His hand slid down my back as we listened to the speech from the headmistress. I swallowed slowly, keeping my look calm.
“I meant what I said last week about me and you,” Frank whispered into my ear. The room erupted in applause as the speech ended with a toast. I maintained my smile, clapping and looking supportive of the proposed playground being installed at the local elementary school. Honestly, it was a waste of funding, but I didn’t have children yet so I wasn’t truly allowed an opinion. Being on the committee for the school my children would attend was dry as hell, but it was what women in my circle did.
Frank chuckled, “Only a few more weeks and you’ll be married and having kids, then it’ll be you whispering into my ear.”
I laughed and took the chance to step away from him, hoping no one noticed his advances on me, not that I was the only one he would have hit on all afternoon. I was certain he had worked the room at least twice already. The problem with being part of the committee was that I had to remain amiable or he wouldn't donate to the school. His kids had long since left it so he had no real reason to help out.
The room was filled with prying eyes and sneaky whispers of course, as we were amongst our closest friends and neighbors. I finally started breathing as I made it away from Frank and his octopus hands. I stepped up to the bar, glancing around for my fiancé, Phil. He hadn’t brought me a fresh drink; I'd waited for ten minutes but he never came. I couldn’t see him anywhere. In the sea of well-dressed people, he blended perfectly.
The young bartender smiled at me, “White wine?”
I shook my head, “I had red.”
He brought the bottle over, “You look like more of a white wine to me.”
I smiled at him, “Do I? What makes you think that?”
His eyes roamed my face in a way that I could almost feel, like they were his hands lightly brushing each spot he gazed at. He licked his lips and nodded, “Pink, full lips, fresh makeup—not over done, slight curl to your hair but the frizz is in total control. You're put together enough that I’d say you’re organized and maybe a slight ball buster. Red wine drinkers are artistic, messy, and free. You look too confined in your life.”
I met his blue eyes with a hard look, “Do you always sweet-talk the ladies this way?”
He leaned across the bar, speaking softly, “I have a sneaky suspicion that you may not qualify for that classification.”
My lips lifted into a grin, “I like honesty in a stranger.” I also liked the way his black dress shirt fit his body. He looked fit. In my early twenties, he would have been the exact sort of person I would have snuck off with. I missed that carefree time in my past even more when he gave me a cocky grin with dimples and muttered, “I know you’ll like me. I get off in two hours, then we can see about getting you off.”
I winked, hoping it covered up the blush spreading everywhere, “If I happen back this way for a napkin, you be sure to have a number on it.” It was a joke. I had no intention of taking his number. But I did like the way he looked at me and talked dirty to me.
I turned, scanning the room for my next stop. I smiled at Frank, giving me a death glare from across the room. I walked back over to him, feeling recharged and safe from his advances. I stayed at a safe distance from him as I spoke softly, “Did you speak to the school to see what type of donations they’re looking for this year? I know it’s not just money.”
He leaned against the wall, clutching his drink, “You never answered me about not returning my call last week. I was serious about what I offered you a week ago.”
I scoffed, “I never returned it because I wasn’t interested in what you had to offer. I’m still not. So don’t touch me or hit on me. I’m not like that, Phil and I are happy.” I hated forcing sentences. I sipped my wine and nodded, “But be sure to find out about the donations.”
He shook his head, laughing, “You like acting like a hard bitch, but I bet you like being told what to do.”
I leaned in, “Only in the bedroom and only in a certain bedroom. I am a nearly-married woman for God’s sake. Keep it in your pants.” I rested a hand on his forearm, in the exact spot a lady should, and squeezed, “It was nice seeing you, Frank. Say hello to Ruth for me. Jesus.”
He sipped his drink, still chuckling, “Of course. You know she hates you.”
I shrugged, “What can I do? Tell her to wait, Phil and I are planning on kids next year after the wedding. By then I’ll be needing plastic surgery and extra elastic in my undergarments as well.”
His face split into a smile, “I think you’ll always be one of those naturally-beautiful women, even with a few extra pounds. When you get tired of the kids and Phil, you know my number.”
I narrowed my gaze, “Ohhhh, Frank. That was a good one. I may call you this week, after all.”
He scoffed, “I won't hold my breath.”
I pointed, “But you will open your cheque book.”
He nodded, “Yes, ma’am.”
“There’s a good man.”
