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“Michael, somebody’s in the apartment,” Marci whispered. She shook his shoulder. “Michael, wake up.” When he didn’t respond, she shook him again. “Michael,” she hissed.
Michael grunted, rolled onto his back and blinked into the darkness.
Marci pressed her body against his. “Somebody’s in the apartment,” she said, her lips against his ear. Michael grunted and sat up. Marci put her hand over his mouth. “Don’t make any noise.”
“Somebody’s in the apartment?” he mumbled, not yet fully awake.
“Not so loud.” Her voice trembled.
“Can’t be. I locked the door before we went to bed.” He pushed her hand away and reached for the bedside lamp.
Marci stopped him. “Don’t turn the light on. Whoever is out there will know we’re awake.”
“I don’t hear anything,” he said, whispering without realizing it. He looked at her face, a pale disc illuminated by the faint light seeping around the edges of the curtains over the bedroom window. “Are you sure you heard something?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Somebody’s out there.”
“What should we do?” he asked, his voice barely audible. He knew the danger an intruder presented to them.
“Call 911. Where’s your phone?”
“In the kitchen. Where’s yours?”
“In the bathroom.”
“Maybe we should lock the bedroom door,” he said.
“Then we’ll be trapped.”
“We’re trapped now.” Marci heard the trill of fear in his voice. “Oh, a light,” Marci gasped when the hallway lit up. “I told you there was somebody in here.”
“Jesus,” Michael said. His heart hammered and he felt blood surging through the arteries in his neck. The shock of knowing his home was being invaded sent a wave of fear through his body that paralyzed him. They heard noises coming from the living room-kitchen area.
Neither of them knew what to do. They huddled together on the bed, waiting.
“Michael, don’t you have anything to drink?” a voice called out.
“What the hell?” Michael croaked. He leaped out of bed, turned on the light and pulled on a pair of pants.
“Michael, what are you doing?” demanded Marci.
“I know who it is. Put some clothes on,” he said over his shoulder and left the bedroom. Marci got out of bed. She heard voices from the other room as she put on pants and a sweatshirt.
Marci saw him talking with a woman when she came into the living room. Marci did not know the woman but Michael apparently did. He held his hands out, palms-up, and gestured with them as he talked with the woman. Marci stopped by Michael’s side and thought he sounded and looked angry. She saw a suitcase and a purse on the floor by the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he said to the woman.
“Michael, what’s going on?” Marci asked before the woman had a chance to answer his question. “And who are you?” she said to the woman.
The woman laughed. “I’m Kay. Hasn’t Michael told you about me?”
“No,” Marci said. The fear she felt when she first realized someone was in the apartment began to dissipate, replaced by curiosity and a growing anger. “How did you get in?”
“Oh, I still have my key. I’m glad you didn’t change the locks, Michael.” The woman laughed again. “I need a drink, and something to eat. What have you got?” She turned away and went into the kitchen, leaving Michael and Marci in the living room next to the suitcase.
“Michael, who is she?”
“Kay, my old girlfriend,” he said in a voice so low Marci had difficulty hearing him.
“Your old girlfriend? You never told me about her. Just how old a girlfriend is she?” Marci stepped back. “And why does she have a key to our apartment?”
Michael shrugged and didn’t say anything.
“Michael, why does she have a key?” Marci asked again.
From the kitchen they heard Kay shout, “I’m making sandwiches.”
“Ah, damn it,” Michael groaned. Marci followed him into the kitchen.
“You can’t do this, Kay,” Michael said as she started to assemble a turkey sandwich on the counter.
“Do what, make a sandwich?” She spread mayo on a slice of whole wheat. “Anybody” else want one?” she asked over her shoulder. ”No?” she said when neither Michael or Marci answered.
“Kay, you can’t just barge in here. You don’t live here anymore,” Michael said, sounding a little huffy now.
“Am I hearing this right? You lived here with Michael?” Marci said. Her head swiveled between Michael and Kay.
Kay leaned her hip against the kitchen counter and looked at Marci. “For two years. Hasn’t Michael told you anything about us?”
“No,” Marci said. Her voice squeaked.
“Well, that’s interesting.” Kay finished the sandwich and sliced it in half. She picked up a half and bit into it. “Who wants the other half?”
Marci sat down at the kitchen table. “Michael, you want to tell me about this?”
“Oh, Christ,” Michael said and sat down next to Marci.
“Got anything to drink?” Kay said. Without waiting for an answer, she opened the fridge, found a bottle of beer and sat down at the table facing Michael and Marci.
