As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, 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.
If Judi was going to go to dinner with Evan’s family, she should bring something with her. At least she figured she should. That’s what her parents had always done when they went to someone else’s house. She’d rarely been invited to parties where booze wasn’t the expected gift to bring so choosing something non-alcoholic to add to the evening was new for her.
If she was going to find an edible contribution worthy of the McGees, she figured she’d better drive out to Tanner’s Farm Store and maybe pick up some of their baked goods, which sadly she’d become addicted to since returning to the area.
Her phone rang as she pulled onto the main street out of town. Glancing at the caller id she scowled, but since she was already having a bad day, she picked it up anyhow.
“Finally! Judi, where have you been?”
Seline’s tone sounded more concerned than annoyed, but that didn’t stop Judi from feeling annoyed.
“I’ve been working, Seline. I took another job at a lawyer’s office. I told you that.”
“I know, but you haven’t been picking up your phone. Listen, I’m sorry if I pissed you off when I gave your number to that lawyer, but Alicia needs some help in her case and —”
“Are you friends with this girl, Seline?”
“Yes, I am, that’s why I called you.”
“Then why didn’t you warn her about Jeff? Did you just let her walk into the lions’ den, or did you try to stop her?”
“Hey, what’s with the accusations? And the Bible references? Your sister must be rubbing off on you.” Judi heard a door slam. “For your information, I didn’t know she was seeing him.” Seline’s tone had definitely slipped into a tense, angry tone. “A friend told me later she’d seen them talking at a party. I tried to warn her, but it was too late. I’m trying to help her because I feel guilty. Okay?”
“I don’t feel guilty.” Judi tapped the hands-free feature on the dashboard and shrugged. “He’s got a reputation. I’m sure she heard about him before she started seeing him. She should have known what she was getting into.”
Seline scoffed. “You knew his reputation too, Judi. What was your excuse?”
Judi chose not to respond, instead glancing at a tractor drift across a corn field and wishing she’d never answered the call.
Seline huffed out an aggravated breath. “So, you’re not going to help then?”
Judi leaned back, propping her elbow on the open window and tapping a finger against the rim of her sunglasses. “I don’t know yet. I have to find out what this lawyer wants me to do.”
She heard honking horns, voices shouting, and the click of heels on a sidewalk. “He wants you to make a victim impact statement and maybe testify the day of the trial.”
Judi rubbed a finger along pain building up above her right eye. “I’m not interested in seeing Jeff again. He’s already called me and —
“He called you?”
“Yes. This weekend.”
“He must be out on bail. What did he say?”
“Normal Jeff stuff. He threatened to tell my family I was a slut if I testified against him.”
“But you’re not a slut.” Seline’s earlier annoyance had disappeared. “Sure you made out with guys but you didn’t sleep around. He’s an idiot and if he wasn’t so rich there is no way he’d be out on jail. He probably paid the judge off. ” Her voice was muffled for a moment. “A vanilla chai with soy milk and a blueberry scone. Thank you.” Her normal volume returned. “Besides, your family wouldn’t believe any of what he said anyhow and even if they did, based on what you’ve told me, they’d love you anyhow.”
When a farm tractor loomed ahead, Judi slowed down, propping her elbows on her steering wheel and smoothing lip balm on her lower lip. It was true that her family might say they love her no matter what, but that probably wouldn’t stop them from simply seeing her as the family screw up again if they found out about the situation with Jeff.
“Listen, Seline, I’m driving out into the middle of nowhere. I’m going to lose service. I’ll call you back when I get home.”
Seline laughed softly, a hint of sadness in her voice. “Calling it home now, are you? Sounds permanent. Does that mean you’re never coming back?”
“I don’t know.” Her eyes focused on the rustic wooden sign at the top of Tanner’s store. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with my life right now.” She swallowed hard, wishing she could go somewhere and get drunk like she used to so she wouldn’t have to think about the fact her life was currently going nowhere but down. She pushed the thought away with a shake of her head. “Hey, call you later, k?”
