“Of course not.”
“Then, why do this?”
“I felt sorry for her,” he tries to explain. “You and I both know what it’s like to be kept in the dark about your past.”
“This is not about us, Anderson, and you know it.”
“I know it, but she deserves to know.”
“To know what? That her father is indirectly responsible for her mother's death? Do you even hear yourself?”
I sigh, slumping back into the wicker chair, which has somehow gotten less comfortable in the last minute or so.
“So, now what?” I snort.
“I put her to bed, she felt dizzy when I told her, and almost fell to the floor.”
“Great,” I roll my eyes. “Just great. We’re trying to keep her alive, and you go and almost kill her with a skeleton in her family’s closet.”
“Don’t tell me you think she doesn’t deserve to know,” he snorts back at me.
“Of course I think she should know, dammit!” I raise my voice. “But, it’s not your story to tell. And neither is it mine. You may have destroyed her relationship with the last living member of her family.”
“I know…” Anderson looks down, as he always does when he knows he’s messed up. But, what’s done is done. Feeling sorry won’t change anything. “But, I also know that - “
“Shhhh!” I interrupt him, jumping up from my chair.
He knows what that means. His body reacts in the same way. My muscles tighten, my hand pats the handle of my gun. I see him doing the same. He’s quiet.
I raise my nose slightly upward. The wind is blowing softly in our direction. The woods are still. I smell sweat, dirty laundry, raunchy mayo.
Silently, I point my finger in the direction of the narrow path that leads from the woods in the distance. We’re both on our guard. For a few moments, nothing happens. But, I know it will. My nose is never wrong. My gut is never wrong. And, this time, both are ringing loud and clear.
Anderson is silent. I can barely tell he’s by my side. In all these years of being partners, we’ve adjusted to each other. We know what the other is thinking, and in cases such as this one, it’s invaluable. He knows when to be quiet, when to act, when to jump at my mark.
The smell of sweat is getting stronger, the mayo raunchier. I hear the cracking of little branches lost in the fallen leaves, and I know something’s coming. My breaths have become shallow, my fingers calm. I’ve been in this situation more times than I can count. So has Anderson. It could be just a wood critter, but I doubt it. They don’t sweat like that. And, then there’s the mayo. It’s a person, and that’s the problem. A person who isn’t supposed to be here.
A few more seconds pass by, and someone jumps out of the bushes and into the clearing that opens up into a path. I can’t see him well, not as well as I’d like to. The little light on our porch is on. The usual set up is not to make the house look like it’s uninhabited. On the contrary, someone should be outside, me or Anderson, and if someone happens to pass by, we should send them on their merry way. Maddie is not to go out or make a peep if there’s someone else on the porch or close to it. She has already been instructed on that.
Both Anderson and I wait for the figure to walk closer to us. Whoever it is, he stops every few steps, to take a deep breath. His hands are resting on his back as he does so. It’s a he. Now, I’m sure of it. And, I feel even more nervous than a few seconds ago. This isn’t a usual trail for hikers. Nor is it the right time of the year. Something just doesn’t add up.
The man finally approaches the house, stopping at the foot of the little stairs that lead up to the porch. Anderson and I have both gotten up, and are facing him from the top of the stairs.
“Good evening,” the man says, breathing heavily.
He doesn’t look in good enough shape for a hiker, especially not for someone who is hiking alone on an unmarked trail.
“Good evening,” I reply. Anderson just nods. “Far away from the road, aren’t you?”
“I honestly have no idea how I got lost,” the man informs us, and the small light on the porch reveals his pale, but reddened, chubby face.
His backpack is small, half empty. The water bottle in the side mesh pocket is half empty as well. His shoes are dirty, dusty, but not worn out. His lightweight jacket is wrapped around his waist, even though it’s a chilly night.
“Do you need help?” I ask again.
He looks benevolent. He also looks so out of shape that I think Maddie herself would easily take him on. But, he may be just a clever decoy. It wouldn’t be the first time. We put our guard down and it all goes to Hell.
“I think I parked my car somewhere over there,” the man points behind our house. “But, I didn’t pass your house when I was walking up the path.”