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The Long Way

It rarely rains in Los Angeles in October. Yet there it was, a wall of rain coming down as I tried to make my way to the grocery store. My wind shield wipers could barely keep up and left huge streaks reminding me that I needed to go to Shucks and get new wipers for my car and Jennifer’s car.

I planned to make seafood fettuccine for our anniversary dinner. Today was our fifth wedding anniversary. When I reached the grocery store parking lot I circled a few times hoping to get a spot closest to the door so that I wouldn’t get soaked. I looked up at the temperature gauge in my jeep and saw that it was sixty-eight. Still pretty warm.  

There were about five cars circling the lot waiting for a closer spot to open. I saw someone walking toward me juggling keys and a bag of groceries. She stopped right in front of me. Perfect, this was as close as I was going to get. She tossed her bag into the backseat of her Honda and  pulled out in front of me, I had to put my car in reverse and inch back a few feet to give her enough room. Just as she pulled away I saw headlights turn in front of me and park in the spot, my spot. Damnit!

She was a young thing, in her early twenties. I guess I was still pretty young too, only just thirty. She got out of the car and ran into the store. She had a very nice ass. A car honked behind me. It startled me into action. I pulled into a spot that was about in the middle of the lot. I scoured my back seats for an umbrella or coat or anything I could put over my head. Nothing. I made a run for it.

I grabbed my cart and headed toward the seafood section. My flip flops squeaking against the linoleum floor at each step.  The store was florescent bright in comparison to the dark clouds that loomed outside.  After I grabbed clams, halibut, shrimp, and salmon, I turned down the pasta and sauces aisle.  

She stood in front of the canned fruit holding a can of mandarin oranges. She looked up at me as I passed and her eyes flickered with acknowledgement. “Hey, aren’t you Jennifer’s husband?” she asked. “I, yeah, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name,” I replied. “Oh, I’m Molly. I work with Jen in accounting,” she replied. “We met at the Christmas party a couple months ago,” she added.

I vaguely remembered her or that Christmas party. From what I did remember, I made a complete ass out of myself in vengeance. “Jen’s boss hired me as an intern and then brought me on full time after I finished college,” she said. So, I was right. That put her at about twenty-three. Her blonde hair fell down well past her shoulders framing her face. She was very attractive.  

“Hey, I was planning to walk over to Starbucks after and grab some coffee. This weather has got me down,” she said. I nodded in agreement with that. Most Californians do not like the rain.  “Would you like to join me?” she asked. Before I could stop myself I agreed to meet her over there after I finished up with my shopping. She agreed and headed off toward the cashier.

I found myself hurrying through the rest of the list my heart beating wildly. It had been years since a girl had shown any interest in me at all. Wait, what was I thinking, I was married and shopping for an anniversary dinner that I was about to make. I couldn’t go to coffee. Not with someone that Jen knows. It was weird how she referred to her as Jen. Only I call her that, and her family.

The rain had let up a little but the clouds seemed even darker than before hanging like a blanket that could hide anything. I told myself that I was just going to get back into my car and drive home. That’s the kind of person I was. I wasn’t the kind of person to go have coffee with a strange, beautiful girl.

But there I was sipping on a short caramel macchiato, another thing I usually don’t allow myself to do, ever since I’ve focused on keeping in shape. We talked for a few minutes about how she liked working in the accounting department and asked me what I do although I had a suspicion that she already knew.

She quieted down and seemed to be focusing intently on the foam at the top of her cup. Then she spoke and what she said made my heart plunge into my stomach. “I know about you and Jennifer,” she said. It came out like she was admitting to a lie. She was looking at me, watching my face. Did I know what she was talking about?

I thought I knew and my emotions caught in my chest like wildfire. My heart hammered as pure anger raced through my veins. I had told only one person. My brother. And here, Jen had told an intern. A twenty-fucking-two year old intern. The words what the fuck charged across my head like an insult.

“It wasn’t Jen that told me,” she said. Oh great, that was supposed to make me feel a whole lot better. Now she had heard hear say, which means what, that her entire department knows, the entire office? I felt like throwing up.

She could tell that I wasn’t taking the news well. “Let me explain. Let me explain why I am here,” she said. Why she was here, wasn’t this a coincidence?  She had stolen his parking spot to get into the store to grocery shop. What the fuck?

“This isn’t easy to say and I want you to know that normally I wouldn’t get involved, but when I met you at the Christmas party a few months ago, well, I like you and it really bothered me and I wanted to help you, I have been thinking about it ever since” she said. Finally I found my voice, “Help me?” I asked condescendingly.

