*This story contains strong language, hangovers, staring and something that might rate it a PG-13.
Video Lives Forever
“She should have invited the whole group,” John groused over his sixth cup of coffee. He was huddled over the mug at the kitchen table and squinted when I turned on the overhead light.
“Maybe she didn’t trust you around the wine,” I said and put two Tylenol down on the table next to him. “And you still haven’t said what you think about the dress. She said casual, but it’s a wine tasting and three of the board members will be there.” I fussed with the flared skirt, making lie flat over my hips.
“You look very nice,” Helen said from the door. “And you’re probably right about the wine.” She patted John on the shoulder as she passed. He winced again and picked up the pills.
I went to the refrigerator for another glass of water and thought better of it, it was a forty-five minute drive to Redding’s house and I didn’t want to have to stop on the way. “If John had introduced us earlier it wouldn’t be an issue, we could have gotten it all out of the way last night.” I wasn’t irritated about being away from the lab but I couldn’t give up a chance to needle John after I’d had to recruit two guys from the party to lift him into the car.
John tossed the pills back with a swig of coffee and then squeezed his eyes shut at the pain the sudden movement caused. “You’d better make a good impression. Don’t go telling any long stories about hiking and don’t get started on the Daedalus Project.”
Helen tapped the back of his head with the spatula she’d just picked up. “What John means to say is, have a lovely time and if you have any questions about the directions you can call us. We’ll be staying home tonight.”
I smiled at Helen and got my things together. It wasn’t until I was on the highway that I realized I hadn’t gotten any background information out of John. Moving through this kind of party was easier if I knew something about whoever I had to impress. I turned down the heater and cracked the windows so I wouldn’t start to sweat. I checked my hair and my makeup at every light before I turned up the driveway. The house was large. It stood at the end of a large circular drive with neat hedges and dramatic lights illuminating the face of the building. There was only one other car so I parked next to it. I was ten minutes late but I seemed to be the first one there.
The winter air was harsh against the skin between my boots and coat. My legs felt heavy and stiff from the cold by the time I climbed the stairs to the front door. I could see a large staircase and a chandelier in the entryway as I rang the bell. I waited, the cold in my lower legs creeping up and making me shift from foot to foot. I raised my hand to ring again when the door opened.
Redding stood in the doorway with a wineglass in one hand, gray hair in loose curls around her face. Her eyes bored into mine and I was sure I’d mistaken the time or the day or something. “I’m glad you could make it. Come in,” she said, suddenly gracious. She stood to one side so I could get into the warmth of the house.
“Am I the first one?” I asked. I took off my coat and followed her down a short hall.
She didn’t say anything until she’d stopped next to an open door. “You can put your coat in there.”
I pushed the door open and had to brush past her when she didn’t stand aside to let me in. It must have been a guest bedroom, the queen-size bed was made up with dark colors that matched what I could see of the room. I put my coat and my purse on the bed and felt her eyes on me. When I turned away from the bed she was staring.
“Let’s get you something to drink,” she said and turned from me to go back up the hall.
I followed her and noticed I could see the top of her head. She must have been about John’s height.
“Do you like merlot?” she asked and led me to a kitchen that looked like it could fit most of John and Helen’s house in it.
“That would be fine,” I said. I felt nervous and expected to hear the bell at any minute as the others arrived.
She poured a glass of wine and topped off her own glass. She didn’t hold the glass out to me, sliding it along the counter top with her fingertips instead. “It’s a ’96. Not bad.”
She watched me until I took a sip and then leaned on the counter the same way she’d leaned on the bar the night before, with perfect nonchalance and flat gray eyes. “I have something I’d like to show you. Come on,” she said and moved around the counter. She brushed past me as she walked out of the kitchen.
Her legs must have been longer than John’s because I had to jog to catch up.
“Have you ever been in a wine cellar?” She opened a door that led down a flight of stairs.
“Not that I know of,” I said and looked down into the dark.
She flicked a switch just inside the door and I could see that there was a landing and then the stairs continued to the left and out of sight. “Go ahead,” she said and gestured with her wine glass.
I could feel the itch of her eyes on me as I went down the stairs and then I heard her footsteps follow mine, down the two flights into the cellar. I was surprised to see another closed door blocking the bottom of the stairs.
“Open it,” she said from somewhere behind and above me.
I pushed the door open, expecting a wine cellar and yet surprised at the huge wooden racks of wine on all of the walls and the dim lighting. Off to the right there was a flickering light and I turned toward it. A large television dominated the end of the room and cast its light over everything.
It only took a second step toward the screen to realize it was porn. I felt a flash of hot embarrassment and outrage and was about to turn to Redding, to demand to know what this was, when a young but recognizable face appeared on screen. A rounded, flushed face with a mouth open in staged sounds of pleasure. Sounds that I could suddenly hear as the volume rose. I turned away from the screen, away from myself.
Redding stood with a remote in her hand. She watched me with her flat gray eyes, her cheeks pink and a strange smile curling her lips. “So, it really is you.”
I wanted to stuff my fingers in my ears to block out the flat slapping sounds of sex behind me. “What do you want?” I managed around clenched teeth.
“Me?” Her eyebrows rose in neatly plucked arcs. The smile didn’t leave her face and behind her I could see that she’d shut the door to the stairs. Her expression was sinister. “I want to see what you’ll do for five years worth of funding.”