The story so far:
We sat under the tree until the last rays of sunlight left our side of the earth. Paige's silence felt like it would last forever. She only sniffled now and again but other than that she made no sound. I wondered how long we would sit until she finally moved.
I was so startled to hear her voice that I jumped. She jumped too but when I rubbed her shoulder we relaxed back into the tree.
“Yes?” I said quietly hoping I hadn't startled the talk out of her.
“I want to visit Eliza's family.” It pained me to hear how sad and weak her voice had become in these short few hours.
I nodded. I don't think she saw my nod, but she really didn't have to. Who could say no to that?
“We'd better get inside before the mosquitoes realize we aren't apart of the tree.”
I helped Paige stand but I didn't let go as we walked into the house.
Flores Flowers was a little flower shop at the corner of a strip mall not far from my house. I guess I couldn't be that surprised that it had been so close. Everything was becoming a coincidence now-a-days.
It was bright and early when I had slipped out of bed to get dressed. I stopped to check on Paige. She was safely in bed. I stared at her for a minute before closing her door again and quietly leaving the house.
I now sat across from the store in my car with my morning's black coffee. I checked my watch. Six-thirty. They would open the store any minute.
Right on the dot I saw the 'closed' sign flip to 'open'. I took another sip from my coffee for courage, then I grabbed my purse, took the keys from the ignition, and opened the door into the light brisk air.
A bell rang as I entered into the store. I hated those things. Sometimes you just didn't want people looking at you when you first entered a store.
“Good morning,” Said the girl who was working at the counter.
I only smiled and pretended to look at flowers. “How much are these?” I called pointing to white roses.
“Seventy-nine cents per flower. There's a sign right there.” The girl pointed in my general direction.
I blushed when I noticed the big sign with the price written cleanly on it. What was I doing? I wasn't going to accomplish anything if I kept stupidly looking at flowers.
I turned to head to the counter to talk to the girl but faltered when I saw her staring at me suspiciously. I sighed. This was not going according to plan. Well, technically, I didn't really have a plan, but I knew that whatever I was doing was not helping me in any way.
“Look,” I started as I walked confidently to the counter, “I really need to talk to Esperanza. Does she own this store?”
The girl nodded.
It didn't look like I was going to get any elaboration on that unless I asked, “ Solely? Or does she have a partner?”
The girl nodded. “She did have a partner but now she owns the store herself.”
“Who?” I held my breath. I was just waiting for the moment the girl would shut down and not say anymore.
“Nona,” She whispered.
“That's enough Aletia. There's a new shipment in the back. Why don't you log them for me?” A woman appeared in the doorway carrying a bright red vase. The girl sighed with relief and fled through the doors.
“Esperanza?” I asked carefully, though I knew it was her.
“Adara.” She stated as she looked at me up and down.
Why wasn't I surprised that she knew who I was?
“I-do...why-do you....?” I stammered. I couldn't think of what I wanted to ask her.
She only smiled and scooped up flowers that were sitting on the counter. She shoved them in the vase and began to arrange them. “How's Paige?”
This simple question froze by bones three times over. It wasn't what she said but how she said it. It almost felt like a threat. I took a step back ready to grab my keys from my pocket and race back to my house. I stood my ground.
“She's fine actually. We are planning on going on a little trip to Oregon.” I didn't know why I was lying but for the slightest instant, I swear I saw her hand falter on one of the flowers.
“That's great,” She cocked her head to the side and smiled brightly at me.
The only thing I wanted at the moment was to never see her again. I fidgeted where I stood.
“Well, I'd better be going,” I was already turning to leave.
“Be safe. This world can be pretty dangerous,” She said lightly.
I stumbled out of the door. I raced to my car. Once inside I flipped open my phone and pressed two on speed dial.
“Pick up....Pick up,” The phone ringed and ringed. I thought it would go to voice mail but luckily the phone clicked to life.
“Franco. I need you and Paige to pack suitcases. I'll explain when I get there,” I said frantically. I checked my speedometer. I was fifteen over the limit. I touched my foot to the brake and waited for the little needle to get to the legal speed limit.
“Okay.” He didn't sound sure but I could tell he would do this for me.
Seven minutes later I pulled into my driveway and I jumped out of the car without turning off the engine. I flew into the house and ran into two suitcases. One was mine and the other was Franco's. I scrambled over them and flew up the stairs.
“Paige! You will pack your suitcase this instant!” Franco said sternly bordering on yelling.
“No! Mom promised I would visit the Crawford's!” She shouted back.
I ran into Paige's room almost out of breath. Franco was standing in the middle of the room with veins pulsing in his neck. Paige sat on her bed with her empty suitcase open at her feet.
“Paige!” I sighed disappointedly.
She looked up at me tears pouring from her eyes.
“You promised,” She said quietly.
I felt my heart split in two. While I hadn't exactly promised, I did tell her she could go. This felt like one of those pivotal moments in a relationship. I knew how important this was to her and if I didn't honor it, it would probably drive a wedge that I wouldn't be able to mend.
