The story of Jennifer's death is narrated by 2 different people - Oliver and Shirley.
I woke up on a hospital bed with a doctor to my left and a couple of people with familiar faces to my right. My vision was hazy. My eyes were wet, and my lips were dry. One of the familiar faces belonged to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Kenna, who had my hand in hers - She was evidently back from boarding school to visit me. Kenna was tearing up, which explained the wetness of my own eyes.
In a few seconds, I was also able to identify the other familiar face which was looking at me with a sorrowful smile, if that was even possible. Her expression made her look disgustingly empathetic. It was Shirley. "How are you feeling, Olly?", she asked. Her voice was shaky. I opened my mouth to speak but I did not manage to say anything coherent. My throat was still too dry, and my mind was still too confused. I was getting the feeling that Shirley and Kenna were expecting an outburst of emotions and not an actual response from me.
I finally looked up at the doctor, who seemed to be busy scanning through some reports with meticulous detail until he noticed me gazing at him. I shut my eyes again hoping this was a bad dream. The doctor didn't take his eyes off the reports when he finally began talking. "I hope you're feeling slightly better, Oliver. You fainted instantly when you learned about the horrific accident that took place when your wife Jennifer was driving yesterday afternoon. I am extremely sorry for your loss," he said.
Shirley and Kenna noticed my widower face lose color as I digested that information. Shirley held my other hand with pity still scribbled all over her face. "I think Oliver should be left alone for a while. He needs the rest", said the doctor as I watched Kenna and Shirley leave the room behind him. I noticed that there was something unusual about Shirley's expression right before they left - I was not able to tell whether it was a look of guilt or triumph. Maybe it was a combination.
Maybe it was never an accident.
The first time I met Shirley will always be embedded in my memory. We met at a group therapy session - It was more of a grief sharing session even though it was called group therapy. The reason I went there was because I was having problems with Jennifer at home - We hadn't spoken like mature adults or had a single meaningful conversation for over four months. "The idea of therapy is demeaning and ridiculous, I am not even considering it", was Jen's response when I brought it up, so I decided to give it a shot by myself. Fortunately for me, speaking about mental health was finally in fashion.
There would be around fifteen of us at each of the sessions, who would meet thrice a week in a dilapidated garage. We would sit in a circle and take turns sharing our tragic experiences. Shirley was the facilitator of these sessions. Sharing was not mandatory, which was good news for me considering my diffident personality. As a result, my first day went in listening - especially to Shirley.
Her skin was like cream and roses and her eyes were as blue as the waters of a Norwegian fiord. The curves of her slender frame were complemented by the cut and drape of the dress she had put on. She passionately spoke about her late husband who died in a car accident almost two years ago. I was blinded by her beauty, and by the attention I received from her when she initiated private conversations with me in the following few days in order to make me open up to her. Maybe I just forgot how it felt to be looked at, to be heard.
"Dinner tonight? Please? I insist", she asked me for the third time in my first four weeks. There was an indefatigable energy and enthusiasm that I saw in her which complemented my personality. I wanted to see where this took me. I didn't mind seeing her in the absence of the glittering sea of hopeful faces that were present at the sessions, but I was afraid of what this dinner would lead to.
Just as I had imagined, one dinner led to many more and before I knew it, Shirley and I were together. I didn't know if it was the issues that I was facing with Jen or the comfort level I had with Shirley, but whatever I had with Shirley felt right. I felt like she was the missing piece of the incomplete puzzle that was my life. "I want you to meet Kenna. Come home", I said to her a month into our relationship.
I began to call Shirley home for dinner along with her other friends whom I was now acquainted with through the sessions. Shirley bonded really well with Kenna at home which was very important for me in case I decided to call it off with Jen. Jen was so pre-occupied in ignoring me that she never even noticed Kenna getting along with Shirley. Jen was most definitely not privy to the ongoing adultery, or maybe she genuinely couldn't care less.
Three months into the relationship with Shirley, I realized that were no point in lying to Jen or to myself about the marriage. I needed to end it. "Do you mean end the marriage or end her?", asked Shirley, when I finally brought it up with her. I looked aghast. She reminded me of the agreement that I had with Jen. I would lose half my net worth and I would also need to share child custody which I was not ready to do. I decided that I could not just end the marriage, I needed to end Jennifer.
"I always want you and Kenna by my side, forever", I said to her as I realized that she was right in bringing up my agreement. It took Shirley only a day or two before she gave me a list of people that she knew from her sessions who were ex-convicts still exploring the field. Apparently, there were experts who could kill people on the road and make it look like an accident. I was sold pretty quickly.
D-day minus one: It was Sunday and the last time Kenna would be with her mother. She was going back to school after summer to start her fall semester. Since the two of them did connect well on an emotional level, I did feel for my daughter realizing she wouldn't deal with Jen's death very well. "Both of you never visit me in school, literally all the parents keep visiting their children", she complained. "We will come over next weekend, I promise", responded Jen. I let out a smirk.
That is the last memory I had before I woke up on the hospital bed. I tried hard to remember how the plan was carried out, but I couldn't. There had to be a reason why I felt so uncomfortable looking at Shirley's expression. Three weeks after being discharged, Kenna and Shirley finally convinced me to visit Jen at the graveyard. "I am not mentally prepared to do this, but I don't know if I ever will be. Let's get this done with", I said to them as I set off.
