Leaving was different this time. The last time she had run away in a storm of angry words, with only a guitar in her hands and a vague dream in her heart. Now, Maddie looked out at the crowd gathered on her mama’s lawn. They had come to say bon voyage. This time, she was leaving with everyone’s blessing.
It was later in the day than she had planned to depart. Storms had swept through, bringing hail and rain and general mayhem. Everyone had crowded into the living room, joking and laughing and teasing, “Somebody sure doesn’t want you to go!”
But it was easy to see that Maddie’s heart was set, and her mind was made up, and no gods of man nor weather were going to stop her. So when the storms had passed and the roads were clear, it was time to leave.
Friends and family spilled out of the house, into the muggy air and waning light. Tears spilled out of Maddie’s eyes, down her cheeks and onto her new shirt. She would never have predicted that leaving again would be harder than coming home.
Her mother, trying to distract from her own tears, patted the roof of the pickup approvingly. “So much better than the bus,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” Maddie agreed. This time, she was traveling in style.
The truck was a bit on the rundown side, but that was all right. It just meant that Maddie wouldn’t have to worry about dropping French fries on the floor or spilling Coke on the seats. There was plenty of room in the back for her gear, and she had staked out a place for her guitar right behind the driver’s seat. As soon as she got it back, that was where it would go.
This time, she was leaving with a purpose.
Someone opened the truck door for her and she slid into the driver’s seat. She sat there, hands on the wheel, looking out the open door at all the faces she had known while growing up, faces she had learned to love again in the months that she had been home.
“I’ll be back,” she promised. “And it won’t take me so long to get here next time, either.”
The door was closed and her favorite face grinned at her through the open window. “And I imagine your feet will be a lot less sore this time, too,” Jobe said.
“I sure hope so,” Maddie agreed. They looked at each other for a long moment, then Mama stepped forward. She handed Maddie an envelope.
Maddie held up her hands in protest. “Oh no, Ma, I can’t. I’ve got my own money now. Enough to get started, anyway.”
“It’s not money, child. It’s a list. A list that everyone standing here has contributed to. Memories of when you were growing up. It’s not poetry, it’s just plain old words. Making them into something beautiful will be up to you.”
Maddie took the envelope with shaking fingers. “You all did this for me? This is for my songs?” A sea of faces beamed at her and nodded. Maddie felt the tears rising again. “I don’t even know what to say.”
The passenger door opened and Jobe spoke. “Just say ‘thank you,’ and then let’s hit the road, already!” He leaned over and spoke to the crowd. “Time’s a-wasting, right?”
They hollered their approval. Jobe got in, closed the passenger door and put on his seatbelt. “Okay girl,” he said, “let’s get started.”
This time, she wasn’t going alone.
She leaned out the window to give her mother one last kiss, then waved to the crowd and started the truck. She didn’t dare look back as they pulled away.
The drive through town was slow and sweetly sad. Maddie had seen the place with new eyes since she’d been home, and she knew the next time she looked out at these streets and houses, they would be different still, because she would be different. No place stays the same forever, because no one stays the same forever. And that was how it was supposed to be.
She and Jobe pulled onto the highway just as the sun was setting. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” she asked him.
“Maddie, I’ve been ready for this since the day I met you. Now let’s go get your guitar back, and let’s make some dreams come true – yours and mine.” His glinting eyes were the gold of the setting sun. “Are you ready for that?”
Maddie slid her hand across the seat and entwined her fingers with his.
She was ready.
“Home is just another word for you.” – Billy Joel
It seems like the end of Maddie’s story is really the beginning, doesn’t it? It felt that way to me as I was writing it. Although I don’t have plans for a new installment, I would welcome your ideas in the comments or via my Contact page! I hope you enjoyed reading Homeward Bound. I’ll post a new short story next Tuesday, September 5.
Hugs and happy reading! ~Misha