The room is completely dark inside, but it feels small. About the size of the walk-in closet upstairs. I squint into the dark space, trying to get my eyes to adjust.
I take another step and something smacks me in the face. At first, I think it must be a spiderweb, but then I realize it’s a cord. I feel around for a moment, trying to grab it. Then my finger makes contact. I tug on the cord and there’s another click as a single bulb illuminates the room.
My eyeballs bulge as I take in the contents of the room.
I was right about the size of the room. It’s about the same dimensions as a walk-in closet. Part of me had been scared I might find a dead body stashed in here, but no. The room is filled with more bookcases—wedged into every available space. But these bookcases don’t contain books.
They are lined with cassette tapes.
There must be—God, I don’t even know—thousands of them. And each one is labeled the same way—a set of initials, followed by a number, followed by a date. The dates seem to go back almost ten years, and there are dozens of different initials. The row in front of me is labeled with the initials PL. Those were the same initials of the main subject featured in Dr. Hale’s smash bestselling book, The Anatomy of Fear—could it be the same person? Are these tapes PL’s private sessions?
And there’s one tape that’s labeled differently. It’s stuck at the end of one of the rows and all it has is one word in big capital letters:
The name jogs my memory slightly. Luke. Was that the name of the boyfriend that they thought had killed Adrienne
Hale? It was years ago that the whole thing was splashed all over the front page of every newspaper and on every single news channel. The disappearance of Dr. Adrienne Hale.
I wonder if the police knew about this hidden room.
Vaguely, I hear Ethan calling my name. He’s probably got the heater going. I’m sure he’s wondering why it’s taking me so long in the bathroom. I don’t have a reputation for being quick in the bathroom, but this is slow, even for me.
“Just a minute!” I yell.
Impulsively, I grab one of the many PL tapes from one of the shelves and stuff it into my coat pocket. Then I yank on the cord hanging from the ceiling and the room is plunged back into darkness. I step out of the room and as I shove the bookcase back into place, I hear a reassuring click. When I step back now, I can’t tell the hidden room is even there.
I hurry back into the living room, where Ethan is standing in front of the sofa. He’s grinning ear to ear, and he’s got a bottle of wine dangling from his right hand. “I got the heat going!”
I shiver. “It’s still freezing in here.”
“Well, it’s going to take a little time to heat such a gigantic space.” He nods pointedly at the massive living area. I’d like to point out to him that if we moved in here, our heating bills would be astronomical, but Ethan’s got enough family money that he doesn’t worry about that sort of stuff. “Did you find the bathroom all right?”
I shove my right hand into my deep coat pocket and feel the rectangular shape of the cassette tape I stole from the hidden room. This would be the time to tell him about my discovery. There’s no reason not to tell him.
But he won’t want me listening to these tapes. He’ll tell me it’s none of my business—he always complains I’m a huge busybody. I’m not a busybody though—I just have a
natural sense of curiosity. Is there anything so wrong with that?
One thing I’m sure of though—Ethan will stop me from listening to these tapes if he finds out they exist.
“And look!” Ethan holds up the bottle of blood-colored wine. “I found something to warm us up in the meantime.”
He lowers the bottle to read the label. “It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s from… Stellenbosch, South Africa.”
“A wine from South Africa?”
“Oh yeah. There are a lot of good Cabernets from South Africa.”
Ethan would know. He’s something of a wine expert. He can always tell you what regions are the best for what kinds of wine, what sweet or acidic notes to look for in the wine, and what food pairs best with it. Most of the time, I’m just nodding and pretending to know what he’s talking about.
“So,” I say, “you stole a bottle of wine?”
“It’s not great wine,” he says defensively. I don’t know if that’s true, although Ethan isn’t willing to drink anything cheap so it must be at least something decent. His favorite wine is Cheval Blanc. “And anyway, it’s Judy’s fault for inviting us here in the middle of a blizzard and not even showing up herself. We need something to entertain ourselves.”
“I’m sure Judy didn’t realize there was going to be a blizzard,” I say, but it’s too late. Ethan is already pouring the wine into two glasses he set up on the coffee table in front of the fireplace.
Ethan sits down on the sectional sofa, and I sit down beside him. He picks up one of the wine glasses, filled almost to the brim with dark red liquid, and I reluctantly do the same. He tilts his glass towards mine.
“To our new home,” he says. Oh God.
Ethan takes a long sip from his wine glass while I contemplate what to do with mine. I can’t drink this. Perhaps a sip or two, but not this entire huge glass of wine or anything close to that. And I can’t tell Ethan why because he doesn’t know that I’m pregnant.
That’s right. I’m knocked up.
It’s been two weeks since I missed my period. Just a little over a week since I peed on a stick and those two pink lines appeared that would change our entire lives.
