Flashing Lights and Unfaith
By Robert Russell
Amidst pulsating lights, waves of reverberating guitar strums battered the wall behind the table where Michael, Rachel, Mary, and Ken sat facing the stage. The two couples sat in silence, exchanging intermittent glances in the throbbing lights. Tension pervaded the space above the table like an invisible, thick fog.
Michael gazed at Rachel; next month would mark one year together, even though to him, it seemed much longer than that. They never fought, but Michael noticed that things had been growing stagnant. One looming factor that was the source of incredible frustration for Michael was the fact that Rachel was saving herself. He had always been respectful of her wishes, and he stifled his sexual urges, wanting least to upset her with his own desires. But as he sat at the table, next to his girlfriend and across from Mary and Ken, Michael knew he could not last much longer. Aggravation was finally settling in. Michael, a towering, Herculean shadow, wriggled his big frame in his seat and met eyes with Mary, who also appeared dissatisfied and frankly irked.
Mary could not suppress her disgust and irritation towards Ken. He was glued to his phone, paying not a modicum of attention to her. She had always been drawn to the bad guys, but now Ken’s apathy was becoming unbearable. Together for over half a year, things had been good for the most part. But in the past week, a pervading sense of sour animosity had arisen between the two. Mary had had the overwhelming suspicion that Ken was cheating on her, and she even went so far as to confront him about it. He lackadaisically denied any misgivings about his fidelity, which did nothing to alleviate Mary’s wariness. They fought as they had never before, and Mary found consolation in Michael and Rachel. They had tried to offer advice, but truthfully the only advice they had to give was a unanimous leave him. With devious, green eyes hidden under a flaxen mane, she averted her gaze to her soft, intertwined hands above the table, and she began to devise a plan.
Ken could feel Mary’s eyes of daggers, but he didn’t care. He was over arguing and fighting; he didn’t have the strength anymore. It was not worth it. She had been right about the other girl, and Ken knew he should not have lied to her. But it was like a reflex; deny, deny, deny. And he ran with it, his stubbornness precluding any chance to acquiesce and confess. Only to Michael had he disclosed the details of his promiscuity, to which he was met with proper chastisement. Michael had not minced words, and he was right: a girl like Mary didn’t deserve to be treated that way. She was perhaps the most beautiful girl that Ken had been with, let alone the smartest, and even that had not been enough. Relieving himself of any more mental strain, Ken flipped his bangs out of his shallow, blue eyes, and succumbed to the trance of his phone.
Rachel couldn’t yet believe Mary hadn’t broken up with Ken yet. Seated on the right of Michael, Rachel started at her sister with eyes of disapproval and impatience. But Rachel also couldn’t help but revel in the circumstances that had turned. There was an air of superiority that she felt for the first time, and she was delighted in it. For so long, Rachel had lived in the shadow of her sister. Mary had always been more popular, more beautiful, more noticeable, while Rachel had only ever been the smarter sister. But people do not see brains. For her whole life, the sun had seemed to perpetually shine on Mary, but now, the tides had changed. It was Rachel who was now the one with an amazing boyfriend; she was now the one in a happy, perfect relationship; for once, the prettier sister was envious of her. Rachel leaned forward in her chair, her thin posture an enticing silhouette. She kissed Michael gently on his cheek and thought about how patient he had been with her. She had only been holding out to build the suspense and make their first time more memorable, and unbeknownst to him, Rachel had planned to finally give herself to him after the show on that very night. Rachel knew it, and Michael did not, and she reveled in that fact. In the pale light, wispy, brunette strands of hair danced behind her ears, and she peered between Michael and Mary. She found an unfamiliar smile in the darkness of the hall.
Amidst pulsating lights still, each face at the table flashed in different expressions. Seated directly across one another, Michael and Mary continued to exchange glances as the band droned on. In the passing light, Mary made a subtle gesture to Michael that only he received; she nudged her head slightly in the direction of the bathrooms, and then she stood up and sauntered away. Michael immediately deciphered her invitation, and for a moment he sat stunned, overwhelmed in ambivalence. No, no, no, not a chance; she probably just wants to talk about Ken, or rather complain. But Michael could not seem to cast out the possibility of something else. Eventually, curiosity won the battle in his mind, and ushered forth by temptation, he left the table under the guise of “just going to the bathroom.”
Rachel was not as perturbed at Michael’s departure – he would be back shortly. However, she did not enjoy the fact that Ken was now her only company. He remained silent, seemingly somewhere else, and Rachel had no intention of making conversation with him. Instead, she reclined in her seat, retrieved her cigarettes, and sparked one, not accidentally blowing smoke in Ken’s general direction. Intermittently, she glanced down the walkway towards the bathrooms and waited patiently for her boyfriend’s return.
Ken had barely noticed that Mary and Michael had left. He was entranced in his phone; the other girl was sending him raunchy texts. After each new message, he grinned and moved spastically in his chair. In the tiny light from his phone against the sporadic darkness of the hall, Ken looked like a haughty gremlin, the way he was caressing his compact communicator like a treasure. He may as well not have even been at a concert for all he knew. Mary was certainly the last thing on his mind.
Mary had found her plan of retaliation against Ken, and it was Michael. I bet this will get his attention. Without considering her sister, Mary stood before a dirty mirror, her face dully illuminated in the red light, waiting in suspense. Not a moment later, Michael was there, behind her, his reflection in the mirror shadowed with animalistic urgency. The powder keg was ignited; she whipped around and threw herself into him. His large, sinewy arms lifted her up swiftly, and he placed her on the dirty bathroom counter. Michael was strong, much stronger than Ken, and he was gentle, yet rough simultaneously. Ecstasy dripped from her red lips as she fell into him, and she surrendered herself to his warm, inviting skin.
Michael had crossed the threshold now. There was no turning back. In a second, he was with Mary, their two bodies entangled like two slithering serpents in the light. Against the static sound from the stage, the two danced in tandem, their vocals growing louder and louder below the band’s clamor. Rachel was nonexistent now. He had shut the door on her as he had the bathroom; he had shut the door on his ambivalence, on a year of sexual frustration, on a failing relationship, on everything. Sweaty pheromones bloomed in the cloudy air; the dirty mirror fogged from their heavy breaths. Their syncopated gyrations followed the stifled beat of the drum. Its percussive tempo grew faster and faster, and then, like a symphonic denouement, cymbals sounded a climax for the two in unison. Michael and Mary drifted in each others’ arms, sighing simultaneously and falling to the whim of their hedonistic exploration.
Amidst pulsating veins and electric skin, Michael and Mary emerged from the bathroom and moved briskly back to their table. Mary took her place next to Ken, who didn’t budge even an inch, still glued to his phone. Michael took his place next to Rachel, who inquired about their long absence. Long line at the bathroom Michael responded calmly. As if it were rehearsed, Michael and Mary retrieved cigarettes and lit up. Rachel leaned back in her chair and looked upon her boyfriend in the passing light and then at her sister. And for a second, she thought she had noticed sly grins appear on both their faces.