Page 41 of Tripping on a Halo

I made a face at her, twisting in my seat to avoid the sight of the framed diplomas, hung neatly beside my fridge. My mind flitted back to Dr. E’s recent suggestion that I start a business. I had wasted a lot of time thinking over what I might do, but short of starting a pig rescue farm, I was drawing a blank.

“And when’s the last time that Mrs. Robchek paid you?” Her chocolate teeth situation was getting worse, but interrupting her to point it out would have been rude. Better to let her waltz off to Trader Joe’s with a muddy smile, since she had so much nitpicking on her plate. I ran my hand over the granite island top and wondered if they were still running the special on mangoes. If they were, I’d have her pick me up some. A mango and strawberry salad sounded scrumptious.

“Huh?” She reached over and poked me.

“Mrs. Robchek’s on a limited budget,” I defended the poor old woman.

“Then she needs to stop ordering scrapbooks for her dog. There aren’t that many events that need chronologizing in a dog’s life. And speaking of which…” she glared at me. “I haven’t even gotten a scrapbook for Caleb yet. And he’s THREE.”

“I’m working on Caleb’s book,” I promised. “It’s going to be fabulous.” Talk about demanding clients who didn’t pay. At least Mrs. Robchek walked Mittens and Morkie past Declan’s house three times a day and gave me updates. With that sort of intel, who needed timely payments?

She stood up and stretched, her body twisting left and right as she attempted to pop her back. “Don’t forget, we’re going to the fair next weekend.”

I nodded, stealing the remainder of her brownies.

“There’s still an open invitation for you to come. You can ride the Gravitron and barf on teenagers.”

“As delightful as that sounds, I think I’ll pass.”

“Whatever.” She shrugged, and lifted her bag over her shoulder. “I’m headed to get groceries. Want to come?”

I mused over the idea of staying, stretching out on the couch with Mr. Oinks and watching Squidward giving Spongebob the business. Instead, I pulled a paper towel off the roll and passed it to her. “Sure. And here. You’ve got brownie all over your teeth.”

24

The day of the plane crash had started with a dick. One in full color and high resolution in the text messages of Nicola’s phone. Declan had stared at the image, unable to comprehend what it meant. His eyes had slowly dragged up to the text that had preceded the image.

Still hungry? I got something for you…

The dick pic came from a sender named Brittany Gym, which was equally puzzling, until he realized that Brittany was a code name, and whoever had sent the photo had clearly screwed his girlfriend, and on multiple occasions. He scrolled back through the text history, his anger growing with each one. By the time he got to the earliest text, one three months old, he’d wanted to rip the phone in half and climb a hundred-story building, just to chuck it off the roof.

He’d resisted the urge to go through every one of her other text conversations and set down the phone, yanked on his Nikes, and gone for a run. He’d been on his third mile when the dog had taken him down. If Autumn Jones had been anywhere in the vicinity, he hadn’t seen her. He hadn’t been able to see anything but that damn penis, the pic taken in a restroom, khakis and dress shoes underneath it.

The image had disappeared from his mind when he’d been knocked on the ground, the dog exuberantly happy, his wet tongue swiping over every nook and cranny of Declan’s face, his breath horrible, saliva-dripping, dirty paws firmly planted on his chest. Then, there had been the deafening noise of the engine. The rigid shudder of the impact. The heat from the fire.

Nicola had been waiting for him at the hospital, her face pinched in concern, that treacherous phone gripped against her chest, with no idea of what he’d seen. It wasn’t until after the tests, his minor scrapes and burns patched up, that he had confronted her with the truth and ended things.

Now, he sat at his office and clicked past photos of the crash. Miraculously enough, the pilot had lived, along with his nine-year-old daughter, who he’d pulled free of the cockpit, despite his broken back. The plane had nosedived into an SUV, pushing the vehicle into a home, the left wing taking out the mid-century modern’s dining and living room. He clicked forward, the newspaper’s photos giving him a close-up view of the charred Highlander, the deep tracks in the lawn, the black scorch marks from the fire.

In all of the madness, he hadn’t taken the time to think through what would have happened if the dog hadn’t tackled him. If he had followed the path he had taken on his prior laps, he would have continued down the street until the dead end, then turned left and gone up the hill. Unfortunately, Autumn Jones was correct. Had he continued straight, and been twenty yards farther, he would have been directly in the path of the plane.

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