Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore, Chapter 16

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. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 16

Ben’s mind was spinning when he reached Amelia’s room. His thoughts had already been jumbled before he’d heard the angry voice coming from Angie’s room.

First, Amelia had invited him up to her room about fifteen minutes after she got back from the hospital, something he was still struggling to process. Now he had to juggle that conundrum — and Angie’s furious expression when he’d taken Amelia’s offered hand — along with whatever was going on with Judi. Whoever had been talking to her had definitely been threatening her. He wondered if that was why she’d come back to Spencer Valley.

Angie had stayed downstairs with her parents. Her boyfriend, or whatever he was, had stayed outside with Angie’s brothers so Ben hadn’t been introduced to him. Not that Angie would have introduced them. She hadn’t even looked at Ben when she’d come back to the house with Amelia. She’d looked at the floor when Amelia had asked Ben to come up and see her room.

Now here Ben sat cross legged in the middle of a hot pink rug while his daughter – who didn’t even know she was his daughter – showed him her dollhouse. Ben knew Adam had built it, along with the bed frame and headboard and canopy scaffolding. He didn’t have to ask. It’s what Adam did after all and why he had a successful furniture making business. A furniture making business he was apparently moving back to Spencer. He’d probably been about to talk to Ben about that when Angie had come back with Amelia.

“Pop-pop says this dolly is like mommy.”

Amelia’s little voice made Ben love her even more and regret even more how much of her life he had missed out on. The doll in her hand was petite and blond and she placed it on a bed in the upstairs.

“And this is William,” the little girl said, sitting a male doll on the couch in the living room.

Ben didn’t even want to ask, but he finally did.

“And who is William?”

“William loves mommy. He told me so.”

Ah. William. So that was Tall-Ginger-And-Handsome’s name.

Ben simply nodded and reached for the stuffed bear he’d given Amelia downstairs. She’d laid it on the bed when they came in and for some reason, he felt like he needed something to squeeze at the moment. Did he really care if Angie had a boyfriend?

He squeezed the bears head with both hands.

Had he expected her to never date again after he’d abandoned her?

He squeezed the bear a little harder.

The answer to both of those questions was yes and he hated it.

He’d tried dating after he’d left Angie, or she’d left him, or — well, it was a mutual decision in some ways. None of the relationships had worked out after the third or fourth date and he’d been fine with that. He wasn’t interested in getting involved with someone again. He’d hurt Angie enough. No need to add more shattered women to the world when he inevitably screwed up again.

“William is a doctor.” Amelia was still talking, but not looking at him. Her attention was consumed with placing little figures into the house. She whirled suddenly and looked him in the eye with such intensity he was mesmerized. “What do you do when you aren’t home, Ben?”

She blinked a few times, her expression much too serious for someone so young.

He cleared his throat nervously, touching a hand to his throat and rubbing there. He’d hoped to loosen his tie, then remembered he wasn’t wearing one. “Uh, I’m a lawyer.”

Her nose wrinkled. “What’s a loyer?”

He laughed softly. “It’s someone who — well, we help people.”

Her face brightened. “You and William both help people.”

 “Yes. That’s right.” He nodded slowly. “We help people.”

Though William probably saved lives and there were days all Ben could seem to do was ruin them.

“Amelia?”

Angie’s voice called from the bottom of the stairs. He was surprised she’d let him up here alone with Amelia this long.

“Yes, mommy?”

“Why don’t you come down and say goodbye to William and your other guests. They’re going to be leaving.”

Amelia ran to the doorway. “Goodbye!” she yelled then ran back to Ben and sat next to him, her little legs folded under her.

Ben grinned. “I don’t think that’s what she meant, kid.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come on. Let’s head downstairs.”

She didn’t take his hand. “But I don’t want to. I want to play dolls.”

Ben heard his father’s voice in his next words. “I know it’s more fun to play dolls, but your mom is calling you. You need to listen to her, okay?”

He kept his hand out to her and she pushed her lower lip out, looked up at him, and shrugged.

“Okay,” she said, standing.

She took his hand, and he held it for a few seconds before turning to leave the room. Who knew when he’d hold this little hand again. He rubbed his thumb across the top of it, over the smooth skin. A hard knot formed in the center of his stomach and he swallowed hard. He’d missed out on so much. He had no right to even be here.

Angie’s words filtered up the stairs from the living room as he started down the stairs, confirming his own belief.

