Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 16

“He said he loves you?” Cora’s face doesn’t hide her shock very well, “That’s phenomenal! And you said it back, right? Cora lifts an eyebrow and watches my expression carefully.

“Yes, of course. I was in a state of pure bliss. Everything was perfect. It almost felt like a scene from a romance movie. I keep replaying the moment in my head, but I can see the two of us and Ludo from a distance. It’s one my most chart-topping memories ever.”

“Wow, that’s seriously so great, Luce. Let’s go celebrate. Would Dominic be into a night of champagne at my place? Kingsley has Friday night off. At least that’s the plan right now.”

“Of course, he would. I’ll let him know. He and Kingsley really hit it off the other night, so I anticipate he will be excited for this.” For the rest of the day, I feel like I’m floating on cloud nine. This is the first time in my life my happiness is insurmountable. Nothing can stop me now. I feel invincible with Dominic’s love.

Friday night cannot come soon enough. At five o’clock, I am out the door remarkably fast. I waste zero time when I get home. Earlier this morning, I placed my outfit for tonight on my bed. I made sure all of my accessories were together and confirmed that I hadn’t misplaced my earrings. Tonight, is our night. Dominic and I are going to be celebrated by Cora and Kingsley. As much as I despise being the center of attention, there is something very exhilarating about tonight. I stop when it dawns on me. I am finally getting Cora’s approval. The thought takes a minute to submerse in my mind, but the reality of it engulfs me. All of these years, I have been bearing Cora’s scrutiny, and now, tonight, I am finally making her proud. She has never been as supportive as she has been about my relationship with Dominic. I guess I never realized how I have been longing for her approval. Something about this thought is unpleasant, but I shake it off and get myself dressed for the night.

I slip on a shimmery red, lacy dress that I bought for this occasion earlier this week. I channeled my inner Cora when I bought it. I know anything she wears tonight will inevitably upstage me, but I can at least give it the old college try. I bought red heels to complete the look. As I gaze at myself in the mirror, I find myself comparing my body to Cora’s. This is the first time in our years long friendship that I have felt a trace of jealousy. Though, it is microscopic, I now see that it exists inside me. I suppress the feeling with hopes that it will dissipate before Dominic arrives to pick me up tonight. I sit on the floor in front of the floor length mirror on my bedroom wall. I place the makeup and makeup brushes on a towel in front of me on the floor. I line my brown eyes with black eyeliner and brush on smokey eyeshadow. I watched a YouTube tutorial earlier this week on the art of applying the smokey eye. I layer on my jet-black mascara and contour my cheeks. Admiring my finished look, I grab my purse and head to the living room.

Dominic knocks on my door at precisely 6:45 p.m. Cora and Kingsley’s house is about fifteen minutes from my apartment. His timing is impeccable. When I open the door he does a quick scan of my complete look. “Not too shabby, not shabby at all. You are absolutely stunning,” he kisses me. “You don’t look too shabby yourself,” I smile. I grab my key and lock the door, then we are on our way. We sit in silence for the first few minutes together in the car. I feel a mysterious denseness in the air. I wonder if it’s me or if it’s Dominic acting a bit strange. I finally break the silence.

“Is everything all right? I’m under the impression that something might be wrong. There’s a distinctive change between tonight and how we were last Saturday.”

“Really? I don’t feel anything different. Last Saturday is hard to top, just so you know. It’s one of my top ten moments in this life. I love you, Lucy. I don’t see a world where that will ever change. When you said you love me, too, it felt like everything fell right into place. I knew that day when we met at the animal shelter that my life would forever be changed. I just didn’t realize it would be because of you. I thought Ludo was going to be the biggest addition to my life.” He reaches over and grabs my hand. He brings it to his mouth and kisses it. It felt electrifying. We sit in silence again and I wonder, did I create this feeling because I need reassurance? Oh no, am I needy? My thoughts don’t have much time to linger before we pull up to Kingsley and Cora’s house.

