“CASSIE!” Kevin bellowed as he glanced around the barn. Titan was in his stall and his water bucket was missing. Heading to the back of the barn, he found her.
“Why are you yelling like that? The horses don’t like it,” Cass asked and chastised him in the same sentence. She turned the spigot off.
They both turned to see the barn manager start to approach them. Kevin threw his hand up in the air, “Not now, I have to talk to Cassie, alone.”
The manager stepped back into his office. “You’re rude,” Cass grabbed the pail full of water. Some of the contents sloshed out and soaked Kevin’s pant leg.
Kevin shook the water off and grabbed for the bucket. Tim smirked from a stall as he watched the two adults fight over a pail of water. “You did that on purpose,” Kevin yanked the handle.
Cass shoved the bucket of water at him. By the time they had stopped, Kevin was wearing most of the water. “What did you want anyway?”
Kevin set the bucket down; he stuffed his hands deep into his back pockets. “When are we going to tell Annie?”
“Why the big rush?” Cass didn’t appreciate being put on the spot.
“Because!” Kevin huffed and then began to pace the barn hallway from side to side.
Cass figured this was going to take awhile; it usually did when he had a point to be made. She made herself comfortable on a tack box.
“Are you ready to talk?”
“Quiet, I’m thinking,” Kevin cut her off. He wasn’t really thinking as much as he was waiting for Tim to leave. He caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye. Kevin paced and waited, finally Tim left.
“Annie asked me for something today?” he pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger to fight off the headache that was beginning.
“She asked for a Dad just like me...”
The air in the barn almost crackled from the energy that these two bodies could generate when they were in close confines.
Cass sighed, she stood up, and then began to pace. “Damn, damn, damn,... But why? How?”
Kevin’s shoulders dropped, “You got the horse... She asked what she could have...”
“See! See!” Cass shouted in his face and shook her finger at him. “You’ve spoiled her already. Annie thinks she can have anything she wants as long as she asks you.”
Kevin watched Cass storm up the ladder to the hayloft. She began kicking at the bales of hay. Kevin was hoping she would peter out but it didn’t happen. He could see the headline now, “Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson had his ass kicked in his own barn.”
“Everybody out of here now!” Kevin yelled. He turned to watch the manager and his wife leave along with some stable hands. “This is going to get ugly.” Kevin walked to the ladder.
Cass peered over the side, “Don’t you come up here. I’ll knock your ass right back down there.”
“Cassie...” Kevin began the ascent to her.
“Don’t Cassie me!” Cass was in a rant. It had finally come down to telling Annie the truth. It wasn’t like Cass had ever lied to her and told her she didn’t have a dad or that he was dead. Cass just never really answered her. Now she was afraid that if Annie did find out that Kevin was her father, then she would be angry with Cass and hurt. She really didn’t know if Annie would understand or ever forgive her.
“Let’s just talk Cass,” Kevin sat on a bale of hay, thankful that Cass hadn’t kicked him in the face when he reached the top of the ladder. “We’ll figure this out together and you can tell me why you’re so afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” Cass sniffed as the tears started to roll down her face.
“Yes you are, but of what?” Kevin pointed to the other half of the bale. He wanted Cass to sit next to him.
“No I’m not,” she plunked down next to him like a two-ton elephant.
“What are you afraid of Cass?” Kevin turned to face her with his bent elbow on his thigh and his head resting in the palm of his hand.
Cass stopped as she wiped her face on the cuff of her jean jacket. “She’ll hate me, she’ll never forgive me....”
“And?” Kevin could sense what the last words were but she had say them. Then he could tell her how he felt.
“She’ll love you more than me. She’s all I have now.” Cass shuddered when she said it. It hurt to feel it and it felt just as bad saying it.
Grabbing her hand, he looked at the wall of hay that was stacked in front of them. “Cass, you know Annie. She might be a little mad but she will forgive you.” He pulled her onto his lap just like he did with Annie when she was upset. “She will always love you. You’ve raised her right; you, Gary, and Abraham. She’s smart and doesn’t miss much.”
