Authors: Kathryn Cushman
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC026000, #FIC044000
© 2015 by Kathryn Cushman
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by John Hamilton Design
Author is represented by Books & Such Literary Agency.
To Maxine Methvin and Daphene Cope—great mentors and role models. You’ve poured yourselves into the lives of so many young people over the years.
Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to be the best I could be.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:3–5
26 years ago
avid Waters slid into his usual corner booth, promising himself once again that today would be the last time. He knew it was a lie. He’d be back again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Why should he feel guilty about that? It wasn’t like he was doing anything wrong. He was simply eating lunch in a diner. No crime in that.
“Hey, handsome, whatcha having today?” She wore her usual white V-neck, with just enough cleavage spilling out to be provocative, but not so much that she looked, as his wife would call it, trashy. David felt something like happiness for the first time all day.
“I don’t know. What do you suggest?” He smiled up at her—not because he was trying to flirt but because just being around her made him smile.
“Ha. I’ve got several suggestions I could make, but why don’t we stick to the issue at hand? I’m thinking . . . how about today’s
special, which is the buttermilk fried-chicken sandwich. Crispy breaded chicken, buffalo ranch sauce, bleu cheese crumbles, lettuce, and tomato, on a toasted French roll.”
This sandwich would not be approved by his cholesterol-watching doctor, and most certainly not by his food-gestapo wife. “Sounds delicious.”
“Oh, it is, believe me.” She wrote on her order pad, shaking her head as she did so. “Men are so lucky. I eat one of those things and for the next two weeks I’ve got to do double time in the gym.” A quick glance at her lean and toned legs made David think she spent double time in the gym every day, anyway. “I will say, though, I’m glad to see you eat this way. It’s just so manly, you know? Never could stand to be around a man who eats salads and tofu.”
David was more than a little sure he’d ordered neither during the past few weeks. “Well then, I guess I pass the test.”
“Handsome, you pass the test in all sorts of ways.” She winked at him. “I’ll be right back with your iced tea.”
He watched her walk away, the short denim skirt revealing unseasonably tanned legs. One deep sigh later, he had forced his attention to the booth where he was sitting. The red vinyl seats were worn and dull, the Formica tabletop beginning to crack and peel around the edges.
Just like my life,
he thought. David put his elbow on the table and leaned his forehead into the space between his thumb and middle finger. Everything felt so hopeless. Overwhelming to the point of crushing. What was he going to do when his mother’s insurance ran out at the end of next year? There was no way he could afford to keep her in Brighton Manor on his own, and the slightly more affordable options offered a greatly decreased level of care. Maybe she had lost enough mental capacity that she wouldn’t know it, but he would know it.
“Things that bad?” Her voice cut through his self-pity, and he
looked up to see the iced tea sitting on the table before him. “I’m a good listener, if you need someone to talk to.”
“Thanks.” He took a sip. “I’m fine, really. Just a little tired.”
“I’ll keep the iced tea coming then, until we get you tanked up enough to make it through the day.”
“I’m just here to help.” She tilted her head to the side and winked.
Everything about her was so inviting. So approachable. So . . . alluring.
And it wasn’t like his wife had even looked at him in the past week. The kids kept her running in circles, as did the committees she was on at church and school—all of it zapped her time and energy. There was nothing left for him. Not that he blamed her, exactly, but truth was, he felt neglected at home, so he came here to get his daily fix.
There was nothing wrong with him being here like this, nothing wrong at all. All he was doing was eating.
“Here’s your lunch. Anything else I can do for you?”
A surge of something completely enjoyable raced through him as she leaned forward to set down the plate. Okay, he should probably stop coming here so often. Maybe just tomorrow, and then he would stop.
ou better watch out. Boss man is looking for you, and he’s got that red-faced, eye-bulging look we all know too well.”
Kelli Huddleston dropped her purse into the drawer of her desk, glancing over her shoulder toward the front door, resisting the urge to run toward it. Just ten yards away, the threshold of escape. Unfortunately, it was a threshold she couldn’t afford to cross—not yet. “Great. Do you know what he’s mad about?”
Tammy’s face was grim. “Mrs. Layton’s son called this morning. Jimmy’s been in a rage ever since.”
Kelli twisted her bracelet around on her wrist. “Did my name come up—in the phone call?”
“Jimmy took it back in his office so I couldn’t say for sure, but judging from the way he came charging out of his office looking for you a few minutes later, I’m guessing the answer is yes.”
“I’m sunk.” Kelli dropped into her chair.
“Tell me you didn’t open your mouth again.”
Kelli shrugged. “I might have.”
“I’ve been warning you about that.”
“But it’s wrong. He didn’t do any of that work he was charging her for. Mrs. Layton is in her eighties and the sweetest little lady you could ever know. It would never enter her mind to double-check her contractor’s billed hours. Her kids all live hundreds of miles away. What was I supposed to do?”
Tammy shrugged. “Mind your own business, I guess. I’d like to sit around feeling guilty about some of the things I see around here, and sometimes I do, but times are hard right now. This is no time to be out job hunting.”
She was right, and Kelli knew it. It had taken eight months after graduation before she’d found this receptionist job, one that on paper she was overqualified for. Still, there were some lines that could not be crossed, no matter how desperate she was. “I’m all for minding my own business, but in cases like this, how can you stand it?”
“I’ll tell you how. I’ve got two kids who look to me to keep them fed and warm. They don’t ask me whether I double-checked my boss’s numbers, they don’t wonder if I’m policing other people’s work, but they do know what it’s like to be hungry when I’m between jobs. They know what it’s like to have the electricity cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill, and to have the landlord knocking at our door wanting the overdue rent. They know more about those things than any kid should, and I aim to do my best to help them forget about it.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to judge you.”
“Good, because I don’t have the time or patience for it.” Tammy returned to her desk. “Now, it’s time to get busy. We’ve got lots to do.”
“Yeah.” Kelli considered whether she should go in search of Jimmy or let him come find her. She finally decided on the latter. Perhaps the extra time would help him cool off. “Need help with
anything?” Only now did Kelli notice Tammy’s light brown hair. Normally gelled to a manageable amount of wave, today it frizzed into a giant halo around her head, giving something of an Albert Einstein impression. Kelli looked a little closer and noticed the coffee stain on Tammy’s shirt. “Are you okay?”
Tammy shuddered. “No, I’m not. My alarm clock didn’t go off this morning. Rachel and Billy were late to school, I was late to work, I’m trying to leave early today because Rachel’s got a softball game this afternoon, and I’m already so behind from last week that I’m buried—” She threw her hand over her mouth while her face blushed deep purple. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head, her face truly repentant. “I didn’t mean—oh, Kelli, I can’t believe I just said that. I really didn’t—”