Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 17

This chapter will need a lot of work before the final publication. It could be cut altogether in the end too. This book is giving me a lot of trouble, to be honest.

As always, this is a work in progress and there may be typos, plot holes, etc. and the final story is always subject to change before I later publish the final version. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 17

Stan was sitting in his car outside the abandoned building when Matt pulled up in his truck.

He climbed out of his sedan and stuck a hand toward Matt as he walked toward him. “I appreciate you coming, Matt. I know it’s not in your jurisdiction, but I didn’t think the staties would come out this far to check it out.”

Matt’s eyes darted around as he shook Stan’s hand, taking in the dilapidated building, the vines stretching up the side, the broken windows, a partially caved in roof. “No, problem. I figured I’d do it off duty just to eliminate the appearance of the Spencer police stepping into the state’s territory.”

He wasn’t sure how much poking around he could do since Stan wasn’t sure who the property belonged to. He didn’t have a warrant, but Stan had expressed concern about the back door looking like it had been broken into. He could at least take a look and decide then if a search warrant was needed.

“We’re hoping to find the owner and sell this property.” Stan talked as he followed Matt. “We have a commercial company interested in this whole area. The owners of the properties adjacent have already signed. I’ve got my secretary combing through deeds records at the courthouse.”

Matt pushed a branch out of his way as he walked through the high brush toward the back of the building. “Oh yeah? What do they want to put in?”

“Distribution center of some kind.” Stan ducked under a tree limb. “It could bring a lot of jobs to the area if it works out.”

Matt stepped into a clearing and looked up at a small flight of stairs leading to a metal door, a bolted lock on a chain hanging from it, leaving the door slightly ajar. The sight of the open door placed him on edge and he hoped it was only from all those horror movies he watched as a teenager.

He wasn’t sure how much further he should go, since entering the building might be considered trespassing. He took in the outside of the building again. The place had clearly been abandoned years ago, maybe even a couple of decades ago. There was a good possibility someone was squatting or the door had simply been jammed open by some teenagers look for a place to smoke and drink.

Stepping up the stairs he peered through the gap in the doorway. From what he could see the building looked empty other than some old tables and chairs, and a few pieces of old machinery, maybe from whatever business used to be here. On the far side of the room there was a longer table, maybe the remnants of a conveyor belt. The tarp covering it drew Matt’s attention and he hoped it was only covering more equipment or machinery.

“I probably shouldn’t go any further until we find out who owns this.”

Still, that tarp drew his eye, and he had a sudden urge to look under it, even as a larger part of him wanted to take off back to his truck and alert the state police to it instead.

“Stay here, I want to check something out.”

Stan nodded, clearly uneasy as he slid his hands in his dress pant pockets and stepped a couple of steps down from the door.

The concrete floor was still in good shape, even under several thick inches of dust. A bird flew out of the metal rafters and Matt flinched but kept walking toward the tarp.

“This is stupid, Matt,” he said outoud as he walked. “No one is going to leave something like drugs under a tarp in an unsecure building.” His arm bumped a large board sticking out of one of the tables and knocked it to the ground. The clatter of it hitting the concrete floor bounced off the walls and ceiling.

“You okay?” Stan called from the stairs.

“Yeah. Just a board. All good.”

It would be stupid for there to be anything criminal under the tarp, but the building was several miles outside of town and in the middle of nowhere. He needed to at least double check and if he found anything his first call would be to the state police. He’d have to explain why he was trespassing on someone else’s property while off duty, but he had a feeling the troopers would simply be happy to bust one of the many drug rings that had cropped up in the area recently.

Lifting the tarp, he found himself praying this wasn’t really like a moment in a horror movie, that there wasn’t a dead body underneath, even a dead animal.

“Be a man, McGee,” he told himself. “Lift the tarp. Also, stop talking to yourself. This is getting weird.”

He lifted the tarp gingerly and peeked under. It only took one look to know he had to pull the tarp all the way off while reaching in his pocket for his phone.

“State Police Barracks, Benford County, Trooper Banfield speaking.”

“Hey, Officer Matt McGee from the Spencer Police Department here. I need to be transferred to Trooper McCallister, drug unit.”

 

***

Olivia had been home a week now and Ginny still hadn’t been able to pin her down and get a straight answer about whether she’d dropped out of college or not. Every time she tried to ask Olivia waved and said, “Going to meet up with Melody” or Avery, or Trish, or one of her other many friends who were still living in Spencer. Ginny was determined to corner her daughter today.

She heard footsteps on the stairs as she placed two plates on the table, one with vegan pancakes and some kind of vegan sausage, the other with bacon, eggs, and a waffle.

“Hey, Liv. I made you breakfast.” She called the words out before her daughter could slip out the door.

Olivia peeked into the kitchen. “Thanks, Mom, but I —”

“Sit down, Olivia.” Ginny pointed at the chair opposite hers. “You’ve been avoiding me all week. It’s time we talked. I even made vegan food for you. It took me 20 minutes to figure out which fake sausage to get so you’re going to at least sit down long enough to eat it.”

Oliva sighed as she entered the kitchen and sat. Her gestures as she begrudgingly picked up a fork reminded Ginny of when her daughters had been teenagers and had tried to skip breakfast so they could slip out early and meet up with the boys they liked. Oliva had used to meet up with Brent, before she decided he was “too small town” for her.

Ginny stirred creamer into her coffee. She usually didn’t have coffee but this morning she decided she needed the extra pick me up. She’d made sure to add only half a cup of coffee so she could fill the rest with creamer and sugar. “Time for some tough talk. Did you drop out of college or are you on an extended break?”

Oliva kept her eyes on her plate. She pushed the pancakes around her plate, soaking up the syrup.

“You need to tell me the truth.” Ginny prodded her daughter, knowing she needed an answer so she could decide how they would break the news to Stan without him having an aneurysm.

“Fine.” Oliva rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “I dropped out.”

Ginny took a deep breath to keep herself calm. “Why?”

“I told you. California just isn’t for me anymore. I don’t even know what I’m doing there. I’m wasting your money by working toward a degree that I don’t even know if I’m going to use anymore.”

“If you’re not going to get a degree then what are you going to do?”

Olivia shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”

“Olivia. Seriously?” Ginny tried to keep the anger she felt gnawing at her insides outside of her voice. “You can’t just drop out of school and —”

“How come you cut Liz Cranmer slack but not me?”

Ginny’s eyebrows raised. “Excuse me?”

“Dad says you’ve been hanging out with her for months now. What’s so great about her? She got knocked up by some jerk and everyone knows she was a total alchey and pill popper.”

“Olivia!” Ginny stared at her daughter in disbelief. “When did you become so judgmental? Is this how you learned to act out there? Liz has worked hard to get back on her feet. She’s a wonderful mother, she’s working toward a degree in social work through online courses, and she just took a job as the children’s librarian. Just because she made some mistakes in her past doesn’t mean she’s a horrible person.”

Oliva slid down in her seat and closed her eyes, wincing softly. “Yeah. I know. Sorry.” She let out a breath and looked up at her mom. “I don’t know where that came from.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I guess I’m jealous.”

“Of Liz?”

“Yeah. I mean, she’s had all your attention lately. You two have fun together. It’s like you replaced Liv with Liz. Dad said you watch movies together, go to lunch, attend art classes.” Oliva picked at the fringes on the cloth placemat under her plate. “You never did that stuff with me.”

Ginny set her fork down and set her hands under her chin. “I tried, Olivia. Maybe you’ve forgotten but you never wanted to be around me as a teenager. I embarrassed you. I would gladly have done all those things with you and would do them with you now if you wanted to. Liz needed some extra support. Things have been tense with her parents, she was trying to figure out how to be a new mom. I just wanted to help and, well, we do have fun together. She makes me forget that I’m a dried up old lady with a very dull life.”

Olivia scoffed. “Mom, you’re not a dried up old lady.” She reached across the table and covered her mom’s hand with hers. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ginny waved a hand dismissively. “It’s probably just some midlife crisis thing. I’ll get over it eventually. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed my time with Liz. If you’re going to be home for a while I’d love to have you join us when we go out or get together for a movie night.”

Olivia’s tone softened even more. “I’d love to, Mom.” For the first time in a long time Ginny heard sincerity in her voice.

“Don’t think that this conversation about you dropping out of school is over, though. You know how upset your dad is going to be. There will be conversations about what you’re going to do for a job, where you’re going to live.”

“Can’t I live here for now?”

“For now, but do you really want to be almost 21 and living at home with your parents?”

Olivia made a face. “Yeah. I didn’t think about that. Guess I better start making some real plans.”

The back door opened as the women finished their breakfast. Ginny noticed a flush to Stan’s cheeks as he strode across the kitchen and reached for the coffee pot. She raised an eyebrow as she and Oliva exchanged a look.

“Uh-oh.” Ginny mouthed the words.

“Hey, Dad. Busy morning already?”

“Hmm?” Stan reached for the creamer on the table. Ginny could tell he was distracted again. Probably thinking of another real estate deal. “Oh yeah. Busy.”

He sipped the coffee and cleared his throat. “Listen, I need to talk to you two and I don’t want you to go all crazy on me.”

Ginny’s muscles tensed around her neck like they usually did when Stan said he needed to talk. It was usually about a big property he was working selling or telling her he wouldn’t be able to attend this or that.

Stan sat at the table, the coffee mug cupped in his hands. “I wasn’t going to tell either of you about this, but then I thought about how you’d probably find out from someone else.” Ginny rubbed a hand against the back of her neck, trying to loosen the tightness and distract herself from the thoughts racing through her mind. “Last week when Matt and I went to that property, Matt discovered a stash of heroin.”

Olivia sat back in her chair, her eyebrows raised. “Whoa. Seriously? In Spencer Valley”

“Yes.” Stan stirred the creamer in the coffee and took another sip. “Matt says heroin has been big around here lately. It’s replaced meth as the dominant drug industry. He called the state police and I had to stay for questioning.” Stan starred into the cup of coffee for a few silent seconds as if waiting for a word of wisdom. “They called me in again this morning. I couldn’t offer them any information beyond what Matt and I saw, unfortunately. None of this has hit the papers yet, but I have a feeling it will soon. I just hope my name will be kept out of it.”

Ginny swallowed hard, her muscles even tighter now. “I’d never really thought about real estate being a dangerous job before.”

Stan grunted and stood. “It’s not. This is the first time I’ve ever encountered anything criminal in the 25 years I’ve been doing this job.”

Apparently, she wasn’t even permitted to worry about him now.

He opened a cupboard and reached for a travel mug to pour the rest of the coffee in. “I’ve got to head back to the office. I have two potential clients coming in.”

A small smile tugged at Olivia’s lips. “Dad, aren’t you worried the drug dealers will come after you?” Her voice quivered with a stifled laugh.

Ginny shot her a scowl. “This isn’t funny, Olivia. This could be really serious.”

Stan laughed. “Not that serious. They left the door to the building open and a tarp loosely covering them. Whoever is running this stuff obviously isn’t a criminal mastermain..” He pressed the lid down on the mug. “So, no. I’m not worried.” He headed toward the back door again. “I won’t be home for dinner but if you could make me a plate, that’d be great. See you both later.” He pointed at Olivia. “Especially you. We need to talk.”

Olivia slumped back against her seat. “Yeah, I knew that was coming.”

Ginny raised her hand. “Stan, wait. Keith is back in town and wants to know if we’d like to go out to dinner with him.”

Stan paused in the backdoor doorway, stepped back, and peered around the door. “Keith?” His eyebrow quirked questioningly. “Your old boyfriend Keith?”

“Yes. He’s moved back and running his business from a cabin a few miles out of town. He invited us to dinner on Thursday.”

Stan stepped back into the kitchen, brow furrowed. “When did you run into him?”

At the grocery store, at an art class, and outside the library.

She decided to pick just one. “At the grocery store a few weeks ago. So, what should I tell him?”

Stan looked above her head for a moment, frowned, and then nodded. “Yeah. I should be able to make that. Where at?”

“Antonio’s in Clarkston.”

“Yeah. I’ve heard that place is great. Sure. I’ll probably have to meet you two there. I have a meeting at six. Shouldn’t take more than a half an hour.”

“He suggested 6:30. I can ask him if 6:45 is okay.”

Stan shifted the travel mug to his other hand, a stack of papers under his arm. “Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow as he walked through the doorway, then narrowed her eyes. Well, that was interesting. He’d been saying he was too busy for anything she suggested for months now. One mention of dinner with Keith and he could make it? What was that all about?

Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 16

Welcome to Fiction Friday where I post a chapter from my current work in progress. There are often typos, plot holes, etc. in these chapters that I will fix in the future before I self-publish the book.

To catch up with the story, click HERE.

Chapter 16

Keith slid his sunglasses back on as they stepped outside the community hall.  “Well, that was fun. I’ll have to try this again sometime.”

Ginny tossed her art bag into the passenger side of her car. “It was. I haven’t sketched a live model since college.”

Ginny looked across the parking lot for Liz as she closed the car door. She saw her driving out of the parking lot and raised her hand in a quick wave. Her brow furrowed when Liz kept driving, looking straight ahead.

“I hope everything is okay with Liz,” she said, watching the car turn out of the parking lot. She turned and watched Matt climb into his truck. Had something happened between them? She’d have to ask Liz later.

Keith straddled his motorcycle and zipped up the leather jacket. “Ginny, I’d love to get together with you and Stan for dinner sometime.”

Ginny turned away from watching Liz’s car to look at Keith, trying to picture him and Stan sitting next to each other at a table. The thought made her a little woozy. “Oh, that would be nice.”

Keith winked before he slid his helmet on. “I’ll give you a call and we can find a day that will work for all of us. Tell ole’ Stan I said, ‘hey’.”

Ginny nodded then watched him drive away before sliding behind the steering wheel and letting out the breath she realized she’d been holding. How would that go down? Telling Stan her ex-boyfriend sent his greetings? She hadn’t even told Stan that Keith was back in town. Then again, Stan didn’t seem to hear much she said these days so it probably wouldn’t matter.

It had been nice to see Keith and even nicer how he’d noticed her haircut and complimented her. She knew she shouldn’t have enjoyed the dimple in his cheek when he smiled at her or the jokes they’d shared during the class, but she had. It was the most — how could she explain it?

Noticed. That was the word.

It was the most noticed she’d felt in years.

Her phone rang as she pushed the key in the ignition.

“Sorry I didn’t say goodbye before I left.” Liz sounded tired. “I guess I was preoccupied.”

“I wondered what was going on. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just — yeah. It’s fine really.”

“Well, I tried to catch you before you left. I was wondering if you have time to stop by the house before you head home. I wanted to talk to you about a job idea.”

“Sure.” Liz sounded a little more cheerful now. “I have time.”

Ginny’s phone rang again as she pulled out onto the road. She tapped the speaker button.

“Hey, hon’. Just letting you know I won’t be home for dinner. I’m meeting Matt out at that property the commercial company is interested in.”

Ginny bit her tongue. How was this any different than any other day lately? “Okay.” She clipped the word out. She didn’t feel like saying much else.

“Talk later. I’m running into a dead zo—”

Ginny scowled at the phone and tossed it on to the seat next to her. Pulling into her drive a few moments later, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She really needed to pray about her attitude toward Stan. Having this much anger for one’s spouse wasn’t healthy or what God would want.

“Lord, help me calm down,” she whispered as she shut off the engine. “Or I might just smack him.”

