Thursday, November 01, 2007

Enjoy the story.

This is a collective short story I am participating in as a part of The Shameless Lions Writing Circle.

The story was inspired by the picture below and the numbers at the end of sections will let you know what Blogger wrote them (listed at the end of the story).

I hope that you enjoy reading.


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The new watch that Grace's husband had given her the week before slipped inside the sleeve of her coat as her arm went up in the air. She felt she had no control over the movement, as though it were completely natural for her to be hailing a cab in the middle of New York. She felt as if she were being directed by remote control. 4:42pm, October 7. She made a mental note of the time, thinking it might be something she'd always want to remember.

"I just want you to drive," she said as she got in, avoiding the driver's eyes.

"Drive? Drive where, sweetheart?"

He sounded like he might be Middle Eastern, although the writing on photos and cards above his head looked like it could be Greek. She also noticed African music coming from the radio.

"I'll let you know. For now just drive anywhere. Wherever your instinct takes you."

"That is strange."

"Yes, it's strange. Please just drive. Anywhere."

"Whatever you say, sweetheart."

During the few minutes it took for the cab to rejoin the flow of angry traffic, she stared at the entrance to the subway that she'd been using to get home every night for the past 12 years. Ample time to change her mind. She turned off her mobile as the cab swung into Third Avenue. Happy trumpets played as a grainy picture of Sebastian and the two little ones faded into black. (1)

Grace sat back and tried to relax. All her muscles were tense. She moved her head a little from side to side to try and release some of the tension in her neck. She made an effort to relax her face muscles that she was sure were drawn up into a tight mask.

As the cab swooped along with the stream of homeward-bound traffic, a sudden gust of wind swirled fallen orange and red leaves into a mad dance. She found their dance mesmerising. It reflected her mood of being drawn into a wild dance, almost out of control. Where the dance would lead, she had no idea.

“Ok, sweetheart?”The cab driver sounded uncomfortable with his role of just driving anywhere.

She nodded, still not meeting his eyes. She wished he would stop calling her sweetheart. She didn't feel like anybody's sweetheart. She looked down at her tan boots and noticed one of the toes was scuffed. She fingered the money purse inside the large red shoulder-bag sitting beside her like an obedient pet. She would have to watch the fare. After all, she only had so much money to go on. She made herself stop biting her fingernails as she tried to figure out just where she wanted the taxi cab to drop her. (2)

Grace closed her eyes and thought of the gaping entrance to the subway that she'd just abandoned. It was a turning point; she'd finally turned away from him, but to what? Never back to the barren arctic mausoleum; that prison home that the train had returned her to for so many nights, so many years, devoid of warmth, of love, of anything she really needed. She refused to lose another precious moment of her life to it, she knew if she went back again, there would be no more life.

Her thoughts were a blizzard through which she could only take a step at a time; slowly, carefully, blinded by the unknown ... but feeling for it desperately, going anywhere as long as it was away. She had to escape. The storm of his loathing and anger raged around her in her mind and her heart began to pound, her pulse started to race and she knew this was it.

Reality seemed to fade into a dream and she fled the monster at her heels in uncertainty ... could she make it? Could she really leave and be free? At last? The thought of it beckoned to her like a distant star in her dark night and the shadow of an image began to take form and make its way to the forefront of her mind. Jack. It was her only chance.

The possibility of it was slim ... but, perhaps. She had to try. Leaning forward, she instructed the cab driver with urgent directions and he was relieved that she'd finally determined a destination.

For the first time in ages, she stood at the base of the stairs that led up to his door and willed herself to move. How many years had it been ... a hundred at least? What if he wasn't home? What if he didn't care about their friendship anymore? She'd let the winds of time carry it away in small fragments ... like the leaves swirling about her feet, that skittered on the air and vanished. Grace carried the weight of the world and the bulk of the past with her up the steps and hesitated before pressing the button by the large door of the brownstone.

Time never passed so slowly. Her heart pounded in her chest and blood rushed in her ears. She drew a shaky breath. He might be gone. Maybe he had company. He probably wouldn't even want to speak to her. What if he didn't recognize her? How could she even come here at all? What was she thinking? Certainly he must be angry that she'd let their friendship go. All those years ... best friends since they were children, and she'd let it go. How could she have done that for the monster she'd married? She began to breathe, shallow and quick. He had seemed so hurt the last time they'd talked.

