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.
Judi was back in Angie’s room, feeling as awkward as she had before. Maybe she should have helped Ben tell the Phillipis that they needed to leave, but, honestly, she wasn’t ready for the drive yet. She was still struggling to process Jeff’s phone call and she didn’t want to process it while Ben demanded answers from her.
Plus, Angie’s dad had had an odd look on his face when he’d urged Ben to stay. Judi didn’t know Mr. Phillipi at all, but he seemed like a nice man, and he was giving her a vibe that he needed to talk to Ben. Maybe staying over would give them a chance to clear the air, if it didn’t give him and Angie time.
She answered a text from Ellie, telling her the full story of why she was in Lancaster and about the car, the accident on the highway, and that they were staying over. She didn’t tell her, obviously, about the call from Jeff.
After she hung up, she laid back on the bed with a pillow hugged to her chest. The call had certainly thrown her off her game. If she hadn’t received it, she wouldn’t have thought twice about getting in that car, rejecting the Phillipi’s pleading requests to stay, and instead driving her and Ben home so she could reconnect with Evan and forget about the calls from the lawyer and now Jeff.
She rolled onto her stomach and sent another text.
Hey, you okay? Just heard about a tractor-trailer accident and hoped it wasn’t you. This is Judi by the way.
She didn’t know why she told Evan who was texting. He’d put her number in his phone, but who knew how many girls he was receiving texts from on any given day? There was no way someone that good looking didn’t have a girl in every town.
She yawned and stretched then winced as her stomach grumbled in protest. She’d declined Mrs. Phillipi’s offer for dinner, instead wanting to hide away and not have to put on a fake smile. Ben had declined as well, hiding away in the den in the finished basement of the house.
She guessed they both were fighting battles with their thoughts. Better now than tomorrow on the road.
She glanced at the gold-framed clock on the wall. Nine o’clock. She’d heard Angie take Amelia to bed an hour ago. Hopefully, Angie’s parents were also early-to-bed people and hopefully, they also didn’t mind if she snuck down to the kitchen to find a snack.
She walked slowly down the dark hallway and staircase, turning left toward the kitchen, feeling along the wall for a light switch. Somewhere outside an animal howled or screamed or made some noise that reminded her that they might be four hours from Spencer but they were still in a rural area. She slid her hand along the wall with a little more purpose.
The kitchen flooded with light before she found the switch. She looked up to see Angie on the other side of the room by the refrigerator with her hand on a square light switch. Her dirty-blond hair was up in a messy bun, the makeup that had been meticulous and flawlessly applied earlier was gone, but she was still a natural beauty, which sent a swatch of jealousy through Judi, who felt like she had to work for her beauty.
“Guess I wasn’t the only one who needed a snack,” Judi said with a quick smile, shrugging a shoulder.
Angie didn’t smile as she folded her arms across her chest and leaned her right shoulder against the doorway. “I needed a drink.”
“Oh.” Judi gestured toward the fridge. “Please don’t let me stop you.”
“No. Go ahead.” Angie’s words were said through a tight jaw. “Grab your snack.”
Judi pushed a hand back through her hair and sighed. “I didn’t think your parents would mind but if it is an issue. . .”
Angie’s expression softened and she unfolded her arms, letting them drop to her side. “No, of course, they wouldn’t.” She walked toward a cupboard next to the stove, opened it, and took out a glass. “Sorry I’m so grumpy.” She turned around, a glass in her hand. “Please, help yourself. There is some pizza left over from the party if you’d like any of that.”
She took a paper plate off a pile by the toaster and slid it onto the island. “Here is a plate if you need one. The bread is in the breadbox if you’d like a sandwich. We have turkey and ham, salami, and some lettuce.”
Judi pulled out a couple of slices of pizza from the refrigerator and laid them on the plate while Angie filled her glass with water from the sink.
She leaned back against the counter as Judi placed the plate in the microwave.
“So, how long have you and Ben been seeing each other?”
Judi raised an eyebrow and looked over her shoulder. “Seeing each other? As in dating?” She shook her head. “We’re not seeing each other. I thought you knew I was his secretary.”
Angie shrugged a shoulder. “Well, that’s what he said, but . . .”
She let the implication hang in the air.
“And it’s what he meant. I’m filling in for his secretary. Her husband is going through chemo treatments, so she needed some time off. I drove Ben down here because his doctor advised him not to drive until he stops having headaches and dizzy spells from his concussion.”
Judi took the plate out of the microwave, set it on the island, and sat on a stool. “I’m also the reason he has a concussion and a broken food but no, we are not seeing each other.” She snorted a small laugh. “Ben is good looking, don’t get me wrong, but he’s way too uptight and strait-laced for me.” She grimaced. “And boring. So boring. I don’t know how you ever dated him.”
A small smile tugged at Angie’s mouth. She sat on a stool on the other side of an island, across from Judi. “Well, he wasn’t always boring.”
“Yeah, probably not since he was still drinking then,” Judi said.
Angie made a face. “Actually, he wasn’t a fun drunk. He was an angry and depressed drunk most of the time.”
Judi swallowed a bite of pizza and bit her lower lip. Sometimes she really needed to think before she spoke. “Sorry. That was a bad joke.” She focused her gaze on Angie’s. “Really. I know firsthand how not fun it can be when a person drinks too much.”
Angie cupped the glass in her hands, her arms propped on the island. “Were you in a relationship with an alcoholic too?”
“No. I was the alcoholic.”
Angie dropped her gaze. “Oh.” She cleared her throat and lifted the glass. “I didn’t know that.”
