Don't own a thing.
There are three ways to enter the small town of Hemery, Missouri. Which means there are three ways to leave.
First option: Washington Street. Taking this way, you would led out past the old Texaco gas station. Well, it was formally a Texaco, formally a fast stop... these days the old building was decorated with Phillips 66 colors and signs. After you pass it on by... you will pass on to some houses, most of which are now boarded up or just sitting there empty. Same would go for former building. Basically, you will just find a whole ton of nothing. Continue on, and about fifteen minutes later, you will find yourself entering the Montreal city limits.
Another option: South Pine. South Pine is defined by The Burger Stand, which was formally known as a Dairy King. And yes, King. DK had been the best place in town to eat, hands down. The building was rather plain, the parking lot some gray and white gravel, and it had a giant clown holding a massive ice cream cone for a sign. After you pass the burger joint, again... you will find pretty much nothing. There's some houses, a parking lot with a handful of cars being advertised as a dealership, a bingo hall... there were some run down looking storage units and some empty buildings along the way. If you keep going, you will find the building housing the local gas company and next to it a place people used to park farming equipment. There was an ever-evolving bar down the way and next to it, Oasis, a lovely little truck stop, diner, gas station and crappy little gift shop. The next road would lead you to a bunch of homes, farm land and a whole lot of nothing. Keep on, you will find I-44, Route 66 and that whole deal. Generalizing... if you go right: you will be heading for Lebanon, Left: Waynesville.
Final option: East Jefferson Avenue. This road would take you on past the town's small high school. Across from the school, there is a funeral home, the newer one in town, the second to exist in in the dinky town. Beside the school, there was a tennis court and the bus barn, one of the town's many churches next to those. Across the street was an empty building that had housed everything under the sun in it's years. Next to it, a nail shop. On past all of that, rail road tracks. There was fork in the road, either take Route 7 or 133 going out that way. The first thing you'd see next for 133 was a church, for Route 7 was more storage sheds. 133 was Swedeborg, 7 was Laquey. 7 was also a way out to the Cave Restaurant... which was literally that, a barbeque place inside of an old cave.
Coming in from North Carolina, Buffy entered the small nowhere town with the third of those choices.
Buffy's stomach started fluttering back in the Rolla area and it had not stopped since. And then when she got closer, passing by her late mother's best friend's house, it really sank in that she was back.
Buffy's headlights flashed against the green city limits sign, welcoming her back, and she passed over the train tracks. Her eyes darted to the right, looking at her old high school. There was a banner over the door now, and some clock stand thing in the front yard, but other than that it looked very much the same.
Getting to the edge of Dublin Lanes, Buffy smiled. The house she was stopped at so she could make her left turn always had the best Christmas lights in town. She was a little late to the party and they were gone, and who knew if even the same owners were there, but she remembered many years past just adoring them. Any holiday really, those people really went out. She also smiled looking at the huge dip in the road. A school bus ride had never been more fun than when you'd go flying down that huge hill then always expect to just crash and die as it pretty much picks right back upward. It was her own every day personal roller coaster though growing up.
She waited for the one lonesome car to keep going before she took her turn, feeling a flood of memories as she looked at the old houses she was passing, the streets she knew so well. First she thought of the homes, some of her friends' homes, friends of her parents' homes, family members, so on. Memories of the people who owned them, the way they looked, the feel of their houses, the smell. Then there was the many circled neighborhood areas, memories of rollerblading or riding her bike around them in the summer. So many childhood memories rested here.
Once again cross the rail road tracks, Buffy shivered. She was almost there.
Going right next would take you down a long road until you got to town. Straight or going to the left would both take you to her hometown circle.
With a sigh, Buffy choose left, deciding to go around the damn thing.
You could tell almost all of the homes on the street were now empty, neglected. There were three new homes built in what used to be an open field used for flying kites or playing frisbee as a kid. They had fences and dogs running around inside of them.
Continuing straight would be a dead end so she went with the curve, again checking off houses, remembering how they were growing up, how they were when she left.
Again, going straight would be a dead end, this time leading you out into the woods. There was a trail out there but it was shitty and who knew what was lying out there. Besides, coyotes, bears, broken trees... the works. No thank you. Going with the curve, she sucked in her breath, spotting her childhood home. The other one. The one for her parents. She swallowed, passing that first house, pulling into the gravel drive of the second.
