Hope’s Crossing, Indiana
Sam Parker navigated his dark blue SUV through the slice of road narrowly cut between the endless acres of mid-July-high corn.
“Are we there yet?” His eight-year-old son, Kevin, repeated the age-old question for the third time in the space of thirty minutes.
“That’s what you said last time.”
Sam understood his impatience, but he felt the opposite. Instead of being relieved they’d reached their destination, tension pulsed between Sam’s shoulder blades. Would coming home be enough to end the rift between him and his father?
Unlikely. Joe Parker had never understood why Sam had chosen a professional baseball career over farming. And he was certain that in the nine years he’d been away, the old man hadn’t mellowed. When his father took a stand, he held it to the bitter end.
The familiar pristine-white church steeple rose above the towering stalks, acting as a beacon over the emerald sea of cornstalks.
Sam eased off the gas when he approached the corner of Glory Lane and Main Street, and he caught a glimpse of the white picket fence that circled the cemetery. Memories thick as cobwebs crowded him. He hesitated a moment, his heart thudding in his chest, then continued into town.
The corn suddenly parted and gave way to a line of square brick buildings. Silver maple trees in full summer uniform tossed shade over his SUV as he cruised down Main Street. Would he receive a hero’s welcome from the town? Doubtful.
Kevin’s blond head bobbed as he bounced on the passenger seat. “Will I see my grandpa soon?”
The bitter taste of regret lodged in Sam’s belly like one too many donuts for breakfast. He forced a smile. “Yes.”
“How far is it to the farm?”
“A couple of miles.”
This was the most animated Sam had seen the boy since he’d come to live with him six months before. Rarely did he get more than a yes or no response, and it was generally followed with silence.
Surprisingly, Kevin had been downright exuberant when Sam told him they were going to Hope’s Crossing to see a grandfather he hadn’t known existed until two days ago.
Sam hadn’t had the heart to tell him the real reason for the trip—that his grandfather had leukemia, needed a bone marrow transplant, and that without it, he would most certainly die.
Kevin had enough on his shoulders after his mother’s abandonment six months ago, and then her death days later. Sam wanted to spare him another loss, but he would have to tell Kevin the truth, and soon.
The marquee of Mumford’s Theater towered above the downtown buildings. The Friday night hotspot for throwing Jujubes and watching G-rated movies with his brother, Ryan, his best friend, Griffin, and Emma.
Sam braked suddenly when he spotted Emma’s ancient, battered Ford truck parked underneath the garish neon-red sign that flashed Beauty Bowl: Food, Bowling and All-Around Family Fun. Luella Lorraine Lavell’s pride and joy—a bowling alley, local eatery, beauty parlor and community center all rolled into one.
He pulled in next to Emma’s truck and memories of sultry summer nights, bare skin glowing in the moonlight, and soft laughter dancing on the summer breeze filled him.
“Why are we stopping?”
He shook off the past. “I thought we’d grab some lunch before we went to the farm.”
“I’m not hungry. I want to see the farm.” Kevin folded his arms over his chest and turned to stare out the window, the animated child replaced with the sullen little boy.
Sam swore under his breath. Every time he made headway with Kevin, he did something to screw it up. Of course, he could hardly blame the kid for his reaction. They both knew Sam was stalling, and facing Emma was preferable to confronting his father. But explaining the rocky relationship he had with his father was beyond his abilities and an eight-year-old’s comprehension.
Sam ruffled Kevin’s hair and he jerked back.
Stung by his son’s rejection, Sam retracted his hand. “We will, but first I want to introduce you to some old friends of mine.”
Sam pushed open his door and stepped out into the sticky midsummer air. His knee gave slightly when he put his full weight on it. The collision at home plate a year ago during the playoffs had not only ended his professional baseball career, but left him with several surgeries and months of physical therapy. The doctor had assured him that his knee would heal eventually. It would never be strong enough to play baseball again, but he should have general use of it. Still, it had been a year, and he was coming to the conclusion this was as good as it got.
He took another step, and when the knee held, he walked to the passenger side and opened the door. Kevin obediently got out and followed Sam into the Beauty Bowl without a word of complaint. His compliancy troubled Sam. Keeping his emotions bottled up inside wasn’t healthy, but every time he’d tried to get Kevin to open up he’d been met with a wall of silence.