Changing Faces

Getting close to the end of March. This week I have what is in some ways a story very typical of me, yet at the same time different. The overall story is definitely Sci-Fi (and roughly 13,900 words), however the opening half really doesn’t make it seem that way. In fact, there are no hints at what is to come, which was fun to write and gives nothing away. So I’m not going to say anymore as I don’t want to give anything away.

The walls are cream in colour and manage to blend, as well as contrast, with the white expanse of ceiling broken only by the rows of soft yellow light cast by the small circular bulbs that sit within silver tubes partly recessed into said ceiling.

The wall by comparison is a checkerboard of dark grey and off-white with a solid black line as a border which is indented away from the skirting boards. The skirting boards are again another shade of white and help to properly define the edges of the entire five metre by five metre square room. At the centre of the white room, whose walls are adorned by a myriad of exquisite and expensive looking oil paintings, sits a set of black anodised aluminium legs topped with a single continuous piece of slate adhered to a chunky piece of stained wood which is then fixed to the legs. Around the slate table are six fairly bland metal framed chairs with padded seats and backs that look inviting and yet somehow slightly out of character compared to the rest of the sparsely furnished room.

On the slate table sit dishes, bowls and platters stacked to almost spilling with foods that run the colour gambit from pale all the way through to vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The four people around the table busily prepare themselves, with greedy licks of their lips, for the last of the feast to be laid out so that they might begin to dig in and feast until they are well and truly stuffed. Before that however the doorbell rings.

“I’ll get it. Harold can you serve the last of the food please? It’s on the side in the kitchen.” A woman, Francesca, calls as she blurs toward the front door of her and her husband’s six bedroom, three storey house which sits in the suburbs of New Tanga.

“Yes dear.” Harold says with a smirk as he finishes rising from his seat and then head for the kitchen to carry out the order his wife has issued him.

Harold has short black hair and calm kind brown eyes as well as a winning smile. But the man’s true brilliance is in his dress sense. He is always in a suit, no matter what. A pencil thick dark blue tie marrying perfectly with the white shirt, blue trousers and waistcoat, which he has all of the buttons of fastened. His shoes meanwhile are brown and polished to such a shine that there is a real risk that they could be used as a mirror, and yet Harold also has a beard. Many find it an anomaly when they hear his voice and create a picture of him in their heads. But once they meet him and feel his cherry presence they conclude that his beard, short and perfectly groomed, fits the man perfectly and from then on cannot imagine the man, with the face shape he has, without it.

“Always the labourer, aren’t you Rold?” One of their guests, Ashe, says seconds before a smirk appears and she raises the glass to her rosy red lips to sip at the contents.

Ashe has shoulder length black hair made up of tight curls which cover the shoulder straps of her tasteful dark green dinner dress. The dress is almost identical in colour to her green eyes, except it is maybe a shade darker.

“Fran knows best Ashe, you know that.” Harold replies with a chuckle seconds before he disappears from sight leaving Ashe, her husband Benedict and the only other guest who has managed to make it on time for tonight’s dinner party, Kimberley.

“So Kim, how are things?” Benedict, Ashe’s husband, asks with his brilliant white teeth on full display.

“Ben, stop it. You know…” Ashe begins following a quick dig of her elbow into her husbands’ ribs, which he expertly manages not to react too. It’s impressive as he would have to admit that his wife does have decidedly sharp elbows. It’s like she sharpens them just for such occasions.

“No, it’s OK.” Kim stresses trying to stop her presence resulting in any sort of domestic dispute. That is the last thing she wants to be the cause of. Especially, after having found out her last relationship had been a complete lie and that Len had actually been married and still together with his wife. If they’d have been split with little to no chance of getting back together then Kim wouldn’t have reacted as she had, but that had not been the case. She’d been a side chick, his vernacular not hers. And to think she was stupid enough to believe everything he said and had even started planning for a future together. It makes her sick. In fact, sick isn’t even the true extent of how it makes her feel.

It may have been a few weeks but that doesn’t mean that she’s over it yet and how could she be after finding out that the last two and a half years of her life were a lie.

