Kevin sits at the head of the glass table with his two kids, Avery and Vanessa, and his wife Caroline. He admires the meal his wife has made tonight, chicken marsala with white rice. With his fork and knife, he greedily cuts the seasoned meat and opens his mouth. The meat practically melts on his tongue, his taste buds dancing their standard ritual.
“Honey, you’ve outdid yourself again,” Kevin says, pointing his fork at her at the opposite end.
“Thanks,” she says, not looking at him. Kevin notices she’s not eating hers. She stirs the rice clockwise then counterclockwise. Her almond hair covers half of her face.
Trying to cheer up his wife, he turns his attention to his two kids, who are practically shoveling their meals into their mouths, while staring at their phones like zombies. Kevin never understood why kids get on social media when other people were present.
“Kids, your mother can cook can’t she?” Avery, their fifteen-year-old son with brown hair that practically covers his dark blue eyes, answers first.
“Yeah, it’s great,” he says just as he picks up another forkful of rice and brown gravy.
“Vanessa?” Kevin asks. Seventeen years old and quiet, Vanessa looks up from her phone and pulls out her earbuds.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah.” She turns to her mother, who still hasn’t eaten. “It’s great Mom.” Kevin looks at his distant wife once more for a reaction. Nothing. Giving up temporarily, he returns to his meal and cuts his meat once more and eats it. Dinner doesn’t taste right if the person who made it isn’t happy.
Later that night, after Avery finally went to bed after playing Call of Duty for three hours straight and after Vanessa finally quits face timing her friend who’s been dealing with stress before sleeping, Kevin wakes up his wife who went to bed right after dinner three hours ago at seven o clock.
“Carol?” She stirs under the covers, lifting her head.
“Kevin?” She asks in the calming darkness. “What’s wrong?”
Kevin holds out his hand. He’s dressed in a white collared shirt and blue jeans.
“We’re going on a trip.”
Kevin watches his wife sit up more, resting her feet on the carpet.
“Where?” She slides her hands into his and he grips it tight.
Kevin waits downstairs patiently, reading A Catcher in the Rye, tracing the words with his finger. He was a quarter of the way in, stopping where Holden dances with the blonde and the two ugly girls when his wife appears in front of him. Kevin looks at his wife, who’s dressed in a simple white t shirt and a blue jacket over it with white Capri pants.
After placing the bookmark in his book, Kevin stands and guides his wife towards the door.
After driving for an hour, Kevin and Caroline reach Lemont Beach. Kevin loves this beach, especially at night. Scarce of families playing in the water and eating greasy food, Kevin would come here alone whenever he wanted to clear his head. Maybe Caroline would tell him what’s bothering her.
“Here we are,” Kevin says after turning the engine key. He gets out of the car and does a combination of a slow jog and a walk and runs towards the other side to open the door for his wife. Caroline said not one word during the car ride, only gazing at what was nothing, lost within herself.
“What are we doing here?” She steps out of the car and closes the door.
Kevin already has opened the trunk door, grabbing a blanket, a beach towel, and a basket.
“C’mon,” Kevin says. With the blanket and towel over his shoulders, he and Caroline walk hand in hand towards the sand. Technically, they’re not supposed to be here because the beach closed at nine. Kevin doesn’t say anything.
The sand is dry, which is perfect because he doesn’t want to get the blanket wet. After finding a good spot away from the few pieces of discarded French fries and seaweed, he lays the blanket on the sand. Then he gets on his knees and from the picnic basket takes out two wax candles and a lighter. He lights them, twice because the wind is slightly stronger, and lies on his back on the blanket. Kevin notices that Caroline is staring down at him with her arms crossed.
“Join me?” Kevin’s asks with a smile. After sighing, Caroline lies opposite of him, their heads right next to each other. Kevin wishes that he could hear her thoughts, what voices that go inside her head that would make her feel depressed. In the candlelight, Caroline’s face is stoic, gazing up at the starless sky.
“I just feel stuck,” Caroline says out of the blue.
“What?” Kevin asks. He sits up on his elbows.
“I don’t know,” Caroline continues, “I just…never mind.”
“No, go on,” Kevin coos. He wants to know. He really does.
She closes her eyes tightly, then opens them halfway. “I just feel empty. Every day, it’s the same thing. We go to work, we come home, I cook dinner, you read, we have dinner, then we go to bed. It’s the same thing. I just don’t feel young anymore.”
“In growing old, I know,” Caroline interrupts. Kevin and Caroline are in their early forties. For Kevin it was different. He didn’t let a few white hairs or his bad knee get in the way of his attitude. He didn’t count the days, he lived them. Caroline didn’t see it that way.
