A Covid19 story
|TEN WAYS TO KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND
Even in my dreams, I sense the walls closing in. Feel them condensing the darkness until my breath catches and I open my eyes in dread. I blink into the alarm clock’s glow before sliding my hand across the sheets and falling back on my pillow. It’s 3:20 and Gavin’s not in bed. Again. With a yawn, I kick away the covers and follow the TV’s glow down the hallway and into the living room.
Our flat-screen sits atop a waist-high set of bookshelves on the wall opposite me. Our couch, just a step to my left, is where I expect to find Gavin stretched out and snoring. Instead, he’s wearing a pair of earbuds and watching a movie on his laptop. A 3-ring-binder sits beside it on the coffee table, and as I watch, he pauses the movie, grabs his pen, and scribbles furiously in its pages.
He pauses in his writing and flips back several pages before scribbling something in the margins. When I peer over his shoulder, I can just make out the words at the top:
10 WAYS TO KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND.
I take another peek before slipping back to bed where I stare at the ceiling wondering what it means. I wake to sunlight through the blinds and the muffled sound of a radio in the kitchen. When I step out, I find Gaven at the stove with a spatula in his hand.
“Hey, sleepyhead.” He prances over and kisses my cheek.
“Do eggs and bacon sound good?”
I notice the gleam on the counters and the cramped kitchen’s order. He cleaned all night.
“Eggs are fine,” I say.
Gavin opens the fridge. “You want milk with your coffee?”
The sliding door’s been thrown open, letting in the chilly LA morning. I take my coffee and lean on the balcony railing. Seven stories below, Virginia Avenue Park lays silent, green, and empty.
He sets the eggs on the table and returns an instant later with a stack of toast and jelly.
“You’re in a good mood,” I say. “You finally get some sleep?” I wonder what he’ll say.
He looks up, a jelly-knife in his hand. “Sleep?” He shakes his head. “Not a wink.” He takes an irritating slurp of coffee then looks to me and raises a brow. “You remember the project I mentioned when all this Covid lockdown started?”
I think back to the first days of the ‘Safer at Home’ order and Gavin’s layoff three days later. The nights of crying followed by weeks of self-pity, arguments, and sleep. After that came his manic rush to find purpose. He’d talked up so many plans I couldn’t keep track.
I grab a piece of bacon and nod. “Sure, who could forget?” I look up from my eggs. “What was it again?”
His lips twist into an almost smile. “Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.”
For the first time in days, I shower. What’s the need, right? I don’t see anyone except Gavin, don’t talk to anyone, except Gavin, don’t hear anyone, except Gavin. Everything we need arrives at our doorstep courtesy Ubereats and Amazon.
I step into the guest room, my office now that I’m working from home, and eye the network cable tethering me to this prison and wish for someplace else.
Emails take up the morning before I turn my mind to the database changes needed by week's end. I stare at the screen but only see Gavin's notebook and those six fateful words: Ten Ways to Kill Your Boyfriend.
From the window, I watch a speedboat cross the blue waters of Santa Monica Bay, and rub at the headache forming behind my eyes. I need to approach this logically.
Things have been rough between us, especially the last couple of months, but surely he doesn’t want me dead. 10 Ways To Kill Your Boyfriend… There could be a million explanations.
Okay, Gavin worked for 3-Dot Studios. Maybe he’s working on a manuscript. Except Gavin’s a costume designer and not a writer. An article for a blog? He’s talked about a murder mystery website; he loves Agatha Christie and Dennis Lehane. But that was years ago. Plus, if Gavin were doing a blog, he’d be researching murders in general, not specifically how to kill your boyfriend. I open the window and let the breeze ruffle my hair.
Maybe a different approach. Murder requires motivation. I pull up a browser and type in: ‘Motivation for murder’. At the top, an article catches my eye: Love, Lust, Loathing, or Loot the Inspiration of a Killer.
I lean back and kick my feet onto the desk. Love. I’m not in love with anyone else. But am I in love with Gavin? I used to love him. I still care for him even though there’ve been days I’ve wanted nothing more than to punch him right in the middle of his big, fat, face. I shake my head. Wrong tack. It’s Gavin’s motivation to consider not mine.
