Extract: The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

The Marriage Pact is the brilliant new psychological thriller by Michelle Richmond. Perfect for fans of The Couple Next Door, Behind Closed Doors and The Girl Before, The Marriage Pact explores what happens when a couple’s dream marriage becomes tjeir worst nightmare.

Alice and Jake are the perfect couple – sort of. On the day of their wedding, a stranger offers them the chance to join a mysterious group, known as The Pact. With its promise of a lifelong marriage of happiness, Jake and Alice are persuaded to accept. But then one of them breaks the rules.

Alice and Jake are about to discover that, like marriage, The Pact is for life. The members will go to any lengths to ensure nobody leaves. Under The Pact, ‘Til death do us part’ has a whole new meaning…

Read on for an extract from The Marriage Pact!

The Marriage Pact
by
Michelle Richmond

1

I come to on a Cessna, bumping through the air. My head is throbbing, and there is blood on my shirt. I have no idea how much time has passed. I look at my hands, expecting to see restraints, but there are none. Just an ordinary seatbelt looped around my waist. Who strapped me in? I don’t even remember boarding the plane.
        Through the open door of the cockpit, I see the back of the pilot’s head. It’s just the two of us. There is snow in the mountains, wind buffeting the plane. The pilot seems completely focused on his controls, shoulders tense.
        I reach up and touch my head. The blood has dried, leaving a sticky mess. My stomach rumbles. The last thing I ate was the French toast. How long ago was that? On the seat beside me, I find water and a sandwich wrapped in wax paper. I open the bottle and drink.
        I unwrap my sandwich — ham and Swiss — and take a bite. Shit. My jaw hurts too much to chew. Someone must have punched me in the face after I hit the ground.
        “Are we going home?” I ask the pilot.
        “Depends on what you call home. We’re headed to Half Moon Bay.”
        “They didn’t tell you anything about me?”
        “First name, destination, that’s about it. I’m just a taxi driver, Jake.”
        “But you’re a member, right?”
        “Sure,” he says, his tone unreadable. “Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.” He turns back just long enough to give me a look that warns me not to ask any more questions.
        We hit an air pocket so hard my sandwich goes flying. An urgent beeping erupts. The pilot curses and frantically pushes buttons. He shouts something to air traffic control. We’re descending fast, and I’m clutching the armrests, thinking of Alice, going over our final conversation, wishing I’d said so many things.
        Then, suddenly, the plane levels out, we gain altitude, and all appears to be well. I gather the pieces of my sandwich from the floor, wrap the whole mess back up in the wax paper, and set it on the seat beside me.
        “Sorry for the turbulence,” the pilot says.
        “Not your fault. Good save.”
        Over sunny Sacramento, he finally relaxes, and we talk about the Golden State Warriors and their surprising run this season.
        “What day is it?” I ask.
        “Tuesday.”
        I’m relieved to see the familiar coastline out my window, grateful for the sight of the little Half Moon Bay Airport. The landing is smooth. Once we touch down, the pilot turns and says, “Don’t make it a habit, right?”
        “Don’t plan to.”
        I grab my bag and step outside. Without killing the engines, the pilot closes the door, swings the plane around, and takes off again.
        I walk into the airport café, order hot chocolate, and text Alice. It’s two p.m. on a weekday, so she’s probably embroiled in a thousand meetings. I don’t want to bother her, but I really need to see her.
        A text reply arrives. Where are you?
        Back in HMB.
        Will leave in 5.
        It’s more than twenty miles from Alice’s office to Half Moon Bay. She texts about traffic downtown, so I order food, almost the whole left side of the menu. The café is empty. The perky waitress in the perfectly pressed uniform hovers. When I pay the check, she says, “Have a good day, Friend.”
        I go outside and sit on a bench to wait. It’s cold, the fog coming down in waves. By the time Alice’s old Jaguar pulls up, I’m frozen. I stand up, and as I’m checking to make sure I have everything, Alice walks over to the bench. She’s wearing a serious suit, but she has changed out of heels into sneakers for the drive. Her black hair is damp in the fog. Her lips are dark red, and I wonder if she did this for me. I hope so.
        She rises on her tiptoes to kiss me. Only then do I realize how desperately I’ve missed her. Then she steps back and looks me up and down.
        “At least you’re in one piece.” She reaches up and touches my jaw gently. “What happened?”
        “Not sure.”
        I wrap my arms around her.
        “So why were you summoned?”
        There’s so much I want to tell her, but I’m scared. The more she knows, the more dangerous it will be for her. Also, let’s face it, the truth is going to piss her off.
        What I’d give to go back to the beginning— before the wedding, before Finnegan, before The Pact turned our lives upside down.

