Time never stops for anyone. Days turn into nights, seasons pass, and years end... and yet...
Every so often, I wished the world would just stop turning if only for a moment to let me catch my breath and collect my thoughts. It was always hard to remember all the beautiful places I'd seen and kind faces I'd met. Even though I wanted to recall each and every one of them as vividly as the last, I knew I'd never be able to accomplish it, and it saddened me to realize it for myself.
Of course, there was one place I could never forget.
As the familiar, sandy shore came into view on the horizon, I could feel my heart swell with excitement. After so many years of only seeing it in memory, I could finally become a part of it again, and it was all I can do to keep myself from tumbling over the railing into the ocean below in my eagerness to return to that place. My home was nothing more than a small village, but it was anything but a quiet and sleepy little town. I knew that as soon as our ferry was in view of the harbor, word of our return would race through the farming community like rapid fire, and by the time we reached the dock, there would be a large crowd gathered there to welcome us.
"Careful there, son," a smooth voice warned, pulling me back from the bow. "I'm not going to let you drown when we're almost there, you know," he teased in his usual carefree manner. I turned to face the man who'd spoken to me, and although I should've been used to it by now, I was still startled by how much we resembled one another.
Whenever I glanced in his direction, it was like looking into the mirror image of myself in the future. From his chocolate brown eyes and tanned skin, both aged by the years of living a life without ties to anyone or anything, to his laugh and effortless smile, I knew myself and who I would become just by looking at him.
It was no wonder that my mother had struggled for so long to accept the shocking similarities between us.
"Did you tell Mom we were coming back?" I asked, leaning against the railing while my gaze drifted upward towards the endless blue sky. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught that same distant, almost lost, expression on his tired face that he wore whenever the woman happened to be brought up in simple conversation, and as always, I mentally kicked myself for ever mentioning her. However, he soon offered me a small smile to try reassure me all was well, but I knew better.
The wounds were still too fresh for either of us to forget what had happened between them.=
"No," he admitted with a chuckle. "I figured it'd be more fun for us to surprise her." While he didn't say anything on the matter, I knew he was hoping to ruffle acertain someone's feathers upon his return. I could already see the gears turning in his mind, and I knew he was planning on something mischievous.
"She's not gonna be happy with you if you make the old man upset again, you know..." I scolded him, trying to keep a stern face. However, it faltered almost immediately, and soon we were both grinning ear to ear at the thought of triggering the poor poultry farmer's temper. My laughter died away as I thought more of him, though.
Rick had raised me himself- for the most part anyway- and while I had never really seen him as my true father, I had respect for him all the same. He had been good to my mother, never leaving her side during all those years of heartache and suffering which was more than I could say for the man standing next to me.
I never really thought about it until Dad came back, but at that moment I began to realize that there was so much that I hadn't questioned in my life. I suppose it didn't matter by that time, yet a part of me continued to feel somewhat betrayed to know the truth that he'd been alive after I'd been told he had died before I was even born. Of course, there was the chance that he really had died... in my mother's mind at least.
When I finally had found him, I felt as though everything had fallen into place. There weren't any awkward silences or tension between us although we still had our differences, but they didn't get in the way of our relationship as father and son. It was something... I'd never had before.
"Don't worry," he replied wistfully. "I won't have to do much of anything to get him riled." Then after a thought, he added with a chuckle, "I just have to be in the same room, and he'll be ready for a fight..." I shook my head in defeat while smiling to myself, and I knew it was more or less how things would go. How could I ever forget all the words they'd crossed with one another? Even the most trivial things could spark an argument between them.
Although I didn't really understand the quarrel between them, I knew it had begun long before I was born. Mom had explained it was simply in their nature, like cats and dogs or oil and water, so I guess I had to accept it for what it was. It wasn't really my fight anyway.
We fell back into a thoughtful silence while the boat continued to cut through the gentle waves and my shaggy brown mess of loose curls caught the sea breeze. I ran my fingers through my hair, and in doing so, I couldn't help but think of the girl I'd left back home. Although we had written to one another every week without fail, I had to wonder if she still felt the same way about me. When Opal first saw me walking down the gangplank to greet her... I couldn't even think of what would happen.
After all, there was always the chance she had found someone else, like my mother had.
Suddenly, there was a hand resting on my shoulder, and I glanced up quickly to see Dad gazing down at me with his warm, brown eyes so like my own. "It'll be alright, Lance," he assured me, offering me a comforting smile. "She said she'd wait, didn't she?"
