Yellow Field
t h e n
She pressed the button on her old iPhone before he had the chance to realize what was happening. There, in the second before his grin faltered back into his trademark smirk, she snapped a photo.
“Aren’t you supposed to ask before you do that, Sánchez?”
On her screen, the image of Eliot reflected back at her - curious almond-shaped eyes narrowed, toothy smile donned, night sky eyes creased, the ghostly shadow of a curl hanging in his face. This was the image of him she most appreciated - the one where he didn’t hold back, didn’t mask anything. It was a rare sight. She’d treasure it forever, within the private haven of her chest.
“You looked too happy not to,” Madison explained, dropping her focus from photo-Eliot to real-Eliot. He squinted back at her through the sunlight, brows knitted. “Besides, if you’re going to put your number in my phone, I’m going to need a picture of you to go along with it.”
He chuckled. Sweet and airy, like a tickle in her ears.
“You’re funny,” he said, and then flicked the sheath of papers in her hand, his fingers grazing hers in the slightest. Fire licked at where he had touched her. “Stop distracting me and read your lines, Juliet.”
n o w
“So, cousin, how does it feel to be back?”
Madison gazed out of the window, eyes bright with excitement. Ahead, the lush trees of Yellow Field’s woodsy environment were coming into view. Quickly, her nimble fingers hit the button to roll down the window in the passenger seat of Carter’s car. She inhaled a long and steady breath, allowing the hometown’s familiar aroma to fill her lungs.
“I’ve missed that smell,” she exhaled. “It’s just so... green.”
“Miss the city yet?” he asked.
She shook her head as she leaned a bit out of the window.
The breeze whipped her hair back, sending her loose curls flying. Her eyes fluttered shut and she allowed herself to absorb the feeling, allowing any of the anxiety she’d had after rolling into the nearby train station to fade. It had been some years since she’d officially lived in Yellow Field and things would have likely changed - people would have likely changed. It was odd, after spending a great deal of time in the concrete jungle, to return to a place in which nature roamed freely. There were no more towering buildings made of glass that extended seemingly endlessly into the clouds. The tallest things here were the trees.
She had to admit, she’d been a little bit afraid to come back, but now, only a few miles from town, she found that it was more invigorating than nerve-wracking.
It felt like home. It was home. As much as she had previously desired to leave, to make a name for herself, to experience all that the world outside of Yellow Field had to offer, she was happy to be back.
This summer, she decided, she would make the best of her time there. And then, she would be off again, on to her next adventure, this time with a law degree under her belt.
“No,” Madison finally answered. “I’m sure my answer will change once I remember the total of five restaurants Yellow Field has, though.” She supposed she could learn to live without the late-night sushi trips she and her college friends often liked to indulge in. And Uber? She wondered if that had even reached their tiny time-warp of a town yet.
“Well, you might want to roll that window back up soon. We’ll be passing by the Griffins’ farm and their overabundant use of manure hasn’t gone down any since you’ve left,” her cousin explained, one hand placed casually on the steering wheel as he glanced in her direction.
As if right on cue, the potent and unrivaled scent of cow shit tainted the air around them. Madison hastily rolled up the window, covering her mouth as she did. Beside her, Carter started to laugh but ended up gagging on the rotted air instead.
“Told you,” he managed to choke out, and she couldn’t help but break out into a giggle because even the disgusting stench of manure had stirred the nostalgia in her stomach.
With her hand still over her nose, she craned her head into the backseat where Arav sat in his cat-carrier. He glared back at her through gold eyes, not at all happy with being shoved into the backseat of a car and then hauled off at an ungodly speed down a winding road. The train ride over had been nothing compared to the crazy way Carter liked to drive.
“Shut it, back there,” he called back.
“Hush, man. He’s nervous,” she explained. “He’s never been in a car before and you’re not exactly the best at keeping the speed limit.”
Carter just shrugged. “There’s no one else out here but us.” He looked into the backseat through the rear view mirror, spotting the cat. “I think you should’ve told the aunts - particularly Claire - about your decision to bring along your street rat.”
“He’s not a street rat,” she shot back. When she had originally found Arav behind the dumpster of her favorite Chinese place, snacking on a container of tossed out take-out, he had been a bundle of matted fur and ribs, sitting barely bigger than the palm of her hand, but now, after months with proper nourishment and love, he was a rather beefy boy and even a bit intimidating. A guard cat if she’d ever seen one. Anyone who had ever dared to brave her tiny apartment had been faced with the wrath of Arav. “And Aunt Hilda will love him. Claire will learn to tolerate him. It’s only for the summer, after all.”
“If you say so,” he replied. “But if you fall in love with Yellow Field, you may decide you never want to leave again.”
“I doubt it,” she said, returning her gaze back to the approaching downtown district of the town.
They would take the route through in order to get to the mortuary, which lay on the other side of town, along the outskirts. As they slowed down to a more town-friendly speed, she let her eyes wander over the buildings, tracing their silhouettes. It was mid-day and people were out - shopping, running errands, and so forth in the harsh pangs of the sun. Groups of teens on their summer break sat goofing off in front of the arcade.
Madison exhaled a slow sigh.
