Read Game of Hearts Online

Authors: Kathryn J. Bain

Game of Hearts (4 page)

BOOK: Game of Hearts
2.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

****

I leaned back in the chair, adjusting the waistband of my pants. I'd eaten too many wings. Could be why I didn't have Jory's waistline. Two bones sat on her plate, and I had at least seven. The tart key lime pie had floated down my throat. Why can't unhealthy food be good for you?

"Delicious." Jory finished her last bite of dessert. "Nothing beats key lime pie."

"I never had it before I came down here," said Rachel. "You don't get it much up north."

"It's a Southern thing," Scarlett explained. "It's like grits, collard greens, and sweet tea. You find it a lot in the South."

"I'm not a fan of grits, but I sure do like key lime pie." Rachel licked some of the whipped topping from her fingers.

"Thank you for the lunch, Mrs. Mitchell." Sarah carried several plates from upstairs, followed by Kendra, who held two glasses.

"Thank you, darling." Scarlett pulled Sarah into a hug. "I can't believe how big you've gotten. How do you like school so far?"

"It's okay." Sarah answered. "I got stuck taking home economics as an elective."

"Home Ec can be fun," Rachel said. "I remember how much of a laugh we had when I made a stuffed animal? It came out flat as a pancake. Apparently I missed the part about it needing to be stuffed. Besides, you'll learn how to do a budget, how credit cards charge huge interest rates, and other useful things."

"I know." Sarah delivered the dishes to the kitchen sink then returned upstairs with Kendra.

"Unfortunately, we may end up having to use my credit cards to survive," I said.

"Don't you worry none." Scarlett reached across and patted my hand. "God may close a door, but he opens a window first. You just need to find your open window."

"With the way my luck's going, the sash will probably crash down on me as I'm climbing through. Then I'd really be hanging out all over." I swung my arms and legs in the air.

"Mom, can I show the girls my new clothes?" Victoria hollered from upstairs.

Scarlett leaned back in her chair and faced the stairs. "Just hang them back up when you're done."

A smile crossed over Jory's face.

"What's so funny?" I pushed my plate away to keep from nibbling on the bones.

"Just recalling the clothes I wore in high school. Leg warmers, stretch pants and long tee shirts. I wasn't in shape like now. I stretched that material as far as it would go."

"Most people did," Rachel said. "It seemed only the overweight girls in my high school wore it. I had the Boy George long coat to go over my acid washed jeans."

"Remember the side ponytail with the big scrunchy in the hair?" Scarlett pulled her hair off to one side to demonstrate.

Jory giggled. "You did have the bright blue eye shadow to go with it, didn't you?"

"Of course."

"Well, I've got a couple of years on you girls," I said. "I didn't quite hit the 80's style. I got stuck in the 70's." I shuddered at the memories.

"You poor dear," Scarlett said. "Don't tell me you wore the Farah Fawcett hair?"

I nodded. "And platform shoes. Later I became a David Bowie fan, so I cut my hair short and colored it bright red like Ziggy Stardust."

Jory burst out with a laugh. "At least in the '80s we got to do the big hair. It's the decade we ruined the ozone layer, using bottles upon bottles of hairspray to stick all our hair out."

****

"And that, my friends, is how you play the game," Rachel bragged after I reached the 200 point mark we'd set.

"One of these days,
I'm going to leave you with all the hearts but one," Jory said. "That'll teach you."

"I look forward to it."

Scarlett gathered the cards together. "You always seem to win."

"And I always seem to lose," I said. Just like in real life. Boy, I truly am on a pity party today. Good thing I didn't say that out loud or they'd throw me out.

"You just wait. Your time's coming." Scarlett nodded. "Not only have I been praying for your job situation, but I've also been praying for a good man to come into your life. I just know God's gonna come through."

"I'd settle for the finances." My face heated when the memory of Brandon Nash's face popped into my mind. I tried to erase the image of his bulging biceps as he leaned over the engine of my car. "I'm sure God has more important things to do than find me a man."

"Your needs are just as important as anyone else's," Rachel said.

"And I just know Michael's gonna get his," Scarlett added. "He's been getting away with being irresponsible way too long."

"I hope you're right." A familiar lump rose in my throat. "He's getting married."

"Wow. How are you doing?" Rachel covered my hand with hers.

"I've known it was over for a long while. This just puts a period on it." I pushed myself up from the chair. "I sure hope your feelings are right, Scarlett. I don't care if he gets what's coming to him, as long as I get what he owes me."

"You just wait and see." Scarlett slapped her hand down on the table. "I just know God's gonna come through with something big for you. I can feel it."

"I'd better gather up my kid before Scarlett 'feels' me losing next month's game." Rachel did quotes in the air with her fingers.

"Don't mock my feelings. Most of the time they're right."

