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The Spice Aisle

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 The pavements glistened. Puddles had long since formed at the edge of the busy road and wherever the surface wasn’t level shallow bodies of water rippled with rainfall. It was still raining. Pissing it down, as the Brits would say, Eve thought to herself as she pressed the button at a pedestrian crossing and then took a hasty step backwards to avoid being soaked in murky water as a bus swooshed through the slicks gushing towards the gutter.

She’d had an appointment at the opticians. It was the annual treat of having a stranger breath heavily into her face while perching an increasing number of absurd lenses on her nose until she looked like a mad scientist. And all just to confirm that, yes, Eve still needed reading glasses.

Now, she was hurrying through the downpour to the supermarket across the street where her wife was waiting. Wife. It had been three months but the word wasn’t old yet. Eve smiled to herself and blinked a couple of water droplets out of her eyelashes. The green man lit up and the familiar beeping signalled safe passage over the puddles and across the road.

Villanelle got a surprising amount of joy from the weekly shop. Or at least, it used to be a weekly shop, but it was often more frequent when Villanelle got a sudden desire to make some elaborate and unusual dish that required ingredients that Eve couldn’t even begin to pronounce. It seemed it wasn’t just clothes shopping that Villanelle adored. It was just shopping in general. And that was just fine by Eve. There were minimal similarities between the two spouses she’d had in her life, but a love of cooking was one of them. Cooking goes hand in hand with food shopping, and Eve had little interest in either.

She had made it across the road and up to the automatic doors of the supermarket, collapsing her umbrella as she reached them and shaking the water from it like a dog might dry its coat. The supermarket was reasonably empty for a Saturday morning, the rain evidently having kept a portion of shoppers at home, and the air was rife with the sound of wet shoes squeaking on the polished floors. Eve began scanning the aisles for Villanelle. There was a bawling child in the fresh produce section and Eve knew from experience that Villanelle would be nowhere near that situation. Children in supermarkets were one of Villanelle’s personal pet hates. She would rant about it in all seriousness as Eve nodded sympathetically and struggled not to laugh.

Eve finally caught sight of honey blonde hair and Villanelle’s Barbour jacket at the end of an aisle next to the herbs and spices. It was as Eve made her way towards her wife that she realised Villanelle was not alone, but seemed to be in conversation with a man that Eve did not immediately recognise. Eve frowned and found herself speeding up her approach. Soon she was in earshot and felt her heart slam into her ribcage. She knew that voice, and now that she was close enough, she knew that face too, though it had aged somewhat since she last saw it. She knew that moustache now flecked with grey.

“Niko.” Eve gasped as she reached the pair.

Villanelle span round with a smile.

“Hi baby! How was your appointment?” Villanelle asked as though nothing at all was amiss. As though she wasn’t currently conversing with her new wife’s ex-husband, who was well aware of her shadowy and thoroughly illegal past.

Eve looked at Villanelle with wild eyes, and Villanelle looked back her calmly, her eyebrows raised slightly as she awaited Eve’s answer to her police question.

“Hello Eve.”

And yes, she certainly knew that voice. It was startlingly familiar and sent her back in time.

“Niko.” Eve repeated, “Niko, I… uh… This is… Sophie.” She felt like she was struggling against a current, grasping at wet grass and feeling it slip through her fingers.

Villanelle let out a surprised laugh and Niko simply blinked a couple of times. His stance was tense and his face a kind of uncomfortable grey colour, his mouth set in a grim line.

“Eve. Her mugshot was practically pinned to our fridge. I know who this is.” Niko replied, his tone was even and gave nothing away.

“It’s not—” Eve began aimlessly, swallowing nervously and trying to gain some ghost of composure.

“Ugh.” Villanelle huffed, “That is a terrible photograph.”

Eve sent a desperate glance at Villanelle who simply shrugged. Why was nobody else entering into the tunnel of panic that Eve was currently residing in?

“What? It is. That hair? It was a bad choice.” Villanelle muttered regretfully.

“It’s true then.” Niko cut into the silence that followed Villanelle’s uttering. “I saw a photo of you two on Elena’s Facebook a few years back.”

“At the Christmas party!” Villanelle exclaimed, “That was a much better photo. We looked hot in that.”

Eve shook her head uselessly.

“I made her take that down.” Was what came out of Eve’s mouth, though she hadn’t decided to say it.

“It was too late.” Niko chuckled.

His laughter broke a little of the tension that had been choking Eve. If he was laughing then perhaps her world wasn’t about to come crashing down around her ears. Perhaps he wasn’t about to pull a phone from his pocket and call the police. Perhaps Villanelle wasn’t about to bundled into a squad car and out of her life.

“Niko, I’m sorry.” She said sincerely, causing Villanelle to raise an eyebrow at her sceptically.

“I’m sorry you found out like that.” Eve clarified. “That must have been… shit.”

Niko laughed again.

