes, there had been one stock trader, in Philly for a convention, who thrilled her by taking her over his knee. Unfortunately, she could hardly stand him outside the bedroom. The men in the group might not be into spanking, but at least she enjoyed their company.
“There’s Angus Brodie,” Kim was saying. “He’s a composer, writes music for movies, commercials, whatever brings in a paycheck, but he’s had a work introduced by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Hector Hernandez teaches creative writing at Parnell. You may already know him, or Owen Griffith, who teaches Latin?”
“I know Owen, yes,” said Ellen. She looked relieved to hear that the men were not Hell’s Angels, or Mortal Kombat enthusiasts.
“Jaime Moreno’s an actor in the Philadelphia Theatre Company, Hugh Barry’s an illustrator, and let’s see, who else?”
“Gerry the Drummer,” put in Tina. “He’s gorgeous, though we haven’t seen him lately. He plays in a local band called Pyewacket. And Charlie.”
“Yes, Charlie House. He’s a technical writer, but he’s published one novel and he’s working on getting a contract for his second,” said Kim.
“House, as in Doctor House on TV?” asked Ellen.
“Yeah, but he has a much better bedside manner,” cracked Tina, who was finishing her second Bertha. “He’s a little guy, but once he gets his clothes off, you’ll be blown away.”
“Ah. The House that roared.” Ellen smiled as the rest of them laughed, and signaled the server for another martini.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Kim Kavanagh was inspired by the character of Samantha on Sex and the City (and therefore she is named after the magnificent Kim Cattrall). I always picture Emily as looking a lot like Charlotte (Kristin Davis) from the same show. Emily’s story provides the third plot line of the book, after Ellen and Amber.
As for “My Tipple,” Emily’s favorite bar, I think I got the name from a real place I found online, but I haven’t been able to unearth it again. (Later in the story, the name forms the basis for a rather predictable joke.) There is a real bar in Philly called “1 Tippling Place.” It’s on Rittenhouse Square.
In case you’re wondering about Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, she’s famous in the US as the hostess of a Los Angeles TV station’s horror movie show during the 1980’s.
And then there’s Secretary, the 2002 film with James Spader. I always thought Spader had an amazing knack for being simultaneously creepy and sexy. The movie is highly recommended.