My eyes were heavy with exhaustion when I pulled onto the dusty road. I'd come to a startling stop, my seatbelt forcing me back into place as I peered out the window at the lopsided street sign. The letters were faded, weather worn, but still easy enough to decipher. I'd finally found it, I'd made it to Frog Hollow.
If I hadn't been so tired, my body aching from the lack of movement and my mind sluggish, I might have been thinking a million things. It could have been one of those life alerting moments when you realize that you'd finally accomplished something that might actually matter in life. I was too exhausted though, unable to comprehend the magnitude of my discovery. In fact, I hadn't even been able to enjoy the scenery on my way through, the quick changes between rolling hills filled with cotton, to swamp lands teaming with exotic wildlife. I hadn't even looked twice at the cute little town square, or the beautiful victorian homes outlining its boundary.
I could only think of one thing. I wanted to be home.
The moss-covered trees became dense along the side of the road as I wound around the curves deeper into the bayou. I passed the driveway my first time through only realizing it when I caught sight of the moss covered mailbox through my rear view mirror. I backed up skidding through the dirt and gravels until I was right in front of the now obvious entrance.
Dust blew out behind my car as I drove up the long drive to the front door. I almost forgot to stop because my head was leaned halfway out the window admiring the house. If you overlooked the over grown grass, the boarded up windows and the ivy that covered the east side Chimney, it was actually very beautiful. It was definitely old, depicted by the dark faded color of the wood, and the chipping of the bricks that outlined its foundation. However, I found these things endearing, deciding that they gave the house character. Honestly, I would have loved it if it were a shack on stilts in the middle of an alligator nest because it was my own. This was my house and would remain so forever until I made the decision to leave it.
I jumped out of the car stretching my legs and back as I studied the blackened stone blocks leading up to the front porch. The heat was stifling, giving me a quick reminder that my first few days in my new house were going to be interesting. With a laugh I tried to remember where I’d packed my bikini.
I reached back into the car rummaging through my purse to find my key. I wondered up the front porch wiping the first bead of sweat from my face. I jumped lightly on the wooden floor boards testing its strength, which was silly. It had been just a year, I reminded myself, the house couldn’t have depleted that much in such a short length of time. The lock was rusted, but with a few sturdy jerks it clicked. I pushed the door open and eat poured through the entryway. I made a mental note to call the electricity company asap.
I stepped inside looking in all directions as if I expected to find someone waiting for me. A welcoming party perhaps? I chuckled at the thought. I wondered through the giant house, running my fingers over dust covered furniture, calculating a plan of attack. It didn't long for me to sort out my priorities. I needed my air mattress covered in fresh sheets, the cooler filled with chilled drinks, and my battery powered fan pointed directly at my face. I actually considered putting on my bikini, but remembered it was packed somewhere in the midst of piles of boxes in the trailer.
Once I was settled my mind became flooded with a list of things that I needed to accomplish. I considered cleaning, unloading the trailer and checking out an interesting looking cabinet downstairs, but none of those things could really compare to just laying spread eagle on my mattress breathing in the sweet air of freedom. Despite the heat, and mounds of dust, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I was finally on my own, unbound by the restraints of professors, or over bearing adults pretending to be parents.
I leaned my head back in the pillow enjoying the quietness. Only the sound of distant chirps and bellows from bullfrogs reached my ear and it was comforting. The sirens, horns and rumble of the city night seemed like distant memories to me now. I felt like I’d arrived on my own private island, secluded from the busy workings of the outside world. I reveled in my solitude.
The weight of my long journey started to bear down on me as I felt the need to close my eyes. The sun had longed set leaving only the dim candle light to pierce through the surrounding darkness. I dug deeper into the mattress, completely satisfied to call it an early night. I knew tomorrow would bring a whole new set of challenges, along with a new day of radiating heat. I thought maybe if I went to sleep now, there was a slight chance I might wake up early and get some unpacking done before the mid-day heat wave. The thought was enough to convince me, and my eyes closed without instruction.
I fell asleep almost instantly, but my mind stayed on constant awareness. I was, after all, in a new foreign environment, so my senses were naturally on a high level of alert. I awoke in approximately thirty-minute intervals, sitting up to inspect the room only to realize that nothing had changed. I don’t know what I expected, but it seemed to make me feel more secure. I groaned at the clock on my cell phone when I realized it was only thirty minutes passed nine. I resigned that it would be a long night, and settled back in for another round.
