March Free Fiction: Cream and Meringue

March Free Fiction: Cream and Meringue

Shaw and Sharon are the perfect couple. Hand-in-glove, peas in a pod, birds of a feather. Inseparable. But after a discovery at his forensics lab, Shaw begins to wonder just how much alike they really are—and if Sharon really is as sweet as Meringue…

     Shaw Wycliff was a lab geek in every sense of the word—to the point of dreading the times when his division of the forensic building was closed and he was forced to shut down the 3D printer, hang up his lab coat, and let his hands go naked for seventy-two-hour weekend stretches.

      That is until he met his one true. His Sharon.

      He parked in the driveway of their bungalow with its hunter green siding. Soon, the shrubbery in the landscaping would bush out and swallow the front windows. The locust trees in the yard were starting to fragrance the air with spring sweetness. Daffodils danced along the sidewalk, although sparsely because neither he nor Sharon cared much about home upkeep, much to the chagrin of their suburban neighbors.

      His wife, fifteen years ago and every day since, had been correct in choosing the ‘burbs for their landing pad. As singles, they’d preferred apartment life close to the action of their jobs, but together, they needed a hidey-hole of sorts to let the rest of the world do what it will and to be at peace. The air here remained clear and crisp even in the humid summers—and that alone made the commute worth it. Today the breeze carried the season’s first hint of freshly cut grass, the hum of lawnmowers, and the occasional squeal of a child who’d been boxed in a wintery cage far too long.

      Her car was already in the drive. He laid one hand on the hood. The slightest bit of warmth radiated from the engine. He put his other hand on the car and allowed the gentle heat to ease his aching fingers. He’d been testing the fractures and forces of various objects in the lab today. His 3D printer made replicas of possible murder weapons from cold case files, and his job was to test them out. Smash that object into that skull model. Slam that glass shard into that rib cage rendering. Gripping. Hitting. Then inputting raw data into the computer and let that monster of a mainframe calculate and compare and tally to root out monsters from the past.

      When the engine’s heat lost its effect, he moved on to the front door. She’d not been home too long. Probably cooking dinner. Normally, the sight of her car next to his would lift his soul from whatever grim discovery he’d made in the lab that day, or lift his soul higher if work was business as usual.

      But today he wondered where’d she’d been and who she’d seen. Today he wondered if he knew her at all. But as he opened the front door and the baking lasagna caused his taste buds to water more ferociously than Pavlov’s dogs, some of his doubts softened, the hole in his stomach betraying his resolve for home-cooked Italian.   

      “Hey, Peaches. Be there in just a minute,” Sharon called from around the kitchen. She called him her Peaches ‘N Cream. Because he was always sweet. All the time. Even when her goat of a father threatened to shoot him dead if he didn’t stop dating her. Even when at the funeral everyone thought Shaw had something to do with the old man’s demise so he could up and marry Sharon.

      Even when they emerged from the wedding chapel, and her delirious uncle’s gunshots rang above their heads. Real gunfire landed the uncle in jail and then the vulgarity-spewing aunt dropped dead of a heart attack, landing her six feet in the ground next to Sharon’s dad.

      Though Shaw got blamed for it all, Sharon never questioned his unwavering kindness and inability to never hurt another living soul. 

      Even when Sharon had insisted—insisted—that the cockatoo statue not be abandoned in her childhood home, he remained altogether benevolent despite internal annoyance over the bird.

      Shaw prided himself on the way he treated her. Respectful. Considerate. Once, she’d accused him of using a thesaurus and acting out every adjective he could find which was, well, nice. He’d smiled and kissed her and told her she was worth every positively connotated word in the book. She’d melted into his arms and soaked up the moment. After her upbringing, as far as affection goes, she was a dry sponge.

      Shaw was mostly a recluse, preferring to hide in the basement behind his lab coat and gloved hands and face shield. He was known around the building as the nice guy in the cold case room—even when someone higher up the food chain became difficult to deal with, Shaw remained polite. Polite makes people go away faster.


      And generally staying away from people mostly kept him sweet.


      Either that or the opportunity to smash and hit and swing at human body dummies all day long. That can also release lots of tension.

      Sharon was his Lemon Meringue. A little tangy with a dollop of sugar—the way he liked her. She, too, wore protective gear every day and worked in the same field, but more public facing. She needed strong tang to deal with the outside world and the horrors that crime scenes dealt and the multiple personalities that made up their police force.

