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Son of Promise

By Caryl McAdoo

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Chapter One

Travis leaned back in his favorite cane-bottomed porch chair and squinted his eyes against the coming day. All night he’d searched for the right words. But what seemed to work in the dark, paled with dawn’s first light.
“Oh, Lord, don’t let me lose her.”
He slipped from his seat, spread his arms then pressed his forehead against the cold granite of the porch column. “I’ll do anything you ask, Father. Just make her understand.”
No audible answer came, but a peace settled over him, a knowing that the Lord would go before him and prepare her. It soothed his troubled soul. He stood. “Thank you, Father.”
Before he settled back into his chair, the screen door flew open.
“Coffee, honey?” She held out his cup. Steam curled against the dark blue of her dress.
“Thanks.” For the first three sips, he didn’t say a word. She rested her back against the porch post, half-sitting on the rail, and looked toward the rising sun. He figured he better be about it. “Might want to fetch your sewing kit.”
She leaned toward him. “You got a button missing?”
“Yes, uh—no—best do as I ask though. I think you might be needing it.” A grin played on the corner of her lips and mixed with a bit of fire in her eyes, but his nod sent her back in the house.
Too soon she settled in her chair, next to his, and opened the kit in her lap. “Okay, Buster Brown, why do I need my sewing kit?”
He drained his cup then faced her. “I was thinking you might want to roll yourself a cigarette.”
Twice she opened her mouth, but no words came. Then with the other half of the grin he’d seen earlier, but without any fire, she dug out her fixings. “You dog.”
“You know I love you, Emma Lee. Have from the first time I laid eyes on you, even if you were only fourteen . . .”
She nodded then pulled the rice paper across her tongue. “So you’ve said. And?”
“Well, there was the four years I was waiting on you to grow up.”
A serious dread blanketed all her playfulness. “What’s this about, Travis?”
He wiped his mouth. “One night after I’d taken a load of calves to the sale, I stopped in this roadhouse on the way home.”
Eying her unlit smoke, he actually thought about asking for one of his own. But a sick stomach wasn’t worth the calming effect of the nicotine. “Anyway, it was late, and this waitress and I got to talking and—”
“Hold it right there, mister.” She waved her free hand. “If this was before we ever married, then why are you bringing it up now? To torture me? I didn’t even know you then. Don’t worry about it.”
Standing, she fished a match from the bottom of her kit and fired up the cigarette, inhaling deep then letting the smoke out slowly. “I don’t want to hear about some other woman. Don’t say another word.”
Travis jumped to his feet. “Wish I didn’t ever have to say anything about it, but I do.”
“No. You don’t. Not to me, anyway. If you feel the need to get something off your chest, go talk to Nathaniel or someone, but keep me out of it.”
“Sit down, Em. I’ve got to tell you. Before I leave.”
“Leave? Where are you going? How long you plan to be gone? Does this have something to do with that waitress? You going to see her or something?”
“Please, baby love, sit down, would you?” He motioned toward her chair.
She sat. “Okay, fine. Here I sit. Now where do you think you’re going and what do you plan to do once you get there?”
“From that one time, Em, she got pregnant.”
“When I found out, I felt terrible.” He bit his lip then shook his head. “Of course, I offered to marry her, but she already had a husband, a trucker, drove long haul.”
“Oh, Travis.”
“She kept telling me it would be fine. Said he and the baby would never know.”

Once, Emma Lee had been kicked in the stomach by a mule, but this was worse.
Not that Travis having a child was all that bad, but the knowing that all these years that she’d been trying for a baby had to be all her fault. She started chewing her nails.
One night with some roadhouse loosey-goosey was all it took for him to reproduce. She let the thought drift then took another drag. He sure was right about needing a smoke. Nasty habit, but how’d he know she’d started back anyway?
And that the fixings were in her sewing kit?
“Lord, Travis. Where are you going?”
“Austin. The boy can get out today, if I’ll go sign for him.”
“Get out of what?”
“Reform school.”
She studied his face. The pain in his eyes tore at her heart, but the trouble he was aiming to bring on them chilled her more than skinny dipping in the creek on a winter morn.
“So, how old is this boy? And exactly what were you planning on doing with him after you sign? Are you going to be responsible for him or give him back to his mother? She going to be there?”
“Twelve. She’s given up on him, Em. She won’t be anywhere around. I’m thinking to bring him home with me. Bring him here.”
She shook her head and sighed heavy. A twelve-year-old boy—and a trouble maker at that. This was going to change everything. There went her rainy days for sure.
Her eyes brimmed with tears, but she cleared her throat, took another puff, and kept her voice steady. “When you figure to be back with him?”
“Thought we could both go; stop at your folks’ place on the way back.”

