Michelle lay on Lisa's couch, her hand wrapped around a cold glass of red wine. It was just her and Lisa this time, no Mike.
"So, how's Johnny?" she asked.
"He didn't get his promotion." Lisa replied, and dread crept into her voice.
Michelle grimaced. She knew how important that promotion had been to him. "Oh, is he disappointed?" she said.
"Quite a bit." Lisa's tone was cold as steel. "He got drunk last night. And he hit me."
Michelle nearly spat out her wine. "He hit you?!" Johnny didn't even drink last time she checked. Not after what happened to him in his home country. And domestic violence...she didn't think he had it in him.
"He didn't know what he was doing." Lisa said.
Michelle looked her friend up and down for bruises. "Are you okay?"
"Well I don't want to marry him anymore?"
"What!?" Michelle nearly spat out her wine again. Like her boyfriend Mike, this was coming so fast.
"Johnny's...okay." Lisa said, putting down her wine, "But I found somebody else."
Michelle giggled. "Lisa! This isn't right! You're living with one guy and you're sleeping with another guy?"
Lisa looked at Michelle with sad, sunken eyes. "I'm doing what I want to do."
"Who is he?" Despite her repulsion at the idea, Michelle couldn't help but ask.
Lisa grinned. "His best friend. And he lives in this building."
Michelle's eyes nearly shot out of her head. "I can't believe you're telling me this! It's Mark, isn't it?"
Lisa nodded and reached for her wine.
Michelle let herself have another giggle, then softened her tone. As a friend of both Johnny and Lisa, she couldn't let this go by without comment. "Lisa, you know, you're just thinking about yourself. Somebody's going to get hurt. You've got to be honest with Johnny."
A lump in Lisa's neck began to bulge out. It was a tick she'd had since she was a child, triggered by intense guilt or stress. Like an alien struggling to burst it's way from her neck, it resembled a disgusting mobile tumor. She hoped Michelle wouldn't notice.
"I can't do that. He would be devastated." she said.
"Well, if you care so much for him, why cheat on him?"
Lisa paused a moment, struggling for the words that would excuse her actions. They didn't come.
"Look, I really don't know what to do." she said finally, "I love Mark, I don't have any more feelings for Johnny."
Michelle sighed. "Johnny is so excited about this wedding!"
"I know." Lisa grumbled.
"You've got to tell Johnny."
Lisa leaned in and hardened her features. "No guilt trips."
"You don't feel guilty about this at all?"
"No," Lisa said, "I'm happy."
Michelle shook her head. "Something awful is going to happen."
"Please don't tell anybody." Lisa pleaded.
Michelle felt a heavy weight press down on her shoulders. Something awful was going to happen and she wasn't sure if she, or anyone, could do anything to stop it.
Johnny hopped off the street car and started walking towards his home. Another hard day at the bank. Johnny did all right, certainly enough to support his future-wife, but had he gotten the promotion he was promised he would have been a millionaire. On top of his work stresses, Johnny was still mulling over Lisa's claim that he had hit her. Of course, he hadn't. Don't even ask. He was drunk, sure, but not drunk enough to strike his future-wife. Not even on Denny's drugs would he do that. No, he was sure Lisa was making it up. But why? He intended to ask her tonight.
He came up to his door and noticed the paper still on the stoop. He picked it up and looked through the headlines. 'St. Martin Wildfire Burns Through 30, 000 Acres of Trees'. Huh, thought Johnny, and he went inside.
"...don't worry. You're secret is safe with me." The words, only audible as Johnny walked in, were from Michelle. She and Lisa toasted wine on the couch.
"Hello Michelle," Johnny said, "I heard you. What secret?"
Michelle shifted her eyes uncomfortably towards Lisa.
"It's between us women." Lisa quickly, and firmly, interjected.
Michelle smiled nervously. "Hi Johnny."
"Did you get a new dress?" Johnny asked.
"Umm..." she began to sit up, "...well I guess I better be going. Uh, I'll just, talk to you guys later?"
She started to make her towards the door but Johnny's big legs were in the way. She stepped over them.
"Excuse me." she muttered, then opened the door. "Lisa, remember what I told you."
Lisa swung around to meet Michelle's gaze. She met it with a cold retort. Michelle waved a quick goodbye and was gone.
Johnny, seated in front of his collection on spoon photos, turned from the door to Lisa.
"What is she talking about?"
Lisa swung her head in annoyance. "It's girl talk. I just told you that."
Johnny opened his mouth to say something, but paused before anything came out. He stood and took off his jacket. Here we go.
"I never hit you." he said.
Lisa stared a silent admission. She wasn't going to keep up that charade any longer.
"You shouldn't keep any secrets from me," Johnny continued, throwing his jacket onto the couch, "I'm your future husband."
"Are you sure about that? Maybe I'll change my mind." Lisa's voice was full of venom.
"Don't talk like that. What you mean?"
Lisa put down her wine with an air of finality. "What do you think? Women change their minds all the time."
Johnny laughed. "Hahaha! You must be kidding aren't you!"
"Look." Lisa said, standing and walking for the stairs "I don't want to talk about it. I'm going to go upstairs. And wash up. And go to bed."
Johnny stood abruptly, pushing Lisa back onto the couch. "How dare you talk to me like that! You should tell me everything!"
Lisa looked up with a muddled sense of fear and anger. She'd never seen him like this...
"I can't talk right now."
Johnny sat beside her, emotion bubbling up under his skin.
"Why Lisa, why? Please talk to me. Please!"
She simply looked away.
"You are part of my life. You are everything. I could not go on without you, Lisa!"
Lisa shook her head. This had gone on far enough.
"You're scaring me." she started to stand.
Johnny pointed a finger into her shoulder. "You are lying! I never hit you!" He said, then suddenly pulled at the air with his giant fists, exclaiming with all his considerable might "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!"
"Why are you so hysterical?" she yelled back.
"Do you understand life?" Johnny pushed her onto the couch a second time, "Do you!?" he prompted.
She stared, defeated, then got up once more, heading for the stairs. Johnny watched her go with regret. She took a few steps up, then turned to face him.
"Don't worry about it. Everything will be all right." she comforted.
"You drive me crazy!" Johnny said. But it feels all right, he thought just to himself.
"Don't worry about it. I still love you." He called out after her as she ascended the spiral staircase.
She took the last few steps up the stairs, and was gone.