Congratulations to Ryan Vogel, the Second Place winner of the Community Writing Center Fiction Contest in the Adult category!
Anything for Love
“There comes a point when a dream becomes reality and reality becomes a dream.” - Frances Farmer
Falling in love is like a dream. It can breathe air into your lungs, propel you forward each day, and give you a reason to believe in the goodness of the world around you. The ability to connect to a person and share with them all of your heart’s desires is invaluable. Felicity had loved Christopher Strause since the moment she laid eyes on him across the bar of McNally’s. The dimly lit room cast just enough light on him for his orbs of green to shine as they met her hazel ones. She knew right away that she could trust him implicitly, his deepest thoughts and soul’s desires appearing transparent to her. He kept her gaze often, sipping slowly on his old-fashioned as he went through the files he had strewn across the bar top. Felicity was struck by him. When the dark-haired waitress brought over a Cosmo and said that the handsome man she was eyeing had ordered it for her, she knew she had to thank him. One conversation led to nightly phone calls, which led to weekend trips, and eventually the most extravagant proposal a materialistic woman like Felicity could have dreamed of.
Five years later, a daughter, Margot, and a son on the way, a three-story house with a white-picket fence, and enough money to keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives, they were well on their way to becoming the nuclear family that everyone once strived for. They had settled into a quaint town called Cyprus, where everyone knew everyone. Residents still had those outdated habits of hosting block parties, knocking on each other’s doors for an egg, and spying into everyone’s personal business. The Strause’s were heavily integrated into the community. Both Felicity and Christopher were active members of the PTA (even with only one child currently in public school) , they attended any and all of their daughter’s events, and Felicity ran the local bakery where she saw most residents daily grabbing their cappuccinos and croissants on their way to their nine-to-five. Christopher was the true breadwinner, serving as the CEO of the local bank, where he could overhear any neighbor’s financial struggles and keep it in mind for the potential of political gain. The couple loved their home, loved each other, and the life they had built together over the years.
The Strause’s knew everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
They had a new next-door neighbor, Arabella Reinhart, who had just moved into the house adjacent to theirs last week. People had been rotating in and out of the house for years, as the rent in Cyprus tended to drive out those who didn’t have a trust fund to fall back on. From what Felicity and Christopher had seen of Arabella, which was once as she brought boxes alone into the house, she had appeared to be a bit of a reclusive person. The one-story home was nothing compared to the Strause’s, but it was still a home nonetheless. It’s plain, white walls looked out-of-place next to the stony exterior of the Strause’s. The grass was not as green, the car not as expensive, nor the view as nice.
Arabella was around the same age as Felicity, but they appeared almost to be opposites. Her hair was a dirty blonde, eyes a piercing blue, and clothes nowhere near the caliber of Ms. Strause. But, she seemed nice enough. When Felicity brought over a batch of chocolate chip cookies to her doorstep, she knew that Arabella was someone that she wanted to be close with.
“Hi! I’m Felicity Strause. You must be Arabella.”
“I am. You must be…a neighbor?”
“Yes! Right across the street.”
Felicity points diagonally to the almost-mansion like townhome, ivy splayed across its stone. Arabella nods, meeting Felicity’s green eyes with wonder. What a house.
“It’s beautiful. You must be married then? Or are you living in that big house alone?”
“I am. Christopher, my husband. He owns Strause Bank downtown. We have a five-year-old, Margot, and…well it’s a little early, but I’m about three months along with our son.”
“Wow. Congratulations! You both must be so happy.”
“Overjoyed. Oh! Almost forgot. These are for you.”
Handing Arabella the basket of cookies with a smile as white as the clouds that were absent from the blue sky above, Felicity continued her introduction.
“What about you? Anyone with you in this home?”
“Just me. I’ve moved around a lot, so I’m used to it.”
“You’ve never lived here before? I swear we may have met.”
“Maybe in a dream.”
“Well, if you ever need anything, I’m just a call away. My number’s in the basket. Christopher and I are hosting a party this coming Saturday to celebrate the solstice. You are more than welcome to stop by! 8:00pm! Black tie, only. We’ll have champagne! See you then!”
Bursting with energy, Felicity turns away and clicks her heels back to her home. Arabella is astounded that one person could appear so happy. Her life must really be a dream. I guess that’s what being in love does to a person. She had never felt that way before. Arabella often found herself pining after men who didn’t dare look in her direction. Some were married, some were crazy, but they all had in common that none of them wanted her for longer than needed. Maybe she’d meet a nice, neighborly man at the Strause’s party.
