Not Going Quite As Planned
by Kaite

Ruth is sitting at a table in the bar, still rather bemused at what just happened. The Snickers bar she promised herself this morning lies unwrapped as she takes a long sip of wine, her eyes closed against the world. She hears the scrape of the chair leg and looks up to see Alma sitting across from her. She can't be that much younger than her, maybe a decade or so. All refined accent and polished nails, hair that lies sleek and smooth across her skull rather than the flyaway frizz Ruth has resigned herself to.

"You didn't want to come here, did you Ruth?" She says it slyly, as though she has discovered some great secret.

"I...I didn't not want to." She stumbles over the words, trying to save face and not look rude in front of this woman whose course she has just publically insulted. She cringes inside when she thinks of it, saying that word in front of all those people. A smooth well- manicured hand covers hers. Her skin is very cool to the touch, not like Ruth's, puckered with lines and wrinkles and warmed by constant fidgeting. She shifts uncomfortably under the intimate touch but doesn't want to pull away.

"But it wasn't your idea" she purrs, her rich, silken voice falling over Ruth in seductive waves.

"Well no. Not as such. It was Robbie, my friend. He suggested I come along. He thought it might be good for me."

A knowing smile creeps of Alma's face, as though the last piece of some puzzle has just slotted into place. She takes hold of Ruth's shoulders in her firm grip and shakes her slightly.

"And? Was it good for you, Ruth?"

Her dark eyes flash with the same fire she showed onstage. Up close it is that much more threatening, that much more...In the brochure she didn't look this passionate. Hair pulled back into the kind of chignon Ruth always tries to do and fails, bright smile curving across attractive features that have probably never been pretty. Ruth was pretty, once...But in the flesh, Alma is all emotion, animated in a way that makes her look oddly beautiful. Ruth feels faintly envious, but represses it in the same instant feeling uncharitable. Alma runs her tongue across a lipsticked mouth the pink tip flickering against preternaturally white teeth.

"I knew you could do it I had faith in you, Ruth! Why did you think I kept singling you out? You were ready to leave that house." No- one's ever told her that she can do it by herself before.

"I don't know that I..." She stumbles into silence, ashamed of her uncertainty in front of this assured, confident guru who just laughs in response.

"But you did it. You left your house!" Her eyes are shining, her voice tremulous with excitement. Ruth wonders if Alma actually believes anything she says. She has this glow of sincerity about her that Ruth can't see how she could fake, and decides that Alma is probably just crazy.

"Now what?" Alma spreads her arms expansively, a broad grin lighting up her whole face. "Where do you go from here, Ruth? What kind of house do you want to build? Who will you share it with? Your ungrateful children? The friend who dragged you to a seminar you didn't want to go to, making you shell out your hard-earned money against your will?" She is breathing hard, her expression one of rapture, of pure bliss. She punches the air with her fist. Ruth, shaking her head slightly to clear it, wishing she hadn't started drinking so early on in the day, has no idea. Take away the house, the children, the dead husband and a friend who, let's be honest here, brought her here because he's still hoping to get her into bed. What does she have left? She raises confused eyes to clear, sparkling ones. Her uninvited companion leans forward and whispers across the table, "It's time to start colouring outside the lines, Ruth."

Out of shock, Ruth's posture is still ramrod straight as Alma pulls her close and presses warm lips to hers. The tongue that flickered across her made-up mouth now teases Ruth's, and she has time to wonder anxiously if the other woman can taste the chapstick she applied nervously this morning. She tells herself later that her mouth opened in a gasp of surprise, of horror, but now all that matters is Alma's tongue darting in and the faintest hint of wine and garlic on her warm, intoxicating breath. Clearly Alma hasn't kept to her proscribed fast, and it is this that makes Ruth pull back in indignation. Suddenly she pities Alma, with her smart suits and perfect hair and answers to everything. Ruth's uncertainty and long pauses seem so much more real than endless psychobabble spouted in a prissy British accent.

"I hope you leave whatever house you're in. And I hope the door doesn't hit your ass on the way out."

She struggles to her feet to leave, but the pressure on her hand returns and Alma forces her back into her seat. Her smile is secretive, knowing, as she says "Goodbye Ruth. Invite me to the housewarming party."

She swings her expensive designer bag over one shoulder and stands to leave. A broad smile and a sly wink as she rejoins the throng of admirers by the bar. When Ruth licks her dry lips, she can still taste wine and garlic and Alma.


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