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Short Stories

Eyes of Another

Secrecy was the ultimate mission. On the surface, Marty looked like an average teenager. However, buried deep inside his true nature was anything but typical. When a car accident claimed the life of his best friend, Marty's hidden identity couldn't be denied any longer. Determined to rid Mankind from the malice and hardships that had plagued them since their creation, he now must face his most crucial assignment. Will he find the courage to deliver Man from their fate? Can he forfeit his very existence for those he has come to love? Marty Angelo tossed his heavy back pack onto the back seat of Kirk's green Acadian and climbed in after it. As he leaned back, he caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror. Pale skin, thin angular features, topped with dark hair. He brushed long strands off his forehead. It needed cutting, but he wore it long on purpose to hide his eyes. He hated them. One brown, the other light blue. A red vertical line, centered above and below his blue eye, ran from his brow to the top of his cheek. A birthmark resembling a scar. Throughout elementary school, he'd been teased, called a freak. Scarface. The kids didn't know how right they were. As far back as Marty could remember, he'd had fits, like a stranger would take control of his blue eye, and gaze out. His mother had taken him to doctors and psychiatrists, but they'd found nothing wrong. Marty turned from his reflection and glanced out the side window. He sighed, relieved his Physics exam was over. Kirk started his car. "So, how do ya think you did on your exam?" Marty glanced at Kirk then Steven, who sat in the passenger seat. "I think I did pretty good. What about you guys?" Steven turned. "Same. Actually, I found it quite easy." "You would," Kirk said. He drove slowly through the campus grounds. Other students mingled, enjoying the April sunshine; a welcome reprieve from the usual rain Victoria experienced this time of year. Yellow daffodils bloomed in the well manicured gardens, and the pink blossom trees were on full display. Steven shrugged. "If you studied instead of playing video games, then you'd have found it easy, too." "Maybe if you spent less time studying I wouldn't kick your ass as often when we play," Kirk said. Marty smiled as his two best friends started an all too familiar debate about who was the better gamer. Truth was, Kirk could and did kick both their asses. "So, here's the plan," Steven said, brushing thick brown bangs out of his eyes. "It's three o'clock now. When we get to my house, we'll play video games until six, then we'll study for our Chemistry exam." "Sounds good," Marty replied. Once off campus grounds, Marty placed his head-phones in his ears and listened to music as Kirk navigated through the busy downtown streets. Two blocks from Steven's house, Kirk turned onto a curvy, tree-lined street. A deer leapt from the shadows. "Watch out," Steven yelled as he grabbed the dashboard. Kirk jerked the steering wheel. The car jackknifed to the left. Marty slammed into the side of the car, smacking his head on the window. The vehicle hit a tree, spun around, and flipped onto its side, sliding down an embankment. Pain laced through Marty's head and chest. The smell of gas clung heavy in the cab. Disoriented, he tried to sit up. Bits of the broken windshield glittered all around him. A groan from the front seat shook the fog from his bruised brain. He looked around, trying to get his bearings. The car lay on the passenger side. Kirk, still strapped in his seatbelt, hung suspended in his seat, his head hung down at an odd angle. The groan had come again. Steven. "Steven?" Marty unclicked his seatbelt, then pulled himself to his knees. A wave of nausea rolled over him. "Steven, are you all right?" Smoke from the engine slowly filled the interior. "Marty?" Steven's voice sounded strained. Marty climbed into the front. "Steven, can you move? We need to get out of here." He glanced up at Kirk. Blood dripped from a gouge on his forehead. His face was ashen. He didn't move or appear to be breathing. Dread ate at Marty. "No. No. Kirk?" "Is he . . . is Kirk all right?" Steven's question came out as a hoarse whisper. It hung heavy in the smoke-filled cab. Marty quickly unsnapped Steven's seatbelt. "Can you move?" Steven grabbed Marty's arm. "Yes. I'm all right." His green eyes searched Marty's face. "Kirk? Is he--" "Crawl out the windshield. I'll unbuckle Kirk; you help drag