Remembering Miracles Can Happen

This is a bit of a follow-up to the Faithfully Thinking post I shared on Friday. I shared these couple of paragraphs on my Instagram account last week. I wrote a little more about this incident here on the blog last year.

Last year I was in a hospital room with a woman I didn’t think was going to make it through the night. Her oxygen kept dropping but despite what we were seeing in the news, every effort was being made to keep patients off ventilators. Her supplemental oxygen was increased but the numbers still kept dropping into the high 60s, low 70s and sometimes in the mid-80s. I knew all these numbers were bad. She and I had been able to talk some in between her throwing up and falling into deep sleep from the effects of the illness. A few times she even apologized to me for falling asleep, which was of course silly. The poor woman was fighting off a nasty illness and trying to breathe.

One night the nurses begged the woman to use a BiPAP. She tried but her breathing became even worse. The nurses left the room discouraged but not yet ready to rush her to ICU. Instead, they increased the supplemental oxygen to high flow and hoped it would work. They monitored her stats from the nurses’ station.

I stood and walked to her side of the room. Laying my hand on her shoulder I began to do something I very rarely do – pray out loud for her lungs and for her oxygen to come back up.

I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe it would just be comforting to my roommate if nothing else. In minutes, though, the numbers rose dramatically until her oxygen was at 98. I was floored and delighted. I broke down and went back to my bed to try to rest.

I left her there a couple days later, still worried I would later find out she died. When I called and asked to talk to her a week or so later, I was shocked to hear her voice, free of the oxygen mask, talking clearly and happy that she was going to be released the next day. Her lung did collapse after I left and before she was discharged and she still has COPD, which she had before, but I texted her to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday. She texted back. Like me, she’s grateful to have spent her Thanksgiving at home. I am planning to stop in for a visit to her sometime in the next month so we can remember that miracles do happen.

A Chat and a Cup of Tea or Something Warm

Welcome to another chat and a cup of tea blog post. What can I pour you? A cup of coffee? Tea? Cocoa?

I’m having tea with honey today. Well, a little bit of honey because I am actually almost out of honey, but at least the tea is warm.

I thought I would share this post today because I finished up the serial story I usually share for Fiction Friday.

(Full Disclosure: Again, I will mention I fully stole this blog post idea from Erin at Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I am not ashamed to admit it.)

Would you like a snack with your beverage?

How about cookies? Oh. I don’t have any in the house.

I have crackers. That’s about it right now, but I’ll be sure to have cookies or better snacks next time.

Do you have snacks with your tea?

I don’t normally myself.

So last night I watched Signed, Sealed, Delivered For Christmas and sobbed through half of it. I guess it’s what I needed this week to remember all I have and all I could have lost last year. I watched it on my laptop while my daughter watched something else on the main TV and the boys did their own things. A couple of times The Boy and The Husband walked by and looked at me curiously. The Boy actually stopped and hugged me and then showed me a funny meme because he figured I needed cheering up. I wasn’t depressed, though, just touched by the movie.

I watched it on Peacock, but I believe you can also watch it on Amazon through their Hallmark channel.

 I felt like I needed happy things yesterday after becoming very down about the state of our word, and the sort of odd night I had Wednesday.

The odd night turned out okay, but it was a little draining, so I welcomed the mental break Thursday evening.

Now the story behind the odd night because I know you want to know (ha).

I take my daughter to Awana on Wednesday nights. We were running late because I dropped off food for my parents and four quarters for The Husband (who was at a meeting) to pump up his tire that was soft. I took Little Miss into the church and shut off the van and it started making weird noises – like an animal was running inside and thumping around. I turned it off and on a few times, and kept hearing it but couldn’t figure it out.

I decided it must be an animal inside the engine and pulled out my laptop to do some editing. That’s when my phone dinged and I looked down to see a message from The Husband telling me he’d blown a tire on the way home and was at my parents.

I joked with him to not breathe while there because my dad had had a cold. I immediately forgot I told him that because my mind was on the weird sounds in the car and how we were going to pay for the tire. So then I was thrown into a complete panic when I got this text from him:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

 “Lisa, I can’t not breathe” but I was so distracted I read “Lisa, I can’t breathe.”

He had some chest discomfort last week from reflux and for a few seconds I really started thinking he couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t call him because there is no service at the church, only WiFi. I told him to call an ambulance, but he wrote back, “Lisa, I’m at your parents. I’m fine.”

All I could think is that he wasn’t fine because he just told me he couldn’t breathe.

I’m freaking out at this point – thinking I am going to be a widow, but also trying to figure out how he’s texting so well if he can’t breathe.

After I urge him to call an ambulance again, he texts back “Lisa! Read what I wrote again.”
I scroll back and read: “Lisa, I can’t NOT breathe. I’m at your parents. I’m fine.”

I started laughing and crying because at that point because I was so relieved and felt so stupid at the same time. I was also wondering if I breathed in some fumes or something that made me that even more airheaded than normal.

I was still worried about the van so I moved it to an area of the parking lot where there was more light. I then went into the church and collected Little Miss a little early so we can go pick up The Husband at my parents.

I came back out and the van wouldn’t start. No kidding, In the past I would have probably started crying but I guess the small amount of CBD oil I have started taking each day had kicked in because I felt like laughing instead. Here we were with both of our cars out of commission in one night. It was a bit surreal and odd and sort of like a sitcom.

Long story short, a guy at the church looked under the hood and said he thought it might be the fuel pump.

In the end the van was actually out of coolant, but I was able to start it at the church and make it to my dad’s where he filled it up and sent us on our way.

The Husband will get a new tire today and hopefully we will have a break from car problems for a while.

The day before the weird car stuff, I received a package from Bettie G., a lovely lady and writer I met here in the blog world. She’s retired from blogging, but still has wonderful posts on the blog, which she has kept up. She’s also written a wonderful devotional type book called Abiding In Him: A Life Together in Ministry, which is the story of her and her husband devoting their lives various Christian ministries.

You can learn more about the book HERE and purchase copies HERE.

It will be something I can read this weekend while we stay inside, away from the cold weather. We aren’t getting the snow that cities north of us our getting, thankfully. We aren’t supposed to get any snow again until next week and I am fine with that.

We literally went from temperatures in the low 70s to temps in the 20s and 30s within two days. Blah!

A couple of inches of snow fell earlier in the week and in the first thirty seconds of stepping into it, Little Miss picked up some snow, packed it into a snowball and hit me in the face with it.

Yeah. I’m so excited for four more months of this.

The cats, who normally spend most of their time outside, have been only going out for short jaunts and then running inside, taking turns laying on my chest. They both have horrible timing and try to snuggle when I need to be doing something, like finishing dinner. This morning, the youngest came into the bedroom and fell asleep on my legs for two hours.    

The whole time I kept thinking, “I should move,” but then I would think, “But she doesn’t get to cuddle with me often and this is sort of nice.” In the end I just laid there while I pulled some old blog posts together that I plan to edit and share again later, posted and commented on Instagram, finished a chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and complained to my husband via text that I couldn’t feel my legs anymore.

It has taken me forever to finish this blog post because I have been interrupted by various children, pets, and thoughts (plus I had to warm my tea a couple of times), but that’s how life goes, isn’t it? We often seem to get interrupted.

I had to order heating oil this morning – that was another distraction, sadly. It’s $4.89 a gallon right now and we needed to fill our tank so that should be a fun bill.

Despite the financial worries and worrying about various family issues, I am looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. We aren’t ready for Christmas yet, of course, but we are having fun getting ready to celebrate it by buying decorations and watching Christmas movies.

How about you? Are you getting into the Christmas spirit yet?

What has been going on in your world?

Special Fiction … Wednesday? Mercy’s Shore Final Chapters

Umm…whoops! I completely forgot I had promised to post the final chapters of the book Sunday night so here they are now.

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.

If you would prefer to read the book when it is all complete, you can pre-order a copy HERE on Amazon. It releases on January 31, 2023. There is also a link to the previous chapters HERE.

Chapter 36

Judi snatched the phone off her bedside table. So much for sleeping in this Saturday.

The caller ID said Evan, though, so she didn’t mind losing a couple hours of sleep.

“Hey, you.”

“Hey, you,” she said back, a broad smile tugging at her mouth at the sound of excitement in his voice.

“I’m back in town for a week, maybe more. I was wondering if you’d like to meet me out at the Tanner’s new pumpkin farm today. Maybe around noon?”

She rolled on her stomach, propping herself on her elbows. “That sounds very nice. I wasn’t sure you’d want to be around me again.”