Michael looked at his hands.
“Somebody better tell me what’s going on here,” Marci said.
Michael clasped his hands together. “Kay and I were a thing for a while.”
“Hunh,” Kay snorted, looking directly at Marci. “We were more than a thing. We were going to get married, until Michael weaseled out.” She twisted the cap off the beer bottle and threw it on the floor. The cap bounced and rolled around with a whirring sound before coming to rest under the table.
“That’s not true. You ran out on me,” Michael said. “I wanted to wait a few more weeks, until we had better control of things, but no, you couldn’t wait. You had to force it.”
“Wait a few more weeks? We lived together for two years. As I remember, you were the one who wanted to get married. When I said yes, you got cold feet and started squawking like a pigeon.” She laughed. “You said you didn’t know me well enough. What a hoot that was.” She finished the half-sandwich and picked up the other half. “If nobody’s going to eat this.”
“Yeah, well, it was too fast,” Michael said in a defensive tone. “Anyway, you got all warped out of shape and moved in with Jim Marran the day after you left. Just because I wanted to wait a while longer.”
“Wait a minute,” Marci said. “Are you two having a lover’s fight right in front of me, like I’m a piece of furniture or something?”
Michael waved Marci’s complaint aside. “No, we’re not. Kay is leaving.” He stood up.
“No, I’m not. I’m staying the night. There’s a bed in the second bedroom, right? I’ll sleep there.” She got up from the table, grabbed her purse and suitcase and started wheeling it toward the hallway.
Michael blocked her way. “Kay, you can’t stay here. I don’t want you to stay. Marci doesn’t want you to stay. Please leave.”
“I don’t have any place to go,” Kay replied. “Jim threw me out.”
“I don’t care,” Michael said. “You’re leaving.”
Kay’s chin started to tremble. “I told you I don’t have any place to go, Michael. You can’t throw me out.” Her eyes glistened behind a thin film of moisture. The carefree, nonchalant attitude she exhibited while making the sandwich crumbled in the face of his hostility.
“Go to a hotel.”
“I can’t. I don’t have any money and my credit cards are maxed out.”
“Not my problem, Kay. You left once, shouldn’t be too hard for you to leave again.” Michael folded his arms across his chest and gazed at her with unforgiving eyes. “And you can return the key before you go.” He held out his hand.
“Why are you treating me like this? Do you hate me so much that you’d put me on the street?” The tears came now, large clear globules rolling down her cheeks, dropping onto the carpet. “I told you I don’t have any place to go.” Please, Michael.”
“For God’s sake, Michael, she said she doesn’t have any place to go. She can stay, at least for tonight,” Marci said. The anger she felt earlier had evaporated, replaced by a growing sympathy for Kay and a growing annoyance with Michael.
“All right, you can stay, but just tonight. You have to leave tomorrow. Come on, the key.” He wiggled his outstretched fingers for emphasis. “I don’t want you coming back here again.”
“You weren’t always this cruel,” Kay said but she handed him the key. “Is it all right if I take a bath?”
The question put him off. Did he detect sarcasm, or was it contempt he heard in her voice? “Fine with me,” he said. To Marci: “That okay with you?”
“Thank you,” Kay said. “And don’t worry, Michael. I’ll be gone in the morning.” She wheeled the suitcase down the short hallway and into the second bedroom.
Michael and Marci stood in the living room, surrounded by an uncomfortable silence that was new to them. Neither one said anything for a few moments. Finally, Marci said, “Well, Michael, this has certainly been a surprise. Do you want to explain it to me?”
He made a feeble gesture with his hands. “It’s late, Marci. Let’s talk tomorrow, after Kay is gone.”
“I want to talk now. I have a right to know about you and Kay.”
“I don’t want to talk about it now, Marci. I’m going to bed.” Before he went into their bedroom he stopped, turned around and said to her, “No, you don’t have a right to know about Kay and me. That’s history that doesn’t concern you so leave it alone.”
A few minutes later Marci got into bed. She lay as far away as possible from Michael, turned her back to him, closed her eyes and listened to the sound of water filling the bathtub.
The shrieks woke Michael. His eyes snapped open but failed to focus. He lay on his side, unable to move, immobilized by the sound of someone shouting his name from what seemed a great distance. He got out of bed and looked around, trying to make sense of the noise ripping through his head. Marci’s side of the bed was empty. She was not in the bedroom with him.
“Marci,” he shouted, realizing the screams were coming from the bathroom. He ran naked out of the bedroom and stopped at the bathroom door, his hands reaching for both sides of the doorframe to steady himself.
