That "Kiss From a Rose" G minor to G major modulation tho.
I'm pushin' deadline so here's the text. Climax will happen tomorrow, I promise.
I also momentarily lost track of Andy at one point, and I feel like a bad parent to my characters.
Post-nap, Paul took a car of friends in town to grab new clothes for the party. Liza – even after the repeated demands of her daughter – refused to give a dress code or color theme aside from ‘smaller party than last night, better fashion, and we will be using the ballroom.’ Heather and Billy stayed with Liza through the afternoon and helped set up the party. Help here referring to the contractors that Liza had hired rather than Liza herself.
“I didn’t know this place had a ballroom,” Billy said, arranging chairs.
“Oh we don’t use it much,” Heather said.
Though it was her own home, she did have to ask for directions when Liza said to meet in the ballroom, but to her credit she had lived elsewhere during college.
There wasn’t too much to decorate. The ballroom was gorgeous already. All that was added were a few silver ornaments here and there, a seating area for guests, a seating area for a seven-piece musical group that Liza had hired, and the bar.
The first to arrive was a woman who looked remarkably like Andy, but carrying a violin. Andy had never carried a violin. She was more of a bagpiper herself. Once the rest of the music section arrived, a viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, and bassoon, Liza shuffled away to go get dressed. Heather and Billy followed suit while the musicians tuned their instruments.
Liza was first to return with only the musicians and bartender present, so she left. Heather and Billy returned, Heather in a well-tailored floor length charcoal grey gown with a sweetheart neckline and pockets, Billy in a grey suit that was just a bit reflective over top of a hot pink shirt and white bowtie.
“The pink was a choice,” Heather said, stepping out of her slippers and into a pair of black two-inch pumps.
Billy was about to defend himself when Liza entered the room in wearing a gown of pure silver. She looked like pure mercury, and as she entered the musicians began to play. She pranced over, the sound of stiletto heels clicking as she walked.
“I paid them to do that,” Liza said, turning to the section and telling them they could stop. “Isn’t money wonderful?”
“It really is,” she said.
Paul and Jon were next to arrive, looking better dressed than frankly anyone in the room had expected. Well, it would be disingenuous to imply that the bartender or musicians would have pre-conceived expectations of the brother’s fashion abilities, but it definitely was surprising. The two wore standard matching suits, which Jon somehow made look considerably uglier just by the way he walked, stood, breathed, and existed.
“I hope we’re not early,” Paul opened.
“Oh by no means,” Liza said, staring over his shoulder at the door. “The invitations did say nine. Why don’t you four have a drink while I go look for my sister.”
Liza left the ballroom under the pretense of looking for Andy, but actually just to have an excuse to reenter with more people. Chris and Ben showed up, also in matching suits – they chose a dark navy. Connor and Bailey were last to arrive, Connor in all black and Bailey wearing a dress very similar to Heather but much limper, and no pockets.
“Oh no, you might have to go change,” Chris whispered to Heather after getting a good look at Bailey.
“I think we know who wore it best.”
Liza returned with Andy to flowing music. Liza was still in her silver dress and Andy was in a slightly duller and thicker version of the same, like if Liza’s dress had been washed a few too many times, but was also built for the winter.
The lights dimmed, the music played, and Liza quite aggressively demanded that everyone dance.
Heather, appropriately, paired with Chris. Heather had gone through a dance phase after her horse phase, so she knew what she was doing, Chris less so, but Heather was able to lead in a way that made it look like Chris was doing the work. The two spun around the dance floor in an effortless rotary waltz.
Connor and Bailey paired up immediately. The two were surprisingly swift dancers. This left Jon alone, and a charitable Andy swept in as his partner. Jon was a centipede of left feet and his hands were sticky.
Liza and Paul glanced at each other, back at Billy and Ben who were staring around the room nervously, and paired together. Liza lead with confidence and the two spun around, keeping eyes on the rest of the floor.
Billy and Ben paired together in performative reluctance.
“Are they together?” Liza asked Paul as the spun.
She had neglected to put in her contacts, which didn’t make her completely blind or anything. She had had Lasik, and without the contacts she could function, but faces were still a little blurry.
“Heather and Chris?” Paul asked, turning his head every which way. “Or Billy or Ben. It’s yes to both.”
“Good good,” Liza said. “I guess while I have you here, what are your thoughts on Chris?”
