Get it together, Mark, I thought. A cracked mirror hung over the sink upon which I leaned. I turned on the faucet and splashed my face with a handful of warm water. I opened my eyes, and blood appeared on my hands. I winced, stepping back and slammed my eyes shut. I rechecked my hands. No blood. I doubled over, cackling to tears. Before leaving my old life, I’d shaved my beard. I’d looked something like a mother would want her nearing middle-aged son to be: Handsome with a clean shave and neatly trimmed hair. Who am I kidding? I’m far from attractive. In fact, I had no idea what women saw in me. It didn’t much matter so long as I got the girl in the end—the right girl. I needed a woman who could control the damn kids and take care of her body. I didn’t think that was too much to ask for, but apparently, it didn’t much fit the women I met.
I’d killed my ex-wife Betty and her four children last Christmas. I just couldn’t mold them into the family I wanted. It’s not like it’s my fault Betty couldn’t get her shit together, right? I mean, how can I be blamed for Betty not living up to my expectations? And Sandra, before Betty was a nutcase. I had to kill her and her two children. I didn’t have a choice.
“You OK in there?” Pam asked. “Been in there a while. Listen, if it’s about earlier…”
“I’ll be right out,” I said. Keep it together, Mark, I told myself. I had the ring in my back pocket and a mindful of doubt. I knew if I married Pam, at some point, I’d have to kill her. But a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. Besides, there’s no way in hell I’m letting Gina dig around my past. I’d kill Gina, too, if I had to. I took one last glance in the mirror and drew a deep breath and blew out a sharp sigh.
I made my way through the kitchen to the porch. Pam leaned against the patio rail with a thick coat and a scarf around her neck, staring ahead. A park near Franklin Middle School tucked under a hill had a tennis court, pool, and ample space for small concerts. Pam had seen MXPX, New Found Glory, and even Reliant K perform right from her porch.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Pam said as if she had a six sense for knowing I was standing behind her.
“What exactly are we looking at?” Pam had a way of believing I could read her mind. I couldn’t even decipher my own feelings, let alone hers. I was beginning to believe she wanted someone to love her for her, not what they wanted her to be—not to mold her into anyone else. But unless she changed, I’d have to change the way she combs her hair. Sometimes, she wears her hair in this bun. It looks as if she were a Mormon cult member—people must have thought I measured her dresses—that sort of thing.
Pam glanced over her shoulder, raising a sly brow. “The lights.” She returned her eyes to the homes with evenly lit Christmas lights hugging some houses—some not. “The Christmas lights,” she said as if it were the most obvious thing ever. “When I was a kid, every Christmas night, we’d fill the car and go look at houses with lights, especially houses with Nativity scenes in the front yard,” Pam said as if something were missing in her life.
“Yeah…beautiful,” I said, less than convincing. “Listen—”
“Yes?” she said with an excitement I couldn’t match. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in her head, but I could tell by the anticipation in her voice that she knew what I would ask. Perhaps she’d gone over how she’d react when I popped the question. Or, maybe she didn’t want to grow old alone.
“I’ve loved you since the day I met you. I asked you for directions to a coffee shop I’d been at several times.” I lowered my body to one knee. “We haven’t been together that long…”
“And?” she said as if she were waiting her entire life for this moment. The moment she could stick her middle finger in her mother’s face and say I told you a guy would want me again. Pam’s low self-esteem reared its unattractive head. I’d seen Pam uptight and nervous but nothing like this. It was as if her tough exterior masked an indivisible woman.
“Will you marry me?” For the first time, I can actually say I didn’t mind asking. Every other time I asked a woman to marry me, it was a chore—something that had to be done before I turned 40. But I felt attraction or infatuation, maybe even love for Pam. Regardless of which, I hadn’t felt this way since I met Betty.
“Marry you?” Pam said, throwing her hand to her heart. “Mom said this day would never come and how I’m damaged goods. She said I’d grow up to be an old maid or one of those women who don’t comb their hair and have ten cats.”
I wasn’t sure if I’d asked the wrong woman. Don’t tell me she’s going to say no. I’d kill her for saying no. I’ve never been turned down by a woman, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer. Hell, Betty wanted to get married more than I did. I hardly had to ask before she said she wanted to tie the knot.
“You know, I’ve thought a lot about this and…oh my GOD, yes!” Pam said, wrapping her arms around me as if I were a soldier returning from fighting in a far off distant land. “I’m going to a girls’ night out. I’m sure my friends will want details,” she said.
“Oh…well, in that case, have fun.” I released the panic in my stomach. I didn’t realize just how stressed out I was until I started breathing again.
“Be back later!” she said. “There’s chicken and spaghetti in the fridge.” Pam cupped my cheeks and gave me several quick pecks on the lips. “I love you,” she said, holding the ring close to her heart.
I went to the kitchen to make a bigass bowl of Captain Crunch cereal. Mom never bought name-brand cereal as a kid, so I knew I had to taste it when I saw Captain Crunch. My friends all have different cereal boxes to choose from, but I had one box of knock-off raisin brand.