Evan laughed. “You got all those flowers I sent, right? Of course I still want to be around you. I thought maybe I could buy you a donut and a cup of apple cider. Plus, it’d be somewhere  — um —neutral.”

She agreed to meet him at noon and spent the next two hours looking for the perfect autumn outfit. She spent another half an hour looking at herself in the mirror, adjusting her makeup, brushing her hair, then wiping some of the makeup off. Letting out a huff of breath she blew her bangs out of her eyes and shook her head in resignation.

“Don’t overthink it, Lambert. Just go.”

But she did overthink it. All the way to the pumpkin farm and in the parking lot, looking at herself in the rearview mirror. When a face appeared at her window out of the corner of her eye she screamed, then burst into laughter as she watched Evan lean back and laugh loudly.

“You jerk.” She laughed as she climbed out of the car and gently slapped his upper arm with the back of her hand.

“Sorry. That was just too funny.” His smile made her heart lurch. “You look beautiful, by the way. You don’t have to keep fixing your hair.”

Warmth spread up from her chest to her face. “Thank you.”

He tipped his head sideways to the entrance behind the store. “Care for a walk? I think the cider and donuts are back there.”

“Sure. That sounds nice.”

Leaves crunched under their feet as they walked. Judi slid her hands in her sweater pockets, her gaze drifting across a pumpkin field to her left, filled with pumpkins but also children swarming the pumpkins, loading them into carts, or carrying them to their parents. Beyond the pumpkin field were drying stalks of corn and a sign marking the entrance to the maze. Haybales were positioned at various places around the walkway, and she breathed in the scent of the drying hay, remembering her time growing up on the farm. During her teenage years, she avoided barn chores, using any excuse not to help with the milking, or shovel manure, or feed the calves. She was glad her dad had her sister and young men he’d hired to help him in the barn now, but a part of her did miss that time, a much more innocent time.  

“How’s work going?”

The question was one that used to cause her stomach to clench. In the last few weeks, though, she’d helped Ben draw up wills, help close sales for properties, and watched Ben calmly walk a woman through a divorce from an abusive husband.  Working for Ben gave her more of an opportunity to help others than any other job she’d ever had. She felt like she was actually contributing to society instead of floating through it.

“It’s going well, actually. I still don’t really know what I am doing, but Ben’s been patient with me.”

Evan ordered them apple cider and donuts at the small concession stand and motioned toward a wooden bench off to one side. “How are you doing otherwise?” he asked and she noticed he positioned himself a good distance from her as they sat, practically on the other end of the bench.

“I’m doing okay, really.” She sipped her cider. “I’m sure Ellie filled you in on some things.”

He shook his head once. “No. She said it wasn’t her place to and I respect that.”

She sipped more of the apple cider, enjoying the tartness on her tongue as she considered what to say next. “I’m sorry, Evan. I don’t know why I reacted that way. Well, I do, but I shouldn’t have with you.”

He laid an arm across the back of the bench, watching her as if waiting for her to continue. Concern etched his face.

She cleared her throat. “One night a year and a half ago, a little more, a guy tried to get further with me than I wanted. I was able to get away from him but another woman, a girl really, wasn’t as lucky.” Tears pricked at her eyes. “I don’t know why he let me go and not her and maybe other women, but he did.” She laughed softly, a tear slipping down her cheek. “Of course, my knee to his groin probably didn’t do much to make him want to try to keep me there.” She drew the back of a finger across the tear. “I guess I didn’t realize how much it had all affected me. I tried to laugh it off, drink it off, and run away but it seems like it all has been catching up with me lately and hit me full force that night with you.”

He winced and reached a hand toward her, but then pulled it back again, closing his fingers into a fist briefly before letting the hand drop to the back of the bench again. “Judi, I’m sorry. If I had known, I never would have been so forward.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Evan. It was me. I tried to move faster than I was ready that night. I wanted to forget everything, and I guess I thought I could erase all the memories of him by being with you. I’m the one that is sorry.” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth briefly. “And embarrassed.”

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You couldn’t control that reaction, as much as you wanted to. I understand.” A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Well, I don’t totally understand, because I’m not you and didn’t experience what you did, but I can see how that could have triggered some negative memories.”

Judi reached out and laid her hand on his. “I just don’t want you to think that you somehow triggered anything negative. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Evan kept his arm over the back of the bench and sat the cup of cider on the seat next to him. “What happened to this guy? Did you report him or anything?”

She pushed a strand of hair back from her face and hooked it behind her ear. “No, I never did. He’s going to trial for the other woman he assaulted, though. He’s somehow out on bail and called me a few weeks ago.”

Evan’s eyebrows lifted. “He called you?”

“Yeah and he doesn’t want me to tell anyone what happened, but I’m going to. This girl’s lawyer called me a while ago. Ben and I talked to him yesterday.” She drew in a shaky breath, startled by the emotion gripping her. “I talked to the girl a few days ago. Her experience was so similar to mine, from everything he said to everything he did.” She closed her eyes briefly against the tears. “I knew she wasn’t lying.”

When she opened her eyes, Evan’s jaw had tightened, and he swallowed hard.

 “I’m scared,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “But I’m going to be with her in the courtroom. I don’t want her to feel like it’s her against him. It will be us against him.”

Evan leaned toward her, then leaned back again. “I’ll be there for you if you want me to be. I really want to hold you right now, but I don’t want to touch you unless you want me to. I talked to a therapist friend of mine and she said I shouldn’t try to make the first move in any way. I should let you tell me when it is okay for me to physically be near you.”

A smile pulled at her mouth. “You talked to a therapist about me?”

Crimson colored his cheeks. “Yeah, but I mean, I didn’t tell her your name or anything. I just told her a little bit about the situation and asked how I should handle it because I care about you and — yeah —” He rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “I just told her I want to pursue a relationship with you, so I want to know how to help you heal from all of this.” He cleared his throat. “That’s why I thought it might be good to meet here where it’s a little more neutral.”

He cared enough to talk to a therapist about how to talk to her? Was this for real?

A small laugh came from her throat. “Evan McGee, I think that you really are as sweet as I’ve heard your brother is.”

He made a face. “Ew. Don’t compare me to Saint Matt. I’m not that good.”

She moved closer to him on the bench, touching a hand to his cheek. “Well, you are very close and that’s not a bad thing.” Leaning closer she lightly touched her mouth to his. “Thank you.”

He grinned, tipping his head closer to hers. “You’re welcome. And listen, we can take this slow and just hang out. We can go out to public places, or have friends over when we watch movies, or —”

She slid her hand to the back of his neck and pulled his head down to hers, pressing her mouth to this.

“Thank you,” she whispered several seconds later, her lips grazing his. “All of that sounds really nice. I’m not used to men being so nice to me so it may take me a bit to get used to it.”

He smiled. “That’s fine by me. I’m a patient man.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “Is it okay if I kiss you again?”

She tilted her face toward his and they resumed their kiss, pulling apart a few minutes later when Judi heard a voice call out behind them.

“Oooh! Judi and Evan sitting on a bench, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.”

Judi glowered at Ben. “Bench doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know.”

Ben laughed. “Yeah, I know, but you’re not in a tree.”

Judi glanced at Angie beside Ben. “How about you two? Any k-i-s-s-i-n-ging between you two?”

Ben held up a hand. “That, ma’am, is privileged information.” He gestured toward a hay wagon to the right being pulled by a tractor being driven by Alex. “Anyone care for a hayride? I’m willing to ride with you two, as long as you can keep your hands off each other.”

Judi scoffed and folded her arms across her chest. “With Alex at the helm. I don’t know if I’d feel safe.”

Alex looked over his shoulder and scowled from under his hat. “I heard that, Lambert. Even over this tractor engine, which just shows everyone what a big mouth you have.”

Judi hooked her arm through Angie’s. “Come on, Angie, let’s go find the pumpkin cannons instead. We can pretend we’re shooting them at Ben and Alex.”

“Hey!” Ben cried. “What did I do?”

Evan laughed. “I don’t know, but I’m glad I wasn’t included in that list.”

Judi fell into step with Angie, glancing over her shoulder at Ben and Evan. “You think you two will be able to work things out?”

Angie smiled. “Yeah, I think so. I hope so anyhow. How about you? Will you be sticking around the area for a while?” She winked. “Maybe hanging out with Evan?”

The light feeling in her step and the way her muscles had lost their tension was a foreign, but welcome feeling to Judi.

“Yeah. I think so. I hope so anyhow.”

Epilogue

“Hey, you still coming to dinner tonight at mom’s?”

Judi paused at her car and looked up at Evan, smiling. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I can’t wait to taste her cooking again. I have to do something quick before then, though. Meet you there?”

