It took Cian a long time to save up for it, and put him in debt for the next ten years, but he finally did it. He finally bought a brand new Jaguar XJ6--a car that was worth what he made in a year as a junior computer programmer for Megatelco in New York City. At least, being single, he had no other major expenses.
He arrived home from work Friday night to his flat overlooking the river Hudson, and began to nuke his dinner. Then, as he sat down to eat, his phone rang.
"Oh, hi Piaras!"
"Oh not much, just about to chow down, maybe head downtown later in my new Jag! How about you?"
"Yeah, you heard me right! I got it!"
"Yeah, sure, I'll stop by. Want me to pick up a flick on the way?"
"Sure, you pick up a thriller, and I'll stop at my local on the way and pick up some Guinness."
"Yeah, sure... Okay, see ya' later Piaras. Bye."
Cian often hung out with his best friend Piaras and Piaras' wife Eithne, both whom he knew from work. Sometimes they went out drinking together, but they weren't really barflies, so very often they just hung out at each other's place and watched rented movies, or played poker for small change.
Cian arrived at Piaras and Eithne's place and parked in their driveway. They had a little row house in one of those new planned developments. Eithne and Piaras came out of the house as he parked in their driveway and was getting out of his new white Jaguar.
"Oooh, it's beautiful," said Eithne!
"Sure, and I got it loaded too! Air... Five speed... Two hundred watt stereo... And power everything!"
"You're gonna get the babes now, old man," said Piaras poking Cian in the ribs with his elbow. Actually, Cian had never had any luck picking up women, and was still a virgin at 35. Cian wasn't bad looking, he was tall and slim, and women had actually come on to him on occasion back in college, but he was such a klutz that he always spoiled such opportunities. Eithne had even tried to set Cian up with some of her girlfriends a few times, but nothing ever came of it. Now that he was out of college and working, and surer of himself, he was secretly hoping that this car would restore some of those missed opportunities.
Once inside, Cian put the movie in the DVD player while Piaras brought out the beer, and Eithne brought out some fish and chips. The movie started and they all settled down to watch. It was one of those sexy slasher-thrillers where the woman usually ends up murdering the men she sleeps with. "Watch this, watch this," urged Piaras, "she ties him up and pokes his eyes out with the ice pick while she's screwing 'im!"
"Ewwwwwwww," added Eithne!
Cian added, "How do they do that to make it look so real?"
The snacks started to run out halfway through the movie. "How about more chips, guys?"
"Sounds good," answered Piaras.
"Sure, Eithne," added Cian.
The movie had gone along its way, and the temptress was about to strike down her next victim. Suddenly, "Oh gross," exclaimed Piaras, "how can he touch his mouth to her privates like that?"
"Hey, keep watching, lover. Maybe you'll learn something!" replied Eithne.
Cian just kept quiet.
After the movie, Cian asked, "well, you guys wanna' go for a ride in my car? Maybe head downtown?"
Eithne interrupted, "Slow down guys, why don't we just stay home, I don't feel like getting wasted tonight. And I'm sure Cian doesn't want to get high and wrap his brand new car around a phone pole!"
Cian added, "Sure Eithne, maybe its time for me to head home anyway."
"I didn't mean to say you have to go, it's still early. I'm just not in the mood to go out now, that's all," said Eithne.
"Hey, we have this old Candyland game," kidded Piaras.
"Yeah, right..." added Eithne!
"Okay, how about a game of poker?" asked Piaras.
"Fine with me," said Eithne.
"Sure, I'm game," added Cian.
"But let's up the stakes this once," urged Piaras.
"What kind of stakes?" asked Cian.
"Well, how about your Jaguar?"
"My Jaguar! No way, Piaras!"
"Aw, c'mon! You're not chicken are you? B'caw, b'caw, b'caw!"
"Hey! Do you know how long it took me to save up for a car like that? And you want me to bet it on a card game!"
"Hey En! Cian's chicken! Cian's chicken!"
"Okay, Piaras! If I bet my car, what do you want to bet? You should put up something really outrageous to make it worth betting my car!"
"What do you want me to bet against your car then," asked Piaras?
"Oh I don't know... How about your house?"
