short story “The Return”

I originally wrote this to enter into a short story contest, but I’ve decided to just post it instead. I hope you enjoy it. Keep in mind, it is not professionally edited. Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, around lunch time, her mother called to tell her the police had found her sister. “They found the car off the embankment after the fog lifted this morning. From what they can tell, the shoulder of the road was soft because of all the rain. When she jerked the steering wheel it caused the car to flip.”

Shelby replied, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

When she arrived, she wrapped her arms around her mother and cried on her shoulder. “Mom, I’m sorry. I thought she left the kids. I just figured she was out partying. I had no idea she wrecked.”

“It’s okay. You had reason to believe that due to her past.”

Stacy had been on and off drugs for most of her life. She had gone through many rehabilitation programs over the last ten years.

Betty and Shelby waited until Denton arrived to tell the children about their mother. Lexi was seven years old and her brother, Blake, was four at the time. Stacy and Denton had separated the previous year. The divorce had only been finalized the prior month.

Twenty-three years later, Shelby was sitting in her office when the receptionist called and told her she had a visitor. When Shelby entered the lobby she extended her hand and said, “Good morning. I’m Shelby Dixon. How can I help you?”

The lady shook her hand and asked, “Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”

“Could you please tell me what this is about first?”

“You aren’t going to believe me to begin with,” the lady replied.

Shelby crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Try me.”

“I’m Stacy. I’ve been in witness protection for the last twenty-three years. I came to you first because I knew Lexi and Blake wouldn’t remember me, and I wasn’t sure how Mom would handle it.”

Shelby couldn’t speak.

Stacy said, “Say something.”

Shelby swallowed the lump in her throat. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I have proof if you don’t believe me. The authorities feel that we’re all safe now because the son of the man I helped them put away is dead.”

Shelby asked, “What about the man you helped put away?”

“He got killed in prison a few years ago, but they thought his son might be out for revenge. A few weeks ago he died from an overdose.”

Shelby was silent again.

“Can we talk? Maybe after you get off work?”

“Come on. We’ll go to my office.” Shelby opened the door and lead Stacy down the hall.

Stacy said, “I shouldn’t have bothered you at work.”

“No. It’s fine. You look so different.”

“So do you little sister.”

“You said you can prove what you are telling me is true?”

“Yes. I don’t have anything with me right now, but I can get it.”

“Do you not have any identification on you? How are you driving?”

“My license and everything has my new name and information. But the agents can provide you all the proof you need.”

“Tell me something only my sister would know about me.”

“You got that scar on your hand from trying to chop wood when you were five years old.”

“Lots of people know that story.”

 “You have a birthmark on your left hip that is kind of shaped like Australia.”

“I have ex-boyfriends that know that.”

“You were twelve and planning to go to Six Flags with friends, started your period and decided not to go. I explained how to use tampons so you would feel better about going.”

“Okay, you have my full attention. Mom knew you introduced me to tampons, but as far as I know, no one else ever knew that story.”

“You remember Walter Franklin?”

“Yeah, everyone called him Wally. He was the sheriff that was arrested for some major drug trafficking.”

“How many years ago was that?”

Shelby covered her mouth with her hand as realization hit. “You’re the witness that helped them nail him?”

“Yes.”

“We had a closed casket memorial service because they convinced us there was too much damage due to the car flipping and you not wearing your seat belt. Mom never had to identify the body. It was all set up and we fell for it.”

“I’m sorry. It was the only option. It was too dangerous any other way. And if they put me, Lexi, and Blake in protective custody that would have killed you, Mom, and Denton. It was best if it was just me. It was best for everyone. I know it was hard, trust me, you have no idea how hard it was for me to leave you all. I had no other choice, I’m sorry.”

Everything was quiet for a few moments. Shelby broke the silence. “I need to get back to work. I’ve got to think about all of this.”

“I understand. Can we talk after you get off work? I would really like to see everyone.”

“I leave here at five. Call me and I’ll let you know what I come up with. I’ve got to think about it.” She wrote her cell phone number on the back of her business card and handed it to Stacy.

“Okay. Again, I’m sorry. For everything. But it’s so great to see you. Looks like you’ve done well for yourself. Is that your husband?” She pointed to a picture on Shelby’s desk.

