John and Nancy eagerly boarded the Boeing 757, their excitement overflowing. Less than 24 hours ago, the couple had vowed to spend the rest of their lives together…for better or for worse. The love-struck gleam in their eyes had been glued in place and there was no sign of it disappearing anytime soon. As they hopped and skipped down the aisle, John offered Nancy the window seat, to which she countered by graciously bowing and replied, “Thank you, Sidney.” She was referring to his name as it appeared on his passport, and now their marriage certificate, then playfully elbowed him in the ribs.
She had recently discovered his given birth name, and began teasing him about it and for hiding it from her for as long as he did. John was slightly sensitive regarding his first name, considering it to be too feminine, so he generally deferred to using his middle name.
As the plane left the gate at the Louisville International Airport and began to taxi around the tarmac, John looked over at Nancy with an uneasy look on his face. “It’s going to be a long flight…” he said dryly. “I bet this is how Buddy Holly must have felt.” Nancy knew that John didn’t handle roller coasters very well, and the feeling that a plane gives when taking off is very similar. She cast him a reassuring smile before reaching up and opening the air blower over John’s head, then placed her hand on his knee for comfort. They both got lost in the gleam of the shiny new set of rings on Nancy’s left ring finger. The diamond was a little understated due to John’s level of income, but he had made every possible effort to attain the ring that now adorned Nancy’s finger. The jet engines began to whine, and the couple braced themselves before the plane rocketed down the runway. The nose tipped upward as the plane lifted off, and John felt the g-forces press his stomach back towards his spine.
Nancy did her best to ease his anxiety by encouraging John to think about the upcoming week. “Hang in there, hun. We’re leaving for our HONEYMOON! You can’t get sick on me NOW!” Nancy whispered in John’s ear, running her hand from his knee up to his inner thigh, teasing him to take his mind off of the flight.
They would be landing in a handful of hours in Cancun, Mexico. Neither of them had been to the tourist hotspot before, but had heard great, romantic, and relaxing tales from friends that had made the voyage. They had a room waiting for them at an all-inclusive, 4-star resort, and they were excited to bask in everything that would be provided.
John had grown up in the farmlands of east-central Indiana. His hometown claimed a population of roughly 2,300. There were about twice as many cows, and he seriously questioned the generosity of the census. Following high school graduation, he bolted his hometown for the much larger city of Evansville, located in the foothills of southern Indiana. He was accepted to the University of Southern Indiana where he majored in Criminal Justice/Criminology. After graduating with a B.S. he ended up getting a job and sticking around the metropolitan area. He never came from much, but his parents instilled in him that an education and hard work would pay off in the long run. John took that advice to heart.
Nancy was born and raised in Evansville. She spent her teenage years cruising up and down the strip on weekends and blowing her considerable allowance at the mall. She enrolled at the private University of Evansville’s school of music/performing arts. She was thought of by outsiders as somewhat high maintenance, and her parents made sure that she was never left wanting for anything. She was a bit of a “princess” by her own admission.
The two met at a pre-season basketball scrimmage between their respective schools. U of E was a mid-major Division I program while USI was a perennial power in Division II. Nonetheless, we’re talking about basketball in the foothills of Indiana, and whether it was a preseason scrimmage or a postseason tournament, there was never a lack of passion and the fans came out in droves.
Once in the air, the flight attendants began making their rounds offering drinks and pretzels. John was eager for the flight attendants to make their way to his aisle, only he wasn’t longing for a Sprite. As the drink cart stopped next to his seat, he looked up and quickly ordered a drink, but after realizing that the flight’s bar was limited, and failing to receive a bourbon, a scotch, OR a beer, he settled for a Jack and Coke. “Good thinking,” Nancy quipped. She liked John’s idea and ordered the same thing.
She took a gulp, and started coughing immediately after swallowing the strongly mixed drink. “Are you okay,” John asked. “Too much for you?” Nancy took another apprehensive sip to make sure the first drink didn’t just catch her off guard before realizing that she didn’t have the stomach to finish such a strong drink.
