Very.  Very long day.  Today is Cade’s birthday.   He hates his birthday with a passion.  I had forgotten how beat up he looks until I had to actually ink in the bruising and cuts.

Today’s Download! –October 23

October 23rd

Maria took a deep breath. It was 6:45 AM, and she needed to get Cade out of his house by 7 AM. Maria had her instructions from Cade’s mother. One of the things she had warned her about had almost made her change her mind. At some point, Cade was very likely to figure out what was going on, and when he did, he would be angry. He would throw a tantrum. That information had immediately worried Maria. She had seen him angry and wasn’t sure what he would do if he were mad at her. His mother had reassured her that he would stop immediately if Maria told him to. He would sulk for a while, then accept what was going on. Cade was not allowed to drive because he would immediately come home, and they needed him away for at least 12 hours.

Zelda had given her several other tips on how to snap Cade out of one of his moods. She was sure he would try things to persuade her to take him home or let him drive. He wouldn’t try to steal her car or anything. But if Maria let him drive, he would come back with or without her permission.

Cade’s mother told her that is was fine to yell at him, put her foot down, and do anything else she felt she needed to. This was a rare situation. They had something big planned for Cade for his birthday, and he hated being the center of attention. He hated celebrating his birthday.

What followed was a sad account of why Cade hated his birthday. He had told this to his mother that he wished he had never been born. He had a tough childhood, and he was a sensitive boy. Zelda didn’t go into details beyond that. Maria was more moved to be with him after hearing what he had told his mother. Nobody should feel that way on any day, let alone their birthday.

Cade’s birthday was a massive trigger for him. However, he had Maria this year. Zelda was confident that Maria would be able to sway Cade into being himself. She would be able to keep him from turning into an angry, self-loathing pile of paranoia. It sounded like a big job. But Zelda managed to convince Maria that she would be fine, and so would he, especially when he came home. She wouldn’t tell Maria what the gift was, in case Cade tried to wheedle it out of her.

Maria had to convince Cade to go to a farm outside of town. They were going to pick apples and pumpkins for making pies and jack-o-lanterns. She wasn’t to let on that she knew it was Cade’s birthday. She was to say that her mom had suggested it and that Maria was going to cook Cade a pie. Then she had to make other plans without telling him what they were throughout the day. The plan was set, and now it was time to move it into motion. Maria’s part in the gift was to manage Cade throughout the day.

She was dressed, courtesy of Charise, in a nice long-sleeved red-checkered flannel shirt. Beneath it was a white t-shirt that said #NOTaPrincess on it in shiny silver lettering. Maria had made sure to wear jeans and sturdy hiking boots, knowing that she was going to be walking. She was dressed to catch Cade’s attention and keep it.

Maria rang the doorbell. Cade answered the door with a piece of toast hanging from his mouth. A confused look flashed onto his face when he saw Maria up and actually awake. “Good morning, Maria?” He looked at her suspiciously.

“Good morning. I thought I would surprise you with a trip out to Harvest Farms. Your mom thought I should take YOU on a date.” The look on Cade’s face was priceless. The rest of the toast fell from his mouth, and he turned slowly to look back inside the house.

“Mother.” Cade said it in an accusing way.

“You should go out and have a good time with Maria!” Cade’s mother called from somewhere in the house. “Go on! I don’t need you moping around here all day. I also need a bunch of apples and pumpkins! I have a ton of baking to do, and we need to make a few jack-o-lanterns!”

Cade turned back to Maria with a sour look on his face. She smiled at him, and he sighed. He couldn’t say no to such a simple thing. “Let me get my shoes on. Come in.” Cade went inside with the thought that his mother had put Maria up to this. She wanted to get him out of the house for a reason. He walked into the kitchen where his mother was at the table, eating her breakfast. “Ye did not tell Maria what today is, did ye?”

“Why would I do that?” She whispered back. “I just need apples and pumpkins, Dear. You’re so good at picking out the right ones and know exactly how many we need.”

Cade stared at his mother. “Ye better not be planning anything. NO surprises, Mom! NO parties!” He glanced up and was glad to see that Maria was probably still waiting in the living room.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade returned with suitable walking shoes a few minutes later. He settled onto a couch across from Maria to put them on. Shoes were so annoying. He preferred walking around barefoot. But you didn’t go walking around in an orchard or a field without proper shoes.

