[Note: This is the first part of a multi-part story]

Four years is a long time to be alone. Having a child can make it even lonelier. Why? Because of the constant reminder there used to be one more person involved with this house. Of course the Lonely always arrives late, after the birthday parties are over and the Christmas presents are unwrapped; when a body lays by itself on a bed big enough for two. Some might think four years is time enough to heal. But it only takes a moment to open old wounds.

Ten hours without a single break. Marianne was, to say the least, exhausted. She collapsed onto the sofa with a groan that matched the creaking couch frame. Her eyelids were iron curtains weighing her to sleep in this spot, but she knew there was still much to do. Evan, her son, had to be put to bed, and her suit had to come off before it wrinkled. Then maybe something involving food.

Her eyes wandered around the room. The whole area was lit by a pair of standing halogen lamps which stood in opposite corners of the room. It was the most furnished space in the house. There was the couch she and Evan occupied as well as a pair of beat up leather recliners set by the bay window to her right. Across from her was the television set on a wooden cabinet containing a DVD player along with a VCR, CD player, and stereo. Next to the cabinet was a stand holding up a device Evan's friends were always curious about, her record player. The floor was carpeted a mild brown. Marianne had wanted to change the color since moving in, but other bills took priority. In front of the sofa was a three by two coffee table, without flare, made of a wood she couldn't name. It was covered by a blanket of magazines dotted with remote controls. A glance at the magazine covers gave root to dismay. None of the themes dealt with increasing one's energy.

Pushing away from the comforting hug of densely padded cushions, Marianne shuffled her way into the kitchen. From a nearby room she could hear the television humming. Evan was playing his new video game, Fable. Normally he was only allowed to play video games on the weekends, but today she was too tired to care. He had asked as soon as the front door cracked open, and she had relented to gain a moments peace.

"Evan, honey," she called, "You want anything from the frig?"

"No thanks," he called back. Marianne smiled Somehow the sound of his voice gave her a bit of a boast. It was just what she needed to get at the two liter of Mountain Dew. Her mother would have frowned on her drinking from the bottle, but her mother was nothing now except a bimonthly phone call. There used to be visits. A few brief instants, gestures of support, after Vincent left. Those ended when Marianne bit back during one of her mother's "I Told You So" lectures.

For perhaps the millionth time in ten years, Marianne thought to herself, ‘This is not how I pictured twenty-seven.'

"Mom?" Evan called.

Answering as gently as she could manage, "What is it?"

"Can I have some Oreos?"

"I thought you didn't want anything."

"I just thought of it."

Marianne sighed with a smile, "Is your homework done?"

"Yeah," Evan said, a quiver to his voice.

"Really?" Marianne reached into a nearby cupboard. She pulled out a black and red checkered coffee mug. It was one of the few things she kept that Vincent had given her. He bought her the mug as a gift to commemorate her new job, "administrative assistant." That was five years ago, and along with the mug, she still had the same position.

Marianne shook her head to clear her mind. She was home. Here there was no boss but herself, and with enough resolve she could ignore the past. Setting the mug back in the cupboard, Marianne thought of Robin, her best friend, who always said, "You have to live in the now, not the then." Of course Robin was a part time typist who thought she was still nineteen, but comfort comes in whatever form we choose to grasp. Right now it was Robin's philosophy and a bag of Oreos.

Laying the bag down on the kitchen table, Marianne said, "I'll bring those cookies in after I change."

"Okay," Evan said. She heard the whoosh-smack of a sword followed by a yikes from Evan. The rapid clack of buttons chased her upstairs. She ducked into her room. The street lamp down by the driveway gave her all the light she needed. There was a bed, big enough for two pushed into one corner, surrounded by a pile of clothes and various magazines. The night stand beside her bed carried only a modest sized lamp and a digital clock radio. The red dashes displaying 8:15 pm made her eyelids heavy.

