She Used To Be The Other Woman by Kathy Jeffords

Prompt: Forbidden Places | Word count: 1800 | Genre: Suspense

I shouldn’t be at your house.

But I am.

I’m sitting on your front porch, on the swing. I love porch swings. They remind me of summer, of lemonade, of pecan pie. Of playing outside. I never minded getting dirty or sweaty or messy.

“Wild child,” my mother used to say, after I’d come in, twigs in my hair and crusty mud on my palms, after a day of stomping through the woods with the neighborhood boys.

“My wild girl,” she’d say, her voice softened by affection, but I suspect she would have preferred a well-behaved princess whose curls stayed pinned in place, who favored dresses and dolls and tea parties over climbing trees and playing dodge ball and frog-hunting.

I shouldn’t be at your house, but I am.

You live out in the country, with no neighbors for miles. I remember when you first told me that. It’s all fields out there, you said. You told me about the small lake on your property. It sounded so idyllic. Having a lake so close by must be nice, I said. Being able to go swimming anytime you want. I imagined the water’s surface bathed in moonlight. I imagined us skinny dipping. I imagined a future.

I rock my feet against the floorboards so the swing sways back and forth. The weather is perfect. Warm with a breeze. I close my eyes, picturing the lake. It’s so close I can smell it.

I shouldn’t be at your house, but you shouldn’t have been at my place, either. And you were, so many times. Dozens, before you told me about your wife.

I glance at the car in the driveway.

She must be here.

I wonder how long I could sit out here, with her inside, unaware of my presence. I’m a patient woman. Could I sit here until you return from a long day at work, and surprise you both at once?

I force myself up.

I shouldn’t be here. But as long as I am, I might as well meet her. I came to meet her.

I came to make things right.

You’re not a good guy and she should know that. She should know the truth. She should know everything.

I bite my lip. You used to bite my lip, gently tug it between your teeth.

My hand shakes as I reach out to ring the doorbell. I’m started by what sounds like a small army of lap dogs rushing at me, all riled up.

A female voice says something over the cacophony of yapping and there is a sudden silence.

You have dogs?

I swallow hard against the burning bile in my throat. On our first date, I asked you if you were a dog person. Nah, you said, and that should’ve been a deal-breaker for me, but your smile distracted me from my disappointment. Your smile distracted me from so many lies, so many things. Like the fact that that first date was a takeout picnic on my living room floor. You’d suggested it. And smiled. And I thought, Oh, how romantic. Who needs a crowded restaurant when it could be just us?

It was never just us.

There are footsteps. High heels on hardwood.

“Just a second,” she says, from the other side of the door. Her cheery tone tells me she welcomes guest who drop by unannounced and uninvited. I can’t imagine you get many of those out here, in the middle of nowhere, where the road dead ends.

The mat outside my apartment says Go Away. When anyone knocks, unless I’ve ordered food, I pretend I’m not at home. You were the first person I ever wanted to come in.

A chill rushes over me and there’s a flash of pain in my head, like I’ve just eaten an ice cream cone too fast.

Then your wife and I are face to face.

I should just blurt it out. I should tell her her husband is a cheating liar. I should tell her we had an affair for months. I should tell her you told me I was the only one. I should just drop these words, like a UPS driver delivering a package, and march back to where I’ve parked on the other side of the street. Get in my car and drive away. Leave you to deal with the mess.

But I started something and I’ll be the one to finish it.

“Hello,” she says, peering over my shoulder. “Oh, you must’ve broken down.”

There was a breakdown, all right.

“Car trouble?” she prods.

I can’t make my lips open. I can only look at her, confused.

She’s a brunette. Tall. Brown eyes.

I’m brunette. Tall. Brown eyes.

You have a type

I don’t know why I was expecting a woman my polar opposite. Blonde, blue eyed, petite.

“Are you okay?”

No. “Yes,” I say. “I’m sorry,” I point to the long-haired Chihuahua, peeking around her left side. “I got distracted by your dog. What a cutie.”

She smiles. “Between you and me, I think he prefers my husband. Though I’ll never admit that to him.”

I push the corners of my lips upwards and choke out a small laugh. “Um, yeah, my car cut off and won’t start. I hate to bother you, but I have zero bars.”

It’s a convenient truth.

“Yes,” she says. “Reception is spotty out here. Would you like to come in and use the phone?”

“Yes, please,” I say. “It’s either that or walk three miles back to the gas station and I don’t think I could manage it today. I’ve had an upset stomach, so I haven’t eaten all day.”

Also a convenient truth.

“Oh, come in, come in. Let me make you a sandwich,” she says. “And a glass of tea? Go to your beds, doggos.”

