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 it, 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. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*
If you would prefer to read the book when it is all complete, you can pre-order a copy HERE on Amazon. It releases January 31, 2023.
He’d needed church that morning. He’d needed the music, the sermon, the smiles and greetings of the other members of the congregation.
It had soothed an aching soul.
Now Ben was at his parents’ house, sitting on the back deck with a glass of lemonade and a novel, looking out over the autumn foliage splashing brilliant reds, oranges and yellows across the Pennsylvania hills around him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually sat down and read a book. He only wished he could focus on it better.
Memories of the visit to the Phillipi’s kept playing in his mind. Then there was Judi. Why wasn’t she answering his texts or calls? Maybe she’d fallen off the wagon and was sleeping it off. He hated to see her go down that path again. Plus, he needed her to be alert tomorrow at work.
She’d already been let go from one job. He didn’t want to have to let her go from this one. In fact, he’d like to offer her more hours at some point and maybe even split hours between her and Cindy when, or if, Cindy decided to come back to work.
“Gorgeous view, isn’t it?”
His dad’s voice came from behind him, pulling him from his thoughts.
“Yeah, it definitely is.”
Max sat on the chair next to him with his own glass of lemonade. He sipped from it for a few minutes, gaze focused on the hillside. “So, kid, there’s been a lot of pressure on you lately. You doing okay?”
Ben shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m hanging in there.”
“I saw Adam the other day. Everyone is back in the area he said. Including Angie and Amelia.”
Ben cleared his throat. “Yes, they are. I’ve talked to Angie about you and mom seeing Amelia actually. She’s thinking about it.” Or she had been. He wasn’t so sure now.
Max looked at him with a smile. “That would be great. I’m fine with leaving it up to Angie, though. I’m sure it’s awkward for her.”
“It shouldn’t be though. You and Mom weren’t the ones who hurt her. I was. You shouldn’t be punished for my mistakes.”
His dad drank some more of the lemonade before talking. “We’re guilty by association, I suppose. Listen, Ben. Really, are you doing okay?”
Ben laughed softly. “I guess you mean do I feel the need to cope with a glass of gin?” He shook his head once. “Nope. Not yet anyhow.” He winked. “I did have an extra dessert for dinner last night, though.”
Max lifted his glass in a mock toast. “Glad to hear it, kid. Not that extra sugar is good for us, but better than too much alcohol.”
Ben laughed. “Agreed.”
“You know I’m here if you ever need to talk, right?”
The smile faded. “Yeah, Dad, I do.”
Max leaned back in his chair and sat his glass on the small table between them. “Ben, maybe this isn’t the best time to bring this up but – did I do something over the years that led you down that path toward — well, toward —”
Ben laughed softly and winked. “Alcoholism, Dad. It’s called alcoholism. It’s okay to say it. It’s what it was. I was an alcoholic and now I’m a recovering one.”
Ben had never seen his dad look so — what was the right word? Uncertain? Hesitant? Clearly lacking confidence?
“What could you have done to push me down that path? You’re the best dad any kid could have. You’re hardworking, accomplished, well-respected in the community, beloved by your family, a good Christian man —”
Maxwell winced, hands in his pockets. “Ouch. All those things sound good but they also make me sound perfect. I’m not perfect.” He turned his head to look at Ben. “You know that, right? I mean, you don’t actually think that I’m perfect, right? Because I know I’m not. I hope it doesn’t come across that way.”
“You don’t act that way at all dad.” He swallowed hard. How honest should he be with the man? Would it make him feel better or worse? “I’ve tried to live up to your reputation over the years, it’s true. I tried too hard for a long time, focusing only on your career accomplishments. When I couldn’t get there, I’ll admit, I fell apart a little.” He laughed softly and shook his head. “No. A lot. I fell apart a lot. I screwed up my life by trying to drink myself into oblivion and forget the fact I’d never be as accomplished or as good as you. The more I drank, the worse it got too. I got further and further away from who you were, knowing with each passing day I could never measure up to your standards or God’s.”
Max reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “You know now that you don’t have to live up to anything for my love or God’s, right?”
Ben nodded and covered his dad’s hand with his. “Yes. I do.” He may not feel it every day, but he understood it.
The ringing of his cellphone startled him. He’d forgotten he’d even brought it outside with him. The ringing was coming from his jacket. He searched for the phone and lifted it out of the inside pocket, hoping it was Judi letting him know she was okay.
