The crisp October air chilled the back of my neck as I walked leisurely beneath the stars. A slight fog obscured my vision of the path; luckily I'd traveled this distance many times. A scuffle in the branches over my head reached my ears, and I whipped my head up just in time to see a bat take flight into the night. Shivering I continued on at a more abrupt pace, forcing myself to think of the warm meal and Jarsha's smiling face that awaited me at journeys end.
My heart warmed my body as I thought of the man who had been like a father to me for so long now. But along with his face came the memories that had lead up to our abrupt meeting. When I was very young I had lived with my mother and father on a farm. Our farm was a very quaint one, we mostly grew crops but we also owned one very old, very stubborn cow named Delilah. She never produced any milk, but father was just so fond of her that we never sold her. One night I was out feeding Delilah for my father when I heard a shout coming from the house. I ran from the barn, but as soon as the house came into view I stopped dead in my tracks. The house that stood before me was covered in flames, their acrid smell burning my nose. It took me a while to process what was happening, but as soon as I did I reacted the way any scared child would. I turned and fled. I raced over a hill and through our corn field, the leaves and sheers of corn scratching my skin through my clothes. When I reached the end of our property I just kept going. Tearing across other people's fields and desolate dirt roads. Eventually, I fell asleep in an alleyway on the outskirts of the town of Stokerton. The next thing I remembered was waking up in Jarsha's bakery to the warm smells of baking bread.
As I pulled out of the memories, I looked up to find the bakery just ahead. The lantern hanging from the porch acting like a beacon in the impending gloom. I trudged up the creaking porch steps and into the shop. A few sparse candles were lit about the space, mixing with the always burning ovens to give the room a secure feeling. I unlaced my brown cloak and let it slip from my shoulders to the floor, revealing my dark brown tresses and emerald dress. A sigh escaped me as I looked about my surroundings. 'Ten long years it has been,' I thought to myself. 'And I still don't think of this place as home.'
The scent of meat pies wafted from the kitchen, moving my tired feet in that direction. I pushed aside the heave oak door into the warm kitchen. Pots, pans, spatulas, spoons, and all other cooking equipment hung from the ceiling. Leaving the stained, wood counters mostly empty, save for the miscellaneous trays of dough that had been set out to rise. The four large stone ovens stood against the back wall. The fires in them were down to the embers, except the one on the far left. That one was blazing forth, with an oblivious, unknown woman in a gray shawl standing in front of it. I stared at her curiously, and as I watched she pulled a steaming pie crust from the hot coals. Sweeping over to one of the counters she proceeded to fill it with meats and vegetables from a large pot. Feeling useless I walked over to stand opposite her. She looked up smiling warmly not seeming at all alarmed by my presence.
"Could you go get the top of the pie for me dear? It's on top of that shelf," she said, gesturing across the room.
I went and retrieved it, and our hands brushed against one another's as I passed it to her. Her hands felt like silk to my work worn ones. I studied her features as she proceeded to place the cover on. Her mouse brown, slightly graying hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Not a single piece fell into her face, showing her soft, wrinkle-less skin and hazel eyes. She was about several inches shorter than me, and was very slight. Her shawl was held together at the base of her neck by a sapphire encrusted broach that matched the color of the dress underneath. She smelled slightly of cinnamon, and though she didn't look like someone who worked a lot her movements finishing the pie were strong and confident.
My analysis of her was abruptly cut off by the creak of the porch door as Jarsha walked in. "Anna, I'm home!" He called out in his gravelly voice.
I rushed from the kitchen and into his embrace. He smelled of his horse Mayella, and the fresh wood he had no doubt left out on the porch. "Jarsha," I asked, staring up into his familiar face. "Who is that woman in the kitchen?"
"That woman?" He asked, a low chuckle escaping his lips. "Why AnnaMarie, even after all these years I'd thought, well hoped really, that you would remember your own mother."
My body seemed to shut down as the realization of his words cut through me like a hot knife. I stood there in complete shock, unable to move, unable to think. Then a strange crackling noise reached my ears making me jump; I hadn't even noticed I'd begun to cry. With shaking steps I made my way back through the heavy door, pushing it much harder than needed slamming it into the wall. My mother looked up with a start, confusion swimming about her face. I took a few slow steps inside the room allowing the door to swing softly shut behind me, and opened my mouth but no sound came out so I shut it again. It had been ten years, and I had no idea what to say.
Trying again I was able to get out a small, choked whisper, "Mom?"
A small smile stretched at her mouth, and she walked slowly around the table never dropping my gaze. When she was standing directly across from me she faltered, then rushed towards me enveloping me in her embrace. I buried my face in her shoulder and let the sobs come. My journey was over; I was finally home.
"I love you Anna," she whispered into my hair, and at that moment I knew that everything was going to be okay.