 “How about I pick you up. Say 5:30?”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

After years of being fiercely independent, she wasn’t lying when she said she would like to be picked up. She’d also been liking Evan being home more in the last two weeks as he started a job with a local construction company.

She turned the music up as she pulled away from her apartment building, wishing the cold temperatures didn’t preclude her from sliding the window down. Half an hour later she pulled into a parking space and checked her hair and make-up, then laughed at herself. She didn’t need to worry about her hair.

She had a feeling he wouldn’t care.

The sanitary smell and squeak of her soles on the newly mopped floor reminded her of where she was and where she was headed. Her chest tightened. Hospitals weren’t her favorite place, and she wasn’t sure what reaction she’d receive.

She asked for his room number and if visitors were allowed at the nurse’s station.

The shades were open. Sunlight poured across his bed. She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders, trying to recapture the confidence she’d once possessed. She pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat quickly before she changed her mind.

“Hey, Jer. You’re not looking so great.”

Jerry blinked the one eye free of the bandages, grunted through bruised and scarred lips, and lifted one stitched-up hand. Judi was expecting a rude gesture, but instead, his thumb raised slowly. 

He pointed at the notepad on the small table by the bed. She handed it and a pen to him. After a few long minutes of scrawling, hampered by bandages and fingers that didn’t seem to want to bend, he pushed the pad toward her. The letters were shaky and a couple were missing, but she got the drift.

I owe you more than one. Not a beer. A soda. When I get out of here.

A smile pulled her mouth up and she looked up at him. “You definitely do. How about a root beer float down at that new ice cream place on Main? Be warned, though, I might look light a lightweight, but I can pack it away.”

A raspy laugh came from Jerry and to anyone else it might have been unnerving, but to Judi it was one of the best sounds in the world.

Educationally Speaking: Fall Homeschool Update

Homeschool has been trucking along fairly well this year. Our days have been filled with more book learning than hands-on learning for the last couple of weeks.

Little Miss and I are still working with math and reading/English curriculum from The Good and The Beautiful. She’s not fighting me as often as she was last year when I say it is time to do our lessons.

For Science, we are using the space curriculum from Apologia’s Creation series.

We finished our history and are now doing individual unit studies. Last week we finished a book about George Washington Carver which I combined with videos and an art project where we recreated paintings of his. Well, I tried to recreate one, but she sort of did her own thing, which is fine as long as she was enjoying herself.

Next up is a unit on Native Americans and I have ordered a fiction book — Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac — that I hope will tell a Native American story in a creative way and allow us to talk about real-life events. I looked up a bunch of picture books about Native Americans but our library only had one of them so I’ll either have to buy them or look at larger libraries.

A couple of weeks ago when it was still nice enough outside for Little Miss to jump on the trampoline, we had an assignment in our reading/English book for Little Miss to orally relay to me a story she made up.

One day she spent three straight hours working on the book, using my computer, even with my messed up “s” and “w” keys which sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Since then she’s asked a couple of times to work on her book and wants me to publish it for her at some point, which I hope to do next year.

The Boy is still working with his grandpa a couple of days a week, which is part of his life skills education, in addition to his regular schoolwork.

For his book-based schoolwork, he is reading about Medieval History via The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer, Biology through Apologia, and classic literature in the form of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which he is actually enjoying. He also has math through CTC Math, which is an online program and grammar through FixIt! Grammar.

We have been trying to secure him a place at a school near us for next year that is similar to a trade school but seem to be being stonewalled because he is homeschooled and not enrolled, even though under state law we are supposed to be able to access those programs as well. The local school district will not return phone calls and it is very frustrating.

Hopefully it will work out.

The Boy is 16 now so we will be starting driving lessons soon, but first we will be studying the manual, which is now online. My husband printed it out for him, but The Boy isn’t in a huge hurry to get his license so we will take our time in that area.

I need to find a field trip for us in the next month or so and I think I’ll look into a couple small museums near us that have Native American artifacts. Winter seems to have started a little earlier with temperatures already in the high 20s or low 30s and our first snowfall coming yesterday, so any field trips will have to be inside at this point.

If you are homeschooling, how is it going for you? If you aren’t, how is school going for you children or grandchildren?

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 33

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.

Chapter 33

Ben greeted Leona and Adam inside, offering a quick ‘hello’ to Angie and William as Amelia dragged him into the kitchen to show him the paints and doll. After a brief conversation with Leona about his parents and work, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, want to come out to the barn and see the blueprints for the shop?” Adam grinned. “My brother dropped them off this morning.”

“Sure. That would be great.”

It would also him get out of the house and away from Angie and William who were sitting next to each other on the couch, talking in hushed tones. Probably wedding planning, which made his stomach turn.

Out in the barn, Adam led him to a small office built to one side, toward the back.

Ben rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. This wasn’t here the last time I was here. When did you have this built?”

“Built it myself,” Adam said with a shrug, opening the door. “Didn’t take much.”

“I thought you were supposed to be taking it easy.”

“Ah, no big deal. Few boards and some nails. The boys carried my dad’s old desk and a couple filing cabinets out and we were ready to go.”

“And you’re doing okay?”

“I am. Taking the medicine they gave me, plus taking more breaks has helped the blood pressure and the heartburn. My new cardiologist says my heart is looking good too. I hate that I scared the girls, though.”

Adam unfurled the blueprints and spread them out on the desktop. “This is the preliminary blueprint, but I like it so far. We’re going to have a showroom right up here in the front and in the back a workshop area. We’ll have storage in a separate area over here and hopefully a parking lot right here, if we can get the permits, which shouldn’t be a problem since it’s going to be right next to the Tanner’s Farm Store.”

“Oh wow. That’s a great idea. Their customers could potentially be your customers.”

“That’s what we’re thinking and Rob’s going to sell us the land at a discount. He’s excited to help us out and we’re excited to let him.”

Ben nodded, still looking at the blueprints. “Looks great. What’s the timeline?”

“Probably three months to clear the land and start construction and maybe another six months to complete the construction. Rob’s opening up a pumpkin farm this year and next year we’ll be able to market together to bring in more customers for us both.”

Ben studied the blueprints as Adam gestured. “These look great, Adam. This is really great for you.”

“It’s great for the entire family. We’re certainly excited.” Adam looked up from the prints. “Hey, I didn’t even think to ask you why you stopped by. Did you have something you wanted to talk to me about?”

“No. Not really. Honestly, I just wanted to see for myself how you were doing.”

Adam sat in the chair behind the desk. “That’s nice of you. As you can see, I’m doing well.” He leaned back in the chair, propping his arm on the desk. “I’m sure getting a glimpse of my daughter was a plus too.”

Ben held up a hand. “Adam, for one, she’s engaged and for two, she hates me.”

Adam cleared his throat. “Ben —”

“Hey boys!” Leona called from outside the barn. “Amelia wants a ride in that fancy car so William is going to give us a lift into town. Angie’s got a headache and staying home. There’s room for one more. One of you want to ride with us?”

Adam jumped up from the chair, stepped around the side of the desk, and teasingly pushed Ben aside. “Me! Me! Shotgun!”

Ben laughed as the man good-naturedly patted him on the chest on the way by.

“Have a nice ride, I’m going to head out actually. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”

“Listen, though, I think we should talk first,” Adam said as they walked across the yard toward the driveway.

“Hurry, Pop-Pop! The train is leaving the station!”

Ben was surprised at how far Amelia’s little voice carried.

Adam snorted a laugh. “That’s what I always say to her when she’s taking too long to get ready. It’s not as funny when she turns it around on me.”

“Have fun,” Ben said. “I’ll stop by another time for that talk.”

Adam opened his mouth to say something, but Leona spoke instead. “I’ve got your coat, hon’. We better get going before the stand closes for the night.”

“Better head out,” Ben told him. “We’ll talk later.”

William held out a hand before sliding into the driver’s side of what Ben guessed was a very expensive sports car. “Ben, take care.”

“You too,” Ben said, shaking his hand.

He stood and watched the car disappear down the driveway then headed for his own car, feeling like there was a rock in his gut.

“Ben.” He turned his hand on the car door. Angie was standing on the top step of the porch. He allowed himself a quick glance at her tan capris and white v-neck shirt under a beige sweater before focusing on her eyes as she spoke. “You need to know something.”

He turned to face her, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets. “Okay.”

She folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath, her voice calm. “I’m not who I was in high school or college. I’ve changed. I’m not the girl who falls all over the star baseball player anymore or thinks she has to sleep with someone to be worth something. I’ve grown up and I have someone else to think about now.”

