As you may know, we recently hosted a short story competition here at SeeTheUniverse. The winner was announced over on our Twitter page, but for those of you who have not seen that; the winner was Mr Stewart Bint (63) with his love story ‘Second Time Round’ Here is the winning piece…
Second Time Round by Stewart Bint
Love is always better the second time round. Or so they say – whoever they are.
Julie had to agree.
Oh, yes. Looking into those soulful brown eyes staring back at her, she just had to agree. Life was certainly better since Joe arrived on the scene.
Joe moved his head slightly to get more comfortable. As he closed his eyes Julie turned over on to her side and pulled the bed covers up a fraction. The central heating had gone off an hour before they came to bed and the room was feeling the effects of the wintry night outside.
But she didn’t mind. Not as long as she had Joe to snuggle up to. He always kept her warm. “I love you,” she whispered softly, snaking her arm around him. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But you know that, don’t you?”
Her relationship with Robert had been well and truly over before she ever clapped eyes on Joe – in fact, with hindsight she had no idea why she stayed with him for as long as she did. She found out about his affair while it was still in the early stages, and he had promised to break it off straight away.
“I love you,” he would always say to her. “But you know that, don’t you?” He could never simply utter those three little words without tagging the other six on at the end. And now, here she was, saying exactly the same thing to Joe. But she could never be absolutely sure that Joe felt the same way. It had certainly been love at first sight for her, and she just hoped Joe really did reciprocate.
Robert’s journey on the straight and narrow hadn’t lasted long. The thing is, he never seemed to bother hiding his tracks. The smell of perfume lingering on his collar when he dropped his shirt on the floor for Julie to pick up and wash; the smudge of lipstick on his cheek; flowers and an expensive meal on his credit card bill which she had neither received nor eaten, all gave him away.
“I love you, not her,” he had whispered softly in her ear. “But you know that, don’t you? She means nothing to me.”
“Then why do it?” she screamed back at him. “Why sleep with her when I’m here at home waiting for you?”
Julie’s eyes now traced the shape of Joe’s sleeping body under the covers, as she thought of the windswept walk across the clifftop which they had taken that afternoon. She could almost still feel the biting wind piercing her coat, and hear the mountainous waves crashing against the coastline 200 feet below. Whatever the weather, whatever the world had to throw at her, she was all the better for being with Joe.
Robert hadn’t liked it one little bit when she met Joe. Oh, it was all right for him to have affairs, but it seemed he did not like having to compete for her affections. No, Robert had shown his true colours when Joe came along, and it was only a matter of days before she threw him out. She could not stand his silent moods and the episodes of rage when he accused her of loving Joe rather than him.
Robert had been at the pub getting legless when she first snuggled up to Joe. Robert had gone wild when he came home early for a change and caught them.
“What’sh he doing here?” His slurred words had to swim through the effects of a gallon of beer.
“Robert, you’re right,” she said, quietly but firmly. “I love Joe, not you. I want you to leave, please.”
“What are you looking at?” Robert yelled at Joe.
Joe remained silent, lying back in bed, staring at him impassively, with an almost amused expression on his face, as if he simply could not understand what all the fuss was about. He was with Julie now and that was all there was to it as far as he concerned. Robert could sling his hook straight away.
But Joe had not kept silent when Robert returned the following night – just as he and Julie were about to go to bed – pleading with her to change her mind.
“You don’t need him, let him go,” Robert implored her.
That was it.
Joe had had enough.
He leaped out of bed.
Robert was absolutely petrified. Joe’s protests were loud enough to waken the dead. Even Julie had been a little frightened. This was a new side to Joe which she had not seen before. But deep down she was secretly more than a little pleased that he was standing up for her in this way. Especially when Robert went off with his tail between his legs, slinging his front door key on to the floor on his way out.
“I hope you’ll be very happy together,” he snarled sarcastically, slamming the door so hard that the whole house seemed to shake.