She gasped and jerked her head up. He'd opened the door, shock and disbelief registering on his face. She froze.

"Grace?" He whispered her name like a prayer from the heart. There was more emotion in that one word than she'd felt from her husband in a year.

"Jack... I ..." she stammered, unsure that she should have come at all.

In a single movement he came through the doorway and pulled her into his arms tightly. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?" He only let her go long enough to cup her face in his hands and peer into it closely, searching for any sign of pain, as a parent might do to his long lost child. He saw it there and pulled her back into his whole embrace. Anxiety and hope filled her clenched lungs as she allowed herself to breathe deeply.

"Come. Come in and we'll take care of it," he said quietly, as he brought her into his home.

He sat with her on the couch and watched her, listening intently as she spoke.

"I'm so sorry to just show up like this ... I ..." She clasped her hands tightly in her lap and stared straight through them.

"Grace, please don't apologize, there's no need at all. We're best friends, and you know time can't touch that. It doesn't matter what brought you here, you are welcome to stay as long as you need to and you know that you are safe. No one can touch you here. I'll make sure of that."

She stared at his unwavering countenance. Into his bottomless, dark eyes. Time ceased to exist then, time that had passed and time that would have come after this moment. It was as if they'd never been apart even a day. She launched herself into his arms again.

"I've missed you so much, thank you."

"You are one of the strongest women I've ever met. You are unstoppable, vibrant and passionate, and you are so full of secrets right now! This is not the Grace that I know," he said skeptically, as he raised one eyebrow, and with his hand on her chin, turned her face from side to side. "Where's that wonder woman that could take on the world? Why have you hidden yourself away behind this mask?" He paused and whispered, "What happened to you mon ami?"

Grace looked around for an answer to his question, as though the welcoming walls in the room might offer her the words that she could not find. She opened her mouth to tell him, but somehow the brave front that she had shielded herself with crumbled in this sanctuary where she knew she could finally fall on her knees and find solace. Tears carried the pain away as they streamed down her pale cheeks like a long overdue rain on parched land. Saying nothing, Jack drew her to his chest, held her close and stroked her hair until she cried herself to sleep. He laid her head on a deep pillow and covered her with a thick quilt. Grace drifted off into a deeper slumber than she'd had in months, and Jack watched her for a long time.

It was late when he reached for his phone and dialed the number. He spoke softly, his eyes never leaving her as she slept. "Sebastian, you won't believe this. Grace is here ... she finally came; she left him. Now she can begin." (3)

* * *

Sebastian replaced the receiver and leaned back in his chair. Twelve years was a long time and Jack sounded elated, almost triumphant. Poor Grace.

He picked his way through the darkened office and across the hall to the kitchen, avoiding the light switch so as not to wake up Amanda, who was snoring softly in the bedroom next door. It had been her night noises that had woken him and not the late night call from the nearly gloating Jack. Amanda was becoming far too much of a sexual habit, it was nearly time to call it a day, but that could wait. The past had just called him up and he knew that sleep was not going to be on the cards tonight.

He made a pot of strong coffee and returned to the office, rousing the computer as he placed his cup in its usual position. That was another thing about Amanda, he thought, she would love to fill his desk with any amount of gaudy clutter. He liked his apartment the way it was, free from everyday untidiness, useless objects that could remind him of useless memories.

The screen bounced into life and he once again admired the neatness of his files. He liked the order of a computer; it reflected his attitude to life, an attitude that had developed over the last twelve years. What he didn't like was the fact that his finger had now found a file called 'Unfinished business' and was busy opening it.