He waited for her to continue, but when she didn’t he gave a quick nod. “Okay. Thank you for letting me know. Anything else?”

A breeze caught her hair, pushed strands into her face. She pushed it aside, hooking it behind her ear. “I just wanted you to know where I stand if you’re going to keep showing up here. I don’t mind you coming to see Amelia or her seeing you or your parents, but you need to know that I am not going to fall in love with you again.”

He tipped his head down and kicked at the dirt with the toe of his shoe, then looked back up at her. “Okay. I understand. Thank you for letting me and my parents see Amelia.”

He did wonder, though, how much longer they’d have that chance with Angie eventually marrying William and them all moving back to Lancaster.

She hugged her arms tighter around her. “You’re welcome.”

They stood in awkward silence for a few minutes before he finally said, “If that’s all, I’ll be heading out now.”

“That’s all you’re going to say?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know what else you want me to say. I mean are you telling me you’re not going to fall in love with me for my benefit or yours?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, do you want me to know, or are you reminding yourself?”

Her nose wrinkled and she scoffed, waving a hand at him. “Go home, Ben.”

She turned to walk back into the house, and he stepped toward her, hands clenching at his side. “I’m just asking because if you don’t want to fall in love with me again then why even have this discussion? Why put up the disclaimer? Why not just yell at me and tell me to get lost and never come back?”

She turned back to face him, arms out to her sides. “Because Amelia loves you, okay? Because she’s your daughter and she should have some sort of relationship with you even if you are a jerk.”

“Was a jerk. I’ve changed too Angie.” He relaxed his hands, and took a deep breath. “The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love you. I have a feeling that maybe, deep down, you still love me.”

Her eyes flashed as her jaw tightened. “Do you really think I could still love someone who has never even apologized for walking away from me and our daughter?”

He snorted a small laugh. “How was I supposed to apologize?”

“Like how any human being apologizes when they screw up. A phone call, a visit, a carrier pigeon. Anything but cutting off all contact.”

“I didn’t cut off all contact. I sent money and gifts —”

“That’s not apologizing, Ben. There were no words exchanged, no —”

“How was I supposed to apologize for what I did, Angie? How?” Tears stung his eyes. “How do I say I’m sorry for walking away from you during one of the scariest times of your life? How do I say I’m sorry for —” His voice broke “God forgive me. For telling you to murder that beautiful baby girl before she was even born?” He looked at her, voice trembling, tears escaping down his cheeks. “I buried myself in work for almost five years, so I didn’t have to think about what a monster I was. So I didn’t have to remember everything I did wrong and how there was no way I could go back and ask you to forgive me.” He shook his head, dragging a hand across his cheek, and looked away from her. “I can’t even ask it now. I have absolutely no right to.”

A silence fell between them that only the breeze playing with the dying leaves above them filled. He stepped back, wiping the tears away with the back of his hand.

“I don’t even know why we’re talking about this anyhow. You’re engaged to William.”

Her gaze drifted across the yard, toward the faded blue hills in the distance. Her voice was barely audible. “I’m not engaged to William.”

“What do you mean? You said that day here at lunch —”

“I know what I said.” She looked at him again. “I’d broken it off with William but didn’t tell anyone and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them in front of you.”

“Then why is he here?”

“He only came up here to check on dad and so we could talk to Amelia about us not being together anymore.” She pulled a strand of hair away from her face again. “I couldn’t marry him. I seem to have lost trust in men along the way. Who knows why. Ha. Ha.”

Ben swallowed hard and raked a hand through his hair. “Listen, I should go. We’re not getting anywhere here. Exchanging insults isn’t going to help anything.”

Angie took a step forward, arms still folded across her chest. “You asked God to forgive you just now. Was that real? And you said you’d pray for my dad. Did you mean that too? Are you really praying to God? If so, which God?”

He let out a quick breath. “The God of Abraham. Elohim. Jireh. The God you and I were raised to believe in but ran away from for so many years.”

“You want me to believe that you suddenly turned over a new leaf and to God?”

A faint smile tugged at his mouth. “No, not suddenly. Gradually.” He tossed his hands out to his side and then dropped them again. “You don’t have to believe me. I know where my heart is. I know that God has been guiding me to peace in my life. I don’t have to prove that to you, even though I wish I could somehow.” He placed his hands at his waist. “I wish I could show you what God has come to mean to me. I wish I could show you how much I still love you in one big gesture, but I can’t. There will never be a gesture big enough to show you how much I’ve loved you all these years.”

She lifted her chin slightly. “Even when you slept with Bridgett?”

He made a face. “I never slept with Bridgett.”

“Your friend Sam told me you did.”

“That I did what? Stayed over at her house?”

“He said you spent the night with her. I know what that means.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, that I spent the night with her. Asleep. On her couch. While she slept in her room. I was drunk. I showed up at her place, thinking I could forget you if I slept with someone else. She sent me to the couch, woke me up the next morning and told me to get out and get my act together. She also told me to go find you and apologize for being the worst boyfriend in the world because it was clear I was still in love with you.”

“She thought that?”

“She knew that.” He focused his gaze on her eyes. “I was still in love with you and I still am. How many times do I have to say it?”

“You’ve had a funny way of showing it,” she said, hugging her arms tighter around her.

He walked slowly toward her, closing the gap between them. “You would never have believed me if I’d come to you back then and told you anything that I’m telling you now and I doubt you even believe me now.” Standing a couple of inches from her, he reached up and cupped his hand against her face, taking in a sharp breath at the softness of her skin against his hand, at touching her for the first time in almost five years other than that day in the barn. “Do you believe me, Angie? Do you believe I still love you?”

Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and he took that as a sign that she was comfortable with him standing so close, maybe even with him kissing her. He wanted desperately to kiss her.

He moved his head slowly toward hers, testing the water. When she didn’t pull away but instead closed her eyes, he lowered his mouth to hers, capturing it gently, seeking her permission with his action. He expected her to pull away, maybe even slap him, but she didn’t. She let him kiss her and when he pulled back slightly, she opened her eyes, looked at him for a few seconds, then leaned forward again and pressed her mouth to his, sliding her arms around his neck.

He moved his hand to the back of her head, buried his fingers in her hair, and slid his arm around her lower back, pulling her against him. The second the kiss deepened, though, she pulled back, dropped her hands to his chest and pushed him gently away from her.

“No. I can’t do this. Not right now. I mean —” She shook her head slowly, looking at the ground, as if trying to wake up from a dream. “I need some time to think.”

He nodded once, sliding his hands into his jeans pockets again. “Do you want me to stay away?”

“No. You can come to see Amelia and my parents. Just — Just give me some time, okay?”

“Yeah. I can do that. I’m sorry — I shouldn’t have —”

She held her hand up, taking a couple steps back. “No. It’s okay. I just need some time to process.”

He watched her walk back into the house, fingertips to her lips, and wondered if the kiss had affected her as much as it had him.

‘Tis The Season Cinema: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I are starting a feature today where we will share our impressions of Christmas movies, in the same way we did for Halloween movies and the summer classic movies. Yes, we are starting this early at the risk of offending all the Christmas purists who believe you can not watch Christmas movies before December 1. One of those people is my son who showed me this meme when I told him what we were doing:

Anyhow….I digress:

This week we are kicking things off with the origin of the definitive Christmas story (other than the real reason for the season, Christ’s birth) through the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Off the topic (again), but while looking for the movie on Amazon, a ton of movies that started with three words, The Man Who… popped up and made me realize that’s either a very popular title or a very lazy one.

The movie starts with an elated Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) who is in America, riding the wave of success of Oliver Twist. Within minutes, though, we are tossed into the future where Charles has just had three books flop.

He’s toured Britain and America and been celebrated in the past but now he is home and has what every writer dreads: writer’s block.

He needs a hit, not only for his ego but to pay for all the renovations at his home and to support his growing family.

Did you know that Dickens had 10 children? Because before watching this movie I didn’t either. I looked it up and found some other unpleasant behaviors of his, which was sad, but he was still a fascinating man.

Okay, back to the movie.

His publishers are ready to toss him out on his ear, but his agent suggests they keep him on if he writes a new book. The publishers are excited. Of course they will keep him on if he’s going to write them a new book they tell his agent.

The problem? Charles doesn’t even have an idea for a new book.

Bring in the new housemaid who begins telling stories that ignite his imagination and inspire him to tell the story of a selfish, bitter old man who begins to — quite literally — come alive in his mind.

He decides it will be a Christmas book but it’s halfway through October. “There isn’t time to write and publish a book and market it by Christmas,” they tell him.

