For Lisa Barry
“When did you start eating pickles?”
Micah asked, face dim in the reflected glare from the street light on the corner.
Talia closed her mouth, bit her lip, and glared at him. “When did you start being an idiot?” she retorted.
“I must be an idiot,” he moaned, pressing his body against the side of the house. “I’m here with you.”
Talia gave him her sweetest smile. “You know you love it,” she told him, then peeked around the corner. No one waited in the backyard of the house. She could see the shape of the loons perched on the wires leading to the street, but they were silent now. The birds only echoed noises they heard anyway. She and Micah had been quiet, and once they slipped back there, even the light from the street wouldn’t hit them. “Come on,” she waved, and stepped quickly into the shadows behind the house. She felt Micah come up behind her, his hands pressing against her shoulders as he lost the light.
“Hold on to me,” she told him. “The stairs are right over here.”
“This is a bad idea,” Micah complained in her ear.
“Shut up,” she told him. “I know how to get in to my old house. It’s fine.”
“Key word there, sweetheart,” he whispered, fingers tightening as she took a few steps, “Old house. You don’t live here anymore.”
“No, I don’t, but I still know my way around.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he continued. “What I do doubt is that we should be here at all.”
Talia groaned as they reached the concrete pad that marked the bottom of the back stairwell. The window into the basement never locked properly. When she had lived here all those months, this was her way inside if she forgot her keys. She doubted the new owners had noticed it yet. She had only discovered it out of desperation one day, locked out of the house with hours to wait until anyone she knew would be done with school or work to come rescue her.
“Why are we doing this?” Micah asked, staying put while she hunkered down near the window, hands feeling for the right grip.
“I have to know what it is,” she said simply, wishing she could explain better than that.
“It’s a stupid lamp,” Micah insisted. “That’s what you see through the window. A friggin’ red lamp.”
“Who the hell has only a red lamp?” she asked, thinking of the red glow she could see emanating from the kitchen window. She saw it every night as she walked to the new place, the same glow, with the rest of the house shrouded in darkness–not even the porch lights were on, and this was a neighborhood where everyone kept on their lights at night. “It’s the only light that is ever on in this place. And what about the person who lives here now? Have you ever seen him?” She paused, “Or her?”
Micah shook his head, his shadow a dark blur of motion in the darkness. “No, I haven’t. You know why? Because I don’t care. You don’t live here anymore, Talia. Why do you care so much?”
“I have to know,” she said again. “Haven’t you ever wanted to know what your old house looks like after new people move in?”
“Ummm…no,” Micah said decisively.
“Seriously?” she asked. “Strangers living in the rooms you used to live in? You don’t wonder where they put the bed or the couch or the tv?”
“You are crazy,” he scoffed. “Absolutely nuts.”
“Maybe. But I want to see.” She found the bottom of the window and started to slide the glass up. There was no resistance.
“Ok,” he relented, “I get it. You’re curious. But this is called breaking and entering.”
“No one’s even home,” she insisted, settling the window into place. “Are you coming?”
She ducked inside.
Micah groaned, thought of the sex he would never have again if he didn’t follow, and knelt by the window. He could see Talia’s shadow in the basement, her silhouette outlined by a dim red glow that seeped through the gap at the bottom of the basement door.
That was one serious red lamp.
He climbed in carefully, not making any noise, and followed her up the stairs. He managed to get a good look up her short cheerleader’s skirt as she walked, and he was still staring at her backside when she turned around to face him at the top. She rolled her eyes at him, then gestured at the door.
Micah shrugged. In for a penny, he thought, and reached for the door knob.
Outside, a loon screamed.