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The Poisoned Prize

But, do I deserve it? Does she? The uncertainty haunts me.

By Alexis ChateauPublished 2 years ago 13 min read

Perhaps, all siblings complain that the youngest in the family receives all the perks and privileges. But, my parents took it to new extremes.

It started when Max was just a toddler. He was undoubtedly a handsome child and a quick smile was all it took to win the hearts of adults around him. It worked at school and it worked at home.

Whereas our parents shopped at second-hand stores for Emma and me, they didn't think twice about taking Max to malls and high-end sporting goods stores. He was served even before Dad at the dinner table. And, whereas Emma's violin recitals were a waste of time, no one missed Max's soccer games.

At school, even the girls in my year whispered about their crushes on my brother, who was three years their junior. So, when I met Ava, I was in love. She was the only girl in my class not trying to get close to me to get to my brother. And, in spite of his obvious attraction to her, she couldn't stand him.

It helped that Ava was absolutely stunning. When she walked into a room, people noticed her. And somehow, she had noticed me. Yet, after we graduated college, Ava's insistence that we marry and start a family irked my very soul.

I felt I was in my prime and it had finally dawned on me that I had only ever known the love and companionship of one woman. Did I really want to put the nail in that coffin by marrying her?

It was Ava's nonchalance that finally caught my attention. She gave up on pressing me for marriage and, instead, focused on herself. She changed her hair, started working out more often, and even switched careers.

As I now fell more in love with her than I ever had, I felt I was losing her, and so, I proposed. Ava was delighted and burst into tears of joy, while my heart beat out the song of panic and relief in my chest.

I had done it. She was mine. But now, I had to marry her and start a family. Was I ready or was I just desperate?

It was a question that plagued me. So, when Ava suggested we started trying to have children, I suggested we wait until marriage. And, when people pressed us for a wedding date, I delayed.

Meanwhile, Max had announced to the family that he was ready to find the love of his life and settle down. So, I suppose it should never have surprised me when I caught an early flight home from Emma's concert in Paris to find my fiance in bed with my brother.

"To be honest, Noah, I always thought Ava was too good for you," my mother told me when the scandal reached the ears of my parents. How could it not when Ava returned my ring and wore one worth thrice its value from my brother?

Whether it broke my heart or injured my pride, I will never know. But, I knew I needed to get as far away as possible. I quit my job, sold my house, and took an offer to serve as a regional manager for a retail company, on the other side of the country.

As I traveled across the west, I enjoyed the pleasures of women and finally received the answer that had so plagued me. Had Ava been the one? The women I dated didn't hold a candle to her, but at the very least, they had not fallen into bed with my brother.

I had not been gone a month when Ava called me in tears. She was pregnant and wasn't sure if Max or I was the father. She was terrified of telling Max or my parents. To make matters worse, all the reasons she had initially disliked my brother had become her daily burden.

"He talks about nothing but himself and money," she said between sobs. "He doesn't love me. He loves the fact that he took me from you."

"You didn't seem to be putting up much of a fight when I walked in on you," I pointed out.

She hung up on me.

I sometimes wonder if we would have reconciled had my answer been any different. I would have been lying to myself if I said I wouldn't have taken her back in a heartbeat. But, she had hurt me and I could not hold my tongue.

A week later, we were quietly walking into the doctor's office seeking a DNA test. My heart beat the same song of panic it had when I proposed to her. If this child was mine, what did it mean? Would we raise it together?

Ava, still bruised by my response, sat gruffly next to me. She did not speak. Even so, when the lab sent the results back later that week, I thought for sure we would reconcile and put the past behind us.

"I haven't told Max, yet, but I wanted you to know I plan to raise the baby with him. It will be less complicated that way. Our wedding is in two weeks."

"If you think I'm going to sit back and pretend I'm not the father, you're mistaken."

"You didn't want to have children with me, but now that you've knocked me up and I've moved on, you care?!" She hung up before I could respond.

