In Albany, Oregon, Sarah and David Carter seemed like newlyweds, holding hands under the table when they were out in public and smiling at each other every once in awhile, although they had been married for six years, since Sarah was 23 and David was 25. Chessy and Jasmyn, Sarah’s two best friends, spent some free time with Sarah at Sarah and David’s house, always waiting a few minutes for Sarah to open the door when they arrived. It always struck the two as odd– Sarah was very polite and friendly, but she never answered the door immediately, even if it was evident that she was in the kitchen, close to the front door. No matter what Sarah was doing, there was some music playing softly from the stereo in the living room, as if she never wanted simply to sit and enjoy the melodies, and she always seemed to be doing something around the house. There were always vacuum lines on the plush dark grey carpet, no dust on any of the beautiful pieces of art that hung in nearly every room, the decorative mirrors were always newly polished, there were never any dirty dishes in the sink. In fact, it was a bit peculiar, Sarah was always buying new plates and bowls with different designs, but they were always ceramic. Sarah loved ceramic dinnerware. Chessy asked once why Sarah was always getting new plates and things, and Sarah laughed and said she didn’t like to keep things always looking the same. Chessy and Jasmyn didn’t see much of David, because he was always out in the work shed in the backyard.
David worked as a mechanical engineer, helping to design new machines for national and international factories, sometimes going out of town to work on a project. He made at least $100,000 per year after taxes and because of this, he bought Sarah almost anything she wanted. Their house was immense, approximately four thousand square feet, and they had four acres of land. Everything inside was top-of-the-line, from the granite countertops to the plush, thickly padded carpet to the cherry wood cabinets and thick oak doors. Sarah had modest taste in art and home decorations, but David bought her the highest valued versions of everything she wanted. They seemed to have the perfect life from the outside. The house always seemed to be filled with energy and light, as if God Himself resided in their house.
Sometimes the three women went out to Wilhelm’s Spirits and Eatery or the Vault 244 Bistro to have a drink when David went out of town or had errands to run, and Sarah was always the one that turned the most heads. Most men found Sarah extremely attractive; her pale creamy skin made her dark hair look like the shiny feathers of a raven and her pale green eyes sparkled when she laughed or smiled. The same warmth her friends felt in her house almost emanated out of her eyes, and her skin seemed to glow with an angel’s touch. She looked away when an unfamiliar man walked by and seemed captivated by her, or she would point the man out to one of her friends to encourage them to introduce themselves. Chessy and Jasmyn were not unattractive by any standards, Chessy’s mahogany hair and hazel eyes matched her tan skin beautifully, and Jasmyn’s smooth skin was the color of coffee with a dash of cream, but she had dark blue eyes that seemed to know everything. The three women had a good time flirting with their eyes or venturing a playful but innocent wink from across the bar, but they all knew that Sarah was all looks and no touch. She always seemed perfectly happy with her husband and with her life in general. Sarah laughed a lot when she was with her friends, making jokes of the small things that seemed to bother her friends to try to make them feel better about their problems.
On September seventeenth, 2004 at around eight o’clock pm, Sarah was watching television in bed. She was alone in the house because David had gone out that afternoon to get the license plates on the car renewed. It shouldn’t have taken until evening, but David liked to go to the bar with a few friends every once in awhile like Sarah did. She honestly didn’t expect him home until after midnight.
The doorbell rang, and Sarah got out of bed slowly, pulling her thick robe on over her pajamas and putting her feet in her slippers slowly before going to the door. She took her time walking down the hall, but not too much time. She never took so much time that the visitor would walk away. She saw the figure of a police officer in uniform on the other side of the door and when she cracked the door, he showed her his badge to assure her he was a real officer.
“May I help you, Officer?” Sarah asked tentatively, her heart sinking.
“Yes, ma’am. I believe you are a Mr. David Carter’s wife? We found your address on Mr. Carter’s drivers’ license.” the officer reported. When Sarah nodded her head and asked him to come in, he took off his hat and wiped his shiny black shoes on the welcome mat before entering. Sarah led him to the living room, offering him a seat on the cream colored suede couch.
“Mrs. Carter, I’m Officer John Marquez. I’m very sorry to bring you this news this evening, but we got a call this afternoon about a shooting and a car accident. We found your husband in the car, and he died right after the paramedics got there. They couldn’t revive him.”
Sarah’s breath caught in her throat and she found herself frozen.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid I must ask you to come with me to the hospital; we need someone to identify his body.”
After a moment, Sarah snapped out of her stupor, asking if she could dress in street clothes before they left. The officer nodded and got up when she did out of respect. He sat back down as he waited, and when she came back out, he rose from his seat again, stating that he could take her in the police car and drop her back off at home when their business was done.
Sarah’s body went with the officer to the patrol car, getting into the front seat, but her mind was far away, picturing what could have happened to David and expecting the worst.
