Short Story: The price of love

Love is stupid. Yeah, I said it. Maybe love makes people stupid, or at least makes sane people do stupid things. Maybe it’s part of it, or all of it, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. I used to know, just like everyone’s an expert until you’re mired in something and you realize just how little you know. I just don’t know.

Right now she’s clinging to life on the barest of threads. The doctors say she’ll go at any moment, but they’ve been saying that for almost a week. Experts my ass! It hurts to see her like this, a woman in the prime of her life. She should be living her life, but the irony is that if she were, she wouldn’t be here with me. Like I said, love makes people stupid, me included.

I was never the kind of guy girls noticed. Sure they were nice to me, smiled at me, became my friend. I was, as I later learned, non-threatening. I was safe, the kind of guy they could trust, the guy they could talk to because I was understanding, and kind. I was the kind of nice they all claimed they wanted, but in reality didn’t. I soon came to believe that nice was code for loser.

Then I met Carly. Carly was like the rest of them, except she gave me something no one had ever given me: a chance. We started dating my sophomore year of college. She had broken up with her boyfriend, a star on the basketball team. He was the typical douche athlete, and all the women wanted him, and he obliged, never mind that he had a girlfriend.

So she dumped him and soon started dating me. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I was just a rebound, worse still that she used me to make him jealous. Losing out to a guy like me made him crazy jealous, and I was too blind to see it. She soon dumped me and took him back. I was devastated.

Carly, just so you know, was, in those days, a beauty. The years and her illness have ravaged her, but beneath her withered and pained expression lingers the ghost of her former glory. She was blond, with hazel eyes, pale skin, and the cutest freckles on her nose. She had a magnetic personality, and she could make friends with anyone, even a recluse like me. She drew people to her, a flame pulling in another moth to become her next victim.

She was my first girlfriend, my first grown-up girlfriend, I should say. I had a few summer flings in camp growing up. Hold hands, an awkward peck on the lips, that sort of thing. I lost my virginity with her, fell madly in love with her, and it tore me to shreds being dumped the way she did me. I was just a cog in her plan to win back her dream boy.

I fell to pieces. No one knew it by seeing me. I was so straitlaced that no one would ever have seen my inner turmoil, not that anyone was close enough to have known. I was for all intents and purposes, friendless. I suffered alone. I just turned my attention to my studies to cope.

But I had become obsessed with her, but I just accepted it. What could I do? Even I, for all my naivette, understood that I had no chance to win her back. I could admit defeat and walk away with some vestiges of dignity, or I could pine for some woman who had made a fool of me.

Funny thing is that dating her had made me seem more interesting to some other woman. I began to date. I found a serious girlfriend my junior year, and we dated for almost two years, up until a week before graduation. I found myself as I broadened my horizons, and I found some confidence as I came into my own. I had become a man.

But I never got over Carly.

She would come around every so often, this damned woman. Every time she dumped a guy, or they dumped her, she would come by. I broke off a few relationships because of her, including that serious girlfriend, someone with whom I could have married. I know because she had been hinting at it for months. I loved her in a way, but she wasn’t Carly. She couldn’t compete with her, and she never knew she was competing with her. I did her wrong. I did to her what Carly had done to me, and I regret it.

Carly knew that I was obsessed with her, and she took advantage of it. She used me to boost her ego when she was feeling down. She used me to get over her failed relationships. I was nothing more than a plaything to occupy her time until some more suitable asshole stole her attention.

It went on like this for a couple of years, until the year we became 27. Almost everyone we knew was getting married, having children, settling down. Carly decided it was time to grow up and get with the agenda and get married, so she did, to a guy named Kurt. Just like that, I was cast aside for the last time.

By then I had grown used to it. I was tired of it and it came as a relief. Yes it hurt, and yes I cried, but I was also glad that I could gleam some measure of closure. This cruel game had come to an end, and I could finally move on.

