The Truth About Dares

Submitted into Contest #94 in response to: Start your story with someone accepting a dare.... view prompt

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Fiction Sad Romance

“I double-dog dare you.”

Travis slid the picked-over remnants of our nachos aside and opened a small brown jewelry box.  The gemstone inside glimmered in the dim light.

Other people around us had noticed the box and possibly my tension.  Conversation stopped along the length of the bar as we became the center of attention.  I slapped my hand over the felt lid, firmly closing the clamshell.

“What are you, twelve?” I hissed.  “Put that away already!”

“Is it the ring?” he asked with a ghost of a smile.  “It was my grandma’s.  She always liked you.”

My eyes narrowed to glare at him.  “Forget the ring.  Your proposal leaves a great deal to be desired.”

Travis held my eye as he stuck his hands into his armpits, elbows held out to the sides, and began a slow flap.  His smile widened.

I clenched my teeth.  “So help me, God, I will throw my drink in your face if you start clucking.”

He let his arms drop.  “Why are you so angry?  This was your idea.”

“Sure, when we were in elementary school.  Nobody actually follows through on shit like this.”

“Geez, Meg.  I didn’t think you were the type to welch on a deal.  Or pass on a dare.  You used to be cooler.”

I couldn’t believe him.  This had gone too far.  “You know what?  Fine,” I spat out.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.  Let’s get hitched.”

“Great,” he said.

“Great,” I said.

He paused, his smile going impossibly wide. “Congratulations?” he ventured.

I couldn’t help myself.  I started laughing.  “Oh, shut up.  You’ll think better of this when you’ve sobered up tomorrow.”

Two mugs of beer appeared in front of us, as if by magic.  Pablo, our regular bartender, gave us a wink.  “On the house, lovebirds.  There’s more where that came from if you hold the reception here.”

Travis glanced around as if seeing the dark, dated interior for the first time.  “You know, we could do worse.”

I took a long swig of my free beer as I looked at him, reevaluating my long-time friend and now fiance.  “Yeah, I suppose so.” 

The next month felt like waiting for a piano to fall on my head only to experience clear blue skies.  

First things first, I was positive he’d bow out.  Maybe he wouldn’t even remember the awkward drunken proposal.  When I saw Travis the following day, he just smirked at me and then down at the engagement ring I had worn.  The only words that came out of his mouth were, “Let’s get to work.”

Despite my skepticism, I was ready with my pre-wedding checklist.  I gave Travis all the crap jobs: figuring out to break the lease on his apartment, learning how to file taxes jointly, calculating whose student loans to pay off first.  

Afterward, he told everyone that he did it without a word of complaint, but that would be a vicious lie.  He groaned, bitched, and whined throughout, but it got done.  For as long as we’d known each other, he’d always been stubborn when he set his mind to something.  It made me think of when we were teenagers.  He stuck with me no matter how bitchy or immature I acted.  I had to give him that.

I told him I wasn’t going to change my name.  He shrugged.  

I threatened to arrange a vast, 500 person reception with extravagant floral centerpieces, a twelve-piece band, and a towering chocolate fountain.  He called my bluff.  In his words, “You and I know all the same people.  We’d be lucky to find 50 we wanted to attend anyway, and they’d all prefer fake Hawaiian leis and a solid Soundcloud mix.”

In the end, we stood together on the stone steps of the county courthouse—me in a white sundress, him with a navy sport coat over corduroys.

Suddenly, I found myself panting as though I’d just finished an hour of wind sprints.  Still, I was ready to bull forward when Travis took hold of my arm.  

“If you backed out now, I wouldn’t think any less of you,” he said.  “We could tell people I got cold feet.”

“Truth or dare?” I asked.

He chuckled.  “Well, since a dare got us here, let’s try the truth.”

Do you have cold feet?”

“No.”

“Then me either.  Now hurry your ass up, we’ve only got the bar for two hours, and I bet somebody has already stuck their face in the chocolate fountain.”

I took his hand in mine as we climbed the last few steps.  

“Dare,” he said with that sly grin that always led to trouble.

