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Car Lights

Better Left Unsaid

There was a narrow strip of pebbles leading from the parking lot to the front of the Metropolitan Towers condos. Hardly a path, it had sprouted up after tenants beat a track through the meticulously laid crab grass, and management had given in and bestowed on it official status by laying down the smooth round stones. The problem was that it was poorly lit and practically invisible at night except to those who knew it was there. It was the perfect place to lie in wait of someone, and that’s precisely what police said Brett’s assailant had done. Teri still used that word because “murderer” sounded so graphic and only served to call to mind all the details she was trying to forget.
They said the crime scene had caused one veteran investigator to lose her shit right there in front of the uniformed officers. Teri wondered whether it had been Detective Moran who’d had the meltdown. Right now, sitting across from Teri in her sensible and crisp blue suit, she looked extremely calm and well put together. It was difficult to imagine her losing composure.
“You were saying how long you knew Mr. Adler?”Detective Moran prompted her.
“Oh. Yes. Right.” Teri took a deep breath. “I know . . . knew Brett because he’s my best friend’s husband.”
“And how long have you known him?”
Detective Moran leaned in. She didn’t have a notepad. Teri wondered idly whether this was wise. Shouldn’t cops write everything down? Or maybe that was just something in the movies and on television. And after all, it wasn’t as though she was a suspect or anything.
“I’ve known Brett for twelve years. Brooke – his wife – and Brett and I went to college together.”
“So that’s a pretty long time,” Detective Moran said looking at her closely.  “I’m sorry. This must be very difficult for you.”
“It is.” Teri’s voice broke.
In the last twenty-four hours alone she had bitten her nails down to the quick. Seeing Brooke was what had almost sent her over the edge. Her best friend’s state made Teri understand for the first time what people meant when they said someone had “come undone”. Brooke seemed to have physically, psychologically, maybe even spiritually unraveled. Her mother and sister had come in from Nevada and were taking care of things. While they buzzed about, answering calls and making arrangements to pick people up from the airport, Brooke just lay there on her bed, limp and expressionless, her hair in disarray, her eyes blank. If you said her name, she didn’t move, but her eyes flickered momentarily until she found you and then invariably she looked away as though to say, ‘Oh. Well. Nothing interesting to see there.’
Teri had been one of the first people she’d called when she heard the news. Brooke had been home alone when the police called her sometime after midnight and asked if she was Brett Adler’s wife. Then they’d told her that there’d been an incident and she should go down to Oaks General. Teri met her there and they’d rushed into the emergency room, believing that Brett had probably been in a car accident. But when they gave his name, it was as though they’d been expecting her. Instead of doctors, police officers came out from the rear, their faces grim. They confirmed Brooke’s name and address and then one of them said, ‘Ma’m, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your husband passed away this evening.”
After that, Brooke was hysterical, so there was no way to hear what else was said. All Teri remembered wondering was who had come up with the phrase “passed away”. Ridiculously ill-suited to the circumstances as far as she was concerned.
“And you have no idea who might have borne him ill will?” Detective Moran asked now.
Another silly phrase. Someone who stabbed you sixteen times and slashed your throat open almost decapitating you had feelings far deeper than ‘ill will.’
“I have no idea who might have wanted to kill Brett,” Teri said shaking her head.
“Did he ever talk to you about someone he might have been having a disagreement with? Someone he might have wanted to avoid?”
Teri looked away and out the window of her office and down into the parking lot. Sometimes she worked late and there were only a few cars remaining when she walked across the lot to her Jetta, sitting alone near the dumpster where she always parked it. Stupid.
“Ms. Salinger?”
Teri looked at Detective Moran again. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Did you know of anyone Mr. Adler might have wanted to avoid, someone he was having a disagreement with?”
Teri shrugged noncommittally.
“I understand that’s something he was more likely to confide in his wife,” Detective Moran said. “But she’s still not up to being interviewed just yet, and since it turns out you’ve known him for so long, I thought perhaps . . .”
Teri shook her head and leaned forward, rubbing her temples. “Detective Moran,” she said. “It’s only been two days. He hasn’t been buried yet. Perhaps we could talk after the funeral?”
“Sure. “ Detective Moran reached into her jacket and pulled out a business card. “But if something occurs to you, please call me. Doesn’t matter what time, day or night.”
“Thank you.”
