Blair stands in a rigid posture before a rusty wooden door covered with ivy; the door she thought she didn’t have to see for the rest of her life. Now that she’s here again, an unsolicited childhood memory rushes through her head, giving her a familiar twist in the gut.
Pushing the thought to the back of her mind, she reaches the door knocker that has been there since she can remember. An angry man with a thick mustache on the knocker head stared at her with an accusation in his eyes. At least, that’s what she thinks. She should have visited her brother since their mother died, but she never did.
She holds her breath and knocks on the door. Once. Twice. She heaves a sigh. Thrice.
A minute has passed but no one is coming to open the door for her. This is weird. Brayden should be home by now. Didn’t he receive the letter she sent him a week ago? Also, she still remembers her brother’s number one rule about life: never stay later than 5 PM at work, especially on a cold winter like this. Has he changed now? Or maybe he’s not working in the garage anymore.
The rumbling sound from the sky pulls her out of her train of thoughts. She looks up and watches the lightning blink rapidly behind the dark clouds. A chill wind blows, prompting the tail of her coat to dance frantically in the air. She needs to get inside soon or she will be caught in the rain at any minute.
She thumps the door with the rusted iron ring once again, harder this time. Once she hears footsteps coming from the other side of the door, she quickly grabs the trunks that the taxi driver has thrown onto the porch steps. Her stomach churns but she convinces herself that everything will be fine. She’s doing the right thing. This house doesn’t affect her anymore because she will not allow it.
The footsteps have stopped for a while, yet she is still outside, waiting. Minutes go by but the door remains closed, standing proudly before her, mocking her.
“Brayden? Are you there? It’s me, Blair!” she says, announcing her arrival, but it’s only answered with stillness from the other side. A drop of water hits her forehead, urging her to glance up. “Oh, Pete’s sake!” She puts down her suitcases and starts pounding on the door with her hand. “Brayden! Open up the door, please. It’s starting to rain!”
Blair’s voice falters as she notices the door move slightly. Frowning, she pushes the door farther, followed by a creaking sound as it swings open. A dark entrance hall and wooden staircase come into view but Brayden is nowhere to be seen.
“Brayden?” Blair calls again, dragging her trunks inside. She closes the door once she manages to turn on the light.
The hall is eerily the same as she remembers, but it looks rather neglected. Clearly, a house chore is still Brayden’s least favorite. The ceiling is no longer white, adorned with spider webs in every corner. The mint wallpaper has turned brownish now, but the grey floral pattern is still as clear as ever. She shivers at the thought of how the pattern haunted her dream for some time.
Noticing the absence of light in the living room and the dining room, she makes her way upstairs. Surprisingly, it’s also dark everywhere on the second floor. Brayden can’t be home. He hates darkness. He always complained about feeling shut when he couldn’t see anything. He even slept with a dim light on every night back when they still shared a room. Or has he now got over his fear?
Blair stands in front of her brother’s bedroom door. Leaning forward with her ears almost pressing on the door, she knocks softly. “Are you there, Brayden?”
Convinced that her brother is not home, she turns away and heads back to the stairs. When the corner of her eyes catches a movement at Brayden’s door, she stops short and turns her head to look. But what she sees is just an empty dark hall. Has she imagined it?
Instead of starting to climb down the stairs, her eyes shift to the green door with a red heart painting on the other end of the hallway. Her heart beats faster as the memory flashes through her mind. So much has happened behind that door, giving her the mixed feelings she failed to unravel. Longing and daunting merged into one emotion, and she couldn’t see where the line was.
Forcing herself to look away, she flees downstairs, ignoring her shaky feet.
Once she is standing near the entrance door again, she releases the breath she was holding. She pulls her coat closer to her torso, wondering if the temperature in the house is colder than when she was still outside. Then an unpleasant smell evades her nostrils, urging her to scrunch her nose while slowly walking in the direction of the odor source.
The stinking smell is getting prominent when she stands at the kitchen door. Her hand roams over the wall, stumbling onto the wall phone before she can find the switch. Once on, the light swallows the blackness in one blink of an eye, making her eyes squint for a few seconds. When she finally adjusts to the brightness, she sweeps the kitchen with her eyes, and her gaze falls on the crammed trash bin under the sink.
Sighing, she strides to the source of the disgusting odor while biting her lower lip, holding back the urge to vomit. Wearing a pair of stained rubber gloves from the sink, she quickly picks up the trash that is partly scattered on the floor, throws them back into the bin, and secures the garbage bag.
“Sweet Mary, mother of God!” Blair says, feeling her heart jump out of her chest. After she registers what has just happened, she slowly spins around to check where the noise came from.
Before her, the back door swings back and forth as the wind pushes its way into the house, causing the worn-out cream valance on the kitchen window to sway fiercely. Blair heaves a sigh of relief after learning it’s just the wind. Brayden must have left the house in a rush that he forgot to lock the doors.
With the trash bag in her hand, she hurries out of the kitchen door, determined to get rid of the stinky trash as soon as possible.
The back porch is full of furniture that she can’t remember having in the house before. She makes a mental note to ask Brayden later about it as she jogs to the backyard under the cold drizzle. Judging from how tall the grass is, Brayden must’ve not done any gardening work for some time. He’s probably too busy with work.
After she manages to throw the trash into the big bin next to the rear gate, she runs back to the house. It’s when her eyes catch a glimpse of a person lying on a reclining chair on the back porch, covered with a blanket.
“Brayden?” she calls as she approaches the chair. She’s almost sure it wasn’t there when she walked out of the kitchen door, but now she’s not sure anymore.