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Home Pasture – Chapter 7 A Well in Emmaus   Leave a comment

                Rob Delaney glanced at the clock. He sort of wanted to mull his reply to Jason Welton’s email before sending it, but it was only 2:30 and he didn’t have an excuse to leave for the day.

                “I recommend a test of the safety valves in the town well house.”

                Jason was the “county” engineer. Most of the towns in the county used him for their utilities, to review building permits, etc. His construction company was his main priority and Rob sometimes suspected that he suggested certain things to try and generate business for that company. Who else would do this test?

                Rob’s hands twitched over the keyboard. A tall, broad-shouldered sandy-haired man with blue eyes and a reddish beard, Rob was more likely to pass as a construction worker than a small-town mayor. He closed his hands into fists. A small town mayor could get into a fair bit of trouble by rattling off the first thing that came to mind. He pushed back from the computer and looked at the pile of paperwork sitting on the desk blotter.

                The Wolf Creek Bridge would probably be completed at the end of the day. Rob was proud of that accomplishment. The bridge had been completed under bid and on time without incurring debt. He’d also managed to transfer the landscaping of the town square to the Rotary, resulting in a much prettier park at reduced cost to the town. That had been in his first term. It had been one of the reasons the town had elected him for a second term. He hoped the bridge would be the first of several accomplishments during his second term. Twelve years would be enough, he thought, if they were productive years. He’d frankly been surprised they’d given him a second term after that mess with Shane five years ago. It wasn’t that people had forgotten. He knew they hadn’t. Still, they’d reelected him, choosing him over Anders McAuliff, who’d been the one reminding them of Shane’s indiscretion.

                You need to stop that, his Savior reminded him. Shane’s coming home and if you’re thinking it, you’re likely to say it sometime when he pushes your buttons.

                Would Shane actually show up? Rob wanted to believe that he would. He thought he was ready to talk to his younger son, to lay some anger to the side, but …. Well, Shane had not come home four years ago, so why should they get all excited this time?

                Rob’s stack of paperwork quickly dwindled. It wasn’t even 3:00 yet. He turned back to the computer.

                “What is this test for, Jason? I need details to justify it to the council.”

                The cursor hovered over the SEND icon. Should he or shouldn’t he? Read it again.

                A quick tapping on his office door caused him to look over his shoulder. His elder son Cai stuck his sandy head into the opening of the door.

                “You headed out to Wichita?” Rob asked.

                “Yeah. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.”

                “Good. You should probably be here when … if … your brother gets here.”

                “Well ….” Cai’s sea blue eyes twittered.

                “What?” Rob asked.

                “I think it might be best not to overwhelm him.”

                “If the situation were different, that might be true, but you have something to tell him and it shouldn’t wait for him to find out at the grocery store or over a beer at Callahan’s.”

                “Yeah,” Cai agreed, tone dripping with apprehension. “I’m starting to think we made a mistake by not telling him in an email.”

                “Too late now,” Rob said with a grin.

                Cai nodded. At 30, he was clean-shaven and all-American, athletic, tall and lean. He’d graduated from law school two years ago and was splitting his time between a practice with a friend in Wichita and being the city attorney for Emmaus and the next town over, Mara Wells. Rob was proud of him for planning his life well. He and his wife were living with Rob and Jill while they paid off their student debts. Cai would be done next year. Marnie would need longer.

                Cai reached for his cell and frowned as he read the text.

                “Something up?” Rob asked.

                “Misty just texted me,” he announced.

                “Misty?”

                “Marnie’s cousin. She’s a waitress at the Barn.” Rob nodded that he remembered now. “Shane’s a day early, eating lunch at the Barn.”

                Rob stared at Cai.

                “She’s sure?”

                “He spoke to her.”

                Rob stood. Cai closed the door and leaned on it.

                “Maybe you shouldn’t,” he said.

                “Shouldn’t what?”

                “Chase him down and catch him unawares. There’s a reason he’s not answered but one text between us in five years and it’s not because he’s comfortable with our company.”

                Rob sighed and admitted Cai had a point. He rubbed the back of his neck.

                “You probably shouldn’t go to Wichita.”