She placed the rest of the drink on John’s tray-table. “That’s all you, big guy. I can’t handle it right now,” Nancy sheepishly stated. Her face turned a pale shade of pink from embarrassment. Neither she nor John had ever been considered big drinkers, but she couldn’t hide from the shame that came with other passengers snickering at her and judging her.
“You’re gonna have to get warmed up sometime. We’ve got all the drinks we can handle coming to us this week, and there’s no tab,” John noted, playfully jabbing at her moment of weakness.
No sooner than John finished the two drinks and finally got comfortable in the cramped cabin, the overhead speaker came to life with a loud and distinct dinging sound. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We will begin our descent into the Atlanta International Airport in just a moment. Please make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position, and stow all loose baggage in the overhead bins or underneath the seat directly in front of you. We know that there are countless travel options, and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.”
This was the part of the day that John feared most. Even more so than the nausea that comes with taking off…the layover in Atlanta. He had heard many horror stories about the sprawling terminals and awkward layout of the airport, not to mention the sheer mass of people who frequent the hub of the southeast. He was worried about making a wrong turn and missing their connecting flight to Cancun. The last thing he wanted at this point was to mess up the beginning of their honeymoon.
With anxiety building every step of the way through the labyrinth of terminals, the couple arrived at their gate just as first class was boarding. John checked them in at the counter while Nancy grabbed a seat in the waiting area. “Congratulations on your marriage, Mr. Ritchie,” the hostess said, noting the glistening new ring on his left hand. “Our flight is far from full today, and I believe with a little rearranging we will be able to upgrade you and your wife to first class for the remainder of your journey. Happy honeymooning,” she added with a smile.
John was beside himself with excitement. He had never been known for having good luck, and he almost didn’t know how to respond. Initially, he thought the hostess might’ve been pulling his chain, but then he saw the First Class notation on the boarding passes. He strolled over as casually as he could to where Nancy was sitting, and told her it was time to board. “Not yet,” she replied. “Slow down, Turbo. They only called for First Class.”
“I know.” John couldn’t contain his excitement any longer. He looked down at her with a beaming smile and flashed her their new, upgraded boarding passes. Nancy was used to a little more lavish lifestyle, so she wasn’t as animated as John was. She was certainly happy not to be crammed in coach again though.
The couple settled into their oversized seats, reclined, and stretched their legs out, as they waited for the rest of the plane to board. “Look. Here come the PEASANTS!” John playfully whispered to Nancy and gave her an overly exaggerated wink as the remaining travelers rambled down the jetway. Nancy couldn’t help but roll her eyes, but at the same time she also couldn’t deny that John always had a way to make her laugh.
As soon as the plane reached its cruising altitude and the flight attendants made their way down the aisle with the drink cart, John reverted straight back to the comfort of another Jack and Coke; this time in the form of a double. As John’s ears and cheeks started to turn red and feel warm from the effects of the alcohol, he found himself drifting off in order to avoid the unpleasantness that went along with being stuck in an airplane.
Nancy had noticed the urgency John had shown while searching for unconsciousness. Intuitively, she knew that he was not handling the flights very well and she couldn’t help but feel bad for him. She just tried to let John lead throughout their excursion, so that he would feel confident in his new familial responsibilities. As John slipped further into his nap, Nancy reached into her carry-on bag and pulled out the guide-book that they had purchased in order to learn about the foreign area and plan their time in Cancun.
While she thumbed through the picture-packed booklet, she couldn’t resist the daydreams that swarmed her mind. She tried to ignore the feelings of disappointment knowing that they couldn’t afford to do a lot of extra adventures and souvenir shopping due to John’s modest income. Working for the government had its perks, but salary wasn’t one of them. Nancy was used to a more extravagant lifestyle, and if not for her parent’s very generous gift, the couple wouldn’t even be going to as exotic of a location as Cancun for their honeymoon. After supplying everything needed for her dream wedding, John’s new in-laws then proceeded to sneak an envelope into his jacket pocket at the reception that had two plane tickets and reservation information for the resort. With his own parent’s contributions, the couple would also receive the delight of off-shore snorkeling and a couples massage on the beach that promised to be quite relaxing and just as romantic. John’s two favorite R’s.
