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Short Story Contest Feature

Thank you to everyone who participated in the April Short Story Contest! The assignment was simple. Write a short story (1500 to 3000 words) based on this image:

Selected entries receive a feature here on heidislowinski.com. The next contest will be posted on May 12th!

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The Featured Story Is:

The Unexpected Vacation

By John Scott

Tom and Kathy had met their freshman year of high school. Tom was brilliant beyond his years and was often recognized for it but didn’t want to be known as merely a scholastic. He had a razor-sharp wit and a charming demeanor that girls seemed to be drawn to. It was only the spark in his blue eyes that could give any hint if he was being serious or putting you on. Kathy was bright but had limited use for school, however she had a radiant smile and distinct high pitched laugh that set her apart.

Together they made a remarkable pair. Tom came from privilege, raised in a conservative, white collar home in one of the affluent suburbs. The expectations that his parents had for his life were clear from his earliest memories, but that would need to wait. This was time to have fun and all that responsibility could find its place in the future. Kathy grew up in the city. Her dad was a custodian but he was a proud man and lit up when he saw his beautiful girl. Tom had grown his hair out and both he and Kathy had matching shoulder length blonde hair all in ringlets. From the back you couldn’t tell them apart, especially if they were on a bus together.  Tom was always cutting up and regularly invented ways to make Kathy laugh. They gave no thought to the different stations of society they came from but lived in the moment. You never knew what lengths they would go to be funny and were the life of every party. 

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Kathy was no stranger to the endless pranks they would pull on each other. After Tom proposed she stood on the side of the road in full wedding dress right at the time she knew Tom would be passing by on his way to work.

Soon after graduation they married. Even their wedding was riotous and unconventional. Tom played his guitar for the guests and the highlight was his rousing version of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. By the time he got to the chorus everyone in the church was singing “Warm…touching warm… reaching out… touching me… touching you…Sweet Caroline… na na na  good times never seemed so good!” They had decided to write their own vows, which in hind sight may have been a mistake. When Kathy started reading hers, she started to giggle. At first people thought she was crying but when it was Tom’s turn she couldn’t hold back and the giggles erupted into full throated laughing. Everyone joined in and people laughed ‘til they cried. The minister had all he could do to stop laughing himself and regain some semblance of order. It was wholly appropriate for this joy filled couple.

Not long after getting married they decided to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma so Tom could complete his masters. Kathy busied herself with a variety of interests but liked gardening the best. She loved the whole process from starting out the seeds and transplanting them to the garden. She then faithfully fended off weeds and built a short chicken wire fence to keep out the adorable but ever pesky rabbits. She loved creating dishes fresh from her garden.

After completing his masters Tom was offered a position in a prestigious engineering firm. He threw himself into his work and before long he was being considered for partner. Tom was the youngest employee to ever be considered. Some considered him a protégé.  As time went on, Tom spent longer hours at work. The path to partnership had an intoxicating attraction. It hardly seemed 5 years had gone by. Tom’s long locks had been replaced by a classic fade cut and he had long traded his cargo shorts and Birkenstocks for 3-piece suits and Allen-Edmonds wingtips.  Due to the growing pressures at work the boyish grin that normally brightened his face now appeared less frequently and a more furrowed brow of serious thought ruled the day.

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Kathy kept busy doing her gardening and volunteering in a variety of organizations. The opportunity to help others in need had always given her a strong sense of purpose. Her organizational talents had led her to roles in leadership. But as time moved on, she found herself spending more time leading meetings than actually being face-to-face with the people she loved to serve. One morning as she was hurrying to get ready for her third board meeting that week, she caught a glance of herself in the mirror and it gave her pause. This wasn’t the quick cursory glance to make sure her hair was behaving and her outfit worked but something much deeper. She deeply looked and the person looking back was not happy…. not only not happy but actually profoundly sad. Kathy reflected, why was this happening? Tom had provided a good life for them They had a beautiful colonial home with a red brick exterior and even a white picket fence. They both were pursuing their dreams so what could be wrong? But the longer she stood there, seemingly frozen in time, the more she felt overwhelmed. Her eyes started to well up and tears rolled down her cheek.  Before she even realized what was happening, she was sobbing. Am I going crazy? What will Tom think? She slumped down in her favorite wingback chair and grabbed her phone. She texted her friend Sally and told her to cover for her as she would not be going today. That was it, she had no other explanation because what could she say? She couldn’t understand what was happening much less explain it to someone else.

