I’ve always had a vague idea of what my life is supposed to be like – a vague idea heavily influenced by books and movies, but a vague idea treated and treasured as a promise, nonetheless. This treatment of a romanticized, cinematic and literary notion as fact has led to inevitable disappointment and near constant heartbreak. To be a hopeless romantic but forever lonely is torture, a personal hell I would not wish on even my worst enemy. Every spare moment, every other breath and every meandering thought is spent waiting, wishing, hoping and praying that I will finally meet the man to set my soul on fire. Essentially, all of those moments are wasted becayse nothing comes to fruition and as of late, I am grappling with the very real and very intense fear that it never will.
When my friends or loved ones become engaged, regardless of the gender of the friend, I am assualted with mixed emotions. While I do my best to realize the engagement has most likely been a long time coming and while I do my best to be truly happy for a newly engaged couple, I am sad, pathetic and lonely. Sometimes, I even get angry. I am utterly ashamed that my joy is tainted by heavy bitterness.
There have been times when I have watched a new couple continually display their affection for one another publicly. Both would be young, beautiful and blissfully happy. I will usually only have just met the young woman, but the man I will have known for some time, maybe even years. I will have watched him move and breathe and smile and grow stern with adoration – I will not say that I have loved or currently love a man in this position, but I will have always cared for him – whoever he may be – deeply, and will only have wanted him to be happy and loved, even if none of those amazing feelings come from shared experiences with me.
Honestly, I have no idea why the hell I am divulging all of this information. I rewrote the previous paragraph to protect the names of the innocent. Maybe all of this is a feeble attempt at creating an incredibly intimate relationship with my readers; that’s a nice idea, but in reality, these revelations are meant to serve as an explanatiopn for why nearly every piece I compose revolves around romance … or at least an imagined idea of it.
That being said, enjoy my latest prompt. It is most assuredly something Sammy Thogode, the heroine of my novel, would write.
PROMPT: “A woman buys a gun for home defense, but two days later, she can’t find it.”
There had been a rash of break-ins within the typically subdued residential neighborhood. Thankfully no one had been injured and no big ticket items had been taken, but still – a robbery was an awful invasion of privacy, a damaging breach of one’s sense of security, and a robbery leaves lasting marks upon its victim. Mr. MacBain had explained all of this to his young, innocent, sweet and only daughter, Courtney. As her father, it was his responsibility – nay, his duty – to make sure she was safe and living up to his paternal duty, he convinced Courtney to purchase a gun for home defense.
They had obtained the necessary permits and paperwork, ensuring they operated with utmost concern for legality. Courtney decided on a .38 snub nose Smith and Wesson. Really, her father had picked it out because it was small and thereby easy for Courtney to handle and operate. However, its smaller size did not mean the gun did not have enough power to do its job and stop an intruder – it most certainly did. Driving home from the gun emporium clear on the other side of the state, Mr. MacBain’s peppered moustache twitched almost imperceptibly as he readied himself for a likely uncomfortable conversation. “Courtney,” he began from behind the wheel of his excessive Dodge Ram 1500 truck, “I don’t think you ought to tell Chris about the gun.”
Courtney turned sharply to the impressively masculine man beside her. He was balding but hid the fact by wearing a myriad of baseball caps, the majority of which displayed camouflage colors and proudly proclaimed the head which the cap adorned belonged to that of a veteran of the New Jersey National Guard. He was rotund – a result of being over fifty-years-old and an avid pasta eater – but powerful. His personal heroes were John Wayne and Elvis Presley. A transplant from the heart of Alabama, Mr. MacBain still believed in chivalry, in love and loyalty to God and country and in the South’s ability to rise and do it again. He was old-fashioned and nowhere near politically correct – in fact, Courtney had often described her father as “wildly inappropriate”- but he was a good man and only ever had the best of intentions. Mr. MacBain was Courtney’s personal hero and she did her best to behave accordingly, but it was hard to do so when they discussed Chris, her fiancé. “Why shouldn’t I tell Chris, Daddy? I am bringing a gun into the home we share. Surely that’s information he should be privy to.”
“I gave you the money for that gun for your protection; something Chris should have done for you. Apparently, he’s decided it’s every man for himself in your home, so he can get his own damn gun.” Silently, Mr. MacBain added that such an event was highly unlikely because Chris was a far cry from what he considered a man in full.
Courtney pushed out her full bottom lip in a childish pout. “I’m going to marry Chris. I care about his protection, so I feel like he should know that –“
“He’s not going to like it Courtney, and you know it. Chris is going to fight you hard on this. He thinks his college education and ‘enlightened state’ will get him out of any situation but he is going to be sadly mistaken when –“
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” Courtney interrupted, shrilly. “I’m beginning to suspect that all of this is less and less about my safety, and more and more about you getting into some kind of pissing match with Chris.”
