Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 17

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 17

Judi was back in Angie’s room, feeling as awkward as she had before. Maybe she should have helped Ben tell the Phillipis that they needed to leave, but, honestly, she wasn’t ready for the drive yet. She was still struggling to process Jeff’s phone call and she didn’t want to process it while Ben demanded answers from her.

Plus, Angie’s dad had had an odd look on his face when he’d urged Ben to stay. Judi didn’t know Mr. Phillipi at all, but he seemed like a nice man, and he was giving her a vibe that he needed to talk to Ben. Maybe staying over would give them a chance to clear the air, if it didn’t give him and Angie time.

She answered a text from Ellie, telling her the full story of why she was in Lancaster and about the car, the accident on the highway, and that they were staying over. She didn’t tell her, obviously, about the call from Jeff.

After she hung up, she laid back on the bed with a pillow hugged to her chest. The call had certainly thrown her off her game. If she hadn’t received it, she wouldn’t have thought twice about getting in that car, rejecting the Phillipi’s pleading requests to stay, and instead driving her and Ben home so she could reconnect with Evan and forget about the calls from the lawyer and now Jeff.

She rolled onto her stomach and sent another text.

Hey, you okay? Just heard about a tractor-trailer accident and hoped it wasn’t you. This is Judi by the way.

She didn’t know why she told Evan who was texting. He’d put her number in his phone, but who knew how many girls he was receiving texts from on any given day? There was no way someone that good looking didn’t have a girl in every town.

She yawned and stretched then winced as her stomach grumbled in protest. She’d declined Mrs. Phillipi’s offer for dinner, instead wanting to hide away and not have to put on a fake smile. Ben had declined as well, hiding away in the den in the finished basement of the house.

She guessed they both were fighting battles with their thoughts. Better now than tomorrow on the road.

She glanced at the gold-framed clock on the wall. Nine o’clock. She’d heard Angie take Amelia to bed an hour ago. Hopefully, Angie’s parents were also early-to-bed people and hopefully, they also didn’t mind if she snuck down to the kitchen to find a snack.

She walked slowly down the dark hallway and staircase, turning left toward the kitchen, feeling along the wall for a light switch. Somewhere outside an animal howled or screamed or made some noise that reminded her that they might be four hours from Spencer but they were still in a rural area. She slid her hand along the wall with a little more purpose.

The kitchen flooded with light before she found the switch. She looked up to see Angie on the other side of the room by the refrigerator with her hand on a square light switch. Her dirty-blond hair was up in a messy bun, the makeup that had been meticulous and flawlessly applied earlier was gone, but she was still a natural beauty, which sent a swatch of jealousy through Judi, who felt like she had to work for her beauty.

“Guess I wasn’t the only one who needed a snack,” Judi said with a quick smile, shrugging a shoulder.

Angie didn’t smile as she folded her arms across her chest and leaned her right shoulder against the doorway. “I needed a drink.”

“Oh.” Judi gestured toward the fridge. “Please don’t let me stop you.”

“No. Go ahead.” Angie’s words were said through a tight jaw. “Grab your snack.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair and sighed. “I didn’t think your parents would mind but if it is an issue. . .”

Angie’s expression softened and she unfolded her arms, letting them drop to her side. “No, of course, they wouldn’t.” She walked toward a cupboard next to the stove, opened it, and took out a glass. “Sorry I’m so grumpy.” She turned around, a glass in her hand. “Please, help yourself. There is some pizza left over from the party if you’d like any of that.”

She took a paper plate off a pile by the toaster and slid it onto the island. “Here is a plate if you need one. The bread is in the breadbox if you’d like a sandwich. We have turkey and ham, salami, and some lettuce.”

Judi pulled out a couple of slices of pizza from the refrigerator and laid them on the plate while Angie filled her glass with water from the sink.

She leaned back against the counter as Judi placed the plate in the microwave.

“So, how long have you and Ben been seeing each other?”

Judi raised an eyebrow and looked over her shoulder. “Seeing each other? As in dating?” She shook her head. “We’re not seeing each other. I thought you knew I was his secretary.”

Angie shrugged a shoulder. “Well, that’s what he said, but . . .”

She let the implication hang in the air.

“And it’s what he meant. I’m filling in for his secretary. Her husband is going through chemo treatments, so she needed some time off. I drove Ben down here because his doctor advised him not to drive until he stops having headaches and dizzy spells from his concussion.”

Judi took the plate out of the microwave, set it on the island, and sat on a stool. “I’m also the reason he has a concussion and a broken food but no, we are not seeing each other.” She snorted a small laugh. “Ben is good looking, don’t get me wrong, but he’s way too uptight and strait-laced for me.” She grimaced. “And boring. So boring. I don’t know how you ever dated him.”

A small smile tugged at Angie’s mouth. She sat on a stool on the other side of an island, across from Judi.  “Well, he wasn’t always boring.”

“Yeah, probably not since he was still drinking then,” Judi said.

Angie made a face. “Actually, he wasn’t a fun drunk. He was an angry and depressed drunk most of the time.”

Judi swallowed a bite of pizza and bit her lower lip. Sometimes she really needed to think before she spoke. “Sorry. That was a bad joke.” She focused her gaze on Angie’s. “Really. I know firsthand how not fun it can be when a person drinks too much.”

Angie cupped the glass in her hands, her arms propped on the island. “Were you in a relationship with an alcoholic too?”

 “No. I was the alcoholic.”

Angie dropped her gaze. “Oh.” She cleared her throat and lifted the glass. “I didn’t know that.”

Judi smirked. “Guess you haven’t talked to anyone from high school in a while. I figured you’d already heard all about my stupid behavior over the years.”

“I don’t really talk to anyone from high school,” Angie said softly. “I don’t like remembering who I was back then.” She twirled the glass in her hand. “I had heard you moved to the city, though. What brought you back?”

Judi shrugged. “Needed a break from the hustle and bustle I guess.”

“I can understand that. The city was a bit too crazy for me, honestly. It made me realize I’m more of a country girl than I realized.”

Judi folded the pizza in half and shoved into her mouth, speaking around it. “I love the city. I’m not a country girl at all. Too dull around Spencer Valley.” She wiped her mouth with a napkin and swallowed. “Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s the truth. If you don’t want to go to a bar then you’re pretty much stuck reading a book or joining the quilt club.” She rolled her eyes. “Or join my sister’s Bible study.”

Angie smiled and propped her chin in her hand. “So how did you give Ben a concussion?”

Judi took another bite of the pizza. “I accidentally pulled out in front of him on Drew Road. He swerved to miss me and slammed into a tree.”

Angie winced. “Ouch.”

“In his new BMW too. Then he got out, bleeding from the head, yelling, pointing and gesturing while this vein in his head popped out. I thought it was going to explode.”

“The one right above his right eye?

Judi laughed. “Yes. It was popping to the rhythm of his words.”

“How about the neck one? Right below his left ear?”

“Working overtime.”

“How red were his ears?”

“Like a lobster. I can tell you know Angry Ben too well.”

Angie’s smile faded briefly. “Yeah.” The smile slowly returned. “Sometimes it was funny though. It wasn’t all bad anger. Sometimes he was upset about a class or because he couldn’t get the garbage bag open. It wasn’t always directed at me.”

Judi took another bite of pizza and a comfortable silence settled over the kitchen for a few minutes.

“People can change,” she said after a few moments, even though she wasn’t sure she believed it herself.

Angie nodded and picked up an apple from the fruit basket in the center of the island. “Yeah. They can.”

“I think I am seeing a different Ben than you did.”

An orange cat rubbed against Angie’s leg and she reached down and stroked its head. “Yeah. I think you are.”

 “Maybe you’ll see that version of Ben someday too.” Judi stood and tossed the empty plate in the trash can.  “Anyhow – I’m going to head to bed. It’s been a long and crazy day.”

Angie’s voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned back around. “Did Ben ask you to drive him down here?”

Judi knew she should lie and said he had. It would probably make Angie feel better and make Ben look better. There was that whole private promise she’d made herself to be honest, though.

“No. Not exactly. I offered. He didn’t want to come.”

Angie drank the last of the water and placed the empty glass in the sink. “I see.” She turned to face Judi. “Why did you offer?”

Judi didn’t want to get into it, try to sound like a good person. She just wanted to go to bed and try to forget about the earlier phone call. Angie was looking at her with an expression Judi couldn’t read. Either she was hoping that Ben had shown some sort of interest in doing the right thing or she was afraid Judi had forced him to come.

“I figure he’d eventually regret it if he didn’t see his daughter.” She smiled and laughed softly. “And I really needed to get out of Spencer for a few hours. Like I said, the place is seriously dull.”

Angie responded with a laugh of her own. “I know and I’m going back there in a few weeks. What am I thinking?”

Judi placed her hand on the bottom of the banister. “Look me up when you get there. Maybe we can find something fun to do there together.” She raised her hands in a defense motion. “Something that won’t involve alcohol. I promise.”

Angie tossed the apple up and caught it again. “I may take you up on that. Hey, would you like a pair of pajamas? I’ve got an extra one in the second drawer of my dresser. We look about the same size. I’m sure it would fit.”

The two walked upstairs together, Judi thanked Angie for the offer of the pajamas, and they said goodnight.

She changed into the nightshirt and pajama pants Angie had offered her, turned the lights off, pulled the covers around her, and started to set her phone down when Evan texted back.

Evan: Hey, Judi Lambert. How sweet of you to be worried about me. Yeah, I’m good. Dropping my truck off and then heading back out on the road to Spencer. Hope to catch up with you when I get there. You back in town yet?

Judi: No. Car problems again. Still in Lancaster.

Evan: Ah, man. I should have looked a little longer. Sorry about that.

Judi: No problem. Really. Angie’s brother found some dirt on the connection to the battery.

Evan: Dang. Didn’t think to check that. Guess I was too busy checking you out.

Warmth spread across Judi’s cheeks and she immediately felt ridiculous. Plenty of guys had flirted with her over the years. She was used to it. Evan was no different so why was she reacting this way?

Judi: Very funny, McGee. Glad you are safe. We’re headed out tomorrow. Angie’s mom was worried about the fog and had us stay over.

 Evan: Good idea. The fog was rough. Took me an extra hour to get back to my garage and I’ll be taking my time back to Spencer. Call me as soon as you’re back in town, k? I’d love to see you again.

Judi smiled at his words.

Judi: Same here. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Evan: Night, Judi. I’ll be remembering that cute skirt you were wearing tonight in my dreams.

Judi clicked the screen off and laid the phone by the bed. She’d met a lot of guys over the years, most of them after one thing. Evan McGee probably wasn’t any different but right now she wasn’t sure she cared.

Flirting with him was a nice distraction from the situation with Jeff. She’d have to face it all at some point, call that lawyer and tell him she didn’t want anything to do with the case, but for now, she was going to pretend the only worry she had was how soon she could get together with Evan once she got back in Spencer.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore, Chapter 16

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 16

Ben’s mind was spinning when he reached Amelia’s room. His thoughts had already been jumbled before he’d heard the angry voice coming from Angie’s room.

First, Amelia had invited him up to her room about fifteen minutes after she got back from the hospital, something he was still struggling to process. Now he had to juggle that conundrum — and Angie’s furious expression when he’d taken Amelia’s offered hand — along with whatever was going on with Judi. Whoever had been talking to her had definitely been threatening her. He wondered if that was why she’d come back to Spencer Valley.

Angie had stayed downstairs with her parents. Her boyfriend, or whatever he was, had stayed outside with Angie’s brothers so Ben hadn’t been introduced to him. Not that Angie would have introduced them. She hadn’t even looked at Ben when she’d come back to the house with Amelia. She’d looked at the floor when Amelia had asked Ben to come up and see her room.

Now here Ben sat cross legged in the middle of a hot pink rug while his daughter – who didn’t even know she was his daughter – showed him her dollhouse. Ben knew Adam had built it, along with the bed frame and headboard and canopy scaffolding. He didn’t have to ask. It’s what Adam did after all and why he had a successful furniture making business. A furniture making business he was apparently moving back to Spencer. He’d probably been about to talk to Ben about that when Angie had come back with Amelia.

