The Clarke family, all of them, arrive at the house together for the first time in years. Bean, the hero of the night, just can’t wait to get inside. Being the centre of attention is tiring and now that he’s back home he’s ready for some time alone. Lee’s fussing about, pacing and fidgeting with more energy than she’s displayed in the last three years combined. Suddenly she’d concerned that everything should be perfect and, for the first time ever, she goes so far as to notice that no one’s carried in today’s paper… No one ever carries in the paper, do they? As he walks through the decidedly unfamiliar front gates, Jack pulls up short and stares at his childhood home. It’s amazing being beneath the stars and pulling fresh, crisp air into his lungs again. He’d forgotten how it felt to be outside, but he’d never forgotten how it felt to be inside this home. He’d never really expected to see it again. “It looks the same” he whispers quietly, only loud enough for his dad to hear.
“It is the same… Pretty much.” There’s a sadness hidden in Berjes words, but he tries hard to wipe them out with a smile. “Welcome home, Jack.”
There’s hustle and bustle in the house as everyone gets settled back in. Sheets need to be changed and fresh towels arranged. A late dinner is made, but everyone’s nerves are too excited to eat and there’s a tension at the table as plates are picked at. There’s always a tension at the table but Jack’s never experienced it before. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, it’s time for bed. Jack steps through the door to his old room and finds… His old room. Bean hadn’t changed a thing and while the nursery is bleak and empty, this room feels just how he remembered it. He climbs up into the loft bed that was his and that same rung in the ladder squeaks under his weight. Ow! He never used to bump his head though! The sheets smell amazing. The sheets smell like home. Out in the hall, Lee takes the stairs two at a time when she hears Bean call his good night to Berjes. She doesn’t realize it, but this is pretty much the first time she’s remembered her first son all night long. “Bean, Bean!” She catches his attention as he’s heading into his room and he stops to look at her with a small frown.
His tone is cold and cautious when he responds to her and he’s eying her warily,”What do you want?”
Only slightly put off, “I just wanted to say thank you, and you’re wonderful. You saved him, you saved us.” It’s not that she misreads Bean when she goes to hug him, it’s that she doesn’t pay attention to his body language much at all and Lee finds herself shocked when he backs out of her arms, pushing her away before she even gets close.
“Yeah, whatever.” And with that, he turns and steps through the door, shutting it between them with a little more force than necessary. Lee stands out in the hallway, her heart sunk to her belly as she stares at the wood panel before her. Well. That didn’t go as planned.As she readies herself for bed she just can’t stop thinking about Bean’s rejection and Jack’s return, but mostly the first. Her teeth brushed and pyjamas on she finds herself climbing the stairs up to Berjes’ room, the master bedroom. A gentle knock and she finds herself waiting for Berjes to invite her in. Only once he calls “Come in?” does she pad into the room and stand awkwardly at the entrance. Her husband lies on the bed, a book in hand despite the bags under his eyes. “Can’t sleep, huh?”
“I haven’t even tried,” she admits with honesty, “can I join you?” He nods and pats the bed next to him, her side of the bed, and considers her quietly. No questions asked, he just waits. “Bean hates me.” No response, just a slow nod. “Everything’s better now so why…?”
“Just ’cause we have Jack back, doesn’t mean that anything else is different, Lee. Things haven’t been good with you and Bean for a long time and they won’t get better magically or overnight. It’ll take time…” he frowns at her, “and effort, Lee.”They talk quietly together for nearly an hour, both of their eyes drooping as they try to work out how they’ll explain the current household dynamics to Jack, how they’ll tell him what’s happened since (and because) he was taken. Lee begins to drift off mid-sentence and every time she snaps awake Berjes considers sending her back down to her room, but he just doesn’t have the heart, especially when she lets out a quiet sigh and snuggles into his chest. He lets her lie there, listening to her breathing while he inhales the scent of her hair. How long since he held her this close? Since they shared a bed? She begins to snore and Berjes carefully pulls himself away from his sleeping wife. He makes sure she’s resting comfortable before slipping off of the bed and crossing the room. Why can’t he do this? Why doesn’t it feel right? One thing he knows is that he’s not getting sleep tonight. Not a wink and he might as well take tomorrow off of work – certainly no one will blame him for that. Bean tosses and turns on his blankets, under the covers was too warm tonight, too constricting, and his mind is racing a million miles an hour. The adrenaline that had coursed through him was beginning to fade but considering all that had happened that day, considering all that’s changing, there’s no way he can sleep. Jack rests next to him, tossing and turning nearly as much but never seeming to wake. The kid talks gibberish in his sleep now, never did that before, but he still makes that weird clicking sound and still grinds his teeth. It looks like a restless sleep and it’s making it hard for Bean to even lie there next to him. He heard Lee go to dad’s room ages ago, and now someone’s leaving the room but those are dad’s footsteps and not hers. That makes Bean’s decision easy and when he hears dad going down the stairs he slips from his bed and follows him down. Berjes is already in the kitchen, whipping up something or another… Flour, eggs, chocolate chips… “Cookies?”
“Nope, dough.” Berjes can’t help it, he’s a dad after all.
His ‘joke’ gets him a well earned but unenthusiastic groan. “Dough for cookies?”
“Yup,” Berjes looks over his shoulder at the boy standing there in his raggedy old track pants and shirt, looking like he could pass out where he stands. “Can’t sleep, kiddo?”
“Not a chance.” They catch each others eyes and nod with understanding. It’s almost too much.
“I really don’t know. It’s a lot. Wanna grease some cookie sheets for me?”
Father and son set to work side-by-side, silently rolling dough into balls and dropping them onto the baking tray.Lee wakes with a start, something’s wrong! Where is she? It only takes a moment to realize which bed she’s in and a moment more to realize that Berjes isn’t next to her. A second later she remembers everything that happened before she slept, oh that couldn’t have been a dream! It’s with something near panic that she races from Berjes’ room to Bean’s, her heart in her throat until she’s certain she’s remembering properly. Her baby, her boy, her Jack is back where he’s supposed to be.In the kitchen, cookies are steaming on plates. Berjes and Bean each munch on one as they watch the sky lighten above the rock wall surrounding their house. There’s too much to say and neither knows where to begin. How to you start when everything’s about to be different again? Berjes looks at his son, really looks at him, and for the first time he sees a young man sitting next to him and not just a boy. It’s been coming for a long time but there’s a new maturity in the kid’s eyes, a new depth to the sadness there. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asks, not being particularly specific, and Bean just shakes his head. Part of him had thought that everything would go back to some kind of normal happiness when Jack was found but instead it’s just… The same. And different.