him out." Marty kicked the remaining glass in the windshield. Small round bits fell on him. Steven pulled himself to his feet and crawled out. "Ready." Flames erupted from the engine, making a soft whoosh. "Hurry." Steven's white face glowed in the sunshine outside the car. Marty unclasped the belt and Kirk fell into his arm, taking them both down. He didn't waste a second as he thrust his unresponsive friend toward the hole Steven had just crawled through. "Grab him." Steven reached in, grasped Kirk around the waist, and pulled him through the opening. Marty scrambled out. They dragged Kirk away from the burning, hissing car. Safely away, they laid Kirk flat on his back. Steven called for an ambulance as Marty checked Kirk over. Tears blurred his vision. He didn't need to check for a pulse, Kirk was gone. The absence of life was perceptible. "No," Marty whispered as Steven stood near them. "No! Kirk, don't you dare die." Marty fisted Kirk's shirt. "Kirk? Please...say something." Sobs choked him. Steven laid a hand on Marty's shoulder and tried to pull him off Kirk's prone, lifeless body. "Marty--" He jerked out of Steven's hold. "Nooo, he's not dead." Marty gripped Kirk's face and stared into his empty eyes. Suddenly, Marty's blue eye moved, widening, taking in the scene. With a strength of will he didn't know he had, he shut that eye. He began to chant, words spoken in a language he didn't know, yet were clear in his mind. "What the hell are you doing?" Steven asked, voice laced with panic. "You're. . . Holy shit, you're glowing." Marty ignored him. Kirk no longer laid dead on the grass beside the road, he now walked through a gray, swirling mist towards a warm white light. Marty followed. "Kirk," he called out in a deep masculine voice. "Don't go." Kirk stopped and turned. His brown eyes widened. "Marty? Is . . . that you?" He took a step in Marty's direction and frowned. "You look different." Marty didn't reply right away as he moved toward Kirk. When he stood a couple feet from his friend, he, halted. "It's not your time." He reached out and touched Kirk's chest. With a violent jerk, Kirk bolted up, drawing great gulps of air into his lungs. "Marty? Steven?" He panted, his eyes round with wonder and fear. "I think I was . . . dead." Marty blinked. He glanced at Steven, then the burning car. Sirens whined in the distance. Dizziness gripped him. He sagged, then fell forward, spiraling down, down through blackness, until he fainted. When he came to he was lying on his side on a soft mattress. I'm home. He opened his eyes. He was back in his colorless private chamber. The Sacred Dimension, or Heaven as humans called it. Mordecai sat up. He was no longer, Marty, a mere human. He was Mordecai, an angel of the Lord. God--The Creator of all life-- had sent Mordecai on a mission to find out if mankind was worth saving from Lucifer. But why was he back so soon? His mission wasn't complete. Ah, yes, he had brought Kirk back from death. He'd interfered. Sadness sliced through Mordecai's chest when he recalled the eighteen years he'd lived as a mortal. He recalled the people he came to know and love. He yearned to be back. Yearned for the messy chaos life was as a mortal. Was what he'd learned going to be enough to persuade The Creator to save humans? Granted, his Sire had witnessed everything Mordecai had with the use of The Creator's blue eye, but was it enough? It had to be. The alternative was unthinkable. Mordecai sprang from his bed, left the chamber, and ran down a long stone hallway punctuated with many arched doors. While he ran through the house of God, he stretched his cramped wings high above his head. He slowed as he approached the Great Hall. He checked his appearance in a silver urn sitting on a low table. He stared back at himself with his own brown eyes. His angel's star shone brightly on his forehead. Murmuring voices drifted from beyond the arched doorway. Mordecai returned the urn, and made the sign of the cross over his chest. He folded his wings until they lay against his back. As he stepped into the throne room, he was struck by the silence. His brothers and sisters lined the path from the entrance to the throne, where The Creator sat with an unreadable expression on His face. Mordecai dropped to his knees at his father's feet. Silence pulsed through the room. "Rise," The Creator said. The one word boomed throughout the long, wide space. Mordecai stood. "My Lord, I--" The Creator held up a hand. "I know the whys of what you did. Your love for