Two glasses of Cabernet breathed on the coffee table. A fire crackled in the hearth. The music drifting from overhead speakers was a mix of love songs Tyler gave her on their tenth. What an evening that had been, drifting on the mellow notes of sweet rhythm and blues, grounded between Livvy’s thighs. The carnal fragrance of grilling beef wafted toward the door as Tyler entered, creating a draft in the foyer.
Instincts stirred in his lower brain, and he yanked at the tie he’d worn all day at work. He was home, blessedly home, and his wife, Olivia, had something planned. Whatever the occasion, he was game.
“I’m in here!” His wife’s voice beckoned from the kitchen along with the aroma of meat. He tossed the tie on the floor beside the laptop he’d lugged home and reached for the top button of his shirt. In a hurry to answer that call, he only glanced at the set-up in the living room, but what he saw made him smile. Maybe he should lose the belt. Or maybe she’d like to do that.
“Livvy…,” he said. “You look amazing.” An XL, Dr. Who t-shirt fell to her thighs, and her short hair was wild as if she’d just come from bed. She wore socks with sandals, and her cheek was smudged with flour.
She grinned. “You’re just saying that because you saw the wine.”
“I’m saying that because it’s true.” His arm circled her waist as she stirred gravy with a wooden spoon at the stove.
After eight hours of work, unraveling legal and medical issues for an insurance firm, she somehow had more to share with Tyler at day’s end. She turned as he nuzzled her cheek and kissed him briskly on the lips. “Will you finish the salad? Cut the tomatoes, then bowls and dressing?”
He kissed her forehead. “Sure. What are we having?” He found the cutting board and a serrated knife. The tomato was already on the kitchen table.
Olivia’s eyes narrowed to sultry slits as she pinched the hem of her t-shirt and lifted to reveal the naked entree underneath. Tyler grinned and licked his lips, teasing. “That looks more like dessert.”
She saucily dropped her hem. “If you’re good.”
“Ms. Livvy, I always try to be good. It’s the only way I know to keep you coming back for more.”
Olivia set aside her spoon and pushed the gravy from the heat. She stood behind her husband, wrapped her arms around his waist while he chopped, and rested her cheek against his back. “I love you, Tyler.”
He set down the knife, grasped her hands, and pulled her close. “I love you, too, Liv.”
Tyler yanked the vertical bar on the door from outside and drew a draft from the factory. The aroma of lubricating oil and steel shavings greeted his nose. Work. His hard-soled dress shoes tapped the concrete floor. He nodded to Grant, shift supervisor, as he passed the fabricating stations. Rose was operating a sheet metal folding machine and didn’t look up. Safety protocols. Too loud for conversation, all twenty-one workers wore protective ear plugs and goggles.
The steps he climbed were grates; the railings, painted tubular steel. His office and that of his father, Brian Armstead, were on the second level, overlooking the factory floor. As he entered his office, the ancient phone rang.
“Tyler, you’re late again.”
His father in the office next door had chosen to call instead of summoning him. Brian was overweight and had a bad heart. He didn’t leave his chair except when necessary, climbed the stairs only once a day, and was taking his doctor’s advice not to become agitated.
His son made that last advice hard to follow. Tyler could not seem to do anything that pleased his father, and it had been that way since the boy was born with an extra toe. Insurance had not covered the expense to have it removed, and the money had come from Brian Armstead’s pocket. On her death bed, Mrs. Armstead had still been apologizing for the inconvenience and taking the blame for producing a deformed baby.
Tyler checked his watch. “Right on time, Dad.”
“The boss should be here before his employees,” his father said over the phone. “Were you drinking again?”
Wine with Olivia was not “drinking,” and they’d only had one bottle between them. “Of course not. It was Wednesday.”
“Wednesday or Friday, doesn’t seem to matter to that wife of yours. Did you finish the report you took home? We need those projections.”
Tyler hadn’t finished the report. He’d been busy making love to his wife. “Dad, don’t talk about Livvy that way. Say what you want about me, but leave her alone.”
Silence met Tyler’s unusually courageous speech, and he imagined his father smoldering. He got weak in the knees when he tried to defend himself, but one word about Livvy brought out his inner beast. His wife deserved her father-in-law’s respect.
“Did you complete the reports?”
Tyler let it go. That was as much apology as he was going to get from his father unless he walked next door and punched him in the nose. In his father’s condition, such an act was proxy to murder, and Tyler wasn’t the murdering type. Like his mother had been, he was docile, retiring…except with Livvy. She brought him to life.
“I just need to enter a few numbers into the spreadsheet to get the totals. I’ll format after that and email to you before noon.”
His father hung up, and Tyler sighed as he set the receiver in the cradle. He immediately went to work, hitting the power on the laptop he’d taken home and promptly abandoned in his foyer.
