Every day on her way home from work, Dove Damiani drives past her ex-house, where her ex-husband lives with her ex-dog and her ex-yoga instructor, next to her ex-neighbors and the ex-life she once affectionately described as “frighteningly perfect.”
To outsiders, Dove is bitter and resentful. The divorce left her alone, with nothing but a set of car keys and 50% of a paltry savings account.
…but it doesn’t mean she wants him dead.
But as evidence mounts against her, Dove finds herself questioning her memory, her sanity, and even—her innocence.
An eerie silence fills the house after Ian’s visitation.
Lucy rustles from her spot by my feet at the end of the sofa before hopping down and stretching her long legs. She gives me her pleading brown eyes and the smallest of tail wags, and I get up, making my way to the back door to let her out.
Normally I wait inside, but I could use the fresh air, so I decide to join her. Hugging my sides, I stand on the back porch and pull in lungful after lungful of crisp autumn air, inhaling the inimitable scent of dying leaves and hibernating flora. Death and decay are beautiful in the right context and that irony is not lost on me, especially tonight of all nights.
Ian once mentioned fall was his favorite time of year. He said he lived for the changing leaves and pumpkin-spiced everything, and he always preferred his gingham-checked button downs and cashmere sweaters in rich, deep shades over his summertime t-shirt and shorts wardrobe. Plus, as a teacher, fall meant back-to-school festivities. Football. Homecoming. Catching up with his favorite students. Student council elections. Coaching the debate team.
There was so much life in that man and now he’s just … gone.
There’s a murky haze in the air today. Someone nearby must be burning leaves. I wonder if I’ll forever associate the distinct, ashy scent of burnt nature with Ian’s passing.
I peer across the deck railing, my eyes adjusting in the dark as I search for Lucy. I find her a few seconds later, doing one of her infamous perimeter checks where she runs along the fence line and sniffs at anything and everything before dashing inside.
Only she seems to be fixated on something.
“Lucy, in.” A biting breeze wraps around me as I call for her, patting my thigh. But she doesn’t budge. She’s still as a statue, her nose glued to the ground and her tail pointing straight.
“Lucy!” I yell louder, stepping toward the end of the deck. “Inside.”
She ignores me for another moment before rising on her hind legs and scratching at the wooden fence, going from statuesque to animated in the blink of an eye.
There must be someone on the other side.
I call for her a third time before marching out to get her myself.
She’s going crazy, scratching and whimpering, jumping and whining. In fact, she’s so caught up in whatever she’s freaking out about that she doesn’t notice me, startling and jumping back when I reach down and loop my fingers into her collar.
I get her to quiet down for a second, long enough to hear the unmistakable rustle of footsteps through fallen leaves on the other side of the fence. Through the quarter-inch slits that separate each wooden panel, I can make out the dark outline of a figure on the other side.
“I’m sorry,” I say to the next-door neighbor. Ian introduced us once. I think his name is Will? He’s a bachelor and a bit of a loner. Due to his work schedule at the tire factory, we don’t tend to cross paths, but every once in a while I see him coming and going in his big black Ford with the chrome-tipped dual exhaust and depending on his mood, sometimes we exchange a wave or two. “She gets excited sometimes.”
I loop my fingers around Lucy’s collar until I have control, lingering for a second and waiting for a response that never comes.
Will is the least of my concerns today.
I lead Lucy inside and lock the sliding door behind us, and then I make my way back to the living room to check my phone in case I missed any calls in the last few minutes. Only in the midst of reaching for it, I happen to glance out the picture window behind the couch—just in time to see Will pulling into his driveway and climbing out of his truck a second later.
I yank the curtains shut, violent chills running through my stiffened limbs.
That wasn’t him.
Sunday Tomassetti is the pseudonym of a Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Amazon Charts, and #1 Amazon bestselling author who wanted an outlet for her passion projects. A thirty-something married mother of three, Sunday resides in the midwest where you can always find her hard at work on her next novel.
Sunday is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.