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Don't Drink the Merlot

Who brings a gift to a date?

By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 7 min read
Don't Drink the Merlot
Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

My hands shook when the flame touched the wick. The candle lit, but it wasn’t good enough. I shouldn’t have shaken so much. I puffed the small fire out with an exacerbated breath, discarded the match and tried again. Light the match, light the wick, this time don’t shake so much. This time I let the candle ignite and the room filled with the aroma of cedar and rose petals. It should have calmed me. My stomach flipped three times instead. I lit the rest of the candles, one, two, three and pretended to bask in the ambient glow of the romantic candlelight. From the bookshelf, Sidero let out a low howl. Curled into a black pit of fur and fangs, she regarded me from her perch with judgmental yellow eyes.

“Is this a huge mistake?” I asked the cat. We were interrupted by a knock at the door. Sidero darted from the top of shelf and into the darkened hallway where she could better disappear. I made sure I could still locate her wild yellow eyes before turning to the front door. He had only delivered two knocks. That was wrong. Two knocks sounded so intrusive. So unfriendly. I rapped my own third knock quietly on my thigh before opening the door.

He had kind eyes and a bright smile, but I would have to ignore the pinstripes on his shirt if I was to survive this first date. Hideous stripes, I drew three stripes on my jeans with my finger. He didn’t notice. He surveyed the apartment, taking note of the candles and enveloped me in a too cheerful embrace.

“I knew it would be clean in here,” he joked producing a giftbag. It was long and rectangular with a tuft of sparkly tissue paper protruding from the top. A gift. I pretended to smile.

Gifts were awkward. A clumsy social fail. Gifts demanded retribution. What if I didn’t return the gift? There were some things I could gift him with, things he might particularly like. I recalled our first encounter, the way his eyes passed over my joggers and sports bra, peeking from under the hot pink tank top. He had complimented my hair, stuffed into a sweaty ballcap after my three-mile run. I shivered. What if he wanted me to return the gift tonight?

I distracted myself with unwrapping the gift. A bottle of Merlot. I wasn’t well-versed in wines, but this was dark red, almost as dark as the black label on the bottle. Was it appropriate for a man to bring alcohol to the first date? I had thought him to be a gentleman. It occurred to me then that perhaps I didn’t know him as much as I thought I did. You don’t know him at all, said the voice in my head.

The tissue paper floated from the bag to the floor, and a flash of black jetted from the dark to snatch the prize. He jumped as the cat tumbled with the paper, hissing and spitting as if it were a real prey.

“Sidero,” I said by way of explanation. “She’s very predatory.”

“Clearly,” he laughed. He had a friendly laugh, but it put me at unease. Why was he laughing? He didn’t know her like I did. Maybe he was being overly friendly because he wanted something from me. I turned my face to hide my sneer.

“I’ll get glasses and we can try the wine together,” I offered, needing a reason to duck into the kitchen and clear my head. I grabbed the glasses and fished for the bottle opener. I heard him in the other room, speaking playfully to Sidero who continued to bite and kick at her tissue paper prey. I sighed. Yes, he was trying way too hard.

I returned and he was already sitting on my white pristine couch. I took a deep breath, thrust the opened bottle of Merlot into his hands and placed the glasses atop the coasters on the coffee table.

“Won’t you pour?” I asked, still trying to play nice, although just by sitting there so close to my personal space, he was already overstaying his welcome. He smiled—god, his teeth were just too white—and then cocked his head to one side.

“You’ve set three glasses,” he said, as if it were the strangest part of the night. I cursed internally.

“One for Sidero,” I lied. When he continued to look at me strangely, I amended, “it’s just a joke.” I tapped my finger three times on the coffee table. He laughed too loudly. Why did men always laugh too loudly? It didn’t make sense. He poured the wine, yes even into the third glass. I watched with distain as he settled among the couch cushions, daring to let himself get comfortable when I was so uncomfortable. He grinned at me. I flashed my teeth back. Sidero growled dark and low at her tissue paper foe.

“Should we try the wine?” he suggested, raising the glass to his lips. He swallowed back the dark red substance, letting it stain his teeth as it went down. Why would he bring red wine to a first date, my mind raced again. The dark, the stains, the musty guise of intoxication. It could only mean one thing. He was hiding something.