She noticed the inside screen door was open as she walked up the front sidewalk and she knew she hadn’t left it open. Maybe it had been Stan.

Walking inside she glanced around the living room for anything out of the ordinary and all appeared well until she spotted a suitcase on the floor by the doorway leading to the dining room.

She recognized the black and brown case as the one they’d given Olivia when she’d left for college the year before.

Before she could call her daughter’s name, she heard the clink of glass against a countertop. She found Olivia in the kitchen pouring lemonade over ice in a tall glass.

“Olivia! What are you doing here?”

Olivia raised an eyebrow as she listed the glass. “Well, thanks, Mom. What a nice way to greet your daughter.”

Ginny embraced her youngest and stepped back. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie.” She took in Olivia’s blond hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, her heavy eyelids and make up free face. “I just wasn’t expecting you for a few more weeks. Is something wrong?” She didn’t need to ask really. She knew the answer.

Olivia sighed, sipping the lemonade. She shrugged a shoulder. “I just don’t fit in in California anymore, Mom.”

Ginny tipped her head slightly and looked at her daughter quizzically. “But you love California.”

Olivia shrugged her shoulder again. “Maybe not as much as I thought.”

Ginny tossed her bag onto the kitchen island and slipped easily into mom-mode, without realizing what she was doing. “Livvie, have you dropped out of school?”

Olivia opened her mouth to speak at the same moment Liz called from the front of the house.

“Ginny, are you here?”

Ginny kept her gaze on Olivia as she answered. “In the kitchen, hon’”

She didn’t miss the quirk of her daughter’s brow when she called Liz hon’.

Liz stepped into the kitchen with the car seat looped over one arm. Ginny took it from her and set it on the island in front of her. “Hello, little Bella. Did you have a good nap at our art class?”

She began unhooking the safety harness, anxious to hold the little one she’d come to love. “We were just at an art class. Bella’s mama and I have been taking art classes and today we had to sketch a live model.” She cradled Bella in her arms and smiled, delighted to see Bella trying to smile back. “Olivia, you know Liz.”

Oliva nodded. “Yeah. Hey, Liz. Nice to see you. I heard you had a baby. She’s beautiful.”

Ginny thought she heard slight tension in her daughter’s words, but she didn’t have the mentally energy to deduce the reason.

“How has California been?” Liz asked sliding onto a stool. “Your mom says you love it.”

Oliva sighed and reached for a cracker from a box open on the counter. “I think love is in past tense now. Honestly, I think I made the wrong decision.”

Liz winced. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

A brief silence settled over the room as Ginny continued to talk to Bella. Olivia munched on a cracker and Liz pretended to straighten the books sitting on the edge of the island.

Olivia cleared her throat. “Well, I don’t want to interrupt you two. I’m bushed from the trip anyhow. I’m going to head up and crash for a bit.”

“You don’t have to leave.” Ginny turned her attention away from the baby to Olivia. “I just wanted to talk to Liz about a job opportunity at the library.” She stretched one arm out to hug her daughter. “I’m so glad you’re home, Olivia. We can talk about everything else later, okay?”

Olivia nodded and walked toward the stairs, carrying her glass of lemonade. “I’m sure we will. I’d better rest up for this one. Where’s Dad?”

The muscles in Ginny’s face and neck tightened at the question and she hoped neither of the women noticed. “He’s looking at a property and then I’m sure he’ll be home.”

Oliva snorted on her way up the stairs. “Some things never change. That man is a workaholic.”

Ginny let out a slow breath and sat on a stool next to Liz. “That was certainly a surprise. I had no idea she was coming home. I’m happy to see her, but . . . Well, anyhow, you don’t need to hear about all that.” She winked at Liz. “I wanted to talk to you about a possible job at the library. It would only be part time for now, but we need someone for the childrens’ story hour. You’d help create programs for the story hour and other special events during the month and then fill in on Sara’s day off. What do you think?”

Liz made a face. “Oh gosh. I don’t know. I’m not good with children.”

Ginny laughed. “You’d better start practicing. You have one, you know.”

“Yeah, but she’s mine.” Liz laughed. “I just don’t like other people’s children.”

Ginny sat Bella back in the seat and walked to the cupboard for some tea. “At least think about it. It probably won’t be enough to support you and Bella, but it could help until you can find a full-time position.”

“I’ll definitely think about it. I really appreciate the offer.”

Ginny pulled out a box of tea and two mugs. “It will have to be approved by the board, of course, but they had already asked me to start putting out my feelers for someone. They asked about a month ago, but I got distracted with planning the fundraiser. That’s next weekend, if you want to come. It’s an afternoon tea and silent auction. Not the most adventurous event I’ve ever planned but I am still resisting the wine tastings they want me to do.”

She dropped tea bags into the mugs and filled the kettle. “The board thinks a wine tasting is a hip and progressive fundraiser, but they haven’t thought ahead to what can happen when some of the members of the community decide to do a little too much tasting, if you know what I mean.”

Liz sighed. “I definitely know what you mean.”

Ginny bit her lower lip, mentally chiding herself for bringing up the topic of drinking. Liz had already mentioned to her that alcohol had been a vice for her when she’d been living with Gabe. Time to change the subject. “So, everything okay with you and Matt?”

Her back was to Liz, but she desperately wanted to turn around and gauge Liz’s expression when she asked that question.

“Yeah. It’s fine.”

Ginny knew that defensive tactic well.

It’s fine. Code words for, “Things are not fine.”

She turned and slid a plate of cookies toward Liz. “You seemed upset when you left today. Are you sure things are fine?”

Liz took a bite out of a cookie and chewed slowly, her gaze focused on the window over the kitchen sink. It took a few seconds for her to answer. “Matt’s as nice as can be and I guess that’s the problem right now. He seems nice but he lied to me about something, and it’s really been bothering me. I just haven’t had a lot of time to figure out how to address it since I started classes.”

Ginny sat back on the stool while she waited for the water to boil. “What did he lie about?”

Liz glanced at her then at the stack of books in front of her. She hesitated a few seconds before speaking. “He never told me he was the responding officer that night in my apartment.”

Ginny’s eyes widened as she realized she was the one who had spilled those beans. “Oh, Liz. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I would have found out eventually. What bothers me is that Matt never told me. He let me believe another officer had responded. I mean, I should have guessed. Spencer only has six officers and Matt works the night shift a lot. The odds that he would be there were pretty good.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching Bella kick her feet and smile. “I didn’t have just have a fall that night. I know it’s what a lot of people think, but it wasn’t a normal medical emergency.”

She bit her lower lip, her eyes glistening. Ginny’s chest constricted. She’d known there was more to Liz’s story, but she’d never wanted to ask. The pain etched on Liz’s face was evident and while Ginny felt honored that Liz wanted to share the truth with her, she also wanted to blurt out that Liz shouldn’t feel the need to confess anything, that whatever happened that night wasn’t as important as how Liz was trying to live her life now.

“I tried to kill myself.”

Even though Ginny had already started to fill in the blanks, it didn’t make hearing the words any easier. She decided to not be a mother and pepper Liz with questions or pull her into an embrace, instead letting her share as much or as little as she wanted.

“I took five pregnancy tests. I couldn’t believe it. I thought about all I had done in the last year and a half that had gone against who I was, how disgusted in me that my parents already were, how disgusted I was in myself. I panicked.” Tears slipped from the corners of Liz’s eyes, rolling down her cheeks. “I just wanted to make it all stop. The shame. The voices in my head telling me I was horrible, and I’d always be horrible. I knew I couldn’t have a baby. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I took a handful of the painkillers I’d had left over from my knee surgery and waited to fall asleep, but within seconds of swallowing them I was panicking again.”

She let out a shaky breath and looked at Ginny. “I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want the innocent life inside of me destroyed. I tried to throw the pills up while I called 911. I threw up some but not enough and I was already blacking out when I heard pounding on the door.”

She closed her eyes and gasped in a breath. “I’m so ashamed Ginny. I’ve never told anyone else what happened that night. I lied to my parents, to Molly and to Matt and after awhile I even started to believe the lie myself. I’ve tried to pretend that I didn’t do any of that, but I can’t pretend anymore. It’s all unraveling and what I don’t understand is why Matt keeps sticking around. I’m messed up. He knows that. Maybe he just pities me.”

Ginny shook her head. “No. I don’t believe that. He cares about you, Liz. We all do. I’m so sorry you’ve held on to this for so long.”

Liz wiped at the tears on her cheeks and then accepted the tissue Ginny handed her and blew her nose.

The whistle of the kettle brought Ginny back to her feet. She pulled the kettle from the burner and poured the water in the waiting mugs. “The way you need to think about it is that Matt knows all these things about you, yet he still cares for you. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s kind of like how God cares about us despite our failings.”

Liz narrowed her eyes, a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “Ginny Jefferies, did you just compare Matt McGee to God? Seriously?” She laughed through her tears. “I mean, I know half the town thinks he’s a saint, but come on. Let’s not push it.”

Ginny laughed loudly, her hand against her chest. “Oh no. I didn’t even realize how that sounded. No, of course I am not comparing Matt to God. Matt is a man. He’s not perfect and he was wrong to lie to you about that night, but Liz.” She leaned forward and covered Liz’s hand with hers. “You need to talk to him about it. I’m sure he had a good reason. He loves you. You may not believe it, but I can see it. He loves you and if he doesn’t tell you soon, I’m going to kick him in his behind as motivation.”

Liz mocked gasped. “Ginny! I thought you were a sweet Christian woman and here you are talking about kicking people in the butt.”

Ginny winked. “Well, sometimes even sweet Christian women reach their limits.”

Liz shook her head and laughed softly. “Matt and I are friends, Ginny. That’s all. He’s a good friend. He’s been there for me when I’ve needed him the most and that’s why it bothers me so much that he was there that night and didn’t say anything. It’s just yet another humiliating experience of mine he’s witnessed.”

Ginny smiled as she watched Liz blow her nose again and accept another tissue to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Someday this young lady was going to wake up and realize what she had right in front of her and Ginny hoped it didn’t take years for it to happen.

Dropping a spoonful of honey in her tea, Ginny stirred it slowly and thought about how she’d reached her limit with more than just Matt McGee not admitting his feelings for Liz. She knew she should practice what she’d preached to Liz and tell Stan how she was feeling. Unfortunately, Stan hadn’t been very open to conversations lately and telling him how she felt might have to be done during a full-on blow-out argument at this point.

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 14 Part One

To catch up with the rest of this fiction story click HERE.

I will not have a post for Christmas Eve, partially because I don’t have the second part of the chapter finished.

Chapter 14

The run had felt good. Had long had it been since she’d gone on a run?

Liz didn’t even know but now that she had this whole blood sugar and fluid intake while breastfeeding thing figured out, or mostly figured out, she felt like she could start exercising again. Thankfully she’d only run out of energy a small distance from the apartment and had been able to make it back without having to call Molly for a ride.

Now, standing in the shower, the water pouring down her, she tried to chase away of the chill autumn morning. She didn’t have long to do it, though. It was her first day back at work and her mom, unfortunately, was on her way over to watch Bella. Rubbing the shampoo into her hair, she thought about a show she’d watched the day before.

The woman being interviewed by a counselor was dealing with panic attacks, much like Liz still was from time to time.

“What’s one happy memory you’ve had in the last year or so?” the counselor had asked the woman. “A child being born? An event you attended maybe? I want you to focus on that memory when you start to panic. I want you to take yourself back to that moment, or one moment, and visually walk yourself through the moment that brings you joy, as if you are experiencing it again through your mind.”

Liz started to think about her own good memories, specifically those over the last year. Yes, Bella’s birth was one, but when she thought of one of the last times she could remember really laughing Liz had found herself mentally catapulted back to a night of bowling with Matt three months before her encounter with Gabe.

She’d only been bowling a couple of times before and it showed. Matt finally asked if she’d like the bumper rails up so the ball would stop going into the gutter.

“No! I’ll get it!”

She’d scolded him but she was laughing so hard tears were in her eyes.

On one try she almost flew with the ball across the slippery floor and Matt had had to catch her, holding her up against his side to keep her from going with the ball. They’d both been laughing so hard they’d almost fallen again and when she looked up at him, she’d been mesmerized by his smile and the sparkle in his eyes. She’d had a brief thought, which she’d pushed aside quickly. The thought that she wished she’d gotten to know Matt better, before she’d become involved with Gabe.

Gabe who she’d known wasn’t good for her but who paid her attention when others didn’t. A man who half the women in town thought was “hot, dangerous, and a total catch.” She’d thought the same at first and that’s probably why it had taken her so long to admit their relationship was on a fast track to nowhere. That and he was controlling, manipulative, and seemed to have only started dating her because he saw her as someone he could practice all those attributes on.

Worse than all of that was that she had let him control and manipulate her. He’d manipulated her through his words, his touch, the way he’d told her she turned him on the way no one else had before. If that was true then he shouldn’t have needed those other women, the ones who hung around him at parties and laughed at his jokes or the one she found him making out with in their friend’s bathroom during a party. He’d claimed she’d been kissing him, and he’d been trying to push her away.

Liz hadn’t believed him but, well, he’d been drinking. He’d messed up and he still cared about her so maybe he’d straighten up and stop drinking as much now. He’d promised he would and for a month he had. They’d spent their evenings at home watching movies, going to the gym together, and sometimes going for walks together.

Then she’d reached in the couch one night looking for the remote and there it had been. A pink bra with red flowers splattered all over it. A bra much less practical than what she usually wore, something he’d often commented on, in fact. She’d stared at it a few seconds before registering that one, it wasn’t her bra, and two, it had been shoved in her couch. The one she’d picked out at the local furniture store. She’d jumped up from the couch and stared at it in horror.

Could it had been left over from one of their parties? No. She’d never had enough to drink that she would have forgotten someone doing that on their couch.

She knew.

She’d known for a long time.

What was she doing? Living this way? After all the talks she’d given Molly about being good enough, about being worth more than she thought. Now she needed to give herself the talk.

She didn’t even wait for Gabe to come home. She’d called Molly, packed her bags, and finally walked away, into a new future.

Or so she thought.

She shut off the shower and reached for a towel, thinking about how Matt had been with her each step of her pregnancy. Telling him she was pregnant in the first place had been beyond awkward. She’d told him when he’d called to ask her to the movies.

“McGee, listen. I don’t know if anyone told you, but,” she’d swallowed hard and taken a deep breath. She knew this would be the end of his phone calls. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh. I didn’t think you and Gabe —”

“We aren’t together anymore. I —” she’d wanted to say she’d messed up, but she really didn’t want to hash all that out with the man she’d fallen for but knew was out of her league.

She’d thought that would be the end of it. He’d stop calling, stop coming over to hang out with her and Molly and Alex. He’d make himself scarce.

But he didn’t. Instead, he’d asked her if she needed a ride to the doctors the day her car had broken down. He had driven her to her next four appointments, but he wouldn’t have had to if Bert Tanner had worked a little quicker to fix her car.

After the doctor’s appointments, Matt had invited her to lunch, asked if she’d be at the apartment when they held movie nights, and asked if she would like to go to fishing with him.

They weren’t an actual couple, yet he’d been there for many important moments in the last year; a little too much there the day of Bella’s birth.

And now she knew he’d even been there at her apartment that night. Had he known then that she was pregnant?

She wrapped the towel around her hair and dressed in the t-shirt and shorts she’d worn to bed. Once again, she’d forgot to bring her new change of clothes with her.

