Terilyn picked up the letter with shaking hands. It was written in a flowing script and was signed in an indiscernible scrawl. The message was brief.
Beneath the writing was a local number, written in that annoyingly feminine script.
Teri's eyes were swollen and puffy from crying. She had found the folded note in the pocket of Doug's suit jacket while preparing his work suits for the dry cleaners (yet another thing she did to keep her marriage happy). His black double-breasted blazer had smelled faintly of expensive perfume, which she didn't fully realize until the slip of paper had fluttered to the bedroom floor. Her heart had sunk in her chest, making it hard to breathe and her hands had begun to shake uncontrollably. Feeling simultaneously sick and devastated, she had stood frozen for a long time, not truly comprehending what she was seeing.
Doug had not shown physical interest in her for some time now. Now she knew why. He had brushed it off as fatigue, working all those extra hours at the office. Now she knew it wasn't work. Many nights over the past few months, she had lain on her side of their bed, silently praying her husband would reach out for her. Instead, most nights he had turned on his side, without even a goodnight kiss, and dropped into deep sleep, distinguished by his loud snoring. She had simply lain curled in a ball, weeping silent tears. Was it any wonder she didn't feel remotely attractive any longer? Doug never told her she looked pretty, even when she made an extra effort to look attractive for him.
Carleen was Doug's new secretary and a twenty- something knockout. Carleen's hair was so blond it almost appeared white, she had huge blue eyes, along with a hard, toned, tall build. Terilyn sighed. She had kept up her appearance as much as possible, yet she knew she couldn't compete with a woman like Carleen. She looked positively plain in comparison. Bearing two children had also filled out Teri's ample figure, a bit more than she had anticipated. Terilyn was far from obese. However, she had retained at least ten pounds with each child's birth. No wonder Doug wasn't interested in her!
She sat gaping at their beige bedroom carpet, completely unsure of what to do. The rug's neutral tone reminded her of herself; unimpressive, barren of any color. The black jacket lay haphazardly over the edge of the bed, one empty sleeve spilled onto the floor. Not thinking, Terilyn carefully smoothed out the jacket, taking care to fasten all of its gold buttons. With extreme precision, she placed the armless sleeves one crossed over the other, the way a deceased person's arms were usually positioned in their casket.
Terilyn stepped carefully from the room, pulling the door closed behind her. After she threw the evidence into the fireplace, she had a lot of work to do. She proceeded from the living room and toward the kitchen with a queer smile that didn't quite reach her brown eyes.
Doug finished tying the last piece of curling ribbon around a bouquet of red and white balloons and stepped back to admire his handiwork. Not bad, he thought to himself. A smile crossed his face, showing a faint outline of lines above his cheeks, making his eyes light up. He stepped back to survey the room one last time.
All of the tables were adorned with crisp white linens and the centerpieces of red and white fresh roses intermingled with baby's breath sat in stark contrast. The chairs were adorned with red and white confetti, as were the entree and dessert tables. The ballroom looked incredible!
Boy, would Terilyn be surprised! He had been planning this event for her thirty-fifth birthday for months. It had been difficult to not let anything slip but he had succeeded, not only in keeping his secret, but also in being promoted senior partner of Simon and Symm's Law Firm. He had paid his dues for nearly ten years as a newbie attorney and this milestone just added to the pending celebration.
He couldn't imagine life without Teri. She had stood by him throughout his trying law school years. Surely she deserved something special in return. He had exhausted himself running around making last minute preparations. He had been so determined to keep everything a surprise that by the time he left the office each night, after going over head-counts, guest lists, and his own client caseload, he fell into bed exhausted. He felt a bit guilty, for he hadn't been physically responsive to Terilyn lately. But this would surely make up for it!
He couldn't wait for the party. Not only would he be surprising Teri with a well-earned birthday bash, but he would be concurrently announcing his impressive promotion to all the firm. Teri would be so tickled! He smiled at the thought.
