The bus pulled into the station at exactly 7:03. The sun was long gone and the tiny town was lit by street lights and blinking traffic lights. Kathryn stepped off the Greyhound and closed up her jacket. She had forgotten how cold this place got on a January evening.
She walked over to the side of the bus and searched for her bag. Once she had it, she threw it over her shoulder and made her way through the small crowd inside the station. She knew she was supposed to wait here for her brother to pick her up, but she rarely did what she was supposed to do. She wasn’t supposed to come back home while their father was still alive, either, yet here she was.
It had been a long trip and Kathryn needed a drink. Okay, she may not have needed a drink, but she certainly wanted one. She hoped The Root Cellar was still open on Main Street. She didn’t think Harry would be too happy about seeing her come through his door, but he wouldn’t turn down her money if she was willing to pay for some whiskey.
The walk from the bus station to the bar wasn’t terribly far. The wind was cutting through Kathryn’s jacket, making her wish the walk was shorter. She walked into The Root Cellar and was surprised at what she saw. She wasn’t expecting any fanfare upon her arrival, but she certainly hadn’t expected the place to be this dead on a Saturday night.
“This is new,” she said to herself. When she was younger, using a fake ID to get into the bar, The Root Cellar was a pretty rowdy place on the weekends. She wondered what happened to this town. What could make the people shy away from the only place that didn’t lock up at 8pm?
Kathryn dropped her duffle bag on the floor and unzipped her jacket as she took a stool at the end of the bar. She looked and made eye contact with Harry at the cash register, but she knew he hadn’t recognized her. Her hair was a lot longer than it used to be. “He’ll make a fuss when he gets closer,” she said.
“What can I get you, ma’am?” asked Harry as he slowly made his way toward Kathryn’s seat. He stopped short. “Katy? Is that you?”
Kathryn couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, Harry. It’s me.”
“Get out of my bar,” he said as he turned to walk away from her.
She stood up to follow him. “Come on, Harry! I’m a paying customer!”
“That’s good, kid. ‘Cause I figure you still owe me plenty for all the damage you caused last time you were in here. What was it? Six years ago?”
Kathryn sighed, “Harry, that was six years ago. Can’t you let go of the past? Besides, didn’t Daddy take care of all that?”
“You think I made that poor man pay for everything that you should have taken care of yourself?” Harry was getting angry. Kathryn should have known this was a bad idea. The things one does to drown some sorrows.
“I said I was sorry,” she said. She meant it, too. Kathryn stared at the old barkeep for a moment before throwing her hands into the air. “Fine, I’ll go.”
She turned back to her things and got ready to leave. “You know you broke your old man’s heart,” Harry said as she slipped her jacket back on. She closed her eyes and sighed. He just had to get in one more dig.
“Yeah, I know I did. Why do you think I stayed away so long?” Kathryn grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder before walking out into the cold January night.
Out on the sidewalk, Kathryn lit a cigarette. One more bad habit she picked up in high school. She quit for a while during her six year absence, but coming back to this town made her want to revert to her old ways. She hated herself for lighting that cigarette. She hated herself for wanting a drink so badly. She hated herself for the person she was before she left this place, and for the person she became the moment she stepped off that bus.
Her cell phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket and saw that it was her brother calling. “Hey, Tom,” she said as she answered.
“Where are you?” he asked impatiently.
“I’m standing outside Harry’s place.”
“Tell me you’re joking!” Tom said, “You know how that man feels about you.”
“I know. Believe me, I wish I’d never come here.” Kathryn dropped her cigarette and crushed it under her foot.
“Stay there, I’ll come and pick you up.”
Within a few minutes, Kathryn was sitting in her brother’s truck. She stared out the window, purposely avoiding eye contact with Tom.
“When you said you wished you’d never come here, did you mean The Root Cellar or did you mean home in general?” Tom asked, sadness tainting his voice.
“I don’t know,” she said. She truly didn’t know. At the time, she thought she just meant the bar. Now that she was faced with seeing her father for the first time in six years, a part of her wanted to be back in her apartment in Chicago.
“I know you’re not the same girl that ran away from home,” Tom said, trying to shake his sister from her melancholy. “You don’t have to turn back into her just because you’re back in town.”
“I know that.”
“Then why is it so hard for you to try?” Tom asked. “Dad has really missed you. Can’t you at least attempt to start over with him? Wipe the slate clean. This can be a new beginning if you’ll just let it.”
Kathryn kept staring out the window. She watched familiar houses go by in a blur and laughed to herself at the predictable homes that were still decorated for Christmas. She finally looked over at her brother and quietly whispered, “I’ll try.”