Plum yanked Amanda to her feet and ordered her to strip down to her underwear. She wiggled out of the maid’s uniform and I admired her tanned, svelte body. Plum called the men back, ordering them to take Amanda to the guest bedroom and lock the door.
Amanda’s eyes widened. She began backing towards the front door, frantically shaking her head. I looked over towards Plum but she had already moved back into the shadows. The darkness robbed me of eye contact with her.
She hovered by the coffee table for a few moments and I heard the splash of liquid. Plum was pouring herself another drink. She downed it quickly and slammed the glass down so hard that it sounded like a gun report. I jumped and felt my face flush, even though she didn’t even appear to be looking in my direction.
Something about the whole situation set my nerves on edge. I had a bad feeling. Maybe it was the alcohol churning in my gut. It also could have been Plum’s mysterious silence. While I entertained those thoughts, Plum stalked off. The darkness appeared to swallow her whole.
I took off after her like child who was afraid of the dark. The enormity of the house imposed itself on my heightened senses. I moved cautiously in the cavernous space, arms outstretched, attempting to navigate my way in the darkness. It seemed to take an eternity to cross the room.
Meanwhile, the sound of Plum’s heels clacked against the marble stairs. I quickened my pace and was rewarded with a blow to the right thigh. Somehow, I drifted off course and connected with the wooden arm of a chair. Looking behind me, the candlelight seemed to be a mile away.
I hated being left alone in a strange house. Plum had evidently forgotten all about me. I found myself wondering for the second time why my so-called friend phoned me. Plum had the disconcerting habit of reaching out and then pulling away. It seemed to me that it would always be like that; me orbiting around her and warmed by her presence but unable to get close to her.
I found the staircase moments before a loud crash sounded overhead. Alarmed, I ran up the staircase taking two steps at a time. Plum’s voice rose from behind a closed door somewhere down the hall. I followed the sound and reached for the doorknob with a trembling hand.
Neither of the room’s occupants appeared to notice my arrival. Plum was pummeling Amanda’s midsection with her fist. Blood trickled from the corner of the woman’s mouth. An overturned vanity table still rocked on its side.
Perfume bottles littered the carpet. Some of the bottles had come unstoppered and were leaking their contents into the shag. I knew that taking in everything was a way of procrastinating while hovering indecisively in the doorway. Finally, concern outweighed my qualms about overstepping my bounds. If someone didn’t stop Plum, she was going to kill Amanda.
I tried reasoning with her but my words of caution fell on deaf ears. Restraining her proved difficult. Plum broke free twice and resumed her attack on Amanda who didn’t even try to defend herself. She took the blows without protest, which only seemed to further enrage Plum.
Plum stalked over to the dresser, grabbed a heavy crystal vase by the neck and charged at Amanda. I couldn’t seem to get Plum’s attention until I grabbed her by arm and spun her around to face me. The crazed look in her eyes waned and she appeared to come to herself from a great distance.
“What’s wrong with you Plum? You’re going to kill her! Whatever she did couldn’t be all that bad.”
Plum wrenched her arm from my grasp and threw the vase against the far wall before storming out of the room. I moved to help Amanda to her feet. She began weeping inconsolably. The next thing I knew, the butler and chauffeur reappeared and grabbed her. They escorted Amanda from the room forcibly, leaving me to gape after them in stunned silence. When my legs began working again, I went in search of Plum.
Now I was thoroughly confused. The warning voice in my head spoke up then, imploring me to leave. Common sense told me not to give into my maternal instincts and try to help Plum. How could I save her from herself? She had just demonstrated a great capacity for violence.
The only sensible course of action for me was to leave and never look back. I was about to be sucked into something for which my sheltered existence had not prepared me. I found Plum down in the living room. She was sitting motionless on the couch. I turned on the lights and began blowing out candles.
We had just had enough drama for one night. Plum stopped staring into space long enough to plant a cigarette between her lips and search for her lighter. She looked positively haggard. I took the unlit cigarette away, tossed it on the coffee table and pulled her to her feet.
We both needed to get some sleep. I helped Plum up the steps to her bedroom and pulled back the covers. She climbed in obediently and appeared to quickly fall asleep. I stood over my friend for a few moments looking down at her intently, trying to figure out what was going on in that devious mind of hers.
