Undeniable Demands

By: Andrea Laurence

 One

 Wade hated the snow. Always had. You’d  think a man born and raised in New England would feel differently or leave, but  he’d done neither. Every November when the first few flakes started falling, a  part of his soul would shrivel up until spring. That was why he’d booked himself  a trip to Jamaica for the week before Christmas. He’d planned to return to the  Edens’, as always, for the holiday, but the frantic call he’d received from his  foster sister, Julianne, had changed everything.

 He had been loath to tell his assistant to cancel the trip, but  perhaps if all went well, he could use the reservation after Christmas. He could  ring in the New Year on a beach, drinking something frothy, with thoughts of his  troubles buried deep.

 Interesting choice of words.

 The BMW SUV wound its way down the two-lane road that led to  the Garden of Eden Christmas Tree Farm. Wade preferred to drive his roadster,  but rural Connecticut in winter was just not the place for it, so he’d left it  in Manhattan. The SUV had snow tires, chains in the back and enough clearance  not to scrape on chunks of ice in poorly cleared areas.

 Spying the large red apple-shaped sign that marked the entrance  to his foster parents’ Christmas tree farm, Wade breathed a sigh of relief. He  hadn’t realized until that moment that he’d been holding his breath. Even under  the less-than-ideal circumstances, returning home always made him feel  better.

 The farm was the only home he’d ever really had. None of the  other foster homes had felt like one. He had no warm memories of living with his  great-aunt before that, nor of his early years with his mother. But the Garden  of Eden was just that: paradise. Especially for an abandoned young boy who could  just as easily have become a career criminal as a millionaire in real  estate.

 The Edens changed everything. For him and every other child who  had come to live there. He owed that couple his life. They were his parents,  without question. Wade didn’t know who his father was and had only seen his  mother once since she dropped him at her aunt’s doorstep as a toddler. When he  thought of home and family, he thought of the farm and the family the Edens had  pulled together.

 They were able to have only one child of their own, their  daughter, Julianne. For a time it seemed that their dreams of a house bustling  with children who would help on the farm and one day take over the family  business had been dashed. But then they decided to renovate an old barn into a  bunkhouse perfect for rowdy boys and started taking in foster children.

 Wade had been the first. Julianne had been in pigtails when he  arrived, dragging her favorite doll behind her. Wade had been in his share of  foster homes, and this time just felt different. He was not a burden. Not a way  to get a check from the state. He was their son.

 Which is why he wished he was visiting them for another reason.  In his own mind, disappointing his parents would be the greatest sin he could  commit. Even worse than the one he’d committed fifteen years ago that got him  into this mess.

 Wade turned the SUV into the driveway, then bypassed the  parking lot and took the small road behind their large Federal-style house to  where the family kept their cars. It was nearing the middle of the afternoon on  a Friday, but even so, there were at least ten customer cars in the lot. It was  December 21—only a few days until Christmas. His mother, Molly, would be in the  gift shop, pushing sugar cookies, cider and hot chocolate on folks while they  waited for Ken or one of the employees to haul and bag their new tree.

 Wade felt the sudden, familiar urge to start trimming trees and  hauling them out to people’s cars. He’d done it for all of his teenage years and  every Christmas break from Yale. It came naturally to want to jump back into the  work. But first things first. He had to take care of the business that had  brought him here instead of the warm beaches of Jamaica.

 Julianne’s call had been unexpected. None of the kids were very  good about calling or visiting their parents or each other like they should.  They were all busy, all successful, the way the Edens had wanted them to be. But  their success also made it easy to forget to make time for the important people  in their lives.

 When Julianne had shown up at the farm for Thanksgiving with  little warning, she’d been in for quite the surprise. Their father, Ken, was  recovering from a heart attack. They hadn’t called any of the kids because they  didn’t want them worrying about it or the crippling hospital bills.

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