Welcome to Chapter 15 of A New Chapter. I have a lot of work to do on this one later and hesitated sharing it today, but since I don’t have a ton of people who follow the story, I think it will be fine. It will be rewritten before I publish it anywhere. I like where the story is going at least. If you want to catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.
Ginny looked at the post office front door through the rain-speckled windshield of her car. She needed to just get out of the car already and go mail this package. Instead, she’d been sitting in the car for ten minutes with no motivation to do anything. Even walking the few feet into the post office seemed too much. She didn’t look forward to possibly running into anyone she knew today, not with the way she felt — depressed, stuck in a deep, boring, frustrating rut.
Unfortunately, she needed to mail a package and she had also promised Liz she’d attend an art class with her. Liz definitely needed cheering up right now. They both needed cheering up, actually. Maybe this class would help do that. They were sketching a live person in this class. Hopefully, it would take her mind off the fact that Stan was at the golf course to celebrate his win with his fellow agents and Liz’s mind off the fact she was out of a job.
It was official. Stan was Real Estate Agent of the Year. Again. Sixth time in the last 15 years. Only this time Ginny hadn’t been there with him to celebrate. Instead, she’d taken off her nice dress, wiped the make-up off her face, changed into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, and watched a Hallmark movie while sitting on the couch alone, eating a pint of chocolate ice cream.
Stan had arrived at the end of the movie, presented her his award, kissed her cheek, and announced he was bushed and heading to bed. He’d woke up early the next day, dressed for the course, kissed her cheek again, and marched out to his car for a morning and probably afternoon of golf.
She was left home to answer Olivia’s tearful call at 8 a.m., a call full of doubts about her major, her relationship with Vernon, her relationship with Brent, and how maybe she shouldn’t have ended it simply because “he was an uncultured country boy”, and then, last of all, her sincere doubts if California was really where she belonged after all.
The conversation had ended with Olivia announcing she was late to her philosophy class, and she’d call back later that evening. That call was followed from one by Clint letting her know their arrival date had been moved up by a couple of weeks and they would be there at the end of the month. Well, not there at her home. They’d be at Frank and Marge’s and Clint would commute to his job two hours away each day until they found a home to move into.
She sighed. Time to get over herself.
She was the mother of three wonderful, grown children, the grandmother of four, and the library director of a small-town library with a good board that supported her and sometimes even praised her. Her life really wasn’t so bad.
She took a deep breath and opened the car door. Time to mail this package, go to the art class, and find joy even if she didn’t feel it at the moment.
Walking inside the post office she lost the motivation she’d tried to stir up when she saw Floyd Simpson behind the front counter. Trying to buy a book of stamps from Floyd, especially now that he was almost deaf and refused to wear his hearing aid, would be difficult enough, but shipping a package? She internally groaned. Maybe she’d just come back another —
“Ginny! What can I do for you today?”
Shoulders back. Smile on.
“Floyd! My goodness! Still here, huh? Not ready to retire yet?”
“Fire? Was there a fire?”
She raised her voice. “I said retire. I was surprised you haven’t retired yet.”
Floyd made a face. “Why’d I want to do that? The only people who want to retire are the people who are ready to lay down and die, that’s what I say.” He shuffled closer to the counter. “What can I do you for today?”
Ginny pushed the package onto the counter. “Well, I need to mail this to my sister in New Jersey and then I need a book of stamps.”
Floyd scowled at the package like it was contaminated. “New Jersey, ya’ say? Too bad your lovely sister moved there. That governor of theirs? What a buffoon he is.” He shook his head and looked at the keyboard, pondering it before poking at the keys with his index finger, the tip of his tongue appearing between his lips. He poked at a few more keys, slipped his glasses to the end of his nose, and looked up at the screen. “Yep. Sad thing your sister is there.”
Ginny wasn’t sure if she should guilty for letting her sister move to the offensive state, or not.
