As Malcolm held open the door, Olivia once again stepped inside the house. It delivered the same sense as when she walked through a few moments earlier. Wrong. It was her house, the bones of it were familiar, but everything else was wrong. The colors, the sounds, the scents, it was as though someone had overlaid a different house over her brain’s knowledge. Everything felt familiar and strange, all at once.
The step forward brought her foot down on the paper bag. The mess. She glanced down and then flushed with something, shame, embarrassment, guilt, anger, it was hard to tell. Her emotions were all jumbled from the bizarre circumstances, but her inherent manners wouldn’t allow her to let it pass.
“I’m sorry-” she began, still looking at the mess, rather than at his face.
Before she could formulate the words to complete the apology, and offer to clean up, he cut in.
“Don’t be. Something is happening, I can’t explain. If you feel as odd about this as I do, well, let’s just agree to call it strange. The mess is the least of our concerns at the moment.” His forehead wrinkled as though he was trying hard to determine something. For just a moment, Olivia felt a tug of familiarity, again, as though she’d seen that expression on him before. The urge was there, slight though it was, to comfort or assist him in some way. It bothered her, more than the overt strangeness of her surroundings, these people, the supposed time jump. It bothered her that inside, in the place where she trusted herself most, she felt as though she knew him. There was no doubt in her mind she’d never met him before, but somehow, she knew him.
Silently, they stepped over the mess on the floor and turned toward the stairs. Olivia took a deep breath. She wanted to see what else was different about her home, the home she worked so hard to create and build, by herself, but she was also apprehensive. These next moments seemed staggeringly frightening, for what amounted to a walk up a flight of stairs. Squaring her shoulders, she took the next step.
She could feel him at her back, his presence, his size. It no longer intimidated her; realizing that, she wondered at what point she stopped being afraid of him. The situation was deeply unsettling, and strange did not begin to encompass what was happening here, but at that moment, she wasn’t afraid. It was hard to be afraid when you were, by any reasonable standards, in your own home.
Accompanied by the chatter of small children, Olivia made her way up the stairs. Ascending to the top, she paused, trying hard to take it all in. The walls were the color of sand, decorated with large framed photos of people. She caught sight of the little boy, Oliver, in several and presumed that they were family portraits gracing the walls. The arrangement came across as haphazard, but a keen eye showed they were gracefully and systematically placed to look that jumbled. The sofa was a sectional in navy blue, large and overstuffed. A flat screen tv was hung over the mantel, tuned to the evening news. There were toys on the floor and a large toy bin in the corner. A stack of books was slightly off-kilter on the corner of the coffee table, next to an oversized red mug that demanded Cheers!.
It was clearly a well-used, and much-loved home. A family home. Seeing it, taking it all in, gave Olivia a pang of nostalgia. This was how it was meant to look. Overrun with the detritus of daily life, and ready to be used, to be lived in, to embrace the users in the sights and scents of home. Breathing slowly through her nose, fighting to maintain her outward display of calm, Olivia tipped back her head. She caught sight of the crack on the vaulted ceiling. It was larger than ever before, but in the exact same spot she knew. To the left, she searched for the missing chunk of sheetrock, an accident born of moving furniture by ones self, but it was gone, probably patched before someone painted over her beloved purple stripes.
Malcolm gently cleared his throat and Olivia became aware of how long she’d been standing still at the top of the stairs, just taking it all in. Stuttering back into motion, she moved forward into the living area, refusing to glance into the kitchen where the sounds and smells indicated the woman was making dinner, as she’d said. In that moment, the changes were just too much. Seeing more might have tipped the scales from unafraid to—well, Olivia was very much afraid that ‘heap on the floor’ might be her next destination.
Unsure of what should be happening, she reached the center of the room and did a one eighty, ending up face-to-face with Malcolm.
For a long moment, they just stood there, staring at one another. She took in his height, his dark hair, oddly similar in color and texture to her own, and his overly familiar green eyes. He was handsome, this stranger, with a kindness to his face that she would bet induced strangers to strike up a conversation with him. He looked…friendly. He did not, in fact, look like a lunatic. *mental snort* As if they had a specific look. In her experience, lunatics tended to look like everyone else, that was what made them so dangerous, but they did not look like this man.
Malcolm was staring at this woman in his home. He couldn’t understand what was happening, but there wasn’t a single doubt in his mind he was talking to his long dead mother. Her always slightly-disheveled hair, was worn down, long and curly, as he remembered it. Her eyes had the same slight crinkles at the corners that gave her the appearance that she was always on the verge of laughter. In his memory, she always was on the verge of laughter, so it was fitting. As he watched her, silently, he noted her fingers worrying the hem of her sweater and his heart skipped at the familiar motion. His mom was always playing with something, as though her fingers were incapable of stillness. He remembered in a flash of montages in his mind, her tapping, picking, petting, plucking in any given situation.
This was his mom. His mom.
He cleared his throat again and decided that no matter how strange, this was his home and his family and it was up to him to speak.
“Olivia, would you like to sit down?” he managed, proud of himself for broadcasting normalcy.
She shook her head, still saying nothing, just looking at him.
A deep breath, and he spoke again, “look, I know this situation is…difficult, but I think we need to have a conversation, to maybe try and figure out what is happening here.” Mac paused. “So, um, won’t you please have a seat?”
Olivia stared at him. It was exceedingly uncomfortable to be offered a seat in your own home, compounded further by the fact that this was not her furniture and she didn’t really know where to sit. Rooms have a hierarchy, a geography, to them. Certain people will sit in certain places, the couch is more casual, do you take the armchair or the recliner? There are unwritten rules to someone else’s home, and since she was standing in her own living room, the rules were about as clear as mud. She didn’t know what to do, but he was right. She couldn’t just continue standing there, in the center of the room. She canted her head to the left, seeking the nearest chair when her eyes caught the next door.
It was the french doors leading to the four-season porch.
The left door was slightly ajar and from her angle, Olivia could just barely see inside. Something, something caught her eye. Without a word, without a glance, she moved toward that just-opened door and reached for the handle.
“Where are you going?” She was dimly aware of Malcolm calling after her as she moved toward that door, but she could not stop. Her eyes had alit upon something of hers. A piece of her life. Something that proved that this was, in fact, her home, no matter the situation. Her fingers closed around the handle and she started to open that door.
The doorbell rang.
Olivia jumped and whirled around, forgetting for a moment, what lay beyond that door.
Downstairs, outside, someone was standing at her door. Her eyes collided with Malcolm’s and frustration was stamped on his features. Once again, she felt that pang that she should comfort him in some way, and once again, it unsettled her.
A heartbeat of time as they stared at each other, then Malcolm broke first.
“I’ll get the door” he said as he started to turn.
She wanted to protest, to run to the door and answer it, to see one of her neighbors or a friend or even a salesperson who was looking for her. Anything to prove it was her house…
and then she remembered. Just on the other side of the door behind her lay that very proof.
And in that moment, Olivia and Malcolm walked in opposite directions, both headed for a new door.
***To Be Continued…***
(And that, my fine friends, is the end of the third installment. I never intended this to be an ongoing story, but it has turned out to be more fun than I anticipated. But mostly, I keep writing it, every November, because Kelly really likes it and it is a wonderful way to give her an annual gift. I have to take a moment and wonder how old she’ll be when I finally finish this story….)
Happy Birthday, Kelly! Hope you liked this year’s chapter.