It was just three steps to the front door from the gate. A number she had memorized. Just three steps. One step and you were off the porch, and it was only two more to the gate.
In her childhood she had counted the steps. Of course back then the number had been higher for her little feet. But she had known the number well. Those steps had been the guiding line in her domain. While she could walk the steps it took to get there as much as she wanted, she had never been allowed to pass beyond the gate without her mother to guide her.
In her teenage years she had been well acquainted with those steps, had lived for when her feet made the final step and passed the gate. They had been very short steps back then, the steps between nights trapped at home by her mother's strict curfew, and a night of freedom with others her own age. Oh the mischief and trouble she had got up to after sneaking her way along those three steps.
And then she had moved away, as far away as she could get, and those steps had become less important. She had her own life, a life which wasn't concerned with a certain number of steps. In her new life she was able to take as many steps as she wanted, without looking over her shoulder, waiting to be told off for crossing the line.
But now she was back home, standing at her gate and those familiar three steps. Never had those three steps seemed so long before, never had they seemed so hard to cross. Those steps were like a gaping chasm, an obstacle too wide and too difficult to cross.
She didn't know how long she'd been standing there, staring from the gate at those three steps she'd have to walk to reach the front door. It felt like she had just arrived and yet like she had been there all day, just trying to build up the courage to take the first of three difficult steps and knock on the door.
A car passing by, music blaring shocked her from her concentration on the steps she had to walk. Shaking her head, and silently reprimanding herself for her silliness she braced herself to take the first step. Slowly she lifted her right foot and brought it forward, placing it inside the gate. Her left foot followed until she was standing on the path inside the yard. Just two more to go.
Lifting her feet again she moved forward another step. One more step and her feet were on the porch and there she was, standing before the front door. She had made it the three steps and nothing had happened. The world had not opened to swallow her up for daring to tread on this ground again. She had made it this far. Now it was simply a matter of pressing the buzzer.
Before she could agonize over that task, she quickly reached her hand up and pressed the doorbell, wincing at the jarring yet familiar sound it made. Steps sounded somewhere in the house coming closer. Then the sound of a lock being turned, before the door was opened. Before her stood a man dressed all in black, his eyes the same shade of green as hers, his hair the same deep brown. While his age might be hard to tell to an outward observer, she knew it. He was 33 years old, the very same age as herself.
He frowned at her briefly, his arm resting on the door as if baring her presence. She noticed the tear tracks on his cheeks, the red of his nose. He had been crying recently, but that was to be expected, given the events.
"I'm here," she mumbled weakly in greeting, her bag in hand. "I'm sorry it took me so long to come home. I just couldn't after the way I left, not while she was here." In her heart she knew her explanation was not enough.
He stared at her a moment longer, and for a moment she thought he would slam the door in her face, shutting her out of his life like she had shut him out of her own. But finally some kind of tension seemed to slip out him.
"It's sad that it took this for you to return," he said softly, moving out of the doorway and beckoning her into the house. "I suppose you want to see her?"
She nodded, and he turned, leading the way through the house towards the dining room. Around her she could hear the murmurs of those she passed, clearly surprised at her presence. She couldn't blame them, she knew her absence of so many years made it seem like she didn't care.
He finally stopped and turned back to her. "Well there she is," he said, indicating the coffin before them. "Are you happy now that you've seen that she really is dead? Or would you like to dance on her grave?" he asked, his voice harsh, the tears threatening to fall once more.
She stared down at the coffin, at the woman who had given her and her twin brother life and their green eyes. At the woman who had forbidden her to leave the house as a child, at the woman who as a teenager she had fought with over everything and had never given her permission to do anything. At the woman who had tried to control her, and who had hurt her each time that didn't work. At the woman she had rebelled against, and the woman who she had only wanted to love her. At the woman who had screamed at her, who had told her to never walk those three steps again after she had gotten pregnant at the age of 17. She had gone as ordered, and had never been back until today.
"I loved her," she whispered, knowing her brother was listening. "It might not have seemed like it, but I did. And I know it's not enough now, but I wanted to be able to tell her that one last time, that despite our differences and despite the way she treated me I still loved her."
Turning she faced her brother. "But I couldn't come back here, not after that day. And I won't come back here again. But I want to let you know that despite the fact that you never came to me either that the invitation is still open. You have a niece and nephew who would love to meet you one day."
Picking up her bag from her feet she turned, and walked past the shocked friends and family of her mother, ignoring their whispers. She walked down the hall, and out the door, and over those three steps, those very familiar three steps. But unlike so many other times today she wasn't walking away from something, from her mother and the prison that was the house. Today she was walking back towards home. And she knew it would be the last time she ever walked those three steps again.