We Could've Been Happy

She never asked why.

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1. We Could've Been Happy

Why? It was the question that repeated again and again in Marian’s skull; skipping around not like a broken record—no, more like a record that’s been repeating so often that even once it’s been shut off, you can still hear the echo of the song in the distance. The question haunted every cell of her body as she stepped up to the edge of the roof.

“Kill my daughter,” he’d said. “It’ll be easy,” he’d said. “Quickest in-and-out of the century. Easiest million you’ve ever made!” As if. As fucking if. She should’ve asked why. She should’ve asked who. She shouldn’t have accepted the envelope containing the address and the name… She shouldn’t have accepted the mission to begin with.

Marian sat on her heels, watching the clock tower apartment through the windows. The girl was tall, red hair pulled back in a high ponytail, green eyes so bright she could practically see them from her stoop. “Kill my daughter,” he’d said.

The light inside turned off and Marian stepped back in preparation. She pulled her grappling hook from her bag and tugged her hood into place just before she aimed. From there it was just a matter of landing without noise, which her boots allowed without a hitch. She stretched out one hand and slipped off her glove, using her mouth to loosen the straps. She let out a curse when she opened her mouth too wide and the wind caught the glove, slipping it out of her grip and into the air. She sighed, that was her favorite glove! Then Marian tipped the window open and slipped through as noiselessly as a dark shadow in the pitch-black loft.

Padding down the hall, Marian ran her fingers along the hanging photographs. This girl—this woman—was beautiful. Her smile was like a beacon drawing Marian in. The woman in the picture was tall—brilliant red hair silhouetting her shoulders and allowing the camera to focus on her vivid smile. There were freckles dusting her cheeks like someone had picked the placement of each one perfectly, and a barely-there mole on the edge of her brow. She stood beside another woman—this one shorter with curvy hips and a dry look in her eyes. The other girl had hair as blonde as the sand behind the two of them. They both looked so happy, arms clasped around each other’s bikini-clad forms.

The other woman was in many of the photos decorating the hall. One of just her laughing, one of her graduating the police academy, one of her with a dog. The two women were both in white in the final photo, matching smiles on their lips which were locked together. Their happiness was so plausible it carried into Marian’s fingers where they touched the photo.

The two women appeared to be so content—a true family even without children or pets. What a shame it would be to ruin it all, Marian thought. Especially when she didn’t want the money—the money that would be coated with blood and regret. How could she spend it knowing the cost had been the destruction of these two women? She never wanted the money. Marian did it because it was what she’d signed up to do. The mission was to kill—assassinate—and that was what she’d do.

Her feet paused in front of the room she knew to be Carleen’s bedroom. She drew in a breath, and gripped her gun in one hand. In and out. In and out. In and out.

She opened the door and a low creak echoed through the air. “Nessa?” Carleen called out, turning over and facing Marian. “Vanessa, is that you?”

Marian remained frozen for a long beat of silence—then she smirked and pulled down her hood. “Yeah, Carl, it’s me.”

Carleen smiled and held out a hand for her. Marian allowed her cloak to drop to the ground. She accepted the offered hand and moved closer still, placing one knee on the bed and crawling toward her. Marian met Carleen’s lips in a long, lingering kiss.

“Where were you?” asked Carleen as Marian pulled away. “You’re late. I made dinner.” Carleen yawned and rolled onto her back, placing the hand not gripping Marian’s on her stomach.

“I know,” Marian said. “I’m sorry. Work held me.” Her boots were still on, lying just over the side of the bed. She kept them on—they were a reminder. Her other reminder was still gripped in her right hand.

Carleen nodded sleepily, and drew away. As her hand released Marian’s, she rolled over onto her side, wordlessly inviting Marian into bed behind her. Marian let out a ragged breath. She felt her eyes well up.

Why didn’t you tell me? She wanted to ask. Why didn’t you tell me he was your father? Why didn’t you tell me you were working for the enemy?

Carleen tucked a hand under her head, “Come to bed, Nessa.”

It was the final reminder she needed. That wasn’t her name. Vanessa was not her name. Her name was Marian Prong. She was an assassin, born and made for this specific purpose. This was her job.

She lifted the gun, then she dropped it back into her pocket. She reached around to toe off her boots. Marian lifted the covers and slid in behind Carleen, pulling the woman she loved toward her and allowing Carleen’s warmth to seep into Marian.

She smiled and kissed the back of Carleen’s neck. The woman let out a hum in response, and Marian could almost see the smile that must’ve curved her lips. “I love you,” she said, barely louder than a whisper. Her voice was wet with emotion.

Carleen hummed again, sleep filling every syllable she spoke, “Love you too, Ness.”

A tear fell from Marian’s eye as she pulled her arm back and gripped the gun in her pocket. Why? She silently pulled the gun around and shifted her hand so it was just an inch off touching Carleen’s heart. Why? She let out a shaky breath and pressed the gun closer to Carleen’s chest.

“Nessa?” Carleen’s sleep-filled voice wondered. Why didn’t you tell me? Marian pressed her own chest tighter against Carleen’s back.

Marian let out a hum, “Everything’s alright.” Carleen didn’t protest, and Marian didn’t continue. She breathed in the vanilla scent of Carleen’s shampoo. She imagined all the times she’d been allowed to apply the suds to Carleen’s long waves; she saw her hands curling through those amber waves—the national anthem caught in her mind and her eyes startled open. She had a job. She had a purpose—and that purpose, as painful as it was to accept, wasn’t Carleen. That purpose was in servitude.

Marian hummed again, and Carleen shifted against her, falling deeper and deeper asleep despite the gun less than an inch from her chest. She did not think of all the times she’d pressed her hands there—she didn’t think of how tainted her fingers were as they wrapped around the curve of Carleen’s waist. She thought only of the mission.

She said, “I love you.” She said, “I didn’t want this for us.” She said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She didn’t say, this could’ve been avoided. She didn’t say, we could’ve been happy.

Marian pulled the trigger and Carleen let out one final, bloody gasp then fell silent. Marian pressed her face into the back of Carleen’s neck, letting out a whimper when she couldn’t feel the dull pulse of her heartbeat. She felt her chest grow heavy and wet, but she could barely feel the pain of it—she was too broken over what she’d done.

She deserved this.

Her eyes became heavy and she smiled. Marian smiled as she closed her eyes one final time.

Why?

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