Sunday Bookends (on Monday): Good music, scary or depressing movies, books about chefs and summer activities


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

I didn’t finish this in time for a Sunday posting, which is why it’s being posted on Monday instead. Obviously. *wink*


What I/we’ve Been Reading

I have been reading but quite slowly. I was rotating between three books and I still haven’t finished one of them so this week I am going to focus on Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and when that is finished I am going to finish The Heart of the Mountain by  Pepper Basham and then I will go back to Anne of the Island from the Anne of Green Gables series.  The Heart of the Mountain is the first book I’ve read by Basham and I am enjoying it. So far it’s not a cliché Christian fiction romance and I am grateful for that. It releases on July 1.

A description for those who are curious about it:

Can True Love Weather a World of Differences?

To escape marriage, Cora Taylor runs away from her home in England to join her brother in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, but not even her time as a nurse in the Great War prepares her for the hard landscape and even harder lives of the mountain people. With the help of Jeb McAdams, a quiet woodcarver, who carries his own battle scars, she fashions a place for herself among these unique people. But the past refuses to let go, and with dangers from within and without, can hearts bruised by war find healing within the wilds of the mountains?

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is the book that blew Bourdain into stardom and details his journey working at the lowest levels in kitchens up to the big time. If you don’t know who Bourdain is, then you really missed out (though you didn’t miss out on his potty mouth. *wink* He was known to be a bit crass, crude, and rude at times, but he was also a brilliant writer and food connoisseur. So warning: there is swearing in this book but not constant swearing ).

 He was a chef who became famous when he traveled the world for the Travel Channel tasting and discussing food from countries all over the world, all while giving the viewers a bit of history and culture lessons during each episode.

A description of Kitchen Confidential for the curious:

Anthony Bourdain, host of Parts Unknown, reveals “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine” in his breakout New York Times bestseller Kitchen Confidential.

Bourdain spares no one’s appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same “take-no-prisoners” attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain’s first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable.

Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You’ll beg the chef for more, please.

Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. My family and I had been watching his show for years. When we heard the news it was like losing a friend. A foul-mouthed, jokester, who loved life so much you couldn’t believe he’d choose to end it type of friend. Many of his shows are available on a variety of streaming services and I highly recommend them. If you are sensitive to seeing animals killed or hearing course language, maybe avoid them, but neither of those items are consistently present in his earlier shows and are present more, but still not constant, on his show that ran on CNN a few years before he passed away.

This is my first time reading a book by him. It is the first of several he wrote, including a couple novels.

The Husband is reading Fade Away by Harlan Coben.



What’s Been Occurring

Little Miss has been excited to jump on our neighbor’s trampoline but has been sorely disappointed that Mom and Dad won’t jump with her. Big brother isn’t that interested either and her friends from Texas are now gone home so she had to be content with jumping for us instead of with us.

We spent a few nights last week up the hill on the trampoline, me reading a book or watching her while she jumped.

Our roses are still blooming which has been so exciting for me. I can’t remember if they bloomed this long last year or not and I figure we will lose most of them this week or next so I am simply enjoying them while I can.

The Husband is on vacation this week, but we don’t have any big plans. We are going to visit a couple of local state parks and hopefully go on a train ride near us and spend time with my parents.

Yesterday we kicked off The Husband’s week with a cookout with my parents and jumped in the pool for the first time after my son and dad worked hard to clean it out.

What We watched/are Watching

I watched a rerun of the K-Love Fan Awards early in the week.

The link to the entire show can be found here:

My favorite performances included:

TobyMac Promised Land (made even more powerful to me since Toby lost his son to suicide two years ago)

Phil Wickham House of the Lord (such a fun and worshipful performance. He’s fairly new to me as of this year, but I’m enjoying his music):

CeCe Winans and Lauren Daigle, I Believe For It (two Christian powerhouse singers):

Katy Nicole, In Jesus Name (God of Possible). This one just broke me down pretty hard for various reasons. It was the first time I heard it. Powerful stuff.

I also loved when Matthew West won for best male vocalist of the year. You can tell he had no idea. He was floored, emotional, and he just deserved it. I love following him on social media, his music and listening to his podcast. He’s just a sweet man and we need to be praying for his heart and that he can continue to impact the world for Christ.

This week I watched Streetcar Named Desire for the first time at the suggestion of Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs. She and I will be watching classic movies we suggest for each other this summer. I have been rubbing my hands together at this prospect because I am a huge fan of classic, or old, movies. I love picking out movies I enjoyed to share with others and I also love to receive suggestions from others.

I will give you my impression of Streetcar on Wednesday. I suggested Double Indemnity for Erin and she will be sharing her impressions of that movie on Wednesday as well.

Also this week I watched A Quite Place with The Boy, a movie I told him I would not watch because I hate horror-type movies. I finally caved in when Little Miss and The Husband had a day out on Saturday. It turns out this movie was different than other “horror” movies and was more of a psychological thriller. I was very impressed and enjoyed the storytelling of it. The Boy and I both feel that the movie should have stood for itself and there was no need for A Quiet Place 2 but The Boy, who has already seen that movie as well, said that he actually enjoyed A Quiet Place 2 and jumped more during that movie than the first one. I told The Boy I would watch the second movie with him sometime soon. The key for movies like these are finding a time Little Miss won’t be in the room with us. Obviously, I’m not letting her watch these types of movies with us at the tender age of seven.


The Husband and I finished Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, which was a three-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie book and directed by Hugh Laurie. It was very good. I would have liked some more Emma Thompson, but you can’t have everything.


What I’m Writing

I’ve been working some on The Shores of Mercy and hope to be more strict about carving out writing times to work on it next week.

I shared two posts on the blog this week in addition to Chapter 8 of The Shores of Mercy (which is being called Mercy’s Shore on here):


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.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 8

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

Chapter 8


Judi rolled onto her back in bed and stretched, wishing she didn’t have to crawl out from under the covers today. She closed her eyes against the sunlight, a familiar empty feeling settling in the center of her chest. She didn’t have much of a life without alcohol and bars. The friends she used to hang out with had faded into the background once she started declining their offers to go out.

 If she wasn’t at work, her nights were either spent helping her dad in the barn — something she swore she’d never do again when she moved to the city  — or watching a show on one of the streaming services she’d subscribed to. She often fell asleep wondering how she had ended up here and if being sober was supposed to be so boring.

Most mornings she woke up with a gasp, never sure what the day would bring, but glad to have left the night behind where nightmares often clawed at her in her sleep.

She glanced at her phone. There were three voicemails, but she refused to listen to them. The caller ID said one was Seline, the other Ellie and the third a number in New York City she didn’t recognize. Answering any of them meant being responsible and she didn’t feel like being responsible today anymore than she had yesterday.

She’d already answered a call from Rachel last night, letting her know she wouldn’t be drowning her sorrows in a cocktail over Jerry’s comments. She’d agreed to let Rachel pray with her and they hung up after making plans to meet at the downtown diner for lunch the day after tomorrow.

Now she had a full shift at Lonny’s which she wasn’t looking forward to. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with people, especially with some of the regulars. Granted, the bar and grill wasn’t a gritty bar with the main focus being on alcohol. It was more upscale than a regular bar, serving professionally cooked food and hosting high profile community or corporate events. It was after nine and on weekends when some of the customers became a little looser with their tongues and hands.

While their actions bothered Judi, she also knew she’d been them not even a year ago. When she’d drank, she let go of anything holding her back and enjoyed the feeling of not having to think of anything other than the buzz in her head and the urge to giggle over everything, even men touching her bottom when she didn’t want them to. She wasn’t drinking anymore, though, so now she was more uncomfortable with men who thought that by delivering their order they were entitled to a tip of their own.

Two hours later, though, that’s exactly what one of the customers was doing and it wasn’t even the night shift.

Judi pushed the man’s hand off her shoulder. “I’m here for your order, sir, not your unwanted attention.”

“Come on, sweetie.” The man grinned, revealing teeth brown from years of smoking. “I’m just being polite. Letting you know how pretty you look today.”

Judi guessed his age to be anywhere from 50 to 70 with the way wrinkles had cut into his skin and the tuft of graying hair on his head. All she knew was that he was old. She took a step back as the smell of stale cigarettes wafted toward her. “You’re welcome to let me know with your words, not your actions. Now, what can I get you to drink today?”

“Sounds like someone isn’t appreciative of compliments,” the man said, his smile slipping into a sneer. He tossed the menu onto the table while the man across from him smirked. “Bring me a whiskey sour.”

Judi took a deep breath and turned back toward the bar area, hoping when she returned to get the orders for their food the man had calmed down. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Ben walking slowly behind his father and three other men toward a table in Hannah’s area.

Better her than me, she thought picking up an order for another table. She’d had her fill of Ben Oliver in the last couple of weeks.

She delivered the meals to the table to her right and a drink to a man sitting alone in the corner. When she returned to the kitchen, Hannah cornered her with a mischievous smile.

“There’s a group of lawyers in my section babbling about lawyer stuff. Pretty boring. All of them are old except that one guy.” She winked. “He’s pretty cute. He isn’t your lawyer, is he?”

Judi rolled her eyes. “I don’t have a lawyer, Hannah, but, yes, one of them is the guy who swerved to miss my car, if that’s what you mean.”

Hannah’s eyes widened. “Really? I was joking. Which one?” She peered through the door as it swung open. “Oh! Of course! The one with the cast on his ankle and the bruise on his cheek? No way. Judi. You should have told me how good looking he is.”

Judi accepted the loaded tray she was handed. “What I did tell you was what a jerk he can be. He cheated on a friend of our family’s years ago when they were in high school, and he yelled at me at the accident scene.”

Hannah scoffed. “That’s high school. People mature. Plus, you did total his BMW. I would have yelled too.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “All I know is that I’m not interested in him in that way or any way.” She nodded toward the chef standing behind Hannah. “Enough talking. James is waving at you. I think your orders are ready.”

