The Moving Van

The noise of a rumbling truck motor stopped before the stone estate. I concentrated on staying invisible, just in time. The tall man opened the right double glass door as he loosened the belt on his long black trench coat. He wore a handsome black felt hat, like my grandfather's. Right hand just inside the coat's opening at his long waist, he strode out onto the long stone deck, eyes narrowed and focused like a hawk. The man intensely scrutinized the backyard and the side of the house. I didn't move. Satisfied, he put his arm down and turned his attention to the double glass inlaid doors. He set them wide-open and pushed wooden stops under the door edges with his right shoe. After checking the stops held the doors, he hastened down the side stairs by the driveway, opposite my hiding place in the evergreens, and over to the gate at the side of the old castle mansion.

Becoming as see through as air, I moved out of the bushes, and padded down the stone slab walk in front of the porch until I could see around the left corner of the house. About a yard away from the gate, the man raised his right hand, and the metal safety lock opened. The lock came out of the latch and slowly moved in the air toward him. Claiming the lock from mid air, he placed the metal object in his black trench coat pocket. He waved his arm, and the gate opened for the moving van. I hurried back to my hiding place.

As the man walked backwards on the circle drive, the huge van slowly backed into the driveway and stopped by the stone porch steps. On the side of the white van, the moving company logo displayed a large blue and green globe above the words, "Around the World Moving." A little over average height, men in old grey overalls hurried out of the van. Looking hefty and strong, the one—with fair hair pulled tightly in a ponytail—opened the back of the van and pulled down a ramp. The other guy had on a dark blue stocking cap, with ebony rugged looks and looked Ethiopian. The blonde guy grabbed the blankets out of the back while the ebony guy held out an electronic clipboard for the owner to sign.

Standing behind the van, the taller owner of the mansion took the electronic pen in his left hand and quickly signed the screen. He handed the clipboard and pen back. The ebony guy sat the clipboard in the trailer and took some blankets from the blonde guy. The owner put his left hand in his trench coat and pointed up with the other. "Start moving the upstairs furniture in the sitting room, first. I got rid of that pesky plant James and Perry left in the basement. The acid smell might not be gone yet."

The two moving guys nodded without a second thought about their instructions. They headed inside with their moving blankets and up the back stairs barely visible from where I crouched in the bushes by the porch.

The owner of the house got into his Mercedes and drove the car over by the gate on the other side. Curious, I crept near the bushes and peeked around the corner. He got out and went to the fence. He raised his hand before a box on the fence, but didn't open the gate. When he walked around the corner of the house, I stifled my instinct to push into the bushes before they suspiciously moved. He walked past me, toward the raised stone patio. He stopped on the golden cracked stone walk and glanced in my direction. I held my breath. His brown-black eyes looked through me. He turned in a half circle, surveying the landscape.

The wrinkles in the tall man's forehead deepened beneath his grey felt hat tipped back. He stuck his gloved hands in his pockets. "Bye, old home. May you find rest with another buyer." His nasal tenor voice choked on the last word with intensely quiet grief, like selling the house meant losing someone he once knew or something that could have been. Tightening the belt of his coat, he walked up the porch stairs by the bushes and into the house.

Getting up from the evergreens, I walked a few steps down the path, staring across the patio at the open door. I wondered why I suddenly knew he could be trusted the way a stray cat knows a good place to find a home. I never saw the owner before, not that I remembered. His confident, tall stature and commanding demeanor still reminded me of some of my stepfather's friends. Shrewd and silently calculating, they foresaw every move and never got caught by authorities. Other kids would have run scared, especially after he destroyed the evidence my stepfather got chewed out about last night. Yet, I just couldn't see this guy hurting me, even if I did happen to be the "she" they were looking for. Maybe he might be my ticket to safety before my stepfather's murdering friends found me instead. Maybe my curiosity would kill me this time, but I didn't think so. I had to trust someone for Mom's sake. I fixed the backpack to just the unbruised shoulder and slipped my hands in my pockets. Time to be visible.

In a few minutes, the moving guys came through the door with blankets draped over a dresser. "We'll get the mirror, sir," the ebony guy said, "when we take out the paintings."

