This Is How It HappenedBy: Jo Barrett
It was my usual Saturday afternoon routine. Have coffee with Heather. Check out the new paperback fiction. Maybe catch a matinee. The only difference—and it was a profound difference—was that I was alone. Carlton was no longer in my life. And I had a burning desire to kill him.
I brought the rat book home. Back to my empty townhouse. Free of Carlton’s clothes, his belongings, our pictures as a couple. Once in a while I could smell his smell. The beautiful smell of the woods lingering on a piece of furniture. And each time I smelled it, my heart would drop. As much as I hated to admit it, part of me longed for the days when Carlton and I snuggled together in our big, comfy chair. The one with the oversized pillows. Drinking ice-cold margaritas with our legs intertwined.
And so, to get rid of his smell, I sprayed lemon freshener everywhere. Kept the windows open. Burned vanilla candles. Boiled cinnamon sticks in a pan on the stove.
Killing Carlton could be a futile exercise, I knew. I didn’t have that kind of brio. But at least I could practice. Who knew?
I was Italian, so my blood ran hot. And I was a Texan to the core. (And everyone knows not to mess with Texas women.) But still. No matter what Carlton had done to me, and he’d done a lot, would I really feel better baking chocolate brownies filled with rat poison? Delivering them in an anonymous gift basket to the office we used to share? In the company we’d built? Together? Would this cheap, dirty trick make me feel better?
I wrestled a cast iron pot out of the kitchen cabinet. A beautiful Le Creuset 12-quart from Williams Sonoma. No black, bubbling witch’s cauldron for me, thank you very much. I’m a gourmet assassin.
I don an apron that says, “Kiss me, I’m Italian,” roll up my sleeves, and go to town. I follow my mother’s old brownie recipe to a tee. Blending in the chocolate, slowly, so it won’t burn. Melting salted butter in the microwave. Stirring the mixture hard and fast (at least fifty beats!) with a whipping spoon.
I imagine myself as a witch. Stirring my brew. Maybe I should join a Wicca group and burn incense and frog legs and chant incantations.
Or better yet, what about those Haitian voodoo witches? Perhaps I could learn the art of sticking pins in a Carlton doll. I’d dress it in a little biking outfit—and stick pins right through its little padded biking shorts.
Would Carlton feel the pain, I wondered?
It was worth a try.
I finish the brownie mixture, and like a good witch, I lick the spatulas. Then I pour the mixture into a baking pan. And for the final touch—
Arsenic, I think.
The morning after I slept with Carlton Connors for the first time, I rolled over and was more than shocked to see a beautiful man in my bed. His body was perfect. A flat stomach with rolling muscles down his abdomen. Long, lean, muscular legs. Light brown, silky hair. A face like a Michelangelo. Strong nose. Dimple in the chin. And he smelled like a dream. A faint hint of cologne that reminded me of being in the woods. There was nothing offensive about Carlton Connors. Not a single blackhead on his nose. Not even a mole.
He opened a perfect eye. The color of a buttered almond—and he looked straight at me. I remember pulling the sheets up to my chin, hiding my nakedness. My itsy-bitsy flab. My poochy belly. My strong, yet somewhat stubby legs.
“I’ll have you know, Mr. Connors, this is the first time I’ve ever slept with a guy I just met,” I say, right off the bat.
“Sure. That’s what they all say,” he chuckles and strokes my hair. His touch is gentle but firm. And it sends me to the moon and back. I feel giddy as this man—this stranger—brushes my cheek with his finger.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he whispers. He leans forward and kisses me. Not a quick good morning peck, but a long, lingering kiss. The type of kiss you imagine might happen one day because you saw it in a movie once. But when it actually happens, you suck in your lungs because you’re afraid you’ve got morning breath.
I pull back from Carlton, prop my elbow up on the pillow, my head against my hand. I shoot this new guy my most serious look. “I’m serious. I’ve never had a one-night stand,” I protest, because I want him to know I’m not a slut. And because it’s true.
“Who said anything about one night?” he replies.
I try to act cool at this point. No big, cheesy smiles or wild kisses.
I inform Carlton in my most neutral tone, “I don’t know about you, but I’m serious about getting my MBA. I don’t need a messy relationship getting in the way.”
He chuckles, shakes his head, as if he can’t believe my audacity.
“That rhymes,” he says.
And then he surprises the hell out of me by singing in a woman’s falsetto voice: “I’m serious about my MBAAA,” he sings, “I don’t need a guy getting in the Wa-aay.”
“I don’t even know you!” I say, lightly slapping his arm.
Carlton sticks his hand out and says, “Carlton Connors, pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am.”
Carlton runs his hand through his hair, which I notice looks as perfect in the morning as it did last night.