The stove’s clock changed to 10:52 silently. The flat was dark, except for the dim light that shined in from outside. Sonia sat at the dining room table, spinning her 3rd glass of cognac between her fingers. The last 6 years had been the same: her husband would walk out the door for work and manage to find his way between the legs of a young co-ed. Marcus was beautiful and charming in the beginning. He’d lavished her with gifts and trips, promising that she was the only woman he’d ever loved. They consummated their relationship in the balmy waters of Santorini & they were inseparable from then on. The first year they were married was everything she’d hoped. He spoiled her, prompting to her to quit the measly desk work she’d believed was her career. He helped her mother & sister move to a better home in a better community and doted on his wife, loving her as largely as he could.
Elise knew he would be there, but she was still unprepared when he walked in the door. She’d spent the last two weeks painstakingly arranging every detail for the bachelor/bachelorette party at the secluded cottage; It was her way of focusing on something other than her missing lover.
“Oh, so you’re on that bullshit tonight, huh?” Josalyn said, watching attentively as Elise finished the large cup she’d just poured. Elise gasped and winced as the liquor burned its way past her throat and stomach.
“Long week,” she said flatly.
It killed her to keep the secret from her best friends, especially when she needed their advice at the moment.
“What’s the point of having a bachelor/bachelorette party if they’re already married?” Amara said, swigging from her own cup.
“His family is very traditional. I don’t even know if they know about the house yet,” Elise said. She poured another serving of Hennessy into her cup.
“I see what kind of night this is gonna be,” Josalyn said, still awed by her friend’s consumption.
“She’s just trying to keep pace with Liam.”
Elise found her eyes, scanning the room for him. His animation with her sister made him easy to spot, booming over the speakers and conversations. The rage that had been boiling inside her pooled into another heat that sat between her thighs at the sight of him. His beauty and charm gave him access to any woman he chose. On anyone else, the busily-patterned button-up would be played and his exposed chest from its lack of buttoning would be corny, but Liam was regal. Elise watched him like a hawk, examining his every move, anticipating her attack. She knew he’d seen her and was waiting for his opportunity to strike. He made his way to the trio to deliver his traditional greetings. He seized Amara in his arms and squeezed her as tight as he could.
“Are you drunk?” Amara asked.
“Quite,” he said, hugging Josalyn before turning his attention to Elise.
“What’s up?” he said, taking her in.
“What’s up?” she repeated before he swept her into his arms. She’d kept her hands glued to her side as he pulled her into his chest. Her icy demeanor held briefly, until it was thawed by the gentle press of his lips onto her neck. Suddenly, she was ablaze beneath her skin. “I hope you didn’t drive,” Elise said.
“Well, this is a slumber party, right?” he said, winking at Elise before he walked away.
Elise managed to drag her sister off of her husband’s lap, just long enough to pull her into the master bedroom. “I literally can’t hold this in any longer,” she said, shutting the door behind her.
“What, what happened?”
“My secret one-thing? It’s Liam,” Elise said. The words felt like she was releasing a breath she’d been holding in.
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Yeah, but I fucked up. I asked him out and now I know he’s weird about it.”
“Go talk to him! Not me!”
“I can’t! What am I supposed to say? Hi, I know I asked you out and it’s cool if you don’t like me that way, but I’d still like to hit that?”
“Yes! Say exactly that!”
“Em! Be serious!”
“What do you want?”
“5 minutes in the linen closet?”
“Make it 10,” her sister said before shoving her back out the room.
In her mind, she’d known she still wanted him. She’d plotted the whole night, from the decorations and the music, to the black dress she wore that accentuated her body. With her sister’s approval, Elise was ready to make her move.
“El, do you wanna play this drinking game?”
“Yeah, let me grab a cup,” she said, making her way into the kitchen. As she reached for the red solo cups on top of the fridge, she could feel the hair on her neck raise sharply before the hands snaked around her.
“Shit,” he whispered into her ear as he draped himself over her. “This dress is driving me crazy. I need to take it off,” he said, his hands lazily ambled across her body. Just as she settled into his warmth, he was gone, several feet from where he had once been as one of the guest wandered into the kitchen. They exchanged heated looks, before Liam went back into the living room. She’d managed to let out an annoyed sigh as Amara entered.
“Five bucks he’s passed out on the floor before midnight,” Amara chuckled, refilling her cup.
“I’m not gonna take that bet. He’s blasted.”
“He’ll be ok. He just broke up with someone and he’s a little raw.”
Elise found it impossible to mask her fury as she turned and stormed out onto the porch. She’d been saving her special friend as an after-party treat, but her anger rose in her throat like bile. Her breath was jagged as she inhaled and exhaled the thick smoke, almost immediately calming her raging brain. She replayed the last two months over and over in her head, looking for any sign in her murky memories. She’d known Liam her whole life and found it hard to believe that he’d lie to her and cheat on someone. She’d always held him to a slightly higher standard but it dawned on her that Liam was a man, just like that rest: capable of anything. The weed began to work its magic, slightly relaxing Elise, as she heard the door creak open.
“There you are,” Liam said, before he dropped onto the steps next to her. He reached out to take the cigar from her hands, when she pulled it out of his reach.
“Oh, you being stingy tonight?”
“I don’t like to share,” she said in a grim tone.
“You’ve been with someone this whole time?”
Liam sighed and rubbed his face. He’d come to the party to avoid his thoughts of Kim and her “happy” marriage.
“It wasn’t anything serious. And it’s over.”
