Adam was in love. It was a storybook romance, or just about as near to one as you were likely to find in the real world. He and Brook had met in Intro to Economics, been instantly charmed by each other, and bonded further over coffee, then bowling, then a fancy dinner, and then ridiculously incredible sex back at her dorm room. Three years after that, he had popped the question on a cloudless night, and she had eagerly said yes. Their friends attributed an almost supernatural power to Adam and Brook: they never fought and never seemed to suffer from the boredom, jealousy, and minor irritations of any normal relationship. They had had a hard time winning over Brook's orthodox Jewish parents to the decidedly gentile Adam, but in the end their obvious love for one another prevailed. It was enough to make a more cynical person sick. The wedding was a week away, and from there an endless road of wedded bliss stretched out to the horizon.
But then came the trip to City Hall.
Adam blinked, not sure of what he was hearing. "Excuse me, can you say that again?"
The heavyset lady behind the counter looked up at them. She was obviously preparing a rant about stupid customers in her head. "Exactly what I said the first time, Mister Lutz. I can't give you a marriage certificate because you already have a marriage on the books. You'll have to get a legal divorce before you marry Miss Silver here."
Brook looked at Adam, puzzled. Adam leaned forward and put his hands on the counter. "I'm sorry, there has to be some sort of mistake in your registry. I've never been married before."
"That's not what the computer says," said the clerk without looking up.
"Well, the computer is wrong."
"It could be," she said. "But you'll have to take that up with someone else. I'm not about to become a party to bigamy."
"This is ridiculous," said Adam. "Who am I allegedly married to?"
The clerk turned her computer screen around so that Adam and Brook could see it. It showed a legally-registered marriage between one Adam Lutz and a Shelley Devitt, married for just over three years. "I don't know this person," said Adam. "Is it possibly you've got me confused with another Adam Lutz?'
"Another one with your social security number?" said the clerk. "Look, check with Kathy down in the filing department. If there isn't a physical marriage certificate, then maybe this is just a computer error."
That sent Adam and Brook off through the halls and back passageways of City Hall, all clogged with queues and bureaucrats rushing from one department to another. Adam walked quickly, and Brook struggled to keep pace with him. "You never told me you were married," she said with a fake pout.
"I'm not," he said. "Like I said earlier, it has to be some sort of mistake. You trust me, right?"
Brook giggled. "Of course I do. I was just teasing you, sweetheart."
But at the filing department things grew even more confused. Kathy, a sarcastic young girl who seemed put out by the idea of doing something for people, quickly found a paper marriage certificate. Adam's signature sat on the page, looking almost identical to the one he put on everything from restaurant cheques to the lease for their new apartment. Next to it was an unfamiliar squiggle that was clearly identified as that of Shelley Devitt, whoever she was.
"This is ridiculous," said Adam. He realized he had been saying that a lot, and was probably going to keep saying it for the conceivable future. "This is my handwriting, but ... I've never seen this piece of paper before. I sure haven't seen this Shelley Devitt before. This has to be some kind of forgery."
"Uh huh," said sarcastic Kathy. "You want me to do anything else?"
Brook looked at Adam, her lips pursed. "The wedding is in a week."
"It'll be fine." Adam turned to the clerk. "Can you give me the information of this Devitt? Or Mrs. Lutz, as you keep insisting. I need to contact her ... maybe we can get a quick annulment. However this happened, the marriage certainly hasn't been consummated."
"I'm sorry," Kathy said. "I can't give out other people's personal information."
"Not even my alleged wife?"
"Sorry sir. That's the policy."
Adam was just about ready to tear his hair out in frustration. But it was only going to get worse from here.
The next several hours were taken up by a whirlwind of phone calls and in-person visits to various bureaucratic institutions and the occasional law office. Through it all Adam felt like he was falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, only instead of leading to Wonderland it only lead to an underground network of further rabbit holes that all connected to each other in labyrinthine ways. One thing eventually became clear: in every conceivable legal way, he had been married to Shelley Devitt for the past three years.
