The smell hit him as soon as he entered the restaurant. Ash froze, as memories flooded his senses. He was reminded of the time his sister had helped his aunt stir the heavenly sauce, sending half the scalding contents of the pot onto the floor. The ladies had both screamed out in fear, as both the men hurried into the kitchen, realizing that lunch would be in smaller portions this time. His aunt’s spaghetti that day had been the best he had ever eaten, nothing ever grazed its level of perfection. His aunt Angela was an amazing cook, she had learned from her mother who had in turn learned from her mother and so on. He stepped further inside the restaurant; some people turned around as he walked past the dining room area. He heard whispers and people talking about him, but he ignored the gossipers and walked into the kitchen. As soon as he pushed the door open, his uncle saw him. The pure joy he saw on his face erased every doubt he had about coming back home.
Ash had lost his mother as a teenager, a result of some bad partner choices which landed her in the hospital one time too many. He and his sister had no one left in the world, except for their uncle Thanasi and their aunt Angela, both who were without children. Angela had wanted children so bad, she had finally gotten her wish, yet to the expense of her sister’s life. Ash thought back to his younger years. Thanasi was a strict man, but he loved his niece and nephew more than anything in the world. Angela had been the mother they had needed through all the tough years of growing up. Ash had fond memories of his childhood thanks to them and he was the man he was today thanks to them as well. Ash walked towards his uncle, who was already waiting for him with his arms outstretched. They hugged for what seemed like an eternity until Angela walked in and screamed.
She ran to him and practically lifted him off the ground. She was the only one who could call him by his given name. He hated it but loved her and she liked the name, so he let her be happy.
‘’Where is Sarah? Is she with you?’’
Ash pulled back and shook his head.
‘’Sarah is gone. She died two months ago.’’
Ash couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth. Sarah had cheated on him with a man who didn’t want to share her anymore and when she refused to leave him, he killed her and then committed suicide. It had been such an ordeal to go through. Especially since the whole thing had been planned to look like he had done it. The police had kept him in for questioning, their apartment had been searched for any possible evidence against him. In the end, they hadn’t pressed any charges, and the first he had heard of her cheating was when they showed up at his door claiming he had killed them. After it was all over, he wanted a fresh start somewhere else and he couldn’t think of a better place than home. However, he didn’t want anyone to find out about what had happened, because he felt like it was his own fault. He had been working so much the last year to secure that promotion, he had pushed his wife aside slowly and she had had enough in the end. He didn’t want his uncle and aunt to see him as a failure in his marriage, so he left out the part where it was her boyfriend who killed her. Angela held him close and cried for him. When Angela finished crying, Ash turned towards the huge pot of spaghetti sauce and smiled.
’’Do you want some?”, Thanasi asked him.
‘’Do you have to ask?’’
Angela and Thanasi wanted Ash to move in with them until he got back on his feet, but he knew that living with them would only stunt his wanting to start over. They knew apartments were sparse in town, most people rented out a room in their homes to make some extra money and welcome visitors. Thanasi called up a friend he knew that had a bedroom for rent, he gave Ash the address and he was on his way to meet Antonios. When he walked up to the house, he kind of wondered how someone could live in such a way. He knocked on the door and didn’t know what to expect. He knew that his uncle wouldn’t send him to live with just anyone, so he trusted that who he would find wouldn’t be so bad. The door opened and a silver haired beaten down by life looking man looked up from behind his glasses. He waited for Ash to speak.
‘’Are you Antonios Soriakis? Thanasi Vasilios sends me for the room you have to rent.’’
The old man waved him in, past a kitchen and into the hallway, all the way to a small but functional room. He waited again for Ash to speak.
‘’I want it if it’s still available.’’
The man nodded and went back to get some papers. He handed them to Ash with a pen, yet he held onto them when Ash reached out.
‘’You are Achilles Kotsaris?’’
Ash nodded, hating his name even more now.
‘’I knew your father when he was a child.’’
Ash didn’t respond, he didn’t know what could be said. His father was an ass hole who didn’t deserve to be remembered. He had abandoned his family when Ash’s sister had been born, preferring to run off with a girl young enough to be his daughter. The last he had heard of his father; he had fled the country because one of those girlfriends had been involved in some illegal activity.
‘’I don’t like signing papers, I would prefer a handshake and leave it at that.’’
Ash nodded, if the man trusted him, that was a good start to whatever their relationship would be.
Over the next three years, Ash worked with his aunt and uncle at the restaurant. He got to know Antonios as one would get to know their own parent. He learned about all the stuff Antonios had been through in his life, all the wrong he had done and how cruel he had been. Now he seemed like a fragile old man, but that was just the outer shell of the man. He had gotten wise with age and he had tried to make amends, but life didn’t seem to want to forgive him. He was far from being bitter, he was more hurt now that he could reminisce about all the things he had done. Ash and Antonios became very close, however Thanasi never thought about it as losing Ash to him as a father figure. He knew his friend needed someone to confide in and he was happy when Antonios started seeing Ash as more of a son than a roommate. Antonios was a man that had a great and miserable past, he was a man that needed to be forgiven yet forgiveness seemed like a lifetime away. However, he did not have that much time to make amends and Thanasi knew that. Ash found out about the cancer a few months before it took Antonios life. He tried and tried to convince him that treatment was the best option, that way he could try again to ask for forgiveness. Ash tried to reason with him, but Antonios always said that it was his own fault and he deserved what he was going through. Ash remembered many conversations he had with the old man; he saw tears often when he talked of his daughter Eleni. He had wronged her the worse he said. He had taken away her privilege of having a father, a sober father who would be there for her through everything. Ash understood how it seemed to him, however with his own experiences, he knew that if his father had come back, he would have at least met with him and heard him out. Antonios had been sending his daughter letters, letters that returned unopened every single time. He had kept writing to her one letter every month until he passed away. Every returned letter was kept by Ash in a box under the bed. He didn’t want that piece of him to be lost, so he hoped that Eleni would one day come here, and he could give a part of her father back to her.
Once he got past the shock, Ash walked out of the office and into the blasting heat of the summer sun. He laughed to himself, it was incredulous. He was now the owner of a house. How could Antonios have left him such a thing? He wasn’t really his son, only a man who wished he would have had a father like him, despite his many faults. Antonios had been gone for two weeks already and he missed him so much. What he missed the most was his genuine honesty about everything. He not only helped Antonios heal from the past, Antonios helped Ash realize that a marriage goes both ways and he wasn’t the only one at fault. He had shared with him the real reason he had lost his wife and Antonios had been heartbroken for him. To him, Ash was an amazing person, but he only saw the laid-back Greek guy, not the workaholic who spent his nights at the office instead of beside his wife in bed. In the end, Ash did however make amends with himself about what had happened, and he had forgiven himself. He had also hoped that maybe one day he could find that person that would stick with him through the good times and the bad.