As regular readers continue to read you might remember than when I started this story, I had it beginning in the winter. That was an error because Harvesting Hope ended when it was still summer and this book will be picking up right after Harvesting Hope ended. In other words, I will be fixing the timeline errors in the final edition of the book, but for now, just pretend I did not suggest Olivia was coming home from college for her winter break in the second chapter I posted here. I will fix that in future chapters and the final book.
Also, here was another horrible discovery this week — my laptop is saving my stories in two different places when I hit save. I have no idea why it is doing this but now I know why the corrections I thought I had made on final versions of the books that I uploaded to Kindle weren’t showing up when the book printed. So I had very nice people letting me know about typos and erros and I was baffled. I had gone over the book a number of times, my family and other readers and an editor went over it and then I went back and made all the changes. Where were the changes? Apparently the changes were being saved in one place on my one drive but that wasn’t the version I was using when I uploaded it to the Kindle create software. AAARGH!
Now that I have noticed this, I will be much more careful in the future and hopefully will not have to deal with these typos and huge errors in the final book copies again. For those who had to weed through the errors, I sincerely apologize, but hopefully you know the corrections were made, they just apparently weren’t saved. Again…. AAARGH!
Now, I’m done rambling. Here is Chapter 6 of The Next Chapter, which has not gone through an editor so I am sure there are errors. Want to catch up on the rest of the story? Click HERE.
Holding Liz’s baby against her chest sent joy and peace surging through Ginny within seconds. She’d breathed in deep the smell of lavender baby wash and closed her eyes, a song she used to sing her children coming to mind as Isabella began to whimper. A tiny hand curled into her shirt, gripping tight and Ginny had kissed it and rubbed her cheek against the soft head.
She hadn’t expected the singing to work. Her singing voice wasn’t something she’d call award winning, but it was apparently enough to calm the untrained ears of a newborn. That newborn was now swaddled tightly, fast asleep in the basinet. A little belly rub trick Ginny had picked up from late nights with Olivia hadn’t hurt either.
That reminded her; she should call Olivia and see if she’d changed her mind about staying in California again. First, she was coming home, now two weeks later, she was staying in California until the semester starting, and planning to get a job at a local juice bar. Ginny didn’t even know what a juice bar was. Did they serve juice instead of alcohol and did people really spend money to have someone make them juice when they could just buy a juicer and make it themselves at home?
Who even knew anymore. The world seemed to have gone mad and sometimes Ginny felt like she was the Mat Hatter, trailing along behind.
She checked her messages and noticed there was one from Stan. She wasn’t sure how she’d missed his call.
“Hey, hon’ I’ve got another late meeting today. I’m just going to grab some dinner from the diner and eat it here. Don’t wait up for me. This is with that developer from Jersey. It could take a while.”
She rolled her eyes. At least he’d called this time. That was something she guessed.
Half the time she sat at the dinner table alone, trying to decide if she should start eating or wait for him to come. Lately she’d begun eating without him and setting his food in the fridge for him to heat up later.
A sigh huffed out of her as she remembered the early days, when she’d been a teacher and how she’d have dinner on the table for him when he came home, and they’d sit down as a family and talk about their days. Eventually the children became involved in activities and those days of sitting down as a family became further and further between. Then the kids began moving out, one by one, until it was just her, Stan and Olivia. Two years ago, Olivia had left, and Ginny had been excited at the idea of her and Stan having more time alone. That was around the same time the real estate business had taken off, though, and Stan had added a partner and two more agents to the office. Those dinners happened occasionally for about a year and then rarely for the next six months and practically never now.
There were days Ginny wondered what the purpose of her was. The kids didn’t need her and neither did Stan. She supposed the library needed her, but they could get anyone do to her job if she finally decided to leave. She liked to joke that a trained monkey could do her job, but really? It was probably true.
She should make the most of the time she had and start that grocery list she would need at the end of the week. She’d been trying to eat healthier so she should write down healthy food. She made a face, remembering the avocado she’d tried earlier. There had to be healthy food that tasted good, right?
There had been a whole list of suggested healthy food for “women of a certain age” in that Good Housekeeping magazine she’d picked up at the doctor’s office. She’d have to look for it when she got home. She stood and stretched, the idea of making a list abandoned until she found the magazine.
