That’s what my dad always used to say, with a chuckle and a pat to my head. ‘She’s a keeper,’ he’d say to a grocer or clerk at a convenience store. People used to fawn over the cute pigtailed gal by her daddy’s side, always said her pleases and thank yous, never threw a tantrum, was an absolute angel.
Maybe this is why when I grew up I always need someone giving me a pat on the back. If I’m not getting a compliment about how I look or how well I did at work, I’m gonna assume I did something wrong or I had a piece of lettuce stuck in my teeth all day.
This hasn’t always worked out for me. I’m a keeper, but I can also be a sucker. Like what’s been happening with my boss.
I love working as a secretary, it’s a job that makes me feel really fulfilled. This makes me a bit of a stereotype though with how I practically melted when Jonathan Price, my boss, complimented my blouse and my work ethic on my first day. I just reminded myself by looking at the silver ring on his left hand and the picture on his desk with his children that I shouldn’t read too much into it.
Jonathan was perfect though, and over time I realized I read him just right.
I never wanted to be the other woman. I just wanted to be loved. And being around Jonathan, working late nights just to have a moment to talk with him, having drinks after work… the inevitable happened. He kissed me after a few too many beers, and we ended up going back to my place. We slept together.
I poured my heart out to him after that, how I’d liked him for so long, and that I really felt a connection with him. He just smiled and brushed the hair from my eyes, telling me that I was the kind of girl you didn’t just let get away.
Of course I believed him.
Of course I swallowed the lump in my throat whenever I saw Mariana coming to visit her husband. My lover.
Of course I ignored how I was the choice topic of office gossip, how the guys smirked and the other women gave me the side eye and the cold shoulder.
Of course I listened when Jonathan said he was going to leave her soon. He just needed to make sure he didn’t hurt her.
And of course, whenever he called me to meet him at our typical meeting spot, a hotel in downtown, I was there with bells on.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking of me. I think it too. I’m not the brightest bulb in the package, but like I told you, I’m pretty easily manipulated. But I love Jonathan, I love his work ethic, I love how he takes care of his kids, kids that he learned soon enough I couldn’t have. I wonder if that was part of my appeal to him. That he couldn’t accidentally knock me up.
He doesn’t… didn’t love me. I was just an easy lay, a stereotype in every sense of the word.
I only started wising up last week, when it occurred to me that Jonathan really wasn’t slowing down his relationship with his wife and certainly wasn’t preparing for divorce proceedings. She was pregnant with their third child, I saw the pictures he posted on Facebook of their anniversary dinner.
It hit me like a semi truck when I read his status about enjoying their fifteen years together and couldn’t wait to see what the next fifteen will bring.
I cried. I drunk a lot of wine. And then I asked him to come to my apartment. That we needed to talk.
Scary words for a guy, right? Took Jonathan a while to drag his ass over, which by then I was even more drunk. I don’t drink often, and certainly not in excess, but can you blame me? I’d just had that reality shattering realization I was just his pet to call on whenever he wanted to fuck and spew nonsense words at. Nonsense words I fell for.
Well, I did what I should’ve done about six months ago. I called him out on his bullshit. Said that he was never going to leave his wife but he wasn’t going to stop keeping me as his side piece. He tried, oh he tried to calm me down, but I wasn’t going to back down to his pretty words this time.
“Either pick me or stay with your wife. Else I’ll call her and let her know the truth.”
My ultimatum I’d spent the previous hour preparing. I felt super proud of it when I spat it out, expecting him to pick at least one of the options so this nonsense could end.
Jonathan’s face went white, then red, and then… he picked a third option.
He killed me.
Jonathan picked up the empty wine bottle while he muttered something about me being too much trouble, and then he brought it down right on the top of my head. Caved my skull in on the first smash, sending shards of glass all over my living room. I dropped like a rock. But I guess Jonathan was just too pissed off, cuz he used the remains of the bottle in his hand to keep stabbing me, again and again in the throat and neck. I was about decapitated by the time he came to his senses.
Of course Jonathan freaked out. Panicked. Just washed the blood off his hands and wiped down the bottle before escaping the apartment. Left me there. All alone. Head nearly off my shoulders, my living room a mess of blood, wine, and glass.
Man, you should’ve seen the look on his face when I came into work today. I was at my desk by the time he came in. He looked like hell, understandably, he just killed a woman two days before. But he froze in his steps when he saw me sitting at my desk, tip tapping away on my keyboard while scheduling another appointment later that week.
