Sunday Bookends: Little white lies, Three Amigos, and it is time for Christmas books

It’s time for our Sunday morning chat. On Sundays, I ramble about what’s been going on, what I and the rest of the family have been reading and watching, and what I’ve been writing, and some weeks I share what I am listening to.


What I/we’ve been Reading

I finished Love and A Little White Lie last night after working on it for a few weeks now. It didn’t take me this long because it was bad, but because I kept getting interrupted by writing projects, books, or just the everyday weirdness of life.

I will be honest that I almost bailed on this book part way through because the one character was so annoying to me and because the middle dragged a little bit. I really wanted to reach into the book and slap the one character. He was so whiney. Argh! But the book was really worth finishing because the writing was so good, the main character was so complex, and many of the supporting characters were loveable.

In case anyone reading this is interested, here is the description:

There’s a lot of irony in hitting rock bottom

After a heartbreak leaves her reeling, January Sanders is open to anything–including moving into a cabin on her aunt’s wedding-venue property and accepting a temporary position at her aunt’s church despite being a lifelong skeptic of faith. Choosing to keep her doubts to herself, she’s determined to give her all to supporting Grace Community’s overworked staff while helping herself move on.

What she doesn’t count on is meeting the church’s handsome and charming guitarist. It’s a match set for disaster, and yet January has no ability to stay away, even if it means pretending to have faith in a God she doesn’t believe in.

Only this time, keeping her secret isn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Especially when she’s constantly running into her aunt’s landscape architect, who seems to know everything about her past-and-present sins and makes no apologies about pushing her to deal with feelings she’d rather keep buried.

Torn between two worlds that can’t coexist, can January find the healing that’s eluded her, or will her resistance to the truth ruin any chance of happiness?

I am finishing a book for an author friend this week (By Broken Birch Bay by Jenny Knipfer) and then I plan to focus on Christmas books, including Shepherd’s Abiding by Jan Karon, America’s Favorite Christmastown by Dawn Klinge, and A Highland Christmas: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton. If I can find a paperback copy, I’d also like to read some of Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery, if it is a real book and not just some knock-off Amazon thing. Has anyone heard of it?

Little Miss and I are reading Paddington before bed and Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac during the day.

The Boy is reading Sea of Monsters, which is a Percy Jackson book and yes, during the week I am making him finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Husband is reading Kagan The Damned by Jonathan Maberry.

What’s Been Occurring

This past week we had a good school week during which I actually felt like I had fun, even if the children didn’t.

We didn’t do much else during the week, other than visit my mom on Thursday and grocery shop on Friday. Our shopping trip was delayed by an issue with the van that I thought was going to cost a lot, but turned out could be fixed by my dad dumping three quarts of oil in the engine. In other words, I don’t pay attention to the lights on the dash of my car.

This week’s weather was a mix of mess, wind, and cold. Still no snow, which was fine with me.  

This next week we don’t have a ton planned and if it’s going to be as cold as it has been, I am fine with that too.

What We watched/are Watching

Last Sunday, The Boy and I watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles while The Husband took Little Miss to a train ride with Santa.

Later in the week we watched The Three Amigos, an old movie from the 80s with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase.

It is a movie I used to watch with some friends of mine, probably when I was 9 or 10 and it was so weird and funny to watch it again all these years later. There was at least a couple of off-color moments, but for the most part the movie is clean.

The movie is about three actors who portray a trio of heroes called the Three Amigos in silent movies. A woman who is looking for someone to rescue her town from an evil man who is terrorizing it sees the movie, thinks it is a newsreel and sends them a telegram, asking them to come save her town. The telegraph operator decides to edit the telegram so she can afford to send it and, unfortunately, the actors think they are being hired for an acting job. Hilarity ensues from there as “they” say.

During the movie, there is a scene where Martin Short and Steve Martin sing a song called “My Little Buttercup,” which I had forgotten all about until it started. I used to sing the song to my mom and dad after my friends and I watched the movie and they would laugh so hard because I looked so ridiculous. I’m leaving it here for your viewing pleasure.

Little Miss’s impression of the movie: “Nope. Too much fantasy. Not enough reality.”

Sigh. If you knew what movies she watches, you’d really laugh at that comment.

There is a scene in the movie where the villain has a discussion about the word plethora and what it means. As I watched it I remembered that this is where I learned the word and from then on kept finding ways to use it in sentences. I still find a plethora of ways to use the word in sentences. Get it? I still find a plethora – yeah, okay. You get it.

Anyhow, later in the week, I started to watch You’ve Got Mail then realized that I don’t really like that movie because the two main characters are lying to their boyfriend and girlfriend and chatting to each other behind their backs. It is essentially a movie about cheaters, even if parts of it are cute.

I clicked off that and saw The Bookshop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and then realized something I didn’t realize before. You’ve Got Mail is based on this 1940 movie.

As usual Hollywood is not original because I also started to watch A Man Called Ove this week and it is a Swedish movie that is being released in the U.S. under the title A Man Called Otto starring Tom Hanks. From what I can see, the American movie has been recreated frame for frame. I enjoyed what I did watch of A Man Called Ove, even though I would consider it a dark comedy and those aren’t usually my thing. I stopped it because I decided I should watch something a little happier since I was home by myself. I plan to finish the movie this week.

Anyhow, back to The Bookshop Around the Corner – it’s supposed to take place in Hungary, but only one person has a Hungarian accent. The rest either have New York accents or British ones. Besides that odd glitch, it is a very good movie about a man who is writing to a woman and later learns that the woman is someone he actually knows in real life.

I very much enjoyed the movie and was glad I watched that instead of You’ve Got Mail.

Also this week I watched The Muppets Christmas Carol as part of the ‘Tis the Season Cinema with Erin from Still Life with Cracker Crumbs and Katja_137 from Breath of Hallelujah.

They both had such interesting posts about the movie. I loved how Katja_137 threw in so much trivia about it, including an edited scene I didn’t even know existed.

You can read her post here: https://breathofhallelujah.com/2022/12/02/the-muppet-christmas-carol-tis-the-season-cinema/comment-page-1/#comment-56

And Erin’s here: https://crackercrumblife.com/2022/12/01/tis-the-season-cinema-the-muppets-christmas-carol/



What I’m Writing

I’ve been working on a short story that I will start sharing on the blog Friday and run for 12 days after that. It will feature the characters from Spencer Valley, including Molly, Alex, Robert, Annie, Franny, and maybe a little bit of Jason and Ellie and Matt and Liz.

Here is a little sneak peek for those of you who might like to read along:

Cold bit at Robert Tanner’s skin, stung his lungs, and made him wish he could stay inside under a blanket with a warm cup of coffee. Instead, he stepped further into the cold, pulling his winter cap down further on his head.

Between the house and the barn snow swirled wildly, darkening the sky and making it feel like dusk instead of late afternoon.

Inside the barn it was warm, and he was grateful for it, even if his arrival did mean he’d have to start cleaning out the cows sleeping area and preparing the second milking of the day.

Truthfully, his mind was far away from the tasks of the day. His thoughts were consumed with another project he hoped to have complete by Christmas – a gift for his wife of 30 years.

On the blog this week I shared:

What I’m Listening To

I have not been slowing down and listening to anything except for some worship guitar music while I write. I hope to remedy that this week and listen to some more music. Some nights my daughter and I listen to the family hour on our local Christian radio station, which features Adventures in Odyssey and other Christian radio dramas from 7 to  8 p.m.

Now it’s your turn

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.

Sunday Bookends: Snow returns, Charles Bronson movies and fathers in my reading

It’s time for our Sunday morning chat. On Sundays I ramble about what’s been going on, what I and the rest of the family have been reading and watching, what I’ve been writing, and some weeks I share what I am listening to.


What I/we’ve been Reading

I have started my annual reading for Shepherd’s Abiding by Jan Karon. I love this sweet story about Father Timothy Kavanaugh who finds a nativity set that he wants to repaint and fix up for his beloved wife Cynthia. Sigh. It’s just such a sweet story.

(If you haven’t read Mitford before, Father Tim is Episcopalian so he is allowed to marry. *wink*)

I am also continuing with the Father Brown Collection by G.K. Chesteron, which is a collection of short stories. I’m a mood reader so I read a story and then switch to a different book for a bit.

I’ve also started Love and A Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray and am enjoying it so far. It’s about a woman who has taken a job at a church but doesn’t feel she belongs there. It is the first book in a three book series.

At night I have been reading Paddington Races Ahead with Little Miss.

I am also reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain off and on during the week with The Boy, who is reading it for school.

The Husband is reading…. Oops. I forgot to ask before I scheduled this and he’s already asleep.