Marci stood backed up against the sink, hands clasped under her chin, staring at the naked body in the bathtub.
“Is she dead?” Michael asked. He came into the bathroom and stood by Marci.
“I don’t know. I think so. She hasn’t moved.” Marci’s body trembled under the white tee-shirt she wore.
“We have to call 911. Where’s your phone?”
“By the sink.”
“You better call.” Michael knelt by the tub and put his hand in the water; too cold for anyone to enjoy as a bath. He heard Marci talking behind him. He leaned back and looked at Kay’s body, her skin the color of aging mayonnaise, eyes turned upward, seeing nothing. Her right arm hung over the edge of the tub, fingertips touching the floor.
“The police are coming,” Marci said. She put her hand over her mouth to stifle a sob. “I heard her running the water last night after we went to bed.”
“What?” he asked, looking up at Marci, not understanding what she was saying.
“I just thought of something,” Marci said. A tremor of disbelief fluttered in her voice. “When I went to the bathroom last night I didn’t turn on the light. Do you think she was in the tub, already dead?”
“I don’t know.” He couldn’t take his eyes off Kay’s body. Her knees were bent up and splayed apart, resting against the sides of the tub, her breasts buoyed into two symmetrical circles by the still water. He got up from the floor and looked around, not sure what to do. “What did you say to 911?”
Marci repeated her conversation with the dispatcher. “He said not to disturb anything and to wait for the responders,” she added.
“We better put some clothes on before they get here.”
Marci followed him out of the bathroom and closed the door without looking back, as if shutting it would keep Kay from getting out of the tub and walking naked into the apartment with them, sitting at the kitchen table with water dripping from her pale skin and asking, “Where’s the other half of my turkey on whole wheat?”
After the coroner’s team had bagged and carried Kay’s body away, the detectives interviewed them separately, asking them over and over again to describe the night’s events while the forensics technicians examined the bathroom and the spare bedroom.
Following the interviews, the detectives huddled together with the forensics investigators and talked for several minutes while Michael and Marci waited silently on the sofa.
The detectives told Michael and Marci that drugs had been discovered in Kay’s purse. Her death appeared to be the result of an overdose of drugs ingested before or during the bath. The absence of a suicide note, or anything suggesting suicide, made them believe her death was accidental. And they stated there were no signs of foul play.
“What does that mean?” asked Michael.
“It means,” the older detective said, “we don’t suspect either of you had any part in her death.”
“At least not at the moment,” the younger detective said with a smirk, as if he enjoyed creating uncertainty and fear in them.
“Of course,” the older detective said, confirming his partner’s words, “the assumption of accidental death could change as the investigation continues.”
Michael and Marci nodded their heads in acknowledgement.
“We know the way out,” the older man said to them.
They remained on the sofa, exhausted and diminished by the ordeal they had just experienced. The uneasy distance between them that had blossomed into life with Kay’s unexpected arrival grew with each passing minute, expanding with an icy velocity that vacuumed up the warmth from the space they occupied, leaving them chilled and remote.
Michael broke the silence with a snort that tried to pass as a laugh. “Well, Kay said she would be gone in the morning. At least she was right about that.” He attempted a grin but managed a death’s-head rictus instead.
Marci stared at him in disbelief. “I can’t live here anymore, Michael.” She let some silence slide by before continuing. “No, that’s not right. I can’t live with you anymore.”
“What are you going to do?” Her announcement didn’t surprise him. He expected it, in fact knew it was coming, but he was startled by the speed with which she reached her decision.
“You’re like Kay, ready to run away the minute things go sour. And just like Kay, you don’t have any place to go.” A soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Unless you’ve got a Jim Marran stashed on the side. Wouldn’t surprise me if you do.” Michael laughed again. “What’s his name?”
The scorn in his voice, the implied accusation of infidelity, stung. Marci got up from the sofa. “You’re wrong, Michael. You’ve always been wrong.”
Two days later Michael came home from work, poured a glass of red wine and sat down on the sofa to think through the impact Kay’s death and Marci’s leaving had on his life. Did their actions hold any significance for him? Did it really matter in the great cosmic arc of his life that Kay had overdosed and died in his bathtub and that Marci had walked out on him that same day? In the end, he determined neither event mattered to him. They were a brief history of little importance, quickly forgotten.
Michael drained the glass, refilled it then opened his cell phone and punched a number. He drank some wine while he waited for Denise to answer.
“Hi, Denise, it’s Michael.” He put his feet on the coffee table and smiled at her response.