He was dreading the return to his childhood home.
He had just left a brief but encouraging encounter with a former classmate. She was someone he remembered fondly, and there was something about their exchange that made him believe something could come of it. He had no intention of staying, of course. (He was only there to settle what remained of his parents estate, if you could call it that.) Could something make him stay? When he left, he couldn't get away fast enough. But that was a long time ago.
The house was almost empty. When his mother had bee moved to a facility, they had taken some of her things. The rest had already been sold off in an auction. The sound of his footsteps on the hardwood floor was hollow. The house was hollow. The place in his mind where memories of it should be, that was hollow, too. At least, that's what he told himself.
It wasn't the house itself that he had dreaded returning to. There was something else. Someone else.
"Took you long enough," she said. The sound of his aunt's smoker's rasp chilled him and warmed him at the same time.
His aunt had moved in with them when the cancer got bad.
"I hadn't really planned on coming back," he said. Did he say it out loud? He couldn't be sure.
She had died there, too.
"Well, no shit. That's what I said," she said.
And she was still there.
"I won't be staying," he said.
"Yeah, said that one, too."
He could almost smell the cigarette smoke. Maybe he really could smell it.
Imagination is a funny thing.