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

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

Chapter 6

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

She was late. As usual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful.

Always fun to be the fifth wheel.

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

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

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

“Nice ride!”

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

“Yep! It is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Judi!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was not returning that phone call.

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

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 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.