It felt like hours, but I honestly had no idea how much time passed. Clay noticed I was breathing at a normal pace again and he asked, "You ready to go back home?"
"Not really," I said. "Can't we just stay here?" I felt embarrassed that Clay had seen me like that. But I was really grateful he took me away from it all.
"You could, but your mom would probably freak out," Clay said with a half grin.
"She's always freaking out these days," I sighed. "We should go back, I guess."
Clay snapped his fingers and the darkness began to fade away. The stars fizzed out and once everything was said and done, it didn't look much different at all. The moon was resting above us, while stars were all around the sky.
"How long were we there?" I asked.
"A while, but don't worry. Are you okay?"
"I don't know," I admitted. I got to my feet and wiped the grass off my jeans. How could I be okay after that?
I turned around and saw my truck still parked in the same spot. We pulled out of the area and went back the highway towards Yarmouth. I didn't want the road to end. I wanted to keep driving. Driving felt like I was finally in control of something for once in my life. Nobody could take that away from me. Not a stupid city, not Mom, not a stupid attendance sheet. We eventually made it back to the city and once we got close to the path Clay said, "I'm around if you need me."
I looked to my right and he was gone.
I had a feeling Mom would be waiting for me, and sure enough, she was on the front porch in her housecoat.
"Anna!" she whispered-yelled. "Where were you?"
When I saw Mom, I didn't know how to react. I kept thinking about her being the young woman in the grey hoodie, hanging out in that trailer where that man lived. I knew I couldn't bring it up; it would only make things worse.
"I was...at Tia's place."
"No you weren't," she cut in. "I called and you weren't there." She crossed her arms. "Not only that," she continued, "but I got a call from Ms. Anderson today. Why weren't you in class? Apparently this wasn't the first time, either."
"Nothing to say for yourself? C'mon Anna. You're better than that. You're better than this."
How dare she say that? After I seen what I had seen, those words coming out of her mouth were like some sick joke. Her validation wasn't a hill I wanted to die on. She was the one who took me away from everything in my hometown and expected me to come back and pretend everything was normal. But this wasn't normal. Grampy dying without us here, and Mom expecting me to finish off grade eleven in the school he taught at wasn't normal. Abruptly moving back to my hometown with no timeline of our stay wasn't normal. Never mentioning my father and pretending he didn't exist wasn't normal.
There was nothing normal about any of this.
"Your grandfather worked so hard for everything he accomplished here," Mom was saying now. "He worked so hard for me, he worked so hard for you. I don't want you to go down this road. I don't want you to let him down."
That's when I lost it.
"Hold up!" I yelled. "Me letting him down?! You're the one who never visited in years. You never even saw him before he died!" I couldn't contain myself. "Then you have the nerve to hold me to some higher expectation after ripping me away from my hometown. Bringing me along to Halifax so you could study. I was fine here, Mom! I would have been fine, but no. You just had to take me along so you could say you did all by yourself while having a daughter!" I knew that last part wasn't fair, but I was done being nice. "You didn't even take into consideration my feelings when we left Yarmouth. You just left, and I never had a say!"
I didn't know where this furious energy was coming from, but I wasn't backing down.
"I'm not just some plot device in your story, Mom. I'm my own person. Now we're suddenly back here, and we're supposed to act like everything is normal? Are we supposed to act like Grampy being gone is normal? Am I just supposed to tighten my bootstraps and move on? Don't you think it hurts being in the school where he taught? Don't you think it hurts having Nan treat me like a stranger? Is that supposed to be normal? And do you think that we're supposed to pretend my dad doesn't still live in this town? Or do you just edit him out of the equation because it's easier for you, rather than having a conversation with your daughter?"
I could see the emotions shift on Mom's face. From angry to frustrated to disappointed to just...lost. I had never seen her like that before. I didn't know what else to say. I don't think there was anything else I could say after that. Who did she think she was? How was she acting any different now than Nan did when she broke curfew in the memory?
"Annaka, that's not a line you cross." Mom crossed her arms walking towards me.
"No. I'm just supposed to pretend the line isn't even there, right? I'm just supposed to accept things the way they are." I threw my hands up in exasperation. "We've been here for weeks, and you haven't even toyed with the idea of me meeting my dad."
That caused her to pause.
"Some people are better left in the past," Mom said quietly.
"And some people resent the ones who keep secrets," I shot back. "Where is he? Where is he, huh?"
Mom shook her head. "I'm not having this conversation with you."
"You never do."
"You're right, I never do," Mom agreed as she walked up the stairs. "You do what you want, it's your life after all. If you wanna be a high school dropout, if you want to fail and tarnish the good name of Rudy Brooks, then you do you."
"Oh, that's new," I spat. "You're making it about someone else for once."
That's when she looked back at me and I saw she was actually a little choked up. It was then I knew how hard my words had hit because she didn't reply, she just continued up the stairs.
Everything was silent. I stood there feeling a mixture of things, regret, anger, but mostly sadness. I didn't want that to go down the way it did, but it did. After a few minutes I walked upstairs to my room and lay in bed. I was trying to remember when things were easier. Before death, before grief, and before loss. Those were the ingredients that scrambled my whole world.
I lay in bed thinking. I couldn't believe I had seen my dad. That had to be him, right? His name was Blake Morrison. Could he still be in town? Could he be gone? Of course Mom wouldn't talk about it. I rolled over to look outside through a gap in the curtains; there were a lot of stars in the sky tonight. I decided I wanted a better view, so I grabbed my comforter and went outside. I climbed up to the treehouse, placing my head in my hands wishing I knew what I was looking for.