2

I’ll be honest — the wedding was my idea. Maybe not the location, the place, the food, the music, all the things Alice knew how to do so well. The idea, though, that was mine. I’d known her for three and a half years. I wanted her, and marriage was the best way to ensure I didn’t lose her.
        Alice didn’t have a good track record with permanence. In her earlier days, she was wild, impulsive, sometimes drawn too quickly to a fleeting, shining object. I worried that if I waited too long, she would be gone. The wedding, if I’m honest, was simply a means to permanence.
        I proposed on a balmy Tuesday in January. Her father had died, and we were back in Alabama. He’d been her final living relative, and his unexpected death shook her in a way I hadn’t seen before. We spent the days after the funeral cleaning out Alice’s childhood home in a Birmingham suburb. In the mornings, we went through boxes in the attic, work space, and garage. The house was filled with artifacts of her family life: her father’s military career, her dead brother’s baseball exploits, her dead mother’s recipe books, faded pictures of her grandparents. It was like an archaeological treasure trove of a small, long-forgotten tribe from a lost civilization.
        “I’m the last one,” she said. Not in a pitiful way, just matter-of-fact. She’d lost her mother to cancer, her brother to suicide. She had survived, but not unscathed. Looking back, I can see that her position as the only living member of the family made her more loving and reckless than she might have been otherwise. Had she not been so alone in the world, I’m not sure she would have said yes.
        I’d ordered her engagement ring weeks earlier, and it arrived via UPS moments after she learned of her father’s death. I’m not sure why, but I slipped the box into my duffel bag as we were leaving for the airport.
        Two weeks into the trip, we called a real estate agent and had him come out to appraise the house. We wandered through the rooms, the agent taking notes, scribbling frantically, like he was preparing for a test. At the end, we stood on the porch, waiting for his assessment.
        “Are you sure you want to sell?” the agent asked.
        “Yes,” Alice said.
        “It’s just that —” He gestured toward us with his clipboard. “Why don’t you stay? Get married. Have kids. Build a life. This town needs families. My children are so bored. My boy has to play soccer because we don’t have enough kids to field a baseball team.”
        “Well,” Alice said, looking out toward the street, “because.”
        That was it. “Because.” The guy snapped back into real estate mode. He suggested a price, and Alice suggested a slightly lower one. “That’s below market value for this neighborhood,” he said, surprised.
        “That’s okay. I just want it over with,” she replied.
        He jotted a notation on his clipboard. “It will certainly make my job easier.”
        Within hours, a truck pulled up, guys got out, and the house was stripped of the worn furniture and aging appliances. All that remained were two lounge chairs beside the pool, which hadn’t changed since the day it was dug and plastered in 1974.
        The following morning, a different truck arrived with different men – stagers hired by the realtor. They loaded a whole new set of furniture into the house. They moved quickly and with confi dence, putting large abstract paintings on the walls and small shining knickknacks on the shelves. When they were finished, the house was the same, only different: cleaner, sparser, devoid of the pesky items that give a home its soul.
        The day after that, a parade of real estate agents led a pride of potential buyers through the rooms, all whispering, opening cabinets and closets, studying the sheet that provided the listing details. That afternoon, the agent called with four offers, and Alice accepted the highest. We packed our things, and I made reservations for a flight back to San Francisco.
        In the evening, when the stars came out, Alice wandered outside to stare at the night sky and say goodbye to Alabama for good. It was a warm night, the scent of barbecues wafting up over the back fence. The outdoor lamps reflected brilliantly off of the pool, and the lounge chairs felt as comfortable as they must have been the first day her father dragged them out onto the patio, when his wife was beautiful and tan and his children were small and rambunctious. I sensed that this was as good as Alabama could get, and yet Alice seemed so sad, immune to the beauty that had snuck up on us without warning.
        Later, I would tell our friends that the idea to seize that moment to propose came as an impulse. I wanted to make her feel better. I wanted to show her that there was a future. I wanted to bring her happiness on such a mournful day.
        I walked out to the pool, knelt down, removed the ring from its box, and presented it to Alice in my sweaty palm. I didn’t say a word. She looked at me, she looked at the ring, she smiled.
        “Okay,” she said.

