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Thursday, December 24, 2015


Here is the final part to the story. 

Tuffer awoke to the smell of pancakes and coffee. He threw on a robe and dashed down the stairs. His mother was singing along to the radio while she whipped up hot cakes.
After pleasant greetings, the young man sat down to devour two stacks, a mug of coffee, and one of hot chocolate.
 A knock startled him. Who was at their door at nine on the day after Christmas? He peered around the corner of the arch to the kitchen. Lexie stood outside.
He turned the latch. “Hi. What are you doing here?”
“Can I come in? It’s freezing out here.”
“Sure, sure. I’m sorry. Come in. Have some hot chocolate.” He silently blessed his parents for remaining in the kitchen.
“You left your sweater at the house. It’s cold. You might need it.”
“Thank you. You came all this way just to bring me the sweater?”
“No. I came to return this.” She thrust the box with the bracelet into his hand. Her eyes filled, but she blinked back the tears.
“Keep it. I bought it for you. I want you to have it.”
“I can’t keep an expensive gift from a guy who doesn’t want to be with me.”
“It’s not you. I don’t fit in.”
“I don’t care if you’re like my father and Jo. Do you like being with me?”
He stepped closer, snaking his arm around her waist and pulling her to him. “I love being with you,” he whispered. Then, he put the package back in her palm. “Please keep this. I want you to have it.” He plaited his fingers through her dark blonde hair.
She rested her cheek on his chest. “I like being with you too. I have to get back. Dad’s making his world famous chocolate chip pancakes .”
“You’re going to keep the bracelet, aren’t you?”
“Are we going to keep seeing each other?”
“I hope so. I was an asshole. I’m sorry.”
“Then, yes.”
He leaned down to kiss her then pointed straight up. “Mistletoe.”
She giggled, zipped up her coat, and was gone.
Later that afternoon, Ralph bundled his wife into their new car. Tuffer stood at the edge of the driveway and waved. His heart weighed heavy to see them leave. He counted them among his many blessings.

* * * *

Sunday’s game was in Nebraska. They were playing the Huskers. Before game time, Tuff spotted Rusty Fowler take his seat. The man stared at him, making looking away neigh unto impossible. They made eye contact. Rusty smiled, nodded, and raised his hand in greeting.
Tuffer nodded back. His mother had reminded him that it was Christmas and forgiveness was in the air. Relieved of his curiosity about his real dad, Tuffer had calmed down. He had agreed with Bev that Rusty had lost something he could never regain—Tuffer’s childhood.
His mother’s words had dissolved the hatred that had burned in him. Rusty had missed out on a lifetime with his son, but Tuffer had had a dad who was there, night after night, day after day, who cared for him and loved him.

So, why not acknowledge Rusty Fowler? What harm would it do to speak to him? “Best to let go of the anger and feel sorry for the man,” Tuff’s mom had said.
With peace in his heart, the linebacker trotted out to the line of scrimmage to play the game he loved, with a nod toward the man who had, perhaps, given him the skill to be a star.


Merry Christmas, may you all receive your Christmas wish this year, and every year. Thank you for reading my story. Please leave a comment as I love feedback 