“Well, I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought surely my ex-wife wasn’t shacking up with the assassin that killed her best friend.” He said, and the remnants of anger were visible beneath the surface of his words. “But I guess… I don’t know, Eve. Everything got so insane back then, I was just glad to be out of it?” He finished almost sadly.

“I’m sorry.” Eve said again. “You, uh… You wouldn’t tell anyone—”

She was interrupted by a harsh, disbelieving laugh from Niko.

“That your girlfriend is a professional murderer, who is wanted in most European countries?” He suggested dryly.

Was a professional murderer.” Eve corrected lamely, her voice dropping to just above a whisper.

“And I am her wife, not her girlfriend.” Villanelle interjected matter-of-factly.

Niko looked surprised at that, and Eve watched him glance at her hand, at the finger where a ring from him used to sit. Now its replacement gleamed icily in its place. Then his eyes alighted on Villanelle, on her hand. The hand that was holding a shopping basket containing a bag of apples, a refill of Herbes de Provence and a small, bright blue, bottle of lube.

“Jesus.” Eve muttered as she noticed the contents of Villanelle’s basket.

Niko presumably noticed it too as he quickly averted his eyes and cleared his throat.

“I thought about it. About reporting you.” He said honestly, but having the sense to throw a wary look Villanelle’s way. She fixed him with a hard stare. “But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to get… involved.”

Eve wondered if by ‘involved’ he actually meant 'brutally murdered by a cold-blooded killer if his accusation hadn’t been followed up successfully.' Judging by the way he kept an anxious eye on Villanelle and didn’t stray to close to her or Eve, she suspected that fear played a large role in his silence over Eve’s new partner’s true identity.

“If I had found out about… this straight away, then maybe I would have been angry enough, or worried enough about you to… do something” Niko continued, his look at Eve turning soft as Villanelle’s turned even stonier.

“But… It’s your life, Eve.” He sighed in conclusion.

Eve felt a trickle of relief, mixed in with a surprising wave of sadness at the resignation on the face of a man she once loved, highlighted under the harshness of supermarket lighting.

“Thank-you, Niko.” Eve whispered.

There was a pregnant pause between the three of them as Eve and Niko shared an understanding look and Villanelle blew out her cheeks and then allowed them to deflate as she exhaled noisily.

“What’s this? A party in the spice aisle?” A shrill voice interrupted the heavy lull in conversation and Niko’s posture tensed immediately, his expression changing and brightening.

“Hi honey! No, not a party, just a… chat.” Niko rushed out.

“Oh?” said the woman who had appeared at his side and slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow at once. “Who are your friends?”

“This is Eve, she’s—”

“Your ex-wife.” The woman interrupted, “And every bit as beautiful as the photos.” The woman smiled overly widely as she looked Eve up and down. Niko cleared his throat once more.

“And her new wife…” Niko started and then paused for far too long as he struggled to know what to call Villanelle.

“I’m Sophie.” Villanelle announced, holding a hand out for the woman to shake.

Her hand was grasped and shaken rigorously.

“The ex-wife’s new wife!” the woman exclaimed, “Gosh, what a tangled web.” She added with a manic smile, still shaking Villanelle’s hand.

Villanelle laughed loudly and pulled her hand free from the other woman. She turned to Eve with an expression somewhere between amusement and bewilderment. It was a sentiment that Eve shared with her wife.

Niko looked at his feet and shifted his weight from one to the other while the woman next to him continued to look between Eve and Villanelle with an unhinged smile. She elbowed Niko in the ribs without looking at him.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” She asked, rolling her eyes conspiratorially at Eve. “Men, eh? What are they like?”

Eve let go of an awkward laugh and nodded uncertainly. Villanelle’s smile grew, clearly she was thoroughly enjoying this social disaster.

“Sorry,” Niko let out, “Eve… Sophie, this is Gemma. My partner.” He explained.

“Not wife though!” Gemma added immediately. “Not yet anyway.” She laughed and slapped a hand to Niko’s chest. He flinched slightly.

Villanelle’s look of amusement turned to one of utter glee as she watched the uncomfortable exchange.

“Niko!” Villanelle exclaimed with over-familiarity, “What are you waiting for? Married life is such bliss! Right baby?” She asked Eve.

Eve turned a withering look to Villanelle.

“Sure.” Eve nodded with a tight smile, “But not for the faint of heart.” She added under her breath.

Villanelle stepped closer to Eve and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“We’ve never been happier.” Villanelle sighed, resting her cheek on the top of Eve’s head.

“See Niko?” Gemma demanded.

“I see.” Niko nodded. “Well,” he started, clearing his throat once more, “We better carry on. The shopping won’t do itself.” He joked lamely.

“It was good to see you,” Eve said sincerely, “both of you.” She added, nodding to Gemma.

“Lovely to meet you!” Gemma cried, stepping away from Niko for the first time and pulling Eve into an unexpected hug, forcing Villanelle to let go of Eve and bite her lip to stop herself from laughing.

