Previously on THE RETURN…
19 Years Ago
She spoke in between sobs. Her pain was stark.
‘”All I’m asking is that you love him,” she said wretchedly. Her tears were streaking down her cheeks, giving her face a glistening look in the subdued lighting of the bedroom. She had given up on wiping the tears from her face, because the more she pled in the face of her husband’s detachment, the more wounded she felt, and the more the tears fell. “That is all I’m asking, just for you to love him…” she choked out through her sobs.
He did not respond. He looked away from the sniveling woman, unmoved by her emotional breakdown. He reclined on his seat and stared up at the ceiling, focused on nothing in particular, the profile he presented to her appearing to be hewn out of rock.
She rose from the bed and approached him with hesitant steps. “Why won’t you say anything to me, Dike? Are you just going to sit there in silence? Say something, Dike! Say something.” Her voice cracked on another sob.
He hissed his response, and then readjusted his sitting position so that his back was turned to her. She knew he was willful, that once his mind was set, it was an uphill struggle to change it. It’d been clear considering how he stood up to his parents who were at first disapproving of her as the wifely choice of their son during their days of courtship. Yet she wished that for once, he wouldn’t be so headstrong, so difficult to convince.
”Why are you doing this to me?” she lamented.
”I’m not doing anything to you,” he ground out darkly.
”Why are you doing it to him then? He’s just a boy for Christ’s sake!”
”I don’t want to talk about it!” His voice cut across hers like a whiplash.
”But we have to, Dike! We have to. If there is anyone you should punish, it’s me. It was I who –”
”That’s enough!” he barked, startling her to a stop. He turned around to face her. There was a cold fury in his eyes that she was starting to see often in there. “That’s enough, you hear me? I don’t want to talk about this anymore’.’ There was a finality to his tone.
She started to speak, but thought better of it.
”Good night,” he ground out.
And she watched him get up from his seat and move to the bed. He wouldn’t look at her as he pulled back the bed covers. She stared at his back, silently beseeching him to turn around and hearken to her desolation. Her gaze burned into his back with the urgency of a loved one telepathically reaching out to another. Please, Dike… Please.
But his back remained turned to her as he climbed into the bed and drew the covers up around him with a decisiveness that conveyed to her that he was indeed done communicating with her.
Cynthia felt a sad sigh tremor from her mouth.
And right outside the room, their first son, Michael straightened from his stoop against the door’s keyhole, turned his neck to ease the kink in the muscles and began tiptoeing back to his room.
Present Day, Earlier In The Evening
James was starting to wish he were any other place but here. To start with, he didn’t even know any of the people in the small crowd that had gathered to enjoy the repast of his brother’s food and drink. It was a well-heeled crowd, that much was clear. There was the glint of wine in crystal, the scents of perfume, male and female, the shimmer of jewels, and the lazy chatter of people who had worked to have all the time in the world to play.
James felt a tap on his shoulder from behind and spun around to meet Michael’s smiling face. It was the first time James had seen his older brother in nine years. Time had dealt lightly with him. He had grown bigger, with the slightly bulging waistline that pegged him as a man who enjoyed the finer offerings of life. He had their father’s smile, but the spectacles he wore to correct his shortsightedness did not give his countenance the same austerity it gave their father.
”Finally, a face I recognize,” he said.
”I’m sorry for the delay,” Michael said with a beaming smile. “This crowd, they can be very demanding of the host’s attention.”
“Clearly,” James scoffed. He took a sip from the glass he held in his hand. “So, why am I here, brother?”
“Why not?” Michael widened his eyes fractionally, like he couldn’t believe he’d ask. “I missed that little lunch you all had with mother. So why not one of ours?”
“And so you brought your friends out for the occasion?” James raised his brows at Michael.
“Well, in a moment, I intend to show you around as my long-lost brother finally come home.” He threw an arm around James’s shoulders and began to steer him across the room to a corner. “But first of all, we have something important to discuss.”
“We do, huh?” James angled a look at him.