Nancy was very proud of what John had achieved, but she was doubtful that he would ever be able to provide the type of lifestyle that she was accustomed to. And though she thoroughly enjoyed being on stage, there weren’t many job offerings for a performing vocalist in the southern Indiana countryside. While Evansville was technically considered a “city,” it was a very modest town with limitations on the culture that the area provided; outside of the high school drama performances, there just weren’t many opportunities for someone who was no longer a student. Nancy’s main option to supplement the family income came in the form of vocal lessons to neighborhood kids. She had never given thought of the practicality of her chosen field of study. Rather, she just always assumed that she would be taken care of, one way or another.
Once she realized that her train of thought was starting to turn a tad bitter, she immediately tried to shift her attention. Looking over at John, she chuckled at how he had passed out with his head cocked to the side and a small string of drool connecting his shirt to the corner of his mouth. She gazed at him lovingly, then noticed her mind reverting to previous thoughts. “My life will never be the same,” she thought to herself. Attempting to prevent her brain from souring her mood, she reached into her purse and grabbed the lone pill bottle buried beneath the random contents of a typical purse. She popped the top and swallowed a single, low-dose pill of Ambien to help her drift off and forget her worries for the remainder of the flight.
They both awoke from a gentle nudge by the flight attendant, and were drenched in blinding sunlight. The large jet had come to a stop on the tarmac, the mobile staircase had been connected to the plane’s doorway, and it was finally time to deboard. John stood up a little too quickly to stretch his legs, not thinking of where he was, and clocked his head into the bottom of the overhead storage compartment. “Dammit!” John hastily grunted in a whisper, expressing dissatisfaction in his clumsiness more so than any pain that he may have briefly felt.
Nancy tried her best to abort her laugh before checking on her husband. “Are you okay?” she managed to inquire between bursts of laughter.
“Yeah, I’m fine. And I really appreciate your concern,” John replied with a thick blanket of sarcasm.
After stepping from the plane, being led across the pavement of the tarmac, and entering the gate to the terminal, John took Nancy’s hand and led her through a thick congregation of locals who were looking to earn a quick buck. They searched for the shuttle driver that had been described to them by a lady working at a counter just beyond the Customs checkpoint. They managed to avoid the overwhelming amount of pitchmen for time-shares offered to tourists who may be interested in investing in the local area.
“I’m glad we’re not on the plane anymore, but I’ll be even happier once we get to the resort and don’t have to deal with all this hassling,” John said with a hint of a complaint.
“We’re almost there,” Nancy assured him with a smile. “Then we don’t have to be patient anymore. We can do whatever we want whenever we feel like doing it,” she followed, emphasizing the last two words. John enjoyed the play on words, and gave Nancy an overly exaggerated wink to let her know that he was picking up what she was putting down.
The next two days were a whirlwind of passion. The couple depended on room service to provide nearly every meal, while taking full advantage of the whirlpool bathtub, cuddling on their balcony, and lounging poolside. They hesitated to stray too far from the privacy of their room and the comfort of their bed, yet couldn’t resist strolling along the beach every evening at sunset. The array of colors everywhere, exotic menu items that the resort offered, and sounds from the waves crashing onto the shore was simply breath-taking.
By the time the third day of their honeymoon rolled around, they were getting a little antsy at the resort and were looking forward to a day of sightseeing and touring the town. They had scheduled the snorkeling tour that John’s parents had provided as a wedding gift, and were excited to see the colorful, exotic underwater scenery. The morning was spent wandering around town and window shopping at all the different souvenir stands.
Nancy had taken notice of a corner artist with an array of beautifully painted landscapes and still lifes. “Wouldn’t it be great to have him paint this area? Then we’d always have a way to revisit our honeymoon,” Nancy strategically asked, trying to gauge John’s reaction.
“That would be awesome, but there’s no way we could afford something like that!” John declared. “Whatever he would charge to commission the painting would be enough, but then we’d have to find a postal service and pay to have it shipped home. There’s no way something like that would fit in a suitcase, and it would get beat up if we tried to carry it back with us on the plane.”
