Annie stared at her daughter sitting on the floor playing with multicolored Lego’s. The little boy next to her had dirty blonde hair that fell in his face. His eyes matched his mother’s; they were sky blue. Annie looked into the sky blue eyes of the woman named Tori that sat across from her.
“So, Annie, how can I help you?” Tori asked as her dark brown hair fell around her shoulders to frame her face.
“You really don’t need to do anything for me. All I did was return your purse.” Annie took a sip of the ice water with lemon served to her in a crystal glass.
“Well let me do something. Most people wouldn’t even have returned it. You brought it right to my doorstep. Let me do something. What do you need?”
Annie looked at her daughter Ronnie sitting on the Oriental rug, her red ringlets bouncing, clicking together Lego’s. She saw the fire again from that night four months ago. Saw the flames engulf her home as she held her daughter’s soft hand. Heard the car door slam and the engine rev as she drove away from her old life. Felt the ground rumble beneath her as the old ranch house exploded. Felt her daughter’s tears and heard her small voice say “Where’s Daddy?” Now Ronnie sat on the carpet laughing like nothing had ever happened and she knew Daddy wasn’t ever coming back.
Salty water fell on Annie’s tongue as tears escaped from her long dry tear ducts.
“Annie?” Tori leaned forward and put a hand on Annie’s khaki covered knee. “Annie what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just- you asked me what I need.”
Tori nodded, her eyebrows furrowed close together.
“You can’t give me what I need Tori.” Annie’s auburn hair fell into her hazel eyes and over the bridge of her freckled nose.
“What do you mean? What do you need?”
“I need someplace to stay. Me and my daughter.”
“Why? Are you two hobos or something?” Tori smirked and showed the laugh lines on her face.
A quick chuckle broke the cascade of tears flowing down Annie’s smooth cheeks. “No. We’re fugitives,” she said. She turned away from Tori and stared at the crystal chandelier hanging over Tori’s dining room table. “I am. A three-year-old can’t really be a fugitive. Plus it’s not like she’s the one who blew up her daddy.”
Tori shook her head. “Hold up, what are you talking about? Annie what did you do? What happened to you?”
” I blew up my husband. Funny, I can still smell the smoke on me. I still smell the gas. Feel the heat from the fire.”
Tori sat straight up in her chair. “No. No, I don’t understand.” She stood up. “Why would you do that?”
Annie stared into Tori’s blue eyes. “To save my daughter. I wasn’t the only one my husband was beating on.” She rose from her chair, picked the purse up off the floor and handed it to Tori. “Here. I can’t ask you for anything. Here’s your purse.” The purse slipped from Tori’s hands and the contents spilled over the hardwood floor. A 2 x 3 photo of a brown haired blue eyed woman stared up at Tori. She knelt down and cradled it in her hands.
She was five years old again. She watched her mom take a gun to her father’s head as he was sleeping off a hangover and pull the trigger. Tori hid under the rickety kitchen table. Her mom ran to her, her boots slapped the linoleum floor and grabbed Tori. She threw their clothes all in one tattered suitcase and bolted to the car. But by that time the sirens were already on her street. Tori watched the cops take her mom away forever.
“Wait!” she yelled just as Annie and Ronnie were about to walk out the door.
“What?” Annie said without turning around.
“I’ll let you stay here.”
“I said I’ll let you stay here.”
Annie turned around and slammed the door. The stained glass window in it rattled. “Why would you do that? I blew up my husband, who’s to say I wouldn’t do it to you?” Annie said as more tears trickled down her cheeks.
“How can you trust me?”
“Because I know why you did it. My mother did it for the same reason.” Tori paused. “Only she didn’t get a chance to get away.”
“I’m sorry.” Annie whispered.
“I can help you, so I’m going to. Do you want to accept my invitation or not?”
“I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
“Come on. I’ll show you where your room is.”
Before Annie could answer Tori was headed toward the stairs. Annie stared at the door then turned and followed Tori up the carpeted wooden staircase.