Cass was fiddling with the front of his shirt. “What are you doing Cass?”
“Nothing,” she felt vulnerable and insecure at the moment. Until Kevin had come back in her life, these were feelings she hadn’t had to deal with in awhile.
“Hmm... Nothing,” as he accidentally, on purpose, slipped off the hay bale and landed on her. She froze as he smiled at her. He kissed her cheek and rubbed his beard over her face. “I’m telling you, it will be fine.”
Cass sprinkled hay all over him. “I think you’re looking for a roll in the hay.”
“Hmmm, now that sounds better than fighting,” he nuzzled up against her. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing just that. They stopped when it was time to go up to the house to eat dinner.
Kevin and Cass were a little more than upset when Annie couldn’t be found, this close to dark. Everyone began to search for her, she wasn’t in her room and her butterfly net was gone.
Annie clung to the tree trunk. She was scared; she was high, very, very, very high. Only her toe on a nub on the trunk was stopping her from falling. She had followed the butterfly as it walked up the tree. She had never seen a butterfly do that before, it must have been a special one. It would be perfect for Kevin because he was special too.
Her toes were starting to hurt; she didn’t know how long she had been gone. Her mom and Kevin would be angry with her. Kevin had told her never to wander far from the house because it was easy to get lost. This was not like home.
Moving her legs quickly, she locked them around the tree. It was hard to do; the tree was big like Kevin. She squeezed the tree even harder as it began to get dark. Sometimes she didn’t like the dark. She couldn’t see in the dark, as the sun set. She started to cry softly, she wanted her Mommy and Kevin. She would wait for them to come. When the sun did set, she thought maybe she should yell. She did, as loud as she could. She couldn’t look down, just right at the tree. It didn’t matter that her eyes were closed, it was dark and she was still scared. “I want my Mommy... I want Kevin... Please help!” She cried loudly.
She didn’t lose her grip on the tree but she was sad, they weren’t coming. They didn’t love her, they were angry with her. Annie felt someone caress her cheek; it was a familiar touch. It felt like Abe. She cried a little, she missed Abraham, but he was gone now, he was an angel.
“Annie,” she heard her name very clearly. She was startled, that was knew to her.
“Don’t let go sweetheart, they’re coming.” She heard the voice tell her. But she couldn’t hear much with her hearing aids in, now she wasn’t wearing them at all but she was hearing someone talk to her. It sound strange and different to her. It didn’t make much sense either.
“Who are you?” Annie asked in the dark as she turned her head to the side. She smiled when she saw the face. “PA!” she shouted at the face.
“Yes sweetheart it’s me Abe.” The old man smiled a kind face.
“I miss you Pa!” she was shouting with joy at the face that was glowing back at her. “Are you an angel? Mommy said you are an angel now?”
“I’m whatever you want me to be sweetheart.”
Annie’s legs didn’t feel so tired anymore and she wasn’t scared as much as she was before. Abraham had come. “You must be an angel because I need an angel. Mommy doesn’t know I left, I didn’t tell her. I know I should’ve but I was looking for a butterfly for my friend Kevin. I hurt his feelings and I wanted to make him feel better.”
The old face smiled. “If you call them sweetheart, your mom and dad will come. You have to call very loud though. Louder than you have ever yelled in your entire life.”
“Even louder than when Ferdie stepped on me?”
“Even louder than that... You just keep calling for Daddy and he will come. I promise you that... Kevin is your Daddy and he will come for you, but you have to call him to you, he can’t find you in the dark. You can’t let go you have to hang on.”
Annie began to yell at the top of her lungs. She kept going at it too.
Cass and Kevin were running through the backfields towards the calling earlier and then it had stopped. Kevin was beside himself and ready to call the National Guard out to find her. Tim said the neighbor had dogs that might be able to find her. Cass and Kevin stood in the dark and then they heard Annie start to scream for Daddy.