“Fine.” I felt deflated and defeated. She didn't smile triumphantly as I would have thought but only nodded her head.
“First you pack your suitcase. Then we'll stop over at the Crawford's. Right after that we leave. There won't be time to come back.”
I could see the questions on her lips but she had won her battle. She wouldn't push her luck.
I grabbed Franco's hand and led him back to our room. We sat down on the bed and I recounted the latest events.
“Are you seriously telling me that we were about to flee the state when all she said was 'how's Paige?' and 'be safe'?” Franco looked at me like I was crazy.
I instantly went on the defensive, “Franco, it was a threat. She completely missed the flower when I said we were going on a trip. If that's not suspicious then I don't know what is.”
“Exactly, you don't know what suspicious is. Adara, I have gone along with these escapades and dreams and feelings since I met you. When does it all end?”
“It doesn't,” I said simply with enough force to blow him off the bed.
Another pivotal moment for my relationship. I must be hitting the jackpot with everyone today.
He sighed, “Okay.”
It was another thirty minutes before Paige was ready to go. I wanted to light a fire under her butt to make her go faster but I was already treading on thin ice with her.
We loaded everything into the car, not before Franco ranted on and on about leaving the car on.
The Crawford's home was clear across town. I wanted to just say,” screw it,” and hop on the interstate but that would only upset Paige. I felt like this visit would help her deal with what she saw.
We parked down the street and walked to the house. We all stood on the porch and it was at that moment that I realized Franco and I had forgotten to dress more appropriately. I felt slightly embarrassed when a woman answered the door.
“Come in,” She said simply. She must be Eliza's grandmother.
We walked in to find pictures galore of Eliza. Everywhere you turned there she was looking happy and joyful in every frame. Flowers hung anywhere pictures did not making the house smell wondrously of flowers.
“You may look around. Unfortunately we don't have food as of yet. We haven't had...time,” The woman looked away from us as her shoulders shook,” Excuse me,” She whispered.
I watched her walk up the stairs.
The three of us floated around the room admiring the handiwork of the family. People dressed in black littered the room but they stayed to themselves as we did.
“Oh, Paige!” Came a shrill cry from the corner. Paige turned and embraced who I realized was Eliza's mother.
After spreading my condolences pretty thickly, Franco and I drifted away from Paige and Eliza's mother, Gertrude. We found ourselves in the backyard where the air didn't feel heavy from mourning.
“Why Oregon?” Franco asked all of a sudden.
I shrugged,” I don't know. I just said the first state that came to mind.”
“Which was Oregon?”
I smiled and gave a small chuckle, “Yep.”
“Oregon,” He muttered,” what's even in Oregon?”
“Us. Well, at least on our way. Not still stuck here.” I looked at the ground and played with the grass blades with my shoes. I sure knew how to ruin the light mood he had been creating.
“What about our jobs?” He asked.
I felt a little guilty. Methra had to handle the bad side of me taking such a long break. I would have to remember to call her and thank her. Plus Franco had to leave his restaurant. I didn't even think about his job.
“Franco, I'm losing it. I'm losing my grip on the world. This guy, he's plagued my dreams, my life, your life, Paige's life. When does it all end?” This must have been the question of the hour. A tear fell from me eye and Franco wrapped his arms around me. I buried my face into his shoulder and let the weight of the world crush me.
I was still sobbing when Franco let go and guided me back into the house. I went into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. The person I saw was not someone I wanted to be. I didn't want to have this curse. I just wanted to give it away. Burden someone else with my 'gift'. I had had it for long enough. When did it end?
A knock came from the door. Franco wondered where Paige was.
I turned on the faucet and washed my face. I grabbed a paper towel and opened the door. Franco was looking in the kitchen. I walked around the house with the paper towel pressed to the corner of my eye. Tears still were collecting and falling.
I spotted Eliza's grandmother, “Hi, it's me again. Have you seen my daughter, Paige?” I asked.
She nodded and pointed to the front door, “She went out the front with Eliza's old babysitter. Esp-Esper...something or other.”
It took a moment for what she was saying to sink in, “Esperanza?”
“Yes! That's it! Do you know her?” She asked.
I felt my world crash in on me for the second time that day. I dropped my paper towel and tore out of the door. I hadn't even realized I had been screaming Franco's name until he ran out of the house looking as frantic as I felt.
“Adara?” He asked breathlessly.
He followed as I searched the lawn then the cars on the street. I ran in one direction then changed my mind and ran in the other.
“Adara!” Franco called again. He latched onto my arms and stopped me from moving. He looked into my eyes and waited for my heart to slow down and for me to catch my breath.
“Esperanza. Has. Paige.” Sobs began to build up in my chest.
“Are you sure?” He asked carefully.
I nodded my head and my body began to shake uncontrollably. He led me back to the house where he asked everyone if Esperanza had been around. All their answers matched.
She had been there.
“She won't get away with this, Adara,” Franco said forcefully.
For a moment I actually believed him.