The door was answered by a thin man with a forgettable face, and Fiona resigned herself to another dull evening with Steve’s work colleagues.
“Evening, Geoff,” Steve said, thrusting a hand out. “We the first?”
Geoff took Steve’s hand and held it limply. “Glad you could make it. Please, come through. I apologise for the mess.” He smiled and ushered them inside.
There was hardly any room for mess. An old grey sofa dominated much of the space. There was a threadbare armchair by the bay window, a chipped coffee table on the pale carpet, and a small TV on a stand by a gas fire that must have been at least thirty years old.
“You didn’t mention what a fine figure your wife had,” Geoff said, running his eyes over her body. She breathed in, wishing she hadn’t worn this dress. It didn’t fit the way it used to.
“I’m trying to lose a few pounds,” she said, feeling her cheeks redden.
“Nonsense! I only wish I didn’t look so much like a cadaver.” He held his arms out, and the word emancipated came to Fiona’s mind. “Not much of an appetite, I’m afraid, although I do enjoy the occasional feast.”
“She does for me,” Steve said, and she gave him a look. He chose to ignore it, grinning as he slapped his own stomach. “And she’ll always look smaller against this.”
“Ah, the body of one who enjoys the finer things in life,” Geoff said. “But where are my manners? But would either of you like a drink?”
“You have any whiskey?” Steve was too loud, and Fiona knew he didn’t really like this man. Why did he have to agree to these ridiculous dinners anyway?
“And for your charming wife?”
“Just a small glass of wine, please. White, if you have it.”
“Of course. I’ll return in a moment.”
When he left, Fiona turned to Steve. “You promised to watch your drinking this evening.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take it slow.” He looked around. “Expected something bigger, though.”
“Maybe he likes it,” she said, wondering why she was sticking up for him.
Geoff returned with a tumbler for Steve, and a wine glass for Fiona. The glass caught the light, and the liquid within glittered. He had a tall glass of something slightly red, and he placed it on a coaster on the coffee table before indicating the sofa. “Please, take a seat.”
They did. Fiona almost expected dust to rise, but the cushions took her in, and she sighed. Maybe she’d judged too hastily.
“Your drinks are satisfactory?” Geoff said as he perched on the edge of the armchair.
Steve nodded, half his drink already gone. “Fine. The others on their way?” He glanced at the window. So obvious that he didn’t want to be here, she thought. But he’d never been one for subtlety.
“Ah, yes.” Geoff’s drink hesitated at his lips. “They called, barely ten minutes ago. Rashid’s youngest is sick, and the Jamesons are having car problems.” He placed his glass back on the table. “But I am sure this evening will still be a success. It is not often I invite people over for dinner. In fact, you are the first guests I’ve entertained in the year I have been here.”
“So how do you enjoy our town?” Fiona asked, spotting Steve’s grin and heading off whatever wise-crack was on his lips.
“I find it charming. Although, unfortunately, it appears that I may not be around for much longer.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve been head-hunted already!” Steve’s voice was too loud again, and his words were starting to slur already.
“It seems I am not my own master. But I intend to have at least one decent meal before I go.’ His eyes dipped to Steve’s empty tumbler. “Another?”
“Wouldn’t say no.”
Fiona shot her husband a look, but he merely shrugged. Geoff took the tumbler and left the room.
“You promised,” she whispered, her head swaying when she leaned closer. She glanced at her own glass, now only half-full.
Geoff returned with a full tumbler. Steve took a sip—not quite a gulp—and put his head back, his eyes closed.
She gave his ankle a kick. Just enough to keep him awake.
“Please excuse my husband,” she said. “He’s had a long day.” But it was no longer than hers, and she felt fine. Although this room was warm, and this dress was too tight.
“He knows what he likes,” Geoff said with a shrug. “I am pleased that it is having such a calming effect on him. And you, my dear—you are comfortable enough?”
“Mmm.” What kind of answer was that? “This sofa’s surprisingly soft.” And she really didn’t want to move. There was a cushion by her side begging to be hugged.
“I don’t believe your husband appreciates you, Fiona.’ He leaned towards her, and she only now noticed how black his eyes were. “You really are a fine body of a woman.’ He placed his full glass down next to her empty one, and his eyes dipped to her stomach. She couldn’t pull the muscles tight like she had before, and a shot of nausea rose at the back of her throat.
There was a snore from beside her, but she didn’t turn. Moving her head seemed an impossible task.
Geoff reached out, a cold hand brushing her arm. Her lip quivered. “So much better than those meatless stick insects,” he said, and he ran his tongue over his large teeth.
His hand ran to her neck, his fingers in her hair. His breath, warm and rank, slid over her cheek as he lowered his head.
“I do so enjoy having people round for dinner.”
She opened her mouth in a silent scream as his teeth came down.
There was a wet ripping sound, and a biting coldness consumed her.
Old Bones Burn Strong
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