At least she’d get to see Christopher. Again.
I guess that gave her a reason to go after all.
“So, you met the neighbor, right?. Seems nice?”
“Very! I invited her over tonight. Hopefully she stops by. She’s living in that house all alone, so I’m sure she’d appreciate getting to know some of the neighbors.”
The Strause residence was adorned with festive decorations, their glass chandelier sparkling in the foyer. Christopher and Felicity were setting arrangements for the party - they’d been prepping for hours. Hors d'oeuvres, champagne flutes, everything screaming luxury. It had to be, as not many commoners throw a celebration for the changing of the seasons.
As 8:00 o’clock struck and the guests started to file in, Felicity became the perfect wife, bringing their friends and neighbors drinks and appetizers. She checked in on their wellbeing, the status of their businesses, their children’s extracurricular activities. Felicity was put-together and poised. Sensing a lull in the foot traffic, she escaped upstairs to powder her nose, finally earning a well-deserved break.
Arabella, on the other hand, was not as poised. She appeared anxious as she stepped across the grand entrance of the home, as if she wasn’t sure where her actions that night would take her. Light instrumental music plays throughout the house, guests broken off in groups, chattering about the weekly gossip. As a waiter, obviously hired by the hosts, passed by, she snatched two flutes off the tray and downed them. The stress of meeting new people was getting to her. Especially meeting Christopher, the man of the house.
There he was. Her Christopher, just as she remembered him. He was the tall one with tanned skin, dark brown hair, leaning against the kitchen island with a swarm of people around him.
He looked…desirable. Like a man every woman would want to be loved by.
Where was his wife? Shouldn’t she be draped across his arm, supporting his every business venture? Arabella couldn’t see her anywhere. No one had seen her come in, so she’d taken to giving herself a personal tour of the home. The winding staircase caught her eye, as she pulled the hem of her emerald dress up above her heels so as not to trip and draw any attention to herself.
Turning the corner upstairs, Arabella sees a light on in a bedroom further down the hall. The noise from the party is faint, easing Arabella’s mind that no one could hear her either. The door to the lighted room was ajar, and as Arabella peered in, she could see Felicity sat at the vanity. She was humming a soft tune as she dusted her makeup brush across her cheekbones. How could she care about her appearance at a moment like this? When her husband needed her to entertain their friends?
As she was taking a small step forward, the floorboard creaked.
Felicity’s eyes meet hers in the mirror.
“Arabella! So glad you could make it! Come in, come in!”
Entering the overwhelmingly large master bedroom, Arabella takes in the sight of a silk duvet adorned over a wooden four-poster bed, a velvet chaise in the corner across from the most enormous closet she had ever laid eyes on.
“Hi Felicity. What are you doing up here?”
“Just needed a breather and an excuse for a touch-up. These things can get kind of crazy.”
“Hmm. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never really been to anything like this before.”
“Oh, well make yourself at home! The owners of the grocery store are here, as well as the florists from Le’Chapel’s. Oh! And Christopher! He’s down there somewhere, I’ll have to introduce you.”
“I think I saw him, actually. Tall, dark and handsome?”
“That would be my Chris. He’s the best host for these things. Such a people person.”
Taking a seat on the bench placed at the foot of the bed, Arabella makes herself comfortable. Making eye contact again with Felicity in the mirror, she continues.
“He sounds lovely. How did you two meet?”
“It’s not as romantic as our lifestyle gives off. He bought me a drink at a bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago, we hit it off, the rest is history.”
“I used to live in San Francisco as a bartender. Small world.” Arabella adds.
“That is a small world! Weird for us all to end up in Cyprus.”
Nodding, Arabella’s gaze travels again across the room. She took note of the baseball bat that was resting above what she would assume to be their shared dresser.
“You know, my favorite bar in San Francisco. It was this little place called McNally’s. You could really learn a lot about the lives of the customers who came in. Like, this one time, there was this man. He was gorgeous. Sat with great posture at our bar rail, digging through files on finances. But then…then he was distracted.”
Felicity turns in her stool to face Arabella, but notices she’s stood up, beginning to pace the room. She pauses slowly before her next statement.
“Did you say…McNally’s?”