"Ladies, I've got to go. It's hard getting back into the school routine." I hated how the conversation seemed to come back to my life. "I just hope Matthew does well this year. He almost flunked sixth grade."

"Have you thought of getting him a tutor?" Scarlett asked.

I didn't want to consider how much a tutor would cost. "If he'd apply himself, I know he'd do better."

"It can't be easy, not having a dad around to help him." Jory rose from her chair. "I guess there's a lot of anger issues there."

"Unfortunately, they're all directed at me." I frowned. "I wish they'd realize Michael's the one at fault."

"They'll come around." Jory patted my forearm. "Listen, Phillip's bookkeeper is leaving for maternity leave. Maybe they'll need someone part-time. Would you be interested?"

"Sure."

"I'll talk to him about it tonight."

"And if Matthew needs help, Kendra can tutor him." Rachel often spoke with pride of her daughter's 4.0 grade point average. "She's in advanced classes this year."

"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, everyone." It seemed like most of my smiles tonight had been forced.

"It's good to see all of you again. Once a month during the school year just doesn't seem often enough to get together." Scarlett hugged me. "Maybe when the kids are grown, we can get together more often. Right now it's just hard with after school activities and work. Once the kids are gone and we have a moment to ourselves, it might be easier."

"Yeah, once we retire," I said.

****

Five seconds after entering my front door, I plopped down on the sofa. The living room lay in a mess. While we'd been gone, Anthony and Matthew had decided to play a game of sock ball. The Tiffany lamp Scarlett had given to me lay shattered in pieces on the floor.

"It wasn't my fault," Anthony whined. "Matthew threw it too high."

"Just get it cleaned up." Tears gathered in my eyes. I had no money, and my children were driving me to the edge. How could things get any worse? I wanted to crawl into bed and wait until the next decade to come out. By then they'd be adults, and I could tell them to get jobs. Not that it had worked with their father. But I still had hope one of my kids would support me when I got old and feeble.

A car pulled onto the gravel driveway. What now? I rose and looked out the large picture window. Great! A slender man stepped from a shiny red Corvette.

Anthony jumped up and down. "Dad's here!"

"Thanks, God." I glanced toward the ceiling. "This just makes it better."

Michael walked in without bothering to knock. I needed to start locking the door to keep the riffraff out. He gave each of his children a hug,
and
then stood in the middle of the living room, glancing around. "Don't you ever clean up?" His blue eyes pierced me. "This place is a pig sty."

"It's not my mess." I tried to keep my temper in check. "It's the boys'. Now they're cleaning it up."

"Looks like I came at a bad time." Michael stared at the floor. "I guess you have work to do, so I'll come back later."

"I'll clean it up." I jumped at the chance to get rid of him. "You take the kids out somewhere. Spend some time with them."

"No, you won't. Kids need to learn discipline." Michael shifted. "I didn't really have any plans. I didn't know if you'd even be home."

He probably hoped we'd be gone so he could leave a note like last time. I wanted him gone, but the kids needed to see him. "You're more than welcome to stay while they work. I was going to get dinner ready if you'd like to have something."

"How come you have to ruin everything?" He placed his hands on his hips. "Every time I come to see my kids, you make it about you and me. I'm sure Sarah told you I'm getting married in December?"

"I wasn't making anything about you and me," I sputtered. "If it would make you feel better, I'll go back to my room and you can have all the time with your children you want."

"You're just trying to get me to argue with you. You do this all the time and I have to leave early just so we don't get into it. I'll see you kids some other time."

He practically ran out the door. His tires spun as he drove off.

"Why'd you do that?" Matthew yelled. "You know he doesn't like it when you make it sound like we're a family again."

"I didn't do anything. I told him he could take you with him, but he didn't want to. I tried to make him feel more comfortable."

"You chased him off like you always do." Matthew stormed to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Tears formed in my eyes.
Michael had
showed up for less than five minutes, found an excuse to leave, and I ended up dealing with the aftermath. "Why am I always the bad guy?" I whispered.

"It's okay, Mom." Anthony patted my hand. "I know Daddy just doesn't love us anymore."

My heart shattered into more pieces than the lamp on the floor. No nine-year-old should think his own father doesn't love him. What words could I use to make it better? I found none, so I stood there with my mouth hanging open.

"I'll help Anthony clean up," Sarah said. "You go work on dinner." I wondered if she knew how much she meant to me. It probably wouldn't hurt to tell her more often.

The leftover chicken wings from Scarlett's reheated well for dinner. Matthew ate without saying a word and returned to his room. Sarah headed back to hers to do homework.

Anthony helped me stack dishes in the dishwasher. "Do you still love Daddy?"

"No, Anthony. I don't love your father."

"Matthew says he doesn't come see us because you still want us to be a family."

