1) We meet Laura on a Saturday, deep in thought in her home office where Roy thinks she is writing her book. Instead, we learn that she is trying to write a letter explaining why she is about to leave. Her thoughts take her far away, and only a loud noise brings her out of the trance. Upon investigation, Laura learns that it was only wind that slammed the previously open window shut. Relieved, she tries to write, but nothing satisfactory makes it onto the paper. A pile of discarded balls of paper surrounds the trash can. Roy returns home with groceries to make dinner. When Laura confesses she was not able to write anything, he comforts her by saying she will do better next time. [AGFTAO Part 1]
2) Roy returns with groceries on another Saturday afternoon to a quiet home. Assuming that Laura is writing, as per usual, he unpacks the bags and begins to make plans for dinner. After a while, he grows slightly agitated and looks for Laura in her office. In the dark room, all he finds is what looks like a gift bag placed on the desk. In the meantime, we learn that Laura is on a moving train, but we are unsure of her immediate plans. Her fellow passenger – a young boy keeps swinging his legs and kicking her in the shins, but his mother does not even seem to care, excusing him as: “just a kid.” Laura gets up and walks out in search of a more peaceful seat. Then, we jump back to Roy who is finishing reading a letter from Laura. There is a teddy bear for Tommy in the gift bag. When Tommy runs into the room and tells Roy he is hungry, Roy puts the gift away and tells his son they will get pizza for dinner and watch TV. They leave the room, the letter, and the bear behind. [AGFTAO Part 2]
3) About a week or so later, Laura fires her gun reflexively and kills an enemy combatant, which leads to her being chased by his compatriots. As she runs away, she trips and falls down a hill, but manages to get up quickly and runs towards the forest where she hides and tends to her injuries. Unfortunately, shortly after, she is apprehended and taken away on horseback. Her captors bring her in before a woman on a throne. [AGFTAO Part 3]
4) Once Tommy falls asleep, Roy laments the fact that, just like him, Tommy might be destined to grow up without a mother. In the shower, he finally allows himself to cry. In the living room, he pulls out a hidden piece of paper containing wedding vows. Afterward, he rereads the letter Laura left behind in hopes of finding some comfort but it only makes him sadder. Before going to bed, Roy wonders why all the women in his life end up leaving one way or another. [AGFTAO Part 4]
5) Laura finds herself in front of a woman who is stylized differently but is undeniably her friend for whom she was looking. ” Queen Naayelli,” the locals call her. Although Laura is pleased to see that their mutual friend – Jason, was right about the fact that Olivia was not dead, she finds herself confused with how unperturbed the queen is by her arrival. Laura was hoping for a warm welcome, but instead, she gets thrown into a small, dark cell for the night. The next day, Olivia comes to meet Laura in her cell, but, to Laura’s surprise, she continues to act coldly and does not ask about Roy or even Tommy. The chapter ends with Naayelli calling in the guards as she is leaving, to presumably inflict some pain on Laura. [AGFTAO Part 5]
6) When another day goes by without Laura making contact, Roy runs out of reasons to excuse her actions. Instead of taking care of his son, he starts to rely heavily on the babysitter to help with Tommy as he goes out drinking with his mates. We witness Roy undergo a change. He starts being more and more selfish, pointing fingers at everyone around him and being especially resentful towards women. When his babysitter quits, Roy leaves his son with his co-worker and goes to a bar to meet someone. There, he has a hard time finding a woman receptive to his questionable charm until a full-figured red-head joins him. They have a grand ‘ol time. The only problem – she is gay. [AGFTAO Part 6]
7) Roughed up by Naayeli’s men, Laura continues to be stuck in the dark cell while the Queen formulates plans on how to best deal with the new prisoner. After a couple of days, Laura wakes up to Olivia in her cell. A look around the room reveals the presence of a table with various tools that could be used for torture. The sight of a hammer prompts Laura to recall a traumatic event from her childhood. Having come back from school one day, when she spots her dad dead on the floor and his killer rummaging through his things, she grabs a hammer. She uses the element of surprise to her advantage and kills the murderer. Olivia confirms the gossip Laura did not want to believe in – she killed her partner and allied herself with the enemy. We part with Laura as we learn that Laura is holding the hammer after Naayelii had left the room. [AGFTAO Part 7]
Roy’s gaze turned toward the half-empty bottle of whiskey on Laura’s desk.
“Half-full? Pff…” Only those that are not thirsty refer to a container with liquid as ‘half-full.’
He felt nostalgic and whenever that happened, sitting in Laura’s office seemed to make him feel somewhat better. He sat in her chair, rested his arms on her desk, looked out her window. It was as if he could almost sense her swirl around him.
“Who needs bars, friends, or women with questionable morals when you can have your missing wife’s room?” Roy snorted. His work colleagues stopped going out with him, quoting financial and marital concerns. He himself hated spending money at a bar. He could buy booze and drink it at home, which would save him some money and a headache every time he tried to calculate a tip for the barkeep. No neighbor would complain about him getting back home late at night, drunk. On top of that, he did not have to worry about arranging sleepovers for Tommy. No one would care if Roy drank as Tommy slept in the next room. People do it all the time.