 Heading toward her bedroom to find the clothes she planned to wear to her first day back at work, a knock at the door stopped her, but she hesitated.

She was wearing a towel around her head and no bra. She bit her bottom lip and took a chance. She didn’t have to open the door all the way.

“Hey.”

Matt smiled from the small space between the door and the door frame. Sunlight caught the glint of golden in his eyes

“Hey,” she said back.

“Can I come in?”

The man who had lied to her about knowing about her suicide attempt wanted to come in? The man she’d tried to call two days earlier but had been somewhere they couldn’t talk and then hadn’t even bothered to call her back? Not that a phone call was the best way to talk about it anyhow. “No. I just got out of the shower.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest. He was in uniform, apparently on his way to the office. “Um, Liz. You do know that I delivered your baby so I —”

“Seriously, McGee?”

He grinned. “I’m just saying that there is no need to be modest at this point.”

She rolled her eyes as she flung the door open and walked into the living room area.

“I wish you wouldn’t bring that up. It’s really embarrassing for me.”

His tone had softened but she still didn’t turn to look at him as she tipped her head forward and tightened the towel on her head. “Liz, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep picking on you about that. Listen, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t actually focused on anything other than Bella that day. I really didn’t see anything. I mean, you know, I just caught her and didn’t —we covered you with my coat so I really only reached in and caught her.”

Liz sighed. “I know. You’ve said this before. It’s still just awkward for me.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” He paused as she dropped a couple pieces of bread in the toaster. “Anyhow, I brought you something.”

She turned and he was holding a small bottle toward her. “What’s this?”

“It’s for your anxiety.”

Her eyes narrowed. “My what?”

“Your postpartum anxiety. It might help some and it should be safe to take while nursing. It’s CBD oil.”

“What makes you think —”

“You get the same look my sister used to get when she was battling panic attacks after she had her second. They came out of nowhere, most of the time for no reason. It was a physical reaction too, not in her head. She tried to hide them, but she had one at church one day and couldn’t slow her breathing. She almost passed out. All the ladies at church meant well and kept reciting Philippians 4:7, telling her to be anxious for nothing. They didn’t seem to understand her hormones were trying to regulate and triggering the attacks. That might be what’s happening with you. I don’t know but it can’t hurt to try and see if it helps.”

How did he do it? How did he see through her so easily?

Could he see inside her now? Did he know how upset she was that he didn’t tell her he’d been there that night?

She took the bottle slowly. “Thank you.”

She set the bottle on the counter and buttered her toast, her back to him.  “Is something wrong?” he asked. “You seem tense this morning.”

“I’m fine. Just nervous about my first day back.”

“Your mom is watching Bella?”

“Sadly, yes.”

He stepped in front of her as she reached for the refrigerator door. “You’ll do fine, you know.”

She looked up at him and his green eyes met hers. They swam with concern and she knew she should tell him what she was really upset about, but she couldn’t. She had to get dressed and go to work. She didn’t have time to hash out what he’d witnessed that night in her apartment.

She swallowed hard. “Thank you for the CBD oil.”

He nodded, breaking his gaze with her. “You’re welcome. You can ask Linda more about it at the store. I’m sure she knows all about it.” Pink flushed across his cheeks as he stepped back to the other side of the table. “Or, well, you probably already know about it after working there for the last three years.”

She wanted to giggle at how shy he suddenly seemed, but she was also still angry at him. The waring emotions in her made her want to run away but luckily a knock on the door interrupted them and she stepped out of the kitchen to answer it.

Marge swept past her as soon as she opened the door. “Sorry I’m late. I had to stop at the church and pick up some books for the ladies group tonight. We’re starting a new series.” She pulled her jacket off and turned to hang it on one of the pegs next to the door, pausing when she saw Matt.

“Oh.” She smiled, looking over her shoulder at him as she hung her coat up. “Hello, Matt.”

He nodded. “Hello, Mrs. — I mean, Marge.”

Liz didn’t even want to know what her mother was thinking at that moment. This was the first time they’d all been in the same room since her mom and her had had their blow up about the birth announcement.

Marge and Matt looked at each other for a few moments and Liz silently prayed neither of them would broach the elephant in the room. Finally Matt broke the stand off by clearing his throat.

“Welp, have to get to work, so you ladies have a good day.”

“You too,” Liz said. Please hurry and leave.

Marge drew in a breath and Liz tensed. “Matt, wait, I—” She let out a slow breath and looked at the floor. “Matt, I think, I mean I’m wondering if you told the people at the hospital you were Bella’s father to protect Liz and Bella.”

Matt stood with his hand on the doorknob and nodded, looking directly at Marge as she raised her gaze again. “Yes, ma’am, that’s what I was doing. It wasn’t really well thought out, I realize that, but the nurse already thought I was the father, so it wasn’t much of a jump. I did ask her to keep it out of the paper, but she must have forgotten. I apologize if this has caused any difficulties for your family.”

Marge sighed. “It hasn’t caused anything difficult for us, it’s you I’m worried about Matt. What others might think of you. What the people at church are thinking.”

Matt laughed. “I’m not worried about that Marge.” His expression became serious again and his gaze drifted to Liz. “Liz and Bella are more important to me than all of that.”

Liz swallowed hard and she felt like instead of only being braless she was standing naked in her kitchen with Matt and her mom both looking at her, as if waiting for a response. She couldn’t respond, though. She didn’t know what to say. He’d never said anything so blunt to her before and she was having a hard time wrapping her mind around it.

“Anyhow,” he said before she had a chance to respond. “Off to work. You ladies have a good day.”

Liz turned toward her bedroom as soon as he closed the door behind him. She was not having a conversation with her mom about this right now. “I’m going to go get dressed.”

She filled her time before walking out the door filling her mom in on where the bottles of breastmilk were, how to warm them, and where the extra diapers were, not giving her a chance to broach the topic of Matt.

“Bye, Mom.” She rushed for the door. “Thanks again.”

“Good luck, honey!” her mom called after her.

In the car Liz gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. She needed to focus on her first day back at work, not on Matt McGee.

Why had he said it that way? That she and Bella were more important to him than what people thought of him? And in front of her mom.

She growled in frustration as she turned the car toward the health food store, anxious to get her first day out of the way.

Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 13

I shared Chapter 12 yesterday. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 13

Cold nipped at Matt’s nose and slipped down the back of his throat, tickling it, and leaving him coughing into his hand.

Jason nudged him in the ribs on his way past. “You sick? I don’t like hunting with sick people.”

In front of them, their breath mingled in white wisps, reminding them both that they were well into autumn and winter would be here soon.

Matt shot Jason a look. “I’m not sick. My body’s just not ready for it to be this cold yet.”

Jason paused at the top of the hill and looked down into the leaf-covered gully, catching his breath. “Have faith, we live in Pennsylvania. It will be warm again by next week and then cold again and then warm and then finally we will be plunged into a frozen hell for the next three months.”

Matt laughed. “True.”

Leaves crunched under their feet and Matt dodged a fall tree limb, peering into the trees, searching for the deer he’d shot but had taken off 15 minutes earlier.

“Hey, Matt, been meaning to ask you about something,” Jason shifted his gun on his shoulder.

“The birth announcement?”

Jason nodded. “Yep.”

“You want to know if I’m really the father.”

“I know you’re not. Gabe’s the father. Everyone knows that.”

Matt shrugged. “Not everyone. Just everyone close to the situation.”

“So . . . did she or you tell them you were the father?”

Matt paused and opened his thermos, sipping the coffee he’d made a few hours earlier. “I did. She wasn’t very happy about it. She told me to tell the nurse not to put it in the newspaper and I did but I guess there was some sort of miscommunication.”

Jason whistled. “Wow. That was quite a bold move on your part. What were you thinking?”

“That I didn’t want Liz and Bella connected to Gabe anymore than they already were,” Matt said with a sigh, screwing the lid back on the thermos.

“What did your mom say?

“She’s supportive. Luckily, I caught her before she saw the paper or anyone told her. Thank God for her being so busy with baking that week. I didn’t totally think it through, of course. Pastor Taylor asked me to step down from leading the teen boys, but the timing worked since I’ll be gone in a few more weeks.”

Jason cocked an eyebrow as he zipped his coat up under his neck. “He seriously asked you to step down?”

Matt started walking again. “He didn’t want to, but the parents were a little bothered by their boys being taught the Bible by a man who fathered a child out of wedlock.”

Jason nodded as she followed him. “I guess I can understand that but if they knew the situation —”

“If they knew the situation then they’d know more than they have any business knowing.”

They walked a few more feet in silence.

“What does that mean legally?” Jason asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you’re legally listed as her dad does that mean you are financially responsible for her?”

“I don’t think so, but if Liz ever needed help, I would. She’s pretty independent, though. I doubt she’d let me.”

Jason pointed down into a gully in front of them. “There it is. Looks like you got it after all.”

The men made their way down the embankment to the carcass of an eight-point buck. There had been a moment when it disappeared from sight that Matt had thought maybe he hadn’t killed it after all, and it was staggering through the woods injured.

He enjoyed hunting, but he was less of a fan if he injured an animal and then had to shoot it again to put it out of its misery. If he did hunt, he didn’t do it for sport. He’d clean and dress the animal and take him to the local butcher and use the meat for the rest of the winter, maybe even into the spring. The one benefit of living as a bachelor was that he could cook the same meal over and over again.

Matt knelt next to the animal and drew his knife. “Too bad he rolled down here. It won’t be fun carrying him out.”

Jason lifted his arms and flexed his arm. “Leave that to me, puny man,” he said in a thick European accent. “I can carry your haul for you. When you’re done, you go on ahead and get the ATV and I’ll meet you at the access road.”

Matt leaned back on his heels and quirked an eyebrow. “Puny man? Really? Just because your muscles are as big as my head doesn’t mean I am a puny man, Tanner. I’m perfectly capable of carrying my deer to the access road. Plus, let me point out that I got a deer today and you didn’t, remember?”

Jason laughed.  “Hey, come on. It’s barely nine in the morning. I don’t have to be back at the farm for a couple more hours. I still have time.” He leaned over and poked Matt’s bicep. “But you, little man, don’t have time to build up muscle before we need to carry this deer out.” He laughed again as he swung his gun onto his shoulder. “Seriously, I’ll head down for the ATV. It will take me a while to hike down and by then you should have this dressed and carried down.”

Jason was right, of course. He was more muscular. Having played football in high school and college, plus lugging heavy hay bales and farm equipment around every day, Jason did have a lot more upper body strength than Matt and almost anyone Matt knew.

And, well, Matt hadn’t exactly been trying to build bulk while training for the academy. Yes, he had been trying to get into better shape by running down the dirt road circle that led him three miles from the cabin and then back again, but, no, he hadn’t been working out at a gym almost daily like Jason did.

Jason had even convinced Alex to go with him to the gym at least three times a week.

Alex. The man who for years had scoffed at his friends at the mere mention of an exercise routine. Matt would guess that his dating Jason’s sister had changed his mind about working out, especially after Molly’s ex-boyfriend had shown up in town looking well-toned and charming.

“Before I go, I’m just curious,” Jason said. “Are you doing all this because you love Liz?”

Matt worked on the deer as he looked up at his friend. “Liz and I are —”

Jason scoffed. “Don’t tell me you and Liz are just friends, McGee. I see the way you look at her. You’ve been there for her every step of the way through this pregnancy, even though the baby wasn’t yours, and let’s be honest. Very honest. You’ve liked Liz since high school. You might be friends but I have a feeling at least one of you wants there to be more.”

Matt looked back at the deer, grinning. “Don’t you have an ATV to go get?”

Jason laughed as he turned to walk back up the hill. “Looks like someone can’t handle the truth today.”

Matt stood with the deer across his shoulders 20-minutes after Jason left, hooking his arms over the deer to hold it in place. He’d thought about what Jason had said the entire time he’d been dressing the deer and he knew Jason was right. Matt did want something more with Liz, but he was also content to be her friend right now. It was what she needed most of all.

Holding it in this position with a gun strapped to his back, he laughed at the thought of how ridiculous he probably looked, despite feeling slightly manly walking through the woods with his catch for the day sprawled across his shoulders. Now to remember which direction the access road was. Jason was more familiar with this section of the woods. His family had owned part of it for years and while Matt had hunted here with him off and on for the past 15 years, he still got turned around more often than not.

Walking up the gully to the hilltop opposite of how he’d come down, he looked through what felt like miles and miles of maple and ash trees but nothing else. He was fairly certain the access road was due east so he headed that way. When his phone rang ten minutes later he ignored it at first, but then when it stopped and then started again, stopped and started again, he worried it might be an emergency.

Laying the deer down wasn’t an easy feat but once the carcass was lying in the leaves, he zipped his camouflage jacket open and reached for his phone in the inside pocket of his coveralls.

“Matt. Where are you?” The voice sounded far away.

“Liz? Anything wrong?”

“McGee, I wanted to ask you the other  . .  didn’t you tell me . . .*static*”

He plugged a finger in his ear as if that would help improve the service on a wooded hill in the middle of nowhere. “Tell you what?”

Static. “. . .apartment . . .”

“Liz, you’re breaking up. Is something going on at the apartment?”

“No! We’re fine. I’m talking about . . .” Static. Why didn’t you tell me?”

The line went dead, and he looked at his phone screen, bewildered. Call lost.

Tell her what?

He walked a few feet forward and tried to call her back. No service. He moved a few steps back. Still no service. Great.

What was that all about? Should he go back down the hill and try to call her again? He shrugged.

She said everything was fine. He’d call her when he got back to the cabin. He needed to get this deer out and hung before the meat went bad.

Sliding the phone back into his inside pocket, he looked through the rows of trees and squinted. A rooftop peeked through the tree line, something he’d never seen before walking up here. He looked around and then leaned forward on his knees, looking lower. He saw what looked like junk cars scattered among the leaves. He leaned back up and after a few minutes of thinking realized he’d walked a little more south than east because he was looking at Bunky Taylor’s abandoned junkyard. Bunky had died a year ago and no one had been up to clean the site up, mainly because no one in his family knew exactly how to dispose of all the junk cars Bunky had collected in the 40 years he’d owned the junkyard and mechanic business.

The access road was a little further up more to the east. It wouldn’t hurt to take a shortcut through the junkyard, see how much it had grown over since it had been abandoned. He slung the deer back over his shoulder and headed down through the wooded area where he was able to get a better view of the junkyard and Bunky’s old house, a ranch home built on top of stilts with a makeshift carport built with two-by-fours and metal sheeting. The roof of the house was sagging in some places, red shutters askew on some of the windows, dark brown staining the gray siding.

A puff of smoke from the chimney drew his attention and he paused before walking down the hill through the vehicles, noting tools laying in the leaves next to one or two of them. It looked like someone might be living here after all.

He dropped the deer in a grassy area next to the dirt parking lot, located in front of the house. A swing set installed next to the house and a tricycle and other children’s toys scattered across the front lawn alerted him to the realization that a family must be living in the home, despite its dilapidated appearance.

“Can I help you?”

He turned to his right abruptly, startled by the voice. He was even more startled at the sight of a man walking from a crude shed practically hidden from view by two vintage rusted Chevy trucks and the limbs of a large oak tree that rose up from the middle of the junkyard and cast shadows like the spindly fingers of a wisped specter. The man wore a pair of gray coveralls smudged with oil and dirt, dark brown work boots obviously well worn, and was unshaven with black grease smeared on his cheek and forehead.