I turned and walked to the group of ladies gossiping in the corner. Angela gave me a sly grin, “Flirting with Frank for donations is almost prostitution. You know that right? You are working the room hard, considering you don’t have any kids yet.”
I sipped my wine, “I’d sell my soul to beat Doreen out in donations and investors. She is such a bitch. Besides, we need to keep the loyal investors we have.”
Diane winked, “Pretty sure none of them wants a hot piece of soul.”
I smiled back, “Well, I’d sell that too for the right price.”
Helena laughed, “Oh, me too. Lord, at least then I’d be getting some.”
The group chuckled amongst us. We were best friends. I didn’t trust a single one, but I loved them more than anything. It was the world we lived in.
Diane looked around, “Where is your sister? She should be here. She and Shawn must be ready to start having kids.”
I laughed, “Brandi bailed on this at the last minute. Said she was doing something with Shawn’s parents.”
Helena gave me a sarcastic smile, “Lucky bitch. Hey, did you girls hear about Rebecca Solez?”
I gave Helena a confused look, “That Rebecca girl we graduated with?” I didn’t want to think back that far. We were at ten years. It made me cringe.
She nodded, giving us all a grievous look, “She’s pregnant.”
I smiled, “Oh, good for her.”
Helena shook her head, and I could tell by Diane’s face, it was bad news. “Why?”
“Mark is sterile. Has been since eleventh grade.”
My jaw dropped, “Oh wow. Well then,” I held my wine glass in the air, “Good for her.”
We all laughed.
My eyes finally caught a glimpse of Phil. I hadn’t noticed he was in the corner talking to someone. I frowned and looked to the side, but I couldn’t see any better. I lifted my head to try to get a better look. It was Eleanor Grey. Eleanor, who had slept with my neighbor Daniel the summer before. She beamed at Phil and nodded like the idiot she was. She smiled and sipped her drink, not stepping back from his close conversation. I felt like a knife twisted in my stomach as he leaned in, too close and too similarly to Frank, and laid his hand on her waist. Whatever he was saying made her blush like a schoolgirl. She nodded and grabbed his hand, pulling him to the far side of the room and out the door.
Helena followed my stare. I saw the disapproval on her face. She looked back at me but I averted my gaze. I didn’t need her sympathy or want to confirm that, I too, suspected something wasn’t right there.
I glanced over at the bartender, but forced my gaze away. It was the wrong choice. I didn’t even know if Phil was doing anything. I mentally slapped myself; where else were they going, holding hands? Of course they were sneaking off to one of the back rooms at the country club.
My throat was burning. I smiled, “I need the ladies’.” I passed my wine to Angela. She nodded. I knew she’d seen it too. They all did. We always saw everything; it wasn’t usually one of our own husbands or fiancés. I was the last to be married. I had held out the longest.
I fought the urge to run from the room, forcing myself to walk in a controlled pace. I was fully shaking when I got to the bathroom. Leaning against the counter and fumbling with my clutch, I almost cried when I finally got the snap open. The little blue pill felt massive in my fingers. I hated needing it, but I hated the sweat and nerves that came from my panic attacks. I had been taking them more and more lately. My father’s doctor had recommended I up my dosage to deal with the stress, with it being so close to my wedding.
I slipped it between my lips, closing my eyes. I couldn’t watch myself slip away in the mirror. I hated what taking the pill did to me. What it looked like.
I opened my eyes as it trailed its way down my esophagus. My strawberry-blonde hair was still glossy and in its place. Everything was perfect. My peachy skin tone looked flawless. At least I didn’t look like he had made me red and embarrassed.
I ran my hands over my cheeks and nodded. The pill would hit any second and I would be fine. My heart was racing. It wasn’t the first time I had suspected, but it was the first time I actually imagined I was right.
When my heart slowed, I walked from the bathroom and rejoined my group. Angela handed me back my wine. Phil was gone from the corner he was hiding in. My eyes naturally roamed the room, looking for him. He was gone. Oh God. He was gone. He was in a deserted room of the old mansion, doing Eleanor. I took a deep breath and waited for the pill to hit.
I had given up everything and everyone for him. He was the man in the family. Our families had traditions that I hated, but I accepted them and followed them. I didn’t work, I didn’t cook or clean, and I never missed a spa appointment or a gym class. I was my mother, only younger and less botoxed. It was a destination I never imagined arriving at.