By Miranda Crites
The log in the fire ring popped when it burned in two, sending a frenzy of tiny red-hot fireworks dancing into the night. Tiffany tossed a couple more pieces of wood into the fire pit, causing more sparks to fly up into the darkness before the flames began to lick gently at the sticks.
Cyndi reappeared through the French doors, walking only slightly crooked across the expansive deck, making her way back to the flagstone patio with a fresh pitcher of Bloody Marys and a gift bag.
“This getting older shit is for the birds! My Uncle Steve always says, ‘Drink one; piss three!’ That’s my fourth trip to the bathroom this evening,” she said as she refilled their cocktails.
“Tell me about it!” Tiffany said. “You’re not the one turning forty tomorrow.” She lightly frowned into her drink before licking a little of the remaining salt from the rim.
Cyndi was only six months younger than Tiffany, but she seemed to be ageing much more slowly. Actually, Tiffany was almost certain that Cyndi had had a few little nips and tucks here and there, and surely it wasn’t only great bras that made her breasts appear nice and perky. There was jar after jar of expensive creams in Cyndi’s medicine cabinet. She knew the total of that cabinet’s contents came to more than what her car – her used car – had cost. Cyndi had married money, and that particular money had the looks and personality to go with it. Mark was the whole package.
What really stung was that Tiffany had met Mark first. They’d met in a bar in college and had hung out some, but when he met Cyndi, that was it. He and Cyndi really hit it off. Within six months they were engaged. In another six months, they were married. Tiffany tried to be happy for her best friend, but deep down she had been in love with Mark too. If she was honest with herself, she was still in love with him, and she was sure that was why she’d never had a lasting relationship. No man she’d dated had ever been enough like Mark.
“Are you going to open your gift?”
Tiffany shoved away the jealousy again. She was great at keeping it buried most of the time, but sometimes it reared its ugly head worse than others.
“Yeah! I’m excited!”
She began to pull the pale purple tissue paper out of the bag.
“Oh, Cyndi! It’s just like yours!”
“I knew you liked my new bikini I had for the cruise Mark and I went on, so I got you a matching one. There’s more.”
Tiffany found a small white box nestled among more tissue paper.
“I couldn’t help but pick this up when Mark and I were in Paris last month.”
Tiffany opened the box, and a silver necklace with a book-shaped pendant glittered in the dimming firelight.
“I love it! Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Mark actually picked it out. It opens.”
Tiffany opened the book and her name was engraved on the inside. It was beautiful, but it was a sore reminder of a lover’s hands she longed to be touched by.
“Do you want to try on your new suit? We can go for a swim or get in the hot tub.”
“Sure! How about the hot tub first?”
“Let’s go get changed.”
They picked up their glasses and the empty Bloody Mary pitcher and were heading toward the deck when something made a crashing sound on the other side of the privacy fence. They turned toward the sound, shrugging at each other.
“Sounds like Mr. Robertson’s dogs got out again. They knocked over all the trashcans last week,” Cyndi said as they went inside to change.
The bikini fit Tiffany’s curves well. She wasn’t entirely displeased with how she looked, but she thought she could stand to lose ten pounds. Fifteen would even be better. She decided her fortieth birthday would be the perfect day to start running again and promised herself she would get up early tomorrow morning and go for her first run this year. She thought she might be able to seduce Mark again soon. He had a hectic work schedule and wasn’t home much. When he wasn’t working, he and Cyndi vacationed all over the world. She hadn’t been able to get him alone for a long time, but over the years, they had been together several times. It felt good to have on a bikini that his money had paid for, and the necklace felt warm against her skin.
Cyndi and Mark’s pool and hot tub were enclosed in glass panels. It was nearly a tropical escape with the steam and all the plants Cyndi loved.
“The bikini fits nicely,” Cyndi slurred. She had continued to drink cocktail after cocktail long after Tiffany had switched to water.
“You know, I’ve got a confession, Tiffy. I’ve been sleeping with my therapist, Doctor Buckley.”
Tiffany dropped her water bottle into the hot tub.
