56 comments

Aug 07, 2020

Drama Romance

That night he had lied, he wasn’t working late.  That night he could’ve gone with them but he went to her instead.  Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, he had been a cheater for as long as he could remember.  Whether it be games or cards or taxes he always found the shortcut, the workaround, the edge.  Throughout his life he had found convenient euphemisms such as resourceful or clever to avoid identifying as such but as the years passed it became impossible to ignore this one undeniable truth, cheaters cheat.

A melting cherry Popsicle, the enemy of a crisp white shirt, dominated Marco’s attention instead of the little boy who was running towards him holding it.  “Dad!  Your hug!  You forgot your hug.”  His son was right, he hadn’t given him a hug, his focus was elsewhere.  Marco was distracted and hadn’t expected his son to be awake.  He didn’t specifically plan to rise and leave early enough to forgo the normal morning goodbyes but somewhere, down deep, he didn’t want to see his son or his daughter or his wife.  It was the only explanation for forgetting to give his son a hug and for giving him a cherry Popsicle for breakfast.  “I’m running late, buddy.” he said in an effort to avoid the red stain on his new shirt.  “Can I give you two tonight?”  “Sure dad.  I love you bigger than the sky!” and with that the boy turned back towards the house and Marco got in the car and shut the door.

Pulling out his phone Marco reread the text he had received in the middle of the night.  “He won’t be home tonight.  Are you available?”  The text was followed by a wink emoji.  This was all fun and games to her but to Marco, it was deadly serious.  He was a cheat but he had never cheated like this, not on Michelle.  He saw the text at 3 am but he didn’t answer, he didn’t have an answer and he didn’t feel any closer to one on the drive into work.  Time, however, was of the essence, he would see her almost as soon as he entered the office and she would be stalking.  The angel on one shoulder was shouting “No!” but the devil on the other was presenting a mental power point of the racy pictures he had received over the last few weeks and that argument, in the moment, was compelling.  As he turned off the car Marco sat lost in thought.  Why did it have to be Friday night?  Friday night was family night.  Sometimes it would be movies, others miniature golf, and still others would be bowling.  The kids loved it but, if at all possible, Marco and Michelle loved it even more.  If he was going to meet her he would have to lie to his wife and his children. The angel counseled him “You know you can’t do that.”  The devil responded with two words “The pictures.”

Marco made his way from the parking lot into the office all the while wrestling with

his decision.  Getting out of the car family night was winning, crossing the parking lot seduction took the lead, entering the building it was movies and ice cream with the family, and finally as he passed her office he poked his head in, “Yes, I’m available.”  She smiled but didn’t say a word.  Marco could tell she was happy.  She had gotten what she wanted.  It seemed like she always got what she wanted.  Now there was only one thing left to do.  

“Hey there babe, I’ve got some bad news.”  He was concerned at how easily the lie flowed out of his mouth.  “This project can’t wait for the weekend and I’m never going to get it done in time for family night.  Just this once can you take the kids?  I’ll try not to be too late, maybe I can be home early enough to tuck them into bed.”

“No!  Not on family night!”  Michelle answered feigning anger.  “It won’t be the same without you.”  

Marco could tell she wasn’t really angry, she was just sad.  She wanted him there but she wasn’t angry.  It wasn’t in her nature.  The thought put a knot in his stomach and for a second he could hardly breathe.  He loved Michelle but not like she loved him and in that moment he almost resented her for it.  His thoughts were fractured and unreasonable, she loved him too much, that was his justification.  She deserved this and he deserved..  He stopped himself before his mind could finish that sentence.   He was selling his soul to the devil on his shoulder but even he had limits.  

Marco, like most men, had an incredible ability to compartmentalize and the only way this would work was to put Michelle back in her box.  His goal was to lose himself in work but the anticipation became overwhelming.  He both wanted the day to speed along all the while dreaded times passing.  His lack of concentration caused the day to drag and yet before he knew it, it was time to go.  She had left a few hours earlier.  “I have some errands to run and I want to get ready.”

“Get ready.”  Marco said it over and over again under his breath.  As a married man, he had almost forgotten what first date anticipation felt like but the whole day became a living reminder.  Sweaty palms, lack of concentration, racing heart, and even a little stuttering all reintroduced themselves during the wait and as uncomfortable as these feelings were, he was enjoying the rush.

The trip back to his car was more distracting than the one to the office.  There was a feeling that each step was an opportunity to make a choice and yet Marco forced the thought of Michelle from his mind.   Multitasking, he pulled out of the parking lot while simultaneously putting the address into his GPS.  As he came to a stop at the light where he would usually turn right to head home a mechanical female voice gave him different instructions.  “At the light, turn left.”  In his mind this was his final chance to change his mind but when the light turned green he turned left.  He was taking “The road less traveled and it would make all the difference.”   

