As another tray of eggplant caviar traveled past us, I turned to Claudia and asked, "Just what is it like to work in an office?" Claudia was downing her third glass of champagne and suddenly sneezed violently. Our friend Nick snatched a shrimp that was being offered by a white-coated waiter and delicately lowered it into his mouth.
"It sucks," she said with reddened eyes, catching her breath. "I like bringing you two to this party every year. But let's not have our Annual Sexual Post-Game Wrap-up this time, OK?" She smiled weakly at a man in red suspenders who lifted his glass in her direction. "Good cross today," she called. "You were right all along not to settle." Looking at Nick and me, she asked, "Haven't you ever worked in an office?"
"Never." Nick and I felt like Claudia's country cousins among her Armani-clad co-workers, gobbling down hors d'oeuvres and drinking as much as we could while still trying to remain inconspicuous. I looked down at my sad little blouse from Banana Republic, always dragged out around the holidays. A bright drop of pesto, glistening like an emerald, hung off my left cuff.
"Darling, let me help you," said Nick, and tried to flick off the blob with his finger. "Too late. Soaked through. Time to retire that old thing anyway. Don't you think so, honey? You wore that blouse last year to this party."
"Only a gay man would remember that," I said as Claudia nodded her head in agreement. I turned to her. "Do people still have sex in the office? You know, under desks or in the executive washroom? Or has the cubicle craze just made that out of the question?"
"Sex! Good Lord no. How '80s. No, no."
"Even you?" Nick asked.
"Even me." Claudia did seem a bit glum and I wondered how the married man affair was going. Maybe he was even here tonight. We moved under a giant potted palm and examined the colored lights that were expertly twisted on the fronds. She turned suddenly to Nick and said, "Ask Courtney what you were asking me before. About the sex with your ex." She sneezed again and said apologetically, "Allergies."
"What are you allergic to?" I asked.
"December," said Claudia.
Nick grabbed a glass of champagne off a tray and handed it to me. "Claudia thinks you need to amend your little policy on Sex with the Ex. It's only OK if some conditions are fulfilled. Take for example, Harold, my ex who lives in New York who's suddenly going to be coming out here for some business conference. I've not seen him since we broke up three months ago. Now, do I or don't I? He is, after all, leaving town right afterwards."
"Whoa, Nellie," said Claudia. "Tell her what you told me."
"Who broke up with who?" I demanded. "That's important."
"Oh, he dumped my ass," said Nick gaily. "He took my heart, ground it up in a hundred little pieces and stomped on it. I hope he burns in hell for it, too."
"Then forget it," I said. "You're right, I forgot that part. You can't be the dumpee, or else Sex with the Ex just becomes a power game. The breakup has to be sort of mutual."
"As if there is such a thing," Claudia mumbled darkly. "Tell her the other part. About what he said when he broke up with you."
"You mean that he didn't find me sexually attractive and never had the whole time we were going out? Oh, yes, I didn't tell you that, did I? Nice, huh? Claudia says now I really can't ever have sex with him again, ever."
"No, you can't," I said, and was again struck by how many similar experiences gay men and straight women have. "That happened to me once before. This ex said to me, 'You know, I just don't like how tall you are. I never have. I like short girls.' You never truly get over something like that."
Nick and Claudia nodded their heads vigorously. "Well, he's probably living in some Asian country now, where he can bed his ideal woman," said Nick. "He probably had a small dick too."
"No, he didn't. And he lives on Sacramento Street. But never mind." We moved out from under the palm and watched a woman in a red dress dance with a short man with a shining pate. Claudia sighed loudly and sneezed, waving at another attorney colleague who gave her a thumbs up.
"Christ. This is like an episode of 'L.A. Law,'" said Nick. "Now, Claude, you give her your end-of-the-season post-game analysis."
"I broke up with Mr. X," she said to me shortly. "I told Nick last night. That's him, dancing with that trollop."
"Wow," I said. "I'm sorry. Who's that woman?"
"His wife," said Claudia. "So now you have my little state of the union. How about you? What about that guy you were going out with before the other one that you're only sleeping with now?"
"Sheesh, that was months and months ago, Claude," Nick said. "She probably can't even remember that far back."
"It was a long time ago," I admitted, "and I think that was Mr. Indecisive." Nick and Claudia groaned loudly and we all exchanged knowing looks. "We never had sex. But I knew it wasn't going to be worth it because he wasn't a reciprocator. He spent the night once and he had a great time. But as for me ... well, it wasn't worth it. How can a guy justify not reciprocating in oral sex? I don't get it. Selfish."
"Is that when you got that throat infection?" Nick asked.
"You must be confusing me with someone else," I said.
Claudia suddenly clapped her hands. "Well, aren't we the romantic trio! We always have this incredibly uplifting conversation at the Christmas party. And yet, every year I invite you two back." She sneezed again as Nick grabbed three cosmopolitans off a passing tray. "Could we all drink a toast to new love and great sex in the New Year?" she pleaded.
"Come dance with me, ladies," Nick said suavely. "Just for tonight, I'll be your perfect man and you'll be my perfect men. This is what gay men are for."