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3 Days Earlier

*****

I suppose there had been a time when I really did love her. When just seeing her face would bring a smile to my lips and her scent would linger on my senses long after she had left my side. When she was the air I breathed and the addiction I felt compelled to indulge in.

As I sit here, alone, those times are becoming harder and harder to remember.

Life is funny that way. You spend your whole life making memories that only take one heinous night to forget.

I can't say I'm surprised. In the back of my mind, I've always suspected something. Lunch dates that were never kept, mysterious weekends away at her mother's, flushed expressions on her face if I happened to come home early from the office. At the time I didn't think much of it. Now...now it's a different story.

My brooding thoughts are interrupted as the dark living room is suddenly bathed in light, illuminating my dark thoughts and bringing me back to the present moment.

"Dad?"

A small smile touches my lips as I see my daughter.

Ah, Jessie. My sweet, sweet Jessie. She is my pride and joy, my baby-girl. She always has been, always will be. "Hey, sweetie. What are you doing here?"

She takes off her jacket and comes deeper into the room. "I was supposed to meet some friends in SoHo after my English Lit. lecture, but the T.A had to cancel last minute. So I thought I'd stop by and hang out with you for a while until I have to meet them."

I smile and run a hand through her short sleek mane of dark hair. I remember when she used to have pig-tails and braces, when her favourite colour used to be the softest shade of baby pink. These days it's hard convincing her that there are other colours to wear besides black. True, my little girl is all grown up now, but she's still a daddy's girl. I take comfort in that fact. "I'm glad you stopped by, you know. We hardly ever get to see you anymore since you moved out. We've missed you."

She kisses my cheek. "I've missed you too, Dad." She looks down at my hands and the light dims in her eyes. "What are you doing with that out?"

At her question I look down to the small .32 caliber I had placed on the side table. Damn. I forgot about that. I look back up at her, trying to ease her mind and change the subject as discreetly as possible. "Nothing, sweetie. Your Uncle Roger and I were planning on going out to the range tomorrow and I was just checking to see how much ammo I needed. Don't worry about it."

She seemed satisfied with the answer. "Oh, okay." She notices my attire for the first time. "You going out tonight or something?"

I sigh and get up from the leather armchair I had been sitting in and make my way over to the bar to make myself a drink. "Your mother and I are going to that V-Tronics benefit thing uptown tonight ."

Her expression hardens at the mention of her mother. I sigh again and place the drink down. "It wouldn't kill you to say hi to her, you know."

"I have nothing to say to that woman."

"That woman, as you put it, happened to spend 37 hours in labour giving birth to you. She loves you, Jess, believe me when I say that."

"Those are just words, Dad. We both know that that's not what really counts." She sits down in the chair that I had just vacated. "That woman cares about nothing and no one but her money and herself. She's not as great as you think she is. Believe me when I say that."

I think she expected me to respond, to come to her mother's defense as I have done for so many years in the past. I think she sees something different in my eyes this time, a hardness in my expression that wasn't there before. Her own eyes widen in disbelief and understanding. When she speaks, it is a strained whisper. "You know, don't you?"

I don't say anything. There isn't much I can say. I just look away from her piercing green eyes and take another sip of my brandy.

Apparently, that is all the validation she needs. My daughter's voice is tear-filled and I long to comfort her newly awakened anguish. "I hate her." She leaves the penthouse then, slamming the door shut behind her.

* * * * *

The bedroom light spills onto the hallway carpeting as I approach our room. Inside, she is clad in nothing but a black silk dressing gown. She is standing in front of a large freestanding mirror, holding a hangered black cocktail dress against her tiny frame. I make my way over to my bureau, searching for a suitable tiepin. "Jessie came by." I wonder if my tone sounds too nonchalant. My words are slightly muffled, but there is no doubt in my mind that she has heard me.

She slips the dress off the hanger and begins stepping into it. "I thought I heard her voice." She smoothes the soft fabric over her hips and walks over to the walk in closet, never once looking at me.

I sit on our absurdly expensive canopy bed and just watch her. A million thoughts are running through my mind. I can tell you right now, not all of them were good.

She was with him this morning when I was at the office, I can tell. She is

avoiding my eyes. She knows it, and I know it. And I know that she knows I know. And I know that she doesn't care.

Hah, how's that for dramatic irony?

