This story is by Sherrie L. Stewart and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Roy looked out over the black sand beach to the expanse of ocean. His twin boys skipped along the edge of the water, splashing and laughing. He poked an email onto his phone screen for his office back home. His wife Dalya left their boys and skittered over to where Roy sat in a low-slung beach chair looking like a hermit crab lying on his back. She plopped down on an emerald green beach towel that matched her swim suit and eyes, and then turned to her husband.
“Can’t you put that phone away while we’re here? We agreed. Our first vacation in ten years and that thing is attached to your hand just like at home. Please put it away.”
“Yeah, Honey, as soon as I send this last list of instructions to Anne Marie, Then, I promise, it’s turned off. I’ll only check it once a day.”
Roy finished a short list of daily instructions regarding upcoming events, sent it off to his assistant, and then tucked the phone into a nearby beach bag.
“Anne Marie’s been working for you the last six years. Don’t you think she can handle things for a few weeks?” Dalya pulled her long auburn hair into a pony tail.
“Thing is, she acted strange as soon as I told her about our plans for this vacation,” he explained, slathering sunscreen over his shoulders and down his long arms. At about forty, Roy worked hard on his appearance. Besides running two miles every day as soon as he got out of bed, he kept his monthly appointments at the barber shop where he also had hot towel treatments and his mustache trimmed.
“Put it out of your mind for now. Can you give her a little time off when we get home?”
“Good idea. Maybe you can work in the office while she takes a break.” Roy’s face relaxed, and his affection shone in his brown eyes as he grinned at his wife. “It’ll be like old times.”
Memories of fighting with office furniture, collapsing in laughter under the desk after struggling to get all the cords plugged in, and late nights planning their future rushed in. Dalya had come up with ‘Happy Trails’ after watching old westerns on late night TV. The event planning business grew under their sure guidance, but then their family began to grow, too. Roy hired Anne Marie, and Dalya became a stay-at-home mom.
“I could do that while the boys are in school. I’d have to take off as soon as school got out. You know, to pick them up and for soccer practice.” Dalya took the sunscreen from Roy’s slippery fingers, located her boys, and then smoothed ample lotion over her thickening thighs. “Get out there. Your sons need some Daddy time,” Dalya said as she laid back and closed her eyes behind dark glasses.
“Great. I’ll talk to her about some time off as soon as we get back.”
Roy ran down the beach and straight into the waves with his boys close behind.
Anne Marie sat at her desk checking the bundle of emails on her computer screen. She opened and read the list Roy had sent that morning. The manicured fuchsia nails on her right hand moved with confidence on the purple mouse. The phone rang. Her left hand picked up the receiver without missing a stroke.
“Happy Trails Event Planning. Anne Marie speaking. How can we make your life happier today?” She sang out the familiar refrain. She had loved this job once. But now she almost gagged every time she had to answer the phone.
“Yes, I am making a note of the change. No ma’am, Mr. Rogers is in Hawaii. I’ll take care of that right away. And Happy Trails to you, too.”
Shit, here that old hag goes again. She has changed the particulars about that reception at least once a day for the last month. Pain- -in-the-Ass.
“If I have to tell someone ‘Happy Trails’ again today, I’m gonna scream.” Anne pictured Roy frolicking with that red-headed troll in waves of endless ocean. A sharp pain developed above her right brow, and her gut churned like lava bubbling in a volcano.
“I’m gonna quit this stupid job as soon as he gets back,” she hissed at the empty office and computer.
The phone rang again. This time the person on the other end told Anne Marie that her truck needed a valve job, and the parts and labor cost more than her truck was worth. She decided to buy a new truck as soon as she got a raise. She would demand a raise as soon as he got back from his family vacation in three weeks.
The computer clock read 4:35. She could leave as soon as it read 5:00, and she could grab a sandwich on the walk home. Or she could go across the street to the ‘Happy Hour’ to grab a beer and some wings instead. But she needed to lose some weight. She could pay for a membership at the gym as soon as she got that raise.
Should I be good and walk home with my healthy sandwich? OR should I run across the street and enjoy some of those delectable honey-barbeque wings with an ice cold beer?
The computer clock read 4:42. She wished for a real clock so she could watch the time pass. Slim hands moving from number to number punctuated by a mechanical tick-tock would feel real. 4:48. scanning the office, nimble hands straightened the mouse pad and keyboard for a third time, placed the lavender pen container behind the matching business card holder, and then strummed out a rapid refrain on the white desk. The pain above her right brow pounded harder and harder as she watched the tiny numbers change against the blue screen. 4:53.
“Oh, to hell with it,” Anne Marie said, pushed in her chair, grabbed her purse, then locked the office door on her way out.
In her rush, she broke one of those fuchsia fingernails, and she began searching in her purse for a nail file. Wallet, phone, old room key card where she and Roy went every Thursday afternoon, and, here it is, her nail file. She stood at the curb holding the key card in one hand and the nail file in the other. Tossing the key card into the gutter, she began filing furiously at the broken dagger on her ring finger. She decided to have a beer at the Happy Hour but didn’t watch the traffic. A city bus crashed into Anne Marie as soon as she darted into the street.
“Yeah, honey, I’ll be boarding soon. So sorry about this, but I’ve got to go. I love you, too. At least we got a few days together in paradise. I’ll get in late, but there’ll be time for sleeping on the flight. That way I’ll be there to open the office in the morning. Mondays are busy.”
Dalya sucked in her breath as she hung up the phone. Yeah, at least they had a few days together as a family. Of course, the business came before family. Or was he rushing back to be with his Thursday afternoon rendezvous? Stop it! For God sake, she got hit by a bus. Dalya laughed, and then sobbed. Her boys came over and put their arms around her.
“Okay, boys, enough of this. Let’s go have lunch and hit the beach.” The ten-year-olds cheered at her suggestion.
Dalya pulled her shoulders back and straightened to her full five foot one inch height, vowing to work harder on her marriage as soon as she got home.
A white coat leaned over the hospital bed. The name tag read Dr. A. Sunaz
“Anne, time to wake up. How are you feeling today?”
Anne Marie opened one eye. “What? What happened? I can’t move.” The light in the ceiling pierced her open eye, and she closed it tight. She floated on water, her mind filled with white smoke and numbers she couldn’t figure out. 4:51, 4:52, 4:53. A male voice came to her through the water.
“My name is Dr. Sunaz. I am here to take care of you. You were in an accident. You’re in the hospital. And in a body cast. There were several broken bones, including a fractured pelvis. But, with physical therapy, you should make a complete recovery. It will just take some time. Right now, rest is the best medicine.” The doctor perused the monitors looming over the bed, adjusted the flow of medication dripping through an IV, and then made notes on a chart before slipping out the door of Anne’s ICU cubicle.
“Happy Trails to you,” Anne mumbled out of habit, imagined her body in a fuchsia swimsuit on a black sand beach warmed by a tropical sun, and then whispered, “As soon as I find the time, I’m going to Hawaii.”