Paul smiled, continuing to step in time.
“Great guy,” Paul said. “If you really want a good review, I’d talk to Ben. They’ve been best friends for longer than I’ve known them, but I’ve only good things to say about Chris.”
Liza was comforted by Paul’s words. From her own perception, Chris was relatively harmless, but even the best of people use Yelp from time to time.
“He is a lightweight though,” Paul said. “I’d change that in him if I could.”
Elsewhere on the floor, Billy and Ben were battling hand positions.
“No, no, I’m leading,” Billy said, pulling his hand out of Ben’s and reorienting it so Ben’s was in his.
“Who said you got to lead,” Ben replied, shifting his own hand.
“I took Ballroom Dance 1 in college,” Billy hissed, taking back the lead and nearly running into Paul and Liza.
“I also took Ballroom Dance 1,” Ben said, moving his other hand to Billy’s back. “We were in the same class.
“Yeah well I took Social Dance in high school,” Billy quipped. “That’s got to count for something.”
The two continued to spin. There was something about the rotary waltz that made it so you really couldn’t be unhappy – unless you were Andy of course dealing with Jon’s sticky hands. The background turns to a blur from the spinning leaving your partner the only thing in focus like an Instagram photo. You feed off the push and pull of your partner with a constant joyful fear of breaking the rhythm. Billy stared at Ben and Ben back at Billy, and the two couldn’t stop from smiling, even if they were still bickering the whole time.
Joy aside, the two were objectively poor at special awareness, careening around the ballroom with reckless abandon. Heather and Chris’s dodged the gay loose cannon on the dance floor gracefully. They didn’t speak, but stared at one another smiling. One of those ‘conversations without words’, except not really a conversation, or if it had been a conversation, the only words exchanged would have been ‘I feel joy’ again and again.
The music ended and the couples broke their forms, Billy and Ben quickly, Chris and Heather slowly, and Paul and Liza last of all; Liza insisted that Paul twirl her out for a final spin. Everyone clapped, mostly for the musicians, Liza for herself. The crowd split up, most to the bar, and Jon, Connor, and Bailey to the seats. The music started back up.
“Oh my god, is she singing?” Bailey said, looking over at the music section.
The violinist was playing violin and providing vocals in tandem. Bailey was slightly aroused.
“You two still down for the plan?” Jon asked.
He sipped his drink. Scotchka on the rocks.
“Of course,” Bailey replied, taking a sip of her own drink, whiskey. “My purse is like, full to the zipper with lube.”
Connor blushed, and Jon grinned.
“We just need to ensure that Heather leaves for long enough and we’re set.”
Ben and Chris returned to the table. Billy and Heather were chatting with their parents back at the bar. Chris, who was only one and a half drinks in was already buzzed.
“Well look at you two love birds,” Jon jeered.
Ben and Chris stared back Jon, confused.
“He means you two independent of one another,” Bailey said. “It’s all very cute.”
Ben blushed, and Chris smiled sheepishly.
“You think so?” Chris asked.
“I mean, I always assumed that Paul would end up with her, but you seem to be doing a good job.”
“You two are absolutely adorable,” Liza said.
Heather smiled, but Billy shied away from the words.
“And I want you to know, Heather, that I approve of Chris. Word’s out on Ben though.”
Heather winked. Billy flushed and sipped his drink.
“You know for someone constantly rejecting the mainstream, you seem to be riding my coattails this weekend,” Heather said, playing with her dress.
Billy gave her a confused look.
“Oh you know, Chris and I start being a thing and now you and Ben are dancing again.”
Billy started to speak but was cut off by Heather.
“The change looks good on you,” she said. “The boy. Not the pink.”
“Well I think you two deserve a celebratory shot,” Liza said.
On Liza’s word, the bartender poured four shots of vodka which Liza, Andy, and Heather took. Billy hesitated initially but took the shot. He made a face.
The night continued as did the drinks and the dancing. Partners were swapped here and there, tripping happened, but all in good fun. As the night began to stretch thin, Paul flashed a hand gesture which Connor returned with a nod. As the music finished, ending the dance, Connor tapped on Heather’s shoulder. She broke from Chris.
“Could I talk to you over here?” Connor asked.
Heather, confused, obliged and walked with Connor across the ballroom away from Chris. Chris, quite drunk, made a brief vocalization of approval and sat down next to Jon. He zoned out.
