Category Archives: Short Stories

The Orchid Cliff Chronicles 1.2 : Meet Mallory North

 

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My head is spinning.  This place is beautiful.  The old me would have loved it – the sailboats, the endless sea, the cliffs and the trees and the mountains on the horizon.  I should be happy.  I should be grateful.

I am grateful.  I come from a working class family – mom was a teacher, my dad an electrician.  I was fortunate and loved and I never wondered where our next meal would come from.  But never in my wildest dreams did I think that someday I’d wind up here, on the shores of Orchid Cliffs.  And if I did ever think it, it never would’ve occurred to me that it would happen under circumstances like these.  But there are benefits to marrying Greg.  Benefits that go even beyond his boyish good looks, his wicked sense of humor, and his undying, limitless support.  My husband is a kind and generous bleeding heart – a trait he inherited from his own parents, who are as wonderful as they are wealthy.

It’s because of my in-laws that I’m standing here now, looking out over the water, reminding myself to be grateful.  It’s hard sometimes, when my anxiety and my guilt consume me.  When the emptiness swallows me whole.

If it weren’t for my in-laws, Greg wouldn’t be taking a bath right now in the enormous jacuzzi in our enormous vacation home during our three month leave of absence from work.  We wouldn’t have this wonderful gift – this reprieve from reality to reconnect and relax and remember who we were before infertility rocked our relationship.  My in-laws are worried about us, I know.  About our well being and our future and our marriage.  I’m worried about those things too.

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I’m late again.  Greg grinned from ear to ear when I told him, which is exactly what I was afraid of.  He’s sure this is our month – just like he was sure last month, and the month before that, and month before that and that and that and that.

It’s never our month.

I shouldn’t have told him.  Now he’ll have his hopes up, just like he always does.  And just like always, I’ll let him down.  I’ll shatter his heart – this man who would do anything for me, who I love and adore and respect.  This man who should be the father of my children.  This man who was born to be a father, whose daydreams revolve not around sex or money or power, but around tea parties with his daughter, playing catch with his son.  I can’t bear to break his heart again.

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I think someday he’ll resent me, and in my darkest moments, I think about leaving him – letting him go so he can find someone else.  Some woman to do what I can’t – to give him the family he deserves.  I told him this once, and he laughed.  He squeezed my hand, and said “Never.”  He says I’m enough, but I can’t help but wonder. His life could have been so different.

I take one last look at the moon and inhale.  The pregnancy test is waiting for me inside, and despite myself I know I want to take it.  I’ve been fighting the temptation for days.  Some shred of misguided hope surges in my gut, and for a fleeting moment I think that maybe, this time, Greg is right.  I imagine a flutter in my stomach – is that a subtle wave of nausea?  Maybe it’s real this time.  Just maybe it is.

I close my eyes – I see tiny finger and tiny toes.  It’s a boy, I think, and we name him Gregory, after his father.  He plays with trains and planes, and he loves to read just like Mommy.

Just like me.

I’m reeling as I walk upstairs.  It’s like this every time.  I squat over the toilet, and I do it.  I pee on the stick, and I hold my breath.  And I wait.

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It isn’t our month.  I thought I was prepared for this, but I’m not.  I slide to the floor, pregnancy test in hand, and I cradle my head in my hands.  I feel like I’m crying – like I’m sobbing, like I can’t breathe – but there aren’t any tears.  I guess I’ve used them all up.

I mourn the son who never was.  I mourn his tiny fingers and tiny toes, and I mourn the planes and trains he’ll never play with.  I mourn the stories I’ll never read to him, and the name we’ll never give him.

It’s always like this.

And when, finally, I peel myself off the floor, I stand up straight.  I go to the mirror, where I practice my smile.  Because the hardest part is the next part, the part where I tell Greg.

I force a smile at my reflection.  I practice my act, the one I put on month after month.  My charade of positivity and optimism and hope.  I contort my face until it looks like the face of someone who isn’t devastated.  Someone who isn’t me.  Someone who has faith in the future.  I make my face a mask, so that Greg doesn’t worry about me.

(He worries anyway.)

I sigh – my smile looks fake.  I think it’s no use, but I try again.  I try for Greg.

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Okay, that’s better.

I find him in the living room, and his face lights up when he sees me.  He’s so handsome, and I think I’ll never get used to that face.  We’ve been married for seven years, but his eyes still take my breath away.

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“Hey, beautiful,” he says.  I know he means it – but I don’t feel beautiful (it’s hard to feel beautiful when you don’t feel like a woman).

I see his expression flicker – I didn’t tell him I was going to take the test tonight, but he knows me too well.  He knows everything just by the look on my face.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.  My voice catches in my throat, and suddenly I’m holding back tears.  I guess I didn’t use them all up, after all.  I fight them, though, and I find my mask.  I force a laugh, and I think it sounds pretty good.  “I’m okay, Greg, I promise.  There’s always next time!”  I show my teeth and hope it passes for a smile.

He pats the seat next to him and I go.  He holds my hand and looks at me with those eyes.  I nearly crumble.  I want to give him everything – I want to give him the world – and for the millionth time I wish my body would cooperate.  I wish my body would do what it’s designed to do.

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“Mallory,” he begins, and I’m sure I’m in for another pep talk, but he surprises me.  “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”

“Okay.”

“I know we both want to have a family.  But we’re a family already – the rest is just frosting on the cake.  You’re my wife, and I love you.  As long as we’re together, I’m a happy man.  I hate seeing you like this.  I miss you, and I miss us, the way we were before.”

He pauses and I open my mouth to speak, but he stops me.

