An Expected Reunion

It was all exactly how she had left it. Like the past twelve years of her life had been a long joke told by some asshole at a party except no one was even listening in the first place.

In her time away she had banished everything but the broad strokes of the house from her memory. Now it all came screaming back. Same blue house with white shutters. Same exact blue. Freshly painted. Kept. Never changed.

She recognized the curtains in the windows. The wreath on the door, the same one made of fabric and plastic leaves that her mother had put out every fall when she was a kid. The only new thing she could see was the car in the driveway, and even that was the same make and model pick-up her father always drove, just the newest year.

Exactly as she left it. Like coming back here had unwound time. Brought her back not just to Juniper, but to eighteen.

Birdy fought the urge to puke.

“I shouldn’t be here. I should go. This is a bad idea.”

She shifted in the seat of her fifteen year old Outback, tugging the seatbelt away from her chest. Being this close to the house made her uncomfortable, if she went inside she was liable to explode. The sane thing would be to drive past and go back to the highway. Find someplace else to stay. Flee into the woods. Build a little wooden hut. Live off berries.

There was nowhere else to go. That was the problem. Everything she had to her name was either in the Outback or the Outback itself. A couple of boxes of clothes in the back. A laptop and a phone. Four hundred and sixty-two dollars and however much change was in the glove box in cash. The might have been able to stretch it to get to Miami. Might. A single thing wrong, however, and she’d be stranded somewhere in the middle of the country. That had worked out for her once. That sort of luck doesn’t happen twice.

Birdy didn’t want to be here, but it was clear she didn’t have much of a choice.

It was still summer. Technically. Scientifically. Reality made it more complicated.

Like everything.

It was warm, almost hot, in the sun. But the aspen leaves were starting to turn gold, and as she crossed into the shadow of the house the memory of warmth died and she thought she was dead. The light jacket around her did nothing.

This is why I moved to the desert, she lied to herself.

From either the creeping cold or the fear she’d punk out, Birdy half-jogged across the yard, took the porch steps in one leap, and practically crashed into the doorbell. Shuffling came from the living room. It was too late now.

They’ll answer the door and look exactly the same. Like Juniper is in some sort of bubble out of time.

The door opened.

Her mother was there, looking at her curiously.

Oh, thank God, she went gray.

Time did exist. Her mother was rounder, her face scored in lines, and roots of gray peeked out amongst the black hair. Her skin was as pale as ever. And getting paler by the second.

“What are you doing here?”

It was exactly what Birdy expected.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Amy? Who is it?”

Her mother turned slightly, keeping her eyes firmly on Birdy as she did. As though she might disappear. Or steal the gnomes off the porch and run off.

“It’s Roberta.”


Her mother pressed her lips together. Eyes darted up and down the street. Birdy could see the exact moment she found the beat up Subaru, her eyes widening and then narrowing.

“Roberta.” Her mother lobbed the name back in the house like a grenade. The door was only open enough for one person, her mother’s hand still on the knob.

Maybe they won’t even let me in. Wouldn’t that be a relief.

“I heard that, but who…”

The face her father was making as he pulled the door wider was exactly the one she had imagined. Confusion, mostly, but also the jutting jaw displaying a hint of anger. Her father didn’t like being surprised. He considered it a betrayal.

“Roberta,” he said flatly.

“Hi, Dad.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked, using the same tone as her mother.

“Can I come in?”

Just say no, she thought to herself as they stared at each other. Just say what you want to say. No. Say no. And then this whole stupid thing is over and I can leave and I don’t know what I’ll do, but at least I won’t have to pretend this was a good idea anymore.

“Yes, of course,” her mother said after a few quiet seconds. “You must be cold.”

Birdy caught them both glancing up and down the street. To see if anyone had seen her. They glared at her car like they could set it on fire through sheer force of will alone.

The hallway was, of course, exactly as she remembered. Stairs going up, hall going back, the walls covered with framed pictures. Lots of her parents. Her brother, and people she assumed was his family. If she was in any of the older pictures, she couldn’t find herself.

There were a lot of things that were supposed to be said in times like this.

How have you been?

Where have you been?

We missed you.

Can I get you something to drink?

Instead her parents stood quietly, staring at her, arms around each other for support. They had both asked the only question they had any interest in. Birdy knew better than to waste any time.

“I hit a rough patch,” she said. “I need a place to stay until I get on my feet again. A few weeks. Maybe a couple of months.”

“You need money?” her father asked.

“No,” she said, putting up her hands like she was defending herself from the entirely correct accusation. “No, I’ll get a job in town. I just need a place to stay so I can save up.”

“Your room…well, it’s not your room,” her mother said. “Not for…well…”

Not since about ten minutes after you found my note? Or maybe it was more like five?

“We have the futon. In the basement.

Her mother couldn’t suppress the quick look she shot her father. There and it was gone. If Birdy had been looking anywhere else, she would have missed it. Only seen the calm, carefully constructed smile she put on after.

“Yes. The futon,” she said.

Birdie imagined herself tossing her hands up to the air as she scoffed. Really, the futon? she would yell. There’s three bedrooms in this house besides yours. Now, I can guess that you didn’t touch Robby’s room and it’s the perfect museum to his excellence, but that leaves two other rooms. You don’t have a guest room anymore? Or do the guests have to stay in the Robby Museum? The tension broken – and her fault, to boot – her parents would finally stop acting like robots on massive amounts of tranquilizers and speak their peace. They could all yell at each other. Scream. Break stuff. Relive the trauma twelve years gone.

Or maybe it wasn’t trauma for them. Maybe the only trauma is me coming back.

Birdy smiled. “That would be fine. Great. Thank you. I’ll just-”

“Why don’t you move your car to the back alley?” her father asked. “Before you get settled. It’s a…uh…quicker walk that way.”

With a nod, she went out to move her car. Now was not the time for fighting, or screaming, or anything that wasn’t pretending everything was fine. As long as everything went to plan, she’d only be here for a weeks. Maybe months. Save up a few paychecks to reliably get to Miami. She could even leave again the same way she did after high school. Pack up the car at four in the morning and be gone before the sun.

Her parents would probably react the same way, too.

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