Ken Larson poured himself a cup of coffee and glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen. It read 4:00 am. Good. The deer were still sleeping or at least not moving around much, so the two of them had plenty of time before they left for the hunt.
Upstairs he could hear Allen walking back and forth getting dressed. The floorboards of the old farmhouse creaked under the boy's weigh causing Ken to grimace. Have to do something about how fat the kid was getting.
"Everything okay, dear?"
Ken turned, "Yeah, just having some coffee."
Bev pulled her robe tight. The old farmhouse was drafty and the linoleum was cold. She went to the refrigerator and opened it. "I'll make you boys some breakfast. How's some bacon and eggs and toast sound?"
Ken bristled. Might as well have it out with her right now. "Look, we've talked about this." He pointed to the ceiling where they could both hear the bedroom floor groaning. "I know you don't like hearing it, but the boy is seriously overweight."
"Ken! Shush. He'll hear you."
"I don't care. He's fat and it's time to you acknowledged it."
Bev poured her own cup of coffee and faced him, "Look, he's just upset about his father."
Ken laughed, "Yeah, right. The guy was a jerk. Took off with what's her name, that cashier from Walmart and left you with all those bills. What would you have done if I hadn't come along?"
Bev sipped her coffee and fought an urge to light up a Marlboro. She was trying to cut back. "Look, you know I appreciate all you've done. We've kept the house and the property and that's all because of you."
Ken took a sip, "You better believe it."
"But you've got no right to tell me how to raise my son."
Wait a minute, what was this? Ken glared at her. "What'd you say?"
Bev set her cup on the table and stepped close so she was only a few feet away. She could smell the sweat boiling off from under his clothes. She knew he was getting angry but too bad. "Allen's a good kid. Fourteen's a tough age. He's doing well in school. The teachers like him. He gets good grades. He ..."
"He's lazy and doesn't do anything to help around here."
"He does so. He's got his chores. He does them when you're at work. He feeds the chickens and the goats."
The morning wasn't going like Ken had planned. He was getting angry, and he didn't like getting angry. He took a minute to count to ten like he'd been taught. Finally, he started to calm down.
But he was also pissed. Pissed off because he knew she was right, which was something he was having a hard time admitting. He glared at her while she glared right back at him, not backing down.
Now thirty-two years old, Ken had never been in a long-term relationship in his life, and hadn't planned on one with Bev, either, but one thing had led to another and he moved in with her and Allen two years ago. They'd met at an alcoholics anonymous meeting, becoming close with the shared challenge of maintaining their sobriety. They'd decided that being together was better than being apart. Cheaper, anyway.
If asked, Bev would say she loved Ken. But more to the point, she had visions of having a stable man around to help out on the farm and be a good father figure to Allen. Ken had visions himself quitting his job at the hardware store in Willow Creek, and he and Bev and Allen running the farm, growing organic vegetables to sell to restaurants in the area and making a profit. Oh, yeah, if asked, he'd also say he loved Bev, too.
But the farm becoming self-sufficient hadn't been possible. They'd had to sell most of the two-hundred acres to pay off the bills left by Bev's worthless ex-husband. Did he resent the situation? Yeah. Did he resent Bev and Allen? To be honest, he kind of did.
Suddenly, the tense mood was broken when Allen clomped into the kitchen and said, "Hey, everyone. Good morning." He went to his mother and gave her a quick kiss, then looked at Ken, "Morning."
Ken nodded and greeted him with, "Good morning." Despite what he had just told Bev, he did like the kid. Ken knew what it was like having problems growing up. His own father had tarnished the family name with his chronic drunkenness. A trait he'd passed on to Ken, a distinction he was desperately trying to get control of and put a stop to.
Allen turned to his mom, "I could hear you upstairs. What were you guys talking about?"
Bev looked at Ken. Decision time. Be upfront or ... Or ...
Ken sat down at the kitchen table and motioned, "Here, Allen. Why don't you sit down? Your mom and I have something to talk with you about." Allen looked at his mom. She sat down and joined Ken, "Come on and join us, son. We won't bite."
With a questioning look, Allen did as he was asked. Bev nodded to Ken to begin, and he said, "Your mother and I were talking about your weight. We both think you need to get a handle on it. You know, watch what you eat."
Allen's eyes went from horrified to angry to sad in a split second. He looked at his mother, "Mom?"
She reached for his hand, but he moved it away. Bev's look softened. Allen was her only child. She loved him more than anything. She also loved Ken, for better or worse, and he was right about Allen's weight. "Allen, honey, what do you think? I worry about your health. And your heart. All the doctors have said you should have a better diet."
He immediately tensed up and turned defensive, but only for a moment. Tears suddenly formed in his eyes, and he heaved a huge sign like shaking a demon off his back. He put his head in his hands and stared at the table. "I know. I don't know what's wrong with me. I just like food so much." He sat back and looked at them both, "I even steal candy bars from the grocery store sometimes."
