Home > A Familiar Stranger

A Familiar Stranger
Author: A. R. Torre

 


I just want to start off by saying that love wasn’t what caused all this. The murder, the double life, the lies . . . None of it was triggered from a lack of me loving my husband.

It was from a lack of him loving me back.

—Lillian Smith

 

 

Everything I told David on the day that I met him was a lie.

I did that a lot back then. I didn’t have a single notable thing about me—about Lillian Smith: writer, mother, wife—worth talking about, so I often invented a life, a persona, of someone better. Someone who rolled out of bed with a purpose. Someone unpredictable and exciting, and . . . hell. Lust-worthy. Someone whose husband would gaze at her in awe, and shower her with affection, and never stay late to work if he had the opportunity to spend just one extra moment in her presence.

Those people—those women—do exist, you know. In my job, I’ve dipped my toe into their lives. I’ve spoken to their friends, their families, their coworkers. I’ve summarized their lives, which are always extinguished too short.

The day I met David, I was thinking about extinguishing my own. Would Mike even notice? How much time would pass before he realized I was gone?

Dinner, probably. That would be the first tell. No poorly cooked meal set out on the table. He’d be annoyed. His handsome face would settle into those hard, disapproving lines. A terse text would be sent, one heavy in blame. A call would be made, for delivery or pickup, and the problem would be solved. My husband loves to solve problems, which is probably why he married me to begin with. Other men choose women they can’t live without. Mine chose a woman who was unlikely to live without him.

It was a hypothesis proven true by the sleeping pills I had been stockpiling, just in case.

So yeah. By the time David Laurent crossed my path, I was a disaster of the most boring variety, a woman so yawn-worthy that when David smiled at me and I introduced myself, I lied.

I picked the most exciting woman who had recently died, and I stole her spirit. I stole her story. I stole her life.

And it felt really, really good.

 

 

TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE DEATH

 

 

CHAPTER 1

LILLIAN

@themysteryofdeath: Three women go to Vegas for the weekend. A trophy wife, an internet coach, and a struggling single mom. One of them won’t make it back home. Who will die?

I posted the tweet, then pushed my grocery cart forward, pausing at a display of laundry detergent and scanning the bottles for the hypoallergenic brand that my husband preferred. Rising to my toes, I grabbed the pale-green container and pulled it from the shelf, wincing at a twinge of pain that resulted from the action.

Mike had hidden my pain medicine, though he’d acted innocent when I asked about it, his face adopting that blank, wide-eyed look I hated. He’d followed up the denial with a suggestion to use the high-dose ibuprofen, which I was supposed to switch to a week ago, but which barely cut the edge off the pain.

I wedged the green detergent jug between a bag of chips and a pack of toilet paper, then parked my cart to the side of the aisle and picked up my phone. There were already a dozen responses to my tweet, and my mood lifted as I scrolled through the replies and liked the more entertaining ones.

- christopher23: single mom, choked to death on a Chippendale’s sparkly thong lol

- ncarolinamom: trophy wife. Shot by a hit man hired by her ugly and cheating husband.

- imahoney: @ncarolinamom ikr? I agree on the trophy wife. hot ones always die first in the movies

- bornblonde247: In the MOVIES. This is real life, you idiots. I vote the internet coach. Was making a #blessed social media post while crossing the Strip and got ran over by a taxi

I returned my phone to my purse, a smile crossing my face. My followers were witty, if not a little macabre. But hey, so was I. When I started the account, it was because my family and friends had grown tired of playing my death-guessing games. Where they’d rolled their eyes, the internet had embraced me. My Twitter account was up to ten thousand followers and steadily growing.

I’d wait another hour, then add a series of hints. If no one had solved the mystery by the end of the day, I’d unveil the truth, paired with their obituary. I wasn’t sure how often the obituaries were clicked on, but as an obit writer myself, I felt like the inclusion added a certain punch of class to the game, and acted as a dignified nod to my profession.

I had a set of guidelines, designed to protect the game. I always changed enough facts so an internet search wouldn’t spoil the fun, pre-reveal. And I rarely used my own obituaries, to keep any followers from figuring out who @themysteryofdeath really was.

Sometimes, though, I just couldn’t help myself. I had a stack of obits in my drawer that were flagged for future tweets, ones that deserved more eyes than just the Los Angeles Times readers. I had a sneaking suspicion that most of our subscribers only used that section of the paper to line their kitty litter trays.

“Oh my gosh, Lillian!” The familiar high-pitched trill sounded shocked, as if running into someone you knew in the grocery store were unheard of, and I hid a sigh as I turned to face my husband’s secretary.

Heather was dressed in a red pantsuit that clung to her thin thighs, the jacket buttoned just under her lace-cupped cleavage. She held a green shopping basket in one hand and beamed at me with undisguised delight. “I’m so glad I ran into you. I was just asking Mike about you yesterday! How’s your shoulder?”

“It’s fine.” I rubbed the joint out of habit. “Doctor says I just hyperextended it.”

“Well, if you need anything.” She let the sentence hang there, and I tried to ignore the open proposition. “You know, I’m a licensed masseuse.”

No, I didn’t know that. I tried not to grimace at the news. If my husband’s model-worthy employee hadn’t been tempting enough, let’s add in a set of talented, pleasure-inducing fingers. “Thanks, Heather.”

“Oh no, thank you! Having those days off last week was heaven. Did you enjoy Santa Barbara?”

I nodded automatically while I tried to figure out what she was talking about.

“I wasn’t sure about the hotel,” she continued, oblivious to my confusion. “I mean, it’s a Ritz, so of course it should be nice, but the reviews were iffy. Mike said you liked it?” She gnawed on the edge of her bright-pink bottom lip and peered at me in concern.

“The Ritz-Carlton?” I clarified, while my mind raced through what she was saying. Mike had been out of town at a continuing-education course last week. But in San Francisco, not Santa Barbara—at least, according to what he’d told me. “Yes, it was fine. Really nice.”

“Oh good.” She blew out a relieved breath that smelled faintly of peppermint. “Well, if you need anything, just ping me.”

“Thanks, Heather.” I watched as she wobbled by in heels that had to be four inches tall.

An upscale vacation, without me. My gut twisted at another piece to the puzzle of my husband’s suspicious behavior. I added it to the stack, which was beginning to tilt from the weight.

I needed to just face what was happening, but my heart couldn’t take it. Not yet. Maybe, somehow, there was an innocent explanation.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

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