I met a girl, dated, and we became engaged. Everything was going great, until Carly came into the picture to ruin my life one last time. My engagement fell apart, mainly because of Carly, but also because my fiancee was cheating on me with one of my friends, something Carly was all too happy to point out.

Carly’s marriage had fallen apart because her husband wanted a family, and she couldn’t conceive. It was impossible. Uterean cancer had taken her chance of having a family, and with it her hope for the life she had wanted.

The cancer was in remission, she told me, but I think she knew something that she didn’t let on, that the cancer would return, which it did a couple of years later. In the meantime, we rekindled our relationship, and this time it stuck. Carly had become domesticated. Gone was the wild girl I had fallen in love with. Her love was subdued, tamed, and I think it was because she knew she was dying soon.

We got married as soon as the ink from her divorce had dried. At thirty-one I had my dream woman, but I could sense that it was not going to last. Her fire had been extinguished, and she no longer felt the need to lead me on. I knew she was using me again, and because I was so in love with her, I let her, and I let her to this day.

She came back not because she loved me, but because I loved her. She knew no one would take her. Carly was damaged goods. Those are her words, by the way, not mine. She didn’t want to die, and though the doctors had told her that her cancer was gone, she felt that they were wrong.

After four years of marriage, the cancer came back. This time there was nothing to be done. It had spread to her lungs, her kidneys, her brain. It was attacking her, killing her slowly, and no chemotherapy, no radiation, could save her.

Now, a week before our fifth anniversary, she lays in our bed, a hospice worker coming in daily to check up on her, and a nurse does as well. She didn’t want to die alone and she knew I would take her back.

I hate myself for letting her do this to me, but I am powerless. I’ve come to believe that I don’t really love her. I think I’m obsessed with her as the woman I couldn’t hold on to, Now that I have her, I’ve come to see that I don’t love her like I thought I did. Even so, I never walked away. I’m a nice guy after all. I ended up with the girl, though not in the way I might have wanted, but I have her. Til death do us part. I just wish I hadn’t had to find a way to give her cancer to make her come back to me. I wish I didn’t need to kill her to keep her from leaving me again.

She’ll never know that my work with cancer was never to find a cure, but to learn to manipulate it, to weaponize it. She’ll never know, and soon, she’ll never know anything again.

Love is stupid? Maybe, but love turned me into a monster, and I’ll never be nice again.

 


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Read, delete, rewrite, repeat

I completely deleted the ending chapters of Jasmine. Gone. I’m left with a blank page on which to work on. I’ve been fighting with the ending for years. I’ve been trying to make it work, trying and failing, then giving up, only to start again and to meet the same frustrations. This time it’s over. The ending cannot be salvaged. It had to go.

I’m now working on the third scene of chapter twenty, and the pieces are starting to fall together. The ending I’ve been working towards is now closing in, but there’s still some drama to create, a climax to achieve, and hopefully resolution to find. I’m still not overly thrilled with the opening chapter, but I’ll let my beta reader tell me more about it, if it works or not. I may be overthinking it. No, I know I am.

I’m a little antsy to get this over with. I want this to be done. I want to move on to the next phase and get this edited. I had someone email me about hiring her, and the rate she quoted me was at once reasonable and expensive, if that makes any sense. In the end, however, I know that I can kill an otherwise good story if I don’t get someone to proofread it. I’ve started reading few book only to set them down due to poor grammar or spelling. Don’t want that for my book. Hell, I need an editor for my blogs!

Another friend gave me a suggestion on getting a book cover, which I need to follow up on. I want to make a good impression with my first book, but I also know that I can’t over do it and get too much into debt. I could consider trying to find an agent and a publisher. That’s something else I could consider. That would alleviate the technical headaches, but it could be years if ever before I find someone willing to give me a chance. Am I willing to wait that long for that chance?

For now, I have a few more days before I can say I’m done. I would like to be done with it before my vacation, hand it over to my friend to read it. I hope she can give me a critique of what I have, what I might need to look at, and what I might need to delete.