Although his hair was short in the back, strands of dirty blond hair hung down across his forehead and eyes. His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed when he saw Matt and Matt didn’t have to guess why.

“Bernie. Hey. I didn’t know you were living here.”

Bernie kept his eyes on Matt while he continued to wipe his hands on the rag. He chewed on the inside of his lower lip for a few minutes, as if trying to decide how he wanted to answer.

“Moved in about six months ago. Rentin’ it from Bunky’s son.”

The tension in his response was evident, but why wouldn’t it be? Bernie had been released from jail about eight months ago and Matt was the cop who put him there. It wasn’t as if Matt expected the man to walk up and shake his hand.

Bernie tipped his head up slightly, jerking his chin toward the deer carcass laying in his yard. “Out huntin’?”

Matt nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Yep. Bagged an eight-point. Supposed to meet Jason Tanner at the access road to the Shaffer’s property up the road away but got off course.”

Bernie smirked. “Guess you didn’t learn how to read a compass at that police academy.”

Matt didn’t hear the contempt in the comment that he expected he would. He laughed and Bernie smiled, revealing a few missing teeth on the bottom front row. Matt was about to excuse himself when he heard the squeak of the front door of the house and saw movement out of the corner of his eye. A small girl, maybe 7 or 8, darted down the paint-chipped steps with a boy of about 5 following behind. The pair ran to Bernie and tossed their arms around him the girl holding on to his waist, the boy to his leg, just above the knee.

“Hey, there.” Bernie ruffled the girl’s hair. “What you out here for?”

“Mom said to tell you breakfast is ready,” the girl answered, looking first at her father and then turning her attention to Matt, wide blue eyes boring into him.

“Did you come to take my daddy back to jail?”

The words hit Matt full force in the chest. She said them without emotion, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone found more often in an adult than such a young child. He wondered how she knew who he was and if he should be worried Bernie’s young daughter knew he was the man who had arrested her father.

Matt decided to be just as blunt. “No, ma’am. I was just hunting in the woods today and came here by accident. What’s your name?”

“Marlie and this is my brother Jerry.” Her direct tone and gaze unnerved him, but he had a feeling she’d had to learn to be tough in her short life and that thought unnerved him even more.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

He looked back at Bernie thought about how Reggie had asked about keeping an eye on him and hoped he wouldn’t have to. He hoped Bernie had turned his life around if not for his own sake, then for the sake of his children.

As if reading his mind Bernie laid a hand on the top of his son’s head and cleared his throat. “I’ve kept myself clean, McGee. If you’re here to try to get dirt on me, you’re going to be disappointed.”

Matt held a hand up and shook his head. “Bernie, I assure you that I had no idea you were living here. What I told you about hunting and getting off track is the truth.”

Bernie nodded, frowned, and looked at the ground. “Okay then. I believe you. You’re not one for lying. Never were.” He chuckled, revealing his missing teeth again. “If you had been then I might not have been in jail for those six months.” He spit at the ground, shrugged a shoulder. “But, I deserved it. I know that. I got myself messed up with the wrong crowd. I have a talent for doing that, I guess.”

Matt knew it also didn’t help he’d been raised in the wrong crowd.

“I didn’t like arresting you, Bern. I hope you know that. There are very few people police actually enjoy arresting.”

Bernie ran a hand gently down his daughter’s, white-blond hair and tipped his head toward the yard, and looked down at her. “Why don’t you and Jerry go play a while, k?”

After the kids darted across the yard and back into the house, Bernie looked at Matt. “Sure did suck when you busted me, but maybe it was what I needed, you know? A wake-up call. Gotta hit rock bottom to come back up, right? I’m starting a junkyard and car business, turning over a new leaf, starting over. For the sake of Chrissy and the kids.”

Chrissy. That’s right. Matt remembered Bernie had married Chrissy Trenton from high school, another person who’d had a hard life.

“Glad to hear that, Bern. I wish you luck. I really do.”

Bernie nodded. “Thanks, McGee. I appreciate that.” He nodded toward the deer. “You better go meet Tanner. Don’t want that meat tainted.”

Matt turned and head back toward the dirt road next to the junkyard. He hoped Bernie was telling the truth and that he’d really turned his life around. Maybe the state police were wrong about Bernie. Maybe he wasn’t running a meth ring. From the quick glances he’d given around the property while walking into and out of it, Matt hadn’t seen anything that would toss a red flag up for him in relation to drugs, but he knew that the shed could have been one place to hide it.

Lord, please don’t let there be anything there. I don’t like the idea of taking a father away from his children.

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 12

Just a couple of notes: I wrote this chapter and several others after it before I got sick with Covid so if it doesn’t make sense, it was simply my normal brain fog. I also tentatively changed the name of the book from The Next Chapter to A New Chapter. We will see if I stick with that. What do all of you think? Don’t care? I wouldn’t blame you. Let me know in the comments.

For anyone new, these chapters are part of a book in progress so there are typos and errors and plot holes that I fix before I self-publish the book later down the road. Or hopefully, I fix them and don’t upload the wrong file like I did for a couple previous books. Argh! Anyhow, moving right along to chapter 12.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 12

Ginny looked at the dress and blouse Liz had lain on the bed and pondered it for a few moments. She turned to her closet and pulled out a blue dress and then a maroon one. The blue dress was sleeveless, like the black one. The maroon one featured short, puffed sleeves, which had never looked good on her. She eliminated it from her selection and looked between the black and blue dress.

Liz was probably right about the black dress. It would look nice with the white blouse pulled over it.

The problem was, Stan had seen her in all of these dresses. She worn the black one for last year’s banquet. She shouldn’t wear it two years in a row, should she? She could wear the white blouse with that blue skirt with all those funky swirling patterns on it. It had been a gift from Olivia. She hadn’t been brave enough to wear it yet.

She bit her lower lip and studied the skirt then slipped it on. It fell down to her shins, perfect to wear with those brown suede boots she’d picked up at the consignment shop at the beginning of summer.

She tried the boots on and pulled on the blouse then stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of the door.

Huh. Not too shabby.

She turned to the side and her gaze fell on her belly. It was slightly less pronounced than the last time she looked, but she would still need another few bike sessions before it went all the way away.

She thought about what Liz had said earlier. “Just wait until Stan sees you. He won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

Ginny’s chest tightened. Wouldn’t he, though? He was certainly able to keep his hands off her a lot these days. She couldn’t even remember the last time he’d hugged her, let alone held her in his arms.

The engine of Stan’s car rumbled in the driveway and she took a deep breath and reached for the necklace she’d laid out on the dresser. She needed to hurry. Stan loved to be early to these banquets.

She had already pulled out the suit he like to wear, along with the white shirt, blue tie and matching cuff links.

She looked at her earrings in the mirror, leaned back and took a deep breath. The outfit wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. She was out of time.

She descended the stairs and found Stan loosening his tie in the living room, looking down at an opened newspaper on the coffee table. “Hey, hon. I’ve only got a few minutes. I’ve got to head up and get dressed.”

“I set everything out for you,” she said, stepping off the bottom step.

He slid the tie he’d been wearing all the way off and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his dress shirt. “Thanks.” He turned and started to walk toward the stairs then stopped. His brow furrowed and he frowned. “What are you all dressed up for? You have another night out with Liz? It isn’t time for the fundraiser yet is it? I thought that was in a couple of weeks.”

Her chest constricted. Was he joking? If so then that would be a departure from his recent demeanor. “What do you mean why am I dressed up. Your banquet is tonight, right.”

Stan was still frowning. He shrugged a shoulder. “Well, yeah, but you told me a few weeks ago you hate these things. I gave your ticket to Frank. He had a date he wanted to bring.”

She tossed the small black purse she’d planned to take on the recliner next to the couch and turned away from him, her hands on her hips. Her lower lip quivered, and tears stung her eyes but she wasn’t going to let him see she was upset. It wouldn’t matter anyhow. He’d probably call her too sensitive or remind her she was “going through the change and that makes everything seem worse than it is.”

“You don’t mind, right?” He walked toward the stairs.

She drew in a shaky breath and tried to keep her tone calm. “No. I guess not. It’s just that I go with you every year and —.”

He was half way up the stairs. “Yeah, but you’ve been so busy this year with the library and the fall fund raiser and now helping Liz. I talked about it with you the other day, remember?

“No,” she mumbled as the bedroom door closed upstairs. “No. I do not remember.”

She sat on the couch, smoothing the skirt down over her knees. Maybe he had talked to her about it. Maybe she’d been texting Sarah about the fund raiser at the same time. Maybe Olivia had called with another California Crisis while he was talking or maybe it was the day Clint had called to say they’d be moving back out in about a month now instead of the two months he’d thought it would be.

She bit her bottom lip and swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye. It was just a banquet and she did hate them. They went on for every with every real estate agent who every walked and breathed in a three-county area taking the podium to update the attendees about every single accomplishment they’d had that year. Then there was Stan, accepting his award, thanking her and while he’d once meant it and they’d once been like a team, that wasn’t true anymore.

His appreciation of her wouldn’t be sincere this time. They barely knew each other these days. He’d be putting on an act at that podium, just like she was putting on an act now. She pulled her shoulders back, straightened her back as she heard the bedroom door open. Time to pretend she was fine with this. Time to pretend she didn’t care. Time to be a grown up and realize her life was changing.

She and Stan weren’t the people they used to be. Not every marriage was like Robert and Annie Tanner’s, close and romantic even 30-years later.

Some people just slowly grew apart and that’s what was happening with her and Stan. She’d never consider divorce, of course, but it was time to accept that their future years would most likely be lived mainly apart.y apart.

Their romantic moments had happened, and been wonderful, but that part of their life was over.

She barely noticed as he leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Hey. You’re okay, right?”

She nodded and stood quickly, heading toward the kitchen, and tightening her jaw with resolve. “Of course I am.”

“Good and listen don’t worry about me. I know you support me. I appreciate that.” He pulled on his suit coat and reached for his keys. “Plus, don’t you have stuff you wanted to do before Tiffany and Clint come back? And what about Olivia, did she ever make up her mind about coming home?”

Ginny pulled a mug for her tea out of the cupboard by the fridge. “Hmm? Oh yes. She said she’s going to stay out there until Christmas break.”

He reached for his jacket and slid the keys into his pocket, walking toward the front door. “Good. That’s settled then. Okay, I’ve got to head out. There’s an abandoned warehouse out on highway 10 that Jake Landsdale wants me to look and I’m going to check it out before the banquet. We’re trying to track down the owners because there’s a huge commercial firm that is interested in the property. I’ve heard they might build a distribution center there. It would mean a lot of jobs for the area. I’ll call you on my way home and let you know how I did, okay?”

“Yeah,” she said at the already closed door. “Okay.”

She sat at the table and swallowed her emotion with a sip of tea. He hadn’t even noticed her hair, she realized as she propped her chin in her hand and her elbow on the table. She laughed softly, her eyes burning with unshed tears. Her prediction had come true. She had told herself he wouldn’t even notice, and he didn’t.

***

Stan turned his car toward Paskey Road at the bidding of his GPS, Ginny’s expression when he’d left the house still in his mind.

Well, that was weird.

Ginny hated these real estate banquets. Why had she seemed so annoyed that he had given her ticket away? He thought she’d be happy. Now she could stay home and read a book or bake or whatever else she did when he wasn’t home.

“Turn left onto Anderson Road.” The woman’s voice on the GPS was warm, soothing.

Ginny’s voice had once been warm and soothing. Now she just rambled about night sweats, the library, art classes, every single crisis their kids had going on, and most recently about Liz Cranmer. He scoffed, shook his head as he turned the car left. There was a development he hadn’t expected — her forming some kind of connection with their daughter-in-law’s younger, somewhat troubled sister.

He felt guilty calling Liz troubled. Just because she’d tried to kill herself last year didn’t mean he should be placing a label on her. Still, she was a bit, well, troubled. She’d lived a full year with that physical therapist who had made a scene a couple of years ago at a restaurant he and Ginny had been at. Obviously the man couldn’t hold his liquor very well.

“In half a mile, turn left on Henderson Road.”

A twinge of guilt tugged at him. He wasn’t supposed to even know about Liz’s suicide attempt, and he wouldn’t have if Matt hadn’t asked for prayer for her during the men’s meeting last year. Matt hadn’t said at the meeting what had happened or even named Liz. Stan had overheard him talking to Jason Tanner when he’d gone to get his coat. Matt had sworn Jason to secrecy but was deeply worried about Liz, not only her physical health but her spiritual health. Jason had promised to pray and to assuage his guilt, Stan had promised himself to pray for Liz too. He had prayed that night but knew he should have prayed for her more over the last year.

He couldn’t figure out what had drawn Ginny to the woman.

Maybe his wife felt like she needed some kind of project to occupy her time when she wasn’t at work.

He squinted into the setting sun, then reached for his sunglasses hooked in the sun visor.

Where was this building anyhow? He needed to check it out before he brought the representatives of that firm from the city here to show them the land. He also needed to find the owner to see if they would sell. This could be a big deal for the area. More jobs would be a definite boon to this area hard hit by recessions and crashing milk prices.

“Three-twenty-eight Henderson Road. There it is.”

The two-story brick structure was barely visible behind a veil of vines and overgrown trees and bushes. Sliding the car into park, Stan reflected again on his wife’s demeanor when he’d told her she didn’t have to go with him to the banquet. The way she’d flopped onto the couch, kicked off her boots. Brown boots he’d never seen her wear before.

There was something different about her too. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe her make-up. Was her lipstick a different color?

He shrugged a shoulder as he stepped into the chilly autumn air and headed toward the building. He didn’t see any signs posted, nothing to indicate who the building belonged to or when it had been built. It was clear, though, it wasn’t in use and hadn’t been for a long time. The windows were broken out, the shingled roof was breaking apart, large metal doors rusted at the top of a flight of stone stairs.

The metal doors were slightly open, and Stan wondered if he should investigate, but decided against it and walked around to the back of the building instead. Maybe he could find a clue to who owned the building there. From what he could remember, this building had once been a factory warehouse of some kind. Despite living in this area his entire life, other than the four years he’d spent away at college, he’d never heard definitively what the building had been.  

When he reached the back parking lot, overgrown with grass poking up through the cement and asphalt, he noticed there was another door around the back. It was cracked open like the front, a chain and bolt hanging down from the metal door handle as if it had been cut open.

It was probably someone living in the building, squatting as it was called when the person hadn’t been given permission to live there. Stan would report it to the building owner, if he knew who it was. He walked up the steps toward the door and reached for the handle, then hesitated. This was probably a job for the police, not a real estate agent used to sitting at a desk and on his way to a banquet in one of his best suits.

This building was in the state police’s jurisdiction and Stan doubted they’d come out and investigate a possible squatter. Matt might come with him on his day off, though, if the kid ever had a day off. It seemed like he was always working or volunteering somewhere, which is why it had surprised Stan when he’d read in the paper he’d had a baby with Liz.

When had he had any time for a dating life? Stan turned to walk back toward his car and laughed softly. Not like a man had to have a dating life to father a baby. Still, Matt didn’t seem the type to simply sleep with a woman and walk away. There had to be more to that story. Unlike Ginny, though, he didn’t have any interest or time to take on a personal project. Not too mention Matt’s personal life was none of his business.

