Dinner For Two

fiction

From the moment her foot descended into the water, the bath water and bubbles turned from a cheerful, bright white to a soft, comforting pink. The hot water was the perfect thing to relax Bethany after her long day. It was rare that she had such a physically active day and now her body just wanted to unwind. She closed her eyes and relaxed as the water lapped around her.

*          *          *

The jarring buzz of Bethany’s alarm clock shocked her awake at 5:30 the previous morning. The body next to her grumbled a “Turn that damn thing off” before the alarm could even buzz a third time. Bethany resisted the childish urge to roll her eyes at her husband as she blindly reached for the nightstand, knocking over her cell phone, glasses, watch, and random loose change before finally making contact with her alarm clock. She wanted to snap at him that if he got a real job, besides wannabe artist, then maybe instead of just complaining about the alarm, he would be getting up too. How a man of forty was still willing to fight his chosen industry after being rejected for the past twenty years actually kind of impressed Beth. She thought he should get a real job, but she had to respect his doggedness.

She tried to get out of bed as quietly as she could, but only a few steps away from the bed, her feet got tangled and she fell to the ground, knocking over a floor lamp. The crash caused Brandon to jump out of bed and turned on the overhead light to see what was going on.

“Dammit, Beth! Can’t a man get a full night’s sleep in this place?”

Beth was ready to apologize. Even though he was annoying her this morning, she didn’t mean to disturb him more than necessary. There was once a time when he was the sweetest man she’d ever met. He would drop off lunch and a love note with her secretary every day. When she had to work late, he would bring her favorite dinner from the local Thai place to keep her going through the night. He was ambitious and driven; he had the potential to be a great artist. But as the years went by, and his paintings only occasionally sold and never took off as much as they expected, his mood started going downhill and he took it out on her. His bitterness at her success drove a wedge between them that Beth constantly tried to overcome.

She crawled to her knees to undo whatever it was that wrapped around her feet and caused her to fall. “I’m sorry” got caught in her throat when she saw that it was actually his pants that were lying on the floor, when they should have been in a hamper.

“Well, Brandon, if you would put your clothes away I wouldn’t fall. God, stop waiting for me to clean up your messes. You act like a fucking child.” She picked up the pants and threw them at his face before turning to storm out of the room.

Less than ten minutes later, Brandon was back asleep and Bethany had pushed it to the back of her mind like she did with every other argument. The arguments happened every day, but they were largely forgotten as quickly as they happened. They were never huge arguments; Beth liked to think they loved each other enough where it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. As they said, it’s not arguing that is bad for a couple, it’s indifference. Though it still took a large portion of her strength to ignore the paint tubes left out in the living room and continue getting ready for her day. She dressed the same way she did every day: a slate gray pencil skirt suit and her blonde hair pulled up into a bun. Grabbing a bottle of water and a banana, Bethany was in the car and heading to work as the sun was rising over the horizon.

“Siri, what is my schedule for the day?”

“Bethany, you have an 8 o’clock meeting,” the computerized voice replied. “An eleven o’clock consultation with Global Enterprises, a two o’clock lunch with Katelyn and a seven o’clock dinner with Brandon.”

Bethany sighed. The consultation with Global Enterprises would be a pain. They were one of the companies her firm worked with that had the reputation for having a lot of executives known for being condescending towards women; everyone knew the project manager that was coming that day was one of the biggest bigots in the company. Normally her firm would try to avoid such a conflict, but Bethany knew she was one of the best corporate attorneys they had and they knew she recently finished several cases, so she was the only junior partner that didn’t currently have a full caseload.

Bethany generally loved her job. Though many people saw her flaxen hair and the fact that she never hid history as a sorority girl and assumed she must be vapid, she honestly loved the challenge law school, then corporate law, gave her. Even better, lately litigation gave her an avenue to vent out her frustrations of life. She was able to quickly rise through the ranks of her company and, still, people wanted to underestimate her.

When she arrived at the 17-story sleek glass and steel building that housed the law firm she worked for, she rode the chrome plated elevator to the eleventh floor. She always used this brief time to prepare herself mentally for the day. With a final deep breath, Bethany raised her head high and strolled into the office as if she had every confidence in the world. That confidence took a hit every morning between her husband, her secretary, and all of the men in her office that assumed a beautiful woman would have had to sleep her way to the top.

