LAURA WOKE. The room was dark. So dark she couldn’t see the shapes of furniture or make out where the window might be. Was this her bed? “Michael?”
Cold air laced around her toes and she realized the blanket had fallen to the floor. Her head felt bloated, soggy, unable to develop a thought. She couldn’t understand what was wrong, where she was, even the day.
Then she remembered going to the shelf built into the wall between the kitchen and living room. Picking up Michael’s favorite, outrageously expensive bottle of single malt scotch. She’d removed the cork and poured gold liquid into one of the glasses. The weighted bottom of the glass gave the drink grave importance, heavy in her hand as she sipped, letting alcohol dull the screams and ease the razor cuts that sliced through the flesh of her brain and lacerated her heart.
Before that, she’d come home after all, carrying her overnight bag. It was old-fashioned to sleep alone in her childhood bed the night before her wedding. She and Michael had lived together for two years, staying apart to create an artificial newness on their wedding night was foolish.
The apartment was dark. She stood her bag near the coffee table, peeled off her sweater, and dropped it on the couch. She stepped out of her sandals and pulled her skirt down, the elastic waist sliding easily over her hips. The stairs to the loft were in shadows. She heard creaks, Michael shifting in the bed. She climbed the stairs without turning on the light, lifting her t-shirt over her head as she went up, careful with the placement of her feet so she wouldn’t lose her balance. She hung her shirt over the railing and unhooked her bra.
When she reached the turn in the stairs she saw a single light was on near the bed. She smiled. The perfect surprise for their last night as an unmarried couple.
She walked up the last four steps. A naked woman with long, thick hair sat with her back to the stairs. Michael was beneath her, moaning softly. “I can never get enough of you,” he said, his words rough. “I need you so much,” his voice cracked and he stopped with a whimper.
The woman moved slowly.
Laura felt something burst from her lips, a cry like a puppy, its leg run over by a car.
The woman turned. She stared at Laura, moving her gaze from Laura’s face to her breasts, her belly, down her legs. She smiled. “Michael, we have company.”
LAURA WOKE. The room was devoid of light. For a moment, she wasn’t sure her eyes were actually open, everything was so black. Her skull buzzed and popped with the remnants of champagne. Was it champagne? She tried to move but couldn’t. Tried to think what day it was. Of course — her wedding day. A momentous day, one that would change her life, stand out from all other days. No wonder she was awake. But it was too early, hours until dawn. She squinted to see if she could make out her ivory gown hanging on the doorframe.
Michael lay next to her, snoring softly. She wanted to touch him but restrained herself. He should sleep, even if she couldn’t.
The carbonation continued hissing across her brain. The rehearsal dinner had been an absolute dream. Michael stood and looked down at her. His warm brown eyes drank in her face as if her smile were more intoxicating than the contents of his fluted glass. He looked around the horseshoe tables at their families and friends. “When I met Laura, I knew that no woman on earth would ever satisfy me again. I love her so much I think my heart might burst.” His eyes glittered as he looked at her again and touched his glass to hers. “My life would be broken without you.”
LAURA WOKE. Her brain felt like a lead ball. The room was filled with gray light the color of dirty dishwater. Her eyes burned and she closed them. The bed felt unfamiliar. The sheets stiff and abrasive on her skin.
She tried to speak Michael’s name but her throat was raw. She couldn’t be ill. This was her wedding day. Was it the start of a virus or had the champagne made her sick? Or was it scotch? She coughed and tasted blood. “Michael.” The word formed itself on her lips, but no sound followed it.
She slid her hands out from beneath the sheet. They dragged along the cotton, her fingers tacky, the pinky finger sticking to her ring finger. Had she spilled champagne on her hands, splattered them with vomit?
Crazy dreams had tormented her sleep. Terrible things. A nightmare, and a dream that made her cry. Sticky crust ringed her lashes as she tried again to open her eyes. Were they dreams? She couldn’t remember the night before, everything was locked beneath the weight of her head on the pillow.
She turned and pulled her hands close to her face, pushing them under the pillow to support her head. She opened her eyes. The dishwater gray was dissolving into a peach color as the sun filtered through the drapes. She tried to find something solid to pin her thoughts but they slipped around like bare feet on wet tile.
She wiped her fingers along the pillow case but the stickiness remained. She pulled her hands out. The pinky and ring fingers of her right hand were dark red, coated with blood.