"Maybe Matthew doesn't know everything." I wanted so much to tell the children the truth. Their father had turned into a deadbeat dad who cared only about himself. But I knew it wouldn't lessen their pain. "Thank you for your help. Now go take a shower. We have church tomorrow."

The house stood quiet. I switched off all the lights and stared out the front window. Drops of rain tapped against the front window glass. A car's headlights flashed as it passed by.
The urge to run away from my life and my problems nagged at me.

It wouldn't do any good. With my luck, the Honda would break down not even a block away. Then I'd get soaked walking back home. I pulled the drapes closed and sighed. Besides, I'd never dump my children. The running water in the bathroom did little to drown out Anthony's singing. A smile crept over my lips. It's funny how kids can do that. One minute you wanted to choke the life out of them, the next you wanted
to
hug them.

I passed Matthew's room before heading to my own. Though tempted to stop and explain, I knew it wouldn't do any good. Exhaustion hung over me. It was rough being made to feel guilty when I hadn't done anything wrong. I hoped Scarlett's feelings were right. I could use for something good to come along. And no matter how much I denied it, I did hope Michael finally got what he deserved.

Chapter
Four

 

My mood hung dark as the clouds overhead. My unemployment check was late and the kids were all in terrible moods. Matthew still sulked from our earlier argument. I searched for a place to park, ending up in the back of the church lot. A puddle sat under my left foot when I opened the car door.

"Great," I muttered. "Anthony, be careful where you step."

"Oops, too late." He placed his foot in the murky water. "Oh well, I'll just take my shoes off when I get inside."

"You boys behave while you're in class or you'll be grounded from TV the rest of the day. Which will mean no football. Have I made myself clear?" I pointed a finger at the two of them.

"Yes, ma'am." Both boys' voices blended in response.

Several people with umbrellas rushed into the white building. I bolted around the large columns at the front of the church to the vast porch. Brother William Butler greeted me at the top. He stood almost seven feet tall, an imposing figure towering over me. "How are you holding up, Ms. Zimmerman?"

"I'm doing fine."

"We have some bags of groceries in the kitchen to help you out." He held my hand while he spoke. "Stop by with those two boys of yours after church to pick them up."

I nodded. What a kind gesture. Too bad their charity only reminded me of my circumstances. How did I get this bad off? I should be more grateful, but how can I when I feel I'm losing more and more every day?

"There you are. I thought maybe you weren't gonna make it." Scarlett stood by one of the windows inside the foyer. Red balls dangled from her earlobes to just below her chin. Robert stood next to her, nodding to other members and shaking any hand offered by a passerby.

"I'm tired of the rain." Not just the rain outside, either. Dampness continued to affect my spirit as well. I sighed. "I want some sunshine."

"Well, just go in and have a seat. I'll try to give you all the Son shine you want." Brother William laughed at his play on words.

The kids left for their respective classes as the rest of us filed into the worship area with the other parishioners. I entered the sanctuary and stared at the cross carved into the back wall of the church. I wanted to feel comforted by the sight, but after the horrible week I'd had, I just wanted to crawl back into bed.

"I wasn't sure I had the right church."

I turned around and found myself looking into the perfectly carved features of Brandon Nash. "Uh, hi." I hoped no one noticed the blood rush into my cheeks when Brandon took my hand in his.

Scarlett nudged me with an elbow. "Deb, who's your friend here?"

"Brandon Nash." He shook Scarlett's hand, then Robert's. "I'm new to the area, and this lovely lady was kind enough to invite me to church."

Robert and Brandon walked off, chatting. "Why didn't you tell me you'd met someone?" Scarlett whispered in my ear.

"I haven't met anyone. He's the guy who helped me with the cake."

"Handsome and a hero."

"Not really. He showed up when my car broke down and he asked about our church. Besides, why would someone who looks like him be interested in me?" I glanced down at my plain white blouse and black skirt.

"Why not? You're a kind, caring woman."

"Let me guess, I have a nice personality too?"

"Oh." Scarlett slapped my arm.

The music began, and Brandon allowed Robert to enter the row first, followed by Scarlett. He waited until I moved in after her,
and
then followed. We stood for three songs, including "Mighty to Save," then sat for the offering. I tried my best not to think about Brandon sitting so close to me, honest I did. But his cologne drifted my way, and he looked so nice, I kept sneaking peeks. I may be old, but I'm not dead.

BOOK: Game of Hearts
2.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

SPY IN THE SADDLE by DANA MARTON,
The Golden Eagle Mystery by Ellery Queen Jr.
The Complete Morgaine by C. J. Cherryh
Dark Flight by Lin Anderson
After Summer by Hailey Abbott
The Flamingo’s Smile by Stephen Jay Gould
Tempted by Trouble by Liz Fielding
Close Knit Killer by Maggie Sefton