Lauren was nervous and it showed. In fact, it radiated from her body and made her two young children so agitated and restless that one hour after their bed time they were still like jack-in-the boxes refusing all of her attempts to get them into bed.
“But Mommy …” they protested as she insisted that it was too late for another bedtime story. Usually it was never too late for a book on the weekend, but tonight was different. She needed them in bed and fast asleep so that she would have time to prepare the house and herself for her visitor. She kissed the children good night, turned on the fan and started to leave.
“When is Daddy coming back?” her daughter asked, her voice full of longing. Lauren felt a stab of guilt and wished that she still felt that desire to have her husband home.
“He’ll be back from his trip in two days, honey, and I promise to read to you tomorrow,” she responded over her shoulder as she closed their door and headed to her bathroom.
She sat on the toilet and dropped her head into her hands.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry” she muttered to herself over and over. The last thing she needed tonight was to think about John. She thought of the parting shot that he gave before leaving for this trip three weeks ago. She had been pleading with him to explain why he was so distant. He had given a sigh of gentle exasperation and spoke as one would speak to a persistent child.
“You are overreacting. We’ve just grown apart. It happens. We have to stay together for the congregation … and the children,” he added almost like a footnote. “If we give each other the space we need, we can both be happy.”
Lauren stood under the shower and let the pain that his coolness caused her wash over her and down the drain. The pain was replaced by anger and she recalled the promise she made to herself to follow his suggestion and find her own pleasure as she saw fit.
After her shower, she stood in front of her full length mirror and examined her body critically. The toll of two pregnancies showed in her sagging breasts and the folds and stretch marks on her stomach. She had always been proud of maintaining her weight, but tonight she noticed every bump and spot. They revealed the wear and tear of the passing years on her body.
‘No longer the body of a teenager,’ she thought with a sigh, ‘but it’ll have to do.’
She sprayed herself with perfume and smothered her brown skin with cream until it shone. She appraised herself again, spinning around and looking over her shoulder.
‘Not TOO bad,’ she thought, ‘At least the gym is beginning to pay off … in more ways than one!’
She looked through her closet for something to wear. Everything looked old and frumpy. Finally she settled on a girlish dress that fitted at the waist and flared, falling just above her knees. It accentuated her legs, her best asset; the only part of her body that was unmarked by the passage of time.
They had agreed that she would leave the garden gate unlocked so she would not be seen letting him in. The gate and the front door, actually, so that he could enter surreptitiously. Although the house was on a half acre of land and quite far away from their nearest neighbour, she could not take the chance of a passerby seeing her letting a man into her house so late at night, especially when the man was not her husband.
She was now as giddy as a school girl on a first date. She walked down the hallway to the children’s bedroom. She opened the door quietly and peaked in. They were finally fast asleep. She kissed them and neither of them stirred. She closed the door and headed out of the bedroom area into the kitchen. She opened a cupboard and reached for some candles. The bottle of salt toppled over.
“Oh shoot!” she said softly, and without thinking she grabbed the broom and started to sweep. “Oh shoot!” she said again.
Her grandmother had always warned her never to sweep at night. “Bad luck,” she would say shaking her head, “very bad luck. You might as well break a mirror, instead.” It was one of many superstitions that her Trinidadian grandmother had drummed into her head as a child. Sometimes she found it hard to completely disregard them.
“I guess now I’m supposed to throw a bit of salt over my shoulder for luck,” she said out loud with a laugh, finishing the clean up job quickly.
She heard the sound of a car approaching slowly. Her heart rate quickened with anticipation, but the car continued past her house. She sat in the living room and contemplated having a drink of wine to calm her nerves. She had never done anything like this before. She had never even been touched by any man except her husband. But it had been a long time since he had touched her with love. She tried to believe that somewhere inside the reticent soul he had become, he still loved her, but she could no longer reach him and it was not enough to live with a memory of what their life had once been. When she met Mike at the gym it had been like a breath of fresh air. Although he was almost 15 years younger than she was, he looked at her the way her husband did when they first met.
She knew that she was being naïve, but she felt young and desirable when he spoke to her. When they first met, she had convinced herself that there was nothing wrong with a little flirting. The attention was fun, especially from a dark, handsome and very muscular man. He had asked her for advice on his plans to open his own gym and so she met him for a drink to discuss the prospects. They did not talk business at all on that first date. They watched the sunset at a bar overlooking the sea and Lauren talked about herself and her life as the wife of a prominent clergyman. She enjoyed being in the spot light for a change.
One harmless meeting over drinks after the gym turned into two, three and then four. When he spoke, which was usually only to ask her a probing question about her life, she was caught up in the sensuous movement of his full, almost feminine lips. The last time they met, he had leaned over questioningly pursing those lips in her direction and she had responded in kind. After all, it was just one kiss. But when his lips touched hers, she knew that it would not stop there. The passion that rose in her was immediate and tremendous. There was a physical movement in her loins.
‘Loins … do people still use that word?’ she wondered, laughing at herself.