 The trip was less than twenty minutes but the quiet time gave Marco time to think about what he was about to do and with whom he would do it.  There was nothing about her that should have caught his eye, she was selfish and unfriendly and as a colleague she was ruthless.  Unlike Michelle, who had natural good looks and an inner spark that accentuated her appearance, she was cold and manicured.  Her personnel file revealed she was married but she never brought her husband to company events and no pictures of the poor unfortunate soul adorned her desk.  

In contrast to her husband, Marco had the perfect wife yet for some unfathomable reason she intrigued him.  Being liked had always consumed him and she was the ultimate challenge seeing as she didn’t seem to like anyone.  Charming to a fault, he listened to people and looked them in the eye, he was attentive to their stories and remembered the details, he accentuated their strengths and ignored their weaknesses.  If anyone could crack her shell it was him and he committed to the task.  At first it was finding ways to agree with her, she liked that.  Then he started to praise her work, followed by flirting.  It was amazing how easily a well timed compliment could melt the Ice Queen’s exterior and before long he was doing so regularly.  Next came the emails and texts and non-work related calls.  Somewhere along the way he had begun to crave her attention and she was more than willing to give it.  Years later he would try to convince himself it was her fault but in his quiet times he knew he’d gone there willingly.  The decision was his, as were the ramifications.

Just under an hour, that was all it took.  From the moment Marco pulled into her driveway until the moment he climbed back into his car not a full hour had passed but Marco somehow knew this hour might be his life’s most significant.  Marco’s mind, which had been distracted by her all day, became laser focused on Michelle.  The thought’s he wished he had been thinking early in the day now crashed on him like an unexpected wave.

 Striking even in her youth, with dark hair and emerald eyes, Michelle was his high school sweetheart.  Even as a freshman she had a flock of boys at her beck and call but she had chosen him.  From their first day together everyone knew they were a forever couple.  Equals in every way, they followed each other to college and upon graduation set the date, with invitations sent shortly thereafter.  Of all the moments in his life the one permanently burned into his memory was the sight of Michelle, on her father’s arm, walking towards him.  Every bride is beautiful in their own way but Michelle was magazine beautiful and for a moment he lost his breath.  

Inspired by her younger brother, born with Down’s Syndrome, Michelle had purposed to spend her life helping developmentally disabled children as a teacher and mentor.  While he spent his days working his way up the corporate ladder she spent hers enriching the lives of the sweetest most thankful children anyone could ever have the pleasure of meeting.  At night with the television and lights off she would share sentimental stories that made him grateful for the dark so she couldn’t see the tears in his eyes.  There was never a day in their lives where he wasn’t proud of who she was and what she was doing.

The first time she spoke of having children was in high school and the college years had not lessened her desire for a family.  An inadvertent smile would spread across his face when his mind would wander to those early conversations.  No more than kids themselves, he nonetheless could think of nothing more desirable than being the father of Michelle’s children; playing catch with his son and telling embarrassing stories about Michelle to his little girl.  Reality seldom lives up to the standards dreams set, but for them, their children were the exception.  Three months after their first anniversary Michelle gave birth to a baby boy followed by a sister, the apple of her father’s eye, just under two years later.  Michelle found herself happily overwhelmed by the joys of motherhood, even the sleepless nights and long days held silent reward.  A collection of sporting goods to share with his young son soon filled the garage and Marco constantly doted on daddy’s little girl.  In every conceivable way their lives were perfect except that cheaters cheat, even perfect ones.

It would only happen once but once was enough to change a life.  For as long as he could remember he had been a cheater and now he had cheated on Michelle, he had cheated on his children, how could anything ever be the same?  There were no answers, all solutions were bad.  Alone in his car he wanted to talk to Michelle but he couldn’t face her.  He had to tell her, beg for forgiveness, accept the consequences no matter what.  He reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone at the exact moment it lit up with a familiar number on the screen.  Instinctively he answered his mother's call but he instantly knew by her cracking voice that something was terribly wrong.  The awful words punched a permanent hole in his soul,  “I have terrible news, there’s been an accident.  They’re gone, they’re all gone.”  That night he had lied, he wasn’t working late.  That night he could’ve gone with them but he went to her instead.  For as long as he could remember he’s been a cheater and like all who cheat one day there will be a price to pay.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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56 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
13:37 Aug 20, 2020

Just like in Don’t Forget the Milk, you’ve circled back to the beginning at the end here brilliantly! That’s just pure writing instinct, which you have. I think we need to ban the word ‘novice’ for you. Spending the entire story exclusively with the main character gets the reader invested in his emotional anguish and you bring that element through strongly in your story. Adding the little boy in, not just in Marco’s thoughts, but having him make an appearance ups the stakes a lot, especially given the ending. On the ending, like your other s...

