Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 21

I thought I’d share an update that I hope to have this book out on Amazon in January. It will be called Shores of Mercy and I revealed the cover this week as well.

Here is Chapter 21 (for blog purposes anyhow. The chapters often change in the final version).

As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 21

“There is no way I would steal from you and you know it, Lonny!” Judi ignored Lonny’s attempt to quiet her with the way he was lowering his hands and placing a finger against his mouth. He stood and walked to the door of his office, shutting it.

Judi flinched at the door clicking closed and hugged her arms around herself briefly before letting out a breath and letting her arms fall to her side.

“Judi, all I know is that I have a guy who has worked 15 years for me telling me that you’ve been taking money from the till. I can’t have you working here if I can’t trust you,  understand?”

“I didn’t take money from you. I’ve been working a second job.”

“Yeah, that’s what you say —”

“I’m working for a lawyer in Burkett. Ben Oliver.”

Lonny snorted a laugh. “You? Yeah right.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Lonny shook his head and laughed again. “What lawyer is going to hire someone like you?” He leaned forward in his chair and propped his large, hairy arms on the desk. “Come on, Judi. No need to lie anymore. Just leave your keys and apron, get out of here and I won’t press charges.”

Judi narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips together, wanting to fling a series of curse words across the desk at the heavyset man with hairy arms and black bushy eyebrows, but at the same time knowing it wasn’t worth it. It was over. She’d be leaving this job with a reputation as a thief, but at least it wouldn’t be going on a permanent record.

She flung the door open, slamming it back against the wall of the office, and started at the sight of Hannah standing in the doorway. The woman she thought had been her friend gasped and jumped back a step.

“Get an earful, Hannah?” Judi snapped, pushing past her.

“Judi, wait —”

Judi whirled around, hands at her waist. “I don’t want to hear a thing from you. We were supposed to be friends. How many shifts did I take for you when you had hangovers or had been out partying too late the night before? How many times did I cover for you when you were out back making out with your boyfriend instead of working? Now you stab me in the back? For what? More money? A fling with Lonny? What?”

Hannah’s mouth fell open but then closed again. Her gaze shifted to the floor as Lonny stepped into the doorway of his office and pointed at Judi. “Get out, Lambert. You’ve been nothing but trouble since you started here. Go be a pain in the butt somewhere else.”

Since the bar wasn’t open yet, it was only staff that watched as Judi left, tossing the restaurant front door keys and her money apron onto the front counter on her way out. She didn’t care who heard when she ripped her car out of the parking lot and headed back toward her apartment.

She ignored her cellphone ringing when she parked the car outside her apartment building and started to walk in. She didn’t care who it was. She wasn’t in the mood.

“Judi!” She turned at the sound of her name being called. “Hey!”

The tall, lean figure jogging down the street toward her transformed her scowl into a relaxed smile. Wearing a dark gray shirt and a pair of dark blue jeans, Evan looked even better than he had the day he’d looked at her car. She turned from where she’d been about to walk up the stairs to her apartment, folded her arms across her chest, and leaned a shoulder against the building to watch his progress. It was a nice view.

He winked as he reached her and propped his arm close to her, against the wall of the building, pushing the cowboy hat he was wearing back on his head so the sun hit his face when he smiled. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Where you off to in such a hurry?”

She returned his smile. “Having a bad day so I’m headed up to my place to drown my sorrows in a pint of ice cream.”

Her gaze trailed across his unshaven jawline, drifting to a cleft chin before sliding back to his green eyes with flecks of brown and gold in the iris. “Want to join me?”

The words startled her. She’d just invited a guy she’d barely seen since high school — when she’d made out with him under the bleachers — up to her apartment. He was either going to run for the hills or —

“I’d be glad to. Got any chocolate?”

Her throat tightened as she smirked as an answer and turned to head up the stairs. She hoped he knew she was only offering ice cream and a chat and that he was as polite as his older brother. Then again, if he wanted another make-out session it would be a nice distraction from Lonny’s lies, Hannah’s betrayal, and that voicemail from Seline she knew was waiting on her phone.

Since she’d moved into the apartment, it had either smelled like apple cinnamon candles or all things feminine, thanks partially to Ellie and partially to her own likes. Dropping her keys on the table next to the door and catching a whiff of Evan’s masculine cologne caused her to suck in a quick and quiet breath. She gestured toward the small loveseat in the equally small living room as she headed toward the kitchen.

“Make yourself at home,” she said, walking to the refrigerator, and into a kitchen that was essentially part of the living room.

When the front door clicked closed behind him, a chill shivered through her, but she brushed it off and opened the freezer door.

“Can I get you a drink to go with your ice cream?” She smiled over her shoulder. “Non-alcoholic only.”

“Water is fine,” Evan said from the couch. “What was your bad day all about?”

She huffed out a sigh. “I got accused of stealing money at my job and got fired.”

Evan winced then laughed. “Ouch. That is a bad day.” She heard his footsteps behind her and the muscles in her entire body stiffened. “Can I give you a hand?”

“Sure,” she said with a quick smile as he stood next to her. She pushed the carton of ice cream across the counter. “You can dip out your own ice cream if you like. Bowls are in the cupboard toward your left.”

“No problem.” He opened the cupboard and took the spoon she handed him. “So, how did you even end up back in Spencer? I heard you were loving it in the city.”

“And who told you that?”

Evan shrugged. “Through the grapevine.” He grinned as he dipped the ice cream out into the bowl. “Jessie Landry is usually the source of the grapevine.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Jessie. Yeah.” She put her carton of ice cream back in the freezer, then took his carton as he handed it to her. “We used to hang out a lot. She wasn’t as interested in hanging out when I told her I wasn’t going to be drinking anymore.”

“What led to that decision?” he asked as they walked back to the couch. “The drinking one?”

Judi hadn’t expected that question and wasn’t sure she wanted to answer it. At this point, though, she also didn’t care who knew why she’d stopped drinking. “I got tired of waking up with major headaches. That and one day I woke up and realized I’d poured half of my life down the drain.”

She’d worried about how he’d respond to her openness, but she looked up to see him nodding in apparent understanding.

“Makes total sense. Alcohol has never been my vice, but then again, I’ve probably only had a couple beers my entire life.” He made a face. “Just never got used to the taste or the way it made me feel.”

She dug into her ice cream and curled her legs up under her, thinking about how this was the first time she’d ever sat next to a man on a couch, simply talking. She also wondered what Evan’s vices were. Or was he as put-together as his police officer older brother?

She watched him take a bite of his ice cream, her gaze drifting to his lips, which she’d once kissed but knew she needed a refresher course on at some point. That make out session had been a long time ago.

“How long are you home for?”

“Not sure yet. Couple weeks at least, but my boss offered me a full month.” He placed the bowl on her coffee table and laid an arm on the back of the couch. “Tell me about this job of yours? Was it what you really wanted to be doing?”

Judi laughed. “Yeah, sure. I wanted to spend my whole life waiting on tables and getting hit on by old drunk men.” She took another bite of ice cream. “I haven’t grown up yet, Evan McGee. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Do you?”

He shrugged a shoulder, his gaze meeting hers. “Not really no. I like driving truck. It’s a lot of fun to see so many different places and not get stuck in the same old every day. I don’t  have to be tied down to anything.”

Judi nodded. “Or anyone, which is good. Being tied to people can be very draining. I love my family but in the city, I didn’t have to deal with family issues as much. I was my own person, not Ellie Lambert’s crazy sister or Tom and Rena Lambert’s black sheep daughter.”

“You think you’ll ever go back to the city?”

The city held a lot of temptations, a lot of danger, but “Yeah. I think I will. Spencer really is too quiet for me. I feel stagnant here.”

He laughed softly, reaching up to push a strand of hair back from her face. “Yeah, I get that. I feel the same way.” The smile faded into a more serious expression. “It would be nice to be stagnant with someone else for a little while.”

Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned his head toward hers. She hadn’t expected him to move in for a kiss so soon, but she’d take it. She’d love to think about something other than everything else going on in her life right now. A warm mouth on hers might be just what she needed right now.

His lips were as soft as they looked. She was used to hard, urgent, sloppy, and drunken kisses. This one was nice, slow and easy and he was keeping his hands to himself other than eventually cupping her cheek as he continued to kiss her.

“Sorry,” he whispered leaning back a few inches, his mouth still hovering close to hers. “I’m probably moving a little too fast.”

A smile tugged at her mouth as her gaze fell to his lips. “Fast isn’t always bad.”

When he kissed her again, she slid her hands in his hair at the back of his head and felt softness between her fingers. Even as she moved closer, he kept his hands above her neck, in her hair, didn’t try what other guys had.

The kiss was tender, not full of wild need and it ended a few minutes later when his phone rang. He let his lips linger a few seconds longer before reaching for the phone in his back pocket.

He frowned as he looked at the screen. “Family is calling. I promised I’d be there for a family meeting of sorts this evening and I’m supposed to be helping my mom set up.” She sighed and slid the phone back in his pocket. “My sister and her kids are coming over and Matt’s coming with Liz and the baby.” He reached up and twirled a piece of her hair around his index finger. “Mom is cooking up a storm. I’d better not miss it.” He let the strand fall and trailed the same finger down her arm. “Hey, you wouldn’t want to come, would you? I can swing by and pick you up around 6.”

A family gathering with a loving, religious, and perfect family? Her stomach churned at the idea. Those were the types of places she didn’t fit in, but those green eyes were focused on hers and that finger was sliding across her skin, making tiny circles on the back of her hand. It didn’t hurt that his mouth was still looking insanely kissable too.

“Yeah, why not? I don’t have to work for Ben until tomorrow and all I was going to do tonight was drown my sorrows in the rest of that ice cream anyhow.”

He grinned and leaned in for another quick kiss. “Great. I’ll see you then.” She stood as he did. “Looking forward to it.”

He was looking forward to it, but she wasn’t sure she was. Quiet family gatherings weren’t really her thing. Time to sit and chat and talk about her life didn’t exactly appeal to her, especially since so much of her life wasn’t worth talking about.

Spooky Season Cinema: When my son and I asked ourselves if we were in hell while watching Hocus Pocus

“I can already tell this is going to be awful,” The Boy said as Hocus Pocus started.

I couldn’t help but agree.

Especially since Bettle Midler is in it and I’ve never been a fan of her. Ever. Like..really..ever (if I hear Wind Beneath My Wings again I will scream. It was so overplayed “back in the day), but in recent years I’ve liked her even less.

But, the initial impressions aside, I can see why fans of silly spooky movies would like it. It just wasn’t my thing really, which I knew within the first five minutes.

I just wanted it to end, and it had only started.

And I was feeling guilty because Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs loves movies and books like this and I want Erin to like me (please, please like me even if I’m not a fan of spooky movies!). We are watching movies for “spooky season,” in case you are new here.

So far we have watched Clue, The Addams Family, and Shaun of the Dead.

I soldiered on through the cheese and the silliness and clueless parents of Hocus Pocus to see if it would get any better.

We did and found it interesting that some of the movie was actually filmed in Salem and surrounding towns near it.

That’s about all we found interesting because we cringed through the rest of it.

The Boy kept pausing the movie to complain about it and I told him to stop prolonging our misery.

Comments uttered by one or the other of us during the movie:

The Boy: “He just threatened to hang a child from a telephone pole.”

The Boy: “Did she really just tell that girl her brother likes her boobs.”

Both of us: “They said the thing! Hocus Pocus!”

Me: “All it took was lighting a candle to bring them back and they’re telling me that no other teenager in 300 years had tried to light the candle? No! Just in 1993!”

Me: “This acting is 90210 bad.”

The Boy: “If you rhyme one more time, I swear to God, I’m going to pull  your hair out.”

The Boy: “This movie is just bad in every way possible.

Zombie comes up. The Boy: “It’s Michael Jackson!”

The boy: You’re telling me they put wiring and a plumbing system in this house? Took all the stuff out and then put it back exactly as it was?”

The Boy: “I would rather listen to Wonderwall on repeat for the rest of my life than continue to watch this movie.”

The Boy: “This movie just likes to pull stuff out of its butt.”

The Boy: “I understand why alcoholism exists now. It’s just to numb the pain of this movie.

Me: “What is happening right here? Why is she on his lap?”

The Boy: “Now we have a pervert bus driver who I wouldn’t allow within a thousand miles of my children.”

The Boy: “Best character, Sonic.” (Kid in the background dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog. )

The whole 90s obsession with kids who were still virgins at the age of 16 being “uncool” or “abnormal” is completely at play here, as with many 90s movies. I always found it incredibly disturbing how Hollywood always tried to push the idea that teenagers should already be having sex and if they weren’t they were “losers.”

Anyhow, in the end, we agreed with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

“Harmlessly hokey yet never much more than mediocre, Hocus Pocus is a muddled family-friendly effort that fails to live up to the talents of its impressive cast.”

And also this review by Johanna Steinmetz of the Chicago Tribune: Hocus Pocus is harmless, but it’s about as much fun as celebrating Mardi Gras under the influence of candy corn.

Up next in our Spooky Season Cinema:

Young Frankenstein

The Nightmare Before Christmas (this is replacing Transylvania 6500, which we decided we just couldn’t watch)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Classic Creature Feature)

Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Johnny Depp version)

And Halloween from 1979.

Read Erin’s take on Hocus Pocus HERE.

Little Miss’s Reading Corner: Silly, spooky, and grasshopper books

Little Miss and I took a trip to the library a couple of weeks ago and she picked out some books for us to read together. I thought I’d share a few from our stack today for her Reading Corner. I took photos of the fronts of the books, but our library puts the barcode right over the titles, which I find terribly annoying as someone who likes to photograph what I’m reading. Silly, I know. I suppose I’ll get over it. Sigh.

Little Miss wanted something “spooky” even though she doesn’t usually like spooky stuff. She said she would read it during the day. So we grabbed a book called simply The Spooky Book by Steve Patschke and illustrated by Matthew McElligott.

It was a very cute book about a boy reading a spooky book that is about a girl reading a spooky book at the same time. When something happens in the book, it happens to the boy too.

It’s a fun book that insists a book can’t scare you while it scares the people reading it. We thought it was very cute.

Next Little Miss picked a book about dragons because she loves dragon stories.

Dragons Are Real by Holly Hatam is a board book probably meant for younger readers and those less discerning about dragons because Little Miss kept correcting the lore within its pages saying “that’s not true,” or “dragons don’t do that” when she disagreed with the declarations made inside it.

Overall we enjoyed the book, however, because the illustrations were very colorful.

 

I picked out Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Long (brother and sister) and we both ended up really liking it, partly because the illustrations featured extra creatures in the images, hanging out on trees and in leaves, etc.

The story is about a monkey who is grumpy but doesn’t know why and tries his best to be happy for everyone who keeps telling him he needs to be happy.

The message is that sometimes we are grumpy and it’s okay and we don’t have to figure out why we are grumpy. As long as we aren’t mean to others while we are grumpy. That’s not okay.

I placed The Ant and The Grasshopper by Luli Gray and illustrated by Giuliano Ferri on hold as part of our grasshopper unit.

This was a very cute book about an ant who prepared for the winter and a grasshopper who didn’t and how the ant helped the grasshopper and they became friends.

Little Miss has been fascinated with grasshoppers lately, including catching them in the backyard and running to me to show me what she’s caught.

We also signed out a book about dinosaurs and another one about grasshoppers, but haven’t had a chance to read them yet.

Hopefully we will get to them this week before they are due.

