Red Dread Redemption

By Lauren Wilk

     The clock ticked by slowly, each abrupt movement of the minute hand echoing in her head like the heavy click of designer heels down a perpetual marble hallway. Mavis’ leg bounced rapidly under the desk as she picked at her nails and glanced at the manuscript on her screen.

     Just one more hour, she thought. 

     The work in front of her could not outweigh the anxiety she felt about attending her husband’s work party later that evening; Kenway had asked her to go a week prior and persuaded her with one sensual night and a promise to buy her a brand-new dress. That was reason enough—picking the outfit was most of the struggle.

     Mavis’ phone vibrated from inside her authentic Italian handbag. Her acrylic fingernails clicked on the phone screen as she fumbled to stop the vibration. It was a text from Kenway.

     *Thank you for agreeing to come with tonight. I know you hate work parties, so I will make it up to you later <3*

     She smiled warmly. His work was putting on an autumn formal to celebrate the years’ success. Surely a bonus would be in check for Kenway, as he was one of the hardest workers in his department. She hated parties, but she loved Kenway more; that wasn’t the issue tonight, however.

     She had only been married to Kenway for a year and a half and dated him for three before that. Mavis’ last relationship was with her high school sweetheart, Jack Hampton. He, too, had been a towering statue of a man; a living sculpture of genuine heart and soul. Kenway might have had the better upbringing, but that didn’t matter to her. Although, she thought, money is not an issue with Kenway

     Their relationship ended promptly when he decided that Mavis was no longer what he wanted. A simple falling-out-of-love situation—no cheating, no lying, no manipulation, no games—though she never understood why it happened. She put Jack’s needs before hers and had done everything she thought a good girl would do to keep a man. It wasn’t enough. In some ways, she felt she had never really gotten over him—the only ‘closure’ she got was a half-assed wave goodbye. Not an explanation, but a skimpy ‘see ya.’ Who does that?

     The problem was that shortly after she had gotten married, Jack started working at her husband’s company. She wasn’t sure if they were in the same building, but she knew Jack had studied accounting in college as well—whether or not he worked in the same group as Kenway, Mavis didn’t know. Kenway never brought up his name, and Mavis never told Kenway about him. Of course she loved Kenway, but bringing up her history with Jack would be like opening Pandora’s box: her whole world would go to shit.

     “You can go home early, if you like,” Mavis’ boss said. “You seem unwell.”

     She jerked in her chair. Her hand had a small red spot from resting her chin on it. The Italian handbag was on the ground. It was 4:33.

     “Oh, sorry…I was just thinking about unwell things, I suppose,” she placed the handbag on her desk and begun shutting down her computer.

     “Mavis, it’s okay. It’s a Friday anyway. Get outta here,” He smiled with warm eyes. “That manuscript is due Tuesday though.”

     “Of course. Thank you, really,” she beamed at him. He left her as she pulled out her phone to text Kenway.

     *Getting off a little early. Be home in 15 <3*

     If for some reason Jack made it to the party, she hoped he would like her dress.

*  *  *

     “We leave in an hour, sweetie,” Kenway called from the hallway. Mavis was spread out on their massive bed, staring at the dress beside her. It was alluring—a deep crimson red gown with small slits on each side where her thighs would be. The lacy fabric would tighten at her chest and waist but blossom outward ever so slightly at the hips. A medium-length sheer cape decorated with lace patterns cascaded from the back half of the dress and flowed to behind her knees. Various cutouts suggested areas of her smooth skin that the wandering eye would have the pleasure of seeing: a sharp-cut V in the front held by thin straps and neat slits snaking from her spine to just under her breasts. There was no denying the power of such a sultry dress, but wearing it to a work party? Kenway really outdid himself… Jack would certainly notice her in this.

     “Mavis? Do you like it, honey?” Kenway's hands caressed her shoulders. She turned her head and grinned.

     “Yes, honey, it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she brought him to her for a kiss. “How much was it?”

     Kenway laughed.

     “I don’t think you want to know the answer to that, baby girl,” he kissed her forehead. “Don’t worry about it. Get ready, we’ll leave in an hour, OK?” She nodded. Leaping from the bed, she started to the bathroom to perfect a sharp smoky eye.

*  *  *

     The limo cut through the slight rain like a bullet train. This kind of 8PM was foggy, littered with raindrops and buzzing lights of neon signs. They headed through the winding city streets of Maine until one of them broke off up into a hill. The trees messily dropped an array of golden leaves across the pavement, the tires quickly eating them up as they climbed higher. Kenway adjusted his belt and ran one hand through his hair. He looked especially fetching in his black suit, sporting a crimson tie to match and shiny gold cufflinks. He put one hand on Mavis’ thigh and squeezed gently. She gave him a wink and pulled her crimson velvet shawl tighter around her shoulders.

     A mountainous mansion reigned at the end of the winding path. The gallant building was made of stone with royal blue accents, and as they pulled up Mavis’ jaw dropped even farther. This was the life. She grasped Kenway’s hand. The car pulled into a line of other limos, and they prepared to exit. He swiftly kissed Mavis’ neck, leaving her giggling and wanting more before they even entered. She lightly pushed him away, pointing toward the driver, but Kenway ignored her and planted more kisses on her sharp collarbone sending her into a fit of laughter. They pulled up to the middle of the main steps.