A week later, Max called me. He was furious that I had gotten his fiance pregnant ... while she was still my fiance. Ava had an abortion and the two married as though nothing had happened.

The decision to terminate the pregnancy broke me in ways I hadn't thought it would. I thought she should have at least told me. Instead, I learned the hard way when months turned into a year and no baby came.

In fact, two more years passed and no baby came at all. It was Emma who told me that Max had confided in her -- through tears -- that he was sterile. For all his sexual prowess and many charms, he was unable to impregnate the pregnant woman he had taken from me.

It was a delicious bit of news and I reveled evilly in the joy of knowing that, for once, Max had not won. But, I wondered about Ava, who had so wanted a husband and children that she had left me to pursue the possibility with my far less hesitant brother.

More than once, I thought of calling. But, I would pick up the phone, stare at her photo, and have nothing to say. Within another year, the answer to the Ava question took a surprising turn.

I met the love of my life while on a business trip in Venezuela. She was the owner of the boutique hotel I stayed at. When her entire staff fell ill with COVID-19, she was forced to tend to me herself. The attraction was immediate.

For six months, I traveled back and forth to see her. A year later, we were walking down the aisle. She sold the hotel to her brother, moved to America with me, and started her own property management business.

I was delighted when Daniela respected my wishes to have nothing to do with my family. She accompanied me to Emma's violin concerts around the world and exchanged only polite text messages with the in-laws she had never met.

Within a year, Daniela was pregnant with our first child. I was on cloud nine even while she clutched my hands so tightly during childbirth that she almost broke my fingers. While she slept soundly at night, I rushed to care for our fussy newborn.

What a delight it was to see this little human that was so very much like her. A little human I would help mold and shape into something so much better than myself.

A few months after his birth, the calls started. Mom wanted to know when she would meet her only grandchild. After much deliberation, a business trip happened to bring me within 20 miles of home.

"It's Fate," Daniela told me. "Let us go. I know what you and Emma have said. I believe you. But, I would like to meet them. And, I would like to see this Ava you once loved."

I was bursting with pride when we arrived at my parents' house for the impromptu reunion they had requested. Daniela was glowing and my son looked so handsome in her arms.

I entered just as my parents were discussing Max with Emma. My sister made millions touring the world with her violin. Yet, my parents had continued to belittle her accomplishments now just as they had her recitals as a child. Instead, it was Max they continued to praise.

Six months had passed since we last saw her and she was beside herself with joy to see little Arturo for the first time. She kissed Daniela on both cheeks and then took Arturo into her arms. He seemed about to fuss, but then quieted down while his aunt shushed him.

My mother looked at Daniela with some surprise, as though she had not expected a beautiful woman to walk through the door. For a moment, she seemed torn between greeting us and seeing the son Emma had now taken into the neighboring room.

When Dad moved in to greet us, she did the same. After some labored small talk, we joined Emma in the sunroom. She was pointing out birds to a very interested Arturo.

"We play Barn Owl A-Singin' for him at night," Daniela told my sister. "He loves it."

"Barn Owl-a-wat?" my mother said, confused.

I wondered if anyone else saw the quick flash of resentment in Daniela's eyes when she turned to face her. "That's the song Emma is most well-known for," she said. "Have you not heard it?"

My mother's cheeks colored with embarrassment. "Of course! She just has so many, it's hard to keep track of the names. I'm sure if I heard the lyrics, I would recognize it instantly."

Emma and I tried not to snicker, but Daniela did not look impressed. "Lyrics? As in words?" she said. "Emma plays the violin. Her songs are instrumental. There are no words."

It was Max who saved my parents from further embarrassment while I pressed a loving kiss to Daniela's cheek. I could feel her blood boiling as she clutched my hand.

I looked up just as Ava entered behind him. I had expected at least a prick of pain in the chest when I saw her. She was as beautiful as she always was, but I felt nothing.

In her arms, she clutched a small dog with bulbous eyes. He was a nervous thing and trembled as though he were cold.

"Is this my grandson?" my mother exclaimed. She took the pooch from Ava.