                “Yeah, the judge would really like that and so would my client,” Cai reminded him. “Besides, it’s a cool case — the farmer selling raw milk to the willing neighbors and the FDA having him arrested for public endangerment. No, I’m going. I think I’m right. Don’t overwhelm him. Just think about what I said. You don’t want to scare him away.”

                Cai then shouldered his computer bag and left the office. Rob turned to the window which faced Main Street. He braced his arms on the frames and watched as Wade Lewis’ truck made a slow drive down the street. A familiar long-legged stride drew his attention to the bank. Misty was a good informant. Rob watched his younger son enter the brick building. What to do?

                Rob found Shane’s Jeep on the side street. It wasn’t parked so as to indicate hiding. He could see a duffle bag in the back, a water bottle on the passenger seat and a takeout cup for coffee in the consol with a logo from a stand Rob had stopped at before on his way out of Denver. There were a couple of boxes in the cargo area. Nothing else. Rob leaned against the passenger door and watched the town go by.

                Shane hesitated at seeing him, but it was only a momentary hitch in his stride.

                “I don’t see any traffic cams,” he noted, indicating the roof tops. “Misty?”

                “I saw you from my office when you went into the bank,” Rob reported.

                Shane nodded. He leaned against the door next to Rob. He wore sunglasses, so Rob couldn’t see his eyes. He seemed taller, leaner, his hair clipped short, but still curly. His tan looked permanent. It was still the dog days and he wore faded jeans and a green t-shirt with a loose plaid shirt over it. Rob let silence hang between them for a while.

                “Are you early or were you planning to keep us waiting until tomorrow?” he finally asked.

                “I don’t know.” His voice seemed deeper, still with that lush quality. “I didn’t plan to get here a day early and maybe I wasn’t prepared to just show up at the house.”

                Rob nodded. A million questions ran through his head. Where have you been? What have you been doing? Where are you going?

                “It’s good to see you,” he finally said.

                “Is it?”

                “Yes,” Rob assured. He scratched the front of his head, where his hair was starting to turn grey along the hair line. “It’s hot.”

                Shane didn’t look hot. Rob suspected he’d been spending time in some mighty warm climes the last few years. He was acclimated. Rob had lost that decades ago. The dog days were hot.

                “You want to get an iced tea or something?” Rob asked. “We could talk.”

                Shane let the silence hang for a bit. Rob waited. Don’t let him push your buttons! If he says “beer”, let it go and get a rootbeer. It’s not like Callahan’s can make you drink alcohol.

                “Sure.”

                He let Rob lead him to the Soda Fountain. Although the sunglasses hid his eyes, Rob could see that Shane was surprised to see it. The Soda Fountain had once been the lunch counter of the Woolworths, which had closed before Shane could remember. The block sized building had stood empty for nearly 30 years, but now the lunch counter had been reopened as the Soda Fountain and a book store sat beside it. The rest of the block was begging for development.

                “Wow,” Shane said. “I noticed the new houses up on the Heights. Things have grown since I left.”

                He looked around the Fountain with its red and cream tile and sleek counter with all the images of an old-fashioned soda fountain. He removed his sunglasses as they took stools.

                “This was here when the store was open, right?” he asked.

                “Yes. We used to bring our dates here. Jacob and Vi probably had their first kiss here.”

                A shadow passed across Shane’s green eyes for a moment, reminding Rob that he’d not been here for Vi’s death and funeral. They both decided to ignore the obvious, while Rob wondered about the dark shadows under Shane’s eyes. Rob ordered lemonade. He’d had lunch at home earlier and Shane had eaten at the Barn, so after a moment’s consultation with the menu, Shane ordered a cranberry smoothie.

                “So how many new people are there in town?” Shane asked, hooking his sunglasses in the front of his t-shirt.

                “In five years … about 50. A 1% gain in a Kansas small town is a miracle.”

                “Next thing you know, Emmaus is going to have traffic jams.”

                “We used to.”

                Shane gave him a skeptical look. Since they were keeping it light, Rob opted to keep it light.

                “When 24 was Main Street and a major highway there were a couple.”

                “I can’t even imagine that. Coming east, once you leave Denver — it’s like no man’s land.”

                “It’s quiet,” Rob agreed. “I guess that’s why they call it flyover country.”

                The following quiet between them grew painful.

                “So you were out west. California?”

