SHE-DEMON

He hadn’t known him long, but liked his wry sense of humor.  It helped lessen the otherwise suffocating atmosphere at work and made the time confined within the white cubicles more bearable.  It was over their shared wall that he first heard the suggestion that changed his life.

“Why don’t we have a few beers after work?”

They stopped at a local tavern later that afternoon.  A grizzled man was playing the piano accompanied by a sultry vocalist dressed in red.  She seemed out-of-place, like a cabaret singer from the 1960s stuck in a college dive.  It didn’t hinder her performance however, and by evening’s end, he was enchanted.

“You like her?” slurred his buddy.  “I could hook you up, you know…”

After her last set, she joined them at the bar and he knew, despite the beer fog, he was on dangerous ground.  She had a wide, little girl smile and smelled like cinnamon.   His pal lurched to his feet and kissed her directly on the lips.

“My friend here wants to meet you, babygirl…”  He squeezed her for a moment before offering his chair.  “I think he likes you.”

She sat down and looked up at her admirer.  “Is that so?”  Her voice was like a bell.

He took a swig from his bottle before answering.  Maybe his new-found friend was more of a dick than he thought.  He shrugged it off and changed the subject.  Compliments were easier to manage.

“Why, thank you, sir,” she said, a little more coyly than he expected.  “I didn’t think anybody was paying attention to my set list.”

They exchanged opinions about composers and old standards.  She was more intelligent than he’d hoped.  And before the night was over, he secretly planned a return engagement, one that didn’t include his mouthy friend.

“I saw the way you looked at her, bro,” said he, the very next morning.  “You know, I think the two of you would be perfect together.”

He slurped his coffee.  “No, I mean it.  She’s like my little sister and I want to see her happy.  Better you than that douchebag she’s with…”

With that, he sketched a brief synopsis of her life.  Married at eighteen, she was saddled with two worthless children and a dysfunctional husband who spent most of their marriage in rehab and on the dole.  She had a couple of stints as a back-up singer for national acts, but couldn’t spend any time on the road because of the demands of her family.    Eventually she gave up her dream and settled for local shows that paid enough to keep her home out of foreclosure.

The more he heard, the more anxious his inner white knight became.  Rescuing past damsels in distress had not ended well for him, but he itched for the chance to try again.  Besides, he was bored and needed a project.  He agreed to meet privately with her.

Naturally, she was everything and more than he had dreamed: Sensual, articulate, with just a hint of long-suffering that made her irresistible.  Coffee dates were followed by long phone conversations that dragged into the night, complete with sighs and confessions.  Even more exciting were those illicit moments of being alone together, her languid and warm in his arms, wondering if her silk promises would ever manifest.

He often thought about ending the affair.  He tried on several occasions, but was always met with her resolve.

“Don’t break my heart,” she begged.  “Don’t crush me underfoot like a grape.”

So he stayed, hoping rather than believing she’d keep her word and leave her husband.  He even saw the wretched man once or twice, a faded shadowlike man nursing a line of empty shot glasses at the local sports bar, and wondered what would possess her to stay with such a creature.  He listened to her stories of neglect and abuse, each one more horrifying than the next, until his ire rose and he longed to smite her foes.  Even those who resided under her roof.

One morning at work, the phone rang and he knew it was her.  He needed no caller i.d. to warn him that the voice on the other end called with bad news.  He could have scripted it for her:  I’m sorry.  It’s over.  I’m staying with my husband.  I owe it to him.  Goodbye.

He hung up the phone and stared into space.  Another botched quest for the hand of Dulcinea. He should have known better.  This princess preferred the dragon.

The office mail clerk rolled by, dumping a sheaf of envelopes before him.  He opened each one slowly with a silver opener, cutting through the paper like a knife across his throat and poured their white contents across his desk in a heap.

“What the hell are you doing?”

He looked up absently into the face of his cubicle cell-mate peering over the wall.

“What’s with you trying to meddle and bust up her marriage?” he whispered angrily.   “Why you do me like that, bro?  She’s family! She’s got kids and an old man at home who really loves her!”  He looked at him with contempt before sliding behind the wall.  “You’re the douche now….”

He sighed.  It seemed all would-be heroes become villains in the end, so he sold his condo and transferred to San Diego with the hope that his bad luck wouldn’t follow.  The sunny climate suited him and so did the office.  One promotion followed the other until he became regional manager and started travelling.

One trip brought him full circle, back to his hometown and smack into a storm of gossip and suspicion.  He learned that in the months following his transfer, he had garnered an unsavory name as a player and homewrecker.   Calls to old friends and acquaintances went unanswered.  Even his old office drinking buddy avoided him.  He was treated as a visitor and nothing more, as if his previous life never existed.

It was only during the flight home that he realized how he had been outmaneuvered.  Only the ruthless sacrifice others for gain. He smiled sadly to himself, recalling false promises made in the dark. It wasn’t enough that he was misled; he must be assigned the fault as well.

He reclined his seat and gazed at the clouds passing by his port window.  There would be no more quests in his future, for he had finally learned that not all fair maidens play fairly.

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