He rubbed his hands together to brush off the dirt and slid behind the steering wheel. Turning the car on he realized he didn’t feel the anticipation he should be feeling at the prospect of earning another Real Estate Agent of the Year Award. These banquets really were boring. Having Ginny with him had always broken up the monotony, given him someone to chat with while the other agents droned on and on about their triumphs over the last year. She’d never been too hard on the eyes those nights either.

Oh well. Couldn’t be helped now. She’d probably changed into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt by now. He’d have to make it up to her next year, if he was nominated again. If he wasn’t, then maybe he’d stay home too. There were only so many speeches about real estate he could listen to and give.

He turned the car back onto the main highway toward the sportsmen’s club, the annual site for the banquet. No more feeling guilty about giving Ginny’s ticket away.

She hadn’t wanted to go anyhow.

This would be a good night. He could go talk shop with his fellow agents without feeling like he needed to rush her home.  Besides, she liked quiet nights at home with a cup of tea and a book. She was always saying how much she looked forward to nights like that.

Why was he even thinking about all this? There was nothing to think about.

He flipped the radio station to the oldies channel and leaned back. Singing along to Fat Domino he tapped his hand on the steering wheel.

Yep. It was going to be a good night.

Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 11

To catch up with other parts of this novel in progress, click HERE.

Chapter 11

Encounter Church wasn’t only the largest church in the area when it came to congregation size. Its building stretched much further than any other church structure in Spencer Valley and anywhere in a 60-mile radius.

The building housed a full-size gym with a basketball court, a moderately large sanctuary set up stadium-style, a state-of-the-art sound system, and separate rooms that stretched down long, well-lit hallways and served as a spacious nursery, two conference rooms, and six adult Sunday School rooms.

In the lower level, there were rooms for Sunday School from kindergarten to high school, as well as a kitchen stocked and furnished as if it was in a culinary school.
This wasn’t the church Matt had grown up in and it wasn’t the type of church he ever saw himself being a member of up until a couple of years ago.

Now, though, he couldn’t imagine attending anywhere else. The music was outstanding, the pastor’s sermons were electrifying, and the congregation had become like family to Matt, even more so after his dad passed away.

“Matt! Good morning!” Jake Landers stood from the table he’d been sitting at in the Sunday School room and held out a hand.

“Glad to have you with us tonight.”

Matt took the older man’s hand and shook it firmly. “Glad to be here. I finally got a Wednesday night off.”

Jake shook his head as he sat. “I don’t know how you do it, kid. You go 1,000 miles an hour all day every day and still look refreshed.”

Matt laughed as he sat his Bible down and reached for an empty mug by the Keurig machine. “I might look refreshed, but I don’t often feel it.”

He waited for the mug to fill with the hazelnut cream flavored coffee he had chosen and then stirred in a dash of creamer and a packet of sugar. By the time he was done, the room was filling up with more men and they were seating themselves in the comfy chairs set up in a circle around the room.

He had been trying to attend this men’s group for a couple of months now. He needed this pick-me-up, the reminder that he wasn’t alone in his struggles and in sometimes feeling emotionally and spiritually drained.

The session turned out to be exactly what he needed and when it was over, he felt a renewed energy as he walked toward the gym to meet with a group of teenage boys he had agreed to mentor through a bi-monthly youth Bible study.

When it concluded, he challenged the seven boys to a pick-up game of basketball while they waited for their parents. The game reminded him he wasn’t young as he used to be and despite being a police officer, he also wasn’t as in shape as he should be.

“See you next week for a rematch, old man,” Trevor Banks called to him as he left the gym.
Matt grinned and waved back. “Challenge accepted, Stretch. I’ll be ready for you next time.”

He collected his Bible and notebook from the floor against the wall and as he looked up, he saw the head pastor Taylor Jenson strolling toward him, his charismatic smile firmly in place.

“Matt. Good evening.” He spoke in his familiar, smooth Southern accent that hadn’t faded in the least in the ten years since he’d lived in the north. He stuck out his hand and once again Matt was struck with how tall the man was and how the cowboy boots he wore with his crisp blue jeans and polo shirts made him even taller and even a more imposing figure.

“Pastor. How’s it going?”

“Good. The Bible study go well?”

Matt nodded and filled the pastor in on the young men and how each one was doing.

“That’s great, Matt.” Taylor slid his hands in his front pockets and propped his side against the gym wall. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

Matt propped his Bible under his arm, hoping the pastor wasn’t asking him to take on another commitment. His schedule was completely booked.

Taylor looked at the floor and tugged at his earlobe, a move Matt had seen before, usually when Taylor was about to bring up a tough subject he really didn’t want to address. “I had a couple calls today from some members of the congregation. A couple of them were parents, a couple weren’t. They had some concerns about you leading the youth after what they read in the paper this week.”

“What they read in the paper?” Matt wasn’t following. What had been in the paper that might — “Oh. The birth announcement.”

Taylor winced and brought his gaze back up. “Yeah. That.”

Matt’s words about not caring what others thought about the announcement echoed back in his mind. Maybe he hadn’t thought this all the way through.

“They’re just a bit concerned about you leading the youth, being an example to them if you’ve had a child out of wedlock.”

Taylor was rubbing the back of his neck now, then held his hand there. “I didn’t know what to say to them. I didn’t even know you’d had a baby until someone showed me the announcement. I mean, I had seen you with Liz, taking her to some appointments, but I had no idea you were even dating.”

Matt blew out a breath and chewed on the inside of his bottom lip for a few minutes. “We’re not.”

“Oh.”

“No, I mean — it’s just. Liz and I are friends. I’m not her baby’s father. I told the nurse I was to keep Liz from having to connect her baby to the real father. I asked the nurse not to send the announcement to the paper, but I guess there was some kind of mix up.”

Taylor whistled, his hand still on the back of his neck as he tipped his head back. “Oh, man. That’s crazy.” He tipped his head back down and laughed softly. “I had a feeling there was a bigger story here. Sounds like you were trying to do the right thing.” He kicked at the gym floor with the tip of his boot. “It’s put us in a tough spot here at the church, though. I don’t want to reveal your private business but at the same time, I don’t know how to answer the parents without doing that very thing.”

Matt pushed his hands into his jean pockets and shook his head. “I don’t want to put the church in a difficult position. Why don’t I just step down for a bit, until I figure out how to handle this? I told Liz we should just ignore it, go on with our lives, and maybe I should explain it to some people, but I don’t know how to do it without making Liz look bad.”

Taylor sighed. “I really hate to do that to you, Matt. You’re an important part of this church, a leader to these boys.”

“But I’ll also be gone in a couple of weeks. You’ll have to find someone new to step in anyhow. I’ll just step down a little early.”

Taylor nodded. “That’s true. I guess that will save us both from the awkwardness.” He rubbed his hand across his chin. “I really am sorry about this. You’re a good guy, Matt. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. Can I pray for you at least?”
“Of course. Prayer is always welcome.”

Taylor took the time to pray for Matt left and then men shook hands. A few minutes later Matt was behind the steering wheel of his truck, laughing to himself. If he wasn’t leaving for the academy in a couple of weeks that conversation would have caused him more concern. He easily could have been offended that the church members who had a concern hadn’t approached him before they approached the pastor. At the same time, their concern made sense. Who would he be to tell a group of boys that waiting to have sex before marriage would protect their hearts and their bodies if he himself had been sleeping with a woman he wasn’t married to?

It did feel a bit like a betrayal that part of the congregation had made up their mind about him without even asking about the situation, but he wouldn’t have been able to ask someone about something so personal either.

He could just imagine approaching a person whose name had been listed as the father of someone’s baby when no one even knew they were in a relationship. “Hey, so . . .um . . . About this baby thing . . .”

Yeah. It would definitely be an awkward conversation to have.

He turned the radio on and tapped his hand against the steering wheel to a Christian song playing on his favorite radio station.

It was his decision to tell that nurse he was Bella’s father. No, he hadn’t thought it through, but he had to live with it and in the end, it would be worth it, as long as it meant Bella and Liz wouldn’t have any official ties to Gabe Martin.

***

“I can’t believe I did it.”

Ginny turned her head and tilted it to get a better look at her hair. While it had previously fallen across her shoulders when she let it down, it now stopped at ear level. She blew out a slow breath, tilting her head up again. What was Stan going to think about this impulsive move? She truly wasn’t sure.

Liz stood behind her, admiring her own shorter cut. “It looks fantastic, Ginny. Seriously. You’re drop-dead gorgeous. Just wait until Stan sees you. He won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

Ginny’s chest tightened. Wouldn’t he, though? He was certainly able to keep his hands off her a lot these days. She couldn’t even remember the last time he’d hugged her, let alone held her in his arms.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but your cut certainly came out great. It will be a lot easier to manage for you, which will be great for when you start back next week.”

Liz pulled her lower lip between her teeth, still looking at her hair in the bathroom mirror, pulling the strands against her jawline. “I can’t believe my maternity leave is already over. It was nice of Linda to even give it to me. I don’t think it was easy for her to give me that much time off.”

She ruffled her hair and pouted. “Look, I look like a brunette Taylor Swift that time she chopped her hair. Well, the haircut does at least. Not the rest of me.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow. “Who?”

Liz snorted. “A pop singer whose music I don’t even like.”

“Oh. Well, I’m old. That’s probably why I’ve never heard of her.”

“Be glad. You’re not missing much other than a lot of sappy songs about broken hearts.”

Ginny touched her finger to her chin. “Oh wait. Is she the one who breaks up with men and then writes songs about her breakups?”

Liz laughed as she picked up a brush and pulled it across her hair. “Yes. That’s her. Maybe I should have written a song after I left Gabe. I might could have made a few bucks.”

She turned and looked at Ginny, at the way Missy had angled her hair so it was short in the back and longer along the sides. Ginny looked ten years younger, if not more. Her entire persona seemed brighter now. Maybe this would help raise the heaviness the woman had around her some days. Maybe her husband would see her and whisk her out the door for a fancy dinner, bringing a bright spot to her day. She certainly deserved it.

“Is Stan going to be home tonight?”

Ginny shook her head. “No. We’re going to a real estate banquet together. He’s up for real estate agent of the year for the region.”

Liz’s eyebrows raised. This was a change from Ginny’s usual answers to questions about Stan. Most of the time he was away on business or not home at all. “That’s awesome. He’s finally taking a night away from work and taking you out to boot. Way to go Stan.”

Soft pink spread along Ginny’s cheekbones as she hooked an earring in. “Yeah, it should be a nice night out. We haven’t been out in —” The pink darkened to crimson. “Well, a while anyhow.”

Liz leaned back against the dresser behind her and gnawed at her thumbnail, pondering the color along Ginny’s cheeks. Was it brought on by anticipation or something else?

“Do you think he’ll win?”

“He has before and he’s been even busier this year so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t.”

Liz didn’t hear the excitement in Ginny’s voice she thought she should. She studied the woman for a moment then let her gaze drift across Ginny’s bedroom to the lightly -colored dresser and the mirror attached to it, the queen-sized bed set up high off the ground, covered in what looked like a handmade quilt of various colors, to the peach-colored walls and pillows that matched the walls. The headboard and armoire against the wall near the bed matched the dresser she was leaning against and a walk-in closet was open on the other side of the room.

“This is a beautiful house, Ginny.”

“You’ve never been in here?” Ginny turned her while adjusting her other earring. “I thought you were here for the engagement party.”

Liz shook her head. “Just the backyard. I was so focused on feeling out of place and left out I barely noticed even that.” She walked toward the walk-in closet. “I would say I’ve matured since then but it’s a work in progress, as you know. Hey.” She reached for a black gown hanging in the closet. “This is lovely. You should wear this tonight.” A white blouse with a silver sheen caught her eye and she reached for it too. “Oh, and you could put this over it. It would set off your eyes.”

She turned to see Ginny blushing again. “You think so? I don’t know. Maddie bought that for me two years ago and I just — well, I never — I didn’t have anywhere to wear it. I thought about wearing it to last year’s banquet but it seemed a little too . . .” Her voice trailed off and she shrugged. “Revealing? Sexy? I don’t know.”

Liz laid the dress and blouse on the bed. “It’s hot is what it is and you will look hot in it. Stan isn’t even going to want to go to the banquet when he sees you in it. He’s going to want to get you right back out of it again.”

The blush had spread to Ginny’s neck and chest now and she laid a hand at the nape of her neck as if to stop it.
“Oh — well, I don’t know about that but I — I mean, I could wear it, I guess.”

Liz walked to the dresser and flipped open the jewelry box. “I bet you have a necklace that would go great with this.” She shut the box abruptly and turned away from it. “Oh, my word. What am I doing? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be getting into your things like that.”

Ginny laughed and opened the box again. “Actually, I would appreciate your advice and opinion. I haven’t really dressed up in a while. I do have a couple necklaces that might work.”

The women looked through the necklaces for a few moments. Liz pulled her gaze away when her phone dinged. She reached for it and checked the message.

She sighed. “It’s McGee. Asking what to bring for dinner.”

Ginny swung around with a gold necklace in her hand and placed a hand on her hip. “Dinner, eh?”

Liz scowled playfully. “Calm down. It’s like a potluck dinner. Molly, Alex, Ellie, and Jason are all going to be there too. Then we’re going to watch Ellie and Jason’s wedding video.”

She texted a response and tossed the phone onto the bed. “Matt and I are just friends. Like I told you.”

Ginny held the necklace up in front of her while she looked in the mirror. “A friend who is clearly in love with you. I get it.”

Liz scoffed. “He is not in love with me. He’s just a good friend. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good friend. He’s been there for me in the worst moments of my life and in the best. He brought me food when I was too big and sick to get around when I was pregnant. He drove me to a few appointments when my car broke down. He, well, obviously delivered Bella. He’s also stopped by plenty of times and held her while I cleaned the apartment or took a nap. He’s just a good guy. You know that. He’s good to everyone.”

Ginny held up another necklace, narrowing her eyes as she studied her reflection in the mirror. “He’s not as good to everyone as he is to you, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard him say he was in love with you, but I do know that he was very upset when you had that fall at your apartment last year.”

Liz’s chest constricted and a lump pushed up into her throat. Her hand trembled as she straightened the dress she’d lain on the bed, averting her eyes from Ginny. “What do you mean?”

“Stan said Matt asked for prayer for you during the men’s Bible study a couple nights after you were taken to the hospital. He didn’t give any details, but said there had been an accident and he’d arrived before the ambulance.”

The room suddenly seemed small and tight as Liz sat on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath. Matt was at her apartment that night? She’d known there was an officer there, but she’d been told it was Tom Landry, Matt’s older partner. If

Matt had been there, why had he never told her?

The idea of him seeing her, barely conscious, at the worst moment of her life. Bile clutched at her throat and she gagged.
Ginny whirled to look at her. “Uh-oh. Are those tacos we stopped for causing an issue?”
She shook her head against Ginny’s concern then changed her mind and nodded. “Actually, yes, they are a little. Will you excuse me?”


She found the bathroom down the hall, doubled over the toilet as she shut the door, and gagged again. She closed her eyes tight, desperate to remember the voices that night. Had Matt’s been one of them? She couldn’t remember. She needed to remember.

Dear God . . . Please no.

So when she’d first lied to him, said she’d accidentally taken too many pills from a prescription for painkillers for her knee, he’d known all along. He’d most likely even known she was pregnant. She wretched into the toilet bowl, grasping the seat as colors played across her vision.

