Interacting with Ariana

Free excerpt from The Abandoned, available September 30, 2021

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            Ariana swirled her wodin in her glass to entertain herself while she waited for Heather to come back outside. If she wasn’t doing something fidgety, she would have gulped her drink too fast, and today she wanted to keep her wits intact. So, she committed to sipping it slow, which was an uphill battle. When Ariana was in situations requiring her to monitor her drinking, she realized how dependent she was on alcohol. The aroma, burn, and sensation proved to be a viable, albeit short-term, solution to her general uneasiness. For having parents whose livelihoods alcohol destroyed, LaVonte didn’t ride her too hard on her habit. After all, pulling the strings for the world’s most prosperous trafficking organization didn’t give him much leverage to mandate her substance intake.

            The Lawrences’ view of the Pacific Ocean was mesmerizing. Even though California still had spectacular views, further inland than they used to be, Morple’s were noticeably clearer and breathtaking. Having only been populated for fifty-nine years and being the capital of clean-energy industries, pollution was nearly nonexistent. How one of the most oppressive states in the country’s history was also the most beautiful was quite ironic. Ariana even found it laughable.

            Frank snapped Ariana out of her trance by lathering her bare feet with his slobber. His tongue tickled her toes, causing her to unintentionally flinch and kick him in the face. “Oh Finn, I mean Frank, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

            She scratched him in between the eyes hoping he’d understand that meant she was sorry. The night the Karroses reentered her life she saw Jonathan doing that with his dog, so she assumed Frank would like it, too.

            “Awe, I see you’ve made a new friend out here,” Heather said. She came out holding an empty glass of wine, an unopened bottle of merlot, and a half empty bottle of Richard’s wodin. Ariana made a mental note to be extra cautious now that an endless amount was at her disposal.

            “Yeah, well, after accidentally kicking him in the face he has taken a liking to me.”

            Heather chuckled and said, “Oh, they forget about something right after it happens, who cares. They really aren’t as intelligent as people make them out to be.”

            Ariana assumed Heather, someone who spent the majority of her time with two dogs following her around all day, adored them, but her diction proved otherwise.

            “So, you’re not the dog person in the family then?” Ariana asked.

            Another chuckle. “Oh God no. They were all Richard’s idea, but of course I’m the one who gets stuck with them every day.”

            Ariana, not the biggest animal lover herself, surprised herself by feeling disappointed Heather was talking like this. From what she observed Frank and Finn stared at Heather with great admiration, but clearly, Ariana had misjudged their relationship.

            “Oh wow. To be honest I immediately assumed you were a big dog person.”

            Heather scrunched her face and shook her head. “No, but whatever, I just go with the flow.”

            Because she was playing a part, Ariana couldn’t tell Heather she thought Heather came off as a spoiled trophy wife who did nothing but bask in the riches her billionaire husband had amassed.

            Ariana stuck out her bottom lip and nodded before taking a sip. Allowing an elongated gap in their conversation would indicate her displeasure; she had to keep the conversation flowing.

            “So how long have you known Robin?”

            “Oh goodness, probably close to ten years now, yeah. Dillon and Moe became friends in elementary school, so yeah, close to ten years. She’s just the sweetest woman, and how she cares for that Jonathan is so admirable. He must be such a handful, but she does such a great job.”

            Ariana didn’t know if she would have been able to control her temper if Heather didn’t acknowledge how great of a mother Robin was to “that Jonathan.” It was evident Heather viewed his stunted brain development as a nuisance. Ariana wondered what she would have thought if she knew her father-in-law was responsible for it.

            “He’s such a sweet young man. You can tell he puts a lot of effort into fitting in. I found him adorable,” Ariana said.

            “Oh, yes. We love him and Moe.” Heather sipped her wine before continuing. “I find that Moe to be just absolutely gorgeous, which isn’t all that shocking because Robin is still absolutely stunning.”

            Ariana concurred.

            “Leaving two young boys is horrible as is, but why do it when your wife is that hot? I just don’t understand,” Heather said.

            “I’m sorry. What are you referring to?”

            “Well, her husband,” Heather used air quotes, “vanished well over fifteen years ago now. We didn’t know them, but the story goes she came home one day and found Jonathan and Moe alone, and Bobby, who was her husband, was nowhere to be found. The whole thing is fuzzy. Investigators didn’t suspect foul play, and they said they didn’t stumble upon any notable leads on his whereabouts. But who knows how hard they really looked, you know?”

            Ariana was losing her internal battle to control her wodin intake. Heather’s inaccurate, presumptuous take on Robin’s hardships fazed her.

            “What do you mean?” Ariana asked. She knew Heather was looking for a cue to elaborate.

            “Well, please know I absolutely love her to death, but she lives in The District. They just aren’t as prioritized over there. As much as it pains me to say, it’s true.”

            Ariana thought to herself, some things just never change.

            Heather continued to say her piece. “Now, again, I wasn’t in her life back then, but we are nearing the twenty-second century. How can you not find a missing person in this day and age?”

            “It does sound fishy. Do you know if she has dated since?” Prying information about Robin from Heather was a great way to stay engaged in the conversation.

            “Not that I know of. I have approached her multiple times about setting her up with some of Richard’s single friends, but she hasn’t expressed any interest.”

            Yeah, I wonder fuckin’ why, Ariana thought.

            “Maybe she has decided to go the other way,” Heather said.

            “You mean you think she’s into women?”

            Heather shrugged, as if to deflect the baseless claim she just insinuated. The assumption drove Ariana nuts.

            “No, I didn’t get that vibe. That’s a traumatic event. She probably has just been busy taking care of her boys.” Even though Ariana couldn’t outwardly stick up for her sister, she couldn’t let Heather’s bullshit slide.

            “Eh, maybe. Who really knows?”

            As much as Ariana wanted to learn about what her sister had been up to, she couldn’t endure Heather’s speculative answers anymore. “So, remind me, how did you and Richard meet?”

            “Oh, you know, we both grew up in the area. He actually grew up not far from here, and I was raised in the outskirts of Costa Mor.”

            Costa Mor’s outskirts were closer to The District than Heather wanted to admit. The area was still affluent, but it wasn’t the type of fuck you money the families residing in the coastal homes had. Ariana noted this because it was probably why Heather was attracted to Richard in the first place. She recognized her marriage to LaVonte was similar to Heather’s and Richard’s, but marrying a powerful man was the only thing Ariana had found they had in common. So far.

            Heather carried on with the anticlimactic love story. “When I was in my early twenties and Richard was around thirty a mutual friend introduced us out and about, and the rest is history. Obviously, that was a crazy time in history, but we made it out alright.”

            Expecting some more detail, Ariana caught herself staring at Heather with a blank expression, one that didn’t go unnoticed by the latter.

            “I know. It’s nothing special really, but hey, we both found love, right?”

            “Do you think you’ll stay in Costa Mor forever?” Ariana asked.

            “I’m not sure. I wouldn’t mind leaving one day, seeing what else is out there. I mean, I’ve been here my entire life. I’ve seen many places in the world, yes, but living in a new place would be an exciting experience. It would give me something to look forward to, who knows.”

            Ariana replied with an agreeable remark and indulged in her drink. Heather’s tone and vagueness indicated she wasn’t happy here or with Richard. Maybe getting her out of Morple would be easier than Ariana originally thought.

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