Authors: Debra Salonen
Tags: #romance, #comedy, #sexy, #black humor, #aging and sex
By biting her tongue--a
common method of sublimation around her mother, Judy managed to
hang four paintings, but the dozen or so framed photos of family
members remained a source of contention. "Only the girls. Forget
the rest," Mom said.
"What about your wedding
photo?" She held out the old-fashioned frame bearing the sepia
image of two young strangers. Had her parents once been happy and
Mom shook her
"You want to hang the group
shot we took last Christmas, don't you? Remember what a
headache...um...challenge we had getting everyone together? But it
turned out nice."
And cost so much I
couldn't afford to order a copy.
you love it."
"Loved," she stressed
sourly. "I don't want to be reminded of someone's
"Imper...what?" Judy looked
"She means perfidy. She
spent one whole day with a thesaurus looking up words for betrayal,
which is what she thinks I've done to her."
"You have," Mom snapped.
"You sold me down the river. Lucky I have a second daughter to look
"She's welcome to you,"
Nancy muttered under her breath.
She stretched to place a
soup bowl on the shelf, but the dish slipped from Nancy's trembling
fingers to tumble into the sink with a sickening crash.
"You broke that on
purpose," Mom shouted. "Now, I don't have a full set. You ruined
it. You ruin everything."
Judy could see her sister
fighting to keep from breaking into sobs. Was Judy tempted to
revel--even for a moment--in her sister's fall from grace? No. She
set down the framed eight-by-ten and rushed to the kitchenette.
"Don't cut yourself, Nanc. Let me get those shards with a paper
towel." Once she disposed of the pieces in the trash, she turned to
her mother. "For heaven's sake, Mother, Nancy didn't mean to drop
the bowl. It was an accident. Are you blind to the fact your
daughter is sad and upset?"
"She should be. She sold me
down the river. "
"So you said. Which river
is that, Mom?" Judy asked clamping her hands on her hips. "The one
you sold me down fifty-odd years ago?"
Mom staggered, one hand
pressed to her chest for dramatic affect. "I did no such
"Maybe not while Dad was
alive. But once he was gone, you never had anything good to say to
me...or about me. Not that I can remember. But, guess what? I
finally figured out that hard feelings are like excess weight." She
grabbed the steadily shrinking muffin top at her waist. "You can
carry that baggage around forever or you can work it off and move
on. Today is what counts, and I'm not going to let you use me as a
weapon against my sister."
"I have no idea what you're
talking about. Your sister--"
Judy interrupted--a first!
"My sister--Saint Nancy--let you live in her house, rent free for,
Lord, most of her married life. Did it never occur to you that
married people like their own space? Maybe that went unnoticed when
the girls were home, but now she and Pete want to enjoy their empty
nest--only it won't be empty with you there."
Mom's face went from shock
to anger, but Judy didn't pause. "You don't get to give her a hard
time because she's ready to scoot you out of the nest, Mother. You
want to play the martyr? Go right ahead. But don't use me to try to
hurt her. I won't play that game."
"This isn't a game. It's my
life. I'm too young to be cast off into some old people's home."
Some of Mom's bluster diminished as fear pushed past her
Judy's inherent compassion
tempered her anger, but she refused to back down. "A lot of people
in this building think their children abandoned them. You can spot
them right away because they're mean-spirited, self-absorbed
curmudgeons. They suck the joy out of any conversation. The people
who look at Heritage House as a scheduled stop on the train track
of life take advantage of all the great activities available.
Regular trips to the library, theater and casinos. They meet for
book discussions and play bingo, Bunco, canasta and bridge. Some
take the Herry Bus to my workout class every morning." She
shrugged, amused to see both Mom and Nancy staring at her in mute
surprise. "Your choice, Mom. Either way, Heritage House is your new
She checked her phone for
the time. "I hate to pound nails and run, but I've got another job
interview." A lie. She had a lunch date with a to-die-for-judge,
but they'd never believe that. She gathered up the framed photos
her mother planned to discard but paused at the doorway to say, "By
the way, this place is rife with gossip, so let me set the record
straight. I lost my job because I fraternized with a resident.
Unfortunately, he died. The coroner called his heart a ticking time
bomb. Does that make me feel any better? Not really, but I learned
a long time ago sh...stuff happens. You just have to roll with
She pivoted on one heel
without checking to see how far open their mouths were
Dirty laundry exposed...check. On
my own terms. That's gotta count for something.
Would Wiley approve?
"Judy. Wait," Nancy called,
running after her. "Just for a minute."
Judy wiped the ridiculous
tear that had formed in the corner of her eye. Highly charged
emotional encounters shook her up. Always had. Rarely, did she walk
away from an emotional skirmish feeling good about herself. Until
now...unless her sister ruined it.
A bit breathless, Nancy
hesitated for a millisecond then wrapped her arms around Judy and
hugged her fiercely. "Wow. I can't believe you yelled at Mom. Did
you grow a set in the past few weeks or what?"
"Maybe. I'm trying to be a
grownup. I have a new role model. I'm seeing him for lunch. He's a
judge," she added with a tiny squeal.
"Is it serious?"
"No. Of course, not. We're
talking me. Judy Banger. What would I be doing with a
"Whatever you damn well
please, I'm thinkin'. You are so much stronger than you used to be.
You should have seen yourself in there, Judy. I'm sorry Pete didn't
The praise tasted
bittersweet. Her sister's opinion meant a lot, but having her
mother's respect was the one thing Judy would never see. "Do you
think she'll adjust?"
