Rose rested her phone on the kitchen bench and stared at Aiden standing in the entranceway, the raindrops on his jacket glinting in the light.
“What’s cancer?” she asked. Her mind felt sluggish, fixated on the photo displayed on the screen.
“The lump. Under my arm. It’s cancer.” Aiden ran his hands through his hair, sprinkling raindrops onto the ground.
He stumbled into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed into her hair. She slipped the phone into her pocket.
“I went to the doctor today.” His voice was husky.
“You said you were…” She shook her head. “Cancer? That lump?”
He traced his finger over her cheek. “I had a biopsy last week. I didn’t want to worry you, so I didn’t say anything.”
“When you were late home?”
She thought of the smorgasbord of wild accusations she imagined while watching the clock and the empty driveway. Hands on bare flesh, skin, lips, passion, delicious contempt and mouth-watering self-righteousness.
“The news isn’t good, Rose,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s stage four. Metastasized from my liver.” He rested his lips on her nose, his five-o’clock shadow prickling and rough on her skin. “They can’t cure it.”
“They have to,” she whispered.
Aiden shook his head. “I love you.”
“There has to be something. An experimental drug? Something. Anything.” Rose jerked out of his arms and slammed her fist on the bench.
She laid her head in her arms and cried big, hacking sobs. “It can’t end like this. It’s not fair.”
Aiden rested his hand on her back, the steady weight familiar, constant. She closed her eyes, and let the delicious contempt, the wild accusations, the photo dissolve into impossibility.
“The doctor told me about a new drug that’s had some success,” he said quietly.
She spun around, her gaze meeting his watery eyes. “Let’s do it.”
He looked at the floor.
“It’s not funded.”
“About three hundred and twenty thousand.”
She ran her finger along the smooth edge of her phone in her pocket. The photo locked inside. It couldn’t end like this.
“What if we asked Julia?”
Aiden looked surprised. Then coughed and offered a poor excuse for a smile.
“No, don’t do that,” he said, shuffling out of his jacket.
“You can’t just pick your wealthiest friend and ask them for a small fortune. Besides, we’d never be able to repay her.”
“Hey, it’ll be okay.” Aiden took her hands, bringing them to his lips and kissing them. “We’ll figure this out. Crowd funding or something.”
Crowd funding took too long. She picked at a smudge on his collar. “What’s that?”
Her phone vibrated in her pocket. Julia always said a photograph was worth a thousand words. How many dollars?
The price of Aiden’s life?
Breaking the rules, but for the right reasons?
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll find a way.”
Rose’s heels clicked on the footpath, beating out a rhythm as she walked, like a drummer marching warriors to war.
She paused in front of Julia’s letterbox, the envelope heavy in her hands. The weight of her hopes and the burden of her shame squeezed into a single crisp, white envelope. She’d sealed it with a sticker, a red heart, the symbol of love.
A red hatchback sat in the driveway, a Rip Curl sticker dominating the rear windscreen. Golf clubs in the back. Julia hated golf.
Rose caught herself grinding her teeth and relaxed her jaw. The upstairs curtains flapped across the open window. Curtains closed in the middle of the day. A red car in the drive.
She nudged the envelope towards the letterbox. Once it crossed the threshold, there was no turning back.
A thud followed by raucous giggling cascaded out the window. She poked the envelope into the slit, and it slid smoothly into the abyss. The plea laid. Her integrity extinguished. Aiden would get his recompense. Julia with her lover, too.
Breaking the rules. For the right reasons.
“Are you okay?” Rose rested her hand on Julia’s arm, her skin clammy. “You don’t seem quite yourself.”
Julia drew in a shaky breath, her lip trembling. “Rose, I’m being —”
A waiter carrying a tray of drinks arrived at their table. He delivered the cocktails and mumbled an apology before scurrying off to interrupt other lunchtime conversations.
Julia leaned closer, black clumps of mascara in her eyelashes.
“I’m being blackmailed,” she whispered.
Rose shifted in her chair, arranging her face into a frown. She reached for her margarita, her tongue thick and dry in her mouth.
“Blackmailed. What do you mean?”
Julia swallowed. “Well, I’ve done… You see… It’s like…” She fiddled with her napkin, her red nails scratching at a smudge in the corner. “You know the guy I’ve been seeing. The one you haven’t met.”
“He’s married.” Her voice cracked, and she sniffed.
“I know. I didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did.” She wiped her eyes, leaving a black streak across her cheek. The first crack in her perfectly manicured exterior.
