The Twelfth Keeper(6)

By: Belle Malory


Kennedy pushed an old toolbox aside and settled into the truck’s cluttered backseat. It smelled like musty wood and old leather inside, but the scents didn’t bother her. They were familiar, homey even.

Ginger, as Jake called the truck’s voice, greeted them and prompted Jake for an address. Ginger’s system was even older than Barney’s; Jake had to shout the word “home” loudly into the receiver on the dash. It took three tries before Ginger understood him and set into motion.

Unlike her mom, Jake could afford a newer vehicle if he wanted one. But he loved his old truck. He even loved it when Ginger’s system went haywire and he had to operate it manually. “This is how kids used to drive back in my granddad’s day,” he’d boasted once before. “Everyone should learn how to drive without relying on a system. It’s fun.”

Car crashes were one of the leading causes of death back in those days. And Jake said it was fun? Absolute craziness. She was content with staring out the window and enjoying the view, thank you very much.

Kennedy did just that, leaning her head against Ginger’s window, relaxed now that the day’s big events were over. The truck passed through the historic district, and she watched people stroll along the sidewalks, coming in and out of the boutiques, art galleries, and outdoor pubs that lined the street. No one seemed rushed or hurried. Everyone took their time, pleasantly enjoying the outdoors. Kennedy liked that about Amelia Island. There was a breezy, mellow atmosphere here that contrasted against the backdrop of her on-the-go family.

Jake cleared his throat. “So how’s your mom doing these days, Kennedy?”

“She’s good.” Kennedy pulled her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ears. “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off most days, but otherwise, good.”

“Still working the three jobs, huh?” He hated seeing single mothers struggle, and could relate, especially since he was a single dad.

“Actually, she’s only working two now. Just the hospital and the retirement community. The mall job was seasonal.”

“Oh, well, that’s probably a little easier, right?”

Kennedy shrugged. “She misses the paycheck, but she’s happy to have Sundays off. Missing church makes her feel guilty.”

“Good, good.” Jake scratched his lightly bearded chin. “And ah, you let Ashley know if she ever needs anything done around the house—yard work, a leaky faucet or anything—I’d be happy to help.”

Oh boy. Sounded like someone had a crush.

“Thanks, Jake. I’ll pass that on to her.”

He smiled, his rugged face softening. In that moment, he looked like an older version of Hunter, which made the thought of him crushing on her mom all the worse. Way too weird for her to think about.

Hunter wouldn’t let Kennedy get away without a final taunt when they pulled into the driveway. “Don’t forget to eat something with sugar and to get plenty of rest,” he said in a high-pitched squawk.

Hilarious. “Thanks, Hunt.”

“Just trying to help.”

“I’ll bet. See you later, loser.” Kennedy started to walk towards her house, thinking Hunter might never let her live such a wuss-out moment down. So long as they were friends, he would torment her with it. She stopped short. The whole deathly fear of needles reminded her of something else. Something worse.

She turned back around. “Hunter,” she called over the hedges.

“Yeah?”

“Reagan’s birthday is on Sunday. My mom wants us to celebrate together, Reagan’s choice.” She paused to roll her eyes. “Guess what she wants to do?” There was no helping the unmistakable twinge of bitterness.

He winced, looking as if he felt sorry for her. “She wants to take Lady Liberty out, doesn’t she?”

Kennedy nodded, exhaling a shaky breath at the thought of it.

Lady Liberty was their dad’s old boat. Reagan knew how much that boat still haunted Kennedy, but her sister didn’t seem to care. Out of all the things she could have chosen, that was what she wanted to do on her birthday.

What made it even more frustrating was that Ashley was big on birthdays. The Mitchell kids didn’t always get the latest gadgets or designer clothes, but when one of their birthdays came around, Ashley pulled out all the stops. The moon and stars were at Reagan’s disposal. But no, they weren’t enough.

“Your mom isn’t making you, you know…” Hunter stopped before asking the whole question, as if he felt her fear of it, too.

She half-smiled. Maybe he wasn’t such a horrible friend after all, tactless jokes aside. “No, she’s not making me go too. I’ll probably wait on the beach until they come back. Then we’re supposed to grill out and play games.”

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