Coming Home
Michelle Perry

"I was wondering when the hell you were going to call me! Where the fuck have you been? It's been three days! Three fucking days!! The police called me about your car, you know. The police, Joe! They told me your car was just sitting in the beach parking lot with the door unlocked. Who the hell does shit like that? HUH? I can't believe - "



"I'm sorry." She stayed quiet. "I'm so sorry. I'm an asshole."

"You got that right," she muttered.

"Look, I'll make it up to you. But... could you pick me up from the airport?"


"The Internationals gate at around - "

"Are you kidding me? You just disappear into thin air for days and I'm just supposed to drop everything and go all the way up to the damn airport to pick you up? You couldn't even be bothered to call me, and you expect me to just melt at 'I'm sorry'?"

"Ophelia, I was at a funeral. It was an old friend, and-"

"And what?? And they don't have telephones in England? You couldn't even leave me a fucking note letting me know you were buying a ticket? You... you..." She let out a frustrated half-growl, half scream. "You are the single most self-centered, inconsiderate jackass I have ever met! You can take a fucking taxi home!"

Joe pulled the phone away from his ear at the sound of Ophelia's violent disconnect. He frowned at the telephone and shoved it deep into his pocket, unwilling to look at it - as if the phone, and not Ophelia, had shut him out.

For a few minutes, he tried to console himself with the thought that Ophelia was being completely irrational and just plain bitchy. How dare she yell at him like that? He'd lost his dearest friend! They'd been friends since before they'd known what the word "friend" meant! For her to yell at him like that was just not called for. Bloody bitch!

But even as he though the words, he cringed internally. There was no real comfort in trying to be angry with Ophelia. Other people managed to attend funerals out of town without effectively running off and leaving behind all responsibility, and all thought of the people who would be left picking up after them.

He sighed heavily. That tended to be how he handled everything, though. When things got too hot, pick up and go. His mother had forgiven him for leaving home. Even when he couldn't tell her why - when he couldn't make his mouth form the words to explain what Evelyn had done, and how he'd helped kill poor Jane - she'd still forgiven him and told him that whenever he wanted to come back, his room would be waiting for him. And even though the guilt still clung to him - a hundred ton albatross around his neck - he still felt himself using escape as the best solution to everything. He'd physically run from several situations - his first job in America, a few girlfriends (the ones who hadn't left him first), several agents - he'd shut them all out and run at the first sign of danger. The booze and the drugs were his way of running from that which he couldn't physically escape - his thoughts.

He thought about Ophelia again. She hated the drugs and all the shit he put his body through, but she stuck with him anyway. Even if he did have to coax her into doing it once in a while, with near-exorbitant raises. But he doubted her patience would survive this, his most recent runaway attempt. He'd fucked things up, almost certainly beyond all repair. The thought made his stomach feel sour.

Joe leaned back in his seat, turned his head toward the bulkhead window and watched the eerie, moonlit clouds as they passed. I'm fucking tired, he thought. Tired of running. Tired of hiding. Tired of living like a fugitive in his own house. For once, all he really wanted to do was go home, stroll to his favorite spot on the balcony while Ophelia made tea, or supper or some such, and just... stand still.

Ophelia screamed at the phone after she hung it up. She picked it up and slammed it down twice more for good measure, even though she knew that it was a silly thing to do. "Fucking asshole!" she shouted. "Ugh!!" She stormed through her apartment, growling, and violently tidying up. She'd managed to clean up the kitchen and the living room before she finally began to run out of steam.

She sat down heavily on her sofa and glared at nothing in particular. She was still pissed at Joe, but she felt a twinge of remorse for having been so harsh with him. The tiny pang of guilt pissed her off even more. "Son of a bitch!" she hissed. He deserved it! He never thought about anyone but himself! But... he had just lost his best friend. And apparently, he cared enough to stop everything (whatever that might be at the moment) and go to England to make the funeral.

Ophelia sighed. She remembered the stricken look on his face when he'd got off the phone with his mother and come back to the living room. Devastation - that was the best way to describe it. His face had gone almost as white as his shirt, his eyes had a vacant look, and he staggered just a little - the way he did when he was suffering from a particularly bad hangover. When she'd asked if he was okay, he'd nodded, told her to stay as long as she liked, and that he'd be back from his meeting in a couple of hours, and that was the last she'd heard of him until the police called.

But he should have told her! She could have helped make arrangements. That was part of her job description, wasn't it? At least, if he'd let her know he was leaving, maybe she wouldn't have been so worried when he didn't come back after those promised two hours. Maybe she wouldn't have spent hours trying to get in touch with his agent, who, for some reason wasn't answering his phone for the first time since Ophelia had met the little creep. And maybe she wouldn't have felt that tightness in her chest, and the tears trying to force their way out when she'd heard "police" and assumed he'd been in an accident, or committed suicide, or... something. She wouldn't have had to feel the shock, followed swiftly by fury, at the sudden realization of just how much she cared about him.

