I am eating a piece of grilled white asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, drizzled with melted manchego cheese and coated in crushed pistachio, when my friend and co-worker Josh ruins my culinary orgasm by bringing up my honeymoon.
More specifically, my lack of a honeymoon.
And all I can do is grunt.
“I’m just saying,” he says with a sigh as he waves his bacon-wrapped, goat-cheese-stuffed date around on its toothpick like he’s the conductor of the Boston Pops doing a tapas bar gig, “you married a freaking billionaire. You deserve a honeymoon.”
“It’s not about what Amanda does or doesn’t deserve,” Carol insists on my behalf. As I chew, I give her a look that either says thank you or is so indecent, I need a cigarette and a fan, because damn, that asparagus is good.
“What is it about?”
“It’s about what they want. I mean, my God, Josh! Andrew bought her an estate as a wedding gift. I think he’s got all the good-husband bases covered.”
“Pfft. That? He’s a billionaire! That’s to be expected.”
“You’re pooh-poohing my husband’s gift to me? An estate in Weston, Massachusetts? It’s one of the most expensive zip codes in the country,” I say, parroting his affect.
“Hello? Billionaire? For him, that’s like buying a cheap condo behind the railroad tracks in Clinton. Declan bought Shannon an entire coffee chain.”
“This isn’t a competition,” I say, alarm making my pinot noir taste like vinegar.
“And he managed to give her a nice honeymoon in Hawaii.”
I lean in. “Define nice. Because those two still refuse to talk about their honeymoon.”
“Isn’t that weird?” Carol says, affirming my gut instinct. “Shannon’s normally easy to pry information out of, but she’s so close-lipped on this.”
“Maybe they had an orgy,” Josh ponders.
“On their honeymoon?” Carol’s right to be skeptical.
“Weirder things have happened.” Josh wraps his arm around my shoulders. His armpits smell like lemon and coconut. “I was married to Amanda, you know. We had a honeymoon.”
“We had a panic-filled hour in a Las Vegas hotel suite after being poisoned with psychedelic-contaminated wine. You, me, Andrew, and Andrew’s Vegas chauffeur all woke up together wearing wedding rings.” I wrench his arm off me. “Don’t compare the two.”
“I am so glad I’m not actually married to you!” Josh sniffs, then his sniff becomes more emotional than judgmental. “But I sure do miss Geordi.” That’s Josh’s ex-boyfriend.
“I’m sure you do. But quit comparing.”
“I’m just saying, maybe Shannon and Declan are being private about their honeymoon because it’s, you know.” Wink wink. “Private.”
“Declan doesn’t strike me as the swinger type,” Carol declares.
“Right,” I add. “He’s not the sharing type. Have you ever tried going to a tapas bar with him?”
Josh straightens up, frowning at me. “Did you just say topless?”
“What? No! Tapas. Declan won’t even share small plates. You expect him to share his entire wife?”
“Scratch that theory off the list,” Josh mutters.
“Why did you,” Carol says, pointing to me, “and my little sister both land billionaires for husbands, and all I got was a tattooed ‘musician’ who turned MLM pyramid schemes into an art form and tried to convince me that lube made from tea tree oil was an aphrodisiac? Where’s my billionaire?”
“Oh, God, not this again,” Josh groans. “Carol must be on her third glass of sangria.”
She shakes the ice cubes at the bottom of her glass. “How’d you know?”
“Drink #1: This is great! I love hanging out with friends. Drink #2: I’m hungry. Drink #3: Why can’t I get a billionaire?” Josh says, ticking off the list with his fingers.
“What’s Drink #4?” Carol asks.
“I hate Drink #4,” he says, turning red. “It’s when you start to tell us how long it’s been since you’ve had sex.”
“I do not!”
“Do too,” I inform her. Josh’s eyes jerk like his brain is riding a bucking bronco. “And then there’s Drink #5.”
“We won’t talk about that!” Josh squeals.
Carol gives him a head tilt and raised eyebrows, her sangria paused halfway to her mouth. “What on Earth? I don’t have five drinks when we come out like this!”
“No, no, it was Mathilda’s wedding. Remember? She invited everyone in marketing to her wedding when she and Dryden tied the knot.”