Judi smirked. “Guess you haven’t talked to anyone from high school in a while. I figured you’d already heard all about my stupid behavior over the years.”
“I don’t really talk to anyone from high school,” Angie said softly. “I don’t like remembering who I was back then.” She twirled the glass in her hand. “I had heard you moved to the city, though. What brought you back?”
Judi shrugged. “Needed a break from the hustle and bustle I guess.”
“I can understand that. The city was a bit too crazy for me, honestly. It made me realize I’m more of a country girl than I realized.”
Judi folded the pizza in half and shoved into her mouth, speaking around it. “I love the city. I’m not a country girl at all. Too dull around Spencer Valley.” She wiped her mouth with a napkin and swallowed. “Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s the truth. If you don’t want to go to a bar then you’re pretty much stuck reading a book or joining the quilt club.” She rolled her eyes. “Or join my sister’s Bible study.”
Angie smiled and propped her chin in her hand. “So how did you give Ben a concussion?”
Judi took another bite of the pizza. “I accidentally pulled out in front of him on Drew Road. He swerved to miss me and slammed into a tree.”
Angie winced. “Ouch.”
“In his new BMW too. Then he got out, bleeding from the head, yelling, pointing and gesturing while this vein in his head popped out. I thought it was going to explode.”
“The one right above his right eye?
Judi laughed. “Yes. It was popping to the rhythm of his words.”
“How about the neck one? Right below his left ear?”
“How red were his ears?”
“Like a lobster. I can tell you know Angry Ben too well.”
Angie’s smile faded briefly. “Yeah.” The smile slowly returned. “Sometimes it was funny though. It wasn’t all bad anger. Sometimes he was upset about a class or because he couldn’t get the garbage bag open. It wasn’t always directed at me.”
Judi took another bite of pizza and a comfortable silence settled over the kitchen for a few minutes.
“People can change,” she said after a few moments, even though she wasn’t sure she believed it herself.
Angie nodded and picked up an apple from the fruit basket in the center of the island. “Yeah. They can.”
“I think I am seeing a different Ben than you did.”
An orange cat rubbed against Angie’s leg and she reached down and stroked its head. “Yeah. I think you are.”
“Maybe you’ll see that version of Ben someday too.” Judi stood and tossed the empty plate in the trash can. “Anyhow – I’m going to head to bed. It’s been a long and crazy day.”
Angie’s voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned back around. “Did Ben ask you to drive him down here?”
Judi knew she should lie and said he had. It would probably make Angie feel better and make Ben look better. There was that whole private promise she’d made herself to be honest, though.
“No. Not exactly. I offered. He didn’t want to come.”
Angie drank the last of the water and placed the empty glass in the sink. “I see.” She turned to face Judi. “Why did you offer?”
Judi didn’t want to get into it, try to sound like a good person. She just wanted to go to bed and try to forget about the earlier phone call. Angie was looking at her with an expression Judi couldn’t read. Either she was hoping that Ben had shown some sort of interest in doing the right thing or she was afraid Judi had forced him to come.
“I figure he’d eventually regret it if he didn’t see his daughter.” She smiled and laughed softly. “And I really needed to get out of Spencer for a few hours. Like I said, the place is seriously dull.”
Angie responded with a laugh of her own. “I know and I’m going back there in a few weeks. What am I thinking?”
Judi placed her hand on the bottom of the banister. “Look me up when you get there. Maybe we can find something fun to do there together.” She raised her hands in a defense motion. “Something that won’t involve alcohol. I promise.”
Angie tossed the apple up and caught it again. “I may take you up on that. Hey, would you like a pair of pajamas? I’ve got an extra one in the second drawer of my dresser. We look about the same size. I’m sure it would fit.”
The two walked upstairs together, Judi thanked Angie for the offer of the pajamas, and they said goodnight.
She changed into the nightshirt and pajama pants Angie had offered her, turned the lights off, pulled the covers around her, and started to set her phone down when Evan texted back.
Evan: Hey, Judi Lambert. How sweet of you to be worried about me. Yeah, I’m good. Dropping my truck off and then heading back out on the road to Spencer. Hope to catch up with you when I get there. You back in town yet?
Judi: No. Car problems again. Still in Lancaster.
Evan: Ah, man. I should have looked a little longer. Sorry about that.
Judi: No problem. Really. Angie’s brother found some dirt on the connection to the battery.
Evan: Dang. Didn’t think to check that. Guess I was too busy checking you out.
Warmth spread across Judi’s cheeks and she immediately felt ridiculous. Plenty of guys had flirted with her over the years. She was used to it. Evan was no different so why was she reacting this way?
Judi: Very funny, McGee. Glad you are safe. We’re headed out tomorrow. Angie’s mom was worried about the fog and had us stay over.
Evan: Good idea. The fog was rough. Took me an extra hour to get back to my garage and I’ll be taking my time back to Spencer. Call me as soon as you’re back in town, k? I’d love to see you again.
Judi smiled at his words.
Judi: Same here. I’ll be sure to let you know.
Evan: Night, Judi. I’ll be remembering that cute skirt you were wearing tonight in my dreams.
Judi clicked the screen off and laid the phone by the bed. She’d met a lot of guys over the years, most of them after one thing. Evan McGee probably wasn’t any different but right now she wasn’t sure she cared.
Flirting with him was a nice distraction from the situation with Jeff. She’d have to face it all at some point, call that lawyer and tell him she didn’t want anything to do with the case, but for now, she was going to pretend the only worry she had was how soon she could get together with Evan once she got back in Spencer.
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