(This is a continuous work of fiction continued from this link, posted previously)
James selects an omelette pan and a hard rubber spatula, then pauses to admire the label of a bottle of extra virgin olive oil before pouring a little into the pan.
He pokes at the sausage links in the other skillet and says, “I went back to the library that night, and slept in the mulch again behind some shrubs along the wall. That time I heard people hanging around, sounded like crackheads, and then a cop ran them off. I stayed hidden and he went away, but I was in bad shape the next morning. Kind of starting to lose it all ready.”
Rose knows how the walls and the ceiling – any walls and ceiling – can seem like the walls of her skull when they’re gone. Out there in the cold without them, sanity scatters like mist in a hard wind.
“I know,” she says quietly, still hugging her knees.
He takes a few moments to collect himself, so she watches him with her dark eyes, as he cracks eggs and moves the onions around. He gets out the orange juice and the milk and pours two small glasses of each, and finally says, “I went to the same house at about the same time the next day, and there was the same Dodge Charger in the driveway with the state university parking stickers. I walked around for a half hour and when I got back, it was gone. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.”
“So I said to myself, screw it, and I went inside. I walked right up the walk, and bent down like she did and picked up a few rocks, and there it was. A shiny key to the front door.”
The scent draws Rose from her chair, and she glances out the back door before stepping out of her sandals again and trotting up to the counter. James is making toast now, a single slice each.
“So you just went inside?”
“Walked in like I owned the place. There was some mail on a table by the front door, so I grabbed some of it and saw the last name and yelled ‘Mrs. Anderson!’ a couple of times. Whatever the name was, I can’t remember. Nobody answered, so I closed the door behind me.”
Rose wrinkles her nose but it’s hard to keep it that way, with the breakfast shaping up in front of her. She says, “I don’t like trying to sell the stuff. Stolen stuff. I guess I don’t mind taking it. It’s just that then you have to walk around with it and later at the pawn shops, the first thing they think is that you stole the stuff.”
“You have to switch shops, and carry this stolen crap all over town.”
“I know but Rose, that’s not what I’m saying. You have to think more like a fox and a hen house. Sure you can run in there and kill all the chickens, get chased all over the countryside by farmers with rifles.”
“Mmmm. That looks good.”
He puts a plate in front of her with sausage and onions and green peppers on it, then pushes some scrambled eggs on top of it right out of the omelette pan. “Or you sneak into the hen house every couple of nights, and just take a few eggs. Give yourself a fish or teach yourself to fish.”
“This looks amazing. Didn’t the Andersons have a security system?”
“I’m getting good at it making breakfast. Yes, they did, it just wasn’t on. I’ve found that at least half of people with security systems routinely do not turn them on. You know what else they do? They write the code on a piece of paper and put it on the fridge or something. That’s where I found this one – it was too funny.”
“They wrote it on the refrigerator?”
“I guess the college daughter was always leaving without turning it on, like she did that day. So there was a big note on the white board attached to the fridge, said, ‘Lindsey – be sure and turn on the security system! 7718! Erase this board!'”
“Oh, yes. So I stood there looking at it and I realized that as long as no one saw me here, I could come back anytime I wanted to.”
Rose starts making faces as she chews, muttering, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. This is so good.” She taps his plate with her fork, making him jump a little and says, “As long as they keep leaving that key out.”
“Well, I started wondering how long I had before they’d be back, so I thought about it for a minute and then I went and found the phone lying on the arm of a couch in the living room. I picked it up and scrolled through the menu until I pulled up a list of outgoing calls.”
“What would that tell you?”
“No outgoing calls between one and five for the last week – as far back as the outgoing call log went. Some pictures on the mantle showed a high school kid maybe a year younger than me in a basketball jersey, so he was probably at practice after school. And the mom and dad were both so white and serious and normal-looking – it made sense that they wouldn’t walk in the door before five or six.”