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The Achiever

by John W. Steele

part 1 of 2

Todd shuddered, then rolled over and lay on his back. He felt completely relaxed and satisfied, and he stared at the ceiling. He and his girlfriend Diane had rented a cabin for a week on Mystic Lake, a secluded and exclusive mountain hideaway deep in the Canadian Rockies. The lodge was in great demand; they had waited over a year for it to become available, but it was worth it.

The stunningly beautiful lake lay at the base of towering Mt. Sebastian and curled around the foot of the mountain like the moat of a giant castle. A legend claimed the lake was bottomless.

Diane and Todd had been together for nearly three years now. They were both goal-driven achievers, and their careers had always been more important to them than anything else. But Diane knew her clock was ticking, and though she was ten years younger than Todd, she wanted to start a family. They’d been looking at wedding rings, and she hoped he’d pop the question on this vacation and propose to her.

As Todd gazed at the hewn timber rafter overhead he contemplated his future and thought about how Diane might fit into his plans.

“That was awesome... you’re awesome, Diane.”

She lay with her head on his shoulder and her legs wrapped around him. She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest. A cool pleasant breeze sighed through the cabin and they savored the moment.

Todd slapped her gently on her luscious butt, and sat up in bed.

“Let’s have another Zombie,” he said.

He extracted himself from Diane’s embrace and walked into the kitchen. He pulled two iced Tiki mugs from the freezer, and poured them each another drink from the blender. It was mid-afternoon and they’d already consumed a bottle of rum, and though Todd drank most of it they were both mildly intoxicated. He returned to the bed, and handed Diane one of the drinks.

He walked out on the deck and stood in the secluded glen. The air at this altitude was so pure it smelled sweet. He gazed across the lake at Mt. Sebastian. Its snow-crested summit soared into the sky and Todd admired its pristine beauty.

A steady breeze whipped whitecaps that flowed like syrup on the surface of the cobalt colored water, and the lake shimmered like quicksilver in the light of the golden sun. A cloudless azure sky shone like a portal to another dimension and the panorama of the forests and sky shone with dazzling clarity. The beauty at the north end of Mystic Lake was so picturesque, it seemed dreamlike. As Todd reveled in the splendor of this place he felt he was the king of the world. This must be what heaven is like.

Diane got out of bed and walked over to the stereo. She slid a CD into the player and soon the song “The Long and Winding Road” drifted through the lodge. Diane loved the tune. She approached Todd and looked into his eyes; he gently pulled her to him.

“This will always be our song,” Diane said. They kissed and looked out at the lake.

Lost in the rapture of the moment, Diane blurted out, “Don’t you think it’s time?”

“Time for what?”

“Time we got married.”

Todd’s face stiffened.

Todd wanted to be a father someday, but he’d been skirting the marriage issue. He also knew if he were ever to marry, Diane was the one.

The shallow furrows in his forehead deepened. “Yeah... maybe you’re right, Diane.”

* * *

Todd had worked his way to the top in the field of advertising. He’d attended motivational workshops for years. Now at the age of forty he was an executive and a highly successful business consultant. He was a powerful speaker and his training seminars were always booked to capacity. His mantra was Winners never quit. Quitters never win. He often worked sixty-hour weeks, and when he wasn’t working, he was working out. He met Diane at a health club.

Todd gazed up and admired the freedom of the endless blue sky. The thought of marriage swirled like a cloud in his head.

He looked in Diane’s eyes. The sincerity of her gaze startled him and he quickly looked away.

“You know, honey... you’re right. I think we should take the plunge. But if we’re going to swim together through life, I think we should make a practice run.”

“What do you mean?” Diane asked.

“I mean, as an act of our trust and commitment to each other, let’s swim across the lake.”

Diane responded with a nervous giggle. “You can’t be serious, the water’s like ice.”

Todd stared out at the lake and his face took on a look of defiance. “Of course I’m serious. It’s not that far, less than a mile. Don’t you think you can keep up with me?”

Todd weighed over two hundred pounds; he was barrel chested, and muscular; cold water was nothing for him. Diane didn’t like the chilly lake water.

“We’ve been drinking, Todd. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Negatives were a game for Todd, and he measured her words. The secret of his success was his ability to qualify a client. He looked sincerely in Diane’s eyes. “Remember, Diane, when we went rock climbing? Remember how halfway up the side of the cliff you got scared and wanted to climb back down?”