“Someone’s found out. They’ve got photos and everything.”
“Oh, Julia.” Rose brushed her fingertips against Julia’s skin and tried to ignore the weight settling on her shoulders, squeezing out the last of her humanity.
“They say that unless I pay them, they’re going to release them.”
The waiter coughed, making Rose jump.
“Your order,” he said, slapping the plates on the table and scuttling away.
“How do you know they’ll do it?” Rose wiped her hands on her skirt.
“They had a list of all the emails they’d send the photos to.”
Rose laced her fingers to keep them from wiping the sweat on her forehead. “So it’s someone that knows you then? Or him?”
Julia nodded. “Maybe.”
She swallowed. “His wife?”
Julia shook her head. “I don’t think so.” Her voice caught in her throat and she looked at the floor.
“Are you going to pay?”
“I think so. They said I had to pay by tomorrow. I’m going to the bank after this.”
Rose leant back in her chair, the tension easing from her shoulders. “How much did they want?”
“Three hundred and twenty thousand.” Julia touched her mouth with trembling fingers. “They put their demands in my letterbox with a heart on the envelope. What kind of monster does that to someone?”
Three hundred and twenty thousand.
The price of life.
Julia looked out the window, and her eyes widened. Rose followed her gaze. A red car with a Rip Curl sticker on the back windscreen and a set of golf clubs in the back pulled into the carpark. A man with a green jacket and a five o’clock shadow climbed out of the car.
“Aiden’s here,” Julia said, clutching her napkin.
Rose nodded, watching Aiden walk towards them. “He said he’d pop in to share some news.”
Julia swallowed. “What news?”
“He’s got cancer.” Was using those words as weapons breaking a rule? Perhaps. Maybe for the right reasons, too.
Her phone pinged, and Rose picked it up off the bed. A smile twitched at the corners of her lips.
Aiden walked into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, and leant against the dresser. “Did you ask Julia for money before I got there yesterday?”
Rose slipped the phone into her pocket and picked up a pillowcase from the washing mound on the floor. “No, why?”
“She was acting super weird the whole lunch.”
Rose paused. Did he feel any guilt? Any remorse? Or was he so certain she didn’t know about the affair it never crossed his mind to feel guilty?
“You told her you had cancer.” Rose held his gaze. “You had to know that would affect her.”
“I guess.” Aiden looked at her tote bag resting against the bed. He frowned. “Why are you taking your bikini to work?”
Rose picked up a shirt from the pile and began folding. “I thought I might go for a swim this afternoon.”
It wasn’t a lie.
“The smudge on your collar didn’t come out.” Rose held the shirt for Aiden to see.
“Oh.” He coughed and picked at his nails.
“You should ask Julia to wear less lipstick next time, so she stops ruining your shirts.” She grabbed her bag and walked past Aiden, leaving him frozen in the bedroom.
Rose lay on the beach, the sun warming her legs and the sand hot between her toes. She sipped her margarita and closed her eyes, listening to seagulls squabble and waves crash on the beach.
She checked her watch. Any minute now, if the private investigator was the computer whizz his ad suggested. He hadn’t let her down so far.
Her phone dinged, and she opened her email, clicking on the attachment. Hands on bare flesh, skin, lips, passion. Julia. Aiden.
She checked the other recipients of the email and smiled, waiting.
Her phone dinged and pinged and vibrated. She switched it to silent and ordered another margarita.
The waiter delivered her cocktail. Her friends and family delivered messages of sympathy.
How could Aiden do that?
How could Julia?
We’re so sorry.
Are you okay?
Are you going to leave him?
There it was.
Leaving a dying husband was against the rules, but it’s perfectly reasonable to leave a cheating one. Friends and family extended sympathies to her. Julia’s money extended to first class and an exclusive beachside resort in the Bahamas.
How much was the photo worth?
Three hundred and twenty thousand dollars.
The price of life.
That cheating bastard could burn in hell for all she cared.
Rose sipped her margarita and closed her eyes. Breaking the rules. But for the right reasons.
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Yay! here you go again. Congratulations!
Hehe, thank you Suma!! :-)
Wow also brilliant. I love your writing. The plot was so engaging and cleverly revealed. A joy to read.
amazing story.... I am literally shocked like how can someone write this much interesting story with a twist...
Thank you so much for your lovely comments! :-)
Revenge to the core! Well written.
Thank you Mary!
