Laura Hale's eyes grew wide, and she took a step back. For a moment, Alexander thought his mother would pass out, but then she threw her arms around him and sobbed.
Taken aback, Alexander wasn't sure if he should hug his mother back or not. At long last, he allowed his arms to encircle her, albeit tentatively.
You wouldn't hug me, Alexander thought, if you knew the terrible person I've become.
Through her tears, Laura managed to call out, "Alexander's home!" Then, she gave another sob and hugged Alexander over and over again. "I can't believe you're back..." she said, hiccuping through her weeping. "It's been so long...I can't believe you're back..."
How can I tell her what has happened in the past six years?
Within moments, Thomas Hale had appeared. He stood in disbelief for a second, then embraced his prodigal son. Alexander hadn't expected such a show of emotion from his father, but there were tears running down Thomas' face. "Come into the kitchen, Alexander. You look exhausted. Do you need something to eat?"
Feeling he didn't deserve anything, Alexander shook his head. "I'm fine - " he started to say, but Laura took his arm and practically dragged him into the kitchen.
"I've just made spice cake," Laura said. "It was for the potluck tomorrow, but I think you're more important than any potluck. Are you thirsty? Thomas, get him something to drink while I give him some cake."
"Mother, I'm really fine."
"'Course you aren't! You look like you've had a long travel." Laura was still so giddy with excitement that her hands shook as she dished out a rather gigantic piece of spice cake for her son. "There you are. What else would you like?"
"I'm alright, but thank-you."
"Where have you been these past six years?" Thomas asked, setting a cup of water down in front of Alexander.
"Oh, Thomas, for pity's sake," Laura laughed. "Couldn't you find anything more celebratory than water?" She smiled, and without thinking, said, "What about that wine we won at the church bazaar?"
"No!" Alexander shot out before he could think to condition his words. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. Just...no wine, please."
Laura looked stricken. "Of course," she said, voice repentant. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking...I mean, it has been six years and all..."
Alexander reached over and took Laura's hand. "It's alright."
"How are you doing, Alexander?" Thomas asked, helping himself to a piece of Laura's spice cake, much to Laura's pretend chagrin.
"Well...I guess it's hard to summarize three years..." Alexander took a drink of water, wishing ever so much that it was the wine Laura had mentioned, but grateful it wasn't. "I've stopped drinking." That's something good.
Laura's face lit up, and she squeezed her son's hand. "Oh, Alexander," she whispered, eyes filling up with tears again.
"But some pretty bad things have happened, too."
There was a long silence before Thomas nodded. "Don't worry about sugarcoating anything," he said.
"I've been in and out of jail. I got in with the wrong crowd right away. But I'm done with that, too." Alexander looked away. How was he supposed to tell his parents about Miriam? About Shaliste?