It was a late Friday afternoon and the late summer sunlight shown through the maple trees, scattering bits of light over the browning grass. It had been an unusually dry summer up in Northern Maine, and this wasn’t the automatic-sprinkler type of neighborhood. It was the brown grass, three messed up old cars at a minimum in the front yard type of neighborhood.
Misty sat by her bedroom window, looking out at the maple tree. Luckily, none of the winter hurricanes during her childhood had managed to knock over the tree, and she loved to see it when she sat, daydreaming, gazing out the window.
She saw a flicker of red through the tree, and her heart skipped a beat. Was he out of prison? Misty shook her head, wishing she could go back to dreaming about the upcoming weekend. A few summers ago, she and Jenna were swimming in the algae-dense swimming hole, when she saw a beautiful, slim, older girl walking across the old bridge. She and Misty made eye contact, and the girl gave her a sad smile. Though not much older than Misty herself, the girl had a worn, tired look about her, which made her appear much older. There was something about the way the girl looked at Misty that made Misty feel suddenly aware of her own innocence. The older girl looked at her and Jenna with a mix of sadness and nostalgia, and her smile told Misty that she should hold onto these moments of pure childhood bliss for as long as she could. Because there was something in the town that was bound to take these moments away from her, whether she liked it or not. She was seen as innocent only because there were things, especially back in those woods, that Misty had yet to discover. Or, worse, that had yet to discover her. Though they were heading into their first year of high school, Jenna and Misty were still more concerned with who could climb higher on the rope swing than getting their first two-pieces, as they called them, and they couldn’t care less what the Chase boys shouted at them from their busted Trans-am when they were walking to the beach. It was their life, so naturally, they were at the center. As she and Jenna goofed off in the old swimming hole, Misty saw the girl navigate the mismatched concrete slabs with practiced efficiency. The large pieces of concrete lay on the other side of the bridge, a result of an abandoned old dam, and they made the perfect hangout. She lay down atop the highest, narrow wall of concrete, face to the sun, faded blue jeans exposing sharp hipbones beneath a skintight crop top, upon which Misty could barely make out the shape of a small butterfly. Not ten minutes later, an enormous boy, no, maybe even a man, emerged from the dirt path that led down to the bridge. He had shaggy red hair that made me Misty understand why some people called it “flaming red.” She and Jenna exchanged wide-eyed glances. “Um.” Misty gulped. And she and Jenna both dove under the water at the same moment, knowing it was the only surefire way to suppress their laughter. They both knew what the other was thinking: He looked exactly like some kind of demon.
When she and Misty came up, both gasping for air, they saw that the red-head was standing over the slim, beautiful older girl. She was ignoring him in that cool, sultry way that only girls like her could do. They were used to undergoing passive admiration. It was just...a a natural part of their lives. They could get on with it, do what they had to do, all whilst being gawked at by their classmates, the creepy track coach, and even some...bridge ogre. Misty had to admire it.
“Do you think she knew he was coming?” Jenna had asked. “Like the whole thing was planned?” Misty thought about it. “I don’t know, “ she had said, slowly shaking her head. “It’s almost like, a movie, where, it’s not so much, like, she knew he was coming...but that they are both playing a part. And they know it. And all is she knows is, she comes here alone, where they usually come together. And she looks beautiful. And she waits.” Jenna suddenly adopted a faux-serious pose, treading water to erect her posture with military-like magnitude and dragged her index finger across her neck, “AND...CUT!” she had boomed, just like a real director on a movie set. She and Misty had burst into giggles.
Misty looked longingly out the window, her heart filled with longing for that summer. For her best friend. For laughing again with someone who just...got her. These days, it seemed like she had to perform multiple language translations just to get anyone to understand anything she was saying, let alone understand her with barely any words at all.
That summer was the first time Misty had seen the Gravedigger. It turns out the “demon” she and Jenna had laughed about was no laughing matter. The rumor was, he’d gone off to the state prison at the end of that summer for digging up graves at that plot near the Saw Mill.
Seeing the eerie flash of red hair from behind the maple tree gave Missy the shudders. Her phone lit up, and her heart swelled with an entirely different feeling this time. It was Tobi. Warm. Soft. Safe. Her head felt aglow with excitement and belonging.
Like most of the kids from the Church weekends, Tobi’s family. His parents were real estate agents, and he attended a preppy, Catholic high school. She hadn’t exactly been...honest about where she was from, but then again, she hadn’t exactly lied either. Just...very...vague. As much as she dreamed of Tobi picking her up for a weekend ride, her insides burned with embarrassment when she imagined him picking her up from this dump.
Later that night, Misty pattered to the doublewide’s kitchen in her bare feet. Her mom and stepdad weren’t home, and she made a grilled cheese while FaceTiming Jenna. No answer. She sighed, waiting for the bottoms of Wonder Bread to brown just right. The cheese smelled delicious. She was grateful that Dave had offered to drop of her off at the bus station on Friday, so she could take a Greyhound and get picked up by one of the local parishioners. At least he was good for...something. Misty rolled her eyes to herself. “As if I should be so picky,” she thought, cynically, “compared to the others, he’s a real gem.” As if on cue, a loud “THAWK!” interrupted Misty’s inner dialogue, and she rushed to the window only to see steam gushing from the crunched front of Dave’s Pontiac, followed by a shatter of broken class. “SHIT!” she heard him yell, angrily breaking another bottle against the maple tree. As Missy quietly evaluated the damage from the safety of the trailer window, she shook her head. “Shit indeed,” she muttered quietly. How was she supposed to get to the bus station now?