“Pop-pop says this dolly is like mommy.”

Amelia’s little voice made Ben love her even more and regret even more how much of her life he had missed out on. The doll in her hand was petite and blond and she placed it on a bed in the upstairs.

“And this is William,” the little girl said, sitting a male doll on the couch in the living room.

Ben didn’t even want to ask, but he finally did.

“And who is William?”

“William loves mommy. He told me so.”

Ah. William. So that was Tall-Ginger-And-Handsome’s name.

Ben simply nodded and reached for the stuffed bear he’d given Amelia downstairs. She’d laid it on the bed when they came in and for some reason, he felt like he needed something to squeeze at the moment. Did he really care if Angie had a boyfriend?

He squeezed the bears head with both hands.

Had he expected her to never date again after he’d abandoned her?

He squeezed the bear a little harder.

The answer to both of those questions was yes and he hated it.

He’d tried dating after he’d left Angie, or she’d left him, or — well, it was a mutual decision in some ways. None of the relationships had worked out after the third or fourth date and he’d been fine with that. He wasn’t interested in getting involved with someone again. He’d hurt Angie enough. No need to add more shattered women to the world when he inevitably screwed up again.

“William is a doctor.” Amelia was still talking, but not looking at him. Her attention was consumed with placing little figures into the house. She whirled suddenly and looked him in the eye with such intensity he was mesmerized. “What do you do when you aren’t home, Ben?”

She blinked a few times, her expression much too serious for someone so young.

He cleared his throat nervously, touching a hand to his throat and rubbing there. He’d hoped to loosen his tie, then remembered he wasn’t wearing one. “Uh, I’m a lawyer.”

Her nose wrinkled. “What’s a loyer?”

He laughed softly. “It’s someone who — well, we help people.”

Her face brightened. “You and William both help people.”

 “Yes. That’s right.” He nodded slowly. “We help people.”

Though William probably saved lives and there were days all Ben could seem to do was ruin them.

“Amelia?”

Angie’s voice called from the bottom of the stairs. He was surprised she’d let him up here alone with Amelia this long.

“Yes, mommy?”

“Why don’t you come down and say goodbye to William and your other guests. They’re going to be leaving.”

Amelia ran to the doorway. “Goodbye!” she yelled then ran back to Ben and sat next to him, her little legs folded under her.

Ben grinned. “I don’t think that’s what she meant, kid.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come on. Let’s head downstairs.”

She didn’t take his hand. “But I don’t want to. I want to play dolls.”

Ben heard his father’s voice in his next words. “I know it’s more fun to play dolls, but your mom is calling you. You need to listen to her, okay?”

He kept his hand out to her and she pushed her lower lip out, looked up at him, and shrugged.

“Okay,” she said, standing.

She took his hand, and he held it for a few seconds before turning to leave the room. Who knew when he’d hold this little hand again. He rubbed his thumb across the top of it, over the smooth skin. A hard knot formed in the center of his stomach and he swallowed hard. He’d missed out on so much. He had no right to even be here.

Angie’s words filtered up the stairs from the living room as he started down the stairs, confirming his own belief.

“No, Mom. I am not staying down here any longer. She’s my daughter.”

He paused on the steps but couldn’t hear Leona’s response. He kept walking, slowly, Amelia’s hands in his.

“She’s his daughter biologically only,” Angie snapped as his foot hit the floor off the bottom step.

She turned at the sound of his footstep, her face flushed. Their gazes met for a few seconds and then he turned his attention to Amelia, her hand still in his. “Thank you for showing me your room and dollhouse.”

Amelia smiled, pulled her hand from his and ran toward the patio doors, apparently on her way to bid her guests a farewell.

He kept his gaze off Angie and focused on Leona who was wrapping up food and place it into the fridge. “Judi’s up. We are going to head out shortly.”

“Are you sure? You both look so tired and there’s supposed to be fog tonight.” Leona’s brow crinkled in concern. “We’ve got plenty of room if you two want to stay. The boys got a hotel room.”

“No.” Ben glanced at Angie, felt the heat coming off her even though she was looking at the floor, her arms across her chest as she leaned back against the kitchen island. “Thank you, but we really need to head out tonight. I’ve got court Monday morning and I need to prepare some briefs.”

Angie smirked but didn’t say anything. He wondered what she was thinking, yet really didn’t want to know.

“Well, okay, I understand,” Leona said, disappointment tinging her words. She turned and lifted a container from the fridge. “I thought you might say that, so I packed up some extra food for your trip home. I hope you’ll take it with you.”

Leona and his mom were so similar. “Of course. I’d be glad to.”

The patio door slid open as he started to excuse himself to see if Judi was ready to go. Doctor Handsome stepped into the kitchen, his eyes focusing first on Angie, then on Ben. An awkward silence fell over the room until Leona nudged Angie gently in the side with her elbow.

Angie tilted her eyes upward and sighed. “William this is Ben. Ben this is William.” She lowered her eyes, her gaze drilling into Ben her complete disgust with his presence. “He was just leaving.”

“Ben, hey.” William didn’t seem bothered by Angie’s tone. His smile was still wide, maybe even warm. He held a hand out toward Ben. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Ben took the hand and laughed softly. “Yeah. I’m sure you have.” He shook William’s hand briefly and firmly then let it go, taking a step back toward the staircase. Time to get out of here. “Nice to meet you.” He gestured up the stairs. “I’m just going to make sure Judi’s ready.”

“I am!”

He watched Judi already coming down the stairs, hair combed straight and hanging down across her shoulders and back, makeup freshly applied, bright pink lipstick, smiling as if she hadn’t been shaking twenty-minutes earlier.

Ben stepped out of her way and watched as Leona introduced her to William as his secretary while Angie smirked again. They then filed toward the front door and out it as Ben thanked Leona and Adam for the invitation. Ben was grateful when Angie and William stayed in the kitchen and Matt and Dan stayed in the backyard with Amelia and a few of the stragglers. He was uncomfortable enough and more than anything wanted to get out of there and never look back.

Leona and Adam were still on the porch waving, and the sun was setting, when Judi turned the key in the ignition and the car didn’t start.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ben growled.

This could not be happening. Could this day get any worse?

“Don’t even ask, Ben.”

“What?” Judi asked.

“Nothing. Just start the car.”

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder. Her brothers are coming out and I don’t want to die today.”

“It’s not going to start.”

Ben growled again. “Apparently good ole’ Evan wasn’t so smart after all. Maybe he was too focused on flirting with you to properly diagnose the issue.”

 Judi sighed instead of fighting back with a smart comment like she usually did, which reminded Ben of what she’d gone through earlier. He cleared his throat. “Sorry. It’s not your fault. I just want to get out of here.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair, staring ahead, her demeanor definitely more subdued than usual. “I understand. It’s been a stressful day all around.” She pushed a button under the steering wheel and opened the door. “Let’s see if we can figure this out and get on the road.”

Guilt and frustration were his main emotions as he climbed out of the car, but when he saw Mark and Danny standing on the porch dread overshadowed them both.

“Car troubles again?” Adam called.

Ben nodded. “Yep. Looks like. A guy looked at it on the way down but I guess he didn’t diagnose it right.”

“A mechanic?” Mark asked as he stepped off the porch and walked toward the car.

“A truck driver,” Judi said with a shrug. “You probably know him. Evan McGee. Matt’s younger brother.”

“Yeah, I know Evan,” Mark said. “Good guy. I’m sure he just missed something. Nobody’s perfect.” He smirked and turned to look at Ben. “I’m sure you would agree, right Oliver?”

The two men locked gazes for a few seconds before Ben answered. “Yes, Mark. I would agree. Would you?”

Judi cleared her throat. “Well, anyhow, Evan clearly was wrong and something else is going on.”

Mark leaned over the engine, propping a hand on the edge of the open hood. “I worked part time with Bert Tanner for a few years before we opened the business. Why don’t I take a quick look for you?”

“Thank you,” Judi said.

“Yes,” Ben said with a forced smile. “Thank you.”

While Mark looked retrieved tools from his truck and looked at the engine, Judi and Ben chatted with Adam and Leona as they waited. Mark straightened about fifteen minutes into his inspection and wiped his hand on a rag. He nodded toward the driver’s side. “Looks like you had a corroded connection to the battery. See if it starts. If it does you should be good to go but I’d recommend that you get your engine serviced when you get back to Spencer.”

Judi smiled over her shoulder as she opened the driver side door. “I’ll be sure to look into that as soon as I figure out what serviced means.”

When the car started Judi rolled the window down. “Thank you. Hopefully it holds out until we get back.”

Dan stepped out onto the porch. “You might need to find a different route, though, they’ve shut down part of the highway. Major accident. Tractor trailer overturned. Just saw it online.”

Ben thought about how it was generous of Dan to offer that information to a guy he’d probably rather beat up. The brothers were being polite in front of their parents, but he had a feeling if they were alone with him again the politeness would be gone.

Leona looked concerned as she rubbed her hands across her arms. The move reminded him of his mom when she was stressed or wanted to say something she didn’t think anyone else would want to hear.

Leona bit her lower lip briefly then said quickly, “I think you two should stay until the highway is clear. There is supposed to be even foggier conditions tonight. You two can head out first thing in the morning.”

The woman was nothing if not persistent, but Ben had to resist her. Mark’s previous congenial behavior was fading fast based on the crease in his brow. Next to him, Dan had his hands on his hips, staring Ben down as if challenging Ben to accept the offer. Or maybe he was challenging him to reject the offer and reject yet another female member of the Phillipi family. Right here, in front of everyone. Either way, it wasn’t going to end well for Ben.

Before he could decline the latest offer, though, tiny fingers encircled his.

“Are you going to have a sleepover, Ben?” Amelia asked in a tiny, curious voice.

 Ben glanced up at Angie and William who had stepped out onto the porch to stand next to Dan. It was as if the whole family had come out to watch him make a complete fool out of himself no matter how he answered.

“Um. No. I don’t think that would be a good idea, kid.”

“Why not? You can sleep in my room in my sleeping bag.”

Ben laughed softly. “That’s sweet, kid, but, again, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“We really don’t mind,” Adam said in a sincere tone, laying his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “It would be nice to have a chance to chat since we were interrupted earlier.”

Leona touched her hand to her throat and rubbed the dip there, looking more concerned than before.

“I just hate to think of anything happening to you two out there on the roads tonight. I know I would feel better if you were driving home in the daylight instead of this fog. I’m sure your mother would too.”

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Leona knew how to twist the knife in deeper, go in for the kill. Invoke the thought of his mother at home, pacing the floor, wringing her hands, waiting for him to call and tell her they’d it made home through the fog. Only his parents didn’t even know he was here. Of course, Leona didn’t know they didn’t know, and he wasn’t about to get into that right now.  

And there was something about the way Adam was looking at him that sent a twinge of dread sliding through him. Why was it so important for Adam to talk to him? He already knew about the move. Was something else going on? Maybe someone in the family actually was sick.

He couldn’t stay, though. The entire situation was incredibly uncomfortable and growing more uncomfortable by the minute. Plus there was Judi. She had to feel out of place. He wasn’t sure how upset she still was by that phone call she’d had earlier either.

He turned slightly to look at her. She shrugged a shoulder, as if to say the decision was his. He’d always been bad at making decisions though so when he agreed to stay, he felt deep in his chest that he’d done it again – made another bad decision he was going to regret.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 15

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 15

“So, the dude with Angie is her boyfriend.” Judi pushed a bite of cake into her mouth. “He’s a doctor.”

The cake was amazing. Judi hadn’t eaten cake in — well, she didn’t know how long. She’d always stayed away from cake to try to keep her figure. She couldn’t believe what she’d been missing. This had been her third piece since they’d gotten there.

She stared at the half-eaten piece for a few seconds, then laid the fork back down. Whoa. She was about trade one addiction for another. The sugar addiction wouldn’t kill her as fast as the alcohol might, but still. She pushed the plate away.

