“Wow, you sure walk fast.”
Adele stopped on the trail and whirled around to look at the man behind her. Sweat ran in rivulets down his red face, and he wiped it away with the edge of his t-shirt. He smiled, trying very hard to hide the fact that he was out of breath.
“I’m sorry, Frank,” she mumbled. “I guess I didn’t realize you were trying to catch up with me.”
“It’s okay. I like a girl who can kick my ass.”
Adele closed her eyes and shook her head. She had known he was following her for the last quarter mile, and had increased her pace in the hopes that he would give up and go back to the house. I’m going to kill Darryl for inviting him, she thought. Just as soon as I kill Momma for inviting Jimmy.
She opened her eyes and studied Frank. He had half-collapsed on a large rock to the side of the trail and was fanning himself with his hand. His t-shirt, now soaked with sweat, had some nerdy cartoon on the front, and his gut hung out slightly over his jeans in an unfortunate muffin top. His Chucks were covered in mud.
“You really didn’t have to follow me.” Adele wanted to be angry with him. She wanted desperately to yell and scream that she didn’t need setting up, that just because she was 35 and single didn’t mean she was going to die alone.
But she didn’t yell. She couldn’t.
Instead, she shrugged her knapsack off her back and pulled out a bottle of water. She tossed it to him. “Don’t drink it too quickly,” she warned as he eagerly twisted the cap off.
He nodded, smiled in thanks, and began to sip.
She sat down on the rock beside him and pointed to a clearing ahead. “When Darryl and I were kids, we used to have picnics up there. It’s got a really nice view of the valley.” We used to go there to get away when things at the house were too crazy. When we had hid all the booze but somehow Momma would find it and call up Jimmy to invite him over. Momma only called Jimmy when she was drunk, because when she was sober, she would swear that she would have nothing to do with him again. Like today. Frickin’ Thanksgiving, of all days. Adele shook her head again.
“Do you want to show me?” Frank handed the empty bottle back to her. His cheeks were still red, but more from the sun than exertion.
“I don’t…” her voice trailed off. Something about the way he was looking at her made her pause. She expected to see pity in his eyes, especially if Darryl had told him what Jimmy had done to her. But there was no pity at all. Just friendly interest. And…something else? She didn’t know. “Um, sure.”
They walked to the clearing in silence. She didn’t know why, but something about Frank made her feel calmer than she had ever felt before. She took a deep breath and smiled.
“I love that too.”
Adele looked at Frank quizzically.
“That smell. After it rains, when it smells like wet leaves and mushrooms. It’s a clean smell.”
Adele nodded. “Like everything will be okay.”
“Yep. Everything will be okay.”
She knew he was going to put his arm around her, and she stiffened in anticipation. But he never did. Instead, they looked out at the red and gold trees blanketing the valley. The houses were so small, and gray smoke arose from almost all of the chimneys. She imagined, just as she did when she was younger, that they were secret smoke signals: there an E, now a V, another E, until they spelled out the confirmation of Frank’s assessment.
EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY.
For the (slightly late!) Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Eric Storch gave me this prompt: Use this line of dialogue verbatim in your response: “I like a girl who can kick my ass.”
I gave kgwaite this prompt: The peacock and the mouse.