Jenna would turn out to be the best date I ever had.
We stood against the wall in the dining room where the engagement party for my friends, Kelly and Chris, bubbled in full lather. Guests gathered around the table to watch the couple unwrap bawdy gifts amid waves of laughter. Before I met Jenna, I hadn't known anyone at the party – other than Kelly and Chris – but now Jenna stood next to me, watching Kelly work her way through the presents, and I had the sense that Jenna also felt as if she were an outsider.
Kelly had introduced me to Jenna earlier, before the group concentrated in the dark dining room, when the party still was spread throughout the house and people clustered in every room and in the backyard where the lawn had been groomed to crispness and the covers finally pulled off the patio furniture. This was when people were still showing up and were talking about how the afternoon rains had cleared just in time. As the guests waited in the cooling evening, conversation moved to the wine and what had happened in town that day. It was easy for them to talk about what had happened in town that day because Telluride is a very small town, really just six or seven parallel streets not even a mile long, and everyone in Telluride knows everyone else in Telluride. Being from a city, I found this sort of familiarity intoxicating.
Wandering in the backyard, I attempted to look as if I were heading somewhere specific. Large groups of people who know each other are good, but I'm not really comfortable in a group if I don't know anyone. On the other hand, being in a large group that has one person I would like to know is as thrilling as it is terrifying. I thought about a night twelve years earlier, back in New York, when fifteen of us met at the Broadway to see Les Miserables and among that group had been poor Abby Michaels.
Kelly stood with two other people. One was Jenna; her haircut like Peter Pan, her wine almost gone. They were laughing when I got there. I picked up on the joke, built on it, and the trio laughed harder. Jenna made fun of me, but it was part of the joke and I knew I would get along with her and that I had made a friend at the party. It’s always good at a party to have someone you can stand with.
During the next hour, I talked to Jenna here and there and I learned what I could, as if scanning a news article for the important parts. She juggled lots of jobs. One thing she did was clean houses for rich people who owned vacation homes in Telluride and who came to the mountains for a week or two in the summer. She would get the house ready and then she would clean it again after they left. Sometimes she cleaned regular people’s houses, but that was just one of the things she did. I can’t remember the other things. Jenna was funny and fearless and there was some sadness about her, which I found attractive – though the sadness made me think of Abby Michaels again and I didn’t want to think of Abby. I had to work to keep Abby away, to make sure Jenna won the night.
At one point, after the sun had set and the chill drove everyone inside, I asked Jenna if she had ever cleaned Bo Cunningham’s place. I meant it as a joke and expected the standard Telluride non-denial denial.
Jenna said, “A couple of times,” and continued on about something Kelly was telling the crowd, some detail about the wedding, which was going to be held somewhere else, perhaps in another state altogether.
Then the room got really loud. Kelly and Chris were beginning to open their presents and the guests were on their third and fourth glasses of wine. Just before it got so loud that we would have trouble hearing each other, I said to Jenna that we should have dinner while I was in town. Jenna said yes. Because I got a yes, I could pay attention to the speeches and jokes and vulgar gifts. Much to the guests’ screaming delight, Kelly put a pair of pink panties on her head like a hat. I thought about how cute Jenna was and about how nice her eyes were and—
Abby, Abby, Abby, Abby, Abby.
(c) Mark Dodson