She slid her finger over the end call button before Seline could respond, dropped her phone in her purse and headed into the store. She needed to focus on something other than her past life, and her murky future, right now. She headed to the bread aisle. Bread was always a good thing to bring to a dinner. Unless someone was gluten intolerant. Maybe she should bring veggies and dip instead.
She looked around for the veggie aisle and only found crates of fresh vegetables and fruit in the middle of the store with no labels. Sliding her hand into her hair at the top of her head, she held it there for a few minutes and sighed. Trying to be domesticated wasn’t as easy as she thought.
“Judi! Surprise seeing you here!”
No. It couldn’t be.
She turned to find the source of the voice.
Rena Lambert reached out to her daughter and pulled her into a warm hug. “I’ve been trying to reach you for a few days and now here you are right in front of me. How perfect.” She pulled back, hands still on Judi’s shoulders. “I was hoping you’d come for dinner tonight. I hate to think of you in that apartment eating garbage every night. A homecooked meal would be good for you.”
Judi rolled her eyes. “Mom, I know how to cook for myself, you know.” That, of course, was a bold faced lie. “I don’t eat garbage all the time.” Just most of the time.
Rena wasn’t deterred. “Well, still — come for dinner tonight. At least you won’t have to cook for yourself.”
Judi’s muscles tensed as her mom’s hands remained on her upper arms in a vice grip. “Actually, Evan McGee asked me to come for dinner at his family’s tonight, so I can’t.”
Rena’s eyebrows raised, eyes sparkling with what Judi could only call a delighted smile crossed her lips. “Oh. Matt’s brother?” Judi inwardly cringed at the way her mom’s eyes lit up. The poor woman clearly had thought Judi would never get married and yet, here was the possibility it might actually happen one day, at least in Rena Lambert’s maternal mind. That was what life was like in this small town. Mothers anxious to marry off their daughters to good, hardworking men and have grandchildren. Lots of grandchildren.
Her mom could forget it, though. Judi wasn’t even remotely interested in marriage and having children made her stomach clench with dread. The mere thought she was going to have to see a baby at this gathering made her want to run home and lock her apartment door.
For her whole life, she’d hoped and expected that Ellie would be the one to give her parents grandchildren. What a cruel irony that Ellie couldn’t have children now that she and Jason were married.
“Rebecca McGee is an amazing cook,” Rena said finally letting go of her daughter and adjusting her purse strap on her arm. “You’ll be getting a homecooked meal tonight then. A very good one. Okay, then, how about you come to our house tomorrow night or Wednesday?” She smiled in a conspiratorial way, leaning forward and lowering her voice. “Then you can fill me in on why Evan invited you to dinner.”
No chance, Rena, Judi wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead, she reminded herself that her mom was trying hard to show Judi how much she was loved and cared for her, no matter Judi’s efforts in the past to distance herself from her overly friendly, overly religious family.
“Yeah, maybe. I’ll have to see what my work schedule is.” There was no way she was telling her mom about the situation with Lonny.
Rena’s delighted expression didn’t fade despite Judi’s unwillingness to commit to dinner. “That’s fine. Just let me know, okay? What brings you to Tanners?”
Judi shrugged her shoulder, hesitant to admit her real reason for stopping. “I guess I thought I should take something to dinner. Their whole family is going to be there.”
Rena gestured at the glass covered display case behind Judi. “Oh! You should get one of these amazing bread bowls and spinach dip. They are amazing and so trendy.”
Judi didn’t have the heart to tell her mom bread bowls with dip in the middle hadn’t been trendy since the late 1990s.
“Oh. Yeah. That’s an idea.”
And at the moment it was also the only idea she had.
Rena picked up the handheld shopping basket she’d dropped to hug Judi. “I’m going to grab some of that chocolate milk and the homemade butter your dad loves and head home. I’ve got a ladies Bible study at Ellie’s at 7.” She leaned over and quickly kissed Judi’s cheek. “Hope to see you later this week, hon.”