After another food delivery she retrieved a whiskey sour and a Black Russian for the table with the elderly flirt, ready to take his order. He gave it without the flirting he’d offered with his whiskey order, and her shoulders relaxed. Maybe her day was looking up after all. Once she reached the kitchen, she rubbed the muscle between her shoulder and neck and felt a twinge there, realizing how tense she’d been all afternoon, waiting for something bad to happen.

She refilled a drink, took two more orders, and delivered to two more tables before she returned to the man’s table to ask if he needed a refill.

“I’d take a refill of you, sweet thing,” the man responded sliding a hand against her lower back. She shifted away from him. “Oh, come on, young lady. Let an old man feel some soft skin for once.”

The muscle tension returned, but this time spreading from her shoulder, down her back and across her chest. Her heart rate increased, and her legs weakened.

 “Don’t touch me.” Her sharp voice shattered the noise of the dining room, silencing it for a few seconds as heads turned and eyebrows raised.

“Whoa. Whoa.” The man laughed and held his hands up in front of him. “Calm down, hon’. There’s no reason to get all riled up.”

Judi kept her eyes on the floor and took a step back. “I’ll get your bill, sir and then you can leave.”

The man’s laughing stopped. “I’ll leave when I want to, and I don’t want to leave. I’m not done with my drink.”

“Yes, you are.”

The voice behind Judi brought her gaze up to see Ben standing next to the man’s chair.

“Who are you? The police?” the man asked as the other man with him started to laugh.

“No, I’m her attorney,” Ben responded.

“But I’m the police,” another male voice said. “And the young woman asked you to stop talking to her.”

Judi didn’t recognize the man behind Ben and wasn’t sure if he was actually a police officer or not, but his presence was certainly intimidating. With dark hair and eyes and broad shoulders, he towered above her and Ben and the men sitting at the table.

“Fine.” The man tossed a handful of dollar bills on the table as he stood. “The food here sucks anyhow.”

Judi’s legs were at a full tremble now and that infuriated her. What was wrong with her? She’d handled these types of guys before. Why was this one setting her off so badly? The chatter in the restaurant continued again, signaling the show was over.

“You okay?”

Her gaze met Ben’s and she saw the concern there, but she didn’t want it. She was fine. This was something she dealt with all the time, and she didn’t need someone to protect her. Still, Ben had been kind enough to stand up for her when others hadn’t, including her boss and co-workers, though, in fairness, she didn’t think any of them had heard what was happening until the voices grew louder.

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

She wished she could be kinder in her response, truly express how grateful she was but instead her stomach twisted inside her and her legs threatened to give way. She needed to get out of there and fast, find somewhere to sit down and maybe even throw up.

***

Ben placed his hand under Judi’s elbow. She looked like she needed steadying. “Why don’t I walk you out for some fresh air?”

Judi shook her head briefly. “No, really.” She pulled her gaze from his, rifling in the pocket of her apron. “I’m okay. This isn’t anything new.” She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Thank you both for your help. I really do appreciate it.”

Ben watched her walk toward the kitchen where the owner, Lonny, was now standing outside the door. He said something to her, brow furrowed, and then she walked away from him toward the restrooms.  

Ben followed Scott Leonard back to their table. Scott was a probation officer that worked in the courthouse with his dad and he was glad he’d been there. Ben was sure he wouldn’t have been able to convince that guy to back off Judi without Scott standing behind him.

“Maybe lunch here was a bad idea,” Lance Morrison, one of his dad’s assistant district attorneys said.

“I’ve never seen anything like that happen here before,” Maxwell said rubbing his chin and glancing toward the table where the man had been sitting. “I know we’ve had to prosecute a couple of cases from fist fights from here over the years, but they usually happened at night.”

Carl Roberts, Maxwell’s other assistant, sitting across from Ben, sipped from his water. “If I had known this place attracted customers like that, I wouldn’t have picked it for lunch.”

“Sadly, those type of customers can be anywhere these days,” Ben said. “Especially if alcohol is involved.”

Maxwell had asked Ben if he’d be comfortable at a bar and grill when he had invited him for lunch.

“I let the guys rotate choosing a place for lunch on Wednesdays,” Maxwell had said that morning. “Carl chose Lonny’s, but I didn’t know that when I invited you. Is it going to be hard to be at —

“Dad, I can be at a bar,” Ben had said. “I’m good. Really. I’m past the withdrawal struggles. It’s not like it was in the beginning.”

He had to admit, though, seeing that man inebriated had triggered some uncomfortable memories for him.

“It was nice what you did for Judi,” Maxwell said, patting his son on the shoulder and bringing him back to the present. He looked at Scott. “Thanks to you too, Scott. Glad you guys were here.”

“I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been here,” Scott said. “Do you think anyone else would have stepped up?”

Ben shrugged. “Probably. Eventually. I’ve heard Lonny’s a pretty good guy, actually.”

Maxwell turned in his chair toward Ben. “Still, it’s too bad Judi has to work here. It might be better for her to be someone else while she gets back on her feet. Somewhere like a quiet law office in Burkett.”

“Dad —”

Maxwell held his hand up. “I’m just saying. It’s a thought.”

Scott chuckled and patted Ben on the back. “Ah, Dads. Aren’t they great?”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “They can be. At times.”

His dad was right, though. It would be nice to give Judi somewhere other than Lonny’s to work at, even if he was only able to get her off a few shifts during the week. Here he’d been worrying about trying to train her and he didn’t even know if she’d be interested. A small, boring law office really wasn’t her speed compared to the life he heard she’d been living in the city. Then again, she was back home and attending AA meetings for a reason. Maybe slower was what she wanted, or at least what she needed, right now.

When they finished their lunch, he asked his dad to wait for him in the parking lot and then looked for Judi, hoping to at have a chance to mention the job to her. Maybe if she knew she had a chance to work somewhere else it would make the rest of her shift seem less like a prison sentence.

“In the back,” the girl behind the register told him, jerking her head toward the back door. “She’s on a break.”

Ben walked through the restaurant to the back door and found Judi leaning against a tree on the other side of the employee parking lot, her arms hugged around her. The waitress who had waited on his table was standing next to her, smoking a cigarette. He tried to remember the other waitresses name, but drew a blank. 

 Judi looked up as he approached and straightened her shoulders. Her usual confident manner had faded into the background and she was definitely more subdued than normal. He waited for a witty comment or a snarky verbal jab, but none came.

“Hey,” she said. “You need something?”

“Just wanted to double check you were okay,” he answered, knowing he was only giving her half an answer.

She shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m pretty used to that stuff. They usually back off when I tell them to. I guess this guy just didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

Ben glanced at the other waitress. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask Judi about working for him with her standing there, but he also didn’t know how to tactfully ask her to leave.

Maybe he could hint. “I actually had something I wanted to discuss with you. Maybe I can give you a call later.”

The eyes of the other waitress widened, and he could only imagine what she was thinking after he’d said he had a question for Judi. Now he seemed to be asking for her number.

 The rumors would be flying within the hour.  

“Now is okay.” Judi gestured to her co-worker. “This is Hannah. She’s a friend.”

Hannah winked at him. “Yeah. I’m a friend.” She placed a hand on her hip, the other one still holding the cigarette. “Don’t worry. I’m really good at being discreet.” She took a puff of the cigarette, blew a long plume of smoke out the side of her mouth, and looked at him through heavy eyelids. “Oh, yes. I can be very discreet. About whatever you need me to be discreet about.”

Ben pulled his gaze from Hannah’s and cleared his throat. “Ah, thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He noticed Judi shoot Hannah a glare. “Didn’t you come out here before me, Hannah? I think your break is over.”

Hannah sighed and dropped the cigarette on the ground, grinding it in with the tip of her sneaker. “Fine. You get to have all the fun, Judi.” She smiled and winked again. “At least this one isn’t old and a pervert.” Her gaze traveled down Ben and back up to his face. “Or at least he isn’t old. I don’t know about the other part . . . yet.”

“Hannah!” Judi pointed toward the restaurant’s back door while trying to swallow a laugh. “Go back to work.”

She rolled her eyes as Hannah walked back toward the restaurant. “Sorry about her. She’s a little crazy.” She flipped a strand of pale blond hair over shoulder. “And a hopeless flirt.”

Ben laughed softly. “Yeah, I can tell.” He slid his hands in the front pockets of his khakis. “So anyhow, I have this temporary position at my office. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in it. It would only part time and until my secretary gets back but maybe you could take a few less shifts here in the meantime.”

Judi’s expression was difficult to read, but he thought he recognized a hint of amusement. “Wait a minute. You want me, the woman who you say totaled your BMW to come work for you?”

A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Yes. On a temporary basis. If you can promise me that you won’t total my BMW again when I get it back.”

Judi folded her arms across her chest and studied him for a few minutes. “You know I don’t know anything about attorney stuff, right?”

Oh, this was such a bad idea. Curse his father for passing on a desire to help others to him.

“Yes, I guessed that, but the job is fairly simple. It’s some filing and answering phones and if you are able, there might also be some note taking and letter writing involved.”

Judi quirked an eyebrow. “You should probably know that I flunked out of college. I’ve only ever worked in retail.”

Ben laughed softly. “One thing you do seem to be good at is sabotaging opportunities in your life.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair and let the strands fall down her back. “Actually, yes, I am an expert at that.”

Ben pulled his wallet out and slid a business card from a inside pocket, handing it to her. “My secretary’s husband is undergoing cancer treatments and she needed some time off. I’m a one-man show right now and I could use some help. Give me a call at that number if you’re interested in the job. Like I said, it won’t be permanent or full time, but it could give you a little breather from this place.”

