Poly At The Poly - Part 1

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Section 1

“Holy shit!” Mike cried out, slapping my bare flank far harder than was necessary. “That’s Cassie Summers.”

Both of us were lazing by the pool at Disney’s Polynesian Resort Hotel. It was late afternoon in the middle of August and hot as hell. The nearby umbrella didn’t block out the sun, so much as it strained it. When I got off my lounger, I was going to have to check my back for grill marks.

Only a few hours before, we’d been boarding a plane in Philadelphia. Now we were in our swim trunks, laying back with literally nothing to do. The rounded, zero-entry pool in front of us sparkled serenely in the afternoon sunlight. A large, faux-volcano – a waterslide, apparently – sat on the far side of the water. In the distance to my right, past a fence, over a lake, and poking over the treetops, was the famed Cinderella Castle. There had been no time change, and the weather wasn’t all that different, but I still felt shaken by the sudden shift from stultifying suburbia to mass-produced magic.

“Cassie fucking Summers,” Mike said it again. Like that name was supposed to mean something to me.

He gestured towards a small Tiki bar next to the volcano. A strikingly attractive woman with golden blonde hair was leaning on the counter, ordering a drink. She was wearing a plum-colored bikini and it showed off her flawless, hourglass body.

It was the middle of the afternoon, most people were in the parks, and the pool area was nearly empty. So, Mike’s tan, blonde woman stood out even more than she usually might have.

“Amazing, right?” Mike said.

Despite the fact that the two of us were on vacation together, Mike and I weren’t all that close. Our wives – the ones who had conspired to create this adventure – were work buddies who got along more like long-lost sisters. However, they were both back in our hotel room, sleeping off the effects of the early morning wakeup. That left me alone at the pool with a man who wasn’t exactly a stranger but couldn’t exactly be described as a friend either.

Mike and I got along OK, but we were very different people. We even looked opposite of each other. Mike was a tall, thin guy (almost bony) with thinning light blonde hair and freckled skin. I was short and broad with the black hair and olive coloring that came standard with my Eastern European background. More than once, I heard the ’take off your sweater’ joke when wearing a bathing suit at a pool.

Our personalities were similarly disparate. Mike was an outgoing, charismatic man who liked to be the center of attention.

I was not.

Despite all that, like I said, Mike and I got on most of the time. Our wives were close and that was good enough. But there were moments when I was reminded of the fact that Mike wasn’t the kind of person I’d ordinarily choose to spend time with.

Moments like this one, for instance.

“Cassie and I went to high school together,” Mike explained. “She was the girl, you know? Like, the girl. Cassie was the whole package, right out of the catalog: head cheerleader, prom queen, star of the senior play. Completely amazing and totally untouchable.”

Mike leaned forward in his chair. He did nothing to hide the fact that he was ogling this woman. She was oblivious to his attention, thankfully, as she accepted a swirling red and yellow drink from the bartender.

“Damn, though,” Mike said, shading his eyes like staring at a mirage, “Cassie looks good. Really good. Hard to believe it’s been fifteen years.”

Despite my every instinct telling me not to, I found myself watching the object of Mike’s obsession, as well. Though she was very much not my type, I could concede that Cassie was quite attractive. She looked to be about 5'9" with a classically beautiful face and a great body that stood out in all the right ways. One of those people who was so classically beautiful she appeared almost alien. Were women who looked like Cassie arousing? I supposed. Mostly I found them imposing.

“Holy shit!” Mike slapped my side again. This time I really thought about punching him in return.

I held back, however, because I saw what had him so worked up: Mike’s blonde bombshell had left the bar and was now walking right towards us, drink in hand. Aimed straight at our seats like a sexy cruise missile.

“She must have caught me staring,” Mike said, burying his face in his palms. “I’m a dead man.”

Section 2

I didn’t see the issue. I supposed that Cassie would remember Mike from high school and that would explain his interest. Old friends and all that.

