Mason: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Valerie: We talk a lot about romance on this blog. I hear you are interested in the subject yourself.
Mason: Well, yes. I’d like to get married. But romance isn’t my first priority.
Valerie: I’m not sure what you mean. You’d get married without loving your intended? Are we talking about arranged marriages here, or what? Wait, I know! A marriage of convenience!
Mason: Very funny. Although my mother seems to think I need that kind of help. She keeps trying to set me up with young, single women from the church and community.
Valerie: Why would she do that? I’m a mom… maybe I don’t understand because my kids were both married in their early twenties. I guess I never got desperate enough to try to help.
Mason: She thinks the twins need a mother. And I have to tell you, she’s right about that. They’re five now, almost six. It’s been a pretty rough go most of that time. My daughter, Avery, pretty much hero-worships any woman who’ll pat her on the back. Christopher is even scarier. He reminds me a lot of myself at that age, and I didn’t turn out so well.
Valerie: Wait a minute. You have twins? I’m sorry. I have to ask. What happened to your wife?
Mason: I, uh, I’ve never been married. Erin and I were in a pretty open relationship. We weren’t in love, and we weren’t… exclusive. But there’s no doubt the twins are mine. All one has to do is look at Christopher.
Valerie: Where’s Erin now?
Mason: Last I heard, in Billings. She doesn’t keep in touch so you’d notice. She’s a partier. Drinks too much, recreational drugs — maybe more than that. I haven’t seen her in several years, since she signed the twins over to me when they were only a year old.
Valerie: So you’re a single dad, and that’s why your mom thinks you need a wife. Why you think you need a wife.
Mason: It’s tough doing this gig alone. I survived bottles and teething and diapers. Now Christopher is acting out, and I shudder to think what their teen years will be like. I wouldn’t say no to a helping hand. To a partner.
Valerie: But you’re not holding out for romance? For love?
Mason: I don’t know. I’d like to, but the kids are older every single day. What woman would take me on with all my baggage, anyway? God got a hold of my life when the twins were babies, but look at me. I don’t have it all together. I’ve hurt a lot of people — a lot of women — in the past.
For some reason I’ve never figured out, I was popular all through school. All I can say is, I didn’t use it for good. If only I could go back and do it over. I know God has forgiven me. I cling to that every single day. But the consequences are still there, you know?
Like the twins. I don’t know if I’d ever have come to Jesus if it weren’t for them, and I can’t imagine my life without those tight hugs and off-the-wall questions. But it wasn’t my clean living that gave them life, if you know what I mean.
Valerie: Sounds like you have a lot of regrets.
Mason: Yeah, I do. And for good reason.
Valerie: What’s the biggest one? Aside from the twins, I mean.
Mason: What I did to Liz. It’s been eleven years since she’s been home to see her parents. She left right after… what happened. I believe God has forgiven me, but I ruined Liz’s life, and I don’t think she ever will.
Mason glanced at Steve, Rosemary, and Zach. They were all staring at Liz, who looked about to faint dead away.
Not the response he’d been going for, but perhaps not unexpected. He reached for the doorknob behind him. “I, uh, I’ll just wait out in the truck.”
That snapped Rosemary out of it. “No, Mason. It’s too cold out there.”
It wasn’t all that cozy in here, either. At least not when Liz’s narrowed eyes met his again. Her set jaw told him she remembered every minute that had passed between them that spring. He had plenty of regrets, but maybe this wasn’t the right moment for apologies. After all, what did her family know about their past? By everyone’s current confused response, he’d bet the answer was nothing.
“I just put on a pot of tea.” Rosemary pointed back at the kitchen. “And I baked chocolate chip cookies. Please don’t rush off.”
Zach shrugged out of his parka and kicked off his boots while Liz backed away. “We can stay a few minutes. Can’t turn down homemade cookies, can we, Mason?”
At this moment, he’d have no trouble doing so.
Liz gripped the back of a dining chair with enough intensity to turn her knuckles white. There were no rings on her left hand. That was good, right? Or, no. It might have been better if she’d found some other guy. Gotten married. Had a few kids. That would’ve proven he hadn’t hurt her too deeply.
Mason had skipped the wedding part and gone directly to having kids. A family hadn’t been enough to keep him and Erin together, though. Man. Where would he even start explaining — let alone apologizing — to Liz? Erin certainly hadn’t been open to hearing any of it.
Please, God. You’ve forgiven me for all the messes I’ve made. Is it too much to hope that Liz might, too?
By the look on her face, he’d better not hold his breath.
Mason slowly peeled off his coat and hung it in the nearby closet before removing his boots. Zach had already taken a seat at the table with a mug of tea in front of him. Liz still stood, her hands clenched on the chair between her father and brother.
Keeping a buffer. He couldn’t blame her. How could she have guessed he’d follow Zach in the door? She couldn’t. Likely no one had even thought to tell her he and the twins had moved back to Galena Landing. Their old crowd had dispersed long ago. No one knew or cared anymore about what had happened way back then.
Mason took the chair on the other side of Zach and smiled at Rosemary. “Thanks for the tea.”
“You’re very welcome. What brings you along with Zach?”
He shrugged. “I dropped my car off at the shop to get a new transmission installed this morning. He offered me a ride for the next couple of days until it’s ready.”
“Handy you live so close then.” Steve reached for a cookie then nudged the plate over to Mason.
Liz’s head came up and she glanced sharply from one to the other. She knew as well as he did that the Waterman farm was across the valley from her childhood home.
Steve turned toward Liz. “Mason’s renting our old farmhouse from Green Acres. Did your mother tell you your brother and his group bought the home place?”
Her nod seemed a bit jerky, but her gaze flicked back to him. “That’s nice.” Not at all what her eyes said.
“Come out to the farm tomorrow for supper?” Zach asked Liz.
“Mom said your daughter was sick.”
“You’ll want to meet Jo and the children.” Rosemary’s voice held a hint of hope. Meet Jo and the kids? Wow. How long had it been since Liz had been home? She’d taken her retreat to the Far East more seriously than Mason had realized.
She took a deep breath. “I, um, I could probably do that.”
“And the rest of the gang,” Steve put in. “Busy place they have out there.”
“Th-the gang?” Liz’s eyes flicked to Mason’s then away.
“The other members of their community,” Rosemary said.
Liz probably wanted to know if he’d be there for dinner. If he was part of the gang. Then she could find a way out. He wasn’t going to make it that easy. Not until he’d found ten minutes of privacy to let her know how sorry he was. Then he’d leave her alone.
He hadn’t received an invite for tomorrow’s meal yet, but it wouldn’t be hard to wrangle one. He nudged the plate closer to her. “Want a cookie? Your mom hasn’t lost her touch.”
She shook her head. “No, thanks.”
Rosemary jumped to her feet. “So sweet of you to say that, Mason. Let me send a few home for the twins.”
Once again Liz’s eyes snapped to meet his. “Twins?” The word came out more a breath than audible.
Mason tried to hold her gaze with sheer force of will. “Avery and Christopher. They’re not quite six.”
A smile that didn’t reach her eyes pushed at the corners of her mouth. “Well, congratulations to you and the missus.”
He was sorry, too, but the loss likely wasn’t what Liz expected. “I’ve never been married.”
“Then—” She clamped her mouth closed.
Mason took a deep breath. “My life didn’t exactly turn out the way I’d intended when I was a teenager. Did yours?”
Want a chance to win a digital copy of Berry on Top? Comment before the end of March and tell me if you think a guy in a situation like Mason’s should settle for a good case of “like” instead of “love” to give his kids a mom. (Or comment just to say hello!)