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As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
The three other people at the dinner table gave no indication of having also been poisoned. My professor, in fact, had already finished his entire glass of champagne and was beckoning the butler with his finger for a refill.
I could almost feel the drink spreading to every limb in my body, numbing the muscles and clawing at my stomach. I coughed into my handkerchief and my mother, ever mindful of table manners, shot me a look that could have killed just as easily as the poison that was now turning my blood to ice.
“Excuse me,” I muttered. “You were saying?”
My professor, mollified by his freshened drink, raised his glass in my direction. “We’d like to congratulate you publicly, at the faculty dinner in June.”
I would have felt flattered at the idea on any other occasion, but the poison was dampening any excitement that may have occurred at our dinner table tonight. My mother shot a look at me before her eyes darted to my own wine glass. I lifted my heavy arm and grasped the stem of the glass before raising it back at my professor. My mother beamed proudly before grasping her own and making a similar motion.
“Monty’s always excelled at writing,” she said proudly, her thin red lips parting to reveal two rows of impeccable white teeth. “We’ve always said so. My late husband, in fact, had a wing in the city library renamed for Monty, isn’t that right?”
Monty hated when she did that: said something she knew was true and asking those around her to agree with her. How badly he wished to contradict her, or better yet, to use what remaining strength he had to fling his wine glass at her smiling face before succumbing to the poison. He smiled. Not as his mother’s compliment, but at the idea of her dinner party being ruined by her son collapsing and dying at the table, right before dessert. The idea of it almost made him wish the poison would work faster, but not so fast that he would die before catching a glimpse of his mother’s face.
“It was an honor surely,” Monty finally said, before taking another sip of the poisoned champagne (after all, what harm could another do?)
“Father would have been pleased, that’s for sure.”
Monty’s gaze turned to his younger brother, who wore a prominent look of boredom on his face. He was slouched slightly over his near-empty plate, jabbing at a stray pea that rolled itself just out of reach. Monty could almost feel his mother stiffening across the table, her rage boiling inside her as surely as the poison was boiling through Monty’s body.
“Peter,” their mother said through pursed lips. “Manners.”
My professor, having now finished his second glass of champagne, took no notice of Peter’s behavior or my mother’s reaction, having found more pleasure in looking around the room in an attempt to locate the butler. Monty wondered whether he would even notice Monty collapsing in a few moments, or if he would simply wave his empty glass over Monty’s dead body to get more of the vintage drink.
“He would have been pleased,” Peter continued, as though his mother had not spoken up at all. “The excellent story. The celebration in your honor. Your professor coming here to personally congratulate you. It’s almost too good to be true.”
This reaffixed the smile on their mother’s face, but Monty only heard a confirmation of who had poisoned his champagne that night. His mind drifted back to that night when he had snuck into Peter’s room and torn the story from the notebook that was usually tucked safe under his brother’s mattress. He hadn’t expected it to go any further than a mere assignment in his English class, but here they sat. And now Peter would have the last laugh.
His stomach gave a loud groan of protest at the same moment Peter successfully caught the pea with his fork. Their mother scolded Peter quietly, though Monty’s professor hardly noticed. Monty gripped the edge of the table, shifting the tablecloth slightly and spilling his mother’s drink all over her new cocktail dress. She shot to her feet and began blotting at the wet fabric.
“Smith!” she shouted for the butler in the direction of the servant’s door. “Come at once!”
“And bring another bottle of that lovely champagne!” Monty’s professor added loudly.
The butler burst into the room at the sounds of his mother’s shriek. In the midst of his mother’s cries and his professor’s exclamations of more to drink, Monty focused his gaze on Peter, who sat smiling back at him.
“What do you think brother?” Peter asked, eyeing the scene around them.
Monty lurched forward at his brother, but the poison had successfully claimed most of his limbs at that point and he fell clumsily to the floor. If he couldn’t see his mother’s face at that moment, he at least promised himself an easy rest knowing her new dress, which she had bought especially for that night, was forever ruined by the precious vintage champagne.
“This will make a fine scene for your next story, don’t you think?” Peter added, gazing down into his brother’s face.
Monty hated when people asked a question, knowing everyone already knew the answer.