*This story will be available to read until March 4th.
THE OTHER WOMAN
(It's always the quite ones.)
Previously published 2009 in Alien Skin Magazine
"It sounded like she said, 'Sometimes when I get home, I find a naked body in the bed.' Of course, what she probably said was, ‘Sometimes when I get home, I find myself filled with dread.'"
"Well, that makes more sense," Candy said to her friend, Alice. "After all, that whole naked body thing could start to get a little old."
"Right? Besides, can you imagine anyone getting naked around Caroline?"
They giggled but stopped abruptly when the focus of their gossip slipped into the break room. She was tall, pale, and thin to the point of being gaunt. Her brown hair was long and stringy and the thick glasses she wore made her pale green eyes seem enormous.
Caroline took an empty mug from a stack on the counter and poured herself a cup of coffee. She added a shake of powdered creamer. The sink was full of dirty spoons, unwashed coffee cups, and cereal bowls. She took a fork out of the drainer, stirred her coffee, then conscientiously washed, and dried it before putting it away.
Alice and Candy sat huddled at a round table in the middle of the room. Caroline tried to ignore them, but she couldn’t ignore how their conversation stopped when she entered the room, or the empty feeling it caused in her stomach.
It didn’t bother Caroline that they might have been talking about her. She wasn't paranoid or self-conscious enough to believe anyone would find her an interesting topic. No, what bothered her was that people didn’t talk to her, or about her, at all.
For as long as she could remember, Caroline had felt as if everyone else belonged to a private club, and she was the only one who didn't know the secret handshake. The sense of exclusion, of being different, had at times made her life nearly intolerable. From being last to be picked for any team, to not being asked to her prom—or to any other social event she could recall— Caroline always seemed to be on the outside looking in. Fortunately, when she took the time to think about it, she realized she didn’t miss those things so much, not really. How could she miss something she’d never had?
A long time ago she’d decided she really didn’t mind being semi-invisible. The only time people seemed to know she existed was at work, when someone had a computer problem they needed her to fix. Even then, she wasn’t really a person, more like a tool they could request by picking up the phone. Luckily she could fix most of their problems from a distance, speaking not to them but to their machines. That was fine too; people were annoyingly messy and temperamental, while computers were precise, responsive, and logical. She much preferred their company to the company of people, with one exception. Evan. Evan was—different. Thinking about him made her smile, a smile that was an almost imperceptible twitch of her thin lips, a bashful lowering of her eyes.
Though Caroline was twenty-six, Evan was her first boyfriend, and the first person who made her feel that interacting with other people was something to be desired. In the year they’d known each other, he’d had a profound effect on her. He was the reason she had taken such a chance this morning, starting a conversation with one of the women she provided with technical support.
She and the woman had stepped into the elevator for the ride up to their offices on the eighteenth floor. Caroline, alone with a woman she’d seen almost daily for more than six years, had for the first time found the courage to say, "Good morning, Alice."
“Did you have a nice weekend?" Alice asked.
Caroline had known the polite response would be, "Yes I did, and you?"
If only she hadn't been so desperate to speak to someone, to share this thing that had come into her life. She had blurted out the wrong words, gone cold with embarrassment, and nearly run when the elevator reached her floor. Alice probably thought she was a freak. She was probably telling her friend Candy all about how odd she was. No, that wasn’t right, they were probably talking about shoes or new hair cuts or something much more important than she was. Caroline sighed and her smile faded.
When she got back to her cubicle, she took out the box of ginger snaps she kept in one of the file drawers and pulled out exactly three. Evan wanted her to keep her figure and she fully intended to do so. She was willing to give up a more conventional lunch to indulge her sweet tooth, but she would not be one of those women who gave up everything for a man.
A little more than four hours later, Caroline unlocked the door to her apartment. She knew Evan was home. She supposed she'd developed a sixth sense about it. Or maybe it was something as simple as the smell of his aftershave.
She hung her coat on the rack by the door and with a smile that carried to her voice she called out, "Evan, where are you?"
"In here, honey.”
He was in the master bedroom. His voice was husky, sensuous. She ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it away from her face, just as women on television did. She smoothed the front of her blouse and kicked off her sneakers, knowing Evan thought they weren’t very sexy.
