by Kit Lamont

I picked up the stone and held it in my palm, curling my arthritic fingers around it and stroking the smoothness of its surface. It was about three to four inches across and had a nice heft to it. Arthur would have been pleased.

It was sixty-one years ago that I'd met him, here at Lake Kaibo in New Hampshire. I had agreed to accompany my boy-crazy best friend, Harriet, to the annual stone skimming contest. My fiance wasn't participating that year because he had to work at his father's hardware store.

As all the boys lined up along the lake's edge, surveying the watery landscape with stones in hands, I noticed Arthur immediately. His muscular arms and wide, easy smile set him apart from the crowd as though a light shone on him. When he looked over at me I felt a jolt of lightning and averted my eyes to the ground.

Arthur was the fifth one in line. When it was his turn he leaned to the side, holding his stone low, below knee-level, and threw it with the confidence of a baseball pitcher. It flitted across the water with ease, barely touching down like a graceful bird dipping its wing for sport. I counted twenty bounces before it was out of my sight.

In the end, it was Arthur who won the competition.

He must have noticed me looking at him because he came over and introduced himself after the ribbon ceremony. "Wanna give it a try?" he asked, holding out a stone.

I shook my head.

"C'mon," he urged. "Don't be like the stone, barely skimming the surface of life. Dive in."

No one had ever talked to me that way. "Are you always so sure of yourself?" I asked.

He sat on the rock next to me and we talked.  He had been stationed in the Pacific during the war, working for the Navy as a fire control technician.

"Are there a lot of fires on Navy ships?" I asked him.

He smiled. "Not that kind of fire. Weapons fire. Submarine fire to be exact."

He told me all about life in the Navy. The camaraderie, the exotic ports, the eerie silences and the adrenaline-filled engagements with the enemy.

He'd seen so much of the world, facing fear and death on a daily basis. He'd led such an exciting life. My fiance hadn't even gone overseas. 

I rested my chin on the palm of my hand and leaned in. "Do you miss it?"

He looked across the lake, which was barely visible now, its black borders bleeding into the darkening sky. "I think that's why I like to come here. The expanse of the water makes me think of... new possibilities."

I closed my eyes, imagining all the far-flung places he'd seen. "I've never even been out of New England," I told him.

"Yet," he added.

I smiled at his optimism. "I should probably tell you something." I hesitated for a second, trying to find the words. "Um..."

Harriet walked over, leaving the two boys I'd seen her talking with. She narrowed her eyes at me, like a disapproving mother. "C'mon," she said. "Let's go."

Arthur stood up and held out his hand, introducing himself.

Harriet gave him a vertical once over. She said, "Hi," then turned to me. "C'mon."

Arthur cleared his throat. "I'm happy to offer her a ride home." Then he turned to me. "If it's okay with you."

I smiled. "Sure."

Harriet shot daggers at me. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"It's just a ride, Harriet. I'm fine."

She lingered for a few seconds, looking back and forth between Arthur and me, and then turned around, her arms crossed. "Fine," she said. "It's your life." She walked away.

Arthur and I talked until it was dark. He led me by the hand as we made our way toward the parking lot. When we got to his car he reached around me to open the passenger side door. His arm grazed my waist. I closed my eyes and he kissed me.

"We don't have to go straight home," I told him.

Two hours later, as we sat in front of my house, I smoothed my hair and re-applied my lipstick, checking it in the rear view mirror before going inside. Mom and Pops would still be awake.

"Can I call you tomorrow?" he asked.

I shook my head. "I'm sorry. I should have told you earlier. I can't see you again. I'm getting married next month."

He fell back against his seat, as if he'd been shot.  "What? But why...? You obviously don't care about him."

I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sorry," I repeated. "I wish things could be different." Then I got out of the car and ran to my front door without looking back.

I married my fiance the next month. I wore a lace wedding dress which concealed the baby bump beginning to form. I never told Arthur I was pregnant the night I first met him. I couldn't bear for him to think so badly of me. And I never saw him again. I read about him twice in the paper; once, a few years after I'd met him, when he got married to a society gal. And yesterday, when I read his obituary.

Now, here I am at the lake, weighing the stone in my hand. For sixty-one years I'd stayed married to the same man. My life was dull but not unpleasant. It was the life I was expected to live; it was the life I chose.

But every now and then, during the past sixty-one years I'd think about Arthur. And I'd know that for the one night I shared with him I hadn't skimmed the surface of life.

I threw the stone as hard as my tired, old bones would allow. It sunk without a single skip.

BIO: Kit Lamont enjoys writing fiction after spending most of her career in the decidedly non-fictional worlds of marketing, advertising, and motherhood. For several years she wrote a column in the local newspaper where she would muse about the daily challenges of motherhood and life, and lament the fact that she was never going to master either of them. She is currently working on her first novel.