Not once in my life had I imagined returning to Bellwood as a failure. Twenty years ago, when I’d left this town to elope with Sam, I promised myself if I ever came back, I’d be a successful actress—a somebody. I was young then and naive, just graduated from high school and dating a boy nobody in my family liked.
I was also in love.
I thought with the love we had, we’d overcome every hurdle that came our way.
But reality was a wicked mistress. New York had more struggling actresses than any other city in the country. I found out the hard way that beauty and youth weren’t enough to land me a respectable acting job. Soon, my dream of being a Broadway starlet was squashed and swept into the storm drain under the city’s cold sidewalk.
I worked odd jobs to support us while Sam attended law school. Those early years were tough, but I recalled I was much happier then. After graduation, Sam took a job as a public defender for a year before he was scouted by a big law firm. Our life changed for the better. We were prosperous. As Sam wanted a full-time housewife, I never went back to pursue my forgotten dream. I devoted my life to being Sam’s perfect wife.
Now that our marriage was over, I was left alone with nothing. Only a broken heart and bittersweet memories. I returned to Bellwood with a couple of suitcases of clothes, a junky car, and meager savings. I came back just like I’d left.
The August sun boiled in full force. Perspiration made the back of my cotton dress stick to me. I stopped at a red light, slouching behind the wheel as my newly purchased old Chevy rattled miserably. I cranked open the window and immediately regretted my decision. The dry, suffocating summer heat ambushed me. Now I remembered this weather was one of the reasons I’d wanted to get away from Bellwood so badly in the first place.
My memory drifted as I gazed on golden ears of corns ripening in their husks as fawn-colored stalks danced across the horizon.
Just another small, bum-fuck-nowhere town in the Midwest’s Tornado Alley. I was born here. Grew up here, too. My family had strong roots in this place, and most of them had never strayed too far from home.
The light turned green, and I cruised down the main street. I took in the surroundings, immersing myself in nostalgia. The town hadn’t changed much since I’d left. A few stores in the town square strip malls had changed names and businesses. Bellwood’s only movie theatre had shut down for good. There was a new diner and hair salon; I found them quite a welcoming addition to the otherwise dull, farming town.
I turned right, driving past my old high school. My mom was a math teacher until she passed away five years ago. My dad died when I was five, and my mom raised me like a broody mother hen. I was as untouchable as a drill sergeant’s daughter. When I ran away to elope, my mom took it hard and immediately disowned me. Now my mom’s younger sister, Aunt Rebecca, lived in our house. She was a spinster, a bible thumper who ran the Sunday school in the church. Aunt Rebecca didn’t like me very much. The last time we spoke, she called me to say my mom had passed away and I wasn’t welcome at the funeral.
Two blocks down, I slowed to a halt and parked next to the curb of a new building. The property used to belong to the Cody family, whose three sons I babysat when I was a teenager. The warm Cody bungalow I remembered was gone, replaced by a modern, three-story, brick building with large dark-tinted windows and high steel fence surrounding the place.
Near the gate, I spotted a security camera. I took off my sunglasses and squinted. Whoa! Why would someone need a security camera in a sedate town like Bellwood? When my dad was alive, we never locked any door in the house. Only when I became a teenager did my mom boy-proof the windows and doors because she was afraid I might sneak out in the middle of the night.
I got out of the Chevy, checking the address on the printout. I’d got that right. The reason I was returning to Bellwood was to apply to the ad I’d seen on Craigslist. A family of three wanted a live-in housekeeper. I needed a job and a roof over my head. Besides, I didn’t have any other skills after years of being a homemaker.
It would be a fine solution for my immediate problems. After Sam left me, I realized I didn’t have anyone to rely on. The people I called “friends” over the years were all Sam’s. Now that I thought about it, Sam had never liked when I met new people on my own; he was such a control freak. Everything had to be his way or no way.