Contest #72 winner 🏆

195 comments

Submitted on 12/19/2020

Categories: Drama

Lillie stood on the weathered deck of the house she had loved for twenty years and imagined herself falling; tumbling over earth-toned rooftops, through lush pines and down to the rocky coastline below. She imagined the currents pulling her away from land, winds and water pushing her across the globe along ancient, unseen pathways, into the abyss.


Lillie wrapped her hands around her mug, the warmth inside already fading. Memories floated by, one by one, images shifting and swaying like anemones under ever-moving water in the tide pools below. Playing cards on the deck. Lazy afternoons on the beach with the kids, building sandcastles. Drinking wine next to the wall of living room windows. Watching as the sun dipped down in a blaze of oranges and reds. The smell of steaks on the grill. Every day had felt like a new beginning in this house. But not today. The home and the life she had made here were gone, taken by time.


Behind her, the gate scraped open. The ocean shimmered moodily in the morning light. “You’re early,” Lillie said, turning.


Peter stepped onto the deck, holding a manilla envelope in one hand, his tortoise-shell glasses askew. He’d looked the same since the day she met him twenty-nine years ago. It was maddening. Where she had softened, he had stayed slim and handsome. A professor to the core. His students loved him, especially the young, starry-eyed undergrads who cut their teeth on Jane Austen and still lived on a steady diet of poetry and bargain Rosé. Peter’s self-effacing charm and English accent didn’t help things one bit. 


“Let’s go inside,” Lillie said, wrapping her sweater around her middle, “Do you want coffee? Tea?”


“No, thanks. I have to be going. Class at 11.” He nudged the big envelope out towards Lillie. 


“Right,” she said, making her voice light, “Elizabethan poetry? Always a favorite.” 


Peter chuckled. Thirteen years ago his affairs, two of them, had nearly derailed their marriage. There had been random flirtations, then the bright eyed TA from Georgia. The excuses, the late nights. The tears, the apologies, the fervent promises, then the new department secretary. Both women were young and idealistic and in love with romance, writers and the intricacies of the English language. Lillie had been devastated. The kids were little and she couldn’t bear the thought of raising them alone, so she fought. She wanted to go to counseling. He didn’t. Instead, they dragged a battered tool box out of the garage and poured their hearts into the house. Hundreds of DIY projects later, they had learned to work together, to talk out their problems. Slowly but surely, they patched their marriage up while turning their little ramshackle hippie cabin overlooking the sea into an elegant home.  


As years melted together, Lillie and Peter settled into their worn, familiar routine of child care, home repairs and evenings on the couch with television and wine. Now the kids were out on their own, Jeremy living a couple of hours away in Los Angeles, and Gianna heading off to Italy for a semester abroad. Their marriage had shifted beneath them, they found they wanted different things. In the irony that is life, Peter and Lillie took a long walk on a cool September evening and came to the conclusion that they were better off apart than together. It was Peter who initiated the divorce. 


Lillie grabbed her purse from the tiny entry table, rummaging for a pen. Even though this is what they had planned, in a million years she never thought she would be cresting middle age completely alone. She forced a smile.


“Here,” Peter extended a shiny black and silver Montblanc. The man was never without a beautiful pen. Lillie had given this one to him as a twentieth anniversary gift. “I’ve tabbed the spots where you’ll need to sign.”


 “I’ll have it ready for you tomorrow.” Lillie said. “I made banana bread. Want to take a piece with you?”


“Smells good. I'd love some." Peter followed her through the living room. "I’ve got just a cheese sandwich and an apple for lunch.”


“The fridge in the new place is a little bare, huh?” Lillie had taken extra time that morning to clean the kitchen. It looked inviting in the morning sunshine. The freshly baked loaf sat on a glass pedestal, still warm. 


“It’s taking some getting used to.” Peter took a deep breath. “Gianna’s all set for her trip?”


“She’s stressed about having enough of her custom foundation, but I think she’s just nervous.” Lillie lobbed a generous slice from the loaf and wrapped it in a piece of foil.    


“Did you tell her what I said?”


“That people wear makeup in Italy. Yes. She said your dad humor is on point.”


Peter laughed and looked down at the neat rectangle in his hands, sliding it slowly back and forth. “I wish things were different, Lil.” 


“I know.” The silence settled in around them in the slanting sunlight. Finally Lillie spoke. “The real estate agent said that the buyers want to move in as soon as possible.”


 “We had some good times here.”


