The end will come on slippered feet…
their soles burned in Hell.
Lauren took this opportunity to disappear into the kitchen and ask the temporary staff to quickly convert the sit-down dinner into a buffet. They weren’t prepared for the additional guests. Lauren’s carefully executed seating plan had now also been nullified. There was almost no one she wanted seated next to Mason Anderson, and two people she did not want seated next to Justin — Aaron, or herself.
To make matters worse, there were three people in the group who were absolutely furious with her, and one who was gleefully gloating. Monica and Nikki picked up on Justin immediately and Lauren was studiously avoiding their glares as she flitted about in the role of hostess.
Aaron was tense and angry. Worse yet, he believed he’d been set up and this party was an excuse to get Justin inside their home and into their lives in a palatable manner. She knew Aaron would think if Justin were welcomed once as a guest, he would become a frequent visitor. He’d come even when Aaron wasn’t at home, and that would lead to the expected occurrence of events.
Mason Anderson, on the other hand, was positively cocky in his lumbering sort of way. He knew he had put her in a position of jeopardy and he felt the role of triumphant superiority empowering his mind with all sorts of additional plans. Anderson felt all the more clever for having arranged this turn of events in front of some of their most important clients. He was insidious and someone she could not let out of her sight at any point in her future. She knew that.
Worse yet, Aaron did not know that. He saw this as Lauren’s doing.
Justin, on the other hand, did know what Anderson was up to. She assumed he was there as a sort of beneficent protector. On one hand he was making Anderson happy, while keeping an eye on her welfare. Did he really think he could do something to protect her?
Lauren felt intense anger…with herself. How could she have not seen this coming? Her best friends, her lovers and her worst enemies were now all in the same room. What the hell was I thinking? While, naturally, she had not invited the enemies, she had set the stage, laid the dry straw and Anderson only had to bring the match.
The staff worked quickly to re-distribute the place settings and serving dishes into the semblance of a buffet. Appetizers were circulated through the rooms. It was a warm evening and the doors to the patio from the solarium had been thrown open to the night’s air. The fountains spewed colored water into their copper basins. There were several plants conveniently blossoming in the solarium and tiny LED lights laced the shrubbery around the patio. It was a fairyland in appearance and under normal circumstances, people would have relaxed, had a bit much to drink, dined on excellent cuisine and the party would have been a success. Anderson came into the scene like a putrefied rat, casting filth and treachery everywhere he looked.
The guests were beginning to fill their plates and circulate throughout the house, alighting on chairs or in sofa groups to eat and chatter with one another. Nikki and Brad had found a pair of rattan chairs in the solarium and were deeply involved in their own personal conversation. Nikki looked especially lovely in a sea green, strapless dress that blended perfectly with the tropical motif of the cushion upon which she sat. Her normally defiant face was soft and shining with the aura of redeemed decency.
There was a pronounced tension in the rooms as people sought to find someone familiar with whom they could talk, while avoiding those they preferred to not acknowledge. Anderson beamed with satisfaction at having controlled Lauren’s gathering, at her expense. At one point his cell rang and he stepped outside momentarily to take the call.
Lauren was straightening up the dishes at the table when Anderson walked in and announced in an overly loud voice, “Lauren, my dear, I’m sure you won’t mind, but that call was most important. A colleague has arrived in town and since I’m here, I’ve invited him to join us.” His face held a smirk of satisfaction and Lauren’s face burned with additional resentment.
“Of course, he’s welcome.” What else could she say? Even Aaron seemed irritated at this latest addition. He felt completely at the whim of Lauren, Anderson and almost everyone else at his own dinner party. It was not to be borne.
“Lauren, could we have a moment?” Aaron said to her. Lauren nodded and followed him upstairs to his bedroom. Once inside, Aaron shut the door and motioned her to sit on the bed.
Morgan brought his father a plate and stood next to him as he ate. Monica had sat on his other side, keeping him company while Morgan filled the plate.
“Now, Monica, honey, you don’t need to sit here and babysit an old man,” Mr. Hammond said kindly, his deep brown eyes moist with the unexpected attention.
“Hush,” she whispered. “You’re the best looking guy in the room!”
“And you are, by far, the most beautiful woman,” he returned the compliment with a gushing smile.
“I’ll say she is,” chimed in Morgan as he returned with the plate. “My wife is not only the most beautiful woman in this house, but in my life.”
Monica looked up at Morgan to gauge his sincerity and saw that his eyes were full of love and pride. Could I be so wrong? she thought to herself. Am I throwing away whatever version of happiness I’ve worked so long to have?
“What’s up with you two, anyway?” asked Mr. Morgan, sampling the salmon on his plate gingerly with a fork.
