Dinner For Three

I had seen the knife in her bag before we left the apartment that day. It seemed out of place, and had I not been so distracted, I may have questioned or pondered upon it more. I try to remember if I even asked why she had it with her, but…

We were going to her aunt’s for dinner. Just the three of us. Her aunt’s boyfriend, an industrial engineer with a great ear for mid-seventies jazz and a completely inappropriate sense of humor that I secretly enjoyed but, for Rachel, had to disapprove of, couldn’t make it. He was sick in bed on the other side of town. I tried to convince him to join us anyways, as I knew this meal would be, at best, painful to endure if it were just a trio. He said he just wasn’t up to it. I knew what he meant. He wasn’t sick. He just wasn’t up for the impending awkwardness. Two weeks earlier, Rachel had told me that her aunt, her only living relative, the woman who had raised her since she was seven, hated me. It came as a surprise, because she had always been particularly polite and incredibly kind to me, bought me gifts regularly, welcomed me to dinner when Rachel was out of town, and twice had taken me to the movies to better get to know me. The news of her distaste was upsetting to say the least. I had put a lot of effort into making myself likable to her. Into hiding who and what I really was. Into making myself seem like the kind of guy that an honorary single parent would like – nice, but not too nice, strong, but not dominant, considerate without seeming protective, and, most of all, stable. It’s different from meeting parents that are still together. Then, it’s easier to base behavior off the father figure. But, when the father figure had been a destructive force in all of their lives, leaving them to fend for themselves, implanting a distrust of men, a suspicion of polite behavior, a well-tuned sense of who we really can be, well, then the guise is much more difficult to create.

There was no doubt her aunt’s instincts about me were dead on, but how? I spent those two weeks retracing every conversation I had ever had with her, right down to the first meeting outside the small bar in Brussels where Rachel and I had first said hello. And not once could I think of a single moment I indicated or slipped up. I was consumed by perplexity, overwhelmed with confusion, completely engulfed in marvel. Rachel could see something eating away at the inside of my brain like a relentless pack of termites, unyielding and impossible to stop. I tried to come up with some excuse about the stress of writing my book or about my publicist putting pressure on me to finish my next story, but I could tell she wasn’t buying it. It wasn’t a complete lie. But, I was running out of time.

The distance between Rachel and I had started growing long before this. It had been months since she had nestled into my chest as we fell asleep. Her hands were cold to the touch and her lips barely softened when we kissed. And I was to blame. Lying had become more difficult than normal. For the first time, I was having second thoughts. Guilt over the looming aftermath lingered above me like a pendulum. I had grown attached and was not sure why. I had revealed secrets and allowed her to see inside walls she should not have been permitted to breach. She was starting to actually get to know me and would soon realize that I had been lying to her since our less than fated first encounter. This, with the revelation of her adopted parent’s true feelings, I knew it was the end.

Parts of what I had told her were true. I am a writer. And my hobby of writing short stories and political manifestos for hire kept her suspicions of my real project at bay. She loved my writing, though. She even kept one manifesto in her briefcase, so she always had something of me with her on business trips. It was a silly piece composed for a group of hyper academic Ivy Leaguers who had started what they believed would turn into a cultural revolution against the social networking age, a return to person to person communication. I quoted Jefferson, Proust, Napoleon, and made clever parallels between Facebook groups and the groups the Roman Empire once separated the Illyrian Tribes into prior to their great revolt. I was amazed that these philosophy and literature majors from the world’s top universities couldn’t see through the bullshit a college dropout had amassed. Rachel loved it. She thought it was hilarious and completely ironic. It made me feel good to have someone understand it so completely, to understand me.

Her eyes were so soft in the dull light of Brussels. I had planned our first meeting perfectly, as I always do. She had no idea I already knew everything about her. Most importantly, that she carried two lighters at all times, only smoked cigarettes with red wine, and after two glasses, loved to take three hits off a joint. All I had to do was position myself outside the right bar at the right time. She was laughing and brushing her hair out of her face as she came out the front door to enjoy a solitary Lucky Strike. I let her have a few drags in peace before I made my move. With the joint clearly visible in my hand, I asked if she had a light I could borrow. I can always count on the American accent building the first hint of intrigue, the joint supplied follow up conversation. She knew a small nook in an alley around the corner that was perfect for private encounters of any kind. Three months later, we were moving in together.

Before we left for her aunt’s, I had told her I had to stop by my agent’s office to go over my most recent story. Again, part of this was true. I did have to make a stop to discuss a story. My deadline was up, and the client expected results within a week. The name of the publication was of little importance to me. I rarely ask. I don’t like knowing or reading my work after it’s published. The cruelty might affect my next job. They hire me to write stories on those that don’t want to be written about. Political refugees, victims of brutal crimes, celebrities that have escaped into hiding. I infiltrate their lives. I become a part of it. Then, I betray all their trust and reveal all their secrets.

