Sunrays slanted across the budding woods as Sean dragged a dead sapling along a well-worn trail. He yanked it over a makeshift wooden bridge crossing over a spring-swollen stream. Grunting, he lifted the thick end over his shoulder and hefted it on a mountainous brush pile by a tumbledown old barn.
“What ‘cha doing? Building a pyre to the gods of ol’?”
Sean turned, his blue eyes glinting in the bright light. “More like penance for my sins.” He pulled off a torn work glove and rubbed his face where a two-day-old beard highlighted the edge of his chin. He offered a quick, half-hearted smile. “What’re you doing here, Clive? I thought you were helping out at the McAllen place.”
Clive shrugged and started ahead as Sean turned back across the bridge. “Ah, they got the plumbers and electricians in today. I went to help at the Buran building, but Joe said they have enough guys—told me to take the rest of the day and catch up on my rest.”
With a snort, Sean yanked on his glove. “So kind of him. Always thinking of the other guy.”
Clive stepped off the edge of the bridge and gazed in wonder at the matriarchal old maple cut into manageable lengths. “What’s this? Sarcasm from Mr. Congeniality himself?”
Without a backward glance, Sean pulled a branch free and tugged it to the bridge.
“So, this what you’ve been up to the last few days?” Clive grasped another branch and followed his friend. He cleared his throat. “I heard about Ginger.”
For a brief moment, Sean halted in the middle of the bridge, but then he yanked the branch free of a snag and tromped off to the brush pile, his back straight and his feet unwavering.
Clive hurried after him. “I’m the one who warned you about her, remember? Always said she had a roving eye”
Grunting, Sean shoved the branch high on the pile. “When it was roving over me, I didn’t mind so much.” He stood back and let Clive heave his branch on the pile. “I should’ve seen it coming. Stupid of me to be so blind.”
Clive’s branch rolled to the ground and both men hefted it back on top. Clive turned and stared his friend in the eye. “You’re a trusting sort of guy. Wasn’t your fault.” He eyed the huge pile and then let his gaze roam the wooded landscape. “You’ve got enough here to keep your woodstove stocked for a century.” He lifted his chin. “You don’t really blame yourself—do you?”
Tromping down the path, Sean intercepted a hound that jumped and wiggled for attention. Bending down, Sean scratched behind the dog’s ears. “Joseph asked me why his mom moved out.” He straightened and glanced back at his friend, his blue eyes appearing grey and clouded.
“I hope you told him the truth—she’s a manipulative shrew without an ounce of human kindness—”
Storm clouds entered Sean’s eyes as he stomped back to his friend, the dog following with its tail lowered. “Seriously? You’d have me tell my seven-year-old boy that his mother is anything less than—”
“He’ll find out someday. Besides, you gotta hate her for what she’s done.”
Exhaling a long breath, Sean pulled off his gloves and ran his fingers through his unkempt, brown hair. “She’s hardly my favorite person at the moment, but I don’t hate her, and more importantly, I don’t hate my son. What’d think it’d do to him to learn the truth—if I ever knew the truth.” His gaze stabbed the air before him. “I can’t trust my own judgment anymore.”
A ringtone blared from Clive’s pocket. Clive dug deep and pulled out his phone, his gaze flickering between his friend and the number scrolling across the screen. He sighed, punched the keypad, and lifted the phone to his ear. “Yeah?”
Sean returned to the dead maple, pulled two more branches forward, and stacked them on the pile.
Clive trotted up to his friend. “Hey, Joe said they’re ready to finish up at the McAllen place this week—he wants you to come along—needs all the help he can get to finish on time.” Clive glanced at his phone. “Can I tell him you’re coming?”
Sean peered up at the sky and rubbed his face. He nodded. “Yeah. I have to live.” He shrugged. “I can do my penance anywhere.”
A quizzical expression wandered over Clive’s face as he returned to his phone. After a moment, he caught up with Sean returning to his grey house on the hill. “You’re kidding about the penance, right? I mean, we both know it was her fault.”
Sean toed an empty dog dish by the back door. “Funny thing about penance, it doesn’t have to be for anyone in particular. Just has to be sincere.”
Clive stood rooted to the ground, his eyes wide. “But you’re an innocent man, Sean.”
Sean snorted and opened the back door. “Not anymore.” He pointed to his truck in the driveway. “I’ll be at work in the morning. Right now I got to feed the dog and take care of the last shred of innocence in my life.”
Clive blinked and glanced at a boy’s face in an upper window, peering at his dad. Clive nodded and turned away.
Sean peeled off his gloves, opened the back door, and stepped inside.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
“The collection creates an evocative set of life scenarios that explore good intentions, real-world situations, and acts of quiet love, desperation, and redemption.” ~Diane Donovan, Editor, California Bookwatch
“When I found out she had a new collection out, this volume, I grabbed it immediately and started reading it that day.” ~Steven