Awesome! Loved how Rose tunnels down the devious rabbit hole as things play out. I should have seen the twist coming, especially after the scene with Julia but didn’t have an inkling until Rose reveals the truth to Aiden. Well done!
Thank you, Ry!
I loved this story! Great twist that I did not see coming. I really enjoyed reading this. Great work!
Thank you so much, Kari! :-)
Hey Beth, I love your story! I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here: https://bio.link/katiek The only thing is it's a clean podcast, so ...
Oh wow, thank you so much for the opportunity Katie! I would love that! You could change that line to ‘That lying cheat could burn in hell for all she cared.’ Would that work ok? You could omit the ‘in hell’ if needed too. That’s very exciting! Thank you :-)
That’s perfect! Your story will be up on Monday at 5am PST :) If you have a website or social media, send them my way and I can link those in the show notes for listeners.
Woohoo! That’s so exciting! Thank you! :-)
Hi Beth. Your story is live! Be sure to share if you enjoy it :)
Hi there! I’m reaching out to all of the authors who have been featured on the UNU podcast. I have a few new opportunities for you! In the quick and easy form linked below, I am offering: 1. A chance to schedule a casual interview with me for the podcast. This will be a basic get to know you, a way for you to advertise your other writing (books if you have them), and a time to laugh and have fun. They would be less than an hour, most likely under 30-min. Whatever works for your schedule. 2. A personal bio page for you on the website I...
Hi Beth, I just DEVOURED this story! It was so very well crafted. I especially love how you created the relationships between the three characters because it made the twist deliciously mischievous. I also love how you created the detail of the red heart. Congratulations on getting shortlisted and great job on the piece!
Thank you so much, Amanda!! Your comment really made my day! :-)
I loved this story. Having been cheated on, I can relate. Nothing like a good revenge story to put a smile on my face. Very well written Beth. I preferred your story to the winning one.
Thank you for your kind comments, Carrol and I’m sorry you’re able to relate first hand. I’m glad it put a smile on your face!
I needed this one. I have a story where I am exploring similar themes! I really like how this one went. I could see this being a longer piece!
Thank you for your kind comments, Jen! :-)
Savage! I absolutely adore this story - you hit so many emotions.
Thank you so much, Fawn! :-)
Yay a shortlist! Yours was by far my favorite read this week, and I'm so thrilled to see you get recognition.
Thank you so much, Fawn! :-)
Hi Beth I wanted to congratulate you for this great story. I love the gentle style in wich you describe every situation, it hits me as both subtle and direct. The characters are very sincerely human, you can't not love them. Continue like this please, because your narrative is a pleasure to read :)
Thank you so much, Gianluca! I really appreciate your lovely comments! :-)
My best part was,"breaking the rules.But for the right reason". Good job,Beth.
Thank you for your lovely comments, Faith! I really appreciate it! :-)
Wow! So good. You captured the guilt and tension so well. Great twist.
Thank you so much, Dave! :-)
OMG! I absolutely love the plot twist! You really did such an amazing job. I also have a question, about your story though. On my computer, I can only submit the prompts that are involved in a competition to my profile. Is it the same on your end?
Thank you for your kind comments, Sierra! Yes I can only post stories that are in response to the current prompts - but after you click on the prompt, at the bottom of the story, is a choice to publish to your profile or submit to the contest for $5. I hope that helps! :-)
Thank you! It does.
Such intrigue! I think you had two plot twists... Just as I thought I'd figured it out, it changed again. Fun.
Thank you for your kind comments! :-)
Loved the twist in the end. Wickedly delightful!
Thank you, Suma! :-)
This was masterful. Did not see the twist coming at all, and I loved it in a cringe-y way. My only critique was in the beginning I wished I had more emotion from Rose, before she slammed her fist on the table, but when the twist came it made perfect sense, because she wasn't actually upset, so my critique is invalid. Nice work!
Thank you so much, Rachel! :-)
Whoa, did NOT expect the last minute twist there! It gave a whole new meaning to when she found the resolve to post the envelope. Her last words to him as she left the room were savage, enjoyably so. Great work!
Thank you for your kind comments! I appreciate it! :-)
I followed you just before my inactive stage, great to see you got a win since :)
Thank you! It was very exciting!!
Ill bet! Well done!
Woah, that was totally unexpected! It felt like a whirlwind slowly settling down around me, leaving my jaw dropped at every step revelation. I just- You left me pretty speechless.
Aww thank you, Keya! You are always so generous with your comments, I do appreciate it! :-)