Below is more of my current work in progress which started out with the working title of Joy’s Story. But I think its new title will be IF YOU STAY. This will be the second book in a series with the current working series title FINDING HOME. Joy’s daughter Devonny’s story is the first in the series (IF YOU KNEW) and will be released late 2018. all the books will start with “IF YOU” as part of the title. Enjoy! –Barb
As evening approached Joy admitted to herself that she was restless and the tiniest bit lonely. In her childhood, Sunday afternoons had often meant a drive to one set of grandparents or the other for dinner. Usually included were various combinations of her parents’ siblings and their children since most of them had settled in nearby towns within the area.
But now? Even a Sunday dinner with her parents was out of the question. Much less an invitation to join them at a relative’s home. How long, she wondered, and what would it take, for her and her father to be on speaking terms again? Based on their interaction this morning? It would probably take until hell froze over. Maybe not even then.
She poured herself a glass of wine and stepped outside. The landing at the top of the chairs wasn’t big enough for even a chair. She plunked down on the top step. At least she was outside. It was better than nothing. She leaned against the railing and tilted her head to gaze up at the sky. It had warmed up since the morning. The breeze was cool and clouds scudded across a pale blue sky.
A door opened and closed and she saw Granger crossing the yard. She raised her glass in greeting as he came closer to the garage. “Good afternoon.”
He stopped at the foot of the stairs. “Is it the cocktail hour already?”
She grinned. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” She took a deliberate sip of the wine. “I’m willing to share.”
“Thank, but I’m not much of a wine drinker.”
“That’s all I have.”
He climbed a few of the steps. “Sorry to make you drink alone.”
“Maybe I do it all the time.” She drank some more, aware once again of the intensity of his gaze.
“Not really. Sometimes. More like nightly. Okay, you got me.”
He laughed. Amusement suited him, Joy decided. Changed the lines in his face, lightened his eyes. She decided to see if she could make him laugh at least once, every time she saw him from now on.
“I’m feeling a bit at loose ends, I guess. Still adjusting to being here. I was thinking of going for a walk later.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?” she asked ruefully. “But I haven’t been to a gym in ages. I figured a walk’s a good alternative to another glass.” She lifted her glass and drank. “Or to finishing the bottle.”
“Want some company?”
“Family lore has it I’ve been doing since I was a year old.”
It was her turn to chuckle. “Aren’t you worried about your reputation?”
“What reputation?” Suspicion etched his tone.
“I have it on good authority that you’re a good man, Granger Sullivan. And that you shouldn’t be dallying with the likes of me.”
“Dallying?” He was back to being amused. “I can’t imagine who used that word.”
“No one did. I made it up. The dallying part. Not the part where I was told to stay away from you.”
“Let me guess. Your father?”
Joy raised her nearly empty glass. “Give the man his prize.”
“Your father’s not the boss of me.”
“Oh, but haven’t you heard? I’m the notorious Joy Baldwin. Back in town to bring all the good men down to my level.”
Granger rolled his eyes. “I’m not afraid of you.”
Really? Didn’t she unsettle him even a little bit? Because underneath the banter, there was a tingling anticipatory thing going on with her.
Stop it, she warned herself. This doesn’t have to be a romantic thing. It might be nice to have Granger Sullivan as a friend. And it was entirely possible that’s all he was looking for as well. His behavior could hardly be termed flirtatious. They were both adults. Maybe they were simply in need of some companionship.
Joy drained her wine and set the glass aside. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Let’s go.” He turned and gave Joy another view of his backside. Man looked good in those jeans, she’d give him that. The whole world-weary, slightly rumpled look was growing on her after all the years of metrosexual types that LA seemed to breed like fruit flies.
He waited for her at the bottom of the stairs and they strode to the end of the driveway.
“Should we invited Cassie?”
“She’s at her friend Abby’s house. Supposedly studying. Which way?” he asked.
She pointed. “I thought I’d head toward the business district. See if I could find someplace to to eat.” She patted the pocket of her jacket. “I’ve got cash.”
“Wing Lu’s’ll be open,” Granger said. “As far as I know, they’re always open. That’s if you like Chinese.”
He slanted a look her way. “Might not be like LA Chinese.”
“I’m of the opinion they all went to the same school. Every Chinese takeout place I’ve ever been in has the same set up. Counter across the front, a few tables. Kitchen behind it where you can see them cooking. Same lighted panels above the counter depicting various dishes. Menus? Nearly identical.”
“And they never clean the windows.”
“Exactly! The glass is always sticky. But the tables and floors are usually fairly clean.”
“Same packs of hot mustard and soy sauce and chopsticks.”
“And they all pretend English is their second language and they don’t speak it very well.”
“Yet they understand everything you order and they sure as hell know how to make change.”
Joy laughed in delight. “I love Chinese takeout. Which is why I need to find a gym.”
“You could just walk every evening.”
“Nope. I need weights and spin classes and kick boxing and anything else they have to offer. Gotta fight the effects of aging. Not to mention my wine intake.”
“You’re not that old. And you look like you’re in pretty good shape.”
“Because I go to the gym. Duh.” She turned to smile at him when she said it. “What do you do to stay in shape?”
“And lots of it.” Granger smirked at her.
“You’d be surprised. Lots of lonely housewives here in Liberty. Not to mention the widows and divorcees. Oh, sorry.”
“No need to apologize. I’ve been widowed for a very long time.”
When Granger didn’t respond to that, Joy continued. “Sometimes it feels like I was never married. I raised Devonny on my own. Mike died before she was born.”