“Just a little spat, Daddy,” Morgan answered before she could say anything more. “My girl’s coming home again tonight, aren’t you, Mon?”
Monica smiled for Mr. Morgan’s benefit, but she said nothing.
“Aren’t you, Mon?” Morgan repeated.
“Excuse me while I find the powder room,” Monica said finally, setting her plate down on the table next to her chair and leaving the men behind.
* * *
“Will this take long, Aaron? We have guests, after all.” Lauren was a bit impatient.
“I’m quite aware of that, and that’s exactly why I want you here to talk. What was the idea of Anderson and Wilder? I thought you weren’t inviting them? Is this part of some cock-eyed master plan you’re implementing?”
Lauren was shocked. “Are you fucking crazy? Why on earth would I invite Anderson? He hates me and is trying to undermine me at every turn. He invited himself and he brought Justin with him. I had nothing to do with this!” She was angry that Aaron would give her such little credit.
“Who is Wilder to you? Tell me the truth, Lauren.” Aaron’s voice was like steel and she knew there was no way she could escape its knife-like edge. Aaron was too smart for that.
What can I say? she thought to herself. “Aaron, I don’t think this is the time to talk about this,” she began.
“When will it be?” he shot back. “There’s never a good time to talk about it, Lauren. In fact, there are very few good times of any nature between us recently.” Aaron’s voice faltered with emotion and Lauren’s heart ached with indecision.
“Aaron, you haven’t been entirely up front with me, either,” she began. “All those calls, those appointments with people that aren’t business related. Would you like to explain those?” she countered.
“There’s nothing to explain, Lauren. There’s no one else in my life but you. There never has been.”
“Oh, right…I’m supposed to believe that?” Lauren began to stand up but Aaron pushed her gently back onto the bed.
“Lauren, have I ever lied to you?” he demanded.
Lauren was angry with him for preventing her leaving and she lashed back. “Every one of those calls is a lie, Aaron. Of course you have!” At the same time, she knew she had never actually caught him lying to her; about anything.
“Those calls are not to women,” Aaron said in a steady, deadly voice. Lauren glared up at him and at the same time, tears welled in her eyes.
“But the phone app recorded it…” she began faintly.
Aaron stood before her, his hands clenched into fists. The veins stood out on the sides of his neck and he was trembling. He took a step forward then and leaned down toward Lauren. With one hand he reached forward to touch the glittering diamond that lay nestled between her breasts. He touched it, his hand lifting it to test the weight and at the same time, his fingers slid downward, behind the folds of fabric and onto her breast. He caressed her skin, his index finger tweaking her nipple until it rose, hard and begging to be suckled. Despite herself, Lauren leaned forward just an inch that she might coax his hand to linger a bit longer. This was the Aaron she had missed for so long; the man who had captured her heart years before. He was a man of purpose, of experience…a man who could incite her to orgasm with simply a breath into her ear.
The hand lingered, for only a moment before leaving to move to the neckline of the dress. With one movement, he ripped the neckline open, exposing her breasts and the magnificence of her skin.
Lauren gasped; not at the rending of the raspberry silk, but at the vehemence of his action. Aaron had not displayed such emotion since he’d first met her and they had made love upon his classroom desk. This excited her immensely; this was the man she had idolized.
Aaron pushed her backward now and completed his mission, ripping the dress entirely down the front until she lay bare, only her black stilettos to accent her nakedness. He fell forward upon her, grasping her hips in his hands and forcing her legs wide and up over his shoulders. His mouth lowered and licked her womanhood, slowly and with a sucking motion that Lauren thought would drive her mad. His fingers opened her labia as though laying open the petals of a virginal rose. The sensation was one of tenderness and ownership…sending chills down her spine in its possessiveness.
Lauren’s head rolled from side to side; so intense was the reaction to his probing mouth. She could feel herself flood and Aaron lapped up her juices with a low groan of satiation. She looked downward to see his head buried in her pussy and thought she would faint from the image. He glanced up, his lips glistening from her juice and she extended both hands to pull him upward.
Lauren closed her eyes and the next sensation was that of Aaron’s hot torso against her. His clothing was gone and there was only the muscled chest pressing hard against her blossomed nipples and his juice-sated lips coming down upon her mouth. She could taste herself on him and the effect was enormously seductive. She sucked at his lips, licked his eyelids and as he penetrated her mouth with his tongue, he entered her with his swollen penis. Aaron pushed hard and found his way home, to the back of her woman’s tunnel.
