Caroline Dern's dark eyes snapped open when her husband's car pulled in the drive, its headlights illuminating their

bedroom and sweeping across the plaster ceiling that reminded Caroline of popcorn. The clock on the night stand at her

side told her that it was nearly half past three in the morning. Stuart Dern had been gone nearly twenty hours.



Stuart, it seemed, was having an affair.



She listened to the door downstairs open, the jangle of keys, the shoes dropping heavily to the floor. She hated those

shoes. They were fancy-schmancy office shoes, glossy, the kind that take years to break in and make comfortable. They

reminded her of shoes a man would don for a wedding, or perhaps a funeral. They reminded her that her husband loved his

job – and possibly his mistress -- more than he loved her.



It hadn't always been that way, Caroline assured herself, pulling the covers up and listening to Stuart pace around quietly

in his socks, still downstairs. Their marriage had been a happy one, at first. But sometimes, things happen to married

couples. Especially if they find they can't conceive.



After six years of marriage, Stuart now only came home from the office to sleep a few hours before leaving again. Caroline

often wondered why he didn't just stay away, sleep at the office or even at the "other woman's" house. Maybe it was to

keep up appearances with the neighbors – Mrs. Sullivan next door would be reassured when she awoke early in the morning,

went out to water her hydrangeas, and saw Mr. Dern's shiny black Lexus in the drive. She would be able to tell the other

elderly women, the ones who showed up for her bridge party every Wednesday afternoon, that the Dern's marriage was just

fine. Everything was hunky-dory.



Except things weren't hunky-dory. And now, Caroline was taking the next step in her assumptions and sniffing Stuart's

jackets for signs of perfume, reading through his address book, even trying to hack into his e-mail account. No, things

weren't hunky-dory at all.



She listened as Stuart climbed the staircase. He seemed to be humming something under his breath. Of course, she thought,

he has a reason to sing.



When the door to the bedroom opened, Caroline clenched her eyes shut and feigned sleep. She didn't want to confront him;

not now, not yet. Instead, she listened as he began to undress, the ruffle of clothing punctuated by his quiet, off-key

singing.



"Oh, Ella, sweet, sweet Ella," he sang. He sat on the edge of the bed and Caroline felt the mattress move, felt springs

ping beneath her. "How I love you so. . .Ella, my sweet Ella . . . "



So that was her name. Ella.



Caroline laid awake the rest of the morning, anger boiling in her veins, staring at the popcorn ceiling as dawn tried to

sneak into day. Stuart snored softly beside her, but she did not look at him, not even when he called out Caroline's own

name in the depths of a dream.





Breakfast was much the same as usual. Stuart devoured the newspaper while simultaneously devouring two slices of buttered

toast. Caroline sipped tea and read a gardening magazine. Neither looked at each other directly. Each stole peeks when

the other wasn't looking.



Caroline noticed that Stuart looked tired, but chipper. His sandy-brown hair was still damp from his shower and he was

freshly shaven. He wore his half-moon reading glasses high on his nose and they seemed to magnify his soft, gray eyes.



He wore his usual suit and tie, and Caroline felt minuscule and dirty in her ratty red bathrobe, her dishwater blonde hair

piled sloppily on her head. She wondered if this Ella wore silk robes cinched at her waist, with her hair always

perfect.



"Well," said Stuart, setting down his newspaper and finally looking her in the eye, "it sounds like this deal is going to

go down wonderfully. We're expecting a merge with Marko any day now."



Marko was a company that made writing utensils; Stuart's company, Bazaar, produced paper office supplies. The companies

were planning a multi-billion dollar merger that would result in thousands of outlet stores across the nation.



Caroline gave Stuart a small smile, sipped her tea, and went back to her magazine.



"Damn it, Caroline!" Stuart stood so fast that his chair nearly tipped over. His handsome face contorted with

frustration. "Can't you just be happy for me for a moment? I'm working my ass off so that we can spend more time together

in a couple year's time. Can't you see that?"



