Release date: August 19, 2021
Publisher: Tonya Kappes
Print pages: 200
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This was something I thought I’d never do. The biggest fake smile was planted across my face. All the houses on Little Creek Road stood side by side and only on one side of the street, which ended in a dead end, making it easy to block off the top or the entrance for the block-party-style engagement party a few of my friends, who I lovingly called the Front Porch Ladies, decided to throw for me and my new fiancé, Mac Tabor. The gold and silver balloons batted each other as the late-summer breeze toggled between each mailbox. I snickered. The colors reminded me more of a retirement party or one of those big birthday parties. Not the welcome-to-thirty-or-forty, but the big five-zero. I’d passed that number, but something just felt silly about everyone making a fuss over me getting married. Tendrils of heat rose above the grill while my dad tried his best not to burn the burgers. He was more of a frying guy. Mac had bent down and picked up a bottle of beer from the cooler that was brimming with drinks. The ice that’d fallen out of the cooler melted into puddles on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, Mac wiggled the bottle, catching my blank stare. “You okay?” he mouthed. I nodded, turning my attention to the many friends and family members who were standing around in circles, some sitting on the hay bales Grady had brought over from the farm. Screen doors creaked right before slamming shut as people came in and out of the houses. The noise brought me out of the deep thinking, and I realized just how ridiculous my thoughts were. “It looks like you could use a little of this.” Iris Peabody walked up next to me with a bottle of champagne in one hand and two flutes intertwined in her fingers. “You know I don’t drink.” Not that I didn’t drink ever, but not on a regular, even a monthly, basis. “Especially when Clara is here.” Julia, my daughter-in-law, was sitting on Revonda Gail’s front porch steps. Revonda Gail was holding Clara while Julia was taking a much-needed break to sit and get off her legs. Julia was pregnant with my second grandbaby, and from the looks of it, the poor girl was about to pop any day now. “Yep. You need it.” Iris wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She handed me both flutes and filled them up, letting the bubbly flow over. “Whoa.” She bent over and sucked the bubbles off one of them before taking it. “I don’t need to use my keen sense of knowing when something is wrong to see that something isn’t right with you.” Iris had been my best friend since grade school. She had a really eerie sense of when things were going to happen, mostly bad. For instance, it was like when you thought of someone and suddenly they called you. She was the expert at such things and strangely able to sense when something was off. “It’s super silly.” I lifted the glass up to my mouth to take a sip and give me a moment to process what I wanted to tell her. “Not to make a big deal out of it, but it all seems funny to have an engagement party at my age.” “Your age?” She pretty much yelled with a laugh, making some people look at us. “Keep your voice down.” With a forced smile, I waved at the folks gawking. I lifted the glass to my lips and said, “I know it sounds ridiculous. I said that.” “It is ridiculous.” She swept her glass around with her finger pointing out at the people. “Alvie and Jenny Franklin are here, Audrey Rogers, Jigs Baker, Doc Olson, Matilda Garrison, Vivian, Sara and Larry.” Her eyes grew as she looked back at me. “Larry never comes to anything. Then we have Colvin, Gill, even your good old buddy Ranger and his wife.” She jerked around. “Oh, and Vince Caldwell. You love him, and he’s so happy for you. Besides, it looks like he’s getting along with all your hosts.” It was funny seeing everyone here. Especially Vince. He was one of my mail-route customers who lived in the condos at the Sugar Creek Gap Nursing Home complex. He was a retired FBI agent and had been a great source of information for me. “And that’s just to name a few.” She was right. “They all love you and are so happy you have finally, and at your age, found the true love and happiness.” I started to open my mouth before she shushed me. “Even Grady.” She knew I was going to say something about Grady and how I had worried about his acceptance of me marrying not only his father’s best friend, but also his mentor, who I had fallen head over heels in love with. “Of course he’ll always wish that son-of-a-gun dad of his was alive, but