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Lonesome no more
The little girl chased her shadow, blond hair bouncing to and fro, and laughed, eyes alight, in that way very small children have that makes everyone around laugh as well. Adrianna leaned back, stretching her long, tanned legs out from the park bench, and watched her play. Suddenly, the girl stopped, very close to Adrianna, and, pointing, gasped "A 'quirrel, a 'quirrel!"
Turning her head, Adrianna chuckled at the squirrel perched on the end of the bench, twitching its tail back and forth as if to say, "Who dares to bother me in my important work?" With a cry of joy, the girl ran up to the bench. The squirrel, forgetting its dignity, leaped on a branch and chittered at them both angrily. Adrianna smiled again as the little girl laughed with glee.
Looking up with cheerful, trusting blue eyes, the girl confided, "I'm Becky, and my shoe's untied." Sure enough, Becky's laces were dragging on the ground, and from the dirt stains, must come untied often. Adrianna patted the bench, and as Becky plopped down beside her, Adrianna saw a harried looking mother, holding a baby, start to hurry toward them.
"Her shoe's untied. I promise, I won't hurt her."
Mollified, and looking a bit chagrined, the woman stopped and smiled a wan smile. "Sorry! Roger isn't sleeping much." she said, holding up the baby whose gentle breathing belied her claim. "Don't ever let anybody tell you that it's as easy to handle two children as one!" Then, as if to prove that she now trusted Adrianna, she turned back to the picnic table and her husband.
Thinking how very true she knew that to be, a ruefull smile began to form on Adrianna's lips, but disappeared as she caught a glimpse of Becky's father staring at her. Something about his intense stare made her squirm, and she turned to Becky, carefully double-tied the shoes so they wouldn't come undone again, and said, "There! How's that?"
"T'anks! We just moved here." Becky beamed as she shared her important news. "We live in that big blue house over there," and she pointed at a pretty blue house with white trim that looked rather small to Adrianna. "Where do you live?"
Adrianna started to say that she lived on the next block, but stopped with a quick glance back to Becky's father, who was glowering and seemed upset by something his wife had said. "Close by," she told Becky, and waved vaguely behind them. Becky didn't seem to notice and instead started playing with Adrianna's charm bracelet, which held four small figures, the biggest being a smiling clown. "That's Jeffrey," Adrianna told Becky. "He's in charge. When he gets lonely, we have to find him friends."
"Is he lonely now?" asked Becky, playing with the bear and seal and dog, and patting Jeffrey on the head.
"Why don't we ask him?" smiled Adrianna. "Are you lonely, Jeffrey?" She leaned down close, and brought her head up slowly. "He says he's still lonely, and needs more friends."
"How will he find a friend?" Becky asked curiously, but Adrianna didn't answer right away, and then the squirrel reappeared and Becky was off in hot pursuit.
Adrianna looked back at Becky's parents, who were still arguing about something. Adrianna hoped that it wasn't about her. There was something about her tanned legs and athletic physique that tended to attract the attention of fathers and the ire of mothers. Perhaps they thought she sat in the park hoping to find love. Adrianna grimaced, thinking back on darker days, and that she was quite happy without it, thank you very much! In her experience, love too often led to pain.
Glancing up, Adrianna caught Becky's father staring at her again while his wife changed a diaper. His gaze was piercing, as if he might be both undressing her and boring under her skin and into her soul at the same time. She turned away, thinking how fortunate it was that he could not read her innermost thoughts, as that would be very awkward. Suddenly, she felt a chill, in spite of the heat, and she gathered her things and started off towards home.
"Bye!" Becky's shout from just a few feet away startled her, and Adrianna waved and promised to see the little girl again soon. Becky's mom gave a half-hearted wave, but Becky's father just followed her with his eyes. Adrianna smiled a quick smile, just to be pleasant, but quickly turned away and strode off. She tried hard to ignore the feeling that she was being watched as she left.
The sun had not come up yet, but Adrianna yawned and stood in her nightgown in the dark hallway, listening. She had thought she heard a noise, but it didn't seem likely, and she heard nothing now. It was either very, very late, or too early for the birds to start their racket, and the whole world seemed to stand still. Slowly and quietly, Adrianna tip-toed down the hall, the tiny nightlight casting oversized shadows on the walls. The last door on the left was slightly ajar, and Adrianna opened it with a gentle push. The streetlight outside was brighter here, illuminating the room and its many cheerful teddy bears, dolls and picture books.
Weaving with care amongst the toys, Adrianna made her way over to the edge of the bed. Becky's blond curls lay gently on the pillow, and she looked like an angel, come to earth for a brief visit, and napping before visiting the good little girls and boys. Adrianna traced Becky's chin with her finger, and Becky stirred slightly, smiling in her sleep, perhaps still remembering the squirrel. Adrianna tried hard to remember ever smiling like this when she was a child, but sadder memories crowded out such thoughts.
A small figure on the dresser next to Becky's bed caught Adrianna's eye. It was a blue troll with a shock of pink hair which stood straight up. Adrianna picked it up and examined it, then gripping it in her left hand, turned back to Becky.
The long knife in Adrianna's right hand gleamed in the light from the window, although the gleam was muted in places. Adrianna lifted it high over the sleeping girl, then thought back to her words the previous afternoon, and lowered it slowly. It would be easier, sweetheart, trust me, she thought, but I promised your mother. She gazed at Becky for another minute, sighed, and slipped out of the room. She walked with caution past Becky's parents' room, careful to step over the woman's body and avoid her matted hair, awkwardly splayed in the congealing pool of blood. She was glad that the piercing eyes of the man were closed as he lay contorted across the bed.
The door adjacent to Becky's parents' was ajar as well, but only the handle of the hammer stuck though the slats of the crib, with no external evidence of the carnage within. Adrianna smiled, pleased with that touch. She closed the door gently, then eased open the front door into the welcoming darkness.
Padding along the sidewalk in the shadows, Adrianna shivered slightly in her thin nightgown. Pausing under a large elm with particularly deep shadows, she gave the knife a long speculative lick. The sharp edge nicked her tongue, and she savored the mixed flavors on the blade. As she stood in silence unbroken save for a lone grasshopper chirping in the grass, she heard behind her in the dark a muffled cry "Mommy? Moommmyyyy!?!?!" --- the sound of a young girl awakened by a nightmare.
Her eyes lit up, and Adrianna smiled broadly. She gave the knife a last wistful lick, but it was already clean, so she tucked it into her gown. As she did, her charm bracelet gave a slight rattle, and she reached over and attached the new friend. She showed the troll to Jeffrey, and asked if he was still lonely. His answer made her frown briefly, and then she reconsidered. Sighing, she contemplated another move, another park bench, another friend. Fortunately, there was no shortage of young blond girls in the world.
Word count: 1359
Link to reviewable item: Lonesome no more (long version)