Have you submitted your entry to our short story competition yet? After receiving some new material from some of our authors in the last few weeks (including Peter Yeldham and Dorothy Johnston) we're thrilled to be able to bring you a brand new short story from our romance writer, Diana Thompson. Check out more of Diana's tantalising work in our store.
‘I remember the first time I saw you, wearing a figure hugging yellow sun dress, a standout against the deep gold of your summer tan. I'll never forget the brilliance of your electric blue eyes and your messy French braid straining to contain your thick blonde hair. Even then it was difficult to resist tucking the escaping wayward strands behind your delicate ears. From the cute dimples when you smiled at me, to the hot pink toenails peeping from your wedge sandals, in that instant I knew I was a goner. Highly inappropriate, now I think about it, me hiring you to tutor my younger sister Grace in piano, but I took my duties as her appointed guardian seriously after our parent’s untimely death a year ago. Anything to make her days happy and provide a safe and secure home for her.
What I’d expected when I had placed the advertisement was a middle aged schoolmarm, not the drop dead gorgeous vision of you in front of me. I just googled piano tutors and your name was at the top of the list. It was only later that I read your resume and realised you were a child prodigy and had played in concert venues all over the world. I’d hit the jackpot that day.
I remember trying to control the tremors in my hand as I shook yours and how at that moment I didn’t want to let go of you. Did you know that from that moment, I rearranged my entire working schedule so that I could be at home for all of Grace’s lessons and not miss a minute of seeing you during those few weeks over the summer holidays?
It took me three weeks to work up the nerve to ask you out for a date, and I can remember how I was both relieved and excited when you agreed. I’ll never forget our first shared meal, at the “Boathouse” down on the pier and how we chose the seafood platter, feeding each other the delicious fresh morsels, washed down with boutique beers. I can remember your first time trying an oyster. You smothered it in seafood sauce and when I asked how you liked it, your answer was,
“Well it tasted really nice, except for the fishy slimy bit.”
Do you remember how we talked and laughed for two hours without taking a breath, until the staff threw us out to prepare for the dinner crowd?
I remember taking your hand in mine and walking along the beach, sharing gelato in waffle cones. You weren’t sure about my green tea and lime combo and chose a safer option of raspberry and vanilla instead. I couldn’t help teasing you about your rainbow painted toenails and wondered whether you were making a political statement in your own quiet way. But no, you were simply calling them your happy toes, celebrating their freedom from the constraints of heavy socks and winter boots. I remember as the sun was setting, you shivered in the cooler air and I wrapped you in my jacket and held you against my chest. I remember the steady beat of your heart beneath my hands and the softness of your lips as we shared our first kiss. You tasted of raspberries and vanilla and I’ll never forget your sighs as our kiss deepened and you wrapped your arms around my waist, hugging me close. I knew then that I wanted you to be mine for forever.
Three months, two days and four hours later, I remember dropping down on one knee and proposing to you on the beach where we had our first date and shared our first kiss. You probably didn’t realise at the time that I was terrified that you would turn me down. What could a junior partner in an architect’s firm, with the family responsibility of a younger sister offer a world class concert pianist? You had job offers flowing in from all over the country and I was so proud of your incredible talent and so afraid that I would lose you to fame and fortune. But you proved me wrong once again when you dropped to your knees, took my face in your hands and said a resounding yes.
The day of our wedding, I couldn’t stop myself from meeting you halfway down the aisle. You looked like an angel. My angel. And when we finally repeated our vows and before the celebrant had time to pronounce us husband and wife, I already held you in my arms sealing our union with a scorching kiss. I will never forget, knowing you were mine now, forever.’
My phone rings loudly, snapping me out of my memories. It’s the office and I ignore the call and let it go to voicemail. I know they’re worried about me and only trying to be supportive, but I can’t face going back to work, not until I can get my shit together and beg you to forgive me. I’ve always been the strong one. Had to be for Grace. But without you in my life, I’m nothing.
My finger hovers over the send button but there is still so much I need to say. I look around our living room at the three weeks, two days and four hours of accumulated garbage. Stacked pizza boxes fight for space in the kitchen with empty Thai takeout containers. Beer and wine bottles fill the overflowing recycling bin. Time I took back control and cleaned the place up instead of wallowing in misery, day after day. Time I cleaned myself up before Grace comes home from college for the holidays. She would be so disappointed in me and even though she wouldn’t voice it, just one look in her eyes and I would see it. I’ve caused enough distress and disappointment to myself and everyone around me. I refuse to let depression suck me any further into its dark void.
