Title: A Single Step

Disclaimers: Not mine.

Notes: Was actually a challenge response, but thought it might fit here, too.

Summary: P&D Challenge Response to: "She knew the place like the back of her hand, yet she couldn't shake the feeling of disorientation that came over her from the moment she stepped through the door." written on 4/2

It was mid-afternoon when she had finally fought through the O'Hare Airport insanity and ventured onto the insanity of the Chicago streets, handing her very life over to a crazed cabdriver that wove in and out of traffic with little regard to the other cars. After close to an hour, time spent mindlessly looking out of the window at passing scenery, she was back home.

Back to what had been her home once… and was now going to be again.

She paid the driver and got her two bags out of the trunk, standing still on the chalk-laden sidewalk as the yellow cab peeled away from the curb. Sad hazel eyes stared up at the cheerful suburban house, taking in the white-washed porch and brightly painted containers holding even brighter planted flowers. It looked so normal, like every other house on the block in this older neighborhood. The paint was faded slightly from the harsh Midwestern elements, giving it a homey feeling; one further enhanced by the golf-course green lawn and child's bike turned over on its' side by the stairs from the walkway.

Looking at it from outside, no one would ever guess that it was a house bearing unbelievable pain and mourning.

No one would ever guess that it was home to three children whose father had abandoned them almost a decade before… three children whose mother had been killed in an accident mere days ago.

She shook her head, sandy blonde curls dancing in the stiff breeze as she took a deep breath and ventured up the walkway, climbing the steps that she had a thousand million times before… and reached out a shaking hand to fit the key into the lock. The door swung open into an invitingly decorated foyer, hardwood floors gleaming with care, deeply cushioned furniture easily seen from her vantage point. The stairs were right there, the railing draped with jackets, the steps beyond littered with shoes and skates and sports paraphernalia.

If she tilted her head and squinted, she could almost see it different than it was. The paint was replaced by flowered wallpaper, the furniture old-fashioned. Different framed photographs were up on the walls, some black and white, some formal, others candid. In all of them the people had old-fashioned retro clothing. If she strained her ears, she could hear her sister upstairs, yelling over the blast of music as she searched through her closet for the absolute perfect thing to wear on a date. With closed eyes, she could smell her mother's home cooking, something she hadn't tasted since she was a teenager.

This was a home, always had been. It was where she had grown up, where she had enjoyed the safe innocence of childhood, had gone through teenage rebellion. It was where she had escaped from with her heart shouting in glee; her eyes on the horizon and her dreams firmly entrenched in her imagination. She had been back since, as an adult. The times when her father had lived alone, rattling around in the too large house surrounded by memories of his deceased wife gone and adult children. More recently, the house had been her sister's; home to her and her three children, her father a welcome addition.

She just never thought it would be her home again.

She'd expected to be a visitor throughout the rest of her life, the fun-loving aunt who dropped in with wild stories and spoiled the kids rotten. The gray sheep – she knew that she'd never be a black sheep but her sister had never wholly approve of her life choices – who was looked on with love and fond exasperation. She could come, sit a spell, and remember the good times and none of the arguments.

It was what she'd wanted, what she'd craved when she'd left in the first place. Towards the end, she felt smothered. Smothered by decisions that weren't hers, by good intentions, by expectations. Every little thing had just weighed her down, pressing her further and further until she felt gravity itself clawing at her ankles and pulling her deeper into the quicksand of a typical responsible life. Her sister had embraced those expectations, going on to college courses, meeting a semi-dependable man and settling down before finding out he wasn't dependable at all.

But she didn't want that life. She hadn't wanted to be typically responsible. She'd wanted adventure, wanted to truly live her life instead of just surviving. She'd wanted to be a gypsy, moving on when she wanted, changing jobs when she got bored. Wanted to meet new people with new ideas who didn't take any crap from others. Wanted to be able to figure out her own mind, her own needs, without being responsible for anyone else until she chose to be.

She'd always expected to be the first one to go. Everyone in the family had thought that.

But a slick road one Chicago night had changed that.

She took a deep breath to steady herself for moving into the house before hesitantly stepping one foot over the thresh-hold. The welcoming mat didn't open up and pull her through the floor as she expected, so she followed the first foot with the other, dropping the bags she held next to her. Her eyes sought every nick in the wood, every fabric slightly worn by the rigors of living.

She knew the place like the back of her hand, yet she couldn't shake the feeling of disorientation that came over her from the moment she stepped through the door.

Her life had changed. She was the responsible adult, the mother now.

She stepped through that innocuously painted door… and into a new life.

She just hoped she was ready for it.

The End.

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