“Yes, well, she loves the area she lives in. It’s a rural area similar to ours, but —“
Floyd chuckled and glanced at her, his glasses still on the tip of his nose. “But it’s still New Jersey.” He chuckled again. “You ever hear about how Pennsylvania was looking for new slogans and one of the suggestions was ‘At least we’re not New Jersey.’” The elderly man tipped his head back and laughed loudly. “At least we’re not New Jersey. Gotta love it.”
He continued to chuckle softly as he entered the address into the computer. Ginny tapped her hand gently on her side in rhythm to the faint country music drifting from the speakers overhead. The click of the keys seemed to follow the rhythm as well until finally, after five long minutes, Floyd looked up again.
“Okay, young lady, I can ship that out for you at $14.50 media mail and lovely Lavina will get her package Wednesday. Does that work for you? If you want it to go faster, it will be about $22.50.”
“Media mail is fine.”
Floyd cupped a hand around his wrinkled ear. “What’s that now?”
“Media mail is fine!”
Floyd nodded, pecked some more at the keyboard, and waited for the label to print out from the printer next to the computer. He stared at the printer for several seconds then start drumming his fingers on the counter.
Several more seconds passed as the printer began printing, slowly. Very, very slowly.
Ginny glanced at her watch. She should have left the house earlier and she would have if she’d known Floyd was going to be behind the counter.
“So, business good over at the library?”
She nodded. “It is. The weather is getting colder which often brings us more patrons, of course.”
Floyd smiled and chuckled. “Yeah, those pigeons are always looking for somewhere warm to roost this time of year.”
Ginny furrowed her eyebrows. “Oh. Well, yes, I suppose.”
The printer groaned as the paper slowly inched out. Floyd folded his arms across his chest and glared at it.
Ginny cleared her throat. “So, um, has business been good at the post office?”
Floyd kept his glare focused on the machine. “Yep. The missus is good. Got a touch of arthritis in her right knee but still manages to play the organ down at the Methodist Church.”
“No. I said —” Oh, never mind. She raised her voice again. “That’s good to hear about Martha. I hope she feels better soon.”
“Nope. Can’t eat butter anymore. Doctor says it’s bad for my cholesterol.”
Ginny sighed. “JUST TELL MARTHA I SAID HELLO!”
Floyd aimed his scow at her. “No need to shout, young lady. I’m not deaf!”
He turned back to the printer and pulled the label off, then looked over his shoulder and winked. “But I may not hear as well as I used to.”
Guilt hit Ginny as she watched the man reach for the label.
Here she was annoyed at how he couldn’t hear and how slow he was, yet he’d been a staple of this community for some 60 years. He’d served his neighbors faithfully all that time, coming in no matter how bad the weather was and staying late if another employee couldn’t make in.
Sure, maybe he complained from time to time and grumbled about governors or politics and maybe once or twice he’d mumbled a not-so-nice word, or had less than friendly customer service, but he’d still cared enough to greet each person who came in, chat with them, and help them the best way he knew how.
He might not always be amendable, but he was dependable.
Ripping the label off, he fumbled with the glue on the back for several seconds, unable to peel the backing away. Ginny held her hand out.
“Those things can be a real pain, can’t they? You have to have nails to get them loose sometimes. Let me help.”
She thought he might reject her offer but instead he smiled a partially toothless grin and handed the label over.
She smoothed the label in place and slid the package toward him.
“Not too shabby, Mrs. Jefferies. I mean, it’s not as good as I would have done it, but ya’ know.” He winked at her. “It works.”
“Thank you, Floyd.” A smile tugged at her mouth. “That means a lot coming from you.”
Walking outside the post office a few minutes later she realized she felt less on edge than she had before. On the drive to the community center, she sang along to a song on the Christian radio station and noticed the tension in her muscles had disappeared. She’d needed that distraction from her situation and now she hoped the art class she was attending with Liz would be even more of a distraction.
Liz tucked Bella into her car seat before lifting it and walking toward the community center. She hoped Ginny was on her way. She really didn’t want to attend this art class by herself. Molly was supposed to come but one of the girls at the store had called in sick, so she was filling in for her.