“Obviously it was more serious than you thought,” Elise scoffed. Up close, Liam was a sweaty, drunk mess, which eliminated a lot of his charm.
“It was. Or I thought so. But it’s over and I’m over her.”
“So you couldn’t tell me you were with someone else? Or did you just want to have your cake and eat it too?”
“That’s the dumbest idiom ever…”
“Only because you don’t understand it,” Elise said, ashing the blunt and standing to leave. Liam leapt up and blocked her path to the house.
“Come on, don’t be mad. I’m sorry,” he said, running his hands over her chilled skin.
“No, fuck you. I’ve been, I don’t know, holding out hope that one day you would see me since I was a kid. I’d given up until…. I don’t know what you and ole girl had going on, but obviously you’re upset about it. You came here, hoping I’d be ok with you ignoring me for weeks now so you could get your sad little rocks off but it’s not happening.”
“Ok, I’m upset! Damn, I thought friends were supposed to be there for one another.”
“You don’t know what a friend is, Liam. Everything is always about YOU. You think the world is supposed to just stop for you and it doesn’t. I have feelings too. You don’t even have the decency to turn me down properly!”
Liam’s face changed instantly, an unfamiliar emotion Elise had never seen. He took his hands off of her and stood back. “Is that what this is about?”
Elise bit her lip and shook her head. She’d be damned if she dropped tears in front of him.
“Bro, you’re tripping. No, I know what it is. You’re jealous.”
“Jealous?! Of what?”
“Jealous that I actually wanted something with her. Terrified that you were another side piece just waiting for a ride around the block and a pat on the head.”
Elise felt as though the air had been ripped from her lungs. If her reaction time hadn’t been impaired, she might have tried to peel the flesh from his bones. She shut her eyes for a moment, trying to turn off the brewing storm.
Liam sighed aloud as the pounding on the door continued. He’d finally gotten into work-mode when his buzzer rang twice a few moments prior. He assumed someone let his visitor in the building, despite his lack of a response. He peered through the peephole and felt his breath catch in his throat, instantly recognizing Kim on the other side of the door. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, good evening to you too,” she said. The smell of booze rolled off of her lazily as she slipped by him.
“Are you drunk?”
“Just had a few drinks with some friends in the neighborhood. I missed you” Kim said happily. She grabbed a handful of him over his black sweatpants. His erection gave him away.
“Seems like you miss me too,” she said before putting her mouth on his. She was sweet, too sweet with a biting aftertaste.
“Keep talking,” Liam said, planting a damp kiss on the inside of her thigh. Elise’s head was swimming, mostly from holding her breath for, what seemed like, ever. Liam had been waiting for her at her front door when she came home from her unimpressive date, a cocky move, even for him. He hadn’t even considered the idea that she would bring the guy home.
“I-I was just stressing about the wedding but…” Elise gasped. Liam had buried his tongue into her once more, drinking her in a beastly fashion.
“‘But’?” He stopped again to ask. He continued planting wet kisses on her thighs.
“I just hate rushing. I feel like everything is going to go wrong,” Elise said, slipping from her peaceful state.
“Good thing you don’t have to worry about that right now.”
Liam hated being tough with Maya but this time, she’d gone too far. The car ride was silent, with Liam glancing at his daughter in the rearview mirror.
“I’m still waiting on this explanation.”
“I didn’t start it, Dad.”
“It’s not about who started it. It’s about who ended it.”
“Well, if Desiree didn’t irritate me everyday…”
“So you punched her in the face?”
“I punched her because she called me a name.”
“People are going to call you names, babe. That’s just life.”
“Yeah… but no one had to laugh.”
“So you punched her?”
“Because you were embarrassed.”
“It means something happened to you and because everyone thought it was funny, it made you uncomfortable. Like you want to run away and hide…or in your case, punch her in the nose.”
“Then yes. I was embarrassed,” Maya said slowly.
Liam was always in awe of how quickly she’d grown and how brilliant she was at just 7 years old. He could remember the moment she was born, how she opened her eyes and grinned with all her gums at him. He’d been madly in love with her ever since.
“We don’t solve problems with our fists, Maya,” he continued. He struggled to maintain a firm voice with her, but being in the driver’s seat helped. He knew that one look into her big brown eyes and he’d be putty in her tiny hands.
“I know, Daddy.”
“Well, if you know, then we don’t have to have this conversation again.”
“We won’t, Daddy. I’m sorry,” Maya said. One glance in the rearview mirror and he felt his heart breaking as she hung her head into her chest.
Elise stood in the triple mirrors and willed the dress down over her stomach. “Everything ok in there?” the clerk asked for the 3rd time. Elise growled and gave up, recognizing the dress wasn’t as “flowy” as she described.
“It doesn’t fit,” she said, yanking the flimsy material back over her head. As she redressed, she felt a short moment of embarrassment and shame. If she’d stuck with the keto diet, it may have worked. She yanked the curtains open and stepped back out into the showroom. The clerk, petite and brunette, made a face before taking back the dress. “This is the largest size we have,” she turned to announce to the rest of the wedding party. Emerald, Elise’s older sister and the bride, stood and smiled slightly.
“We’ll look somewhere else,” she said before leading the bridal party out of the store.
Dorian didn’t feel right about Noelle’s plan. “Let me come with you,” he said again, his hand reaching out for her. “No. You’re my ace in the hole. If this goes south, I’m gonna need you.” Her words stirred him, wondering if they were meant for more than just tonight. Before he could speak or move, she was out of the car and walking into the darkness. He huffed and pulled out his cell phone.
The risk was just too great.