“The reception? The one that was all about candles in mason jars and a goat as a flower girl? On the farm in West Boylston?”
“That one,” Josh says primly, turning even redder.
“I did drink heavily that night. I’d just gotten my second child-support check from Todd, ever, from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Twenty-three dollars and twelve cents. And then we came to the wedding and–what did I do after Drink #5? Talk about my dry sex life?”
Josh looks like he’s choking on a cocktail stirrer.
“You asked Josh to sleep with you,” I blurt out. Might as well get this over with.
Carol laughs. “Did not!”
“You did,” he says, twisting away, his neck at an unnatural angle, like a swan procreated with a pipe cleaner. “You were, uh, very specific about what you wanted.” He makes a face like he’s imagining eating something he doesn’t like.
Carol’s turn to blush. “I did not hit on you! You’re not my type, Josh. Sorry.”
“But. You. Did.” Josh grabs the edges of the table, which is made of stone, dark and grooved with deep scratches and years of sweaty glasses.
“If I did, I was clearly beer goggling it.”
“Vodka goggles. Not beer,” I correct her.
“I’m sorry, Josh. Sorry I offended you. You’re definitely not my type, so it would take that much vodka to get me to hit on you.”
“You manage to turn an apology into an insult like it’s programmed into you.”
Carol laughs. “Blame my mother.”
Josh huffs and steals the last goat-cheese-stuffed date with a flourish.
“Anyhow, we got way off track.” Carol looks at me. “About that honeymoon you never had...”
“It’s fine. I’m not exactly suffering.”
Josh and Carol snort in unison, and just like that, everything between them is mended. Never underestimate the power of a common jealousy target.
“When you marry a guy like Andrew, the word suffering is stricken from your vocabulary,” Carol instructs me. She’s always had that tone the eldest child gets when talking to a younger sibling. No, we’re not biologically related, nor did her parents officially adopt me, but I’m basically a de facto little sister.
Which means I get all the irritation of a big sister and none of the long-term benefits.
“I don’t need a honeymoon,” I say flatly.
“Your life is no longer about what you need, Amanda,” Josh intercedes. “Seriously.” His palms go up in a gesture of supplication. “I’m not poking you.”
He gives her a death glare. “I mean that your life is all about wants now. Not needs. The needs are covered. So think about what you want. Heart of hearts, if you could have a honeymoon anywhere in the world with Andrew, where would it be? Because he can give you that. He can give you anything.”
“Heart of hearts?” I ask, still a little stung for reasons I don’t quite understand.
Carol gives me a genuine grin. That, or she’s been lying about how many drinks she’s had, because she’s suddenly touching and friendly. I want to confide in her.
“If I could go on a honeymoon with Andrew, anywhere? For how long?” I clarify.
“Two weeks,” Josh says. “I would say three weeks, because that’s how Europeans go on vacation, but people in the U.S. are weird about long vacations.”
“That’s because we don’t get six weeks’ paid time off,” Carol says.
“Six weeks? Two weeks? Hah!” I chortle, the sound simultaneously exactly right and terribly disturbing. “I’ll be lucky to get forty-eight hours alone with him, and half of that will involve his phone and answering texts.”
“No. You get two weeks of nothing but him and his attention,” Josh emphatically declares.
“I think that is a really, really big dose of Andrew.”
“You can’t handle that... big a dose?” When Josh tries to be deeply inappropriate, it always comes out like Mr. Rogers is hitting on you. It’s simultaneously flattering and soul destroying.
“Please. Stop.” Carol sets down her skewered grilled shrimp covered in basil. “You sound like Pee-wee Herman.”
“I do not!” Josh protests, adenoids performing a cheerleading routine.
“You prove me right every time,” she says, grinning.
“Back to your honeymoon,” he grumbles. “Two weeks.”
“No way! He runs one of the biggest companies in the world! The one that provides you with a salary and benefits,” I point out.
“And you deserve two weeks of time from your new husband,” Josh emphatically replies.
I give them suspicious looks. “You just want me out of the office for two weeks straight. Why?”
“So you can have fun!” Carol chirps.