Reaching for a piece of toilet paper, she wiped it across her mouth and shook her head. He’d never said a thing. He hadn’t told her he already knew. That had been almost a year ago. And he’d never said a thing. She couldn’t believe it.
He had now twice seen her at her most vulnerable. If the earth opened up right now and swallowed her whole she wouldn’t have been totally fine with it.

“Really God? How much more do you need to punish and humiliate me for what I did?”

She stood and turned the sink on, cupping a handful of water to wash her mouth out with. She pictured herself in the bathroom floor of her apartment that night, desperately trying to get the pills to come back up again. She hadn’t wanted to die. Not really. She’d simply panicked. She hadn’t wanted the baby to die either. She hadn’t even really accepted there was a baby yet.

In those moments when she shoved those pills in her mouth, she had told herself it was the best way to keep her parents from finding out how she’d been living, from Molly being disappointed in her, from feeling the same day after day. But at the moment she stuck her finger back against her tonsils a different kind of panic had set in. A panic that she might actually die, that she’d never had a chance to say goodbye to Molly or her sister.

There was a baby to think about. The baby hadn’t done anything to deserve a death sentence. She had to stop the pills from taking effect and there was no way they wouldn’t. She’d downed half a bottle of opioid painkillers.

Praying to God, she had begged while vomit trickled down her chin. It obviously wasn’t enough vomit to bring the pills back up because blackness had encroached across her vision quickly. She had chased the darkness away with a deep breath that was more like a gasping scream.

“Jesus! Save me!”

She couldn’t even feel the phone in her hand when she’d hit the 9 and collapsed against the cool linoleum.

A knock on the bathroom door ripped her from the memory and back to the present. She tried to gather herself, remind herself she wasn’t in her old apartment, begging to live. She was at Ginny’s and she needed to get it together already. She splashed her face with water and snatched the hand towel to dry herself off.

“Liz? Honey? You okay in there.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’ll be right out.”

There she went again, lying. How many times in her life was she going to tell everyone she was fine when she clearly wasn’t?

No matter.

She smoothed her newly cropped hair back, took a deep breath, and forced what she hoped was a natural-looking smile on her face.

Faking happiness had become like breathing to her.

This time would be no different.

Fiction Thursday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 10

I’m posting a chapter on Thursday because Bettie asked me to. That is all.

To catch up with the story click HERE or see the link at the top of the page.

Chapter 10

She glared at her reflection, at the boring, straight strands falling around her shoulders, and wished she was young again.
When she was younger, she could cut her hair and feel like a different person. Not now. Nothing she did made Ginny feel like a different person. She was the same, boring, never-does-anything-exciting woman she always was, whether her hair was pulled back in a ponytail or hanging across her shoulders.

Still, maybe a change would help her feel less stuck somehow. She pulled the hair up on her head and held it in place with her hands, turning her head and looking at the effect in the mirror.
Maybe she should have it styled differently. Or cut it short.
What would Stan think, though?

She snorted.

He’d never even notice.
His nose was buried too far into real estate paperwork.
She picked up her phone as it rang. She heard her thoughts in Liz’s voice. “I want to make a change and I’m starting with my hair. Is that stupid?”
Ginny huffed out a breath blowing at a strand of hair that had fallen across her forehead. A strand of hair that had once been blond but now featured streaks of gray. “No. Not at all because it’s the same thought I had.”
“I’ll get us an appointment with Missy.”

Missy Fowler? Ginny had always gone to Betty Richardson. Missy was for young women. Her styles were more modern, bolder, and — exactly what she needed.

“See if she has anything Friday afternoon. I’m free then.”

***

Most of the time she didn’t think about the night with the pill bottle clutched in her hand, the way she’d swallowed all those pills and wanted it all to end but then all of the sudden, when her chest had gotten tighter and her breathing was shallow, she suddenly didn’t want it all to end.

She’d tried to throw it all up but it didn’t work, no matter how many times she shoved her finger into the back of her throat.

Her hand had trembled when she reached for the phone, her vision blurring as she hit the number 9, as far as she got but luckily enough for her cellphone to tap into the local emergency center.

She’d tasted bile and choked out the words around a rush of vomit. “Help me.”

When she woke up bright lights blazed into her eyes, deep into her brain. Voices swirled in her mind, running together, overlapping, making no sense.

“Pills . . . floor . . . bottle . . . Hold her down we need to get an IV in . . . pregnancy test. Check that, Tom.”

She hadn’t known who Tom was at the time. Maybe that good-looking emergency room doctor she later found out Jessie Landry was dating, which means he obviously had no taste anyhow. Later she learned Tom Stapleton was Matt’s partner, a veteran police officer, on the force some 20-years. He must have been the responding officer, the first to arrive before the ambulance. She wished she could remember but by then her world had begun to fade around her and she’d started imagining her friends and family crowded around her casket in Homer’s Funeral Home.

Matt’s partner was how he had found out about her being in the hospital. Tom had thought the two were dating and asked Matt if she was okay. The day Matt came into the hospital room to check on her she had wished her bed would transform into a venus fly trap so she could disappear inside.

She’d smoothed a hand back through her hair but she knew it wasn’t going to help. She was a mess. There was no getting around it.

Matt’s expression had been hard to read. He seemed to be trying to be cheerful but there was something else lingering behind his eyes. Was it concern? Disgust? Liz seized on the disgust interpretation in that moment because it was the emotion she held toward herself. Absolute and total disgust. How had she sunk so low that first she was pregnant with the baby of a man she despised and second she’d actually tried to kill herself? Kill herself. My God. She’d fallen so far. It wasn’t something she’d ever considered before, even when she’d battled depression while living with Gabe. What had snapped in her brain to make her think that was the logical way to handle the news of her pregnancy?

And now here she was in a hospital room with the handsome police officer she’d gone out on two dates with looking at her like she was a complete crazy person, most likely wondering what he’d been thinking asking her out in the first place. Until the moment she saw those two lines on that pregnancy test she had seen the possibility of a new future with Matt, one full of tenderness and friendship and maybe even love. A future very much unlike the bleak one she’d been looking at when she’d been living with Gabe, before she woke up and gathered her courage to walk away.

“I took too many pills from a prescription I had for painkillers. It was an accident.” The lie spilled out of her before she even thought. There was no way she could tell Matt the truth. Not now. Not ever. She laughed a little pathetic laugh that she hoped sounded real. “It was for a knee injury I had a few months ago. It had flared up again but I guess I forgot how many pills I was supposed to take. When I realized I had taken four instead of two I tried to throw them up. It didn’t work so I called 911.”
It wasn’t all a lie. The pills had been painkillers and she had been prescribed them for a knee injury. The pain from that injury had been long gone before that night, though, and she’d definitely taken more than four pills. It was clearly not an accident.

Matt seemed to buy it, hook line and sinker.
“Yeah. Those directions can be confusing sometimes.” He’d reached over from the chair he was sitting in, leaning toward her, and covered her hand with his. “All that matters is you are still with us. It all could have ended a lot differently.”
The words haunted her for weeks afterward and even now she thought about them often.
“It all could have ended a lot differently.”

She looked at the baby asleep in the crib next to her and took a deep breath, grateful she had a breath to take, grateful she had a baby to look at.

She tossed the covers off of her and walked gingerly toward the desk on the other side of the room. Opening her laptop she blinked in the light, waited for her eyes to adjust, and read the email she’d received a couple hours earlier.

Dear Liz Cranmer:
Thank you for taking the time to apply to Travers Community College. We are pleased to let you know that you have been accepted for the fall semester for online classes and may begin scheduling your classes upon receipt of this letter.

There it was. Her green light to improve herself. Her green light to forget the past, change her future. Her green light to reject who she’d been before. Her green light to at least pretend she was a fully functioning adult and not an abject failure at everything she tried.


Maybe she’d fail at this too.


Maybe she’d be unable to understand the coursework.


Maybe her thoughts about being stupid were true.


Maybe. Lots of maybes.


But maybe she’d succeed and maybe she’d make a better life, not only for herself but for her daughter.


Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter Chapter 9

As always, this is a story in progress. There might be typos or errors that will be fixed later.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Story description:

Liz Cranmer is a single mother struggling to figure out life after past mistakes. She can’t change the past but she can change her future and she’s determined to do so, first by going back to college and maybe later proving to her parents and the people in her small town she isn’t the train wreck they all think she is.

Ginny Jefferies, is Spencer Valley’s 53-year old librarian, retired teacher and she’s stuck in a rut. Her husband is too busy for her and the lives of her children are taking unexpected turns.

When Liz, the sister of Ginny’s daughter-in-law comes to the library looking for ideas to help her new motherhood journey, the two form a bond they hope will lead them both to a better, more fulfilling future.