“We did.” Lillie put the bread knife into the sink and wiped at tiny crumbs. Sadness filled the room, floating between them, specks of dust in a shaft of light.


“So there it is.” Peter sighed and knocked his knuckles on the counter. An old habit. Lillie had seen him do it a million times. It was irritating and endearing at the same time. She knew they were doing the right thing. 


“Alright then, thanks for this” Peter picked up his care package and turned to go.


“Peter...”


 “I’ll call before I come,” he said, tipping his head towards the envelope. The pen still sat on top.


Lillie grabbed Peter’s hand and gave it a squeeze. His fingers were cold. The house seemed to sigh a little as he turned and left.


Lillie steadied herself on the cool marble countertop She looked at the envelope for a minute, poured herself another cup of coffee and sighed.  She pulled the thick stack of papers out onto the counter and signed each page. She had read the document a hundred times over, she didn’t need to read it again. Community property, his and hers. Memories turned to numbers in a neat column row. She was done thinking about it. When she slid the papers back into the envelope, they caught on something. Lillie turned the envelope over and a small cream-colored letter dropped onto the counter. Her name was written on the front in Peter’s distinctive handwriting.


Dear Lillie,


As part of our final agreement, I have added an amendment which includes the deed to my great aunt Margaret’s house in England. You always reminded me of her, and even though you never met, you would have loved each other. She had an incredible life. She left the house and the property to me when she died, but the will has been tied up in court for years. I want you to have it, but on one condition. You must go. Don’t wait around for me or for anyone. Just go. Make it your home - I know what you can do with a hammer and some nails – and create the life you want for yourself. Bring the family round, have all the big dinners, the celebrations, watch the grandkids run circles around the paddock. Take long walks and have a glass of wine for me. Find love, see the world, spread your wings.    


Now that i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, there is one last thing you need to know. I have terminal cancer. Pancreatic, stage four. I found out two months ago, but I’ve suspected that something was wrong for a while. I have less than a year to live. I don’t want you to drop everything to take care of me, and I don’t want to talk about details right now. It is what it is, and I’m ok with what the future holds. I just want you to know that I’ve always loved you most of all.


Yours,

Peter


In another life, Lillie would have picked up the phone, made calls, organized a calendar of meals, stopped the wheels from their inevitable turning; but instead, she allowed the house to hold her in it's quiet embrace. She went to the windows overlooking the sea, and she sat with the heavy cream envelope on her lap for a long time, looking out at the horizon. She thought about the currents, those ancient paths, swirling along as the earth slowly turned beneath her. The infinite beauty of life, how fleeting it was. She imagined herself spreading her wings and flying, and for the first time in a very long time, she put her face in her hands and she cried.   


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195 comments

Zilla Babbitt
15:14 Dec 24, 2020

This should/could be a book. It has so much potential! Even with all that potential, you kept the pace slow and sweet, a real delight to read. Deserved win!

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Julie Ward
22:00 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you so much, Zilla. I think you're right, there is more story to tell here!

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A.dot Ram
18:47 Dec 19, 2020

Ok, i can breathe now. This was so good! It captured me from the beginning-- Lillie looking over the sea, ocean and memories and swirling anemonies. Your imagery and tone were perfect for setting up the story. It made me think of erosion. And then Lillie and Peter's relationship! It's so complicated, mixing good and bad times to make it feel so sad and realistic. Their split is so amicable it breaks my heart, yet i get it-- it seems like the right thing. Amazing work. It's my favorite of yours so far.

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Julie Ward
19:30 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you Anne!! Thank you so much...it's the one I felt least confident about. I tend to edit my stories to death before I even put them on the page and I kind of forced myself to just write and hit send. I've had so little brain space with all the pressures of life and this weird 2020 holiday season, it did feel good to finally just sit outside in the sun and exhale all those words. : )

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Julie Ward
19:30 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you Anne!! Thank you so much...it's the one I felt least confident about. I tend to edit my stories to death before I even put them on the page and I kind of forced myself to just write and hit send. I've had so little brain space with all the pressures of life and this weird 2020 holiday season, it did feel good to finally just sit outside in the sun and exhale all those words. : )

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A.dot Ram
21:33 Dec 19, 2020

How nice for brain space! It feels really good to fill that empty space up with ideas. And if the words just followed this time, great for you. My last story just came out like that. I knew the objective and the climax, the rest grew tendrils around it as my hand moved. But don't doubt yourself. Even your less polished work shines.

