by Paula Gail Benson
Enjoy this never before published suspense short story.
“Remember, to be an Eve on New Year’s Eve is truly special. Even if you don’t have a date for my party.”
Eve had been listening to Charlotte on her hands-free phone as she drove to the spa. She made a mental note: in the future only take Charlotte’s calls on a land line, one equipped with a heavy receiver Eve could slam into its base.
The last time she heard from Charlotte, she had snapped her cell shut when Charlotte told her about watching Eve’s ex-husband nibbling a blond bimbette’s ear over an expensive dinner. Eve found the snapping didn’t give her the same satisfaction as slamming the receiver on Charlotte’s ear when Charlotte had called to ask if Eve could dog-sit while Charlotte and her boyfriend, Rob, made a trip to the mountains. Rob, who by all rights should be Eve’s Rob, not Charlotte’s. How dare Charlotte ask Eve to dog-sit while Charlotte and Rob went on a tryst? But then, Charlotte had always displayed an evil one-upmanship.
Having neither a slam nor snap option with her hands free phone, Eve improvised. “You’re breaking up, Charlotte.”
“Rob and I will see you later,” Charlotte replied before Eve could disconnect.
Eve parked and exited her SUV with her wardrobe bag across one arm and her large leather Hobo purse with shoes and evening bag inside, secured on the other shoulder. She looked up at the building as she approached. A grass green canopy made to resemble palm tree fronds hung over the entrance of the Fountain of Youth Day Spa and Salon, an upgrade in appearance from Eve’s previous visit to the establishment, when it was under different management and known as The Feel Better Spa.
The windows on either side of the entrance were cloaked by lush, mint green curtains. A sign between the curtain and glass, in the right corner closest to the set of double oak doors, discretely announced a new treatment: Complete Holiday Party Body Prep.
Eve had been hesitant about using her gift certificate to the spa because it was a Christmas gift from Charlotte. At first, Eve wondered if Charlotte had arranged for Eve to receive a bad result from the treatment. Then, Eve saw her friend Shelia at a party on Christmas Day. Sheila had spent Christmas Eve getting the Body Prep package at The Fountain of Youth. Shelia looked as if she had been surgically altered by an expert in all the necessary places.
So, Eve decided Charlotte’s gift simply implied she was too old and tired to tempt Rob. Eve could easily refute that presumption, and it would be sweeter to flout it using Charlotte’s buck–that is, Charlotte’s money and Charlotte’s male. When Eve made her appointment for New Year’s Eve, she had been told to bring only her outfit; the spa and salon would handle the rest.
Eve had chosen a stunning black dress, featuring a floor length skirt slit to her right calf and overlaid with swishing gold fringe. The bodice, encrusted in rhinestones, boosted her chest while baring her shoulders. Rob wouldn’t be able to resist her. Once she entered the room, his eyes would link with hers and he would be drawn to her side. Any thoughts about Charlotte would be wiped from his mind.
Charlotte, their hostess for the New Year’s Eve party, and the bane of Eve’s existence.
All through school, jobs, marriages, and changes in social status, they had competed. Over grades, praise, cheerleader positions, roles in plays, pay raises, volunteer positions with the Junior League and of course, boys and men. But this time Charlotte had gone too far.
Eve had picked out Rob as her rebound. He had been just the boost she needed after her nasty divorce. She found him at the community college where she started out taking Spanish, but quickly dropped the course after discovering it was populated with balding, middle-aged, divorced men trawling for twenty something bimbettes. She was lucky she hadn’t run into her ex-husband there.
She switched to a photography class, knowing it required a modicum of work that wouldn’t attract middle-aged losers and there was Rob; at least ten years her junior (eleven years younger than Charlotte), tall, wavy dark curls, a bewitching smile and eyes that made you feel as if you could take a swim in their chocolate richness.
Rob had become her photo buddy, taking her on long walks through the town, finding unique locations to shoot. He planned to start his own studio. She offered her divorce settlement to invest in his business. Maybe be his silent partner, financially and otherwise.
One day, while they were having coffee at an outdoor cafe, Charlotte happened by. She took a seat at their table and began talking about how she needed a photographer to help with a Greyhound Rescue Program benefit she was organizing. Suddenly, Charlotte became Rob’s best bud. He was gone without even a backward glance at Eve.
