The dining room table was piled with book bags, textbooks, crayons, coloring books, glue sticks, school projects and papers thrown haphazardly on the floor, on the chairs and on the sideboard.
With her blood pressure rising, she headed down the hallway and poked her head in the small bathroom. The toilet lid was up; it looked as if someone had sprayed the toilet, the walls and the floor with urine-oh, and then had forgotten to flush the toilet. The sink was covered in grimy soap scum and the bar of Lava was on the floor. She glanced in the mirror-not that she could see herself clearly because someone had smeared soap everywhere.
That did it.
She'd been gone since one o'clock this afternoon to work the election polls. This was how her sons reacted to being unattended in the house…for just a few hours? She shuddered to think what she would've found if she'd left them alone all day.
She stormed out of the house and found her five little pigs between the machine shed and the barn, on the old barrel they'd rigged up for Colby's bull riding practice.
"Cord, Colby, Colton, Cameron and Carter McKay, get your butts up on the porch pronto!"
When they weren't moving fast enough to suit her, she barked, "Now! Or so help me God I will get a switch and use it on each one of you!"
Even after they were lined up on the sidewalk, the five of them were screwing around, pushing each other and shoving. Cam was trying to bench press Carter over his head.
"You will stand there like statues and listen to every word I say. Is that understood?"
"I said, do you understand?"
Carolyn glared at each boy in turn, from her oldest to her youngest. None met her gaze.
"My job is taking care of my family. It's a job I take great pride in. Raising good boys, making our house a happy place to live and to come home to." She paused. "Do you think I was happy to come home today and find that god-awful mess? It looks like I'm raising bears in that house, not boys. Bears! But I could forgive bears, because they are animals and do not know any better. But you boys are not wild animals and every one of you knows better. I will not let you disrespect what I do every day. I work just as hard as your father and you'd never do to him what you did to me. What do you think would happen if you just went into the barn and took his tack and threw it all over the place?"
They looked at each other warily but were smart enough not to speak.
"So why is it all right to destroy the inside of my house in four hours? Just because I'm not here to tell you not to? The don't-be-pigs rule is the same regardless of whether I'm here or not! Did you assume I'd clean it up like I'm the hired help? Or do you think because you're boys that you can just leave all the inside dirty work to women? I don't appreciate…" She began to melt down.
Just as Carson started up the driveway.
Carolyn hastily wiped her tears. This wasn't something she wanted him to see. Or deal with because he ended up meting out the boys' discipline most of the time.
"Ma. We're really, really, really sorry and we'll clean up our messes and do everything you want and it'll never ever ever happen again; just don't tell Dad," Colby said in a rush.
"Yeah, Ma, please don't tell him," Cord added. "We'll go in and fix it and we'll be really fast."
Colt was totally panicked. "We'll be grounded until next summer if Dad sees you cryin' 'cause he'll know it's our fault."
"Dad said any time we made you cry he'd whip our butts," Cam added. "He'll probably even take away Christmas!"
Three-and-a-half-year-old Carter didn't really know what was going on-not that he was innocent on the mess-making front, but he let out a horrified, "No Santa?"
Cam whispered something in his ear that had Carter blurting out, "Sorry, Mama."
She let them sweat it out until Carson parked. "Okay. You've got one chance. I want every bit of the mess gone, including the muddy dog prints, including the disgusting bathroom, including the barn boots that somehow ended up in my kitchen. You will work together, you will get it done in two hours, and then you will tuck yourselves in bed without any supper. Got it?"
"Yes, Ma, thanks, we're so sorry-"
Carolyn pointed at the house. "Get. Moving."
Their shoes left tread marks on the concrete they left so fast.
Carson meandered up to the house. Lord, she loved her husband's ambling walk; it allowed her plenty of time to check him out. Dressed in his new Wranglers and a white button-up shirt with subtle stripes of navy and gray, wearing a gray wool vest, his black hat and black boots, he was a man who turned heads-especially hers, since he was every bit as handsome and sexy as the day they'd married.
He kissed her first, like he always did. When he pulled away to ask questions, she pulled him back to deepen the kiss. Which only stalled him for so long.
Those blue eyes were mighty skeptical. "What's goin' on with the boys?"
"Nothing. I was giving them last-minute instructions."
"On what? 'Cause from where I was sittin' it looked like you were givin' them what-for."
Carolyn looped her arm around his waist, directing him toward his truck. "I told them since I'd dressed up to work the election, and you were in your cattleman finery after spending the day at the St. Onge sale barn, that you were taking me out for supper."