It's official! After thinking long and hard, I decided to write the sequel to SUKI.
ask for your feedback in the comments below.
When Dwayne Died
Copyright 2016 by CF Winn
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Death. We all do it. For a long time, we said it was something we feared. Something we pretended we didn’t long for from time to time. We sought out psychics and mediums for explanations until it finally morphed into “a better place” —the one thing we can look forward to when life or health overwhelms us.
In the end, the death of a body is final. But the loss of someone we deeply love can continue to stalk us, daring us to face the relationship for what it was until the truth can rest in peace.
The day Dwayne died was just like the day Savannah first met him. The sun came up, expected but unwelcome, prodding her out of bed with its cheerful brightness. It stung her eyelids, foisting second chances upon her, insisting on something more than moments she couldn’t or didn’t want to feel.
That morning, she took the bait slowly, easing herself into her clothes, her stomach tightening as it always did when she thought about the tasks that lay ahead. Fists clenched, and teeth gritted, Savannah went about her routine the same way she had twenty years earlier—with no idea that in just a few short hours everything would change.
When Dwayne died, it was a regular Monday. Regular because Savannah had started the day with Starbucks and ended it by dragging herself home after nine brutal hours at her job. Regular because no matter how hard she worked, her family was depending on her and there would always be problems waiting to be solved. Even after Leisa delivered the news, she would be expected to do laundry and listen to everyone chatter on about their day as if it were just a regular Monday.
Savannah’s cell phone buzzed as soon as she stepped in front of the TV. “Is your homework done?” she asked. She had walked in on her three teens fighting over whose turn it was to watch a show. Her kids were great about doing their homework, but Savannah’s interruption united them. With their irritation focused on her, the argument would stop.
They all moaned and craned their necks to see around her. “Yes Mom, it’s done.” Her son spoke up for the group. His tone sliced at the space between them. If not for the phone buzzing insistently a second time, Savannah might’ve shut off the TV and had a talk with them about respect. Instead, she stepped out of the way and pressed the answer button. Remember when you were dying to be a parent? Remember when you thought it was all just hugs and kisses?
She propped the tiny device between her shoulder and ear as she struggled to pull her arms out of her bulky jacket.
"Savannah?" Leisa spoke as though they hadn't been out of touch for over a year. Savannah’s friends were disappearing as gradually and completely as her soul was—a by-product of the secret life she was forced to lead.
"Hey, Leisa. Hold on one sec.” She had gotten all the way down the hall and paused outside of her bedroom. She called out over her shoulder, “Ali! Did you take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost?”
Savannah could hear her oldest daughter sigh. “Yes, Mom.” Thank goodness I didn’t ask her to pick up the entire house and move it to the other side of town…”
“Sorry Leisa. What's going on? How are you?"
Savannah sat down on her bed and unzipped her boots, keeping the phone to her ear with her shoulder. She smiled widely, as if warming up her mouth to laugh during a rare conversation that wouldn’t end with multiple blows to her self-esteem.
"I only have a few minutes, but I had to make sure I called you. Girl, sit down. I'm serious. Are you sitting?"
The conversation went as it always did, well-intentioned machine-gun sentences fired by her friend. Normally Savannah kept quiet, waiting for the break that would eventually come, indicating that it was her turn to speak, but somehow—maybe because there are some bonds between souls that defy explanation—in the seconds that it took for Leisa to issue the order, Savannah figured out why she had called.
Even though Leisa paused, Savannah didn’t have enough air left in her body to respond. She couldn’t tell Leisa to stop talking. She couldn’t hang up the phone and pretend that nothing had changed--not even her crappy marriage. Even that was preferable to what Leisa was about to say.
“Wait.” The word was a breath, a summoning of just enough energy to get up and shut the bedroom door. In an act of willful defiance, she stood at the foot of the bed instead of sitting, locking her knees and fighting hard to inhale. "I'm sitting."
Savannah’s hand shook. The blood that normally filled her veins with life bubbled into her head and ears instead, pounding hard and hot, her body's involuntary defense mechanism--fruitless protection against the blow she was about to receive.
"Dwayne passed away."