Sebastian watched as the photo file revealed itself - row upon row of snapshots from another time, another place and one that he would rather not be reminded of. The photo at the top showed three friends, Jack, Mike and Sebastian, arms around each others shoulders, friends for life. The rest of the hundred or so meticulously captioned pictures ran through three years at college and showed only one woman, posed, un-posed, summer, winter, laughing, crying. Poor Grace. (4)

Sebastian leaned back in his chair, ran his hand over the stubble on his chin and afforded himself a thin smile. So, she had finally turned up in Jack's life again. Just like the proverbial bad penny. He flicked through the images on the screen. Grace laughing. Grace dancing. Grace lazing in the sun. His eyes ran over the curve of her body, lingering on the rise of her breasts, the pert roundness of her backside. Ah yes, Grace the Temptress. Grace who could have been anyone, had anyone. Grace who knew the world lay at her feet. And by god, she'd meant to conquer that world. Ultimately it hadn't mattered to her who she might trample on to grab her dreams.

Sebastian chewed his lower lip, remembering the advice he'd given her long ago. "Be careful what you wish and dream for, Gracie. Make your choices wisely." But she'd just laughed, ran a hand over his face and flicked his hair from his eyes – with that casual sense of ownership she had with every man who'd crossed her path.

Funny how things came full circle. From owning, she'd been owned. Strange that she should have fallen for Sebastian Carrebreu, the sauve Frenchman – his namesake. He had no doubt she'd long forgotten him, Sebastian Comptom – but at least she'd remembered Jack. He remembered the night she'd told them. He and Jack were on their way to the Hampton's to Jack's folks' place –Grace was supposed to join them. Instead she had waltzed into the apartment, her hair flying, her cheeks flushed and declared, "Boys, you're going to have to go without me!"

The smile on Jack’s face had crumpled. "Why, what's come up? Whatever it is, can't you cancel?"

"Absolutely not! See, I'm getting married, darlings!" The glittering diamond on her ring finger flashed as she thrust out her hand.

"To who?" He remembered how Jack had clutched the back of the sofa.

"To Sebastian!"

He remembered the pain, the betrayal in Jack's eyes as he'd turned to him, gasping.

"Not me," he'd said. "Dear God, she'd never marry me. Nor would I ever ask her." He'd noticed how she'd narrowed her eyes at him.

"Of course not. Don't be daft, Jack. Oh, no offence, of course, Seb." Her voice had been loaded with meaning. "No, I'm marrying Sebastian Carrebreu. Remember," she said, her eyes gleaming, "we met him at that protest and then at the conference his company gave."

"But you barely know him!" Jack cried. "You can't! He's ..."

"Why ever not?! Oh God, Jack, don't get all possessive on me now. That would be so tedious."

She'd blown air kisses at them and flounced from the room. Twelve years. It might have been yesterday. But now she was back ... and in Jack's arms. Oh how the mighty are fallen. Sebastian smiled. It was a cold smile which didn't reach his eyes. He took a last glance at the photographs in front of him, closed the images and glanced through the notes in the file. Unfinished business ... but not for much longer. He opened his email and began typing. (5)

* * *

Swimming out of her deep sleep, Grace stretched and saw Jack slumped in a chair across from her.

"Welcome back, sleeping beauty," he said quietly.

"What time is it?" she asked.

"Almost midnight."

"No!" Grace sat up, holding her head. "Then Sebastian knows I didn't come home."

"I suspect so."

"I have to..."

"Grace, wait!" Jack said, coming to sit beside her on the sofa. "Let's talk."

"I can't believe I did this with no more planning than..."

"It's okay."

"What? How can you say that? I haven't even told you why I'm here."

"I can guess, but I would rather you tell me about it."

Grace pulled back to take a good look at Jack's face. "You know something, don't you?"

He nodded. "I've sort of kept up with you over the years."

"Me? Why?"

"Because we knew the man you married, and we were worried about you."

"We? We, who?"

"Sebastian and Mike and I."

"Sebastian?"

"Oh, sorry, Sebastian Compton. Friends in college, remember? Not your Sebastian."

"You're telling me that someone I barely remember has been worried about me? That doesn't make sense." Grace lurched to her feet, with Jack right behind her.

"Grace, take a deep breath and listen for a minute." Jack raked his fingers through his tousled hair, wondering where to start. "We have files on your husband, files that could send his sorry ass up the river, but we sat on it until ... until ... you chose to leave him." Jack lowered his face to hers. "That is what you've done, isn't it?"

