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The car bumped along the dusty, rock-covered, pot hole infested driveway that I instantly remembered as my own. With the car windows open, I swore I could still smell the aroma of the ever burning Cinnamon Apple candle that my father insisted we light, that always sat behind the huge glass window, guarding the perimeter of the house for us, though through all of the people who’d been in there in the past two months, investigating, looking for clues they would never find, someone was bound to have found that small white candle, and put it out. But maybe it was lucky being so small; maybe it escaped, stayed hidden and continued to burn on and on, the only source of light in a pit of despair.
My gaze travelled to the exterior of the house, its coat of light blue paint, chipping, rotting away at the edges – the house was older than I remembered. A pipe ran along the bottom edge of it, snaking into the ground, and then poked back up to the surface, though the end was dented, and water leaked through the slit. The front door, that had always creaked whenever someone opened it – it was a good warning for when someone was at the house; it gave me time to prepare for whatever questions they might throw my way – was now hanging by a thread, barely standing upright with only one hinge still intact, the other two too weak to support what they knew depended on them.
It never occurred to me how the house looked from the outside – like a worn down, neglected, un-loved piece of junk, that was practically begging to be torn down – maybe because I had never looked at the other side, never had had a different perspective. I’d lived on the inside, where I was oblivious to the harm going on outside my little white picket fence. The inside, where, even though everything was just as broken and dirty as the outside – floor boards ripped up, bugs crawling through the kitchen, piles of dirty dishes waiting for their turn to be washed, though they knew it would never come – everything was familiar. And that’s what I needed – when my mother wasn’t there for me, I needed something else that I was used to, something else I could lean on, and trust for it to hold me up.
But now, gazing up at the place I was raised in, memories lying behind an unopened door, I finally saw what everyone else did, as they drove by day after day, wondering who lived inside of that wreck of a shelter. A gun rang out in my chest, my heart taking the hit, as I saw my mother’s bright yellow Honda that screamed for attention still sitting in the driveway, as lifeless as ever, as if nothing had ever happened, everything was okay.
“Why are we here?” I asked, though I barely heard myself, my lips merely obeying the girl inside of me, telling me what to do.
“Oh,” Kaiden said, shifting to face me, twisting her body around in the passenger seat, “We just need to stop here for a second – since I’m in charge of the decorations for the business; the parties, you know, all the stuff that requires charm and adorableness, Landon’s job is putting up the signs, making phone calls, calculating money, doing math, you know, all the nerdy stuff,” she explained, her voice bouncing with cheerfulness. Landon glared at her through the rear view mirror, but she ignored him and went on.
“He just has to ‘evaluate the damage and estimate the cost of repair,’” she said, doing her best Landon voice.
If it was possible, I was even more shocked than before, frozen, unable to breathe.
“This house,” I said slowly, my eyes still glued to the familiar lawn, weeds poking up at every angle, “is being sold.”
Kaiden laughed, biting the ever-present tooth pick in her mouth. “Yeah,” she said, “I know what you’re thinking – why would anyone wanna buy this nightmare? Well, after my dad and his crew fixes it up, it won’t look as horrible as it does now. And my mom already has some people lined up to buy it – you wouldn’t believe how broke and desperate people are nowadays,” she said, her eyes locked on the house.
How could no one tell me this?
I felt betrayed, like I was a foolish child who didn’t deserve to know what would only hurt her. Who else, besides Maggie, knew about this?
“It’s not that bad from the outside,” Landon mused, coming to a stop after what felt like forever – we finally came to the end of the drive way. The house sat a mere five, ten feet away from me now. If I reached my fingers out, stretched them really far, I believed I’d be able to touch it.
“Inside is where the problem will be,” Landon said.
“There’re probably rats crawling around everywhere,” Kaiden predicted, shuddering.
Their comments insulted me, insulted my mother, in a way, but I tried not to take offense – they didn’t know.
“Who’s buying it?” I asked, my face devoid of all emotion, though my mind raced, jumbled with half-finished thoughts, questions that I knew would never be answered.
Kaiden shrugged, continuing to chomp down on the stick in her mouth, the loud sound the only thing keeping me from slipping away into a haze of memories.
“Well at the top of the waiting list, there’s this guy ‘Dave Burnham.’ I haven’t met him yet,” Landon answered, “But by the phone conversation we had yesterday, I picture him as some retired, broke, ex-business man,” he predicted, grimacing.
“Or a hobo/axe murderer,” Kaiden suggested happily, her eyebrows raised.
Landon barked out a laugh and rolled his eyes, tugging the keys out of the car, the engine dying down. He reached under his car seat and pulled out a big, burly box with various tools, and glanced back from me, to Kaiden.
“You guys wanna come in?” he asked, his hand on the car door, pushing it open slightly, ready to step outside; to take that leap.
I, however, wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to be brave, to be the fearless beacon, the hero who swooped in and saved the day. So, like the coward I was, I stayed hidden in the shadows, slinking around unnoticed.
“No,” I said, tearing my gaze away from the house. “I’ll stay here.”