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Homecoming

Henry McLeod parked his hired vehicle in the parking lot of the mall – a new addition to the sleepy country town he had left in his late teenage years.  So far as he could see, it was just about the only change that had taken place here since then.  Otherwise, it was still the same as ever!  The memories came flooding back.  Most of them bitter.  We live a lot of the time in our memories.  They never leave us.  In a way, they make us what we are.  They affect what we become, for good or ill.

He actually walked the several miles out of town towards the family farmhouse.  Why didn’t he drive?  For two reasons.  He wanted to take in the whole experience of being back in his own place.  He wanted to feel the place one more time, which he hadn’t done since his youth.  Probably the best  memories of his boyhood days were those of the walk from the town out to the farm.  The second reason was because he didn’t want the sound of  an automobile to alert the occupants of the farmhouse to the prospect of visitor.  His visit was to be a complete surprise.  Walking hadn’t been such a good idea.  Why try to savour old memories when the flavour is so unappealing?  His late father’s voice rang down through the years, “You good for nothing!  Can’t you do anything right?  Just get out of here!”

Now at last, his childhood home was in sight, within reach. Henry reached for the gate, noticing at once how rusty it had become since his last visit….last visit?  What was he thinking of?  He hadn’t visited since he had left the place, twenty years before!  So, entering through that rusted gate,  he approached the house slowly.  Memories, of Jessica in particular, came flooding back as he took in the whole scene.  Jessica McPartlin, the neighbours daughter, who had more or less grown up with Henry and his elder brother Jacob.  Jessica, beautiful and spirited, challenging the boys.

“I’ll bet I can run this farm ten times better than either of you boys!”  How they had all laughed!  But in the end, he had almost cried over Jessica.  Her choosing his elder brother Jake over him had hit Henry rather hard, although he was well and truly over it by now!  But at the time it had happened, it had been the final straw which had prompted his leaving home forever.

The door was ever open, as always!  He let himself in.  The first person to greet him?  Jessica!  Older, sadder, wiser, thinner!  That long, golden hair now shorn to a short trim, her youthful springiness now tethered and restrained.  She beheld him.  Her jaw dropped.  Her eyes widened.

“Henry!”

“Jess!” he answered.  No more words were necessary.  They both took a good, long look at each other, taking everything in.  There was silence.  Silence which was broken by the appearance of Jacob, Henry’s elder brother, and Jessica’s husband.

“Hey, Jess, why can’t you do something about cleaning up this place?  It’s a mess, you should………hey, look who’s come home….”  He was stopped in mid-rant, arrested by the sight of his long lost younger brother.

The years had not treated Jake well.  Instead of a two year age difference  between the two brothers, it appeared to be at least ten.  Henry’s smart, well dressed and well maintained appearance contrasted sharply with Jake’s blood-shot, dark ringed eyes, heavily lined face and out of shape, dishevelled appearance.  Jake told Jessica to make some coffee and excused himself for a moment on the pretext that he had some work to take care of.

Jessica set about making the coffee, knowing that this was just the calm before the storm.  Jake was simply gone to get ready for a fight with his younger brother.  He fought with everyone with whom he had a relationship, blaming them for all of his troubles and ills.  Having stayed away for twenty years, Henry was due for his share of this.  Jessica desperately hoped she was wrong, but long years of experience had taught her to accept the inevitable without complaining.  As this was the first time seeing Jessica as Jake’s wife, Henry found it strange to behold this now older, mature, lifeworn Jessica as the mistress of this house.  His now widowed mother’s days in this role had long since passed.  Jessica gestured to him to sit down at the kitchen table and commenced making the coffee.  There was much she wanted to ask him.  But Henry, she knew, was a man of few words, now more than ever, it seemed.  This was because in his life he had learnt that people who speak more invariably do less.

“You got married!” Jess began.

“Yes,” he said, eventually.  Jessica waited for more information, continuing with her task.  After some time, she tried again.

“Kids?” she ventured, tentatively.

“One.  Ethan.  Thirteen,” came the answer.

“Your wife stays home or she goes out to work?”  Jessica just could not contain her curiousity.  There was so much she wanted to know.

“Jamie is a research scientist, specializing in agricultural biotechnology, “ he told her.

“Sounds good!” she smiled.  After a minute, he took out his wallet, extracted a snapshot and handed it across the table to Jessica.  She examined it closely.  She took in the image of a youthful looking, smiling woman, her long hair hanging free, arm around the shoulders of a smart, smiling, happy boy.  The snap had been taken on a relaxed Sunday afternoon and was Henry’s favourite.  Jessica smiled approvingly and handed back the snapshot.

“We have two.  Katy is sixteen and Courtney is two years younger,” she told him.  Henry smiled.

“I know,”  he said.  If she was surprised, she didn’t show it.  But inwardly, she was wondering exactly how he knew so much about her life.  Did he know about Jake’s abusive behaviour, the beatings, the infidelity with Kelly Fisher among others?  Who knew?

Henry was thankful indeed that his childhood friend and ally Jim Carlson had, in the end, decided to stay back in their town and help his ageing father Steve Carlson with his law practice.  The elder Carlson had always handled the legal affairs of the McLeod family as Jim did now.  This had always given Henry a ready contact at hand for news of his family, not to mention a conduit for sendng some discreet financial  help from time to time.Jessica put a cup of steaming coffee down in front of him, and sat down beside him at the kitchen table, along with her own cup.