“Do you need to pee?” Jon asked Bailey.
“Yes, yes I do,” Bailey replied.
She grabbed her bag and walked out of the ballroom, passing Connor with a wink.
Heather didn’t know who Connor was. Up to this point he was just another one of Jon’s creepy friends, but she was social-drunk and a little drunk-drunk, so she was willing to get friendly. Connor grabbed her hand and took her out of the ballroom.
“I’ll be back!” Heather called out to no reaction from the room.
The music started back up.
“Where are we going?” Heather asked, trotting along.
Connor walked quickly. He produced a ball of pink fluff from his pocket. Heather recognized the fluff.
“Why do you have the key to the cellar?” she asked.
“Well, Billy, Chris, and I were talking earlier today and they said that the cellar was super cool, and I never got to be here for the tour,” he said. “So I was looking to see if you could show me around?”
Heather thought for a moment, still following Connor. It seemed like a reasonable request. They reached the cellar and Heather led them down the stairs, carrying the flashlight.
“Damn, I left my phone upstairs,” Connor said. “Do you have yours? I’m having a hard time seeing.”
“Why yes I do!” Heather said, gleefully demonstrating that her dress had pockets. “Look at how it fits so perfectly into my dress. It doesn’t even leave a lump or anything because there’s already so much volume.”
Heather spun around and handed he phone to Connor.
“Thumb?” he asked.
Heather provided her thumb and opened the phone. Connor flipped on the flashlight and the two walked through the cellar. It was much bigger than Connor had expected, which was good. Heather gave the tour to the best of her abilities, explaining the black light and covering all the ground that her mother usually did when entertaining guests. They reached the far back corner with the barrels.
“The funny part about this is that some of the barrels are completely empty,” Heather said, grabbing one and tipping it slightly.
“Wild,” Connor, said.
“Oh! I almost forgot Mother’s stupid joke,” Heather said, shining the flashlight around the room.
She had no idea what wine was where.
“Have you ever read that Edgar Allen Poe story?” Heather asked.
She racked her brain for the title.
“‘The Cask of Amontillado?’” Connor filled in.
“Yes! That’s the one!” Heather said.
Heather was going to mention how there was an actual cask of Amontillado somewhere in the cellar that she didn’t know, but was stopped when Connor turned off his light and yanked the black light from her hands. He sprinted to the exit, pointing the light over his own path, Heather’s entirely unclear.
“Connor what the hell!” Heather yelled, her voice cracking. “Where are you going?!”
“I’m drunk and it’s a prank!” Connor yelled back.
He was not drunk and it was definitely not a prank.
“Connor if I bump into shit and knock something over Liza’ll have a cow!” Heather yelled to no avail.
Heather heard the sound of the cellar door open and shut leaving her in pitch black.
“This was a terrible idea,” Heather said, reaching out in front of her, stumbling blindly in the dark. “I’m going to have to talk to Paul about the people he lets his brother hang around.”
Exiting the cellar, Connor sprinted across the house and to Heather’s room where Bailey stood outside, waiting. He checked his watch; they were well within time.
“How’d it go,” Bailey asked, opening the door and walking in.
“Perfectly,” Connor replied. “She’ll be in there for at least ten minutes.”
Back in the ballroom, Chris was getting anxious. Heather had been gone for longer than he had expected, and given the current dancer pairings, he was left with Jon, and he didn’t want to dance with Jon. Jon had sticky hands.
“Hey Chris,” Jon said in a worried tone.
Chris turned to Jon. He really didn’t want to dance with Jon.
“I don’t want to dance with you,” Chris said bluntly.
“You don’t have to,” Jon said. “Let’s grab Paul and head out for a second. There’s something you might want to see.”
The two marched over to Paul who was swing dancing with Liza, pulled him away and exited the ballroom, shouting back something about needing to pee. Only Billy, Ben, Liza, and Andy remained, but with the musicians and bartender it still felt like a party.
“What’s goin’ on l’il bro,” Paul said, drunkenly.
He reached over and ruffled Jon’s hair. Jon slapped his hand away. Jon led them through the house to Heather’s room. Paul and Chris recognized the room immediately, having had been in there with Andy during the morning’s charades.
“What are we doing here?” Chris asked. “Is Heather okay?”
Chris was starting to feel nauseous drunk, and that feeling fueled his fear that Heather might be ill.
“Oh she’s okay… maybe more than okay.”
