I can’t believe I’m here, back after so many years away. In all that time, I liked to imagine what this day would feel like, the day I returned victoriously to Hamilton, Texas, with a metaphorical gold medal around my neck. I always dreamed there would be a parade. Confetti, sparklers, cheap candy clipping the soft heads of children. At the very least, I assumed there would be a podium for me to stand on. I’m hopeful. Maybe in the time it has taken me to get ready, my mom has dragged one out of the hall closet.
I hear them all downstairs waiting for me. I am the guest of honor, the subject of the WELCOME HOME, DR. BELL sign taped over the fireplace. The party started an hour ago, and my mom has come up to check on me twice since then. Concerned. The first time I was spread out on my bed, prone, in a bathrobe I hadn’t worn since high school.
“Better cinch that belt before you come down, Daisy. Your privates are trying to go public.”
The second time, I was dressed, standing at my window and staring triumphantly at the two-story house next door. His house.
“If you’re looking for Madeleine, she’s already downstairs.”
“Her brother isn’t here, is he?”
I know he’s not. He’s in California. Still, I need to hear her say it.
“No. Of course not.”
I turn and narrow my eyes at her until I am sure she is telling the truth. That’s what he does to me—makes me lose trust in my own mother. It’s a side effect of being back in Hamilton, our old battlefield. Every square inch of this town is covered in our blood (red rover), sweat (cross country), and tears (see list). One time, just beneath the oak tree next door, I gave him a black eye when he told me no one was going to ask me to eighth grade formal. In the end, I went to the dance on the arm of the Matt Del Rey while he stayed home with a mushy bag of peas on his face.
I hadn’t gotten off completely scot-free. After my mom heard about the punch, she marched me over to his front door to apologize. Unsatisfied by my sarcastic soooorry, our moms agreed that we needed to “hug it out”. I remember pulling him into a sweet embrace and positioning my cheek softly against his so I could whisper a parting threat just out of parental earshot.
“If you ever tattle on me again, I’ll make it two black eyes,” I hissed.
He used his deceptive pubescent strength to squeeze my ribs like a boa constrictor, which our moms interpreted as geniality.
“I hope you get hit by the school bus,” he whispered back.
“Daisy?” my mom says from the doorway, pulling my mind back to the present. “Are you ready to come down? Everyone is so anxious to see you.”
I turn away from the window and stretch out my fist. That incident took place fifteen years ago and my knuckle still aches sometimes. I wonder if his eye does too.
Downstairs, my mother has rounded up quite the motley crew of guests to welcome me back home: geriatric neighbors, out-of-touch friends, the little boy who delivers her newspaper. I know maybe half of the guests, but then again, I haven’t called Hamilton “home” since before I left for college 11 years ago.
Everyone whoops and hollers when I make my appearance, my mom guiding them like an overzealous conductor from her spot at the base of the stairs.
“Welcome home, Doc!”
“Way to go, Daisy!”
There are claps on my back and drinks plopped in my hands. I don’t usually love parties but tonight, I have something to celebrate. I’m finally realizing my dream: to take over my own private practice. It’s the reason I’m back in Hamilton, the reason I put in so many years of hard work during medical school and residency.
I make my way to the kitchen to avoid doing shots with my middle school PE teacher, and there I find Madeleine on punch duty. As my oldest friend, I’m not surprised my mom has put her to work.
“I was wondering when you were going to come down. Wait, is that dress from high school?”
I shrug. “I haven’t unpacked my suitcases yet, and I saw this hanging in the closet. It felt like a challenge.”
She grins and flips some of her brown hair over her shoulder. “Well it looks way better on you now than it did back then.”
On a bell curve of the female body type, I am somewhere left of center—thin, medium height, bony wrists. I developed boobs after high school, after everyone already had them and the novelty had worn off. Still, when I slipped into my dress upstairs and stood in front of my old full-length mirror, I was pleased to see I’d become my own teenage dream. Thank you, Katy Perry.
“You should have come upstairs.”
She points to the half-empty punch bowl. “Your mom grabbed me as soon as I walked in.”
“Leave the punch and let’s take a bottle of wine out back. I bet we could down the whole thing before anyone finds us.”
“You know we’re adults now, right? We don’t have to sneak alcohol anymore.”
I shrug and reach around her for an unopened cabernet. “Yeah, but it’s more fun to pretend that we do. Plus, I spotted Dr. McCormick on my way down and you know if he corners me, we’re done for. He’ll want to talk shop all night.”
Madeleine’s brown eyes go wide as saucers. “Oh god, you’re right. Go. I’ll grab glasses.”
My mom’s singsong voice stops me dead in my tracks. My instincts tell me to drop the bottle and feign innocence, but then I remember I’m 28. Legal. Board-certified.