Viv could feel his eyes on her. She had turned to look out the back window. Lucy was happily playing with a ball, not a care in the world. She wished her life was as simple as Lucy’s. If only we could all live in a world like Lucy’s, full of long walks, special treats, life overflowing with love, joy and acceptance.
As she turned away from the window, she wiped the tears from her eyes. She walked across the kitchen, opened a cupboard, reached way in the back and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. She retrieved two glasses, poured them each a respectable amount and drained hers in one shot. Lucy scratched at the back door as she poured and downed her second. Atwood sat in silence, waiting. The whiskey was relaxing her, liquid encouragement. As she let Lucy in, the dog lovingly leaned against her, an invisible bond of friendship. Atwood had yet to touch his whiskey.
“I moved here five years ago. I was traveling through on my way to nowhere and felt compelled to stay. For some reason, this town and its people, living and gone, speak to me. I see what is here and what used to be.” She watched him pick up his whiskey.
He drained his glass and then stared into her eyes. The shocking part, she knew what he didn’t. The pieces of him, unassembled and unexplained, he didn’t doubt that she had the key. “We are going to need a lot more whiskey.” He stared at her, intrigued. “You knew my parents.”
“Yes, they were the first people I let in when I moved to town. Actually, Lucy was. I was working at the coffee shop and I saw Lucy first. The only dog allowed in the coffee shop. She blends in with the floor and the crowd, part rug, part goodwill ambassador to the town. Everyone loves Lucy. Enchanted as I was by her, your parents weren’t far behind. Never asking too much, no probing questions, they just allowed me to open up as time went by. They were regulars, their daily habits meshed with mine. They’d show up around 9:30 after walking with Lucy. Your Dad would sip his hot black coffee and your Mom would nurse a pot of green tea. They were always plotting their day and next adventure. Running all of their ideas by Lucy as if she understood every word they said. There was never a harsh word between the two of them. As the weeks went by, Lucy would drag them in the door, knowing I had a pocket full of treats and a soul in need of a dog. Her tail thumping on the wooden floor boards like music to my tired ears. One day they asked me what I did outside of work and asked me if I wanted to take a hike. This led to nature hikes, walks around town, visiting local cemeteries, trips to Lake Michigan to watch sunsets while Lucy chased sticks into the water. They were like coming home to a home I never had. When they would take trips to see you, I would stay here, in their house, having sleep overs with Lucy. I would spend afternoons reading magazines, weeding the perennial garden and drinking your Dad’s whiskey. The last time I saw them, they stopped into the coffee shop on their way out of town for their month long summer trip. I had made them a picnic for the road and loaded Lucy up with treats and sent the three of them on their way. When they opened the door to leave the coffee shop, the bells on the door jingled, Lucy’s tail banged on the door, your mom blew me a kiss and your dad winked at me. Like I was their girl, it was a perfect moment in time. I received several postcards, one from Iowa with a big corn field and the last one from a coffee shop in Nebraska. They joked that they loved visiting all the states in the middle of the country and that oceans were over rated. I heard about the accident at the coffee shop, word travels fast. It was known that they were my favorite customers, but no one knew how close we had become. I heard that Lucy had survived and never left their sides after the accident. I knew you would be coming home. I knew of you through them, I doubted you knew of me because they respected my privacy. So, I let it be with you as they had let it be with me. Letting you come around at your own pace. I was relieved when you started coming to the coffee shop. Their energy lives on there, and although you don’t recognize it that way, I knew you would be drawn to it. Then one night a few months ago, I couldn’t sleep. In the early morning hours, walking, lost in thought, I saw you. You were walking on Jefferson Street. I followed you. The closer I got, I noticed a faraway look in your eyes, you were silent, not a word. I decided to lead you home, so as I walked, you followed. I unlocked the house, let Lucy out, you went in and when Lucy was safely back in, locked the door and went home. The next day you were at the coffee shop as if nothing happened.”
He was exhausted but never more awake. He caught his reflection in the window and realized looking back was not the boy that grew up in this house, but a lost man who was somehow now found.