Returning Home Ch. 01

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Lord knows, I should of been gone, And I wouldn’t have been here, down on the killin’ floor, Yeah

Chester Burnett, Howling Wolf’s Recording – The Killing Floor

* * * * *

“Hey, Jim. When’d ya get back?”

“Last night. How ya’ doin’ Hector?”

Looking up from his newspaper, Jim Mason nodded, and gestured to the opposite side of the booth, inviting the man to join him. He folded the paper precisely along the creases and aligned it so that the masthead was exactly parallel to the edge of the table. Jim pushed his plate up so that it sat centered, just to the right of the newspaper.

His guest looked on with bemusement at Jim’s fastidious nature.

Jim appreciated his old teammate not staring at his scars. He had gotten used to solitude, but still enjoyed eating at the town’s diner. The fluorescent lighting, Formica, and smell of cooking-oil reminded him of better time, and he desperately needed those memories.

Barely able to fit, Hector slid his huge bulk into the booth. With his black leather vest, handlebar mustache and an array of tattoos, he looked like an extra from a seventies biker film. Jim had gotten used to people staring at him, but it was an odd sensation seeing the other customers’ furtive glances at Hector. They knew who he was and how he made his money.

Unlike the stares usually aimed at Jim, which were full of pity and macabre curiosity, the stares leveled at Hector were tinged with fear and disgust. Today wasn’t the best of mornings for the patrons. Two objects of distaste were interrupting their normally pleasant breakfast. Fuck them and their little plastic lives. Jim made a point of staring at anyone who looked their way.

The biker grinned widely. “Good. It’s all good. You staying around for a while or just dropping in to see the old place?”

“Don’t know yet.” A little ice entered his voice. “Is that a problem, Hector?”

They both looked up as the waitress approached with the check. Hector looked back at Jim as she spoke.

“Hey, Hector. Get you a coffee?” she asked as she took the plate. She was a pleasant woman in her fifties who had been working there since they were in high school. He ignored her and continued looking at Jim.

“This is your home. Of course, it’s no problem.” He looked up at the waitress as he pulled out his wallet and left a twenty on the table. “Nah, I’m good, honey. And he doesn’t pay if I’m around. This man’s a fucking hero.”

Reaching over, he shook Jim’s hand. “Good to see you, man. Come by on Sunday. We’ll catch the games.” Jim held his hand for a fraction too long and stared at Hector. He nodded his head stiffly.

“Sure, Hec. I’ll be seeing you around.”

Hector lurched back up and made his way to the exit. Jim listened for the roar of the Harley, stood and limped out to the parking lot.

* * * * *

Standing just inside the hospital’s door, Ann pulled her gloves on and wrapped the scarf around her face, leaving her eyes uncovered. It would help cover the stench from the slaughterhouse at McAllister’s Provisions that permeated half the town. They were the largest employer in the area, and one way or another, their influence was always present.

After bracing, she pushed the door open and stepped out into the blistering cold. Hunched over, and looking at the ground in front of her, she made her way to the cement stairs and down to the walkway.

She didn’t notice Jim until he called out. “Hey, Ann. Give you a lift?”

Jim stood next to his father’s old truck, a well worn and scuffed leather jacket his only concession to the weather. She stood there and looked at him for an uncomfortably long time.

“Go home, Jim, wherever that is now. There’s nothing here for you.” Her voice was muffled by the scarf, but he heard every strained word. She kept walking and made her way to the bus stop at the edge of the hospital’s property, standing next to the darkening slush of yesterday’s snowfall.

He watched her for a moment before getting back in the truck. It took him a minute or two to decide what to do. He pulled up next to her and got out.

“Get in. Please. Can’t I give my cousin a lift? I’m just going to stand out here in the cold until you let me drive you home. Do us both a favor and get in.”

Peering down the road and seeing no sign of the bus, she looked at the gray skies for a moment before getting in the pick-up. She noticed the scars on the left side of his face as he limped around to the other side to get in.

Jim saw the fatigue that the scarf had had hidden. Her eyes were slightly sunken and she slumped against the door. Ann spoke softly. “I’d like to say that I’m glad you got home okay, but I guess that’s not possible. Are you out for good?”

