The Word: OPEN
A woman, pretty, well-kept, 50, answered the door with a wineglass in her hand. Tom kissed her, lacing his arm around Sheila, reeling her in for her introduction. The woman’s name was Veronica.
“Oh wow, we’ve heard so much about you.” Veronica said. Kissing her. She smelled of white flowers, ginger, liang liang.
Tom had told her about these people. Veronica, married to… Harold. Linda and Greg, Greg worked occasionally with Tom at the ad agency. And their hosts, Debbie and Rich. Rich came out from the kitchen, wearing a chef’s apron. He had a lean, kind face, and seemed genuinely happy to meet her. He and Tom made gently deprecating remarks about each other, showing how fond they really were of one another.
The rest of the party stood about in the granite countered kitchen holding wine glasses, watching Debbie, a big blonde, chop green peppers on the butcher block, as Rich basted the meat. They were all so glad to meet her, handed her wine, asked her about her work. Sheila smiled, trying to conceal her terror.
She’d been going out with Tom for four months now, when he’d said, “I want you to meet some old friends.”
Well, why not? He’d already met her friends, June Ellen and Vic and Lorenzo, Lydia, Cat, Gabriela… Artistic eccentrics. Single, every one of them. They lived as they always had, modestly, in neighborhoods like Palms and Echo Park and sub-Sunset West Hollywood. Not in the Palisades, in big houses with matching white roses along an honest to god picket fence.
They never had dinner parties. They met at local wine bars and beer gardens and coffee houses, ate wurst and small plates and talked about their love lives, the online situation. Someone always giving it another go as another person was giving up, or in love with a married co-worker, or their editor, or a new man met at a Three Kings party. “He was wearing a crown,” Lydia said, shrugging. He’d turned out to be a bondage aficionado.
They’d all nodded knowingly. In their search for love, they’d all made such mistakes. But you wanted to be open to new people. You never knew when the real thing would come your way.
And now it had.
She was happy. Really happy.
Except…now they were having a drink in Debbie and Rich’s living room, right out of a spread in Veranda. Debbie and Rich. Veronica and Hal… Hector? Linda and Greg. They were talking about kids and college, a summer house in the Orcas, the Prius disaster, sheep cheese. Tom smiled encouragement. The eight of them. Like some freaking minuet.
Coupleworld. Every single person’s nightmare. You’d arrive at an old friend’s barbeque or a colleague’s birthday, only to find everyone was married. Women eyed Sheila as if she were Hester Prynne. Even if the couples were nice, even if they were interesting, there was always something resistant about them, withheld, like they were keep their real selves locked away, like liquor from the help. You knew it was there, but couldn’t get a drink.
Single people were easy, ragged and open, you could get in through the soft frayed places. But with couples, there was always that mystery, that locked cabinet. Anyway, she was rarely invited to dinner. An extra woman seemed to upset the balance, the even numbers, four, six, eight. Like an atom with an extra electron, ready to destabilize the whole molecule.
But now, here she was, sitting down next to Tom, the man she adored, at a table laid with silver, and crystal. And beautiful dishes began to parade from the kitchen, lamb and green beans almondine and an interesting-looking pilaffy kind of thing. Part of a couple.
And she was scared as she hadn’t been scared in a long long time.
Serving forks hovered over the platter of lamb. “Medium?” Tom asked her.
“Rare,” she said, and he speared up the bloodiest slice and delivered it, dripping, to her plate.
© Janet Fitch 2010 all rights reserved
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: BAIL