Chapter 1 - Returning
“Mason! Deer!” My brother’s voice screeched out. I had taken my eyes off of the road for a second. But a second was still too long.
Cranking the wheel hard, I avoided the deer, but the patch of ice hadn’t been so easy to avoid.
I couldn’t brake.
I couldn’t crank my wheel a different direction.
We were on a crash course for the iced over pond that had only held good memories. Memories of fishing, swimming, games, relaxation, and life. Not pain, hate, blame, and destruction.
The truck hit the ice with a crunch and crash. A spider web shatter crackled through the windshield, not enough to break through, but enough to make it impossible to see out in the dark pond.
“Cal!” I screamed at my unconscious baby brother, fighting to free myself from the seatbelt bruising my chest. The icy water had all ready started to fill the bottom of the truck by my feet. It’s iciness brought more numbness to my all ready chilled toes.
“Come on!” I growled at the mechanism keeping me away from my brother. He was slumped over, blood dripping down his forehead and from his nostrils. He hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. The water was pouring in next to him where his window had broken open.
With a click my seatbelt opened up, releasing me from its bruising grasp. The water was all ready up to my waist. With everything I could muster I kicked at the fractured windshield. Once. Twice. Three times and it gave way to a torrent of water threatening to pull me away from my brother.
Stubbornly, I reached out for Cal’s arm. From that point on I barely remembered what had happened. I remembered somehow finding my way to the surface, Cal in tow.
“I got you, Cal.” I frantically choked, grasping at any part of the shoreline that I could boost us up onto. Coughing up some water, I focused on my baby brother. I dug into the reserves of strength that I didn’t know I had and picked Cal up from the muddy, half frozen shoreline. I made it a few feet before my knees buckled, dropping the two of us to the ground. I did my best to keep my body upright and not fall on him. The last thing I wanted to do was crush him.
Tears burned at my eyes as confusion filled my brother’s face. He was awake, but the shard of glass through his windpipe left him without a voice. His breathing was labored and pained as he opened his mouth, closing it shortly after.
“Don’t try to talk. Everything’s going to be okay.” I tried to reassure him through my own frantic panic. I could feel blood sliding down my own forehead, probably the result of hitting the steering wheel or glass, but I was too focused on being there for my brother to feel the pain or rub away the warm liquid.
Looking down at the rest of Cal, I tried to keep my panic minimal. Blood seeped through his many lacerations penetrating through the rips and tears in his clothing. It had been a miracle he hadn’t went through the windshield, but the crash had caused him to hit everything else in the truck hard. It was impossible to know the extent of his internal damage, but I wagered it wasn’t good.
Pinching my eyes closed, I knew his time was limited.
Opening my eyes, I stumbled back, my brows furrowed as I stared at a suitcase of clothes. Reality filled me faster than I knew how to respond. Glancing next to my nightstand I saw my brother’s face. A picture I kept with me wherever I went. A reminder that it was still my fault that he was dead. A cruel reality that even though it had happened years ago I would never forget the details of that tragic day. The details that made my life my own personal hell.
Releasing a deep breath, I glanced down at my watch. Time was ticking away and I had a plane to catch. I had left home months after the accident, keeping myself away for the greater good. My parents didn’t need to see the trash that killed their favorite son moping around home without a purpose and filled only with regret. Yet here I was, packing, preparing for a return to the place I grew up. Memory lane was about to become more real than just a thoughtful revelation.
The drive to the airport was no more eventful than the packing. Memories still played around with my mind, regardless of my constant attempt at keeping them at bay. It was useless. The place I was going to had more memories than I could count and trying to keep them from slipping in my mind was futile.
Boarding the plane, I slid into my window seat. I tried to get comfortable, rubbing the stress lines out of my forehead out of habit. The seats were too close together with barely any room for my legs. I didn’t know why I was doing this. The idea of taking a vacation somewhere warm with a beach sounded far more welcoming, but I needed to find a way to move on. I couldn’t let the past hold onto me.
