Sample Sunday: Poison Ivy

For this week’s #SampleSunday, here is a passage from chapter four of Swallow, entitled “Poison Ivy.” (For a synopsis of the novel, go here).


Poison Ivy

I met her the following Friday night. Stephen had an alumni cocktail party at the Harvard Club in midtown. I’d only been a couple of times with him, and I really didn’t like the place. The people seemed so arrogant and could talk only about their undergraduate days, even the ones who graduated at the turn of the century — last one, that is. When Stephen would introduce me to someone and they’d ask where I went to college — and they always did — they’d look at me like I was mildly retarded when I answered. And then they’d look at him with these quizzical smiles, like they couldn’t understand what one of their ilk was doing with someone so mentally challenged.

Friday’s mixer was special: a childhood friend of Stephen’s, Alana, had just moved back to town from Oxford, where she’d been studying for an advanced law degree. I didn’t know what to expect. Most of his female friends, family members, and former girlfriends whom I’d met were smart, sophisticated, glamorous, and wealthy with posh educations. In his twenties and early thirties, Stephen was, as he said, “rather female identified,” in that he just had a knack for getting along well with women, and thus couldn’t help remaining good friends with his girlfriends after they ceased to be romantically involved. He didn’t so much have classic good looks as he did this combination of commanding-voiced virility, intellectual sophistication, worldly charm, and older-man protectiveness that seemed to attract women. I wasn’t sure whether Alana was a former girlfriend or a friend. When I asked him, he laughed and said they were like brother and sister and not to worry.

Thankfully, I’d managed to rope my best friend from law school, Samia, into the evening’s shindig. Her fiancé, Roger, was an alumnus of the school, so it worked out perfectly. I hadn’t seen much of Sami lately; she’d graduated a year before I did and had been doing a women’s rights fellowship at Georgetown, but, in a shocking 360-degree turn, moved to New York in the fall to work for a big firm. Since she began the firm job, I’d since seen her all of about twice.

Stephen found us a table smack in the center of the room, smack in the center of attention. One look at the platters and I didn’t even want to think of eating. Nearly apple-sized sushi rolls, grapefruit-sized dumplings, a mangled web of snaky noodles labeled “vegetarian.” But nothing for non-solid-eating nutters. I ordered a Merlot. Heavy reds usually filled me up.

“What do you want to eat?” Stephen asked.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Oh c’mon,” he laughed. “They’ve got soft-shell–”

“No,” I snapped without meaning to. I did like the rainbow sushi rolls — the ones filled with soft-shell crab, which they had in abundance. Normally I would have rushed the table, ecstatic to be there before the crowd, to load up.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just … kinda nervous.”

Stephen frowned. He knew I felt uncomfortable here, but couldn’t understand why and hated that I did. I worried it was going to cause some friction, but fortunately she arrived just then, or I should say, made her grand entrance.

“Oh my gaaawd! Stevie!” she screamed out, gliding toward us.

She had long, silky blonde hair, which she wore parted practically all the way to her left ear and which would have covered the entire right side of her face if she didn’t repeatedly fling it back. The fling was quite extravagant too: she dipped her head till her chin touched her chest, then with one swift motion swung it up and over until her forehead nearly grazed her back, golden strands cascading. She was tall, with bronzed skin, and wore a champagne-colored silky dress with high-heeled sandals and a blood-red Pashmina — same basic color as mine but a much richer sheen, as it was, unlike mine, most definitely not a discount. She came with an exotic-looking man who had olive skin and jet-black hair, pulled back into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck.

“Oh my gaawwd,” she howled again, throwing the shawl over the back of the chair next to Stephen, thus revealing her quite voluptuous frame — particularly so up top. The sheerness of her dress and its light color revealed two rather pointy nipples. I was dressed in a black suit which now resembled a nun’s habit.

“I can’t fucking believe it,” she hooted, emphasis on the ‘fucking,’ as she plastered a cherry outline of her lips on each of Stephen’s cheeks, peering over each of his shoulders at me.