      She’d needed nothing but tang to survive her family. And he leaned heavily on her when his own family became victims of rogue violence during the time they were dating. Shaw was never close to his parents, but the hold they had on him and the way they took advantage of his kindness, Sharon couldn’t tolerate. “It’s another form of abuse. You just don’t have bruises or scars to show someone.”

      She was right. He’d drop everything he was doing to do their bidding. No matter what else was going on.

      Sharon told him his parents were too needy.

      She was right. The one time he tried to go against them, even as an adult, his dad went on a rampage and keyed Shaw’s very first car—a little Escort he’d saved for months and months to buy. “It’s just the beginning. You’ve got to get away. Your parents just started a lot later than mine did.”

      And after their untimely deaths, Shaw realized how right she was—as always. As mortifying as the whole ordeal was, their deaths freed him to help her. Even if Sharon hadn’t been in his life, their deaths would’ve freed him to actually have a life. 

      Sharon said that’s why she chose forensics—to help catch killers. And that’s likely why Shaw went into cold cases. To help catch killers. Or, in Sharon’s family’s case, to clear the innocent of damning charges.

      As the years went on, though, despite her crime scene work, Sharon’s sweet, soft Meringue side bubbled to the top more and more. Shaw wondered what her personality would be like if she’d been raised by kind folks instead of the abusive pair fate dealt her.

      When it was just the two of them, Shaw and Sharon, alone in their bungalow surrounded by their books and classic movies and vintage Atari systems, they were, well, sweet. Even through snarky board game battles or “fights” about the true origin of a word during Scrabble, or whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher. To each other, they remained Cream and Meringue.

      Sharon called out a few more niceties from the kitchen. He’d yet to see her today, a before-dawn phone call tore her from their bed and off to a crime scene before he’d even hit the shower. They texted back and forth some, but not much. When she was at an active crime scene, her phone stayed in the car.

      But as Shaw stood near the built-in bookcase of their tidy bungalow and ran his fingers over her marble cockatoo mounted on its purple amethyst base, feeling the bird’s curves and creases, feeling the crystal points of the base, Shaw began to wonder if his wife’s lemon was tangier than he’d known.

      Altogether sour, really.

      “You okay, babe? I didn’t hear if you answered me.” She poked her head around the corner, her black locks pulled into a messy bun on top of her head.

      Shaw smiled, sweetly. “That sounds great. Just had a day, sweetheart.” He hoped the strain in his voice didn’t give away how truly horrified he was.

      “Oh, no. I’m so sorry. Made a strawberry pie, too. For later.” She winked. She had a smudge of flour across her olive-toned cheek. She was wearing that dumb apron he thought so cute. Still did. She’d dripped tomato sauce—or maybe it was strawberries—down the front. Underneath, she wore a short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. She’d showered since she’d been home. Even over all the baking, he could smell her soap. Fresh and clean.

      She went back to the kitchen, banging pots and pans and the door of the dishwasher, and Shaw returned his attention to the statue glaring at him from the bookcase.

      The bird’s crest, that cluster of hot pink marble feathers sitting on top of the cockatoo’s head, had the tiniest crack along the edge. Even if Shaw had his lab gloves on, he could’ve felt the defect. That’s what he was trained to do. What he prided himself on.

      Feeling the defects.

      The cockatoo had been a source of consternation when the two were talking marriage and deciding which of her belongings deserved taking up valuable real estate space in her small pair of suitcases. Though adults and perfectly capable of making their own decisions, Shaw and Sharon’s trauma likely clouded their judgment. They both knew she needed to make a clean break away from her crazy parents. That meant a drive-through chapel wedding in the city—and packing light.

      “But I need it.”

      “Why, sweetheart? It takes up half your suitcase. You could bring more clothes or books or—”

      “This.” She’d hugged the cockatoo to her chest and tears streamed down her face. “I can’t leave him. I won’t.”

      Though Shaw never understood her attachment to the bird, and she’d never told him, he’d caved, and she’d guarded the statue like it was a child ever since. No matter which room the cockatoo lived in, it was given a place of prominence. In the bedroom it sat on the dresser. In the kitchen, on top of the refrigerator. In the living room, the bird watched the couple as they watched TV or sat on the floor and played Scrabble.

      Once in a while, he’d still tease her about the sentiment of it, and every time she’d smile, a little sweet, and a little sour, and one eyebrow would go up all adorable-like and she’d say “Cigar box.”