“Anyhow, that’s what Mark says. He’s a nice guy when you get to know him.” She wiped frosting off her upper lip with a napkin. “He hates you, though. We should probably duck out before Angie and the kid gets back before they give you another concussion.”

Ben pushed a hand back through his hair and sipped from the cup of coffee Leona had brought him earlier. A handful of guests were still lingering, helping Leona and Adam clean up. Judi had heard them agree they’d stay around until Amelia came back and opened her gifts. The mention of gifts reminded her of the stuffed bear Ben had shoved in the trunk a few miles back. They’d stopped at a toy store in town. He’d had no idea what to buy but Judi had grabbed the bear, shoved it at is his chest and declared bluntly, “Kids like stuffed things. Let’s go.”

“Should I go get that bear out of the trunk?”

Ben stared into the coffee cup for several moments then jerked his head up suddenly. “Huh? Oh. Yeah. That would be a good idea, I guess.” He sat back in the lounge chair he was sitting in and rubbed the back of his neck. “You know what? Let’s go get that and then let’s head out.” He looked at his watch. “It’s getting late and we’ve got a long drive back.”

Judi wanted to go back. Evan’s suggestion they get together when she got back to Spencer was at the forefront of her mind. Still, something tugged at her conscience and she decided not to agree as quickly as she usually would have.

“Shouldn’t we stay?” She shrugged a shoulder. “Just to see how Amelia is?”

Ben shook his head and sipped the coffee again. “No. I think we should go. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Sure you should. You’re her dad.”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that, and I’ve never acted like a dad, so, no I shouldn’t be here. Plus, it looks like she’s got someone to be her dad anyhow.”

He had a point. Should she tell him he had a point? She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and watched him drinking the coffee and staring blankly at the back of the house.

Actually, both Jesus and Ellie would probably not point out to Ben that he was right about Amelia having a replacement dad. That definitely wouldn’t help his mood.

“Well, still, it would look bad if you just left and didn’t see how she was.”

Ben finished off the coffee. “I’m sure she’s going to be fine. It was just a bloody nose. I got them a ton when I was a kid.”

He said the words but his dipped brow, far-off stare, and hunched shoulders told Judi he didn’t believe it.

“Well, this party has been a bit of a bust, huh?” Adam laughed as he walked over to the table and sat next to Ben. “Angie just called, though, and Amelia seems to be doing fine. No broken bones. They’re heading home soon.”

Ben’s muscles visibly tensed at the word “they’re.”

Ben placed the cup on the table and rubbed a hand across his eyes. “We should be heading out too. We’ve got a long drive back.”

 “You’re welcome to stay the night,” Adam said, folding his hands in front of him as he leaned on the tabletop.  “We’ve got a pullout couch in the den and Angie can sleep in Amelia’s room tonight.”

Ben shook his head quickly. “No. Thank you, but I need to get back and rest up. I’ve got court Monday morning.”

Judi cleared her throat. “Actually, I could use a rest before we head out.”

Adam’s expression brightened as if he was glad he could help somehow. “Sure. You can crash in Angie’s room. It will be a little more private than the den and I’m sure she won’t mind.”

Ben’s expression darkened and he shot Judi a glance she knew meant he was not happy with her. It was true, though. She could use a nap before the drive back.

Manipulating situations was a talent of her’s and she was glad to be able to use it for good this time instead of bad. Stalling their departure would give Ben another chance to see Amelia and say goodbye and maybe give her the gift they’d brought. Leaving now would only leave him on a lower note than he’d been on when he’d arrived. Maybe they could redeem the trip if he and Amelia had another chance to bond. It might make him less grumpy at work on Monday too. Judi wasn’t completely without an ulterior — and self-serving — motive.

She followed Adam into the house. He paused in the kitchen to let Leona know Judi be laying down in Angie’s room and then led Judi up a flight of stairs leading from the dining room and down a narrow hallway with a large window at the end of it.

Adam pushed the door open to a room on the right and as Judi looked to her left, across the hall, she noticed a closed door with a unicorn picture taped to the outside. Turning her attention to Angie’s room, she took in the sunlight pouring in streams across a queen-sized bed with a cherry wood headboard and a comforter featuring pink roses against a white background spread across it. The room even smelled of roses. Clean, tidy, and picturesque. The whole scene made Judi want to roll her eyes. She might have if Adam hadn’t been there and also hadn’t interrupted her thoughts by letting her know where the upstairs bathroom was if she needed it and asking if she’d like an extra blanket from the hall closet.

She thanked him, declining the blanket, and when he’d left and shut the door, she tossed her purse on a chair next to an armoire, stretched her arms over her head while yawning, and looked around the room before flopping back onto the pile of pillows at the top of the bed.

“My-my, Angie Phillipi, you sure know how to live in style.”

She yawned again and rolled onto her side, intending to take the nap she’d said she needed. An open drawer in a desk across from the bed caught her attention briefly but she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t get up and go to look in it. She was turning over a new leaf, changing her ways. She wasn’t about to snoop in the drawers of a desk owned by a woman she barely knew.

When she reached over and laid her phone on a book by the bed the book and the phone fell. The book must have been closer to the edge than she realized. She leaned over and picked the book up and when she did a photograph fluttered to the floor.

“Great. Just trash Angie’s stuff, Judi,” she said to herself as she flipped the photograph over to slide it bask into the book.

Ben and Angie’s smiling faces looked up at her from the photograph and she paused, studying it. Ben’s arm was around Angie who had her body pressed into his side. They were definitely a couple whenever the photo was taken, not only because of Angie’s intimate posture but because of Ben’s hand resting on her thigh. Judi studied the photo for a moment then opened the book to lay the photo inside. Handwritten dates and journal entries made her realize the book was actually a journal. As much as she wanted to know what, if anything, Angie had written about Ben. She was going to stick to her personal promise to not pry into the private lives of others.

She pulled herself back into a comfortable position and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep quicker than she normally did.

The sound of her phone ringing woke her. She answered it without thinking and without looking at the caller ID, her eyes still closed.

“Hey, gorgeous. I didn’t expect you to pick up when you saw my name.”

The voice sliced a chill through her and she sat up, her eyes popping open. She swallowed hard, wanting to slide her finger over the end call button but feeling as if she were in a daze. Her arms wouldn’t move, her mouth had gone dry, and an odd roar filled her ears.

“Speechless huh?” A sardonic laugh filtered loudly through the phone, causing her to flinch as she realized she’d bumped the speaker button.  “Yeah, well too bad you weren’t speechless when you lied to Seline about that night in my apartment.” Jeff’s cheerful timbre slid into a more mocking tone. “Funny how you didn’t mention to her how you were all over me all night in the bar and all those highballs you kicked back before you asked me to take you back to my place.”

Judi pulled the phone back and started to hit the end call button, noticing the tremor in her hand.

“You wanted it, Judi. You know it. I was only giving you what you wanted before you decided you weren’t going to let me have it. That’s how girls like you are. You beg for it all night long and when we finally give in, then you cry rape. That’s what sluts do, Judi. You know that right? You don’t want your family to know what a slut you are, do you?”

She gasped as the phone was snatched from her hand. She looked up to see Ben standing above her with her phone in his hand, anger flashing in his eyes. She couldn’t figure out where he’d come from or how she hadn’t heard the bedroom door open.

“Who is this?” he hissed at the phone.

“Who is this?” Jeff shot back. “Judi’s new boyfriend?”

“No. This is Judi’s lawyer, and it sounds to me like you’re trying to blackmail my client and I don’t appreciate that and neither will a judge when we — “

Jeff spat a curse word and the line went dead.

Judi hugged her arms around herself, suddenly aware her entire body had grown cold and she was trembling.

“You okay?”

She started to shake her head but changed her mind and nodded.

He lowered his voice and she noticed out of the corner of her eye that the bedroom door was open and she could see into the room across the hall. Amelia was sitting on a pink canopy bed with a doll, brushing its hair.

“Amelia is showing me her room but when I’m done, we need to talk about what just happened. Don’t tell me it was nothing. I don’t know who that guy was but he was threatening you. Is this related to that text you got from some Seline earlier?”

Judi’s head jerked up and her mouth dropped open. “Wha —”

Ben held his hand up and turned toward the doorway. “No. Don’t tell me now. Take a deep breath, calm down and we’ll talk when we get in the car.”

“How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know whoever that guy is he’s a piece of garbage.” He paused, his hand on the doorknob. His tone had softened. “Are you going to be okay for a few minutes?”

Judi nodded but didn’t speak. Ben studied her for a few moments, eyes narrowing, then stepped into the hallway and closed the door. She’d been afraid to speak. If she had, the wall might have fallen, the emotion might have spilled over, and she wouldn’t have been able to put the lid back on again.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 14

I shared a chapter from this story yesterday to make up for missing last week.

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 14

Ben felt like he was going to throw up and it wasn’t only because of the gas station hot dog he’d eaten a half an hour before.

Parked in front of a cozy stone farmhouse surrounded almost entirely by flat land and corn fields , he narrowed his eyes and chewed on his lower lip, tapping the side of his finger against his chin.

“Let’s forget it.”

Judi laughed at his words and finished applying her make up. “After driving four hours, which included sitting for almost two, eating garbage food and being used as your therapist? I think not.”

Evan had said he’d run into Angie’s brothers somewhere in Spencer, something Ben been able to avoid for the last couple of years since he’d moved back to the area. He wondered if they’d be there today and if they were, he wondered if he’d get out of this party alive. The pair owned and ran their own construction business and were about as big in the shoulders as Jason Tanner. Together they could have made up half of the defensive line of a NFL team. He was actually surprised they hadn’t killed him already.

“I’m not really well liked in there, Judi.” His palms were actually sweating. Nausea gripped him and he had a sudden urge to drop his head between his knees and gasp in a few mouthfuls of air. “This could really end badly.”

“Her parents wanted you here, right?”

Ben nodded slowly, his eyes on the front door, drifting across the yard lined with cars, two of them large, black pickups he knew were Dan and Mark Philippi’s. His gaze lingered on the back of the truck and he wondered if that’s where they’d throw his body before they drove somewhere remote to dispose of it.

“Yeah, they did want me here, but actually being here is another story.”

Judi laughed, a carefree laugh which grated on his nerves even more. “It’ll be fine and if it isn’t, then at least it will be entertaining for me.” She winked and slid on a pair of sunglasses. “Come on, big Mr. Attorney. You can handle this. It’s not like it’s any worse than a murder trial.”

Ben took a deep breath and opened the door. “My clients aren’t usually murders, but thanks.”

Each step he took up the sidewalk was like walking knee deep in mud. He’d only seen photographs of Amelia. For all he knew she might run away screaming from him. He looked at the stone underneath him and knew Adam had crafted this sidewalk like he had the one at their old house back in Spencer. The man was a craftsman through and through, whether it was with stone or wood.

He stopped at the door and Judi stepped next to him. The gold door hanger glinted in the sun as he shoved his hands in his pockets.

“That’s not how you knock on a door,” Judi said reaching up and slamming the knocker twice.

“I’m absolutely regretting agreeing to this,” he told her as footsteps broke through the muffled sounds of children’s giggles and squeals and adult laughter.

The person he’d hoped would be standing on the other side of the door when it opened was not who appeared and he visibly flinched, stepping back in anticipation of Mark Philippi’s fist hitting his face. The smile Mark had been wearing immediately slipped as dark brows furrowed and the rugged jawline clenched.

Ben expected the door to be slammed in his face and it might have if Judi hadn’t leaned into the doorway. “Hey! Is this the right place for a party? Also, do you have a little girls’ room because I could really use one.”

Judi’s appearance seemed to throw Mark off his game almost as much as seeing Ben standing at his parents’ door. “Uh. Yeah. Sure.”

Judi didn’t wait for Ben to make the first move. She stepped past him and m Mark, looking up at the latter  on the way by. “Oh, you’re a tall one, aren’t you?” She lifted her sunglasses for a minute, looked Mark up and down and winked. “Do you work as a bouncer? You’ve got to with those shoulders.”

