The welcome sign to Maple Cove comes into view as I drive down the deserted road back to my hometown. My hometown that I left 8 years ago, and haven’t stepped foot in since. I slow the car down as I take in the sign, population 5,000, that gives you a clue of how small it is and let out a sigh as my anxiety starts to build. There’s a reason I haven’t been back, a reason I left this place behind, and now I’m driving straight back into it. Straight back to where he will be, where all of my memories of him are.
I place my foot back on the accelerator and speed up to enter the town. Not much has changed, still the same small stores and cafés, people wandering the wide tree lined streets, chatting animatedly to their friends.
It’s a charming little town, surrounded by farmland, with a quaint little school that everyone from miles around attends. I remember that school, I remember walking to it every day beside my best friend and next door neighbour, Grayson Scott. That was until my senior year anyway, being a year older, Grayson graduated before me and left for college a couple of hours drive away.
I shake the thoughts of Grayson out of my head as I drive past the school, I don’t want to think about him, not yet. I know soon enough I will see him again, the first time to see him in person in 8 years, but for now I want to push all thoughts of him away.
I drive through the main street, stopping for the only traffic light, before turning down a familiar street that leads me to my childhood home. Pulling into the short driveway, I put the car in park and look up at the two story, white house in front of me. The gardens are manicured to perfection, roses blooming in vivid whites, reds and pinks, the grass a brilliant shade of green under the canopy of large trees. A large porch circles the front of the house and I smile as I remember the times I ran across that porch, giggling and squealing as Grayson tried to catch me.
Shaking the thought away, I get out of the car, not daring to look towards the neighbour’s house, not daring to remember his dark hair and mesmerising green eyes looking at me through his second floor bedroom window. Popping the trunk, I grab out my suitcase and pull up the handle, rolling it behind me, I walk up the narrow path towards the front door.
The front door swings open as I make it to the porch steps, a familiar face appears in the door way, her large smile greeting me with her arms out wide.
“My baby’s home.” My Mom says as I take the two steps towards her quickly, dropping my suitcase and allowing her to embrace me in a hug.
Mom hasn’t changed much, her hair is shorter and slightly greyer, she’s put on weight, but it suits her. There are more wrinkles across her brow, and her skin is slightly rubbery from working around the garden in the sun. She wears her usual spring dress that snuggly fits her chest and flairs out at her hips, the typical 50′s mother living in the 21st century.
“It’s so good to see you.” Mom’s voice cracks with emotion and I am automatically filled with guilt for not visiting her. I hug her tighter, there is nothing like a mothers hug. Although we spoke on the phone all the time, we hadn’t physically been in each other’s presence since I finished high school. I could have come home, I should have come home, but every Christmas, spring break or summer I always had an excuse, always found a reason to not come back, and though it was what I needed to do, I never once thought how that would have hurt my Mom.
“I’m sorry it’s been so long.” I whisper into her neck as tears threaten to spill from my eyes. Mom pulls back and gives me a brilliant smile, I return it instantly. It’s hard not to smile when she does.
“Now, none of that, you’re here now, that’s all that matters.” She said as she grabs my suitcase and ushers me through the door. “You must be tired from the drive.” She states and I simply nod my head. Living on the other side of the country, the drive took days, I could have flown, but I needed the time to prepare for my return.
“Go on up to your room and settle in, I’ll call you when supper is ready.” Mom said, I nod my head in agreement and slowly ascend the stairs, my suitcase in tow, towards my old bedroom.
Nothing in my room has changed, it’s as if I have stepped into a time capsule. My walls are still littered with posters of popular boy bands from 8 years ago, some have never been heard of since. Photos and awards from my high school days sit upon my shelves, not a layer of dust in sight. Mom obviously kept the room clean for my return.
I trail my finger over the many photo frames taking up my shelves, photos of my friends and family, our big smiling faces, stare out at me. I stop at a photo taken in my Junior year of high school, Grayson’s arms wrapped around my waist as we smile up at the camera, the beach in the background as the waves crash behind us. My dark brown hair, wet and messy, falling across my shoulders, Grayson’s shirtless body hiding behind me. I pick up the photo and examine it closely, tears forming in my eyes as I remember the last summer we had together, the last summer before Grayson left for college and we slowly drifted apart.
