Say You'll Never Love Me(3)

By: Ann Everett

“You miss her, don’t you?”

“Every minute.”

The sadness in his eyes broke Raynie’s heart, so she changed the subject. “We’re having corn dogs for dinner. You want to join us?”

“Nah. Weenies give me gas. I better go.” He held out his cup. “Hit me one more time for the road.”

She half-filled the mug and followed him to the door. “See you tomorrow?”

“Count on it.”

Later that night, after getting Silbie to bed, Raynie soaked in the tub and contemplated her situation. This wasn’t a temporary assignment. She had twelve more years, and the thought exhausted her. Thanks to the insurance, and once the house sold, finances wouldn’t be a problem. That’s the one area where Celeste made the right choice. Raynie was good at handling money.

Mounds of jasmine scented bubbles puffed around Raynie, and childhood memories flooded over her. All the times Evan paid her a dollar to leave Celeste alone with him. How she’d taught Raynie to drive, apply makeup and a hundred other shared moments. Overcome with sadness, she sobbed into the washcloth.

She’d read crying, like laughing, was healthy, and hoped that was true because she’d been doing plenty of it. She pulled herself together, climbed out of the water and toweled off, then slipped into her nightshirt.

Back in the living room, she stared out the window. The bells at St. Paul’s, a few blocks away, chimed eleven times. When she’d first moved in, they had driven her nuts, but now the melody soothed her. She wasn’t Episcopalian. She wasn’t much of anything concerning religion. If they provided counseling or a support group for new mothers, she should join. The Lord knew she needed it.

Years ago, when she established her online tarot site, she never thought how beneficial it would be. She could work from anywhere while her employees kept the Austin storefront open. For Silbie’s sake, until school ended, Raynie planned to stay in Celeste’s house. The trauma of losing her parents was enough for the little girl. Besides, summer vacation would be a better time for transition.

The wind picked up, and a tumbleweed rolled across the lawn, and reminded Raynie how much she hated this city. Nothing but flat land and cotton fields. Earlier in the week, she’d suffered through her first dust storm. Swore her hair gained two pounds and the skin on her face felt sanded to the bone. Not to mention the layer of dirt on her teeth. How residents tolerated this place was beyond her.

Then, like every night since Raynie’s arrival, Silbie’s screams shattered the silence. “Mama! Mama!”

Raynie ran down the hallway, wishing she had hitched a ride on that tumbleweed and rolled away from the hardest challenge she’d ever faced.

Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed.

~~Bhagavad Gita

JARED KNEW IT WAS wrong to lust after his brother’s wife. Yet here he was staring out the window watching Maggie strap the twins into their stroller. The warm breeze caught tendrils of her long red hair and twirled them in the wind. She gathered the strands into a ponytail, pulled a rubber band from her wrist, and twisted it around the wild curls.

Most of the time he pushed the misplaced affection out of his mind, but sometimes he couldn’t fight it. The memory of the kiss they’d shared stabbed his heart like a hot spike. He knew it meant nothing to her. Circumstances caused a weak moment. After Jace forced her to leave because of his paralysis, she’d felt rejected. Jared had only intended to offer comfort, but then his lips were on hers, and instead of pushing him away, she’d clutched tighter. Thank God, he came to his senses before making a bigger fool of himself.

She’d been gracious, claiming some of the fault, and because she’d forgiven him, their friendship remained intact. Emma and Ava giggled with pure joy when their dad did a wheelie. Jared laughed, too. He’d never thought Jace would be any good at fatherhood. But he was.

From across the kitchen, Mom came to join him. She wiped her hands on a dish towel and slung it over her shoulder. “What are you laughing about?”

“Jace, Maggie and the girls. Looks like they’re going for a stroll.”

“You should go, too. Your dad’s in the shower, and won’t be ready for a while.”

“Nah, it’s their family time.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t consider it an intrusion. Did you ever think Jace could be this happy again?”

At first, Jared believed his idiot brother might not come to his senses. He should have known better. Maggie wasn’t the type to give up until she got what she wanted. While they were apart, she’d sent Jace a letter every day, and he’d clung to them as if they were his lifeline. When they stopped, he realized he couldn’t live without her. “I’m a little envious.”