the human is strong. I feel it. Still, your interference is intolerable." "It wasn't his time." The Creator's blue eyes bore into him. "That was not your choice to make." Mordecai bowed his head. "I am sorry, my Lord." "What say you on the plight of mankind?" Mordecai glanced up. "Don't give up on them, my Lord. They are worth saving from Lucifer's evil clutches. He has turned the earth into a hard, cruel place, far from what you intended for your children." A bead of sweat trickled down his temple. "Humankind is not altogether to blame. Lucifer's influence is strong. He tempts them at every turn." The Creator leaned forward on his throne. "I have given my children free will. Yet what do they do with this gift? They choose to listen to Lucifer's whisperings over and over. I am no longer in their hearts. Most have turned from me, shutting me out of their hearts." "Sadly, tis the truth." Shame filled his heart. "During my time on earth, even I lost faith, my Lord. In my heart I didn't truly believe. Life is full of struggles. Concern for food and shelter, pain caused by sickness and death take precedence. Surviving leaves little energy for worship." His thoughts drifted to his mother. The woman who bore his human vessel. The hardships of life had aged her before her time. Raising a child on her own, working two jobs to keep food on their table and a roof over their head, had taken all she'd had, and she did it for love. He thought of the homeless, the drug addicts, the disasters that left people broken. All the hurt and pain that came with life. Mordecai's pleading eyes met the Creator's. His voice when he spoke was filled with desperation. "They are worth saving. And if you won't, I will try. I will die fighting for them." A collective gasp filled the room. Mordecai glanced at his brothers and sister. The Creator leaned back and studied Mordecai. "I am surprised. Not long ago you agreed with Lucifer. You conceded men were nothing but a disappointment, a source of heartache for me. You concurred that my children should be destroyed." "Yea, tis true, and for that I will forever be ashamed. I have walked in their place. I now know what they go through." He sucked in a breath. "Lucifer must be destroyed. He has inflicted more than enough pain on your children. It is time to rid them of his blight. Give them the life you intended for them." The Creator bowed his head. "Tis the truth you speak, but alas, my heart is for creation, not destruction. I cannot destroy what I have created." "Nay, you may not, but I shall. Set this task to me, my Lord. I will see it done." "My angels shall not take a weapon to another unless death be to both of you." "So be it. I will die for your children." The Creator rose. He stretched out a glowing hand and cupped Mordecai's chin. "My son. You bring new hope to my heart. Though death shall not be the answer. I have another plan for Lucifer. One he will not see coming. Go to his hell castle and bring me back his Grace. I will send him to the earth to live as a human until I deem he is repentant of his sins." Mordecai smiled. "Lucifer will learn firsthand the hardships of humanity. I pray he finds compassion and understanding as have I." "There in is my hope." The Creator reached beneath his white robe and pulled forth a golden dagger. He handed it to Mordecai. "Return to me the Grace I have bestowed upon him." Mordecai clasped the blade. Power burned his hand before it raced up his arm and circled his heart. He smiled. "Aye, my Lord." The Creator kissed Mordecai's star. "My thoughts are with you." He touched a glowing finger to Mordecai's forehead, and all went dark as he fell through blackness. Endless it seemed before he landed with a jolt. Mordecai slowly sat up. Sweat from the oppressive heat poured down his face, and dripped from his hair. The putrid stench of rotten flesh and sulfur burned his throat, making him gag. He gazed out from the rocky cliff to the valley far below. A lake of fire surrounded by black mountains was spanned by a long stone bridge, leading to a black castle far in the distance. Lucifer's home. He glanced up. There was no sky, just black, scorched earth as a ceiling. He was in the center of the globe. Mordecai scrambled to his feet and descended the jagged peak. Once on the valley floor, a loud bell tolled. No other sound could be heard, yet he knew he was watched. Halfway across the bridge, Mordecai glanced down at the lake of fire. Millions of human soul squirmed like snakes, reaching out to him with blackened