She paused near the front door, glad that the temperature hadn’t dropped as low as forecasters had originally said it would. Little girls in dance shoes skipped past her, their hands being tightly held by attentive mothers and fathers. A little girl with dark skin and pigtails stopped, tugging at her father’s hand. She looked up at Liz and smiled.
“I’m going to dance class!” Her dark eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight.
“Are you now?” Liz leaned forward slightly, propping her hands on her knees. “I’m guessing by that smile you have fun at dance class.”
“My teacher says I’m very towelented!”
The little girl’s father laughed against his hand. “Honey, I think the word is talented.”
Liz grinned at him then turned her attention back to the little girl. “You have fun tonight, sweetie. Dance your heart out.”
When she straightened and watched the little girl and her father walk into the community center lobby, she wondered if she would be doing the same with Bella one day.
What would Bella be like at 6 or 7-years old? Would she be a girly-girl, which Liz had somewhat been for much of her life or would she a bit more of what some people called a tom-boy, like Molly? And would it only be Liz leading her into a dance class if she chose to attend one? Or would she have a father figure to lead her inside like that little girl had?
Her throat thickened with emotion and weakness spread from her neck down through her arms. She closed her eyes, laid her hand on her stomach, and practiced the breathing exercises she’d looked up online the night before. She tried to remember the quote she’d read one time, probably on one of those inspirational posters at the health food store.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
She opened her eyes at the sound of a car pulling in. Ginny smiled through the windshield as she shifted the car into park, but Liz saw the sadness in the smile. Liz still could not believe that Stan hadn’t taken Ginny with him to his banquet. After all their hard work picking out an outfit.
Ginny hooked her art bag over her shoulder. “Well, you’re bright and perky this afternoon.”
“I went to the gym this morning for the first time since Bella was born. It was so nice to be able to work out again.” Liz lifted the car seat and hooked the handle over her arm. “I mean I’m in total agony and when I get home I’m going to pass out on the couch, but, you know, I felt like a little more of my normal life is coming back again. Anyhow, tell me, did you ever talk to Stan about how him giving your ticket away made you feel?”
Ginny sighed and leaned her side against the door of her sedan. “No. I didn’t. I guess I should but he’s just so — well, clueless. He’s out at the golf course again this weekend celebrating his win.”
Liz’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sadly I am.” She pushed herself off the car and headed toward the front door.
Liz followed her. “Did he ever even notice your hair? Or your dress? Anything?”
Ginny shook her head. “He didn’t say a word about any of it. Not last weekend and not all week.”
Liz couldn’t believe it. That man! How could he have ignored Ginny after she’d had her hair cut and styled and put on a beautiful dress and — “Oooh. I could just slap him.”
Ginny laughed. “Liz!”
Pink blushed across Liz’s cheeks. “Sorry. Did I say that out loud?”
Ginny laughed again. “Well, I can’t lie. I thought about doing the same thing, but chocolate ice cream has been soothing the savage beast.”
Liz shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah, that’s been my go to comfort food too this week.”
Ginny raised a finger. “Oh. That reminds me. I have something I need to talk to you —”
“Ginny! Hey! I didn’t know you’d be here.”
Both women turned at the sound of a male voice. Liz glanced past Keith through the glass front doors and guessed that the Harley Davidson parked out front was his. It matched his sunglasses which he slid off as he smiled at Ginny. It was like a scene in a 50-somethings TV drama, the way he smiled at Ginny like she was the only one in the room. Ginny visibly gulped and stared at him with wide eyes and Liz wondered if she was captivated by his blue eyes or horrified that he was looking at her with such obvious interest.
“Keith, um, hey.” Ginny’s voice had a tremble in it that let Liz know that the woman might have been captivated by the man’s eyes and smile, but she was also insanely uncomfortable. “What brings you to the community center tonight?
Keith slipped the sunglasses into the front inside pocket of the jacket. “I saw a sign for tonight’s class when I was leaving the supermarket the other day. I thought it might be a nice way to relax after a full day of online meetings. What brings you here?”