The apartment was on the second floor of a former home. It was bigger than most in town, with two bedrooms and a spare room, a large living room and a small hallway that led to a small kitchen. The bathroom was at the end of the hallway with a bathtub and plenty of floor space. This was Ginny’s first official visit to the apartment, but she’d seen the photos on Stan’s website when he’d sold the building, which included space for a business below. That space was now vacant but had previously housed a clothing boutique. And before the boutique it had housed several rooms, including two parlors, a magnificent dining room and a kitchen. Ginny had admired old photos of the home in a history book the county historical society had published several years ago.
The apartment was sparsely decorated, yet cozy. The faded yellow walls coupled with the restored hardwood floors made Ginny feel like she’d walked into a modern coffee shop. A light gray couch sat against the back wall, a recliner next to it at an angle, and a blue papasan chair across from the recliner next to a floor to ceiling window — all of them facing a small TV and DVD player.
Ginny imagined herself curled up in that papasan chair with a good book and without a care in the world other than what to make for dinner that night and which friend to go out to a movie with. How lovely would it be to be young with a special group of friends again. She didn’t have that anymore. In fact, she didn’t even have one close friend these days. Her friends had drifted away over the years, wrapped up in their own families and lives. She couldn’t remember the last time a friend had actually messaged or called to ask how she was.
She supposed that how life was when you hit your 50s. Rather lonely and confusing, like a person lost at sea in some ways.
There was part of her that envied Molly and Liz’s friendship, how they were able to live here together and experience life together. She was sure it wasn’t easy for Liz raising her daughter on her own, but at least she had her family and Molly to help her.
Sliding in to the papasan chair she curled her legs up under her and slid the hair tye out of her hair, releasing her usually ponytail and raking a hand through her dirty blond hair, grateful for the change of scenery. Normally on a day like this, when she left work early, she’d sit at home, reading a book in the on the enclosed back porch she’d thought would be lovely for afternoon teas with friends or Stan. Then the friends had faded away and Stan’s job had taken priority, so most of the time she sat alone on the porch, listening to the birds chirp until it was time to start dinner.
Sitting here, out of her normal, rather stale, environment, made her remember simpler days, when she and Stan were young and actually spoke to each other.
Her gaze roamed the room, flicking across Native American pottery, Vanilla scented candles, two cat figurines and a picture frame with the words “into the field I go to lose my mind and find my soul” and the image of a field of corn engraved on it.
Next she found a wall of photos, a mix of images of Liz with her family and Molly with hers.
She smiled, looking at a photo of Alex and Molly together, embracing each other next to a haybale on the Tanner’s farm. There was also one of Ellie and Jason, who would be officially married in two more days. They’d planned to hold the wedding two weeks ago, but heavy rains had made the pasture they’d wanted to hold it in unusable. Ginny hadn’t been invited to the wedding, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t know Ellie and Jason well. She only knew about their arrangements from chatting with Molly at the gym last week.
Yes, it was true. She and Stan were young once. Very young. He was a senior and she was a junior in high school when they’d started dating.
Ginny touched her fingers to her lips, thinking of secret kisses under the bleachers during football games. The kisses happened there to make sure her daddy didn’t catch them when Stan took her home at the end of the night. Her daddy had never liked Stan, at least not until Stan came back from college and proved what a hard worker he was. He was even more of a hard worker now than he had been then.
Her throat thickened with emotion, surprising her. She couldn’t even remember the last time Stan had kissed her other than a quick peck on the cheek.
The opening of the apartment door startled her out of her memories. The sight of Marge rushing in with a newspaper in her hand jerked her abruptly back to the present. Marge stopped short when she caught sight of Ginny.
“Oh. Ginny. Hello.” Marge’s cheeks flushed and her eyebrows shot up. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What brings you by?”
Ginny stood and smoothed her hands down her slacks, feeling suddenly intimidated, a familiar feeling when she was around Marge, though she wasn’t sure why. Marge had never been rude to her. It was just that Marge was — what was the best way to say it? Bold. Marge was more bold, confident, and to-the-point than Ginny and for some reason that was intimidating.
“Liz was by the library today and looked exhausted, so I offered to watch the baby while she slept.” Her voice had sped up and she knew she was rambling, but the nerves had gripped her and wouldn’t let go. “She said you had a meeting with the business association and would probably be by later, but I really thought she needed some rest now so I popped by early. I didn’t mind at all.” Her smile felt tight and probably looked even tighter. “Hopefully you don’t mind.”