3

Our wedding was held in a pasture along the banks of the Russian River, a two- hour drive north of San Francisco. Months earlier, we’d gone out there to take a look at it. We drove right past it a couple of times, because it wasn’t marked from the road. When we opened the gate and walked down the path toward the river, Alice hugged me and said, “I love it.” At first, I thought she was joking. In places, the grass was five feet high.
        The property was a huge, meandering dairy farm, with cows roaming the pasture. It was owned by the rhythm guitar player from Alice’s first band. Yes, she had been in a band, and it’s even possible you’ve heard their music, though we can talk about that later.
        The day before the wedding, I drove right past the site again. This time, though, it was because it looked completely different. The guitar player, Jane, had spent weeks cutting, shaping, and resodding the pasture. It was amazing. It looked like a fairway from the world’s most perfect golf course. The grass moved up over the hill, then sloped down to the river. Jane said that she and her wife had been looking for a project.
        There was a large tent, a patio, a pool, and a modern pool house. A stage rose above the river shore, and a gazebo stood on a mound overlooking all of it. The cows still wandered around in their slow, meditative way.
        Chairs were brought in, tables, equipment, speakers, and umbrellas. While Alice wasn’t exactly keen on weddings, she loved parties. Although we hadn’t had one in the years I’d known her, I heard stories. Big shindigs in ballrooms, at beaches, in her past apartments; apparently it was a talent she possessed. So when it came to the arrangements, I stepped aside and let her do her thing. Months of planning, everything perfect, everything timed just right.
        Two hundred people. It was supposed to be one hundred for me, one hundred for her, though in the end it was a bit lopsided. It was a funny guest list, like any wedding. My parents and grandmother, partners from my wife’s firm, co-workers from the clinic where I used to work, former clients, friends from college, graduate school, Alice’s old music friends, an off-kilter combination of others.
        And Liam Finnegan and his wife.
        They were the last to be invited, 201 and 202 on the guest list. Alice had met him three days before the wedding, at the law firm where she’d been working day and night for the past year. I know, it’s weird, my wife is a lawyer. If you knew her, it would surprise you too. And we can also talk about that, but later. The important part here is Finnegan — Finnegan and his wife, Liam and Fiona, guests 201 and 202.
        At the firm, my wife had been the junior associate on Finnegan’s case. It was an intellectual property thing. Finnegan was a businessman now. Years earlier, however, he was a well- known front man for an Irish folk rock group. You’ve probably never heard his music, but maybe you’ve seen his name. It’s been in all of those British music magazines — Q, Uncut, Mojo. Dozens of musicians claim him as a key influence.
        For days after Alice got the assignment, we had Finnegan’s discs on repeat in our house. The case was as straightforward as an intellectual property case can be. A young band had stolen a section of one of his songs and turned it into a huge hit. If you’re like me and don’t understand music on a technical level, you wouldn’t see the similarities, but if you’re a musician, my wife said, the theft was obvious.
        The case resulted from a comment Finnegan had made a few years earlier. He told an interviewer that the band’s hit sounded suspiciously like a song from his second album. He didn’t plan to take it any further, but then the young band’s manager sent Finnegan a letter demanding that he apologize for the comment and publicly declare the song had not been stolen. Things devolved from there, ultimately leading to my wife working a million hours on her first big case.
        As I said, she was the junior associate, so when the judgment came back in Finnegan’s favor, the partners took all the credit. A month later, the week before our wedding, Finnegan paid a visit to the firm. He had been awarded an insane amount of money, far more than he wanted, certainly more than he needed, so he wanted to thank everyone for their work. When he arrived, the partners led him to a conference room, where they regaled him with tales of their incredible strategy. At the end, he thanked them, but then asked if he could meet all the people who had really worked on the case. He cited a couple of the briefs and motions, surprising the partners with the level of attention he had paid to the finer details.
        A brief he especially liked was one Alice had written. It was a funny, creative thing — insomuch as a legal brief can be either funny or creative. So the partners invited Alice into the conference room. At some point, someone mentioned that she was getting married that weekend. Finnegan remarked that he loved weddings. Alice, joking, asked, “Would you like to come to mine?” He surprised everyone by saying, “I’d be honored.” Later, as he was leaving, he stopped by Alice’s cubicle and she handed him an invitation.
        Two days later, a messenger arrived at our apartment with a box. That week, a number of wedding gifts had been delivered, so it wasn’t really a surprise. The return address said The Finnegans. I opened the envelope; inside was a folded white card with a picture of a cake on the front. Tasteful.

