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Of Water & Satin

By Caren Hahn

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“Meredith!” Ginny moaned. “You’re missing the best part!” She grabbed the remote and released a long-suffering sigh.

Meredith looked up, her glasses reflecting the screen from her open laptop. “I’m watching. You don’t need to go back.”

“You’re not really watching.”

“I need to get this homework done. I can listen just fine.”

“That doesn’t count! You can’t fully appreciate the romance of the moment if you’re paying attention to plants and I-don’t-know what.”

“Proteins and genetic manipulation,” Meredith corrected. “It’s actually really fascinating. Did you know that a lab in Sweden has created an artificial sweetener from the common—”

“Meredith!” Ginny swatted her roommate with a fuzzy throw pillow. “Can’t you put it away for tonight? This is cinema history! The last scene ever between romantic duo Chace Hawkins and Emma Sterling.” Ginny’s throat tightened at the thought. She hugged the fuzzy pillow to her chest, its fringe tickling her neck.

“Sorry.” Meredith closed her laptop. “I know it means a lot to you.”

“It’s almost over, then I promise I’ll let you get back to your homework. But you’ve gotta take in the whole scene to really appreciate it.” Ginny skipped back until she was satisfied, then pressed play.

The pastoral scene opened with a stone bridge spanning an idyllic pond reflecting the golden rays of sunset. Trees bordering the shore flamed with autumn colors, the light filtered through their trailing branches.

Ginny sighed again, this time with longing.

It wasn’t just the beautiful view. It wasn’t just Emma’s dress with so many flounces it must have used dozens of yards of fabric on the skirt alone. It wasn’t even Chace with his Victorian-era collar loose and coat tails flapping as he ran to the bridge. He stopped when he saw her, lips parted and breathing heavily from his jog—in a desperately attractively way, of course—and strode forward, boots thumping on the bridge. Emma turned. Chace nervously fidgeted with the hat in his hands, his tousled hair drifting over his brow.

What filled Ginny with an ache so deep it made her chest feel like it was caving in on itself was knowing that poor Chace would never make another film. He’d left this world three days earlier after suffering a violent allergic reaction on the set of his next period drama.

“How many times have you seen this?”

Ginny shrugged, keeping her eyes on the screen.

“I mean today. How many times have you watched it today?”

Ginny looked down at her limp t-shirt that sported a dark chocolate stain running down the front. She’d intended to shower and change into clean clothes, but the day had gotten away from her. Now that it was evening, it was hardly worth the effort. Surely she’d showered yesterday. Or was it the day before? Just what day was it anyway? Her brain was fogged with grief.

Meredith watched her with one eyebrow raised, her auburn hair tucked neatly into a braid that fell over her shoulder. Ginny ran a hand through her own hair, realizing for the first time how greasy it was. Realizing how she smelled.

“I know this is hard on you,” Meredith said kindly, “but don’t you think you oughta go to class tomorrow? It’s only a couple weeks until finals, and you’ve worked so hard this semester—”

“Shhh!” Ginny’s eyes snapped back to the screen. This was it. This was the moment. Chace was lifting Emma’s chin with one hand, his thumb gently stroking her jaw.

“You are my forever. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving it,” he said in his husky British accent.

Ginny recited the words with him. Chace leaned forward and as his lips touched Emma’s, Ginny swooned, falling back against the couch cushions. “Isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever seen?”

Meredith didn’t respond right away.

“Come on, Meredith! Wouldn’t you give anything to hear Chace Hawkins say those words to you?”

“Sure,” Meredith said noncommittally, popping her laptop open again.

Ginny’s enthusiasm leaked away like an old balloon and she shrank against the couch. “I know it sounds silly. But if you’d seen him on set the way I did! Such a perfect gentleman, yet so kind and approachable. I was even going to be an extra in the next movie! If only…”

If only her scenes had been filmed earlier. If only the production schedule hadn’t been pushed back due to violent storms on the coast. If only his epipen hadn’t failed. If only the caterer hadn’t screwed up.

It had to be the caterer. Of course they claimed all their dishes were free of shellfish, but there must have been some cross-contamination because Chace had gone into severe anaphylactic shock after eating a mini quiche.

Ginny had compulsively read everything she could about his final moments, poring over the few photos that had gone viral in those early hours. It was a horrible death, and Ginny understood why Chace’s lawyers had tried to suppress the photos. It wasn’t how she wanted to remember him either. Instead, she wanted to remember him as he looked in the final scene of Of Water and Satin.

