They were celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary at Chuckie’s Pizzeria. It was half-price Tuesday, and the place was hopping.
As Keith and Amber Habkirk lifted their glasses of house red, also on special on Tuesdays, and were about to toast, an out-of-control child ran past their table and let out an ear-piercing squeal. Amber returned her glass to the table and sighed.
Keith almost asked what was wrong but, in a rare moment of male marital wisdom, refrained.
"Hey, the lasagna is buy one, get one half-off," he said instead, which wasn't much better.
"I'm so sick of this," Amber said. "It's our anniversary, Keith, and not only did I not get a present, but I'm at a fucking family restaurant." Sitting back in her chair, she folded her arms. "I'm not hungry. Let's just go."
"I'm sorry, Amber. It's been another slow month at the mill." He felt terrible seeing his pretty wife, all dressed up and looking beautiful. He wanted to take her somewhere fancy, but money was tight.
"Yeah, yeah." She threw her napkin on the table and grabbed her jacket. "I'll be waiting in the car." Amber got up to leave and the same rambunctious child slammed right into her stomach. "Can someone control their brat? Jesus."
Keith felt eyes on him, and blood warmed his face. He placed exact change on the table and followed his wife to the car.
He and Amber had dated throughout high school and, after graduation, she announced they were pregnant. Keith landed a job at Orson Lumber Mill, which paid very well, had great benefits and outstanding insurance.
This pleased Amber, as she had high expectations for her future. Raised by a single mother on a waitress's salary, Amber had no intention of settling for less than she deserved.
The marriage survived for seven months of tenuous bliss, but then Amber lost the child in the last trimester. She started drinking and struggled with bouts of depression.
Money problems made things worse when the mill began struggling to compete with newer, larger mills in neighboring cities. Keith pretended things were normal. They still entertained and went to parties, but when Amber drank, it all came pouring out like hot venom.
"Why don't you just 'accidentally' cut off a finger at work?" she'd say, when they were having drinks with friends. He hated the way she always used her long, thin fingers to quote the word 'accidentally.' "That should get us a few grand." He mouthed the next part verbatim, "You've got another one, anyway." Then came the usual uproarious laughter and nose snorting.
Less than a few months later, Amber left Keith for the therapist he insisted she see that winter.
It devastated him. He dragged himself through his days; going in late to work, eating fast food, totally giving up on any personal hygiene. Despair deepened when rumors spread that soon the mill might close for good. He also turned to booze and spent most evenings slumped on a stool at the local dive bar.
On one particularly miserable night, a mutual friend of his and Amber's walked through the bar door. After his eyes adjusted to the somber lighting, he noticed Keith sitting at the bar.
"Hey, buddy," he said to Keith. "I haven't seen you in forever. How are you?"
Keith tried to focus his vision through the haze of too many beers. "Huh?" he said.
"It's me. Patrick," his old friend replied.
"Oh. Hi. How's it hanging?" Keith slurred. His elbow slipped off the edge of the bar, causing his beer to slosh and spill on the bar and floor.
"I'm doing pretty good," Pat said. His eyebrows knitted together, and his smile faded. "You okay, man?"
Keith laughed, and he waved his arm in the air. "I'mm great!" he said, a little too loud, and went back to drinking.
"I was sorry to hear about you and Amber."
"Amber's here? Where?" He put his hand on his forehead like a visor and scanned the room.
"No, she's not here, Keith," Pat said.
"Oh, figures," Keith said, as spit dripped down his chin. His head was weaving, as if it weighed more than his neck could handle. "Have you seen her, Pat... Pat. What was your name again?" Keith giggled and swayed on the stool.
"Not recently." Patrick took a seat on the stool beside Keith. "But I heard she has a baby girl now and is expecting another." He made a gesture to the bartender, ordering the same as Keith. "She and that doctor bought a new house up in Berkley." Patrick regretted giving too much information, as Keith started crying.
Anger soon turned to tears.
"Well, fuck her and her fucking doctor husberned," he said. He smashed his glass on the bar and it broke, spilling beer all over the place.
"Alright. That's it. You're done," said the bartender, a fat-faced, burly looking man, wearing rolled-up sleeves that displayed massive forearms. "You have to leave, Keith."
"I don't have to do anything!" Keith raised his voice again. "Fuck you and fuck every doctor in this whole fucking shit hole!"
"Come on," said Patrick. "Let's get you home."
Patrick saw Keith home to his dingy apartment. After he dropped the slobbering, pathetic fool onto his couch, Pat left, and hoped he'd never run into Keith Habkirk again.
A few years passed and Amber and her new husband were at Le Gracieux, a posh downtown restaurant, to celebrate their second anniversary in style. They were just delving into their dinners when Amber suddenly became distracted.
A private table nestled in a dark, romantic corner of the restaurant kept drawing Amber's attention. Servers neglected the rest of the diners but circled this table like greedy seagulls. Along with the shiny, silver champagne bucket, Amber couldn't help but notice the blazing sparkle coming from the elegant woman's diamond necklace, as it caught the soft candlelight. The scene was complete with a solo violinist to serenade their meal. Everyone in the place stared at the wealthy, extravagant couple.
The man at the table had his back to her, but Amber had an unobstructed view of the female patron. She was thin, young, and gorgeous. Her stunning face glowed in the subdued light of the restaurant. She had great facial bones and deep-set eyes with long, fluttering eyelashes. She wore stiletto heels and a sleeveless, tight red dress.
Amber scanned her own attire and felt outdone by the polished woman. Though her doctor husband afforded her a comfortable life, she still yearned for more. She wanted to live like that lucky lady.
Amber's dinner grew cold as she focused her eyes on the male counterpart.
"Is everything okay," asked her husband, Brett.
"Oh, yes," she answered, though clearly engrossed elsewhere. "Every thing's perfect." She smiled at him.
Amber noticed that the man at the table was paying the check. Gasping out loud, she almost choked on her shrimp scampi when the husband, also well-dressed, turned toward her. It couldn't be... it was! Keith! But how? How could he afford this?
Her jaw dropped as she watched the server help Keith get into his wheelchair. He was missing a leg.
Oh my God, he's missing an arm too!
"What's wrong?" asked Brett.
Amber didn't answer. Shock turned to disbelief as the truth sunk in.
Nah. He wouldn't really do it. No way...