For once, Audrey was glad Mason had worn that maroon knit cap his dad had given him. The wind swept low around them as they sat on the park bench, chilling Audrey while the bare tree tops remained still.
Her son did not look up from doodling on his hand as he asked, “What did the people at the garage tell you?”
“They think they know what’s wrong, but they can’t fix it until tomorrow.”
“How much?” Now he started on the other side, turning his hand before she could look at the ink splotches covering his palm.
“Enough to cut into our hotel money. No continental breakfast for us, kiddo.” One transmission leak leaves us scrambling, she thought.
“Dad isn’t coming to pick us up, right?” Mason asked. “Did you already tell him what happened? Maybe there’s a shelter around here.”
Was she being selfish, Audrey wondered, for not calling Connor? Wouldn’t he love that, Audrey thought. I could just see him, loading our things in his car. “No, we don’t have to find… a shelter. My friend Charlie doesn’t live far from here—she said we could stay the night,” Audrey said. Please don’t let Connor ever find out we almost had to stay at Miracle Hill, she prayed.
“Thank goodness.” Finished with his skin, he got out the sketchpad that he had kept nearby since they left Alabama. Covering most of the paper in light gray, Mason began shading his sketch of the high rises and museums they had seen while passing through downtown Atlanta.
“Do you even remember Charlie?” she said with a laugh.
“Can’t say that I do,” he murmured, now coating his fingertips in graphite as he blended the tones together. How does he make so much glass and steel seem so alive and bustling? Audrey wondered. Between traffic lights, she had considered just stopping here, so short of the North Carolina town loaded on her decade-old GPS. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Maybe after I get an article in print.
“Do you ever wish we’d gotten another dog after Rocky died?” Audrey asked. An old man and his granddaughter walked their terrier in the field in front of them. She wished the little girl had worn a coat. I’m cold just looking at her, she thought.
“I don’t know. I would rather still have Rocky,” Mason said.
The little girl stopped to pick up Mason’s black marker, which had rolled off the bench. Her grandfather waited as she held it out to them.
“I’ll take it,” Audrey said. He’s had enough ink poisoning for one day.
Thirty minutes later, as the evening sun painted long shadows over the field, Mason held the door for Audrey as she got in the Uber car. Good thing she spotted us, Audrey thought; they never would have picked out the tin-blue Prius among the commuters. Audrey leaned forward to give Charlie’s address to the driver.
“That’s in a nice neighborhood,” the driver said. “I’m Kai, by the way.” Audrey had to smile at the miniature stuffed seal sitting on the dashboard. Not sure about her dragonfly tattoo though, she thought. Blue wings spanned the back of Kai’s neck beneath her blond bob.
In the rearview mirror, Audrey glanced at her own hair, messy as it was. Poor French braid, she mused. All it’s ever done is try to stay together.
“I’m Audrey. This is—”
“Mason,” he said, trying to smooth the curls peeking out from under his cap. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that grin from him before, Audrey thought. Yeah, that’s all we need right now—puppy love.
“Are you guys from around here?” Kai asked.
When Mason did not answer, Audrey said quickly, “Not really. What about you?”
Kai laughed as she cut off a red BMW. “Where am I not from? That’s the best part of the gig economy—not getting tied down anywhere for too long,” Kai said. “I thought I’d spend the winter here before I head off to New Jersey.”
Around them, the skyscrapers had given way to suburbia. A jogger loped down the street, his earbud cord bobbing up and down in step.
“We’re going to Hendersonville,” Mason said softly.
“My boyfriend lived near Hendersonville,” Kai replied. “Said I would like it there. But it just wasn’t the right time.” Kai smiled at them in the rearview mirror. “Staying in one place has never really been something I’m good at.”
I could say the same, Audrey thought. But I can’t blame timing. The rest of the way, Audrey gazed out at the SUVs and mailboxes, the emerald lawns and stone birdbaths.
“We’ll be ready at 7:30 tomorrow morning,” Audrey told Kai fifteen minutes later that evening as she paid their fare in front of Charlie’s house. Audrey smiled as Kai drove off in her scrappy taxi, an aluminum beater amidst the brick and bay windows of the white collar homes.
Mason fell in behind her as she walked up the steps to the front door. How can Charlie need this much space? she wondered. We could house half of Belgium here.
“Are you sure we have to leave tomorrow morning?” Mason asked. “If we just hid in a guest room somewhere, she’d probably never come across us.”
