Just for fun, here’s one of my assignments from my undergraduate degree in Professional Writing: a short story for my fiction writing class….
The New York skyline zipped past, grim and garish through the cab’s window. Pain pulsed in my temples and my throat was sand dry, but my cramped muscles had finally started uncoiling. The return flight from Greece had been interminable. Stoli vodka on the rocks tweaked with two lime wedges, then bed—that was the cure for jet lag. I’d have Candice fix me a drink the minute we got home. She wouldn’t mind.
Closing my eyes, I dropped my head back against the seat. Twinned odors of stale tobacco and cheap Chinese food puffed up from the upholstery, assailing my nostrils. I sat back up, scowling at the cabbie. Bum couldn’t even be bothered to hang up one of those in-car air fresheners.
“Not feeling well?”
My gaze slid to Candice. Her grey eyes were studying mine intently.
“I’d planned to get a few minute’s sleep. But certain service providers haven’t learned the value of providing their customers a filth-free environment.” I caught the cabbie’s eyes in the rearview mirror, making sure he knew whom I was speaking of.
I turned my frown on my wife. “You should’ve driven the Jaguar.”
“I’m so sorry. It’s being detailed.” Candice’s tone was appropriately apologetic. Unclasping her Versace purse, she plucked out a vial. “Aspirin?”
Should’ve hired her instead of marrying her, I thought. Never the best of wives, she made for a flawless assistant.
I stuck out my hand. Three tablets slithered into my palm. Ignoring the Evian she offered, I threw them back without water. Sheer exhaustion dropped my head back to the seat. I left it there, forcing myself to ignore the stench.
“So… how was Greece?”
I kept my gaze on the shredded upholstery clinging desperately to the cab’s ceiling. Couldn’t Candice see I wasn’t in the mood to be interrogated?
“Was it lovely?”
“Glorious.” I let myself smile. Sweet, wild Korina had far more to do with my appreciation for Greece than the Aegean seascape did. She’d introduced me to the ouzo-induced hangover and even more pleasurable forms of Greek abandon.
I knew Candice was aware of my Athenian indulgence; emboldened by alcohol, Korina had answered Candice’s call to my cell one night. But that was the one benefit of a marriage like ours—Candice no longer seemed bothered by my infidelity.
“If only Isabelle could have enjoyed the trip with you.”
My growl should’ve silenced her, but she prattled on, breezily examining her perfectly manicured, scarlet-slicked nails. “She was so excited when you promised to take her with you. I just hate that it didn’t work out.”
“Not one more word. I mean it, Candice.”
My headache sharpened. My fist tightened. I wouldn’t do this. I refused. It was a horrible business, yes. But none of that was my fault.
The glare I’d fixed on Candice was of my best boardroom variety. The one that made even my vice president Andrew Callaghan shut his hole. Whatever pretense that snake made, I knew better. He wasn’t my friend or my supporter; he was after my job. Power-grabbing bastard.
Candice’s hand caressed my face. She was still talking, still rambling on. “But I’m so glad you’re home. So glad you’re safe.”
I scrutinized her pouty mouth, her sculpted face, tight after her most recent face-lift. Her eyes were guileless as a doll’s—almost expressionless. Innocent.
Maybe she meant it. She hadn’t willingly touched me for months before the accident; since it, she’d hardly even spoken to me. Perhaps her reaching out was a sign she was ready to pardon me.
I shifted away, cleared my throat. “Thanks.”
The taxi was now idling before our brownstone. Meter still running. The accumulating cents jolted me into action and I thrust a wad of cash in the cabbie’s face. I hurried out and grabbed my suitcase from the trunk, unsure whether I was happier to be free of the cab’s stink or the Candice-induced claustrophobia. From the latter, of course, relief could only be temporary. She was standing on the porch waiting for me, my leather tote in hand, holding open the front door and looking every inch the Botox-plumped, surgically-perfected Manhattan wife. A more modern and malcontent version of Stepford’s finest.