arms, mouths wide as they screamed in agony. Mordecai tore his gaze from their suffering and continued on. Nothing deterred him from his mission. The great castle doors stood open and Mordecai stepped through. Two twisted, hideous creatures waited. Mordecai pulled forth his dagger, but the creatures only bowed. In unison they said, "Our master awaits. This way." He followed as they led him up a winding stone staircase to a closed door. One knocked before they departed, slinking into the darkness. The door swung slowly opened. He swallowed his fear, gripped his dagger tight beneath his white robe, and stepped inside. Across the room, sitting upon a giant silver throne, was Lucifer. It had been centuries since Mordecai had seen his once beloved brother. Golden hair cascaded to his waist. Beauty beyond measure was his face. Fluid as a gentle wave, Lucifer rose. A smile as dazzling as a thousand stars stretched his lips. "Mordecai, my brother. It has been too long. What brings you to my home?" A shiver coursed through Mordecai. "I come to end your treachery." Lucifer's smile faltered. "My treachery? It is our Father who plays games. He betrayed us all. We knew nothing of His plans. We blindly did His bidding, toiling, slaving, never asking questions, and for what? For God to betray us with his second children and give unto them our earth that we created?" He placed a hand over his heart. "It is ours. Father stole from me--from us. For that I'll never forgive." "The earth is not ours. It was made for humans." Lucifer's smile vanished, replaced by a sneer. "Parasites, all of them. I will never bow to those usurpers." He stepped over to Mordecai, placing a hand on his shoulder. His voice when he spoke was soft, hypnotic. "You know I'm right. You felt as I did at one time." Mordecai's head swam. He didn't know what was right anymore. An overwhelming desire to side with his brother filled him. Suddenly, his Sire's voices filled his mind. "Be wary of Lucifer's voice. He will use it to dissuade you." Looking deep into his brother's blue eyes, Mordecai stroked a finger across Lucifer's brow, right over the glowing star. "I know different now as you shall soon learn." Lucifer's face grew hard, and then he laughed. "Learn? I know all." His eyes traveled over Mordecai's face. Disgust clear in his expression. "You're a fool if you think you can stop me. You know as well as I an angel can not kill another angel." "Aye, but I have something else in store for you. You will become one of whom you despise." Mordecai raised his dagger and plunged it into Lucifer's chest. Before Lucifer could react, he shoved his other hand through the glowing wound. His fingers tingled as they brushed against his essence. He seized it. Comprehension dawned on Lucifer's face as Mordecai pulled back his hand. White light, blinding in its intensity, enveloped the chamber. Lucifer stumbled, sagged to his knees, clutching his chest. "No, you can't do this." Raw hatred and rage consumed Mordecai, torturing his mind. The hand, clasped around Lucifer's grace, burned. White-hot pain scorched his flesh. In a flash, The Creator appeared before them. He held an open metal box towards Mordecai. "Place what 'tis mine inside." For a brief moment, Mordecai didn't want to release it. He wanted it for his own. Desired the power. "My son. Let it go. It will destroy you." Hand shaking, Mordecai slowly peeled open his fingers, dropping the ball of light inside the box. The instant it was gone from him, his mind cleared. "Father, I am sorry." "You've done well." The Creator straightened and turned to Lucifer. "Your reign is over. You will become mortal until I deem you worthy of my gift." With a wave of His hand, Lucifer's soul rose from his head and was gone. The Creator closed the box, sealing it with a chant. "I and the world owe you. Whatever your heart desires shall be yours." "You owe me nothing. I did it out of love." A gentle hand cupped Mordecai's cheek. "Name it, my son." He gazed into his father's bright eyes. "I would--" "Tis done." Marty Angelo tossed his heavy back pack onto the back seat of Kirk's green Acadian and climbed in after it. He leaned back, catching a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror. Pale skin, thin angular features, topped with dark hair. He brushed long strands out of his brown eyes. His hair needed cutting, but he wore it long on purpose. To hide the star shaped birthmark on the center of his forehead. Kirk started the car. "So, how do ya think you did on the exam?"

