“Grandma, grandpa, your darling Laney has returned,” I screamed, arms outstretched and ready to be met with fanfare. Instead, I was met with a deafening silence. Where was everyone?

From somewhere behind me my friend, Stacy, honked the horn. “Want me to wait a bit? Doesn’t look like no one’s home,” she hollered.

I shook my head, not turning around. I’d tried the door and it was unlocked. My grandparent’s farm may be several miles from civilization, but they’d never leave the door unlocked if they weren’t home.

Grandpa’s shabby pickup and grandma’s silver Mercedes were parked in the yard, too. And aside from the fresh tracks left by Stacy’s Beetle, there were none in the recently fallen snow. No footsteps, either, but I counted a few light scratches left by birds; chickens, most likely. I spied prints from something much bigger, which I assumed belong to Ruby and the pups.

“No, they’re here. Probably out back somewhere. You can go on ahead, I’ll be fine.” While I’d love to invite Stacy in, my grandparents weren’t the sort to welcome unexpected visitors, even their kin. But they also wouldn’t shut the door in my face and curse my name.

“If you’re sure…”

“Gosh, Stace, of course I am! They’re family, not a guy I just met at the bar.” You let one guy stay the night and he drinks up all your cough syrup, pukes on your cat, and your friends never let you hear the end of it!

She fussed around a bit before conceding and backing out of the driveway, after insisting I call her within the hour. It embarrassed me to be treated like a child, but I knew she meant well.

I lugged my suitcase inside, keeping my eyes peeled for one of grandma’s patented lung crushing hugs. Or grandpa’s harsh voice telling me to keep it down before clapping me hard on the back. The most I got was a whiff of grandma’s rhubarb pie, cooling somewhere on the kitchen counter.

I left my suitcase in the hall and followed my nose deeper into the house.

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