The older man did not turn to look at the younger man, as had been expected. The older man looked straight ahead. He cleared his throat.
“Ten years, boy. You’ve been gone for ten years and I’ll be damned if you think coming back now and saying one ‘I’m sorry’ is going to change anything.”
The younger man wiped the sweat off his brow and put his cap back on his head. He knew his father called him ‘boy’ to make him feel small. He had always hated that nickname. And his father knew it too.
“Son, just you try and tell me what it is you’re sorry for.”
The young man knew that this was a challenge, but he had come back with good intentions. He had to try and fight for what he came for. He stood up and walked in front of his father, trying to force the older man to look at him.
“I’m sorry for leaving, Dad. I’m sorry for breaking Mom’s heart when I did it. I’m sorry I took your truck too. I’ve kept pretty good care of her though. I’m sorry I never called, and I’m sorry I never came back. I was young and upset and I thought that if I didn’t get out of here then I wouldn’t get out at all. I know now that it wasn’t fair to you or Mom. And I’m sorry.”
The older man made no reply, but he finally raised his eyes up to meet his son’s. They were as blue as the ocean, just like his mother’s. The young man continued.
“But I’m here now. I came back. And I know it’s far too late for a lot of things, but I’m not going anywhere for awhile. Let me prove it to you. ”
The old man suddenly became angry and stood up, face to face with his son.
“Now? You wanna be here now? What about when your mother stayed in bed crying everyday for months after you first left? What about three years ago when she had pneumonia and spent a month in the hospital? You left Ethan! You left without a word and we hadn’t heard from you for ten years. You could’ve been dead for all we knew. But now, you come waltzing back in like everything is going to be fine. Boy it is not fine and it will not be fine. You lost us the minute you went to chase something better.”
Ethan turned around and put his head in his hands. He made a split second decision that he knew he would regret. He spun around, ready to fight.
“You know if I had called that Mom would’ve begged me to come home and I couldn’t go back! Don’t you get that? People don’t get out of here Dad. People are born here and they die here because they’re too scared or too stubborn to leave. Cassie had just died Dad. The only reason I had to stay in this God-forsaken town. I loved her and she was gone and I knew I had nothing left here for me. I-“
The old man was furious now.
“The only reason! She was the only reason, huh? What about your mother, Ethan? What about your brother? We were a family and I don’t care if you felt you could find something better out in the goddamn city! You left us like we were nothing, son. And you will never be forgiven for that.”
“Ryan? You and I both know that Ryan was happy here and that he would continue to be with or without me. He was your golden boy, right Dad? The son that you were so proud of? But none of that matters now because he’s dead too. Everyone dies here! This place is poison! We’re poison.”
“How dare you bad mouth your brother right now! He loved you and here you are talking ill about him when he’s not around to stop you! Shame on you, boy. Shame on you.”
Ethan walked straight off the front porch steps. The old man, tired, let him go. Ethan made it halfway across the yard before he stopped. He took off his hat and began running his fingers across the brim again. He put it back on before spinning around and heading back. His voice was soft now.
“Dad, I may not have stuck around but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love him. And that’s why I’m here. And I know you may not think so but I lost him too. I came back so we could get through this together. I know you and Mom can’t take care of this place without him. So I came back. And I will stick around now. I was alright with leaving then because I knew you’d be okay. Now you both are on your own. So I'm here.”
The old man sat back down, whether in defeat or acceptance he himself did not know. But he beckoned his son to sit down, and Ethan did. The old man took the pitcher and poured two glasses. He handed one to his son and they sat back in their chairs, and the rhythmic rocking started up again. The clouds were suddenly dispersing and the sunlight was back to pouring down.
“Huh,” said Ethan. “Guess it’s not gonna rain after all.”