Stepping into the bedroom was like stepping into a misty dream. Evan had draped a scarf across the lamp, which cast a green and pink light across the walls. A tall blond man with wide shoulders and powerful arms, he came across the room to meet her.
Evan swept her against his hard chest and she gasped with pleasure. He was like someone who’d stepped from the cover of a romance novel. Caroline blushed, filled with a warm glow from the unexpected turn her life had taken.
A low moan from the bed pulled her attention away from Evan. Caroline peeked over his shoulder and saw the woman tied at the far edge of their king-sized bed. Evan had used another colorful scarf to gag her. Her wrists and ankles, however, were attached to the head and footboards with short lengths of chain.
In the spring he’d brought a woman to the apartment who’d managed to get loose. She’d tried to get through a window, almost tearing down the curtains, screaming for help until Evan tackled her and made her stop. Since then, Evan had increased the amount of drugs and given up using scarves as restraints.
This woman didn't look as if she’d be nearly as troublesome. Evan had already stripped her, and she was soft and flabby, with pasty, white skin and a looseness to her body that Caroline was beginning to identify as resignation.
She saw Caroline and her eyes widened. Shaking her head from side to side she made small sounds, deep in her throat. Caroline knew if the woman made too much noise the wad of cloth under the scarf would work its way down her throat until she choked. Evan often had to remove the messy gag, revive the woman, and then start all over.
Caroline watched as the woman raked at the air, her long, manicured fingernails torn. She jerked and strained at the chains holding her so that they rattled noisily, but her agitation was short lived. Eyelids flickered and then dropped over her eyes, her body relaxed and finally, inevitably, she succumbed to the drugs Evan had given her.
Giving the room a quick glance, Caroline was happy to see that he had finished all the preparations, well all but one. With a sigh of exasperation she reached under the bed for the roll of heavy black plastic, dragged it to the “other” side of the bed and began to unroll it. She knew that Evan was probably impatient to begin, but he’d just have to wait. It was her name on the lease. She was the one who’d be held responsible for any mess.
Evan handed her a pair of scissors and smiled at her sheepishly. How could she stay annoyed? She cut and slid the plastic around until she was satisfied that the beige carpet was adequately protected, then returned to her side of the bed. Evan put the scissors down on the side table and reached for her. The frown of impatience he’d been wearing was replaced by a look of such need that Caroline could barely breathe.
She marveled at his control as he slowly unbuttoned her blouse. As his fingers slipped the garment from her arms, then slowly reached behind her to unhook her bra, she shivered. He gently pressed forward and she stepped back until she felt the bed behind her, then she climbed in and laid down. Caroline let her head sink into the pillow as he slid her jeans and panties down her legs. Finally, he removed her white ankle socks.
Without waiting for him to ask, Caroline reached up and took hold of the lowest bar of the metal headboard, then pointed her toes and stretched her feet toward the footboard. By doing this she willingly assumed the same position as the woman who was tied at the other side of the bed. By the way Evan’s hands trembled, it was clear that he had forced himself to wait for her. She was touched by this demonstration of love, and eager to make him happy.
Standing at the foot of the bed, he gave her a wide grin. Then he turned around and took one of the knives out of the top dresser drawer. He moved to Caroline's side of the bed. She sighed as she felt his weight press the mattress down, his knees made the rubber sheets squeak as he climbed across her. He paused, straddling her, to place a soft kiss on her lips and then moved on, careful not to touch her further.
She was his beloved. He would spend his ugly, lustful urges on the woman he’d found out there in the world and then, cleansed, he would turn his attention to Caroline, and they would love each other. But it would not be the dirty love, the filthy call of flesh to flesh. Their love transcended such earthy drives.
Evan had explained it to her many times. Though she knew most women would feel jealous that their boyfriend found pleasure in another woman's body she realized that she was not like most women. Of course she'd had second thoughts. She'd had doubts about Evan and what he did in their bed. She supposed all relationships were a little rocky at first. But soon Evan would reach for her, stroke her, love her.
As she watched, her doubts began to fade and she allowed herself to surrender to the knowledge that, with Evan, she had finally found what she'd been looking for. She sank back, closed her eyes, and as the woman came out of her drugged haze and muffled screams filled her ears, Caroline let herself be filled with joy and gratitude that sometimes, when she got home, she’d find a naked body in the bed.
* * *
This story is included in the speculative fiction anthology, Altered Visions,
Available at Amazon.com
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