"Wait a second!" interrupted Eithne. "As nice as your car is, our house is worth a lot more. That's not an even bet!"
"She's right Cian, we can't bet our home," added Piaras.
"Well, if you want me to bet something that means a lot to me like my car, you should be willing to bet something that means a lot to you! What else do you have that's really excellent?"
"Nothing else, really," said Piaras.
"Yeah, we don't have much else," added Eithne.
"I don't know then," said Cian. "I can't bet my car if you don't have anything really neat to offer too."
"Well, do you have any ideas En?" asked her husband.
"I don't know," replied Eithne, "unless Cian can think of something that can match his car, except our townhouse."
"Any ideas Cian?" added Piaras.
Cian thought and pondered for a while, looking around the room for anything that Piaras and Eithne might be able to put up against his car. Then he noticed Eithne standing, watching him think. Eithne wasn't beautiful, but she was attractive--a tall handsome woman. Cian looked away and closed his eyes for a moment longer, then finally spoke up. "I know what you can bet against my car, Piaras! You can bet your wife!"
"What!" exclaimed Piaras and Eithne together.
"That's right! If I win, Eithne comes home with me and spends the night. No! The weekend with me, and I'll return her home Monday morning on my way to work."
"No way!" screeched Eithne.
"So now you're chicken? You wanted high stakes? There's high stakes!"
"Well," considered Piaras, "that's high stakes alright!" Piaras though for a moment and added, "How about it Eithne? We could win a Jaguar!"
"You're kidding, right?" asked Eithne.
"I'm serious if Cian is! Are you, Cian?"
"Yes, I'm serious! I'll bet my Jaguar against Eithne spending the weekend with me."
"C'mon En, be a sport!" urged Piaras.
"You guys are crazy! You know that!" added Eithne.
"Oh, c'mon En! We'll have a Jaguar if we win! But you'll only have to spend a little time with Cian if we lose, and I'm not going to lose!"
"Well," squeaked Eithne, "if Cian thinks spending time with me is worth his car, I guess I'll go along with the bet--but you better not lose, dear! "
Piaras got up and set up the card table before Eithne could entertain more doubts. "We'll make this quick, okay? Best two hands out of three. Winner takes all. Agree?"
Piaras shuffled the deck and dealt both of them five cards.
Picking up his hand, Cian held an Ace and Jack of hearts, a 4 and 5 of clubs, and a 6 of diamonds. Crap. He discarded the Jack.
Piaras dealt him a new card. He turned it over. It was a King of spades. Rot! At least he had an Ace high hand if Piaras didn't get any pairs.
Piaras then also discarded one card. That's a good sign. Piaras looked at his new card, then up at Cian in his show-nothing poker face. Cian wiped the sweat from his forehead and threw his Ace high hand on the table.
Piaras groaned and threw his hand down. Piaras showed a King, 10, 9 and 8 of diamonds, and a 6 of hearts.
"I won the first hand!" proclaimed Cian.
Piaras shuffled and dealt again.
Eyeing his hand, Cian held a Jack and 9 of hearts, a 9 and 7 of spades, and a Jack of clubs. "Not bad," he thought to himself. He kept his pair of Jacks and his pair of 9's, and discarded the 7.
Piaras discarded two cards.
Cian was dealt 6 of hearts, useless.
Piaras dealt himself two cards and looked up at Cian.
Grinning, Cian showed his hand with his two pairs.
Also grinning, Piaras slammed his hand down showing a pair of Queens and a pair of 3's. "Well, old man," announced Piaras! "The next hand decides."
Piaras shuffled and dealt once more.
Cian slowly picked up and unfolded his cards. He held a Queen of diamonds, a 10 and 6 of hearts, and a 9 and 5 of clubs. All garbage! Keeping his two highest cards, he discarded the 6, the 9, and the 5.
Piaras also discarded three cards.
Cian was dealt a 10 of diamonds, a 9 of spades, and a 2 of clubs, leaving him with a pair of 10's.
Cian waited until Piaras showed his hand revealing a pair of 8's amid other trash.
"I won!" shouted Cian, showing his pair of 10's!