Waking herself with a light slap, Marianne went about changing her clothes. In barely five minutes, she was out of her business clothes and into a pair of sweat pants and a loose Bear's jersey. After carefully hanging her work outfit in the closet she headed back downstairs. The television was no longer humming orchestral music or projecting the sights and sounds of a fairytale battle field

Marianne came into the back room, the bag of Oreos tucked under one arm. Evan had turned off his game in favor of watching a Simpsons season 3 DVD. The DVD was not something she recalled purchasing.

"Where did this come from?" she asked.

Without taking his eyes off the screen Evan replied, "Maggie left it here. She said I could borrow it."

"I see," Marianne said, taking a seat next to Evan on the couch. Maggie was their next door neighbor, and Evan's babysitter when Marianne had to work late.

"When does Maggie want it back?" she asked.

"She said I could keep it as long as I wanted," Evan said. He patted his thigh with his palm. His eyes never flickered away from the Tv.

"Well, lets not try to keep it too long." Marianne rubbed his head then put her arm around him.

"I won't," Evan spoke in a tone only children can attain. The kind that whines and groans in the same breath, implying they already knew what they had not yet thought.

"Okay." Marianne held up the bag of Oreos. She gave them a shake to get Evan's attention, "You still want some?"

Evan eyes finally turned away from the television. Trying, and failing, to conceal a grin he said, "Yes, please."

Marianne tore open the bag and removed a stack of four She placed them on the coffee table in front of the couch. As Evan reached for them she said, "I want to see your homework first."

"It's done."

"I know it is. I just want to check on it. Make sure you did it right."

"Mom." Evan looked at her with a frown, "I know what I'm doing."

"Just show it to me, okay? I didn't feel like making a big thing out of this," Marianne sighed. Groaning loudly, Evan stomped up to his room. Marianne shook her head. She pulled out a handful of her own cookies and snapped them down. There were other things in the house she could eat, but the Oreos required the least effort. The hard part was over, she'd opened the bag.

The Simpsons episode was almost over by the time Evan came downstairs with his homework. Marianne made a quick check to be sure the work had been done properly then handed him the stack of cookies she'd laid out.

"Finally," Evan murmured just loud enough to be heard.

"What was that?" Marianne asked. She tried to sound harsh, but it was hard with a mouthful of Oreo.

"Nothing," Evan said in a sing-song voice.

"Don't confuse lucky with clever." Marianne narrowed her gaze at her son, "I know what I heard."

Evan glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. His expression was a tense mix of doubt and fear. Marianne thanked god he was still young enough to fear her without question. She wondered how much longer it would last.

Instead worrying about the teenager Evan might be, Marianne focused on the TV. The episode had barely concluded before Evan was bringing up the selection screen.

"Hold up," Marianne said, "It's a school night."

"Just one more." Evan scooted over on the couch, holding the remote away from his mother, "It's already starting."

Marianne sighed heavily. There was a dull throb beginning to pulsate her temples. She narrowed her gaze and held up a finger, "One more then bed. But you have to brush your teeth now."

"Okay." Evan jumped off the couch with a smile. He dropped the remote on the floor and ran upstairs. Marianne grunted her way off the sofa. She felt her spine crackle as she bent over to pick up the remote. When she straightened her back the vertebrae popped again. Letting out a huff, she fell back into the couch corner. The cushioning seemed to absorb her tired form. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. She might have gone to sleep if Evan hadn't come thundering down the steps. The whole house shook as he leapt down the last four stairs.

"Don't jump down the stairs," Marianne said. She felt the couch shiver as Evan climbed into the opposite corner. With considerable effort, she opened her eyes. Evan sat slouched to such an extent he formed an ‘S'. Normally, she would have told him to sit up, but tonight she didn't have the strength for petty arguments. She just hoped she had enough stamina to stay awake through this last episode. Otherwise, Evan would stay up half the night watching TV.

Her eyes, unable to focus on any one thing, started to close. She tried taking a deep breath to stay awake, but only succeeded in producing a yawn. Marianne couldn't believe there had ever been a time she could stay up all night.

