The first thing I noticed was the dead opossum lying in the middle of her yard. Nothing struck me as odd about this, of course, except for maybe the type of animal. Dead animals were turning up in her yard all the time. A few days ago there was a dead cat lying in the middle of her sidewalk. Last week a squirrel was sprawled at an awkward angle near the tree in the middle of her front yard. About a month ago, three birds occupied the space on the ground beneath her window. She'd explained to me that day that she had just gotten done cleaning the windows when she heard the thuds. She must have done a hell of a good job to have not one, not two, but three birds croaking at her feet.
She had only moved into the house about six months ago, and at first we made jokes about all the dead animals. Maybe they were a sign that she shouldn't have moved in or that she wasn't welcome there, or maybe there was something poisoned in her yard. But after a while, there had been too many animals dead for it to be a joke any longer. We researched, separately of course, what could cause such a phenomenon and compared notes. Perhaps it was an old Native American burial site. Maybe there was something in the water in the nearby creek and the animals all just happened to make it to her yard to die. After a while we just grew to believe that it was cursed.
I got out of my truck clutching her parcels in my hands as I walked up to her door. The red, inside door was splayed wide open as always, and I inconspicuously scanned the room before ringing the doorbell. She appeared almost instantly, walking towards the closed screen door with a big grin on her face.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Parsons," she said as she reached for the handle of the only barrier between us.
"Good afternoon, Miss Ashbaugh," I replied.
"Mr. Parsons, how many times have I told you that you can call me Olivia?" she smiled, tucking a lock of curly hair behind her ear.
"Sorry, Olivia," I blushed as I handed her the parcels. "I have two more for you."
"Great! I was expecting these," she murmured as she signed for them on my clipboard. Olivia was an editor who worked from home, and because of this she was constantly receiving new manuscripts in the mail. I was lucky enough to see her often since she received a new one every few days or so. I'd try to strike up a conversation with her about the manuscripts every now and then so that I could spend a few extra minutes with her.
"What's the craziest one you've read lately?" I asked. Olivia leaned back against the house and crossed her arms.
"Hmm… Oh, I know! This one man wrote a novel about a farmer who had some strange happenings around his farm. Eventually he discovered that his cows were aliens from another planet that were stranded on Earth and were trying to get home." Olivia laughed, a sound like tinkling bells filling the air.
"Man, that's insane!" I chuckled. "How do you get through books like that? It must be so difficult."
"Sometimes it definitely is hard," she admitted while clutching the parcels to her chest a bit more tightly. "But it's my passion. I love reading and editing. I wouldn't want to do anything else, even if I do come across a crappy story every now and then." Olivia's gaze was fixed on the porch floor; her eyes held a tender glazed-over look like a sugary donut.
"That's wonderful, Olivia," I said quietly. My voice snapped her back into reality and she looked up at me and smiled.
"Well, I guess I'll see you later then, Mr. Parsons. Have a good day!" Olivia began to turn back towards the door when I remembered.
"Yes?" She turned towards me again.
"Have you had many opossums in the past?" I asked her.
"Excuse me?" she replied. I pointed in the direction of the dead opossum lying in the middle of the yard.
"Oh gosh!" she exclaimed as she walked past me to get a better look. She stood on her tiptoes on the edge of one of the porch steps, teetering precariously like a children's top. The opossum was very large, and it was keeled over on its side with its tongue hanging out.
"I don't remember seeing one in your yard before," I stated.
"Oh no, I haven't found an opossum in my yard before today," she said sadly. "I suppose Jim will have to take care of it when he gets home. But thanks for pointing it out!"
"Um, no problem," I fumbled with my clipboard, my heart beginning to pound with fury. She disappeared inside her house and left me shaking as I walked back down the sidewalk to my truck.
Ever since Olivia Ashbaugh moved in, I was smitten. I was completely head over heels in love with her; the kind of stuff you see in movies. She was petite, graceful, with curly strawberry blonde-hair and eyes like sapphires. She looked five years younger than she was, and I could hear a symphony of bells every time she laughed. I had been trying to inch my way into her life when Jim entered the picture.
Jim Gillman was Olivia's boyfriend. He had been in the picture for about three of four months. They had met at the grocery store, Olivia told me once, when they accidentally turned around the corner of an aisle and banged their carts straight into each other, sending down a display of Wheat Thins in the process. What one might have seen as an unfortunate circumstance or an embarrassing moment, they saw as fate, and they exchanged numbers right there on the spot.
