The first time she fantasized about cheating on her husband was the day she and Craig moved into their new place by the beach in Ventura, California.
It was an obscenely hot day, and the humidity made it impossible to carry the heavy boxes inside. Every time she’d get a good grip on the cardboard, her sweaty skin would send it sliding out of her arms and onto the ground.
“GOD DAMMIT,” she screamed as another one crashed down on her feet. She kicked the box off of her and wiped sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.
“What’s wrong?” Craig called out from the driveway.
“Just dropped another box on my toes,” she shot back angrily.
“It wasn’t the ‘breakable’ one, was it? I think that’s our wedding china.”
“I didn’t have time to see which box fell on me. But thanks for your concern.”
Craig stepped into the doorway and looked at his wife lovingly. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive. Are you ok?”
His words made her soften a little. She sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just moving stress.”
“I know,” he agreed. “But after we’re settled, you’ll have all the time in the world to decompress and relax.”
She nodded and returned to the truck. As she lifted a less intimidating looking box, she felt Craig move in behind her, putting his arm around her waist and pulling her sweaty body into his.
“Blake,” he whispered. “I love you.”
She smiled and closed her eyes as he kissed her salty neck. He ran his hands up and down her waist, sliding them under her tank top and giving her breasts a light squeeze.
“I know this transition isn’t easy for you,” he continued quietly in her ear. “But it will be good for us. I promise. We’re finally gonna be so comfortable that your gorgeous ass doesn’t have to work anymore.”
Her smile faded.
“Plus,” he continued, running his fingers through her hair. “Now you’ll finally have time to focus on your painting and yoga—the ocean is just down the street.”
She rolled her eyes at the condescending remark and wiggled herself out of his embrace to storm back into the house, leaving him and the boxes behind. He can handle unloading himself.
Plugging in her Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen, she opened Spotify in her phone and put on her favorite Glass Animals song to try and drown out the stress of moving day.
She wandered out into the backyard and sat down in the shade on the back-porch steps to cool off, the music fading into the background. She gazed out at their enormous backyard, filled with lush orange trees and beautiful flowers, bees buzzing everywhere. While the neighborhood they moved into wasn’t her idea of a great place to live, it definitely had potential. California real estate prices were insane, even more so this close to the ocean. And the area they’d chosen, though adjacent to the high-end beach community and still rather pricey, was considered the “rough” part of Ventura. But Craig had insisted it was slowly becoming gentrified and that this was the perfect time to buy real estate there, as the value of the neighborhood was projected to increase drastically in 10 years. He’d suggested they fix up the house and eventually rent it out once they could afford something nicer, which had in turn caused a massive argument. She’d protested that it was wrong to try and “gentrify” a neighborhood, essentially rendering it unaffordable to those who’ve lived there for years, forcing them out of their homes and further inland. But Craig didn’t seem concerned with that. He wanted a good deal on a great investment. He’d also reminded her that this was the “poor ghetto,” not the “dangerous ghetto.” And she’d told him that was the most white privileged thing she’d ever heard him say. But in the end, she’d agreed to the location because it meant they’d live five minutes from the beach and still be able to afford a decent house.
As she quieted herself in the backyard, she heard male voices coming from the house next door. Curious about her new neighbors, she looked toward the fence between their houses, and saw there was a sizeable hole in it which offered her a perfect view of their yard.
Ugh, fixer uppers. Why didn’t Craig repair that? He’d been flying out regularly for the past two months to settle into his new job and get the house ready for them to move in, fixing up broken appliances and repainting the inside walls. And yet somehow, he missed this gaping hole?
As she continued to eavesdrop and peer into the fence’s gash, she saw two men in jeans and what appeared to be matching leather vests (how can they stand that on this hot day?) laughing at a third man’s joke. Something about a woman he’d slept with who had inverted nipples.
“I half expected her to have an inverted pussy.”
“You mean like a small dick?” The captive, crude audience chuckled.
She watched one of them take a swig from a bottle and then throw the empty glass into a container across the yard, where it shattered loudly. Then their voices lowered, and they inched closer toward one another. It appeared the topic had become more serious. Since she was already leaning as far in as she could from her spot on the porch steps, she walked closer to the fence to hear better.
