“Is she dead?” Sherilyn whispered.
“No, she always sleeps like that.” Jeffrey tucked his thumbs into his belt.
“I don’t think she’s breathing.”
They leaned forward and eyed the dusty old lady. Her puff of light hair stuck out in all directions like a gone-to-seed dandelion.
“Watch this.” Jeffrey jabbed the lady’s bony hand with his finger.
Her lips clenched briefly and she stirred in the leather recliner before settling back to sleep.
“See?” Jeffrey snickered. “I’ve watched her snooze all week. It’s always the same routine. Doris eats dinner. Doris takes a leak. Doris sits in this crummy old chair and conks out ’til morning, while I painfully die of boredom. There’s no TV or Internet in this dump, can you believe it? Let’s blow.” He grabbed Sherilyn’s hand.
“Shouldn’t you help her to bed? You are her caregiver.” Sherilyn wasn’t keen on leaving just yet. “Can’t be comfortable sleeping in a chair all night.”
“You don’t hear her complaining, do you? Besides, who’s gonna know? She’s got nobody, but me.” Jeffrey pulled Sherilyn toward the hallway.
“Doesn’t seem right …” Sherilyn dragged her heels. The old woman had been asleep since they arrived over an hour ago. Maybe she wouldn’t miss them.
“You know what’s not right? Us hanging around when we could be having some fun on her dime. It’s Saturday night. That’s why I brought you along. Want to grab a bite or not?”
“I guess.” Sherilyn twirled a strand of her pinkish hair. “Sure it’s okay to leave her?”
“No one’ll ever know. We’ll eat at Sally’s and come back after. We’ll take her car. Not like she’s goin’ anywhere.”
Moments later, the front door creaked and slammed shut. Doris shuddered and opened her eyes. A car engine rumbled and peeled away, as she lifted herself out of the recliner. She ignored the oak walking cane leaning against her chair and headed for the hallway. At eighty-two-years old and five feet tall, Doris was used to being underestimated. She shuffled along the hardwood floors.
“Bastard.” Her blood simmered and her eyes lit up like hot coals. The boy hadn’t even bothered turning on any lights. What if she fell and broke her neck? She patted her hand against the brick wall until she found the light switch. “That’s better.”
She heaved open the front door. A sliver of moonlight lit the doormat. A tiny white ball rested in one corner. A pearl earring. Must belong to the girl. Doris picked it up and dropped it in her pocket. She slipped into the windswept night, leaving the shingled cottage behind. Her brother Jared had moved to Maine nearly twenty years ago. Said he’d craved peace and quiet. Doris grunted. When was it ever quiet? Constant yells, screams and blaring voices had created a deafening roar that saturated her ears. The hollow echo of chaotic sounds left no room for peace. She ambled down the driveway, her hair and cardigan whipping behind her.
No other houses showed their faces. The closest road was a narrow two-lane highway that snaked along the cliffside for miles before straightening to reach the nearest town. Jared’s lawyer had sent a Town Car to collect Doris from the airport. The lawyer had met her at the cottage and handed over her inheritance: Jared’s vintage Mustang, the house keys and the deed, along with a check big enough to hire a caregiver, part of Jared’s plan to take care of Doris. How would Jared know what she needed? They hadn’t talked in nearly a decade. He’d stopped sending letters long ago.
She wandered down the hillside and onto the empty highway. The wind followed close behind, nipping and clawing at her sweater like an angry pup. A cold drizzle sprinkled her skin; waves crashed against the rocky shore below. Doris trekked along until headlights lit up the road. Her gaze locked onto the blinding beams. The oncoming car squealed and swerved, screeching to a stop a few feet away from her. A man jumped out.
“What are you doing?” Tom hadn’t seen the little old lady until her frosty white hair shone in his headlights. The wiry mess fanned around her face like a blurry halo. Her muddy galoshes looked two sizes too big.
“Can you help me?” she asked.
Her voice was small and raspy. Her cheekbones were high, her lips full and her skin the color of topaz.