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Thom Brodkin
13:52 Aug 20, 2020

Everything you say makes perfect sense. You have a gifted set of second eyes and you comment like a reader not a critic. It makes your suggestions even more significant because I don't write to be judged I write to be read. I'm not sure what your vocation is but whatever it is you should stop and become a professional writer and reader you are too talented at both to deny the rest of us. I do want to apologize in advance for any feedback I leave you. I don't have the ability to break things down so completely and so well although you gi...

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Zilla Babbitt
20:37 Aug 12, 2020

Hey, congrats for being shortlisted! That's fantastic! This is good, and I really love the idea of tiny things and a few bad choices all having a buildup of bad ramifications. I think I wrote a paper on that once. Main problems here is the telling vs. showing, mostly when you talk about his wife. You introduce her and basically give a backstory in a few paragraphs. Such a lengthy backstory is unnecessary since the focus is on the protagonist, but if you really wanted to show her kind nature etc. then put in a scene with the Downs kids. T...

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Thom Brodkin
21:21 Aug 12, 2020

Thanks for the read and more than that the feedback. I've been struggling to really understand the tell vs. show concept. I have gotten that advice a few times and I don't it to seem as if I'm ignoring it. Your example of a scene with the Downs kids really crystallized that for me. I hope you will see improvement in my future offerings. As an aside I have told quite a few people about your stories. I am so impressed with your skill and ability to write so prolifically. You have a future as a writer, of this I am sure.

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Zilla Babbitt
19:26 Aug 14, 2020

You're so welcome! Okay, so showing versus telling. This is difficult for many writers, but once you get the hang of it, it's hard to forget. Telling just tells the reader: He was cold. Done, moving on. No imagination, just facts. Efficient, sure, but boring. This does nothing to interest the reader, it actually can turn them off. Telling is force-feeding the reader some information. Showing shows the reader through actions or dialogue what the writer means: He shivered, zipped up his coat, and licked his lips as a gust of frosty win...

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Roshna Rusiniya
03:57 Aug 12, 2020

Congrats on making it to the short list. This was a beautiful story. Loved the way it was written. Loved the ending too.

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Thom Brodkin
04:05 Aug 12, 2020

Thanks for the second read 😀 and the feedback!!!

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Roshna Rusiniya
04:58 Aug 12, 2020

You are welcome 😊

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Julia Gibson
22:38 Aug 10, 2020

Wow! I was on the edge all the way to the end. I had predicted he would be killed but your ending has more poetic justice. Good job!

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Thom Brodkin
23:12 Aug 10, 2020

Thanks. Karma has a way of winning out. At least we hope it does.

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21:59 Aug 09, 2020

Great read. First rate. A potential winner if you ask me.

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Felicity Edwards
20:46 Aug 08, 2020

A powerful story. The repetition of cheaters cheat was strong, you expect some retribution but the ending? That was karma in action. Well done, you are great keep it up.

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Thom Brodkin
21:05 Aug 08, 2020

Thank you. I'm glad you liked it. On to the next one. :-)

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Claire Lewis
00:47 Mar 13, 2021

An absolute success adapting to the prompt. I enjoyed the constant tension and turmoil as we watch Marco try to talk himself out of what we know from the start to be an inevitable event. Add to that the heartbreaking twist and the end, and you’ve got an absolutely brilliant story. You’ve got a true talent for telling stories that make people listen, for drawing readers in your world and tangling us up in it. I echo Jonathan’s sentiment that your endings are excellent; just enough to tie the bow but not so tightly that the story feels compl...

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Thom Brodkin
01:17 Mar 13, 2021

I have no will power. I’m reading it now.

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Hannah B
15:26 Aug 20, 2020

Very well-written, and the ending really drove the story home. This is a difficult topic to handle, but I thought you did so quite well, and I liked that you stayed away from melodrama when the tragic turn happened at the end. I think it can hit even harder when you present it like that. Most of the other comments address any issues that need mentioning, so I'll just leave it here. :)

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Hannah B
15:30 Aug 20, 2020

P.S.: I disagree when you say you didn't address the prompt as well as I did. I think you wove an incredible story out of such a simple prompt. Sometimes I have trouble with such wide-open suggestions (I mean, start with a melting popsicle, and you can go anywhere!), but they can also be real gifts to let our individuality run free, which certainly makes for more interesting and varied reading!