“Cassie Summers is not going to remember me,” Mike said, his voice pitched with panic. “Come on, man. Like I told you, she was the popular girl. I was, like, the background extra in the movie of her life. I didn’t even make it in the frame, let alone have a speaking part.”

I found it hard to believe that Mike had ever been quiet anywhere, but I got his point.

“I’m going to get slapped,” Mike said. He cringed back in his seat, like he was looking for the secret doorway down to China.

Meanwhile, Cassie was still heading our way. She even had that hot woman walk, her hips popping up in rhythmic perfection as she sauntered around the pool. She didn’t look angry though. In fact, there was a smile playing on her pretty face.

“I’m going to blame you,” Mike told me. I was pretty sure he was serious.

“Michael Walsh?!” Cassie cried out as she got close.

Mike froze. “Cassie Summers?” he asked, trying to sound like he wasn’t sure. It was not at all convincing.

The beautiful blonde hurried over to our seats, moving her apex body in all sorts of exciting ways.

“I thought that was you!” Cassie said as she got close. “Wow, you look great!”

“Oh, um, so do you,” Mike said.

Cassie leaned forward like she wanted a hug and Mike obliged. While he was pressed against her body, Mike looked back at me, his eyes agog. In a place with actual princesses, he was meeting a queen. And he was clearly dumbfounded by it.

“I can’t believe you remember me,” he said, breaking from the hug.

“Oh, come on,” Cassie said, hands on her hips, “Mrs. Stack’s social studies class? You had me in stitches our whole senior year.”

“I wasn’t that funny,” Mike said.

“He was hilarious,” Cassie said, looking at me. He extended her dainty hand for a shake. Her nails were painted a perfect scarlet, “I’m Cassie, by the way.”

“Paul,” I said, “Nice to meet you.” I spoke carefully, keeping my accent nice and neutral. Even with so few words, it could slip out if I didn’t pay attention.

“I don’t remember you from high school, Paul” Cassie said.

“Paul’s a friend of… Well, he’s a family friend,” Mike said.

I did my best not to roll my eyes. If he wanted to get in trouble with his wife, that was Mike’s problem. I sank back into my lounge chair, happy to be forgotten.

Based on everything Mike had told me about his crush girl, that should have been the end of the conversation. In fact, it should have already been over. Instead, Cassie sat on the lounger on Mike’s far side, perching on the edge and leaning forward.

The beautiful blonde seemed legitimately excited to see her old high school classmate. Her eyes, an intense blue that outshone the sky, kept roaming up and down my companion’s skinny, pale body. As if Mike had been the guy in high school and Cassie was the former geek.

“So, how have you been?” Cassie asked. “What have you been up to?”

“I’m good,” Mike said, “I’m an account exec for an agency in Philly. What about you? What brings you to Disney?”

“What a coincidence, I’m in PR, if you can believe it,” Cassie said, brightly. I had the feeling that was how she did everything. “I’m here with my husband’s family.”

“Oh,” Mike said with the sharp sadness of a balloon being popped. Like Cassie’s relationship status was the only thing keeping him from hooking up with his dream girl. “That’s nice.”

“Yes, it’s neat,” Cassie said, “I haven’t been to Disney in a long time. It’s way different than I remembered. Of course, I was only six, so mostly I just remember crying cause I was afraid of Goofy.”

“Yes, nowadays I only cry when I get the bill,” Mike said.

“See? Still so funny,” Cassie said, giggling musically. She turned to me. “Isn’t he funny?”

“Very,” I said.

“It’s different for me,” Mike said, trying to pull the blonde woman’s attention back to himself. “We come to Disney about once a year. Sometimes more.”

“Wow, that’s a lot,” Cassie said, taking a sip from her technicolor drink. “You and Paul must really like it.”

Mike turned so red that he could have replaced the volcano by the side of the pool.

“My wife.” Mike practically shouted it. Suddenly, his marriage was a necessary piece of information he very much wanted Cassie to have. “My wife and I like it here a lot. She’s a big Disney person. We both are. Together. She’s back in our room right now. With Paul’s wife. We’re both married. In fact, I just got a text from her. See? We need to go back to the room to get ready for dinner.”

