A rhythmic buzz broke into Johnny’s blissful sleep. For a moment he ignored it as a pest, a small insect that was bothering him during an otherwise perfect dream about his future wife, but the sound grew, overwhelming his attempts to bat it away, overwhelming the dream, finally making even his vision of Lisa disappear, chased away by daylight. Johnny groaned and reached a long, muscular arm over the edge of the bed, reaching for his alarm clock.
At first he found only a cool, light material, one that awakened a fond recollection of dancing and embraces, until his half-awake mind recognized the silk of Lisa’s dress. Johnny grasped the alarm clock and pulled it out from under the garment, bringing it up to check the time.
Of course, he already knew the time. 6:28, when his alarm clock went off every morning. Johnny placed the alarm clock back on the floor next to the sleek black nightstand and turned it off, not wanting to bother Lisa with its insistent buzz. With another groan, he threw himself back into the bed, feeling the warmth emanating from Lisa. He wished, for a moment, with every fibre of his being, that he could stay, that he would never have to leave his future wife’s side again. Finally steeling himself, however, he summoned all of his willpower and sat up.
Johnny’s feet touched the hardwood floor of the bedroom for the first time that day, and he suppressed an involuntary shiver as he reached over to the crystal vase on the nightstand. He pulled out one long-stemmed rose and brought the bloom to his nose, inhaling the intoxicating scent, the sweet reminder of the night before. Casting one last, long look at Lisa, he dropped the rose on his pillow – something for her to wake up next to, even if it was only a token – and walked to the bathroom to prepare for the day.
By the time Johnny was ready – clean-shaven and clad again in a proper, professional suit – Lisa had awoken. Her fingers were curled around the rose next to her. She toyed with the flower, twirling it in front of her face and watching the petals dance, her face turned away from the bathroom. Johnny walked to the bed, stopping next to the wrought iron candelabra, almost as tall as he was and dripped with the red wax of ten candles. He knelt, nuzzling the crook of Lisa’s neck. She smiled and leaned into him.
“Did you like last night?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, I did,” Lisa replied.
Johnny chuckled in response. He ran a hand over Lisa’s shoulder and kissed her cheek.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked sweetly.
From the feel of his long black hair on her back, Lisa could tell Johnny was shaking his head. He lightly grasped the rose just above her hand and brought it to his face to take a deep draw of the scent. “I have to go now,” he said softly, ruefully, before brushing the blossom against Lisa’s lips.
“Okay,” she sighed.
Lisa snuggled into the pillow, still clutching the rose in her hand. Johnny kept his eyes on her as long as he could as he went down the stairs, trying to memorize everything, from the way one leg poked out from beneath the sheets to the rivulets of water that appeared to be tracing their way across her form, a projection from the fountain, a glass sheet with water sluicing down it, that decorated one corner of their bedroom. Reminding himself that Lisa would always be there for him, Johnny forced himself to leave the condo and head to work.
Lisa opened the front door to the condo and smiled as she saw the woman outside. White hair dyed blonde was pushed up in a springy bouffant, and deep worry lines and crow’s feet instantly crinkled into a matronly glow.
“Hi mom,” Lisa greeted her. “How are you?”
Lisa’s mother, Claudette, strode inside and embraced her daughter in a tight, warm hug before giving her a small peck on the cheek. She stepped back, giving her a fraction of a second to look Lisa up and down.
It was long enough. Lisa was dressed as if for a funeral; black jeans and a long, baggy black sweater – practically a shawl – over a black tank top that left her shoulders and neck, whiter than usual against the dark shades, completely exposed. Her hair fell in limp blonde chunks, its usual bounciness apparently vanished with Lisa’s usually bouncy mood.
“I’m fine,” Claudette answered. “How are you?” she asked as she cupped her daughter’s chin between her thumb and her forefinger. Taking in Lisa’s appearance, she added a “Hmm?” to let her daughter know she wanted an honest reply as she shut the door behind her.
Lisa’s eyes shifted nervously, one moment meeting her mother’s, the next searching the floor for the answer to the question.
“Okay,” Claudette nodded, realising this was something serious, or at least something would take some coaxing. She put her hands on Lisa’s shoulders and spun her away from the door. “Let’s go to the couch,” she urged her, ushering Lisa through her own living room, “And we’ll sit down. Now,” Claudette continued and she swung her purse off her shoulder and set it aside before sitting next to her daughter, “What’s happening with you?” After a moment’s thought, she added another, “Hmm?” for emphasis.