"Mom did, too," I reminded him coldly. He winced slightly, yet his grin didn't falter for a moment. Although I hadn't meant to say it, I couldn't help feeling irritable. I was nervous, and he knew as well as I did that I could become rather harsh when that was the case. Still, he didn't fault me for it, and I recalled him saying once in passing that my mother was the same way. Not only that, but he'd also admitted, after a few glasses of wine, that she hadn't always suffered from the anxiety I remembered in my childhood.
"Yes, but I only have myself to blame for that," he replied causally with a shrug. He gripped the railing tightly, like he was trying to convince himself that it was the simple truth although we both knew it was just a lie he told himself to keep his wits about him.
Soon the sound of the gently breaking waves became deafening as a heavy silence came between us.
"I know she still loves me... in her own way, of course," he said at last, smiling sadly to himself. Even while I wasn't too sure of that, I had to hope for his fragile heart's sake that perhaps he was right. If he wanted to keep on hoping she'd return to him in spite of the sixteen years they'd spent apart, then I wouldn't ruin it for him.
There wasn't any time left to dwell on it when we pulled into port, and while there wasn't a crowd as I'd expected, a single face had shown up to greet us. For me, it was the most important one of all as it was the one I'd been waiting to see since the first day I'd left...
"Opal!" I cried out, sweeping the girl clear off her feet and kissing her before she could even squeak a reply. "Goddess, I've missed you." After spinning her about, I placed her back on her feet, and I laughed to see her eyes wide with surprise.
"Oh, Lance..." she whispered, resting her hands over her heart to calm herself. "I'm so happy you're home!" she cheered, flinging her tiny arms around my waist. I stumbled back a little, and soon enough I could feel her grateful tears upon my chest, soaking through the thin fabric of my shirt. I smiled softly as I gazed down at her trembling form, and I smoothed her silky, black waves that tumbled over her narrow shoulders and down her back, cooing sweet assurances quietly to her. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to-"
"It's-" I began before I was interrupted by a hard clap on my shoulder.
"No need to worry," my father laughed, leaving me to tend to the newly forming bruise he'd left on my tender skin. "You should've seen him every time he read you're letters!" I felt my cheeks start to burn, but I tried to shrug it off casually. I didn't really need to, though, since Opal was far more interested in the man who'd spoken at the moment.
"Mr. Makani!" she gasped, pointing to down to the right. We both glanced to where she had gestured, and then he grinned broadly once he realized what she was trying to imply. At last, she managed to sputter, "Y-your leg... it's... b-back..." Although she was a bit mistaken, being that it was a false leg, he laughed and nodded in agreement, and I chuckled as well since I'd forgotten that we hadn't told anyone about the 'improvement' to his physical state.
"Looks nice, huh?" he laughed, his hand falling hard on the plastic casing She nodded weakly before a smile graced her lovely, delicate features in agreement. "It cost us a pretty penny, but I've got to admit it feels a hell of a lot better not to be stumbling around anymore."
"Does Aunt Claire know yet?" Opal asked, tilting her head slightly to the side. "I mean... about you guys coming back?"
"Well... she'll know now," the man laughed, shaking his head. "You kids run on ahead," he urged, waving us off, "and I'll help Zack unload our cargo here." I caught the wink he sent me, but while I rolled my eyes in reply, I couldn't help but smile. He knew me all too well, it seemed... not that I was complaining any. I was more than willing to pick up our relationship where we'd left off.
"Are you going to leave again?" she murmured as she took my hand tentatively in her own. Glancing over at her, she was busying herself with biting her lower lip in nervous thought while she waited for an answer. I hadn't noticed it earlier, but she was clutching my ratty, old bandanna in her other hand.
"There's no way I could do that to you," I assured her, bringing her closer to me in a lose embrace while we continued to walk down the cobbled street together.
Stepping onto my family's property, my eyes scanned the newly sown fields as I searched for her. It wasn't long until I spotted my mother bent over and pulling at the weeds with her back turned to us. However, the past three years had clearly taken their toll on the poor woman.
Her hair was now a startling white, and I saw that her slender hands weren't as nimble as they once were. I heard her mutter a few choice words to herself, kneading the palm of her hand, and then she went to stand. However, hen she found she couldn't stand upright, she turned to face the house opposite from Opal and I. "Rick! I need you're help again!"
Chuckling to myself, I came beside her and offered her my hand. She jumped a little in surprise before her shoulders relaxed and her eyes were suddenly filled with relief. "Oh, there you are, R-" Her words died as soon as she realized the hand was not that of her husband's, and I had to smile when the spark of recognition shown in her blue eyes which came to life once she realized who had come for her. "Lance..." she breathed, blinking away the tears. "You're..."
"Mom... I'm home."