The Party Favor
Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Epilogue
Cheating is, by definition, a bad thing. Society's rules prohibit cheating, and in the vast majority of situations, cheating creates negativity. I think it's fair to say that that's generally because of the feelings of guilt cheating creates. It's one of those hedonistic things that feels good while you're doing it, but almost always makes you feel awful when it's over. At least if you have the same moral code that most people have.
Now, the above paragraph contains words such as "vast majority," "it's fair," "generally," and "almost always." Those are conditional kinds of words. And what that means is that ... well ... sometimes cheating might not be a negative thing.
And so, being a philosopher, I decided to try to imagine a situation in which cheating might end up being a good thing. I'm not talking about the cheater feeling justified, though that is usually what most cheaters try to do. Rather, I was thinking more along the lines of someone doing what was in their control to do, to live the best life they could, while understanding - eventually - that sometimes reality trumps morality. And that sometimes "the moral thing" isn't always as "good" as we want to claim it is.
That said, all I ask you to do is read without preconcieved biases ... if you can. Morality is always complicated - always. Black and white is easy, but nothing in life is actually black and white. Self defense is an excellent example. Everybody would say that killing a human being is wrong. That's from the black and white perspective. But most people would also say that killing the person who is threatening your life, or that of your loved ones, is acceptable ... maybe even laudable. That's how black and white gets complicated.
Jennifer Windham was the picture of success and happiness. But as
anyone who is familiar with Photoshop is aware, pictures should almost
never be taken at face value. Such was the situation when it came
She was thirty-five, in fabulous condition, thanks to having plenty of
time to exercise. Said workouts involved Jazzercise, Pilates and
other "fad" workouts, initially, until she figured out that running
four miles a day took care of everything and was a lot cheaper.
Not that money was a problem. Her husband, Roger, made plenty of
that. Of course he spent half of every month out of town, and
when he was home, he worked twelve hours a day, six days a week to make
all that money. And, with a schedule like that, if he wasn't at
work he was sleeping, or if it was Sunday, playing golf or networking
in some other manner. Roger was an attorney, and his specialty
was real estate.
It hadn't been that frenetic when they were younger, which was probably
why he was able to get her pregnant once. Her little bundle of
joy turned out to be a girl, who was the light of her life until she
turned thirteen. Tiffany was her name, and it was prophetic,
because she liked the kinds of things Tiffany and Company made.
Of course Tiffany was aware that daddy was filthy rich, so she assumed
she could have anything her heart desired. When Jennifer tried to
correct that misunderstanding, Daddy came to Tiffany's rescue, actually
telling her she could have anything she wanted. It wasn't long
before daughter and father had teamed up against mother enough times
that mother threw up the white flag and had to watch her daughter turn
into a train wreck, waiting to happen.
Of course the public was never privy to that problem. Tiffany had
lots of friends, most of whom also got pretty much whatever they
wanted. As they say, birds of a feather flock together.
Jennifer was, therefore, left without a daughter to raise through her
teenaged years. She compensated by volunteering. She
volunteered at the Library, at the civic theater, and even at a
homeless shelter, in the soup kitchen, which turned out to be her most
favorite volunteer job of all. Until Roger put his foot down and
said it was too sordid and dangerous to "traffic with those bums and
vagrants." She would have gone to church, but Roger only went on
the obligatory days, Easter and Christmas, and he said it would look
bad if she went alone. Eventually she put her college degree in
accounting to good use by volunteering to do the books of various
charities in town.
There were parties, of course, most of them related to Roger's job at
the firm. She had her network of women she called "friends" who
she caught up with at such parties. She kept herself busy enough
during the week that she didn't hobnob with the other wealthy wives,
except at parties, or awards dinners or something like
that. It wasn't that she didn't like the other women.
She would have liked to know some of them a lot better. But to be
honest, she felt slightly out of her element when she was with these
expensively dressed and elaborately coifed women.
She herself was one of the lucky women who had flawless skin that
looked great without a speck of makeup on it. Her eyebrows rose
to graceful tips that made her look slightly inquisitive. Her
nose was strong, but looked like it came from noble blood,
somehow. Green eyes always mesmerized someone she was talking to,
if she looked at them long enough for those eyes to register. She
rarely did, though. She didn't understand why people stared into
her eyes with such intensity, and she felt like they could see into the
place she kept her secrets.
Of course if it was a man she was talking to, he wasn't looking into
her eyes, most likely. Her figure was lush, well toned and
shapely. Her high, firm breasts had never fed her daughter.