Maria waited on the couch. She considered backing out of this plan and doing something else with Cade. He was not in a good mood to start with. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be stuck in a car with him for longer than a few minutes. Then she got up and sat down next to him. “Why are you so grumpy? Your mom said you loved going out and doing this.”

“I do.” Cade sighed, working on his laces. “I just woke up in a bad mood today. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’ll get better.” Maria put a hand on his shoulder and slid it up to his face, avoiding the bruise and bandage. She brushed his unruly black hair out of his eyes and leaned forward to kiss him. Cade immediately stopped what he was doing to turn and embrace her, pulling her closer. They kissed for several minutes, which was plenty of time to lift Cade’s mood.

“I’m driving!” Maria declared, pulling back with a grin before Cade was ready to let her go. She bounced off the couch and twirled her keys around one finger.

“Why? I have a truck. It’ll hold more stuff.” Cade finished tying his laces, hoping he could catch her before she got out the door for another kiss and hug.

“You drove me around for our date. I’m driving you around. It’ll be fine. I laid down the back seats for more room.” Maria walked to the door and held it open, waiting for Cade to join her.

“Will I fit? That’s the more important question.” Cade headed for Maria, hands up in preparation for grabbing her. He was smiling now and had a mischievous glint in his eyes. He jumped toward her, intending to catch her. Maria laughed and darted out the door. Her car was parked in front of his house, and she had already put the seats down. She had also made sure that the passenger seat was moved back as far as it would go. Cade should have plenty of room in her little crossover on the passenger side.

-=-=-=-=-

They got on the road fine. Cade settled into the passenger seat with plenty of room and enjoyed the ride. It wasn’t often that he didn’t drive. “Your mom gave me a recipe and told me you might like it if I baked you a pie.”

“Ye can cook?” Cade gave her a skeptical look. From his understanding of things in Maria’s house, Jaden and Charise did all the cooking.

“I can follow a recipe,” Maria grumbled.

“Following a recipe isn’t the same thing as cooking.” Cade leaned back in his chair and gave her a skeptical look. “Make me something from the heart, and then we can talk.”

“Oh, wow, Cade, are you that full of yourself?” Maria shot him the weirdest face. It was a mix between a dirty look and a smirk. “I’ll have you know I can cook you under a table.”

“Oh, really?” Cade grinned. “I’d like to see ye try.” He had actually gotten a rise out of her over something as silly as cooking! He continued poking, amused by how feisty she looked. Wow, this was a new look on her, and he liked it. This could be a bad thing. She looked so fierce and cute at the same time, likely because she wasn’t really mad at him.

“For Thanksgiving. We’re going to have a cook-off!” Maria almost clipped another car and yelped.

“Watch the road!” Cade cringed in his seat. Maybe picking a playful fight with her in the car while she was driving was not a good idea. He took a deep breath and smiled. “That sounds like fun.”

“Fun! Are you kidding me! I’m going to win!” Maria took cooking seriously.

“Whoa whoa whoa!” The car in front of them had slowed down suddenly. Cade was thrown forward against his seatbelt as Maria slammed on the brakes. The car behind them did the same with a screech. “Hey, calm down. I’m sorry I said it that way. Don’t get us into a wreck!”

Maria took a deep breath. Here she was worried about Cade throwing a tantrum, and what had she done? He was managing her! Not the other way around. She took another big breath. Cade leaned over and kissed her to let her know it was all okay. “Eyes on the road, please.” He leaned back and smiled.

“Sorry about that.” Maria smiled back. “But yeah, let’s do that for Thanksgiving!”

“Yer not going to try to kill me ta win, are ye?” Cade teased.

“All’s fair in love and competition!” Maria smirked and kept her eyes on the road.

“That’s comforting.” Cade smiled and went back to watching the scenery going by. Lesson learned. Don’t tease Maria while she’s driving.

-=-=-=-=-

Maria could not keep up with Cade. He grabbed two large baskets for apples and a wagon and ran off into the orchard. The baskets bounced around and almost fell out. They managed to get to the trees without anything disastrous happening. Cade walked a little further, then immediately began going through apples.

