The curtains are sheer enough to see their silhouettes but little else. I remember when we picked them out. I only wanted something to cover the large windows but Marla had very specific requirements. They had to go perfectly with the walls and furniture. That’s how she approached every aspect of her life – the perfect accessories to create the perfect image.

I stopped being the perfect accessory a year ago. It took her three months to find my replacement. Her new wife couldn’t be more different from me – tall to my short, fair to my dark, sweet and simple-minded to my direct and intellectual. And, of course, she’s much younger. Our life wasn’t very exciting or perfect after seventeen years. It was time for a change. I only wish I had seen it coming. I could have prepared. Lesson learned. I’m a planner, now.

It’s a cold night but I won’t be here much longer. My spot in the bushes across the street protects me pretty well from the wind and, really, that’s the worst part. The wind and the damp ground that I’m kneeling on really seep into my bones. I’ll need to take a long hot bath when I get home to completely get rid of the chill. Three minutes to show time.

Valentine’s Day was never a big deal for us but I guess the new Mrs. Hughes feels differently. I wonder which one of them had set up the candles and spread the white and red rose petals on the bed in the master suite. I was surprised and, if I’m honest, hurt to think that Marla would have done something so romantic. She was never like that with me. I must not inspire that sort of lust and desire.

I only had a few minutes to get my own surprise set up and check out the rest of the house. Not much had been changed since I moved out. The biggest difference was that all of the photos of me and Marla had been replaced with ones of the new couple. It took an incredible amount of will power not to destroy the large wedding portrait hung over the fireplace in the living room. They do look good together, I’ll give them that.

Their shadows are moving slowly in the flickering light and I imagine there’s a cozy fire burning. As they lean in for a kiss, there’s a flash and a ground shaking boom. The force of the explosion knocks me onto my behind and I’m momentarily stunned. A few seconds later, neighbors are streaming into the street. As I prepare to escape through the dark yards, I notice a scrap of white against the black ground. As soon as my hand touches it, I know exactly what it is and bring the soft petal to my nose. It still smells sweet. Happy Valentine’s Day, Marla.

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“Thank you for calling. This is Sheila, how can I help you?” I don’t really want to help but that’s what we have to say. Honestly, I don’t want to speak to anyone at all. I had a terrible night and I know that everyone who’s taken a moment to glance at my face would have noticed my swollen, bloodshot eyes.

It’s nearly 9:30 and the noise level in the open workspace has increased considerably. There’s always more chatter on a Monday morning. Everyone catching up with each other about what they did over the weekend. I don’t participate and hope no one asks me to join in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the occasional small talk with co-workers, it’s that I haven’t got anything I want to share. I spent the past two days arguing and defending myself against claims of infidelity. As if anyone would even want to have an affair with me. I’m 53 years old, overweight, and haven’t been called pretty once in my life. But Jeff would hear none it. A few texts from some stupid man who had the wrong number but wouldn’t stop with the sexually explicit messages – even though it was clear that he had the wrong person – seemed to be all the proof he needed. His paranoia has been growing since being laid off and I’m beginning to fear for my safety. He’s never been violent before but he’s changed so much.

I’m still listening to the caller ramble on about her billing problem when there’s a loud bang near the reception area and the conversation around me ceases immediately. Another booming sound reverberates around the us. Then I see him. Jeff, his eyes wild and his face red, is steadily making his way toward me. He hasn’t said a word but is scanning the room, like he’s looking for someone in particular.

I am completely unable to do anything besides watch as he turns to his left, brings the shotgun to his shoulder, and shoots Paul in the face. The group of women he had been with scream and drop to the floor.

“Was it him, Sheila?!” He’s not looking at me when he shouts but, instead, moves to the right a few steps where Carl is still seated behind his desk. Jeff raises the gun again and I can see the back of Carl’s head explode.

I jump to my feet as he’s reloading, pulling shells from the pocket of his black parka. “It’s no one, Jeff! I told you! There is no one. Please, dear God, please stop!”

And he does stop. He stops, looks me in the eyes, and aims the shotgun at me. “You fucking whore.” He says it quietly, calmly, and I can barely hear him.

Without lowering the weapon, he marches up to the front of my desk and presses the barrel to my forehead. It’s still hot.

“Whore, ” the word reaches my ears a split second before the blast.

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