Judi took the card and slid it in the back pocket of her jeans. “Okay. I’ll think about it. Thanks.” They both started toward the restaurant, falling in step with each other. “Your bruises are fading. How’s the brain damage?”

Ben scowled at her out of the corner of his eye. “Brain damage? It was a concussion and it’s getting better but I’m still having a lot of issues. Thanks for asking.”

Judi bit her lower lip as they reached the back door. “Listen, I know I’ve never really apologized, but I really didn’t see you when I pulled out.”

He opened the door for her. “Apology accepted but if you want to make it up to me, you can come help me out at the office and do your best not to make my job even harder.”

Judi smirked as she walked back into the restaurant. “Wow, with an offer like that how could I refuse?”

“So you’ll take it?”

She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll think about it, Mr. Oliver.” When he got to the car, Ben filled Maxwell in then leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He could only hope that if Judi came to work for him, it would help ease the headaches not make them worse.

Sunday Bookends: Keeping it low, blooming flowers, quiet books

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

What’s Been Occurring

This week we had some difficult news about someone we knew so we laid pretty low and tried to focus on our mental health. I wandered my yard and took a lot of photos of our flowers, which I shared in a post earlier this week.

Last Sunday Little Miss and my dad planted some gladiolus bulbs around the garden.

Friday Little Miss learned how to ride her bike without her training wheels, and she spent almost all day yesterday riding it.

We really didn’t do much else this week because I preferred to hide away from people. Little Miss’ friends who were visiting from Texas left to go back this week and that left us both down. I’ll miss those little girls running up from their great-grandma’s to play with Little Miss every afternoon and them playing together until the light outside was almost too dark to see their hands in front of their faces.

Remember when I was complaining all winter about it being too cold out? Well for two days this week the temperatures were lower (in the 60s!) and I loved it! On Saturday it was spring weather and I was all for it. I loved curling up under the covers with a book and wearing my sweater. I’m not a fan of hot, sticky summer weather so if it is like that in July and August for us, I’m sure I’ll complain a time or two about it on here.

What I/we’ve Been Reading

I am reading quiet books for now.

I am reading The Heart of the Mountains by Pepper Basham on the Kindle.

I am reading Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery in paperback.

I usually read a Kindle book at night when all the lights are off and a paperback during the day.

This week I will be reading Pepper’s book slowly for a book tour that isn’t until late July and Anne’s book slowly because I enjoy taking my time with it.

I am also hoping to start a mystery book of some sort this week or next but I am not sure which one yet.

Little Miss finally let me read Anne of Green Gables to her instead of The Long Winter from The Little House series at night this past week. It’s been a nice break (since this is our second time through the series), but I have discovered she doesn’t fall sleep as fast when I read Anne. Anne speaks very quickly and excitedly and because I do all the voices, Grace gets into the story even more than the other books.

“You speak very fast, and it wakes my brain all up,” she told me Friday night.

I read The Long Winter after that, and she dropped off to sleep in five minutes. Anne might have to be a book we read during the day if this continues.

What I’m Watching

The Husband and I started Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Friday night. It is based on an Agatha Christie book and is a mini-series. We are enjoying it so far. We have two more parts to finish.

My husband either had to work or go to play practice every night during the week so we didn’t watch much else together. I actually didn’t watch much alone either. I had a hard time focusing on anything for very long.

I did rewatch some of As Time Goes By, which is a British sitcom I’ve watched a few times now.


What I’m Writing

I wrote some blog posts to distract myself this week and also worked a little on Mercy’s Shore.

What I’m Listening To

I listened to some Jack White music this week. I needed something different than what I had been listening to. Jack White is a bit too weird for me sometimes, but I love his guitar work. I wouldn’t say I’d recommend listening to him all the time but when you feel a little pissed off at the world (for lack of a better way to explain it right now) it scratches an itch.

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.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore (The Shores of Mercy) Chapter 7

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

Chapter 7

Ben flipped through the appointment book, grimacing as the paper sliced across his finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth, tasting blood.

“Yes, we have a meeting at 3:45, Mrs. Anderson. You were right. Glad you called to confirm.”

Since I just set up an appointment with Arthur Jenkins at the same time and now have to call back and reschedule.

“Oh, good and what paperwork did I need again?” the elderly woman on the other end of the phone asked.

Ben slid a pen behind his ear and reached for his now cold cup of coffee on the end of his desk. “Just the deed and any mineral rights paperwork you have.”

Mrs. Anderson thanked him, and they said goodbye just as the phone rang again and he switched lines to answer it.

“Staying busy at work, kid?”

“Dad, hey. Yeah. Very busy.”

“Not so easy without a secretary, is it?”

Ben sighed into the phone and sipped the coffee, wincing at the bitter flavor and the coldness of it. “No, but I’m managing.”

“You did the right thing, though. I know it meant so much to Cindy having these two weeks off before Bill‘s treatments start.” Ben heard the creak of the chair at his dad’s office at the courthouse. “Have you given any more thought to call Judi Lambert in on a temporary basis?”

Ben rubbed his hand across his face. “No, I haven’t honestly.” Pain throbbed through his head, and he squeezed his eyes shut. “Right now, I’m just trying not to overbook.” But failing at it. “It would help if this concussion would heal. I didn’t even think I hit my head that hard.”

“It doesn’t take much to rattle your brain in there,” Maxwell said. “I’ve got someone here who wants to talk to me, so I’ll be there around 6 to pick you up. That work for you?”

“Dad, yeah, but I’m going to have to do things on my own at some point. I can walk to my apartment.”

“I know and I agree but your mom is worried about you. She wants to keep an eye on you, and I think she might be right this time. Still having dizzy spells?”

Ben propped his elbow on his desk and leaned his cheek against his hand, wishing he hadn’t had that dizzy spell in front of his parents and sister the other night at dinner.

“Minor ones here and there, but they’re better. I know I can’t drive yet but I can —”

“Pass out in your apartment and not be able to call for help, so I’ll see you around 6. I’ll also keep asking around to see if we can find someone to help you out until Cindy gets back.”

Ben thanked his dad and hung up, leaning back in his chair, and thinking how, yet again, his dad was taking care of him, cleaning up his mistakes. He spun the chair toward his computer and grabbed the side of the desk as the room kept spinning.

The dizzy spells were getting better, but there were still times they threw him off balance. Occasional blurry vision was still plaguing him too, almost a month after the accident. His foot was healing but definitely still broken based on the pain that shot through it when he tried to walk on it without the protective boot. He had backed off the narcotic painkiller, though, worried he could become addicted to it as easily as he had alcohol.

The one good thing was that Judi’s insurance company was covering the repairs on the BMW and he should have it back in another couple of weeks.

He had three clients coming in later in the day and hadn’t yet found their files. Cindy had filed them perfectly; it was his fault they were missing. He’d placed them somewhere in the office, maybe a drawer in his desk? Or maybe his briefcase. Opening the case, the photograph he’d tucked there fell out and he glanced at the floor, at the bright blue eyes staring back at him.

Those eyes took him back to the night he learned of her existence and that she was growing fast in her mother’s womb.

“It wasn’t like I was the only one involved in this, Ben. You get that right?”

He’d poured himself a half a glass of bourbon and sat on the couch. “Yeah, I get that, Angie. I know how it works. I’m just saying I thought you were on birth control.”

Angie had been standing across from him, wavy dirty-blond curls draped across her shoulders and back, one hand resting on her slender hip, the other pressed against her forehead.

“I missed a couple of days, okay?” She’d tossed her hands out to her side in frustration. “I didn’t know I could get pregnant from just missing a couple of days. I tried to catch up, but I guess things got thrown off or something.”

He’d downed the alcohol and slammed the glass on the coffee table, cracking the glass. “We can’t afford a kid, Ange. I’ve still got classes to finish and the bar to finish studying for. I told you I didn’t want to get married right now and you think I’d want a kid?”

“No, I didn’t think you’d want a kid, but it’s happened, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

He’d scoffed. “No. I don’t have to figure out what to do.” He’d pointed at her aggressively as he stood. “You have to figure out what to do. I don’t want to be a father and you’re definitely not qualified to be a mother.”

The memory of his words stabbed him in the center of his chest. He lifted the photo and noticed his hand was trembling.

Tasting bile at the back of his throat he jumped up, gagging on his way to the bathroom and vomiting the small breakfast he’d been able to manage that morning, his entire body trembling now, head pounding.

He’d been going to church more in the last year, praying for God to forgive him for his past words and actions. Maybe God had forgiven him, or would forgive him, but he knew he could never forgive himself for the things he had said and done that night and the days afterwards.

He knew Angie couldn’t offer him forgiveness either and he didn’t blame her or want her to. He didn’t deserve it. It was high time he stopped asking God for something he didn’t deserve, including a chance to get to know the daughter he’d told Angie she should kill so their lives wouldn’t, as he had put it back then, “be ruined.”

He heard the phone ringing and wiped his mouth and splashed his face with water before stumbling to answer it, grateful for the interruption to the memories.

“Oliver! Thought you were dead, man!”

Ben raked a hand through his hair and tried to gather his thoughts. “Mark, hey. Nope. Not yet anyhow.”

The lawyer on the other end of the phone laughed but Ben knew this wasn’t a wellness check. Not really.

“I thought you might be out longer based on what I heard in the grapevine. Totaled the BMW huh?”

“Yeah, but it looks like it can be fixed.”

“It’ll never be the same, though. You know that. Better off scrapping it and getting a new one.”

“We don’t all have the money you do, Mark.”

Mark scoffed. “Get yourself a couple of corporate clients and you will. I’ll hook you up sometime, but for now I’m sure you know why I’m calling.”

Ben stood and poured the rest of the coffee from his cup down the sink in the bathroom. “I do and I also know you won’t be very happy with my answer.”

“Oliver, now come on. It’s a fair offer.”

