Prelude to a Slap

Fiction by Hermine Robinson
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“I'm not putting up with any of Lisa's crap tonight,” said Madi. She glanced
up from applying rose coloured lip gloss to gauge Eric's reaction. Behind her,
Eric paused in towel drying his hair.

“Say what?”

Madi sucked in her lips to spread the gloss evenly and used her pinkie finger
to clean up the smudge at the corner of her mouth. She smiled at Eric's
reflection in the bathroom mirror. “You heard me. I'm in no mood for Lisa's
bullshit. Not tonight.”

Eric reached around Madi for one of her eye shadows, a smokey blue-grey.
“Well in that case, let me colour in the black eye right now.”

“I'm not kidding, Eric.” Madi snatched her eye shadow from him as he
pressed his nakedness against her back. “Stop it.” She glared at Eric's grin
as his hands slid forward, his thumbs stroking down her neck on the way to
the top of her blouse. “We're going to be late,” said Madi. Eric gave her
shoulders a quick squeeze and turned away, giving up too easily. Madi
applied a quick dusting of blush and followed him to the bedroom where
she had  laid out his suit and a freshly ironed shirt.

“You okay?” she asked, as he buttoned up the shirt twice before getting it
right.

“Yep.” He flipped up his shirt collar and held out a tie. “String me up, babe.”

Madi tied an expert half-Windsor and stretched up for a kiss. Eric responded
with a light peck. She sighed and tucked a loose wisp of dark blonde hair
behind her ear. “Ted and Lisa are going to know something is up,” she said.
“You wearing a suit. Me wearing make up.”

Eric shrugged into his suit jacket and adjusted his tie. “Ted knew something
was up as soon as I invited him and Lisa out for steak dinner at The Keg
instead of the usual.”

The 'usual' meant taking a six-pack over Ted and Lisa's double-wide on
Saturday night and ordering in pizza – meat-lover's with extra cheese –
because Lisa always voted with the guys.

Madi took a slice to be polite and slid it back into the box when no one was
looking. Tonight she looked forward to having something other than greasy,
over-loaded pizza. “What time is our reservation?”

Eric checked his watch. “Seven o'clock, we better hustle.”

“Wait,” said Madi. “Forget the suit jacket and wear your leather coat instead,
it'll be warmer.”

They planned to walk the five blocks to the restaurant so Madi could
celebrate without having to worry about being the designated driver. For
once Lisa would not be able to taunt her about being a teetotaller.

“Can I lose the noose too?” asked Eric. Madi smiled as he tossed aside the
tie and undid the top button of his collar. Dressing down gave him the casual,
yet sophisticated look she had fallen in love with when they first met at
University three years ago. “Have you got everything?” Eric asked as he
helped Madi on with her coat.

“Everything that matters,” she said, holding up her left hand. The gold band
was too large and the engagement ring felt strange and uncertain on her
finger, but she had decided to hold off  getting it sized until after the
weekend. She twisted the diamond around to catch the light and the sight
of it brought a lump to her throat. “I still can't believe it's real.”

“It's real,” said Eric. “The guy on the corner assured me it was absolutely,
100% genuine.” He liked to joke, but Madi knew he had saved up all
summer since graduation so he could propose on the third anniversary of
their first date. She thumbed the diamond inward and clenched her fist
to keep the ring safe for the brisk walk to the restaurant.

“It looks like they got here early,” said Eric when he spotted Ted's Crown
Victoria in The Keg parking lot. Madi had laughed the first time she saw
Ted's car, and asked Eric if his best friend was eighty years old and wore
a tweed Fedora. Eric pointed to the faded outline of police decals on the
doors and explained that Ted had bought the car at a city auction. “He thinks
it's bad-ass and keeps it running with cheap parts from work.”

Ted managed the service department at his father-in-law's auto dealership
and Madi resisted the urge to cough the word 'nepotism' into her hand
whenever Lisa bragged about Ted's latest raise or bonus. Whenever Lisa
talked about money, Eric hugged Madi afterwards and whispered
someday.
Meanwhile, they scraped by on Eric's student loans and Madi's cashier job.

