The final EJ tape comes to a close. Soon after lunch, I retrieved the rest of the EJ tapes from the hidden room, and now I’ve finished all of them. This last tape is labeled in black, not red like all the other final sessions, but there are no other tapes after this one. And it only goes on for about twenty minutes.
The strangest thing about it is how EJ sounds toward the end of the tape. His voice is almost slurred, but Dr. Hale doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned. She’s a doctor, for God’s sake. Shouldn’t she be worried that her patient is slurring his speech?
EJ did mention drinking some wine. But if he’s anything like Ethan, even a bottle of wine isn’t enough to get him to slur his speech.
Now that I have finished the stack of EJ tapes, I decide to take a break. I’ve been listening to tapes in here the entire afternoon, and the sun has now dropped in the sky. It looks like we are definitely going to be spending another night here.
I don’t know what to tell Ethan. He wants to buy this house, but I just can’t imagine it. I love him, but not enough to live here.
I slide off my gold wedding band, remembering the first time Ethan slipped it onto my finger. Years ago, before I
knew Ethan, I had been engaged to another man, and we had been planning a giant wedding, but it didn’t end up working out. This time, all I wanted was a small, perfect ceremony. It was so intimate, and for a moment, while our eyes locked together at the altar, it was like the two of us were the only people in the world.
Ethan and I are meant for each other. I know it. I want to give him everything he wants, but I don’t know if I can give him this. This house.
I tilt the ring a bit so I can read the inscription. Ethan + Tricia Forever. I love that inscription… I read it sometimes to comfort me. I believe it with all my heart. Ethan and I are made for each other, and we will be together forever. Till death do us part.
A noise from outside the office startles me, and the ring slips from my fingers. Unfortunately, it lands on its side and starts to roll. It rolls all the way across the desk, onto the floor, and before I can stop it, it has rolled under the leather sofa.
Great. Just my luck.
I get down on my knees and elbows on the floor. The base of the sofa is low to the floor, with less than an inch of space between them. It’s also pushed up against the wall. I squint underneath, but everything is dark. I can’t even tell where my ring might have gone under there.
My purse is on the desk, so I grab my phone from inside and turn on the flashlight function. I can see a bit, but mostly dust bunnies. I don’t see any sign of a ring reflecting the light from my phone.
I try to reach underneath the couch, but there isn’t enough space down there. I can get my hand underneath about to my wrist, and then it will go no farther.
I straighten up, realizing too late that I should have taken the white cashmere sweater off before getting down
on my elbows. I do my best to brush off the dust, then I consider my options.
There’s no way I’m going to reach that ring without moving the couch. I could attempt to move it on my own but I don’t know if it’s a good idea while I’m pregnant. I’ve heard you’re not supposed to do a lot of heavy lifting.
That leaves one option. I have to get Ethan to help me move it.
He’s probably still upstairs working. Or the sound that startled me was him coming down for dinner. Either way, he’ll be happy to help me with the couch. He loves doing stuff like that. Damsel in distress, etc., etc.
When I come out of Dr. Hale’s office, the first floor is silent. Ethan isn’t down here. I don’t hear anyone down here. He must still be working upstairs.
And then I hear a creaking sound from upstairs. And then something that almost sounds like a door slamming shut.
That must’ve been Ethan. I already know he’s working up there. He probably went to the bathroom or something. There’s no reason to worry.
I mount the spiral staircase, irritated that the hall light is off upstairs. There are too many light switches in this house. Of course, Ethan would argue that’s something easy to fix. We could put in a switch downstairs that could control the upstairs hall light. Or we could have a sensor that would turn it on automatically as we walk up the stairs.
When I get to the top of the steps, the first thing I do is flick on the light. I breathe a sigh of relief as the hallway fills with light, albeit dim. I hate this house when it’s dark. I feel so much better when the lights are on.
Until I notice that the pullcord for the attic, hanging from the ceiling, is swaying. Like the trapdoor to the attic was recently in motion.
It could be the wind. But it’s not that windy inside the house. And even if there were a slight breeze, it’s still
swinging quite a bit.