The couch has become my only comfort. My safe place in an empty shell of a house. No sounds emanating from the music room as you practice, hour after hour. No delicious baking aromas in the kitchen, from your passion for cooking. Nor the blasting of the sound system playing your eclectic favourite songs, anything from heavy metal to Simon and Garfunkel. Just the never ending silence of my own company.
I return to the keyboard.
‘Sleeping alone in our bed is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Without your body pressed against mine, listening to your soft sighs as you settle in for the night, I toss and turn endlessly. I miss your drugging kisses and your passionate response to our lovemaking. Even the everyday habits that form such an intrinsic part of who you are and who I love. It’s the little things I remember. No sugar in your coffee, but honey in your tea. Dark chocolate - not milk. Filling the vases with fresh flowers every week.
Your bedtime ritual of applying hand cream to your long fingers and wrists, keeping them soft and supple and callous free from hours of piano practice. The soothing scents of lavender, rose and geranium, all of your favourite essentials oils still linger in our room, reminding me every day that you are absent from my life.
I remember us celebrating the announcement of your concert tour to Europe with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. I’ve always been blown away by your incredible talent and I was so proud of your achievements at such a young age.
What I wasn’t proud of was my uncontrollable jealousy towards Erik, your new conductor. It was the first time in my life with you that I felt inadequate. I expected an older man, balding with a bit of middle age spread, not a thirty five year old with movie star looks and more talent in his little finger than I could ever hope to achieve. I felt shut out by your shared passion in music and it didn’t take a blind man to see how he looked at you.
That I could understand.
Every time he took your hand at each concert finale, together bowing to the audience, it cut more deeply into my heart. He was touching what was mine and although you never gave me any reason to doubt our love, my jealousy overwhelmed me. Only able to catch quick conversations on Skype between venues just added to the tyranny of distance. I was missing my other half.
The final straw was when Erik answered your telephone in your hotel room, late at night and well after the concert had finished. I’ll never forget his exact words.
“Arianna is in the shower right now. I’ll let her know you called.”
The bottom fell out of my world in that instant.
What I’ll never forget is the terrible argument we had when you came home and the unforgivable accusations I cast at you. I’ll never forget the hurt in your eyes and I’ll never forgive myself for causing you that pain. I can understand why you left. Hell! I’ve regretted every word I spoke since that moment. I know I was projecting my insecurities onto you and pushing you away in the process. Pushing you right into his waiting arms.
I broke what we had and I was too stubborn to listen to what you had to say. Too consumed by jealousy and a hurt so deep, I thought my heart had been torn out.
Arianna, I love you more than life itself. You are the other half of my whole and I hope you can find it within your heart to forgive me. I miss every minute of every day without you and I’ll even stoop as low as pulling the Grace card.
She misses you too!
All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy, and if being with Erik makes you happy then as much as it will break my heart, I will give you your freedom. But I will never stop loving YOU.’
My finger hovers over the send button. I’ve never bared my soul so openly before, but I can’t hold my feelings inside any more. I’ve had so many regrets over the last few weeks, but it is with relief that I finally press the send button. I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I need to shower and shave. To regain a semblance of myself and face life again. It will be different without Arianna, but what choice do I have?
Sleep still evades me, but at least this morning I have the energy to return to my ten kilometre run down to the docks and back. I’ve missed pounding the pavements, the heat of the sun on my back as it rises and the sweat pouring out of me washing away the toxins. I’ve missed both the physical and the mental benefits from the burn in my muscles to the clarity of thought it brings.
Standing at the sink, a towel around my neck soaking up the sweat, my doorbell rings as I gulp down the last of the orange juice, straight from the carton. Can’t be Grace, college doesn’t end for another couple of weeks.
I open the door and my heart stops beating.
“Hey,” is all I can muster.
“Joshua, can I come in?” Her words are tentative and her body is tight with tension.
I let her pass me and follow through to the living room. I still can’t speak. The memories of our first meeting slam into me once again. She turns.
“Joshua, I have to say this quickly. You were right. Erik was manipulating both of us. I confronted him about your phone call. The one he never told me about. I’ve never had feelings for Erik. We are just work colleagues although he has now admitted he wanted more. You are my husband and the only man I love. Can you ever forgive me for giving you any doubts? You are my other half, my life.” She grabs both ends of my towel and pulls me towards her.
I can see the truth in her eyes and her love for me reflected there.
Our lips meet and I know that my life as I know it has returned.