A Slice of Pie
Jen gulped the ice-cold milk straight from the carton. Nothing went better with warm blueberry pie. She’d excavated a sizable piece with a santoku knife she’d pulled from her roommate Maddie’s prized knife block. The knife, now gunked up with thick blue jam, teetered precariously on the edge of the plate.
A trail of crumbs followed Jen across the counter. Alternating bites of pie with swigs of milk, she stared vacantly into the fridge. When she’d had her fill, she wiped her signature pink lipstick from the waxy carton lid and shoved it to the back of the top shelf. There was barely a drop of milk left, but that was Maddie’s problem.
Speak of the devil. Maddie had just come through the front door. A blast of hallway chill blew into the apartment and the tell-tale floral scent of dryer sheets filled the air.
“Heya, I ran into Joe down in the laundry,” Maddie called from the living room.
Joe lived below them on the 10th floor. He and Jen had been seeing each other, but that didn’t stop Maddie from sitting on his lap, laughing too hard at his jokes, and timing the baking of her expert desserts with his visits to the apartment.
Jen didn’t complain about it. What good would it do? They’d both say that she was too sensitive. Too crazy. Too jealous. Isn’t that what she’d say to them if the roles were reversed? Besides, she and Joe weren’t serious.
“Oh yeah? What’s up with him?” Jen asked, one eye on Cuddles the cat. He’d jumped up on the counter and was tapping at the knife on the edge of the pie plate. Before Jen could stop him, it toppled off and hit the floor, just missing her foot. He jumped back, fur on edge, as though he’d had nothing to do with it.
“Psycho,” Jen hissed. In the milliseconds it took for her to pick the knife up, he’d gone back to the plate, his long pink tongue licking at the crumbs. She lunged at him with the knife. He screeched and jumped off the counter.
“I was only playing,” she purred as he beat a quick retreat down the hall. “Coward!” she called after him, tossing her plate on top of the mounting dish pile in the sink.
“He asked where you’ve been,” Maddie yelled from the living room, unaware of the exchange between Cuddles and Jen.
“Joe!” Maddie sounded annoyed. And distracted. She was searching under the couch cushions for the remote. She’d never find it. Jen’s bedroom TV remote had stopped working, so she’d repurposed that one for her own.
“And what did ya tell him?”
Joe was cute enough. He could be charming when he wasn’t beating the crap out guys he claimed were disrespecting him. And he always paid for drinks, with the cash he’d earned as a bagman for his Uncle Joey’s protection racket. But two days ago, Jen had met Tom from the 21st penthouse floor. He was taller than Joe and better looking. And the CEO of a hot tech startup that was bound to go public. She’d stopped responding to Joe’s texts.
“I said I didn’t know.” Maddie had come into the kitchen. She’d swung the fridge door wide open, on the prowl for something good to eat. Jen noted the fine, cherry red cashmere sweater her roommate sported. Cashmere was expensive.
“Nice sweater. Is it new?” Jen had had to spot Maddie’s rent that month. Maddie blamed her client for slow payment. Jen suspected, if the client existed at all, that Maddie had likely disappointed them. Her roommate certainly put the “free” into “freelancer,” with a work ethic that did not lend itself to milestones and deliverables. And an extensive list of illustrious clientele, most of whom were entirely invented.
“Yeah, I found it in the washing machine,” Maddie replied, head still in the fridge.
Covering Maddie’s rent was no big deal. Jen was rolling in dough from the counterfeit vitamins she sold on Amazon. Now Maddie would owe her. Besides, Jen liked having her for a roommate, deadbeat notwithstanding. Jen could be herself around her. They understood each other.
“Found?” she arched her brow, picking crumbs from the pie plate.
“They should have known better,” Maddie shrugged. She’d taken someone else’s load out of the machine before the cycle had finished and helped herself to the sweater in the pile. She’d done it before, many times. They both had.
“I didn’t know cashmere was washable,” Jen replied, distracted by Cuddles, who had snuck back in. He’d hopped up on the counter while she wasn’t paying attention, his head in the dish, furiously ripping out chunks of crust.
“Scram, you mangy bastard!” Jen yelled at Cuddles who jumped down and scuttled beneath a chair.
“Don’t talk to him like that,” Maddie commanded, turning from the fridge to face them. Spying the pie, her jaw dropped.
“What the hell? Did you not see the post-it?”