Adam and Brook finally returned to their apartment with a bag of Chinese take-out, mentally exhausted. Adam collapsed on the couch with a plate of fried rice. "I have no idea what's going on, babe."
"It has to be some kind of weird mistake," said Brook. "And don't eat that on the couch. You'll wind up with little grains of rice in between the cushions."
She had a point, but Adam couldn't help but feel nagged – a distinctly unfamiliar experience. He made his way over to the dinner table, where Brook was scarfing down some wonton soup. They ate in silence for a couple minutes.
"So, the license was signed February 2010," said Brook. "We had just started dating then."
"Brook," Adam said. "There's nothing to it. You don't think I would have told you after all this time if I had a wife stashed away somewhere?"
"You never know," said Brook. "It could be a Jane Eyre type of situation."
Adam dug into a carton of chicken balls. "Never read that one."
"I told you we should have taken Victorian Lit together."
After a delicious and frankly gluttonous meal, Adam spent an evening with the phone book, calling up every S. Devitt in the tri-county area. Each greeted him with nothing but confusion. After that, he tried the S. Lutzes, and other than a nice chat with his cousin Shirley he didn't get anywhere. A listing for "Lutz, A & S" seemed promising, but it was just an old couple on the East Side who promptly tried to chat his ear off.
Adam had spent the past two hours phoning futilely, and was just about ready to throw his cell against the wall. Brook wandered into the room and massaged his shoulders. "There, there. We'll figure out what's going on. I called Manny, and he's going to meet with us tomorrow morning."
"I should check the Internet," Adam muttered.
"I already did," said Brook. "Plenty of Shelley Devitts – mostly in Ireland – but who can say if any of them are the ones we're looking for?"
Adam sighed. He felt as though he was letting down Brook. Everything about their wedding had been planned perfectly, and it was set to be every bit the magical experience it was supposed to be – and then this. It might still turn out to be a minor obstacle, but even a minor obstacle seemed like a mountain when compared to the smooth road around it.
"So what do we do now?" said Adam.
Brook shrugged in that elegant, subtly sexy way she had. "Well, we seem to be at a dead end. I guess we just have to find ourselves something to take out minds off this."
Adam raised an eyebrow. "You want to check what's on Netflix?"
"Not exactly." Brook closed the distance between them and kissed him hotly on the mouth. He felt a surge of erotic energies come flooding to the surface. This was always how it was with Brook – she had merely to touch him and Adam felt as though he was about to combust.
The two continued their passionate liplock as their hands started desperately groping one another. Brook dragged him to the couch, where they fell into a well-worn grove. Adam licked quickly at her neck and left small bites on her collarbone. Brook moaned and tried to pull him further into her. It was always a rush with them – they just couldn't wait to touch each others' bare flesh.
Brook tugged at the bottom of Adam's shirt, and he began unbuttoning it, although that hardly seemed like the best use for his hands right now. She pulled at it hard, snapping off the remaining buttons and exposing Adam's nicely-honed chest. "I lose more shirts that way..." Adam said, before he began kissing her neck again.
She straddled him and began writhing up and down against his body. Adam suddenly found himself rock hard as Brook pressed his head into her chest. She was falling into a familiar rhythm, although an outside observer might think she had gone berzerk. Adam pulled her T-shirt up to get at her breasts, quickly disposing of the front-clip bra. Brook's tits, which had the size, colour, and softness of peaches, dangled enticingly in front of him, and Adam quickly buried his face in her cleavage while she vigorously dry-humped him.
"Oh, baby..." Brook moaned into his ear. He was basting her breasts with his mouth, leaving hot trails of saliva across her chest. Brook pressed Adam tight to her inflamed skin, and then abruptly pushed him down. Adam laid back and watched as she turned around and started unbuckling his jeans. He loved it when Brook took charge like this.
A few moments later she was bobbing her head up and down on his rock-hard cock. Brook sucked eagerly at every drop of precum Adam emitted, and swirled her hot and wet tongue around his head to ensure that there was more where that came from. Adam was loving the sensations that Brook was sending through his cock and which rushed through the rest of his body, but at the moment he was distracted by her shapely ass. Brook had worn a nice white skirt to the courthouse, looking as much like an innocent country farmwife as she could manage. At this moment Adam could see up that skirt and to the thin white panties underneath that barely contained his fiancée's generous behind.