“So we can clean all the orange stains off your desk,” Josh replies honestly, nose wrinkling in disgust. “Our current repertoire of chemicals isn’t cutting it.”
“Is that why my desk smells like bleach every morning?”
“Someone had to intervene.”
“I don’t eat that many Cheetos!”
“Show me your cuticles,” Josh demands.
I sit on my hands. “I am not a piece of meat for you to view at your pleasure,” I inform him.
Carol and Josh give each other conspiratorial looks.
I did it again.
I just strengthened their alliance.
“How is Shannon?” I ask Carol, changing the subject.
“She’s fine, I guess. Don’t you see her more often than me, Cheeto Fingers?”
“I haven’t seen her for two weeks or so. She was hiding Ellie from the world after the poor baby got a cold.”
“Right.” Carol yawns. “She called me last week in a crying panic, blabbering about bulb syringes and baby saline solution. I think Declan is close to convincing her to hire a night nurse to help them out.”
“You think? How did he manage that?”
“When she called me at three a.m., crying, I said to her, ‘You are insane to say no to a night nurse. She could be doing all of this for Ellie right now and you and I could be sleeping.’”
“You think that worked?”
“She hasn’t called again.”
I look at Carol. Then Josh. Slowly, I pull my hands out from under my butt.
I waggle my fingers at them. “I told you.”
“That just proves you’re good at covering your tracks,” Carol scoffs.
“Or that you get good manicures more often than the rest of us,” Josh adds, examining his cuticles with vexation.
Carol does a double take. “And to think I actually hit on you.”
“Men can get manicures!” Josh protests.
I come to his defense. “Andrew does. So does Declan.”
Carol shows us her ratty fingers. “I am not judging men for getting manicures. I’m judging men for having nicer nails than mine.”
Josh stares. “Is that glitter nail polish on the edge of your index finger? When was that from? 1987?”
“Tyler did it,” she says. “Part of Unicoga.”
“You weren’t there!” I point out. Carol’s mom, Marie, posted a poorly worded ad on Facebook that led to scores of swinger couples attending her yoga class. “Unicorn yoga” is fine, but when swingers think you’re their kind of unicorn, all the single women in the room are up for grabs.
“Only because Dad couldn’t help with the kids that day. From the sound of it, I would have been popular.”
We snicker. She’s right.
Narrowing his eyes, Josh challenges me with one of his patented lizard looks. “I think unicorns are overrated.”
“You didn’t in Vegas. When we were almost married,” I remind him.
“We’re not talking about that,” he says, sniffing. The sniff turns sad.
“Oh,” I say, instantly remorseful. I rub his back. “I didn’t mean to bring up Geordi again.” Geordi was our Anterdec chauffeur in Las Vegas, during Shannon and Declan’s wedding. Andrew and I woke up in a hotel room with Geordi and Josh, all four of us wearing wedding rings, about three years ago.
Yeah. I know. It’s as weird as it sounds.
“I cannot believe Geordi never told me,” Josh says, sniffing more. “Who knew he would join the Peace Corps! Most of the time, when guys ditch me, they just ghost. Or leave a note that they ran off and joined the circus.”
“No. Really,” he says, pensive. “My old boyfriend Remington swallowed fire. Nice guy. No gag reflex whatsoever.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Carol says, gagging.
I pour the rest of the sangria and hog it for myself, suddenly wishing tapas bars served Cheetos.
“Look,” Josh says, pulling himself together. “You need a honeymoon. If you won’t do it for you, do it for us.” He points between himself and Carol.
“For you two?”
“Shannon has never, to this day, told me what happened in Hawaii. I deserve to live vicariously through a billionaire’s honeymoon. My sister won’t do it, so it’s all on you,” Carol declares.
“That’s not fair!”
“Life isn’t fair. But I’ll bet it’s way more fair when you’re married to a wealthy man.”
I start to argue. I close my mouth.
She’s right. They both are.
I need to go home prepared.
“If this backfires on me, I’ll blame you two.”
“How could it backfire?” Josh asks. “It’s the perfect plan.”
The perfect plan.
What could go wrong?
Making love on top of a down comforter dragged in front of a roaring fire is as romantic as it seems.