Caroline calmly set her teacup back on the saucer and dabbed at her lips with her napkin. It was nearly comical,

considering her state of dishabille, that she should be acting like a proper old English woman. Then she faced him, her

face a mask of sweet innocence.



"What, exactly, would you like me to do, Stuart? Thank you for your absence twenty-some-odd hours of the day? Thank you

for not speaking to me, for – "



"You could start by thanking me for that chair you're sitting on, that magazine you're reading, this damn big house with

all the empty rooms, your gardening supplies, the car you never drive," Stuart spouted, counting the items off on his

fingers as he paced the room. "Because I paid for it. All of it!"



Caroline didn't reply to this, only regarded him stonily, one finger circling the delicate rim of her teacup. She had

never hated him before in their six long years of marriage, but she hated him now.



He gazed at her for a long while, his face tense and angry, his breathing heavy. He seemed to be waiting for her to reply,

to yell, to break things. She did none of that.



"I'm going to work," he said between clenched teeth.



She shot him a bitter smile and said with mock cheer, "Goodbye, then."



He paused in the doorway on the way out. He glance over his shoulder, seeming to gather his courage. "I love you,

Caroline."



The only sign that she'd heard was the slight stiffening of her backbone. He left the house and she gritted her

teeth.



Sure you do, she thought. But you love Ella more.





When Stuart Dern arrived home in the wee hours of the next morning, he wanted nothing more than to soak in the tub for an

hour or so before crawling into bed. The day was Saturday, and that meant golf with the guys. He thought he might even ask

Caroline to go out to dinner with him that evening. Lord knows we need to do something to save this marriage, he thought

bitterly as he dragged his tired feet up the stairs.



The bathroom was cool and almost blindingly white, a sterile bathroom that Stuart had hated for years. Florescent light

reflected off achromatic walls, snowy towels hung from the rack beside the door. It was beautiful in a utilitarian sort of

way. Much like Caroline, Stuart thought with a smirk.



He filled the tub with steaming water and undressed, singing a little song to himself, a song that seemed to be in his head

a lot lately.



"Ella, sweet, sweet Ella," he sang, his off-key voice bouncing off the alabaster tiles. He sank into water that was nearly

too hot to stand and tipped his head back against the steamy tub, closing his eyes.



He was soon fast asleep. Because of this, he didn't hear his wife tiptoe in, didn't feel her cool glare nor her hot

anger, and didn't recognize the splash and snap associated with an electrical device being dropped into a large vat of

water. The plugged-in hair dryer had been so smoothly dropped into the water that Stuart Dern was dead even before the

electricity shorted out and the house went dark.



And as for Caroline Dern; well, she dried her hands on a towel and used a flashlight to return back to bed, where she fell

into a sleep that wasn't at all plagued by bad dreams.





After the police, coroner and medical technicians had left later that morning, Caroline dried false tears and changed from

her bathrobe into a chic blue suit. She was going to celebrate her freedom by doing a little shopping downtown. She only

glanced briefly at her wedding picture, then turned it face-down on her bookshelf.



"It serves him right," she muttered to herself. "He was having an affair, after all."



She took immense pleasure in taking the keys to the Lexus – Stuart's precious Lexus – and in leaving the house in sleek

high heels and expensive sunglasses. She didn't care if she made a bad impression with the old bag next door, Mrs.

Sullivan – as soon as she got the money for the life insurance, she planned on moving somewhere tropical, anyway.



Caroline slid into the leather interior of the car with a little squeal of delight. If she'd known she would be this happy

in doing away with her husband, she would have done it ages ago. The key turned easily in the ignition, and the CD player

came on with only a moment's hesitation.



It was Stuart's favorite band, a band that Caroline couldn't stand, but something about the song playing through the

speakers now made her pause before popping the CD out.



"Oh, Ella, sweet, sweet Ella," the band sang in chipper tones that cut Caroline to the bone. "How I love you so. . .Ella,

my sweet Ella . . ."