He didn’t recognize the number, but answered it in case it was a client. “Hello, Ben Oliver here.”
There was an intake of a breath and a pause on the other end, then, “Hey, it’s Angie.”
He shifted in the chair, sitting up straighter, muscles tensing as he braced himself for the scolding, the demand that he not visit again.
“Hey, what’s up?”
She cleared her throat. “I need a favor.”
He half expected her favor to be for him to meet her brothers down at the boat launch outside of town so they could beat him up and throw him in the river.
“My dad’s at the hospital and mom’s already there with grandma. My brothers are two hours away on a job and I don’t really know anyone else around here anymore. I can’t believe I’m asking this, but can you come sit with Amelia?”
His mouth went dry. “Definitely. Yeah. I mean, I’m at my parents so it will take a bit but —”
“I can bring her there. We’re downtown grabbing her some lunch from the diner.”
“Yeah, you can do that, if you want.”
“See you in fifteen?”
She disconnected and he realized he hadn’t even asked why Adam was at the hospital.
“Everything okay?” His dad’s voice cut into his thoughts.
He shook his head. “No. Adam’s in the hospital. Angie wants to drop Amelia off here while she heads up.”
“You’ve gone pale, kid. You going to be okay?”
“What?” Ben looked at his dad, palms suddenly damp, mouth dry. “No. I’m fine. I’m not pale. Am I?”
Max laughed and stood, patting Ben on the shoulder. “It’s going to be fine, buddy. Your mom and I will be here for back up.”
Ben stood and followed his dad into the house. “I know, but Angie hates me, Dad. I mean, the other day I was pushing Amelia on the swing after I helped Adam and her brothers bring the furniture in and she fell off. Angie acted liked I did it on purpose. And what’s worse is I had no idea how to comfort Amelia or even check her for injuries.” He downed the rest of the lemonade and placed the glass in the sink. “This kid is my flesh and blood and when I’m around her I have no idea what to do. I feel like she’s someone else’s kid. I don’t know anything about her at all, but for some reason she attaches herself every time I come over.”
“It’s because something in her knows you’re dad,” his mom said sweeping into the dining room, setting a vase of flowers in the middle of the table.
She was still wearing her Sunday clothes — a flowered skirt and white, button-up blouse — her hair swept up on her head in a stylish bun, hiding much of the gray streaks in the brown nicely.
Sitting at the dining room table, Ben clasped his hand behind his head and yawned. “She’s four. That’s not possible.”
Sylvia paused in her adjustment of the flowers in the vase and raised an eyebrow. “Kids are smarter than we adults give them credit for, Benjamin. Now, what brought this topic up?”
“I don’t want you to get flustered, but Angie’s bringing Amelia over for a while. Adam’s in the hospital for some reason and Angie’s going to wait with Leona.”
Sylvia’s hands hovered over the flowers. “Really? She’s bringing our granddaughter here?” Her eyes glistened as she pressed one hand to the base of her throat and the other to her mouth. “Oh my. Oh, that’s —” she sniffed. “That’s just so wonderful.” She spun quickly toward the kitchen. “I wonder if I even have any snacks she’d like. I haven’t had a young child in the house in years. I do have some peanut butter and cheerios and I can pour her a glass of milk. Unless she’s lactose intolerant. You were at that age, you know. Maybe I should find some paper and markers too, so she can color if she wants and —”
Ben laughed. “Mom. It’s okay. She’ll be fine with whatever you have.”
Syliva took a deep breath. “Right. Of course, she will. I just — it’s just — this is the first time I’m going to meet her in person and I —” She looked at Max. “I mean what if we scare her? She doesn’t even know us.”
Ben stood and kissed his mom on the cheek. “It will be fine, Mom. She’s going to love you.” He looked toward the direction of the stairs. “Is Maggie back yet? I know she wanted to meet her.”
“No,” Max said. “She called earlier and said she’s going to be at Jenny’s until this evening.”
Ben walked to the front window, petting Maggie’s longhaired cat Muffins, watching for Angie. The cat nuzzled his hand when he dropped it and he started petting it again absentmindedly , his thoughts racing, wondering what Angie’s demeanor would be when she arrived. He heard the buzz of the gate and Angie’s voice over the intercom in the kitchen.
