Jack’s mouth went dry. He wanted to run, he wanted to scream, but he just stood there and stared at her. His eyes were wide with fear and wonder. His mind racing with the fact that there indeed was someone inside the house and that she was looking at him. Standing right there next to him. Not with anger on her face that he had broken into her home, but with a smile. She looked excited, and maybe a little relieved. Yes, that seemed the best way to describe her expression. Her eyes shined with the smile that softened the wrinkles on her face.
He was overwhelmed. He couldn’t stand there anymore. He moved to the right of the woman and ran for the door. He threw caution to the wind as he ran down the creaky stairs. Henry had made it inside the house by the time Jack reached the bottom. Jack ran right into Henry’s arms. He clung to him. Henry’s heart beat strong in his ear. It was only a few seconds before Jack realized what he was doing. He dropped his arms from Henry’s body in shock. He made a quick move to the left and ran out the door. He couldn’t look Henry in the face. He kept his head down as he passed Kevin.
Henry ran to the door. “Jack,” he yelled after his friend. Kevin turned from watching Jack running down the street to look at Henry.
“What happened?” asked Kevin.
Henry looked at Kevin and shook his head with a dumbfounded look on his face and shrugged. He wasn’t sure himself what had just happened. Henry took off across the porch and down the front steps running toward home, toward Jack. As he passed Kevin he said, “There’s a woman in the house. Come on.” Henry looked up at the window. The woman was gone. The curtain was closed.
Kevin followed Henry without a second thought. He didn’t shut the gate. He didn’t look back. He didn’t want or need to see the woman in the house.
Jack heard Henry call after him. He didn’t turn around. He just ran. He ran all the way to his house. He didn’t worry about being quiet. He just wanted to be in his room, surrounded by its four walls, locked behind the safety of his door. He couldn’t believe he’d stood there holding onto Henry. How would he ever face his friend again?
Jack laid on his bed as still as he could. He heart was still racing, his breathing erratic. He was taking slow breaths to calm himself down. He heard a tapping on his window. He knew it was Henry. He couldn’t move. For once he was thankful that his blinds were closed because that meant Henry couldn’t see him lying there, ignoring him. He just wanted Henry to go away.
“Jack,” said Henry. “I know you’re in there, buddy.” He tapped the window again. “Come on. Open the window.” He tapped again. Henry waited for a few more minutes before walking away.
Monday morning. When Jack woke the next morning he wasn’t so much rested as surprised he had actually fallen asleep. The details of last night were unclear. What he did remember was the dream he had about the woman in 327. Her face flashed in his mind. He could still see it as if she was right in front of him. He didn’t know why it seemed so familiar. He knew he had seen her before, but he didn’t know how it was possible. He dismissed the idea that he had actually seen her in the neighborhood
Jack had to get ready for school. He stumbled out of his room and to the bathroom. He shut the door and started the shower. He took off his boxers, stepped into the tub and under the water. He just stood there with his head against the wall letting the water beat down on the back of his neck. He must have lost track of time because he heard his mother yell at him to get out of the bathroom. He quickly washed his hair and body, turned off the water and jumped out of the tub. He dried off, but not thoroughly. He wrapped the towel around his waist and made a beeline for his bedroom.
The image of the lady’s face continued to play on a loop through his mind. He couldn’t let go of the fact that he felt he knew her. As he stood in his room drying his hair with his towel he saw his reflection in his television. He stopped what he was doing and dropped the towel. He walked over to the television and looked at his stack of DVD’s. He had the craziest feeling that she looked like an actress in a movie he had recently seen. He looked through the stack of DVD’s laying to the side of his television. Nothing but a bunch of current comedies. He knew that wasn’t where he’d seen her. It was something classic, something black and white.
Jack loved old black and white movies. He was an amateur movie buff. He had discovered his love of old movies purely by accident one day. He was spending a weekend at his grandmother’s house and she asked him to watch Casablanca. He loved it; enjoyed every minute. His grandmother recognized his enjoyment and started sending him classic movies that she herself loved. He treasured every one. He didn’t always love the story, but always appreciated the film.
