"Looking In From the Outside"

A Resident Evil Writers - Holiday Challenge story

By Fa├žade

He took a deep breath and held it, savoring the crisp freshness of the air. The cold air bit at his nose and throat but he reveled in the sensation. The breeze was scented with the essence of suburbia life. His senses singled them out for identification. The fresh, tangy scent of freshly mowed grass; the wet, earthy smell of the dew damp ground; an underlying odor of garbage waiting on the curb; a whiff of freshly brewed coffee; and, overlaying it all, the soft perfume of the lilac bush whose shadow concealed him. He blew his breath out reluctantly as his lungs began to protest and shifted his weight to the other foot.

His eyes fell to his wrist and scanned the time quickly. Only a little longer. A crunch of gravel from behind startled him and he sidled deeper into the shadow, his breath hitching painfully in his chest. He held perfectly still, every muscle tensed for flight, fingers twitching at his side for a weapon that was not there. A cold sweat, stinking of fear, broke out across his forehead and his heart labored arduously in his chest. Over the blood rushing in his ears he heard an unmistakable snuffing at the fence near him and felt his legs weaken in relief. He grinned ruefully at his own foolishness and hissed softly, sending the stray mongrel fleeing down the alley.

He listened long enough to ensure the dog far enough away before turning his attention back to the street he was observing. Neat middle class houses, rich green lawns, flowerbeds lovingly tended, and everything a man could want for a quiet life. He swallowed the bitterness stinging the back of his throat and reminded himself that none of this could be his. Umbrella had cut him off from this world in one fateful night.

He squinted at the rising sun just peeking over the far roofs of houses and glanced back at his watch. Anytime now. He focused his blue eyes on the far window, waiting expectantly. As if on cue, a light clicked on, throwing a rosy glow on the blinds. He smiled slightly. Such punctuality still. He waited several breaths longer, watching hungrily for some sign of movement within before silently slipping along the fence.

He rounded the corner cautiously and peered around him before hopping the short gate into the backyard. The gate rattled in its latch far too noisily to his ears and he crouched low, casting apprehensive glances about to see if he was discovered. There was no cry of detection and he sighed softly, brushing reddish-brown hair from his face. He crept along the wall until he was beneath the wide window, finding it open as he had predicted. He settled back on his heels in the grass and waited, eyes slowly scanning the yard. Memories of laughter floating on the night breezes and barbecues in the heat of summer drifted across his consciousness like falling leaves.

The soft padding of feet on the linoleum followed by rushing water drew his attention back to the window. A clink of glass on metal and finally a hissing noise. A small smile quirked his lips again. Coffee pot. Another set shuffling set of footsteps, followed by muffled voices. One male and one female. A soft question with no answer. Silence stretched for several heartbeats and finally a sigh and retreating footsteps. Chair legs scraping across the floor and the rustle of a paper being unfolded. He listened attentively, savoring every whisper of noise. A moment later, maybe more for time had no meaning to him that day, footsteps returned. Another soft conversation. The voice cajoling and apologetic. The response forcefully cheerful.

He frowned. Work? Today? Anger welled forth but he tamped it back. He vaguely heard the front door open and close and a car start in the driveway and pull away. The chair scrapes the floor again, followed by the clink of a cup set in the sink. He pulled away from the window discreetly and slipped away over the gate and to his waiting car down the street.

An hour later his fingers drummed idly on the steering wheel but he refused to leave. He whistled cheerlessly to himself and slumped farther into the seat. He straightened as the front door opened and a woman stepped into the sun. His eyes hungrily took in every detail as she flowed down the steps and across the lawn to the vehicle in the driveway. The burnished red-gold hair swept back in a simple braid held gray at the temples that had not been there previously and the face he remembered so well bore more lines. The tired blue eyes that matched his own held more knowledge and sorrow than he wished. The simple flower print cotton dress reached her knees and rippled around her with the day's light breeze.

She called out to a neighbor working in a yard nearby and waved. A shiver ran down his spine as he caught snatches of her beloved voice. Her car pulled away slowly and he eased his own onto the street and followed.

