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FICTION / Drunken Spoils / Stella B James


The burn comes first. It goes down, chased by a sharp intake of breath. Down it flows, pooling in her belly, lining the insides. More goes down, numbing the path. She can barely taste it, and now she doesn’t have to hold her breath. Her veins tingle, her mind buzzes, and she no longer feels like herself. I am coming, the one Jenny has come to depend on in such social crisis.

“Slow down on the gin and tonics.” Jenny turns hazy eyes towards Cecilia, who is doing a terrible job of being a best friend right now. Jenny hates work parties, and Cecilia knows she doesn’t really like any of these people, except for the one she likes a little too much.

Jenny fishes out the lime from her drink and sucks on it, savoring the sourness that matches her mood. She knows that I, her alter, should be taking over any second now, helping her cope with this nightmare of a night. Another shot should do it. Cecilia turns when someone calls her name and Jenny takes that moment to slink off behind the makeshift bar.

The hired bartender glances down at her, but she slips a twenty into is sock, and he nods in supposed understanding. She shuffles around the half empty bottles, searching for our particular brand of gold. It’s like a beacon in this dimly lit room, and the word Bombay never read so good. She uncaps it with hurried fingers and takes a gulp. She thinks of Christmas trees and the acidic vomit this will surely bring on later tonight. It doesn’t matter, she’ll gladly pay the consequences if it can get her through the next three hours.

The bartender snatches the bottle from her lips and begins pouring it over ice. She watches his lips move from her spot on the floor and notices that her feet are poking out from the side, a dead giveaway of her desperation. She tucks them under her, and just in time it seems as Cecilia has come for another drink.

Cecilia orders red wine, something to stain her beautiful teeth and to soak into her tongue for her husband to savor later. It’s a surprise he even let her out of the bed tonight. They’ve been trying to get pregnant for months now and put rabbits to shame the way she talks. Not that Jenny’s jealous. She doesn’t want children, and maybe not even a husband. That’s what makes me such a great mistress.

The bartender hands Jenny a fresh drink, and I stretch her hand out, taking it as I make her teeth sink into her lower lip in silent promise. Ah, sweet Gail, the side of her she never seems to remember. She wishes to have my charm and bravado. Only copious amounts of alcohol bring me out to play, but when I do come, she freely gives over the wheel.

People laugh at Gail’s jokes and cheer me on when I dance on the chairs or tables or whatever other raised flat surface I can find. Women want to gossip with me, following my slight jabs with hyena laughter and bobble headed nods. Men want me to demean them, to tease them, only to later have me on my knees.

“Jenny, please tell me that isn’t a new gin and tonic.” Cecilia bumps me with her shoulder and I pitch forward into the chest of some fresh intern, I think four years younger than me, but Jenny would argue more. “That answers that.”

I straighten with a giggle and wipe my hand down the front of intern’s shirt, as if my clammy palm will somehow dry his shirt. He smiles down at me, and I take another sip of my drink, eyeing him through heavy mascaraed lashes. I turn back towards Cecilia, my mouth still pressed against the rim of my glass, clinking against my teeth that can’t stay hidden behind my lips.

“It isn’t new at all. This baby is about ten minutes old.” The people around us laugh at my comment. I hear an errant “Gotta love drunk Jenny.” They still haven’t figured me out. Jenny is no longer operating this body. I am. I down the rest of the drink in one gulp and jiggle the ice cubes around, the tinkling sound music to my ears. It’s like coming home.

“Okay, smart ass, let’s get you something to eat.”

I feel her at my shoulders, steering me through the crowd. They clink their drinks against my empty one. Someone pulls me in to whisper against my ear. I can’t see him, but I know this voice. This voice that haunts Jenny once I’ve disappeared. She fears it, but I welcome it. I nod against his suggestions, and Cecilia pulls me forward.

Cecilia means to rid me from Jenny. She must sense that I have taken over. She piles my small plastic plate with finger sandwiches and fried chicken fingers. Carbs, she wants fill Jenny up and me out. She doesn’t know about the shots of gin behind the bar. She doesn’t realize how far down this rabbit hole Jenny actually is. All the better for me. I don’t like being trapped in captivity.