“It isn’t a fair offer for my client. Not at all. Mrs. Henderson is not entitled to more than half of what Mr. Henderson is worth, I don’t care what she thinks. She will accept what he has offered to her, or we will pull back our offer to let her have the house and property in full without her paying him for his half.”

“Ben, how hard did you hit your head in that accident? What your client is offering is completely out of line with standard practices and Mrs. Henderson is entitled to much more than what her husband is offering after the mental anguish he put her through.”

Ben’s jaw tightened. “With all due respect, Mark, she’s getting full custody of the kids in this matter. The fact she’s demanding even more money is making her look pretty greedy at this point.”

Mark laughed ruefully. “Don’t even give me that. They were married 25 years. He cheated on her. She has every right to demand more from him. And he is also being granted visitation rights. She’s never been against that.”

Ben leaned forward across the desk, tapping it with his finger as he talked, which might have been intimidating if Mark could see him. “Let’s be clear, she alleges he cheated on her. He denies that and there is no proof. She’s taking his children away from him. Isn’t that vengeance enough? No, Mark. I’m not going to let my client agree to these terms.”

Something thudded on Mark’s end of the phone and Ben wondered if he’d punched the desk. Or maybe a wall. “Then it looks like we’re going to be seeing you in court. I was hoping we could hammer this out amicably but apparently that’s not possible.”

“Apparently not. Thanks to your client.”

“See you in court, Oliver. Hope you’re ready to lose.”

“I won’t lose, Mark, but, yes, see you in court.”

Hanging up, Ben took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. That had felt good.

He’d been worried the concussion had addled his brain to the point he wouldn’t be able to fight or his clients anymore, but that conversation had just shown him that it hadn’t. He might be horrible at personal relationships, but he was spot on when it came to being a lawyer.

Sunday Bookends: Friend visits, old trees, old books, and nice weather

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

What’s Been Occurring

Every day this week was beautiful weather-wise, and it was a perfect time for the weather to finally get better because my daughter’s little friend who moved to Texas last year came to visit her grandmother (who lives down the street from us) for two weeks. She spent almost every day this past week with Little Miss and they filled their days mainly by being outside and riding their scooters.

Real scooters.

Without motors.

Ones they had to push with their feet and actually move.

It was glorious to see.

(Having Little Miss’s friend visit messed up my plans to finish up our schoolwork this week a little, but we were still able to finish most of the math I wanted to get through and progress on the book I hoped to finish. We will finish the rest of our math on Monday or Tuesday and then go to see our evaluator on Friday. It was more important for Little Miss could see her friend than finish her school work.)

The flowers along our street.

The little girl’s sister and her sister’s friend and the little girl’s brother came up one afternoon and the kids used the slip n’ slide.

When we went for scooter rides, our cats followed us. One day I took the dog with us as well and she promptly tried to rip my arm out of its socket when she wanted to chase the girls on their scooters.

Scout squaring off with our neighbor’s cat, Simba.

It was very busy on our street this week, with little girls riding scooters, neighbors working in their yards, and then two of the large maples on the street being cut down. It seems that all the maple trees which lined this street for over 100 years are slowly being cut down and it has been mentioned to us more than once that we need to consider to the do the same for the behemoth which towers above our house and our neighbors and has already lifted up the sidewalk in front of or house.

Since the tree cutters were already on the street (and also happen to live a few houses down from us) we finally decided to get an idea of how much that undertaking might take. It turns out I may need to sell a kidney to have the tree taken down because the estimate was about $5,400.

Personally, I hate to see large, beautiful trees like ours cut down, but I also would hate for it to come crashing down on either our house or our neighbors. Despite that large worry, I’ve found myself mourning the impending loss of the tree (you know, if we hit the lottery or sell a kidney), and Friday I took several photographs of it, as I have done many times before since we’ve lived here.

Still, I can’t blame the residents on this street of being concerned about these large trees in front of their houses. They are more hyperaware of what can happen in a windstorm than others might be, considering this town, particularly this street, in addition to a large part of the town below it, was actually struck by a rare Pennsylvania tornado four years ago (the year before we moved here). It shredded trees and left them a tangled mess all over the street, the bank, and the woods next to our other neighbors’ house, as well as yanking down powerlines and ripping the roof off the steeple of the town’s prominently displayed Catholic Church on the hill. This is the church that features the bells which sound each day at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.

The tree in front of our house is over 100 years old, based on photos of this street I have seen from around 1920, so at least of the top of it could come flying down with just the right amount of wind. I do not blame my neighbors for the concern and have it as well. We will see what we can do at some point about having it taken down (we could certainly use the wood from it for our woodstove this winter if we could afford to have it taken down) but for now, I will enjoy the view of it.

Yesterday, The Husband and I took advantage of the nice weather by going to a car show he needed to take photos of for work and then went to lunch at a local restaurant. We cut out our plans to travel another 20 minutes south for lunch due to the gas prices.

The Main Street of the little town where my husband works.

On the way back we stopped at the cemetery where part of my family and close friends of ours are buried, to pay our respects since we didn’t get there on Memorial Day.

My grandfather grew up on the farm across the road from the cemetery.

On a side (totally unrelated) note, last week my son told me my hair was starting to grow out again which I think he knew would be a comfort to me since I lost so much of it after I had Covid in November.

What I/We’ve Been Reading

At the same time all this beautiful weather hit us, I decided to take a social media break. That left me a lot more time for writing and reading. I hope no one is expecting me to say I read three books this week because I didn’t. Remember, I am a fairly slow reader. I am not The Husband, who speed reads sometimes. I spent most of my days supervising two little girls on scooters, but I was able to grab a seat on the back porch and crack open a book or two I’d been trying to finish a couple of times.

I had put Anne of Avonlea aside a couple of months ago but picked it back up again Friday afternoon when a cool breeze and a lovely day inspired me to want to read an actual physical book. Reading a book written in 1909 can take a little more time than reading one written this year, for example, but I love the sweet, thoughtful moments in the Anne of Green Gables books. I read Anne of Green Gables in full for the first time last year. A friend of mine was shocked I had never read the books and I think that’s because she thinks I am more literate than I am at times. I read a lot of books when I was in elementary and high school, but if I got the least bit bored with one it went to the side. I guess Anne of Green Gables was one of those. For years I thought I had read the book, but I think that’s because I had seen the movie so many times (for the first time with the aforementioned friend) that I thought I had read the book.

In addition to reading Anne of Avonlea, I also kept reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I will probably continue that book this week, along with Anne. I also started an indie book by Josephine Strand called Misty Dreams, which is very well written, so far.

A description of Misty Dreams for those who might be interested in it:

As a child, she filled his void. As a woman, she completed him.
Clare has lived on St. Isabel Island all her life, except for a few months she can’t recall. A traumatic childhood experience has left a blank spot in her memory and a lingering feeling of having lost more than just a small, painful piece of her past. When the enigmatic Dr. Richard Kelly arrives on her island, she’s found that missing part. Yet she’s certain the man is a stranger to her, until she discovers he’s been hiding something from her, a secret that reawakens her childhood fears and threatens to upset her life again.

Richard Kelly’s hard-earned career as a world-renowned neurosurgeon has been derailed by his ex-wife’s unspeakable betrayal. His entire life is on a downward spiral. In a desperate attempt to outrun his demons, he sets off to a remote island in the South to trace the origins of an anonymous painting. He doesn’t expect to come face to face with a girl he once knew as Misty, and he’s instantly captivated by her genuine charm. But if the charismatic kindergarten teacher of the secret lagoon is the Misty of his past, why doesn’t she remember him? Misty Dreams is a heartwarming love story about second chances and the healing power of new beginnings.

Little Miss and I are still reading The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill during the day and at night we are reading The Long Winter by …slightly annoyed sigh…Laura Ingalls Wilder. This week I am going to try to convince her to read Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg.

The boy is completing Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman this week.

The Husband is reading The Big Bad City by Ed McBain.

What We watched/are Watching

We spent so much time outside this week we really didn’t have time to watch much of anything. I did watch a couple of episodes of As Time Goes By, a British sitcom, and last night we watched an episode of The Larkins.

I also watched a lifestyle vlogger, Darling Desi, who I sometimes mock but also still sort of enjoy. She’s a 20-something year old with no job (other than being on YouTube) who walks around with her husband recording her reading books, shopping for books, discussing Victorian life, swooning over all things Jane Austen and drinking rose tea. I don’t know what to make of that. I was working in my 20s and am considering going back to work at this point because of the economy. The idea I could spend my days reading and lounging on a big, Victorian-style bed and get paid blows my mind.

I don’t know if what she films is really how she spends every day, however. I am sure that what she films is mainly for entertainment purposes and just to give her viewers a respite from life. It is fun to watch her visit bookstores, etc. and I do often share her excitement in pretty books.

What I’m Writing

This week I worked quite a bit on Mercy’s Shore. So far, I haven’t planned a certain number of words to write each day, but I will probably try to do that this week since school is pretty much over for us.

On the blog I shared:

What I’m Listening To

This week I am listening to Needtobreathe (again) and the new song by TobyMac (which I don’t like as much as past songs of his, but still like):



Now it’s your turn

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

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 5

To catch up on the other chapters, click HERE.

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

Chapter 5

“How’d the meeting go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Judi?”

Ben made a face. “What about Judi?”

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?”

“Dad —”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No sugar coating or easing into a conversation for him.

“Nope.”

“Anything unimportant then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s what, four this year?”

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

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

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

“Can you blame her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 4

Welcome to Chapter 4 of Mercy’s Shore, which will probably be called Shores of Mercy by the time it is published due to possible copyright issues. To catch up on the store read HERE.

Chapter 4

Judi turned and looked over her shoulder at her reflection in the mirror of the church bathroom.

Black, calf-high, leather boots, a faded denim skirt that fell to her knees, and a red v neck, loose-fitting shirt.

