Lottie could handle the emotions, couldn't she?
Lottie slowly turned the car onto the driveway. She had thought that she could handle things without becoming too emotional, but she'd apparently been wrong. The sobs rose up and tried to make their way out of her mouth until she choked them back and swallowed them. There was nothing she could do to stop the tears, though. First two, then four made their way down her cheeks before she put on the handbrake and wiped them away.
The house was exactly as she remembered it. Even the drapes that hung in the downstairs windows were the same, just a bit more faded by the sun now than they had been. Lottie sat there and tried to steady her nerves before she opened the car door, stepped out...
"I'm so glad you've come home," her mother said as she held open the door. Only that wasn't true; would never be true now, for Lottie had left it too late.
Counting the stones that edged the garden, Lottie counted five from the path, stooped down and lifted the sixth one to retrieve the key. Her mother had promised that it would always be there if she decided to return, and for the past four years she had kept to it. Lottie pulled a tissue from her pocket, dabbed at her eyes then wiped the mud from the key.
It would be fine. She could handle it. Lottie put the key into the lock and pushed open the door. As soon as she stepped into the hallway, she felt herself being swept back in time.
"Please, Lottie, don't go," her mother had begged. "You think he's so special, but he's not. Let him go alone..."
"No, Mom," she had said. "Steve is special... he's the one."
"He's a drop-out and a layabout!" Her father had stormed into the hall to stand at his wife's side. "What about his kids? Don't you care about them?"
"Stop it, Dad. You're not going to make me into someone that's broken up a family. He had already left them..."
"Says who? Him, no doubt, but then he would, wouldn't he." Lottie could picture her father's face as it had hardened against her. "You go with him now and you'll never be welcome here again!"
Her mother had gasped, grabbed his arm. "Don't say that, Frank! Lottie, he doesn't mean it..."
"Yes I do." Her father had pushed away from her mother, stepped forward towards his daughter, his expression and posture backing up the truth of his words. "You go, then don't come back."
Lottie had fought against her anger for as long as she could. "Fine. You've lived your lives, and I'm going to live mine!"
She had not even looked at her mother as she had dashed upstairs, packed up her most precious items then turned her back on the rest. Two bags, that was all she had taken with her. Better to take as little of her life with her as she could, start again; that's what Lottie had decided.
And they'd gone, her and Steve, to the city, and for six months she'd been sure that she'd been right. They were happy, or at least she had thought that they were.
Lottie made her way to the kitchen. The table was laid, just like it always had been, only with two places set instead of three. So many things were as she remembered them, but there were some new mugs, a microwave oven; the designs on the t-towels were ones she didn't remember. The every-day scene made her half expect her mother or father to walk in. Her mother might welcome her, but she did not want to see her father, not if he was still cross.
She shook her head. Neither parent was going to walk through the door, not on that day, or on any other. The day-trip had been meant as a treat for her mother, Lottie was sure, but instead the coach had been involved in a crash, one that had wiped out more than half of the passengers instantly. Her mother and father had been among the dead.
She sank down into her old chair.h It still stood in its old place at the table, pushed in, but ready if she had returned. Perhaps she should have done, Lottie thought. Steve had gone and proved her father right, after all. Within a year he had walked out on her, returned to his wife and children.
For a moment Lottie felt scared. What would she do if she came face-to-face with him? Three years had passed since she'd seen him, but she knew that they would recognize each other immediately.
No, it was stupid for her to be worried. They would have moved away, gone somewhere new. Who knew, maybe Steve had found someone else again. In some ways she hoped that he had, for then, Lottie knew, she would feel a bit less guilty.
The house, and all of its contents were hers now. There had been no will and she was their only child. Would her father be angry that she was inheriting all their worldly goods? Honestly, Lottie did not know, but she knew that her mother wouldn't be.
They had spoken on the phone several times. Lottie had said very little about Steve, but her mother had known; of course she had.
"Why don't you come home?" she had asked on every occasion that they had spoken.
And Lottie had always said: "You know I can't do that," and had hastily brought the conversation to an end.
But now she was back in the kitchen of her childhood; it was too late to make peace with her father, too late to rekindle her once close relationship with her mother. What should she do?
Lottie put her head in her hands, overcome by the grief that until then she'd managed bury. What would she do? Sell the place? Or maybe she would come back, for her life in the city was hardly a success. The question was, would she be able to face the ghosts?
Standing up, Lottie pushed her chair neatly back beneath the table. Without going in to any other room, she walked out of the house and pulled the door closed behind her. With no decision made, she placed the key safely in her pocket. Tomorrow, or the next day, she would return and only then would she make a decision.