Upon hearing the three sets of footsteps in the hallway, Connor and Bailey went to work, which wasn’t a euphemism. Connor got cold feet at the idea of having sex in the host’s bed and chose instead to dry hump fully-clothed.
“Oh fuck!” Connor screamed loudly, bouncing on the bed with the intent to produce a good bedspring sound, but failing.
“Oh fuck!” Bailey shouted back, doing her best to imitate Heather’s voice.
Chris’s ears perked up.
“Jon, what’s going on.”
Connor dismounted Bailey and the bed. He stood at the foot of the bed and rammed it violently into the wall. The headboard made a satisfying slam.
“Oh Connor!” Bailey yelled.
“Heather!” Connor yelled back, continuing to shake the bed.
Chris’s face drained to white and flushed to red in the space of two seconds. Paul looked at his friend. He hadn’t seen Chris like this since middle school. With a treble and a shake Chris lunged for the door, but was immediately apprehended by Jon and Paul. They succeeded in pulling him back, but not before he collided with center of the door.
Connor turned around sharply. Jon hadn’t said anything about Chris entering the room. He exchanged worried glances with Bailey and climbed back onto the bed.
“Get on top,” he said.
Bailey obliged, pushing her dress out of the way.
“She’s in there with you!” Chris yelled at Paul through gritted teeth. “She’s in there with you!”
Paul stared at Chris in utter confusion.
“Chris, I’m here with you right now, not in there. Do you hear me?”
Paul loosened his grip on Chris’s arm. Chris breathed heavily and dropped to his knees, crying. More banging sounded from Heather’s room, but it was not heard over Chris’s sobs. Paul kneeled down to Chris’s level. Jon stood by awkwardly.
“Chris, you are so much better than her,” he said. “You need to stop crying and start not giving fuck what or who she’s doing.”
Chris’s crying faded, and he looked up at Paul.
“Who…” he said.
He looked to the door and lunged at it. Had he been more sober or in a different mood, Chris may have not had had the quad strength to go from a near seated position to a dead spring in one motion, but he was fueled with a sudden rage curiosity and moved quickly, too quickly for Paul. Chris grabbed at the door knob and pulled. The door did not open, not because it was locked or anything, but because it was hinged to push inward like most bedroom doors.
Jon and Paul took that moment to lunge at the enraged Chris who managed to open the door. They tackled him to the ground. Paul reached to shut the door immediately, but not before all three caught a glimpse of a figure in a grey dress straddling a pair of legs.
Jon and Paul knew it was best to get Chris as far away from Heather’s room as possible. While the two disagreed constantly, they still had a fraternal telepathy though which they agreed to drag Chris halfway across the house. When they were out of earshot beyond reasonable doubt, Paul slapped Chris in the face.
“You need to get your shit together,” he yelled. “I know you’re mad, and I know Heather is being the most dishonest, terrible friend ever, but this is her house, and you can’t just break in on two people having sex! What were you planning on doing when you got in there?”
Chris continued to pant. His head was less clear than it had ever been. His thoughts were completely gone and his mind functioned only in pictures. All he could see was Heather on that bed.
Paul slapped him again. Chris looked up at Paul.
“What,” he said.
“I need you to be civil.”
Chris took in the words but didn’t really process them.
“Before you ran into that door, we could have walked away. She would have been none the wiser, and we could have dealt with this sober and another day,” Paul said.
He stared directly into Chris’s eyes. There was something about his face that felt sincere, but the anger welling felt much more appropriate to scratch.
“I don’t know if she saw or heard us, but there’s a good chance she did. Either way, you have two choices, Chris.”
Paul’s eyes burned into Chris’s.
“You either grab your shit and leave this house immediately or you walk into that ballroom like all we did was pee and pretend like nothing happened.”
Chris did not respond. Paul could tell he wasn’t listening.
“Tonight is not the night for this, Chris. Tonight we are ignorant. Tonight we are kind. Tonight we are guests.”
Chris’s brow unfurled, which Paul took as a sign of progress. Jon’s face was twisted too, but only because he was trying his hardest not to beam at his own progress.
“Do we need to walk outside for a bit,” Paul asked.
“I’m gonna go smoke a joint if you’d like to join,” Jon offered.
Chris looked between the two and took a deep breath.
“I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “Let’s go back.”