Why would she mind? Why did I even say that? Ginny thought, as her brain began firing thoughts wildly back and forth.
Marge frowned, looking puzzled, but luckily not angry. “Of course I don’t mind. I’m glad you were able to help out. It’s just — well, I did have the business association meeting, but it was postponed because Millie Baker has a cold.” She sighed. “I don’t know why she doesn’t think to ask her dad. I mean, he has a men’s meeting this evening, but he’s free this afternoon. ”
Ginny shrugged, trying to ignore the tension in Marge’s voice. “It was no problem, Marge. I know how busy you and Frank are. I really didn’t mind. I don’t get to hold my grandchildren very often, so I enjoyed holding yours.”
Marge smiled, her previously furrowed brow relaxing. “Well, thank you, that was really sweet of you. Of course, we will both get to hold our other grandchildren soon. Isn’t it exciting?”
Ginny agreed and the women chatted a few minutes about when Clint and Tiffany might be arriving and how long they’d be staying with Marge and Frank.
“Well, anyhow —” Marge glanced at the closed bedroom door and bit her bottom lip. “I guess I’ll let Liz sleep. I can always come back later.”
Ginny wasn’t sure how to answer. Liz had been asleep for a couple of hours now, but Marge was her mother and seemed uneasy. Maybe something was wrong. She pulled her shirt down and smoothed it across her waistline nervously. “She’ll probably be awake soon.”
It wasn’t any of her business why Marge had barged into her daughter’s apartment looking panicked and she really didn’t want to be in the middle of their business. But, still, she heard herself ask, “Is something wrong?”
Marge let out a quick breath, looked at the paper in her hand for a brief second, and then held it out toward Ginny, who noticed it was folded to the birth announcements section.
Marge wrung her hands. “It’s just — well, Isabella’s birth announcement is wrong.”
Ginny’s brow furrowed as she looked at the paper, scanning the last names until she came to Liz’s.
Baby girl, Isabella Molly Cranmer, 7 pound 8 oz, 21 inches long, born August 26, to Liz Bailey Cranmer and Matthew Grant McGee.
Her eyebrows raised.
Oh. Well, this was certainly news to her. She’d never officially asked anyone who the father of Liz’s baby was, not even Tiffany. She didn’t feel it was her business, but as far as she’d gathered, Gabe Martin was the father.
“Do you see?” Marge pointed at the page. “It has Matt listed as the father of her baby.”
“Yes,” Ginny answered. “I see. But, I mean — are they even dating? Or were they?”
Marge shook her head. “Not that I know of. I’m sure you heard she gave birth in his truck and we never got the full story there, but — I mean she told us Gabe is the father. Why would she —”
The door to the bedroom creaked open and both women watched a sleepy Liz shuffle her way out of the darkness wearing a faded blue T-shirt and pair of striped shorts.
She blinked in the bright sunlight, a hand sunk deep in the dark brown hair on the top of her head as she scratched her head and yawned. Her gaze drifted between the two women as the yawn widened. Ginny’s chest constricted. She kept her eyes on Liz, afraid to make eye contact with Marge. She knew she should excuse herself, let mom and daughter talk things out, yet she was afraid her departure might make the situation even more awkward.
Liz’s gaze darted to the basinet, scanned a sleeping Isabella then moved back to the women.
She found Ginny’s eyes first. “Is everything okay?”
Ginny nodded, glancing at Marge, wishing she could snap her fingers and disappear. “Isabella is fine. She’s been asleep almost the whole time you were napping.”
Liz smiled sleepily as she looked into the basinet. “You got her to sleep in the basinet? You must be some kind of baby whisperer.”
“Not at all.” Ginny laughed. “I haven’t a clue how I did that. Maybe she just finally gave out of energy.”
Liz stretched her arms over her head and spoke through a yawn. “I just wish I could figure out what is making her so uncomfortable.”
Ginny briefly forgot about Marge standing behind them, holding a newspaper with a scowl furrowing her eyebrows. “Are you exclusively breastfeeding?” Liz nodded and tugged at her hair tie, shaking loose her messy ponytail and letting her dark brown hair fall loose around her shoulders. Ginny rubbed the palm of her thumb along her bottom lip. “Maybe something you’re eating is giving her gas. Have you talked to her doctor?”