So, here she was risking everything to get closer to that feeling that would make her feel like a complete woman once more; that feeling of being irresistible to a special man.
She tried to anticipate what it would be like once he arrived. She would invite him to sit on the couch. Hopefully she wouldn’t be too nervous. She would offer him some wine to lighten the mood. She wondered if he would make the first move and how she would respond.
She heard a soft knock and then the door opened. Mike stepped in.
“Lauren! Wow!” he exclaimed, “you look …. you look fantastic.”
She took in his appearance. He had chosen a dark red fitted t-shirt, which went well with his dark skin and really accentuated the muscular physique of his arms and his six-pack abdominals, which Lauren could just barely discern where his shirt was pulled taut, tucked into his black jeans.
Before she could respond to his greeting, before she could execute the script she had planned, he walked over to her, took her in his arms and kissed her passionately, roughly. He was only a few inches taller than she was and their bodies fit together comfortably just as Lauren had imagined the few times that she had allowed herself to picture herself in Mike’s arms. His hands moved on her body, starting at her back and then drifting downwards, caressing her legs and raising her skirt. With one arm around her waist, his mouth still on hers, he turned her around and led her towards the couch.
Lauren didn’t know how to respond. She enjoyed the kiss at first, savoring the passionate embrace with her eyes tightly shut, but when his hands began to roam, she thought, ‘This is going too fast.’
She opened her eyes and almost bit Mike’s lip as she screamed in horror.
There was another man was in the room. He was standing in front of her. He must have come in behind Mike, but the couple, locked in their passionate embrace, had neither heard the door nor noticed his arrival. He wore a ski mask and his clothing was black except that his shirt had a white collar that reminded Lauren of a priest.
He looked at Lauren with bemused eyes. He put a finger to his lips and pointed downwards. Lauren’s eyes followed his finger and she realized that he was pointing a gun at Mike’s back. She barely stifled another scream.
The man spoke. “Put your hands where I can see them.”
Lauren took a step back from Mike and raised her hands in the air.
“Both of you,” the man ordered.
Mike, who had stepped away from Lauren’s embrace but still faced her, turned around slowly, raising his hands above his head.
“Now lady, where’s the safe,” the burglar continued.
“We don’t have a safe,” Lauren replied, “we don’t keep any money in the house. I’ll give you what I have in my purse, just please, please,” she begged, “leave us alone.”
“Don’t lie to me,” the man shouted, “I know you must have a safe in the house.”
He took one step closer to Lauren. His eyes, no longer smiling, bore steadily and menacingly into hers. “Now where is it?” he growled.
Lauren wondered how he was so sure about the safe. They had only just had it installed and she had not really discussed it with many people. Her husband had recently developed an eccentric distrust of banks and insisted on having a safe at home. She had mentioned it to Mike because she had had to miss the gym on the day that it was installed and they had laughed about the absurdity of the idea that their cash would be safer at home than in the bank. She glanced over at her intended lover.
The intruder followed her gaze and said “Hmmm, come to think of it, this guy doesn’t look like the Reverend Martin I’ve seen on the TV. What exactly is going on here?”
“Just take what you want and get out,” Lauren said.
“Yeah, I’ll take what I want,” he replied, leering at her. “Tonight and any other night I come back. Or I’ll tell the good Reverend your dirty little secret. A preacher’s wife;” he continued, “you all are the worst; living this sham pious life, getting rich from poor people's donations. You build fancy buildings, travel all over the world while the poor in your congregation go home to their suffering every Sunday, feeling like they must be sinners when in fact they are the saints. Well, it's time now for you to suffer.”
He grabbed Lauren by the hand and pulled her roughly towards his chest. He held her in his arms.
Lauren tried to focus on the problem and ignore the fear that threatened to paralyse her. She stood trembling in his arms for a moment, ideas racing through her head. It was two of them against one. If she could distract the intruder, Mike should be able to overpower him.
She stomped hard on his left foot. With only a second’s pause, she raised her right foot to knee him in the groin. Then she snapped her hands out sharply, freeing herself from his grasp and knocking the gun out of his hands.
She wondered if Mike was in shock. He just stood there watching the drama unfold.
“Get the gun, Mike, get the gun!” she cried, pulling the ski mask off of the intruder’s face as he bent over, groaning and holding his groin. She looked at him and thought that his face looked quite familiar.
Mike ran to where the gun had fallen and picked it up. The intruder straightened up slowly and laughed.
“Good moves lady,” he said, “but you made one miscalculation. Tell her Mike.”
“I’m sorry, Lauren, it wasn’t supposed to go down like this.” Mike said, pointing the gun at Lauren. Her mouth dropped open in disbelief.
“Yes, Lauren,” the intruder said mockingly, “lover boy here set you up. But he misjudged YOU. We never thought you’d put up a fight.”
“You set me up?” Lauren said to Mike, her eyes filling with angry tears. “You know this man?”
“He’s my brother,” Mike said. Then he continued softly “Lauren, I thought he would just rob you all and leave. You’re a nice lady, so quiet and all, I thought it would just be easy and no one would get hurt. I wouldn't have gone along with it if I thought he meant to hurt you,” Mike glanced at his brother.
Lauren looked from one to the other and realized why the intruder looked familiar. He and Mike had the same short curly hair and the sensuous lips that had attracted her to Mike in the first place. Ignoring the gun in Mike’s hand, Lauren strode over to him and slapped him hard across the face.
“You worm!” she hissed, “How could you betray me?” She dropped her head to her hands. She could not believe she had let herself believe that a 20-something year old could find her irresistible. Now she had betrayed her husband and even worse, her own principles. She thought of the spilled salt. Her grandma had been right; sweeping in the night was bad, bad luck.
“Mommy?” a sleepy voice came from the end of the room. All three adults snapped their heads in the direction of the voice and saw Lauren’s 6 year old son standing in the entrance to the living room, rubbing his eyes with one hand and clutching a teddy bear in the other.
Lauren took advantage of the distraction and with a quick front kick she knocked the gun from Mike’s hand. She dove for it and pointed it at the two men.
The little boy began to cry.
“Don’t cry, darling.” Lauren said as soothingly as she could with a gun in her hands. “Mommy needs you to be a really brave boy. Go to the kitchen phone and call 9-1-1 just like I taught you. Tell the police there are some bad guys in our house.”
The boy ran quickly into the kitchen.
“You idiot!” the intruder exploded, “How could you let her get the gun!”
“I was an idiot to go along with this scheme in the first place,” Mike replied.
“Well, you can't back out now. We are in this together, all three of us.”
Mike’s brother took a step towards Lauren, looking her straight in the eyes once more.
“You would never shoot us,” he said, “Come on, hand me the gun and we’ll leave quietly.”
Lauren’s voice matched his. “You misjudged me once before, don’t make the mistake again.”
The man took another step forward, his hand outstretched towards the gun. He jumped back as a loud noise reverberated in the room. Lauren had aimed just to the right of his leg and fired into the floor.
“I was training to enter the defence force when I met my husband. I see that Mike forgot to tell you that bit of information. Some things you don’t forget. Rest assured, next time I won't miss,” Lauren added.
He raised his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay,” he said to Lauren and then to his brother he said, “Mike, you would hook up with a crazy woman.”
Lauren’s son came back to the door. He was really crying now. “Mommy? Mommy? I called the police.”
Lauren answered without taking her eyes off of the two men. “You did great, honey. Daddy will be so proud. Now go wait in your room, Mommy’ll be right there.”
They heard sirens in the distance.
“Wait, there, little boy,” Mike’s brother spoke to Lauren’s son. The boy stopped, not sure what to do.
The intruder spoke to Lauren. “You won’t shoot us with your son watching. Plus, if the cops get here, we’ll tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, right Mike?”
“I don't care what you tell the cops,” Lauren spat. “My marriage is already over.”
She pointed to her son and continued, “And I won't make James lie about what he saw here tonight.”
The four of them stood still for a few seconds, each contemplating their next move. Mike's brother darted suddenly in the direction of the living room door. Lauren guessed that he planned to grab James and use him as a shield from the gun.
“Don't move!” she shouted.
She aimed the gun at his arm and squeezed the trigger again. He kept moving and the bullet hit him in his chest. He stopped mid-stride and clutched his chest. His knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. James, Lauren's son screamed as the man fell bleeding near his feet. Mike ran to his brother's side.
"Marcus!" he cried. He held his brother in his arms.
“Marcus!” he cried out again. He looked up at Lauren.
"What have you done? My God, what have you done?" Lauren did not move. She knew she should comfort her son or try to help Mike's brother but her body would not respond to her commands. All she could do was to stand staring at the injured man with tears streaming down her cheeks.
The sound of the sirens was now much closer. Mike looked up towards the door as if he was hearing the noise for the first time. He looked down at his brother, gently closed his eyes, jumped up and ran for the door. He opened it and escaped into the bushes just as the police cars pulled up.
Lauren heard the police approaching the open door. They stepped inside and immediately took in the scene; the gun in Lauren’s hands and the man lying on the ground bleeding. One of the officers pulled out his radio.
“Send over an ambulance. Gunshot victim at 623 Seabreeze Lane.” She paused, then continued, “Yes, the Reverend Martin’s house.”
The other officer had knelt down and felt Marcus’ body for a pulse. He said to his partner.
“They don’t need to hurry, I think we’ve lost this one.”
He looked up at Lauren. “Mrs. Martin, are you okay? Can you tell me what happened here?”
She shook her head, unable to speak.
The officer stood next to her and said, “Take your time and start at the beginning.”
Lauren’s head felt like it was spinning. The beginning? She did not know where this story really started? With Marcus’ entrance into the house? Or were the seeds of this disaster planted with her first thought of deceiving her husband?
She sank slowly to her knees and hugged her son tightly to her chest. Wherever the story started, it was going to take a lot of work to get to a happy ending.
Carol Mitchell is a native of St. Kitts and Nevis, best known for her innovative children's books, the Caribbean Adventure Series. www.caribbeanadventureseries.com