I should have felt guilty, should have had compassion, but I didn’t. Love is war and Lee was, or would be, mine.
The text came while I was in the shower. I discovered it while toweling off, my damp finger dysfunctional on the phone’s screen, a few attempts needed before I could unlock the screen and view the alert.
1 NEW TEXT MESSAGE
I opened it. Short and sweet, from my ever-helpful private investigator.
HE’S WITH MOLLY JENKINS NOW. PANERA ON 43RD STREET
I texted back.
LET ME KNOW IF THEY LEAVE
Glanced at my watch. 11:12 AM. I was supposed to be having lunch with Brant at noon. I set down the phone and hurried to my dresser, yanking out a pair of dark jeans and tossing them on the bed.
I pulled into the shopping center lot at the same time that Lee’s jeep pulled out, my eyes catching the dark green body, two heads inside, as it careened out into traffic. My phone buzzed.
THEY’RE LEAVING. I’M FOLLOWING.
Thanks a lot. I called him, letting him know I was there, dismissing him for the day as soon as my car caught up to Lee’s. I shouldn’t be there. Shouldn’t be stalking a man who didn’t know enough to have any interest in me. My phone dinged again. This time, Jillian.
BRANT WON’T MAKE LUNCH. MY APOLOGIES.
Shocker. I shoved my phone in my purse, waved at the PI’s car and earned a passing nod in return. Two individuals, two different motivations, united with a common goal. I pressed on the accelerator, wove through traffic, and caught up to Lee’s jeep.
He drove like a maniac, his head turning often in her direction, her smile visible from my place behind them, every burst of her smile a knife in my heart. At one stoplight he reached over. Rested a hand on her headrest and leaned in, their mouths meeting for one heart-wrenching moment before my hand misbehaved and hit the horn. His head pulled off, looking toward the light, which changed at that moment. Then he looked into the rear view mirror, his eyes too far to read, but I’m certain there was irritation in them, his jeep jerking forward, our connection lost as he floored the gas. My mouth curved behind the tint of my windows. Sorry babe.
A few miles later they stopped at a park, Lee waiting as she got out, his manners unchanging in his ignorance of door-opening protocol. I watched as he held out a hand, hers fitting into it, and they walked, a blanket tucked under her arm, a bag slug over a shoulder that spent too much time in the sun. I parked my car in the shade, hidden between a moving truck and suburbia. Pulled out the binoculars I’d stolen from Brant’s house, I adjusted them, honing in on the couple.
Hello stalking, I am Layana. Pleased to make your acquaintance.
When she ran she beamed, and he chased her.
When she napped in the sun, he played a hand gently through her hair.
When he pulled off his shirt and stretched out to enjoy rare San Francisco sun, I saw sex in her eyes.
I sat and watched. Focused in and spied. Growled into a stale handful of nuts as I saw pieces of what might be love. I guzzled warm water and he pulled her over. Had her straddle him as his cocky mouth turned up, his pelvis rocking beneath her, the view of her shriek visible as clearly as if I could hear the damn sound. They kissed, they stood, and they hurried, packing up her bag and blanket and racing to the car.
I didn’t follow the jeep when it pulled out. I knew what foreplay looked like. I didn’t need to watch them enter a home to know more. I didn’t want to sit in a car and know they were f**king. I had the sudden recognition of a feeling, the surge of emotion at the back of my throat, one that receded tears, and I swallowed instead, yanked my car into drive, and headed home.
I needed a plan. I had seen enough. What I needed to figure out was how to destroy them.
1 YEAR, 7 MONTHS AGO
“I was thinking about us heading to the island for a week.”
I blinked at Brant across a table full of brunch. He never brought up travel. Was normally so buried in work that I had to drag him away for fun. “When?”
“Maybe Saturday. We just finished the design phase of the photo frames. It’ll take the tech team a week or so to get me initial mockups.”
I swallowed a mixture of salmon and cream cheese. Dabbed my mouth with a napkin while I thought.
A week. Smack dab in the middle of Operation Kill Tennis Barbie.
A week. With the man I loved. Twenty-four hours a day of Brant, and any bit of personality that I could coax out to play. We needed this. He needed this. It’d been three or four months since we had gone anywhere, his psyche focused on the latest development, then the next, then the next. He lived to build. To improve. And this week’s project was apparently us.
The island he was referring to was our Hawaiian home. It wasn’t really on an island, unless you counted Honolulu, the large mass where our private peninsula jutted off. Our property held a twenty thousand square foot vacation home, complemented by a private pool, gym, spa. Chefs, masseuses, butlers, and maids. It would be good to get away. Hop from one paradise to the next.
I smiled at him. “Sure. I’ll coordinate with Jillian. Get the details set up.”
He stood, leaving his plate and walked over. Put a hand on the table and leaned over. Swept his lips over mine and smiled. “I love you.”
I sat back in my seat, looked up, felt the brush of his hand as he cradled my chin. “I love you too.”
“When will you let me be your husband?” A husk in the words. Need behind the question. I stared into the eyes of my love. A man who, in some ways, was still a lonely little boy who played in his basement while every other kid was outside.
“One day.” My answer that was not an answer, yet the response I had provided for a year.
“A man might get tired of waiting.” The curve of his mouth belied his words.
I reached up, gripped his shirt and pulled myself to my feet. Wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed against him. “Well, then maybe I should give you another reason to stay.”
He took my kiss. Deepened it. Didn’t object when my hands pulled his shirt loose from his pants. Let me drag him into the living room and straddle him. And there, with Sunday sun streaming through French doors, our clothes still mostly on, I distracted him from thoughts of marriage and reassured him of my love in the way I knew best.
Newest fact about Molly Jenkins: she liked to drink. I looked at the PI’s report, page 9 including an inventory of her trash can, photos next to an inventory list. I scanned it, my fingers tapping alongside the items as I moved down the page.
12 empty bottles: Smirnoff Ice