Eyes of Another

The scorching mid July sun beat down on Cynthia Chalmers' bent head and back. Beads of sweat rolled between her shoulder blades and breasts. Her arms burned from the exertion of swinging the Weed Eater back and forth through the long, thick grass. The sweet smell of the fresh cut lawn wafted around her, and dandelion fluff, kicked up by the whirling string, tickled her nose. Over the high-pitched drone of the machine, the roar of a revving engine caught her attention. She glanced up, shielding her eyes against the glaring sun. A burgundy Durango sped down her quiet dead-end street, just outside the city limits of Vancouver. The deep thump of bass from a rap song blasted through the ground, up her legs and throughout her body. She leaned wearily against the handle of the Weed Eater and eyed the Durango as it turned into the driveway of the one-level house across from hers. Dust swirled from the tires, momentarily blocking her view. Then the dust cleared. Angus. She stared as the driver's door opened and he stepped out. Her heart slammed against her ribs and she straightened. Wow. He looked sexy today. But then again, when didn't he? He wasn’t overly tall, maybe five-foot ten, with broad shoulders that tapered down to a perfect behind. Muscular calves bulged below his knee-length tan shorts. The sun turned his dark brown hair to a bright mahogany. Angus turned, catching her staring. White teeth flashed as he smiled. “Well, hello there.” He walked towards her, eyeing her up and down. Heat suffused her face as his dark brown eyes devoured her. Embarrassed to be caught gawking, she glanced down at her stained gray sweat-pants tucked into green gumboots, and her worn-out blue T-shirt. Why does he have to talk to me when I look a mess? Her hand went to her hair, self-conscious of the sweaty disorder she knew it was. “I'm having a little get together later," he said in deep, sexy voice. "Why don't you and Jack swing by? Or maybe you should leave Jack at home this time.” He leaned in and his spicy cologne engulfed her, blocking the scent of the grass. With his lips less than an inch from her ear, he whispered, “You might have more fun without him around.” Her heart came to a sputtering halt and then picked up speed. Is he flirting with me? Her eyes moved to his face. It was hard to tell. But she had caught him staring before. And he was always telling her his friends thought she was hot. But did he? Cynthia cleared her dry throat and wiped her hands on her pants. “Ah, sure. What time should we come over?” He shrugged. “Around six.” He turned, heading back across the street. “Hopefully I'll see ya later.” Cynthia packed up her Weed Eater and walked up her long driveway. She was elated. But then the bottom dropped from her stomach. What about Jack? He was no fun at parties. He didn't like to drink, and while he didn't say it, she knew he didn't like her drinking. Well, too bad. She was sick of never having any fun. She was a grown woman, and he was her husband, not her father. “Jack?” she called as she stepped through the back door. “I'm in the den.” After dusting off bits of grass, she then wandered through the living room to the small back room they called a den. She sat on the edge of Jack's big oak desk. “Angus invited us over tonight. He's having a party.” “What's new?” Jack glanced up from his paperwork. He removed his glasses and rubbed his pale green eyes. Eyes that once sparked excitement in her, but now they just seemed . . . old, which should have been amusing since at thirty-nine he was a year younger than she. “I can't. I have an early meeting with the contractor for the condos I start siding next week.” A tight smile lifted his lips. “But you go ahead if you want.” Yeah right. Judging by his smile he didn't want her going. Well, I am. I'm sick of hanging around here, waiting for life to happen. She'd been doing that for nineteen years. Jack had started his successful siding company ten years ago. When their two sons were small, she'd begged him to take more time off, and he promised to do so once his business grew. Well, his business was flourishing and the kids were now teenagers, and he still worked almost every day. She dropped her gaze to the floor. “I don't know. I might go.” She slid to her feet. “I'm going to start dinner.” He grabbed her hand as she walked past. “Do you want to rent a movie tonight?” Same old guilt trip. She shrugged and headed out the door. “We'll see.” Two hours later, Cynthia looked up from her plate of spaghetti when a small black truck, speeding into Angus's driveway, came to a dusty stop. “Looks like Angus' get together is gearing up to be another rager of a party,” Jack commented. From under her lashes, she glanced at her husband's familiar face, a face that at one time she had found handsome. In a way, she still did. His dark hair--peppered with gray--was cut short, respectable. His face was relatively unchanged but for laugh lines around his mouth and eyes, and