Olivia Stevens stared out the kitchen window at the kids playing in the yard. Her son, Bryson, was kicking a ball against the fence over and over as it came back to him. He was quick to move to intercept it when it didn’t come right back to him. She smiled as she shifted her gaze to her daughter, Lauren. She was playing in the little house Charles had paid to have built for her. None of those plastic constructions for his little girl.
A streak of red raced across the yard, and the smile fell away from her face. Rylan, of course. That boy never slowed down. Or listened. Her kids could play quietly by themselves, but he had to make the most noise, bring the most attention to himself.
She may have raised him since he was only a couple months old, but he’d never be hers. She’d tried. Olivia had comforted herself with that. He was only a few months younger than Bryson. She tried not to think of that. How Charles had married another woman after their night together that had changed her life. Then, not even a year later, Olivia had heard about his divorce and shown up at his door when her son was only a few weeks old.
Their life had been off to a good start. Then, his ex-wife had shown up and shoved her son off on them. They’d never seen from her again. It had nearly wrecked their marriage in its early days. Then, she’d been pregnant again. She liked to think it smoothed the rough edges of their relationship. But, she saw the way he looked at his middle child, and maybe it influenced the way she treated him as well. She didn’t like to think of that, though. She took care of him. That’s what really mattered.
The door slammed open, and she jumped a little. She’d been so lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed Rylan coming toward the door. He ran across the room, skidding to a stop when he saw her. “I was, uh, coming in to…Can we have some juice?”
If she hadn’t been in here, Olivia knew he would have just grabbed the juice boxes from the refrigerator. Which she’d told him he had to ask first. Also, “How many times have I told you not to wear your muddy shoes through the house? I just cleaned the floor.”
Heat flooded his face, and he glanced down at the floor, at those tracks of mud. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Can we have the juice?”
She let out a long breath. “Fine. Stand on the mat, and I’ll get it for you.”
He retreated the few steps to the door, and the mat there, while she retrieved the juice boxes. When she handed them to him, she said, “Hose off those shoes before you come back in or leave them outside.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said quietly, still not looking up at her.
She had a quick spurt of guilt at the dejection that had fallen over him. But, she wiped it away. The boy needed discipline, that was all. The least she could do was make sure he got it.
Note: Rylan didn’t have the greatest childhood, since neither of the people who raised him seemed to care much for him. One of my current projects is actually his story about 20+ years after this, and he’d still dealing with the feeling of being rejected by everyone who should have cared about him.