So, does he love me? He tells me every day, but does he mean it? I suddenly realize how distant we’ve grown and the longer this shutdown lasts, the more the seams of our relationship come undone. I look out the window and sigh. Maybe he saw the path of our relationship more clearly than I did. But a breakup’s no reason for murder.
Okay, lust. Is he having an affair? It’s well past lunch and I’ve been shuttered in this prison since nine. I step out only to discover Gavin’s not there.
He’s not on the porch, or in the bedroom, or kitchen. Then I spot a sticky note on the door:
Going stir crazy & didn’t want to disturb you.
Am biking to Bob’s for fruit.
Text if u need anything.
- X0X0 -
I wad up his note and it hits me; Gavin rarely goes out. Over the past two months, I consider how many times I’ve taken a break only to discover he was gone. What is it? Three times? Maybe four? Each time he tells me he’s been down in the park stretching his legs. I’d never considered the possibility he’d been lying.
I step onto the balcony and lean onto the rails. In the park below, a couple plays frisbee while a woman strolls with her Corgi along the sidewalk. Then I spot Gavin on Pico Avenue headed towards the bay. He's wearing a gray mask, his Pickacu bike helmet, and there's no mistaking his neon-blue mountain-bike.
Just in case, I scribble a note of my own, telling Gavin I have errands and leave it on the counter. By the time I haul my bike downstairs and peddle onto Pico, he’s gone. But if he’s going to Bob’s Market, he’ll be turning on 20th, only four blocks away. I ride hard, weave into traffic, and run a red-light before almost getting t-boned by a moped. I break free onto Pico and race for 20th. He’s not there.
Maybe 16th? There's too much traffic to tell, but when I get there… no Gavin. Then I spot Pikachu’s bright yellow ears as Gavin crests the ridge on Pico only a few blocks away. That liar’s not going to Bob's, he's headed for the bay.
When I reach the boardwalk minutes later, I drop onto my handlebars, panting. The breeze blows chill across my sweat streaked brow and carries the aroma of perfume, cocoa-nut oil, sweat, and hot sand. Despite the rules on social distancing, the sidewalks are packed, and as I search the sea of faces, I realize Gavin’s gone.
A check along the boardwalk leaves me little hope, and I end up at Muscle Beach hot, disappointed, and tired. I watch the crowd a moment, then buy myself a water and head back to Pico. Then I see it. Gavin’s bike parked in the rack outside ‘The Sidewalk Café’.
I lock up my bike and stroll to where a wall separates the sidewalk from the bustling café within. With my bike helmet, mask, and sunglasses, there’s no chance I’ll be IDed. But he’s not there. Then the man at the table in front of me removes his glasses and my breath catches. It’s Gavin. In his sunglasses and mask, I’d not recognized him.
I turn away and lean against the wall. He’s barely six feet away. I steal another glance. He sits across from a man dressed in a ballcap, shades, mask, and a pink polo. At least I think it’s a man. He’s got Gavin’s mousy brown hair and is about the same height though slimmer. Based on the picked-over tray of nachos and half-empty wineglass in front of him, I assume he’s been waiting.
When I’d first noticed him, the man was stuffing papers inside a leather satchel. He set it on the floor and took Gavin’s hand.
At the sight, an icy chill lanced my heart.
“Wine?” The man asks. His voice is soft, with a hint of something foreign.
“No, just water,” Gavin says. “I told Paul I was going for groceries, so I’ve got a lot of peddling to do.”
The man nods and sips his wine. “Does Paul suspect?”
Gavin laughs. “Not a thing.” He takes the stranger’s hands in his. “And I can’t wait to see his face.” Gavin’s forearms tense as he squeezes the man’s hand. “I’ll bet his eyes pop right outta his head.”
They laugh, the bastards.
“And what about getting my check?” Gavin asks. “How long will that take?”
The guy rocks back and lifts his drink. “These things can take time, especially if there are questions, but once everything’s signed…a couple weeks, maybe three.”
I considered what check Gavin might be talking about. Then I remember the life insurance policy from work. $35,000 on each of us. Is that my life’s worth? A measly 35k?
