By Jordan Gerdes
The lawn was enormous, a carefully manicured vision of suburbia. The house was all white, pillars holding up the front entrance like an old temple. Nick hadn’t known Peter for that long. They started off as acquaintances, working for separate companies in the same building and slowly began to spend afternoons together, hitting up happy hour before heading back to their respective households. Peter was a few years older than he was, and had been with the company for close to a decade. Judging by the house, his hard work had paid dividends.
‘How long have you lived here?’ he asked.
‘Going on 8 years, Sharon and I bought it two years after we got married, right before we had Evan. ‘ Peter replied, as the car rolled to a stop in the driveway. ‘Thanks for giving me a hand with this shit. It’ll mean the world to Sharon when she gets home in a few hours. You’ll see Nick. Happy wife means happy life.’
Nick had just gotten engaged the week before to Julie, his girlfriend of a few years. Maybe that’s the reason he decided to help out today, to glimpse what marriage might look like a decade down the road. He mentally went back and forth in his mind nightly on whether or not he had made the right decision. Time would tell, Nick thought. Peter opened the back hatch of his SUV, careful not to topple the vases full of roses that were taking over the cargo space. Nick grabbed a few in his arms and followed Peter up the cobblestone walk to the front door.
Peter, balancing flowers in one hand, opened the door and revealed a large entryway. Dark oak floors stretched to a grand staircase, and a massive chandelier lit the corridor. Nick stood still, awestruck at the display of upper middle class wealth he was seeing. It put Nick’s downtown apartment to shame. He set the vases down on the entry table and began to peruse the pictures adorning the walls. A younger Peter, in a tuxedo, next to a stunning blonde in a wedding gown that had to be Sharon, stared back at him. They looked so happy, ready to take on the world together. Other pictures of the two on a white sand beach not long after, Christmas photographs with the children when they arrived, Evan looking more and more like his father each year, and Jennifer had the same eyes and easy smile that he saw in Sharon. Nick felt a small bit jealous, looking at this beautiful family throughout the years. That’s what this is all about. Finding someone you can spend forever with, and provide your kids better chances than you ever had.
‘So here’s the plan, Nick. I have the meal taken care of; I just need a hand spreading these roses from the entryway to the kitchen, then up to the bedroom. It would take me all night to shred these things myself.’ Peter said, relieved to have him there.
‘This is really great Pete. Your wife is going to love it.’ Nick replied. ‘So you’ve been together for an entire decade and you’re still finding time to put together these big surprises?’
‘Even after ten years, you’ve still got to put in effort. Marriage is a well tended flame, that every now and then can use a little stoking. ‘ Peter laughed. ‘Even though it looks like everything is perfect, Sharon and I still have our bad days. Late nights at the office, sometimes we’re just on different schedules, and stuff just doesn’t click right. It’s important to do what you can to keep the romance alive.’
‘Sorry, I hope you don’t mind me asking. I’m just trying to get my bearings on what to expect ten years from now with Julie, you know?’
‘You’re overthinking it Nick. Marriage isn’t some perfect formula you work out. Ninety nine percent is trust in your partner, and one percent is taking it as it comes. You learn to figure it out as you go.’ Peter answered. ‘Ten years ago, I had no idea I’d be here in this place. All I knew was I had found someone I couldn’t live without, and I would do anything I could to give her the world. ‘
The two began to spread petals across the entryway in a delicate pattern, creating a path to the dining room table. Peter had laid out their ornate china on the table, adjusting the silverware in the most minute amount, making sure everything was as close to perfection as possible. He checked the dinner, his father’s recipe for chicken carbonara, complete with penne, sautéed vegetables, and the nicest bottles of red wine and champagne that he could find. The kitchen smelled fantastic, the smells of Italian cuisine mixing ever so softly with the smell of fresh roses. Nick pulled the stemware from the cabinet, placing them on the table, while Peter iced the champagne and arranged the bottles of red in the order of the pairings.
‘This was the same thing I cooked Sharon on our very first date, you know?’ Peter said, his voice seeming to drift further into the past. ‘She refused to go out with me multiple times, turning down the theater, nice restaurants, even a concert. So I asked her in a last ditch effort if I could cook her dinner. Let me tell you, Dad’s carbonara never fails.’ Peter sort of chuckled to himself, as if Nick was merely just a ghost in this memory.
‘That one sealed the deal?’ Nick asked.
‘I like to joke that she couldn’t get enough of my cooking, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve cooked for her in years now. That’s why this has to be perfect.” Peter said defiantly.
