This is a relatively new story. I also posted this one in my regular journal but am reposting here for completeness. It was written for the AOL Short Story Contest but is longer than most of the others because they changed the rules to allow up to 2000 words. I'm not sure if I like this one or not. It had potential but I am not sure I quite hit what I intended. The theme was "Attic" and the story was written in late February of 2005.
Toni sighed and trudged up the stairs. "You've got to get a grip," she told herself as she plopped down in her desk chair. Flipping on the computer she started some upbeat music playing hoping to brighten her mood. She gave a weak smile as the music began to play and typed in the password to open the word processor file that contained all her meager email correspondence with Brock. She sighed again and close the file, sure if she read through it she would get depressed again.
Again she wondered how, exactly, it had happened. Here she was, a 33 year old happily married mother of two wonderful girls. She was at a loss to explain how she'd ended up having an affair. Or was it an affair, she wondered. She'd only seen Brock face to face five times at intervals no closer than a month apart and sometimes three months apart. She told herself that was more like a series of flings. "Maybe I'm just going nuts", she said, laughing aloud.
Toni picked up a deck of cards from one corner of the desk and looked at the Bellagio logo. Brock had brought them to her from one of his trips to Vegas. She idly shuffled them thinking of how they'd met.
That Wednesday Toni had felt a little bored and frustrated with the idea of doing housework. She'd decided that she deserved some time for her so she'd gone to the casino intending to play poker for long enough to get her food comp and have a late lunch before going home in time for the girls to come home from school.
As she'd made her way toward her seat Jake, one of the regulars she knew, stopped her. "Watch out for the guy in the eight seat Toni, he's good, real good. I'm pretty sure he's a pro."
As she took her seat she used the time while she took her chips out of the rack to look over at the man Jake had mentioned. She felt her heart do a little flip-flop and wondered why. She'd played with professional players before and knew if she was careful it was ok. She thought he was fairly good looking but in sort of an average middle aged way. There just seemed to be something about him that drew her eye back. He caught her eye and gave a small nod, his face giving away no other expression. She felt her heart do the flip-flop thing again and wondered why. She heard the dealer tell her that the action was on her and, embarrassed, realized she'd been thinking about the man across from her and hadn't even realized she had cards to play. She looked at them, quickly folded and settled down to play.
Toni had done her best to just play but her concentration was not all it should have been and when she cashed out to go to her late lunch she was down more than she liked. In the nearly empty restaurant she'd taken a seat by a window overlooking the water. She thought about how poorly she she'd played, knowing it had been because she'd been thinking about that man at the table and wondering what was wrong with her. She played with different people all the time and had never lost concentration like that before.
"Excuse me, I wondered if you'd mind sharing your table. We played at the same table for a while this morning and I thought you might not mind a little company and I really would rather not eat alone."
She was quickly brought out of her trance and looked up startled to see him standing beside her. "Oh, why sure. Have a seat. I remember you from this morning of course." She kicked herself mentally, feeling like she was acting like a silly schoolgirl.
They'd introduced themselves as he sat down and Toni had learned that his name was Brock Piper. She thought, as they began to talk after ordering lunch, that he seemed a bit nervous too. But she may have imagined it. She got him talking about poker and they mostly talked over hands they'd played that morning and he gave her some good insights both to her play and how he'd played. She did learn that he was a pro but he down played it and didn't seem to want to talk about it.
She'd looked at her watch and gasped, "Crap! I've got to go! The girls will be home soon and I've just got time to make it. I had no idea it was so late!"
He'd told her that he was leaving Friday morning and asked if she ever played in the evening or if she was going to play again the next day. She thought he'd looked a little disappointed when she'd said no, that today was just a day she took for herself but that she didn't play all that much anymore.
She'd left then but had not stopped thinking about him that night and when she was still thinking about him Thursday morning she decided to go back after all. They'd not played at the same table but he'd come to the restaurant again and had smiled to see that she'd already had the waitress set out the unsweetened ice tea that he'd told her the day before he preferred.
The conversation that time got into more personal topics and she told him about her husband, her children, how much she loved the big old house they'd moved into a few years before when Donovan had taken the position in Gulfport. He'd told her a little about how he'd come to be a professional poker player.