“Hey, Angie.” Max’s voice was warm, welcoming. “Come on up.”
Her voice held the tension of the almost five-year estrangement. “Thank you, Max.”
As the small maroon Toyota wove its way up the driveway, he realized he didn’t know whether to walk outside or let her walk up to the house herself. As she parked the car and sat still for a few minutes, her hands clutching the steering wheel, he decided it might be better to meet her instead of forcing her to face his parents as well as him.
She looked up as he stepped outside, watching him for a few seconds, then opening the car door and stepping out. A breeze caught her hair, which hung loose down her back, pushing several loose strands into her face. A sudden urge to reach out and push the strands back coursed through him.
He watched her push the strands back herself instead as he walked, the move revealing the curve of her cheek, a face sans its usual make up but beautiful nonetheless.
She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, pulling the blue sweater she was wearing closer around her. “Hey, sorry to have to bother you.”
“It’s not a bother, really.”
She turned toward the back door without responding, but when he touched her shoulder, she paused and looked back at him with a questioning raise of her eyebrow.
“Who do I tell her my parents are?”
Angie shrugged her shoulder. “Tell her the truth. They’re your parents.”
“Then who do I tell her I am?”
An amused smile tipped her mouth up. “She already calls you ‘Ben, that fun guy’ she met at the old house. Just go with that.”
“Yeah, okay.” He nodded a couple of times, his mouth dry as he watched Angie opened the back door. “That should work.”
Amelia bounded out of the car as soon as her mom unhooked her seatbelt and ran to Ben, a piece of paper clutched in one hand, her other arm wrapped around a teddy bear. A small, pink backpack was strapped to her back and her bright blue eyes sparkled in the late day sunlight.
“Hi, Ben!” She thrust the piece of paper at him. “I made this picture for you.”
Hearing his name fly out of her mouth with such ease made his stomach flip, even as a twinge of regret twisted in his chest. All she knew him as was a man named Ben, when in reality he was so much more. Technically anyhow.
He looked down at the drawing on the paper — stick figures of a man and a woman standing next to a smaller stick figure and a crudely drawn tree with what he thought might be a swing hanging off a branch.
“See?” Her little index finger directed his gaze. “That’s you and that’s mommy and that’s me on the swing, but this time I’m not falling off.”
Ben chuckled. “Ha, yeah, not falling off is a good thing.”
“Can you push me on a swing again?”
“Well, we don’t have a swing here, but I’m sure we can find other things to entertain you.”
Angie lifted a mini suitcase from the backseat and handed it to him, her smile from before fading into a slight frown. “She wanted to bring her favorite teddy bear and doll and all their clothes. I told her it was a bit much, but —”
Ben smiled. “I guess she takes after her mom in that way.”
“Ha. Ha.” Angie scowled but the small smile returned, which sent a shiver of warmth through his chest. “Very funny.”
She turned and slid back into the driver’s seat.
Ben felt Amelia’s fingers encircle his and he looked down and smiled at her, even as an anxious buzz sliding across his skin. He’d never been on his own with her before. The weight of responsibility pressed down on him fast. He looked up as Angie closed the door and slid the window down, then took a step toward the car.
“Angie, I am sorry about the swing thing. It was an —”
“I know, Ben. I do.” The faint smile couldn’t hide how tired — and worried — she looked. “I’ll call later with an update.”
“I’ll be praying.”
A puzzled expression furrowed her brow, dipped her mouth into a frown. “Um, yeah. Thank you. That would be nice.”
As she drove away, he thought about how him offering to pray was probably confusing to her, since when they’d dated he’d done his best to stay away from anything having to do with church, or the faith his parents had raised him in.
A soft tug brought his attention back to the present and he looked down at a small round face with big eyes. “Hey, let’s go inside. I have some people I want you to meet.”
She skipped as he walked and he admired her energy.
His phone rang before he reached the front door and he recognized the song as Maggie’s favorite, which was why he’d set as her identifying ringtone.
“Hey, squirt. You’re not going to believe who —” “Benny, I’m at a party and I’m scared. Can you come get me? ”
2 thoughts on “Special Fiction Saturday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 28”
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Oh wow! What crazy timing, just when Ben’s heart was already racing. This just got even more interesting!
Yay, I pre-ordered the book! Looking forward to a nice winter read with it.