The Return

My eyes lock with an elderly man standing in line at my bakery. He is staring directly at me and even when I make eye contact he doesn’t look away. He’s lean and tall but slightly hunched over giving him a bit of candy cane look.

I try to ignore him as I glaze the doughnuts in front of me, but it’s distracting. I’m used to customers watching through the large open window that allows them to see from the restaurant into the bakery in the back, but in the five minutes since we’ve been open, this man’s gaze has been unwavering and strangely familiar in a way that sets the hairs on the back of my neck on end.

And then the memory clicks into place and my eyes fly back at the icy blue iris still staring at me. I haven’t seen him in over twenty years, but I’m sure this man is my father. A cold shiver runs up my spine as I stand frozen, locked for a moment in his stare. My father was not a good man.

Just like every morning, the line is already snaked outside the door with drowsy patrons shuffling forward waiting for their caffeine and sugar fix. My father is about 7 people from the front counter which means he must have been waiting outside before we opened. The idea that he has been so close creates a knot of panic and pain in my chest.

I was sixteen when I watched my father throw my brother down the stairs of our cabin. Up until then, the three of us had been a mostly happy family. Then, two days before they had simply disappeared I had been frantic wondering where there were. Out of sheer desperation I decided to check our cabin which my family only ever used in the summer.

That fateful day, it took me 5 hours to walk all the way out to there, dragging my feet through the freshly fallen snow. I could hear shouting even before I opened the front door. They didn’t see me cowering in the shadows. The relief I’d felt by finally finding my brother and father had been overtaken by fear at their combined anger. I had been about to sneak back out when there was crash, a scream, a holler, then a thud. My brother’s crumpled body lay at my feet and I stood in shocked horror at his twisted limbs.

I have to leave the bakery now. I am deeply regretting the open window I’d insisted on when I designed the layout. My hands are shaking as his place in line moves closer. He’s now one person away from the cash register. It is not just a coincidence that he is here. He’s here for me, I just don’t know why.

As slowly as possible, I set down the doughnut I’d been working with, wipe my hands on my apron and nonchalantly head to the freezer. I open the door and it shields me from view, but rather than going into the large walk-in freezer, I duck out the back door. Thankfully, my keys are stashed in the pocket of my apron. My hand is on the car door handle when I hear my name shouted from behind me. Even as an elderly man, he moves quickly.

On that fateful day, I had heard feet thundering down the stairs of the cabin and knew I had precious few moments to hide. I slipped backwards into the storage area under the stairs. I could hear my dad making a phone call and footsteps as heavy boots walked back and forth in front of the little door that shielded me from what was happening out there.

I didn’t come out until the cabin had been silent for hours. I was petrified that someone knew I was in there and was simply waiting for me to come out. Eventually, I was driven out by hungry and an extreme need to use the bathroom.

I didn’t go home and I never saw my father or brother again.

“Maggie, wait,” my father called again. I turned slowly around turning my glare to ice, despite the intense panic I was feeling. “I need to explain.”

“Explain how you killed Jeremy? I don’t want to hear it.”

“I didn’t kill him.” His voice is soft and I barely hear it.

“I saw you.”

“I mean, he isn’t dead. That’s why I’m here. He’s asking for you.” He stands with hands open in front of him, pleading.

I turn quickly and get into my car. As I drive away, he simply stands watching me. He doesn’t run after me or try to get to another vehicle. He just watches. And I know this isn’t over.

I know this isn’t over.

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