This story is by Bonnie Bowden and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Today marks the anniversary of my death. Beneath a willow tree lies my granite tombstone. Ellen Carter-Phillips (June 30, 1993 – March 30, 2018). “Do not stand by my grave and weep, I am not there; I do not sleep” (Mary Elizabeth Frye)
One year earlier…
I don’t believe in coincidence. Life is too ordered. Nature is too complex.
I met Michael at a fund-raiser for the Northeastern Oncology and Research Center. He was seated next to me at the table. I noticed how his black suit cut close to his athletic body. His warm smile exuded charisma, but his dark, pensive eyes penetrated my soul.
After we started talking, I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. Both of us were only children. Both of our moms died of cancer when we were in our teens. Both of us wanted to change the world for the better.
On the way to the bathroom, my friend Keri pulled me aside. “I heard he’s an up-and-coming investor in biotech. And single.”
“He’s here to honor his mom’s memory. Besides, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship.”
We had our first date two days later. Michael and I met at a local soup kitchen to help serve lunch. When I was in college, I found myself at a food pantry on several occasions. I was an expert in creating dishes with ramen noodles and peanut butter. It was rewarding to give back.
We soon became inseparable. My job as a freelance writer and editor allowed me to work from home or wherever a computer was available. When he couldn’t get away, Michael would send me roses with a note saying how much he missed me. Sometimes, we would just stay in and watch a movie.
One afternoon, Michael brought me to a garden. He placed his arm on the small of my back and led me down a flagged path. Flowers of every color bloomed in a tumultuous profusion of beauty. The closeness of him, the touch of his skin against mine made me wish we could remain this way forever.
When we got to the end of the trail, under the arbor, he asked, “Will you marry me? Before you answer, I need to tell you something. I just found out my company is sending me to Paris for a month, and I can’t imagine being there without you.”
I covered my mouth with my hand and the tears started flowing. “Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you!”
“I want you to wear my mother’s ring. It’s been in my family for three generations.”
He slipped on the most gorgeous rose gold cut diamond ring I had ever seen.
“It’s exquisite,” I said, as I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him.
We were married by the Justice of the Peace in a small courthouse. I couldn’t imagine anything better than waking up next to this man for the rest of my life.
We combined our honeymoon and his business plans in Paris. It was one of the most breathtaking places I’d ever been. Our hotel room on the seventh floor had a terrific view of the entire city.
“Well good morning, beautiful,” he said.
“I can’t believe I’m your wife. I keep looking at my ring to make sure it isn’t a dream.”
“I love you so much, Ellen,” he said, as he held me in his arms. He pulled me against him and pressed his mouth to mine, possessing and owning in a way I could never have imagined. His lips, firm and warm, played across mine, sending a river of heat through me. I gasped for breath.
“I don’t want this feeling to end. Just hold me.”
“No matter what happens, always remember I love you.”
Those days in Paris were some of the happiest of my life. We visited the Eiffel Tower at night. It looked like thousands of fireflies lighting the way to the heavens. Whenever he could get away, we would picnic in the park, go shopping, or tour the local sites.
A couple of days before our flight back to the United States, I saw my husband in the lobby having an animated discussion with a Frenchman. I might have imagined it, but it seemed like Michael’s jaw muscles tensed when he saw me.
“Ellen, I’d like you to meet Monsieur Baudelaire.”
He put out his hand to shake mine. “Bonjour, Madame Phillips. Est bon de vous rencontre”
Maybe it was because his hand was sweaty or the way he looked at me, but something in his manner creeped me out.
Two months after we returned home from Paris, Michael became a different person. Sometimes he wouldn’t even come to bed. He’d sleep on the couch, so he wouldn’t wake me. I could understand the enormous pressure he was under, millions of dollars were at stake, but I felt more like a grieving widow than a bride.
I don’t understand what’s happening. “Are you having an affair?” I raised my voice. “Just talk to me.”
“No. I promise it’s work.”
Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to know the truth. I followed him. I tracked his GPS on my cell. He went to some abandoned warehouse. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. Maybe his company was buying it for storage. Something seemed off.
A few days later, I heard a knock at the door. I was surprised to see two uniformed FBI agents. I turned on the intercom. “Mrs. Phillips, I’m Special Agent Angela Wells, and my partner is Special Agent Robert Page. We’re just here to ask you a few questions.”
