I had finished my hot dog and French fries and pushed the basket further up on the counter, to signal that I was done. The waitresses bustled about, their arms laden largely with kids’ meals. Another long terms waitress, who must have been sixty and had worked at the diner since I was a child, collected my empty basket and placed my check in front of me.
“You look familiar. Do you come here often?” She asked.
“I used to come here with my dad every Saturday as a kid.”
She studied me for a moment.
“You’re that precious little girl who used to come in and pick at her food at the counter. Al, that was your dad’s name. We went to high school together—he was a couple years ahead of me. You home for a visit?”
She had been my favorite waitress as a kid. She used to give me pie without my ordering or paying for it, saying it was to “fatten her up.”
“A visit of sorts.”
“You’re not living in Hudson now, are you? I expect I would have seen you more often.”
“I live in the city.”
“Smart girl. A change of scenery does a person good.” Another waitress called to her. “It’s not easy to forget where you come from though. Sometimes you just feel like going home. I’ll see you on your next visit.” She headed off to deliver food to another booth. I put down fifteen dollars, enough to cover the check and a generous tip and walked out of the diner.
Now that it was midday, dozens of people strolled along Main Street: couples arm in arm, mothers chasing after small children, parents swinging their children into the air—the shrieks of joy and the laughs of exhilaration, the older women in their impeccable suits—day trippers from the city.
I began to head back toward my mother’s shop. Perhaps she’d like help, and besides, the only thing I had to do was research I was not prepared to face. For years, just seeing the house on Oak Street had caused my chest to ache. It represented everything I could have had, the things I could have done differently, the family I could have chosen, the place where maybe I could have belonged in Hudson. I was not made out for the quiet, calm life of this town; when they left, the adventure stopped. I began to idolize the city because it brought back the old feelings, the old sense of excitement at the unknown. The adrenaline rush became addictive; I don’t think I ever got over it.
There was a roadblock ahead between Main Street and a side street located between the grocery store and my mom’s shop. Street fairs were not entirely uncommon, but I was always curious. A huge banner had been hung between the street, but I was too far and at too awkward an angle to read it. I picked up my walking pace; patience had never been a strong point of mine.
I was practically running by the time I reached the street.
“Twenty-First Annual Hudson Artists’ Fair,” the banner read.
It was late April; I had forgotten about the artists’ fair. Every year since the Enson-Mortons’ disappearance, I had eagerly calendared it way back in January, when the date was officially set. The weekend of the fair, I would take a quick lap around, looking out for a booth of pottery and sculpture manned by a woman with long blonde hair who walked barefoot. The closest I got was always a false alarm.
It wouldn’t hurt to mill about for a moment. I wouldn’t expect anything. The last time I had gone without expecting anything was fifteen years ago—had it really been fifteen years ago?—when my mother had dragged me one Saturday afternoon in April, when the air was nice and the trees had reclaimed their leaves.