At the hospital, Officer Marquez was very respectful with Sarah, answering her questions about who called and what the first responders found and how they dealt with the situation as gently as he could. He made sure she was sufficiently prepared emotionally before he pulled the white sheet back from David’s face. The bullet had hit him right in the temple; there was a perfectly circular hole leading into his head. Something must have slowed the bullet down before it hit David, because there was no gaping exit wound on the other side of his head. The coroner had cleaned up any blood there might have been before Sarah arrived.
Sarah stared at her husband’s corpse, noting that he seemed to smell different than the scent that lingered in the morgue from countless other dead bodies. He smelled almost sweet, like there was a hint of vanilla or jasmine on his clothes. Had he been out with another woman? The smell seemed very familiar though. She knew she had experienced it before, but it wasn’t at the times that David came home from late at a bar. It reminded her of when she was home with her husband. She confirmed that the body on that stainless steel table was that of her husband, rubbing her arms to ward away the cold that had seeped into her bones. Officer Marquez nodded and gently put his hand on her shoulder, leading her out of the morgue and driving her home.
The day after the funeral, Chessy and Jasmyn drove to Sarah’s house. They had just stopped off at Carino’s restaurant to pick up Sarah’s favorite pasta, a blackberry Italian soda and mini chocolate cake. She needed to indulge today. They came up to the door with the big stained glass window and rang the doorbell, not expecting an immediate answer. Sarah had never been one to come to the door immediately. They were surprised, however, when Sarah opened the door after only a few seconds. She never answered the door immediately. The sound of Mozart’s “Moonlight Sonata” filled the house from the stereo in the living room. The music was a welcome normality. What wasn’t a normality was the small pile of dirty dishes in the sink and this morning’s breakfast cookware still out on the stove.
“Hello, Sarah, how are things going today?” Chessy asked, failing to conceal the concern in her voice.
“I guess it hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t shed one tear,” Sarah answered with an almost emotionless expression to match her tone of voice. Her eyes were glassy, unfocused, and there was no hint of emotion in the lines of her face- her eyebrows were smooth, not bunched up in grief, her mouth was relaxed, her nose was not red from being blown after a cry, and the whites of her eyes were normal white, not red from tears.
Jasmyn shifted the weight of the bag she was carrying to one arm and put her free hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “We’re here to help you let go, if you’ll have us.”
“Not today, girls, I have things to do around the house.” Sarah dodged the offer of emotional support. This was another surprise for her friends.
“Well, at least let us set the food down. We brought your favorite,” Chessy suggested, knowing that Sarah needed the company right now and knowing she wouldn’t throw them out immediately after they brought her comfort food.
“Well,” Sarah hesitated, “for a minute or two. I really do have things to do, okay?”
“Absolutely. We won’t stay long,” Jasmyn said, giving Chessy a meaningful glance as Sarah turned around to lead the way inside.
Once inside, Chessy and Jasmyn made their way to their best friend’s kitchen to set the food down on the granite top island. Chessy took it upon herself to tidy the kitchen a bit, putting all the dishes in the sink and filling it with water and a few drops of dish detergent to soak. Jasmyn took a washcloth and wiped down the counter and stove. When they entered the living room, they found Sarah carefully sitting on the couch. Her shoulders were very tense, bunched up close to her neck, almost straining with the tension and acceptance of her weight resting in the joints. Her legs were bent, her thighs not parallel to the floor but at an angle, as if she wanted to bring her feet up onto the creme suede and curl up like a frightened child. Chessy and Jasmyn had never seen Sarah sit on that couch before. She was always seated in her recliner to the right of the couch. There seemed to be a glow on Sarah’s right side, but it didn’t come from the overhead ceiling fan light. It was almost as if there was someone sitting next to her that made its own light source. She smelled different, as well. She was wearing some kind of vanilla perfume that Chessy and Jasmyn had never known her to wear before.
They took seats on either side of her, each taking one of her hands to comfort her. The glow to Sarah’s right moved away when they sat down. “Tell us, honey, how are you really doing?” Chessy prompted.
“I’m okay. Really. Like I said, it just hasn’t hit me yet that he’s gone,” Sarah said, looking around with eyes that seemed clouded with memories. Her words echoed with the pain she was feeling.
Jasmyn looked at Chessy and changed the subject, hoping that Sarah would open up after some light conversation. After about ten minutes, Sarah stopped adding to the conversation and fixed her eyes on a spot on the cherry wood coffee table.
Jasmyn and Chessy had known Sarah for many years, and they knew that Sarah would speak her mind in her own time. They just held her hands and waited.
After a time, Sarah took a breath and started talking. “I’ve never sat on this couch before. I’ve never answered the door right away. I’ve never been able to enjoy music while just sitting here in the living room.”
She shifted her gaze from the coffee table to her hands and saw them intertwined with those of her friends. Her smooth pale hand was wrapped around that of Chessy’s warm tan one, and Jasmyn’s mocha latte complexion complimented her own creamy skin tone. She squeezed their hands, and her vision got blurry with tears.