Piaras sat still for a moment, then spoke up, "Well, congratulations, old man!"
"Thanks Piaras! But I'm glad that game's over! I never sweated so much in my life!"
"Say, where'd Eithne go?" asked Cian. "She was just standing here just a second ago."
"She probably thinks you're going to hold her to our bet!" laughed Piaras.
"But I am going to hold her to the bet! Be honest, wouldn't you have held me to it if you won?"
"Honestly," asked Piaras? "I guess I would have taken your car."
Eithne walked into the living room at this moment, carrying a small bag. She spoke coldly, "Yes Cian, Piaras definitely would have expected you to honor your bet." Then set down the bag.
"What are you doing with that bag, En?" asked Piaras.
"I'm going to need some clothes and things!"
"Wait a second! You're not serious! You can't really go home with Cian, Eithne!"
"He won the bet. If he still wants me to go with him, I will."
"Cian..." moaned Piaras.
"Yes, Piaras, I'm taking her!"
It seemed like seconds before Piaras spoke again. "Well Cian, I don't know if I should offer one last beer to the guy who's going to screw my wife tonight..."
"And tomorrow night, and the night after that," added Cian.
"Don't rub it in!"
Cian took Eithne's bag. "Okay, I won't. It's getting late anyway. Shall we leave, Eithne?"
Eithne followed Cian out to his car, and they drove back to Cian's place.
When they arrived back at Cian's flat, he brought Eithne's bag into the living room, and set it on the coffee table.
"I guess you can sleep on the sofa, Eithne. I have a spare pillow and some extra blankets. I'll get them." Then Cian disappeared into his bedroom for a moment, and returned with an armload of blankets and a pillow. "I hope you'll be comfortable. Anyway, I'm beat, so I'm going to take a bath and go right to bed. G'night!"
"You mean you don't want me to--uh--you know?"
"Don't worry Eithne, I don't expect you to do anything with me. But! You have to promise me that you'll tell Piaras that we did sleep together and that we screwed our brains out the whole time!"
"Okay, I'll tell him that giggle It'll serve him right to think that we did it all weekend long!"
"Anyway yawn G'night Eithne. Is there anything else you'll need?"
"No thanks. This is fine. Night', Cian."
When Cian woke the next morning and was heading for the loo, Eithne was already drawing a bath. She emerged about an hour later with her hair wrapped in a towel.
"Morning Eithne! Took a bath?"
"Hi, Cian. Yes."
"Yeah. I need one too."
"If you'd like, I'll make some breakfast while you're in the tub?"
When Cian finished his bath, Eithne was in the kitchen. He went into the bedroom and got dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue tee shirt.
When he entered the kitchen, Eithne was there with her hair combed in its usual way and wearing jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt, making pancakes. "I found some pancake mix in the cabinet," she said.
Eithne poured them two glasses of orange juice and also put the pot on for coffee.
They ate their pancakes together amid an awkward silence. As they were finishing, Cian broke the silence, "Okay, Eithne, I've just planned an outing for us today!"
"You'll see. Go get your bag ready again!" Eithne looked at Cian quizzically for a moment, while he just grinned back at her and went in the bedroom. Cian put their dishes in the dishwasher and she came out of the bedroom with her bag. Cian went over to her, took her bag, and led her out to his car.
"Don't you need a bag too?" asked Eithne.
"I always keep an overnight bag in my boot in case I want to go somewhere on the spur of the moment," answered Cian.
Cian's bright white Jaguar had left New York and had been heading west into New Jersey on the I22. About an hour into the drive, he entered New Jersey's most notorious roundabout, known as the Somerville Circle. He turned southbound onto the I206 when Eithne asked again, "Where are we going Cian? Please tell me!"
"Just up ahead," he said with a grin.
About an hour later, he turned right onto a winding secondary road, which snaked up into the hills. About a kilometer from the exit, he turned into a wide driveway through a heart shaped wooden archway that read, "Lover's Hideout."
"I had always planned to take a girlfriend to this place, if I could have ever got a girlfriend."
"This isn't a nudist camp, Cian, is it?" asked Eithne.