“We’re looking for firm, unblemished apples.” Cade began picking as fast as he could, carefully setting the apples into the basket. “Be nice to them. These are Pink Lady apples. My favorite. Try one.” He tossed an apple to Maria, who was standing next to the wagon, looking at him in bewilderment. She caught it, and after rolling it around in her hands, took a bite. Cade walked around the closest tree filling his arms with apples. Then he would roll them into a basket.

Maria munched on her apple, staring at Cade. She knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to get the baskets full as quickly as possible. She was going to have to figure out a way to slow him down. Maria grinned, and while Cade’s back was turned, walked off into the orchard. He was going to be annoyed, but it looked like an excellent place to get lost in.

There was only one problem. Cade found Maria half an hour later. He proclaimed that he had finished filling the two baskets, so they could get them weighed and paid for. Then they could pick out pumpkins. Maria thought she had done a good job of wandering far away. She had to have covered at least a mile in her walk. Yet, he had found her in less than five minutes.

Cade brought her back to where he left the baskets in another ten simply because she refused to run with him. The apple picking by itself should have taken an hour.

Cade didn’t seem to notice that Maria was stalling. He thought she had wanted to go for a walk. He paid for the apples and loaded them into the car. Next were the pie pumpkins. He picked out half a dozen pie pumpkins that met his needs. They joined the apples in the car.

Maria was getting annoyed with how manic Cade was acting. He took even less time grabbing pumpkins to carve. He picked out two good-sized pumpkins and several smaller ones. By the time they were done, Maria’s car was full and had a pleasant smell of apples, pumpkins, and the outdoors. Maria wouldn’t unlock the door for Cade when he went to the passenger side of the car, expecting to go.

“They have hot chocolate and kettle corn!” Maria motioned to the area set up near a corn maze. “And a corn maze! Come on, Cade, let’s go have some fun!” Cade had actually given her a baleful look. It only lasted a few seconds, but she saw it and realized that he might be suspecting something. Maria ran up to him and threw her arms around him. He had his back to the car and couldn’t go anywhere. Maria lifted up on her tiptoes and ran her fingers through his hair while kissing him. “Let’s. Go. Have. Fun.” She gave him a playful smirk sliding both hands down his neck and chest. He forgot what he was doing and took her hand.

That bought half an hour longer. They shared hot chocolate, apple cider, and sweet kettle corn. Then Maria managed to get Cade to do the corn maze with her. There was one problem. Cade figured it out in record time, and even though she tried to stall him, they were out faster than she intended. It was 10 AM when they headed back to the car. Maria’s plan to keep Cade out had them leaving after 11, so they could go to town for lunch. She also had a fun couples project she had decided on.
Cade jumped in the car the moment it was unlocked, buckled himself in, and checked the time. “Great, we’ll be home for lunch.”

“We’re going downtown for lunch. I’m treating you.” Maria pulled out of the field that was serving as the parking lot for the farm. There were a lot more cars out now, and she was trying to be careful.

“Okay, but we’ll be unloading all this at home, then going out.” Cade stated, looking at Maria.

“No, we’re going downtown. We don’t need to go home yet.”

And then it happened. Cade’s expression changed, and he became very still. He stared at the window and began fidgeting with his hands. He clenched his fists and wrang his hands, thinking. He made a groaning noise and hit his forehead on the window. Then he turned to glare at Maria. “YOU!  Why ye wee little traitor!” A look of rage and hurt at being betrayed clouded Cade’s blue eyes. “Home. Now. My mom put ye up to this, didn’t she?! What are they doing?! Maria, what are they doing?!”

“Knock it off, Cadeyrn!” Maria snapped at him. He immediately recoiled against the side of the car, glaring at her. He was so upset, he was shaking.

“Maria! I want to go home!” Cade’s voice took on a growly quality. His anger was shifting to simply being upset and anxious. “Oh no, what are they doing?!” He buried his head in his hands and kept repeating the same thing. “I hate surprises! I have to stop them!”

“Seriously, Cade, why is this such a big deal?” Maria rolled her eyes at him trying to keep her attention on the road. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s your birthday! It wouldn’t be anything bad.”