Judi rotated her shoulders back gently to loosen the tension her muscles had taken on while talking to her mother and headed toward the bread bowls and dip. The offering might be an outdated one but at least she’d feel like she had made an effort. After choosing a bread bowl and dip and searching the baked good aisle, she heard her name being called again.
What was this, a family reunion?
Ellie was next to hug her. Looking down as her sister stepped back, Judi noticed Ellie was wearing a black Tanner’s Farm Store t shirt, paired with a pair of dark blue jeans. She must be working the register today.
Seeing Ellie in more casual clothes had taken getting some getting used to, but Judi was glad to see that Ellie could at least loosen up when working at the farm store, if not in other areas of her life.
“What brings you here?” Ellie’s smile was as broad and perky as Rena’s had been.
Judi quickly explained her visit, like she had with their mother, and hoped Ellie wouldn’t develop the same delighted expression at Judi’s being invited to a dinner by a man from an upstanding family.
Her hopes were dashed the second Ellie winked at her and said, “Ooh. Evan McGee, huh?” She pinched Judi’s arm while Judi looked at her in horror. “He’s got his brother’s good looks. So, is there something going on between you two?”
Ellie folded her arms across her chest and tipped her head, a ridiculous mischievous smile crossing her lips.
Judi made a face. She was ending this conversation as quick as it began. “Okay, that’s enough of your weirdness.” She raised a hand outward in defense, as if she could block any more questioning. “I’m going to head out now.”
Ellie laughed as she hooked her hair up into a tight ponytail on top of her head. “It’s not weirdness. I’m happy for you. Evan’s a good guy.”
How did Ellie know if Evan was a good guy or not? Anyone could pretend to be a good guy. Judi had learned that the hard way a few times.
Brad Tanner walked through the back door carrying a box of vegetables on his shoulder, drawing Judi’s gaze away from her sister. It was one of the few times she was grateful for his appearance. At least she could change the subject now.
She tipped her chin up slightly in his direction, shifting the dip into the crook of her arm. “What’s he doing here?”
Ellie glanced over her shoulder. “Uh, he’s a Tanner, so he’s working. He picks up deliveries for the store. You know that.”
Judi glowered in his direction. “Yeah. Must stink having to see him so much.”
Ellie waved away the suggestion. “Nah. It’s okay. He apologized months ago about the accident. I told you that. He sort of stays clear of me, though. Gets his work done and gets out.” She glanced over her shoulder, her brow dipping in concern. “He’s actually been really quiet lately. I’m a little worried about him.”
Judi scoffed. “I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s a big boy. He can handle himself.”
He’d certainly handled himself fine at that bar a few months ago when he couldn’t keep his hands off either of the Lambert sisters. Judi still felt a twinge of guilt that he’d come to the apartment to see her when Ellie had driven him home, which was what led to the accident in the first place. If Judi hadn’t been passed out drunk in Ellie’s spare room, she might have driven Brad home herself. She knew Ellie’s accident could have been worse, but it had been a scary time for their family and Jason.
“Back to work,” Ellie said grabbing Judi for another quick hug. Judi didn’t understand why Ellie felt like she had to hug everyone so much. “Come on up and I’ll check you out. It’s time for Molly’s break.”
Checked out and in the parking lot, Judi caught sight of Brad in his truck next to her as she opened her car door. Her muscles tensed as he climbed out.
Please don’t come talk to me. Please don’t —
“Judi, hey! Weird question but can I get a lift?”
She set her bag on the passenger seat and slid behind the steering wheel. “What do you mean a lift? You have a truck right there.”
“It’s not starting. It’s got a bad battery and I haven’t got it replaced yet. I was hoping you could drive me up to the farm to get the jumper cables and then drop me off on your way back to town. I took the cables out when I was cleaning the back of the truck out last night. Unless you’ve got a pair?”
She really needed to have stuff in her car in case something like that ever happened to her, but, “No, I don’t have any.” Plus, she wouldn’t know how to use them if she did.