Mark’s expression faded to an unreadable mask, but one eyebrow lifted. “The bathroom is down this hall. First door on the left.”

Judi didn’t miss a beat. She placed the sunglasses on top of her head and kept smiling. “Awesome. Thank you so much.”

Her departure left Ben standing with a stone faced Mark still holding the front door open before the tension was finally cut by Adam appearing from behind Mark, almost as if by magic. “Ben!” He stuck his hand out. “You made it! What a great surprise!”

Ben accepted the handshake and Adam shook it firmly. “Come on in. You must be exhausted. That’s a long drive.”

Adam gently pulled Ben forward, forcing him to step around Mark who was now scowling down at him like a Sumo wrestler who’d just been told he wasn’t getting any dinner.

“How was your drive?” Adam asked as he released Ben’s hand outside the living room entrance.

“Okay, but we did break down about an hour from here. I apologize that it made us late.”

“No worries at all.” Adam smiled and motioned toward the hallway Judi had walked down. “Things are just getting started. Everyone is in the backyard with the piñata and bouncy house.” He laughed and held his hand up toward his mouth like he was letting Ben in on a secret. “Yes, we went a little over board and splurged for the bouncy house, but she only turns four once. And it was a good deal.”

Ben took Adam’s appearance in. Short cropped brown hair with flecks of gray in it now, maybe thinner than before but good-colored complexion. His brown eyes sparkled with excitement and he seemed well. Maybe he wasn’t sick. Maybe it was Leona. Or maybe it was Angie. Or —

“Ben!” Leona’s voice from behind him turned him from Angie’s father to a petite woman in her mid-50s with graying honey blond hair cropped along her jaw line.

Leona held her arms out to him and embraced him before he could respond. The parents of the woman he’d abandoned four years ago were certainly being very welcoming and he wasn’t sure how to take it.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Leona said with a warm smile. “We didn’t think you were going to be able to make it. I thought you weren’t allowed to drive yet.”

“Oh, I’m not yet, but —”

Once again Judi had horrible timing. She came down the hall with a broad smile and stood next to him. He gestured briefly at Judi. “But my secretary nicely offered to drive me.”

“Hello.” Judi smiled and waved at Adam and Leona whose smiles faded briefly then returned. She waved again at Mark who managed a faint smile. “So nice to meet you.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you too,” Adam said. “Thank you for driving Ben down.”

 Leona’s smile was as warm as before as she motioned toward the hall. “You both must be starving. We have plenty of food in the backyard.” She looked at her son. “Mark, why don’t you and your dad walk Judi out and grab her something to drink.”

Mark kept his gaze on Ben for a few seconds then looked at his mother and smiled a smile Ben knew was forced. “Sure. I’d be glad to.”

When Adam and Mark led Judi to the backyard, Leona turned toward Ben and he felt the knot in his stomach return. “Leona, listen, it was really nice of you and Adam to invite me and to want me here, but Angie —”

Leona held up her hand. “Didn’t want you here. I know. We are going against her wishes but we felt it was time for you to get to know your daughter more.” She laid her hand against Ben’s shoulder. “Will you come into the living room with me for a moment?”

Ben followed the woman who had once been like a mother-in-law to him into a cozy room with white walls, blue flowers on white couches and chairs, and a high-backed recliner that he imagined was Adam’s. Along one wall was a floor to ceiling bookcase which he immediately envied. A television sat inside a cubby in the wall of the bookcase, which in addition to being filled with books was also lined with various frames full of photographs of a bright-eyed, blond haired little girl, some with Adam and Leona, one with a laughing Angie. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw her laugh. She probably laughed a lot now that she didn’t have to deal with his various issues.

He also couldn’t remember when he’d last seen Angie in person. Probably when Amelia was a year old and he’d run into them when he was home for a visit around Christmas and her family was preparing to sell and move to Lancaster. It had been in a small farm store the Tanner’s ran and he’d been picking up milk his mom had asked for. Amelia and Leona had been picking up sweet potatoes and various baked goods.

He’d ducked behind tall rows of canned vegetables and fruits like a coward while they passed by. His gaze had fallen to Angie first, his chest aching at how beautiful she was, then had drifted to the baby propped against her hip, full and pouting lips, wide eyes that looked so much like his own, and Angie’s blond hair. In that moment he’d felt like the scum of the earth and left the store without the milk, lying to his mom and telling her they were out.

He looked at the photos again. Amelia on a swing at a playground, on the back of a pony, in a pool, in Angie’s arms. His chest ached like that day in the store. What was he even doing here? He kept thinking of a song from the early 90s where the singer called himself a creep and lamented he didn’t belong here —wherever here was. Ben felt the same way. He was a creep who didn’t belong in this house.

“I know this is awkward for you.” Leona’s voice brought him back to the present and turned him around. “It’s awkward for us too. We didn’t even know if you wanted anything to do with Amelia, but we had to take a chance. We really felt like —I mean, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but we felt like God was leading us to reach out to you. Adam and I truly feel Amelia’s father should be a part of her life.”

He kept his hands in his pockets and nodded his head slowly, looking at the photos again briefly before he moved his gaze to Leona’s. “I don’t mind you saying that, Leona, but this isn’t what Angie wants.”

“Is it what you want?”

“What do you mean?”

“To be a part of Amelia’s life.”

Ben scratched rubbed a hand against the back of his head, scratched there. “Listen, I —”

“Mom, we’re getting ready to open presents, where are —” Angie’s expression as she came around the corner and saw Ben standing there switched quickly from shocked to annoyed within five seconds flat. Her smooth jawline tightened and her lips pressed into a thin line. One hand flew to her hip as she gestured toward him with the other hand. “What’s he doing here?”

Leona cleared her throat. “Your father and I invited him.”

“I know, but I told him I didn’t want him here.” Angie was mainly looking at her mother, occasionally casting looks Ben’s way, as if he could see them but couldn’t hear them.

“We invited him again and —”

“Decided not to tell me he was coming.”

“No, that’s not it, he had a concussion and couldn’t drive so we didn’t think he was coming. His secretary drove him here.”

Angie rolled her eyes. “I knew that girl looked familiar. Judi Lambert.” She scoffed. “Secretary. Yeah right. Nice try.”

She still wasn’t looking at Ben.

“Angie, honey, we’re not trying to cause any issues, we just felt Ben should see his daughter before the move.”

Ben cocked an eyebrow and looked between the two women. “The move?”

Leona turned her head to face him. “We’re moving back to Spencer Valley. Adam’s mother is very ill and we’re going back to take care of her. Adam also wants to move his furniture business there to run it with his brother.”

“Oh,” Ben said.

“He doesn’t need to know about the move because he’s not involved in it,” Angie snapped.

Leona left out a heavy sigh. “We didn’t want him to be shocked if he saw us, or you, around.”

Pink flushed along Angie’s cheekbones. “So call and tell him. He didn’t need to be told in person.”

Ben rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger, the muscles along his neck and shoulder tensing. “Yeah, okay, well thanks for talking about me like I’m not in the room. That’s been fun, but I’m more than willing to —”

“Maybe I’m talking about you like you’re not in the room because you aren’t supposed to be in the room.” Angie’s words snapped his sentence off and left him with a sick feeling in his stomach. Her voice dripped with absolute vitriol.

Leona stepped forward between them and held up her hands, palms out. “Okay. Truce. There was some miscommunication. Your father and I invited him again and we didn’t tell you because we thought he wasn’t coming. Now he is here, and I think he should be allowed to meet Amelia. With your permission.”

Angie folded her arms across her chest. “No. I’m not giving you my permission. I don’t want him here.” She looked at Ben. “Oh, sorry. I don’t want you to feel left out so I’ll tell you.” She pointed toward the front door. “I don’t want you here. You and your so-called secretary need to leave.”

“Angie, please —”

“Mom! She doesn’t even know him. What do you think I’m going to do walk out there and tell her I got her a daddy for her birthday?”

“No, I don’t think that, Angela. We don’t have to tell her who he is right now. Just that he’s a friend of yours —”

“Of mine?”

“Fine, of your father’s and mine.”

“Hi.” Ben waved slowly, wishing he had taken painkillers before he walked in. “Can I have a say in any of this?”

Angie’s eyes flashed with anger. “You haven’t for the last four years so why should you now?”

Leona tipped her head back and let out an exasperated sigh. “Angela…”

“It’s true, Mom. Where has he been? He sends money. That’s it.”

“At least I do that,” Ben mumbled. “Not to mention, you made it very clear more than once that you didn’t want me around.”

The muscle in Angie’s neck that always jumped when she was angry was bouncing over time. Ben knew he should be focused on what she was saying, but instead he was remembering when he used to kiss that neck, smoothing the muscle, and her, into submission.

Before Angie could respond — and Ben did wonder what she had been about to say — a small figure bounced into the living room wearing a purple tutu and a hot pink shirt with a white kitten on it. She turned her body toward Ben and placed her hands on her hips, striking a pose right out of her mother’s playbook.

Her eyebrows dipped. “And who are you?”

Her little voice demanded an answer.  She had his blue eyes and his nose and the way she was scowling at him right now he had a feeling she had a bit of his temper in her too. He only hoped she learned how to manage it better than he had.

“Uh, I’m Ben,” he said hesitantly, unable to look away from her even as he felt Angie’s eyes boring into the side of his head.

The brow relaxed. “Hey, Ben, I’m Amelia. Are you here for my party?”

“Uh. Yeah. I am.”

Her eyes dropped to his foot, still wrapped in a boot, though smaller than it had been three months ago. She poked a finger in her mouth and slid it out again then pointed down. “What happened to your foot? Do you have a booboo?”

He nodded slowly. “Yes actually. It’s broken.”

“Did you fall?” She looked up at him and blinked a few times. For a moment  he almost lost himself in those eyes, spiraling down into racing thoughts of all the years of her life he’d missed, all the firsts and milestones — first words, first steps, books read before bed . . .

Her little hand reached out and in seconds her tiny fingers had curled around two of his. She tugged him forward. “Come see the backyard. It’s pink for my birthday.”

“Amelia, honey. You don’t even know —”

Angie left the final word hanging in the air. Ben looked over his shoulder and saw her lips parted, her eyes focused on his, and then the quick intake of breath as she dropped her gaze to the floor. She was right, though. Amelia didn’t even know him.

He dutifully followed his daughter, though, with Angie and Leona close behind. How could he say no to this little girl whose fingers were so soft against his, whose eyes had met his and still decided he should come see her birthday party.

They passed through a cozy, bright kitchen that smelled of fresh lemons and something else sweet that made his stomach growl. Squinting in the bright sunlight as they stepped through the patio doors made his head pound. He reached for his sunglasses, to cut down on the glare.

When his eyes adjusted behind the darkened lenses, he wished he’d still been blinded by the light. Mark’s hard stare had been joined by an equally hard stare from his brother Dan, both of them standing like two burly security guards by a table full of food, their arms folded across their broad chests. Judi was sitting at a small table with a group of young children, sipping from a pink paper cup with a unicorn on the side.

Amelia was right. The backyard had indeed been decorated in pink, with pink streamers hanging down from the ceiling on an erected white tent, pink tablecloths on the tables, pink balloons tacked to a back fence and along the streamers. Even the bouncy house was a pink unicorn castle with pink flags on top.

“Come on.” She tugged him toward the small table where Judi was sitting. “You can sit with me. I’m the birthday girl.”

Ben looked over his shoulder at Angie standing on the patio, watching him closely. Sitting down with his little girl might make her eyes flash even more with anger but refusing to do so might also break a little heart. He made himself comfortable on a preschool sized chair next to Judi show smirked at him as she lifted her cup and took a sip.

“Fruit punch with sherbert,” Judi told him with a grin.

Amelia sat on her chair and lifted a silver plastic tiara off the table, placing it on her head.  “So, Ben, are you friends with my mommy?”

Ben swallowed hard. “Um…”

He glanced at Angie who had stepped into the backyard, sitting a few feet away at an adult sized table with her parents and some other people he didn’t recognize. They must have been the parents of the other children running around. Angie was watching him but everyone else had gone back to eating and chatting.