“Yes. We’ll catch up later.”

“We have years of catching up to do.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I understand, you don’t fully trust me yet. I’ll call later, and in the meantime I’ll make arrangements to get you the proof you need. I should have gotten it all and brought it with me.”

“It’s okay. Just need to process everything, let my mind and emotions catch up with each other.”

“Okay. I’ll talk to you in a few hours. Thanks for letting me in.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for coming back from the dead, I think.”

Stacy laughed.

 

Shelby called her husband on her lunch break and told him what happened.

When Shelby left work, she had not received a call from Stacy. She wondered if it was all some kind of sick joke. She was glad she hadn’t instantly called her mom. She had a million thoughts running through her head all day. She had hardly gotten any work completed. She couldn’t concentrate on her job. She had read news reports about Walter Franklin’s arrest on the internet most of the afternoon. The more she read, the more she believed the lady claiming to be Stacy. Now that she hadn’t called, Shelby was second guessing again.

Shelby was pulling into her garage when her phone vibrated. She turned off the car as she answered. “Shelby, sorry I’m late calling. I’ve been trying to get paperwork in order.”

Shelby asked, “How about you, me, and Mom all meet somewhere for dinner tomorrow evening? Then we’ll discuss how to tell Lexi and Blake.”

“Why tomorrow? Why not today? I can bring all the proof with me. I can have someone call you to verify my story.”

“It’s been twenty-three years, I think another day isn’t going to kill any of us.”

“I want back in Lexi’s life before she has the baby.”

Shelby was shocked. “How did you know Lexi’s pregnant?”

“I work with the Drug Enforcement Administration now, I have access to things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve waited a very long time to get my family back, I don’t want to wait another day.”

“You think talking to me like that is going to help you get closer to any of us?”

“I’ll get back in contact with Mom and my children with or without you. I just thought coming to you first was the best way of handling things, but if you don’t want to help, then I’ll show up at their door just like I did at your work.”

“So, you’ve been keeping tabs on us all these years?”

“No. Only recently.”

Shelby sighed. “You knew where I worked, do you also know where I live?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Mom’s coming for dinner tonight, why don’t you join us?”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, just like old times, you win. You always get your way.”

“Don’t be like that. I want your help; I want us all to be a family. But I’m desperate and will do it on my own if you won’t help me.”

“Just be here at seven.” Shelby ended the call.

 

Shelby’s husband got up to answer the doorbell as she finished explaining to her mom who was coming for dinner.  He opened the door and said, “You must be Stacy.”

She shook his hand and replied, “Yes, and you must be Jason. Nice to meet you.”

Jason led Stacy to the kitchen. When Betty looked up and saw Stacy, the look on Betty’s face made Shelby know without a shadow of a doubt that this lady was her sister. Stacy didn’t give Betty a chance to react. She wrapped her arms around her mother and they held onto each other and wept. Jason had his hands resting on Shelby’s shoulders. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head and said, “I think that confirms it.” Shelby turned to him and buried her head in his chest.

Jason and Shelby finished preparing dinner while Betty and Stacy caught up. They all sat down to eat, but Stacy and Betty were too busy talking to pay attention to the food. Shelby picked at her food for a few minutes without saying anything. Jason reached over and laid his hand on Shelby’s and squeezed gently. She looked up at him and then toward her mom and sister. She whispered, “Just like old times. I’m invisible.” He kissed her hand and said, “Not to me.” She forced a smile. Only a couple of minutes had passed when Stacy asked, “Why didn’t you two have any children?”

Shelby retorted, “I had so much fun raising yours that I didn’t need my own.”

Betty dropped her fork.

Stacy just stared.

Jason swallowed the food in his mouth and took a sip of water. He cleared his throat and said, “We got pregnant two years after we were married; we lost our baby. We didn’t think our hearts would be able to handle it if it happened again, so we didn’t try.”

As tears streamed down Shelby’s cheeks, she glared at Stacy. “You mean you didn’t read about our miscarriage when you were checking up on us?”

“It’s not like I was stalking every moment of your lives.” Stacy said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry for everything I caused. I’m sorry you lost your baby. I wish you could forgive me and we could all be a family again.”