        To Alice and Jake, My supreme congratulations on the occasion of your impending nuptials. Respect marriage and it will provide you with much in return. Liam

        The gifts we’d received up until that moment had been fairly unsurprising. There was an equation of sorts that allowed me to predict the contents of each gift before it was opened. The total cost of the gift was usually a combination of the net income of the giver multiplied by the years that we had known the person, over pi. Or something like that. Grandma bought us six full place settings of china. My cousin bought us a toaster.
        With Finnegan, though, I had no way to calculate. He was a successful businessman, he had just won a substantial judgment, and he had a back catalog of songs that probably didn’t earn much money. The thing was, we hadn’t known him for long. Okay, we didn’t exactly know him at all.
        Out of curiosity, I tore right into the package. It was a large, heavy box made of recycled wood, with a label burned into the top. At first, I thought it was a case of some tiny-production, crazy-elite Irish whiskey, which would have made sense. It’s exactly what the gift equation would have predicted.
        It made me a little nervous. Alice and I didn’t own any hard alcohol. I should explain. Alice and I first met in a rehab facility north of Sonoma. I’d been practicing therapy for a few years by then, and I jumped at any chance to learn more. I’d been filling in for a friend, gaining work experience. On the second day, I led a therapy group that included Alice. She said she drank too much, and she needed to stop. Not forever, she said, just long enough to complete the changes necessary to stabilize her life. She said she’d never been a big drinker before but that a series of family tragedies had caused her to behave recklessly, and she wanted to get a handle on it. I was struck by her commitment and clarity.
        Weeks later, back in the city, I decide to call her. I was running a group for schoolkids with similar issues, and I was hoping she might be willing to come and talk to them. She spoke about her own struggles in a way that cut to the heart of things, direct but engaging. I wanted to connect with the kids and I knew they would listen to her. It didn’t hurt that Alice was a musician. With her beat- up biker jacket, chopped black hair, and stories of life on the road, she looked and sounded cool.
        Short story: She agreed to talk to my group, it went well, I took her to lunch, we became friends, months passed, we started dating, we bought a place together, and then, as you know, I proposed.
        So, anyway, when Finnegan’s package arrived, I tensed up when I thought it was a bottle of some incredibly rare liquor. During the first few months I knew Alice, she never had a drink. But then sometime after that, she began to enjoy the occasional bottle of beer or a glass of wine with dinner. It isn’t the traditional path for people with issues related to alcohol. Still, it seemed to work for Alice. Only beer and wine, though. Hard liquor, she always joked, “ends up with someone in jail.” That was hard to picture, as Alice was more in control than anyone I knew.
        I set the gift on the table. A substantial, elegant wood box.
        The label on the front, though, seemed off.
        THE PACT.
        What kind of Irish whiskey is named The Pact?
        I opened the box to find another wooden box inside, set in blue velvet. On each side, nestled into the fabric, was an extremely expensive-looking pen — silver, white gold, or maybe even platinum. I picked one up and was surprised by the heft, the construction. It was the sort of exquisite gift you bought for someone who had everything, which is why it was an odd gift for us. We both worked hard, and we were doing okay, but we didn’t have everything, by any means. For Alice’s law school graduation, I had, in fact, bought her a pen. It was a beautiful thing I’d purchased from a private dealer in Switzerland, after doing months of research into the surprisingly complex field of fine writing instruments. It was as if I’d opened a door expecting a small closet and had, instead, found an entire universe. I took great pains to pay for it in a roundabout way that hid the exorbitant cost. In the event that she ever lost it, I didn’t want her to be weighed down by the true depth of the loss.
        I picked up Finnegan’s pen. Across the top of the wrapping paper, I scribbled a few circles, and then the phrase Thank you, Liam Finnegan! The ink flowed smoothly, the pen gliding across the slick paper.
        Along the spine of the pen, something had been engraved.
        The writing was so small I couldn’t read it. I remembered a magnifying glass that had come with a board game Alice bought me for Christmas. I rummaged through the hall closet. Behind Risk, Monopoly, and Boggle, I found the game, the magnifying glass still in its cellophane wrapper. I brought the pen into the light and held the glass up to it.
        ALICE & JAKE, followed by the date of the wedding, and then simply DUNCANS MILLS, CALIFORNIA. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. I expected more from one of the world’s greatest living folksingers. Had the engraving contained the meaning of life, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
        I pulled the other pen out and placed it on the table. Then I lifted out the smaller box. It had the same reclaimed wood, the same fancy hardware, and the same logo branded across the front: THE PACT. It was surprisingly heavy.
        I tried to open it, only to discover that it was locked. I placed the box back on the table and searched through the packaging, looking for a key. At the bottom, I found no key, just a handwritten note:

        Alice and Jake, Know this: The Pact will never leave you.

        I stared at the note. What could it mean?
        Alice had to work late, tying up loose ends with cases and projects before the wedding and honeymoon. When she finally did arrive, a million things had come up, and so the gift from Finnegan was forgotten.

