Read part one

He walked into the kitchen. “Hello,” he called again, though more quietly this time, and his voice sounded thin and hollow in the empty room. On top of the breakfast bar were a set of keys, a red leather wallet, a pair of drugstore sunglasses, and a box cutter. The sun on the dark brown tile floor was raising wisps of heated air, the shimmering mirage carrying flecks of dust and the faint scent of citrus cleaner.

He stepped to the bar and picked up the knife, rolling it from one hand into the other as he looked over the wallet and the glasses and the small, tidy key ring – one house key and one car key. As he flicked the button on the box cutter forward and back with his thumb, extending and retracting the blade, he heard the squeak of the rollers as the door slid open, and he turned to see a woman standing in the doorway, her features indistinct, her body a dark silhouette sliced out of the brightness behind her.

“Can I help you?” She spoke with a voice clipped and too loud for the empty room. She took one tentative step, then stopped. She’d moved out of the backlight of the doorway, and he could see her face, her jaw set and her brow knotted, alert and wary. She held a cell phone in one hand, raised to her chest, her thumb wrapped around the front and pressed against the touchscreen. She looked at the box cutter in his hand.

“No,” he said quickly. “I…” He stopped. “I’m sorry.” He lay the knife on the counter carefully and without a sound. “I just…” He smiled weakly and raised his hands, palms forward in a gesture of surrender. He dropped his chin toward the floor and looked up at her, but her expression and pose were unchanged. He lowered his hands to his sides and took a step back. “All of your doors are open.”

She nodded slightly. “Yeah, I’m moving stuff.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I called out a couple of times but I didn’t hear anyone.”

“I was out back on the phone.” She shook her head slightly. “So you just let yourself in?”

“Well, no, the door was open. I saw the moving truck. I guess curiosity just got the better of me.” He raised his hands again, apologetically. “Hey, you know, I’m sorry. I’ll get out of here.” He turned away and started toward the front room.

“Are you one of the neighbors?” she asked, her voice still short and sharp.

He stopped in the arched doorway and turned halfway back toward her. He tried another smile. “Yes. I’m right behind here. On Acacia.”

She didn’t respond, but turned her eyes from him and walked with an exaggerated confidence to the breakfast bar, and he watched her scan her possessions. Then she put the phone down alongside the keys and glasses and rested both hands against the countertop.

“Okay,” she finally said, then she exhaled a long breath. “It’s pretty weird to find a strange man standing in my kitchen.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry.”

“Especially with what’s been going on around here.”

“I know.”

She pushed her shoulders back and drew herself up to stand at her fullest height. “So you agree that this is not normal behavior?”

“I’ve never done anything like this. I can’t explain it.”

She looked him over then and he stood and let her take stock of him. She nodded, crossed one arm over her chest and gripped the other. “I’m Teresa,” she said, letting her face relax into a strained smile.

“Scott,” he said, and gave a small wave, still standing just inside the entryway. “Scotty.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet a neighbor, Scotty. However weird.” She uncrossed her arms and walked from behind the island toward him, hand extended. He smiled then and shook her hand. “Since you’re here,” she said, “can you help me carry that table in?”

Read part three

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