Who I Am With You(3)

By: M. Lynne Cunning



Katie snapped back to reality and shook her head, wondering if she’d ever get back to being her normal, focused, not-so-scatterbrained self. She pushed the box onto the kitchen table and stole a glance at the clock. Mason would be home from school soon. Thankfully, the school bus picked him up and dropped him off at the end of their laneway. Therefore, as long as she allowed herself five or so minutes to walk down the long, winding gravel path that led to their house, she’d be on time to greet his smiling face when he arrived home. She’d even have time to get supper on the go before Jay got home from...

Jay.

A new wave of despair flooded through her as she realized her mistake. Jay wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, no matter what time she got it started. This wasn’t his home, anyway. He was still in their home, the cozy condominium they’d both purchased six years ago just before Mason had been born.

I guess freedom was easier for him than ‘for better or for worse’. Katie swallowed hard, shaking her head in disappointment as she ripped the packing tape from the box in front of her and attempted to do something more productive than ruminate about the things she couldn’t change. When she flipped open the cardboard flaps and came face to face with one of the crystal whisky tumblers that Jay’s parents had given them as an engagement present, a strangled cry of anger erupted from her throat and she heaved the glass at the cedar walls without thinking, all of her withheld pain, hurt, and fear tearing out of her at once. As the tumbler shattered, scattering sparkling shards of crystal across the hardwood floor, Katie’s eyes widened. Shocked at her own sudden outburst, she just stared in stunned silence at the glistening mess. The sunlight streaming through the window seemed to give life to the crystal shards somehow, and Katie stared still, struggling with the beauty and the horror of it all. The set of four matching tumblers was now only a set of three, just as her and Mason’s little family was now only a family of two. And, really, if Katie was honest with herself, her truest sadness came from knowing that, without her father, she had no one else anymore. She was alone.

She wiped her eyes then swallowed the sob that threatened to escape her lips. She stole another glance at the clock and smoothed back her hair, heading for the door. With her mask of a content, happy mother in place, she set off to greet her son at the end of the laneway after his long day at school.





Chapter One



CHAD



Chad turned his Chevy truck off the highway down a thickly treed laneway. The address matched the one listed on the small strip of paper he had ripped from the advertisement tacked up on the corkboard inside the door of the local general store. Now, the strip of paper was lying on the bench seat of the truck. Chad had consulted it twice on the way, making sure he was still going the right way. Thankfully, a wooden sign boasting “Rustic Acres Ranch” had been erected out by the highway, otherwise he may have missed the laneway altogether.

As he drove, he took in his surroundings. The autumn colors were blazing brightly all around him, the treetops so full of leaves that only a strip of the clear sky above him could be seen. He turned the steering wheel right, then left, then right again, following the twists and turns of the dirt road. Just when he thought he must have made a wrong turn somewhere, the road opened into a gravel clearing and a couple of outbuildings came into view.

Rustic Acres Ranch had a name that the property was doing a good job of living up to. Rustic was the only way he could describe the plywood and wooden slab construction of the buildings. That being said, the establishment didn’t seem rundown, just a bit primitive.

He parked his truck beside an older model Ford pickup under a copse of trees. The crunch of gravel seemed to echo in his ears as he climbed out of it and slammed the door. The thought was flitting through his mind that he’d possibly just made the long drive out there for nothing when he heard a loud bang as the screen door to one of the outbuildings smacked shut, a muffled wave of low music wafting toward him before it closed. He turned abruptly as the melody reached his ears and met the steely gaze of a slender woman who looked even younger than his thirty years of age.

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