"That's fine, Yahnni." The tall man slowly came out behind them. Gloved hands in the pockets of his knee length, black leather trench coat, he watched the men as they went down the steps near the van and walked the dresser into the back.

"That antique used to belong my wife," he remarked casually like we had already met. He turned and looked directly at me, mouth firmly tight and thick eyebrows raised over piercing green eyes. A voice delicately pierced my mind, like the sound came through the back of my head. -Thought I didn't sense you were here?-

The bottom of my skull painfully tingled. A vivid shudder ran down the back of my head and spine. I breathed in deep and backed away, but didn't run. He definitely wasn't the easily fooled type. Maybe he did sense me by the window after all and earlier when he stared through me, invisible to normal eyes.

"Look, I'm sorry, sir. I was just…" I took the half-eaten pear out of my jacket pocket.

He half smiled and nodded. "I'm aware that you kids in the neighborhood pilfer from my fruit trees, but I don't mind, really." His broad shoulders shrugged. "Better than letting all the birds stuff themselves." Yet above that hawkish nose, his eyes still held that knowing look.

The guys walked out of the back of the truck. They barely glanced my direction before heading into the house for more furniture.

Something about his green eyes held mine for a moment, but I managed to blink and move my head. I put the fruit and my hand back in the warmer pocket. Nodding at the logo on the van, I asked, "Are you moving everything back to Europe?"

He frowned and raised his thick brows again. "No. Going to sell most of everything, the house, too. What makes you think I've come back from Europe?" He took an Altoid can out of the outside pocket of his black trench coat. The tin easily opened and he placed the strong peppermint in his mouth.

Oops. I picked up something when he held my eyes. What did he pick up from me? I shrugged my good shoulder. "Just the moving van. Read an ad about the international company in my stepfather's Newsweek. He leaves them on the coffee table." Yeah, sure he does. The man in front of me had to tell I was making this up. I kept my gaze on his black leather coat. "Besides, you have a foreign accent, and most of the kids say you're not from around here. Did you ever live in that house?"

The guys came out with an empty hutch. The man glanced over his shoulder as they went down the stairs by the van. He turned back to me, eyes dark brown. "Used to, until thirteen years ago." He placed the peppermint tin back in his pocket and moved closer to the nearest steps. "Now the house is just among the many properties I'm liquidating own around the world." He drew his thick brows together, studying my face. "How old are you, child?"

"Thirteen." His comfortable demeanor seemed safe enough, but I stayed my ground, standing on the fractured stone sidewalk. He must have been studying the bruised lump on the right side of my forehead and long red cut on my cheek below. I looked down and kicked a pebble with my tennis shoe. I had nearly forgotten about the pain in my head. Dried grass and weeds poked through the many cracks of the old stone walk among the scattered dead oak and elm leaves.

"You're a little tall for thirteen. Shouldn't you be heading off to school?" Yet he asked the question like he knew the answer.

"Not for another half hour. Middle School starts later than High School. Nice morning to take a walk." Not the real answers, and he knew that. How could I go to school? What would I tell my friends and teachers? I avoided his protective gaze under that black hat of his, and fiddled with the straps on my backpack.

As soon as the moving guys hastened inside with two dollies, the owner loosened the black trench coat's belt and sat down on the steps closest to me. He softly patted the space to his left with his gloved hand. The knees of his long legs stuck out from the steps like a grasshopper on a warm summer's day.

The man smiled gently. "My name's Doctor Eric Phillip Adler, what's yours?"

"Rickie James." I didn't budge. "What are you a doctor of?"

"Genetics and quantum physics." He patted the porch's surface again. "I promise you I don't bite, like some plants used to." Light reflected in his eyes, making his pupils twinkle as he grinned at the private joke. He folded his black-gloved hands in his lap. Then he nodded at me, and I could hear a gentle thought-voice softly contact my conscious awareness, -yes I saw you at the window. I will explain later, if you stay.-

I blinked, took a deep breath and chose. I had to get out of the neighborhood somehow, before my stepfather and his friend returned and made good on their threat to sell me to the Trell, whatever that meant. Slowly I walked over and carefully sat down beside Dr. Adler, adjusting myself carefully. The bruises on my left hip and thighs weren't too happy about the pressure of the hard stone.