“That’s your daughter?”
“Yes. And I have a baby granddaughter, too. Lucy.”
“You sure as hell don’t look old enough to have grandchildren.”
She saw him smile and that encouraged her. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Oh, man, you’re making me feel old reminding me I could have them. But no, none yet. And no prospects on the horizon as far as I know.”
“Cassie is a little young, I suppose.”
“She has an older brother. I certainly hope he leads the charge so to speak.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.”
“Cameron. He lives in Cincinnati.”
“Go ahead and ask. I know you’re dying to,” he said dryly.
“Ask what?” Joy feigned ignorance. Even as she did she wondered why. Wasn’t she too old to play these games? “Okay, I’ll bite,” she said before he could respond. “Marital status? Yours not your son’s.”
“Divorced. Dumped. Left. Abandoned. And yes, I have issues about it.” He pulled open the door to the Wing Lu’s. “Ready for some moo goo gai pan?”
Wing Lu’s was just as they’d described. No need to look at the menu as far as Joy was concerned. There were no other customers, but the kitchen was full of activity nonetheless and several bags were set up for takeout or delivery orders.
“Help you?” said the young woman behind the counter with the standard accent.
“Yes,” Joy said. “I’d like chicken with mixed vegetables and fried rice.”
“And for you?”
“Mongolian beef with fried rice.”
“For here or to go?”
Granger and Joy looked at each other. They hadn’t discussed it. “Here?” Granger asked.
“Why not?” There were bottles of Kirin available, so they each ordered one and split the bill.
They took seats at a Formica table near the smeared window.
Granger seemed to have done an about face since that first meeting where he’d hardly said two words to her and nearly undone her with the penetrating stare tactic. She hadn’t expected him to open up, go for a walk, eat a meal, or anything else with her. She’d imagined he saw himself as an island and behaved as if he didn’t need or want the company of other human beings. “You’re not what I expected,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow which she took as encouragement for her to elaborate.
“The day you showed me the apartment? You barely said two words to me.”
“And when I saw you at my parents? Basically the same thing.”
“I don’t like to waste time.”
“On people. Sometimes they’re not worth it.”
“A lot of the time.”
He tilted his head in agreement. “So I don’t make much effort at the beginning.”
“That silent, brooding thing, that works for you? With women, I mean?”
His grin was genuine. “Worked with you, didn’t it?”
“Hey, this isn’t.” She waved a hand back and forth between them. “A date. We’re not dating. We went for a walk. We bought food. Separate checks.
“Lots of women pay on dates now.”
Joy decided she liked his smile. A lot. She knew he was baiting her, trying to get a rise out of her. Trying to gauge her interest level perhaps. Oh, I’m interested, she wanted to tell him. But I’ve been warned away. And I don’t know how long I’m staying. And the last thing I want to do is hurt you.
Their order came and they dug in. Joy was hungry and the food was as good as that of China Star back in LA.
“Are you going to tell me what criteria made me worth the effort?” she asked.
“Oh, I always knew you’d be worth the effort. I just couldn’t decide if I wanted to make the effort.” That wasn’t the answer she’d expected. Granger Sullivan was a confusing man.
“You’re going to have to explain that.”
He cut up some of his beef. At least she hoped it was beef. It looked like beef. “I remembered you. I knew who you were the minute I saw you.”
Joy set her chopsticks down and sat back. She spun her beer bottle around in its ring of condensation. “You remembered me. Seriously. From twenty-five years ago.”
He pointed his fork at her. “Yes.”
“How is that possible? I had no idea who you were.” I still don’t, apparently.
“Easy. I had a crush on you.”
“Okay. I’m going to need another beer.” She stood. “You want one? I’m buying.”
He gave her a mischievous look from beneath his brows. “Even though it’s not a date.”
She tapped her toe on the relatively clean linoleum.
She went to the counter, trying to regain her equilibrium. This was so not what she’d expected. She couldn’t believe that Granger remembered her. That he’d recognized her. She hadn’t even recalled his existence. Of course, she’d been in her own orbit for a long time, so busy being defiant and rebellious and caught up in her own life she’d had little time to notice much of anything else. Or anyone else.
She paid and brought the bottles back to the table. She resumed her seat but pushed her food away and concentrated on her beer. She had a feeling she was going to need it. Granger appeared unperturbed by his pronouncement or that she’d stopped eating. Finally he looked up at her and she signaled him with her fingers. “Tell me about this supposed crush.”
“Oh, there’s no supposed about it. First time I saw you in church. You were eleven, I think. You had blonde hair. A bow. A plaid dress with a white collar.”
“Oh, my God. How old were you?”
“Nine!” Joy laughed, delighted. “That’s adorable.”
“So was I, but you had no idea I was alive.”
“Well, sure, but two years.” She shrugged, letting herself off the hook.
“I was never going to catch up to you.” Granger drank some beer and returned his attention to the last of his food. He’d apparently done some thinking on this.
Well, here I am. The thought was in Joy’s head before she could stop it, but saying that sounded entirely too flirtations. And it was obvious to both of them that he had caught up with her. They were both adults in their forties and a two-year age difference meant nothing. But the many other differences in their life experiences? That would mean something. Widowhood. Divorce. Granger was still raising a teenage daughter. Joy’s was a former adult film actress. LA vs. Ohio. Maybe it would take that much to bridge the differences. But Joy wondered if it would be worth it to Granger. Or to her.
Her thoughts brightened when she realized they didn’t have to become romantically involved. They could simply remain friends.They could do that. Couldn’t they?