This cabin holds a lot of memories, every damn one of them good.
Walking through the door is like moving through a portal where I can shed my stress along with my jacket. It’s an old cabin, and sturdy. The warm pine paneling harkens back to a time when everything was stronger — houses, families, men.
Standing here, looking around the big main room reminds me of why I’m here, and why this year’s getaway will be different.
I’m distracted by the sound of tires crunching on gravel. The engine of Zane’s big pick-up is rumbling like a beast, breaking up the stillness of the quiet woods surrounding the cabin. I drop my duffle bags to the floor; there’ll be time to unpack later. As I walk out onto the porch, my best friend is exiting his vehicle. I can’t help but return the easy smile.
Zane Carter is one of those guys who could make friends with just about anyone. We became instant friends in basic training, and as we rose through the ranks of the Marine Corps, I realized my laid-back friend had a hard edge that made him the kind of guy I could rely on in combat. He’s saved my life more than once, and we embrace after what seems too long apart.
“You’re looking good, buddy.” Zane playfully punches me in the arm before turning to pull a knapsack and a duffle bag similar to mine from the back of his truck. “Looks like you use that gym you’re running.”
“Every day.” I nod at him. “How the construction biz going?”
“Booming.” He hoists his bag over his shoulder as we head to the cabin. For all that we have in common, career paths weren’t among them. Zane went to work in construction after we left the military. He liked the work but hated answering to other people, so he started his own company building wildly popular tiny houses for people looking to downsize to the extreme. The houses are high-end, and he does most of the work by hand, which adds to their appeal. He can barely keep up with demand.
I went to work as a personal trainer before opening my own fitness center. I enjoy the work, but like Zane, I have more business than I can handle. The annual mountain trip with our wives is the one time of year we get to spend time together now that we live different lives in different states. It’s a time to remember what we have in common.
That’s on both of our minds as we walk back into the cabin. Zane stands in the main room, looking around. I don’t say anything. This place has as many memories for him as for me, memories of better times for both of us. After a moment, he turns to face me.
“So we’re going to do this?” The easy smile is gone, replaced with a determined expression I remember from our military days. Set jaw. Steely eyes.
I nod. “It’s like we said on the phone. We don’t have much of a choice, do we? It’s got to be done.”
He sighs. “We always said we’d be there for each other. Who knew we’d have the same problem at the same time?”
“You got that right. But we’re going to solve it together. It’ll be like it used to be.”
Zane nods in resolve, then sighs and walks over to sit on the sofa. “You know, Elana and I have been married eight years, but it’s different now She’s different….”
“I know how you feel.” My words trail off, thinking of the day I first saw Shelby at Rikers. She was with Elana, looking slightly nervous as they curiously surveyed the crowd. I’d looked at Zane and knew we were thinking the same thing; these girls were new to the scene and a split second from bolting like frightened deer. We weren’t having it, though. We intercepted them before they made it to the exit and re-routed them to our table, where we bought them drinks. Nothing had happened that night; we’d not wanted to rush them. The girls came back two weeks later. Shelby had her first scene with me. A week later, Elana would have hers with Zane. We knew they were made for us.
“So how are things with Elana?” I ask.
“No different.” He shrugs. “I feel like we’re on cruise control. How about you and Shelby?”
I’ve always told Zane everything. “About the same.” I look away as I answer, but I can tell by Zane’s skeptical look that he knows I’m not being sincere.
“No, that’s not true,” I confess. “If anything, they’re worse. We’re not even fighting. I think I’d be relieved if we were. At least then I’d know she felt something. We just live around each other. When we are in the same room, Shelby has that phone to her ear talking to somebody from work. All she talks about these days is getting promoted.”
Zane nods sympathetically. “I feel you. When Elana got her job, I was so proud and so happy for her until I saw how the stress started affecting her. It’s making her miserable.”
He gestures to the bags I dropped by the door. “So what all did you bring?”
I walk over and pick up the duffle bag. It’s been to Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. But this mission is the most personal. “Some of the old standards,” I say. “And some new things I picked up on that website I told you about.”
His smile returns and he slaps the duffle bag hanging from his shoulder. “I dropped some serious money on supplies, but the way I look at it, every dime was an investment towards restoring the balance.”
Zane looks towards the bedroom to the left of the living room. “Do the rooms still have those wooden chests with the locks? That’s probably the best place to put these things for now.”
“Yeah,” I say. “We’d better go ahead and get unpacked. The girls will be here before long.”
I turn and head to the room I’ve shared with Shelby since we started coming here for our annual early autumn couples retreat. It’s a twin of the room on the other side of the house, spacious with double doors that open to a large wraparound deck overlooking a creek that winds through the woodland below. The cabin is remote enough that no one will hear what goes on in this room except our companions, although they’ve heard it all before. When we first started coming here, we were all practicing BDSM. Both Shelby and Elana had gotten over their shyness. The sounds of sex and spankings were normal and healthy to all of us. They were, back in those days, the sounds of happiness.
I open the double doors and step out onto the deck. The afternoon is bright and crisp, the trees brilliant with color. This evening, we’ll sit out on this deck and enjoy s’mores ahead of what the women expect to be a routine weekend of hiking and fishing.
I turn and go back inside. The key to the trunk at the end of the bed is still in the top drawer of the dresser. I unlock it and open the lid before leaning down to unzip the duffle bag. The first thing I pull out is the paddle. I remember the day it arrived. I’d had it handcrafted, the handle custom-made to fit my grip. The thin surface is covered with leather. How many times did this paddle bring Shelby to sweet tears? I study it for a moment.
“Not much longer now,” I say to the paddle as I put it in the trunk. Other implements follow. The hairbrush, the heavy wooden ruler, the strap. These were tools for role play, but this weekend they’ll take on a new role, a new significance.
I pull out the newer items next, the ones I bought just for this weekend. Zane and I conspired together on our purchases. We’d planned this trip like a military operation. There’s an enemy, an objective, a plan of attack.
The enemy is apathy. The objective is to save our marriages. The plan of attack is a weekend of strict sexual discipline intended to remind the girls of why they married us.
Our wives think they’re meeting us here for another routine weekend of relaxing in the cabin.
They couldn’t be more wrong.