“But then, he was distracted. There was this woman with no self respect who was twirling her hair and leaning her chest forward and just being a real nuisance. And I thought to myself, what kind of woman does that? Couldn’t she tell this man has class? I thought to myself, he deserves someone who smiled and said thank you, someone who would have the decency to be down at the party he was hosting for its entirety instead of holing up in her room that he probably paid for. He deserved someone like me. He still does.”
As Arabella’s tone and volume heightened, her hands flailing about, Felicity’s eyes widened. She was putting together the pieces that this woman, this new neighbor who seemed to be kind and considerate, was absolutely insane.
The night had taken a turn she had never expected.
“It took me so long to find you guys finally. I never knew when you’d officially settle down. Can you believe the house went up for sale next door - it was like the perfect omen! I knew it was meant for me, so I could be close to Christopher"
“Wait…You know me? You know Christopher? From the first night? You know what, get the hell out of my house. Whatever you think you know, you don’t. I want you to leave!”
Felicity stands abruptly, pointing aggressively at the door. But it was too late.
Arabella had grabbed the baseball bat off the rack and swung. The only noise that could be heard was the smack of the wood against skull, contrasting the slight hum of the music from downstairs. Felicity dropped to the ground, body crumbling in a heap on the floor. A pool of blood gathered at the base of her neck, as Arabella turned to leave the room.
She was met with glowering green eyes. Christopher. The man of her dreams.
A blaring alarm, paired with a red strobe light, goes off for a little too long in the building.
Felicity’s eyes shoot open as she’s startled awake.
Her eyes, not in fact hazel, but instead a piercing blue. Her hair, a dirty blonde.
Sitting up, the metal frame shakes, as she begins to awake from the previous night’s sleep. Readjusting to the world, she looks around her space. The plain, white cement walls stare back at her in mockery. There are no family photos, no handwritten letters, no finger paintings strewn across the room. Just four walls and a bed, barely enough to be classified as a room.
She was alone.
As she always had been.
She wished there was a way to turn her subconscious off. To make the dreams stop.
Felicity had had this dream for as long as she could remember. The dream that she was the real Arabella Strause. The dream of that night, but from a different perspective. The interchanging of the lives of the murderer and the victim.
The dream that she was able to live the life she always wanted. The white-picket fence, the soon-to-be perfect family - everything. That’s what led her to Cyprus in the first place, her dreams of living this perfect story.
Ever since that night at McNally’s, when Felicity first saw Christopher Strause, watching his eyes fall in love with the blonde across the bar, she knew she wanted someone to look at her that way. When he came up to her during her shift, and asked that she bring a Cosmo to the girl in the third booth, she knew she wanted someone to want her that much. She dreamed of this so much that it drove her mad. The desire for love makes a person do crazy things. Felicity was in love with the Strause’s.
Specifically, Christopher. She’d followed his every move after reading Christopher’s name off his bar tab the first night. From job to job, every move to a new big city, Felicity kept tabs on him. It had been exhausting keeping up with that man, but she’d do anything for him. When she found out he was with the woman he had met that night at her low-income side-job, she hated herself each day for giving him over to Arabella. She didn’t care for his wife, at all, actually. She despised her.
Of course, it had taken a while for Felicity to make her way to Cyprus. She had to wait until people had stopped putting bids in on the one-story home, patiently observing the Strause’s in other ways when she could. How could people think that they could be so lucky to live next to someone as special as Christopher? Someone with a heart so open, so loving, so deserving.
This was the same way she felt about stupid Arabella. She didn’t deserve Christopher. She never had. She was just the woman across the bar at the right time. Even when she finally spoke with Arabella, with her handmade cookies and her overzealous demeanor, she didn’t understand what made her so special. Felicity was sure if she had had that night off work and was lounging around in a booth doing nothing but flaunting herself that first night, Christopher would’ve wanted her instead.
The dream of being Arabella Strause haunts her every night she’s locked up in this cell. How it might’ve felt to live her life with Christopher in Cyprus, with Margot and a son on the way. She wakes up most mornings to the blaring of the alarm, a forceful reminder that the life she wanted was never the life she truly lived.
She was just the neighbor who moved in next door. Just Felicity Reinhart.
That’s why she did it. That night at the solstice party.
Arabella was living her life. The life she deserved. The life that could have been hers.
So, she took it away.
Of course, the actions that night inevitably ended Felicity’s life as well, trapping her in this jail for the rest of her life.
I guess for some, love can only ever be a dream.