“What?” Marisol yelled from the kitchen.
David headed upstairs to use the second bathroom without responding but could hear Lilian.
“I let a woman inside who was dripping wet on the back steps. She looked like was going to catch pneumonia. She is showering to dry and then we can figure out what to do.”
David continued upstairs, trudged loudly in fact and slammed the door shut. It wasn’t out of anger but confusion. They had all just ingested tons of drugs and Lilian was the only sober reliable person here. He flipped up the lid and avoided looking at himself in the mirror. How can he trust himself around this stranger? It was an issue of ego, pride. This weekend was slowly being ruined and he felt to blame.
“I shouldn’t have invited her,” he watched the wall in front of him.
He slammed the lid shut and didn’t want to wash his hands. He didn’t want to look at the mirror in front of him.
“And don’t look in any mirrors, dude.”
He didn’t want to watch the distortion and he felt nauseous. Should
I throw up? Wobbling, a bit he stood in the center on the gray shaggy rug without making any moves. Glancing to the right, he caught his jaw line and then threw the door open.
“And don’t get caught in any small rooms.”
He walked out of the bathroom before answering himself or keeling over to try. At the top of the steps, he heard the kettle, an amicable exchange between his three friends and the shower stop. Four steps down he heard the chatter of his friends stop. Seven steps down he heard footsteps walk into the living room. As he rounded the corner, the tenth step down, he heard dishes clank again. He heard nothing more from the bathroom. On the last step, Jack smiled.
“You want to continue the game?” as if nothing unusual had begun.
“Yeah,” he sort of smirked, “a stranger may be a welcome addition since we have heard all of our stories.”
Lilian was placing a bottle of honey on the wooden dinner tray and had her back to everyone. Marisol was getting sugar from the cabinet. Is everyone crazy? Lilian finished setting everything on the tray and brought it to the living room, not saying a word to David, who appeared skeptical, brow furrowed, tight lipped and unwavering in her way. She set everything on the table and Jack continued to drink a beer. It was if this woman was invited to their party. David peeked around the corner to the hallway to see no one had cleaned the footprints yet when the door swung open.
She walked out with hesitation, slowly, pausing just a step outside and locked eyes with David. He turned all the way to face her and she was disarming. No change in facial expression or posture, she stunned him with her stature which was unassuming, possibly frightened, a look of dilemma, fear, confusion on her face. She is in a house full of strangers in the middle of the woods, David. Lilian’s clothes. She was wearing Lilian’s clothes. The gray hood was up so he couldn’t see her face that well, just her eyebrows which had a bit of aristocratic lift to them and her eyes, wide, and a bit of hair, brown, past her shoulders. From this distance, he couldn’t make out any color on her face but she seemed refreshed, a little rosy from the shower. That made her less threatening. She didn’t appear to need immediate medical attention although Lilian was going to make a big deal about this. Don’t scare her. With that thought, he lowered his head and turned back towards the living room giving her a sidelong glance to invite her to enter.
The woman didn’t move right away. She waited, possibly until the tall man blocking her passage moved ever so slightly so she could enter the living room without feeling like she was passing through a guard at a gate. He took a couple steps to the left and she took nine feet to get to the living room. Marisol was just sitting down next to Jack when they all saw her; Lilian settling back on the green armchair and David standing near the floor lamp and window, trying not to stare but suddenly entranced by the situation. He no longer felt uneasy but admired Lilian for handling the situation. What could have been a crisis, averted. She was warm, showered, standing inside of a shelter as the rain raged on.
“Hi,” she held her hand up.
“Hi,” the choir began.
“I took a fast shower because, you know. I left my wet clothes on the floor.”
She glanced at David. No one moved from the couch and the woman didn’t step any further into the living room. Marisol leaned forward and coughed as a way to draw attention to herself. Her insecurity drove that. Even in hooded garb and sweats, the stranger was striking: high cheekbones, lightning eyes and Marisol was used to being the prize in the room. She squared her, possibly on accident, but after Marisol coughed, the woman moved her feet so she was squaring Marisol.
“Don’t worry about the clothes and you could have taken as long as you wanted,” Lilian smiled. “Would you like some tea?”
She nodded and walked in. There was one more chair near the lamp, close to David, and the last seating option. Hesitating, her eyes glanced back to the kitchen, looking for benches or a place to lean that wouldn’t make her stand out. Lilian had already poured the tea into a mug so she only had to pick it up, take a seat.
“There’s sugar here,” Marisol eyed her from below. Marisol’s contribution to the platter. “We are happy you are warm and dry.”
She dug her nails a little into Jack’s thigh and the woman noticed. Giving a wan smile, she picked the cup up with the handle and stepped back averting her eyes from the couple, avoiding looking at Lilian, avoiding the room. She stood in the center momentarily, sort of swaying before deciding on the armchair afterall: tan and soft and big. She sunk in and let out the tiniest of sighs.
“Relax,” Marisol smiled.
No, she sneered. Even David noticed this peacocking, two lionesses sizing each other up but he was swaying too. He was unsteady in mind and body and wanted to pace about his cage too. Lilian was staring intensely at him. Why? He was unnaturally suspicious tonight. He wished everyone would leave including her. No, keep the stranger here. Wanting to undress her, not to see her naked, to see her as Lilian had, wet, shaking. What would he have done?
