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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)

TITLE: Obedience Has a Price
By Brenda Kern


“Dottie and Paul Barnes, empty nesters. The day actually came--who would have believed it?” Paul spoke his thoughts aloud as they exited the main drive of the university, having dropped off their youngest.

“It just amazes me,” he continued. “It seems as if we brought the first one home from the hospital just days ago.”

Dottie nodded, blowing her nose. “Now it’s just us.” She didn’t bring it up, not then, she wasn’t ready. “The house is going to be so quiet!”

And quiet it was, after the first flurry of busyness: they boxed up, stored away, and changed things to their liking. They got, and later laughed over, the first call asking for money. They joined some clubs, took up hobbies old and new, and went on a diet together to lower cholesterol.

Thanksgiving came, a joyous time when everyone came home and the house was bursting at the seams, if only briefly. The looming discussion, which Dottie knew they had to have, and soon, was conveniently put off, for just a few more days.

With the holidays upon them, she threw herself into decorating and baking, and the Christmas cantata, and had all the distractions she needed, and didn’t worry about what she had to say for another few weeks.

January, playoff time. This was all-consuming to Paul, Dottie knew, and he’d be glued to the television, watching football games and interviews, sports analysis and more games, at least through the first Sunday of February. So she waited a little longer...

And they celebrated a happy but quiet Valentine’s Day, also the 45th anniversary of their first date.

A few days later, the time had come, and she broached the subject that she’d sheltered in the depths of her heart for over 20 years. “Paul, you need to know about something I did. Something from a long time ago.”

Something about her tone told him that now was not the time for a humorous comment about age, and he turned to fully face her. “Go on, Dott. I’m listening.”

“Paul, Honey, I...” She searched for words, a way to trudge on. “When Stephanie was so sick—-you remember?-—and money was so tight, there was a time when you were working so much, and you were so distant, and we were both so worried...” She fought for control, thinking Don’t cry. You mustn’t cry. Be strong. “Anyway, one night, in the wee hours, I woke up and you weren’t there. I came downstairs and heard you in the den, and... you were praying... and I overheard what you said. You were asking God to help you...do the right thing. Do remember that, Paul? Do you know what I’m talking about?”

He stared, his face a kaleidoscope of expressions. “I, yes, I think I remember.”

“You were asking God to help you fight the temptation you were feeling about Sharon, the receptionist at your work. I heard you, Paul, and I never told you.”

Paul’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Dottie, so sorry. I can’t believe you have kept this to yourself, all these years. I want you to know that God did help me, though—-just a few weeks after that late night prayer session, Sharon announced her resignation and moved away, and I never heard from her again.” He paused, looking into her eyes. Something was off, not right. “Dottie, I never cheated on you, with her or anyone else. I hope you already knew that, but I’ll state it right here and now, and it’s a fact.”

“Paul, you know that I’m an introvert. It’s very hard for me to interact with people I don’t know, and I’m terrible at confrontation. That’s why I’ve waited so long to bring this up!

“Here’s what I did: I went to Sharon’s home the next evening, and we had a little...chat. She decided it would be best to find a new job in a new city and state, because I was very...persuasive.”

Paul stared at the stranger opposite him, not believing what he was hearing. “You? You took away what might have been my only chance for happiness in this life?” He stood with such force and suddenness the chair scraped the newly painted walls, making both of them wince. “How dare you!” And stormed out of the room.

He didn’t hear her quiet response. “I protected my marriage, because I believed that God was using me to answer your prayer. I need to know: was I wrong?”

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This article has been read 664 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 09/17/09
Wow. I certainly didn't see the story going in the direction that it did. Interesting turn.
Steve Uppendahl09/18/09
Wow. Quite the shift at the end. I like it. Though, his "...only chance at happiness" statement seems a bit odd to me. Nevertheless, great job throwing a curve.
Charla Diehl 09/19/09
The change in Paul's attitude was too abrupt and unbelievable, or maybe unrealistic for me because of the years between the "then and now". Maybe it's just me.
TJ Nickel09/21/09
Wow. A good twist with the wife's confrontation but the husbands response doesn't have a set up. It's good, but it seems there needs to be a seed in the intro par's for such a twist - or maybe I missed it.
Beth LaBuff 09/21/09
well, you captivated me throughout this... but I was hoping for a happier ending.. Nice work, though.
Gregory Kane09/21/09
Your hint promised a surprise ending and you certainly delivered. Reading back I can see the seeds of discontent but you probably need to emphasise the husband's sense of boredom to prepare the reader for the unexpected climax.
Tallylah Monroe09/22/09
I like this, well done! I would have liked his reaction to be drawn out a little more and I felt the last sentence was a bit anticlimatic and unnatural.
Excellent surprise factor.
Bryan Ridenour09/22/09
Interesting turn of events that I never expected. Well done.
c clemons09/22/09
Definitely a confusing ending,and why the title? Whose obedience?
Ada Nett09/23/09
I jumped to many conclusions while reading this story...none of them were right!
You kept me guessing up until the very end then took me down an unexpected turn in the road...
Good writing although I agree the husband's reaction was maybe a bit too abrupt...the word count is sometimes the reason we can't flesh the story out as well as we'd like.