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The Plan

“I don’t understand. How is this going to work, Deena?” I ask, my eyes following her as she frantically searches around in her utility closet.

“Fuck, Pen, I don’t know!” she yells. “It’s not like I’ve drugged someone and tied them up before.”

The plan was wild. We were going to slip Tom some of Deena’s old expired doggy downers, hoping we could get him to admit to the horrors of what he’s done. Stupid, I know.

“This is stupid,” I say, slumping down on the barstool, leaning my elbow on the edge. “And dangerous.”

She stands up straight, turning to face me with a long white corded rope in her hands. “You know what’s stupid, Pen? Getting killed by a man who can brush your existence under a rug like a pile of dirt. You aren’t dirt, and I’ll be damned if he lays a hand on you or any other woman out there.”

You had to give it to Deena. She was a fighter. There wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to stick around and watch anyone get beaten up on. Especially not her best friend. Deena was an advocate for women of domestic abuse. Her last partner had suffered insurmountable pain at the hands of her ex.

She’d always had her suspicions about Thomas being abusive in the past. Not physically, but definitely emotionally. She’d paused and made scowling faces at me whenever I’d discussed finances with her, hating the fact that he had all control of the money. I’d explained that he was the numbers guy, and that money was literally his thing. But she wasn’t hearing it. She saw his control over me before I did.

But what she also saw was his complete lack of control. It wasn’t until the weekend in Vegas that really set it in stone. Tom had fallen down a rabbit hole of gambling while we were in our last year at University. He’d become so caught up in the idea that he could outsmart the system by counting cards, he’d payed for me and Deena to join him there on his endeavor.

We rested near the pools, enjoying the scorching desert sun as Tom’s savings dwindled before him. Panic hit and we found him in the hotel room, drunk as all hell, punching a hole in the wall until collapsing.

Deena had suggested he tried anything other than Black Jack to get him out of the rut he’d dug for himself. She took him to the craps table where he began rolling. Double ones were his thing, while sevens were hers. Eventually, they won enough back to keep him from jumping off the damn hotel balcony. She’d never let him forget it either, hence where the nickname Snake Eyes came from. Giving him shit over how unlucky he seemed and how naturally blessed she was in return became their thing.

The two of them really bonded over it, and after that, all was right in the world. I mean honestly, what girl wants her boyfriend and best friend at odds? No one.

Deena saved his ass that weekend by being the fiery, quick-witted woman she was. But she never once forgot how he acted in that hotel room when the world around him caved.

After our marriage, when life became more complicated, her suspicions grew again. She was always keeping watch on me, questioning bruises on my arms or legs, weary of where he stayed while away on business. I tried not to let it affect me, but her suspicions created my own.

Sometimes I felt so naïve in my marriage because perhaps love had masked me. And sometimes love can take away your sight when you need it most. Love can alter your reality into what you want it to be, rather than what it is in its purest form. Deena was and still is the truth that I need slapped across my face.

Tom had emotionally abused me in the past when it came to money and his controlling nature, and bringing up the baby, pinning it on me, was just another one to add to the list.

“I’m scared, Dee. What if this goes wrong? What if the meds aren’t enough and we just end up pissing him off?”

“Well,” she says, turning to face the fridge. She stands up on her tippy toes, grabbing a handgun from the top of it. “It’s best I bring this.”

“What?! Deena,” I scoff. “Really? A gun? What, are you gonna shoot him?!”

“First of all, my dickhead brother gave it to me the day he decided my tits weren’t disappearing like we’d all hoped. Second, have you seen my neighborhood?” She glares at me, tucking the weapon into the back of her pants. “And third, did you forget that he very well may have murdered someone?” she asks with a hint of sarcasm. “Or shall I replay the details of how he gutted her like a fucking animal.”

“Oh my God.” I drop my face into my hands, trying to rub out the tension settling behind my eyes.

“Listen,” she says gently, placing her hand on my wrist. “We’re just gonna get some answers out of him. Get what we know we can. Then we’ll let the authorities do their job.”

I swallow, nodding.

We’re really doing this.

