I fought the need for a nap. It was only a two-hour drive north from the university. Classes had been easier than I thought they’d be, but I was anxious for final exams and the end of the semester. Passing through Petoskey, I pulled into Walmart and headed straight for the bakery.
“I’m picking up an order for Renae Walton,” I told the lady at the counter. She stepped away from the display case and reached around to where she pulled out a large bag of round, fluffy, perfectly-browned dinner rolls.
“They’re still warm,” she said, smiling at me.
“They smell incredible.” Even through the plastic I caught a heavenly whiff. How was I supposed to drive the rest of the way to the bed and breakfast with these sitting in the passenger seat? I opened my eyes and forced myself out of the daydream of eating these on the way home. “How much do I owe you?”
“Mrs. Walton paid with a credit card over the phone,” the lady said. “You’re all set.”
“Thank you so much.” I balanced the giant bag of goodies and turned to walk away. I paused and looked back at her. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too, young man.” We smiled at one another and I carried my treasure out to my Mustang and put the bag in the backseat as far away from me as possible, so I wouldn’t be tempted to dig in.
The remaining half-hour drive was uneventful. Getting out of the car and walking into the store had sufficiently woken me up, and with each passing mile I grew more and more anxious to arrive. I didn’t know what I was afraid of. Sure, there were quite a few guests staying at the house but that was pretty normal. I didn’t have all my worldly possessions with me like I would when I came home for Christmas break. Whoa, where did that come from? Home. Yeah, this felt like home.
I pulled up to my usual spot next to the garage and left my overnight bag in the car while bounding up the back-porch steps and pausing on the veranda to look out at Lake Michigan with its soft waves lapping at the shore. The weight of the tempting bag of dinner rolls reminded me that my family was waiting for me inside.
I didn’t bother knocking. I was family now. Even though it had been almost three months since I’d been back, this felt like coming home.
“I’m here! The party can begin,” I called out lightly as I stepped into the busy kitchen. Sammy and her mom were wearing aprons and covered in flour. “Did I miss a food fight?”
“Brandon!” Sammy ran and threw herself into my arms, purposely smearing pie crust onto my sleeves. “There, now you got to be part of the food fight.”
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, little girl.” I hugged her back with one arm and held out the bag of dinner rolls, so they wouldn’t get crushed. “I’m an expert food fighter.”
“Is that a challenge?” She looked up at me with a grin.
“Most definitely,” I said, then stepped over to Renae and handed her the bag with mock seriousness. “Mom take these from me before I eat them all. Thanksgiving’s not until tomorrow.”
“How many did you eat on the way up here?” She teased him right back.
“I didn’t dare open them, or I’d be turning around and begging the bakery to make more so I could cover my embarrassment from eating half the bag. They smell incredible.”
“They do smell good.” Renae held them to her face, breathing in the aroma. There was nothing in the world quite like freshly baked bread. She set them on the counter behind her. “Now come here and give me a hug. You’re not getting off that easily.”
I picked her up and spun her around then set her back on the floor. “Dang, it’s good to be home.”
“You’re making me dizzy,” she said, laughing and pushing him away. She stumbled, and he held her elbow to prop her up before she clung to the countertop.
“Sorry, I forget my own strength.”
“You can spin me around.” Sammy held out her arms.
“No way, man, you’ll cover me in flour again. I haven’t recovered yet from your most recent attack.”
She stalked forward with her hands out to tickle me, but I grabbed her up and spun around, making her laugh and squeal. I set her back down.
“There, are you happy?” I brushed my hands down the sleeves of my sweatshirt, trying to remove the sticky flour.
“Looks like you need to wash another sweatshirt.” She raised her eyebrows and smirked.
I met her eyes and cleared my throat. “So, is my apartment ready for me? Or were you going to put me in one of the guest rooms?” I secretly longed to be in the main house with its warmth and homey smells rather than out above the drafty garage like a servant boy.
“We’ve winterized the apartment,” mom said. “We’d like you to stay in the extra bedroom with us on the third floor.”