He’s left to pay for the book on his own. Pay for it and write it at the same time his estranged father arrives for a visit.

This is the father whose debts left 12-year-old Charles working in a shoe factory to pay off those debts.

His relationship with his manipulative father weighs heavily on his writing of this new book which he eventually titles A Christmas Carol.

This movie takes the viewer on a delightful journey and you don’t have to be a writer to relate to the many interruptions he faces as he tries to write, but being one makes it even more relatable.

The insane creativity of this movie is what drew me in. Watching the characters appear in Dickens’ world as he writes them is fascinating for someone who also writes fiction and experiences characters come alive in my brain. Dickens also draws from his own life to craft his stories, which is again something I can also relate to. The way Charles lives his life with all his characters following him along each step of the way isn’t a far-fetched concept for writers who have done the same, though probably never finding as much success as Dickens and looking even crazier than he did.

My son tells me I’m borderline insane because I have a bunch of people living in my brain and sometimes I talk to them. He is, of course, joking. I think. He’d better be since he talks to the characters in his video games like they are real.

Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) wakes Charles at one point during the night in the movie and I had to laugh because that is when all the best ideas come for writers — when they’d rather be sleeping or need to be doing something else. I often feel like a character is whispering in my ear as I try to drift off, saying things like, “Hey, about that conversation I shared earlier, I forgot to tell you part of it. Can you just get up and write that part down so it’s accurate? That would be great.”

There is a great deal of sadness in the movie as Charles uncovers his own demons at the same time he uncovers Scrooge’s, but there is also incredible hope as he works to push his past heartache and bitterness to the side and find happiness in his life.

“I’m afraid,” he tells his friend/agent.

“What have you got to be afraid of?” the friend asks.

“That if I can’t finish it, I’ll never write again,” he responds.

It was a true fear for Charles, but ultimately unwarranted as he went on to write ten more novels, other novellas and short stories, including Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield.

Read Erin’s impression of the movie on her blog.

If you’d like to join us in this seven-week feature at any point, you can do so. Here is our list of upcoming movies (the dates are when we plan to publish our blog posts):

Nov. 17 A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

Nov. 24: White Christmas

Dec. 1: Muppets Christmas Carol

Dec. 8: Holiday Inn                                                                           

Dec. 15: It’s A Wonderful Life

Dec. 22: Charlie Brown Christmas and Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

Book review and giveaway: Dog Days of Summer

Book: Dog Days of Summer

Author: Kathleen Y’Barbo

Genre: Christian/Mystery/Romance Fiction

Release date: October 2022

Trina Potter, Nashville country music star, buys a ranch near her hometown in Brenham, Texas, to help her niece open a rescue facility for dogs. Her presence in town stirs up some old high school rivalries—and romance. Finding property to buy is a challenge, convincing her mother to move there with her is daunting, and navigating a string of strange accidents is perplexing. Sometimes Trina feels like she’s purchased her own three ring circus instead of a beautiful piece of land. But her first priority will be figuring out who wants Second Chance Ranch shut down before they even have the grand opening.

Click here to get your copy!






MY REVIEW

If you are looking for a cozy mystery with entertaining characters, then Dog Days of Summer is a good choice.

The book starts off pulling you into the story with characters who are downhome, even though one is a famous country singer.

This is the second book in the series, but you don’t have to read the first one to know what is happening in this one.

Y’Barbo writes characters who are very relatable.

A few sections dragged a little bit for me, but that’s merely my opinion. Other readers may not mind a little meandering. I felt that there could have been a bit more information about the main character’s singing career but that’s because I was interested, not because there was anything wrong with how it was written. I wasn’t a huge fan of how the love story was tossed in there as a plot point. It didn’t feel flushed out to me. The love story and the ending felt rushed to me but other readers may feel the pacing was just fine. Overall, this was a clean, cozy story that left me with a happy feeling at the end.

About the Author

Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and bestselling author of more than one hundred books with over two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is a member of the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division, Texas A&M Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Women Former Students (Aggie Women), Texas Historical Society, Novelists Inc., and American Christian Fiction Writers. She would also be a member of the Daughters of the American Republic, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and a few others if she would just remember to fill out the paperwork that Great Aunt Mary Beth has sent her more than once.

When she’s not spinning modern day tales about her wacky Southern relatives, Kathleen inserts an ancestor or two into her historical and mystery novels as well. Recent book releases include bestselling The Pirate Bride set in 1700s New Orleans and Galveston, its sequel The Alamo Bride set in 1836 Texas, which feature a few well-placed folks from history and a family tale of adventure on the high seas and on the coast of Texas. She also writes (mostly) relative-free cozy mystery novels for Guideposts Books.

Kathleen and her hero in combat boots husband have their own surprise love story that unfolded on social media a few years back. They make their home just north of Houston, Texas and are the parents and in-laws of a blended family of Texans, Okies, and one very adorable Londoner.

More from Kathleen

Do you love dogs…or cats…or both…? I’m firmly in the “both” category. Since childhood I’ve always lived in homes that had at least one or the other, usually several of each. With every dog or cat comes at least one good story. One of my favorites is the tale of Bandit, the inspiration for the cover of my cozy mystery DOG DAYS OF SUMMER.

Once upon a time there was a black and white dog named Bandit. He was an English Springer Spaniel by birth but was completely convinced he was human. Bandit loved his people—three growing boys and a baby girl—even more than he loved popcorn and playing keep away (his version of catch). After many years, Bandit’s people grew up and he grew old. Toward the end of his very long and pampered life, he was plagued by the unwanted and yet much appreciated friendship of an ornery orange-striped cat named Baby and a snooty pedigreed feline named Fifi.

Everyone loved Bandit…except the territorial squirrel who lived in a tree in our backyard in Southeast Texas. From the moment Bandit joined the family, the furry fellow was determined to rid himself and his backyard of the trespassing canine. The squirrel’s favorite tactic was to tease Bandit until the dog chased him up a tree. Once treed, the crafty critter would run around the trunk just out of Bandit’s reach. Once the squirrel tired of this, it would retreat to a limb. There, the battle of the backyard beasts would commence again but with the squirrel lobbing pinecones and the dog trying to catch them.

While every good story has a beginning, middle and end, unfortunately at the end of this one there was no winner in the dog vs. squirrel wars. A job transfer led us to Houston where squirrels were in abundance in our new neighborhood but none of them were nearly as much fun as the one Bandit left behind. The last time I spoke with the owners of our old house, they told the funniest story: they loved their new home, but there was this squirrel in the backyard that kept throwing pinecones at everyone.

In DOG DAYS OF SUMMER, I tell the story of another Texas backyard. This one is located in Brenham, Texas, and it is about to become a very special place for some very special dogs named Patsy and Cline. Have I mentioned these dogs belong to a country singer named Trina who has a mother named Mama Peach who happens to own a cat named Hector that dislikes almost everyone and can open doors? Then there’s the problem of the next door neighbor and his penchant to forget to close the lid on his grill when he’s cooking? Did I mention that Patsy and Cline enjoy nothing more than whatever they happen to find on an unguarded grill? While the two furry scoundrels are rounding up trouble next door, there is even more trouble happening at the building site for Second Chance Ranch Dog Rescue on the other side of the property. Apparently not everyone is happy about the new neighbors. The mystery is who that person might be. While you’ve got to read DOG DAYS OF SUMMER to find out, I can give you one hint: it’s not the squirrel!

I’ve told you mine; now tell me your favorite dog or cat story. I can’t wait to read them.

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Kathleen is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon e-gift card and a print copy of the book!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

https://promosimple.com/ps/2244a/dog-days-of-summer-celebration-tour-giveaway

Special Fiction Saturday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 31 and 32

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.


Chapter 31

Telling her parents about her past, the night with Jeff, and all the dumb things she’d done in the last several years was definitely hard, but if she was going to testify against the jerk, they needed to know. It would avoid a lot more questions and concerns later.

There was one thing about her family Judi couldn’t deny. They loved her.

She didn’t know why, but they loved her and wanted the best for her even when she didn’t want it for herself.

Ellie had held her hand as she talked and when she was done her mom had hugged her close. Her dad had pounded the table once with a closed fist, stood and turned away from his family looking out the dining room window across the cow pasture. After a few minutes he said in a deep, emotion choked voice he’d like to drive to the city and let Jeff know how he felt with his fists.

“No man should ever — And my daughter. I’d like to —” Tom shook his head, fists propped against his hips, looking out the window again.

Rena had reminded him that the courts would take care of Jeff and that Judi was going to try to help that along.

