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    C. Henderson
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

In Our Darkness - 1. Chapter 1: The Perfect Couple

The Perfect Couple

A Few Hours Before the Accident

David and Elisabeth Andrews were the perfect couple, or so Celia Braier thought to herself on Sunday night as she and her husband Frank hosted a small dinner party for their two favorite friends. It was Celia’s idea: a cozy last double date, before the baby and its diapers would start to take up all of their time.

Celia delighted in every second that the glamorous couple was over at their house. It was her favorite way to spend time, and the second they would leave she would relive the experience in her head, like a highlight reel. Hearing them talk, watching them eat, observing how David would make a remark that would get Elisabeth to shake her head and laugh simultaneously. It was like having the privilege of hosting an A-list celebrity couple. David’s stories would have them all roaring with laughter for hours. At times Elisabeth and David would bicker in good humor, passing quips back and forth like a ping pong ball, all the while Celia watched, just like an enthralled spectator would.

It all felt so elegant and thrilling, perhaps because they were both so incredibly good looking. David, with his 6’4” Olympic swimmer’s frame, was one gorgeous hunk of a man. Naturally tan from spending time at his picturesque backyard lake. Perfectly styled brown hair and gleaming blue grey eyes, the depth of an ocean. His chiseled face, as if personally sculpted by Michelangelo himself. And that crisp ridge of his manly jaw, coupled with the strong low-pitch voice and the perfect white teeth. He was to Celia what JFK must have been to Jackie. All American and powerful in every single way. He was good looking to the point that it was almost absurd.

And then there was the now very heavily pregnant Elisabeth, who still somehow managed to look stunning, with her otherwise slender figure and luscious light brown locks. Every single thing they did just seemed to come so naturally to them. They were easy going, yet so intense at the same time, so remarkably in love, even after seven years of marriage. They were…so unlike her and Frank. And it’s not that Celia was upset that her marriage didn’t resemble that of her best friend. She knew Frank could never be David. No man could ever be David. It was just that envious longing at the pit of her stomach at night, long after Frank had gone to sleep, that kept gnawing at her insides. Yes, her life was fine, but when confronted with Elisabeth’s life, how could she be content? How could anyone? That’s why, when she got that fateful call later on that evening, the good part of her thought “what a tragedy!”, while the other secret part of her mused, “About time something went wrong in their perfect life.”

After all, why did good things only happen to Elisabeth? Wasn’t it Celia who actually discovered David Andrews? Wasn’t it her who first mentioned the tall handsome boy in her Philosophy class, months before Elisabeth had ever laid her eyes on him, or more to the point, before HE ever laid eyes on Elisabeth? Why were good things only allowed to happen to her best friend while Celia sat on the sidelines and watched, patiently waiting her turn. She watched Elisabeth snatch the boy of her dreams, she watched her get engaged, get married, get effortlessly pregnant without even trying. And through it all Celia smiled and supported her friend with grace, she helped throw the bachelorette party, she was a bridesmaid at the wedding making sure that every single detail was absolutely perfect, she helped Elisabeth plan her honeymoon, and just now she had given Elisabeth anther book on parenting, which she expected would collect dust on a shelf somewhere as Elisabeth was the “spontaneous” type and not the cram all night before the exam type. You couldn’t accuse Celia of being a thoughtless friend, so in a sense, she felt justified when the fleeting thoughts of jealousy turned into a more permanent and growing envy. She couldn’t help how she felt, but as long as her actions were honorable, nobody could accuse her of anything other than being a great friend.

As they sat and enjoyed the dinner Celia cooked, she thought about how even their house felt like a hand-me-down from Elisabeth, who inherited it from her grandmother and put it up for sale when David and her got married. They had bought a modern house together to start fresh, meanwhile Frank insisted that Elisabeth’s old house was a great deal, and that was that; end of discussion. Elisabeth’s old house, Elisabeth’s old furniture, sometimes Celia wondered if she had anything in her possession that wasn’t somehow tied in with Elisabeth. So much so that even her husband Frank felt like a secondhand gift. He was David’s good friend after all, and it was Elisabeth’s idea to introduce them after her and David had started dating. Celia often wondered if it was out of pity or guilt. Elisabeth had sworn up and down that she had no idea David was the boy Celia talked about so many times, and even insisted that she would not give him the time of day if Celia preferred that. But Celia was too codependent on her beautiful friend to let this be a grudge between them. So, she gave the relationship her blessing. But secretly, both friends knew that this made Elisabeth indebted to Celia. You stole the boy of my dreams? Well now you have to be my friend forever, and you damn well better make sure to be a good one. And Elisabeth did her best to live up to this unspoken deal, even though at times Celia could tell that it burdened her.

