The morning was cool and damp, and thunder boomed in the distance. Seeming to match the anxiety filling Stephanie's chest with each passing second. The young woman chewed her nail and tapped her fingers against her coffee mug.
What if they don't show up? A small voice in the back of Stephanie's mind asked. She hadn't seen her parents in three years, and their last meeting hadn't been pleasant. Not that she remembered it that well. She'd spent the two years after she came home in a drug and alcohol-fueled haze.
"More coffee, miss?" Stephanie jumped at the voice, being brought back to reality.
"Y-yes, please." She ran a hand through the thick curls on top of her head and down the smooth nearly buzzed back. Would they even recognize her, she wondered.
What if they DO show up? Another voice asked. Somehow that was equally as terrifying but less heartbreaking. Will they ask about Evelyn? God, I hope they don't... Her wedding night was the last pleasant memory they shared so it'd make sense for them to ask but...
Then she saw them, walking hastily across the patio towards her, ending her internal crisis. She stoop up, faster than she intended, and nearly knocked the table over.
"Goodmorning," Stephanie tried to wet the inside of her mouth. It felt like swallowing sand.
Her mother didn't speak, just taking her seat without bothering to even look at her. "Mornin'." Her father shook her hand before taking his seat as well.
The three of them sat in an incredibly awkward silence for nearly 10 minutes before Stephanie finally worked up the courage to speak.
"Thank you for coming, it uh, means a lot to me." She wasn't sure where to begin with trying to rebuild the relationship she'd destroyed.
A rather loud sigh came from her Mom. "You can't move back in, if that's what you brought us here for." Her mother finally spoke, still not meeting her eyes.
"Lisa..." Her father sighed at his wife. "We were glad you called," Another sigh came from him. "But your Mom's right, you can't move back home if-"
"NO, no, that's not-" Now she sighed, placing her face into her hands. "I didn't call you to try and move back in." There was an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment and guilt sitting heavy on her.
The silence was back and now she could feel her parents watching her. Waiting for her to take the lead. "I'm clean," She reached into her jacket pocket and deposited a Narcotics Anonymous chip onto the table.
"3 months?" Her Dad inspected the chip. Unity. Service. Recovery. A smile appeared on his face.
"Yeah, Dad, 3 months." Stephanie wished she could feel proud of herself.
"And what makes this time different than every other time?" There was a bitterness in her Mom's voice. Not that Stephanie could blame her.
Stephanie took a deep steadying breath of the morning air. "Because I was ready this time. Because," She swallowed. "Because if I didn't get clean I was gonna die..." Stephanie's mother finally met her eyes. "Because I miss my family..." She unconsciously rubbed her ring finger.
Her parents noticed, but didn't bring it up. "Is this part of the 12 steps?" Her dad asked, still rolling the chip between his fingers. Stephanie nodded. "I never pictured you finding religion." He didn't know much about Narcotics Anonymous, aside from the religious overtones. But he did know his daughter, and she had never been one for religion.
"I'm not," She let out a soft, humorless chuckle. She couldn't believe in something that called her an abomination. "But you don't have to be religious to know that you're powerless to your addiction."
"I'm sorry," She finally said, lowering her head. "For everything. For stealing, for lying, for betraying your trust and-" She let out a shuttering breath. Digging into the past and looking at what she'd done... What she'd become. It was miserable, to say the least. "I can never make it up to you guys but-"
Her father interrupted. "You're making it up to us right now."
A soft hand wrapped around Stephanie's. "We only ever wanted you to get better, honey." She met her mother's gaze. She was teary-eyed, but there was a loving smile on her face.
"I know," Stephanie choked out, fighting back a sob. She hadn't expected her parents to forgive her, not after everything she'd done. "I'm-"
"Steph..." Her Dad interrupted again. "We know, you don't need to say it." He knew she was sorry, there was no sense in forcing her to relive it all. "We can't change the past, so why dwell on it, right?" She nodded and wiped her tears with her sleeve. This literal list of shitty things she'd done to those she loved in her back pocket didn't feel so heavy anymore.
A small squeeze of her hand brought her attention back to her Mom. "How about I call your brothers and we set up a day to have dinner? I'm sure your nieces will be excited to see you again." Her Mom offered.
Stephanie nodded her head in an emphatic YES. Addiction had stolen so much from. Her friends, her family, her marriage, the list went on and on. It felt good to get a small piece of it back.
"Let's order some food, I'm starving." She laughed, feeling a wave of contentment rolling over her.
"But can you do me a favor?" Her mom finally asked.
"Anything," Stephanie responded.
"Call Evelyn, please?" Her voice was almost pleading. "Make it right with her."
"I'll try, I promise."
They ate breakfast as a family for the first time in what felt like an eternity before they walked down to the nearby beach.
Stephanie sat down on a bench and watched the waves rush to shore while her parents took pictures for a couple.
Without realizing she was doing it she pulled her phone from her pocket and scrolled to the contact. Babe. She hadn't been able to bring herself to change it.
"Here goes nothing." She said as she dialed. Stephanie's heart sank when it went to voicemail and she felt sick to her stomach.
"I don't know if you'll listen to this or not. God, I hope you do. I'm trying to make things right and I know I don't deserve it but I'd like the chance to make it up to you." She stopped and gathered her thoughts, taking a second to glance at her parents. Still talking with the couple they'd taken pictures for. "I'm with my parents right now, if you can believe it. I know you always wanted me to reconnect with them." She knew she was almost out of time. "I'm trying to be better, but I need my family back, Ev. My whole family."
"Anything?" Her Dad asked when she joined them. Stephanie only shook her head. He wrapped his arm around her thin shoulders and pulled her in close as they walked. "Give her time, she'll come around." Stephanie didn't share his optimism but she appreciated it nonetheless.
Stephanie hastily pulled her phone from her pocket. A text from Evelyn. It took her a minute to work up the courage to open it.
"Your key's under the mat."