he kept in excellent shape, working out at the gym two nights a week. She should feel happy she was married to him. And for the most part she did. He was an excellent father and provider. So why was she so unhappy? Maybe because we act more like roommates than husband and wife? They never did anything together. And with their kids doing their own things, they should be out enjoying themselves. But no, he either had to work or he was too tired. What was lacking in her life was excitement, companionship . . . love. She recalled when they were first dating. Just the sight of Jack's tall, muscular body had been enough to start her heart slamming. But now? Now he was Mr. Workaholic who when home liked nothing more than to plunk himself in front of the TV until bedtime. And when she brought this to his attention, his comeback was always the same. “I work hard all day. I'm tired.” Like she didn't work hard? Granted, her job at Ol' Time Florists wasn't physically demanding, but it was still draining. And when she got home she had to start dinner, put the laundry on and tidy the house. And on her days off she had the grocery shopping, bill paying and yard work to take care of. “I hope it's not as out of control as it was last weekend,” Jack said, pulling her mind back to the present. “Believe me, I will call the cops this time.” He stood and carried his empty plate into their small kitchen. Ignoring him, she propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. From her vantage point, she watched the laughing partygoers milling around Angus' front yard like ants, excited for another night of booze and loud music. Every Friday evening was the same. Same time. Same people. She smiled as the group got reacquainted with one another; back slapping, elbow nudging, high fives. The girls stood in tight groups, giggling with their low cut tops and tight shorts, displaying their supple young bodies. The ritual reminded her of dogs greeting each other. The image in her mind almost made her laugh. “Last weekend they kept me up until four in the morning.” Jack shook his head. “You'd think he would skip the party for once and clean up his damn yard. That pile of wood has been there since October.” Laughing, Cynthia grabbed her plate and set it on the counter. “Yeah, but a clean yard doesn't concern him.” She busied herself scooping leftover spaghetti into a Tupperware container, trying to plan her escape. No matter what, Jack would be annoyed if she went to Angus' party. So the best option was to just tell him. She poured herself a coffee and sat back down at the dining room table while her husband watched the evening news in the living room. Another routine she felt stifled by, especially since their two sons, Nick, seventeen and Jared, sixteen, were out with friends. They were growing up so fast and they didn't need her as they once did. And as she watched them grow, it reminded her she was aging. Middle age, she thought with a sullen sigh. Such a strange time in a person's life; a time to reflect, a time to look back and wonder where the hell life had gone. A time that can fill you with an urgency to change what you don't like before time ran out. A time when all that once made you happy ceased to do so. Angus stepped out his front door, catching her attention. He clapped one of his buddies on the back before he accepted a beer. He downed the contents and crushed the can before tossing it into the knee-high grass of his front lawn. Her heart skipped a beat and she sighed. No doubt about it, he was one handsome man. And she had a crush on him ever since he'd moved in across the street two years ago. She surged to her feet and set her mug on the counter. “Well, I'm going to get changed.” Jack pushed the mute button on the remote. “What?” She stopped and glanced at him over her shoulder. “I'm going to Angus'. I told you I was.” Anger flushed his face. He turned up the volume on the T.V. “Whatever.” Cynthia shook her head and walked into her bedroom. After changing into a pair of jean Capri pants and a tight red T-shirt, she brushed out her long brunette hair and fixed her make-up. When she was done, she gazed at her face with a critical eye. With her make-up applied just right, the small wrinkles around her eyes were almost invisible. She grabbed a light jacket and headed through the living room to the back door. “I'll be home soon.” Jack gazed at her with a smirk. “Are you wearing that?” She glanced down at herself. “What's wrong with what I'm wearing?” He looked away and laughed. “You look like a forty-year old woman trying to be twenty. Pathetic.” Tears welled in her eyes. She swiped them away, and at that moment, she almost hated him. “Whatever. I'll see you later.” She shoved her feet into her sandals and opened the door. “I'll be in bed,” Jack murmured. Tell me something I don't know. She slammed the door. As Cynthia made her way across the street, she followed the steady beat of the music, mixed with shouts, laughter, and