“Thank God, you’re back.”

I hear his voice before I turn to see him. Needing another second to get my shit together, I let out a deep breath. I’m freaking out internally.

Turning, I toss my curls behind me, leaning against the edge of the kitchen counter as my cheek rests near my shoulder. I flutter my lashes nervously before finding the courage to submit to his gaze.

But, it’s not fear I feel when I reach his eyes. It’s complete and utter disgust. Sadness from somewhere deep within my bones slowly seeps its way into my bloodstream, pumping me with a new energy. One that seeks retribution for an unknowing woman, an innocent child, gone too soon.

He drops his bag at the door, rushing towards me, but stalls when he approaches, seeing as I’m not making any moves to meet his energy. He drops his hands at his sides and chews on his bottom lip, as if contemplating on how to solve this new puzzle before him.

“Last night was...” He stalls, running his hands through his hair, then dragging them down his face. “Last night was agonizing.”

I run my finger over a tiny chip on the smooth surface that makes up our countertop. Damaged while being put in by the workers. I’d noticed it immediately, but me being the people-pleasing pussy that I am, I let it go. I brushed it off, assuming I’d never even notice it and that I was being obsessive and crazy for even considering making a big deal of it.

I look at it now like I look at my relationship with Tom. I should’ve put my foot down from the beginning.

“It was awful for me too,” I whisper, turning my lips into my shoulder.

I’m not lying. Any night you find out your husband may or may not have killed the woman he got pregnant generally shifts the mood.

“I can’t lose you, Pen.” His voice rumbles in his chest as he flexes his jaw. He takes a step forward, closing the space between us. His hand raises as two fingers caress the side of my arm, slowly dragging from shoulder to elbow.

The touch used to make me shiver in pleasure, but now I’m shivering with something else entirely.

“I’ve lost so much already,” he continues, his eyes darkening when I meet them with my own.

My heart is thumping loudly in my chest as his hand slowly wraps around my arm. His shaking fingers grip into my flesh, as his firm hold makes my chest expand dramatically.

He leans down, his face closing in on mine. I watch him like a sheep watches a wolf, steady, calm...cautious.

His nose tails along my cheek as I feel the warmth of his breath against my face. My eyes twitch as I hold my breath to remain calm and still.

“We used to be so good together,” he whispers into my hair. “But time changes things, doesn’t it?”

He pulls back away from me, leaving me in a space where I’m finally able to breathe.

Maybe he will kill me before I get the chance to drug him.

“Time is irrelevant,” I say, finally finding my voice. I clear my throat of the cobwebs that have quickly coated. “What we have is a moment. An opportunity to see each other for what we are. No facades, no distractions. Just us and the truth.”

“He stares as if he can see the words before me in the air. He’s rereading them, deciphering them, trying to find their meaning. But I stop him before he gets the chance.

“I made dinner.” I peer over at the dining room table.

It’s set as if we were celebrating a holiday. A special day. Not the ending of a marriage, as he suspects. He eyes the candles I’ve lit before he trails his gaze to the wall near the television.

“I’ve cleaned it,” I state, knowing he’s just now remembering the mess he made in his outburst. “But it wasn’t easy. I had to take a knife to it.”

He faces me again, his eyes telling a different story. A man, confused. Maybe even a little taken back. Here he thought his broken little wife would be a mess of tears, begging to restore the bond that’s been shattered.

But, I’m not her today. Nor was I her yesterday. Something in me has changed and I’m not sad like I was. I don’t know why that is. Maybe you’re only given a certain number of tears for any tragedy. I’ve used mine up and those wet, salty drops of defeat have been replaced like a tough scab, sealing them away for good. It’s when that scar hits, he’ll need to be worried.

We take our seats as I pour up two tall glasses of wine. A single rose sits in the middle of the table in a tall mosaic vase. It distorts the stem of the rose, making it look jagged and angry while the opened flower at the top tells an entirely different story. One of beauty, love, and all things pure.

He must be thinking of her. His face holds a sort of anxiety about it as he chews, like a man who’s felt flesh tear beneath his blade. A man who’s holding a secret so heavy, he can barely focus with his eyes long enough, worried that the gateways to the soul will indite him with their own power.