Suddenly, Kathy heard the garage door – Tom was home! It was only 4:30 and he was home – now? This was unusual as he had been staying late almost every night. Her mind raced. Do I say anything? Do I just conjure up a smile and pretend everything is fine? Before she could decide, she heard the door close. Tom didn’t go right to his office which was his custom, but rather walked right into the bedroom and looked at her. When their eyes met, she burst into tears again and rushed up and hugged Tom and held him tight. “What’s wrong?” He whispered and a look of concern swept across his face. “I don’t know!”, Sally got out catching her breath from crying. “I just feel so sad and don’t know why!” She stopped herself for a moment and gave Tom a puzzled look “Why are you home so early?” Tom thought for a moment, “I am not really sure, I just felt I needed to see you.“  “We need to go on vacation!” Kathy blurted out. She didn’t know where that idea even came from. They hadn’t been talking about taking a vacation and the last extended vacation was their honeymoon 5 years ago.

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Tom carefully took Kathy’s face in his hands and gently wiped her tears away with his thumbs. He had never seen her this sad and it gave him pause. “Let’s do it!” he agreed with a big smile. “We can go next week!  I can move some meetings around and I have a ridiculous amount of points from by works trips that we’ve never used.”  Tom pivoted and headed toward his office looking back to give her a reassuring wink and a smile. He set about to quickly plan their getaway. When they had traveled in the past, they would pick a destination together and he would plan all the details. Kathy had no interest in navigating reservation systems and loved the idea of being surprised with what Tom would arrange. Up till now, their vacations had consisted of long weekends but the idea of getting away longer filled her with anticipation. An hour later Tom emerged from his office with a big smile “It’s all booked!  We will be going 1st class all the way!” “Oh really, do tell Mr. travel agent” Kathy responded with a mischievous grin on her face. She curled up beside Tom on the couch and he regaled her with the details of their upcoming travel and the list of activities and restaurants that would be available at their resort. It was Friday afternoon and their trip was all set to start the following Monday. Kathy was energized at the thought of what awaited them. She started to plan what to pack and to recall where that swimsuit was she had purchased last summer. Their destination was Fiji and she wanted to make sure she packed for the tropical heat and those white sand beaches!

The flight was  long but the complimentary tropical drinks made the time drift by. Tom slept for a few hours but Kathy remained wide awake. Her mind raced imagining what an amazing trip awaited them. Sampling world class cuisine, swimming in the crystal blue waters, dancing the night away to calypso music accompanied by steel drums and simply being happy. Forgetting all the numbing routines for a while and just reconnecting.

When they landed, they noticed the airport seemed much busier than they had expected. They waited at baggage claim for 20 minutes as there were only two carousals and several flights had landed at once. Finally, they were on the way to the resort. The transportation to the resort was a stretch white Mercedes limo and the smell of tropical flowers filled the air. Tom playfully plucked the top of one of the flowers and put it into Kathy’s hair and gave her a kiss on the lips while gently caressing her cheek.  They pulled up to the opulent gates of the tropical themed resort and were driven to the main building to check in. Tom took Kathy’s hand and together they strolled to the front desk. “We have reservations,” Tom stated proudly adding a little aristocratic flair which made Kathy blush and giggle in the role play. She smirked and gave him a little nudge with her hip.  There was a long pause and the clerk responded “I checked for your name sir and we do not have a reservation for you.”  “How could this be?” demanded Tom “I made this reservation 2 days ago and I have my confirmation number right here?”  I am so sorry sir but we have no record of your reservation or that reservation number. Perhaps it was another property?”  “No! it was definitely this place!” Now Tom found himself getting angry. He was thinking of some more choice things to say when he felt a gentle squeeze from Kathy’s hand. He looked over and she had an understanding smile and gave him a little wink which calmed him and was her way of saying let’s improvise. Tom took a deep breath and attempted to calm himself before turning back to the clerk in a more centered tone. “Well, do you have another room we can reserve?”

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“I am sorry sir we are completely sold out. Tomorrow begins Diwaii – The Festival of Lights, and it is one of the biggest events here all year. Most properties have been sold out for months.”