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Julie Ward
23:35 Dec 19, 2020

What a lovely thing to say. You just made my day!

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A.dot Ram
17:44 Dec 24, 2020

CONGRATULATIONS!!! I didn't expect any results this early, so what a nice surprise. I mean, I'm not surprised this won because it was awesome-- it actually felt really validating personally to see it win--but surprise to see it when I did. I hope this frees you up to just exhale all of your words all the time.

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Julie Ward
18:41 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you so much Anne. I really appreciate your consistent feedback & encouragement!

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Deidra Lovegren
04:12 Dec 25, 2020

Hooray Julie! This was such a captivating read — loved it ❤️ You’ve captured great emotion in your elegant imagery. Well done 🏆

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Julie Ward
17:48 Dec 25, 2020

Thank you so much, Deidra!!

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Scout Tahoe
18:53 Dec 24, 2020

Congratulations! Wow, this is so good and I can’t even type. My fingers are trembling. This is so well deserved.

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Julie Ward
23:38 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you Scout! That means so much!!

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Scout Tahoe
01:07 Dec 25, 2020

Of course. I want to say something more but really, this is fantastic.

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Julie Ward
15:18 Dec 26, 2020

I've been thinking about your knack for imagery as I write - I love how your characters always feel things in such a fanciful way. I focused on adding feeling & imagery more than description, especially at the beginning, and I think it really gave the story something special.

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Scout Tahoe
15:35 Dec 26, 2020

Indeed, bravo. But you definitely didn't get this form or imaginary from me, let me just say. All your stories are fantastic but this one has something more, just like you mentioned.

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John Del rio
17:35 Dec 28, 2020

wow. i read this yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. i couldn't find anything mechanical or grammatically to point out for possible rewrite or change. i think maybe an english professor might be able to find something but i think it is awesome just the way it is. the details and tone and just the whole everyday life aspect of it are so good. things like cutting him the generous slice of bread and wrapping it in foil, then picking the small crumbs. it is an image of their life; where they are at that point in time. then i read it again ...

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Julie Ward
18:20 Dec 28, 2020

John-Thank you for reading and re-reading! And thank you so much for your kind words.

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Nainika Gupta
00:04 Dec 25, 2020

oh. oh wow. Oh WOW!! I think everything good about this story might have already been said, but I just wanna add that this story really made me think about how insignificant human life really is. Like, I already kinda understood that, but this story really, REALLY brought that point home. Well deserved win, Julie, and honestly, what an amazing story :)

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Julie Ward
00:09 Dec 25, 2020

Thank you, Nainika!

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Nainika Gupta
01:38 Dec 25, 2020

of course :) Happy holidays!!

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Rayhan Hidayat
18:02 Dec 24, 2020

JESUS now that’s a story! At first I thought “This Peter guy is one unfaithful bastard” but then everything made complete sense... Everything is beautiful, from the imagery to the personification of the house to that ending. Congrats 🥳

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Julie Ward
22:15 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you, Rayhan!

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Kristin Neubauer
15:03 Dec 19, 2020

Oh my gosh, Julie - what a story! I wasn't ready for the twist of Peter's letter giving the home to Lillie....nor for the second twist of the pancreatic cancer. Your writing is beautiful - the flow, the wording, the phrasing. I particularly liked: "The house seemed to sigh a little as he turned and left." I also liked all those details you included about Peter, you wove them in effortlessly and they rounded him out. I think the only critique I have is that I would have liked to see Lillie's reaction to reading the letter stretched out a...

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Julie Ward
15:45 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Kristin! I think it's my least thought-out and edited piece yet. I had started writing it a while back, I had written a little bit about the house...but as I sat down to work on the prompt, it just flowed. Things have slowed down in the last day or two for me, so I had a little space in my brain, and well as some time to just put fingers to the keyboard. It was hard, but it felt good. : ) THANK YOU for your critique! I wrote the ending at the 11th hour and it didn't feel quite done. You've given me some inspiration to ro...

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Julie Ward
16:29 Dec 19, 2020

Ok, I added a line - you were right, it needed just that little extra something!

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Kristin Neubauer
16:30 Dec 19, 2020

Ooooo....I like that line. How do you come up with such perfect words????

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Julie Ward
16:53 Dec 19, 2020

They float around in my brain until the end up on a piece of paper somewhere! Lol!! Also, you were so right about Lillie's character - she's a fighter. She would fight. That needed to be in there. So thank you again - it was a really great note.

