The loneliness dripped down the rails of the four-story fire escape like a slow acting poison. Wind came in bursts that chilled to the core and made people wish it would just snow already. It was so dark outside that the small gas station next door looked like a star in the middle of a vast universe of miserable dampness and the occasional speeding comet-like car.
The delicate hands of Martha Grey held tightly to a foam cup of steaming hot coffee, her eyes glued to the television where lottery numbers were being chosen at random. The booth she occupied was obnoxiously orange and the table looked as though it hadn’t been wiped down after a long day of business. All the other seats were empty and the black and white checkered floor gleamed after just being mopped. Martha made no moves to even drink the coffee in front of her. To an outsider she appeared as though she was so focused on awaiting confirmation that she had struck it rich but the locals knew why she was there.
In the back of the store a woman named Benita Garrett sang loudly along to the radio as she did every night around midnight. Her demeanor was suited for the nightshift. She never seemed to care that people thought she was dressed like it was Halloween 365 days a year. Martha’s lips moved silently as if she were trying to sing along but nobody could compete with Benita’s volume.
“Chick!” Benita said popping her head around the corner. “You win the lotto yet, girly?” Martha shook her head. “I’m just playin’. I know you don’t do nothin’ like that.” Today she was not only wearing cat ears but a floor length orange and black striped tail. “Don’t stop bein’ cute.” With a smile as big as the Cheshire cat she went back to singing loudly and cleaning up the store.
Martha sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. Benita was the only person that had ever described her as “cute”. Her hands and feet were very small and delicate but her frame was very sturdy. Her hair was so blond it appeared white and fell in tendrils down her back in a tangled mess. Her green eyes tore themselves away from the screen to glance outside. Her eyes had become so used to the light that trying to see anything outside was laughable. The darkness was all consuming. Even though it couldn’t be seen, the rain was certainly noisy enough to be heard as it started pouring down.
“Is this seat taken?” The familiar voice rode through the silence like a warm breeze.
Startled, Martha knocked over her coffee all across the table. Her eyes locked themselves on the eyes of the gentleman before her in what could only be described as complete and utter disbelief. Wordlessly the man went to go get some paper towels from the restroom. He returned with a wad of them and the girl seemed far too nervous under the circumstances to help. This hadn’t been the first time they had met but she was acting as though it was.
“You’re here.” She breathed as he mopped up her mess.
“Did you not expect me today?” He said, seeming amused. He had a thick head of deep red hair and very pale skin. His eyes were deeply blue and they danced mischievously.
“It’s been…weeks.” She whispered.
“I was detained.” He said simply, the smile never leaving his face.
“I’ve missed you.”
He threw the soggy paper towels in the trash can and said, “I’ve missed you too.” He held out his hand and said, “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Her eyes lit up and she grabbed his hand and they ventured out the front door.
As they were making their way out Benita said, “Y’all have fun now!”
The rain was misting now and the moon had decided to come out from behind the clouds to light up things a little bit more. The pair walked to the apartments next door from the gas station and began making their way up the damp fire escape. They climbed onto the roof and the man walked to the very middle, eyes fixed on the moon. Martha followed. Her hands were visibly quivering.
He grasped both of her hands and rested her forehead on hers. “Why are you shaking?”
“I didn’t think you were ever coming back. After last time…” She trailed off hoping to never finish that thought.
“I always come back.” His brows furrowed with deep concern.
“Not always. Last night I couldn’t sleep because the nightmares plagued my thoughts.”
“What do you mean?”
“I had done something bad and I don’t know what it was but you ran. I was caught and taken away and you did nothing about it. All I remember was being afraid and you were nowhere…” The tears forming in her eyes couldn’t be seen as rain fell down but the tremor in her voice gave her away.
“You’re upset at me over a dream?” He let go of her hands and turned away. The wind had started up whistling around the corners of the roof. A few fearful trees shivered as the rain picked up.
“It was so real, Foster.” She insisted.
“That doesn’t mean that will actually happen.” He said. “I came to see you because I missed you. I didn’t want to argue.” Foster closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her.
“I didn’t either but when you’re gone for so long and…” Suddenly Foster snapped his head around and listened intently. His grip around Martha tightened. “Foster, what is it?” Martha was trembling more fiercely now.
He let go of her and raced to the edge of the roof. He peered down below “They’re here…how did…?” He whipped around and grabbed her arm.
Hearts racing the pair sped down the fire escape. Halfway down Martha lost her grip and slipped onto her back. She shrieked as the middle of her back nailed the edge of a cold metal step and her left shoe dropped down into the gravel below.
Foster strung together a few exclamatory choice words that were lost in the wind as he scooped her up with adrenaline fueled strength. Red and blue lights were flashing in the darkness and a muffled radio could be heard.
“Are the police…” Martha started but Foster shushed her as the raced to a non-descript compact car parked under a nearby tree.
Slipping Martha inside, Foster shut the passenger door and hopped in the other side. He started the vehicle with a vengeance and pealed out of the gravel parking lot. The dashboard was lit with blue light and the seats reeked distinctly of cigarettes and dirt.
When they were safely a mile down the road Martha calmed down enough to buckle her seatbelt and say, “You don’t smoke. Why the smell?”
