betad by: Charity
The man sat down at the window table, looking towards the counter behind which the two waiters were working, cheerfully talking to each other. It was the young man who then approached him, which was exactly what he had hoped.
”Good afternoon, sir, did you come here for lunch?” He asked in French and the man looked at the young brunet waiter smiling back at him.
”Do you speak English?” He asked even though he already knew the answer. “I would love an English menu if possible.”
”Sure thing, you’re an American?” The young man asked, still holding the same helpful smile on his face as he placed the menu on the table in front of him. “The menus are available in French, English, and Spanish. Maybe you’d like something to drink before your order?”
”A glass of chardonnay and if I could get some more water?”
”Of course, I’ll be back with you shortly.” The young waiter spoke with a polite tone before turning.
The man followed the waiter with hunger in his eyes, grinning to himself. Michael didn’t remember him; it was good, and it was no wonder. He, in turn, remembered the dark-haired young man well, even now he could undress each garment on that gorgeous body of his, one by one in his mind.
The years had treated the young man well, his face, though he had grown to adulthood, kept that certain boyish charm that appealed to him. The color of his skin had a healthy glow and his chocolate-brown eyes shone brightly. His body appeared a little more sculptured and toned, sparking up his interest to see him undressed now after these years that had passed.
When they had last met, the boy’s gaze had been lacking focus. He had been lying naked on a bed not fully registering what was happening around him. He no longer had any fight left in him at that moment and had accepted his destiny, if he was even fully aware of it. But now things would be different.
The waiter returned and lowered the water jug and the white wine glass onto the table before turning the empty water glass over and filling it. ”Are you ready for your order yet?” He asked.
”Could you recommend something, fish perhaps?”
”I would recommend trying the seabass, it’s one of my favorites.”
“Thank you, I’ll have that, I trust you,” he grinned and the young man chuckled softly.
“Okay, coming right up. Is there anything else I can get you?”
”No thank you,” he said.
The waiter left to give his order to the kitchen and he followed him with his eyes until he disappeared from view. He dug out his cell phone. The rumor is true. Your fugitive has been found. He wrote and sent the text to his friend.
** ^^ ** ^^ ** ^^ **
Michael stared at the phone on the table and the photo of his parents next to it, the photo he had been able to tape back together after Jean had torn it. The phone number hadn’t changed, and he still remembered it. His heart was pounding, nerves making him shiver. Michael looked up and saw Sam in the kitchen doorway looking at him, smiling softly.
“Do you want me to be here, or do you prefer to talk to them in private? I could go for a walk,” Sam offered.
Michael had decided to call home the night before after a couple of glasses of wine. It was already close to three in the afternoon, and he had kept postponing the call until then. Sam didn’t want Michael to take back his decision now.
“Maybe they’re not home,” Michael thought. It was a Sunday afternoon and before it had been family time they spent at home before on some occasions going out to a pub to enjoy Sunday dinner, but maybe now it was different?
However, he hadn’t been able to get rid of the nagging feeling that he should call his parents soon. Yet, at the same time, the nervousness was hard to shake off.
”You won’t know if you don’t try,” Sam pointed out as he walked closer, sat next to him, and lowered his hand to his own. ”And if they don’t respond, try again later today or tomorrow.”
”I don’t know what to say,” Michael sighed. ”I haven’t talked to them in nearly five years, what can I say?” He looked at Samuel, hoping he would have the right answers, but Samuel merely shrugged, smiling softly at him.
”The words will come to you, I am sure of it.” He assured him, took the phone off the table, and placed it in Michael’s hand. ”Well, this is as good a time as any, right? I’ll go to the kitchen and prepare some tea for us in the meantime,” he said and got up.
Michael followed Sam with his gaze until he disappeared into the next room. He sighed and slowly dialed the numbers on his cell phone. He felt the tension rise, his hand trembling. What if they didn’t want to talk to him?
Eventually, Michael persuaded himself to press the call button. He felt a tight knot of nerves squeezing his stomach, the phone peeping in his ear at regular intervals, and that little moment felt like an eternity. He was already about to end the call when suddenly the phone was answered.
”Evelyn Wills.” Michael let out a suffocated sigh as he heard his mother’s tired voice. He had often feared that he might never hear her voice again and all his emotion rushed to the surface, making him so overwhelmed that he had trouble finding his voice.
“Hello?” His mother sighed with a slightly agitated tone. ”Who is it?”