“Ye don’t understand. My mom is crazy! There is no telling what she might do! Whatever it is will be embarrassing.” Cade moaned, folded his arms, and sunk into his seat to stare out the window and ignore Maria. He sulked and would not respond to anything. Cade trembled off and on. Every few minutes, he would breathe like he was having a difficult time catching his breath.

Maria grumbled as she drove. She wasn’t sure how long she could tolerate dealing with an almost 7-foot tall 200-pound five-year-old. By the time they reached town, Cade was still muttering at her. But he had accepted that he wasn’t getting home anytime soon. He made it known he was angry as they walked down the town’s main street. He walked hunched over, hands in his pockets, and glaring at everyone who got too close. Maria had been hesitant to touch him at first, but she put an arm around his and led him down the sidewalk.

Cade walked like an angry dog on a leash. He went where Maria took him, but would not talk and sulked the entire time. She ended up in a secluded area of the park with him trying to use his mother’s advice to snap him out of it. By that time, his anger had turned into mopey sadness. The man really hated his birthday and surprises. He couldn’t justify taking it out on Maria. He desperately wanted to go home and catch his mother in whatever it was she was doing.

Cade was trembling and breathing shallowly again. He was swaying unsteadily as he walked and clenching and unclenching his hands. Every few moments, he would rub his chest. It was then that Maria noticed what was really happening. Cade wasn’t being a bratty child throwing a tantrum. He was having a panic attack.

“Cadeyrn.” Maria clutched his arm and guided him to a nearby tree. She sat down against the trunk and pulled him down with her. “Lay down with your head on my lap. You’re having a panic attack.”

“What?” Cade stared at her in confusion resisting for a moment.

“Please do what I said. I can help.” Maria touched his face, and Cade scowled at her, then sighed and did what she said. “I’ve had them, and I know how to stop them.” Cade laid on his back and grumbled about the cold hard ground. Maria began running her hands through his hair and over his temples, massaging him.

“You’re having a panic attack. It’s okay. Nothing is actually happening to you.”

“Easy for you to say. My heart’s trying to escape.” Cade winced and ran a hand over his chest.

“Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly.” Maria began touching Cade’s face. She was trying to relax him with one hand on his forehead while the other traced his features. “Think about something that makes you happy.”

Cade sighed, and after a few minutes, the trembling stopped. He relaxed and laid there, enjoying Maria’s attention. “I am just the greatest catch.” Cade muttered with a scowl opening his eyes to look up at Maria.

“Cade, you’re going to have another one if you don’t stop that.” Maria lightly slapped the side of his head. He winced and grabbed her hand, then he smiled and kissed her fingers. “You need to remain calm and relaxed.”

“That’s hard to do, Maria.” Cade scowled and moved her hand back up to the side of his head. “Very hard. I don’t want to talk about it. Today is hard. They’re in my house doing things, and I don’t know what they are doing, but that’s my house.” He began trembling again but only briefly.

“Your mother loves you, Cade. What do you think they’re doing that’s going to be so awful? Decorate, bake you a cake, make you a nice dinner? Jump out and yell Happy Birthday!”

Cade stared up at Maria with a frown. “Maria, my father died on my 6th birthday. He died because of me.”

“Oh.” That made everything click together. Maria felt terrible for her part in today. His mother meant well, but she didn’t seem to understand how traumatic this day was for Cade. “Don’t talk about it today. Tell me another day?”

“I will.” Cade sighed. “Thank you, Maria.” He pushed himself up and leaned against the tree, turning his attention to her. He took her in his arms and pulled her against his chest. “I am sorry about today. This is not the best of me.”

“I understand.” Maria settled into his arms. “But you need to see someone about the panic attacks.”

“Maybe.” Cade shrugged. “Or I just keep ye around.” He managed a smile and kissed the top of Maria’s head. Cade squeezed her and inhaled. Her unique smell was always so comforting. Girls smelled good in general. Maria smelled divine.

“Are you okay now?”

“I think so.” Cade sighed, concentrating on Maria. If he could keep his focus on her and not let it waver, he might be able to make it through to the end of the day. “What time do I get to go home?”

“7.”