Over the course of living together, they’d taken to posting their respective food items like precious homesteads. From “Do Not Touch” on a bag of apples to “I’ll gut you with a rusty corkscrew” on a bottle of Dom Perignon—the menace of their notes correlating to degree of tastiness and cost.
“I made it from scratch, for Mrs. Ellis. It took me two friggin’ hours,” Maddie huffed.
“Jeez, do you have to be so dramatic? I don’t have time for this.” Jen actually had plenty of time. She was simply bored.
Mrs. Ellis lived on the fourth floor. She was ancient and smelled like stale bread. And she lingered a bit too long in the mailroom, trapping unwary passersby with tedious building gossip. But she had a ton of connections in the museum world from which she’d retired.
“You know I need that Old Bag for gigs.” Maddie had strolled over to the pie and Jen, who was leaning against the counter. She picked up the santoku knife and turned it slowly, and a bit too closely to Jen’s chest, without uttering a sound.
“Everything ok?” Jen was mostly sure her roomie was just playing around.
“You’re lucky you didn’t eat it all,” Maddie said flatly, the knife still at Jen’s chest. Then she cut herself a slice and laid it upon a fresh plate. She placed the knife on the edge of the pie dish and grabbed a fork from the drawer. She took a long bite, staring at Jen with an unwavering glare that would have caused anyone else to weep for their mommy.
“I was starving,” Jen complained. “You should have hidden it better. Besides, it’s not like I ate the last piece.”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” Jen welcomed an excuse to escape.
She swung the door open.
“Why haven’t you been answering my texts?” Joe stormed in.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Ha! I’ll bet. Maddie said you’re seeing someone else!?” He sputtered, his face a firetruck red, like he looked when he was about to get into it with some guy on the street. She was surprised he was so emotional; she could have sworn they’d only been using each other for sex. Though she knew from his collection of revenge porn that he liked to do the breaking up first.
“Oh, Maddie said that did she?” She’d rather not be in his crosshairs, on account of that pesky temper. And his probable ties to the mob. Also, he was wearing that tight blue tee shirt she loved, the one that made his muscles bulge. “Why do you even listen to her? Stop overreacting, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
“How could you do this to me? After all we’ve shared?”
She bit back the laughter. They’d only shared the occasional beer followed by the occasional roll in the sack. But he did smell like Ivory soap, hmmm yes, freshly showered, just like she liked him.
“We talked about this. Don’t you remember? I told you I’d be busy. Plus, you know Maddie’s an inveterate li...”
“You must have misunderstood me, Joe.” Maddie said, cruising into the living room. “I meant Jen’s so busy with work right now, it’s like she’s got another boyfriend! Why are you so upset? I was only kidding.”
“Kidding, huh?” He gaped, unblinkingly, at Jen.
Hmmm, misunderstood. Yeah right. Good save though, Maddie. Still, they were by no means even. Perhaps she’d piss in Maddie’s shampoo bottle. Or maybe narc her out to the student loan people. Sometime, somewhere, Jen would have her revenge.
“You know I joke! You’re such a sensitive guy, Joe. I love that in a man.” Maddie giggled and hugged him, a little too long. He didn’t seem to mind.
“How about we have some pie?” Jen suggested, interrupting what normal people would have considered inappropriate touching. They followed her into the kitchen.
“Cuddles!” Jen growled. He was tearing at the pie, chunks of blueberry jam enmeshed in his fur, the santoku jiggling on the side of the dish. She hurled him off the counter, the knife falling to the floor as he slipped in underneath the table, just beyond arms reach. She picked up the knife and laid it back on the side of the plate.
“Your cat has no discipline,” Joe commented, plopping down at the kitchen table.
“It’s Maddie’s,” she reminded him and took a seat across from him.
“We’re running out of clean dishes,” Maddie remarked, glancing at the mountain in the sink, as she grabbed a clean plate from the cabinet. They played this game often, noting the apartment’s escalating grime and clutter, daring the other to blink first. Jen sliced him as nice a piece as could be mustered from the decimated dessert.
She plated and placed it and a fork in front of him, along with the pie dish and knife for when he’d want seconds. Anticipating a warm shower of praise and adulation, she sank down beside him.
He cut off a large bite with the fork, shoving it greedily into his mouth. And spit it out. “Blueberry?! You know I can’t stand blueberry!”
Jen laughed out loud. What an ungrateful douchebag he was. And the stung look on Maddie’s face was priceless.
“Ahh, come on Maddie. Cheer up.” He patted her arm, speaking in his most charming Joe voice. Apparently, he wasn’t ready to lose his most adoring fan. “It’s not like I took the last piece.”
