Page 27 of The Perfect Couple

“Trust me, Georgie. This is an urgent matter. A life-and-death matter. Let me on the boat, then find a policeman.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Lola says.

She wants to go charging through the cabin but she maintains her calm. The stolen ticket. The movie-star handsome Shooter Uxley stole a ticket from the pregnant woman and went sauntering onto the boat. Lola scans the faces. She sees old people, sunburned people, men wearing Nantucket Reds; she sees yellow Labs, crying babies, Boston terriers, women who have had a lot of plastic surgery. She sees a kid in a Spider-Man costume. She sees a shirtless guy in a pair of American-flag trunks, passed out and snoring.

Lola Budd feels a hand on her arm. She turns to see a policeman standing with Fred Stiftel, one of the captains.

“Young lady,” the policeman says. “What’s going on?”

Lola glances around the cabin. Her eye snags on a face in line at the bar. He has his sunglasses on but she recognizes the set of his jaw and the dark, floppy forelock. Blue shirt, navy blazer.

“There he is,” Lola says to the policeman. She keeps her voice normal and her eyes trained on the person of interest. “Shooter Uxley. He’s right there.”

The officer approaches Shooter Uxley, who drops his beer. In the ensuing commotion, he tries to run but it’s too crowded, there’s nowhere to go, and the policeman easily pins Shooter’s arms behind his back and cuffs him. He informs Shooter that he is a person of interest in an ongoing investigation and that he will be detained until the police release him from questioning. Everyone on the boat is watching. There’s a low-level hum beneath a general hush.

It’s just like on TV! Lola thinks. In this case, the hero is her! Lola Budd!

She can’t wait to text Finn and tell him about it. The Chief will have to like her now.

Friday, July 6, 2018, 8:30 p.m.

KAREN

Bruce brings her a cup filled with a pale, fizzy liquid garnished with two blackberries.

“What is this?” she asks. “Not the punch? I don’t think I can handle the punch.”

“Not the punch,” Bruce says. “It’s a wine cooler, handcrafted by yours truly. More cooler than wine, but I tasted it and I think you’ll approve.”

Karen takes a sip and is transported back to her youth. Her husband is the most thoughtful man on earth. “Thank you, baby,” she says.

He kisses her full on the lips, and even after so many years, something inside of Karen stirs. “Anything for you,” he says. “And I do mean anything.”

At the table, Karen eats half a lobster tail. Each butter-drenched bite makes her moan with pleasure. Never in her life has anything tasted so divine.

Bruce tries to cajole her into tasting his biscuit. He pulls it apart so she can see the fluffy layers, but she demurs. The lobster was enough, more than enough.

Bruce chimes his spoon against his water glass as he holds it aloft. The tent grows quiet. Karen hopes this goes well. Bruce has had at least three cups of the punch.

Bruce says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Bruce Otis, father of the bride.”

His face radiates pride. He loves the title and Karen has to admit, she does too. The last time either of them were people of distinction, she thinks, was when they were in high school. She swam the butterfly leg on the four-hundred-meter relay team, and anyone who isn’t impressed by that has never tried to swim a hundred yards of butterfly, much less swim it fast. And Bruce, of course, won the state wrestling title.

Karen gazes down at the table and closes her eyes to listen. We would go to the post office to mail packages or check our box, and the line was always extra-long on Saturdays, but you know what? I didn’t care. I could wait an hour. I could wait all day… because I was with Karen. Karen embeds these words deep within herself. She has been loved in her life, deeply and truly loved. She has been known and understood. Is there anything more she is supposed to want?

But following her gratitude is… guilt. She hasn’t told Bruce about the three pearlescent ovoid pills mixed in with her oxy. The pill is an unpronounceable compound that she bought illegally off the internet from a website she stumbled across when she Googled euthanasia. She e-mailed with a person named Dr. Tang who used to be an anesthesiologist, licensed in the state of Utah, and now provides terminally ill patients with drugs—for a price—so that people like Karen can end their lives with dignity.

The three pills cost twelve hundred dollars, eleven hundred of which Karen withdrew from her own personal checking account, money she had stashed away from working at the Crayola factory gift shop—her “mad money,” as her mother used to call it. The other hundred dollars she stole from Bruce’s wallet in five-and ten-dollar increments. She justifies the act because, unlike Bruce, she does not have a penchant for expensive clothes. She has never spent a frivolous dollar in her life, and she certainly isn’t now. These pills will put her down instantly, saving both Bruce and Celeste the anguish, mess, and expense of her natural demise.

If she told Bruce, he would understand, she thinks. In thirty-two years of marriage, they have always viewed the world the same way. But what if he doesn’t understand? Euthanasia is a topic that taps into deeply personal views of dignity and fear but, mostly, spirituality. Karen is afraid of pain, yes, she’s afraid of the cancer eating her up from the inside. Bruce is afraid of being left alone, but he might also be afraid for her soul. She has no idea. They haven’t been big church people, though they identify loosely as Catholic and celebrate all the holidays. They had Celeste baptized at St. Jane’s in Palmer Township, back when Karen’s mother and Bruce’s parents were still alive. But Karen hasn’t set foot in St. Jane’s for years and years. Bruce has always seemed to be on the same page as Karen—she doesn’t know what she believes in; she just tries to be a good person and hopes for the best. But what if Bruce secretly holds the tenets of the Catholic Church to be absolute and believes that suicide will automatically assign Karen to hell?

Karen hasn’t talked to Bruce about life after she’s gone because he refuses to acknowledge the inevitable—which, she supposes, is better than him accepting it too readily. As the assembled guests raise their glasses to Celeste and Benji, Bruce gazes down on Karen with an expression so filled with tenderness, with love and awe, that Karen can barely meet his eyes. Her ardor matches his own, but she is a realist. Cancer has made her a realist.

She has, for example, come to terms with the likelihood that Bruce will remarry. She wants him to. It won’t be the same, she knows. He will always love her first, last, and best. The new wife will be younger—not as young as Celeste, Karen hopes—and she will add a new vitality to Bruce’s life. Maybe the new wife will have a job that provides money for traveling, real traveling—national parks, cruises, bicycle tours of Europe. Maybe Bruce will take up yoga or watercolor painting; maybe he’ll learn to speak Italian. Karen can imagine these possibilities without jealousy or anger. That’s how she knows it’s time for her to go.

After dessert, she and Bruce dance to one song, “Little Surfer Girl.” Karen has always loved this song even though she has never been anywhere near a surfboard. She heard her father sing it once, in the car, when she was a little girl and that was all it took. Her father’s happiness and his carefree falsetto had been contagious. Bruce knows about this memory and so he croons in Karen’s ear. They are dancing—shuffling, really—among the other guests. No one is staring at them, she hopes, or taking photos or marveling that a woman so sick can still dance.

When the song is over, everyone claps. The band, it seems, is calling it a night. The evening is drawing to a close.

Celeste appears out of nowhere. “D-D-Did you have fun, B-B-Betty?”

“So much fun,” Karen says. “But I’m exhausted.”

She feels Bruce’s hand against her back; even the light pressure is excruciating. The oxy is wearing off, leaving her nerve endings to glint like shattered glass. She needs one more oxy before she falls asleep.

“We have a big day tomorrow,” Bruce says.

Celeste says, “T-T-Tag is really looking forward to having a drink with you in his st-st-study. A drink and a Cuban cigar. He’s been t-t-talking about it all week.”

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