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Seth settled into the driver’s seat and reset the GPS for home. Distractions were the key to enduring 350 miles of interstate autopilot. The comforting scent of fresh coffee. A string of podcasts exploring the unraveling of today’s human experience with glorious simplicity. Sandwiches his elderly mother insisted on making him that he would reach for in a few hours…or maybe in the next ten minutes.  

Mom looked better than expected on this visit. Her tiny apartment was clean again. Her bills were paid. FaceTime gave him peace of mind that he’d lost over time and distance, when she could figure out how to use it. But she was adapting. And adapting to changing circumstances was her great gift.

Pennsylvania. Rolling green slopes of farmland. Cow smells. Big red barns with creepy Amish distelfinks. Seth saw the place of his birth now as an unfamiliar planet. Another fifteen miles and he would pick up the interstate out of this peculiar utopia. And he would once again pass that last exit before the interstate. Just 4.3 miles and three stop signs between him and the birth father he’d never met.  

Last month he’d run across a yellowed newspaper clipping. 1964. An attractive young couple sat at a table at some local event. Mom, early 20s, her updo like the beautiful, beaming wife of an astronaut. Her adoring husband, the oh-so-familiar looking stranger, beamed right back at her. They radiated a life full of possibilities. Doing the math, Seth would have been conceived that year.

He switched off the podcast and onto an old jazz mix. Rather than block it out, and with nothing but time on his hands, today he would indulge the fantasy.  


A Sheetz gas station, then a left turn, and a forgotten road with sparse homes, chipped paint, sagging front porches. The United Methodist Church, some cars still in the lot from earlier morning services. A roadside vegetable stand, closed until summer. As the last turn approached, a mild panic set in. Was he even at home? Would this be just a harmless drive-by?

       You have arrived 

A white Nissan Maxima sat in the driveway. The green front door appeared ajar. He eased the car to a stop along the edge of the lawn. Was this finally happening? A modest, single-level home seemed welcoming. Well-maintained flower beds awaited another hopeful spring. Only the Trump 2020 bumper sticker was off-putting. 

Seth walked to the partially open door and knocked. A soft hello. Gentle movement from within. The door opened slowly. A slender elderly woman with shoulder-length silver hair and kind eyes appeared. The years had been kind to her. She seemed to be on her way out. 

“Good morning, Barbara. Is Larry home?”  

Her face held a frozen smile. “Can I help you?”

“I was just in the neighborhood.” Seth looked neutral. “I wanted to drop off a father’s day gift.”

Her eyes widened, the smile disappeared. “Larry, please come here,” she called out, her eyes still glued to him. In a moment, Larry appeared over her shoulder, taller than Seth had  imagined. Dark flecks in an otherwise white head of still-thick hair ran around large ears. Hair just like his.  

“What can we do for you?” The retired mayor of Nowheresville’s voice was simultaneously commanding and kind. It sounded used to getting what it wanted. A lanky right arm wrapped around his wife’s waist.

Seth waited a couple of beats. “It’s good to finally lay eyes on you. It’s been maybe twenty years, since–”

“Your letter.” Larry finished the statement. And with that, everyone was on the same page. Nervous half-smiles. Seth wondered how long they’d rehearsed for this moment. 

The couple stepped back into their living room, motioning the familiar stranger in. “This must be quite the surprise,” Seth said, as Larry and Barbara found seats. Seth remained standing, perusing walls adorned with photos and religious artifacts. He scanned over family pictures arranged atop the mantle.

Seth picked up one of the frames. “Is this Bobby’s daughter?” 

Barbara rose, clearing her throat, “Rachel is David’s daughter. She’s a lot older now.” Although nearly twenty years had passed since their letter exchanges, it was obvious Seth’s knowledge of his birth father’s second family, and in particular his two sons, unnerved Larry. His taut jaw was telling.

“So, Seth…uh, what brings you to town?” Struggling to initiate conversation, Barbara immediately regretted the question.

“Mom. Julia. You remember Julia? Of course you do, Barbara. When you worked at the Inn? The one my mom and Larry over there used to manage. Sorry I don’t remember you, but I was so young then. Practically a baby.” Barbara turned pale. “Yeah, she’s still alive. I visit when I can. Thanks for asking.” 

Barbara rose as Larry stared straight ahead. “I made some tea. I’ll let you two catch up.” She left the room as Seth took off his jacket and sat on the couch.

“So, your kids now have kids? And even those kids are getting old. Hell, you’ll be a great grandpa before you know it.”

“What took you so long, Seth?” Larry’s jaw finally relaxed. “Why now?” Seth saw confusion in his father’s eyes. Or was it delusion? How had he misremembered so spectacularly? 

Seth smiled, leaning in. “Let’s go back to your last letter.” Barbara returned with three glasses of iced tea, setting them on the coffee table on coasters. 

“It was spring 2004 as I recall. The year you were getting your hip replaced. You remember that, right?” Seth sipped the tea, letting their recall catch up. “You said you’d heal up from that, and then you would travel. And on that trip, you would come up and meet me and my family.”

They both clearly recalled the surgery, and the timing. But not the promise.

“You never came, Larry. Your letters just stopped. And mine had to go to some restaurant…not this place. I only ever knew where you worked.”      