“Listen,” she said. “My apartment is just down the street. Could we go there to talk in private?” she asked. Her face softened waiting for a reply. I felt my emotions calm slightly replaced with curiosity about how she found out and what she might know. “Sure,” I said quietly. We got up and headed toward our cars. “Why don’t you ride with me? It will be easier,” she said. “Fine,” I replied.

In the car, I clicked in my seat belt. She began to explain things more clearly. Her and Jen had become pretty good friends. They had both been in the same sorority at USC. The story took a twist that I was not ready for. At USC she had been involved with a couple women.  My body stopped moving and I didn’t make a sound as I let her words sink in. at some level everything she was telling me felt right.

My head was swimming by the time we reached her apartment. We got out and walked up two flights of stairs. She opened the door to her apartment, which was small, but well decorated. “Can I get you anything?” she asked. “No, thanks. Well, how about some water?” I asked. 

We sat on her couch, each of us on separate ends. I began peppering her with questions. I wanted details. I was sick and tired of not knowing. Not knowing why my own wife had never had sex with me before. She had given me many reasons, well not really reasons, more like excuses. We didn’t have sex before we got married because she wanted to wait. Then she didn’t want to have sex on our wedding night because she was too tired. Later it became clear to me that she was terrified of have sex.

We had tried everything from counseling to going to her OBGYN just to make sure that she was capable. The hurt and rejection ran deep. So deep in fact that I had killed off that piece of me completely just to cope. In the beginning I would take care of myself, but then I gave that up, and let it go, for the sake of our marriage.  I had confided in my brother only, after about a year. He told me to get a hooker. That was the last time I talked about it.

I was lost in thought. Molly brought me back to reality. “I followed you to the store this morning,” she confessed. “Why?” “Because I know that today is your anniversary and like I said before, when I met you at the party, I really liked you. And, Jen, she is having an affair,” she blurted out. By this point I had gone through such a fierce range of emotion that the latest bit of information stung only a little, although I new that wouldn’t last. I sipped on my water calculating if I really wanted to ask a follow up question.

“With who?” I managed. Molly’s eyes fell to the floor. “With me,” she said. Tears pooled at her eyelids and fell streaking her cheeks. I was completely speechless.  “I don’t blame her.” I said. The words hung in the air like the dark clouds looming just outside. Molly managed a weak smile.

She moved in closer to me and rested a hand on my leg. I flinched. “I just want you to know that I am sorry,” she said. “Yeah?” I asked. I felt like my body had been squeezed dry like an orange in a juicer. The water I sipped rusted on my tongue.  “I want you to know that I like you too,” she said. I didn’t answer her. Instead I reached for her hair. Her long blonde hair and pulled her onto me. I didn’t care anymore about wrong or right. I was going to take this and then I would find a new life. I would start over again.

Rewrite: Next Time Will Be Different

She awoke to screaming…her own screaming. Irene’s mother opened the door and flipped the light switch. Light filled the room illuminating her daughter’s pink hide-a-bed and the pile of stuffed animals in the corner.  She had a picture of Robert Pattison hanging to the right of her window above her desk. He was the most popular celebrity crush to have at her high school.

Her mom sat coddling her. She probed to find out what her nightmare was about. It was her fourth nightmare that week, which wasn’t like her.  Her mom had to know that something was up. She had been watching her like a hawk since it happened. It was two weeks before graduation and Irene was glad to be rid of high school.  College would be better. She would be able to forget. She would be able to move on.

The next day at school she was summoned out of her fourth period English class to see her student advisor, which at her school was just the school counselor. Irene had already met with him the previous month to review her first semester high school schedule plan so it seemed odd that she was being asked to see him again.

Mr. Franz was a decent looking middle aged man. It was rumored that he had a smoking hot wife and three young daughters.  He probably wasn’t even middle aged. He was probably in his mid-thirties, which was younger than her mother. His door was opened so she walked into the doorway and peeked at his desk. He was on the phone, but quickly hung up and told her to go in and sit down.

 “How are things going?” he said. “Fine,” replied Irene with a shrug. She focused at looking him straight in the eye. She would show that she had nothing to hide. “Some of your teacher’s have talked to me recently about how you have been kind of distant,” he said. Irene sat there determined to appear like she was giving what he said great thought. She allowed her eyes to tear slightly before she spoke, but she made sure that her voice remained calm. “I haven’t felt myself, really. I mean, how would you feel if you lost your best friend?” she asked.

