I turned back to the TV. A wispy woman in a white nightgown was making her way down a dark hallway with one flickering candle. Lily must have been watching it before she'd gone out; my daughter binged on these kinds of movies, Halloween season or not. She loved all things creepy, Frankenstein and ghosts, serial killers and porcelain dolls. If it was undead or moaned in the attic, Lily was all about it.
Just before the woman reached the door where the knob was rattling violently, there was a loud bang outside, and I jumped. Another woman, getting out of a car this time. I shut off the TV, the fate of the wispy woman forever unknown, and went into the kitchen to wash my plate.
It was 7:30. Lily was at a friend's house, and Adam had dived headfirst into his new job as principal of the local high school. He wouldn't be home from Parent Night for another couple of hours at least. I was on my own and knew I should get out, go for a walk. I enjoyed wandering the streets of our new neighborhood, getting the lay of the land, especially at night.
I put on my sneakers and slipped a light cardigan over my T-shirt as I stepped outside. The sky was clear, the moon a ripe banana. I'd always been in love with this neighborhood—Ivy Woods—and my love had continued to grow since our family had moved here from Philadelphia three weeks ago. Our cul-de-sac ran up against a small lake that separated our homes from a town house community across the way. And even though we were only a dozen miles from DC, the woods around the neighborhood made us feel like we were in a secluded forest retreat, private and protected.
It felt so easy, so normal. The kind of place you saw on a dated sitcom, with large and wholesome families and golden retrievers and everyone learning important lessons. The kind of street that made you wonder how different your life would be if only you lived somewhere like that.
And now I did.
I walked down our driveway, turning left to leave the cul-de-sac. I passed these houses often, but I'd been so busy unpacking and getting us settled that I hadn't actually met any of the neighbors yet. I'd seen them pulling out of their IKEA-organized garages in the mornings, jogging on the weekends, gathering at the mailboxes at the ends of their driveways. Never a hair out of place. Pencil skirt suits or designer yoga pants, whether on their way to work or instructing their gardeners where to trim the boxwoods. I'd been studying—their habits, their style. Figuring out how they operated, so that when the time was right, I would fit in.
Just as I reached the giant old oak tree at the opening of the cul-de-sac, I realized I'd forgotten my cell phone. I headed back, but crossed to the other side—where the party house beckoned to me like a big bright lamp.
As I approached, I slowed. The moms were chatting animatedly around a table, one woman's words tripping over the last's. Beautiful creatures, at ease in their lives and their homes. Several bottles of wine out, like they were planning on staying for a while.
I inched onto the dark lawn to the dogwood tree and pressed myself against the brittle trunk for a better view. One of the women was standing now, stretching her arm from beneath a purple-and-green pashmina to show off a delicate bracelet on her wrist.
I willed one of them to look up.
To notice me.
The blonde mom, perfect highlights framing her face, nodded her approval of the jewelry. I was betting she was the leader, the take-charge one who never flinched during an emergency, who would wrangle all of us behind her and face the tigers first.
A dog started barking in the distance, then another nearby, in the house. It rushed to the front door and pawed, heavy breath creating condensation on the glass.
The blonde mom frowned. "Cut it out, Barney," she yelled. She took a sip of her wine.
Then she looked up. She seemed to gaze right at me through the window. Flecks of bark snapped off the tree trunk as I squeezed, and they fell at my feet. Even though I knew the woman couldn't see me out here in the darkness, I held my breath until she turned away.