She had been following him for days – tracking his movements, memorizing his routines. She was good at being invisible. It was a talent she’d perfected long ago, when she still went by her given name, the one she’d shed along with her self-loathing and her weakness.
She watched as he ordered himself a drink, and a second for his date. The redhead wouldn’t last long – she would make sure of that.
He wore an expensive suit, tailored to fit his well-built frame. Shoes made of buttery leather, and nothing in his wallet but an exclusive credit card. She noticed these things – the tiny details others missed. The tiny things were always the important things.
She watched as they flirted, his movements and expressions familiar. She had been watching him a very long time – and of course, she’d known him even longer than that. She knew the tenor of his voice and the sound of his laughter. She knew the deepest depths of his soul. He didn’t know her – not anymore – but she remembered.
The memories flashed by. Memories that not long ago would have triggered pain. But not now. Now she was numb, unaffected. Detached from that penniless girl, and the spoiled rich boy who had been her only friend.
She remembered without emotion. The girl – older now – awkward and ashamed in her hand-me-down jeans and thrift store sweater. Foolishly, secretly in love with the spoiled rich boy she trusted.
And she remembered the girl, broken by his rejection. She remembered humiliation, betrayal, and the brutal words that had cut like a knife.
There was – surprisingly – a vague jab of hurt, a remnant of past injury, as she recalled his condescension. The glaring absence of an apology.
I can’t be seen with you in public, he said. My reputation would be ruined. You understand.
She did understand.
He didn’t know her anymore, but she knew him. And though that weak, awkward girl had ceased to exist long ago, he was on an unwitting collision course with the woman she’d become.
It was time for them to meet again.
Of course he didn’t recognize her. She’d banked on that. She held his gaze as she introduced herself, openly challenging the redhead he came with. She flipped her long, strawberry-scented hair and laughed flirtatiously at his punch line. He wasn’t funny – but he was careless, foolish. Brainless. It was easy. She had his attention now.
She swayed her hips as she walked away. She felt the heat of his gaze on her long legs and short skirt.
He wouldn’t find the scrap of paper in his pocket until later. Maybe he’d even spend the night with the redhead first. It made no difference. It was only a matter of time.
She returned home. A small, crumbling red brick cell. Run-down. Wallpaper peeling, window panes warping. A shack. The last remaining shred of the past she had destroyed. The last reminder of the weak, malleable girl she once had been.
It’s only temporary, she told herself. He will call. And it all will change.
He did call – of course he called. And once he did, everything fell into place. It didn’t take long. Coffee turned into drinks turned into candlelit dinners. Just as she planned. She giggled. She smiled. She batted her eyelashes. She played the girl next door with ease – innocent, helpless, enamored. It was simple. The biggest challenge was finding a different outfit for each date.
He never recognized her. She was a practiced liar, with a drastically altered appearance. But somewhere in the back of her mind, some small part of her had hoped he would remember.
She would make him remember. When she was ready.
It only took three weeks. Twenty-one days of seduction, manipulation. Lies. It was even easier than she thought.
He professed his love in flowery words.
You’re so beautiful, he said.
You only see what I want you to see.
You’re so intelligent, he said.
I’m so much smarter than you know.
I would die for you, he said.
You have no idea.
She insisted they elope. She had no one to invite – no family, no friends.
She moved to his house. Of course she did. It was big and grand. It had a swimming pool and a sauna.
So many options.
Days passed. She played the dutiful wife. Cooking, cleaning. Late night seduction. Cuddling. Waiting. Watching. She was always watching.
It didn’t take long. Two weeks of watching. And then it was time.
Are you thirsty? she asked. Innocent. Helpful. Wait here.
The thud of the door, the click of the lock.
It was done.
Are you there? Where are you? He spoke through the door, jostled the knob. His voice was close. The door locked behind you! Where ARE you?
I’m here. She smiled, leaned her head against the door. I’m right here.
Screaming, yelling. Questions – so many stupid questions.
I could die in here! Do you think this is funny?
She whispered her answer through the crack in the door. Two words – ever so quiet. Just loud enough for him to hear.
Her name – her real name. The one he used all those years ago. When he mocked her. Insulted her. Humiliated her.
Silence. He remembered – she knew he remembered. Then screaming. Yelling. Pleading.
She walked away and his panicked voice faded with every step.
It wouldn’t be long now.
A drink – a Flaming Zesty. She drank and took in the view from an upstairs balcony. This house had once impressed her. Now it seemed inferior. Cheap.
A shack, really.
It’s only temporary, she told herself.
He was only the first husband, after all.