“I’m…yeah. Think that’s about as much as I can say on the matter to be honest.” Kim hurriedly adds not wanting to drift off into her own thoughts, as has been her tendency recently, and then darken her mood by over thinking and mulling over details and signs that she should have seen but didn’t. At least in her mind she should have seen them. Everyone around her has assured that they had no inkling either and Kim believes them. After all, none of them knew Len before they got together. Stop thinking about him! She screams at herself.

“What a bastard!” Ben mutters without thinking. His outburst results in a glare from Ashe that tells him he needs to shut it so they can move the conversation on to more pleasant things.

Ashe however doesn’t give her husband the chance to blunder along anymore than he already has as she queries, “You look unbelievable tonight Kim. Are you sure you’re staying for the evening? Cause you look like you’re going to a much swankier event than this.”

Ashe is hoping that this will take Kim’s mind off Len. If Ashe ever sees him again she is going to kick him in the bullocks until his voice becomes so high-pitched only animals will be able to hear him speak. Yet, that is nowhere near as much as he deserves after what he’s done to her amber eyed friend Kim who is sat sheepishly on the seat around the slate table wearing a sparkly silver dress that hugs her figure in all the right places. It’s the sort of thing Ashe wishes she could get away with but can’t and wouldn’t have the confidence too. Yet, she is beyond happy that Kim was willing to wear something that makes her eyes pop that much, even if her night out is a quiet meal with friends.

“Thanks Ashe. I feel kinda stupid in it though.” The woman with loosely curled blonde hair that reaches down to her shoulder blades says fidgeting in her seat.

“Why?” Ben asks without engaging the link between his brain and his mouth until the words are out there in the ether.

“You are never usually this dense my love, did you hit your head.” Ashe says through gritted teeth as she stares at her husband with judging eyes.

“Sorry Kim. I didn’t think.” Ben quickly mutters only for Kim to assure, “No, its fine. It’s a fair question. Don’t take it out on him Ashe. Truth is; I don’t feel me. I feel like someone else. It sounds stupid I know but…”

Kim hasn’t a clue where she is going with what she is saying or what words will come out of her mouth next. She does, however, know exactly what is going through her head. Len. She wishes, again, that it wasn’t but she’d started this, not Ben or Ashe. Kim just wishes that snake wasn’t always on the tip of her tongue. In time that’ll change she knows, but right now it grates and makes her just want to bury her head in the sand and tell the whole world to go fuck itself. And if anyone should be tormented it should be the betrayer not the betrayed.

Thankfully, Harold reappears with the remainder of the food at that moment. Kim feels blessed. As though for the first time since the truth came out and the split with Len occurred she has been given a break. No one returns to the previous topic now that Harold is present again. He quickly whisks across the room aiming for a section of the table not crammed yet. In fact the area is looking markedly bland without the dish in his hands occupying it.

“Hope you’re all hungry. I had no idea that Fran was going to be making this much food.” Harold chuckles wildly as he sets the dish down and then smiles broadly at his guests. He wishes Kim looked happier, but he knows none of them can fix that.

Francesca appears in the doorway of their dining room with a smile. Harold catches it immediately and wonders what she is up to. It has to be something if she’s smiling like that. That isn’t her normal smile. It’s her, I’ve been scheming smile. He really hopes she hasn’t planned to set Kim up for the night with a dinner date. He really doesn’t think she’ll be in the mood for that.

Harold can still remember that time Francesca set up one of his friends after their wife had tried to kill him with a broken bottle as he slept. He shudders, at least mentally. He can’t be sure but hopes he hasn’t just shuddered physically. If he has that might draw questions which he’d rather not have to answer seeing as that would mean retreading those memories. He doesn’t want to just avoid that for his own sake though, but also Kim’s. He doubts she’d want to hear about how Sean had almost been stabbed to death as he slept by his wife, Rey, because she’d taken some drug while out clubbing that had made her believe that she was a captive in her own home. She’s in an institution now as a result of the drugs she took. They caused long-term neurological issues because she apparently suffered from some sort of psychological disorder that made her irrationally angry. Harold hadn’t known any of this until the day of the hearing when Rey had been sentenced. He didn’t know, at the time, why Sean had never told him. Later, Sean had admitted that he was embarrassed not by his wife but by his inability to help her, as though he was supposed to have all the answers because they were partners. Much later had been when Francesca had decided to set Sean up with this woman named Tara who was way too handsy and familiar for a first meeting. That had ended poorly and Harold really hopes his wife clad in her little black dress with red highlights in her otherwise brown just above the shoulder hair hasn’t done it again.