Still at it

I’m nearing the end of Jasmine, and it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. I have had to delete a whole chapter, and a few scenes were eliminated or rewritten entirely, but on the whole, it’s been a fairly quick rewrite.

I have asked a friend of mine to read it for me and give me her input. I have to know if the story works, and if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked, rewritten, or deleted. I want to know if the characters are believable. I need to know if it’s a good book or not. I don’t want to waste time on a dud.

If I hear good news, I’ll move on to looking for someone to proofread the book. My real issue will be cost. I’m just a poor boy, after all, but I don’t want someone cheap who doesn’t do a good job. I need someone with reasonable rates, preferably with some experience and recommendations.

Then I’ll need someone to do the covers for me. I have absolutely no experience in making covers. What’s more, I have no artistic abilities. I’ll have to find someone at some point. I guess I can ask around. I’m sure someone can point me in the right direction.

Until then, however, I’ll tinker with Jasmine, maybe eventually settle on a permanent name for it. It was Unseen Obsession at one point, but I hated that name. Maybe someone can help me with that, too.

Dusting off the pages

d14d88e637f0d811563873bce2a41d1fI pulled out my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel this evening and began to work on it. It’s one of the novels that I’m most passionate about because I think there’s something there, a story I want to tell. It’s probably also one of the most personal for me because it deals with a hard break up of the inability to move on from a betrayal.

I work that way when I write. I write about me, what I feel, my pain and sorrows, my joy and elations. Sure, I tend to stretch and distort what I went through, making the story its own entity, but I ground it with my own emotions, telling a story that I think we all can relate to because we’ve all lived it in a fashion.

What’s kept me from even trying to publish this novel, though I’ve wanted to for years, is the opening scene. I’ve never liked it. It felt jarring and forced, as though I was trying too hard to write something impactful that it became off-putting. It didn’t work, and the more I worked on it, the worse it got. In exasperation, I cast it aside, working on other projects, consigning it to be forgotten.

But it wouldn’t let itself be forgotten. I had to tell the story, and I finally pulled it up out of the depths of oblivion, or rather I opened the file on my computer, if you want to be pedantic, and I stared at the opening scene until it dawned on me that I would have to write a whole new scene. Took me a few years to finally accept it. The first scene had to go.

In actuality, all that scene needed was to be rewritten and used as the first scene of the second chapter. I decided to start the story with the situation that sets the whole narrative into motion, pulling it from the middle of the novel to the beginning. That means I have to do a little more work to erase that scene from a middle chapter, but I think it makes more sense this way.

I have a long way to go, but I like the way it flows now. It feels better, the timing works for me. I may have to tweak it a little, but I could probably do that from now until eternity. I’ll soon let it go. For now, I think I’ll get back to it. I can’t wait to be done with it and have you read it!

Short Story: Porcelain

“I’m getting wet!” The sound of the little boy’s whining set the Enzo Bousquet on edge. Why he agreed to look after the little brats, he didn’t know. Well, he mused as he opened his umbrella to shelter the boy, he knew quite well. The family’s fortune was in decline. Tastes in fashion were changing, and though his father was once renowned for his skill in dressing the elites in the city, fashion left him behind. The rich moved on to more fashionable tailors, while his father was left scrounging for business. Once, when Enzo was a child, his father commanded a hefty fee for his work. Now, well Enzo was reduced to babysitting.

“Under here, boy,” Enzo commanded with a strained smile. The girl followed her brother, but Enzo didn’t notice. She was a peculiar child, especially for a girl. She didn’t say much, but Enzo suspected there was more to her than just a shy disposition. She had a knowing look to her. She noticed everything, which made him feel uneasy.

“I thought you were taking us to the theater,” the boy growled. “Mama told us you were taking us to the theater.”

“And so I shall, young Rene” Enzo replied through gritted teeth, “but first we must get you settled in. You will be staying with me until your parents return from London. I have one room for each of you. You will find your lodging satisfactory.”

