Summer, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest

2nd Place Winner!


The ocean water was warm, not offering much relief from the relentless heat. It was July 23rd, an anniversary she always honored by returning to the spot where her life had changed so dramatically. She stepped on something hard and reached down. She froze when she realized what she held in her hands...

This Changes Everything
by Linda Warren, Denham Springs, Louisiana

The thrill of battle led men in strange directions. He had thought being a SEAL was enough. Doing black ops - covert operations the government denied - was his specialty. The missions were dangerous - the rush beyond words. When the Admiral tapped him for gray ops - more secret, more dangerous - he couldn't say no. Not even for her. They hadn't asked him to resign from the Navy - they asked him to die. He walked along the water's edge, the waves lapping at his ankles. The water was warm, not offering much relief from the heat. The breeze that stirred his long dark hair and full beard was welcome. She wouldn't recognize me, he thought. She'd always loved his close cropped blonde hair. Changing his appearance had been one step toward dying.

He had wanted to explain his assignment to her; he wanted her to understand that it was something he had to do and that it wouldn't be forever. He wanted her to marry him. She had argued that she couldn't commit to forever with him because his Budweiser, hard earned emblem of the Navy SEALs, meant more to him than she did. In a way, she had been right. He had left a ring box on the dresser, pulled her to him hard, and kissed her like there was no tomorrow. Then he walked out without a second look. It's funny how dying changed your perspective.

It was July 23rd, an anniversary he honored by returning to the spot where everything had changed forever. Three years ago he had brought her to this beach on their first date. Their first kiss had been under the pier. The first time they made love had been on this beach. Two years ago he had planned to ask her, for the fifth time, to marry him. Instead, it was the day they told her he was dead. They told her it was a terrible training accident - his body lost at sea.

He walked further down the beach. She would come this way, if she came at all. This beach was the place they'd shared hopes and dreamed of a future. She teased that she would marry him on this beach. Each year he came, hoping her memory of him would draw her back to this place so that he could catch a glimpse of her. He told himself that he just needed to know that she was all right. It occurred to him that he could learn too much. What if she had forgotten about what they had? She wouldn't be on this beach, on this day, if she had forgotten, would she?

He walked a few more yards down the beach. He took the heavy gold pin from his pocket, placed it on top of the large scallop shell he had found, and then placed both on a pile of shells washed up by the waves. He'd done this for two years. It was his test of fate. Would she come to the beach? Would she find his offering? Would she understand?

He hid in the shadows of the pier, finding a place that gave him a full view of the beach. He was good at finding just the right surveillance spot. It was, after all, what he did. He took out a small pair of binoculars and waited.

Once the afternoon sun was low in the sky, an onshore breeze made the heat bearable. With no sign of her, disappointment settled in the pit of his stomach. An indescribable surge of adrenaline shot through him when he recognized his beat up Wrangler pulling into the public lot on the far side of the beach. She stepped out of the Jeep. She was still gorgeous, fiery auburn hair longer, figure still lithe. Her dress - soft, flowing, sweetly sexy, was familiar. He held the binoculars to his eyes with shaking hands. He watched her walk around to the back door and reach in. He wanted her to hurry.

The air left his body in a rush as she settled the child on her hip and made her way down the sand to the water's edge. He'd been shot before. He had the scars to prove it. Nothing he'd experienced before had hurt like this. The child's fair complexion and red hair were a reflection of her mother's. He realized he was measuring every detail without breathing. He adjusted the binoculars from daughter to mother. She was still beautiful, but with a touch of sadness around her eyes that he had never seen before. It crushed his heart. A sob came from deep in his chest. He hadn't known she was pregnant. He had no doubt the child was his. With deadly clarity he realized that fact would have changed everything. What had he done?

He watched the pair. The little girl would toddle then crouch, flat footed, to gaze curiously at something before repeating the motion a few feet away. He watched them with fascination. The child was in constant motion, the mother smiling lovingly at her daughter before staring out across the waves. He'd been accused of the same faraway look. Their daughter squealed in delight at a new treasure held tightly in her chubby, sand encrusted hand before offering it to her mother. He watched her take the offered treasure and then drop to her knees. One hand covered her mouth, the other clutching the golden pin, his Budweiser. She looked from her hand to the surrounding beach with something close to panic on her face. The look on her face went from panic to bright smile. Did she understand? She jumped to her feet, scooped the child in her arms and twirled around. He clearly heard her shout.


He wiped the tears from his face, letting the grin take over. Maybe, when his job was done, there would be a chance at the life he had started before he died. Yes!

What Linda won:

$250 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book;
database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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