So without further adieu, here is Chapter One of I Have A Secret:
Doug Ward stood on the ship’s deck and gazed across the calm waves of an evening sea. The cool ocean breeze brushed past his face and clung to it like a halo of mist, but he didn’t seem to notice. The scotch in his hand was his fifth of the night, or the sixth or seventh—he couldn’t remember. Most nights he drank until he passed out, and tonight would be no exception. He’d drink himself into oblivion if it meant never having to hear another one of his classmates sing the karaoke version of M.C. Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This.
It had been twenty years since someone called him “Douggie”, but tonight he’d heard it shouted out at least fifty times. Maybe more. All he wanted was to get away from it, so he left the crowd at the costume party behind to sing their hearts out while he pondered the long list of life’s regrets in solitude. Rounding out the top five was his decision to take the cruise in the first place. But there was little he could do about that now. Just two more days, he thought to himself, and this trip will be all over.
Doug’s memories of high school had faded through the years until he didn’t remember much of anything. It all seemed like the blur of someone else’s life, like the experiences he recalled weren’t really his anymore. He had flashes of memories here and there, but only one that was solid enough to stand the test of time. And that was the one he’d always tried to forget, but no amount of alcohol would ever drown it out. Not completely.
Often times Doug thought about what he’d change if he could go back in time and do it all over again. He envisioned himself at the fork in the road and what that road would have been like had he chosen to go in the other direction. Maybe then he wouldn’t have gone through life with all the nightmares that plagued him at night, or the secrets that gnawed at his insides like a thief in the darkness trying to find his way out of the black fog that surrounded him on all sides.
“There you are,” a voice said behind him.
Doug rotated his body around and faced Trista, his wife. She looked exquisite in her black satin vampire gown that hugged every curve of her petite frame. Her cocoa-colored hair fell in loose curls around her shoulders, and her lips were stained the perfect shade of red. It didn’t matter how many years had come and gone since they’d married, she still remained the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“I’m sorry, honey. I just needed a moment alone,” he said.
“Everyone is looking for you,” she said. “They want to know what happened to the life of the party.”
He shook his head.
“You know I haven’t been worthy of that title for a very long time.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“You can’t help how people remember you Mr. Prom King,” she said. “And I thought you should know your queen is getting lonely in there without you.”
Doug managed to crack a smile. He hated to disappoint her. “Just give me a few more minutes, okay? And then I’ll come in.”
Trista wrapped her arms around him and whispered, “I’ll be waiting,” and then she brushed her lips across his and turned and went back inside.
Doug winced when she touched him. Not because her affections were unwanted, but because he knew he’d let her down over the years. He hadn’t lived up to the man he should have been—not as a husband, a father, any of it. And yet she stayed while he wasted away. He knew he didn’t deserve her, and that made him feel even worse.
So many times Doug tried to pick himself up again, for his wife and their kids. But no matter how many twelve step programs he went to, it always ended with his head staring down the bottom of a bottle until he’d finished every last drop. Many nights he woke up in his bed not knowing how he got there, and he’d turn and gaze upon Trista who was snuggled up next to him. In those moments of serenity he would vow that the next day would be different. But when the sun rose and brought a new dawn, he was too weak and couldn’t get out the door without at least one drink.
Doug turned back and stared out to the sea again, but the night had grown dark, and he couldn’t see much of anything anymore. He shrugged his shoulders and decided it was time to go back inside. He hoped he had stayed out long enough for the party to wind down, but he knew better.
Out of the darkness a shadow emerged. Doug hunched over to get a better look and faced it. “I’m coming in now, sweetie,” he said. The figure didn’t move. Doug squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, but the image that stood in front of him was still a blur, and he couldn’t quite make it out.
Several seconds went by and neither moved. He shook his head back and forth at a rapid rate and tried to jolt himself back into reality. And then it occurred to him that whoever lurked there seemed too tall to be his wife.
“Is that you, Candice?” he said. “Because I’m still not interested. I love my wife.”
The figure shook its head but did not speak.
Candice was known in high school as the girl all the guys slept with, and she never took no for an answer. Not then, not now. Doug had resisted her for most of his senior year until one night when she just showed up on his doorstep. It was like she knew he’d been left all alone. With his parents gone and Trista out of town, Candice pushed her way into his house. Doug tried to say no, that he wasn’t interested, but all she did was laugh while she unfastened the belt on her jacket. When it was undone, she grabbed both sides and spread it all the way apart. Doug gasped. She was stark naked. She let the jacket drop to the floor and took her pointer finger and curled it back toward her, signaling him to come closer. That was how she always got her man. She had the best body of any girl at school—one that none of the boys could resist, and she knew it.
Since the first day of the cruise Candice had stalked him, showing up at the same excursions he was on with Trista and making obscene gestures whenever Trista wasn’t looking. Just the sight of her made Doug’s insides feel like they were on a continual roller coaster, and he just wanted to get off. On the second night, Candice had even cornered him in the hallway and pushed him up against one of the guest rooms. Doug had more than his fair share of drinks that night, but he’d managed to shove her off him before he stumbled down the hall to his room where Trista was waiting.
Doug stared at the figure, sure that it was Candice. He was frustrated that she just stood there in silence. What kind of game is she playing now…he thought to himself. “It is you, Candice, isn’t it?” he said.
The figure shook its head once more and moved toward him, and for the first time in years, Doug wished he was in control of all of his faculties. Whoever it was wore a long black robe with a mask on their face like they had just attended a masquerade ball with Marie Antoinette. It was large and covered their entire face, and he wasn’t certain whether a man or a woman was concealed behind it. He reached for the mask, but missed, and his hand swept across the open air.
“Who are you?” he said. “And what do you want?”
The masked person reached into their pocket and pulled out something long and shiny. Doug panicked and tried to lunge to the side, but instead he stumbled backward, and the knife plunged into his chest. Doug’s drink tipped from his hand and fell overboard into the icy depths of the water below. Before he had time to react, he felt another sharp pain and then another. He wanted to fight back, but he was helpless against it. The third jab cut deep, and as the life drained from his body and the blood spilled out and stained the deck around his feet, he managed to utter one simple word, “Why?”
The figure delivered one last blow to the center of his heart and then pulled Doug in close and whispered a single word into his ear, the last he’d ever hear: revenge. He pressed his hands into his chest and slumped over, trying to stand, but he knew it was too late. Less than a minute later, Doug Ward was dead.