The day passed too quickly as he shadowed her about her day's business. A trip to the farmer's market to wander among the rows of produce and crafts. A stop to pick up a lunch at a deli to be eaten in the park, watching enviously as children laughed and played and ran to their mothers with carefully picked bouquets of dandelions. Finally, one last stop at the florists as the sun passed its zenith and began its trek towards night.

His heart fluttered painfully as she drove past the street leading to her home and continued along the winding road. He followed. There was no choice really. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel until the knuckles whitened, his mind whispering denials to him. Not there. Please not there. But she drove on, along the winding road, under the shade of the great trees, and finally through the great metal archway. He parked down the road from her and watched silently as she left her car and began her journey over the grass, weaving her way past stone guardians.

He pulled a well-worn baseball cap from the glovebox and smashed it over his hair. He stepped from his own car and slipped a pair of dark sunglasses over his eyes and followed the woman's retreating figure. She finally slowed to a stop and stood silently before a stone headstone. One he knew well for it bore his family's name engraved upon it.

She knelt before it and gazed soundless at several of the stone markers laid precisely before it before leaning forward and lovingly brushing dirt from two of them. He paused several rows away and bent to examine a headstone before him, pretending great interest. He stole glances toward her. Not that she noticed anything except the graves she tenderly cared for. He knew she spoke for he could see her mouth moving as she carefully pulled grass and weeds from around the stone but the breeze carried no snippets of her words.

Her face mirrored her pain and he knew the source. She spoke so softly to two of her three children who lay before her on this sacred day. He longed to go to her and tell her not to be sad but he knew he could not. Few knew that one of those graves was empty and so it must stay. It was far safer for her to believe he had perished in Raccoon City with the rest that fateful day. For knowing otherwise would put her in danger and he could not bring himself to place her in peril.

Her hands stilled their idle work and she sat back, her head bowed over her clasped hands as though in prayer. Tears stung his eyes when she lifted her eyes skyward and he saw the crystal tears streaking unchecked down her cheeks. He pressed his palms flat against the stone before him and repeated over and over that he could not go to her as the sounds of her soft sobbing reached his ears. He listened to her anguish silently, unable to still the trembling that shook his body or halt the hot, salty tears that fell from his own eyes.

Her weeping slowly dwindled to soft hiccups and finally to silence. She sat motionless in the grass, watching the sun dip lower on the horizon and the shadows lengthen and play across the grounds. Eventually she stood and brushed herself clean of grass and soil, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes, and turned to go. He kept his head lowered as she passed him and stood only when he heard her car pull away.

He knelt before the same graves as she and ran fingers lightly over the stone holding his sister's name, ignoring its companion that held his own. He kissed the tips of his fingers and pressed them to the cool stone and stood, leaving as the sun slipped under the horizon.

He returned to the street and house he knew so well several hours later. There were two cars in the driveway once again. He slipped from his car and shut the door as softly as possible. It was a tense walk up the sidewalk to the door, every nerve and sense alert, every dog barking in the distance causing him to jump. He finally gained his destination and hesitated only a moment before laying his burden on the steps and, feeling terribly childish, rang the doorbell and pelted back to his vehicle before the door opened.

He watched nervously as the door opened and the woman stepped into the porch light's warm glow. He held his breath as she looked up and down the street in confusion and expelled it in a rush when she looked down. He saw her blink several times before leaning down to pick up the bright bouquet of purple, red, and yellow tulips at her feet. The enclosed card fluttered from the spray and she bent to sweep it up. She cradled the flowers in the crook of her arm and opened the simple, unsigned card.

Her hand flew to her mouth, smothering a choked sob. Her eyes glistened with more threatening tears and flew up and down the street, seemingly lingering overly long on his car. He slouched in the seat a little farther, hiding his face in shadow. She held the card in a trembling hand and pressed it tight to her breast. A shaky smile graced her lips and her blue eyes seemed to brighten. She turned and entered the house without a backward glance.

He felt a warm tear of his own trickle down his cheek and smiled. "Happy Mother's Day."

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