So that’s what Little Miss has been reading. How about you?

Sunday Bookends: Birthday, fall is coming – oh, it’s here, and cat books

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.


What I/we’ve been Reading

Last week I finished The Cat Who Wasn’t There by Lilian Jackson Braun.

Description:

Persuaded by his beloved companion to join her in a group tour of Scotland, Qwill expects to revel in his Scottish heritage while keeping Polly Duncan safe from the Pickax Prowler. Instead, his trip is cut short when a thief swipes a suitcase, the bus driver disappears, and a fellow tourist is found dead, all in the same day.

Although the town of Pickax is in a tizzy over the recent events, Qwill has other, more puzzling worries on his mind. Who is the fellow still following Polly? Why is Koko licking Qwill’s photographs of Scotland and tackling him on the apple barn stairs? Upon investigating the secret life of the deceased and the bizarre behavior of one of the tour’s members, Qwill’s sensitive moustache tells him one thing: more trouble is on the way.


I then started Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. I’m reading it via a library book and as many of you know, I have a library book phobia because I am always afraid I will dent it or mark it up. So I tried reading the library book without moving anywhere, but I leaned up to get something and bent the pages slightly. It freaked me out so bad that I looked up on Amazon how much it would cost to get my own copy. It turns out it was on Kindle Unlimited so I downloaded it through there and I’m taking the library book back out of fear of ruining it. I know. I have issues.

I’m also listening to The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold on Audible.

The Boy was reading War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (yes, still) but then Little Miss left some slime around that hardened on it so the book was damaged. This became a bit of a family crisis because The Husband said he’s owned the book since he was 15 and it won’t be the same thing if I buy him a new copy. Sigh.

The Husband is reading Raising Steam by Terry Pratchet.

Little Miss and I are finishing up a Paddington book we hadn’t read before (Paddington On Top) and during the day we are reading The Year of Miss Agnes, which we might have finished last week if I hadn’t lost the book. Argh!



What’s Been Occurring

The nights are getting colder and in the second half of this week temperatures didn’t get past 65 during the day. It looks like it will be the same next week. Our leaves are turning much slower than I thought they were going to but it looks like we might have some bright colors in October.  

My birthday was Monday, and it was cold and rainy and I was excited. I know. I’m weird. I literally giggled with glee because I knew it meant I could read a book, under a blanket, while it rained.

I opened a book and watched a Thin Man movie. I literally did nothing Monday and making myself do nothing was fun. That night we all watched The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill and Came Down a Mountain.

The day before my birthday we went to my parents where they made me a delicious lunch of beef ribs, homemade onion potatoes and cabbage from my dad’s garden. Yum!

My dad also gave me some sunflowers from his garden and my mom gave me a check and told me I couldn’t spend it on the kids or groceries like I usually do. It was very hard because I had a couple pieces of curriculum I wanted to get, but in the end I bought myself a booklight, a journal, a paperback of one of The Cat Who books, and a new cover for my Kindle.

I wrote in my recent Randomly Thinking post that our kitten is a killer. Both my cats are actually, so imagine our surprise on Sunday when The Husband and The Boy saw a mouse running out from under our stove. Hmmmm…. The cats can apparently kill rodents outside the house, but not inside.

Wednesday night, though, our older cat, Pixel was lying in wait by the couch because the mouse ran under the couch Tuesday night after it scampered all over the living room, trying to get away from her. We still haven’t seen a sign that she’s caught it, since The Boy said she was still looing for it Friday night.

What We watched/are Watching

I already mentioned I watched a Thin Man movie for my birthday. I watched it all by my little ole’ self. It was The Thin Man Goes Home and I don’t remember seeing it before.

I also mentioned we watched The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill and Came Down a Mountain. If you haven’t seen the movie before, it’s really enjoyable and fun.

Last night The Boy and I watched Benny and Joon with Mary Stuart Masterson and Johnny Depp. It’s a movie I remembered from my teen years and it was my first intro to Johnny Depp.

Earlier in the week we watched Shaun of the Dead, which I wrote about for my Spooky Season Cinema Post.

What I’m Writing

I’m continuing to work on The Shores of Mercy. I’d hoped to have the first draft finished by the end of September but it looks like it will be mid-October now.

Last week on the blog I shared:



Now it’s your turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

The Summer of Paul Wrap Up

I managed to finish up my Summer of Paul with The Sting this past week so I thought I’d share impressions of that movie, two of Paul’s sort of “epic” films, From the Terrace and The Philadelphians and one in his later years, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, as a type of close out to my Summer of Paul movie watching. I’m going to place a spoiler here and tell you I did not finish Mr. and Mrs. Bridge for various reasons. Read on to find out why.

First From the Terrace.

Warning: There will be spoilers for this one, so if you haven’t seen the movie and are just dying to do so (I have no idea why you would want to, however), then don’t read on, or skip on to my impression of The Philadelphians.

If you don’t think you are a fan of Paul or of his amazing good looks then you need to at least see him in the beginning From the Terrace, specifically the scene with him and Joan Woodward (his wife by the time this movie was made) on a boat. Oh my. I’m not usually the swooning type but — swooooon. I felt the need to fan myself and then give my husband a kiss (lest you think my crush on Paul distracts me from loving my husband. Don’t worry. I’m not that far gone.)

Alfred (Paul’s character) certainly doesn’t have it easy in this movie, but he also doesn’t always make things easy for himself. He has an alcoholic mother, an angry and bitter father still mourning the death of a young son, his firstborn, who died some 20 years earlier. Alfred’s choice of work and then a few other bad life choices also don’t make his life easy.

I read some reviews that called it melodramatic garbage and it was, but it was also well acted by everyone involved, even the characters I hated. I think I hated them so much because they were so well acted.

I wasn’t fond of many aspects of the movie to be honest. At the end these words came to mind, “Wow. That was a pile of hot garbage.”

This movie was like watching a train wreck, since I pretty much assumed where it was going and I wouldn’t get a nice ending, and while I don’t usually really agree with the critics, I did this time. I see a lot of movie critics as stuck-up elitists and usually like what they don’t and hate what they do. This time around I had to agree with the critics who said the movie was horrible.

Despite this movie being so awful, it was progressive in many ways with themes that were unnerving and made me cringe a bit, similar to A Streetcar Named Desire, which I watched earlier in the summer.

If lines like “What does success look like when you turn out the lights?” isn’t enough to tell you that this movie is full of innuendos and suggestive moments, I don’t know what is.

In the end, though, this movie was two and a half hours of watching the destruction of a man and his marriage, and that’s not really a spoiler. It’s obvious by the movie’s description that it isn’t going to go well for the guy. They could have destroyed his life in an hour and a half and still reached the same conclusion, in my opinion. This is a movie where it’s normal to have a lover on the side if your wife or husband isn’t showing you the attention you think they should. Communication be damned, I guess.

 It was awkward and cringeworthy for me to watch Paul make eyes at a woman who was not his wife for the second half of the movie, so I ended up fast forwarding a lot. I guess we were supposed to feel sympathetic to his “plight” but I didn’t. He was the one who traveled all the time and left his wife behind.

 I couldn’t really get on board with feeling all swoony about that when he’d already invested his love in one woman and then went chasing after another as if she was now something special. Then the romantic music when he pursued a relationship with the new woman. Like this time it’s real love. Gag me.

Not only that, I’m beginning to get annoyed at Paul’s stoic way of acting. He doesn’t have a terrible lot of range in some of his movies.

Eek. I know.

How could I speak ill of my “favorite” actor? I don’t know but I guess watching this many movies of his in a row isn’t the best idea because now I am analyzing him too much.

The Young Philadelphians

This movie is pretty depressing as well with a lot of people who lie, cheat, and don’t communicate, leading to a lot of hurt and destruction.