She skipped back to the bridge again.

“Ginny!” Meredith laughed.

“Just one more time?” Ginny said sheepishly.

“You go ahead, but I’ve got to get back to my homework.”

Ginny slipped effortlessly into the scene again. The texture of Emma’s lace glove brushing the wood grain of the hand rail. The embroidery on Chace’s waistcoat. The way the setting sun cast a halo of light around his hair as he bent to kiss—

“What’s that?” Meredith asked. “Right there, on his neck.”

Ginny paused the movie and peered at the screen. “What? The mole?”

“Yeah. Why does he have a mole on his neck?”

“Why does anyone have a mole?” Ginny retorted.

“I’ve never seen it before,” Meredith mused. “He didn’t have it in the one you were watching this morning, did he?”

Ginny felt annoyed that Meredith had noticed something about Chace Hawkins that she never had. How had she missed the large mole on his neck? It wasn’t ugly, or even all that noticeable. But she knew everything about him, including where he spent his last birthday and who his favorite author was. How had she missed the mole?

“Hmm…” Meredith was typing intently. “Look. I think the mole has gotten darker.”

She turned her screen around so Ginny could see. Her browser showed a collage of images of Chace—some candid, some clearly staged—and in a few, a light spot was noticeable. “See, that’s way darker.” She pointed to a shot of the very scene that was paused on their TV.

“I guess,” Ginny said dubiously.

“Tell me again about how he died.” Gone was the sympathy of before. Meredith was in researcher mode. She was never cut out to be a romantic.

But hey, if there was any research topic Ginny could get behind, it was anything to do with Chace Hawkins.

“Well, he’s allergic to shellfish, right? The caterer served quiche and the dish must have had some cross-contamination—”

“He had the quiche?”

“Yeah.”

“What else?”

Ginny grabbed her phone and thumbed to the last article she’d read about Chace Hawkins' death. “Let’s see, it says he hadn’t eaten yet that day because they’d been on set since 6 am, so the quiche was the first thing he’d eaten at around 9.”

“Did he drink anything?”

Why was Meredith suddenly interested in Chace Hawkins' last meal?

“This article doesn’t say. But my uncle said that Chace always has—had— his own specially brewed imported coffee on site when he’s filming. Just for him. He goes through four to five cups every day. ”

Meredith’s brown eyes sharpened. “Sweetened or not?”

“Uh…let me think…” She scanned her phone for the notes she had saved on Chace Hawkins. “Looks like it’s sweetened.”

Meredith grunted like she’d expected that. “Ginny, this might sound crazy, but I think Chace might have died from ocleose poisoning.”

Ginny stared. “What are you talking about?”

“Ocleose. The artificial sweetener I was telling you about. It hasn’t been approved in the US yet, and a study in Germany suggested that in rare cases it could lead to, get this, 'dermatological changes such as aggressive mole growth and enhanced pigmentation, decreased energy levels, and at times, triggering a strong anaphylactic shock.'” Meredith looked up from her computer with bright eyes.

Ginny scoffed. “Come on, Meredith! There are loads of people working to figure out what killed him. I’m sure if there was any chance it was this osteoporosis—”

“Ocleose. It’s very new, most people have never heard of it. The German study is just starting to be talked about in academic circles. Why would investigators working a Hollywood death think of it? Especially if he already had a history of a shellfish allergy. Easy to blame the quiche. But if he’d been using ocleose for some time—say a year or two—that could have been long enough for it to build up in his system and cause these other symptoms.”

“And the anaphylactic shock?”

“They haven't been able to isolate exactly what causes that particular reaction, but I’d bet money that it wasn’t the shellfish.”

Ginny looked back at the screen. Now that she knew it was there, it was hard not to look at the mole. Could Meredith be right? What if those very lips were tainted with a genetically altered poison? What if none of the investigators knew about ocleose? What if only she and Meredith had the answer to his death? What if she could help Chace Hawkins get justice in death?

Ginny straightened. For the first time in days, the fog cleared. She had work to do.

“I’d better call my uncle.”

Then she got up off the couch and turned off the TV.

Andrew Hahn

That took an unexpected turn. Is ocleose a real thing?

Caren HahnAndrew Hahn

I'll consider it a compliment that you had to ask! That means I wasn't too off the mark in my made-up name. :)

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About Caren Hahn

Caren Hahn writes relationship dramas in a variety of genres. With deeply empathetic characters and richly layered plots, readers of her fiction will enjoy an emotionally resonant experience—and have some fun along the way!

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