Nine months later…
All the houses in the neighborhood had put up Christmas lights, ranging from simple blinking bulbs to elaborate glowing tableaus of elves and reindeer. The condos were a bit more subdued, but the front office had hung wreaths on the outer fences, and many of the residents put up bright decorations in their windows.
Matthew and Pat had bought a small tree and set it up cheerfully in the living room with a silver star on top.
Suburban life suited them. Matthew had never gotten close to too many people in the bustling city, but he found he could open up in the quieter community here. On more than one occasion he’d run into clients from his accounting office in the local grocery store, or at church, and found himself chatting easily with these pleasant neighbors. He had been worried about Pat, but even that had turned out well—these days there seemed to be an easing of the once ever-present tension around his lover’s eyes.
They weren’t married yet, but they had even been talking about kids.
Matthew’s office was closed for the holidays, and Pat had taken the day off, and so the two of them had gone for a walk in the open space preserve only a mile from their condo. The crisp air and the sun through the branches made Matthew want to take up photography—a whim that was met with much enthusiasm from Pat.
They were walking home, hand-in-hand, enjoying the bare sidewalks and the seasonal cheer. The single-story suburban homes still felt like a blessing after years of living in a cramped downtown, where even the residential areas were built up to two or three stories. It was starting to get a bit chilly, and Pat stepped slightly closer. Matthew smiled. This is how it’s supposed to be.
The two of them stopped at a corner and gave a cursory glance in each direction. The streets were deserted, only the second cars of well-off families hibernating in front of their homes on each side of the road. They stepped out into the crosswalk, and Matthew’s gaze turned to the gigantic fir tree across the street, its lower branches decked with festive tinsel at child-height.
Up ahead, two other figures were walking in their direction at a brisk pace, a man and a woman. Matthew thought he’d seen them around the neighborhood before, but maybe that was just his mind playing tricks on him. He put on a friendly smile for when they passed.
“Come on, Freddie!” the woman called when they were still about twenty paces away, turning her head slightly. “We don’t want to be late.”
Matthew peered past the couple and saw a young girl leaning over one of the street-side flower beds. She looked up at the call and scrambled to catch up with—presumably—her parents.
The couple briefly made eye contact with Matthew and Pat, and the two pairs mumbled friendly greetings as they passed each other. Matthew squeezed Pat’s hand comfortably. This is how it’s supposed to be.
He looked over as the girl skipped past him. She couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, and her long hair swung freely behind her, which her parents had apparently let her dye a curious shade of purplish-blue. Matthew wondered if this was a common style for…elementary school? Middle school? Whatever age group she fit into.
Behind them, Matthew heard the sounds of car doors opening and closing, then an engine turning on. Ah, so they live in the house on the corner, he thought idly. A little far from us. We probably won’t see them that often—
From behind came a hideously loud crashing noise. Both Pat and Matthew instinctively spun around, releasing each other’s hand—and stared in horror. A delivery truck had collided head-on with the family’s little sedan. Matthew couldn’t see clearly, but it looked like the entire front of the car had crumpled, and he thought he could see smoke rising from the hood of the truck. God, please keep them safe!
Pat, ever the quick thinker, was already on the phone. “Yes, there’s been a car accident. …the corner of Lena Lane and Sunrise Avenue. Two adults and a child in the car, don’t know about the truck.”
Matthew had automatically taken two steps forward before Pat suddenly gripped his arm. In contrast to the collected voice Matthew had heard speaking to Emergency Services, Pat’s face was white. Ashen eyes and a quivering shake of the head forced Matthew to get ahold of himself. What was I planning to do anyway? he thought angrily. 911’s already on the way.
But they’ll never get here in time, said another part of him, and suddenly Matthew was remembering his own near-miss, back in the city. The police had come surprisingly fast then, or so it had seemed—but it won’t be fast enough.
He bent over a little, suddenly feeling nauseous, and felt Pat’s arm creep up over his back and squeeze his shoulder. It was such a nice day, he thought inanely, and instantly felt guilty. He lifted his head—
—and with shocked realization met the eyes of the girl in the car, for all that she was half a block away and peering through the rear windshield, miraculously intact. The girl with the blue hair. The blue hair…
Matthew felt a crawling sensation up his back, cold and out of place in this disaster. For nine months he had put the disturbing apparitions out of his mind, seemingly successfully. What could connection could this ten-year-old girl have to that ominous figure, only half-remembered?
He realized his mind had wandered, and refocused on the car. The girl had looked away, turning her head towards the opposite side of the street. With a sense of foreboding, Matthew turned his gaze as well, suddenly feeling like they were being watched. But there was no one, of course.
“Come on, Matthew,” said Pat. “Hang in there. They’ll want to talk to us, then we can go home.”
A few of the neighbors had finally begun to emerge from their houses. In the distance, Matthew heard sirens.
“Determination” is almost, almost done! And this scene was written back in March, and it’s now May. What happened?
Yesterday’s post was supposed to be part 10 of “Determination”, but I didn’t finish putting it up in time, and then today I realized I don’t know how part 11 is going to go. So I’m invoking the rule I had early on and declaring that I won’t post part 10 until there’s at least a draft of part 11.
(from “Remember Me” in March)
By now I’ve written two versions of part 11, which is very likely to be the end of the story. The second version is still not entirely satisfactory, but much better than the first, and I’ll go with it if I don’t have anything better by the end of the month. (That means I’ll have averaged 1 section a month. …Wow, did I really start ten months ago?)
One thing’s for sure, though: it’s part 11’s job to tie up loose ends.