then you’d still be in a loveless marriage and Richard would be off galivanting with who-knows-who’s wife in some other town that you’d never know about.” “I know, but there’s still that little twinge I get when I look at Clara and think that I bet Grady wishes his dad could’ve met her, no matter what kind of man he was to me.” I lifted the glass up and downed the entire contents. I held it to her for a fill-up. “You’re right. I do deserve this. I did a great job raising Grady, and now it’s time to enjoy my life.” “Now you’re talking.” Iris was more than happy to fill my flute back up, and hers, too, while she was at it. “Now go mingle, and when you need a reload, just holler.” Iris winked. I took Iris’s advice and walked around, swaying to the music coming from the huge speakers someone had put out on Mac’s front porch. I moved from group to group, telling everyone hello and thanking them for coming. Along the way, I did pick up a few lost napkins and stuff them in my pocket. There was no way I wanted them to find their way across the street and into Little Creek, hence how the street got its name. My duck friend would try to peck at the paper, and I didn’t want to have to try to grab him up to take him to the veterinarian if the napkins found their way into his sanctuary. So it was best to just pick them up and let him feed on the daily duck pellets I threw to him while I was on my mailing route. “Hey, pretty lady, are you single?” Mac asked, his breath hot against my ear. “You’re too late.” I held my hand up. “I’m spoken for.” I leaned in and kissed him. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. “How did I ever get so lucky?” Everything always seemed so right when I was with him. He not only took great care of me and my family, tending to all of our needs, but he also took care of himself. He was in amazing shape with perfect biceps he credited Grady for, since Grady kept Mac on the volunteer staff for the Sugar Creek High School football team. Grady was the football team’s coach as well as a teacher at the school. Mac had really stepped up to the plate and given Grady the male figure he needed after Richard had died, though Mac had been in our life well before there was a Bernadette and Richard. He and Richard had been college friends. “I’m the lucky one.” He lifted a hand and pushed my long auburn hair behind my shoulder. “Don’t cover up that beautiful face with your hair.” He had a gentle smile. “Are you going to wear it up on our wedding day?” “I don’t give out secrets.” I blushed and took a big drink of the champagne. “You better slow down. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink the bubbly before, and it might make you drunk.” His brows cocked. “I’m good. I know my limit.” I was about to snuggle up to him before a woman I’d never even seen in Sugar Creek Gap walked up to us. Being a mail carrier and from here, I knew practically every face in our small, cozy, and southern Kentucky town. “Annabelle.” Mac recognized her instantly. “You came.” He sounded surprised. “It seems like all the shops in town closed because of your party.” She smiled and looked between me and Mac. “You better get used to it if you’re moving here.” Mac put his arm around me and pointed to me with the other hand that held his beer bottle. “This is my fiancée, Bernadette. Bernie, this is Annabelle Pascal.” “Nice to meet you, Bernadette.” She had a brown bob and good features and was really fit. Seeing her flat stomach made me realize I wasn’t sucking in my gut. “Bernie. You can call me Bernie.” I tilted my head and looked at Mac. “How do you two know each other?” “Remember the lady who called about me doing some different styles of design?” He had me recall an event about a month ago when we were binge-watching a television show and his phone kept ringing and ringing. It would stop and ring again, from the same number. “This is her.” “Oh dear, was I that eager?” she questioned with an enchanted laugh that made me and Mac smile. Quickly I pulled my lips together into a line. My woman’s intuition clicked. “She’s here to give a final approval on the plans, and I invited her to the party.” Mac had such a kind heart that I felt sometimes was too kind. Annabelle put a hand on his chest. “You didn’t tell me it was for your engagement.” She used her finger to give him a couple of taps before she removed her hand. “It seems like you got a good one.” She made her comment to me. “The best.” I chugged down the rest of the champagne. “I need to go find Iris. Annabelle, it was nice to meet you. Have a great time at our party.” I threw in our party just so she