This story is by Sharon Mortz and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Mom, I need to take the car tonight,” Lacey told her mother Meg.
“Sorry, I have to work.”
Lacy glared at her mother and stomped down the hall to her room. Her shoulder-length hair, wadded in a pile, toppled. She tore the elastic band from her hair and tugged on her T-shirt, before slamming her bedroom door.
“Sorry,” Meg said to herself. Meg wiped her soapy hands on a dishtowel.
“And stop putting empty milk cartons back in the fridge.” Meg knew Lacey wasn’t listening. Nor was anyone else. Am I invisible?
I can’t breathe. I’ve got to get out of here. Meg sighed and dug through her purse for Advil to quell her pounding head. She checked her reflection. She tousled her short hair, added another layer of mascara, rubbed the faint lines that framed her crooked smile as if to erase them, and charged out the front door.
Rick, Meg’s husband, was working and stooped under the hood of his car shaded by the sprawling maple tree, which served as an awning. “Where ya going?” Rick asked without glancing up.
“The store,” Meg said. As if anyone cared, she thought as she stifled tears.
“Hey, Mom. You wanna go to the mall for a mani-pedi?” Lacey’s anger was as forgotten as last year’s Christmas presents. Meg was grateful for her daughter’s short memory.
At the mall, they wandered in and out of shops, inhaled the fruity scents, fingered jewelry and pushed aside racks of summer clothes for a better look. In the food court, Meg tossed her bags on a table to reserve it. She felt eyes boring into her and noticed a construction worker grinning. When had a utility belt become sexy? His slicked back dark hair revealed his ice-blue eyes peeking from dark lashes. Meg noted his simple black T-shirt and jeans. He unfolded his legs to stand straddling his chair, muscles taut, and gathered his empty food wrappers. The hair stood up on the back of Meg’s neck and her breath caught.
Later in the week, Meg called her sister Sharon. “I keep seeing this guy at the mall. It’s like he’s watching me. There’s something scary about him — or exciting.”
“Rick would have a stroke if he knew. He’s so -” Sharon tried to find the appropriate word, “so steady.”
“Steady is the perfect word.”
Meg checked the kitchen clock for the fiftieth time and left for work, allowing plenty of time for coffee. She stood in line, eyes peeled for Blue Eye’s. She spotted him as his gaze swept the room as if casing for a future break-in when he spotted her. His mouth curved slightly and he nodded in recognition and approached her.
“Hi. I guess we’re both addicts.”
“What?” Meg was dumbfounded.
He pointed to his coffee cup. “Coffee.” He turned his empty mug upside down.
He chuckled, revealing even white teeth. “Hey, do you want to have a beer instead of coffee?” “I can’t — on my way to work. I work second shift.”
They walked in unison outside into an overcast day. “Well, another time,” he said.
She flashed hopefully her best smile and actually managed a wink. “Do you have a name or are you incognito?” Meg cringed at her adolescent attempt at humor.
“Doug.” He reached for his sunglasses. Were his eyes really that sensitive or was he evading the paparazzi? “Walk me to my van,” he commanded and pointed down the alley.
“Do you have beer in your van?” She hoped she sounded witty instead of fretful and eager. She ignored the chill running down her spine like fingers on a keyboard. “Where are you parked?” Meg was unable to think of anything to say and followed robotically in spite of her better judgment.
“Right here.” Blue eyes pointed to a van parked in the narrow alley near the mall. “Are you going to tell me your name?”
“Meg.” She grabbed a quick look at her watch, thankful she had left home early. Doug opened the back door as if to extract a tool for a job.
“Well, I’d better get . . .” before Meg could finish Doug leaned toward her, took her face in his calloused hands and kissed her firmly. Meg fell into the kiss and Doug wrapped his arms tightly around her. Unshed tears stung Meg’s eyes. She craved the warm comfort she felt in his or any arms. She wanted to feel safe, visible. Doug lifted her to the back seat as if she was as light as a plastic spoon. He climbed in forcing her further into the van. She awkwardly scooted across the seat. Doug kissed her as he lifted her legs, laid them across his lap and shifted closer. His hand explored under her shirt and found her breasts. She felt she was sinking and let darkness envelop her. Meg heard a zipper, felt her hand lifted and guided into his open jeans while his fingers ran up her back playing that keyboard. Meg’s heart raced as if she had run upstairs two at a time and she gingerly freed his penis from the confines of his jeans. He unbuttoned Meg’s jeans and slowly reclined her on the seat. She bit her lip. All she wanted to do was let go. His caresses intensified and she writhed in response to his manipulating fingers. But his haggard breathing jolted her to reality. This was wrong.
“Stop! I can’t do this.” She heaved her forearm against his chest.
“You know you want this,” he slurred in a thick voice, buried his head in her neck and tightened his grip. “Relax or you won’t get any dick.”
She had gone too far. Her stomach convulsed as she fought activating every muscle in her body. “No. Let me out!” she screamed and jerked her hips aside in an attempt to buck him off. She extended her arm to tap on the window. He bore down and yanked her hand back and slid it under her along with the other arm. She felt like she was in a straightjacket. She screamed.
Someone will hear.
But, no one did.
“Mom, what’s wrong with you lately?” Lacey asked over their burgers and fries. “Have you stopped eating? You look sick,” Lacey said. Someone noticed, Meg thought. Meg’s burger congealed while the cubes in her iced coffee melted.
“You look like you are losing weight,” Sharon added.
Meg forced her lips into a half smile, inhaled to quiet her quivering stomach and clenched her shaking hands. “Just tired,” she said and thought I need to do something. Lacey shrugged in acceptance of Meg’s explanation but Meg knew that Sharon wasn’t that accepting.
Meg’s daily attempts to conceal her depression and trembling was impossible. Most days she felt too tired to get out of bed but too ashamed to stay home and risk talking to Rick or Lacey. She hid her daily bouts of tears, claiming allergies, and jumped a mile at every sound. Her sleeplessness and nausea sapped her. Her appetite dissolved causing her clothes to drape like on a hanger.
She wasn’t sure why or what she hoped to accomplish, but Meg wanted to talk to Doug. Did she expect an apology? Could she minimize her guilt? Was she at fault or just needy?
Meg realized it was Rick – not Doug – she had to talk to. Or maybe I should just leave, Meg thought. Avoid everything. Never say a word. Rick would be hurt and angry but he’d get over it. Maybe he’d even forgive me. Oh God, do I have the energy?
Meg paced, reviewed her options, and rehearsed various combinations of gambits and outcomes, then heard Rick’s car pull into the driveway. She poured herself a brandy and sloshing it on the counter top.
The minute Rick walked through the door, Meg knew something was wrong. He knows.
“I have to talk to you.”
“Oh,” came out like a whispered grunt.
Rick reached for the brandy and a glass and poured. Something was up. Rick drinks coffee after work not brandy. Meg’s already-tight stomach tightened one more notch.
Rick stumbled over his words. “I didn’t want this to happen but I’ve met someone. I’m sorry. I thought I could make our marriage work. But I can’t.”
Meg couldn’t believe her ears. Dull old Rick. He looked like he might cry.
Meg threw back another shot to steady her trembling. “You’ve met someone? How long?”
Meg heard the front door open and knew it was Lacey. Meg plastered on her rehearsed smile and hid her shaking hands under the table.
“Hi Mom. I have a friend with me,” Lacey announced sensing tension in the air and ignoring it. “Meet Doug. Remember him from the Mall, mom?”
Meg gaped at her attacker. Rick and Lacey gawked at Meg’s stony face while Doug smirked.