Grace closed her eyes. "I don't understand any of this. I didn't even know I was coming here until I was already in the taxi. Who are these people, Sebastian and Mike?"

"Have you totally forgotten my old college buddies? We used to hang out together, then Mike became a cop and Sebastian went to law school. Me? I'm ready to take over my dad's business when he retires, but mostly I'm the guy still trying to watch out for you, just the way I've done since kindergarten."

"But the others?"

"They think I'm crazy, but they're my friends," Jack said. "And we are so ready to take on your husband." (6)

“What do you mean Jack,” Grace inquired, the strain obvious in her weary voice. “Who exactly is going to take on Sebastian ... and why?”

Her voice trailed off to an exasperated whisper. The why was not so much a question, as an exhalation of confused frustration. She seemed to know the answer was much too complicated to address at this hour, and she was too spent, physically and emotionally, to want to hear it.

Grace turned away from Jack, head lowered. Her arms fell limp at her side, fingers splayed. She was trying her best to process what Jack was saying, to understand him –to understand the recent events that had brought her to this place in time ... to make sense of anything. Her head was spinning, and she could feel the fatigue deep in her bones.

She dropped back onto the sofa, half sitting, half lying down – an exhausted slouch. She felt paralyzed, thoughts racing through her mind – fragmented, disconnected thoughts.

She looked at her hands, palms down in her lap, her eyes glazing over. Her vision drifted to her wrists, her left wrist in particular — to her watch. Slowly it came into focus, and she realized she was staring at the broken crystal face of her Audemars Piguet Promesse.

Ever since Sebastian had given her this watch for their anniversary, her life had turned upside down – but it had also turned a corner. Fate had pushed her round that corner, and she would never turn back again. Her life as Mrs. Carrebreu was over.

She knew this, knew it as surely as she knew she missed her children. Something must be done to get them out of that house – his house. It could no longer be her home, but they would always be her children – and she feared for them. They had to be part of whatever direction fate was leading her.

It was fate that had broken the crystal – fate, and her quick reflexes, blocking Sebastian with her forearm as he struck out at her in anger, following their anniversary dinner.

He had apologized, explaining it away as the result of stress. “It will never happen again,” he’d said in his most gentle and sincere voice – but she was familiar with this empty promise. This was not the first time, and the incidents of abuse were escalating.

She’d only come into his office that evening to thank him again for the gorgeous timepiece. She thought this was where he’d retired after leaving the dining table. But she could see, in the subdued light, that he was not there. The mahogany paneled room was empty.

She loved the aroma of his Classic Port pipe tobacco that permeated the walls. Her father had also smoked that blend in his Barling Meerschaum, and the heady fragrance was comforting to her – so she lingered. That’s when she noticed it, on his desk, silhouetted by the light from the Tiffany lamp.

Her curiosity drew her to it. She’d just picked it up when Sebastian entered. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Put that god damned box down,” he’d shouted — then flew into a rage.

Why had her discovery of the leather box sent Sebastian over the edge? What were those letters that spilled out when she dropped the box upon being struck?

They’d looked terribly official, with their seals and embossing – and written in a language that she did not recognize. Sebastian certainly scrambled frantically to collect them from the antique Persian rug, and return them to the box. But she managed to conceal one, sliding it under her hips as she lay where she’d fallen after being struck.

Sebastian’s bizarre reaction to the correspondence scattered on the floor, and the strangeness of the language they contained, had piqued Grace’s interest. Instinct drove her to hide the envelope until she was able to fold and slip it into her pocket, as her husband hurried from the room, with the leather box in tow.

Grace felt it was important that she take this letter she’d spirited out of the room, and put it in safekeeping. She’d planned to somehow learn more about its origin and content.

It was again fate that lead her the next morning to the jewelers, seeking a new watch crystal. It was while standing at the counter, waiting to be served, that she’d spied Sebastian coming out of the restaurant across the street, in the company of a woman — a stranger to Grace. They had climbed into a waiting limousine.

Grace had broken from the counter in a hurry, and bolted through the door to get a better look. Unfortunately, as she’d reached the sidewalk and acquired a reasonable view of the vehicle, it had sped away. She had noticed markings on the door, and a license plate, a type she had not immediately recognized – but she could read neither.