Not too revealing, not too matronly. Hopefully, the people in the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting thought so too, not that she was there to impress them. She was there to try to get her life back, even if she wasn’t sure what her life really was right now or what it was meant to be.

She always felt in between these days. In every way.

She’d known who she was in the city. In the city, she was the girl who wore designer clothes, usually slightly revealing to attract attention and make her feel important. From high school until a year ago, she’d been the laid back, everything goes, fly by-the-seat of her pants type girl.

Now she was the girl who wasn’t sure how to act, dress, or think most of the time. Being footloose and fancy free hadn’t yielded the results she’d once hoped it would, but she didn’t want to be strait-laced and uptight like her older sister either.

She pushed a hand back through her hair, shaking it loose from the ponytail she’d had it in, smoothed her lipstick with an index finger, and took a deep breath.

So far, she’d been able to avoid sharing much of her story with the rest of the group. She hoped to do the same tonight. Especially if Brad actually showed up.

When she stepped into the hallway she gasped as she slammed into someone and stumbled backward into the bathroom again.

“Oh, excuse me, I —”

She looked up and met the amused grin of Ben Oliver. “Look at you. Can’t even handle looking both ways when you come out of the bathroom.”

Judi rolled her eyes. Could this week get any worse? Too bad Ben hadn’t hit the tree a little harder, then maybe he’d still be in the hospital and not here to harass her on a night she was already nervous.

“Ha. You’re so funny.”

Ben folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the hallway wall. “Here to ask Pastor John for forgiveness for lying to Officer McGee?”

Judi couldn’t read Ben’s expression now, but he raised an eyebrow, apparently waiting for an answer.

“I didn’t lie,” she responded sharply. “I looked both ways and didn’t see you.” She looked at his foot with the cast and the bandage on his forehead. “Shouldn’t you still be recovering?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I should be, yes, but I’m here to support a friend who’s attending the AA meeting here tonight. What are you here for?”

Judi took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds. No use trying to pretend. “I’m here for the AA meeting too.”

He raised both eyebrows. “Supporting a friend as well?”

“No.” She raised her chin, surprised he hadn’t heard any of the gossip about her yet. “I’m here for myself.”

He pushed himself off the wall and slid his hands into the front pockets of his khakis. “Oh.” He tipped back on his heels and nodded. The smile had faded. “Well, that’s good. Really good.” Judi imagined he must be thinking how pathetic she was and maybe even wondering if she’d been drinking the day of the accident. He gestured toward the open doorway down the hall. “Shall we head in?”

Inside the white-walled large room that was usually used for Sunday School classes, there was a circle of chairs set up. Along the walls, posters featured views of sunrises overlayed with well-known Bible verses. Blue hardcover Bibles were stacked in a bookcase on the other side of the room and next to it was a small table with a sign-in sheet, a coffee pot, cups, and a box of donuts.

Judi headed for the coffee, leaving Ben to find his friend. As she poured the coffee, she thought about darting out again. She’d promised Ellie and herself she’d stick with this AA stuff, though. Waking up with a hangover and not remembering what she’d done the night before wasn’t how she wanted to spend her whole life, even if cutting out drinking had made her life incredibly dull. It had also left her with the ability to feel emotions again, something she wasn’t enjoying in the least when it came to emotions like guilt, embarrassment, and sadness.

She hadn’t promised her parents she’d go to the AA meetings because she hadn’t even told them how addicted she’d become to alcohol. Ellie had been nice enough not to tell them either. She knew her parents would still love her, but she’d always been somewhat of a black sheep in the family. No reason to let her parents know she was even further out there than they thought.

One of the many awkward aspects of attending an AA meeting in your hometown was that you ended up knowing some of the other attendees. Turning with a coffee cup in hand, she scanned the room and counted two people she’d gone to high school with, other than Ben — Jessie Landry and Steve Jakes. The 60-something-year-old owner of the local supermarket had already taken a seat and was looking as uncomfortable and out of place as he had in the previous two meetings she’d attended with him.

Her gaze moved back to Jessie who was clearly hitting on Steve. Wearing a black leather mini-skirt and a hot pink tank top under a blue denim jacket, Jessie obviously hadn’t been concerned about looking too trashy.

Judi had partied with Jessie more than once on her visits back home over the years. She’d also had run into her once or twice at a bar before making the decision to drop alcohol altogether. Jessie might be serious about cutting out alcohol, but Judi was certain it would take a lot more to break Jessie of her addiction to dating a new man every few months.

Glancing around the room again, Judi’s gaze fell on Ben standing next to an unshaven elderly man in a pair of faded stained jeans and a flannel shirt. She hadn’t really paid much attention to how he looked when he’d been harassing her in the hallway.

Now she noticed his light brown hair was swept back off his forehead and he was wearing a blue, button-up dress shirt, the collar firmly buttoned at the top, and a pair of tan khakis. She wondered if he ever dressed in anything more casual. She’d be shocked if he ever kicked back in a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt.

The hand of the man standing next to him shook as he lifted a cup to his mouth. Ben laid a hand on his shoulder and said something to him Judi couldn’t hear. Whatever it was the man seemed to appreciate it and nodded slowly as he swallowed the liquid from the cup.

The group facilitator and Judi’s sponsor, Rachel Martin, clapped her hands twice to get everyone’s attention.

“Okay, everyone. Let’s get seated.”

Judi noticed as she sat in a metal chair with a blue cushion that Brad wasn’t in the room. She hadn’t actually expected to see him to show up, so his absence wasn’t a surprise. It was, however, a relief.

Rachel sat and smiled as she looked around the circle. “Good evening, everyone, my name is Rachel and I’ve been sober ten years now and I’m your group leader tonight.” She stopped her gaze briefly at each person and smiled. “I see a couple of new faces with us tonight. How was everyone’s week? Anyone do anything exciting?”

The adjusting and readjusting of bottoms on metal seats filled the silence but no one offered any tales of their past week.

Judi didn’t have anything exciting to share unless a near collision with a lawyer’s fancy car was exciting. Had Ben not been there, she might have shared the story to make sure her side was heard. She scanned the circle and counted twelve recovering alcoholics and Ben.

It was sad to think such a small town had so many people struggling with alcohol and addiction.

Rachel sat back in the chair, the smile still in place, dark curls falling away from her face as she pushed her hair back. “Okay, well, that’s fine. We all must have had a pretty routine week.”

A smattering of stiff laughter trickled around the circle. Judi knew that most of the group members’ routine week had most likely involved fighting back the overwhelming desire to open a bottle and pour alcohol down their throat to chase away the demons.

Demons whispered in Judi’s ear every day.

“You’re such a screwup.”

“Go ahead. Take just one drink to take the edge off. It won’t hurt.”

“You’ll never be as good as Ellie is.”

“You will never have a life like Ellie with a husband and a real job.”

“Your parents will always look at you with shame.”

“You deserved what Jeff did that night. You were dressed like a whore anyhow.”

Despite their whispers, she had, so far, been able to resist the temptation to silence them with booze.

The scrape of a chair pulled Judi from her thoughts, and she looked up to see Brad pulling a chair out and sitting in it. For the first time since she’d known him — which was since elementary school — he looked terrified.

Rachel waited for Brad to sit down completely and then suggested the usual moment of silence, which she said could be used for prayer or an introspective moment. After that minute, the group recited the serenity prayer with more than one member looking less than thrilled at having to say a prayer.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” they recited. “Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Rachel then asked the new members to introduce themselves.

A man with broad shoulders and a long beard, wearing a biker jacket with dark blue jeans and heavy, black biker boots stood and hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. Judi looked up at him and inwardly shivered. The man was easily 6 foot 5 inches and maybe 250 pounds. She’d hate to see him drunk, especially if he was an angry drunk.

“My name’s Jake and I’m here because I’m tired of waking up next to my smashed-up bike and not remembering what happened.”

“Welcome, Jake,” Rachel said as the rest of the group chuckled at Jake’s blunt introduction.

“Am I supposed to announce I’m an alcoholic like on TV?” Jake asked in his deep voice, his beard trembling with each word.

Rachel laughed softly. “Well, yes, the first step to helping yourself is admitting you have a problem.” 

Jake straightened his shoulders and pushed out his broad chest. “My name is Jake and I’m an alcoholic.”

He nodded his head definitively as if his statement explained everything and sat back down with an equally definitive thud.

“Thank you, Jake,” Rachel said. “Would the other new members please introduce themselves?”

Brad stood reluctantly, shoving his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and looking at his mud and manure-stained work boots. Judi took in the dirt on the jeans and shirt and guessed he must have come right from the barn. She’d wondered if he would keep working with the Tanners after the accident, but it looked like he either still was or was working on another farm instead.

Last Judi had known Jason Tanner, who had become her brother-in-law six months ago, had sworn he’d never work with his cousin again. Jason was a lot like Ellie, though – a good Christian who offered forgiveness to those who didn’t deserve it.  That willingness to forgive was the main reason he and Ellie still talked to Judi, a fact she knew and appreciated even if she struggled to be the same way.

 “I’m Brad Tanner and I’ve been drinking too much for a few years and need to get back on my feet so,” he shrugged a shoulder. “I’m here.”

He sat back down, his hands still in his pockets.

“He didn’t say he was an alcoholic,” Judi mumbled, picking at a string on the hem of her skirt.

She didn’t have to look up to know Brad was scowling when he said, “Shut up, Judi.”

Judi opened her mouth to respond but Rachel cleared her throat.  “Let’s try to be polite, everyone, okay? Brad, we’re glad you’re here. Anyone else?”

The man sitting next to Ben stood slowly, trembling slightly.

