This story is by Jacqui Ascaray and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There was not a breath of wind at the outdoor celebration. The weather was perfect for the launch of a new branch of Steve’s highly successful business. Around 200 people mingled and networked at the lavish event, organised by Steve’s wife, Beth. She had worked tirelessly for months, planning every detail. The event was a stunning success and Beth stood chatting to six of Steve’s closest staff. She knew them all well. She was deep in conversation with Jonathan, Steve’s closest associate. Steve joined the circle accompanied by a tall, slender and attractive woman with long dark hair and dressed in white. “I would like to introduce you all to our newest member of staff, Winnie Hamilton. She comes highly recommended from an old college associate. She will be joining our team on Monday.”
“Hello Winnie, Welcome.” said Jonathan.
Sometime during the event, Steve leaned over to Beth and whispered: “You shouldn’t have worn cream, not slimming on you!”
Hours later, Beth, tired, wandered off to find a chair to rest her weary feet. She spotted Steve and Winnie standing on their own, deep in conversation. Beth was not sure if she had imagined it, it happened so quickly. Winnie leaned towards Steve and ran her finger down his arm.
“I must be seeing things,” she said to herself. Moments later she was called away to attend to a crisis in the kitchen.
Beth had married Steve 17 years before. It was agreed that he would be the breadwinner while she would take care of things at home. Steve liked to come home to the aroma of a meal in the oven. He had done well financially and together with Beth’s support and hard work he had built a highly successful organisation. They were a team and seemed to work well together when focused on a common goal.
The marriage started with them looking like they were the perfect couple. He was charming and she was energetic and attractive. On the surface everything seemed perfect, but in time it was not so when the two of them were alone. Steve criticised Beth, and often said mean things to her. She had a non-confrontational nature and kept quiet to keep the peace. The respect towards his wife was slipping. Some months before there was an incident which scared her.
They were discussing something and she was not agreeing. Steve blurted out “Maybe we should just get a divorce!”
This word had never been used before. Frightened, she started to check his phone and noticed an ongoing whatsapp chat between himself and someone called “Wilfred”. There were photographs of their home, cars, pets. Beth assumed that he had befriended someone at work. She didn’t dare admit that she was checking his phone as she was afraid to admit that she was snooping. He would not have approved.
The next Sunday, Beth walked into Steve’s office at home while he was busy working on his computer. As she walked over to him, he quickly minimised the screen leaving the Word document icon on the toolbar. Inconveniently at that moment the phone rang. She answered the call in the next room, which was a friend who kept her chatting while she managed to end the call as soon as possible, eager to get back to the office. The Word icon was gone from the toolbar. Could he be hiding something? She pleaded: “If you are having an affair, please tell me!” Sarcastically he replied “Who would I sleep with, the women at work are overweight!”
The next day she scanned the computer. No luck. A few days later she searched again and found it! As she read it, she felt her hands tremble and her body begin to shake as the realisation of the discovery hit her. He had fallen in love with another woman. He never really felt the feeling about his wife that one is supposed to feel about the person that one is are married to. Beth had good qualities and that is why he married her. He was miserable in his marriage. The new love was also married with children and he didn’t know what to do.
Instinctively she decided not to say anything to Steve. She had suspected that he was lying to her about other things too. She knew that he would just lie about this and explain it away like it was nothing. She began to play detective and watch him.
The next day, standing with his back to her in the kitchen, he said “When you go to the shops again, I need socks”. She thought to herself, “So I’m good enough to buy socks! Why don’t you ask ‘her’ to buy your socks?”
Beth was devastated and the fear of what she may lose made her scared. Naively she thought that perhaps she could turn things around. She could get him to love her again! She was sure of it! She paid him a lot of exciting attention, and made sure that they had fantastic and regular sex. She tried to be the ideal wife. As the weeks wore on, the messages on Steve’s phone did not stop. It dawned on her that her strategy was not working.
Beth was taking stress medication to cope. She was not sleeping and was living with her fears of what may happen. Steve announced that he was going to their cottage about an hour’s drive away for the weekend ‘go be alone to think’.
A few hours into the weekend, she decided to drive to the cottage to reason with Steve. Winter had set in and it was bitterly cold and raining, so she dressed in coat, gloves and boots. While driving she thought about her life with Steve and how much she had sacrificed for him. She had given up her job and independence and wished that she was a person like the women at Steve’s company who were financially independent and had built careers and were in a very different position in life to herself.
She reached the village and had a fleeting thought of saying hello to John, the local shopkeeper. She decided against in and decided to focus on the task at hand. As she drove down the narrow, bumpy road leading to the cottage she saw headlights of a car through the mist coming towards her. She could just make out who it was! Winnie! That’s who his mistress was! Why would Winnie be there on a Saturday afternoon? She thought: “I have been loyal and faithful to him, we have built a life together, surely he will listen to me. She was an integral part of his success, surely he knows this?”
She reached the cottage and as she walked in, Steve, who was sitting in front of the fire, spun around and she noticed the blood drain from his face. “I told you I needed time alone!”
“Alone! I don’t think so Steve! Don’t lie to me!”
