“Wow,” Ed muttered as he placed the last folder back in the box. His mother had gone to unbelievable lengths to keep him and his father apart. It was a mindboggling degree of deceit, and he’d bought every bit of it hook, line, and sinker.
And why wouldn’t he have done so? She was his mother, and the idea that she would perpetrate such a lie was so farfetched he would have sooner believed there was a magical floating unicorn waiting for him in that diner than he’d have remotely considered that his father would be alive and well, sitting there eating his lunch.
He shook his head sadly as he brushed off his hands on his jeans. The thick layer of grimy basement dust that had settled on the box supported what his father had said regarding how long ago he’d sealed it up—eight long years since he’d put his hopes on hold after receiving the letter he and Bill had referenced back in the diner. A forged letter purportedly sent by Ed’s sixteen-year-old self.
Ed shuddered as the awful things his mother had written ran through his head. That Fred disgusted him. That he didn’t want to be around Fred. That he wanted Fred to cease and desist all attempts to contact him. And she’d signed Ed’s name to the appalling letter.
Well, technically it wasn’t her handwriting, but Ed recognized it as that of one of her cronies. She’d certainly dictated it, though. He’d heard her use those phrasing choices often enough to be confident of that. It was why he hadn’t come out until after she’d died shortly before his eighteenth birthday.
Despite the unfortunate timing, Ed could hardly blame Fred for his decision to put his quest aside for ten years in the hopes that Ed’s opinions might change once he’d moved away from his mother’s influence and experienced life. Apparently, they would have met in two more years when that arbitrary period of time had passed.
Above him, the screen door banged shut, and the floorboards creaked as two pairs of feet trod across them. Ed looked up and squared his shoulders before climbing the stairs to rejoin his father and Joe. Bill had gone home to his own farm when they’d left the diner.
The sun was a lot lower in the sky that he’d expected. How long had he been down there lost in that shocking paper trail?
Ed tucked his thumbs in his front pockets and lightly drummed his fingers as he leaned against the door to the basement. The corners of his mouth quirked up at the welcomed sight of Joe…and even of his father—a virtual stranger, but he felt much closer to the man after reading through the pile of documents detailing his efforts to gain at least some level of visitation with his son. Ed’s belly fluttered, but that was most likely from hunger, triggered by the savory aroma of the meal Fred had cooking in that Crock Pot on the counter.
Fred and Joe’s cheeks were flushed from whatever they’d been doing outside. Joe seemed downright…cheery. He’d grown up on a farm, and loved that life, but things had not gone well with his dad when he’d come out of the closet, so now he was a farmhand with an outfit that traveled around helping farmers with their haying and other seasonal projects that needed extra manpower.
So it wasn’t a surprise that Joe had enjoyed the afternoon with Ed’s father. Back at the diner, Joe had said, “Not a big deal if our plans get delayed…or change,” and Fred wore his hope of spending more time with Ed right on his sleeve.
Fred and Joe halted in the kitchen when they spotted Ed. They might not have looked at all alike, but the cocked eyebrows on their faces matched. So did the sudden tensing of their muscles as they awaited Ed’s verdict.
“It’s clear,” Ed said, “that you did everything in your power short of risking jail-time to see me. And it’s equally clear that Mom lied and cheated and pulled every dirty trick in the book to prevent it. I couldn’t feel any more betrayed by what she did.” As much as Ed had originally gotten his back up thinking Fred had willfully abandoned him, it was now painfully obvious that was not the case, and he found himself wanting to get to know his father.
The rigidity evident in Fred’s shoulders and face eased, although the look in his eyes remained wary. Or maybe it was guardedly hopeful. “Thank you for understanding.”
“How do you want to proceed from here?” Ed asked, although he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
“My door will always be open to you both. Any time. Of course certain seasons I won’t be the most attentive host, but you’ll be welcome none the less.
“I’d be more than happy to pitch in and help,” Joe said. No shocker there.
“So would I,” Ed added. “Not that I know anything about farming, but I’m willing to do whatever you can train me to do.”
“Much appreciated.” Fred grinned and bobbed his head.
Ed caught Joe’s gaze and twitched a brow, silently asking a question he knew Joe would understand.
Joe supplemented his slight nod with a wink. Yep…just as Ed had thought, Joe wasn’t merely willing to reinvent their vacation, he welcomed this particular substitution. It was a change of pace, and that was enough for Joe. They could always go to Denver some other time.
“So…” Ed took a deep breath as Fred’s brow crinkled. “How’s right now suit you?”
Fred’s answering smile couldn’t have beamed any more brilliantly.