Shelby stood up so quickly she knocked her chair over. “We were a family without you. We had accepted that you were gone, we picked up the pieces and moved on. We did the best we could.”

Stacy slammed her fist on the table. “You think I had it easy? You have no idea what I went through. You have no idea how hard it is to have to make the decisions I had to make.”

“If you had your shit straight, it would’ve never come down to you having to make those decisions.”

Jason said, “I know you both have a lot of issues with each other, but I think we need to focus on reuniting Stacy with Betty, Lexi, and Blake. You two can work it out later.” He picked Shelby’s chair up and she plopped down in it. He slid it a little closer to the table. She rolled her eyes.

Betty wiped the tears from her face. “Reminds me of the teenage years.”

Saturday everyone gathered at Shelby and Jason’s. Everything started out great, most of the talk was about Lexi and the baby. When Shelby announced that she had called everyone together to discuss something to do with Stacy, everyone went silent. Betty reached over and held Lexi’s hand. Blake asked, “Why do I get the feeling this isn’t good news?”

Shelby started explaining. “A lady showed up at work this week claiming to be your mom. She said she had to go into witness protection, so they faked her death. Now all the threats are gone, so she wants her family back. After talking with her and her providing proof, we have determined that it’s true.” She continued telling them what had happened.

Lexi asked, “She provided proof?”

“Yes,” Shelby answered.

Betty added, “Trust me baby, she’s your mom.”

Lexi’s husband was gently rubbing her back. Betty continued to hold her hand, but kept looking up at Blake.

Blake broke the silence. “Where is she?”

Shelby looked at Lexi, then back to Blake. “Why? Do you want to see her?”

Without hesitation Blake said, “Yes. Of course I do.”

Lexi said, “She left us!”

“Sounds like she didn’t have much of a choice. If she would have stayed, they could’ve killed us all.”

“She could’ve taken us with her.”

“Then we would’ve never gotten to see Dad, Nanny, and the rest of our family.”

Lexi was deep in thought. Everyone was silent for a few moments.

“They could’ve at least told us somehow. They could’ve faked her identity, changed her looks, and we could’ve just kept it a secret. I don’t know, but they could’ve come up with something for her to be in our lives.”

“It was too dangerous, Lexi.” Blake sighed.

“Or so they claim. Maybe she just wanted a new life. Without children. She got a new start. We got to be someone else’s burden.”

Betty cut in, “You weren’t a burden.”

Shelby said, “I kinda know how you’re feeling right now. I have all these mixed feelings. I want to be glad she’s back, but I hate her for letting us believe she was dead.”

Jason turned toward Lexi. “It’s your choice if you want to see her. You don’t have to allow her back into your life.”

Betty added, “I can’t say I would blame you if you didn’t. Your main concern right now needs to be the baby. You do whatever you feel is right for you and the baby.”

Lexi said, “Are they sure there’s no one still out there looking to get revenge?”

“They are positive from what I understand,” said Shelby.

Lexi looked up at her husband and said, “What do you think?”

“I’m not sure, I never knew her. Just ask yourself if you want our baby to know her grandmother.”

Shelby exclaimed, “It’s a girl?”

Lexi laughed. Her husband said, “Oops.”

Lexi said, “We were planning to tell you all today, so we thought it was perfect when you called everyone together. We had no idea you were going to drop a bomb like this on us.”

After everyone talked about the baby being a girl for a few minutes, Lexi said, “Okay. I’ll see her.”

Blake replied, “Great!” He looked at Shelby and asked, “When?”

Shelby looked at the watch on her arm. “She’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”

Lexi said, “So, you knew we’d agree to see her?”

Shelby answered, “No. That’s why I told her a different time to be here. If you didn’t, then you could’ve left before she got here.”

Being around each other was a little awkward for a few weeks, but before long Stacy was back in the family. The arrangements were made for her to move closer to her family and she started working for a different agency. Four months later, she waited outside the delivery room with the rest of the family as Lexi gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The following year, she watched Blake vow to love, honor, and cherish his bride. Five years later, Shelby and Stacy sat on each side of Betty’s bed as she took her last breath. 

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