“So, settled on a name yet?” Frank asked the Andrews’ while picking at his food like a bird. The way he maneuvered his fork to his mouth, with his wrist slightly limp, made Celia inwardly cringe. It was a far cry from David who served himself a second heap of mashed potatoes and salad with swift moves. Celia always marveled at how he ate, like a real man. She couldn’t stand to look at Frank taking baby bites and playing with his food. It was such a turn off. She also noted the way David looked over at Elisabeth and grinned. He really hadn’t changed in the past 6 years. No wrinkles, no signs of aging or slowing down. She could honestly look at him forever. He was like a beautiful statue, self-assured, funny. To her he was simply ideal in all ways. But of course, she went out of her way to hide that, not stare too long, not be too obvious with her admiration. A part of her was angry that Elisabeth knew about her prior fascination with David. It must have made her feel superior, knowing she was the one that got the boy in the end. So Celia did what she could to prove that David was a silly short lived crush in front of Elisabeth. But in the privacy of her own mind she would sit and wonder what her life would look like if she were married to him. Waking up to that face or feeling his hard on grind into her lower back in the morning as he stirred and kissed her neck lazily. She could sit and fantasize forever. In fact, when her and Frank had their obligatory sex dates on Wednesdays and Sundays—brought about by him to cure or prevent what he referred to as a “dead bedroom”— she would often close her eyes and go into her dream world imagining that it was David on top of her and inside her. Imagining that she felt all of his 200 pounds sink into her and make her his. On those days, Frank would feel like the greatest lover in the world. He would ponder about what he did differently during the times when his wife would orgasm with such force, but he could never figure it out, and of course she would never tell him.

“Well, it started out as a joke…but we’ve grown really fond of the idea now. We’re going to call him Andrew,” David said, and Elisabeth burst out in laughter at their charming little inside joke. Frank laughed too. Only Celia sat there stumped.

“Andrew Andrews? No freaking way,” Frank said, like he thought it was the most hilarious idea in the world. Celia managed to finally laugh in order to appease her friends, but inside she thought the whole thing was quite ridiculous. Why did Elisabeth always have to be unique? If Celia was about to give birth to David’s child she would have named him something sensible. Maybe even David Jr. She would have been perfectly respectful of her husband. She certainly wouldn’t have been on a sex schedule with him, he was the type of man who deserved the adoration of his wife whenever he pleased. And she would have been happy to give it, anytime. Not to say that Frank was unsightly. He was a decent looking man by all standards. He stood at 5’11”, still had most of his dark hair, and a very pleasant, relaxed face. Celia was definitely out of his league, but not by a staggeringly shocking amount. And she’d rather be married to David’s best friend than to a strange handsome man who had no connection to him. This way, she was always up to speed on all things David related, from both Elisabeth and her husband.

“A name like that will toughen him up. Good character building,” said Elisabeth, still amused at her and David’s funny name idea.

Celia couldn’t believe that a woman whose due date was tomorrow, could sit here, eat a plate full of chicken and mashed potatoes, and laugh light heartedly about her son’s name, while looking iridescent as ever. She couldn’t even get through her period without looking like a bloated puffer fish. If she were 9 months pregnant, she would probably be in bed, with the blinds closed, wearing an old, tattered t-shirt and a head of greasy hair. Meanwhile Elisabeth was in a dress, with her hair perfectly styled into loose waves, and just the right amount of natural looking makeup. But then again, she thought to herself, after all these years, why was she still really surprised that Elisabeth surpassed her in almost every single way. And to add insult to injury, she made it look so damn easy. Celia should have resigned to her fate a long time ago. The imperfect, unattractive, uninteresting, best friend who pined for her beautiful friend’s husband and perfect life. But she never gave up the dream that one day something could change. That some sort of shift could occur. Perhaps a small disaster, that would turn things around for her. And then, as if God finally took pity on her, it happened.

