I sighed, staring up at the house I grew up in. It had been years since I had been here, but the memories never faded. I should have felt sad. Maybe even angry.
Instead I just felt empty.
Loneliness had become a constant in my life. It was familiar. I had learned at a young age to keep everyone at a distance and hide myself behind a crooked smile. Now that my mother was dead and buried, all that was left of her was this house.
And the dark memories that came with it.
The structure in front of me wasn't much to look at - the porch was in desperate need of repair as it sagged slightly on the right side and the shutters were barely hanging. My sister had moved in to attempt to help my mother out after she found out she was sick, but now she was engaged and of course, can't be bothered to keep the house when her new fiancé lived across the nation. While I didn't feel particularly overjoyed by learning that the house was being signed over to me, it was a free place to live. The only stipulation had been to allow my sister's best friend to continue to live in the apartment above the garage.
The only issue with this scenario was seeing him again.
I sighed to myself, trekking up the old creaky steps to the front door. Goosebumps flooded over my arms as I walked over the old worn floor, my nose wrinkling at the sad attempt my sister had made to repaint the walls. I had remembered them being a dark green color, though now, a sickly yellow color stared back at me. I assumed it was in attempt to 'cheer up the place' or something equally pointless. I didn't care about the cosmetics of the house, just that it was functional. This was meant to be my new beginning.
I took a mental inventory of the furniture that was left behind. Most of it was nice, probably replacements my sister's fiancée had put in to make the place more comfortable for his bride-to-be while he couldn't be with her. Even though they weren't the couches and tables I would have chosen, it was less I had to worry about. I assumed they didn't take it all with them more for the lack of room in their new home together versus leaving it behind as a generous gesture for me.
I jumped at the words, but the familiar voice caught me off guard. When I look over my shoulder, I saw Jamie watching me with the same adoring smile he had the first time I met him. His eyes darkened in a way that made my breath hitch in my throat and that lopsided smile made the goosebumps rise on my arms again.
"Jamie... hi." I said breathlessly. Today I wore a pair of faded old jeans and a plain gray baggy shirt. I hadn't even taken a shower. I did not expect to see him today. Hell, I didn't expect to see him at all. I inwardly smacked myself for not attempting to look a little less homeless.
"Your sister told me you were coming today." Jamie stated, pointing out what I was obviously thinking to myself. "I have the keys to the place and she wanted me to show you how to set the security alarm."
"Ah.." I had to admit, I felt foolish for thinking that my sister would just tape a key to the bottom of the doormat and leave a note for me about the alarm. It's what I would have done. Then again, my sister had never been one to avoid social norms like me.
I always had a quick get away planned. My sister never had a need to pack up and leave in a hurry.
"You look good."
"Thanks for the key." I said simply, slipping on my well practiced smile. "Tell Roxie thanks for the place."
"Will do." Jamie scratched the back of his head awkwardly, as if he wasn't expecting our reunion to go quite this way. "Do you wanna grab some lunch? There's a really great-"
"Jamie. You don't have to make sure I settle in and be that guy." I said quickly, shaking my head at him. A little voice in the back of my head screamed to push him out, to cut ties before things got messy.
This way, he wouldn't be a casualty when I had to leave. I knew leaving at some point wouldn't be an if but a when. I never knew how long I had to settle at a place before my dad caught wind of where I was and came to 'check up on me'. And usually, he brought friends.
The look on Jamie's face told me he couldn't understand my attitude, but the smile plastered on my face seemed to confuse him enough not to push. Instead, he grabbed my arm gently, as if I were porcelain. I wanted to shake him off, to tell him to get his hands off me, but for some reason the heat radiating off his skin made me melt.
"That guy?" He asked softly, shaking his head at me. "Why do you always act like I have some ulterior motive to be a decent guy?"
The Jamie from my memories was a decent guy. Almost too decent. He was a rare gem of a person - and I didn't see much kindness in my life. Jamie was the type of guy who would volunteer at soup kitchens and help clean the gutters for all the little old ladies in the neighborhood. I was the girl that stumbled home just before the sun came up and had her drivers license revoked a month after getting it.
I shook my head, pulling away from him and walking toward the stairs that lead to the bedrooms. I hadn't willingly chosen to be this way. I had taken what had been thrown at me and made it tolerable. I was a survivor and surviving is what I would continue to do. Nothing could be done to save me and there was no point in trying. It was way too late for Jamie to change the past, to save the little girl I once had been. There was no way out for that little girl he once knew.
I remembered Jamie pushing me on the swings in the back yard, and kissing him for the first time. I remembered sneaking out of my bedroom window to sneak to his bedroom so he could hold me while I cried when my father had his thug friends rough me up or when my mom told me I was an embarrassment.
Now that little girl was gone and I stood in her place; tattooed and dirty.
"Lock up on your way out, will you? Just leave the key under the mat."