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Fiction Mystery Drama

“What’s this?” Bram asked, holding up a beautifully framed eight by ten photo he had picked off the sofa table. He had never seen it before. Juni looked up from her spot at the kitchen counter, seemingly thrown by the question, and squinting. Bram loved that his wife routinely surprised him by rotating the pictures and art in the house. It wasn't unusual for him to find pieces he had not previously seen.

It took Juni a moment to answer. “You don’t remember,” she asked, now smiling, wiping her hands on the kitchen towel and swinging it back over her shoulder. “You should. I’m pretty sure you took it!”

It was a grainy black and white glossy of Juni in a bikini, laughing and holding a volleyball on her hip. He could tell it was Waikiki Beach because of the rugged wedge of Diamond Head in the background. It was likely taken on the beach outside the Hale Koa military resort. Juni had been a Marine.

But Bram thought he could not have taken the picture because his very first trip to Hawaii was in 2015 on assignment, and based on Juni's visage in the photo, this picture seemed much older than that.

He just smiled, though. “Seriously, when was this? Were you still enlisted?”

Having turned 48 this year, Juni was still as fit as any twenty-something and looked amazing in a swimsuit. But in the photo, she was a jacked jarhead. She had muscular arms, smaller boobs, and a razor jawline. Her belly showed the sexiest hint of an eight pack but no sign of her c-section scar above those deep-cut bikini bottoms. So the picture had to be at least 28 years old. 

Juni’s smile turned into a smirk, and she placed the kitchen knife down on the cutting board, drying her hands again and studying Bram.

“Babe, you took that picture,” she insisted. “That’s one of the oldest digital shots we have. Remember? We went on vacation before Bailey was born.”

She had so much conviction that it was unsettling, because Bram was just as convinced that she was mistaken. “Not sure why I don’t remember it,” was all he could say. “But you are smokin’ in this picture.” He waved it back and forth, as if to extinguish the flames.

“You’re sweet,” she said. “But you’re not gettin’ any. I need to finish dinner.”

Replacing the picture and dropping the subject, he walked up behind her and gently stroked the sides of her breasts, which had grown larger during her only pregnancy over two decades ago and stayed that way. He kissed the nape of her neck and whispered, “You’re still smokin’.”

She leaned into him and purred, but did not stop chopping. So he grabbed an apron and knife, and helped her finish cooking. Bailey was bringing her new boyfriend, Kenny, to dinner, and Bailey said Kenny loved lasagna. Juni made one badass lasagna.


Bram was washing and Juni was drying, and Miles Davis was playing, so nobody was talking. Between three bottles of wine, their favorite jazz album, and the lateness of the hour, the mood was mellow. If it weren’t for his own aversion to leaving dirty dishes overnight, Bram figured they’d probably be in bed right now drifting off to sleep. So it wasn't as if he was missing out on bedroom action. Juni rarely initiated sex anymore, and when it did happen it was almost always in the morning, which was fine with Bram.

“What did you think of Kenny,” Bram asked, breaking the vibe.

Juni seemed to not know how to answer at first. “Well, he's cute. And funny. I don’t remember him being so tall.”

Bram, confused, turned to her, his hands still in the dishwater holding a plate and a sponge. “When did you first meet Kenny?”

Juni shifted, looked at him seriously, then smiled, chiding him, “Babe, you are becoming the nutty professor.”

“I’m serious,” Bram said. “I don’t remember meeting him.”

“He was part of Bailey’s crew during high school,” she said, still smiling, but seeming to look for something in Bram’s eyes. "Bailey didn't seem to notice him, but I always felt there was something there. I’m sure I mentioned him to you once or twice.”

“Hunh,” Bram mumbled, going back to the dishes. “Well, I don’t remember him. Which makes sense, I guess, because I kind of don’t like him.”

“Wow,” Juni said, laying the drying rag on the counter and placing one hand on his arm, and the other on her hip. “Why’s that?”

Bram shrugged and continued, “He was too uncomfortable around me. He barely said three words to me all night, which is a red flag. Actually, he didn't really talk much to Bailey, either - he was more interested in talking to you.”

It was Juni’s turn to mumble, “Hunh.” She returned to drying duty. “Well, he’s not my type.” She hip bumped Bram, grinning, and he bumped her back. “But…”, she added, cutting off his next dance move. “I’m not surprised Bailey likes him now. He’s athletic, good-looking, and doesn’t challenge her…”

“Exactly,” Bram replied, “I don’t like him.”

"Well," she said, "I don't mind him." Bram thought she sounded a bit defensive. But he let it go.


Before Bram could climb into bed, Juni stopped him by grabbing his hand. “Babe, go brush your teeth.”

He grinned, liking where this seemed to be headed. “I popped a Cialis after dinner,” he whispered with mock secrecy.

Juni squeezed his hand, exaggerated a frown, and tilted her head. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said. “I’m beat… It’s just that I’ve noticed you’re forgetting to brush at night.”