Julie sobbed tears of relief as she hugged Joe. Was it finally over with Robert? Could they really be happy? Just the two of them? Joe and her? She had thought so at the time, and she thought so now, looking at his sleeping form.
It had been a whole month since Robert walked out of her life. Yes, she had never been happier than she was now.
She stared at Joe for a full five minutes. Then she rubbed her hand across his body until he woke up. He looked at her with those liquid eyes, and a thumping came from under the covers as his tail lashed heavily against them. A paw emerged, which he gently laid across her hand.
Julie giggled, rolling the cocker spaniel onto his back, tickling his belly.
“I love you,” she whispered into the long floppy ear. “But you know that, don’t you?”
Joe’s tail thumped even harder. Oh yes, he knew it, alright.
I very much enjoyed reading this story and was certainly not expecting the brilliant twist at the end! A lovely story that is easy to read and enjoyable for all. Thank you for entering and congratulations on winning our competition.
Our runner up was Rachel Fitch with her story ‘The Bus Stop’
Chicago, 1987 …
The three stood at the bus stop. Waiting. Waiting was what Ethel Lockhart did best. She had been doing it for fifty-eight years, ever since she’d ran, pregnant and scared, out of her violent boyfriend’s apartment. Waiting for what? Salvation? Forgiveness? She did not know what. She just trawled the streets surviving in any way she could. Just her and her rusty trolley with its squeaky wheels and clutter. Then there was Jerome Baker with his neat cornrows in his hair, the jeans that hung on his skinny hips and the hand-me-down Bulls basketball vest. He looked like any other youth from today, the ones who were done with waiting. He whistled intently, hands deep in his pockets and rocked on his heels, making pedestrians to hurry by. Finally, there was Emily Russell, who once dreamt of attending the Julliard School in New York, but that was during the times when her father was battling cancer and her mum had once again checked into Rehab. Now she danced whilst the patients slept and in between cleaning the bedpans on her shifts. She still dreamt of that elusive break in fortune.
But the bus never arrived …
Two days later, Ethel Lockhart will be pronounced dead in an ambulance on the way to hospital. Nobody would attend her funereal. The next day, Emily Russell would be fired from her job, for being late for her shift. She will never be able to save the money to retrain as a dancer and Jerome Baker will spend his life in broken relationships in search for his soul mate.
Chicago, 1987 …
The chunky, old white bus pulled up at the bus stop. A businessman hops off the bus, with his shiny grey suit and sunglasses. This was his old neighbourhood. He is back to pay his respects to one of his old friends. Shot down in his prime. He notices the homeless woman. He hands her a twenty-dollar bill. Looking after one of your own, he thinks. He abruptly stops at the metal shining within the bags in her trolley. It is the clock he had seen months before in an antique magazine. The homeless woman, would soon he rich enough to buy a small apartment and will be reunited with her long-lost daughter.
A young woman gets on the bus. The bus driver barely takes notice of her and the heavy bags under her eyes. She takes a seat and relishes in the last bit of rest before her next twelve-hour shift. She notices a black and gold leaflet on the seat next to her. It’s for a dance competition. Something she hadn’t done for many years. It offered prize money and scholarships to the best dance school. Nobody on that bus will remember that they once took a journey with a famous Broadway star but she will never forget that bus on that sunny Chicago day.
Next a boy with neat cornrows and a hand-me-down Bulls’ top gets on and takes all the change from his pocket. He mumbles his destination before dumping some coins into the bus driver’s hand. On the way towards a seat, pocketing the money that he didn’t need, he trips over a bag. He stumbles and his leg pushes against another. Sorry Miss, he says to the young girl. She gives him the perfect smile and he blushes. This will be the start of her smiles for the rest of his life.
Chicago, Present Day …
It had been the worse winter that many Chicago residents had seen. Somewhere in the heart of the city, three strangers sat bundled up in a bus. All three of them had something in common. They just didn’t know it.