Nancy knew from John’s response that he wasn’t open to the idea of spending so much money on a single souvenir. She couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened, but tried not to lead on about her disappointment. They haggled over a few trinkets to bring home to family and friends, killing time before they were scheduled to be at the pier. The guide’s boat would take them a short distance from the shore in order to provide the best setting to snorkel.
On the quick boat ride, the couple received instructions on correct use of the snorkeling equipment and how to ensure a proper fit. Nancy squeezed her head into the tight-fitting mask just as John noticed that his mask seemed to be a little loose, despite tightening the straps as far as he could. “You might want to see if they have an extra mask you could try,” Nancy offered.
“Don’t worry. If I drown, at least I signed up for life insurance a few months ago, so you’d have that to fall back on!” John commented, and winked at Nancy playfully. Nancy didn’t appreciate the joke.
“Don’t talk like that. That’s not funny at all,” she deadpanned.
“Sorry, I was just messing around. Dumb thing to say, I guess.”
John was assured that his mask would be adequate, and he truly hoped so, for fear that the experience would be ruined by water pouring into his mask. Once they hopped overboard, he confronted the moment of truth and was relieved when his mask held a tight seal to his face, preventing a flood of water into his nose.
The underwater environment was nothing short of amazing. The jagged chunks of coral provided housing for colorful algae and anemone, which attracted even more colorful and lively fish darting every which way. Having an infatuation with aqua-marine life since childhood, Nancy thoroughly enjoyed pointing out the different colors, shapes, and species to John who was mesmerized by the underwater beauty.
By the end of the day, the couple had an experience together that they would not soon forget…and they had the sunburns to go along with it! The romance from the afternoon overflowed into the evening, where John and Nancy found themselves swimming in a sea of blankets upon the return to their room at the resort.
The next day came and went much like the beginning of the week had, with the couple exploring each other more than the resort that Nancy’s parents were so gracious to provide for them. When Nancy suggested a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne to cap off the night, John scoffed loudly enough for Nancy to notice. “What, you don’t agree that would be a good way to end our last night in paradise?” Nancy asked.
“No, I think that would be a GREAT way to finish off our week, but we have to be careful what we spend while we’re here,” John answered. “As much fun as this has been to escape real life, we still have to go back home to our normal lives, work, bills, and all that other junk. I’m not trying to ruin our honeymoon; I just want to make sure that we’re not starting our lives together in a hole once we get back.”
Nancy was as disappointed to hear John’s response as he was to have to say it. She decided that she wasn’t in a very good mood anymore, and wanted to call it a night. Without really being tired enough to fall asleep, Nancy sought the assistance of the low-dose Ambien from her purse. John decided to have a little snack and see what the television had to offer before finally dragging himself to bed.
When the couple awoke on their final day at the resort, they were in much better moods and decided to order room service once more for breakfast. John was in the bathroom when the food was delivered, so Nancy held the door while the server placed the tray on the kitchen table. When John emerged from the bathroom, he moved Nancy’s purse aside and pulled their chairs out so they could sit and enjoy their morning together.
“Is it just me, or is the food a little ‘off’ this morning?” John inquired. “The sausage is cold. The eggs are powdery, or chalky, or something. The chocolate milk isn’t even stirred very well. What do you think?”
“Yeah, I don’t think it tastes as good as it has the rest of the week either. Probably just a bad morning in the kitchen or something. With all the food we’ve enjoyed this week, I wouldn’t complain too much,” Nancy replied.
Their flight was scheduled for later that evening, and they still had the relaxing couples massage to look forward to, however, John and Nancy both cringed at the idea of somebody pressing and pulling on their beet-red, dried-out, tender skin. Between the afternoon snorkeling, seashore walks, and time spent by the outdoor pool, they were both feeling pretty brittle. They donned their swimsuits anyways, grabbed a bathrobe for each of them, and sauntered down to the spa to check-in for their scheduled appointment.
They were each given a key to their own locker room and instructed to remove any unnecessary clothing and enjoy the amenities until the masseuse came to get them. John opted to spend some time in the reclined massage chair, while Nancy lit an aroma-therapy candle, then laid on a mat and placed a warm towel over her face.
