Pulling oxygen into my lungs I felt a burst of adrenaline, my muscles humming with energy that felt powerful, however short lived. With a gasp of triumph, I leaped over the steps of the side walk that led to the front door of our building and jogged around the side, finally leaning against the large maple tree that I could see from my bedroom, chest heaving.
My blood rushed through my veins, and I walked in slow circles, feeling the sweat trickle down my neck and under my collar. Hanging on to the tree, I pulled my heel back to stretch and then stopped, trying to listen over the thrumming woosh of my heart. The lawn disappeared into the shadow of the other tall trees that bordered the building. Hearing a twig snap, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention like soldiers. I peered into the darkness, trying to distinguish what was shadow and what might be something else. Or someone else. The silence stretched until a cat yowled off in the distance and I could hear a car alarm a few blocks over. My lungs hurt and I realized I was holding my breath.
“Are you there?” I whispered. The night gave no reply. A gust of wind blew through my damp t-shirt and I felt a shiver run down my spine. My muscles already beginning to stiffen up, I took a step towards the darkness and stopped, feeling scared and foolish all at once.
Chilled, I moved backwards into the pool of light near the entrance and turned into the building, trying not to look back over my shoulder. Sprinting up the stairwell, thankful again we only lived on the fourth floor, I hurried down the hallway, and then stopped, one hand on the wall for support. The front door was slightly open and blackness stained the gap like spilled ink. Shit. Hadn’t I locked it when I left? Adrenaline rushed through my veins again, a familiar friend. Moving slowly towards the threshold, the door creaked slightly as it swung open into our dark two bedroom apartment.
“Mom?” I took a hesitant step inside, feeling my legs shake as I noticed her shoes were there.
“Mom?” Moving towards the kitchen I called again, my voice rising with each repetition. My throat felt tight. Images of my mother murdered in the bedroom flashed through my mind, her room ransacked, her body broken. As quietly as I could, I eased the kitchen drawer open, grabbed a steak knife and turned to move into the darkened hallway.
“Rachel? What the hell are you doing?” My mother stood in the doorway, staring at me.
“Mom!” My heart slammed into my ribcage as fear and relief mingled with anger. “Jesus! You didn’t shut the door behind you again.”
“Oh.” She screwed up her face. “Sorry.”
My hands shaking, I went to put the knife away. “There have been two break-ins this week Mom, not that far from here. You have to be more careful.”
She frowned. “You’re being paranoid.”
I inhaled deeply and turned my back to her as I flipped on the light in the kitchen and opened the fridge. A ketchup and a mustard bottle sat forlornly on the middle shelf, huddling together for comfort in the empty fridge.
“What’s for dinner?”
She shrugged. “We could order in, I guess,” she said looking over her shoulder towards her now open bedroom door as if she were being pulled towards it. I could hear the television.
I leaned against the counter, trying to not let my irritation with her show. “What should we order? You need to eat something healthy, Mom.”
She pulled her purse out from under the table, took her credit card out and handed it to me. “You go ahead and order something for yourself. I’m not hungry right now.”
Wrapping her hair up on top of her head with an elastic, she walked back towards her bedroom and shut the door.
I watched her go and with a sigh, grabbed a spoon and the peanut butter jar from the cupboard and stalked off to my bedroom. Shutting my own bedroom door, I slid down with back against it, wondering how one day could have gone so horribly wrong. And how I could feel so lonely, even with someone in the next room.
“Enough,” I said. “I give up.” I wasn’t sure who I was talking to. Putting the peanut butter aside, I grabbed my phone and dialled the number I now knew by heart.
I listened to the beep and the silence after it, forcing myself to speak like other people might force themselves to jump off the high dive. “Um, hi. My name is Rachel. I’d like to make an appointment.” I hung up quickly after leaving my number, afraid that I would somehow take it back.