Chapter 13, North of Happenstance

North of Happenstance: Chapter Thirteen

Kate swung her clothes hangers sharply to the left, her sigh nicely muffled by the shuffle of plastic hooks over the medal rods. Her work’s Halloween Party was tonight and Kate hadn’t had time to shop around for a costume. She’d spent the majority of the last two days in her college art room, working on a new pottery urn for Madame Penny. Her birthday was coming up and in her not-so-subtle-way she’d expressed hope that Kate would use her creative vision to make her something…this would be especially cool if it fit her new house plant. Kate had messed it up twice but, luckily for her, the art instructor, Matt Brice, was a cool guy who allowed her to stay late on the project while he graded papers for a different class. In fact, it was pretty cool that he let her even do the project at all, since it didn’t meet any of the classroom assignment requirements. He’d called it extra credit.

So now, her hands scrubbed clean of clay, except for a small smudge that managed to make its way almost all the way up to her elbow, she stood at the entrance to her closet, two hours from party go-time, with nothing to wear. Well, not exactly nothing. She had a box holding past Halloween costumes, held in reserve for just such instances. She could recycle one of those easily. It’s not like anyone here would notice she’d donned the same attire twice. Her mother’s voice floating between her ears, Kate could just imagine her upset; Calida McDonald never wore the same thing twice.

Splashed across Kate’s floor were numerous options, consisting of a ladybug, a go-go dancer, a wench and a football cheerleader. Turning her back on those options, Kate decided they were a little too juvenile for this party. It’s not that she wanted to impress her new co-workers with her outrageously awesome costume it’s just, she didn’t want them to think she was totally lame either.

In the end she chose the Cleopatra costume. (She’d known even before she started scavenging that she’d pick that one anyway. Woman are such contrary creatures….) An expensive garment purchased two years ago, it was the only item she actually kept in a garment bag and outside the box. It hung in the back of the closet space, expertly pressed and dry-cleaned. She doubted it was much better than any of the other options, but at least it fit well, was moderately comfortable and showed just enough cleavage to keep her from being labeled a ‘prude’ but not too much to give the impression of  ‘easy access.’ At least, she hoped so.

Tugging the wig over her head, she hoped it would look all right. Costumes always made her feel self-conscious. What if people thought her choice was unoriginal, boring, or just…unmemorable. It wasn’t like Kate had friend just knocking down her door, at least not in Whestleigh. The new kid on the block, she couldn’t afford to alienate herself. She could not afford to be dubbed an outcast, or worse: uncool.

Fixing eyeliner to her lower lid with a heavy hand, Kate took a moment to wish that Madame Penny was going to be there or even M.T. Stomach knotting in anticipation, she suddenly felt conspicuously sick.

 

 

Kate pulled up to the party, hosted at Jake’s house, almost thirty minutes late. She hadn’t wanted to be the first one there while simultaneously nervous of appearing rude by disregarding the start time too completely. Relief washing through her person, she noted several cars parked alongside the street. Quickly finding a place to park, she unraveled her invitation, triple-checking the address she’d already memorized by heart, before getting out of her car. What would be worse than knocking on the wrong door? Hitching her chin up, she slowly made her way toward a red painted door, the numbers aligning it clearly marking it as the home of 3442 Hemming Way.

The sequins on her dress glittered underneath the outside porch light, and the gold bangles against her wrist moved musical up and down her forearm as she reached for the door handle. She wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but her costume had definitely done the trick: she did not look like herself. Her fair blonde hair was swapped for a short black bob with a gold-plated headdress, her face thickly painted in light blues, ashy oranges, and deep reds. Her eyes looked bigger, wider… her lips darker, fuller…who anyone even recognize her?

Probably not. Most of them wouldn’t even if she’d come without a costume.

 

 

It took three heaping glasses of the heavily spiked rum punch before Kate felt her shoulders relax, her laughter lower in pitch, her body sway more naturally to the music blaring out of the living room speakers. It took three heaping glasses of heavily spiked rum punch before Kate felt the first waves of over-indulgence sit in.

And that was okay with her. Though she rarely drank to get drunk, Kate had decided, only minutes after walking into Jake’s house, that tonight would be an exception to the rule. She’d mistakenly thought tonight’s party was just for the employees. One look at the body of people milling throughout the kitchen and dining room proved this theory wrong. At first glance, it appeared the whole damn town of Whestleigh had shown up for the occasion. Just her luck, however, the only seeming people not in attendance were Penny and M.T.

And there she’d stood, mouth hanging agape, at the site before her, feeling like the gangly outsider she’d so keenly wanted to avoid. Alone in a crowded room with no one to talk to—not even the host himself, who remained an unknown disguise in a room filled with ‘em. Even worse, she wasn’t the only Cleopatra in the room. Granted, hers was by far superior in quality: fabric and design of course, but the other girl in the room, whose name Kate vaguely recalled as being Ashley, looked for more at ease in hers, flit-flatting around the room as natural as the air. A fellow co-worker at the LitLiber, she and Kate had exchanged little more than pleasantries at this point.