Roger was disgusted by women nursing, and was of the opinion it should
be against the law to be seen doing it. She had wanted her baby
to have the best milk, but of course the idea of using a breast pump on
her breasts wouldn't fly with her husband, and she couldn't do it
without him finding out about it. In the end, formula had been so
When she'd had Tiffany, her hips had spread, and then stayed that
way. She literally had an hourglass figure which, unknown to her,
a lot of the other wives were insanely jealous of. All in all,
her simple, natural beauty was a magnet to the men, and the women's
attitude toward her was reflected in that.
She was closer to a few women than the others, though, among
them a woman named Brandi Templeton. Brandi was a few years older
than Jennifer, and came from old money. Why she had taken
Jennifer under her wing was a surprise to both women, but she
had. It wasn't a close friendship, exactly, but it was a warm one
whenever they got together. That was usually for back yard
cookouts, at which the men touted their knowledge of how to cook meat
to perfection, tried to drink more beer than each other, and extolled on their
immense worth to the world in general. The women usually sat
around gossiping, watching the children swim in the back yard pool, and
drank vibrantly colored mixed drinks with exotic names.
It was, in fact, at one such barbeque, that Jennifer Windham overheard
something that would change her life forever, not to mention that of a
number of other people, both present and absent from the gathering.
What she overheard was when Judy Denton leaned towards Kathy Nelson and
said "Have you gotten your invitation yet?"
"No," pouted Kathy. "But Brandi promised it would be arriving
"I got mine." Judy preened. "I'm going to try to lose five
pounds. I'd just die of embarrassment if I had to show up at her
birthday party like this."
Kathy waved a hand. "Don't be silly. It's not a contest,
"It will be if I get fat," said Judy.
"I don't think you have anything to worry about. We've been to
how many of her birthday parties? Three? Did you ever fail
to have a fabulous time?"
"Of course not," said Judy. She seemed to blush for some reason.
"Well you won't this time either. I'm so excited myself I can
A minor disruption between children broke out, and the two women went
to deal with that, leaving Jennifer to reflect on the fact that she had
never been invited to even one of Brandi's birthday parties, while the
two women she had just overheard talking had been to three. She
felt both disillusioned and left out.
Her mood was ruined, but not enough that she was willing to confront
Brandi about it.
Then things escalated when Tiffany waltzed up to her and said, "This is
lame. Denise and I are going to the Mall."
"How are you getting there?" asked Jennifer automatically.
"Todd is going to take us," she said.
"I don't think so," said Jen. Todd was a twenty-one year old
college boy with a reputation for being out of control. He had
even propositioned her one time, saying he had something in his pants
that would ruin her for all other men for the rest of her life.
"Daddy said we could go," said Tiffany in that singsong voice she so
often used when she was trumping her mother's decision.
"You didn't tell your father how you were getting there, did you?" said
"He said we can go!" The girl actually stamped one foot.
"You're fifteen!" said Jen, her voice tight. "That boy is
"Are you calling him a rapist?" Tiffany's voice had risen to the
point that people were beginning to look their way. Jen felt anger that
her daughter was so selfish ... and stupid!
Brandi wandered over.
"Hi Jen. Hi, Tiffany," she said. Just her tone of voice
"I'm going to the mall!" yelled Tiffany, and, with her nose in the air,
she marched off.
It was the utter frustration of trying to deal with her teenaged
daughter that made Jennifer lash out at her friend.
"And why haven't you invited me to your birthday party?" she almost
A deep voice said, "Birthday party? I didn't know you were having
a birthday party, dear."
Both women turned to see that they had been joined by Brad, Brandi's
"It's just a little gathering of friends," said Brandi, her face
smooth. "We're going to get together for drinks, that's all."
"Shall I send a gift?" asked the man. Jennifer stared at
him. He was the woman's husband and he was asking if he should
send her a birthday present to a party he wasn't going to be at.
It was incredible. Jennifer looked around, and the world she
lived in seemed to sparkle, as if it weren't a real place, but was
instead a dream of some kind.
Her reverie was broken by Brandi's hand squeezing her elbow painfully
as she was dragged to a place where no one could hear them.
"He doesn't know about the birthday parties!" hissed Brandi. "And
you're not supposed to know either! How did you find out?"
Her face was angry, something Jennifer had never seen before.
Brandi was always smiling, always happy and carefree.
"I just heard Kathy mention it to Judy."
"Those bitches!" said Brandi vehemently. "Talking about it in
public? I should take them off the list!"
"What's going on?" asked Jennifer, frowning. She had never seen
Brandi act like this. Never!
The woman's face smoothed over, and suddenly she was the same old
Brandi, smiling and happy.
"It's nothing. It's just been a little secret, that's all.