“What is your name, doll?” Marisol asked the woman.
Holding the cup away from her body, she had yet to take a sip. Statuesque, frozen in some kind of previous terror, David could not place her reaction to the room. It wasn’t fright but some kind of stoicism, a poker face. No, you’re high.
“I am not that high,” he said out loud.
Marisol crinkled her eyebrows towards him and Jack laughed.
“You should know, we were having a bit of a party.”
Marisol repeated, “What’s your name? Where are you from?”
Jack patted her thigh, “Don’t bombard her.” He winked at her. “Besides, maybe you can play our game. “
“What game?” Lilian asked.
She was suddenly knitting. A nervous habit. She brought her knitting everywhere.
Jack looked at her incredulously, “Truth or….”
“Oh,” Lilian turned her attention back to knitting.
Marisol leaned towards the woman as if she was going to pat her leg but dug her nails even deeper into Jack, “We always play a guessing game called Truth or Lie where you tell two versions of the same story and whoever does the best gets to pick the consequence for everyone. It’s a derivative or Truth or Consequence or Truth or Dare and the best storyteller gets to make the rules.”
David cut in, “You’re ok though?”
She turned, surprised, almost as if she forgot he was behind her.
“I am ok. I got caught in the rain.” She shook her head. “Actually, I’d love to take my mind off today for a while.”
“We had just started,” Jack leaned forward and pointed at David, “but David tells the same stories and forgets we know them all.”
“But you’re new,” Marisol winked. “Fresh meat.”
Lilian cleared her throat, “You should know that not only does David tell the same stories but the consequence is always, without a doubt, to tell the room the weirdest thing about you.”
Marisol whipped her head so fast her ponytail hit her own cheek and David smiled a little, “That’s not ALWAYS it.”
“It’s always it.”
“Ok,” Jack stuck his hands out. “We have not actually played this game that long. We played a similar game once at a party and kind of made it our own and we do usually,” he gestured to the air, “ask the loser to reveal the taboo things about themselves.”
“Who is the winner usually?”
“We have only played twice,” Lilian focused on her knitting without looking up. “Each time, Marisol won.”
“Annnnd,” Marisol twirled the bottom of her hair with her fingers avoiding the room’s weight, “I asked for the weirdest thing about everyone the first time and their strangest fantasy the second.”
The woman nodded as if that made sense.
“So practically the same thing,” Lilian stated.
She had an edge to her suddenly; a sharpness.
“Soooo,” Marisol continued. “Since we don’t know anything about you except you are caught in the rain and you don’t look like a serial killer,” she winked, “you can play if you want because it will be more fun to guess your stories than here David tell the biking accident story wrong and out of order one more time.”
“Of course,” Lilian chimed in. “You don’t have to do anything because you just got out of the rain and we are strangers.”
“Have a seat, man,” Jack gestured to the hassock near them.
Lilian and the woman had the two armchairs and the cabin had only a love seat. He was rocking back and forth without noticing.
“Yeah, we are just having fun,’” Jack continued looking at her. “It sounds like you had a hard day.”
She bit her bottom lip and held her tea on her lap. She had only taken one sip and stared at the steam, avoiding eye contact with everyone.
“I just got a little lost hiking and turned around. Then the storm came. Bad timing,” she sighed and lifted the mug back to her lips. “Honestly, I like games. I’m also exhausted but I’m not on the right trail and I can’t walk back to my car yet.”
A cacophony of of course not and never began to swirl her head and everyone was enthusiastically nodding. Marisol was playing with the bottom of her ponytail. She had released her grip on Jack and was allowing the acid and beer to swim in her bloodstream.
“I’d love to play,” she leaned forward. “I like stories and games and could use a release. I’m only worried I may get too tired.”
Lilian kept knitting and nodded, “Whenever you feel like laying down, I can take you to the extra bedroom upstairs. We rented a cabin with three bedrooms hoping another couple would join us. The storm scared them off and now it’s free.”
Marisol suddenly laughed and clapped her hands, “Wow, what great timing!”
She beamed from ear to ear. Her teeth were pearly white and her skin was tan. She was objectively stunning and appeared to suddenly wake up in an internal luminescence. Where she first sized the stranger, she beared no teeth at her now and held her hands out; a gesture of camraderie.
“Why don’t you finish your tea? We were about to pass a joint. Feel free to partake, grab wine, a beer or not. And we’ll begin when you’re ready.”
She ended the declaration with a little shrug and leaned back, sort of sitting on Jack but also oblivious to him. Her eyes moved around the room as if she was in thought. The woman nodded and sipped her tea.
“And…” she slowly started, “if you think I’m lying, I confess the weirdest thing about me, right? That’s how it works?”
“Yep, that’s how it works,” Marisol nodded again, bubbly. “Well, wait, is that what we decided for this game””
David was still rocking. He hadn’t sat down and images of fire began to formulate around the woman’s shoulders. They all only took a half a tab so they wouldn’t have visions as much as sensations but he saw fire.
