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.”

 “Dad—”

 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.”

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