Courtney, Bethany’s secretary, was everything Bethany used to be. A tiny, young, perky, gorgeous girl, her very presence was enough to remind Bethany that she was not as beautiful as she once was. She knew it was petty and she was a major bitch for doing it, but Bethany took a bit of pleasure being mean to the girl in small ways. She would shove her empty coffee cup in Courtney’s hands when picking up her messages or sending her on inane little errands throughout the day. The little gestures served to make her feel more important. It made her feel better about being such a bitch when Courtney messed up on even the simplest assignments; Beth used the excuse, if Courtney was more competent, then she would be less of a hardass.

This morning was just too busy for Bethany to pick on her secretary much. The first part of her morning was taken up with doing a last minute run through of the most
important details for her Global Enterprise consultation. She only took a break from that for her 8 o’clock meeting, then went right back to her review.

Bethany’s office was her mini oasis. She put a lot of care and effort into making it a comfortable space to work in. A desk took up most of the space with a laptop resting on top and paperwork spread across every available inch of the rest of the surface. Her chair was comfortable, but not comfortable enough to distract her from work. She knew it was smart of the firm to make sure she couldn’t fall asleep on the job. The plastic ficus in the corner of the room provided a little nature and the blown-up photo of the cityscape behind her chair gave her a visual escape whenever she needed it.

The time had passed too quickly when Courtney came in to remind her of meeting starting soon. When she stepped into the conference room and saw that she was the only woman in attendance, she knew this meeting would be more trying than usual. Before she could even take three steps into the room, the man sitting at the head of the table motioned her forward.

“Great, a secretary! We’re going to need more pastries and water in here. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might as well fetch us some coffee, too. And tell Mr. Anderson that we do not like to be kept waiting.”

Bethany’s eyes turned the color of storm clouds. She could feel her manicured nails leaving marks in the palm of her hands. “I’m sorry, Mr. Heinz, but you have me mistaken.” She mustered so much coldness in her voice that frost could have formed on the windows. “I am not a secretary. I am not here to fetch anything for you. I am Mrs. Anderson, your attorney.”

That introduction set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Mr. Heinz resisted her at every turn. Several of the associates with him shifted in their seats every time Mr. Heinz made a comment degrading Bethany. None of them had the power, and more importantly, the balls to stand up and defend her, though.

This was fine with Bethany. She expected nothing less from them. She knew there were still people with the outdated belief that a woman couldn’t be intelligent and competent enough to be the one that would be handling their contract.

It was still a trying two hours and Bethany sighed with relief when she saw it was time to meet her best friend for lunch. They tried to meet up at least once every couple of weeks, but with both of their schedules full, it had been over a month since they had last seen each other.

Katelyn squealed in delight when she saw Bethany walk into the restaurant. They quickly fell into their same pattern of telling each other about how work has been, any exciting news, and everything else in their life. Katelyn was the one to bring up the very familiar conversation of Bethany and Brandon’s relationship.

“So is he being as big of a douche as I’ve always known him to be?”

Bethany nervously chuckled that yeah, he was. “Honestly though, he has been better these past few months. Something in him has changed; something has been different with him lately.” Bethany didn’t want to think about why he was different, nor did she want to mention their fight just that morning. She just wanted to accept that he may have been returning to the man he used to be. The man she still loved.

“Oh? Has he gotten even lazier since the last time we met?”

Bethany felt her hackles rise from that quip. She knew her husband was lazy, but she still hated it when Katelyn felt the need to point out his flaws. “No, though I do wish he’d just get a job already.” Bethany took a deep breath and decided to confide in her best friend. “No, but he’s been distant lately. You know, physically. I don’t know if I am just becoming more unattractive to him or if our fighting finally took a toll in other portions of our life. The bright side of it is we don’t argue as much and he seems in better moods more.”

“Oh that’s definitely not good. Do you think there is someone else?”

“I hope not, but I have no proof either way. I always figured it was just us growing apart.” Beth paused to think. “No, I don’t think he is cheating. How would he? He’s broke and constantly at home making a mess with his paint.”

Katelyn opened her mouth to reply, but Bethany’s phone chirped, signaling an email received. After looking at it Bethany sighed and apologized to her friend. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Apparently there’s some issue with Global Enterprise’s contract that needs to be addressed and revised. Looks like another long night.”

On her way back to the office Bethany reluctantly called Brandon to let him know that she wouldn’t be able to make dinner that night. She was relieved and happy when he replied that he was disappointed, but they would definitely make up for it another night. Bethany knew he was slowly turning back into the man she had fallen in love with so many years ago.

Bethany hated having to stay late at work and if she knew she had a lot of work that day to do, she would rather go in early than stay late. But it was a hazard of the job to have to stay late sometimes. She even knew of other attorneys that kept a spare suit in their office in case they had to spend all night there. To make things worse this time, though, was she had to stay late and cancel her evening because of an ungrateful client.

