By Kate H. Koch
A blur of glass and color flashed past Ted’s eyes. He watched it move up, steadily higher and higher, until it came to a gentle stop at the sixth floor.
“Glass elevator,” the man sitting across from him mused as he watched it climb back down. “Classy.”
Ted offered no reply, tracing a finger across the thin grey lines of the lobby table beside him. Smooth, cold, hard. He’d always liked marble.
“Classy,” the man repeated. “Don’t you think?”
“Loosen your tie.”
“Loosen your tie, Ripley.” Ted hissed the words through gritted teeth. “If we go in there and you look desperate, you’ll blow it.”
“I’m not desp—”
“When you’ve got a pitch like this, you don’t grovel,” Ted looked up at his partner, watching the kid fidget with the cuffs of his shirt. He sighed, and continued more gently. “Look, I get it—I was nervous during my first pitch, too. But you have to be firm in there. Remember, this isn’t just any million-dollar idea.”
Ripley smiled back sheepishly.
Ted scanned the crowded atrium as he spoke. His partner was right, the headquarters of Apophis Incorporated were designed to impress. Light poured in from the tall windows high above him, bouncing off the smooth white floors and against the polished stone walls. It jumped into every nook and cranny, daring any visitor to find an imperfection. His eyes settled on a large plaque against the back wall:
His mind wandered to Tori. She’ll get over it.
Ted settled deeper into the velvet lobby chair. “We’re not some door-to-door salesmen, Ripley,” he continued. “That’s one thing I need you to remember. We belong here, so you have to act like it.”
Ripley tugged at his collar. “Ok,” he stammered. “Ok—but, if that’s the case, shouldn’t we look professional? They all do.” He gestured toward a group of businessmen milling around the lobby’s entrance. “I mean, it’s—it’s a pitch, Ted. And I get that it’s your idea, and that you’ve done this before. But, they’re expecting professionals, aren’t they?”
“They’re expecting to be disappointed.” Ted reached across and hooked his fingers around the knot of Ripley’s tie. “They’re expecting something they’ve seen before. But that’s not us, Ripley. I told you on the train, stop trying to amaze them. They’re here to be amazed. This—” he yanked on the tie, leaving it to fall lazily over Ripley’s chest. “This thing we’ve got is going to provide that amazement.” He sat back with a satisfied grin. “We’re doing them a favor, and they need to see it that way.”
Ripley fussed with his loose tie and said nothing for several moments. At last, he mumbled about the time.
Ted gave no indication that he’d heard the kid. On days like this –days when image mattered—Ripley could be infuriating.
To be fair, he was likable enough. And useful, too. The resume he’d given Ted certainly proved that. A certified wunderkind, the kid had graduated top of his class the previous year with degrees in computer science, finance, and statistics—all before he’d turned twenty-two. He could code in his sleep if he wanted to. And he never said no.
Ted needed a decent business partner this time around, and Ripley certainly fit the bill. Even so, he couldn’t abide the kid’s insistence on shuffling around with his tail between his legs, an unspoken apology always hovering over his lips. The thought of being lumped in with someone like that made Ted’s skin crawl.
But it would be worth it, in the end.
“Did you bring the papers?”
“Yes,” Ripley replied.
“Well, if they sign it, they’re locked in. But I added a couple of clauses in there that’ll make our lives easier.”
Ripley rifled through the papers in his briefcase. “Like, I—where is it? Oh—like if they sign, they work exclusively with us, but we can sell the—”
“Don’t say it.”
“Right, sorry. Right. We can sell it to anyone. Complete control on our end.”
Ted leaned back, a broad smile spreading across his lips. “Not bad.”
“You know, my brother and I were talking last night. He actually reminded me of one of those old wives’ tales about dreams.” Ted shot him a warning look, and Ripley quickly added, “No, I didn’t tell him about this thing. Totally unrelated. But he told me that some people say that if you die in a dream, you don’t wake up. That’s wild, right?”
Ted raised his eyebrows. “Wild.”
Ted watched Ripley’s eyes dart around the room, searching for any excuse to get going.
“Let’s head up now.” The plea tumbled out of Ripley’s mouth. “Floor fourteen, right?”
Ted made a show of glancing down at his watch. “We’ve got a few minutes.”
Ripley gave a half-hearted laugh. “Come on, Ted. Please.”
Ted held his partner’s gaze for a moment. And then, with feigned exasperation, he made his way towards the elevator.