The movie starts out with a huge lie that will shape all of Paul’s character’s life and made me sit and wonder when the lie would come out.

This is another movie where parents try to keep their children from marrying each other to protect the family name and reputation and all that jazz. This movie provided me with a lot of moments of yelling at the screen, “Why didn’t you just talk to him!?” or to her or whatever. It was full of tons of assumptions by the main characters, leaving them wandering away from each other for years and wandering based on the inferences of others, instead of the truth.

This movie was also about Paul working his way up the ladder to success to prove others wrong who said he couldn’t become successful. The movie was also sort of all over the place plot wise and got really odd at the end with a court case.

It definitely wasn’t one of my favorite movies of Paul’s, even though I have seen worse.




Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

This movie starred Paul and his wife Joan as a husband and wife.

I am going to be straight up and honest that I abandoned this movie part way in, though I should have much earlier, like after a scene where it looked like Paul was checking out Kyra Sedgwick, who plays his daughter, right before he finally does something not boring by sleeping with his wife in the middle of the day. The scene was very confusing and I don’t know if he attacked his wife because his daughter turned him on or because seeing her reminded him of his wife when she was younger. Either way, it was a really creepy scene. I thought maybe I interpreted it wrong, so I Googled for any other opinions on this scene and found this impression of it on a site called Vocal Media:

“I make this comparison because though I have described Mr Bridge as incredibly, remarkably dull, he does have one trait: he gets turned on by his daughter. Yeah, that’s a running through-line of this austere drama, dad is kind of incest-y toward his daughter. A scene in which Mr Bridge watches his daughter sunbathing leaves Mr Bridge so horny that he immediately has sex with Mrs Bridge.

It’s possible that this wasn’t the intent of the filmmakers but when you place the scene of him leering out the window, trying not to be seen while watching his daughter sunbathe, and then follow that scene with Mrs Bridge walking in and Mr Bridge is immediately (ahem), the implication is almost unmistakable. Either they intended this, or they are very bad at making movies and understanding how film language works.

Granted, this is as close to something happening in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge as the movie gets, but it’s not something that anyone should want to happen. In fact, I have to wonder why anyone thought that this was a good idea to include in this or any movie. In a movie this dull, livening things up should not include ‘my daughter made me horny so now I am having sex with my wife.’ I don’t care how boring your movie is, don’t do this.”

I agree with the assessment of the above reviewer.

Shudder.

The movie is based on a pair of books, one called Mr. Bridges and the other Mrs. Bridges, and I don’t think the weird incest-type stuff was in the books, from what it sounds like. They were much more innocent I’m gathering. The story I about two insanely boring people who are noticing the world is passing them by.

Mrs. Bridge doesn’t like this and wants to experience some of what she is seeing going on around her, while Mr. Bridges is very stuck in his ways and doesn’t want to change. He tries to change in tiny ways for her, only to fall back to his boring self with all his particular ways of doing things. The movie is just a series of boring scenes built on top of other boring scenes. It’s baffling why it was even made really, other than to wake people up and try to urge them not to be boring themselves.

Paul’s excellence at being boring was probably why this movie actually was boring. He’s a good actor and is even great at being boring when he needs to be.

It was so boring, I didn’t even care what happened in the end and didn’t finish it.

The Sting

This movie was much more exciting, and it was a good movie to end my Paul Newman movie binge.

Paul and Robert Redford playing conmen who work to pull off a huge con on another conman in the city.

Paul is a retired big-level conman while Redford wants to break into the big-time of con jobs.

While Paul is smooth, Redford is a bumbling idiot who screws up most of the time. By the end of the movie, you start wondering if Redford’s screw ups are going to be the end of him or if he’ll pull it out after all.

Robert Shaw plays the bad guy in the film (wait..they are all conmen so who is the actual bad guy? Hmmm…) and for those who don’t know he’s also in Jaws and unpleasant things happen to him in that movie. We had a hard time watching the movie without saying things like “Watch out for the shark!”

The movie is a lot more lighthearted than some of the Paul movies I watched during my binge. I loved Paul’s personality and seeing him a character who was allowed to, and supposed to, have a range of emotions, versus characters he portrayed in other movies, which were a bit more stoic.

No matter how old Paul got, he kept those amazing good looks and crazy blue eyes, which makes watching him fun no matter what movie he is in.



For the final wrap-up, here are all the Paul Newman movies I watched this summer and fall:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Paris Blue

The Long Hot Summer

The Hustler

Sweet Bird of Youth

The Rack

A New Kind of Love

Cool Hand Luke

Torn Curtain

From The Terrace

The Young Philadelphians

The Sting

In the past I watched Exodus, Twilight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the Towering Inferno.

Now, while I did say in my post about The Hustler, that I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I hoped, I do recognize it as being a very well-acted and well-written movie. It was just darker than I thought, and I would have liked more Jackie Gleason.

Movies I wanted to get to but didn’t included:

The documentary on HBO Max by Ethan Hawke (The Last Movie Stars)

The Color of Money

The Verdict

Hud

And Somebody Up There Likes Me

I also started The Prize but got interrupted and forgot to finish it before my rental ran out.

If you want to read the impressions of the movies I watched you can search for “Summer of Paul” in the search bar.

So, how about you? How many Paul Newman movies have you seen? Any on my list? Which one was your favorite?

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s shore Chapter 20

As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 20

Bill Henderson slammed the palm of his hand down on Ben’s desk as he stood. He turned his back to Ben and spat out a curse word. “That woman is absolutely ridiculous.”

Ben had been back at work for half a day and already he felt like he was back in his element, far away from a world where he’d had to face his past, his failings, and situations he couldn’t fix. At least here, in his office, he had the law and the law stayed steady, no matter how much a client flailed in anger or cried in despair.

Bill placed his hands on his waist and let out a long breath, then turned to face Ben again, pointing at him. “You tell her lawyer that it’s not going to happen. I’m not giving her full custody of those kids now. She can forget it. I’m fighting for full custody because she has clearly lost her mind.”

Ben winced and leaned his arms on the top of his desk. “Bill, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Tit for tat isn’t really the best path to take in a divorce proceeding. I would really like to encourage you to think of the kids here. They are stuck in the middle of a situation they didn’t ask for.”

Bill’s eyes flashed with anger. “Did she think of the kids when she filed for divorce? No. As usual, she only thought of herself and her own selfish wants. She accused me of cheating, Ben! Cheating. I never cheated on her. Could I have cheated? Oh yeah. Plenty of times. The opportunity and the desire were there and she certainly didn’t make it easy for me to come home some nights, but I did. I should get some credit for that. But will she give me credit for anything? No. I worked my tail off for her and those kids for twelve years and what thanks did I get? None! All I got were complaints and demands to do more.”

There were times with all the negatives he heard about marriage in his office, Ben was glad he’d never asked Angie to marry him. Then again, they had plenty of negative moments without the ceremony and piece of paper.

“I understand Bill, but let’s slow down a bit here. I think we really need to get you two in a room to work this out.”

Bill scoffed. “The last time we were in the same room she threw her shoe at me.” He pointed at his right eye. “She almost took my eye out.”

Ben slid a hand over his mouth, and tried not to laugh. “Well, it could have been something heavier and more deadly, I suppose. I can make you both take your shoes off at the door.”

Bill flopped back in the chair and slumped down with his arms hanging over the edges of the chair, his chin on his chest. He was silent for a few seconds and Ben started to worry he’d passed out.  “You ever been married, Ben?”

Things were going to get awkward fast here, and he really needed to steer the conversation back to the divorce agreement, but Bill seemed to need to talk.

“No.” He cleared his throat. “Never have.”

“Got kids?”

More awkwardness.  “One, yes. I – uh, don’t have a lot of contact with her or her mother.”

“What happened?”

Ben shrugged and rubbed a hand across his jawline. “I – uh – Well, it’s a long story, but I  screwed up and walked away.”