Gemma pulled back and looked intently into Eve’s face.

“God. You’re beautiful.” She said with a smile through gritted teeth.

“Thanks?” Eve tried.

“Bye Niko!” Villanelle let out joyfully.

“Bye… Sophie.” Niko said gruffly.

“We’ll expect a Save the Date soon!” Villanelle issued as she took hold of Eve’s hand and began to lead her away.

Eve shot an apologetic glance over her shoulder as she allowed Villanelle to direct her to the next aisle.

“That was…” Eve began.

“Fun?” Villanelle suggested with a sadistic smile.

“I was going to say ‘fucking awkward’.” Eve grumbled. “Why were you even talking to him?” She hissed, still wary of their being overheard.

Villanelle shrugged.

“I wanted to look him in the eye. He’s the one that got away.” She lamented with a sigh.

“What?” Eve asked harshly. “What does that mean?”

“I never got to kill him.” Villanelle replied casually.

Eve stopped dead in her tracks and Villanelle kept moving until Eve’s hold on her hand forced her to stop as well, the contents of her shopping basket rattling as she halted suudenly. She turned and looked at Eve curiously.

“What?” Villanelle asked innocently.

Eve continued to stare at her for a moment and then Villanelle broke out into a smug smile.

“I am kidding, Eve.” She assured.

Eve narrowed her eyes at her wife dubiously.

“I am!” Villanelle exclaimed. “Besides, maybe Gemma will do it. She seems craaaaazy.” She drew out the last word and tapped her forehead pointedly.

Eve couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“God. She does, doesn’t she? Poor Niko.” Eve shook her head.

“Mmm,” Villanelle agreed. “What do you want for dinner baby?”

It took Eve a moment to shake her thoughts away from their recent encounter and focus on Villanelle’s question.

“Oh, I don’t mind darling, whatever you feel like cooking.” Eve mused, trailing after her as Villanelle strode down the aisle decisively.

They managed to complete the rest of the shopping without any further major incidents beyond finding themselves at the checkout next to Niko and Gemma. Luckily they got away with a few uncomfortable waves and then Eve focused with unnecessary dedication on bagging up their bought items and slinking off to the car while Villanelle paid.

She was settled into the passenger seat by the time Villanelle appeared next to her and started the engine.

“Ready to go home?” Villanelle asked.

“Mmhmm.” Eve nodded, fastening her seatbelt and looking pointedly at Villanelle’s own until she too plugged in her seatbelt.

They had come to an arrangement a few years ago, after Villanelle had finally got sick of not being able to park and got rid of her huge 4X4, replacing it with an equally ostentatious but much smaller sports model. These days, Villanelle was only allowed to drive in London where the traffic prevented her from reaching the sorts of speeds that left Eve fearing for her life. If they were venturing anywhere near a motorway or country lanes, then it would be in Eve’s aged Volkswagon Polo with Eve behind the wheel and a dejected Villanelle in the passenger seat.

Silence had descended on the occupants of the car for almost ten minutes, the only sound being supplied by the rain hitting the soft-top roof and the whirring of the windscreen wipers. And then Villanelle spoke up.

“Remember when I dressed as a waitress and you got soooo mad at me?” She asked carefully.

“You mean when you impersonated a waitress, put on a crappy northern accent, crashed my divorce discussions with Niko and threw a teenage tantrum that left you with a gash in your hand?” Eve questioned with a raised eyebrow.

“It was a good accent!” Villanelle chastised, “He didn’t recognise me then did he?” she added defensively.

Eve cast a sceptical look at Villanelle and waited.

“Was that thought going somewhere?” Eve asked after a moment.

“I don’t feel like that now.” Villanelle said simply.

“What do you mean?”

“You could have dinner with him now and I wouldn’t care.” Villanelle went on.

Eve scoffed.

“Wow. Great. I’m glad we’ve reached the ‘indifference’ stage of our relationship.” She said dryly.

“No! I mean, I trust us. I am not jealous now.” Villanelle explained, glancing at Eve before returning her eyes to the static traffic on the road ahead.

“Oh.” Eve said, taken aback. If someone had told her back then, on that night when Villanelle had behaved so recklessly and insanely that Eve had been on the brink of giving up on them, that they would ever be having this conversation… Well, Eve would have laughed in that person’s face.

“That’s…” Eve tried, but she couldn’t find the word to describe exactly how happy and secure Villanelle’s statement had made her feel. So she reached across the console instead and took Villanelle’s hand in her own.

“Besides,” Villanelle went on, “Having a grey moustache makes him look even more like a paedophile than before.”

Eve threw her head back against the headrest and let out a loud groan.

“Oh God,” she said, “It really does.”

Villanelle barked out a pleased laugh and lifted Eve’s hand to her lips, placing a kiss against the back of it. She accelerated too quickly as the traffic started moving again and then had to slam on the breaks to avoid colliding with the car in front. Beside her, Eve felt content.