The car cooled, waking the young footballer. The red sunset alerted him to the time. He was scheduled to be at Lexie’s house at five, and it was four thirty. He turned on the engine, blasted the heat, and pulled onto the road.
How am I going to eat dinner and sing carols with Coach’s family when my guts have been kicked out? His adoptive parents were arriving at nine o’clock. Tuffer had to pull himself together.
He left the vehicle by the curb and made his way up the wide, flagstone path to Coach Sebastian’s huge, seaside home. Lights blazed inside. He spied the family through the large, square picture window. Lexie was setting the table, Lyssa was playing piano, and Jo was stretched out on the sofa. They looked happy, normal.
Shame at his beginnings filled his gut. A bastard son. He hesitated to join the festive group. He wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a month. Instead, he took a big, shuddering breath, stepped up, and rang the bell. The door popped open to a rush of warm air and Lexie’s smiling face. Delicate features, golden hair, perfect body.
“Come in, come in, it’s cold out there,” she said, tugging on his arm.
He entered the house.
“What’s that?” she asked, her gaze dropping to a small shopping bag clutched tightly in his big hand.
“The small box is for you. The bottle of wine for your mom. Merry Christmas.” He thrust it at her.
“Come in, Demson,” Coach called from across the room. “How about trying this hot, mulled wine I made. It’ll warm you up.” Pete handed the glass mug to Tuffer.
Nothing could warm me up inside.  Tuffer took a sip. “It’s good.”
“See. I can do some stuff, like cooking.”
“Mulled wine is far from cooking a gourmet meal, daddy,” Lexie said. “Come on, let’s do our presents.” She led the linebacker into the living room. There was a gigantic tree in the corner. Lexie rummaged through a few wrapped packages and plucked out one in red and green paper. “This is for you. You open first.”
Embarrassment rose through his chest to his neck. All eyes were on him as he slowly ripped open the wrapping and lifted off the cover. Inside was a soft, green, wool sweater. He fingered the material.
“The color brings out the green in your eyes,” she whispered.
“It’s beautiful.” Tuffer circled her waist and drew her to him for a kiss, forgetting his coach was watching.
“That’s enough, Demson.”
“Your turn,” the linebacker said, releasing his girl
“Okay.” She sat down, cross-legged, and tore the paper off the small box he’d handed her. She gasped as she opened it to reveal a gold bracelet with a few charms dangling. A football, a helmet, and a little man in a football uniform swung from the thick chain. It had set him back him fifteen hundred bucks. “Is this real gold?”
“Yep. Eighteen carat.”
“That must have cost a fortune.”
“Nothing’s too good for you,” he said quietly, stealing a kiss.
Lexie touched his arm. “Will you put it on for me?”
After he secured it, he threaded his fingers through her hair and kissed her again.
“Let’s eat,” she said, offering him her hand.
The dining room sideboard groaned with a sumptuous spread. There was cold shrimp with cocktail sauce, boiled lobsters, homemade biscuits, salad, and cups of steaming New England clam chowder.
Tuffer hadn’t eaten a lobster before. His family had never had money for such extravagance. He had no idea how to approach the red beast. “Uh, Lex, I’ve never had lobster before.”
She patted his hand. “Don’t worry. It’s easy.”
They filled their plates from the buffet and sat down at the table. Dinner was one scrumptious dish after another. They finished up with a German chocolate cake and homemade Christmas cookies. He was stuffed.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Lexie suggested.
They bundled up, and she led him to the sea, not far from her house. They joined hands and strolled through the sand, listening to the waves.
He couldn’t get the meeting with Rusty out of his mind. Tuffer had never thought of himself as a bastard before.
“Are you okay? You’ve been so quiet,” she asked, raising her voice to be heard above the tide.
“Weird day.”
“How so?”
“You have such a nice life. So normal. Mine isn’t like that. It’s messy.”
“Mine’s messier than you know.”
“Sure, sure.”
“No, really.”
“You eat lobster. This was my first time. You live in a mansion. I grew up in a small house. Your parents are big, important people. Mine run a nursery school. I’m not sophisticated like you are Lexie. I don’t belong here.”
They headed back to Coach’s place.
“That doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me. I’m an idiot around you and your family. I don’t belong.” He glanced at his watch. “My parents are arriving in half an hour. I need to go.”
Once inside, Tuffer thanked the coach, his wife, and Lyssa. Lexie walked him to his car.
“You need to find someone from your class. I’ll never fit in. You’ll get tired of being with a guy who doesn’t know how to eat a lobster or which fork to use. You’re sweet. I like you. But I’m not in your league.”
“Tuffer Demson! You have some nerve dumping me on Christmas Eve!” Her eyes flashed then teared up.
He put an arm around her. “I’m not dumping you. You can do better than me, that’s all.”
“Go to hell!” She shoved him off and flounced into the house, slamming the door. He buckled his seatbelt and turned the car toward home.
I don’t belong with those people. I’m just the bastard son of a pro football has-been. I need to stick to my own.