“More than once. He thinks it’s definitely gas and gave me some drops, but they don’t seem to be helping.”
Ginny nodded, looking thoughtfully at the sleeping baby. “Then maybe it is something you’re eating. You could try eliminating a few foods that are known to cause issues. Your sister had to cut dairy out when she nursed Wyatt. He was miserable until she did.”
Liz sat on the couch. “Yeah. That’s right and he’s lactose intolerant now so that could explain some things.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Who knows. Maybe it runs in the family.” Her eyes drifted away from Ginny toward her mother. “Well, if she’s fine then why do you two have such odd looks on your faces? Did someone die?”
Marge pursed her lips, tipped her head back, and looked down at her daughter, thrusting the newspaper toward her.
Ginny inwardly cringed. Oh boy. Here we go.
Liz’s gaze followed her mother’s pointing finger. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as she read under the birth announcements column. “What?!”
Marge frowned. “I’m guessing this is some kind of mistake? A misunderstanding? Because I thought you told me that Gabe was Isabella’s father.”
Ginny took that as her cue to exit, awkwardness or not. She took a step back from where she’d been standing in between the two women. “Listen, I really —”
Isabella’s cry drowned out her words. The three women looked at the baby but Ginny was closer, so she reached down, unwrapped Isabella from her swaddle and lifted the tiny baby against her shoulder.
Turning to look at the women she realized she was stuck. Her road to escape blocked by a crying child. Maybe she should hand the baby off to Liz. It was probably time for a nursing session anyhow.
At that moment, though, Liz closed her eyes and her jaw tightened, signaling she wasn’t ready to hold her baby. If anything, she looked ready to have a full-blown breakdown.
Liz closed her eyes and clenched her jaw against the urge to scream. McGee, what have you done? I told you to stop that nurse.
When she opened her eyes, Marge’s expression had darkened even more.
“Liz.” She pointed at the paper again. “What is this about?”
Liz drew in a deep breath, tipped back her head and let it out slowly. “Listen, Matt’s a good guy and I —” She swallowed hard. She could tell her the mom the truth, about how Gabe had been abusive, about the night she’d gotten pregnant, about how stupid she’d been, or she could let her mom believe the town’s golden child was the actual father of her child.
No. She closed her eyes, her head still tipped back. She was way too tired for this conversation, for one, but she was also not about to throw McGee under the bus simply to get herself out of being interrogated by Marge.
Marge huffed a breath out of her nose. “You what?” She hugged her arms across her chest, pursed her lips, and narrowed her eyes, making Liz feel like she was in high school again. “You didn’t want people to know you were living with one guy and sleeping with another?”
The words hit Liz full force in the chest.
Was her mother serious?
Her ears roared from what she could only imagine was her rising blood pressure. She stood, hands clenched at her side.
“What are you even trying to say, Mom? Do you really think I am the kind of person who would be dating one guy and sleeping with another? Really, Mom? That is what you think of your daughter?”
Marge held up her hand, “Now, Liz, that is not —”
“No.” Liz’s face flushed warm as she flung the folded paper on top of the coffee table. “Not ‘now Liz.’ That’s seriously who you think I am. You just accused me of being a slut.” Liz’s face crumpled as she sat back down on the couch. “I can’t even believe this.” She dragged in a ragged breath, a sob working its way into her throat. Clutching the edge of the couch, she looked at the floor and tried to stop the room from spinning. She started to speak, but no sound came.
“Liz, I didn’t say you were a slut. I shouldn’t have said it that way. All I wanted to know was —”
“I want you to leave.”
Marge scoffed. “Excuse me?”
Liz looked up slowly, her head feeling like it was stuffed with lead. “I said leave. Get out of my apartment. I don’t want you here.”
Marge tossed her hands up and slapped them down again. “Liz, you are completely overreacting. I misspoke.”
“You did not. You spoke exactly what you were thinking.” Liz pointed at the door, her jaw tight. “What you’ve thought of me for a very long time. I want you to leave. Get out.”
Marge’s mouth formed a thin line as she stepped back. “Fine. I’ll leave. But I’ll call later so we can talk this out.” She looked over her shoulder, clipping out her next words. “You put words in my mouth, Liz, and I don’t appreciate that one little bit.”
