For those who are new here, this is a novel in progress. I post a chapter each week and there may be typos, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.
I have been busy working to finish this story and hope to start working on the second draft the week after next, to get this book ready for an April 26 release to Amazon.
To catch up with the story click HERE.
If you would like to read the first books in this series, you can find them HERE.
“Liz? You here?”
She heard her mom calling from the front of the apartment and groaned, covering her head with the pillow.
Molly had taken Bella to her parents today, telling Liz to sleep in and try not to think about what had happened the day before at the restaurant. She didn’t have a class until the afternoon today, so she’d agreed to it. She’d already answered a call from Ginny, checking on her, asking if she needed anything. Texting back that she was fine hadn’t been a lie, not really. She was fine, in some ways. At least she hadn’t had a full-blown panic attack. Yet. Somehow.
The entire town probably knew what had happened by now. People who had been closer to Gabe and Matt by the bar, like she had been, heard exactly what Gabe said that set Matt off, but she hoped most of the restaurant didn’t.
She tossed the covers off her and stepped out of her room, squinting in the sunlight blasting in through the apartment’s floor to ceiling front window.
Marge set her purse on the couch and stepped toward her. “Oh, hon’.” Liz bristled at the pity in her mother’s voice. She was not in the mood for pity. How had she even heard about it? And how much did she know?
Liz folded her arms across her chest, avoiding eye contact with Marge who was standing with arms outstretched, and headed for the bathroom, locking the door behind her. She splashed her face with cold water, choked down bile and willed her stomach to calm down.
Had that really happened yesterday? Maybe she was dreaming, and her ex-boyfriend hadn’t told an entire restaurant, or at least the bar section, that he’d practically forced her into sleeping with him the night she conceived her child.
She dried her hands and face quickly and pinched her arm. That hurt, so clearly she wasn’t dreaming. Unfortunately.
The anger she’d seen flashing in Matt’s eyes when he dragged Gabe through the front doors of the restaurant and tossed him onto the sidewalk had been real, even though it felt like a nightmare as it was happening. The moment he’d slammed Gabe onto the hood and cuffed him hadn’t been a figment of her imagination, but she wished it had.
Her face had burned with embarrassment as Gabe hissed his confession at Matt. She’d kept her eyes downcast at the floor, dreading looking up and seeing expressions of pity or disgust being cast her way. She knew it was stupid, but she felt like they were all judging her for being weak and pathetic.
In reality, most of the people in the restaurant didn’t know her and those who did probably didn’t care as much as she thought they did. The world didn’t revolve around Liz Cranmer and her many failings. People had much more important issues in their lives to deal with. She probably wasn’t even a dot on their radar. There had been a few whispers, though. A few looks cast her way. She’d caught them after she’d grabbed her purse, gave Ginny a curt, “I need to go,” and walked swiftly to her car.
Luckily the fundraising meeting had been almost over anyhow. The shouting had drawn the gazes of her and the rest of those in attendance toward the noise. It was only when she saw the face-off between Gabe and Matt that she’d stood and walked to the doorway to get a closer look. Ginny had stood behind her, a hand on her shoulder, asking in silence if she was okay.
She wasn’t, but she’d nodded her head once.
Now, here she was with her mother outside her bathroom door, pacing, ready to pounce and ask her about what Gabe had said. Mary Landers was on the library board. She was also in Marge’s Bible study. Ah. That’s how her mother knew.
Liz groaned and wiped a hand across her mouth, regretting her decision to stay in a small town where everyone knew everything about you and if they didn’t, someone would tell them.
“Liz, are you okay?”
Liz had to give her mom credit, she at least sounded concerned. When Liz opened the door, Marge looked concerned too. Kudos for effort.
“Mary Landers called this morning to ask if you were okay. I had no idea what she was talking about.”
Liz brushed past her mom without answering and headed for the kitchen.
Marge followed. “What in the world did Gabe say to Matt to cause him to act like that? Do you have any idea?”
So, Marge didn’t know the full details. Yet anyhow. Liz reached for the carton of milk and the bottle of chocolate syrup in the fridge. It was a heavy on the chocolate syrup kind of morning.
“I’m not totally sure, no.” It wasn’t a lie. She hadn’t heard everything Gabe said. She’d heard enough to know he’d spared few details about how she’d ended up pregnant.
“I would have never expected that out of Matt. Have you talked to him? Is he okay? Did he say anything to you?”
Liz stirred the syrup into the milk, the spoon clanging against the glass. “No, I haven’t talked to him and hasn’t said anything to me because he didn’t even know I was there.”
Marge sat at the kitchen table and shook her head. “It is just so out of character for him.” She chewed at her bottom lip. “Gabe must have said something awful about you. Why else would he do that?”