Sunlight pricked my gritty eyes. Legs sluggish as Jell-O, I trudged the short flight of steps up to our home. I badly needed that drink.
Candice set my bag inside the door then moved wordlessly to the bar. I’d give her one thing—she was well trained. The tumbler, ice, and bottle sang a familiar melody as she worked. Shedding my suit jacket, I dropped into the nearest chair. Its slick leather pressed coolly through my dress shirt, bringing instant relief from the stickiness of the summer heat.
“One lime wedge or two?”
“Two.” I needed all the pick-me-up I could get. 11-hour, international flights were miserable, even in first class.
Rubbing my hand across my chin, I grimaced. Stubble bloomed along my jaw like acne. I couldn’t take it.
“I’m going upstairs to shave.” I started to rise.
“But I finished your drink.” Candice stood before me, Baccarat tumbler peeking through red claws. With her free hand planted squarely on my chest, she was easing me back down.
My first instinct was to shove her out of my way. Then I wavered. The lime always tasted best just after hitting the vodka.
“You don’t want it getting warm,” she added coaxingly.
No arguing that. I claimed the glass and settled back in my chair. One sip and smooth burn was spreading over my tongue, slithering down my throat.
I almost groaned in contentment. Here was bliss.
Candice settled on my chair’s arm, sliding her hand down to massage my stiff shoulder. My heart jumped at the smell of my favorite of her perfumes, Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens. Candice hadn’t worn it since the accident—just one more way she’d been punishing me.
Keeping my face blank, I snuck a glance at her face. This seemed another sign of forgiveness granted. Could it be trusted?
Warm breath teased my cheek as her lips grazed my ear. “So tense.”
Her purr was velvet, her heat drawing me in, a moth to light. My weariness evaporated as she pressed closer, breasts swelling against my back, her hand sliding to my other shoulder. Desire stirred.
It had been months. Korina had been fun, sure. But Candice had spent years learning precisely how to please me. Her caress was that of an expert as her fingers worked the taut muscles of my shoulders.
“Remember how good Isabelle was at giving shoulder rubs?”
My appetite vanished. Suddenly her touch made my skin crawl.
“She always said if law school didn’t work out, maybe she’d go into massage therapy. No doubt she would have been wonderful at either.”
So that’s what she was up to: a new means of manipulating me, of burdening me with guilt. How had I fallen for her charade?
It was that damn perfume. Roughly, I shoved her hand away.
“Did I upset you, dear?” She traced my ear with one long nail.
I pushed out of the chair and strode away from her, as far across the room as I could go. The ice in my glass chinked as I tightened my grip. Would she never let me forget? Ever?
Had her purr adopted an insidious edge or was I imagining things? I’d probably never know. I wasn’t sure I cared. I abandoned my half-finished drink on the bar, happy to sacrifice it to escape my wife. I moved toward the stairs.
“I went through Isabelle’s things while you were gone. To box them up. I came across some journals and found the entry. From that last day, you know. I thought you might like to hear.”
Candice’s stilettos stabbed the black marble tile as she clicked across the room. From the corner of my eye, I saw her lift a pink leather diary from the coffee table. I hadn’t seen it before, but I immediately recognized Izzy’s messy scrawl across its pages. Maybe she should’ve been aiming for medical school rather than a juris doctorate.
Candice’s voice scraped over my skull. “ ‘I can’t believe it! Dad said he’d take me with him when he travels to Greece to complete the merger. Maybe he doesn’t care about me as little as I thought. Greece! I’ve been dying to travel—’ ”
“Enough!” I swept the tumbler from the counter. Shattering on the inky floor, it launched a fountain of vodka, crystal, and ice.
“Allen! What is wrong with you?”
“This!” Rushing across the room, I jerked the diary from Candice’s hands and sent it flying. It soared then plunged like a faltering bird, pages bent beneath it like broken wings. “And you!” I shook Candice by the arms. I heard her teeth clack together and relished it—the same way she relished reminding me of my part in our daughter’s death.
