(Saturdays are short story days! Don’t get too creeped out.)
A Stranger in the House
She left the window open. I can’t say that she did it on purpose, but I like to think she did. I imagine her pausing as she reached to shut it tight and turn that lock. In her mind’s eye, she saw me and hoped I’d find my way here. Probably not though. Who am I kidding, definitely not. People don’t want me hanging around their house. The last time I had a bath was when I got caught in that downpour two weeks ago. No, she didn’t leave it open for me, but that’s not going to stop me from using it.
They’re gone on some trip. I saw the big guy loading the suitcases in the car. All three of them are gone. I can’t say that I’m sad to see them go. I mean, I get the house to myself for a while. A roof over my head, all the food I can rummage up and the whole place smells like cinnamon and apples. You can’t beat that. It’s tons better than garbage cans and drain pipes.
I know this is probably the worst thing I could do. If they ever found out, they’d have me locked up…maybe worse. But I can’t help it. Living on the streets is lonely and I’m just drawn here. It was, what do they call it, density. That’s not right, but something like that. Maybe we won’t ever be real friends. They’re just too good for me. She’s too good for me. But just for this week I can pretend like I belong here. A family friend. Maybe even more than that.
Oh, I know I sound pathetic. I’m not usually this sad or sentimental, but that girl’s got something on me. It will be two months ago tomorrow when we first met. I was in the park, minding my own business, and she was reading a book by that tree I like to …. Make sure has enough hydration. Of course, I couldn’t check on it with her lying there. Her brown hair fell down hiding her face. She didn’t even know I was watching her. She likes to read. She also hadn’t noticed those stupid teenagers getting ready to pop a water balloon upside her head. I took care of them though. Got ‘em good.
The next time I saw her she was walking down the path from the park to her house. I was sitting by the bench there. I was starving. And she stopped and handed me a pack of peanut crackers, less one. Then she just gave me a smile and headed toward our tree.
After that I would check on her from time to time. It wasn’t until a week ago that I followed her home. I know that might sound a little creepy, but I actually just wanted to keep an eye on her, make sure those fool boys didn’t come back around again. I didn’t think she’d seen me, but I heard her say “I see you” as she walked across the circular stones leading toward the side door. She didn’t look back, and at first I thought she was talking to someone in the house, but then I caught her reflection in the glass at the door, and my heart stopped. No one’s ever looked at me like that before. Most people run away or yell at me. She didn’t do either one. So since then I’ve been hanging around the house. They’ve got an old clubhouse in the back, no one uses any more. It’s been pretty nice. Better than that itchy concrete, and I don’t have to worry about anyone sneaking up on me.
Of course when I saw them packing up and leaving, I was a little sad, but I’d already noticed the window, and a plan was in the works. Until they come home, I’ll pretend like she’s gone out to the store or off to wherever she goes during the day, and I’ll be here, waiting to greet her and hear all about her day.
* * * * *
After I checked out the whole house, I decided to settle down in the family room. The leather sofa is perfect. It’s near the window, and the kitchen is about four big steps away. And, there’s one of those digital frames and I can watch all their happy faces as much as I want. Normally, I wouldn’t like the others too well. I’m positive they wouldn’t like me, but every third slide or so, her happy little face glows at me, and I have hope that maybe my life won’t end so poorly after all.
I was staring at her holding a baby shark near the ocean when I heard the car door slam. I jumped off that sofa like a cricket on a lily pad. The place looked pretty good. I’d done a good job of keeping things neat and tidy. With any luck, they’d never know I’d been here. The bolt in the door made that little thick sound just as I slid through the window and landed on the deck. I’d have to keep low, just in case they were looking. As I army crawled my way to the stairs, I thought I’d made it when I stretched onto the landing and locked eyes with her. She had an arm full of wet towels, and she was halfway up the steps.
She stopped. I got that feeling you get right before someone yells at you. You can see it in their eyes. It’s like the scream is building up inside there and just has to pop out. But right before her mouth opened, sunshine fell across her face, and she smiled. “You again.”
Before I could do anything, the back door opened and the man came out. No sunshine on his face. He started yelling and carrying on. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to bust by her, and I wasn’t gonna go in his direction. She dropped the towels and took the steps by twos, stopping right by my side. When her hand touched my head, it felt like a warm ray breaking loose on a cool day. I couldn’t help but nuzzle right up next to her.
“This is him daddy. This is the sweetie I was telling you about.”
“This is why you refused to get that puppy from the pet store.”
She smiled down at me. “Yep. This is the one I want.”