Fate had revealed this convoluted mystery to her, but what was she to do with it. Where could she begin to unravel it? All this was flooding through her mind when she was startled back to the present by Jack, returning to the room with pillows and a blanket.

“I will take the sofa tonight,” he said, “You’re completely burned out. I’m putting you in my room,” he continued in a kind and caring tone. “My bed is amazingly comfortable, and you need sleep – lots of good, deep sleep.”

He reached down and took Grace’s hand, helping her to her feet. Gently wrapping his arm around her waist, he escorted her down the hall and into his room. Stopping just inside the door, he said, “You will be safe in here. We’ll talk about everything in the morning,” and he gave her a warm hug, stepped back into the hall, and closed the door.

Grace realized there were too many questions to answer, too many mysteries — just too damned much to even think about right now.

“Yes, in the morning,” she mumbled to the door.

Then, hugging her red shoulder bag with the mysterious envelope tucked safely inside, Grace shuffled across the room and collapsed on the bed. (7)

* * *

As he rolled over, he was startled awake by the absence of a warm body.

Sebastian Carrebreu couldn’t remember the last time he had woken up alone. Even on his frequent business trips he never needed an extra pair of socks to keep warm, and yet here he was, caressing an unwrinkled sheet.

He sat up slowly, his head weighing down his upper half like those fishing sinkers his English grandfather used to make — only Sebastian had used whiskey and rum and whatever else had been in the liquor cabinet instead of lead. Sure felt the same now though.

Nine thirty. I can’t believe she really stayed out all night, he thought, as he wrapped his silk robe around him and shuffled to the bathroom mirror. He turned on the hot water and stared into his dark grey eyes until the steam rising from the sink snapped him out of his trance.

As he looked down and stuck his fingers under the stream of water, he noticed something glimmering on the edge of the sink. The diamond necklace he had bought for Grace as a wedding gift — the necklace she wore every single day without fail.

“That bitch!” he yelled and splashed the scalding water on his face, making it only a shade redder than it had been a moment before.

He half-toweled off his face and went immediately to his cell phone in the nightstand. He turned it on, and a drop of water from his nose hit the number 5, taunting him with Grace’s speed dial position. He managed to dial anyway, or at least simply hit # and the number 1.

A recording told him that Armand wasn’t available and so Sebastian did the only thing he could do in response. He hurled the phone at the antique carriage clock on the fireplace. His arm wasn’t as strong as it used to be, though, and it fell just short of the mantle.

He smirked at his own ineffectiveness and breathed deeply and slowly on his walk over to the fireplace. He picked up the phone and turned it on all sides to inspect the damage. It was still turned on and it looked just fine so he dropped it inside his robe pocket and headed for the kitchen.

The maid was off, so there’d be no coffee. Goodness, did he even remember how to make coffee? As he scanned the counter for a container that might hold the beans, his phone rang.

Armand.

“She’s left me, Armand,” he said, without even a hello, and dropped his weight onto a stool at the bar. “And I think it’s for good this time.” As he glanced across the city skyline, nights of theatre, dinner and dancing flashing through his mind in an instant. He had never hated his window-lined penthouse more than at this moment.

His lifelong friend sighed and said flatly, “I know.”

“What do you mean you know?” Sebastian asked as he straightened his back and pulled a curtain across the window in front of him.

“Sebastian, it’s better if we talk about this in person. I know where Grace stayed last night, and you’re not going to like it — especially when I tell you what this friend of hers has been up to.”

“Armand, what ...”

“Not on the phone, Sebastian. I’ll be right over. Should I bring coffee?”

Sebastian eyed the empty liquor cabinet. “Sounds like I may need something stronger.” (8)

* * *
The next morning Jack started to fill Grace in on Sebastian's activities. Jack sat Grace down and started by stating the obvious.

"Grace, Jack is a very dangerous man, he ..."

Grace interrupted, "Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I have experienced that? Whatever he is up to ... I doubt he will get caught. He will kill you for interfering in our marriage. I don't intend to stay long. You don't know Sebastian."

"I know him well enough ... Seb and Mike have a lot of connections when it comes to getting information. It is not just your marriage that he has been cruel in.”

