Now that Willow Spring lay just five miles down the narrow, two-lane highway, Alana wondered if her reason had deserted her when she had packed her bags, and decided to take this journey.
Isn't it often said, you can't go back? she questioned herself.
What did she expect to find, except old memories better laid to rest? Perhaps that was it. Going back might put to rest feelings that kept returning. Nothing can change the past. Is that what she wanted to do? Change the past? Ridiculous. Yes, plain ridiculous. She glanced at the small not quite carbon copy of her who sat on the car seat next to her. No, she didn't want to change anything.
As Alana sped along, passing sights that hadn't changed in eight years, the hot sun beat down, glaring on the pavement, causing mirages. She smiled at Melanie, her seven-year-old daughter. "We're almost there, Mellie."
Melanie turned serious eyes from the rolling hills and sparse forest to look at her mother.
"Different from Seattle, isn't it?" Alana asked, and the child soberly nodded.
What was she doing? Uprooting her daughter, taking her from the only home she knew. Was she right to return? Was it right to satisfy a whim?
She'd forgotten how hot a Texas summer could be. After living in Seattle for six years, could she adjust again to the Texas climate? And what about the closeness of the community of Willow Spring? Could she adjust to that?
It's not as if you were run out of town. No tar and feathers. No, you just weren't good enough for the country club set. Hadn't Wilford Everly III made that perfectly clear? Not good enough for the country club and not good enough for his son. Alana sighed. She knew there were some things about Willow Spring she would never tolerate. The Everly family for one. They were the driving force that had persuaded her to leave, yet somehow, brought her back to the place of her birth.
"When I was your age, we didn't have air-conditioning in our car," Alana said to her daughter. Too much silence caused her to remember too much, too soon. The scenery, the green rolling hills held too many memories. Better not to dwell on the past, on a past relationship with Bill Everly. That relationship was finished, just as her life with Jared had ended.
"I bet you can't imagine riding in an old clunker with the windows open, the wind blowing in, and still feeling stifling hot."
"I like it when you tell me about when you were a girl, Mommie."
"Soon we'll be in my old hometown, and I'll tell you all about the place. I'll even show you my old home, if it's still standing."
"You've been gone a long time."
"Longer than I am old."
Alana laughed. "That's exactly right." She shook her head. Her daughter sounded much older than her years. Melanie needed friends her own age; friends like Martha Reynolds had been to her. They'd been inseparable. Is it possible her old best friend still lived in Willow Spring?
A highway marker proclaimed, Willow Spring. Population 5,298. Smaller than the number of inhabitants eight years ago. Well, it was minus at least three--she, her mother and her father. With a sigh, Alana slowed her car to thirty as the highway now became Main Street. A tire hit a large pothole, and Alana and Melanie bounced about.
"Some things never change," Alana said with a laugh. "I think that hole was there eight years ago." She frowned as her car wobbled out of kilter. "Great. I think something's out of whack."
"What's outta whack, Mommie?"
"The car doesn't seem to be driving right. Do you notice it?"
Melanie nodded her head solemnly. "It's kinda bumpy."
"Exactly. After we find a place to stay, we'll have to find a mechanic. I don't remember if the town had a garage. Of course, I never had a car of my own back then."
"Phone Grandpa. Maybe he remembers."
"Yes. We'll phone Seattle anyway, and let Grandma and Grandpa know we arrived safely." Alana pulled her car to the side of the road and parked under the drooping branches of a cottonwood tree. After eight years, she needed to get her bearings. The place still appeared quiet. Main Street still circled around the town plaza. Going to the right it was Main Street, and to the left it became Main Circle. The bandstand still sat in the center, but looked shabbier than she remembered. The grass appeared more brown than green, but the wrought iron benches under cottonwoods and elms were the same. The statue of Sam Houston still continued to be the gathering place for pigeons. The plaza's caretaker stood before the statue, hosing it down.
"Grandma and Grandpa used to own a small restaurant on the other side of the plaza. We'll drive over and see if it's still there."
"Now they have a big restaurant," Melanie said proudly.
"Yes, they do, but when I was your age and until I grew up, they ran a little place here called Cottonwood Café. I worked there, too, after school and during the summer."
Alana drove slowly, as they both took in the sights. The bank was still on the corner, but Wrights Department Store had been boarded up, as was the five-and-dime, and the small movie theater looked derelict, though a marquee sign proclaimed a Batman movie playing on Saturday and Wednesday. The Cottonwood Café was no longer the Cottonwood, but bore the name Elmer's Grill. Alana maneuvered her Mercedes into a space in front of the Ace Hardware Store next to the grill.
"Time for lunch, little girl," Alana said with a smile and opened her door.