After that, Olivia stopped trying to discover the reason why all the animals were showing up dead in her yard. Instead she used their deaths as an opportunity for Jim to come over and dispose of their bodies. At first he'd just come over for a few hours, but after a couple weeks of them dating he began to stay late into the night, and sometimes he'd even stay the entire night. Lately he'd been staying more often, and it made my blood boil. Usually on those nights, I'd sit outside the house in my SUV with my binoculars and a couple of hotdogs from a local joint. I learned many things on those nights; things that I hoped would help me win Olivia's affections after all. I learned that her favorite food was chicken pot pie. She was terrified of scary movies, and would only watch them if she was being held by someone. She liked to go for a run at 5am every other morning. Her favorite color was clearly lime green. I even knew the brand of shaving cream that Jim used. From my extensive researching, I had discovered that Jim was going out of town at the end of the week and would be gone for seven days. I figured that it was the perfect opportunity for Olivia to see that she was meant to be with me instead of him. After all, what did Jim Gillman have that I didn't? I delivered his mail. He lived in a house that was inferior to both mine and Olivia's houses, and the items he seemed to receive the most frequently in the mail were farming magazines. Did the man realize how far his house was from the nearest working farm? Sure, there was a creek nearby, and even a miniature forest preserve, but a farm with a chicken coop and milking cows? The man could dream on. These were the suburbs; there simply wasn't room for his manure-filled fantasy to stink up the area. Watching him from Olivia's street gave me even more insights about the man. He clipped his toenails at the coffee table, drank milk straight from the carton in the morning, and never put the toilet seat down. The man was practically an animal; one who lived on one of those farms he gushed about so passionately. I knew Olivia could do better. If only she would open her eyes beyond her manuscripts, the aisles of the grocery store, and the cursed animals that were sprinkled all over her lawn.
On the day I knew Jim was leaving, I began my plan to win Olivia's affections. I stopped my truck in front of her house and walked up to the door. I rang the doorbell, and Olivia appeared a few moments later.
"Good morning, Mr. Parsons," she greeted me as she opened the door. "What are you doing here today? I'm not expecting any new manuscripts."
"Well, you have a different sort of delivery today, it seems," I said as I pulled the flower bouquet out from behind my back. Olivia gasped, her hand thrown over her mouth. "It says they're from a secret admirer." Olivia reached out for the bouquet, her fingers stroking over the rose petals.
"Oh, Jim is so sweet," she murmured, taking the bouquet from me.
"Um, ma'am, not to be nosy or anything, but I don't think they're from him," I told her. She wrinkled her nose at this suggestion and opened the card attached to the bouquet. Her eyes scanned over the words that I knew by heart, since I had written them.
Though I'm not a poet or a novelist at all
And though to you, I'm sure I seem rather small
You must know that to me, you are the all the shining stars
There is no where I would rather be than where you are
Open up your eyes and try your best to see
That you and I are surely meant to be.
Olivia bit her lip as she reread the card again.
"You're sure this isn't from Jim?" she asked.
"Pretty positive, ma'am," I smiled. "I guess you'll just have to be on the lookout for this mystery guy." She blushed.
"Yes, I suppose I will."
The next day, Olivia received a Godiva chocolate delivery. The day after that, she received a giant stuffed giraffe, which I knew for a fact were her favorite animal. On the fourth day of Jim being gone, when I came to her house there was a dead raccoon lying on the stoop. I rang the doorbell and I heard her running quickly to the door.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Parsons," she smiled. It seemed that she was almost glowing from excitement. "Did my admirer send anything for me today?"
"He sure did," I answered as I held out a small box plus a manuscript which was quickly tossed to the side by the dead raccoon. Olivia ripped open the box's packaging and produced a small blue box. She pulled open the top, revealing a pair of sparkling diamond earrings. A gasp caught in her throat.
"Oh, they're beautiful," she murmured, holding them up to the light.
"Do you have any idea who this secret admirer is yet?" I asked her.
"I have no idea!" she grinned as she went to retrieve the manuscript. "I'd really like to find out though."
"I'm sure you will," I assured her.
By the fifth day of Jim being gone, my job had gotten a bit more difficult. Jim was starting to send her presents from his business trip, and I had to figure out something to do with them besides deliver them to their recipient. Instead I copied over Olivia's signature from her signature for other packages and I kept them at my house. Opening them up, I discovered lingerie and wine. Nothing a classy woman like Olivia needed.
The fifth day, I brought a bottle of fancy perfume to Olivia's door. Of course, it was the same brand of perfume that she actually wore. I'd spotted her putting it on through her window one night about a month ago.