“Humph!” The boy stomped down the street, making sure to jump into every puddle, clearly enjoying the annoyance he was causing his temporary caretaker. The girl followed behind, almost a shadow to the man. She said nothing, did nothing, except clutch a porcelain doll with hollow eyes. The chill morning did nothing to dampen her spirits. She didn’t complain. There seemed to be no emotions from the girl.

“Come!” Enzo commanded the boy, who turned with a look of annoyance, but obeyed nonetheless. “First, we will put your things away, then have a quick bite to eat. Then we shall go to the theater. I have a friend who will act in the production this afternoon. He really is a sight to behold.”

“You have a friend who’s an actor?” Rene scoffed, thinking the association a bad recommendation on his caretaker’s reputation. He made a mental note to tell that to his father, that this man associates with the dregs of society.

“I consider many people to be my friend,” Enzo replied, knowing what the younger was thinking. In my line of work, I deal with many people, from the lowly servants to those in the highest echelons of power. What do I care so long as they can pay for my services?”

“And what is it that you do?” Rene asked in his sniveling tone.

“I do what I must,” he responded. “A jack of all trades, I suppose. My father was a tailor, formerly a soldier in the war. My mother came from nobility, though her family fell on hard times, and she took to tutoring the children of the president, until she married my father. I learned from the best, though I apprenticed with none. I joined the army, became a sous-lieutenant before an injury left me unable to continue. I’ve acted, cooked, become a banker. I worked for your father for a time, years before you were born. As much as there can be friendship between us, I consider him such.”

“I think you’re a buffoon,” Rene scorned. “A sad little clown without a circus. You’re almost as useless as a woman. Worse than that thing following us.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say,” the girl spoke up. “Useless as a woman? You’re the one who’s useless. What a terrible thing to say to our friend.”

“Thank you,” Enzo said, startled at her quiet defense. Until now, he was unsure if she could even speak. She only murmured unintelligibly at the doll, stroking its silk hair. That she should speak up defiantly against her brother struck him as ominous, though he couldn’t figure out why.

“Oh, letting little girls defend you now? You’re pathetic.”

“In here,” Enzo ignored the jibe, instead opening an ornate iron door. The dwelling was small, at least to what the children were accustomed to. Rene looked around and sneered, but Mathilde looked around dreamily, her eyes alight with excitement and expectation.

“This place is smaller than our servant’s quarters.” Rene spat maliciously. “I demand you take us somewhere better. Take us home.”

“You’re father left you in my care,” Enzo sighed, regretting that he agreed to watch the brats for what amounted to nearly a years wage. “You are to remain here for the next two months, or until your parent’s return from London.”

“This place is wonderful,” Mathilde mused in a singsong tone. “Isn’t it Celia?”

“Celia?” Enzo asked

“That stupid doll,” Rene growled. “Give me that!” He made to tear the doll out of his sister’s arms, but Mathilde parried his attempt with a swipe of her arm. Rene tried again, but this time Mathilde grabbed her brother’s arm, twisted it, and shoved him into the wall. “Let go of me!”

“Not until you apologize to Celia,” Mathilde informed her brother harshly. “I won’t tolerate that kind of disrespect, and neither will Celia.”

Enzo looked on, unsure of whether he should intervene, but the look on the girl’s face had morphed into something else. She no longer looked like the innocent little girl that had walked quietly behind him. Her face looked bestial, feral, almost demonic. Her eyes looked almost as hollow as the dolls eyes had been.

“Let go of me!” Rene said, this time pleading, his eyes tearing up. “You’re going to break my arm! Please stop!”

“Let him go,” Enzo said calmly, gently touching Mathilde on her shoulder. “And Rene, apologize.”

“I’m sorry,” Rene cried. “Please, I’m sorry!”