Minutes into the plane ride, my eyes began growing heavy. Maybe it was from the lack of sleep the night before. Maybe it was from the mild sleeping pills I took before boarding the plane. Maybe it was from the straight shot of tequila at the airport bar. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t care. I had a flight that would take hours to reach a destination I wasn’t even sure I was welcome in.
The hours went by too quickly; a nudge prodded me to wake up. Bright blue eyes and blonde hair greeted me as a young flight attendant gave me a warm smile. Blinking away the struggle to wake up, I sat straighter.
“Sir, the plane has landed. You’re in Maine now.” I ignored the twinkle in her eyes as I glanced around at the empty plane.
“Shit. I’m sorry you had to wake me up.” I stretched, quickly scrambling out of my seat to grab my carry-on bag.
“Oh, it’s no problem.” She barely moved out of my way.
I gave her a tight smile, trying to squeeze past her.
“This might be forward, but do you want to grab a drink somewhere? I don’t need to be back here until tomorrow afternoon.” She blinked her long lashes at me, trying some flirtatious way to ensnare me.
My brows arched as I blinked back at her. “You’re right, that is forward.”
She gave me a teasing giggle. “What do you say, handsome? Let a girl buy you a drink?”
“Does this work on a lot of the guys on here?” Slinging the bag over my shoulder, I impatiently waited for her answer.
I could see some color creep into her face. She’d definitely done this before. Her smile faltered as she took a step back. “Is it working on you?”
“Not in the least bit.” I gave her a wink; full well knowing it’d send her swooning as she watched me be the one that got away. I had no intention of spending a night with a stranger. I was here to bury the hatchet, not spend my time finding a woman that I had no time for.
Turning to go, I felt her hand slip something in my back pocket. Twisting around I followed her hand as she pulled it back.
“Just in case you change your mind. I’m around these parts frequently.” She returned the wink and waltzed off. She hadn’t won, but she wasn’t giving up either.
Shaking my head, I sighed. This was an interesting start to my time here. Running a hand through my hair, I departed from the plane, ready to get my rental car and head to a place that I used to know like the back of my hand. I’d all ready made arrangements to stay at the local bed and breakfast. I had no intention of expecting my parents to house me over my stay.
Grabbing my phone, I pulled up the email with the verification for my rental car. Flagging down a valet, I showed him the information. Within minutes I had my bag loaded in the vehicle and was flying down the highway. Anxiousness gnawed away at me as I drove. Familiarity filled my senses.
I passed by a park that Cal and I would bike to. A gas station where we paid an unsuspecting grandpa to buy us cigarettes to try. The church where my mother would bring us to. The high school where I had my first kiss and skipped countless classes. Nostalgia bit away at my wall, teasing my emotions. I fought not to turn the car around and drag my reminiscent ass back to the airport. Every ounce of me fought to leave the place where memories threatened to bury me. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to see the hate in my parents’ eyes, feel the guilt trying to drown me in suppressed feelings and anxieties.
I had no doubt that I’d inevitably run into people I knew wherever I went. The town was on the smaller side. I loathed the idea. I’d changed, but I was sure I was still recognizable to the people that had seen me grow up over the years. I didn’t want to see their sympathetic stares or hear their questions of where I’d gone over the years. I had no desire to explain my business. It was safer that I didn’t anyway. People could have their assumptions, their judgments. I didn’t really care. Couldn’t afford to.
Blindly taking a right turn, my tires dug into the gravel. I ignored the crunching noise as I drove. My gaze met the place of death. The pond that seemed too innocent and beautiful. It was a cruel beauty though, reminding me of my brother’s cold stare and lifeless body. The memory that had haunted and tortured me for nearly a decade. Another reminder of why I didn’t want to be here. Pulling off into the ditch, I braked to a stop. Numbly pulling the car into park, I fumbled for the door. Trying to keep my breathing even, I walked around the vehicle and took in the sight in front of me.
Thoughts of my brother filled my mind. The accident wasn’t something I’d ever forget. Nor had I forgiven myself for it. It had been the beginning of the hell of a time I called life. That accident had changed my mindset on life. I was smart, but I put that smartness to things that brought me to the edge of life on more than one occasion. I remembered trying to live up to my parent’s expectations like Cal had always done, but it was harder than I would have ever imagined. I was a good kid growing up, but I just wasn’t the same as my brother.
