**I interrupt March Mania for some unscheduled programming**
Once upon a time there was a girl who lived alone in her house in the woods. She kept to herself a lot, even though she was always curious what lived outside her own front door.
Then one day she went out for a walk. "I'll just be gone for a few minutes," she told herself, not intending to come across anything out-of-the-ordinary. However, it wasn't long before she stood in front of a house she had seen before but had never given much thought.
Today, though, something about it grabbed her. And she knew that she would do more than admire it from afar.
She stood at the door and hesitated. Then, almost unwillingly, her hand stretched out to touch the doorknob. But before she could get any further, the door swung open. She tentatively took a step across the threshold, thankful for the unspoken invitation to come in.
She stood in the foyer for a moment, looking around at her new surroundings. It was the coziest little cottage she had ever seen. The colors were warm and inviting. The accessories weren't anything flashy, but they were...right. The decor was a bit of a mish-mash, yet everything blended beautifully. The pictures on the walls were of happy, smiling people. And not the fake happy -- you could tell they were genuinely enjoying life.
The area rug in the quaint little living room showed small signs of wear and tear. Not run-down by any means; simply an indication that it was a well-used room. The fireplace roared with life in the corner, adding that extra touch of warmth to the already very comfortable space. If the walls could talk, she was most certain they would have endless stories of love, laughter and joy.
Instantly she felt safe here. Like she really and truly belonged. And she hadn't felt that way for a very long time. As the days, weeks and months went on, she found herself re-visiting this special place time after time after time. And in no time at all, she knew that the stories the walls held within them now included her as well.
Before long, her visits to the cottage became fewer and farther between. Her own home needed some maintenance that had been getting neglected, and there were flower gardens and river banks in her surrounding area that also needed tending to. Besides, there were renovations happening over at the cottage anyway.
She could feel people judging her for how she spent her time, and even heard comments about it through the rumour-mill. But all she could do to make herself feel better is remind herself that nobody knew the work that needed to be done within her own four walls and her immediate surrounding area. Nobody else knew how many insects had destroyed her tomato plants, and how mold had started to grow in the corners and crevices of her basement. And those who lived on the other end of the forest didn't know the impending devastation from the rising riverbank that she needed to help control.
As time passed, the girl started to miss the cottage more and more. But some days it felt like she didn't even know where the path was that used to take her there. She was determined to find it again though, sure that while the cottage didn't necessarily need her in order to stay standing, it might feel fuller with her presence again.
She made a few attempts to find the pathway that had seemed to have grown over. And she couldn't remember why she had waited so long in between visits. There were overgrown bushes covering her old footsteps, and a bit further down the path a tree had been blown over in a recent storm, giving her just one more hurdle to overcome on her way to her destination.
She got a few scratches on her way, and even tripped and fell down at one point, scarring her knee. But she was sure that just up ahead was the familiar cottage. Any minute now and she would come to the clearing.
And she was right. She pushed a wisp of hair out of her face, let out a relieved sigh and walked up the front sidewalk. But wait...was this the right house? The white picket fence was still there...but was it higher than it used to be? And the flowers lining the walk used to be a multitude of colors. Now they were just yellow. And the door....wasn't it painted green before? Now it was red. She was certain she was in the right place, but why was everything so different?
She pushed aside her doubts. "Don't be silly," she said to herself. "Changes on the outside don't mean anything...I'm sure once I get inside, everything will be the same." She ignored the new plant she saw on the door step that had never been there before, and started to gently turn the doorknob to enter the cottage.
She stopped herself. "Perhaps I should look inside first, just to make sure I'm at the right place." So she peered into the windows. Things looked different on the inside too, but she could still see traces of what used to be and knew that she was at the right place. The comfortable rocking chair next to the fireplace was still there, and she could almost feel it rocking beneath her in a comfortable rhythm. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Some things had been replaced, but the worn-out area rug was still there, covering the scratched hardwood floor that was underneath. The walls were all re-painted but her favorite crystal vase was still displayed on the mantle, next to the picture of the sunset that she had spent hours staring at, getting lost in its beauty. Some wall hangings had been re-arranged and put in different places and the changes were starting to make the girl nervous.
With a sudden sense of urgency, she approached the door again, needing to feel the sense of peace she felt the first time she visited the cottage all those months ago. If only she could stand in the foyer again and look at the rooms from that angle one more time...she knew things would start to feel more comfortable for her again. Yes, that was it.
"Come on," she silently pleaded as she twisted the doorknob.
But then she felt a tear drop fall onto her hand as she slumped onto the front step, dejected. She buried her face in her hands, allowing the tears to fall through her fingers and land on her knees.
The door was locked.