“Coming!” Emma called out, heading down the hallway to the front door. Only the screen door was closed in order to let in whatever breeze there was outside. It was a hot summer day in New Orleans. The AC was turned off since it was still early in the day. Her budget couldn’t handle running the AC all day and night.
Working as a vet tech didn’t pay a lot but it was enough as long as she watched all the expenses closely and didn’t go over her budgeted amounts. She had no savings to speak of but thankfully their lives had been uneventful.
Her feet slowed as she noticed how big the man at her front door was. He was facing away from her. The t-shirt he wore barely could contain his upper body, stretching tight across his shoulders. His broad back narrowed to a trim waist and a nice ass encased in jeans.
She whistled for Bruno, her pit bull. The man turned when she did that. She inhaled sharply. No, she thought frantically. It couldn’t be. She stopped a few feet away from the door. Her entire attention was on him so she didn’t hear her guard dog start to growl. He didn’t look away from her either.
His eyes glittered with an emotion she couldn’t read. “Oh God,” she whispered as tears sprung to her eyes. It was him. “Chris.”
“Emma,” he said softly.
“You can’t be here,” she said swallowing her tears. “Please Chris, they are watching.”
“Who Emma? Who’s watching you?” he implored her.
“Your boosters,” she answered fearfully. “They said if we ever saw you again, they would hurt – him.”
A dark haired, blue-eyed child came running up behind Emma. He came to stand next to her. Looking from his mom to the man outside, he sensed a terrible unease between them. It didn’t help that Bruno wasn’t happy either.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” he said in a loud whisper. “Who is that? Bruno doesn’t like him.” He grabbed her leg and laid his cheek against it.
Emma took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her self. She had to be strong for her son’s sake. She crouched down to his level and wrapped an arm around him.
“Christopher,” she began pushing back a lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead. “This is Chris Carrington.”
The child broke into a huge grin. “The quarterback!” he cheered. “You’re the quarterback.”
Chris went down on one knee and returned the kid’s smile. “Yep, that’s me,” he said just as jauntily. “How do you know me little man?”
“We always watch you play. On the TV.”
“Yup! Right mommy?”
“Yes Christopher. He’s a football player. And he’s … your daddy.”
Chris’ head snapped up to look at Emma. He looked stunned. She took another deep breath and tried to keep her face impassive. Her heart beat furiously in her chest. But she had to remain calm, for her son’s sake, for her son’s life.
“My daddy?” the little boy repeated looking up at her. “Mommy can he come in?”
“Yes Emma, can I come in?” Chris asked standing up. She stood as well.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea Chris,” she said cautiously. “They’re watching. And I can’t put Christopher in danger. Please leave. Before they hurt us.”
“Emma nobody is going to hurt you or my – son while I’m here,” he told her his voice low and hard. “I don’t care if they are watching. This ends now. Your running stops now. I’m not going to lose you both again.”
“Chris you’re too valuable –”
“Not as valuable as you and Christopher are to me. Emma let me in.”
She stared at him scared, wanting desperately to be back in his arms but knowing that they could hurt their son. “Chris –”
“Let me in Emma. You have to trust me sweetheart. I can take care of you both. Can you believe me?”
“Chris, they hurt me …” she rasped. “I can’t let them hurt our son like that.”
“They won’t Emma. I promise you.”
He looked so strong and resolute, like he could take on the world to protect them. It would be so wonderful to not be alone anymore, to have someone share the burden of keeping Christopher safe.
She started to cry.
“Chris,” she sniffled. “Please … I’m sorry. I was so scared.”
“I know baby. I saw what they did to you. I won’t ever let that happen to you again. I won’t let it happen to Christopher.”
She shushed the dog and bent down to pick up their son. Walking to the door she put her hand on it. Her eyes scrutinized him once more trying to make sure this was the right decision. All she could do was trust him and pray like hell that she was doing the right thing by her son, their son. Finally she opened the door and let him in.
When he embraced the two of them, she lost control over her emotions. Burying her face in his chest, she wept with all the fear she had lived with these last four years but had kept hidden from their son.
“Mommy why you cry?” Christopher asked tears springing to his eyes. “Mommy!”
“It’s ok son,” Chris reassured the child. “Mommy’s ok.”
“But she’s crying.”
“I’m ok baby boy,” Emma finally said looking at him. She gave him a watery smile. “Mommy’s so happy that your daddy is here. I missed him a lot.”
“I missed you too baby girl,” Chris rasped swallowing his own tears. He kissed her on the top of her head. Laying his cheek there, he told her, “I’m never letting go of you again.”
“Daddy can I go back to eat breakfast? I’m still hungry,” Christopher said after a long moment of raw silence.
The adults broke into gentle laughter. “Ok Christopher,” Emma said, her tears retreating. “Let’s go finish breakfast.”