Joanne, my agent, tells me I am good because of my trusting eyes, my boyish charm, and my looks. None of those things hurt. But, it’s my adaptability that really makes me good at what I do. It’s not a matter of being a good liar, as some might think. The key is to allow yourself to believe the lies as truth. To find a way to lie truthfully, honestly, completely. Joanne needed a progress report on the story, and was hoping for a good one. She wanted to know if Rachel had told me about the night, sixteen years prior, when her father killed two diplomats, a German sergeant, two IRA generals, an Italian mob boss, an English nobleman, and her mother, in the kitchen of his Spanish villa, while his daughter sat and watched TV in the next room. At the time, Rachel’s name was Maria. She was seven years old and had no aunt or uncle on either side of the family. According to the Guardia Civil, Maria had walked in on him, covered in blood, Luger in his right hand, machete in his left. Rachel told me the machete was in his right hand. The Luger was on the table. He looked her in the eyes, told her he loved her, to always be careful, and then he ran out the back door, leaving her alone in the carnage. He’s not been seen nor heard from since. Rachel was moved to Brussels and given a new identity. The woman that took her in was an old school friend of her mother’s. They thought it best to say she was Rachel’s aunt. It would draw fewer questions from schools and other parents.

The rain started as we left our garret around one in the afternoon. Her aunt lived about an hour away, so Rachel decided to come with me to Joanne’s. She would wait in the car, she had said, while I went up. Then, we could go straight to her aunt’s for an early dinner. That way, we could be home in time to watch a movie together after. She knew I wasn’t looking forward the meal and wanted to do something nice for me. I loved falling asleep to movies. She knew so much about me. I nearly broke down and told her everything right then. But I couldn’t. I knew telling her would’ve meant losing her.

Her bag was in her lap. I was driving. She put in a CD we had bought at a concert on one of our first dates. The rain tapped against the blue roof of the small, French sedan. The streets were nearly empty. There’s never traffic at one o’clock on a Monday afternoon. She told me a story about a restaurant we passed on the way to Joanne’s office. She had eaten there on a first date, just before she had met me. The guy she went out with, a French lawyer, kept commenting on how much she was eating and that if she always ate like that, she would get fat. I laughed and made fun of her, telling her that’s what she got for dating a French guy. She flirtatiously punched me in the arm and smiled like she had in the beginning. And for the remainder of the ride, the distance between us disappeared. She softly laid her hand over mine that was gripping the gearshift. She rested her head on the side of the passenger seat and gazed at me as we joked and laughed about anything we could think of. My heart that had been beating so incessantly, my throat that had been seized with guilt, eased into a completely relaxed smile that, for possibly the first time in my life, was absolutely authentic.

Parking was easy to find. I left her in the car, just in front of Joanne’s building while I ran up the three flights of stairs to lie to my agent. I had decided I couldn’t write the story. I couldn’t do it to her. I was done. I would tell Joanne that she was not going to tell me about that night, about her father. Not for years, if ever. That it was best to cut ties and move on. To tell whomever had hired me for the job that I would return their check and never reveal the assignment. I knew Joanne would be pissed and would probably yell and not call me for a while. But, that would give me more time with Rachel. More time to figure out what to do. More time.

I heard the crash just as I entered Joanne’s small office that faced the front of the building. We both ran to the window. The rain made it hard to see, but I knew something was wrong. We rushed to the lobby and ran outside. At the time, all I could see was the garbage truck. Later, I found out that it had swerved to avoid hitting a bicyclist who had fallen. The driver lost control on the wet pavement, and the truck crashed into the driver’s side of our blue Peugeot. Our CD was still playing. I could hear it from the bottom of the steps of Joanne’s building.

I ran to the car and pulled open Rachel’s door. The passenger side had almost no damage, and I was sure she would be fine. But, there was so much blood. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I was shaking and screaming for her to tell me what had happened, but she was unconscious. I tried to pull her out of the car, but the first paramedics had already arrived and pushed me out of the way. I stood behind them, the rain soaking into my sweater, and watched them lift her bag from her lap, revealing the knife that had, on the impact of the truck hitting the car, pierced the leather of her purse and plunged into her abdomen. She had died before I even reached the car.

I had seen the knife in her bag before we left the apartment that day. It seemed out of place, and had I not been so distracted, I may have questioned or pondered upon it more. I try to remember if I even asked why she had it with her, but…


4 responses to “Dinner For Three

  1. This has a very dark side. The notion of someone infiltrating your life as a liar turned lover has intrigue and tension. Felt like I wanted more details of their time together and the depth of his lies. And what of hers? Nice.

  2. When reading suspense, mystery, murder etc. I have a good sense and can see what is about to happen. I did not see this. Maybe Rachel knew what he was up to and planned to kill him, maybe she had a dark side all along. So many questions. Really great.

  3. Your most complex story to date. It hooked me from the beginning and kept me guessing.

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