Cassie stifled a giggle. “Ok, I believe you,” she said. Then she looked at Mike like she was noticing him for the first time all over again. Casually, she put her hand on his bare shoulder. “It really is nice to see you.”

Section 3

“Yes, you too,” Mike said, genuinely.

“We’re here for about a week,” Cassie said, “Maybe I’ll run into you again?” I was surprised by how hopeful she sounded.

“That’d be nice,” Mike said.

“OK,” Cassie said, standing up. “Well, I better let you get back. To your wife.”

“Definitely,” Mike said, chuckling nervously.

Cassie gave me a quick, polite nod, then headed back to the other side of the pool. Her pert butt cheeks bounced hypnotically in her skimpy bottoms as she walked away from us.

“Cassie fucking Summers. Holy shit,” Mike whispered to himself. He slapped me on the back.

I slugged him in the shoulder, hard.

“Ow! What the hell was that for!?”

Even though Mike and I hadn’t done anything wrong in talking to Cassie, walking back to our hotel room felt like loping home after a wilder-than-expected night out at the casino.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort Hotel (The Poly, as Mike called it), was more resort than hotel. We walked down long, winding paths that led past palm trees and tiki torches, all scattered across a faux-tropical beach landscape. Along the way were multiple multistory, longhouse-style structures. The sides were brown and topped with faux-grass-thatched, sloping roofs. I knew each building was filled with hotel rooms.

The four of us were staying on the far side of the resort, at the longhouse located furthest from the main, lobby building where the pool was. So, it took Mike and I a solid fifteen minutes to get back, giving me plenty of time to stow away any misplaced guilt.

My wife, Emily, met us at the door of our hotel room. Petite, with long brown hair up in a twist bun and dark-rimmed glasses, she was wearing a simple blue, sleeveless blouse and jeans with sandals. Even though I’m only about 5'10", my tiny wife had to stretch up on her tippy toes to give me a kiss ‘hello’ on the cheek.

“Allison’s in the shower getting ready,” Emily told Mike.

“OK cool,” Mike said. He walked past her, then flopped onto the queen-sized bed. He immediately flipped on the TV and found SportsCenter.

I’d only stopped by the room for a second on the way to the pool earlier, so I took a moment to take another look at where we’d be sleeping for the next few days. For a theme park hotel, it was surprisingly nice. Everything felt high end, with thick carpeting and heavy wood furnishings. We were sharing this room with another couple, so the awkwardness also came standard. But overall, the place felt premium.

My pretty wife walked to the other side of the room, near a set of sliding glass doors that led out to a small balcony. There was a two-person couch next to the doors. Later, we’d fold it out to form our bed. But for now, we’d left it as a place to sit.

Emily and I had met in college, both of us quiet STEM types. I was a programmer, she was a scientist (can I make it any more obvious). We hit it off almost immediately. We got married a couple years after graduation and life had pretty much followed the storybook from there.

We both had good jobs, were making good money, and had a good-sized house in the burbs outside Philadelphia. If our lives were a Disney movie, we’d already gone past the happily ever after part and were now living the life beyond the credits; the one they don’t show you because there’s nothing interesting to see.

“How was the pool?” Emily asked me, quietly, as she sat down on the couch. She had bright green eyes, a cute, pert nose and thin lips. Like I said, she was tiny, especially next to my thick body. If she was an elf, I was definitely the ogre.

“It’s very hot out,” I said

I kept our encounter with Cassie to myself, mostly for Mike’s sake. I’d decided it was his decision if he wanted to mention we’d met her. Otherwise, I’d keep it under wraps. I’m good at keeping secrets. It’s hard to break a confidence when you don’t talk much in the first place.

“I had a nice nap,” Emily said, “Then I took a shower and got changed.”

“You look good,” I said, meaning it.