Her best friends knew not to say anything for fear of interrupting her willingness to speak.
“I know it always seemed like David and I were the perfect couple… but that was only on the outside. At home, alone with each other, he was one of the worst men I’ve ever met. He never complimented me, never gave me a pet name to call me on the rare times when he was happy. He would often come home from work angry about something that had happened and he would take his anger out on me, yelling at me for not doing something small like doing the dishes or not having the laundry done or sometimes even if he didn’t like something I was wearing. He criticized everything I did and forbade me to do so many things I had once enjoyed. In high school, I loved sitting on my couch or bed with no light except a candle, listening to classical music. He hated that and made me stop doing it. He allowed me to listen to music, but I couldn’t be sitting and not doing anything productive. Every once in awhile when I was making dinner, he would wait until I had the dishes in my hands to set the table and he would pound his fist on the refrigerator or the countertop once and scare the living shit out of me. Several times, I dropped the dishes I had in my hands and they shattered. After he quit laughing at me, he yelled at me and commanded me to pick up the pieces with my hands instead of with a broom and dustpan. He watched as I picked up the big pieces and chuckled when I happened to cut my fingers on the sharp edges. It was strange though, when that would happen, I would look up at him with tears in my eyes and I would feel this warmth on my hands and I thought it was blood dripping down, but most of the time when I looked, the cuts were partially healed. I never let him see that, but it happened, and when it did, I smelled that vanilla or jasmine or whatever it was. The same smell he had when I saw him in the morgue.” She stopped to take a deep breath. “He even hit me a few times. He never hit me where it would show, but he did hit me when he was especially angry at something I had done wrong. He needed the control.”
She paused, reflecting on her confession. She blinked several times, trying her hardest to keep her tears from falling. “And in spite of all that, I loved him, because I still saw in him the younger man I fell in love with. He still had the same expressions when he wasn’t angry. He still cuddled me sometimes, when he was having a good day. He did everything he could to make sure I had the house and life I wanted because he had the money to provide it for me. He let me go out with you two when I wanted to, and most of the time he said thank you when I would have dinner ready for him when he got home. Sometimes, he was still the man I knew and loved. I can’t bring myself to say…. Oh who am I kidding.” She finally snapped.
“I fucking hated him. Everything about him, right down to the soul, I came to hate him day by day and month by month. Every time he hit me, I wanted to drug him and take him to the garage and run over him with the Jeep until there was nothing but a pile of meat on the floor.”
Chessy and Jasmyn continued to listen in horror; they had never known this about their best friend. She was apparently extremely talented at hiding the truth.
“I wanted to smash everything he ever loved because I knew that he loved those things and he didn’t love me. Those cars in the work shed, he was out there every night making sure everything in them was working perfectly. Do you want to know why he stayed with me? I was because I knew how to pleasure him just the way he wanted and I was easy for him to manipulate to do just about anything for him. He humiliated me time after time in bed, just so he could get off and go to sleep with that satisfied smirk on his face, and I was left bruised and sore for several days. And he didn’t care if I was still sore from the last time- if he wanted me again, he would take me no matter what I did. I’m glad he’s gone… I wish I had killed him myself! I went to his grave last night… and I spat on it. I actually spat on his grave. And I told him I hope he’s hot enough in hell, where he’ll be for eternity.”
Chessy leaned close and put her arm around Sarah, wishing she had known exactly what was going on in her friend’s home life so she could have done something. Sarah never let on that these things were going on. Tears flowed down Jasmyn’s face; she nearly broke down sobbing for the guilt she felt at not being able to do anything to help protect Sarah while David was alive. Sarah resumed her composure, retreating into herself and adopting that flat affect again. She fixed her eyes on the stained glass window set in the front door this time. She held her friends’ hands not because she wanted comfort or because they needed comfort, but because that was where her hands were and she didn’t want to move them. She did, however, feel lighter inside. The weight of her secret was lifted from her, and she felt like she could take a deep, normal breath now. She just sat there while her friends hugged her, hearing her heartbeat echo in her ears and feeling the breath whoosh in and out of her body. It suddenly occurred to her that Sarah didn’t smell like that vanilla perfume anymore.
The angel stood outside the house, looking through the window into the living room where the three women sat. She remembered every time David had made Sarah bleed, when she healed Sarah when she wasn’t paying attention. She had done her job, making sure that David was driving in the area of town he had been in at that time. She had known that those teenagers were going to get into a gunfight and that one of them would accidentally pull the trigger when he tripped, sending a bullet flying. It had taken a lot of influence, but she convinced David that he had needed to go downtown to get his license plates renewed at the exact time he did, putting himself in the path of the stray bullet. The angel would have to answer to The Almighty for causing a human’s death, but she didn’t care. She was Sarah’s guardian angel, and she couldn’t take watching David treat Sarah the way he did any longer. She knew that Sarah was safe now, and that was all that mattered. She hoped that the scent of vanilla that emanated from her would put Sarah at ease every time she smelled it from now on.