“H-hey mom…” Michael whispered. He heard his mother breathe out, he heard her shaky breathing, it was quiet for a moment. ”Mom, are you there?” Michael asked cautiously.
“Michael…” Evelyn whispered with a quivering, disbelieving voice. “I-is that you?” Michael heard her swallowing tickly “…If this is a joke, I must say it’s very cruel!” She breathed then, and Michael detected both anger and sorrow behind her tone. Her words were soon followed by a broken sob that ached his heart to hear.
“It’s me,” he assured. “Forgive me, Mom… please f-forgive me… I…” His voice broke under a wave of tears, that he wiped with his free hand. He drew a breath, trying to re-find his voice, ”I miss you …terribly.”
And he heard as she gasped for another moment that she could not find her voice to answer. She was crying and it caused his eyes to water more to hear it. His throat tightened, “mom?” he called but she was still sobbing uncontrollably.
“Michael…” She was finally able to voice herself. “I-… W-where are you? Are you truly real? This is not a dream? My dear boy, dear child… Please let this be real… I-I miss you… Lord, how much I miss you…”
Michael closed his eyes, emotions burst inside him, squeezing him all over. He wanted to go home, fall into his mother’s warm embrace and drown in the comfort only a mother could bring. He ached to see her; it was difficult to find the words.
“I couldn’t… I couldn’t at first… But… I was able to escape… I was scared… I’m sorry… Mom. I was so stupid… when I left… I couldn’t get away at first and when I did I…”
She was crying again “No, your father and I… we’re… We were the ones to… I am so sorry love…We were foolish… W-we love you, know that we love you!” Again, she swallowed thickly.
Michael kept his eyes closed and kept picturing her in her mind. Saw her sitting there next to the phone in the hall, the stairs were right behind her, and the kitchen doorway opposite from her and… there would be those pictures on the wall of their family, taken when he had been just ten years old; had they kept the picture there? There had been pictures of his parents when they were children and of his grandparents… Home, he could see the whole apartment, every corner, every object, the waves of his mother’s soft auburn hair…
“C-come home, please? Where are you? Can we come to pick you up?”
”I’m in Paris… Everything’s fine now, I’m safe.” Michael took a deep breath, wiped his eyes, and tried his best to pull himself together “I was scared to call before… I now have a good boyfriend, a job… But that man is looking for me, I ran away from him. We have to be careful.”
”W-what happened to you?” Evelyn asked with a fearful voice.
”I’ll tell you everything later, right now everything is fine,” Michael assured, he could hear her sniffling.
”We miss you so much!” She was able to breathe out through her tears. She let out a disbelieving spout of laughter. “I’ve been waiting for your call for so long! … But I knew you were alive, I knew!”
Michael squeezed his cell phone, endless tears flowing down his face. “It feels good to hear your voice, Mom.” He almost whispered. ”Is Dad there?” He asked cautiously, with a voice no louder than a whisper.
“Oh, your father is with his parents. He is going to be so relieved when he hears! Where can we reach you? Can I ask your father to call you?” Evelyn hurriedly asked as if she was afraid Michael would end the call before receiving her answer.
”If Dad just wants to talk to me…”
”Of course, he wants to!” His mother hurriedly assured. ”We are both so… We… if we had acted differently…Oh, Michael… Can you forgive us?”
Michael nodded, though his mother obviously couldn’t see it. “I’ve already given… It was a confusing time… For all of us… I was silly when I left… I thought that…“ Michael paused and swallowed. ”I left and thought I could have contacted you earlier… And then when I could… Time had already passed and had happened… So much… I was afraid.”
“My dear, dear child… Would you come home? Or can we at least come to you?”
“You are welcome here. And… maybe in the fall, I can also travel to England to see you. ”
“I don’t want to waste any more time, we’ve wasted enough! I want to come to you as soon as possible.”
Michael gave his mother his contact information. Evelyn said she would call her husband right away so her father could contact him. They would then arrange things so that they could get to Paris to see him as soon as possible.
When Michael ended the call, he sat on the couch in disbelief and emotional turmoil. He felt immense happiness, mixed with remorse and longing. Sam entered the room and Michael looked up at him, smiling through his tears. Sam responded to his boyfriend’s smile and got closer, he sat down next to Michael and hugged him tightly.
”Mom wants to come here.”
“I thought so. They are welcome at any time, I look forward to meeting them.”
”Dad might call me soon,” Michael said excitedly. “It feels so weird, part of me still doubts I can only dream… and…. Is this true Sam, is it true I just talked to my mother?” He asked and Sam laughed softly.