  • ****

His depression deepened as he drove by house after house, lit up in jewel tones of red, green, and blue. Some places had flashing lights, some had steady. The little town of Monroe put on a beautiful show at the holidays. Snowmen in front yards wore warm, winter scarves, and silver and blue Christmas trees were visible in living rooms on street after street.
He’d expected the decorations and music on the radio to cheer him up, but it didn’t. He’d finally gotten his wish, the one he’d had year after year. And how did it turn out? Badly.
He climbed the stairs to his place about a mile from downtown. Once inside, he tidied up. The work made him feel a little better. He couldn’t wait for his folks to arrive. He missed them. They were proud of his achievements and came to all the home games they could. They lived outside of Kingston, New York, it was a bit of a trip.

The buzzer sounded. Bev threw herself in his arms, hugging him. Ralph shook his son’s hand then embraced him. Tuffer lugged in the ham his mom had cooked at home, the side dishes she always prepared, and a tin of her homemade cookies. Packages were placed under his small tree.
They were full of news of friends back home and amusing stories. Tuffer kicked back with a beer and munched on cookies while he listened. He shared his football war stories from away games and his tussle with his first lobster.
“Never had a lobster. Was it worth it?” his dad asked, opening a brew.
“It was okay,” Tuffer lied. Actually, he’d loved it. “You’re not missing anything.” No way could Ralph Demson afford the fancy dish.
The room filled with laughter and warmth as they heated up the meal his mother had prepared and wolfed down the delicious food. They retired early. The linebacker too. It had been an exhausting day.
Christmas morning, Bev whipped up a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and leftover ham before they opened gifts.
“What’s the matter?” she asked Tuffer.
He tried to slough it off, but she persisted. “You can’t fool me. Something’s wrong. Come on, you know you can tell me anything.”
Ralph joined them, fastening his robe over flannel pajamas. “She’s right, Tuff. You know you can’t keep anything from your mother. She’ll worm it out of you one way or another.” He chuckled.
The young man cast a worried glance at his father. “I finally got my Christmas wish.”
“A new bike?” his dad joked.
But Bev got it right away. She gasped. “Really? You met him?”
Tuffer nodded.
“Who? What’s going on? What’s this about a Christmas wish?” Ralph glared at his wife.
She sighed. “When he was little, he wrote to Santa, asking to meet his birth parents. After he met Shayna, there was only one wish left. To meet his biological father. We didn’t tell you, because we didn’t want to upset you.”
“Your real father?” Ralph sank down on a chair in the kitchen. Bev poured a mug of coffee and placed it in front of him.
“Rusty Fowler. He came to the diner yesterday while I was having breakfast with Shayna. Did you know who he was?” Tuffer asked.
“No, Shayna wouldn’t say.”
Tuffer watched the color drain from his father’s face.
“So, what’s the word?” Ralph asked, his hand shaking slightly as he picked up his beverage.
“I’m the bastard son of a washed-up pro football player.”
There was silence in the room.
“He gave me reasons, excuses, as to why he never got in touch. I’d actually seen him at a few college games. We called him ‘The Stalker.’ The team thought he was stalking the quarterback. I had no idea.”
“Did he tell you why he disappeared?”
“Some lame excuse about avoiding an expensive, public divorce.”
His parents winced.
“I suppose he wants to be in your life now. Pick up where he left off, or should have left off. The rotten son-of-a-bitch!” Ralph rose from his seat, color returning to his face. “Where was he when you needed him? He had plenty of dough. He could have helped out. Taken you fishing or thrown a ball with you. So, he’s gonna use his pro football days to steal my son?” Ralph paced, his voice rising, tears clouding his eyes.
Tuffer jumped up and corralled his dad. He grabbed the older man’s upper arms and forced him to stand still. “That’s not gonna happen! You’re my real dad. Not him.”
“You’re not gonna hang with him?”
Tuffer shook his head. “I told him we have nothing to talk about.”
Ralph hugged his boy.
“You’ve been a great dad,” Tuffer said.
Bev dabbed her eyes with a napkin.
“I need a drink.” Ralph headed for the liquor cabinet. He poured brandy for all three and settled on the sofa.
“What happened?” Bev asked.
Tuffer took them through his encounter with Rusty Fowler. They finished their drinks, added wood and stoked the fire, and then opened presents. Tuffer got another sweater, handmade by Bev, a scarf, and gloves. Presents were modest because his parents simply didn’t have much money.
He didn’t care. He didn’t need much, and now, as an NFL player, he had the money to buy whatever he wanted.
“I know you didn’t have much time to shop, with practice and traveling…” his mother said.
Tuffer held up his hand. “Wait!” He handed a small box to his mother. “This is for both of you.” He grinned to see the disappointed looks on their faces.
Bev unwrapped the package.
“New house keys? Our house keys work fine, son,” Ralph said.
“No, no. Com’ere.” Tuffer ushered them to the door. He opened it and pointed. “See?”
“Yeah. A car. So?”
“These are the keys. That’s your new car.”
“Our car? No, the blue one is ours,” Bev said, her face a mask of confusion.
“Mom, Dad, I bought the Rav 4 for you. It’s my Christmas present to you.”
Jaws dropped as the truth sunk in.
“You did what?” Ralph’s eyebrows jerked up.
“You can’t drive that old wreck. It isn’t safe. This is your new set of wheels. Come on. Let’s take a drive. Wait until you see all the stuff it has.”
“You bought us an automobile? That’s so expensive.”
“Don’t worry about the money, Mom. Piece of cake. I even got the heated seats.” Tuffer grabbed his coat and turned on the outside light.
“I love the silver, Tuff. Great choice,” Bev said, sliding into the front passenger side while her son held the door.