Chapter 9

It was too late. Liz’s knees gave away and Matt’s arms tightened around her, catching her before she slid to the floor. Black spots were encroaching on the edges of her vision. She took a deep breath to try to chase them away.
“Hey.” His brow furrowed as he tipped back his head to look at her face. “What’s going on?”
“Just get me out of here,” she hissed. “Don’t let me ruin their reception.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m weak. Like that day after I brought Bella home. Just get me out of here.”
“Can you walk?”
She let out a shaky breath, nodding slowly.
When he slid his arm around her waist and turned her away from the dance floor, though, she wasn’t as confident. Hypochondria-ridden thoughts roared through her mind, thoughts she had been able to push aside for most of the pregnancy and in the last few weeks. Something was wrong. What was going on with her body? Did she have a fatal disease?
Sweat beaded across her forehead as they walked slowly toward the back of the house.
Please, please don’t let Molly be watching me.
No one followed, though, and when they turned the corner, Matt scooped her into his arms, much to her annoyance and carried her to the front porch, cradling her like she was the baby.
“No.” She shook her head. “Take me to my car.”
“I’m not taking you to your car. You’re not driving anywhere.”
“I won’t until I’m feeling better. I just don’t want anyone to see me this way.”
“Okay.” He huffed out an aggravated sigh. “Fine.”
They changed directions, crossing the small driveway toward her car. He let her stand next to the car but kept an arm around her as he opened the passenger side of the door.
“Sit,” he ordered and when she did, her legs facing him, he squatted in front of her and looked up into her face. “What’s going on, Liz? This is the second time in the last three months I’ve had to keep you from hitting the floor.”
Liz sighed and raked her hand back through her hair. “I’m supposed to be drinking more water when I’m nursing.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I just didn’t drink like I should have today.”
Gosh she hoped that was all it was.
“Why?”
Because I kept thinking about everyone in town thinking you are the father of my baby instead of remembering to drink water.
“I don’t know. I just forget sometimes.”
Matt huffed out a breath and stood. “Stay here. I’ll be right back with a bottle of water.”
Where else was she going to go? She wanted to put the key in the ignition and take off, but her head still felt like it was full of helium and her arms fell limp next to her as if someone had sucked the muscles out of them.
When Matt returned, he opened the bottle and handed it to her. “Drink. Slowly.”
She sipped the water while he cracked open a sports drink bottle.
“Where did you find that?”
“Jase’s fridge. He has them to drink after his workouts. You’re drinking this next.”
She sipped more of the water, resigned to the fact she couldn’t leave until she’d consumed the liquids Matt had brought her. Matt set the sports drink on the roof the car, then turned leaning back against the back door with his arms across his chest, resembling a centurion she’d seen on the front of a fiction novel one time. He was definitely guarding her, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She wasn’t a fan of people telling her what to do. In this case she had no choice.
Five minutes passed before he spoke. “You getting anymore rest these days?”
“Yeah. Some. Bella is sleeping through the night more.”
He chuckled. “Going with the nickname Bella instead of Izzy, huh?”
Liz made a face. “Yeah. Izzie is too close to Lizzie.”
“Lizzie Borden took an —”
“McGee! Knock it off!”
Matt chuckled, looking out toward the setting sun. “Heard that enough, huh?”
She scowled at the setting sun. “You know I have.”
The music from the reception drifted toward them, mixing with the sounds of birds chirping and a cow mooing up the road at the Tanners main barn. A breeze rustled the leaves of the maple trees lining one side of the driveway. Brighter colors were already starting to spread across the green, dull yellows, and oranges. Liz wondered if they would have a nice foliage this year or if the leaves would simply shrivel and die like the year before.
“I like Bella,” Matt said after a few minutes. “Sounds like a princess name. It fits her. She’s already beautiful enough to be a princess.”
He handed the sports drink to her without looking at her. “Drink.”
She obeyed and sipped the lemon-flavored liquid, calculating in her head if she could make it back to town without needing a bathroom with all these fluids in her.
The tenderness in his voice when he spoke about Isabella touched her somewhere deep in her chest, but she didn’t want to think about that right now. She just wanted to feel better, head home, and relieve Ginny so the woman could go home and spend some time with her husband. She also wanted to get out of the driveway before Molly or anyone else saw her in this ridiculously vulnerable state.
“Feeling any better?”
She nodded slowly. She wasn’t lying either. The sports drink was doing its job.
“Sit a little longer.”
She scowled at the man who obviously thought he held authority even out of uniform.
Sitting there begrudgingly she realized she’d left her purse at her table under the tent.
“I don’t have my keys,” she mumbled.
“Where are they?”
“In my purse.”
Matt stepped away from the car. “Stay here. I’ll get it.”
Aggravation bubbled up in her. Even more, than being in a weakened state, she hated being waited on or fawned over. She was feeling better. She could get her own purse.
He came back holding a small black purse like a football. He thrust it at her like he was making a pass. “Molly asked where you were.”
She shot a glare at him.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t rat you out. I told her you were getting some fresh air.”
She took the purse. “Thank you.”
She’d already made her way to the driver side door and was preparing to slide behind the steering wheel when he held out his hand. “No way. Give me your keys.”
Her jaw tightened, but she tried to keep her voice calm. “You are not taking me home, McGee. I feel fine now. Really. I can drive myself.”
Matt reached over her and plucked the keys from her hand. “Nope.” He folded his hand around the keys. “I can’t allow that. It’s in violation of code 38, section 75. Driving while impaired.”
Her eyes widened. “Impaired?! I am not impaired! Doesn’t that mean under the influence of alcohol? There isn’t even any alcohol here.”
“That’s the main purpose of the code, yes, but that’s not the only thing that can impair a person.”
Oh, wonderful. He’s gone into police officer mode again. She started to open her mouth to respond, but he talked over her.
“You are impaired because you are suffering from dehydration. I can’t possibly, in good conscience, let you drive yourself home.”
Liz’s eyes narrowed. She tried her best to steady her voice. “I am no longer dehydrated. I am fine. Give me my keys.”
“Slide over, Liz.” It was obvious his stubbornness was as strong as hers. “The only way you are getting home today is if you let me drive you.”
She slid over with a small huffed of breath and folded her arms tight across her chest, sliding in the seat like a teenager. Matt laughed as he slid behind the steering wheel.
Liquid sloshed in her stomach. “How are you even going to get home?”
“Alex and Molly are coming over to watch a movie later, remember? Alex will bring me back for my truck.”
“You just have an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“I do when you’re trying to get out of letting me help you.”
Liz rolled her eyes. She wished some of the ladies at her parents’ church could see Matt now — harassing a poor single mother. She sat back in the passenger seat and slid her shoes off, pulling her legs up next to her so she could rub her soles. Matt slid the seat back to accommodate his long legs and adjusted the steering wheel and rearview mirror. He wriggled in the seat and scrunched up his nose.
“This is weird.” He leaned back against the seat and stretched his arms out and made a face again.
“What is?”
“Being this close to the ground. How do you ride around like this? It’s awful.”
“I’m not exactly tall, McGee. Climbing up in a big pick-up really doesn’t appeal to me.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “You should want to be in a truck that much more. Then you can feel tall for once.”
“Ha. Ha. You’re so funny.” She gestured toward the front of the car. “If you’re going to drive me home then let’s just go already.”
She yawned and stretched her arms over her head as he pulled onto the dirt road in front of Jason’s. “You know my mother thinks I was sleeping with you and dating Gabe at the same time thanks to that birth announcement.”
Matt snorted a laugh. “She does not.” He glanced at Liz. She wasn’t laughing. “She really thinks you would do that? Or that I would?”
Liz shrugged. “Par for the course in my life. She always seems to think the worst of me. The fact she’s thinking the worst of you is definitely different. She’s always looked at you like you have a glowing halo above your head. ” She pushed her lower lip out and gave him a mock expression of pity. “Sorry, McGee. You’ve clearly fallen from the pedestal she had you on.”
He shifted one hand over the other, as he turned off the dirt road onto a paved one, his brow furrowed. “I don’t think she really thinks that. About you or me. You talked to her, right? Told her what happened?”
Well, not exactly.
He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Let me talk to her. I’ll clear it up.”
“I don’t want you to talk to her.” The way Liz snapped startled even herself. “Sorry. It’s just, she made up her mind without even asking me. Let her believe what she wants.”
I’m not a perfect person, but I’m not that bad, she wanted to add but decided not to in case he agreed with her mother about what kind of woman she was.
Matt reached over and squeezed her hand. “Why don’t you close your eyes and rest?”
She looked at his hand on hers for a few seconds before drawing it away. There he went again. Being the charming man everyone said he was.
She slid her sweater on and leaned against the door, reluctantly closing her eyes. Matt was right. She needed to rest. When she got home, she would be on baby duty and need to be alert.
She jerked awake when he pulled into the parking lot behind her apartment 15 minutes later. She blinked her eyes and rubbed them. It hadn’t been much, but hopefully, it would help. A cat nap was better than nothing these days.
Inside they found Isabella snuggled in the bassinet asleep and Ginny laying on the couch, a blanket pulled up over her shoulders and her eyes closed.
Standing in the living room doorway, Liz smiled. “I hate to wake her,” she whispered. “She looks so peaceful.”
Matt grinned, standing behind her, looking over her shoulder. “Bella or Mrs. Jefferies?”
Liz looked up at him, amused. “You can call her Ginny now Matt. She’s not your teacher anymore.”
Matt frowned and cocked an eyebrow. “I can’t do that. That would be weird.”
Their eyes met and she suddenly realized how he close he was standing. So close she could see a small scar under his bottom lip, in the crease of his chin. She was pondering where the scar might have come from when snickering from the couch brought both of their attention to Ginny. She tossed the blanket off her shoulders, laughing fully now.
“My name is Ginny, Matthew. Why would it be weird to call me by my name?”
Matt’s eyes widened. “The way you said Matthew just now gave me flashbacks to that time you made me write the spelling words I’d missed five times each. I’d missed ten that day. My hand ached for a week after that.”
Ginny stood and began folding the blanket. “I don’t even remember that, kid. The fact you do makes me think you might need a bit of therapy.” She looked over her shoulder and winked. “Anyhow, how was the wedding?”
Liz tossed her purse on a chair and flopped onto the couch as Ginny laid the blanket across the back. “Wonderful. Ellie was beautiful. The wedding beautiful. The reception was beautiful . . .”
Matt waved his hands and raised the tone of his voice to mimic Liz. “Oh my. There was just so much …” He placed his hands to his face and gasped. “Beauty.”
Liz playfully tossed a pillow at him. “Shut it, McGee.”
Matt ignored her admonishment and caught the pillow tossing it back at her. He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Hey, I’m going to pop down to Ned’s and grab us some snacks for the movie. Want anything.”
Liz’s feet ached and all the liquids Matt had made her drink were hitting her system now. “Nothing specific. Something crunchy. Just nothing spicy. It upsets Bella’s stomach.”
Matt saluted and headed toward the door as Liz rushed toward the bathroom. When she came out, Ginny was reaching for her purse.
“Thank you so much, Ginny. I really appreciate your help today.”
“No problem, my dear. I absolutely adore that baby of yours. It was a nice break from tearing down the garden for winter.”
Liz pondered the older woman as Ginny pulled a sweater over a light tan tank top. She was always so well put together; her long, dirty blond hair pulled back from her face in a ponytail or bun, her makeup on point, her outfits perfectly matched and always clean. Yet, there was something that seemed out of place somehow. There was a sadness in her eyes each time she left to go home. What was going on at home that made her shoulders droop slightly each time she said goodbye?
“So, are you and Stan going to have some quality time together tonight? Watch a movie maybe?”
Ginny shook her head as she buttoned the sweater, her eyes on the buttons. “No. Not tonight. He’s in Philadelphia for a real estate conference.”
Meetings last week. A conference today. Was this guy ever home?
“Oh. So, you’re going home to an empty house then?”
Ginny smiled. “Yep. A nice quiet night with a good book is in order, I think.”
Liz narrowed her eyes, studied the woman as she finished buttoning the sweater. Did she really want to be home alone with a book? “Sounds a little boring. You sure you don’t want to hang out with us tonight? We’re going to watch a movie and will probably order a pizza at some point. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
“That’s sweet of you, Liz, but this old lady would just cramp your style.” Ginny laughed. “Do they even say that anymore?”
Liz sat on the couch and rubbed the bottom of her foot. “Some people do, yes, but you wouldn’t cramp our style. We don’t have any style.”
Ginny hooked the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “Very funny, young lady. Seriously, though, I’m sure Matt would prefer to have a little alone time with you this evening.”
The liquids were definitely kicking in again and Liz wanted to rush back to the bathroom but needed to set the record straight first. “There’s nothing between me and Matt. We’re just friends.”
She didn’t like the way Ginny’s eyebrows raised as she looked at her. A small smile pulled at one corner of her mouth. “Oh. Does he know that you’re just friends?”
Liz’s eyelids drooped and she huffed out a sigh. “Yes. He does. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just — well, the way he looks at you makes me think maybe there’s a little more going on there.” Ginny cleared her throat, twisting her purse strap around her finger. “At least in his mind.”
Two could play at this game.
“Oh yeah? You mean the way that Keith guy was looking at you the other day?”
Ginny visibly flushed and she tilted her face toward the ground. “Now, Liz, Keith and I knew each other years ago. He was not looking at me the way Matthew McGee looks at you.” She smirked. “This conversation is over, young lady.”
The conversation wasn’t over, but Liz couldn’t argue. Not right now anyhow. Her bladder wouldn’t allow it.
“Ginny, you need to tell me more about Keith.” She stood and held her finger in front of her face. “As soon as I get out of the bathroom. I had a ton of water before I left Jason’s. Don’t go anywhere. I want the full story. There is definitely a history there. I could tell.” She started toward the bathroom. “Wait. I know you. You’re going to slip out on me before you fill me in. I know how you work. Follow me to the bathroom. You can tell me through the door.”
Ginny tipped her head back and laughed. “Liz, go use the bathroom. There’s really nothing more to tell about Keith. I knew him in high school and that’s all.” She turned toward the front door. “You young people have fun tonight.” She looked over her shoulder. “Are you still going to that art class with me Monday?”
“Yes!” Liz shut the bathroom door, shouting the rest of her words through the door. “I’ll meet you there! You still think it’s okay if I bring Bella with me?”
“Absolutely. She’ll probably nap in her seat during the class anyhow. You might as well enjoy it while you can. She’ll be demanding your undivided attention soon.”
When Liz came out of the bathroom, Ginny was gone as she had predicted, and Isabella was waking up. She’d need to be fed. Liz decided she’d better hide in the bedroom so Matt wouldn’t get too much of a shock when he got back from the store.
When Isabella seemed finished, Liz made sure nothing was exposed that shouldn’t be and returned to the living room where Matt had already made himself comfortable in the center of the couch, leaning back casually. Containers of food were unopened on the kitchen counter next to two grocery bags. Liz stifled a laugh. Even the way he sat was polite. He didn’t prop his feet on the coffee table or sprawl back with his legs taking up half the couch like Alex did when he came. He sat with one arm across the back of the couch, but still looking like a Bible study leader waiting for the rest of the attendees to arrive. All he needed was a Bible on his lap and a thoughtful expression as he flipped through the pages.
It wasn’t that Liz minded the idea of him waiting for a Bible study to start, or the way he looked sitting on her couch. It was — she didn’t even know what it was. Maybe it was that she didn’t feel like she could ever measure up to the grandeur of Matt McGee’s reputation.
“Hey.” His face lit up as she walked into the room, Isabella cradled against her shoulder. He tilted his head to get a better look as she sat next to him. “Hello, little girl. Get your fill of dinner?” His eyes were focused on Bella’s, his smile wide and, dare Liz say it, amazingly attractive. Soon Bella’s hand was encircling his index finger, bringing an even more delighted grin to his face.
Liz leaned toward him. “You want to hold her?”
He reached over. “Absolutely.”
His hands cradled Bella and then he laid her gently in his arms where she laid on her back, looking up at him, eyes wide, tiny mouth slightly open. “You’re beautiful, Bella-girl. Do you know that? Yes, you are.”
Liz couldn’t help smiling, watching Matt’s demeanor completely transform from friendly, sometimes goofy police officer to a man completely adoring a newborn. He was entranced, completely oblivious to the world around him. He laughed softly, his eyes still on Bella’s. “Is that a smile? Are you smiling at me? Is this your first little smile?”
Liz glanced at her daughter and saw that she did indeed look like she was smiling. Huh. She’d figured it was probably gas and maybe it still was, but the newborn’s little arms and feet were kicking too. She certainly seemed happy.
Liz’s chest constricted. Again, she felt the familiar pang of disappointment, of shame.
Why had she taken that drink from Jimmy Sykes hand? Why had she believed Gabe when he’d said he just wanted to talk?
She was such a fool. If she had simply walked away, then — She smiled at Bella’s little mouth as it curved into an o shape. If she had walked away maybe she wouldn’t have Bella right now. Or maybe she’d have had Bella, but later, in a future with someone like Matt. Or with Matt.
Thinking about it was futile, of course. She couldn’t turn back time, change what she’d done. She could only move forward even if her parents were still stuck on her past mistakes.
Moving forward wouldn’t include Matt either. She had to get used to him not being around because in only a couple of more weeks he’d been off to the state police academy and after that who knew where he’d be assigned. Besides Molly and Ginny, she was on her own and it was high time she remembered that.

Fiction Thursday: The Next Chapter Chapter 8

Welcome to a special Fiction Thursday.

If you want to catch up on the story you can HERE, but if you want to wait until it is all done, it will be out on Amazon in the Spring.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments. If you haven’t read the other books in this series, you can find information about them HERE. The first two books in the series are The Farmer’s Daughter and Harvesting Hope.

