He is a big man, sitting stirring his coffee. Francine, in apron behind the counter, regards him. Her gaze does not waver. Looking up, he is startled. He looks away first, sipping his coffee. “Do I know you,” she asks.
“Do you?” He seems disinterested.
“If so it isn’t a happy memory.”
He throws his hands up and shrugs. “Not guilty.”
“You did something.”
He holds the cup to his mouth with both hands now. “A lot of things.”
Francine speaks to a co-worker and comes out from behind the counter to sit beside him. “Why did you come back?” She studies Roger’s expressionless face.
“I never left.” They are both silent. He sighs. “I drive long distance trucks all across the country. I’m just passing through.”
“You did too leave, and broke Mama’s heart. And took Jenny with you! Mama’s still waiting for you both to return.”
Francine looks around. “Where’s Jenny?”
Roger sighs again. “Can you take a break and step outside for a minute?”
He tosses change on the counter, leads the way outside to a long-haul van and opens the passenger door. “Afraid to get in the cab with me?”
“Of course not,” she replies as he helps her up into the cab and closes the door.
Once inside, Roger speaks immediately. “I hear Dad died of a heart attack ten years ago, soon after I left.”
“You mean after you and Jenny left. Neither one of you came to the funeral.”
As Francine looks on, Roger’s eyes close in a wince which he holds for several seconds. “Francie, Jenny’s in the ground under what used to be our bulb flower bed.” He pauses and blows his nose, looking away from Francine. “You had all gone to church, and I stayed home with strep throat. I watched from my attic bedroom window.”
Francine makes an unintelligible sound and says, “Who!”
Roger’s face knots again. “You know. I don’t want to say his name.”
She sits, uncomprehending, then says, “Dad?!” Her voice is tight.
Roger does not answer at once, then says, “You may not have known it, but he had been molesting Jenny for months. I think she finally threatened to tell, and he couldn’t afford that.”
Francine, speechless, stares at her brother.
Roger continues, “I was a coward. I knew he would see it reflected in my eyes, and I was afraid. But I couldn’t destroy Mom. Or even turn my own father in. I left the house immediately, grabbing my medicine and a few things at random and hitched a ride south.
“But I never left, Francie. My whole life has been anchored to you and Mom. I couldn’t destroy Mom, and I couldn’t transfer my burden onto you.” He pauses a minute. “Or see my dad rot away forever behind bars, or worse.
“I’ve always missed Jenny, too.”