Liz shifted the car seat to her other arm and watched the conversation like a tennis match.
“Well, I happen be coming to an art class myself actually.” Ginny’s tone was cheerful, showing she’d recovered from her shock of seeing Keith.
“Really?” There was Keith’s charming smile again. Was that a dimple on his left cheek? “Which one?”
“The sketch class. It’s the only art class tonight. The other classes tonight are a knitting class and a children’s dance class.”
Keith made a face. “Oh gosh. Glad I chose the sketching class then. I definitely haven’t got a clue how to knit.” He laughed. “Or to dance. Not that I really know how to draw either, but I think I can handle a pencil better than a knitting needle.” He turned his charming smile to Liz. “Good evening, Liz. We met the other day.”
Liz reached around the seat and took his outstretched hand. “Yes. We did. Nice to meet you again.”
“How’s the little one? Sleeping through the night yet?”
“I wish but I’m sure we will get there eventually.”
Liz had to admit that it was hard to look away from Keith when he was smiling.
“It will come soon enough,” he said. “I remember it took some time with our son, but eventually it happened. In fact, the first night it did, my wife and I were in his room every hour on the hour to check that he was still breathing.”
He moved his attention back to Ginny. “You’ve cut your hair.”
Ginny touched a hand to her hair. “Yes. I have.”
“It looks amazing.” Liz watched as his gaze moved over every inch of Ginny’s hair as he spoke.
Pink flushed across Ginny’s face, and she smiled, tipping her head down. “Well, thank you. That’s very nice of you.”
Liz’s attention was pulled from Keith to a woman with short, red hair wearing a flowing dress covered in flowers standing in the art room doorway.
“Are you three coming to my art class?” Alexandra Dupre asked, sweeping across the floor toward Keith. She’d moved to Spencer 20 years ago, from where Liz wasn’t sure, but she’d kept the slightly French accent all these years, an accent no one was sure was real or not. She kept her gaze focused on Keith. “I know Liz and Ginny, but I haven’t met you before. You must be new.”
Keith nodded and smiled. “New to the community center, yes, but old to Spencer.” Liz glared at his dimple. There was just too much charm in that man. Something was off.
If Keith had been a piece of chocolate, Liz had a feeling Alexandra would have gobbled him up in one bite. Maybe all the rumors she’d heard about the woman over the years were true.
Alexandra smile slyly, her eyelids heavy. “Well, I’d love to learn some history of Spencer someday if you’d like to share it.”
Keith’s smile faltered briefly as he appeared to have caught her drift. “Yes, well, I — uh —”
“Isn’t it time for class to start?” Ginny asked and without waiting for Alexandra to answer she walked toward the classroom.
Liz and Keith followed Ginny. Alexandra slipped into the room a second later, her dress flowing behind her like the wisp of smoke off the end of one of those long cigarettes she smoked in the courtyard in between classes.
Keith gestured to the table Ginny lead them to. “Is it okay if I sit with you ladies?”
“If you don’t mind the small whimpers of inadequacy which eek out as we attempt to be artistic,” Ginny responded with a wink.
Liz mentally rolled her eyes as Keith smiled and said, “I can’t imagine there is anything inadequate in your work, Ginny.”
What was this guy’s deal anyhow? Didn’t he know Ginny was married? Give the heavy flirting a rest already.
A few moments later Alexandra stood at the front of the room and clapped her hands twice. “Okay, my artistic friends, I have a new challenge for you this week. Live model sketches. I think you’re going to love it, especially after I introduce you to our model.” She smiled with raised eyebrows and raised her hand, waving at the back of the room.
When Matt walked past Liz, heat rushed into her face and she immediately looked for the exit. What was he doing here? He was not going to be —
“Yes!” Alexandra’s expression showed her delight as she clapped her hands. “Officer Matt McGee, Spencer’s favorite police officer is our model today.”
