Wherever we go out together, people ask if we’re sisters, sometimes twins. We look alike, Katharine and I, even her mother says so. We’re redheads, mine more strawberry, hers, light auburn. Hazel-eyed, both of us.
It’s Katharine’s idea. We want to see if we can confuse our guys, see how long before they realize we’ve changed places. With this in mind, we’ve dressed in similar outfits, silky green v-necklines, slinky black pants. Besides, we’re counting on the ambience at Luna—quiet reggae and candle-lighting—to keep our secret.
The food is Caribbean, exotic, tangy, plantains and jerk chicken, tequila shrimp and blackened red fish. The waitress, Claudette, is from the islands, strong and confident, bone-sharp cheeks. Both men give her the once over, twice over. Katharine kicks my shin and our eyes meet. She nods and I nod back.
We sit with our husbands across from each other, celebrating ten years of friendship, Katharine and I drinking Dark-n-Stormys, the guys rum punches. We tell Claudette to keep the cocktails coming.
After we’re more than tipsy, we giggle our way to the bathroom where we switch outfits, hers a little tight on me, but not too bad. We rearrange our hair, mine comes down, hers goes up. We reach into purses and find perfume. I dab mine behind her ears. She dabs hers in the hollow of my neck. Our eyes meet. We grin.
Back at the table, we change seats, me next to Katharine’s Jason, her next to Steve, snuggling up. His arm stretches around her. The guys must know, they have to know, but I’ll play along. See how far we can push it.
The food comes, but none of us are hungry. Booze-full. We toast our ten years again and swig. Toast again. The guys laugh louder than usual. The room slides around me, the lamps on the walls turning into comets. Katharine’s Jason leans over, whispers in my ear, his breath hot and sweet with rum, his hand on my thigh. “We’d better Uber home. We’re both too drunk.”
Being this close to him is a turn on and it surprises me because I haven’t thought about him in that way, not really. Not at all.
I glance at Steve across the table. Does he know? How can he not know? Doubt cramps my chest. This was one stupid idea.
Steve turns toward Katharine, says something that makes her laugh. I strain to hear, but their whispers are like sounds made on pillows, and then he cups her chin in his hand and kisses her lightly on the lips. She kisses him back.
Jason’s chair scrapes the floor. “Going to the head.”
Katharine and Steve don’t notice. I scan the room to see if anyone is watching, catching the cold eye of a well-dressed hag and drop my head to stare at the Jamaican tamales on my plate. Queasiness rumbles my stomach. I feel like I did at junior high dances when everyone seemed to have a partner, but me. I didn’t understand it then. I wasn’t ugly, I wasn’t fat, but awkward, and all that discomfort rushes back to me.
Jason hasn’t returned from the bathroom. The waitress is nowhere in sight, and across from me, my friend and my husband are whispering together, laughing, hands touching an arm, a collar, the pendant hanging between Katharine’s breast. I am so stupid. Why did I go along with this? To play a joke on the husbands? To add a little spice to our marriages? What the hell was I thinking?
I get up, the chair scraping, almost tipping back. Hurry to the bathroom. The door to the men’s room is locked. I knock, no one answers.
A man comes up behind me, says, “The women’s bathroom is there,” pointing to the neighboring door. Without looking up, I dash in and lock it. I am a fool. I want the night to end. I stay where I am, ignoring knocks even when it’s Steven at the door.
“Come on out,” he says. “We were just playing a joke on you.”
A joke on me?
“Please come out.”
“Time to go home. We’ve paid the bill.”
“Steven, you kissed Katharine like you meant it.”
“Don’t be silly. I thought she was you.”
I don’t say anything.
“Come on. There’s someone out here who wants to use the bathroom.”
I unlock the door and stagger out, my feet unsure of themselves, head spinning. I don’t look up because I know my mascara’s running and my face is red. I nudge by Steven and walk quickly through the restaurant and out into the cool night air. I wait for them to follow, but they don’t. I can see them through the big paned window, all sitting around the table, laughing, like nothing has happened. But it has.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. She’s published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.