While they fixed the kitchen up, Peter told Nick about the early years of their marriage. The ceremony was this grand affair, as Sharon’s dad offered to pay for her dream wedding. They invited two hundred people to resort lodge, having the proceedings in the main rose garden. Peter showed Nick pictures of the strands of rope lights, hung up like fireflies among the night sky. They danced and ate their weight in fancy catered food. Peter told Nick about seeing Sharon in her gown the first time, and how he knew that in that moment, he made the right choice in marrying the most beautiful women that ever waltzed into his life.
They honeymooned in the islands, spending their days drinking rum and their nights all over one another on the beach, acting as if they had mere hours left to live. They returned and moved into Peter’s studio apartment, right when he began working for the company. A few years flew by before Evan was born, and their world grew by one. They learned how to become parents overnight, messing up along the way plenty, but always having each other’s back. They found time to themselves, time to ‘keep the romance alive’ as Peter had said. Another two years and Jennifer was born. Peter told Nick how much his life changed with her.
“With a son, you want to raise a fighter” Peter mused, “but with a daughter, you never want to let her out of your sight.”
He said how the last few years had been straining on them, with two children and his full time career with the company; there wasn’t time enough for Sharon and him. There were plenty of rough nights, yelling and sleeping on the couch, all of which Peter wished he could take back. “At the end of the day Nick, whatever it is, it isn’t as important as the bond between you and your wife. Nothing is ever to big that you two shouldn’t be able to tackle it.” Peter got himself focused, cut out the things that were weighing on their marriage and did everything he could do to fix it.
“Counseling, couples therapy, date nights, whatever. You aren’t too good for anything if it means the survival of your marriage. You feel me?” Peter asked.
‘Of course. Whatever it takes.’ Nick answered.
They moved from the kitchen up the stairs, covering the pristine carpet with rose petals, down the hallways between the kid’s rooms to the bedroom. Peter had said that the kids were with Sharon’s mom for the weekend, giving them some much deserved alone time. The bedroom was immaculate. A massive king bed, dressed head to toe in silk linens and throw pillows centered the room. The television hung on the wall off to the side, while a row of oak dressers ran the length of the wall. Sharon had her own walk in closet off of the master bathroom, with room enough for three women’s clothes. The bathroom had a glass shower, affixed with two shower heads on either side, making it, as Peter called it, “the perfect couples shower.”
Peter laid the last of the rose petals across the bedspread, completing his carefully planned path. The two men stood back and admired the handiwork, a perfect gesture to ten years of marriage. “She’s going to love it Peter.” Nick said, thinking of Julie and what her reaction would’ve been. “Ten years later and you still are moving the bar higher.”
“This is just part of the night. I have more planned for her.” Peter said with a smirk. “We have a few things we’ve joked about doing for years that tonight seems like the perfect night to try them.”
“Oh, wow.” Nick stuttered, starting to blush. He hadn’t known Peter that long and the idea of him regaling his sexual fantasies was not where their relationship was at this point. “I guess it’s like you said. Whatever keeps the fire alive.”
Peter laughed, sensing the awkward tension in the room. “How about a drink Nick? I think we deserve it after all the hard work. You really have saved my ass today. I haven’t shown you the study yet anyways.”
The study was tucked downstairs against the back of the house, a huge bay window looking out on the yard. It was a large room, covered in tall bookshelves, ranging from historical documents to current literature. Nick noticed there wasn’t a speck of dust on any of it, meaning either Peter cleaned this room daily or he consistently read every book on his shelves. Next to the window, an old desk sat guard. There were a few stacks of neatly organized papers, a typewriter, and a green lamp. The middle of the room held two lounge chairs, an end table nestled between the two. Here sat a crystal decanter, full of a brown liquor, a humidor filled with cigars, and two glasses. Peter reached down and pulled the top off the decanter, filling each glass to three fingers neat, turning around and handing one to Nick. “Have a seat. Take a load off. You like cigars?” Peter asked, always the generous host.
“Of course, just don’t tell Julie. I promised I’d stop.” Nick laughed nervously.
“Your secret is safe with me. We have to have each other’s backs, especially when it comes to wives.” Peter jested.
They sat in the chairs, enjoying the moment as cigar smoke hung thickly in the air. The bourbon had a nice bite to it, but the rest went down smooth.
“Ten year batch. I got a couple bottles the day Sharon and I got married. Stuff is mighty smooth.” Peter said, as if reading his mind.
“Can’t go wrong with brown liquor, that’s what my dad always said.” Nick added. “First time I had the stuff, I snuck half of the bottle from his cabinet and made quite a mess in the bathroom that night. Got the belt pretty good the next day” he laughed.
