The moment I get in my car, I direct Jules to Eric’s house, then thrust my head down between my legs and scream. I release every sound that was beating to come out—every terror, every devastation, and every shock.
He nearly made me kill someone. He nearly shot me. And then he killed that child anyway.
I step out of the car onto the sidewalk in front of Eric’s house. The world teeters and my head feels lopsided. Breath is hard to find. After what seemed like hours, I made it to the door, where Eric’s affable mother answers. She looks at me with concern, holding my shoulder as she leads me to a seat. The home smells of orange marmalade. She offers me orange juice, which I can’t resist.
“I just squeezed it, so it’s fresh.”
“Fresh-squeezed orange juice? Count me in,” Eric chimes, galloping down the stairs.
“Sorry I’m late. I ended up waiting for Jules to pick me up.”
“I’m just glad you’re here. Is everything all right?” Eric says, folding my hands into his. His wry smile affirms his appreciation of my presence, but his eyes paint over like Mrs. Marcello’s. In my periphery I see the beam of Mrs. Marcello’s smile. Eric may be her stepchild but I can tell she loves him and wants him to be happy.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about.” My eyes glide over to Mrs. Marcello’s presence. “Can we talk somewhere, please?”
“I know just the place.” He helps me up. I must look as bad as I feel.
“Mom, we’ll be in the atrium.”
Releasing one of my hands, he guides me to his home’s atrium. “Your atrium is so beautiful,” I say. All houses have atriums at the center, with hallways that lead out to various areas of the house. The entrances to the atriums have transparent shields that enable the home to maintain the optimum environment for the plants and vegetation to grow. The home knows to retract the shields upon our approach. The halls leading to the atrium remind me of spokes on a bicycle. Some houses have more hallways than others, depending on the size of the family—Eric’s house has five.
I admire the arrangement of flowers and plants around the outer edge and the Roman fountain in the center of the atrium. There are four benches, with green cushions that melt into the landscape, positioned north, south, east, and west, along the rim of the garden. We sit on the northern seat, farthest away from the hallway entrance that leads to the front room and closer to the hall that leads to the backyard. “Our atrium is just dirt right now.”
“That happens when you don’t plant anything.” He chuckles. His
chuckles always come from his stomach, deep and melodic.
“True.” The water is soothing as it cascades from the fountain lulling me into contentment. I can sit here for hours listening to the symphony of drops drowning out my thoughts.
“So what is it that you want to talk to me about?”