"Bethany! Darling! How are you doing, love?" Mom's arms automatically wrapped around me in a sort of death grip. I let the suitcase slip from my fingers as I returned her embrace.
"I'm... good, mom," I mumbled into her hair. I wasn't exactly sure how I was. All I knew was that I wanted to be. Of course, mom was so overjoyed to see me that she didn't pick up on the weariness in my voice. I was thankful for that.
A lot had happened since I'd last been home... a lot of mistakes and wonderful things that all jumbled together when I thought about it. I couldn't focus on any of that right now. I was home, back where I'd spent all those warm summer nights camping out in the backyard, catching lightning bugs. I'd bring them to Steve and crush them in his clothes, making his shirt glow and mom absolutely angry. Of course, it would turn out to be his fault, and he would receive the scolding. I stopped after that.
I wanted to grin and sob all at once. I missed them... all of them. Both of my families. My teammates, friends. But I needed some alone time. Time with my first family, however dysfunctional they always had been.
After a tearful moment, mom released me, sniffling and wiping her nose, her mascara dripping darkly down her cheeks. She dabbed at it and smiled wetly at me. "I've missed you, Bethy."
"I've missed you too, mom. Where's dad?"
"Where do you think? He's in the living room, watching that blasted television."
"Ah," I said, picking up my dropped belongings and following her through the screen door into the house, "I didn't know it was football season."
"It's not, but you can't convince him of that. Cable; what a wonder." She chuckled absently, and moved into the kitchen. "James! Beth is here!"
"Who?" I heard him ask. I set my things by the stairwell and stood in the doorway to the living room.
"Bethany West, your daughter... remember me?" He grinned from his seat on the couch.
"Well if it isn't my baby girl! How are ya, sweetie?"
"Good," I sighed, plopping on the couch next to him. I awkwardly hugged him sideways.
"What are you doing here?"
"Didn't mom tell you? I'm here to stay with you for awhile."
"Nothing! Just... I just need some time. Get back to my roots I guess you could say."
"Oh. I'm sure that that job of yours has absolutely nothing to do with you being so stressed? If I've told you once, I've told you--"
I sighed. Mom saved me. "James, leave her alone. She's tired. Let her enjoy her vacation. C'mon Beth, let's get your stuff up to your room. Then some dinner and you'll feel much better."
I followed her up the stairs to my room feeling a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I entered the tiny bedroom on the right. Everything was pretty much as it was when I had left for college. Man... it seemed like such a long time ago.
I set my stuff down and sat on my mattress. Mom joined me, patting my back fondly. "Ignore your father. He's still upset over your brother. He doesn't like what you both do. But don't let that fool ya, he's a proud as a father could be."
I almost laughed. He didn't know the extent of what me and my brother did for a living. And Steve was pretty much still an unmentioned thing around my dad.
"Now," she said, slapping her hands down on her knees as she stood, "I'll let you get settled in while I go work on supper. I'll call you when it's done."
"Actually, mom, I'm pretty tired from the trip. I think I'll just take a nap and get something later if that's alright."
She nodded, and turned to leave, shutting the door quietly behind her. After all she was still my mother, and however much we'd been apart, however I had changed, she could still tell when I needed my privacy.
I flopped down, and stretched out face-first on my bed, inhaling the familiar scent of detergent from my worn comforter. I closed my eyes and let it take me back to another time. Back when my worst worries were those concerning silly teenage boys. Back when I'd never killed anyone. Huffing, I rolled over and pulled my favorite gun --the one Steve has given me-- from the hidden holster on the inside of my jeans.
I weighed it in my hand.
I laughed aloud as I cradled the black metal in my palm. Who was I kidding? However much it drove me crazy, this was the life I had chose for myself. With a resolved sigh I placed the weapon on my dresser, right next to the flowery diary I had once poured my special moments into. Right at ease for me to grab if I needed it. I laughed once again, this time at my paranoia.
I would be back in the fray again, and probably sooner or later. That was for sure. But for now, I thought, yawning as I snuggled into my pillow, not bothering to even take my shoes off, I was home. And for now, that was all I needed.