The room of mostly women clapped and one of them wolf-whistled from the back of the room. Matt raised his hand in greeting, his cheeks flushed, clearly embarrassed at the attention.
“Is he going to wear all those clothes the whole time?” Millie Baker called from the back of the room.
Liz’s eyebrows shot up. Millie was 76. Was she serious right now?
Alexandra tipped her head back, laid her hands against the base of her throat, and laughed loudly while Matt’s cheeks and ears turned an even deeper red than they had been.
“This is a family art class, Millie,” Alexandra said with a smile, as the laughter in the room dissipated. She raised an eyebrow, held a hand up to her cheek, and winked. “Maybe another time.”
Matt shot Liz a terrified look and though she wanted to laugh, she inwardly groaned.
No way. She was not going to sit and stare at Matt for the next half hour, even if it was for an art class. She glanced at Bella peacefully sleeping in the car seat. If there was any time for her to wake up and have a fit, it was now.
Please, Bella. Come through for, Mama. Give me an excuse to —
“Well, now, isn’t this interesting?” Ginny looked at her with an amused smile, leaning her arm on the table, and propping her finger against her cheek.
Liz scowled. “Hush.”
She turned her attention back to Matt who had taken a seated position on a stool at the front of the classroom. What had possessed him to agree to this?
He looked at her, a small smile pulling at one corner of his mouth. She wanted to smile back but suddenly all she could think about was how he’d been at her apartment that night and never told her. She looked at the blank paper in front of her instead.
“Are you going to use charcoal or pencil?”
It took a few seconds for her to realize Ginny was talking to her. “Oh.” She looked at the tray of pencils and charcoal in front of her absentmindedly. “I don’t know. Which one are you using?”
“Charcoal.” Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You okay?”
Liz nodded and reached for the charcoal. “Yep. I’m good.”
Nope. I need the floor to swallow me up right now.
She didn’t want to draw the man who knew way too much about the worst moments of her life. Her hand trembled as she held the charcoal over the page.
She hadn’t heard a word Alexandra had said. Something about sketching shapes and then filling in details?
Blowing out a long breath she looked up at Matt and found him watching her, his brow furrowed.
“You okay?” He mouthed the words.
She nodded like she had with Ginny and looked away quickly, at her blank page. She chanced a look up at him again and this time he wasn’t looking at her. He’d fixed his gaze somewhere over her head, maybe on the exit sign. The sign that spelled freedom for her.
She found herself tracing the shape of his face with her eyes, hoping she could transfer it to paper so Ginny wouldn’t suspect how uncomfortable she was. Like she had when they’d dance at Jason and Ellie’s wedding, she noticed the small scar under his lower lip, his long eyelashes, the mouth he’d kissed her cheek with more than once over the years, usually before he left her apartment, or she climbed out of his truck.
Not for the first time she thought about what it would feel like if that mouth kissed her lips instead of her cheek, then willed the image from her mind. This was too weird, just too weird and way too intimate for her comfort.
Scanning the room, she thought about how it was also weird that the room was full of women sketching Matt too. Some of them were biting their lower lips and turning to the women next to them, winking and whispering.
Liz’s stomach burned. What was this feeling rumbling in her? Disgust? Anger?
Oh, good grief.
She was not jealous. Sure, she didn’t like these women ogling her — her what?
What was Matt to her?
Her friend. He was a friend at least.
“Enjoy him while you can ladies,” Alexandra called from the back of the room. “Our favorite police officer will be leaving us soon to become a state trooper.”
The collective “aw” from the women around her made Liz want to gag, but Alexandra’s announcement also reminded her that, yes, Matt knew a lot of intimate details about her life, but soon he’d be gone to the academy and out of her life. She wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable and awkward around him for much longer now. She wished that thought comforted her more.
Keith leaned closer to Ginny, lowered his voice, but Liz could still hear the comment. “This guy’s a real ladies’ man, huh? Some of these women seem too distracted to finish their portraits.” He shook his head. “I don’t think sketching people is for me. The poor guy is starting to look like a jack-o-lantern on my page.”
