"So please, for the love of God, just drive me home."
"Leah, can we please-" Conner started.
"Drive me home please," Leah said cutting him off.
Conner looked at Leah for a long moment as if willing her to change her mind. Eventually, he just let out a long sigh and continued on his way back to their tiny hometown. The trees flew by as Leah stared pointedly out of the passenger side window.
As familiar buildings came into view, Leah took a shaky breath. She'd avoided being home for so long she wasn't sure that it would look the same when she finally came back. The little diner run by Gail looked exactly the same as she remembered it, complete with tacky 1970's decor. The one-room post office still had the same faded sign and peeling white paint. The singular gas station with only two pumps run by the Miller family was still the same.
Everything looked the same but at the same time felt alien. There weren't street lamps on every road, there weren't people constantly stuck in traffic, and there wasn't the general noise from the city. Leah noticed the quiet more than anything. In the city, it felt like her mind was always going a mile a minute to keep up with the pace of everything. Here, for at least a minute, she felt like she could gather her thoughts.
As Conner pulled up to a pale green house, Leah tried to prepare herself. Her mom had said her dad was in bad shape, but she had no idea what he would look like sick.
"You ready?" Conner asked.
"No." Leah croaked.
"Then stay here a few minutes. I'll carry your bags inside."
Leah swallowed hard and nodded, her grip on the door handle increasing. She knew she'd have to face her dad soon enough, but she couldn't bring herself to get out of the car. She jumped as she heard the trunk slam shut and laughed a little at herself. With a confidence she didn't feel, she let herself out of the car and headed towards the house following behind Conner.
Conner set one of her bags down and opened the front door. Two steps separated Leah from the life she had left behind. Conner gestured for her to go first. She stepped inside with him close behind.
"Mom? I'm home." Leah called softly.
She heard movement from the kitchen and then suddenly she was wrapped in a warm embrace.
"Oh Leah, honey. It's so good to have you home."
She pulled back and grabbed Leah's face between her hands. With mother like scrutiny, she looked Leah up and down.
"You've lost weight."
"I'm on my feet a lot at work. Have to make sure things get done."
Leah's mother let out an annoyed huffing noise.
"You need to take time to eat. You won't be able to get things done if you fall over from malnutrition."
"Yes, mom. I'll try to eat more in the future."
"You can eat more now. I've whipped up some dinner for you."
"Mom, you didn't have to do that."
Her mom shot her a look that said, "like I'd let you go to bed without dinner."
"Conner, will you be joining us?"
Leah turned her attention to Conner. She'd forgotten he was in the room with them. His presence felt natural, the way it always had when they were growing up. Conner had spent more time at her house than his. He became a fixture.
"Uh, I don't know how Leah would really feel about that."
Conner stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked away sheepishly.
"I'm sure it's fine. After all, you did do us a favor by driving her home from the airport. Right, Leah?"
Leah knew that tone. It was the "you'd better not argue" tone.
"Right. Besides, you probably made enough to feed a small army."