"Oh no! Nothing like that! It's a nice place. A bed-and-breakfast surrounded by a garden, forest paths, and several small ponds. Some out-of-the-way areas are 'clothing optional, ' but you don't have to go there unless you want to."
Cian thought that Eithne was still a little suspicious, so he decided to wait until she saw for herself. They drove up the winding wooded driveway for several hundred meters until they came to a clearing. There was a small car park big enough for, at most, twenty cars. There was only about five other cars.
They could see a building just up beyond a brick path that led from the car park. Cian got their bags out of the boot and led her up the path. The building, they saw, was a large two story stone cottage with lots of storybook gingerbread ornamentation. "Cute," remarked Eithne, as they entered.
Once inside, they were in a cozy little lobby area with oriental throw rugs scattered here and there, and antiques used as lobby furniture. Cian led Eithne up to the registration counter, and the woman standing there greeted them in a Slavic accent, "Welcome to Lovers' Hideout, I'm Ingrid. How can I help the two of you," she said with a genuinely warm smile?
"I'm Cian, and this is Eithne. We'd like a room, please."
"Certainly," answered Ingrid. "It'll be two hundred and fifty American dollars per night, which includes the room, all meals, and recreational facilities and entertainment."
Eithne pulled Cian away from the counter. "Cian," Eithne quickly whispered, "please don't spend that much money on me! I'm not really your girl, you know!"
"Eithne," Cian whispered back, "I'm not spending it on you! Honestly, I'm spending it on me. I want to have a romantic night. I've played this weekend through my head so many times already. I just didn't expect it to happen quite this way."
Cian returned to the counter and said, "One night please." He handed Ingrid his Virgin Atlantic card, and handed Cian a room key. "You're in room seven. Just up those stairs. Checkout time is anytime you want. Enjoy your stay!"
"Thank you," answered Cian. Eithne merely nodded.
Again, Cian took their bags, left the lobby into a small anteroom and up a narrow stone stairway. At the top of the stairway a wooden 'cupid' pointed to rooms 1 to 5 to the left, and another to rooms 6 to 20 to the right. They turned right and went past several doors until they came to the one with the number 7 emblazoned on a wooden heart on the door.
Cian set the bags down, unlocked the door with the key, and opened it. Eithne moved to enter the room as Cian said, "Wait! Maybe you're not my wife, but the way things are going, I'm never going to have one of my own, I really want to do this." And before Eithne could speak, Cian picked her up and carried her through the doorway.
He carried her into the room and sat on the bed setting her on his lap. Eithne put her hand on his shoulder, "You really are a romantic guy Cian, it's a shame you aren't doing this with your own girlfriend."
"Honestly Eithne, I'd rather be here with a friend than not be doing it at all!"
Eithne smiled and started to get off Cian's lap.
"Wait! Kiss me, Eithne."
"What? Cian! I..."
"Eithne, I just want a kiss."
" "Uhm. Shouldn't we get our bags out of the hallway Cian?"
Eithne got off Cian's lap and he brought their bags into the room. Noticing the room for the first time, it was a quaint little room. The most noticeable feature was a four poster king size bed covered with a seemingly handmade quilt. On one table was a marble stylized sculpture of a man and woman embracing, but not otherwise erotic. On one of the night-stands was a small bowl of green M&Ms. Noticeably absent was a telly or phone. Eithne looked around, "How sweet! A bouquet of fresh flowers," which was standing in a vase on a table by the window.
Eithne walked over to the flowers to smell them, and then she opened the door by the window that led out to a secluded balcony enclosed on three sides, and also an arch on the outer wall. A grove of trees stood just beyond the wrought iron balcony railing, allowing a view onto the grounds, but obscuring the view of the balcony from below. Cian followed her out onto the balcony.
"This is lovely Cian! How did you ever find a place like this?"
"I've always been on the lookout for places like this to take a girlfriend. This place was listed in a book of local day trips. So anyway, here we are. Now, kiss me Eithne!"
"But Cian, what if someone sees us? We can go inside--to kiss..."
"Eithne, I'm sure that anyone spying on these balconies has seen a lot worse than kissing!"
"But what if someone recognizes me? Maybe we should have stayed at your place."
