This is a story in progress. There may be typos, plot holes, etc. They are corrected (if my computer saves them in the right place unlike my last book. Grrr!) before publication in the future.
To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.
Chapter 7 Part II
The house was set back off a dirt road, under the canopy of a pair of towering maple trees that Matt had been trying to convince his mom to cut down for five years now. The paint had faded some so that it wasn’t white anymore, but an off-white, closer to tan. The black shutters showed some neglect, even though Matt had painted them a few years ago, shortly after his dad had passed away. His chest constricted at the memory, how he’d painted them out of guilt more than vanity.
He needed to get down here and paint them again, as well as the whole house. Living in the middle of nowhere, five miles away, in a cabin that he and his dad had built when he was a teenager and working full time as a police officer, as well as studying for the state police academy, shouldn’t be an excuse. Then again, add in volunteering for the local pregnancy care center, his work with the Boys and Girls Club, filling in for Dan Trenton as a Boy Scout leader once a month, and helping with the youth at the church, and he didn’t have much time for painting or help his mom keep up the property the way he wanted to.
Hopefully, when his young brother, Evan, came from college for winter break he would help more. His older sister, Melanie, helped when she was able, but she had her own life — along with the lives of three children — to balance.
Pulling his truck up in front of the house, he shut off the engine and looked up at the front door, set back inside a wide front porch. Inside his mother was most likely busy creating in one way or another — either with food or her sewing machine. The house would be warm and inviting, the atmosphere one where he could easily relax and maybe even take a nap if he had time. He didn’t have that luxury, though. Not today. Today one of his best friends was getting married, while the other one would be moving into his cabin with him, staying there on his own during the week when Matt went away to the state police academy in two months.
He still couldn’t believe he’d been accepted to the academy at his age. He would be older than most of the other recruits, but he didn’t intend to let that slow him down. He’d had a dream of being a member of the state police since he was ten years old, and a trooper had let him sound the siren at a local safety fair. In two months that dream would be a reality and he was excited, yet also on edge. He’d be leaving his mom, unable to come to visit her every other day like he did now. For six months he’d live three hours away during the week and be able to return only on the weekends, helping her with the upkeep of the property. After that, he wasn’t sure where his first assignment would be. That would be up to the state police.
Leaving his mom wasn’t the only aspect of all of this that had him on edge, of course. There was the worry that he would flunk out of training, yes, but also the ache in the center of his chest at the thought of not being able to see Liz and Isabella.
He smiled at the thought of holding the tiny newborn that day in the hospital, how it filled his chest with more delight than he’d ever expected. He’d never thought he wanted children of his own up until the day his sister had given birth and let him hold her firstborn. Holding his niece had triggered something in him, a feeling which had lain mostly dormant until he’d held Isabella and laid her on Liz’s chest. Liz had been exhausted, hair matted with sweat, but she’d also been beautiful; the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in fact.
How was it that pregnancy and labor had made her even more beautiful to him? He had no idea, but he needed to stop thinking about all the things that weren’t in the cards for him — if he believed in cards instead of God — including Liz.
He needed to stop thinking, period. He had a lot to do today, starting with getting dressed for Jason’s wedding.
The sweet smell of apples and cinnamon hit him as he walked inside the house, the screen door squeaking, making a stealthy arrival impossible. Stepping through the parlor into the kitchen he found the source of the smell. His mother was standing next to the stove with her back to the doorway, stirring a long wooden spoon in a pot of applesauce she was preparing for canning.
Looking over her shoulder, his mom smiled. “There you are. It’s about time. You’re cutting it close, aren’t you?”
“All this for me?” He gestured toward the empty jars on the table.
“Some of it for you, of course, but not all.” You’re not the only one who likes my applesauce on your pantry shelves all winter.”
He leaned over his mom and kissed her cheek as he dipped a finger in the applesauce. He stuck the finger in his mouth, chuckling as his mom gently slapped him in the shoulder.
She gestured toward the hallway. “Go on and head upstairs. Those cufflinks you were looking for are upstairs on the dresser. The shirt is in the walk-in closet in the spare room.”
It had been six years since his dad had died but his mom still kept a jewelry box full of various items of his on top of her dresser. Inside the small brown wooden box, he found the small gold cufflinks, engraved with the initial M, his dad’s old watch, still somehow ticking, a handful of change, and his dad’s class ring. He’d had the change in his pocket the day he died and somehow his mom couldn’t seem to let go of it.
She’d managed to move some of his clothes to the spare room two years ago, giving the rest of it away to goodwill or Matt and his brothers. The white dress shirt was the one Alan McGee had worn to his daughter’s wedding, held the year before he’d passed away. Matt considered himself lucky he and his dad were the same sizes. He’d needed a dress shirt for the wedding and his was at the dry cleaners after he’d bled on it while apprehending a drunk outside of Mooney’s a couple of weeks ago. It’d been quite a left hook but hadn’t caused much damage other than blood from his nose, luckily.
He snatched up the cufflinks and the shirt, pushing back the memories. He’d have to focus on that later. He didn’t have time to dwell on sentimental emotions. Heading back down the stairs he breathed in deep the smell of cooking apples.
His mom switched off the burner and reached for another full pot on the back of the stove. “Found them?”
