Chapter 13

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Jeannie

I drove down familiar roads that meandered over and around gently rolling hills and through tilled land. A smile spread across my lips. I loved the land I was born in. It was beautiful to me.

The green of the trees was vibrant. Leaves shimmered in the evening sun as the breeze drifted through them. Fields were covered in low greenery that would become hay, corn, or soybeans. A few held tender tobacco plants. Houses dotted the landscape. Newer homes were situated close to the road and was built of stone or brick. Older homes sat further back usually within a copse of trees and was built of wood. These were usually once the main farm houses of the land until sections got sold off for development.

There was the old Cavanaugh house. I knew the family who once lived there, but they had long died and their children and grandchildren had sold the place. Now the large farm was sectioned off and holding many more families. It was sad to see the beauty of the countryside become a branch of the town I had just left.

The old Sadler house was where a boy I went to school with had lived. He had died in a drug overdose when he was nineteen. We had been close when we were in first grade.

I maneuvered my mother's car around a curve after slowing down quite a bit. Temptation was there to take it fast, but I knew of the young girl who had died there when I was a child. I never took that curve without slowing down.

My brother had dropped off Mom's car earlier so I could have a set of wheels to use. He then suggested that I go out to the farmhouse and get a good night's rest. At first, I protested, but I needed to be alone. Might as well do it at Mom's house and look around again before she died.

I slowed the car down as I got to the road that would take me to the homestead. As I turned right onto the road, I looked at the empty hill that tapered off to the side. When I was little an old farmhouse sat there. An old couple lived there without any electricity. I had thought that was wild as everyone had electricity, right? They fascinated me. When I was six, they both died in their sleep one night. Within a year, the house was gone and the land was plowed under for more crops. It made sense as the house was dilapidated while the couple lived there.

The road was smooth under the car's tires. That hadn't always been the case. When I was little, it was a gravel road that kicked up dust that could been seen a mile or so away. One could hear a car just as far before it appeared near the house. I had loved that bumpy road, but I loved driving a smooth one even more.

To the right before I enter the woods, I pass a scraggly patch of woods to my right. Several cows were hunkered down in them. That was Old Henry's Woods. No one knew who Henry was, but we all knew those were his woods.

Just as I enter the woods, I slow down before a small clearing. A cabin once stood there. When I was little, an old man lived there. He was the only one left of his family. We took food to him sometimes. I remember crying when he died because there would be no one else to live there. Now that cabin was gone as well.

The stretch of road I moved on now was my favorite in the drive home. Trees surrounded me on all sides of the single lane road. It always reminded me of a fantasy story. I imagined centaurs moving through the trees, just quite out of my sight. I have sworn over the years to have seen figures that resembled dwarfs scurrying about. The thick woods were a mystery that once in a while would reveal a doe and her fawns. That was just as magical for me.

The road dipped down into a small dip in the landscape. At the base was a creek that was dry through a few months of the year. A few years earlier, the old wooden bridge had been replaced with a concrete one. While it was safer, it was boring. The old bridge had character and lent itself to one's imagination. Now I just moved safely over the trickle of water and let my imagination flounder.

It was much darker within the woods, but as the car moved up the hill and broke through the treeline, the setting sun nearly blinded me and hid my childhood home from view. Only knowing where the driveway was allowed me to avoid missing it. Pulling into it, I slowly moved the car over the gravel driveway and up to the carport set next to the house.

Turning the car off, I just sat there and looked around me. A sign on the wall showed my dad's love of fishing. A bag of plastic bags hung next to it showed my mom's conservative nature. I gave a short laugh and got out.

With my luggage in hand, I walked up the stone walkway to the large back porch. Wind chimes hung along the entire length of it. Some were made of ceramic. Others were made out of kitchen utensils. Chairs set along it as well where one could enjoy the cool evening.

After a little finagling, I managed to get the backdoor open. Once inside, I stopped. There was the familiar living room and kitchen. I drew in a deep breath. Oh, the scent brought tears to my eyes. It was home.

I dropped the handle of my suitcase and let it crash gently into the carpeted floor. My purse followed. I began to shake as I looked at the two recliners that sat where they always had. Dad's sat on the right where it faced the TV directly. Mom's sat on the other side of the table with the phone and lamp on it. How often I had looked at Dad's chair and sobbed. Now I saw hers empty. She would never set there again.

With a shake of my head, I quickly picked up my stuff and made my way into Mom's room. I could have taken one of the guest rooms to sleep in, but I wanted to feel close to her as I slept. I needed to breath in her scent and imagine there was no death lurking near us all.

The bedroom light flicked on when I pushed up the switch. It bathed the room in a soft glow that was so normal. It lit the room as though nothing had changed, as though Mom was in the next room and all would be the same tomorrow and the day after that. It didn't realize that it would never shine down on her again.

I pushed all the morbid and depressing thoughts aside. What good would it do me now? I was tired and finally alone. I needed that. Being alone was like a salve to a sunburn. When I was alone, I could think. I could dissect my thoughts. I could be the real me.

My nightly duties were performed: face washed, teeth brushed, and hair brushed. To take my nighttime meds, I went into the kitchen and remembered that I had not locked the backdoor behind me. That was not good. I was a one woman several miles from the closest neighbor. Break-ins were not unheard of. The area was known for its large marijuana crops. Growers liked to hide them in legitimate crops or down in ravines. Just three years earlier, Mom woke up in the middle of the night to lights flashing overhead. She looked out the window to find helicopters overhead and police cars racing down the dead end road. She found out that the house at the end of the road had been raided and a meth lab nearly exploded. Zachery from grade school had gotten arrested along with his new girlfriend and another friend. One associate had run off and wasn't found. Mom later found some things moved around in the barn. Drug boy had hidden in her barn from the DEA raid.

I didn't want to be a statistic. The door was quickly lot and the lights turned off in the living room. A light on the barn was on all night long which would allow me to look around if I was nervous and heard anything.

Pulling the cabinet door open, I paused again. Mom still had Dad's old coffee cup. He had drunk out of the same one for all of my life. A sad smile was all I gave it as I took a small glass and quickly filled it with water from the faucet.

The kitchen was as though Mom had just stepped out of the room. A plate was in the drain next to the sink. A cake was under the glass cover on the table. All looked normal.

It wasn't normal.

I slid under the covers and pulled Mom's pillow close to me. It smelled like her. Turning over, I pulled Dad's pillow close. Even after over a decade, I swear it smelled like he had slept on the night before. I fell asleep with a tear sliding down my cheek.

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