We sat intertwined on the second-hand loveseat where we watched TV together in the evenings.  My head rested on his shoulder, and I’d curled my feet up beneath me.  It had been six months since the wedding.  

Surprisingly, the institution of marriage agreed with me.  Travis and I had always been friends, ever since we were little.  We knew each other foibles and habits, and we’d even lived together for a couple of summers during college.  Moving in full time wasn’t much of a stretch.  

It was the little things that kept joyfully surprising me.  He woke up early to make me coffee, even though his job started an hour after mine.  I cooked more often, seeing as it was just as easy to make meals for two.  We went to the gym together, which turned an activity I reviled into one that I merely disliked.

In my eagerness to ask the truth of whether he enjoyed being married as much as I did, I hadn’t thought up a dare.

“I dare you to get us a pet,” I said impulsively.

“Like a goldfish?”

“I was thinking more like a dog.”

He looked leery.  “I don’t know the first thing about dogs.”

I took pity on him.  “How about a cat?  They basically take care of themselves.”

“I defer to you,” he said, wrapping one arm around my shoulder.

“Our little fur baby!” I squealed.  Travis turned a little green.  “Hey, if you can’t cut it, maybe you should have picked truth instead.”

He pulled me into a hug.  “I don’t know.  Dares have worked out pretty okay for me so far.”

He dared me to take the better job in the city, and I eventually did.  He uprooted himself to follow me, bringing Cheeto, our orange tabby, along to terrify the pigeons that roosted on our new windowsills.

I dared him to reconnect with his sister, who was coming out of rehab.  They would never be close, but they got back on speaking terms again.  It made the holidays with his families much less fraught.  

One Christmas Eve, as we crammed together in the twin bed of his childhood room, he told me I was right about making peace with her.  He followed that up by saying that he would never admit that again so long as we were married.  I just laughed and snuggled closer in the dark, resting my head on his warm chest.

He dared me to quit taking birth control, and I got pregnant two months later.  

Twins.  

We moved to a bigger house in the suburbs with three bedrooms and a yard.  The cribs arrived a week before I went into labor.  

The year that followed was the hardest of our lives, but we pulled it off.  If anything, we came through stronger for it, and my children were beautiful.  Jacob had Travis’s temperament.  Janelle had my spunk.  It made me laugh to see them together and think of what we must have been like as kids.

Still, the next time Travis opened his mouth to talk about my birth control pills, I clamped a hand over his mouth before he could finish.  “Don’t you freaking dare,” I said.

When Cheeto was diagnosed with cancer and had to be put down, I cried for an entire day.  Travis held me and said he didn’t know the human body could contain that many tears.  

When Travis was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t cry at all for the longest time.  

“Truth?” I asked.

He just nodded, his face wan.

The children were thirteen.  Old enough to know but young enough not to understand.

He did chemo and radiation, even got accepted into a clinical trial for some supposedly revolutionary new drug, but he just kept wasting away.  I spent my days sitting beside him, holding his hand through bouts of nausea, and reading well-loved books aloud when he couldn’t concentrate on anything.

The twins spent a week with each of our parents that summer before they started high school, giving us a chance to be alone together.  I tried to make his favorite foods, but he didn’t have an appetite.  He tried to keep his spirits up for me, but I saw right through him.

“I dare you to beat this thing,” I said through my tears.  “I double-dog dare you.”

His lips twitched, giving me just a glimpse of the smile that had always been a moment away from shining out.  “The truth is that I wish I could.”

It snowed during the funeral.  Jacob and Janelle were dressed in black winter coats and clung to each other throughout.  I had never been more grateful that they had each other.  I made myself stand firm for them even though all I wanted was someone to lean on.  Instead, I braced myself against his gravestone, feeling the solidity of it, rooted in the earth.

I took a deep breath and brushed away the few snowflakes that had settled on the freshly inscribed epitaph.  I’d finally broken down and cried when I explained what it meant to our children before the other mourners had arrived.  I knew he would have appreciated it.  

He was daring enough to be true to himself.  Always.

May 21, 2021 21:50

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