We get so few secrets in life, and if people ... if the men found out
... well it would be ruined, that's all. It's boring, really,
come to think of it. That's why I never invited you. I knew
you'd be bored to tears."
The whole speech rang false in Jennifer's ears. Now that she knew
there was this other side to Brandi, the side that sounded almost
vicious and vengeful, she listened with more than just her ears.
She was astonished to find that it gave her a kind of power she'd never
had. Emboldened, she spoke.
"Don't try to con me. What's going on, Brandi? If you're
worried I'll go squeal to Brad, then don't. You know I wouldn't
betray our friendship."
Brandi turned her eyes from the little groups of people she had been
casually watching, and faced Jennifer. Her eyes were clear and
there was no mirth on her face.
"You don't want to know," she said simply. "It's not your kind of
thing, Jen. Trust me. I know you. You're a good girl, and
these parties are where we let our bad girls out for a little while."
"I can be bad too," said Jennifer automatically. She was reminded
of a time in grade school when she got into an argument with Ruth Ann
Higgs over who could eat the most candy. Each one kept upping the
quantities until it was ridiculous.
Brandi snorted. "You're a nice woman, Jen. Keep it that
way. You don't want to come to my birthday party."
"Yes I do!" said Jennifer angrily. "Why does everybody always
think they can tell me what I can and can't do? My own daughter
won't listen to me! I want to come to your fucking party!"
The last was said so loud that Brandi's hand came up, almost touching
"Okay!" she hissed. "Okay," she said again, her voice lower. "But
hear me now. You have to swear that you'll never mention what you
see to anyone. Anyone! Not even me! Do you understand?"
"What do you mean?" asked Jennifer, confused. "You'll be there!"
Brandi put her face just inches from Jennifer's. "You must
promise never to say a word to anyone. That's the deal. If
you can't promise that, then you can't come, and I don't care who you
complain to about it. If you talk about this to anyone, I'll just
cancel the party. That's the deal, Jen."
"Okay," said Jennifer slowly. "I don't get it ... but okay."
"Oh, you'll get it," sighed Brandi. "But you may wish you hadn't
browbeat me into letting you come."
Jennifer, with visions of truth or dare in her mind, suppressed a
giggle. "When and where?" she asked.
"Brad and I have a hunting cabin up on at Silver Lake," she said.
"The festivities start at seven, the Friday after this one. I'll
send you directions in the mail. It's a sleepover. No
cameras allowed, including your cell phone. If you bring a phone,
it gets locked up until the party's over."
"What do I tell Roger?" asked Jen.
"That's your problem," said Brandi. "Just make sure it's good
enough that he doesn't get suspicious and follow you or something."
"Why would he do that? I'm only going to a party."
"This isn't like any party you've ever been to, Jennifer. Trust
me on that. Just remember you made me invite you."
"What should I wear?"
Brandi looked out at the crowd, and then back at Jen.
"It doesn't matter. Come as you are."
For the next two weeks Jennifer was uncharacteristically excited.
The directions Brandi had spoken of came tucked into a friendship
card. Roger never even gave the lavender envelope a glance.
Friday, while Tiffany was in school and Roger was at work, she packed a
small overnight bag and put it in the trunk of her Mercedes. Then
she tried to paint, setting up her easel on the patio and putting a
pot full of pansies on the table to render on the canvas.
But her heart wasn't in it. She was even glad when Tiffany came
home, because it gave her something to do.
"What would you like for dinner tonight?" she asked.
Tiffany waved a hand. "Nothing. I'm going over to Brenda's.
It's a sleepover, so I'll eat there."
"Brenda's mother didn't call me," said Jennifer.
"You are so forties, Mom," sighed her daughter. "You don't have
to have a formal invitation to sleepover these days."
"Still, it's only polite to let me know it's going to happen."
"Well I just did, Okay? Can't you ever let me do anything without
coming down on me? Jeeze, you act like I'm ten!"
The phone rang then. It was Roger, telling her he had to work
late, and that he'd order in. She told him she'd be gone
overnight and he simply said "Okay. I'll see you when you get
She fumed, alone in the house, for hours. Slowly, the thought
that she was going to go do something fun ... something sneaky ...
something secret ... maybe even something mildly naughty ... lifted her
spirits. Suddenly she couldn't wait to get there.
She was lucky she didn't get a speeding ticket on the way to the party.
"Hunting cabin" seemed a little insufficient to describe what she saw
when she rounded the last curve of the mile long driveway. She
had had to punch in a security code to get the big iron gates
open. They stood between massive stone pillars that anchored a
nine foot fence that went out of sight in both directions. Two
hundred yards past the gate, however, there was no evidence of
civilization other than the road, and it stressed the suspension of her
Mercedes so much she had to keep it under twenty.
