But the months leading up to her departure had been tense, heavy, and heated. Elijah had finally moved out, gotten that divorce he’d spoken to Freya about, and then it was just Freya and Meghan. But Meghan hadn’t even paid attention to Freya, not when she found a new guy not even a month after Elijah had left. And then Freya had finally left, turned her back on everything, and hadn’t looked back.
No conversation with Meghan, no thinking about what she was doing, how things were going with her, or if she’d ever seen her again.
That had been four years ago. Freya was now twenty-two, had her nursing degree under her belt, and was doing something she never thought she’d do. She was heading back to her hometown.
“I bet it’s weird coming back here after all these years?” her friend Maurice said from beside her. He was driving them back from the university, which was a grueling twelve-hour trip, which they were doing straight through. She looked over at the guy that had befriended her, her geeky, but lovable friend that she’d lost her virginity to one drunken study night, a night neither really remembered, but hadn’t repeated. He’d even gotten into a fight defending her honor. He was a good guy, and all those things had made her love him so much. But that was also in the past. They were just friends, the best of friends, and she didn’t know what she’d do without him.
His dark blond hair was short, but long enough in the front that it kind of swooped over his forehead. He wore these thin black glasses, and his blue eyes always seemed to regard her as if he knew what she was thinking. He was the total opposite of Elijah.
God, why was she even thinking about him?
She’d only spoken to him once since she’d been gone to school, and it had been in the form of a surprise call from him. He’d been checking up on her, and it had been a few months after she’d settled into her dorm freshman year. But there was just something about him that she hadn’t been able to shake, hadn’t been able to get rid of ever since their conversation when she’d been drunk and he admitted his divorce to her.
“Not weird, just kind of depressing,” she said and looked out the passenger window, pushing everything Elijah out of her head, but it was hard. She knew he still lived in town, and that his business had grown exponentially and internationally. He was wildly successful now, even more so than he’d been four years prior.
Stop thinking about him. Stop it.
She could see Maurice’s reflection in the passenger’s side window, saw the concerned look on his face, and knew he’d try to comfort her. He was a good friend like that. He also knew everything about her and her past. She hadn’t kept anything from him.
They were approaching the city limits of Grapplers Corner, the town she’d been born in, grown up in, and vowed never to come back to. But this was her home, no matter how long she stayed away, and she’d told herself, though not out loud, that even if Meghan had ruined the memories she had of this place, this was where she’d spent time with her father and mother.
“Just take this road about another mile or so. You’ll see a sign for Thorndale Avenue. Take a left, and follow that for about ten minutes.”
Maurice was silent as they made the rest of their drive, but she was glad for the silence, welcomed it. There were times she had hated the solitude being orphaned, alone, and having no family provided. It made her feel like she was just floating through this world with no purpose. But she’d remember all the good memories, the ones that far superseded the bad, and she knew that despite having no extended family, she wasn’t truly alone.
“Take a left up here. When you get to the end of the street take a right. My house is the last on the left.” She spoke softly, adjusted herself on the seat, and stared straight ahead. Four years she’d stayed away, and hadn’t come back, because she honestly didn’t have any reason to.
Finally Maurice pulled to a stop in front of the house that she’d grown up in, a house she had hated after her father passed away and she was forced to live in it until she could escape.
“It’s a nice house, Freya,” Maurice said, and leaned forward to see better out of the front windshield.
Her father had left her the house. He’d made sure in the event of his passing that when Freya reached adulthood it would go to her. It was paid for, and even though he had been married, Meghan had gotten nothing aside from what would afford her living expenses. And in the event Meghan got remarried, all income from Freya’s father’s account would cease being distributed to her stepmother. Maybe that’s why Meghan had come to hate her so much? Maybe that’s why she’d seen Freya as nothing but a nuisance, a child that had taken everything from her? And in essence Freya had, she supposed. Her father had left everything to Freya, every single dime, every single possession, but then Meghan was still strapped with the child that was not even hers all because of a legally binding marriage.
They sat there for a moment, neither speaking, but both looking at the house.
“You don’t have to stay here, Freya,” Maurice said softly. “We can get a couple of rooms at a motel. You don’t have to do this, Freya, not if it’s too hard.”
She shook her head. “It’s not too hard. It’s just been a long time since I’ve been here, and it’s a little sad thinking about everything. But my dad wanted to make sure I had some place that was mine.” She looked at Maurice. A piece of blond hair fell over the top of his glasses, and she smiled. He was such a good guy, and she was sorry things hadn’t worked out for them, that he couldn’t have been the one. But she was thankful things had ended the way they did and she could have him as a close friend.
He was even going back home and had a girl he’d been talking with for the last year, waiting for him. Freya was glad he had plans, that he was happy.
“As long as you’re sure,” he said and smiled. “But I’m here.”
She knew he was, knew he’d always be there for her, just like she’d be there for him.
“I’m sure.” She took a deep breath, and climbed out of the car. After getting her bags out of the backseat, she stood there a moment looking at the house. The yard had been tended to recently, but it wasn’t because they’d paid for anyone to do it. She looked at the house next door, knew the elderly couple that had been good friends with her mother and father had likely been the ones to cut it while they did their own lawn work. It warmed her heart that after all these years they were looking out for even the smallest things.
“When is the moving van supposed to be coming?” Maurice asked and stepped up beside her.
“Tomorrow morning.” He held his bag as well, but although he’d driven her home, he wasn’t staying. He’d only be here long enough to help her get settled in, something he’d insisted on, and then he’d be on his way back to his parents’ house, which was another five hours from here.
They walked up the front path, moved up the steps to the porch, and she stared at the red front door. The glass that made up an oblong shape in the center of the door was in a floral and scrollwork design. Her father had told Freya her mother had picked out the door, had loved the design in it.
“I’ll warn you, since Meghan left no one has been in the house. We are talking years.” She looked over at Maurice and made a face. “I’m kind of afraid to go in there.” Although she knew when Meghan had moved out after she met her now third husband the house had been professionally cleaned. As far as she knew all of her father’s furniture was still in the house. She grabbed her key, rubbed her finger over the faded and dull brass coloring, and breathed out. “Let’s do this.”
She walked up to the front door, put the key in the lock, and turned it. Grabbing the handle, feeling her heart race, her palms sweat, and this strange sensation moving through her, she pushed the door open and stared inside. There was the stench of musty, boarded in age that came to her. The curtains were drawn, but the light that came from outside, washing around her and into the house, made the dust particles in the air stand out in stark relief.
She stepped inside, felt the rush of memories wash through her, and the urge to cry, maybe because she was happy, or sad, or just because she hadn’t been here in so damn long, took over her.
“You doing okay?” Maurice asked, and she nodded without looking behind her.
“I am.” And although she felt like crying, she was happy to be here, because as strange as it was, she wasn’t thinking about Meghan or her father dying, but about the memories she had before Meghan, before her father’s passing, and before she felt like she was trapped. She thought about the good times, the ones that had her smiling. Yes, this was what she’d been missing, and how insane was it that she’d stayed away this long, thinking it would feel horrible, but in fact she felt good?
Setting her bags on the floor, she looked around. To her left was the living room, in front of her the stairs, and to her right the hallway and kitchen.
“We are going to have our hands full getting this place cleaned,” Maurice said in a teasing voice.
She looked over her shoulders, keeping her emotions in check, and nodded. “Yeah, but I’m looking forward to it.” And she was, and God, did it feel good to want to do this, to want to be a part of a life she’d wanted to get away from for so long.