"Don't worry, not a whole lot of people know about this place. The owners like to keep it that way too. That's why I brought you here."
"Now, are you going to honor your bet and kiss me, or not!" She approached him and stood stiffly with her arms to her side. He embraced her and gave her a long passionate kiss.
Eithne pulled away after about a second. Still embracing her, Cian said, "Come Eithne, let's take a walk around?"
Cian took Eithne's hand as they left the room. Back in the anteroom, besides the lobby, one passageway led into a dimly lit dining room, another into a tiny lounge, and another into a small game room. A short corridor also led out to the back of the building, which is where Cian led Eithne.
They exited into a thin grove of trees, where a number of brick paths led off in different directions. A large heart shaped sign hanging on a tree there read:
The way leading back to the Inn will always be marked
wherever you are. But the trails leading away from
the Inn are deliberately left unmapped because we want
every journey through our woods to be a romantic surprise.
"Well, let's go this way," said Cian. They walked up a path and around a hill and came into a hanging garden. For a hot summer day, it felt quite cool standing here among the shady trees. Here, paths branched in all different directions and they ambled down one at random.
"Ohhh, these flowers are so pretty! This is just beautiful, Cian!"
"Yes, I didn't know they had a hanging garden here! This is nice!"
They continued walking through the garden, hand in hand. They eventually passed through an archway in a stone wall, which led out into a heavily wooded area. The brick path split in two and they continued down one of the branches.
Another couple approached from the other direction, and as they came near, Eithne jerked her hand out of Cian's. Cian said nothing, and both couples nodded to each other as they passed. When the other couple passed from sight, Cian said, "Eithne, why did you pull your hand away? Until this weekend is over, you are my main squeeze!"
"I'm sorry Cian, I just got nervous."
"Well, okay. But listen. I want some PDA!"
"Yeah, It's an Americanism I picked up. Means 'Public Display of Affection.' The very next time we are about to pass another couple on the path. I want you to stop, put your arms around me, and plant a long wet one on the kisser!"
Smiling, Cian urged, "No 'Cian, I, ' that's what you're going to do when we hear another couple coming down the path!"
Cian took her hand again and they continued walking along the path, but they passed no other couples. They soon came to a hilly spring meadow. They walked on and noticed another couple having a picnic under a tree off in the distance.
"Let's not disturb them," said Eithne, and they turned another way. They walked over to another tree, which happened to be along the bank of a babbling brook. Cian sat down on a rock and pulled Eithne onto his lap and gave her another long passionate kiss. To his surprise, she didn't try to pull away.
As they kissed, Cian began massaging Eithne's back with his hands. She didn't seem to mind, and they sat there necking for close to a minute. Eithne finally pulled away saying, "Phew! I'm starting to get a little hungry, Cian, aren't you?"
"Only for you Eithne! But sure, c'mon." Eithne got off Cian's lap and they walked back to the path that led into the meadow. They found the path and started walking along it back the way they came. Just as the sign said, they found the signs leading back to the Inn and returned with no problem.
They arrived just past noon and entered the dining room, which had just opened for lunch. The host escorted them to a tiny table, which, like all the other tables, had a small vase that contained a single pink rose. All the tables in the room had only two chairs each.
A moment later, the vintner appeared and poured them each two glasses of red wine. Eithne, this time, took her glass and clinked it to Cian's, "to friendship."
"To friendship, Eithne."
"Uh--oh, nothing--I mean, this is such a wonderful place, I wonder why more people don't know about it?"
"Well, it wouldn't be so wonderful if they advertised it like a major resort and there were huge crowds, would it?"
"No. It wouldn't."
The waiter appeared and handed them their menus and as he left, the vintner returned and refilled their glasses.
"This is delicious wine, Cian."
"Yes, it's very sweet I noticed."
"I wonder what it is?"
"I don't know, but I wonder how they make any money? There's hardly anybody else here?"
At that point, another couple was escorted in by the host. Though the dining room was small, there was a wide distance between tables that afforded a good degree of privacy. And he sat that other couple at the far end of the room.
"Anyway Eithne, what do you think you'll have? It's all included with our room, so have whatever you want." Cian and Eithne then studied their menus for a while until the waiter returned. "Have you decided," he asked?