The receptionist on the fourteenth floor had thick dark hair that fell elegantly over her narrow shoulders. She looked young, twenty-two, maybe, and smiled warmly as the pair exited the elevator. Ted smiled back, nudging Ripley. From the corner of his eye, he saw the kid’s face go red.
“Ted Brace and Dennis Ripley.” Ted knew better than to speak too formally. “We’re here to see the investment team.”
“I’ll let them know you’re here.” The girl stood. “Is there anything I get you while you wait?”
“We’re fine, thank you,” said Ripley.
Ted glanced at his partner, who absentmindedly tightened his tie as he spoke. When the girl moved out of sight he reached over and tugged at it again. “I told you to loosen that damn thing. We’re doing them a favor. Remember that.” He paused for a moment before adding, “You can tighten it before you ask her to meet you for a drink.”
Ripley gave a nervous laugh.
“I’m serious, kid.” Ted gave his partner a gentle shove. “I know that look. I had it when I met Tori, too.”
The blush crawled back up Ripley’s cheeks, and he looked relieved when the receptionist returned.
“Mr. Brace, Mr. Ripley, they’re ready for you. If you’ll just follow me…”
They followed the girl –who quickly introduced herself as Ivy LeMay— down a wide hallway. The walls here were glass, too, but thick and textured for privacy. Ted could see the shapes of desks and the blurry figures hunched over them. Ripley started to fidget again.
“It looks like they’ve got the room booked for you two for the next hour,” Ivy began. “That’s typically a good sign, Mr. Brace.”
“Oh, I doubt we’ll need the whole hour, Ivy. But Ripley and I appreciate the sentiment.” Ted made sure to linger on his partner’s name.
Ivy smiled at Ripley. “You’re welcome.”
The trio turned a corner and faced the entrance to the conference area; another glass room, filled with other blurry shapes.
Inside, three people sat around a sleek wooden table. Ted and Ripley shook hands with each of them. Ms. Maria Harper, tall and severe, Mr. Ryan Kelley, well-groomed with a permanent scowl, and the real prize: Mr. Amos Bell, whose net worth hovered somewhere around $108 billion.
Ted felt his heart beating against his chest.
Ryan spoke first.
“Well, gentlemen, we’ve heard a lot about you, and you’ve piqued our interest. Maria here says you’ve promised us ‘the pitch of our dreams.”
Ted chuckled obligingly. “Maria’s not wrong about that. What I’ve got here really is the stuff of dreams, especially for an advertiser like Apophis.” Still standing, he placed his hands on the back of his chair. “But I could stand here and talk at you for the next hour, or—”
Ryan raised his eyebrows. “Or…?”
Ted hoisted a speaker onto the table. “Or, Ryan, I can show you how to level your competition to the ground.” He looked around the room expectantly. “I just need one of you to take a sleeping pill for me.”
“Why?” Ryan look on warily, leaning back in his chair.
“That’ll spoil it.” Ted winked. “And everyone here knows that any investment requires a little risk.”
None of them offered any reply. From the corner of his eye, Ted could see Ripley wiping beads of sweat from his forehead.
“We could get someone from the lobby.” Ripley’s voice shook as he spoke. “Offer them $100 to come up and test it out?”
Maria smiled. “Sure, that s—”
Ryan leaned forward. “Come on. Anyone down there could be working with you for all we know.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, but if that’s the best you can do…”
“Why don’t you test it for us, Mr. Kelley?” Bell looked up at last. “I think everyone here would agree that you owe us a favor after your little stock experiment last year.”
Ryan’s face went white.
“Besides,” Bell continued, searching Ted’s eyes for any hesitation, “if this thing works, then you have nothing to worry about.”
Unfazed, Ted held out his hand to Ripley, who offered him a small bottle of pills from his pocket.
Bell held up a hand. “No. Let’s use one of ours.” He turned to Maria. “Miss Harper, didn’t you just finish a campaign for a fast-acting sleeping pill?”
“The one for plane rides?” Maria asked, unzipping her bag. “I might have some on me now.”
In a moment, she slid a pill across the table to Ryan.
Bell smiled. “Good luck.”
Maria was right, the sleeping pill worked quickly. Soon, Ryan slumped forward over the conference table, snoring lightly. Ivy tip-toed around him, placing three cans of soda in the center of the table. In his corner, Ripley had set up his laptop and a small speaker.
“Orange, cherry, and cola—perfect.” Maria turned to Ivy. “That’s all, thank you.”
As Ivy moved towards the door, Ted cast a glance at Ripley to see the color rising in his face again.