I started shoveling spoonfuls in my mouth. “Forget something?” I said of the hands hugging me from behind. “My back could use that massage.” I glanced over my shoulder. “Angie!” I said, spilling the milk on my jeans and the floor. “What are you doing?” I put distance between us.
“Oh, don’t act like you don’t want this, too,” she said, stripping nude.
I slammed my eyes shut. “This…this can’t be happening.” It’s not that Angie wasn’t beautiful, she was. It’s that I’d fallen hard for her mother. And with trying to have the perfect family, this was wrong. But I can’t stop myself. I can’t stop her either.
Angie shoved me against the wall. Her fully nude body, caressing my fully clothed body. I didn’t even want to compare her body to her mother’s, but it went without saying, she has her mom’s ass and thick, fit legs.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. “This isn’t happening…”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“It’s wrong,” I said. I hadn’t cheated on any women, in fact, I despised cheating. It ruins relationships. I mean, sure I’d kill a woman, but cheating was going too far (even for me).
“You’re not married yet. Besides, even if you were married, what Mom…”
“Can we use another word other than Mom, right now?”
“Fine… what Pam doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right? It’s not like she hasn’t slept with my boyfriend. Why can’t I get her back?”
“Wait. I’m the catalyst to destroy your relationship with your mother?” I’d never had sex during a philosophical debate on the morals of it. Angie shifted her weight, grinding her pelvis on mine until I couldn’t take it anymore. She stripped my clothes off faster than I could tell her no. For the first time in my life, I’d fallen in a woman’s trap, and not the other way around.
THE NEXT DAY. “Did you ask her?” Gina said. “Pam wanted to meet up last night, and I thought it had to be about the engagement. I couldn’t bear to see the happiness on that bitches’ face. Oh…”—look at me Gina mocked—”…she’s so vain.”
“I did.” I wasn’t sure if this was the right way to ask her to marry me—under false pretense. I mean, when Pam finds out, she might leave me, and I’d kill her. I’d have to. Gina wasn’t as innocent as she looked, not even today.
“And?” she said, raising a sly brow. She gave me a death stare, too, as if to say, if you didn’t ask, I’m going to murder you.
“We’re getting married,” I said with a low voice. It was the first time I said it out loud. “We’re getting married,” I repeated, this time with a crack in my voice.
Gina jumped with joy, shouting, “Yes! That stupid bitch will be dead soon.”
“Relax,” I said, waving my arms. With Gina’s shout, I’d hoped my co-workers didn’t think we were having sex, that’s the last thing I needed. Sure, I’m a killer, but I wouldn’t kill my sister or brother—I wouldn’t even kill my dead parents again. You heard that right. I’d set the house on fire, killing Mom, Dad, and Scruffy, the dog. But I’d never kill my brother and sister— there’s a line even I wouldn’t cross. I had to keep my lies straight. One time I’d tell a woman, they died in a boating accident or hunting accident, or my latest tear-jerker—a car wreck.
Gina closed her door and gestured that I sit down. I had no interest in being alone in a closed-door room with Gina. She might try to kill me or say that I sexually assaulted her. I wouldn’t put anything past her. I’d dated a woman that had Gina’s long blonde hair in high school, but she was the sweetest girl I’d ever met. Gina, however, scared the fuck out of me.
“What is it now?” I said. “I did what you asked.”
“I searched all databases and couldn’t find a Mark Jamison.”
“And?” I said as if I had any chance of talking myself out of this.
“And you’re not who you say you are.”
“I don’t have to listen to this,” I said as I stood to my feet. As I grabbed the door handle to leave, Gina caught me off guard.
“You’re that man who killed his family, aren’t you?” she said, shaking her finger and raising a sly brow.
“What is it you want from me?”
“When’s the wedding?”
“What do you care? I did what you asked.”
“See that gun right there?” Gina pointed to her pistol in its holster. “I’m not afraid to use it. I’ve used it on men twice your size—would do it again, too.”
“Wait. Are you threatening me with murder?”
“You are a murderer!”
“I can see it in your eyes,” Gina said. “You’re just like all the other guys. You use us women and throw us away when we can’t give you what you want.”
I slumped back, wondering if she could really see the murder in my eyes. “Wait. You can’t turn me into the pigs (cops).”
“Oh, really…and Why is that?”
“Because I’m your ticket to your inheritance. I mean, that’s what this is all about, right?”
“Criminals think alike,” Gina said as if she admired my criminal instincts.
“We’ll kill Pam when the time is right,” I said. “Do you think the cops are going to really separate the possibility of inheritance with a motive for Pam’s death?”
“That’s why we can’t kill her yet. Have to come up with a plan. Besides, I haven’t thought that far ahead.” Gina tapped her lengthy red nails on the marble desk. “First things first,” Gina said. “We focus on the wedding.”