The sign still welcomed me to Beacon Hills with a population of just over seven thousand. It promised a good stay and wonderful times. It was the same as it’d been eight months ago when I’d returned to Beacon Hills for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime. It was probably even the same from when I left the town so long ago. How often were things like that updated, anyways?
My good friend Henry Deaton had called to inform me some interesting information about my son. I hadn’t seen him since he was young, too young, and I hated that. But the circumstances back then didn’t allow for me to be part of his life. Not then, at least. Now though, it was imperative that I become a permanent fixture once more.
Explaining was going to be difficult for both of us; my reasons for leaving would not be easy to swallow. Not for my son and not for my ex, who was in the dark about everything, more so than my son. He at least had an inclination of the supernatural with his current situation.
It’d been hard leaving again after seeing him in our home, watching him from outside with binoculars and the shadows as cover for an hour in the night while he healed from battle. It’d been hard to drive away and know that I could be leaving him in danger. But Deaton had reassured me that he was being taken care of, that there were eyes on him almost every day to make sure he stayed whole until I could get back.
Now that I was, the urge to runaway again was strong. I’d told Deaton that I needed to ‘take care of things’, but the reality had been that I wasn’t ready to face this. I wasn’t ready to face the empty house that loomed before me. Long ago, it’d held happiness, warmth, laughter. Now it just seemed hollow, lonely, a place to sleep and eat and little else. It didn’t seem like a home anymore.
The driveway was empty of cars, no bikes strewn across the front, no laughter coming from a tree house in the backyard that had long since rotted. It was depressingly quiet as I stepped from the car. The ghosts of happier memories played out as I walked around the back. Father and son building a tree house for the young boy and his three best friends, setting up an inflatable pool in the middle of a particularly nasty heat wave, the rare first snowfall that led to laying in the slush and making imprints before building a wall of snow to start a snowball war. It was a completely different lifetime ago.
I refused to let go of those memories, the things that had kept me sane and alive since leaving – had reminded me the reason that I left in the first place: to protect my family. It’d been the hardest decision I’d ever made, to walk away, especially with my son so young. I missed so much.
I tore myself away from staring at the dilapidated tree house to search for the extra key to the house. I was surprised, but grateful, to find it in the exact same spot it’d been in since putting it there fifteen years ago. It slid into the lock, sticking a couple of times as it tried to worm its way through the tumblers and grooves and find its home.
Taking my first step into the house was like a punch into the gut. Nothing had changed too much, the big and important things still the same. It was like walking into a time capsule, the comfort it brought was warming and I felt bones relax and lose the tension I didn’t even know they had. Home, safety. It was all right in this room. But it wasn’t mine anymore. There were no touches of me anywhere, a picture here and there but little else. It was tidy, not necessarily clean but tidy all the same. A quick sweep of a mop and cloth to keep the home habitable for a single working parent and teenaged boy.
I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the pictures that I’d spotted myself in. It was weird to relate that to being myself with my family. Everything I’d seen, everything I’d done in the last years of my life away from Beacon Hills tainted the image. I was happier then. I smiled in the pictures. I could have pictures of me out there.
Now it was solitude, running, hiding. There was no peace, no happiness, little promise of a better tomorrow.
Being home now definitely didn’t bring those things back, no matter how much I wished they could. My return was only going to bring pain, sorrow to all those involved. And the dangers of my life were sure to follow soon after.