Romantic Suspense / Satire
Date Published - February 15, 2015
Marriage is bliss for newlywed Jude Clayton. Lord knows she could use it. After years of battling a destructive mental disorder, she’s hungry for some sense of normalcy. Little does she know, she will find the complete opposite with her new husband Bryce. On the surface, Bryce Clayton is every woman’s dream—make no mistake about it. Handsome, intelligent, wealthy and accomplished, Bryce only has one problem. An obsession.
Poor fragile Jude knows nothing about her husband’s “extracurricular activities.” What she’ll discover about herself in the process is much scarier than anything either of them can imagine. Jude, with her grotesque sense of humor and her many mental abnormalities, has developed an obsession of her own.
As their unconventional “romance” blossoms into a toxic relationship, truth and lies clash. And some begin to wonder: Is Jude a helpless victim to her husband’s deceitful ways or is she a dutiful accomplice?
July 21, 2009
The first thing I loved about him were his hands.
Bryce Clayton had talented hands—strong fingers, perfect knuckles—beautiful in every way. That man had an orgasmic touch. That’s what I’d like to remember forever, first and foremost. My husband had glorious hands, but they were also weapons. They were destructive beasts that destroyed everything they touched. Including me.
When they reveal the crime scene photos of his body, the only thing I can focus on are those infamous hands. Long broken fingers drenched in blood, tattered fingernails and gnarled knuckles. I can hardly stomach looking at them. I slump forward in the metal chair, clutching my stomach to quell the nausea.
Soft light spills from the florescent beams overhead, drawing beads of sweat from my scalp. Moisture drips like melting paint across my forehead, making me feel like I’ve been embedded in the sun. This is a side-effect of guilt.
“Mrs. Clayton?” the cop utters. “If you’ll work with me, we can get this over with and you can go home.”
Though my eyes lay fixed on the gruesome photos of my husband’s pale corpse, I nod. He proceeds, “Good. Now, we’ll be recording this interrogation for legal purposes, so I’ll need you to state your full name before we begin.”
He reaches across the table toward his recorder and presses a single button: PLAY. We settle in the silence for a moment and I feel his eyes on me, watching then judging. He has already made up his mind about me. Cops are designed to think the worst of everyone. I’d be offended if I didn’t agree with his assessment of me.
When he looks at me, I’m sure he’s sees the same thing every outsider sees. Stupid, homely, little suburban bitch. I’m a walking advertisement for everything that’s wrong with the twenty somethings of today. Spoiled brats with their heads lodged up their asses. Stupid bitch. I see it in his eyes. This man resents me.
“Go ahead, state your full name,” he orders.
I clear my throat, fidgeting with my fingers to distract my rampant thoughts. As I forge the courage to face him, my eyes are swollen with tears, but I’ve not cried a single tear yet and it scares me. What kind of woman doesn’t react to the death of her own husband? A woman like me? I didn’t think I could be so cold…until now.
“My name is Judith Lillian Clayton.”
“And why are you here today, Mrs. Clayton?”
“Your men arrested me. They say I've been a very bad girl,” I say and for some reason I expect him to laugh at my distasteful quip. Instead, I hear a light sigh as if he’s suddenly growing impatient with me. Guess I picked the wrong time to crack a joke.
“For better clarification, give me specifics. Why are you here?”
My heart, it chugs, coagulating blood in my chest cavity. It hurts. Everything hurts, even the strands of my hair. I’m a pulp of walking pain. Hollowed out like someone has eviscerated my insides with an ice cream scooper.
“I killed my husband,” I say.
“When did this incident occur?”
“July 20, 2009. The final day of our honeymoon.”
“I need you to tell me every single thing that happened on your honeymoon,” he says. “Starting with day one.”
“To understand, you’ll have to hear everything,” I say.
“Meaning what exactly?” he asks.
“My husband was a very complicated man, detective. He was absolutely brilliant, but he was also his own worst enemy. He was a bastard, a jackass and an unapologetic asshole, but against my better judgment…I loved him. To understand why he’s dead, you need to know our secrets.”
