Someone is dead.
I thought I’d get away with it. But Fate never plays along, does she?
Two nights away; fleeing the suffocation of responsibility and constant demands. Reality disappeared with our fading taillights as anticipation erupted with a sigh of relief. I remember dropping my head slowly backward and staring blankly at the roof of the car, eyes clouded by visions of the weekend ahead. Time together at last.
I’d found the perfect place online – sandwiching the research on “romantic getaways in remote locations” between my morning clients and the demands of parenthood. It needed to be far enough away to be safe, but close enough to make it worthwhile. And, finally, I’d found the perfect hotel. Cloaked in a forest, it overlooked a lake reflecting trees standing sentinel over its secrets. No ratings or comments; a true hidden gem. The anticipation lightened my step, and heart, for days.
That was two weeks ago.
Now, instead of gazing into my lover’s eyes over my glass of full-bodied Shiraz, I am looking down on a broken body grotesquely splayed at the bottom of the staircase.
I never intended this. A cliché, I know. But clichés are born from truths, aren’t they?
It’s the age-old tale of feeling unappreciated and unnoticed. Being replaced in society by younger, more vibrant versions; slowly vanishing behind the inevitable veil of inconsequence. The internal fire that once burned fierce and wild, doused by the chill of middle age. When did that happen?
Was it the day I turned 40, or when I became the oldest woman in the office? Was it when I stopped wearing high heels after my son was born, or the first time that eyes glided past me in a crowded room? When did I start to fade?
Even the most elegant wine eventually turns to vinegar.
Maybe that’s why it happened. We are powerless against the beckoning of Fate, aren’t we? In moments of clarity, however, I acknowledged my weak excuses as a lack of control and willpower. But now I see that we truly are pawns in the games of the Gods.
Fate brought us together when our boys were born within hours of each other; destined to be best friends. Wide-eyed with wonder, we cooed over each other’s squirming bundles heralding the new world we trepidaciously entered together.
Dinners and barbecues, children’s parties, and weekend getaways. We bonded over our shared greed for any hint of our previous carefree lives, and our common passion for red wine.
Navigating milestones together, we shared confidences and revealed secrets. Lines became blurred with the over-indulgences of time spent together. Connections deepened, highlighting the dull monotony and boredom of our everyday lives.
But Fate has a nasty habit of deceiving you. Of slowly raising you up and promising greater heights – only to relish the inevitable fall. And fall we did.
Can we blame destiny for bringing us together? Or is that just a convenient excuse? You can see where this is going; there are no surprises here. We fell in love. Or is love too strong a word?
Too many shared bottles of our favourite velvet Shiraz on too many nights of cosy conversation deepened our bond until it was no longer possible to deny Fate her inevitability.
It was easy in the beginning. Our dinners, play dates, and family weekends away continued seamlessly, providing ample opportunity and time to invest in our deepening relationship. Nobody was the wiser and our friend Fate was smiling upon us. She is devious like that.
We shared intimacies and indulged our senses with our love of the ruby elixir, all under the guise of our family friendship. My internal fire was reignited, and I stepped out of the stifling cocoon, unfurling my wings of desire again.
Eventually, we became greedy. Stolen moments were no longer enough. We wanted more excitement. More intimacy. More time to immerse ourselves in one another, escaping the constant scrutiny of our spouses. But we are never completely free. Fate is always watching from the shadows, and she has her own plans.
Eyes frozen wide, I can almost see her shadow smirking up at me. But it’s the pale limbs draped over the bottom stair that hold my horrified gaze. So familiar to me. I should go down for a closer look, but I can’t move.
How did it get to this? Who pushed her? How do I know she was pushed?
My mind is buzzing with the confusion of jumbled thoughts. Disjointed images dance in my memory - scarecrows in a vineyard caught in the whipping wind.
The shadow moves and this time, I am sure. Fate looks up at me and as she slowly parts her lips in a macabre smile, images fall into place. The log-cabin hotel beckoning to us on arrival. The reproachful trees’ jagged shadows, and the claret sky spilling its promise of intoxicating romance.
Dizzy with expectation and the lingering berry of slow kisses, we had raised our glasses at supper toasting to Fate’s smoothly laid path. With both partners at work conferences and children packed away safely at grandparents, we celebrated her perfect timing.
It had been too easy.
As the evening progressed, we relaxed even further into our warm haze of complacency, revelling in the intimacy of our cosy corner. The glimpse of a newly arrived couple furtively gliding up the stairs, could not distract me from the hand slowly inching up my thigh. Draining our glasses, we too disappeared up the stairs.
The echo of a familiar laugh had stirred unease at the edge of my mind but was quickly forgotten as we stumbled into our room and locked the world away.
