***If you are interested in reading more, please email or message me. I’m still looking for a few more beta readers. ***
Ava straightened my bow-tie and I couldn’t help but laugh. The accessory was made of lab-grown leopard hide, and dyed bright green. It was meant to be seen, and nothing called attention to it like wearing it askew. But I let her fix it anyway. It was only after she had messed with it that I realized she was untying it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She smiled at me. Her skin looked so smooth that I crapped my pants since she had started taking the Sir2 gene therapy.
“Helping you look more ridiculous,” she said.
She pulled at it so that one side lay longer than the other. I studied her alteration in the mirror. She was right, I looked downright silly. But, that was the point. While all of our other affairs this season had been serious ones, tonight was a special event. It was the farewell party, an end of season tradition. Over the years, it had grown in it’s ridiculousness. It began as just serious a party as any other, more even. But once everyone began trying to out do each other, the whole thing quickly became a parody of itself. Rather than admit what had happened, we embraced it, and a theme party was born.
Ava wore a low cut dress with a train that swept the ground. The gown was bedazzled along it’s length with Swarovski crystals. She wrapped herself in a black snake-skin cape. I put on my matching fedora and we headed out to the car.
Most nights we’d take our own. But seeing as this was a special occasion, the host arranged to have everyone picked up by limo. Automobiles were all self-driving, so the addition of a driver was unnecessary. He got out and opened the doors for us. Again, something the car could have easily done itself. We climbed in, and I was surprised when he came in after us. I naturally assumed he’d be sitting in the front.
He didn’t say a word at first. I was just about to ask him what his job was, when he beat me to the punch. He pulled out a collapsible guitar, assembled it, and began to play. He started his set with Ava’s favorite song. It was slow and sweet, and sounded fantastic acoustically. I watched her with delight as she took pleasure in the serenade. It wasn’t until he began the second song, another by the same artist, that I realized he was that artist. Our host had arranged for each of their guests to be entertained by their favorite musician.
Only four songs had been played by the time the car pulled into the long driveway. There was a mass of paparazzi standing at the property’s edge. They jockeyed for position as they tried to see who was in the car. They couldn’t legally step foot inside the property lines unless they were invited. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for their drone cameras. They began flying around the car.
The cameras didn’t bother me. At this point in my career, the more publicity I had, the better. And a piece of me liked the attention.
I disabled the tinted glass. A few drones stayed on us, but most flew back to their owners.
The car let us out. I assumed that the artist would get out and join the party as well, but he remained in the car. As we walked up the silver plated walkway, I was able to get a better look at the house. I had stayed in smaller hotels. The path was lined with ice sculptures that increased in size. The first were a pair of polar bear cubs sitting on either side of the walkway. Next, there was a couple, larger than real people, who were holding their hands over our heads. We ducked through quickly to avoid getting dripped on. In this heat, these sculptures wouldn’t last long. The statues closest to the porch were still being worked on. A giant Zeus stood looming on the left, his lighting bolt in hand, ready to smite whomever incurred his wrath. On the right, a sculptor was carving out the features of a woman. My first guess was Hera, since she was Zeus’ wife. But based on the provocative posture, I decided it must be Aphrodite.
The sculpture carved a piece of ice, threw his chainsaw in the air, turned in a circle, and caught it as it came tumbling down. He carved another swipe, kicked one leg in the air, and ducked his head and the saw in a swooping motion. The blade was mere centimeters from his face. He came back up, and worked some more. Ava was enchanted with his flare. I had to remind her that we hadn’t even gotten to the party, yet.
The chateau had a grand arched entryway, which was guarded by a large, muscle bound woman. She wore a boa constrictor around her shoulders.
“Looks like your cape found its brother,” I said to Ava.
She gave me a playful shove.
The bouncer gave us a smile and opened the door.
“Hello Dr. and Mrs. Keene,” she said. “Go on it, and enjoy the party.”
Just inside the door, a full grown tiger lunged at us. It stopped short, and nuzzled its head against Ava. It only took a second for the shock to wear off, and Ava was rubbing the creature all over. The tiger enjoyed every moment of it, and begged for more. As I watched it play with her with a puppy-like eagerness, I noticed that it was wearing a collar.
