WELCOME HOME • by Tobias Backman

James slid further down in the driver’s seat of his worn-out Opel Kadett, lighting another cigarette, his hands shaking more than usual. The cigs were the only vice he still allowed himself. But they didn’t do much to calm his nerves, and even as he inhaled he had to remind himself, once again, to stop scratching the years-old pinprick scars in his elbow pit.

He sat staring at the sun-bleached villa across the street through his rolled-down side window, tapping his fingers on his thighs. Aside from the fading color, the villa seemed untouched by time, no different from when he last called it home.

The light in the kitchen window was blinding compared to its surroundings in the starless summer night, but James could still make out the silhouette of his dad making his dinner for one.

What the hell did you say after twelve years? Hello, remember me, your son? Let’s forget everything and be a family again. That would probably earn him a right hook and a lecture that would make the hook seem like a pat on the cheek.

James’ mistakes would be hard enough to forgive for most people, and the old man wasn’t included in that group. He was pure iron, old school army, as stubborn and unforgiving as they came.

James stretched his half-numb, tingling legs. Christ, even his body wanted to be out of here. He bent forward and massaged his thighs, hoping to get the blood flowing.

A minute later and his legs were nearly back to normal. There were no excuses now. He had to get out there and confront the old man.

He looked back up and nearly dropped the cigarette bud into his lap, his jaw gone slack. How long had the old man been staring back at him?

James crept even lower in the seat, ignoring the protests from his legs.

Stupid. Stupid. Of course the cigarette glow made him visible across the street.

He clawed at his needle scars for a good half minute before giving up and took a deep breath. Nothing good came from scratching, and anger led to relapses, always.

He couldn’t go in there now, not if his dad knew he’d been sitting out here all night, too anxious to talk to him. The old man would call him coward and refuse to let him in. He’d be right, of course.

James murmured a halfhearted prayer, hoping it was just his nerves playing tricks with him. Maybe the old man hadn’t recognized him. Then again, a man lurking in his car outside the house well into the night, that sort of thing would send the old man storming into the street, rifle in hand, backup dagger in his belt.

So James waited, clutching the wheel with his left hand, right hand dangling near the keys.

Nothing happened.

A decade changed a lot of things it seemed.

Trembling, James sat upright again. If only mom was alive, this would’ve been a lot easier. She always knew how to talk to the old man and how to say the things James didn’t. Then again, if she’d still been around, he probably wouldn’t have forced himself into coming here. She could’ve delivered the news for him.

He could still see her face clear as the sun when shutting his eyes, could still hear the disappointment in her voice every time he refused talking to his dad.

Dammit, why was this so bloody difficult? Family was supposed to stand together, right?

He turned to look at the picture lying on the passenger seat, the one he’d ignored the whole evening, the one of Charles junior, named after the granddad he’d never met.

It was a coward’s way out, but as his wife always said, small steps were better than standing still.

He picked up the picture and checked that the address and phone number on the back was correct. Then he added: If not for me, then for him.

Grandchildren, a coward’s weapon, but a powerful one.

Tobias Backman lives and writes in a small town in Denmark, Europe. He mostly writes science fiction and fantasy, but for some reason this particular piece of drama wouldn’t let go of his mind. So he decided to let it out. He used to blog but has decided writing stories is much more interesting than writing about writing stories.

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