Liz sat down across from her mom and took a swig of the milk. “I don’t know, Mom.” She stared at the glass. “I don’t really want to talk about it. Is that the only reason you stopped by?”
Marge looked up sharply. “There’s no reason to be snippy, Liz. I came here to check on you.”
Liz’s eyes narrowed, her jaw tightened. “I’m fine. You don’t need to check on me.”
“Liz, if you have something to say to me then just say it.” Marge’s sharp tone brought Liz’s gaze up to meet her mother’s. “I’m tired of the way you talk to me, the way you treat me like I’m some evil ogre. I even wonder what you’ve told Ginny Jefferies about me.”
Liz quirked an eyebrow. “The way I treat you? Really? That’s rich.”
Marge’s eyebrows dipped into an angry scowl. “I told you I was sorry for what I said about you sleeping with Gabe and Matt at the same time. I should never have said that.”
“You also shouldn’t have even thought it.”
Marge took a deep breath. “Fine. I shouldn’t have even thought it. You were in a dark place back then. Did I really think you would do that? No, but I didn’t know. People do awful things when they aren’t in their right mind and for a while there I don’t think you were in your right mind.”
Liz emptied the glass in one long gulp, then stood and set the glass in the sink. “Which time? When I was living with Gabe or all the years before that when I still couldn’t do what was right in your eyes.”
Marge stood, setting her hands at her waist. “I never said you were doing anything wrong when you were young, Liz. I don’t know where you get the idea that I was always criticizing you. I was not. You were always criticizing me. It didn’t matter what I said, I was always wrong, and you were always right. I can’t even remember how many times I expressed concern for you, and you somehow decided I was being critical or controlling.”
Liz held up her hand. “I’m not in the mood for an argument, Mom.”
Marge’s voice lowered into a strained tone. “You’re never in the mood for a discussion and that’s what this is. I’m not trying to argue, I’m just trying to find out what Ginny has that I don’t.”
Confusion furrowed Liz’s eyebrows. “What? What does Ginny have to do with this?”
Marge folded her arms across her chest, lifting her chin slightly, focusing her gaze somewhere across the kitchen. “You talk to Ginny like I always wanted you to talk to me. I just want to know, why is she the person you can talk to? Why don’t you come to me when you are upset or down? I’m your mother.”
Liz scoffed. “Maybe because she doesn’t judge me. She doesn’t suggest I try to act more like my sister or tell me I’m not living the way the Lord would want me to.” She stood and flung a cupboard door open, reaching for a mug. “She listens to me, she tells me it’s going to be okay. She offers to pray for me, not tells me to pray about it. She doesn’t look at me like I’m the biggest disappointment in the world to her.” She slammed the mug on the counter and reached for the package of hazelnut coffee.
Marge’s expression fell, fading from angry to clear hurt. “I don’t — I —” Her lower lip quivered, her eyes glistening. “I pray for you, Liz. I’ve always wanted the best for you. I —” She closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly. “I’ve never thought of you as being a disappointment. I’m the disappointment. I’m the mother who did such a horrible job that you would have rather died than tell your father and me you were pregnant.”
Liz drew in a ragged breath. She turned around, stepped back against the counter. “What — how — you knew? All this time?”
Marge laid a hand against her chest, nodding as tears streaked her cheeks. “Of course, I knew.”
“Did someone tell you?”
Marge shook her head. “No. No one told me anything. I just felt something was off when you said you accidentally took too many pills. I don’t think you’d do that. You’re too bright to make that mistake.” Marge swiped her index finger under her eye, across the moistness there. “I just kept thinking I was such a bad mother that you couldn’t even come to me in your darkest moment. I could never bring myself to ask you to the truth, though. It was too hard for me to face that it was my fault you’d tried to kill yourself.”
Liz reached for the tissue box on the counter, took one and held the box out to her mom. “Mom, it wasn’t your fault.” She let out a shaky sigh. “It was my messed up thinking that took me there. It was my fault. You can’t take responsibility for my decisions.”
Marge took a tissue and dabbed the corners of her eyes. “But if I had been less critical when you were growing up, more warm, more open, more — more, well, like Ginny.” She pressed the tissue against her eyes as she spoke. “I wanted the best for you and instead of encouraging you, I criticized. I don’t know why I did that. I wish I could go back and change how I acted, how I projected my fears on to you through my critical spirit.”
Liz let out a breath and sat at the table again. She pushed a hand back through her hair, pushing it back from her face. “I know, Mom. I do. I wish I could go back and change how I acted too.” She shrugged a shoulder. “But can’t go back.” She rested a hand on the table, looked at her mom still crying into the tissue. She thought about Matt’s words all those weeks ago, about not letting a root of bitterness take hold. Watching her mother cry, she saw her in a different light. She saw a brokenness from a woman who’d done what she thought she should do and failed. In that moment she saw herself in her mother.