I can’t think about that right now though. I’ll tell Ethan about the ring, we’ll get it back, and then I’ll have him check out the attic. It’s not negotiable. I’m not moving into his house unless he checks up there.
I knock on the door to the room Ethan is using, my hand feeling oddly naked without my wedding band. I’ve only had it for six months, but it’s become a part of me. I already miss it.
“Come in!” he calls out.
I crack open the door and find Ethan at the desk again, sitting at his computer in the same position I found him earlier. It’s like he hasn’t budged an inch.
“Hungry?” he asks.
“Actually,” I say, “I need your help.” He arches an eyebrow. “Oh?”
I hold up my left hand. “My wedding band rolled under the sofa. I need you to move it so I can get it back.”
He tilts his head to the side. “Why did you take it off in the first place? Are you pretending to be single?”
I snort. “No. I was just looking at the inscription.”
A smile spreads across his lips. “Ethan and Tricia forever.”
Ethan stretches as he stands up from his chair so that I catch a glimpse of the golden hair on his belly. He slams the cover of his laptop closed but leaves it there. He’s obviously planning to do more work later. He’s thrown his all into this startup company. He had one in the past that didn’t do well, but this one is quite the budding success.
“By the way,” I say, “right before I came in here, were you by any chance in another room? Maybe the bathroom?”
Please say yes. Please.
He frowns. “No, I’ve been sitting here working for at least the last hour.”
Of course. I’m not even the tiniest bit surprised.
He follows me down the stairs to Dr. Hale’s office. My breath catches for a moment as I try to remember if I put the tapes back in the drawer before leaving the office. I’m relieved when we get into the office and find that I remembered to stash them out of sight. I can’t imagine Ethan’s reaction if he found out what I’ve been doing here.
He looks down at the couch and folds his arms. “This is where you lost it?”
I nod. “Pretty sure. I saw it roll under there.” “All right then.”
He leans over and grabs the edge of the couch. I guess it’s not as heavy as I thought it was, because he easily heaves it out of the way. Almost immediately, I spot the tiny circle of gold on the floor.
“There it is!” I cry.
I bend down to pick up the ring, but when I’m close to the floor, I realize there’s something else down there. It’s some sort of handle. Why is there a handle on the floor?
Instinctively, I tap the heel of my bare foot against the wooden planks. That’s when I realize it.
The floor is hollow.
“What’s wrong?” Ethan asks.
I scoop my ring off the ground and quickly secure it on my finger. When I straighten up, I tap on the floor again with my foot. “There’s some kind of compartment or something down here. It’s hollow.”
Ethan joins me and taps on the floor with his foot.
There’s no mistaking the sound.
“There’s something down here,” I say, staring at the wooden planks.
“I think you’re right.”
Ethan grabs the sofa again and shifts it to the other side of the room. Now that it’s out of the way, I can see the full rectangular outline on the floor. It’s some sort of large compartment under the floor.
What could be down there? More tapes? I suppose that’s a possibility, but I have a feeling that’s not what’s down there. I also have a feeling that we are the first people to discover this hidden compartment since Dr. Hale lived here.
“What do you think?” Ethan grins at me. “Hidden treasure?”
“I don’t know…”
“Well,” he says. “Let’s open it up and see.”
He bends down to grab the handle, but before he can, I seize his arm. “Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should tell the police and let them check it out.”
“Are you kidding me? You really don’t want to look? Who
are you and what have you done with my wife?”
I grimace. “I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know if it’s a crime scene or something. We don’t want to disturb it. Like, what if there are fingerprints we need to preserve?”
“Nah. It’s probably just where the doctor stashed her jewelry or something.” He winks at me. “You could have your pick of it.”
Does he honestly think I would ever touch her jewelry? I wouldn’t. I’m sorry I took her sweater even though I was cold. It’s burning my skin.
“It’s not a big deal.” He shrugs. “Let’s just open it.” “No, please—”
But Ethan isn’t listening to me. He reaches down, grabs the handle, and hauls open the lid to the hidden compartment.
And when I see what’s inside, my heart drops.