Emily gave me a quick peck on the lips. Then she darted back, like a tiny animal grabbing a piece of food before a predator could catch her.

“Hey! Get a room you two!” Mike called out to us. I hadn’t realized he’d been paying attention.

“This is our room,” Emily said, indignantly.

Mike stared over at her, eyes wide. Like me, my wife wasn’t outgoing. It was one of the reasons we made for a good pairing. But Emily was different in that she could actually hold her own once she got comfortable. She wasn’t truly shy – not really – just epically, terminally nice.

To this point, at our dinners and afternoons out as two couples, Mike had only met the timid version of Emily. Having her snap at him, give as good as she got, had to be quite the revelation. His half-hearted retort made it even clearer she’d put him on the wrong foot.

“We’re in Disney,” Mike said, “Keep it family friendly.”

Emily looked at Mike and her eyes flashed. She leaned over and gave me a full kiss on the lips. I felt myself rise to the occasion, the public nature of our affection only enhancing my arousal. I slid my hand up her side.

When we broke, Emily sat back and primly folded her hands in her lap. She colored a little bit, like even she couldn’t believe what she’d done. If Mike had been startled before, now he looked downright shocked.

Again, I wondered at the wisdom of our going on this trip in the first place. Mike and his wife had some sort of Disney timeshare setup called Disney Vacation Club, or DVC. Mike tried to explain it to us once, some complicated thing with points and use years, but we didn’t truly understand any of it – and my wife has a doctorate in chemistry. To simplify things, Mike and Allison had accidentally stored up an ’extra’ vacation and offered to host us at the hotel for free. I like free – it fits my budget nicely – and so we agreed to go along.

But we’d been in Disney for all of five hours and already we’d had multiple uncomfortable episodes. I couldn’t see it getting any easier going forward.

Our silly standoff was interrupted by a low rumble as the shoji-style door of the bathroom slid open. Mike’s wife, Allison, walked into the room. She was wearing a bright pink tank top and a pair of mesh shorts. Her poker straight, strawberry-blonde hair was tied back in a tight ponytail.

Section 4

Allison was a tall woman – at least six feet – lithe and trim, with pale skin. She had been an athlete in high school and college, and it showed. Her arms and legs were toned, yes, but it was more than that. There was a confidence to how she moved, like she was completely in control of her body; comfortable there.

I’d always thought Allison was pretty. She wasn’t the ideal of beauty, like Cassie Summers, but I think that’s what drew me to her. Allison was unique. She had an oval face with deep brown eyes and her nose was a bit too angular. Her chest was small, almost non-existent. But it all came together in a way that I found alluring.

It helped that she was so open and fun. Allison asked you to come along on her adventures and you found yourself saying yes. For example, this whole thing with Disney and the hotel room.

“Emily and Paul were making out,” Mike told his wife, with a splash of whine.

Allison put her hands on her hips and glared at us, mockingly. “Oh really?” she said, hamming it up. “I expect better of you, young lady, when you’re under our roof.”

Emily responded by rolling her eyes. Both women broke into giggles.

Emily and Allison might seem like a strange friendship – my shy, mousy wife and her leonine lady friend. They’d both met at their job, a sprawling pharmaceutical company outside the city. Emily was in the development side, engaged in the creation of new compounds. Allison was a sales rep, helping to sell the medications after Emily’s department was done with them.

The way Emily told it, Allison had basically adopted her one day. The tall blonde had walked right up to her in the cafeteria during lunch and declared that they were going to be best friends. Like Emily was a lost puppy up for adoption.

The funny thing was, Allison was right. The two of them got along like they were meant to be together. Part of each other’s karass, as Kurt Vonnegut might say.

“Also, Emily was mean to me,” Mike said.

“Well, I know that’s a lie,” Allison said, “Look, with all of us staying together, there’s bound to be a few uncomfortable encounters. But I’m so happy we can all share this. I’m sure we can make it work. We just have to sacrifice a little.”

Mike made a loud, demonstrative sigh. “I guess I’ll put the dildoes back in the suitcase.”