Brad looked over his shoulder, across the parking lot. “I’d ask Molly. but she just took off with Alex.” He smirked. “Probably to go make out at the overlook again.” He leaned down, his arms folded on her open window and grinned. “They think no one knows about their make out sessions up there. Anyhow, I’d really appreciate it if you’d give me a ride. I’ll even give you gas money.”
Judi’s shoulders slumped. She really wanted to tell Brad to get lost, but he didn’t have the cocky demeanor he usually did today. He genuinely seemed to need a lift. She glanced at her watch. She still had a couple hours before she needed to be at Evan’s.
Tipping her head back briefly, she sighed, sliding the key in the ignition. “Okay, yeah, I guess.”
“Thanks.” As he walked in front of the car, his dusty blue jeans fitting him nicely and matching a dark blue shirt that pulled across his well-toned chest and abs, she remembered why she’d agreed to go to a few bars with him when she’d got back to town. He was good looking. A good looking, alcoholic jerk, but still good looking.
He slid into the passenger seat and stretched his long legs out, then pulled them back again when he realized there wasn’t room. The Tanners grew big boys, much bigger than the Oliver’s, since Ben was the last one to sit in the seat.
“There’s a button on the side of the seat near the bottom to move the seat back,” she said, sliding the car into reverse.
Brad slid the seat back and rolled the window down, laying an arm between the two seats, across the back of Judi’s, obviously making himself comfortable. “Missed you at AA last week.”
Judi pulled out onto the dirt road that led to the Tanner’s. “Had to work late at the grille.”
Brad tapped the back of her seat in time to the music, looking out the windshield. “It was a good meeting. They’ve actually been helping me. That and my sponsor. I haven’t had a drink in three weeks.” He tilted his head to look at her. “It’s going good so far, but I’m guessing it’s going to get harder. Am I right?”
Was he right? Just because she’d wanted a shot of a whiskey all day long to numb her emotions didn’t mean it was still hard, did it? She snorted a laugh. “Yeah, it’s definitely going to get harder, Tanner.”
“How is it going for you?”
Was she hearing his tone right? Did he really seem to care? Because it certainly sounded like he did. She glanced at him, reaching for her sunglasses in the center console and sliding them on with one hand. She wasn’t about to have a heart to heart with him, no matter how sincere he sounded right now. He was probably just trying to find a way to get her in bed, not that he had succeeded in anything more than heavy petting in the past.
More lies. It was easier than the truth.
“Not struggling with wanting a drink?”
He knew her too well.
She downshifted as she passed a tractor on the left. Robert Tanner waved at her, but she ignored him and simply sped up and yanked the car into the lane.
Brad chuckled. “All right. Keep it to yourself then.” She could feel his eyes on her and out of the corner of her eye she saw his gaze slip from her face down the length of her. “You look good sober, Jude.”
“Don’t call me Jude. My name is Judi.”
“How come you’re so cold to me now? You used to be warm to me.” He rubbed a hand across his chin and grinned. “Really warm to me.”
“You sending my sister’s car into a creek doesn’t ring a bell?”
“I apologized for that. Ellie forgave me. Why can’t you?”
She didn’t answer him, pushing her foot on the accelerator instead. She flicked her finger across the volume button, turning up the music, hoping he’d take the hint.
He didn’t. “You didn’t mind checking me out last year at my grandmother’s birthday party when I was splitting logs with Alex and Jason.”
She scowled at him, not sure if she should swear at him or laugh. “Yeah, and I’m sober now. What does that tell you?
Brad laughed softly. “Ouch. So, I’m only good looking when a woman is drunk?”
She didn’t even bother to look at him, see that cocky smirk on his face. “Yup. Pretty much.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth a streak of dark blue shot around the corner ahead of her, swerving into her lane. She jerked the steering wheel to the right to get out the truck’s way, but it kept coming. Any further and she’d be head on into the trunk of a maple tree. The crunch of metal on metal drowned out her scream and Brad’s shout. When colors began to blur into a whirl of movement she clenched her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut, gripping the steering wheel and slamming her foot on the brake.
