Absolution
Author:Amanda Dick

He had pulled over onto the hard shoulder as soon as he had left the highway, retrieving his phone from his duffle bag and dialing Father David’s number from the scribble on top of the pizza box lid. Father David had offered his condolences and Jack quietly informed him that he would be coming home for his father’s funeral. He thanked him for organising things on his behalf. The words of comfort offered down the phone line washed over him, barely making an impression. He fantasised about dissolving into the cracks in the tarmac in front of him, falling through into oblivion.

 

Driving through town after town, the road ahead seemed longer, not shorter. There was no turning back now. Fate had taken over, clearly sick of waiting for him to make the right decision on his own. Pressing harder on the gas pedal, he went over the last conversation he’d had with his father, turning it this way and that in his head. It had started out as always – pleasantries exchanged, the conversation slightly awkward. For the first time in a while, his father had mentioned Ally and Jack had interrupted him, reminding him of their pact; don’t ask, don’t tell. The conversation had taken a swift dive and thinking back on it now, he couldn’t remember who had hung up on whom.

 

He pulled over to refuel just as the sun was coming up. He sat in the deserted gas station forecourt for several minutes, staring at the horizon as it changed colour. He closed his eyes, trying to recall his father’s face. It had been four years since he had last seen him and his face seemed blurred at the edges. His heart ached at the thought of all that wasted time – time he would never get back now.

 

He leaned forward and rested his head on the steering wheel. At this time of the morning, on this lonely stretch of road, he felt like the only human being on the planet.

 

His phone rang, breaking the silence. He stared at it suspiciously and picked it up off the passenger seat. Ben’s name stared back at him. He cancelled the call immediately, throwing the phone back onto the seat and glancing in the rear-view mirror, just in case. The road was clear.

 

It was mid-afternoon before he stopped at a roadside diner, choosing a corner booth, away from the door. He couldn’t bring himself to smile at the middle-aged waitress, but he did leave her a tip. The food was tasteless and the coffee too strong, but he didn’t care.

 

He didn’t stop again until later that night, at a cheap motel on the side of the highway. The tiny room reeked of cigarette smoke but it hardly registered. He lay down on the bed fully-clothed and stared at the ceiling, wondering for the hundredth time what awaited him at the end of this road.

 

In the twenty-four hours since he had learned of his father’s death, he had come to the terrifying – and, if he was completely honest with himself – slightly liberating conclusion, that it was now or never. He had to fix this. His father had been right, only he had been too damn scared and stubborn to see it.

 

But he was firm in his resolve now. He hadn’t been strong enough to come home while his father was alive and that would probably haunt him for the rest of his days – but he still had the chance to do the right thing by Ally, and he needed Callum to know that he was sorry. It was highly likely that whatever he said would fall on deaf ears, but he had to try. He would make his father proud of him.

 

But if they refused to talk to him – or to listen – then what? He shifted irritably on the bed, uncomfortable in his own skin. His muscles burned and he felt every split and bruise as if his body was on fire. He had to try to make them understand – which would be a lot easier if he understood it himself.

 

No matter which way he turned this, it never came out in his favour. He was fairly certain that Callum would knock seven bales of shit out of him, which is exactly what he deserved. But he couldn’t help but hope that, at some point, they would also be able to talk.

 

The ceiling blurred in front of his eyes. He didn’t even have the energy to reach over and switch off the light behind his head. As he lay there, the smell of stale cigarette smoke already fading, his concentration began to wane and his eyes slid closed. The day took its toll on him as he gave in and allowed his body to shut down.

 

 

 

Callum helped himself to a fresh cup of coffee. “Sure you don’t want one?”

 

Ally shook her head, her hair falling loosely over her shoulders. He had spent the night on the couch, because it didn’t feel right leaving her alone. Movie night had been forgotten as they gathered in Ally’s living room and tried to process Tom’s death. After a lot of discussion, Callum picked up Tom’s cell phone from the table and walked out into the back yard to call Jack. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done and he wished to hell the responsibility wasn’t his. Ally had argued that he could ask Father David to do it, but Callum had an ulterior motive. Jack not only needed to know about Tom’s death, but he needed to know that if he chose to come home for the funeral, he better keep his distance.