I eat half of it, and ditch the rest while she’s not looking. Maybe I’ve eaten more than I cared for, but it will allow for more drinking, and I just got started. I behave for it bit, only for Cecilia’s benefit. I must behave or she will demand that I go home when she does. I have no intention of leaving early, or going home alone.

It’s about half after nine when Cecilia excuses herself from tamed conversation to call it a night. She whispers to me with a giggle that she’s ovulating and her husband has been sexting her all night. I roll my eyes and kiss her cheek. She shakes her finger in my face, giving me a stern warning to behave. Her eyes bore into mine for a moment, and it scares me how intensely they look into me, as if she can see what has taken over. Would I look different from Jenny or are we somehow the same?

A group of women snatch me up, one of them placing a glass of champagne in my hand. We start toasting the most ridiculous things and somewhere in the back of my mind, I think that maybe mixing alcohols will not end well for me. Ah, to the hell with it. Jenny will be the one who suffers while I lay dormant and recuperating.

“I heard Chet is having an affair.”

“That’s Mr. Davis to you.”

“Oh, please, he may be our boss by day, but he isn’t making us call him that tonight.”

“How long has he been married this time?”

“Four years.” I want to slap my hand over my face. I am supposed to remain as nonchalant on this subject as possible, but I just had to speak up. Couldn’t let the other girls have at him. They all turn a suspicious gaze towards me and I shrug. “Did you forget I started out here as his secretary? I not only had to handle the lawyer appointments for wife number two, but I was the one ordering bouquets for this one.”

“And they say third times the charm. Poor woman.”

“She was the other woman, she knew what she was doing. Or rather, who she was doing.” This quip earns me slaps on the back and sprayed champagne to the face as they cluster in closer to laugh at Chet’s expense. I look up in time to meet his gaze from across the room, and his hand goes to the knot of his tie. He jerks it back and forth, as if to loosen it, but it makes my stomach tighten. I count the movement to seven jerks and nod once.

It’s been eight minutes now, and I know he indicated seven, but I had to down another drink with the girls while our eyes went around the room to guess who the new mistress might be before turning on each other. I excused myself to the bathroom, but of course two of them followed me in. I couldn’t believe I would have to stoop this low to shake them, but I start dry heaving in the toilet. They gasped, and ran to get some water. I’ve made my escape, but the hallway is too dark to make out the rooms.

A door opens to my right and I get pulled in. Chet closes the door ever so carefully, and clicks the lock while his eyes roam over me. If I thought gin was the only thing capable of scorching through me, then I had somehow forgotten this man’s effect on me.

“Did anyone see you?”

“They think I’m puking.”

“They might come looking for you.”

“Or I may have texted one of them that I left altogether.”

I walk backwards until his desk hits the backs of my thighs and I reach behind me for the zipper of my dress. He turns me around to assist me, his lips at the back of my neck. And as he whispers how much he has missed this, I can’t help but lock eyes with wife number three. Her photo sits beside his monitor, as if he can’t stand a moment of his day without gazing at her face. I stare at her, barely processing Chet behind me, and wonder what made her so different from me.

I can only reason that she didn’t have a Jenny holding her back. She didn’t have that moral compass keeping her from claiming what had rightfully become hers. Jenny will regret this in the morning, but I live for it. I burn for him. And she must to, since I am that deep rooted part of her. I allow her to play out those fantasies of him that she would never dare. Yes, she will say she regrets it in the morning, but I can see the truth now. She envies me, and the freedom I’ll never give back to her. Two caged women in one body, fighting this constant battle for dominance, but I’m the victor tonight. And to the victor goes the spoils.

Stella B James is a Southern girl who appreciates strong coffee and martinis as dry as her sense of humor. You can find her latest short story at Everyday Fiction. Check out her Instagram @stellabjames, where she shares her writing and inner musings.