The Road Home – Part 2

Did you miss part 1?  If so, you can find it on the Red Door Reads website!

Part 2
By Tammy Falkner

 

Home was a four-letter word, if there ever was one, Matt couldn’t help but think. Right up there with all the words he used to say that made Dan look at him in gut-clenching disapproval.

“Thanks,” he muttered. He stared down at the keys in his palm, at the keychain that had scandalized him when he was younger, and now fit his palm like it was made for it. He ran the pad of his thumb over the thigh of the naked woman, feeling the ridge of her knee, and the tiny raised bump of her pointy toe, remembering how he’d longed to hold that keychain when he was seventeen.

The old woman snickered, then she wrapped her hands around her mouth like she wanted to tell him a secret. “That’s made of metal, son,” she said. “Play with it on your own time, when I don’t have to watch.”

Heat crept up Matt’s face.

From behind her a noise arose, and a small child skidded to a stop beside the old woman, nearly knocking her from her crutches. He was wearing cowboy boots, had a red bandanna tied around his chin, hiding his mouth from view, and he had a cardboard belt tied around his waist. The belt held two small toy pistols.

The old woman winked and nodded toward the keys. “Don’t tell anyone, but I think Dan had that keychain made in my likeness.” Matt stopped fondling the key fob immediately.

The little cowboy who’d skidded into her tugged at the edge of her shirt and whispered something to her that Matt couldn’t understand. She jerked a thumb toward the back of the house. “I’ll be right there,” she said. He left as quickly as he’d arrived, slapping his imaginary horse on the rump as he went around the corner.

“Cute kid,” Matt grunted. But he wasn’t. Kids were the devil and he wanted nothing to do with them. Ever.

“No, he’s not. He’s terrible. The only time he’s cute is when he’s sleeping. And even then, he’s talking.” The woman hitched her shoulder in the doorway. “I vaguely remember you being the same way. Cat got your tongue, Matthew?”

Matt narrowed his eyes at her. “The truck,” he began. He looked toward the drive where it rested, almost like it was waiting for him.

She nodded, blinking her blue eyes at him. “Yep. It’s a truck.” She clucked her tongue. “Dan always said you were smarter than you looked.”

The pitter-patter of little feet rang down the hallway, and Matt looked beyond her for the herd of elephants that must have escaped the zoo. A little girl wearing a tiny blue ball gown and plastic glass slippers tripped over the hem of the too-long dress and landed on her face. She hopped back up like she was on springs, rubbed the tip of her nose, and kept on coming.

Behind her followed a brunette. Her hair was long and straight and it was pulled back into a messy snarl at the back of her head. It reminded him of his grandmother’s yarn the time the cat got into it. But then… then she turned and looked into his eyes.

His breath stopped. His heart quit doing its job and he coughed into his fist to get it started back up.

The old woman punched him in the shoulder. “Breathe, boy. It’s just a woman. I’m sure you’ve seen one before.”

But this wasn’t just any woman. This was Anne Bartlett. This was the only thing he’d left behind in Maine when he was seventeen that still visited him in his dreams. Anne was everything. And she was standing right there.

“Matt?” she said, and his heart burst open.

 

***

 

Oh, holy crap. Grams was right. She said the first thing Matt would do when he got to town was come to get his truck.

“Anne,” he grunted. He jammed his hands into his pockets and rocked back onto his heels. His eyes skittered around everywhere but on her.

“You’re home,” she said.

He nodded.

“When did you get here?” She wiped her hands on a sauce-stained dishcloth.

“Just a few minutes ago,” he said. “I was driving by and saw the truck.” He jerked a thumb toward the driveway, like she didn’t know where the truck was. She was the one who put it there.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind. I borrowed it.”

Finally, he looked at her and, when he did, my goodness, it was like looking back in time. She stood dumbfounded.

“You borrowed the truck?” His brow scrunched, the vee she used to smooth with her fingertips forming between his brows. Her fingers twitched, wanting to touch him. She balled her hands into fists instead.

“Yeah, Grams wanted spaghetti,” she said. “My car is in the shop and your truck was just sitting there in the garage, so I drove it to the store and left it in the driveway. I’ll put it back up.” She forced herself to stop rambling. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Mind what?” he said.

Grams snickered and Anne glared at her. She snickered some more.

“You didn’t mind me driving it, did you?” she asked.

“Why would I mind?” he asked.

“Because… it’s… not… mine?”

“Whose is it?”

“Well, it’s yours,” Anne said. She glared at Grams again. “Didn’t you tell him?”

Grams hitched herself more comfortably in the doorway. “I was about to.”

“And?” Anne prompted.

“And then you walked around the corner and he lost his breath, and I figured I would give him a moment to recover, and then I was going to tell him Dan left him the truck in his will.” Grams grinned. “And I was going to tell him those brats aren’t yours.”

“They’re not brats.” They were wonderful children that Anne watched during the day while the Turners worked.

“And that you’re not married and never have been,” Grams went on to say.

Anne groaned. “Already, Grams? Really?” She looked at Matt. “Ignore her. She’s going senile.”

“I doubt it,” Matt said, more grunt than words.

He was right. Grams was sharp as a tack. A mean little tack with a broken leg and an urge to marry Anne off. But what she didn’t know was that while Matt might be fun to look at with those blue eyes and the shadow of beard stubble on his face, nothing was going to come of their reunion. Anne’s memories were more of his backside, because that’s all she’d seen as he walked away all those years ago. She forced the elation she’d felt when she’d seen him standing there in the doorway into the closet of her brain, and pulled heartache and loneliness out of it, determined to wear them like a cloak the whole time Matt was on the island. Anything else would be stupid on her part.

Ready for part 3?  You can find it here!