4

You can tell how a wedding is going to go from the first five minutes. If people show up a little late, moving slowly, you know it may be a grind. With our wedding, though, everyone arrived unusually early. My best man, Angelo Foti, and his wife, Tami, drove up from the city faster than expected. They stopped at a café in Guerneville to waste time. At the café, they noticed four other couples in wedding-type clothes. They introduced themselves, and apparently the party began then and there.
        With the flow of friends and relatives, my nerves, and all the rest of it, it wasn’t until the ceremony had already begun that I realized Finnegan had shown up. I was looking at Alice in her great dress, walking down the aisle by herself, en route to me, of all people, when I caught a glimpse over her shoulder of Finnegan, standing there in the back row. He wore an impeccable suit with a pink tie. The woman with him, maybe five years his junior, wore a green dress. I was surprised to see them smiling, clearly happy to be there. I guess I was expecting Finnegan and the wife to be all business, a late arrival and an early departure, attending the attorney’s wedding— a social obligation, checking a box, nothing more. But it wasn’t like that at all.
        I didn’t know this then, but I know it now. At a wedding, if you’re paying attention, you can spot the happily married couples. Maybe it’s a confirmation of the choice they made, maybe it’s just a belief in the convention of marriage. There is a look, easy to spot, hard to define, and the Finnegans had it. Before I glanced back to Alice — beautiful in her sleeveless white dress with a retro pillbox hat — Finnegan caught my eye, smiled, and raised an imaginary glass.
        The vows happened so quickly. The ring, the kiss. Within minutes of Alice walking down the aisle, we were husband and wife, and then just as suddenly the reception was in full swing. I was caught up in conversations with friends, relatives, co-workers, a few old high school buddies, all of whom eagerly retold their versions of my life, often in the wrong order but in a positive light. It wasn’t until darkness had begun to fall that I saw Finnegan again. He was standing near the bandstand, watching Alice’s musician friends work their way through an eclectic selection of songs. He stood behind his wife, his arms wrapped around her waist. She was wearing his suit jacket in the cool night air, that contented look still on their faces.
        I had lost track of Alice, so I scanned the crowd to find her. Then I realized she was standing onstage. Since I’d known her, she had never performed; it was as if she’d left that part of her life completely behind. The lights were out, but in the darkness I could see her pointing to friends, calling them to the stage. Jane, their old drummer, a friend from the law firm with his bass, and others, a group of people I didn’t know well, some of whom I’d never met, whose presence spoke of a whole life she’d had before me, an important part of her very essence that was somehow closed off to me. I was both sad and excited to see her in this light: sad because I couldn’t help feeling left out and inessential, yet happy because — well, because she remained a mystery to me in the best possible way. Alice reached her hand toward Finnegan. The place began to glow with bluish light, and I realized that, as Finnegan approached the stage, people had quietly retrieved their cellphones and were recording.
