This short is a continuation of SHE-POWER Fiction: The Dilemma
“Look who managed to make it after all.”
Geoff ushered Clarissa into the dining room, one hand nestled on the small of her back, the other still clutching a large glass of red wine, which was sloshing about, threatening to spill on the polished floors.
Clarissa clutched her bulging laptop bag to her body, feeling a little like the new girl at school. She realised that she had not checked her appearance before coming, and quite likely she was wrinkled, frizzy haired and shiny faced right now. Hardly the best look for a sophisticated dinner party.
While Clarissa liked the Roystons, their dinner parties were always full of Scott’s old friends and family connections. It was all very incestuous. Everyone either worked for the Government, an NGO, the courts or was married to someone who did. Most of the room had known each other for years and Geoff had been friends with Scott’s father, so the two men were practically family.
“Hi everyone, sorry I’m late.” Clarissa held out the $50 bottle of shiraz she’d just plucked off the shelf in the bottle shop for. It was ridiculously overpriced and she had no idea what it was, but the price guide meant the Roystons would love it. “I picked up this, just in case we run out.”
Geoff’s wife, Sandra laughed as she pushed back her chair and reached up to give Clarissa a peck on the cheek, enveloping her in Chanel No. 5.
“I think Sydney will run out of water before this house runs out of wine, but thank you.” She held out her hands for Clarissa’s bag. “Let’s take this and get you comfortable, shall we.”
Clarissa handed over the bag and then felt quite naked standing there alone. There didn’t seem to be an obviously empty chair and she noticed a couple of unfamiliar faces. Her legs felt heavy and stiff, and as she shifted her feet awkwardly, she wished Geoff would forget about the wine glass he was trying to find for her, and get her a chair instead.
Doing a quick scan of the table, Clarissa noticed that Scott was seated at the far end, near the windows and was deep in conversation with a young blond woman she had never seen before. They were the only two who continued talking despite her arrival.
A slew of open wine bottles littered across the table in between serving bowls and dirty plates indicated that dinner had obviously been served and enjoyed. It occurred to Clarissa that Scott may not have told Geoff and Sandra she was coming.
Suddenly feeling like an uninvited guest, Clarissa turned to Sandra just as Geoff thrust a glass of wine in her hand. “I’m so sorry to turn up like this. I really meant to be here a lot earlier, but there was an emergency at work.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you decided to come. Geoffrey and I were very disappointed when Scott said you couldn’t make it.” Sandra looked across at Geoff. “Darling, get Lissa a seat will you.”
Clarissa felt a knot forming in her stomach, and she lowered her eyes, blinking back a hot rush of tears. Damn Scott. Why do that to her? he knew this would be awkward. He just wanted to humiliate her because he was pissed off she was late. She looked over at him and for the first time caught his eye as he half turned toward her. He stared at her with angry eyes, then turned back to his blond dinner companion.
“I’ll rustle you up some food,” Sandra fussed. “We were going to have cheese and dessert soon, but we’ll wait for you.”
“No, I’m okay actually. Cheese will be fine.”Sandra looked concerned and squeezed Clarissa’s arm tenderly. “You really should eat. You look like you’ve lost weight.”
“I just need to sit down and relax, that’s all.”
“Geoffrey, where’s that chair?”
“Here.” Geoff said, dragging another chair over from the wall. He moved towards Scott. “Everyone shuffle along please.”
Geoff nudged the chair in and held it for Clarissa as she sat. “I’m afraid my daughter’s been monopolizing your husband. They haven’t seen each other for years, have you?” He patted Scott’s shoulder.
Clarissa felt a little better about Scott’s attentions now. Maybe he was behaving himself after all. She’d never met Geoff’s daughter from his first marriage before, but surely Scott had known her since she was a child.
She extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Scott’s wife, Clarissa. I don’t believe we’ve met before.”
The blond turned flinty green eyes on her and shook Clarissa’s hand limply. “Madeline.”
She slid a glance at Scott before reaching for her glass and bringing it to her lips.
Although Clarissa wanted to slap Scott for his childish antics, she forced herself to lean over and kiss his cool lips. “Hi.”
“Decided to come, did you?” Up close, Scott’s eyes were glassy, and he’d spilled wine down his shirt.
“I told you I was,” Clarissa said through gritted teeth, a smile pasted on her face. “I would’ve come earlier if I could have.”
“Sure.” Scott brought his over full glass of wine to his lips again, the liquid sloshing out onto the table cloth at his unsteady hand. “But we can’t disappoint Lex, can we?”
Clarissa flushed hot with embarrassment and hoped that no one else had heard. “Not here, not tonight.”Her jaw ached from smiling so much. “We’ll talk later.”
Clarissa reached for his hand, but he pulled it away from her. She sighed and turned back to Madeline, who was now leaning forward, displaying perky, well tanned breasts in a flimsy camisole top. Clarissa could see Scott’s eyes continually going in their direction, and from the smug look on Madeline’s face she didn’t seem to mind a bit.
“So, how is it we haven’t met before, Madeline?”.
Scott let out a groan. “Fucking small talk.” He reclined back in his chair and loosened the top buttons of his shirt.
Madeline looked amused as Clarissa’s face reddened. “I’ve been in New York for a couple of years. And before that I was living with mummy in Melbourne.”
Ah, the first wife. Clarissa had heard a little about Geoff’s first wife, an ex-model and fashion designer, but she and Geoff were not exactly on speaking terms.
“And what made you return home?” Clarissa resisted the urge to hit Scott for the way he was now openly staring down Madeline’s top. Madeline Radcliff had to be no more than 22 years of age, and even for Scott that was young.
Madeline scowled at Geoff, who was deep in conversation at then other end of the table. “Dad wants me to go to university.” She spoke like it was a pointless exercise.
“Oh, so you haven’t been yet?”
“No, I finished school and just spent two gap years in London working with a fashion designer friend of mummy’s.”
“How nice,” Clarissa said, thinking this girl was barely out of school, so what was she doing flirting with her thirty year old husband. “And what will you be studying?”
“I don’t know. Business or something boring.” Madeline yawned. “I can’t stand studying.”
“I need a cigarette,” Scott interrupted, pushing back his chair to stand. He extended his hand to Madeline. “Coming?”
She nodded obediently and rose from the table, clasping her hand in his.
Clarissa resisted the urge to look up as they disappeared together out to the back patio. So this is how the night was going to go.
With a shaky hand she raised her glass and took a large gulp. There was nothing she could do except hope he didn’t embarrass her too much, and drink enough that she didn’t care about any embarrassment at all.
“This is lovely wine, Geoff. What vineyard is it from?”
This story continues with The Missing Baby
Photo by RTPeat