But when she finally saw the house, she didn't think of hunting at
all. It was big, two stories, and looked like something entire
families had been raised in over at least a hundred years. The
lower level was made of stone, with logs forming the walls above
that. A huge circular driveway serviced broad front steps that
led up to a covered veranda. Oaken double doors, nine feet tall,
gave entry into the "cabin."
The place blazed with light, and there were cars everywhere, parked
willy nilly, with no attempt at any organization. Some of them
looked like they had simply been abandoned by someone in such a hurry
that to find a proper parking spot was too much to bear.
She pulled up beside Janice Hawkins' BMW and turned off her
engine. She saw a young man approach the driver's door of one
car. It was hanging open, and she could hear the insistent
chiming that signalled the keys had been left in that car. As she
watched, he casually closed the door, as if that was actually his
job. He looked over at her as and walked towards her.
She thought briefly of valet parking, but disregarded that
immediately. The cars hadn't really been parked, per se.
"Just leave the keys in it," said the young man as he approached.
"If it needs to be moved, one of us will take care of it. Go have
One of "us" turned out to be a group of ten or twelve more young
men. She noticed all were athletic and handsome, without really
thinking about that much. What consumed her curiosity more than
anything was who they were and why so many were needed for ... whatever
it was they were there for. All of them were sitting in
Adirondack chairs, or leaning against the railing on the veranda.
A couple were smoking. Most of them were talking to each other.
As she stepped up onto the porch, though, all of them turned to look at
her. It was as if they expected her to say something.
Suddenly one of them came toward her. He had Asian features,
though they were blurred, suggesting he was of mixed heritage.
He was a couple of inches taller than her five foot-eight, with medium
length brown hair and broad shoulders. He was wearing a T shirt
that displayed his firm young body to its best advantage.
"Are you, by chance, Jennifer?" he asked, his voice soft and mellow.
"Yes," she said, startled that someone she knew she had never seen in
her life might recognize her. "How did you know that?"
"Brandi described you. Killer legs, dark red hair, all woman
..." His eyes slowly slid down her body as he said this, making
it obvious he was examining her as a male examines a female on a
biological level. He leaned closer and stared into her
eyes. "And green eyes a man could fall into. She said you
were the kind of beautiful woman that other beautiful women hate,
because you put them to shame. There can't be two women in this
part of the world who fit that description, and you fit it to a tee.
Ergo, I decided you must be Jennifer."
"Who are you?" she asked, feeling light-headed.
He took her hand, lifted it to his lips and brushed them across the
"I'm Josh. And if I'm acceptable ... I'm your party favor."
Jennifer suddenly had a fleeting sense that, when she left the highway,
she had entered some kind of strange, possibly alternative universe.
"My what?" Jennifer blinked. "Did you say party
favor? I don't understand!"
"I'm sorry," he said immediately. "Brandi picked me because she
said it's your first time at one of these parties. It's my first
time too. A number of my ... um ... associates are regulars, and
I guess she asked them for a special kind of guy. They tell me
I'm him, but I don't know why."
"What are you talking about?" moaned Jennifer. He was still
holding her hand, and she felt hot. She remembered her mother
complaining about hot flashes, and wondered if that's what was
happening to her. But she was much too young for that kind of
"I'm not doing this very well at all," said Josh. "Let's step
over here for a minute. You can catch your breath and I'll try to
do a better job of explaining." He tugged on her hand.
She tugged back, uncertainty in her eyes now. She wasn't used to
gorgeous, hunky young men paying her outrageous compliments, or kissing
her hand ... or even holding her hand for that matter!
"Calm down," he said, his voice soothing. "I won't hurt
you. Nobody here will hurt you. I know this is confusing,
but I'll answer all your questions. And if I can't, I'll find somebody
who can, okay? Nothing is going to happen without your express
"You kissed my hand," she said, her voice breathy.
"It's just a continental greeting," he said.
"You're not continental. You're Oriental."
"Is that a problem? Would you rather have a white man ... black
man ... Hispanic? I think Raul is Cuban. Jack is
Australian. What kind of man did you have in mind?"
"I didn't have any man in mind. I don't need a man!" she
gasped. "I'm married!"
He blinked. Then he held up one finger in the universal sign that
meant "One moment please." He didn't take the entire moment
though, before he spoke.
"Let me guess. Brandi didn't tell you anything at all about this party
... did she." It was a statement, rather than a question.
"She said the girls get a little wild," said Jennifer, not wanting to
sound completely clueless. "And do naughty things," she added.
