Anthony led the way up the creaky stairs and down the hallway where there were only two bedrooms; mine and Mallory's. As Anthony opened the door rather skillfully with his foot, seeing as his hands were full with all my things, I crane my neck hoping to get a glimpse my old room.
I don't know exactly what I expected, maybe for it to look the exact same as the day I left it? Instead, I see what I least expect: a man's room.
We shuffle in and I turn to Anthony. "Did you move into my room?"
He shakes his head. "No, I didn't. Remember Hugo?" Hugo. Someone I sorely missed, and probably missed consistently for the longest, besides my sister. He was my best friend growing up. Our families seemed to melt together perfectly, creating a loving support group and, more importantly, extra helping hands on the farm.
"Hugo stays here around five out of seven days each week," Anthony continues. "He officially moved in about six or seven years ago, when we had a horrible growing season and needed all the help we could get. It was much simpler for him to just stay here for the week than have to get up all the earlier and get home late."
A sudden wave of guilt comes over me as I realize what my family's point of view on my departure must be like. They probably felt like I abandoned them in their time of need, when my time on the farm would have been most important. I make a silent promise to myself; I'll show them it wasn't in vain. There is no way they could know everything I did while at Bluevale.
Another thing worries me, "Did I kick Hugo out of his room?"
Anthony grins. "No, you're good. Actually, I think Renae was more angry than anyone at Hugo having to leave."
I can see where this is heading. Renae, Hugo's mother, had always been plotting with my mother-
"Why would she be angry? Who's Renae?" Banner asks from the doorway, and I can tell from his tone and stance that he's ready to fight anyone who would dare endanger his crew mate. I would do the same for him, in an instant.
Apparently his venom is obvious. "Not really angry," Anthony explains, the look on his face somewhere between amusement and anxiousness. "She was disappointed because ever since Hugo and Naomi were little kids, my own mother and Renae, Hugo's mother, have been plotting to somehow get the two of them married." Anthony's smile spreads. "In fact, with all the 'propaganda' they've been feeding Hugo about how the two of you are a perfect match."
"How can they do that when I haven't even been here?" I ask, disbelieving what I'm hearing.
Anthony shrugs, clearly as clueless as I am. "Hey, it beats me. They're absolutely-"
"No. Definitely not going to happen." Banner interrupts, a stern look on his face. "My Naomi is not getting married to some farm boy I've never met."
I laugh out loud, and love for my crew mate runs through my veins. I pat his arm, "Banner, you had better be careful, you're starting to sound like Aaron." At that he joins me in laughing, but even as I laugh I feel as if somebody took a length of barbed wire and wrapped it tight around my heart. What would I give to have my crew family here with me right now? I begin feel very exposed, as I see Anthony looking on with a polite smile on his face.
He doesn't yet know who you are, yet. I remind myself, trying to make it sting less. It doesn't really help.
"Are you going to stay up there all night?" I hear my mother yell from downstairs.
"Coming!" Anthony shouts back, giving us a hesitant smile before heading back downstairs.
I turn to gaze upon my room again, amazed that I'm back here after all these years.
"What goes around comes around," I mumble, noticing that even though there have been some more manly touches; smell included, that this is still the same room I spent my first ten years in.
Banner wanders over to the head of the bed, and turns around, beaming at me. He points to something sticking on the wall. "Did you draw this?"
I get closer, and begin to giggle when I see what it is. In Elementary school my teacher had asked my class to draw a picture of what we valued the most. Most students had drawn their families, which I was going to do also until I did something that I now see was the beginning of what defines me. What, exactly, makes me so different among my family and all the others I left behind. I took a different route, I wanted to be different. So, obviously, I drew a shabby picture of Hugo and I, sitting on a bale of hay, with ridiculous smiles. On the bottom of the once white sheet of paper I inscribed in terrifying penmanship: Friendship.
"Yeah, that was me," I whisper, in awe that this priceless piece of my childhood has somehow made it through this long.
"Naomi!" My mother yells up the stairs for a second time. "Come on down with your Banner! We're almost done with dinner!" Banner and I chuckle at her comment, and then begin to make our way down the stairs.
Every step jolts my bleeding heart, and I try to focus on fighting the torrent of images from Bluevale, of my crew, my tiny room with its tiny bed, anything associated with my past eight years.
Banner grabs my arm, sensing what must be going on. "Hey," he says softly, "it's going to be alright."
I look up at him, about to respond, but the words die in my mouth as all I can see in his eyes are the faces of my crew looking back at me.