He stared straight ahead through the windshield, avoiding her gaze. “Yeah, not much call for a gimped and half-blind Green Beret. You still staying at your folks?”

“Mmm hmm. Truck looks good. How did you know where I was?”

“Your dad. He thought it was too cold for you tuzla escort to take the bus and told me where you were. He still living off Granpa’s money?” She wasn’t dressed for this weather. He knew his uncle’s money went to the local bars and liquor stores, but couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“He gets a check from the estate every six months. It’s not a lot, but it keeps the roof over his head and gives him some spending money. Good to hear he was sober enough to have a coherent thought.”

“So, are they, at the hospital… is it helping?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I get it.” The bitterness in her voice stung him. “Listen, you’re not still angry at me, right? I would have stayed if I had known. I didn’t just disappear on you. Dad served, Granpa served. Since I was a kid, it was always—”

“I’m not angry. I was never angry about that. I’m dealing with my own shit. Not everything is about you.”

The ride was quiet for a while.

“Have you been to the grave, Jim?”

Glancing over at her, he wondered how often she went. “No. I’m not sure where she’s at.”

“Wanna go now?”

He had spent three hours at the graves of his parents the day before he left for basic training. That was the last time he had been to the cemetery. They drove for twenty minutes without speaking. She spoke only to direct him to the grave once they were on the grounds.

“Stop. It’s over there. Fourth row back.” She pointed to the grave.

He parked the truck on the grass road and turned to her. “You coming, Ann?”

“No, I’m here about once a week. You go ahead.”

He didn’t realize that it would hit him as hard as it did. When he read the inscription he felt the tears rolling down his right cheek. He stayed there in the wind and the cold thinking about her, said a brief prayer, touched his fingers to his lips and then to the gravestone. She had been the love of his life, as absurd as that may seem. When he got back in the truck, he sat there for a minute as he prepared to drive the short distance to his parent’s graves.

She didn’t wait long after to bring up what she needed to know. Her voice regained that bitterness as she spoke in a clipped tone. “So, you wanna tell me how it happened?”

“How what happened?”

“Don’t play games with me, Jim. How does a boy start fucking his aunt? How did it start with my mother?”

Jim’s stomach clenched and he grabbed the steering wheel to stop his hands from shaking. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Does your dad know?”

“No. I don’t think so. He wasn’t paying attention to much back then. Certainly not to you and Mom. And I never said anything.” Her voice turned more hostile. “You wanna answer the question?”

“I don’t know. There’s no answer that I can give you that will help you understand. It’s not like I can shine a light on it and make everything clear. I don’t even know how it all started.”

He turned and looked at her, wondering how much he could ask about what happened to her without causing more pain.

“I’ll answer you as honestly as I can and I’ll answer any other question you want if you answer one for me. Deal?”

Twisting to lean her back against the door, she looked over at him, determined to finally get some answers.

“Deal, but you go first.”

“Okay.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “After my folks passed, I was staying at your place a lot. Gramma was listed as my guardian, but she let me do as I pleased. I was sixteen. How much could she do? I’d go home to the house to sleep, but otherwise, I was at your place. I’d had a crush on your mom for as long as I could remember. Seriously, since I was five or six.” He stopped, remembering. “She was such a beautiful woman, even to a kid.”

He sat there and looked out the driver’s side window.

“When puberty hit, my interests changed. She became more than my pretty aunt if you get what I’m saying. She knew. She definitely knew. She was really nice about it. Never teased me, never made me feel bad. When I spent time with you guys she didn’t treat me like a kid. She spoke to me as if I mattered. Like an adult.”

He paused again.

“I tried to help out as much as possible. I’d fix a fence or re-hang a door or something. It made me feel so grown up, and your dad wasn’t much help. After my folks passed, she always made sure I was eating enough and keeping up with schoolwork. I think I would have flunked out if I wasn’t so afraid of disappointing her.”

He raised his hands to the heat from the vent as he gathered his thoughts.

“When she was first diagnosed I didn’t know what to do. I had just turned eighteen and I was about to enlist. I felt, I don’t know, helpless. Awkward. Like I was a third wheel she didn’t need to be taking care of, but how could I leave? Your dad took the news by drinking even more. You were dealing with things the best that you could and I became determined to fix every fucking problem on your property. I think I repainted some sections of fence four times.”