Bill shook his head and looked at the painting on the wall next to Ben’s desk. “How did I even get here? I never pictured myself getting a divorce. I knew things weren’t great, but – this just threw me.” He looked back at Ben again. “How could she have been this unhappy and I not know it?” He shook his head again. “You know she used to pick fights with me? She started complaining about the dumbest things. She said I wasn’t home enough or doing enough with the kids. She said I treated her like a nanny. A nanny. Can you believe that? I was at work, providing for her and the kids, but I still wasn’t doing enough. What was I supposed to do?”

Ben fiddled with his pen, lowering his gaze to the paperwork on the desk. “I really don’t know, Bill. I’m not the best person to ask. I blew it with the mother of my child four years ago. I’m not exactly an expert in relationships.” He and Bill chuckled together, and Ben leaned back in his chair and hooked his hands behind his head. “I guess I could ask you something that my ex’s father asked me. Do you still love her? I mean, when you think about who you want to grow old with, is she the person you think of?”

Bill looked away, pressed the back of his thumb against his closed mouth, and swallowed hard. Ben could see him fighting emotion as he slowly began to nod. “Yeah.” He said finally, his voice thick. “She’s the person I’ve always pictured myself growing old with.” He looked back at Ben, eyes glistening. “But I don’t know if she still wants to grow old with me.” He laughed swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Obviously not or we wouldn’t be sitting here, right?”

Ben dropped his hands and folded his arms across the top of the desk again, leaning forward slightly. “Not necessarily. Maybe she’s just too angry to know what she wants. Maybe she’s afraid. I don’t know and it’s not my job to know. I guess you have to ask yourself if she’s worth fighting for. If your marriage is.”

Ben wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, then laughed. “Dude, did you forget you’re supposed to be my divorce lawyer and not my marriage counselor?”

Ben laughed with him. “I know. Maybe I need to switch careers, right?”

“Maybe.” Bill tapped the top of the desk with a knuckle. “But what about you?”

Ben tossed the pen on top of the paperwork and leaned back in the chair, yawning. “What about me?”

A small smile tugged at the corner of Bill’s mouth. “Do you still love her? Your ex? You daughter’s mom?”

Ben looked at his watch. “Oh wow. Look at the time, Bill. Looks like times up or I am going to have to charge you for another hour.”

 Bill laughed as he stood. “Yeah, yeah.” He lifted his jacket off the back of the chair, slid it on and looked at Ben. “You’re still young, Ben. Save it if you can, okay? At least get to know your daughter.” He slid his hands into the front pockets of his khakis. “And let’s set up that sit down with Veronica and her lawyer. Maybe we can try to work all this out in a more rational way. You’re right. I have to think about the kids and how this is affecting them.”

Ben agreed to call Bill’s lawyer and told Bill goodbye, sitting back in his chair as the office door closed.  Bill’s situation was difficult, no doubt about it. Rebuilding his marriage might not be possible, but Ben knew rebuilding a relationship with Angie was even more impossible. Not only did she hate him, she was also in a new relationship. Maybe it would be possible for them to be civil, though, enough for him to get to know his daughter if Angie would let him.

He reached for his phone as it rang, looking at the time on the lock screen above Maggie’s name. It was only lunchtime. Really?

He needed a good long nap, but somehow, he had to push through the rest of the day.

“Hey, Benny, coming to my softball game later?”

Oh man. He’d forgot about the softball game.

“Yeah. Of course. Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Good, because I’m pitching again.”

“Looking forward to it, Slugger.”

“Slugger? What are we in? A movie from the 80s?” Maggie giggled. “Anyhow, I have a question.”

Ben cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear and turned to the computer, starting a search for a file for his next client. “Fire away.”

“What’s my niece like?”

The phone slid off his shoulder and clattered to the top of the desk. He fumbled for it and picked it up again, returning it to his shoulder and leaning his ear to it. “What?”

“Threw you off a bit, huh?”

“Yeah, a little. What — I mean how —”

“I heard mom and dad talking the other night after they talked to you.” She was quiet for a minute. “I know you told me that Angie doesn’t want you around, but do you think she’ll let me meet her when they move back?”

Ben rubbed a hand through his hair and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. He wished he’d thought of all the heartache he was going to cause when he’d walked away from Angie almost five years ago. It was more than just him and Angie who were going to be affected but he’d been so selfish and, well, quite frankly, too drunk and career-driven to care.

He let out a breath. “I don’t know, Maggie, but probably. Angie always loved you. Give her some time, though, okay? I really messed things up with her and there is a lot of hurt there.”

“You’ve changed, though. Does she know that?”

He shook his head even though Maggie couldn’t see him. “I don’t think she really cares. I can be as best of a person as I can be but that will never wipe out what I did to her or Amelia. I abandoned her at a really difficult time for her and I never really made contact again other than a couple birthday cards and child support.”

He clutched at the top of his hair, wishing he was not having this conversation with his little sister.

“Did you want to see her, though?”

Why did everyone keep asking him this question? He’d always wanted to see Amelia and yes, he still loved Angie, but how could he explain why he’d stayed away for so long?

“Yes, Maggie. I did. It’s just — It’s hard to explain. I just felt they’d be better off without me, okay? Angie and Amelia are happy with their life right now and I’d just mess things up.”

Maggie snorted a small laugh. “That’s such a cop out, big brother, but I love you anyhow. Bring me a soda when you come today. Mom says I shouldn’t be drinking it, but she won’t say no if you bring it.”

Ben laughed at how easily his sister could slam him and move on. After they said their goodbyes and he hung up, though, he thought about what she’d said. Maybe it was a cop out to say he’d mess things up for Angie and Amelia if he tried to be a part of their lives, but it was true. They had their own life now. Angie had moved on and Amelia would probably have a real dad soon. That was a good thing.

His chest constricted at the thought of Angie in another man’s arms, as it always did when he thought about that over the years, but at the same time, he felt a strange peace. She deserved happiness after how he’d treated her. If William was her happiness then he was okay with that. William had seemed like a good guy. He simply hoped that maybe she’d let his family get to know Amelia, even if she didn’t want him around.

Spooky Season Cinema: Shaun of the Dead

“Hold on. These guys are so British, I’m going to need close captioning.”

That’s what my almost 16-year-old said as we started Shaun of the Dead, the third movie in the Spooky Season Cinema Erin at Still Life With Cracker Crumbs and I are doing for the next couple of months.

This is a comedy-horror movie about a zombie apocalypse and a small group of people trying to survive it.

And yes, it’s a British movie, hence the need for subtitles for us.

The movie stars Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty in the new reiteration of the Star Trek movies) and Nick Frost and was written by Pegg and Edgar Wright, who also directed the film.

I think I am at a bit of a disadvantage at this weekly feature we are doing, honestly, because I’m either watching these movies for the first time or for the first time in several years like I was with Shaun of the Dead.

I am not a zombie movie watcher, even when it is a comedy, so obviously, I was talked into watching it by my husband who loves this movie and the other two that followed it, though they are not sequels to each other. The other movies, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are written and directed by the same people and star the two man actors, but are not linked otherwise.

The Husband wanted to watch this with us but then we realized we had nowhere to shuffle Little Miss off to and she stays up later than most kids, so in the end The Boy and I watched it together and we decided The Husband and The Boy can watch Hot Fuzz and The World’s End together. I don’t mind missing those two. Really. I don’t.

This movie is what I call smart comedy.

It’s a comedy but it’s subtle in many ways because of how brilliantly it is written.

If you are looking for a fun movie, this is for you. If you are looking for a fun, clean movie, then this is not for you. It is rated R. Not to be a prude, but just warning anyone who isn’t keen on rated R movies. I didn’t count how many “f” words were said but it was a lot and that was only in the first fifteen minutes.

I consider the movie genius in many ways, even if it did have me squirming at times.

