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Short Story Exclusive - Tommy Boy by Kimberly Adkins

Robert Lee carefully balanced the steering wheel at the pinnacle of its arc with his left hand. He took his eyes off the road for a moment to glance at his wife, cradled in his free arm with her head on his shoulder.

God, she was still so beautiful after all these years. He felt a pang of guilt over the premature lines that crossed her face. A tell-tale sign of the hardship their life turned out to be, though when he courted her over a decade and a half ago he had much more to offer.

Everyone did, back then. No one in their closely knit community of farmers could have predicted the drought that devastated their livelihoods or the impossible length of time it would remain.

He ran the fingers of his free hand upward, along the sleeve of Jessica's worn blouse. These days, if she needed clothes she went right down to the fancy new Goodwill store they opened over in the next county.

With six growing boys to feed it was a wonder they could even afford that. Thank god they had all boys. Their hand me downs were hand me downs until there was almost nothing left - and that was only if Tommy hadn't ruined them before they had a chance to pass them on.

Robert had been so proud of his big, strong firstborn son. Back when they could afford to feed him, that is. Their younger five other children knew to eat as much as they could, and as quickly as possible when the family sat down at the table. There were many nights when Robert himself had only a spoonful so his boy Tommy could have more.

Lost in thought and with his eyes half on his wife, he didn't see the deep gash in the dirt road until the car was caught in it. Damn! His front left tire was almost bald and the last thing he needed was a blow out. They weren't far from home but he didn't have a spare. There'd be no way to get the rusty old station wagon back to the farm and if they could afford a tow they could afford a tire. Both options were pie in the sky, at least for now.

"Is everything ok?" Jessica stirred and pulled away to sit up. He was sorry his negligent driving had woken her. They were close to the farmhouse and he was hoping she'd sleep the rest of the way so she wouldn't start to worry again.

"It's fine. The road is full of ruts and this dust makes it hard to spot them all the time." He moved his right hand to the wheel and tried to keep the behemoth of a car steadier. Maybe she would go back to sleep.

"I'm not sure we did the right thing, Rob."

He took his eyes off the road again and gave her a reassuring smile, inwardly displeased to see that she was chewing on her lip again. She never did that unless she was nervous.

"Honey, this was our 15 year anniversary. You were entitled this. It was only for a week and those boys are capable of taking care of themselves for a few days. It's not like we have animals or crops left to tend, so they didn't even have to work while we were gone."

"I know that. But when I think about how much our little trip cost...even if it wasn't much, do you know how many groceries we could have gotten?" Her voice was strained and for good reason. They had been over all of this before and she was aware of his feelings on the matter.

He knew perfectly well what their vacation cost, but that wasn't what ate him up inside. Jessica sacrificed every single day of the year to be his wife, to raise his children and run their household. He wanted to give her everything in the world, but when it came down to it he had almost nothing.

So she wanted to see some waterfall in New York her whole life. She deserved it, even if she didn't know it. The look on her face had been worth more than any amount of money could buy. He was glad they went and refused to feel guilty over it.

Robert could see the farm from the road, now. There weren't any lush, green crops to block his view anymore. Just a flat field of stone and dirt that spawned dust devils when the wind was feeling ambitious.

"At least they didn't burn the house down," he laughed a little with his words, hoping to lighten her mood as they pulled onto the patchy gravel drive that lead up to the old barn.

When the car stopped she remained where she was in the front seat, hands twisting nervously in her lap. He opened the driver's side door and it protested with a loud creak that echoed through the front yard. For a brief moment he wondered where the kids were before this thoughts shifted back to Jessica. It was time to get her inside so she could move on with her routine and relax.

They held hands as they walked up the cracked side walk to the front porch. He couldn't remember the last time they shared the luxury of that kind of casual intimacy before the vacation. The screen door swung open and they were met with silence when they stepped inside. With a house full of boys the last 15 years, it was an anomaly that sent warning shivers down his spine.

He felt Jessica's fingers tighten in his palm and he realized he was pulling her along as they crossed the foyer into the living room. It was dark inside, the curtains had been drawn and the air was stifling. Once his eyes adjusted he saw his children seated on the couch, from the smallest to the second oldest.

He didn't know he was holding his breath until the sigh of relief escaped.

"Where's Tommy?" He asked, walking over to his second child. Jessica broke his grasp and moved into the kitchen. He could hear her opening the cupboard doors with urgency and murmuring under her breath. The magnetic sound of the refrigerator slapped closed and her footsteps left the kitchen at a near run.

"All the groceries are gone, Rob. Every scrap of food we had in the house is gone!" Her voice was filled with shock. They thought there would be a little something left when they got back, though they had imagined it wouldn't be much.

"What happened to all the food?" His question was stern this time, demanding a response from the child.

"Tommy ate it," his second eldest replied simply, his eyes wide as he looked up at his father, pupils dilated in the gloom.

"Where is he?" Rob growled with a rare show of anger.

His son stood then, slowly, while the rest remained seated on the threadbare couch as still as statues. He was nearly as tall as his father and he drew a long breath that filled his chest before he answered.

"We ate Tommy."

 

 

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