They marveled at every little thing, oohing and aahing as if the vehicle was a new baby. Ralph put it in gear. They drove around the block. Tuffer’s heart swelled. This was the first time he’d had the means to give them a huge gift. They badly needed a new one, and now, they had it. Both parents hugged him hard.
Bev put up a pot of coffee. They dug into her cookies again. Tuffer loved the gingerbread, molasses cookies, and chocolate pixies best. The linebacker retired early. He pulled up his comforter and smiled at the memory of his dad behind the wheel. His thoughts turned to Rusty Fowler, a man who had sacrificed nothing for his blood child. Tuffer frowned. The man had looked so pathetic, with a hangdog expression. Hatred toward the cold, selfish man who had given him life still flowed through the young man’s veins.
He thought about how Rusty had missed his chance, year after year. Tuffer was twenty-three. Rusty had had twenty-three Christmases to contact the boy. But he hadn’t. Meeting face-to-face had opened the old wound. Pain flowed through him again. Now, the old man was interested in basking in his son’s limelight as a football pro.

And then, there was Lexie…

To be continued, tomorrow, Dec. 25....

        Click for PART ONE
Click for PART TWO

Wednesday, December 23, 2015



Tuffer’s heart beat so fast, he thought he was having a heart attack. “Him?”
“Yep. He wanted to see you. I said ‘okay.’ You don’t have to go out there, if you don’t want to. That was the deal I made with him.”
“You’ve kept in touch all these years?”
She shook her head. “With that rat? Nope. But I figured you had some questions needed answers. He was easy enough to find. He’s coaching at a high school in Lincoln.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“Dunno. Can’t imagine what lie he came up with for his wife.”
“His wife?”
“He was married when I got pregnant. Hey, I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.”
“That’s why he didn’t come forward?”
Shayna nodded. “And wanted me to get rid of you. Figured Lurlene wouldn’t understand how you got here. He was probably right. Expensive, public divorce. Last thing he wanted. And he sure as hell didn’t want to marry me.”
“You didn’t do it,” he muttered, more to himself than her.
“Get rid of you? Hell, no! You’re my kid. I took the money from him and skipped out. Went home to my folks.”
Tuffer barely heard her. This part of the story he already knew. His head wanted to run outside, but his feet seemed glued to the floor.
“Don’t be afraid, Tuffer. He can’t hurt you now. You’re a grown man.”
“Why did he want to see me?”
She shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him. I hope you’re not mad.”
“Thank you. For bringing him here.” Tuffer leaned over to kiss her cheek then pushed out of the booth and headed for the door.
The man shifted his weight as Tuffer approached. What do you say to a guy you’ve never met who’s supposed to be your father? The stranger extended his hand.
Looking at his face was like looking in the mirror for Tuffer. The shape of the jaw, the length of the nose, and those hazel eyes. The man’s hair was darker—“dirty blond,” they called it, dusted with a little gray. But he was about Tuffer’s height, maybe an inch shorter.
“Hey, Tuffer. I’m Rusty Fowler. Your dad.”
The footballer accepted the shake. The silence grew awkward.
“Nice to meet you. Finally,” Tuff spat out, to fill the heavy air.
“I know, it’s about time.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” the linebacker said, narrowing his eyes at the older man.
Rusty raised his palm. “Look. Before you deck me, let me explain.”
Tuffer rested back on his heels for a moment.
“Can we take a walk? Do you have time?”
“I can give you an hour.”
“That’s all I need.”
The men headed for the snowy woods behind the diner. Someone had tamped down a path of hard snow that crunched under their feet.
“I’ve watched you play. You’re a fine defenseman,” Rusty said.
“It was you! I wondered where I’d seen you before. You’re the guy. The stalker. Who showed up at the games in college. Aren’t you?”
“I didn’t make them all. Just a few. Mostly away games near Nebraska. It was hard to sneak away.”
“Lying to your wife?”
“You know I’m married?” Rusty’s face reddened.
“Shayna told me.”
“Shayna? That’s what you call her?”
“I have a mom and dad. Bev and Ralph Demson.”
“Oh, yeah. She told me about that.”
“You’ve been in touch with her this whole time?”
“No, no. Only in the last month or so. She looked me up. We’ve met a couple of times.”
“Then, how did you know about me?”