I’m terrified to tell him my little secret. Before we got married, we both decided we wanted children. I have a sister, but Ethan is an only child and his parents have passed on, so we were both on board with the idea of having a family of our own. But—we agreed—no children in the near future. We’re relatively young, and we wanted a chance to travel together, to enjoy each other for a couple of years before we brought a baby into the mix. Two years minimum before we even start trying—that’s what we decided.
Now here I am, six short months after our wedding. A baby on the way.
It wasn’t my fault. I take my birth control pills religiously. I have a timer set to go off on my phone so I don’t forget to take it. But I had a respiratory infection last month and I took some antibiotics for it that they gave me at urgent care. And apparently, that made my birth control pills stop working. Who knew?
I am absolutely terrified to tell Ethan. Waiting to have children was something he felt strongly about. He wanted us to have this time to ourselves. I have effectively ruined all of his plans. And I’m not sure how he’s going to take it. Not well, I assume.
Ethan has a temper. He has never unleashed it on me, but I have observed it in action. He is the CEO of a small startup company that is taking off, and I overheard him once on the phone after one of his employees had screwed
something up. My jaw was hanging open at the way he shouted at that poor man on the phone. I had no idea he had it in him. It was a worrying reminder of the fact that I’ve only known my husband for a little over a year. I don’t know yet exactly what he’s like.
So I’ve been carrying around this secret for the last week and a half. I have to tell him soon, but I’m dreading it with every fiber of my being. I don’t want him to scream at me like he did at that man on the phone. That will be the official end of our honeymoon.
I wonder if now is the right time. When he’s just successfully gotten the heat working, he is excited about the prospect of purchasing this house (even though there’s no way we will actually live here), and he’s got a glass of wine in his hand. And he’s watching me expectantly, to see what I think of the wine.
I should tell him now. It makes sense. But I don’t.
Instead, I tip the glass of Cabernet back and let it just barely moisten my tongue. Then I lick my lips. “Mmm. Delicious.”
“Can you taste the menthol note?” “I… can.”
Ethan takes another long gulp from his wine glass while I take another pretend sip from mine. He reaches for my hand and I let him take it. “This is nice,” he sighs.
“I can just imagine us living here.” He squeezes my hand as his blue eyes become distant. “The two of us enjoying a bottle of wine together—a good wine—while the fireplace is raging and keeping us warm.”
“And a few kids toddling around,” I add, watching his reaction.
He laughs. “Maybe in a few years.”
Well, at least he didn’t completely freak out at the idea of it. I guess it was too much to hope for that I would
mention children, and he would immediately say, Yes! I totally changed my mind! Let’s get you pregnant right now!
He scoots closer to me and throws an arm around my shoulders, drawing me closer to him. It gives me an excuse to lower my wine glass onto the coffee table. It really is nice and cozy, snuggled up with him on the couch. Maybe this house isn’t so bad. He seems to love it. And if we decide to live here, it will soften the blow of my surprise pregnancy.
But then my eyes lift over the mantle. To the portrait of Dr. Adrienne Hale. It feels like she’s staring down at us with those piercing green eyes, her hair a raging fire around her face. I let out a shudder.
“Still cold?” Ethan murmurs into my hair. “No…”
He follows my gaze to the portrait hanging on the wall. His eyes darken the way they did when he first saw it. I smile sheepishly. “Sorry, it’s just giving me the creeps.”
“Yeah, I hate it too.” A muscle twitches in his jaw. “Let me take care of it.”
Before I can ask him what he’s doing, Ethan has leaped off the couch and is walking purposefully over to the fireplace. He grabs the heavy wooden frame of the portrait and works it loose from the wall. He lowers the painting to the floor, and after a moment of hesitation, he lays it against the wall, facing away from us.
“Ethan.” I squeeze my hands together, which are suddenly sweaty. “You can’t do that.”
“Why not? I’ll put it back before we leave. It’s not like
she’s going to care.”
I stare at the space over the mantle, unable to articulate the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Here we are, spending the evening in Dr. Adrienne Hale’s house, drinking her wine, and now messing with her portrait on the wall. And I swiped one of the tapes from her secret room. I don’t
believe in ghosts, but if I did, her ghost would be pissed
But Ethan doesn’t seem bothered by it anymore, now that he’s taken the picture down and it’s turned away from us. He sits down beside me again on the sofa and tugs at the top button of my wool coat. “Think it’s warm enough to take this off?”
It has warmed up considerably in the last half hour. I let him undo the buttons on my coat, and after he does that, he kisses my neck. Usually, that’s my sweet spot—I go wild. But right now, I feel nothing.
“We should christen our new house,” he murmurs into my neck.
I kiss him back, trying to muster up some enthusiasm as he fumbles with the button on my jeans. But I can’t seem to enjoy it like I usually do. Even with the portrait turned around, I still feel Dr. Hale’s green eyes boring into me.