“Who was at the door dear?” Harold asks finally. He isn’t sure how long he’s been stood silently looking at her but he thinks it’s only been a few seconds.

Thankfully, if it isn’t all he will be guilty of is leering at his wife. No one will comment on that as there is nothing to comment in. It’s not disrespectful or strange for a married man to stare at his own wife. At least it isn’t when it comes to Harold and Francesca. He’s never really paid attention to whether others do anything similar; it isn’t his place to in his eyes. That is between partners and always should be.

“Our last guest.” Francesca replies coyly and without giving anything away. That makes a pit of dread open up within Harold who at that moment becomes convinced his wife has done it again and is attempting to set Kim up with someone. He quickly begins to run through his options. How he can diffuse this impending disaster before it derails and turns the entire evening into a raging inferno littered with the ruins of what used to be friendships.

“Everyone, this is Amber. Amber, meet everyone.” Francesca announces with a smile.

In that moment Harold feels relief wash over him. His wife having invited one of her friends, from before she got married and they met. Thank God, he thinks before quickly realising he needs to play his part of deputy host.

“Nice to see you again, Amber. It’s been a while but you’re looking well.” Harold offers as he casts his eyes over Amber, who has short green hair, ruffled to create a messy but fashionable look that suits and marries well with her hazel green eyes. Though, her choice of outfit, a simple dark grey dress and a pair of white stiletto heels, is much more low-key than he would have expected from a woman with green hair.

“Thank you Harold I am and yes it has been a good while since we last met. I can see Fran still doesn’t let you in on every one of her little plans.” Is the reply uttered by Amber is she stands there with a playful smile on her face.

“What do you mean?” Harold replies slightly confused.

“By the look on your face she clearly didn’t tell you I was coming.” Amber says with a short chuckle that sounds forced and as though she is trying to sound cute.

“Where would be the fun in that?” Francesca replies before everyone bursts in to a round of chuckles, except Harold who casually circles the table and his guests to be by his wife.

“Was this planned?” Harold whispers in her ear while pretending to show her affection. As he does this Amber busily introduces herself to Ashe, Ben and Kim.

“No. I didn’t know. I knew she was in town, but she invited herself while I was cooking.” Francesca admits in her own whispered tone.

“She called you?” Harold exclaims surprised.

“Yeah. Which is why I was lost for words and then the next thing I knew the call was over and then the doorbell rang.”  

“How long was it between the call ending and the bell ringing?” Harold asks suddenly suspicious of Amber who only ever seems to want to bed a man that she really shouldn’t.

“I don’t know, maybe a couple minutes.” Francesca admits unsure. She was cooking after all and often loses track of time as a result. Harold understands this, which is why he doesn’t press his love further.

“I know you.” Amber suddenly says to Kim. In response Kim looks baffled by the sudden announcement by the newest addition to their dinner party. Kim even studies Amber’s face, but after almost thirty seconds of intense analysis has to admit that she is sure she has never seen Amber before in her life. “I don’t think so.” Are the words that flow from between Kim’s lips without her having to think.

“Yeah, you were at Balthazar’s a couple weeks ago.” Amber states confidently and with a flutter of her hazel-green eyes.

“Balthazar’s?” Ben questions having never heard the name before in his life. It’s why he soon looks to Ashe who’s eyes are wide and glossy. It tells him that Ashe knows exactly what Balthazar’s is. That alone makes it all the more confusing seeing as if his wife knows then he should too. After all, they rarely go out separately. Unless Balthazar’s is not a place Ashe has been and only… Then it dawns on him why his wife would have the expression she has. He mouths, oh shit, right after and then casts his gaze around to see Harold and Francesca wearing the exact same expressions as Ashe and at this stage likely himself as well.

