excerpt from THE SHOE TREE
TWO DARK HOODED FIGURES STOOD straddling bicycles under what Darren realized was the shoe tree.
The bad news on the television and Connie’s concern about him leaving her alone had worked its way under his skin. His defenses went up.
The path was dark along this stretch of the park.
“Stay close, pal.”
He chuckled at his lack of originality, but the name sure as hell fit.
Back in May, if Elton had chosen a different tree for shit detail, Darren might not have even noticed the shoes. Most likely, he wouldn’t have; he’d been distracted even before the pup came into his and Connie’s life. Waiting for Elton to finish up, he happened to glance up and saw the pair hanging from one of the branches.
He recognized the brand immediately. A pair of faded and worn-out Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, their laces tied together, one shoe’s sole split apart from its body.
Closing in on the tree Darren contemplated turning around or veering off through the grass, giving the tree a wide berth, but in the end, he kept to the path. What did he have to fear? From the bikes, these were obviously kids.
Probably a pair of teenagers hanging out.
Summer was winding down. Schools would be opening their doors in a matter of days. These must be summer’s children wringing out every last second of vacation time. Darren remembered the associated feelings well, the empty gnawing ache, wondering where all those precious days had gone.
Get used to it, he thought. It ain’t gonna get any better from here on out.