The expression on his face changed from alarm to compassion. He dropped his shoulders slightly and put his hands on his desk. “Yes, I bet this has been pretty hard on you,” he said. She wanted so badly to ask if the police had been by the school again asking questions. They had questioned her the day after it happened. She had been tearful and quiet. Answering their questions was too much of a burden on her. Mr. Franz pulled out a yellow hall pass and initialed it. “It is almost your lunch time. Why don’t you head to the cafeteria early if you want to,” he said.  ‘Thanks’. Irene got up and took the pass from his hand. “And Irene, please come see me anytime you want to. My door is always open,” he said. ‘Okay’. With that, Irene turned softly and nonchalantly walked out of his office.

She meandered through the halls on her way to the lunch room. The lockers that used to seem dull in color now seemed to pop out of the walls in bright orange. Images flashed in her head like lightening strikes. Her senses had been heightened to the world all week. Sights and sounds were sharper and brighter. But when she closed her eyes she was haunted. In her mind she saw the delicate pale face of her beloved friend. Her lips had turned blue and a small streak of blood escaped from the right side of her tender mouth. She had laid there lifeless staring back with her dark dead eyes into Irene’s very soul. Charlotte, her love, was the only one who knew, she was the only one who would ever know.

The prior week had been a pivotal moment in Irene’s life. She had been given an ultimatum and she didn’t like it. Their relationship had floated under the radar unseen and untouched for three years. She couldn’t understand why Charlotte would want to damage what they had together. They had almost been caught a few times.  Sometimes Charlotte’s mom would get home early from work, but they were always careful to be ready. Irene’s mom could never know. Irene was the perfect daughter. She didn’t want to fall victim to an adulterated life when she could go on living something so perfect, so pure.  They had fun together, understood one another, and could have gone on living that way for an eternity.

The bell rang which signaled that her lunch period was about to start. She joined a stream of kids headed into the lunch room. Her mind played tricks on her and she was certain she saw Charlotte in the crowd. She scanned the crowd again. Of course she hadn’t seen her. Charlotte was dead.

She joined her group at the lunch table by the windows. They were large round tables that easily fit about ten people per table. She had sat with the same group since the first week of school. A couple people came and went over the last couple years, but the core group remained.  She had one other close friend, Josh. Then there were three girls who she sometimes hung out with in larger groups. Josh had been pining for her since grade school. He was nice looking and she allowed him to take her to school dances. She would go with Josh and Charlotte would go to the dances with his best friend, Todd.  It worked out perfectly; they would always go in a small group of four or a larger party group.

Irene even let Josh make out with her sometimes. It wasn’t so bad. He was a decent kisser and he had a strong body. He thought Irene was the prettiest girl at school. It was true that Irene was very pretty. If she had wanted to she could have been one of the popular group and try out for cheer. She had long since made the decision that she hadn’t wanted anything to do with that.

Josh was her friend. She told him that she didn’t want a serious relationship with him.  And he said that was fine, but she could tell that it both bothered and perplexed him.  He sometimes commented on Irene and Charlotte. How they seemed closer than most friends. How they were always together.  He thought it was weird that they had slumber parties on most school nights.

Irene picked at her dry sesame bagel while everyone else at the table gabbed and ate.  Josh sat quietly besides her not knowing what to say.  Every once in a while he turned to Todd and made a joke or made fun of someone and the two of them would laugh. Irene had barely eaten all week. She was already thin so it went unnoticed. She just couldn’t keep anything down. 

Her mom had made spaghetti and meatballs the night after the incident. Normally, spaghetti was Irene’s favorite meal, but it had sent her stomach into convulsions. She had fled from the table during the meal and had barely made it to the toilet before hurling her guts out.  Her mom thought it was grief. If her mom only new.  

The first lunch bell rang which signaled it was five minutes before the next period.  Irene needed to head back to her last class to grab her backpack for her next class, geometry. She loved math class. Math made sense to her. She hated English. She hated being graded on something that was completely subjective. With math you are either right or you are wrong.

At the end of the school day Irene began to feel uneasy again. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she felt like something was about to happen. Most likely just paranoia she told herself. She reached into her locker to grab her Spanish workbook and her jacket. A hand touched her shoulder and she jolted.

 “Oh, sorry,” said Josh. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. “You okay?” His arm was gently placed on her right arm and he was looking into her eyes. He was pretty mature for a fifteen year old. He wasn’t so bad. Maybe she could like him. That would be different. It would definitely be less complicated.

