“I was mad to agree to this, Maddy,” said Aldrin. “Apple picking. Christ, if you want apples, I can get them from a roadside stand, and we can go to a club.” He drove their BMW i8 up the farm path towards the orchard. He slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “Look at this dust. The car’s filthy.”
Maddy glanced at Aldrin. She ran her fingers along his bottle, tanned arm.
“I thought we could spend some quality time together, you and me, out in the sunshine.” She brushed his sable brown hair from his forehead. “I miss you.”
He pulled her fingers from his scalp, squeezing them, the bones rubbing against each other. He steered her hand to her knee and patted it.
“There you go again,” he snorted. “You miss me? When we’re together, you act like an ice queen. Where’s the woman I married? You used to think I was hot, and you told me so. Now? You have a ten-foot personal space around you. I call it the dead zone. Going into it kills all desire.” He laughed.
“Then why did you come?” she mumbled to the passenger side window. She drew a smiley face in her condensed breath, then wiped it away.
“I had nothing better to do.” He sighed.
Maddy pressed her forehead on the glass.
“See?” Aldrin poked her shoulder. “Even on our anniversary, on an outing you wanted, and your wall is impenetrable. Where did the girl I married go?”
“You know it’s our anniversary?” Maddy sniffed. She glanced at Aldrin. He watched her, his knees directing the car on the 5 mph rise to the top of the mountain. Sunlight turned his brown eyes auburn. He was still the best looking man she had ever seen.
“Of course. I remember everything. Do you remember how it used to be?”
“You used to pay attention to me. You used to see me,” she whispered.
Aldrin shook his head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He pulled the car between two pickup trucks, shut off the engine, and got out. He shoved the keys into his blue heathered wool sports trousers and smoothed his white polo shirt.
Maddy waited for him to open her door, but he watched a group of young women laughing under the trees. He smiled. One woman looked in his direction. He waved to her. She leaned into her friends. They glanced his way and giggled.
Maddy grabbed her emerald green Serpenti Forever bag and her butter-yellow cashmere cardigan and got out of the car. She slammed the door.
“Hey, careful with the beamer,” said Aldrin over his shoulder. A yellow jacket buzzed past his face. He jumped back, ducked, and ran over to Maddy. He looked around, pointing.
“Bees,” he shouted. “Christ, bees. Look at them.” He put Maddy in front of him like a shield.
“What are you doing?” She wriggled from his grasp.
“Do you have my EpiPens?” He grabbed at her bag.
Maddy pulled it from his fingers. She opened her purse, reached inside, and pulled out his medical pouch. She opened it and tilted it so he could see.
He pulled out both pens as another bee flew past them. He checked to make sure the auto-injectors were full by shaking them.
“See, I’m always thinking about you,” said Maddy.
“Yeah, that’s why you brought me to this death trap.”
“All you have to do is stick with me, and you’ll be fine.” Maddy pointed to a teenage boy in a T-shirt with the orchard’s logo on it. “Let’s get some baskets and go pick some apples. It’ll be fun.” Maddy linked her arm, threw Aldrin’s, and bumped his hip with hers. She laughed. They paid the attendant for one basket. Aldrin carried it as Maddy pulled him through the apple trees.
They stepped over apples rotting on the ground and broken branches brought down by the thunderstorm from a few days ago. They passed a young couple holding hands. The man kissed the woman on the cheek and whispered in her ear. She blushed and rubbed the man’s back.
Maddy nodded towards them. “That’s how you used to act with me,” she said.
“They’re on a date,” said Aldrin. He put the basket on the ground by a ladder leaning against the nearest tree.
“So, what does that have to do with anything?” Maddy put one of her black and white bobo sneakers on the ladder’s bottom rung, testing it. She placed a hand on each side rail, gripping the wood.
“He’s trying to get some,” said Aldrin. “Marriage will take care of that.”
“What a terrible thing to say,” said Maddy.
“I speak from experience.”
“That’s sad.” Maddy stepped on the ladder.
“I agree,” said Aldrin.
Maddy climbed until she was under the branches and could reach the apples. She moved leaves, looking for the reddest specimens. She found a couple, plucked them from their stems, and turned to put them in the basket. The basket lay on its side. She moved down, her left foot slipped, and she fell to the ground. She landed on her ankle and fell on her butt. She cried out, looked around for Aldrin, and didn’t see him. She used the ladder to pull herself up before anyone noticed.
She sat back on the ladder and rubbed her ankle. She felt tears fill her eyes and dashed them away before they could fall on her cheeks. Damn him. She sucked in a deep breath and counted to ten. She placed her foot on the ground and tested it. It hurt, but other things hurt more.
She kicked her apple bucket. Yeah, her foot would be ok. She went in search of her husband.
She found him ten minutes later holding the basket of the young woman he had waved to from the parking lot. He helped her up a ladder and stood beside her while she dropped fruit down to him. They both smiled and laughed, rays of sunlight spotlighting them like they were on stage performing a love scene. She hid behind a trunk and watched them while yellow jackets buzzed around her. She looked down to see the animals moving in and out of their underground nest.
Aldrin and his new friend were heading in her direction. Maddy kicked the bee nest and ran off to hide behind a farm truck. She sat against a tire, breathing hard.
“I’ve been stung.” Aldrin screamed. “Oh, my, god. Get them off me.” He screamed again. “Find my wife.”
“Wife? You’re married?”
“Help me. Find my wife. I need my epinephrine. Please help me.”
Maddy peeked under the flatbed.
Aldrin grabbed at the woman’s pant leg. She tried to get away from him.
“Find my wife.” Aldrin gasped for breath and clutched at his throat. “Help me.”
People ran to him. He collapsed on the ground.
Maddy snuck away in the opposite direction, crouching low, hiding from people running towards Aldrin.
On the other side of the orchard, she picked up a full basket discarded by someone going to see about the commotion and went further away.
They found her twenty minutes later.
“Mrs. Braeburn, your husband needs you. He’s been stung by bees. He needs his medicine.” They pulled her along.
“Quickly,” said the teenager who had sold them their tickets.
“Ow.” She limped behind them. “Careful. I hurt my foot.”
“You’ve got to hurry. He is having a hard time breathing.”
Maddy skipped and hopped, going faster. “Of course,” she said. “I need to get to Aldrin.”
They reached the spot where Aldrin lay on the ground, not moving. A man knelt beside him, fingers on her husband’s neck. The man shook his head.
Maddy fell next to Aldrin, crying. She hugged him and sobbed. She glanced up at the man who had tried to save her husband.
“If only he had stayed beside me.”