(If it could get any worse, as the night progressed Kate couldn’t help overhearing Ashley’s costume repeatedly being showered with compliments while hers, its higher-quality equivalent, had yet to receive even a comment of interest. So maybe Kate had a little competitive spirit, so what?)

It seemed logical that the best course to remedy her current situation of friendlessness was to get rip-roaring drunk. Liquid courage, didn’t they say? So, without further ado she slipped toward the punch bowl, and after one sniff she felt reasonably sure it wouldn’t take long for her to feel the effects of what she supposed was two liters of straight booze. She hadn’t eaten very much before the party. Her stomach had been doing too many summersaults to successfully have kept anything down. She was thankful of that. An empty stomach was an advantage to the thirsty drinker.

Now, less than an hour later, she’d found herself a small group of friends. Granted, she was more-or-less just hanging on and they were probably too polite to ask her to leave, but it was better than nothing:

“…then I found him, passed out in the bathroom half of his body lying inside the bathtub” Sarah (Kate thought that was her name anyway. There hadn’t been any proper introductions made) said laughingly.

The guy on Kate’s left guffawed and added another snippet to this delightfully dim trip down memory-lane. Kate felt her smile slip. The last fifteen minutes had been much the same, a swapping back-and-forth of drunken stories. Personally, she found it sadly lacking of depth or substance but if she said that she’d be kicked out of their little group. Pinning a look of interest on her face, she tried to wrack her brain for anything of contributing matter.

“One time,” Kate made herself say, speaking up for the first time. The sound of her voice, foreign up until now, caused all heads to turn eagerly her way. “Well, um,” Kate felt her cheeks flush at the unexpected attention. Scrambling, she continued: “I got so drunk out with some friends and—anyway, when I got back to my apartment I couldn’t get my key to fit in the door lock. I was forced to break in.” Kate waited a beat before adding,” turns out, it was actually my neighbor’s place.”

“Oh my god! No way,” two of the girls said simultaneously, their show of impression giving Kate a much needed confidence bolster. The way they were looking at her, Kate felt like part of the group. It hardly mattered that she didn’t particularly like any of them, or that none of them could seem to remember her name.

“What happened?” another person asked.

“Well I didn’t even notice at first. I just passed out on the couch. But the next morning when I work up to Kyle Morton hovering over my sprawled out body, let’s just say things got a little uncomfortable,” she said, recovering fast.

The story was false. At least, it was partially true, kind of. Only it was Kyle Morton who’d tied one on that fateful night and it was Kyle Morton who broke into her apartment accidentally and it was Kate who’d found his prone body laying unconscious on her sofa the next morning.

“That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard,” one of them said, almost bent over in laughter.

“Yeah,” Kate said noncommittally, taking another pull off her punch. She needed it. More alcohol was required if she was going to subject herself to much more of this.

Unfortunately, all the booze in the house wasn’t going to be enough. After her fourth cocktail, Kate decided to call it quits. The night had been a bust—except for the free drunks. Her ears were numb from the painfully simple conversations floating throughout the place. She’d tried leap-frogging from one group to the next but she just ran into more of the same: mindless chatter, the sole purpose of which was just to fill the void of silence, rather than an exchange of anything meaningful or purpose-driven.

Calling herself ten times a snob, Kate nonetheless made her wobbly way over to the makeshift cloakroom, a bedroom tucked in the corner of the main floor, where everyone had been instructed to drop their jackets/purses off. Pushing the door open, after slipping between two fat men who refused to move out of the way, even after she politely excused her presence, Kate paused for a moment to lean against the jamb. She was oddly out of breath, having exerted for too much energy simply keeping her body upright and walking in a straight line. Plus, she needed time to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness enveloping the room. Two windows against the far wall were the only source of light.

Sightless, her fingers searched for a light switch, but to no avail. After thirty seconds of fruitless fumbling, Kate abandoned this objective, her hand falling limply to her side. It was luminous enough for her purposes. All she needed was her purse so she could call Penny for a ride. Kate wasn’t stupid enough to drive, not in her condition and she had a feeling Penny would be only too happy to stop in and say a quick hello to…well the entire freaking town.

Kate was fully occupied in this pursuit, bent over the bed shoveling through the masses of personal belongings tossed willy-nilly atop it, when she felt or heard, she wasn’t sure which, the presence of another person in the room.

“God, you look sexy,” a voice said into the darkness. Stifling a scream, Kate spun around, her wig jostling with the movement. No doubt about it now, there was definitely another person in the room. A man, to be exact

Before she could say anything—a word of caution or a call for help—he advanced further into the room, quick strides bringing him within inches of her body. “I’ve been waiting all night for a minute alone with you,” he whispered, “and when I saw you slip inside just now—”

In the sudden proximity, her eyes acclimating to the dim lighting, Kate could just make out the face belonging to that oddly familiar voice. She hadn’t seen him all night, hadn’t even known what he’d dressed up as.

A pirate it seemed.

“Um, Jake—?” she whispered confusedly. Her voice came out thick, a consequence of the alcohol flooding her system. It didn’t sound like her.

