Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read “Secret” already, pick up a copy before reading on.
A long time ago, I knew a couple like Eric and Christine. The real-life situation was more complicated, involving children, ex-spouses, and living with Eric’s family, but out of respect I won’t get more specific than that.
They were fun people to hang out with, but they led lives which kept different schedules from me. Eventually, we fell out of touch. For a long time after, I didn’t see them, but I did hear about their troubles through mutual friends. Events similar to what occurs in this story – minus the hammer at the end – took place, with the woman struggling with moving on and the man trying to convince her (and himself) to work things out. It didn’t work, and they ended up parting on some ugly (but not violent) terms.
Know how sometimes, you warn somebody (or get warned yourself perhaps?) that anything’s possible when you put people in stressful situations? I kept thinking about that when in the context of my old friends. Eric wasn’t a small guy and he worked a manual labor job. He had a temper, even if he controlled it most times. Christine was the kind of girl who liked to push people’s buttons, so they lived on a line of tension.
I imagined a couple at the end of their relationship. A simple couple, without kids or nearby relatives, just the pair of them in a dark apartment. Christine has already gone over the edge, and I hope my readers get a sense that this was a long time coming, but it’s happened and she’s not all that broken up about it. Then there’s Eric, who knows deep down it’s over, but even deeper down, he knows he’s been wronged. When Christine reveals her secret, Eric reveals his, thus trumping the girl who threw his love back in his face with her cheating.
In writing this, I’m realizing “Secret” is a story about choices. I used to dislike this one, actually, because the original draft sounded a little preachy. Y’know, a little, “Hey gals, don’t cheat on your guys!” Maybe getting older gives me perspective; I can certainly understand how unhappy people might go to extremes to feel better, both the Eric way and the Christine way. Back around 2005, when I wrote the first draft, I don’t think I had that perspective on life. Thinking back, I believe I thought, What a bitch Christine is! What if Eric was the kind who paid people back in kind?
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they do make for a solid “twist” ending. I also decided to steer clear of any deep backstories for the characters, mostly because the ideas of breakup and heartache are universal. Just like with Mad Libs, you can fill in the blanks and wind up with a story that’s a little more personal, and memorable.