I told Erin I thought the movie was genius and she said, “Is it?”

*snort* Oh, Erin, she cracks me up.

Of course, we know going into this movie that it is going to deal with zombies but instead of rushing right into it, they simply keep hinting at disaster on the horizon with scenes in the background of news reports, people falling over, and heads falling in directions they shouldn’t be falling.

As we started watching this, there was one hilarious sequence I remembered even after not seeing the movie for almost 17 years. The scene is the definition of self-absorbed and clueless. It’s when everything kicks off and the action really gets started and it never slows down from there.

It’s a very emotional film in many ways, so it isn’t all comedy. It pulls no punches, and no one is safe so don’t get too attached to anyone. It is also extremely gruesome, which means my son loved it. He was blown away by the violence and I became such a mom and kept telling him to look away. It was sort of hilarious how I was trying to protect “my little boy” who is going to be 16 in another month.

Up next on our Spooky Season Cinema:

Hocus Pocus

Young Frankenstein

Transylvania 6500

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Classic Creature Feature)

Legend of Sleepy Hollow 

And …. If I can take it… to end the series: Halloween from 1979.

Hodge Podge: The Autumn Edition

This post is part of the weekly Hodge Podge feature with Joyce from From This Side of the Pond.

  1. Volume 478. Sounds like a lot. Where were you in 1978? If you weren’t born where were you in 2008?

I was a year old in 1978 and from what I was reminded of this week (on my birthday) I didn’t want to crawl. I just went to the center of floor, swung myself up backward and started to walk. It came up with my parents when I was talking about how my daughter (now almost 8) had also never crawled. She pulled herself up with the help of a baby chair and started walking so she could get to her older brother. She was 9 months old and never stopped afte that. 

2. Raise your hand if you remember records playing at a speed of 78 rpm? What’s a topic that when it comes up you ‘sound like a broken record’? 

We had a record player when I was a kid, but I don’t know what speed the records played at. I think the topic where I sound a broken record is when I tell my daughter to brush her hair and my teenage son to clean his room.

3. What’s the last thing you recorded in some way? 

My young cat climbing up a tree in our backyard. She does this quite a bit, but now she can get down the tree. Last autumn she got herself stuck up maybe 70 feet in the air and was there all night. In the morning, the neighbor, who is on our town (or borough as it is called in Pennsylvania) council, called the fire department for us and in the afternoon they sent a fire truck to come get her. In the end, the fireman chased her down and then my son was able to retrieve her from the bottom limb.

I wrote about all that HERE and here is a photo I took of her in the tree last week:



Here is a shortened version of the video I took:

4. Thursday is the first day of fall (in the northern hemisphere). How do you feel about the changing seasons? Something you’re looking forward to this fall? 

I love the changing seasons and how where I live you can really see the difference from season to season. I used to really love fall and I still do in some ways but I know fall leads to winter and I battle depression in winter so I sort of dread it. I am trying not to think this way, however, because my mom, who is originally from the South, said she used to dread fall for the same reason but one day God put it on her heart that she was spending so much time dreading winter that she wasn’t enjoying the good moments of her life.

This fall I am just looking forward to cooler days with hot tea with honey, or cocoa, and a good book, as well as jumping in the leaves with my youngest. I’m also looking forward to my daughter, son’s and husband’s birthdays.

5. In what way (or ways) are you like the apple that didn’t ‘fall far from the tree’? 

Well, I am a lot like my mom in a few ways. I worry a lot, but then remember to pray (or try to), I like to read like she does (though she is much more of an avid reader), and like my dad I have a tendency to be anxious and also, when very tired, extremely sarcastic and sometimes biting. I hope, though, that I also have my mom’s good qualities of caring for people and my dad’s same good quality of caring about others.

6. Insert your own random thought here. 

Monday was my birthday and when my daughter woke up she slapped my arm and the fat jiggled. She thought this was hilarious. I sent my husband a text that said, “Nothing says you’ve hit 45 like your seven-year-old giggling while your arm fat jiggles.” In addition, my dad dropped by with a blood pressure machine he’d picked up at a yard sale. It wasn’t my gift, but it was a sobering moment in my day. Sigh. Reality really does bite sometimes. *wink*

Really, though, it was a super nice day of relaxation where I read books, watched a Thin Man movie (William Powell and Myrna Loy), watched The Man Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain with my family, and wore a cozy nightgown all day (even to the bank where I’m sure the tellers thought I was drunk).

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 19

I took a break from writing this week just to give my brain a break from trying to figure out where I am going with this story. I have ideas but I felt like I was trying too hard to push through the end and my brain was turning into mush. I know what the ending will be, I just don’t know how exactly to get there, yet.

Luckily, I already had this chapter and a couple of others written to share on the blog for the one or two people who follow along (and I thank you for that! I know keeping up with a serial can be time consuming and many just wait for it to come out in book form later on.).

As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 19

Ben woke the next morning to the smell of coffee brewing. For a moment he forgot where he was and rolled over to look at his alarm clock. There was no alarm clock, though, just a framed picture of Leona and Adam on their wedding day sitting on a small table next to the pullout bed and under a small lamp.

He groaned and rubbed his hands across his face. His head was throbbing. His foot, which had been better the week before was throbbing too. Not to be out done, his back had joined in the fun with a twinge pulling between his shoulder blades. He reached for the bottom of ibuprofen he’d grabbed from Judi’s car the night before and swallowed two pills dry. He was going to need some of the pain to subside before he headed upstairs to face the Phillipi family.

He was grateful the den included a half bathroom where he could splash his face with water to try to wake himself up. His reflection glared at the five o’clock shadow darkening his jawline and the crow’s feet that had seemed to etch themselves even deeper into the skin along the corner of his eyes overnight

After drying his face off, he looked down at his wrinkled clothes, wishing he had something clean to change into. Of course he hadn’t packed extra clothes, since he originally hadn’t planned on being here for more than a couple hours.

He couldn’t hear any voices or movement upstairs and hoped that meant everyone had already finished breakfast and gone somewhere else for the day. The idea of saying his goodbyes all over again wasn’t something he relished. 

Feeling like a burglar, he looked left and right before coming all the way up the stairs into the living room and then made his way toward the kitchen.

A plate full of bacon, a loaf of bread, two empty plates, and two empty glasses and mugs were sitting on the island. He glanced out the window over the kitchen sink and saw the backyard was empty, then glanced at his watch. 9 a.m. It seemed too early for church, but he was glad for the brief break and hoped he could get Judi up and out the door before they came back. Turning around he spotted a handwritten note propped up against a bottle of maple syrup by the bacon.

Ben and Judi:

Gone to church. Left early to take Amelia to Sunday School. Help yourself to breakfast. There is coffee in the pot and some left over eggs in the oven. Hope to see you before you go, but if not, thank you for coming and please drive safe. So nice to meet you, Judi.

Leona

Ben poured himself a cup of coffee, poured some milk in and sat on one of the stools, scrolling through news sites while he sipped. He’d give Judi ten more minutes then it was time she got up so they could head out.

“Thought you’d be gone by now.”

His arm jerked in surprise, spilling some coffee on the island and choking on what had been about to swallow. Slamming the coffee mug on the counter, he coughed while Angie walked from the doorway and handed him a napkin.

“I thought I was alone,” he managed a few seconds later as he cleaned up the coffee he’d splattered out of the cup.

Angie leaned back against the counter on the other side of the room and folded her arms across her chest, her expression void of humor. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“No problem.” His muscles tensed at her tone as he crumpled the napkin and tossed it in the trash can. He sat back on the stool and took another sip of coffee. “Just wasn’t expecting to hear another voice.”

Angie didn’t pause for any more niceties. Instead, she bulldozed her way into the conversation, making him regret not coming up earlier so he could have more coffee before she started.

“What are you really doing here Ben?”