When it was time, once again, for her to go pick the girls up she'd been reluctant to leave but had to tell him that she didn't see how she could come play that evening. She was sure Donovan would expect her home with him and the girls.
Toni put the cards down, stood up and began to pace. Her hand went to the exposed beams that were the low ceiling of her attic sanctuary. Donovan had surprised her for her birthday by having a contractor renovate the attic for her as place for her office, her craft activities and her exercise equipment. It had become the place she came when she needed to be alone to try to sort out her feelings. Why was she doing this? How could she justify the potential pain she was causing Donovan or the risk she took in possibly losing her two girls who were so dear to her? She sighed then, looking out one of the dormer windows at the Gulf across the street. She could remember feeling powerless to stop it almost from the beginning.
That Thursday at dinner Donovan had been surprised she'd gone to play poker two days in a row. She'd done it frequently when they'd first moved here but she'd gradually begun playing less. Then he'd shocked her by telling her that he had brought some work home and while she was on a roll why didn't she go play that evening if she wanted since he knew she'd liked to do that when she could in the beginning. She'd gladly accepted but then worried that he would wonder why she was so eager.
She'd gotten to the poker room and been disappointed to find that Brock was not there. She wondered if, since he was leaving early in the morning, he'd decided to go to bed early. She needn't have worried because about a half hour later he sat down across from her when a seat opened up. She smiled at him and then when he gave her only a small nod in return looked around to see if any of the other players, most of them locals she'd played with before at one time or another had noticed the big smile she'd given Brock. They all seemed to be looking at him though. Obviously word that he was really a professional had gotten around. Again she wondered if that was all her interest in him was. He had given her some great tips during their talks that had already helped her play she thought.
Donovan had told her not to worry how late she stayed but she didn't want to push it so she decided to quit around 10:30. After she cashed out she took her time outside the poker room putting her money away, wondering if Brock would follow her out.
She smiled when she saw him.
"You know if I keep leaving every time you do people are going to start to talk," Brock had said with the crooked smile she liked so much but she could tell he was serious.
"Don't worry about it. We're just friends right? I'm married after all."
He'd hesitated and then said, "Yeah, you're right."
They stood there talking for a little while and then he said, "It's a really nice night, would you like to take a little walk down the beach while we talk, if you don't need to get home to your family that is. I know it's getting late."
She'd known then she should say no because the first thing that popped into her mind was how romantic that would be and how it was something she and Donovan almost never took the time to do even though they lived right across the street from a beach just as nice. Yet she'd said yes.
They'd left their shoes by the hotel's seawall and walked slowly barefoot in the sugary sand talking. She commented on how romantic it was with the nearly full moon hanging over the water. Brock had looked at her and then replied that he agreed. A little later their hands had brushed together for the third or fourth time when he tentatively took her hand in his. She felt her heart give a lurch and stopped walking. She felt him start to withdraw his hand and she'd quickly grasped his to stop him.
They looked at each other then and she felt herself melt. Her heart had been pounding as he bent slowly toward her. She'd thought to herself then, "No Toni, you can't do this." But she'd met Brock halfway. Their lips had touched and instantly their arms were around one another and their kiss had gone from tentative exploring to deeplypassionate at a rate that frightened her.
How long they had kissed she was not sure. She went through every emotion during that time. Toni marveled at how he seemed to take her to heights she barely remembered. Then it had become too much and she'd climaxed. The feeling washed over her, at first wonderful and then as she began to come down from the high the horror of what she'd done hit her. How could a stranger bring her to this state? How could she allow a stranger to do that to her?
She'd flung herself out of Brock's arms, crying and saying how sorry she was and how horrible she felt. Brock had looked devastated and apologized telling her it was all his fault. She'd fled then, straight to her car arriving home only then realizing she had been so panicked she'd even forgotten her shoes.
Tears filled Toni's eyes again as she thought of it. There was so much more as well for her to think about. It had not stopped there, as it should have. That had been entirely her fault she told herself. Brock had given her every opportunity to walk away from it. She leaned against the wall looking out into the attic, glad that nobody would come up here without calling up the stairs, knowing how she regarded the attic as her private space, her sanctuary. Now if only the walls could talk and tell her what to do.