What’s Been Occurring

I rambled about what has been occurring on a post from Friday and not much more has happened since then. In that post, I shared that we had our first official snowfall earlier in the week, only a couple of days after it was in the low 70s. Last night we had more snow, but only about an inch and a half.

This week we are looking forward to celebrating The Husband’s birthday by attending a festival of lights display about 45 minutes from us and then a quiet Thanksgiving with my parents. We are also looking to five days off from school since the kids seemed to be burned out on lessons. Yes, already burned out. This early in the school year.  

What We watched/are Watching

The Husband and I watched two Charles Bronson films this week: Mr. Majestyk and Red Sun. They were both very good. Red Sun featured a bit of female nudity that we weren’t expecting and Mr. Majestyk featured swearing that was tame compared to the movies of today but still swearing. That’s just a disclaimer for anyone who is sensitive to those aspects of movies.

I also watched two Hallmark Christmas movies. Sign, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas made me cry and Trading Christmas made me smile. I own Trading Christmas because it is just a light movie I enjoy watching. Both are on Amazon.

I also watched The Christmas Carol Goes Wrong for the ‘Tis The Season Cinema feature with Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs.

This week Erin and I will be watching White Christmas and posting our impression of it on Saturday. Please feel free to join us and post your impressions as well.


What I’m Writing

I’ve started writing a new book while I am editing Shores of Mercy, but I am not ready to share it yet and not sure I will share it on the blog or not this time. It’s going to be different than my previous books, in some ways, and it is not part of The Spencer Valley Chronicles, or any series. I can tell you that the main character is male, over the age of 50, and it will be one point of view, third person. I’ll keep all of you updated.

This week on the blog I shared:

A Chat and a Cup of Tea or Something Warm

‘Tis The Season Cinema: A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

Special Fiction … Wednesday? Mercy’s Shore Final Chapters

Educationally Speaking: Fall Homeschool Update

What I’m Listening To

While I am watching Christmas movies early, I haven’t yet started Christmas music and won’t do that until December, most likely. When I do it will be the Michaels – Smith and Buble.

I found a Youtube video of worship music being played on a guitar that I’ve been listening to while I write.



Now it’s your turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments.

Special Fiction … Wednesday? Mercy’s Shore Final Chapters

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

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

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

Chapter 36

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

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

“Hey, you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure. That sounds nice.”

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

“How’s work going?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!” Ben cried. “What did I do?”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I think so. I hope so anyhow.”

Epilogue

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

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

 “How about I pick you up. Say 5:30?”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

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

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

She had a feeling he wouldn’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 33

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

Let me know in the comments what you think. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*

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

Chapter 33

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

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

“Sure. That would be great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you’re doing okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam cleared his throat. “Ben —”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s all you’re going to say?”

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

“Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why is he here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your friend Sam told me you did.”

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

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

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

“She thought that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Bookends: The Boy turning 16, Mary Berry, and warmer weather

It’s time for our Sunday morning chat. On Sundays, I ramble about what’s been going on, what I and the rest of the family have been reading and watching, and what I’ve been writing, and some weeks I share what I am listening to.


What I/we’ve been Reading

This week I finished Dog Days of Summer by Kathleen Y’Barbo for a book tour. It was okay, but I was disappointed halfway through, unfortunately, and need a break from book tour books for now. Those are books I don’t have the benefit of abandoning for a different one.

I switched over to GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories and am really enjoying it so far. Many of these stories were the basis for the British show, both the original 70s series and the more modern one.

I have a few choices to start as novels next, including The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, Miss Julia Knows A Thing Or Two by Ann B. Ross, a Longmire book, or a Joe Pickett book, and Criss Cross by C.C. Warren.

The Husband is reading Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard.

The Boy is reading a Percy Jackson book.

Little Miss and I are still reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at night.

What’s Been Occurring

This past week I thought I had caught a cold, but it appears to be sinus drainage from the weather change this week which included temps jumping up, especially over the weekend. I was better yesterday during the day but I continued to cough from what felt like mucous draining down the back of my throat during the night. I think if the weather would stabilize, that would help my sinuses a lot. What I am thankful for is that it hasn’t affected Little Miss like it usually does.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow we are celebrating my son turning 16. He had friends over yesterday and today. We will visit my parents today and are cooking steaks on the grill — a treat since steaks have been so expensive. Yesterday Little Miss and I helped my mom make two apple pies for The Boy who is not a fan of cake but loves his grandmother’s apple pie.


Tomorrow he gets a day off school and we will celebrate some more.

What We watched/are Watching

I failed at No News November so far but hope to do better this week and plan to use shows like Classic Mary Berry to help stay away from news as we move into elections here in the United States.

I won’t completely stay off news, especially Wednesday, but I will be taking a longer break.

If you don’t know who Mary Berry is, she is a cook from the U.K. who might be well-known to fans of The Great British Baking Show, which airs on PBS in the U.S. I had to Google how old she is because during one episode she said she’d been cooking one recipe for 60 years and she learned it in college. It turns out she is 87 and her full name is Dame Mary Rosa Alleyne Hunnings DBE. I know this particular series must have been filmed years ago because there is no way she is 87 in this series. I looked it up and she was 83. Good grief. She ages well. I read that her mom died when she was 105 so it sounds like Mary could have many more years of creating cooking shows.

Part of the time I am confused while watching her cook because they either use a different name for the ingredient over there or I’ve absolutely never heard of a particular ingredient.

I didn’t watch much else this past week, but hope to watch some more old movies, etc. this week.



What I’m Writing

I am currently editing Shores of Mercy and hope to start another story, outside the Spencer Valley Chronicles, this week. I have actually started four other books, but I have to decide which one I am going to continue to work on to release next.

On the blog this week I shared:

What I’m Listening To:

This week I listened to various praise and worship songs.

Now it’s your turn

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.

Special Fiction Saturday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 28

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

Let me know in the comments what you think. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*

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


Chapter 28

He’d needed church that morning. He’d needed the music, the sermon, the smiles and greetings of the other members of the congregation.

It had soothed an aching soul.

Now Ben was at his parents’ house, sitting on the back deck with a glass of lemonade and a novel, looking out over the autumn foliage splashing brilliant reds, oranges and yellows across the Pennsylvania hills around him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually sat down and read a book. He only wished he could focus on it better.

Memories of the visit to the Phillipi’s kept playing in his mind. Then there was Judi. Why wasn’t she answering his texts or calls? Maybe she’d fallen off the wagon and was sleeping it off. He hated to see her go down that path again. Plus, he needed her to be alert tomorrow at work.

She’d already been let go from one job. He didn’t want to have to let her go from this one. In fact, he’d like to offer her more hours at some point and maybe even split hours between her and Cindy when, or if, Cindy decided to come back to work.

“Gorgeous view, isn’t it?”

His dad’s voice came from behind him, pulling him from his thoughts.

“Yeah, it definitely is.”

Max sat on the chair next to him with his own glass of lemonade. He sipped from it for a few minutes, gaze focused on the hillside. “So, kid, there’s been a lot of pressure on you lately. You doing okay?”

Ben shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m hanging in there.”

“I saw Adam the other day. Everyone is back in the area he said. Including Angie and Amelia.”

Ben cleared his throat. “Yes, they are. I’ve talked to Angie about you and mom seeing Amelia actually. She’s thinking about it.” Or she had been. He wasn’t so sure now.

Max looked at him with a smile. “That would be great. I’m fine with leaving it up to Angie, though. I’m sure it’s awkward for her.”

“It shouldn’t be though. You and Mom weren’t the ones who hurt her. I was. You shouldn’t be punished for my mistakes.”

His dad drank some more of the lemonade before talking. “We’re guilty by association, I suppose. Listen, Ben. Really, are you doing okay?”

Ben laughed softly. “I guess you mean do I feel the need to cope with a glass of gin?” He shook his head once. “Nope. Not yet anyhow.” He winked. “I did have an extra dessert for dinner last night, though.”

Max lifted his glass in a mock toast. “Glad to hear it, kid. Not that extra sugar is good for us, but better than too much alcohol.”

Ben laughed. “Agreed.”

“You know I’m here if you ever need to talk, right?”

The smile faded. “Yeah, Dad, I do.”

Max leaned back in his chair and sat his glass on the small table between them. “Ben, maybe this isn’t the best time to bring this up but – did I do something over the years that led you down that path toward — well, toward —”

Ben laughed softly and winked. “Alcoholism, Dad. It’s called alcoholism. It’s okay to say it. It’s what it was. I was an alcoholic and now I’m a recovering one.”

Ben had never seen his dad look so — what was the right word? Uncertain? Hesitant? Clearly lacking confidence?

