He climbs down the ladder slowly, concentrating on his footing. Tonight would not be a good night to fall. She’s above him, and she places her feet with confidence on the brown rims. He stops, takes a breath, stares at her red shoes. Who wears red shoes to an event like this? “Do you think we made a difference,” he asks her.
“Yeah, you know when you mix different chemicals together you can get different solutions.”
“I’m not a chemist.”
“Ok, well any scientist, when they put together an experiment, they can get different results.”
“I’m not a scientist either.”
“Fine, than imagine your basic, average, semi-rational human being. Every decision they make can cause a different reaction.”
“‘Your basic, average , semi-rational human being’; is that what you think of me?”
He doesn’t answer her, uses all his energy to keep his balance, as he slowly continues down the ladder. Although falling to one’s death is never a good idea, tonight it would be especially catastrophic. As he places his right foot firmly on the ground, he hears her say “of course it made a difference”.
They stand on the ground facing each other. He looks at her, really looks at her, in a way that he hasn’t in years. She has a page boy haircut, and although that is the style at the moment, it doesn’t suit her. He examines her face. Her skin is pale, her lips are naturally red, and her hazel eyes are too big for her head. She’s pretty, not astoundingly beautiful as he once thought her, but definitely pretty. She still resembles Snow White. He remembers when that was his nickname for her, but he hasn’t called her that in a long time, and tonight is not the night to start. He recalls sitting on a beach in Mexico, drinking two dollar margaritas, calling her snow white, and watching her mouth form into a familiar smile. “I can’t believe it’s finally over”, her voice interrupts his thoughts.
“It’s not over, this is just the beginning.”
“I think it’s over. The hypothesis was fairly conclusive.”
“I thought you weren’t a scientist?”
“I thought you weren’t a murderer?”
“People do change, but not you. You never change.”
“You’re right, I don’t change.”
He looks up at the sky, but the street lights conceal the stars, so his eyes divert to the roof of the building next to him. Although he can’t see her, he’s certain she’s gazing at the same building he is. “It’s finally over,” her voice rings out in the night, and he thinks of the murdered man ten stories above them.
Nine Years Ago
“Allison Margaret Pearl Patterson”
“That is quite a long name!”
“Well you only have to remember the first and the last name.”
“Or I could just call you amp.”
“You could do that.”
She wishes she knew how to flirt. This is a feeling she usually gets when she meets a new man. When she discussed this problem with a childhood friend, her friend exclaimed “you’re beautiful; you don’t need to be interesting. Those women who have to make clever comments and crack jokes, do it because they have to, they are compensating for their looks.” She had argued vehemently with her friend, but deep down she knew her friend spoke the truth, or at least partially. Guys always approached her; she can’t even remember the last time she bought her own drink. The problem was they never stuck around past three weeks, probably because she lacked substance. And although she usually appreciated the unearned attention, at this moment she is willing to trade her “perfect” C breasts and her “beautiful” face for the ability to talk about something more interesting than her obnoxiously long name.
“So what do you do,” he asks her.
“I’m a professional reader.”
“Well I’ve been reading unprofessionally my whole life; maybe you could give me some pointers.”
“Well I mean I’m more of a summary writer. I work for a college, I read textbooks and summarize them, and then the professors decide which books to use in their class. What do you do?”
“I’m a chemist; it’s not as exciting as it sounds.”
“So then why did you choose this as your profession?”
“Well I had very noble aspirations. I wanted to create a cure for cancer.”
“Well I did find new ways to cause cancer, but my boss doesn’t think that’s something we could sell.”
“Well maybe if you wrote him a persuasive report.”
“Maybe if I had a professional reader glance at my report, she could give me some ideas.”
She likes him, and she hopes that he passes the three-week benchmark. They come to a corner. “Well this is my street,” he says pointing to the right. “So we’re having lunch tomorrow?”
“Definitely,” she replies. They turn their backs to each other and head in opposite directions.