He had no idea if she could hear him or not. “I know your mommy. Knew. I mean I knew your mommy.”

Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. Knew her mother was a definite understatement.

Amelia studied him in a way that made him feel like she could see right through him for several seconds. Then she abruptly pulled her gaze away and scooped her finger in a glob of icing, sticking the finger in her mouth.

“I like ponies,” she said when she pulled the finger out with a pop. “Do you like ponies?”

What was the rule about lying to children? It wasn’t that he didn’t like ponies, but he also didn’t exactly like them. Still, her bright blue eyes were boring into him the same way his bored into a witness on the stand.

“I like them okay.”

There. It wasn’t a lie. A very lawyer-like answer and totally acceptable.

“Do you like cake?”

Actually, he liked pie more but she clearly liked cake and he didn’t hate cake so, “Sure do.”

She lightly touched her fingers to her tiara. “Do you like my tiara? My grampy gave it to me.”

His throat thickened with emotion. He wondered what she’d been told about her other grandparents, or if they ever mentioned them. His father would love to give Amelia gifts like tiaras and purple tutus. He hated he was the reason his parents didn’t have that opportunity.

“I love it,” he choked out.

Her smile sent his senses spinning. Wow. He’d missed out on so much by staying away.

She sighed, propped her chin in her hand for a few seconds, then stood up quickly. “Imma gonna get you cake. It’s a party. You need cake at a party.”

She headed toward the table with the cake. He watched as a little girl ran to her with a ball. Amelia was quickly distracted and ran to a clear space in the yard to toss the ball with the girl and a few other children.

“She’s adorable,” Judi whispered. “And she’s way too friendly to take after you.” She winked at him. “I’m going to get some more of that amazing potato salad Leona made. Want anything?”

He shook his head. “No. I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

She patted his shoulder as she stood. “Suit yourself. Just don’t puke in my purse while I’m gone.”

Her seat wasn’t empty long. This time it was Dan Phillipi’s turn to glare at him. Mark must have tagged him in.

Dan sat backwards on the little chair and leaned toward Ben across the table. “What are you doing here, Oliver.”

Ben folded his arms on the top of the table and leaned forward even though he really wanted to lean backward. Very backward. “Your parents asked me to come.”

Dan’s voice was hard. “You’ve been asked to be involved in your child’s life before and you never have. What was different about this time?”

Ben kept his eyes on Dan’s, trying to act like he wasn’t intimidated by the man, but also realizing he had no idea how to answer that question. If he told him he’d been worried about someone in the family being sick, Dan would call it a garbage. If he told him his doctor had said he’d been very lucky not to die in that car accident, then Dan would probably laugh and say he wish Ben had died.

Luckily he didn’t have to answer because everyone’s attention was drawn to a cry of pain from the gaggle of children and then a wail that sliced into Ben’s headache. Angie flew up from her chair, knocking it over as she turned around and darted across the yard, her parents close behind. Ben’s heartrate increased as other parents stood and looked on anxiously. Dan stood and followed his sister, briefly forgetting about his interrogation of Ben.

Ben stood and walked slowly toward the chaos, his knees trembling when he saw Angie holding a crying Amelia, blood pouring from the little girl’s nose and running into her mouth. He wanted to lunge forward, take her in his arms, wipe the blood off and find out what happened, but it wasn’t his place. It was Angie’s place and she was already doing what needed to be done.

Someone bumped his arm, pushing past him and rushed toward Amelia and Angie. Ben watched a man with short, wavy reddish blond hair kneel beside Angie, who was now on her knees with Amelia in her arms.

“What happened?” the man asked.

“The ball hit her face,” a little boy said as the parents looked on.

The man touched Amelia under the chin and tipped her face upward. He studied her as tears streamed down her face. “It’s coming from her nose and it doesn’t look broken but there’s a lot of swelling.”

“Should we take her to the hospital?” Angie asked, her worried gaze focused on the man’s face, clearly looking to him for guidance.

The man pondered Amelia’s blood-stained face for a few moments before answering. “It might be good to get it x-rayed. Yeah. Just as a precaution. I’ll drive us.”

Drive us? Ben studied the scene before him with a stern expression. Who was this guy who straightened from his stooped position, holding his daughter?

“Hey, kid, don’t worry. We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” the man said, smiling at Amelia. He glanced over at Angie as she stood. “Let’s get a wet cloth and clean some of this blood off so I can see how bad it actually is.”

Angie nodded and Ben saw the tears in her eyes. The man laid a hand on Angie’s back, leaned down and kissed her mouth. “Don’t worry, okay? She’s going to be fine.”

Angie nodded again but a tear rolled down her cheek and dripped off her chin. She followed the man closely as he headed toward the patio and into the house. Watching them, Ben felt even more like an outsider than he had in the living room. Apparently, those three were a family. A family he wasn’t a part of.

Sunday Bookends: Paul Newman movies and romantic comedy books dominate this week

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.

What’s Been Occurring

Last week seemed busy even though we didn’t do as much as the week before. Sunday we spent the day at my parents again. Wednesday The Husband and I went out for dinner for our 20th anniversary. We went to a place we were familiar with and enjoyed a good meal and then came home and watched a show based on an Agatha Christie short story.

Friday it was my first time grocery shopping in person in several years. I hate grocery shopping, so we have been doing grocery pickups for years, even before it was a “thing”. Now that we live 45 minutes from any Walmart, and with the price of gas, doing grocery pick up has become too expensive, so Friday the kids and I drove 20 minutes to the new Aldi store. It looks like I will now be doing this every Friday or every other Friday for the foreseeable future. Wish me luck.

I did learn one thing — don’t take a young child with you because they try to fill the cart with extra food. Luckily most of that extra food was fruit, but still.

This week I have to take Little Miss to gymnastics and take some photos at dress rehearsal for the play my husband is in and that, thank goodness, is about it.

What I’m Reading

I am still reading The Do Over by Bethany Turner, but will probably finish it this week.

For those who are curious about what it is about, here is a description:

A witty, romantic comedy of errors as former high school rivals McKenna and Henry inadvertently reunite in their hometown.

Hot-shot lawyer McKenna Keaton finds herself in hot water with her own law firm when she’s (falsely!) accused of embezzlement. Placed on unpaid leave, she suddenly finds herself with the free time to return home and attend her youngest sister’s wedding activities.

But it’s not all fun and games. Waiting back home is shy, nerdy Henry Blumenthal—McKenna’s high school rival for valedictorian who once took three hours to beat her at chess. Scratch that. He’s Hank Blume now, the famed documentarian, Durham, North Carolina’s, darling son, who has attained all his dreams and more. He also happens to look like he stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalog.

Whereas McKenna is a disgraced workaholic from New York on unpaid leave, accused of a white-collar crime she would never commit, succumbing to panic attacks, and watching her dreams unravel. At age thirty-eight—and destined by the family curse to die before she turns forty, apparently—it’s absolutely the wrong time to have a major crush on a man. Especially one who treasures his memories of McKenna as the Girl Most Likely to Succeed.

On some days I am also reading a chapter or two of Anne of the Island but I’m trying to be more careful with the paperback copy of it I have because it’s starting to look very beat up since I have been carrying it everywhere with me. I’ve decided to only read it at home from now on. I’m not very gentle with hard copies of books, which is why I hate to get books out at the library. The Husband, on the other hand, somehow keeps even paperback copies of books pristine and I don’t know how he does it. I refuse to read his paperbacks because I am always paranoid that I will mess it up.

How about you? Do you keep your books in good shape or do they get a bit bent up and scuffed?

The Husband is reading Don’t Know by Tough by Eli Cantor (it’s the author’s debut novel).

The Boy is reading War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Little Miss and I are reading Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary.

What I/We Watched/Are Watching

I call Paul Newman my favorite actor but this past week I realized, rather sadly, that I have not watched very many of his movies, so I decided to remedy that by watching more of his movies this summer. Then I found a list that suggested 15 of his movies to watch so I decided to work through those for fun for the rest of the summer and maybe beyond.

­­­Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs, had already suggested A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a movie for me to watch and I’ll have a blog post on that later this week. She and I are trading movie suggestions this week.

From there I watched The Long Hot Summer, which I have wanted to watch for a long time. That was one of the eleven movies he did with his wife, Joanne Woodward. I really enjoyed it, even though I thought Paul’s character was a little bit of a jerk for most of the movie. A sexy jerk but a jerk nonetheless. I also didn’t recognize Orson Welles at all in the movie and it took the credits at the end for me to realize it was him.

This weekend I also checked off Paris Blues, another Newman/Woodward movie, that also starred Sidney Poitier, Diahan Carroll, and Louis Armstrong.

A description of the movie, if you, like me had never seen it:

During the 1960s, two American expatriate jazz musicians living in Paris meet and fall in love with two American tourist girls. During the 1960s, two American expatriate jazz musicians living in Paris meet and fall in love with two American tourist girls.

A couple interesting things about the movie, which was made in the 60s, was that it was Woodward who pursued Newman and not just pursued him, but jumped right into bed with him. Newman also started to flirt with Carroll’s character in the movie, hinting at an interracial relationship, but that relationship doesn’t happen as Newman and Poitier switch partners, so to speak.

According to the above article I mentioned, the book that the movie was based on featured an interracial relationship, but movie producers felt that that would be too progressive and offend audiences (insert eye roll here). There was, however, a conversation about civil rights in the movie between Poitier and Carroll when he asks her if she wants to have fun or “do you want to discuss the race thing?” Sounds a lot like conversations we could have today.

The on-screen chemistry between Newman and Woodward is amazing, of course, but that’s to be expected since they had married three years earlier.

Once again, Newman was a bit of a jerk at times during the movie, but there is one scene where he and Woodward break into laughter and I don’t think it was scripted. I think they naturally started to laugh at each other.

As I mentioned above, The Husband and I also watched an episode of The Agatha Christie Hour through AcornTV, which is a series based on Agatha Christie’s short stories.

Yesterday I rewatched North by Northwest with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint because I couldn’t remember most of the movie. It was better the second time around but I still don’t like Eva Marie Saint, who I saw in Exodus with Paul Newman years ago, as an actress. Something about her just grates on my nerves, but more so in Exodus where she was a seriously arrogant American.

North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock’s best and this is one of the most famous scenes:

Upcoming this week: Blue Hawaii with Elvis at the suggestion of Erin, The Rack with Paul Newman and maybe another Paul movie.

What I’m Listening To

I’ve been listening to a lot of Christian music and finding some new artists on Apple Music, including Jon Reddick.

Last night I listened to some songs from Fiddler on the Roof, including my favorite, which I used to dance to in our living room, and made my parents think I was going to be in musicals someday (ha!)

What I’m Writing

This week on the blog I shared:

Now It’s Your Turn

What have you been watching, reading, listening to, writing, or doing? Let me know in the comments.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 9

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Chapter 9


Judi smoothed a finger across her lower lip, smoothing in the dark red lipstick she’d applied a few minutes earlier. She studied herself in the mirror on the visor and took a deep breath. Glancing down at her white button-up shirt and gray pencil skirt and a pair of sensible black flats, she grimaced. What had she become? She pushed a strand of hair that had fallen from the messy bun she’d pulled her hair into behind her ear and slid a pair of sunglasses on then made a face at her reflection.

“I’ve become Ellie. That’s who I’ve become.” She sighed and rolled her eyes before she opened and reached for the door handle. “Good grief. I’m my sister.”

 Fine, she was dressed like her sister and acting way more strait-laced than she had in the past, but she’d wanted a change, so this was a change. She’d wanted to leave her old life behind and working for a well-known local lawyer was one way to do that. It was time for her to grow up and if she had to look like a spinster librarian to do it, so be it.

She smoothed her hands down her skirt and squinted at her reflection in the large front window between the stenciled words, Benjamin A. Oliver, Attorney at Law.

She’d called Ben a couple of days after he’d offered the job to her and accepted it, even though she couldn’t imagine what he had been thinking when he’d offered it to her. She also wasn’t sure what she’d been thinking accepting it, considering she’d now have to wake up super early on the days she worked here.