“What could you have done to push me down that path? You’re the best dad any kid could have. You’re hardworking, accomplished, well-respected in the community, beloved by your family, a good Christian man —”

Maxwell winced, hands in his pockets. “Ouch. All those things sound good but they also make me sound perfect. I’m not perfect.” He turned his head to look at Ben. “You know that, right? I mean,  you don’t actually think that I’m perfect, right? Because I know I’m not. I hope it doesn’t come across that way.”

“You don’t act that way at all dad.” He swallowed hard. How honest should he be with the man? Would it make him feel better or worse? “I’ve tried to live up to your reputation over the years, it’s true. I tried too hard for a long time, focusing only on your career accomplishments. When I couldn’t get there, I’ll admit, I fell apart a little.” He laughed softly and shook his head. “No. A lot. I fell apart a lot. I screwed up my life by trying to drink myself into oblivion and forget the fact I’d never be as accomplished or as good as you. The more I drank, the worse it got too. I got further and further away from who you were, knowing with each passing day I could never measure up to your standards or God’s.”

Max reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “You know now that you don’t have to live up to anything for my love or God’s, right?”

Ben nodded and covered his dad’s hand with his. “Yes. I do.” He may not feel it every day, but he understood it.

The ringing of his cellphone startled him. He’d forgotten he’d even brought it outside with him. The ringing was coming from his jacket. He searched for the phone and lifted it out of the inside pocket, hoping it was Judi letting him know she was okay.

He didn’t recognize the number, but answered it in case it was a client. “Hello, Ben Oliver here.”

There was an intake of a breath and a pause on the other end, then, “Hey, it’s Angie.”

He shifted in the chair, sitting up straighter, muscles tensing as he braced himself for the scolding, the demand that he not visit again.

“Hey, what’s up?”

She cleared her throat. “I need a favor.”

He half expected her favor to be for him to meet her brothers down at the boat launch outside of town so they could beat him up and throw him in the river.

“Yeah, sure.”

“My dad’s at the hospital and mom’s already there with grandma. My brothers are two hours away on a job and I don’t really know anyone else around here anymore. I can’t believe I’m asking this, but can you come sit with Amelia?”

His mouth went dry. “Definitely. Yeah. I mean, I’m at my parents so it will take a bit but —”

“I can bring her there. We’re downtown grabbing her some lunch from the diner.”

“Yeah, you can do that, if you want.”

“See you in fifteen?”

“Absolutely.”

She disconnected and he realized he hadn’t even asked why Adam was at the hospital.

“Everything okay?” His dad’s voice cut into his thoughts.

He shook his head. “No. Adam’s in the hospital. Angie wants to drop Amelia off here while she heads up.”

“You’ve gone pale, kid. You going to be okay?”

“What?” Ben looked at his dad, palms suddenly damp, mouth dry. “No. I’m fine. I’m not pale. Am I?”

Max laughed and stood, patting Ben on the shoulder. “It’s going to be fine, buddy. Your mom and I will be here for back up.”

Ben stood and followed his dad into the house. “I know, but Angie hates me, Dad. I mean, the other day I was pushing Amelia on the swing after I helped Adam and her brothers bring the furniture in and she fell off. Angie acted liked I did it on purpose. And what’s worse is I had no idea how to comfort Amelia or even check her for injuries.” He downed the rest of the lemonade and placed the glass in the sink. “This kid is my flesh and blood and when I’m around her I have no idea what to do. I feel like she’s someone else’s kid. I don’t know anything about her at all, but for some reason she attaches herself every time I come over.”

“It’s because something in her knows you’re dad,” his mom said sweeping into the dining room, setting a vase of flowers in the middle of the table.

She was still wearing her Sunday clothes — a flowered skirt and white, button-up blouse — her hair swept up on her head in a stylish bun, hiding much of the gray streaks in the brown nicely.

Sitting at the dining room table, Ben clasped his hand behind his head and yawned. “She’s four. That’s not possible.”

Sylvia paused in her adjustment of the flowers in the vase and raised an eyebrow. “Kids are smarter than we adults give them credit for, Benjamin. Now, what brought this topic up?”

 “I don’t want you to get flustered, but Angie’s bringing Amelia over for a while. Adam’s in the hospital for some reason and Angie’s going to wait with Leona.”

Sylvia’s hands hovered over the flowers. “Really? She’s bringing our granddaughter here?” Her eyes glistened as she pressed one hand to the base of her throat and the other to her mouth. “Oh my. Oh, that’s —” she sniffed. “That’s just so wonderful.” She spun quickly toward the kitchen. “I wonder if I even have any snacks she’d like. I haven’t had a young child in the house in years. I do have some peanut butter and cheerios and I can pour her a glass of milk. Unless she’s lactose intolerant. You were at that age, you know. Maybe I should find some paper and markers too, so she can color if she wants and —”

Ben laughed. “Mom. It’s okay. She’ll be fine with whatever you have.”

Syliva took a deep breath. “Right. Of course, she will. I just — it’s just — this is the first time I’m going to meet her in person and I —” She looked at Max. “I mean what if we scare her? She doesn’t even know us.”

Ben stood and kissed his mom on the cheek. “It will be fine, Mom. She’s going to love you.” He looked toward the direction of the stairs. “Is Maggie back yet? I know she wanted to meet her.”

“No,” Max said. “She called earlier and said she’s going to be at Jenny’s until this evening.”

Ben walked to the front window, petting Maggie’s longhaired cat Muffins, watching for Angie. The cat nuzzled his hand when he dropped it and he started petting it again absentmindedly , his thoughts racing, wondering what Angie’s demeanor would be when she arrived. He heard the buzz of the gate and Angie’s voice over the intercom in the kitchen.

“Hey, Angie.” Max’s voice was warm, welcoming. “Come on up.”

Her voice held the tension of the almost five-year estrangement. “Thank you, Max.”

As the small maroon Toyota wove its way up the driveway, he realized he didn’t know whether to walk outside or let her walk up to the house herself. As she parked the car and sat still for a few minutes, her hands clutching the steering wheel, he decided it might be better to meet her instead of forcing her to face his parents as well as him.

She looked up as he stepped outside, watching him for a few seconds, then opening the car door and stepping out. A breeze caught her hair, which hung loose down her back, pushing several loose strands into her face. A sudden urge to reach out and push the strands back coursed through him.

He watched her push the strands back herself instead as he walked, the move revealing the curve of her cheek, a face sans its usual make up but beautiful nonetheless.

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, pulling the blue sweater she was wearing closer around her. “Hey, sorry to have to bother you.”

“It’s not a bother, really.”

She turned toward the back door without responding, but when he touched her shoulder, she paused and looked back at him with a questioning raise of her eyebrow.

“Who do I tell her my parents are?”

Angie shrugged her shoulder. “Tell her the truth. They’re your parents.”

“Then who do I tell her I am?”

An amused smile tipped her mouth up. “She already calls you ‘Ben, that fun guy’ she met at the old house. Just go with that.”

“Yeah, okay.” He nodded a couple of times, his mouth dry as he watched Angie opened the back door. “That should work.”

Amelia bounded out of the car as soon as her mom unhooked her seatbelt and ran to Ben, a piece of paper clutched in one hand, her other arm wrapped around a teddy bear. A small, pink backpack was strapped to her back and her bright blue eyes sparkled in the late day sunlight.

“Hi, Ben!” She thrust the piece of paper at him. “I made this picture for you.”

Hearing his name fly out of her mouth with such ease made his stomach flip, even as a twinge of regret twisted in his chest. All she knew him as was a man named Ben, when in reality he was so much more. Technically anyhow.

He looked down at the drawing on the paper — stick figures of a man and a woman standing next to a smaller stick figure and a crudely drawn tree with what he thought might be a swing hanging off a branch.

 “See?” Her little index finger directed his gaze. “That’s you and that’s mommy and that’s me on the swing, but this time I’m not falling off.”

Ben chuckled. “Ha, yeah, not falling off is a good thing.”

“Can you push me on a swing again?”

“Well, we don’t have a swing here, but I’m sure we can find other things to entertain you.”

Angie lifted a mini suitcase from the backseat and handed it to him, her smile from before fading into a slight frown. “She wanted to bring her favorite teddy bear and doll and all their clothes. I told her it was a bit much, but —”

Ben smiled. “I guess she takes after her mom in that way.”

“Ha. Ha.” Angie scowled but the small smile returned, which sent a shiver of warmth through his chest. “Very funny.”

She turned and slid back into the driver’s seat.

Ben felt Amelia’s fingers encircle his and he looked down and smiled at her, even as an anxious buzz sliding across his skin. He’d never been on his own with her before. The weight of responsibility pressed down on him fast. He looked up as Angie closed the door and slid the window down, then took a step toward the car.

“Angie, I am sorry about the swing thing. It was an —”

“I know, Ben. I do.” The faint smile couldn’t hide how tired — and worried — she looked. “I’ll call later with an update.”