“What if we just…stop?  Not forever, but for now.  Just for a few months, while we’re here in Orchid Cliffs.  We can go sailing, and go to the lake, and I can take you to Sheridan Lodge.  You can read, and I can paint, and we can go to the beach.  Do all the things we love to do – the things that make us us.  Can we do that, Mal?  Can we just live in the moment together?”

I nod, and as I do a weight lifts off my shoulders.  I’ve been so consumed by becoming that I forgot to be.  I want to be, I realize.  And I want to be with Greg.

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I stand and take his hand.  I lead him to the beach, to the spot where I stood and worried alone.  It was lonely here before, but Greg is with me now, and I feel warm just knowing he is here.  The view is the same as before, but it seems different now, with Greg at my side.  I look around and this time, and I appreciate the beauty.  I feel grateful to be here.

I feel grateful to be.

“Here’s to living in the moment,” I say, and he leans down to kiss me.

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Ascension

She had been following him for days – tracking his movements, memorizing his routines. She was good at being invisible. It was a talent she’d perfected long ago, when she still went by her given name, the one she’d shed along with her self-loathing and her weakness.

She watched as he ordered himself a drink, and a second for his date. The redhead wouldn’t last long – she would make sure of that.

He wore an expensive suit, tailored to fit his well-built frame. Shoes made of buttery leather, and nothing in his wallet but an exclusive credit card. She noticed these things – the tiny details others missed. The tiny things were always the important things.

Ascension

She watched as they flirted, his movements and expressions familiar. She had been watching him a very long time – and of course, she’d known him even longer than that. She knew the tenor of his voice and the sound of his laughter. She knew the deepest depths of his soul. He didn’t know her – not anymore – but she remembered.

The memories flashed by. Memories that not long ago would have triggered pain. But not now. Now she was numb, unaffected. Detached from that penniless girl, and the spoiled rich boy who had been her only friend.

She remembered without emotion. The girl – older now – awkward and ashamed in her hand-me-down jeans and thrift store sweater. Foolishly, secretly in love with the spoiled rich boy she trusted.

And she remembered the girl, broken by his rejection. She remembered humiliation, betrayal, and the brutal words that had cut like a knife.

There was – surprisingly – a vague jab of hurt, a remnant of past injury, as she recalled his condescension. The glaring absence of an apology.

I can’t be seen with you in public, he said. My reputation would be ruined. You understand.

She did understand.

He didn’t know her anymore, but she knew him. And though that weak, awkward girl had ceased to exist long ago, he was on an unwitting collision course with the woman she’d become.

It was time for them to meet again.

Ascension2

Of course he didn’t recognize her. She’d banked on that. She held his gaze as she introduced herself, openly challenging the redhead he came with. She flipped her long, strawberry-scented hair and laughed flirtatiously at his punch line. He wasn’t funny – but he was careless, foolish. Brainless. It was easy. She had his attention now.

She swayed her hips as she walked away. She felt the heat of his gaze on her long legs and short skirt.

A3

He wouldn’t find the scrap of paper in his pocket until later. Maybe he’d even spend the night with the redhead first. It made no difference. It was only a matter of time.

She returned home. A small, crumbling red brick cell. Run-down. Wallpaper peeling, window panes warping. A shack. The last remaining shred of the past she had destroyed. The last reminder of the weak, malleable girl she once had been.

A4

It’s only temporary, she told herself. He will call. And it all will change.

He did call – of course he called. And once he did, everything fell into place. It didn’t take long. Coffee turned into drinks turned into candlelit dinners. Just as she planned. She giggled. She smiled. She batted her eyelashes. She played the girl next door with ease – innocent, helpless, enamored. It was simple. The biggest challenge was finding a different outfit for each date.

A5

He never recognized her. She was a practiced liar, with a drastically altered appearance. But somewhere in the back of her mind, some small part of her had hoped he would remember.

She would make him remember. When she was ready.

It only took three weeks. Twenty-one days of seduction, manipulation. Lies. It was even easier than she thought.

A6

He professed his love in flowery words.

You’re so beautiful, he said.

You only see what I want you to see.

You’re so intelligent, he said.

I’m so much smarter than you know.

I would die for you, he said.

You have no idea.

She insisted they elope. She had no one to invite – no family, no friends.

No witnesses.

A7

She moved to his house. Of course she did. It was big and grand. It had a swimming pool and a sauna.

So many options.

Days passed. She played the dutiful wife. Cooking, cleaning. Late night seduction. Cuddling. Waiting. Watching. She was always watching.

It didn’t take long. Two weeks of watching. And then it was time.

A8

Are you thirsty? she asked. Innocent. Helpful. Wait here.

The thud of the door, the click of the lock.

It was done.

Are you there? Where are you? He spoke through the door, jostled the knob. His voice was close. The door locked behind you! Where ARE you?

I’m here. She smiled, leaned her head against the door. I’m right here.

Screaming, yelling. Questions – so many stupid questions.

I could die in here! Do you think this is funny?

She whispered her answer through the crack in the door. Two words – ever so quiet. Just loud enough for him to hear.

Her name – her real name. The one he used all those years ago. When he mocked her. Insulted her. Humiliated her.

Silence. He remembered – she knew he remembered. Then screaming. Yelling. Pleading.

She walked away and his panicked voice faded with every step.

It wouldn’t be long now.

A9

A drink – a Flaming Zesty. She drank and took in the view from an upstairs balcony. This house had once impressed her. Now it seemed inferior. Cheap.

A shack, really.

It’s only temporary, she told herself.

He was only the first husband, after all.

A10

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