The front door was closed. In all the times I had visited Sarah during summer vacations, her family’s front door had always stood open.
I turned off the car. It was only June, but already the dry grass crackled underfoot like static. Perhaps the need for air conditioning explained the front door, but not the pile of delivered mail on the deacon’s bench. I hurried up the front steps and rapped against the screen door. Tucked behind the “Welcome, Friends” sign was one of those leaflets that church groups leave on Sundays. It was now Wednesday afternoon, nearly three o’clock.
The front door opened so quickly I almost toppled down the steps.
“Mr. Miller! I was worried—”
Sarah’s father’s eyes unfocused. Even in this heat he wore a long-sleeved shirt, buttoned to the chin.
“We’re busy!” He slammed the screen door shut.
The front door closed with a thud. A final blast of air-conditioned air hit my face before the heat billowed up.
How could Mr. Miller not recognize me? Sarah and I had been best friends from kindergarten through third grade, when my family moved again for my dad’s work. We’d found each other by joyous accident on the first day of college, and I’d spent at least part of every semester break with the Millers.
“Mr. Miller? Sarah?” I yelled into the dried flower wreath on the door. No answer. I chewed the inside of my cheek. I hadn’t called that morning, but just last week Sarah had assured me that I could stop by any time.
I walked to my car, but we were in a dead spot and my cell phone didn’t work. I was embarrassed to think I had barged into some family argument and worried that it was more serious than that. This was not the way I’d expected to begin my trek cross-country, a gift to myself before embarking on med school.
I drove to town.
“Only one room left, it’s smoking,” the woman at the Best Western said. I hadn’t expected to stay in a hotel that night. But after eight hours in a car I couldn’t comprehend driving to Aunt Vicki’s in Indianapolis, my next stop. “You’re lucky we have that. Who’re your parents?”
My brain was stalled on Mr. Miller slamming the door in my face. “What?”
“You the Johnsons’ girl? Heard you went to Chicago.”
“Oh, I’m not from around here. I was driving through and decided to visit a friend.”
The woman stopped typing. I realized suddenly that she was unusually tall, at least six feet. “You’re not a local?”
She snatched the hotel-issued pen from my fingers. “I’m sorry, we’re booked.” She plucked back the half-completed registration form. “Try Waynesville, twenty minutes north.”
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Copyright 2008, Kathryn Yelinek. All rights reserved.
Kathryn Yelinek is a librarian and writer. Most recently her work has appeared in flashquake, Thereby Hangs a Tale, and Dragons, Knights and Angels. She lives in Pennsylvania.