But just as she approached the fence, she was startled by the abrasive sound of a motorcycle roaring down the street and then pulling into the side yard toward where the three men were standing. They all stopped talking as the motorcycle—still loudly rumbling—pulled all the way into the backyard and its rider shut the engine off.
“Hayden, bro! You’re back already,” one of the guys called to the man now dismounting the motorcycle. “We thought you’d be gone until next weekend.”
“What, planning on throwing a party for your little school friends while Daddy’s out of town?” Hayden shot back, which made the rest of the group laugh.
As Hayden stood up from his motorcycle, she got a better look at him. He appeared to be in his late 30s, and as he took his helmet off, she saw he had long, dark beach-waved hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in several days. When he smiled at his friends, she noticed his dimples and strong jawline, combined with piercing blue eyes cradled in dark lashes. He was… beautiful.
“Blake, what are you doing out here?” Craig yelled from the back door, startling her and sending her flying into the air.
“Just… checking out the backyard!” she called back.
Hayden and his friends looked up from their group as they heard this exchange and turned their focus to the new couple moving in next door.
They walked closer to the fence. She could see that their leather vests had something on the back of them, which looked like a skull with crossbones wearing a bandana face covering and a cowboy hat. She wondered if they were in one of those motorcycle clubs. Like Sons of Anarchy or something.
“Do we have new neighbors?” Hayden asked, looking only at her. He unconsciously flexed his arms under his white t-shirt, accentuating his many tattoos.
“Hey man, I’m Craig Davis,” Craig answered before she could respond. “And this is my wife, Blake.” He walked over to the fence with an outstretched hand, ready to politely meet the neighbors.
But Hayden and his friends just stood there, clearly having no intention of shaking hands. When Craig finally realized this, he dropped his own hand and smiled awkwardly.
Hayden looked them both up and down, saying nothing.
Finally, after several seconds of awkward silence, one of the men in leather vests stepped forward, a tall skinny guy in his early 20s with red hair and freckled skin.
“I’m Red,” he said with a tinge of embarrassment at the obvious nickname.
“These guys here are Elvis and Dave.” He nodded toward the men he’d been joking around with. “And, this is Hayden,” he said, pointing to the beautiful motorcycle rider.
Hayden continued to stare directly at her as his friend made the introductions. She felt uncomfortable in his inappropriate gaze.
“You should really get this hole fixed,” she said, realizing she’d been silent and needed to say something. “I can see into your whole backyard through it.”
Hayden laughed. “Well, the last people who lived here smoked crack and pretty much kept to themselves. Now that we have more outdoorsy neighbors, I’ll look into filling that hole.” His lips curled into a smirk as he said filling that hole, still looking directly into her eyes.
She felt a jolt in her gut, like butterflies. Craig didn’t seem to notice the implication. “Well, it’s good to meet you all. We just moved here from Phoenix. Got this house pretty cheap, and now I know why! Crackheads, huh? Well, cheap real estate always comes with a price. Good thing I have Blake here to help get it fixed up and looking homey.”
She was mortified by Craig’s rambling on about their personal lives. Something about their new neighbors made her feel uncomfortable, like they needed to be careful what they said to them. Or maybe it was just the way that Hayden stared at her so blatantly, and in front of her oblivious husband.
“Alright, we’ll let you get back to your day now,” she chimed in to shut Craig up and end the awkward interaction.
“Nice meeting you, Davises,” Hayden said playfully, still only looking at her.
She and Craig went back inside to work on unpacking.
Later that night, she was itching to get the sweat and grime of moving day off of her, so she unpacked her toiletries and told Craig she planned to take a nice long, hot shower.
While she washed the day out of her hair, her mind wandered back to Hayden. What was it about this grungy man on a motorcycle that had her so on edge? She didn’t even like riding on the backs of motorcycles—especially after falling off of one in college with that idiot Steve she’d dated. Was it the way Hayden looked at her like she was a snack? She normally abhorred being objectified, but somehow, she found herself enjoying that he saw her as a sex object.
As she thought about this, she continued washing her body and found herself slipping into an intimate state, touching herself in the hot soapy water as she thought about Hayden… about what his rough calloused hands would feel like on her soft skin. It was the first time she’d felt sexual in months.