“Yes.” He led him outside to the verandah. The sun had set, the night was warm, but a breeze was blowing through. In the distance was a panoramic view of city lights.
“Alright, you have my attention,” James said when all Michael did was stare out at the night, breathing it in slowly.
”I suppose I’d have to start by offering my sincere apology for missing your planned reunion,” Michael finally said. “One no doubt soured by that little outburst of yours.”
James sensed a bit of humor in his tone, one that was intended to mock him.
Michael turned to face him with a slight smile hanging from his mouth. “Joe told me. Your temper though…” He tsk-tsked.
“Well, your sincere” – he dropped a sneering stress on the word – “apology is accepted. If you invited me over just to mock me or lecture me, quite frankly, you didn’t have to throw a party for that”
Michael chuckled, an indulgent sound. ”You remain as whiny as ever, little bro. And, no, I did not invite you over to mock or lecture you.”
“Right. So, what was this important thing you were going to tell me again?”
“Go back to England, James.”
“Excuse me?” James’s brows ascended.
“You heard me. Go back to England.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because there is nothing for you here. No family to reunite.” He said the words matter-of-factly, like it was something that should have been obvious to James.
For a few moments, James did not have a ready response to his brother’s cryptic words. And silence stretched between them, taut like a tightly-wound rubber band.
And then, James narrowed his eyes speculatively at his brother. “Are you by any means threatened by my return, Michael?” he queried.
”Threatened?” The other man scoffed. ”I’m concerned, James. Concerned is the word.”
“Concerned about what?”
”About you, brother.”
”Your concern is very touching,” James said with heavy sarcasm.
“Listen to me, Jamie.” Michael’s manner was suddenly very urgent, intense. “Irrespective of what you think, I’m the only one person who has really got your back in this family.”
“I know things –”
“What are you talking about?”
”You know father and I have a good relationship, right?”
”Well, someone has to inherit his entire fiefdom when he passes. He picked that heir when he began making that good relationship obvious to the rest of the brood.”
“I’m trying to tell you something, James –”
“Yes – that I should return to England. Pretend I don’t have family anymore. Well, Michael, that is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past nine years, pretending like you all don’t exist. It wasn’t a picnic. And I’m back to stay.” He punctuated his declaration with his forefinger jabbing the air in front of him.
Michael looked on at him, his stare blank behind the glint of his spectacles. There was that half smile on his face, an expression that James had grown to irritate while growing up with him, because it gave his brother a perpetual mien of someone in on a joke that was on James.
“But you don’t, really,” he finally said.
“I don’t what?” James snapped.
“Have a family.” He shrugged as he added, “Not in the real sense of it.”
“Okay, I’m done here.” James turned and started away from his brother. Familiar infuriation was starting to tighten his chest, and he was struggling for the discipline to hold his temper in check.
“You might want to hear what I have to say.”
James stopped and turned. A strange jittery feeling bumped along his nerve endings when he encountered Michael’s expression again. Something dark and hesitant was moving in the man’s eyes – malice maybe, and something more. Something pitying and sad.
“What is it, Michael? What is all this really about?”
“You, James.” Michael took a step and then another toward him. “It’s about you and what has been chasing after you nearly all your life.”
The man placed the empty bottle of whisky on the table before picking up the remote to switch the TV station. When he did, the face of a young woman appeared. She had robust cheeks and spoke in a faux accent and rehearsed manner about a memorial being held for the victims of the terrorist attack in Paris a few months earlier. The man grunted his displeasure at the TV. It was always bad news these days. He shook his head as he wondered what the world was coming to.
The sound of rapid footfalls, thumping down on the ground with a statement of purpose, was what drew his attention away from the television. And the shock on his face was very evident when the image of the younger man emerged on the threshold.
“What are you doing here?” he rasped.
“I’m only going to ask you this once.” The newcomer’s voice was low, inaudible almost, yet his rage simmered, tightened every syllable, every word. His breathing was deep but steady, and his nostrils flared. “Are you my father?”
Written by Tobby