Contest #171 shortlist ⭐️

34 comments

Contemporary Romance Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

Dear Holly,


Here goes nothing. I ate my pasta with a spoon tonight. It reminded me of you, and how you’d stubbornly say it was the best and only way. It’s one year to the day since I saw your gorgeous face. I miss the rebellious amber strands that refused to tuck behind your ears. I miss the little cleft between your eyebrows, worn by time. I miss the tiny mole behind your left ear that you’d scratch until sometimes it bled. I have to be honest, I haven’t been able to let you go in the way you asked.


It’s partly Jim’s fault, if he hadn’t been so kind and given me so much compassionate leave, I don’t think it would’ve gone so far. I had too much time on my hands. But I really tried. You see, when you told me ‘You’ll need to distract yourself, why don’t you get really into your running?’ I took that to heart. I started running in the morning before dropping Timmy off at school. Then I’d run for hours in the afternoon; up Greenhill Road, past Felix’s place, laps and laps around the village. It helped. The blood pumping through my veins, the burn scalding in the depths of my lungs. Feeling even a tenth of the pain that you felt. It was an anaesthetic.


I know what you would’ve said: ‘Everything in moderation, honey.’ With a playful smile on your red lips. But you know that’s never been me. Always diving too deep, going further than I should. It’s why I needed you so much. So, of course, I ended up with a stress fracture. ‘Rest for eight weeks’, they said. I really did try, but running was the only thing that relieved me from the constant, gnawing agony. The only thing that covered the hollow pit in my soul as it desperately limped on without you.


I’ll spare you the details my love, I don’t think you need to know it all. But yes, it was the wine I turned to, you know I’ve always been fond of it. It consumed me, I stumbled in the dark, trying to wash your face from the insides of my eyelids. I found comfort in the nights of numbness for months on end. And at the end, they found me trying to take a shortcut to you. I am so sorry. I failed you and I failed Timmy.


That was two weeks ago now, and I’m telling you this because I think I’ve finally turned a corner. I realised that I had been blind to anything, but my own hurt. I’d forgotten everything you wanted, everything that you asked of me, and I’d forgotten Timmy needed me too. So what this letter really is, is a promise. A promise not to turn away from you, but to cherish your face in my mind each night. To live my life with all the joy as if you were by my side. To take the long road home to you.


Your Luke


***


Dear Holly,


Things are looking up. I’ve been picturing you every night before I fall asleep and it helps keep me in touch with who I want to be.


I’ve got something I need to get off my chest though, which I couldn’t bring myself to tell you in my last letter. I was too ashamed. But the guilt has been weighing me down these past couple of years so I figured it’s best to just tell you. There were a couple of months, during that period where I lost myself, when your mum and dad took Timmy to live with them. They did the right thing. He was only six, he wouldn’t have understood why I was letting him down, why I wasn’t the father he needed. But after I made you that promise and got myself back on track, I convinced them I was ready to step up again. I haven’t left his side since, and I’ll never let that happen again.


Timmy is growing fast! He’s quieter than he used to be. When you were here. But he knows what’s right and wrong, so I think he’ll be ok. I’ve been teaching him chess; you’d be so proud! He’s learnt the King’s Indian Defence, and he’s surprised me a few times now. Still got a way to go before he could beat you though!


He hasn’t forgotten what you told him either. ‘Be strong for your dad’. He’s always running around and lifting things to show me how strong he is. I imagine you laughing, pure and loving.


I’m thinking of starting running again. I’ll listen to you this time, I won’t over-do it. I miss the breeze blowing against my cheeks almost as much as I miss your kisses on them.


Your Luke


***


Dear Holly,


I’ve reached a cross-roads. Other than that couple of months he was with your parents, I’m going to be without either Timmy or you for the first time in twenty-five years. You see he’s planning on going to Birmingham University in September to study Biology. I know I tell you about him every night, but at times like this it just feels more real written down. When I need to hear from you.


I admit, I’m frightened about how I’ll feel when he’s not in the house anymore. His mannerisms are so much like yours. He pulls that same squinty face when he’s about to disagree with me, and he can wiggle his ears just like you. He is a piece of you in our home, and when he’s gone, you’ll be gone too.


So should I stay here? Or move on, maybe downsize? We made this place our own; your little knitted oven gloves hanging from the mantel piece, the willow wallpaper I insisted on, Timmy’s paintings stuck to the insides of the windows. It will feel so empty on my own. I fear I would go back to how I was before…


‘Stop dithering you muffin,’ you’d say. ‘Rip off the plaster and be done with it.’ And maybe you’re right. It would probably be better for me to start afresh. New town, new me. Timmy keeps saying I need to go out and date some people, and you’d probably say the same. But I don’t feel the need when I see you in my mind every night, and tell you all my worries and dreams.


