For all of you faithful voters…thanks! Last week’s winner was Blood Out — Inspired by Adam Meyer. Be watching out for the stories this week: Hostage and Mr. Fuzzington. We’ll have our vote on Friday and Saturday (10/7 and 10/8). Then, on Sunday and Monday (10/9 and 10/10) we’ll have our vote for the ultimate finalist who will win a T-shirt from Freeset! Whoo!
Today’s story is inspired by Amelia Rhodes. I met Amelia at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing in 2010. We became fast friends. She was the first reader of my novel “Paint Chips”…which was a huge leap of faith for me. But she proved to be an encouraging critique partner. Together we dreamed up the idea for Kava Writer\’s Collective (our critique/editing group). Our friendship has been one of literary collaboration, encouragement and lots of coffee. But it has also become one of trust and vulnerability. She is an amazing friend. I know she has my back and she’s always pushing me to be better. She’s the mind behind Stories For Us and a regular contributor to Circle of Friends (women’s ministry) and Catapult Magazine. Here’s her idea…
Man. Married and his wife is expecting their first child. Life seems perfect; great job, beautiful wife, starting a family. But a dark secret haunts him, causing erratic and irrational behavior. He must get it out or it might kill him. But the consequences are equally devastating.
Christopher stood, looking out the dining room window of a house that he would soon leave. The marble counter tops, tile floors, expensive furniture, stainless steel appliances. The baby’s room with fresh pink paint on the walls. A mahogany crib. Closet full of tiny, frilly clothes.
A house for a family he would have to abandon. For his first baby. His last baby. That he would never see, hold, smell, kiss.
It was all his fault. His addiction caused it all.
He started with slot machines. Then he tried the gambling tables at the Casino. Just for fun. With a few buddies. He’d only take in $20. Then it became $50. And up and up and up. Eventually, the Casino got boring. He needed more risk.
There was a backroom card game at a bar in this small town. The risks were high. The players were a rough group. And Christopher tore them up for the first month he played. He’d win a couple hundred bucks here, a thousand or two there. He bought new clothes. Paid off his student loan. Got gifts for his wife. All that extra money got spent before he knew it.
And the second month, all he did was lose. All that he’d won. Then he lost more. They let him write “IOU’s” for what he couldn’t pay in cash. The stack of debt piled up. But they kept letting him play. And he couldn’t seem to win.
“Listen, Bud,” the owner of the bar said. “Don’t you know when to quit?”
“I’m just trying to win my way out of that mess.” Christopher had no idea how big that mess was. “I can tell my luck’s coming back around.”
“Nope. Can’t come back in ’til you pay it all off.”
“How much is it?”
The man wrote a price on the back of a bar tab. It was more than Christopher made in four years.
“And if you don’t feel like payin’, we’ll get it out of you other ways.”
“What does that mean?”
“We’ll take pieces of you until there’s nothing left.” The bar owner smiled. “And don’t think the police can help. We own them.”
He bought a hefty life insurance policy. He knew that he would have to wait two years. Before that, his suicide wouldn’t pay out. He paid the bar owner a little every week. Otherwise, bad things would happen. He forgot once and “someone” shot a bullet through his front window. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But it was enough to make him remember the payment.
Just two years, he’d thought. He only had to make it that long. Then Lydia would have enough money. The bar would be paid off, his mortgage would be taken care of. His wife wouldn’t have to work for a few years. She’d move on. Find another man. One who wouldn’t get addicted to poker. But that was before he learned she was pregnant.
She’d been so excited. Screamed and cried and laughed and jumped into his arms. Every doctor’s appointment made her more and more eager for parenthood. And they only set in dread for him.
As Christopher looked out the window he knew that his baby girl, Emma Christa, would be born in one month. And the two years wait was up that morning. If he waited until she was born, he would never have the courage to leave them.
“Hey, Chris,” Lydia said, walking into the kitchen. “Did you sleep at all?”
“No. Too much going on in my mind.” Christopher turned toward his wife. Her hair was in a messy ponytail. The shirt she wore barely covered her round belly. “You’re beautiful.”
“Right. I feel like a bull just tossed me. Man, that mattress is killing me.”
“You can buy a new one.”