“And you could replace all her priceless art with Mason McCoy originals. She’d love you for that,” Audrey said as she rang the doorbell. She stopped smiling after she had to ring it another time, though. “She’s here. Her car’s here, so she must be. Unless it’s someone else’s, but we can just tell them we’re here for her.”
“What about Grandma’s? Didn’t she move farther east a while ago? Do churches take in people for the night?”
Her hand was already reaching toward the bell again when a tall redhead opened the door, motioning them inside with one hand and holding an iPhone in the other.
“You name the place, and I’ll be there,” Charlie said into her cellphone. “The Optimist, Aria, Staplehouse… No, I’ve already cancelled the business dinner.” Charlie said. “It’s fine. I don’t think they minded.”
As she talked, Audrey and Mason stepped into the living room. Shadows from outside fell between the olive-green drapes and dyed the hardwood floors a deeper brown. Audrey ran her hand along the cream-colored velvet of the couch, coughing a little at the Lysol spray hanging in the air.
“She hasn’t used the fireplace,” Mason whispered, pointing to the piece of plastic covering it.
“Sorry about that, Audrey,” Charlie said as she put on her purple trench coat and walked over.
“That’s okay! I just want to thank you for—”
“Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t be too long, but Cole and I are getting dinner at Staplehouse—his birthday is this week.” She disappeared into the hall bathroom.
“Cole? I don’t remember a Cole,” Audrey called to her.
Charlie emerged from the bathroom with burgundy lips. “Oh, we met at work! It’s been a while now.”
Mason had walked over to the mantelpiece and was studying one of the two picture frames on top. Curse old photos, Audrey thought. She, Charlie, and Connor had taken that one the day they graduated.
“Dang, I wasn’t even thinking,” Charlie said. “I meant to put that up—you guys wouldn’t want to see that now.”
“I’ll go put our stuff away,” Mason murmured.
“Just set them in the two rooms past the office. Y’all help yourselves to anything for dinner,” Charlie said, glancing at her watch as Mason went down the hall with the suitcases. “Is he doing okay?” She walked toward the front door.
“Don’t worry—I’ll talk to him about it. You should get going anyways.”
Charlie got out her keys from her purse. “Yeah, you’re right. See you later, Audrey.”
For a moment, the lights and sound of the neighborhood broke inside the house as Charlie left. Audrey almost shed her denim jacket but thought better of it, cold as always. She wandered into the kitchen and opened up the fridge to cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.
Heaven help us, she thought, picking up a carton of almond milk. An eleven-year-old boy and nothing but Charlie’s health-food junk to give him.
That night, Audrey sat up in the guest bed with the sound of the front door opening again. She had stayed inside her room when she heard Charlie come home a few hours earlier.
“Mason? Charlie?” she whispered as she stepped out of her room. Audrey slipped her jacket on as she opened the front door, squinting to see the figure sitting at the edge of the driveway. Mason turned around when he heard her—his face pallid under the lamppost, his eyes splotches of black acrylic. I should know what to say to him about going off like this, she thought.
“Aren’t you freezing out here?” Audrey asked as she walked over and sat down.
He shrugged in answer. “See those three stars so close together?” Mason asked, pointing. “They’re Orion’s belt. He’s a hunter who always chases a bull.”
Leaving, chasing, packing up, Audrey thought. When have we had enough of them? She took off a glove and put it on his right hand. “There. Now you can be only half as cold,” Audrey said. “Did you notice that Challenger?” she asked, looking at the sports car across the street.
“Yeah. If Charlie let us stay here, maybe I could do yard work for some of these people.”
“I’m sure you can find plenty of lazy rich people when we get to Hendersonville,” she said. Audrey looked up at scattered stars, some in clusters and others alone against the ebony Georgia sky. “Listen, I’ve already sent some articles to a magazine there, and I can always get a little office job somewhere if I have to.”
“You never wanted to do that stuff before.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t do it,” Audrey said. Their feet broke up the empty spread of avenue before them, the windows pouring out only more darkness. So you can settle down, Atlanta, she thought. “Besides, just think how that cute taxi girl might decide to give Hendersonville a try.”
“Mom,” he groaned. “Okay, time to go in.”
“I’ll come in after a sec.”
He waited a moment after he had stood up. “Sorry for coming out here.”
“I know. Goodnight, Mason,” she said before he went inside. Audrey almost laughed, sitting out at night, picking up the sharpie she had put in her pocket at the park. Connor would think I’ve lost my mind, she thought. Popping the cap off, Audrey drew a dragonfly—fragile and lopsided, floating across the pale sky of her hand.
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