Please see the note on my profile about why this was taken down. I'm very sorry and have truly appreciated all my readers.
The street lamps seemed dimmer than I remembered, I thought as I turned onto Main Street. Their pale circles of light illuminated the sidewalks and darkened shops of my childhood. There was Ferdinand's, a variety store full of oddities, nestled between Bert's café and the barber shop. I'd often felt as though Amherst had burst, fully formed, out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The only thing that was missing was an adorable puppy tailing after a freckle faced, knock-kneed little boy.
I rolled my window down a little more, enjoying the abnormally warm April air. Amherst was a sleepy little seaside town in Connecticut. A favorite tourist spot, the summers were always bustling with people halfway through their New England tour who stopped for the famous oysters at the aptly named "Oyster Cove" and stayed for five dollar ferry rides across the harbor. I'd grown up here so the beachy, shabby chic charm had long worn off, but I now found myself with a lopsided smile on my face as I stared at the familiar landscape of my hometown.
At the next street I turned right and then into the back parking lot behind a large brick storefront, home to the book store owned by my parents. A single light bulb blinked at me as I got out of the car and stretched after my long drive. I pulled a suitcase out of my trunk and trundled it up to the back door where I rang a discretely hidden door bell for the second floor apartment. Footsteps tread lightly on the staircase inside and a familiar face opened the door and enfolded me in a fierce hug.
"Sydney!" my sister said, holding me tightly.
"Where you expecting someone else?" I asked, smiling. Chloe smirked then grabbed the duffel bag from my shoulder and held the door open while I heaved my giant suitcase inside. At the landing her husband John held the door to their apartment wide for me. I gave him an awkward, one-armed hug.
I grunted loudly as I let the suitcase fall to the floor, unable to support it any longer. Both John and Chloe immediately put their fingers to their lips in exaggerated but nearly silent "shhh!" I clapped my hand over my mouth guiltily.
"Sorry," I stage whispered. They had a four week old son who I assumed had only just gone to sleep by the way they tiptoed around. I only then noticed how tired my sister looked. Normally her golden skin and dark hair highlighted her liquid brown eyes, all inherited from my father as well as her statuesque figure. Now I noticed dark circles under those eyes and her figure, although hidden by a loose fitting sweatshirt, seemed oddly misshapen. I wisely chose not to comment on it.
"It's ok, you don't have to whisper," said Chloe. "It's just that the loud noises startle him."
"Can I see him?" I asked, suddenly remembering that I'd only ever seen pictures of baby Frankie, named after our grandfather. My recent circumstances had kept my mind from everything other than making it through each day. I realized, with a pang of guilt, that I'd barely spoken to Chloe since she'd given birth.
She led me through the living room and into a darkened hallway lined with thick wooden doors. The apartment was enormous; it took up the entire second floor over my father's book shop. Chloe and John had spent several years remodeling it and their gourmet kitchen made me green with envy.
I followed Chloe's lead and entered the baby's room on tiptoes, stealthily sliding up to his crib to peer at his serene face. Smiling at my sister I said, "He's beautiful."
She nodded, looking even more tired. "When he's sleeping," she muttered as she ushered me back into the hallway.
It was after 11 and I realized that my four hour drive had exhausted me as I plopped down on the sofa. I tossed aside several throw pillows and tucked my feet under my legs, smiling my silent thanks to John as he handed me a cold beer.
"So, er…how are you?" he asked stiffly. Chloe sat down next to me and put an arm around my shoulders.
"Yeah, how are you holding up?" her eyes were wide and honest.
I felt my own filling with tears and looked away knowing they'd already been seen. "I'm ok," I lied.
"Oh Syd, I'm so sorry," Chloe's own eyes spilled over then too and she wrapped her arms around me. I nestled into the warm, familiar comfort of her shoulder, not caring that I was snotting all over her sweatshirt.
She didn't seem to mind either. John, sensing that it might be awkward for me, stood up and stretched then bid us a quick goodnight. The silence in the room seemed deafening after he left.
"What happened?" Chloe asked softly. I sat back, wiping the tears from my eyes. After a long swig, I took a deep breath, and began to tell her the story.
I'd met Adam when I was only 12 years old. My mom was late picking me up from school and he'd come rushing out of the doors toward the parking lot and careened right into me, scattering my books in a comical flurry of papers I was then forced to scramble around snatching up as he hurried away, throwing a perfunctory, "Sorry!" in my direction.
He was a sophomore in high school then, all gangly arms and legs. Still, when he hunted me down during the seventh grade lunch period the next day to apologize I couldn't help but notice that he had charmingly blue eyes and a smattering of freckles on his nose. He had explained, in front of a table full of open-mouthed, wide-eyed girls, that he was running late for track practice and didn't have time to stop and help me pick up my books but that he'd certainly felt very bad about it. It would be the last time he actually spoke to me for another thirteen years.
I had nodded, unable to say anything for this was the first time that a high school student, other than my sister, had spoken to me of their own free will (although I often thought that Chloe would have rather forgotten my existence since she was a junior at the time and horrified by my braces, frizzy hair, and constant chatter as I tagged along after her and her friends). I had accepted his apology quite willingly and it was only many, many years later when he left me three months before our wedding when I realized that he really should have stayed to help me pick up the mess he'd created. Funny how life repeats itself.