Adam tugged the skirt down her legs, and Brook gleefully kicked it off. The offending garment landed on the lamp, where it would hang for the rest of the night. Through her damp white panties Adam could see her pussy lips as they pressed outwards, ready for penetration, and her thick ass as it stood out proudly in front of him. He slid Brook's panties off of her and began rubbing her asscheeks, kneading and slapping them. Brook trilled with glee and dove back down on his cock, scarfing down as much of his manhood as she could.
Adam took two fingers and slid them into Brook's moist cunt. She moaned and shifted back on him before sinking her mouth onto his dick once more. The two of them were like a fast-moving machine, him fingering her and her sucking him with one pounding rhythm. Eventually, however, that rhythm got to be too much for them.
"Baby," Adam said. "I've gotta fuck you."
"That's funny," Brook said. "I was just thinking that I needed you in me."
"Well, great minds," Adam said. His wit was a little dulled at this point by the ferocious blowjob he had been receiving.
Brook spun around one more time and planted her hands on Adam's chest. Her shirt was still bunched up around her shoulders, putting her hard nipples and ripe breasts on display. With expert precision and grace, she straddled Adam and took his cock deep inside her pussy. It was like returning home after a long, hard day's work.
Adam always tried to start slow, but in the bedroom there was very little slowness to anything he and Brook did. Looking at the way they doted on each other and spoke with sugary affection, one would guess that they were into slow lovemaking with candles, soft jazz, and a massage beforehand. Instead, they were the hard-fucking, break-the-headboard, wake-the-neighbours-up-at-2AM type. They had experimented with toys, handcuffs, positions and fetishes they found online, and occasionally a third or fourth party. So it was no particular surprise when, a minute after he had entered her, Adam was holding onto Brook's hips as she savagely slammed them down onto his cock, and both of them were cursing up a storm.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Brook said as she bounced up and down on her fiancé's stiff cock. "So fucking good ... oh god, my pussy loves your cock, Adam ... fuck me ... fuck!" There was a kind of poetry to it, Adam found.
He revelled in the feeling of Brook's tight but wet cunt grasping his cock and in the sight of her riding him, rapidly building up a sweat that added a kind of glow to her already beautiful breasts. Adam grabbed Brook by the shoulder and pulled her head closer to his. Her chestnut-coloured hair fell around his head and chest like a halo. They kissed hotly, and Brook continued pumping her hips. Over her shoulder Adam could see her ass working in double time. He thrust up to meet her every movement.
Adam took her by the shoulder and pressed up, their signal to change positions. Brook reluctantly climbed off of him and took in a deep breath. He stood her up, and pointed to the large mirror that hung on their living room wall.
"The mirror again?" Brook said, raising an eyebrow.
"You love it too."
Brook smirked and trotted over to the mirror. Along the way she disposed of her shirt and socks, leaving her as nude as the day she was born. Adam kicked off his pants, which had been bunched around his ankles, and shed what remained of his shirt. Brook placed her hands against the big mirror and bent over, waving her wet pussy lips at Adam.
That was an invitation he couldn't say no to. Adam grabbed his fiancée by the hips and sheathed himself inside of her with one deep stroke. Brook groaned and rubbed her ass against her man's hips. Adam bent over her and began roughly stroking her breasts as he savagely fucked her from behind.
Brook pressed herself up against the mirror, her boobs crushed against the glass. It looked like she was making love to a perfect copy of herself, and that thought got Adam incredibly hard. He could see his cock as it pumped in and out of her, and the red trembling of her pussy. When he looked up, he could see his own expression, and it shocked him a bit. He looked like an animal, or at the very least a barbarian. Brook looked almost just as feral. The mirror was more than just a hard surface for him to take her roughly against. It presented their lovemaking back to them again. It was like watching a porno movie and being in one at the same time, although this was way better than any sleazy skin flick.
