The Road Back Home
by Lynne Norris
© May 2001
What took you so long to get here? Regina demanded, as she trotted across her parent's gravel driveway to Jeff's rental car. Remnants of the autumn's fallen leaves skittered over the frozen ground as a cold wind swirled around them. She slid her hand through her brother's arm and huddled close to ward off the cold breeze that penetrated her thin, cotton shirt.
I just drove around town, trying to figure out if I really wanted to come here or not. Jeff jammed his free hand into his coat pocket as he walked alongside her. He looked up at the house and sighed. Is everybody here already?
Yes. Regina glanced over at her brother, hearing the nervous rasp in his voice.
Crap, I need a drink. He ducked his head sorrowfully. Do you think Mom really threw all my stuff out, Reg?
Regina brought a hand up and ran her hand through her hair. I don't know. Jeff, everything will be fine. Just remember, Dad asked you to come here. That should mean something. Regina squeezed her brother's hand and then let him go as they approached the house.
Yeah, but what? Jeff trudged sullenly up the porch steps, then, turned around to look back down the steps at Regina. Should, is the operative word, Reg.
Jeff, maybe he just wants us to be a family again?
Ah, come on, after everything that happened how can you say that? Take the rose-colored glasses off, Regina. Jeff opened the storm door and swept his arm out in front of him. After you.
Regina offered her father a hesitant smile as she stepped into the house and walked past him. She touched Alex's arm and guided her out of the hallway. Let's give them some time alone.
Alex brought her lips close to Regina's ear. How's Jeff?
He's a nervous wreck and suspicious as hell. He can never take anything at face value. I guess that's why he makes such a good lawyer. Regina walked through the living room and led the way into a small den. The room was lined on two walls with bookshelves that were overflowing with books.
Alex watched Regina lower herself into an overstuffed, leather chair.
The blonde glanced up at her companion and offered her a half smile. This is my father's favorite chair to read in, Regina commented absently.
The taller woman tilted her head and folded her arms over her chest as she observed the emotional strain showing on Regina's face. How are you holding up?
The younger woman ran a hand through her hair and pushed several renegade strands behind an ear. Eh, got any Valium I can take?
Alex snorted and let her arms drop to her side. Nope, only the Haldol I need to keep my alter ego in check.
Regina frowned and then buried her head in her hands as a heated flush crept up her neck. Oh Lord, I did tell you that didn't I?
A low chuckle emanated from deep inside Alex's chest. Yes, you most certainly did, my friend.
Alex crossed the room to where Regina was sitting and leaned against the arm of the chair. She cast a wary glance out to the hallway before she stroked the blonde's face and let her fingers slide down to affectionately scratch the nape of her neck. I knew I met my match that day.
The blonde leaned into the caress and closed her eyes, awash in the security of the loving touch. Can we just stay here, away from everyone else for the rest of the weekend?
I'd love to Regina, but I don't think that would go over to well with the rest of your family. Alex tilted the blonde's neck back and placed a feather light kiss on Regina's lips.
That was a nice kiss, she murmured into Alex's shoulder. With a sigh, Regina peered up into gray blue irises that steadily returned her gaze.
Just nice? The brunette nuzzled Regina's neck, inhaling the warm scent of her perfume. Oh you are so bad, Alex chided herself as a thrill of danger coursed through her. Knock it off. She doesn't need her family walking in here with you hanging all over her.
You know what I mean. Regina poked her playfully in the ribs.
Uh oh, I think I hear your brother. Alex lifted her head and listened as Jeff's voice got louder, and then faded away only to be replaced with his brother's a moment later.
Regina stiffened when she heard the angry voices coming from across the hallway. Damn, I can hear Mike and Dad arguing. She stood up from the chair and shook her head. Let me go talk to them so this doesn't get any worse.
So, you actually made it. I wasn't sure you were going to. Robert eyed his son warily, realizing that a lifetime of betrayal, missed opportunities, and bitter memories stood between the two of them.
The early afternoon sunshine coming in through a window cast their long, narrow shadows along the floor and halfway up the side of the wall.
Jeff shrugged out of his coat and draped it casually over his arm as he spoke. I probably wouldn't have bothered if Regina didn't come.
I kind of figured that. His father stepped forward and reached out for the garment. Here. Let me take your jacket, son.
