A Birthday Memory, Phantom Love, Chapter 2

R u there?

Mary Divers hit send. She picked up her coffee cup and glanced at the clock on her computer. Eight a.m. Since she worked evenings, she usually slept until eleven. But after awaking an hour ago, she hadn’t been able to fall back asleep. Maybe David would help her pass the time.

A soft ping turned her attention back to her computer.

David: U r up early.

Mary smiled. Chatting with David always made her feel better.

Mary: Couldn’t sleep. Strange dream.
David: Good or bad?
Mary: Not sure.
David: Wish I was there.
Mary: Why?
David: To give u a hug.

Mary sat back, her face flushed. David had been more flirtatious lately and she never knew how to respond. In person, people made her very nervous, but online, she could be a different person, one more open and sure of herself.

Mary: A hug sounds good
David: Here’s a hug 4 UgOOOO. Now tell me about the dream.

Mary typed rapidly, her fingers flying over the keyboard. As she related the dream to David, she knew she should have told him it was more a memory than a dream. More specifically, a memory of her ninth birthday.

# # #

“I’m getting a new bike, with a bell and a basket on the front.” Mary balanced with one leg standing on a rock in the middle of the stream. She looked over her shoulder to where Jared stood on the bank watching her progress. “And pink tassels on the handlebars.”

She hopped across the stream and turned. “You coming?”

Jared stuck out his tongue and put his bare foot on the first stone. “A new bike won’t make you any faster. Girls can’t ride as fast as boys.”

Mary picked up a smooth stone and, with a flick of her wrist, skipped it across the water’s surface. “Girls can, too. I’ll beat you on my new bike, just wait and see.”

Jared plopped squarely in the water in front of her, splashing her legs. Mary squealed and reached down into the stream with cupped hands, tossing water over Jared as he climbed onto the bank.

Jared growled and grabbed Mary’s arm, pushing her toward the stream. Mary wrestled him back and the two teetered on the bank, laughing and tugging on each other. Suddenly, Jared let go and cocked his head.

Faintly, Mary heard a voice calling Jared’s name.

“Gotta go, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.” Jared deftly jogged back across the stream, leaving Mary standing on the other side.

# # #

As Mary waited for David’s reply to her dream synopsis, she heard a whining sound, like a bee buzzing. She swiveled around in her chair to see if a bug had infiltrated her bedroom, but the windows remained firmly closed. She stood and walked over to one of the windows and pushed the curtain to one side. Maybe one of her neighbors was beating the heat by tackling yard work early.

She scanned the side yard and peered over the privacy fence into her nearest neighbor’s yard. She spotted no one mowing the grass. Frowning, she headed for the windows facing her backyard, but her computer signaled David’s reply had arrived before she got there. She hurried back to her chair.

David: Sounds like a memory.
Mary: Busted, LOL. Dream = actual memory.
David: Did you get the bike?

She took another sip of coffee to buy time to think about her answer. No one knew the reasons for her sudden move away from her childhood home to this house. No one knew that her parents had forgotten her birthday entirely. But that was too much sharing for today, especially since the buzzing noise had continued unabated during her chat with David. She couldn’t tell him the whole truth, so she settled for a partial truth and a white lie. Her conscience twinged, but she plowed on.

Mary: Short answer: 🙁
David: Long answer?
Mary: We moved suddenly and I got another birthday gift.
David: 🙁
Mary: It’s OK. Happened a long time ago now.
David: What about Jared?
Mary: Never saw him again.
David: Good. Was getting jealous.
Mary: Gotta go. Bee in room. C U L8tr.
David: Same time tonight?
Mary: U got it. Bye.

She logged off the site and walked to the other set of windows. Peeking out of the curtains, she could barely make out a man attacking the weeds with more fervor than skill. He raised the weed trimmer over a large patch of tall grass by the patio, and grass blades flew through the air.

She sighed as she shoved her feet into a pair of Crocs. Nothing to do but march down there and tell the man to get off her property pronto. She had no idea why someone would sneak in to release her yard from its weed prison. Maybe he’d do the whole yard and she could stop worrying about the city fining her.

Mary descended the stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen, which had a picture window overlooking the backyard. She took a deep breath and edged up to a window above the patio and saw that the man had moved closer to the house. Weeds around the brick patio fell victim to the whacker as he swung the machine back and forth.

Now that she had come this close to the stranger, her heart pounded. She wiped sweaty hands on her jeans. Strangers triggered panic attacks. Her therapist had recommended several coping mechanisms when she started to feel panicky, but now she could only recall the mantra. Say something that makes you feel calm and safe. For Mary, nursery rhymes brought back memories of a simpler, happier time in her life.

“Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” The familiar words slowed her breathing and she could see the man wore a facemask and sunglasses, hiding his facial features. Well-worn construction boots toed the ground by the patio as he positioned his body to take out more weeds. He also sported a pair of ear mufflers. In short, the only thing she could tell about the mysterious man in her yard was that he was, indeed, a man.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.

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