I perched precariously on the edge of my own couch cushion and picked up the glass of wine. The aroma overtook me. Full bodied, haunting in its strange sensuality, even without a sip I could sense the dark cherries, plums, and something soft and sweet. Vanilla, I thought. It very well could have been vanilla. My mouth watered, but when I saw him enjoying his own drink and watching Sidero play, a moment of panic struck me.

“It’s pretty,” I choked out, setting the glass back on the coaster with shaky hands. He didn’t seem to notice. He stood then, striding to the television to pick up the remote.

“Let’s watch something,” he said, flipping on the television and snuggling back into his too comfortable couch nest. “Maybe a scary movie?”

My heart fluttered; a wounded animal trapped in my chest. I forced a smile, tapped three times on my thigh. Sidero abandoned her shredded prize, moved to rest atop the coffee table, and let out a low moan. It sounded like a warning siren.

Wrong, wrong, this is all wrong. He landed on some black and white horror flick, the set in the background flapping obscenely and obviously cardboard in the wind. A vampire circled a young woman. Her sobs were garish metallic coming over the speakers. He enfolded the girl into his cape before pressing his mouth to her long white throat.

My date’s hand on my shoulder made me shriek. He laughed, thinking the movie had startled me.

“So jumpy!” he laughed, swirling his glass of Merlot before taking another swig. He left his hand on my shoulder. A gesture of intimacy. I wanted to recoil under his touch.

I told myself I used to like going on dates. I could laugh, I could touch, could smile and sip wine. It had been so long, perhaps too long since my last. When he had approached me in the street, commenting on my stride and my endurance I had been flattered. He asked if we could stop for coffee and foolishly, I agreed. It was bright there, open, public. I’d felt safe. Now sitting in my own apartment, I felt fear creep up the back of my throat. It might have gagged me.

You don’t even know him, said Sidero’s yellow eyes. You barely know yourself, said the impatient flick of her tail.

“How’s the wine?” he said. My eyes drifted to the glass sitting on the table. He didn’t notice it was still full.

“Fine,” I lied. “Fine fine, I really like it,” I added because my voice filling the room was better than the televised screams of the vampire’s victim. His hand was still on my shoulder. I felt his fingers move beneath the strap of my top, caressing me there. I felt as though I might burn under his touch. He mistook my shaky breath for seductive anticipation. Not daring to glance at him, I felt him move closer until his jean clad thigh was mashed against mine. His hand on my shoulder was a fire poker. His breath on my neck was a wine soaked rag. I kept my eyes glued on the television vampire, not able to stomach the sight of the monster beside me.

Help me, Sidero, I pleaded when his lips met the bare skin of my throat. His lips were parted slightly like he too might drink. The girl on the television slumped into the vampire’s arms, faint from blood loss. I might have done the same.

Flick, flick, smash. Sidero’s tail collided into the glasses, spilling dark red in an arch over the white couch and carpet. It could have been blood, the way it stained. It could have been my blood.

He exclaimed, but I was already in the kitchen, visibly shaking now and ripping paper towels off the roll. Sidero had knocked over the glasses. Was it intentional? Her glowing eyes had spoke of danger the moment he knocked twice on that door. Knock knock. It was all wrong, it had been all wrong, and Sidero was the only one to see it.

But why had she knocked over the glass, just as his lips touched me? What did she know, what in her strange intuition was she able to see that I could not? The wine, it must have been the wine. The wine that he brought, the wine that he had poured. Sure, he had drunk his fill, but hadn’t he been rather pushy about drinking my own? Pushy, yes, he had been pushy. And Sidero had seen it.

“You okay?” I heard him call, too kindly much too kindly from the other room. I had the paper towels wrapped around my hand now, but my mind was still reeling from the implication. Poison. He had tried to poison me. It was the only true explanation the only true explanation the only true explanation.

“He poisoned the Merlot,” I whispered to myself, as if saying it aloud would make it true. I thought I heard Sidero yowl from the other room, heard someone rise from the couch. I discarded the towels in the trash. The knife was poised on the edge of the sink, leftover from my dinner that night. I heard him approach, heard his footsteps coming closer closer closer to the kitchen.

I picked up the knife.


About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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Comments (1)

  • Aphoticabout a year ago

    This is really good! There is a lot of great description and vivid imagery in here. The pacing and characterization are both very well-executed as well. I love an unreliable narrator and you nailed it! Great work!

Claudia NeavesWritten by Claudia Neaves

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