Allison shook her head at him. This time, I could tell her disdain wasn’t in jest.

“Go take a shower, you big doofus,” Allison said.

“I don’t want to take a shower,” Mike said.

“You sure, babe?” Allison asked.

“Pretty positive, babe,” Mike said. His focus didn’t leave the TV.

Allison gave us a look that said, ‘what are you going to do?’ She lay down on the bed next to her husband. I thought that was the end of it.

Before Mike could react, Allison grabbed the remote and changed the channel. SportsCenter flicked over to a Mickey cartoon.

“Hey!” Mike said, “I was watching that.”

He grabbed for the remote, but Allison ripped it away. She gave him a heated glare. Mike withstood the onslaught for a moment, then wilted.

“Fine, geez,” he said. He got off the bed and went to the bathroom.

Emily reached over and squeezed my hand. She smiled at me, coyly. Nothing like seeing how other peoples’ marriages work to help you better appreciate your own.

It was also a reminder, however, that I, too, needed a shower. Fortunately, one of the finer amenities of our hotel room was that we had two bathrooms, both with showers. So, I went into the unoccupied room and opened up the tap. I was about to strip down, when there was a knock on the door. I slid it open and was surprised to see Allison on the other side.

“I need to pee before you start,” she said.

I was confused. Why didn’t she use the bathroom her husband was in?

“There’s two showers, but only one toilet,” Allison said, “And you’ve got it.”

I thought that was odd but didn’t argue it. After the tall blonde was done, I went back in and washed up. After, I changed into a nicer outfit for dinner: a green polo and khakis, to be precise. When he was done with his own shower, Mike put on something similar, but in blue. Everyone was finally ready to go, so we all gathered our things and headed out the door for dinner.

We followed the meandering paths from our longhouse to the main building, back by the pool where we’d been earlier. The sun had settled a bit, so the tiki torches along the way were now lit. They gave everything around us a soft, orange glow. Jaunty Hawaiian music followed us as we went. It felt peaceful, relaxing. Also, extremely hot. We’d barely left the building and I already found myself pining for a fresh, dry outfit.

We went two-by-two to keep the path clear for oncoming guests. But for whatever reason, whether on purpose or not, I ended up walking beside Allison while Mike and Emily led the way in front of us. The tall blonde woman took long, aggressive strides, like a jungle cat, and I had to work to keep up.

“I’m so glad you and Emily were able to join us,” Allison said.

“Me too,” I said.

Allison gave me a playful grin. She knew I didn’t like to talk, so she’d created this little game for herself where she tried to make me say as much as possible. One time, she’d asked me something about her computer and – I swear this happened – pumped her fist in celebration when I gave her a whole paragraph. It turned out the computer was fine, she just wanted to see how long she could keep me going.

I didn’t mind – mostly it was cute. It made Allison happy to have a challenge. And I liked her attention. It was flirty, sure, but fine.

“I love Disney,” Allison said, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “You haven’t been here since you were a kid, right?”

“I went to Disneyland when I was twelve,” I said.

Section 5

“They sell Disney like it’s a family thing,” Allison said, “And it totally can be. But there’s this whole other side of the parks that you only experience as an adult. I know it sounds silly but being here really is magical for me.” She the another slow inhale, like soaking it all in. “It’s almost like this is home and our place back in PA is where we visit in between.”

“I guess,” I said.

Allison gave me a disappointed look. It was clear she’d been hoping to elicit more. “It must have been so strange going to Disneyland, after what you grew up with. I’m sure you had a very different perspective than most kids.”

I shrugged.

My parents had emigrated to America when I was 9. In some ways, everything after that felt disconnected from my previous existence. Like I’d lived two separate lives and could never be sure which one was ‘real.’ Both equally impossible in different ways. Regardless, it had left me with a slightly skewed view of life in the US, and with an accent that I did my best to keep hidden however possible.

