Spooky Short Stories: Keeping Judge Spencer

October 19, 2018

Most of you know I participated in a writing contest a few months ago, in which we were assigned different genres, characters, and subjects to write about in each round. I shared my first round story here. For the second round, I was assigned "Suspense, Judge, and Medicine," and came up with Keeping Judge Spencer. Enjoy!

KEEPING JUDGE SPENCER


The roses are too pink. He wants the blush shade. They’re her favorite. The flower shop by his apartment has a wide array of pink roses—pepto bismol, cotton candy, bubblegum—but no blush.

It’s okay. There’s still time. He pulls his phone from his pocket to search for nearby flower shops. He needs blush roses. Tonight has to be perfect.  

She deserves that.

He opens Facebook to visit the event page again. Campaign Kickoff to Re-elect Judge Rebecca Spencer. Seventy-two people say they’ll be there, and another twenty or so are interested. He smiles at the photo at the top of the screen, spreading two fingers across it to zoom in on her face. It was from the day she was sworn into office. He’d taken several pictures of Rebecca that day, but she’d chosen a more formal photo for the fundraiser page.

Two flower shops later, he finds exactly what he’s looking for—roses with perfectly pale pink petals that grow darker toward the edges, perched on top of long, dark green stems. He buys a dozen. He imagines her dark hair falling across her face as she leans forward to inhale their scent before smiling up at him through her thick lashes.

He can’t wait to see her. She’s worked so hard to earn the right to wear that robe. There have been many late nights, working tirelessly for her clients, proving her commitment to the families she serves. At least three times a week he receives an apologetic phone call asking him to meet her when she’s leaving work. He doesn’t mind. She shouldn’t walk to her car alone after dark.

Pain throbs behind his eyes. He rubs his forehead and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers, exhaling slowly. Headaches are par for the course whenever he skips his morning pill, and it will only get worse when he skips his next one. Still, he isn’t going to take them today. He wants to be as clear-headed as possible tonight.

She deserves that.

He stops at the dry cleaners on his way home. His dark gray suit will look perfect with her strapless pink dress, the one that matches her flowers. The perfect roses to match the perfect dress on his perfect woman.

Everything is going according to plan. She’s going to the restaurant early to help set up, and he’ll surprise her there before everyone else arrives. Their schedules have made it difficult to spend much time together the last couple of weeks, but a few minutes alone always seems to make everything right again.

***

He drops his keys on the table just inside the front door as he enters his apartment, and then pulls a pitcher from his cabinet for the flowers, running a bit of water in it to keep them fresh. He fills a glass with ice water while he’s at it, and presses it to his forehead, trying to ease the pain. It’s settled deep behind his eyes now, but he’ll push through, like always. Watching her body, hearing her laugh, inhaling her scent—that’s all the medicine he needs.

Facebook is still open on his phone when he unlocks the screen, and this time he goes to her personal page to swipe through her photos again. He loves every side of Rebecca. The professional, successful Rebecca in her courtroom attire, first as a lead prosecutor and then in her judge’s robe; the pretty, girl-next-door Rebecca, playing with her kids in her backyard; and fun, sexy Rebecca, enjoying girls night out with her friends. It doesn’t bother him that she goes out with her friends sometimes. She belongs to him—nothing will change that. 

He especially loves the pictures that show Rebecca back in college, long before they met. He finds her album of throwback pictures, and flips through every single one, imagining, again, what it might’ve been like if he’d gone to college, how they might have met, what their life together might look like if it had started earlier.

Not that it matters. The past is the past. At least they have each other now.

He takes his time getting ready. The suit will make her happy. She’s so used to seeing him in his security guard uniform each day. The suit will be another nice surprise. He trims his beard, remembering how she’d complimented him the last time he’d trimmed it up a bit. It’s not just Rebecca he wants to impress. Rebecca’s mother will be there tonight, and it’ll be his first time meeting her. He’d hoped to meet her last week. Rebecca’s Facebook page had alerted him to her mother coming to town for lunch. He thought for sure they would’ve swung by the office so he could say hi, but they didn’t.

He shrugs off the light irritation he feels. It’s fine. She may not have been ready for him to meet her mother that day. He didn’t press her about it. Besides, he’d meet Rebecca’s mother tonight, dressed in his suit, beard trimmed, looking the way the boyfriend of a successful, powerful family court judge should look.

She deserves that.

***

It takes a couple trips around the block before he finally finds a parking spot he likes. Close enough to see the restaurant, but far enough so she doesn’t see him before he wants to be seen. He loves watching her when she doesn’t know he’s there. He gets to see the real her, the Rebecca she is when no one is looking. As far as she knows, anyway.