“Alright,” Ted settled into his chair. “I just need one more thing from the two of you: What would you like Ryan to want?”
Maria raised her eyebrows. “‘To want’?”
Bell leaned back in his chair. “The cola.”
“Good luck,” Maria looked down at her sleeping colleague. “He hates those.”
“Perfect.” The corners of Ted’s mouth twitched. “Ripley?”
Ripley opened his laptop, quickly typing strings of code. Ted turned back to the investors.
“In a few minutes, I’ll be in Ryan’s head. I can make him dream about anything, anything, and that means I can make her want anything, too. With the Sandman Update.”
“You’ve danced around this for a while now,” Maria replied. “What exactly is the Sandman? I think I speak for everyone here when I say this isn’t going forward until we get some information.”
Ripley carefully slid a stack of papers across the table to Ted. He passed these around without looking at them. This part – the graphs and numbers— had always bored him—it was why he’d scouted Ripley form MIT anyway.
“Ripley, want to tell them how it works?”
“The Sandman opens up new avenues for advertising through soundwaves and sleep cycles.” Ripley tightened his tie. “By installing this update in the software of your phones, electronic home assistants, computers, et cetera, Sandman will release a soft hum, and those soundwaves interrupt the sleep cycles of anyone within 30 feet of it.”.
Maria flipped through the pages before her. “What do you mean by sleep cycles?”
“Sleep stages, I should say.” Ripley corrected himself. “The hum gently interrupts stages I-IV until it permeates the target’s REM stage.”
Bell pushed his papers to the side. “Once you get to REM sleep, Mr. Ripley, that’s when you get into the dreams, I take it?”
Maria narrowed her eyes. “But how do you control the dream? You’ve interrupted the stages, then what?”
“Then we plug in a string of code that manipulates the soundwaves to produce a specific effect in the target’s brain.”
“It’s like writing a script,” Ted jumped back in. “That code changes the way the hum sounds. It adds pauses, changes pitch… the code basically creates a unique pattern for the hum to follow.”
“And that controls the dreams?” asked Bell.
Ted smiled. “A good line of code can do just about anything.”
Silence fell over the room.
At last, Bell spoke. “Apophis is successful because we don’t tolerate mistakes.” He paused, straightening up in his chair. “You’ve certainly intrigued me, but I like to know that I’ll see a quick return on my investment. If you can’t promise that for me in eighteen months, then I don’t see a future for you here.”
Ted sighed. “I can’t promise one in eighteen months.”
“But I can promise one in eighteen minutes.” Ted bit his cheek. “Let’s get things started before that sleep aid wears off, though.” Ted jerked his head in Ripley’s direction. “Feel free to look through those papers while we wait for Ryan here, but now…”
Ripley switched the speaker on. For minutes, no one dared to speak as Ryan’s eyes flickered in his slumber.
“One last thing.” Maria turned to Ted. “Have you thought about the FCC? Lawsuits? Competitors? This thing won’t do us any good if we can’t get it off the ground.”
“Why?” Ted asked. “There’s no legal precedent for something like this. There’s no hacking, no theft…”
“That’s true,” she replied. “Dreams are uncharted territory, and that lack of legal precedent will make outside litigation difficult, to say the least.”
“I think,” Bell began, toying with his pencil again, “that we’re being shortsighted. You boys know the story of David and Goliath, yes?”
Ripley nodded. Ted Raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
“Well,” Bell continued, “it’s always told as a feel-good story, but there’s much more to it than that—it’s a cautionary tale about poor planning, when you think about it. If a giant worries about every little thing in its way, it dies. But, if you crush David before he can grab a slingshot, you have nothing to worry about at all.”
Bell leaned back in his chair. “And that’s one of the benefits of being a giant like Apophis: we get to keep things pretty contained. If we keep everything in house, the FCC won’t know to grab their slingshots. Do we understand each other?”
A smile spread across Ted’s lips. “Absolutely.”
Ryan stirred in his sleep. Maria gave him a sharp nudge. He blinked in the light, the embarrassment and annoyance clear on his face. With a grunt, he reached across the table for the cola and drained it in one gulp.
Bell laughed and extended a hand to Ted. “Well then, let’s make a deal.”
The brassy numbers on door 436 glared at Ted as he approached. They stuck out against the white paint behind them, gleaming obstinately yellow in the low light. Ted shoved the key into the scratched lock, feeling his heart lift a little as he did so. His days here were numbered. Finally.