Within seconds silence sliced into the noise and everything came to a dead standstill. Judi gasped in a breath and opened her eyes. Her car was leaning to one side, against an embankment, facing the opposite direction she’d originally been driving. The blue truck that had swerved into her lane was 60 feet away, upside down in a field, smoke pouring from the back, the wheels still spinning.
“Holy hell!” The words hissed out of Brad and were followed by a stream of curse words. “What was that guy doing?!” He unhooked his belt. “You okay?”
Tremors shuddered through her limbs and her breathing didn’t seem to be able to keep up with her heart rate, but she wasn’t hurting anywhere so —
“Yeah, I think so.”
Brad flung the passenger side door open. “I better go see if the other guy is okay.”
Judi nodded slowly, her gaze still focused on the mangled brush her car had flown through. She knew she should follow him, but her car door was smashed into the embankment and she didn’t her legs would support her yet if she tried to climb through the passenger side.
Taking slow, deep breaths, wishing for that shot of whiskey again to calm her nerves, she watched Brad jog down the road, through the broken fence and into the empty corn field. He kneeled down to look into the truck cab.
“Hey! You okay! Jerry? Is that you?”
She could hear him but a strange ringing in her ears overtook his words. She didn’t remember hitting her head, but this must have been how Ben had felt after hitting the tree. She swallowed hard, shook her head quick, and forced herself to let go of the steering wheel and move toward the passenger seat. She moved slowly across the slanted front seats and climbed out the passenger side door, gripping it as the earth gave way slightly beneath her.”
“Judi! You got your cellphone?” Brad had cupped his hand around his mouth and was shouting to her. The ringing had subsided, and she could hear him clearly again. “We need an ambulance.”
She glanced at the console. No phone. It must have fallen on the floor. She searched for it but when she came up empty, she opened the back door and grabbed her purse. It must be in there.
Where was her phone?
She pushed a hand into her hair and clutched a handful at the top of her head. “Think, Judi. Where is your phone?”
She couldn’t think of anything other than the sickening sound of metal on metal, the way her legs were still shaking and the fact she needed alcohol as soon as possible or she was going to start screaming.
She pictured her phone in her hand at the Tanner’s store and it hit her. She’d laid it down to slide her debit card through the card reader at the register. She must have left it laying there.
“No phone!” she shouted back at Brad. “Where’s yours?”
He jogged back toward her. “In my truck. Forgot it.” He jerked his head back toward the truck. “It’s Jerry Spencer. He’s in bad shape. I think he’s still breathing but there’s a lot of blood. I’m going to run down the road to Uncle Robert and see if he’s got a phone on him.”
Panic surged inside her chest. “Don’t leave me here. I’ll go.”
Brad’s gaze slid down the length of her to her shoes. “You’re wearing high heel boots. No way. I can move faster. Go up and wait with Jerry in case he comes to, okay?”
She rubbed her hands across her bare arms as Brad jogged back down the road, took a shaky breath, and headed toward the upside down truck.
She had no idea what had happened and how she had ended up here, but she did know that this accident wasn’t her fault. Jerry had come out of nowhere. She’d had no time to get out of his way. He’d better not blame her when she got up there.
She had nothing to worry about, though. Jerry wasn’t blaming anyone. Brad could have warned her how bad it was.
Jerry was laying in a bed of glass, on his stomach, his neck bent at an unnatural angle, one leg twisted underneath him and his right arm bent the opposite direction of how it should be bent. She clasped a hand to her mouth and stopped walking. She didn’t want to go any closer. He’d clearly flown through the windshield. It was a miracle the truck hadn’t landed on him. Then again, maybe it would have been better if it had. Based on the deep throated, agonized groans coming from him, it might have been better if he’d been killed on impact.
She took two slow steps forward and the groaning slipped into an unnerving moaning that made her want to turn and run as fast as she could back to her car, or anywhere where she didn’t have to hear what she worried were the sounds of Jerry dying.
“Hey, um, Jerry. Brad’s gone for help, okay?”