I can do it. Jeff deftly avoided his father's hand and walked to the closet, where he deposited his coat on a hanger. See, after seventeen years I still remember where things are in this house. Surprised?
No. Robert ignored the insolent remark. Your mother's in the kitchen.
Christ, give me a few minutes before you throw me to the wolves. Jeff turned around and glared angrily at his father.
Watch your mouth, Jeff, his father warned him. No matter what you think, your mother still cares about you.
I don't get it. Jeff waved his arms out in front of him. Why after all these years, did you invite me out me here, Dad?
Robert's jaw worked several times before he finally uttered a word. Sixteen years is a long time. How long do we have to wait to be a family again?
Jeff turned away with his arms folded tightly over his chest, his brow furrowed in aggravation.
I put the wine in the refrigerator. Michael walked out of the kitchen and stopped in his tracks when he saw his older brother standing in the hallway. Oh, I didn't know you were here already.
Without a word, Jeff walked into the dining room, refusing to answer his brother. Son of a bitch! He focused on the room, noticing that his parents had it repainted since it seems like forever, Jeff thought.
His mother's china cabinet still sat against the back wall of the house and the liquor cabinet was right where he remembered it, in the corner next to the bay window. If Mom only knew how many times we raided their liquor supply, he mused.
Jeff walked around the oval table, counting seven place settings. Well, I guess they really did plan on me coming out here. He opened the liquor cabinet. Do you want one? He lifted a bottle of Scotch toward his father, sloshing the liquid in the half-filled bottle.
Suit yourself. Jeff shrugged and pointedly ignored his brother. He poured the tawny colored liquor into a glass tumbler. You didn't want me to be part of the family sixteen years ago. He took a swig of the alcohol and grimaced as it burned its way down his throat. I'm still gay. So what changed your mind?
Bloody hell if I know. As far as I'm concerned you could have stayed gone! Michael growled at Jeff from the hallway.
Michael, enough! his father snapped at him.
Don't hold back, Michael. Jeff returned his brother's fiery stare. Tell us how you really feel about me.
Michael looked away and shoved his hand in his pockets. You know, I really didn't think you were serious about this, Dad.
I see you haven't changed much. Nice to see you too, Mikey, Jeff retorted and tossed back another swallow of Scotch before he stalked out of the dining room.
Robert glanced down at the hardwood floor and sighed. Well, I guess that answers how they would get along. Michael, please don't make this weekend any harder than it's going to be.
You're the one who decided to ask him to come home, not me! Michael snapped. We could have had a nice quiet dinner to celebrate Mom's birthday, but no, you had to go and invite them all back.
Don't you think we've all suffered enough? Robert spread his arms wide and implored his son to be reasonable.
Michael threw his arms up and then jabbed a finger at his father's chest. Don't you dare blame me for what happened!
Nobody is blaming you. How can you say that?
Jeff was always your favorite. You couldn't stand it when you found out he was a queer.
Michael, your mother and I did what we thought was best for the family. Robert turned his back to his son and stared out the window with a forlorn expression on his face. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
Go ahead. Turn your back and pretend I'm not here. That's what you did to me after Mom threw Jeff out. That's why I know you blame me, you bastard!
Caroline walked into the room, carrying Zachary in her arms. Hey, you woke the baby.
The boy's face was burrowed in his mother's chest and loud sobs hiccupped from him.
What's all the shouting about in here? She wiped the tears from her son's face, then, looked at her husband and raised a questioning eyebrow.
Michael rubbed his forehead in agitation. Nothing hon, just an old disagreement. He walked over and lifted his son from his wife's arms. Sorry, Tiger. He turned away from his father. Are you coming, Caroline?
Yeah, I'll be right there. Your mom needs help in the kitchen with the roast, Michael. With a worried expression on her face, she watched her husband leave the room and then turned to her father-in-law. Robert, is everything okay?
Everything's fine, Caroline. Robert swallowed and looked away as the echo of ancient memories that haunted his soul.
Alice, what are you yelling about? Robert looked up from reading a book as his wife stormed into his office.
Your son! Do you have any idea what he was doing out in the barn?
Which one Mike or Jeff? Robert pulled his glasses off his face and frowned at his wife. He knew it had to be something bad, her nostrils were flaring with every breath, and her face was beet red.
Michael just told me, he saw Alice's face paled and she took several gulping breaths. He just saw Jeff in the barn with another man.