“This is unacceptable!  I am a diamond club level member – let me talk to your manager; Tom felt his face flush. A well-tailored manager quickly emerged from behind the wall and although professional, the news was the same. “I am so sorry sir; I don’t know how this could have happened but there is nothing we can do.”  Tom took another slower deeper breath and paused for a moment. One thing he had learned from customer service and life in general was that anger rarely improved a situation and they had likely heard it all before. Tom forced a smile and lowered his tone to almost a whisper…”we have traveled such a long way and we love your brand and the caliber of your problem solving staff. Can you check if there still may be a way you can accommodate us?” The manager studied Tom’s face and looked at Kathy and back to Tom. “Just a minute” he responded in a respectful tone that matched Tom’s and then he stepped back behind the wall. Tom squeezed Kathy’s hand as he looked back at her and he was surprised that instead of tears of disappointment she just smiled back and stared into his eyes. What did I ever do to deserve such amazing woman he thought.

A few minutes later the manager re-emerged with a somewhat cautious smile on his face.  “Sir, I think we may have a solution that may work for you. Now it is a little unconventional but I wanted to offer it to you for consideration.”  “Well what do you have in mind?” Tom’s mind raced with possible scenarios but really had no idea what to expect.

“Well……..(long pause) we own a building that is off site where you could stay. I have to be honest with you, this is not a location we offer to our guests as it technically isn’t connected to our resort. It is a building that used to house seasonal workers at the turn of the century but hasn’t been used for years. We can drive you there.  I want to send my assistant manager with you as I have no idea what shape this building is in or even if it is inhabitable – what do you think?”  Tom was speechless. He looked at Kathy maintaining his puzzled countenance. Kathy giggled and blurted out “Why not, we have nothing to lose?” Tom found her come-what-may attitude refreshing and a welcome change from the hard charging atmosphere at his job, something that seemed like a million miles away now. Tom just shook his head and laughed. “Why not indeed.” Looking back to the assistant manager Tom smiled and they headed back outside. Now instead of the stretch limo that had transported them there, what awaited them now was safari style jeep. The top was open and it was bright yellow. It looked quite rugged and well used but somehow appropriate for this unconventional turn of events.

As they traveled along, they transitioned from main roads to more country roads and eventually to very rugged dirt roads. Finally, they stopped after what seemed like 2 hours and there it was. A non-descript building in the middle of lush jungle like surroundings. The untamed vegetation that surrounded them exploded with color. Bright oranges, yellows, and pinks, leaves of every shape served as backdrop to this natural canvas of nature. The building itself was a very rustic cabin with a thatch style roof. Upon entering, it was clear no one had lived here for many years. There were cob webs and dust everywhere but the place was remarkably well preserved. The living room was a great room with bedrooms to the right and left. The whole inside was floor to ceiling knotty pine. “We’ll take it” Tom declared. The manager seemed a little surprised and explained that there would be no amenities available but there was a small local store within walking distance down the road. The store also had the one working phone in the area as there was no reception or internet where they were. He explained he would be back at the end of the week to pick them up. After the sound of the jeep faded into the background all they could hear was a chorus of birds signing.

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So, there they were, a very modern, upwardly mobile couple completely off the grid. Tom and Kathy just stood there in the middle of the main room surveying what would be their home for the week. Not a word came to either of them. After a moment to take it all in they slowly started to explore. There was a large fireplace to the left of the main entrance and there was some left-over split wood. The furniture was overstuffed leather and there were 2 couches and 3 lounge chairs. They looked worn but comfortable. Kathy spotted an acoustic guitar in the corner of the room and quickly pointed it out to Tom. “Do you still remember how to play?” A big smile curled onto Tom’s face as he took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I do believe I do” “Oh you simply must play me something” Kathy gushed. Tom walked over and grabbed the guitar. He blew off the dust and tested the strings. Tom sauntered over to the couch and sat down and began to strum the strings as he tuned it by ear.  Kathy scooted over and snuggled next to Tom pulling her legs under her. “Play me something guitar man” she smiled.  Tom started to play the intro to Neil Diamonds Sweet Caroline and Kathy roared with laughter. They sang at the top of their lungs and laughed together and sang into the night. In all of their married life they had never had such a care free, stress less time together! This was indeed unexpected and the most memorable and wonder of escapes. If joy was a destination, they had found the address.

Kathy pondered it all in her heart. One vacation would not solve all that made her sad but maybe, just maybe it was a start. A chance to remember what’s really important and this unexpected vacation could serve as a lighthouse to bring them home again.

May Short Story Contest

Mid-month, I will be announcing the theme of the May short story contest. Selected entries will be featured here during the month of June.


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Get book reviews, contest alerts, and more delivered right to your inbox. Subscribers receive an exclusive download of my Ultimate Reading Challenge!

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