She squinted at her reflection in the front window, wishing she had grabbed that suit coat Ellie had offered her. It would have made her at least look professional. She smoothed her hands down the front of the skirt again. At least it was cute.

Walking inside, she was surprised at how well-decorated Ben’s office was. She’d been expecting something much drabber and a lot less eye-catching.

Instead of boring, dull-colored paintings of landscapes on the wall, though, he’d hung colorful paintings of life in the city in the 1950s, including what looked like a scene at a jazz club. Three dark brown, leather-bound, chairs with top-grain, soft cushions lined the walls in the lobby. She could easily curl up one of those and take a nap. Also in the lobby area was a tall gray desk with a high wall at the front of it and a counter on top of the wall. She wondered if that was where the secretary — er she — would be sitting.

A few feet behind the desk a door opened to a white-walled office with a large window and mahogany-colored desk. A black, leather-plush chair sat behind the desk, and behind the chair a wall full of what were probably law books lined built-in bookshelves. Ben peered from around the open door and the clink of a filing cabinet door shutting made Judi flinch.

 He stepped fully into the doorway wearing a light blue button-up dress shirt and a red tie, dark dress pants, and dress shoes. “You made it. Great.”

Apparently, he’d thought she wasn’t going to show up. His instincts had been right. She almost hadn’t.

Even now she felt sick to her stomach. What had she been thinking? She didn’t have a clue how to be a secretary at a law office.

He didn’t pause in the doorway but kept moving toward the desk at the front with a smile she was sure charmed the pants off more than a few women he’d met over the years — maybe even literally.

 He gestured toward the chair behind the desk. “This is where you’ll be sitting most of the time unless I need you to come into the office to take some notes for me.” He propped his hands on the back of the chair and leaned on it. “You do know how to take notes, right?”

With a quick smile, she did her best to be truthful. “Not exactly, but it can’t be that hard, right?”

Ben’s smile flickered for a brief moment before it returned. “Right. It’s not that hard to learn.”

Her gaze moved across the neat desk with a computer and photos of an older woman with what Judi guessed was the woman’s husband and adult children. To the left of the desk, behind the tall partition, stood a row of filing cabinets. Ben explained how to use the phone, what the filing cabinets were for, and how to use the electronic appointment book before telling her that he’d show her how to file cases in the cabinets later.

“Did you want to take any notes?” he asked after he’d reached what she hoped was his last lesson for the day.

“Notes?” Her brow dipped in confusion. “Do you need me to take notes for you now?”

“No.” He shook his head briefly. “I mean for yourself. So you’ll remember what I just told you.”

“Why?” She was genuinely confused. “Aren’t you going to be here? I can just ask you if I have a question, can’t I?”

Ben sighed. “Yes, you can, but if I am on the phone or can’t help you for some other reason then . . .” His voice trailed off as he looked at her. “Never mind. That’s fine. You’re right. I’ll be back in the office if you need me.”

He walked to a coffee pot set up on a small counter next to the soft chairs. “I’ve been making the coffee when I come in, but if you’d make that each morning it would help me out. I haven’t booked a ton of clients today because I’ve got court in the morning, and I need to prepare for that. From ten to eleven I have a video conference with a client downstate who is in the middle of a divorce, so I don’t want to be interrupted. Lunch is from noon to one, but I’ll need you back five minutes early today because I have an appointment at one with a new client who has filed a defamation complaint against the newspaper in the next county.” He shrugged a shoulder. “He’s going to lose the case, but he’s persistent so I said I’d take it on. He’s got a lot of money.”

He took a long drink of the coffee then stood with the mug in one hand and the other hand propped on his hip. “Any questions for me?”

“Just if you always talk this fast.”

Ben laughed. “Most of the time, yes. I’m one guy and I have a lot of clients, so I can’t afford to take my time.”

He walked into his office and closed the door, leaving Judi alone with a quiet lobby area and a phone that should have been simple but was severely intimidating her at the moment. What button had he said to push again when she needed to transfer a call? She hoped it would come to her when she needed to actually do it. He’d probably been right to suggest she take notes.

Her phone rang while she was making herself a cup of coffee. Walking back to the desk to retrieve it from her purse, she decided she’d better leave a reminder in her notes app to pick up some flavored creamer. Ben’s coffee was as boring and plain as he was.

She looked at the lock screen. The number was the one from New York again. She needed to tell this guy she was not interested in anything to do with Jeff.

“Miss Lambert?” a man’s voice asked as she answered.

“Listen, if this is that lawyer, I’m not interested in talking about anything that has to do with Jeff Burke, so please stop calling me. Thank you.”

“Miss Lambert, wait. Please. Just hear me out.”

“I’m not inter—”

The lawyer spoke quickly. “I think Jeff Burke tried to do to you what he actually succeeded in doing to my client and I am asking if you would be willing to testify at her trial to prove that this is a pattern with him.”

Judi’s mouth went dry, and she sat hard in the chair as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her throat tightened and her heart fluttered inside her chest.

“Miss Lambert? Are you still there?”

A chill shivered across her skin as she swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

“I know it would be hard to talk about what happened or almost happened, but we know, or at least we feel, that there are other victims. The more women we have who can say Jeff did this to them, the more chance we have at convincing a jury he needs to be put away for a long time so he can’t do it to anyone else.”

Judi rubbed her hand along her arm. “How did you even find me?”

“Your former roommate. Seline.”

Judi’s throat tightened more. “Did he —”

“No,” the attorney said. “But she knows the other woman. She’s a co-worker of Seline’s. Seline said you didn’t want to press charges because nothing happened that night and I understand, but Miss Lambert this is a chance to stop Jeff from doing this to other women. Will you at least think about it?”

Judi cleared her throat and took a sip of her coffee. “Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

She slid her finger over the end button and dropped the phone back into her purse. When the office phone rang a few minutes later she literally jumped in her chair, the ringing pulling her from her thoughts.

“Hello?”

“Um, hello.” The male voice on the other end of the phone was hesitant. “Is this Ben Oliver’s office?”

Oh great. She forgot the greeting already.

“Oh yes. Sorry. Hello. Attorney Ben Oliver’s Office.”

“Oh. Okay, well, may I speak to him?”

“May I ask who is calling?”

“Yes. This is Adam Phillipi.”

Judi pursed her lips. Ooh boy. Phillipi. This was someone connected with Angie. This should be interesting. She wished she could listen in.

“Just a minute, please.”

She bit her lower lip and searched for the hold button. After pushing it she tried to remember what buttons she needed to push to transfer the call. Was it 22 star or star 22? Or was it — She pushed the buttons she thought were the right ones and set the phone back in the cradle, bumping the speaker button as she moved her hand away.

“Adam, hey, did you get the check I sent?” Ben asked through the speaker.

Her finger hovered over the speaker button. If she pushed it, would there be a click and if there was a click, would Ben think she’d been listening in on purpose, instead of by accident?

“Yeah, Ben, I did,” Adam responded. “That was very nice. Thank you. The thing is though, Leona and I were hoping you’d also be able to make the birthday party.”

Ben winced. “Oh, I’d love to, Adam, but, unfortunately, I was in a car accident a month ago and I’m still recovering from a concussion. The doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Adam said. “Then, I understand why you can’t make it. That’s a shame, though. Leona and I had hoped to see you in person and discuss a couple of things with you.”

“Well, I’m here now, if you’d like to discuss anything.” Judi heard the strain in Ben’s voice as a twinge of guilt pulled at her.

She shouldn’t be listening to this conversation. But if she pushed the speaker button — Forget it. She had to take a chance that it would beep because explaining that she had listened into his entire personal conversation would be even harder than explaining she wasn’t sure if pushing the button again would be disruptive to the conversation.

She tapped the button and let out a long breath, bracing herself for him storming out of his office to ask if she had been listening in. After a few seconds, with no shouting coming from his office, she decided she must be in the clear. Her eyes slid over the desk in front of her again. Now what? Ben hadn’t told her what else to do yet. She shrugged her shoulder and pulled out her nail file. It was as good of a time as any to shape her nails before her pedicure in a couple of days. It would at least give her something to think about other than the call from that lawyer.

Sunday Bookends: Bear in the neighborhood, little girls everywhere, and a summer reading list


Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.

What I/we’ve been Reading

I have two or three more chapters to read of Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery and will probably finish it today.

I also hope to finish Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain later this week.

I am starting The Heat of the Mountains by Pepper Basham this week for a book tour, which isn’t until the end of July.

I hope to start the next book in the Anne series (Anne of the Island) as well.

I have a few books I would like to read during this summer including:

The sixth book in the Walt Longmire series, Junkyard Dogs;

The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake;

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz;

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie;

 A Ted Dekker book (haven’t decided which one yet);

At least one Jane Austen book

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

The Do Over by Bethany Turner.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Do I think I will get through all these books? I have no idea but we will see.

The Husband is reading Hooker by Lou Thesz (a book about a wrestler, not a prostitute.).

The Boy is taking a break from reading after reading so much for school this year.

I finally got Little Miss to let me read a book other than Laura Ingalls Wilder — Anne of Green Gables. She’s letting me read one chapter of Anne one night and a chapter of The Long Winter the other night.

What’s Been Occurring

Little Miss had a very busy, exciting week. She was able to see all of her friends, including the ones still visiting the area from Texas. They had moved there last year (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m too lazy to go back to my previous Sunday Bookend and look. *wink*). Her friends who live locally were visiting Thursday and then her friends from Texas were down the street at their great-grandmothers so they came up to visit too. For about three hours I had six crazy girls between the ages of 6 and 8 here and it was actually a lot of fun, more for Little Miss than anyone else.

I’d love to show the photos of them all together but I don’t have permission to share their photographs on the blog so I’ll just tell you that they were all crazy and had fun posing for a photograph that they could all remember when they go their separate ways.

Little Miss was able to see her friends from Texas the next day as well and then last night the neighbor’s daughter took her to our local dairy parade where she milked a cow and was able to ride on a fire truck.

On Friday we traveled 45 minutes one way and 45 minutes back to have the kid’s evaluations done with our homeschool evaluator. We didn’t visit the town where we used to live like we usually do when we go there, partially because we simply didn’t feel like and partially because they last time we went there some young men yelled nasty things at my son while he was riding his bike. The incident was a stark reminder of how much the town we lived in for about 18 years had changed, and not for the better.

With the evaluations done, we can now submit our paperwork to the district both for this past school year and for next. And that also means we are officially on summer break. No, we don’t have any concrete exciting plans for this summer. One of my plans is to start looking for curriculum for The Boy who is now a sophomore in high school (hold me!). Yes, I am a very exciting person.

In less interesting news for most people, my peonies and wild roses bloomed this week, which is just about one of the biggest highlights of the year for me. Yes, my life is that boring.

In unrelated news, I have been waiting to see a bear since we moved here and I might have seen one Monday if I had been outside my house because one visited my neighbor down the street — the great grandmother of Little Miss’ little friends. The bear was young and walked up her driveway and into her side yard (which is very small and leads to her patio doors) and visited her granddaughter’s dog and then kept going, I guess. We only found out about it when the local newspaper wrote about it. I told my neighbor to call me if a bear shows up in her yard again, but really, what am I going to do if it does? I’m certainly not going to walk down the street, but maybe I’d drive down there to check it out.

Now that I know there has been a bear on the street, I am trying to be very careful when I let the pets out and check on them while they are out there.  Bears aren’t known to kill dogs or cats in this area, but it still makes me nervous.

What We watched/are Watching

Last Sunday I started to rewatch Season 2 of The Chosen. Wow. I caught so many things I had missed when I watched it last year, especially during the episode with Jesus and John the Baptist. It is a seriously powerful show. If you have not watched it, I really encourage you to do so. Even if you aren’t a Christian. It’s very well put together and tells a wonderful story about people, in addition to God.

You can either watch it on The Chosen app, which is very easy to download on your smartphone or another device. You can cast the episodes to your TV and download the channel if you have a Roku.

I watched a couple more episodes of The Durrells, which is on Amazon, and based on a trilogy of books about a real life family called The Durrells. It’s an interesting show, with some odd moments, but nothing outlandishly inappropriate or violent.