“Don’t worry, no one saw me come in,” he said in response. Kate felt boneless when his hands reached out then, gripping onto her hips, tugging her closer, holding her captive. Her breath  hitched, her pulse skipped.

“Huh?” she asked dumbly, her senses dulled by his very nearness.

Apparently, he wasn’t in the mood to answer her, at least not with words. No sooner had her inarticulate question peppered the air then his head dipped down, his lips catching hold of her own. Frozen from surprise, for a second Kate didn’t move.

What the hell was happening?!

Then, God help her, Kate felt her body respond to the pressure of nibbling bites against the edges of her mouth. Parting her lips, she allowed him the entrance he so obviously wanted. Immediately, she could taste the smoky flavor of liquor on his breath. His hands, cradled against the nape of her neck now, tilted her head a little to the left, his tongue skirting past her teeth and tangling with her own.

The silence of the room was broken only by the sound of their breathing, by the rasping brush of skin against skin, by the soft resonance of the music just outside the door….

Letting her head drop backward, Kate felt her body press more closely against Jake’s as the kiss went on. It was probably the alcohol, a small part of her brain reasoned, but she found she couldn’t quite help giving into the seduction of this man. His hands were everywhere: skimming down her arms, pressing against her waist, messaging up her back. They shook with force of his attraction, his body hugged tight against her own.

“God Ashley—” he whispered against her trembling mouth.

Ashley? Oh God, did he just say Ashley?! Not even the alcohol could forgive that telling mistake. Jake thought he was kissing Ashley; the other Cleopatra at the party. Of course!

Wrenching her lips from his, hands shoving firmly against his chest, Kate pushed Jake away.

“What’s wrong?” he asked at the swift rejection.

Play it cool Kate. Though a part of her was horrified at what his confession intimated: she’d kissed him so passionately, she’d wanted him in that moment, and the whole time he’d thought he was kissing someone else…still, the situation required delicacy, diplomacy, tact. It required that Kate somehow manage to save-face. She’d just kissed her boss, she could feel the flames of embarrassment flickering against her face at the mere thought.

“I-uh, I thought I heard someone coming in,” Kate mumbled haltingly, her feet stumbling backward over the words, the posterior of her knees finding stability at the edge of the bed. She needed some distance, figuratively and literally. Now was not the time to give her true identity away.

“Probably we shouldn’t…” she offered then, her arm waving expressively toward the doorway. The wording, its accompanying gesture was deliberate. Mercifully, in the midst of her frantic scramble for cover, she’d recalled something he’d said earlier, about no one having seen him. So Jake and Ashley were having a secret affair. If that were the case presumably they were used to episodes of snatched, clandestine intimacy. It made sense; there was undoubtedly an employee policy against inter-office dating, especially between superiors on their staff.

“Dammit,” Jake said on a sigh, running an impatient hand through his hair, but, as she’d hoped it would be, his attention was now diverted toward the vacant entryway. “You’re right. Not now. But later… you’re mine,” he said slowly, the words a promise of wanton pleasure.

“Hmm,” Kate said noncommittally, her eyes downcast. With a flick of her fingers, she repositioned her wig so the bangs hung low over her brow, further disguising her facial features. At least, that was the idea.

She didn’t know what else to do, what else to say, except: “You go out first. I’ll wait a couple of minutes before following after.” The improvisation was total cliché, but didn’t people participating in such trysts say stuff like that? Tears pricking at her eyes, Kate found she didn’t care either way. She just wanted him to leave the room, leave her alone. She wanted to call Penny and she wanted to get the hell out of there.

 

 

In the end, Penny did come to get Kate, though it should be noted that she wasn’t allowed to step so much as one foot inside Jake’s house upon doing this. In fact, she wasn’t even allowed to drive down his city street. Kate had no sooner placed her call when she snuck out one of the room’s rear windows. She couldn’t take the risk of meeting Jake again. Not out there, in front of everyone. Not now. She’d torn a piece of her dresses fabric in the getaway plan, but then Kate had already vowed to burn the stupid costume when she got home anyway. She didn’t want any evidence of her presence here.

Walking down the block to the gas station, which is where she made Penny come get her, Kate wrestled with yet another dawning anxiety, just another to add to the mix. What would happen when Jake’s promised later arrived? Would he bring up their supposed dalliance to the real Ashley? Heart beating fast at the mere though, Kate prayed that wouldn’t happen. Men didn’t usually succumb to romantic reminiscing, did they? At least, not outside of the proverbial boy’s locker room, right? God she hoped not or the show would be up. He’d know he kissed someone else. Ashley would know it too.

This was the second reason for Kate’s decision to burn her costume the first moment she got. Maybe it was wrong of her, maybe it made her a bad person, but Kate was not about to confess her otherwise anonymous role in tonight’s little tête–à–tête. She wasn’t about to endure the wrath of town gossip. As far as she was concerned, she’d never even gone to Jake Farrow’s stupid Halloween party. So long as it was believed, no one would ever be any the wiser. Besides, everyone there would be too drunk to argue the matter with her.

For the first time that evening she was glad she hadn’t had any friends there that night. At least, there wouldn’t be any viable witnesses.

 

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