The three of them sat around the modular couch that filled most of Shane’s living room. Jenny sat close to Ada despite the vast sitting space that surrounded them, while Shane spread himself out in the center of the soft leather cushions. A large-screen TV recessed into the only solid wall around them. The rest of the walls were clear, floor-to-ceiling glass that overlooked the city below. Shane’s house was amazing. It clung to the top of the hill above the city like some cartoonish abode barely attached to the earth that supported it. The winding road leading to the gates of his estate, and anyone who saw it would call it an estate, not just a home, offered breath-taking views of the city on a clear day even when Shane revved the engine of his car and gunned it through each hair-pin turn.
When they had first met, Shane had bragged endlessly about the private equity work he did, but Ada neither understood it nor really listened. Men she met in bars routinely boasted about their work to her, but she’d grown immune to it. She thought it was just their way of trying to entice her interest in them. Little did they know that the money or careers seldom made them attractive in her eyes. Not that she was prone to ignore it. It just wasn’t a primary factor for her.
The first time Shane took her to his house she spent half the time with her mouth agape. From the long private drive up the side of the hill above the city to the expansive steppe gardens that flowed down the hill from his patio, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was like an episode of Cribs had sprung to life around her. Every room seemed as big as her tiny townhome in the city with its fenced, postage-stamp-sized backyard. She loved her townhome and felt immense pride in the fact that she’d bought it herself, but it felt so small and insignificant in the shadow of Shane’s hillside mansion.
Likewise, Jenny, who is effusive on a bad day, was rendered speechless as Ada gave her a tour of her new home. Ada had only lived there for a couple of weeks and she still got turned around in the cavernous and numerous hallways, but she managed to give Jenny a whirlwind tour that ended with them sitting on the couch near Shane praising his home with superlatives as they sipped expensive wine from crystal glasses. He pretended to be engrossed in the TV, but he silently listened to Ada’s praises and almost burst with pride as he was prone to do.
In a moment of giddiness, Shane proposed a toast to “our lives together” as he looked into Ada’s eyes. She smiled and Jenny giggled as the glasses clinked. All three of them leaned back into the leather cushions sipping their drinks. The voluptuous red wine relieved them of any tension they felt. Ada had been worried about how Jenny would handle meeting Shane so up close and personal. She had argued against moving in with him and had questioned the very basis of their relationship. Not that Shane had known any of this, but Ada was afraid that he could sense the disdain that Jenny held for him. She looked for any outward signs from Jenny as they all talked, but she could see none, and Shane seemed his outwardly, gregarious self, a persona he commonly assumed in the presence of guests or clients.
For a brief moment, Jenny lapsed into memories of Shane’s many faces including the one she had seen only emerge sporadically, the angry, controlling man who was too quick to impose upon her physically. She visibly flinched in her repose on the couch. She looked at Shane and then Jenny to see if either noticed. Neither did. Shane had been on his best behavior since she had agreed to move in with him. She was satisfied that he had simply lost control of his emotions earlier. Now, if she could just get Jenny to believe it.
She hadn’t seen much of Jenny in the past two weeks. Part of it was Jenny’s dissatisfaction with her decision to move in with Shane. She had protested heartily, and when she had lost the argument on grounds purely emotional, she had disappeared into the crowd around Ada’s life. It wasn’t that she refused to talk to Ada. She simply didn’t make the effort that she normally made, and since Ada was absorbed in preparations for her move, the two had barely spoken by the time they sat next to each other on the long couch in Shane’s spacious living room.
Shane excused himself to retrieve another bottle of wine from his wine cellar in the basement. Jenny moved closer to Ada on the couch as she watched him leave.
“How has it been living here with him?” she asked coyly.
“Great! I love it!”
“Seriously. Has he shown any signs of aggression?”
“Jenny, he just lost his temper. He knows he was wrong. He’s been nothing but the kindest man to me since I moved in.”
“You haven’t fought once?” Jenny seemed doubtful.
“Not once.” Ada shook her head affirmatively.
“A leopard doesn’t change his spots, Ada.”
