Laney inched her car forward. She’d made it to Detroit without hitting much traffic, but there was always a bit of a line at the border. Bright lights flooded the concrete area around the toll booths, obscuring the rise of the Ambassador Bridge against the early dawn sky. She counted the coins she needed again, knowing she had the right amount but indulging her obsessive nature because no one was there to make fun of her. As the truck in front of her eased past the toll booth onto the bridge, she rolled down her window. This routine was familiar, if not comfortable. Heading home always brought up conflicting emotions. On the other side of the bridge lay the university. She could already feel the pang of regret that would lance through her gut as she drove past, an unavoidable reaction to a place so tied up in her memories of Kyle. The library. Their favourite Italian restaurant just off-campus. A few blocks further, and she’d pass his first apartment. It would have been her first home away from the farm if things had worked out differently.
She’d only seen Kyle once in the last decade, at her father’s funeral. Ten years had hardened her heart enough that she was able to shake his hand and ignore the liquid warmth that slithered up her arm, hear his words of condolences and pretend they wouldn’t ring in her ears for hours after. He stood in front of her in the church basement for a few extra moments, the line of community members paused behind him, and for a moment she thought he would say something else, but then he shook his head and moved on to give her mother a quick hug and repeat the same generic platitudes. By the time the receiving line had dwindled, he was gone. It was for the best, she had reminded herself at the time. No point in picking at old wounds.
The delay wasn’t significant on the other side of the bridge.Within minutes, she had pulled up to the Canadian border crossing and was handing over her identification to the guard in the booth.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m a Canadian citizen living and working in Chicago.”
“Do you have any alcohol or cigarettes in the car?”
“One bottle of champagne.”
“Anything else to declare?”
“Welcome home.” The border guard passed back her passport and waved her on.
For better or worse, Laney thought.
Traffic thinned and the first rays of a winter sun appeared on the horizon. In her rear view mirror, Windsor and the United States behind it were still dark with night. On either side of the highway, drifts of snow spotted the fields. Lights flicked on in barns and farmhouses, and Laney kept her eyes peeled for suicidal deer as she passed the occasional stand of trees. Fifteen minutes down the highway she took the bypass to the exit for Wardham, and despite her previous reservations, she smiled. Essex County would forever be home in her heart.
Three side roads zipped past before the home stretch. She knew this road well. The next farm belonged to the Frids, the one after that to the De Limas. The old school house on the corner had been an artist’s retreat the last time she was home, but the sign was gone now. If she kept driving straight, she’d soon be in town, all six streets of it, then catch a first glimpse of Lake Erie. She used to love the town beach, calm water stretching out as far as the eye can see. As she did every time she visited, however, she turned left on Concession Road 2. She only came home to visit her family, and probably wouldn’t leave the farm until she left again for Chicago.
There, on top of a slight rise, was Evening Lane Farm. Her parents had liked to tell people that they’d named it after their daughters, but Laney and Evie knew it was the other way around. They didn’t mind. The farm was beautiful, the long lane lined with oak trees leading to a gabled yellow brick house, the pastures to the east and west neatly squared off with white fence. A wide lawn stretched between the house and the two barns farther back, and the gravel drive continued past it, disappearing behind the larger barn, all the way to the bush. Her dad had loved taking them out on the wagon to choose a Christmas tree. Last year they’d picked one up at the grocery store in town.Last year, she’d only come home for two days.
* Excerpt is from the Advanced Review Copy; this text may vary from the final published book.