32 comments

Fiction

“Vince and Sal have invited us out on their yacht next weekend.” Ben glances at me before dropping his gaze to his phone.


The lounge is cold. I sip my coffee and stare at the wilting pot plant in the corner. And the silence hangs over the casually thrown gauntlet.


He coughs. “I’ll tell Vince no, then?”


I grip my mug. He’s serious. Tiny ripples of horror radiate through the coffee.


He waits for my answer as though he’d asked if we wanted to spend a weekend with our closest friends.


“You can’t seriously expect me to go?” I ask.


“This might be a good opportunity to move forward. Heal.”


“I’m not moving anywhere.”


He leans on my chair. I hate it when he does that.


“Just say you’ll think about, Hazel? You can’t stay mad forever.”


I run my finger over the bumpy skin on my scar and close my eyes.


Sal’s emerald dress swishes around her milky calves as my husband wraps his arms around her shoulders, pulling her into a hug. She collapses into him, closing her eyes, submitting to his embrace.


Jealousy creeps an icy finger around my throat. And squeezes.


“I’m not mad.” The words are louder than I intend.


Ben slinks back from my chair.


I sigh. “I’ll think about it.”


“It’ll be fun. Get away, a change of scene. It’ll do us good.” He smiles.


“God knows, it won’t make anything more broken, will it?”


Ben frowns. “We’re not broken.”


I stare at the coffee, trembling in my mug. Something’s broken.


#


“That’s their yacht, over there,” Ben says, pointing to a hulking white monstrosity bobbing at the end of the dock.


I nod, my mouth too dry to speak.


“It’s a seventy-five-footer.” Ben looks at me, his eyes wide with the boyish enthusiasm I once found so endearing. “It’s even got two wheelchair accessible bathrooms.”


“Well, thank god for that,” I say dryly.


I tell myself it’s the opulence that irks me, but a tendril of jealousy creeps over my shoulders. 


Sal and Vince are standing at the end of the dock, and they wave as we approach. I wipe my hands on my shorts and try not to vomit.


Sal avoids eye contact with me as she walks towards us, her sundress swishing about her knees. I watch her graceful, carefree steps and the jealousy writhes.


“Glad you made it,” she says, her smile flickering.


Ben nods a greeting to them. “Sorry we’re late. We needed to go back for an extra pair of shoes for Hazel.” He shakes his head and laughs. “Some things never change. Women and their shoes.”


I rock back. It’s true, but his casual attempt at humour is unintentionally cruel. Sal’s gaze darts between us and Vince coughs.


It’s not exactly a solid start.


Vince coughs again. “This way,” he says, his voice strained. “Let’s get you settled in.”


I pause at the ramp leading onto the yacht. I’m not sure I can do this. Ben swoops me into his arms and carries me onto the boat.


“Oh, how romantic,” Sal says, following behind, her hands clasped to her chest.


Romantic’s not the word I’d use.


“We were planning on anchoring at Omapere and eating at the one-star Michelin restaurant there.” Vince says, running his finger back and forward over the polished railing of the deck.


“Yes, does that work for you both?” Sal offers a weak smile, taking over the role of diligent host.


I nod, and she lets out a breath.


“Let me show you your room.” She bustles down the hallway, past the plush leather couches and the marble bench-top bar.


Ben bends and whispers in my ear. “I’ll ring ahead and check the restaurant is appropriate.”


The thoughtfulness is unexpected, sending warmth trickling across my chest. Even though I’m still reeling from the shoe comment, I squeeze his hand.


“Thank you,” I whisper.


“Here we are,” Sal says, gesturing around the bedroom. “Bathroom’s just through there.” She points at a wide doorway into a full sized ensuite.


A small vase of flowers rests on the bedside table, the cream petals matched perfectly to the cream bedspread. Such detail. Such opulence.


“I’ll leave you to get settled,” she says. “See you at the bar when you’re ready.”


It’s cramped in there with the three of us and we do an elaborate shuffling dance to let her leave. The boat rocks and, for a moment, she brushes against Ben, gripping his shoulders to steady herself, before hustling from the room.


Jealousy prickles along my neck. I rub my scar and close my eyes.


She’s pressed against him, her emerald dress whipping against her milky calves. He grips her shoulder, brushing the tears from her cheeks. He’s bending, talking gently to her, rubbing her shoulders—


“It’s going so well.” Ben’s voice cuts through my thoughts. He meets my gaze, his expression soft, almost shy. “I knew we could get through this.”


The boat rocks again, and my legs swing with the motion. Ben kisses me softly.


“See, we’re not broken,” he says.


Not broken? I stare out the window at the vast expanse of sea. Something is.


#


“Right this way.” The waiter strides through the restaurant, his jacket swaying as he weaves through the tables.


I follow behind the others, moving past a Gucci jacket here, a carefully placed Louis Vuitton handbag there. I'm hopelessly out of place. People turn to look as we pass, the awkwardness of our circumstances radiating off us in waves.


“Up here please,” the waiter says, gesturing up two steps to a secluded table, sectioned off with billowing cream drapes.