Teri took the card and stood, ushering Detective Moran out of her office. It would have been good etiquette to at least walk the woman to the elevator, but she didn’t want to spend too much more time in her company.
“Elaine,” she called to her assistant. “Could you show Detective Moran out please?”
“Of course.” Elaine sprung up from her seat immediately.
She had been especially responsive today, Teri’s first day back in the office, because she’d heard about Brett. Everyone in the office had because it was all over the news. The nature of the crime and the unlikely victim made it great fodder for gossip, and even more so when it had gotten around that the grieving widow was Teri’s best friend.
Teri waited until she was certain that Detective Moran was off the premises before grabbing her coat and heading out. She needed another cup of coffee and the weak brew in the break room wouldn’t do the trick. The air was brisk outside and she pulled her collar up to guard against the wind whipping up from the river. She had three days. Three days until Brett’s funeral and three days to consider whether to come clean and tell Detective Moran the truth. The truth was that Teri was Brooke’s best friend, but she was also the woman who had been sleeping with her husband.
Everyone wanted to move out of the dorms junior year. That was when most people plucked up the courage and more importantly, the first year the college allowed you to live off campus. Brooke and Teri had chosen their apartment complex months before. It was inexpensive and had what they called “garden apartments” which really meant “basement.  The windows were level with the ground, so you when you looked out, it was through a forest of grass or a flower bed.  They didn’t care, they loved it just the same. They loved the eat-in kitchen, the hallway off the bedrooms that led into their small, dark living room. They loved that they had actual closets that didn’t have to be shared. And most of all they loved the feeling of paying their rent each month and skimping for dinners that they made themselves, sitting at the rickety dining table they’d scavenged from a local Salvation Army.
Their building was like party central, populated predominantly by other kids from the college and young townies. Every night, Brooke and Teri need only go up a couple of floors to find a kegger. They sometimes brought guys home and made out in their living room. Brooke never let them stay over, but Teri often did. Of the two of them, Teri was definitely the bad girl. She had stopped counting her conquests long ago.
Near the end of the fall, just as it had begun to get truly cold, they went to a party just across the hall from their apartment. Kids spilled out into the halls and the music was deafening, There were three kegs and enormous barrels filled with ice and beer cans. There was even food; a scarcity at most college parties.
“How is it we don’t even know who lives here?” Brooke yelled into Teri’s ear as they shoved their way through the living room.
“I’ve spotted them a couple of times. Or at least heard them,” Teri said. “Couple of jocks I think.”
“Well-off jocks,” Brooke said, indicating the table of chicken wings and assorted other bar foods.
Partygoers seemed almost confused about whether or not to eat. Most people hovered about for a few moments as though waiting for permission before finally digging in.  And honestly, most were there for the beer anyway. Teri had no such misgivings. She immediately grabbed a paper plate and loaded it with wings, chips and what looked like cold mozzarella sticks.  Brooke hung back, looking instead toward the beer barrels.
“Eat,” Teri told her. “We never have the money to get stuff like this.”
Brooke picked up a plate and hesitantly chose from the food laid out before her.
“You can do better than that!”
Out of nowhere, there was a guy with sandy brown hair, obviously inebriated, and he’d slung his arm about Brooke’s shoulders.
“As your host I insist,” he continued. He reached across Brooke as though about to grab a handful of wings and in doing so, upended her plate against her chest, smearing her with buffalo wing sauce. Brooke’s mouth was a surprised ‘o’ and then before anyone could say anything was pressing her way toward the door.
“Oops.” The guy with the sandy hair said, looking amused.
“So this is your place?” Teri asked munching on a chip. “We’re your neighbors. That was Brooke, my roommate.”
“And you are?”
“Teri,” She extended a hand without bothering to wipe the grease away first. He took it anyway.
“Brett,” he said.
Then he reached for one of the wings on her plate and for a moment they locked eyes.
It was well after two a.m. when the party finally wound down, and that was only because the beer had dried up. Teri had had more than her fair share and was grateful she didn’t have to stagger across campus in the cold and to a room that was only slightly less icy than the outdoors. Brooke had gone home hours earlier, having not recovered fully from the embarrassment with the plate of food. She was sensitive that way, Brooke. Just as Teri was about to leave Brett held her by the arm. He looked only slightly less drunk than he had earlier.
“You were the hottest girl here,” he said leaning in close, his breath reeking of beer. “I just thought you should know that.”