You’ve aged when I picture you now. It’s ok, I have too, and you’re still by far the better looking! I have flecks of grey, frustratingly clear amongst the black. I’ve gained a few pounds. Your hair is shorter, your laughter lines stay a while longer after you smile. You look a little sterner, a little more regal. You still try in vain to tuck your hair behind your ears. I’ll think about what you’ve said, maybe I’ll look at some places in the Cotswolds.


Your Luke


***


Dear Holly,


I should’ve written sooner, but time flies so fast these days. Plus it won’t be long until I see you now. I wonder what you’ll think of me, if I’ve changed much these long years? Still, I felt I should write so there’s something concrete left behind, you know? Some proof of our love left to fade in this world before it starts anew in the next.


Timmy is always here to help me as I struggle to get around much on my own. I wish you could see little Caroline and Sam too; Caroline is such a cheeky monkey, and Sam has your unruly hair, even at two! I think Timmy will be a much better dad than I ever was, he’s got time for us all.


I made sure I kept all of your things when he helped me with the move to Cotswolds. I don’t think I would’ve moved unless he’d given me that nudge, but I am so glad he did. I often imagined you sitting there with me on the patio, looking down past the fir tree at the end of our garden, out onto the endless, rolling green hills. I hope you liked the chestnuts that I brought back from my walks for you. They feel how you feel; warm, solid and wholesome.


I did try dating a few times, partly to assuage Timmy’s constant hassling, and because you said to me ‘don’t you dare be lonely.’ Once Timmy had a family of his own it did help to have someone to talk to. None of the dates panned out in the long run as, you probably know, my heart wasn’t truly in it. But I have friends here now in the care home and their conversation keeps me on my toes, keeps my mind moving.


It’s been a long journey, my love, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ve found comfort in sharing my stories with you and your words have been beacons of light guiding me along the way. For me, home has always been in your arms, and now that I’m tired I long to fall asleep in them. I’ll be home soon my Holly.


Your Luke

November 09, 2022 12:22

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34 comments

Anne Marie Miles
02:52 Nov 12, 2022

Aw this one brought me to tears. It is a story of true love and grief, but I think his dedication to writing the letters throughout the years really highlights the love more. In none of the letters did he sound any less in love with Holly, and I think that empathizes his feeling of home in her. I'm glad you chose to approach the prompt this way. I had considered doing something similar, making home a person rather than a place; I went a different direction this week so this was a delightful read, seeing how well you executed it. There were...

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Edward Latham
17:23 Nov 12, 2022

Glad you liked the story Anne Marie! Yeh I felt like I needed to get some of Holly's character across to make Luke's love feel real, so the sayings were my attempt at doing that! If you have any criticisms or notice anything I can improve on in this or future stories I'd be glad to hear too!

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Amanda Lieser
03:44 Nov 25, 2022

Hi Edward! Wow! This was such a beautiful way to write this story. I loved the way you created such intense characters and my heart pined for the love you wrote about. I also thought it was beautiful the way you let time pass softly in this story. I’m so glad the story ends with happiness for Timmy. Nice job! And congratulations!

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Edward Latham
14:18 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you so much! Yes I feel like kids in fiction suffer from the hands of their parents far more than they deserve! So Timmy still turned out to be a good person and live a happy life. Glad you enjoyed the read.

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Sultan Rysbek
18:19 Nov 24, 2022

AWWWW so sweet story it feels like a true story

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Edward Latham
22:11 Nov 24, 2022

Thank you so much! Happy you enjoyed it.

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Kevin Broccoli
17:49 Nov 24, 2022

I love that you chose this format to tell this particular story. I think it really lent itself to the emotional center of the narrative. Thank you for giving me this to read on a holiday :)

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Edward Latham
22:12 Nov 24, 2022

Thanks Kevin, hope you had a great holiday!

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Daniel Allen
14:28 Nov 24, 2022

This was a fantastic story, absolutely packed full of heart-wrenching emotion. Congratulations on the shortlist. Very well deserved!

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Wally Schmidt
07:57 Nov 24, 2022

This story feels like a page that was ripped out of my brother's life. He lost his wife to cancer when they were young and he never really got over it. I think you perfectly captured that "I'm here, but also not" state. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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Edward Latham
14:21 Nov 25, 2022

I'm sorry for your brother Wally. But glad you enjoyed the story, thanks for the encouragement!

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:38 Nov 21, 2022

Fine work Edward. Congrats. This kind of work often discomforts some soft-minded fellas. Congrats once again.

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Anne Marie Miles
17:05 Nov 18, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist, Edward! Well-deserved. A beautiful story! 🎉

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Korinne H.
21:20 Nov 17, 2022

WOW! I really enjoyed this story!

