I took my usual walk at nine am. I thoroughly enjoy this alone time. The weather has been so mild for this time of year and I intend to take full advantage of it. I inhale deeply. Fall is my absolute favorite season. Its not too hot and not too cold but just perfect. Everything is so vibrant all around me. I just take it all in. In just a few short weeks the trees will be bare and winter will have its hold on us.
I make my way down Lexington and then turn right on Concord. The grass is still damp with morning dew. A woman pushing an umbrella stroller smiles at me. The little girl inside the stroller waves but when I return the gesture she turns red and looks away. At the next street I slow down. I notice single leaves that start from the sidewalk then continue on passed the four houses on my left.
They seem to be leading somewhere. I wonder if they could have fallen in such a way. Or perhaps this was done intentionally.
Almost like leaving breadcrumbs.
I look around, see nobody nearby and decide to follow them. I walk a good ten or fifteen feet before the single leaves come to an abrupt halt. Again I check my surroundings. Then I kneel down and lift the beautiful scarlet leaf into my hand. I gasp at what is on the ground in front of me. It must be fake. It has to be. There's no way anyone left this here.
When I return home I'm out of breath. I slip out of my sneakers and head right for the kitchen in the back of the house. After a drink of water, I reach in the pocket of my hoodie and pull out what I found. Then a place it on the table and continue to stare at it. Why would this much money be left on the ground under a leaf?
I actually feel like this only happens in the movies. The money is wrapped tight with rubber bands. It looks fairly clean and I believe that its real. Where's a counterfeit pen when you need one?
I walk to the front of the house and stare out the picture window. Did anyone see me pick it up?
Is this stolen money?
Should I return it?
I know how badly my family could use this gift.
I take latex gloves from under the sink, unwrap the bundle of cash and count it. Then I count it again just to make sure its right. Seven hundred and ninety five dollars. I try to imagine all the things we can do with this money. Pay bills, buy groceries, maybe take a trip or just put it away for savings. But how do I convince my family that we should keep it?
I put the money in a shoe box on a shelf in my closet. I need time to think.
My son enters the kitchen as I'm chopping onions for dinner. We exchange hellos and he asks me what I'm making. I tell him meatloaf. Nick washes his hands at the sink. I continue chopping.
"Guess what Nick? On my walk this morning I found almost eight hundred dollars. Isn't that amazing?"
He whips his head around.
"What'd ya say? You found money? Can I have some? Have you told Dad yet?"
I slice my pinky finger but I hadn't even noticed until Nick brings me a dish towel. I look up at him. He is giving me the strangest look.
"Mom, are you ok?"
I put down the knife and wrap my pinky. He continues to watch me.
"Yeah I'm fine."
"Are you sure? I was talking to you this whole time and you seemed to be far away."
"Sorry, I had a strange day. But its nothing to worry about. This will be ready in an hour. Are you going out tonight?"
"Nay, I'm tired. Going to bed after we eat. Just call me when its ready."
The table is set. The front door opens while I'm feeding my dogs. I lift the bowl of mashed potatoes and carry it to the table. Chris shrugs out of his heavy jacket. Then he takes off his work boots before he greets me at the table. We kiss. I tell him to cut the meat.
"This smells amazing." He smiles at me.
I grin back at him and head for the hallway to call Nick.
Everyone is chewing. I look from my husband to my son.
What would they think if they knew about our gift?
Nick will say I'm joking around. Chris will ask why I waited so long to tell him. I lift my fork up to my mouth. I see them staring at me.
"What? Is something wrong with the meatloaf?"
" No, the food is fine. But what's up with you?"
I shake my head. Trying to dislodge any thoughts of the mystery money. Hoping they don't notice how anxious I've become.
"Nothing. I'm alright. Can we just eat?"
I'm on my couch reading another Lisa Jewell novel. Chris is trying to find something on TV and I notice him glace at me from time to time. We make eye contact.
"What is it? Did anything happen today?" He inquires.
I close my book. Turn towards him.
"I guess you can say that. I took my walk this morning and came across seven hundred and ninety five dollars. Just on the ground. So I took it. I know how badly this money can help us. Say something."
"I know your lying. People don't just lose that kind of money."
"Well I have it upstairs in our room."
" You're serious?"
I leap off the couch and jog up to the master bedroom. I pull open my closet doors and pull the shoe box towards me. Chris has entered the room behind me. I wait for him to walk up next to me then lift the lid off the box.
The box is empty.
My mouth drops open. Chris looks mad.
"What the hell is this a joke? I don't think your funny."
"I swear to God I found money this morning and I put it in here until I could decide what we would do with it. Let me check the other ones."
I drop the empty shoe box on the carpet. Return to my closet and begin to pull out three more shoe boxes. All of which are empty. Franticly I pull the contents off my shelf. Chris comes up beside me.
"Ok, alright! Stop this! I don't know why your acting like this. Maybe its the stress of the book you've been working on. You need to calm down."
I burst into tears.
"It was here. I put it here! I wouldn't imagine something like that."
He holds me as I cry.
Two weeks pass and the whole thing feels like a distant memory. I tie my sneakers, lock up the house and leave for my walk. Its beginning to feel more like the October. It was down in the forties at seven am.
I still love how everything is this time of year. I turn onto to Concord. Most of the houses are decorated for Halloween. Much more than in previous years. I pass Disney inflatables and carved up jack o lanterns on front door steps.
I have just turned onto Linden Lane. I see an elderly couple in their driveway.
I smile and they both say hello. I'm almost at the end of the block, when I notice a familiar sight.
A long line of individual leaves is searched out on the sidewalk. I smile. Begin to follow them until they suddenly stop. I am almost exactly where I was when I found the money two weeks ago.
I stop walking.
"This is crazy."
Again I look down at the remaining leaf. Its the most beautiful shade of red I have ever seen. I lift it up. But instead of money there is a folded sheet of paper.
I bring it up to my face. I unfold it. In big black bold print are the words.
You need to return my money.