Coming Clean: Domestic Suspense Short Fiction By Ivanka Fear
Ivanka Fear, author of Coming Clean, has previously published poems and short stories in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Sirens Call, and The Literary Hatchet among others. She resides in midwestern Ontario, Canada, with her family and cats.
He forgot again. Nikki didn’t really expect him to do otherwise. It wasn’t as though he ever remembered. Birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day usually passed without much fanfare. At least, that’s the way it had seemed to be for the last several years of their marriage. They had both dressed, grabbed a coffee, and left separately for work that morning without a word about the significance of the day.
Blake and Nikki had been together for 26 years, married for 25. Blake had been attentive to her for the first decade or so, but lately Nikki felt neglected.
At lunchtime, Blake called her to check in. He often rang or texted her to see what she was doing. Nikki thought he did it to keep tabs on her. She supposed he was justified in his distrust, although she was sure he didn’t suspect anything.
“Hi, how’s your day going?” he asked her.
“Okay, how about you?” Nikki answered.
“So what do you want to do for dinner tonight?” Nikki asked her husband on the 25th anniversary of their wedding. “Anything special you want to eat?”
They were accustomed to eating alone. Nikki hated cooking for just two, but Blake had expressed his disinterest in children early on in the marriage, much to Nikki’s disappointment.
When she got home from work, Nikki changed and quickly got herself ready. She knew Blake didn’t appreciate being kept waiting.
“Whatever you want,” Blake responded.
“How about lasagne?”
“No, I’m not feeling like lasagne,” Blake answered. “Too greasy, no offence.”
Blake used to love her lasagne.
“Risotto, then?” Nikki suggested.
She knew he didn’t care for it, but she liked risotto. Actually, when she thought about it, there was very little they had in common. Why they got married in the first place, she didn’t know. She certainly had plenty of other boyfriends before him. And she certainly had plenty since…
“Why don’t we go out for dinner instead?” Blake asked, interrupting her thoughts. “Oh, okay,” said Nikki, surprised.
When she got home from work, Nikki changed and quickly got herself ready. She knew Blake didn’t appreciate being kept waiting. They rarely went out together, as Blake was somewhat of a homebody. On those rare occasions when they did go out to eat or see a movie, Blake expected her to be ready within an hour. It annoyed Nikki, but she decided if he didn’t care how she looked, why bother?
They made small talk during the drive to what she expected would be one of their usual spots. As Blake pulled into the parking lot of an upscale restaurant, Nikki gave him a questioning look.
“Well, it is a rather special day, after all. I didn’t tell you I’d booked it because I wanted it to be a surprise,” Blake explained with a grin.
“I didn’t think you remembered,” Nikki said.
“Of course, how could I forget the best day of my life?” he replied.
As they were seated at their table, Nikki gasped slightly when she noticed Ben and his wife at a table close by. She caught his eye, then they both pretended not to know each other.
“Something wrong?” Blake inquired.
“No, no, just excited to be here,” Nikki told him nervously.
What were the chances of accidentally running into your current lover in a restaurant in a city filled with eating establishments, especially on your 25th wedding anniversary? Nikki knew that Blake was unaware of her dalliances. He certainly didn’t know Ben. Nikki had met him a couple of months ago at an out of town conference. They both worked in insurance. Blake taught Science at the local high school. She didn’t see how Blake and Ben could possibly have crossed paths.
“I think some champagne might be in order tonight, and I’ve been looking forward to a steak dinner. What about you?” Blake asked.
“Hmm? Sorry, what did you say?” Nikki responded, distracted by thoughts of Ben sitting so close by.
“Have you decided what you’d like to eat?”
“The salad greens, for starters, and the salmon,” Nikki said after perusing the menu briefly.
As they enjoyed their wine and food, Blake and Nikki talked about work for a while, then ate in silence. Nikki stole a glance or two at Ben, who seemed immersed in conversation with his wife.
“I’ve been thinking,” Blake said out of the blue, “Maybe we should go away this weekend. We’ve been working too hard lately. This might be just the right time for a romantic getaway. What do you think?”
“Really? That would be great,” Nikki agreed.
Blake didn’t enjoy travelling anywhere. He said he was most comfortable at home in his own surroundings. Nikki would have loved to see more of the world, but Blake didn’t like being left alone. Even a weekend trip was a big deal for him.
“Where will we go?” she asked.
“Leave it to me. I’ll make the plans. You just need to relax and enjoy yourself,” Blake told his wife.
Three nights later, they packed their bags into their black Jeep and headed out on the road, with the radio tuned in to the country station. Nikki preferred pop music, but Blake didn’t seem to notice her dislike for country. It was just another thing she put up with, being Blake’s wife.
“Are you going to give me a clue about where we’re going?” Nikki asked for not the first time in the last couple of days. She had been told to pack a swimsuit, along with whatever clothing, accessories, and toiletries she thought she would need for the early summer weekend getaway.
“You’ll see, it’s a surprise. I know you’ll love it,” was all Blake would say.
As they travelled north along the busy highway on this Friday evening, Nikki felt a sense of unease. She didn’t dare say anything, though. Blake seemed carefree enough, singing along to some of the songs he knew well. Nikki closed her eyes and tried to relax.