I see that besides the Chihuahua, there’s a Pomeranian, and some kind of poodle mix, peeking from between the rails of the staircase on the left side of the entrance way.

“No, no, that’s too much. If you’ll just let me use the phone, I’ll wait in my car for the tow truck.”

“I won’t hear of it!” she ushers me inside and it takes all the restraint I have not to look like I’m a would-be burglar, searching out all the valuables so I can come back later when no one is here and break in to swipe them. I’m not casing the place, but I want to see everything. Everything is a piece of a puzzle of the life you kept secret from me.

“Your home is lovely,” I pause at a picture on the wall. “Your husband?” I ask, aiming for casual curiosity, but my voice is high, startled.

In the portrait, you’re standing behind her, your arms through hers, around her waist, your hands resting on her stomach. Her pregnant stomach.

Kids? There are kids?

“Yes, that’s my Jackson. Oh, and I’m Melanie,” she says, her words bloated with pride. She looks at me. Does she ever stop smiling? “Are you okay?

“Oh, yes,” I say, though I am not okay. I am underwater. There is no oxygen. I try to breathe, but can’t.

“Good. And what’s your name?”

“Carly.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Carly, but I wish it were under different circumstances.”

Me, too, Melanie, me, too. I came here to end a marriage. I did not know there were children.

Are you telling me everything? I asked you, the night you told me the truth. I cried. I cried so much my cheeks grow hot looking back on it now. I cried and I threw things, glass shattering. My heart shattering. My vision of the future I’d imagined with you shattering.

How could you do this to me? How could you do this to her?

“I’m fine,” I say. My eyes move to another photo. You. Your wife. A little boy that looks just like you. A little girl that looks just like her. “Aw, they’re adorable.”

But I can’t let them stop me. I have to make things right. But I need to make sure they can’t overhear.

“Jack Jr. and Jessie. They were much younger there. Now they’re in their terrible tweens,” she says, each word loaded with love.

“Oh. So they’re at school, then.”

“Yes,” she says. “Come on in the kitchen, Carly.”

I follow her, looking around, fighting the urge to run my fingers across every surface, every object.

“Ham and cheese okay?” she asks.

“That would be great, but please don’t go to the trouble.”

“We have fresh backed sourdough bread.”

She’s so nice. Can I do this? Can I hurt this Disney princess of a woman?

“Tomato?” she holds up a ripe one.

“Oh, yes, please,” I go over to the counter. “Let me help. I’ll slice.”

She smiles at me again and I know I can’t let this go on.

“Are you sure? Your shaking. You must be starving. I don’t want you to cut yourself.”

I look at my hands. My fingers tremble. “I’m fine,” I insist, taking the tomato and the knife.

She’s too nice. She doesn’t deserve the heartbreak of knowing what you’ve done. But you’ll cheat on her again. And I can’t let you.

After I’ve eaten, I use the phone she pointed out.

It rings twice before you answer.

“Hey, hon,” you say.

I can’t speak. It’s been so long since I’ve been close enough to you to hear your voice.

“Melanie?”

I find the words. “It’s not Melanie, Jack.”

“Carly?” Your voice is low, tight, thin, like a rubber band stretched too far. “What are you doing at my house?”

Ah, gotta love Caller ID.

“Where is Melanie? You cannot be at my house. I’m calling the cops. You know I have a restraining order against you.”

“I do. But why didn’t your wife know about it?” I ask. “I told her my real name and everything. She’d never heard about me.”

“Where is she?” you demand.

I look out the back window at the lake. “Oh, she’s gone for a swim.”

“What are you talking about? Put her on the phone.”

“I told you. She’s in the lake with the knife I used to kill her. You told me I was the only one, Jack. And now I am,” I say.

I hang up. I’ve already cleaned up the kitchen.

You’re a cheating liar. But don’t worry. My love for you is unconditional and I think I can help you unlearn those bad habits.

I sit in the living room, picking up Roscoe and scratching behind his ears. “Don’t worry, bud. Daddy will be home soon. He’ll have to explain everything that’s happened to Jack, Jr. and Jessie. They need to learn that lying has consequences.”

 

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14 thoughts on “She Used To Be The Other Woman by Kathy Jeffords

  1. Oh wow – didnt think she would off the wife! Nooooo
    what a brillliant story. it reminds me somewhat of The Girl on the Train – that foreboding doom that filters in after the story starts off all nice and innocent and then progressively becomes all darker and twisted.