He pauses, but eventually replies, “Then give me the whole story.”
“You might not like me very much after I tell you this story. Sometimes I don’t even like myself when I think about it,” I say. “So I want you to listen because I won’t be repeating a thing.”
“Are you intentionally being vague, Mrs. Clayton?”
“Not intentionally, no, but I can only tell you what I remember. And that in itself might not be very credible,” I say. “You will have to fill in the rest of the pieces from there.”
“Just try your best. We have all day. Take your time.”
With a lump in my throat, I nod and say, “Yes sir.”
July 7, 2009
We were supposed to begin the day packing for the trip. Bryce insisted.
I, on the other hand, begin the day tending to my bruises. The restroom is where it often happens, behind closed doors so Bryce can’t see, but I know he can hear. I imagine him with his ear pressed against the door and his hand on the knob, debating whether or not to interrupt. He rarely does. So it remains, as always, my dirty little secret.
I sit in foamy bathwater scrubbing my skin raw. I never truly feel clean so I don’t stop scrubbing until I see bruises. Or blood. Each bruise of nasty purple blotches the inside of my thighs like splashes of paint. I pinch the discolored skin until it hurts and wince each time the euphoric burn returns. I pinch harder and harder until I’m numb. It feels too good to stop.
“Jude?” Bryce calls from outside the bathroom door. I dive beneath the bathwater to muffle his voice, in hopes that he’ll leave. But Bryce knows better than to leave me alone for too long. He isn’t going away.
“You’ve been in there for an hour,” he says. “I’m sure you’re clean enough by now.” He jingles the doorknob several times, realizing immediately that it’s locked. When I don’t answer, he knocks. “Jude? Judith!”
A couple more knocks and the door bursts open with Bryce on the other side drenched in a nervous sweat. I’d seen that face before. His bloodshot eyes fill with quiet panic. A perfect man doesn’t deserve an imperfect wife. In those eyes, I see the words: What did I do to deserve this? He wants to say it. For my sake, he doesn’t.
“Jude, didn’t you hear me knocking?” Upon inching closer to the tub, he notices with a relief two earphones crammed inside my ears. “Thank god,” he sighs.
With a manufactured smile that I’ve rehearsed hundreds of times before, I greet him like a wife should.
“Hey baby,” I say. “What’s wrong?”
Bryce remains where he is for three beats of prolonged silence as if he has no real answer to my question. By that fractured smile on his face, I know what he’s thinking. Poor Bryce just might have his hands full with me.
“Bryce, are you okay?” I ask after rising from a fetal position in the tub. Before anything else is said, his arms are around me, hugging me in a “thank-god-she’s-not-dead” kind of way. And I know from this alone that he’s thinking about…before.
“You didn’t answer me,” he says while unraveling himself from me.Those eyes lock with mine, bringing the world to a standstill the same way they had convinced me to marry him. This man has talent in those eyes.
“I was listening to some music,” I say. “I didn't hear you."
“I thought that…I don’t know…just don’t listen to those things in the bathtub. You know how dangerous that is?”
He plucks the earphones from my ears and tucks them inside his pants pocket as if for safekeeping. As if some small part of him fears the worst of what someone like me could do with an earphone cord. I’ll bet he imagines me fashioning a makeshift noose.
“Bryce, you’re much too overprotective,” I say. “It’s music, not cyanide.”
Bryce doesn’t smile at my joke, though I admit it’s mean-spirited. For someone like me, it’s downright cruel. I step out of the bathtub, neglecting to grab a towel as Bryce turns away to face the medicine cabinet mirror.
“It isn’t funny, Judith,” he mutters. “And you know it.”
I slink behind him, draping my arms around his neck while resting my chin atop his left shoulder. He kisses my forearm and clasps hold of it with his quivering hand. Through the mirror before us, I spot the wedding band reflection, hugging his ring finger. I allow myself to smile.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bryce Clayton,” he announces. “Can you believe it?”