She’d made a multitude of memories in the tiny town, too - most good, some bad, and a few somewhere in between. She supposed she’d become reacquainted with them the longer she stayed. Already, some were flooding her mind. Nights at the movie theater with her friends, the smell of popcorn hanging heavy in the cramped rows of the tiny building, the sugary sweetness of the milkshakes that would follow as they barged into Cee’s later, eager to theorize and discuss. Her heart clenched painfully in her chest.
It had been a long time since they’d all been together like that. When she’d come back into town for the previous Christmas break, they’d managed to sneak away for a quick lunch, but it had been nothing like before. They had all been too busy with their own families that spending time with each other had been minimal.
The downtown district disappeared just as quickly as it had come into view. It was a tiny thing, after all.
With a hand, she reached forward and cranked up the volume on the radio, flooding the car with a song she and Carter were both familiar with. She looked over at him with a big grin and they both dissolved into their own slightly off-tune renditions on the lyrics, hand gestures and all.
One last good summer, Madison decided. She would try her best to achieve that.
With giddiness flitting in her chest, Madison set Arav’s carrier down at the entrance to her old room. In a second, she would set up his litter box in her adjoined bathroom so that he could relieve himself after the long ride like she knew he probably wanted to, but first, she allowed herself some time to breathe in the stale air of the bedroom. The walls were still covered with all of the relics of her youth - old photographs, a calendar from her senior year of high-school, tickets from previous horror showings at the Paramount, even the ribbon she’d worn in her hair for her senior prom with Connie.
All of it made her feel warm.
She knelt down to unhinge the door of the cat carrier. Arav waltzed out, not all bothered by the new environment, and began to sniff around.
“Hilda’s on her way home. Claire is at the Richards’ for an in-home funeral consultation for their grandfather, so she won’t be home until later,” Carter said as he entered her room, shutting the door behind himself as he did. He glanced at Arav, who had immediately come up to him. He held his gaze. “Listen, you, we’re going to set some ground rules here. You are not to go into my room - that’s upstairs in the attic space - under any circumstances. I don’t have a fondness for cat hair, you hear me?”
Arav dropped his gaze, becoming incredibly interested in licking his paw and seemingly ignoring him all together. Madison laughed.
“He’s a cat, Carter. He abides by no rules, not even mine.”
“Maddie?” the familiar voice of her Aunt Hilda trailed up the stairway, followed by the sound of hurried footsteps. The door to her bedroom opened again and red-faced Hilda appeared, arms immediately opening to engulf her in a hug. “Oh, goodness! It’s so good to see you, love! I’m so happy you’re here for good now!”
“For the summer,” she squeaked out as best as she could through the force of Hilda’s embrace. “But it’s good to see you too, auntie. I’ve missed you guys so much.”
“We’ve missed you, too, dear.” Hilda pulled back momentarily to look at her, eyes sparkling with that motherly glitter Madison was so used to seeing in her aunt. It instantly soothed her, just as it had in the past. “I’ve changed your sheets and stocked up your bathroom with all of the essentials again. You’re all good to stay with us for the long run and oh-!” She squealed when Arav bumped his wet nose against her ankle. “Who is this?”
“Arav,” she introduced hesitantly and with a careful smile. “He’s going to stay with me if that’s okay. I found him outside when he was just a tiny kitten. I think he would’ve starved out in the cold if I hadn’t taken him home.”
She had purposely added in the last part, hoping it would be enough to sway her aunt. Hilda, in most cases, was a bleeding heart and recuperated her fair share of baby squirrels and little motherless birds, so she wouldn’t be a hard one to win over.
Claire, however, was a whole other story.
“Oh, well, hello kitty,” Hilda said, giving the cat a little pat on the head. He seemed okay with it, despite his usual distaste with anyone other than Madison touching him. “Welcome to our home. I happen to love little critters like you - Claire, however, not so much.” She made direct eye contact with her niece when she mentioned her other aunt. Madison only gave a bashful smile back.
“Claire’s only ever liked one other animal,” Carter started, drawing a deep sigh.
“Yes, and his name was Toto,” she finished.
Oh, the old days. She remembered the grouchy old beagle that had once haunted the Sánchez mortuary. He had been Claire’s shadow and Madison was certain her aunt would have picked him over any of them had she been forced to make such a decision. Toto’s eventual death had done a number on Claire. He was the only dog Madison had ever known to be buried in a full mahogany casket crafted entirely for him. Some people didn’t even get that luxury.
“Claire can be reasoned with at another time,” Hilda piped in. “I’m going to go downstairs and get a nice lunch started for us. A nice serving of some blueberry tea to go with it, hm?”
Madison's stomach growled at the mention of something to eat. She had barely had time to grab breakfast before her travels that morning and had settled on a bagel with no cream cheese because she had forgotten it.
“Let me know if there’s anything else you need up here, love.” She gave her niece a warm smile and another quick hug before she departed for the kitchen, humming along the way.
Her eyes drifted around the room once her aunt was gone, her eyes eventually settling on Carter.
“I guess we can go and get the rest of my bags, then,” she decided.
“You mean, I can get the rest of your bags while you pretend to be busy with something else?”
“Me?” she feigned. “I would never... though I really should go and set up Arav’s litter.”