“You owe me this, cara mia.”
There was a time when he changed her name, Cara, into that tenderness to show his love. Now it only came out when he wanted to hurt her. Such a small phrase to use for something so big this time. She glanced up. The words may be gentle, but his eyes were steel.
“I’m your wife,” she said quietly. Her head was bowed as she stared at her hands. Her knuckles whitened, fingers laced so tightly in her lap. “You can’t ask me to do that.”
“It’s not your place to tell me what I can do. Clearly, I can.” Rage rolled through Albert’s words in waves.
There was silence. Cara knew this was her cue to capitulate. Her stomach roiled at the thought. How many times did she give in during these silences, trying to avoid further confrontation? How many times did it end in her humiliated tears, made worse by Albert’s chortling over them? But this? This went too far. It was bad enough for him to hurt her. He all but told her to truss up her best friend for his sick pleasures.
“I’m sorry, Albert.” Her eyes flew wide as his fingers snaked around her neck from behind. From deep within, she dragged the words through her tight throat. “I can’t do that to her. You have me. Let that be enough, please? I beg you to leave Shelly out of this.”
Cara fell off the chair when he pushed her away. She covered her splayed legs with her skirt and swallowed the bruised lump in her throat. She wanted not to cry, but her desires played little role in her life. When she dared to glance up, Albert sneered over her. Even her defiance left her craving a shower so hot and loud, it drowned out her sobbing.
She heard the door slam behind him. Freed for the moment, she curled up on the floor and shook. In a moment, she would scrub off the filth left behind.
“What’s with you today?” Shelly laughed, prodding Cara with her tennis racket. Cara flashed a look at her friend, meeting her gaze for only a second. She swallowed hard against the guilt. Why guilt? She said no, didn’t she? Yet it was there and the conflict distracted her.
She shook her head, waving Shelly’s concern away. “It’s nothing. Just a bit off today.”
Shelly glanced at the makeup on Cara’s throat. “It’s something, Cara.” Her voice was quiet though her words seemed to echo. “How long are you going to make excuses for him?”
Cara stilled her hand before it could tug at her makeup-stained collar. “We’re fine,” she said, her voice far steadier than she felt. “In fact, we’re having a romantic dinner at home tonight.” Cara smiled faintly. Always the flowers, always the romantic dinners. Playing along just made her want her showers more.
When Albert brought her the bouquet, she smiled brightly and sniffed it, bubbled her thanks and acted surprised. The timer for dinner showed about a half hour. “That sundress is pretty, cara mia, but I want you in something a little slinkier. Go change while the roast finishes.”
This was a new twist on the old honeymoon period theme. Like a good girl, she smiled at him and popped upstairs. Something pretty, something quick. A wraparound dress, this nice emerald one. Albert liked green against her fair skin. As she dressed, she wondered at the dim note of alarm, a red flag in her mind she couldn’t decipher. She fluffed her hair, freshened her lipstick and braced herself before returning to the kitchen.
“There’s my girl,” Albert beamed at her. He pushed a button on the remote and Nat King Cole crooned “Unforgettable.” Albert put down the remote and held out his hand. “Dance with me, my unforgettable wife.” Taken aback, Cara slid her hand into his and let him swing her into his arms. The dance was slow and sweet, punctuated by Albert’s light kisses on her forehead and throat. Had the last nine years not happened, she’d be swooning. She missed swooning.
Albert pulled her up to him at the end of the song, kissing her lips so tenderly. She kissed him back and made the appropriate sighing sounds. The timer for the roast went off. An excuse to pull away, which she took. “Mustn’t let your dinner burn!” Her voice was playful and she kissed him again lightly. He released her with a laugh.
Dinner was simple but delicious. “This is remarkable. A new marinade?”
Cara nodded. “A red wine vinaigrette. I thought it would go nicely with the summery salad.” She smiled at him when he poured her more wine. Dutifully, she drank.
As they ate, Albert casually refilled her glass even when it didn’t need it. Her dutiful drinks added up. He laughed and patted her shoulder. “Just relax, no need to clear the table right now.” He poured her yet another glass and left the dining room.
She heard the door slam behind him. Her husband was gone. Her moment of freedom was a moment of clarity. “Cara mia,” he called her tonight. She ached in the silent room. No, truly, she ached. The wineglass went out of focus and dropped. Her last thought was how odd Albert didn’t watch his poison make her writhe.
This story was inspired by two writing prompts from Twitter’s #storystarters. One was written by @CliffordFryman, the other by me.