Each leaf that fell sounded like a gentle voice urging one of us to say something. Autumn came down on the street as a veil of gold and yellow, a vibrant blanket that shifted and yawned with the wind.
I looked at Ian and struggled with painful memories. He was older and I knew he matured by how his face was set; this young man would never bully a person again. Something in his eyes reflected great loneliness and sorrow, and it seemed odd to me—he’d always been one of the kids with friends all over the place.
“How’s your mom?” I asked at last, hoping to start a conversation.
I hadn’t thought it possible, but at the mention of his mother, Ian’s eyes darkened even more.
“It’s a long story,” he said, not slowing his pace; he walked swiftly without looking at the road, as if it kept his mind off some terrible memory.
Though he wanted to change the subject, I had to satiate my curiosity: “Is it a bad story?”
“It’s a sad one.”
My heart sank. “Is she dead?” I blurted out.
Ian still didn’t turn his head. “We don’t know. She’s just…gone.”
“Gone?” I struggled to picture this neighborhood without Mrs. Kenyon in it. “Like, vanished?”
“Yes.” And finally he betrayed some emotion, taking a breath, readjusting his scarf with shaky hands. I felt a sudden urge to hold them tight, promise things were going to be fine; I only resisted because my gut knew tons of people had done that by now.
Nothing was fine at all.
“How long?” I whispered.
“Two years.” His voice was strained. “She went to help with the gardening at that detestable brick house down the road. You remember it, right?”
I nodded. “The kids called it haunted.”
“If it’s not haunted, it’s hungry.”
“That’s terrible,” I whispered. “Sorry I asked.”
“No, don’t be. You live here too. You knew her.”
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