There are many ways to kill a person. Either taking the last of their beating heart and bleeding out, like he did his mistress, or by ripping all the vessels to which the blood can reach it, as he did with me. Like this mosaic vase before me, unintentionally closing me off to a certain purity that used to be there. Now, I’ve become as distorted as that thorned stem.

“This has to be the best Duck a l’Orange I’ve ever tasted,” he says, taking another bite. “The sauce, it’s really incredible, Pen.”

I take another sip of my wine, watching as he finishes his plate.

“It’s the zest of the bitter oranges that helps hide the sedatives.” I deadpan.

He drops his fork onto his plate, and he blinks quickly, narrowing his eyes before picking it back up again.

I chuckle, leaning back in my chair with my glass, my fingers holding the rim as I swirl it. He laughs along with me at the “joke”. I sigh and grab the stack of papers I’d placed on the chair beside me.

“I think it’s time we go over these,” I say, wincing.

His shoulders sag. “Pen, we don’t need to do this. We’re not getting a divorce. Let’s talk.”

Here he goes with the control again. We’re not getting a divorce. As if I ever had a voice.

“There was a time for talking. The day at the therapy session, the one you missed. That night, when you came home drunk. Maybe even the next day, when you left me again—”

“I went to go get your favorite tea!” he interrupts, sitting up in his chair.

“It was too late for tea, Tom.”

His arms fall to the table. “I can fix this,” he whispers, looking at his hands.

“We could’ve talked when you decided you didn’t want kids. You could’ve talked then. Or you could’ve talked when you crushed our marital vows in your fist, crumbling us into your grasp like a piece of trash you no longer longed for the moment you set your eyes on someone new.”

“What?” he asks, his tone set in disbelief. “Pen, you’ve got it all—”

“It’s too late for your lies, Tom,” I interrupt calmly, crossing my legs in the space I’ve made from the table. “You can’t backpedal out of this one like a bad stock trade.”

It almost makes me laugh. He really thought I wouldn’t figure it out?

He glares at me from across the table. We sit like that for a moment as his eyes trail to the knife near his hand. I should’ve never made a meal that requires a knife. Fuck my stupid life.

His eyes slowly make their way to mine again. “This is about the money, isn’t it? You’re trying to get back at me for your inability to carry a child. Putting your own shit on me.”

I grind my back teeth, nose flaring at his statement. I’m seething with rage.

“It’s fine darling,” he says with a devilish gaze, sitting back into his seat with his wine glass in hand. “I didn’t even know if I wanted kids, but you made sure your body made that decision for me, didn’t you? Was it really for more attention? Was I not catering to your needs that way you desired?”

I take the rest of my wine in hand and stand, tossing the contents across the table and into his face. It covers him, splashing across his five o’clock shadow like the blood of his victim the night before.

He sighs, grabbing the towel before him, wiping it away.

“I can’t believe I ever loved you,” I spit out at him.

It’s too much. He’s gone too far.

“But you did,” he says softly, nodding. “You did. You loved me. And I didn’t know how to deal with that.”

He sits there playing with his fingers somberly for a moment after speaking the honest words, and I think he’s finally feeling the drugs.

“I’m sorry I said that, Pen,” he whispers, his eyes finding mine. “I don’t...” He pauses for a moment, swallowing. “I don’t know how to deal with the pain of knowing.”

“I’m tired of the deflections, Tom. I’m done with the mind fucks.” I plant my palms on the end of the table, leaning forward so I have his full attention.

“How could you do it?” I ask, shaking my head at him in complete disgust.

His head snaps up, his spine straightening, while his mouth drops open. I want an answer, but I’m met with narrowed eyes staring through me as confusion hits. He slowly droops forward, catching himself like a child fighting sleep.

“What’s happening?” His mouth moves slowly as he wobbles forward and back a bit.

He ate most of his meal about an hour ago, and Deena crushed up enough pills to sedate three large dogs.

“Justice,” I say calmly, watching as his head hits the table with a thud.

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