“I was a pro too. I’ve kept up with college football. Hell, when a player who looked just like me was breaking records as a defenseman, well, you’d have to be pretty stupid not to know you were my kid.”
“I’m not your kid. Let’s get that straight. Ralph Demson is my father. You’re a complete stranger.”
The man’s brow wrinkled. “True, true. I’m sorry.”
The wind picked up. Tuffer popped up the collar of his coat. Jamming his hands in his pockets kept his fingers warm. Anger burst forth inside him, warming his chest.
He faced Rusty. “Why did you do it? Why did you leave Shayna? Let her fend for herself? Why didn’t you help her? Or me? You must have been making a bundle. Shayna’s been scraping by for years. Do you know what she’s had to do to get along? Didn’t you feel anything for her…or me?”
“Sure I did. But I was in a tough position. Being married. And I know Lurlene would never have liked the idea of me having a bastard son, or Shayna, or any of it.”
“Messy, expensive divorce?” Tuffer raised his voice.
Rusty blushed. “I’m ashamed to admit it. Yes.”
Tuffer pushed ahead, ducking under some branches, shoving others away.
“Wait! Wait. Please, let me explain.”
“There’s nothing to say. You deserted us. Abandoned us. Then forced my mother, Shayna, to abandon me and live like a whore.”
“I was wrong. I was selfish. I admit it. I had no idea what I was giving up.”
“Now, you’d like to have a son who plays pro ball for the Kings?”
Rusty nodded.
Anger rose, heating Tuff’s neck all the way to his ears. “Honestly, I could kill you right here with my bare hands.”
The older man stepped back, and fear flashed in his eyes for a moment.
“You truly are a piece of shit. What makes you think I want anything to do with you?”
“I guess you don’t.”
“Got that right.” Tuffer turned around, heading back to the parking lot. “If that’s what you came all this way for, you’ve wasted your time.”
“Son, please. We have so much in common—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“We do. We look alike. Pro ball. I can help you. Please, let me.”
“And what will you tell your wife? Who will I be? A cousin? A nephew?” Tuffer spat on the ground at Rusty’s feet. “Go fuck yourself.”
“I’ll tell her the truth. She’ll never leave me now.”
“I don’t need your help. I have a great father. He threw a ball with me when I was a kid, taught me to ride a bike, went to bat for me with school. He helped me pick colleges and drove me around the country to interviews. He didn’t have much, but found a way to send me to football camp every summer. He made a ton of sacrifices for me. He gave me a life.”
“But he can’t help you anymore. I can. I have contacts.”
“I don’t give a shit about your contacts. I don’t need your help. I’m doing just fine on my own. And my dad…well, you don’t get it. He’s there for me, sick or well, rich or poor. He’s my father.”
Rusty thrust a business card in Tuffer’s palm. “Here. In case you change your mind.”
“I won’t. You can’t make up for everything. You wanted to have me aborted. You paid Shayna to do it.”
“I know,” Rusty said, hanging his head, avoiding Tuffer’s glare. “I’m ashamed. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was stupid. Scared. I’m so sorry.”
“I’m done here.” Tuffer increased his pace, unlocked his car, and jumped in. He checked his watch. Lexie Sebastian, his coach’s daughter, was expecting him to join them for an early Christmas Eve supper. He put his head down on the steering wheel and closed his eyes.
A tap on his window startled him. Rusty was standing outside.
Tuffer opened it. “What the hell do you want?”
“Can we shake?” The older man offered his hand.
“What for?”
“Closure?” As Tuffer was about to press the button to close the window again, his biological father put his fingers over the glass. “Wait. One more thing.”
The defenseman expelled a breath. “Go ahead.”
“I got mine.”
“How’s that?”
“Lurlene and I had a son, but he was stillborn. She couldn’t have more children after that.”
“Karma,” Tuffer said.
“I always wondered if my wife would have welcomed you, then.”
“You would have taken me away from the Demsons?”
“You were my biological child. I had rights.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know where you were. Shayna changed her name, disappeared.”
“Maybe she knew you’d try to pull a stunt like that.”
“It was my right.”
“You gave up any rights when you walked away.”
“Have you been happy?”
Tuffer nodded.
“That’s all that counts, then.”
“Please, don’t come back. I have a good life. I don’t need you to mess it up.”
“Mind if I come to a game or two?” Rusty asked.
“I can’t stop you. Just don’t bother me, or my dad.”
Rusty nodded, but there was pain on his face.

