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Fiction #420
(published February 5, 2009)
Friends, Other Half, Interior
by Jason Rice

They went to a show twice a week. She was happy. He bought her clothes and she spent the days at museums and in bed. There were nights he wouldn't come home. They weren't living together yet but she expected him there. The bed was cold, she was lonely, the usual. When she ate alone it was ugly. There wasn't a delivery man who didn't know her by name. She spent some nights walking through department stores. She came back the next day and returned everything. Charlie was traveling on business two-hundred days a year. She wanted to go with him. What was it about him that made her crazy? She lay awake at night staring at the headlights on the ceiling. She needed a job. She had to go to work. His place was still in the picture. Some nights she would have the cab drive by his place and she'd see that the lights were still on. He said his maid liked to clean at night, or it was the timers. Everything was too precious, if she caused a problem it would all blow away. She thought her love would be enough. There were other men; waiters, managers, bank tellers, clerks, they watched her carefully. They looked for a crack, a way in. She wanted it like this.

She thought of her first time with him. He was so scared. They did it under the porch of their father's summer house. The wind from the ocean blew her dress up. She smiled politely to him when he got inside. It was a sharp pain, and then he was done. She felt his warmth against her. She held it close, and wished it would never go away. But he was already drifting, loose, and crawling out of the tight space. She remembered the smell of dirt, dust, cobwebs, things that never moved. Everything looked big through the lattice fence; the grass was greener and the wind sharper. She though this might be it. This was the one. But no one could find out. He made that clear. She got tired of it; "yeah-yeah" she liked to say. People will talk, he said.



They ended up on a business trip together. Even after a few drinks Charlie pretended not to remember him. "College was a long time ago." The clients sat along side them at the bar, he felt dismissed, he thought it would get better, and it didn't. Later that night he confronted Charlie, told him he knew about Rebecca. Charlie smiled and told him no one will believe you. He cut the trip short and returned to the office. He took her to dinner that night and weighed his options. Tell her and watch it spread like the flu. Or keep it in a pocket for a later date. Either way, he wins. Then he thought of how easy Charlie gave up, how he never really tried. He stood at his desk, his reflection staring back at him in the glass. The longer he waited, the more Charlie would stew. He turned off the lights and left.



The morning she planned to leave him, she got a call on her cell phone, a wrong number. He asked her about the money she was taking. She said it was for credit card payments. She paid the bills. She could tell him whatever she wanted. She'd been through two boyfriends at this point. The boys had both gotten their own apartments. He went to work with a scent of anger that arrived a few seconds before he did. They hadn't had sex in over a year. She slept with the man who wanted to strangle her once more. She had to hit him with her fists to stay alive. After that she found men who were desperate. She figured on a train. Just like she heard about from her friend, she'd pay in cash at a self serve kiosk and go. She'd decide where when she got there. She slowly packed a little bit over the final week. On her way she stopped at the bank and took a cash advance off their credit card and emptied the savings account.

The morning of he went to work in the pouring rain; it was almost dark out except it was seven a.m. He passed the car repair shop on the way and noticed it was closed; he threw up his middle finger as he passed. There was no one in the parking lot when he pulled in. Just after he got out another car pulled in right behind him, he looked up, his car was still running. The man behind the wheel was the guy who repaired his car, the mechanic. The man who tried to rip him off. He was riding with another man. They both got out. The man who fixed his car smiled for a second, the other man pulled a gun and shot him three times. He felt a sharp pain in his face and then everything went white. He closed his eyes and slumped to the ground. The mechanic walked to the dead man's car and popped the trunk; the shooter picked the body off the gravel and dropped it in, slamming the door down hard. He said nothing and got in his car. The mechanic drove the dead man's car and the shooter followed. They each drove a car into one of the bays usually occupied by cars under repair. They got out and pulled down the separate doors.

Rain continued to fall. The puddles in the parking lot where his car had been filled up, there was no sign of anyone, anywhere.

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