Bram kissed the top of her head, “It’s fine. I like it in the morning, anyway.” But something scratched at his brain. He seemed to be forgetting a lot of shit, lately. Should he worry about this?

After brushing his teeth, taking a piss, and checking his pubic grooming - just in case - Bram switched the bathroom light off and climbed into bed. Juni snuggled up next to him.

“Junes,” he said softly, “have you noticed my memory going bad?”

“What do you mean,” she asked, popping up to her elbow.

“Like, forgetting about the picture, and not remembering Kenny, and forgetting to brush my teeth.”

“Well,” Juni said, "we all do that stuff.” She rubbed his chest, muscled from routine morning pushups and weekly rowing, and kissed him lightly. “We’re getting old, babe.”

She's holding back, Bram thought, his CIA training kicking in. He thought about admitting to Juni that he didn’t remember being in Hawaii prior to 2015. But he let it go for now. “I guess I need to start doing crossword puzzles,” he joked, his hand stroking her thigh, sneaking upwards and inwards.

“In the morning,” was Juni’s playful response, along with another peck on the lips, a turn toward the opposite wall, and an unfair snuggle of her ass into his lap.

Bram kissed the back of her head and whispered, “In the morning,” into her ear.

Juni was asleep in minutes, her light snoring far more attractive than annoying.

Bram, however, was too distracted to sleep, both by his wife’s body against his, and the damned picture he was supposed to have taken.

How could he not remember Waikiki Beach?


When Bram woke up at 6:45am with a dry-mouth and a small headache, Juni was gone. Another wasted Cialis, he thought.

After showering and dressing, he found a note on the kitchen counter.

Out for a run and yoga. Have a good day, baby.

Coffee in hand, he walked over to the sofa table and picked up the picture again, this time flipping the tabs on the back and pulling the actual photo out of the frame. He was captivated by his wife’s beauty and sex appeal. He remembered her at 20. He couldn’t get enough of her. Hell, he still couldn’t today. But back then, he simply couldn’t take his eyes off her. Neither could anyone else. He knew he was a good looking man. But he sometimes wondered if she was out of his league.

Which made it even harder to accept that he had no memory of this photo or that bathing suit or a trip to Hawaii.

He flipped the photo over. On the back, in pencil, were the words Waikiki, 1996 in a neat handwritten print that was neither his nor Juni’s. It looked a bit like Bailey’s hand, like when she was trying to impress. Then again, it kind of didn't.

He wondered who had captioned the photo, and why.

Bram brought the picture to the kitchen counter, intending to ask Juni about the caption later. He tried to remember anything he could about going to Hawaii in 1996. He’d met and married Juni in San Diego in 1995 - she was fresh out of boot camp. He was a 27-year-old FBI agent, wet behind the ears and already trying to work his way into a CIA job. They couldn’t take a honeymoon. All he remembered about 1996 specifically was that he was constantly away from home, either in training or supporting field agencies across California.

Had Juni gone to Hawaii by herself while he was away from home? She’d certainly never mentioned it. As far as he knew, she had never kept secrets like that from him. 

Bram checked his watch, saw that it was 7:25, drained his coffee, and set out on his day, taking the convertible Vette. He had two meetings from 8am to 9:45am, then a haircut appointment at 11:00.

Enroute to his first meeting, he decided to ask his handlers at the agency to make an appointment for him with a shrink. If he was having memory issues, he was not going to sit on it. His work was dangerous, and he no longer assumed he was bullet-proof. He liked to stay on top of all aspects of his health. If he was slipping mentally, he wanted to know.

They called him back saying they had him scheduled for a 10:05 appointment with an agency psychiatrist, which fit perfectly between his meetings and his haircut.


Juni texted at 8:40, “hey, hope you’re having a good morning, call me when you can”, with a heart emoji. Bram called her back between meetings.

“Hey,” she answered, clearly outdoors and walking briskly, her words spaced through breathing. “How’s your morning?”

“Well, I missed you,” Bram answered, “So I had to take care of myself, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

Normally, she'd pick right up on that old Monte Python bit and they'd banter. Today, she skipped right over it.

“So, I heard from Bailey this morning. She wants to meet with us and have a conversation. Tonight. She's upset and was not nice on the phone. Did you pick up on anything?”

“No,” Bram said. “Just what I said last night. Do you think she's pissed that Kenny spent so much time flirting with you?"

She didn’t take that well. “I didn't flirt with him.”

"I didn't say you did," he said, surpised at her quick retort. She seemed defensive, again. "But he was definitely chatting you up. I'm sure he was just trying to ingratiate himself."

"Well," Juni said, "Bailey isn't happy and all she said is that it has to do with Kenny."

“Did she give you a time?”

“Can you be home by seven?”

“I should be home no later than 6:30, probably more like 6.”

"OK. See you then." And she hung up. 

Bram just stared at the phone for a moment, then pocketed it.