“You never sent me pictures of the final nursery look,” Celia said while taking a sip of her wine and taking pleasure in the fact that Elisabeth couldn’t have any. Elisabeth looked like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“About that,” she said with an apologetic smile on her face, “you’re going to kill me, but the nursery is not completely finished yet.”

Celia tried to wipe the look of horror from her face.

“What do you mean, not finished?”

“Well, with David’s trip to New York, and the remodeling of the bathroom, I just figured I’d have more time,” she replied throwing her hands up in the air as if the whole thing was completely out of her control. Celia couldn’t stand disorganized people, and she felt the perfectionist inside her twist in pain as she realized Elisabeth was about to bring a baby into the world with a half-finished nursery. What kind of a mother did that? Surely an undeserving one.

“But your due date is tomorrow!” Celia could not believe her happy-go-lucky friend could be this careless.

“I know, I know! It’s minor things, I mean the room is already painted. I just need…a few furniture pieces, and…yeah,” she said as David shook his head in good nature, almost as if he thought the whole scene was adorable in some way. He had far too much patience for her. Why did they have to be so spontaneous? If Celia was David’s wife she would have made sure his life would be organized, well-calendared, and worry-free. But Elisabeth always had to think about herself first. She never made David the priority. Celia couldn’t comprehend why he put up with it when he could have had anyone.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t call me. I would have been more than happy to get your nursery in tip top shape way before the due date, you know that,” Celia whined and noted the quick glance David exchanged with Elisabeth.

“I know, I know, but we just want to focus on loving the little one and spending enough time with him. My mom’s coming tomorrow anyway so I’ll just order some stuff online and call it a day. We have enough to get by, really. Plus, I kind of want to get a feel for his personality first, before I finish up his room, you know?” Celia did not know and could not comprehend why David sat there and put up with his wife’s absurd ideas. She sighed, but restrained herself from saying more. She knew Elisabeth looked at her like she was a total bore sometimes. “Rigid” is what Elisabeth called her. Yes, maybe she was rigid, but she would have made the better mother, Celia thought bitterly. Her and Frank had been trying for two years, with no luck. Meanwhile David and Elisabeth weren’t even trying. Their pregnancy was a fluke. Elisabeth had been on the pill but got pregnant while taking antibiotics. Celia wouldn’t even kiss Frank if he had a slight cough, meanwhile David had sex with his wife while she had a virus. For some reason that thought very much displeased Celia.

She found herself getting prematurely annoyed at the thought of how her friend was surely going to under-parent her son. She’d let him wear mis-matched shoes. She’d let him eat chocolate. She’d let him watch TV late and try on girl clothes. She would be a terrible mother. Just that mass of endless hair in itself, it wasn’t a practical do. Celia had a sensible mom bob, short and blonde. It took 5 minutes to style and could be pinned back in seconds. Meanwhile Elisabeth was toting around her luscious, long and thick brown locks. How would she handle a baby with all that hair getting in the way? She just never considered these things. Celia would need to step in, help out David before his wife turned their son into a badly mannered spoiled brat.

“Well, we should really get going. I need to roll this lady into bed so she can get some rest before AA’s ready to make an appearance,” David said and both Elisabeth and Frank laughed at David’s use of “AA.” Celia did not laugh.

They said their goodbyes and she watched through the window as David walked his waddling wife towards their Mercedes convertible and opened the door for her. Always the perfect gentleman, she thought. Then she went to cleaning the dishes straight away. Frank lingered in the kitchen behind her, finishing his glass of wine. He cleared his throat, and Celia stiffened. He only cleared his throat when he wanted to discuss something uncomfortable.

“Remember how I started those BodyPump classes a few months ago?” he asked timidly. Celia couldn’t help but remember as she found them to be a complete waste of time, but worse yet they made his libido higher than normal. She didn’t understand how he could think that gaining some muscles would make all that much difference to her. Sadly for him, Frank didn’t understand that it was not who he could turn into, but who he could never be, that was the problem.