“Hey, uh, my name’s Floyd Miller and I’m an alcoholic.” He tipped his head toward Rachel as if for approval. She nodded back in encouragement. “I’m grateful for my lawyer offering to come here with me tonight.” He glanced at Ben who was still sitting. “I was pulled over for my second DUI recently and Ben here got me a lighter sentence if I agreed to come to these meetings. I didn’t want to come at first but Ben told me he’d been to a few himself and it was the first step to getting my life back on track so …” Floyd held hands out to his side and shrugged his shoulders. “Here I am. I’m not sure I can do this but I’ve got to try if I want to make my kids proud of me instead of ashamed.”

Rachel thanked Floyd for coming and then started to lay out the goals of the group to the new members. Judi’s mind, though, was focused on what Floyd had said about Ben being to one of these meetings himself. Had he meant he’d supported other people at the meetings or had he actually been to an AA meeting for himself?  Judi was beginning to wonder if she’d read him all wrong all these years. He’d come here to support this man who had been his client, and he was familiar with AA meetings. There was a lot more to Ben than she’d thought.

She studied Ben for a few minutes across the circle. His focus was on Rachel, and he winced when he tried to cross his leg with the cumbersome cast. As he rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, Judi could tell his head was bothering him. She wondered why he’d even tried to come out tonight, only a few days after the accident. He didn’t seem the type to put his own comfort at risk to support someone, but that might actually be the case this time.

“Anyone else want to share this week?” Rachel asked, clasping her hands together in front of her.

She’d already gone over the steps of the program and the idea behind sponsors, as well as providing a contact source for anyone who felt like they might fall back to drinking during a stressful time.

Judi studied her fingernails as she pondered the real reason for Ben’s appearance at the meeting, and noticed a chip in the red polish she applied yesterday. She decided she should really get a stronger fingernail polish.

“I want to know how Judi’s doing working at a bar and grill.”

Judi’s head jerked up at the comment and her gaze met the eyes of Jerry Spencer who owned a computer repair shop a few miles outside of town. She immediately recognized his tone as mocking.

Bristling, she folded her arms across her chest, leveling her gaze at Jerry, who seemed to have had it in for her from the first meeting she’d attended five months ago. “It’s going fine, Jerry.” Her jaw tightened. “Thanks for asking.”

Jerry scoffed. “Yeah right. You can’t tell me there aren’t nights you don’t want to kick back one of those drinks you’re delivering. I know I would.”

“Well, that’s you. I can separate myself from that world any time I want.”

“Famous last words,” Jerry bit back.

Rachel held her hands up, “Jerry, let’s be a little more encouraging, okay?

Jerry tossed his hands out to his side. “This whole thing is stupid. What are we even doing here? We all know we’d rather be out at the bar.”

Rachel leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees and propping her hands under her chin. “Why are you here, Jerry? There has to be a reason you walk in those doors every week.”

Jerry shrugged her shoulder as he leaned back and relaxed one arm over the back of the chair. “Yeah. My wife said I had to come, or it was over.”

Rachel raised a questioning eyebrow. “And you don’t want it to be over right?”

Jerry rolled his eyes and tipped his head back against the back of the chair, legs stretched out, one ankle propped over the other. “No. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I want to be sitting here flapping my jaw about all my problems with a bunch of strangers either.”

“What do you have against me anyhow?”

Hearing what she had been thinking said out loud, startled Judi and she couldn’t believe she’d actually asked it.

“You’re naïve, Judi,” Jerry snapped. “That’s my problem with you. You’re a little girl who needs to grow up. You think you can be around alcohol and alcoholics and still stay clean. One day it’s going to get to you, get it? One day it’s all going to come crashing down and you’re going to have a weak moment and boom! It’s over. All that hard work you put in and all that progress you made will be gone.” He snapped his fingers, his gaze focused on hers. “In a blink of an eye.”

He stood, hands clenched into fists at his side. “And you’ll have no one to blame but your stupid, airhead, blond ditz self.”

“Jerry, that’s enough!” Rachel stood and pointed toward the door. “You need to leave. Now!”

Ben and Brad stood as well, eyes on Jerry who didn’t need to be told again to leave. He’d already shoved his chair aside roughly and was on his way through the doorway.

Judi gritted her teeth and reached down for the coffee cup she’d placed next to her chair. She sipped from it and kept her eyes down, too angry and shocked to look up and see the expressions of others in the room.

Ellie had told her she shouldn’t be working at a bar and grill too, but Lonny had been the only one who had called her back when she sent out resumes. Waiting on tables was all she knew how to do other than retail and there wasn’t exactly a lot of retail places in Spencer Valley looking for employees. Maybe in some ways, Jerry was right, but he didn’t need to be so mean. And the air headed comments? Seriously rude.

Rachel sat back down and reached over to squeeze Judi’s shoulder. “You okay?”

Judi nodded but didn’t look at her. “Yep.”

“We’ll talk after the meeting,” Rachel whispered.

Judi didn’t want to talk after the meeting or any time. At least not about Jerry. Warmth spread across her cheeks and down her chest as she kept her eyes on the coffee in her cup. Jerry had some nerve attacking her when he was obviously an even worse mess. She’d hurt herself and sometimes her family with her actions, but he had a wife and small children. He definitely had a lot more on the line than Judi did. What a loser.

Two more group members shared some struggles they had been having in the past week and then Rachel drew the meeting to a close with a brief prayer.

Judi snatched up her purse and the cup and briskly walked toward the doorway, dropping the cup into the trashcan. There was no way she was staying to talk to Rachel about Jerry, her week, or anything else. She wasn’t in the mood.

“Hey!” She ignored the shout of a male voice behind her as she opened the driver’s side door and slid inside.

The only thing she was in the mood for was a drink, but since that couldn’t happen, she was heading to her apartment, where she knew a pint of Rocky Road ice cream was waiting for her in her freezer.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 3

Here we are to chapter 3 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.

Book three is now for sale on Amazon and other sites.

To read the previous two chapters in this current story click HERE.

Chapter 3

Ben opened one eye and squinted in the sunlight, expecting to see the bedroom at his apartment — clean, matching furniture and set up to fit his organized personality.

Instead, his gaze fell on a poster of Cal Ripkin Jr., golden trophies lining shelves above a small desk, and a collection of CDs in a bookcase where books should have been.

Oh right. His brother Luke’s room. He squeezed his eyes shut again and pulled the covers up over his head. It hadn’t been a bad dream after all. He really was staying at his parents while he recuperated from a concussion and a broken ankle.

He’d been placed in his younger brother’s room because his room had been transformed into his father’s office long ago and because Luke was away at college. His other brother, Travis, had moved out a year ago and was working for a construction company in the western part of the state. Travis’ room had become a library for his dad’s law books. The only sibling who wasn’t out of the house yet was —

“Hey, Binkie! Mom says breakfast is ready.”

He glared through the blanket at his younger sister Maggie. He was an adult, nearly 30. Why in the world was she still using his childhood nickname?

“Go away,” he mumbled.

Maggie giggled and something soft, which he figured was a pillow, slammed into him. “Just like the old days. You’re still not a morning person. Come on or I’m eating all the pancakes.”

The door slammed and he winced. Did she forget he had a concussion?

He flung the covers back and squinted at the Pittsburgh Steelers clock on the bedside stand. Any other day and he’d already be in the office, preparing for his day in court or for a meeting with a client. He still planned to go over a few briefs and hold a couple of video conference calls with clients, but Cindy had purposely set those meetings up for later in the morning, urging him to take his time and heal up.

He adored the woman, but it was a challenge working with a woman his mother’s age who sometimes acted like she was his mother.

Cindy was great at her job, though, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else working for him or with him. She’d been employed as a secretary for the lawyer who’d had the office before him for 25 years. He counted himself lucky that she’d agreed to stay on when he took over. Her experience was irreplaceable even if her maternal tone grated on his nerves at times.

He grimaced as he swung his legs over the bed. The air cast on his ankle was cumbersome but necessary if he wanted the break to heal. The doctor had told him if he’d hit the ankle any harder, he’d be in surgery receiving a pin in it. That would have put him out of work even longer. He took the stairs one at a time, gritting his teeth against the pain.

His mom set a plate filled with pancakes, eggs, bacon, and two pieces of toast on the table as he reached for the back of the chair to steady himself.

“Those painkillers still doing a number on you?” His mom asked.

He waited for the room to stop tilting before he tried to sit down. “Yeah. I’d like to stop taking them but when I do the pounding in my head is almost unbearable.”

He pressed his forehead into his hands and wished the food looked more appetizing to him at the moment. He knew his mom already made breakfast for his dad and sister every morning but adding an extra plate to her day didn’t seem fair to him, especially if he couldn’t eat it.

“Going stir crazy yet?” Maggie stuffed a bite of pancake in her mouth and quirked an eyebrow at him. She smirked as she chewed.

Ben watched her through half open eyes. “Shouldn’t you be at school already?”

Maggie giggled and took a sip of chocolate milk through a bright red straw. “You’re still a big grump in the mornings, huh?” She wiped the milk from her upper lip with a napkin. Don’t worry. I’ll be out of your hair soon. Jenny’s on her way over.”

He reached for the glass of milk his mom sat in front of him. “Whose Jenny?”

“Jenny Fitzgerald. You know her.”

“You don’t mean she’s driving over here, do you? She’s like 12.”

Maggie rolled her eyes. “She was 12 five years ago, Benny. She’s 17 and got her license two months ago.”

Emily Oliver placed a hand on her hip as she stood by the table. “And if Maggie wants her license, she needs to start studying that book I brought home.”

Maggie rolled her eyes while Ben rubbed a hand over the stubble along his jawline. How was his little sister old enough to be getting her license? He could have sworn she was eleven just yesterday.

Maggie was the surprise baby for the Olivers. After three sons they thought they were done, but six years after their youngest son was born, Maggie made her appearance.

“I thought you were menopause,” Emily was fond of telling her daughter jokingly.

