By John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
Janice lifted the mascara brush to her eyelashes and swept it outwards. Her blonde eyelashes darkened and almost doubled in length. She added her most sexy, but subtle pink lipstick, and her makeover was complete.
Combined with the eye-shadow and blush, she felt as if she was looking at a completely new person in the mirror. . . almost.
The woman gazing back from the mirror appeared younger and more alive than Janice. Except the familiar sadness in her green eyes wouldn’t let her forget the person she had become.
She stood up straight and regarded her visage a final time. She pushed her breasts up within her bra beneath her sundress and conjured a devilish smile onto her face. She blew a kiss toward the hot woman staring back at her in the mirror. Her smirking reflection returned the favor.
Unusually made-up, Janice descended her home’s stairs. She walked passed the dining room table and stood on the precipice of the living room.
Between the wooden entertainment center and the chestnut couch her daughter sat silently in a jumble of office paper, colored pencils, and crayons on the floor all around. Sierra didn’t acknowledged her presence, but Janice knew her daughter knew she was there.
The miniature version of herself deftly maneuvered a purple pencil, shading the bold outline of some strange monster she had drawn. How was it that Sierra could create such intricate compositions and not be able to communicate? Janice pondered her lot sadly.
Lost in thought for another moment, Janice shook herself back to the living room. To her girl she said, “Baby. . . it’s time to come outside and play. Let’s get you some sunlight.”
Sierra ignored her mother and continued her coloring. Janice squatted down and reached underneath her daughter’s arms, gently lifting her in the air. Sierra clutched the picture in one hand and a couple of colored pencils in the other. Janice carried Sierra across their home, out the front door, and down the steps into the front yard.
She set the bare-footed Sierra on the lawn. The girl rocked and shifted her body silently until she was close to the edge of the sidewalk and the grass. She placed her portrait on the rough concrete and picked up her shading.
Janice watched for a moment. Sierra switched pencils and began shading the creature’s tattered brown slacks. Where does she come up with these things?
After scanning the cul de sac, Janice’s eyes settled on the end unit across the street. Number twenty-four—where the new guy moved into last week.
Janice took a deep breath, “Baby, I’ll be right back.” She headed up the steps and through their front door. A moment later she returned, her hands clasping a clear plastic container. It had a dark red top. Brownies she baked earlier that morning were held inside.
“Cici, I’m gonna go meet the new neighbor.” Janice nodded toward the end unit across the street. She knew Sierra didn’t care. She wouldn’t respond either. She wondered if Stephen would’ve even noticed. . .
But Sierra did look up at her mother. Her face was characteristically devoid of emotion. The young girl held her drawing out toward Janice. The image of a purple man pointed directly at her mother.
“That’s a nice picture, sweetie. . .”
Janice glanced up at number twenty-four. It’s now or never, she told herself.
“I’ll be right across the street. Don’t go anywhere.” Janice looked at the new neighbor’s townhouse. Aside from it being an end unit, it was a near doppelganger or her own. She had seen the man inside looking at her from his front window several times these past few days. He had seen her peering out at him as well.
Lost in her hypnotic thoughts, Janice walked brisk strides across the grassy circle on their street. She reached the sidewalk in front of number twenty-four and glanced back. Her taciturn daughter was still sitting on their lawn watching her mother.
Janice picked a hand up and threw a casual wave toward Sierra. The girl stared back impassively.
Janice turned toward the stranger’s home. The man inside stood at his kitchen window above looking down at her.
Cool in spite of the sudden surprise, Janice held up the container of sweets. She mouthed, “These are for you,” and pointed the box toward the man’s front door. She walked over to the front steps without waiting for his response. The man slowly turned away from his window and met Janice at the door.
Janice conjured a sexy smile—at least it was what she remembered a sexy smile felt like. It seemed like a long time since she had produced one for Stephen, and a lifetime longer since she had flashed one at anyone else.
The front door swung inward. The man stepped up to the window of his storm door. He didn’t seem too enthusiastic to be receiving a visit, even if it was from a beautiful blonde carrying some sweet treats.
The man wore a white fisherman’s cap, a blue stripe just above the hat’s round rim. He wore a white undershirt that fit his slim frame well. His eyes were dark. They seemed to brim with a sadness that reminded Janice of what she saw in her own reflection just moments ago. She could tell the man was as melancholy as she behind his generated scowl.
“What do you want?”
Unperturbed by his harshness, Janice replied, “I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.” Janice looked back at Sierra again. She was still in the same position on the lawn across the street, still watching her.
“I baked these for you. . . I mean, we baked these for you.” Janice stammered, not wanting to sound like some desperate, lonely housewife. “I’m Janice. That’s. . .”
The man quickly opened the screen door, interrupting Janice, and snatched the Tupperware from her outstretched hands. He stepped back inside and let the storm door slam shut. He scowled at her some more from behind the dark mesh screen.
He opened the container and took a bite out of one of the chocolate squares. He spoke to Janice without regard to his chewing, “What are you doing here?”
In truth, Janice didn’t know why she felt compelled to come over and meet this man. What did she hope to accomplish?
Maybe it was the loneliness. Maybe she longed for any feeling besides her typical sensations of frustration and sadness. Maybe she thought she might feel some passion, or maybe at least compassion, from this stranger. Quickly she was realizing she had been wrong to expect any of it. Her unannounced visit had been a mistake.
As if the strange man read her emotions his face softened. “You don’t want to know me. Now go home before you cause trouble with your neighbors.”
