*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*
You can read parts one through nine HERE!
She’d seen Helena in the cafeteria today. She was talking to a petite girl with short, dark hair. Bettina, Stephanie thought her name was, but couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. The room was bustling and Helena and her friend were on the other side of it, mere blurs amongst the crowd.
She takes another long sip of her wine, sets it on the low coffee table, and allows the mouthful to wash over the lump in her throat as she swallows.
Watching from across the room what has now become familiar, the unconscious twisting and turning of the hair, the swoop of her long neck and the band of bracelets that has widened since her arrival make the second reading of the essay in Stephanie’s hand even more haunting somehow. The carefully selected words produce an ease and flow contrary to the torment of choosing them. It’s apparent the open wounds and blunt truths had dropped sharply onto the page, and only then were smoothed by a cohesive, composed mind. If it weren’t so painful it would be breathtakingly beautiful.
She sets the curled pages down onto the empty cushion next to her and reaches for her glass.
“Anass came on to to me again.” She divulges, swirling her drink.
Rick lifts his head off the couch, eyebrows raised, forehead wrinkled.
“Did you tell him you’re taken?”
“Very funny, darling. You and I have only been together at every Christmas party and staff picnic for the last five years. He knows.”
Rick lets out a big yawn, flips onto his side and takes his phone out of his pocket. Sensing her silence begs a response, he sighs.
“Are you sure he hit on you? What did he do?”
“Well, he leaned in.”
“Yeah, you know…”
All of a sudden she feels silly, flustered.
“Never mind,” she concedes. “It was nothing.” But when she looks to him for reassurance, he’s scrolling through his messages and smirking at whatever’s on his screen, unaware they are still in conversation.
Stephanie picks up the essay and holds it in front of her face – a barrier between them. Whether it be the wine, Rick’s disinterest or Helena’s aching words, a brew of all three she assumes, the lump in her throat turns to hot streams running down her cheeks.
She’ll call Helena to her office first thing.