I think Allison had this picture of a wide-eyed immigrant boy, shocked by a fantasy world become real. In truth, by the time I went to Disney with my family, I was in middle school, already jaded and pretty much over it.

“Well, being at Disney World as an adult is a whole different thing,” Allison said, “Trust me. You’re going to love it.”

We got to the main building, the Grand Ceremonial House, and walked inside. The air conditioning raced to caress me, like a lover applying salve to my aching, sweaty wounds. The lobby area was large and open, with dark wood and stone highlighted by bright accents of orange and blue. Several different styles of rattan furniture were grouped strategically through the space. Every sound seemed to echo.

We took a flight of stairs up to the second floor, which overlooked the first. Almost immediately, we ran into a long line of people waiting in front of a lectern, manned by a maitre d’.

“I’ll go check us in,” Allison said.

The remaining three of us found a sitting area off to the side by the windows. Emily and I sat on a couch while Mike flopped into a single chair facing our way. It was wooden and high-backed, and it made him look like a preppy king resting on his throne. A moment later, Allison joined us, taking the other open throne-chair.

“Ohana!” she said, throwing her arms in the air, giddily.

“I know, babe, I can’t wait,” Mike said, grinning like a little boy.

Emily and I gave them both a questioning look.

“You’ll see,” Allison said. I could already tell: this was going to be her mantra for the rest of the trip. It was a mix of exciting and infuriating.

They buzzed Allison’s phone a few minutes later and a server with slicked back hair and a thick mustache led us into the dining room. It was a larger space than I expected, and surprisingly dark. I could barely make out the tables, filled with raucous families.

We walked past a large, open cooking area with a roaring fire. Our server stopped at a nearby shelf to grab a plate of fresh bread.

Walking into that restaurant, I didn’t know what to expect. But what I saw was something I couldn’t believe.

Sitting at the table next to ours was, of all people, Cassie Summers.

The gorgeous blonde turned our way as soon as we walked up. She was wearing a peach sundress that bared her shoulders and accentuated her already amazing curves. As soon as she recognized us, her face spread in a smile so wide, it could have swallowed the entire resort.

“Michael!” Cassie cried out. She jumped out of her seat and gave him a hug like it had been ages since she’d seen him instead of a couple of hours. Eventually, she let him out of her grasp. But interestingly, she kept one arm around Mike’s back.

I realized that, if anything, I’d underestimated how pretty Cassie was. Even in the darkened restaurant, her eyes were an almost shocking shade of blue. She had a small, slightly upturned nose and plump, pink lips. Like I said, she wasn’t the kind of girl I usually went for, but that was mostly because she was, clearly, a different species than me.

“Everyone, this is my friend from high school, Cassie Summers,” Mike said, turning to the rest of our group. His expression made it seem like he was facing a firing squad, rather than his wife and friends. For our part, we all waved awkwardly at Cassie.

“Actually, it’s Cassie Wolffe now,” she said. Cassie gestured to the table behind her. Sitting there – staring up at all of us with a look of bemusement – was the man who was, apparently, Cassie’s husband. Though that’s not the relationship I would have guessed if Cassie hadn’t told us. “This is Jack.”

Jack looked to have about a twenty-year head start on the rest of us. He had a full head of perfectly parted silver hair and a similarly colored stubble-beard. He was wearing a button-down plaid shirt and blue jeans. His skin was practically bronze, like he’d spent decades in the sun. It was like meeting an old cowboy, ripped right off the silver screen and dropped into Disney.

Jack stood up and shook my hand. His grip was like steel and his skin, leather. He had an easygoing demeanor that, based on his laugh lines, seemed to be ever-present. But his ice blue eyes were, hard. Intense. Like just a look could peel me back, layer by layer.

“Hello,” he said to me. He repeated the same down the line, shaking hands. “Hello. Hello.”

But, when he got to my wife, Jack stopped. He reached his hand out and took Emily by the elbow, in an almost embrace. He leaned forward, meeting her eyes with a seductive combination of confidence and fascination.

