We lived by the mantra, ‘no regrets.’
At seventeen, we stripped and plunged into the murky river, moving our friendship into “more” territory. We had no apologies, even after cranky old Mr. Sitkowski waved his shotgun barrel at us.
“You kids git on outta thar!” He bellowed.
We’d giggled at his rage as we walked to shore. (Even with a season of good rain, the river couldn’t overcome nine years of drought and barely came to our waists.) Wearing a shroud of youthful exuberance, neither of us had the good sense (or decency) to cover ourselves as we emerged and stumbled up the muddy bank.
“Good lawd!” Mr. Sitkowski whipped his head to the side to avoid seeing our nakedness. “Ya’ll ought not be showin’ that stuff. Git dressed!”
We’d snickered again at his Southern-accented indignation. One time, he’d told us his parents emigrated from Poland and rode a breeze to Ohatchee, Alabama and some years later, settled near the Verde River in Arizona. (Turns out he was much friendlier when not trespassing on his land at midnight.)
We grabbed our clothes off the willow branch while Mr. Sitkowski, with his back to us, leaned on his shotgun like a cane and ranted about the trouble with today’s youth. We shared a conspiratory smile and a nod before we slipped into the brush. You grabbed my hand and led the way as we ran wearing nothing but our skivvies! I didn’t even feel the thistles dig into my bare feet as we wound through the weeds.
My dreamer’s mind saw this as the perfect story to tell our grandchildren- when they were of age, of course.
Reality toyed with the fairy tales rooted in my head. We graduated and went to separate colleges. The daily phone calls dwindled to weekly, and then petered into infrequent letters resembling the impersonal updates sent with Christmas cards. After a full year passed without any communication from you, I came to terms with my future.
Until you found me again.
After nine years, you’d called and I eagerly answered. You suggested we meet and I didn’t decline. I couldn’t. Once clean-shaven, you’d grown a stubbly beard. Your lean frame bulked up and I fought to not stare at the tight muscles pulsing beneath your black t-shirt. But you had the same eyes- the ones that could melt a “yes” out of me no matter what you wanted.
You’d wanted to go back to my place. I should’ve resented the suggestion, because I knew what “catching up” meant. Still, my heart couldn’t muster a “no.” I convinced myself that my teenaged notions of us spending our lives together would come true. In a way, I’d been right; like a fortune cookie prediction, or some kind of eerie premonition.
*** *** ***
I steal a sideways glance at you, handcuffed beside me wearing a matching orange jumpsuit. Oddly, orange is flattering on you. I decide the light stubble on your jawline is incredibly sexy. If it weren’t for the packed courtroom, handcuffs and ankle shackles, I’d kiss you right here.
That fleeting thought unnerves me because you are at the core of everything I don’t want to remember. I’ve had over a year alone to build up hatred for you, but love prevails. Stupid, obedient, errant love. The kind of foolish feelings I’d had for you since before Mr. Sitkowski busted us skinny dipping in the river.
“We’d like to call Audrey White to the stand.”
My name cuts through the endless loop of self-recrimination. A temporary reprieve, I know. The bailiff escorts me to the stand. I place my hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth. A smirk crosses my lips at the thought of anything I have to say being oath-worthy.
I sit and brace for what’s coming.
“Ms. White, do you know the co-defendant, Cooper Bradshaw?”
“We were in bed together when the police arrested us, so I’d say I do.” My attorney winces at the sarcasm. Stifled giggles ripple through the courtroom.
“Order!” The judge slams her gavel twice.
The prosecutor clears his throat. “When did you begin your affair with Mr. Bradshaw?”
“1999. We were seventeen.”
“When did you resume the affair?”
“Three years ago, Cooper called and we met for coffee.”
“Is that when you began planning his wife’s murder?”
“Objection!” My lawyer shouts.
“I never planned to kill his wife. I mean, I didn’t even know he was married.” I catch a glimpse of my lawyer shaking his head so I stop.
“So you accidentally shot your lover’s wife in her own home?”
It sounds worse when he says it. “Yes. I mean, no.” I sigh in frustration. “Cooper was in the shower and I heard a noise downstairs. I told him there was someone in the house, but he didn’t hear me over the running water. I panicked and grabbed the revolver from the nightstand drawer.”
“How did you know he kept a gun there?”
“I watch movies. Everyone keeps a gun in the nightstand. Or under the mattress.”
A few chuckles slip out, but a stern look from Judge Thomas quells them.
“What happened next?”
“The bedroom door opened and I pulled the trigger.” I look down and rub my thumb over a black smudge on the orange fabric stretched across my left thigh. “I later found out it was Chandra Bradshaw, his wife. It was an accident.”
The prosecutor looks at the paper in his hand. “Is it also an accident that Cooper called his wife at 2:11?” He turns to the jury box. “Fourteen minutes before Chandra came home.”
A new lie? Cooper’s expression reveals nothing.
We’re facing life in prison. Doubt settles in my stomach. I see it in the jurors’ faces, too.
The realization dawns that our entire relationship wasn’t fate, rather one accident after another.
We’d always defined ourselves by the ‘no regrets’ mantra, but somehow, in the shock of betrayal, my regrets have become too numerous to count.
This 999-word story was written for a contest held by Write On Edge (thanks, Atreyee, at Brewmeacuppa, for the heads up on this one!) This is a voted contest for a chance at publication. Details are below… if you want to join in, there’s still time – click the badge above to view their site 🙂
- 1000 word limit, all genres of creative writing are welcome.
- linky is open until Friday, February 21, at 11:55pm Pacific
- Use the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote “It takes two to make an accident.” as an opening/closing line or draw inspiration from it, your choice.
- Community voting opens 2/22 and closes 2/28 at 11:55pm Pacific.
- Community and editorial choice winners will be announced on Write on Edge and Bannerwing Books on Monday, March 3, 2014.
- All entries must be original work, only published on your personal blog/website, and by entering you give Write on Edge and Bannerwing Books permission to reprint your entry in Precipice, Volume III‘s print and digital formats, as well as permission to edit for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors.