Sunday, May 15, 2011

Short story: Balance (part x)

For a short time Claudia was able to forget about her cousin. The conversation was lively and she threw herself into it. She accepted another glass of wine and soon began to feel a welcome lightness in her head, a tingling in her thighs. But when there was a lull in the conversation she turned to see Michael’s pained face.

Claudia finished her glass and put her hand on Margrite’s knee. “I should go. Michael’s miserable.”

“Stay,” Margrite said. “Don’t worry so much about your cousin. He’s a grown man.”

Claudia smiled uncertainly and went over to her cousin.

“How’re you doing?” she asked.

“Fine,” he replied.

“Do you want to go back?”

“Whatever.” His face was like stone.

“Why do you have to be such a prick?” Claudia exploded. “Why can’t you just get off your high horse for once? You just sit there and judge me. What am I doing that’s so terrible? What?”

Michael said nothing, his mouth tight.

“This?” demanded Claudia, waving her cigarette in his face. “This?” she said, gesturing wildly to the wine on the table, nearly knocking over a glass.

“I never said you were terrible. Maybe that’s your own conscious talking.”

Claudia felt her face grow hot and tears filled her eyes. “Yeah, well I didn’t feel like this till you got here.”

Michael looked at her, his eyes smoky grey in the half light. “You’re drunk,” he said.

“I haven’t even started,” Claudia shot back. “If you don’t want to be here, go! Take my keys. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She tossed her keys onto the table in front of him and spun around, but her foot caught a chair leg and she lost her balance. Unable to catch herself she fell into Jean-Luc, who caught her with a laugh.

“What, drunk so soon?” he asked, steadying her. “Allez, debout.” He laughed and Claudia felt her face burn like a cigarette tip.

Her ankle smarted where it had caught the chair, but she refused to limp as she walked back to Margrite. She heard Michael’s apologetic good-bye to the people around him but pretended to be engaged in a conversation and didn’t turn to wave good-bye.

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