Looking behind the tiger, into the shadows, I could see its trainer, watching with a remote in her hands. No doubt the collar was used to monitor the tiger’s mood. Any violent tendencies, and it’d be issued a sedative. In the unlikely event that more drastic measures were needed, it had a pneumatic spike that could fire into its brain stem, and kill him instantly.
Ava scratched his flanks and gave him a final pat before we continued on. We walked through the house and peeked into rooms along the way. One had a spa station set up. People were getting Dracula facials, as if they weren’t about to lose enough blood. Others were taking hay baths. I didn’t want to know what was going on behind the curtained off private areas.
The next room was offering technology tattoos. It was empty. While the idea of having a phone implanted in your body, or the Internet displayed on your skin was intriguing, time and tech moved so fast that it wasn’t worth the commitment of a tattoo when the next big thing could be out before we knew it. No one wanted to look the fool by being out of season, be it fashion or technology.
A delightful smell came at us as we headed toward the dining room. The formal room was as big as a banquet hall, and held a spread that could be at home in such a place. Towers of desserts, pies, all manner of celebrity crafted confection sat to one side of the room. The main dish on the diner side was a whole shark. It could have been mistaken for decoration if not for the exposed and scored section at its side. There was a chef stationed next to the massive fish, ready to turn it into a custom sushi roll should anyone desire.
My stomach ached with hunger. I wanted to try a bit of everything. But I held off. The less I ate now, the less I’d have to get pumped later. At the periphery of the dining area there was a legion of staff, each watching a guest and taking detailed notes about how much they ate and of what. Somewhere, there was probably a pair of employees watching us.
We found the bulk of the party guests at the back of the house. The final room, which felt very much like an interior space when we entered, was half open, with a swimming pool in the center. The walls and ceiling of the room were retracted, leading the space right onto the patio and backyard. In and around a spring-water pool, modelesque men and women wore next to nothing and splashed about.
Ava’s frenemy, and host of the party, wore little more than pasties and a g-string, and came over to greet us.
“Ava,” she said with a devilish smile.
“Jessalyn, good to see you. Although, I’m not sure I was quite ready to see so much of you.”
“Oh, loosen up, it’s the end of season party. You’d do well to wear less.”
“We don’t all look like we’re still in our early twenties.”
In reality, nearly every one here did. As their doctor, I knew their true ages, but there was a lot to be said for gene therapy that was preformed pre-conception.
“You got a late start, but it’s okay. The rest of us will catch up to you eventually.”
Ava shifted the subject.
“This is a fantastic house.”
“Thank you, dear. I can’t wait to see yours. When is that getting done again?”
“Jude and I were able to spend most of the summer traveling while we had the finishing touches put on ours. But I know that your poor husband is always needed here. Must be disappointing to not be able to travel. I know I’d go mad if I couldn’t get out of the country every few weeks.”
“We enjoying being here. We might travel once things settle down, but for now, it’s nice to have a husband that’s so in demand.”
It was starting. The two of them could go back and forth like this for some time. I hoped this would be a short interaction. Watching them made my head hurt.
“I will admit that dress is amazing,” she said. “I applaud your bravery for wearing it with your skin. You’re simply an inspiration.”
The thinly veiled insult was aimed at the freckles on Ava’s shoulders. They’re seen as blemishes in some circles, and the strapless gown revealed clusters of them. Ava never cared much either way about her freckles. They were a part of her, and, until joining this group, she had never thought of them as wrong.
She shrugged off the insult and fired back.
“Thank you, Jessalyn. It’s a Matt James original. I remember you saying something about wanting to wear one of his dresses. But I guess it’s easier to just wear nothing than to try and squeeze into one.”
Her friend’s smile grew feigned. She gave a hmm with her smirk. Jessalyn appeared to be thinking for a moment. She looked around, found a half-eaten slice of cake, and smashed it into Ava’s face.
This wasn’t the first party to have a food fight break out. I waited anxiously to find out if there’d be laughing or screaming. There was neither. Instead, Ava grabbed Jessalyn by the shoulders and they both tumbled into the pool.