"Oh, honey," Bev said, and shook her head sadly. She reached for her son's hand and this time he let her take it.
The three of them were quiet for a minute, not sure of what to say. Finally, Ken broke the mood, "Just a minute." He went into the living room and came back with some brochures. "Here, I got these the other day." He looked at Bev and winked. "I haven't even had time to show your mother." He set them down. "Here, take a look." He also gave one to Bev. Allen picked his up began looking through it.
"What's this all about?"
"There's a clinic in Sioux Falls that helps people get a handle on eating." He looked at Bev. "With eating disorders," he added. "I haven't even told your mom about this. But it's something we can look into."
Bev's serious expression turned brighter. "Ken's right, Allen. Maybe we can all go and check it out."
Allen was quiet, paging through his brochure. After a minute he sighed, "Okay. If you guys think it's a good idea, I guess I can give it a try."
Bev leaned over and hugged him. "That's a good decision. You won't regret it. It's for the best."
"I hope so, Mom. I really do." He glanced at the eggs and bacon and bread on the counter. "Can we still have breakfast?"
Bev smiled, "Sure." She looked at Ken, "You've got time, right?"
Ken was happy to have gotten a rather difficult conversation out of the way. "Sure, breakfast sounds good." He stood up. "Plus, I've got something you might like." He touched Allen's shoulder in a show of affection, something he wasn't used to doing. Right now, though, it seemed like the right thing to do. "It's in the cellar. I'll be right back." He hurried downstairs.
Bev stood at the counter and whipped up a bowl of eggs while Allen sat wondering what Ken was up to. He had to admit, the more he was around the guy, the better he liked him. At least he wasn't physically abusive to him and his mom like his dad had been. Plus, he helped his mom stay sober. That was a big thing.
Ken came into the kitchen a minute later carrying a shopping bag. He removed a package wrapped in brown paper and set it on the table. Bev stopped beating the eggs and came over to join them. "Open it," she said, looking at Ken. He winked at her. She had no idea what he'd done.
Allen peeled back the paper, exposing a bright yellow box with a camera on the cover. It was a Nikon.
"Oh, wow!" he exclaimed, opening the box and taking out the camera. He held it up and admired it. "This is so cool."
Ken grinned. "I thought this would work better for you for our hunting expeditions. That old Canon of yours wasn't doing the trick."
Allen held the camera reverently. "Oh, man, this is awesome, Ken. Thank you so much."
Ken grinned and handed him another package. "Here, this kind of goes with it."
Allen's eyes went wide. The package was about twelve inches long and four inches square. "What is it?"
"Open it. I think you'll like it."
Allen carefully peeled off the paper. "Oh. My. God!" he exclaimed. "This is amazing." He stood up and hugged Ken, something he'd never done before. "I love it."
"It's a telephoto lens," Ken told him. "It'll help get those closeup photos you've been trying to take."
Allen was stunned. He'd never been given such a wonderful gift. As he held the new, wide angle lens along with the camera reverently in his hands, he turned to his mother, "Mom, this is so cool. I'll be able to take some awesome pictures."
Ken sipped his coffee and watched as Allen showed his mom his new lens and camera. When he and Bev had first gotten together, he hadn't really considered what it'd be like having a son. But now it looked like he had one. And Allen was a good kid. A little fat, that was for sure, but they could get that under control.
Plus, he was learning what it was like being a father figure, some of it good, some of it not so good. This was a good part. Ken disliked guns and shooting, so when he'd found out Allen liked photography, they'd begun going on what they called their hunting trips together taking pictures. Ken had done research and knew that the new camera and wide-angle lens would be just perfect for helping Allen develop his interest in wildlife photography. The new lens was made with a material called germanium. It was supposed to improve the optical quality of the photograph. Sounded good to him.
Ken glanced out the kitchen window. There was a soft line of light on the eastern horizon. The sun would be coming up in an hour. "Hey, Allen. You know, we should probably get going. Get out in the woods to the stand and get ready to shoot some deer."
Allen grinned, "Sounds great." He stood up and began packing the new camera in lens in his old camera case. "Just give me a minute." He turned to his mom. "Sorry about breakfast, but we've got to go."
Bev smiled and hugged him. "Don't worry. We'll have something when you get home. In the meantime, you guys have a good time."
Allen finished packing up his new camera and lens and was the first one out the door. Bev stopped Ken, "Thank you. You didn't have to do that, you know. I know how expensive that camera equipment is."
Ken zipped up his jacket and adjusted his cap. "Don't worry about it. It seemed like a good thing to do. Besides," he grinned, "I kind of like the kid." He gave her a quick kiss.
She kissed him back and smiled, "I know you do."
Bev closed the door and watched the two of them walk across the yard to the pickup get in and drive off trailing a plume of exhaust in the cold morning air. She poured a fresh cup of coffee and sat at the table slowly sipping it, thinking, You know, this might work out okay after all.
She stood up and tossed her pack of Marlboros in the trash. Then she sat down again. And smiled.