Summertown is a little hamlet in Northern Arizona that accountant Jimmy Stone, a refugee from the big city of Phoenix, has called home for the last nine years. In that time, the biggest things to happen have been the day his first wife did him the favor of leaving him for another man and the day, two years later, when he married his current wife, Tara. He’s looking forward to giving his only daughter, Jessica the biggest wedding the town has ever seen, while at the same time helping Tara play matchmaker to the deputy marshal and the school principal. But the simple pleasures of living in a small vacation town will soon to be overshadowed by the airing of a shocking secret that has been kept by the family of a man everyone in town knows to avoid. By the end of the story, people will die, relationships will be ruined and the homey veneer of Summertown will be torn away to reveal the ugly prejudice that infests it.
I started sprinting full-out, but that only lasted about ten paces or so. A bullet hit me in mid-stride that struck with such jarring force that it felt as if my entire body had been hit. I tumbled forward, unable to catch myself as I slammed face-first onto the forest floor. It was strange; I couldn’t feel anything and I found myself thinking about that, almost dispassionately, like an outside observer would. I felt the impact on my face when I fell, but nothing else. I couldn’t move or make a sound, but other than a kind of fuzzy headache that went from the base of my skull to the top of my head, I was thinking very clearly, trying to piece together what had just happened. The gritty pain of broken teeth and a smashed nose faded to nothing, and as I became enveloped in a feeling of disembodiment, I asked myself, Is this what dying is like? Am I already dead? Then I started thinking about my daughter Jessie and how I wanted to make sure she had everything she needed. I wanted to see my yet-to-be-born grandchildren. I wanted to tell my wife I was sorry for being a fool, that I loved her; so many things left unsaid, undone.
How did I get here? I asked whoever was out there. I’m just a small-town accountant. I don’t have an enemy in the world that I know of. This wasn’t my fight. How did I get pulled into this?
Life had been so quiet and simple for so many years in Summertown that it was hard to imagine things could ever go this wrong. As my mind hovered within the limp shell that had been my body, I looked back through recent memories to piece together where the craziness started.
“I KNEW IT!” She screamed, half in victory, half in bloodlust. She looked ready to kill me, along with whomever the voices in her head were telling her I was fooling around with. This was the perfect ending to a glorious day, and I had had enough.
'You knew what?” I spat. It caught her off guard, but just for a split second. She came back as hard-nosed as ever.
“I knew you had something going on the side,” she said. She was starting to tear up, but she forced herself to continue. She wasn’t going to give me the satisfaction of making her cry. “These past few weeks you’ve been distant, your mind somewhere else every time I tried to talk to you. When I came in from that lingerie shop you asked about Gina,” she said this last like a little girl taunting someone in the playground, “and didn’t say anything about what I bought or if you could see it on me or anything!” I tried to get a word in but she kept going, building up steam all the while.
“And you keep hanging out at the café, flirting with Min right in front of her husband. How sick is that!?” She was expending so much energy spewing her venom that she had to pause to take in a deep breath. I took this opportunity to respond while I could.
“Are you insane, or menopausal or both?” Perhaps not the best way of defusing a volatile situation, but I couldn’t help it, it just came out of my mouth before I could stop myself.
“Don’t you dare try to make this about me, you bastard!”
I was speechless; she had never cursed before, at least not in front of me.
I started out trying to reason with her. “What on earth has you thinking I would ever play around on you?” Then I just had to throw more gas on the fire, “Do you actually think I’d want to take on more crapby hooking up with another lunatic like you? And how on earth can you possibly think that I flirt with Min? If I was looking for something on the side, I wouldn’t be chasing my best friend’s wife, especially when she’s every bit as nuts as the wack-job I’m married to!”
“Oh, you son-of-a—“
“And don’t cuss at me!”
“Don’t try that ‘righteous indignation’ act with me!” she screamed so loud I was sure the neighbors could hear every word. “You were seen in Payson today, with a girl half your age in your arms, and I know who it was, so don’t try to tell me you were with Jessie!” Oh, my Lord. I couldn’t even go out of town without the rumor mill grinding out lies. My anger subsided as I looked at Tara, seeing the look of betrayal on her face. If our roles were reversed, I would feel the same way she did right now.
I sighed, then in a lower voice I replied, “Yes, I was with Pam Chapman, but we weren’t in a lovers’ embrace, no matter what you may have heard.”
“Liar,” she accused again, this time with a little less conviction.
“You’re the liar!” I countered. “You claim I don’t notice you when you know full well I can’t take my eyes off of you! You claim I flirt with other women when you know I can’t keep my hands off of you! What on earth has given you the ridiculous idea that I could ever want anyone but you, when you’re all I ever wanted?” Risking a swift knee to the pills, I walked over and put a hand on each of her shoulders and pulled her towards me. She resisted by placing her hands on my chest and pushing, but she resisted less and less until she wrapped her arms around me and buried her face against me.
When she finally spoke, her voice was so small that I almost didn’t hear. “Did you mean that?”
“Which part? That you’re insane or that I’m hopelessly in love with you?”
She mulled that one over. “The second one.”
“Every word.” That was close. I meant the first part, too.
She looked up at me, challenging. “Prove it.”
Well, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Now, if she could just keep from changing personalities until morning…
Thanks Jeff, for sharing.