by SYDNEY CHURCH - November 8, 2020
The third installment in the Fox Hollow Chronicles
Aylah Johns had lived in her quaint house, sitting squarely on the corner of 10th Avenue, for nearly five years. It was small, much like Aylah, but it was just right for the life that resided in it. The young, fair-skinned girl had one of the bubbliest personalities you’d find in the not-so-loud town of Fox Hollow. Her brown hair, curled and cut just below her shoulders, framed soft facial features and beaming green eyes. Aylah lived with an unnaturally perfect smile towards those around her, and walked everywhere with a sort of skip to her step. She had a soft spot for children and the elderly, but there was something about her neighbor Bryan that especially brought out the best in everything she did.
Aylah and Bryan had been acquaintances since grade school. Bryan and the neighborhood boys liked to chase Aylah and her friends down the road on their bikes, whooping and causing a scene, as the girls giggled and screeched in an attempt to outrun their antagonists. Once, when the pair were much younger, Aylah watched Bryan climb a tree in the neighborhood park they often frequented. When he had reached the top, he yipped and hollered in excitement - so much excitement that he hadn’t realized his fingers slipping. Aylah’s hands moved to cover her eyes quicker than Bryan hit the ground, but not before slicing his lip open on a tree branch on the way down. Oddly enough, while it must have hurt like hell, Bryan laughed. Even over ten years later, the scar was still quite visible, but no one except for the two of them knew how it came to be.
Then, Bryan ran off the rails. He stayed inside more and he had frequent outbursts in school. Many of the neighborhood kids kept their distance, including Aylah. The young friends stayed apart as they grew older, only reconnecting recently when they both moved to Fox Hollow, where Bryan and his girlfriend Liz bought the house next to Aylah’s. This rekindling sparked a realization in Aylah: she missed growing up with Bryan. He may have been weird, but he was also a kind, handsome boy. He had the sweetest eyes and softest brown hair that lay perfectly atop his head.
When she saw the familiar Mazda pull into the driveway next door, her heart nearly shot out of her chest. She leapt from her spot on the couch and stared intently out her front window down the expanse of 10th Avenue.
No way, she thought to herself. There is no effing way.
Sliding on a pair of Vans, Aylah stumbled to the door and fumbled for the doorknob, throwing herself outside with so much speed, Bryan didn't see her coming. Aylah called his name loudly, her hand in the air as she made her way across the yard to the house next door.
She offered him a blinding smile as she approached her new neighbor’s driveway. She noticed the scar, still present on his lips, and she couldn’t help but giggle under her breath.
“Wow! Aylah! How are you?” Bryan said, turning quickly, and Aylah pulled her old friend into a tight hug.
The energy was awkward, and as she pulled away from the embrace on the lawn, Aylah could see why. Liz McQuoid, Fox Hollow’s very own, had made her way from the baby blue front door to where Bryan and Aylah stood. The interaction was short, and though Aylah tried her best to be kind, something about Liz made her blood boil. Maybe it was her perfectly cut, aggressively shiny black hair, or her inquisitively deep blue eyes. Surely, she wasn’t jealous; Aylah had never liked Bryan in that way. At least, she hadn’t thought she did.
The tense introductions happened nearly four years ago now, but Liz still had that seething tang about her that annoyed Aylah to no end. The two never seemed to get along, no matter how hard they tried. It felt like they were competing for Bryan’s attention, and it was a competition Aylah had her heart set on winning.
For months, the three neighbors did everything together. Even after Bryan dropped out of college and became the town's mailman, they spent the weekends playing card games and watching movies. Aylah couldn’t help but feel like a third wheel when it came to their relationship, but it didn’t bother her much. She knew more about Bryan than Liz could ever hope for, and Aylah knew that drove Liz crazy.
Aylah knew that Bryan’s car was exactly 14 years and 9 months old. She knew about the time he had popped the back left tire on his way to school during senior midterms. She knew the way his voice changed when he was nervous, the way it used to before presentations in AP Spanish. It shook and waivered, much like it would now when he came home from a long day at work. She knew he bought identical pairs of shoes every year because he likes a specific pair so much the soles wear out too fast. She knew that his eyes shine most when the sun is setting and his hair never lies on his head the same way twice.
One night, though, when the trio were playing cards, Bryan was different. He arrived home later than usual, leaving Liz and Aylah alone in a terribly awkward silence for over an hour. When he finally walked into the kitchen, there was this crazy look in his eyes and it gave Aylah a sinking feeling that she couldn’t seem to shake. Something about the way he talked, and even walked, the corners of his mouth upturned like shapeshifting clowns in the movies. He was almost giddy. This shift in mood soon became a constant for Bryan, and Aylah noticed in his wonderfully brown eye a twinkle she had not witnessed before.
When Aylah turned on the radio the next morning, there was a story circulating—a missing girl and a hit and run, a story that would keep her up at night. As she pulled out of the driveway, she noticed a small dent in Bryan’s mail truck across the way. 10th Avenue seemed a little colder. She inched hesitantly, closer and closer to the truck. The dent was quite large, paint chipping around the edges where the metal was bending. There was a thick smear splattered across the left headlight. The sight of it made Aylah queasy.
Surely, it couldn’t be true; pushing her foot down on the pedal, she started to cry. Shaking her head vigorously, she held her hands up to her face, where she felt hot tears fall on her cheeks. She found herself searching for air, gasping like a fish out of water.
Her sweet, loving Bryan wasn't a monster, she thought, as her back slammed hard against the seat. Was he?
Cover photo by Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash.