Eve Fisher

Carrie met Thomas Porter and knew at once he was the one she’d waited for. Oh, sure, his face could have been a little less long, his lips fuller, a little more hair on his chest and his head. But he was handsome enough, he would do… and he wanted her.
The first time she saw him, he looked wistful, wondering, curious – at her. So, for the first time in her life, she came on strong – for her – and placed herself so that he almost had to speak to her. And he did. They talked, pleasantly, nothing too serious, but she let slip a couple of clever things she’d heard around the office, passing them off as hers, and his eyes lighted up. He liked clever things, she noted, and ransacked her brain for more.
He didn’t ask her out. Carrie was used to that. She’d never been picked up at a party or in a bar in her life. She wasn’t the type. But this time, when the man said, “Well, it was nice talking to you. See you around,” Carrie panicked. She didn’t show it, but the next night she was back, waiting, her heart beating hard until he spoke to her again.
It took two weeks for him to ask her out. By then, she’d found out that he liked jazz, was an almost vegetarian, hoped to become partner in his law firm some day, and that he was almost as lonely as she was.
They dated for a couple of months before they became intimate. The relief Carrie felt when he finally dived on her, like a drowning man on a raft, overwhelmed any sensual feelings of her own. She had negotiated the second hurdle. Now to get through the next, and the next, until she had become a permanent part of his life.
She met his friends, who all had the same reaction on meeting her: surprise, hastily hidden. She didn’t mind. She knew by now that he was getting over a bad break up with a woman named Melissa, who’d turned his world upside down, changed his life, and then dumped him. Carrie put the look in Tom’s eyes and his friends’ reaction together and knew that Melissa must have been her exact opposite: tall, beautiful, confident, overtly sexual. In a strange way, it gave her confidence. Carrie had been up against beautiful people all her life, and she knew that while beauty had innumerable advantages, it also had limitations, among them fickleness, arrogance, and a lack of attention to details such as cooking, cleaning, and soothing sympathy. Carrie excelled at details.
They were living together by Thanksgiving. Carrie put everything she had into making Tom happy. Feeling accepted as a couple, Carrie hosted a holiday meal at their place, inviting all of Tom’s friends who were only too happy to avoid going home for a family reunion. Carrie was clever enough not to serve a traditional dinner: she served an endless buffet of hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and wine.
The evening was almost over when she heard Warren, one of Tom’s friends, say “I heard that Melissa and Maggie are back from Pittsburgh.” She saw Tom pale slightly. Panic gripped her, but she made herself smile and say, “Well, that’s nice.”
“Yes,” Tom said.
“Probably see them at Mac’s party.”
“Yes,” Tom said. “Hey, Carrie, should I open another bottle of wine?”
“Of course.”
That night Carrie lay beside Tom and made plans that ranged from getting a complete makeover to moving out to clawing Melissa’s beautiful face to ribbons. How dare she come back after ruining Tom’s life? How dare she come back and ruin Carrie’s life? What on earth was Warren thinking, letting a bomb like that drop so casually at Carrie’s party? If Warren thought he’d ever be invited back, he could just go to hell. And what if Tom… No, that couldn’t happen. She wouldn’t let it happen.
The next morning, when Tom asked if she was all right, Carrie laughed and said she’d just had too much wine the night before.
Carrie didn’t want to go to Mac’s party, and she wouldn’t have missed it for the world. She spent hours shopping for a new outfit, and spent a fortune on a spangled gypsy affair that was so not her that when she finally tried it on at home she burst into tears. She tore it off, thrust it in the back of the closet, and ended up never wearing it at all.
Mac’s party was crowded. Carrie’s head was throbbing as she looked around, trying to find out who was Melissa without asking. Finally she spotted a statuesque blonde she’d never seen before, standing by a window, talking to a small, dark woman. That was her. She could tell by the way Tom’s back tightened slightly, under her hand.
“You go mingle,” she told Tom. “I need to run to the ladies’ room.”
Tom headed off, away from the blonde. Carrie’s mouth tightened for a minute, then she relaxed. She went to the bathroom – she didn’t believe in unnecessary lies – and then she came out and drifted towards the window. Warren was there, talking to the two women.
“Warren,” Carrie called out. “Have you seen Tom?”
“Oh, he’s somewhere around. Carrie, I don’t think you’ve met Melissa and Maggie.”
“No, I haven’t,” Carrie said brightly.
“Nice to meet you,” Melissa said. She was gorgeous, with her blonde hair piled high and her black chiffon dress curling around her like smoke. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Really? I’ve heard a lot about you, too.”
Melissa smiled. “That’s nice.”
“So you just got back from Pittsburgh. What were you doing there?”
“Oh, I had a show,” Melissa said. “I’m an artist.”
She would be, Carrie thought with despair. “Really? What do you do?”
“Mostly watercolors, but a little pen and ink.” The other woman had drifted away. “You haven’t seen any of my work?”