”This is true!” He assured. “The tea is ready; I made a couple of sandwiches too. I’m sure your father will call soon.”
”I dare not hope,” Michael said, still holding the phone in his hand.
”He will,” Sam said with confidence and got up to return to the kitchen. Michael followed, checking his phone, his heart was pounding with nervous enthusiasm. What if Dad didn’t call though? He thought and followed Sam to the kitchen. Sam poured them tea, time passed, and the phone stayed silent. Michael looked at the sandwich in front of him feeling disappointed.
”Your father will call as soon as he can, just hold on.” Sam smiled and squeezed his hand that was resting over the table.
Half an hour passed, the tea had been drunk and Michael was still sitting there, waiting. He stared at the phone, which, despite all the silent prayers, did not ring. Until suddenly…
”It’s an Irish area code!” He said, staring at the phone in a state of excited disbelief and Sam laughed.
”Well, then answer it!”
** ^^ ** ^^ **
Henry Wills sat in a familiar pub with his friends on that Sunday afternoon. He would have a job interview in Dublin on Monday, but only in the afternoon so there would be plenty of time to travel. He had been thinking about moving back to Ireland for several months now, Evelyn hadn’t warmed up to the idea yet but maybe if he got the job…
His wife still held the hope that their son would return and therefore didn’t want to leave. What if Michael returned home and encountered a stranger at their home? – Evelyn had often pondered.
On the other hand, Henry had already given up hope, at least to some extent. It was already five years this fall since he had gone missing, the probability that he was still alive was slim. Henry knew his son, he wasn’t the one to hold grudges for long, he would have contacted them. There had been so much ambiguity between them, that Michael wouldn’t have liked it any more than he did. Henry was sure he would have wanted to even try to make peace between them.
Giving up, however, was not easy, neither for him nor for his wife. The burden of guilt weighed heavily and at home, everything reminded him of a child who wouldn’t return and who couldn’t be told how sorry he was. All the horrors of what had happened to their son… They gnawed at him. And everywhere he went, people looked with pity disguised as sympathy on their features and wondered what had happened to Michael. It haunted Henry.
It felt like they hadn’t lived properly after Michael’s disappearance, they had been struggling forward from one day to the next, doing their best to survive. Maybe it would be time to try to get their life back, maybe the only way was to start from a clean slate and move somewhere where no one knew their history. Dublin was suitably close and at the same time suitably far away from his family and friends, those who knew.
Even now, sitting in that pub, chatting with his friends, laughing with others over a pint, he saw memories everywhere. Dining with family and relatives, the children had been running back and forth, outside and in. The atmosphere had been relaxed and happy.
Michael had come to inform them that it was dinner time. ”Mom says you have to come back; the food is ready, and you’ve already drunk at least two pints!”
”Tell your mother I’ll finish this.” Henry had answered.
”Can I taste that?” Michael had asked, pointing to his drink. The boy had just turned eleven. Henry’s father had given him a taste in his time, and he didn’t think a little tasting would harm either, better than the boy would satisfy his curiosity with him. He nodded and pushed the glass closer, making Michael smile and bring it to his lips. After tasting the boy had immediately grimaced.
”Yuck!” The boy had breathed, and Henry and his friends had inadvertently laughed. ”Terrible, how can you drink something as foul as that?”
”That’s why it’s an adult drink.” Henry had responded calmly.
“Then you adults are weird. Dad, it’s best to obey Mom and come eat! ”
”It’s best to go Henry.” His friends had laughed, and Henry had emptied the remains of his drink before following his son out.
”Does one have to drink those as an adult?” Michael had pondered as they walked.
”No, no one forces you,” Henry had smiled with amusement.
”Okay, then I definitely won’t!” Michael had declared.
”Good and I’ll remind you of that in ten years,” Henry had grinned at his son and fluffed his hair.
But Henry had not seen Michael turn twenty-one, and he had not even been able to fear the possibility. How he wished that he could turn back time… There were small moments when Michael wasn’t on his mind, but not a single day when he wouldn’t have thought about his child.
”Henry, your wife is calling.” The bar owner Conor said as he walked to him. ”I hear it’s important.” Henry nodded and stood up, perhaps Evelyn could already directly guess where to reach him, perhaps she had first called his parents.
Evelyn had wondered whether they should get cell phones too, but Henry wasn’t excited about the idea. Why should one be always reachable? No, he didn’t think he needed the bloody thing.
