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The truck had no lift, and the ramp was still rolled up and latched under the cargo box. “I couldn’t figure out how to pull that thing down,” Teresa said, stepping onto the bumper of the truck. She was dressed for the gym – athletic shoes and shorts, a cotton t-shirt with the sleeves cut off in deep scoops down the sides, a light blue sports bra – and he watched as she pulled herself with ease into the back of the truck.

“The ramp will make it a lot easier to get that table out of there,” he said.

“Go for it.” She started pulling the heavy furniture pad off the top of the table.

He flipped down the latch and pulled the ramp out and down, jerking at it as it stuck on its rollers.

“Really? It was that easy?”

“Well, the latch was jammed a bit. I can see why you had trouble.”

She smiled at his lie, nodded, and watched him climb the ramp from the sunlight into the shaded interior with her. They each wrapped their hands under the apron of the table and lifted, and he began to walk backward across the floor of the box toward the ramp. “Can you see where you’re going?” she asked.

“Not really. But as long as I don’t step off the edge, this shouldn’t end badly.” He smiled. “Tell me when I get there.”

“Now.”

They descended the ramp cautiously and awkwardly and turned to shuffle across the grass to the front door. They twisted the table onto its side to maneuver the legs through the door. They continued as they had, him shuffling backward and looking at her, and her looking past him to see where they were going. When they had the table centered under the hanging lamp, she nodded to him and they set the table down, the legs clacking onto the tile.

“Mercy!” she exclaimed, and he smiled at the word. She pulled some stray strands of hair from her face and rolled her eyes. “The rest should be easy,” she said, her breath labored. “As weird as it was, I’m glad you showed up.”

“I wasn’t doing anything else.”

She leaned back against the bare wall and looked slowly over the room, as if she were examining things that only she could see. “So, you’re on Acacia. Is that the one with thorns?”

“Everything in the desert has thorns.”

She gave a surprised laugh. “That’s a cheerful thought.”

“Don’t say nobody warned you.” He watched her as she swept her eyes across the room again. “You already unloaded the bed by yourself?”

“No bed. I left him the bed. I’m having a new one delivered tomorrow.”

He gestured left and right with his head, sweeping the emptiness of the room with his gaze. “Looks like you left him just about everything,” he said.

“Yeah. Well. We didn’t have much by the end.” He nodded, waiting for her to continue. She walked into the next room and he heard the refrigerator open. She came back with two bottles of water, opening one and taking a long drink as she walked. She offered the other to him. He took the bottle from her, then set it unopened on the table. She gave a small shrug and leaned back against the wall. “I don’t care. Stuff doesn’t matter to me,” she finally said, looking past him across the room and out through the open front door. “All I wanted was to get out. And I got that.” She drew a long slow breath, then exhaled in an audible sigh. “That’s enough.”

He shifted, waited, watched her face. After a moment she looked back at him, and he saw her face relax, reshape, rejoin him in the room. “Anyway,” she said, drawing a full breath, “what’s going on in this neighborhood? I mean, two days after I close on this house, they find that family.”

“Yeah.”

She waited, but he said nothing more. “Did you know them?”

“No. I think maybe I’d seen her and the kids sometimes when I was walking. If that was them.”

“Are you scared?”

“Not really.”

“Hmm. I’m a little freaked out by it.”

Abruptly she leaned forward and stepped quickly to him, gripping a fold of his shirt sleeve in her fingers, pulling his arm away from his body.

“You’re bleeding,” she said, more a question than a statement. He looked from her face to his own body at the circle of blood spreading through his t-shirt over his left rib cage.

“It’s a scratch,” he said, lifting his shirt just enough to reveal the oozing slash. “It’s okay.”

“God! That is not a scratch. It looks like a cut. What did you do?”

“No, it’s okay, really. Mesquite thorn stabbed me. I was trimming trees yesterday. I probably just bumped it while we were moving the table.”

She leaned in to examine the wound, then stepped back suddenly and crossed her arms over her own chest. “I’ll see if I can find some gauze.” She turned and walked briskly down the hall and disappeared into one of the rooms. He stood holding his shirt above the cut, watching a rivulet of blood crawl down his skin.


Read part 4


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