They arrived at his parents cottage a little after 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday night in June. They were to stay through the weekend, just the two of them. The secluded cabin sat overlooking a small lake in Northern Michigan, and the sun was waning when they decided to open a bottle of wine and get in the hot tub near the sliding glass door that led back into the living room. It was a nice reprieve from the daily grind that they had grown accustomed to since moving to Chicago almost two years ago.
They did not live together, but Alex, a boy in a 26-year-old’s body, had designs on asking Emmanuelle a question that, with every passing second, was beginning to feel like a bad idea. Did he really want to move in with her? The money they’d be saving on rent would be huge. They already spent most nights together as it was. Would his parents approve? Alex thought of his dad, a stern man in his mid-60s who had recently retired. What would he think? Only one way to find out. Alex always had a good relationship with his parents. He was raised in an upper-middle-class family. He rarely gave them trouble as a teenager, and after college, he landed a job with a large consulting firm whom his dad had done business with in the past. It had always bugged Alex that his entire professional career was, in a lot of ways, good old fashioned nepotism, yet he was always quick to tell his friends, and especially Emmanuelle, that he had gotten his job after wowing the VP of Communications at the firm in his second interview.
Alex’s mom coddled him. Ever since he was a small child. As a boy, when Alex would get reprimanded by his father for insubordination or just being generally shitty, as most young boys are prone to be, his mom was always there for him. She played the role of good cop and her husband knew it. In high school when Alex came home drunk from a party one night and threw up in the driveway, it was his mom that held his long, flowing locks for him as he continued to get sick in the families basement bathroom. She never spoke a word of it to Alex’s dad, as he was on the local school board, and as such, never approved of Alex drinking in high school. It was little things like this that made Alex who he was today. Her husband didn’t know it, but she still deposited money into Alex’s checking account every so often for incidentals.
Coddling. This love that only a mother could have for a son. This was a common trait of new mothers raising first-borns in the early to mid-90s. It was not like raising children in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. There were new rules. And it was because of this that Alex was always quite sensitive. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and it secretly bothered Emmanuelle that he was as delicate as he was.
She loved him, of course. All of his shortcomings were little things. Immaturity, Emmanuelle assured herself, was a phase. And girls mature faster than boys. But they were both on the wrong side of their mid-20’s, and Emmanuelle was beginning to feel pressure. From herself, to make a decision about where this relationship was headed. From her mother, of course, to get married. From her friends, to dump Alex and find someone who wasn’t so insecure. And, of course, from Alex, to move in. She knew he was going to ask her to move in with him this weekend. He was predictable like that. They had been dating for two and a half years now, and although she had pictured herself walking down the aisle many times as Alex stood at the other end, she couldn’t help but feel like she was missing out on something better.
The temperature hovered around 60 degrees as Alex poured a second glass of wine for the both of them. Not too cold, not too hot. The mosquitoes, by some small miracle, were not as bad as previous summers in Michigan, and, if one were to look at them at that moment they would see a genuinely happy couple. James Taylor’s Greatest Hits played faintly on the patio from the in-home stereo system. Naked and drinking a Bordeaux that was just north of 200 dollars a bottle, the two were slightly tipsy as they kissed, laughed, and reminisced about old times when they first began dating. They made a 15-minute move to a couch in the living room to have sex, and returned to the tub sometime around 7:30 PM. The bottle of wine was finished and Alex hopped out of the hot tub. He threw his swim trunks on and made a fire in a small pit that sat about fifteen yards from the house. Emmanuelle, still in the hot tub, sang along with James Taylor as he crooned on one of his more popular tunes, “Sweet Baby James”, not caring nor having any real idea what the song was about.
There is a young cowboy
Who lives on the range
His horse and his cattle are his only companion…
Alex smiled as he watched her drying off near the jacuzzi. He loved her unequivocally. Perhaps it was the ambiance of the cottage. Maybe it was the wine. Probably a mixture of the two. He would ask Emmanuelle to move in with him down by the fire. “I’m going to put some sweats on. I’ll be out in a minute”, she yelled.
“Bring another bottle of wine down!” he yelled earnestly.
The fire began to roar. Alex had learned how to build a solid fire from his late grandpa on his dad’s side of the family. Alex’s parents had not seen their son cry since the day of the funeral four years prior.
Alex heard a loud crash from above him followed by a loud crack. Almost like someone was splitting wood. He jumped from the log he was poking the fire on. Emmanuelle must have dropped something in the house. He slipped his Birkenstocks on and made his way up to the deck to see what had happened.
As he reached the handle to open the sliding glass door he heard footsteps from behind. He turned around – just in time to see a man directly behind him. A dull thud. That was the sound the bat made as it hit Alex across the side of his head. He was knocked unconscious, falling backward and creating a small splash as his body re-entered the hot tub. The once clear, chlorinated water was now a deep, rosy red. The man with the bat stood there for a moment, entranced by the bubbling red water. He didn’t much care for James Taylor. Better go see what else they had in their record collection. .