She laughed at his jokes a little too loudly. She laughed at them a little too much. It was sickening.
I poured her another glass of wine.
“Aren’t you having any, Robert?” Danny asked.
“No, thanks. Ulcers.”
Janice reached over and stroked my cheek. “Are you all right, baby?”
I pulled away, literally revolted by her touch. I felt like someone had just slapped me on the face with a dead fish. “Doctor says I’ll be fine.”
“Ulcers? That sucks, man,” Danny said. He sipped his wine and sighed. “Got to hand it to you. This is good stuff.”
I smiled. “I’m glad you like it, Danny.”
Danny Gleason, the writer. When I first met him six years ago, he was peddling his short stories to the small presses. His second book Noose was receiving great reviews. No doubt, sales would surpass those of his first novel. Critics were already calling him the next Stephen King.
He was good-looking and in his mid-thirties. He worked out regularly and had the facial features of a young Harrison Ford. It wasn’t uncommon for Danny to sleep with one of his “avid fans” after a book signing. Women were always throwing themselves at him. We used to joke about it. It was funny.
Before he began sleeping with Janice.
I should have seen it coming. Janice was an attractive woman, and years of working behind a desk as an editor hadn’t exactly done wonders for my physique.
I had my suspicions, of course. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to them. There were nights when Janice came home late. When I asked her where she’d been, she’d say she’d been shopping with her girlfriends even though she clearly hadn’t bought a thing. Then there was a time I came home and found both of them in the living room. Danny said he had dropped by to discuss his new book.
The thought that I was just being paranoid had crossed my mind. But all doubts were erased when I woke up in the middle of the night to find Janice gone. Figuring she probably went to the kitchen for a drink, I got out of bed and went to my study at the end of the hall. That’s when I heard her on the phone.
‘I have to see you again, Danny. No, he’s asleep. Of course, I’m sure. I can’t stand us being apart like this. It’s driving me crazy. I miss you. I miss the way you feel inside me.’
I went back to the bedroom and sobbed quietly. Sweet Janice. What have you done to us?
Danny smiled. “I was asking how the new book is coming along.”
I managed a smile of my own. “It’s going to make a killing, Danny.”
He laughed and turned to Janice. “See? That’s what I love about your husband, Jan. He has such a way with words.”
They both laughed. I felt like an outsider. I pushed my chair back and stood up. “Please excuse me. I think I’d better go to bed. I’m sorry, Danny. Is it all right if I leave you two?”
Janice was quick to answer. “Oh, sure, honey. You go right ahead and get some rest. I’ll take care of the dishes.”
“Thanks again for inviting me to dinner, Robert,” Danny said, getting up. “It was delicious. I’ll stop by your office next week, okay? We’ll have lunch.”
Danny Gleason, snake in the grass.
Instead of going upstairs to the bedroom, I went to the living room and sat on the sofa.
In the dining room, Danny cracked another joke, and they both laughed.
One of the perks of being an editor is the stacks of manuscripts you’re required to read–mysteries, science fiction, horror, non-fiction. Over the years, I had amassed a wealth of knowledge on a wide array of topics–guns, cars, botany, wildlife, computers, cultures, history, wine.
Keep laughing, bastards. Keep laughing.
I sat in the dark and listened. And listened.
Until the laughter stopped.
Aurelio Rico Lopez III is a self-diagnosed scribble junkie from Iloilo City, Philippines. His work has appeared in various venues such as Mythic Delirium, Star*Line, Sybil’s Garage, The Horror Express, Dark Animus, Goblin Fruit, Scifaikuest, Kaleidotrope, Tales of the Talisman, Electric Velocipede, Black Petals, and elsewhere. He is also the author of the chapbooks Jolts and Shocks (Sam’s Dot Publishing.