Oh, Tom? They're cleaning out the horse stalls for me.
Robert, how can you be so blind? They were, oh God. She clutched her hand over her mouth and shook her head. Get him out of here! Get him out of here, now!
Alice! Get a hold of yourself. What are you talking about? Robert stood up and glanced out the window at the wooden structure across the driveway.
They were doing things to each other.
No! Jeff? No way. Robert threw his book down in the chair behind him and walked hurriedly out of the room. Michael?
At the front door, he looked toward the barn and in that instant his world stopped. There in the driveway, he saw Jeff desperately gripping one of Michael's arms. The smaller boy was flailing his limbs trying to scramble away from him.
He opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. Jeffrey!
Michael broke loose from his brother's grasp as Jeff snapped to attention and stared helplessly at his father. Jeff's usually neat attire was hopelessly rumpled and what Robert saw in his son's eyes, damned him more.
Michael screamed something at Jeff, ran past his father into the house, and raced up the stairs.
Robert cringed as he heard the bedroom door slam from an open window. What did you do, Jeff?
Dad. It sounded more like a moan from a wounded animal.
Look at me, son. What were you doing in the barn?
Jeff staggered toward him and glanced anxiously up at his brother as he opened the window and hung his head out. Please, Dad. Don't listen to Michael.
Jeff's a faggot! Michael screamed at the top of his lungs from his bedroom window.
After many bitter arguments, he relented and finally gave into his wife. He could still hear his wife's angry voice ringing in his ears. What kind of an influence is he going to be on Regina and Michael? Do you want them exposed to that lifestyle?
He did after all have two other children to worry about and they lived in a small town, where everyone knew everybody else's business. He convinced himself that they had made the right decision, but as time passed and he watched Regina withdraw from the family and Michael get involved with the wrong group of kids at school he regretted the decision more and more.
Looking back now over a decade later, he wondered how his family might have been different if Jeff was allowed to stay.
Jeff wandered down the hallway toward the kitchen. Behind him he heard Michael's angry voice as he argued about something with his father. Crap! Why did I bother to come here?
He snapped his head around when he heard his mother's voice from the kitchen.
Caroline, can you help me with this?
Silently, he cursed his cowardice. He dreaded this meeting with his mother ever since his father called him a month ago. What the hell do I say?
He took half a step toward the front door and stopped as he felt a surge of anger. No, dammit! You chased me out of the house once; I'm not going to let you do it to me again.
Jeff swallowed nervously, as the short walk to the kitchen felt it took like forever. He saw her from the doorway and stopped, absorbing the image of the woman who stood before him. She seemed smaller and less imposing than he remembered but all the same his heart still raced in his chest.
Her silvery hair was shorter and hung limply about the base of her neck as she bent over the open door of the oven. She struggled with the large roasting pan as she pulled it out and for a moment it teetered precariously in her arthritic hands.
Caroline can you help me with this? Her voice wavered as she struggled to control the weight of the pan as she lifted it from the oven rack.
I got it. Jeff walked over, slid his hands around the potholders, and took the pan from his mother. Gingerly, he set it on the stove and then quickly stepped back away from her. Hello, mother.
The emotions that crossed her face when she looked up at him were unreadable. The silence between them stretched on interminably.
It's you, she finally uttered, her face paling as she leaned heavily against the counter.
Jeff struggled between going to her and the memory of her outright rejection of him as her son so many years ago.
Mom, why can't you understand? I love him, Jeff pleaded.
Love! You're seventeen. What do you know about love? She walked away unable to look at her son and reconcile the vile images she had been torturing herself with since she learned the truth about him. She stopped at a closet door, pulled out a broom, and carefully started to sweep the floor at her feet.
I know that it's the best feeling I've ever known. Jeff followed her down the hallway. He stopped short when she whirled around and shouted at him.
Why can't you just be normal? She shook a finger at him angrily. It's unnatural!
This is the most natural thing I've done.
She turned away and continued her sweeping. Just go. I don't want to talk about this anymore.
The moment passed and his mother turned away to pull a platter out of a cabinet.
Your father said he called you.
Jeff couldn't help feeling defensive, wondering, if his mother wished he hadn't shown his face here today. He asked me to be here.
I know. She nodded in response as she went about the task of lifting the roast out of the pan. You came alone, she commented quietly.
