by Libby Sternberg
“I knew I couldn’t avoid her. That’s why I moved. As fast as I could.” He stared at the lawyer grilling him, wishing he could get his hands on his scrawny neck. Damn it, his tie felt like it was choking him. He wanted to tug at it, but did that make him look dishonest? Be still, it’s almost over. Isn’t it?
She sat, a portrait of innocence, at the defense table, that cascade of chestnut hair held back with a blue ribbon. Hell, it matched his tie. Her whole damned suit matched his tie. Jesus Christ, she knew he only had blue ties because he only had one suit, the blue-gray he now wore. It was as if she read his mind — a small smile pricked at the corners of her impish mouth. She smiled even more, a girlish grin with tilted head, signifying pity, when her lawyer asked a series of rapid-fire questions, the answers to which were all yes: he owned a pistol, he was a firefighter, he’d been upset about her relationship with his best friend.
“So, let me summarize. You owned the gun that killed your friend. You knew how to use the accelerant that started the fire to try to cover the murder of the victim, and you were mad at him for stealing your girlfriend…”
The prosecutor objected, but it was too late. Can’t unring a bell and all that. He’d be lucky not to be charged himself after she got off scot-free, dammit. Oh, and she would get off. He was sure of it. He had seen the sympathetic looks on the jurors’ faces. She was a charmer, she was. That’s how he fell for her, fast and deep.
He felt his face warm and knew he must have looked like a rocket ready to explode. But she was the explosive one, the one whose wild ways masked something dark and dangerous. She was the one who’d turned on him after he realized she was crazy. She was the one who showed up everywhere he went until he ran as if running from the devil. She was the one who’d poisoned the town against him. As the lawyers argued over each other about the objection, he caught her gaze, and he swore he heard her giggle…
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, “Fall from Grace” has been called a “novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review.
This short story was inspired by the Sam Hunt song “Break Up in a Small Town.”