Here’s the story: The 2019 First Place Winner in the International Literary Competition – Short Story

So many of you have asked to read the winning story I wrote. I hope you enjoy it!

Marie

My Queen of Hearts

By Marie Staight

After a year and a half of waiting, this was the day. I could feel my heart beat a little faster as I walked toward the building.  I was going to meet Julie’s family. I would finally meet the people that made her, influenced her, and were closest to her. My excitement grew as I approached the headquarters of her famous business. I felt a little lightheaded and could hear my heart beating in my ears. I could hardly believe that this successful, dear lady was now a vital part of my life.

Of course, I knew that Julie was an ambitious woman. A woman that was a little bit flirtatious and used that to her advantage in her dealings with those she came across in her successful dog food business.

Just out of high school, she had married Jacob, her high school sweetheart, and they had two children which she adored.  Although she nurtured her children with devotion, being a homemaker did not satisfy Julie’s ambition. Jacob had trouble understanding her need for other pursuits, so it was not surprising to her family when they divorced.

When Julie realized she needed a way to provide for her children. She turned to her love of providing food to her family and pursued being a baker. Friends tell me that her strong business sense and ability to manage a staff then led her to pursue a career as a chef. At thirty-two she became interested in providing a nutritious diet for her five dogs. As was typical of Julie’s reputation, she threw herself into making her dog food business grow and prosper. Before she was thirty-nine, she was a millionaire. Known in her business for her leadership and communication skills, she had great business sense and stood out above the crowd.

I took three deep breaths to calm myself before pushing through the revolving door. My heartbeat steadied. I walked up to the desk and told them my name. The lady sitting at the desk smiled broadly and introduced herself as Elaine Beacon, the CEO of the company. She stood up and extended her hand. I shook it, and oddly, I felt my heart miss a beat.

“So nice to meet you, sir.” She said. “Follow me; everyone is waiting to meet you in the conference room.”

“Will her children be there?” I asked. For some reason, that I could not put my finger on, I was most nervous about meeting them.

We had reached the elevators so as we waited there; she gave me a patronizing smile. “Yes, they especially made the trip from their boarding school to meet you.”

I fidgeted as we waited. My eyes were glued on the reversing numbers as the elevator descended.  Nervously, I began gnawing on my lip. When I saw Elaine looking at me, I managed a half-smile.

“Don’t be nervous. Everyone has been dying to meet you from the moment …” Elaine blushed deeply and tried to correct her guffaw. “Ahhh, I mean, um, I… I…”

Seeing her discomfort, I said, “It’s alright, I understand what you mean.”

Thankfully the elevator doors opened, and a flock of people exited. Elaine and I entered, as did several others. As we ascended to the fourteenth floor, we did not speak, and I realized it was Juice Newton’s voice that was crooning Queen of Hearts in the piped-in music. How appropriate, I thought.

I felt odd when those elevator doors opened. The scene before me – a place I had never been before – was strangely familiar. I knew we were going to the left even before Elaine turned that direction. For the first time, a relaxed smile broke out on my face. It’s going to be fine; I heard a quiet female voice whisper in my head. I almost galloped in front of Elaine to the third office down the hallway. As I entered the room, I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears.

The gathered crowd of about ten people turned in unison and immediately quieted when they realized I was there. Elaine cleared her throat and said, “I brought you, Mr. Joseph Curr.”

“P … Please, call me Joe.” I stuttered nervously.

A tall, slender older woman broke from the group. She had a rapturous look on her face. She opened her arms and asked, “May I hug you, Joe?”

“Of course,” I replied as we came together and hugged as if our life depended on it. It felt wonderful. Flashes of people and places zipped through my mind so rapidly that I could not identify them. The lady placed her ear against my chest. I could almost feel my heart reach out to her. Unexpectantly, she began to cry quietly, but she would not let go of me. Soon we were joined by two teenage girls. They also clung to me. I have no idea how long we remained in that position.

Finally, a rather portly man came over and began to pry the woman and girls from me saying, “Let’s give Mr. Curr some space, girls.” He held out his hand. “Mr. Curr, er … I mean Joe, “I’m Jacob, the girl’s father.”

My legs began to shake, and I felt dizzy again as they withdrew from me. I grabbed a chair and sat down. I put my head down between my knees until my head cleared. I slowly looked up. “I’m so sorry. It’s just so overwhelming.”

“Oh dear, can we get you something? A glass of water?” The older lady asked, “I should be the one apologizing. I set upon you like an eager lioness to a feast!”

I laughed and waved a hand to indicate I was alright. Then we all laughed, and the tension in the room lifted.

She pointed to herself. “I’m Julie’s mother, Ann. This,” she said, taking the girls by each hand and holding them up in turn, “ is JulieAnn and Wendy…”

“Julie’s daughters. Yes, I see the resemblance,” I finished for her. She nodded.

What followed was a massive introduction of all of Julie’s family and friends. Smiles, and hugs, and handshakes abounded. I realized I hadn’t felt this good for a very long time. It felt like I was whole – a feeling that I had not had since before my last surgery.

We sat at the table, and I asked them many questions. The family presented to me a scrapbook full of pictures with little stories that highlighted Julie’s life story. I found it comforting. All the time as we went through the pictures, I was aware again of the rhythmical beating of my heart.

When I finally had my wits about me, I asked to speak. The room quieted again. “It’s so wonderful to meet you all. I cannot express to you the thankfulness I have every day for Julie’s heart, but I know for me to live, she had to die. Seeing all of you makes me realize even more deeply what a sacrifice this was for you. I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart… or should I say from Julie’s heart? Julie is – and always will be my Queen of Hearts.”

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