The little town was exactly as Al had remembered it. The same sky pasted over with thick clouds. The same flocks of gulls shrieking overhead. The same smell of salt wafting in from the sea.
Except in Polly’s house, which unfortunately also had the same odor he remembered.
“Ugh, Polly. Maybe it’s time for you to give away a cat or two,” he said, brushing fur from his sweater. “You might be able to care for them a little better.
“What are you talking about?” Polly sounded miffed. “I take great care of my kitties.”
Al just shook his head. When Polly wasn’t looking, he did his best to tidy up after the cats.
He spent the next few days trying to track down Liberty. In a town this small, you’d think someone would know where she lived. But though a few shopkeepers remembered seeing her, no one had any idea where she could be living. Al scoured the town, hoping to catch a glimpse of her out for a stroll or shopping for Christmas gifts. He combed the beaches and parks.
He asked everyone he knew. And even a few people he didn’t.
Everyone he spoke with tried their best to be helpful. Well, everyone except for Polly’s neighbor, Gene, who took one look at Liberty’s photo and flared up at Al.
“Are you trying to accuse me of something?” he snapped. “‘Cause look, I didn’t murder your girlfriend or anything.”
Al gaped. “Uh, who said anything about murder?” He backed away.
“Why do you want to find this girl so badly?” asked his cousin, Terra. “I mean, maybe she doesn’t want to found.”
“Because I love her,” Al blurted out. He and Terra both stared at each other, stunned. It hadn’t really occurred to Al until that very moment, but now that he’d spoken the words, he knew it was true. He had never stopped caring for Liberty. After they’d parted so long ago, his feelings had lain dormant somewhere inside him, growing stronger without him realizing it. No wonder things hadn’t worked out with anyone else. He was in love with Liberty.
“Then I hope you find her,” said Terra. “I’ll call around and see if anyone’s spotted her.”
The next day, All got a phone call from Terra’s good friend, Chanelle.
“I’m not sure how much help I can be,” said Chanelle. “But my husband is a cop. He’d be happy to talk to you.”
To Al’s surprise, Chanelle’s husband was his old friend, Drake. “I heard that a family moved into that big house on the edge of town,” said Drake. “Let me look into it, and I’ll let you know right away.”
“Hey, thanks!” Al’s spirits lifted. He might actually have a lead! Outside, the rain had cleared. Despite the frigid winter air blowing in from the sea, he stopped by an outdoor skate park and sailed around the rink a few times. The love of his life was somewhere very nearby, and soon, they would be reunited.