Before he could turn the knob, his phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Ted, hey” Ripley said, breathless. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this whole thing.”
“Stop,” Ted fought to hide his annoyance. “I told you when they signed that contract, we have nothing to worry about.”
“I know,” Ripley persisted. “But everything in there—no FCC, Goliath—”
“Ripley, I don’t think you understand the gift that’s been handed to us.” Ted turned away from the door and lowered his voice. “Forget the FCC, forget the legal bullshit. You’re not just in a new tax bracket, kid. You’re in a new life. Go call that secretary and celebrate.”
He ended the call before Ripley could reply.
Tori Brace stood with a wooden spoon over a tall soup pot, and didn’t notice her husband walk in. Ted had called and told her not to expect him until late tonight.
She spun around. “Hey! Where were you today?” Short, mousy brown curls framed Tori’s face. She had small, bright blue eyes that disappeared when she smiled, but tonight they searched Ted’s face with concern. “You didn’t say when you called.”
Ted grabbed her in his arms and kissed her. “What do you think of this place?”
She blinked. “What?”
“What do you think of this place?” Ted gestured around the cluttered studio apartment. “What do you think of it, really?”
“Ted, if this is another—”
Ted held a hand up to silence her. “Humor me.”
Tori bit her lip. “You know how I feel about it. This place works for us. We don’t need another—”
“This place worked for us. But who wants to live here?” Ted grabbed his wife’s shoulders, guiding her towards the kitchen cabinets on the opposite wall. “You know what’s behind the bowls in there?”
Ted opened the cabinet door and playfully lifted one of Tori’s hands up towards the bowls. “You know what’s back there, right?” He watched his wife’s fingers tremble slightly. She’d glued on a new set of fake nails, baby pink. Ted inched them closer to the shadowy corner of the cabinet. “Well, Tori?”
She tried to pull her arm away, but Ted held it firm. “Ted, I don’t want to do this.”
He pushed her hand closer, imagining the eight long, spindly legs so near her fingers. “Answer me.”
“Spiders. Ok? A hundred tiny, disgusting spiders.” He didn’t let go. “Please, Ted.”
Ted dropped Tori’s hand, just a breath away from the cobwebs. “Exactly. Spiders. Flies, roaches, who knows what else? You hate it here. Admit it.”
She moved back to the pot on the stove. “You know I hate when you do that.”
Ted followed her. “Come on, you know I wouldn’t actually let a spider get you. But you can’t lie. This place is awful and we both know it.”
“Fine.” Tori turned to face him. “But we can’t afford another move. We talked about this.”
Ted wrapped his arms around his wife. Lowering his voice, he moved his lips towards her ear. “But we can.”
Tori squirmed, exasperated. “Ted, I’m not doing this aga—”
“I had a meeting today, Tori. A big one.”
His wife went still. “What kind of meeting?”
“I pitched the dream idea. We’re calling it the Sandman.” Ted hugged her closer. “They bought it.”
“The dream idea? My idea?”
“The dream idea.”
Tori spoke slowly, cautiously. “Ted, I came up with that idea in school. I told you about it when we started dating.”
“Tori,” Ted hugged her closer. “It doesn’t matter—”
Tori broke free and turned around. “Yes, it does. It was my idea, and we made a deal. I know you remember, Ted.”
He did remember. They’d been the two poor kids in business school with stars in their eyes. He remembered lying in bed with Tori, promising never to become one of those miserable couples who crossed each other at every turn.
“I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine.”
But when he made that promise, Ted didn’t think he’d still be living in a shitty apartment with brassy yellow numbers on the door.
“Try to think about it logically. These guys were old school. Old boys club-types. The idea had a better shot if Ripley and I pitched it alone.”
“You took your assistant?”
“He’s not an assistant,” Ted interjected.“He’s the one who writes the code for it.”
“Whatever he does, you took him and not me?” Tori stared back at him, gripping her spoon like a weapon.
Ted stretched out his arms. “Babe, I already told you why. Think about it: you already tried to pitch this, and it fell flat. I mean, you said so yourself.”
“Yes,” she responded slowly. “But that was one bad pitch. One.”
“And you haven’t pitched it anywhere else since.” Ted smiled back with sympathy. “And I get it –I know how much those rejections hurt. I just didn’t want to see this great idea die because of one bad pitch.”
Ted watched Tori’s anger soften, but she continued, “Still, you didn’t even think to tell me? Why couldn’t I have been in the room at least?”