I barely got myself here. Why would I want to subject Darryl to this?
Regina brought her friend with her.
He watched her shoulders stiffen at the remark and cringed at the harshness of her voice.
Jeff laughed and shook his head. That's how Regina is, Mom. She was always braver than I was.
Darryl? She glanced briefly over her shoulder at her son. I thought that boy's name was Tom.
Jeff leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. I'm surprised you even remember his name. It was. Tom died ten years ago.
Died? She finally turned and studied the young man standing in front of her. He was so young.
He saw the questions reflected back in her eyes and folded his arms. Tom liked to live fast. 'Die young and leave a good-looking corpse.' It was Tom's favorite come back whenever I asked him to stop using drugs and frequenting the baths.
I I'm sorry, she struggled to get the words out. What happened to him?
Jeff shrugged. You didn't want to know about my life then, why should I allow you to have those pieces back now? It's a long story.
I don't mind.
With a sigh, Jeff spoke the words quickly, afraid that if he didn't blurt them out he never would. Tom was diagnosed with HIV a few years after we met.
His mother's expression sobered as a heavy weight of uneasiness settled in her chest. Her voice trembled. Jeff, before you say anything else, please, tell me you're not positive.
Hazel eyes blinked and he stared down at the floor. I wasn't the last time I got tested.
His mother choked back a sob of relief and covered her mouth with a hand. I'm sorry, she whispered and turned away from him. Still reeling from what he told her a moment ago, she clutched the edge of the sink with her hands.
Jeff stood at the table unable to approach her. What are you sorry about? You weren't there. Tom didn't die of AIDS Mom. He took an overdose of drugs so he wouldn't end up like some of his friends did.
He killed himself? Alice wiped her eyes and blew her nose loudly before she faced him again.
We talked about it as he got sicker. It was what he wanted. Jeff glanced over at the hallway as Regina appeared in the doorway.
Hi. She looked questioningly between her brother and mother. Are you okay?
Jeff blew out a breath and shrugged. I was telling her about Tom.
Oh. Regina stepped hesitantly into the kitchen and walked up beside her brother. She wrapped an arm around his waist and squeezed him affectionately.
Did you know about him? Alice looked at her daughter, realizing now, as she watched her two oldest children how little she knew about their lives.
Regina nodded her head. I flew out to California for the funeral.
Their mother sighed heavily, her gaze somber as she regarded them. I don't pretend to understand your choice of lifestyles.
She wasn't sure she could ever accept it. At moments when she least expected it, the words, 'I'm gay', still crushed her. Her own hypocrisy haunted her, knowing she had become in one moment of all-consuming and powerfully destructive rage, 'one of those people' who ostracized and condemned her own son.
By the time the magnitude of what she did finally broke through her ironclad defenses it was too late. The one time she spoke to Jeff on the phone it quickly spiraled down into an exchange of heated and angry words. The words 'I hate you!' followed by the dial tone of the phone, still woke her in the middle of the night.
It's not a choice, Mom, Jeff quickly protested.
His mother held a hand up. I'm not going to debate what it is or is not. I just I went through life believing that things would always be a certain way. I learned the hard way that they're not.
Mom, Regina whispered. She dropped her arms to her sides and gnawed on her lower lip as she watched the anguish in the older woman's eyes.
Don't you think that if you weren't gay that you would be happier? their mother stammered as she wrung her hands together, still keeping her distance from them. Both of you? She looked desperately between the two of them.
No. I'd be miserable if I tried to act straight. Besides, if I did do that, I'd be lying to everyone, including myself. Jeff glanced anxiously at Regina. Feel free to jump in at any time, Sis.
You didn't teach us to be that way, Mom.
I sent you away. She looked at her son and her lower lip started to quiver slightly.
Jeff ran his hands through his hair and looked away from her. He couldn't bear to see his mother cry. I told you to fuck off and die. His eyes met Regina's and he swallowed nervously. No, don't you dare cry.
The blonde shook her head and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. Too late.
Damn you, Regina. Jeff acted on impulse and put his arms around his sister. They held on to each other not saying anything. He turned his head and stared at his mother through his own tears, then, slowly, he reached an arm out to her.
I've missed you, she whispered as she walked toward them and wrapped her arms around her children.
Regina sagged into the embrace when she felt Jeff's shoulders shudder as he let out a long held sob.
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