“Two years,” Janie said as she moved her wine glass to her lips. She finished it with a tilt of her head then giggled.
Mitch felt an incredulous smirk take over for a moment. He studied her fine features. Her face exhibited that perfect symmetry usually only found on magazine covers, her green eyes, button nose, and supple lips each playing upon one another to create an example of near perfection. Mitch had always thought of himself as awkwardly handsome, nowhere near the embodiment of beauty he watched from across the table. He had often wondered what she had seen in him, knowing his good sense of humor could only take him so far.
A light hint of vanilla from the candles mingled with the spicy Thai food that lingered on their plates. The sweet spice to the air was nearly as intoxicating as the two bottles of wine they had managed to polish off, and the chilling mesh of lies and truth that Mitch now knew emanated between them was dizzying.
“Two years,” he said, raising his glass to her.
He glanced over at the two gifts that sat in the living room on the coffee table. In the shadows of the flickering flames, both appeared animated, as if they danced in anticipation of the evening. The shadows shifted against and around them, the darkness threatening to swallow them both with the loss of just one candle’s light.
Janie rose from her seat to clear the table, her movements slow and deliberate in her drunken state. He watched her thin form disappear into the kitchen, then reemerge a moment later with a giddy hop to her steps.
She passed the table and went into the living room, patting the seat beside her as she sat on the sofa.
He followed her cue, crossing to the seat beside her and turning to the two wrapped gifts awaiting them in the dim light. His gift to her was exceptionally small, one he knew she had to have assumed all night to be jewelry—possibly even an engagement ring. He had wrapped it in faux gold foil and a delicate red ribbon, ideal for the occasion. She had been begging him to let her open it for hours, even before dinner, and he felt giddy now that the time had finally come. He could care less what lay within the much larger package beside it, wrapped in a gaudy floral design and topped with a store-bought bow.
“You first,” she said as she handed him the garish mass.
His lips tightened into something between a smile and a grimace as he took the package and set it on his lap. She watched intently as he tore at the paper, shredding that awful print and dropping it in massive strips to the floor, revealing the box beneath. He opened it with feigned anticipation, his surprise just as contrived as he revealed the red and black teddy within.
“Wow,” he said, holding it up and eyeing it against her pretty form.
“Do you like it?” she asked. Suddenly, she was ear-to-ear smiles.
He nodded. “Why don’t you put it on right now?”
She glanced at the teddy, then at her unopened present, and once again at the teddy, then snatched it with another giggle and hurried off to change.
He stared at the tiny gift that now lay alone on the coffee table, somehow seeming even darker than it had a moment ago despite the continued candle light from the nearby room. Yes, it was perfect, and something she would never suspect. Still, a sense of hesitance took him as he considered their evening.
Perhaps he had been hasty. Perhaps he might reconsider. . . .
He looked up at the goddess standing before him as she stepped back into the room. The teddy fit perfectly, every curve showing through in just the right place. Black lace sat against her round, lean thighs, the red bustier cupped her breasts elegantly beneath it, and the bodice held her thin form in a way that left little to the imagination. Perfection.
She strutted, her body moving almost in slow motion, seductively inching her way back to his side. “What do you think?”
The sight of her sent an electric pulse through him, but the thought of what was to come excited him even more. “I think it’s time you opened your present.”
She sat beside him with a smile, graciously taking the small package into her hands as he offered it to her. She gave him a sideways glance, nearly winking at him as she said, “I wonder what this could be.”
He sat back as she tore at the thick, gold paper, threw it aside, and then pulled the lid from the tiny box.
Her expression went flat as she pulled the tiny vial from the box. “What’s this?” She examined it closely, looking unsure as she assessed it. A small cork held it shut, although it appeared to be empty.
“Open it,” he said, a slight smile creeping through.
Confusion wrought across her pretty face, she pulled the tiny cork from the container. She looked even more surprised as the cork pulled free and she brought the small, glass container to her eyes for a closer look. She smelled it, peered deep within it, and then turned to him with a shake of her head. “I don’t get it.”
“No?” he asked, watching, waiting.
Her eyelids fluttered as she dropped the vial. She gasped for air, her hands going to her throat then moving to her face for a moment of horrific assessment before they froze in place. Her eyes shot him a sudden glance, wide and confused, as they too became immobile. Her frantic breaths slowed to a halt, and a moment later, she went completely still.
“Happy anniversary!” he exclaimed, scooting closer to her and wrapping an arm around her cold, smooth shoulders.
What might have been an attempt at crying out seemed to emanate from her throat, but it he moved in for a closer listen and heard nothing.
“I found out about you and Charles,” he continued, “and I thought about just calling things off. But then, the most amazing thing happened. I stopped by this shop that sold ‘living dolls.’ I nearly passed it by, but something—maybe the emptiness that had taken over from learning about your affair—pushed me to go in. Wouldn’t you know, when I got inside, I met a guy who sold do-it-yourself kits. He was a very persuasive salesman. ‘Why buy a soulless doll when you can have something so much better?’ Very persuasive. What do you think?”
She silently stared ahead.
“Now, I can have you all to myself, no strings attached.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead and wiped away the tear that fell from her plastic eye. “Happy, happy anniversary!” He rose his glass to her and finished its contents on one gratified swill. “To a long, and unadulterated relationship! Now, how about we take this to the bedroom?” He moved his ear to her mouth like a child would to a beloved doll’s, and then he gave her a satisfied nod. “My thoughts exactly.” He blew out all the candles and carried her upstairs.