When they approached the 5 star spa hotel, Nikki spoke up in alarm, “I don’t understand. What is this?”
“Surprise! You told me how much you loved this place, so I thought it would be perfect to come back together and enjoy all the amenities,” Blake explained, with a big grin on his face.
As Nikki looked at the hotel where she had met Ben and started their affair, she felt sick. Somehow, he had found out. Her only recourse was to play dumb.
“Oh yes, what a great idea. Thank you,” she said.
When they entered their luxurious suite, Nikki was grateful it wasn’t the same room she and Ben had shared. Maybe it was all just a coincidence meeting Ben at the restaurant. Maybe Blake really thought it would be a lovely getaway weekend for them in this hotel she raved about. Maybe he knew nothing about her relationships with other men.
“It’s beautiful, Blake,” she said graciously.
“Nothing but the best for my beautiful, loving wife,” he answered. “I know I don’t say it in so many words, but I do love you.”
“I know,” Nikki said. “I think we’ve been going through a rough patch lately, though. Maybe this weekend is just what we need to reconnect.”
After a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, Nikki and Blake went for an evening stroll through the beautiful gardens on the grounds. They walked hand in hand and gazed at the stars. Nikki tried to put thoughts of Ben out of her head.
Blake led her to a bench and they sat down to enjoy the sounds of the evening.
“You’ve been a bit jumpy the last few days,” Blake noticed. “I booked a stone massage for the both of us tomorrow. That should help you relax.”
They spent a nice, romantic night in their suite, drinking wine in front of the fire after using the whirlpool tub for two. It was just like another honeymoon.
“Here’s to another 25 years,” Nikki said as she raised her glass.
“Yes, to another 25 years,” Blake said in return. “I don’t know what I’d ever do without you. You won’t ever leave me, will you? I couldn’t bear it if you left.
“Why would you even ask me that?” Nikki countered. “Of course, I wouldn’t. You won’t leave me, will you?”
Blake laughed and hugged her close to him.
“Not a chance,” he promised.
The rest of the weekend passed pleasantly. Nikki enjoyed the massage and actually felt herself relaxing. They enjoyed drinks by the pool. There was a moment when Nikki tensed up again as the waiter mentioned how nice it was to see her back again. Nikki cut him short.
“Everything okay?” Blake asked her. “Is there something going on I should know about?”
“No, no everything’s fine. I’m just surprised the waiter remembers me from last time. I only had one drink at the bar during the conference, just a nightcap, that’s all,” she explained.
“Hmm, I guess you just have a very memorable face.”
A week and a half later, Blake, dressed in his best suit, greeted friends and relatives as they came to Nikki’s farewell celebration. He couldn’t believe she was actually leaving him, and for good.
Ben came, alone. He shook Blake’s hand and said how sorry he was how things turned out. The nerve of the man, showing up and acting as though he had nothing to do with it. Sure, there had been plenty of men before him, but Blake had always turned a blind eye because he knew that ultimately Nikki was his and his alone.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I thought you two would be together forever,” Blake’s sister said.
“So did I,” Blake said sadly. “I told her just last week I couldn’t bear it if she ever left me. I guess you just never know what can happen.”
“But like this, so suddenly, and under such bizarre circumstances? It’s not something you’d expect,” replied Ann.
“No, you’d never suspect something like this could happen,” agreed Blake as he looked at his beautiful wife of 25 years. “I guess we weren’t meant to have another 25 years.”
A couple of days after their romantic getaway weekend, Blake asked Nikki if this weekend had been better than her last stay at the hotel.
“Um, yes, of course. It wasn’t much fun being there alone,” she told him.
“Alone?” he asked to be sure.
“Well, yes, except for the other people at the conference. Those things are always boring, you know that,” she said.
“Yes, I know,” Blake admitted. “Why don’t you go have a nice long shower massage? You still seem a bit wound up about something. I’ll get the fire going and pop some popcorn and pick out a movie. We’ll have a nice night in, just the two of us,”
As Nikki stepped into the tub enclosure, she thought about Ben. They would have to be more discreet in the future. This had been a close call. Blake would kill her if he ever found out.
The water pulsating on her skin helped to soothe her frayed nerves. She grabbed for the bar of soap in the soap dish on the upper shelf.
“What the…?” she exclaimed as a mass of soft, slimy melted soap slid through her fingers onto the slippery surface of the tub.
As she bent over to try to pick up what was left of the bar, she thought about how inconsiderate Blake was to leave this mushy mass of soap in the dish. He could have replaced it with a fresh bar. Lifting her head back up, Nikki banged it against the shower door handle. Disoriented, she slipped on the slick surface of the tub, now smeared with soap sludge. Going down, she slammed her head onto the edge of the tub. The water kept pulsing out of the shower head, mixing with her blood.
Blake had everything ready for a nice night home with his loving wife. He thought she had been in the shower quite a while, but she deserved it. Even if it meant running up the hot water bill, she needed to chill out.
By the time he eventually checked up on her, she was gone. So were any traces of soap.
Now, there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. Blake turned his back to his wife, a single tear making its way down his cheek, and left her as they lowered the casket into the cold, dark ground.
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