“I should have told you. I messed up” He watched the corners of his wife’s mouth tremble. “It was a great idea—something you get once in a lifetime; I couldn’t just let that go. But you’re my partner in the business now, so the pitch doesn’t matter.”
Tori turned back to the stove. “I’d better be.”
Ted pulled his wife into his chest again. “Of course you are. And you know what? We’ve already got a pretty successful thing going. They paid big money for it.”
“They offered ninety million.”
Tori blinked. “Ninety million? Ninety million dollars?”
“Ninety million dollars.”
Tori leaned her head against her husband’s shoulder. Neither of them spoke for several minutes. At last, she asked “What does that mean for us?”
Ted’s lips curled into a smile. “It means that you won’t have to live in a dump with spiders in the cabinets. With yellow wallpaper that smells like piss. It means you don’t have to buy shitty plastic nails again.” He put his knuckle under her chin to raise her face up to his.
“It means that I’ve got your back.”
A passerby likely wouldn’t look twice at the headquarters of Sandman Industries. Ted had resisted the urge to roost in a glitzy high-rise; he knew discretion would benefit him in the end, so he and Ripley had set up shop in squat building at a strip mall on the edge of town. The old GNC next door had been empty for years, much to Ted’s delight. No nosy neighbors.
Ted looked over the list of new clients before leaving for the night. He had just finished writing the dream code for a new prescription. In a few hours, that obscure blood pressure pill would be a household name.
Ripley sat next to him, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Should we add something about the side effects before we send this one off?”
Ted didn’t bother to look up. “Why?”
“Don’t we have to? We don’t want someone to go in without underst—”
Ted slapped Ripley on the back. “Go home, kid. You’ve done your time.” Ripley looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. “We don’t need to add anything—it’s a dream, not a TV commercial. We can do whatever we want.”
“But don’t we owe it—”
“Go home, kid.” Ted threw his jacket over his shoulder. “Unwind with Ivy and don’t lose sleep over this.”
Ripley smiled. “Maybe you’re right.”
Ted laughed. “Of course I am. How long has it been now? Two years?”
“Looks like I was right about a couple of things,” Ted said with a wink.
Ripley stood and cleared his desk. “She’s been asking when we can get dinner with you and Tori again. How is Tori?”
Ted sighed. “Good question, I haven’t looked at the calendar. I’ll let you know.”
“How is Tori?” Ripley repeated.
Ted chuckled and moved towards the door. “She’s fine kid. The way you always hound me about her, I’d think you were interested if I didn’t know any better.”
Tori smiled as her husband sauntered into the brightly lit apartment. She stood at the tall window in the living room. Life on Fifth Avenue continued busily below her.
Ted tossed his jacket over the leather sofa and stopped to admire his wife’s silhouette against the setting sun. She’d started dressing better after the first Sandman check came in, he thought, and he was pleased to see that she’d used some of the money to tame that frizzy hair. As he approached, Ted reached out an arm and twirled Tori around in full view of the window before kissing her neck.
“Ted,” she pushed away slightly. “You’re going to put on a show for the neighbors.”
“I don’t mind.”
She extracted herself from his grip. “You hate PDA.”
He shrugged. “Not anymore.”
Tori raised her eyebrows. “Why’s that?”
Ted could sense the gears turning in her head; he could almost see the word secretary flashing across her mind.
“Do I need a reason?”
“Does the reason wear stilettos?”
Ted laughed. “Maybe you should get yourself a pair.” He thought about whether this little game would be worth the fight tonight. As Tori’s hands started to shake, he added, “Come on, you know it’s not that. I got a big new client today. Guess it put me in a good mood, but if you’re…” His voice trailed off.
Tori’s eyes went wide, “Oh God, I’m sorry Ted. Honey, I’m sorry. I always do this.”
“It’s fine.” He poured himself a drink and settled in the kitchen.
“Ted…” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I just haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
Ted knew why, but he raised the drink to his lips to hide his smile. He’d been careful—hiding the speaker, wearing discreet earplugs to bed. Maybe the sleep wasn’t great, but she hadn’t asked him for a favor in weeks.
“Who’s the new client?” Tori pressed.
“Pfischer. The pharmaceutical company.”
“Nice!” Ted could hear the relief in her voice. “What are they selling now?”
“I can’t exactly say.” He took another drink. “The CEO had me sign a bunch of NDAs before we got started.”
Tori traced her fingers around the nape of her husband’s neck. “Not even with your business partner?”
Ted felt her plastic nails through the fabric of his shirt. Dammit, Tori, do you always have to look cheap?