Carleen had truly been a lifesaver, helping him out with colors and choosing flatware that would make his wife's party extra special. He had counted on Carleen to come through with a much-needed woman's touch and she had succeeded with flying colors. She felt like she already knew her boss' wife, with all that Doug had shared regarding various details about Terilyn's favorite colors, food and songs. The band was fabulous and Carleen felt proud of herself. Since she normally planned all of the firm's office events, she retained all of the vendor's services for Doug. She had also endeavored the services of the best caterer in town and had received a substantial savings on ordering the flowers and balloons in bulk. It was her pleasure, really. Doug was a great boss, who obviously adored his wife.
She looked over at him and chuckled to herself. He looked like a little boy on Christmas morning, dancing around the ornate tables, double and triple checking all of the details one final time. What a party this would be!
Terilyn sat in her black Buick in the parking lot of the hotel. She was letting her breath out in short gasps and trying desperately to fend off the beginnings of a panic attack. She had thought about the real reason that Doug had invited her to this upscale place, for a "big surprise." Oh, little did he know this side of her. She had been a faithful and supportive wife for years, putting her own career aspirations on hold to support her husband, and bearing him two beautiful children in the process. She wasn't going to be publicly humiliated for his indiscretions! Oh, no sir, not in any way. Didn't he think it was going to kill her inside when it became obvious that he and Carleen were having an affair, under the muse of some ridiculous party? There was no other reason she could imagine for being invited here, especially since Doug had mentioned that Carleen would be in attendance, too.
The nerve of them! Did they think she was born yesterday? She couldn't believe that after twelve years of marriage Doug would actually be unfaithful. And the way she had found out! To find the note from that little bitch? Did he actually think he could hide the truth forever?
She took a deep breath, tossed away her half- smoke Camel and headed toward the lobby. For a moment, she almost lost her nerve. But as she clutched the cold steel mirror of a nearby Lincoln for support, her fingers curled around it, and she smiled slowly.
She politely asked the front desk clerk for the location of Simon and Symm's Law Office party. She stopped by the ladies room, freshened her scarlet lipstick and walk purposefully toward the main ballroom.
Doug stood outside the entrance of the function room, smiling widely. By his side was the ever-beautiful Carleen, also beaming. Teri spotted them with a growing hatred and jealousy like nothing she had ever known.
Doug didn't see the glint of blue steel in Teri's hand until its chamber was smoking slightly; his eyes widened in astonishment as he staggered backward, clutching his chest. He looked incredulous as he saw the blood splaying across his knuckle.
The distant sound of a band playing their wedding song, "Summer Wind," behind the closed ballroom doors, drowned out the popping of the gun. Doug fell directly backward, as if in slow motion. He landed against the edge of a potted plant like a crumpled ragdoll.
Carleen was in shock, perfectly manicured hands covering her wide-eyed face. She was standing as if in a trance, shaking her head back and forth.
Terilyn was walking in a daze, swaying her right arm, whose hand still clutched the now warm Colt .45. A horrified guest carefully side-stepped the crazed looking woman and sighting a blood-soaked man lying near the ballroom entrance, the guest ran to the door. The guest clutched the brass ballroom doorknob frantically.
The crowd began applauding at the sight of the guest, convinced that his arrival signaled their cue that Teri had arrived. His senseless babble was inaudible over the loudness of the band and the clapping of the crowd.
The guest began to stammer in his shock. He simply gaped at the sight of a large gathering of people and faintly noticed a huge banner, which read "Happy Birthday Teri." The band began to play Happy Birthday and the crowd joined in singing.
Carleen was whimpering, holding Doug's limp body outside the main doors of the room. He was making a strange gurgling sound and his eyes had rolled back to reveal only white.
Terilyn squared her shoulders and continued her
dazed stagger through the lobby toward the exit sign.
She was still smiling; it didn't quite reach her blank
© 2002 Cristine M. DiMario, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
As a writer, I have always loved irony in every form. I also enjoy writing about the "dark" side, in unexpected situations. I am a huge fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul. I also garner ideas from such classics as The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits.