Lincoln grabbed Emma from his wife and tossed her up in the air. “Well, well, well, who do we have here?”
“It’s me, Poppi! Emma!” She laughed.
“Emma? No way! You look too big to be my little Emma.”
She shook her head back and forth. “It’s me, Poppi!”
“Well, if that’s so, prove it. My little Emma always gave me special kinds of kisses. Do you know them?” Emma leaned in and wiggled her nose against each of Lincoln’s cheeks before giving him an Eskimo kiss. “Oh my gosh, it is you! Well, what are you waiting for? I’ve got some red, white, and blue popsicles with your name on them. Let’s get inside!” Lincoln turned my way and gave me a welcome-home wink. The two of them hurried toward the house, and I took a second to look around.
The grass was tall, with weeds and wish-makers, as Emma liked to call them. The fence we’d started putting up was only half-finished, a job Steven was never able to complete. We’d wanted to fence in the property to keep Emma from wandering too close to the street, or into the huge forest in our backyard.
The extra white wooden pieces were stacked up against the side of the house, waiting for someone to complete the task. I glanced toward the backyard for a moment. Beyond the half-built fence were the trees that led to the miles of forested land. A part of me wanted to run, get lost in those woods, and stay there for hours.
Kathy walked over and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug. I collapsed against her, holding her closer. “How are you holding up?” she asked.
Kathy squeezed me right before she separated from our hug. “The yard is a mess. No one has been up here since…” Her words faded off, along with her smile. “Lincoln said he’ll handle it all.”
“Oh no, don’t. Really, I can handle it all.”
“Really, Kathy. I want to. I want to rebuild.”
“Well, if you’re sure. At least you aren’t the messiest yard on the block,” she joked, nodding toward my neighbor’s house.
“Someone lives there?” I asked. “I didn’t think Mr. Rakes’ place would ever sell after all the rumors of it being haunted.”
“Yep. Someone actually bought the place. Now, I’m not one to gossip, but the guy who lives there is a bit weird. Rumor has it he is on the run for something he did in his past.”
“What? You mean, like a felon?”
Kathy shrugged. “Marybeth said she heard things about how he stabbed a person. Gary said he killed a cat for meowing the wrong way.”
“No way. What? Am I living beside a psychopath?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re okay. Ya know, just small talk in this small town. I doubt the rumors have any truth to them. But he does work at oddball Henson’s shop, so you know the guy can’t be all right in the head. So mainly, just lock your doors at night.”
Mr. Henson owed the shop Needful Things in downtown Meadows Creek, and he was one of the weirdest people I’d never met. I only knew about his weirdness based on what others said about him.
The townspeople were some of the best at gossiping and living the small town lifestyle. People were always on the go, but no one ever really got anywhere.
I looked across the street and saw three people gossiping outside a house as they went to collect their mail. Two women power-walked past my house, and I listened to them talking about my return to town—they didn’t say hello to me or anything, but they spoke about me. Right around the corner came a father who was teaching his little girl to ride her bike for what appeared to be the first time without training wheels.
A smile crept across my face. It was all so stereotypical, the small town life. Everyone knew everyone’s business and it spread fast.
“Anyhow.” Kathy smiled, bringing me back to reality. “We brought some barbeque and things for dinner. Stocked up your fridge too so you wouldn’t have to worry about grocery shopping for a week or two. Plus, we already put the blankets on top of the roof for the fireworks, which should be starting right about…” The sky filled with blues and reds, igniting the world with color. “Now!”
I looked up at the rooftop to see Lincoln carrying Emma in his arms as they got comfortable and shouted ‘Ooo! Ahh!’ each time the night lit on fire.
“Come on, Mama!” Emma yelled, not taking her eyes away from the display of colors.
Kathy wrapped her arm around my waist and we walked toward the house. “After Emma goes to bed, I have a few bottles of wine with your name on them.”
“For me?” I asked.
She smiled. “For you. Welcome back home, Liz.”
I wondered when that sting would disappear.
Lincoln wanted to put Emma to bed, and when he seemed to be taking longer than normal, I went to check on them. Emma had a way of giving me a hard time each night when I put her to bed, and I was sure she was giving him the same issues. I tiptoed down the hallway and didn’t hear screaming, which was a good sign. Peeking into the room, I found the two spread out sound asleep in the full-sized bed, with Lincoln’s feet hanging over the end of the bed frame.
Kathy giggled, walking up behind me. “I don’t know who’s more excited to be reunited, Lincoln or Emma.” She walked us to the living room, where we sat in front of the two biggest wine bottles I’d ever seen.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” I laughed.
She smirked. “If it makes you feel better, I might just have to.” Kathy and I had always been so close. After growing up with a mom who wasn’t the most stable mother, when I got together with Steven, meeting Kathy was such a breath of fresh air. She welcomed me in with arms wide open and never let me go. When she found out I was pregnant with Emma, she cried even more than I did.