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From a good distance away inside his mother’s station wagon, Scott Baker’s dark, jealous eyes study the driveway. Seeing her brings back the memories, the good times and the bad, and all those feelings: the hurt, the abandonment, the love. The love, even after all this time, has never wavered, despite everything.
In the driveway, Abby Janis approaches the mailbox with grace. She glides like a cloud, her toes barely touching the blacktop, almost hovering above it, as if floating. The sun gleams off her teeth as she smiles, and her skin sparkles with an undeniable happiness. It’s been just over a decade since he’s seen her last, and her beauty is just as he’d remembered. Except now, she’s actually happy.
Her unblemished skin shines like it never has before, her radiance warming Scott’s insides, even from a distance. A gentle Pennsylvania breeze whirls Abby’s silky blonde hair into a funnel at her back, her perfume hitting Scott’s nose as if she were standing right next to him. Scott lets his eyes roll back in his head and enjoys it. It’s been so long. Scott opens his eyes and feels lighter, less tense. A tingle rushes through his body as if it were a thousand spiders, each of the tiny legs tickling him until his muscles convulse. A looming eruption develops underneath his skin. He digs the fingers on his free hand into his thigh to brace himself, his fingernails as sharp as needles. The physical pain is only temporary. It passes.
From where Scott sits, Abby appears to be living the dream. With the way she used to live, the woman she used to be, Scott can’t help but be surprised by that. She’s come a long way since then, and, admittedly, he didn’t think she’d make it this far. Part of him regrets she did. At her back is a two story colonial with an attached two car garage and golf-course-like green grass surrounding it. The dark shingles on the roof are free of peeling and cracking, and the shutters around the windows are a crisp red. A black sedan idling in the driveway is luxurious. There’s everything except the white picket fence.
It pains Scott to see it all. The pain digs deep, so deep that he can’t look. He shifts his eyes and allows himself to give in to the sadness for a moment.
Ten years ago, Abby would have never wanted this life. Fifteen years ago, she wouldn’t have even dreamt about it. Scott remembers the real Abby—where she came from and who she used to be. Before her last name was Janis. Before the lies even began.
Scott turns back as the mailbox swallows Abby’s arm, only to spit it back out with a stack of envelopes in her hand. The one from Scott is somewhere in the middle of stack, he knows, and it’s only a matter of moments before Abby finds it. Scott pushes the sadness aside.
For Abby Janis, life is good. She and her husband, Kurt, are as affectionate and passionate toward each other as they were when they first met. The best part of her day is still when he comes home and kisses her, and the saddest part is when he leaves for the office in the morning. She misses him when he’s gone, loves him more every day, and agonizes when he’s not well. Abby has felt like a newlywed every single day of her marriage.
Their daughter, Chloe, has just finished the third grade at Mifflinburg Elementary School and she’s already excited about starting fourth grade. She routinely receives high marks and has lots of friends, and for that, Abby couldn’t be happier. Everything Abby’s ever wanted in life is resting in the palm of her hand, and her life, in many respects, is perfect. At the end of the driveway with the sun at her back, Abby sorts through the stack of mail. The wind gust almost sends one of the envelopes from the stack sailing. The waft of fresh cut grass flies with it, tickling Abby’s nose, threatening to make her sneeze.
The mail is mostly garbage — bills, junk, and local advertisements — but right in the middle of the stack, one of the envelopes catches Abby’s attention. It’s not like the others. It’s solid white, unsecured, and missing a stamp from the upper right corner. There’s no return address and Abby’s name is handwritten in the center. It’s out of place. Abby opens that one first.
She moves it to the top of the stack and flips it over, then slices the back with the white tip of her nail. The seal breaks quickly, a sticky dampness transferring to Abby’s fingertip. Inside the envelope is a single sheet of lined paper, torn and folded in half like that of a note one might pass around in junior high. Curiously, Abby unfolds the note and reads it. FOUND YOU.
Abby nearly drops to the blacktop.
The two words are written in uppercase letters and scribbled in pencil, much like Abby’s name is on the front of the envelope. The handwriting is amateurish, childlike, like whomever wrote it hasn’t written anything in a while.
Abby recognizes it. She’s seen that handwriting before, and after a moment, she remembers from where. From whom.
A lump forms in her throat. Something heavy pounds inside her chest. She chokes as the wind is knocked out of her.
Abby looks up and frantically scans the neighborhood for an out of place jogger or a car that doesn’t belong, but she sees nothing. Lawn mowers sound, dogs bark, and neighborhood children play, but nothing is out of the ordinary.