She tuzla escort bayan kept looking him over. Jim knew that he had changed, physically and emotionally. Time and experience had forced him to grow up. He was more mature a little more self aware. Ann put her hands under her arms in a futile attempt to keep them warm as she spoke. “Yeah, that was a rough time. I know that she felt guilty about you not enlisting as soon as you graduated.”

He waved that concern away with his hand.

“I think that she started to enjoy my attention more then. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more guilty. She’s fighting cancer and I can’t stop thinking about her like… like that. But I think she sort of liked it. Maybe it helped her feel alive and womanly or something, I don’t know. She started touching me more. Nothing much. Just a hand on my shoulder or something. She didn’t have to compete with a bottle for my attention. I love your father, but he’s a fucking idiot.” He stopped and looked at her. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have—”

“No, you’re right. Go on.”

“Okay. The first time something happened was when we went by the river to get some honey from down by the trees. I carried the suits and gloves and stuff and we headed down.” He paused. “Listen, can we maybe finish this tomorrow? I want to go see my folks and talking about this, well, it’s not easy. Especially here.”

“As long as you’re not trying to duck out, sure. What was your question for me?”

“I know that I’m not supposed to bring this up or ask any questions or anything, or I guess that’s what I’m assuming is the right thing to do, but when you were… when it happened, was anyone with him?”

She didn’t seem angry, just curious.

“No, why?”

“‘Cause I’m going to kill him.”

* * * * *


“Jim, you wanna go check for honey?” Knowing that he was always within earshot, she didn’t need to look for him. She loved him dearly, but he had been like an overprotective puppy since she was diagnosed.

The family had recently decided that they should use part of their four acres to set up some hive stands. The hobby would keep her occupied and the free honey that they would harvest themselves seemed like a great idea. They were still new to the process, and were understandably skittish.

“Sure. Let me grab the suits.”

Walking down to the stands was pleasant, in spite of the extreme heat. Jim carried their suits in a large duffel bag and walked slowly, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to keep up. She thought it was cute if a bit annoying. She didn’t feel much different and probably wouldn’t until they started the chemo. Everyone treated her so damn differently, though. Like she was going to break or that she had one foot in the grave.

They stopped when they were within eyesight of the hive stands and put the suits, gloves, and helmets on. Jim was too young to understand the reference, but she always felt like one of the government agents in ET when she put on the gear. Jim held the smoker, and encumbered by the suits, they made their way to the stands.

Working the bellows, Jim didn’t hear her call out at first. When he did hear, he turned his head and then finally his whole body to avoid the helmet’s obstruction.

She spoke louder. “Is the smoker lit enough? There seem to be a lot of them out here.”

“Yeah, it’s lit the same as always.” He turned back and kept up his efforts to get the smoker working and distract the bees.

“Jim? Jim!”

He turned again to see her swatting at about two dozen bees that were congregating in her area. He panicked, dropped the bellows and awkwardly ran towards her. He picked her up and kept trudging forward. She started laughing when they were about twenty-five yards from the stands and kept it up until he put her down near the bank of the river.

Laughter slowing and finally stopping, she pulled her helmet off and looked at her nephew. Pushing back her dark red hair, she wiped off some sweat and apologized.

“I’m sorry, Jim. I wasn’t laughing at you. It’s just you trying to run in that get-up, me slung over your shoulder… I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. We might not be cut out to be beekeepers.”

He pulled his helmet off and the rest of his suit followed.

As always, he was overly concerned. “You’re okay? No stings?”

“I’m fine. No damage except to my pride.”

Jim smiled, relieved and happy she was amused. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he pulled his shirt over his head. “I’m gonna soak my shirt and cool off.”

The river swelled here, and the flow was slow and smooth. For a hundred yards it was more of a pond than a river.

“Sounds good. I’m going to sit here and rest up a bit.” She took off the rest of her gear and sat on the grass as she watched him. He was lean and broad, with a well defined back that tapered to a narrow waist. The cuffs of his jeans getting wet as he stood in the shallows of the river, he squatted above the water, splashed some on his torso and escort tuzla then soaked his shirt.