        My wife stood there for the longest time. The voices died down, as if in anticipation. Finally, she stepped to the microphone. “Friends,” she said. “Thank you so much for being here.” Then she pointed at me, and an organ note rose up behind her. Finnegan was in his element, playing the keyboard. It was a beautiful and elusive sound, the organ leading the other instruments slowly into the fray. Alice stood there, looking at me, swaying gently to the music. As the lights rose, Finnegan circled into a melody I immediately recognized. It was an old song, Led Zeppelin at their best, subtle and infectious, a beautiful wedding song, “All My Love.” Alice’s singing came in quiet and unsure, but then grew in confidence. I’m not sure how, but she and Finnegan seemed to be on the same wavelength.
        As the music lurched forward, she stepped into a circle of light, closed her eyes, and repeated the beautiful chorus, such a plain statement, and yet for the first time I realized that, yes, she did love me. I glanced around the tent, and in the low light I could see our friends and relatives, all swaying to the melody.
        Then the song took a slight turn, and Alice sang the critical line that I had long forgotten, a simple question, though one that washed the rest of the lyrics in a thin layer of ambiguity and doubt. For a moment, I felt off-balance. I put a hand on the top of a chair to steady myself and looked around, everything cast in the glow of the moon: the crowd, the pasture, cows dozing in the field, the river. To the side of the stage, I could see Finnegan’s wife dancing in her green dress, her eyes closed, immersed in the music.
        The party continued for hours. When dawn broke, a small group of us were left sitting around the pool, watching the sun come up over the river. Alice and I shared a lounge chair, the Finnegans sharing an adjacent one.
        Eventually, the Finnegans collected their coats and shoes and moved to leave. “We’ll see you out,” Alice said. Walking them up the driveway, I felt as if I had known them for years. As they stepped into their Lamborghini — borrowed from a friend, Finnegan said, winking — I remembered the gift. “Oh,” I said, “I forgot to thank you. We were supposed to talk about your intriguing gift.”
        “Of course,” Finnegan said. “All in due time.” His wife smiled. “Tomorrow we go back to Ireland, but I’ll email after you return from your honeymoon.”
        And that was it. Two weeks in a mostly abandoned but once grand hotel on the Adriatic, a long flight home, and suddenly we were right back where we started — the same, only married. Was this the end, or just the beginning?

