The Unwanted Guest
Maple Valley Springs is a really nice place to live away from the noise of the city with a pool in every back yard.
Kellie's house is made of white stone walls with a red-tiled roof. Inside, it's all high ceilings and wicker furniture with a large couch facing a fireplace with a vase of flowers in the grate. The only sound after Kellie has dropped her keys onto a coffee table and disappeared down a corridor is the whirr of the air conditioning.
"Your room's down here!" she calls.
Wheeling my suitcase over the jade-coloured tiles I find her standing in a large powder-blue room. Along the walls are black and white photographs of Marilyn Monroe in that white dress she's famous for wearing. There is also a single bed and built-in wardrobe.
"So when does the party start?" I say as I park the suitcase under the window.
"People are arriving at eight. We're cooking."
"Cooking?" My idea of home-cooking is slinging a ready-meal into a microwave or getting a Chinese takeaway. My job takes up way too much time to bother myself with peeling potatoes and slicing up carrots and handling frozen hunks of chicken. Then I think, well, you're going to have the time now.
"So who's coming?" I ask to help take my mind off the depressing thought that I may never have to have a Chinese takeaway again. I wouldn't have an excuse to not eat sensibly, as my mother was always nagging me to do.
"Oh… people from work," Kellie shrugs vaguely. Kellie's a fashion designer.
While I chop onions (I find it unnatural a vegetable can make you cry) and Kellie is dicing the mince, I find out that two of our guests are Frankie and Paul. Then there's Kyle and Zandra. Setting the table however reveals an extra place.
"So who's the mystery guest?" I call out to Kellie, laying out forks and knives.
"The mystery guest," I return to the kitchen and lean against the doorframe watching Kellie shake pasta into the saucepan. She looks pretty. She's done something to her hair to give it a bit more oomph and is wearing a black wrap-around dress and smart little heels. Me, I am also in a dress, a rarity. It too is black tiny white oriental-looking flowers on it. Kellie has curled my hair for me. I figured watching her torture my hair into coils was easier than arguing with her. "There's a seventh place at the table, right?"
"Well…" Kellie says taking a deep breath. "Ethan is coming."
I just stare at her with my mind working at a hundred gigabytes a nana-second. Ethan Maison.
"I invited him," Kellie continues brightly.
"You invited my ex?" I demand and it comes out angry.
"He heard you were coming back for a visit," Kellie says stubbornly.
"Ethan though… Ethan's… he's…"
Kellie arches her eyebrows questioningly, just waiting for me to let it slip, what I was thinking.
"What's wrong, Chris?" she inquires haughtily as I search for something to replace the word I was going to say.
"Nothing," I say eventually and turn back to the dining room.
If Kellie thinks she's got a chance of getting Ethan and me back together she can wait until hell freezes over and we all go down there to skate on the ice.
The doorbell rings and my stomach muscles clench. But I'm wrong, Kyle and Zandra are first to arrive. I like Zandra, Kyle's girlfriend, I don't like Kyle. Frankie and Paul are hot on their heels. Frankie comes from Sydney and was a nurse who took Paul for his X-ray when he broke his left arm on holiday there. The two men then decided to leave Australia together and come to Las Vegas. Paul's a model. I don't envy him. While I've been here, I've leafed through some of Kellie's files and have seen some of the 'clothes' men are made to wear on the catwalk. It's not a pretty sight.
We're all sitting in the living room waiting for Ethan to arrive. Kyle, Kellie and Paul are entangled in a debate whether platform shoes are going to make a come-back on the American catwalk. Zandra and Frankie and me get bored of the fashion talk quite soon and begin making small-talk.
Zandra used to own a club but covering the legal costs of a high-file divorce case meant she had to sell 'Starry Nights'.
"That's how I know Ethan you see," she explains. "He bought the club."
"You know Ethan, right?" Frankie asks.
"Went to senior high together," I say. The truth.
Five minutes later and the doorbell rings. Kellie glances at me and I have a horrible feeling that she's going to ask me to get it. She doesn't. She extracts herself from Kyle and Paul who are now onto the popularity of converses in England, and opens the door.
I am sitting with a perfect view of the door. I see Ethan come in wearing a black dinner jacket and light green shirt, lightly kiss Kellie's cheek and hand her a bottle of red wine.
"Oh, Ethan, thank you," she gushes and taking his shoulder, draws him into the midst of us.
"Frankie, Paul, I believe you don't know Ethan Maison. He owns the club on the Strip, 'Starry Nights'."
Kyle breaks off his conversation with Paul to nod but Paul actually stands and extends a hand.
"Nice to meet you," he says.
Then Ethan turns to me.
"Hi Zandra," he says but he's looking at me. Over his shoulder, I can see Kellie watching. I stand, partly because Ethan is so tall I don't like him standing over him and partly because I feel it would be wrong to stay sitting.
"Hi Ethan," I keep my voice casual.
It's always difficult to know how to greet an ex. Do you hug? Kiss cheeks? Shake hands? Or just stand with an obviously unfilled gap between you? Ethan decides for me by leaning forward and bumping his cheek against mine. Then he straightens up and smiles nervously, exposing his fangs.