“Mmm hmm,” Lilian nodded, focused on the green quarter finished scarf on her lap.
“Don’ you guys run out of tidbits like that?”
“Oh, honey,” she leaned forward and flapped her hand the way women do when talking to each other, an emphasis of solidarity and gossip. “This group has secrets.” She winked.
Why did she wink at me? David thought. What is she saying?
“And we’ve actually only played twice,” Lilian interjected again. “The first time at a party with others and the second time, we were kind of drunk so…”
“Well, you weren’t,” David sharply cut in.
Marisol kept her focus on the woman, “It’s all for fun. We just like games. And we don’t know you so it will be harder to guess!”
“And you will know the difference between the two?”
“The difference between a truth and a lie?” Marisol asked to clarify.
“No. The difference between how I got here and the weirdest thing about me.”
Marisol guffawed and clapped her hands and turned to Jack, pointing at her.
“That’s right, we want to know how you got here. That’s what I asked. Sure. Keep it simple.”
She suddenly spread her legs to take up more room, placing her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. It was an active listening masculine position. She was clearly leading everyone in the room.
“Davey, come sit,” she stared at him.
David felt the entire room turn to look at him towering over the woman behind her. At least, I don’t have to go first anymore. Don’t look in any mirrors. Don’t go to the bathroom. Don’t smoke that weed. Very stocky in his movements, he lifted his feet like they had been glued to the floor, the way a horse prances when its being shown for show or parade. It felt like it took him minutes to get to the hassock but everyone went back to the woman just as fast. He watched Jack’s face closely, smiling, happy, watching the stranger. He could feel the buzz between those three: a happy love triangle. They’re gonna have sex. What? Stop. He was trying to avoid the woman’s eyes but he caught her staring. It felt dark and controlled. He made her nervous. He felt Dr. Gonzo, Duke’s lawyer in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and she was poor Lucy trying to hitchhike her way back and suddenly roped into some drug-addled, manipulative, truth telling frenzy. He smiled in a way that looked pained. She stared blankly back.
“Ok,” she began. “Any other rules?”
“Umm,” Marisol scratched her chin. “I don’t think so. Lil?”
“When we played the Halloween version it was different. We simplified it now.”
“Yes,” Jack said, suddenly alight. “We did play two different versions. Let’s play no rules.”
The exchange between Jack and the woman harmed him but he didn’t know why. Don’t drink anything but water, David thought. Jack seemed too happy with her. Lilian seemed colder than usual.
“I’m gonna get some water,” he hopped up and pointed towards the group. “Anyone?”
“Oh, Dave, perfect. There’s a pack of bottled water in the fridge. The owner left. Maybe for everyone?’
He nodded and retreated to the kitchen. Breathing heavily, he opened the fridge to time the noise of the suction coming undone as the fridge opened with his breathing so no one heard him. Marisol had opened the package earlier so he didn’t have to fumble with the plastic. He began to gather five bottles and his stomach turned in knots. There was supposed to be six of us, not five, and then four, not five. For some reason, that thought felt profound and unusual. It’s an odd number. I feel like I can’t remember my thoughts. He walked back slowly, carrying a bundle and started with her, the stranger.
She was prim.
“Thanks, Dave,” Marisol got up to collect the rest and pass one to Lilian.
“Thanks,” she tucked her knitting away only to take the bottle, open it, and sip it before returning.
Dave rocked in the center for a moment. He had this thought of the warehouse suddenly and New Year’s and what that meant but it didn’t last because she began faster than he reckoned.
“The day I arrived it was hot, not snowing like I had thought it would be, or should I say, like I thought I had been promised. It was scorching. My feet were sore and drenched. I wore socks, always, even in these temperatures. Well, if I was wearing sneakers or boots which I often was as they are easier to walk in, I always wore socks. People who don’t wear socks with their sneakers are disgusting. I wore boots that day with a short blue floral sundress. They were old, both the dress and the boots. The dress was a hand-me-down gift from someone, possibly seven years ago and the boots a present to myself on a rainy day when I needed to walk puddles. They were from the thrift store: brown and big and clunky.”
It’s not that David had heard this before but that he felt this before. Not the acid, but the serpentine way the room moved like a clock being wound backwards. Jack’s goofy grin. Lilian’s general apathy. Marisol’s sunny lioness. I can’t breathe. Just listen to her story, a voice said. You don’t have to say a word. But words were unsettling. He remembered what he did and reached into his pocket to pick out the black stone that he had found right outside the cabin.
“Sometimes, I use little grounding objects to stay centered. Remember I am on drugs. Your thoughts will deceive you because they suddenly personify feelings you’re having. Touch the object, remember you’re on drugs. Bite your tongue a little and ride the wave of discomfort. These are just feelings,” Clark passed him a lavender joint. David fingered the rock and repeated her first sentence in his head: the day I arrived it was hot, not snowing, like I had been promised. It was October, the high today was seventy-seven, and now it was a cool sixty-three. Normally, at this time of year, it would be in the fifties. It was the word promised that stood out and the joint was lavender. He looked up at her, not realizing she was staring solely at him.
“What?” Marisol yelled from the kitchen.