I also watched a bunch of videos by homesteader YouTubers like Roots and Refuge Farm all week long. This gave me ideas for things I can do around my own home to create a garden or grow food without planting a full garden. I am behind on starting a garden this year (clearly) and I’ve been dragging my feet on it because it can be very time consuming and I sort of blew it last year. But these videos have inspired me to try it on a smaller scale, so I am producing at least something this year. As my neighbor said last week, this is definitely the year to be planting a garden considering how bad our economy is and how much worse it is going to get.

It is also inspiring to watch Roots and Refuge because they have built their farm and their YouTube channel up over the last several years to the point they are now making a full, supporting income from both.

The Husband and I also watched an episode (they are 90 minutes each) of Brokenwood Mysteries and on Saturday I watched the new Obi Wan Kenobi show with The Boy and then an episode of the third season of Star Trek Discovery with The Boy and The Husband.


What I’m Writing

 I worked more this week on The Shores of Mercy, which is what I’ll be calling the new book. It is called Mercy’s Shore for the blog.

I’ve decided to write one more book after this one and complete The Spencer Valley Chronicles with five books. The fifth book will be about Alex and his relationship with his father, as well as a little more about his relationship with Molly. I felt like that will bring the series full circle. Since it started with Molly, it will end with Molly.

In addition to working on the book, I also wrote several blog posts including:



Now it’s your turn

What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore (The Shores of Mercy) Chapter 6

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Chapter 6

Judi turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the parking space in front of her apartment abruptly, barely giving herself time to check the side mirrors.

She was late. As usual.

Her sister Ellie had invited her to supper at the farmhouse ten miles outside of town and that supper was set to start in ten minutes.

Judi glanced at the clock on her dashboard. Make that seven minutes.

Apparently, Judi was never going to become organized like Ellie, no matter how hard she tried. Was it her fault that her favorite Brad Pitt movie had come on while she was finishing straightening her hair? Or that her ice cream had melted on the coffee table, and she had rushed to clean it up before it dried?

Okay, yes. All those things were technically her fault, because if she’d been paying attention to the clock, she wouldn’t have been distracted by either of them. But Brad Pitt. Come on. She had such little excitement left in her life anymore. She had to have some enjoyment.

She appreciated her sister helping her work out a deal with the landlord for the apartment she now lived in, allowing Judi to take over the two-year lease Ellie had signed when she’d thought she and Jason weren’t getting married.

What a mess that engagement had been. Judi still couldn’t figure Ellie out sometimes. While she’d comforted Ellie before she and Jason worked things out, Judi still felt Ellie’s reason for being mad at Jason was dumb.

In high school Ellie and Jason had promised they’d be each other’s first. First as in first person they slept with. They’d taken a break in college, though, so Jason had been tempted and slept with a girl on campus. Yeah, so Jason waited almost nine years to tell Ellie about it and dragged his feet on proposing because he’d been dreading telling her, but still — Judi didn’t get it. It wasn’t like Jason slept with the girl when he and Ellie were a couple.

Judi shrugged at the memory of her sister’s dilemma as she watched the town setting fade into farmland and wide open spaces, trees slowly becoming green after a long winter and cornfields almost ready to be planted.

Ellie was much more old-fashioned than Judi. Way more old fashioned.

Okay, so it would be nice if she met a guy one day and they were both each other’s first but for Judi that ship had already sailed. There was no going back to redo that.

First there was that one time in high school and it almost set sail again that night with Jeff. The only difference with Jeff was it wouldn’t have been her choice. She winced at the memory of that night with Jeff and then at the memory of the high school interaction. The high school one had been seriously awkward, emotionally and physically uncomfortable, and definitely not what she thought it was going to be at all. It was something she had never told Ellie about, and she never wanted to.

There was a part of her that felt guilt about it all, but what good would it do to sit and feel guilt about something she couldn’t go back and change? It had happened, she had regretted it and wished she’d waited for someone more special, someone who hadn’t moved out of the area a month later, but such was life. Everyone had regrets but not everyone had to be like Ellie and let those regrets weigh them down for years on end.

There were a lot of people who were surprised when they found out she was related to Ellie and not only because they didn’t have the same hair color. Of course, Judi’s blond hair wasn’t natural. She’d started dying it in high school to be different from her sister. It had once been almost as dark brown as Ellie, but her hair had always featured a few more blond streaks.

People were surprised they were sisters because she and Ellie were so different in their personalities and how they looked at life. Judi didn’t dwell on past mistakes or worry about the future like Ellie, and she felt that was okay. Pushing back thoughts about her past helped her move toward the future and so far, that strategy was working well for her.

She pulled in front of Judi’s farmhouse fifteen minutes late and noticed there was already a black pickup parked next to Jason’s gray pickup and Ellie’s small blue sedan. That meant Alex Stone, Jason’s best friend, and Molly, Jason’s sister, had also been invited.  

Wonderful.

Always fun to be the fifth wheel.

Wherever Molly was, Alex wasn’t far behind, especially after the two had started dating more than a year ago.

The farmhouse was small, but attractive, especially after Jason and Alex had started fixing it up with new siding and shutters after the wedding. Winter had paused their renovations, but Judi was sure they’d be starting the improvements again as spring continued. Prior to Jason and Ellie moving in, the house had been a bachelor pad for Alex and Jason.

Glancing at her phone as she reached for it, she noticed Rachel had tried to reach her again. She knew it was to talk about the situation with Jerry the other night at the meeting, but she didn’t want to talk about it. Jerry was weird and that was all there was to it. She wasn’t going to drink herself into oblivion because some old guy who couldn’t get his life together didn’t like her.

“Nice ride!”

She looked up as she climbed out of the car and saw Alex sitting on the porch railing, jean clad legs hanging over it, a soda in one hand.

“Yep! It is.”

Alex pushed his familiar black cowboy hat back off his forehead and tipped his head up, revealing a rugged, unshaven jawline. Sunlight flickered across his blue eyes. “How much are the payments on it?”

Judi reached for her purse and shook her head, her back to Alex. Men and cars, so predictable.

“Too much,” she answered as shut the door of the small red compact sports car she’d purchased when she was still living in the city.

The payments were too much. She wasn’t just offering a smooth retort. If she didn’t find a more lucrative job soon the car was going to go the way of her fancy New York City apartment and designer clothes shopping habit — into the category of how life used to be.

She couldn’t help but notice Alex’s well-toned arms as she walked up the steps toward the front door. A black t shirt with an image of country singer Clint Black emblazoned on the front was stretched against his chest and biceps, which were nowhere near as large as Jason’s, but much larger than they had been when he’d first moved to Spencer Valley almost seven years ago to work with Jason on the farm.

There weren’t many men in this small, rural area who had muscles as large, or a body as toned as Jason’s, much to Judi’s disappointment. Not that she ogled Jason, since he was her brother-in-law and, in some ways, almost like a brother to her since she’d known him practically her entire life.

Alex jerked his head toward the front door. “You’re just in time. Ellie’s about to put the food on the table.”

“Oh good, then hopefully I’ll avoid a scolding about being late.” Judi smiled to let Alex know she was teasing.

She and Ellie had been at each other’s throats for a number of years, always bickering or verbal poking at each other, but last year that had all changed when Judi thought her sister had died in a car accident driving a drunk Brad Tanner back to his house.

It wasn’t that there weren’t still days the two snipped at each other, but it definitely wasn’t at the intensity it had once been. Judi couldn’t seem to put her sarcastic and biting remarks completely behind her, though, a habit she knew was left over from the days when her jealousy of Ellie had consumed her. That jealousy still remained but it floated on calmer waters now, speckled with a healthy dose of admiration for her older sister.

Inside the house, Ellie was being the perfect housewife. She wasn’t technically a house wife since she worked as a preschool teacher four days a week and the rest of the time either helped Jason on the farm or at the farm store.

“Hey!” Ellie set a bowl down on the table and reached out her arms as soon as she saw Judi enter the dining room, enveloping her in a quick, but firm hug. Judi had pulled away from hugs from her sister for years and was trying her best to get used to them now. She did her best to return the hug and not be as awkward as she used to be.

Ellie had pulled her chestnut brown hair back in a tight ponytail and she was dressed more casual than normal, sporting a pair of black capris and a light blue crew neck blouse. Judi was used to seeing her wearing a button up shirt or a sweater, khaki pants, and dress shoes for work. Ellie didn’t dress down very often, though she had relaxed considerably since getting married.

Ellie gestured toward the table as she turned to go back into the kitchen. “So glad you had a night off and could join us. Go ahead and grab a seat.”

Molly walked in from the kitchen with a salad and set it on the table. Her long, curly, reddish-brown hair was hanging loose and she was wearing loose fitting shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts.

Second to Ellie, Molly was someone Judi wished she could be like. Molly had always been sweet and cheerful, no matter what life threw at her. She’d struggled with her weight for years and Judi didn’t envy that, however. Looking good in a designer shirt and pair of jeans was more important to Judi than being sweet.

The table was full of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, salad, green beans, and homemade biscuits. All of it was food Judi knew she shouldn’t be eating, but it looked good, and she knew, based on her sister’s cooking talent, that it would taste good too.

After a prayer from Jason, they began passing food and Alex and Jason began talking about the farm, the continuing expansion of the Tanner’s farm store, and an upcoming inspection of the Tanner’s bottling plant.

Judi was fine with them talking amongst themselves. It meant she didn’t have to share about her week.

“Judi. You’ve been quite tonight. How was your week?”

Well, it was nice while it lasted.  Why did Ellie feel she had to include her in everything? Including the conversation.

“It was okay.” She shoved a bite of sweet potato in her mouth, hoping this would satisfy her sister, but knowing it wouldn’t.

“So, is it true you pulled out in front of Ben Oliver last week before he hit a tree?”

She glared over her glass of water at Alex as she took a drink. His good looks didn’t make up for that big mouth of his. She would have asked how he even knew about the accident, but then she remembered he was currently staying with Matt McGee, who’d obviously blabbed her personal business one morning over coffee.

Ellie looked up from her plate, eyes wide. “Did you have an accident? Are you okay? Why didn’t you call?”

Judi focused her scowl on Alex. “Thank you, Alex. So appreciative you blabbed that.” Thanks to him Ellie was peppering her with concerned questions and soon her phone would be blowing up with the same questions from her parents.

Alex grinned as he reached for the plate of chicken. “No problem. Always here to help.”

She looked at Ellie, purposely tipping her head away from Alex and wishing she hadn’t given up flipping people off in an effort to be a kinder, gentler Judi. She made sure to speak in a matter of fact one to deflect any deeper questions.

“I’m fine. The car’s fine. He swerved to miss me and hit the tree.”

She reached across the table for the plate of chicken sitting next to Alex, being sure to shoot him another annoyed scowl. His return smirk and wink was infuriating.

“Was he okay?” Ellie asked, concerning etching her brow.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Judi said around a mouthful of chicken. “He has a concussion and a broken ankle. He’s out of the hospital, though. I saw him at the AA meeting last night.”

When her phone rang, she reached for her purse and pulling it out she checked the caller ID.  She didn’t recognize the number so she sent it to voicemail and dropped the phone back into the purse.

Molly reached for the pitcher of tea and poured a glass. “That’s great to know he was at an AA meeting. I know he’s been sober for a couple of years but it’s good to stay connected somewhere.”

Judi raised an eyebrow. “Ben’s a recovering alcoholic?”

The color from Molly’s face visibly drained. “Oh. I thought that he — I mean, I thought he must have shared that at the meeting.”

Judi shook her head slowly. “No. He didn’t. He was there to support a client. The guy with him said he’d had experience with AA meetings though. I didn’t know what he meant.”

She also hadn’t stayed to find out since she’d wanted to get as far away from discussions about Jerry’s blow up on her as possible.

She was surprised that Molly knew so much about the guy who had dumped her in high school to date Easy Angie. Apparently, they had talked since Ben moved back to the area.

Molly swallowed hard. “I probably shouldn’t have shared that.”