Cal had this way about him that brightened up the room. He always had the perfect thing to say, or offered to do something for someone faster than anyone else. He wasn’t a glory hound. He was just very caring and very into everything. He had the perfect grades and in spite of his young age was quite the looker.
I never envied my brother. I liked who I was, but things were increasingly more difficult when he had died. The house was quieter. My parents weren’t as joyful as they once had been. I knew they loved me, but I couldn’t help but feel the disappointment that radiated off of them every time I messed up. They were proud of me, but in a different kind of way that I couldn’t quite describe.
I tossed a rock and watched it skip across the water. I lingered a moment before walking away from the tragic site and back to my car. Sighing, I continued down the road to my parents.
The drive gave me time to think, reflect. It gave me time to clear my head of all business related thoughts. And too much time to reminisce over past hurts. Life sucked, plain and simple, but he still stood tall and threw a punch when needed to get through every day.
Running a hand through my hair, I glanced back at the small body of water. It held the tragic tale as if it’d never happened. An unforgiving occurrence that only meant something to the people that knew my brother.
A ding brought my attention to my phone. I glanced at the notifications piling up before tossing it to the passenger’s seat. Maybe it was a bad idea coming back. Work wasn’t very forgiving of my absence. Showing up after being gone for years had brought on its own share of challenges. Driving up to my parent’s quiet house reminded me that I had absolutely no clue what those challenges would be. Or what would be waiting for me behind those closed doors.
Gathering all the courage I could, I parked the car. Every instinct in my body told me to drive away and not to look back. I wasn’t ready for this. But then again, I knew I’d never truly be ready for this. Doing my best to find some kind of a backbone, I sucked in a deep breath and opened the door.
So many emotions sparked through me. Memories I’d nearly forgotten. Pain I’d tried to bury. Each step carried me closer to that. Pinching my eyes shut for a moment, I let my feet blindly lead me to the door. I could feel my hands shaking, anxiously hanging at my side.
“What the hell are you doing, Mason?” I mumbled to myself, pausing part way up to the house. Starting to turn back to my car, I stopped myself.
“Damn it!” Letting out a deep breath, I marched up to the front door and raised my fist to knock on it before I tried to run again. My pulse raced as I waited. Maybe they weren’t home. Maybe they didn’t live here anymore. The door unlocking quickly changed that thought.
Staring at the door handle, I watched it turn as the door slowly opened. I was met with my mother’s blue eyes. She studied me for a moment, fully taking in who was standing at the door.
“Who is it, honey?” I could hear my father’s voice carry on behind her.
She was just as radiant and beautiful as I remembered. Even the shock filling her face couldn’t eradicate the gentleness pouring from her being. “Mason?”
“Hi, mom.” My voice was quiet, my body still quivering anxiously. I wouldn’t blame her for slamming the door in my face and waiting for me to leave.
The woman took a few steps forward, closing the distance between us. Her hand rose up, cupping my cheek. Her eyes mirrored the same emotion filling mine as well.
“Tell me you’re real. Tell me my son has come home.” Her words were barely above a whisper, the desperation all too real in her eyes. Everything about her body language showed her wanting to embrace me, but I could see the uncertainty too.
Nodding, I sniffled. “Just for a visit, mom. Just a few days.”
I watched her throat work as she nodded. A smile lit up her face as an emotional laugh escaped her mouth and her arms flew around my neck, pulling me in for a tight hug. “My boy is home!”
Fighting my own raw emotion, I embraced her back. Looking up from her shoulder, I watched my father standing in the distance. I knew my mother felt my body stiffen the second she let go and glanced back at her husband.
“Mason.” He nodded respectfully. I could see emotion dancing around in his eyes, but he didn’t move toward me. I didn’t feel the warmth my mother had offered. My dad still was holding onto everything. He was the definition of what I had assumed I would be greeted with --- a cold shoulder barely capable of civility. Yet he threw me a curveball when he met my eyes and held them. “It’s good to see you home, son.”