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.
Judi had vowed not to ask Ben any more about his daughter. Her brutal curiosity about the personal lives of others was a flaw she’d told herself she would work on when she left the city.
After their conversation, she’d managed to get the letter typed, despite almost forgetting how to, since she hadn’t typed more than a text since her high school business class. He’d thanked her for her help and then told her she could go home early. He had a headache, he’d said.
While she previously would have simply skipped out of the office, excited to head off to a club or a party, she found herself fighting mixed emotions. One of those emotions was depression over the fact she really had nowhere to go except back to her apartment. The other emotion was guilt. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be dealing with these reoccurring headaches, and he’d probably be able to drive to his daughter’s birthday party.
She really hadn’t seen him coming that day on the road, but, well, she had sort of glided through the stop sign. She wouldn’t have glided if she had seen him buzzing down the road toward her, however. It wasn’t like he was completely innocent either. He had been driving much faster than he should have been.
Standing by her car, her thumb on the unlock button on the key fob, she sighed and hesitated. Ben had been nice enough to give her a job, which though part time, had helped her not have to be at Lonny’s as often. He seemed to be going through a rough patch, and like her was trying to keep himself clean and sober.
She didn’t want to go back to drinking and she had a feeling he didn’t either. Maybe she should make sure he was okay, lift some pressure from his shoulders a little.
He visibly jumped from where he was standing at the filing cabinets behind her desk when she walked back in. “I thought you were heading out.”
“I was, but I thought I should check on you.”
Ben eyed her with what she felt was suspicion, though she couldn’t be sure since he often looked suspicious, which she imagined was because he was a lawyer.
“Uh. Okay. Well, I’m fine.”
“You say you’re fine, but you’ve had a lot going on. I mean, you’ve got brain damage and —”
“Brain swelling, Judi. A concussion. Would you stop saying I have brain damage?”
“Right. Anyhow, you’ve got that and now you can’t go to your daughter’s birthday party. and I feel like that’s my fault even though I totally didn’t see you coming that day.”
“I’ve told you already that I’m not upset about the accident any — wait.” Ben’s brows dipped and he placed his hands on his hips. Judi wasn’t sure what that pose meant but she didn’t think it could be good. “Were you listening in to my conversation?”
Oh. Right. She wasn’t supposed to know about the party.
She grimaced, closing her eyes. “Well, not exactly.” She slowly opened one eye to spy on the angry expression his face was now featuring. “Okay, so here is the thing — when I transferred Mr. Phillipi, I accidentally hit the speaker button. Then I was afraid to push it back off in case it beeped, and you thought I was listening in, but then I realized I was actually listening in so I shut it off, but before I did I heard something about a party.”
His expression relaxed slightly, but the suspicion had returned. “And you assumed it was a party for Amelia?”
“Yeah, if Amelia is your daughter’s name.” She waited for him to respond, but he didn’t. He simply stood there looking at her as if he was waiting for her to continue. “Soooo…is it a party for her?”
Ben folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against her desk. “It is. But as you heard, I can’t attend it because of the concussion.”
“Right.” Judi took a deep breath and stepped toward him. “That’s why I was thinking that maybe I could drive you to the party.”
Ben held a hand up. “Judi, no. Thank you, but no.”
“Why not? I promise I’ll be careful and drive better than usual.”
“It’s a four-hour drive for one thing.”
“So? I drove all the way here from the city. I know how to drive long distances.”
Ben sighed and shook his head as he turned toward his office. “Listen, I appreciate the offer, but I already told Adam I couldn’t make it, so it’s fine.” He shut his briefcase, picked it up, and shut the light off on his way out. “I sent him a check for her gift, so she’ll have something from me.”
“But don’t you want to see her?”
She knew as soon as she asked it, she shouldn’t have. Ben’s expression darkened as he walked toward the front door. “It isn’t that I don’t want to see her. It’s that Angie doesn’t want me to see her. Angie doesn’t want anything to do with me.” He pushed the door open and waited for her to walk through, then turned and locked it after she stepped out onto the sidewalk. “In fact, Angie specifically asked me not to be there.”
She didn’t know what else to say, other than, “I’m sorry. Again. I seem to have this compulsion to ask too many questions and stick my nose way too far into other people’s business.” She shrugged her shoulders in a quick motion.
Ben pushed a hand back through his hair and held it there for a few seconds. “I really do appreciate you wanting to help. I know you mean well.”
Judi nodded and told him she’d see him tomorrow. In her car, she sat for a few minutes before pulling out to start the 20-minute drive home. Ben had said he didn’t want her help and maybe he didn’t, but she felt like he needed it. He needed someone to light a fire under him and get his life back in order.
He was going to regret not getting to know his daughter. Judi wasn’t even sure she wanted a family someday, but Ben? He seemed like the kind of guy who would fit into that kind of life. What he needed was a push in the right direction and if there was anything she liked, it was pushing people around.
Ben woke with a start. What time was it? The sun told him it was way past when he normally woke up. He fumbled for his alarm clock, squinted at it and groaned. 8:45. He should have been up an hour and a half ago. It was Judi’s day off and he should have been in to answer phones and — Wait. No. He rubbed a hand through his hair.
It wasn’t Friday. He’d already worked through Judi’s day off.
He fell back on the bed and squeezed his eyes shut against the sunlight. It was Saturday. He didn’t have to answer any phones, meet any clients, or even go anywhere. He pulled his feet up onto the bed and slid them under the covers, ready to go back to bed and ignore the buzz in his head from the sleep still lingering there.
Ten minutes later, though, he was woken up again with a crisp knock on his front door. He peeked an eye open and closed it again. Whoever it was would get the message and go away when he didn’t respond.