Well, Eve was going to fix that by stealing him back at Charlotte’s New Year’s Eve party tonight. In addition to the sensational dress, she had discovered that the Fountain of Youth’s Body Prep package provided full body facials, hair styling and nail and make-up treatments. “Walk in one age and leave as young as you want to be!” was the Spa’s advertised promise. Eve made an appointment for six o’clock to be ready, and then late, for the party at nine.
She arrived early for her appointment and was surprised to find the lobby empty instead of teaming with customers. Maybe the prices for the services were prohibitive, but Eve thought her package reasonable for what was promised–worth it, considering Sheila’s transformation.
The new management had removed all the products customers had been urged to buy in the past. The lobby’s walls, decorated by a sponged effect in three shades of “goldish” taupe or champagne, provided a backdrop for a sculpted granite fountain with a central graceful arch of water surrounded by short spouts, each with its own distinctive pastel-hued spray. Against the wall, a mahogany table contained a number of upside-down glass tumblers and a pitcher of clear liquid.
Eve turned to see a tall, slender, young woman approaching. She wore a name plate that identified her as Gracie. Her voice was silky, comforting, like the operator Eve had overheard when she accidentally picked up on her ex-husband’s phone sex call. Non-threatening, her ex-husband had made a point of telling her in feeble explanation.
Perhaps being a phone sex operator was Gracie’s side line. Her look and outfit exuded a professional, definitely non-threatening presence. She wore large, round, dark framed glasses that complemented her straight, glossy brunette hair. The plaid skirt and sky blue shirt, its tails hanging below a navy sleeveless shell, gave the impression of preppy school girl chic.
“Won’t you have a sip of one of our waters?” Gracie asked as she stopped before Eve. “Each spout of the fountain has a different blend.”
Eve delicately wrinkled her nose, signaling youthful dislike while avoiding permanent creases. She never liked things spouting at her, particularly if they might contain calories. Too much like those unsanitary chocolate geysers at receptions. “No, thank you.”
“I know,” Gracie said, as she took a tumbler from the table and filled it with liquid from one of the spouts. “It may seem a little unconventional, but I assure you it’s very refreshing. We find it helps put our customers in the mood for their services.”
Eve looked at the liquid in the tumbler. It contained a pinkish-looking pulp floating in swirls.
“This is our own special blend,” Gracie explained, extending the tumbler toward Eve. “We believe it helps to start the rejuvenating process from within. Please try it and let me know what you think.”
“My doctor advises me to avoid citrus products,” Eve replied firmly.
“I understand,” Gracie said smoothly, putting the tumbler down on the table and taking Eve’s wardrobe bag and purse. She gestured for Eve to follow and they went through a door to a darkened hallway leading to the treatment rooms. Gracie stopped at a door at the end of the corridor and placed the bags on a wooden chair just inside. In the center of the room, a table was carefully made up with sheets and a fluffy blanket. Along the back wall, a counter with wooden cabinets above and a sink at one end, held bottles and containers for the preparations.
“Would you care for a robe?” the young woman asked, turning to face Eve.
Eve thought the young woman smiled, but it was difficult to see her expression in the dim light of the room. “No,” Eve said. “I’ll undress here and get under the covers.”
Gracie nodded and left Eve alone, thinking that the spa employees must be moles to work in this relative darkness. A whiff of scent–incense–caused Eve to clear her throat. In the corner, she noticed a trash can and beside it a small, square wooden table that held a vase full of artistically arranged twigs. She recognized the vase and its arrangement as a remnant of the previous owner and remembered it, probably because she had advised that the owner to get rid of it. No woman coming to be moisturized at a spa wanted to see a decoration that featured a dried up bunch of twigs.
She took off her clothes, neatly placing them on the spare hanger in her wardrobe bag. She admired her smooth, well proportioned body in the full length mirror on the back of the door, and noticed an overhead mirror had been installed to give her another fabulous view.
Eat your heart out, Charlotte, she thought. Rob, you can nibble on me. The scent of incense clogged her throat again. She began to cough.
A knock sounded on the door. “Do you need some water?” a voice called from outside.