She looked around at her living room, suddenly disgusted by the sight of everything around her. The warm browns, rusts and reds of her furniture were offensive to her eyes. She scowled at the painting she'd bought with her last Christmas bonus. Stupid color swirls and random shapes stupidly matching her stupid furniture and stupid rugs! It was all so stupid and pointless! A lot of nice, fairly expensive things designed to make this place into a home, and for what? For whom? For her to sit around thinking about how she didn't have time for a boyfriend, how her family thought she was selling her soul for money by working as a "maid" for a White man, and wondering what she was going to see when she went to work in the morning? For her to wile away the hours between going to Joe's house, convincing herself that she was glad to be away from him - convincing herself that she didn't miss him?

Dammit. She missed him. She'd never articulated that thought, even to herself. She sat, glaring and fuming without focusing her fury on anything in particular for a few minutes. Finally, as if a switch had been flipped, she stopped. Her eyes cleared, and came into focus on the telephone. She got up, dialed, and went through the appropriate menus until she got a person on the line. A chipper man identified himself and asked how he could help. "Can you tell me if there are any flights from the UK arriving today?"

Joe walked slowly down the wide, empty hall, his single carry-on in hand. His mind was surprisingly clear. He'd put away his worries about home. He'd promised his family that he wouldn't be such a stranger in the future, and he meant to keep his word. As for Ruth, either she would accept his gift, or she wouldn't. But they - well... Boots - had named their first child after him. Joe couldn't imagine Ruth refusing a way out of foreclosure, no matter how angry she might still be with him.

The only thing that still nagged him was the thought of Ophelia. He'd managed to patch things up at one home, while simultaneously screwing everything up at the other. He sighed. Maybe when he got home, he'd call her and try to apologize again. He doubted it would work, and the thought of her certain rejection of anything he had to say brought the sourness back to his stomach again. Still, he would give it a try. First things, first, though. He had to find a taxi. His thoughts were full of the drudgery that lay ahead. Hailing a cab would probably be a nightmare. Someone was sure to recognize him if he had to stand around looking for an empty ride. Perhaps he could rent a car? But standing in line for a rental at an airport would probably be just as...

Joe stopped short. He looked with complete shock at the familiar face of his assistant. Her head was slightly turned, glancing down the aisle, casually watching the people hurrying along in the bustling fashion characteristic of air travelers. He broke into a broad grin as all the worry and tenseness in his stomach melted away. He knew he wasn't out of hot water by any stretch of the imagination, but she had come. In spite of her (justified) fury with him, she had come to help him.

Things might just not be as fucked up as he'd feared. She turned toward him, and he schooled his face into something like contrition. He wanted to run to her and squeeze her and beg her to forgive him while gushing about how grateful he was that she'd come, but he wasn't sure how well that would go over. Instead, he met her stern, almost motherly look with a sheepish half-smile, then ducked his head and walked dutifully toward her.

Without speaking, Ophelia turned away from him and began to walk out of the airport. He followed her, trying to read her posture, and figure out just how much trouble he was in. Her quick, slightly stiffer-than-usual stride told her that he was in pretty deep. How could he make things up to her? When they finally reached her shimmering pink Mustang, she opened the trunk and got into the car. Joe put his bags down, gently closed the trunk, and sat beside her in the passenger's seat.

She pulled out of the lot and began to head toward his house. Joe sat in the increasingly uncomfortable silence, alternately looking out the window, and stealing glances at Ophelia. Finally, the silence grew too much for him, and he decided he had to say something. "Ophelia?"

"What?" she snapped.

Joe cleared his throat. "Um... thanks for the lift?"

She cut her eyes at him, then stared back at the road. Joe fiddled with his belt buckle, and there were several more minutes of silence. Finally, Ophelia sighed. "Lemme ask you something," she said sharply.


"How the HELL did you manage to get a pile of dog shit in the back seat of your damn car?"

For a second, he tried to formulate a serious explanation of what had happened, wondering why Ophelia would ask such a thing when she had helped him put the damn dog in the car herself. Then he saw the twinkle in Ophelia's eyes, and the slight smile on her lips. He smiled back at her. He could feel a giggle building up at the absurdity of the situation. He tried to hold it in, then wondered why he was trying to hold back. He let the laugh loose, giggling almost uncontrollably, until he could feel tears in his eyes. Ophelia was laughing, too, nearly as hard as he. When they finally managed to calm down, Joe settled back in his seat and told her all about it.


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