Parking in the rural lot, Josh breathed in the clear, country air as he wandered over to the huge, fenced playground. He paused to watch his son and a group of his friends race their tricycles over the hard-packed trails that wove around the old oak trees dotting the quarter-acre space. Their squeals of laughter eased the pressure squeezing his chest. He sure hoped they’d find a place like this for Chad in California.
Situated on several acres of land, the daycare and pre-school were housed in several different converted homes so kids had age-appropriate experiences in a non-institutional setting. The center also had five separate large play areas plus an organic garden section. The owners had left one portion of the property in its natural state and offered outdoor adventure activities to the kids. Chad had thrived here and Josh knew his son would miss this place.
Josh waved to one of the attendants and opened the gate. He walked to where he would be in his son’s sight-line as he barreled down the path. Chad came to a screeching halt and vaulted off his bike into Josh’s arms. Burying his face in his son’s hair and inhaling the pleasant scent of little boy sweat and dirt, Josh hugged his boy tight. If the decision hadn’t already been made, this would have cemented it. He would move to California no matter the personal cost.
Standing, Josh cradled Chad on his hip. Chad leaned back, laughing, and Josh had to work to keep his balance. Chad was almost too big to be carried this way. Sadness punched Josh in the gut. He’d hoped to have another child by this time, and maybe another a few years down the road. He righted his son’s Stetson that had slipped to his back as he wriggled. The hat was a gift from his uncles, who the young boy idolized. One more reason to envy his brothers—they represented adventure and excitement and the kinds of jobs every boy dreamed about having when they grew up. The exact opposite of Josh.
“You ready to go?” Josh set the boy back on the ground. “I thought we’d have pizza. There’s someone I would like you to meet.”
“Pizza.” Chad hopped and clapped his hands. “At the place with the games?”
“Of course.” Josh said enfolding his son’s hand in his own, letting the warmth of the gesture flow through him.
“You’re bringing someone new to play with me?” Chad beamed up, openly curious and eager to know if this new person was interesting.
“I don’t know about the playing part. Not everyone knows how to play the games, but she’s a friend of mine and I hope you’ll like her.” Since Cindy refused to play the arcade games, Chad was familiar with the concept.
With the attention span typical of a four-year-old, Chad quickened the pace as they approached the door to his classroom, tugging on Josh’s arm.
“What’s the rush, champ?”
“I want you to see my popsicle stick birdfeeder. Mom said you could have it.” Josh didn’t miss the flicker of disappointment in Chad’s eyes. He needed to talk to Cindy again about how she phrased things to Chad. He was pretty sure she didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, but sometimes she didn’t appreciate how hard Chad tried to please her.
He kept his tone neutral. “That was really nice of mom to let me have something special you made. I bet you’ve made lots of nice things she’s kept.” Josh hoped the stab of anger he felt didn’t show. He wanted Chad to love his mom and tried to be careful not to drive a wedge between them.
“Yeah, she’s pinned a few of my drawings to the refrigerator and told me how nice they are.” His face brightened.
Josh breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Apparently she’d listened to some of what he’d said. When they reached Chad’s cubby, he knelt down. Chad cradled the brightly-painted, square structure in his cubby, little hands and carefully transferred it to Josh.
“Wow, son. This is gorgeous. You must have worked really hard.” He held the birdfeeder in one hand and hugged his son. “We may have to stop by the pet store on the way home and get some seed. You’ll have to help me pick out something they’ll like.”
Chad’s eyes and mouth went round while his brows lifted to his forehead. “You mean it? The teachers talked about what wild birds like to eat.” He stroked a finger along the edge. “Do you think they’ll come?”
“Birds are pretty good about spotting food, so I bet they will. Especially something this pretty.” Josh twisted the square feeder back and forth to admire it from all sides. “I love all the colors. It should really stand out.” Josh stood. “Come on, let’s get your coat and go.”