 “I, you, didn’t scare me,” she stammered. “I just, um, was getting my stuff.” “Yes, I figured that much out,” he replied with a small smile. “Are you busy today?” he asked. “I, um, not really, I don’t think,” she said. Irene quickly thought that this indeed could be a good thing. If it appeared that she was allowing a boy console her, then she would look better, to everyone. It made sense. “Want to come over?” she asked.

They pulled into neighborhood. After turning the corner into her cul-de-sac she gasped. There were two police cars parked alongside her house. Luckily Josh was following her in his green Ford ranger, so he couldn’t see that she was freaking out.  She took deep breaths to calm herself. The officers had said they would be visiting again, after she had a couple days to digest things. That was their word not hers. “Digest” things? She could feel her mouth salivate. Irene parked her car in the drive and got out. The fresh air helped her to regain her composure.

Suddenly, she wished Josh wasn’t here. Then she retracted her thought. If she played this right, it could really work to her advantage. He parked his truck along the curb, on the opposite side from the two police cars. Josh walked over to her with questions in his eyes. “Maybe I should go,” he said. “No please. This is just a normal visit.” She let out a slight burp and inhaled air deeply. He hadn’t noticed. Her stomach was in knots and she fought the urge to throw-up in the brush behind him. Then she did something rash. Irene stood up on her toes and kissed Josh. She needed something to do, she needed to feel something else, otherwise her sickness would take over her body.

Irene pulled away after a long deep kiss. She felt a little bit calmer, a little bit more in control. He, on the other hand, was be fumbled. His eyes looked a little far off. She couldn’t tell if he was confused or what. She didn’t care. Irene took his hand and led him into the house.

Hand in hand, her and Josh, walked slowly into the kitchen. There was a male officer and a female officer. The man was fat a shorter than the woman. The woman didn’t look like a police officer at all. She looked like a stay at home mom. She was reasonably fit and wore her blonde hair long, but pulled back in a pony tail. She didn’t look like the type of person ready for battle. Perhaps that was her edge.

These thoughts Irene had fleeted in a moment. Her insides were rearing. Her body wanted to bolt out the front door and run until her legs gave way. There was a folder open on the granite counter top. She saw pictures of Charlotte. It was exactly how Irene had left her, with that looming stare and her mouth slightly ajar.

Irene leaned in to Josh more closely appearing to be looking for comfort. Irene’s mom looked tired. Irene wondered how long the cops had been at her house. What had they been asking? Irene’s alibi wasn’t exactly solid. And of course Irene had fingerprints all over Charlotte’s room. That was easy enough to explain. She was there all the time. They were best friends.

Irene’s claim was that she had been at her favorite bookstore during the time of the murder. She hadn’t bought anything. She had just done her usual, which was scanning all of the magazines on the shelves. It was something that she did often, so it was almost believable. She would just stick to her story. That was the best way.

She let the officers question her. She answered every question. She had practiced these lies over and over in her head during each sleepless and haunted night since the incident. The officers asked her questions for just over an hour.

They looked to be finished and started to gather the files. Irene was relived when they closed the file with the picture of her face. Irene turned and opened the fridge to grab a bottle of water. “Oh, I do have just one more question,” said the woman officer. Irene paused at the fridge as if she were contemplating what she wanted to snack on. For some reason, Irene didn’t want to turn around.

 “What’s that?” asked Irene in the most casual and accommodating voice that she could muster. “Charlotte’s mom noticed that her bedside alarm clock is missing,” she said. The officer continued, “It was the only thing missing from her bedroom.”

Charlotte’s heart was beating so wildly that she was certain everyone in the room could hear it too. She sipped on her bottled water. She needed a task, something to fixate on. She gently closed the fridge and turned to face them. They all seemed to be staring at her. She wondered if her face was flushing because she felt feverish. The water felt like ice traveling down her throat. Then she found her voice.

That is weird,” replied Irene. She tried to sound as perplexed as they were. What they didn’t know is that very alarm clock. The “murder weapon” had been picked up by the garbage company just the day before. That alarm clock was traveling to its final resting place; the landfill.

Irene couldn’t tell if she sounded convincing enough. She felt lost. At this point anything could happen she guessed. She leaned her tired head on Josh’s arm and wrapped her arms around his side. It was a gesture se hoped they found normal and enduring. She had a boyfriend now. She had no motive to kill her very best friend in the entire world.

#The officers departed. She didn’t know if they were satisfied. Irene couldn’t think about the possibility that they would be back with evidence.  As far as Irene knew, she was headed of to NYU in a few short months. Her life would begin again then.