The shed was beside the house now, instead of way out in the back. There were two lounge swings in the yard, they'd been there when she left. A white car she'd never seen before was parked in the ditch.
Getting out of the car, with great effort, Buffy frowned at almost falling thanks to her shoes and the rocks. She also frowned as she looked around at the unkept yard around her. Not that it mattered, it was no different from anyone else's as far as she could tell.
Shaking her head, Buffy opened the back door and grabbed out as many bags as she could carry then forced herself toward the small house.
The concrete walk out front was the same, the one step up was the same, maybe a little more ugly looking. The screen was new. The front door looked the same.
The doorbell looked the same.
She stood there, frowning. She had no idea if she was supposed to ring it or just go in. She could see lights from inside, hear the television. Loud. Very loud. Her father's hearing hadn't gotten any better it would seem.
Feeling awkward, Buffy finally pushed the tall, skinny doorbell and closed her eyes to try and listen harder to make sure it even worked.
She had to ring it again before the door opened, revealing her father, Hank Summers. He smiled, something she'd rarely ever seen him to in her life, then snapped out of it and looked embarrassed as he opened the door. "Come on in, come on in," he told her, still shaky excitement evident in his tone. His hand came out to touch her shoulder, quickly, before it dropped away.
"Hi," she said softly, looking around. "Sorry I was later than expected. I hope you didn't have to wait long or have something else planned or..."
He shook his head. "No, no. I wasn't doing anything."
Buffy nodded, feeling nervous. She carried her bags over to the side, trying not to wince as she passed the blaring television. Dropping them quietly, she tugged at the hem of her shirt before looking back his way, still not daring to look at his face or meet his eyes. "I, uh, I still have some bags in the car," she said, forcing herself to walk back toward him and the doorway.
"You need any help?"
"It's not necessary," she mumbled but he was already following her out, grunting as he stepped down from the porch to the cold, hard ground. She felt her stomach rolling at the noise.
Opening the side door, she reached in for more of her things, watching out of the corner of her eye as her father went around to the other side and did the same.
"This all you brought?" he asked.
She nodded. "All I needed." She grumbled as she reached for her laptop for the third time, bags toppling over on her arms.
"I got it," he said.
She looked up, not looking at him. "Okay. Thanks." And with that, she ducked back out of the car and did her best not to fall over when she almost lost her footing again. She kicked the door closed and gave another quick look back at her only living parent before heading back for the house.
She heard the other door close and then his foot steps as he returned, opening the door and setting her things down in the floor. He held up her laptop in one hand, making sure she noted he had it, she nodded then he put it down in one of the chairs. He stood there awkwardly for a moment, making another grunt-like, cough-like noise, before taking a seat.
She took in a deep breath, trying to keep it as quiet and unseen as possible, then took a seat on the sofa. Unable to stop herself, she began looking around the house, feeling so out of place.
She nodded. "I can see that."
And she could. The house was mostly empty, no one lived here anymore. It had been fixed up a bit though, changed. The carpet was all gone, now replaced with cheap wood flooring. The furniture... a few pieces there were, was different. The only piece she knew was one of the chairs at the back wall. The other two, the sofa she sat on, the table to the side were new. Well, old but new to her anyway. There was a heater she thought she recognized in the corner that was turned on. The air conditioner in the window she knew, the draped around it she did not. There were two stacks of old records on the floor to the side. She knew those. Random things on the table she knew, most she didn't. Many things on the wall she knew, some she didn't. The blaring television sat on top of another, a very, very old and large set. The bottom one she knew. There was a DVD player next to the smaller tv that sat on top, their remotes laying on there too. There were speakers strung up and mounted in the corners of the room. There was one bookcase to the right of the television and by the door. A few knickknacks she knew. It was mostly empty though. It had some VHS tapes set on it, some DVD's laid out carelessly too.
It looked different. It felt different.
This wasn't her house anymore. It was never her home. Never. But she had lived here. It just didn't feel like it anymore. The house felt so, so small. It was, it truly, literally was, but now, all grown up, not having been here in so long, it felt... tinier than she could have imagined.
