They arrived in Folkston right as the sun crested the horizon, painting the world the color of a fresh orange. Looks like it’s gonna be a beautiful morning, Maribelle said to herself. Perfect for my homecoming. Mine, and Adam’s, too, I guess.
Adam had slept part of the way; Maribelle had even napped a little herself, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the moving vehicle and the radio, tuned to some Jazz station. Now sitting up, her legs drawn up beside her, Maribelle looked out the window at the town, the buildings as they passed them, the little storefronts like something straight out of an episode of Andy Griffith. The sidewalks were all empty at this hour. The sun glinted off the old water tower, turning rust to burnished copper. There were a few vehicles on the streets, early birds on the way to work or the third shift coming home from the feed plant. Two vacant police cars sat parked in front of the all-night service station, and a flock of blackbirds had claimed possession of the power lines overhead. The big maple tree still stood next to Wilson’s BBQ, its branches reaching across the street to paint the walls of the First Community Church in tiger stripes.
It all looked just as it had the last time she’d been home. Just as she remembered it from her childhood, except for a new Walgreens on the corner next to old man Pratt’s dry cleaners.
“Been a long time,” Judith said from the front seat.
“I was wondering when you’d bring me home to meet your Father,” Blaine said, looking over the seat at Maribelle. “I can’t say this is what I had in mind.” He sounded sad. But at least he was talking; he’d scarce said a dozen words that she could recall since they’d left Atlanta. *I’m being selfish. This is harder on him than I realized.*
Adam sat up, looking out the window.
“Careful,” Maribelle said. “Don’t let anybody see you.”
“You’ve seen the big city, Adam,” Judith said. “This is quintessential small town America. There’s everything here a person could want or need.”
“Unless you’re my Mom,” Maribelle said. “She hated it here.”
“Yes, I’m afraid your mother was always a city girl in heart and mind,” Judith said. “But I would love to settle down in a place like this someday, if I ever do settle down.”
“You and Dad could be fishing buddies,” Maribelle said.
They passed through the stoplight down by the middle school, the concrete of the parking lot already steaming as the dew burned away. The big sign out front read WELCOME BACK, STUDENTS! Maribelle smiled. It was as if the sign had been left for her.
“I spent three years there, Adam,” Maribelle said. “Grades six through eight. I had my first kiss on that playground.” She looked at Adam. He watched her. *You never had a childhood, did you?*
“See those train tracks there?” Maribelle pointed as they drove. “That’s about all me and my friends did, growing up, was watch trains. We get, God, I don’t know, dozens a day, at least. They call it the ‘Folkston Funnel.’ Pretty much every train going into or out of Florida goes through here. We’d sit up on the bank all day, just watching trains.”
“You sound like a tour guide,” Blaine muttered.
Maybe you should be talking to your boyfriend, Maribelle chided herself, instead of Adam. *Right. Sure. Except that Adam needs me, now doesn’t he? But maybe Blaine needs me, too.* Maribelle shook her head. “My Dad’s place is a few miles out,” she said. To Adam or to Blaine? To both? “Right on the border of the swamp.”
They left the town behind, passing houses and trees and side roads.
“So how did your father take the news?” Judith asked. “Knowing him, with an ounce of vinegar.”
“He’s always thrilled when I come home,” Maribelle said.
“Yes, but then you’ve never brought the wild man of Borneo home with you before,” Judith said. Then: “Darling, you did tell your father about Adam, didn’t you?”
“Which means not at all,” Judith said. “He’s going to be rather surprised then, isn’t he?”
“I told him I was bringing a surprise,” Maribelle said.