By Betsy Love
This is the story I submitted to an online, 24 hour short story contest. I won't hear anything until the end of May. Wish me Luck.
The Tale of the Interloper
Everything changed the day he came into Roxie’s life. Mom carried a box of his belongings, much of which looked new, as if she’d purchased them for him. Although tanned and handsome, he looked like trouble to Roxie. She watched her mother put their picture in the scrapbook, as if he too, belonged there. Mom left it on the coffee table. Roxie sneaked it off into the other room and deliberately shredded it. Mom didn’t scold her. But then she never scolded her for anything. All she did was gather up the pieces and throw them in the trash. She never reprimanded him either when he did bad things. Shortly after moving in he knocked over Mom’s lamp—it went in the trash, too.
Roxie couldn’t bring herself to say his name. She refused to acknowledge his presence, except for the devious things she thought of to annoy him while Mom wasn’t looking, like hiding his belongings behind the couch, or sneaking food off his plate when he wasn’t looking. He never complained to Mom, but Roxie saw the scowl on his face when he caught her, the mean angry draw of his eyebrows, the dark mist that came over his eyes, and the wicked grin, practically baring his teeth. He was playing some kind of game with her, wasn’t he? Waiting, but for what?
Whenever Roxie came into a room where Mom was present, he spoke sweetly, kindly. “Give her some time. It’s a big adjustment. Just us two for ten years.” Mom toyed with his ear and kissed his ugly face.
But Roxie noted the change in him as soon as Mom left the room. Two-faced interloper. Roxie knew a matter of days existed before he convinced Mom to send her away.
His love affair with Mom grew thicker. Roxie’s stomach turned to lead every time she saw him snuggle up against her mother. Revolting, she murmured to herself when he kissed her, moving in with that tongue action. Since he moved in, Roxie secluded herself away from them so she wouldn’t have to witness their disgusting displays of affection.
One afternoon, while he was messing around in the back yard, Roxie surreptitiously watched her mother load a picnic basket, counting the number of plates, forks, napkins. Roxie began pacing around the kitchen, getting in Mom’s way until finally hands on hip, she glared at Roxie. “I suppose this means you want to go, too?”
She didn’t really, but said, “Yes.” Her future could be too easily decided with one cuddle from Mom’s new love.
Closing the lid of the basket, Mom put her hand under Roxie’s chin. “I guess I’ve been neglecting you a bit.”
Roxie didn’t pull away and allowed Mom to pat the top of her head. “You can come too.”
Not expecting to ride in the front seat, Roxie settled into her spot in the back so she could keep an eye on Mom. What Roxie didn’t expect was for him to join her in the back seat. Perhaps to fool mom with his goodwill, but she knew better. His large frame spilled over to her side and she shifted closer to the door. He sat gazing out the window; a sad expression came over his face. She’d never seen him look like that before, and a lump formed in her throat. Not because she felt sad for him, but because she remembered Sophie, her little sister. Sophie would still be with them if it hadn’t been for her wandering off like that. Maybe he’d lost someone and remembered that time. No! Roxie would not allow herself any kind of sympathy for him. He is the enemy.
Suddenly he looked over at Roxie, and she dipped her head so as not to meet his baleful eyes.
“Off we go.” Mom made the car roar to life and rolled the back windows down. Roxie placed a hand on the edge feeling the empty ridge where the glass had disappeared, willing the wind to calm her as it rushed across her face.
Once out of the car Roxie lifted her cheeks to the breeze blowing through her hair, and smelled the forest, the pines, the wildlife, everything that said outdoors.
Up the hill a few tents secluded themselves. The aroma of grilled steaks floated down to her, and Roxie’s stomach gave an audible growl. The smell of the meat seemed to draw out the savagery in him. She shivered at his fierce glare. He hadn’t brought her along for the picnic. She didn’t know how she knew it, but he’d wanted her along for his own sinister purpose. Her heart pounded in her throat. Hunger suddenly lost all meaning. By the greedy look on his face she knew he had other plans.
The moment Mom reached for the picnic basket, allowing Roxie to stray from her vigilant care, she bolted for the woods. She didn’t think about which way she ran, all she knew was she had to get away from him. Her mouth parched, she panted heavily, daring to rest only once when she thought she heard water trickling over rocks. Following the sounds, and ignoring the thorns slicing through her legs she headed toward the stream. That’s when she heard strangers calling her name, perhaps the campers, but how had they known?
She quickly stepped back and her hair got tangled on a low branch. How she wished Mom had let her cut it short. The forest canopy swallowed her as she sobbed, stumbled and repeatedly whispered to herself, “Why couldn’t I have been cat?” A tree would have been the perfect escape.
Abruptly he stepped out of the woods in front of her. He growled, barked, pounced on her and then wagged his tail. The game was up, and Roxie had lost. Next time she’d be ready.