am hadn’t been home in ten years. Or perhaps she hadn’t been back to the place she was from. ‘Home’ had always had weird connotations.
She pulled into the driveway with a deep, exasperated breath. The key to the front door was tucked away in a still-sealed envelope in her jacket pocket. She didn’t need to open it to know what the key looked like. Brown from time and use, cracked pink plastic identifying rim around the top. On a single, deceivingly loose metal ring. The key that had floated in her mother’s own jacket pocket for years. The only key to the front door of the house, the only key that had been found to any of the three doors, all of which had different keys. Good ol’ Dad.
If home was a prison, Sam was a fugitive.
It did smell different than she remembered. Musty, still, but a stronger kind, almost richer. As if not only were the blankets musty, but now it was the couches and the soft kitchen chairs. Towels. Musty towels. And also… smoky? Like someone had just lit a match in the next room and the smell wafted over faintly through a cracked door.
Sam flipped a light switch — the wrong one, of course. Even living in the place she’d never known which of the five switches turned on the atrium light. It was always a guessing game, and she couldn’t help but wonder if, just maybe, her father switched them around without telling anyone. It would be in character. Or, rather, it would have been.
She found it. The house was dusty, dirty, but really only slightly more run down than she remembered. Ten years of use had changed it — just not enough for it to really be any different. She dropped her duffel by the door.
The stairs creaked, each sound painfully familiar. The railing was sticky. Shoes on the carpet still felt like an offense to her mother’s vacuuming.
Sam looked in every room upstairs before her own. The sitting room had been rearranged. Her parents’ bed was made perfectly, the hamper empty, not a thing out of place. Even the bathroom smelled vaguely of bleach. Sam’s room… was different. Her bed taken apart and set neatly against the wall, a larger desk to replace the one she’d had, and a computer, something her paranoid father had always sworn against.
What was she feeling, now? Jealousy, a sting of betrayal?
She decided to sleep in the guest room.