Like mushrooms after a rainstorm, the neighborhood sprouts tiny yard sales every summer weekend. Samantha's never shopped one before, has never even been tempted. What would he think? Would it make him angry? Even now, she can't stop those from being the first things into her mind.
But a year of freedom, of feeling sunshine on her face instead of his anger, has relaxed her enough for curiosity to prickle. Samantha sidles up to a box sitting on the damp grass, right there between the dented red tricycle and the rowing machine. It's cardboard, with the word "Give-a-Way" scrawled in black Sharpie on its side.
"All that stuff is free for the taking," says the woman behind the card table. She smiles, a pleasant look that warms her tired face.
"Please, take it," laughs the teenage boy next to her. "Or I have to drive it to Goodwill."
The mother shushes her son. A customer pays, drawing their attention. Samantha peeks over the box's edge, trying not to look too interested.
Inside rests a tangle of items. On top are plastic animals and action figures, plastic-beaded necklaces in sherbet colors, empty CD jewel cases, sunglasses shaped like a neon-pink butterfly. Below these, others items glint with promise or hide shyly in the shadows.
What could be there? A whole life was spread before her, and she could choose some bit of it for herself. Free. She can't help herself. Samantha dives in with both hands, shifting the items, searching through them with mindless intent. A red coinpurse. A fuzzy teddybear keychain. A scattering of pens etched with business names: Quikee Mart, First Bank, Regency Title. A chipped ceramic mug proclaiming "World's Best Friend."
Samantha freezes, holding the mug in her hand. Pain pierces her chest and halts her breath. She forces a ragged sigh from her lungs.
This is what I want. She clutches the mug, wishing the thing "true" with closed eyes, the way she used to do. Before he bound her. Before her power leached away under the force of his words and blows. Samantha frowns. She is free now. Surely...surely the magic is hers again?
I wish, she mouths. There's no tingle in her fingers, no butterflies looping in her belly. It wasn't working.
Of course not. I must offer something in return. But what? She looks down at her scuffed thriftstore shoes, sees the ragged hems of her second-hand jeans. She has nothing left to give. It took everything she had to escape, and she has nothing left, inside or out.
"Oh, look at that! Let me help." The woman's voice is right beside her.
Samantha doesn't flinch. Opening her eyes, she finds the homeowner peering at her mug. Samantha clutches it tighter, then yelps as her finger stings. Blood drips from her hand onto the grass; five slow drops. She's cut herself on the mug's chipped handle. Relief fills Samantha head, and she wobbles.
The homeowner's mouth slackens and her complexion pales as she stares at the blood. "Oh, please come sit." She ushers Samantha to her chair, then motions to her son. "Jake, run inside for a bandage. And peroxide."
Jake returns with the items, and the woman tuts and cleans the wound--only a tiny cut. When she's done, Samantha's right ring finger sports a blue Superman bandage. It covers the pale mark where her ring used to be.
Samantha smiles up at the woman.
"Thank you," she says. She tries to rise.
"No. Sit a minute. You look pale, and I'm not going anywhere." She indicates the yard sale all around her. "By the way, I'm Cheryl."
"Samantha," she says, holding out her bandaged hand. "You're so kind."
"It's nothing." Cheryl cocks her head, looking at Samantha more closely. "I've seen you around?"
Samantha nods, and tingling fills her belly with warmth. "I took an apartment down the road a few months back."
"You should stop by. We should get to know one another."
Samantha nods, and her smile broadens. She feels like she's floating. Her whole body unclenches, relaxes.
A friend. Strength.
No longer worrying about him, she begins dreaming about her future.
This story originally appeared in Abyss & Apex.