“Shit!” Kevin ran like a demon to the edge of the clearing. They cut through some undergrowth and into another clearing. “I’m coming baby!” Kevin continued to answer his child calling him. The pounding of his heart matched his footsteps. It never dawned on him that she couldn’t hear him, he just kept answering her.
“Kevin, over here.” He heard Tim call him.
Kevin spun around to see two flashlights trained on a tall pine. “Jesus Christ! How the hell did she get up there?” Kevin dashed to the tree with Cass right with him.
“Oh my God, she’s going to fall,” Cass cried out as two more flashlights joined her on the tree.
“Oh no,” Cass heard Anne cry too. Anne wrapped her arms around Cass who was trying to stay composed. “It’s okay Cassandra, the boys will get her down.”
Kevin looked up the tree, “Tim, what do you think?”
“At least twenty to thirty bro,” Tim shined the flashlight directly on Annie’s back. She was still calling for her Daddy and he was still answering her. From what Tim could tell Annie’s eyes were clenched shut as she faced the tree. Her were legs wrapped around the tree’s trunk.
“Piece of cake for ya Kev. Remember Fear Factor?” Jerald was as nervous as Tim.
“I had a safety line then bro,” Kevin took off his belt and wrapped it around the tree to give him some leverage.
Cass stood below and watched Kevin scale at least thirty feet in the air.
Annie was still calling him. Finally, Kevin reached her, he tried to get her to open her eyes and stop yelling, he was on the opposite side of her. It was no use; she just wasn’t going to calm down. He swung around the tree and had her in front of him. Once she felt a body next to hers, she let go of the tree and turned.
“Oh God!” Cass yelled as Kevin caught her. She watched him shove Annie’s legs around his waist. Cass didn’t look again until they were on the ground. She grabbed Annie from Kevin, her heart almost pounding out of her chest.
Annie didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Pa had told her that if she called for her Daddy that he would come, and he did. Kevin was here because he was her father, just like Pa had said.
“Thanks Daddy,” she smiled after she spoke. Her voice harsher than normal from screaming.
“THANKS DADDY! THAT'S ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY IS THANKS DADDY!”
Kevin was going to explode; Anne saw it first. “Now son...”
Kevin spun Annie around and proceeded to give her a quick swat on the butt. Turning her back around, he leaned down in her face. She could see him in the dark with that many flashlights trained on her. “If you ever pull a stunt like that on your mother and I again, you will really get a spanking. Do you understand me?”
“Yes Daddy,” she answered politely and sweetly.
“Go up to the house and go to your room!” Kevin barked but Annie didn’t budge.
She frowned a little, “I can’t daddy.”
“Why not?” Kevin yelled.
“Because I don’t know where the house is... I’m lost.”
“Well, let me show you the way missy!” Kevin grabbed her hand and stomped off in the dark.
“Kevin!” Cass had heard every word Annie had said. Now she wanted to know how she knew. Either Kevin hadn’t caught what she said in his fury or he was ignoring it, but she needed to know.
Slowly the other adults caught up to a fuming Kevin who had still not calmed down. Cass kneeled down in front of Annie. “Annie, who told you Kevin was your Daddy?”
Annie shrugged, “Pa did... He said if I called for Daddy he would come and that Kevin was my Daddy. Pa is an angel; he knows that stuff. I could hear Pa talk. He talked to me.”
Kevin’s family had no idea who this Pa was but Kevin kneeled down to join Cass and Annie. “Yes, I am your Daddy, Pa was right. I don’t want you to be mad at Mommy for not telling you, okay?”
“Okay Daddy,” she smiled as she wrapped her arms around Kevin’s neck.
Kevin pulled back and looked at her sternly. “If you ever do that again, I’ll spank you so hard you won’t sit for a week.”
Cass started to laugh very loudly. All the flashlights were now trained on her. “Sure you will Dad.”
“I will... I’m serious here.” Kevin fussed as he picked Annie up and carried her back to the house.
It didn’t help when his mother started laughing along with Cass, then he heard her say, “That’ll be the day that the Princess gets another swat.”
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