Thankful

Thankful by Shelley Shepard Gray Read Free Book Online

Book: Thankful by Shelley Shepard Gray Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
chores.”
    Being referred to as his “boy” was almost Aden’s undoing. He genuinely liked being a part of the Kempf family, and especially liked being so close to Joe and Martha. They were truly the parents of his heart.
    But he forced himself to stay strong and ignore his weaknesses. Things had to change. They had to. He couldn’t keep living with Christina. That was surely a recipe for disaster.
    â€œI wasn’t all that anxious to do chores, if you want to know the truth. It was more of a case of not being able to sleep.”
    â€œOh?” Joe’s expression turned concerned. “Something on your mind?”
    â€œAs a matter of fact, there is.”
    His adoptive father waved his hands, urging him to continue. “Well, don’t lollygag. This waiting is making me feel like I’m on pins and needles. Spit it out.”
    â€œAll right. It’s like this. I, ah, have decided that it’s time I moved out.” He pulled off the black stocking cap that he favored in the winter and ran a hand through his hair, hating the stunned look of dismay that was steadily transforming his adoptive father’s face.
    â€œYou sound awfully sure about this.”
    â€œI am.” Aden looked away so he wouldn’t have to watch Joe carefully arrange his features into a careful mask.
    â€œI must admit that this is news to me. Matter of fact, I feel a little sideswiped. Have you been thinking about this for some time?”
    â€œAwhile.” Twenty-four hours could count as awhile, right?
    â€œI see.”
    Aden rushed to explain. Well, rushed to try to come up with an explanation that was close enough to the truth that Joe and Martha would believe. That maybe one day he could believe, too. “You know, I’ve been living here for a long time now.”
    â€œI know you have. A little more than ten years now.”
    â€œTen years is a long time.” He swallowed. Made himself say the words that he didn’t quite mean. “A mighty long time, considering you all aren’t my real family.”
    Just as if Aden had thrown a punch, Joe visibly flinched.
    Aden couldn’t fault Joe for reacting that way. He was hurting, too. This conversation was one he’d never wanted to have—the Kempfs had treated him far too well for him to ever minimize any of their kindnesses.
    The only way he could justify this move was to think how his leaving was best for everyone. Especially Christina. Surely it would be better for Joe to assume Aden had grown restless and eager to be more independent rather than realize that the man the family had given so much to was repaying them by pining for their eldest daughter.
    â€œI really do appreciate everything you and Martha have done for me,” he added. “But I think I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
    Joe turned away, resting his hands on one of the rails of Maisey’s stall and sighed. “Aden, I’m gonna be real honest with ya. I don’t quite understand where all this is comin’ from,” he said after a lengthy silence. “Martha and I have always thought of you as part of our family. As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of my boys.”
    â€œI realize that. You have always made me feel welcome. And of course I’m grateful for that.”
    Joe turned around and faced Aden. “To be perfectly honest, I’ve come to think of you as one of my own. Not that your parents shouldn’t be remembered, of course.”
    â€œOf course.”
    â€œBut if you haven’t realized how special you are to us, I’m ashamed that we didn’t do enough to ensure you knew that we felt that way. We love you, Aden.”
    The lump that had started to form in Aden’s throat now threatened to choke him. He hated this. He hated making Joe feel like he had ever been less than an ideal father to him. But now, more than ever, he realized that leaving was the best thing.
    He

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