Undeniable Demands(9)By: Andrea Laurence
Wade followed him, then stood quietly until the truck pulled away. “I wasn’t looking for anything.”
“Liar. Everyone has been doing it since your mother told Julianne about that damned attack I had. It was no big deal. I’m fine. They gave me a pill to take. End of story. Don’t be sitting around waiting for me to drop dead so you can inherit this place.”
Both men chuckled, knowing Wade could buy and sell the farm ten times over and had no interest in getting his claws on any inheritance. “You’re looking good to me, Dad.”
“Yeah.” He slapped Wade on the back and started walking toward the gift shop. “Most days I feel okay. I’m slowing down a little. Feeling my age. But that’s just reality. The attack threw me for a loop—just came out of the blue. But between the pills and your mother’s dogged determination to feed me oatmeal and vegetables, I should be fine. What are you doing up here so early, Wade? You kids don’t usually show up until Christmas Eve.”
“I had some time in my schedule, so I thought I’d spend it with you guys. Help out. I know I don’t visit enough.”
“Well, that’s a nice lie. Be sure to tell your mother that. She’ll eat it up. All of you boys are in a panic since you found out we sold that land.”
“I wouldn’t call it a panic.”
“Wouldn’t you, now? Four out of the five of you kids have been here in the past month, just randomly checking in. I’m sure Xander would’ve come, too, if congress wasn’t in session fighting over the stupid budget.”
Wade shrugged. “Well, what do you expect, Dad? You kept your heart attack a secret. You’re having financial trouble and you don’t tell any of us. You know we all make good money. There was no need to start selling off the farm.”
“I didn’t sell off the farm. I sold off some useless rocks and dirt that were costing more money than they earned. And yes, you make a good living. I haven’t made a good living in quite a few years. One doesn’t make up for the other.”
Ken stopped in front of the gift shop, his hand on the doorknob. “I don’t want any of your money, Wade. I don’t want a dime from any of you kids. The unexpected medical bills just sucked up our savings. The past few years had been lean and we’d cut back on things, including our insurance, to weather the rough patch. Selling off the extra land let us pay off all the bills, buy a new insurance plan and stick some money away. Less land means less taxes and less for me to worry about. Everything will be just fine.”
He pushed open the door to the gift store, ending the conversation. Wade had no choice but to let the subject drop and follow him in. They were instantly bombarded with lights and sounds straight from Santa’s workshop. Jingling bells chimed from the door; Christmas music played from overhead speakers. A television in the back was showing holiday cartoons on a constant loop near the area where children could write letters to Santa and play with toys while Mommy shopped and Daddy loaded the tree.
Multicolored lights draped from the ceiling. The scent of pine and mulling spices permeated the room. The fireplace crackled on one wall, inviting customers to sit in rocking chairs and drink the hot chocolate Molly provided free.
“Wade!” The tiny and pleasantly plump woman behind the counter came rushing out to wrap her arms around her oldest boy.
He leaned down to hug her as he’d always had to do, accepting the fussing as she straightened his hair and inspected him for signs of stress or fatigue. She always accused him of working too much. She was probably right, but he’d learned his work ethic from them. “Hey, Mama.”
“What a surprise to have you here so soon. Is this just a visit or are you here for the holiday?”
“For the duration.”
“That’s wonderful,” she said, her eyes twinkling with happiness and Christmas lights. “But wait.” She paused. “I thought Heath told me you were in Jamaica this week.”
“Plans changed. I’m here instead.”
“He’s checking up on us,” Ken called from the counter where he was pouring himself a cup of cider.
“I don’t care,” she called back. “I’ll take him however I can get him.” Molly hugged him again, then frowned at her son. “I don’t have anything prepared for dinner,” she said, aghast at the idea. “I wish I’d known you were coming. I was just going to feed your father a sandwich.”