Having heard the footsteps of Chris, Jon, and Paul subside, Bailey dismounted Connor and walked to the door of Heather’s room. She opened it oh so very slightly and looked out. The room was clear.
“Let’s go,” she called back to Connor.
He picked up Bailey’s bag and the two shuffled through the house and out the front door. The sky was pitch black, but the street lights lining the cul de sac made the street look pavement look television-ready for a football game. The two shuffled to the mailbox and stood around waiting.
“Do you think he saw us?” Bailey asked.
She stared at the front door, waiting for Jon to arrive.
“I don’t know,” Connor replied. “I didn’t have a good line of sight.”
Bailey had nothing of value to reply and the two sat in quiet, save the buzzing of the street lights, the buzzing of the cicadas, and a clanking sound that neither Connor nor Bailey. The clanking got louder and was accompanied by the shuffling of feet. Connor and Bailey looked over and saw a figure approaching them carrying a light. As it got closer, it spoke.
“You two don’t have any unleashed dogs, do you?” the voice called out.
Connor checked himself, as did Bailey. Neither of them had any unleashed dogs.
“No, we’re just hanging out,” Bailey replied.
The figure came into view. It was a woman around their age wearing a blue button up shirt with a golden security pin. She was carrying a lamp that looked like it belonged on a movie set. The woman, still walking, reached out her hand. Connor shook it.
“The name’s Henrietta. Nice to meet you,” she said.
Bailey reached out her own hand but Henrietta did not stop. She walked straight past Bailey and continued down the cul de sac.
“Nice to meet you too,” Bailey shouted at Henrietta’s retreating body.
“Keep safe and make good decisions!” Henrietta shouted in reply. “I must keep moving.”
Bailey and Connor watched as Henrietta continued down the cul de sac, then turning their attention back to the door where Jon had just appeared. He strolled over to them, a great big grin on his face. Connor had never seen him smile like that before, and Bailey had never seen him walk like that before. Knowing that Jon would be most amiable if he had the first word, they waited for him to speak.
“You two did perfectly,” Jon said, clapping them both on the shoulder.
It was not like Jon to be this rewarding.
“Oh my goodness, I wish you two would have been on my end. It was amazing.”
“Do tell,” Bailey encouraged.
Jon whipped out his joint and asked for a light which Connor provided. Jon took a deep inhale, coughed like he was about to die, and continued.
“So, I very carefully get Paul and Chris out of the ballroom, right?” he said. “Which took some skill if I do say so myself. So I lead them up to the bedroom, and Chris is all ‘What’s happening? Is Heather alright?’ and I was like ‘Oh she’s alright… maybe more than alright.’”
Jon looked at the two for validation. They both feigned laughter.
“Right, so then you two start making your noises, and oh you should have seen him. Props on the Heather impersonation, Bailey. You really outdid yourself.”
“He literally broke down crying. Haven’t seen him more low in my life. He was all ‘no how could you do this to me Heather! How dare you cheat on me! Jon, you were right to tell me never to trust this whore!’ It was truly everything I wanted it to be,” Jon said. “You two put on quite the performance.”
He spat on the grass and turned to Connor.
“How did it go with Heather?” Jon asked, handing the joint to Connor.
Connor took a hit without coughing.
“Well,” he said. “More than well actually. I’ve even got her phone.”
He produced Heather’s phone from his pocket and showed it around.
“So she couldn’t even call for help,” he said. “For all I know she’s still down there.”
Back in the ballroom Liza and Andy were swing dancing their hearts out next to Ben and Billy who were drunkenly slow dancing to the most stylistically inappropriate music imaginable. A great deal of stomping announced the entrance of a frazzled, frustrated, wine-stained Heather back into the ballroom.
“Connor!” she yelled, moving through the room like a corpse bride. “What. The. Hell.”
She looked around the dancefloor. Connor wasn’t there. Neither was Jon or Paul for that matter. The room was fairly empty, and Heather had no outlet to vent her anger.
“Heather! Your dress!” Liza exclaimed, running up to her daughter. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not nearly enough,” Heather said.
She strode over to the bar, took a tall shot of vodka and a deep breath and returned. Everyone stared at her waiting for her to address her state.
“You know what, it’s fine,” she said. “Dresses are replaceable. Wine bottles are replaceable.”
The clanking of the lamp returned, but this time with two sets of footsteps, and a quiet bickering. Jon stopped speaking and stared into the distance. Bailey and Connor followed suit, appropriate recognizing the first figure as Henrietta, but unsure about another figure that appeared next to it.
