“So how’s Johnny?” Michelle asked, stretched out on the sofa of Johnny and Lisa’s living room. A huge, overfull glass of merlot was cradled in her hand, her legs bared by the long slit in her skirt.
Lisa’s legs sat parallel to the couch, extended along the hardwood floor. Considering the ruby liquid swirling in her own glass, sitting on the coffee table and brimming with wine, Lisa shook her head, disillusioned. “He didn’t get his promotion,” she told her friend.
Michelle raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Is he disappointed?” she winced.
“Quite a bit,” Lisa stated flatly before taking a sip of the wine clutched in her hand. “He got drunk last night.” Tilting her head in surprise, Michelle took a long, deep drink, but failed to react beyond that. “And he hit me,” Lisa added in her usual embellishment.
“He hit you?” Michelle nearly shouted in shock and outrage.
Trying to dial it back a little, Lisa shrugged. “He didn’t know what he was doing,” she sniffed, taking another sip of merlot.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concerned, scanning Lisa for any sign of injury.
“Well, I don’t want to marry him anymore,” Lisa told her, in a statement that would be totally reasonable in an actual domestic abuse situation.
“What?” Michelle demanded, apparently dismayed that her friend was considering breaking up with someone who she claimed was abusive.
“Johnny’s…” Lisa searched for the best wording as she set her glass aside. “Okay,” she finished, choosing possibly the worst descriptor for, again, someone she was claiming is a future wife-beater, before smirking. “But I found somebody else.”
A small laugh of disbelief escaped Michelle. “Lisa, this isn’t right,” she chided her friend in the exact wrong emotional response. “You’re living with one guy and sleeping with another guy?”
“I’m doing what I want to do,” Lisa replied, a tendon in her neck jutting out with her annoyance.
“Well, who is he?” Michelle asked conspiratorially.
A warm smile spread across Lisa’s face. “His best friend,” she said slowly. “And he lives in this building.”
Her eyes wide, Michelle let out another laugh, apparently forgetting her concern for the feelings of Lisa’s future husband. Women, am I right? “I can’t believe you’re telling me this,” she gasped, putting the extremely obvious clues together. “It’s Mark, isn’t it?”
Still smugly smirking, her fingers curled around the wine glass, Lisa nodded.
“Lisa… You know you’re just thinking about yourself,” Michelle chided her friend again, her eyes flicking to Lisa’s glass of wine on the coffee table. “Somebody’s going to get hurt,” she warned her as Lisa took a deep sip from the glass in her hand. “You’ve got to be honest with Johnny.”
“I can’t do that,” Lisa told Michelle, the tendon in her neck tightening with rage at her friend’s judgement. “He would be devastated,” she continued, as if she’d ever given any indication that she cared about her future husband’s feelings.
“Well if you care so much for him, why cheat on him?” Michelle asked, finally making a good point.
“Look, I really don’t know what to do.” Lisa’s shoulders slumped, her face sank. “I love Mark. I don’t have any more feelings for Johnny.”
“Johnny is so excited about this wedding,” Michelle sighed, giving the last reason you should stay with someone. Seriously, she’s either suggesting putting off an inevitable break-up until after a marriage, at which point the legal and financial issues will be added to the emotional ones, or just sucking it up and being unhappy forever. And all to avoid the awkwardness of cancelling a wedding? What is wrong with her?
“I know,” Lisa sighed, resigned.
“You’ve got to tell Johnny,” Michelle repeated.
Her jaw tightening, Lisa glared at her friend. “No guilt trips,” she told her sternly.
“You don’t feel guilty about this at all?” Michelle guffawed, surprised.
“No,” Lisa shook her head. “I’m happy.”
A smile, frozen, was still plastered to Michelle’s face. She shook her head in disbelief. “Something awful is going to happen,” she cautioned.
Her green eyes wide, Lisa beseeched her friend, “Please don’t tell anybody.”
Outside, Johnny picked up the newspaper sitting on the stairs into his and his future wife’s condo. He scanned the headlines, flipping the paper over to see if anything caught his eye before he tucked it under his arm and strode up to the door, home after a long day at work.