“Okay, so Winnie and I are good friends. But you know I have no intention of leaving you. I’m very fond of you. Look, I bought you a surprise, it’s the blender you’ve always wanted.”
“Why did you lie to me?” she persisted.
“You’ve have put on weight and it turns me off. You know that you have started snoring. Maybe it’s the extra weight. There is no passion in our lovemaking. The last few times we had sex, it was crap. Winnie and I laugh a lot. We have a common sense of humour. She loves life and we have so much to talk about. We spend hours each day just talking. She is fun!”
“I have begged you to talk to me! How long has this been going on?”
“I’m not sure.” she knew from the information in the letter that was a lie.
“You know what, I have a headache, I need fresh air!” he disappeared out of the door before she could blink.
At that moment she felt like a used rag, used and abandoned. No longer of any value. She felt fearful of her future and alone.
In a state of disbelief and desperate, she started to wander around the cottage. This was the cottage that was their dream and had spent years planning and another year building. While Steve was working, she had driven here every day during the building to make sure it was going smoothly.
In a daze she looked around. The bed was unmade, personal items littering the room. Most of it she did not recognise. The cupboard housed women’s clothing that was not hers. Beth had hand picked and chosen the carpets, curtains, basins, bath, taps, furniture, wall paintings. It had taken many months of meticulous planning and driving to shops, choosing the exact colours. Now his mistress was enjoying it!
The thought of it made her stomach turn and she had to swallow to keep from throwing up.
She was brought back to reality with a jolt from a shrill sound. It was her cell phone. Steve: “I’ve slipped, I’m at Logan’s Pass. Come quickly, I’m in a lot of pain!”
Grabbing the pain tablets from the cabinet, she made her way there.
While walking, thoughts raced through her aching brain. 17 years of my life! How could he?
Eventually she spotted his black coat. She reached him and saw that his left leg was bent at an ugly angle and bleeding. Without speaking, she handed him the tablets. He gulped some down.
“Go for help. My stupid phone is nearly flat. Here, take it and charge it. And for God’s sake, hurry up, I’m freezing!”
Without a word, she turned and headed back.
“Beth! did you hear me?”
She turned momentarily “Yes!”
Thoughts flooded her mind “He is so selfish, all he thinks about is himself. He hasn’t asked me how I feel. How am I supposed to feel?”
Steve’s phone vibrated in her gloved hand. A whatsapp message: “Hi Darling. Just tucking my babies in and reading them a story. Told hubby I have to hurry back this evening to for an urgent planning session. Can’t wait to see you. Love you madly, Win xxx”
This woman had it all, good looks, husband, children, career and now she wants my life and husband!
Breathless, her chest burned from the cold air and her legs ached as she walked with purpose. Emotions were flooding through her body. She passed Ice Lake. Without thinking she reached back and threw with all her strength. It is a good one as Steve’s phone landed deep in the lake with a soft plop.
It was still raining as she walked as fast as she could, deep in thought. Steve had already left her long ago. When last did he take her out? When last did he ask her opinion? When last did he discuss anything with her?
Beth had a dilemma!
Steve wasn’t loyal to her, but he expected her to be loyal to him. She realised that she needed to use the only thing in her control: her power to make a choice.
She reached the cottage as the sun was turning a burnt red orange in the winter sky. She slipped into her car and made her way down the long and bumpy road. She passed John’s shop. Soon she was on the freeway heading back to her suburb.
She still had time to do something ….
It dawned on her that no one besides Steve had seen her at the cottage. There would be no fingerprints as she was wearing gloves. The steady downpour would have washed away the tyre marks in the mud.
She stopped at the car wash to wash the mud off her car and vacuum the inside. She threw her boots in the dirt bin.
On her way home she stopped, took off her gloves and tossed them in a pavement dirt bin.
She reached her house and parked in the garage. She got out of the car in stocking feet.
She ripped her clothes off, including her underwear and put them in the washing machine.
She still had time ….
She took out leftovers and warmed them up for supper.
She still had time …. !
Sunday morning dawned sunny and peaceful and the birds were singing. Everything was bright and clean after the rain. While she made breakfast, she sang to herself. How long was it since she sang? She took her Labrador, Pearl, for a walk enjoying the fresh air and warm sun.
Around 11am, her phone rang. It was Jonathan. Should she sound surprised? She felt calm and in control.
“Hi Beth, Jonathan here. It’s Steve. Not good news. They found him this morning. I’m very sorry, but he’s dead. Looks like an accident in the woods near the cottage. There were wolves ….. The police are here. This is awful.” His voice trails off in sadness.
She nodded: “This is terrible, Jonathan, thanks for phoning. Who is the detective in charge?”
“Detective John Best.”
Okay, I know him so I’ll expect a call from him then.
She ended the call and took a sip of tea.
She smiled at Pearl, lying at her feet. “Pearl, today is going to be a good day!”
She dialled John Best’s number.
“Hi John, it’s Beth. Jonathan has just let me know there has been an accident with Steve. What happened? I just want to let you know that I found a letter on Steve’s computer about him having an affair with Winnie, a colleague at work. I would like to find out what happened. Let me know if I can be of help with the investigation.”