Too much wine for Nella, but Jane keeps topping off her glass. She’s been doing that all night. The acid in Nella’s tummy is churning. She should’ve drawn the line at some point. Jane is openly flirting with Nella’s husband, Rarco, which is angering Nella. He’s humoring his host, making light of Jane’s unwanted attention. Nella doesn’t know how to put a stop to it. If she makes a scene, she'll look, and feel ridiculous. She doesn’t make scenes; she wasn’t raised to create them.
All of them are buzzed, but Jane is the big drinker. Corey, her husband, usually a man of few words is talking his head off. Nella and Rarco aren’t Jane and Corey’s frequent guests. Maybe they shouldn’t have come here for dinner tonight. Jane is getting over-the-top sloppy. She’s leaning in way too close to him, filling his glass with more vino, high-priced stuff. Nella likes the wine too, a feisty cabernet, but she hates the disrespect in front of her eyes. Janie’s clingy, low cut top is scandalous. Rarco practically has his nose in her cleavage.
Jane is a chronic flirt. But, that thought does little to mitigate Nella’s outrage. She’s an inveterate, who wears too much makeup, which she doesn’t need. She’s outrageously beautiful. What was I thinking getting friendly with this temptress next door?
Is all the alcohol warping her mind? Rarco, is raven-haired with deep blue eyes, too good-looking himself. He loves Nella; she loves her husband more. They make a gorgeous couple. Thinking that, Nella groans as watches Jane make a bold play for Rarco. Stop! Nella becomes more and more agitated, thinking she must lose the fifteen pounds she’s packed on. Her cravings for cake and ice cream is her undoing. Even if I lose twenty-five pounds, I can’t compete with taller, shapelier Mrs. Perfect, who’s always dressed to kill. Her toned legs, hourglass waist, and perky breasts. That flawless, porcelain skin of hers…flowing honey blond hair. Pathologically dressed to impress even for this at-home dinner party with Rarco and me the only guests.
Nella tunes out the conversational banter, focusing attention on the Potts’ elegant, carved statues of marble, decorating the equally marble fireplace in their spacious living room. Each newly-built house nestled in this cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Tarrytown, has the same layout. Nella and Rarco’s modernistic mansion reflects variations in style and individuality, a tasteful masterpiece with a sprawling pine forest as backdrop.
All of a sudden, Nella clumsily gropes for her mobile phone on the solid glass dining table, makes a time check. Time has flown; it’s going on midnight. At her insistence, Rarco went to check on their ‘baby,’ at about eleven fifteen. He returned ten minutes later, and Nella’s inquisition had immediately followed: “How is Mika?”
“Fast asleep, barely stirred when I popped into our bedroom to see how she was. She’s the cutest, napping without a care in the world.” He knows catering to his wife over a pooch is his weakness; so sue him. Mika is the cutest dog on earth, and Nella is the love of his life. She asks, he does it, no matter what it is. His father-in-law, on the other hand, is the bane of his existence. Millard Thurston knows his daughter married beneath herself. Rarco is a loser, an irredeemable underachiever.
The monitor is on, and Nella thinks she hears their six-month-old, white Maltese puppy. All the neighborly chitchat is wearing thin. Nella is tired, eager to close out this awkward get-together, and wants to go home. She tugs on Rarco’s arm. “We should say goodnight,” she whispers to Rarco; her lips scarcely moved. “It’s nearly midnight.”
Sharp ears to her credit, Jane urges, “Aw, no. Don’t go yet. It isn’t that late.” She makes it obvious that Rarco leaving isn’t what she wants. Now, Nella leaving the party is an idea Jane endorses. Methodically, she taps her fingers on the dining table.
Look at her, making believe my leaving is the furthest thing from her mind. Ha! She’s fine if I go. Nella stiffly says, “We wouldn’t want to wear out our welcome.”
“Nonsense! You’d never do that.” Jane looks at Corey, and he merely shrugs like it’s all the same to him.
Rarco, rising from the dining table, extends his hand. “Whatever you say, Sweets.” He is at his wife’s beck and call, and Nella gloats.
He’s mine, Jane. Just in case you thought you had him eating out of your hand.
Rarco’s eyes glitter. “Thanks for having us. It’s been an event.” He’s about to shake Corey’s hand. Jane, pursing her lips, and making a kissy face, is eating him alive with wanton eyes.
Nella rises unsteadily to her feet as the room spins in the opposite direction. “Ooh…” She shakily brushes dark brown strands away from her eyes with the back of her right hand. She wants her hair longer than Jane’s, so she won’t be cutting it. “Next time, we’ll host. Mika loves you and Corey. You’re like second adoptive parents to her.” Rarco has her securely around her waist.
“Night, you two,” Jane says a bit too slyly.
“You’re always welcome here,” Corey assures, looking neutral.
The Liannates leave the Potts’ home quickly, going through their impressively-heavy front door. Jane regards their departure, annoyed. Corey waves goodnight. Nella and Rarco travel down the walk’s steps; she grabs firm hold of the delicately-carved handrail even though her husband still holds her tightly. They make it to their own equally impressive ponderous front door, and Nella gasps.
“What?” Rarco questions, arching a thick eyebrow. Then he picks up on the irregularity, and winces.
Nella, unblinking, gapes at their door a good four inches ajar. Instantly, her face is ashen. “It’s open—why?”
“Good question. It was locked—I locked it myself,” Rarco insists. “Before we went over to them, I made sure it was locked. We left by the garage door. Remember?”
Nella isn’t listening, already inside, and streaking up the house’s mistral spider staircase. She’s running into their expansive master bedroom with Rarco at her heels. When she sees their empty king size platform bed, with no Mika, where she should be, Nella gives a full-throated scream.
Rarco, thrown into a quandary, shakes, turning a starker shade of pale. Mika you’ve got to be here. You’d never go out the front door by yourself. How’d the front door get open? Did I lock the garage door after I checked on you? Or did I forget to? He can’t remember. Because he’s had too much to drink? After they scramble around the house searching for the pup like crazy people, one thing is certain. Mika is nowhere to be found.