“Don’t worry,” Michelle reassured Lisa. “You can trust me. Your secret is safe with me.”
Just then, the sound of the front door opening interrupted their conversation. As Lisa and Michelle clinked their glasses together in a toast, sealing their conspiracy, Johnny stepped inside. “Hello, Michelle,” he greeted his future wife’s friend. “I heard you. What secret?” he pried, falling into the seat next to the couch.
Nervously, Michelle laughed in response, but Lisa’s face hardened. “It’s between us women,” she spat.
“Hi, Johnny,” Michelle returned his greeting uneasily.
Noticing her skirt and denim jacket, Johnny asked, “Is that a new dress?”
“Um,” Michelle stammered, unsettled by Johnny’s piercing gaze and keen eye for detail. “Well, I guess I better get going,” she excused herself abruptly, sitting up. “I’ll just talk to you guys later?” She stood, picking her way around the coffee table and Johnny’s legs, sprawled across the seating area. “Excuse me.” Quickly making her way to the door, she cast one last look over her shoulder. “Lisa,” she called back, “Remember what I told you.”
Taking the just-vacated spot on the sofa, Lisa shot Michelle a look of reproach, but nodded as she rearranged the cushions. Michelle gave a little wave and mouthed the word Bye before slipping outside, closing the door behind her.
Curious, Johnny’s brow furrowed. “What’s she talking about?” he wondered.
Lisa snatched up her glass of merlot and settled into the couch. “It’s girl talk,” she snarled, “I just told you that.” Tense, she took a long gulp of the wine.
Johnny sighed before rising out of the chair. “I never hit you,” he accused. “You shouldn’t have any secrets from me.” Shrugging out of his jacket, Johnny cast it aside, throwing it onto the couch. “I’m your future husband,” he reminded Lisa as he sank back into the chair.
“Are you sure about that?” Lisa taunted. “Maybe I’ll change my mind.”
Tossing his long, black hair, Johnny shook his head. “Don’t talk like that. What do you mean?”
“What do you think? Women change their minds all the time.” My God, even the women in this story think all women are cardboard cut-outs.
Johnny chuckled in response. “You must be kidding, aren’t you?”
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it.” Lisa stood, the later afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows perfectly illuminating the deep red of her halter top. “I’m going to go upstairs, and wash up, and go to bed.”
“How dare to talk to me like that!” Johnny thundered, rising to block her way. Thrusting his palms into Lisa’s chest, he shoved her back onto the couch, making his protests about Lisa’s accusations completely moot. He stood over his future wife. “You should tell me everything.”
Her eyes dark, Lisa glowered up at the man, twice her age. “I can’t talk right now.”
“Why, Lisa, why, Lisa,” Johnny repeated in broken sobs, sinking onto the sofa next to her. “Please talk to me, please!” Unable to stand his entreating, Lisa turned her face away. “You’re part of my life, you’re everything to me,” Johnny continued, “I could not go on without you, Lisa.”
Lisa shook her head. “You’re scaring me,” she told him, trying to stand up, to get away. Johnny once again matched her movements, blocking her in, keeping her from fleeing.
“You’re lying, I never hit you,” he moaned, although he had, just moments ago, shoved her, and he was, just now, ignoring boundaries that Lisa was very explicit about. Johnny thrust his fists into the air. Words exploded out of him. “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”
“Why are you so hysterical?” Lisa shot back.
“Do you understand life?” Johnny yelled, roughly shoving his future wife back onto the sofa again. Thrown back into the position she’d just been trying to leave, Lisa sulked, petulant. “Do you?” he demanded.
Her lower lip stuck out in a pout, Lisa attempted to leave again, standing and edging her way around Johnny. This time he allowed her to pass. She made her way to the spiral staircase before turning. “Don’t worry about it,” she told her future husband, somewhat cryptically. “Everything will be alright.”
His head lolling on the back of the couch, Johnny watched her reproachfully. “You drive me crazy.”
“Good night, Johnny,” Lisa called back as she climbed the stairs.