Nancy nodded. "I wouldn't
leave her if I didn't believe with all my heart this was the best
thing for all of us. She's grown too dependent on me. She stopped
driving six months ago. Never said why. She's scared. I get that,
but I can't go from soccer mom to geriatric taxi service, taking
Mom to all her appointments: hair, dentist, and medical. I just
Judy squeezed Nancy's
"Thank you for your support
in there, Judy. Pete and I both appreciate it. But you have to
promise me something."
"You won't let her bully
Nancy's eyes filled with
tears. "She's always bullied you. And I wasn't much better. I never
realized how bad we treated you until I went to a workshop at the
girls' school about bullying. I saw my whole childhood flash before
my eyes...and it wasn't pretty." She sniffled. "I don't know why
you don't hate us."
"I guess I hated myself,
instead." The truth stunned her.
"I'm so sorry."
Before she could formulate
a reply, Pete called from the doorway of Mom's apartment, "Nancy.
We need you."
"Have a good lunch. And
don't worry about Mom. She's too cussed mean to give up. She'll be
"Judge Canby, so good to
see you again. Are you meeting someone?"
Wiley greeted the hostess
with a smile. Tall, willowy, available. She'd made that clear by
flirting with him non-stop any time he came in alone. He'd
considered asking her out. Now, he was glad he hadn't. "I am. Her
name is Judy. Do you have a table under the canopy?"
"For you? Of course, right
She hid her disappointment
well, chattering about the weather as she led the way through the
urban-styled restaurant that could have served as an art gallery
given the dozen or so modern paintings on the wall. "New crop?" he
"Yes. The owner got these
on loan from an artist's co-op in the city."
San Francisco. One of his
favorite places on the planet. Maybe he'd take Judy there this
weekend or next. They'd stay near Union Square and walk everywhere.
Have dim sum in Chinatown.
He missed what the hostess
"Coffee today or herbal
iced tea? It's pomegranate/blueberry."
He pictured Judy with her
huge water jug. "Water to start. We might try the tea later. Thank
She lingered--mostly out of
habit, he assumed. Wiley tried to be polite but was relieved when
she returned to her post. He needed to try to get his game face on
before Judy arrived. Normally, this was not a problem. He'd had
years of practice being serious, sincere and pensive. His job
required it. He heard arguments, weighed the facts as presented,
balanced conjecture and emotion against the rigid interpretation of
the law, and made thoughtful and, hopefully, rational verdicts. He
held people's fate in his hands. He'd never once
decision--until this morning.
Thank God, the defendant
changed his mind and grabbed the plea bargain within minutes of
hearing the prosecutor's opening salvo. The guy was guilty. He'd
been caught with drugs in his pocket and in his blood stream, along
with a list of deliveries he would have made...if he hadn't run a
The deal got him into a
drug treatment program and helped him avoid a second strike. It
kept Wiley from zoning out on the bench--or worse, sitting there
with a hard on.
Maybe I'm the one who
needs some kind of treatment.
with Judy Banger was all he could think about.
He took a big gulp of water
at the same instant she walked in the door.
"Wiley, hi," she called,
completely ignoring the hostess who did not rush to seat her the
way she had with Wiley. Judy wound her way through the tables, not
once glancing at the artwork on the walls. That blinders-on focus
said more to him than all the fawning compliments and flirtatious
glances he'd ever received. She was there to see him, not
Impulsively, he stood and
flipped a twenty on the table. "Change of plan. I'm playing hooky
from work." He put his finger to his lips. "Don't tell anybody. Are
you free to join me?"
She glanced around, as if
expecting someone to jump out and cry, "Surprise." After a second
or two of thought, she shrugged. "Having my afternoons to myself is
one benefit of being jobless...until the next round of bills come
in. But I am kinda hungry," she added. "Family drama triggers a
need for comfort food."
He led the way to the exit,
glad to see the hostess was busy behind the register. "Oh, we'll
eat. Just not here. I'm thinking of some place a lot less stuffy.
Does that work for you?"
"Anything works for me,"
she said. He thought he heard her add, "If I'm with you." Or maybe
he imagined it. Either way, her answer was the one he wanted to
Forty minutes later, they
sat across from each other on his shady patio. The dappled light
from the eucalyptus added a scented ambience that beat the heck out
of the restaurant. He unpacked the sandwiches, sides, vinegar and
sea salt chips and chocolate chip cookies he'd picked up at the
"That's quite a spread for
two people," Judy said, nibbling on a chip. "Are you expecting
"I'm a sucker for
leftovers." Plus, if things worked out as he hoped, they might need
a midnight snack. He'd texted his clerk to cancel court, blaming
his absence on bad sushi. He doubted anyone would question his lie.
He'd been the epitome of responsibility his entire
She unwrapped a sandwich,
studiously arranging it just so on the china plate he'd pulled from
the cupboard. When she failed to look up or smile, he knew
something was bothering her. "Tell me what's wrong, Judy. You're
disappointed about lunch? We can eat there every day next
She inhaled deeply. His
gaze dropped to her chest. How could it not? He hadn't stopped
thinking about her lush, beautiful body. He wanted to make love
with her so bad he had a perpetual woody. Wouldn't Fletcher laugh
if he knew his dad had turned into a horny reprobate who lusted
after a woman he barely knew?
"Wiley, you're great. I
like you. A lot. In fact, a lot more than I have any business
liking any man right now."
"What do you mean 'right
She plucked a sesame seed
off the bun and popped it in her mouth. "For the past few weeks,
I've been doing exactly what I wanted without stopping to consider
the consequences or taking into account who might get hurt by my
actions. In other words...I've been acting like a man. No offense
to your gender."