The door slammed with a reverberating echo. Out of the corner of her eye, Liz see Ginny visibly flinch.
Liz’s chest constricted with guilt. She should have let Ginny leave before the explosion.
Ginny’s hand rubbed across Isabella’s back in a circular motion as she smiled weakly at Liz. “You okay?”
Liz cleared her throat. “Yeah — not really. Sorry you had to see that. You came here to be nice and then I stuck you in the middle of our family drama.”
Ginny sat on the couch. “You think my family has never had drama? I raised two young girls remember?” Ginny paused for effect and winked. “And one of them was Olivia, so you know what I mean.”
Liz knew she shouldn’t laugh. She’d certainly heard about Olivia’s reputation for having a flare for the dramatic, but she hadn’t expected Ginny to admit it. She wiped her finger under her eye and apologized again as she reached out for Isabella and then leaned back to let the fussy newborn nurse.
Ginny laid her hand against Liz’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Oh, Liz. I’m sure your mom didn’t mean —”
“You don’t know my mom.” Liz choked back a sob. “Not really. You only see the good side of her. She and dad have been angry at me since I moved in with Gabe. I know it was a mistake. I told them it was when I moved out, but now I know for sure what they think of me.”
Ginny shook her head. “I can’t imagine that, Liz. Your parents love —”
“Isabella.” Liz’s eyes filled with tears. “They love Isabella. And Tiffany. And Clint and my nieces and nephews. They see me as a disappointment.”
Ginny squeezed Liz’s hand in hers and drew in a breath. Liz braced herself for a gentle defense of her parents. Instead, Ginny simply shook her head and said, “I don’t think that’s true, but even if it is, you know in your heart that you did the right thing having Isabella, even if you feel how you got her was a mistake. God plans our days out Liz. None of what happened surprised Him and he meant for you to be this baby’s mother.”
The woman meant well, she did, and Liz understood what she was saying, but if God wasn’t surprised about Isabella’s conception, was he surprised about what happened with Gabe that night at his apartment. Why couldn’t God have intervened somehow? Stopped it all from happening the way it had? It was a question she wasn’t sure she’d ever have an answer to and one she didn’t want anyone in her life, including Ginny, to know she was even asking.
“Thank you, Ginny. Listen, you should really head home. I’ve taken up way too much of your time this afternoon. Won’t your husband be waiting for you?”
Ginny smiled but Liz sensed a sadness in her as she shook her head. “He has a late meeting tonight actually.” Her eyes drifted toward the window, the late afternoon sun casting shadows across the apartment floor. Her smile faded for a brief moment before it returned again when she looked at Liz, who recognized the attempt Ginny was making to create the illusion that all was well. “But that will give me time to read a book and maybe even watch a movie before bed.”
Liz tilted her head, narrowing her eyes. She couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling Ginny’s smile was all an act. Was there trouble in Jefferies paradise?
Maybe Liz wasn’t the only one who needed a break from family tonight.
“Eating alone doesn’t sound like fun to me.” She spoke the words before she changed her mind. “I was thinking of ordering a pizza to drown my sorrows. Want to stick around?” She winked. “I promise not to use you for your baby soothing skills. Or at least not only for your baby soothing skills.”
Ginny laughed and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail back from her face. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yeah. Sure. That would be nice. How about I call and order the pizza while you finish nursing?”
Liz was grateful for a moment along to try to gather her emotions as Ginny stepped into the kitchen to dial Vinnie’s Pizza, the closest pizza place to the apartment.
She’d been so angry at her mother, she’d almost forgotten she needed to call Matt, warn him about the birth announcement. The birth announcement he was supposed to keep out of the paper.
Of course, maybe he already knew. Maybe his family, friends, co-workers and church groupies were already peppering him with questions, or even worse, giving him the side-eye, thinking about how little they really knew about the perfect Boy Scout of Spencer Valley. Maybe they were silently, or not-so-silently judging him. The thought made her sick to her stomach.
She picked up her phone to text him, then stopped herself, her finger hovering over the screen. She couldn’t tell him about the announcement in a text. A phone call would be better. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she adjusted Isabella on her lap. He’d been stopping by or calling almost every day since she’d come home. Today most likely wouldn’t be any different. She could talk to him then, ask him why in the world he hadn’t stopped that nurse from sending the birth announcement to the paper. Had he forgotten to speak to her or was there something more going on?