“No thanks.” Eve saw a container with paper cups beside the sink in the counter. She filled a cup with tap water and took a sip. It tasted bitter, metallic. They should filter their taps, she thought. She poured the remaining contents from her cup into the vase with the twigs before tossing the cup into the trash can. She eased her body between the covers, feeling the luxury of the high thread count. At least they hadn’t skimped there, or maybe she noticed it because the sheets were new and hadn’t had too many washings. The covers were warm and inviting. Eve figured this must be how it felt to be tucked into a crib–or, a fleece sleeping bag–with Rob.
The stylist entered. “My name is Linda,” she said.
“Hello, Linda,” Eve said. She had spent enough time in the Spanish class to remember that “linda” meant “pretty.” Unfortunately, the name was as pretty as this woman got. She was stocky and had a face that still showed the ravages of extreme acne, despite the woman’s mature years. Eve figured it would be best to steer clear of asking how Linda intended to spend her New Year’s Eve. She considered Linda’s prospects rather bleak.
“Have you had a spa treatment before?” Linda asked.
“Yes, many times.”
“Do you have any allergies I should be aware of?”
Had Linda been listening to her earlier conversation with Gracie? “Only drinking them.”
Eve thought for a moment. “Smooth, sweet smelling skin. Moist lips and no wrinkles. Tight skin around the chin and neck. I read that’s what this treatment does.”
Linda nodded while gently helping to get Eve positioned. Her hands were soft against Eve’s skin. “It can be very effective.”
“I want to be the star of the party,” Eve told her.
“How young do you want to look?”
“Like the youngest person in the room.”
A small, sweet smile emerged on Linda’s cavernous face. “I was hoping you might say that.”
Linda’s gentle massage seemed to lift the wrinkles from Eve’s face. The alternatively warm and cool towels tightened the skin beneath her chin. Eve took a glance at herself in the overhead mirror. Her chin stuck out, strong and resilient, reminding her of the time when she was crowned college homecoming queen and Charlotte was simply a member of the honor court. Charlotte’s face had been a study in envy. The thorough and invigorating kneading of her flesh made Eve feel “floaty,” like an out of body experience. She looked at her left leg and toes as Linda’s grasps seemed to almost pull her away from her own body.
Just behind Linda was the full length mirror. The bud vase with twigs was reflected in the mirror; must have been a trick of the light that made it look as if those twigs had begun to bud. Like the spray of rosebuds Eve had been handed over the footlights when she played the lead in the high school musical. Eve remembered catching a glimpse of Charlotte grimacing while watching Eve’s triumph from the chorus.
Eve could sense herself shrinking beneath Linda’s capable hands. She glanced at her right hand as Linda lathered on the oil. Eve’s slender fingers reminded her of the music recital when she was ten. Her performance piece had been considered more difficult than Charlotte’s, so she played later in the program and Charlotte fumed when Eve received more praise.
Linda tugged at Eve’s hair.
“Ouch, that hurts.”
“Sorry,” Linda replied. Her fingers began to caress Eve’s scalp.
“I need for my hair to look good. It almost feels like you’re lifting it from my head.”
“Relax. I won’t let you leave without looking like the star of the party.”
Eve believed. She felt herself falling asleep–feeling soft, pure, warm and secure. She let go of all envy, worries and deadlines. When she woke, she heard Linda talking with someone else.
“I hope you’re pleased with my work,” Linda said.
“Absolutely.” Eve thought it sounded like Charlotte’s voice, but why would Charlotte be here?
“Now, Eve, don’t you worry. I’m giving Linda a hefty tip.”
Eve couldn’t speak. She could think and hear, but her vision was blurry. She felt herself being lifted. How could Charlotte manage that by herself? Eve’s eyes adjusted to the light. Charlotte was holding her up to the mirror on the back of the door.
“See your transformation for yourself, darling Eve.”
Charlotte was in a slinky red lame dress. Very tasteless, Eve thought. Then, Eve noticed that Charlotte was holding an infant in a diaper. Linda brought a headband and attached to the baby’s head. In the center of the bow, it had a button with the date of the New Year.
“Now you have your wish, Eve. You’ll be the star of the party, the youngest person in the room. The New Year’s baby! And when you arrive at midnight, I’ll be kissing Rob.”
Eve heard a loud wail. She didn’t realize it was coming from her mouth until Charlotte placed her in the arms of a very old man.
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