Ben took a sip of the milk, the only thing which tasted good to him at the moment. “Where’d you get the milk? It’s good.”

“The Tanner’s. Their bottling their own milk and expanded the store.”

Oh right.

The Tanners.

Molly Tanner.

His girlfriend in high school. The sweet girl he’d dumped to go out with Angie because Angie was skinny, blond, and – well, more willing to do things Molly wasn’t.

His stomach clenched at the memory.

He’d apologized to Molly about a year ago, told her how stupid he’d been, how sorry for what he’d done to her. In true Molly fashion she had forgiven him, and it has eased some of his guilt, but not all of it.

In reality he’d been stupid in and after college too, only with Angie instead of Molly this time. Apparently messing up the lives of women was a talent of his.

His mom gestured at his plate as she sat across from him with a cup of tea. “Aren’t you going to eat? You need to keep your energy up.” She dropped two cubes of sugar into her cup. “
It will help your healing.”

Ben smiled. “Once a mom, always a mom, huh?”

“You know that.” Emily winked. “You’ll always be my baby.”

Maggie snorted a laugh as she shoved her last bite of bacon in her mouth. “Probably because he still acts like a baby half the time.”

Ben reached out and gently pinched his sister’s arm as she walked by to put her plate in the sink. A horn honked from outside. “Your book bag is over there. Get going, smart mouth.”

Maggie leaned over as she reached for her book bag and kissed his cheek. “I’m glad you’re okay, Benny.”

He leaned back in the chair and reached up to ruffle her hair. “Thanks, kid.”

“My hair!”

He chuckled at Maggie’s cry of despair as she walked toward the back door.

Emily stood and reached for a pile of envelops and folders on the island. “I hesitated giving all this to you now, but Cindy dropped your mail off this morning. I want you to rest your brain but maybe this will tide you over a little bit until you can get back into the office.”

Ben poked at a piece of pancake as he rifled through the mail. “Junk mail, a couple of signed documents I actually asked to be dropped off in person and not mailed, and a couple of bills. Looks like I haven’t missed much.”

A stack of the envelopes slipped off the table onto the floor and Emily stooped to grab them. Ben saw the envelope before she reached for it, but he couldn’t move fast enough. He hoped she wouldn’t see the return address.

 She held the envelope in front of her.  Too late.

“Oh. It’s from Adam and Leona.” She smiled and handed it to him. “I wonder what they sent you.”

He took the envelope, avoiding her gaze, and shoved it under the pile.

“Wouldn’t know,” he mumbled, drinking more milk.

Emily sat down and smoothed her hands across the red and white tablecloth. She cleared her throat and reached for her tea, holding the cup in both hands as she raised it to her mouth. “Don’t you want to know what they sent?” She sipped the tea, keeping her eyes on the tea in her cup.

He finished off the milk and started in on the pancakes. “I already know what it is.”

“Oh?”

He kept his eyes on the pancakes. “Angie left me a voicemail. She doesn’t want me there.”

The cup hit the table with a soft clink. “Oh.” It wasn’t a question anymore. He wasn’t sure what he heard in her voice. Disappointment? Resignation? Definitely not surprise.

He pushed his plate back and picked up the mail. “Anyhow, thanks for breakfast. I’m going to head up and see if I can get a few online meetings scheduled for this week and some briefs written.”

“Don’t you want to get to know her, Ben?”

The question stopped him as he started to shuffle back toward the stairs. He tipped his head back and let out a breath. He answered without turning around, the mail under his arm. “Angie doesn’t want me around, Mom.”

“That isn’t what I asked.”

Ben dropped his head and raked his free hand through his hair as he continued to walk toward the stairs. “My head is pounding, and I’ve got work to do. Maybe we can talk about this another time.”

Climbing the stairs, he was grateful his mom didn’t push the issue. He heard her placing dishes in the sink instead. It didn’t matter if he wanted to see his daughter or not. Angie didn’t want to see him or for him to see their daughter and he couldn’t blame her.

Most days he couldn’t even stand to see himself in the mirror.

He tossed the mail on the bed, picking up the envelope from Angie’s parents as it fell on the floor.

He held it in his hands few moments before finally ripping it open. A handwritten note and a small photo fell out with the card, an invitation with colorful writing and the number four on the front, surrounded by a bunch of red balloons. The party was the next weekend, four hours away where Angie and her parents now lived.

He reached down for the note, leaving the photo of a blond-haired little girl on the floor by the bedside table.

Ben:

We didn’t know if we should send this, but you are Amelia’s father, and we feel you should be a part of her life.

We hope you will at least consider attending her birthday party.

We know there has been hurt between you and Angie and that you have struggled to move past some personal issues, but you are welcome in our home anytime.

Below are the directions to our house.

Sincerely,

Leona and Adam

 

He had no idea how Angie’s parents could still be willing to extend an olive branch to him after what he’d done.

He crumbled the note and the invitation and tossed it in the trash can then reached for the photo. Tiny, bright blue eyes looked back at him above a cute nose that was definitely her mother’s. Her blond curls fell to her shoulder and her smile was also Angie’s — a mixture of sweet and sass.

Her eyes, though, except for the color, were his. They were shaped the same and held a stubbornness he clearly recognized. He hoped that stubbornness worked out better for her than it had for him and that she’d learn to use it for good versus the evil he’d used it for too many times.

He opened his brief case next to the bed and shoved the photo in the inside pocket. Pulling out a stack of manilla folders full of case information, he shut the briefcase again, and with it closed his thoughts about the woman and the little girl he’d walked away from four and a half years ago.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 2

Here we are to chapter 2 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.

Book three in the series is currently out on Amazon and will be out on other sites next week.

As always, let me know what you think of the latest chapters and where you think the story should go next in the comments.

Chapter 2

The Spencer Valley Police Department wasn’t a rush of activity like police departments on television. It was three rooms, three desks, two chairs to each desk and one of the rooms was an office that Judi assumed must be Chief Reggie Stoddard’s office. At this time of day, before noon, there were only three people in the office — a secretary sitting at a small table in one corner, the chief leaning back in a creaky, black office chair with a cup of coffee resting on his belly, and Spencer Valley Police Officer Matt McGee.

Matt gestured to the chair across from his desk as he led Judi to his desk under a dim fluorescent light. “Sorry I was pulled away before I could get your statement last night. Unruly customer at the grill and they needed some backup.”

Judi pulled her straight blond hair off her shoulders and into a ponytail as she sat. “Not surprised. We get unruly customers there all the time.” She laid her purse on her lap and sat back in the chair, flinching as it creaked under her. “Is this thing going to break?”

Matt grinned. “Nah. It’s just old. You’ll be fine.” He pulled a notepad from the top desk drawer and laid it on the desk. “So, you started telling me about the accident last night. Let’s pick up from when you were at the stop sign.”

“I looked both ways and he came out of nowhere.” She raised her hands up in front of her. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Did you stop at the stop sign?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Matt quirked an eyebrow. “You either did or didn’t, Judi. Did you come to a complete stop before pulling out?”

Judi sighed, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling for a few seconds. “I stopped for like a few seconds, I guess.” She leaned forward toward the desk. “But I looked both ways. I didn’t see him so he must have really been flying.”

Matt scribbled a few notes. “So, he swerved to miss you and that’s when he hit the tree?”

“Yep. Then he got out, fell to the ground, got up again, and marched straight to my car and let me have it.”

“Mmhmm.”

“What does mmhmm mean?” Judi stretched her neck out to try to see the notepad on the desk in front of Matt. “Does that mean that you’re writing down it was my fault? It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t see him.”

Matt snapped the cover closed on the notepad and laid the pen on top of it, raising a hand. “Just calm down. If you didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign then technically it is your fault, but all that means is your insurance will cover the cost of repairs for Ben’s car.” He stood and walked across to the water cooler behind Judi,  pouring water into a paper cup and handing it to her. “Accidents happen. This could result in a couple of points coming off your license but if you’re careful and don’t let anything like this happen again, you’ll get those points back.”

Judi made a face, taking the cup. “Points? What points? Is driving like football? We score points for driving well?”

Matt paused before sitting down, his eyebrows dipping as he studied her. “No. Well, sort of. I mean, you have six points on your license and certain driving offenses can result in you losing those points. If you lose all six, then you lose your license.” He sat back down, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. “No one has ever explained this to you?”

Judi tapped her index finger against her chin and pushed her bottom lip out. “I think Dad said something about it to me one time, but I wasn’t really listening.”

Matt laughed, pushing his hands back through his hair and letting his arm come to rest across the back of his chair. “Well, now you know.”

Judi could see why everyone in town liked Matt so much He was a genuinely nice guy, even if he was probably going to write down that she caused the accident. He’d been a good guy in high school too, so it was nice to see he hadn’t changed.

She slid her gaze over his forearms and up to his biceps as he pushed the notepad to the side and reached for his coffee mug.

He wasn’t too hard on the eyes either. Liz Cranmer was lucky to have him as her boyfriend. Or was it fiancé? Judi wasn’t sure what their status was at this point, other than they were an item and some of the women in town didn’t like that.

“So, what did Ben say?” she asked, tapping her fingernails against the side of her purse.

Matt took a sip from the mug. “Haven’t talked to him yet. He was out by the time I got to the hospital, as you know, and when I called this morning, they said he still hadn’t woken up yet. Hope he’s going to be okay. He took a huge hit on the head out there.”

Judi slipped a small jar of strawberry flavored lip balm from her purse and began applying it. “Tell me about it. He was dripping blood all over and all that yelling wasn’t helping any either.” She popped the lip palm back in the center pocket and stood, looping the strap over her shoulder. “I’m good to go then?”

“Yep.” Matt stood too. “If I have any more questions, I’ll give you a call. You have a shift at the grill this afternoon?”