Where is he?
Abby looks back down and reads the note again. As she does, someone places a gentle hand on her lower back and wraps their fingers around her waist, making her muscles tense. She crinkles the note into a ball and gasps aloud, ready to attack, and drops the stack of envelopes to the pavement.
“Didn’t mean to scare you.” It’s her husband. Kurt pulls his hand away from Abby’s back and holds it up to show his surrender.
Abby puts a hand to her chest and breathes hard. Air pinches her lungs and a sharp pain stabs her side, making her wince. Quickly, Abby slides a hand down the side of her blouse and slips the note into her hip pocket, pushing it inside with her thumb, before Kurt sees it. Kurt crouches and scoops up the dropped mail from the driveway, then hands the stack back to her. He doesn’t seem to notice the empty envelope on top, so Abby grabs it and hides it underneath the others.
“You okay?” Kurt asks.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Abby says, her breath slowing. “You just scared me.”
“Sorry, babe.” Kurt rests his hand on Abby’s hip and pecks her cheek. “Are you ready to go? Chloe’s waiting.”
“Where is she?”
“In the car.”
Abby nods and allows Kurt to lead her back up the driveway. He looks at her and smiles, and mouths his affection for her. Abby returns the smile the best she can, and Kurt buys it. As they walk toward his Mercedes, Abby slides her pinky into her jeans and pushes the note further into her pocket. She wishes it would go away.
Thinking of the note, she knew this day would come eventually, and it finally has. She’s been dreading it for years. Even with all the time that’s passed, she still isn’t ready to face it yet—the truth. But here it is, hidden away deep in the pocket of her jeans, just waiting for the opportunity to tear her life apart.
Scott clenches his teeth and seethes as Abby’s husband puts his hands all over her. Even though it’s been so long, the pain of seeing it firsthand doesn’t hurt any less. If anything, time makes it worse. Kurt caresses Abby’s shoulder blade, moving his hand slowly downward until it rests on the small of her back. They walk arm in arm further away from Scott. Scott squeezes his fingers into a fist.
White exhaust from the idling sedan spits into the wind near the garage. Kurt disappears into the driver’s side while Abby walks around to the passenger’s. Before climbing in, she stops and glances over her shoulder as if looking for something or someone, and Scott gets a good look at her. The color has left her face, a white sheet now covering her features, and her eyes have sunken. Scott knows that look—it’s the look of forfeiture, the loss of hope, the look of remembrance. It’s the look of desperation.
Scott can tell by the blankness in Abby’s eyes that she knows what’s happening. She knows he’s out and that he’s come to find her. She knows her husband is finally going to learn the truth after all these years, and that the truth might devastate him. The truth might be unforgivable. The truth might remove her veil of years of deceit and reveal the woman underneath, the woman she’s tried to conceal for so many years.
It’s all on the verge of coming to an end.
Once Abby climbs into the sedan with a halo of dishonesty surrounding her, Scott lowers his binoculars and tosses them on the seat beside him. He huffs as he relaxes his fingers. With the flick of a wrist, he starts up the wagon and winces when the drive belt squeals, the screech ricocheting off the bay windows and enclosed grand foyers that surround him. The colonials in the neighborhood are enormous, and Scott is using them to his advantage. Abby couldn’t find his location even if she tried.
Scott hasn’t formulated a specific plan yet and will wait to see where the Janis’s are headed before doing so. Part of him wasn’t actually expecting to find her so soon. Plan or not, its flawless execution is imperative. Anything less will send him back to where he came from, and Abby will vanish from his life once again.
Then it’ll remain a mystery forever.
The Benz cruises around the corner, noiseless, and makes a right at the stop sign at the end of the street. Scott lowers his head, just in case, but keeps his eyes locked firmly on the Mercedes. It eventually fades away beyond the hill without incident, merely becoming a speck of black, until it disappears out of sight. Scott holds back for a few extra seconds, breathing heavily, before pulling out into the street, making a right at the same stop sign, following them.
Dan Lawton is an adult crime thriller, suspense, and mystery writer from New England. He studied Communications in college and is a Technical Writer by day.
His first two novels were self-published, and he signed his first book deal for his third novel the day before his twenty-seventh birthday. Dan lives in central New Hampshire with his wife and daughter. To learn more about Dan and his previous and future works, or to sign up on his mailing list for updates, please visit his website. Dan can be contacted directly HERE or on social media via Facebook & Twitter.