Returning Home Ch. 02

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Run, rabbit run

Dig that hole, forget the sun

And when at last the work is done

Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one

Roger Waters, Breathe, – Pink Floyd

* * * * *

“Jim?” Ann had picked up at three rings.

“Hey, Ann. Listen, I’m sitting in your driveway. I brought over my smoker and the old grill. I’m gonna set them up in your backyard. I’m not gonna need them and whoever buys the place can get their own.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Yeah.” Jim hesitated. What do you say to someone heading into therapy? Have a good session? “Okay, listen, I’ll pick you up at four.”

His dad had purchased the grill and smoker years ago and, like everything he owned, was almost fanatical in their upkeep. Jim spent hours that morning scouring them, removing some rust, and cleaning the thermometers. The only replacements needed were the cooking grates. He wasn’t sure if it was nature or nurture, but Jim followed in his father’s footsteps. Anything out of place was an irritant, and if you had something you valued, you kept it in good repair.

They had spent countless hours sitting around that smoker, talking about whatever came to mind. Jim knew now that his father gently guided those conversations to what he thought his son should know. What it meant to be a man, respecting others, standing for those in need.

They would sit in their oak chairs, listening to the popping of the wood as it slowly burned down. Monitoring the temperatures, they had their wood supplies handy, post-oak, cherry, peach, some mesquite chunks. Their conversations took meandering, circuitous routes around the weather, football and how to tell when a brisket was ready by feel instead of temperature, but they always ended up with his father underscoring what he felt was important in life.

Jim knew that there was a deep need in his father to inculcate his values into his son. It was never stated, but he knew that his dad lived with the frustration of not knowing how his brother, Jim’s uncle, had stepped onto the wrong path and checked out on life. If he couldn’t understand how it happened, how could he protect his son and ensure that he didn’t make the same mistakes?

When the cookers were originally unloaded, it had taken both Jim and his father to get them out of the truck. It was barely a struggle now to get them out on his own. Jim had become even more fanatical about staying in shape after his injuries, as if he could compensate for his losses with physical fitness. Every morning he ran for as long as his bad leg would allow and then slowed to a brisk walk. He didn’t sleep much, so he worked out in the evenings, driving himself to exhaustion.

After putting the equipment in the back of the house and moving some split logs of cherry and oak near the smoker, Jim returned to the truck and pulled out a bag with two chicken salad sandwiches and a beer. Going back to the stacked wood, he rearranged it so that both stacks were of even height. Satisfied, he made his way towards the tree near the river. In spite of the cold, he sat down, back against the trunk and ate his lunch.

For the first time that he could remember since Liz’s death, he felt at peace. He could almost feel her. This was his home, here under their tree. This is where he could return to and calm the storms in his soul. The house he grew up in was just a building, this is where his spirit dwelled. The anger, frustration and loneliness seeped out of his soul as he watched the water and remembered.

* * * * *


11 Years Ago, Summer

Liz vacuumed the carpeting, the afternoon heat adding to her exhaustion. She had to stop three times to sit down and rest. She watched Jim as he went back and forth in their backyard. He was effortlessly carrying the wooden shed’s door to where he had the sander set up. Liz’s gaze lingered on his back, his chest, his lean, muscled frame, before calling from the window.

“Jim? You hungry?”

He quickly looked up at her voice, fear in his eyes, relaxing when he realized she was just starting a conversation. She felt a tightening in her stomach. There was always a panicked start when he heard her, as if something were wrong, something he had to take care of or make right. She was no longer Aunt Liz. She was now Aunt Liz with cancer.

Smiling, he grabbed his shirt, pulled it back on, jogged over to the house and joined her in the kitchen. “Always hungry. Whadda you have?”

In spite of her quickening pulse, she took a step back from him. As circumspect as they were when they weren’t by the water, they had fallen into the habit of casually touching one another when they were near. They often stood too close, enjoying a proximity that wasn’t entirely appropriate.

She could see the understanding in his gentle smile. Liz reached up for a brief moment and cupped his cheek. She ruthlessly pushed down the feelings of guilt that always flowed just below the surface, burbling up now and again to assail her conscience.

“I thought I’d cut up some cheese and apples and we’ve tuzla escort got those crackers. Still got some of Sunday’s ham in the fridge.”

He smiled again. “Can we eat down by the river?”

She walked over to the counter without answering, and started cutting food up.