Before leaving work that evening, his father summoned Tyler to review the report he’d emailed at noon.
“Are these accurate?” Brian asked.
“As accurate as projections can be.” He’d been preparing financial projections for the company for fifteen years, knew every in and out, every variable, every box to check and column to fill. He’d left nothing out.
“These show a decrease.”
“There’s already a decline. It was in the financial report I prepared last month,” Tyler said.
Tyler braced for his father’s inevitable censure. These losses would be his fault, either his overspending or pricing the product too low. The facts of the situation, detailed in his reports of the last year would not matter to his father. Brian Armstead needed someone to blame, and his son was a soft target.
“Rising material costs,” Tyler said. “Saturation of the market. We’re charging all the aircraft industry can stand. Plane sales are in a slump. Trickle down.”
“Then cuts have to be made.”
“We’ve made them. Workers’ wages and benefits can’t be touched, and safety is a must. We switched suppliers of steel sheet six months ago. It helped, but it’s not enough.”
“Then you’ve done something wrong. What good was sending you to college if you can’t develop an adequate marketing scheme for the company?”
Tyler dropped his eyes to his polished shoes, avoiding confrontation with his father, whose fleshy face was turning red. “It does no good to sell more if the profit:cost ratio is too small.”
It was basic business. Tyler had wanted to diversify away from aircraft by purchasing a new fabricating machine, but his father hadn’t wanted to take the risk. “We made a profit with the existing machines before you took over the financial end,” his father had said. A local market analysis for gas vents and chimney liners was still on his computer, but Tyler had let it rest.
“Then raise the prices, damn you, Tyler! Do I have to do all the thinking?”
Tyler dropped his chin. “The current economy won’t support the—”
“Don’t tell me what can’t be done!” The vein at his father’s temple pulsed, and Brian wiped sweat from his forehead with a paper towel.
“Dad,” Tyler said, raising his eyes. “Don’t get excited.”
His father stared, small eyes bright under thin, gray eyebrows. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Son? If I just dropped off the earth like Marge so you’d inherit what’s left of me after you’ve ruined the company.”
“No.” Tyler’s larynx bobbed. He hated when his father called his mother by her name as if she wasn’t Tyler’s mother. As for the rest, it wasn’t anything his father hadn’t said before.
His father leaned back in his chair, sighed, and mopped his forehead. “We’ll make another wage cut.”
“It can’t be done,” Tyler said. “Union.”
“You’re not Union,” his father said, jabbing his pudgy index finger toward Tyler. “It’s for the good of the company. Sometimes management has to take a hit.”
“Dad.” He swallowed and licked his lips. “I already make less than Grant.”
“Then get these numbers up, and you can pay yourself more.” His father peeled a yellow post-it from the pad on his desk and handed it to Tyler. “That’s the address of a pharmacy. My new prescription is ready. Pick that up on your way home and bring it with you in the morning.”
Tyler’s hand shook as he took the yellow square. Quickly, he stuffed the paper in his pocket to hide the tremor.
“Don’t forget,” his father said.
“I won’t.” Tyler drifted toward the exit, hoping this interview was at an end. His father shifted his eyes to the computer screen, and Tyler fled, careful not to slam the door.
Livvy was waiting in the bedroom. She’d spread a tablecloth on the bed and was serving macaroni and cheese, picnic-style. Candles glowed on the nightstand. Sometimes, after a trying day at work, she wasn’t inspired to cook, but Tyler wasn’t complaining. If she did nothing but share a sandwich with him, he was happy.
She had a talent for leaving work at her computer, disengaging from her phone to engage in him. He left his laptop in the hallway outside the bedroom door, but it wasn’t as easy to leave his mood behind.
As soon as she saw his face, she pursed her lips with worry. “Tyler, what happened? Come here, baby.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, spread her knees, and held out her hand. He pressed her cheek warm against his chest and laced his fingers in her hair, breathing her scent as it rose in sweet waves.
“Nothing new. Just work.”
“Is it Brian?”
“It’s always Dad, isn’t it?”
She looked up, her chin against his sternum, her eyes glowing in candlelight. “Tell me about it.”
He shook his head. “Dinner will get cold.”
“Then tell me what happened while we eat. I won’t stop bothering you until you do.”
Tyler sighed. He sat in boxers and socks, and she wore a t-shirt with nothing underneath. Side-by-side against the headboard, they dined on macaroni and cheese by candlelight while Tyler unburdened his heart.
“Is your father taking a cut?” Olivia asked.
Tyler averted his eyes. “Not that I know. I didn’t ask.”
“You’ll know when you prepare the report for next month, I suppose.”
“No. He doesn’t report his salary to me. An independent accountant prepares his taxes. His pay is included in the figure he gives me for his overhead.”