Six Years Ago
He sits in his favorite sofa chair and reads his semi-favorite book, or at least pretends to read it. He is actually wondering at what moment he started spending his Friday nights reading books at home. “John,” Allison’s high-pitched voice pierces his ears. She’s standing in front of him, and he wishes he was a chameleon and could become the color of the sofa chair, but she would probably still see him. He has been with her for three years, during which he has made a long list of grievances against her. They include the fact that she is never motivated in her professional or personal life, the way she taps her nails against the table when she eats breakfast, the fact that she is always accusing him of something, her inability to articulate herself properly, and the fact that she can’t even cook rice . These are just his top five complaints; he could spend hours picking at her imperfections, but he can’t break up with her, because every time he tries he’s miserable without her. During his last break up, a break which lasted a month, he realized he couldn’t live without her, and after numerous apologies on his part they moved in together. His realized he loved her during a murky tequila moment with his work buddy:
“I’ve always tried comparing my love for Alison to chocolate,” he told his friend. “Something that is tasty and delicious and you can’t live without. However, Alison isn’t like chocolate at all, she is like toothpaste.”
“Umm I think you had enough to drink,” his friend tells him, as he eyes the half filled shot in John’s hand.
“I know I sound crazy, but its true,” John says stubbornly. “And I’m not that drunk, okay I am drunk, but this thought is real. Toothpaste isn’t something special or something anybody ever thinks about.”
“Dentists think about toothpaste.”
“I’m not a dentist though. Anyway although I never think about toothpaste, it is something I need. If I don’t brush my teeth in the morning, my entire day is messed up. I feel dirty and unpleasant, and I can’t shake that feeling until I brush my teeth. However once I brush my teeth, I don’t think about toothpaste at all. That is what Allison means to me.”
The next morning, with a clear mind, John analyzed his ramblings from the night before. If he had been sober he would have said his thoughts using a much shorter phrase “I’m more unhappy with out her than I am with her.” He knows she ‘s about to ask him to go out, and even though he’s tired and just wants to stay in his brown chair reading the entertaining words of his book, he knows that if he wants her to remain in his life, he has to make sure that she is happy. So he agrees to go dancing while staring with longing at his sofa chair, because he has sat in that chair while he was single, and he had been too miserable to read any book.
Four Years Ago
Pierre gets out of bed and starts putting on his light pink button down shirt. Allison watches him get dressed wishing he didn’t have to go. She met him during John and her’s bi-monthly break up. It was a one night stand, a guilt free one night stand for she was officially a single woman at the time, and the next day she and John got back together. But she could not let go of Pierre.
He is so different from John. Every time she gets annoyed with the way John is always so serious, and the way he never laughs at anything; she picks up the phone and calls Pierre. He even dresses differently than John. She tries to imagine John wearing a pink shirt with a leather zebra print jacket, and she can’t help but laugh. “What’s so funny,” Pierre asks her. “Nothing,” she replies, smiling. “Don’t forget your socks.”
Later that day, John and her go to the movies. She has trouble concentrating, even though she had picked the movie, because she feels guilty. She wants to make her relationship with John work. They have been together for five years (if you don’t count the break ups), and when they aren’t fighting they get along very well. Pierre will only cause more problems for them. Allison decides never to call Pierre again.
They get back into the darkened apartment and John heads towards the bathroom. She gasps because on the couch she notices a a leather zebra print jacket. She thanks god that John is the bathroom, and she heads towards the couch to hide the evidence of her adultery. She stops. She thinks about how they can’t go a day without fighting, how John always complains about everything she does, and how at least once a week she wishes she was single. They love each other, and after each break up John always tells her how miserable he had been, but maybe there is a reason they always break up. If she was truly happy she wouldn’t crave Pierre’s attention. She can’t fight against John’s desire to be with her, but perhaps Pierre will kill that desire. She continues to stand staring at the jacket, and she waits for John to come out of the bathroom, and for the inevitable questions to follow.
One Year Ago
“We hired a new copywriter today, and she is hot,” his coworker tells him.
“You’re so professional,” John replies.
“I’m sorry Mr. politically correct. We hired a new copywriter whose great at her job, and has a terrific personality. Also if there are birds in the area they can rest on her perfectly shaped breasts. Better?”
“A bit,” John replies. His curiosity is piqued. He hasn’t had a serious relationship since Allison, and he is beginning to think it’s time to remedy the situation. He remembers the fiasco with Pierre, and how they tried to make it work afterward. They ended things and he moved away, but he always regretted his decision. Every woman he met did not compare to her, and he often had a strong desire to pick up the phone and give her a call. He never did though. He had pride.