"I wear this brand of perfume!" she exclaimed to me as she sprayed a squirt onto her wrists. "I wonder how he knew!"
"Life is a mystery," I told her. On the sixth day, Olivia received a diamond bracelet that matched her earrings. On the seventh day, I planned my biggest surprise of all. It was my last day to make my move before Jim arrived home.
I stepped over a dead rabbit on the sidewalk and rang Olivia's doorbell. She was at the door in less than five seconds.
"Good morning!" she exclaimed before looking down at the parcel in my hands. "You only have a manuscript today? Nothing from my secret admirer?" She looked disappointed.
"I'm afraid not, Olivia," I said as I held out the clipboard for her to sign.
"That's too bad," she said, her eyes casting downwards. "It's silly, but I was really starting to look forward to getting my mail each day." My heart flipped inside my chest.
"That is too bad," I turned to step down the step and pulled my biggest move of all. I slipped perfectly and fell on her stoop, clutching my ankle.
"Aw, shit," I exclaimed as I rubbed my ankle. My fall actually worked; my ankle really hurt.
"Mr. Parsons, are you all right?" she rushed over to me and bent down to examine my ankle.
"Aw, this really hurts," I said. "I could use some ice."
"Well, come on in," Olivia suggested, helping me up. "You can rest your ankle on the couch for a little while."
"All right," I replied nonchalantly as a hobbled through her front door. It was the first time I'd actually been in Olivia's house. As much as I'd seen from the outside, there were many details I'd missed since I'd only had one viewpoint. All sorts of bookcases lined the walls in the room next to the front door and a couched was smashed against one wall. Olivia led me to the couch to sit down.
"Wait here. I'll get you some ice." When Olivia returned, she sat down next to me on the couch and we began to talk. At first we talked about my ankle, and then slowly we began to talk about everything under the sun, from past relationships to favorite novels and movies to holiday traditions. After a while, I figured that my trap was set. I'd gotten into her house, I'd talked with her for hours, and now it was time for her to have her final gift from her secret admirer.
"Hey Olivia," I began when we had our first lapse of silence. "Your secret admirer did have a gift for you today." Olivia's brow furrowed in confusion.
"What do you mean?" At her words, I pulled a box out of my pocket and handed it to her. It was a diamond necklace to match the bracelet and earrings.
"This is gorgeous," Olivia breathed. "But how did you? Where did you?" She stopped speaking and then opened her eyes wide in realization.
"Are you-" I interrupted her by pressing my lips to hers in a kiss. Before she had time to respond, I started speaking.
"Olivia, I've been in love with you from the moment that you moved into this house. There isn't a thing that I dislike about you besides your current relationship status. From the moment we met, I've hoped for a chance for you to see me. Really see me. And this was the only way I could…" She stopped me by holding up one of her hands.
"Mr. Parsons," she began, taking in a breath. "You're a really sweet guy, really you are. But I am with Jim. I'm in love with Jim." She paused to take my hand. "I am so flattered that you have such strong feelings for me, but I'm sorry to say that I can't return them. Not now; not with Jim in my life."
"Does that mean," I started, my voice shaking. "Does that mean that I would have a chance if you and Jim weren't together?" Olivia shook her head, her mouth open.
"I don't know," she answered honestly. Finally she sighed.
"Look, I've loved every single one of your gifts," she assured me. "But I can't possibly keep them." She took the earrings out of her ears and unfastened the bracelet on her wrist. "I'm sure these were expensive. Give them to someone who loves you in return." Olivia handed the jewelry over to me, along with the box containing the necklace. I stood up abruptly and made a beeline for the door, my heart literally aching with the rejection.
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Parsons," she said as I reached out for the door knob.
I looked at her once more smiling tightly, my exterior beginning to break as I rushed out the door. I kicked the limp rabbit out of the way and stepped over a fresh crow as I made my way to my truck. Olivia watched after me as I drove away, tears sliding down my face.
That night when Jim returned home, I was waiting outside the house in my SUV like usual, my hotdogs sitting warm in the passenger seat waiting for me to eat them. As Jim walked up to the front door to greet Olivia, I met him at the sidewalk.
"Can I help you?" Jim asked. I tried to think of a clever response before finally just deciding to smash his skull in with a brick. He fell to the ground in the middle of the sidewalk and I left him there for someone else to find in the morning. Maybe Olivia and I would finally have a chance. I hopped in my SUV, looking over at Jim's body lying so still in the yard before driving away. I was sure Olivia would attribute the loss to the curse. After all, animals were dying almost every day.