talking, to Angus' back yard. She spotted him leaning against his patio. The moment their eyes met, a knot formed in her stomach. A slow smile transformed his handsome face into something breath taking. He excused himself and walked towards her. “I'm glad you made it.” He glanced behind her. “Where's Jack?” “He's not coming. He's tired.” He grabbed her and pulled her flush to his body, wrapping strong arms around her back. The feel of his hard muscles and their lower bodies pressed tight together sent a heated rush through her. His spicy, masculine scent filled her senses. She stepped back and quickly glanced in the direction of her house. From Angus' back yard, Jack wouldn't be able to see her. “Come, join us.” Angus draped an arm around her shoulders and steered her towards the crowd. Before she could feel out of place, they all shouted a warm greeting. Cynthia accepted a beer and joined in the lively conversation. Angus never left her side. She glanced around the crowd, looking for April, his young girlfriend, but she was nowhere to be found. Cynthia turned to Angus. “Where's April? Is she at work?” He led her away from the main body of his friends and grabbed two beers out of a cooler, and then sat down on it. He tugged her down beside him and handed one to her. “We split up.” He cracked the tab on his can and took a drink. “I'm sorry to hear that.” And for the most part she was, but she couldn't deny the feeling of happiness underneath. He turned to her. “She wanted more than I was willing to give her.” Her gaze explored his face. He didn't seem too upset. “Are you okay?” He smiled. “Sure. It was coming for a long time.” “Well, anyway, I'm sorry you split up.” His smile vanished as he stared at her lips. “I'm not.” He ran his knuckles gently over her cheek. “Can I tell you something?” Suddenly nervous, she swallowed. “Sure.” He leaned closer until his forehead rested against hers. “I've had a crush on you since I met you.” Cynthia was speechless. Stunned. “You have?” she whispered, her voice squeaking. He pulled back a little, his teeth flashed as his lips curled up into a wide grin. “Yep. You're a very sexy woman.” Pleasure rushed through her like a flame burning along a line of gunpowder. She searched his eyes to see if he was teasing. His warm breath and whispered words filled her ears. “I've thought about what it would be like to kiss you.” Every cell in her body flared to life as his words filtered into her brain. Before she could answer, one of his friends called out. “Hey Angus. Come tell Alex how Luke broke his jaw.” “I'll be right there.” Angus picked up his beer can and rose. He bent close to her again. “Don't go anywhere.” She could only nod her answer; her tongue was glued to the roof of her dry mouth. He sauntered across the patio to his waiting friends. Does he really have a crush on me? The thought sent warmth to her cheeks. She gulped down the rest of her beer, trying to squelch the heat. Cynthia ran her left hand along her thigh. Her wedding ring caught the sun's rays and flashed. All of a sudden, guilt burrowed its way into her gut like a worm tunneling into an apple. It felt like prying eyes were watching her, judging her. She checked out the crowd, but no one paid her any attention. If anyone thought the interest Angus was showing her was inappropriate, they weren't letting on. Cynthia set her empty can down and walked into the kitchen. Three girls sat around his table playing cards. She nodded a greeting on her way to the washroom. Once inside, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled with new life. No denying it, he made her feel young and pretty . . . desirable. Three things she hadn't felt for so long. She fluffed her hair and smiled at her reflection. There was no reason to feel guilty. He said he had a crush on her. So what? It wasn't like they were going to act on it. She pulled the door open and stepped into the hallway. She halted. Angus leaned nonchalantly against the wall. Her heart fluttered while his eyes traveled slowly down her body and back to her face. “I was waiting for you.” He stepped closer, rubbing a callused hand up and down her arm before his fingers curled around her wrist. She glanced over her shoulder towards the kitchen, but from this angle it and its occupants were hidden. No one was there to witness their behavior. He tugged her into his small living room and sat down, pulling her with him. His arms went around her waist and he buried his face against her neck. “You smell good.” Desire bloomed in her like a flower opening to the sun's rays. He turned her face until their lips were mere inches apart. “I'm going to kiss you before the night ends.” His eyes locked with hers. “Are you cool with that?” She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Licking dry lips, she tried once more to speak. “I. . . I don't . . .” The revving of a car's engine and the crunch of gravel under tires got their attention. Angus set her on her feet and he moved to the window. He pulled the curtains back and looked out. “Yeah,” he shouted, raising a fist in the air. “Big Johnny is here.” He turned to her. “I'll be back in a minute.” And then he rushed out the door. Cynthia's legs shook so hard she sagged onto the couch and held a hand over her racing heart. That was close. She had been about to give into her desires and kiss him. And she had been afraid it wouldn't have stopped there. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she pushed herself off the couch and headed back outside. She stepped through the door looking for Angus, but there was no sign of him. Someone had started a small bonfire and it blazed cheerfully, shoving aside the gloom of early evening. She picked a cold beer from the cooler and went to stand with the others crowded around the flames. She finished her second beer, and then looked at her wristwatch. 9:10pm. Where was Angus? He’d been missing for over an hour. Cynthia excused herself from the conversation and went to look for him. She walked into the kitchen, but it was empty so she headed toward the living room. From the hallway, she heard a girl giggle and then ask, “Angus, what about April? She's my friend.” “Screw her. I've had a crush on you since I met you,” Angus whispered back. Cynthia's blood turned to ice. She inched closer and slowly peeked around the corner. Angus sat on the couch, and straddling his lap was a young woman with beautiful skin and long blond hair. Her arms were draped over his shoulders while he nuzzled her neck. “I've thought about kissing you for so long,” he murmured against her skin. The girl tilted her head back, giving him better access. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she replied. Bile rose up in Cynthia's throat. With her hands covering her mouth, she ran into the kitchen. She slumped down at the table while hot tears spilled over her lashes and down her cheeks. She sniffed, feeling miserable. What a slime-ball. How could he kiss another woman . . . Her thoughts trailed off as she realized she had no right to the jealousy that gnawed at her. And in a blinding flash, she saw Angus for who he truly was: a thirty-five year old, immature playboy who cared for nothing and nobody, but himself. A man who had no idea what it meant to love another or what it took to be in a committed, long lasting relationship. Her head dropped until her forehead rested against the cool wood of his table. Shame over her behavior engulfed her. She’d been acting just like him, had been thinking of no one but herself and her own wants and desires. She blamed Jack for all the problems in their marriage because it was easier than looking at her own faults. It took two to make a relationship work, and she had been neglecting hers for years. In a flurry of movement, she jumped up and all but flew out the door. Blinded by her tears and the dark, she ran across the street. “Whoa. What's the matter?” Cynthia skidded to a stop in the gravel of her driveway. Her hands pressed against her chest, trying to stop her galloping heart. “Jack?” “Yeah, it’s me. Hey, what's going on? You were running like you saw a ghost?” As he walked towards her, the moonlight flashed off his glasses. She dried her cheeks with trembling hands. “What . . . why are you still up?” Her voice was thick with unshed tears and guilt. He ran a hand through his dark hair and sighed. “I couldn't sleep. I felt horrible.” “About what?” The clearing of his throat was loud in the quiet darkness. “What I said earlier. I didn't mean it. You looked beautiful.” He clasped her hands and brought them to his lips. “You always look beautiful. I was jealous.” She stared at him. And for the first time in ages she saw the man she had married. The man she loved. He had always been there, just hidden under responsibilities, worries and life. And her love for him had never left. It too had been hidden under life's worries and the day-to-day grind. Suddenly, she jumped into his arms and hugged him to her. “Jack,” she whispered against his chest. “I love you. I'm so sorry. I have been acting horribly.” His arms tightened around her, pulling her to his hard warmth. “God, Cynthia. I love you so much. Things are going to change. I'm going to change. I realize I have been neglecting you and the boys.” She pulled back in his arms and framed his face with her hands. “You're not the only one. I’ve been neglecting you--neglecting us. But no more.” His lips found hers in the dark and she kissed him back, a kiss full of love and new beginnings. He rested his forehead against hers. “Let's go in.” Cynthia linked her fingers with his as they walked up their driveway. She had come so close to crossing the line, but luckily she had escaped. The love of her life had always been in front of her; she had just been too blind and selfish to see him. She would forever remember how close she came to giving up everything for nothing.

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