5

After returning from our honeymoon, we were both careful to avoid the letdown that could so easily have come following the brilliant party and weeks on a peaceful, sunny beach. The first night, back in our small house in San Francisco, ten blocks from the edge of the continent and the least sunny beach anywhere, I pulled out the china from my grandmother and prepared a four-course meal, setting the table with cloth napkins and candles. We’d already been living together for more than two years, and I wanted marriage to feel different.
        I cooked a recipe that I’d found online for a roast and potatoes. It was terrible — a thick brown meaty disaster. To her credit, Alice cleaned her plate and declared it delicious. Despite her small size — she’s just five foot five in her tallest heels — she can really dig into a plate of comfort food. I’ve always liked that about her. Fortunately, the yellow cake with chocolate frosting saved the meal. The following night, I tried another family dinner. I did better this time.
        “Am I trying too hard?” I asked.
        “Trying too hard to fatten me up, maybe,” Alice said, swirling a drumstick in the mashed potatoes.
        After that, we drifted back into our old habits. We’d order sausage pizza or takeout and eat in front of the television. It was sometime during our binge- watching of an entire season of Life After Kindergarten that Alice’s cell pinged with an email.
        Alice picked up the phone. “It’s from Finnegan,” she said.
        “What did he say?”
        She read aloud. “Thank you so much for welcoming Fiona and me to celebrate your nuptials. There is nothing we love more than a beautiful wedding and a rousing party. We were honored to be part of your special day.
        “Nice.”
        “Fiona says that you and Jake remind her of us from twenty years ago,” she read. “She insists you come stay with us next summer at our place in the North.
        “Wow,” I said. “It sounds like they actually want to be friends.”
        “Lastly, the gift,” Alice continued reading. “The Pact is something that Fiona and I received for our own wedding. It was left on our doorstep on a rainy Monday morning. It wasn’t until two weeks later that we learned it was from my childhood guitar teacher, an old man from Belfast.
        “Regift?” I asked, perplexed.
        “No,” Alice replied, “I don’t think so.”
        She looked down at the phone and continued. “It turned out to be the best gift Fiona and I received, and frankly the only one I actually remember. Over the years, we’ve given The Pact to a few young couples. It is not for everyone, I should begin with that, but in the short time I’ve come to know you and Jake, I sense it may be right for you. So, may I ask you a few questions?
        Alice quickly typed, Yes.
        She stared at her phone.
        Ping.
        She read aloud again. “Pardon my boldness, but would you like your marriage to last forever — yes or no? This only works if you are honest.
        Alice glanced at me, a little puzzled, hesitated for maybe a second too long, and then she typed, Yes.
        Ping.
        She was looking increasingly intrigued, as if Finnegan were leading her down a darkened street.
        “Do you believe that a long marriage will go through periods of happiness AND sadness, lightness AND darkness?
        Of course.
        Ping.
        “Are both of you willing to work to make your marriage last forever?
        “That goes without saying,” I said. Alice typed.
        Ping.
        “Do either of you give up easily?
        Nope.
        “Are both of you open to new things? And are you willing to accept help from friends if they have your success and happiness in mind?
        Puzzling. Alice looked at me. “What do you think?”
        “Yes, for me at least,” I said.
        “Okay, me too,” she said, typing.
        Ping.
        “Splendid. Are you available on Saturday morning?
        She looked up. “Are we available?”
        “Sure,” I said.
        Yes, she typed. Are you in town?
        “Sadly, I am in a studio outside Dublin. But my friend Vivian will visit your house to explain The Pact. If you are so inclined, I would be honored if you and Jake chose to join our very special group. Will ten a.m. work?
        Alice fiddled with her phone calendar before answering, once again, yes.
        Ping.
        “Brilliant. I’m certain you and Vivian will hit it off.
        After that, we waited, but no more emails came. Alice and I stared at the phone, waiting for it to ping again.
        “Does any of this strike you as — complicated?” I asked finally.
        Alice smiled. “How bad can it be?”

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