He followed Conor toward the phone, smiled at the man, and picked up the receiver. At first, it was hard to figure out what Evelyn was talking about, she sounded impatient, nervous, something about Michael and Paris.
”Dear God, calm down and breathe, I’m not making any sense of what you’re trying to tell me.” Henry sighed. He heard his wife draw a deep breath to calm down.
”Our son is alive!” Evelyn exclaimed. “He just called me from Paris! Michael called me! ”
Henry felt his heart skip a beat, his chest tightening, a spark of hope that was soon defeated by disbelief. “Don’t talk nonsense,” he said. He did not want to allow himself to believe what he hoped to be true. ”Someone is just messing with us.” He spoke. It wouldn’t even be the first time, the first call had been a cruel joke, but unbelievable right from the start.
“No, it was him! I know his voice, it was Michael! He’s all right. We have to go to him as soon as possible!”
Henry looked around; the situation felt absurd. “Calm down now,” he said, perhaps more to himself than to his wife.
”I promised you’d call him; can you write down the number?” Evelyn asked. Henry felt his mouth dry. He looked at Conor and asked for a pen and paper to write down the number given by his wife. After ending the call, he stood there still for a moment, feeling confused.
He looked at people in the pub, the chattering and laughter seemed to drown somewhere in the distance, even though he was standing right there amid it.
The band played The Irish rowers; a wild Rowers song that had been one of Michael’s favorites and he remembered how his son had sung it along in a cheerful mood. He was trembling, a strange tightening in his chest. Could it be? He needed a moment and ordered a new beer.
”All right Henry?” Conor asked and Henry nodded, smiling in a hurry.
“Surprising news,” he said, taking a big sip from his glass. Conor eyed him, lifting a questioning brow.
”I hope nothing bad?” Henry was silent for a moment until he shook his head.
”No, not bad,” Henry answered and gave another cautious smile. He still did not dare to trust that the one who had called his wife would indeed be their son. Conor watched him for a moment but noticed that Henry was in such deep thoughts that it might be best not to be distracted by additional questions, and so he returned to his work. Henry emptied his glass before returning to his friends.
”Thomas, did you have that portable phone with you?” He asked and his friend grinned.
“You mean a cell phone? Yes, I have one. Wouldn’t it be the right time for you to get one too?” He asked and dug up his phone. “A great device, very convenient, this is the latest model, look…” Thomas was already about to start his sales pitch when Henry quickly interrupted him.
“I don’t want to own one, I just want to borrow it for a while. I should make one international call, to France – I’ll pay for it.”
“To France? To whom?”
“Uh, just one relative,” Henry said dismissively. He still didn’t want to tell the whole truth if it turned out to be a cruel prank.
“I hope it’s not a lover…” One of his friends laughed.
”Don’t be foolish!” Henry groaned. ”Well, can I borrow your cell phone or not?”
“You can! Relax, “Thomas said and handed the phone to him.
”Thank you, I’ll be back soon,” Henry said and stepped towards the front door. He wanted to make the call in private without background noise to hear the sound better, Michael’s voice. – Could it be? There was no one on the pub’s outdoor terrace, the weather was quite chilly for August.
Henry sat down, sighed, and looked at the numbers he had written on the paper before typing them into the phone. He hesitated for a moment before pressing the call button. His heart pounded with excitement, hoping and at the same time trying to prepare for disappointment.
“Michael,” a cautious voice replied, and Henry breathed as tears rose in his eyes. The sound felt distant, but at the same time, it had a familiar chord that had not been forgotten. They had not let it be forgotten. How often had they watched home videos, hoping to somehow get back that lost time?
”Is that you, Michael?” Henry asked, moved.
“Dad,” Michael breathed. ”It’s me, really,” The voice was heavy with emotions, and Michael released a burst of tearful laughter. ”Mom said you’re in Ireland, with your parents… Gods I… I miss… all of it… you… the green moors of Ireland, riding there and you and mom both … Home.”
Henry felt tears flow from his eyes, he was a man who did not show his feelings openly. After Michael’s disappearance, he had thought that he should be the strong one, who would support his wife through the pain and assure them that they would survive.
He hadn’t wanted to show how broken he was on the inside; how impossible it had felt to survive after their son had been missing without a trace. And now he wept, and could not make it end, his shoulders shaking, he could not believe that…
”Father?” Michael called. ”Everything is all right now.”