“I’ll be praying.”

A puzzled expression furrowed her brow, dipped her mouth into a frown. “Um, yeah. Thank you. That would be nice.”

As she drove away, he thought about how him offering to pray was probably confusing to her, since when they’d dated he’d done his best to stay away from anything having to do with church, or the faith his parents had raised him in.

A soft tug brought his attention back to the present and he looked down at a small round face with big eyes. “Hey, let’s go inside. I have some people I want you to meet.”

She skipped as he walked and he admired her energy.

His phone rang before he reached the front door and he recognized the song as Maggie’s favorite, which was why he’d set as her identifying ringtone.

“Hey, squirt. You’re not going to believe who —” “Benny, I’m at a party and I’m scared. Can you come get me? ”

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 27

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

Let me know in the comments what you think. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*

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

Chapter 27

She’d finally convinced Ellie to go home.

“I had a panic attack, that’s all. It’s not like I’m suicidal.”

Her sister sighed. “I know, but I’d still feel better if you’d let me stay. I can sleep in the spare room and —”

Judi had rolled her eyes. “Go home to Jason. I’m sure he needs you to cook for him or give him a massage or whatever you married people do.”

She really didn’t want to think about what they did as married people.

Ellie had stayed another hour, but eventually she had gone home. That had been two days ago and now Judi was lying on her bed in the darkness, replaying that day’s events and wishing she could sink into a hole and disappear forever. There was no way Evan was ever going to talk to her again and she couldn’t blame him. Who wanted to be around a woman who had a complete breakdown during a make-out session? She pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes.

Seriously. She was such a loser.

Thankfully she’d recovered from the panic attack and had been able to go to work with Ben the next day. Thankfully he didn’t ask her how she was doing this time, which she knew was code for, “You don’t feel the need to jump off the wagon and get plastered right?”

She was grateful he hadn’t asked because honestly, she absolutely did want to go out and get plastered, numb herself, silence her racing thoughts and she planned to do just that tonight. Dragging her hands through her hair she snatched the phone from the bedside table and looked at Jessie Landry’s text message again.

Being sober is sooooo boring.  Go to Terrell’s with me for a drink?

Judi texted back an answer as she walked to her closet.

Absolutely. Meet you there in fifteen.

But when she reached the bar and stood outside wearing thigh-high black leather boots and a hot pink skirt and rainbow striped tank top she’d purchased at an upscale boutique in the city, she hesitated. She hadn’t been to a bar in almost a year, other than Lonny’s and she’d never stayed there to hang out. Did she really want to go back there again? The alcohol would definitely distract her from everything she didn’t want to think about, but it would also numb her feelings and maybe she needed to feel for once.

“Juuuuudeeeeee!!!”

Jessie’s squeal startled her, made her scrunch her shoulders and wince. She regretted agreeing to this trip, or at least with Jessie.

Jessie looped her arm through Judi’s and giggled. “Come on girl, let’s loosen you up!” She reached for the front door. “How long has it been since we just let loose?! Too long, that’s what I say!”

The door opened and the smell of cigarette smoke, beer, too much perfume, and something frying wafted out, overwhelming Judi’s senses.

Country music from the old-fashioned juke box filled her ears as Judi dragged her over the threshold. She squinted in the dim light and took a deep breath at the sight of mostly men sitting on bar stools and tall, small round tables, their hands around the handle of a beer mug or a bottle. The dark wood walls did nothing to brighten up the place either.

Places like this had been her playing field for years but now she felt out of place. She felt out of place here, she felt out of place at a church or an AA meeting. At this point she didn’t feel like anywhere was her place.

“Come on, let’s find a table.” Jessie was already waving at men, flipping her hair over her shoulder and winking. Judi wondered which man Jessie would go home with tonight.

They chose a table at the far end of the main room. The bar, lined with people sitting on stools and drinking was on the other side of the room.

“So tell me, Jude, what’s been going on with you anyhow?” Jessie propped a cigarette between bright pink lipstick covered lips and lit it. She took a puff then blew a stream of smoke out of the corner of her mouth.

Judi made a face, glad smoking hadn’t become one of her vices. Filling Jessie in on her life wasn’t appealing to her at all. She’d really only come to get out of the house and see if alcohol could drown her feelings like it had in the past.

“Nothing much, honestly. I’ve been working at Lonny’s and now at Ben Oliver’s office and just trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life.”

Jessie smirked. “Ben Oliver. Now there’s a hottie. Have you slept with him yet?”

Judi cocked an eyebrow. Jessie was even more blunt than she was. “Uh. No. Not interested in him that way. He’s just my boss.”

“Then I’m free to go after him?” Jessie propped the cigarette in the middle of her first and middle finger and leaned her arms across the top of the table, her eyes shadowed by heavy eyelids and long, dark, fake eyelashes.

Judi laughed softly. “Good luck trying. He’s all about work and nothing else.”

Of course, she wasn’t going to tell Jessie that Ben was one, severely uptight and two, absolutely still in love with Angie. Let her figure it out.

Jessie crossed one long leg over another and bounced her foot in a rhythm that matched the country music in the background. “I bet I could get him to think about something else.” She winked as a waitress approached the table.

Jessie ordered a Black Russian and Judi asked for a beer. Might as well start out a little lighter for her first drink in almost a year.

As Jessie relayed story after story about her various sexual escapades, Judi’s gaze drifted around the bar, scanning the customers, recognizing a few, especially the ones she went to school with. Once the drinks she and Jessie had ordered were delivered, her stomach tightened. She turned the bottle around a few times, keeping her hand around it for a few seconds before lifting it.

Ridiculous.

There was nothing wrong with having one drink. She needed this. She needed to feel the numbing comfort of the alcohol and maybe drink enough to give her a buzz, muddy her thoughts until the memory of her embarrassing night with Evan disappeared.

The liquid slid bitterly over her tongue, burned down her throat, and hit her stomach as if she’d drank fire.

 How she’d ever drank this stuff for so long she had no idea. Maybe a whiskey would be better. When the whiskey came, though, it wasn’t any better. In fact, her stomach was burning as much as her throat now.

She slid off the stool. “I’ll be back, Jessie.”

“Take your time.” Jessie’s blue eyes scanned the bar for her next prey. “I’ll keep myself busy until you get back.”

In the bathroom she splashed her face with cold water, patting it dry and trying her best to keep from taking all her makeup off. Foundation hid the dark circles. She’d been proud she’d been able to hide the effect of sleepless nights. She didn’t need anything else to make her look older than she was at this point. Pausing at the sink she leaned on it and stared at her reflection for several seconds.

“Judi, what are you doing?” she whispered to the exhausted woman looking back at her. “Do you want to end up like Jerry one day? Laying in your own blood in an empty field while your family cries over you?”

Did she want to be the girl bar hopping and having one-night stands all her life, with no commitment, no one special to go home to at night? Someone who had no goals in her life, no direction, no real career or hope for a future? Someone like Jessie?

She pulled her hair back tight into a ponytail, then let it down again, shaking it loose across her shoulders. Holding her hand across her stomach she swallowed hard, then stepped aside as the door opened and a woman rushed inside, stumbled into a stall, and vomited in the toilet without even closing the door.

She pressed her hand to her mouth and swallowed back the bile crawling up her throat, turned and rushed from the bathroom. Jessie was already at another table, leaning in front of a good looking man Judi didn’t recognize, laughing loudly and letting him get a good view of her cleavage.

She straightened when she saw Judi and waved her over.

“Judi!” she called. “Come meet Troy and Nate! They need some company tonight.”

Judi inwardly cringed at how loud and bold Jessie was. Had she been that obnoxious when she was still drinking? Good grief. She probably still was that obnoxious.

Maybe she’d become a boring prude, but all she wanted right now was go home, change into her pajamas, crawl under the covers, and drink some hot cocoa while watching a cheesy rom-com. Jessie hooked her arm in Judi’s and pulled her into the booth next to her.

The man across from Judi winked at her as he lifted his beer. “So, you’re Judi.” He took a swig from the bottle. “From around here, little lady?”

Little lady? Was this guy for real?

“Uh, yeah. Born and raised actually.”

Unfortunately, she wanted to add, her gaze drifting from the smirking figure in front of her across the bar, to the exit, wondering how fast she could run there in heels. As her gaze drifted back, she spotted Brad sitting at the far end of the bar, head in his hands, an empty shot glass in front of him. It looked like she wasn’t the only one throwing herself off the sobriety wagon tonight.

“Can I buy you a drink?” The voice of Mr. Blue Eyes pulled her attention from Brad.

“Um, sure.” Her stomach clenched. “A ginger ale would be great.”