“Don’t worry about it,” Johnny repeated her odd assertion. “I still love you. Good night, Lisa.” His eyes followed her long legs, wrapped in tight denim, as she disappeared into their bedroom.
Another customer left, leaving only two more milling around in the bank. One of the tellers hit a light switch, dimming the building and letting everyone know it was almost closing time. Through a pair of binoculars, Claudette watched as a woman in a tailored jacket passed a check across the counter. The man taking the slip of paper smiled and mouthed a quick thank you before he turned and began to walk out of the bank.
“Only one left,” Claudette told Edward.
There was a sharp click in response. “We’re ready to go anytime,” Edward said, slinging the assault rifle across his knee. He tossed a floppy piece of material at his ex wife. “Here.”
Claudette snatched it out of midair, unfolding the latex to see the exaggerated features of an elderly woman, the face of the mask pulled to unnatural angles that were less like wrinkles than they were like melted candle wax. “Funny,” Claudette stated flatly.
“Aw, come on,” Edward smirked. “I’m just keeping it casual.”
Ahead of them, there was the chug of the old van starting up. As they began to move, Claudette pulled the mask over her head. She regarded her ex husband through the narrow slits in her disguise, reminding herself why he had gotten herself into this.
She needed the money. That was both the long and short of it. There was nothing else that could be said. Cancer was rotting its way through her body, and she might not survive. She couldn't leave her daughter – foolishly gambling a solid future with Johnny – with nothing. She needed the money.
To an outsider, Edward might have seemed like the worst person to go to. Claudette’s ex husband had no lingering feelings for her, no reason to help. None, except that he knew her inside and out, the same way she knew him. There might not have been love between them, but when you’d lived with someone, shared everything with them for nearly ten years, there was a certain grudging trust. Not the same as faith, but a trust that you knew exactly what they’d do in any situation. Claudette hadn’t been in the same room as the man in two years, long enough for his salt-and-pepper hair to go completely white, but she knew he would help her.
The van bounced as it lumbered down the hill. Claudette braced herself with each jolt, terrified of the gun in her ex husband’s hands. Her horror increased when he suddenly swung the rifle towards her. For a moment she thought she’d misjudged the entire situation, that he was aiming at her, until Edward gave the gun a little shake and she realised he was pointing the butt of the rifle at her, holding it out for her to take. As the van shuddered to a halt, she reached out, tentatively, and grabbed the gun, cradling it in her hands like a baby. Edward picked up another gun that had been sitting on the stainless steel floor of the van, checking it and making sure it was loaded.
“Ready for this?” he asked, seeming more concerned with the weapon than with Claudette’s state of mind.
Claudette could only nod, her throat feeling like it was closing up.
Focusing on her, Edward pulled on his mask, a latex caricature of an old geezer to match Claudette’s old lady. “Don’t worry about it,” he told her. “You know what they say: they’re more scared of you than you are of them.”
“Last customer’s heading out,” came the voice of the driver. “And they’re clear. We got a teller moving for the door to lock up.”
“Well,” Edward said as he stood, “It’s now or never. Are we doing this?”
“We’re doing this,” Claudette replied, trying to harden her voice and silence the tremor in it as she rose to her feet.
“Then just follow my lead,” Edward told her.
Exploding into movement, he burst out the back door of the black van, his footsteps pounding on the pavement. Claudette followed, trying to touch the rifle in her hands with only the tips of her fingertips as she raced after her ex husband. Just as a teller inside was reaching the door, her fingers on the deadbolt, ready to turn it, Edward slammed into the door. The teller was pinned by the glass for a moment, dazed at the sudden impact. Following, Claudette slipped through the open door.
“Lock it!” Edward called back at her, and she did, pushing the door shut and then turning the deadbolt before turning her gun on the teller, still standing bewildered next to the door.
Too terrified to speak, Claudette motioned with the barrel of the weapon for the teller to get away from the glass. The woman, shaking, managed to stumble towards the center of the bank, where Edward was rounding up the rest of the workers.
“Do what I say and you’ll be home in time for dinner,” Edward called in a voice muffled by rubber. “But if anyone fucks around, you’re leaving this bank in a body bag.”