Doing it in your own house is even better.
We’re completely naked, stretched out next to each other, the fire’s glow making Amanda’s bare skin a work of art. For a split second, I can imagine her as a movie actress, the camera panning over the slopes of her perfect curves, shadows and light playing on my wife with a majesty reserved for only a handful of ethereal beings.
I turn to her, feeling rugged and powerful, the scent of cedar and oak as it burns reminding me of ski lodges, high school wilderness treks, and now–my own home.
My childhood home is rapidly becoming ours, the shift slow in coming.
It’s not that I don’t have the money to change the grounds, the interior, the exterior. All of that is doable. What I don’t have is time.
Or, to be blunt, the will.
Every day I walk through the door, I feel a pull to the past. A tug, as if I’m being drawn back in time. Not decades. Not even years. Just a small, intangible sense that destabilizes me for a few seconds before I can consciously right myself. Ghosts are the manifestation of spirits with unfinished business, they say.
Maybe that unease is the gentle yank of a ghost, pulling on my arm.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Amanda says, making me startle slightly. I look at her, smiling at me, nuzzled into my side.
“You need to increase your offer,” I inform her.
“Make it a bitcoin and you have a deal.”
She laughs softly, breath blowing against my chest. That feeling needs to be bottled. Captured. Drawn upon in times of difficulty. It’s a light, warm brush of her essence against the skin and bone over my heart. That feeling is the closest sense I have of direct love from her, one breath at a time.
“Seriously. What’s going on in that beautiful mind of yours? Calculating profit margins again?” she pokes.
“Thinking about ghosts.”
She tightens against me, body suddenly tense. “Is the house haunted? You never told me that when we moved in!”
“No, no,” I assure her. “It’s not. Just... I have my moments here, you know?”
“You see her? In ghost form?”
“No. Nothing like that. I do not embrace the woo. You know that.”
“It’s more that this place is a time capsule.”
“A time capsule? Are you regretting buying it?”
“No. Not one bit.” I kiss her temple. Nothing destabilizing about her.
“You know, when I was out with Carol and Josh for tapas and sangria tonight, they brought up our honeymoon.”
“You want a honeymoon? Now? We’ve been married for two and a half years.”
“Honeymoons don’t have expiration dates, Andrew.”
“Why not just ask for a vacation?”
“You have a problem with the term ‘honeymoon’?”
“Fine. A honeymoon. What would we do?”
She reaches between my legs. “More of what we just did.”
“I could get behind that initiative. Where? How long?”
“I don’t know where, but I know how long.” She strokes me.
“Hah. I mean how long do you want the honeymoon to be? Three days? I might be able to swing four or five.”
“Two weeks!” I laugh. I realize I am not supposed to laugh when Amanda abruptly stands up, pulling the warm down comforter with her, and plants that beautiful ass of hers on the sofa.
“I mean, honey,” I say, smoothing this over. “Two weeks for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company is like a year.”
“Am I not worth it?”
I have stepped on a landmine, complete with trip wires, but I am wearing a blindfold and earplugs.
“Of course you’re worth it! But finding two weeks without business trips or meetings in the time frame is impossible.”
“Impossible?” She goes silent. It’s not a sad kind of silence. It’s the kind where the temperature rises. It’s a low-pressure system converging with a wind movement in which warm, moist air below runs into cool, dry air above, building an F5 tornado or a category 5 hurricane.
Amanda is a great name for a hurricane.
I wait her out. That’s what you do when you’re in a landmine field and essentially blind, deaf, and... male.
“If I had a life-threatening illness, would you do it?” she challenges.
“If I had limited time on Earth, would you take two weeks out of your life to spend only with me?”
Her long silence and her strange calmness set off every alarm in me. What have I missed?
“Did you have a doctor’s appointment this week? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong,” she says. “Hypothetically, is there anything that could happen in our life to make you clear two weeks to spend only with me?”
She’s got me.
“When you put it that way...”
“Then it’s not impossible. It’s just that you aren’t making me a priority.”
