Challenge: Legal Theft: Still Home (509 words)

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The town may have changed, but it still felt like home.  Where once there was a cornfield across from her preschool, a Costco had been raised, complete with its own gas station.  The potholed parking lot and empty strip mall had been replaced with a Big Y, and they had cut down a lot of the trees to make the building more visible from the road behind it.  The towering willow tree in front of the elementary school had fallen in a storm, leaving the school’s front visible from the road, making it seem somehow sharper, though the decorations in the second grade classrooms helped to soften the building’s exterior again. The subtle marina that had allowed the lake its rightful prominence had been replaced by what looked like a displaced Alpine-style ski lodge.

But the lake was the same.  The hills were the same.  The streets hadn’t changed.  The aroma of grilled fish still wafted over the parked motorcycles around the restaurant by the turn.

Up the hill past the restaurant that hadn’t been any one place long enough to have a name, her parents’ house—her house—was still there—and still unchanged, though the massive spruce had been lost in the same storm as the willow—and that was unsettling.  Her sister’s bedroom window had always been hidden behind the spiny branches—much like her sister.

It was a small house, a boxy one-story ranch from the 70s.  The neighborhood had once been all one-story ranches from the 70s, but the ranches had been built upon by most of the home-owners and now her house and the house of her across-the-street neighbor were dwarfed by two-stories with bay windows.

The walkway was still broken and overgrown brick with the dry stone wall that held up the larger garden threatening to topple under the weight of weeds and planted perennials to crush the dainty pansies and babies’ breath below it, and the pansies and babies’ breath threatening to reclaim the walkway.

Both the glass and the red door behind creaked when she pulled them open, and she had to pull them shut behind, since they wouldn’t close on their own.

There was that strange smell of rot and mold that her father had complained about.  Boxes were piled on the chest beneath the window while the couch looked empty without a nest of blankets built by either her or her sister.  Worse than empty nest, she thought.  Just empty.

No one was home.  She knew they wouldn’t be.  They both worked now, but it was the only time that she could make it and she needed to pick up a few things.  She needed to make sure that things were all right after the broken pipe.

The cat darted away from her behind the couch.  She knew better than to try to coax her out again, though she hoped each time that the cat would befriend her, remember her, and let her scratch her again beneath the chin.

Her footsteps seemed abnormally loud on the bowed wood.

Is there specific term for someone who steals repeatedly from the same person?  This week’s line again has come from Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad, where you can find her original story, “Unwelcome Party,” which uses this line.

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