“It has been a while,” Stephen said, with a cocked smile.

“Too fucking long, baby, too fucking long.”

She had a way of saying ‘fucking’ that made it seem like she wasn’t just using it as an adjective.

“Whew,” she said, plopping down, her D-cups doing practically a full foot-high jounce. “Oh my gawd,” she said once more. “This is Costa, my good friend from Oxford.” She smacked him, rather hard, on the thigh. “Costie, Stephen, my best best friend from home, from Harvard, from life.”

I was beginning to wonder whether she was on something.

“And this must be the Sophie I’ve heard so much about,” she said, frowning slightly at my suit jacket, buttoned practically all the way up to my chin. I self-consciously undid the top button.

“This would be she,” Stephen smiled, putting his arm around my waist as I moved forward to shake Alana’s hand.

“Hello,” Costa said rather demurely with an accent I couldn’t really place.

“Now Sophie,” Alana smacked the table with her hand making her boobs bounce again. “Tell me all about yourself.”

“Well, um…” I hated being asked open-ended questions about myself. “Um Stephen and I met in school … I mean while I was in law school …”

“Right, at Yale. Stevie was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hack law school, so he had to go somewhere that had a no-ranking policy. Too bad,” she said cocking her head and making a faux pout. “Didn’t get the benefit of a real education.”

I began to feel about two feet tall when she burst out laughing, Stephen laughing with her. I then remembered the Harvard and Yale rivalry thing and realized she was joking.

“I stayed at Harvard for my J.D.,” she went on, “I mean after traveling first in Asia then Africa for a year, did a clerkship in the Ninth Circuit, came to New York for a job at Freedes Wyne, who sent me to Oxford for my L.L.M., and now here I am, back in Freedes’ head office to make youngest female partner,” she said in one breath, followed by a full-force hair flip that landed a few strands in the martini glass of the man passing behind her at the moment.

At first he didn’t notice and continued walking, her wet ends trailing along with him, in the glass. But a second later, when she clearly felt the pull, she turned around and said, “Hey!” now calling the guy’s attention to his sullied drink.

“God, you look a certain way and every man thinks it’s his prerogative to just reach out and take a part of you,” she shouted more than loudly enough for him to hear, upon which I, being in his line of vision, was the recipient of his angry glare. Costa and Stephen looked bemused but entertained.

“Oh wow, um, and, um, do you like your firm?” I asked stupidly, trying to calm her and avoid a scene with martini guy.

But, thankfully, I spied just then a petite, multi-pierced-eared woman with bouncing black curls, pulling behind her a small, red-haired, bespectacled man.

“Samia, Roger!” I cried, flailing my arms about madly.

She cantered over, black mane and fiancé flying behind her. When she reached me, she left what I can only imagine by her lipstick to be bright red implants on each of my cheeks similar to those left by Alana on my fiancé’s. I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever get used to the East Coast kissy kissy culture. Out West, we just said, “hey” in greeting.

“Hi, hi, hi,” Sami chirped, sweetly trying to direct her smile to everyone simultaneously as I nervously made introductions. “Did you go to Harvard?” she asked Alana, who nodded. “Oh, well, I’m Holyoke Yale,” Sami continued, extending her hand. “And he’s Harvard Hopkins Princeton,” she said swinging her arm at Roger, smacking him in the chest with the back of her hand. Sami always kind of babbled when she was nervous; she must have thought it would be fitting here to introduce people by their alma maters.

Hmmm,” Alana laughed, looking at Stephen quizzically as if for interpretation.

“Are you at Lord Pniphken?” Samia asked.

“No, I’m not at Stevie’s firm,” Alana said, looking at Stephen with a somewhat wicked grin that I didn’t like one bit. Perhaps her definition of a sibling-like relationship was different than his. “I’m at Freedes Wyne.”

Her eyes were still focused on my fiancé, who was sitting back in his chair now, seemingly mesmerized by her. He must have caught my glance in his periphery, because he reached for my hand and gave my palm a lovable squeeze, but still without taking his eyes from her.

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