Here we are to chapter 3 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.
To read the previous two chapters in this current story click HERE.
Ben opened one eye and squinted in the sunlight, expecting to see the bedroom at his apartment — clean, matching furniture and set up to fit his organized personality.
Instead, his gaze fell on a poster of Cal Ripkin Jr., golden trophies lining shelves above a small desk, and a collection of CDs in a bookcase where books should have been.
Oh right. His brother Luke’s room. He squeezed his eyes shut again and pulled the covers up over his head. It hadn’t been a bad dream after all. He really was staying at his parents while he recuperated from a concussion and a broken ankle.
He’d been placed in his younger brother’s room because his room had been transformed into his father’s office long ago and because Luke was away at college. His other brother, Travis, had moved out a year ago and was working for a construction company in the western part of the state. Travis’ room had become a library for his dad’s law books. The only sibling who wasn’t out of the house yet was —
“Hey, Binkie! Mom says breakfast is ready.”
He glared through the blanket at his younger sister Maggie. He was an adult, nearly 30. Why in the world was she still using his childhood nickname?
“Go away,” he mumbled.
Maggie giggled and something soft, which he figured was a pillow, slammed into him. “Just like the old days. You’re still not a morning person. Come on or I’m eating all the pancakes.”
The door slammed and he winced. Did she forget he had a concussion?
He flung the covers back and squinted at the Pittsburgh Steelers clock on the bedside stand. Any other day and he’d already be in the office, preparing for his day in court or for a meeting with a client. He still planned to go over a few briefs and hold a couple of video conference calls with clients, but Cindy had purposely set those meetings up for later in the morning, urging him to take his time and heal up.
He adored the woman, but it was a challenge working with a woman his mother’s age who sometimes acted like she was his mother.
Cindy was great at her job, though, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else working for him or with him. She’d been employed as a secretary for the lawyer who’d had the office before him for 25 years. He counted himself lucky that she’d agreed to stay on when he took over. Her experience was irreplaceable even if her maternal tone grated on his nerves at times.
He grimaced as he swung his legs over the bed. The air cast on his ankle was cumbersome but necessary if he wanted the break to heal. The doctor had told him if he’d hit the ankle any harder, he’d be in surgery receiving a pin in it. That would have put him out of work even longer. He took the stairs one at a time, gritting his teeth against the pain.
His mom set a plate filled with pancakes, eggs, bacon, and two pieces of toast on the table as he reached for the back of the chair to steady himself.
“Those painkillers still doing a number on you?” His mom asked.
He waited for the room to stop tilting before he tried to sit down. “Yeah. I’d like to stop taking them but when I do the pounding in my head is almost unbearable.”
He pressed his forehead into his hands and wished the food looked more appetizing to him at the moment. He knew his mom already made breakfast for his dad and sister every morning but adding an extra plate to her day didn’t seem fair to him, especially if he couldn’t eat it.
“Going stir crazy yet?” Maggie stuffed a bite of pancake in her mouth and quirked an eyebrow at him. She smirked as she chewed.
Ben watched her through half open eyes. “Shouldn’t you be at school already?”
Maggie giggled and took a sip of chocolate milk through a bright red straw. “You’re still a big grump in the mornings, huh?” She wiped the milk from her upper lip with a napkin. Don’t worry. I’ll be out of your hair soon. Jenny’s on her way over.”
He reached for the glass of milk his mom sat in front of him. “Whose Jenny?”
“Jenny Fitzgerald. You know her.”
“You don’t mean she’s driving over here, do you? She’s like 12.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “She was 12 five years ago, Benny. She’s 17 and got her license two months ago.”
Emily Oliver placed a hand on her hip as she stood by the table. “And if Maggie wants her license, she needs to start studying that book I brought home.”
Maggie rolled her eyes while Ben rubbed a hand over the stubble along his jawline. How was his little sister old enough to be getting her license? He could have sworn she was eleven just yesterday.
Maggie was the surprise baby for the Olivers. After three sons they thought they were done, but six years after their youngest son was born, Maggie made her appearance.
“I thought you were menopause,” Emily was fond of telling her daughter jokingly.
Ben took a sip of the milk, the only thing which tasted good to him at the moment. “Where’d you get the milk? It’s good.”
“The Tanner’s. Their bottling their own milk and expanded the store.”
His girlfriend in high school. The sweet girl he’d dumped to go out with Angie because Angie was skinny, blond, and – well, more willing to do things Molly wasn’t.
His stomach clenched at the memory.
He’d apologized to Molly about a year ago, told her how stupid he’d been, how sorry for what he’d done to her. In true Molly fashion she had forgiven him, and it has eased some of his guilt, but not all of it.
In reality he’d been stupid in and after college too, only with Angie instead of Molly this time. Apparently messing up the lives of women was a talent of his.