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t.” Tom had probably ripped them all up, Carrie thought. “But I’d love to.”
“Well, Mac’s got a couple of pieces, if you’d like to see them. They’re in his bedroom. Would you…?”
“That would be wonderful.”
As the two worked their way through the crowd, Carrie caught sight of Tom, talking to Maggie. He glanced at them as they went, and she could see – could almost feel – his fear. Don’t worry, she thought. I won’t betray you. I’ll defend you. And she went into the bedroom with her rival.
Carrie spent most of an hour talking to the woman. She was everything Carrie had conjectured, and worse. Two snippets of information made Carrie thrill with apprehension. At one point, when they were looking at the watercolor of a garden, with a chair arm, and a man’s arm on it, slashed across the corner, Melissa had said, “Yes, I did that when Tom was still—” and she broke off, leaving Carrie to fill in the blank with ‘still with me’. Later, when Carrie said she had to go find Tom, Melissa had said, “He’s a such a sweet guy. It’s a real shame…” And her eyes had been wet.
The bitch, Carrie thought all the way home. She’s come back to get him back. To get him away from me. And then she’ll just dump him all over again. It’ll ruin his life. And mine. And…
It was obvious that Tom had been rattled by seeing Melissa again. And, even though he’d been good and hadn’t spent any time talking to her – partially thanks to Carrie’s running interference – Carrie knew in her bones that sooner or later something was going to happen. He was nervous, he was jumpy, he kept glancing at the telephone.
Carrie found out that while Melissa and Maggie were roommates, Maggie was engaged to be married, to some guy she’d met in Pittsburgh, and was planning on moving back there within the month. This would leave Melissa at loose ends, probably broke – what artist ever made enough to pay the rent? – and Tom, with his good job, his good looks, his good heart, his good broken heart, was an obvious target.
Something was going to happen. Melissa, of course, would be the aggressor.
Over the next couple of weeks, Carrie kept an eye out at every social event for the dynamic duo, as she tagged them in her mind. They weren’t always there, but neither ever showed up without the other. Best friends, she’d been told. She thought it looked… well, Tom would have known, so that wasn’t true. Carrie always made a point of speaking to them. She also made a point of never using Melissa’s name, a tiny superstition that made her feel in control. Nobody seemed to notice. Melissa always chatted brightly, but Maggie was elusive, going off for a drink or simply standing still, quiet, plain, uninterested, uninteresting. Carrie pitied her future husband: he’d be bored to death in no time.
One night they came home from work and found a parcel on the doorstep. Tom opened it and found a watercolor of purple irises, signed with that slashing “M.” Tom was obviously embarrassed. “Isn’t that sweet of her?” he asked twice.
“Very,” Carrie said.
Tom looked at her nervously. “It could go in the kitchen. By the window. Couldn’t it?”
“Of course.”
Carrie watched as he hung the picture. It was lovely. It was Tom’s favorite flower. It was a message. It was obvious.
The next day, Carrie went over to Melissa’s. She’d gotten the address from the phone book. Her heart thumping, her mouth dry, her palms sweaty, she rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. She tried the door. It was unlocked. She went in, and saw boxes everywhere. Of course. Maggie was moving out. Melissa was getting the nest ready for Tom. She walked through the living room, past the kitchen door, into the hallway. She could hear water running in the bathroom. Someone was taking a shower. She hoped it was Melissa, not Maggie. She crept down the hall and put her hand in her coat pocket, on the gun she’d bought at the pawnbroker’s earlier. She opened the door. The person in the shower cried out, “What the-! Who’s there?” A hand reached out from behind the shower curtain, dragged it back, revealing Melissa’s magnificent blonde body. Carrie, choking with envy, jealousy, and rage, pulled out the gun and fired.
Carrie looked down at herself. Not a drop of blood had spattered on her. She stepped back, out of the bathroom. She ran, screaming, out of the apartment complex, down the parking lot, stopped in front of a Dempsey dumpster, and dropped the gun unobtrusively among the garbage, then her gloves, as she dry-heaved into it. She surprised herself by actually throwing up. Then she ran, screaming, around the parking lot until someone finally came out to see what was wrong.
The police came. Tom came. He held her as she said, “I came to thank her… she’d given us a wedding present…. Or, or, just a present, I don’t know, a watercolor. Of purple irises. So I came to say…. And then I found her…”
An officer came in from the kitchen, saying, “Her roommate’s on her way. Haven’t been able to get in touch with her fiancé yet. Any ideas?”
Carrie looked at the officer, her mouth half open. Tom shook his head. He was crying. “They were getting married next week,” he managed to say.
Carrie pulled herself out of Tom’s arms and sat down on the couch. Tom sank beside her. People were coming and going in the house, occasionally kicking one of the boxes, people were talking, occasionally at her, but Carrie didn’t hear any of them. She was waiting. After what seemed like hours, the small, dark, plain woman came running in the door and gasped,
“I’m Melissa Ordway. What happened to Maggie?”