"If you plan on staying you might want to call and get the gas hooked back up."
She nodded. "I'll do that. The electric and water should be good for now though, right?"
"Yeah, we always have those running. Just in case. Come out here sometimes, still working on redoing the place and all."
She nodded again, her fingers twitching in her lap.
"There's a bed in the back room."
"There's a dresser and mirror in there, too. A small table, chest and some other littler things... I don't know what all..." he mumbled off.
"That should be fine. In the back bedroom you said, your old room?"
He coughed. "No, I meant the other one..."
"Oh, off to the right there?"
"Oh, okay. Should be great."
"That room is just filled with a few junk things. Been working on fixing it up when have the time and money to spare."
"Then the other one, your old room, it has another couch in it... a few tables too. The washer and dryer are still in the utility room. There's a few fresh towels in both bathrooms, some soap and shampoo and all that. I think there's a hair dryer under the sink in the bathroom, the full one, you know."
An uncomfortable silence fell between them for several moments.
"Did you eat?" he asked.
"Hmm? Yes, I stopped a few times on the way and just outside of Saint Louis."
"I didn't know what to get you, what you like these days but I put a little bit of food in the fridge. It's not a lot... just some drinks and fruit mostly. There's a few microwavable things I just grabbed up. I'll have to bring you by a microwave tomorrow though, I forgot we had to switch ours out with the one we had out here a few months back. Think you'll be okay until then?"
"Yes, I will be fine."
"There's, uh, there's a list of some numbers I put on the fridge too. Just for Casey's or Crossroads if you want to order something or ask them something before you go up there, if you want. They're still in business though many others have come and gone. There's a fairly new place out by, uh, out by Tommy's... you remember Tommy..."
"Out by his house. Forget the name but they have pretty good deals out there. Used to work with the owner many years back, guess he choose a new direction."
"Owns it there with his son."
She honestly had no idea what to say to him.
Buffy felt her phone vibrate and grabbed into her pocket for it, pushing the top up so the screen would brighten. She smiled down at it, reading her text message from one of her friends from back in NC who were wondering if she made the trip in one piece. She hurried to text back, letting the worrywart know she was perfectly fine.
Even if she wasn't.
"Who's your phone with?"
Buffy fought not to jerk at the sudden reappearance of his voice. "Sprint."
He nodded. "They any good?"
"For the most part. On the drive was in and out in certain areas of course, but yeah. I like them. Had them for a number of years now."
He held up his own. Buffy felt odd. Her father had a cell phone. Weird. "Ours we can't get any service most the time. Especially out there at the house. Here it does pretty okay but not worth a thing out there. I left my number, both this one and one for the house, on the fridge too. If I'm at the house I can't use this thing."
Another bout of silence. A few text messages came. One call she didn't take.
"I guess you're probably tired."
"It was a long drive."
"I should probably be getting back anyway." He sat for another bout before pulling himself out of the chair. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out two keys and walked over to Buffy, handing them out to her. "Had to get these made, didn't see a point but she did so..."
Buffy forced a smile and reached out to take them from him.
They'd never once locked the house up in all the times she'd lived here.
Yep. Things had changed.
"I'll probably stop by in the afternoon tomorrow, maybe around one or so."
"You remember how to use the heater? Is it going to be enough? There's some extra blankets in that bag," he pointed to a large white bag in the green chair she knew from childhood. "Along with a few pillows underneath."
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
His hands went into his pockets and he scuttled back a few feet. "Well, um, I should get going. I try not to drive at night."
"I'm sorry I was later than expected," she told him again.
He started to say something but then just shook his head. "I'll be by tomorrow."
Buffy swallowed, watching him take the last few steps to the door. His hand was reaching out to it when she cleared her voice. "Thank you for letting me stay here. I do appreciate it."
He turned his head and Buffy finally looked at him. He'd aged but still looked the same for the most part. His eyes met hers and she forced herself to hold it, for a whole second, before quickly looking away.
"It's your house," he told her before leaving.
She sat there, listening for the sound of his car, watching the headlights come on, then the sights and sounds of his driving away and leaving her alone.
"No," she whispered, "Dad, it isn't."