Surprisingly however, Kim doesn’t look shocked or afraid or anything really. Instead, she looks calm and that surprises him. He wouldn’t be if their roles were reversed. You should say something! He screams at himself, only to nod like an idiot, attempt to speak and find that no words come out. Rather, his mouth flaps a bit like a fishes might while aimlessly paddling around its bowl staring out at a world beyond its limited sphere of water that is doesn’t understand in the slightest.

“I never forget a face.” Amber declares proudly before continuing, “You were wearing a really stunning dress. That dress is part of the reason I can’t forget seeing you there.”

“Thanks.” Kim replies with a nervous look in her eyes. She hopes this Amber doesn’t bring up who she was with, Len. It’s bad enough that she can’t get him out of her head, but for a stranger just having introduced themselves to then go on would that night, it would be too much. Her friends are different. They know the history, the story, the details of what happened and where.

Amber at that point becomes acutely aware that eyes are on her. All eyes in fact. It’s uncomfortable for the woman and why she soon turns to see the looks on the four faces around her. “What? Have I got something in my teeth?”

“….No…no Amber, it’s nothing, forget it.” Francesca quickly splutters after having recovered and shaken herself from her fearful stare.

“Oh…….OK. I get the feeling I’m missing something. And that that something relates to me being here. If you like I can…” Amber begins but doesn’t finish as Harold leaps in and assures, “No Amber. You’re welcome here. We’re just trying to work out if we have enough food. Sudden moment of panic seemed like perhaps we didn’t. Apologies if you got the wrong impression though.” Harold forces a smile alongside a chuckle he hopes will be enough to convince the green haired woman.

“Oh don’t worry I don’t eat much.” Amber assures having apparently bought the pretty thin excuse Harold has offered as she performs a wave with one of her hands.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief until Amber states, “Cute guy you were with. Not my type. Well not usually. Pity you left in such a hurry, you little bitch!” Amber’s soft tone of voice is gone and has been replaced with anger as she snaps her head back toward Kim and glares. A deep, wild fire burns in the green haired woman’s eyes as her features darken by the second.

“Amber!” Francesca exclaims in shock and confusion.

“Well, what do you expect when I find my man in the most popular club around writhing about with this little whore?” Amber spits the words from her mouth with all the venom in the world. Her hands balling into fists as the words pass her lips.

“Y-You’re L-Lens…” Kim stutters unable to find her words and get anything else out. Not that she needs to as Amber already can guess what Kim is trying to say, which is why she is nodding slowly as she bites on her lower lip.

“You’re married to that cheating shithead?” Ben exclaims without thinking, only to have Amber come whirling around so that she can deliver a chilling glare to him. It doesn’t have the desired affect really as Benedict isn’t afraid of Amber. However, he does conclude not to say anything else. Not that he was ever intending too. He doesn’t think the man is worth wasting any more words on.

“Since when?” Francesca asks unaware that Amber had gotten married.

“Three years Fran.” Amber spits angrily at her friend who hasn’t shown much interest in the last few years because she’s been too busy with her own husband and her new friends, one of which is the woman who slept with her partner.

“I-I didn’t know.” Kim stutters as she begins to shake.

“Kim, you’re shaking.” Ashe blurts worried about her blonde friend. She goes to move from her seat and rush over to Kim. Whether to offer support, protection or both Ashe cannot say, but whatever it is she intends she never gets the chance as Amber leaps to her feet and puts herself between Ashe and the quaking Kim.

“I don’t think so.” Is the cold reply Amber delivers as she shuffles right and left to block the woman, who introduced herself a couple minutes ago.

“Why are you here?” Harold asks with judgement in his eyes.

“To speak to…” Amber begins but is cut off by Fran who growls, “So you knew who she was and where she would be. You’re sick Amber. Get out of my fucking house. Get out!”

Amber recoils. She has never seen Francesca angry before and has to admit that it is not only terrifying but in no way in-keeping with the rest of her character. Maybe that’s why it’s terrifying she thinks without making any attempt to move.

“Did you not hear me, Amber? I said get out. And you will really want to get out.” Francesca grinds her teeth together. Her lower jaw shifts from left to right and then continues to repeat the process over and over now that she’s finished speaking.

“I’m here for answers Fran, surely you can understand that?” Amber attempts to reason and paint herself as the victim even though this confrontation is all of her own making.

