Episode One: The List

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This is it. She can feel it. He is wearing the expensive shirt she gave him, which fits now. He's been cutting out carbs for weeks but denying it, and now it all makes sense. The picnic basket gripped in his fist, the flowers delivered to The Center this morning, the spasm in his lip when she asked where they were going. Today's the day. He's going to do it. Her mom will shit confetti.

He's a good guy. Handsome, in the pictures from his twenties. The nose hair problem has been addressed. He's not the tallest man, but one could not justifiably call him short. He's smarter than she is, so that's good. True, he faces adversity in the fashion department, but that's men, right? They need guidance. The fashionistos are always gay or self-absorbed. But when her Dad called him a hobbledehoy on that first ski weekend, the man wasn't kidding. Homeboy ate snow getting off the lift.

"Come on, Slowpoke," he says, leading her up to Amir's Garden in Griffith Park. Los Angeles surrounds them, but the solitude is unsettling. He trips on a rock, stumbles a few steps, but stays upright, and he doesn't do that whole look-back-to-blame-the-thing-that-tripped-you move, which she chooses to interpret as confidence. She wants this. Of course she wants this. She engineered this. And it's time. Thirty-nine is no spring chicken when you want a honeymoon period and at least two kids. This guy is solid. Super smart. Dude remembers algebra. Her friends like him, at least she thinks they do. Bern says he's a keeper. Peyton called him sweet and tender, which sounds more like a pea, come to think of it, but Peyton's cheating on her husband. Gretchen keeps calling him the Mushmaster General, but Gretchen is a bitch.

He's decent in bed. Loves to lick her ladyflower, which is muy fantastico. She once had a date with this elite specimen of a man who warned her up front that he could not stand the taste of vagina. "Maybe you got a bad one?" she ventured, hopeful, but he assured her that he had tasted quite a few and sworn it off. At this, she drank in one last look at him, along with what was left of her cocktail, and told him good luck out there. So there's a bold checkmark on the one's scorecard for being so gung ho. Not that she's ecstatic about blowjobs. It's good that he's sheepish enough during sex not to pressure her, and her thinking goes like this: men get off just fine the good old fashioned way, so blowjobs are the stuff of birthdays and anniversaries, weekends at highly rated bed and breakfasts, but going down on her is just standard procedure if he wants her to come.

The dry scrub of the fire road gives way to lush canopies of jacaranda, bursts of oleander all around. They climb the stairs and slip into a shaded grove with a lone picnic table, where he sets about unpacking his basket. Two flutes, a bottle of Prosecco, those date and pecan crackers she loves, a hunk of d'Affinois with truffles, and his Bluetooth speaker onto which he broadcasts the soulful sounds of Cat Power. He pops the cork and pours the bubbles. Her heart is beating rather quickly. Strange, these life moments that you wonder how they'll happen. So this is how, she thinks.

"Brie," he begins, and she can tell he has rehearsed this. "From the moment I saw your profile picture, I knew you were the one."

Someone is moaning somewhere above them. She tries her best to attend to his preamble as she carves a chunk of triple cream away with her cracker (he forgot a spreader), but the sound is stealing her attention. What is that, a wounded animal?

"... and when I winked at you, and you didn't wink back for two weeks, those days in between were torture, and I swore to myself that if I ever got the chance..."

Brie follows the moaning up a meandering path, along a narrow trail overgrown with geranium, and over to a slender outlook three stories above and silhouetted by the sun.

"... and I'm sure you agree that we share the same values on a good majority of issues, from politics to our distaste for professional athletics and Ethiopian food..."

His voice is secondary to the mounting groans casting down from above. The man's back is muscular and sweat-sheened. He is pulling on the woman's long dark hair as she braces herself against a pine, bent and naked, reaching back for him.

"... and my mom said she would have thought you were Hungarian by the way you pinched the Csipetke at Thanksgiving..."

Now the woman is kneeling, her knees pointing out, exposing her inner self to him as she opens her mouth to receive him. She looks him in the eyes, touching herself with the other hand up there in the sun-drenched splendor of Freedomland.

Inside Brie's head, something clicks. This woman up here, she likes giving blowjobs.

"... and the thing is, I don't want you to keep getting Botox. I love you exactly the way you are. I like those little lines around your mouth because they remind me that I make you happy..."

The woman stands and pushes the man down, throwing a leg over his shoulder so his face is buried in her, and she pulls on his head and moves her hips in circles, locking him there with her leg. Her moan is primal, deep and guttural, and she lets him come up for air and pull her down atop him, swallowing him with her lean, tanned body. She bounces as he kneads her breasts between his fingers and she says, "Harder, do it harder," in some sensual South American accent. He rolls her over onto all fours, thrusting like a Brazilian stallion, but she likes it, this much is clear.

"What is that?" he says, using his own finger as a cheese knife. He turns around, but the sun is glaring. "Is there somebody up there?"

Brie looks at him, sitting there in the shirt she gave him that, if we're really being honest here, is still too tight. He insisted he was a Large, never an Extra Large. Above his head, the man is hammering the woman against the tree as she begs him not to stop, and this one says he definitely thinks there's someone up there, a glob of cheese on his lip, as he reaches into the picnic basket and produces a prim miniature box.

Hold on. Brie has never had sex against a tree. She's never even had sex outside, but this woman up here is assuming the form of a wheel barrel, her hands on the earth, her legs up behind her and wrapped around his waist as he digs deeper and deeper. Her face is strained in pleasure as she cries, "Quiero que vengas en mi boca."

Brie swallows the lump that has formed in her throat. She's never even tasted the stuff. Not that she—here's something strange: this one comes into his hand. Ugh, she hasn't told anybody this. The first time it happened, she felt almost grateful. Like, wow, what chivalry! But then on the second, third, and all subsequent times it was just weird, but in a way she couldn't rationalize. I mean, why shouldn't it go on him instead of her? This is not reproductive sex. But come on, in his hand? They'd go out to dinner afterwards and he'd offer her a bite of his burger and she'd cringe, wondering how well he had washed.

Then he is no longer sitting across from her at the picnic table. At first she thinks he has abandoned the notion and fled, a cool breeze of relief blowing through her, but then she turns to find him kneeling there beside her in the fallen leaves, the lovers above howling like monkeys as they begin to climax in unison. He has opened his little box now to reveal another box—the box—covered in chocolate velvet that he unhinges to reveal a—

UghghOOOHhuaOooOhAaahh. FUCK Me. God. JEsuS. Ohmygod. Oh.

—moderately sized diamond solitaire.

His face is pink and sweaty, the cheese glob hanging tight. "Brie Marie Baggio, my love, will you marry me?"

She looks up at the clearing, where the lovers have collapsed into a heap of satisfaction. She looks down at him and says, "No."

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