This one time, however, he wanted to get drunk. Like REALLY f**king wasted, in the comfort of his own home. So he dropped Tommy off at his friend’s and drove away before one of the grown-ups got to open the door. That way, they had no choice but to bring Tommy inside and take care of him until his father came back. He stopped farther down the street and watched to make sure that the door opened, that Tommy stepped inside, and that the door closed behind him. Roy was not a monster. He would not leave his own son unattended like that.
Before Roy could pour himself a drink, the loud buzz broke the silence.
“Who is it?” Roy wandered as he got up. After all, he did not expect anyone. “Laura?“
In haste, he yanked open one of the desk’s drawers to hide the bottle in there. He did not need a nosy neighbor telling him again how to live his life. The bottle did not fit. Dedicated to hiding the whiskey, he pulled out a thick book from the drawer and placed it on top of the desk. He could tell whoever was at the door that he was reading. He laid the bottle down on top of some scribbles and closed the drawer.
The doorbell rang again.
“Coming!” Roy exclaimed, annoyed.
At the door, he found Tommy with Martha and Ben, his friend’s parents, standing behind him.
“I’m sorry. It was an emergency,” Roy tried to defend his actions.
“No problem,” Martha shrugged it off. “It’s just that we only have three tickets to the opera tonight, so we can’t take Tommy,” she explained.
“Oh…” Roy did not think that Tommy would even want to go to an opera. “Thank you for bringing him back,” Roy said as he ushered Tommy inside.
“What about your emergency?” Ben asked.
“Uh, it got resolved sooner than I anticipated,” Roy lied.
The three of them exchanged smiles and wished one another a pleasant night.
Once inside, Roy ordered a pizza for dinner, which Tommy was over-the-moon about. They sat and chatted about the passing day. Roy smiled to himself. He almost forgot how it was to spend time with his own son. He needed to make more of an effort. He was a FATHER and needed to act like one.
As a tribute to Laura, he read Tommy more than one bedtime story that night and even made one up on the fly.
After Tommy fell asleep, Roy went back to Laura’s office and poured some whiskey into his glass, leaving the desk drawer open.
The wind had settled, granting the almost-always-open window a little bit of reprieve from being slammed time and time again. The trees in the garden stood still like a kid caught stealing candy they were not supposed to even know about. Roy smiled. Tommy adored the tales Laura would tell of personified trees, flowers, or inanimate objects.
“Trees can’t talk!” Tommy announced to Laura one day.
“And how do you know that?” Laura asked, her face all serious.
Roy listened from around the corner, happy to see what a fantastic mother Laura had been to Tommy.
“Just because you haven’t heard a tree speak, does not mean that they don’t.” Laura’s eyes sparkled. Roy loved the visionary in her. That was why he always supported her writing. One day, she would become a best-selling author and he would be the First Gentleman.
“You do love me, right?” Laura asked the little boy next to her on the couch.
“This much,” he spread his arms as wide as he could.
Laura smiled. “I know that love exists and that you love me a whole lot…” She kissed the boy’s forehead. “But, have you ever seen love?”
Tommy’s eyes widened. From that day on, he would ask Laura and Roy random questions, trying to confirm what certain things could and could not do.
“Can the ball feel it when I kick it?”
“Does the sidewalk go to the gym at night so that its muscles can support all that weight of people walking, biking, and rollerblading on it?”
Most of these questions Roy would never even think of asking but Laura made it seem like she thought them all through herself. She always had an answer ready for these… inspired questions. Some might argue that lying to your kids will not win you a ‘Parent of the Year’ award and that it might even mess your child up, but Roy encouraged the two big Cs – curiosity and creativity. He figured that life must be better for those that spend their days thinking of trees talking to them instead of all the terrible things that went on in the world.
Roy smiled and then sighed at these memories. He then raised his glass and looked at the trees in front of him. “To Laura.”
A breeze ran through the leaves and they rustled. “To Laura,” the trees seemed to say in reply.
It could have been the booze, but Roy figured that it would not hurt if, even for just a brief moment, he, too, believed that trees could talk.
After sitting down, he pulled out the piece of paper that he noticed earlier from the drawer and then placed the book back into its original spot.
The page revealed a bunch of scribbles – scattered words written in different directions and at different angles, punctuated by geometric shapes and swirls. Laura doodled when she was uninspired. Or nervous. Or both.
“Dear Roy,” was written at the top of the page. She wrote ‘My Roy,’ but then crossed out the first word and replaced it with ‘Dear.’
“Hmmmm…..” Roy scratched his head. He knew they were growing apart before Laura had left but he still thought of her as ‘his’ and himself as ‘her’s.’
The opening lines were crossed out and rewritten multiple times. While some words or phrases were crossed out once, others were fully banished from existence – once a gathering of letters, now a pool of black ink.
