THE PRODIGAL – A Short Story – Pt. 3

Gabriel rested a booted foot against the porch rail, staring across the lawn to the fields beyond.  In the distance, he could just make out the white steeple of the village church, rising above the tree tops.

He frowned.

Yesterday had seen a change in the old behaviors of the family, and he wondered where it had come from.

Childhood Sundays had been spent in heated battle about the necessity of going to church.  He had repeatedly dug his heels in as his parents insisted that he accompany the rest of the family to that white building.

But yesterday had been different.  There had been no battle, no insistence.  He had been invited, then the subject dropped.

Why?

The change confused him, unsettled him.  He had ended up going because of it.

The frown deepened to a scowl as feelings rose in him that he was unused to.

Feelings of peace and belonging.  Feelings of warmth and caring.

Feelings of being searched and drawn.  Of being guided and called.

Gone were the ties that bound.  Gone were the fences and cages that had been surrounding him, even if only in his mind.

He felt liberated, no longer closed in by restriction and expectation; but as if he had been given an invitation to freedom beyond any of his human understanding.

He rolled his shoulders, surprised at the ease of movement, the loose independence that now rested on those shoulders.

Had that feeling of confinement been reality, or had it only been in his own mind?

He had an uncomfortable feeling that it was the latter, and the realization did not sit well.

“Gabriel?”

The sound of that soft voice pulled his attention out of his thoughts and to the woman that had given birth to him.

“Yes, Mom?”

“I have a pot of coffee brewing.  Would you like a cup?”

He studied the aging face, surprised to still see a small sliver of the youthful beauty that had drawn a man like Joseph Concannon.  He nodded and stood slowly, mindful of the still healing bones, to follow her to the kitchen.

“Stay sat.  I’ll bring it out when it’s ready.”  When he hesitated, she said, “We can sit out here.”

He nodded again and sank back into the rocking chair.  The sound of a vehicle on the long drive pulled his attention to the dust that followed the large black SUV.

Tension coiled tight in his midsection as he stood once again.  He took a step back and called through the screen door,  “Mom stay inside until I tell you to come out.”

“Why?  What is it?”

“Just do as I say, please.”

He heard her raised voice, but was moving toward the steps and could not make out the words.  The screen door squeaked open and slammed shut as the SUV slid to a stop at the base of the steps.

He slid an eye sideways to see his dad close beside him.

“Dad, please go back inside.”

“No son, I won’t.  This is my home and I’ll not allow hoodlums to trespass.”

Gabe knew he needed to keep his attention on the men that were now climbing from the vehicle, and let the argument slide.

“Well, Gabe, this is a mighty fine spread you guys got here.”

He waited while the man gazed out over pasture and barns to the foothills in the distance.  There was no point in answering the statement.  Then Nick turned back to face the house.

Gabriel looked into eyes black as obsidian, all the while conscious of the man that was moving to stand outside of his peripheral vision.

“You should have no problem paying me what you owe me.”  He turned that dead gaze on the burly man standing next to his son.  “Should you Pops?”

Joe stared into eyes empty of any and all feeling and shook his head.

“The beating your man gave him has kept him from getting a job.  You’ll have to wait a little longer for your money.”

Nick smiled icily at Joe, then turned to Gabriel.

“Now, Gabe, you know the deal.  You know what happens when someone borrows money they can’t repay.”

“Nick, I lost my job.  And haven’t been able to get another.  You’ll get your money as soon as I have it.”

But Nick shook his head and glanced at the man now standing the other side of Joe.

“Not good enough Gabe.”

He lifted his chin slightly.

What happened next, happened so fast there was nothing Gabe could do but watch in horror as Joe stepped in front of the bullet meant for him before going to the ground with a loud moan.  He heard his mother scream and then sirens could be heard ahead of the cloud of dust that followed the flashing lights.

He dropped to his knees, reaching for the man that he had battled with during his youth, only semi-aware of the two men climbing back into the SUV.

“I’ll be back, Gabe.”

The threat behind Nick’s words only barely registered as he pressed his hand against the wound, trying to stem the bleeding.

“I’m sorry, Dad, I’m so sorry.”

Joe shook his head and whispered, “No, son, I’m sorry.  I was too hard on you, I can see that now.”  He closed his eyes.

“Stay with me, Dad.  Please, stay with me.”

The eyes opened again.  “I love you, son.  I always have.”

“Dad, please, fight.  Don’t give in.”

But those eyes that had held both anger and love, both reprimand and forgiveness closed on a soft sigh.

** Next Friday … the conclusion **

© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2012, 2021

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