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Becky Holland
02:48 Aug 18, 2020

Mmm. interesting. Well, sir, here you go. A lot of the writers on here will probably frown at me, and my old English professors are going to go "tsk, tsk." Write like you want to write. Get your story out there first - out there on "paper" or on your screen. Take a moment, walk away, then go back and read it. Read it as if your most critical former teacher or parent or boss or lover is reading it. Hear the characters in that person's voice, see them stop and wonder why in the world you didn't put a comma there or why was that paragraph s...

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Thom Brodkin
04:43 Aug 18, 2020

Here’s the worst part, I could see the problem and still struggle to fix it. I even though of going with much shorter paragraphs. I figured even if I made them too short it would be better than the other way around. Oh and the commas. My kingdom for knowing where commas go.

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Becky Holland
20:05 Aug 18, 2020

Let's just say we both hate commas - they are the bad guys. We are a lot more alike in this writing thing than i realized. But good job!

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Phebe Emmanuel
03:29 Aug 17, 2020

WOW! This was so good! I loved how it ended and started with the same phrase, it really packed a punch. Now, I said I would put the heat on, so here goes. The paragraphs are a bit long, and the story drags a bit in places. I respect people who don't add the ugly in their cheating scandal stories, and you didn't. Overall, good job!

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Thom Brodkin
19:42 Aug 17, 2020

This is perfect feedback. Being a new writer I have major blind spots and I need the extra eyes. I hope as I continue to write you will see me clean up the slow parts. Thanks again.

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Phebe Emmanuel
21:46 Aug 17, 2020

Anytime!

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Laura Clark
21:38 Aug 12, 2020

Hi Thom, here as promised! Congrats for being shortlisted - I can see why. This is powerful and engaging and has a strong moral. Well done!

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Thom Brodkin
21:40 Aug 12, 2020

Thanks!! For both the read and feedback. You are a super hero. :-)

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This is the best story I've ever read, did I miss one?

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Thom Brodkin
14:56 Mar 09, 2021

I love you. 😊 Thanks.

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No problemoo!

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Jill Ann
17:55 Sep 16, 2020

Wow! I love how you wrote this story and how you demonstrated the choices people make. The detail and moral of the story are excellent.

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Naomie K
14:48 Aug 24, 2020

WOW! Deep.... You also have some humor e.g. I like this sentence ".....and no pictures of the poor unfortunate soul adorned her desk. "It's funny The ending is golden. Good job!

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Jane Andrews
20:17 Aug 13, 2020

This was another well written piece - I’ve looked at other people’s comments and personally, I’d avoid Charles Stucker’s advice (Sorry, Charles) and keep it as it is. This works so much better in 3rd person because it enables your omniscient narrator to comment on your protagonist’s actions. You need to decide for each story whether it works better in 1st or 3rd person. Your rather deadpan style of writing fits 3rd person really well. You’ll also find that you start to adopt different styles of writing for different story ideas - some will h...

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Thom Brodkin
20:53 Aug 13, 2020

To say I appreciate your feedback would be a colossal understatement. As a new writer I write by the seat of my pants and hope it ends up being readable. You taking the time to encourage me and give advice is invaluable. I will most assuredly read your story. I am intrigued to see the female point of view both from you as a writer and your main character. I predict I’m going to love it. Thanks again. You are the bomb diggity. 😀

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Shruti Saxena
11:21 Aug 13, 2020

That was an incredible read! Great storytelling, love it!!

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Daisy Torres
06:45 Aug 11, 2020

Oh. My. Word. This— this is a masterpiece. I could FEEL his internal struggle so much, and then when the memories of meeting his wife came back, it had me hoping that he wouldn't go through with it, that he wouldn't do it, but when he got his mother's PHONE CALL— I felt my heart drop. I LOVE the circular ending. It really iced the cake!!! You did an AMAZING job 👏👏👏

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Thom Brodkin
19:08 Aug 11, 2020

Thank you so much. I was so impressed by your writing and that gives your compliment even more weight. I look forward to more of your stories.

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Daisy Torres
19:44 Aug 11, 2020

Trust me, the feeling is mutual after reading yours 😂😂 Thank you!! And congrats on being shortlisted 👏👏

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Thom Brodkin
21:32 Aug 11, 2020

Thanks. You broke the news to me. Woo hoo.

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Daisy Torres
21:47 Aug 11, 2020

Haha wow 😂 no problem!

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Aditya Pillai
09:28 Aug 09, 2020

Wow, this was a riveting read. Great characterization, the anguish and grief was conveyed so well. The ending was ... something else. (in a good way ;)) Simply loved this, you're really know how to write a compelling tale! Would really love your feedback on my latest!

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Wow! It is sad! Too bad they all died...

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01:50 Aug 09, 2020

Wow what a heart breaking story. Great job

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