Back in her apartment, Judi pulled a fuzzy blue blanket around her and turned the television on. She needed to disappear into a good movie for a while, quiet her brain before returning to work at Ben’s office tomorrow. She also needed to start looking for another part time job soon or she wouldn’t be able to pay her rent.

Half way in to the movie a knock on the door startled her and she looked at the door reluctantly. She wasn’t up to visitors tonight. She shuffled to the door and peaked out the front window.

Good grief. Why was he here?

Ben smiled, one arm leaning on the door frame as she opened it. “Hey, employee. How ya’ doing?”

She stepped back to let him in, frowning in confusion. “What are you doing here? Haven’t you had a long day?”

“Oh, well, hello to you too,” he said with a laugh as he walked by.

“Oh. Sorry. It’s just that it’s a long drive from Burkett and you’ve never stopped by before.” Her eyes widened. “Oh man. Are you here to fire me?”

Ben laughed, sitting in the chair across from the couch. “Judi, no! I’m here to check on you.” He winced apologetically. “And maybe discuss your case a little bit. We can do it in the office, but I thought it might be better on your own turf, so to speak. Also, I stopped by after visiting my parents.”

Emotionally drained or not, she knew they did need to discuss the case. “Can I make you a cup of coffee? Tea? A soda?”

“A soda would be fine.”

“How is Angie’s dad?” she asked over her shoulder as she walked toward the refrigerator. “And your sister?”

Ben spoke through a yawn. “Angie’s dad is doing okay. He came with her to pick up Amelia. He said the doctor said he didn’t have a heart attack, but needed to follow up with his cardiologist. His blood pressure was high and he seemed to have intense acid reflux. I know he’s been pushing himself too hard.” He took the soda from her and cracked it open. “As for Maggie, she’s okay too. She just found herself at a drinking party she didn’t expect to be at and wanted a ride home. I was glad she called me, but it was a little humbling when she asked if I had acted that stupid when I drank.”

Judi cracked open her own soda and sat on the couch, pulling her legs up underneath her. “If you didn’t, I can tell you I did. Alcohol made me a bigger moron than usual.” She took a sip of her soda. “How are things with you and Angie? Have you swept her off her feet yet?”

He scoffed and pushed a hand back through his hair. “Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen. She was at least civil to me and did ask if I’d watch Amelia for her, but no. I don’t see her running back to me anytime soon.”

“Would you want her to run back to you?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. She has a fiancé.”

“Who let her move up here without him and probably hasn’t even visited since they moved here.”

Ben leaned forward, placing the can on the coffee table. “Hey, you know what’s weird? I think I said I stopped to see how you were doing, not to talk about me.”

Judi shrugged her shoulder. “Yeah, but you can see I’m fine so let’s talk about you and Angie. Ben Oliver, you’re so used to burying yourself in the law, you don’t even know how to talk about your personal needs and desires.” Mischief sparked in her eye as she adopted a mock serious expression. “I for one, don’t believe that is healthy.”

Ben propped his elbows on his knees and tented his fingers together under his chin. “Let me put it this way, Miss Lambert, it may not be healthy but it also isn’t healthy to want something I can’t have.”

Judi reached for a pad of paper and a pen on the table next to her couch, crossed one leg over the other, and narrowed her eyes. “So, what you are saying, Mr. Oliver, is that you want Angie Phillipi, but you think you can’t have her. Isn’t that what you’re saying to the court?”

A deep laugh rumbled from Ben as he leaned back casually in the chair, sliding down comfortably and draping his arms over the side. “Don’t forget who is the actual lawyer here, Lambert. I’ll out maneuver you every single time. Enough about me. How are you? Nervous about this case?”

Judi tossed the pen and paper down and sighed. “You just want to know if I want to crawl back into a bottle and yes, I did want to, and yes I did visit a bar and have a whiskey, but no, I’m not ready to go back to my old lifestyle yet.” She made a face. “In fact, the alcohol made me sick to my stomach and I spent most of that night throwing up or doubled over in bed.”

His expression had faded from playful to more serious. “Tell me about that night with this guy. All of it, if you can. As your lawyer I need to know to what extent he hurt you.”

She pulled her knees up to her chest, let out a breath, and launched into the same story she’d told Ellie a year and a half ago and her parents the night before.

When she was done, Ben stood, his expression similar to her dads. He set his hands on his waist and paced behind the chair a couple of times. “Okay. Now I have another question for you, and I hope you don’t mind me asking.” He stopped pacing and looked up at her. “Have you seen a counselor about this?”

Judi pressed her forehead against her knees and groaned. “Not you too. No. I haven’t seen a counselor. I’m fine.”

“Judi, this is something that —”                                  

“Ben! Stop!” She looked up, her voice softening. “It took all I had to admit I had a drinking problem and go to AA, okay? I don’t want to go to a counselor. I’m fine. Really.” She sighed. “I appreciate you and Ellie and now my parents pushing me to talk to someone and I’ll consider it, but right now, agreeing to support this case against him is a therapy of its own.”

Ben held a hand up, palm out. “Okay. I understand. I don’t want to pressure you, but if you do decide you want to talk to someone, there is a woman at my church who is great.”

Judi took a long sip from her soda. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She stood and stretched, yawning. “For now, though, I need some sleep if I’m going to get to work on time and you look like you could use some sleep yourself.”

Rubbing his hand against his chin, Ben matched her yawn with an even bigger one. “I definitely could.”

Following him to the door, Judi leaned against the door frame as he walked out onto the landing. “Ben, have you thought of a new hairstyle?”

He turned and looked at her sleepily. “What?”

She tapped a fingertip to her chin and looked at him with a pondering expression for a moment. “It’s just — maybe Angie would be more apt to pay attention to you if —”

He turned back around. “Good night, Judi.”

“I’m just saying. Appearance is important and —”

He waved over his shoulder as he walked down the stairs toward the parking lot. “See you in the morning.”

“It’s not that you look bad now, but a new hairstyle might make her look at you differently and if she looks at you differently —”

He pressed the unlock button on his keychain and it beeped. “I appreciate the advice. I’m sure I’ll place it in the file it needs to go in.”

Judi let out a small huff of breath, watching it fog the air in front of her. “Hey, I’m just trying to help keep you from becoming a lonely, bitter old man. What can I say?”

Ben waved as he slid into the driver seat and she laughed, stepping back into the apartment and closing the door. He might be ignoring her now, but eventually he would realize her advice would be just what he needed to get what he wanted.

Chapter 32

The next afternoon, Judi’s fingers ached from all the briefs she’d typed, appointments she’d set up and paperwork she had filed. She stretched them briefly and she looked up to see Ben come in the front door with two take-away containers and a cup of coffee.

“You’re lucky,” he announced. “They had the corn beef on rye you wanted.”

He set a takeaway container in front of her and headed toward the back office, but not before she spotted the shorter haircut he was sporting.

“Hold on a minute. I thought it took you longer than usual. What’s with the new haircut?” She smirked, leaning back in the chair and folding her arms across her chest. “Looks like someone took my advice after all.” She stood and took a quick lap around him, arms still across her chest, inspecting the cut. “Looks nice. Now we can talk about what you should wear next time you go over.”

He lifted a hand and stepped toward his office. “I got my haircut because I needed it. That’s all. Don’t start getting cocky. And I can dress myself thank you very much.”

She looked him up and down. “You can dress yourself for work, but this outfit is way too uptight for —”

“Go eat your lunch.” He gestured toward her desk. “I’m going to eat mine in my office. With the door closed. Firmly closed.”

She was almost done with her lunch when the front door opened, and she looked up to see Bill Henderson walking in. Ben’s office door opened a few seconds later.

“Bill, hey there!” He stepped forward and held a hand out. Bill took it and they shook firmly. “Come on back. I’m free. I just came out to get some creamer for my coffee.”

Bill gave a quick shake of his head. “Actually, I’m on my way to a lunch date but I wanted to drop in and let you know I won’t need Friday’s appointment.”

Ben’s eyebrows raised. “You and Veronica ready to settle? I’ll call her lawyer and work out a new time.”

Bill smiled, a soft chuckle coming from him as he rubbed the beard now growing on his chin. “No, actually. She’s my lunch date.” He shrugged a shoulder. “We’re going to try to work things out.”

Ben couldn’t help smiling. “Hey, that’s great to hear. Really.”

“I know it cuts into your pay, but I want you to get a bill together for services already rendered,” Bill said. “I’ll be back next week to settle up.” He winked. “And I’ll have more time then to find out how your situation is going.”

After Bill left, Judi stifled a giggle. “Yes, Ben. How is your situation going?”