When I awoke not ten minutes later, it wasn’t due to my regular scheduled check up. Something felt off, and it caused me to crawl out of bed. I felt as if spiders were crawling down my back as I wandered around the room letting my eyes adjust back to the dim glow of the lights. Nothing looked different, the room was still just as empty as before, but it didn’t change the way I felt. I walked over to the window and peeked outside. The window overlooked the back yard, which was over grown and deserted like everything else. In the distance, just beneath the shadowed light of the moon, I could see water reflecting the light. I started to wonder if maybe I was just paranoid because I wasn’t accustomed to sleeping with the windows open.
I turned to my room trying to convince myself that my imagination was getting the best of me. Just to be safe I made a quick check of the hallway before returning to my mattress. I lay there letting the silence sink in, focusing on each distinct sound and dissecting its origin. When I finally assigned each sound to either a woodland creature or some sort of insect that I didn’t know the name of, I shut my eyes.
That’s when I jumped off the mattress landing head first into the side of the wall. I rolled over rubbing my head as I heard a loud clicking noise echo through the house. I scrambled to my feet grabbing the large metal flashlight next to my pillow. That hadn’t been a bug and I didn’t imagine it, I assured myself. Something or someone was on my front porch. I moved the flashlight around in my hand so that it was now a weapon. I shuffled over to the door and peeked outside checking the hallway. When I decided the coast was clear I tip toed down the stairs. I instantly regretted throwing away that bottle of mace my roommate had given me during my first year of college.
I stopped half way down the stairs and listened again. When nothing countered the sing-song chirping of crickets, I slipped my way through the living room and into the kitchen. It was from there that I stood behind the archway to set up surveillance on the front door. Before I could position myself the doorknob began to jiggle. I practically climbed up the side of the wall as a high-pitched squeal escaped my lips. In that instant all bravery and confidence abandoned me, and I was left with nothing but a flashlight and my trembling hands.
I laughed sarcastically to myself. People always talked about crimes in the city, but I’d managed four years there without a single incident. Here I was in the middle of a swamp for no less than six hours and I was officially being invaded. To think, I was actually starting to like this place. I wondered if I would get the chance to enjoy my old home, that maybe this burglar had more on his mind than just taking what was left in the shell of my mother’s memories.
Anger fueled me as the door shook again. I’d looked forward to this move for months now. I’d felt disconnected from my mother my entire life, and this was my only chance to somehow connect with what was left of her spirit. This not only was my home, but it was my history. It was all I had left of the mother I never knew, and by damn I wasn’t giving that up, not when I never got the chance to explore it.
My hand steadied just as the door started to creak open. I expected it to burst open, the person barge in ready for attack, but the door moved slowly. I took it to my advantage. Their caution would be their downfall. I readied my flashlight and stampeded toward the door. As soon as they stepped across the threshold I hit them straight on knocking them back off their feet, slamming both us to the floor. I wasted no time continuing my attack, bringing down the hard metal of the flashlight with a vengeful force straight across the top of their head.
Their scream of agony broke through the tension, but I ignored it landing another blow, this time to the inside of their chest, in attempt to knock the breath out of them. It worked as they rolled over on their side in obvious pain. “Stop,” they groaned, “this is my house.”
Their words hit me like a hammer straight to my heart. This wasn’t their home, it was mine and I would defend it as such. I hit them again, two swift blows to the stomach causing them to double over in pain. I backed off then, getting to my feet but keeping the light ready for another attack. “No,” I screamed back, “this is my house! If you leave now, maybe I won’t call the police or finish kicking your ass!”
They continued to moan and I could see blood starting to drip across the contours of their face. A sting of satisfaction rung through me as my confidence returned. The intruder, who I decided was a male roughly my age, sat up on his elbow to wipe away the blood that trickled down from his forehead. “Call the police you crazy lunatic,” he growled, “I would love to watch them arrest you for breaking and entering.”
“Me?” I hissed raising the light in fury. “You’re the one who broke in my house!”
He slowly crawled to his knees. I made a quick lunge at him, but he quickly backed up with his hands in the air. “It’s my house,” he shrieked again. “I have a key!” He held a tiny bronze key out for my inspection, but I was already too far gone to be rational.
“No, its mine and so do I!” I bellowed back at him searching my pockets only to remember my key was still on the kitchen counter.
“Look,” he began stumbling up to his feet to clutch the inside of the door frame for support, “this house belonged to Fiona Daniels and she left it in my family’s care before she died last year. So unless you are a ghost, I think you decided to set up shop in the wrong house!”
The flashlight dropped from my hand, clanging loudly against the wooden floor. I stared dumbfounded at the intruder completely caught off guard by his words. He’d spoken my mother’s name, and it caused my stomach to flip in a hundred different directions. “Fiona,” I whispered, “y-y-ou knew her?”
“Of course I knew her.” He was still furious and for the first time I caught a glimpse of his features in the light.