Two minutes later, there was another knock.
No way. He was not climbing out of his bed. The headache he’d had the night before had faded to a dull ache, but he still felt like he could sleep for another eight hours.
Four solid, louder knocks later, he finally crawled out of the bed and stumbled through the doorway of his bedroom, through the living room and to the front door. He propped his head against the wall next to the door and took a deep breath to try wake himself up before he opened the door.
When he opened it he wanted to close it again, but Judi was too quick. She breezed past him with two cups of coffee in a holder and a brown paper bag.
“Good morning!” she chirped cheerfully while he stood watching her with half open eyes.
“Yes. It’s morning. Good? Well, it was good before you woke me up.”
She sat the coffees and bag on the table and turned toward him. “Ooh. I thought you were a morning person. I guess not.”
He closed the door and staggered toward the kitchen table, flopping down into a chair and resting his head on the top of the table. “What are you doing here?” He lifted his head quickly. “Not only what are you doing here, but how did you find me?”
Judi popped the lid off her coffee and poured in creamer she pulled from the bag. She stirred it with a small stir stick. “Seriously? Burkett isn’t much bigger than Spencer. I asked around.” She sipped the coffee. “So what day is that birthday party?”
Ben rubbed a hand across his face. “Today. Why?”
“3 p.m. Why?”
Judi pulled a donut from the bag and bit into it. “Because deep down you want to be there and you want me to drive you.” She spoke around a mouthful of donut.
“No. Deep down I want for you to get out of my apartment so I can go back to sleep.”
Judi pulled the coffee from the carrier and set it down in front of him. “I’m going to drive you down to your daughter’s party.”
“I already told you I’m not going.”
“It’s 9:30. If you hurry up and get dressed, we can totally make it.”
Ben took the lid off the coffee and stood. He walked to the refrigerator and reached in for a bottle of creamer. “No way. I am not going anywhere with you. You’re a horrible driver.”
“Excuse me?” Judi scoffed, brushing donut crumbs off her hands. “I am not a horrible driver. That was a total accident, you know that.”
“Judi.” Ben poured the creamer in the coffee and sat back down at the table. “Go home.”
“Aren’t you going to stir that?”
Ben propped his chin on his hand and sipped the coffee. “I’m too tired to stir.”
Judi placed her hands on her hips. “You could have died in that accident you know.”
He quirked an eyebrow as he looked up at her. “I don’t know about that, but the doctor did say I could be learning to walk and talk again right now.” He sat back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Thanks to you.”
“Didn’t you also say something about that doctor saying this was your second chance at life?”
Ben reached for the donut and broke it in half. “It’s strange you can remember all the things the doctor told me when you can’t remember to bring me files that I ask for or to finish typing up letters I need to send out.”
Judi sat at the table across from him. “Ben, you’re going to regret not getting to know your daughter.”
Ben shoved the half of donut in his mouth and stood, walking back toward the counter. “Go home, Judi.” He reached for a cup in a cupboard by the fridge and poured himself a glass of milk. “Thanks for the coffee and donuts, but, seriously, go home.”
“You need to go see your little girl. Don’t throw this opportunity away.”
“Judi!” Ben turned with the glass of milk in his hand. “This isn’t any of your business. I am asking you to —
“I want to help you, Ben. When I stopped drinking, I said I wanted to be a better person and this is one way I can be a better person. I can help you get your life back on track. My life is a disaster. I don’t have any friends left. My sister treats me like a lost puppy or one of her preschool students. My parents call me several times a day to make sure I haven’t fallen off the wagon. I’m pretty sure my sponsor thinks I’m already back on the bottle.”
Ben held a hand up. “I’m sorry your life is so messed up, but my life is fine, and I want to leave it that way.”
Judi huffed out an exasperated sigh. “But your life isn’t fine! You don’t have anything to do with the little girl you helped bring into the world and one day you’re going to regret it. I don’t want to live with regrets anymore. Do you?” She stood and stepped toward him. “You have a second chance to make things right, even if it is just —”
“Angie doesn’t want me involved in her life or our daughter’s life.” Ben hated how sharp his voice came out. He knew Judi was only trying to help and she was right, he didn’t want to have anymore regrets, but still — He softened his voice. “I can’t just force myself into a situation she’s told me she doesn’t want me involved in.” He stepped back to the table and sat down and drank the rest of the milk. “Thank you for trying to help. Really. But I need to respect Angie’s wishes.”
Judi sat down with a heavy sigh and picked up the cup of coffee. “I thought you had some fight in you Ben Oliver.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Apparently, that’s not the case.”
Ben wasn’t about to tell Judi that he’d already had another phone call from Adam, asking him if he would reconsider coming to the party. Luckily the call had gone to his voicemail, and he hadn’t had to tell the man, again, he wasn’t going to come.
There had been something in Adam’s voice though. Something that made Ben think maybe he should take Judi up on her offer. A sudden thought made Ben’s stomach tighten. What if that “something” was related to Amelia. What if she was sick? Maybe Adam and Leona wanted to talk to him about that. Or what if it was Angie? Could something be wrong with Angie?
He raked a hand through his hair and growled softly. “Fine. I’ll go.”
Judi looked up from her coffee, startled. “Really?”
Ben shook his head as he walked toward his bedroom. “Yes, really. I’ll take a shower, get dressed and we’ll go.”
He couldn’t believe he was doing this and Judi’s squeal from his kitchen sent an annoyed shiver crawling up his spine. He had no idea how Angie was going to react to this visit, but he had a feeling it wasn’t going to be positive.