“That’s ugh… 8 hours from now!” Cade threw his head back against the tree trunk. “What are we going to do for 8 hours?”
“Oh, I don’t know. This is nice.” Maria closed her eyes for a moment and listened to his heart beating. It had slowed down to a normal pace. “Relax here for a little while. Then we’ll have lunch and go do something fun I have planned for us.”

“What did ye plan?” Cade sounded excited.

“You’ll see.”

-=-=-=-=-

Maria couldn’t afford a fancy lunch. But she could get soup and sandwiches from one of the little downtown restaurants for the two of them. Cade didn’t say anything or try to pay for it. However, Maria missed him shaking his head no to the server when he took her card.

From there, they spent a little bit of time walking and wasting time. Maria assumed that since it was Wednesday afternoon, things wouldn’t be that busy, and they weren’t. Cade and Maria were alone. They talked and enjoyed each other’s company.
At 3 PM, Maria took Cade into a little art shop that did painting parties. Cade was a little startled when he realized what they were doing. He was a professional painter, so he had never had any interest in them, but if Maria wanted to do it, he would too.

They were given a selection of subjects, then blank canvases and pencils to begin with. Cade didn’t see what Maria chose, and Maria didn’t see what he picked out. They set up on easels next to each other, and Maria went off to buy a glass of red wine.
Cade was already done penciling in the image he was supposed to create, which wasn’t quite what he had chosen. He was more than capable of doing what he wanted freeform and had decided to paint this one for Maria. For an artist herself, the walls in her house had very little art.

Maria sat next to him, sipping her wine. “This is for fun, Cade.” She grinned.

“Do ye know how to paint?” Cade was already beginning on his. “Yer a graphic artist, so I assume ye can paint.”

“Graphic Designer.” Maria winced. “I haven’t painted in years, and I honestly never found my style. Not like you.” Maria leaned over to look at Cade’s canvas. “I mean, look at you. You’re not even using a grid!”

“I always hated using grids. So confining.” Cade smiled at Maria. “Stop talking to me and work on yer own piece. Yer the one who wanted to do this. Show me what ye got. I look forward to seeing it.”

“I may end up drinking wine and watching you paint.” Maria sipped her wine and stared at the blank canvas.

-=-=-=-=-

Two hours later found Cade sitting on his stool with his painting turned away from Maria. He didn’t want her seeing the finished piece. Maria didn’t mind as he watched her put the finishing touches on hers. Her painting wasn’t bad. It was a simple butterfly with purple and blue wings and golden pinpoints scattered over the wingtips. It was fluttering against a golden orange backdrop of fall leaves. It had come out nice.

Maria was pleased with herself and had a good time with the process. The event was over, and the instructor was walking by talking to people as they packed up to leave. She complimented Maria, then she walked around behind Cade and did a double-take.

“You have to show off, don’t you, Mr. King?” She was smiling at him. “Can we take a picture of you with it and use it for our advertising? A pro coming in is always nice.”

Cade had turned a little pink at the compliment. “Of the painting, yes. Me. No. You know how I am.”

“Camera shy.” The instructor sighed. “You can leave your paintings here to dry and pick them up before 9 tonight.”
“So, what did you end up painting?” Maria got up, and so did Cade.

“Well. Well.” Cade murmured, stepping back so Maria could see. He felt shy about it and stared at the floor.

Maria stopped in front of the painting and stared at it. He had painted what looked like a green man in shades of grey and brown. Leaves curled over his head, falling in short waves. The figure was heavily armored, scarred, scratched up, and had a fierce expression. He had tattered, worn dragonfly wings. He resembled Cade down to the brilliant blue eyes.

In his arms, his eyes lovingly focused on her, was a pixie faced faerie. She had short brown hair that swept wildly into the air. Beautiful purple wings flared out from her back, and she was looking up into his eyes.

“Wow.” Maria looked from the painting to Cade, who was still staring at the floor. “Cade. Wow.” She looked back at the painting. “You’re amazing.”

“So ye like it?” Cade ventured shyly. His work was always deeply personal and often embarrassing to him when others saw it in person. He didn’t like to be around his paintings when others knew they were by him. “I figured we could swap them. I would like ye to have mine.”

“Really?” Maria grinned. “And you want my crappy painting?”

