The Return (A Short Story)

*This story’s a sequel to last year’s May story, “The Bridge.” I’ve never written a sequel before, but every time I sat down, I just couldn’t get Allie and Michael out of my head. I don’t know if, even now, they’re quite done with me. We’ll see, but in the meantime, enjoy!*

–The Return–

It’s May, almost June. It’s hot. The leaves, just grown and bright green, already droop and sag and wilt and wrinkle under the blistering sun. I have not missed this. I dread more days of it, while we’re here.

“Supposed to hit 100 today,” says my brother.

I prop my head against the window. With the air conditioning blowing so close to it, for just a second, it feels cool against my sticky skin.

My brother drives. I count the road signs. And together, we make our way home.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

The thought hit me out of nowhere on the flight here, and it won’t let go.

Of course, I tell myself, there’s somewhere I’m supposed to be. We’re going home together from our separate cities, to visit our sick father and divide up assets in the house where we grew up. The only thing my brother wants is Dad’s old red and white Ford truck. That should make things easy, because the only thing I want is to get this over with.

I don’t want anything, is what I’m saying.

I’ve never been a collector. I don’t like being weighed down with stuff. My corner apartment is constantly filled with sunlight, the constant, churning whirlpool of my anxiety, and little else. Clutter makes me nervous. I just want to see Dad, hug him, and say goodbye.

“Allie…”

I jerk my head upright. I’d started to doze. I feel a trickle of warm drool on my chin.

“You’re supposed to be watching for the exit,” Michael reminds me.

“You’re not going to miss it,” I answer, because he won’t. I wouldn’t either.

The pull of Dad’s little red brick ranch-style house tugs at both of us, always. It’s brought us back together over and over. It’s brought me here from London now, and Michael from Seattle, that modest house in the middle of a nowhere neighborhood outside of a nowhere town. It’s hooked us both.

It will be the hardest thing we talk about, this weekend: What we’re going to do with it.

Dad’s house saved our family after our mother died. It kept us whole and safe, gave Michael and me a place to explore. It made Dad a handyman, a gardener, and a better father. But at the end of the day, it’s four walls and some windows, two doors and a bedroom that doesn’t belong to me anymore.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

I look over at Michael, his face as serene and still as a sleeping baby, and wonder what he’s thinking.

I ask instead, “Should we stop for gas before we hit town?”

“No, we’re good,” he says. “But if it’s okay, there is one stop I’d like to make.”

I know where he’s taking us. I don’t have to ask.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

We’re thinking of the same place, a dirt path and a bridge, a fork and two sycamores, and a house that’s always there but never the same. When it’s even there at all.

On the tip of my tongue, I can almost taste strawberry ice cream. And in the pocket of his dark wash jeans, I’m certain Michael has stowed away a hand-carved wooden fox.

We’re not certain, haven’t been in years, if the people we met and the house we visited ever really existed. We were sad kids, motherless too young, trying on a whole new life. Did we make it up?

Does it even matter?

We’ve talked about it a few times in the decades since, but only with each other. Who would believe us, when we’re not even sure we believe it ourselves? And again, does it even matter? It brought us together when we were lost, gave us a mystery, left us feeling touched by magic. We’re lucky, I think, even if we’re delusional.

“Do you really want to know if it’s not there?”

We’re at the exit now, and Michael turns the wheel a little too sharply. The car lurches around the turn before we settle onto the winding road into town.

“It’ll bother me forever if we don’t check. Who knows if we’ll ever come back here, once Dad’s gone.”

He’s not wrong, but, “What if we made the whole thing up?”

“Do you really believe that, Allie?”

I shake my head. No, I think. But maybe.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

My hands start to tremble.

“We’ll be fine either way,” I say.

But my voice gives me away. It trembles, too. I don’t know why I’m nervous.

We drive through town, a still charming collection of turn of the century store fronts and tree-lined sidewalks. This town never changes. It just gets older. We turn onto the gravel road that will take us to Dad’s house. And to the dirt path, too. At least, I hope it will. Michael pulls over at a wide spot, and for a moment, neither of us moves.

“We could just go on,” I say.

“Fraidy-cat,” he calls me.

“You’re being mean,” I tell him.

I open my door first. I am not a fraidy-cat, and these days, neither is Michael. He jumps out faster than I can, and comes around to my side. Together, we walk.

And suddenly, there it is. Michael notices it first, and quickens his pace.

“It’s here,” he says, and in his voice, I can hear relief.

My feet won’t move.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

“Michael,” I whisper, careful to control my tone, to hide the frantic hitch in my throat “I think we should just go on to Dad’s.”

“Allie, I have to know.”

“Why? Why is it so important to you?” I ball my hands into fists. I fight the urge to raise them to my chest, to plead with him. “What does it change?”

“I don’t know,” he answers. “I don’t know, but I know I have to do this. I have to find out.”

“I can’t,” I say. I hang my head. I feel the tears coming before they start. I wipe them away before they fall. “I need to go.”

I turn on my heel and beat an unsteady path back to our rented sedan.

“Allie!” Michael is only a few steps behind me.

“I’m going on ahead,” I manage. “You can walk to Dad’s from here.”

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

“There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be,” I finally say, out loud, “and it isn’t here, in the past.”

I stop and turn to face my brother. His chin is high, his brows are set and his mouth cuts across his face like a thin blade. He won’t budge on this. Neither will I. We’re stubborn, both of us. Who knows which of us is right.

“Fine,” he finally bites out.

“I don’t want to know what you find,” I tell him. “I’ll see you at Dad’s.”

He leaves me by the car.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.                                                                    

I get in, turn the key, and drive forward.

************

Thank you for reading! This is the fifth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first three stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

Quiet Neighbors

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of June.

8 thoughts on “The Return (A Short Story)

  1. Well, it is a good thing if Allie and Michael are not done with you yet. If you decide they are, you will force me to write the part 3 and I do not think I know them well enough. 🙂
    I love a ‘lady or the tiger’ as much as anyone…which is to say “Not!” Seriously, you still got the hook, and that is a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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