She smiled and screamed once more. That time the grin I gave her was nothing but real.
I loved her more than she’d ever know. If it hadn’t been for her, I would’ve definitely lost myself to the grief. Emma saved my soul.
I didn’t say goodbye to Mama, because she never came home from her dinner date with Casanova. When I first moved in with her and she didn’t come home, I would call and call, worried about her whereabouts, but often she would yell at me, telling me she was a grown woman doing grown woman things.
So, I left her a note.
We love you.
We’ll see you soon.
We drove for hours in my broken-down car, listening to the Frozen soundtrack enough times for me to consider pulling out my eyelashes one at a time with a razorblade. Emma somehow listened to each song a million times, yet had a way of making up her own words to every line. To be honest, I liked her version of the songs the best.
When she fell asleep, Frozen slept with her, leaving me with a car full of silence. My hand reached out toward the passenger seat, palm up, waiting for another hand to lock my fingers with theirs, but the touch never found me.
I’m doing good, I told myself, over and over again. I’m so good.
One day, it would be true.
One day, I’d be good.
As we merged onto the I-64 freeway, my gut tightened. I wished I could take back roads to get to Meadows Creek, but this was the only way into town. It was quite busy for the holiday, but the new smooth pavement of the once broken roadway made for easy travels. Tears formed in my eyes as I remembered watching the news.
Pileup on I-64!
I kept driving and the tears that tried to escape failed. I forced my body to go numb, because if I wasn’t numb, I’d feel everything. If I felt everything, I’d fall apart, and I couldn’t fall apart. The rearview mirror showed me my small bit of strength as I stared at my baby. We made it across the freeway, and I took another breath. Each day was one breath at a time. I couldn’t think much further than that, otherwise I’d choke on the air.
On a polished white piece of wood was a sign that read ‘Welcome to Meadows Creek’.
Emma was awake now, staring out the window. “Hey, Mama?”
“Do you think Daddy will know that we moved? Do you think he’ll know where to leave the feathers?”
When Steven passed away and we moved to stay with Mama, there were white bird feathers scattered around the front yard. When Emma asked about them, Mama said they were small signs from the angels, letting us know they were always close by, watching over us.
Emma had loved the idea, and whenever she would find a feather, she would look up to the sky, smile, and whisper, “I love you too, Daddy.” Then she would take a picture with the feather to add to her collection of ‘Daddy and Me’ photos.
“I’m sure he’ll know where to find us, sweetie.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Yeah, he’ll know where to find us.”
The trees were greener than I remembered, and the little shops in downtown Meadows Creek were decked out with reds, whites, and blues for the festivities. It was so familiar yet foreign all at once. Mrs. Fredrick’s American flag flapped in the wind as she fixed the patriotically dyed roses in her flowerpot. Pride bloomed from her entire existence as she stepped back to admire her home.
We got stuck behind the one traffic light in town for ten minutes. The wait made no sense at all, but it did give me time to take in everything that reminded me of Steven. Of us. Once the light switched over, I placed my foot on the gas pedal, wanting nothing more than to get home and ignore the shadows of the past. As the car took off down the street, from the corner of my eye I saw a dog dashing toward me. My foot moved quickly to the brake, but my old, beat-up car hiccupped and hesitated to stop. By the time it finally did, I heard the loud yelp.
My heart leaped into my throat and stayed there, blocking the ability for me to inhale my next breath. I slammed the car into park. Emma asked what was happening, but I didn’t have time to reply. I swung my door open, reaching the poor dog right as a man raced up to me. His wide-eyed stare locked with mine, almost forcing me to train in on the intensity of his stormy grayish-blue eyes. Most blue eyes came with a warm, welcoming feeling attached to them, but not his. His were intense, just as his stance was. Icy and private. Around the rims of his irises were profound blues, but silver and black strands of coloring were woven in and out, which added to the shrouded look in his stare. His eyes matched the shadows of the sky right before a thunderstorm was about to pass through.
Those eyes were so familiar to me. Did I know him? I could’ve sworn I’d seen his stare somewhere before. He looked both terrified and livid as he moved his eyes to what I was assuming was his dog, which was lying still. Around the stranger’s neck were huge headphones that were attached to something resting in his back pocket.
He was decked out in workout clothes. His long-sleeved white shirt hugged his muscular arms, his black shorts showed his built legs, and sweat was brewing along his forehead. I assumed he’d been taking his dog for a run when he lost hold of his leash, but the man wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Why wasn’t he wearing shoes?
That didn’t matter. Was his dog okay?
I should’ve been paying closer attention.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see…” I started to say, but the man grunted harshly at my words, almost as if they offended him.