"A little wild," he said, his voice flat. "Naughty? She
just said naughty?"
"Yes," Jennifer said, her voice high and young. "She said I
shouldn't come, but I insisted."
"I see," he said. "Okay. Let's try this. You don't
know me from Adam." He blinked. "There's actually a guy
here named Adam, come to think of it." He grinned. "You
don't know me, but you can trust me. You are under my protection,
as of this moment, and will remain under my protection until you tell
me you don't want it any longer. Is that acceptable?"
"Why would I need protection?" she asked. "This is all very
strange. This is just a birthday party ... isn't it?"
"Yes, it's a birthday party, but it obviously isn't like any birthday
party you've ever been to. And the reason you need protection is
because you are the most beautiful woman on the premises, bar
none. Trust me on that. I saw all the others go in.
And the guys get a little worked up. The way I understand it,
Brandi only does this once a year, on her birthday. When she
looked me over she said something about this being her birthday present
to herself. And the men who are here only do this once a year
too. We're not in that kind of business, normally. Close,
once in a while, but nothing like this. I only came because after
hearing all the stories, and them saying I was this special guy for
this special woman ... Well, I just had to see it just once, and
... um ... see this special woman."
The feeling of being in that alternative universe persisted as
Jennifer's mind tried to concentrate on several things at once.
One part reflected on what she'd heard and seen thus far, evaluating
that. The other part saw his eyes flick down and up her body
again, after which he licked his lips in a way that seemed
unconscious. She realized he had just looked her over again, but
not so blatantly this time. And based on his most recent
behavior, that lightning quick 'once over' didn't offend her. If
anything, she felt the flush of meeting a handsome man's approval.
Then she quashed that flush with a mental shake of her head. She
wasn't there to be flattered!
"Maybe you need to tell me about these stories you've heard," said
Jennifer. She was still confused, but it was clear now that
things went a lot farther than naughty truth or dare. To be
honest, it sounded like Brandi had given her this young man as a ...
toy of some sort. She had no plans to engage in anything with
him, of course, but at least he was calm and willing to talk to
her. She didn't believe she needed any protection, and his lines
about how beautiful she was were just laughable, but he seemed like a
nice guy. And she did have questions.
"I think the easiest thing to do would be to simply take you for a
little walk," said Josh.
"Not alone," she said.
He smiled. "Oh, we won't be alone. Trust me on that." He
offered her his arm, and she took it. She was aware of her breast
touching his bicep ... his amazingly muscular bicep. She suddenly
felt hot again.
"What you need to know before we go inside," said Josh as they walked
slowly back toward the veranda, "is that this is, for all intents and
purposes, a sex party."
She stopped. He did too. "You mean like a swap meet?" she asked.
"No, more like what I've heard called a hen party, except this one is
"But nobody's getting married. Isn't that what a hen party is all
"I guess so. We dance at a lot of them, but this one goes way
"All the men you see here tonight are employees at Christy's Puppet
Palace. We're exotic dancers. Most of us are working our
way through college. Normally, sex with the customers is a big
no-no, but Brandi has some kind of special relationship with the owner
and she rents us once a year for her birthday party."
"You're telling me that the women she invites to her birthday parties
have sex with strangers? Dancers?"
"Some of them are strangers. Some of the women choose the same
party favor each year, until he graduates, or stops dancing because he
got married or whatever. Dancing is actually a very tough job. If
you get out of shape, you're a gonner."
"You said you were my party favor," said Jennifer.
"That's what Brandi calls us. She says she got us for them to
play with. Each woman gets to choose one when she arrives.
If there are leftovers, and from what I hear there always are, then
they can choose another."
"To have sex with," said Jennifer, her voice flat.
"To do whatever she wants to with," said Josh. "The way I understand it,
sometimes it's conventional sex, sometimes it's something else.
Brandi has some kinky friends, based on the stories I hear. The
only rule is that if anyone objects to something, then it's off
limits. That goes for both the women and us guys. Other
than that, the woman gets to call the shots. If that includes sex
... it does. If it doesn't ... it doesn't."
Jennifer stared into his eyes. Then she looked around.
"Where's the camera? I'm being punk'd, aren't I?" She
grinned, and her face flushed. "Come on out, Brandi! I know
you're watching this! I'm not falling for it. You'll have
to try it on somebody else!"
But no one came from behind a bush, or out of the building.
Instead, she heard a high-pitched squeal from within the
structure. She felt, rather than heard the thump of the bass
track of some music being played.
Josh held lifted his arm again. Hers was still tucked through his.
"Remember, you're perfectly safe with me," he said. "Shall we?"
Then he led her to the front door.
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