Adrienne shifted her shopping bags to her right hand and carried the doggy bag with the remains of her lunch in her left. Retail therapy with her girlfriends had been nice. The latest SciFi movie had been fun. But the passage of time was not good for her salad—dressing and tomatoes tended to cause the lettuce to wilt and become unappetizing. She shuddered as she chucked the bag into the nearest garbage receptacle.
On her right, the door to an office building slid open. A trio of men in casual Friday attire bounded out into the gathering crowds of downtown Phoenix. The two on the ends jostled the one in the middle as they teased him about a girl.
Adrienne checked her watch. Half-past four. Damn. She was going to hit rush hour. Maybe the light rail station wouldn’t be packed with commuters. She turned the corner. Hunched over their phones like Quasimodos, men, women, and a few kids with backpacks lined the platform. Given the time and the crowd, she wouldn’t get a seat until her exit.
Unless… Adrienne turned on her heel. Unless she caught the train at an earlier station, there was bound to be a seat in the back, and she could avoid much of the jostling. Bags slapping her thigh, she picked up her pace.
A blue car honked as it maneuvered across crawling traffic. Engines rumbled at red lights while impatient drivers were eager to get moving. A jacked-up truck rode herd on the bumper of a small hybrid, trying to push the vehicle through the line of congested traffic. Two drivers communicated in obscene sign language through closed windows.
Thank God she hadn’t driven downtown. She shifted to the side, giving the homeless woman and her pup room to work the crowd of drivers ignoring her sign begging for help paying her medical bills.
Two more blocks and she’d see the light rail station. Two more blocks… Her steps slowed when she turned the corner. Her old stomping grounds. If she turned right instead of left at the next block, she could see her old apartment complex. Her feet took the path before her brain decided. And then she was there—staring up at the sixth-floor balcony of their loft.
Chewing on her bottom lip, she allowed the archived memories to wash over her. They’d come home to the two-bedroom loft after their honeymoon. The sink in the hall bath had never drained right, and the bathroom remodel had prevented them from taking a vacation two springs ago. Grief and joy tumbled through her like two sides of the same coin.
Going this way had been a mistake. Yet her feet remained rooted in place. A breeze cooled her damp cheeks. She swiped at the tears, closed her eyes, and blocked the memories. She needed to get to the light rail. Turning on her heel, she aimed for Third Street.
The thump and twang of a live band blasted music out of the bar at the corner. She swallowed the lump in her throat. They’d loved that bar. Loved making fun of the designer cocktails that trendy hipsters ordered from the crowded bar. The scent of seared meat and hot grease caused her stomach to rumble.
The wilted salad she’d picked at had been hours ago and had been wasted as she waited for her friends to launch an intervention. But they hadn’t. And she hadn’t told them about seeing her dead husband and child.
She paused in the doorway and allowed her eyes to adjust to the dim interior before stepping inside.
Most of the tables were empty—not unusual at this time of day but give it an hour, and the place would be standing room only, and two or three deep at the bar. She waded in, buoyed by the grunge music coming from the band, and avoided looking at the corner booth where he had proposed, and the wobbly table near the pillar where she sipped lemonade and told him of her pregnancy. A few rows over, they had poured over the sonogram of their baby and argued over names for their son.
Pushing through the memories, she made it to the back and chose a table in the corner. Nothing had happened here. Her nose wrinkled at the hint of a urinal cake. Maybe she should move.
A laughing couple untangled their embrace to sit at a center table.
She was close enough to that nonsense. Adrienne dropped her bags on the bench and turned her back on the happy couple.
Fabric swished behind her.
Adrienne steeled herself. Please don’t let it be one of the waitresses that routinely served her and her husband.
The scent of patchouli surrounded her as the waitress slid a paper menu across the table. “I’ll be back to take your order when you’re ready.”
Relief released Adrienne’s shoulders. No explanation necessary. “I don’t need a menu. I’ll have a strawberry IPA and a southwest burger, medium well. Tots, not fries.”
The words were out of her mouth before she thought them. Her husband always referred to her order as a future heart attack. She shook her head and blinked. Just a twinge of pain from the loss. She ducked under her purse strap as the waitress gathered up the menu and moved away. Maybe she’d commemorate her solo dining experience with a picture of her meal. That might cause her parents to reconsider an intervention. She fished her cell from the bottom of her purse.
The bathroom hinges squeaked, and the sharp scent of urinal cake wafted over.
Maybe it wasn’t too late to move away from the restrooms. She glanced up.
A man in a turquoise shirt braced his shoulder against the door, holding it open as he spoke to someone behind him.
It was him—her late husband. No one would believe her, no one unless… She raised her phone and swiped on the camera app. A quick press of the button, and she captured him in a picture—proof she wasn’t losing her mind.
He turned. Their eyes locked. His lips thinned and a muscle ticked in his jaw. He was pissed—madder than he’d been the day he died. The day they’d argued over whose turn it was to take care of the colicky baby—to give up sleep in hopes of shushing the incessant crying.
He flashed a feral smile and stalked away.
She dodged around the table, keeping an eye on his back as he disappeared down a long hallway. Where was he going?
He pushed open the door at the end. Late afternoon sunlight streamed inside and glinted off the windshields in the parking lot.
“Wait!” She cried out.
He stepped outside and turned, disappearing.
She stumbled after him, shifting to the side to avoid a stack of boxes, and increased her pace. She hit the door before it closed. Sunlight slanted into her eyes, momentarily blinding her.
Fingers dug into her shoulders, yanking her outside then shoving her backward.
She skidded on her heels before colliding against the outside wall.
Rage twisted the face filling her vision.
She wanted to fight back, but a part of her knew she deserved his anger. The back of her head hit the brick. Stars danced on the fringes of her peripheral vision.
“You stupid bitch. You destroyed my life; now I’m gonna destroy yours.” He slammed her against the wall again and again.
Darkness dropped like a curtain over her vision until oblivion sucked her down.