Beth knew she would need to work on the contract and still get work for other clients down before she could leave. In a rare moment of grace, she told Courtney she wouldn’t need to stay with her and to just go home at five. Courtney didn’t hesitate for a second before grabbing her purse and jetting out the door as soon as Bethany let her.

She probably has a hot date she is trying to get to, Bethany bitterly thought. She continued working until she got a message around 6:30 that made her want to throw her computer across the office. All of the work she had put in and the dinner she was forced to skip were all in vain after Global Enterprises realized the area of the contract they thought needed fixing was actually something someone in their office misread and the current contract was fine and did not need any changes done. The only consolation Bethany got was it was the prick, Mr. Heinz, that caused all the trouble and the other representatives seemed honestly sorry for the mix up.

After a few deep breaths, Beth calmed down. It was still relatively early and, though they may have missed their reservation, maybe she and Brandon could still have a nice evening together. She shot off a quick text to Brandon to tell him the good news, gathered her stuff and left. The few things left on her desk waiting to be completed could stay until morning.

When Beth got to their apartment shortly after seven, she heard notes to slow music wafting through the apartment from the direction of the bedroom. Bethany smiled. Brandon must have gotten her text and thought they could still have a romantic evening too.

Before heading to the back, she stopped by the living room to drop off her briefcase and saw Brandon’s cell on the couch blinking with a missed message. The flashing blue light always drove her crazy, so she had the habit of turning on the phone to wipe the message off. She was always careful not to invade his privacy and look at who sent the message or what it said. With a practiced hand, she cleared the screen without seeing who sent it.

Bethany started following the music to their bedroom. The closer she got the more she recognized the music and started humming along. Etta James crooning their wedding song, “At Last,” was always a sure fire way to make her insides flutter. It had always been her favorite song and put her in such a romantic mood.

Something was nagging her at the back of her mind though. There was just a nervous feeling that something wasn’t right, that she was missing something. She wasn’t sure what to think when she reached the door. She opened it; the quiet creak couldn’t be heard over the music, no longer muffled by the door.

In the room was something Bethany had started to half expected, but didn’t want to believe. She shook her head and turned from the sight of her husband making love to Courtney, her head thrown back in ecstasy, in their marriage bed. Bethany made the hazy trip back to the kitchen. She leaned with her hands on the counter and hung her head. Her mind racing, then everything fell away.

She stood back up and reached for the chef knife from the set her mother-in-law gave her their last anniversary. She felt a Zen fall over her as she headed back to the bedroom. She didn’t blink at seeing her husband thrusting hard into her secretary. Beth fell on him, stabbing. The combined weight of Bethany and Brandon on top of Courtney kept her pinned in place. Their screams bounced off the walls of the apartment, echoing in the chambers of Beth’s mind.

Beth stabbed as hard as she could, piercing him in several spots. Brandon started fighting back but the pain coursing through his body and the adrenaline flooding Beth’s made everything harder on him.

The struggling made it harder for Beth to stab, but she still got more in, sometimes accidentally stabbing Courtney. Courtney fought as hard as she could. Her arms free, she managed to scratch at Beth’s face, arms, anything she could reach.

Eventually, Brandon was able to push Beth to the side, but a last lucky swipe caught him in the neck. The gaping hole silenced his screams. He was able to stagger a few feet away, but fell bleeding on the carpet, clutching at his neck, twitching.

For once, Beth took no notice of the mess her husband was making behind her. As soon as she recovered from the push and before Courtney could realize she was free for a few seconds, Beth was back on her, stabbing.

Courtney kept screaming for several minutes. Her screams drowned out the beatings on the front door, until eventually the screams died down. Beth still stabbed though. She stabbed until her arms were too tired to lift anymore.

Bethany was later unsure of anything that happened. She wouldn’t be able to remember the heat of the blood as it washed over her hands. Bethany wasn’t sure if the screams were all in her head or if they really were so loud they vibrated throughout the apartment. The only thing she was sure of was the blood everywhere was certainly going to stain and she hated the mess it made. Looking down at her suit that turned from a slate gray to a muddy dark maroon where the blood set in, she felt disgusted. Leave it to her husband to even in death leave a mess for her to clean up.

Rolling off the body and avoiding both of their vacant stares, she stripped out of her soiled suit and headed to the bathroom. She filled the tub with steaming hot water and her favorite bubble bath. It was a small enjoyment she felt from watching the big white bubble turn pink when she got in. As she sank lower she felt as if all of her troubles from the day were being washed away. Not even the annoying sound of sirens drawing closer disturbed her newfound peace.

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