I placed her body in the trunk of a silver Toyota Camry.
I gazed down at her with my hand still holding the trunk lid. Her dark eyes were glassy now and stared up at me, lifeless, dead and somehow accusing. I took in the measure of her and observed her tan leather, trim-cut jacket; white knit shirt and faded jeans. Her form was bent out of shape and her thick, dark hair mussed with just a hint of dark smeared blood from a single wound that had oozed and created a tangled mess in her long hair.
“Dead,” I thought numbly as I closed the trunk.
One year earlier …
It was a sunny fall afternoon. The sun shone in through the sliding glass door and woke me up. My blue eyes fluttered opened, and I looked out the slider toward the pool area where our white standard poodle Maisy slept curled up in her fleece bed. Brown, crisp fall leaves had blown up on the porch and piled around her dog bed. I was alone as my husband Paul had taken the kids to school already. We switched mornings, and this morning I got to sleep in, which I enjoyed. He was always a prick about it, though. Said it wasn’t his job and had once told me he was just going to stop doing it. I was perplexed and wondered, “How do you just decide to stop taking your kids to school?” Well, that was Paul anyway – total jerk.
As was typical, I got up and started to make the bed. The cream comforter had beautiful brown and blue leaves swirling over it. I took pride in my bed. I loved to create a gorgeous bed space, with matching everything and pillows galore. Pillows that Paul also pitched a bitch about and asked in his irritated voice, “Why so many pillows? We don’t sleep on them. Get rid of them.”
Well eventually it didn’t matter because Paul’s sciatica and horrendous snoring made him sleep alone in the spare bedroom next to our second daughter Lulu’s room.
Lulu naturally complained, “Daddy snores really loud,” and then she would giggle.
Lulu was a brilliant, happy six-year-old with curly blond hair and bright blue eyes. As I thought of Lulu’s sweet giggles, I sneered at the thought of the snoring. We had been married 15 years. I swept my hand across the comforter and stopped for a moment. Our anniversary had just passed. We had taken a trip to South Lake Tahoe so Paul could gamble and play poker. I didn’t like card games, and I hated the smoky smell of the casinos. I had suggested we take our anniversary trip to Greece.
“Greece?” he asked. “Mia, we don’t have that kind of money.”
Money or lack thereof was his go-to answer for everything. First, we were wealthy – in fact, most people would say rich. We lived in a modest two-story adobe-style home but on the nice side of town on a two-acre lot. I owned a multimedia and marketing company, and Paul owned a successful software consulting group. Not to mention, I had five Fortune 500 clients in which I was the brain behind their branding campaigns. Rumors were even flying that one of my clients might go public, and I owned a chunk of stock that would make me wealthy to the tune of millions – that is, if they did went public and hit it big, which was a question at this point. They had paid the stocks to me when their cash flow was low, and they wanted to give me an incentive. I remember the marketing director comment how they were lazy with their stock-option programs and often used them from new subsidiaries that they didn’t have much confidence in. It was a risky way to get paid, but I went for it anyway. It was like playing professional Lotto.
We did pretty much what we liked to do, and this included traveling whenever I wanted to go somewhere, but I went alone if it was a place I really wanted to visit and Paul scoffed about. Paul’s complaints were usually what I felt was prejudice. “I don’t like French people,” he said when I wanted to go to France. Now the subject of Greece was at hand.
“We could work it out,” I replied as I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing dishes and not looking at him.
I didn’t like to look at him anymore. He looked angry, and age was not kind to him. He was two years older than me, but he looked 50 instead of 42. He had gained weight, and the years spent water skiing without sunscreen made his tan face look leathery. He loved to tan when so many experts suggested lack of sunscreen was unwise. He ignored them in favor of sunbathing on his friend’s motorboat in Folsom Lake.
“Ah come on honey,” he said as he stood in the doorway, arms folded. “You know work has been slow.”
No, I didn’t know if work had been slow. He never specifically told me about the books or the income for that matter. He was the owner of a software consulting company. In the early days, he developed websites and software systems, and he was smart enough during the IT bubble in 2000 to get out before it burst with a tidy sum of cash squirreled away. He had a tall, black safe in the garage loaded with cash hidden from the IRS and gold and silver coins along with stocks and bonds. We never talked about money much. He had separate bank accounts. I also kept separate accounts, too.
“Well, what then?” I tersely asked and felt agitated.
“Let’s go to south shore, gamble, drink, have some fun?” he suggested.
“I don’t gamble or drink, you know that,” I replied and stopped what I was doing to look at him.
“Oh come on! It will be fun,” he urged and came a little closer.
I stared at him. I knew better than to argue. He would force the idea no matter what I said. I slowly nodded.
His face brightened, and he unfolded his arms.
“Great! Make reservations.”
“Hmm okay … but where?” I asked.
He walked over to the edge of the brown granite counter and grabbed a red apple from a round crystal bowl.
He crunched and talked with his mouthful, “Figure it out.”