“No, Mom. I am not staying down here any longer. She’s my daughter.”

He paused on the steps but couldn’t hear Leona’s response. He kept walking, slowly, Amelia’s hands in his.

“She’s his daughter biologically only,” Angie snapped as his foot hit the floor off the bottom step.

She turned at the sound of his footstep, her face flushed. Their gazes met for a few seconds and then he turned his attention to Amelia, her hand still in his. “Thank you for showing me your room and dollhouse.”

Amelia smiled, pulled her hand from his and ran toward the patio doors, apparently on her way to bid her guests a farewell.

He kept his gaze off Angie and focused on Leona who was wrapping up food and place it into the fridge. “Judi’s up. We are going to head out shortly.”

“Are you sure? You both look so tired and there’s supposed to be fog tonight.” Leona’s brow crinkled in concern. “We’ve got plenty of room if you two want to stay. The boys got a hotel room.”

“No.” Ben glanced at Angie, felt the heat coming off her even though she was looking at the floor, her arms across her chest as she leaned back against the kitchen island. “Thank you, but we really need to head out tonight. I’ve got court Monday morning and I need to prepare some briefs.”

Angie smirked but didn’t say anything. He wondered what she was thinking, yet really didn’t want to know.

“Well, okay, I understand,” Leona said, disappointment tinging her words. She turned and lifted a container from the fridge. “I thought you might say that, so I packed up some extra food for your trip home. I hope you’ll take it with you.”

Leona and his mom were so similar. “Of course. I’d be glad to.”

The patio door slid open as he started to excuse himself to see if Judi was ready to go. Doctor Handsome stepped into the kitchen, his eyes focusing first on Angie, then on Ben. An awkward silence fell over the room until Leona nudged Angie gently in the side with her elbow.

Angie tilted her eyes upward and sighed. “William this is Ben. Ben this is William.” She lowered her eyes, her gaze drilling into Ben her complete disgust with his presence. “He was just leaving.”

“Ben, hey.” William didn’t seem bothered by Angie’s tone. His smile was still wide, maybe even warm. He held a hand out toward Ben. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Ben took the hand and laughed softly. “Yeah. I’m sure you have.” He shook William’s hand briefly and firmly then let it go, taking a step back toward the staircase. Time to get out of here. “Nice to meet you.” He gestured up the stairs. “I’m just going to make sure Judi’s ready.”

“I am!”

He watched Judi already coming down the stairs, hair combed straight and hanging down across her shoulders and back, makeup freshly applied, bright pink lipstick, smiling as if she hadn’t been shaking twenty-minutes earlier.

Ben stepped out of her way and watched as Leona introduced her to William as his secretary while Angie smirked again. They then filed toward the front door and out it as Ben thanked Leona and Adam for the invitation. Ben was grateful when Angie and William stayed in the kitchen and Matt and Dan stayed in the backyard with Amelia and a few of the stragglers. He was uncomfortable enough and more than anything wanted to get out of there and never look back.

Leona and Adam were still on the porch waving, and the sun was setting, when Judi turned the key in the ignition and the car didn’t start.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ben growled.

This could not be happening. Could this day get any worse?

“Don’t even ask, Ben.”

“What?” Judi asked.

“Nothing. Just start the car.”

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder. Her brothers are coming out and I don’t want to die today.”

“It’s not going to start.”

Ben growled again. “Apparently good ole’ Evan wasn’t so smart after all. Maybe he was too focused on flirting with you to properly diagnose the issue.”

 Judi sighed instead of fighting back with a smart comment like she usually did, which reminded Ben of what she’d gone through earlier. He cleared his throat. “Sorry. It’s not your fault. I just want to get out of here.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair, staring ahead, her demeanor definitely more subdued than usual. “I understand. It’s been a stressful day all around.” She pushed a button under the steering wheel and opened the door. “Let’s see if we can figure this out and get on the road.”

Guilt and frustration were his main emotions as he climbed out of the car, but when he saw Mark and Danny standing on the porch dread overshadowed them both.

“Car troubles again?” Adam called.

Ben nodded. “Yep. Looks like. A guy looked at it on the way down but I guess he didn’t diagnose it right.”

“A mechanic?” Mark asked as he stepped off the porch and walked toward the car.

“A truck driver,” Judi said with a shrug. “You probably know him. Evan McGee. Matt’s younger brother.”