“What… are… you talking… about?” Her hairclip fell, releasing Candice’s curls to tumble golden down her back.
“The blame, you bitch! You think I don’t feel it?” I made myself stop shaking her but tightened my grip on her arms until she winced. “I’m sorry Isabelle couldn’t handle disappointment. I’m sorry I was such a lousy father. I’m even sorrier she was so screwed up, so disturbed, that she threw herself in front of my car. But I can’t bring her back. And I won’t let you bury me beneath a mountain of guilt!”
I took a deep breath then dropped my hands from Candice, sick to death of the feel of her. Pacing away, I crushed crystal fragments, grinding them into the polished floor.
“Allen.” Candice’s voice trembled. “I never blamed you.”
I snorted. Surely she didn’t think me that stupid.
Candice’s hand slid around my arm. Her touch was feather soft. Holding myself rigid, I fought the urge to slap her.
“Truly, Sweetheart, I just wanted to share her with you.” Candice’s voice caught.
Twenty-one years of marriage made me turn instinctively toward her. Tears spilled from her eyes and she caught her lip between her teeth. “I thought that if we… well… remembered her together, maybe we might find each other, too.”
Startled by her pained expression, I felt something like… hope. I swallowed and let myself remember Greece—the heady, drunken nights that had followed days locked in meetings made cumbersome by accent-thickened English. Despite the pleasant distraction that was Korina, Greece had dragged to the surface my grief for Isabelle. The trip had only been delayed long enough for the funeral to take place; I’d flown to Greece the very next day. The empty seat beside me had been a merciless reminder of Isabelle’s absence, of the fact that she should have been beside me, and never would be again. For the full two-weeks of the trip, she’d haunted my dreams, always evaporating just as I stretched out my arms to embrace her.
Would it have been so troublesome for her to tag along with me, just once? Sure, it would’ve made hooking up with Korina a bit more challenging. But Greece was hardly the only place I’d found beautiful, eager young women. It could’ve been a place made special for my daughter and me.
My jaw tightened until pain shot down my neck. I should have taken Isabelle. I should’ve. I’d promised. But I’d disappointed her so many times before; I thought she’d half-expect it. She knew plans could change and often did. I’d had no way of guessing—no way—that this would be the disappointment that would push over the brink.
I twisted my wedding band around my finger, studying the platinum’s glow as I groped for hope, for clarity beyond grief. Was there a chance, however slight, that the accusations I’d thought I sensed from Candice were only from myself? They had followed me to Greece, haunting me even without Candice there, whispering them in my ear. I had loaded them into my luggage myself, carried them onto the plane, knotted them around my neck like a tie.
My anger bled away and I summoned the strength to reach out and touch Candice’s cheek with trembling fingers. Slid my hands down to brush the bruises rising around her arms. Every muscle tense, I leaned down to kiss my wife.
Her lips tasted of redemption.
Sliding her hands into my hair, she drew my mouth more firmly against her own. Her svelte body melted into me, complimenting mine perfectly. The lily and pepper of her perfume was intoxicating. My palms slid greedily over warm curves sheathed in silk blouse.
Her voice was husky as she whispered. “Allen. Let’s go upstairs.”
I withdrew far enough to meet her gaze. Was she really ready? Did she truly want me again?
Her grey eyes had gone silver with heat. Desire. I grinned at her mouth, slick from my kisses.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
I followed her upstairs, inspired by the sway of her hips. I tugged at my tie, discarded it on the steps. She threw a sensuous smile over her shoulder as she opened our bedroom door. “It’s been too long,” she agreed. The promise warming her words stirred memories from our honeymoon. To know that passion again….
I stepped inside and reached for her. Her eyes were dewy with longing.
The door slammed behind me. I whirled around.
“Andrew?” What the hell was my vice president doing in my house? My bedroom? And why was he smiling at my wife with that hungry smile? Like he knew every curve of her body?
I turned to her to demand an explanation. A pistol stared back.