My first day of NaNoWriMo and the opening of Doll Wars:
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The diminutive, cloaked figure stayed in the shadows of trees and shrubs. An observer would have thought they had spied a child involved in a game of hide-and-seek on a remote suburban street. Yet, the subtle movements, the deliberate manner in which the figure kept to the shade, would belie the first impression. Perhaps the person watching, if there had been any to watch, would have felt the first tinges of unease at the dawning realization they did not watch a child at play, but something hinting at maturity, deliberate intent, and the subtle air of threat.
Slowly, without demonstrating any sense of urgency, the figure moved toward the small house at the end of the cul-de-sac.
“Rowan?” The call drifted up the stairs.
Rowan folded her sweater and laid it on the bed, reaching for the next article of clothing. “Yes, mother?” she called.
“What time is your man-friend coming?”
Rowan smiled at her mother’s wording. “Auden will be here in about fifteen minutes.” She put down the neatly folded blouse on the bed next to the rest of the folded laundry and walked to the door.
“And, Mother,” she called down the stairs, “please don’t call him my man-friend. He’s a friend.”
Rowan shook her head and walked back into her bedroom. Rowan had yet to tell her mother about the engagement ring Auden had given her, the one she refused to wear on her finger, the one she wore concealed on a chain around her neck, under her blouse.
And bless him, Auden accepted her desire to wait for a decision and he simply loved her giving her the freedom to heal her heart at her own pace.
The figure watched carefully from its hiding place in the arbor vitae, not moving as a man walked up to the front door and rang the bell. As still as a mannequin, it did not move as the dusk began to deepen and the man and woman did not see it as they left the house some minutes later.
It watched as the man held the car door open for the woman and then the couple drove off.
When dusk turned into night, it crawled out from its hiding place and reached up, almost needing to stand on tiptoes to test the doorknob. Finding it unlocked, it slowly opened the front door, and slid inside.
It shut the door behind itself and the night deepened.
“And I did as you asked,” Auden said. He drove one handed, his other holding Rowan’s. “The doll has been dismantled and discarded.”
They drove on in silence for a bit. “Thank you,” Rowan said after a few moments. “I know it hurt you to let it go, but …” Emotion stopped her words.
“It reminded you of a different time,” Auden said. “I understand, love. You don’t need to worry about it anymore. We have our own memories to create.”
He turned into the restaurant’s parking lot finding a spot near the door. After opening her door, Auden escorted her into the restaurant.
“I know The Ruins is an odd name for a restaurant,” he said, “but the food here is impeccable and the tables are far enough apart we can have our own conversation without having to listen to everybody else’s.”
They were shown to their seats and after the waitress had left to get their drinks, Rowan took in the atmosphere. The owner had tried to recreate the aura of an ancient Roman ruin which almost crossed the line into tacky garishness, but it created the illusion of eating in solitude.
“May I recommend the Fettuccine Alfredo?” Auden said as he perused the menu.
Rowan scanned the menu. “Actually, I’m feeling more like Penne all'arrabbiata today.”
She looked up to see Auden staring at her, his mouth open in surprise. “You’re a brave soul,” he said. “You’ve eaten here before.”
Rowan giggled. “No. Never been here before. My nonna was an incredible cook.”
“Corday is Italian?”
Rowan shook her head. “No, Corday is French. My mother is Italian. Her maiden name is Ascencio.”
“So you’re French and Italian,” Auden said with a smile. No wonder you’re beautiful.”
Rowan blushed. “My nonna used to say that, ‘Knavery and flattery are blood relations.’”
“Then let me be the Knave of Hearts.”
“Alice in Wonderland?”
They chatted and laughed through dinner and later at Rowan’s front door, she allowed him a quick kiss. Impulsively, she hugged him.
“Thank you for being patient with me.”
“All the time in the world for you,” Auden said. “You are, after all, the girl of my dreams.”
Later upstairs in bed, Rowan stared at a dark ceiling and wrestled once again with her decision. At night, she slept with Auden’s engagement ring on her finger for reasons she could not even begin to understand and she could feel it encircling her finger. Her first fiance was in name only. He had never even so much as given her a piece of jewelry and he had never taken her out to five-star restaurants.
She felt the ring on her hand, allowing her fingers to play with it, to feel the diamond and the ruby and emerald chips that surrounded it.
A fleeting memory came of the letter from her first lover, the one that told her he had found another, a memory of the miscarriage of the child she had yet to have told him they had conceived together.
A tear rolled down her cheek.
And underneath her bed, two small eyes blinked in the darkness.