Luke sorts the Halloween candy I bought into piles, a mountain range stretching across my kitchen table. He smirks. “You need more candy, Mrs. C.”
I sweep the piles into my big plastic bowl. “Halloween candy’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll find.”
“Tell that to the kid who can’t eat coconut having a fit on your porch.”
“You just want all the chocolate coconut ones.”
I’m surprised when he smiles. It happens so seldom. When Luke turned his abusive father in to the police, he turned himself inside out with guilt. His mother and I tell him he did the right thing, but he won’t listen. I can’t help him. I’m only the old lady next door. I couldn’t even save my own son.
“Want to have pizza before the trick-or-treaters get here?” Luke asks.
“What about that party?”
He shrugs, avoids my gaze. “I don’t have a costume.”
“Oh, pish, we can make one easy. When my daughter, Audrey….” I’ve opened a door I usually keep locked.
“I looked for her. Online.”
An ache spreads inside my chest. “I asked you not to do that.”
“You deserve to see…”
“No, Luke. I don’t.”
“You think you did something wrong. I don’t believe that. Even if you did, you did the best you could, right? That’s what you told me. I had an impossible choice to make. I made it. So did you.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Then tell me.”
“Just… go. Please.” I tug on his chair until he stands.
“Every Halloween you look for your granddaughter with all those ballerinas and princesses. You don’t know what she looks like, where she lives. I do.” He backs out of my kitchen, hands clasped in front of him, desperate to get the words out, but not as desperate as I am to not hear them. “She’s only three hours away. In Hartley.“ He’s outside, holding onto the doorframe. “I’ll go with you.”
I make sure his fingers are clear before I quietly close the door. I tug the yellow curtain across the glass.
“You said… we do the best we can at the time.” His voice quavers. “Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way we… we have to move on, to forgive ourselves. But you haven’t. And I… can’t.”
“Luke, you saved your mother’s life. And yours.”
“But I didn’t save my father. I… I threw him away.” Sobs rip from him. His body crumples to the step.
With a shaky hand, I place a kitchen chair next to the door, creating a confessional. “My son, Sam, was 14…well, I’m sure there were signs before that, but I was a young widow, working, raising the children. And it wasn’t all over TV like it is now.” I sigh. “But I still should’ve seen it.”
Luke snuffles. “Seen what?”
“How secretive he was. How he wandered the woods, alone. The other children thought he was…creepy. So did Audrey. I told her she should stick up for her little brother.” I laugh, the sound hollow yet full of regret. “Sam skipped school. His grades plummeted. I didn’t know how to help him. When he started doing odd jobs, I thought the responsibility would be good for him. Until Mrs. Jacoby’s cat disappeared. Everyone blamed Sam.”
“Sounds like a serial killer.”
I close my eyes. “He probably would’ve been. If he’d lived.”
Luke’s stunned silence sits with us a moment before I break it. “Audrey was scared, wanted him out of the house. I said she was overreacting. Then, one night, Audrey woke up and…Sam was there, staring at her. She screamed for me. He just…laughed.” I swallow hard. “I’m ashamed to say I didn’t think about him hurting other people. I had to protect my daughter from…my son. But I also had to protect my son. No one else would. I had to save them both.”
“But you couldn’t.” Realization winds through Luke’s words.
“I tried. I got a lock for Audrey’s door. I made sure they were never alone together. I never told them but I even bought a gun. God knew what I was going to do with it. Shoot my own son?” The words are ragged in my throat. “It wasn’t enough. Audrey said I chose Sam over her. She went off to college, never looked back.”
“He found the gun. He went into the woods and killed himself. He was seventeen.” Pain swells inside me. “So, Luke, I know about choices. You made the right one. I didn’t. I lost my daughter, my son. I lost…everything.” I sob. “Go now. Please.”
I sit for a while, mourning all over again. A paper slips under the door. Directions to Hartley. I squint at Luke’s cramped printing on the orange sticky note – “Maybe someday.”
The doorbell rings. Trick-or-treaters. I wipe my eyes then hand out candy to the kittens and pirates. I don’t look for my granddaughter. I don’t have to.
Heart pounding, I grab the directions, my keys, and all the chocolate coconuts. I head to Luke’s, mentally readying myself for our road trip.
He’s walking over, wearing ragged jeans and a stained t-shirt, zombie mask in hand.
I hide the directions and keys before he notices them. “Good costume.”
“Don’t even need the mask.” He points to his raw, red eyes, then his smirk turns serious. “What you said….”
I shake my head. If I speak, I’ll beg him to come with me. I don’t think I can face my daughter on my own. But he deserves his chance. Me? I’m not so sure.
His face lights up when I hand him the candy. “Thanks, Mrs. C!”
I smile, shoo Luke away from me and back into his life.
I stand there, alone. I feel for Luke’s note in my pocket. Maybe someday. I crumple it in my fist then look between the car and the house, back again. I take a deep, shuddering breath then start walking.
Madeline Mora-Summonte reads, writes, and breathes fiction in all its forms. She is the author of The People We Used to Be: A Flash Fiction Collection.
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Planet Oz: The Novel — Lost on a planet with only her laser rifle and T.O.W.T.O.H., Dorothy must fight false rulers and her own self-doubt before she can escape from Planet Oz.