“Oh, it looks lovely,” Sal says, scurrying up the steps, her heels clicking on the tiles. Vince glances over his shoulder and follows his wife.


Jealousy leans on my chest. I pause. The steps insurmountable. I can’t go on. Ben rests a hand on my back as I dither at the bottom, tears prickling in my eyes.


The waiter turns and meets my gaze. His lips form a circle and a hiss escapes.


“I’ve made a mistake,” he says, making a show of examining his tablet. “You’re booked for the window booth. This way, please.” He trots down the steps and flashes a smile, the beads of sweat on his forehead catching the artificial light. “The view is spectacular.”


Shame the company isn’t.


We settle into our places at the table, using our menus as a poor distraction from the tension. Sal is quiet, pale. And I see her façade crumbling, her truth quivering behind her lips.


My stomach clenches.


“Hazel, I’m just so sorry.” She stifles a sob, fumbling with her napkin and covering her face.


I swallow, but my mouth is dry. This is exactly the conversation I was hoping to avoid.


“Let’s do this another time,” I say.


Ben reaches for my hand, but I pull away. He rests it on my chair instead, and I fight the urge to brush it off.


Sal looks up, her mascara smudged under her eyes. “I feel so guilty. I hope in time you’ll forgive me.”


Ben swallows. “Sal, you couldn’t—”


“Had you been drinking?” I ask her, cutting him off.


The accusation flies out of my mouth, taking me by surprise, but a pressure eases in my chest and I realise something I’m struggling to reconcile.


Sal’s eyes are wide, and she raises her trembling fingers to her lips. Guilt twists in my stomach, but I need to know.


“Surely you can’t think that?” she whispers.


I touch my scar and close my eyes.


Sal’s leaning over me, her emerald dress splattered with blood. She’s screaming my name. The paramedic points and she turns. Ben is running towards us. Sal sprints out of the ambulance, her dress whipping against her milky calves, and tumbles into him.


He wraps his arms around her shoulders and pulls her into a hug. She’s sobbing, babbling. It was an accident. She’s so sorry. The other car came out of nowhere.


He brushes the tears from her cheeks, talking gently to her, and guides her back to the paramedic. He turns, his face pale as he crouches by my side. And I watch his soul shatter into a thousand tiny pieces as the paramedic tells him the news isn’t good.


I pick at the skin around my scar, my breath coming in short, ragged bursts.


Sal leans forward. “Of course I wasn’t drinking, Hazel. The police took blood samples.” Her face is twisted with hurt and confusion. “Why would you think that?”


I stare at the setting sun casting golden shadows over the sea. My thoughts churn. Why would I think that?


Perhaps because it’s easier to accept my anger, my jealousy, if I believe she’s a villain, not a victim.


I’ve been holding her accountable for a truth that was just a lie.


“Is that why you’ve been so angry with me?” The pain behind her words is clear. “You think I’d been drinking when we crashed?”


I nod.


But that’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is much more twisted. To speak it would lay bare the ugliest parts of my being.


She dabs at her eyes; the guilt haunting her, reducing her to a husk of her former self. I pick at my skin. I owe her this.


“I’m jealous,” I whisper.


“Jealous?”


“I know it was an accident, that it wasn’t your fault.” My voice quivers. The truth struggles to emerge.


Something’s broken.


It’s me.


I take a deep breath. And trust the truth will heal at least some things.


“I’m jealous you walked away from the accident. And I didn’t.”

August 05, 2022 08:47

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32 comments

Aeris Walker
00:43 Aug 09, 2022

So. So. Good. You capture the nuances of marital tension flawlessly, and hint at the deeper, underlying issues between the characters with the perfect amount of subtlety. I love the consistent structure of short paragraphs, concise language, and repetition of thoughts and ideas. There were no extraneous scenes or descriptions, just straightforward, good writing. Well done.

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Beth Jackson
08:58 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Aeris! I really appreciate your kind feedback! :-)

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Jim Firth
16:06 Aug 08, 2022

I found this to be very cinematic; the descriptions of the opulent locations and the action beats of the characters gave everything a very vivd feel. Very clever twist at the end--Shyamalan would be proud!

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Beth Jackson
18:02 Aug 08, 2022

Thank you, Jim! I appreciate your kind feedback! :-)

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Michał Przywara
20:54 Aug 05, 2022

This is a good story. In the beginning, it definitely feels like the issue might be infidelity, between Ben and Sal. There's clues along the way, like Hazel being lifted onto the boat, but they aren't definitive - any couple might do that for any reason, after all. Even with the restaurant stairs, I wasn't sure. I suspected she had some sort of injury that maybe made walking more painful, but then when the waiter realized his mistake, it was clear there was more to it. How could he tell just by looking at her? Well, because it was obvious....

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Beth Jackson
02:08 Aug 06, 2022

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Michał! I so appreciate the time you take to write them! Thank you for spotting that typo too! =)

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Amanda Lieser
00:28 Aug 14, 2022

Hi Beth, Oh my! I thought the foreshadowing in this piece was brilliant. And I love you how wove the different viewpoints into this piece despite it being first person. I also thought you did a great job at hi lighting some things that people don’t consider on a daily basis-like accessibility. I also thought that the explanation of the past was beautifully done. Nice job!

