A scattering of leaves lay strewn across the sidewalk; browns and reds, oranges, yellows all dotting the concrete like spilled paint. The crinkled and crunched beneath Emery’s sneakers as she raced to the stop sign on the corner. A voice in hear, mechanic and high, chimed end of workout! as she hopped over the curb, slowing to a walk to cross the street.
She popped the buds out of her ears and draped their wire lazily around her neck.
A slow clapping, beating in time with her heavy breath, drew her gaze across the street.
“Nice hustle!” Krista Pearson was leaning over her fence and when Emery looked at her she pumped both of her fists triumphantly in the air. Emery laughed and shrugged, turning on her heel and striding backwards up her own driveway.
“Not my best,” she admitted.
“Be more cocky,” Krista said. She spun her car keys around one finger and pushed away from the fence, flakes of white paint dropping onto her overgrown, leaf-covered lawn. She gave Emery one last wave before dropping into her faded maroon minivan. She honked the horn, three loud, sharp notes.
A few seconds later, Krista’s front door burst open and out scrambled the three Pearson kids, all of their sports bags bouncing against their backs.
Emery turned, grabbed a bundle of envelopes from her mailbox before swiping her spare key from beneath her welcome mat, and pushed open her front door. Before she stepped inside she heard a car horn again. She turned to see Krista leaning across the passenger seat, her boys squeezed into the back of the van.
“You doing okay?” Krista called. Emery flashed her the most genuine smile she could muster.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said. If Krista didn’t buy it, she didn’t let it show. There was a commotion in the back of her car, one of the boys shoving one of the others, a fight brewing behind their mother’s back.
So Krista just said, “Good.” as she drove away. Emery watched her taillights until they rounded the corner, shrinking smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared. Then she turned, slipped inside her house, pulled the door shut behind her.
She switched on the kitchen light and dropped the mail on the counter, on top of the police report she still hadn’t filed away. She tried not to read it, but sampled words always caught her eye. Motor vehicle. Head-on. Things like that. An array of thick sympathy cards with roses and crosses and lilies swallowed her small kitchen table, waiting to be displayed. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. She turned away from them instead, ate a cup of yogurt standing at the counter.
Golden rays of sunlight stretched long across the kitchen and rippled up the stairs as day gave way, slowly, to night. Emery watched from her kitchen window as pin-pricks of stars speckled the sky. It was dark by the time she finally found the resolve to trudge upstairs.
She stood in the shower until the water ran cold, then stood longer still, until her skin turned read from the icy chill and the tips of her fingers turned blue. She stepped out, dressed herself in a red towel that read “his” in looped black letters. It didn’t smell like him anymore. She was starting to wonder if it ever really did. When she got to her bedroom she swapped the towel for a bleach-stained Yankees tee-shirt that smelled faintly of cedar wood lotion. Hair still dripping, she laid on top of her covers.
Minutes ticked slowly by on the analog clock perched on the nightstand. Tick, tick, tick.
Emery didn’t know how long she’d laid there, but it was the sound of car tires squealing down the road that bolted her upright. In bare feet she raced downstairs two at a time, swung into the kitchen, leaned over the sink to see out the tiny window. She knocked over her spent yogurt cup in the process; the spoon clattered to the floor.
Emery’s driveway was still empty.
Across the street, Krista Pearson’s band of boys lugged sports bag into her house.