After ten years away, Sam returns home for his mother's funeral. He doesn't want to stay long, but then he sees Sarah. His childhood sweetheart. Will the bonds of the past bring him home or simply confirm why he should leave again?
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The neighborhood was full of cars. There was nowhere to park. When Sam's Uber pulled up to the curb, he saw people spilling out of his parents' home and onto the front lawn. Everywhere he looked there were little groups huddled together, speaking in low tones, taking tiny sips of coffee from styrofoam cups.
He imagined his father was quite proud of the crowd, could almost hear him saying in that booming pulpit voice: "Tremendous turnout, amen? Praise the Lord!"
Sam resisted the urge to tell the Uber driver to leave, just leave. The urge to flee was so strong he could taste it. Instead, he gritted his teeth and opened the car door.
Heads turned toward him. Dozens of eyes taking him in. The prodigal son returns. Sam felt his armpits prick with sweat, the old familiar discomfort washing over him. He'd always been uncomfortable with the attention that came from his dad's job as a pastor. He'd always been uncomfortable as the pastor's kid. A "PK."
"Samuel!" came a loud voice from inside the house.
Great. His dad had already spotted him. So much for slipping in quietly, so much for the subtle backdoor entrance.
His father came barreling out the front door, arms spread wide. "Samuel! My son!"
Samuel ducked sideways into his father's embrace. His father crushed him to his chest. Sam gasped for air. This was how it always was. His father, a great hurricane force of a man, indomitable in his convictions, staunch in his certainties, smothering in his affections.
"Samuel is home!" his father announced to the gawking crowd. "My son Samuel IS HOME!"
"Praise the Lord!" someone shouted.
"Halleujah!" said another.
Sam made a mental note to change his flight reservation to a day earlier.
Samuel's father pulled him inside. There were trays of casseroles on the kitchen table. Arrangements of cards and flowers covered every available surface.
"EVERYONE! Samuel is HOME!" his father announced again, grinning widely from ear to ear.
Samuel wondered how long his father could keep up this bravado act. As long as there was an audience, he figured.
It was then that he saw her. She was laughing with old Mrs. Devon, a longtime friend of his mother's. Her dark hair was longer than he remembered, billowing over her shoulders and down her back like a glorious mane. Her long, conservative dress couldn't fully hide her voluptuous curves. He found himself staring at her bright red mouth, shiny and ripe as a cherry. Sarah. How long had it been? Surely she was married and had a couple of kids by now. But she didn't look a day older than when he'd last seen her.
His father caught him looking. "Ah, yes. The lovely Sarah Vivian. Your mother has become quite fond of her in these last few years."
Sam looked away, embarrassed. His father was still talking about Mother in the present tense. And he didn't want to stare at Sarah. He didn't want to get distracted from the mission at hand: primarily, to convince his father to give him more money.
There was no way he would let anyone know that his own life was in shambles, that all the money was gone and that his music career was dead. As far as anyone here knew, Sam's life was still glamorous and rarified. Sam had gotten out. Sam was a star.
Only Sam knew that was all a lie.