Who I Am With You(9)By: M. Lynne Cunning
“Did you get Mason on the bus in time?” Chad changed the subject, not wanting to interrogate her on his first day.
“We made it. You ready to work, Kirkwood?” She gave him a daring smirk, announcing her intent to see if he could truly hack it as her employee.
“Whatever you dish out, boss, I can handle.” He matched her challenging tone, but his mind was screaming at him that this woman was undoubtedly about to outsmart, outwit, and essentially destroy him. And she was going to enjoy doing it.
“You’ll pay for that, Mr. Kirkwood. Let’s go.”
“Bring it on, ma’am.”
Katie had to admit, she wasn’t keen on having to hire someone to help her throughout the day. However, with horses to maintain, cows and pigs to be fed, chickens to be looked after, and the fruits and vegetables in the gardens to be tended to and eventually harvested, it just wasn’t possible to get it all done in a day and still have time to play her most important role... Mason’s Mom. So, when Chad came along wanting a job, she wasn’t immediately thrilled to have him working alongside her. Within a matter of hours, though, Chad had not only convinced her of his worth as a model employee, he’d frankly blown her away with his drive and willingness to sincerely help her with every aspect of running the farm. A handful of people showed up sporadically throughout the day to purchase farm fresh eggs, unpasteurized milk, and freezer packs of beef and pork, and Chad served each of them with an easy professionalism that made Katie envious. When Chad realized that Katie hauled the square hay bales one by one onto the bed of the truck and then drove them over to the barn, only to have to haul them back off the truck one by one again, he quickly offered to do it for her. She didn’t let him, but she did appreciate the sentiment. Then he saw that she cleaned each of the horse stalls and the barns by hand.
“Don’t you have a tractor?”
“There’s an old John Deere parked behind the pig barn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t run.”
“You need a tractor around here, Katie.”
“It died right after my Dad did, and I don’t know how to fix it. Any other questions?” She hadn’t meant to snap at him, but she had a tendency to get defensive when made to feel like she was doing something wrong. Katie turned away from him when it was obvious he didn’t know what to say in return, wiping the perspiration from her forehead as she walked back toward the front of the barn. She was hanging the pitchforks and shovels up on the wall rack when he finally spoke again.
“I’m sorry, Katie.”
“Don’t be. I tend to get a bit overzealous sometimes.” Katie turned to face him. “You want a bottle of water or something? I have a case of them stashed in the office. They aren’t cold, but they do the job.”
“That’d be great. Thanks.”
They walked in silence to the office and Katie passed him a bottle from under the desk. “Have you seen Cash around lately?” She looked out the window, but there was no sight of the golden-colored dog.
“He’s been practically under my feet all day. Come to think of it though, I haven’t seen him in at least a half hour or so.” Chad ducked his head out of the office, scanning the horse stalls and doorway.
As if on cue, Katie heard Cash’s familiar bark distantly. The sound, mixed with the direction it had come from, sent her into a frenzy, gaping at her watch just before bolting for a door.
“Damn it!” she exclaimed, pushing past Chad in her haste. “I forgot to pick up Mason from the bus!”
Chad was on her heels as she started to run down the laneway. “I’ll come with you.”
Katie stopped only for a moment, long enough to state, “No one else picks up my kid. Stay here.”
Chad stopped in his tracks then, his wide eyes meeting hers briefly. Katie turned away from him and sprinted for the end of the laneway, hoping the bus hadn’t already made it there before she had. The dust clouded around him, but Katie wasn’t paying any attention.
Like the flip of a switch, Katie’s tone had become sharp, menacing even. As Chad watched her take off down the laneway, a thousand things were rattling through his mind, yet only one seemed to be the likely answer. He’d bet his day’s wages that Katie viewed Mason as all she had left, therefore he was hers to look after, protect, and be there for. She wanted to be the first thing he saw when he scuttled out of bed in the morning and the last thing he saw before his eyelids fluttered closed at night. And, obviously, she needed to be the first one he saw when he got off the bus after school, too.