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Katie Kanning
02:16 Nov 17, 2022

Lovely story, Edward! I host a podcast where I read people's short stories, to bring them to life and give authors more exposure. It's called Unpublished, not Unknown. If you'd be interested, I'd love to read this story. You can submit it on my website: unpublishednotunknown.com Have a great day! -Katie

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Edward Latham
21:18 Nov 17, 2022

Thanks for your comment Katie, happy you like the story! And so pleased you would want to read it for your podcast, I'll submit it to you.

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Katie Kanning
02:31 Dec 07, 2022

Thanks Edward, your episode is officially live! Listen here: unpublishednotunknown.com

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Edward Latham
13:21 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you so much Katie, I've given it a listen and it was amazing to hear the story brought to life. Happy to work with you more in the future if you like!

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Katie Kanning
05:47 Dec 08, 2022

I’m glad you liked it! Thanks again for your story. Feel free to submit more stories the same way! If you’d like narration for other projects, let me know.

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Marty B
05:28 Nov 15, 2022

I liked this line- 'I miss the little cleft between your eyebrows, worn by time' and the meaning behind it.

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Rebecca Miles
20:28 Nov 14, 2022

I kept expecting this to twist and the tag "sad" to come into full force; I'm so glad that this was more uplifting-sad! The title is beautiful, echoes of the long and winding road I suppose. The idea that he could confide in Holly over the years through the letters was moving and captured the idea well that we will lose people, but never truly if we hold onto what they mean to us. I look forward to reading more from you!

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Edward Latham
15:29 Nov 16, 2022

Thank you Rebecca! Yes I thought it's a tricky one because it's definitely uplifting in the sense that he never lost his love for Holly throughout all the years, but also sad that they spent so long apart and he lost her so early in their life together. Love and loss, happy and sad - glad the sad tag didn't ruin it for you! Your stories are wonderful too, I'm going to read more of them now!

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Rebecca Miles
17:17 Nov 16, 2022

Thanks for reading me too. My submission Castle in the clouds has similar meditations on loss😉

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15:29 Nov 14, 2022

Gorgeously written, absolutely seamless. Left my heart hurting in a most delicious way.

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Edward Latham
15:37 Nov 16, 2022

Thank you so much! Yes I felt both intense love and loss in this one, happy you enjoyed the read.

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Francois Kosie
01:40 Nov 14, 2022

I love how you show the passage of time and how Luke stays connected to Holly throughout the years. There are lots of touches I like, like the "little knitted oven gloves" and the fact that the son was like a piece of her and had her mannerisms. I also like how you contrast "take a shortcut to you", which he almost did in his struggle with alcohol, with "take the long road home to you". In the end, it's quite touching how he thinks of himself as being home soon. It does feel like one of those special connections that can cross beyond the...

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Edward Latham
15:39 Nov 16, 2022

Thanks Francois, I'm glad you liked the little details I included to add colour to the people in the story. It was a tricky decision to decide how to show the passage of time and which periods of time in Luke's life to pick, but hope I got it roughly right!

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Michał Przywara
21:01 Nov 13, 2022

A touching story, very nicely written :) It's clear this was one of those lifelong loves, and the idea that his spending the rest of his years without her was "the long way home" is neat. What struck me was him picturing Holly each night and kind of communing with her. Using this to encourage himself to lead a better life. It's a neat way of pulling something positive out of grief, of finding a way to honour her memory instead of being consumed by misery. It also struck me as a kind of non-supernatural haunting, but a beneficial one. Final...

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Edward Latham
15:41 Nov 14, 2022

Thank Michal! Yes that's great that you picked up a slightly haunted feel from the way Holly was always with him - I did think their relationship had gone beyond just memory and it was more like Luke was carrying around a version of her with him that grew and aged alongside him. Looking forward to reading more of your work in the future too!

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Michał Przywara
22:08 Nov 18, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Jessica Miller
00:35 Nov 13, 2022

This was so beautiful and so heartbreaking! You've managed to use your excellent storytelling to convey a very powerful kind of love (one that is mostly difficult to put into words!). I felt like I could see Holly through Luke's eyes and feel his enduring love for her and dedication to her. You can really see that Holly is home for Luke. So, so beautiful x

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Ruby Fink
16:47 Nov 12, 2022

This is so sweet. Well-done <3

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Edward Latham
17:18 Nov 12, 2022

Thanks Ruby! Appreciate the encouragement!

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Douglas W. Carr
19:49 Dec 16, 2022

I can't lie - a small tear creeped down my cheek, onto my beard and quickly dropped to my sweater. And I was like, "Damn." Certainly worthy of the shortlist.

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