After a short wait, the couple was gathered from their respective changing rooms, and escorted to the semi-private massage hut on the beach containing two tables standing next to one another.
With the tension of the flight home building in John’s neck and shoulders, the timing of the massage couldn’t have been any better…minus the fact that he was so sore from the sunburn. Nancy had given him the bright idea to lather himself in Aloe Vera before leaving the room in an attempt to moisturize their skin and hopefully prevent any unbearable pain. Surprisingly, it worked pretty well!
As the masseuse kneaded the skin on John’s back, working her way up and down his spine, John’s breathing began to slow. Noticing her client’s relaxed state, the masseuse leaned in close to John’s ear and whispered, “I take good care of you.” John stifled an awkward chuckle, just before slipping into unconsciousness.
An hour later, Nancy arose from the prone position she had been lying in on top of the massage table. With her eyes adjusting to the bright midday sunlight, she squinted over at the table John occupied and saw him still lying there, not moving a muscle. She reached over and gently placed her hand on his back. “Wake up, babe, we’re all done here,” she whispered in his ear.
John didn’t so much as twitch. Assuming he was out cold from the relaxation, she reached into his pocket and pulled out a few bills to reward the massage therapists for their wonderful handiwork. The two ladies smiled graciously, nodded their heads, and quietly retreated from the hut, eager to return to the air-conditioned spa.
Nancy’s pulse quickened as she noticed that it didn’t appear that John was breathing. She poked her head through the curtain that acted as a doorway to the hut and yelled for the girls that had just left. The two glanced back dismissively before realizing that their customer was in a panic. “Call a doctor!” Nancy yelled, begging anyone for help.
Nancy stood numbly, in shock, to the side as a doctor rushed into the hut to evaluate the situation. He leaned down toward John’s face to listen for breathing and heard nothing. He immediately placed two fingers in the crook of John’s neck to check for a pulse, but there was no heartbeat. He ordered a passerby to call for an ambulance before organizing others to help him turn John over onto his back. Once John was face-up, the doctor began CPR compressions and rescue breaths.
Several minutes had passed since Nancy had discovered John’s condition, and there was no telling how long it had been since his heart stopped. The doctor wasn’t feeling very optimistic, but tried to keep that inside for Nancy’s sake. He just continued to pound on John’s chest until the ambulance arrived.
Nancy was whisked away in the back of the ambulance as the emergency responders attempted to bring John back by shocking his heart with a defibrillator. Everything seemed to be happening in fast forward, and Nancy couldn’t keep up with the action.
Since according to protocol, John couldn’t be pronounced dead until he arrived at the local hospital, it didn’t take long for the doctors to emerge from his room and deliver the horrible news. “We did everything we could,” the doctor offered Nancy, as she collapsed into the nearest chair and began sobbing quietly. “From the looks of things, it appears there were a number of factors at work here. Based on the appearance of your husband’s skin, we believe that he was severely dehydrated, and more than likely suffering from heat exhaustion and sun poisoning. Combine that with his relaxed state, and we believe that his heart rate slowed so much that his internal organs began shutting down.”
Nancy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It all seemed so ludicrous really…her husband was massaged to death?!? Keeping the secret to herself, Nancy knew just how unlikely that actually was. Given the circumstances, the coroner would never have a reason to complete a full toxicology report…so the lethal amount of Ambien in his system would forever go undiscovered.
In a single week, Nancy had come to the realization that she would always struggle with accepting the life that John would provide for her. Unsatisfied with that prospect, she chose the only way out she could come up with in such a short amount of time. The eggs that morning had tasted powdery due to the ground up sleeping pills that Nancy had mixed in with them while John was occupied in the bathroom. Now all she had to do was play the part of the bereaving widow and cash in on John’s own idea – collect the life insurance that he had so thoughtfully set up.
Boarding the plane for her solo flight home, the “grieving widow” plopped down in a complimentary first-class window seat. The airline had provided her with the upgrade due to her traumatic experience. Sitting on the tarmac, all she could do was gaze through the portal in a haze…with a gleam in her eye.