“Henry, just tell me, does Jamie ever ask about the family?”  He had to be honest.

“Jamie knows I have family back on the farm where I grew up, but that we don’t keep in contact owing to some differences along the way.  Aunt Sandi is the only in-law she has ever known!”  “Aunt Sandi?  Oh, I see…….”

Aunt Sandi.   His mother’s younger sister.  A loving aunt and ally who had provided a way out and a fresh start to a lonely boy worn down by harsh criticism and comparison with the favoured elder brother.  She had regularly visited the farm on vacations, ostensibly to taste country life and to escape the urban rat race for a while, but really, in the end, to keep an eye on her beloved nephew and to encourage him to get away and make a new life for himself far from the oppressive atmosphere of home.  With her encouragement, he had worked his way through college, joined the workforce and eventually became an entrepreneur.  Yes, he owed a lot to Aunt Sandi.

His brother Jake returned.  As Jessica had feared, he had merely gone away for a while to prepare for battle.  He launched into a direct verbal attack on Henry.

“So, Mr Henry McLeod.  You think you can just walk back in here after all these years?”  Henry looked at
him silently.   Jake tried again.

“Just who the hell do you think you are!”  Still silence.

“You walked out of here to go attend some fancy college, leaving me with all the responsibility, and you think that you can just walk back in here as if nothing ever happened?”  He was getting worked up now, abusive in the extreme.

“Why you no good……” and on he went with his rant, cursing and abusing Henry, who remained silent throughout.  Jessica bit her lip anxiously, wondering how it would all end.  As Jake ranted on, cursing and hollering, Henry remembered that the most remarkable thing about the accusations was the fact that none of them were in any way true.  Henry had always been available for contact with his family, initially through Aunt Sandi and later, through Jim Carlson, the family lawyer.  When Henry had sent money for his ailing father’s treatment several years earlier,  not one word of acknowledgment had come from the family.  Not to mention the fact that they had neither invited to nor informed of Jake and Jessica’s marriage.

“You were never any good!  Our parents always said that and they were right!  Never any good for the family and  never any good for this place!  You…….”  Henry never opened his mouth and never took his eyes off his brother’s face.  He had to wait.  Wait until his brother was exhausted.  Depleted of the power to insult and depleted of  energy.  Then he would show his hand.  He was always a patient man.  The years had taught him patience and persistence.Jacob started a new tirade.

“Where were you, Henry McLeod, when Jess and I were working ourselves to death to keep this place afloat?  Where were you when your father was dying of cancer?  Where were you when we were up to our necks in debt for the sake of this farm?  Where were you……”  He was getting tired now.  Henry could  sense an opportunity coming.  Jake began to taunt again.

“Who do you think did all the work……."

“Jess!    It was Jess and nobody but Jess!  You were off drinking yourself stupid and running around with someone else and Jess was the one who worked day and night to keep this farm out of the red.  She is the one who looked after everything.  Not you, Jake!  You always had everything way too easy and you’ve ruined your life.  You would have ruined this place too if Jess hadn’t been here!  Well, I have my business interests to take care of, but I always kept an eye on this place, and I've  helped financially ever since I’ve been able to!”Jacob gaped at him in disbelief.

“What?”  he exclaimed.    Henry laughed.

“Well, how do you think this farm survived the big financial crisis it was facing three years back?”  Jake was incredulous.

“Why, it was Carlson!  He came up with a plan to stave off the creditors for a while….” His voice trailed away.  Henry laughed.

“Carlson is a lawyer, not a moneylender.  The only thing that staves off creditors is money!”  he said.  “It was me!   I paid off the creditors and got this place a fresh start!”  Jake was dumbstruck.  Jessica was in tears.

Henry took out a pen and a small notepad.  He scribbled something down in it, tore out the page and handed it to his now speechless brother.  Jake’s eyes widened when he read it.

“That’s a lot of  money!”  he said.

“That is as much as I’m willing to pay you to get out of here and stay out!  Permanently!”  Jake was eyeing him suspiciously.

“You sure about this, brother?”

“Very sure!  See you tomorrow morning in Carlson’s office.  At ten sharp.  The papers will be ready for you to sign.  Be there!”  Jake was gone.  Henry smiled at Jessica.

“Want to go with him?”

“Are you crazy?”  she was angry.  “He’s probably on his way to Kelly Fisher’s place right now!”  She softened a little.  Her lip trembled.  “It’s been over between us for years.   I only stayed because I love this place….” She dissolved in tears.  Henry consoled her.

“Things will be better from now on, Jess.  You, the girls and my mother will have the place to yourselves.  He won’t bother you now.  And I’ll get some good people in to help you.  Now, I must go and see Mom…..”  Jessica frowned.

She won’t know you.  Your father has been dead for ten years, but sometimes she feels as if he’s still sitting in his chair, right beside her. She’s totally in the past.   Do you really want to hear her raving on about how great Jake is?”  He smiled.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.

“Oh and Henry!  One more thing!”

“Yes?”  he asked her.

“Please bring Jamie and Ethan……home to meet the family.”

“I will,” he replied, “very soon…"


This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 29/09/2009

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