This story is by Helen Izek and was a runner-up in our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Helen Izek is an author, freelance editor, and part-time Compliance Manager in a global medical devices company. Her first book, The Red Road Home, was published in 2019, for which she won the coveted Author Academy Award. You can check out Helen’s book page on Facebook.
Cyndi awoke before her alarm. She clicked it off, grateful not to have been woken by its beeping—a necessity on most days. But not today. Today was different. It was her day. Her anniversary. It would be a good day full of special moments.
Red-tipped feet in pink slippers, she slipped on her robe and tiptoed out the room—without glancing at the large, snoring lump under the bedcovers—down the corridor, and into the bathroom. Shutting the door, she leaned against it and smiled. It had begun.
Cyndi took extra care with her preparations. She showered and shampooed, pampered her smooth skin with creams, blow-dried her thick, long, blonde hair, and applied her make-up, finishing with the new lip-gloss. Cherry Berry—the exact shade of her new dress.
Staring into the mirror, she smacked her full, crimson lips together and struck a pose. She snapped a selfie, her phone held high and angled. “Today will be picture-perfect,” she promised the pouting image.
Cyndi pulled on sneakers and grabbed a banana as she shouldered her handbag and a tote bag and headed out into the early morning sunshine. On the bus, she found two empty seats. Eating the banana, she edited the bathroom photo before posting it. Her anniversary story had started. Next, she scrolled through her mail, double-checking her order confirmation.
“It’d better arrive on time,” she muttered.
“Excuse me . . .”
Cyndi looked up.
“Can I sit here, dear?” asked an old lady, poking at Cyndi’s bag with her walking stick.
“Yes, sure,” said Cyndi, pulling her bags closer to her.
“Thank you,” said the old lady.
“It’s my anniversary today,” said Cyndi.
“I’m sure you’re married to a handsome young man.”
Cyndi nodded. “Would you like to see?” She held out her phone to the old lady who peered at it closely.
“Your wedding. How many years have you been married?”
“Ten,” said Cyndi.
“That’s nice,” said the old lady. “My husband was a complete rotter . . .”
Cyndi turned to look out the window. The conversation was over. She didn’t want anyone’s negativity spoiling her special day.
“Here’s my stop,” she said presently, gathering her bags and inching past the old lady.
At the bus stop, she swapped sneakers for her prized Jimmy Choos and walked the last block to the coffee shop outside her office high-rise. The barista waved her forward from the back of the queue.
“Here you go—a latte for the girl of my dreams,” he grinned.
“Oh, Tony, you’re naughty,” said Cyndi. “But sweet. Thank you.”
Deborah was waiting for her at the lifts and they rode up to the 25th floor together.
“It’s my anniversary today,” Cyndi whispered loudly as the lift doors slid shut.
“Congratulations! No wonder you’re looking extra gorgeous. I bet Billy’s going to spoil you rotten.”
“Yes, he will,” said Cyndi. “Quick, let’s take a selfie.”
“Must we?” groaned Deborah.
Amongst their bemused fellow passengers, Cyndi held her phone high and Deborah pulled a funny face in contrast to Cyndi’s practiced smile.
“Guess who’s celebrating today, girls?” Deborah announced as they entered the open office space of the advertising agency where they worked. “Tenth anniversary to Mr. Captain-of-the-Football-Team.”
“Congratulations,” said Barbara. “Does that mean we’ll be going out for lunch?”
“That’ll be nice,” said Cyndi. Lots more deliciously snappable moments, she thought.
“Unless, of course, Billy’s taking you out . . .”
“No, he’s busy. We’re going out for dinner.”
“Where to?” asked Deborah.
“Um, that stunning new place in the city.”
“Shame he’s not coming here,” said Jennifer, perching on the corner of Cyndi’s desk. “I’ve been working here for two years and I’ve never seen Billy. I’ll begin to think he’s made up if I don’t get to meet him soon.”
Cyndi stashed her bags under her desk. “Don’t be silly, Jen. He’s busy. And on our office weekends he’s either been on a business trip or we’ve been at one of his office weekends. He’s expected to be there, being management. Bad timing, that’s all.” She stood up and smoothed her dress. “Anyway, here comes Mr. Roland and I’ve got loads to do before the staff meeting.”
The women returned to their desks and Cyndi logged into her computer, grateful to start her day’s work. Two hours later, they were halfway through the meeting agenda when a junior secretary appeared at the door. She blushed and stammered as the GM scowled at the interruption.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Roland, but it’s a delivery for Cyndi and she told me . . .”
Cyndi jumped up. “I’m so sorry, I’ll sort this out. Betty, really,” she hissed audibly at the confused-looking girl. “You should know better.”
“But . . .”
“Come on, let’s go and . . . oh! It’s a delivery for me,” she said, pointing at the delivery boy standing outside the meeting room. “It’s my anniversary.”
Acutely conscious of the twenty pairs of eyes staring through the glass walls, Cyndi signed for an enormous bunch of red roses in a crystal vase and a large box of luxury chocolates tied with a red ribbon. Beaming, she carried them into the meeting room and placed them on the table beside her laptop.