“My parents sure didn’t,” I say.
“You told them?”
He sighs, realizing what the tone of my voice suggests. “Lydia didn’t approve?”
“Not because of you,” I assure him. “I promise.”
Bryce turns from the mirror, facing me. His hands clamp like talons around my bare hips, bony fingers pressed into my wet skin. I drip inside his arms, remembering now that I never bothered to dry or dress myself from the bath.
Old Judith would surely blush at the thought, cringe at the mere mention of intimacy. She’d fall repressed and rush for a bathrobe to shield her nakedness from the presence of any man. Bryce has triggered something that Old Judith wouldn’t allow new me to do. Old Judith was a skittish kitten. New Judith will be something different.
“How did Lydia take the news?” he asks in a voice of worrywart Bryce. This Bryce is much too anxious.
“Naturally, she’s upset that we eloped without telling her,” I say. “You know my mother. She wanted some massive monstrosity of a wedding for both of her kids. After what happened with Cadence’s wedding, I knew to avoid Lydia Kirby’s maternal wrath.”
“Anything else?” he asks in a leading voice as if he knows I’ve left something out. I know what he’s implying. I also know where it’ll lead if I let myself entertain it. Bryce knows the one button not to press with me. Yet, he often insists on pressing it as hard as he can at all the wrong times.
“I don’t want to talk about my mother,” I say.
“This isn’t just about your mother,” he replies. “Now what else did she say?”
He puts on a face that only my father can mimic. These parental eyes belong to my mother’s husband. I lean forward, standing on my tiptoes to silence him with a smothering kiss. It works…for a moment.
My lips are his candy. He sucks and breathes them in like cherry bubblegum. His grasp tightens around my waist. My hold lures him in and I’m sure I’ve gotten his mind off the subject of my mother.
“Jude, stop it,” Bryce moans while attempting to nudge me away, but his mouth says one thing as his body says another. “Judith, you aren’t going to get out of this conversation by distracting me.”
“Are you sure about that?” I whisper... “Then you should consult with the rest of your anatomy if you’d really like to get your point across.”
“Judith, I mean it!” At once he pulls back, gripping my wrists to restrain my perverse hands. I stand startled before him, wincing at the feel of his rough grip. We, like two opposing boxers, acknowledge the impasse in silence until Bryce releases my arms.
“Don’t do that,” he warns. “Don't try to seduce your way out of talking to me.”
I swallow the hostile words that linger in the back of my throat because I don’t like upsetting my Bryce.
“I’m sorry,” I say in my most apologetic voice. “You forgive me?”
He takes one look at me and sighs. He knows I’ve won. My lips aren’t the only things he can’t resist.
“It’s getting late,” he says. “We’ll miss our plane.”
He releases my wrists and turns toward the door. I grip his hand, entwining our fingers to force him to face me.
“Bryce, you’re not mad at me, are you?”
“Not mad. Just worried.”
“You’re always worried,” I tease.
“You never give me a reason not to,” he says before leaving the bathroom. I know he’s right. I have never disputed his insight on most things concerning me or how my mind works. I am walking chaos. A mental bundle of misshapen nerves.
Amber has been writing for as long as she can remember. Yes, she knows how awful her fifth grade plays were, but she didn't care as long as she had to the power to explore her imagination in the darkest ways possible. She grew up in the south where she ate a lot of BBQ and spent too much time reading.
Some would argue that she was an odd child (and an even odder adult) With her morbid sense of humor, Amber has aimed to be as true to her writing as she can by exploring the darker sides of humankind. She loves psychological thrillers and offbeat plots. Her characters might be unlikeable. Her plots might take disturbing twists and turns, but she tries (as always) to explore the most tragic parts of life with as much humor as possible.
Her favorite authors are Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty, Tana French and Laura Lippman.
Her favorite movies are dark, suspenseful and (sometimes) romantic. Though she hates most romantic comedies, she absolutely loves (500) Days Of Summer, The Spectacular Now and The Fault In Our Stars.