It's hard letting go. I can feel her slipping away. And despite everything else, I don't want to lose her. I remember when we used to be happy. I want that back. I need that back. I need her. Has she forgotten that? "I love you, you know." Her back is turned to me, but I can see her face in the mirror above her dresser.

"And I'm sure you believe that." Her tone is distracted, as if she has better things to do with her time than discuss our marriage. She doesn't even look at me as she continues to get dressed.

I stand there watching her, taking it all in. The way she tosses her hair over one shoulder and applies my favourite perfume of hers on her neck. The way she slips her slender arched foot into a black leather pump I have not seen before. The way she secures the clasp of the diamond tennis bracelet I had given her on our tenth anniversary around her tiny wrist. It suddenly occurs to me that I have been married to this woman for twenty-five years and I still can't honestly say I truly know her. I know everything there is to possibly know about her, and yet she still remains a stranger to me.

"So, is this how it's going to be then?" I ask. I know that there is resignation in my voice. I hope I have mustered in an angry edge as well.

She sighs and slams the drawer she had opened shut, finally turning around to face me. She leans against the dresser, arms crossed. "And just exactly what is this, Richard?"

I am mad now, and I don't care if she knows it. Actually, I hope that she does. "You know damned well what I mean! We don't talk anymore, and we're constantly avoiding each other. We walk around this damned penthouse as if we are strangers! Do you even remember the last time I held you?" I wait a moment for her response, but continue when she remains silent. "Neither do I". I get up from the bed and walk over to her. I reach for her hands; I need to hold on to her. I need to feel the connection we once had. "God, Claire. What happened to us...?"

For a split second I can see her eyes softening, I can feel her rigid resolve starting to dissipate. Then in a flash I feel her putting the barrier back up between us. She shrugs off my hands and turns back to the dresser to continue primping for the godforsaken party we have to go to tonight.

"Really, Richard, stop being so melodramatic. It's bad for your heart."

I love my wife, it's true. But I can't honestly say that I like her. Sometimes I think she hates me.

And sometimes, if I'm really honest with myself, I hate her, too.

* * * * *

The doorman smiles politely at us he ushers us into the hotel lobby. I grasp Clarissa's hand in my own as we enter the grand ballroom. The action has become second nature to us over the years. There was a time when we felt sparks every time our hands touched. Now, we continue to do it simply because we are expected to. Still, I run my fingers over her wedding band almost longingly. I can't help myself. The touch of the cool band reminds me that she is mine, that she indeed does belong to me just as I belong to her. I wish she would remember that.

I look around the lavish room. I hated events like this. They are over the top and excruciatingly boring. I pick up a champagne flute as a waiter walks by and take a sip, relishing the way the cool alcohol slides down my throat. It isn't the first drink I've had tonight, and driving home or not, it sure as hell won't be the last.

We have not even been here five minutes, and already I can feel Clarissa disentangle herself from my arms. I stand back and watch, waiting to see who the son-of- bitch will be tonight.

Could it be James Hannison, the senior vice-president? Nah, he's here with his wife tonight. Even he wasn't stupid enough to try anything here. Perhaps it is Larry Johansson, from accounting. Scratch that, he told me this morning he couldn't make it. I am going down the list of possible candidates in my mind when I notice her slip out onto the terrace by herself. Not thirty seconds later I see Michael Rivers from HR follow behind. Bingo.

I finish off my drink and turn away. No use torturing myself, is there?

* * * * *

The car ride home is silent. I have nothing to say to her tonight. She hasn't had anything to say to me in the last four months. I turn to look at her when we're stopped at a red light. She's facing her window, looking at all the Manhattan pedestrians mingling outside, enjoying their youth. My eyes shift to a young couple standing together, wrapped in each other's embrace. I can feel a lump start to form in my throat as a car from behind honks at me, indicating the light has turned green.

I have already made up my mind on what I was going to do that night. And I can tell you right now, none of them were good.

I make no move to get out after I park the car in the building's underground garage. Clarissa turns to me in expectance. "Richard...?"

I cut her off. I'm still not sure if I want to hear what she has to say. "Was it worth it?" The coldness of my vice surprises even me.

