“Hank…now you KNOW watchin’ that phone isn’t gonna make it ring.” Molly Dresden said in a
“Ok…you caught me.” Hank said sheepishly. Turning to face her, Hank said, “Why doesn’t he call, Molly?”
Sighing heavily and putting aside the book she had been reading, Mary got up from the couch and walked across the living room to where Hank was sitting in his overstuffed chair. Turning, she sat gently into Hank’s lap and put her legs across the arm of the chair. Taking his head into her hands, she pulled it against her chest in a loving hug. “I know, Baby, I know…” She said, and then taking his face into her hands and tilting it up so she could stare into his eyes, she continued, “Do you know how much it makes me love you to see how you love your son?” Kissing him on the forehead, she finished, “You’re an incredible father, Hank Dresden!”
Grabbing Molly by the waist, Hank gave her a deep kiss and then replied, “Thank you, Darlin’…now
get back to your book.” Then placing one arm under her knees and the other around her waist, Hank scooted forward and stood up while holding Molly. Molly screamed playfully and said, “Careful old man…you’ll hurt your back!”
Hank walked over to the couch and dropped her onto it. “That’s for calling me OLD!” He
Molly laughed and watched as Hank turned, and pushed through the screen door, which closed with a “thwack”.
Hank stood on the front porch, leaned against one of the pillars of the porch, and looked down the dirt lane which allowed access to his farm. As he stood listening to the early evening sounds of the birds settling in to the trees while the rays of the setting sun left a colorful hue of red and orange in the eastern sky, Hank thought about how much he loved this part of the day. The evening chores were over, dinner was over, and the dishes were in the dish washer. Molly was curled up with her book, which was one of the personal luxuries she carved out time for in a typically full day of life on the farm. So Hank often came outside, in the summer months at least, to think and pray. Every evening since Chris and Mia left, Hank found his gaze constantly returning to that dirt lane. He began the habit of saying an inaudible, short prayer for both of them whenever he looked down the lane. Tonight was no different. Hank thought of when Mia had returned home. He first found out about it when he overheard a conversation in the café in town one afternoon, when he and Molly had stopped in for lunch while making a trip to the local hardware store. Two of the waitresses, who had attended high school with Mia, had been standing at the end of the counter gossiping and giving a biting commentary about why Mia had returned, but not Chris. Hank and Molly’s waitress had just filled Hank’s coffee cup for the second time when they all heard the comment, and their eyes briefly met. The girl’s eyes quickly broke from his and darted toward her co-workers, who were too engrossed to notice Hank and Molly’s presence.
After a particularly vicious comment by one of the girls, the waitress near Hank and Molly turned red and said, “I’m real sorry Mr. and Mrs. Dresden, we are all just really worried about Mia. Sometimes…”
Molly interrupted the girl in mid-sentence, “That’s ok…um…Michelle,” …reading the girl’s name tag…”I’m sure they are just trying to protect Mia by talking about her behind her back…”
Michelle got redder still. “Uh, yeah… I’m sure that’s it…” she had replied with embarrassment.
Hank had then jumped in, “Do you know when Mia got back in town, and where she is staying?” He asked, his face turning red at the need to ask the question.
“Well, she got back in town yesterday, and is with her parents.” Michelle had responded.
Hank and Molly then hurriedly paid the ticket and left.
As he stood on the porch, looking down the lane, he thought about the meeting with Mia and her parents right after the meal in the cafe in town. The conversation with Mia was very awkward. Hank and Molly had asked Mia to be honest with them, and she was. As Mia related the story, tears began to creep down Molly’s face and Hank felt a growing knot in his stomach. Finally, after Mia had finished, Hank said, “I’m sorry, Mia,” in a barely audible voice choked with the knot which had worked its way upwards from his stomach to his throat.
That had been several months ago, and Hank still choked up as he thought about it. In the following months, the new baby had been born: Hope Margaret (Maggie) Dresden. She was a joy to both sets of grandparents as well as her mother, and Mia had no problem finding a babysitter with such a collage of extended family vying for the privelege. Mia was still home with the baby, but planned on getting a job eventually so she could move out on her own. Several members of their little church had offered her a job, including Father Baaken, who said that his memory and his wife required that he hire a secretary. Mia was leaning toward the latter offer.
As the sun continued to sink lower in the East, Hank watched it and eventually noticed the unmistakable, distant sound of a large truck approaching on the main road. Lifting his coffee cup to his lips, he said aloud to himself, “That’s weird… it’s late for a delivery. He must have too heavy a load and is tryin’ to bypass the scales.” This was a fairly common practice when a trucker had just refueled, and knew that the weight of his fuel plus his load would cost him a fine at the weigh station on the main highway because he was over the legal weight. He watched for the tell-tale dust the truck would stir up when it passed where the blacktop ended and the road became a dirt road a mile-and-a-half to the south of his spread. Eventually, Hank heard the engine begin to slow as the truck approached and then crossed onto the dirt portion of the road, and he saw the dust immediately kick up.