Bram's second meeting was short. And the agency shrink told him he doubted very seriously there was any cognitive impairment. But, after some insistent badgering by the patient, he scheduled Bram for some kind of baseline cognition test next week.

Bram’s barber regaled him with stories of a recent trip to Cozumel, and a string of one-night stands that would have been fun to listen to if both the barber and Bram weren’t married and in their mid-50s. He tipped the barber extra out of pity. He was so glad he was happily married.

Through most of the morning, though, the Waikiki photo occupied Bram’s spare brain bytes. He just would not accept that he’d forgotten what would have been such a great trip. He was either in trouble, mentally, or there was something going on with Juni. That realization caused him to feel nauseated.

Bram skipped lunch and his gym time, and instead visited the local FBI field office. He explained to a clerk that he was trying to piece together his travels during 1996 for nostalgia. After a few phone calls and some digging, she was able to give Bram a list of approved leave, temporary assignments, and deployments.

Besides federal holidays, he had only taken four days of leave, all of it local. And he’d only been on one deployment, in early December, for nine days. But he had been temporarily assigned more than ten times, and when he totaled up the days it was 24 weeks out of 52. Most of that was training, but a lot of it was duty-related. All of it was outside of San Diego. He thanked the young clerk and took the list.

Bram pulled up Juni’s contact on his phone to check her location. He thought he’d remembered that she was on duty in Los Angeles this afternoon, and that’s where her location pinged. He'd never checked up on his wife before, and it felt terrible, but what else could he do. At the end of the day, he was an operator doing operator things. This picture puzzle boiled down to two possibilities: he was wrong, or Juni was wrong.

If he was wrong, then he was losing his marbles. And he needed to know now if that was true.

If Juni was wrong, then…he didn’t want to complete that thought just yet.


When Bram got home, he went straight into the attic above the garage and pulled down the box of financials marked 1996. Juni ran their money, always had, and kept meticulous records. Every bill, check, statement, and receipt should be in there. He'd never even looked at their taxes. They always used a CPA, and they always got money back and they'd never been audited. So he just signed.

But Bram's life's work was information gathering, analysis, and problem solving. So, it didn’t take long for him to notice that the American Express statement for the month of June, 1996, was missing from the box. Importantly, so was that month’s frequent flyer program statement with Southwest Airlines. His heart sank.

He pulled down the boxes from 1995 and 1997. Nothing was missing. He pulled down 1999 and 2018. All accounted for. He kept the AMEX and Southwest folders, and put all five boxes back in the attic.

Bram grabbed two Heinekens from the garage fridge. He opened and guzzled one of them in a single pull and recycled the bottle before entering the house. Opening the second and belching, he sat at the kitchen counter and stared for a moment at the folders, his laptop, and his phone.

It took him 45 minutes of internet sites, emails, and phone conversations, but it was very easy to get answers to his number one question: did Juni go to Hawaii without him in June, 1996? The horrible answer: Juni had used AMEX to purchase two round trip tickets from San Diego to Honolulu on June 3rd. The Southwest account showed Juni and Abraham Benjamin - Bram being the shortened version of his name - flying out to Hawaii on June 13th, and back on June 16th. But his FBI records showed that Bram was actually in Sacramento on assignment from June 12th through June 18th.

What the fuck did you do, Juni.


His world starting to close in on him, Bram left his phone on the counter, along with the photo, the folders, and his notes, and rode his Harley to the beach. He took his helmet and boots off and walked in the surf, thinking.

At some point, it dawned on him to count nine months backwards from Feb 22nd, Bailey’s birthday. He did three calculations. Each time, he arrived at June 14th, plus or minus a day. Bailey had been conceived around the time it looked like Juni was on vacation in Hawaii with someone who was NOT Bram.

Bailey has never resembled me. She's also taller than me.

He found a beach bar and started drinking whiskey.

Who the fuck went to Hawaii with Juni? 

He got back on the bike at 5:50pm.

Juni’s out of your league, man. You’ve always known it.


Bram pulled onto the driveway at 6:15pm. Bailey’s Honda was there. Juni’s Audi was not.

He left his helmet on the bike mirror and trodded inside through the garage, not wasted, but drunk enough to know he should’ve taken an Uber.

As he entered, Bram noticed his phone buzzing on the table. It was the custom haptic for Juni's contact. He let it buzz.

Bailey, beautiful like her mother, was sitting at the counter. She had obviously gone through the photo, and the folders, and Bram’s notes. She was crying.

“Hi, baby,” Bram said, a little too perfectly. "What's going on?"

Bailey's crying turned into huge, messy sobs, as she handed the only father she had ever known a handwritten note, signed by Kenny.

On the second line of the first page of the note were the words, "...the summer after we graduated, I slept with your mother..."

April 05, 2024 06:23

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1 comment

Trudy Jas
02:48 Apr 09, 2024

Twisted lies. Well done.


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