“That wasn’t all that hard, was it?” Mathilde gave a tinkling laugh, her face returning to normal as she released Rene. “Where’s my room, Monsieur Bousquet?”

“What? Oh, it’s up the stairs. Follow me. You too, Rene.”

Enzo climbed the flight up to the next floor. “You will sleep here, Rene,” Enzo pointed to the room on the left. “Mathilde, you will have this room here,” he pointed to the door on the right.

“Where do you sleep?” Mathilde inquired.

“At the end of the corridor,” Enzo replied, unnerved by the seemingly innocent question. “You’re things are already in your room. Change and we will leave in an hour.”

Enzo waited for the children to walk into their room before retiring to his. He sat at a small desk he had tucked away in the corner and waited. He tried to push the memory from his mind, but the look on Mathilde’s face seemed to be burned into his mind. There was something inhuman to her, and he wondered if….

He stood up and strode to a cabinet where he stashed his personal correspondences, ruffled through several folders, until he found what he was looking for, a letter from Monsieur Astier, the children’s father. He returned to his desk, sat down, and began to read.

We must depart at once, and with all due haste. Faustine is having nightmares, insisting that my sweet Mathilde is possessed by the devil. I have no use for that nonsense. Why did our fathers fight for over a century ago, to rid ourselves of the oppression of the crown and the subjugation to the papacy? No! Devils indeed!

I shall take my dear Faustine to London, to a colleague of mine who has begun to dabble with the study of the human mind. He believes he can help her. Perhaps the stresses of raising children is too much for her, or perhaps losing her father in that horrific fire last year has taken its toll. We inherited everything in his inventory, sold what could be salvaged, except for a doll that Mathilde has grown fond of. Maybe….

Enzo set the letter down, his brows furrowed in concentration. Possessed by the devil. That’s what she believed. Could it be? Could such a thing be possible? He didn’t believe in such things, but all the same, he was haunted with the belief in Mother Church, forced to take the sacraments by his overbearing mother until he was old enough to refuse to take part in that superstition.

But witnessing what he saw, what if it wasn’t superstition? What if the devil was real? Satan, Lucifer, the Morningstar? What if he was real? What if he could possess the body of mortals? What if Mathilde was being influenced by the Prince of Darkness?

He shook his head and laughed. Certainly it was a trick of the light, or else he was tired, or hungry. He had missed his morning respite in his haste to pick up the children. His mind was playing tricks on him. Perhaps he needed to see this colleague of Monsieur Astier.

There was a bloodcurdling scream out in the corridor. Enzo jumped from his chair, raced to the door, and threw it open. Rene was pinned to the wall again, his feet dangling a foot from the ground, Mathilde grabbing him with one hand by the neck. Again, her face was demonic, and a power radiated from her being, and it hit Enzo in waves, like heat from the furnace, except many times more powerful.

“What’s this?” Enzo demanded, terror clutching at his heart.

“He insulted Celia again,” Mathilde replied, her voice harsh, lower than it should be. “There shall be no forgiveness this time.”

“No! Wait!” Enzo cried, not daring to get closer, but inching forward all the same. “Please, you don’t have to do this. Let’s talk this through. Can you put him down? Will you at least look at me?”

Mathilde turned her head, and her eye sockets were empty causing Enzo to screech in terror. “Mon Dieu!”

Mathilde laughed as she threw Rene to the ground like a ragdoll, a cold, mirthless laugh. Enzo looked around, wishing he had a Crucifix or Holy Water, or anything. He caught sight of the porcelain doll on the ground, and what he saw made his heart falter for a moment.

Enzo fell back, unable to speak, mortally afraid for the first time in all his life, pleading to a God he didn’t believe in until now. Mathilde’s eyes were staring back at him from Celia’s porcelain face, pleading to him, begging to be released from her imprisonment.

“I know you’re heart’s desire, Enzo Bousquet. You fancy yourself a lady’s man? You love to bed with wives of those you call friends and patrons. Why don’t you show me what you can do!”


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