The world goes a bit hazy and sweat pinpricks my face as I plod across the beach towards the sea. The sand feels wobbly beneath my feet and I sit down hard staring at the waves.
When Gavin leaves, I follow. I shadow him up Pico to Bob’s Market. I’m empty inside, a shell. The man I loved wants me dead. I don’t even think money’s the catalyst, only a bonus. He’s found someone else and wants me out of the way.
At Bob’s, he spends time in the spice aisle, buys a bottle of tequila, then stops at the fish counter. Gavin doesn’t like seafood and I’m allergic to shellfish. I move closer. Is this how he’s going to do it?
I keep a cardboard endcap between us as he questions the butcher. When he steps away, I take his place.
“Could I get a pound of the same thing that guy got?” I nod to Gavin as he retreats down the aisle.
“One pound of extra-large shrimp?”
“Comin’ right up.”
That’s it then, shrimp. One bite would send me to the ER; three would kill.
I set down my basket and walk out the doors. I don’t even care I left the bike.
Gavin really wants me dead. How long has this been going on? How long’s he been planning?
My head pounds and I can’t get the image of their intertwined hands out of my head. I plod along the tree-lined sidewalks of Ashland, past the back and forth patter of tennis players at Clover Park, until I find myself staring up at our apartment. The wind moves the curtains on our balcony window and I imagine him up there mixing my poison.
If that’s how he wants it, then fine. I stomp across the park and up the stairs. How long will it take to pack? Five minutes? Ten? I inventory what I’ll need and decide on sending our friend Caitlin over for the rest of my crap in a couple of days. The furniture and everything else, he can have.
I fling open the front door and step inside. From the kitchen, comes the clatter of a blender crushing ice. It stops and Gavin sticks out his head.
“It’s about time, I was getting worried. What with your cryptic note and all.” He holds up a salted margarita glass with a lime on the lip. “I’m on my third, so you’d better catch up.”
My eyes narrow and I turn for the hall. Well, at least he broke out the good stemware to kill me with.
I pull out the top two dresser drawers and dump them onto the bed. I figure I'll wrap everything in a sheet and go. I don't think I can stand seeing his face. I knot up the corners and drape it over my shoulder. When I get to the front door, he’s standing on the balcony looking at the park. He's got a margarita in his hand.
After eight years together, what do I say? Goodbye? Thanks for not killing me? Fuck you? And why am I the one leaving? Because I’m expendable. An inconvenience to be brushed aside for his happiness. I think back to the café and my face grows hot.
And they laughed.
Laughed at the thought of me choking on the floor.
Laughed at my humiliation.
Laughed at me.
Laughed … at me.
In two thundering heartbeats, I’m behind him. My arms wrap his thighs and I feel him tense as I hoist him up and tip him over the edge. He doesn’t even make a sound on the seven-story drop to the concrete path below. The last I see of Gavin is one Birkenstock suspended in the air, and the glint of sunlight off the margarita glass’s stem.
I turn and step inside. My mouth drops open. Gavin's there. He stands with his arms extended as if waiting for a hug. In one hand a frosted margarita is tweezed in his fingers; in the other, a bowl of shrimp cocktail.
“There you are,” Gavin says. “We’ve been waiting.”
He hands me the drink. The ice is slick between my fingers and the glass.
My eyes narrow. “Shrimp?”
“I know, I know.” Gavin sets the bowl on the table. “You’re allergic, so don’t eat any.” He smiles. “But it’s Derek’s favorite and besides…we're celebrating.”
Gavin’s eyes brighten. “Derek from James and Derek? We met at the Venice Christmas Run last year.”
I shake my head.
“Derek’s my agent.” He grabs my hand and sloshes an icy stream across my wrist. “Netflix just bought the rights to my screenplay. It’s a rom-com called ‘Ten Ways to Kill Your Boyfriend.’” His voice rises in pitch with each excited word. “They’re talking about expanding it into a five-part mini-series and casting Ryan Reynolds in the starring role. Can you believe it?”
“Gavin.” His eyes mist and he squeezes my hand. “This changes everything.”
Then his brows bunch as he looks around the room.
“Where is Derek anyway? He was just right here."