“You’re lying,” Teri said. She leaned in herself, so their faces were almost touching. “If that were true, you wouldn’t have waited until now to make your move.”
“Who said I was making a move?” he asked.
“Aren’t you?” she challenged.
Brett grinned. “It depends.”
“On what?”
“On what you’d do if I were.”
“What I’d do,” Teri said, “is ask you to come back to my room with me.”
Brett glanced over his shoulder where a couple of other guys had begun a half-hearted effort to gather up the detritus from the party.
“Let’s go,” he said.
It was a boozy, crazy encounter that passed by in a blur of nakedness and sighs and moans. In the morning when Teri awoke, he was gone, and that was fine. She had coffee with Brooke and they went to the gym. Later in the afternoon when they’d showered and were headed out to the mall, the door opened and Brett was there. He looked different in the light of day, handsomer than Teri remembered. His eyes, she hadn’t noticed before, were a startlingly attractive blue.  He smiled at them and Teri considered for a moment that maybe he could become more than a one-night stand. She rarely waded into the waters of what Brooke called a “real relationship” and when she did, it was usually with the wrong kind of guy. But maybe Brett was different. Maybe she should at least give him a try.
“I was hoping it was you,” he said. But his eyes were on Brooke.
“Really?” Brooke asked. “Why is that?”
She looked unsure of herself. She usually was when it came to guys. Unlike Teri, she remained cool for a very long time, forcing guys who liked her to work really, really hard even for a smile.
“I feel like an ass for last night,” Brett said. “I want to take you out to make up for it.”
Teri blinked. She felt as though someone had socked her right in the solar plexus. Was he seriously asking her roommate out right in front of her after what had happened between them? Her mind raced in a hundred different directions. Was it possible that he didn’t remember? No.  He’d left in the morning and by then had to have been stone cold sober.
“An apology would be enough, thanks,” Brooke said.
“I’m sorry,” Brett said.
And he actually sounded sorry. Teri felt rooted there, as though watching an accident happen and being powerless to stop it. She didn’t even know what her face was doing and she kept trying to make eye contact with Brett but he was completely focused on Brooke.
“Apology accepted. These things happen at parties,” Brooke said, her voice softer now.
“Now will you at least let me buy you a cup of coffee sometime?”
“Sure,” Brooke said. “Sometime.”
Then she walked up the steps and through the door leading out to the courtyard, leaving Teri and Brett facing each other. Teri looked directly at him and raised an eyebrow.
“What?” he laughed. “I can’t have your roommate hating me, can I?”
“No, I guess not,” Teri said. “But did you have to ask her out?”
“She’s a pretty girl,” Brett shrugged.
“Yes she is,” Teri said. “But she’s not like me. She doesn’t do casual flings. She’s probably way too good for you.”
Brett took two steps forward, effectively backing Teri against the wall so that she had to look up to see into his eyes.
“What about you?” he said. “Are you too good for me?”
“Last night probably settled that question,” she said. In spite of herself, she still found him attractive. He was an asshole obviously, but so was she.
Brooke and Brett went out a couple of weeks later and Teri was unfazed. She and Brett had been hooking up intermittently and in secret and he showed no sign of wanting to stop. So what if he wanted to take Brooke for cheap dinner at a local Chinese restaurant? But then he took her out again, and again. And soon he didn’t talk to Teri about Brooke any longer, keeping details of their new relationship private, as though it was something sacred. On the other hand, Brooke had started talking about Brett, which meant she was taking him seriously. By then, of course, it was too late to confess that she had been sleeping with him so Teri kept quiet. Still, Brett didn’t seem to want to stop and neither did she. So they didn’t.
Two years later when he and Brooke got engaged, he broke off with Teri for a few months, and then again after the wedding.  Through the years it had gone on like that, even during Teri’s own short relationships. Brett was her only constant. She never questioned or examined what she was doing or why. Sleeping with Brett, being best friends with Brooke; they seemed to move on parallel tracks, never intertwining so that the moral questions almost never even entered her mind.
But now Brett was dead. If she told what she knew about his life the obvious question of how she knew would come up.
Teri squared her shoulders and pressed on against the wind. She had three days to figure out what to do and she would need every single moment of that time to decide. Break her best friend’s heart irreparably, or take the risk that she might know something that, if untold, would let Brett’s killer remain free?

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