The man grinned, his gaze drifting from her face down to her chest, lingering there, and then sliding back up again to her eyes. “I didn’t think you were just the soda type from the way Jessie here talked about you.”

Her stomach turned again. “Well, someone has to be the designated driver,” she said with a sideways glance at Jessie who was finishing off her Black Russian.

“Are you going to apologize to me or not, Tanner?”

A deep voice boomed across the small bar and Judi turned her head in time to see a blur of movement a second before Brad staggered back, fell over a stool and to the floor. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, but he didn’t move to wipe it. He simply sat looking up at the man towering over him, mouth forming a thin line, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

In the past, Judi would have grabbed a bowl of peanuts and her drink and sat back for the show. This time, though, something needled at her. Apparently, she’d developed a conscience during her time of sobriety because instead of sitting by she stood and walked quickly toward the impending bar brawl, stepping in front of the taller man towering over Brad.

“Boys, boys.” She held her hands up, palm out, one toward the man and one toward Brad. “No need to fight over me. I’m not interested in either of you.”

She winked at the taller man and then waved her fingers at him as he scowled down at her. “Seriously, though, let’s not ruin this lovely evening by trashing this fine establishment and leaving blood on the floor.” She turned to look at Brad, cocked an eyebrow, and jerked her head to the door. “Come on, dear. Walk me outside. I could use some fresh air.”

Brad’s expression registered confusion as he stood slowly, straightening his shirt and reaching for his ball cap on the bar. Judi looped her arm in his and tugged him toward the front door while the other man looked at them with his arms folded across his chest, eyes flashing. If nothing else, this little charade would at least get her away from the creepy guy back at the table.

Out in the cool air, Judi let go of Brad’s arm after they reached the side of the building and sat on the bench near the parking lot. “Sit down, Bradley and tell dear Judi what brings you to this fine establishment, breaking your AA promises to admit your wrong doings and the power alcohol has over you.”

Brad scowled as he sat next to her, stretching one leg out in front of him and propping his hat on his other knee. “Aren’t you here to do the same thing?”

Judi looked at her nail and noticed a chip in the polish. “I’m here to forget how dull my life is.” She pushed her lower lip out and sighed. “Anyhow, what was all that about back there? Who did you tick off this time?”

Brad shrugged his shoulder, laying an arm across the back of the bench. “I asked his girlfriend if I could buy her a drink. He objected, I guess.” He rubbed his fingers across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What are we doing here, Judi? That accident should have scared us straight, right?”

Judi looked out across the parking lot, at the pickup trucks and the sedans and the cars of people inside numbing their problems the same way she’d tried to. Music from the jukebox thrummed its way through the wall behind her, played a melody she’d heard many times before over words about living like you were dying.

“It should have, yeah, but instead it drove us right back to our poor coping skills.” She looked over at him, his eyes rimmed red, hair disheveled, jaw unshaven. “How drunk are you, Tanner?”

He frowned, shook his head, staring out into the parking lot. “Honestly, I only had one shot glass. I’m not drunk. I couldn’t go through with it. I was getting ready to leave when Billy Bob back there grabbed ahold of me.” He raked a hand through his hair and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I don’t want to be that guy I was before anymore. I don’t want to be all fuzzy headed and incoherent, but right now I am only because I haven’t slept in three days.” He looked over at her. “I could have killed Ellie that night, Judi. I don’t even remember half of it, but she said I grabbed for the wheel. I could have straight up killed us both. And for what? Because I just kept drinking away to try to forget all the failures in my life. I’m an idiot and everyone has had to put up with me all of these years.”

Judi laughed softly. “Sounds familiar.” She bumped her shoulder against his. “You’re not alone in that area, you know. I’m right there in that circle with you. I came here to get myself drunk off my butt tonight. I don’t want to think anymore about all the failures in my life, either. We both know that coming here to drink our problems away is just going to add to them.”

She crossed one leg over another and leaned back again, sliding her hands back through her hair.

“Look at Jerry. He could be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. He’s traumatized his wife and kids for years with his drinking and now even more. Dawn probably doesn’t know whether she wants him to live or die after all this. There is a part of her that will want him to live, hopes this was his wake up call and he’ll become the old Jerry again, the Jerry that didn’t drink his life way.”

Brad stood and slid his hands in his jean pockets, kicking at a rock with the tip of his boot. “I hope she gets the old Jerry again. He used to be a pretty good guy. Before he started drinking so much. After he lost his dad and his job.” He slid a pack of cigarettes out of his flannel shirt pocket, tapped one out and popped it in his mouth. The flame that flicked up from the lighter illuminated his face as he lit the cigarette and took a puff. He pinched the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, then smirked. “I can only handle getting rid of one vice at a time. And since when did you start to sound so smart? That speech about Jerry actually made sense.”

Judi scowled at him playfully. “I have no idea. I guess I’ve been hanging around Ellie and Jason too much lately. I’ve even started to think about going to church with them. Crazy right? That scares me, though. That’s why I came here tonight. I’m afraid to try to be normal. What if I fail and become weird again?”

Brad scoffed. “What’s normal? I mean, Ellie and Jason are good people, but they aren’t perfect. You know that. You are normal. Even I’m normal. We’re our own normal. We mess up more than the other humans we know but everyone has something they struggle to overcome.” He looked up at the sky, blowing a plume of smoke through his nose. “Maybe other people don’t see it that way but I think God does. He created us, let us have a free will he knew we would abuse but still somehow, he loves us.”

Judi’s eyebrows raised. “Brad Tanner. Have you gone all religious on me?”

Brad laughed, tossing the cigarette to the ground and grinding it under his shoe. “Eh, it’s always been in there. I’ve just been running from it, from Him, for a long time.” He made a face. “Also, that cigarette was awful. Maybe I can get rid of another vice.” He shrugged. “Or maybe I need to buy another brand.”

Judi stood and folded her arms across her chest, rubbing her hands across her bare arms and wondering why she hadn’t brought a sweater. “I’ve been running from God for a long time too. Sometimes I don’t even know if he’s there.”

A brief silence fell over them.

“Maybe we both need to start running toward Him for a while,” Brad said softly. “See what happens. See if he’s even there.”

Judi hugged her arms tighter around herself. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Brad pushed his hands back in his front pockets. “Can I give you a lift home?”

She glanced at him. “Uh — no. I drove here, that’s fine.”

“You okay to drive?”

“I barely had anything to drink. Are you?”

“I barely did either. I think we’ll both be fine. Just don’t let good ole’ Officer McGee pull you over.”

A small smile tugged at her mouth. “See you later, Brad.”

He tipped his head in a quick nod. “See you later, Judi.”

Back at her apartment she pulled off her clothes and stepped in the shower, washing off the stench of cigarette smoke and the grime of poor decisions. Slipping under the covers a few minutes later, warm in a set of pajamas Ellie had given her for Christmas one year, she tipped her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. She had either gotten old or wise or maybe both. Either way she didn’t know how to handle this new place in her life where she wasn’t a partier anymore but also wasn’t exactly domesticated.

She groaned as her phone dinged. No. She refused to talk to anyone else. It was probably Jessie asking where she’d disappeared to anyhow. Then again, Jessie was probably already making out with one of those men and had completely forgotten about her.

She rolled to her side and opened one eye to look at the phone.

Ben: Hey, worried about you. I thought I’d go to the AA meeting this week in Spencer. Want to join me?

This guy was supposed to be her boss. What was he doing, trying to be her friend too?

She turned the light off by her bed and rolled back to the other side without answering him. With her eyes closed, though, her mind replayed that night with Evan, then with Jeff, then back to Evan. She rolled back to her back and pressed the heel of her hands against her closed eyes. The alcohol she’d had earlier still churned in her stomach. Now in her mind Lonny was telling her she’d stolen money from her mind. She sat up, gagging, wishing she’d never agreed to go to that bar.

A few minutes later she was doubled over the toilet, emptying the meager contents of her stomach while her phone rang.

Stumbling back to her bed, she reached for the phone. The call was from a number she didn’t recognize. She turned the phone off, laid down and fell into a fitful sleep plagued by blurred images of past mistakes.

Special Fiction Saturday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 26

I’m continuing to work on this story to release it as a book in January. As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite it, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Let me know in the comments what you think. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*

Chapter 26

Moana Phillipi’s house didn’t look much different than it had when Ben was in high school, other than a new paint job and new shutters on the side. The barn out back was empty of cows and tractors, as it had been for a decade now, which made it the perfect place to store Adam’s furniture until he and his brother finished building their furniture store closer to town.

