Who I Am With You(10)By: M. Lynne Cunning
Chad dragged his tired, aching body back into the barn and rechecked the water levels of the horse troughs, if only to make himself useful. He felt foolish for offering to come with her to get Mason, yet he really didn’t have a reason. He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, but evidently, she did.
He heard the scurrying footsteps crunching across the gravel long before they touched the concrete floor of the barn.
“Did you collect all the eggs, Mr. Kerwood?”
Chad turned, squinting into the setting sun that shone through the open barn door. He could visualize only the dark silhouette of the boy, but his appearance and his question forced the corners of his lips to tug upwards as he gave the horse in front of him one last encouraging pet.
“It’s Kirk... never mind. How about you call me Chad? And I haven’t gone near the chicken coop. I was hoping you’d show me how to... do it right?” Chad recalled Mason’s instructions earlier this morning and made sure to let him know he’d been listening. Thrilled at the prospect, Mason struggled to get his backpack off and tossed it inside the barn door.
“Sure! Come on!”
Chad watched as the little boy turned enthusiastically on his heel and ran directly into his mother. He looked up at her, then tried to wriggle away, but Katie held onto him by the back of his shirt, a grin forming across her face.
“And where do you think you’re going, Mr. Mase?”
“I have to show Chad the chicken coop!”
Katie stole a glance at Chad, humor evident in her eyes. Neither of them were going to admit that they’d already collected the bulk of the eggs earlier in the day. “Before we go through your backpack from school?”
“Mom, it’s got to be done now!” Mason was attempting to squirm free, but Katie held on tight.
“Ten minutes, then we go put together some supper, okay?”
Mason was already off running full tilt by the time she released him from her grasp. Chad scooped up the backpack and closed the distance between himself and Katie, offering it to her.
“He’s quite the kid,” Chad announced for the second time that day.
Katie took the backpack from him, not meeting his gaze. “He is. You’d better follow him.”
“I’m sorry about earlier.” The words spilled from his mouth. “I never meant to—”
“He’s waiting for you, Chad.” She cut him off mid-sentence and pointed in the direction of Mason, who already had the door to the coop open and was disappearing inside with his basket in hand. Chad met her glare and, for a moment, neither moved. A tense silence crept in, not breaking until Chad sighed in defeat and turned away from her. He plastered a fake smile on his face and pushed his confusion into the farthest depths of his mind, ducking into the chicken coop without giving her another glance.
“You’re pretty good at that.” Chad ducked back out into the fading sunlight, Mason toddling along in front of him with his half-filled basket displayed proudly in front of him. As he’d expected, Katie was leaned against the chicken coop door, keeping it propped open with her elbow. Somehow, he knew she wouldn’t be far away.
“I know,” Mason admitted. “The chickens know me. Don’t worry, you’ll get better at it.”
Chad stifled a chuckle. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, little man.” He remembered then that the boy didn’t like being called that, but when he didn’t demand to be called otherwise, he ruffled Mason’s hair with the palm of his hand and the little boy beamed up at him.
“Are you going to be here tomorrow, Chad?”
Chad stared down at him inquisitively. “As far as I know. Where else would I be?”
Mason whirled around to face his mother, who remained leaning against the coop door in silence. “But Mom, you said he might not—”
“Time for dinner, Mase,” Katie interjected, pushing herself away from the door. The spring hinges on it caused the door to slam shut with a loud bang. “Can you carry the eggs into the house for me? I’ll be inside in just a second.” Her tone said what her words didn’t, and Mason looked between the two adults. As though mulling the situation over in his mind, he seemed hesitant to leave them alone, relenting only when Chad reached out and gave him a reassuring pat on the back.