This story is by Joya Williams and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I am destroyed.
I have become someone that I do not know. Weak and needy. Dark and brooding. Bitter and tragic. All because Stephen had left me.
“I love her more than I love you,” he said as he walked out the door. Four years together and all of our future plans evaporated with those words.
“Please don’t leave me,” I begged. Me, the strong one, the determined one, the one voted most likely to succeed. I begged him to stay with me. I loved him more than I should. I knew this, but I couldn’t help myself. My sister saw what I was becoming, knowing me more than anyone else, she worried endlessly.
“You need to move on Joanne. Stephen is gone now. You need to let him go,” she said more than once.
“I can’t,” I said every time. Even though I knew he was with her now. They were planning to get married. She was pregnant! I hated her so much I could taste the bitterness in my throat. Just the thought of her made the dark feelings wash over me. This new person that I had turned into was hateful and angry.
This person that now stood in the bushes outside of their new home, peering through their living room window one September evening. The old Joanne would have had too much pride. But she was gone and had been replaced with someone seething with a desire for revenge.
Stephen was sitting on the couch watching TV. I studied his profile. I could not lie to myself, I still loved his chiseled features, full lips and long lashes. Then she walked into the room. Her stomach softly rounded with the child she carried. The living room window was slightly open, just enough for me to hear their conversation. She held a large manila envelope in one hand.
“This just came in the mail,” she said to him. I watched her smiling face change to shock as she opened it.
“What the hell is this?” She cried. Stephen jumped up to see what was wrong and I could see the surprise on his face as he stared at the pictures of himself in bed with another woman. He grabbed the photos from her, unable to speak.
“What is this Stephen?” She yelled at him. My heart beat faster as I watched her distress.
“I don’t know. I didn’t…” He stumbled. He knew that there wasn’t much to say with the pictures of his betrayal right there in front of him. He ran to the front door and looked outside as if he could find someone to explain this away.
My head pounded with excitement.
He went back inside looking dejected as she screamed at him to explain his traitorous actions. I waited in anticipation as their lovely life began to crumble. There was an inexplicable feeling of joy that invaded my entire being as he begged her to believe him. She began to cry. Loud, heart-wrenching sobs left her body and she pressed one hand to her belly as if to protect the life inside her. The ugly thing inside me caused me to enjoy her pain. I stood and watched her with satisfaction and no regard to the harm that could come to her.
Stephen tried to comfort her. “Leave me alone! Get away from me!” She screamed. He backed away from her.
“Please just calm down,” he said to her.
“Get out!” she yelled as she threw the pictures at his face.
“I’ll leave…for a while, but we need to talk about this,” he told her. He picked up the photos and left quickly.
I watched her stumble to the sofa in a weeping mess. I tried to find some pity for her but could not. All the good in me was gone.
I had paid someone to create those pictures. Poor gullible Mike at work. He was the unofficial ‘go to’ guy for all IT issues. He became the unknowing partner in my crime.
“Hey Mike. I need your help with something,” I told him a few weeks ago as I leaned on his desk.
“Oh yeah?” He answered trying to look bored, but I could see his interest. More than one person in the office told me that he had a crush on me.
“I’m throwing a bachelorette party for a friend of mine and I need to…edit some photos.” I gave him a friendly smile.
We met after work that evening in the bar across the street from our office. We sat in a booth away from the crowd and I showed him the photos that I wanted him to work on.
“I want you to switch the man’s face with this one,” I explained as I showed him a picture of Stephen. “It’s just a silly prank,” I quickly added as I watched his expression. He looked uncertain.
“I don’t know Joanne…are you sure your friend won’t be angry? This is some pretty explicit stuff,” he said uneasily.
“She’ll be fine,” I lied, “she loves this kind of stuff.” I put one hand on his thigh to distract him and leaned in close.
“Thanks so much, Mike,” I said.
The ugly feeling rolled around in my stomach but I felt satisfied. I was ready to leave but Mike had one more question.
“So…where did you get this picture?” He asked as he squinted desperately trying to see the woman’s face.
“I got it off the internet. It’s no one you’d know.” I laughed. He looked doubtful. I dropped my hand to his thigh and rubbed it slightly.
“You didn’t think it was me in that picture did you?” I said suggestively. Mike blushed and promised to have it done by the weekend.
He didn’t know Stephen, so he had no issue placing his face on another man’s body.
It was me in that picture, with someone who meant nothing. The camera was hidden and I made sure that although his face was clearly visible; mine was not.
No one else knew what I was up to. I should have felt guilty but I didn’t.
Now, I felt nothing as I watched the damage that my actions had caused.
“Joanne?” Stephen said and I turned around. I hadn’t heard him coming.
“What the hell are you doing?” He asked. I fought for words that wouldn’t come. I glanced at the pictures in his hand then at his face. He followed my gaze and then it hit him. He knew the photos weren’t real and now he was starting to realize where they had come from.
“You did this?” He asked in disbelief. He looked at the window and saw her folded over on the couch and I knew that he would never forgive me. I could see his expression change from confusion to rage. He was still a few feet away from me, so I ran. Through the bushes and out to the side street where my car was parked. I had started the ignition by the time he had reached the road.
He stood at the end of the road between me and freedom.
“Move!” I yelled as he began to slowly approach my car, walking in the middle of the road.
He assumed that I had no escape.
“Get out of the car Joanne!” He yelled back. I stared at him without moving.
He walked so slowly and so surely.
It never occurred to him that I was no longer the same Joanne that I was when we were together. The same person that had planned a life with him.
The same Joanne that loved him.
She came outside then. She must have heard the commotion.
“Stephen? What’s going on?” She asked.
I felt the ugly thing rise up in me and I didn’t try to fight it. I let it take over and lost myself in the darkness.
I closed my eyes and stepped on the gas…