Four more deep inhales and exhales got her to the front door. Natalie toyed with the idea of using the key her mother had sent her the day they took possession of the house. Her parents were expecting her, but she still might surprise them, and her experience had taught her that most surprises weren't that pleasant. Still, it felt odd, almost cowardly, to ring the doorbell.
"Nat?" Her mother laughed when she opened the door, and spread her arms wide to embrace her. At least she didn't chide her for not walking in. Natalie knew she had chosen the right strategy.
Her mother asked her about the drive as she led her from the front door to the great room at the back of the house and the stairs leading to the second floor, to get Natalie settled into her room. Off the great room was a smaller room that could function as an office or bedroom. Natalie knew that because of the detailed floor plan her parents sent her. This room was now her father's private domain, but not for TV watching. The fifty-two-inch TV sat in the great room opposite the massive raw stone fireplace. Five years ago, her father had experienced a spiritual renewal and a growing hunger for Bible scholarship. According to her mother, every time he finished reading one book, he bought two more. She paused and glanced at the door that hung open four inches. A glimpse of movement made her take a step closer to the door before she realized that was the back of her father's head. He turned as if he felt the weight of her stare. Their gazes met. He let out a bark of laughter and flung the door open.
"There's my little girl!" He swept her up and spun her around once, setting her down again with a bouncing little thud.
Natalie forced her smile, when everything inside her went hollow, just for a moment. It was ridiculous to feel chilled, disappointed, when her father didn't lift her to the ceiling. He hadn't been able to lift her above his head since she was in middle school.