Judi shrugged and stabbed at a piece of lettuce with her fork. “Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not going to tell him you said anything. We didn’t exactly hit it off after the accident, so I don’t plan on interacting with him on a regular basis.”

Molly cleared her throat and managed a faint smile. “Thanks. I don’t know if all of that is common knowledge or not and I hate him to think I violated his privacy somehow.”

Judi snorted a laugh. “It’s nice of you to worry about him because it’s not like he worried too much about you when he dumped you in high school for that Angie Phillipi.”

“Judi!”

Ah, there it was. Ellie’s familiar scolding tone.

Judi didn’t even bother to look up from her plate and see Ellie’s raised eyebrows. “What? It’s true. He was a total jerk to Molly. Everyone knows it.”

Alex leaned back in his chair and slid an arm around Molly’s shoulder. “Good thing he was too, or I might have had to steal Molly away from him.” He winked as Judi looked up. Judi rolled her eyes and resisted the urge to gag.

“Besides, Ben and I had a good talk about that, and he did apologize,” Molly added. “It was high school. We all do stupid things in high school.”

Judi knew Molly didn’t know about all the stupid things she’d done in high school, but the comment felt like a small kick in the gut or at least a pinch in the arm. She wasn’t about to sit and dwell on why the comment bothered her, though. Life was too short to look in the rearview mirror.

“That’s good to hear,” she said instead, looking at Molly. “Really. I always thought that was totally crappy of him. You were way better than Angie ever was.”

Molly tipped her head to one side and smiled. “Thank you, Judi. That’s sweet. It did hurt but his apology helped a lot.”

“Whatever happened to Angie anyhow?” Jason asked standing with his empty plate and heading toward the kitchen.

“Last I heard her parents moved down to Lancaster,” Ellie said. “I’m not sure where Angie ended up though.”

Judi picked up her plate and carried it into the kitchen as Jason walked back toward the dining room. “You know who else was at the meeting?” She didn’t wait for an answer to her inquiry. “Brad.”

Jason scoffed on his way by her. “That’s a shock. Doubt he’ll stick with it.”

Judi placed her plate in the open dishwasher, tempted to set it in backward to drive her Obsessive Compulsive  sister crazy, but finally deciding against it. “Me too, honestly,” she called over her shoulder. “But no one thought I’d stick with it this long either.”

“I thought he’d move back to the city after the accident, actually,” Jason said as Judi walked back into the dining room. “Instead, I have to see him every day at work.”

Judi laughed as she sat back down. “Same here.”

“Is he a big of an idiot there as he is everywhere else?” Jason asked as Ellie sat a stack of small plates on the table.

“Of course, he is,” Judi responded with an eye roll.

Ellie placed a pie in the center of the table, which Judi knew was made from scratch by her sister, from the crust to the filling.

 Ellie began to cut the pie.  “Hey, who knows. Maybe he’s finally growing up. This could be a good thing. Instead of mocking him, we should be praying for him.”

Judi felt a familiar sarcastic retort on the tip of her tongue, one that would ridicule Ellie’s tendency to turn everything into a Bible lesson. She held the comment in, though, knowing Ellie was being her genuinely sweet self by offering the suggestion.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting about topics other than the lives of all the alcoholics the Lamberts and Tanners knew.

Judi didn’t look at her phone again until she was in the car, ready to drive home. She clicked on the play button from the voicemail left by the unfamiliar number as she pulled out onto the dirt road in front of the house.

“Hello, Miss Lambert. My name is Brent Decker and I’m an attorney from New York City. I’m hoping you can get back to me at your earliest convenience on a matter involving a Jeffery Brock.”

Judi pushed the off button on the phone before the man left his phone number.

She was not returning that phone call.

Jeff Brock was one of those regrets she didn’t intend to let weigh her down and what had happened with him was another incident she intended to leave in her rearview.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 5

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To read the other books in the series, click HERE.

Chapter 5

“How’d the meeting go?”

Maxwell eased his black sedan onto Main Street, heading toward his house two miles outside of town. He turned the music down on the radio, a song from the local Christian radio station fading into the background.

Ben winced as he tried to move his foot. “It went okay.

He hated the idea of his dad driving him to and from an AA meeting, or even knowing about his past. Having to tell his dad he’d lost his job at a high profile law firm three years ago had been beyond difficult, but telling him it was because he’d lost a case for the firm because he’d come into many times with a hangover had been like a kick to the gut.

“Okay, I guess, but it was weird. Judi was there, for one, and then Jerry Spencer verbally attacked her because she’s working at a bar and grill, which he seems to think is too much of a temptation for someone who is trying to kick alcohol.”

Maxwell shrugged a shoulder. “Well, it probably is, but what business is it of his?”

“Yeah, I don’t know.” Ben stretched back in the seat and rubbed his forehead, wishing the ache would go away. “I got the impression he’s got something against Judi, but I don’t know what. Or maybe it has nothing to do with her at all. Maybe she was just an innocent bystander to his explosion. He seemed pretty ticked off that he had to be there at all.”

Max grimaced. “He probably is. Remember you weren’t too happy about those meetings either. He’s probably sick of being in court for DUIs too but it’s his own fault. How did Judi take it?”

“She snapped back at him. They exchanged words and then the woman leading the group told Jerry to leave.”

Maxwell blew out a breath. “Whoo boy. Think he’d hurt Judi in any way?”

Ben’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I tried to stop her after the meeting and ask her if she was okay, but she jumped into her car and took off.” He shrugged then spoke through a yawn. “Anyhow, I’ve got other things to think about right now. Cindy called me right before I left for the meeting. She’s going to need some time off work, and she isn’t sure how long. Rick’s been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is good but he’s going to need some radiation treatments and she wants to be home to take care of him.”

“Can’t blame her. What are you going to do?”

“Not sure yet. Thankfully she said his first treatment isn’t for another couple of weeks. I may just have to push through until she can come back. That’s not enough time to train someone and it would be hard to find a temp around here.”

“What about Judi?”

Ben made a face. “What about Judi?”

“Maybe she could fill in,” Maxwell responded. “You said that job at Lonny’s might not be right for her.”

“Dad, first of all I didn’t say that. Jerry did. Second of all no. Just no. Judi’s — well, she’s not qualified. She’s Judi and Judi’s always been, to put it bluntly, a mess. I mean, yeah, I feel kind of bad for Judi, but there is no way I want her filling in as my secretary.”

Maxwell glanced at his son. “Even people who are considered a mess deserve a chance, Ben.”

Ben wasn’t sure if his dad was taking a jab at him or not, but he chose to believe he wasn’t aware of how his comment had come off.  

“I know that Dad, and I believe that too, you know that. That’s why I was there with Floyd tonight, but Judi doesn’t know how to be a secretary at a law office.”

“How do you know?”

“Dad —”

“All she has to do is answer phones, file some paperwork, and take some notes. Anyone could handle at least that much. She couldn’t replace Cindy and all her law background, no, but she could do the basics.

Ben shook his head. “No. Just — No. I’ll ask around. I’m sure some other lawyers will have suggestions.”

Maxwell shrugged and nodded. “I understand, but it’s an option at least. Maybe the last option, but also maybe one worth considering.”

Ben focused his attention on the scene outside his window — the town of Spencer fading into trees and fields which he could have seen better if it hadn’t been so dark. His dad had purchased property about a mile outside of town when Ben was five or six. The two story home, set back off the road in the midst of grove of birch trees was considered a mansion by some in the area but for Maxwell and Emily it has simply been a home that was able to fit their family of six. Maxwell’s job as a small town attorney representing anyone and everyone who needed his help had proven to be more lucrative than the couple had imagined, but it was the inheritance from Maxwell’s father that had helped them build the home.

After Maxwell was elected district attorney the first time, when Ben was 16, a wall with a gate was erected around the property to provide privacy and protection. It was the same style gate Maxwell’s father, Maxwell Sr. had had installed at his home after serving as county judge for 40-years.

“No telling when some loony I sentenced might come to make me pay for the lengthy sentence they received due to their own incompetence,” Maxwell Sr. had said about the installation of a fence and gate around his house in town.

He’d died while Ben was away at law school and there wasn’t a day that went by that Ben didn’t miss him. At the same time, he was glad his grandfather hadn’t witnessed his spectacular personal and professional face plant right before and even after passing the bar.

Sure, Ben had his own law firm, something he’d always wanted, and his grandfather had wanted for him, but it wasn’t in a large city like Ben had hoped it would be. Still, it was something instead of the nothing he’d thought he’d be left with when he lost that job as a paralegal three years ago. He’d planned for that job to be temporary anyhow.

As soon as he passed the bar, he was going to be out of there and working on his own in the center of Philadelphia or New York City. Somewhere with big, rich clients. It was a shame an addiction he’d acquired to try to silence all the doubting voices in his head had ended his career at the firm before he’d had a chance to quit.

He wanted to say losing that paralegal job wasn’t a big loss, but really, on a career level, it had been. He’d been the assistant to one of the most sought-after defense lawyers in Philadelphia. The fact he’d blown it within the first nine months after so much promise only solidified for him the fact he would never be as successful as his dad, in career or in life overall.

“Your mom says you got a card from the Phillipis. Anything important?”

His dad’s question broke into his thoughts and once again he found himself wishing his father didn’t sometimes use his courtroom tone in every conversation. Being direct and to the point was something Maxwell Oliver was a master at in the courtroom and, sadly, that direct manner often spilled over into interactions with his family.

No sugar coating or easing into a conversation for him.

“Nope.”

“Anything unimportant then?”

Ben sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. Exhaustion tugged at his eyelids, pain shooting from the front to the back of his head. He’d wanted to argue when the doctor had said over the phone it could be another three weeks before the concussion was better, but now he was beginning to believe the man.

“It was a card.” Ben remained silent for a few moments but knew his dad wouldn’t stop asking questions. “An invitation to a party that Angie already told me she doesn’t want me to attend.”

His dad turned the car into the driveway and reached up to the visor, pushing a button there to open the front gate. “Angie called you?”

“She left me a voicemail. I got it the day of the accident.”

The gate clanked closed behind them after Maxwell drove through the opening. Pulling toward the four car garage, Maxwell pushed another button on the visor and the garage door rose slowly.

“She’s what, four this year?”

Ben’s chest tightened. This conversation needed to end. “Yeah.”

Maxwell turned the car off, but kept his hands on the steering wheel as the garage door closed behind them. “You know I haven’t wanted to get into your and Angie’s business, but it would be nice to meet my granddaughter someday.”

Ben reached for the car door, desperate to get inside and lay down. The pain in the ankle and head had given up battling for first place and had settled on a tie. “Not my decision, Dad. Angie doesn’t want me to be a part of her life.”

“Can you blame her?”

Ben climbed out of the car and slammed the door behind him. Metal against metal reverberated throughout the garage.

I’m not a hostile witness, Dad, back off.  It was what he wanted to say, but he was too tired, too dizzy, and in way too much pain to push this conversation into a full-blown argument.

“My head is killing me,” he said instead as Maxwell stepped out of the passenger side. “Can we talk about this more tomorrow? I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t take the painkiller before I left for the meeting and I’m regretting it now.”

Maxwell closed the door and walked around to Ben’s side. “Of course, we can. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up while you’re still recovering.” He placed a hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I hope you can forgive me.”

Good grief, his dad even apologized better than he ever could.

“If you help me up to Luke’s room and put a glass of water on the bedside table for me, I definitely can.”

Maxwell’s laugh was deep and sincere. “I can absolutely do that. Come on, kid, let’s get you some rest. You’ve had a rough week.”

Once he was in bed with the lights off twenty minutes later, Ben squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, waiting for the pills to kick in. Once they did, images of a blond-haired little girl swam in and out of images of a beautiful blond woman who’d once looked at him with love but now looked at him with disgust and disappointment. By the time darkness overtook him he’d broken out in a sweat and thrashed enough to wrap the sheets around him like a straight jacket. In the morning he woke up trying to untangle himself from the covers while his mind tried to untangle the nightmares that had plagued him all night.