      Then he’d nod and drop it. And they’d sweetly go about their business.

      As important as the bird was to her, Shaw’s cigar box was invaluable to him. It’d been his grandfather’s, and even though he’d never been close to the old man, Shaw had a good reason to keep the box—though he’d never shared it with Sharon.

      But Shaw hadn’t paraded the box from room to room and caused such a drama about it. And it was much smaller than the marble cockatoo. Sharon didn’t have to trip around the cigar box. And the cigar box never stared and glared and pointed its sharp beak like the tropical fowl did.

      Shaw had kidded her many times that she should name the bird if it was that important. “How about Kevin or Fred or George?”

      “No, silly. It’s fine without a name.” It was her bird, so he let it go. Secretly, though, he named the cockatoo Howard, after her father. Shaw wasn’t sure why he hated Cockatoo the Nameless so much, but he was entirely sure why he’d hated Howard the Human.

      Shaw leaned close to the shelf and under his breath said to the bird, “You sneaky creep, Howard. You did it, didn’t you? And Sharon helped? Huh? Is that why you’re living with us?”

      “Are you talking to that bird?” Sharon stood in the door between the living room and kitchen holding a bowl of salad greens and looking a mite confused.

      Shaw straightened. Smiled. “It’s been a really long day, honey. I need to get cleaned up, then I’ll join you for dinner.” He gave her a peck on one cheek, wiped the flour from her other and went to change clothes. He pulled the bedroom door softly shut behind him. And turned the lock ever so quietly.

      He only ever locked the door when he’d had a bad day at work.

      And needed to check his cigar box.

      First thing this morning, Shaw’s boss had rolled in a tote of evidence for Shaw to process. He was to make a 3D rendering and computer images of injuries and compare them to the skull X-rays from some twenty-year-old cold case. That was the backlog on cold cases. Twenty years.

      He took off his collared shirt, tossed it into the hamper in the corner and sat on the bed. He opened his nightstand drawer and moved aside copies of sci-fi magazines and receipts from carry-out and oil changes he should’ve inputted long ago. His cigar box was still there. He pulled it out, opened the lid, and held his breath. Everything was as it had been the last time he’d checked it.

      He exhaled, not knowing how long he’d kept the air in his lungs. The skulls from the lab this morning were his parents’. His boss had no idea. Shaw had no idea, either. Not at first. He never looked at the victim’s names. He scanned the barcode and then started up the 3D printerand got to work. But the shape and angles of their injuries matched. Matched Howard the Cockatoo’s broken crest.

      Sharon had freed Shaw.

      Inside were his parents’ wedding rings, given to him after forensics didn’t need them any longer. He placed them on the nightstand.

      Grandpa’s old pipe came out next. Then a few Polaroids of some long-ago pets and a shot of himself as a toddler on a rickety aluminum swing set.

      When the box was empty, he gently pushed the bottom right corner and the wood shifted ever so slightly, revealing a false base.

      He lifted the panel up.

      They were still there. In a baggie. Nice, flat, white tablets. Tasteless in the right drink. Time-delayed under the right circumstances. He had a few left. Howard the Human never knew what hit him.

      Shaw had freed Sharon. It was justified.

      He prided himself on the way he treated Sharon.

      And Howard the Cockatoo connected Sharon to his parents’ death. The broken crest, if he were to make a 3D rendering, he knew, would fit the angles of the fractures in his parents’ skulls.

      Sharon had freed Shaw. And it was just as justified.

      And somehow, the most connected couple in the world had kept these awful secrets from each other—in plain sight—for fifteen years.

      Shaw finished getting ready for dinner. He joined his fine wife at the dinner table. He kissed her forehead. Her cheeks. She smiled. He smiled.

      “Everything as it should be with the cigar box?” she asked. He startled a bit, his fork loaded with Caesar-drenched greens paused halfway to his mouth. She knew. He took a bite and nodded.

      They ate in silence for a while.

      “Took you long enough to figure it out. About the bird.” Sharon sliced into the pie and slid it onto Shaw’s plate.

      “I was giving your ratio of lemon-to-meringue the benefit of the doubt.” He lied. He’d had no idea until today. She knew he was lying and didn’t care. She gave herself a slice.

      “You’re too sweet.”

       Then Lemon Meringue and Peaches ‘N Cream enjoyed their strawberry pie after a long day of hard work while Howard the Cockatoo waited patiently in the living room for the Scrabble game to start.