Casually, she glanced out the bay window. Their fenceless backyard stretched on into their rear neighbor's. She was just turning away when something caught her attention. There was a path of grass running between the two rear neighbor's houses. At night, when the sun had completely set, the shadow of the two homes formed a black tunnel. The space between the houses seemed a black dash between her backyard and the street lamp lit cul-de-sac on the other block. When she had first glanced through the dash there was nothing, but upon turning her head she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a pair of eyes.

Marianne blinked rapidly and shook her head. It had to be a hallucination. She looked out through the window There they were, a pair of eyes shining yellow in the dark.

Still unsure if they were real she asked Evan, "Honey, look out at the backyard and tell me if you see anything."

"Why?" Evan asked.

"Because I asked you too."

"All right," Evan sighed. He got up and went to the bay window. It barely took him a second to see the eyes. Pressing his face to the glass he said, "Cool. What is that?"

"I'm not sure," Marianne said. She swallowed and got up off the couch. All the fatigue had suddenly left her body. She walked over to stand beside Evan.

"I'll bet it's Kramer." Evan spun around on his heels. He didn't get more than a step before Marianne grabbed his arm. Kramer was the Quinn's, an elderly couple who lived down the block, German shepherd. The dog often got loose and wandered the neighborhood. He was a friendly dog that knew her and Evan well. Evan was the Quinn's favorite dog sitter when they went out of town. However, Marianne didn't feel entirely sure it was Kramer. When she looked out the window, those shining eyes stared right back at hers.

"Nobody's going out there. You just sit on the couch while I think about this,"

"But Mom..." Evan started to whine. He hopped up and down.

"No buts," Marianne cut him off, "Just because it looks like a dog doesn't mean it's Kramer. It could be anybody's dog, or even a coyote or something."

Evan gave her a look that destroyed her argument more than anything he could have said. Marianne felt her own doubts gaining the advantage. In all likelihood, she had merely been startled by the sudden appearance of Kramer's eyes. The idea they looked directly at her was probably just imagination combined with a half asleep mind.

Evan was opening his mouth, but before he could say anything Marianne said, "The Simpsons is over. Time for bed."

"That's not fair. I barely got to watch it," Evan protested.

Marianne set a hand on his shoulder and started pushing him towards the stairs, "I said you could stay up the length of another episode. There was nothing about watching it."

"Come on." He tried digging his heels into the carpet to slow their progress, but all it accomplished was a few stumbled steps. Marianne almost tripped over him in the process. He heard her start to mumble under her breath, and although he wasn't sure what she said, he knew her patience was wearing thin. Accepting defeat, Evan trudged up the stairs as if it were a death sentence.

Marianne called from the bottom of the stairs, "I'll be up in a minute. I'm just gonna close up down here."

"Whatever," was all of Evan's reply.

Grinding her teeth for a moment, Marianne repeated the word. She walked over to the coffee table and took out her irritation on an Oreo. Once the last bite was down so was her temper. On her way back to the kitchen, she turned off the Tv and DVD player. She placed the bag of cookies on top of refrigerator then snapped off the kitchen lights. Before turning off the living room lamps, she stepped over to the bay window. The eyes were gone.

"Just a rambler," she murmured to herself. Marianne turned off the lamps then made sure the front and back door were locked before heading upstairs. She could almost hear her bed calling her name. She wanted to do a face plant right on the mattress, but there was still one more thing before sleep.

Marianne peeked into Evan's room to make sure he was under the covers and the lights were off. Tucking Evan in didn't take very long anymore. After his tenth birthday he had insisted she stop physically pulling the covers over him. Now all he would endure was the occasional goodnight hug and this kind of quick check.

Satisfied he was stowed away for the night, Marianne shuffled back to her room. She made a brief stop to brush her teeth then slid into bed. She'd barely pulled the covers over before her eyelids sealed off the waking world. But even in sleep, those eyes felt as though they were shining close.


Part II

An Unanticipated Possibility