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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.