Brook had surpassed swear words and was now simply moaning and gasping. Her body shook against him, and Adam knew that his girl was having one hell of an orgasm. Which was good, because he didn't think he could last much longer either. With one definitive slam, he buried his cock into her pussy and came. The orgasm shot through his whole pelvis and he briefly felt as if the ground beneath him had fallen away. It was like the runner's high he got after jogging every morning, only a thousandfold. He could feel his cock pulse once, twice, three times as he shot his seed into Brook's waiting womb.
The two lovers collapsed onto the floor. Both rolled onto their backs, trying to resist rugburn.
"Phew," Brook said. "Well, at least we've got that part worked out."
"We've always got that," Adam said, with a big stupid grin on his face.
Emmanuel Osmond was a practicing attorney and amateur accountant, but was known to Adam mostly as his father's "smart friend" who had always handled the family's legal affairs. His office looked like the nest of a particularly undiscerning magpie, filled with not just paperwork but half-read novels, discarded food containers, local artwork of questionable quality, indecipherable Post-It notes, and photos of people Adam had never seen before. Brook looked around questionably, but Adam had faith in this man.
"No, you don't understand," Adam said, his voice angry. "That has to be a forgery, or a mistake or something. I never married anybody."
"I understand perfectly," said Emmanuel. "But every kind of official documentation I can find suggests that you married this Devitt woman three years ago. For one thing, you claimed the marriage on your tax forms – which got you quite a nice break, by the way. And she's named as your emergency contact on every relevant form. You have her signed up for your company's health plan. The paper trail doesn't lie."
"Except in this case it does," Adam insisted.
"You never claimed you were married on any of those forms?"
"No!" Adam was starting to turn red. "Look, I kept a copy of my tax return last year. I can show you that I put myself down as single. I don't know where all this is coming from."
Emmanuel looked down at his paperwork. "There's also the fact that you co-own a house with Mrs. Devitt – or maybe it's Mrs. Lutz."
Brook looked at Adam, confused. He knew how she felt. "I what?"
"Nice little suburban starter home in Woodside, Pennsylvania," said Emmanuel, reading off his computer. "You and Shelley each paid half in cash, up front."
"Manny, I'm one step up from the mailroom," said Adam. "There's no way I could afford a bloody house, much less drop a couple hundred large in cash."
"Hey, I'm not saying it's true," Emmanuel said. "But in my experience the paper trail doesn't lie."
Emmanuel had always been a family friend, but he was seriously getting on Adam's nerves. "What are you saying?"
"I'm just telling you the facts," Emmanuel said. "But I would be very careful how I proceed. Adultery is not a crime. Bigamy is." He cast a heavy gaze at Adam's engagement ring.
The truth was, Adam couldn't blame Emmanuel for being suspicious. Whoever was doing this – maybe some kind of bizarre identity thief – was thorough, so thorough that it was much more plausible to believe that Adam had been living a double life with another woman. Hell, there had been times during this whole endeavour that Adam had started disbelieving himself. He supposed it was possible that this marriage was some kind of deeply suppressed memory. Not likely, but perhaps the most plausible solution at this point.
"Manny," Adam said. "Can you give me the address of this house I allegedly own?"
"Of course," Emmanuel said. "What do you want this for?"
"Well, if I've paid for this property, I think it's time that I pay a visit."
The plan had made Brook nervous to the point of nausea. She had asked Adam not to go, saying that it could be dangerous or just a waste of time. Beneath those explanations, Adam thought she might be worried that he was going off to sex up his secret wife and never come back. Adam had kissed her on the forehead and reassured her that he would be home in time for dinner, then left for the suburban streets of Woodside, Pennsylvania.
It was a difficult place to find. It was in the state mapbook he kept in the glove compartment, but only in the sparsest detail: a small monochrome yellow section a half-hour outside Philadelphia. The suburb's actual location, however, wasn't where the map had it. Instead he found the turn-off, marked only by a small sign, a mile down the road. He had to drive through another subdivision, the picturesque Windy Bluffs, to even reach the entrance of Woodside, enduring the strange looks from wary parents.
