Many Homes In One Heart
Writing by Saliha Dogan
TW: Hot Water is used to make hot chocolate (Milk is the superior choice), story may give the reader vivid flashbacks to “Hey There Delilah” Hallmark movie levels of corniness in the ending,
Inside the store windows, there was a toy train.
It was the fancy kind, compartments colored bright and shiny, that made soft whirring noises as it looped over and over again on the miniature railway.
Delilah saw the grand toy store when she was walking alongside the sidewalk, students bustling around her, joyful and unrestrained. They were everywhere, filling up cozy bookstores and cramming themselves into the tiny café between 8th and 10th Street. It had always been popular with students, but now in the freezing cold, it was even fuller than ever. Inside the café, the soft, golden light framed their laughing faces.
She envied them in that moment, for their freedom and their happiness.
Normally, she would have sat amongst them, drinking hot chocolate and reading old books by the store entrance. But today, her attention was solely on the toy-store window. She was surrounded by energetic kids begging their exhausted parents to buy them the new shiny car or the fluffy, chocolate brown teddy bear.
“—look! Look! It’s the new figurine—this one comes with adjustable arms and working wings and it lights up and everything!!” babbled a boy to the right of her. His hair was brown and stuck up in odd ways, and his coat was coated in flakes of snow and ice.
He reminded Delilah of Charlie.
“Moom, can I get it? Please? I’d do my chores, this time for real! Please?!?” His tone was overly enthusiastic, it would’ve been shouting if his mother hadn’t been holding him in her hands.
“I don’t even know…this one doesn’t even come with batteries included, and you already have so many toys…” The mother’s voice was exhausted and weary, but there was clear warmth and love in her eyes when she looked at her son.
Delilah realized she felt nauseated.
The toy train was still looping, its tiny engines and wheels moving accordingly.
It dawned on her that it was the kind of toy her brother would love. Charlie had always loved mechanical toys, ones that he could learn the algorithm of, and then break into tiny pieces, just to put them back together again. Leah liked to watch him and give commentary while he did so, giving it her best attempt to sound like a documentary host explaining the intricacies of life. She wondered if she should buy it for them, wondered if they would like it. She knew that the siblings she left behind would have loved the gift.
Then again, it had been many years since she saw either of them, anyone from her family, really. Skype calls over terrible internet and phone calls lasting ten minutes had been enough for them, they were able to check up on each other and exchange pleasantries. But, both of them had grown up. Leah was starting middle school when she last saw her, she would be in high school now. Would she like the same things she did many years ago? Leah was always artsy, she loved drawing and painting and anything that she used to express her feelings creatively. Delilah wondered if she had enough time now to do any of the things she loved.
What about Charlie, then? It had been four years, and she probably wouldn’t even be able to recognize him if she did see him. Was he still interested in machinery and engineering? Did he ever get into that club he was thinking of joining? Did he still prefer vanilla over chocolate?
It had been years since she last saw them, years since that life-changing moment when she’d packed up her bags and left for college, giving them half-truths and broken assurances.
Yes, I will come back in four years. It won’t even feel that long! I’ll be back every school break, and I’ll bring tons of gifts! She said—no, she promised. You won’t even miss me, I’ll call and text every week!
The grainy video calls and weekly texts had been enough to connect them! Or, they’d been enough to make her feel connected to them. The realization that she knew nothing about her siblings’ life, about their new likes and dislikes, about their escapades and adventures, had left her with a crushing feeling. Delilah had been selfish, fully and unabashedly selfish. All this time, she had only assumed that they felt the same as she did. That they had no problems with her ignoring calls and sending fewer and fewer texts, all because she wanted to go out shopping and go to parties with her friends.
Did they still view her as their caring older sister, or did they now view her as their absent and cold sister, who didn’t even care to visit them for years on end?
She wondered if her parents missed her. When she had still been there, living with them, they had fought. They had fought about everything ranging from her grades to what major she wanted in college. They’d had pointless arguments about freedom and decision-making that went nowhere, and only left both sides deserted and miserable.
When she left for college, it was the most joyous occasion. For the first time in her life, she had the freedom to do whatever she wanted. She could choose to study art, make new friends that her parents wouldn’t have approved of, go to parties, and so, so much more. All the anger, restriction, and frustration at home had made college heaven for her. Even the most grueling moments had felt better than what it had been like at home, with all the fighting and disagreements.
Now, stuck between hard decisions and somber realizations, she couldn’t help but want that freedom back.
Calling her parents seemed too exhausting, it would only lead to more bickering and tension. She could probably find a good reason for it, she could call and say “We haven’t talked in a long time, did you miss me?”
In her heart, she hoped that they did miss her.
Truth be told, she did miss them too, all of them. She missed decorating the house with string lights and terribly-made ornaments. She missed having snowball fights with her siblings for hours on end and building igloos from leftover ice. She missed when her mother would roast chestnuts over the open fire, and when her dad would collect the sticks and bark outside, all while whistling festive songs. There had been desperate and angry and despondent moments with them, for sure. But there had been happy and beautiful memories that she would treasure forever and not let anybody see. Her family was always the happiest during holidays when their house was decorated and their joy was evident.