Leisa said it just as Savannah opened her mouth to finally protest. She would have told Leisa that she didn't want to hear whatever it was, feigning ignorance and hoping that her assumption was wrong. Still agape, but silent, Savannah sunk to the floor, finally sitting. She didn’t cry, but waves of nausea and buried thoughts and feelings attacked her insides, sapping her energy so that she was unable to hold the phone to her ear. She stared at her limp arm and the device, out of focus and unrecognizable as it wobbled in her hand.
"Savannah?" Leisa’s voice was faint, heavy, like the air Savannah struggled to take in.
Fixing her eyes on the dresser drawer knob that she had painted white to change the things that could be changed, Savannah slowly brought the phone back up to her ear.
"How?" It was all she could get out.
At some point in the conversation, her throat had closed along with her heart. The years had not turned to apathy. She didn't think about him every day or even once a week, but she took a certain secret comfort in knowing that the one that got away was still out there. If things didn't work out on either end, would they have found each other again and worked it out? For Savannah, her Plan B–her one long shot at finding normalcy—was dead. With Dwayne gone, she didn’t stand a chance of experiencing true romantic love ever again.
"I'm still trying to find out for sure, but Dee said he thought it was a stroke. The thing was, Dwayne was overseas in China, so the details are sketchy.”
Savannah picked at a pill in her sweater, focusing on getting rid of the annoyance without unraveling everything.
“I only found out because I called Dee to catch up, and the next thing I know, he’s talking about his brother. Dee thought we had heard, but I didn't, and I know nobody would’ve called you. I’m so sorry, but they already had the wake and funeral."
Savannah’s stomach twisted. There would be no goodbyes again. A tear rolled down her cheek and onto her jeans.
Her voice shook. "He was in China? Was he there on business? I hope he wasn't alone."
Savannah’s helpless imagination conjured up a disturbing image--Dwayne in distress and falling to the ground, either in a public area, like an airport, or alone in a hotel room. She preferred the first scenario; Savannah could not bear him dying by himself, suffering as his body failed, with no one to help him. More tears came, burning her skin as the imagined scene became more detailed and defined.
"I don't know where he was when it happened, but he was living in China. He got married again and had a kid."
Savannah's body relaxed and she smiled slightly. Of course. The only thing that Dwayne is not good at is being alone. Even if he had not been with his family at the time of his death, he was loved and would've known that as he died. But he’s really gone.
The crushingly familiar thought opened another hole. Her heart ached for her losses.
"Savannah, I've gotta run. I'm at work. I'll try to find out more and call you tomorrow."
Savannah nodded even though Leisa couldn't see her. "Thanks for thinking to tell me, Leisa. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
She pressed the end button and let her arm fall to the floor as her back slouched against her bed.
When Dwayne died, it was a regular Monday. It was regular because Savannah was unhappily married and unhappily employed even though she was making more money than she ever had and was taking mini vacations with her family at least once a month. She glanced at the clock. In only an hour, Nick, her husband, would punch out of his part time, ten-dollar-an-hour job that barely put food on their table.
Savannah was the girl who felt things deeply. The initial pain was almost always too much to bear, and she’d quickly stuff the discomfort down, way down, under To Do Lists and busy work. This time though, a dull ache throbbed in the nerve endings just beneath the surface of her skin. It paced back and forth, searching for an escape. This time it wouldn’t be pushed aside.
Sharp stabs of realization pierced her head, her stomach, her arms and her legs, but Savannah refused to lose control and expose herself. When she passed on the news to others, it would be a somber but objective retelling of the facts.
The TV chattered in the very far distance, and the frigid sky darkened outside the windows. She stared at her feet, thinking that while she and Dwayne only had a little time together, their short story had been full. Some twists and turns were darker than others, but they were also magical—a modern fairytale that had come to an unexpected and screeching halt.
Savannah finally allowed herself to sob silently. Her life with Dwayne had been as beautiful as snowflakes and butterflies that were here for a reason, but never meant to stay with us forever. Moments were fleeting and sometimes as elusive as happy endings. And while one of them had kept his promise to take their secrets to the grave, the other was about to betray them both.
Liked it? Want more? READ CHAPTER TWO HERE:
CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States.
You can now order SUKI in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615726313
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