“Can I?”

“Absolutely,” he bent, lifting him into his arms. His little arm immediately went around Avery’s neck as if it was the most natural thing in the world. His other hand slowly lifted to touch the fish. Avery also reached out and touched the fish, showing the kid, it was fine. Once they both had their hands on the fish, Eli became comfortable and touched an eye. He put a finger inside the mouth and rubbed the gills.

“It’s so cool,” Eli marveled, “Mom, if I catch a big fish tonight, can we put epoxy on it?”

Ashlee and Avery both laughed as he set Eli back down.

“Let me go put that casserole in the oven and get the checkers out. What do you two like to drink? I have tea, milk, lemonade and Diet Coke,” he called as he led the way to the kitchen. Usually, he only had tea and Diet Coke in his house, but he ran to the store earlier in the day and picked up a few items he thought a kid might like. He remembered he really liked lemonade as a kid and his pops always made him drink milk, so...

“I’ll have a Diet Coke,” Ashlee answered, “How about you, Bud?” he heard her ask on the way.

“Lemonade, please.” he answered as he sat on a bar stool at Avery’s counter-top.

Avery shared a smile with Ashlee. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her until he died, but… This afternoon was about Eli; they’d have to wait. He was pleased it was going well, and he thought he saw the same from Ashlee’s eyes and smile. Hopefully, the boy likes me and the three of us can make a go of this family thing, he thought.

While the oven warmed their dinner, they played a couple games of checkers and a game of Old Maid. Avery bought both games at the local Country Store when he picked up the drinks and snacks. He thought they might come in handy when they needed something to do while they got to know one another. It turned out, the games were the saving grace of the day. Eli was competitive. Just like I his mama, Avery remembered. The kid won at checkers both times and Ashlee ended up having the old maid right before the dinger went off on the oven. All three laughed. Ashlee offered to set the table and told Eli to find the restroom and wash his hands before eating.

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