“Aunt Liz?”

She pushed away her reticence and guilt. “Sure. We can have a little picnic.”

They brushed shoulders and reflexively leaned towards each other as they made their way to the river.

Sitting by their tree, they drank some pop after their lunch. Liz saw him watching her expectantly.

“Jim, I’m a little tired today. I don’t think I’m going to go swimming.”

“Are you—”

She smiled wanly at his concern. “I’m fine, honey. Just tired.”

Liz reached over and took his hand. She knew that he wouldn’t force the issue. Jim had always acted like being in her presence was a reward of some sort. She didn’t deserve it, but she couldn’t put an end to it. Before the passion and infatuation, he had loved her. As a child that love was there and it remained today.

A dangerous edge intertwined with his passion. There was always something just under the surface with Jim, a strength and hardness that he kept locked down. She watched him as he repeatedly cast an eye over her body in the uncontrollable, obvious manner of young men. Liz knew that the reality of her appearance wasn’t what Jim saw. It both pained and thrilled her.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before he leaned over and kissed her. She shivered slightly and kissed him back, opening her mouth to his adventurous tongue. He soon lowered her to the ground as he leaned over her, their kissing becoming deeper, more passionate.

They were hundreds of yards from the house in what they both felt was their own little world, protected by distance, the large tree and knowing the schedules of Ann and her father. Liz suppressed the concerns that Jim never considered.

Jim slipped his hand under her shirt, gently cupping her breast. He continued kissing her as his other hand slipped down towards her waist, grabbing the bottom of her shirt and started pulling it up. She lifted her arms as he pulled it over her head and she lay back, resuming their kissing as he pushed her bra up to give greater access to his probing hands and fingers.

Slowly, with a confidence that belied his youth, Jim moved down, kissing her body along the way. He stopped to suck on one nipple as he teased and tugged the other. Growing turgid under his lips and tongue, the flavors of the remnants of her floral soap and salt from her sweat mingled erotically as her rubbery nubs grew and hardened. Going lower, he kissed her belly and then navel. Stopping at the start of her shorts, he looked up at Liz and smiled wolfishly. She shivered and then scooted forward as he pulled her shorts down.

After freeing the shorts from her legs, he kissed his way up her thighs, pushed the panties to the side and kissed her mons. Pulled in by the heat emanating from her center, he kissed her again, shifting lower. The gusset of her panties were soaked as he pulled them down, soon landing next to her shorts on the grass.

“Just relax. You don’t need to do anything, Liz.”

He made his way back up her beautiful, toned legs, delivering small nibbles along the way. Her aroma washing over him, he spread her legs further, pausing at the sight. Her hair was trimmed and neat, framing the entrance to her elysium field.

She giggled gazing down at him, enjoying the look of wonder on his face. He looked up sharply. She wasn’t the sort of woman who giggled. She saw him looking at her and gently ran her hand through his hair.

“Oh, Jim. What you do to me…”

He pulled up, grabbed the back of her head and pulled her in for another long, passionate kiss. Jim again made his way down south and ran his tongue along her slit. Her whole body shivered again before he paused, looking up at her.

“Uhhhh, Liz, I haven’t really done this too often. If—”

“You’re amazing, Jim. You’re doing fine.” She often had to remind herself that he was only eighteen and less experienced than she would have thought. How could it be that the towns girls weren’t throwing themselves at him?

He was licking her and holding tightly to her hips.

“Jim, a little gentler, honey. And maybe up towards the top… oh, yeah. Right there!” Well past a shiver, her body shook as Jim found her clit. After a few minutes, Jim’s face was awash with her passion.

She came two more times as she taught him the benefits of variety, patience and alternating between being forceful and gentle. He explored her body and committed to memory her lessons, determined to be the best that he could for her.

When they were done she saw the swelling in his pants as well as the damp wetness. He saw her looking and spoke softly, embarrassed. “I, uhhh, I got excited.”

She smiled, cupping the side of his face again. “It’s fine, Jim. It makes me happy that I excite you. It looks like you’re back again.” She stroked tuzla escort bayan him through his jeans. “Let me help you.”

She unbuttoned his jeans and he pushed them down off his hips, the boxers following. Using his still warm cum as a lubricant, she stroked his hard cock before taking it in her mouth. He wrapped his hands in her hair, clutching it and then releasing. Fighting his natural inclination and trying to be gentle.