“It is not crappy.” Cade snorted, leaning down to look her in the eyes. “It is a perfectly lovely painting, and I will hang it in my bedroom.” Then he grabbed her and kissed her, which was considerably more heated than usual. Something which also didn’t go unseen as a low tittering sound rose up around them.

“What?” Cade snapped at whoever was watching.

“That is so gross, Mr. Cade!” A group of children that had come into the room. They started laughing and pointing, making the whole thing uncomfortable.

“This is how ye get here.” Cade grunted, putting an arm around Maria and guiding her toward the exit. He got a disapproving look from their teacher and glared back as they passed through the door.

-=-=-=-=-

Maria felt like she was walking on air. Kissing Cade was always nice, but wow, that one was different. She knew she had a goofy smile on her face but couldn’t get rid of it no matter how hard she tried. She felt so happy, warm, and light.

“Ugh, it’s only 5:30. I can’t wait.” Cade began fidgeting again, which Maria knew by now meant that shaking was soon to follow. She turned and swung herself into him so hard that he almost tripped over her. “Maybe ye have had a wee too much to drink, Maria.” He chuckled as his focus immediately shifted to her.

“Maybe.” Maria giggled, deciding that might be the best thing to fake at the moment. The two glasses of wine she had were already out of her system. Right now, she was drunk on emotion.

“Well, ye can’t drive then.” Cade began stroking her hair, looking down at her lovingly. “I can.”

“Nope. Your mom said 7PM.”

“Please, Maria, I would like to go home.” Cade gave her a pleading look, still running his fingers through her hair. “I do not like this.”

“You’re fine.” Maria lifted a hand to his face and ran it up behind his ear. “It’s not that long to wait. Let’s go back to the park for a little while, then pick up our paintings and head home. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.”

-=-=-=-=-

The last hour and a half dragged by with the pair ending up back in the park. Then they picked up their paintings, got in the car, and Maria drove them home. Cade had asked again if he could drive, which she turned down immediately. She had a suspicion that he would have sped back if he could have.

Cade was anxious and fidgetting the entire way home. It was only a few minutes drive, and he could only focus on home and the horror that awaited him. As they turned down the street that led to theirs, Cade noticed there more cars than usual lined on the streets. He sat up and stared.

Maria noticed all the cars too. It made it a little trickier in places where the road narrowed, but she had a smaller vehicle, so it wasn’t too bad. Cade’s mother had not told her anything about what they were doing. This many cars that meant there would be a lot of people. And a lot of people was something that she knew Cade did not want. She hoped he wouldn’t have another panic attack and considered stopping to call his mother first.

“Keep going.” Cade sighed as he felt the car slowing. “I’m fine. Get it over with.” He folded his arms and sank back into his seat with a look of pure misery on his face.

They turned a corner, and then Cade could see his house just beyond hers. He sat up, leaning toward the dash with one hand on Maria’s arm. “What… what did they do?”

“I’m seeing this the same time you are.” Maria gaped. Cade stared wide-eyed and silent as they got closer, then Maria pulled into an open spot in front of his house. Cars lined the street. There was a considerable number of people, adults and children standing around Cade’s home and in front of Maria’s.

Cade staggered out of the car, and Maria joined him. She wasn’t sure how he was going to react. But Cade wasn’t shaking or doing anything more than staring at the scene before him. The western town display that had been burnt to the ground had been rebuilt that day. If it weren’t for the scorch marks on the ground here and there, it would have looked like nothing had happened. The Halloween decorations had exploded around his house and infected Maria’s too.

Maria could see the gates to Cade’s backyard, and her own was open. The smell of grilling hamburgers and hot dogs filled the air. She assumed Charise and Jaden were somewhere in the mass of people. People began waving at Cade and walking by, wishing him a happy birthday and leaving. They were dispersing.

Soon their numbers were down to a more comfortable level. Cade stood there, staring in astonishment for a good fifteen minutes. Maria got the impression that all the people who were here knew better than to crowd Cade. They seemed to all want to see how he was reacting and then left with smiles on their faces. She got that weird feeling again that something was off about her perception of Cade. She was missing something.

“I can’t believe they did this.” Cade whispered, still looking up and down his yard. It was full of kids running in and out of the houses, laughing, playing, and enjoying dinner. “I don’t understand why they would.”

“It’s your birthday?” Maria grinned, taking his arm. “Come on, let’s go inside. I haven’t seen your mom or friends or my sister and Jaden.”

“Oh, no. Uh, let’s go to the backyard instead. I’m hungry. How about ye?” Cade had the sneaky suspicion if he went inside, someone was going to jump out and yell ‘Happy Birthday!’. That was the last thing he wanted.

Cade’s friends and mother anticipated that Cade would try to avoid going straight into his home. They were waiting for him, and the moment he came into sight, everyone shouted, “Happy Birthday.” Cade staggered back and almost crashed into Maria.

“Get out of my backyard!” He shouted in response. He glanced at Maria, his face a mixture of confusion and embarrassment. Then he stormed up the back steps ran across his deck and into his house, slamming the door behind him.

There was the sound of stomping feet echoing through the house. Then another group of people shouted, “Happy birthday!”

“Get out of my house!” Cade yelled, followed by more stomping and another door slamming.

“Uh, is he all right?” Maria winced as his mother approached her.

“Oh, he’s fine. He’ll come down in a little bit and be okay as long as nobody says Happy Birthday to him again.” Cade’s mother grinned, thoroughly amused by what she had done. “We should go and have a little talk. Hungry? We can talk while you eat.”

Maria glanced at the house, sighed, then smiled. She had spent the day keeping Cade in check and stable. He didn’t need her to babysit him, and she wanted one of the burgers she could smell cooking. She also needed to talk to Cade’s mother about his panic attacks.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade took a deep breath as he settled onto his bed in the dark. He needed a few minutes to recover and be in his own room.

He had begun shaking and immediately started doing the things Maria had taught him to do. He took a long slow breath and closed his eyes, thinking about her. She had been very patient with him and his stupid antics. He was going to have to make up for how he had behaved.

-=-=-=-=-

“So maybe don’t do something like this again,” Maria suggested to Cade’s smiling mother.

“He gets over it. It’s all fine.”

Maria stared at her. She wasn’t getting it. Maybe it was her generation? Maria sighed.

“You did a good job keeping him away. I hope he wasn’t too troublesome.”

“No. He wasn’t.” Maria took a bite of her burger and munched on a few chips thoughtfully.

“Mother.” Cade stood behind Maria and growled at his mother.

“Evening, Cadeyrn. Why don’t you get something to eat? I even baked you your favorite cake.”

“Is anybody singing?” Cade glanced around with a look of panic on his face.

“No. We’re done. Don’t worry about it, Cade.” His mother chuckled. Cade sighed in response and went off to prepare himself a plate.

“Maria, you two should get married.” Cade’s mother leaned in and whispered. She didn’t want Cade catching her suggesting this. “As soon as possible.”

“Uhm.” Maria squirmed and blushed. She glanced at Cade, who was piling a couple of hot links onto a hamburger that already had two patties on it. “We’re not, we’re uh.” She scrunched up her face. She still wasn’t sure what they were or what she wanted.

“He loves you,” Zelda stated with a smile. “Can’t you tell? Why wait when it’s certain?” Maria sighed and took another bite of her burger, thinking about what she was saying. She was Cade’s mother. She knew him better than anyone. “He loved you the moment he met you. That’s why he’s so shy around you.”

Maria looked up again to see Cade laughing about something with Brutus. His mood seemed to have improved. He didn’t seem to have any problems talking to his friends. Or anyone else for that matter. She thought back to the weird occurrences where Cade outright ordered people around. They listened and did what he told them to. So odd.

“I don’t know.” Maria finally stated.

“What’s there to know? He loves you. You love him. I can see it in your eyes and the way you look at him.” Zelda continued, her wrinkled face fixed in a grin. “Sometimes you have to take a chance, Dear because he’s not going to. You are the one who decides and leads in this. He’s afraid of you.”

Maria stared at Zelda. Cade placed his plate, piled high with food, next to Maria’s, and sat down.

“Mother.” Cade leveled a stern gaze at her as she sat back and away from Maria. “What are ye talking about?” He gave her a suspicious look and glanced at Maria’s red face.

“Nothing.” Maria smiled and took another bite.