Ben had arrived two hours before, helping to move Adam’s homemade furniture from the back of the moving truck to the back of Moana’s old barn. Amelia had run from the house when he arrived, tossing her tiny arms around his legs, a move which startled him, made him laugh, thickened his throat with emotion, and made him want to run away all at the same time. Before he had the chance to say much at all to her, other than “hey, kid, what have you been up to?”, she’d been called back inside by Angie who’d shot him a look that wasn’t exactly angry but wasn’t exactly friendly either.

“We really appreciate this, Ben.” Adam clapped Ben on the back on his way by, walking toward the moving truck to pick up another piece of furniture.

Ben nodded and lifted his t-shirt over his head, overheated and grateful he’d remembered to wear a tank top under his shirt.

Two moving men were also helping to move the furniture into the barn, but Adam was watching them like a hawk, instructing them, and encouraging Ben to help lift some of the larger pieces. Ben was doing his best to place the items down gently, making sure not to damage any of Adam’s workmanship.

Angie’s brothers had shown up part way through the moving and were now helping too, knowing best of all how their Dad liked his furniture handled. They were on the last row when Adam took a break, leaning against the truck, sweat beading across his brow. His color didn’t look good to Ben.

“Hey, Adam, why don’t you head in and see if Leona needs anything.” He glanced over his shoulder at Dan and Mark, hoping they’d notice their dad’s condition too. “We can get the last load and head in as soon as it’s stacked.

The brothers paused and looked at their dad. Mark glanced at Ben. “Uh, yeah, Dad. We’ve got this. You head on in.”

Ben was grateful when Adam nodded instead of protesting and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Yeah, I could use a drink. Thanks, boys. I’ll head back out in a bit with some lemonade for you.”

Ben didn’t converse much with the brothers as they worked other than a polite, “You got that?” or “Need a hand?” At least they were all being civil to each other.

Half an hour later, he looked up as he prepared to grab the last chair and saw Angie standing in the doorway wearing a pair of blue cut off jean shorts and a red and white plaid shirt tied at her waist. Her blond curls were pulled into a braid draped across her shoulder.

“Dinner’s ready. Mom says to get in before it gets cold.” She propped her hands on her hips and looked at the two moving men. “You’re invited as well.”

The men thanked her, but declined, one of them carrying the last chair into the barn and placing it gently next to the others. The taller one said they’d better get back on the road. They had a long drive ahead of him.

Ben dragged the back of his hand across his damp forehead and nodded at Dan and Mark. “You guys head on in. I’ll straighten out this row and head out.”

The brothers nodded and walked past their sister toward the house.

He hoped Angie would follow them but instead she stood, folding her arms across her chest, watching him with silent reproach as he stacked chairs.

“I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you when we moved up here.”

“I’m just helping your dad.”

“I don’t want you pushing your way into our lives, Ben.”

“I’m not trying to push into anything, Angie, I just offered to help your dad move his furniture.” He pushed a chair back and stacked another one, careful not to scratch the varnish. “I know. I’m not the nice guy. I’m the jerk, but maybe I’m trying to change.”

Shadows played across her face, but he could still tell her eyes were narrowed and her lips had formed a thin line.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she mumbled.

He was never going to win with her. He needed to accept that. He wished he didn’t still find her insanely attractive despite the vitriol she aimed at him every time they saw each other.

“You know what, Angie, why don’t you back off me for like five seconds? I just want to finish straightening these chairs like I said I would and then I’ll get in my car and drive out of here and leave you alone.”

He winced and dropped the chair he’d been holding, looking at his hand. The chair hadn’t been sanded yet. He shook the hand then picked the chair up again and lifted it onto another chair.

“Did you cut your hand?”  Her question dripped more with annoyance than concern.

“It’s just a splinter, I’m fine.” His words were strained, said with a tight jaw. He walked over to pick up another chair.

When he turned around from stacking it, she was walking toward him. “Give me your hand.” The words snapped out of her as a demand. “I’ll get it out.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“It’s a huge splinter. I can see it from here. Don’t be stubborn.”

“Huge is a relative concept.”

“Shut up, Ben and give me your hand.” She grabbed him by the wrist and yanked his hand toward her, brandishing a pair of silver tweezers she must have snatched from the first aid box on the wall on her way over to him.

He flinched when the metal touched his skin.

“Stop moving,” she hissed. “Or I won’t be able to get it.”

“Well, excuse me. It hurts.”

“Don’t be such a baby.” She squinted. “I can’t see it. Come into the light.”

She turned so her back was to him, her fingers still wrapped around his wrist, and walked forward, pulling him with her until they were standing in a stream of light pouring from a window at the top of the barn.

When she stopped walking, she pulled his arm in front of her and he stumbled forward, his chest now almost touching her back.  The scent of apples overwhelmed his senses, her hair soft against his cheek. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and tried not to think of the inside of his arm brushing against the outside of hers.

Tipping his head down and opening his eyes again he noticed his mouth was close to the skin exposed at the top of her shirt, soft skin along the side of her neck, curving toward her shoulder. He longed to lower his lips to that skin and kiss it softly like he used to. Instead, he had to be content in feeling the warmth coming off her, letting it remind him of better times when he could have slid his other arm around her waist and pulled her back against him.

“Ow!” A sharp pain seared through his hand. He yanked the hand away and stepped back. “What was that?”

“I got your splinter out.” She walked away from him, tossing the tweezer into the open first aid kit.

“Yeah, but you didn’t need to yank that hard.”

“You were getting too close.”

“You’re the one who stood in front of me. What was I supposed to do?”

She swung to face him, eyes flashing, cheeks flushed. “Don’t try to flirt with me, Ben. Just don’t.” She took a step back but kept her gaze locked on his, holding up a finger. “Don’t try to turn me on. I’m not falling for that.”

He snorted a laugh. “I wasn’t trying to turn you on.” He grinned mischievously. “It’s not my fault if you got turned on.”

Crimson spread across her cheeks, down her throat. “I didn’t say I got turned on.”

“I didn’t say you did get turned on.”

She turned away from him again. “I’m going in the house. Put some ointment and a bandage on that. They’re in the first aid kit.”

She left him standing in the open door of the barn with a small, smug smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. He watched her walk to the back door of the house, enjoying the gentle sway of her hips, the briskness in her step enhancing the movement.

Leona stepped into the opening of the back door and waved. “Ben! Come on in and grab some lunch before you head out, okay?”

He didn’t want to disappoint the woman, but he also didn’t want to inflame Angie anymore than he already had. Then again, eating lunch would give him a chance to smell that shampoo again, which would both thrill and torture him. Maybe he could even find a way to make that crimson flush across her cheeks return.

The other men were already at the kitchen table when he stepped inside. He asked where the bathroom was so he could wash up, his t-shirt now pulled back over the tank top.

Back in the kitchen a few minutes later, Adam, his color better than before, gestured to the empty chair next to him and across from Amelia. “There’s a seat right here. Pull up and grab some grub, kid.”

Angie set a bowl of mashed potatoes down in front of him  harder than he felt necessary. He looked up at her and wanted to laugh at the anger flashing in her eyes. She’d utterly convinced herself he’d tried to hit on her in that barn. Ridiculous woman.

If he’d really wanted to hit on her he’d had done more than breathed in the smell of her shampoo.

“Do you want to see the swing Pop-pop made for me after lunch?” Amelia asked, eager eyed focused on Ben, clearly oblivious to the tension between her parents.

“Um —“ he glanced at Angie briefly, then the brothers, then back at the bright blue eyes blinking at him from across the table. The blue eyes were the only ones that calmed his racing heart and solidified an answer he knew would be unpopular among the Phillipi siblings. “Yeah, that would be nice.”

Leona asked him about his parents and siblings during lunch, which filled up the time it took him to practically inhale the woman’s homemade roast, mashed potatoes and carrots. Through the doorway into the living room, he could see Moana dozing in a recliner, looking much older and frail than the last time he had seen her.

As soon as he laid his fork down on the empty plate tiny fingers pushed into his hand. “Come on, Ben! Push me on the swing.”

“Push you?” He grinned as he stood and wrapped his hand around hers. “I thought you just wanted me to look at the swing.”

Adam laughed softly. “Oldest trick in the book. Have fun, Ben.”

Amelia let go of his hand as they reached the backyard, her tiny legs carrying her fast across the yard, toward the barn where a tire swing hung from a tall maple tree.

The beauty of the view beyond the tree — rolling green hills starting to show even more fall color — hit him full in the chest as he continued to walk. He paused to take in the scene, but also to catch his breath, which reminded him how old he was compared to the child running ahead of him. By the time he reached the swing, Amelia was already sitting inside of it, waiting for him to push her. She tipped her body back on the swing to smile at him, partially upside down. The afternoon sun caught her hair, sparkling off it.

“Push me!” she said with a giggle.

He pushed the swing gently.

“Higher!” she squealed as the swing began to lift into the air.

