Mathew stood at River’s front door with a marine issued duffle bag slung over his right shoulder and a box of assorted donuts in his hands. He waited forever before he glimpsed River running toward the door to greet him. A smile broke wide across his face. She looked great, a little pale, but great. He opened his arms to her.
“Oh my God. What are you doing here? You didn’t say you were coming the last time we talked.” She squeezed him so tight she was soon going to suffocate him. He swung her around and then set her bare feet on the porch. She pulled back, eyes sparkling brilliantly at him. He was home, and home was wherever River was. She was his bestfriend.
“Damn straight I didn’t tell you I was coming. That’s what makes it a surprise.” He jumped back, threw his arms out once more, squatted a little and yelled. “Surprise.”
River rolled her large hazel eyes at him and crossed her arms, trying to appear irritated. She would have succeeded if she weren’t smiling so grand.
“What’s in the box?” she asked, walking over to open the lid.
Mathew skirted away from her and bashed into the house he helped fix up, tossing his duffle bag onto the sofa as he went.
“What do you think?” he said, yelling from the kitchen.
River hurried in after him closing the front door.
She leaned against the kitchen counter as he grabbed two plates and two cups. He glanced around the kitchen. He could smell the coffee, but where was the pot.
Spotting the coffee maker on the counter next to the fridge, Mathew smiled. River always had a fresh pot of coffee brewing. He filled the cups and handed one off to River.
“Thanks,” she said.
“I’ll give you a hint. Coffee is a must to eat this item of tasty goodness.”
River bounced on her toes, coffee sloshing over the rim of her cup. Mathew chuckled. He knew River, and she didn’t often indulge, so he felt it was his sole responsibility to cause her to spoil her healthy habits from time to time.
“Donuts for me.” River’s eyes glimmered in the light as tears collected in them. “You shouldn’t have.”
Mathew scooped up the box, placing the two plates and his cup of coffee on the lid and made for the table.
“If I knew donuts would make you cry I would have gotten two boxes because what’s crying without a real sob.”
River wiped at her tears and followed him to the table, and they both sat down. “Two boxes would have been amazing, but I don’t want to go into a sugar coma when you just got here.” She sniffled and smiled at him. “We can do that tomorrow.”
Mathew reached over and tapped her cheek. “Sure thing, how about we have a movie marathon and order pizza and ice cream.”
“That would be nice.”
“Okay, down to business,” he slapped his hands together and then rubbed them vigorously. “Let’s see. I call dibs on the giant cinnamon donut. What do you want?”
“Got any apple fritters in there or bear claws?” She leaned over the table trying to turn the box to see. He slapped her hand away.
Mathew’s brows hitched high onto his forehead. Next he lifted both of her requested donuts in front of his face.
River sighed wistfully at him. “I love you.”
“I know. That’s what big brothers do. Bend to the will of their younger sisters.” He set the two donuts on a plate and pushed it over to River. She sat back in her chair, lifting a leg to rest her foot on the seat. She sipped her coffee and then took a bite of the bear claw and chewed it. She swallowed and took a bite of the other. She ate slowly savoring the taste. He chuckled and took a bite of his donut.
“How long are you in town for?” she asked around a bite of donut. “Tastes delicious.” Her eyes rolled back into her head. “Yum.”
“I took a week off to come see you. I was feeling homesick and I needed a break from marine life.”
River shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “You didn’t come to spy on me for mother did you.”
Mathew pasted a hurt looking expression on his face. “Me never. Spy. For her. Who do you think I am.”
“Her son,” River said mouth turned down. “Did she tell you I was loopy and that I needed to see a psychologist?” River a banded her donut and glared at him.
Damn he hated his mother. Why that woman couldn’t see, she’d won. She’d broken her daughter in such a way Mathew had been fighting for years to keep the pieces of River’s broken heart together. He clenched his jaw and sat back needing a second to contain his anger at his mother.
“She called saying, you weren’t leaving the house. That you were having your groceries delivered.”
River’s eyes narrowed. “And how the hell did she know that?”
Mathew shrugged. “I didn’t ask. I knew it was pointless. You know how she is. If she wants information and you won’t talk to her she’ll find a way to know what’s going on around you.”
River growled and shot to her feet. “I hate that woman. I wish she weren’t my mother.”
“Look I know she’s evil and all, but it’s her messed up way of showing she cares.” Mathew studied River’s face. The tight angry muscles slacked one by one on her face. She sank back into her seat. Next she picked up one of her donuts and took a huge bite, scowling at the wall. “I don’t see what the big deal is having my supplies delivered. Old people do it all the time because they can’t drive,” she mumbled continuing to chew.
“That would be okay if you weren’t twenty-four,” Mathew said, resting his elbows on the table, clasping his hands together. Fear grew in Mathew’s chest. He knew what was happening to River. He had looked up social phobia, and she had all the symptoms. He knew she could work past it if she tried, but he feared it could become worse alone here in Oregon.
“Pushhhh.” She waved a hand at him. “Take her side trader.”
Finishing his donut, Mathew drank the rest of his coffee. Running a hand over his face, he decided he wasn’t going to beat around the bush. He wanted the hard part of his trip out of the way so that he could enjoy the rest of the week together like old times.
“I think it’s not such a bad idea to see a doctor. Maybe it would help.”
River peered over at him mid-chew. The light in her eyes went out, and she set the rest of her donut down. He knew she would see this as the ultimate betrayal, but it had nothing to do with his mother.
“What?” she choked out expression going blank. She turned her face away from him. Her long brunette hair skimmed her cheeks and her slender arms hugged herself.
Mathew fisted his hands, cursing under his breath. He pushed his chair out and walked over to her. Crouching in front of her Mathew’s heart raced fear squeezing every vein his body painfully. He took her hands in his. Unhurried, she peeked at him from under her dark lashes.
“Listen Peewee, be honest with me. How are you doing?”
She tipped her head to the side and closed her eyes. “Not so great. The back yard is the only place I go to be outside lately. I haven’t left the house for about two weeks.”
Mathew swallowed hard not wanting to believe her. He wouldn’t let her see his concerns so he squeezed her hands and smiled lovingly at her.
“Well, sounds like tomorrow we go for a run. It will help. I’ll be with you.”
She lifted her stubborn chin and gave him a nod.
Mathew stood and rubbed his belly. “A run tomorrow means more donuts today. Can’t remember when dinner tasted so good. I think this time old fashion with sprinkles, no wait a maple bar.”
River’s gaze followed him as he went back to his seat. A small smile touched her lips, and Mathew knew she would be alright as long as they had each other’s back.