I was five foot eight and he somehow managed to make me feel short all of a sudden. It wasn’t necessarily because he was that much taller than me, but his broad shoulders and lean muscles were slightly intimidating. His skin was dark, obviously bronzed from the relentless sun, which matched his hair perfectly. It was longer than I normally saw guys wear it, at least in the front, as if he’d purposefully forgotten to cut that portion. It hung loosely just around his eyes as blood dripped down his cheeks. “Fiona was my god mother,” he continued hastily, “so, I would appreciate if you would get the hell out of her house!”
I couldn’t stop looking at him, mesmerized that I’d found someone who knew her. He swiped blood from his face before it could drip down his lips and rubbed the excess on his shirt.
“Was she nice?” I asked unable to control my curiosity as my fear and adrenaline started to subside.
“What? Are you even listening to me?” He spat throwing his hands out to the side in frustration.
“Was she nice?” I prodded again ignoring his bad mood.
“You’re insane, okay. I get that. Can we please stay focused here? I need you out of this house before I blow a gasket and do something I’ll really regret.” His cheeks continued to flush as she shoved his hands in his pockets.
He was starting to get on my nerves. He obviously wasn’t listening to me. Yes, I’d hit him over the head with a light, get over it already and focus on what I’m saying. I knew if I was going to get any information out of this guy I was going to have to go at it from a different angle. “I’m Emmie,” I tried to explain with a softer, but still highly annoyed voice.
“Oh great, the crazy girl has a name,” he rolled his eyes dramatically.
I huffed and crossed my arms. “Emmie Daniels,” I added waiting for his reaction.
That stopped him short, and he paused to quickly replay my words over again. “Daniels?” He questioned skeptically.
I quickly nodded to assure him he’d heard me correctly. I thought my explanation had worked, but he quickly blew it off. “Oh, I get it. I said her name was Daniels and now you want me to think you knew her. Nice try, crazy, but Fiona only had one relative.”
I sighed, pinching the space between my eyes. I really must have given him a good whack on the head. “Which was?” I encouraged.
“A daughter. Emmerson, but her father took her….” He trailed off then and I saw it click on his face. “Oh.”
I laughed, smiling smugly at him. “Forgive me for not going by my full name. Welcome to my house by the way.”
He ignored my jest and fumbled around on the floor for my flashlight. He clicked it on shining the light directly in my face. I squinted my eyes and held up my hands in an attempt to block it out. “Hey!” I warned.
“Emmerson?” He whispered in disbelief, flashing the light all over my face.
I slowly moved my hands down to give him a good look at me. I heard his breath catch. “It’s you.” He breathed. “You’re Emmerson.”
I stepped forward pushing the light away as I blinked warily trying to regain my vision. “Emmie,” I corrected waiting for the white spots to disappear, “and yes, it’s really me, hence why I’m in my house. May I ask who you are exactly?”
He didn’t speak at first, he just continued to gape at me. I cleared my throat to gain his attention. “Reid,” he answered finally. “Reid Thomas, I’m Seraphina’s son.”
He said this as if it should make perfect sense to me, but unfortunately it only confused me more. “I don’t know who that is,” I explained casually.
“Your father never told you about her?” This truly shocked him, the anger and confusion briefly fading from his face.
I put my hand on my hip out of habit and I suddenly felt sassy at the mention of my good for nothing father. “You mean the same father who stole me away from my mother to begin with?”
Reid rubbed his head again this time pulling his hand away to look at the blood on his fingers. “Yeah,” he agreed distracted, “guess you’re right.”
He was silent for a moment as he rubbed his temple smearing the remaining blood across his forehead. “Our mothers were best friends to put it lightly,” he finally continued, “actually they grew up like sisters. Your grandparents took my mom in when she was only thirteen after she ran away from home. Fiona was like a second mother to me.”
My heart ached at his words. “Glad she got to be mother to somebody,” I mumbled under my breath.
I rubbed my face trying to wipe away the exhaustion. When I looked back his face was annoyed again. His green eyes were almost black as they narrowed at me. “Why did you come back?” He asked sourly. “Was it just to claim her things now that’s she gone?”
The words stung, but the accusing tone he used like he already knew he was right pissed me off. “No!” I hissed back at him.
He completely ignored me turning away so he wouldn’t even have to face me. “You don’t need to be here,” he continued in his same angry voice, “you’re only going to make things worse, so why don’t you just go back to where ever you’ve been all these years.”
It hurt. I didn’t really understand why, seeing as how I’d just met this guy, but I had a feeling this was the place I was meant to be. Except it seems I’m not wanted here either. I blew out a sarcastic huff. Figures.