“That sounds awesome.” I got choked up. I was still reveling in the feeling of having a home and a family. After my parents died, living with my grandparents just never felt like home. By the end of summer, I knew this bed and breakfast was where my family lived. Mom and Sammy. I sighed. “I’ll go get my duffle bag from the car.”
When I came back inside, Sammy was waiting for me in the hallway, having removed her apron and taken her hair down from its sloppy ponytail. “Greetings kind sir, can I show you to your room?”
“But of course,” I said, offering her my arm like a gentleman. I leaned closer and spoke in a theater voice. “Although I’m pretty sure I know how to get to the third floor by now.”
“I’m sorry, guests aren’t allowed on the third floor,” she teased.
“Hadn’t you heard? I’m no longer a guest. I’m family now.”
“Yes, you are.” Sammy bumped my shoulder with hers and we let go of each other’s arms to bound up the grand staircase like a couple of kids.
Running up the stairs reminded me of something I’d failed to mention. “Congratulations, by the way, on making top ten in the state in cross country.”
“Are you stalking me on Instagram?” she asked with a grin.
“Of course,” I answered. “How else am I going to keep up with what’s going on in my little sister’s social and scholastic life.”
Her grin disappeared, and she cleared her throat. She plastered on what seemed like a fake smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “We could always Facetime.”
“That sounds like fun.” We’d reached the top of the second flight of stairs and I opened the door to the third-floor apartment, which always smelled like vanilla candles. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. “Mm… it smells good in here. Why is it that you don’t realize how much you love something until you’ve been away for over two months?”
“Almost three actually.” Sammy pushed past me and flopped onto the sofa, grabbing the remote control. “You know where the guest bedroom is.”
“Sarcastic much?” I said. Geesh. I just complimented her and how good her apartment smells and she snaps at me. I’ll never understand the mood swings of a teenage girl.
I’ll never understand that boy. Man. Whatever he was. Why did he have to keep calling me his little sister? Just when I thought he finally saw me as a woman, he’d cut me down again. I was sick of it.
I flipped through channels, not really caring what was on television. All I saw were ads for black Friday. Sickening display of commercialization. People scrambling to save a few dollars off a bunch of junk they didn’t need anyway. I set the remote down and let the station run to count how many commercials in a row advertised for black Friday sales.
“Anything good on sale this year?” Brandon flopped onto the sofa next to me. “I love shopping on black Friday.”
“You do?” I turned my head and raised one eyebrow.
“Oh yeah, it’s so much fun. I used to go with my mom every year.” He cleared his throat and grabbed the remote, turning up the volume. We were quiet for another two commercials. He spoke softly enough that I could barely hear him. “It’s nostalgic.”
I felt bad. His first holiday season without his parents. I couldn’t imagine what he must be going through. After a few more moments of silent seriousness, he muted the volume and turned to me with animation in his features.
“Think of being one of the people who gets that item that the store has promoted as only having 25 of them in the whole store.”
“But if it’s an item you don’t need than you’re just wasting money,” I reasoned.
“That’s what makes it fun. You’re buying something just for the thrill of it and getting something you’d never buy unless it was a good deal.”
“How do you even know it’s a good deal if you’ve never shopped for it before, so you don’t know the usual price?”
“You just know,” Brandon said. “Take yourself to that moment when the paper lands on your doorstep.”
“I put it in the recycling bin.” I rolled my eyes, but he wasn’t deterred.
“Try pouring over it, searching for fun items you didn’t even know you needed. This store has that item on sale, and that store opens at this time, and you get out your Christmas list.”
“Most things you can get online for the same price.” It seemed so straightforward to me.
“It’s less about the price and more about the fun. Some people just like to get together and go shopping.”
“It’s really cold.” I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering just thinking about it.
“That’s part of the fun,” he said.
“You have to get up really early.”
“We get up early to go running,” he reasoned.
“Not that early.”
“Shop with me.” He leaned closer so that his head was almost on my shoulder. “It will be fun.”
“Whatever.” I scowled but couldn’t hide the tiny smirk I felt playing across my lips.
“Come on, you know you want to.” He raised his eyebrows up and down.
“Fine, I’ll go.”
“That’s my girl.”
Don’t I wish.
Running To You
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