One Step Away (Short Story)

This story was written 9-21-2020

Wordcount: 1,030 words

Genre: Contemporary

Tagline: A boy discovers the power of a father’s love.

(Inspired by Casting Crown’s song, One Step Away).

What I wouldn’t give to go back.

I collapse onto my bed. Or at least the rickety cot serving as one.

What if I hadn’t done it? What if I’d never caved in?

Knocks rattle the door. I close my eyes. All the pounding in the world won’t conjure rent money. Or any money. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t be here.

My stomach growls and I roll over, willing it away. My mind drifts to a familiar table, laden with steak and potatoes, fruit salad, chocolate cake…

Stop it. I gave all that up.

“Open up, boy!” The thin door buckles. “You have thirty seconds before I call the police!”

Would prison really be so bad? At least I’d have regular meals and an actual bed.

My thoughts drift back to that table, piled with food. The man at the end holds out the platter of meat to me. He smiles—and my stomach churns.

What does he think of me now? He gave me so much. And I had to go and steal the rest.

*~*~*

“Come on, man. It’s just one day. It won’t kill you.”

 I grimace. “You haven’t met my dad.”

“What, he’d kill you?”

“I could never do that to him. He still hasn’t gotten over Mom.”

“Look, I’m just saying you may never get a chance like this again. Live a little.”

*~*~*

“What did you tell your dad?”

“That a bunch of us are going up to your folks’ lake-house Sunday.”

“And he was cool with that?”

I stifle the guilt in my chest. “Well, I didn’t tell him your folks wouldn’t be there.”

“Ah. See, you’re resourceful. Speaking of which, you have it, right?”

“Yeah, but what happened to having it paid for already?”

“That fell through. It’s not that much. He probably won’t even notice.”

“I hope.”

“Hey, lighten up. We’ll get the goodie two-shoes out of you yet.”

*~*~*

“Jenny . . .” I swallow. “I can’t.”

“I’m not good enough for you?”

“No. No, that’s not–”

“I thought we had something going. I thought we were serious.”

“We are. I just—”

“Forget it. You’re not the only fish in the sea.”

“Jenny—wait.”

*~*~*

 My blood chills. “You did what?”

“Look, I figured you’d be cool with it. It’s not like you don’t have the cash.”

“I told you, it’s not mine.”

“Dude, I get it. I just didn’t think you’d want to disappoint everybody.”

“You’re . . . you’re sure that’ll be it?”

“Of course. We’re your friends, not thieves.”

*~*~*

The knocking stops. I roll over. The police shouldn’t be long.

A mouse skitters across the floor and disappears into a hole in the wall. My gaze falls on my phone, discarded next to the end table.

It’s probably dead by now.

Heaving a sigh, I scoop it into my hand.

What does it matter? There’s no one to call. No one who will answer anyway.

I tap the screen, surprised to see it light up. Forty-six missed calls and a pile of texts.

All from Dad.

My chest tightens. What does he expect me to say? How can he expect me to respond? How can I possibly explain the things I did?

I set the phone down, screen pressed against the cot.

No. I can’t go back. I don’t deserve to be his son any more.

Faces storm my mind. Faces of people I once called friends. Friends that disappeared when the money ran out.

A new face appears. Dad’s. He smiles, and the corners of his eyes crinkle.

Tears fill my eyes. Maybe . . . maybe he would let me pay him back. I could work two jobs, three jobs—land sakes, I could work six jobs. Whatever it takes to earn back what I stole from him.

Maybe he’d let me stay in the basement for a while. I’d pay him rent–somehow. He wouldn’t have to see me, except for when I deliver the payments. And after that, I’d move. I’d find somewhere else, and he wouldn’t have to put up with me any longer.

My heart pounds.

What if he slams the door in my face? I deserve it.

I pick up my phone and stand, shaking.

It’s him or jail.

*~*~*

“Right here.”

The cab slows, pulling up to the curb outside the little brown house I used to take for granted. I climb out of the vehicle, my heart fighting to escape my chest.

The driver reaches out, his other hand resting on the steering wheel. “Sixteen fifty.”

My breath catches. “I—”

“Son?”

I turn to face the door, my breath stolen. 

Dad stands in the doorway, his face pale and his wide gaze fixed on me.

I swallow hard, my legs quivering. “Dad, I’m sorry, I should never–”

Before I can process it, Dad’s in front of me, pulling me into a hug. His arms press me tight to his chest, and the familiar smell of his cologne draws tears to my eyes.

“Oh, son, I was so worried.” He puts one hand behind my head, weaving his fingers through my hair. “You’re okay, oh praise God, you’re okay . . .”

I choke back a sob. “Dad, I’ll pay you back. I’ll work.” I pull back, and Dad searches my gaze with his. “And I’ll stay out of your sight until I can find somewhere else—”

“That’s enough of that.” Dad lays his gentle hand on my arm. “We’ll figure something out—together. You’re my son, and nothing you do can ever change that.” His face melts into a smile, and a tear trails from his crinkled eye down his cheek. “Now, we celebrate!”

He throws his arm around my shoulder and gestures back to the cab driver. “If you want to join us, we’ll be having a feast for a king—and you’re more than welcome!” He ushers me toward the house, his hand squeezing my shoulder. 

I blink back tears. “But I—”

“—came home.” Dad looks at me, his eyes shining. “And you always can.”

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