She had no idea if he could even hear her. Now that she’d stepped closer, she could see dark red blood pooling underneath him. She still hadn’t seen his face and she didn’t want to. For all she knew there was nothing left of it.
His body convulsed for a few seconds then went still and she hugged her arms around herself.
“God, please,” she whispered. “I don’t want to be here for this.”
She hadn’t talked to God in years. Probably not since her ninth-grade year. It felt weird to do it now, but she didn’t know who else to talk to. She couldn’t call anyone. Brad was gone and Jerry — Her throat thickened with emotion.
A haunting whisper came from Jerry, almost like a hiss. She’d read somewhere that the body did weird things when a person died.
“Tell her . . .”
Those had definitely been words. She shook her head, looked over her shoulder and rubbed the skin under throat, laying her hand against it, slightly encircling her throat, wishing she could shut off the air so she could pass out and wake up when it was all over. “Brad. Where are you?”
“Tell her.. . .”
The words came again. Judi stared at Jerry’s motionless body and took another step forward. “Jerry?”
Another whisper, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying.
No. No. No. She did not want to get any closer. Her foot crunched on a beer can and then she noticed the ground was littered with them. A sickly sweet smell stung her nostrils.
“Help is coming, Jerry.”
He moaned again. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and dropped her hands at her side, clenching them. She opened her eyes and took another step forward but when a twig snapped under her shoe she gasped and stopped walking.
“I don’t want to . . .”
She took another step. “I don’t want to either, Jerry,” she said softly.
She moved closer, inching forward, keeping her gaze on Jerry, knowing that at any moment she’d be able to see his face or what was left of it. Bile caught in her throat at the blood pooled under his head. She’d been right about his face. It wasn’t in good shape, but she knew somewhere under the cuts and gashes Jerry was there.
She took another shaky breath and lowered herself to the ground near him, careful to stay back from the blood.
He looked so helpless, laying there, unable to move, shallow breaths gasping out of him. This was the man who had snapped at her more than once during AA meetings, leered at her through his truck window when he drove by on the street, judged her life decisions when he couldn’t even get his own life together. He couldn’t do any of that now, though. She wanted to feel happy about that, point an accusatory finger at him and laugh at his misfortune.
But she couldn’t.
“Dear God.” She’d said it again. Prayed it again.
She couldn’t wish for anything worse on Jerry Spencer than what was happening to him now. She couldn’t help him. Maybe not even the EMTs would be able to help him. Maybe all he had left was God.
“No, it’s Judi Lambert, Jerry.” Then it hit her. His wife’s name was Dawn. “Dawn’s not here right now. Brad’s gone to get help.”
“Tell her . . .”
“Don’t try to talk, Jerry.”
His voice was barely audible. She had to lean forward slightly to hear him and when she did her foot slipped from under her and she fell forward on her hands. Class cut into her palms. “Tell her I loved her.” Something gurgled in Jerry’s throat and Judi sat back again, looking at her hands, trembling and bleeding. “I’m sorry,” Jerry whispered.
Her eyes burned and everything began to blur. “You can tell her, Jerry. Don’t worry. You can tell her when she gets to the hospital. It’s going to be okay.”
She choked out a sob. “It’s going to be okay.”
A cold chill settled over her as she sat back on her heels and clutched her knees, her shoulders shaking. “It’s going to be okay.”
The lie sat bitter in her mouth, but she said it again and again, a silent plea to the God she’d walked away from long ago to make the words true.
5 thoughts on “Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 22”
What a dramatic end to the chapter! I’m glad I save up a few chapters so I don’t have to wait long to find out what happens next. I had just been thinking how sweet small towns are, and then there’s an accident out of nowhere. I hope Jerry will be okay.
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I almost didn’t keep the accident since I had an accident in Harvesting Hope too. I still might change that. Not sure. But we have a lot of DUIs in our area, so it is pretty common here, sadly.
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😭😭 I didn’t see that one coming! I need to catch my breath before the next chapter. I hope that Judi will continue that silent plea in her heart!
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It might be a bit of a ride from here on out! Hold on!
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