I wasn’t about to give up that easily though. Spending fourteen hours in a car along with a lifetime of rejection will give you some incentive. “I’m not going anywhere.” I stated with a stomp of my foot.
He stepped closer to me emphasizing his height. “Do you know what showing up here will do to them? After all they’ve been through loosing Aunt Fi.”
“To who?” I asked confused.
“My mother,” he informed hastily, “Aunt Jade, Abby, and Willa. Your family! They don’t need you coming to ruin what little peace they’ve found.”
“That’s not fair,” I warned raising my voice. “I didn’t come back for them.”
“Exactly.” His teeth were clenched together, and I could tell he was holding something back.
“I only wanted to find a part of my mother here.” I tried to explain, but he was slowly shutting down, all emotion leaving his face.
“Go back,” he demanded.
I could feel the tears begin to brim my eyes. I don’t have anything to go back to, I thought dejectedly. This was my last chance at finding a real home, one that wouldn’t exile me after finding out my secrets. I desperately tried to hold in the sobs that were forcing their way out.
“They don’t need you to make their life more complicated than it already is, okay? Just go back,” he added.
I looked up at him not bothering to wipe away the tears. “I’m not leaving,” I whispered with determination.
“Yes, you will,” he countered raising his voice like he was my father and I snapped.
I grabbed the flashlight from his hand, and twirled it around. “Well, if you think you can make me,” I offered with a smirk.
His face hardened. “Stay away from them.” He warned eyeing the light. “And stay away from me.”
I laughed without humor. “Why the hell would I want to be around you?” I scoffed, trying desperately to hurt him as much as he had me. “Because you’re such a bright ray of sunshine?”
He didn’t even flinch. “Just stay away,” he said again turning around.
He slung the door open and walked hastily through it and down the front steps. I followed him out watching him leave. “Don’t worry,” I yelled at him.
He walked across the yard and turned to go behind my house. It caught me off guard because I was expecting him to walk toward the road. I ran back into the house finding the closest window on the back right side. I found his figure retreating across the grassy plain of the back yard. Where could he be going? My curiosity got the best of me and I found myself fumbling around the house for my shoes. I grabbed my flashlight, grinning at the dried blood across it, completely thrilled with the fact that I had kicked his little grouchy ass. I threw myself out the back door and across the yard. He was long gone, but I continued down the path where I last saw him.
The grass was high coming up almost to my knees and I feared of what I might step on in the dark. I put it out of my mind and forged on. I went over a raised hill side and found myself staring at the moonlight gleaming off a body of water. Directly in front of me was a large lake stretching out into the darkness until I couldn’t see the other side. The only way I knew that it ended was the light from the house on the other side. I ran out onto the dock that stretched into the water catching my balance as it swayed beneath me. I stood on the edge looking out over the water at the house. All the lights were on, but it was too far in the distance to detect any further details about it.
To my dismay I found myself smiling at it. “My family,” I whispered out loud.
I looked around again frantically searching for an escape route, but my intruder was gone. I could still feel my anger pulsing through me as I thought about his words. He thought I would be an inconvenience to him and his family, but he didn’t understand, I was a professional at being unwanted. I could build a life in Frog Hollow despite knowing that my family didn’t want to know me, in fact, it would almost be far too easy. I didn’t have any grand expectations of this place, or it’s people. I just wanted to be in the house that used to be my mother’s home. I wanted to finally discover myself, so I could figure out the limits to my abilities, and I could do all those things without the acceptance or even the polite hospitality of Reid Thomas.
Exhaustion bit at my knees causing me to drop back onto the hard wood of the dock.
I sat there for what felt like hours just looking at the house. I imagined rowing my way over there in the tiny boat that sat anchored to the dock, and simply knocking on the door to say hello. I wondered if they would recognize me? Would these women Reid spoke of be just as abnormal as me or would they shun me too once they found out? Something inside of me told me that wouldn’t happen, but I kept repeating his words in my head. “Go back. Stay away.”
I sighed into my hands before pushing myself off the ground. I looked back one last time before walking back up the path toward my house. The back door creaked as I opened it and somehow the house felt emptier than before. I locked up and cleaned the floor of all the blood in a complete zombie like haze. I didn’t even look at the time when I threw myself down onto my air mattress. I feared my chances at finding happiness were dwindling, but I assured myself that the dawn brought a new day with new opportunities. I could do this alone, I assured myself, its what I’ve always done. Failure just wasn’t an option at this point. I momentarily regretted beating Reid Thomas up admitting that it may have been counter productive to my over all goal of finding out about my mother. I smiled to myself as I closed my eyes letting the hot air of my fan rush over my face. Momentarily, being the key word of course.