Previously on THE RETURN…
3 Months Ago
Sandra was nonplussed. She could feel her heart having a go at her. An extended period of silence ensued as both siblings stared at each other until finally, he broke the silence.
“Normally, I’d enjoy this staring contest, but as it turns out, my legs really hurt and you look like you’ve just seen a ghost, which takes the fun out of the whole thing.” He waited a beat for a response, and when he didn’t get any, smiled then gently placed an arm on her shoulder. “Fine. I get it. You haven’t seen a face this handsome in forever. But you really should let me in, or your neighbours might start to talk.” He made a production out of glancing around with mock anxiety.
Sandra, still rattled, slowly stepped aside. Her gaze remained fixated on him as he walked past her into the living room. She began stuttering his name.
At the sound, he whirled around theatrically, exaggerated the widening of his eyes and dropping of his jaw, and then exclaimed, “Wow! She speaks! I was beginning to think you had gone mute.”
“James…” It was clear she was steadily regaining her composure. “What are you doing here?”
Not paying much attention to her, his gaze traveled around the living room, from the cream-painted walls to the black, leather sofas. He picked up the remote and turned off the music before turning around to face his sister. “It took me forever to find this place. And, God, it smells like a chimney in here.” He gave a small cough and waved a hand in his face at nonexistent smoke.
The look of disbelief was finally gone from Sandra’s face. A quizzical expression took over. “Answer me please,” she said in a near-snap. “What are you doing here?”
He grinned at her. “I heard you were having a party all by yourself and thought that was pretty sad. So, I came to join you.”
“That’s mighty nice of you –”
“But, of course,” he interrupted. “I’m the nicest of our siblings after all.”
“You’re not funny.” This time, she snapped the words.
“Now tell me what the bloody hell you’re doing in my house before I change my mind and throw you out.”
“Wow! You really are excited to see me.”
“I won’t ask again, James. What are you doing here? How did you even find me?”
“Ayayai, all these questions, I can’t even keep track.” He lifted a hand to knead his temples in another theatric gesture.
“I only asked two questions.” Sandra was clearly unimpressed by his histrionics.
“Still, shouldn’t this be the part where we hug each other and shed tears of joy?”
“James!” Her eyes flashed.
“Okay, okay, okay.” He raised his hands in a gesture that mimicked surrender. Her increasing impatience was very apparent, and he was unwilling to be on the receiving end of her ire. A tiny scar below his left ear was an ever-present reminder to him never to get on his sister’s wrong side.
“So,” he started, “it wasn’t that difficult finding your location. I simply asked Francesca. Remember her? Tall, dark, bald-headed, African-queen look –”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course I remember Francesca. We were friends.”
“Yes. Which is exactly why it makes no sense that she’d know where I live. We haven’t spoken in a long time, and I don’t recall telling her I live here.”
“Uhm, maybe someone else did.”
“Right. So why were you tracking me? Why are you here?”
“I think I liked you better when you were mute a while ago.” He turned his bottom lip down in a comic expression of glumness.
“Answer my bloody question, James!”
“Do I need a reason to want to pay my sister a visit? I missed you, okay? I missed everybody.”
“You suddenly missed us, eh? What is this – the return of the prodigal son?”
“If you’re one for the dramatics, yes.”
“I’m not finding you funny, James.”
“You need to calm down, Sandy. We haven’t seen each other in years –”
“Nine years precisely, James,” she fired. “We haven’t seen each other in nine years. And whose fault is that?”
“It was your decision to run away from home.”
James expelled a heavy breath. “Are we really going to do this?”
“You could leave.” Sandra swept a hand in the direction of the door behind her. “The door isn’t locked.”
“Look, I had no choice, alright?”
“You did!” Sandra shot back. “I begged you to stay. You promised, James, you promised!”
“You would have told our parents otherwise. What did you expect? That was my only chance of getting away from dad.”
“What about me? Did you think at all about me?”
James chuckled his disbelief. “Listen to yourself. You sound like a selfish brat who had her favorite toy taken away from her. I was a sixteen-year-old whose father seemed hell-bent on killing him. There’s no way in hell you could possibly begrudge me for making that decision.”
“I don’t care!” Sandra roared. Her expression was distorted with recollections of times past, pains presumed buried. “You could have stayed! And you can’t simply come back here without as much as an apology!”
“An apology?” The words escaped his mouth on another gust of disbelieving laughter. “Whatever for?”
“For leaving would be a pretty good start,” Sandra said grimly.
James shook his head with faint amusement. “Well forgive me for committing this heinous crime of trying to stay alive. Next time I’d be sure to do it your way even if it means dying.”
“You are not funny, James,” his sister bit out.
“I’m not trying to be funny. Dad would have killed me eventually. We all know that.”
“Oh quit being dramatic.”
“You’re one to talk of being dramatic. Ironic doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Sandra didn’t have a comeback ready, and for a moment, a tense silence pulsed between them. James was the one who eventually broke it.
“Look, Sandy, I really did miss you. And, no, I’m not apologizing for leaving.” He advanced toward her, spreading his arms open as he did. “Now, come give your long-lost brother a hug.”
Sandra stayed where she was for a moment, with no give in her expression. Then she walked slowly toward him, and into his embrace. It was a deep-tissue hug; they pulled at each other, sinking into the hug as though to take in all the sensations that nine years apart had kept a mystery from each other. After a long moment, they drew back from each other, and Sandra whipped a fist forward, delivering a punch to her brother’s stomach. The blow drew a grunt from James as he doubled over and staggered back until he could drop into a sofa.
“You couldn’t just let me have your forgiveness that easy, could you?” he groaned.
“It was the father who readily forgave the prodigal son,” she retorted sweetly, “not his sister.”
She knew she had to take control. He stood rooted to a spot, continuously mumbling the words: “I killed him….I killed him…I killed him…”
“Stop,” she hissed at him.
“I killed him…I killed him…”
“I killed him…I ki –”
She stalked over to him and struck him across the face, winnowing away the rest of his mantra. He blinked at her, momentarily startled from his stupor.
“Just stop it!” she hissed again. “Stop it right now! We have to get rid of the body immediately.” She went over to hunker down beside the corpse. “First, we have to take it to the bathroom and clean up all this mess.”
He remained unresponsive, choosing instead to stand and stare at nothing in particular. He had stopped mumbling now. She rose, took a few steps towards him and shook him aggressively.
“Get a grip on yourself! We need to start fixing this now!”
Written by Tobby