“Spare me the clichés. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
Before Jenny could answer, Shane popped back into the room with a couple of fresh wine bottles. She gave Ada a hurt look but said nothing. She turned away to eye the interloper who walked behind the bar on the edge of the living room.
“What are you ladies talking about?” Shane asked. He seemed in good humor.
“Just catching up,” Ada responded quickly. He detected a slight squeak to her voice, but he didn’t mention it. Instead, he popped the cork on an expensive red wine that he had been holding for just the right moment. The tannins rushed to his nostrils and he breathed them in. He refilled his glass, took the bottle to the couch, and refilled the others’ as well.
The afternoon passed quickly. The blur of conversation became ever more incorrigible with each sip of wine. By the time Jenny stood up to meet the Uber that had just arrived at the gate, she danced like a weak sapling in a slight wind. She leaned in to kiss Ada goodbye and barely landed the kiss on her cheek. Ada laughed and steadied Jenny with her hand.
Shane bid Jenny farewell without moving from his spot on the couch. He didn’t seem drunk in the very least, but he was too comfortable to move for Ada’s awkward friend. Ada followed Jenny to the door to wait for the car to pull up at the top of the drive. At first they said nothing to each other, and then Jenny wavered. She put her arm around Ada to steady herself. Ada giggled.
“How many glasses did you have?” Ada asked.
“Just a couple.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Oh…I’m fine. I’m just a little woozy. I think I need a nap.”
Ada giggled again. The car rounded the loop in the drive and stopped at the bottom of the steps near the front porch. Ada helped Jenny maneuver the steps and get in the car.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ada asked again.
Jenny smiled as she plunked down into the back seat somewhat wobbly. “I’m fine…,” she said as she looked up to Ada, “…remember what I said.”
“About the leopard.”
Ada sighed but retained the smile on her face. “You’re drunk, Jenny. Go home and get some rest.” Ada leaned down and hugged her friend before she shut the door and watched the car pull away down the winding drive. She steadied herself and walked back into the house.
Shane still sat in the same spot she had left him. Without a word, she lay down near where she and Jenny had just spent most of the afternoon. She closed her eyes for a moment before Shane broke the silence.
“I don’t like your friend.”
Ada opened her eyes and frowned to the ceiling. “Jenny?”
“Because she’s a nosy, know-it-all.”
“How can you possibly make that judgment? You barely know her.”
“I’m a great judge of character. That’s how I make my living.”
Ada rolled her head to the side to look directly at Shane. He looked angry, discontent, and his disposition worried her. She’d seen that look before. She started to argue but thought better of it. They were both under the influence of the wine. She decided to remain silent and hope that once the wine wore off he’d come to his senses, but the implicit threat electrified the air between them. She returned her gaze to the ceiling and breathed in heavily.
“I don’t want you hanging out with her anymore.”
“She’ll try to come between us. She’s jealous of how happy you are. I could see it her eyes. I know women like her. They’re never happy when their friends are happy.”
“Jenny’s not like that.”
“You’re blind to her.”
A silence hung between them. Ada peered through the gauze of the wine. Shane seemed to mumble something else, but she couldn’t understand it. She felt confused.
“Did you hear me?” Shane asked impatiently.
“What?” Ada responded somewhat irritated by her inability to comprehend her surroundings. The wine made her dizzy.
She heard Shane get up from the couch. She blinked and he was there in front of her standing seemingly high above her looking down at her with an ugly scowl on his face.
“I forbid you from seeing her again. Do you understand me?”
In that moment it seemed inconceivable that Ada had heard him correctly, but the look on his face and his stance above her frightened her. The wine had sapped all her cognitive abilities. She just wanted to sleep and make that angry version of him go away.
“Okay,” she whimpered. She shut her eyes and turned away from him. He stood there for a few seconds, fists clinched, and waited for further argument. He stared at her disdainfully. Once he was satisfied that she understood him, he placed his wine glass on the bar and left the room.
Ada fell asleep unsure if she had dreamed the encounter or if it had actually happened. Her mind struggled to discern the difference. She hoped sleep would make it all better.