Woodside was a maze of candy-coloured houses and cut-rate mansions. Each home was identical to the one three doors to its left. The streets didn't run straight, but wound in circles like the demented scribblings of a child on amphetamines. Anyone else would look at the verdant grass and the sun-dappled streets and conclude that it was a perfect place to raise a family. The whole place seemed like it was straight out of a real estate ad. But somehow Adam was uneasy.
Maybe it was because of the people. When he looked at them head on, they had smiling faces and beautiful features. The couples were all young and white, their children all precocious toddlers and energetic five-year-olds. But when Adam saw them out of their corner of his eye, things were different. When he didn't directly focus on the bystanders, they seemed to lack any expression at all. Their faces were just blank expanses of skin, their bodies a blur of grey. But when he turned to get a closer look, they were all human again, smiling and waving.
That was eerie too. Did everyone here have nothing better to do than stand around and watch a stranger drive by?
And it had been overcast half a mile ago, but here it was suddenly a clear blue sky.
Adam was sure he was just letting the paranoid side of his brain get ahead of him. Maybe his eyes were going. Just one more thing that was falling apart.
After three wrong turns, he finally reached 250 Primrose Avenue, the address scrawled down on a page of Emmanuel's memo pad. It was a house like all the others – a cozy light-pink domicile with a narrow triangular roof. Plastic flamingos sat on the lawn, still in the breezeless air that smelt strangely like baby powder.
Adam double-checked and triple-checked the address. This was supposed to be his house. There was no car in the driveway, so he pulled in. Adam got out, walked through the neatly-trimmed yard, and knocked on the front door. He hoped someone was home. To be more specific, he hoped it was this Shelley woman who had wreaked bureaucratic havoc across his life without even meeting him.
The door opened. Adam was greeted with a boisterous hug and a warm kiss on the mouth.
"Welcome home, honey!"
Brook lay around the apartment for about 15 minutes after Adam had left. She flicked on the TV, discovered that there was nothing on, and turned it off again. She picked up one of the books she had got from the library, but found her eyes scanning the same paragraph over and over again, unable to derive any meaning from it. She couldn't stop thinking about Adam and what he was doing. Specifically, she couldn't stop thinking of the elusive and possibly imaginary Shelley Devitt.
Brook trusted Adam. She really did. They had been together too constantly, and too openly, over the past several years for Adam to have been living a double life this whole time. It just wouldn't have made sense. Brook had had boyfriends cheat on her before, and after several bad experiences she knew the signs – when he seemed to have mentally checked out, started telling jokes about you to his friends, and started making very vague excuses for not being able to go out this weekend. Adam had done none of that.
But maybe he was a different breed of adulterer. Maybe Brook's skills at reading Adam just weren't as good as she thought they were. It certainly wasn't impossible that he had deceived her this whole time. After all, it made more sense than this being all some sort of paperwork SNAFU, and once you eliminated the impossible...
But Adam wouldn't do that. She knew him. She loved him.
Brook let this debate go on for a few more rounds in her mind before she finally got off the couch and threw the book down. "Fuck this," she said. "I'm going after him."
"A-are you Shelley?"
The voluptuous woman who had just greeted him at the door smiled. "Why are you playing games, silly? Come on inside."
When she said it, it sounded so reasonable. It was the least he could do. Adam stepped inside and took his shoes off. The woman shut the door behind him.
"So how was my sweet-cheeks' day at work?" said the woman.
"I think you have me confused with someone else, ma'am," Adam said. His head was spinning.
"Don't you ma'am me, Adam," she said. The woman playfully spanked him. "Call me sweetie, honey, or cutie pie, or even plain ol' Shelley – just don't call me late for dinner."
Adam found himself stepping over the threshold and into the house. It was warm and inviting, the walls painted in a maternal mixture of yellows and blues. A faint scent of baking – perhaps some cookies, or even an apple pie -- wafted through the air. He hadn't decided to go inside, but it was as though something had been tugging at his feet and he didn't see any reason to resist.
