She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. That low rumble had been Tom's temperamental engine; she was sure of it. The sound had tattooed itself on the inside of Anna's ears ages ago. Maybe he was sitting in the front seat of his car, trying to work up the courage to knock. Maybe his brows would knit together and his mouth would quirk and he would say, "I missed you, Sunshine," though he had never once called her by that nickname. Maybe she could apologize, and he would kiss the insides of her wrists, the back of her neck, her eyelids.
Yes, she could hear a car door opening. If she listened hard she thought she could even make out the rustle of his corduroy jacket.
Go outside, said her heart.
Wait, said her brain.
She began to count aloud. "One, two, three, four—"
Anna was eight when her baby brother was born. He was little more than a fragile bag of bones and organs, an accident waiting to break her heart. Every night she'd sneak into the nursery and watch the steady rise and fall of his chest, counting every inhalation.
It wasn't enough, though. She began unplugging his humidifier and his baby monitor, because what if they caught fire and his silk skin blistered and burned? She started sleeping on his braided rug, tapping the leg of his crib to soothe him. Once, twice, five times.
Maybe nothing would happen if she didn't check that the oven was off five times. Maybe she didn't need to keep flicking the light switch up and down. She didn't want maybes, though. She wanted a definitely, and his name was Tom. Tom, who promised that she would never have to count his kisses because he would never stop giving them to her.
She counted just in case.
Anna pulled her chair up to the table and cleared her throat five times, pretending not to notice the tendon in Tom's neck tensing. She picked up her fork and tapped it against her plate. "One, two, three, four--"
"Enough." Tom slammed his hand down on her wrist, and she dropped the fork. It clattered against the table.
"I can't stop," she said, and Tom swiftly grabbed the fork and pressed its tines against the nest of blue-green veins on the back of her hand. Anna froze, and he placed the fork back in her fist.
"Stop or I'm leaving." His voice was soft. Almost loving.
"I'm sorry," she said, and tapped the fork against her plate once more.
Anna rushed to the door and flung it open. The sunshine temporarily blinded her, and she staggered, her shoulder knocking against the door-frame. Her vision darkened at the edges, but she could still see that there was no one there. Her driveway was empty, except for the neighbor's black and white cat. It gazed at her with wide, yellow eyes.
She blinked and stared back for a moment before stepping inside and shutting the door firmly behind her. She sat down in her chair, the cushion sighing its regret, and picked up her book.
Maybe tomorrow, then.
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.