His mom gestured at his plate as she sat across from him with a cup of tea. “Aren’t you going to eat? You need to keep your energy up.” She dropped two cubes of sugar into her cup. “
It will help your healing.”
Ben smiled. “Once a mom, always a mom, huh?”
“You know that.” Emily winked. “You’ll always be my baby.”
Maggie snorted a laugh as she shoved her last bite of bacon in her mouth. “Probably because he still acts like a baby half the time.”
Ben reached out and gently pinched his sister’s arm as she walked by to put her plate in the sink. A horn honked from outside. “Your book bag is over there. Get going, smart mouth.”
Maggie leaned over as she reached for her book bag and kissed his cheek. “I’m glad you’re okay, Benny.”
He leaned back in the chair and reached up to ruffle her hair. “Thanks, kid.”
He chuckled at Maggie’s cry of despair as she walked toward the back door.
Emily stood and reached for a pile of envelops and folders on the island. “I hesitated giving all this to you now, but Cindy dropped your mail off this morning. I want you to rest your brain but maybe this will tide you over a little bit until you can get back into the office.”
Ben poked at a piece of pancake as he rifled through the mail. “Junk mail, a couple of signed documents I actually asked to be dropped off in person and not mailed, and a couple of bills. Looks like I haven’t missed much.”
A stack of the envelopes slipped off the table onto the floor and Emily stooped to grab them. Ben saw the envelope before she reached for it, but he couldn’t move fast enough. He hoped she wouldn’t see the return address.
She held the envelope in front of her. Too late.
“Oh. It’s from Adam and Leona.” She smiled and handed it to him. “I wonder what they sent you.”
He took the envelope, avoiding her gaze, and shoved it under the pile.
“Wouldn’t know,” he mumbled, drinking more milk.
Emily sat down and smoothed her hands across the red and white tablecloth. She cleared her throat and reached for her tea, holding the cup in both hands as she raised it to her mouth. “Don’t you want to know what they sent?” She sipped the tea, keeping her eyes on the tea in her cup.
He finished off the milk and started in on the pancakes. “I already know what it is.”
He kept his eyes on the pancakes. “Angie left me a voicemail. She doesn’t want me there.”
The cup hit the table with a soft clink. “Oh.” It wasn’t a question anymore. He wasn’t sure what he heard in her voice. Disappointment? Resignation? Definitely not surprise.
He pushed his plate back and picked up the mail. “Anyhow, thanks for breakfast. I’m going to head up and see if I can get a few online meetings scheduled for this week and some briefs written.”
“Don’t you want to get to know her, Ben?”
The question stopped him as he started to shuffle back toward the stairs. He tipped his head back and let out a breath. He answered without turning around, the mail under his arm. “Angie doesn’t want me around, Mom.”
“That isn’t what I asked.”
Ben dropped his head and raked his free hand through his hair as he continued to walk toward the stairs. “My head is pounding, and I’ve got work to do. Maybe we can talk about this another time.”
Climbing the stairs, he was grateful his mom didn’t push the issue. He heard her placing dishes in the sink instead. It didn’t matter if he wanted to see his daughter or not. Angie didn’t want to see him or for him to see their daughter and he couldn’t blame her.
Most days he couldn’t even stand to see himself in the mirror.
He tossed the mail on the bed, picking up the envelope from Angie’s parents as it fell on the floor.
He held it in his hands few moments before finally ripping it open. A handwritten note and a small photo fell out with the card, an invitation with colorful writing and the number four on the front, surrounded by a bunch of red balloons. The party was the next weekend, four hours away where Angie and her parents now lived.
He reached down for the note, leaving the photo of a blond-haired little girl on the floor by the bedside table.
We didn’t know if we should send this, but you are Amelia’s father, and we feel you should be a part of her life.
We hope you will at least consider attending her birthday party.
We know there has been hurt between you and Angie and that you have struggled to move past some personal issues, but you are welcome in our home anytime.
Below are the directions to our house.
Leona and Adam
He had no idea how Angie’s parents could still be willing to extend an olive branch to him after what he’d done.
He crumbled the note and the invitation and tossed it in the trash can then reached for the photo. Tiny, bright blue eyes looked back at him above a cute nose that was definitely her mother’s. Her blond curls fell to her shoulder and her smile was also Angie’s — a mixture of sweet and sass.
Her eyes, though, except for the color, were his. They were shaped the same and held a stubbornness he clearly recognized. He hoped that stubbornness worked out better for her than it had for him and that she’d learn to use it for good versus the evil he’d used it for too many times.
He opened his brief case next to the bed and shoved the photo in the inside pocket. Pulling out a stack of manilla folders full of case information, he shut the briefcase again, and with it closed his thoughts about the woman and the little girl he’d walked away from four and a half years ago.