He knew that this woman’s face was reminiscent of a woman in one of the films his grandmother had sent him. He started looking through the stacks of DVD’s he had on the top of the entertainment system and his desk and the floor. It was in a stack on the floor that he found it. It was the fifth DVD in the pile. When he uncovered it, her face was on the cover staring back at him. At least it looked like her face, albeit a much younger version. The film was called Before Tomorrow Ends, and its star was Genevieve Malloy. She had won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for the role in 1964. He was beyond confused. Could the woman from last night be the woman in this film? he thought to himself.
He put the DVD down on his bed, picked up the towel and finished drying off. He couldn’t concentrate. He was on autopilot as he went about his room getting dressed. All the thoughts running threw his head were giving him a headache. He couldn’t believe he’d broken into 327 last night, that there had been a woman inside who might be a famous actress and that he had run into Henry’s arms and held him. He felt a wave a nausea join the headache. He went down the hall and into the kitchen to find his mother.
He knew he looked like shit; so convincing her that he didn’t feel well shouldn’t be a problem.
Using his best imitation of a dry throat, “Mom, I don’t feel so good today,” he said as he stood in the door of the kitchen.
She turned around and looked at him. “Well, you look like hell. What’s wrong, honey?” she asked.
“I feel nauseous and my head hurts.”
She walked over to him and put her hand on his forehead as moms are prone to do. “You don’t have a fever.”
He looked at her with desperate, puppy dog eyes. “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
She looked at him with compassion and put her hand on his cheek. “Why don’t you go back to bed, honey? I’ll call the school and let them know you’re sick today.”
“Thanks, Mom.” He kissed her on the cheek and headed back down the hall to his room. He was thankful that she didn’t know he’d been out late last night otherwise she would have known why he didn’t get much sleep.
He took a couple of Excedrin® for his headache and laid down on his bed. He closed his eyes and laid as still as he could. Inhaling deep and exhaling slowly. Over and over he was thinking I am pain free, willing the headache to go away. And then he would get a flash of her. Her hand, her face, her smile, something about the lady would dance behind his eyes.
Eventually the headache did go away. He got up from his bed and went straight to the DVD pile and picked up Before Tomorrow Ends. He just stood there looking at the face on the cover. Was it possible that the lady down the street and the one in this movie were actually the same person? Regardless of whether it was the same person or not, he owed her an apology.
He went down the hall to the kitchen. He was pretty hungry. It made sense, as he hadn’t eaten breakfast. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and stood at the kitchen counter to eat it. When he was done he rinsed out the bowl and put it in the sink. Sick or not, his mother would be some kind of pissed if she came home to dried cereal on the bowl.
He went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was fine. His teeth were clean. He looked like a nice young man, someone to be trusted. At least he hoped he did. He hoped that returning to the scene of last night’s crime wasn’t a mistake. He hoped he could smooth everything over. He ran to his bedroom and grabbed his jean jacket off the bedpost.
Outside, the sun was shining and the air was crisp. It was a beautiful day. He was hoping that the happiness he was feeling about the weather was contagious and that the lady would be in a good mood as well.
He didn’t prolong getting there. He walked briskly. He wanted to get it over with. He wanted to face whatever was coming his way. When he approached the gate, it was latched just as it had been last night. He wondered if Henry or Kevin had done that? He wasn’t sure what was creepier, going into the house at night when he couldn’t really see anything or going into it during the day when everything was visible. He walked across the porch and stood in front of the door. He started to knock, but noticed it was ajar.
“Hello,” said Jack and he pushed the door open. “Anybody here?”
He wasn’t sure if she could hear him. Hell, he wasn’t sure she could even get down the stairs.
“Ma’am, my name is Jack. I was here last night,” he said as he started up the stairs. “I just wanted to apologize to you.”
He continued up the stairs. There was no movement on the second floor.
“Hello.” Again, no answer. “Ma’am?” He stood outside the door. As he prepared to knock he could hear the faint sound of the record player. He wondered why he hadn’t heard it outside the door the night before, but didn’t linger on the thought too long. He knocked on the door. He waited for someone to answer it. Nothing. He knocked again.
“Come in,” said a voice from behind the door. Jack’s heart began to race. He was prepared to accept the consequences of last night’s trespass if she was angry with him. He turned the knob.
©2010 Michael Rohrer