The next morning, Craig went into his first day of work, leaving her home alone for the day to work on unpacking and setting up the house. As she brewed coffee and made a list of things to accomplish that day, she found her resentment toward Craig intensifying with each mundane house task she wrote out on her “This is why I drink wine” sassy notepad, which her best friend Jasmine had given her when they’d previously worked together.
She already missed her old life. Her friends, her career—an exciting job in public relations, her whole world that was uprooted for this new fucking job. For Craig’s new fucking job.
Things hadn’t always been so tense between them. Their friends used to be envious of the annoyingly sweet romance they’d had when they first started dating, and even after they got married. Craig was always the life of the party. Everyone loved being around him and he had this magic ability to make each individual he met feel special, like they were important in their own unique way. That had been one of the charms that roped her in early on—Craig saw her as the witty, intelligent bombshell she’d always wanted to be. She felt lucky that he’d chosen her over all the other women who were equally enchanted by him. And while he feigned an endearing lack of awareness about his effect on the opposite sex, she knew deep down he reveled in it. But they had this rare chemistry that just seemed to work. They’d occasionally have arguments like all couples do, but never anything major enough to raise a red flag.
It wasn’t until maybe a year after the wedding that Craig started to change. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but rather a slow and steady progression into a less charming version of himself. Where he had previously praised and encouraged her career growth and independence, he began pushing for a family and for her to ultimately become a “full-time mother,” which he believed was the way a “mother was supposed to behave.” This was all brand-new information to her when it revealed itself during an argument one day. She never knew he felt that way before they got married. And by then, it was too late to back out. They were legally bound.
But when Craig’s boss introduced him to the horse races, that’s when the drama really flared up. What started out as a fun approach to entertaining clients gradually morphed into a weekend hobby, which progressed into daily secret afternoon outings. Blake had been blindly unaware of this headway until her debit card was declined at the grocery one day. After several uncomfortable conversations, Craig had agreed to seek help for what appeared to be a fixable problem.
Things improved, but Blake was still uneasy, still hesitant to trust. Her oblivious bubble had been burst, and it would be hard to go back to the way things had been. Craig was also still around the same people every day, still spending time with the boss who’d introduced him to the races in the first place. But he worked in Finance, so when he told her he’d fixed everything and that they were ok, she was determined to believe him. She had to believe him.
Nonetheless, when the opportunity arose for Craig to take a new job out in California, there was a part of her that felt it might be the opportunity they needed to start fresh. She didn’t want to leave her life behind, but she also didn’t resist quite as hard as she may have otherwise if things had been great in Phoenix. Maybe some separation from the bad influences would be good for him, good for their marriage.
So, she’d ended up on this journey with him to start over in Central Coast California, with promises of giving her the life she’d always dreamed of—living by the beach and spending more time painting and enjoying life. What Craig didn’t realize, however, was that she also needed purpose, work that could stimulate her educated brain. And now she’d abandoned her bustling 1.6 million population in Phoenix for this new chapter in Ventura, with its modest population of just over 100,000. This small-town housewife life was not what she’d pictured for herself. And every time she’d tried to have an honest conversation with him about it, he’d pet her head condescendingly and brush her off, focusing on pursuing his own dream.
When she’d told Jasmine about her plans to resign and move for Craig’s new job, Jasmine had feigned excitement and support, but she could see right through it. She saw the judgment of “oh, you’ve become one of those women now” in her eyes. But she’d made her decision and felt the right thing to do was to see it through. They were in their early 30s now after all, so the clock was ticking. Everyone kept telling her so, at least. What she didn’t expect was how angry she’d feel toward Craig every day since she’d made the decision.
To distract herself, she turned on her favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder, as she put away dishes into the new kitchen cabinets. She’d thrown on her comfiest yoga pants and piled her long blonde hair into a bun on top of her head for a day of setting up shop while catching up on her guilty pleasure: true crime stories. She zoned out in her chores, laughing along with podcast hosts Karen and Georgia as they discussed the famous Swiss Cheese Pervert, a serial flasher who liked to stick his penis inside the holes of Swiss cheese and showcase to unsuspecting women. What a world.
As the episode ended, she heard the thunderous sound of several motorcycles pulling into the driveway next door. Curious, she walked over to the kitchen window that looked into their yard and peered through the curtains.
