Who I Am With You(7)By: M. Lynne Cunning
“Dad didn’t call tonight.” He sounded dejected, and each word broke Katie’s heart. She squeezed her eyes shut, sending a silent prayer upward that the lights were off and she didn’t have to hide the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes.
“He must have been real busy, Mase. Maybe tomorrow night.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.
Katie bent down and kissed her son’s forehead, the only light in the room coming from the partially opened bedroom door. “Goodnight, Mr. Mase. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Ms. Mom.”
Katie smiled at the familiar words they’d said to each other every night since Mason had learned to talk. The bed squeaked under his weight as he rolled over to face the wall, his stuffed dog tucked under his arm. Katie silently left the room, and she made her exit as their Labrador Retriever, Cash, trudged past her, taking his nightly post dozing soundly beside Mason’s bed. She left the door open a crack in case Mason needed her throughout the night.
The lights in the kitchen seemed harsh in contrast to the darkness of Mason’s bedroom. As she stood at the kitchen table, Katie pressed her palms against the tabletop and let her head bow, exhaling a defeated sigh.
Damn you, Jay, for what you’re doing to Mason. For what you’ve done to us. As quickly as the venomous thoughts erupted in her mind, they were wiped out by more volatile realizations, ones that caused the tears brimming her lower eyelids to spill over.
Blame him all you want, Katie, but he’s not the one who destroyed our family. You did. Losing all resolve, just as she had almost every night since Jay had been gone, Katie sat down at the kitchen table, held her head in her hands, and cried by herself as a sad country song crooned quietly from the radio tucked in the window sill.
The sun was casting long shadows across the dirt road when Chad turned onto it, heading to Rustic Acres the next morning. He rubbed his eyes again, hoping he looked more awake than he was. With the nearest motel being almost an hour’s drive away, he was thankful his disposable cell phone had an alarm on it. Lord knows he needed it after lying awake most of the night revisiting his conversation with Katie over and over in his head.
The woman lived out in the middle of nowhere with only her son to keep her company while she single-handedly ran a small farm. It was no easy task for a family, let alone a lone woman. He’d fought the urge to ask where the boy’s father was, knowing damn well it was none of his business. She was his boss, nothing more, and she owed him no explanation.
The outbuildings came into view and Chad wielded his truck into the same spot under the tree he’d parked the day before. If he was lucky, the shade from it would aid in keeping the truck’s interior at a decent temperature throughout the day.
There was no one about, and an eerie calm had settled like a thick fog. Unsure of the proper protocol when one worked in close proximity of their boss’s house, Chad crossed the porch and sheepishly knocked on the door. When the door flew open, he looked down into the wide eyes of a little boy with glasses and a shaggy mop of blond hair.
“Hey, little man. Is your mom here?” Chad shoved his hands in his pockets, stealing a glance past the boy but seeing no one else in the kitchen.
“She’s feeding Cash. That’s our dog.” The boy stared unblinking at Chad. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “He’s not a mean dog, don’t worry.”
Chad smiled crookedly at the boy, dramatically wiping his brow as though relieved. “Whew. That’s good. Do you play fetch with him?” Chad bent down at the doorway, resting his elbows on his knees.
“He’s horrible at fetch. Cash’ll chase after a stick if you throw it, but he never brings it back. Do you have a dog, Mister?”
“Chad. Call me Chad, little man.”
“I’m Mason, not Little Man.”
Chad held his hands up in mock surrender. “Sorry, Mason. Seems you like to be called little man as much as your mom likes being called ma’am.”
Mason nodded, leaning in to whisper to him. “She says it makes her feel old.”
Chad laughed out loud then, unable to hide his amusement any longer. “I’ll keep that in mind. Just let her know I’ll wait outside for her, okay?” The little boy nodded and promptly shut the door, making Chad laugh even louder to himself. He rose from his crouched position and took a seat on the porch steps.