A flood of business books flip inside my mind, like butterflies made of hardcover print stock. Essentialism. Rocket Fuel. Purple Cow. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. The basic premise of all of them distills down to one singular concept:
Your life is what you make it. Priorities are a reflection of your inner state.
Arguing with her could be so easy right now, as her eyes reflect the blaze of the fire, potentiating what is already aglow. Debating the merits of her point could take the sick feeling inside me and make it feel more righteous, less intense. I could easily pivot away from the truth of her words and do what most people do: find a way to stay on the same path I’ve been on for years, without disrupting the world for her request.
I’m not most people.
“What would a two-week honeymoon look like?” I ask her, opening the conversation without making a promise.
Surprise trickles into her face, a quick blink, a nanosecond of tight confusion, the twitch of one corner of her mouth. “What do you mean?”
“You know how to pitch. Pitch your proposal to me.”
“That’s not how this works! I’m not bidding for your honeymoon contract.”
I lean back, plumping a pillow under my head, giving her a full, unfettered view of all of me. “Maybe you are.”
A pillow whaps my junk with a surprising thump that makes my ass clench.
“I am your wife! I don’t bid for your time. Or, at least, I shouldn’t have to.” Those last three words come out like Amanda turned into a demon. “You should pitch me!”
“I already proposed to you.” I look at her engagement ring, now paired with a wedding ring. “Remember?”
“How could I forget? You proposed in a garden shed at a rooftop restaurant while we hid from people. Of course I remember.”
“You taste better when I kiss you in closets.”
“Maybe I should propose we honeymoon in a closet for two weeks, then.”
“As long as there’s water, food, and chafing cream, I’m all for it.” Before she can hit my crotch with another pillow, I turn, reaching for the nearly empty bottle of wine, and pour myself some more. Amanda might pelt me with cushions out of anger, but she’d never dare to tip over a glass of good wine.
That would be a waste.
The look on her face when we make eye contact is disarming. “What about two weeks like that?”
“I was joking. Obviously.”
“Not in a closet. But... here.”
“Here? In the house?”
“Yes. A staycation.”
“What the hell is a ‘staycation’?”
“It’s where you don’t go to work and just stay home.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
“It’s for people who don’t have the money or don’t want to spend the money going away on vacation.”
“Who needs to do..? Oh. Right. People without money.”
“But not just people without money. People like us! Andrew, what if we take two weeks and stay at home remodeling?”
“Remodeling? I don’t have those kinds of skills. I hire people for that!”
“We have to make decisions. Clear out whatever we don’t want. Renovate. Make this house ours.”
“You are a mind reader. I was just thinking that, earlier.”
“Bullshitter. You’re shining me on.”
“I don’t bullshit you, Amanda. When you offered me a bitcoin for my thoughts, I was thinking about how we need to make this place ours. Put our own stamp on it.” The stem of the wineglass feels heavy in my hand.
“You said you were thinking about ghosts.”
“So you’ll really do it? Give me two weeks of one hundred percent of your time? And we can make design decisions and invest our attention in making this estate ours?” Radiant with excitement, she gives me a look that fills me with heat.
There comes a time in every marriage when you realize the Right Path is actually the Compromise Path.
“Make you a deal,” I tell her, staring her down with narrowed eyes that are intended to challenge. “You go to Gina and get her to sign off on me being gone for two weeks. If you can get that, it’s a deal.”
“You expect me to get permission from your assistant for you to have two weeks off? What kind of CEO are you? You own the company.”
“I own much of the company, but the company owns most of my time. Gina is the manager of all that. You get her onboard and we’ll do it.”
“If that’s the case, you’re not really the boss. Gina is.”
“You’re starting to understand.”
“Gina is as good at managing my work life as Grace ever was for Dad and Declan.”
She gasps, the sound so abrupt that she starts coughing, hard. “She’s that good now?”
Determined eyes meet mine. Challenge accepted. I reach for her hand and shake it. “I hope you succeed.”
“You assume I won’t, though.”
“I assume nothing other than this truth: we’re about to go for round two.”
“You sure you’ve got the time for that, Mr. McCormick? Your life is tightly scheduled.”
“I’ll squeeze in you.”
“Don’t you mean ‘squeeze you in’?”
And I show her exactly what I mean.