Emma and I exchanged looks while my parents proceeded to fuss over the dog, while they had yet to even hold Arturo. My sister and I had always had a way of communicating in moments like these, so she motioned for us to go outside.

"I regret to say your parents are worse than you described," Daniela said when we were no longer within earshot of the house. "It angers me to know you were raised this way. Do they care about no one but Max?"

I squeezed her hand and pressed it to my lips. "Max has always been the favorite."

Within a few minutes, the patio door opened and the rest of the family emerged. The pooch had apparently found his courage and was now yapping up a storm. He raced from leaf to leaf and then began to chase his tail.

My parents had endless questions about where they had bought him and how they were adjusting to the new house and Max's new job. How they managed to hear anything over the yapping of the pooch was beyond me.

I felt the sweet brush of Daniela's curls against my cheeks as she said, "I should have brought my earplugs from the hotel."

Emma had read her lips and began to snicker, as did I. As if the gods had heard us, the dog mercifully took off across the yard and took his loud barking with him. My parents cheered him on and Ava and Max watched like proud parents.

Then, it happened.

It was Emma who first saw the barn owl. She reached over and tapped her shoe to mine to get my attention.

"It'd be hilarious if that owl took that yapper out of the yard."

And, that's precisely what happened.

Ava sprang up from her seat just as the owl swooped down. She ran out into the yard in a heroic effort to save the dog, but the owl was faster. It swooped the yappy pooch up and took him off into the fiery sunset.

A swift silence settled over the yard. For a moment, we were so stunned that none of us spoke.

It was Ava's sobbing that finally broke the silence. She ran up to the patio and punched Max so hard in the chest, it pushed him back onto one of the wooden posts.

She accused him of doing nothing while the only baby he was capable of giving her was taken away. I had never seen my brother look so embarrassed and I had never seen Ava look so helplessly sad.

As if salt in the wound, Arturo began to fuss in Emma's arms. "I think he's hungry," Daniela said. "Let me take him. Yes, my big boy. Come to mama."

Ava turned around just as Daniela plopped a breast into his mouth. The look in her eyes was of pure hatred and not a single person on the patio missed it.

Noting the awkward silence, Daniela looked up. She looked taken aback for a second and then narrowed her eyes. "What? Don't hate me for choosing the better brother."

Ava burst into sobs and Emma burst into laughter. My brother hurried into the house behind her with my parents after them. Emma grabbed her things and ours and whispered that we should leave before things imploded inside.

"She has some nerve!" Daniela said as we quietly pulled out of the driveway and continued down the street. She then launched into a rapid flow of Spanish that completely escaped my understanding.

Emma touched her comfortingly on the shoulders but could hardly produce words between her bouts of laughter. She was still laughing when we dropped her off at her hotel.

"Don't feel bad, Noah," she told me as she exited the vehicle. She had noticed my thoughtful silence. "It's just karma." She kissed me on the cheek and then hurried inside.

But, I'm not so sure. In some ways, I feel almost guilty. I strung a beautiful woman with a promising future along because I didn't want to lose her, but I wasn't ready to commit to her either.

Yes, I was faithful, but only because I was too much of a coward to be anything else. Two wrongs don't make a right, but could I really blame her for falling for Max, who had never hidden his interest in her?

And, what about the baby we could have had together? Did I regret losing that child now? Would I want to be co-parenting with someone in the unstable marriage Ava seemed to share with my brother? Did I want that scandal consummated with a living, breathing human being?

Meanwhile, the gods finally seemed to have smiled down at me. I had a successful career, had found the love of my life, and was blessed with a beautiful family.

But, do I deserve it? Does Ava? The uncertainty haunts me sometimes.

Even worse, every so often, when the world is eerily quiet at night, I fancy I can hear the whoosh of powerful wings and the yapping of a chihuahua in the breeze.

Short Story

About the Creator

Alexis Chateau

I like cats, camping and FJ Cruisers. Follow my adventures at

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