She looks at me for a long time without saying anything, her eyes boring into mine. I can see her gaze start to soften again, and this time she doesn't hold back. She looks away from me and faces the windshield. A deep cry escapes her lips and sobs start to consume her body. "Oh, God, Rich. I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I don't know what's wrong with me. Half the time I don't even recognize myself when I look in the mirror. Jess is furious with me.. My own baby... And you. Oh, God, look what I've done to you. What I've done to us!" She gasps and wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, turning to look at me once more. Her mascara is smudged under her eyes and unto her cheeks. I trace the pattern with my eyes, my fingers itching to touch her smooth skin once again.

She lifts a delicate hand to my face. Her touch brings old feelings rushing back, try as I might to fight them off. The diamond tennis bracelet she is wearing catches the light as her manicured fingertips run over the contours of my lips. I recoil at her touch as the image of her and Michael Rivers together comes careening into my head. I can feel a red hot rage start to take over my body. I don't think I have ever loved or hated anyone more than I did her at that moment. "Don't," I say as I snatch her hand away. Her eyes are pleading with me, and I cannot bear to look anymore. I put my head down on the steering wheel and close my eyes against the tears that are fighting to break through.

After an eternity, I hear her open the car door and get out. Her footsteps make echo's as she walks towards the elevator that will take her up to our floor.

Sometimes I think it would just be easier to kill her and get it over with. The finality of death would be a welcomed change to the constant emotional roller coaster that has become my life. It would be easy, I think. One quick shot, and it would be done. I'd make it so that she didn't feel any pain. Scratch that. I wanted her to feel pain. She's inflicted it upon me enough times.

Even as I step out of the car, I don't fully expect to go through with my plan. I don't think I can actually go through with it. But if I could...could you honestly say that you blame me?

* * * * *

It is silent as I enter the penthouse. I drop my keys onto the marble console table beside the door and wince at the resounding noise made. I walk over to check the answering machine, loosening my tie as I settle down on my favourite armchair. My head hurts. My heart hurts, too. I sigh, running a tired hand over my face. I think I have aged more in this one night than I have in all my forty-eight years.

I look to my side at the end table, thinking of all that still has to be done that night. I am surprised to see my pistol no longer lying on the tabletop. I must have put it away after Jessie left.

Sighing again, I get up and start heading to my bedroom. To the monstrous bed I share with Clarissa. It is very possible that this will be the last night I ever spend with my wife.

This time, the light is not spilling onto the carpeted hallway as I approach the room. I open the door, and reach to turn on the light.

And then I scream.

* * * * *

My wife is dead. The love of my life is gone. The mother of my child is...oh God, Jessie! I feel nauseous and fresh tears come to my eyes as I think of breaking the news to my only child.

The police have taken over the penthouse and I am spending the night at the Plaza. I look at my watch- 1:37. It is still not too late too call my daughter. This is not the kind of thing that can wait until morning. I try her cell, but it is turned off. It is then that I remember that she had said something about meeting up with some friends in SoHo. I reach for my Palm Pilot, and look for a number Jessie had given me long ago.

Two minutes later I am waiting for the person on the other end to pick up the phone. After three rings someone finally does. "Hello?" It is a girl, speaking in mid- laugh.

My heartbeat quickens. "Sarah? Sarah it's me, Richard Madison."

"Oh, hey Mr. M. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Actually, I was wondering..could you put Jess on the line? I really need to talk to her."

"I'd love to Mr. M, but Jessie's not here."

"What?"

"Yeah. She called a few hours ago and said she had to do a couple of things. She didn't sound too good. I wouldn't be surprised if she was crawled up in her bed sleeping."

I am getting a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I refuse to acknowledge it. It can't be, I think. There's got to be some other explanation.

I grab my car keys and head out. Forty minutes later I'm in Greenwich Village, knocking on my daughter's door. Her roommate, Sally lets me in. I can tell she is annoyed at being woken up at such a late hour. Still, she smiles politely when she sees me, recognizing who I am almost immediately.

I walk to my daughter's bedroom and knock softly on her door. When she doesn't answer I silently turn the knob and poke my head in. "Jess?" I whisper.

Nothing.

I step full inside and reach to turn on the light. Sure enough, there she is, lying on her side, her comforters kicked off her in her sleep. I focus on her still form, hesitant to look anywhere else. I know what I will find if I do.

My assumptions are confirmed when I shift my gaze a little to the left of my sleeping angel. There, lying innocently on her tabletop is my .32 caliber.

I turn off the light, and exit my daughter's room. There is nothing left for me to say tonight. And, for the first time in months, I revel in the silence.

*****The End*****