“Forgive me, Michael. Please forgive me.”
”You don’t have to apologize,” Michael whispered with a quivering voice
“Yes, I do! My behavior…. It was… I should have been at your side, supporting you. Should have…. “ He rubbed his eyes, trembling uncontrollably. ”So that you wouldn’t have felt that you couldn’t talk to us- that you felt like… you had to leave…”
“Father…” Michael breathed. He cried because he heard his father crying, a strange mixture of emotions. He felt bad to hear the pain and regret in his father’s voice and was relieved that It was there, that the love was there.
All those years were wasted, lost, and never returned. He had acted with the impatience of his youth, and now he fully regretted not having more patience to wait. But there was no use tangling oneself in past mistakes that could not be fixed, the energy was better spent on fixing the future.
”Everything is all right now…” Michael whispered.
“We’ve missed you; you’ve been in our thoughts every day. I was so afraid we would never hear from you again.” Henry confessed after calming down a bit.
”I was afraid of that, too,” Michael admitted with a pained voice.
”Are you okay now?” Henry asked worriedly. ”What happened? Where have you been?”
“Uhm…” Michael breathed. Henry heard him sobbing quietly. “It was hard… I was… I was in a bad place, but… It can wait…to talk about it…” Michael’s voice trembled. ”Don’t worry, I’m fine now… Now I’m in a good place, with someone good, someone who loves me.”
Henry’s heart ached. They had of course known something bad had probably happened, but now that Michael admitted it out loud felt like a dagger through his already bleeding heart.
They would talk about it later, he wanted to know who had hurt his child, he wanted to know where to direct his rage. ”You’re living with someone?” Henry asked and tried to control the anger he felt against the man who had deprived their only child of them.
“Yes, with my boyfriend,” Michael breathed and took a small pause, wiping the tears from his eyes before continuing. “Samuel is a good man… He’s from England as well.”
Henry closed his eyes, nodded to himself, and swept moisture from under his eyes. ”Then I’d love to meet him.” He said, smiling cautiously. ”Can we come there to see you?” He asked, his voice still betraying his sad and relieved emotions, hopeful to be reunited.
”Of course, anytime!” Michael laughed with relieved joy.
“I will try to arrange things so that we can get there next week, as soon as possible.” Henry promised.
”If you want, you can stay with us?” Michael suggested. ”Of course, there are a lot of hotels nearby.”
“If you welcome us… Of course, we’d be more than happy to stay.” They had already wasted enough time. He was eager to see his son and fix what could be fixed between them.
”I would love that. I have two evening shifts in a row now, and I get home late. But I’m free on Wednesday and Thursday and I could try to get my shifts arranged so that I could have additional days off.”
“Wednesday, I’ll do my best to arrange it. I’m certain that my boss would understand.” He had to admit he was ready to be fired if his boss wouldn’t allow it for some reason. He ached to see his son and was certain Evelyn felt the same.
“What kind of work do you do?” He asked.
“I’m a waiter… Our chef is starting to teach me to become a chef as well one day. I have a wonderful work community and couldn’t ask for better friends to work with. I’ll introduce you to everyone!” Michael laughed excitedly. ”Dad, I can’t wait to see you!”
“Neither can I! Just a couple more days. I will arrange everything and then let you know the flight we’ll be on. ”
”Good, see you soon!”
Henry hesitated for a moment, the words he had left unsaid too often in their past, words he had so often regretted not spoken, now burned in his consciousness.
“Michael, I love you. See you soon.”
“I love you too, dad..” Michael breathed with tears of joy welling in his eyes once more. They ended the call and Henry sat there for a moment longer. With a soft gush of wind caressing his face, he looked towards the sky grossing his hands in gratitude before releasing a joyful spout of laughter. He almost felt like dancing; his son was alive! Michael was alive! He got up and hurried inside.
“A round of whiskey for everyone! Michael has been found! My son is alive!” He declared and his friends and acquaintances gave him a look of wonder before cheering and taking part in his joy.
“This news is so happy that I, as the owner of this pub, want to treat all of you to that shot of whiskey!” Connor said, stepping out from behind the bar and pulling Henry in a manly hug. “Let’s all celebrate!”
The band, who had stopped their playing for a moment, started again and Henry joined his friends who hugged him in turn. All of them smiled, all of them in a cheerful mood. Henry felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his shoulders and he stood more upright than in years. He thanked the Lord whom he had thought to abandon him. Soon, so soon his family would be whole again!
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