“His overhead? Separate from the factory?”
“Please, Livvy, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Olivia set her empty bowl aside and took Tyler’s, stacking them on the nightstand. She tossed her leg over his, and he closed his eyes, breathing deep as her musk rose from between her thighs. Instantly, he was at peace. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and feathered her fingers through the curly hairs on his chest.
“Change of subject then,” she said. “Did you go by the store? Is that why you were late?”
Tyler kissed the top of her head. “I had to go by to get Dad’s new pills.”
“Hm.” Olivia tried again to change the subject from Brian. “It’s Thursday and you know what happens on Thursday.”
“I make love to my wife?” he asked hopefully.
“Before or after we watch football?” Olivia grinned and turned to kiss his chest.
“Both.” Tyler rolled, pushing Olivia back on the pillows and pressed his hungry kiss to her softly parted lips. Her chest lifted and fell beneath him. Heat radiated from her body. Tyler closed his eyes and inhaled the earthy scent of her skin.
Excited and warm, she changed him, made him a man. He rubbed against her thigh, and she moaned while crushed to his lips. He couldn’t rip his boxers off fast enough, and she clawed at her shirt, yanking it over her head. Her breasts bounded free, and Tyler’s eyes nearly rolled in his head.
“Livvy, Livvy…,” he murmured and nuzzled her flesh.
Saturday morning, Tyler took a call in bed at five am. “Yes, this is Tyler Armstead. Yes, Brian Armstead’s my father.” Olivia stirred warm beside him. She rolled, draped her arm around Tyler’s waist and cuddled against his back. “I’ll be right there.” He swiped the call closed.
Dropping his head on the pillow, he passed his hand over his whiskered face and stared at the ceiling in the dark. Olivia wrapped her leg over his.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“It’s Dad,” Tyler said
“I heard that part. What’s he need now?”
“He doesn’t need anything, Liv. He’s dead.”
Olivia stopped trailing her fingers down Tyler’s stomach, where she’d been making a path to his short hairs. Tyler was frozen, then burning, flushed. He swept off the blankets, and Olivia sat as he rushed to find clothes.
“I have to go,” he said. “They want a relative to verify.”
“The hospital. Dad collapsed in his front yard. A neighbor saw his body.”
She turned on the bedside lamp. “Heart attack?”
“Wait for me.” Olivia jumped from bed. “I’m coming, too.”
“You don’t have to, Livvy. It won’t be pretty.”
She was slipping into jeans. “For better or worse. I’m coming with you.”
Brian Armstead’s body was still in the emergency room where the EMTs had brought him after responding to the call and finding a dead man. As Tyler looked down on his father’s fleshy, white face, he held Olivia’s hand. Or did she hold his?
Afterward, there were forms to sign. After that, an employee from a mortuary arrived to transport the body and schedule an appointment to plan funeral arrangements. At some point in the afternoon, Tyler found himself in a hospital waiting room still holding Olivia’s hand, and they were alone.
“We should go home and get something to eat,” Olivia said.
“I should go to work.”
“Is it?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
Olivia brushed the back of her hand across Tyler’s unshaven cheek. “We can go home, eat, and try to take a nap.”
They went by his father’s house first to make sure it was locked but didn’t go in. Olivia fried eggs, and Tyler buttered toast. He was surprised he was able to eat. Olivia washed dishes while he brushed his teeth, which he hadn’t done before rushing to the hospital before dawn.
Tyler shaved, flossed, used the john. As he flushed, he noticed a small, white tablet on the tank. Squinting at the pill pinched between his fingers, he looked for a mark and recognized the brand, his father’s new heart medicine.
As he’d been told to do, Tyler had delivered the pills to his father Friday morning. He hadn’t taken the pill vial from the paper package while at home and hadn’t noticed anything off before handing it over.
How important were his father’s pills? And what had he delivered? Tyler lifted the lid of the toilet seat, dropped the pill in, and flushed. He looked for more, perhaps on the floor. He checked behind the toilet, under the bathmat, and in the tub. The pills were tiny, might have spilled anywhere. That single pill, however it got there, seemed to be the only one.
“Tyler, are you alright?” His wife rapped lightly on the bathroom door.
He swung it open. Olivia’s forehead was furrowed with worry, which Tyler hated to see. “I’m fine. Just tired,” he said.
She held out her hand, led him to bed, and Tyler followed along. Together, they straightened the sheets, and Tyler stripped to boxers to catch up on missed sleep with his wife. Wearing a t-shirt, she cuddled under his arm against his chest. Her hair was soft, warm. He shrugged her close, kissed her head, and breathed her in.
She murmured, “I love you, Tyler.”
“I love you, too, Liv. Thank you.”