My eyes looked at the scene before me in complete bewilderment. What stood before me was far from what I knew before; it felt like a different world, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Emmett had driven us to the right place.
Before, Willow Lake was nothing but a self-built settlement deep within the forest spread over five acres. Five houses, one more substantial building and a small one where you were treated for wounds or if you got sick, all organized neatly and built with wood. It was far away from other civilizations and the closest town was roughly ten miles out.
When I last saw the village, it had all burned down, nothing but ash, soot, and small remnants of the buildings that once stood. It had blackened the green of the grass and left only a desolate wasteland that spread a few miles past the border.
However, where once my village had stood and become that desert, now stood a concrete jungle, one so vast they’d joined it with the nearest town from before. The lake ran through the center with a wooden bridge to allow people to cross and only half the tree’s that once had been along the borders.
They had turned my home into a busy town, bustling with people going about their day, children going to school, teenagers off to college, and adults heading to work. A small group of younger children played in the little play park on swings, slides, and monkey bars while a few sat on the benches nearby, eating breakfast and sipping drinks from takeout coffee cups.
I turned my head to the left, a large white sign with neat gold lettering that read: Welcome to Willow Lake. Founded and built in 1973. Population 6,487. Joined with a neighboring town, formally known as Willow Creek.
“I’m guessing Willow Lake looked nothing like this when you and dad were kids.” Masato hummed as he stared out the car window while Emmett slowly weaved around the roads through town.
“Not even close.” I shook my head as I continued to watch as we passed a high street, doctors’ offices, schools, and homes. “I knew they’d built it into a town, but this is something else.”
“Looks an entire world away, doesn’t it?” Alicia purred as she too stared at the views from the car window.
“We will find nothing.” I sighed feeling the crushing weight of defeat; any trace of evidence was surly gone beneath the cement.
“Well, you never know, don’t give up too soon, kid.” Emmett glanced in the rearview mirror to shoot me a sympathetic smile before he continued, “Now, Hallie, you’re starting here at seventeen, which given this is America, you have to do your Senior year. You’ll start Willow High on Monday.”
“Masato, we figured an age lower than twenty was pushing our luck, so you’re twenty-one.” Alicia continued, “You have three college degree’s from a university in Japan in Japanese, the English language and business. I’ve lined up a job for you at a bar as a busboy to get you started.”
“Okay.” Masato nodded.
“I’ll be working as an accountant, and Emmett is working for a larger company over in the city a few miles away playing with his gadgets.”
“I do not play with them, dear, I build them and improve them.”
“You play with them.” Alicia’s hand reached over the middle console and patted Emmett’s knee. “As far as everyone is concerned, Hallie, you are our adoptive daughter and Masato, you’re Hallie’s boyfriend and a family friend who’s moved with us following your father’s death.”
“We’ll give you the rest of the minor details once we’re at the house which is just a little further up here. We got one right by the lake. We figured you’d like that.”
I couldn’t say anything, so I nodded and gave Emmett a small hum of acknowledgement as my grip on Masato’s hand tightened and we approached our destination.
A few minutes later, Emmett pulled into the driveway of a large white house with a black-tiled roof on top of a small hill and parked outside a one-car garage. It had a Georgian charm to it, although you could tell it had been developed recently.
Clean, symmetrical windows littered the outside around a large black front door. They paved the front of the house with concrete, which led to a detached front yard. Bricks made a small wall with plants and bushes and led to a grassy patch on a slight decline. The lake ran just a few feet beside the house with another equally large, charming home on the other.
“Woah! This is massive!” Masato gasped as we stepped inside and looked around.
The entrance hall was a generous size, with white-tiled flooring, doors either side and the kitchen straight ahead. It was far more significant than any of the houses we’d lived in before.
“Usually, we only get a small, inexpensive two or three-bed house.” Alicia smiled, “However, we figured this wasn’t a usual occasion, so we pulled some strings and moved some money. Plus, with a new body, we needed more space.”
“So downstairs we have the living room, a study, bathroom, kitchen, which Alicia fell in love with, and a conservatory. Upstairs are the four bedrooms, three doubles, two with en-suits, and a smaller room. Oh, and a larger bathroom. You two are welcome to share a room if you wish, but that’s your choice.”
“All the furniture and things are here already.” Alicia smiled, “They put your stuff into the rooms next to each other for now, but it’s easy enough to move if you want to share the second main room. With all that said, we’ve had a long journey, so maybe you two should go get a little rest.”
I nodded feeling physically and emotionally drained since leaving London. I’d barely slept on the plane because my mind was so confused, every time I closed my eyes, my brain went into warp speed overthinking every single thing it could think of.
“Yeah, I think I’m going to sleep a little.”
Masato’s arms snaked around my waist from behind me as he rested his chin on my shoulder, “Want me to come to lie with you?”
“Please.” I sighed, relaxing against him allowing the feeling of his heartbeat against my skin soothe me.
“We’ll come to wake you when dinner is made,” Alicia promised before she pressed cheek kisses against mine and Masato’s cheeks.
“Love you, kid.” Emmett smiled as pulled me away from Masato’s arm and pulled me into his.
“Love you, too, Dad.” I kissed his cheek before I stepped away and took Masato’s hand.
“Your bedroom is the furthest on the left.”
“Okay, thanks Mom, love you.”
Alicia smiled sweetly at me, her eyes crinkled in the corner before I pulled Masato up the stairs.
The room was large, white walls with a hardwood floor — the double pine bed placed on top of a large, fluffy white rug. My three-door white wardrobe tucked in one corner and my small study desk in another. A large window ran along the far wall with white blinds.
I found my pajama shorts and tank before slipping them on and crawling into the bed next to Masato, who’d stripped himself down to his boxers.
“Get some sleep, baby.” He hummed softly, pressing a soft kiss to my forehead as I cuddled into him. My fingers softly running over his smooth skin.
I was home at last, except it didn’t feel like home at all.