He went to kiss me with his juicy mouth, and I turned my lips away so he caught my cheek. As soon as he left out the backdoor, I wiped the juice off my cheek with my long sleeve on my burgundy t-shirt. I looked down at the reflection of my face in the dishwater. I hated the thin line that had formed between my light eyebrows. What was the face? A look of what? Numb disappointment – that is what I felt. Did I look angry? Sad? I hated that line.
I momentarily thought about Botox. My best girlfriend Erica would be miffed if I told her I wanted to Botox my brow and erase ugly fine lines. She was an organic enthusiasts who only bought those pricey organic produce items and bathed in cruelty-free shampoo, and she wore woolens and empire-waist dresses with Birkenstocks. Her face, though still beautiful, had blond hair on her upper lip and chin – and she refused to wax or laser it off. I couldn’t imagine she would be supportive of Botox. I shrugged the thought away and figured we didn’t apparently have money to squander on cosmetic enhancements – at least according to Paul we didn’t, and I thought this for about a week until …
Paul came home early one afternoon. He was just so excited and flushed when he rushed into my office. I was annoyed when he came and bothered me while I worked. He completely disregarded that my business was just as real as his own. I didn’t interrupt his workdays. Besides if I dared, he would yell at me about respect and business.
I was on the phone with a client.
“Honey!” he shouted as he burst into my office. “Come …”
I put my hand over the phone and said, “I’m on the phone.”
“Hang up!” he demanded.
I rolled my eyes in frustration and said into the phone, “Grace, can I call you right back?” I hung up and looked up at him, “What?”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me up and out of my black leather office chair. He dragged me down the hallway, out the front door, and right to the expansive driveway where before me I saw it – a brand new, royal blue and white motorboat.
“It’s mine!” he gleefully shouted as he pulled his lumbering body up into it. “Isn’t it sexy. We can ski all summer.”
I was shocked and said, “I thought we had no money.”
He brushed the thought away with his hand, “We’re fine! We’ll take it on our anniversary trip to Tahoe. Gamble and ski – it will be really great.”
As he said this, he ran his hand lovingly across the surface of the side like he was petting Maisie, our dog. He hardly noticed when I turned and headed inside to call Grace back. He was now enraptured with the cream-colored leather seats.
As I fluffed the pillows on the bed and placed the last dusty-blue one in the center, I stood back.
“Perfect,” I said aloud and smiled.
I thought some more about Paul. What did I feel toward him? Blank, nothingness is what I felt. Was this mature, 15-year love? Why didn’t I feel anything about him? Shouldn’t I love him with all my heart? Why didn’t I feel that flicker of passion or even gentle mature love? Was this what love became after a 17-year relationship?
We had dated for two years while I finished my degree before we got married. He courted me sweetly and brought me red roses, wild flowers, and little gifts like a thin silver bracelet with a heart on it. One time, he brought me his aunt’s chicken casserole after I had completed semester finals. He was worried I was stressed from studying. He wanted me to eat – I was too thin and tired-looking for a 21-year old.
As he walked into my one-bedroom apartment, he set a glass tray down on the end of the kitchen counter. I looked from him – all rugged, dark-brown hair, bright light-blue eyes, and a stocky but muscular frame – to the casserole.
“What’s this?” I asked and grinned at him.
“Dinner,” he replied. “My Aunt Susie made me bring the leftovers. I told her you were stressed about finals and had lost weight.”
He went to the cabinet to get plates. I watched and lifted the see-through plastic wrap to smell the rosemary wafting off the chicken. It smelled amazing. I then watched Paul happily take a spatula, cut out a square, lift it onto the plate, and hand it to me. He then grabbed and stuck a fork into the top. He looked infinitely pleased with himself. I just smiled, looked at him, and set the plate down. As I leveled my eyes at him, I looked up and moved to my tiptoes since he was six-feet tall and I was 5’ 8” and started to slowly kiss him. First a lick on his lips to gently pry them open, and then a full on kiss. He wrapped his arms completely around my small waist, and he pulled me toward the bedroom.
As I came out of my memory, I stared at the bed – the bed that we hadn’t made love in over a year because of Paul’s sciatic and snoring problems. He used to push to have sex all the time, but on our honeymoon it uncomfortably shifted. He was always assertive sexually with me, and he would pursue making love. From the honeymoon on, it changed. He quit being the aggressor, and our wedding night he was too tired and refused to properly consummate the marriage.
“Honey, honey, get off me,” he said as I had just crawled on top of him in my beautiful, sheer-white nightgown Erica had given me for our wedding night. It had organdy and lace on the bodice and a sheer, see-through robe that fit over the top. “I’m too full of rubber chicken and cake,” he groaned. “You know I don’t like to fuck on a full stomach.”
“Fuck?” I thought to myself. Were we “fucking” on our wedding night or making love? I thought that making love should apply to your new wife. I rolled to the side and onto my back so I faced the ceiling.
“So, we’re not going to make love on our wedding night?” I asked incredulously.
“Go to sleep,” he said as he began to snore – he always snored as fast as he closed his eyes.
I stared at the ceiling.
“Shit!” I thought. “What the hell did I just do?”