Shelley winked at him and pivoted on her heels, facing back into the recesses of her suburban home. "Kids! Daddy's home from work!"
Kids? Daddy? But there they came, bounding around the corner, blonde-haired androgynous tots that all went up exactly to his waist. They rushed at Adam and again he found his legs tugged on by some mysterious force. He fell to one knee and the first child, a boy, jumped up into his arms. A girl grabbed his knee and hugged it as if trying to wrestle him.
He had never seen these children before, but when they wrapped their small arms around him, it felt more right than anything ever had.
And there was Shelley, the beautiful and lovely Shelley, leaning over with that angelic smile that only she could produce. "How about you sit down, honey? Take a load off. I've got dinner in the oven."
"Of course," Adam said. "I would love that."
Brook had been driving for what felt like hours, but there was still no sign of Woodside. She had borrowed her mother's car, and the map in the glove compartment showed no sign of the suburb. Google Maps came up similarly empty. And yet when Adam had used it earlier, it had displayed the location plain as day – he had showed it to her. She was trying to work off that memory, but she just took one wrong turn after another.
She stopped at a gas station and asked how to get to Woodside. Everyone there had just scratched their heads and said that they had never heard of a town by that name. In desperation, she had called Adam. No signal. Her fiance had driven off these back roads and out of the known world.
But maybe it had all been a scam. Maybe this was just Adam's escape plan, a way to run off with his mistress – or maybe his wife. He could have just turned off his cell phone, driven across town to a seedy motel room, and toasted Brook's ignorance with the surely beautiful and wicked Shelley.
This was the most rational and plausible explanation for what was happening. But Brook knew that it was completely nonsensical. Adam could no more betray her than he could sprout wings and fly. And given recent events, the wings were probably more likely.
And then, at last, it was there at the side of her vision. A small and battered sign denoting a turn-off: WOODSIDE – 9 MILES. Shelley swerved into the turn-off so hard she almost crashed into the guardrail. How had she missed this the previous four times she had passed?
The highway she drove on was empty. Brook could hear every twinge of the engine and every pebble kicked underneath the tires. When she checked in the rear view mirror, she could no longer see the sign that had caused her to drive this way in the first place. But she knew that she was going in the right direction, and she knew that she had been right to come after Adam.
The TV played all his favourites – Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith. Adam found himself sinking into a familiar groove of the couch as one of his children nestled into his side. Shelley had produced a cold beer and was off putting the finishing touches on whatever culinary delight she had for him tonight. Truly, life was good.
Only this wasn't life. He knew that, dimly, in the back of his mind. For one thing, his children seemed to keep changing every time he turned around. Sometimes there would be two and sometimes three. Sometimes they were adorable tots and sometimes sulky teenagers. The room itself changed too, a Norman Rockwell reproduction becoming an oak bookcase, a worn rocking chair becoming a glistening coffee table. And the TV shows proceeded in a strange dreamlike fashion, with nonsensical plots that were quickly abandoned. Lucy wandered into Mayberry and then was abruptly back in the chocolate factory.
What was he thinking about? Of course this was real. This was his house, his family, and his beautiful wife.
Adam was overcome with delight and hunger as Shelley came in with a heaping portion of food, served in a convenient TV-dinner tray. This was no microwaved meal, however: steaming baked potatoes, tender pork chops, and lightly seasoned green beans that were far more delicious than such a pedestrian menu has any right to be. Now that he thought about it, the meal reminded him a lot of his mother's cooking.
He devoured every bite of it. Shelley had a tray too, but he never saw her eat from it. She just sat there, staring with undisguised adoration as he digested her meal. When he looked over again, her plate was clean. She must have eaten while he was focused on his own food.
"Did you like it, honey?" Shelley said.
"It was delicious."
She beamed. "Wonderful! Now, sweetie, there's just one thing I have to ask of you."
"Anything for you, darling." Darling? Since when had he called anyone "darling"?