Emmie was on her way to stay with her father over the winter holidays. She had already broken up from Berkeley. The guilt that had been building inside her since she had read that magazine article about her famous Aunt who had just appeared in the blockbuster dance movie, was suffocating her. It had been bad enough been named after her but having her father constantly fawning over his sister and her talents had made Emmie feel that she had been second best in his eyes. Now she knew differently. Her father probably wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the strength of his big sister after their father died of cancer and their mother in rehab. This was something she had been sheltered from. Now she was grown up she was going to make it up to her father after all her childish tantrums over the years.
Jordan hadn’t stopped smiling since he had arrived on the bus into the Chicago skyline. He was going to spend the holidays with his family. They would be a huge family gathering at his parents’ house. They would be laughing, shouting over whatever sport that would be on television and crying over the sentimental holiday movies. More so, there would be the telling of the story of how his parents met one sunny, Chicago day on a bus. It had been hard, for them with the prejudices of mixed-race marriages but that had only made them stronger and now boasted, in their minds, four beautiful and successful children. He only hoped that his father had forgiven him for playing for the Lakers and not the Bulls.
Clarissa sat absent-mindedly playing with the silver locket. It was rather large, screamed of money and made her look like a spoilt rich brat. However, she didn’t care. It was a gift from her grandmother whose spirit she could feel every day. The money that the family inherited had started with the selling of her grandmother’s antique clock. Her grandmother had an eye for such antiques. She had also heard a family story that her grandmother had been homeless before selling her antique collections. Her softly spoken grandmother, who read her bedtime stories, baked cookies with her and had comforted her. How could this woman survive the harsh streets of downtown Chicago?
The bus suddenly skids on ice. It weaves on the street hitting some stationary cars. A gritter appears out from the falling snow. The bus clips the vehicle, sending the driver hurtling forward. He hits his head upon the steering wheel and slips into unconsciousness. Jordan sees everything. He realises that the bus is now sliding towards the side of the bridge. Without thinking, he jumps up moves the driver to a sitting position and pulls hard on the steering wheel. The bus turns and comes to a stop after hitting a street light.
Clarissa can feel the splinters of glass embedded in parts of her flesh. She looks down at her chest where a thin, slice of metal had come through the window and pierced her. She doesn’t feel any pain. She slowly moves her coat to reveal a shiny locket resting on her chest. The piece of metal as stopped the locket from falling off the woman’s body completely and from pierce her body. Clarissa hears a cry.
She notices the young girl that had been sitting opposite her, now motionless in the bus aisle. The crying is coming from under her body. Clarissa slightly moves the girl. Under the girl’s Berkeley scarf, is a baby. The only mark upon him is a large cut at the side of his head. She carefully unwraps the Berkeley scarf off the young girl and uses it to apply pressure to the baby’s wound. She looks up to see a woman clutching a soft teddy bear to her chest. Clarissa does not leave their sides for the rest of the night.
Days later a father would be crying and praising his beautiful, brave daughter who had saved the life of a baby in that fateful crash on a snowy Chicago night. A young woman would wonder if it was the locket or her grandmother herself that had saved her that night. A young man would be hugged fiercely by his father who whispers how proud he is of him. That young man can only shudder when he thinks of what could have happened on a fateful snowy Chicago night in a parallel universe …
Chicago, Present Day …
It had been the worse winter that many Chicago residents had seen. Somewhere in the heart of the city, a bus skids on ice and careens into the side of a bridge. It teeters awhile, as if deciding what its future holds, before lurching into the river. The bus sinks into the icy depths. There are no survivors …
Washington D.C, 2052 …
He wraps the Berkely scarf around his neck. It is now faded but it is his good luck charm. A reminder that he is lucky to be here. He rubs the scar on the side of his head. He waits for the cue from his superiors.
He is about to save the world …
I loved this story, how it pieces multiple characters together in a very well written manner. I also like how the story ended. A lovely piece to read and I hope to see more stories written by the lovely Rachel Fitch in the future! Thank you for entering!