To be honest, I've had worse hangovers than this. Hell, compared to some of the benders I've plunged into in the name of journalism, this was amateur hour. I did drink a lot, though, and so my sandpaper eyes refused to open, the sparkplugs in my brain weren't firing properly, and my metaphors were mixing. Until any of these things sorted themselves out, I would never be able to work out whose hair and warm breath were tickling my bare chest.
I concentrated a little more and determined that it wasn't just my chest that was bare. In fact, based on tactile deduction, the only part of me that wasn't bare was my sock-covered left foot.
None of this made any sense. That's not true. It made sense that I'd wake up in bed with a stranger; that's just classic Fuentes. What didn't make sense was the irresponsibility of my current position. If I was too drunk to remember sleeping with someone, I was too drunk to sleep with someone; safe sex is, to me, pure instinct.
My alcohol consumption at the party last night barely registered on my Richter scale of substance abuse, though, so it took only a few minutes of shaky concentration to recall that she had been more than a little tipsy, and that I walked her home, and we made out on her couch, and we both had the presence of mind to call it off before it got too far.
Good for us.
It didn't explain why I was naked, though. And it certainly didn't explain who she was. Best-case scenario, she was September, the glorious siren who'd taken my breath away last night with her musical laugh and dazzling green dress. Worst-case scenario, she was my irritating photographer, Gretchen; this would make things really awkward, because she'd caught me speaking ill of her behind her back last night, and I was still pretty mortified.
I heaved and pulled, and one of my eyes finally pried open. Her hair was red. The good news was that Gretchen was blond. The bad news was that September was brunette. So who the hell was she? And why was she wearing my shirt?
She groaned unsteadily, "You awake?"
"Not so loud," I replied. Sure I was a pro at this, but that didn't make the headaches any easier.
She whispered, "You awake?"
"I want you to go over this conversation in your head for a second," I whispered back, "and then think about the answer to that question."
"I had no idea you were such an asshole, Mike."
"My name's not Mike."
She sat straight up. "Oh my god, I am so sorry, dude!"
"It's not Dude either."
"Do I look like a Mitch?"
She sighed. "Oh, Jesus, this is bad."
"It was that kind of night."
Her wobble indicated that she knew exactly what I was talking about, and she lowered herself back onto me. In the brief moment she'd been thrashing around, I caught a glimpse of my boxers on her hips. I really needed to get to the bottom of this.
"Matt?" she whimpered.
"Getting warmer," I replied. Her name was Emma.
"That's right," Emma moaned. "You have the same name as one of my friends."
"You have a friend named Dude?"
Evidently, she didn't find it necessary to remind me what an asshole she thought I was. "What exactly did we do last night?"
"Never mind," she interrupted. "I remember everything now. Thanks."
"For an asshole, you have a lot of restraint."
"Men are more than just sex-crazed animals, you know."
"Just take the thanks."
She asked, "Could you do me a favor, Max?"
Wow, it only took her four tries. Yet my self-esteem couldn't think of a single reason to be nice to her at this point. "It's Mike, actually."
"Could you hold my hair back when I go throw up?"
"You realize," I informed her, "that as soon as do that, I will never be able to think of you sexually again."
"That's a sacrifice I'm going to have to make."
I wish I could say I was right about that sacrifice. Sure, there was nothing at all appealing about the seven to ten minutes I spent restraining her chaotic, cinnamon-colored curls from tangling up with a ribbon of liquor and mostly digested hors d'oeuvres; but the way she sank to the tile floor turned me on even more than her turtleneck-stocking-knee-high-boots combo from last night. I couldn't tell you why with any certainty, but I was willing to bet that it was because, in that moment, she was more naked than I was--and all I had to wear was this bedsheet.
That all dissolved when she belched. With a grimace, she told me, "I think there's a spare toothbrush around here somewhere."
"I brought my own."
She squinted at me. "Dude," she said, "don't you think that's a little presumptuous?"
"My name's not Dude," I replied. "Besides, you've got a pack of condoms in your purse."
"Oral hygiene is very important to me," I added.
"You know what, dude?" she groaned. "I don't care about your cavities. I need some privacy."
"My name's not Dude."
"Get the fuck out."
I waited in the hallway through the sound of the toilet flushing, the whir of an electric toothbrush, and the toilet flushing again. The door cracked open just a little, and her fingers snaked out, waving my underwear like a flag of surrender. My shirt followed a moment afterward.
"Why are you wearing all of my clothes, anyway?" I asked her hand.
"I needed something to sleep in."
"You don't have anything in your own place?"
"It's not mine," she said. "Apartment-sitting." She added, "Boy clothes are more comfortable."
"I've never tried to sleep in a bra, so I'll have to take your word for it."
"Trust me, dude."
"My name's not--"
She slammed the door. While she showered, I located my boots, my tie, my leather pea coat, and my khakis, donning them in that order. Finally, alert, refreshed, and bound in terrycloth, she emerged from the cleansing steam of the bathroom. "All yours if you want it."
I frowned at her. "That's a boy robe."
"This is a boy apartment."
"And this didn't occur to you last night when you made me strip down to nothing?"
She looked me up and down before replying, "It did."
I didn't want to smirk, but I couldn't help myself. "How's the hangover?"
"Pretty much gone."
"Want to have sex?"
She laughed, stopping mid-ha. "You're serious."
I held up my index finger. "We didn't last night, even though we both wanted to." I held up my middle finger. "You have condoms." My ring finger went up. "I don't have to be to work until ..." I glanced at my cheap-looking watch. "... twenty minutes ago." I showed her my pinkie. "I don't actually like you, and I have no intention of calling you after I leave today, and I'm certain the feeling is mutual."
She mumbled, "Well, I wasn't going to say it out loud ..."
To wrap it all up, I extended my thumb. "And finally, I have a thing for redheads, and you have a thing for sleazy, arrogant bastards. You can't argue with my logic."
"You're right," she replied, "I can't. Get naked."
I began disassembling the tie I'd just reassembled.
"Brush your teeth first, dude," she added.