Cody purposed not to look at the clock again. No one was coming. He wasn’t getting out of this place until he was eighteen, so why even think about it? Just another rotten day in a long string of rotten egg days.
Man, he needed a smoke.
A drink would be even better, He’d give the last year of his life right now for a bottle of Jack and a pack of Camels. Better make it a carton and a case if he was talking a whole year.
He stole a glance at the clock then chided himself for looking. Four-thirty-two, exactly three minutes since the last time his eyes betrayed him and checked the stupid thing. Man, he hated that place.
And he hated his mother for letting him rot here. But most of all, he hated Mister Travis where-have-you-been-all-my-life Buckmeyer.
If the man even existed; wouldn’t put it past the old hag to have made the story up about the handsome lounge lizard. Probably in some bar right then, laughing her bleached blond head off.
A key turned in the lock then the day room’s metal door swung open. Holding a clipboard, the matron stepped into the room. “Get your bag and come with me.”
Cody resisted the urge to jump up. He grabbed his duffel and strolled out of the room like he’d been leaving reform school every day of the week and twice on Sunday. A thousand questions vied for the asking, but he held his tongue.
Didn’t figure to be staying long with old Bucky anyway. He had plenty of places to go and people to see.
After he followed her through the last locked door, it took everything in him to keep from bolting.
But right then wasn’t the time or place to run. He’d play it straight a day or two, get his bearings, then hitch a ride to Dallas or maybe New Orleans. Or anywhere. He was big for his age—he could pass for fourteen.
No one asked anyway, so long as he agreed to wash dishes or mop floors for two-bits.
“Cody.” The matron nodded toward a couple standing next to the front door. “This is Mister and Miz Buckmeyer. You’re to go with them.” She bore into him with her pale blue eyes. “Mind yourself, boy, and don’t be coming back here.”
With a nod at her, he faced the man his mother said was his father. “You Buckmeyer?”
“That’d be me. Come on, we’re burning daylight.”

Emma Lee would have laughed at Travis quoting her father if the whole thing wasn’t so ridiculous. Yesterday, it was just her and him, and now, she had a half-grown stepson. She could not remember a day like this one, ever.
Then she laughed at herself.
The day, or rather night, she and Travis got married was like it. One minute, she wasn’t even thinking about getting hitched. Next thing she knew, she was Mrs. Travis Buckmeyer.
Things were repeating themselves.
At Travis’s pickup, she opened the passenger door. “You sit in the middle, Cody.”
The boy grinned and raised that cocky little eyebrow exactly like Travis. How’d he know? “Afraid I’ll jump out?”
She let a surprised chuckle loose then gave him an amused smile. “No. I like sitting by the window. Cigarette smoke and your daddy don’t mix.”
Travis didn’t say a word while navigating out of the city. Emma Lee liked the Capital well enough, but she was ready to get gone. Even though she’d told her not to, Mama insisted on waiting supper.
Bet that went over big with her dad. She wondered how her parents were taking the news that Travis had a son. Guess she’d find out soon enough.
After her second cigarette, and still nary a word from father or son, she debated with herself on whether she should break the ice.
But hey, she was only the stepmother. Travis should be the one doing the talking, but he hadn’t said a word since leaving the school. Oh, what a dreadful place. She’d sensed it from the first, and it got worse the longer the stay.
Loads of paperwork to fill out preceded the lovely interview by the warden or whatever the guy called himself. She’d sure enjoy reforming that moron. No one, but especially a kid, should have to live in a place like that.
Bless Cody’s heart. She stole a glance at the boy.
Of one thing, she had no doubt; certainly, Travis couldn’t deny the child. A spitting image of his father, Cody had inherited the same hair color, same nose, and same long, lean body type.
Even the little eyebrow thing. The only real difference was the color of their eyes.
She momentarily wished he was hers. She should be the one giving Travis a son, not some roadhouse floozie.
The thought screeched to a halt. She didn’t know the boy’s mother and shouldn’t call her names—no matter how much she hated her. No, she didn’t hate her, only what she’d done.
Dear God, how could it all ever be right?
On the other side of the truck’s window, Emma Lee’s beloved Hill Country zoomed by while she brooded over this fine mess. ‘If only’ echoed through her being, but as Travis turned off the highway onto the gravel road leading to Cypress Springs, she traced the ‘if’ all the way back to the night she said ‘I do.’
Never in a hundred, never in a thousand, never in a million years would she ever wish that away, no matter what.
The boy would be grown in a handful of years; she could stand anything so long as the Lord was on her side with plenty of mercy and grace—and help. Travis would make a wonderful father.
Of that, she was sure.
He eased to a stop next to her father's Ford sedan then faced the boy. “Emma’s folks invited us for supper. If you’ve learned any manners in these twelve years, Cody, I expect you to use them.”

