First Place Winning Entry - A Picture Is Worth A 1000 Words Contest
I feel like a new woman, Deb thought, emerging from the bathroom clad in lounge pants and a crisp, white tee. The new shirt made her feel optimistic, like something good was going to happen. A welcoming thought considering she just showered in a motel bathroom, a most uninspiring place. At least it was clean, albeit as small as a coat closet. She freed her damp hair from the stiff towel and raked her fingers through the long, loose curls. She’d arrived late, and she hadn’t liked the way the night clerk had ogled her before asking if she wanted to take the second key then or leave it with him. In your dreams, she had thought to herself as she’d sneered, “I’ll just need one key, thanks.” She preferred a higher caliber establishment, and one with room service would’ve been nice right now. But it was graduation weekend and her daughter had been lucky to get her a reservation at all. From her handbag she dug out an emergency protein bar she always carried with her.
Dan stepped through the terminal’s automatic doors and drew in a deep breath of air. Tainted as it was with the essence of jet fuel, it was infinitely more refreshing to him than the stale, recycled air in the plane. He walked briskly to the rental car lot and found his vehicle. He smiled. It was just what he’d ordered, a sleek, black sedan. Mercedes. Only the best. When he put the key in the ignition the radio came on blaring an eighties station. He grabbed for the knob to turn it down, but just then an old ballad began and he left it loud. It was their song. His and Deb’s. Funny he would hear it now, the night before he was to see her for the first time in ten years.
The music filled his head as he exited the airport and got on the highway, following signs for the university. The old lyrics and familiar melody transported him back, back to their time together. God she had been beautiful. He remembered her hair, curly yet so soft. They’d been young, kids really, exploring adulthood together like kittens venturing outdoors for the first time. When they learned to drive cars, they drove fast. When they got a taste for beer, they drank until they were drunk. And when they discovered the pleasures of the flesh, they enjoyed each other with wild abandon. Life had been terrific, until Deb got pregnant.
Checking his daughter’s directions, he exited the highway. Yes, things had changed as soon as they’d known a baby was coming. They’d wanted to do the right thing, and for Dan, the right thing meant marriage. He’d proposed that same week. He chuckled despondently at the thought of it now. The ring he’d given her had been all that he could afford at the time, but not at all worthy of her. Dan glanced into the rearview mirror, and he stared for just a moment at the guilt in his eyes before returning his gaze to the road. The truth was, the remorse he felt had nothing to do with the small diamond he’d given her. His shame stemmed from the night, when their daughter was two years old, that he’d allowed another woman to seduce him.
He found the motel and parked in the garage. Damn, Lacey, was this the best you could find me?, he thought as he made his way to the registration office.
Deb watched herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth. She guessed she looked good. Her skin was still nice despite that little wrinkle she’d noticed lately between her eyebrows. Her body was firm thanks to her daily workout routine. She rinsed, thinking about tomorrow. It’s not every day that you watch your only child graduate from college. Deb was so proud of Lacey. It had been tough raising her alone, although Dan’s checks had eased the difficulty. The hardest part had been dodging Lacey’s questions about her dad. You can’t explain deception and infidelity to a child. Deb had done her best to sugar coat the truth, spinning a lovely tale about her dad’s ambitions in the stock market and his need to live in the city. Then, freshman year, Lacey had asked for the “real story”.
Her teeth brushed, she came out into the bedroom and froze. A key was turning in the lock. She didn’t have time to think as the door swung open, and there was Dan. The look of shock on his face matched her own. “What are you doing here?” they said at the same time. Then they looked away and both said, “Lacey!”, under their breath. That made them laugh. “You look great,” Dan said as they hugged awkwardly.
A phone call to the front desk confirmed what they suspected. The motel was full, and the others in the area were going to be, too. There was no choice but to share the room.
After exchanging brief updates of their daily lives, they realized how late it was. The ceremony was first thing in the morning. Dan disappeared into the bathroom and emerged minutes later in blue plaid drawstring pants and no shirt. Damn, he looks good, thought Deb as she turned away. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Dan said, “I still read to unwind. I’ve got the paper, want a section?”
Deb smiled, “Can I have the Travel Section?”
“I knew you’d say that,” Dan smirked, handing her the piece.
They walked to opposite sides of the bed, Dan to the side closest to the wall and Deb to the side nearest the bathroom. They laughed when they realized this, and Deb said, “Old habits…”
In a pas de deux of perfect synchronization, each sat down, switched on the bedside lamp, lay back and crossed their legs at the feet. Raising their newspapers, each was thinking the same thing: What’s going to happen from here?
Word Count: 1000
This story won First Place in the A Picture Is Worth A 1000 Words Contest -- 12/7/2007