“Hi,” he said. Almost like it was almost a totally different word. “It’s very nice to meet you.” He gave her a little wink and, I swear, I saw Emily’s face go pink. She fidgeted with her dark-framed glasses. Like trying to find a different setting.

There was an awkward pause, as if the scene of our play had ended and now no one remembered their lines. Finally, we all broke and took our seats at our respective tables.

Our four-top was right next to Cassie and Jacks’ two, to the point where the six of us were practically grouped together. My wife and Mike ended up closest to the other couple, with Allison and I at our spouse’s other sides, respectively. As soon as we sat down, the setup felt strange. Almost like Allison and I were the ones seated separately.

“You know Cassie from high school?” Allison asked.

Despite the fact that Allison had clearly asked her husband, it was Cassie who answered. “Yup!” she said, still bubbly. “We ran into each other at the pool before. I’m sure Michael told you.”

“Michael,” Allison said, like she was tasting the word for the first time. “I had no idea.”

“I guess I forgot to mention it in all the hubbub of getting ready,” Mike said. I was getting used to his sheepish face, but the more I saw it the less convincing it became.

Section 6

“Well, I suppose it really is a small world,” Allison said. Even she rolled her eyes at her own joke. We gave her a courtesy laugh.

“You said you were here with your husband’s family?” Mike asked, turning towards Cassie.

“Jack’s kids are older,” Cassie said.

I didn’t doubt it. If I had to guess, I’d say Jack’s children were probably Cassie’s age, themselves. I tried to imagine my dad on a date with a much younger woman, but the only thing I could picture was him forcing some poor, pretty twenty-something to try the borscht.

“The kids are off doing their own thing tonight,” Jack said, “It’s better for all of us. They get to have fun without their old man, and I get time to spend with Cassie.”

“That’s so sweet,” Emily said. My wife was resting her head on her hand, staring Jack’s way like he was some new compound she couldn’t comprehend. I tried to think of a word to describe how she was eyeing him, but the only one I could come up with was ‘mooning.’

“Y’all have kids?” Jack asked.

Reflexively, I felt my discomfort rise. He couldn’t have seen the landmine he’d just stepped on, but I resented him for it all the same.

“Not yet,” Mike said, cheerfully. He shared a grin with Allison that made me hurt even worse.

“No,” Emily said, firmly. Her soft expression went hard. “No kids.”

“Well, I support that,” Jack said, “Seems to me too many people nowadays feel pressured into having a family. You need to take your time, figure things out. Enjoy being young while you can.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Emily said. She turned and glared my way. For the first time since we’d sat down, I had my wife’s attention. But now I really didn’t want it.

Fortunately, that’s when our server came by and gave us something else to focus on. They brought us drinks and dropped a wok-like bowl filled with wings, noodles, and dumplings at our table. After that came a conga line of skewered meats – steak, chicken, and shrimp. It was a sumptuous feast, and now I could see why Allison and Mike had been so excited beforehand.

But we weren’t so engaged with the food that we didn’t continue our conversations. However, as before, the division was different than what I would have assumed at the beginning of our evening.

Mike spoke almost exclusively to Cassie. The two of them talked over old times – funny friendships and rueful reminders. A couple times, I noticed Cassie grabbing Mike’s hand or even his arm while she laughed at one of his stories

My own wife, on the other hand, was engrossed with Jack. She leaned forward, captivated by his every word. Mostly he asked her questions and let her stories spool out. She told him about where she grew up, her time at school, and her current career. He nodded along, his eyes crinkling at the corners, like she was endlessly intriguing.

That left me and Allison mostly to ourselves, which generally meant rolling our eyes in our spouses’ direction and sharing silly looks. Fortunately, it was something we were both pretty good at. Allison had a knack for making me laugh; just sticking her tongue out at me could elicit a legitimate guffaw. Despite the strange, inherent tension of our dinner, I enjoyed myself. Mostly.

By the time they cleared our plates, I was done. Finished. All that talking, the travel, the massive meal – I felt like I was the one who’d been slow-cooked over a roaring flame.