Ben sighed. “Get back to work. Oh, and I called that lawyer at the number you gave me. I set up a zoom meeting with him and his client for Friday. Does that work for you?”

“Yes. But about your situation —”

“And I’ll need the paperwork for the meeting with Jack Paulson tomorrow, so if you could pull that out of the filing cabinet, that would be great. Also, the file on Tony Murray’s deed transfer and —.”

Judi let out a dramatic exhale. “Fiiiiine. I’ll get back to work.”

Ben closed the door to his office, emerging an hour later with his coat and phone in his hand. “Hey. I just got a call from Cindy.”

“How’s her husband?”

“Doing really well. The cancer is responding to the treatment.”

That was good news for Cindy and her husband but not as great for Judi, who would probably need a new job now. “So, she will be coming back?”

“No and yes. She asked me if she could come back only a couple days a week. I told her that would work fine, and you can fill in the rest of the days. Actually, I’d love to have you on full time and work with her on the days she is here. What do you think?”

Full time work meant staying in Spencer full time. She wasn’t sure she really wanted that but it was a good offer and a good job. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.”

“Um. Yeah. I think I could handle that.”

Ben smiled and zipped up his jacket. “Great. That settles it. You start Monday.” He tossed his keys upon the air and caught them. “I’m going to head out a little early today. I want to check on Adam and see if he needs anything.”

Judi folded her arms across her chest and smirked. “Doesn’t he have two, muscular sons to help him?”

“Yeah, but they’ve got jobs that take them out of the area so —”

“So, maybe Adam isn’t the only one who you’re hoping might need some help.”

“Finish up those briefs and then you can head out and go focus on your own life, Lambert.”

Judi winked. “It’s more fun to focus on yours.” She squinted and wrinkled her nose. “You’re going to stop off at home and change, right?”

Ben looked down at clothes, holding his arms out to his side. “Why? What’s wrong with this?”

“You should look more casual and relaxed. Less formal. Go home for a pair of jeans and a t shirt and a pair of sneakers. Blue t-shirt to bring out your eyes.”

He rolled his eyes and walked away from her toward the front door. “See you tomorrow morning, Judi. 9 a.m. this time, not 10.”

“Change your clothes,” he said mockingly as he walked out onto the sidewalk. “You need to look more casual. Whatever. I look fine.”

He slid behind the steering wheel and started the car, questioning what he was even doing. He did want to see if Adam needed some help, but he could call and ask him instead of driving out there. Still, Adam would probably deny he could use the help, the same way he would if he were in the same situation.

He’d been telling the truth when he told Judi he wanted to see if Adam needed help, but, yeah, fine — He also wanted to see Angie again. He often though of how flushed she’d become that day just from him standing near her. He wasn’t naïve enough to believe he had a chance with her again, but he couldn’t deny that flustering her gave him a rush.

After he’d gone back to his apartment and changed into jeans and t-shirt like Judi had suggested, he pushed play on a Buddy Guy song and headed out, pulling into the Phillipi’s driveway as the late afternoon sun streaked at an angle through the trees and across the fields.

At the sight of a red sports car parked on the other side of the barn, he reconsidered the visit, but didn’t have time to back out of the driveway before the front door burst open and Amelia ran toward him. He opened the door, climbed out, scooped her up in his arms without even thinking. She smelled like fruit juice and peanut butter. Evidence that she’d had some jelly with her peanut butter was on her cheek.

“Ben! Come inside. William came to visit, and he brought me paints and a new doll.”

His chest tightened. “Oh yeah? Well, that was very nice of him.”

He set her on the ground, and she took his hand. “Come on! The doll has red hair and a green dress. She’s awesome!”

“I’m coming.” He laughed as she led the way, tugging him along behind her. “I’m coming.”

He didn’t really want to follow her, though, to walk into a house where he was clearly an outsider and where he’d see the man who was going to have the family he would have had if he hadn’t messed everything up.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 29 and Chapter 30

For regular readers here, I have finished the first draft of this book and am in the editing stage. I may do something different and post the remaining chapters a few days in a row, but I still have to decide if I am keeping those chapters the way they are, so I will let you know.

If any of you are interested in being on my launch team, please let me know. That involves helping to tell others about the book and receiving a free ebook copy of the complete book to read.

Also, if there are aspects of the story you think should be flushed out or changed, please let me know. I am also looking for beta readers, who also can help me with those details.

Thank you to my bloggy friends who have stuck around and read along with all my stories or who have read them when they are done. Trust me, I do not blame you if you haven’t followed along every week. I get behind on serial stories as well!

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.

Chapter 29



Judi hadn’t checked her voicemail all weekend. She knew she needed to but there were messages from Ben, Selina, a number she didn’t recognize, and a number she thought might belong to the lawyer for that girl. It was all a bit overwhelming, and she wasn’t sure which one to listen to first.

Sipping the coffee she’d picked up from the local coffee shop, she scrolled through the voicemails and clicked on Selina’s message.

“Hey, Judi, I just want to apologize. I think — yeah, well, I know I was pressuring you way too much about talking to that lawyer. I should have backed off. I just want Jeff to pay for what he’s done to you and Laura and whoever else he attacked. I got carried away. Call me later, okay? I just want to know you’re okay.”

Ben’s message was something about work, but ended asking her if she was okay, and reminding her if she needed to talk, she could call him any time.

There was also a text message from Rachel. She’d answer that one later and maybe even confess her trip to the bar. She knew Rachel wouldn’t scold her. Since she’d become Judi’s sponsor, she’d been nothing but supportive.

She clicked on the message from the number she didn’t recognize at all next.

“Judi, it’s Hannah. Don’t delete this. Here me out. I messed up, okay? I took that money for Rick. He lied to get you fired and I wanted to tell Lonny, but I need this job. Don’t be mad, okay? I mean you have that job with that lawyer, so you’ll be fine, right? Call me. Okay? I want to make it up to you somehow.”

She rolled her eyes and deleted the message.

The last voicemail was from the number she didn’t recognize, but the transcription, as bad as a translation as it was, let her know it was from the lawyer.

“Miss Lambert, hello. This is Brent Decker and I wanted to call and clarify some things about what would be expected of you if you testified in this case. If you get a chance, give me a call. I understand how difficult something like this would be for you and if you decide you simply can’t do it, both my client and I will understand.”

Laying the phone down on the counter in the kitchen, she carried her coffee with her to the living room. A large bouquet of bright red roses sat in the middle of the coffee table. They’d been delivered that morning with a card.

Out on the road again but thinking of you. Love, Evan.

She leaned over the roses and drew in their aroma with a deep inhale. Fingering the petals, she thought back on that day with Evan, how she’d completely panicked as if he would have, or could have, hurt her like Jeff tried to. Each time she remembered how concerned he’d looked, how he’d waited outside her apartment until Ellie got there, she smiled and wondered what she’d done to deserve someone like him.

Nothing. That’s what.

She’d done nothing to deserve him, and she didn’t deserve him.

But boy did she want him.

She wanted him without the heaviness of memories of that night with Jeff taunting her, though, encroaching on her joy, and trying to take it away.

A sudden anger seized her, twisted in her stomach. She stood, fists clenched. Jeff Burke had no right to have that power over her. He had no right to be able to walk around free while she and other women sat in the shadow of shame, shutting themselves up in a prison of fear.

Jeff had tried to control her, force on her what he’d wanted, which had set loose a series of emotions she didn’t know how to control. She’d tried so hard in the months afterward to drown the rage and fear with as much alcohol as she could find. She’d flirted with Brad, acted like everything was fine, picked fights with her sister, rejected any suggestion she reach out to her family or God, and told herself over and over it was all her fault.

“This isn’t your fault. You know that right?”

The words of Ellie the year before rushed back to her. There was a large part of her that still felt what had happened was her fault.  Even more so she felt like what had happened to this girl was her fault. If she had gone to the police about Jeff maybe he would have been stopped before he hurt her, or the other women he’d probably forced himself on.

She walked back to the kitchen and snatched up her phone, then grabbed an apple from the basket Ellie had dropped off the other day. Fruit had never really been her thing, but she probably should eat healthier.

She dialed Ben’s number as she sat on the couch.

“Judi!” Did he actually sound excited to hear her voice. “I’ve been trying to reach you for three days. You okay?”

“Yeah, I am.” She bit into the apple, juice dripping down her chin. She swiped at the juice with the back of her hand. “I wasn’t, but I am right now. I think anyhow. Listen, I — uh —I want to know if you’ll advise me on how to testify against that guy I told you about.”

“You want me to represent you?”

“Do I need a lawyer to represent me?”