A half dozen smart-alecky retorts popped to mind, but instead, he heard his own self say, “Yes, sir.”
Fried chicken, cream gravy, the best homemade rolls he’d ever eaten, corn on the cob, fresh snapped green beans, orange jello with peach halves in it, sliced and peeled garden tomatoes, and two kinds of pie got washed down with all the sweet milk he wanted.
Man, if Emma Lee cooked half as good as her mother, why, he might have to stick around a few extra days, put a little traveling meat on his bones.
Though he didn’t much care for the old man eyeing him hard all the time, he would have liked playing with little David some. But it was pretty obvious Mister John Harris didn’t want the likes of Cody’s jailbird-self anywhere near the little prince.
Like he would corrupt the kid or something. Good grief, he needed a break. No, he needed a smoke, that’s what he needed.
Like the man expected, Cody acted on his best behavior, spoke when only spoken to, pleased-and-thank-you’d until his jaw hurt.
Even passed up the opportunity to swipe a nifty pair of spurs when no one was looking; he could have boosted them, no doubt, but where could he have kept them hid?
After a lot of false starts, Travis finally got them in the truck and on the way. Cody liked Emma Lee’s mama real well and even let the old lady hug him. Shook Mister John’s hand, too, not that he respected the old coot.
But the man had said to use his manners.
Once back on the highway, he tried to get a handle on exactly which direction Travis drove, but once it got good and dark, he lost all sense of north or south anyway. In the end, he decided it didn’t really matter so much.
A highway where he could hitch a ride to his new life when he was ready couldn’t be that far away.
He looked forward to that life when he was his own boss, and no one told him what to do or where to go, that he wasn’t old enough to smoke or drink or do any of the things he liked.
No wardens, no school marms, no plastered mothers—no long-lost dads.
Images of his new existence drifted across his inner eye. He slumped a bit in the seat then let his head rest on Emma Lee’s shoulder.
He dozed in and out a while, then Travis turned off the blacktop onto a gravel road. The rocks hitting the truck’s underside jarred him awake, but that was good. This was the part he needed to pay close attention to anyway.
Read how once when pirates kidnapped Caesar, he memorized the number of coves his abductors passed before they reached their hideout. Cody would do the same, except no one would be looking to ransom or help him get away.
No, he’d have to be the one to free himself. But he’d be up for the job; planned to skedaddle as soon as he got good and ready.
Two lefts and a right later, he figured it must be close, then Travis made three more turns so fast Cody couldn’t be sure of the right order even though he repeated them to himself. They lived in the sticks!
Finally, the man turned into a recessed entrance, skidded the truck to a stop, jumped out, and illuminated in the headlights, opened the gate.
“I could’ve got that.”
Emma Lee patted his leg. “Travis is funny about gates, likes to do them himself. Plus, he’s usually saving me from the chore, although I’d be happy to help him, too. He’s a good man, Cody.”
“Yes, sir. And I think he’s a little excited about having you here with us. You know, he came as soon as he found out where you were and that he could come for you. Not even twenty-four hours passed.”
“Hmm. Did you already know about me?”
“No. He told me this morning. Talked to your mother yesterday and went today to get you. Didn’t let any grass grow before he had you with him.”
“She ain’t no mother. Never was.”
The man jumped in, eased through, then jumped right back out.
His new stepmom patted his leg again. “Well, this is your new home. Hope you like it.”
A part of him wanted to believe. He’d never had a real home. The shack his old lady lived in sure didn’t qualify and he doubted this place ever would either.
The pickup bumped and wound its way along a dirt trail, dodged a few cows, then after what had to be more than a couple of miles, its headlamps illuminated a monster of a house.
Looked like one of the rich folks’ mansions. Travis pulled around back then parked the truck under a carport next to a sporty-looking coupe. They must be rich. For a moment, Cody sat there. She said his dad wanted him there.
Steadying his bottom lip real quick, he pretended he got something in his eye then hopped out of the truck. Sure didn’t want them to see any tears and think he was some kind of sissy. He hurried to the back and retrieved his duffel bag that carried all his worldly belongings.
Could it be possible he’d fit here? He never fit anywhere before.
No. Couldn’t back down. He’d be leaving and on his own in no time. Hadn’t had a dad for almost thirteen years, and he sure didn’t need one now. He didn’t like boonies and he didn’t like cows. But that was one shiny little red coupe. Maybe, if he could get his hands on a key . . .

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