“Oh, Liz… Aunt Liz…”

Hearing him call her Aunt Liz, she forced herself down further, the risque nature of what they were doing exciting her beyond what she previously thought was her peak. One hand on the base of his cock, her other snaked down between her legs.

She moaned as she worked her tongue, her pussy throbbing. The vibrations from her moaning almost pushed Jim over the edge, but he lasted much longer than she expected. After a few minutes he finally exploded. As he went over the edge, she came again for the fourth time.

* * * * *

Jim heard the regularly-spaced echoes of the gunshots coming from behind the house. He quickly turned the corner to see Ann with a Glock 26, shooting cans set up on an old picnic table. She seemed to know what she was doing. He found a lawn chair and sat, watching her until she noticed him. Pulling off her ear protection, she turned to face him, squinting one eye as the sun set behind Jim’s shoulder.

“Got any advice?”

He shrugged his shoulders and offered a tight grin. “Nope. You seem to be doing okay.”

“No top-secret military techniques to share?”

“Not my field. Never did small arms instruction. Call John Wick. I heard he’s really good at that stuff.”

His attempt at levity failing, Ann stared at him. “What do you want, Jim?”

“To see if you want to head over to the diner. Grab some dinner. You need to do any shopping or anything?”

Her face grew rigid and she gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

“Why do you go there? You get the same stares that I do. Have you thought about that? They try not to be too obvious. They feel just horrible for you. Isn’t that compassionate of them? But not horrible enough to sit down with you. Share a meal. Say hi. We’re damaged and we don’t have the decency to stay unseen, out of sight. Why go?”

Jim gripped the sides of the chair, knuckles turning white, and stared at her. “Fuck them, that’s why. Fuck them. You think I’m going to let them decide where I’m going to eat?”

Ann sighed. She knew he would never back down from anything. He had always been self-righteous and he returned worse. She didn’t know if it was due to his wounds or just being in the military.

“You’re such an asshole. Why did you come back here?”

Uncomfortable with the topic, he leaned into his chair and let go of some of his anger. “You know why.”

“You’re here for Liam.”

“Yeah. That and to finalize things with my folks’ property.”

She paused, looking at the sky as if she could pull some patience from the gathering clouds. She mentally counted to ten before continuing. “Do you even… Look, you need some help. You need to start talking to someone. Think about what you just said. Your cousin was raped. I’m seeing a therapist three times a week. I’m a pariah. You had to find out from your friends, because I didn’t contact you.”

She stopped for a moment, checked the trigger safety on the Glock, and with shoulders dropped, looked at Jim. He could see the pity in her eyes as she continued.

“You didn’t come here to see her. You didn’t come to help her. You didn’t come to comfort her father. You came here to kill someone. What does that make you, Jim? Who the fuck are you? I wasn’t joking. You need to start talking to someone and figure out what’s wrong with you.”

“No, Ann, that’s…”

His mind racing, Jim felt his palms moisten. Unbidden, memories of when he first received the email from Cort sprang to mind. Anger. That’s what he felt at the time. Anger and rage. That realization shook him. It wasn’t fear, it wasn’t compassion for Ann. It was pure, cold anger. New feelings pushed back his dormant anger. Self-loathing joined the frustrated rage.

His voice was barely audible as he spoke. “You’re right. You deserved more. I’m sorry, Ann. I don’t…” His voice trailed off and he seemed to shiver as he stood.

She watched him limp off and soon heard the truck start and back out of the driveway.

* * * * *

The klaxon-like alarm cut off as Archie entered the code into the alarm pad. He held his cellphone in one hand and a bat in the other as he slowly, silently, traversed the floor of the beer distributor. Jim’s truck was out front, but with everything happening, he wasn’t taking any chances.

The back door was open a crack, so Archie pulled it closed. At the sound of a clinking of glass, he quietly headed to the office. The glow from the computer screen illuminated Jim’s frame, bottles of beer sitting on the table and the three on the floor next to him.

“Sitting with your back to the door? What sorta special escort tuzla forces, Green Beret, Navy Seal, ninja are you, Jim?”

Without turning around, Jim responded, his voice weary. “Hey, Arch. This thing is slow as shit.”

Archie looked over his shoulder at the screen. Multiple windows were open. Mood swings. PTSD. Anger management.