His coworker interrupts his thoughts by saying, “There she is, let me introduce you.”
He points to a woman sitting at a table, and as the woman looks up, he sees Allison’s face.
“John,” she says visibly surprised.
“I see your stalking me,” he jovially replies.
“I had no idea you worked here.” She waves her left hand at him, and he notices a sparkle of color. “Don’t worry John, I won’t bother you around the office, I’m engaged.”
“You two know each other,” his coworker says.
“Oh yeah, we once were on a long and rocky roller coaster,” Allison says with a laugh.
“You want to have lunch today and reminisce about the roller coaster,” he asks her.
“Of course,” she says with a smile.
Three Months Ago
She’s late for dinner. Normally she would not care; she doesn’t need the extra calories. Today, however, she is having dinner with her fiance’s parents, and he will be angry with her being late. She realizes she left her laptop in the conference room, and she curses herself as she runs up the stairs to retrieve it. She doesn’t bother to turn on the lights in the upstairs hallway as she runs towards the conference room. She hears voices in the hallway and she stops. She about announce her presence, but something in the tone of the voices stops her. She listens, and her blood curdles at what she hears.
“You probably imagined it,” John tells her the next day during lunch. “You always had an overactive imagination.”
“I did not.”
“You really think they are planning on testing this drug on poor unsuspecting children.”
“You work with him, you can find out what it’s really about.”
“Does the president tell every police man his plans?”
“What are you talking about?” she ask annoyed. Ever since she found out she was working at the same company as John, they had lunch together every single day. Within a short span of time he became her best friend, her confidante, but it was moments like these she was glad that she never left her fiance for him. Not that John ever asked her to.
“I mean I’m at the bottom of the food chain here. I’m just a chemist. I decide how much opiate to add to a pill, not who to test the medication on. These messages go through ten people before I hear about them.”
“We have to do something,” she insists.
“Okay, I’ll try to find out some information. Just don’t anything rash.”
“I won’t,” she replies, and because she is feeling rather snide, she adds “I’ll just pretend I’m you.”
One Month Ago
Even though he knows he shouldn’t be, he is excited. Since he has rekindled his friendship with Allison, he has never met her after dark. He knows this dinner date is not romantic, but he can’t help but remember all the dinner dates they used to have many years before, and he can’t help but feel excited.
She meets him at the booth, and she is wearing a gray dress and sparkly blue earrings. “So you are certain,” she asks him. She is all business tonight. He nods. “This is horrible,” she says. “So horrible. It is so much worse than I imagined.”
“Don’t worry,” he says, even though he is also worried. “There is plenty we can do. We can make phone calls, write to organizations. We can stop this.”
“How?” she replies. “We have no proof.”
“You can get that rich fiance of yours involved.”
“Chris doesn’t care,” she sighs. “I told him, and he believes me, but he doesn’t think its matters. His morals aren’t the reason I’m with him,” she says, and then she shrugs her shoulders. “I was so unhappy with you. I wanted something different. I was young. I understand so much more now, and if I could do it all different, well…” She stops herself. He wants her to continue, but then he remembers that they are on a mission, a mission that’s more important than their failed romance.
“What will we do if we can’t stop him,” she asks.
“We’ll kill him,” he says. He meant it as a joke, but she doesn’t smile at him.
“Thank you,” she says, “for also caring about this.”
One day before
“Are you ready for tomorrow,” he asks.
“Are you,” she says.
She sits on the couch, the phone to her ear, listening to him breathe.
“We’ll be blood brothers after this,” he says with a chuckle. “I used think you would become my wife, but now you have become my conspiracy partner.”
“Can’t I be both,” she says.
“What about Chris?”
“What about him. He doesn’t understand this. He wouldn’t murder somebody for the good of mankind.”
“Well I haven’t murdered anybody yet. We can still change our minds.”
“We won’t though.” She sighs, a loud sigh she hopes he hears. She asks him the question she had wanted to ask him every day at lunch for a year.
“Why didn’t you ever try to be with me again. You used to say I was the only thing that made you happy.”
“You still are,” he replies. “I wanted to give you your space. You seemed so content. You never gave me any sign that you would want to be with me again.”