“Not even you.” Ted turned and took her hand in his. “You’re still wearing these, huh?”
Tori pulled her hand away. “Ted, I want more out of this company.”
“You own half of it.”
“But it doesn’t feel like it.” Her voice was gentle. “It was my idea, Ted. I need more of a say.”
Ted took another drink.
Tori sat down beside him. “I’m serious. You know I’d be good. When it comes down to it, we have the same qualifications. Same school, same grades…”
Ted rolled his eyes. “And yet you still interrogate me like I’ve got a mistress for every day of the week when I get home. Do you really think you have the nerve to sit in contract meetings all day? They don’t tip-toe around your feelings, babe.”
Tori balled her hands into fists to keep them from shaking. “Give me a chance to prove that I ‘have the nerve,’ then. I have a right to be there.”
“We both know you can’t handle it.”
Ted drew his wallet out of his pocket. “Yeah? Then you might as well make yourself stand out.” He threw his credit card onto the counter. “Buy yourself a pair of stilettos.”
With that, Ted stood, drained his glass, and moved toward the bedroom. He’d almost reached the door when he heard his wife’s voice.
“I can’t do this anymore, Ted.”
He turned to face the kitchen. “Do what? Whine about not having to—”
“I want a divorce.”
Ted wandered back to Tori’s side.
“This hasn’t been working for a while. We both know it, Ted.”
“So you want a divorce? A messy, legal, nightmare divorce?”
“You want to lose this lifestyle? You want to go back to shitty spider cabinets?”
“I’m not losing anything. I own half this business.”
Ted felt his face go white. “Well, I mean—”
“My name is on all the documents. I know it is, I was there.” Tori turned to face her husband. “It was my idea, Ted. My idea. You don’t even know how I came up with it.” She paused for a moment, before adding. “You and I both know I could ask for a lot more than half.”
“Then you’re asking for half?” Ted asked.
Tori locked her eyes on the back wall. “I’m asking for half, and I’m going out to find more clients. We’ll split the business, and from here on out I’m keeping anyone else I sign on. You can do the same.”
Ted reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “Honey, I told you, it’s an old boy’s—”
“I don’t care.” She shrugged him off. “That’s my proposal. You can take it, or I can go for the whole business.”
She stood. “You decide, Ted.”
But the apartment door slammed shut before Ted could finish his thought.
A week later, Ted stood over the kitchen counter. Watching the remnants of a strong drink settle in his glass.
“What are you doing here?” Tori asked from the doorway.
“I think we need to talk about this.” Ted poured himself another glass of scotch in the kitchen. Ripley’s words echoed in his ears: “Some people say if you d—”
“It’s been a week, Ted.” Tori’s words pulled him back to reality. She hadn’t moved from the doorway. “I told you I’d give it a week but I’m not changing my mind. We don’t need to make this difficult.”
Ted pulled out a chair and motioned for her to sit. “I know. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about this.”
Tori took the seat next to her husband. Wary. “I won’t be vindictive.”
“Then what’s to talk about?” Tori pressed. “I’m filing tomorrow. You can be there if you want.”
“I told Ripley not to come in today.” Ted’s words muddled into one another as he slumped over the kitchen island, his fingers still firm around the scotch glass.
“What does that—Ted, what do you want to talk about?”
“He couldn’t be there—” Ted caught himself. “You wanted to go to Hawaii.”
“You talked about that when we met.”
“Used to look up pictures of the beach. Remember that?” Ted swallowed. “Used to say you wanted to fall asleep under a blue and white umbrella.”
Tori closed her eyes. “I did.”
“But we never went. Why didn’t we go?” He looked directly at Tori now, her face swimming in his eyes. “We had the money.”
“You’re not making this any easier, Ted.”
“Why didn’t we go?”
Tori turned to face her husband. “Because I wanted us to have a reason to go. I wanted it to be special.”
“What did you want to talk about, Ted?”
“I can’t—I can’t do this if you hate me. I had to be here to make sure you don’t hate me.”
Tori put her hand on his. “I don’t hate you, Ted.” Her tone was soft. “We just aren’t good for each other anymore.”
Ted drained his glass. “That’s true.”
“Should I call someone? Ripley?”
Ted stood quickly and his head spun. “No—don’t call Ripley. I’m leaving.”
“Goodbye, Ted.” Tori wiped her eyes.
“Goodbye.” He paused.
Ted waited until the lock clicked behind him. After a few moments, he closed his eyes and sent the code.
