WE WANTED TO go north for our honeymoon. Ski, snowboard, lounge in the lodge at a small, intimate table near the big fireplace and sip pińa coladas, sex – lots of it – the whole magilla.
I-91 north, a straight shot most of the way to Vermont’s Mt. Snow, the road silky smooth and not congested now that we’d passed through the sprawl of Springfield. Multiple lanes spread out in front of us while the black ribbon of highway made soft the hum of our tires.
I tried a few bars of “I’ll be Loving You” in my off-key way, except I sang, “I AM Loving You,” and then turned from the wheel and leered at Sherry.
“Rich! Stop! Stop!” she laughed, “I could still have this annulled, you know.”
I stuck out my tongue. “What the priest don’t know can’t hurt me,” I said.
She giggled. “Rich, you’re not like this. You gonna get normal soon?”
“You like last night?”
“Umm…” She got a dreamy look.
“That’s normal,” I said.
“Yeaaaaaah…” she strung the word out and for a moment Sherry’s face kind of glowed.
Had to be pleasure. We’d known each other in the Biblical sense for quite a time. I mean, who doesn’t check out the merchandise these days, I mean, both ways. It’s practically required these days, except maybe in enclaves of religious fervor. I judge not which is best for humanity, only that that’s my sense of it.
Only young once, Dad used to say.
I glanced at the dash clock; near noon. We’d left New London and all the people we cared about mid-morning Saturday with waves and good wishes and my stomach had just announced that I wanted food. We had drinks and sandwiches in the cooler in back and munchy chips up front.
I nodded. “Couple, three miles I can pull off at the overlook.”
Sherry looked at me and waited.
“I don’t know it.”
“Never stopped there before?”
“You’ll like it.”
We had met in a local bar at the end of 2016. New Year’s Party, one of those you pay a lot for to meet mostly strangers. Yeah, I know; a bar. I saw her in the crowd. Foxy, short cut auburn hair, sequined vest, black body hugging skirt, brilliant, white-toothed smile, gregarious.
Everything about her said playtime. Had to have her. Now a year later we’re married. We knew about our bodies. That’s easy, but how deeply did we really know each other? We were about to find out.
I disconnected from the present and dipped again to December 31st, last year. We’d each given the other a story, superficial, mostly true. It always starts that way. Give a little, get a little, but both knew why we’d hooked up.
She worked for an ad agency in our town and I had a growing Internet business. A lot of .com’s had hit the tubes, but I’d set mine up for the long haul. For two years I’d watched the money roll in. I could afford our time away.
A sign appeared, rest stop, two miles. I liked in particular that the highway department had left a line of trees and brush between us and the parking area. We couldn’t see and barely heard the muffled sounds of speeding vehicles only thirty yards west of us. Here we could forget the frenetic pace for a few minutes and regroup.
Most of all I loved to gander at the Connecticut Valley watershed that stretched east of us to the hazy horizon. It held a river, flatland farming dotted with homes, and communities that didn’t sully the pristine scene as far as the eye could see. We weren’t very high up, but the vastness of the scene always awed me.
I pulled off the highway and slowed on the long ramp. The parking area opened up. Empty. I’d never pulled in before to find no one at all.
A first for everything, I thought.
I angled into a nearby space, stopped, got out, went to the back deck and opened it up. Clothes, snowboards and short, downhill skis suited to hard-pack took up the lengthy space between the storage area and the front seat backs, but stopped short of encroaching on the space over the front seat armrest, that is, they fit perfectly.
I grabbed the small ice chest and set it on the ground, made a space on the tailgate for our rumps and Sherry brought the bag of munchies out with her. Before sitting, she walked into my knees and I spread them to accommodate her. She planted a delicious kiss on my lips while shoving her considerable womanhood into my chest. Her brown eyes looked deep into mine.
“Love you, Rich.”
“You’d better save that for later.” I felt substantial stirrings below mid-line. “You know how weak I am.”
Sherry smiled knowingly, disengaged and sat beside me. We ate tuna sandwiches with chips and sucked down a couple of Cokes.
Rejuvenated, I said, “A week of skiing…and debauchery, of course, awaits.”
Her excited trill hit the mark. With my mind in a state of emotional disorder, I quickly packed things away, closed the rear gate and got behind the wheel. Sherry leaned over for another smooch, with energy.
