“Well, I can tell you I’m going to definitely have to let all this, well, settle for a bit. In my mind.” She sat back in her chair and wiped her hands on her gauzy, floral-patterned skirt. The room’s quiet was disturbed only by the occasional clacking of the barista and her juggled fleet of pitchers and mugs.
“Sure,” said Prue. “Listen: I know that’s a lot to take in, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to have someone other than my parents to confide this stuff to. It’s been driving me crazy.”
Darla allowed herself a smile. “No problem. But you have to get going, right? Walk you home?”
They walked in silence down the wet sidewalks, their shoulders hunched against the cold. The torrent of words and emotions that had positively poured out of Prue at the coffee shop haunted her; like an overly rich dessert you’d devour without a thought, the regret kicking in only once the last spoonful had been consumed, Prue was now wondering if confessing her wild adventure in the Impassable Wilderness had really been the best idea. Without turning her head, she glanced sideways at Darla, who was walking lost in her own thoughts, and inwardly cringed. What was going to happen now? Would Darla respect Prue’s wishes to keep this revelation to herself? Would she tell the police? Or Curtis’s parents? Her nose stung at the frigid wind, and she pulled her scarf higher against her cheeks. Maybe that was for the best, after all. Maybe Prue had been the one at fault here, not telling the Mehlbergs and letting them despair over the loss of their son.
Curtis. What had Prue brought on him? What kind of wild life among bandits would he be leading? Would they be sufficient parents for a kid? Was Brendan really the right father figure for a boy to…
Suddenly, something occurred to Prue. It revealed itself to her like the answer to a puzzle you’d contemplated for hours without seeing the easiest solution. And it made her spine go cold.
“Hey,” she said. “Darla.”
“When we were talking back there, in the café, you said his name.”
“Brendan’s. The Bandit King.”
“Uh-huh. So? Isn’t that his name?”
Prue dug her hands deeper into her peacoat pockets. “Yeah, but…”
“I don’t remember telling you his name. Before.”
nbsp; Quiet. A car passed. The muffled sound of a syncopated bass track reverberated from within.
“You must’ve,” said Darla Thennis.
“I don’t think I did.”
Darla laughed a little. “Oh, Prue. You’ve been through a lot. You’re just confused. It’s totally understandable. Here, isn’t this your house?”
The familiar front porch loomed on the sidewalk ahead.
“Yeah,” said Prue. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I need to just chill out or something.” She looked into Darla’s eyes, black and empty in the streetlamp-less dark, and reached out her hand. “Thanks,” she said. “Thanks for listening.”
Darla, grasping with both hands, holding tightly, saying: “Of course. See you tomorrow.”
Pulling from the handshake, Prue mounted the steps to her front door. Light from the living room descended from the house onto the yard, and a weave of leftover Christmas lights winked on the steps’ banister. Prue felt unsettled as she climbed; reaching the front door, she paused at the handle and turned. Ms. Thennis was still standing on the sidewalk, her face obscured in the blank dark. The figure waved. Prue waved back and walked into her house.
Whatever uneasiness she was feeling disappeared immediately as she stepped into the foyer of her family’s home. Instead, she was overcome by a scent so pungent and all-consuming that it seemed to dispel all other thoughts from her mind. Pickles. She crinkled her nose and shouted, “What is that?”
Her dad appeared from the kitchen, wearing long rubber gloves and holding what appeared to be a mossy clump of greenishness. “Oh, hi, honey,” he said. He quickly slipped back into the kitchen. Prue shed her peacoat, kicked off her Wellies, and followed her dad. “What’s that smell?” she asked.
In the kitchen, her mother and father were staring at a large brown crock in the middle of the cork floor.
“Pickles,” her mother explained. “Forgotten pickles.”
Her dad smiled sheepishly. “Remember those cukes we got at the farmer’s market at the end of September? Kinda forgot about them. Now they’re either the best pickles known to man, or totally poisonous.” He held aloft the weird green mass in his gloved hand. “Wanna try?”