The crimson sunrise peering through the blinds brought with it an echo of the previous evening’s apprehension. But shrugging it off as a prickle of guilt, I focused on the thrill of the day ahead. Feeling carefree and being desired is intoxicating. Blinding.
At supper in our cosy corner, we again glimpsed the familiar couple on the stairs. They seemed to be nowhere, yet everywhere. Strange how we hadn’t seen them all day, yet they lingered in my subconscious.
Her voice floating more clearly down the stairs jerked me icily from the ruby haze. Tearing my eyes from the bloody pools of my spilled wine I caught my lover’s frozen stare. How was this possible? She was supposed to be at a conference!
I had to be sure.
Creeping after them up the staircase, their familiarity was now undeniable. They were both supposed to be at a conference. How had they known we were here? I’d been so careful to leave no audit trail and no forgotten loose ends. My head filled with cotton wool and sour wine clogged my throat.
Using my wine glass to amplify the sound, I could not escape the truth of their voices. The jolt of realisation had me sliding down to the floor - they were here to confront us. They’d been watching us this whole time. How long had they known?
We were exposed, and the consequences would be immeasurable.
Swallowing the sour wave of nausea, I longed for the comfort of my own bedroom. Butterfly kisses from my boys and my husband’s gentle breathing next to me, his warmth my constant anchor through the storms. My family. My life. What had we done?
Panic clawed at my throat as I tore back downstairs to our table to devise a reasonable explanation. His wide eyes darkened in fear at my stuttered confirmation. Think. Think! My voice shards of glass.
Time passed. Seconds and then minutes, but nobody came down the stairs. There was no slamming door. No pounding of feet down the stairs. No accusatory glares or teary questions. Only our ragged breaths broke the ominous silence. They were still upstairs in their room.
The realisation was bitter.
They had not followed us here. They weren’t interested in our whereabouts at all. There were no conferences. They were here together, and in a shocking twist of Fate, had chosen the same discreetly remote hideaway for their own nefarious rendezvous.
Blinded by lust and our constant focus on snatching moments together, we had not noticed their blossoming connection. Their stolen moments had created the time and space for our stolen moments. Their growing feelings had smoothly facilitated the space for ours. The gifts of time alone together were financed by their own burgeoning relationship.
My dark shame at being exposed was replaced by red-hot fury. How dare they betray us? The erupting lava fuelled us back up the staircase together. There would be a showdown tonight after all.
The shock on their faces as they answered our loud banging was all the proof we needed. My husband and my best friend. The cliché was almost comical.
Fate had outdone herself. We were all caught in her wicked web.
We had wanted spice back in our lives, but they had been planning a life together as apparent soulmates. They’d chosen to be the masters of all our destinies.
I would never allow that to happen. I would destroy her if she tried to take everything from me.
Had I said that out loud?
Now, looking at her sprawled at the bottom of the stairs, all I feel is a numbing chill. I am strangely devoid of emotion, still frozen in place looking down on the scene.
Questions pulse through me and I cock my head, staring into eyes that are blankly staring back at me; eyes forced wide open by the shock and horror that coursed through her moments before it all ended.
Again, that prickling sensation. I look down at the shadow and see her finger beckoning to me.
Come and see what you have done …
But I’m still unable to move and struggle more desperately through the thickening mire. I need to leave! Everyone will think I pushed her.
I even said I would kill her, as she flew out of the room behind my hasty escape from their betrayal.
I hear footsteps pounding downstairs and shouts of alarm. It all happened so fast that both my husband and my lover are only now emerging from the room. I see their eyes darken with horror and they clutch onto each other for support as their knees buckle.
Dragging my gaze to the bottom of the stairs again, the prickle becomes a stab. The eyes staring back are brown like mine – not blue like hers! Those are my eyes and my hair framing the twisted neck. The lonely stem of the wine glass in my hand, while the rest of it sparkles on the path down to my end.
“You will not stand in the way of our plans! I will not let you keep him.” Turning at her words was my final mistake.
Her hands hard against my chest as she shoved me backward. The wooden crosses of the roof beams as my head flew back. The fleeting freedom of a roller-coaster ride. The deafening crunch of my skull hitting the final stair.
And then nothing. The last sight of my best friend gazing down at me in triumph faded into the black.
Now, as the two men rush towards her, she quickly crumples to the floor. Her blue eyes swim in tears and her white dress fans into a pool of innocence on the burgundy carpet.
“I don’t know how it happened! She was so angry. She lost her footing … fell backward. I tried to grab her … I tried to stop her. But there was nothing I could do”.
The soft chuckle echoes up from the shadows.