He was a derelict, wandering the country with no home, no family, no one to remember his name. Most of the time he didn’t even remember his own name. The cloudy day he’d lost everything still tasted gray upon his tongue, but he’d no one else to blame.
No. Joshua’s choices had been the catalyst to his gradual demise. Maybe if it had come on swift and hard he would have recognized the decay, but he’d been like a frog in a pot of cold water brought slowly to boil.
The vagabond thought about retrenching and then battling against circumstance and ruined reputation to gain back all he’d lost, but when Serena had called off their engagement and announced she was leaving him for his best friend . . . well . . . that had been the last straw. He’d watched her pull the umbrella handle close and walk away, her hips swinging back and forth in that unconsciously alluring way, while the rain poured over him, drenching not only his body but his soul.
He’d never quite dried out from that experience. Today, the weather acted like a cruel fiend, reminding him of that pivotal moment where his heart was ripped from his chest and the last shreds of his dignity trampled upon with little more than passing pity from the woman he thought had loved him.
Yes. He was a derelict and the worst sort. He wasn’t a respectable hobo who chose this life, or a bird who flitted from tree to tree. Joshua was a lost man with nothing to offer in a world that didn’t miss him.
He chucked a stone out over the water and watched it skip, the ripples it created mingling with those of the rain drops pattering the surface of the lake. How he’d come to be here he couldn’t really say, but his one consolation was that even under the dark cloud of despair he still saw some beauty in the cruel world.
“Get off my property or I’ll shoot!”
Joshua’s ears were filled with the angry man’s voice, but it was the apprehension in his tone that caught his attention. He dropped the handful of stones and listened to the clattering of them as they hit the rocky beach. “I meant no harm,” he called, raising his hands high. The rain pelted his skin and dripped down into his tattered sleeves.
In slow motion, he turned to face the man who’d threatened him. “I’m home.”
The vagrant watched the anger drain from the other man’s face and be replaced by shock. Within seconds the slack-jaw look morphed into what appeared to be a mixture of pain and pleasure. He wasn’t sure what to think of it, but as the muzzle of the shotgun lowered so also did he lower his hands, and he took a deep, relieved breath.
“Joshie? Is that you?”
Joshie. How long had it been since he’d heard that nickname? “It’s me, Dad,” he said, unable to think of anything better to say.
“Joshie! Oh my Lord. Son, it’s you,” his dad said in a voice full of awe. He slung the shotgun over his shoulder and rushed up to him, grabbing him by the shoulders and shook him. “You’re alive!” His father yanked him into the span of his long arms and squeezed him with all his might, so much so that neither of them could catch a breath.
When his father let go and Joshua stepped back, he was unnerved to see the tears staining the older man’s face where even the rain could not mask his emotions.
“You’re going to make your mom speechless. And you know how hard to do that is. C’mon. Let’s get out of this weather and give her the good news!”
His dad didn’t give him a chance to protest, and the reception he’d given had taken Joshua off-guard. Under the guidance of his father’s strong arm he let himself be dragged toward the house set back from the water, up under the tree cover of encroaching forest.
This all felt like a dream, a surreal moment he’d never thought possible.
His father pressed open the door and let go of Joshua long enough to put a finger to his lips.
“Well, who was traipsing on to your precious beach this time, Phil?” his mom asked from the kitchen.
“Oh, it were nobody who you need to worry about, Detta. At least . . . not anymore,” Phil said, trying to hide the uncontrollable grin peaking out from under his bushy mustache.
Joshua stared at his dad like he wasn’t real. None of this was real. Then he was struck by the sight of his mom’s head as she leaned out of the kitchen door while saying, “You didn’t shoot ‘im, did y–”
Her words halted almost as abruptly as her body tumbling away from the door jam. She stumbled into the room, catching herself at the last second.
“He’s come home, Detta, honey. He’s come home,” Phil said, his voice soft and low but thick with joy.
Joshua watched his mom unable to take his eyes off her as her lips pursed and the bottom one quivered. Tears pooled in her eyes making them shimmer under the glow of halogen bulbs above. Within a couple seconds she began to blubber, her words indistinguishable, but she took halting steps closer and closer until she fell upon Joshua’s neck with her arms reaching up and around him as her head came just to his chest where she laid it and wept with great sobs.
At first Joshua didn’t know how to respond. Until today it had been who-knew-how-long since he’d been touched. Here he was being embraced twice in the span of five minutes, and the shock of it was like electricity sparking him back to life. His arms spread out from his sides but it took him what felt like an eternity before he put them around his mom’s soft, round shoulders. The grayness faded from his eyes as hot tears mingled with the sheen of rain coating his face.
“You’re home, Joshua. We’re so glad you’re home.”