     Kenway got out first, adjusting his cufflinks while doing so, and turned to help Mavis. The nearby lights illuminated his young, cut face, his eyes brilliant dark pools. Her black hair was swept with light curls and came down to her armpits. She took her husband’s hand, stretching each long leg out of the vehicle. The black heels pierced through the night as she strode alongside Kenway, her arm in his. They entered through the mighty wooden doors, and Mavis inhaled.

     The room was a vast octagon of marble, the walls garnished with brilliant blue banners and glittering garlands. Massive chandeliers that caught the flickering light from candles on the walls hung from the lofty ceiling. A waitstaff bustled about, keeping the willing guests full of food and drink. Live music echoed from the corner, a series of classical renditions. “Moonlight Sonata,” but with an upbeat twist. Mavis found it deeply foreboding.

     Suddenly, she felt a tug on her arm.

     “Honey, are you coming?” Kenway whispered into her ear. Mavis surveyed the people in the room and found them all gawking at her. She let out a gasping breath as she realized she hadn’t exhaled yet. She nodded promptly.

     “Good. I hope you find the attention… enchanting,” he smiled to himself. He led her to the upper stairway, where a bartender was stationed at the level between the main and second floor. Her strides felt like slow motion, the sway of her merlot dress captivating and the snap of her heels hypnotizing.

     Everyone else was wearing black.

     Kenway handed her a drink, with the promise of returning once he had met with his guys upstairs. She knew he was in a club within the company, but to leave her alone now of all times was torture. She sipped champagne in a corner, snacking on a finger sandwich. A few polite words were exchanged between her and a few different wives of other rich men, nothing too serious. She was complimenting a woman’s dress when she caught a glimpse of someone across the room.

     That jet-black hair, the perfect amount of stubble, that mole near his right jawline... it was Jack. Mavis swore he locked eyes with her, and she abruptly excused herself and hurried up the stairs to the far-right balcony. She felt her eyes stinging. He was actually here. Jack’s gaze followed her, her unmistakable rose dress maneuvering a room of darkness. He started for the balcony.

     Mavis burst through the door, startling a couple standing at the stone railing, though they left shortly after. She fell against the wall and wailed into her velvet shawl, which now served as a sort of tissue. Her tears turned black from running mascara. He was here.

     She threw her head back with the rest of the champagne in her glass. There was no way she could face him, not after feeling what she’d been feeling for so long. What if Kenway found out? What would Jack even say to her? Should she just leave?

     No, she thought. I need to just survive the night somewhere.

     She stood up, and a path revealed itself down to the back gardens. She shuffled to the stairs and began to descend when the door creaked open behind her.

     “You look amazing, you know.” She froze. There was no way she was turning around. The click of dress shoes came closer to her.

     “I get it if you don’t want to talk to me, but I thought this could be my chance to tell you how I felt,” Jack cleared his throat. Mavis turned slowly, propping her hands against the rail to steady herself.

     “It doesn’t matter,” she swallowed. “I’m happily married, and you decided to not give me closure. I don’t need this.” She took a step towards the stairs. A strong hand held her back by her wrist. A sob caught itself in her throat.

     “Please, just give me a chance.” She swallowed once more.

     “Jack, you don’t get it. You can’t just leave someone and not tell them why. They don’t ever get over you like that.” Mavis crossed her arms.

     “You… still have feelings for me?” He looked at her with those same seductive eyes he once looked at her with. Her eyes stay glued on her feet. “Even though you’re married to Kenway?” Mavis’ head snapped up. Her eyes went wide.

     “How did you know that Kenway is my husband?”

     “Oh, I um, well—”

     “You could have talked to me this whole time and you didn’t? Jack, I have been suffering this confusing purgatory of loving you without any sort of closure and being a married woman. Don’t even try to give me some fucking excuse right now. I don’t even know if I can go home to him with all of this guilt anymore. I’ve had it, I can’t take this anymore…” She ran off into the mansion gardens wiping her eyes, a red bobber in a sea of green hedges and foliage. Jack sprinted after her.

     “Mavis, wait!”

*  *  *

     From above the second-floor balcony, right side, a meeting took place among men. Gentlemen conversed about stocks and riches and women, while the night fog combined with their heavy cigar smoke. Thank God the light rain had gone. Sharp conversation below them erupted and halted their own for a moment, but they resumed shortly thereafter. The man leaned against the stone wall by the door and glanced at the balcony below. A ravishing young woman in a red dress stood, arguing with another well-dressed gentleman. He heard her confess affection for the man, and his jaw tightened. His suit constricted against his frame as his eyes coldly looked upon the scene on the second-floor balcony. The two lovers ran into the gardens, the man after the woman.

     I was right.

     Kenway lifted his cigar to his mouth, inhaling for a few moments, then letting smoke escape through his nose and the corners of his lips. The smoke lifted into the sky, catching the eternal fog that seemed to cloud the trepidatious night.