Judi gestured toward her white t-shirt and black jeans. “However could you tell?” She rolled her eyes. “I wish Lonny didn’t have a dress code. This outfit is so boring and depressing. I need some color in my life, you know?”

Matt smiled. “Yes, I know. You’ll have to make up for it on the days you’re not working.”

Matt told her to have a good day and she thanked him with a tinge of sarcasm before heading to her car. Inside she slid the key into the ignition and pulled out to head to Lonny’s Bar and Grill two miles outside of town.

Her phone rang and she tapped accept button and the speaker button with the phone still on the front seat.

“Judeeee! I can’t believe you finally answered.”

She immediately wished she had checked the caller ID before accepting the call.

“Selina, hey. How are you?”

“Good, except I’m missing you. Where have you been?! I’ve been trying to call you for days! I thought you were run over by a tractor or something.”

Run over by a tractor? Really?

“I’m fine. Just been busy at work.”

Selina giggled. “I still can’t believe you’re a waitress. You always said that was beneath you.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Selina. We have to do what we have to do to make a living.”

“Come on, Jude. You aren’t really going to stay in that little dinky town, are you? You always said you hated it there. Come back to me. I’ve got tickets for Hamilton this weekend and reservations at La Grenouille. Everyone is going to be there.”

A chill shivered through Judi. “Everyone?”

“Well, not Jeff of course. You know that. I haven’t spoken to him since you told me about what he tried.”

“I just need a little more time,” Judi said. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I don’t feel like I can just go back to the way things were right now.”

“What do you even do down there in Nowhereville? Are there any clubs?”

“Not locally, no. But there is one about an hour from here.” Judi knew she should tell her friend there was a reason she wasn’t visiting that club, but she didn’t have the mental energy for it right now. Plus, she was pulling into the parking lot of the grill, and she was already late.

“Hey, Sel, I’ve to get into the grill. I’ll call you back later, okay?”

She hung up and hurried into the grill, sliding the phone into her purse, which she tossed over a hook in the kitchen. Reaching for her apron she hooked it quickly, hoping Lonny wouldn’t notice her coming in.

“Lambert!”

Wishful thinking.

“You’re late! Again!”

“Or I’m just early for tomorrow’s shift!” She called over her shoulder as she kept moving toward the dining room.

“Table four is waiting for you,” her co-worker Hannah Larkin said as Judi reached for a menu and an order pad.

Judi started for the table while looking down in her apron pocket for a pen. When she looked up her heart sank. She turned on her heel and walked back to Hannah. “You take him.”

Hannah shook her head. “Oh, no way. I’m not taking him. You’re the one he always asks for anyhow.”

Judi pushed the order pad toward Hannah. “You take him, and I’ll work two shifts for you next week.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “No chance. Way too handsy for me.”

Judi blew out a breath and turned back toward the table. “You can do this, Judi,” she mumbled under her breath as she walked. “It’s just a job.”

Just a job waiting on the table of the guy she’d made out with a few weeks before she hit rock bottom. The guy who later almost led to her sister’s death.

She stood next to the table, pen tip against the pad. “Okay, Brad. What is it today?”

Brad Tanner flashed her a toothy grin, one muscular arm draped over the back of the chair. “Hey. There’s my favorite girl. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Right.” Judi placed a hand on her hip and scowled. Her eyes flicked quickly over the black t-shirt pulled tight across his well-toned chest before settling back on his face. “Fancy seeing me here. Where I work. Every day. And where you come almost every day.” She tapped the pen on the pad. “Now what can I get you?”

Ben leaned forward, arms folded on the table. “The usual. With a root beer.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “What? No beer?”

“Nope.” He smirked. “I quit.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “And I’m Queen Elizabeth.”

Brad leaned back again in the chair, the smirk fading. “I did.” A somber expression softened his features. “I quit.”

Judi scribbled the words burger, fries, and root beer on the pad. “Okay. If you say so.”

Brad’s fingers encircled her wrist as she turned to leave, stopping her. “I did. Actually, that’s one reason I wanted you to wait on me today. You still going to those meetings?”

Judi pulled her hand away. Brad wasn’t known for being forthcoming. She wasn’t sure she was ready to believe him. Six months ago, she’d come back to the area to try to figure out her life. Brad had complicated her return first by taking her to clubs where she’d drowned her pain and memories in alcohol, and then almost killing her older sister.

“Who told you I was going to any meetings?” Judi asked, eying Brad suspiciously.

 He shrugged. “Troy told me you turned him down for a party a few weeks ago. You never turn down a party. I knew something was up and followed you out of here one night. I saw you go into the meeting.”

She placed a hand on her hip. “Why didn’t you come in? You could use it too you know.”

He folded his arms across his chest, “Yeah, I do. That’s why I’m asking you now.”

She still wasn’t sure she believed him, but . . . “If you’re serious, we meet every Thursday at 7.”

She turned toward the kitchen to place his order before he could respond.

Did she really want Brad at the meeting, listening to her talk about how far she’d fallen? A small laugh came from her as she keyed the order in. It wasn’t like Brad didn’t know how far she’d fallen. They’d fallen together part of that time.

Hannah bumped her hip against her as she walked by. “When you get a break tell me what happened with the lawyer. Is he going to sue you, or what?”

Judi shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. He says he isn’t anyhow.”

“How’s his head?”

“Not sure,” Judi answered. “Haven’t talked to anyone about him today and he was out of it when I left last night.”

Hannah scooped up a tray and headed toward the dining room. “Fill me in on the rest later.”

Judi headed toward the kitchen, thinking about the night before. When the morphine had finally knocked Ben out in that hospital bed Judi had been relieved. She already had his reassurance he wasn’t going to sue her for the accident so there was no reason for her to wait around any more.

If she’d been like her older, sweeter, and more caring sister, Ellie, she would have stuck around to make sure his injuries weren’t serious.

Judi wasn’t Ellie, though, so she’d shrugged her shoulders and taken off for her apartment where she’d fallen asleep on the couch with a carton of moose tracks ice cream. It was a scene far removed from how she used to spend her nights in the city. The fact she was back in her tiny hometown of Spencer instead of still living in the city surprised even her.

When she’d first left Spencer shortly after high school, she’d vowed never to return.

Spencer was way too slow and way too backward for her. At least that’s how she’d felt until the town she’d once despised became her safe haven from a life turned upside down.

Her sister had been right, much to her embarrassment. She couldn’t keep going at the speed she’d been going in the city without eventually hitting a brick wall.

That brick wall had been in the form of Jeff Brock who’d tried to ignore her “no” to his “yes” one night in his apartment.

“Judi, these two go to table six, this one to table eight.” The voice of the cook cut into her thoughts.

She carried the plates to the tables and headed back to the kitchen for Brad’s lunch, placing it on his table quickly and then turning to wait on another customer. The less time she spent with Brad, the better. She wished she hadn’t spent any time with him at all in her past.

“Judi, hello.” The older gentleman sitting at the table with two other men smiled as she handed him a menu.

Her day didn’t seem to be getting any better. First Brad and now Ben’s dad. Maxwell Oliver, Bedford County’s District Attorney. She had no idea who his lunch guests were, and she didn’t want to know. They were most likely all lawyers and lawyers put her on edge.

“I never got the chance to ask you if you were okay last night,” Maxwell said.

Judi shrugged. “Oh, I was fine. I hit my brakes hard but didn’t get hurt in any way.” She should ask about Ben. She really didn’t want to be any more involved than she already was though. Still, she was trying to be a better person so . . .

“How’s Ben doing?”

“The ankle is broken, he has a fairly severe concussion but he should be okay in a couple of days.”

“That’s good to hear.” She tapped her pen on the pad. That was as much as she wanted or needed to know at this point. “So, what can I get everyone?”

She took the men’s orders, turned, and hoped, yet again, that she’d make it out of this accident situation without being sued. Of all the people’s cars she could have almost slammed into in this county and it had to be the car of the District Attorney’s son. The district attorney’s son and a well-known jerk from her high school.

After her shift, she leaned against the side of her car next to Hannah, who was lighting a cigarette.

“So, the lawyer is the son of the county DA?”

Judi nodded and sipped from her water bottle. Hannah offered her the cigarette, and she shook her head. “That’s one vice I never picked up. The other ones were bad enough.”

Hannah blew a puff of smoke out and grinned. “What I really want to know is if the lawyer is cute.”

Judi made a face. “Cute, yes, but he’s also a total jerk. I went to the same high school as him. He dumped his really nice girlfriend before he left for college so he could go out with this stuck-up girl who everyone knew was easy.”

Hannah winced. “Ouch. Sounds like a real piece of work.” She tossed the cigarette onto the ground and pushed it into the dirt with the tip of her sneaker. “But what’s he like now? Is he single?”

Judi rolled her eyes and laughed. “I have no idea, Hannah. I’m not interested anyhow. If you are you can find out. All I care about is keeping him from suing me.” She opened the door and tossed the empty water bottle into the passenger seat. “I have to go. I’m supposed to meet my sponsor for a coffee before I head home.”

“Alright, have a good night.” Hannah pushed off of the car and pushed her cellphone into her back pocket. “Judi.” She touched Judi’s arm and Judi turned to face her. “I’m proud of you, you know. We haven’t known each other very long, but I think it’s great that you’re working hard to get your life together. If you ever need anyone to talk to if you — you know, get tempted? Just let me know, okay?”

Judi hugged Hannah briefly. “Thank you, Hannah. That means a lot.”

And it did mean a lot, but as Judi slid behind the steering wheel she also felt the pressure of Hannah’s comments heavy on her shoulders. What if she couldn’t do it? What if she fell back into the trap of using alcohol as a crutch again? What if she went back to her flippant, selfish ways and disappointed not only her family but herself?

None of those scenarios were something she wanted to entertain as a possibility.