He took a deep breath. “I told you. Your parents invited me, so I came down.”

“You’ve been invited to birthday parties before so why this year?”

“Something about your dad’s tone of voice made me think I needed to come.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Ben did his best to keep his tone even as he looked up at her. “It means what I said. I thought something might be wrong with someone in the family. He seemed to want me here so when Judi offered to drive me, I agreed.”

Angie kept her position and didn’t take her gaze off him. His eye fell to the jumping muscle again. “You could have found that out on the phone.”

“Fine. You’re right. I shouldn’t have come. I regret it.” But he hadn’t regretted seeing Amelia, not that he was going to tell Angie. “Can we stop this interrogation now? What did you do, stay here just to confront me?”

Angie’s jaw tightened. “Yes, in fact I did and when we move back to Spencer, I don’t want to see you. Do you understand? I don’t know what my parents were thinking inviting you, but this isn’t permission for you to try to get back in our lives.”

Anger rumbled in Ben’s chest, and he closed his eyes, counting silently to ten. “That’s fine. I never thought this was an invitation to be involved in your life.” He opened his eyes again and leveled his gaze on her. “What about my parents though?”

Angie dropped her arms down, leaning her elbows back on the counter, and raised an eyebrow. “What about them?”

“I’m sure they’d like to get to know Amelia – in fact I know they would.”

The tension in her face faded and she dropped her gaze. “I don’t know.” His response seemed to have thrown her off. As much as she hated him, he knew cared for his parents, or at least she had at one time. “I’ll think about it.”

Ben sat the mug down and wrapped his hands around it, contemplating the swirl of creamer on its surface. “Don’t punish them for my mistakes, Ange. It isn’t fair.”

Glancing up, he thought she was going to lunge over the counter at him the way she stepped forward and leaned toward him. “Don’t talk to me about fair, Ben. You think raising my daughter on my own for four years has been fair? You think having to walk away from a good paying job to move with my parents back to the one place I never wanted to see again is fair?

“Then why are you moving back?” Ben gestured with his hands. “You’re an adult. Stay here.”

“Amelia needs her grandparents. I want her to be where they are.”

“That’s fine, but it would be nice if she could meet her other grandparents too.”

“Now you want to cry foul? Really, Ben? Really? Four years of barely any contact and now you want to try to act like my daughter is missing out?”

“She’s our daughter, Angie,” Ben snapped. “Not just yours.”

Angie scoffed, green eyes flashing. “Excuse me? Our daughter? Our daughter?!” She pointed at him aggressively. “No. She’s my daughter. You gave up the right to call her your daughter when you walked away from me while I was pregnant. Besides a few checks and gifts, you haven’t made any effort to be a dad and I don’t really see any effort from you now either. You don’t get to call yourself a dad just because you showed up to a birthday party.”

“I know that, Angie.”

“And you know what else? Why would you even care if there was something wrong with someone in my family? You’ve never cared before.”

“That’s not true. I have cared and I do care about you and your family.”

“Really?” Angie tossed her hands out to her sides. “Then where have you been all these years? Huh? Where have you been?”

“Keeping myself away so I don’t hurt any of you again!” Ben shouted, pounding a clenched fist on top of the island.

Angie clenched her hands at her sides. “Give me a break. Don’t try to act all noble now.”

Ben pressed the heels of his hands against his forehead. Searing pain shot from the back of his head through his eyes. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This argument wasn’t helping his recovery at all.  

“Have you seen Judi yet this morning?” he asked through clenched teeth, pressing his fingers against his temples as he tilted his face down and closed his eyes. He hoped Angie could see how much pain he was in and back off. “We need to get going.”

Angie let out a frustrated breath, clearly annoyed with him changing the subject. “No. The last I saw her was last night.”

At least she’d stopped yelling at him.

The pain subsided as he massaged his temples, his eyes still closed. “Did she seem okay?”

Angie sighed and he glanced up at her, noticing the flushed crimson that had spread across her cheeks a few minutes earlier slowly fading. “Yeah.” She shrugged a shoulder. “She was getting a snack.” She walked across the kitchen and took a glass out of the cupboard and set it next to the fridge, her back to Ben. “She said you two aren’t dating.”

He stopped massaging and tossed a piece of bacon on a plate. He wasn’t really hungry but he needed to do something with his hands because right now all he wanted to do was punch a wall. “We’re not. She’s my secretary. I told you that already. She was working at this questionable diner and my secretary is taking some time off to be with her husband while he undergoes chemo, so I asked her to come help me out.”

“I don’t really remember much about her from high school,” Angie said as she poured a glass of juice. “But from what I do remember she was kind of a mess and nothing like her older sister.”

Ben shrugged a shoulder, taking a bite of the bacon. “Yeah, well, she hit a rough patch and she’s trying to get back on her feet again. I appreciated her driving me even though she does drive me a little crazy and she did cause me to wreck my car.”

“She told me about that.”

“Did she finally admit it was her fault?”

“No, but she did tell me your vein was working overtime.”

Despite the frustration still seething from the verbal sparring match, Ben managed a smile. “Yeah, I’m sure it was. She wrecked my new car and left my foot in a cast and with a concussion that is taking forever to heal.”

Angie sipped the juice and stepped around the island toward the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll think about your suggestion about your parents.” The softening in her words surprised him, but the hardness returned when she added, “But they’re the only ones from your family that I’ll consider having contact with when we get back to Spencer.”

He watched her head toward the stairs, found his gaze drifting over her curves as she walked up them and then looked away quickly. The woman had made it clear just now that she hated him. He had no idea how a thrill still coursed through him at the sight of her hips swaying.

Five minutes later there were footsteps on the stairs, and he looked up expectedly, but instead of seeing Angie it was Judi with her hair pulled up on top of her head in a stylish bun, her make up neatly applied, wearing a different outfit from the day before — a pink tank top with a denim jacket and a black skirt that at least hit her knees this time. He wondered where she’d found fresh clothes, then remembered the luggage he’d seen in her trunk when they’d put the stuffed bear in. Apparently, she traveled with an entire wardrobe.

“Alright, lawyer-boy, ready to hit the road?”

Someone was certainly back to her old self.

“Lawyer boy?”

She snatched a piece of bacon off the plate. “Yep. My new nickname for you.” She twirled around and headed toward the front door. “I’m ready to head out if you are.”

He followed her. “I definitely am, but shouldn’t you eat some breakfast?”

“We are swinging by one of those Amish stores on our way out of town.” She tossed the keys up and caught them. “I bet they’ve got something good to munch on and hopefully a really awesome cup of coffee.”

Ben felt instant relief when the car started. They were finally getting out of there and he could finally get back to work, take his mind off of everything that had happened this weekend. Speaking of work  — he lifted his phone and logged into his email.

Yep. Tomorrow was definitely going to be busy. He had another offer from Mark for the Henderson divorce case and it was still way less than what his client wanted. There was the paperwork for the sale of the old school in Burkett to that shopping mall and then three meetings with clients who needed to draw up wills.

At this point he didn’t care what work threw at him. It had to be easier than the past 24 hours.

Judi turned up the music, slid on her sunglasses and smiled as she leaned back in her seat. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand, Oliver!”

He needed to talk to her about that phone call, but he hated to dampen her mood. She seemed happy. There was no reason to take that happiness from her. At least not until she had some coffee in her.

***

Judi sipped the coffee slowly, letting the vanilla flavor saturate her tastebuds, while leaning against the outside of the driver side door of the car. She couldn’t wait to get back to Spencer Valley, something she never thought she’d feel or think. First, though, she’d needed something to wake her up. She also needed to delay the inevitable moment when Ben asked her about that phone call. She didn’t want to talk about it; not even with her family, let alone Ben.

She snatched her phone from the pocket of her jacket as it rang and rolled her eyes at the caller ID.

Lonny.

