19 - The Message

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Liz ate her burritos and decided to head home early to change before running her afternoon errands, unwilling to continue her day with cobwebs in her hair. She kissed Nat on the way out, a breathy kiss that tasted like eggs, but Nat didn't mind so much; her own breath was eggy, too. 

Silence settled onto the shop soon after Liz left, and it was rarely broken. A handful of customers came in to browse, and Nat made a couple of small sales — a set of vintage earrings, a decorative plate — but for the most part, the place was abandoned as the morning faded into afternoon. 

She had busied herself for some time with dusting, straightening, rearranging items on the shelf, but eventually that began to feel like the waste of time that it was and she retreated back into the staff room, waiting for the door to alert her that anyone had arrived.

There was a computer back here, an ancient monolith that Liz used for inventory and payroll. It was half-buried behind piles of paperwork, but she shifted these aside and switched it on, listening to the odd cracks and rattles it made as it heaved itself to life. Like an old dog, she thought, sleepy and arthritic and grunting in irritation upon being awoken.

Once it started up, she tapped her fingers impatiently against the mouse buttons, waiting for the internet to connect. In the silence, she could hear the sounds of traffic outside, a siren in the distance. Inside the store, weight seemed to settle, the building creaking like the computer. We need to get a radio set up in here, she thought, listening to the sounds that filled the hush. Maybe that record player. It's spooky being here by yourself.

And then she heard it, what Liz must have heard earlier: A quiet rustling noise, like something rummaging through trash, or walking through dead leaves. It came and went, so faint that she was barely certain she'd heard it at all. But: There it was again, and it seemed closer now, impossibly close, like whatever it was had been moving at tremendous speeds.

And then, nothing.

It stopped, silence again taking over the shop.

Her heart pounding, Nat let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding and forced the tension from her shoulders. It was just a mouse. She was just on edge because of what she was planning to do.

Now that the internet had loaded, she went to the search engine and typed in the name of the Riveras again. She skipped over the news stories, this time, and came up instead with an obituary. She scanned this, looking for where it said "survived by," and found surprisingly few names. There was a sibling living on the other side of the country, with a few nieces and nephews. And then a mother, Anthony's mother; no mention of a father or parents for Suzanne.

Well, that would work. She only needed one.

Searching the mother's name, she found a Facebook profile — and there, in case she had doubted that she'd found the right Celia Rivera, was a photo of the family, the same Christmas snapshot that had run in the news story. It was set as Celia's cover photo, and when Nat's eyes landed on the picture, the hound's gaze peering up from around the borders of her profile picture.

Swallowing back her trepidation, she clicked to send a message:

Hello, she typed, and then hesitated. What could she possibly say? She should probably leave it alone; that's what Liz would have told her.

I am deeply sorry about what happened to your son's family. I recently purchased a storage unit at auction that contained some of his personal effects, including photographs. I was writing to see whether you would like me to forward these to you.

She hesitated, unsure of whether to add anything else, when the bell rang to signify that someone had come into the store. She clicked 'send' and hurried down the hall to the register. 

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