Roman made his way up the steps to Minnie’s house and knocked on the door, three efficient raps. Then he waited, shifting the pizza box on his hip as the damp January air settled onto the parts of his face that weren’t guarded by his hat.
The footsteps seemed to come more slowly today, but finally the door opened and Minnie was standing there in her usual neon sweater.
“Hello, Roman,” she said.
“Hey, Minnie,” Roman said with a smile. “Brought that pizza.”
She smiled back, her eyes crinkling as she stepped aside to let him in. “Kick off your shoes please,” she said, shuffling toward the kitchen. Roman did exactly that, lining his shoes up carefully beside the door, then following after her.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?” Roman asked, making his way into the kitchen where Minnie was already setting out two china plates. “I know you said park maintenance should be cleaning out the gutters, but if you want me to take care of it now and save you the hassle of dealing with those knuckleheads, let me know and I’ll bring my ladder over this week.”
“Sweetheart, the leaves would be frozen stiff in there,” Minnie said with a fond smile.
Then her smile faded. She put a slice of pizza on Roman’s plate and they sat down at her tiny kitchen table.
Roman frowned. “Minnie,” he started, “Is everything okay?”
She sighed. “I need to tell you something important.”
“What is it?”
He could see her hesitating. “Remember how I told you I’ve been in remission from cancer for a few years now?”
A cold dread settled into Roman’s stomach at her words. “Yes,” he said slowly.
“Well, Dr. Degas had me in for a routine appointment a couple weeks ago and we found another lump. I won’t go into detail, but the tests came back yesterday. And it’s cancer.”
Roman’s throat felt dry. “Minnie, I’m so sorry.”
Minnie smiled tightly. “Thank you, dear.”
“What are they going to do?”
“That’s the thing,” Minnie said. “We’re looking into my options. Dr. Degas offered to bring in every treatment possibility she can since I can’t leave the town. But dear, I’ve done those treatments before. I’ve done chemotherapy, I’ve done radiation. And I don’t want to do them again. Not at my age.”
Minnie reached across the table and took his hand. “I plan to make the most of my time here,” she said. “I don’t know how long it’ll be, but I’m eighty-six years old. I didn’t know how much time I would have before yesterday’s meeting either. But I wanted to be honest and tell you now. You mean an awful lot to me, Roman.”
Roman nodded, blinking rapidly. “I, um, I appreciate you telling me,” he said after a second. “Um, is there anything I can do? For you, I mean?”
“Keep bringing this delicious pizza and your sweet children over,” Minnie said.
He nodded a few too many times. “I can do that,” he choked out.
Minnie beckoned him over and he stood up, leaned over, and hugged her as carefully as he could.
Olivia scooped up a spoonful of minced garlic and dropped it into the pan, where it started hissing alongside the green onions she’d just put in. She gave it a quick stir, then turned to get the tofu she’d been pressing underneath a clean brick on the counter.
And found herself face to face with an old man.
Olivia screamed, jerking backward and slamming her elbow into the pan. It flew off the burner and clattered to the floor, sending hot oil searing painfully across her exposed arm.
Andrew appeared in the doorway, eyes wild. “Liv!” he exclaimed. “Are you okay?”
The man was gone. But how? He’d been right there, and there wasn’t time for him to sneak out of the back door. But he’d definitely been there. She’d seen his wrinkled face and squashed nose so clearly, only inches from her own.
She was trembling and aware of the burning pain on her forearm as Andrew helped her get to her feet. “There was…”
She faltered and Andrew looked at her, concerned. She shook her head. “It was nothing,” she said finally. “I just thought I saw something and it startled me.”
He didn’t look like he believed her. “I swear,” she said. “I’m just tired. I’m just going to check the door and I’ll clean this up.”
“Check the door?” Andrew repeated. “Did you see someone in here?”
She was about to deny it again and say that she was just being paranoid. But no, there had definitely been someone there. There was no way she’d imagined that.
Olivia shook her head. “Fuck, Andrew, I swear I just saw someone in the house. Where’s Mia?”
“In her playpen,” Andrew said. “I’ll get her.”
He rushed into the living room and came back seconds later with Mia in his arms. “What did you see?” he asked Olivia. “Because I’m not saying I don’t believe you. But the door was locked from the inside. I locked it myself less than an hour ago.”
Her stomach sank. “I swear…”
“What did they look like?” Andrew asked.
“He was an old man,” she said. “I turned and he was right in my face. Wrinkly, kind of small eyes. Pale. I didn’t see much because he scared me so bad I fell over. But I don’t know where he could have gone if the door was locked. You would have seen him.”
Andrew nodded. Then he pulled out his phone, noticed with relief that he had service in the kitchen, and dialed Noah’s number.
Noah picked up after a few rings. “Andrew?”
“Hey,” Andrew said. “Noah, listen. You don’t have anyone over, do you?”
There was silence for a second. “No?” Noah said finally with confusion in his voice. “Why?”
Andrew shook his head to Olivia, who was already pulling on Mia’s coat. He jerked his head towards the door and she stepped outside, carrying Mia in her arms.
“Why?” Noah repeated, his voice sharper.
“Um, Liv thought she saw someone in her kitchen but I didn’t see anyone and the door was locked, so he couldn’t have gotten out into the backyard.”
“He? Where is she now? Where’s Mia?”
“They both just went into the backyard.”
“Go too, and call the police. I’ll be down in a second.”
Andrew went to the hook and picked up his coat, eyes swiveling around the room as he moved. He pulled on his coat, went to the phone hanging on the wall, and began to dial.
An hour later, they were all back inside. Two deputies from New Winslow’s tiny police department had come over and taken their statements. Then they’d searched the property and found nobody. Olivia was mortified, but Andrew and Noah assured her it was better to do this than ignore it and find out someone had actually been there.
Once the deputies had left, Olivia, Andrew, and Noah all sat in Olivia’s living room. Olivia gripped Mia tightly, the bottom half of her face buried in Mia’s hair. The burn on her arm was bandaged, but she still winced as it brushed against Mia’s side.
“Does anyone want pizza?” Andrew asked, breaking the heavy silence.
Olivia laughed. “The last thing I feel like doing is cooking again, so sure.”
Noah shook his head. “I’m going to get going.”
He pulled out his phone to check the time, and Andrew noticed a tremor in his hand as he did so. He frowned, but looked away before Noah realized he noticed.
“You’re sure?” Olivia asked. “I think we’re just going to be hanging out here for tonight.”
Noah shifted awkwardly. “Are you…do you think you’re good now?”
“Yeah,” Olivia said sadly. “Yeah, we’re good.”
He nodded and stood up. “Text me if you need anything,” he said.
He walked out without saying goodbye to any of them. Andrew and Olivia sat for a second, listening to his footsteps going up the stairs.
“I’ll call in that pizza,” Andrew said finally.