“Mom, I'm home.” Michael called as he came in through the kitchen door, “You would not believe how many fish Uncle Stan and I caught!”
“Muddy shoes off on the porch, Michael, I just cleaned the floor,” His mother instructed. He quickly ducked back outside and pulled off his mud covered shoes. When he came back in she grinned and asked. “So, you had a good time with Uncle Stan?”
“Yeah, it was great. We sat out a the lake all day and we caught so many fish. Like, really, I can't believe how many fish. And there was no one else out on the lake, like all day. It was kind of amazing having the lake to ourselves.” Michael chattered, happily.
“Well, it's good that you had fun.” she said, reaching out to put an arm around her son, stopping herself when she noticed the mud and algae all over his shirt. “Where is your uncle Stan?”
“He'll be in soon. He's just getting the cooler out of the car.”
“Why is he getting a cooler?”
“Well, he and I thought that, since we were catching so many fish it would be a great idea to bring some home.”
“Michael, what have I said about pets?”
“Not as pets; for dinner,” Michael said, rolling his eyes; as though his meaning should have been perfectly clear. “Uncle Stan thought that it would be a shame to just keep throwing back so many fish, so we caught as many as we could carry and we brought them home to eat. Uncle Stan even showed me how to de-scale, gut, and de-bone the fish.”
“I showed him how to de-scale, gut, and de-bone the fish we caught,” Stan said, entering with a Styrofoam cooler, “I didn't actually let him do it. Seriously, Lucille, just how dangerously irresponsible do you think I am?”
“Well, I know that you'd never intentionally let Michel get hurt, Stan, but that doesn't stop me from worrying.” Lucille said, taking the cooler from Stan and setting it on the counter. She lifted the lid and peered inside. “Wow, you weren't kidding when you said you caught a lot of fish. I'd say there's enough here for dinner tomorrow night and for a night or two after that.”
“Tomorrow? Why can't we have them tonight?” Michael asked.
“Because I have a casserole in the oven and some vegetables and rice steaming; and those will be ready in not too long.” Lucille said, matter-of-factly, “I'll put the fish in the freezer in just a bit and they'll keep just fine until tomorrow. And you are going to go upstairs, change out of those dirty clothes, and wash yourself up.”
“Okay, Mom.” Michael said. He turned, left the kitchen, and headed upstairs.
Lucille walked over to the counter and asked, “Would you like some coffee, Stan? I just made some fresh a while ago.”
“Sure, some coffee sounds great. Thanks, Lucille.” Stan said, taking a seat at the small table in the corner of the room.
“So, what exactly happened to Michael, Stan?” Lucille asked, taking two mugs down from the cabinet and pouring some coffee for herself and Stan.
“Well, when we first got to the lake Mikey tripped on something and went ass-over-tea kettle right into the water.” Stan explained. “Whatever he tripped over apparently ripped the sole right off one of his shoes; I couldn't do much for the kid, but I managed to put his shoe back together with some duct tape I had in the car. Although, I gotta say his other shoe didn't really look much better. He really needs a new pair.”
Lucille sighed, “Yes, yes he does.” She put one cup down in front of Stan and, still holding hers, sat down in the seat next to him.
“Listen, sorry we got back a bit later than we planned. Taking care of all those fish took a bit longer than I expected it to. I tried to call and let you know we were gonna be late, but I just got some message that your number wasn't in service. I tried, like, three times and it was always the same.”
“Yeah, I should have told you...our phone's been disconnected.” Lucille explained.
Lucille combed her fingers through her short, sandy blonde hair,“Well, you see they cut my hours back at work and there just wasn't enough money to cover all of our bills this month. I figured that the phone would probably be the easiest thing to do without for a while, so...I let the bill lapse.”
“Why didn't you say anything before?”
“I'm sorry, Stan. I know I should have told you. I just...” Lucille trailed off and just stared down at her coffee, “I...I don't know.”
Stan let out an exasperated sigh. He took his wallet from his back pocket, drew several bills out, and held them out to Lucille. “Here. It isn't much, but it should be enough to get your phone turned back on and get a decent pair of shoes for Mikey.”
“Stan, no! I don't want your money.” Lucille said.
“Just take the money, Lucille.” Stan insisted. “If not for yourself, then think about Mikey. Do you want him to go to school on Monday in shoes that could fall apart at any minute?”
Lucille frowned at Stan. Her frown deepened into a grimace of frustration. At last, she gave up and took the money from Stan and shoved it into her pocket. “I will pay this back to you, Stan,”she said. “Soon.”
“Don't worry about it, Lucille. There's no need to rush.”
“If you say so.” she said weakly. She bit her lip and turned away from Stan.
“Something else is bothering you, isn't it? C'mon, Lucille, what's wrong?”
Lucille took a sip of her coffee and sighed. “Earlier, while you and Michael were gone, Detective Tate stopped by.”
“Oh.” said Stan, “Did he...have some news?”
“He said that they're calling off the search for Stanley and officially closing the case.” Lucille said, quietly.
“Yes, the detective was quite frank about it. He said that in the three months since he disappeared, they've gotten no closer to finding him than they were on the day he was reported missing. There are no leads, no suspects, not even the slightest hint about what happened to him. It's like he just vanished off the face of the Earth. He said that in instances like this; all of that usually means that either the person has left of their own accord and doesn't want to be found—which is so unlike Stanley that it hardly bears thinking about—or they've been...”she mouthed the word 'killed', “and someone has taken great pains to make sure that not a trace of them is found—which is just too awful to believe.” Lucille let out a soft sob and her eyes were glassy with un-shed tears.
Stan took her hand in his and squeezed it softly. “Don't believe it, Lucille.”
“The police may be ready to give up, but I'm not. And I promise you, Lucille, even if it takes the rest of my life; I will find my brother, and I'm going to bring him home. I can't really explain it very well right now, but you just have to believe me.”
Lucille squeezed his hand back and smiled through the stray tears that had managed to slip down her cheeks, “I trust you, Stan.”
The two of them sat like that for a minute. The hopeful silence was broken by the loud din of wood and metal crashing together outside.
“And I believe that would be the porch swing.” Lucille said. “It looked a bit loose when I was out there earlier, but I didn't think it would actually fall down.”
“Listen, I can't stay much longer, I have some things I need to take care of; but why don't I swing back 'round here tomorrow with my toolbox and see if I can't fix that for you?”
“Oh, no, Stan. I couldn't ask you to do that; you've done so much already.”
“Well, you're not asking me, I'm offering. Look, why don't we make a deal; I'll try to fix your swing and you save me some of that fish?”
Lucille smiled, “It's a deal.”
Stan stood up and said, “Sounds good. I do need to get going though. I'll see you tomorrow.”
Lucille stood as well. “Alright then. And Stan, thank you so much...for everything.” She wrapped her arms around him in a warm goodbye hug. She quickly scrubbed at her face, cleared her throat, and called upstairs, “Michael, Uncle Stan's leaving; come say goodbye.”
Moments later there was a loud thudding of footsteps down the stairs. Michael dashed into the kitchen and threw his arms around Stan's waist.
“Bye, Uncle Stan.”
“Can we go fishing again sometime?”
“Sure thing. Maybe weekend after next; if you keep on top of your school work and don't make any trouble for your ma. Can you do that?”
“You're a good kid.” Stan said, patting his nephew's head and ruffling his hair. He put an arm around Lucille's shoulder and drew her into a half-hug. “Take care of yourself, Lucille.”
“Thank you, Stan. And you too.”