“This is a borrowed vehicle.” Foster said simply, turning on his left turn signal and careening through the intersection on a red light. Nobody was on the roads this late but the lack of respect to traffic laws was visibly unsettling Martha.
“Can we slow down?”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you later.” He grumbled.
“You say that, then I lose you.”
“You don’t need me.” He said rubbed his thumb on her knuckles and kissed them.
“You mean you don’t need ME.”
“I want you.” He said quietly.
“But you can take me or leave me.” Sadness filled the car like the heavy shadow of another person.
“That’s not it.”
They turned down a gravel driveway that sipped in through a line of leafless trees that sat hunched over like old crippled hags. Small bits of gravel were knocked up into the under carriage and clanked around while limbs from the trees scratched at the windows as if asking to be let inside. One light could be seen when they reached the end of the drive. It was attached to the side of a small abandoned looking white farmhouse.
Foster turned off the vehicle and looked at Martha with a grim smile. “This is where I’m staying for now. Nobody knows this is here.
“Okay.” She opened her car door and proceeded to slowly walk up to the front porch.
Foster pocketed the keys and rushed after her. In one motion he scooped her up in his arms and rushed up the steps. Setting her down gently he unlocked the front door. Martha stepped into the musty foyer. The wooden floors chilled her shoeless foot and Foster turned on the lights to reveal a sad looking red rug and wood floors painted a deep red. In certain places the red had been chipped away revealing the light brown of the wood.
When the door was shut behind them Martha gazed around at the crown molding and said, “So, why are you…”
He cupped her chin in his hand and kissed her. Momentarily, all fear dissipated.
When they broke apart he said, “May we never need each other. We’re not two halves that create a whole. We’re two strong whole people that create something powerful.”
“I want you to need me. If you don’t need me why do I exist? When you leave I feel like my life is put on hold indefinitely. There are other guys. Good guys. They won’t stop talking to me and I’m not sure what to tell them. What are we?” She demanded. Foster didn’t speak and looked down at his shoes. “Is this…going anywhere?”
“Follow me.” He led her by the hand through the hallway and into the small red kitchen. Even the oven was red and countertops were all corkboard colored and sprinkled with crumbs from 2 weeks of meals. The floors were checkered white and lime green and a screen door that had duct-tape over the cracks in the glass gave a view out into a vast cotton field lit only by the moon and a distant floodlight on another property. “Sit down.” He gestured at the dining room table covered in papers. She sat away from the spot where the half eaten bagel sat on a paper plate. Foster rummaged in one of the drawers next to the sink and after a minute, pulled out a photograph. “Do you remember this?”
Martha looked at the photo. It was three people. Foster was jumping into the photo from the right with a toothy grin. On the far left stood a man with thick black eyebrows that made him look angry and a forced smile. He had his arm around a woman with pitch black hair and thick framed glasses. She was wearing a pink sweater that clashed with the entire scene in the photo. It appeared as though they were at a bowling alley.
“Is that…me?” Martha asked, fear clouding her eyes.
“I don’t remember this. I had black hair? And who is that?” She pointed to the man with the black eyebrows.
“That was your husband.”
Martha’s lips moved wordlessly and the photo dropped from her fingers. Her face turned paper white and she looked like she was about to pass out. Finally she said, “Was? I-I-I never married.”
“You did. I was the best man.”
“Am I still married?”
Foster bent down, grasped both her cold hands, and said gently, “Til death do us part.”
She pulled her hands from his grasp and stood up and marched to the sink. She bent over it as if she was about to throw up. “Why don’t I remember?”
“Do you remember why you moved here?”
“I’ve always lived here. You know that.” She said through a sob.
“No, you haven’t.”
“Yes I have! Don’t lie to me!”
“I wouldn’t lie to you.” He opened the same drawer and pulled out a birth certificate. The name one it read “Kimberly Martha Waters, Born: May 23, 1988”.
“That’s not my name.”
“It’s your birth certificate. I know it is.”
“How?!” She shrieked, at this point becoming hysterical. She was wringing her hands and pacing around the kitchen desperately searching for a means to escape. The thunder was closer now and the clouds began lighting up like the white hot embers of a furnace: steady but intense.
“You have a whole other life you left behind. You let yourself forget. The day it happened you decided to psychologically check out. It took me months to find you after you ran away. The psychologist said it’s called fugue state.”
She tugged at her hair as if hoping it would all pull out. The intense concentration could be read on her face as she was processing all this new information. “Why can’t I remember all this? You’re telling me but I don’t believe you.”
One by one he pulled from the kitchen drawer a driver’s license, a social security card, a deed to a house, a college schedule, a nametag from Jack in the Box. “So, Gray was my married name?”
“My husband’s name was Adam Robert Gray?”
“Yeah…” Foster sighed.
“How long were we married?”
With the increasing noise of the storm there wasn’t a sound as a man with heavy black eyebrows crept down the hall to the kitchen. Foster was refusing to answer Martha/Kimberly and before he could find his voice to respond the mysterious gentlemen walked into the light.
“Found you at last, Kim.” His voice was like deep like a cello and she knew he was the same man as in her nightmares.
To be continued…