"Traumatic experiences often result in the deletion of certain memories from the brain of an individual, especially at the time of the event including the moments and days that led to the event. There is a false reality that is created to protect the person from what actually happened", said the doctor as we stood outside Oliver's hospital room.
I was afraid that this happened when I saw the confused look on Oliver's face when he received the information regarding Jen's death for the second time in twenty-four hours. "This might help him recover sooner" said the doctor, "if he keeps forgetting what happened". I started to ponder about the extent of his memory loss though, especially after I noticed him glaring at me suspiciously as I left the hospital room.
A few of my closest friends always told me that I had an inherent flaw of seeking people to treat. "You are constantly looking for people who are broken, whether they want to be attended to or not", they said. I disagreed with them when I heard such accusations even though my late husband, Tyrone, and my current partner, Oliver, did fall in that category. I lived in denial hoping that was untrue.
Everything was going great with Tyrone until it wasn't. "Yes, I am accusing you of never putting your therapist hat down and I will complain to everyone about your constant need to cure someone. You are the one who needs treatment, Shirley". It was funny how the reason he fell for me was what he now despised about me the most. All I was doing was being a caring wife until one day, he met with a car accident. I would have been struggling to make ends meet but the only positive that came out of his death was that I received fifty percent of his net worth.
Two years after the death of Tyrone, I finally met someone as mentally unstable as him - Oliver. Initially, he would dispassionately gaze at whoever was speaking at my session, but I saw the sparkle in his eyes every time he turned to look at me. I realized very quickly that this man would require private attention to truly open his heart and share his feelings with me.
My therapy instincts were tickled from the moment I first heard him speak. Oliver had a tragic childhood - He had to watch his father beat his mother every day until it led to the death of his mother. His father was then arrested, and Oliver was basically an orphan since he was ten. He was a self-made man who was greatly assiduous and ambitious, but the psychological problems at the back of his mind naturally stuck around.
The reason Oliver was attending my sessions, however, was something else which I found out only in his second week. He was having trouble with his wife, Jennifer. "At this point, we see no value in our marriage anymore, but we continue to stick together only for the sake of our daughter, Kenna", he said. I loved that he even had a daughter. I was continuously reminded of Tyrone's impotence and how I can finally have my own child in the future if Oliver became mine.
A therapist always loves challenges and the toughest challenges are always about cracking people like Oliver wide open and winning over their trust. He was just like Tyrone in the initial stages of our relationship and he loved being taken care of. Oliver never spoke much in groups or tried to be the center of attraction. The fact that he only spoke openly when he was alone with me magnified his taciturn nature.
I even connected very well with Kenna when I visited him for dinner. She was a kind-hearted teenager with a genial personality and did not have any of the quintessential teen shenanigans. My maternal instincts would come flowing out whenever I conversed with her. Being the most amazing daughter in the world, Kenna shared an incredible bond with both of her parents.
My only hope was that Oliver would not eventually abhor me the way Tyrone did for just being myself. My tensions faded away when he walked up to me one day with great alacrity in his eyes and said something that I least anticipated. "I need to end everything with Jennifer", he said. I confirmed with him to make sure that he was talking about the end of the marriage and not her life, but I was wrong. I brought up the agreement between the couple in case they get divorced, but I did not expect Oliver's reaction.
I was very apprehensive when I first heard what he was suggesting. Initially, I took a moral tone with him and suggested alternatives, but in vain. He kept reminding me how fifty percent of net worth can impact someone to a great extent considering my fortune with Tyrone. Eventually, I realized that this was my only actual chance of starting a new life with Kenna and Oliver. As wrong as it sounded, it was still music to my ears primarily because I realized that he saw a future with me.
"I know a few people from my past sessions who can get the job done and make it look like an accident. Their group members have been arrested but their success rate is very high, and they are our best bet. They also don't reveal the perpetrators if they do get caught - so we either see them succeed or we see them go to jail", I said after I finally caved in. Olly was sold.
D-day had arrived. Oliver and I had done all the planning and it was time to execute our evil scheme. I was at home with Oliver waiting to hear back from our culprits. "Are you ready, Olly?", I asked him. "I'm not, but what's important is everything that lies ahead", he responded. All of a sudden, he got an urge. "I need to listen to her voice one last time, Shirley. I'm going to call her."
I didn't realize he was this sadistic. Or was he having seconds thoughts? Either way, I knew it was a bad idea. "Please don't do that, Olly. It can really scar you. I am begging you, please stop!". It was too late. It was T minus two minutes before the accident was going to take place and Jennifer was driving on the highway as expected when she received his call on the speaker.
"What?", said Jennifer as she answered. "Nothing, I just wanted to hear your voice", said Oliver, most uncharacteristically. "Shut up", we heard from Jennifer. "Excuse me?", responded Oliver. "I wasn't talking to you", replied Jennifer.
Our hearts skipped more than just a beat after what we heard next. "Mum, you were not supposed to reveal this! I wanted to surprise him", shouted Kenna from the back of the car. "Too late", responded Jennifer. "Please listen to me carefully", shouted Oliver immediately, but it was a feeble attempt as Jen cut him: "Oliver, you listen to me. I am getting your daughter home for the week. Her school postponed the start date to next week...." were the last words we heard before the inevitable happened.
Three weeks after being discharged from the hospital, I finally convinced Oliver to visit the graveyard. I didn't know if there would ever be a right time to make him face the truth, but there we were. As his eye caught the tombstone of his wife, he knelt when he saw the other tombstone to the right of Jennifer's. He turned around to finally realize that there was no one next to me.