As the cool stream flowed gently across her bare feet, Emily stared wistfully at the stones fighting for position just beneath her toes. Summer had finally arrived and the warm sun placed its loving hand gently across the back of her neck.
She had just finished her first year of college and was happy to be home for the summer. The hustle and bustle of the busy college town had worn her out and she lavished in the soft grass and sweet scents that surrounded her.
“Hey Em” she heard a familiar voice behind her, but did not turn to look.
She just continued to stare into the stream as if in a trance, a smile creeping across her lips. Henry, her childhood friend just shook his head and quietly found his place next to her in the grass. Without a word, he slid off his running shoes and socks and dipped his pale, sock creased feet into the stream next to hers.
“How’s training?” she asked him, still smiling.
“Rigid, but you know I wouldn’t have it any other way” he replied.
She slid her arm around his neck pulling him to her and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Henry grew up just across the street from her and she had known him since she was five years old. Henry was seven at the time and they had been like siblings ever since. He was two years into his running scholarship at a different university. Unlike Emily, Henry was always anxious to travel and see the world and chose a school hundreds of miles away from home so that he could “absorb the cultures” as he would put it.
His cheek tasted salty and Emily made a disgusted face and said “warn a girl would ya”.
Henry laughed and replied “sorry, I’m only half way into today’s run but I saw you and had to come and say hey”.
He stood and began shaking the excess water and dirt particles from his feet.
“Ok so how far is today’s run” she asked rolling her eyes.
“It’s a short one, only a ten miler” he replied deadpan.
For Henry, ten miles was nothing, for Emily, it was a death sentence. “Enjoy” she waved him off and returned to daydreaming into the stream again. He nudged the back of her head and took off in a half sprint before she could retaliate.
Later that evening, Emily found herself strolling through the familiar downtown near her own street. It was a single thoroughfare with shops on each side of the street and only spanned four blocks. The retail was very eclectic and ranged anywhere from coffee to candy to art store and even to a custom trophy shop. If anyone needed a specialty service, her town was the place to be.
As a young teen, she hated how limited and boring the town felt to her but after a year away at college, it took on a whole new life for her. She was seeing it through brand new eyes and loved the feeling of home that enveloped her as she strolled down its familiar street.
One shop in particular was always a favorite of hers and she ducked into the alley behind it in an effort to enter discreetly through its flimsy screened back door. The smell of butter, sugar and love greeted her as she slid in through a small crack in the door she made for herself. One of the large mixers was whirring away to her left and she grabbed a small ball of stray dough that lined its rim, rolled it into a tight ball and launched it hard through the kitchen where it landed perfectly into her mother’s upswept hair.
“Emily!” she cried laughing.
Emily could not contain herself either and began laughing hysterically. He mother wiped her hands off on her baker’s apron and stretched her arms out to receive her daughter’s hug.
“When did you get in sweetheart?” her mother asked.
“A few hours ago but nobody was home so I figured I would wander around and take in the sights” she replied.
“Well I’m glad you’re here, but we can catch up later, put on that apron over there and wash your hands please, I need you” her mother commanded.
Emily knew it was best not to argue and for once, she was actually happy to be helping her mom in the bakery, it just felt so good to be home.
They worked together quietly and seamlessly, almost as if Emily had never left for school and lined the racks with the final tray of sweets to cool for the night. Just as Emily was rounding the counter to lock up, Henry blew in as if being chased by a rabid dog. To some, this would cause panic, to Emily, this was just Henry being Henry.
“Thank goodness you haven’t closed up yet, I need one of your famous chocolate chip scones please” he whimpered pathetically to Emily.
“Need one eh?” Emily repeated as she grabbed a neatly cut square of parchment from the box and retrieved a scone for him.
He took a massive bite as usual and closed his eyes in ecstasy.
“Oh how I’ve missed these beauties” he exclaimed, crumbs flying out of his mouth.
Her mother laughed in the distance and called “go on and get out of here you two, I can take it from here”.
She didn’t have to tell them twice, Emily and Henry were out the door in a flash heading back towards her childhood home.
“Have you even eaten dinner?” Emily asked.
“Nope, I figured you and your mom would feed me when you were done at the bakery” he replied smiling, some chocolate chip residue still lining his teeth.
She reached up to wipe the chocolate away as if he were a child as he smiled wider to aid her in her efforts. Shaking her head she took a swipe with her thumb and he unexpectedly reached up and gently grabbed her wrist.
“I’ve missed you” he said to her with a serious look on his face.
Tingles shot from her wrist all the way to her toes and she knew immediately that something had changed between them.
“I missed you too” she replied softly, her voice nervously crackling.
He cleared his throat and without warning, took her hand, turned and continued walking her towards home. Her hand fit perfectly in his warm palm and felt better than she expected.
Back at home, she worked steadily about the kitchen putting dinner together as Henry carefully went about setting the table. Her mother walked in just as Emily was placing the food on the table and plopped into a dining chair with an exasperated sigh.
“What a day!” she exclaimed and began putting her dinner plate together.
Emily and Henry sat as well and just like that, it was as if no time had passed at all. It was no longer just the town that felt new again to Emily. She smiled across the table at Henry as he gave her a wink and they all began eating without a word. She was home again, in more ways than one.