Hayden, Red, and two other men she didn’t recognize, but who were wearing the same vests with the skulls with wings, were pulling their bikes into the driveway. As they dismounted and walked toward the front door, Elvis opened the door and nodded at them, ready for them to enter. A black car pulled into the driveway behind the men with their bikes, and two more men got out of the front of the car, walking around to the back of it.
What she saw next shocked her.
The two men popped the trunk and pulled another man out of it. The man had a gag over his mouth and his hands were bound behind him with zip ties. The bound and gagged man was kicking and fighting, but the other men jumped in to help forcefully carry him into the house.
Just as they were about to shut the door, Hayden did a quick scan around the street to make sure no one was watching, and then his eyes locked onto hers in her window.
She gasped and shut the curtain abruptly. Shit.
Oh my god. Did they just… kidnap someone? She paced the room as she took deep breaths and tried to make sense of what she’d just seen. And what Hayden had just seen her see. Maybe if I just poke my head out back and spy through the fence, I can make sense of it.
Tiptoeing onto her back-porch steps, she hid behind a large wooden beam and watched in horror as the bikers dragged the bound man into their backyard. On the other side of their house, there was a precariously steep hill that shot high into the sky, so the only view into their backyard was from her own property.
The bikers took turns punching the man in the face and stomach, until he crumpled to the ground in muffled screams. Once he was on the pavement, they kicked and stomped his entire body until he was no longer screaming through his gag. The man finally lay still, and she watched as two bikers grabbed him by the arms, one by the legs, carrying him into a giant garage-sized shed at the edge of the backyard. A few minutes later, they re-emerged from the shed, sans bound man, and walked casually back into the big house.
Once everyone was inside, she became aware of herself and realized she’d been holding her breath the entire time. She let out a panicked exhale as she ran back into her house. When she was safely inside with the door locked, she clutched the kitchen counter and bent her face over the sink, taking deep breaths. Who the hell are these people?
She heard the black car and a couple of the motorcycles start their engines and pull out of the driveway, peeling away down the street.
She spent the next 10 minutes having an internal argument with herself about whether to call the police. On the one hand, she had just witnessed something heinous and obviously illegal, and there was a man who may be dead or dying locked up in that shed. She should try to help him. But on the other hand, something about this group… this gang… gave her pause about turning them in. Maybe they were dangerous. Maybe it would be in her best interest to just pretend she never saw anything and try to go back to normal. What was it the real estate agent had said to them about living on The Avenue? If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
She glanced at the clock in her kitchen—2 p.m. It’s airport rules when you don’t have a job, right? She reached into the cabinet where she’d been organizing before this nightmare event had transpired and grabbed a wine glass. Walking over to one of their wine crates on the floor by the laundry room, she reached in and pulled out a bottle of Pinot Noir, uncorked, poured, and dove in headfirst.
At 7 p.m., she woke up, startled, to the jarring sound of Craig opening the front door. As he entered the living room to come greet her, she sat up on the couch and did a quick scan of the room. The now completely empty wine bottle and empty wine glass were out on full shame display on the coffee table next to her.
Craig eyed the empty bottle and then his wife. “I see you had yourself a little party today.”
“Yeah, just felt like enjoying some wine after setting up the kitchen earlier,” she responded, embarrassed.
“Looks like you really enjoyed it. Your lips and teeth are a nice shade of purple,” he teased. “Bummer you didn’t leave any for me!”
“I can open another bottle if you want some,” she offered. She contemplated telling him what she’d witnessed that day. But then Craig caught her off guard with what he said next.
“No. Right now, I just want you.” He joined her on the couch, leaning in to kiss her wine-stained lips, and gently stroke her face with his hand, moving a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear. She looked into his eyes, really looked, for the first time in a while, and remembered why she’d fallen for him. He was handsome in the most conventional way. Perfect lips, big bright brown eyes, a great head of hair (she’d worried he’d go bald like his dad, but so far there wasn’t so much as a receding hairline). And he’d been growing out his beard recently, which she found to her surprise that she actually liked. It made him look like a sexy lumberjack.
Their kissing quickly escalated as he shoved his hand down her yoga pants and explored her, playing with her while kissing her neck and shoulders. She let out a satisfied moan. No need to tell him about the badly beaten prisoner next door right now, I guess. They had sex that night for the first time in a month.