Cedar Ravine was an ugly town.
I knew this before I even entered it. Simply sitting in my family's minivan, packed into a backseat corner, I had a picture begin to take shape in my mind of what our new home would look like.
No - it was not home. It was just an old, dead town with rotting houses, and bitter citizens, and woods so great and dense they blocked out the very light of the sun. It was an appalling and dreadful place and we were foolish for even considering moving here.
Perhaps it was the deserted road and blackening November sky and the stiff, pointed trees blurring endlessly past my window that fueled my imagination. Maybe it was the hestitation in my parents voices when they spoke of this "humble" and "quiet" little town. Or it could have been my older brother Jackson's seething anger the whole car ride that made me think so negatively.
Or maybe it was just the fact that I did not want to be here.
A loud snore sounded from my lap.
I looked down at the chubby little bundle curled into my skirt. Before we embarked on our great adventure, my little sister had announced she would not be sleeping at all this car trip. "I want to see exactly where we're going," she had whispered to me, mysteriously. But we were scarcely five minutes into the two-hour drive when Kiley conked out, head lolling and snores resounding.
I didn't understand how she could sleep. Or how any of my family, for that matter, could. Weren't they nervous? A tad resentful? Even a little apprehensive? My stomach had been twisting and churning all week, and I only felt the butterflies multiply as we neared our destination.
Oh God, why are we doing this?
Papa broke the silence: "We'll be there in a few." He was looking at me in the rear-view mirror, dark eyes grave and solemn, forehead kneaded together. He looked anxious. I gave a quick jerk of the head in understanding.
"You might want to wake up everyone," he said, turning his eyes back to the road. A short wooden sign with "Cedar Ravine - 2 miles" engraved crudely upon it's surface flitted past. The image of dilapidated homes and grim neighbors appeared in my mind again.
I pulled one of Kiley's braids. "Rise and shine." She groaned, pushing my hand away. "Maddie, stop..." The right side of her face was spotted dark red when she sat up rubbing her eyes. "Are we almost there?"
Jackson echoed my thought aloud in a mutter. He was slouched directly in front of me - the only other person besides Papa and I who didn't sleep. But while Papa was occupied in driving and I with my phone and journal, Jackson had gazed moodily out his window the whole ride. At times I could sense his anger, boiling hot and strong.
He now nudged Kiley's twin, leaning against his side. "Ben. Wake up."
Ben was instantly alert, sitting upright in his seat. He looked at Jackson, who had resorted back to his pessimistic out-the-window-gazing, and was silent.
I leaned over Kiley, who had begun rebraiding her pigtails, to poke my oldest brother's shoulder. He was already beginning to stir. "Good news, Kentucky: we're almost there."
He looked back at me a moment, forehead slightly wrinkled. He didn't look annoyed, just a little pensive. But that was Kentucky, even if he detested sarcasm.
I felt a brief touch of conviction, then irritation that I did.
Dear Lord, why is he so much like Papa?
As if on cue, Papa spoke. "There it is." He sounded hopeful, but I didn't miss the nervous hint.
I fiddled with my phone in the pocket of my cardigan, watching as a dark sign announcing "Welcome to Cedar Ravine" passed. Small pinpricks of light began to appear on either side of the road, revealing ramshackled old homes sagging among the pines. My stomach twisted as I noted the crumbling chimneys and crudely constructed porches. Rotting and dilapidated houses, indeed...
"Now this is a small town, as you know," Papa said, glancing to the left and right. "Just about everything Cedar Ravine has is on this road - Main Street."
A small strip mall housing a Subway, thrift store, Family Dollar, and one abandoned building emerged on the left. The few cars scattered throughout it's parking lot looked homeless: battered and streaked in dust, glinting dully in the weak pole lights. I noted the Taco Bell sign directly behind the Family Dollar unit, leaning precariously to the right. Ick.
"This doesn't look too different from Reno," said Kiley, attempting a cheery tone. I resisted a snort. "If you live in the ghetto."
At the opposite end of the lot, before cedar trees and brush sprang up thickly once more, a sprawling Safeway gleamed dully at us. I noted the "a" and "e" bulbs were out. Papa should have come here for a quick handyman job, not that of a full-time pastor.
"Check it out," said Jackson. "There really are people in this town." An old and splintered bar - Frank's Pub - passed on the right. It was drowning in the midst of a sea of rusty pick up trucks and station wagons. A few grizzled old men standing out front stared insolently at our van. "They don't look very nice," said Kiley - almost sadly, I thought. But who could blame them? Foreigners in this town were most likely as rare as modern cars.
Some distance away from the bar sat a vacant gas station, it's doors opened wide to anyone who dared venture inside. "Is that..." Ben cocked his head slightly, dark eyebrows furrowed. "Music?"
I listened, and heard faint melancholy notes. "It's a piano."
Ben looked at Jackson again, but smirked this time. "Since when do gas stations play piano music?" Jackson was quick to respond. "Since they got plunked in the middle of Timbuktu."
Ben looked amused. Papa did not. He looked at his son, sharply. From where I sat I could see Jackson's jaw tighten. I had wondered at multiple points in the trip how he had not yet exploded in a ball of fury. Jackson had never been able to hold in or rein in his anger; his temper had always manifested itself in one way or another. But he was letting this simmer far too long.
Kentucky, ever the mediator, interrupted. "What do you think?"
I blinked at him.
"What do you mean - " Kiley gasped. "Wait - that's it?"
Papa nodded his head. "Just about. There's a hardware store and maybe a few other shops hidden around here." He waved a hand vaguely toward the surrounding forest. Oh, Lord.
Papa managed the smallest of smiles, and I saw that glimmer of hope again. How could he even feel a touch of happiness out here? "Welcome to Cedar Ravine."
A/N: To all my reviewers: Thanks for reading! Please review as you wish, but refrain from pointing out grammatical errors and such. I can go through and fix those later. :)