The sound that came from Ginny could only be described as a giggle and it made Liz lean forward and look at her through narrowed eyes.
Ginny didn’t notice Liz’s scolding expression but instead had focused her attention on Keith’s sketch. “It’s not that bad. His nose is a little bigger than in real life, but that can be fixed.”
The end of class couldn’t come fast enough for Liz. When Alexandra announced it was time to clean up, Liz told Ginny she was going to the bathroom to wash her hands. Ginny reminded her there were sinks at the back of the room, but Liz’s heart was hammering, and she knew she needed a private place to bring it back into normal rhythm.
After she washed the charcoal from her hands, she slipped into a stall.
The sound of the door opening was followed by the sound of women’s voices chatting and laughing.
“Isn’t he just lovely?” one of the women said.
“He really is,” another one said.
“I still can’t believe he had a baby with Liz Cranmer.”
“Yes. Didn’t you see the birth announcement a couple of weeks ago? He was listed as the father. He’s out there now holding the baby.”
“No way. I’ve seen the two of them together a couple of times but I never would have guessed there was anything romantic between them.
“Poor Matt. I think she must have tricked him or something and now he’s just doing the right thing.”
“I don’t think Liz is like that —”
“Oh, I do. She’s not like the rest of her family, you know. She lived with that physical therapist for a couple of years. I hear he was heavily into drugs. Probably still is. It all about broke her mother’s heart the way she acted.”
“What a shame,” the other woman said, her voice merging with the sound of the door opening again. “Some people just don’t think about how their decisions are going to affect others.”
The door shut again, and Liz pressed her face in her hands.
Well, that was just great. Now she knew for sure that people in town thought she’d tainted poor Matt. She also knew what they thought of her.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point, but she knew she couldn’t hide forever in the bathroom, no matter how much she wanted to.
Walking back toward the classroom she saw Matt through the doorway, holding a smiling Isabella who must have woken up.
Several women had gathered around him and Isabella, smiling and rambling along in their best baby talk.
“She’s just precious,” Mallory Benson said.
“She really is,” Alexis Vandermark agreed.
The women cooed over her baby like they hadn’t just been in the bathroom trashing Liz and practically calling her a manipulative hussy.
Liz walked through the group and reached for Bella. “Okay, now that everyone has admired her, it’s time to get this little one home and ready for bed.”
The gaggle of women broke apart with a few soft and good-natured protests. A few of the women wished Matt good luck and one of them even touched his shoulder, looking at him like a love sick puppy and told him how much she’d miss him patrolling the streets.
Matt reached out for the car seat after Liz buckled Isabella into it. “Here, let me take that for you.”
He scooped the seat up before Liz could tell him that she’d be fine and could carry the seat on her own. He walked toward the door and Liz followed, glancing over her shoulder to see Ginny chatting and laughing with Keith.
Outside a cool breeze rushed past her and she pulled her sweater around her, wondering where the warm sun had gone.
“Which side do I put her in?” Matt asked, standing next to the car.
“The base is on the left.”
Watching Matt place Isabella in the car, she almost forgot how frustrated she was with him and also how embarrassed she was at what the women in the class had said about her.
“Is this hooked right?”
Leaning in front of him, she inspected the way he’d hooked in the seat. “Yep. Looks good.” She leaned back again and noticed he hadn’t stepped back. She bumped his arm with hers and caught her foot on his boot. He reached for her arm as she started to fall and jerked her back toward him to keep her from hitting the ground. She braced herself with her hand against his chest and then, like a cheesy romance novel, their faces were inches apart.
She pulled back quickly, though, not letting the moment linger.
“Thank you for the help,” she said, stepping back toward the front of the car, averting her eyes from his.
“No problem. I’ll call you later?”
She slid quickly into the front seat, still avoiding his gaze. “Sure. That would be fine.”
Guilt needled her as she pulled out of the parking lot, but she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t see him smiling as she left, knowing what he knew about her, knowing at least part of the town thought she’d somehow led him astray.