“How beautiful,” exclaimed Mrs. Penny. “You’re a lucky girl, Cyndi.”
Cyndi smiled coyly as she opened the accompanying card. “Yes, I am, aren’t I?”
The delivery had been bang on time with the desired effect. Now Cyndi could hardly contain herself; she was itching to get the ball rolling with a few anniversary-worthy photos while she still looked morning-bright. At last, the meeting was over and she raced back to her desk with her laptop and gifts.
“Wow! That’s the biggest bunch of roses I’ve ever seen,” exclaimed Deborah. “Billy’s outdone himself this time.”
“Can you take some pictures of me with them, Deb, to send him?”
“Sure,” said Deborah, snapping photos with Cyndi’s phone.
Back in her cubicle, Cyndi added a few more selfies, head cocked to one side amongst the roses, crimson lips full and pouting. She swiped, typed, clicked, and eventually uploaded several moments of brushed-up perfection to her cyber story. Peeping over the divider at Deborah, she said, “Billy says thanks for the pics. You can see them in my story, too.”
The day was busy. Lunch was fun, providing many more photo opportunities as she’d anticipated, and the afternoon was only half done when Mr. Roland told Cyndi to go home early. “Go celebrate with your husband, Cyndi. You’ve earned it—the new graphics you presented today were excellent.”
Cyndi left the office in a flurry of congratulatory wishes, leaving the flowers and chocolates behind. “Billy wants me to share them with you all,” she’d explained.
On the bus, she changed her shoes and reviewed the day’s postings so far. Before long, Cyndi stood on her front doorstep. She could hear the TV blaring and Billy swearing at some apparently incompetent player. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
“Cynthia? Is that you? Why’re you home so early?”
Leaning her head against the arched doorway to the lounge, she stared at the scene before her: Billy in his reclining chair, a half-finished bottle of beer on the table beside him. He was unshaven, his once-chiseled features blurred and pudgy, his sky-blue eyes bloodshot with beer and too much screen time. A stained T-shirt strained over the paunch he’d cultivated over the last few years. Her excitement evaporated and she suddenly felt very tired.
“Don’t call me that,” she said. “Aren’t you going to take me out to dinner? It’s our tenth anniversary, you know.”
“Is it? So, come give your old man a kiss. I deserve it for putting up with you all these years,” he grinned.
“If you take me out to dinner,” she countered, “to that smart new restaurant I told you about.”
“We can’t afford that,” he snorted.
“We could if you’d get off your backside and get a job,” she muttered, turning away.
“What was that? What did you say?”
“Nothing!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“The guys are coming to watch the match. You can make us dinner instead.”
“Order in!” she shouted again, banging the bedroom door shut. She sat on the bed and opened her laptop; she’d have to get creative with a few more post-worthy shots of a celebratory anniversary dinner—but that’s what she did best. And it would be a whole lot more fun than waiting on Billy and his mates.
Later that night, Cynthia lay in bed reviewing the cyber version of her anniversary. She smiled at the captured moments of her perfect day, thrilled with the effusive responses of her many followers.
“Cyndi!” gushed a message from an unknown. “Congratulations, girl! I want your life!”
Cynthia kissed the screen of her phone and then held it against her chest, a stray tear trickling down her cheek. “Me too, friend,” she whispered. “Me too.”
Linda Barrows says
Great story. So true, people posing on social media with their perfect lives-lol! Funny, yet sad
Bonnie Bowden says
Congratulations on your award-winning entry! A person’s life isn’t usually as happy as it seems.
Helen, Boy-oh-boy, your story addresses that all-too-familiar public self we each develop. I’d like to think I don’t behave in ways similar to Cyndi’s and yet…
Larry Bone says
Awesome story. It reminds me a bit of the classic John Cheever short story, “The Swimmer.” Everything is quite different from what it at first seems. Great balance between told and not told. (We need to figure out those first 10 years). Sometimes opposites marry and the unmarried say, “Look what happened! Men are never worth all that effort.” And a truly happy marriage is rare like the perfect diamond. Amazing. Really well written story!
Jaya Avendel says
This story gripped me! I thought at first perhaps Jennifer had hit the nail on the head and Cyndi’s husband was made up, but the end result was much more satisfying and sad, knowing this has been her life for ten years.
Julia Thorp says
Beautifully written!! Such A gift – to capture the essence of sorrow and striving so poignantly. Well done!!!
A very good story. True we don’t know what exactly happens in private. We live in a false world where everyone pretends to be happy.
Mary A Gorman says
Excellent particularly in showing and not telling I walked with you every step of the way A Well deserved winner
Sylvia Bitter says
Dear Helen, I always love your writing ! Loved it and am eagerly waiting to read more of your short stories!
Thank you an Congratulations!! Well done!! 🙂
What an excellent read. It totally captured how you can put on an appearance for everyone, and how a photograph is only a snapshot in time giving the illusion of happiness. Well done, and congratulations on winning.
Yup, Great story to capture todays reality… or should I say fictional reality!
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