Probably calling to ask her to come in for work when she got back.

“Yeah, Lonny. What’s up?”

“Judi, we need to talk.”

“I called and left you a message. My car broke down outside of Lancaster so I couldn’t get back for —”

“It’s not that. It’s about your drawer count from Friday night.”

“What about it?”

“It was off by about $100 and Rick says this isn’t the first time.”

“It wasn’t off by even a dime when I turned it in, Lonny. And what is Rick talking about? Not the first time?”

“He says he covered for you last time but that he can’t do it again.”

“Covered for me how?”

“He slipped in money for you so I wouldn’t find out. He felt sorry for you, but I don’t. I’m going to have to let you go. I can’t have people I can’t trust on my team.”

“Lonny! I have never taken money from you. None of this is true. You have got to be kidding me.”

“If you can prove you didn’t take the —”

“Prove it how? I know I didn’t take it. I don’t have it. Don’t you have security cameras?”

“It was disabled so it was someone who knew about the camera. Hannah says you’ve been showing up with new outfits, busy running around town shopping and eating out.”

“First of all, I don’t know how to disable the camera. Second, I always eat out. I can’t cook. Third, I have a second job. You know that.”

“I haven’t seen you at this second job, you’ve just been turning down shifts and when you are here, money is disappearing.”

“You said it happened twice and now you’re trying to say it happened every time I was there. Which is it?”

“Your final check is in the mail, Judi.”

“Lonny —”

She held her phone back in disbelief as the call disconnected then immediately dialed Hannah’s number.

“What’s going on? Is that that guy again?”

She turned at the sound of Ben’s voice and watched him walk toward her holding a cup of coffee and taking a bite of a homemade pastry. His hair was disheveled, and he needed a shave. Looking so unkempt must be driving him crazy.

She pulled her phone back from her ear and glared at it. No surprise, Hannah didn’t answer.

She shook her head. “No. It was Lonny.” She flung the driver side door open and flopped into the seat tossing her phone onto the center console. “The jerk just accused me of stealing.”

“Stealing what?” Ben asked around a mouthful of pastry as he slide into the passenger side. He sipped the coffee and placed it in the cupholder.

“Money from the drawer. He says they were $100 short after I left Friday and that it happened another time and Rick, the bartender, covered for me.” Judi pressed her hand against her forehead for a brief moment, then slid her sunglasses on and turned the key in the ignition. “Whatever. This is just stupid. I’m going to go talk to him tomorrow. He can’t really believe I stole money from him.”

“Does he have proof?”

“It didn’t sound like it to me. He’s firing me. He says he can’t trust me.”

“Whoa. That sounds like a pretty knee jerk reaction to me. He should at least give you a chance to explain.”

Judi slammed the car into gear and hit the accelerator. “He’d better. He owes me that much. I took shifts when no one else would, worked until closing, put up with all those old,” she slammed her hand off the steering wheel. “Perverts.”

“Hey, calm down. You already gave me one concussion. Let’s slow it down a little, okay? Did he say if he was pressing charges?”

Judi ripped out onto the road and whispered a curse. “I didn’t even think of that.” She glanced at Ben. “Do you think he will?”

“I don’t know, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“We?” She snorted a laugh. “What are you going to do, represent me?”

He shrugged a shoulder and finished off the pastry, wiping his hand on a napkin. “Yeah, if you want me to. I mean — you didn’t take it, right?” He didn’t have to see through the sunglasses to know she was glaring at him. “What? Sorry. I mean, I don’t think you’d do it, but that other guy sounded like he was threatening you so maybe you got scared and took some money to pay him off.”

“I did not take that money, Ben!”

“Okay. Okay.” Ben held his hands up defensively. “You didn’t take that money. I believe you. Do you know else might have done it?”

“Anyone in that group could have done it. For all I know Rick did it and told Lonny I did it.”

“Has Rick done anything like that before?”

“Rick has three kids with three different women, so he probably needs the cash.”

“What about that other waitress? The one you were with that night?”

“Hannah?” Judi shook her head. “No. She wouldn’t do that.” She clenched her jaw and slapped the steering wheel again. “But she did tell Lonny I’d been spending more money recently. But $100 in this economy? What would I even do with that? My rent is $800, this car payment is — well, way too much.”

Ben leaned his arm on the window and turned his head to look at her. A quick glance at his serious expression told her that he had put his lawyer hat on, and she wasn’t ready for that.

“So you’ll talk to Lonny tomorrow and find out if he is pressing charges. In the meantime, fill me in on this Jeff guy. What’s the deal with him?”

If Ben was going to have one of his headaches, this was the time for it. She glanced at the exit to the main highway that would lead them home and wondered if she could drive off the road and hit another tree. Anything to avoid telling him anything about Jeff, but especially about that night.

She reached for the lemonade she’d set in the cupholder earlier and took a long drink. he couldn’t stall forever, though. There was only so much liquid in the cup.

“Jeff is a guy I met in the city. One night he invited me to his apartment he made a pass at me. I told him no, he got mad, I kicked him in the crotch, and he finally let me go. That’s all.”

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Ben watching her. “It sounded like it was more than a pass, especially if you had to kick him in the crotch for him to let you go.”

Judi looked the rearview mirror, then the side mirrors and pulled into the other lane to pass a slow driver. “New York guys are pushier, that’s all.”

Ben rubbed the side of his hand against his chin, then held it there a few seconds. “Yeah. Okay.” He cleared his throat and looked out the windshield. “Listen, you don’t have to talk to me about what happened, but is there anyone else you can talk to? Like Ellie?”

Judi kept her gaze on the road in front of her. “There’s really nothing to talk about.”

Plus ,she’d already talked to Ellie about it.

“So what was all this talk about a lawyer calling you? That text from someone named Seline?”

Time to deflect. “What are you doing looking at my texts?”

Ben yawned. He apparently got as little sleep as she had the night before. “It was an accident, I thought it was my phone.”

“My phone has a pink cover. Your phone has a black cover. You know, black like your soul.” She smirked.

“Ha. Ha. I have a head injury, remember? I just looked at the phone without thinking.”

“Yeah, well, anyhow, Seline told some lawyer for some girl about what happened with Jeff and now the lawyer wants me to testify on behalf of the girl. Say that Jeff has done stuff like that to other women.” She swallowed hard, surprised by the emotion thick in her throat. “I guess she wasn’t as lucky as I was.”

“Are you going to testify?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She was stupid enough to get mixed up with him. It’s her problem. Not mine.”

“Judi, if you want to help this girl, I’ll help you. I can represent you.”

“I’m not testifying in some trial. No way.”

“Judi —”

“Drop it, Ben. I’m not doing it. It’s not my fault that girl was too stupid to ask around about Jeff before she got involved with him.”

Ben cleared his throat and raised the coffee cup to his lips. “Okay.” His voice was soft, void of anger, just matter of fact. “I’ll drop it then.”

Judi wanted to apologize, to tell him she knew he meant well, but she didn’t want to talk about it anymore. That girl had been too stupid? Actually, she’d been just like Judi, who had already heard about Jeff but had gone home with him anyhow. Maybe this girl had been like her, her judgement clouded by alcohol.

It was obviou she hadn’t been as strong as Judi, though — unable to get her knee up into Jeff’s groin and send him to the ground in a fit of rage Sure, he’d grabbed a handful of Judi’s hair and yanked as she’d reached for her skirt that he’d tossed to the floor, but she’d still escaped, with her life, most of her dignity, if not her pride. If she testified, though? That dignity would be completely gone.

Ellie already knew what an idiot she’d been, but Judi didn’t need her parents and everyone else in Spencer knowing too. She wasn’t sure how they’d find out if she testified in a court case in NY, but somehow they would, she was sure of it.

She had enough to be judged on with her past public drunken displays and this accusation by Lonny.

She didn’t need yet another failure out on display.