Someday finally arrived last spring when Eric graduated and landed a job
with a tech firm, but that had only been a few months ago. Madi still found
it hard to break out of the mindset of being perpetually broke. As they
followed the hostess to their table Madi said, “Lisa's going to order the
most expensive thing on the menu because you're buying.”

“I've got it covered.”

Madi twisted her diamond solitaire inward and kept it hidden below the
table when she slid into the booth beside Lisa. She would wait for Eric to
announce the news.

Ted was affable and loud. “Hey man, hope you don't mind that we started
without you.”

Eric ordered beer for himself and another round of drinks for Ted and Lisa
before turning to Madi.

“A white wine spritzer,” she said.

Lisa raised an eyebrow and glanced down at Madi's lap. “I knew it.” She
grabbed Madi's left hand and pulled it up to show Ted. “I told you he'd finally
popped the question. Look at that ring.” Madi wrestled her wrist out of Lisa's
grip. Her hand shook as she adjusted the ring to show it off properly.

“Congratulations,” said Ted.

“About time,” said Lisa. “It's been four years already.”

“Three,” corrected Madi. “Eric proposed on the third anniversary of our first
date.”

“Seems like longer,” said Lisa.

Madi looked to Eric for help. He just shrugged and opened the menu. “We're
celebrating, so order what you like, I'm buying.”

Lisa switched to drinking highballs and ordered prime rib to make up for
three years of paying for pizza. After Eric picked up the dinner tab, Ted
suggested they hit the lounge for a few more drinks. Madi cringed.

“Maybe we should have a couple of beer at our place, instead.” said Eric.
“It's close, we can walk.”

“Oh yeah, sure,” drawled Lisa. “Four years later and now we finally get an
invite.”

“Three years,” said Madi.  She took Lisa by the arm and steered her in the
right direction while Eric and Ted brought up the rear. Ted and Lisa seldom
came to Madi and Eric's place – their belt-line apartment had hardwood
floors and the building manager lived right below – it was a terrible place to
party. But tonight Madi decided a noise complaint was better than spending
more money at the bar. Ted slumped in a chair, his head lolled back. Lisa
looked revived from the walk and took a beer when Eric offered it. Madi
shot him a glare.

“Relax,” he said. “We're celebrating.”

“Yes!” said Lisa, raising her bottle. “Four years! It's about time you made an
honest woman of her, Eric.”

Madi said, “Give it a rest Lisa, I've already told you; Eric and I have been
dating three years, not four.” She glanced over at Eric for back up, but he
ignored her. Ted was passed out and snoring, so no help there.

“Nope, I'm pretty sure it's been four.”

“No. Lisa. You're wrong.” Madi took Lisa's beer and set it on the table.

The slap came fast and hard. Madi touched her left cheek and stared at
Lisa in disbelief. Lisa raised her hand again, but Eric tackled her before she
could land a second blow. Ted staggered up from the chair in time to see
the two of them grappling on the floor.  

Madi leaned down to get in Lisa's face. “I dare you to hit me again, bitch.”

“Shut up Madi! You're not helping,” yelled Eric.

Madi paced back and forth holding her cheek while Lisa kicked and
screamed. Eric shoved some bills in Ted's hand. “I'll call you a cab, take
Lisa downstairs and wait in the lobby.” Eric threw the deadbolt behind them
and turned to Madi. “What was that about? Starting a fight? Tonight of all
nights?”

“I did it so you and Ted could finally see Lisa for what kind of person she
really is.”

“Unbelievable,” said Eric, brushing past Madi. “I have to call a cab.” He
stopped and turned back. “I guess you're right, I learned something tonight.”

Madi touched her cheek where it stung.

The End


Biography
Hermine Robinson lives and writes in Calgary, Alberta where winters are
long and inspiration is plentiful. She loves all things short fiction and refuses
to be the place where perfectly good characters and their stories come to
die. Her work has appeared in numerous on-line and print publications and
she blogs irregularly at
wordflights.wordpress.com.


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Published June 14, 2015