He’d waited until the next morning before he called the police. When the paramedics arrived, Ted tried to shake his wife awake, explaining that she had been completely fine the night before.
The funeral had been hard, but the wake was worse. In the receiving line, he took pulls from a flask between shaking hands. He didn’t need to be sober, everything the mourners said blurred together anyway.
“I’m so sorry Ted.”
“Dying in your sleep. If it has to happen, that’s the way to go.”
“At least it was peaceful.”
That part was true. Ted had paid special attention to Tori’s comfort as he’d written the code. Calm, white sand beaches, a warm, comfortable tide to carry her out to sea. He couldn’t think of a better way to die in a dream.
Eventually, a familiar couple shuffled up to him.
“Ted,” Ivy pulled him into a hug. “I’m so sorry. Tori was—I don’t even have a word for her. She was incredible.”
“Thanks, Ivy.” He replied, before taking another pull.
“She was like an older sister to me,” Ivy continued. “Just a brilliant mind, and so kind.”
“That’s true,” Ted replied, blankly.
“I’m sorry, Ted.” Ripley looked at him with bloodshot eyes. “I know what a loss this is. There will never be anyone like Tori.”
“Exactly,” said Ivy. “She was one of a kind.”
“She was,” Ted replied, taking care not to slur his words. “She was. Ripley, I’m going to stay out of the office for a while.”
“Yes.” Ivy spoke for him. “Yes, Ripley will take care of everything. And I’ll even come in to help –I mean, I already understand how it affects people, anyway.”
Ripley threw his arms around Ted, who stumbled under the embrace.
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks kid,” Ted whispered, taking a long pull as he watched the couple walk away.
Back in the apartment, Ted sat on the edge of the sofa, watching the ice cubes crash into each other as he swirled them around with the dregs in his glass. He knew eventually he’d have to enter the bedroom –whether to sell the bed or gather his belongings—but he couldn’t face it yet.
Besides, some part of him welcomed the sore neck and stiff muscles he’d get after sleeping here. Maybe if he did enough penance here, he wouldn’t feel sick when he saw Tori’s hairpin, or a box of her fake nails.
Ted’s phone buzzed next to him. Ripley’s name flashed across the screen.
NEW ACCOUNT? WHAT’S THE “HAWAII” CODE?
Even in his stupor, Ted felt his heart drop. He rubbed his eyes before replying:
DON’T REMEMBER. DON’T WORRY. PROBABLY TOOK CARE OF IT.
Before he had time to set the phone on the nightstand, it buzzed again.
OK. I’LL HAVE IVY FILE IT.
A pause, and then:
ANY IDEA WHAT KIND OF PLACE IT WAS? COMPANY? INDIVIDUAL? JUST SO I KNOW HOW TO FILE THE CODE.
Would Ripley piece it together? He shook the thought from his head. He’d been careful. No one would know.
IGNORE IT. IT CAN WAIT. GO HOME.
Ted tossed the phone on the couch and ambled into the shower, desperate to scrub the sweat and guilt from his skin.
A loud rap at the door jolted Ted awake. He looked over at the clock on the mantle.
Ted closed his eyes. They’ll leave.
Another rap, and then another. Ted swore and pulled himself up from the sofa.
Ripley stood in the doorway, holding a bottle of wine. “Ted,” he beamed at him.
Ted stared, bewildered.
The kid stumbled in. “I brought a bottle.” He held up the wine. “Thought we could celebrate a little.”
Ted rubbed his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Celebrating, Ted. We’re celebrating.” Ripley wandered into the kitchen and began searching for a corkscrew.
Ted followed. “Celebrating what?”
Ripley wrenched the cork out from the bottle. “Tori’s life. Get some glasses.”
“Glasses. Wine glasses.”
Ted pulled two down from the cabinet while Ripley sloshed the wine over them. It glugged and splashed, speckling the dark drops all across the marble counter.
“Raise a glass,” Ripley commanded, “to an incredible woman. Tori was one of a kind.”
“Kid, what the hell do you—” Ted tried to protest, but Ripley was already shoving the glass into his hand.
“We’re celebrating Tori’s life, Ted. It’s what people do.” Ripley smiled at him with wild eyes. “We owe it to her, to honor her memory.”
“I’m really not in the mood.”
He met Ripley’s gaze. Did he know?
Ted put the glass to his lips, draining it. The minute it touched the counter, Ripley was pouring again.
“It must be hard,” Ripley continued. “I know what she meant to you.”