For a moment, I worried about the weight of her dress in the water. All that fabric and those crystals couldn’t be easy to swim in. But before I could jump in after her, she and Jessalyn surfaced, laughing and hugging.
A hand slapped me on the back.
“Stefan,” a voice behind me said.
I turned to see Landon and his wife Kirabelle. He was wearing an white tiger striped suit that popped against his dark skin. The jacket was fitted to perfection, as if it was an extension of himself.
Kirabelle’s dark, curly hair had been done up to look like a giant bow on her head. She had a lean and toned body. Her dark blue, floor length mermaid-cut gown was impeccable. She looked like she been hand poured flawlessly into a dress mold.
They were our first friends in this elite world, welcoming from the beginning. By the calendar, they were both twenty years our senior. But calendars didn’t mean as much as they used to, and like most of the party guests, they looked younger than us.
“Landon, Kira, good to see you,” I said.
Ava came over to join us. She had ditched her dress and was now wearing a skirted swim suit. I was certain that she hadn’t had it with her when we left the house.
“Can you believe the season is over already?” Kirabelle asked.
“I have trouble keeping track of the time in general these days,” Ava said.
“Don’t we all,” she said.
“Where have you two been hiding?” Landon asked.
“We were just trying to be fashionably late,” I said.
“Sure you were,” Landon said and chuckled.
We were late to every end of season party, and Landon knew it.
We were interrupted by the sound of helicopter blades. It grew louder as the craft approached the house. It came to a hover over the pool. Someone opened the door, howled, and jumped from the copter into the pool. He landed with a hard splash, but luckily the other party guests had managed to get out of his way before he hit.
“Guess you’re not the last one to the party,” Landon said.
A young girl who looked strikingly like Kirabelle ran up to use. She wore a hot pink, one piece bathing suit with a large hole cut in the side of it. She hung on Landon’s arm. I studied her curiously.
“You remember my daughter, Steela?” he asked.
“Yes. Steela, hi,” I said. “It’s been some time. Are you participating this year?”
“Yep. I’m 18 now. Just turned.”
“Congrats. Enjoy the party,” I said.
Ava and Kirabelle went off on their own, and Landon and I hit the poker table. I was never very good at New York Hold ‘Em, but it was Landon’s favorite, so I humored him. It wasn’t long before a waiter came to him and presented him with a champagne flute full of a blue, bubbly liquid.
“I guess it’s that time,” he said.
Landon took his glass and held it up, as if to toast me, but he didn’t drink. I smiled and said goodbye.
He went to a dimly lit waiting area and sat on a black leather couch, waiting for his family. A moment later, Kirabelle and Steela met him there. They were each holding a glass like his, but with varying amounts of liquid in each.
Ava found me and I went with her to the dining room. I still didn’t eat, but she gorged herself. In truth, it didn’t matter. We would all have our GI tracks cleansed soon enough.
All around us, the party began to dwindle. We occupied ourselves for a while by watching a variety act in the back yard while we waited for our turn to come.
Finally a waiter approached carrying our glasses. Ava’s was twice as full as mine to compensate for all she had eaten. We were escorted to the same couches where Landon and his family had sat.
We each took our glass, and looked at each other. She gave me a pursed smile. Distracted, I studied the bluish liquid, sniffed it, and swirled it out of habit. As I did, the liquid changed, turning a deep purple.
“You’ll bruise it,” Ava said.
I laughed at the notion of bruising a sedative. But I knew that she was right. The bitter taste of the chemical cocktail was hidden beneath a bubbly layer of sweet rosé.
Our glasses gently struck each other with a high pitched clink. She leaned over, pressed her warm lips against mine, then leaned back and elegantly drank the liquid. I followed suit, but gulped my drink.
The wine didn’t do its job. The addition of the sedative made the liquid thicker than wine alone and the bitterness bit through the soft sweetness of the rosé. I was left with an uncomfortable aftertaste, like artificial sweetener mixed with bile.
My discomfort only lasted a moment before the sedative set in.