Eithne looked at Cian then up at the waiter; "I'll have the shrimp and clam chowder?"
"Excellent choice, madam? And you sir?"
"I'll have the corned beef and a baked potato, please?"
"Very good sir, anything else to drink?"
"I'll have a cup of tea--Earl Grey," said Eithne.
"Me too," added Cian.
"Very well, it'll be about ten minutes." The waiter then left.
"So, Eithne. I hope you're enjoying our weekend together so far."
"It's okay," Eithne answered softly.
"Okay means okay."
Cian stopped pressing the issue, and a few seconds later, their meal arrived.
"How's the shrimp, Eithne?"
"It's really good! Try one?"
"Thanks. Mmmm. It is good."
"How's your beef?"
"Excellent. Uh, want a bite?"
"No thanks, this is enough for me."
After dinner, Cian took Eithne's hand again as they left the dining room. They walked back outside and up a different brick path than before. The woods grew gradually thicker, though the path was well maintained and the bricks were solidly in place. They kept walking and eventually came to a clearing. Eithne looked at Cian, "Ooooh! A wishing well!"
There in the center of the clearing where the path made a circle around it, was a stone well--a real one with a wooden roof and an old fashioned iron crank and bucket. Cian took a ten cent piece out of his pocket and tossed it in the well. The coin clinked as it hit the side of the well, and it was several seconds before they heard the plop echo up the well.
Eithne grinned and also took a coin from her purse and tossed it in.
"What did you wish for Eithne?"
"I can't tell you! The wish won't come true, then!"
They started walking along the path again as they each reached to take the other's hand.
The path continued winding through the woods, over a wooden bridge that crossed a small stream, and then down a slight grade. The path became level again and then they came to another fork. "Which way, Cian?"
"Oh I don't know--this way I guess."
They walked a little while longer along the brick path through the shade of the trees. "Ohhhhhhh, how beautiful, Cian!" They came out in another clearing at the base of a tall waterfall that fell into a small rocky lagoon. The edge of the lagoon was covered by a rainbow of tropical flowers.
The path continued along the lagoon and over a stone bridge where the lagoon emptied into a narrow brook. Coming to another fork in the path, one sign pointing the way back to the Inn pointed up one path, a larger sign pointing the way of the other path read,
beyond this point
"Which way, Eithne?" asked Cian with a sly grin.
"Oh, okay, Cian, let's go see what's there; but I'm not taking my clothes off!" They walked down the path a little while, and came out onto a tiny beach surrounding another small lagoon. There on the beach was one other couple, completely nude, making love, completely oblivious to Cian and Eithne's presence. Another couple was sitting on a rock in the lagoon with only their heads above the water, laughing together.
They walked up to the water and Cian reached down into it. "Hey, this water's really hot!"
Eithne reached into the water also, "Yeah, there must be a natural hot spring here."
"I don't know. Hot springs are supposed to smell like sulfur. I don't smell anything. Hmmm, the water tastes perfectly clear."
"Well, I can't believe they would be heating a pond! This place would cost a lot more than US$250 a day!"
"Let's ask when we get back?"
Cian took Eithne's hand and walked up the beach a little way and sat down. Eithne sat next to him and Cian put his arm around her and kissed her again. She even kissed back, but Cian could tell that she was forcing herself. Cian gently pulled her onto her side lying next to him as they kissed, then pulled her tightly to him.
"Wait, Cian," Eithne pulled away! "Please don't expect me to make love with you--here. We can go back to the room if you want..."
"Who said anything about making love? Let's just cuddle for a while? That's all I want to do right now!" Cian resumed kissing Eithne, and she seemed to warm up again. Cian again began massaging her back with his hands, and they continued necking long into the afternoon there on the beach.
Eventually, the setting sun finally caught their attention. "Oooh, I guess we better head back, Eithne."
"Yes, Cian, that seems a good idea!" They pecked a few more kisses and got up and returned to the path. Walking along, the evening gradually became darker, but then they noticed that small lights along the edge of the path starting to glow dimly then brighter. They also found that those signs leading back to the Inn were also lit.