“Man,” Hank said aloud as he saw the dust begin to billow, “we could sure use some rain, Lord.” The prayer came unbidden, as if a comment to a close friend standing near.
As he continued to watch the billowing dust and listen to the sound of the engine, he noticed that the engine continued to slow, rather than remain constant on the dirt road. In fact, it sounded as if the truck were slowing down even further. “Wonder if he got a flat…” Hank said with a slight frown on his face. Taking another drink of his coffee, the frown deepened into a scowl as he suddenly realised his coffee was cold. He spat out the mouthful, and then dumped his cup into the bushes next to the steps. As he did so, a young cotton-tail raced from under the bush, dodging this way and that, in an attempt to escape an imagined pursuer. Hank immediately laughed. “I don’t blame ya’. I hate cold coffee, too!” He said to the retreating rabbit.
Suddenly, a movement at the end of the lane captured Hank’s attention, and he turned to see a large truck stopped on the main road, just in front of the entrance to the lane. The passenger side door opened, and a duffle bag was dropped to the ground just before a familiar figure began to slowly emerge from the open door. Hank heard a voice say something into the cab, but he couldn’t hear the message due to the distance from where he stood. Hank straightened to a standing position at the top of the stairs. He watched the figure climb down from the cab of the truck, reach down and pick up the duffle bag, and then stop for a couple moments as the truck began to pick up speed and cover him with dust.
“Chris?” Hank said quietly at first. “Dear God, let it be…”
Hank absent-mindedly pushed his coffee cup in the direction of the porch railing, but let go of the handle while the cup was half-way on the top railing, and the cup immediately toppled onto the concrete steps and shattered at his feet. Ignoring the shards of pottery at his feet, Hank jumped off the porch in one bound, swinging his arms wildly… “YES!” He screamed while in mid-air. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Hank spun around in his best touchdown dance with knees pumping, and arms thrust straight up in the air, screaming, “YES! YES! MY SON!” Taking off at a dead sprint, Hank let out a long, loud, “Wah-hooooooo….” as he sprinted down the dusty lane.
At the other end of the lane, Chris stopped walking as he saw his father’s joyful dance and retreated a couple of steps when he saw him sprinting towards Chris’s position. The color drained from Chris’s face in direct proportion to the closing distance between his sprinting father and himself. He prepared himself for what he thought would be his father’s anger at his return, and the poverty of his situation. Rather than resume his walk towards home, Chris stood stone still, feeling smaller and smaller until he wished he could disappear into the ditch alongside the lane. He spoke in whispered tones to himself the words of regret and remorse he had rehearsed in his mind and heart throughout the long return home. Words which acknowledged how his actions had disrespected his father and mother, the family name, Mia and their child, and even himself. Words which spoke of his understanding that he had forfeited his place as son, but begged for a place as employee. He closed his eyes as he whispered to himself, over and over, and he could hear the heavy footsteps of his father getting louder and louder and louder….
Hank exploded into Chris in a perfect form tackle, lifting him up off the ground completely, lost his balance, and fell; twisting as they fell, so his own shoulder took the full force of the fall. When they both hit the ground, Hank continued to roll over and over again with his son grasped tightly in his arms; his breaths coming in deep, rasping sobs which emanated from a well-spring of joy in his heart.
The two of them ended up in the middle of the road with Hank laying on top of Chris. Looking down at the face of his son, Hank noticed Chris’s eyes closed tightly, and he began to laugh heartily at the sight. When he heard his father’s laughter, Chris opened his eyes to see his father’s eyes squinting with mirth, the corners of his mouth spread wide in an inviting smile, and tears flowing from his eyes, making trails in the dust of the road which covered his face.
“It is SO good to see you, Chris!” Hank said in a voice, choked with emotion.
Hank placed his hands on the ground, rolled off his son, and stood up; towering over his son. In response, Chris turned to the side, and worked his way onto his knees, with hands to his side, and facing his father. Looking down at the dusty road, Chris began to speak…”I am no longer worthy of being called your son. I…I… really need a job… could I work around the farm, for my room and board?”
Hank grabbed his son by the arms and raised him to a standing position. Looking directly into his eyes, Hank said, “Welcome home, Son…” He then put his hands on either side of his head, kissed him on the forehead, and then on each cheek. As he kissed his son, he could taste the grit of the dust from the road and at the taste, Hank immediatly turned his head upwards and began to laugh while pulling his son close in a strong, tight hug.
Releasing his hug, Hank turned to pick up the duffle bag which had been thrown by Hank’s tackle about ten yards away. As he threw the duffle bag over one shoulder, he put his free arm around the shoulders of Chris. “Let’s git some dinner! Are ya hungry?” Hank said as they turned towards the house and began the short walk to the house, and to Molly, who was standing on the porch with her own welcome to a lost son.
As they walked the lane, Chris was almost certain he heard the church bell sounding in the distance.
“It’s good to be home.” Chris said quietly.
“It’s great to have you home….. I didn’t hurt ya, did I?” Hank said, turning his head towards his son.
“I’m good…,” Chris responded. “Actually… I’m great!”