“Yes, did you finally decide to quit?” she asked.

“Quit? No, no I enjoy them quite a bit. I made a good friend there, him and his wife just got pregnant, after trying for 3 years.” Celia stopped scrubbing the pan she was vigorously working on.

“Well, that’s lovely for them,” she replied, unsure of why he was bringing this up.

“They did IVF,” he said, making her turn around.

“Not this again,” she hissed at him.

“Celia, why not just give it a try? People have had a lot of success with it. Perfectly healthy babies. I understand your hesitation, I really do, but I think we should reconsider our options one more time.”

“I don’t want to give it a try, it’s against nature,” she replied stiffly.

“It’s just a little help, I’m sure people back in the day thought cough syrup was against nature as well. Why not use the science we have at our disposal?”

“Eggs in a laboratory, you jerking off into a cup, babies made by scientists…no, that’s just not what I want. Those IVF kids never turn out the same as normal pregnancies.”

“Oh, that’s just not true,” Frank stammered.

“Think what you want, but we’re not going down that road,” Celia stated firmly. This was just another way she would feel less than Elisabeth. No, she would not have a lab baby. They didn’t need their own child, she could focus on being a great aunt to David and Elisabeth’s baby. She would be there while Elisabeth was out doing whatever great, exciting new thing she was doing. Celia would be the anchor for that baby. She’d be the reliable one. Perhaps, when Andrew grew up, he’d even consider her more of a mother. Or at least a second mother. Celia could live with that.

It was much later that night, in the early hours of September 4th, when Celia received that fateful phone call from Elisabeth’s mother. There had been an accident…she was supposed to be with her daughter and David, but her flight was delayed…could Celia go over to the hospital and help bring them home.

And finally, at last, Celia felt the other shoe drop. She felt a sense of satisfaction settle deep in her stomach, like something in the Universe was made right at last. Nobody’s life could be this perfect for this long. Nature finally took its course. She sighed with content. This was her moment; this is where she would shine. She packed a change of clothes for Elisabeth, along with some toiletries and snacks in a neat weekend bag. Then, her and Frank made the 20-minute drive to St. Augustine’s Hospital.

Celia wasn’t quite sure what to expect, Elisabeth’s mother didn’t go into detail and her airport reception had been poor. But when she was finally let into the room by a nurse, she was taken by surprise.

Elisabeth lay on the bed, her luscious loose waves in utter disarray. Her eerily pale face held a black eye and general swelling. Mascara streaks ran down her cheeks. She was no longer picture perfect; she was girl destroyed. Celia walked up to the bed and felt tears streaming down her own face.

“I’m so sorry my darling,” she said and gave Elisabeth a hug, and felt the women’s body just crumble underneath her. She was completely out of it. Celia looked over at David, with his broken arm in a cast, and his shattered soul, and she started to feel exceedingly calm. They would need her now and taking care of people was her forte. She would make sure that they were well taken care of.

Elisabeth would not be getting discharged that day. Much later on, when her and Frank were leaving, she promised David that she would return the next day with some homemade food, and told them not to worry about anything, that she would take care of everything they might need. David hugged her very tightly with his one good arm, thanked her and told her they were very grateful for her and Frank’s help, and then he kissed her temple. And so, while everyone else would always know September 4th as the day the Andrews’ lost their child, Celia Braier would always remember it as the day David Andrews kissed her.

Copyright © 2022 C. Henderson; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

4 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Celia certainly has some issues. She's not a likeable character, but she also evokes a certain amount of sympathy.

Ahh, interesting assessment. Yes, you do almost feel sorry for her.

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11 hours ago, seakinklets said:

Wow, between this and the prologue you're clearly flexing your character writing muscles. I can feel these two, I know them, I know people like them. Very very good work.

Thank you kindly 🙏🏼

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Interesting and intriguing characters are being introduced. It's definitely a 'whodunnit' with lot's more to be revealed and I'm guessing more characters to join the story. Celia comes across as someone who enjoys revelling in other peoples misery because she doesn't have the perfect life she expects, I don't think I like her.

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