Lauren gasped, despite herself; the long-forgotten sensation of Aaron filling her depth now magnified itself in layered memories of all the times they had been together in just this way. Her muscles clenched with volition of their own, holding him captive within her…stroking him with their serpentine motion until Aaron finally withdrew only long enough to breach her again. This time she was blossomed and pliant, welcoming the intrusion. She clutched him deeply, so much so that he needed no further sensation but erupted within her. She could not help but whimper a soft regret that it was so soon over, but took his hot fluids willingly, like a clay carafe soaking up musky ale.
They lay thusly as minutes passed and the voices of the guests below began to penetrate Lauren’s reality. Mindful and startled, she pushed at Aaron to roll off that she might return to her guests. He did roll to the side, but scooped her against his chest in a smothering grip. His hand drew her head toward his mouth and he whispered furiously into her ear.
“Listen to me, and do not say a word. I will only say this one time so you’ll not want to miss a single syllable. Do you understand?”
Lauren’s head was trapped against his mouth and she could do little but nod in agreement.
“The calls, the appointments in strange places…all the things you damn me for were not to be with other women, Lauren. I never left you and thought I never would. Whatever you have with Wilder ends as of this moment, do you understand?” Lauren barely nodded; fear tightening her throat.
“I’m dying, Lauren. I have maybe six months, perhaps a little more.” She stiffened and fought to break lose that she might look at him, but his vise did not relent. “Stay with me, Lauren. Give me a child to leave behind. I want what’s owed me.” Lauren struggled, frantic now, but he would not let go. “When I’m gone, Lauren…you can go to him.”
Aaron shoved her away then, and as she cried out in protest, at the words she had heard and the loss of his touch at such a devastating moment, Aaron rolled from the bed and slid into his bathroom, the lock clicking her out.
She began to shake then, the enormity of what had just taken place fighting to become her reality. Shock set in, though, and she realized she must move. There was a discreet knock at the door and Betsy’s voice could be heard softly saying, “Lauren…another guest has arrived and you must come down. It’s important.”
“I’ll…” Lauren whimpered and cleared her throat for enough volume to be heard. “I’ll be right down.” Steps retreated down the hallway and Lauren gasped when she realized her beautiful cocktail dress lay upon the carpet in a grotesque mockery of its former self. Shaking, she opened Aaron’s closet and wrapped herself in his robe, stealing down the hallway to her own room; her sanctuary that no longer held solace in this Hell.
She found a simple black caftan and sat at her vanity long enough to sponge at her ruined makeup. The diamond clasp that had so elegantly captured her hair now hung haphazardly amongst tangled strands. Lauren gently removed it and brushed her hair until it hung straight and flowed over her shoulders. She surveyed her image in the mirror; the blackened depths of Hell had found her at last.
With resolve, she stood and slipped on ballet slippers before leaving her room. Aaron’s door was still closed, so she passed by and began to descend the stairway. Those who were standing nearby looked up to watch her, questions in their eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” she fabricated. “I felt unwell and will need to retire and leave you all to your own merriments,” she prevaricated.
Anderson stepped forward from the clustered guests, a triumphant smirk dimpling the corpulent chins above his wine-stained shirt. “Not so fast, my dear Lauren,” his raspy voice sang out. “There’s someone here to see you.”
He stood to one side as a man in a rack-quality black suit stepped forward. “Mrs. Lauren Reynolds?” he inquired.
“Yes?” she responded automatically, puzzled.
“My name is Porting. I am representing the state attorney general’s office in an investigation of the alleged suicide of a Mr. Alvin Bartley?”
Lauren was puzzled; the name of her late client flagging an alert deep within her shocked awareness. “Yes?” she invited him to continue.
“You are hereby notified that you have become a person of interest in our investigation and as such, you will be read your rights. If you will accompany me, please?” he indicated the door with his arm.
“What?” Lauren’s expression was mixed bewilderment and angst. “I am…that is was…his attorney. There is nothing I can discuss with you and you know that.”
“Ma’am, this falls outside client-attorney privilege and you are, shall we say, hereby under temporary arrest and to remain in my custody until you have been questioned. If you will…” he said again indicating the door.
Lauren felt her knees buckle and she desperately looked out over the guests for the one familiar face she could still depend on. Justin stood next to a potted palm, a glass of wine seeping onto the carpet at his feet. His face was full of pain and desperation; his eyes moist at the realization that there was nothing he could do to help her. At the same time, he had noted the familiar disheveled appearance he had so often brought upon her. He knew where she had been and with whom. Betrayal caused the muscle in his cheek to lightly jerk…his nostrils flared in anger and disappointment.
“But…I don’t understand…” Lauren stammered.
Anderson came toward her, his grotesquely obese gait guarded on the slippery tile of the foyer. He held out his arm and the smile on his face belied the generosity of the gesture. “Come, Mrs. Anderson…Lauren…your time has come.”