Chapter 8

Liz flopped back on the bed in Jason’s spare room and groaned, pressing the heel of her palms against her eyes. “I don’t even want to be here today. I mean, not because I don’t want to be at the wedding. It’s just —” She shook her head. “I can’t believe Matt didn’t talk to that nurse. Everyone is going to be staring at us. It’s going to be so weird.”
She also couldn’t believe that Matt hadn’t stopped by or called in two days, giving her the opportunity to grill him about the birth announcement snafu.
Molly tossed a bottle of water onto the bed next to Liz. “Drink that.” She reached for her dress hanging on the back of the door. “And calm down. Jason and Ellie only invited about 50 people to the ceremony so not everyone will be staring at you. Maybe about 20 out of the 50 and even then, they will only stare at you after the wedding because they’ll be staring at Ellie during the wedding.” Molly stepped into the dress and pulled it up across her body, looping the straps over her shoulder. “Her gown is gorgeous. I can’t wait for you to see it.”
Liz propped herself up on her elbows and looked at her friend. She was wearing a peach-colored dress with spaghetti straps displayed in a fan pattern across the back. The skirt flowed out in a ruffled pattern that fell to her ankles and set off a pair of light-tan heels.
“That gown is gorgeous too. Did Liz pick them out or did you have a say?”
“Judi and I had a say and then each dress was fitted to each of our body types because Judi and I are obviously not the same size.”
Judi was Ellie’s younger sister who had moved home earlier in the summer.
Liz sat up and opened the water bottle, sipping from it.
Molly gestured at the bottle. “No sipping. Drink it. You need to stay hydrated. You’re nursing, it’s warm out, and you’re on the verge of a panic attack.”
Liz scowled and drank more from the bottle. On the verge of a panic attack? Oh no. She was already there. “Wouldn’t you be panicking if the guy you went on two dates with let the whole town think he was the father of your baby?”
Molly shrugged. “Better him than Gabe, that’s all I know.”
Outside the window, Liz heard laughter and greetings. More guests were arriving. She wondered if Matt was here yet, though she figured he was probably with Jason and Alex at the Tanner’s, getting dressed. Maybe she could find him before the ceremony started, warn him about the announcement, in case he hadn’t seen it. She stood and looked out the window. White chairs had been set up in the backyard and a trellis was placed where Ellie and Jason would stand to say their vows. The was under the drooping branches of a weeping willow and in the distance was a recently cut cornfield. Beyond the field were the green hills of Pennsylvania and beyond them hazy blue mountains even further away, hugging the expanse of farmland that made up most of Spencer Valley.
Liz tipped her head back and closed her eyes, willing her muscles to relax. The birth announcement wasn’t the only worry pressing in on her. Ginny had volunteered to watch Isabella today while she was at the wedding and even though she fully trusted Ginny, she felt like she was neglecting her duties as a mother. She should be the one taking care of Isabella, not someone else. Taking even a short break to help Molly get dressed as Ellie’s bridesmaid and staying for the ceremony and reception filled her with illogical guilt.
“Zip me up?” Molly lifted her hair and turned around.
As she zipped the back of the dress, Liz thought about how she’d once been confident, not filled with fear and anxiety over every little thing. It didn’t seem that long ago in some ways, but in others, it seemed like a lifetime ago. She needed to find her confidence again, stop worrying about what other people thought of her. Now just to figure out how to do that without burning every bridge like she currently felt like doing.
From there, her thoughts shifted abruptly to how long Molly’s hair had become, how the soft curls were falling past the middle of her back now, and how Molly was practically glowing. She looked over Molly’s shoulder, at her reflection in the mirror. Her friend was losing weight, something she’d been wanting to do for a long time. Liz only hoped Molly was doing it for the right reasons, not to try to fit in and make a man happy like she’d done herself for so many years.
Molly turned and clasped Liz’s hands in hers. “Hold your head high, Liz. All the thoughts that you think people are having about you are probably nowhere close to what they are thinking.”
Liz snorted. “Yeah. It’s probably a lot worse.”
“Liz!” Molly laughed and rolled her eyes. “You’re starting to sound like me. Now come on. Go find your seat and I’ll talk to you after the ceremony.”
In the kitchen, on her way to the backyard, Liz found Annie, Molly’s mom, folding napkins and placing them in a wicker basket on the counter.
“Hey, Liz. You look beautiful today.”
Liz placed a hand on her hip and tipped her head down slightly. “Now, Annie, you know it’s a sin to lie.”
Annie’s laugh was rich and full, one of the many attributes Liz loved about her. She shook her head as she folded the last napkin.
“It’s true, my dear. I know you’re tired, but you do look lovely. Missy did a nice job on your hair.”
“Thank you.” Liz decided to push the protest of the compliment aside and instead accept it. She patted the hair Missy Fowler had piled on her head, leaving the rest of her dark strands hanging down her back and across her shoulders. Missy was the hairstylist who had a shop below Ellie’s apartment — or Judi’s apartment now. “I actually do feel a little more rested today. We actually had one two hours and one three-hour stretch last night. Isabella has been better since Ginny brought me that gripe water the other day. She also showed me some pointers she used on her babies to get the trapped gas out.”
“What do you think Isabella’s nickname will end up being? Bella or Izzy?”
Liz made a face. “I hope it’s Bella. Izzy is too close to Lizzie. The kids in school used to chant that Lizzie Borden rhyme at me and I hated it.” Liz’s rolled her eyes as she recited the rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.’ Ugh. How awful.” She knew no matter how upset her mother made her, she’d never be like Lizzie Borden. “I’m just glad I never told anyone my real name. The taunting would have been the same.”
Annie’s brow furrowed. “Real name?”
“Lizanne.”
“Oh.” Annie looked surprised. “I always thought it was Elizabeth.”
“People assume it is and I just let them. I’m named after my great-grandmother, which was a fine name in the early 1900s, but not so great now.”
The sound of a truck engine brought Liz’s gaze to the kitchen doorway and out through the front window. Her heart rate sped up at the sight of Matt climbing out of his truck. She wished the palpitations were only because she found him attractive and not because she was terrified of talking to him about the birth announcement. Had he seen it? She couldn’t imagine he had or he would have answered her call earlier or called her before she’d tried to call him.
Her gaze took in a gray vest over a white shirt and a light-gray suit coat hanging from a bent finger and draped over his back. He’d had a haircut, making his dark brown hair even shorter on the sides and top. She imagined he’d have to cut it even shorter when he started at the academy in a couple of months.
“High and tight” is what she’d heard the state trooper hair cuts referred to as.
As she had a few times before, she found herself daydreaming about his hair looked like all ruffled up after a shower.
Or after she’d pushed her hands through it.
She drew in a sharp breath at the thought of messing up Matt’s hair, knocking some of that perfection out of him, and seeing what an unguarded Matt McGee was like.
She pulled her gaze away from him and slid her phone out of her purse, shooting a quick text to Ginny to check on Bella. She had left two bottles of pumped breast milk, hoping they’d be enough to keep Isabella satisfied until she came home.
Ginny texted back as Liz found a seat in the backyard.
All is well. She’s swinging in a little swing I’d kept here for the grandchildren. Happy as a clam.
When Matt appeared next to the arch standing next to Alex, who was standing next to Jason, she wished she could grab Matt and pull him aside, scold him for not blocking the announcement from going in. There were too many people filling the chairs, though, and soon the ceremony would start. She’d have to wait for later to interrogate him.
Molly was right. Ellie’s dress was simple and gorgeous. The veil hung across the back of her hair in a thin wisp of white. Finely sewn lace interlaced patterns down the back and along the train, which trailed a couple of feet behind her but clearly could be removed later, as evidenced by the bustle buttoned at Ellie’s waist.
Liz fought back emotions through the entire ceremony, partially because she was happy for Jason and Ellie and partially because she was sad for herself. Would she ever have a happy, beautiful ceremony like this? She mentally kicked herself, wishing for the hundredth time that she’d never gone to that party that night, that she’d never let herself be alone with Gabe and listened to his threats.
If she’d been stronger, hadn’t had that last glass of wine, then maybe she would have been like Ellie, standing hand in hand with a handsome man looking at her like he’d lasso the moon for her if she wanted it. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself of what she’d thought the night she brought Bella home. Since she couldn’t have what her sister had, children with a husband, or what Jason and Ellie had — a love so deep their connection would survive whether they had children or not — she’d find a way to make it up to Bella. She’d find a way to make sure Bella wouldn’t be embarrassed to have her as a mother.
Tears stung her eyes as she watched tears glistening in Jason’s eyes when he said his vows. She wiped a fingertip under her eye, careful not to smudge the makeup she’d actually taken time to put on that afternoon after not wearing any for the last two months. Soon there were tears on Ellie’s cheeks as well and a quick glance around her showed that others had pulled out tissues and handkerchiefs, including Molly who kept nibbling on her bottom lip, obviously trying to hold the emotion in.
When the ceremony was over, and Jason and Ellie had walked down the aisle, beaming at each other the whole way, the guests dispersed to a pair of large tents set up to the left of the chairs. Liz sat herself at a table close to the head table, seriously considering leaving and heading back to the apartment for a quiet night with a sleeping baby and a movie. She couldn’t leave, though.
She still needed to talk to Matt. So far, she hadn’t been even able to catch his eye and she was beginning to wonder if he was avoiding her on purpose. After a meal of pulled pork, roasted potatoes, and homemade coleslaw, she gave up on pulling him away from talking with Jason and Alex and decided a walk might help her relax more. She’d better enjoy it while she could. She’d be back on newborn duty as soon as she arrived home.
A cool breeze swept over the yard at the front of the house as she rounded the corner of the house and walked toward the front porch. The porch was open, the white railing freshly painted and reminding her of a picture on an issue of Country Living magazine. She stepped up the steps and found a wooden slatted chair painted to match the railing and front of the house. Sitting in it she smiled, thinking how this house would soon look like a real home thanks to Ellie’s touch, instead of a bachelor pad, which is what it had been for the last five years.
She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes, letting her mind wander and focus on the sound of a cicada or katydid somewhere across the driveway instead of her racing thoughts. After a few seconds of counting chirps, the world faded around her.
“Need a blanket?”
The words snapped her out of her brief nap, leaving her in a world of disorientation for a few seconds. She couldn’t even seem to register if she’d dreamed the words, or someone had actually spoken them.
Blinking her eyes to clear the sleep away she saw Matt standing on the top step, leaning his hip into the stair railing.
She shook her head. “I can’t believe I fell asleep like that.”
“You must have needed it.”
She pushed her hand back through her hair and let it fall slowly down her back. “I’ve been trying to catch you all day. We need to talk.”
He cocked an eyebrow, grinning. “About?”
Why was he grinning? Did he really think she was flirting right now?
“You haven’t seen the paper?”
He pushed off the railing and stepped up off the top step onto the porch, shoving his hands in his front jean pockets.
“Yeah, I saw it.”
She tightened her jaw. He was so aggravating. Seriously. “Saw what?”
“The baseball scores.” He rolled his eyes. “The birth announcement, Liz. I saw the announcement.”
“You saw it and didn’t call me?”
“I saw it an hour ago. When Jase showed me. I didn’t have time to call you. When did you see it? Why didn’t you call me?”
Liz glanced away, focusing on her hands clenched in her lap. “I —” She couldn’t say she thought he’d stop by, and she could talk to him then. How would that sound?
Desperate.
That’s how it would sound. “I don’t know. I was in shock, I guess. I can’t believe you didn’t stop that nurse.”
Matt sighed and propped the right side of his body against the column, his hands still in his front jean pockets. He tipped his face down toward the porch floor. “I did stop her, Liz. I asked her not to put it in the paper. She said she wouldn’t.”
Liz stood pressing her hands against her hips. “Well, then we need to call that hospital and give them a piece of our mind. They violated our privacy.”
Matt looked at her with an amused smirk. “We need to call?”
Liz threw her hands in the air, tipping her face toward the porch ceiling. “Okay. I need to call. And I will. First thing Monday morning.”
“And what good is that going to do?”
Her head snapped down and she leveled a burning gaze on him. “Excuse me?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “What’s been done is done. It’s not like they can take it out of the newspaper. It’s already been printed so calling them up and yelling won’t help anything. The proverbial cat is out of the bag.”
Was he serious right now? Why was he so calm?
“McGee, the whole town thinks you were sleeping with me. The people at your church think you were sleeping with me.” She paused for effect. “Having sex. Out of wedlock. Do you get that? They think you fathered a child with the screwed-up daughter of Frank and Marge Cranmer, the most revered members of Encounter Church. Do you not get that?” She huffed out a frustrated growl. “What are we going to do?”
Matt tipped his head and the smile faded into a more thoughtful expression, but she still couldn’t read him. His response sent anger seething through her.
“Nothing.”
She tossed her hands out to her side. “What do you mean nothing?”
He frowned. “What I said. Nothing. It’s no one’s business. Let people make up their own minds about what the truth is.”
Liz slapped her hands down against her side. “Oh, that’s just great. Let people make up their own minds? In this little town? That’s fine for you but everyone is looking at me like I corrupted the town saint.”
Matt’s amused laugh grated on her nerves. “The town saint? What does that even mean?”
She took a step toward him, incredulous. “You can’t be that clueless. You’re the town golden child. You’re a police officer, you lead Bible studies, help old ladies cross the street, take cats out of trees, and I’m pretty sure a woman was healed last week when she touched the hem of your uniform.”
His laugh deepened and she briefly imagined smacking him in the head. “Liz stop it. That’s ridiculous. No one thinks that stuff about me. I’m just — well, me. Small town cop. Spencer Valley’s Barney Fife.”
“Uh, yeah.” Liz raised her eyebrows. “If Barney Fife had groupies.”
Matt tipped his head back and laughed loudly. “I do not have groupies.”
He wiped the bag of his hand across his eyes as he stepped toward her. His eyes were still moist from the tears of laughter as touched his hand under her chin, cupping it gently. “And you’re not screwed up.” The smile faded and the intensity of his gaze on her sent her heart flapping wildly against her ribcage. She wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. His intensity pinned her down, stopped her racing thoughts. “You need to stop claiming that title. I’ve never given it to you, and I don’t know anyone else who has either. It’s something you call yourself.”
Her mouth lost its moisture as she tried to speak. “My parents —”
He dropped his hand from her chin. “Have they ever said you’re screwed up?”
“No, but they —”
“You think they think that, but they’ve never said those exact words, right?”
Liz put her hands up in front of her. “Okay. Enough about my parents. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about how to handle this birth announcement thing.”
“I already told you I’m not going to do anything other than going on with my life and you should do the same.” He held out his hand. “Now come on. There’s a party going on in the backyard. Let’s go celebrate Jason and Ellie.”
“McGee. Seriously. We can not just —”
“Yeah. We can. Now come on.”
Liz’s jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed. She was not just going to go back to the reception like nothing was going on, like this birth announcement wasn’t going to create even more issues for her and for him.
He kept his hand held out to her, his eyes on hers. After a few seconds, she took his hand reluctantly but let it go as she hit the bottom step. She tightened her hand into a fist against her side. How could he be so calm and confident about it all? Wasn’t he worried about his reputation? No, he obviously wasn’t, so why was she?
She was used to feeling like the black sheep in her family and her community. She didn’t want him subjected to the same judgment.
They walked together toward the backyard in silence. Jason and Ellie were dancing in the middle of the second tent, the rest of the guests watching.
Jason’s mom touched a tissue to the skin under her eye and Molly had slid into a chair next to Alex, her head against his shoulder as she watched.
Liz’s chest tightened. How long would it be before Molly and Alex were standing there, having their first dance? Then she’d be alone for real. Molly would be building a life for herself and Alex. Yes, Liz would have Isabella, but she would essentially be on her own.
Her palms grew cold, and she closed her eyes. No. She would not do this here. What was with her anyhow? She’d never dealt with a panic attack a day in her life before the night she’d found out she was pregnant. She’d had a small break from them during pregnancy and now? Well, now she felt like she should be in a mental hospital.
The voice of the DJ startled her out of her racing thoughts. “The bride and groom would love for their guests to join them.”
And that was her cue to step back and head —
Her back slammed into something solid. Glancing over her shoulder her gaze met Matt’s grin.
Oh.
She hadn’t backed into something. She’d backed into someone.
“Where are you going?”
“Home.”
“You’re not leaving before you dance with me, are you?”
“Uh. No.” She raised her hand and took a step away from him. “I don’t dance.”
“So?” He shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t either. We’ll just fake it. Plus, you owe me.”
“I owe you?” She turned toward him, raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
His smile widened. “I delivered your daughter.”
She rolled her eyes and turned her back on him. “Wipe that grin off your face, McGee.”
He stepped toward her, and his breath tickled the back of her neck. “Come on, Liz. This is your first time out since Bella’s been born. Have a little fun.”
Liz brushed her hand across the back of her neck, then held it there, warmth spreading across her skin. She closed her eyes. “McGee, come on. I don’t dance, okay?”
His breath was warm against her ear. “Just one, then you can go. I promise.”
He stepped in front of her and held his hand out. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, studying him for a few seconds before laying her hand in his and letting him tug her a few steps forward to the edge of the makeshift dance floor. She really didn’t dance. Never had, never had wanted to. What was she doing agreeing to this?
Where did she even put her hands?
She tried to remember all those romantic Hallmark movies she’d watched over the years and laid one hand on his shoulder while he held the other. He slid his other arm around her side and laid his hand against her lower back.
She couldn’t lie.
It felt awkward.
The way she was standing.
How he was holding her.
She felt like she was dancing with her brother if she’d had one.
But then the dynamics shifted as his hand slid to the curve of her lower back and he gently pulled her toward him. It was a different kind of awkward now. She and Matt had known each other on an acquaintance level in high school. They’d been on a couple of dates in the last two years, had sat next to each other on movie nights when Molly, Alex, Jason, and Ellie all piled into her and Molly’s tiny apartment, and for goodness sake, he’d delivered her baby. She didn’t know how to feel about how close they were standing to each other now, but she knew her body was firing off warnings all over the place. Her cheeks were warm, her hands were clammy, her breath had quickened and she could barely hear the music over the thumping rhythm of her heartbeat.
He smiled and her chest tightened.
How had she never noticed the tiny freckle right above his left eye? Or how long and dark his eyelashes were? Or how amazing his aftershave smelled? Or was it cologne? She wasn’t even sure. Maybe he only wore cologne on special occasions, so that’s why she’d never noticed. Maybe she’d simply been too self-focused in the past to notice all these things.
No, not maybe. She had been.
Now, though, here she was looking right at him after he’d pulled her closer and she was finding it hard to look away.
No wonder all the women in town swooned when he walked into the diner or held a door open for them at church. She’d even heard stories of one for two women needing to fan themselves with their speeding tickets after he pulled them over.
“Doing okay?”
She nodded slowly, pulling her gaze from his, glancing over his shoulder where she caught Molly watching her with a smile. Or was it a smirk? Liz scowled at her, and Molly laughed, her arms around Alex’s neck as they swayed to the music too.
“Okay, we should stop.” She tried to pull away, but Matt pulled her back in. “Matt. Come on. I’m not a dancer.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “Neither am I, or most of the people here. Let’s fake it.”
The music from the DJ’s sound system switched to a new song. The singer was singing, “I’m going to love you forever and ever, amen.”
Liz’s gaze flicked around the tent, even more, self-conscious as she thought she saw Ellie’s sister Judi whisper something to one of Jason’s cousins.
She leaned her forehead against Matt’s shoulder, lowering her voice. “This should get the tongues wagging.”
“Let them wag. We’ve got more important things to focus on in our worlds. I’ve got the academy to think about and you’ve got a little girl to focus on. What others think of us, doesn’t matter.”
There he went again. Being practical. Logical. Totally right.
As the dance continued Liz felt her knees weakening and she knew it wasn’t because Matt’s other hand had moved to her waist.
Not now. Not here. Please.