                “That was my base, I guess,” Shane said. When Rob didn’t rush to fill the silence he added “San Diego.”

                “But it was only your base?”

                The waitress brought their drinks. She was high school aged, but gave Shane an appreciative once-over. He didn’t seem to notice. At 26, he shouldn’t. He sighed.

                “You aren’t asking.”

                “Would you tell me if I did?”

                “I don’t know. I planned to tell people — even you — that I was in the military. That’s close enough to the truth.”

                “Is it?”

                Shane bought some time by taking a sip of the smoothie. Rob waited.

                “You know I didn’t go to jail,” he said in a low voice.

                “Jacob took your Jeep somewhere, so I guessed. You working for Jason Breen made so much more sense then.”

                “Jason was clean.”

                “McAuliff was the target all along?”

                Shane nodded.

                “How did you get mixed up in all that?” Rob asked.

                “My roommate at Embry. His dad. They paid off my student loans.”

                Rob had always assumed that Shane had done something that had gotten him in trouble with the law, so this was welcome news, but for the dark circles and a curious wariness about his son that he thought he recognized.

                “Was it worth it?” he asked.

                “No,” Shane answered promptly. “McAuliff wasn’t hurting anyone. Jacob was pissed.”

                “Your grandfather is an anarchist, son. Is that what you’ve been doing?”

                “Yeah, sort of. I’m not really supposed to talk about it.”

                Rob watched Shane’s hands slowly turning the shake glass between them and knew avoidance was not the best answer.

                “When you’re ready, I’m ready to listen,” he assured his son.

                “And if I’m never ready?”

                Rob sipped his lemonade. It tasted fresh-squeezed, but he figured it wasn’t.

                “There may come a time when you’re the one who will need to listen,” he replied. Shane‘s eyes darkened. “You’re not ready now.”

                “It’s not Grandpa fighting in the Pacific or you going to the Nam. What I did –. There’s nothing honorable, noble or brave about taking money to f –.”

                The bell on the door tinkled. Shane cut off his fierce whisper to look and Rob saw where his hand went when he pivoted on the stool. Jason Breen’s blue eyes were cold and piercing. His dark hair was thinning back from a craggy face. Rob wanted to step between him and his son, but Shane’s hand was behind his back and Rob thought he might not live if he were shot twice.

                “Peace, kid,” Breen said, bringing both hands up to shoulder level. He held keys in his left. The right was empty. “No need to get blood on the floor,” he added.

                Shane watched him as he walked to the counter. Breen had apparently ordered a sandwich to go. The transaction took less than a minute. Shane’s gaze never wavered and his hand remained behind his back and under his shirt.

                “If you’re looking for work,” Breen told Shane. He set a card down on the counter near the register. Then he nodded at Rob and walked out. After maybe the count of 10, Shane’s hand came away from the small of his back and he turned back to his smoothie. He left the card where it lay.

                “You always on, son?” Rob asked, turning back to his lemonade.

                Shane didn’t answer. Rob waited, but not even the pain of silence forced a response.

                “Okay, fair enough. Your mom has probably heard you’re in town by now. You coming home with me or did you book a room at the Super 8?”

                “Don’t need to.” Rob looked at him, curious. “I own Jericho Springs.”

                Rob laughed, but Shane looked dead serious.

                “Four years ago?”

                “Yeah. Uh, you know of any activity going on there in the last few weeks?” he asked.

                “I haven’t been paying attention,” Rob admitted after a moment. “It’s a ghost town, after all. Why?”

                Shane shook his head and shrugged.

                “Probably just me being ‘on’,” he said. “Let’s play it by ear. I’ll go to the house with you and then decide my next move.”

                “Seems fair,” Rob told him. Shane slid off the stool. Rob followed. “I guess I’ll meet you at the house in a few minutes then.” Shane nodded. They stepped out on to the sidewalk. Shane paused as if to say something, but then turned to walk away. “Shane — I’m glad you’re home,” Rob called after him.

                Shane broke his stride and glanced over his shoulder.

                “You probably shouldn’t be,” he replied, then continued toward where he’d left the Jeep, leaving Rob to wonder what that meant.

Copywrite — All Rights Reserved by Laurel Sliney dba Lela Markham 2014

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