Shelley held out her fist and then opened it. In her soft palm was a golden ring topped with the clearest, most beautiful diamond Adam had ever seen. It made the ring he picked out for Brook look like a party trinket. Wait, who was Brook? Probably someone he used to know, way back when...
"You left this on your dresser this morning," said Shelley. "Do you not wear your wedding ring at work any more?" It could have come off as a suspicious query, but in this moment Shelley seemed entirely innocent.
"I..." Adam tried to focus back to the events of this morning, but they were gone, like a dream that vanishes from memory two minutes after you wake up. He couldn't even remember where he worked – but he was sure that he had the knowledge somewhere in his mind, just over this strange fog bank.
"It's okay," Shelley said. She was always so understanding. "I'm sure you just forgot it."
That had to be it. Adam nodded. "Yeah. I forgot."
"Are you gonna put it on now?"
Adam looked down at the ring, a slim band of gold that seemed to fade into the pink of Shelley's palm. Rationally, this shouldn't be a big deal – they were already married, had been for years, and Adam felt the marriage in his bones. But rationality was in short supply right now. He knew that if he took that ring and put it on his finger, he would be entering into something he couldn't get out of, something that would change this irrevocably.
To the eye the streets were freshly paved with bright yellow lines, almost a Platonic ideal of a city street. But Brook's car rocked up and down as though it was driving over a field of rocks. She gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and drove as slow as she could stand.
On the sidewalks people gathered to watch her – men at first, middle-aged middle-managers in the sweatshirts of colleges hazily remembered, watering the lawn, their forgotten hoses spurting uselessly into pools on the sidewalk. Then their wives joined them, pinched-face PTA members in cardigans and yoga pants. The couples stared out at her, judgemental, unyielding. And then came the children, all blonde and pale and androgynous. They clutched dolls and teddy bears close to them, but kept their eyes closely fixed on the intruder.
It was then that Brook realized that dozens, possibly a hundred or more, people were standing on their front lawn, staring at her. They all had identical expressions, which were a mixture of guardedness and disappointment. And they all had the same face.
Brook managed to tear her gaze from the suburban army that had turned out to stare at her to discover that she was just about to plow into a house. "Fuck!" Brook whipped the car around and managed to do a hasty U-turn in the cul-de-sac that she had sworn had been a through street a moment ago.
This time she saw the streets move, stretching out towards each other and connecting in a smooth circle. Brook was gobsmacked. She was trapped in a kind of urban Ouroboros.
She didn't know what to do, and she certainly didn't know what the hell was going on. But Brook knew that staying where she was was a bad idea. Leaving her car in the middle of the traffic impossibility, Brook got out and slammed the door behind her. She walked towards the house she had almost crashed into. The second she reached the sidewalk, she found that the suburbanites had multiplied. Hundreds of cozy little families packed every inch of sidewalk. They formed a human wall, if indeed they were human.
"Excuse me," Brook said. "I need to find Adam. I ... we need to get out of here."
They didn't move.
Brook put her shoulder forward and bodily pressed through the mass. They yielded, but only barely. It was a moment later when Brook realized that she was now completely trapped inside the mob. And worse, they had begun grabbing at her. They weren't violent grabs, but familiar ones – the fatherly slap on the shoulder, the wife's back rub, the child clinging to her ankle. But when ten of these grips were upon her at once, she felt like she was being restrained.
And then Brook realized what they wanted to do. These hands, these soft pale hands that could be in skin-cream commercials, were trying to rip the clothes from her body. They were trying to pull her hair until it was an appropriate matronly length. Those hands were trying to claw off her tattoos and rip out her earrings. And in the end they wanted to pull out her clitoris and rip away her vocal chords.
Brook shook off the hands and pushed her way through the mob. New hands grabbed her clothes and tried to shove her back. The door of the house was close now. Brook thought she could make it. She only hoped that what was inside wouldn't be even worse.
Adam had been thinking about something – he couldn't remember what – but he instantly snapped back to attention. There was Shelley, his beautiful wife, kneeling before him with her ruby-red lips pursed. She was framed by his beautiful children, who all (both?) looked up at him expectantly. All she wanted him to do was take the ring and put it on his finger. It was a small thing to ask.