Tuffer rolled up the window. Emotion choked him. He drove up the mountain and sat in his car, thinking. He closed his eyes and dozed.

To be continued tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 24....

Click HERE to go back to Part One.
Click HERE to go on to Part Three

Monday, December 21, 2015


Welcome! We're doing something different this week -- a Christmas story. I have written a brand new, complete short story, which will be posted in four parts, one on each day. The first part is here today. I hope you will return for the next three days to read the rest of the story. Tuffer Demson is a supporting character in my football romance series. This isn't a romance, it's fiction. 


Part One 

It all started when Tuffer Demson, defensive linebacker for the Connecticut Kings, met his biological mother on Christmas Eve. They broke bread once a year, during the holidays. Tuffer met her at the diner at ten for breakfast. He called her by her given name, since he didn’t remember her ever being his mom. He had someone else he had called that for the past twenty-three years, and he liked it that way.
“Hi, Shayna,” he said, easing his six-foot-three-inch, linebacker body into the booth.
“Hi, yourself,” the blonde said. She eyed him up and down. “You’re looking good. Kings must be agreeing with you.”
“Yep.” These meetings were at her insistence. He could’ve cared less if he never saw her again. But his folks had taught him respect. Besides, it was only once a year.
“What’ll ya have?” the server asked.
Shayna always ordered a huge amount of food—the most expensive dishes too. A side of bacon and sausage with eggs Benedict. A large, fresh-squeezed orange juice. Maybe a sweet bun. She knew Tuffer’d pick up the check, and he always did. She didn’t make much as a waitress, and no one gets residuals on porno flicks, so he understood her need for a splurge—even if it was at her son’s expense.
In the beginning, he’d met with her hoping to find out who his father was. But Shayna had vowed never to reveal the man’s name.
“Think you’re going to the Super Bowl?” She added cream to her coffee.
“We’ve got a good shot.”
“You get a nice, fat bonus for winning, don’t you?”
He nodded and sipped his juice.
“A hundred grand?”
“Not quite that much.”
“Buy yourself a fancy car with that kind of money.”
“I don’t need a fancy car. My SUV is fine.”
“Sometimes, it’s hard to believe you’re my kid,” she said with a chuckle, shaking her head.
“My real mother and father don’t give a shit about stuff.”
Her eyes widened as if she’d been hit. “Got that right. They’re better ’an me. I know. That’s why I left you with them. I knew it’d be better for you.”
“Dumped me with them, you mean.”
“We’ve been over this a hundred times. Do we have to go over it again?”
The server brought their food. There was hardly enough room on the table for all that Shayna had ordered.
“Just be honest. You dumped me because it was good for you, not for me, ” said Tuffer.
“I coulda left you at the police station. I picked a nice couple. Ran a preschool. Good with kids. You liked them. They liked you. Seemed like a good bet.”
“Good bet for who?”
“I was twenty. I wasn’t ready to be a mom.”
“And Bev Demson was?”
“Yeah. She told me about the car accident. That she couldn’t have kids. She was jealous I had you.”
“Mom has never been jealous of anyone a day in her life.”
“Yeah? Well, she was jealous of me. She wanted you.” Shayna cut a piece of the Benedict with her fork and put it in her mouth.