Janice looked around the other units. Several of their neighbors were watching from their windows, porches, and yards.
“Thanks for the brownies, Janice.” The man started shutting his door, but stopped. “They taste really good. . . . Please thank little Sierra for me as well.”
The man shut his front door after giving Janice a weak smile. He retreated into his house without a glance back at her.
Janice had never felt so embarrassed. She let out a silent sob. She took three deep rapid breaths before regaining her composure. She backed down the four concrete steps and made her way back across the grassy circle. She didn’t dare glance around at any of her nosy neighbors again.
Sierra watched her mother coming towards her. Janice wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Messy black streaks remained where tears had fallen and been wiped away. Janice bent down and scooped Sierra up. The colored pencils and the picture of the scary man were left behind on the lawn.
Without a word Janice sulked into the living room and placed Sierra amongst the disarray of papers and colors. She turned and went back up the stairs to townhouse’s lone bathroom.
The tears returned as Janice removed the running makeup from her cheeks, lips, and eyes. She washed her face and patted it softly with a lavender terry towel. She finally looked up she saw her familiar worn reflection looking back.
Janice gazed at her reflection. Her interaction with the man in the fishing cap reran in her mind. She had missed something in her abrupt rush of emotion. She had never told him Sierra’s name. . . Yet somehow he knew it.
Janice considered if any of the other neighbors could have spoken to him before her—maybe Mindy. Somehow she doubted it. She had been home the whole week and hadn’t seen anyone else speaking with him.
Janice was drained. She didn’t have the energy to know if she should be worried or not.
She heard the screen door slam shut in the foyer below. Janice jumped at the loud bang.
“Jan? Baby?” It was Stephen. He was home earlier than usual.
“Janice?” he called from below again.
“I’m up here, babe,” Janice hollered down, staring at her reflection.
Stomping footsteps filled the air as Stephen rushed up the stairs to the door of the bathroom. He took a moment, trying to catch his breath.
“We have to leave. . .” Stephen said, still out of breath, “. . . Pack up quick. They’re coming for me.”
Ty threw a shirt over his head and ran from the room, trying to orient to where the crash had emanated from. It didn’t take him long as another followed, and then another. The clatter had come from the floor below.
Ty ran down the old house’s creaky wood steps to the second floor. He slowed to a walk when he saw Gigi, the matriarch of the Tribe, standing at the doorway of the Writer’s bedroom.
Gigi was trying to calm the woman down from where she stood outside in the hall. “I can’t do anything about that, Celeste.”
“It’s not right!” the Writer cried out from within. A stack of pages flew out of the room and hit Gigi in the chest and face. The handwritten sheets fanned out and fell to floor around her feet.
Something grabbed Ty. He turned to see what had snagged his arm. Blanks flashed into visibility, standing at his side. “Wait!”
Her voice was commanding, but she loosened her grip. “She gets like this every now and again.” Ty hadn’t witnessed anything else even remotely similar in his short time with the Tribe, and the worried look on Blanks’ and Gigi’s faces spoke otherwise.
Gigi stood silently. She gave her closest friend the time she needed to cool down. Ty could hear sniffling from inside the room. The intensity of the confrontation subsided.
Ty and Blanks approached and stood on either side of Gigi. The Writer was sitting on the floor in front of her desk. Her arms were around her shins, her hands locked, her knees in front of her face. She rocked forward and back rhythmically as she cried.
“It’s okay,” Gigi reassured Celeste.
The Writer lifted her face from her knees. Sobbing, she whispered, “It’s not. . . okay. . . . Nothing’s okay.”
Confused at what was going on, Ty and Blanks looked to Gigi for some clue.
Kneeling and gathering the papers at her feet, Gigi spoke to Ty and Blanks, “Genevieve, Ty, it’s time for you to go to the girl. You must go to New Jersey. Stanton will be coming for her just after you arrive.”
Gigi organized the stack of pages and pulled a few from the bottom. She folded these up and slipped them in her sweater pocket. She handed the rest to a very confused looking Ty.
“Go quickly. Everything’s in this story. Read it on the road.” She hesitated, as if deciding how much more to say. “When you run into Glitch. . .,” she paused again, “. . . Please tell him I know he’ll do what’s right in the end.”
Blanks tried to protest, “But. . .”
Gigi quickly cut her off. “Hurry!” A rage Ty had yet to see in Blanks’ mentor flashed onto her face. She calmed herself, her typical tenderness returned, “Go, before you’re too late.”
Ty and Blanks retreated from the somber scene. They quickly gathered their packs and headed out from the old house. They hiked down the dirt path and back out onto the road. Blanks’ outstretched her thumb. It wasn’t long before an yellow pickup stopped for the two.
Ty looked back at the road leading to the Tribe’s hideout as Blanks climbed into the cab of the old truck. He had a feeling they wouldn’t be seeing Celeste and Gigi again anytime soon.
Inside the house, Gigi sat on the floor beside the Writer. One arm wrapped around her friend’s shoulders, the other on her knee. The Writer looked up, her eyes filled with tears and regret.
“You should have given them the rest,” referring to the folded pages in Gigi’s pocket. “I’m the one that’s dying. There’s no need for you to sacrifice yourself as well.”
“What’s one life worth?” Gigi smiled warmly. “Besides, it’s a fair trade to save the girl. . . and to stop Stanton. Anyway, nothing’s ever written in stone.”
John Andreula is a writer and dreamer residing in the foothills of Colorado.
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