The waves were crashing at the shore, then pulling back into the dark waters. Kevin suddenly came up with an idea. Smiling a wicked smile, he stood up from the blanket.
“Kevin?” Caroline asks, still lying down.
“When we were younger, I remember it was July that we decided to go night swimming.” Kevin unlaces his tennis shoes and kicks them into the darkness.
“Honey, what are you doing?”
Kevin, ignoring her, keeps going. “And a certain someone came up with a crazy idea that I wasn’t too thrilled about.” He starts unbuttoning his shirt and tosses it towards the direction of his shoes. Now he knows that Caroline has his full attention. She starts to stand. She knows.
“Kevin, that was eighteen years ago,” she says.
Kevin shakes his head. He unbuttons his jeans and takes them off, folding them and placing them on the blanket. He’s almost completely naked, only blue boxer briefs holding him back.
Frantically, Caroline looks around. “Kevin put, no, put your clothes back on. You look like an idiot!”
Kevin then slowly removes his underwear as well. He looks on at the water and runs towards it, his feet leaving footprints before he dives into the water head first. He emerges seconds later.
“You coming or what?” Kevin shouts from the open waters. He watches Caroline as she stands there, shaking her head. Kevin claps his hands, slowly at first, then faster and faster. He does this for a good solid minute before Caroline, ever so slowly, starts to undress herself. She pulls her t shirt and jacket over her head and unbuttons her Capri pants, then kicks off her tennis shoes as well. Crossing her arms over her almost naked body, nothing but in her bra and underwear, she sort of tiptoes towards the water, shaking.
“It’s cold!” Caroline shouts.
“Wimp!” Kevin splashes water at her feet and that’s when she gets in. He’s tackled by Caroline and they both end up underwater. When he emerges, he grabs her by the waist and drags her down, her screaming so loud that it could wake the entire shoreline neighborhood. Kevin’s not ashamed. He’s not ashamed to act his mental age. The waves engulf them once more and they emerge screaming and wooing.
A light in the distance shines near them. It’s the coastguard.
“Shit! We have to go,” Kevin whispers. He and Caroline run the best they can out of the waves to the blanket. Kevin trips and Caroline helps him up. Damn knee. When they reach the blanket, Kevin puts on his underwear and jeans while Caroline puts back on her shoes and pants. After Caroline puts on her jacket, Kevin grabs her wrist and they both run, leaving behind the blanket.
“Hey! Who’s there?” The coast guard, about a hundred feet away, pursues the couple. Kevin laughs maniacally as they run like thieves in the night. He looks over at his wife, who’s panting with worried eyes. Kevin knew they would get a ticket at least, but it didn’t make it any less scary for her.
When they reach the car, Kevin rolls over the hood of the car and hops into the driver seat. The coastguard, nearing the front of the car, shines his light. Kevin reverses the car, not even looking back and pulls away. The coastguard blows his whistle as Kevin speeds off.
Kevin’s grin is wide. His smile stretches across his face. Not as insane as The Joker’s. It’s charming. His smile fades when he looks over at his wife, who’s clutching the handle above the door. His smile fades. He certainly believed it would work, but no. He returns his attention towards the road before he hears a faint chuckle. The chuckle then turns into giggling, then into laughing. It’s Caroline. She’s laughing with her eyes closed, leaning her head back and holding her stomach. Kevin laughs with her. He hasn’t heard her laugh like this in three months. The wind blows her hair back and she smiles dreamily the rest of the way.
Kevin turns on the radio, tuning it to whatever station. After changing from a bubble gum pop song to a guy named Fetty something, he rests on some indie station. Light guitar strings fill the car. Kevin felt as though the entire car was floating on air. The lyrics were sung by someone he never heard of, but her voice was angelic and ghostly.
Shadows settle on the place, that you left
Our minds our troubled by the emptiness
Destroy the middle, it’s a waste of time
From the perfect start to the finish line
Kevin looks over at Caroline, who’s still half awake. He places his arm around her and she leans into his bare torso. The drums to the song start to come in and out. Bum, bum, bum. Pause. Bum,bum,bum.
And If You’re Still Breathing, you’re the lucky ones
Setting fire to our insides for fun
“How do you feel?” Kevin whispers, his mouth practically touches her ear.
We are the reckless
Kevin pulls into their curved driveway. The clouds part their ways, revealing tiny specs of starlight. Caroline faces him and he is relieved and content with her answer.