He pushed a little harder, enjoying the sound of her laughter, the way it skipped across the air and curled into his heart and around it. So this is what he had been missing all these years. His chest ached, physically ached, and he rubbed it gently as he pushed with his other hand. He swallowed hard, thinking of all the firsts he’d missed with her. First steps, first words, first food, first booboos that needed to be kissed, that he wasn’t there to kiss.

“Higher!” she cried again.

He pushed a little higher then gasped when she tipped backward, falling out of the swing on her side, her arm under her. The squeals of laughter that had pierced the air before were replaced with a pain-filled wail that shot panic through him. He stooped quickly, lifting her in her arms, wincing at the sight of blood on her knee and elbow and a small cut on her cheek.

“It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.” He cradled her against him as he stood but the wailing continued, large tears rolling down her cheeks and into her mouth, onto his shirt. Turning he moved quickly down the hill and across the backyard toward the house, realizing with a sickening twist in his gut that he had no idea how to calm her down or even how to check her for serious injuries. Maybe she’d even broken a bone when she fell.

Angie burst out the back door before he reached the house, running down the brick steps toward them. Amelia reached out for her, mouth open, the wailing fading to a pitiful whimper.

Angie laid Amelia against her shoulder. “What happened?!”

“I was pushing her on the swing, and she fell off. She must have hit a rock on her way down.”

Angie carried Amelia into the house, sitting quickly in the kitchen floor and leaning back to inspect the scraps and cuts on the sniffling little girl in her arms.

Ben followed her. “I’m sorry. She wanted to go higher so —”

Angie glanced up at him, eyes flashing. “So you just did it? Because she wanted you to? Well, that’s great parenting. You’re seriously so clueless, Ben.”

He tightened his jaw and took a deep breath, but before he could even think he bit out a sharp response. “Of course, I’m clueless, Angie, I never had a chance to be a dad.”

“You had your chance! You didn’t take it!” Angie shouted back.

“Stop screaming at me and check on your daughter!” Ben didn’t even care how loud he was shouting, or that the shouts were bringing the rest of the family into the kitchen.

“That’s right, she’s her daughter and she’ll take care of her,” Mark snapped, stepping toward him. “What did you do?”

“Mark!” Leona laid her hand on her son’s chest. “That’s enough. I’m sure it was an accident.”

Ben took a deep breath, swallowed the retort he wanted to fling at Angie and Mark, and did his best to keep his tone even. “It was an accident. I was pushing her on the swing and she fell off.  That’s all.”

Mark aggressively pointed at him. “Leave, Ben.”

“I want to make sure she’s okay first.” He was having a harder time keeping his voice calm now.

“Get out!” Mark took a step forward, but Dan grabbed his arm, pulling him back.

“Calm down,” Dan said. “This isn’t the time for this.”

Adam had joined Angie on the floor, both of them inspecting Amelia’s arms and legs.

“You’re fine, honey,” Adam said. “You’ve just got a couple scrapes.” He looked up at Ben. “She’s fine. Accidents like this happen with kids all the time.”

He pulled Amelia against him and kissed the top of her head. “Come on, now, honey. Do you hurt anywhere?”

Amelia sniffed loudly and pointed to a scrap on her elbow and one on her knee. “Just here and here.”

“Okay, well, let’s take you into the bathroom, get you cleaned up, and get some Band-Aids,” Leona said cheerfully, reaching her hand out toward her granddaughter.

Amelia took it and stood slowly, still sniffing and wiping a hand under her nose. “Unicorn band-aids?”

Leona laughed. “Of course.”

Amelia started to walk with her grandmother, but then paused, pulling her hand away and running to Ben, and taking his hand. “You can push me on the swing again when I get back, okay?”

Ben shook his head slowly. “No, kid. I have to go. It was fun, though. Go get cleaned up and I’m sure one of your uncles will push you.”

Amelia pushed her lower lip out, looking up at him. “But I like when you push me. They won’t push me high.”

Ben laughed softly despite the heaviness in his stomach. “Going higher isn’t always a good thing, kid.” He lifted her hand and motioned toward Leona. “Go get a Band-aid.”

Amelia released his hand and took her grandmother’s again. He drew in a sharp breath and turned away, walking through the patio doors, chest tight. His throat and eyes burned as he started down the steps.

“Ben, it was an accident. Don’t rush off.”

He heard Adam’s voice, but he couldn’t be polite and assure the man that everything was fine. Not this time. He needed to get out of here. Emotion clawed its way from the inside out and he wanted to be in the car before it broke loose.

His hand shook a few minutes later as he shifted the car into gear and backed quickly out of the driveway, waving briefly at Adam, now standing in the side yard, concern etching his brow. It wasn’t until the car met with the intersection of the driveway and dirt road in front of the house that the tears came and he dragged the back of his hand across his eyes, willing the emotion away.

He was not going to get emotional, play the victim. Angie’s anger, Mark and Dan’s desire to smash him into a pulp, Adam and Leona’s angst. They were all natural consequences of his past actions and decisions.

His being around would only complicate matters.

At this point, it would be better for him to stay away and stop adding stress and pain to a family who he’d already victimized enough over the years.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 25

I’m continuing to work on this story to release it as a book in January. As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite it, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 25

“And for Mr. Oliver, the usual.”

Mr. Oliver. Yikes.

Ben cringed at the formality of the server at the coffee shop down the street from his office. He knew Patrick, the young man who had been waiting on him almost every morning for the last year, was affectionately poking fun at him, but the moniker still unnerved him. He wasn’t anywhere near the respect level of the real Mr. Oliver in his life — his dad.

He accepted the cup, the scent of vanilla cinnamon creamer wafting up toward him. What was even happening to him? He’d never used to drink coffee with creamer and now he was getting all fancy and had even asked for a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. Judi had rubbed off on him and he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.

“Thanks, Pat. Have a good day and keep Betty over there in line.”

The sixty-something owner of the café winked at him over her shoulder from where she stood at the end of the counter pouring a cup of coffee into a customer’s mug. “Telling me to keep in line. That’s rich coming from a lawyer.”

He heard the affection in her tone but had to agree. Lawyers weren’t always great at keeping themselves out of trouble either.

Out on the sidewalk he slid his sunglasses on with one hand and looked up at the trees lining Main Street, admiring how greens had been replaced by crisp gold and orange almost overnight.

“Well, isn’t it a small world?”

He looked down at the sound of voice, surprised to see Adam walking toward him carrying a brown paper bag in one arm, hugged against his chest, and a bucket in the other hand.

“Hey, Adam. Officially back, huh?”

Adam set the bucket down and thrust his hand out toward Ben. “Yep. It’s official now. Just waiting for the moving company to deliver the furniture inventory from my shop. Everything else is in the house. It’s not all unpacked or in the right place just yet, but it’s in there.”

“Good to hear it. You guys need any help or has the company got it?”

Adam winced. “Well, to be honest, this company hasn’t been the greatest. I’m a little nervous about them unloading the furniture. I had to watch them like a hawk when they loaded it. I was glad the boys were there to help guide them, but they’ve got a big job three hours away and won’t be here when the truck arrives tomorrow.”

Angie probably wouldn’t like him offering, but —  “Want me to come and help supervise?”

Adam’s eyebrows raised. “Hey, would you? That’d be great and Leona would be glad to cook you some dinner.”

Ben reached for the bag in Adam’s arms, taking it from him. He didn’t like the dark circles under the man’s eyes and the way his shoulders stooped as if he were having trouble holding them up.

“No need for dinner. I’d be glad to help for nothing. What time are they supposed to stop by?”

“Around 3 but it could be later knowing the way they’ve been doing things.”

“Which way is your car?”

Adam gestured down the street. “Just a block down. You don’t need to carry that. I’m sure you’re on your way to work.”

Ben laughed as he turned to walk down the street Adam fell in step with him after picking up the empty bucket again. “I’m my own boss, remember? There’s no one there to scold me if I’m running a little late.”

“That’s a good point.” Adam waved at a man who walked by, then paused as the man reached out a hand and offered a “welcome back.”

He and Ben resumed walking once Adam filled the man in on his arrival, what still needed to be done, and the health of Adam’s mom.

 Adam nodded toward the bag Ben was carrying. “Leona asked for a few things to clean the kitchen. The nurses we hired did the best they could, but the floor needed an extra scrubbing.” He lifted the bucket as they walked. “I needed this for a plumbing project in the bathroom I’m going to need to tackle. That’s what happens when your mom still lives in an old farmhouse.”

They stopped at a blue sedan and Adam opened the back door for Ben to slide the bag in.

“I thank you for your help, Ben and we’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

Not all of them would look forward to seeing him, but, well, that couldn’t be helped right now. Ben turned to head back to his office “See you then.”