After looking at their badges, I ushered them into the living room. They sat on the sofa, and I sat in a wing chair.
“Mrs. Phillips, do you know the whereabouts of your husband?”
“He’s meeting a client for lunch. What is this about?”
I squeezed my eyes shut trying to regain my composure. Michael Phillips, what did you get yourself into?
“We have reason to believe your husband got mixed up with the wrong people. We need to put you under protective custody. You may have to take the stand and testify.”
“But I don’t know anything.”
“We have reason to believe you may have met one of his bosses when you were in Paris,” Agent Wells said.
“No, that can’t be true.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come to the field office with us,” Agent Page said. I slipped on my raincoat and followed them out, locking the door behind me.
I climbed into the back seat of a black Chevy Tahoe. After we parked, I was escorted into the building. After going through some metal detectors, I was taken up to a third-floor office.
“We’d like you to take a look at some pictures and tell us if anyone looks familiar.”
My hands shook as I turned the pages. I stopped. “This is him. The man I met in Paris.”
“What’s going to happen to my husband? Nobody’s going to hurt him, are they?”
“We will do everything in our power to keep him safe.”
I combed my fingers through my hair. “Call our lawyer, Ben Jackson. He must know of someone to call who could represent my husband.”
After my testimony at the grand jury, Agents Wells and Page led me down the back stairwell to the basement door. Suddenly, there was a deafening sound, like a strange mix of firecrackers and lightning bolts, a blast that blacked out the lights and knocked me to the floor. A body fell on top of me. A massive fireball. Sirens. Then darkness.
When I opened my eyes, I had no idea where I was. I lay surrounded by a tangle of tubes, wires, and machines. I heard a voice calling. “Nurse. Tell the doctor that her patient is awake.”
A fortyish woman wearing a white coat and stethoscope entered. “I’m Dr. Preston.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital. You hit your head after the explosion.”
“It’s all starting to come back.”
“Most of your injuries were lacerations and contusions which aren’t serious.” “My focus was treating your concussion. During the examination, we also found out you are six weeks pregnant.”
“I know it must come as a shock.”
“But how can I keep me and my baby safe?”
An agent stepped forward. “All the news outlets reported you were killed in the blast. We all think it’s safer if you stay that way.”
A French saying popped in my head: “In the face of death, we understand life better.”
I made my choice. I vowed to protect the life growing inside me. Ellen Carter-Phillips died that day and Lisa Keller took her place.
Sandy Juker says
What a great premise for a novel. I hope you consider that possibility. Well done!
Bonnie Bowden says
Thank you, Sandy! I appreciate your comments. I hadn’t considered making a novel of it, but it’s not a bad idea.
LonI Horn says
That story was riveting. I really like the plot. It was one of the best short story ideas you have ever done.
Your writing keeps getting better and better.
Sue Bellew says
Absolutely loved the short! Absolutely could extend this short into a novel! We all want to know what happened in the life of Lisa now and what happened to Michael? Tell us more!!!! Thanks for sharing!
Christy Brown says
Exciting story! It had a great pace that kept me interested until then end. Nice work!
Bonnie Bowden says
Thank you for your kind words, Christy!
Karen Schultz says
I was waiting for the rest of the story. Please continue it on further and develope it. How do you vote?
Amy Brown says
Wow! More, more, more please… who was the Frenchman really, what was the husband doing, what happened to them. Wonderful and exciting.
Bonnie Bowden says
Thank you for your kind words, Amy. All questions that deserve answers.
Linda Barrows says
I agree with the other comments, this could definitely be grown into a novel. I was riveted. Nicely done!
Bonnie Bowden says
I’m glad you enjoyed my short story. This is my first time entering this contest. It has been fun reading all the wonderful entries and getting to know other writers.
Gave me goosebumps! Strong work.
Let me know when the novel comes out!
Bonnie Bowden says
Thank you for your kind words. After all of the comments, I am seriously considering making a novel from it. I wish you all the best in your writing!
Sandra V Bibilomo says
WOW!! Bonnie, I knew there was so much inside of you. You are a very good writer. I too was intrigued and I pray you will continue to develop the novel. Continue to stretch yourself in new ways.
Robert Burns says
Hi Bonnie, terrific story! I love the surprise twist ending. Good luck in the contest!