Tuffer pushed around the scrambled eggs on his plate. He hated going over this again, but he refused to let her weasel out of the truth.
“They used the lawsuit money to start the school. But she wanted one of her own. And you were it. It was perfect.”
“Perfect for everyone except me.”
“Haven’t you been happy? Bev and Ralph are great parents. A shitload better than I could’ve been.” She picked up a piece of bacon.
He couldn’t deny her words. If he couldn’t have his biological parents, Bev and Ralph Demson were the next best thing. They’d given him everything, made sacrifices, never complained, and treated him like a prince. 
 “What about my father? Why didn’t he take me?”
“I told you. We’re not talking about him.”
Tuffer banged his fist on the table. The dishes jumped, and the coffee sloshed over the sides of the mugs. Fear flashed across Shayna’s face.
“Don’t worry. I’m not gonna hit you. I don’t hit women.”
“Scared the fuckin’ crap outta me.”
“Nice talk.”
“You do it.”
“I’m a guy.”
That made him laugh. Sometimes, his mother said or did something that struck him as funny. He figured it must be their biological connection. He had her blond hair, but hazel eyes. She had blue. It made the young man crazy that Shayna never spoke about Tuffer’s real father.
Every year at Christmas, Tuffer had wished to meet him. But it had never happened, so by college, he had given up.
“How are Bev and Ralph?” Shayna asked.
“Spending Christmas with them?”
“They’re coming tonight.”
“Nice. You got a tree?”
“My girlfriend helped decorate it.”
“Girlfriend? You’re getting laid. That’s good. Big guy like you.”
“Shut up, Shayna.”
“Sorry, sorry. Yeah, moms don’t talk like that.”
“How would you know?”
“When are you going to stop torturing me for a mistake I made twenty years ago?”
He cast his glance down to his plate, where he scooped up a forkful of eggs.
“I’m sorry, Tuffer. I don’t know how many times I have to say it for you to believe me. I’m sorry I left you. But it would have been terrible for you to come with me. I’m glad I didn’t have an abortion, like your father wanted. Look at what a great guy you are. Successful. Nice. With a girlfriend. I’m proud of you.” Tears clouded her eyes.
His heart softened. She had given him life, and she had left him with two people who were the best parents in the world. He had to give her credit for that.
He took her hand. “Don’t cry. You did the best you could. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
“Fine with me.” She slipped her fingers from his to wipe her eyes.
The waitress refilled their coffee mugs. Shayna finished her food in silence.
Tuffer pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket. “Here. Merry Christmas,” he said. Inside was a check for a thousand dollars. Once he’d signed with the Kings, he’d had money to burn.
Her eyes lit up. She ripped it open and smiled. “Thanks, hon. Very generous of you. I can use it. Rent’s overdue.”
He polished off the last bite and called for the check.
“I’ve got something for you this year.”
“Yeah? What?”
She glanced out the window then faced him. While waiting for her answer, he paid for their meal.
“It’s outside,” Shayna announced.
“My present?”
“Where?” He looked out and didn’t see anything except a couple of cars in the parking lot and a man standing next to a silver Mercedes.
She pointed to him. “That guy.”
“What about him?”

“He’s your father. Rusty Fowler. He played for the Nebraska Huskers.”

To be continued tomorrow (Wednesday, 12/23)...
Click HERE to go to Part 2