"Sam told me Mom's sick." He nods and opens the door to let me in.
"Yeah, she is. Things have been rough. She's been asking for you."
I nod and step inside. The house is filled with people, family, neighbors, and people from the past. Most of them glare at me. They don't know what happened, they just know that I ran off and broke my parents' hearts. They don't temper their disgust as Dad leads me inside.
"My baby came home! We're together again." He pinches my cheek so hard that it hurts. I smile at him and try not to pull away. His emotions flip, like he decided to let it go. Dad's all smiles and walking around showing me off the way he used to. He tells people that already know me that I'm his daughter, that his little girl came home. He's so excited to see me. He doesn't ask where I've been or why I didn't tell him.
Tears sting my eyes, but I blink them back. Leaving like that hurt him terribly. I can see it on their faces, and hear it in his voice. Dad sounds proud of me, which totally kills me. I left with good reason. I left because no one believed me. I left because they liked Dean more than me.
Dad circles me through the room, laughing loudly and beaming. I'm polite and smile even though I can tell that no one wants me here. That's when I see Sam leaning against the railing that goes upstairs to the bedrooms. His arms are folded across his chest. He glances behind me looking for Peter, but Peter is gone.
Sam steps toward us. "I told you I'd find her and bring her back. It's good to see you, sis." Sam leans in and gives me a quick hug. Everyone thinks he's wonderful, that he brought his wayward sister home. If they cheer, I won't be able to take it.
I look back at my dad. "What's going on with Mom? Can I see her?"
Dad takes my hand and pulls me into the kitchen. There are fewer people in this room. My aunt is making something on the stove. There are countless dishes covered in aluminum foil on the kitchen table. Mom's kiss the cook collection is still on display in this room. Everywhere I turn, there's another plaque or doll or apron that says KISS THE COOK.
Dad walks to the other end of the dining room and pulls out a chair for me. "Have you eaten? Beth, make her a plate."
I wave at Aunt Beth and say no, but they both ignore me. A moment later Aunt Beth sets down a paper plate over flowing with food in front of me. "Eat. You're too skinny." She gives me a look of disapproval and turns back to the stove.
"Dad, what's wrong with Mom?"
"She's got the cancer, baby girl. It snuck up on us. One day she was fine, and then she wasn't. We did chemo for a while, but it's too far gone. She already lived longer than they expected." He says the words stoically like he's said them a million times before.
"Why isn't she in the hospital?"
"You know your mother. She wanted to be home. We have everything she needs here. The only thing we were missing was you. She'll be happy to see you."
I nod slowly, letting everything sink in. I knew Sam said she was dying, but I didn't realize she was that far gone. My stomach sours. I dart out of my chair and race to the bathroom and dry heave until my brow is covered in sweat. Everything crashes into me in merciless waves. Remorse so deep that I can't fathom the pain, the lost time, the hatred and the fact that I didn't forgive her blast into me. In the back of my mind I always thought there'd be time to patch things up. It wasn't a conscious thought, but it was there.
Now, there is no time. I lost that chance and I'll never get it back.
I'm numb inside and out, staring at nothing. A few hours have passed since I got home, and it's too much. My emotions overloaded and shorted out. The only good thing that's happened is that Dean hasn't shown up.
Sam finds me sitting outside alone. "Hey, Sid."
I take a sip of my soda. My stomach is still queasy. It's late. Most of the people in my house left. They'll come back every day until Mom passes away, bringing food and keeping my father company.
"I wanted to say sorry for the way things happened in Texas. I should have known you'd come back. I was worried about Dad—about what would happen to him if you didn't get up to say good-bye. He's been smiling too much lately, like he's losing his mind. Every day Mom slips further away. She wakes less and barely talks anymore. The one thing he wanted to give her before she dies is you.
"Anyway, I'm sorry. I handled it wrong and I shouldn't have brought Dean."
My brother rarely apologizes. My eyes are strained, so when I glance at him it makes my head ache. "Where is he, anyway?" I didn't see him inside and the thought of bumping into him at any moment has me on edge.
Sam looks at me like I'm making no sense. "Where is who? Dean?" I nod. "He doesn't come around anymore. Actually, after you left, Ma told Dean she'd bury him in the garden and use the frying pan she killed him with as his headstone. It was kind of intense."
I stare at him in shock. All this time I thought Dean was in my house with my family. I left because they believed him over me. Sam doesn't realize the weight of his words. He may be my twin but there's no crosslink between us. Empathy doesn't flow through some twin-type bond.
Sam looks over at me with a quizzical look on his face. "What?"
"Do you know why?"
Sam shrugs. "No idea. She lost it when you left. Maybe she just took it out on Dean. I don't know."
"But you still hung around him?"
"Yeah, he didn't do anything. He's a good guy, Sid."
I'm not having this conversation with him, so I don't answer. I resume my blank stare until Sam gets up and walks away. Dean's his best friend and always has been. It makes me wonder if Sam cares about me at all. Sometimes I think he must, but when he says things like that—I don't know anymore.
My dad steps outside and calls my name. It rekindles memories of playing outside well past dark and my dad standing at the door and calling us in. On warm nights like this my mom would make fudge, so being called in wasn't so bad. I've always had a horrible sweet tooth.
"Coming," I say and get off the bench. I've been outside thinking, wondering if I was right or wrong, and waiting for my mother to wake up. They told me that as her pain medicine wears off, she wakes up. There are so many things to say to her, but I haven't settled on anything yet.
"She's awake and asking for you." Dad smiles at me sadly. "I told her you were here and she smiled. She hasn't smiled in ages, Sid. Go on up."
Before I walk away, I throw my arms around him. Dad hugs me back and then shoos me, telling me to get up there. I climb the stairs and head toward my parents' bedroom. I ran down these halls as child. If a nightmare woke me, I'd run into their room so they'd protect me. But now everything is flipped around. My mom is being destroyed by her own body and no one can save her.
I stop in front of the door and reach for the knob, ignoring the churning in my stomach. My mother is awake, maybe for the last time. I need to say what I came here to say.
I walk into her old bedroom, but it doesn't look the same. There's a hospital bed with IV bags dripping from above her. Mom is lying back with her eyelids heavy. A thin blue blanket covers her legs and is pulled up to her chest, but her arms are on top. As I get closer I can see what the cancer has done to her, how it's aged her dramatically. She looks old and frail. Her once-vibrant face is ashen and hollowed. The dark hair that flowed past her shoulders is gone. People used to say we look alike. The resemblance is almost gone.
She doesn't see me. I press my lips together and step closer. "Mom?"
My mother's been staring straight ahead, but when she hears my voice, her eyes move, looking for me. I step into her line of sight, and a painful smile crosses her face. It's so light and fades quickly. "Sidney. You came home."
She lifts her fingers like she's reaching for me. I take her hand. "I'm home, Mom." My throat grows so tight that I can't speak. My vision blurs with tears.
Her voice is so weak—barely a whisper—but she speaks to me. She tells me about her gardens and asks if the bulbs are up. It's long past frost, but she doesn't seem to realize that. I listen to her voice and curse myself for not coming home sooner. I avoided this because I thought there was nothing left here. I didn't know what happened after I'd gone, I didn't know she turned on Dean.
I kneel next to her bed and talk about anything and everything until it's time for her medicine. The conversation drifts to Peter.
"Do you love him?" I nod slowly. "Then don't let him go." She coughs and her body stiffens from the pain. I wish this wasn't happening, but I can't stop it. No one can. I'm going to lose her for good.
"Do you want me to get help?"
"No." She grips my hand harder. "I need to say something. After you left, I found your books. I read them. I wanted to know what I did that was so horrible that you'd vanish like that." She's so weak. Her words come out in shallow puffs of air like she can't breathe.
"You read my journals?" I had several diaries when I lived here. The night I took off, I left them behind. There was no way to sneak out and take everything with me.
She nods slightly. "I wanted to fix it, but by then it was too late. I didn't know. I couldn't see it. There's no reason to forgive me, and I can't ask you for that. I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry I drove you away, so sorry, honey."
"You believe me?" My voice cracks with shock. Regret floods my chest, drowning me in remorse.
"Yes, but I'm too late. I wish I—" Her voice abruptly stops as she tenses in pain. When it passes, she manages to say, "I'm sorry." She mumbles the words as her eyes close. The grip on my hand loosens. She's barely breathing.
"You're not too late, Mom. I love you so much. I'm so sorry." My voice shakes as I say the words, and in the back of my mind, I know that I won't hear her voice again. There will be no more conversations, no more laughter or tears. This is it.