Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Predators, Paranoia and Puke
Stars littered the evening sky, fireflies danced through the fields and night birds sailed through the cool dusky curtains of twilight. Dayde sat in the cement alcove beside the house, butt cheeks propped on the edge of the metal patio chair, long legs kicked up on the low rock ledge overlooking the grasslands.
Nights like this, sweet and breezy on the south side of summer, harvest only a heartbeat across the horizon, he’d sit out here for hours, dozing and daydreaming. If Kylie made it home tonight, they’d sleep in the big hammock on the front terrace. He’d hedged his hopes for some alone time in advance by wearing the children out before tucking them into bed beneath a blanket fort.
What the hell was that noise? Coyotes must have brought something down just beyond the wheat field. He grabbed the rifle off the ledge and sited along the perimeter. It was coyotes all right but they hadn’t gotten their teeth into whatever it was they were chasing.
He pulled back some, searching for the source of canine agitation and cursed when his wife’s face appeared in the lens. Damn it! He scaled the rock wall of the house and used the vantage point to pick off the coyotes. Took out the closest one just as Kylie ploughed into the wheat.
His feet hit the top of the wall, the ledge and then he was on the ground, heading for the front line of crops. Soon as Kylie came barreling through, he picked off the remaining two coyotes, caught her by the elbow and hustled through the front door with her, sliding the plate glass door shut behind them.
Bent over and catching his breath, he said, “What were you thinking?”
She grinned and slid a brace of quail off her back. “That I wasn’t going to let those brutes have the birds I brought down for tomorrow’s dinner.”
“I’d rather eat leftovers than have you risk yourself like that,” he said, swatting her butt and hauling the quail to the cooler.
She followed after him, shucking off her boots and jacket along the way. “You weren’t worried were you, love?”
He eyed her, standing there barefoot in his kitchen, jeans and a white tank hugging the lean curves of her body. “I was. But I’ve moved on to a whole new set of emotions.”
She wriggled out of her jeans. “You don’t say.”
The kitchen was nice and cool, far enough away from the kids room and dark enough for a little privacy. So maybe the hammock was out but alone time was still on the menu. He kept the counters clean –
She leaned across the granite. “Did you save me some grub?”
Dinner. In the flurry, he’d forgotten about that. ‘Your plate is in the oven. You want me to get it for you?”
“Thanks, but I got it,” she said, brushing past him into the kitchen. She brought her plate to the bar so she could watch him pluck the quail. “Was a weird day.”
His hands moved with practiced skill, making quick work of the feathers. “That right? How so?”
She took a couple bites of baked chicken before answering. “Had to take the jeep because the sedan was still in the shop and the retrieval ended up yapping the whole ride.”
He reached for another bird. “Must have bored you to death with all that scientific mumbo jumbo.”
“Actually, he only talked about two things. His family and some doomsday device he says the company is working on.”
His heart missed a couple beats and his hands slowed.
She started on the sautéed crookneck squash. “Man this is good. I was starving all afternoon. Anyway, this guy, Richardson is his name, he says the device is ready to go online in the next few weeks. Says he messed up the trigger specs on purpose to delay things. Guy’s a few quarts low but I told him we’d check on his family over in Pearson. We can go over in a couple days, after the harvest.”
“What are we supposed to do for his family? Deliver a message or something?”
“He has this paranoid notion that the company is going to erase his memory – or him,” she said, getting up to get a glass of water. “Anyway, he just wanted someone to tell his family he loved them. You know, because he’s a bit delusional after being on site for so long.”
He scooped up the feathers and put them in a container. “What else did he say about this device?”
“The usual. Prepare for the end of the world. Like we haven’t heard that before. But look, here we are four years after the End Of The World, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
“You’re not curious or worried at all?”
“No,” she said, coming around the bar to help him haul the plucked birds to the cooler.
“Even if I was, what am I going to do about it? March into the company offices next week and demand to see the CEO? Hell, I’ve never even been inside Human Resources. When you left the company to start the farm, Uncle Pike got his girlfriend to roll your job over into my name. Far as the company is concerned, I don’t exist.”
He thought about that for a moment. Pike might be an eccentric old coot but where Kylie was concerned, he was rational and purposeful. If he’d concealed her identity and existence from the company, there was a good reason for it.
He closed the cooler and leaned against it. “So maybe you’re not going to storm the company gates but can we at least discuss it with Pike when he gets here tomorrow?”
“Sure. If nothing else, it’ll be good for a laugh,” she said, crooking her head to look over his shoulder. “Babe, what’s that on the cooler?”
He turned and pulled the coloring page off the door. “The kids made this for you after dinner. It’s a -”
Her body lurched forward and she puked all over the crayon elephant, Dayde’s pants and the cooler door.
He grabbed her around the waist and faced her over the sink. “Kylie! What’s wrong?”
She turned on the faucet and splashed her face with water. “I’m okay. Just give me a minute.”
He reached for a hand towel and helped clean her up before shucking his boots and jeans. While she rested against the counter, he tossed the soiled towel and pants in the laundry pile and wiped down the cooler and floor.
“I’m sorry,” she said, turning from the sink to look up at him. “Hell of a way to break the news, huh? Anyway – surprise! You’re going to be a daddy – again.”
Before he could react, the patter of small feet echoed in the hall, three little faces peered into the kitchen and Zeke’s sleepy voice said, “Mommy?”
Kylie crouched down and gathered their brood into her arms for a hug. “Come on, sleepyheads, let’s get into bed.”
Dayde stood in the kitchen, watching his family head for the master bedroom, and bid farewell to his hopes for alone time with his wife. After several thoughtful moments, he shut off the lights and headed down the hall to his bed. Maybe the night hadn’t turned out like he’d planned but Kylie was home safe, under his roof and under his sheets - and tonight, that was good enough.
Hell, who was he kidding? He had another baby on the way, three little ones terrorizing his orderly household and a fierce untamed bride sharing his bed. It was a damn good night!
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