She stretched her arm across the table, laid a hand over Marge’s. “But we can move forward.”
Marge looked up, eyes red and swollen. “I want to do that. I really do.” She squeezed Liz’s hand. “I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t promise I’ll be completely different, but I’ll try. Old habits are hard to break, but the Bible says they can be broken.”
Liz looked at her hand in her mom’s and thought about all the years she’d pushed her parents away, especially her mom. The rebellious teenage years had stretched into the early 20s and now here she was nearing 30 and she still had the same rebellious spirt rattling inside her. “I’m sorry too, Mom. I’ll try too.”
The women smiled at each other and then Liz sat back and finished wiping her face with a tissue. “I never wanted my life to go this way, you know. I didn’t. I wanted to do it the right way. Find a man to marry, date him, get engaged and then get married and have children. I just don’t know how I ended up where I am now.”
Marge snatched a tissue from the box and leaned over, dabbing it against Liz’s cheeks. “Life happens, honey. What’s done is done. Isaiah 61:3 . . .to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.” Marge smiled. “You still being here, and our Bella are our beauty from the ashes.”
Fresh tears burned Liz’s eyes. She cleared her throat and pulled her gaze from her mom’s, not used to so much tenderness between them. She stood and took a couple of steps to the counter. “Have you had breakfast yet? I could make us some pancakes and bacon. Molly brought some of that bacon from Murphy’s Farm home from the store last night.”
Marge blew her nose. “Oh my, yes. That sounds wonderful.” She laughed softly, a foreign sound for Liz, at least for the last few years. “Having a breakdown really works up an appetite.”
Liz laughed as she opened the fridge. “Yeah, it does. Trust me. I should know. I’ve had enough of them.”
Marge stood and opened the cupboard next to the stove. “Where are your pans? I can help.”
Liz gestured to the cupboard next to the sink. “The griddle is in there and the frying pan is in the drawer under the stove. Not a lot of room in this little place.”
Marge retrieved the griddle and set it on the counter. “No, but if there was more room you’d just collect a bunch of things you don’t need like I have over the years.” She smiled, nudging Liz in the arm with her elbow. “You know what I mean. All those dutch ovens and baking pans I’ve collected.”
A small laugh came from Liz. “Or all those rolling pins.”
“Well, two of them were passed down from your great-grandmother.” Marge opened a drawer and then another before retrieving a spatula. Liz poured the pancake mix in a bowl as her mom found a frying pan for the bacon. It had been years since they’d worked together like this, without Marge ordering Liz to do so, and Liz had to admit it felt nice. It was how a mother and daughter should be, working together, laughing together. Well, they weren’t quite to laughing, but close enough.
Marge layered the bacon in the skillet. “Listen, I know it’s really none of my business and maybe I shouldn’t bring it up right now, but —”
“Matt and I are friends, Mom. Really. That’s all.” She stirred the water and pancake mix together, smiling. “He’s been good to me, and I care about him, but we’re just friends.” She looked over at her mom, the smile. “And, Mom, I promise you, I have never slept with anyone other than Gabe. I wish I hadn’t even done that.”
Marge turned the burner on, nodding. “I believe you, honey. I do.”
A few moments of silence followed, filled only with Liz pouring and flipping pancakes and bacon sizzling.
“But, about Matt, you don’t have any romantic feelings for him at all?”
Liz bit the inside of her lip as she flipped a pancake. Seriously, Marge? Come on! She’d just told her mom she’d try to be better, and one way to do that was to stop being dishonest. Still, she didn’t really know how to answer that question without opening up several other cans of worms. While she was debating, though, her mother spoke.
“Because he loves you, Liz.”
“Mom, come on. We’re just —”
The seriousness of her mom’s expression made Liz swallow the familiar response.
“He does. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you.” She moved her hand across an imaginary sky. “Like you hung the moon. That love doesn’t come along very often, you know.”
Liz returned to mixing the batter. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you. Really. It’s just —” She shook her head, not sure how much of herself she wanted to share with her mom right now. “I’m not good enough for him. Matt’s amazing and everyone loves him, rightly so. He’s like fine wine and I’m a cheap beer.” She winced. “Sorry. I know I shouldn’t have made an alcohol reference considering my past issues. It was just the first analogy that popped into my head.”
Marge flipped the pieces of bacon. “Oh, Liz, that’s not true. You are worthy of happiness, and you are worthy of him. Let him love you.” She leaned over and kissed Liz’s forehead. “Let down some walls and just let us all love you.” Liz’s smile was faint. She knew her mom was right, but how did she let her walls down with a man who hadn’t even told her the truth about where he’d been the night she’d tried to kill herself?