“Nothing much,” Lisa evaded before seemingly remembering her duties as hostess. “You want some coffee?”
“What’s wrong? Tell me,” Claudette pressed, her eyes searching her daughter’s face.
Screwing her mouth up, Lisa replied, “I’m not feeling good today.”
This response was not good enough for Claudette. “Why not?”
Lisa hesitated, uncertain if she should – if she even could – share her confession with anyone. She had barely even been able to admit it to herself. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and she’d done everything she could to ignore it. She told herself it made no sense, that she had no real reason to feel the way she did, but it didn’t work. Reason couldn’t work against something so irrational. But, in the end, it didn’t matter how unbelievable it was. It just was, and she couldn’t fight it.
“I don’t love him anymore,” Lisa admitted.
Claudette didn’t bat an eye. She remembered being a young woman like her daughter, in her early twenties, subject to almost the same whims and caprices as a child. Lisa’s confession barely registered with her as more than a passing fancy, the temper tantrum of a toddler, and would end almost as soon as it had started if pressured in the right places. “Why don’t you love him anymore? Tell me,” she demanded.
“He’s so…” Lisa searched for the right word. “Boring,” she finally spat out.
This was all Claudette needed to confirm her theory. “Well, you’ve known him for over five years,” she pointed out, “You’re engaged. You said you loved him. He supports you. He provides for you. And, darling, you can’t support yourself.” Lisa’s eyebrows furrowed at the sting of her mother’s words, the lack of confidence Claudette had in her daughter. “He’s a wonderful man, and he loves you very much.” Claudette grasped her daughter’s forearm with both hands, urging her to make the right decision. “And his position is very secure. And he told me he plans to buy you a house.”
Lisa scoffed. “That’s why he’s so boring.”
“Well what are you going to do?” Claudette demanded.
“I don’t know,” Lisa admitted, before adding with a roguish smirk, “I don’t mind living with him.”
“Well, you can’t do that,” her mother sniffed haughtily. “Have you talked to him about it?” she continued, insisting on a course of action that suited her prim-and-proper outlook.
“No,” Lisa pouted. Looking down at her hands, she tried to imagine the conversation, the reproach and anger she knew she’d see in Johnny’s eyes the moment he knew. This was the longest relationship she’d been in – and from what Johnny had told her, it was the longest he’d been in as well, despite his age – and she had no idea how to end something like that. “I don’t know what to do,” she finally moped.
“Well, he’s a wonderful person,” Claudette went on, barely seeming to notice her daughter’s distress. “And he’s getting a promotion very soon,” she added, hoping to overwhelm Lisa’s seemingly arbitrary complaint. “Now, he bought you a car, he bought you a ring,” she listed, “Clothes, whatever you wanted. Now you want to dump him.” Claudette shook her head, scandalized. “That’s not right. I’ve always thought of him as my son-in-law.” Her lips pursed, she concluded, “You should marry Johnny. He would be good for you.”
Defeated by the logic of Claudette’s endless barrage of points, Lisa gave a slight smile and a small shrug of her shoulders. “I guess you’re right about that,” she conceded.
“Of course I’m right, I know men,” Claudette claimed triumphantly. “I wasn’t born yesterday. I’m glad you’re listening to your mother. Nobody else listens to me,” she complained.
Lisa couldn’t resist the opportunity, couldn’t let an observation like that go by without comment. “You’re probably right about that, mom,” she agreed, barely suppressing a smirk.
Claudette didn’t notice the jibe. “Well, I’m glad you’re listening to your mother,” she commended Lisa. “Listen, I’ve got to go,” she said, standing up from the couch. She turned and looked down meaningfully at her daughter. “But you remember what I told you, okay?” she added, giving Lisa a playful, motherly tap on the nose with her index finger. “Mmhmm,” she nodded, satisfied that her daughter had gotten the message. “Bye bye, now.” With that, she walked to the door of the condo and let herself out, leaving Lisa to meditate on her words as she sat alone on the couch in her empty home.
“Thanks, mom,” Lisa sighed sarcastically to no one but the silence around her, her only companion most days. Her mother had encouraged her not to pursue education, a career; she’d always claimed such things were unattractive to men, that the women who had them were alone and unhappy. Lisa sulked as she looked around the apartment at the dark corners, filled only with shadows.