I just waved to him real quick before going back to work. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jonathan bolt for his office and slam the door.
Oh, that felt so good. Watching him be the one to run in fear. Was he doubting his memory? Was he trying to convince himself that he’d just had a really bad dream?
I clocked out after that, complaining about a cold, it’d been passed all around the office. But I didn’t go to my home.
I went to Jonathan’s home. A nice house, in a nice part of town. I saw his wife working in the small garden out front and, after adjusting my scarf, I got out and walked up the drive.
She didn’t see me until I was right behind her. Marianna was a pretty woman, even right now with a smudge of dirt across her face, no make up, and her auburn hair held back with a yellow bandanna. I cleared my throat and she nearly dropped the flower bulb she had in her hands. She glanced up, immediately recognizing me. “Oh, hi, Nicole. Is something wrong?” She got up, brushing off her hands and smiling from ear to ear. Her pregnancy was just starting to show, her belly just so slightly growing.
“Can we talk inside?”
“Oh sure, sweetheart. The kids are at school, won’t be back for a few more hours. Are you all right, your voice sounds a bit raspy.”
“I’ll be fine.”
I waited until she was sitting down before I began the most difficult conversation of my life. And I got the most difficult part of it out of the way first.
“Your husband and I have been having an affair for almost a year.”
It was so sad to see how Marianna just… sighed. How she just nodded. “I figured, with all the late nights at work and business trips that didn’t take him out of town. I was just about to hire a private investigator to start checking in on him, so you saved me a chunk of change. Are you still sleeping with him?”
I shook my head. “No, I figured that ended when he about took my head off with a wine bottle,” I said.
Her brow knitted in concern, so I decided to show her. I undid the scarf around my neck and showed her what I’d been hiding all morning at work.
My neck is a sight right now, all purple and black and covered in decaying, cut up flesh. I can’t even imagine how the smell must be to someone not used to it. The putrefaction had spread down to my chest, which I showed her by unbuttoning my blouse. I’d had to start tearing my skin off to get any sort of relief, you can’t imagine how horrid the itching gets when your flesh starts rotting off the bone with your skin holding it all in. I even removed my gloves to show off the pus filled sores and bubbles forming in my wrists and fingers.
Marianna went white as a sheet as she took it all in. It look so wrong, my face perfect as it always has been but from the neck down I look like rotting roadkill. When the wave of stench finally hit her she bolted for the bathroom. I could hear her violently throwing up from where I sat.
I’d just about buttoned my shirt back up when she came back, teetering a bit and still looking pale but managing to remain steady. “Wait. Show me again.”
I shrugged and unbuttoned my shirt again. If she wanted a reason to barf again, she was welcome to it. But she didn’t. She sat beside me, her expression of disgust melting away into one of wonder. “… Before Jonathan insisted I take care of the kids full time, I used to be a surgeon. You… you shouldn’t be alive. You can’t be alive. Are you a ghost?”
“No.” I shook my head. “This just happens sometimes. I’m surprised it happened after your husband killed me, I thought I was a goner. But then I woke up with my body falling apart, maybe I was due for a shedding, maybe this just happens when I get hurt real bad, I dunno.”
“Jonathan…” She shuddered and shook her head, “He’s a bastard, but he wouldn’t-”
“He beat me with a wine bottle, Marianna.” I pulled the bloody shards out of my purse. “And then when it broke, he stabbed me in the neck. All because I told him the affair was over.
Now she was crying. Tears rolled down her cheeks as her bottom lip wobbled with her sobs. “No… no… oh my god, I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I never thought… I never-”
“I need your help.”
I rebuttoned up my blouse, but I left the scarf on my lap. “It’ll take me a few weeks to really come back together, but my daddy told me of a way to help me heal faster. His sister was like me. Fell apart, rotted like a corpse, and then looked just as pretty as ever in a few days. It took longer though, much longer… before she started working as a mortician.”
It didn’t take any effort at all to convince her to help me. The kids are having a sleepover at grandma’s tonight, they really are cuties. There’s a wine glass laced with sleeping medication ready for Jonathan when he gets home, and I’m waiting in the basement, passing the time by ripping off more rotten skin, wondering what human flesh will taste like. Marianna’s already said I can stay here while I recover. She wants to study me. I’m something she’s never seen before and she’s fascinated.
She says I’m a real keeper.