“It would be good to have one, yes.”

She winced. “Can we exchange work time for payment?”

Ben’s laugh was warm and friendly, a departure from the tone he usually spoke to her in at work. “I’m not going to charge you for this Judi. You’re a friend.”

“I’m a friend?” She pulled the phone back from her ear for a moment and looked at it with a raised eyebrow. “I thought I was your employee.”

“You’re both.” She heard a click and then the sound of tires on pavement. He’d apparently switched to hands-free. “Hey, listen, things are a little crazy here right now. Can I call you back later? Angie’s dad is in the hospital, she dropped of Amelia at my parents, and I’m on my way to pick up my sister from some party.”

“Wow. That’s a lot. When it rains it pours, right?”

“I think you know that as well as I do.”

She took another bite of the apple, wondering why she hadn’t tried this healthy eating thing earlier. “Good luck. No rush on the call back.”

“Thanks.” There was a brief pause, filled only by the sound of Ben’s driving. “Hey, Judi?”

“Yes, Mr. Oliver, sir?”

Ben groaned. “Don’t call me that. Ever. But hey, I’m proud of you, for whatever that’s worth. You’re doing the right thing and I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”

She swallowed hard, letting out a shaky breath. “Thanks, Ben. I really appreciate that.” Now, though, she’d have to tell him everything about that night — and her past life. The bravery she’d had a few moments before shrunk back at the thought.

Chapter 30

Maggie was waiting in front of an out of the way farmhouse, arms hugged around her middle. He could hear the bass from inside the house, pounding out what must be an ear-splitting rhythm of rock music inside.

Maggie flung the passenger side door open, slid inside and scrunched down in the seat as she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt down over her head. The bottom of her face, featuring a deep frown, was all Ben could see at this point.

He cleared his throat and clicked his tongue, hands on the steering wheel. “So, um, yeah. I guess this wasn’t just a study session after all. I’m also guessing this isn’t Jenny’s house.”

“Can we just go now? I don’t want anyone to see me out here.”

Ben shifted the car into gear, keeping his eyes on the road ahead of him until they had moved off a dirt road onto a paved one.

“You going to tell me what happened or —?”

“It was a party. I didn’t want to go but Jenny talked me into it and there were a bunch of older kids there and they were drinking. That’s all. Okay?”

He clenched his jaw, trying his best to stay calm and not react the way he wanted to, the way the old Ben would have. He’d stay quiet and let her talk. He wasn’t an actual parent, at least in experience, but that’s how their dad had often handled situations with him.

“Okay,” he said finally when she didn’t offer any other explanation.

“Is that all you have to say? Okay? I mean aren’t you going to yell at me or something?”

“Do I have a reason to yell at you?”

Maggie scoffed. “Well, yeah. I was at a party with alcohol and older boys when I was supposed to be studying.”

He glanced at her as he pressed his foot on the brake at a stop sign. “I’m not your parent, Maggie. I’m your brother.” He tipped his neck, pressing a hand to the back of it and cracking it. “But if I was your parent, I would ask you if you were drinking.”

He saw her make a face out of the corner of his eye. “Ugh. No. Beer is gross. It even smells gross. Plus, people who drink act stupid and are losers who ruin their lives.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over the car. She straightened, pushed the hood off her head and looked at him with wide eyes. “I mean some people are. Not everyone. Some people just mess up and get better.”

She averted her gaze quickly and slid down in the seat again. “Sorry. I didn’t mean you.”

His chest tightened and he kept his eyes forward. “No. It’s fine. It’s true. I am a loser, and I did ruin a lot of lives.”

“You’re not a loser, Ben.” Maggie chewed on the finger nail on her thumb. “You were one but you’re not anymore.”

A laugh rumbled from his chest. “Very accurate.”

A sudden thought struck him, and his blood ran cold. “Hey, no one — uh — I mean some guy didn’t —“

She snorted a huff of air through her nose. “Oh my gosh, Ben, no. Guys don’t pay attention to me. I’m a geek.”

She sounded disappointed that guys didn’t pay attention to her but Ben was a bit relieved under the circumstances. “This time that’s a good thing.”

“Nothing like that was going on anyhow. Other than Rocky Westerfield making out with Penny Sanderson on the couch at one point. Otherwise they were all just acting stupid and laughing at the dumbest things. I mean alcohol really does change people. Billy Jenkins is one of the smartest guys in school but by the time we got there he’d had two beers and was laughing at fart jokes.”

Ben tried not to laugh. Most teenage boys could manage to act stupid even without alcohol.

He felt her gaze on him again. “Is that what you acted like when you were drunk? Did you do and say stupid things?”

He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He really didn’t want to talk to his sister about this.

“Sometimes, yeah.” He hunched his shoulders in a brief shrug. “Most is the time I was a depressed drunk, though. Depressed and angry.”

“Is that why Angie left you?”

“I left her actually, but she should have left me long before that.”

“You left her when she was pregnant, didn’t you?”

He wanted to pull over and throw up. “Yeah. I did.”

“Didn’t you want to be a dad?”

His throat thickened with emotion, and he cleared his throat. “I was too stupid, selfish and arrogant to want anything other than my career, kid. I didn’t feel qualified to be a dad. I didn’t even know how to be a man, let alone a dad. I was afraid, but instead I acted angry. You’re going to learn that about men as you grow up. Sometimes they act angry when all they are is scared. That was me. Afraid I’d fail, that I’d never be as good of a dad as our dad has been, that I’d never be able to stop relying on the alcohol to get me through the tough days. I walked away from Angie and I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Maggie reached over and laid her hand on his arm. “Have you ever told her that? How much you regret walking away?”

He glanced at her again, grateful for her tenderness, but then realizing — “Hey, wait a minute. You changed the subject. This isn’t about me, right now. You need to tell me what you were doing at a drinking party when you were supposed to be studying.”

She dropped her hand and scowled. “I thought you said you weren’t my parent.”

“Yeah, I’m not, but I’m your older brother. Spit it out.”

She folded her arms across her chest and stared at her feet. “Jenny wanted to go see Phil Tanner —”

“Another Tanner?”

“Yeah, he’s Brad’s little brother. He’s the youngest of like four or whatever.”

“Oh.”

“Anyhow, Jenny wanted to see Phil because he texted her to come over so we went over —”

“When you shouldn’t have gone anywhere else without telling Mom and Dad.”

“Do you want me to finish this story or not?”

“Go on.”

“So, we got over there, and they’d already been drinking. I told Jenny I wanted to leave but she’s all lovestruck, so she didn’t want to leave, but then they started acting stupider and Jenny even took a sip of a beer. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Ben turned into the driveway, pausing at the gate, and punching the code in. “You did the right thing, kid. I’m proud of you. People in movies and music videos make drinking look like fun, but it can be really dangerous. It’s not all fun and games.”

Maggie sighed and he didn’t see it but he was sure she rolled her eyes too. “Yeah, I know.” They drove slowly up the drive and as he parked, she turned toward him. “Why did you drink?”

Ben turned the car off and laid an arm across the back of her seat, tilting his head to one side. “Well, you really are inquisitive today.” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I drank so I couldn’t remember what a failure I felt like. Then I felt more like a failure so I drank more and it was just a vicious cycle.”

“But you weren’t a failure. You were in law school and had a great girlfriend and wonderful family.”

The sun had set now, sending a streak of purple and pink across the horizon. Ben wondered how his parents and Amelia were getting along inside.

“I felt like a failure in other ways like in being a good person and in being respected and as successful as dad and grandpa and Uncle Larry. I did stuff in high school I wasn’t proud of. The shame just kept building up.”

Maggie pulled her lower lip between her teeth for a few seconds, as if in thought. “The other day Pastor Rick said that Jesus forgives our sins and covers our shame with his grace and mercy. Doesn’t that mean He did that for you too?”

A smile tugged at the corners of Ben’s mouth. “Yeah. It does. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.” He dropped his arm down around her shoulder and pulled her in for a hug. “Thanks, Maggie. I appreciate that.” He pulled back to look down at her. “And I’m sorry I wasn’t the big brother you could look up to.”

She opened the passenger side door and winked over her shoulder, “I’ll always look up to you, Binkie. You’re doing your best to make up for your mistakes. That’s something worth admiring. Plus, you’re still a few inches taller than me.”

He tapped her shoulder. “Hey, before you go in — We have a special visitor.”

Her eyebrow quirked questioningly. “Who?”

“Someone you’ve been wanting to meet.” Her brow dipped for a moment then rose again as her eyes widened. “Really? She’s in the house?! Come on, slow poke! Let’s get in there so I can meet my niece!”