Ted drained the next glass. “She meant a lot.” Ripley’s face blurred as he looked back at him. The only things in focus were those eyes, wide and bloodshot.
“You know how much she meant to me?” Ted asked.
“Of course I do,” Ripley responded, already gathering the glasses for another pour. “It was easy to see why you fell for her.”
Ted smiled. Relieved.
“Anyone would fall for her,” Ripley continued. “We should focus on the happy times you two had. I remember the first time the two of you came out with Ivy and me.”
“The Hibachi bar,” Ted pulled his glass towards him, spilling most of it over his shirt. “We talked about when we knew each other in college.”
“Yes,” Ripley’s voice sounded more distant. “Ivy thought that was adorable.”
Ted rested his head against the marble countertop. “It was.”
“And you two talked about all those big dreams you had.” Ripley laughed hysterically. “Remember? You said you wanted to make a million dollars.”
“Mhmm,” Ted nodded his head slightly.
“And Ivy loved Tori’s—she was just telling me about it. Those two talked about how badly Tori wanted to see Hawaii. Do you remember that, Ted?”
Ted was hardly listening now, laboring just to keep his eyes open.
“We were just talking about it, before I got here.” A smile stretched across Ripley’s face, pulling back his ruddy cheeks. “You were right, Ivy’s pretty great—observant, at least. But hey, we’re drinking for Tori, not my girl. We need some music. Where’s your speaker?”
Ted jerked his head towards the living room.
The lyrics soon floated into the kitchen.
I’ve just closed my eyes again…
“You like Gary Wright? Dream Weaver?” Ripley called, but Ted had had enough. His head ached, and the marble felt so smooth and cold. He didn’t even mind the wet wine spots against his skin. It would be so nice to sleep here, so easy…
Ted hardly registered the click as his apartment door swung shut, nor soft hum from the living room, fainter than his own measured breathing. As it rose, he became aware of how heavy his body was, how it seemed to be pulling itself towards the ground. It had been a long day, an awful day. His muscled screamed out for rest.
That hum was so sweet, so soothing. Where had he heard it before?
Ted rested his head against the marble. Tori had never liked it. I bet she’d have gotten rid of it after she left. Ted felt his eyes droop. I bet she’d still wear those cheap nails, too.
He succumbed to sleep before the Sandman’s hum hit its crescendo.
Ted awoke to the sound of rain. Not heavy, but enough to ruin a nice pair of shoes.
Perfect. Ted groaned and stretched his arms, slowly easing himself up from his chair. The clock across the room read 10:43. Ted looked around. Shards of glass glittered across the kitchen floor.
Ripley, he thought. Too drunk to clean up.
As Ted stumbled around the kitchen to sweep up, he caught a glimpse of a soft blue glow on his right. He turned towards it, watching the light ebb and flow under the bedroom door.
Until then, Ted hadn’t registered the pounding in his own head. He sighed. What could he expect after last night?
The light grew more intense.
What did I leave on in there? Ted rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
As he made his way towards the bedroom, the glow stretched farther across the floor. When Ted closed his fingers around the doorknob, he heard seagulls in the distance.
The door flung open, and Ted stumbled onto a beach. The sand burned white hot beneath him. A short distance ahead, he saw a woman resting under a blue and white umbrella.
“I’ve got your back,” she called to him, not bothering to turn around.
“You’ve got mine.”
“Tori, I’m sorry.” Ted tried to walk towards his wife, to get away from the thick, stinging sand. He felt his legs sinking deeper in with every step. “Tori, please. I’m so sorry.”
“I’ve got your back.”
Clear blue waves began to break against the shore. Each reaching slightly farther than the last.
Ted looked down to see that the sand had reached his waist. In the distance, the sun began to set against the horizon. The waves pushed closer and closer to Ted.
“Tori—” the hot sand had swallowed his torso now. “Please.”
“You’ve got mine.”
Kate H. Koch has synesthesia, which means every sound flashes as a color before her eyes. Her vivid condition inspires her to create dark, colorful writing, and this has helped her during her time as a graduate student at Harvard Extension School, where she is pursuing an ALM degree in Creative Writing and Literature. You can find Kate’s work in Corvid Queen Magazine, Flora Fiction, The Metaworker Literary Magazine, Club Plum, BOMBFIRE, Cholla Needles, and Z Publishing House’s Minnesota’s Best Emerging Poets of 2019: An Anthology, as well as a script for ESPN and poetry forthcoming in Belle Ombre Literary Journal. You can also find her writing on her website: katehkoch.com.