“This wasn’t the way to do it.” Harold assures as he wraps his arms around Fran’s waist. It’s a precautionary measure. He doesn’t actually think his wife will throw herself at Amber and physically attack her. Though, he isn’t willing to take that chance, especially as he has never seen his wife angry like this in the seven years he’s known her. However, he can’t say he blames Francesca, Kim is after all, the closest thing to a sister she has ever had. They really are that close. Perhaps that is part of the problem for Amber. How she would know any of that to be jealous of their relationship he can’t say.

“I’m not here to cause trouble.” Amber promises having suddenly turned from a raging angry beast to something decidedly more fragile.

“Then why do you have a look in your eyes that says otherwise?” Ben asks with a sceptical tone of voice and a single raised eyebrow.

“Fine. OK, I’m angry. Very angry. I thought everything was going so well between us and then I see my man in the most popular club in town with…” Amber explains before turning and continuing, “…with you. It made me angry. And when I confronted him he admitted it. Just like that.” Amber snaps her fingers and then continues. “More than two years of cheating. And to make it worse I didn’t even have to drag the truth out of him. Instead, he sounded and looked proud of what he’d done. Like it was some kind of fucking achievement!” Amber sounds miserable and collapses to the seat she had been perched upon a short time ago. Then she begins to sob into her hands.

In that moment Ben, Ashe, Harold and Fran feel their outrage and disbelief turn to sorrow for the green haired woman who they should not have judged as harshly as they did.

They’d all forgotten that Amber too is a victim in all that happened, like Kim. And while what she did tonight to get to Kim was the worst way of doing it, they cannot damn her for it now that they can see the state she is in.

Kim understands what Amber is going through, except from the other side of the coin. That is why she moves over to Amber and then wraps her arms around the woman. Kim hopes that will bring Amber some comfort. Sadly all Kim can think about as she stands there is how Len had announced that he was married and that Kim was a side chick. He seemed proud too when he’d announced that and almost cackled right in her face as if he wanted her to react. But she hadn’t. She’d simply stood rooted to the spot she was on, paralysed. It had taken several minutes before she’d started crying. That had been when reality finally hit her and by that time she’d been alone in her apartment. Then, when she thought she was past the worst of it, Kim had seen the proof; Len had left it for her on the table, that she wasn’t the only woman. The face and head had been blurred out or obscured in some way in every photo. At the time she hadn’t understood why but she does now because the woman in her arms is his wife and he didn’t want Kim knowing.

“I’m sorry Amber. I…” Kim trails off almost immediately because she doesn’t know what to say.

And anything she does say will only be her attempting to excuse what she did, even though she didn’t know, and that doesn’t feel right or appropriate.

Harold, Fran, Ben and Ashe have said nothing. Though, they have succeeded in silently agreeing that they need to give the two women, both hurt by the bastard Len, some time. It’s why they quietly shuffle from their respective positions out of the dining room, without being noticed, and into the kitchen next door. What they plan to do now they’re in the kitchen they don’t know, much like they haven’t a clue how long they will give the two women. All they do know is that they don’t feel like being comfortable, which is why the kitchen seemed like the obvious choice. It’s like they’ve decided to punish themselves for their overly swift judgement and conclusions, which they feel ashamed of themselves for now.

Though, out of all of them Francesca, as Amber’s oldest friend, is the most unlike her normal self. She even stands alone, not wanting her husband near her, as she stares at a point on the floor. If the others didn’t know better they’d think there is a stain that needs to be cleaned. But there isn’t.  There’s nothing but white tiles speckled with grey flecks and tiny points of shiny reflective light.

Back in the dining room Amber she stopped weeping and is now sniffling, while Kim sat in the chair next to her. It’s as they had been previously when Amber had not long since arrived, been announced and then started to make introductions with the other guests.

It surprises her now that she managed to keep her resolve and follow through with the plan she’d concocted, but she had for better or for worse. However, she can safely say that she is no longer angry with Kim, the woman who slept with her husband. Instead, she has to admit that she finds her to be an almost mirror flip of herself. In some ways that comforts her.

“Where are you staying?” Kim asks showing genuine concern for the woman before her who on closer inspection isn’t looking perhaps as pristine as she first thought, ignoring the mascara running down her cheeks that is.

