For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #135, where we write about the image below, from writerscentre.com.
Mark was setting out his clothes for tomorrow’s nuptials. Girlfriend Laura was at a low-key hen night at a pizzeria in town. She would then observe tradition by spending the night at a friend’s apartment, not seeing Mark again until the wedding itself.
He had the evening planned. First, prepare his clothing for the big day. Then, a long, hot, relaxing soak in the tub, which, yes, might include a facial. Lastly, an early night, his last as a bachelor. Mark was far too long in the tooth for stag nights, and in any case, he would be meeting best friend and witness Pat at The Feathers at lunchtime, to garner some Dutch Courage before the main event.
He had just finished ironing his shirt, carefully avoiding disturbing Mog the cat, who was regally curled up, asleep, in the centre of their bed, when he heard the phone ring. The landline. Who was that? The only person who ever called him on that number was his mum, and he would be seeing her tomorrow at the registry office anyway. A last-minute pep talk, perhaps?
He allowed the machine to answer. From behind the closed door of the bedroom he heard a female voice. It was muffled, but Mark could tell it was not mum’s. He opened the door, so that he might properly hear the message.
“Mark? It’s me. Are you there?”
A soft, melancholy voice.
“Fuck!”, cursed Mark, aloud but to no-one, as he instantly recognised Toni’s caramel voice. Unmistakeable.
Mark’s mind raced. He looked down at the sharply creased suit, and her voice reminded him that he had ventured down this path once before. Almost.
Jeez, he thought, as she instantly took him back all of seven years. They had been an item, Mark and Toni. Furthermore, she had been the one. They were less than a month from their own wedding, before she bolted.
As if to serve as a reminder, at that moment Mog flew past, evidently not sleepy enough to ignore the possibility of a treat as Mark stepped towards the kitchen. The grand old Mog, whom Toni and he had picked up from the shelter, the first of their intended offspring. And Mog had lived with Mark ever since, even happily adopting Laura when she came to live at the apartment.
There had been women since Toni, not least Laura, but by then, Mark had learned to protect himself. He had only given so much of himself to the relationship.
But Toni got the lot.
Laura. He thought of Laura. One of a kind, an exceptional human being, a woman he had grown to love in the three years they had been together. In Laura, he had seen a good wife, someone who would be a good mother, a good partner. But she wasn’t Toni.
By the time Laura arrived on the scene, Mark had given up on thunderbolts.
“I heard you were getting married…”, continued the voice. Then a sniff. Or, perhaps a sob?
Walk away, just like she did. His initial reaction was to just allow her to leave the message. He knew Toni was having doubts, but when she ran, Mark had been crushed. He had not thought it was possible that anybody, let alone someone who professed their love, would do this. Since she fled, he had tried to compartmentalise her, to lock his thoughts away, never again to be aired.
It was a year before he dated again.
Now, he turned back toward the bedroom.
“I just wanted to w…” The voice hesitated, and it let out another sniff.
But wasn’t that what he had promised? That he would always be there if she needed him? After she had contacted him, almost six months after their intended wedding night, now living a healthy distance from him, and embarking on a new life? Was that not exactly what he had said to her? Mark stalled, standing motionless in the hallway.
“I just wanted to wish you luck…”
And besides, maybe she was calling to wish him luck?
“Toni? Is that you?”
“Oh, Hi Mark. I thought you might be out.”