Mr. MacBain was hurt and disappointed that his golden child would think his priorities were so egregiously out of order. It was true that he wasn’t Chris’s biggest fan – he read too much, didn’t drink enough Southern Comfort and was as useless as tits on a bull when it came to fixing the car and house repairs – but Mr. MacBain did not doubt that Chris sincerely loved his daughter. But he did have serious doubts about Chris’s abilities to provide for and protect Courtney. “Look, darling- just promise me that you won’t mention anything about the gun to Chris, okay? Just hold off until I’m able to talk to him, all right?”
“Talk to him? Dad, are you-“
“Just calm down, sweetie. This man is going to marry my little girl; we are going to have to have an adult discussion about it. There is nothing crazy or out of control about that.”
Courtney sighed loudly with exasperation and flattened herself against the seat. With her thin arms crossed over her chest and with pouting lips, she looked decidedly juvenile. Her father always reduced her to such- she couldn’t exactly pinpoint why he was able to do so and as a result, she could do nothing to stop it.
Later that evening, in the small starter home of Chris and Courtney, she found herself teetering precariously on the edge of a wooden footstool inside the closet of their master bedroom. She was acquiescing to her father’s request and concealing the gun. Her father intended on admitting to the purchase and explaining things to her husband-to-be during dinner tomorrow night.
“Hey, babe!” Chris called cheerfully. His narrow tie had been loosened and the first few buttons of his white collared shirt had been undone. His jacket hung over his left arm, the hand of which clutched a tattered and battered briefcase. Despite his mature, office-appropriate attire, Chris’s boyish and uninhibited glee made him seem young, vibrant and damn near immortal. That essence attracted Courtney to Chris from the start, and she felt her lips stretch to wide, genuine smile as she shoved to lockbox to the very back of the shelf in the closet. Chris saw this last action and with his countenance dimmed by confusion, he asked, “Whatcha up to?”
Courtney’s face fell dramatically. Clumsily, she hopped down from the stool and quickly pulled the metallic chain that extinguished the bare bulb that lighted the closet. Her palms were suddenly slick with sweat and when she replaced her smile, it was with an easily-spotted replica- clearly a fake. “Oh, nothing, nothing at all. I wasn’t doing anything in here at all, whatsoever. I’m not- it’s done, over, whatever.” Courtney grimaced.
“Why are you lying to me, babe?” Chris asked. He knew the question held the potential of being rather heavy, so he did his best to water down the implications with an intimate moniker and a jovial tone. He wanted to show her it was no big deal.
“I’m not lying,” Courtney responded through bared teeth. Like all liars caught in the act, she preferred to be angry rather than to confess. “Why are you in such a bad mood?” Courtney deflected her erratic behavior as best she could by becoming defensive.
Only more confused, Chris asked for clarification. “Courtney, is everything okay?” After dropping his briefcase and jacket beside him onto the carpeted floor, Chris took a few cautious, hesitating steps toward his bride-to-be.
Courtney had been blessed with looks and grace, but possessed no gift for quick-thinking. Pushing past Chris to leave the bedroom, she called out in misplaced frustration, “Gosh, leave me alone! You’re suffocating me!”
Chris was left perplexed, looking with growing suspicion and dread at the bedroom closet.
Courtney had headed down the hall to the kitchen to slowly and meticulously begin making dinner. If she stayed busy and removed, Chris wouldn’t dare ask questions and she could still feign anger. As she rifled through the fridge, she contemplated about whether she could blame the bizarre reaction to a relatively harmless question on her menstrual cycle. She wondered, though, if she should instead claim that the outburst was triggered by anxiety from Chris’s pending dinner date with her father. Why not? It really was all his fault anyway, even if only by extension.
As Courtney occupied herself in the kitchen, Chris showered and changed. His beloved’s unexplained behavior was still very much in the forefront of his mind as he padded softly on bare soles towards the kitchen. He had every intention of continuing is inquiry especially now that Courtney had a chance to cool, but her voice came floating to him from around the corner. “Sometimes,” she whined, “I think that I really could kill him.”
Chris halted. There was a pause. “Yes,” she continued, “he is smothering me! He’s always involving himself in my life and in my business. I can’t stand much more or else I’ll do something … I don’t know, crazy.”
Another pause; she was on the phone.
“I know, but I honestly think that if he were gone – completely removed – I’d be much happier.”
There was a response from an unknown conversational companion. “True, but I’ve got to go. He’ll be down for dinner any second. I’ll call you after tomorrow and let you all know how it goes, okay? Okay, bye, talk to you later.” He could hear the resounding click of the plastic handset being placed upon the laminate of a kitchen counter. She had to have been talking about him, right? Hadn’t she called him suffocating in the bedroom? What did she mean by completely removed? Gulping hard, Chris took a brave step into the kitchen.