“How can I forget that?” Diane asked, and she rolled her eyes.

“Do you remember how I talked you out of quitting? I stayed right by your side every inch of the way, until we made it to the top.”

“Yes, I remember the whole incident.”

“Do you remember how great we felt afterward, like there was nothing we couldn’t achieve, if we put our minds to it?”

“I think the reason I felt so great is because it was over.”

They both laughed.

“I’ll be with you every inch of the way on our swim too, honey. I’ll be with you every inch of the way... on our swim through life.”

Todd’s cheeks were aglow. Diane loved the way his teeth shone when he smiled. She loved his thick neck, and his dark mustache. She liked the way he seemed to always be the one in charge no matter where they went. But mostly, she loved the way Todd looked at her. She wanted him to be her husband, more than anything. Diane looked out at the rolling water and sighed.

“Last one on the dock does the dishes,” she said, and she ran back into the lodge. Todd followed her inside and they put on their swimsuits. Soon, they were standing on the wooden pier.

* * *

Todd jumped into their boat, and entered the cuddy. A moment later he reappeared with Diane’s flippers and handed them to her.

“Here, I want you to wear these. I could swim across the lake without using my arms if I wanted to, but I want you to be safe. Put your fins on.”

Diane gazed at the bubbling whitecaps. Her body grew stiff and her throat tightened. “Probably not a bad idea,” she said.

A wild smile formed on Todd’s face and his eyes grew fierce. With a powerful leap he sprang forward and ran towards the end of the dock. He dove in the air, and hit the water with a smack. A splash of icy water spattered on Diane’s shoulder and made her shudder. Todd paddled in circles at the end of the dock oblivious to the cold.

“Wooohooo, this is gonna be great! Come on in, honey, I can’t wait to get started.”

The awkward flippers made a flop-flop sound as Diane inched her way down the dock. She turned, grabbed her nose, and braced herself; then closed her eyes, and fell backwards into the lake. The frigid embrace of the icy water shocked her and she felt as though she’d been punched in the solar plexus; her respiration came in short shallow gasps and she struggled to catch her breath.

Todd swam over to Diane and pulled her to him. He smiled and his face beamed. “Isn’t it great, honey? This is gonna be cake.”

Diane stood shoulder deep in the water, her arms drawn to her chest. “I’m freezing, Todd. I don’t think this is a smart thing to do.”

“You can do this, Diane. Winners never quit. I’ll be right beside you every inch of the way.”

Todd kissed her, then flipped beneath the surface and disappeared. A while later he surfaced a few yards ahead of her.

“Come on, honey, let’s go, you want to conquer the lake, don’t you?” He laughed; his voice flowed deep and bass across the water.

“Just think, Diane, probably no one has ever done this before. We’re the first, we’re the best, and we’re indomitable. That’s why we’re meant to be together.”

“I love you, Todd.”

“You ready, babe?”

Diane gritted her teeth, and nodded.

“Good, let’s conquer the lake.”

Todd dove deep beneath the water, and when he surfaced he bellowed, “Quitters never win.” And he began paddling heroically toward the other shore.

Diane pushed away from the dock and swam with all her strength. Soon they were in the middle of the lake. The waves were larger in the open water than they appeared from the shore. The swells crashed into Diane’s face, and flooded into her nose and mouth. She coughed and gagged as she struggled to stay afloat.

Todd remained by her side. “How you doing, babe?”

Diane’s teeth chattered. “I’m awfully cold, Todd. My muscles are getting stiff, and I’m afraid. I think we should turn back.”

Todd’s eyes grew large. “Go back! We’re over halfway to our goal now, another few minutes and we’ll be on the other shore. If we turn back now, we’re quitters. Without goals life has no meaning.”

He rolled over in the water. “Here, Diane, rest on my back.”

Diane threw her arms around his neck and clung to him with all her might. Her skin had become like gooseflesh and felt like sandpaper.

“You can do this, babe. How can we make the swim through life together if you don’t trust me?”

Diane knew he’d be there for her, and she began to feel a little more secure. She glanced at the other shore that seemed so close... and yet so far away, I’m going to do this.

“Just a few more minutes, babe. A few more minutes, and we’ve conquered the lake. Are you ready? Let’s go.”

Todd flung her hands from his neck, and swam out in front of her. He winked and flashed a confident smile. “Winners never quit.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2008 by John W. Steele

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