Friday, October 14, 2005

The Other Side of the Mountain

This was the last story I wrote for the AOL Short Story Contest. That Contest is now history and this posting concludes the series of stories written for that. Any further stories, and hopefully there will be some that I feel I can and/or should post here, will be for other things or just my enjoyment. The theme this week was "Whispers". It was written the first week of May in 2005. It's one I kinda like but don't expect anybody else to and so far what little reaction I got to it bears that out.

    Marc walked warily through the milling party crowd. As he neared knots of people engaged in conversation inevitably they fell silent and watched him until he moved on. The room seemed filled with people in whispered conversation shooting occasional glances at him. He could not seem to find Callie and felt the raw edge of panic begin to set in. He began to move faster and more urgently. No one offered to help him and instinctively he knew it was useless to ask. As hard as he worked to fight it down the panic rose until he was frantic.
    Marc jerked upright in bed, covered in a cold sweat.

    Callie rolled over and looked at him sleepily. "The nightmare again?"

    Marc merely nodded.

    Callie pulled him down to her and he let her hold him. She quickly drifted back to sleep as always. It was not as easy for Marc who lay there thinking replaying the whirlwind events of the last year.

    This wasn't the way it was supposed to work, Marc thought. But then nothing about their life had been quite mainstream since they'd agreed together 20 years ago that Marc should be the one to stay home with the kids. The one thing they'd been sure of was that one of them had to fill that role. It was also, Marc thought, possibly the last correct decision he'd ever made. That elicited a sigh since he knew that Callie would vehemently disagree with him on that.

  Two very active children had kept him occupied very well. The problems began as the children reached their teen years, which brought on the rebellion and independence of that age. They began to need him less and less just as Callie's career began to really gain momentum.

  He'd not meant for it to happen at first. He'd found he was not alone feeling as he did when he was talking to Helen after running into her at the mall one afternoon. Helen and Jason had been friends of his and Callie's for years, ever since the kids had been in the same schools and on the same sports teams. It had been natural for Helen to invite Marc over to swim and talk.

  Talk they had. They'd also had a few beers with the lunch they had before slipping into the pool to avoid the early September heat that Central Florida was famous for. Helen began to tease Marc playfully and he'd responded. The next thing he really remembered was waking beside her in the bed with her tracing her finger up and down his chest. He remembered how shocked he was to realize what he'd done.

  Helen had smiled at him for that and had gone on to tell him she thought he deserved it. She told him how she'd decided if Jason was going to be too busy for her then she'd just make herself happy however she could. Marc had been shocked and asked what would happen if Jason found out.

    She'd shocked him yet again when she told him that Jason knew full well what she was doing. Marc couldn't believe it until she'd picked up the phone to call him, apparently fully planning to have Jason tell Marc himself.

  That had not been their only time together but Marc had avoided more times than he'd taken her up on. It had started something though that, while it began slowly did snowball over the years. Marc never told Callie, he could not bring himself to. For her part she never seemed suspicious. He had not been sure if she didn't care or if he was just good at hiding his tracks and being discreet.

    Then almost exactly a year ago it had began to unravel. Somebody he thought was a good friend and very discreet turned out to want more than he could give. She'd startled him by telling him that she was leaving her husband and wanted Marc to leave Callie so they could be together.

  Scared, Marc had tried to cut it off with her but she began threatening to tell Callie on her own if Marc didn't. Apparently she also talked about their affair a lot. While she and Marc didn't have any common friends the whispers started.

  Oddly the first to come to Marc had been Helen. She'd told him what she'd heard and asked if she could help him someway. He'd told her no, since he could think of no way anybody could help.

  The whispers grew louder and more pervasive. Marc still could not bring himself to tell Callie and it was eating him up. He'd stopped sleeping well and had lost weight.  Callie had repeatedly asked him if he was ok and if he wanted to talk about something. He knew then she'd heard the whispers but he could not bring himself to talk about it. She'd accepted that in her stoic way and had just insisted he go to the doctor to make sure nothing was wrong. He'd done that for her and of course the doctor gave him a clean bill of health.

  The whispers turned into a howl then as the woman publicly announced she was leaving her husband who was a prominent local attorney and frequent target of the local media. They gleefully picked up on the story and quickly dragged Marc into it and inevitably Callie as well.

  Marc had finally had to tearfully confess, long after he knew he should have. Callie had cried with him. Then she'd sat him up and told him she'd known about it for a long time. She'd asked him why he thought she kept asking him if there was anything he wanted to talk about. Astounded, Marc had asked her why she hadn't made him stop. Callie had replied that it seemed to be making him happy and he was giving her everything she wanted. She'd then apologized to him for not being able to give him all he'd needed during those years and for focusing so on building her business.

  Marc sighed deeply then and rolled over holding Callie tight. She snuggled deeper into him as he looked out the window at the panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains coming alive in the sunrise.

  Maybe Callie was right Marc thought and this was a godsend. Their children were grown and on their own. They had just each other now. Marc had been stunned when Callie had come home and announced that she'd sold the business and even more stunned when she told him how much she'd gotten. It had gotten them this snug place on the side of a North Carolina mountain, always a dream of his, and enough socked away to take care of them for the rest of their lives if they so desired.

  Marc felt Callie's arms tighten on his and heard another whisper. This whisper he liked. "I love you Marc, forever and always. Please make love to me."

  Once again the whispers of his past were forgotten as they made up for lost time.

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