“Hey, who were you talking to?” He was trying to be as nonchalant as possible, something akin to walking on eggshells.
Courtney smiled. “Oh, Christine from the office called. We were just chatting. Dinner will be done in just a couple of minutes if you want to set the table.”
Chris nodded congenially and headed toward the cabinets. As he did so, he asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah, of course; couldn’t be better.” Courtney looked to him from over her should as she scraped white rice into a blue china serving bowl that had been Chris’ mother’s.
Chris nodded, offering a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes. “That’s good because you seemed … well, you seemed angry before.”
“Oh,” Courtney paled, “that was because my father wants to have dinner with you – just you – tomorrow night and I didn’t know how to break the news to you.”
“Oh, well, I suppose that explains it,” Chris said. He turned to his fiancée with his hands full with plates and cups and silverware. “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me, anything at all?”
Courtney paused a moment to consider the question. Her blue eyes closed ever so slightly, and her head tilted to the right so that her long, blonde hair swayed like a single blade of grass in a gentle breeze. She was beautiful, and she was everything, but she was lying. “Nope,” she smiled with full, pink lips. “Why? Is there something you want to tell me?
Chris shook his head. “Not at all.”
Dinner was pleasant. Afterwards, with the table cleared and this dishwasher running, the couple cuddled on the loveseat opposite the television. Courtney yawned loudly and then announced that she was calling it a night and heading to bed. Chris nodded. “I’ll be in in a little bit. I just want to numb the mind some more,” he said, lightly tapping the center of his forehead with the remote.
“Okay,” Courtney said. She kissed his forehead gently and then straightened back up. “There’s supposed to be a really intriguing news special one of the major channels tonight. You should check it out and let me know how it is,” she called as she disappeared down the long hallway. Chris stared through the remote, debating Courtney’s viewing advice. There wasn’t shit on any of the other channels, so he decided what the hell; he’d go for it.
It was a special on an incredibly true story, about a wife who hired a hit man to kill her husband for the life insurance money. There was nothing to distinguish the story from the plethora of other true crime profiles that make it onto network news and Chris was rather curious as to why Courtney had offered it as a suggestion.
What had she meant earlier, when she said “completely removed, gone”?
The next day was uneventful for Chris until dinner with his future father-in-law. The older man had just begun pontificating about the pussifying of American men when his cell phone rang. He left the table to answer it and some thirty minutes later, he returned. “Sorry; work call, had to answer it.”
Chris nodded to show he was understanding and compassionate. Smiling feebly, he said, “Sir, I hope you know that I sincerely love your daughter. I would do anything for Courtney and as the wedding date nears, I want to assuage any fears you may have.” He licked his dry lips. “That’s why you invited me to dinner, right? You wanted to discuss the wedding.”
Mr. MacBain grunted and tossed back a shot of Jack Daniels. He leveled his gaze at Chris and confessed, “I believe that you love Courtney and I know that she is going to marry you no matter what because she is crazy about you. But I need you to know that I have expectations for you as a son-in-law, and as a husband worthy of my daughter.”
“Such as?” Chris asked, gulping.
“She needs to be cherished and protected.” He paused for effect. “Have you heard about these break-ins occurring in your neighborhood, son?”
“Well? What have you done about it?”
Chris’s brows furrowed as he tried to work out exactly what it was Mr. MacBain was trying to convey. “Done about it? What do you mean, sir?”
“It would be a shame if you were the victim of a home-invasion robbery. What if you were murdered?”
Chris paled. “Murdered? But no one was murdered in Lake City. The break-ins were non-violent.”
Sighing, Mr. MacBain slowly shook his head from side to side. “I worry about you, boy. I’m awfully worried you’re going to be a victim of some terrible crime because you spend your time thinking and rationalizing instead of acting.”
“Sir, I’m afraid I don’t –“ Chris’s attempt at protest was interrupted by a ringing cell phone. Again, Mr. MacBain excused himself from the table and again, some thirty minutes later, he returned. This time, he told Chris that he was terribly sorry but that he had to leave – he had to head into work. He left Chris, dazed and confused, and with the bill.
When Chris returned home for the evening with his fiancée already in bed, he looked at the closet in the bedroom. He made a decision.
Courtney awoke late the next morning. It was her day off from the diner, and she used the time to her advantage by sleeping in. When she did finally rise, stretching her arms outwards, she screamed. Chris was standing at the edge of the bed with wide, wild eyes that were red-rimmed from a lack of sleep. His hair was all askew and standing up at impossible angles. The lockbox she had tried to hide was busted open; bits of metal strewn the bed and the carpeted floor, as did bits of skin and blood. Had Chris opened the metal box with his bare hands? That was physically impossible, wasn’t it? The gun was in Chris’s right hand. His finger was not on the trigger, but with the cold way he was staring at Courtney made her think it might as well have been.
“Chris,” she breathed, terrified.