Heavy boots approached the kitchen, and then a red-haired man stepped into the room. He was at least six feet tall, maybe even a touch taller than Mike, and thick across the chest and shoulders. His hair matched that of his oldest son, but his eyes were like Lacy's, cinnamon eyes. And they were pinned to Mike like needles in a cushion.
Lacy jumped out of her chair and threw herself into her brother's arms. "Gosh it's good to see you. I've missed you the last few visits."
He returned her hug, kissed her forehead, and said, "So who's this?"
"My friend, Mike." She turned back to the table. "Mike, this is my brother, Charlie."
Charlie marched over to where Mike was getting out of his chair and the two men shook hands. It was one of those 'test' greetings where each man's grip was a little too firm and lasted a little too long. With a final squeeze, Charlie finally let go and took his place at the head of the table.
Without another word, he fell on his bowl of soup like a desert island survivor. Throughout the meal, he paused long enough to ask after the boys, check in with his wife and mother, and share a few thoughts with Lacy. Somehow, even though he never spoke directly to Mike, he managed to keep those needle-sharp eyes on him.
When Charlie finished eating, he tossed his napkin on the table and finally addressed Mike. "Let's leave the kitchen to the woman. You and I can go out on the porch and have a little brandy."
Mike laid his napkin on the table. "Sure, I'll go out on the porch with you, but I don't drink."
Charlie smiled. "That's okay. I don't have any brandy."
And that's when Mike began to wonder if he'd stopped taking boxing lessons too soon. Despite his reservations, he followed Charlie out onto the porch. A couple of plastic chairs were propped against the wall and a couch-sized swing was nestled against a corner of the porch, but Charlie didn't offer him a seat.
"I've got to get back in the field," he said, "so I'll make this quick. I guess I can understand you wanting to take a run at Lacy, but I really need to know what your underlying motive is."
"Motive? I don't have a motive. I wasn't even looking for a girlfriend when I met Lacy."
"Yeah? Then why are you dating her?"
Mike didn't mind direct, and blunt didn't bother him much, but he didn't like the sense that he was being interrogated. He purposely waited a moment before he shrugged and said, "I'm dating her because I like her… a lot."
Those needle-sharp eyes bored into him. "Why?"
"Why do you like her so much?"
Frustrated with the conversation, Mike blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "What's not to like about a girl who wears Minnie Mouse pajamas?"
Charlie's eyes bulged out of his head and his nostrils flared to twice their size.
Mike quickly realized his error. "Oh, man," he said. "That didn't come out right."
"Lacy!" Charlie bellowed.
Before Mike could clear up the misunderstanding, Lacy, her mother, the sister in law, and even the nephews came barreling out onto the porch.
"What's wrong?" Lacy asked, alarmed by the look in her brother's eyes. "What happened?"
Charlie poked his finger against Mike's chest. "How does this fool know what kind of pj's you wear to bed?"
Lacy gasped. "What?"
Her mother lowered her head and quietly said, "Oh, dear."
Caroline had wide eyes and an opened mouth to match.
The boys didn't care about pj's or Mike. They ran on outside and dashed across the yard toward their own home.
Lacy slowly shook her head and laid her hand across her brother's broad shoulder. "It's not what you think."
Charlie hesitated a moment, then turned to Mike and again poked his chest. "You'd better hope she's telling the truth, cause if she's not, I won't hesitate to run you through my new combine, piece by piece."