– Excerpt –
We came home at night.
For a split second my lungs burned, my skin felt like ice, and then my knees hit concrete hard. Around me everything was dark, but it didn’t matter, because all I could see was Janelle. The wind moved through her hair, her eyes wet with tears, her hands dark with blood. Her voice echoed in my head: the quiet desperation in the way she said my name before I left her there. I held onto that moment, willed my mind to burn it into my memory. I didn’t want to forget what we’d just been through. I didn’t want to forget even a second that I’d spent with her.
It all had just ended in the canyon behind Park Village. Reid was dead. Janelle’s friend Alex was dead. And Eli and I had just left Janelle and portaled home. In the end, what we’d tried so hard to do for seven years, happened in an instant.
My throat was tight. My whole body ached. I didn’t want to leave her. I shouldn’t have left her, but I had to.
I pushed to my feet and looked around. We were in the middle of a neighborhood street, surrounded by dark sleepy houses.
“Where are we?” Eli said as the wind picked up.
I waited. At first I wasn’t sure. Square patches of lawn and small single family homes were everywhere.
Then I heard the wooden wind chimes.
My chest tightened. That sound. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed hearing it. I turned around, recognizing the oak tree on my parents’ front lawn. It seemed somehow both bigger and smaller than I had remembered it: a tower outside my bedroom window.
“This is my house,” I said. As my eyes adjusted, I picked out the red bricks around the garage, the white front door, the blue aluminum siding, the black shutters on the windows.
“Holy shit,” Eli said. Then he laughed, reached over, and pulled me in a headlock. “This is your house!” he screamed.
A wave of excitement moved through me. This was my house. Those bricks were the ones I cracked my head against when I was seven. I had stolen Derek’s remote control car and he wrestled me to get it back. He pushed me and I fell. That front door, we had repainted it white with my dad. The oak tree was the same as the one I looked out at every night when I went to sleep, the same one I tried to climb. I had hung those wooden wind chimes after making them in school.
Nothing had changed.
I wasn’t sure how Taylor Barclay knew to send us here. Sure he was some high up Interverse Agent who was policing the universes, but I hadn’t expected him to deliver us right to my doorstep. The how and the why didn’t matter though. I didn’t care.
My parents were inside sleeping in that house right now.
I pulled away from Eli and jogged up the driveway. As I reached the front door, I paused.
“What are you waiting for,” Eli said, reaching out to knock.
I grabbed his hand. “We need to remember this moment,” I said. We’d waited for this moment forever, and now we were finally here. But not all of us. Reid wasn’t here, and no matter what he had done or how it had ended, he had been part of this. Janelle and Alex had been a part of it too. We wouldn’t have gotten here without them.
Even though it might have seemed ridiculous, we needed to pause and memorize these details. I wanted to be able to tell Janelle about all of it. She loved me enough to know I needed this moment, and I wasn’t going to lose that. Our goodbye wasn’t forever. I would find a way back to her. I knew that as much as I knew anything. We were both still alive. Just in different places.
I thought about Alex and Reid.
“Reid’s parents,” I said. I wanted to be able to tell them what this moment was like too.
Eli knew what I was thinking. “We can’t tell them what he did.”
I shook my head. We couldn’t. They deserved to remember him better than that. We could tell them this though. We could tell them that the night was silent, the darkness almost heavy as if the whole world was asleep. The only sounds were our own excited breaths.
I knocked on the door.
It wasn’t like in a movie. A light never flicked on. I didn’t know when she was coming. I had to keep knocking, and I had to knock hard, until my knuckles felt numb because of it.
Finally after what seemed like minutes I heard the locks click on the other side of the door.
A woman in a gray long-sleeved shirt and checkered blue and white pajama pants stood behind it. She was tall, her hair cut short around her head.
Over seven years. Twenty six hundred and thirty seven days. That’s how long it had been. All of that time had added up to just one single wish: that I would get back to her, that I would see her again. I’d envisioned what she would say to me, what I would say to her.
In the end I didn’t need to say anything. She glanced at Eli and then back to me. Her mouth parted, her eyes widened, and she gasped.
I opened my mouth to explain, but she reached through the door, reaching out to my face, as if she wasn’t quite sure I was real. Then she started to cry.
I moved in, circling my arms around her, pulling her to my chest. She was smaller and thinner than I remembered. Her skin was soft and papery, and my chest contracted. Those seven years had been long for her.
When she pulled back to look at my face again, she shook her head.
I smiled. “I’m home.”
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