“Yeah? Go home and use your own computer. How’d you get in?” He stepped forward and gently, hesitantly, put his hand on Jim’s shoulder, assuring him that everything was okay. He was home. He was welcome. How much had he been drinking? Nine. After a quick glance, it was nine empty bottles that surrounded his old friend.

“Still got the key from your dad. Working those summers. How’s he doing. Your dad. He okay?” Jim was drunk.

“Yeah, Jim. He remarried. He stays up at the cabin. Does a bunch of fishing. He asks about you. I grew up thinking he liked you and Cort more than he liked me.” Archie spoke lightly, humor lifting his words.

“Nah. That guy loved you. Every time you were out of the room he was bragging on you.”

“I know, Jim. I’m just saying that he’s concerned. A lot of us are. He’s always asking if we’ve talked. What’s going on? Tonight, I mean. It’s not a problem, I’ll give you the code, but… what’s going on?”

“Dunno. Just sort of remembering. High school, working here. Grabbing kegs for after the games and your dad pretending not to know. He okay?”

Archie smiled sadly as Jim started to repeat himself. “Yeah, Jim, Dad’s okay. How about you, Jim? How are you doing?”

“They’re hiding Liam. I checked all over. All the old places. Spent two fucking days in the woods, watching. Found where they’re making some meth. Watched their fucking little clubhouse. Found their chopshop. No Liam. Gonna flush him out and then fix things with Ann.”

Archie’s voice was tinged with concern. “With Ann?”

Startled, Archie saw Jim’s back convulse as he started to sob.

“What the fuck’s wrong with me? She’s my fucking cousin. Why…”

Jim started to shrug Archie off when his friend hugged him from behind. Jim leaned forward, head on his hands, elbows on the desk. He stayed there for a minute, pulled in a ragged breath and wiped his face with his sleeve.

“I’m not… right. I’m not right, Arch. I gotta handle this shit and do what I can for Ann. I’m like fucking poison.”

“Jim, are you… with what happened over there, did you, you know, talk to someone? Did you… get some help? Is that what you were looking up? “

Jim reached over his shoulder, found his friend’s arm, squeezed, and then patted it.

“No. It’s Ann. I… I don’t know what to do. She’s, I don’t know. One minute everything’s fine, the next I think she wants to hit me or she hates me or something.”

Archie spoke softly, stepped to the side and leaned against the shelf. “I can’t imagine what she’s going through, Jim. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know anything about it, but anger, mood swings, it can’t be good, but can’t really be unexpected, you know?”

He paused, stepped forward and started grabbing some of the bottles, tossing them in the container in the corner. “Jim, can I, you know, can I do anything? You want me to get you someone to talk to? Do you need some cash?”

“It’s okay, Arch. It’s gonna be over soon.”

* * * * *

Jim was in what he started thinking of as his seat. His back against the wall, he watched the bikers watching him, and occasionally glancing at the college kids playing nine-ball. Five minutes before, Tilly had headed towards his table only to stop and retreat when one of the bikers shook his head, silently telling her “no”.

Before Tilly had made her abortive attempt to approach him, Jim saw one of the three kids talking to a biker. The short, bearded man had slid a small, plastic bag in the kid’s hand. Probably X, like they were headed to a fucking rave. The biker glanced at Jim as he spoke, mouth close to the kid’s ear. College Boy looked over at Jim and nodded his head, the biker pulled his arm, forcing the kid’s gaze away. Smiling, Jim watched the transaction, realizing that the kids trying to give him a beating was the currency they were using to pay for the drugs.

They should have used cash.

Walking back to the pool tables, the kid spoke to one of his friends in a hushed tone and then repeated the process with the other. They took quick glimpses in his direction, seeming to assess Jim with a nervous, anticipatory energy.

The cold wind whistled through the cracks in the door, the chill seeping in from the walls. In spite of the cold and the malodorous remnants of spilt beer and hygienically challenged customers, Jim preferred his seat. Back against the wall was a cliché because it worked. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of Voodoo Child echoed softly in the background.

Jim stretched a bit, leaned back in his chair and cracked his back. He felt the small smile break the angular planes of his face as he rose, slipped his glasses into his shirt pocket, and made his way towards the bar. The dive was pretty much empty and he could have walked around the pool tables, but it wouldn’t have deterred the idiots that marked him as quarry. He preferred to have everything on his timetable, on the front he chose.

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