“It was supposed to be a ‘Goodbye’ letter!” Roy realized as he put together the leftover words.
Even though the letter never went anywhere past the opening lines, Roy was still happy to see that Laura did not just up and leave with ease. That was clear proof that she struggled with her decision and that she tried to explain it to him.
“She cared.” Roy exhaled. If she left with a heavy heart, then the odds of her coming back were decent.
What wiped the smile off Roy’s face was a phrase that appeared on the page more than once. Sometimes it was followed by an exclamation mark, sometimes circled, other times in ALL CAPS, never crossed out.
Roy blinked twice to refresh his eyes.
“Who is SHE?” Laura never really talked about her family, friends, or her life in general from before he and her met.
Roy slammed his fist against the desk. His wife left him to look for a woman she had thought was dead and he had no idea who it was.
He took another sip of the ambrosia and began to examine the letter again. His eyes stopped on a word he had previously thought was fully blacked out but now believed he could try and decipher it from under all the ink lines. The first letter was definitely a ‘J,’ as the letter’s tail extended beyond the scratch-out area. All the other letters were kept within the limits, which meant that the word did not include any of the following letters: f, g, j (other than the first letter), p, q, or y.
Roy sighed and refilled his glass. There were so many words that started with ‘J.’
“Wait a mi-,” Roy pulled out his phone. It was a long shot, but he had to try it. Laura would not use a capital letter if it was not appropriate. He scrolled through his contact list, his fingers shaking.
“What was his name?” As he went down the list, he recognized every single one of the names. Until he got to J.
“Jan, James, Jay, Jeremy, Jo-.” Roy paused, took a deep breath, and scrolled back up.
He clicked on the three dots next to ‘Jay’ to reveal additional details. Jay was not a name he instantly recognized.
“Do not call unless in an emergency.” He remembered Laura telling him that she had put a new contact in his phone but that he was never to use it unless it was absolutely necessary. Even though Roy was curious about the mystery contact, he respected his wife’s wishes and never looked into it. He had forgotten all about it since.
Although ‘Jay’ seemed shorter than whatever was written on that piece of paper, he felt like it WAS an emergency. Laura had gone missing. Or crazy, looking for some woman she thought was alive. Roy dialed the number.
“Hi, Roy! A man answered the phone on the first ring.
“I… Ummm…” Roy definitely did not expect Jay to know who he was.
“Is everything OK?”
“How do you know me?” Roy asked, slightly upset with Laura that he was kept in the dark while the other guy knew all about him.
“I don’t think that’s why you’re calling me. Didn’t Laura tell you to only call this number in case of emergencies?”
“Who does he think he is?” Roy was mad at the guy for acting all superior. To calm himself down, he took a sip of whiskey and asked: “Is Jay even your real name?”
“It’s Jason. Jay is for the letter ‘J.'”
“Bastards!” Roy felt stupid. “Did Laura and Jason laugh about Roy being in the dark? Who is Jason? Who is LAURA?” The last question he asked himself more and more since she had disappeared.
“Laura’s gone. Vanished,” Roy said and waited for Jay, no, Jason to start talking.
“I know,” was all he got in return.
Roy slammed his fist against the desk.
“Everything OK?” the stranger on the other end of the line inquired.
“No, it’s not. Laura’s missing. Aren’t you paying attention?” He knew that Jason referred to the noise Roy’s fist made when it came into contact with the wood. To prevent it from happening again, Roy stood up, picked up his drink, and began pacing around the room, away from the desk.
“Where is she?” Roy asked since Jason did not volunteer any information.
“I’m not sure.”
Roy’s blood was boiling. “I found your name on a piece of paper filled with doodles of a maniac and the words ‘She’s alive’ in big bold letters. Surely, you must know something about it.”
Jason sighed. “I told her it was a suicide mission and that she should not do it…”
Roy downed the rest of the glass’ content, refilled it, downed it, and refilled it again.
“Olivia,” Jason replied quietly, not without hesitation.
It could not be. “Who?”
“Owl,” Jason answered, his voice flat.
Roy’s face drained. “MY ‘Owl’?” he wondered as he disconnected the phone.
He walked back to the desk and lowered himself into the chair.
For years, he thought that his first wife and Tommy’s biological mother had been dead.
“Write a story inspired by the word ‘tribute.'”
– prompt used for this CW piece.
P.S. As always, you are more than welcome to use this prompt to inspire your post. If you decide to write something, be sure to pingback to this post so that I can get an alert and check out your piece. (A post on how to do pingbacks can be found here.) If pingbacks are not your thing, feel free to simply leave a link to your piece in the comment section below. The more, the merrier!
Did you enjoy reading this post?
Have some thoughts on the topic?
Share in the COMMENTS.
Do you regularly enjoy my blog?
Be sure to FOLLOW.
Are my posts getting lost in your busy Reader?
Want to get to know me better?
Check me out on TWITTER @SamGoldieKirk.