She stared into her mug of coffee, the steam lazily rising, filling the kitchen with the earthy warm smell. Outside the dogs were barking maniacally at an invisible stranger, protecting their turf from things only they could see. A soft layer of fresh snow quilted the yard covering all the imperfections, hiding the dirt patches and a broken fence.
Inside, Chloe held the mug in her hands, watching the dogs.
How many more mornings would they have here?
She didn’t want to look in the kitchen, didn’t want to look at the notice sitting on the table. It had arrived two days ago and she still hadn’t worked up the courage to open it. She knew what it said, didn’t need an official letter telling her so.
The dogs stopped barking but were still staring into the field, ears up scanning their land. Max, the big golden mutt, dropped his tail a faint wag humming through the long feathers of hair. Jodie nipped at his neck, she was still a puppy at five years old, half the size of her older brother. Chloe had rescued both dogs, setting them free on the five acres of the open field they owned. Max and Jodie hadn’t known what it was like to run without a chain yanking them to a halt after ten feet. They hadn’t known that freedom was, the ability to roll in freshly mowed grass or chase after squirrels and chipmunks.
The house and the land had given the dogs life.
Chloe wrapped her fingers tighter around the cooling cup of coffee; they’d have to leave soon.
“What’s for breakfast?” Todd mumbled from upstairs, “I’m hungry.”
You’re old enough to make your own damn breakfast, Chloe thought a ripple of irritation spreading through her.
“Cereal,” she called up, “It’s a really special recipe.”
She heard moaning from the fourteen-year-old and some more thumping around. He’d be fine with cereal.
The laminate floor of the kitchen was chilling her bare feet; Chloe wiggled her toes and set the coffee down. She wasn’t going to drink it anyways. The thin envelope whined on the table, Chloe picked it up and shoved it in a cabinet, the whining muffled. She’d open it later.
Todd slid into the kitchen, his socked feet giving him a good two-foot slide across the floor. His hair stuck up at all angles, Chloe supposed it was the look he was going for. The half slept in, half too cool to care look. Todd was her sister’s kid, half-sister’skid. He’d been living with her and Brett for nearly half a year, but Chloe still found it hard living with someone who needed to be cared for.
It wasn’t like taking care of rescue dogs. She couldn’t just put him outside for a few hours and expect him to like it.
“You ready for school?”
“Yeah, as ready as I’ll ever be. Having the chance to see the wild teenager in its natural habitat is fascinating, a true study of what happens when you stick a bunch of hormonal idiots in the same space. Can’t wait for my four hundredth day in the field.”
Sometimes he was too smart for his own good. Maybe too sarcastic.
“Okay, yeah great,” Chloe sighed, “Just hurry up with the cereal.”
Maybe she should have Todd look at the notice; he’d probably know what to do.
“Yeah, whatever,” he mumbled, but grabbed a box of knock off Cheerios.
She felt her hands tighten and her jaw set. At least he could feed himself in the mornings, one less thing to worry about.
Calling the dogs in, they rushed through the door, shedding clumps of snow as they raced into the kitchen. Todd always gave them bits of his food, something she tried to stop but had given up on. There were bigger battles to fight.
The driveway was freshly shoveled, she silently thanked Brett. Sometimes he was too good for her, she didn’t deserve such a good guy. He woke up early to make coffee, shovel the driveway, sometimes even brought her coffee in bed. He worked hard, too hard for what he made and they still barely managed to get by each month.
The letters started a few months ago; once they started she had no idea how to stop them. Every day she dreaded opening the mailbox, knowing there would be another one in there. Kept putting it off, hoping they’d be able to rescue themselves, save themselves from drowning. Kept going under though.
“You just going to stand there with the door open? Or you going to drop me off at school?”
“Jesus, what the fuck? Don’t do that.
“Sorry, thought you heard me,” Todd suppressed a small grin, “Off in La-La land?”
“You…” Chloe groaned, “Yeah, let me grab some shoes.”
“I’ll go start the car,” he headed past her, past the still open door and climbed into the car. It groaned to life as he started up the engine.
Picking up a pair of dirty socks, Chloe pulled them on and stuffed her feet into a pair of Brett’s old boots. A few sizes too large, but warm. Just in case the car decided to break down again, she’d be ready this time. Throwing on a heavy jacket, another of Brett’s, she stomped outside into the warming car. The notice in the cabinet hummed louder.