Jamie Blanchart hauled groceries from the cherry red Volvo S-40 in her two car garage. Her hourglass figure strained beneath the sleeveless yellow sundress she wore over a lace bra and panties. Designer shades hid oval eyes inherited from her Polynesian mother. Straight auburn hair framed her heart-shaped face and brushed the top of her C-cup breasts.
She carried the milk and OJ first. Then she went back for the bags of canned goods, frozen chicken, and the six-pack of her husband’s favorite beer.
She slid her clogs onto a shelf in the laundry room inside their three-bedroom home and carried the cold groceries to the counter by the fridge. She checked the microwave timer. The smell of baked tenderloin filled the quiet house.
She crammed the frozen food in the freezer and organized the cold groceries in the fridge. The milk went on the bottom shelf. Cheese and meat went in the middle drawer. Beverages belonged in the door panel below the condiments. Butter came from sticks, not tubs of yellow spread. Milk was two percent. Cheddar cheese was sharp. Lettuce had to be crispy, not limp. And anything else Alan Blanchart wanted, Alan got.
With the groceries finished, she grabbed a dust rag and a bottle of Pledge. She tackled the China hutch first, a gift from Alan for their five-year anniversary. She worked the rag in a clockwise motion along the mahogany grain, her image reflected in the glass doors that displayed the antique china.
She used a feather duster on the silver candle holders and the faux bouquet of flowers on the dining room table. She ran the stick vacuum on the hardwood floor outside Alan’s study, where the door to her man’s domain remained locked at all times.
She avoided the empty nursery and the flood of mixed emotions that always followed when she entered the room alone. Life was good to her, if not always fair. She had what she needed, more so than what she wanted. And although at times she missed her career, she held fond memories of her friends and the life she knew before marriage.
A product of foster care, she had worked hard to find her place in the world. Now, at almost forty, she finally had a permanent home, a husband, and food on the table. She had found the American dream. Or so she convinced herself.
She stowed her cleaning supplies in the butler pantry organized more methodically than a surgical suite. She aligned the canned goods an inch apart and six inches from the front of the shelf, the way Alan liked it. Cereal, oatmeal, and breakfast bars faced out from the middle rack above the paper products. Toiletries and other sundry items were segregated in colored bins on the bottom racks.
When she heard the garage door open, she pressed her hands along her dress to flatten wrinkles. She washed up in the powder room sink and primped her hair.
“You’re home.” She greeted Alan with a peck on the cheek. She could smell the cheap perfume on his collar.
Blanchart hung his hat in the closet the same way he did every time he came home, except on the special nights when he brought home flowers or a box of Jamie’s favorite candy.
Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.
“Did you make the appointment?” Sheriff Blanchart asked bluntly. He unfastened his duty belt and hung it on the closet hook beside his hat.
Jamie touched the butterfly tattoo etched between the dermal layers of skin on her upper back. A spring break memento from a college road trip to Daytona Beach, the tattoo served as a constant reminder about the consequences of her actions, and how at times, even the best intentions had negative consequences. “I called the doctor’s office this morning,” she said. “I have an appointment for next week.”
Blanchart stooped to kiss her. Nearly ten inches taller than his life partner, he cupped Jamie’s chin in his hand the way a forensic pathologist might examine a human skull.
Jamie looked down. “I have to check on dinner.” She reached for an oven mitt in the sliding drawer by the stove. There were no indecisions with Alan. His mood was hot or cold; content or irate; happy or sad. Sometimes he came home himself, and sometimes he came home a stranger in his own skin. On the good days, he kept to himself. On the bad days, he made her the center of attention.
Jamie opened the oven to check the meat thermometer. A blast of hot air greeted her face. “How was work?”
Blanchart ran his hand along the countertop to check for dust. “Not great.”
“I cooked beef tonight,” said Jamie. “Your favorite.”
Blanchart shook his head. “Not tonight.”
Jamie closed the oven. “I can save it for tomorrow.”
Blanchart took a beer from the fridge. “This isn’t cold enough.”
Jamie stiffened. “I just got home from the store.”
“The same one I always go to. I saved the receipt.”
Blanchart twisted off the cap and moved to the sliding glass doors that faced the screened porch outside. “The pool looks dirty.”
“The guy didn’t come today. I called this afternoon and left a message.”
Blanchart nudged a crooked wedding picture on the wall near the kitchen. He drank his beer in solitude, his thoughts distracted by recent events. “Did the mail come?” he asked rhetorically.
“I put it in the basket.”
“Did anyone call?”
“Not that I know of.”
Blanchart downed his beer. “I lost a deputy today.”
“Oh my God…” Jamie pulled the roast from the oven and set it on the stove to cool. “What happened?”
“Simon Carter died in the line of duty.”
Jamie recognized the name. “His wife just had a baby.”
Blanchart picked at the beer bottle label with his thumbnail and hovered close to his wife. He touched her shoulder with his other hand. “I need to schedule his service. We should send his family flowers.”
Jamie reached up to touch his hand. “Are you okay?”
Blanchart pulled away. He rinsed the empty bottle in the sink and squeezed it in a vise-like grip. “If I want your sympathy, I’ll ask you for it.”
“For what? You didn’t kill him.”
Jamie transferred the roast to a storage container with a lid and left Alan to his own machinations. She shared a tenuous connection with her husband of twelve years and knew what buttons to avoid.
Blanchart squeezed the bottle harder, his jaw muscles twitching from the effort.
The brown glass imploded with a pop. Broken pieces clinked in the double sink.
Blanchart stared at the thorn of splintered glass stabbing his palm. Blood drizzled toward his sleeve.
Jamie retrieved the first aid kit from the pantry and tore open a pack of four-by-four gauze. “That cut looks deep.”
Blanchart rolled his sleeve back, plucked splintered shards without flinching and rinsed the blood to expose the sliced skin. He dried his hand on a dishtowel and pressed the gauze on the deepest cut. Blood pooled in the cotton fiber.
“You might need stitches,” said Jamie.
Blanchart wrapped the dishtowel around his hand. “Clean up this mess and don’t let the glass go down the drain.” He left the room momentarily and returned with the flashlight from his duty belt.
Jamie could see the vein throbbing at her husband’s temple, knew blood pounded in his head—as it always did when he considered she’d stepped out of bounds. He could tolerate only so much before his patience snapped and his role as her husband and care provider reverted to that of teacher. During the course of their marriage, he’d taught her many lessons to educate her in a manner consistent with his beliefs
Jamie used a wet napkin to wipe the glass fragments from the stainless steel basin.
Blanchart raised the flashlight. “You missed some.”
Blanchart shone the light in the garbage disposal. “Down there.”
Jamie peered inside the disposal opening. Light reflected off the broken glass. “How do I get them out?”
“One piece at a time.”
“I can’t reach in there,” Jamie said with an apologetic tone. Her face was ashen.
“I’ll hold the light.”
Jamie stared at the garbage disposal. Her pulse raced. She brushed her fingers on the rubber trap above the circular metal teeth inside the grinding chamber. “My hand won’t fit.”
“Yes it will.”
“What if it gets stuck?”
“What if the motor comes on by accident?”
Blanchart thrust the light in her face and touched his wounded hand to the garbage disposal switch. “Do you trust me?”
Jamie felt the knot tighten in her throat as if an invisible noose slowly choked the life out of her. She nodded almost imperceptibly and whispered, “Yes.”
Blanchart leaned closer and touched her face. “Good. Because a marriage without trust ends in mayhem.”