knew exactly who he belonged to. “We will be cutting the cake soon,” I told him as I sucked in a little more. Iris was sitting on Harriette Pearl’s front porch swing and talking away. Probably telling some sort of tale. The bottle of champagne was still in her grip, and I needed a refill. “Well, I’ve gone from thinking I was too old to have an engagement party to wanting to drown out Annabelle Pascal.” I missed a step on my way up to the front porch and caught myself with my free hand. “Goodness gracious, Bernie.” Harriette popped up to her feet. “Have you had too much to drink?” She grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and tried her best to help me up. “I’ve got it.” I didn’t want to take down my elderly neighbor. That would make a scene. “No. I know my limit.” I steadied myself and slowly made my way over to the swing. “Stop swinging,” I told Iris. “I’m not.” She laughed. “Fill me up.” I held the flute out. “Dear, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Ruby Dean was sitting next to Iris. She put her hand on Iris’s forearm when Iris reached out with the bottle. “It’s my engagement party. I’m celebrating.” I looked at Ruby. “You’re what?” Ruby asked. “Turn up your hearing aids!” Millie Barnes, another Front Porch Lady, yelled from the opposite side of the porch. “I don’t know why she bothers wearing them darn things.” She groaned and folded her arms across her chest. “She’s fine.” Iris poured until it reached the brim. “Who’s the tart?” Harriette Pearl threw a chin. All of us turned around to see her referring to Mac and Annabelle. “Annabelle something or other.” I tried to uncurl the snarl from my face when I said her name, but I just couldn’t seem to concentrate on all the parts that needed to relax. “His new client.” “By the looks of it, she wants to be his new wife.” Gertrude Stone caused me to jerk around, and when I did, I dropped my glass, shattering it into several pieces. “Up jumped the rabbit!” Harriette hollered and hurried over to clean up the big pieces. All the Front Porch Ladies and Iris took over and cleaned up the glass while I took a seat on the top step. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen? This was the case. Each one of them was fighting with the others to clean up the mess I made. I noticed my parents had gone over to Mac and Annabelle. They all seemed to be having a lovely chat. “I’ll be right back.” It took a second for me to get solid footing up underneath me so I could start my journey across Harriette’s lawn, out her front gate, and across the street, where Mac and Annabelle along with my parents had started a pickup game of horseshoes. No one seemed to notice I was leaving or had left. “What do we have here?” I asked my mom. “Bernie, honey, have you had too much celebrating?” Mom nervously asked. “Is your fifty-year-old daughter embarrassing you in front of Mac’s friend?” I swear it slipped out of my mouth. “Annabelle is our first Airbnb client.” Mom gave me the mom look. “You know, because you helped us post the apartment.” “I forgot all about that. Oh.” My lips formed a circle and dragged out a long sound. My parents owned the Wallflower Diner in the middle of downtown, which was literally a street over, and they had a fully furnished apartment above it with two entrances, one from inside of the diner and one from the outside back alley, which I could see from here. Richard and I had lived there before Grady. When Grady came along, my parents moved into the condos on the nursing home grounds so we could move into the family farm. When Grady got married, he and Julia moved into the apartment, and when Clara came along, I moved into the house willed to me by one of my mail carrier customers here on Little Creek Road, leaving the apartment vacant. It was a perfect little spot for an Airbnb, and Annabelle was their first customer. “How ya doin’, Dad?” I asked my father, who looked mortified at my appearance. “I’m good, dear. You seem to be enjoying your party.” He gave me a hug. “Good for you.” I felt like a little kid looking at my father’s proud face as he saw his little girl snookered up on champagne. “There you are.” Iris made me jump when she appeared out of nowhere. “I am going to take you to get some food.” She took me by the shoulders. “There’s plenty of burgers,” Dad called after us. “Please don’t make me eat one of his grilled burgers,” I pleaded. “Don’t worry. I won’t. I had to get you away from that woman. I have a bad feeling about her.” The wind swept up along my arm, teasing my skin, making the goose bumps crawl.
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