“What’s going on,” Jon said, squinting his eyes.
“It’s some neighborhood patrol person,” Bailey said, taking a hit off the joint. “Apparently this neighborhood is full of loose dogs or something.”
She handed the joint to Jon as the two figures walked up to them.
“Hello, I’m Henrietta,” Henrietta said.
She stopped this time but continued to step in place.
“And I’m Henry,” Henry said, extending out an arm. “Is that weed?”
“Yeah,” Jon said. “It’s almost done though. You want the last hit?”
Henry swore and looked at Henrietta. The two of them walked away to the center of the cul de sac. They continued to bicker in soft voices. The only thing that could be made out from where Bailey, Connor, and Jon stood was ‘I should be at the gate’ and ‘do we call her?’.
The two marched back and stopped, except for Henrietta who kept stepping in place. Bailey stared at Henrietta’s feet in utter confusion.
“D-do you have any unleashed dogs?” he asked nervously.
“No?” Jon replied
Henrietta slapped Henry on the head and whispered, “just do it.”
They looked at one another, then at the three, and Henry tackled Jon. Henrietta was not expecting this and stared in horror alongside Connor and Bailey at the most inappropriately weighted wrestling match of the night. Quite literally. Henry weighed anywhere from 175 to 185 depending on his salt intake for the week, and Jon weighed only 115. He was no match.
“What the hell is he doing?!” Bailey yelled at Henrietta as Henry fumbled with a zip tie and restrained Jon’s hands.
“We’ve got a handbook that says no weed?” Henrietta replied.
Bailey nodded, watching Jon struggle when she was suddenly pulled into a surprisingly strong headlock by Henrietta. She had also grabbed Connor and was holding both of them like a human pillory.
“The fuck!” Connor yelled.
They squirmed but Henry, now finished with Jon, began zip tying the two. Left alone, Jon started to run towards the house and was quickly retackled by Henry. After a fair amount of squirming, Henry and Henrietta had successfully restrained the three.
“What do we do now?” Henry asked, worried.
“Let’s head to the office and call Darlene,” Henrietta replied.
Darlene was quick to show. It was her first night off in quite some time, and her sleeping schedule had yet to return to normal. She arrived in the office in full one am glamour. She was wearing pajama pants and a robe, her eyes were ‘have been unsuccessfully trying to sleep four hours’ red, and her hair looked distinctly as if she had put rollers in a couple of hours ago and chose to take the out to come over rather than stay true and keep them in. Darlene opened the door of the office to find Henry and Henrietta standing over Jon, Bailey, and Connor who were laying on the ground, silent.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Darlene yelled.
Henry and Henrietta looked at one another in fear, partly from their unsurity of tying up these three strangers and mostly because Darlene looked terrifying. The moment she yelled, they started pulling their captives up off the ground.
“No, leave them,” Darlene said, dismissing the two with a cutting hand gesture. “I’ll ask about them later. Why on earth is nobody staffing the gate? I had to park on the street outside the community.”
Henry flushed red and shrunk. Darlene turned to Henrietta.
“Henri, I want you to know that my anger is not directed at you. You seem to have done a fine job,” she said.
“I thought the other one was Henry,” Bailey said from the floor.
While Bailey was lying on the ground, she had oriented her head so that her chin rested on the cold linoleum. Her mouth remained facing outward, but with a limited range of jaw motion, her words were slightly uffled.
“You don’t get to speak!” Darlene yelled, stomping on the ground with great force right in front of Bailey’s face.
Bailey uttered a muffled, so did Connor even though he wasn’t even next to Bailey. He mostly screamed because Bailey screamed and because loud noises in close ranges are objectively frightening. Connor was also facing down completely, nose to the linoleum. With his scream his mouth touched the ground slightly. It didn’t taste good.
“Hen, go to the gate, now.”
Henry left the office, beat red. The door shut.
“Now who are these hooligans?” Darlene asked. “And are there any dogs in the closet?”
“No dogs,” Henrietta said. “Weed. You can smell it on their breath.”
Darlene dropped to the ground with a speed unnatural for her age and stature. She stuck her nose in front of Jon’s mouth and inhaled deeply.
“Smells like floor,” she said, standing up. “Weed doesn’t smell like floor.”