There’s a banner in front of the restaurant that reads Keep Judge Spencer. He smiles at the words. He intends to do just that.

Tonight he’ll make Rebecca his forever. He closes his eyes and pictures it again—the two of them, side by side in perfectly coordinated attire, frozen in time. Hopefully her dress won’t get too dirty.

When Rebecca had asked for suggestions for event spaces to host the campaign kickoff, this restaurant had been at the top of his list. He remembered how she’d thanked him for the idea. She calls him her Downtown Expert, because he lives in one of the high-rise buildings near the courthouse, while she lives in a neighborhood on the edge of town.

He loves her house. The two-story brick home sits on a corner lot with lots of giant, old trees. The front porch wraps all the way around on both sides, with a wooden swing tucked into the left side. He’s only actually been inside the house once, last summer when she was on vacation, but he knows the interior pretty well from her Facebook posts. The last time he’d driven by he noticed she had repainted the room inside the left front window. Rebecca has such great taste. 

Her silver Volvo pulls up in front of the restaurant and he leans forward. She flips her visor down, reapplies her lipstick, and smooths her hair with her hand. He smiles, like he always does when he sees her. The car door opens and she climbs out, one long leg, then the other. His smile fades. She isn’t wearing the pink dress.

His shoulders fall and he flops back in his seat, slapping the heel of his hand against his steering wheel. He strokes his beard with his other hand and presses his tongue against the back of his teeth, forcing himself to take slow, deep breaths.

It’s fine. Everything is fine. She still looks beautiful, of course. He just has to adjust the scene he’d envisioned in his mind.

He squeezes his eyes shut and presses his fingers into them, relieving some of the pain in his head. With his eyes still closed, he sees her turn at the sound of his voice, watches her expression light up, the smile spread across her face. All that’s changed is the dress.

Everything is still perfect.

He opens one eye and peeks at the roses lying in his passenger’s seat. They won’t match the black dress she’s wearing. Now she won’t match him at all.

He exhales slowly through his nose.

He pulls his phone from the dashboard and goes to her Facebook, scrolling until he finds the post he’s looking for—the one where she’d bought the pale pink dress. If the dress wasn’t for tonight, then what was it for? His fingertips grow white as they dig into the edge of his phone. He tosses it into the passenger seat, crushing the cellophane wrapped around the roses.

Rebecca stands in front of the restaurant, talking on her phone while she watches the road.

He looks at himself in his rearview mirror and shakes his head. It’s fine. The dress is black. His suit is gray. The flowers are blush. He’ll hand them to her. She’ll be delighted. She’ll kiss his cheek. He’ll meet her mother. He’ll reach into his suit pocket, and—

A red BMW slows down in front of the restaurant, and Rebecca waves to it, pointing the driver toward a parking spot near hers. She smiles at the man in the black suit who steps out of the car.

No.

Even in heels, Rebecca has to place her hands on the man’s arms and rise up on her toes to kiss his cheek.

No. No. No.

This is not the plan.

He smacks the steering wheel again. Then again, and again.

His head pounds. He presses his fist to his mouth and bites down on his forefinger.

The man in the black suit places his hand on the back of Rebecca’s black dress, just below her waist, in that familiar way that men touch their women. They walk up the steps to the entrance side-by-side, and he holds the door open for her to go before him. The door closes, and they are gone

His gaze blurs. He wraps his fingers around the steering wheel, straightening his arms and pressing his back into his seat. Her Facebook photos play on a loop in his mind, and he scans them for signs of the man in the black suit.

Nothing.

But there must have been a sign somewhere, right? Something he missed. He erupts with anger, screaming and thrashing with rage. By the time he regains control, his voice is hoarse and his knuckles are swollen. He removes his coat and relaxes, allowing his fury to melt away. He can’t give into it completely. That will ruin the plan.

Keep Judge Spencer.

He doesn’t know what Rebecca is doing tomorrow, but if he knows anything at all about her, it’s that she’ll wake up tomorrow morning and announce her plans for the day to all 2200 of her Facebook friends.

Her plans will become his.

Tomorrow.

He throws the car into drive and pulls out of his carefully selected parking spot, cutting off a blue truck in the process. A horn blares. He raises his middle finger in response.

The roses make his headache worse, taunting him from their spot in the passenger’s seat. Their scent fills the car, taking up all the air, until he’s sure there isn’t any left for him to breathe. He jabs his finger into the button on his door to lower the window, and hurls the roses into the street. They hit the pavement behind him, rose petals flying, crushed beneath the tires of passing cars.

His gaze falls to the pistol in his passenger’s seat, no longer hidden by the roses.  

The pistol would wait for another day, another perfect plan.

She deserves that.

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