Claudette’s words still stung. You can’t support yourself, Lisa thought, Johnny’s position is secure. Very few of Lisa’s friends could support themselves. Those that could were working the demeaning jobs that were available to unschooled young adults; the rest were still finishing university and college. Of course Johnny’s job was secure compared to theirs, Lisa reflected bitterly, he’d been working towards security for nearly twenty years.
And yet the best thing I can do for myself is just stay here, waiting to greet him like a good little future wife, Lisa brooded. In a rebellious huff, she hopped up off the couch and opened a window, letting pure daylight stream in a chase away the dark reds and blacks of the living room. Her eyes found the phone, sitting in its cradle next to the artsy, post-modern photograph of a spoon in a silver frame and she snatched it from its rest. The phone beeped as her fingers flew across the keypad, playing a tune she could have sung in her sleep. Seconds later the dial tone filled her with hope and longing.
Halfway across the city, a cell phone buzzed from the cup holder of a black Buick. Reflective sunglasses flicked to the source of the sound for only half a second before the owner of the shades grabbed the phone and answered with a quick, “Hello?”
“Hey, baby,” Lisa said in a low, seductive voice, “How you doin’?”
“Oh, hey, how you doin’?” Mark replied. “Yeah, I’m very busy, what’s going on?”
Lisa scoffed. “I just finished talking to my mom,” she groaned. “She gave me this big lecture about Johnny.”
Mark’s brow furrowed. A call from his best friend’s future wife to complain about said best friend was odd, to say the least, at the best of times. “Look, we’ll talk about it later,” Mark tried to deflect. “I told you I’m very busy.” This much, at least, was true.
“We’ll talk about it now,” Lisa demanded. “Whenever you say we’ll talk about it later, we never do. I can’t wait till later. I want to talk right now. You owe me one, anyways.”
That was also undeniable, although Lisa hardly knew the extent of it. Mark might have only been neighbours with Johnny, if it hadn’t been for Lisa inviting him in for dinner the night he’d moved in. He hadn’t expected anything like that to happen, assuming Johnny, with his long black hair, muscular build and thick Eastern European accent, would be very selective in who he welcomed into his life, but it turned out he melted at any request from his young future wife.
A gracious dinner invitation six months ago was hardly the favour Lisa was talking about. A few days ago, while Johnny was at work, Lisa had allowed Mark into their condo. He had asked to use their shower, telling them his water wasn’t working. That wasn’t technically a lie. Due to a healthy paranoia, Mark had shut down the water to his apartment, just in case he needed to prove his story. He did have a shower – the best way to fake doing something, he always thought, is to actually do as much of it as you can.
In truth, he just wanted a few uninterrupted minutes to search Johnny and Lisa’s upstairs bathroom, using the sounds of running water as cover. Bathrooms, more so than any other place in the home, were filled with evidence, and Mark had obtained a few black hairs, complete with skin tags, and traces of fingerprints, all safe by now in zip lock baggies in the evidence room of the San Francisco police department. He’d also taken the opportunity to paw through the medicine cabinet, but, as usual, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Okay,” Mark ceded with an amused smile, “What do you want to talk about?”
“She’s a stupid bitch,” Lisa spat. “She wants to control my life. I’m not going to put up with that. I’m going to do what I want to do, and that’s it.” She paused, trying to let some naughtiness creep into her voice. “What do you think I should do?” she solicited.
“Well, I mean,” Mark sputtered, “Why do you ask me? You know, you’ve been very happy with Johnny,” he reminded her. The words, flying through the ether across the gulf of distance between them, felt more like a slap to Lisa than her mother’s had. “What do you want me to say? I mean, you should enjoy your life. What’s the problem?”
“Maybe you’re right,” Lisa replied, letting Mark feel as if he’d won. “Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Okay,” Mark agreed easily, cheerfully. “Alright, how about noon?”
“I’ll be waiting for you.” A small smile of satisfaction crept across Lisa’s face. “Bye.”
“Alright, see ya,” Mark answered before hanging up. He put the phone back in the cup holder and cast his eyes down the street, almost a block away. Even from this distance, his quarry was obvious, the decisive gait and long black hair unmistakeable.
Finding his notebook in the passenger seat without looking down, Mark flipped the book open to where his pencil was sitting inside. With muscle memory honed over dozens of stakeouts, Mark jotted a note in his messy scrawl – 2:11, Johnny leaving coffee shop.