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Thom Brodkin
01:15 Jan 12, 2021

Julie, I hope this comes across as I mean it but this reminds me of the stories in my head. It’s so full of heart and emotion and written better than I could ever hope. Your gift for description and imagery is amazing. The letter is absolutely perfect and the twist is astonishing. I’m glad we are writing/reading buddies because reading your work is a gift. I hope you like the story I wrote. It doesn’t have this depth but it’s practice for me for dialogue.

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Julie Ward
16:49 Jan 12, 2021

It comes across exactly as you mean it! After I wrote this story and re read it, I thought, this has a little bit of Thom Brodkin magic to it! Your stories always touch on the most bittersweet aspects of real life, and they always touch me.

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Thom Brodkin
17:19 Jan 12, 2021

Make no mistake this was better than mine. I rely so much on the reader to fill in the visual details but you painted the picture so clearly. I loved it.

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Julie Ward
19:51 Jan 12, 2021

Thank you, that means a lot!

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22:39 Jan 19, 2021

It's absolutely beautiful. I love the way you paint the world. Thank you.

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Julie Ward
15:13 Jan 21, 2021

Thank you Michelle!

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Rachel Smith
11:59 Jan 19, 2021

Wow. Utterly captivating

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Julie Ward
15:12 Jan 21, 2021

Thank you Rachel!

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Des Feller
19:06 Jan 16, 2021

This story is absolutely gorgeous. I love how easily is flows, and how you showed your how to characters grieve. I hope you get more wins in the future :)

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Julie Ward
15:12 Jan 21, 2021

Thank you Des!

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Kristy Reynolds
00:47 Jan 14, 2021

This story is amazing. I was glued to every word. The flow was just right, the insights deep. I actually felt the pain and sadness as the two of them stood in the kitchen. Nicely done!

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Julie Ward
02:15 Jan 14, 2021

Thank you so much, Kristy!

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Amara Tillington
11:34 Jan 11, 2021

This. Deserved. The. Win. I am smiling and almost crying and I love this. Do you have any pointers for a girl who logged on an hour or so ago? I'm a total newb... :)

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Julie Ward
16:06 Jan 11, 2021

Thank you Amara! I'm so glad you've joined Reedsy! There are so many amazing authors here. If you love to read & write, you're in the right place. My best piece of advice is to make the weekly prompt a challenge. Write something, no matter how terrible you think it is. Just put it on paper and put it out there every single week. It's hard but it only makes you a better writer. Good luck and I can't wait to see what you come up with!

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Amara Tillington
19:00 Jan 11, 2021

Ok! Thank you, and I'll be sure to get something out by next week at least.

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Ella Ella
19:36 Jan 10, 2021

This is amazing! It is very well-written and how the details were revealed in the end ... ugh. It was just so fantastic! This has great potential to be a book. ❣️❣️❤️❤️❤️

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Julie Ward
02:59 Jan 11, 2021

Thank you so much, Romela!

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Monica Prather
16:45 Jan 09, 2021

My husband of 37 years just died 6 months ago. The kids are grown and gone and I've had a lot of 'what to do now' moments. This story touched my heart. Thank you.

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Julie Ward
17:02 Jan 09, 2021

Oh, Monica. I am so deeply sorry about your husband's passing. I'm glad to know that you connected with the story. Thank you so much for commenting.

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09:55 Jan 09, 2021

This was an amazing. I found myself holding my breath while reading it, yet it's actually going in a quiet, slow pace. I loved it.

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Julie Ward
17:03 Jan 09, 2021

Thank you, Yoana!

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Ian Seruuma
20:17 Jan 07, 2021

Julie this is very great, its like i started reading literally on "as part of our agreement." That was good.keep writing.

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Julie Ward
17:04 Jan 09, 2021

Thank you so much, Ian!

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Stephanie Lol
19:00 Jan 07, 2021

This was such an easy read. It flowed so beautifully at a perfect pace for the intimacy of what was unfolding. I was there in the room, almost a little guilty of eavesdropping. I loved the twist, delivered so unexpectedly that the emotional slap brought tears! Well deserved win!

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Julie Ward
17:04 Jan 09, 2021

Thank you, so much Stephanie!

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07:30 Jan 05, 2021

Your imagery is to die for. Captivating from the first word to the last. Well done Julie.

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Julie Ward
15:44 Jan 05, 2021

Thank you so much, Violetta!

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