“Yeah, I know Evan,” Mark said. “Good guy. I’m sure he just missed something. Nobody’s perfect.” He smirked and turned to look at Ben. “I’m sure you would agree, right Oliver?”

The two men locked gazes for a few seconds before Ben answered. “Yes, Mark. I would agree. Would you?”

Judi cleared her throat. “Well, anyhow, Evan clearly was wrong and something else is going on.”

Mark leaned over the engine, propping a hand on the edge of the open hood. “I worked part time with Bert Tanner for a few years before we opened the business. Why don’t I take a quick look for you?”

“Thank you,” Judi said.

“Yes,” Ben said with a forced smile. “Thank you.”

While Mark looked retrieved tools from his truck and looked at the engine, Judi and Ben chatted with Adam and Leona as they waited. Mark straightened about fifteen minutes into his inspection and wiped his hand on a rag. He nodded toward the driver’s side. “Looks like you had a corroded connection to the battery. See if it starts. If it does you should be good to go but I’d recommend that you get your engine serviced when you get back to Spencer.”

Judi smiled over her shoulder as she opened the driver side door. “I’ll be sure to look into that as soon as I figure out what serviced means.”

When the car started Judi rolled the window down. “Thank you. Hopefully it holds out until we get back.”

Dan stepped out onto the porch. “You might need to find a different route, though, they’ve shut down part of the highway. Major accident. Tractor trailer overturned. Just saw it online.”

Ben thought about how it was generous of Dan to offer that information to a guy he’d probably rather beat up. The brothers were being polite in front of their parents, but he had a feeling if they were alone with him again the politeness would be gone.

Leona looked concerned as she rubbed her hands across her arms. The move reminded him of his mom when she was stressed or wanted to say something she didn’t think anyone else would want to hear.

Leona bit her lower lip briefly then said quickly, “I think you two should stay until the highway is clear. There is supposed to be even foggier conditions tonight. You two can head out first thing in the morning.”

The woman was nothing if not persistent, but Ben had to resist her. Mark’s previous congenial behavior was fading fast based on the crease in his brow. Next to him, Dan had his hands on his hips, staring Ben down as if challenging Ben to accept the offer. Or maybe he was challenging him to reject the offer and reject yet another female member of the Phillipi family. Right here, in front of everyone. Either way, it wasn’t going to end well for Ben.

Before he could decline the latest offer, though, tiny fingers encircled his.

“Are you going to have a sleepover, Ben?” Amelia asked in a tiny, curious voice.

 Ben glanced up at Angie and William who had stepped out onto the porch to stand next to Dan. It was as if the whole family had come out to watch him make a complete fool out of himself no matter how he answered.

“Um. No. I don’t think that would be a good idea, kid.”

“Why not? You can sleep in my room in my sleeping bag.”

Ben laughed softly. “That’s sweet, kid, but, again, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“We really don’t mind,” Adam said in a sincere tone, laying his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “It would be nice to have a chance to chat since we were interrupted earlier.”

Leona touched her hand to her throat and rubbed the dip there, looking more concerned than before.

“I just hate to think of anything happening to you two out there on the roads tonight. I know I would feel better if you were driving home in the daylight instead of this fog. I’m sure your mother would too.”

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Leona knew how to twist the knife in deeper, go in for the kill. Invoke the thought of his mother at home, pacing the floor, wringing her hands, waiting for him to call and tell her they’d it made home through the fog. Only his parents didn’t even know he was here. Of course, Leona didn’t know they didn’t know, and he wasn’t about to get into that right now.  

And there was something about the way Adam was looking at him that sent a twinge of dread sliding through him. Why was it so important for Adam to talk to him? He already knew about the move. Was something else going on? Maybe someone in the family actually was sick.

He couldn’t stay, though. The entire situation was incredibly uncomfortable and growing more uncomfortable by the minute. Plus there was Judi. She had to feel out of place. He wasn’t sure how upset she still was by that phone call she’d had earlier either.

He turned slightly to look at her. She shrugged a shoulder, as if to say the decision was his. He’d always been bad at making decisions though so when he agreed to stay, he felt deep in his chest that he’d done it again – made another bad decision he was going to regret.

3 thoughts on “Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore, Chapter 16

  1. While reading this, it struck me how often we see someone who seems so self-assured in their career or public position, but underneath it all they are so unsure of everything, just like Ben. Convicting me to keep to open my heart for more prayer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Sunday Bookends: Fall is coming, Summer of Paul continues, and TobyMac | Boondock Ramblings

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