    Your character descriptions are excellent, the setting, the way you start off on the swing – almost contemplative and then you move on to inside the house and I absolutely love the way you describe how she wants to run her hands over everything and look at everything, all in trying to satisfy her curiosity – that was so well written.Really really good.

    Just brilliant.Splendid, did I say brilliant already??
    I cannot find anything to critique so take a moment and bask in the joy of a story well told! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Kim! This comment made my day and maybe made my head swell a little, too. I always think my stuff is “eh” (but I guess that’s a writer’s curse, huh?) and have kept my writing to myself for so long. It’s been really good this year to get it “out there” in this sort of safe space and have people read it. Thank you for reading and thank you for the kind words! I’m having some trouble accessing the site at the moment, but I’ll give your story a read as soon as I can!

  2. Excellent story. My only criticism is that the jump from her making the sandwich to talking to the husband on the phone and telling him that she has killed his wife is a bit abrupt. Maybe just a line break of some sort would be enough to show that time has passed.

    • Thank you, Janice! Yes, I really struggled with that transition. Obviously, I couldn’t have a conversation between the narrator and the wife, but I didn’t want to make a big deal (with a break) that time had passed, because I thought it would look odd that there wasn’t a conversation, you know? It’s definitely something I will considered when revising. I appreciate your feedback!

  3. This was very skilfully written, building the tension through the oh-so-reasonable voice of the unbalanced lover. The repetition of ‘shouldn’t be at your house’ and ‘I imagine..’ was well done to build in the foreboding of something bad coming. Like Janice, I also thought the ending was quick, but in a way that made it even more surprising. I loved it – brilliant!

    • Thanks, Susan! I did struggle with the transition of “before” and “after” and how not to make it jerky while also not making it obvious that there was a reason no conversation happened while the sandwich was eaten … and I definitely could’ve used some more words! I always wind up cutting (no pun intended). I think I cut down about 500 words out of this one. Thank you for reading!

  4. Oh wow, I didn’t see that coming. I love the first person perspective and how that gets us into her head. Beautiful build up of tension.

    There’s a few typos in the latter part of the story, but I imagine you were rushing to get your story in just like the rest of us were.

    Really well done.

    • Hi, Suchita, thank you so much.

      I’m not surprised there are typos and will go back and reread and try to catch them. I was actually working on a whole different idea, but it spun out into something that I hope will be a much longer project, so I was somewhat rushed in finishing this up. Then I was having trouble accessing the site, only able to load it intermittently, so when I did get on, I just went ahead and posted without giving it a final pass it should’ve gotten.

      I appreciate your reading!

  5. Ooh, so unsettling! I was really hoping she wouldn’t hurt the wife, but then again if she didn’t it wouldn’t be such a great and thrilling read!

    2 small things I spotted:

    -“I’m started by what sounds like a small army of lap dogs…” it says “started”, but I know you probably meant “startled”

    -“…your shaking” should be “you’re shaking”

    Excellent piece overall! I really liked this.

  6. Loved the surprise ending! Would be interesting to know what came before this that resulted in a restraining order. Great job building tension; I felt like I was in the room with them wondering how she was going to break the news of the affair.

  7. You’ve written a very compelling story, Kathy. You did a great job with the character development and building tension and with that hook toward the end. I thought your ability to keep Carly in a calm state throughout, while also showing her to be unsettled, was very good.
    As someone else mentioned, I spotted a few typos including “fresh BACKED sourdough.” But those can always be cleared up. Writing something that keeps the reader interested, that’s a true talent.

  8. Kathy, this is really fantastic. I was hooked from the first sentence. I love the way you use the language to represent the throughts bouncing around Carly’s head ‘I bite my lip, you used to bite my lip.’ It’s a slow burn of tension that’s really beautifully built up and not a word wasted. The murder does seem surprising, but on a second reading I think you can tell she’s building up to something. I think the only bit that very slightly jars for me is the ‘Disney princess of a woman’ – I love that Carly recognises the wife as being in some ways a fellow sufferer and maybe that she feels that by killing her she is somehow saving this other woman. Having read the comments, I think if you had another 500 words to play with, these tiny wrinkles would disappear. But I love it though, really good.

  9. An intriguing and suspenseful story. I, like others, enjoyed the setting you used for the beginning of the story. …sort of ‘sugar and spice and everything’s nice’ but it wasn’t.
    I knew by Carly’s telling of the cheating husband, there would be hell to pay, so the repetitive use of ‘I shouldn’t be here’ got on my nerves a tad.
    One more quick edit would catch the misspelled words. Another one that slipped through was ‘backed’ instead of ‘baked’ sourdough.
    The story was excellently written, a bit hurried towards the surprise ending, but a very solid and suspenseful story.

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