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.
“I thought I told you to take the day off.” Ben stirred creamer in his coffee as he watched Judi walk in the front door wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and a cozy blue sweatshirt. “You don’t seem to listen very well.”
She tossed her purse on top of the reception desk. “I’d rather be working right now, actually.”
Ben blew on the coffee as Judi sat down and immediately opened the filing cabinet.
He’d heard about the accident with Jerry from his parents and when he found out Judi had been on scene, he’d called her immediately. She hadn’t answered, but called him back later, explaining her phone had been left at Tanner’s Farm Store and she’d had to wait to get it until after she made a statement to the state police about the accident. He’d told her then to take the day off, rest, try to relax and not to worry about work for now.
She had agreed then but had obviously changed her mind overnight. He knew why without asking. He’d been there more than once in the last three years.
Stay idle too long and thoughts would race.
Have racing thoughts for too long and the need to calm them with something to make the mind and body numb would become overwhelming.
“Did you get any sleep?”
She shrugged a shoulder and started typing. “Some.”
Yeah, “some” was most likely code for “in between the nightmares.”
She’d been through a lot last night from what his dad had said. She’d waited with Jerry Spencer until the ambulance had arrived and Jason Tanner, a member the volunteer fire department, had given her a lift to the store for her phone and then back home. His dad heard about it through the church prayer chain when Rena asked for prayer for both Jerry and Judi. Max had passed it on to Ben for prayer and information so he’d be aware Judi might need some time off.
Now all everyone could do was pray and wait and see if Jerry would pull through. He’d been alive when they’d taken him to the hospital, but he’d lost a lot of blood and his pulse had been week. A quick call that morning to Matt McGee gave Ben some details of the accident, mainly that there was alcohol involved. Matt hadn’t been the primary investigator on scene, since the accident happened in state police jurisdiction, but he’d driven by the accident scene on the way to his parents. The information was all unofficial and off the record, Matt reiterated, adding that it was also off the record that Judi had barely spoken while she waited for police, even when her parents arrived to sit with her.
Ben knew her family was an excellent support system but it took another recovering alcoholic to know how bad that urge to reach for a drink to numb the pain would be. He’d asked Judi about it before they hung up. She’d denied having any urge to drink, told him she was tired and quickly hung up. He hoped she’d been telling the truth.
“You want me to make you a cup of coffee?”
She shook her head and turned the computer on.
“Okay, I’ve got a lunch appointment at noon. I’ll be in my office until then. Let me know if you need anything.” He paused in his open doorway. “Like to talk or . . . anything.”
She didn’t respond and that worried him. Where were her quick comebacks? Her smart mouthed retorts? The fact she’d been so quiet lately wasn’t a good thing and he knew it.
When it came time for his lunch appointment he hesitated leaving, but Judi insisted she would be fine. The meeting was in Spencer and he flipped the radio on to drown out his racing thoughts on the 30-minute drive there.
Choosing booth in the back of the diner, he popped his brief case open after the waitress brought him the glass of tea he’d ordered. He’d suggested the location for this meeting because he felt like it might make the client, an octogenarian farmer he knew lived close to the Tanner’s, feel more relaxed. It was a simple finalization of the man’s will and a sale of part of his farmland. It shouldn’t take long.
Glancing up from the paperwork he watched Molly walk in and find a table close to the front window. He laid the paperwork down and found him studying the woman who he’d dated in high school when she’d been a girl. Like the last few times he’d seen her, including in church, she carried herself with much more confidence than she had in high school.
Her reddish-brown curls hung loose down her back and her green eyes focused out the window as she propped her chin on her hand, her elbow on top of the table. When he’d known her, she’d worn her hair pulled back or up on her head to keep it out of the way while she worked in the barn.
She’d never really been interested in dressing up or putting on make-up or even wearing clothes most females would. That was until a couple years ago when she started dating —
The front door opened again. There he was.
The man who had stolen Molly’s heart and was now walking into the diner with a confident swagger, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans, a white t-shirt with the name of Molly’s favorite band, Needtobreathe, on the front, and a black cowboy hat pulled low to his brow. He was sporting a five o’clock shadow along his rugged jawline and a smile crossed his lips as soon as he spotted Molly.
Sitting in the chair next to her, he looped an arm over her shoulder, pulling her against him. She looked up at him expectedly and within seconds he’d lowered his head to kiss her mouth. Ben knew he should look away, but somehow, he couldn’t.
He was happy for Molly, even happy for Alex, though the guy did seem to be a bit of a show off with those well-toned arms and all that swagger. Mixed in with the genuine happiness was a fair amount of jealousy, though.
For the last four years he’d pushed aside his desire to be loved by a woman, to hold her in his arms and have her look at him the way Molly was looking at Alex. He’d focused on his career and opening the law office, getting himself back on his feet and crawling out of the bottle.
He’d walked away from friendships he knew would only lead him back to the bar and he’d focused on rebuilding his relationship with his parents and siblings. Focusing on not wondering how Angie and Amelia were doing had been hard these past four years, but he’d distracted himself with court cases, paperwork, an occasional game of pickup basketball downtown with a couple of other lawyers and a few guys he’d met at church.
At night, though, the memories crept in; memories of soft lips trailing a path from his ear lobe to his neck, then back up again to find his mouth. He remembered his arms around a shapely, slender figure, pulling a warm body against him until he couldn’t tell where he ended, and she began.
During the last four years, he’d had a lot of time to think. Too much time really. He’d thought a lot about how his relationship with Angie had started all those years ago, how it had been about sex and physical attraction more than anything else. Over time it had become much more, but he hadn’t realized how connected he was with Angie on more than a sexual level until it was too late — until she was gone, and he was left alone with empty arms and an even emptier heart.
Alex and Molly had pulled apart from their kiss as the waitress walked over to take their order. Ben realized he hadn’t even been seeing them, his mind clouded with memories of a past life.
The diner door opened again, and an elderly man limped his way around a row of tables, toward Ben, who moved his attention to his approaching client. He stood to greet the man, offering his handshake. “Mr. Bradly. Hello.”
The handshake was firm, even if the hand was thin and frail. “Young Mr. Oliver. Good to see you again.” Jacob Bradly sat in the booth across from Ben. “Sorry for being late. Cow went into labor and it got stuck half way down. Had to take care of that first.”
Ben glanced at the man’s stooped form and long, thin, frail looking arms. “By yourself, Mr. Bradley?”
Jacob laughed. “Been doing it for 75 years, boy. Why would I stop now? Delivered my first calf at ten years old.”
Ben shook his head. There were no retirement years in Jacob Bradley’s future, apparently. Even with his son Mark almost completely running the farm now, Jacob hadn’t slowed down or backed off much at all. Sometimes Ben worried he’d hear the man had been trapped under a tractor like Robert Tanner had been a couple years ago. Robert had been lucky and had made it out alive with a limp. With his small frame, Jacob wouldn’t have the same luck.
Driving back to Burkett an hour later, Ben thought about how he could have clients with city backgrounds, city worries, and city money on his roster if he’d stayed in Philadelphia or New York City to practice. It might have lined his pockets faster, but it wouldn’t have kept him from comparing himself to his father any less. Max Oliver had worked his way up from paralegal in his uncle’s office to his own law office and eventually to county district attorney. More important than what accomplishments he’d reached were how he reached them, which had been with more dignity and respect than Ben had ever had as a young lawyer.
He was trying now, though. Trying to be a better lawyer, but also a better man. If he worked hard maybe he could earn the respect Maxwell Oliver had earned over the years. And maybe he could make up for all the damage he’d done to himself and his family on his way here.