For many, many reasons, I’ve struggled with writing the last few weeks. I finally had a story finished…then lost it all. All of it. Every single word. Tragic. You must always “save”. That’s the lesson for today.
Pity Party Over.
Okay! Here’s a story and a chance to vote! You get to vote for this story inspired by Steven DeVries , Without Jane inspired by Cheryl Meyer or Luke’s Journal inspired by Julie Weber. Voting will be open until Tuesday night at 11:57 pm. You can vote by commenting on this post!
Here’s Steven’s story idea…
Character: Harold, Middle Aged
Setting: A Christian Couples’ Retreat
Conflict: Harold is happily married, except that his wife is not longer interested in intimacy. Harold meets a nice woman who actually seems interested in his life and he begins to wonder “what if”
Harold and Charlotte sat at a round table. Alone. The other four seats still empty. He reached over and touched her knee. She flinched slightly before letting his touch linger.
Harold tried to ignore it. He tried to pretend that it didn’t make him feel repulsive to her. But as this happened whenever he touched her, regardless of his intent. It was difficult to overlook.
“They really did a good job on the decorations this year,” Charlotte said. “I think they upped the budget.”
“The roses are a nice touch,” Harold said. He withdrew his hand. “I hope the food is just as nice.”
“You’d never know this was a campground.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Other couples began to walk into the mess hall turned banquet room. Harold noticed that they all held hands or linked arms. He reached for Charlotte’s hand. She pulled away from him.
“My hands are real dry, Harry,” she said. “Holding hands makes it worse.”
Every year, for ten years, Harold brought her to that camp. For the couple’s retreat. In hopes that she would love him again. Or at least that she would want him to hug her. Kiss her. Have those secret moments with her.
But it never got better.
It had been twelve years. She insisted that he sleep in the guest room.
“Oh, look, Harry. We’re having Chicken Kiev tonight,” Charlotte said. “Your favorite.”
“Great.” He smiled at her. “Can’t wait.”
More and more happy couples came in. They filled up the tables. Harold checked his watch. 6:57. The dinner would start at 7:00. Still no one sat in the four extra chairs at their table.
“Looks like we might have a dinner just the two of us,” he said.
Charlotte sighed. It wasn’t a happy sigh. Not even content. Harold thought it was an annoyed sigh.
“Would you like me to get you some punch?” he asked. “They might even have coffee.”
“Yeah.” She looked at him sideways. “Thanks.”
Harold walked to the punch bowl. Several other men stood around the beverage table, pouring the red, sugary water into tiny plastic cups. All those other men were balding or soft around the middle. Harold touched his midsection. His long runs kept him lean. And his hair wasn’t falling out.
And, still, Charlotte didn’t want him.
At least not in that way. They enjoyed playing cards together. Or going for walks. They’d laugh over old stories and pictures for hours. There’s was a friendship, cemented by a marriage license. And that was all.
As Harold poured himself a cup of coffee he noticed a couple walking in. They were late and were looking for a table. Harold and Charlotte’s was the only one with empty seats. Leaving the cups on the table, he walked toward them.
“Are you looking for a place to sit?” he asked them. “We’ve got some empty seats.”
“Great,” the husband said. “Thanks so much.”
“It’s our first time at this,” the wife said. “We were a little nervous we wouldn’t make any friends.”
“Well come on, I’ll introduce you to my wife.” Harold picked up the cups on his way. “We’ve been coming to this for years. It’s a lot of fun. I’m Harold.”
“John,” the husband said. “And this is Linda.”
“I’m so glad to meet you both.” Harold looked at them both.
He’d have been lying if he said he didn’t think Linda was gorgeous.
By the end of dinner, the two couples were laughing. One story flowed into another and another. Even after all the other couples had retired to their cabins for the evening, Harold and Charlotte, John and Linda were still in their seats. After they were shooed away by the clean up crew, they each went to their lodgings.
“They seem nice,” Harold said. He was setting up a bed on the floor only feet from a queen sized bed.
“Yeah. Real fun.” Charlotte washed her face in the bathroom. “Harry, are you going to be okay on the floor?”
A rush of hope filled his body.
“Well, it’s not a bed.” He reached down for his pillow. “Do you think I could snuggle up next to you tonight?”
Silence from the bathroom. Charlotte turned off the water. Then the light. She came into the sleeping area. She wore baggy pajamas. Her hair was rumpled. The skin on her face was pink from being scrubbed.
She was beautiful to him. He wanted so badly to hold her. Kiss her forehead. He didn’t even need to have sex with her. He just longed for closeness. Of any kind.
“You want to sleep in the bed?” she asked.
“Yes.” He moved toward her. “But really, I just want to be with you.”
He looked into her eyes. He knew her answer.
“Harry, I was just going to say that you should get the air mattress out of the trunk.” She turned toward the bed. “I packed it for you.”
He stood in the middle of the floor. Still holding his pillow.
He heard Charlotte climb into the bed. The box spring creaked as she shifted down under the sheets.
