I made a horrible mistake last night. With the life I chose, I should have known that attempting to date was a bad idea. But I had gotten lonely and now Chad was the one who had to pay for it.
Gray light had begun to filter in through the blinds. I couldn’t lie in bed and stare at the ceiling any longer.
In the living room, I found my roommate Cami sitting on the couch snuggled under a blanket, with a heart-shaped box of candy on her lap. She was wearing scrubs and her eyes looked like she hadn’t washed off yesterday’s makeup. She worked in medical records, so she wore scrubs every day. She also slept in them.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?” I asked.
“I called in sick,” she said, switching the TV channel from a morning talk show to an infomercial selling a miracle skin care cream.
She popped a truffle in her mouth, and I saw that she had eaten half the candy in the box. There were more boxes on the coffee table, along with a pile of pink cellophane bags.
The day after a holiday, Cami always went out early to buy half-priced candy. Our first holiday together was last Easter. When I got up the next morning, I nearly tripped over the line of discount Easter baskets in the hallway.
Right now, there was a Christmas popcorn tin filled with trick or treat candy next to the armchair and a pink wicker basket full of red and green foil-wrapped chocolates on top of the microwave. As far as quirks went, it wasn’t such a bad one. Cami was a decent roommate, as long as she remembered to take her meds.
“I’m going to make some eggs,” I said. “Want some?”
“No thanks,” she said, eating another chocolate.
I knew from past experience that in a few hours she would be clutching her belly and moaning.
“Eat some eggs.”
She sighed. “Okay.”
Cami had made coffee. I promoted her from decent roommate to good roommate and poured myself a cup. After tossing and turning for hours, I felt dead on my feet.
“What about you?” Cami asked. “Going in today?”
The kitchen was separated from the living room by a breakfast bar, so we could carry on a conversation while I cooked. Sometimes I wished for a nice wall between the rooms.
“I’m working from home.”
I had told Cami that I was a pharmaceutical sales rep. The kind that works odd hours and gets called away on lots of sudden trips. In my closet, I kept a box of trinkets from innocuous cities, so I could always bring her a souvenir when I returned from a “medical conference.”
“I mean, who decides that Valentine’s Day is the right time to introduce his girlfriend to his boss?”
I had missed something. Or she was continuing a conversation she had started in her head. That happened sometimes.
“Peter’s in the doghouse?” I asked.
“No! He’s mad at me! We were at this awful Tiki Bar restaurant and we were drinking these fruity cocktails out of plastic pineapples, the kind with the super strong rum. When Peter wasn’t looking his boss grabbed my butt, so I threw my drink in his face. He was standing next to this torch thingy mounted on the wall. It was a real flame. Who knew?”
I had been unloading the dishwasher. I stopped and turned to look at her.
“You lit his boss on fire?”
“They put it out fast. He wasn’t really hurt. He’ll need a buzz cut, though.” She popped a caramel in her mouth and chewed aggressively. “Peter said I overreacted.”
“You didn’t. I would have done worse.”
I might do worse, once I found out the guy’s name.
“Really? Peter is madder than that time I knocked his laptop out the window. He isn’t speaking to me.”
“You should have lit Peter on fire.”
Cami giggled and set the candy box on the coffee table.
I put a skillet on the stove to heat, then buttered a couple of slices of fluffy white bread and cut circles out of the middles to make egg in a baskets. It was comfort food.
“A guy at work told me a joke. Want to hear it? So this girl brought her hottie boyfriend home to meet her parents. He was studying to be a doctor, so he was quite a catch. After the boyfriend left, she told her dad that she was going to marry him and her dad said, ‘You can’t. He’s your half-brother.’ Wait, her mom wasn’t in the room. She was just talking to her dad.”
My real job didn’t have a title. I thought of myself as a problem solver. If you needed to get rid of your son’s gold digger fiancée, I would trick her into going after a bigger fish. If that didn’t work, I would arrange for the son to find her in bed with someone else. If you wanted to acquire an object with which the owner didn’t want to part, I would arrange for him to suddenly require a lot of money. It might be for bail, or it might be for medical bills. Either way, he would be forced to sell the coveted object. I always got the job done. By any means necessary.
“She brought home her next boyfriend, who worked at the hardware store, and her dad said, ‘You need to dump him.’ And she said, ‘Why? He’s a sweetheart!’ And her dad said, ‘He’s your half-brother, too.’ She brought home a third boyfriend and, big surprise, the same thing happened.”
It started when I was in high school. A girl on the track team accused the coach of sexual harassment and the principal covered it up. Shortly after that, the coach got arrested for possession with intent to distribute, and pictures of the principal with an underage prostitute found their way to his wife and the school board.
Okay, the girl on the track team was me. That was when I discovered I had a knack for shaping events to produce the outcome I desired. I had gotten undeserving people promotions, convinced spouses they weren’t being cheated on and shut down rival businesses. My days were never dull.
“By then, the girl was fed up. She went to her mother and told her that they needed to move because she couldn’t marry any of the boys on the island. Her mother asked why not, and the daughter didn’t want to have to be the one to tell her that she was married to a man-slut. But she finally did. And the mother said, ‘Oh, that’s not a problem, Honey. You can marry any one of those boys. He isn’t really your dad.’”
“Cute,” I said, and Cami giggled. She switched the channel to an old episode of Friends.
“This is ‘The One With Chandler In a Box’!”
She started telling me why Joey was mad at Chandler, and who was dating whom that season. It was easy to tune out.
Last night, I had been in the middle of a job when I heard, “Surprise!”
I spun around to find Chad, holding a dozen roses and a teddy bear with a helium balloon tied to its paw. When he saw what was in the trunk of my car, he dropped the flowers and hugged the bear to his chest. I think he wet his chinos.
How had he managed to follow me? How had I not seen him? It was unforgivably sloppy of me.
I could have told him that I could explain, and made up something plausible on the fly. By the time I was done, he would have been helping me unload the trunk. But then I thought of the way he picked his teeth after he ate, and how he had made fun of me when I sang along to the Frozen soundtrack. He wasn’t very good in bed, either.
I tased him.
I left him lying on the ground, twitching and drooling, and drove away. He thought I was a paralegal named Kelly. He didn’t know where I lived. I should be safe.
But last night was no ordinary job. I could get into big trouble over that one. What if he went to the police and they took him seriously? I was usually pretty careful, but I might have left some fingerprints or DNA at his place. I had another identity, and a safe house, lined up waiting. Maybe it was time to move on.
Of course, evidence could get contaminated or go missing. I could call in a few favors. I didn’t want to panic and run if it wasn’t necessary. Maybe I should pay him a little visit to frighten him into keeping his mouth shut. But it might backfire and send him running to the police. I wasn’t sure a simple threat would be enough, anyway. The safest thing to do would be to eliminate the problem.
I have always considered murder to be a last resort. It feels like a failure to me.
I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Instead, I plated the food and took it to Cami.
“My mom used to make these!” she said, giggling with delight. “So how was your date last night?”
I thought of the look on his face when he saw the blood, like a cartoon character who’d had an anvil dropped on his head.
“We broke up.”
She turned back the blanket and patted the cushion next to her. I sat and she tucked the blanket around me.
“He wasn’t good enough for you, anyway.”
“You never met him.”
“Work with me here.”
I smiled. Cami picked up a pastry box from the coffee table and offered me a heart-shaped donut with pink confetti sprinkles. I took one and abandoned the spinach egg white omelet and whole wheat toast I had planned to make for myself.
“I’m going to do a Sex and the City marathon. Want in?” she asked.
I could always kill Chad tomorrow.