The festiveness of the streets around her reminded her of her old house.
The streets looked beautiful this time of year, Christmas lights hung from the snow-covered trees, and storefronts were decorated with all kinds of festive symbols. Music played from speakers placed strategically in front of shops, beckoning people to come and buy whatever holiday-themed product the store was selling. People, dressed in layers upon layers and covered in thin coats of ice, cheered amongst themselves and shopped for gifts for their loved ones.
The merry atmosphere and crowded streets typically made Christmas time one of her favorite times of the year. Now, it only helped make her even more nauseous and disoriented. Suddenly, she didn’t want to be here, surrounded by joyful and cheerful people all while she was feeling nothing but melancholy and bitterness.
Delilah started the trek back to her apartment, paying no attention to anything other than the road to her house.
Her apartment was in a small and dingy alleyway, where the snow was dark and slushy, marred by people walking on it to and from the apartment block. It was a great deal for the rent she paid to live there, even though the stove was broken most of the time, and the plumbing was always dysfunctional in the oddest hours of the morning.
Entering her apartment, she threw off layer after layer of the winter clothing she wore, leaving them haphazardly on the floor. Not bothering to turn on the light, she took a kettle from the cupboard and started heating it on the stove. A cup of tea would be good for her morale, she reasoned.
Abandoning the kettle in the kitchen, Delilah chose to collapse on her bed, closing her eyes and willing herself to do anything other than think. Remembering the good, happier times with her family only made her feel worse. She missed them, and the loneliness hit worse now than ever, when she was all alone in her apartment, 2000 miles away from any of them.
Her phone buzzed from where it played next to her. She ignored it.
It buzzed again, she knew if she didn’t answer it now, she would get a call instead.
Groaning, she picked it up.
are u free?
can we come over?
it’d be fun to hang out together again!!!
we haven’t in so long
my apartment’s kinda disorganized tho
we’ll be there in 5
She turned her gaze back onto her pasty white ceiling, thinking whether she was strong enough to confront them in her, and her apartment’s, current state or not. She could always fake having the flu again, it was the wintertime after all.
Even though it would be the third time…
Thankfully, they didn’t let her think or plot for long.
After exactly 60 seconds after her friends messaged her, her doorbell rang. Delilah knew for a fact that the walk between her and Raúl’s dorm was at least 10 minutes.
She sighed but got up, the old floorboards protesting with every single step she took. She opened the door to the apartment and came face to face with both Raúl and Clara, both with hands full of shopping bags and cooking supplies. She sighed.
“If you were already here, at the door, why’d you ask?” She questioned, ignoring how her voice wavered and her eyes had been watery when she came to the door.
“We’d leave, and go back to the dorms, if you said you weren’t free! Honest!” Clara said, her voice croaky, but still light-hearted and happy.
“C’mon let us in, we have so much stuff that we brought over!” He whined, “Cookie dough, Gingerbread-men, Hot Chocolate mix, whatever you want, we have.”
Delilah let them in. Opening the door let in the frosty winter air, making her shiver. The lights had been fully turned on, and her friends already making themselves at home. All kinds of food, from chicken-soup broth to fruitcake to candy canes, were thrown onto her already unstable wood table. Clara took the boiling kettle from the and used it to make three mugs worth of hot chocolate. From the corner of her eye, she could see Raúl placing his well-used vinyl of Micheal Bublé’s ‘Christmas,’ on the record player. She softly sat down on her couch, pulling her knees up against her torso.
The sight of them, fretting around her apartment and filling it up with laughter and familiarity, made her feel a tiny tad better.
Her friends sat down on either side of her, placing the cups of hot chocolate onto the coffee table. It was warmer than earlier, now. Maybe the mix of the working space heater and the soft golden light emitted from the light bulb was actually working.
Raúl grinned, from where he sat next to her.
“Let’s make a gingerbread house today so that we’ll have one ready by Christmas Eve. Also, Clara and Jace and I are going to go sledding on the northern hill tomorrow, d’you want to tag along?” He asked, throwing his arm around her shoulders and clinging fondly.
“We should also visit the lake before the semester starts, I know how much you like ice skating, it’ll be even better on real ice.” Clara said, taking a sip from her hot chocolate.
Delilah let their conversation and laughter become background noise as she mulled over their plans. The thought of reconnecting with her family and talking to them again had been dreadful before. But now, in the warmth of her apartment, with her friends comforting and caring about her, and with the prospect of future plans, anything seemed possible. She decided, then and there, that she would message them and ask her siblings about school and their hobbies. And that she would call her parents, to reconnect and to forgive. She’d ask if she could visit them, one day.
And even if she couldn’t return back to the home that she’d left all those years ago, it didn’t matter. Because she could still craft a new home with her siblings and her now-realized love for her family, and because she had already found another home in the laughter of her friends and in the comfort of her small, but welcoming apartment.