“I’m exhausted,” she said. “Good night, Harry.”
The night air was neither soothing nor crisp. It felt heavy. Wet. Dull. Dense.
Harold pulled his car keys out of his pants pocket. Instead of popping the trunk, he unlocked the front door and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He usually abstained during Christian functions. Smoking was typically not allowed. But he didn’t care. He decided that if anyone confronted him about it he would tell them why he needed a smoke.
His wife wouldn’t let him sleep with her.
She wanted nothing to do with him.
He sat on the trunk. Puffing away. The inhalation easing a bit of the tension in his body.
“Oh, caught ya.”
Harold jumped at hearing the female voice. He turned. Linda stood a few feet away.
“Geez. You scared me to death,” he said.
“Sorry. I was just out having a smoke myself.” Linda held up the lit cigarette between her fingers. “You mind if I sit with you? I hate smoking alone.”
“No. Come on over.” He slid over a bit.
Linda climbed onto the trunk.
“John hates that I smoke. I just can’t seem to quit.”
“Charlotte doesn’t care too much. She just calls it her life insurance policy expediter.”
“You know she’s just kidding.”
He dragged on his cigarette. “I’m not sure.”
“I mean. If I had a man like you, I’d be doing all I could to make him live as long as possible.”
Harold looked at her. The way she was looking at him made him both uncomfortable and warm. “Well, that’s kind. I bet you say that to all the guys.”
“Only the really cute ones.” She giggled. “But seriously. What are you doing out here? I thought this retreat thing was supposed to be romantic.”
She nudged him with her shoulder. Her touch sent a charge through him. He knew this was dangerous.
“Well, Charlotte was tired.”
“I see.” Linda tossed her cigarette butt into the grass. “John brought his laptop. We agreed no computers of cell phones this weekend. Just each other. You know?”
Harold nodded his head.
“He just can’t get away from work.” Linda lit another cigarette. “He’d even check his email in bed if I let him.”
“I’m sorry,” Harold said.
“Please tell me I’m not the only one with a screwed up marriage.” She twisted a little piece of hair around her finger. She looked at Harold, her head tilted. “Like you and Charlotte. Are you happy?”
“Well, yes.” Harold hopped down from the trunk. “She’s my best friend.”
“That must be so nice.” She inched closer. Just a bit. “I’m sure you’re a really amazing husband.”
“You know, Harold, I’m really glad I met you.”
“Yeah. It’s always nice to meet other couples.”
“It sure is.”
“Things with my wife aren’t good,” Harold blurted out. “I shouldn’t be talking about this.”
“No. It’s okay.”
“We haven’t been together in a long time.” Harold felt ashamed. Guilty. Like he was overstepping some sacred line.
“You mean together, like, making love?”
“Twelve years.” He felt his soul. It seemed to be tearing.
“Twelve years? How long have you been married?”
“Fifteen.” Harold breathed slowly. He held down the sorrow. “We had a still born baby. After that, she pushed me away.”
Linda slid down off the car and pulled Harold into an embrace.
It was the first time he’d been hugged in years. He convulsed with the sobs. She calmed him with gentle words. He felt that he would melt right into her.
He needed a woman who wasn’t afraid to touch him. Hold him. Want him.
What would it be like. What if Charlotte died. And John left Linda. They could be together.
But that was crazy. He’d just met Linda, what, four hours before. He pulled away from her arms.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have.”
“No. Don’t be. I’m glad you opened up to me.” She smiled. Put her hand on his. “I want to be your friend.”
“Thanks.” He smiled. “Listen, I need to get to bed.”
“They get us up early for breakfast around here.” He took a few steps toward his cabin. “But at least they’ve got waffles. And bacon. I’ll always get up for bacon.”
“Smoking and bacon?”
“I know. I run a couple miles everyday to make up for it.” He smiled. “Well, sleep well.”
The cabin was dark. Charlotte was sleeping, no doubt. He tip toed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. He was as quiet as possible.
He realized that he never got the blow up mattress. He lowered himself to the floor anyway and covered up with his blanket.
“Harry,” Charlotte said, quietly. “You okay?”
“No, Babe. I’m not.”
“What’s wrong?” The box spring creaked as she sat up. “You sick? Was it the Kiev?”
“I miss you.”
Charlotte was silent. And still.
“Charlotte, we need to work some things out.” He doubled up his pillow and shoved it under his head. “I know you’re hurting. Let me help you.”
Harold flinched as Charlotte flipped on the light.
“You don’t even know,” she said. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
“She was my baby, too.”
“But you didn’t feel her moving around inside. You didn’t have to deliver her just to…” She cleared her throat. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Harold got up. Walked to the bed. Climbed in next to her. He pulled her close. She tried to push him away.
“Charlotte, I love you.” He kissed her cheek. “Please love me back. I really need you to.”
“I’m too scared.”
She leaned into his chest. He touched her hair. Smoothed it. “Just let me help you.”
Harold closed his eyes. He felt her put one arm around him.