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About the Author: George Guthridge is a National Finalist, Benjamin Franklin Award, Year’s Best Book about Education (creative nonfiction). Grand prize winner, Las Vegas International Screenplay Competition. His fiction includes 40 pro sales, including 22 to Amazing, Analog, Asimov’s, F&S. Twice Nebula finalist and once Hugo finalist. Co-winner of 1997 Bram Stoker for best horror novel.

I started drinking after my wife left me. Okay, I started drinking harder after she left me.

The beginning of the end was at the Springfields’ patio party. Gregory Springfield was 48, six years older than me. His wife, Sandra, was 47, a quarter-century older than Arielle. They lived in the ranch-style next to our Cape Cod. The two houses were typical middle-class homes, separated from the rest of the neighborhood by three vacant lots where henbit and purple deadnettle ran savage until I’d get fed up and mow and play Rambo with my weed sprayer.

Arielle and I had moved in six months earlier. A chance backyard meeting with Gregory led to my ripping up their dry-rotted deck and replacing it with a concrete patio that included intricate patterns I’d set into the wet cement. I owned a small concrete business and gave the Springfields a great price.

There were the four of us at the party. Gregory rocked some T-bones on the barbeque, I tossed the salad and brought out the condiments, and Sandra and Arielle finished with the squash and roasted asparagus. Gregory and Sandra were knocking back scotch and sodas, I had too many Coors, and Arielle had polished off a large can of Foster’s and was on another. She often said Foster’s made her horny. She was beautiful and had a hard body toned by daily Pilates. Startlingly inventive in bed. I kept our fridge stocked with Foster’s.

Gregory proposed a toast. “To the patio!”

“The patio!” we all chimed in.

Sandra lifted her glass. “They say the world’s running out of water. May the four of us never go thirsty!”

We agreed. Wholeheartedly.

She gave Gregory a coquettish smile. I sensed there was more to the toast than alcohol—something I wouldn’t understand for another two months.

The small talk swung round to hobbies. Arielle mentioned her Minion collectibles, and said, “And John has his Coors.” Everyone laughed—me, to be polite, my teeth gritted.

“Sandra has a collection of first edition Agatha Christies,” Gregory said. “She keeps them in the window of her bookstore, along with her signed editions of Ann Rule.” When the name didn’t register with Arielle or me, he added, “The true-crime writer.”

Which turned the discussion to crimes here in Gilman. The boy found strangled in a field; his mother’s live-in boyfriend confessed. The Tibbetts girl’s disappearance. She lived six blocks away and vanished on her way home from high-school basketball practice. Her mother insisted she hadn’t run away, but Gregory was president of the Gilman Bank and Trust and privy to city and police administration conversations. “She had a history of taking off,” he said. “As usual, the newspapers went for sensationalism instead of facts.”

“This is supposed to be a summer party,” Sandra said. “Let’s be upbeat!” She retrieved a gift from a shelf beneath the serving table, and, coming up behind Gregory, covered his eyes with one hand and presented the package with the other. It was wrapped with blue and white paper and had a pink bow. “Surprise! Happy patio!”

Gregory opened the package. It was a tiny yellow cement truck. A former Ohio State linebacker, Gregory was large and muscular. The toy looked minuscule in his hand. He laughed and kissed his wife.

“It was Arielle’s idea,” Sandra pointed out.

He thanked Arielle.

“Don’t I get a kiss?” she asked.

He leaned forward awkwardly, a hand on her thigh to balance himself, and gave her a peck on the cheek. She reciprocated with one on the lips.

Just the Foster’s, I tried to assure myself. But I wasn’t happy.

“It’ll look great on your fireplace mantle,” I said.

Sandra glared at the back of Arielle’s head. But then Sandra’s mien changed, as if she consciously broke from jealousy’s shell. “Mantle schmantel!” she said to Gregory. “They’re our neighbors, and they don’t know your dirty little secret?”

I looked from him to Arielle to Sandra, who rose and tugged Gregory by the arm. “Come on, show them.”

After hemming and hawing, Gregory led us into the house and down the basement steps. Arielle stumbled and half-collapsed into his arms. “My,” she pinched a biceps. “And you run a bank all day.”

This story appears in our JUL 2022 Issue
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