Maddie nodded, looking pleased to still be in the game. “How about some brownies?” she suggested, jumping up to fetch them from the fridge.
“So, are we hanging out tonight?” he turned to Jen, who was spinning the santoku, absentmindedly, atop the table.
“Tonight?” She snapped out of it, withdrawing her hand from the knife. She’d already made plans to have a beer with Tom. “I can’t, I’ve got too much work.”
“Since when do you care about work?” He punctuated his words with the santoku he’d just picked up. “You don’t even have a real job! I know you’re cheating on me.”
“If you ever listened, you’d have known that this is my busiest time of year.” Jen sighed and scowled, picking at the pie crust. “I guess I’ll have to repeat myself from now on since you obviously can’t remember a thing.”
“Joe, c’mon, you know this is her busiest time of year,” Maddie echoed as she set before him the brownies and the splash of milk Jen had left in the carton.
He shoved one into his mouth, groaning contentedly. “And what exactly are you busy doing?” he asked, mouth thick with chocolate. Cuddles had taken the seat next to Jen, sitting stiffly upright, a guest embarrassed for his host’s poor show of hospitality.
Jen rattled off the random business terms she used when providing incontestable proof of a job that did not exist. “Updating the strategy. Going over accounts payable. Launching the marketing campaign…”
Just then, Jen felt a blast of cold air and heard steps behind her in the living room. “Oh, hello there,” Maddie broke in, speaking over Jen’s head. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“You should lock your door.” Blonde, tan, wide-shouldered Tom stood towering over the living room furniture. He looked around the room, holding a plate in his hand.
“Who’s he?” Joe demanded, pointing the knife at the new man on the scene. Joe didn’t take kindly to competition for female attention.
“Thanks for the brownies, Maddie,” Tom strode into the kitchen uninvited. Upon spotting Jen, his brow furrowed.
“Tom from the 21st floor,” Maddie and Jen replied in unison.
“Actually, I prefer Thomas.” He struck out his powerful hand towards Joe, who reluctantly laid down the knife to shake.
“I’m Joe, 10th floor.” Upon noticing the wedding ring upon the new man’s finger, his shoulders relaxed. He must have assumed a married man was no threat. Though, in fact, Tom seemed to live for the thrill of screwing other women behind his wife’s back. And in Jen’s (and Maddie’s) eyes the wedding ring made him all the more desirable.
“Hey Jen, I didn’t realize you knew Maddie.” He took the seat at the head of the table.
“And I didn’t realize she knew you,” Jen stared at her roomie long and hard without flinching.
“Oh, we bumped into each other yesterday by the mailbox,” Maddie chimed in, smiling at him beneath her bangs. Yeah right, bumped in. She’d likely been stalking Tom the moment Jen mentioned him.
The big, blonde man began sneezing, over and over. Cuddles had jumped into his lap, rubbing his furry grey head against his chest.
“Jesus Christ, show some respect! Cover your goddamned mouth, why don’t you?” Joe leaned away, holding his hand protectively over the brownies.
“Get this thing away from me, I’m allergic!” Tom choked. He’d thrown Cuddles down, but the cat had boomeranged back into his lap, resting his face and paws against his chest.
“That’s hilarious! Cuddles is never snuggly,” Maddie giggled.
“Really allergic, like deathly,” Tom wheezed, throwing the cat off his lap again. Jen had no intention of murdering anyone today. She scooped Cuddles up and tossed him into Maddie’s room while Maddie fetched Tom a glass of water and Joe calmly ate another brownie.
With the cat locked behind closed doors, Tom quickly recovered. Spying the pie, he grabbed a slice from the dish with his bare hands, saying “Don’t mind if I do!” before stuffing a huge bite into his mouth.
“So, we still on tonight, Jen?” he asked, through a mouth full of blue crusty gunk. “Laura’s away, and I’m ready to play!”Just then, she’d noticed it. Maddie and Joe had noticed it too. He’d taken the last slice of pie. No one uttered a word. Save for his chewing, the room was dead silent. They were all just staring at him with their cold, stony eyes, the knife resting between them.
Jessica McGlyn lives in Washington, D.C. and is a member of the Capitol Hill Writers' Group. She writes dark humor and most recently has been published in Adelaide, Bright Flash Literary Review, and Lamplit Underground. She can be reached at Jess.McGlyn@Catalynics.Com.
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