She knew he’d had a crush on her. He had started taking covert peeks down her blouse when he was twelve or thirteen and she often felt his eyes on her when they were together. She had thought it was cute and knew that he would be mortified if she said anything, so she let it be. His attentions intensified after his parents died. He was such a great kid that it broke her heart to see him spending so much time in that house alone.

Her mother-in-law was named his guardian, but it was in name only. He was too strong-willed to be controlled by anyone. His grandmother couldn’t, so Liz did what she could to keep him on the straight and narrow and it had worked. He had graduated from High School last month and planned on enlisting, a family tradition.

It would be difficult for her to let him go. She hated to admit it to herself, but she liked the attention, and where her husband had crawled further into the bottle when she first returned from the doctor’s office in June, Jim had only grown more attentive and solicitous.

The speed at which she made her decision surprised her. She craved the attention and some teasing was harmless. Liz pulled off her shoes, pants, and shirt and stood up.

“That looks too good to stay sitting on the grass.”

Jim turned to see her walking towards the water in just her panties and bra. He stood mesmerized as she looked over at him.

“Close your mouth, Jim. You’ll let the bees in. You’ve seen me in less when I’m in my bikini.”

“Yeah, but, you know.”

“Do I look that bad? Does it bother you? I can go back and put my clothes on.” She couldn’t help teasing him further.

“No, you don’t, you… Aunt Liz, you’re beautiful.”

“Thank you, honey. Let’s relax a bit and then head back to the house.”

He moved deeper into the river and tried to hide his erection until it subsided in the cool water. They chatted and discussed what she would make for dinner before they got out of the water. Jim never removed his jeans and was happy for their ability to camouflage his arousal. They swam and occasionally splashed each other playfully before heading to shore.

He couldn’t help but stare at her as she moved from the water; bra, and panties transparent, and water dripping from her. He could make out her auburn triangle and had to fight again against his rising prick.

* * * * *

Picking up Ann the next morning, Jim drove them to the same diner Hector had found him at. She had her laptop with her. As an Associate Editor for a farming report website, as long as she had a decent internet connection, she could get work done. The job paid well and she was good at it. She also did some freelance writing for national magazines that covered cattle and the agricultural industry.

Ann could afford a car, but knew that her father would use it, whether she wanted him to or not. She couldn’t live with the fear that he would kill someone using her car. She couldn’t keep using the bus indefinitely. Something was going to have to change.

She didn’t flinch exactly, but she drew into herself and, without thinking, shrunk down a bit as they passed the dilapidated bar with the Harleys out front. He noticed and grasped the steering wheel tighter. More so than at any time since he had learned what happened, violence was building within him and he struggled to keep it under control.

Ann saw his reaction. She waited until they were in the diner parking lot to bring up her concern. “You were talking figuratively when you said you going to kill him, right?”

Turning to look at her, Jim fixed her with his good eye and she saw his anger and frustration.

“Not even a little. I’m going to kill him.”

He realized that she was waiting for more of an explanation.

“I figure that I shouldn’t bring this up to you. Shouldn’t burden you. That’s what the experts would say, but I’ve known enough people that have gone through some horrendous shit and they wouldn’t want someone hiding stuff or treating them like they can’t handle it.”

Ann turned towards the window, uncurled her clenched fists, and spoke slowly, searching for the right words. She leaned away from him and looked out the window as she spoke. “It’s not your… I don’t know. It’s not your fight, Jim. You don’t have the right to do something. This is about me. You weren’t there. It didn’t happen to you. It’s up to me to say if something happens, not you. You’re not fucking Sir Galahad coming in on your white horse to make everything okay. What’s going to happen to me if you spend the rest of your life in prison? How am I supposed to deal with that? You’re going to feel better for a day or a month, maybe longer, but how is it going to help me?”

She may as well have been speaking to a stone. He answered her without emotion. “Yeah, I thought about that for a long time. I get it. It’s selfish and it’s some macho bullshit that probably belongs in a different century, but I can’t not do it. I’m not even going to try. Go ahead and hate me. You’re already most of the way there. I know I’m being a dick and I know it’s not going to help you, but it’s something I have to do or I couldn’t live with myself.”

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