The story so far:
Practice and training kept me from overreacting and letting my emotions overcome me. My heart beat like a panicked bird in its cage and my hands were sweaty around my mug, but I kept myself in check. Children had a way of taking the smallest things and making productions out of them. Then again, they also had a way of seeing things adults refused to.
"Monday morning, Ms. B. Whether you come to school or not, they're going to come for you," he whispered, as though only the cocoa could hear him. Then he looked at me, looked through me, with eyes so haunted, I couldn't believe they belonged to a child so young. But I'd seen that look before, in Amy's eyes this morning. And in Emily's eyes, oh god, my daughter's eyes, those precious innocent eyes, moments before she'd been taken from me.
I stepped towards him, desperate with the urge to shake him, to tell him this wasn't funny, and to stop it immediately. I stepped back, stopping only when I hit the counter.
"Jake...Jake, why...why do you say that? Who's they? Why are they coming for me?" I couldn't control my voice enough, though I was trying more than anything.
He looked back at his cocoa and didn't look up again.
"Jake, please? Answer-" I was suddenly cut off by a sharp rap at the front door. I jumped a little and tried to laugh. This was too much out of a movie. I had to stop overreacting. A deep breath later, I was at the door, opening it and smiling for Jake's father. The tall man on my stoop smiled back.
"Ms. B, thanks so much for looking out for Jake. It's great knowing that he's safe even when I'm not home."
I motioned him in and pointed towards the kitchen. "We made hot cocoa. He should be almost done." Sure enough, as we entered, Jake was still sitting at the table, his cocoa almost drained.
"C'mon, Jake. Time to go home. I'm fixing hamburgers for us tonight." Mr. Lloyd clapped his son on the back.
For a moment, Jake didn't respond, then slowly, he turned his face up to his father. His eyes were still haunted and his tiny mouth was set so grim, I hoped Mr. Lloyd didn't think I'd done anything to upset his little boy. Then a smile brightened the child's face, and he bound of the chair as though the world were perfectly right. He grabbed his father's hand and together they walked back to the front door. They both turned and waved as the door shut, leaving me standing in the hallway. I waved at the door for a few moments after they'd gone, not quite sure what had happened.
I decided to go for a walk again. Pointedly avoiding the cemetary, I instead wandered to the park on the opposite side of town. Several familiar faces waved as I passed them on the way: children playing in the leaves before dinner was ready, parents coming home, a few of the older children leaving for a weekend rendezvous. Despite the desire to distance myself from them, it was rude not to wave back. Too tired to keep the friendly facade up, I turned down an empty road and snuck into the park through a shortcut.
Settling against the trunk of one of the larger trees around the perimeter, I watched several teenage boys throw a frisbee around. Perfectly normal, I told myself. There were some interesting things going on in this tiny town, but this, this was entirely and perfectly normal. Watching the boys for a few minutes, I began to drift off, my mind wandering back to the events of the day. I couldn't place the nagging feeling I had in the back of my mind, but there was something about Amy and Jake that was definitely not quite right and would need further looking into. And, according to Jake, quickly.
A good deal more relaxed, I stood back up and made my way back home, carefully taking the small backways to avoid others. Hands tucked into my pockets and head bowed, I hoped that the few people I might run into wouldn't bother me either.
As it was, the only living thing I ran into the entire way was a small tabby cat, bone-thin, though carrying a pendulous stomach. I shook my head and hoped the best for her and what was most likely a tummy full of kittens. She followed me all the way to my door, but as the key slid home in the lock, she took off. Good luck, mama, I thought.
I locked the door behind me, slid my jacket off, and was just about to hang it up when a loud hiss sounded a few feet behind me.