"Just put it on, dear. It's a symbol of our marriage."
Ah yes, the marriage. It had certainly been the best decision Adam had ever made. Just thinking back to that beautiful wedding day ... well, no. He wasn't thinking back to it. In fact, he couldn't remember the wedding at all.
There was a loud thump at the door. It sounded as though something had crashed into it – maybe a wayward bat. Another thump. Maybe it was just a particularly heavy knock.
Shelley rose in alarm. Adam got up as well. Shelley grabbed his wrists and pressed him down with surprising strength. "You stay where you are, sweetie. I'll get the door."
"No," Adam said. In his brain, a sense of purpose was beginning to materialize where previously there had been nothing but fog. "I'm going to get it."
"Just put your ring on, dear," Shelley pleaded. But Adam walked past his wife and her horrified expression and opened the door.
On the other side was Brook. She stood on the picturesque porch with her clothes torn, her expression exhausted, and mud scraped all over her legs. Adam thought he saw a couple nasty scratches on her forearms. But she was here, and she was beautiful.
Of course. Brook. The woman he was going to marry, the woman he loved. How could he have forgotten about her? How could he have believed for a second that this fake mansion and this plastic life were his own?
"Oh, thank god," both Brook and Adam said simultaneously. Then they fell into each others arms.
"What's going on here?" Brook said, fearful but not accusing.
"I ... I don't know." Adam looked behind him. Shelley stood in the hallway, looking distraught. "What ... who are you?"
Shelley cried out like a woman betrayed. "How could you! After everything I gave to you ... we could have been so happy, but you had to run off with that hussy!" And she continued to go on and on, spinning tales of adultery and deceit, but she wasn't convincing anybody. It all started to fall apart around them. The children melted into clay puddles. The bright green, freshly-cut lawns shrivelled. The identical houses fell into disarray. The army of neighbours had all vanished.
Adam grabbed Shelley by the hair and forced her back into the house, a rotting and decaying mess. She seemed so much less powerful now. "What are you? What do you want?"
Brook put her hand on Adam's shoulder. "Honey, you don't need to be so--"
"She made me forget you," Adam said. To him, that was proof of evil enough. "Now tell me: what the hell are you? Some kind of demon? A fairy? Just a stalker with a lot of smoke and mirrors?"
Shelley stared at the floor. "They used to call me a god."
"And now you're going around tricking men into marrying you? What if I had put on that ring? Would you have eaten me? Sent me to hell?"
"I would have married you," said Shelley. "We would have lived happily ever after. All of this – this perfect place – this was all for you."
Adam grabbed Shelley by the shoulder and shook her. "Why me, goddammit!" Brook stepped away. She had never seen Adam like this. He was starting to scare her more than anything around them.
Shelley blubbered. "I love you. I saw you when I was wandering the world, cast out and powerless, and my love brought my strength back. I knew I had to have you. I knew that only you could make me happy again."
"You love me?" Adam sounded incredulous. "You don't do shit like this to someone you love." He rose his hand to strike her.
Brook grabbed Adam's wrist. "Enough."
One look into his fiancee's eyes and all of Adam's rage was gone. He saw himself from the outside, as the brutish man raising his hand to strike down a pleading woman. Or maybe he was the insolent mortal who was about to anger something too vast and powerful for him to understand. Either way, he suddenly knew that he couldn't hit Shelley, and that Brook had once again saved his life.
Shelley sank to her knees, burying her face in her hands. Brook knelt down next to her. "Silly girl," she said quietly.
"I've been alive for thousands of years," Shelley said.
"And still such a silly girl," Brook said. "Adam and I ... we're not like the people you once knew. We don't need all of this – the houses, the money, the children, the stability. Hell, we don't even want it."
Shelley looked up. Her face was expressive, but moreover she seemed to radiate outsized emotions, making them a part of the air around her. Right now that emotion was a strangled hope that couldn't quite believe in itself.
"All we need is love." And Brook leaned in and kissed Shelley.