“What do you mean?”

“Grace, he will stop at nothing ... nothing ... even betraying the very causes he supposedly loves. All those protests and rallies ... merely a sham.

“Sebastian sees you as a valuable asset ... you protect his image of a perfect life. He is not going to let you go. He will hunt you down. We need to act quickly and expose him to the authorities and the media. Your only protection is to act quickly. Sebastian has been ..."

Just then there was the sound of a car pulling up.

“That must be Sebastian ... Compton. He is better qualified to explain. Sebastian, my Sebastian, is the only one that I can trust to keep you safe. Mike can not get too involved ... worried about his family. There are crooked cops on the force but we don't know who they are.”

“Whatever it is just tell me.”

“Okay.”

Jack stood up. Clearly he was very nervous.

“Sebastian has been ...”

Jack still wasn't able to grasp the words to explain how grievously Grace's husband had betrayed her. He knew Grace ... and knew she had a tendency to act unwisely when afraid. Too many lives were at stake for carelessness. He knew that once she knew the truth, she might think that continuing to be the trophy wife would make it all safe.

Just as he thought of how to explain, Jack's friend Sebastian Compton was pushed roughly into the room with Armand holding a gun to his back.

Jack froze.

"Leave him alone.”

Armand completely ignored Jack as he pushed Sebastian across the room. Sebastian tripped and landed on the sofa.

“I would choose better friends. You no longer have to worry about such matters though.”

Armand smiled as he fired the gun at Sebastian. Almost immediately there was a trickle of blood down Sebastian's face. Anyone could see that this was a fatal shot. Armand continued to smile.

Jack and Grace stared ... each temporarily frozen by fear and horror.

Armand looked at Grace with a commanding gaze.

"Mrs. Carrebreu, if you value the lives of your children as much as your husband insists you do, you will come with me immediately."

Grace screamed as Armand lifted his gun again and pointed it at Jack.

“Nothing personal actually ... you shouldn't have gotten involved.” Armand did not hesitate as he fired a bullet into Jack and grabbed at Grace's arm.

Grace struggled to look back as Armand forced her out the door. She could not tell if Jack was alive.

Armand yanked her out the door and across the lawn ... partially by the hair.

For Armand the encounter at Jack's house just wasn't long enough ... he enjoyed inflicting as much pain as possible. He hoped they would be able to dispose of this troublesome woman soon.

Grace's husband was waiting in the car. (9)


Authors So Far:

(1) Seamus at "Shameless Words"
(2) Kay at "As It Happens"
(3) Wanderlust Scarlett at "From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect"
(4) Kate at "Inner Minx"
(5) Absolute Vanilla at "Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah)"
(6) Bonnie at "Words From A Wordsmith"
(7) Rob at "Image & Verse Too"
(8) Sognatrice at "Bleeding Espresso"
(9) The Bluest Butterfly at "A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Shop"

Yes, that last part is written by me. Stay tuned to see where the story goes.
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If there exists anyone out there who does not know, this is Day 1 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Like the Shameless Lions, this is a really fun activity. You can write a novel in a month.

8 comments:

Jamaican Dawta said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for considering me to be the next writer for this story. I'm willing to give it a shot.

THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY said...

Awesome...then you are who I nominate. :-)

You are new....and have an intriguing name. I hope to get to know you better and see a lot of your writing.

THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY said...

You can go as soon as my section gets put up...it hasn't gone up yet. I sent it off to Seamus earlier today. :-)

Shameless said...

Well done BB. Your instalment is now up at the site. It's brilliant in that it takes us forward with a bang, so to speak. There is drama and a leaping forward. Super. I'm also so pleased that Jamaican Dawta has accepted to take up the challenge and write the next bit. :-)

Ty Unglebower said...

8000 words in my novel so far. =) (New episode of the show is up, btw.)

sognatrice said...

Bravissima!

THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY said...

Awesome, Tye. I will be over to listen to the new episode in a while.

I am coming along on my novel too...not sure how many words. One page and a bunch of new ideas that are just waiting to be tenatively written in. What is your novel about?

THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY said...

Thank you, Sognatrice.

:-)



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