I backed a few feet and swung to head for the ramp back to the highway. Toward the end of the parking area I caught something out of place and glanced at it. Piece of broken fence. Most of the area was precipitous, but not, in my opinion, dangerous…except right there. Where the highway department had put up a barrier, the ground dropped away maybe seventy feet, not huge, but plenty deadly.
I stopped. Sherry looked at me and I gestured.
“That doesn’t look good,” I said.
She glanced and looked away quickly. Very odd.
“Not your problem, Rich,” Sherry said, looking straight ahead. “Let’s hit the highway.”
“No, no. I’m going to take a look.” I stopped quickly and put my Forester in Park.
“Rich…?” I heard an edge to her voice I hadn’t heard before. Honeymoon…not the time for it. I looked at her. So far she’d played it right, in my view, deferring to me in most matters or talking out our few differences, but this?
“What if somebody just went through there and is hurt?”
“C’mon Rich, not your problem. I wanna go now!”
What’s with her? Fear? Lack of compassion?
“Sherry, I’m going to look.”
Anger flashed in her eyes, a totally new thing. Not just disturbed, her face flushed and twisted and in that instant I saw her in a less appealing light, the kind that does not bode well for a honeymoon or for any minute thereafter. We’d had disagreements before, but they ended in loving, or an arm tap or some off color remark that made each of us laugh. I loved that about her.
This I didn’t like at all. In this she tried to wrest control, to overpower not with persuasion, but brutishly. Unbidden thoughts ran swiftly though my mind. Marriage, a control gate? Get the guy, and after it’s solid, take over? How much did I know about my wife, after all?
I’m the kind of guy who always paid attention to balance in a relationship. Fifty-fifty. I believed in compromise, even giving in occasionally, so long as you did it without surrender. It empowered another's personality and assisted self-worth. Action, with the right person, sent the same message.
I raised my voice in warning and said “Sherry, I’m checking this out,” opened the door and got out. Instead of subsiding, she made inarticulate sounds…furious…blazing.
Something in the back of my mind said, “Protect yourself.” I reached back in, turned the engine off and grabbed the key. I hoped she would see it as a firm denial of her attitude and bring her back to center. As a gamble I knew it could have the opposite effect.
I approached the break, some five feet ahead of me. As I reached the drop-off, I smelled gas and oil. Thin smoke rose toward me, oil on a hot engine maybe. I couldn’t see it where we’d parked earlier. Something went over not long before, maybe minutes. I squinted a little to focus my slightly myopic eyes. Yeah, something, a black SUV wedged in the trees fifty feet down. No sounds and too steep for me.
I heard the passenger’s door slam. I glanced back to see Sherry come running at me. In her wild eyes I saw hatred. It threw me off. What did I do?
She raised her fists to me and pummeled my chest. I let her for a few seconds - she didn’t hurt me and maybe she’d run down quicker that way - and then I grabbed her wrists firmly but not painfully to make her stop.
“Sherry, are you mad? Sherry!” I shook her.
That had some effect. The fire went out and she wilted against me.
“Honey, what’s going on?” I said. She started to sob. I let her get it out of her system. Finally she pushed away and I released her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her breath catching. “I never told you about my real mother and father. I owe you this.”
“Promise you’ll listen and say nothing until I finish.”
I searched her face. “Okay.”
It came out, her deep, dark secret. She’d hidden it well. The parents I’d met she called hers, and from what I’d seen, they were. They were adoptive parents, I learned, and subsequent to Sherry’s confinement in a sanatorium for a year while strange, bearded doctors got her head on straight after her meltdown, they had taken her in and made her their own daughter.
“The truth, Rich, and the only thing I have kept from you, is that my parents were in an accident and were killed. Ten years ago. Just like this, Rich. Through a fence, over and down.” She shuddered.
“It freaked me. I couldn’t handle it. I buried it. I couldn’t tell you. What would you think? I thought I could live with it, but I can’t. I’m so sorry. I love you, Rich. What are you going to do?”
I held up a flat hand and walked back to the car. Reaching inside, I retrieved my cell and dialed 911.
“I want to report an accident.” I gave the details and finished with, “Hurry!”
Sherry stood stricken, not daring to move, as if the fragile moment might break and sweep away the dream she had finally attained. I wandered for a time, thinking, waiting for the police, readjusting my brain to take in what I’d heard.
Soon I heard sirens and then the parking area filled with emergency vehicles. After the police interviewed me, I walked back to Sherry. I’d done my thinking and made my decision. Life had to go on. With best wishes toward the accident victims I turned to Sherry.
“No other secrets, right?”
“Let’s go skiing.”