“Are you serious?”
“I am dead serious. I mean, I love Mark, but this is just for fun. A boredom buster, I guess,” Cyndi admitted. “I had never thought about cheating before I don’t really know how it got started, but now I can’t stop.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“A little over a year.”
“Jesus, Cyndi! I thought you and Mark were happy!”
Of course she thought they were happy. Mark never wanted to take things too far or be with her very often. “I love Cyndi too much. We shouldn’t be doing this. It would crush her if she ever found out,” he’d say. “I can only resist having you for so long. I’m like an ant, and you’re sweet, sticky ice cream. I keep coming back.” Lame bullshit is what it was, but she would take a little of Mark as opposed to none of him.
“We are. I told you, it’s just for fun. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Cyndi’s head snapped to the right as Tiffany’s fist connected with her cheek.
“What the hell was that for?!” she yelled at Tiffany as she climbed from the hot tub.
“That’s for being a cheating bitch, and there’s more where that came from!”
Tears began to pour down Cyndi’s cheeks. She turned to run into the house, catching her foot in her towel. On her way down, her head slammed into a large stone planter before connecting with the concrete floor of the pool room. Blood splattered onto the dark green leaves of the orange tree, spraying the small, waxy oranges with red speckles.
“Cyndi! Cyndi!” Tiffany screamed her name over and over. Finally, she found her phone and called for help. When she turned Cyndi over to see how badly she was hurt, her eyeball rolled out of the shattered eye socket and stuck to what was left of her battered cheekbone – the same cheekbone her own fist had connected with only seconds ago. There was no help for Cyndi. Her death had been instant.
Tiffany missed her best friend. They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and it turned out to be one of the truest sayings she had ever heard. She was miserable. She had developed a new level of guilt about sleeping with Mark and not being a better friend to Cyndi, but simultaneously she wanted him even more. Cyndi’s confession about sleeping with her therapist had shocked Tiffany. She had never thought Cyndi to be the cheating type – ever – but Tiffany learned everyone has their own secrets, no matter how well you think you know someone. It hurt not having her best friend to tell these thoughts to, not that she could’ve ever confided in Cyndi about how she was sleeping with her husband. She thought she might go crazy if she had to keep all these emotions bottled any longer, but she was working on that. Sometimes she thought about how Mark was a single man now, and how easy it would be to work her way further into his life. That was the life she had always wanted. Maybe after her appointment, she would drop in and see how Mark was doing, maybe take him some lunch. He’d flown home when the accident had happened and hadn’t been back to work yet. Her doctor had told her to set some small goals and work toward them. Learn a new hobby, increase your running distance, take yoga classes. A small smile formed on her lips. It was the first time she had smiled in weeks. Her goals were set. She thought she could begin to heal now. She reached up and touched the shiny book pendant around her neck and stepped into the soft light of Doctor Buckley’s office.
Miranda Crites is a reader, writer, book reviewer, photographer, and lover of horror from the ghostly woods of rural West Virginia.
The writing bug bit Miranda at a very early age. She was pretty much born with a pen and a camera in her hands. She won the young writers’ contest in first grade and received her first camera as a gift when she was nine years old.
When not writing, Miranda enjoys spending time with her family. She and her family spend a lot of time off the grid where they are building a cabin in the supposedly haunted woods.
Miranda is self-employed. She and her husband create large and small vinyl decals, t-shirts, signs, and a plethora of creative customized items.
Some of her many hobbies when time allows are: making unique crafts and artwork, painting, hiking, and, of course, photography.
She has a diploma for Writing for Children and Teenagers although most of her current work is horror fiction and poetry.
Miranda is a member of Team Kendall Reviews at www.KendallReviews.com where you can find her horror book reviews and her monthly feature, Miranda Snaps, which generally contains horror fiction and photography.
Miranda is one of “The Thirty,” which is a group of thirty authors who are each taking a turn in writing a chapter of an in-progress horror novel.
You can follow Miranda on Instagram Miranda_C_rites
Follow Miranda on Twitter @Miranda_C_rites