Larry was growing tired of the inquisition. “It was for the best, Seth.” Larry looked down. “For everyone.”

“So they never knew, did they?”  Everyone looked over at the photos on the mantle.

Larry straightened. “Whatever happened to your stepfather? When I signed onto him adopting you, he seemed like a good man.”

“I covered that fully in one of my letters. Don’t you remember?” He could see that Larry did not.   

“Well, I’m sorry for that. I am.” His wife placed a hand on her husband’s knee. “Look, I’m not sure why you stopped by today. I understand you’re curious. For a time, we were, too.” Larry braced himself and stood, perhaps to wrestle some command over the situation. “You were so young. It was for the best.” Seth then stood, and Larry eyed him with a touch of pride. “Look at ya. You did very well for yourself.”   

“So did you.” He smiled back, returning a look not born from pride. 

Barbara now stood with them, clearly relieved. “Larry, let’s not forget we promised the boys we’d be over there by one.” She checked the wall clock, then turned toward Seth.    

Taking his cue, Seth slipped on his coat.“What’s it been like all these years keeping a secret like that? I always wondered how you both kept that under wraps.”  

Larry searched his pants pockets for keys. “We just never saw any reason to talk about it.”  

Barbara handed her husband the keys. “I think it would have been confusing for our boys. They just wouldn’t have understood.”

“Really?” Seth’s eyebrows flared. “That you got married, then realized your wife and her mother were insane? In the real world, that happens to people. Kinda hard to pretend it didn’t.”

“Look. We’ve always lived a good Christian life here. It’s all we ever wanted.” Barbara steered her husband toward the door as Larry continued. “I just couldn’t do that with your mother.” 

The three of them stepped out of the house as Larry pulled the door behind him tightly shut.

“We’ve had that here. For fifty-five years, in fact.” Larry finally put a hand on Seth’s shoulder. “And you made it, too.” He smiled broadly for the first time. “God guided you, and you made it. He works that way. You just have to trust Him.”    

Reflexively, Seth hugged Larry. It was a full, genuine hug. The kind of hug that fills a small part of a permanent hole. He felt Larry relax in his arms just before he let him go.  

“Did God really tell you it was okay to abandon me?”

Larry’s eyes welled. “I told you there was just no way–”

“Ah, now that’s where you lose me. See, when you say “there was just no way”, what you really mean is maybe something like…staying a part of your life would have pitted me against both of them. Yes, true. Then move to...they would have fought me, fought us, very hard. Also true. Then we finally get to…it would have been harder to make a clean start if I had remained connected somehow to them. Yes, all of it, sadly and quite inconveniently true.”

Larry turned toward the car, unable to speak. Barbara nearly shouted for them both. “Why are you here?  What is it you want? You’re upsetting him so.”

“I come bearing gifts.” They looked at each other, confused. 

Seth smiled. “Well, I do have one gift, and it’s for you both. You can stop looking over your shoulder wondering if I’ll ever come barreling through the door to upend your lives. This will now, forever, remain our little secret.” Larry and Barbara looked suddenly unsure if this was welcomed news. It was cold out, but nobody was ready to get into their cars.

“But there’s a catch.” Seth buried his hands in his coat pockets, noticing his breath rising in the chilly air.   

“Keeping me from your kids, and their kids…that’s not the biggest problem. It’s the delusion you’ve been living with for your whole life, that you’ve convinced yourself you did the right thing. You didn’t. You did the easy thing. You took the path of least resistance, and it was exactly the right thing for everybody. Everybody but one person.”  

The reckoning Larry had subconsciously feared his entire adult life was happening. And much to his surprise, he welcomed it. There was something holy about the sound of Truth, something that pulled you in close to it like a warm flame. The three moved closer to the warmth of that flame.   

“Until I was twelve I had absolutely no male role model. No counterbalance. You knew what I was living with. Was that really the best outcome…for me?” Seth didn’t realize he’d started to cry. “I’m fine, really. I didn’t come here to bitch about that.“  

The three had unconsciously formed a huddle from the outside cold.

“And for what it’s worth, I forgive you. Completely. I don’t want a relationship with you because …because…that ship has sailed. But what I wish for you is…absolution. Make it right with that God of yours before your time is up.” Seth hadn’t planned this last flourish. “If I can forgive you, imagine how He’ll see it.”

Seth broke their huddle, giving both their arms a light squeeze as he walked toward his car. Larry kept his wife in an embrace, watching Seth walk away.

Seth started his car, immediately cranked up the heat and watched them get into their car. As he pulled away, he heard himself say it outloud. 

“I had so much more to give them than they will ever realize.”


As consciousness returned, Seth noticed he had just passed that last exit. The fantasy was getting more vivid as the years passed. But it was too late to travel that road. Home was the only place he wanted to be. The coffee was still hot. He looked for a podcast and reached for one of the sandwiches.    


A Rhode-Island based defense industry professional, Devin has written two screenplays, self-published one novel, and writes regularly for an online creative writers blog. He fell in love with fiction late in life, and depending on the story in work, it serves as both the cure and the cause of chronic insomnia.  As long as he stays in touch with the human condition, he vows to never run out of stories.       


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