Home > All Rhodes Lead Here(2)

All Rhodes Lead Here(2)
Author: Mariana Zapata

Guilt, bitter and sharp, as fine and deadly as a dagger made out of an icicle, jabbed me in the stomach for just about the millionth time. And I wondered, like I always did when that familiar sensation came over me, What if? What if I’d gone with her? Like every other time I wondered, I told myself it didn’t matter because I would never know.

Then I squinted hard into the distance again as I drove over a bigger pothole, cursing the fact that none of these roads had streetlights.

In hindsight, I should have stretched this last part of the drive over another day so that I wouldn’t end up wandering through the mountains in the dark.

Because it wasn’t just the ups and the downs of elevation that came at you. There had been deer, chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels. I’d seen an armadillo and a skunk. All of them decided at the last minute to run across the road and scare the living shit out of me so bad I slammed on my brakes and thanked God it wasn’t winter and there weren’t many cars out on the road. All I’d wanted to do was arrive to my temporary home.

To find a person named Tobias Rhodes who was renting out his garage apartment at a very reasonable rate. I’d be the first guest. The apartment didn’t have any reviews, but it fit every other thing I wanted from a rental, so I was willing to go for it.

Plus, it wasn’t like there had been anything else to choose from other than renting a room in someone’s house or staying in a hotel.

“Your destination is approaching on the left,” the navigation app spoke up.

I squeezed the steering wheel and squinted some more, just barely catching sight of the start of a driveway. If there were more houses around, I couldn’t tell in the darkness. This really was in the middle of nowhere.

Which was just what I wanted: peace and privacy.

Turning down the supposed driveway that was only marked by a reflective stake, I told myself that everything was going to be okay.

I would find a job… doing something… and I’d go through my mom’s journal and attempt to do some of the hikes that she’d written about. At least her favorites. It was one of the biggest reasons why coming here had seemed like such a good idea.

People cried over endings, but sometimes you had to cry over new beginnings. I wouldn’t forget what I’d left. But I was going to be excited—at least as much as I could be—about this start and however it would end.

One day at a time, right?

A house loomed up ahead. From the number of windows and lights on, it seemed smallish, but it wasn’t like that mattered. Off to the side, maybe twenty, maybe fifty feet away—this night driving bullshit was crap on my astigmatism—was another structure that looked an awful lot like a separate garage. There was a single car parked in front of the main house, an old Bronco I recognized because my cousin had spent years rebuilding one just like it.

I turned the car toward the smaller and less lit-up building, spotting the big garage door. Gravel crunched under my tires, rocks pinging and hitting the undercarriage, and I reminded myself again of why I was here and that everything would be okay. Then I parked around the side. I blinked and rubbed at my eyes, then finally pulled out my phone to reread the check-in instructions I had taken a screenshot of. Maybe tomorrow I’d go and introduce myself to the homeowner. Or maybe I’d just leave them alone if they left me alone.

I got out then.

This was the rest of my life.

And I was going to try my best, just like my mom had raised me to do, like she would have expected from me.

It only took about a minute with my camera’s flashlight to find the door—I’d parked right beside it—and the lockbox hanging from the knob. The code the owner sent me worked on the first try, and one single key sat inside the tiny box. It fit and the door squeaked open into a staircase on the left with another door perpendicular to it. I flipped on a light switch and opened the door directly in front of the one I’d just come through, expecting it to be the entrance into the garage and not being disappointed.

But what did surprise me was that there wasn’t a car inside.

There were various forms of padding along the walls, some of it the kind of foam I’d seen in every recording studio I’d ever been in, and other parts of it, blue floor mats that had been nailed in. There were even a couple of old mattresses pressed against the walls. In the center, there was a big, black, four-by-four speaker with a banged-up old amp, two stools, and a stand with three guitars on it. There was also a keyboard and a basic, starter drum set.

I swallowed.

Then I noticed two posters taped to the mats and released my breath slowly. One was for a young folk singer, and the other was for a big tour of two rock bands. Not country. Not pop.

And most importantly, no need to overthink it. I backed out the way I’d come in and shrugged off the practice space, closing the door behind me.

The stairs turned once, and I made it up, flipping on more lights and sighing with relief. It was just like the pictures had advertised: a studio apartment. There was a full-sized bed tucked against the wall on the right, a heater made to resemble a wood-burning stove in the corner, a small table with two chairs, a fridge that looked to be from the 90s but who cared, a stove that also had to be from the same decade, a kitchen sink, a set of doors that looked like they might be a closet, and a closed one that I hoped was the bathroom that had been in the listing. There was no washer or dryer, and I hadn’t bothered asking. There was a laundromat in town; I’d looked it up. I’d make it work.

Scarred wood floors covered the layout, and I smiled at the small mason jar sitting on the table with wildflowers in it.

The Joneses would have cried that this wasn’t the Ritz, but it was perfect. It had everything I needed, and it reminded me of the house I’d lived in with Mom with wood-paneled walls and just the… warmth of it.

It really was perfect.

For the first time, I let myself feel genuine excitement over my decision. And now that I did, it felt good. Hope sprang up inside of me like a Roman candle. It only took three trips to carry my bags, box, and cooler up.

You would figure that packing up your life would take days, even weeks. If you had a lot of belongings, it might even take months.

But I didn’t have a lot of stuff. I’d left Kaden just about everything when his lawyer—a man I’d sent Christmas cards to for a decade—had sent me a thirty-day notice to move out of the house we’d shared, the day after he’d ended things. Instead, I’d left hours later. All I’d taken with me were two suitcases and four boxes worth of belongings.

Good. It was good it had happened, and I knew it. It had hurt then, hurt like a son of a bitch, and afterward. It didn’t anymore though.

But… I still sometimes wished I’d sent those traitors a pie made of shit just like in The Help. I wasn’t that good of a person.

I had just opened up the fridge so I could put the sandwich meat, cheese, mayo, three cans of strawberry soda, and single beer inside when I heard a creak from downstairs.

The door. It was the door.

I froze.

Then I grabbed my pepper spray from my purse and hesitated—because the owner wouldn’t just walk in, would they? I mean, it was their property, but I was renting it from them. I’d signed an agreement and sent a copy of my license over, hoping they wouldn’t do a search of my name, but oh well if they did. At a few of the rentals I’d stayed at, the owners had come over to see if I needed anything, but they hadn’t just strolled in. Only one of them had done a search and asked a lot of uncomfortable questions.

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