Frame still in hand, I walk over to my window and look at the house beside us for the first time. Nothing has changed there either, the large tree outside my bedroom window, with wide branches reaching out between the houses, covered in foliage and beckoning me to bridge the gap between the houses. How many times did I climb out my bedroom window, creep along the branches and jump through the window on the other side? My body itches to do it again but I push the thought away.
I look towards the window that faces my own, Grayson’s old bedroom window. Is he home yet? Is he even coming home? I honestly don’t know. I know he is busy, I know he doesn’t get much time off, but surely, given the circumstances, he would return. Wouldn’t he?
Part of my hopes he does, the part that has held onto him for so long, but another part hopes I never see him again. The self-preservation part, the part that has me protecting my heart, is begging that he doesn’t return and I can leave the town unscathed.
I walk away from the window, and lay down on my bed, clutching the photo frame to my chest, I allow myself to think of Grayson, to remember his friendship and the boy I never quite got over.
A loud squeal and a heavy weight landing on top of my wakes me from my slumber. I sit up quickly, causing the mass to fall from the bed with a loud thud, an eruption of giggles breaking out shortly after.
“Well, hello to you.” Ashley said as she pulls herself back onto the bed, her long blonde hair now messy from the fall, she moves it out of her face to show her bright blue eyes framed with dark lashes and flawless skin.
“You’re the one who jumped on me.” I grumble, wiping the sleep from my eyes and glaring at her mockingly. She gives me her killer smile that has men weakening at the knees and pulls me into a hug.
“I’ve missed you, Blaire.” She speaks into my shoulder and I wrap my arms around my friend. Ashley Clarke has been my friend since the first day of kindergarten. I remember when she walked through the door and tripped on her untied shoe lace. All of the other kids laughed at her as I ran to help her to her feet. She smiled at me shyly, and we became instant friends. I’d introduced her to Grayson at lunchtime, and from that day on, the three of us were tight.
Ashley was the only one I remained in contact with, apart from the obligatory friend acceptance on Facebook from others, she was the only one I still had late night phone calls, and visits from. So when she called in tears one day, and told me I had to come home, that everyone had to come home, I couldn’t say no. But then, not many people could say no to Ashley. She is the most beautiful person I know. Her long blonde hair and perfect features give her an aura of innocence, her model like body has men lining up to talk to her, but her sweet persona makes you want to be around her. I don’t know a better person than Ashley Clarke.
“I’ve missed you too, Ash.” I whisper back, I squeeze her tightly before moving from her embrace and looking at her. “Want to tell me what this is about?” I ask softly.
Though she told me I needed to come home, she didn’t say why, only saying it was bad. Ashley was never dramatic, and never led people on, so I knew that if she needed me home, then that’s where I had to be. She lets out an audible sigh and sits back on the bed, crossing her legs and looking down at her hands.
“I was going to wait until everyone was back, but I will tell you first, I may need your support to tell the rest.” She says quietly. I nod my head and place my hand on hers, squeezing lightly, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for whatever she is going to say. She steadies herself and raises her head to look me in the eye, it’s then I see the sadness in them, and I squeeze her hand tighter as fear and concern flood my veins.
“You know I’ve been working with the university around their brain studies right?” she asks me and I nod my head in response. “Well, I decided to donate my brain to science after I die, I didn’t think much of it at the time, thinking it would be years from now anyway.” She says slowly. I furrow my brow in confusion, but don’t say anything, allowing her to continue.
“Part of the program is to have periodic brain scans, so that they can see differences within the living tissue before they get my physical brain when I pass.” She takes a deep breath and I stiffen as I wait for her to voice the rest. “They found a weakening in an artery on my scan, when they ordered more tests, they confirmed it.”
I squeezed her hand tightly, as I took in her worried features, tears pricked her eyes and started to trail down her cheeks.
“I have a brain aneurism, it’s too deep to operate, there’s nothing that they can do.”