There was nothing sinister about the house. It was just another house in what from a distance appeared to be a quiet neighborhood.
Then, when you got closer, you saw the overgrown weeds and the smashed windows. Still, it was just a house.
Salene stood on the corner biting her lip and staring at the house with a mixture of sorrow and dread. She wasn’t dying
but her life – her old life – was rushing through her mind. But when her horse Apollo snorted and shifted his
weight, she was brought back to the here and now. With an affectionate pat she tried to force a little brightness into her
tone, “Come on then.” Apollo nuzzled her hand; he was buying none of it.
When Salene had finally packed up her things and headed into the City, she hadn’t thought about returning here. Back
then everyone had been in a blind panic. No one knew who would be hit next with the virus and she believed it was important
to be with people, to band together and try to help each other out. There was no way she could have foreseen the twists and
turns her life would take. And now, here she was back at the beginning. Somewhere along the way her resolve had been lost,
leaving her anxious and confused. She still harbored guilt about her association with the Chosen. Although it had seemed the
right thing at the time, there had been a high price. It had cost her Ryan. It had cost her the life of her child. And she
worried that it may have permanently cost her the faith of her friends. She did want to go back. Back to the City, to the
Mall, to everything and everyone that had become home to her. Maybe by taking a little time here at her childhood home, she
could recapture herself – that girl who had set out with such determination to go look after and care for those who
needed it most.
After tethering Apollo in the back yard, Salene moved to the front door. She squeezed her eyes closed as she turned the doorknob,
bracing herself for the wreckage of her childhood. When she opened her eyes, she had to acknowledge that it could’ve
been worse. Things had been looted, for sure, but it wasn’t the gleeful destruction she might’ve expected had
the area not been so far out of Zoot’s influence. It was sad – if burglary could ever be called sad. But she remembered
those first months after the virus and how desperately people had tried to gather the things they hoped would help them survive.
Televisions, stereos, video games – all those objects that people had wanted so much – had suddenly become useless.
And all those school lessons about the human race’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter suddenly became a reality
to kids who’d never had to think about such things before.
With these thoughts in her head, Salene wandered back through the house to the kitchen. Not surprisingly, this room had been
ransacked more than the others. But Salene had spent so much time here with her family that it was easy to overlook the disorder
and see things as they had been. Sisters teasing each other and fighting over the last biscuit. Dad checking over their homework
at the table. Helping mother prepare dinner with the sounds of Devon practicing her music in the background. Salene’s
eyes burned with tears. Those times had been so happy. She’d been happy. Mostly. But a part of her had always been dissatisfied.
Why hadn’t she seen how perfect it was? All of them together – each with her own place and role. She’d spent
so much effort wishing she was special, in some unique way like her sisters were, she’d somehow missed just how special
the ordinary could be.
Still not sure what she was looking for, Salene headed upstairs. One by one, she poked through the rooms of her sisters, sifting
through the odds and ends hoping to find things that would summon up vivid memories of who they had been. Although Devon’s
room had been checked long ago for hints as to where she might’ve gone when she’d left home, Salene hadn’t
fully allowed herself to go through these rooms before – it had seemed like an invasion of privacy. But Sahara was dead
and Devon… Salene hoped she was okay but doubted she would ever really know. So now while rummaging through the debris,
Salene began gathering little bits and pieces – a scarf, a photograph, a keychain from a family vacation – to
keep with her.
After a moment spent regarding her own old room, she headed back to her parent’s room. It’d been in this room
that she’d spent those last few hours with her mother and father. She remembered sitting on the floor next to the bed
holding her mother’s hand. Though she’d been frail, she’d kept whispering to Salene trying to convey everything
in her heart as well as trying to fill her in on more practical matters. Thinking back, it was all such a blur. Salene had
been working so hard to hold it together that it all seemed like a dream. Now as she remembered, she slid down with her back
against the wall until she was sitting on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chest. Finally, the sobs that had been
lurking all day broke free.
In her physical and emotional exhaustion, Salene must have fallen asleep. The sun was rising when she finally awoke. Still
half-asleep, she remembered something. Crawling over to the built-in cupboard, she pulled out the bottom drawer completely
and reached in. Would it still be there? She pulled out a small dusty box. She remembered her mother taking her aside on her
13th birthday and showing her this box. Her mother had smiled and said that she was growing up and that just for that day,
she could wear something special that was being saved for the day when she really would be a grownup. For her 18th birthday,
she would receive her grandmother’s earrings – the ones that had been worn on her wedding day. Salene shook her
head, trying to clear the last of the sleepy cobwebs. Holding her breath, she opened the box. The earrings sparkled in the
sunlight as they lay on their bed of velvet and Salene’s tears started afresh. It was time. She really was a grownup
now. And it was time to act like it. After putting on the earrings for inspiration, she gathered up her things and prepared
to leave. “Come on Apollo, are you ready to go home?”