“No. It’ll be just perfect after Emma comes.” She rubbed her stomach. “I need coffee.”
“Are you sure that’s okay?”
“You don’t want to stand in the way of my coffee right now. Seriously.” She moved awkwardly to the coffee maker. “So, what’s so important that you can’t sleep?”
“How about you make enough for me, too. I could drink a cup.”
“Sure thing, Babe.”
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I put all my life insurance in the lock box. The one in our closet.”
“Great. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“The key is tapped the the bottom of my sock drawer.”
“Did you take out any insurance on me?”
“No. Just me. And I highlighted all the numbers you’ll need to call when I die.”
She turned to him. “Why are we having this conversation right now?”
“I was just thinking about it. I wanted to make sure you knew about it.”
“What’s going on, Chris?”
“Nothing. I’ve been thinking about getting some doughnuts. How many do you want?”
Christopher didn’t wait for her answer. He got into his car and drove. Could he go do it right then? Get everything over with. She knew where the papers were. She’d be fine.
Or would he need to tell her about everything? She wouldn’t let him follow through with his plan. And they were just about out of money to pay the bar owner. Christopher certainly didn’t want to be tortured. And he didn’t want anything to happen to his family.
“God! I don’t know what to do!” he whispered. “Just tell me what You want! I’ll do it. Just keep us safe.”
He found himself pulling into the bakery. Half a dozen doughnuts in a box sat on the passenger seat as he drove home.
When he unlocked the front door, he could tell something wasn’t right.
“Lydia?” he called. “Babe? I got you a couple long johns.”
He walked into the kitchen. The coffee was done brewing. But none had been poured out of the carafe.
“Lydia! Where are you?”
His worst fears raced through his mind.
They’ve taken her. Where’s the note? They’d leave a note. What could they have done to her? These guys are monsters.
He dropped the box on the kitchen island counter. It slid across the glossy marble and fell to the floor. But it didn’t make the sound he expected. It was a softer sound. Not cardboard on tile. But cardboard on body.
She’s down there. What happened?
He rushed around the island. She was on the floor, holding her stomach and breathing hard.
“Are you alright?” he asked, kneeling down.
She shook her head. “It’s time.”
“No. It’s too early.”
“Try telling the baby that.”
The delivery was quick. Emma was all screams and red face when the doctor laid her across Lydia’s chest. Christopher was ruined by the beauty of his wife holding their daughter. Nothing was more worth living than that.
Three days later, they were home. Lydia put Emma in her crib for a nap. When she walked back to the living room, Christopher was pacing.
“Hon, she’ll be okay. We’ve got the baby monitor. We can hear everything.” She hugged him.
“Listen, we have to talk.”
“I did some stupid things. I owe some guys a lot of money.”
“Okay. Slow down. What did you do?”
He told her the story, knowing that he risked losing her, losing Emma. He thought about omitting the suicide plan. With the gun that was in the glove compartment. But his mouth kept disclosing more and more.
And her eyes brimmed with tears.
“And if you want to kick me out, that’s okay. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
He touched her knee. She pushed him away.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll go now. Don’t forget where the insurance papers are.”
“They’re no good if you kill yourself.”
“Well, I had to wait two years. Now the insurance will pay off no matter what.”
“But I’m no good if you do it.” She looked up. Her eyes were bright red. Her face was wet with her tears. “Don’t leave us.”
“I don’t know what else to do.”
“Go upstairs and look at our baby. You’ll know what to do.” She waited. He didn’t move or even speak. “We’ll sell the house. The cars. Move in with my parents. They’ll understand.”
Christopher sat on the floor. He was numb. It was hours before he got up. Lydia was cradling Emma on the couch, speaking soft words to calm her.
“Can I hold her?” he asked.
Lydia nodded. He moved himself to sit by her and put out his arms. Holding his child felt so natural. The shape of her body molded to his.
“She’s beautiful.” He couldn’t help but kiss the baby’s head. A lingering, breathtaking kiss. He smelled her hair. So fresh. She wiggled, opened her eyes.
He realized, looking at her, what he must do.
He would put the house up for sale. And one of the cars. He would call a lawyer. Work more hours. Get a second job. Whatever he needed to do.
Christopher chose Lydia and Emma. He chose to live.