Plum had a dark side. That much was obvious. Her actions that night revealed a vengeful nature. I should have left then and retreated to the relative safety of mediocrity. Perhaps I would have done just that if she hadn’t roused and suddenly grasped my wrist. I had been alone for so long that I’d secretly begun to suspect that I was invisible. It felt good to be needed…to be touched.
She sat up and refused to lie back down until I climbed in beside her. I lay on my back. Plum propped herself up on one elbow and I watched silky hair spill over her shoulder. I noticed a tiny tattoo on the inside of her left wrist. It was three cards with the numbers eight, nine and three on them.
Plum’s eyes followed my gaze and she grinned sheepishly. She was so beautiful that it pained me to look too closely. She smiled at me and I returned the smile, acknowledging her unspoken gratitude before averting my eyes.
“What just happened Plum? You don’t call me for over a month and then out of the blue you ask me to come and witness that?”
“I wanted you to see for yourself.”
“I don’t understand. You wanted me to see what for myself?”
“You wanted to know why I’m so successful. The other day, you asked me a hundred and one questions as though you thought there was some sort of closely guarded secret to success.”
“It must be a secret because the answer keeps eluding me.”
“That’s your problem. You sit back and over think things. There is no secret to success. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.”
“Tell me something Plum. Would you have killed Amanda if I hadn’t stopped you?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to think that you wouldn’t do something like that. I mean, it sounded like Amanda just made a mistake.”
“All it takes is one mistake to destroy someone Patricia. The moment Amanda betrayed me, she became a liability. I’m not just going to give her a slap on the hand and let her walk away. She knows too much.”
“I don’t think Amanda would intentionally do anything to harm you Plum.”
“Then you’re a fool and I’m wasting my time on you! Go home little girl. Go on, get the hell out of my house!”
I tried to reason with Plum but she stopped speaking to me. I finally gave up and let her chauffeur drove me home. I still believed what I said was true but that didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted to leap from the moving limousine, run back and apologize to Plum.
Isn’t that pathetic? She was treating me like the hired help and all I wanted to do was kneel at her feet and beg for forgiveness! I climbed into bed exhausted and more depressed than ever. Plum would probably never call me again.
It hadn’t even occurred to me to question Plum’s motivation for attacking the woman. I assumed that she was just angry about being jilted. Plum was obviously a passionate person. I hoped Amanda would be okay but she appeared to be resigned to her fate, whatever it was.
The woman didn’t even flinch when Plum ran at her with that vase. In my frame of mind, I assumed that Amanda didn’t fight back because she felt guilty about betraying Plum. It never occurred to me that fear of a worse fate had anything to do with it.
Even after witnessing Plum’s violent attack and hearing her calm assertion that she was willing to commit murder to in order to keep secrets, I still didn’t fully comprehend her cold-blooded nature. That’s the danger of wanting something too much. Sometimes, you see only what you want to see in people.
In the end, I got another hour of sleep before my alarm went off. It jarred me awake. I sat straight up in bed with my heart galloping painfully in my heaving chest. I had just slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep seconds before the alarm went off. Now, I had a pounding headache.
The thought of calling in sick was tempting. It felt as though I had been awake for two days straight. I lay in bed a moment longer and deliberated. Mr. Canfield wouldn’t mind if I called off. I had sold a lot of properties for him. In the end, I hauled myself out of bed. It was pointless to call in sick. I wouldn’t be able to rest. I was such a goody-goody-two shows that I’d be anxious all day.
Even when I really am sick, I feel guilty about taking time off. As much as I grouse about never catching a break, deep down I don’t really feel like I deserve one. I hate being miserable but when things are going well, it bothers me because it feels weird and I feel like I’m going to be punished somehow for being happy.
Have you ever noticed that about life? It goes in cycles. Something good happens and then the invisible pendulum swings the other way and there’s a stretch of unpleasantness. Why are the good times so much shorter than the bad times? I guess that’s why I’m usually too busy bracing myself for the problems looming on the horizon to fully enjoy anything good. That’s probably why I always feel stressed out.
Ever feel like there’s not enough time to catch your breath? I keep promising myself that one of these days, I’ll take two weeks off and come up with a master plan for my life instead of just drifting without any real direction.
Had Plum come along at a different time in my life, the impression she created might have been completely different. I don’t like to think about that though. The idea that the ugly chain of events which began to unfold could have been avoided entirely makes me uneasy. I don’t like to dwell on regret. They say everything happens for a reason.