“It was fucking weed you dipshit,” Jon yelled.
Connor tried to kick him but only succeeded in kicking himself.
“They were also saying some sort of scary stuff,” Henrietta said. “I think this one chained up some girl in a cellar?”
She pointed to Connor with her foot.
“I did not chain her!” Connor yelled defensively. “I just left her in the dark.”
“False imprisonment?” Darlene said.
“It was a joke!” Bailey added. “Plus, Heather’s a smart girl. She’ll get out soon enough. And it’s her own home. Is it even imprisonment if it’s her own home?”
Darlene looked down at the three captives, worried.
“I was going to say that false imprisonment is not in the handbook and we are not police,” she said. “But you wouldn’t be talking about Liza’s Heather, would you?”
“Does that change anything?” Jon asked.
Darlene pulled Jon up off the ground and stared at him in the eyes.
“Liza is the only one who actually read anything for book club, so yes, I am emotionally invested in the wellbeing of her daughter and those that she cares about.”
She threw Jon back onto the ground, which wasn’t much of a feat. He was a very small individual.
“Henri, tell me everything you heard.”
Henrietta did, to the best of her abilities. After finishing Darlene sank into a seat and pulled out her phone.
“Henri, can I trust you alone with these three?”
“I think so?” she said.
Unconvinced Darlene stood up and took a zip tie from Henrietta’s pocket. With Henrietta’s help she pulled their captives off the ground and zip tied the three zip ties together.
“There’s gotta be something illegal about this,” Bailey said, shaking her hair out of her face.
Darlene clapped a hand on Bailey’s shoulder.
“It’s nice to see someone who still believes that the law applies to them,” Darlene said. “I’ve paged Verge. We’re going to speak with Liza.”
Bailey, Connor, and Jon all started running at once but only succeeded in falling over like a very small and uncoordinated rat king. Darlene grabbed them up by the bound hands and marched them over to the conference room.
“If they try anything again, there’s rope in the closet,” Darlene said. “I’ll be back.”
A cheap ambulance sound rang, cheap here referring to the sound, not the ambulance. The emergency services of the area were top notch. This was not the sound of an actual ambulance, but instead the sound of a Liza’s text-tone for Darlene. Yes, Liza was one of those people who had a text-tone that might have been more appropriate as a ringtone, though an ambulance sound probably isn’t the best alarm in any scenario. The phone rang from her purse and was slightly muffled, however the musicians had stopped playing on the arrival of the wine-stained Heather, and in the shocked silence, it was the only thing to be heard in the ballroom.
Liza strode over to her purse, keeping a concerned eye on Heather as she did. She looked at her phone.
“You know what? It’s getting late, and I look like a mess. I might turn in early,” Heather said
“Or, we could not do that!” Liza said, looking back up at her daughter.
Liza put her phone in her purse and walked over to Heather, grabbing her by the elbow. She turned back to Billy and Ben, the only ones left in the ballroom, save Andy who, not wanting to be a third wheel, excused herself to the bathroom.
“We’re going to make our first costume change of the night,” Liza said. “Keep the party going.”
The door closed and Heather was the first to turn on her mother.
“Mom, I’m fine I promise. What’s going on with you?”
“I got a message from Darlene.”
Liza pulled out her phone. The text read ‘Liz’s sounds captions. Heading cover’.
“I don’t get it,” Heather said.
“She may be the only one to read for book club, but that woman is the fattest-fingered texter I have met, but I think it means she’s heading over. Go get changed and meet me back in the ballroom.”
Heather nodded agreement and waddled away, her drunken mobility taking back over without the firm grip of her mother’s arm. Liza made her way to the front door and let herself out. The figures of Darlene and Verge approached. Liza shut the door behind her and took a good look at the two. Darlene looked like she did on the days she pre-gamed for book club and Verge was straight-up in his pajamas.
“Keep this quick. I have a daughter covered in wine and guests to entertain,” Liza said crossing her arms.
“Of course, of course,” Verge said. “I got here as quickly as I could. You see, Darlene here told me that Henri told her that she overheard some people saying some things that may concern you, Liza.”
Liza sighed and snapped her fingers.
“I’ve got a dress to change into,” she said. “Please be brief.”
“My apologies Liza,” Darlene said. “I should be the one to speak. You know how Verge is, always taking too long to say things. He’s probably the most truthful person I know, but with that comes with all the ‘he said, she said’ source citation, which is admirable and all, but at some point isn’t there value in just stating things as fact?”
