“Let’s go for a walk” Ray said.
John had only been in the house for five minutes when Ray spoke up. Jennie, Ray’s wife was already setting the table and the turkey looked positively enticing. She was the best cook that John had ever met, and it was more than a compliment; even his own wife agreed. She was overall a very kind woman but when it came to food, she could be a tad over reactive. She would often fume if anyone brought a cell phone to the dinner table or God-forbid go for a walk just as dinner was to be served. Yet, here she was setting the table quietly alongside Betty, John’s own wife, as though her husband had not just committed a cardinal sin.
“What are you waiting for?” Ray’s powerful voice boomed from the door where he was strapping on his heavy boots.
John glanced at the turkey in the center of the table and answered his friend and boss. “Are you sure, Ray? Jennie’s cooked something real scrumptious here. I think any discussion can wait till after dinner” He nodded appreciatively at Jennie as she set down one of the fine china plates on the table mats. She smiled politely at him, a far cry from her usual laughter and teasing. Something was wrong.
“Dinner’s not going anywhere” Ray said. He was done with his boots now and he was wrapping himself in his black winter coat. John himself was still in his winter gear and had no need to wear any extra layers to face the cold January weather.
Betty bounced over to her husband with a smile. “Just go, John. We’ll keep your food warm” She gave him a peck on the lips and returned to serving the table.
Ray was still by the door, feet tapping against the hardwood floor of his house. John had always admired Ray since he started working for him. He was a man of principles and he hated it when those principles were violated. It made it easy to work for him and even after fifteen years, John had never regretted his decision.
“Alright” John said. Ray stood still as a statue beneath the open doorway, his face betraying nothing and his blue eyes staring straight ahead. He joined Ray at the door. “I guess we’re going for a walk. But know that I’ll have you to blame if my dinner grows cold.” His joke got him no reply.
Ray lived in a mansion in the middle of nowhere and he could afford to, being the CEO of his own very successful company. However, it also meant most of the surrounding area was covered in heavy snow. John had been glad to get into the warmth of the house in the first place so trudging through the snow was not something he was looking forward to. His nose was particularly sensitive to the cold and often got red. Betty liked to put on the Rudolf the red nosed reindeer song every winter to tease him
“Hope this walk won’t be taking too long” John said. “I don’t think your old bones would be able to handle it. Or my nose”
Once more, his joke got no response. Not even a twitch.
“Okay something is definitely going on.” John said. “I know I’m not that terrible a comedian”
Ray didn’t even look at him. He simply continued walking along, making a path in the snow for John to follow. John sighed frustrated and tucked his glove covered hands into his pockets resigned to complete this bizarre walk in silence and return to a hopefully warm dinner.
They trekked for a few minutes until the house was a considerable distance behind them. There was nothing but dead trees and snow as far as John could see but Ray looked like he knew where they were. He stood silent for a moment, simply staring at the hibernating tree by his side before finally he spoke up.
“How long have we known each other, John?”
“You heard the question. Answer it!”
John recognized this voice. It was what he playfully referred to as Ray’s boss voice. He only used it when a matter was serious, and he was about to give someone a verbal dress down and Ray had not been a recipient of this voice for over thirteen years.
He swallowed. “Fifteen years”
“Good” He turned to face John. “And have you learnt anything from me at all?”
“Yes sir” John replied. “I learnt everything I know from you” And it was true. Ray had taken him on as a youth and had mentored him. The man was more of a father to him than his own father. Heck, he had stood in as his father when he married Betty seven years ago.
Ray stepped closer to John. He was a large man and knew how to make use of his frame. He’d served in the military in his youth before returning stateside to start his own business. Now he was a Christian man and a pacifist but nevertheless he was still intimidating. Not just his frame, but his stare. John gulped and felt a bead of sweat run down his back under the intensity.
“How long have Jennie and I been married?”
“Almost forty years now” He answered quickly. They’d celebrated their anniversary last June.
“Good. Now in those forty years. We’ve had our disagreements. God knows we’ve had our fights. But let me ask you” He stepped even closer. “Have you ever even heard a rumour of me cheating on my wife?”
John felt his legs turn to rubber beneath him and it took him everything not to collapse in a heap on the snow-covered floor. Memories flashed before him. Champagne on ice. Black dress. Sinful red lips. A night of mistakes. And then Ray’s eyes filled his vision once again. He gulped.
“Answer the god-damned question” Ray said, his voice remaining steady.
John shook his head. He did not trust himself to speak under the intense scrutiny of those blue eyes.
“Then why did I arrive to pictures of you and a woman that is not your wife on my desk this morning. And don’t you dare lie to me.”
“I’m sorry” John finally managed to say.
“God dammit” Ray snapped at him. He turned and punched his gloved fists at the dead oak tree, and it shook under the force of the punch.
“It was a mistake. I was drunk and we were celebrating the Johnson contract” John tried to explain.
“I also celebrated the bloody Johnson contract. You know how I did it?” Ray said, rounding on him. “I went home, opened a bottle of wine and made love to my life. I didn’t find any random woman in the street and sleep with her while my wife waited for me at home” He was fuming now. “Betty is a good woman!”
John closed his eyes trying to squash the memories of lying to Betty when he got back home, the hours of scrubbing afterwards trying to get the scent of the woman he had slept with off him. He’d even burnt the suit he had worn that day in some misguided attempt to forget that that night had ever happened.
“Who sent you the pictures?” He asked,
“It doesn’t bloody matter!” Ray replied. He took a deep breath and rubbed his face with his hands “It doesn’t matter. I know why they sent it. I have no son of my own and you’re the closest I have to one. You’ll be the one running this business when I’m gone. It’s clear and obvious blackmail. But I don’t care about that. What I care about is this lie that is in the middle of your marriage.”
“I have it all taken care of. Betty will never know. I made sure of it”
“If I found out about it, someone else will” Ray said. He laid a hand on John’s shoulder. “You need to tell her son before she finds out from someone else.”
A cold hand gripped John’s heart and he shook his head immediately. “No, no. She’ll leave me. It was one mistake. One drunken mistake and I won’t let it ruin my marriage”
“It’s the lie that will kill your marriage, son.” Ray said. “Do you still love her?”
The question sounded ridiculous to him. Of course, he loved Betty. More than anything in the world. She was the best thing that ever happened to him, and he thanked God every day for the privilege of marrying her. People often spoke of soulmates, two missing parts that come together to make a whole. Betty was his true missing rib. “Yes, yes I do”
“Good. Nothing ever truly stays hidden in this world. Sooner or later, the light will come, and she’ll find out.” He turned away from John and started down the road back to the house. “It’s better she hears it from you. Then at least you have a chance to save your marriage”
Soon, John was left alone in the middle of nowhere. Dead trees surrounding him and a trail of footsteps leading back to the house. The house where his wife was waiting for him.
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