“I plan on murdering a man with you. I can’t think of a bigger sign.”
She thinks she can hear him smile on the other end of the line.
Three Hours After
“I don’t feel guilty,” he says. “I took a life, and I should be racked with guilt but I’m not.”
“That’s because you did a good deed.”
“Do you think God will agree?”
“He will. In the bible God killed people for the good of mankind, and that is that you did here.”
He looks at her. Her shoes are ridiculously red, and her reasoning is laughable. He thinks about what will occur in the next few days. He imagines the news reports, the lawyers, the police investigations. They had decided to wait a month to be together. They will still meet for lunch to avoid suspicion, but that is the only time they will talk. Things need to settle down, and she needs time to end things with her fiance. There is no rush.
“I was wrong,” she says all of a sudden. “You did change. Not once did you complain that my outfit was inappropriate for murder.”
He laughs his first laugh that night, and he replies, “It’s going to be tough to wait a month, Snow White.”
With a smile she replies, “I missed you saying that.”
The Next Day
Nobody has heard about the murder yet, and she is apprehensive. She knows there is still a lot that can go wrong, and although she acted calm the night before, she is worried about what might happen in the future. She does not want to go to jail. She inhales and exhales, and she waits for John to join her for lunch. At least she still has him. She can’t believe she had thrown him away four years, and she plans on never making that mistake again.
“Hey,” she says to him, as soon as he enters the restaurant, and she gives him a big warm smile.
“I have bad news,” he says, “I know I said I wanted to be with you, but I have changed my mind. I don’t regret what we did; we changed the world in a positive way. However, when you commit a crime with someone, at least something that would be considered a crime by most, you feel a closeness to that person. Let’s not confuse that closeness with love.”
“You’re breaking up with me,” she asks incredulously. “But you always said you…,” she stops unable to finish the sentence. “I don’t understand what brought this on, you seemed so certain you wanted to be with me last night, you called me Snow White.” She knows it’s a weak argument, but she doesn’t care. He seems so cold, and she can’t comprehend what changed. This is like those times when he would try to explain chemistry to her, and everything he said went over her head.
“It’s not healthy for us to be together. We were miserable. Being together would be a mistake. You should stay with your fiance if he makes you happy. I’m to old to start an emotional roller coaster with you again, and you would also be miserable with me. This is the best decision, trust me,” he says, and then he adds, “I put in for a transfer. Starting next month, I will be working in another state.” He kisses her on the forehead, and walks out of the restaurant. She stares at his back, wondering what had changed in less than 24 hours.
Ten Years Later
One day when he is on vacation with his family, he sees her on the other side of the parking lot. Although she has changed the color of her hair, and wrinkles had began to settle around her eyes, he recognizes her immediately. As his wife is helping their five-year old son buckle his seat belt, he calls Allison’s name.
As she hurries across the parking lot with a smile on her face, he remembers the conversation he had with her fiance six hours after they had committed murder. “I know what you did,” Chris told John while standing inside John’s apartment. “I recorded the phone conversation you had with Allison. I can tell the police about the two of you”
“You would do that to the woman you love,” he had replied.
“Could you do that to the woman you love,” Chris answered. “I’m here to make a deal with you. Let Allison go. Break up with her. If you do that not only will you have your freedom, but Allison will also not go to jail. It’s not like you really have a choice. Both of you will probably got to jail for a long time, and even if it’s only for a few years, are you willing to subject Allison to jail?”
“Why do you want to be with someone who would rather be with another man. Not to mention, she might break up with you anyway.”
“Let me worry about that. I want you to break up with Allison, and to never mention this conversation with her. If you do that, I will pretend that I know nothing about this murder. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes,” John had replied.
“John, is that you,” Allison replied when she finally made it across the parking lot. They stand there making small talk. The ten years apart had made them strangers. He introduces her to his son and wife, and she tells him that she had married Chris, but that they never had kids. They talk for about ten minutes, and she gives him an awkward goodbye handshake after he tells her that they have to get going.
“So that was your ex-girlfriend,” his wife says after Allison starts walking away. “Were you two close?”
“Very close,” he replies as he gets into their car. “Ten years ago we killed a man together.”
His wife laughs. “You are such a comic,” she says, and she also gets inside the car.