Out front, the house is unassuming. Sure, it has an immaculate landscaped front yard, but inside, it is spaciously luxurious and the back yard has the ambiance of a bougie resort. The view from their backyard is unsurpassed and they have an infinity salt water pool. Cora and I spent one summer in the backyard drinking cocktails and sunbathing every day. Cora hadn’t moved in yet and she and Kingsley were a brand-new couple. Everything felt simplistic then. Dominic and I walk hand in hand together up the walkway to their front door. Dominic reaches over and rings the doorbell. Within a minute, Kingsley opens the door. His cologne wafts in the air; he smells like a million bucks. He shines his bright, white smile at us and ushers us in.

“Welcome, friends! Cora is in the back revering the sunset. Let me get you something to drink. what would you like?”

“Good to see you, mate! I’ll have a scotch on the rocks, Lucy, what would you like?” Dominic turns to me and waits. I pause for a moment, not quite certain what I would like to drink tonight.

“How about a Grey Goose martini with olives, eh, Lucy? That’s what Cora is having. To be honest, she is on her second drink right now,” Kingsley whispers.

“Oh sure, yeah, that sounds lovely, thank you.” We walk through the house to the backyard and find Cora sitting on patio furniture appreciating the colorful sunset. She twists around and greets us.

“Lucy Goosey! Lovey dear! Welcome, welcome!” Cora hurries over and gives me a squeeze, “Dominic, how are you?” She caresses her hand down his arm. Watching the intimacy of her greeting to Dominic, I feel the suppressed jealousy start to bubble up. I talk myself down from overreacting. Cora is my friend and would never do anything to jeopardize our friendship, my relationship, or her relationship with Kingsley.

I don’t know what has gotten into me. I sneak a look at Dominic’s face to try to get a reading on how he felt about her touch. He doesn’t seem fazed by it, therefore I can only conclude that I am in fact losing it. We sit down on the lounge chairs where Cora was when we first arrived and marvel at the sunset together.

“Wow, Luce, that dress is fantastic. I love the red. It reminds me of a dress I have,” Cora smiles. I feel my cheeks flush. Part of me thinks this compliment is said to bring light to the fact that my dress is similar to Cora’s, but obviously, she pulls it off better than I do.

“Thank you. It is pretty similar to your dress, isn’t it?” I smile back. Not understanding the dynamics of girl world, Kingsley joins in.

“Lucy, you do look spectacular tonight. Positively, breathtaking, if I dare say,” Kingsley glances over at Cora and she smiles at him, as though she is putting his mind to rest that he has her permission to fawn over me. We spend the first part of the night outside laughing and sharing stories. First, Cora asked Dominic to share his perspective of Saturday’s events, and I have to hand it to him, when he tells the story, he makes it sound magical. We saturate our bodies in alcohol and Kingsley makes sure to keep it flowing. We start to feel a chill in the air and decide we should move the party indoors. That’s when Cora decides to take us in a whole different direction.

“Let’s go for a night swim, the pool is warm and it will be fun,” she says. Before we can protest, Cora lifts her silky blue dress over her head and kicks off her shoes. She’s now down to her under garments and turns away from us and unclasps her bra. She tosses it over her shoulder and dives head first into the water. Dominic averts his eyes and turns away. I don’t know how to react and find myself laughing. “Lucy Goosey, get in the water!”

“You don’t have to get in the pool, Lucy. In fact, Cora is a bit inebriated and isn’t using her best judgement tonight. I’m afraid we will need to call it a night. I really appreciate you two coming over and partaking in lively libations with us. I hope this little peep show doesn’t deter you from future invitations,” Kingsley looks mortified. We assure him that this night has been a blast and we do not hold it against either of them. We hug him goodbye and wave to Cora. She blows us a kiss as we walk away. Kingsley excused himself from walking us to the door. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving a drunk Cora alone in the pool. He wanted to make sure she gets out safely. As we enter the house we hear both Cora and Kingsley laughing, and then a large splash. Without turning around, we know that he joined Cora for a night swim.