“Fatherhood is a tricky beast. Do as I say, not as I do. I see myself more and more every day with Evan, and that scares the living shit out of me.” Peter chuckled, finishing what was left in his glass. He reached for the decanter, and poured Nick and himself a second drink.
“Do you and Julie ever talk of children? Sorry, that’s not any of my business.” Peter said, looking embarrassed for overstepping.
“No, its okay. I don’t really have anyone to talk to about this stuff. Yeah, we’ve talked about kids. I never had any siblings, and Julie comes from a large family, so we’ve settled somewhere in the middle.” Nick replied. It must’ve been quite some time since he had good alcohol, because his head was killing him. Instinctively he reached up and caressed his upper brow.
“Headache? You all right Nick? I have some aspirin in here if that would help.” Peter offered. He walked to his desk, rustling around the drawer, reappearing with two white pills. “Here you go. Should take the edge off.”
Nick tossed them back, washing it down with a gulp of bourbon. “Thank you. I guess I’ve lost my tolerance for good liquor.” Nick laughed. “Where was I? Julie wants girls, since she was raised with mostly brothers. To be honest, I don’t care what we have, I’m just excited at the … idea.” He was slurring his speech now. The room seemed to sway slightly, reminding him of days spent on his father’s boat when he was a child. He kept blinking, his eyelids growing heavy.
“Nick. Hey, buddy. You alright?” Peter said nervously. “Nick. Focus on me. Nick. Stay with me.”
Nick tried to stand up, as his legs gave out and his face met the carpet. Everything faded and there was darkness.
His eyelids flickered, and he began to take a look at his surroundings. It was grey, cardboard boxes, a single naked light bulb over head. He couldn’t move his feet, and as he got feeling back, he realized he couldn’t move his hands either. He lifted his head, noticing his naked chest for the first time. The cold metal of the table bit at his back. He tried to call out, realizing his mouth was wrapped shut. What do you remember last? Whiskey. Peter. Where is Peter? Where am I?
The lone clock on the wall read 11:45. That couldn’t be right. He heard a door open, and steps on a wooden staircase. He strained his neck to look, his eyes still adjusting. Two figures approached the table, just outside of the light bulb’s reach. The taller figure led the shorter figure toward him, by the shoulders. Shapes. Just shapes. Where am I? His heart began to race. He heard the voice. Deep, familiar, and… happy.
“Okay, open your eyes.” Peter said. Sharon let out a small squeal of joy, “You didn’t?!” she said, the joy in her voice too much for Nick to handle. This can’t be. This is just a dream. This is not happening.
Peter approached the table, leaning down towards Nick’s face. “Hey Nick. Sharon and I really want to thank you for making this night one we won’t forget.” Peter said calmly. Too calm. What the fuck is this? The ropes around his feet cut into his skin as he began to struggle. “Hey now, settle down. Ten years of boy scouts taught me one thing, and that’s how to tie a knot.” Peter said with a smile. Nick shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around what was happening.
Peter walked to the toolbox on the wall, retrieving a large knife. Nick began to struggle, his muffled cries useless against the gag in his mouth. He felt a tear slip down his cheek. He thought of Julie. He thought of all the wedding plans that they had sitting on their apartment table. He closed his eyes and saw her face, smiling, her hair sitting perfectly around her face. I’m never going to see her again.
“Sharon, honey, I want to propose a toast.” Peter said, handing her a flute of champagne. “It’s been ten years. Ten crazy years. You have made all my dreams come true, so I wanted to give you one of yours.” He slowly handed her the knife, handle first. “You have been the most caring wife, the most amazing mother, and the greatest partner I could ever imagine. So here’s to you, to trying something new, and to the rest of our lives together. I love you.”
“Oh, Pete. You shouldn’t have.” Sharon said softly, a tear of her own escaping her eyes as she gripped the handle. She held the knife out over Nick’s face, as the blade passed over his face; he caught a glimpse of his own eyes, bloodshot and full of tears. The eyes of a dead man. He felt the blood from his ankle and wrists dripping from where the ropes had cut him. He was out of strength, out of resolve and out of hope.
He closed his eyes, imagining Julie whispering in his ear. It’s all going to be okay. I love you. His eyes shot open as he felt his skin part. His screams fought against the cloth in his mouth, and he watched as the knife slowly exited his chest cavity, the blood rushing forth to fill the void it left. He looked up, seeing the hands of the happy couple, clasped together around the handle, staring not at him, but into each other’s eyes.