He nodded and reached for a chocolate chip cookie sitting on a tray on the counter. He scanned the kitchen as he shoved the cookie in his mouth, taking in the canning jars filling the table and sitting along the counters, three trays of freshly baked cookies, two loaves of banana bread cooling, and two pies sitting next to an empty pie carrier near the fridge.
“Whoa. Mom. What’s going on? You opening a bakery?”
Rebecca McGee set the pot on the table next to a row of empty canning jars and smiled. Her 5-foot 3-inch frame looked even smaller when she was barefoot like she was now. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the stove and the rushing around. Matt knew she called herself plump and maybe she was compared to some, but he preferred to call her “fluffy” because that’s how she felt when he hugged her. Her blond hair, growing lighter by the day, was swooped upon her head in a fluffy bun, wispy strands fluttering around her forehead and face as she moved between the stove and kitchen table.
She slapped her son gently on the arm. “Very funny. No. I overextended myself. I agreed to bake something for three different community organizations.” She gestured toward the tray of cookies behind him. “That reminds me, I need you to take those cookies and pies to the Tanners for the reception. I’d take them myself, but I told Millie Baker I’d bring her the other two trays of cookies for the Friends of the Library bake sale fundraiser and I need to seal these jars up before I leave. If I time it right, I should be able to get the cookies to Millie, the banana bread to the pregnancy care center for their dinner tonight, and then make it back before Ellie walks down the aisle. If you take the cookies, then I won’t have to try to balance them while rushing to find my seat before the ceremony starts.”
Matt stole another cookie. “First, it isn’t really an aisle. It’s just a path between the chairs in Jason’s backyard. Second, you could have asked me to help you with the other deliveries too. I would have had plenty of time if I’d known.”
Rebecca placed a funnel in the mouth of a jar then paused, hands on her hip as she took a deep breath. “Oh, it’s fine. You have enough on you today.” She sized her son up for a few seconds, which made him stop mid-bite.
“What? Do I have crumbs on my chin?”
“How’s Liz and that beautiful baby?”
His chest constricted. Alert. Awkward conversation ahead.
“Um. . .” He commenced chewing. “She’s tired but good. Isabella is even more beautiful than when I first met her.”
Rebecca’s hands were still on her hips. “Mmhmm. Right. About that day. When you first met her. The moment she exited Liz’s womb. In the front seat of your truck. We haven’t had a chance to talk about that.”
Matt snorted a laugh. His mom was nothing if not blunt. “Nothing to talk about. We went for a ride to the pond, and she went into labor. That’s all.”
“And you two are . . .what? Friends? More than friends?”
Matt walked to the fridge. “Got any milk?”
He could feel his mom’s eyes boring into his back as he opened the door and reached for the carton. “You know the Tanners are going to be making a special milk sometime next year. They’re building a bottling plant and have already tested a good portion of their jersey cows.”
He reached for a glass in the cabinet next to the fridge, keeping his back to the woman who gave birth to him, the woman who could read him better than anyone, the woman who was not going to back down from this conversation without divine intervention.
“Annie told me. She also told me about the corn maze and the pumpkin farm they’re planning for next year.” He didn’t have to turn around to know she’d folded her arms across her chest. “Matthew, you know I like Liz. I like her a lot, but I don’t want to see you hurt. What’s her relationship with Isabella’s dad? If it’s who I’ve guessed it is, I hope she isn’t in any relationship with him. I don’t often say this, but he’s a waste of space at this point in his life.”
Matt guzzled half the glass of milk and dragged his hand across his upper lip as he turned around and leaned back against the counter. “Liz and I are friends, Mom.” He shrugged a shoulder and drank the rest of the milk, turning quickly to put the glass in the sink. He filled it with water like he knew his mom would ask him to. “I’m just helping her out. Gabe’s not in the picture right now and I don’t think he ever will be.”
Rebecca sighed, a long deep sigh, with a tinge of sadness. “Okay then. If you want to stick with that story, then —”
He laughed. “Stick with what story?” He slid an arm around her and hugged her against his side. “You worry too much, Mom. Listen, we’ll talk more about this later, but right now I have to get over to Jase’s before his head explodes.” His phone dinged as he released her. “See? I bet that’s him, telling me to hurry up. I bet Alex is falling down on the job, and he wants me to replace him as his best man.”
Rebecca shook her head and kissed his cheek. “Well, whatever is going on between you and Liz, feel free to bring her out here soon for some lunch. I’d love to finally get a look at that beautiful baby, and the woman who has my son so flustered these days.”
Flustered? He was not flustered.
He snatched the shirt from over the back of the chair, pushed the cufflinks into his front jean pocket, and waved over his shoulder. “See you at the Tanner’s later, Mom. Don’t work yourself too hard. Wouldn’t want to be too tired to interrogate me more later.”
“And don’t think I won’t, my boy.”
Matt smiled and shook his head as the screen door slammed behind him. At least when his brother came home from college, she’d have someone else to focus her attention on.
She was a persistent woman. The only problem with her planning to interrogate him was that he didn’t know what to tell her. He didn’t know what he and Liz were.
Friends? He hoped so.
More? No. They weren’t but he certainly wouldn’t protest if she wanted to be.
He glanced at his phone’s lock screen as it rang. Looked like the topic of conversation was trying to reach him. He didn’t have time, though.
He tapped the decline button and shoved the phone in his pocket. He’d see her soon enough at the wedding. They could talk then.