“Hey, Ben.”

He turned around again. “Yeah?”

“She asked about you after you left.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that. He knew who Adam was referring to. It certainly wasn’t Angie.  “Oh. She did?”

“Yeah. She wondered where you had gone and asked if you would come play with her again.”

Warmth prickled across Ben’s skin, his throat thickening. “That’s really nice.”

Those three words didn’t convey how hearing his daughter wanted to see him again really made him feel, but he couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say.

After he was in the office, he let out a shaky breath and pulled Amelia’s photo out of the drawer.

He thought back on the night Leona had called him to tell him she’d been born. He hadn’t actually picked up the phone. He’d let it go to voicemail when he saw the caller ID.

“It’s a girl, Ben. She’s beautiful. I hope you’ll be able to meet her one day.”

That’s all Leona had said. He’d never called back, even though he’d wanted to. He’d wanted to run to the hospital and hold Amelia in his arms and forget all the mistakes he’d made. If only it had been that easy.

How could he run into the hospital, ask to hold the little girl he’d rejected and face the woman he’d made go through a pregnancy on her own? He couldn’t. He’d sat in a pew and asked God to forgive him for his mistakes probably 50 times in the last year. And he knew God’s love was as endless as his failings.

That love wouldn’t come as easily from others, though. God would and had forgiven him, but he didn’t expect the same absolution from Angie. He’d never asked for her forgiveness, and he never would. He only hoped that someday she’d allow him to see their daughter, even without it.

***

“So, it was good?”

Evan looked at Judi across the small table Ellie and Jason had passed down to her a couple of months ago. He’d propped his hands under his chin, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

She gestured to her empty plate as she picked it and her empty glass up and walked to the sink. “Do you see any more on my plate? It was obviously amazing. Where did you even learn to cook like that?”

He followed her, leaning around her to place his own plate and glass in the sink. “Did you forget who my mom is?”

She turned and noticed he hadn’t stepped back like she’d expected him to, leaving him standing dangerously close. “Oh right, of course. Your mom’s food is amazing, especially her desserts.”

A soft laugh came from him, but he still hadn’t stepped back. Instead, he’d propped an arm close to her on the edge of the counter. “Sadly, I didn’t bring any of her desserts.”

She leaned her hip against the counter and folded her arm across her chest. “I don’t need any more dessert after all that ice cream I had earlier.”

Boy, was he close. She could feel the heat coming off him. Or maybe the room had just gotten warmer. Either way she slid to her right, turned, and headed toward the living room. “Want to watch a movie?”

“Yeah. That’d be great. Have one in mind?”

She didn’t and maybe she shouldn’t even try to think of one and instead send him home. “Um . . . maybe a classic?”

He followed her to the living room and sat next to her as she sat on the couch. “How classic? Like black and white classic or 80s classic?”

“I’d prefer 80s. Ellie’s the old black and white movie buff.”

They picked a favorite of Evan’s — The Goonies — and Judi found herself thinking about how she had never sat next to a man and simply watched a movie with him. She shifted to pull her feet under her, then so they were off to one side, then under her again. She kept a foot or so between them at first but during the second adjustment she found herself closer, practically leaning into him, her arm brushing his.

As they laughed and joked about the hairstyles and how young Sean Astin and Josh Brolin looked she forgot about analyzing if she was sitting too close or far away or if she was holding her arms or legs awkwardly.

She didn’t know exactly how it happened, but it felt completely natural when he slid an arm across the back of the couch and absent-mindedly played with her hair. She closed her eyes briefly, enjoying the satisfying feel of his hands in her hair.

Soft lips on her neck opened her eyes and she smiled. “Hey, we’re supposed to be watching a movie.”

“I’m totally watching it,” he whispered against her ear. “But your neck is distracting me.”

“Oh, is it?”

That smell. What was it? It smelled good yet there was something also foreboding about it, an ominous memory connected to it that she couldn’t yet draw to the forefront of her mind. His mouth moved from her neck to her earlobe.  Flashbacks of that night with Jeff fired off in her mind as his mouth slipped to her neck again. In Jeff’s apartment the light from billboards and red neon signs outside had lit up the room. Here it was the light from the TV. She could still remember the smell of Jeff’s cologne, the feel of his hands pushing down.

Her breath quickened and she swallowed hard, trying to bring herself back to the present.

This was stupid. Evan wasn’t Jeff. Evan was good and kind, gentle, caring.

She closed her eyes, turned her head into his kiss. The kiss was soft and welcoming, like before. When his hand slipped to her waist, though, alarms went off again, exploding against the inside of her like mini bombs which hurt as much physically as they did mentally.

Evan was not Jeff but all she could feel were Jeff’s hands on her, his mouth roughly pressed against her hers as he pushed her down on the couch, grabbed at her skirt.

She willed the thoughts away, grabbed the front of Evan’s shirt and kissed him harder, pulling him toward her as she leaned back toward the arm of the couch until he was almost on top of her. She needed to move on. She needed to get what happened with Jeff and Jerry and everything else out of her mind.

You know you’ll give it to me.

Jeff’s voice, dark, cold, and full of arrogance. Why were those words playing over and over in her head? No! She wouldn’t let that memory ruin her time with Evan. She focused on the kiss and on his hand that he’d pushed into her hair.

You’ve been asking for it since we met.

She pulled away from Evan, gasped in a mouthful of air and shoved at his chest as his cologne overwhelmed her. She couldn’t deny it now. The cologne was triggering memories she didn’t want, suffocating her senses, clouding her mind.

“Get off!” She gasped in another mouthful of air, her chest tight. “Get off!”

She pushed hard against Evan’s chest, and he leaned up fast, sitting back on the couch.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?” He reached out, took her hands in his. “You’re trembling, Judi. And pale. Super pale. Talk to me.”

She wrenched her hands out of his and stood. “Just stop!” She stumbled backward, holding a hand to her throat, which felt like it was closing. “Please, leave.”

Evan stood and took a step back toward the door, hands raised, palms out as if in defense. “No problem. I can totally leave, but, Judi — Did I do something wrong?”

She shook her head, pins and needles sliding up her arms now. “No. No. I’m just — can you leave?”

If she was going to pass out, she wanted to do it without an audience.

Evan was clearly bewildered but still nodded and stepped sideways toward the door. “Yeah, sure. If you want me to absolutely, but you’re still really pale and you’re breathing funny. Can I just stand over here until you’re feeling better because I really don’t feel right leaving when —”

Her words were coming out in short gasps now. “I just need you to go.”

“Okay, again, no problem, but please sit on the couch and put your head back, okay?”

She sat on the couch, hunching forward and hugged her arms around herself, trembling to the point her teeth chattered.

“I’m going to get you a blanket, okay? Where is your bedroom?”

“No. Leave.”

“Okay, but can I call someone for you?”

She shook her head and pulled her knees up against her chest. Everything needed to stop spinning.

“Take slower breaths, okay? I’m going to step outside but please, try to make those breaths further apart or you’re going to hyperventilate.”

The door clicked closed behind him as a sob choked out of her. What was going on? Why did she feel this way? Fear surged through her, taking her thoughts hostage, warning her that she was in danger, even though logic told her Evan was someone she didn’t need to be afraid of.

His voice, faint, but audible, came through the partially opened front window. He was still on the landing, and he was talking, but not to her. “Hey. Do you have a number for Ellie Tanner? I’m at Judi’s and I think she’s having a panic attack.” A brief pause and then, “Yeah. Great. Have her come over here as soon as she can.” Another pause, during which Judi sucked in a breath and tried to stop sobbing. “No, I’m outside. She told me to get out. Yeah, I’m staying here until Ellie gets here.” She pressed a hand against her mouth as he continued to talk. “Sure, prayer is always a good thing.”

Her thoughts needed to stop racing. The images needed to stop playing. Her heart needed to stop pounding, her hands to stop shaking.

She couldn’t take it anymore.

One drink wouldn’t hurt. She just needed to take the edge off. Where could she even get a drink right now?

“Judi, I’m right outside if you need me, okay? I’m trying to get a hold of Ellie. I hope that’s okay.”

She didn’t answer him, just squeezed her eyes shut even tighter and tried to focus on the breeze blowing in from the window, on the sounds outside in the street, anything to keep her from focusing on the images in her mind, the smell of Jeff, the feel of his hands on her.

She didn’t even know how much time had passed when the front door to the apartment swung open and hurried footsteps pounded across the floor toward her. Warm hands encircled her wrists. “Judi? I’m here.”

Ellie didn’t ask if she was okay. She didn’t ask what was wrong. She didn’t suggest a prayer.

She just knelt in front of her sister, held Judi’s wrists for a few seconds, and then slowly slid her arms around her, holding her tight as the tears came fast and furious.