As soon as this apartment hit the market no more than a week ago, I jumped to make an offer. My mother asked me over the phone when I broke the news to her if I truly wanted to move across the entire from her and the rest of Michigan just to be closer to my new job, and even then when the question left her lips she already knew there would be no stopping me. Seattle is one of the biggest cities in the country and receiving a job offer from the enormous offices of the most sought-after company in the world located there is more than just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So when I told my mom I was certain of my decision, she gave me her full support.
I made the right choice. At least that’s what I tell myself as I reach for one of the many cardboard boxes piled by the door.
I didn’t bring too much with me from the old bungalow I used to share with my roommate, afraid there wouldn’t be enough room here to store all the bits and pieces I’d collected over the years. Other than several changes of clothes which still fit me, all I bothered shoving into the boxes were my books. I never thought of myself as much of a reader, but I just enjoy the feeling of always having one close by, like if I ever want an easy way to escape from reality, it’s right there for me to access.
I sift through the rest of my things, making a mental note of what should go where, but I don’t have enough energy at the moment to move everything into its place. Collapsing onto the cream sofa I bought from one of the many charity stores that lined the street a couple of blocks down from my last home, I pull out my cell and check for any messages.
I have two, one from my mother and one from an unknown number.
I click on it.
Hey, Connor. It's been a while but I heard you moved. I just want to check and see if everything is OK. How's Mom?
- Maddy, xx
I freeze at the name displayed below.
Then, all those fake, foreign, dark memories suddenly all come rushing back in a huge wave. My chest hurts as I scan the message one more time.
My sister moved out of the house ten years ago, her worn red duffel bag slung over a shoulder and a look of venom etched across her face as she stalked out of the door with my mother begging and crying behind her. I remember that moment like it's yesterday, and as I sit there and repeat the name over and over again in my head, I wonder if that's really a good thing.
Maddy’s always been wild from the moment she was born when trouble seemed to find its way so inevitably to her, and of course, she was never afraid to take any of those risks. There were always ways she would make me feel bad for her, bribe me into opening the back door for her every night while she comes stumbling into the house with the stench of alcohol and sweat clinging to her clothes and her signature dark red lipstick smudged over the corners of her mouth. I can’t remember a time when she was actually sober around any of us, or when she wasn’t in an argument with our parents and with one of the attractive, hard-eyed boys she’d bring back with her every weekend.
None of us could control her even if we tried. Except for our dad.
I try to recall his smile, or at least what I think it looks like. I see pictures of him often, mostly around our old house, but it isn't the same as having him physically, warm eyes directed at me, arm around my shoulder. Maddy and Dad were close, and it was always Dad who forgave her in their frequent disputes. And when he suddenly passed away ten years ago, I guess that was when she finally snapped. I haven’t seen Maddy in years, haven’t heard from her since the day she slammed that door and walked out of everyone's life.
My finger hovers over her name displayed on the screen. She's heard I moved, somehow managed to secure my number, and finds some audacity to finally reach out after all these years and only say to me a few pathetic lines.
But I'm not surprised. It's Maddy.
She's only a stranger.
I click away from the message and focus my attention on the text my mom just sent me.
Is everything alright, sweetie? I hope it all went smoothly. Let me know how the city is!
I smile a little. I'm fine, Mom, don't worry. The city's great so far, and the views are amazing. I'm just unpacking all my stuff, so I'll call you later.
I switch off my cell and chuck it into the corner of the couch, tilting my head back until the ceiling is staring down at me. I hear the sound of sirens and rumbling cars in the distance, so different from the quiet suburban home I used to live in. For a moment, I just let myself float back to the hills and little bungalows sitting against a soft green background and pretend I'm breathing in rich Palm Springs air.
It's a fresh start, I told myself on the five-hour flight here while I stared out into the clouds from my window seat, and I repeat that line over again in my head now, hoping it would offer me a least a bit of solace as I prepare myself for my new life in the big city.