“Darlene, that’s a lot of talk right there. It’s a question of philosophy that I don’t think you’re truly prepared to debate on the spot,” Verge replied.
“Should I come back?” Liza asked.
“Oh, why do that when you’re already here!” Verge said.
“Because I have an unsupervised ballroom left with two teens that want to hate-fuck each other so palpably that it’s making the orchestra uncomfortable. Hurry up.”
“Oh but to hurry would mean cutting the details and the truth is in the details,” Darlene said.
“Agreed, agreed,” Verge agreed.
“Why are you here,” Liza said, pausing between each sharp word.
“Our new hires have done a wonderful job tonight,” Darlene said. “Well, Henri has, Hen may need to be reprimanded. But overall I’m satisfied with the result.”
“Is that all?” Liza said.
She reached back to grab the door handle.
“Well, when Darlene told me I was all ‘should we have Liza interrogate them’ and ‘is it really an independent commission if we have members of the community doing our work’ and ‘but it really does concern her’,” Verge said. “Like, this is our first time capturing a non-dog criminal.”
Liza, who had begun opening the door, turned back.
“Criminals?” Liza asked, intrigued.
“Though for the record I have not personally seen them, my information comes from Darlene and her information from Henri.”
Darlene smacked Verge on the arm.
“I didn’t capture them, but I did seem them,” she replied, then turning to Liza. “Would you like to speak with them?”
The door opened further. Liza was placing part of her weight on that door and, not expecting the door to move without her push or pull, stumbled. She looked up to see Paul and Chris standing there.
“I really should get back to the party,” Liza said. “I’m sure you two will take care of everything appropriately.”
She smiled back at Paul and Chris, motioning for them to head to the ballroom and nodded at Darlene and Verge.
“As you wish,” Verge said, nodding back.
The two left and Liza reentered the house.
“What was that all about?” Paul asked.
“If history proves true, an unleashed Dalmatian trapped in a locker,” she said. “Now you two go penis block Ben and Billy or whatever the kids call it these days. I have a new look to serve.”
Paul and Chris scuttled away horrified, and Liza left to go change.
Heather entered her room and collapsed onto the bed. She was done feeling frustrated over Connor’s antics. At this point she was just tired. Drunk, tired, and still thoroughly covered in wine. She willed herself up and looked around the room. Her pillows were definitely not how she liked them to be, but she was unsure whether that had taken place during the morning’s activities when everyone was in her room, or if she had just had too much to drink.
Heather slipped off her dress and opened the door to her bathroom. She walked in and stared at herself in the mirror. She swore. The wine had soaked through to her Spanx. She would have to get new ones. Heather kneeled down and opened the cabinet under the sink. Her eyes unfocused as she stared at the array of bottles of soaps, oils, and serums. With great focus she found the liter of Schweppes she kept in her bathroom for this very reason. She shuffled to the bathtub and poured the bottle in unceremoniously, only remembering to plug the drain a quarter of the way into the pour. She tossed the dress in, struggled for a good five minutes to remove her shapewear, and then tossed those in too.
She exited the bathroom, threw on the nearest black dress she could find, and head back down to the ballroom.
Heather ran into Liza as she walked. The two were matching much closer this time as Liza too had chosen a black dress, the hem of hers slightly longer than Heather’s.
“Oh honey, you look adorable,” Liza said, walking up to her daughter. “But your hair is a mess, let me fix.”
Liza pulled the tie out of Heather’s hair that had long stopped doing any service and pulled Heather’s hair into a tight bun, reminiscent of the few months in high school that Heather had tried to do gymnastics but dropped out after realizing that gymnastics isn’t something you can really just pick up at fourteen without prior training.
Liza opened the door to the ballroom. The music section was back up and playing a classical cover of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” Billy and Ben were waltzing erratically and off tempo, and Chris was sitting with Jon, both drinking.
“Oh I love this song,” Liza said, stepping in tune to the music. “I was never a fan of Seal and never did see Batman Forever, but this song transcends that.”
Paul and Chris turned on hearing the entrance of Liza and Heather. Chris stood up.
“Yes, yes, get up you two,” Liza said.
She grabbed Paul and pulled him in to dance.
“Less sitting, more dancing. More excitement!”
Chris stormed over to Heather and Liza got her wish.