Then the waiter came back carrying two plates, each with a giant, golden brick of cake in the middle. The dessert was decadent, glistening and warm. Slathered in caramel sauce and festooned with chunks of fruit. Like the kind of sweet they might serve you in heaven. I was so stuffed, I could barely look at it without my stomach turning.

“The bread pudding,” Cassie said, like venerating a holy object. “God, I’ve been looking forward to this for years.”

“You have to try this, Paul,” Allison said, holding a forkful across the table. “You’ll see.”

“I can’t,” I said, my accent coming through far stronger than I wanted.

“Oh, you’re so missing out,” Mike said. He looked ready to plunge his face into the plate.

“I wish I could do it,” Emily said, waving her hand like she was trying to make the food disappear. “I really do.”

“This is your first time in Disney World, right?” Cassie asked. She was holding her own bite in midair, a precarious promise to herself. The whole table turned her way. Everything felt heavy and odd. Laden with a significance I couldn’t suss out.

Emily confirmed that this was our inaugural visit.

“So basically, neither of you have experience with this,” Cassie said. I raised an eyebrow. Something about how she said that made its meaning feel multiplicative. “Michael and Allie, how many times have you been to Disney in the last five years?”

Like a trained seal, Mike responded immediately. “Last five? Jeez, let’s see. There was the trip in 2014 and then two the next year…”

“Three,” Allison interjected.

“Oh, right. Christmas,” Mike said, “So at least seven. Maybe more.”

“So, a lot,” Cassie said, summarizing for him. She gestured to us with the full fork. The bread pudding magically stayed attached. “My point is, Michael and Allie know what they’re talking about. They’re the experts. So, you should trust them. Rely on their experience and you’ll have a good time. No matter how awkward it might seem at first.”

Jack acknowledged his wife, then turned to look right at Emily. “You’re clearly a clever girl,” he said, “Show me.”

Emily rolled her eyes at him. But she reached for a piece of bread pudding.

“Oh my God. This is. Wow,” Emily said. She took another bite and groaned, like she was bathing in bliss.

Section 7

“So good, right?” Mike said.

“Paul?” Allison asked. She pointed that forkful of dessert right at me. Accusatory, yet also inviting.

I started to lean forward to take the bite, but I stopped myself. Letting my wife’s friend feed me felt a little too intimate. Instead, I took the utensil out of Allison’s hand.

Damned, but it was amazing.

After dinner, the six of us went down to the lobby together before going our separate ways. Cassie gave Mike another tight hug.

“I hope we keep meeting like this,” she said, “It’s been so much fun seeing you again.”

“It was nice to meet you,” Allison said brusquely, shaking Cassie’s hand.

“Your husband is so funny,” Cassie said.

“Oh yes, he’s a riot,” Allison said.

Jack put his hands on Emily’s shoulders. “This was nice,” he said, giving my wife a little squeeze. “I hope we see each other again.”

Emily blushed. “I’d like that.”

“Nice talking to you,” Cassie told me, as she gave me a little hug. She started laughing at her own joke.

I just shook my head.

Once the others were gone, Mike, Allison, Emily and I stumbled back to our room. The sun was slowly slipping down the horizon, making everything look dramatic. The heat was almost bearable now. I wasn’t comfortable, but I no longer felt like I wanted to escape my own skin.

I’d only had one drink at dinner; it was everything else that had me feeling drunk. We’d consumed like royalty, but now I was paying the price and it was too rich for my stomach.

“That was odd,” Allison said as we meandered back to our room.

“Running into Cassie?” Mike said, “She’s a nice girl, right?”

“She’s OK,” Allison said.

“It’s fun to catch up with people like that,” Mike said, “After so much time. Interesting to see where they’ve ended up. I’m happy for her, it seems like she’s got things going well.”

“Her husband is, like, her dad’s age,” Allison said.

“I think it’s sweet,” Emily said, “Finding true love so late in life.”

For Part 2, click here.

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