Monday morning rolls around and I sit in the office waiting for Cora to arrive. I glance at the time and it’s 9:00 a.m..

We start at 8:30 a.m. She must be running late today, which isn’t out of character for her. She often has difficulty keeping track of time when she is getting herself ready for the day. At 9:10 a.m., Cora strolls into the office holding two to-go paper coffee cups from our favorite local cafe. She walks straight up to my desk and hands it over, no words spoken. She retreats to her desk and sits down. I follow her over and sit in a chair near her.

“How’s your head doing? Mine has been killing me since Friday night, I think we had a lot to drink and my tired, aged body can’t handle it like it used to,” I chuckle.

“You can look at it in two ways. Either you’re aging like a fine wine or you’re no more than decrepit,” Cora shrugs. “I prefer fine wine.” She shuffles the paperwork on her desk and as she lifts her coffee up to her mouth for a sip, her sleeve slides partially down her arm, exposing white bandages completely wrapped around her forearm.

I gasp, “Cora, what happened to your arm? You didn’t have that bandage on Friday night.”

She quickly readjusts her sleeve and pulls it up to cover the bandage. We freeze and stare at each other. In a hushed voice she says, “Listen, Luce, I need to apologize for Friday night. Kingsley told me that I was an embarrassment and I made you and Dominic uncomfortable. He said I’m the reason you both left early and that I need to display better self-control.”

I notice an uneasiness in her voice. It hits me that she’s fearful. This doesn’t sound like the Cora I know. Cora would never allow a man, or another human for that matter, to tell her how to feel and how to behave. I need to meticulously ask her my question, without alarming her and making her go into a defensive mode. I slowly choose my next words and approach delicately. “Kingsley has never stopped you from going to happy hour before, or anything for that matter. What changed?” I decide on a subtle tactic first.

“Nothing changed, he’s the same Kingsley he has always been.” I notice that she is deliberately not making eye contact with me.

“Cora, did Kingsley hurt you?” I flat out ask. I watch as Cora shifts in her seat and glances around the office nervously. Keeping her head down she nods silently. My heart drops to my stomach.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” she begs. He didn’t mean to do it. It’s my fault, really, it is. I shouldn’t have behaved the way I did, and I should never have let another man glimpse my body. Luce, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I feel that as your best friend, you should know. Kingsley was mad that I embarrassed him, but the injury wasn’t because of that. It’s because he noticed Dominic secretly touching me at the table. I was drunk and it must have gotten past me. He said when I took my dress off, Dominic’s face turned animalistic. Kingsley didn’t like it. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable, too. Especially since Dominic supposedly loves you. I’m so sorry, Luce,” she slowly raises her eyes to meet mine. My heart feels like it has stopped beating. My eyes well with tears and I fight the urge to cry. This can’t be true. Dominic didn’t seem like he even looked at Cora that night. He was secretly touching her? I feel my stomach turn. I run to the bathroom and barely make it to the toilet before my breakfast comes up.

My head is spinning from all of the information I just absorbed. Kingsley physically abuses Cora and Dominic is being sneaky, right in front of me, and touching Cora. The thought of it all is hard to swallow, but I need to keep my main focus on Cora and her well-being. I have questions for her. How long has he been abusive and controlling? He has always seemed like a great man. Under no circumstances did I think Kingsley was capable of manhandling a woman. Especially not a woman like Cora. She is too strong and confident to permit such maltreatment.

In the very beginning, I had to talk myself out of a crush I had on him. When he and Cora first started dating, I found myself yearning to switch places with her. I wished he had come to the table to talk to me first. I’m ashamed to say that at one time, I wished Cora out of the picture completely. I am a horrible friend for having those kind of thoughts. I have spent these past two years secretly making up for it. I never told Cora about my crush on Kingsley, but part of me thinks her women’s intuition picked up on it. Not once has she called me out on it, so I suppose I’ll never know.

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