In the Middle: Ch. 6

The town is smaller than I expected when we finally arrive. There’s only a handful of streets to navigate, and more people walking or riding bikes than driving on the road. In just a few turns, Dorothy directs me to a one-story house, painted a bright lavender with a turquoise door and white trimming and a covered area for parking. A gleaming white Jeep Patriot and a shiny purple motorcycle sit in the shade as I pull into the empty space next to them.

“Home sweet home,” Dorothy says. “Come on. Let me show you your new digs.” 

She winks at me before hopping out the car. I take a deep breath, and then follow her through the turquoise front door into the house. I’m immediately stunned by the sight of the windowed wall, showcasing the view of the ocean waves rolling into a shore only a planked boardwalk away from the house. 

An old, blanketed couch rests in front of the fire place splitting the windowed wall in two halves, with a fluffy white rug taking up all the space in between. To the right of the breathtaking living room is a dining area with a booth-style breakfast nook in front of the window with a glass table. The counter island a few steps away introduces the kitchen set with old appliances, and white, windowed cabinets showcasing an eclectic blend of plateware. 

Dorothy sweeps her arms around the rooms with a proud smile, allowing me to take my time taking it all in before leading me down the hallway to the left of the open living area. At the very end of the hall is a light pink door with a gold A stenciled onto it. Dorothy knocks on the door with a rhythmic rap.

“Come in!” says a girls high-pitched voice.

Dorothy opens the door, and a blast of light rushes into the dark hallway, coming from the open curtains of the patio doors and accompanied windows on either side, again showcasing a brilliant view of the ocean outside. A thin, creamy-skinned girl with blonde hair pulled into a regally, high, tight ponytail is sitting on a floral-printed bedspread on a California-king sized bed with an open textbook and an organized arc of papers around her.

“Anna,” Dorothy says, and the girl looks up, her face lit up with a picture-perfect smile, “meet Sarah, the not-crazy serial killer who saved my life in Portland today. Sarah, meet Anna, the sister-from-another-mister you’ve heard me talking about all day.”

Anna flounces off the bed, and seems to float toward us, looking like a perfect cross between Audrey Hepburn and Taylor Swift. I reach out my hand expecting a friendly handshake, but Anna pulls me into a warm hug instead, squeezing me tight against her bony frame.

“It’s so lovely to meet you, Sarah! You look so much nicer than the strays Dorothy normally brings home,” Anna says. 

“Hey,” Dorothy says. “Watch it, missy. You stay here rent free.”

Anna rolls her eyes as she releases me from her embrace. “Anyway, Dorothy says you’re going to be staying with us for the summer?”

Her bright blue eyes look almost pleading and eager as they search mine for an answer.

“I haven’t decided yet,” I say, sheepishly.

Dorothy bumps me with her hip. “Come on! You don’t have anywhere else to go. You said so yourself. Consider this your intended destination. You won’t regret it, I promise. We’re a lot of fun.”

Anna swats at Dorothy. “Leave her alone, Dorth. Quit trying to guilt her into it. She’ll make her decision when she’s ready. You guys just met! Not everyone is capable of feeling so comfortable with strangers like you.”

“Says the girl who is literally making a career out of listening to strangers tell their deepest, darkest secrets.” Dorothy rolls her eyes, and then smiles at me. “So, bonfire. Tonight. You’re at least going to that, right? You can’t miss out on a beach bonfire when you’ve never been to the beach before.”

Anna’s eyes widen, and her mouth turns into a perfect O that she covers with her pastel-pink painted fingernails. “You’ve never been to the beach?” She grasps onto my wrist. “Sarah, you poor girl! You have to stay for the bonfire!”

I smile weakly. I don’t think I can say no, and I don’t think I want to. Standing in this bright room with these two women waiting eagerly for my response, I’m surprised I don’t feel like running again. Normally, when I feel cornered into doing or saying something, I feel suffocated and eager to excuse myself as soon as possible. But right here, I feel rooted in place in the best way possible. 

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll stay. But just for the bonfire.”

Anna squeals and throws her arms around me, hugging me tightly. Dorothy wraps her arms around us both for a group hug, smushing us all together for a moment that seems to last forever. 

Even as I’m squeezed so tight I can barely breathe, I feel something loosen within me, a lightening in the tightening of my chest. 

But the feeling is gone as soon as I’m released.

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