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Beth Jackson
01:57 Aug 21, 2022

Thank you Amanda! I really appreciate your kind feedback! :-)

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Sylvia Courtner
22:52 Aug 08, 2022

Like Michal mentioned, you masterfully wove in countless clues to the actual issue, but upon first readthrough, I was still taken by surprise when the actual problem was revealed. I promptly read it again, and appreciated the story even more. Wonderfully done and I think readers appreciate the buildup the collection of hints provided.

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Beth Jackson
08:58 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you so much, Sylvia! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)

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Caitlyn Kilbee
09:17 Aug 08, 2022

This is a wonderful story Beth. I love stories with twists and write them myself as often as I can. This one was very clever. I also love the fact that your description makes it so easy to visualise the scenes. Great story, exceptionally well told.

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Beth Jackson
18:20 Aug 08, 2022

Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Caitlyn! I really appreciate them! :-)

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Yves. ♙
07:13 Aug 07, 2022

That ending took me a moment! Great job so carefully weaving in that twist. I especially love that you chose to have the women come together, and for both to be so real and three-dimensional, when so often women are pitted against each other (which is in a way what I wrote about for this contest, in a reality TV setting.) I'm glad they got a little bit of closure.

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Beth Jackson
08:05 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you so much for your kind feedback yves., I really appreciate it! :-)

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Yves. ♙
08:30 Aug 07, 2022

No problem at all! Thanks for sharing this one.

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Suma Jayachandar
14:28 Aug 06, 2022

Beth, This story retained the suspense till the very end. Only after reading the last sentence could I recall the red herrings you had so masterfully woven into the story. As per usual the narrative is crisp and sharp and characters full of their distinctive energy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing!

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Beth Jackson
01:09 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you so much, Suma! I really appreciate your kind words! :-)

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Shirley Medhurst
15:13 Sep 13, 2022

This is the 2nd story of yours that I’ve read & I’m a fan. I love your style. I have no criticism, only praise. I especially liked “the silence hangs over the casually thrown gauntlet” The way you led us to believe the problem between the characters was Ben’s infidelity was clever too. Bravo 👏

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Beth Jackson
18:36 Sep 14, 2022

Thank you, Shirley! Your kind comments have made my day!! :-)

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Lorelei Lemon
01:44 Aug 20, 2022

I was waiting for something to happen the entire time, at first I thought the story was boring. But I kept reading and i"m so glad I did. This story captures the emotions and feelings. LOVE THIS.

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Beth Jackson
01:58 Aug 21, 2022

Thank you, Lorelei!

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Daria Artemova
23:00 Aug 19, 2022

Such a great plot twist! I couldn't guess what she was jealous of! I kept thinking they had an affair up until the ending! And thought what a psycopath her husband was) great story, Beth!

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Beth Jackson
01:59 Aug 21, 2022

Thank you, Daria! :-)

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Ian Matonti
21:16 Aug 19, 2022

I love this. Just enough hints but not to spoil anything. Great work!

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Beth Jackson
01:59 Aug 21, 2022

Thank you, Ian! :-)

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Kelsey H
09:08 Aug 12, 2022

This was so well built up, I love stories which start with a seemingly simple premise - she is jealous of the friends yacht - and then starts going deeper and hinting toward other things. I really enjoyed the way everything unfolded so naturally so although I kept wondering what had happened, at the end it also all made sense rather than feeling like some out of the blue thing. Also I loved the interactions between the couples, and how they are trying to pretend they're is not this awkwardness between them. Hazel being able to state how she ...

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Beth Jackson
18:41 Aug 13, 2022

Thank you so much, Kelsey! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)

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Tommy Goround
07:54 Aug 12, 2022

After a few days... The story is still memorable... This will do very well. The subtle variety resonates in the details after reading.

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Tommy Goround
11:34 Aug 09, 2022

Yes. yes. yesssss. I haven't seen one of these multi-faceted "hide the gun" stories in a while. Most appear in Hitchcock and Palhuniuk plots. Palahniuk actually teaches "hide the gun" for his twisted murder endings. Cool. Options: “Just say you’ll think about it, Hazel?" >>>“Just say you’ll think about it, Hazel?" //My eyes tripped on the missing "it" on the first read “Some things never change. Women and their shoes.” //would it be useful to keep flow without a full /stop/period? like: “Some things never change -- Women and their shoe...

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Beth Jackson
07:43 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you so much, Tommy!! Your kind words have made my day! I really appreciate the time you took to read and comment, thank you! :-)

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Seán Mc Nicholl
10:52 Aug 09, 2022

Beth, lovely story! The little hints drops along the way kept me hooked throughout. You’ve also captured the complex nature of jealousy - thats it can be a concoction of different feelings balled into one. Loved it!

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Beth Jackson
07:44 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you, Seán! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)

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