“In a hotel that’s a couple miles away.” Amber admits feeling decidedly weaker and more exposed than she would normally be comfortable with, especially when in the presence of someone she barely knows. Yet, she doesn’t wish to box up all her emotions again like they had been before. Just the thought of keeping everything pent up terrifies her to such a pitch that it is almost overwhelming.

“Have you been home?” Kim asks.

Amber shakes her head softly from side to side only for Kim to announce, “How about you come and stay with me?”

The offer is a surprise even to Kim who had not considered the implications of the wife of the man she had been having a relationship with staying with her. Clearly it also shocked Amber too as her head jolts up only for her eyes to scan busily Kim’s face.

“I don’t know. I…We don’t know each other.” Amber mutters hesitantly.

“Maybe we should. Cause we’re clearly better off without that fuckhead.” For the first time since Len had told her he had a wife and that what they had meant nothing, Kim feels something other than pain, sadness and despair. The anger is still there, except there is more of it now, a lot more. Yet, it feels somehow comforting being angry. It was an emotion that while present before felt muted up until now, as though she wasn’t able to actually feel it. That had worried her. It hadn’t seemed normal and the blonde had wondered if it meant she wouldn’t feel anything other than misery ever again. Now that she does feel anger, properly, she’ll hold onto it. It’s her right after what’s happened, like it is Amber’s too. Yet, Kim feels she should help Amber so that they can both get through what has happened to them.

“You really think so?” Amber feels lost and totally unsure of herself as those words pass her lips. Especially as minutes ago she’d been angry and determined. That is all lost now though. It evaporated when she learned that Kim, was not the instigator, the cause of the affair. Her hope was that she had been. But she wasn’t, and deep down she knew that but didn’t want to admit it. Truth is, Len was. Amber doesn’t think she’s ever felt so badly betrayed in all her life, because she really loved Len. Loved, past tense. You’re already moving on and you should, you must. This is your life, not his.

Amber sniffs again and then answers not with the response she thinks she should give but with the response she wants to give. “Yeah, you’re right we should.”

Kim smiles softly. Amber finds the other woman’s smile comforting. It’s why she returns the expression as they both rise from their seats intending to find the other guests. Amber might still leave, once she’s offered her apology. If she does she’ll wait for Kim somewhere. After all, she crashed this dinner party, her oldest friend’s dinner part, and caused a lot of issues in doing so. She feels terrible for having done so, and Amber isn’t convinced Fran will be able to forgive her, which picks uncomfortably at her already raw emotions.

However, as Amber reaches the doorway of the dining room and turns to make sure that Kim is right behind her she is met with the perfect view of Kim’s eyes rolling back into her head seconds prior to the blonde flopping forward toward the floor. Amber screams, she can’t say if she screams words or not, but wastes no time in rushing forward to catch Kim. The green haired woman succeeds but cannot keep the blonde upright and so sinks to the polished checkerboard floor as Ben, Fran, Harold and Ashe appear.

“What happened?” Ashe questions fearfully as Ben begins to dial for an ambulance.

“I-I don’t know. She was right behind me and then…” Amber trails off frantic.

“Her pulse is erratic.” Harold declares a very short time later and then orders, “We need to lay her flat. She might be having a seizure.”

“She isn’t convulsing.” Someone says before long, though who none of them can be certain. The most likely candidate is Ben as he’s on a call to the emergency services answering questions.

The only words any of them take note of are, “You’ve got to hurry, please.” But they come at the end of the conversation before Ben ends the call perhaps more swiftly than he should have.

Fran and Harold put pillows under Kim’s head and cover her with a blanket. Amber meanwhile, with the pillows over the upper sections of her legs because she is knelt on the hard floor, keeps Kim’s head in her elevated and in her hands.

When the ambulance arrives a little over two minutes later Ashe and Ben meet them at the doorstep and usher them inside.

With the paramedics in the dining room everyone vacates, except for Amber who refuses to leave Kim’s side as they work on stabilising and then moving the unconscious Kim onto a gurney for transport to the hospital. Neither of them willing to say what is wrong with the unconscious blonde woman.

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