Black Opal (Deleted Scenes)

You’ve found it! The original first three chapters of the book that became BLACK OPAL are below.

Some things to remember:

  • These scenes were deleted for pacing reasons.
  • Some of the information in these chapters stayed in the book and/or series. Some of it didn’t.
  • This selection has not been professionally edited. Please forgive any typos or errors of continuity.

Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Myra Donaldson’s husband killed himself in their garage. Even if I hadn’t heard most of the details via the Gaslight City Gossip Grapevine, which traveled faster than the Japanese Bullet Train, I’d have known the instant I walked into the single story building. 

My second sight, which gave me more trouble than did me good, showed me Donnie sitting in an office chair with half his head blown off and a shotgun across his lap. Because it was his ghost I saw, and not an imprint, the one eye remaining followed Myra and me around the room. Ever since the incident six months ago which exposed me to the most powerful spirit manifestation I’ve ever experienced, my ability to see ghosts had intensified. What I’d been able to ignore before now wanted more than ever to interact with me.

“Mamma said she’d never speak to me again if I put her in a nursing home, and she doesn’t want to live in the house with me.” Myra’s eyes tracked over the piles of garbage bags, the busted furniture, and rested on the spot her late husband’s brains made on the wall. “So I need to make this place livable as soon as possible. Could you have ready for the carpenters by tomorrow?” 

Donnie’s ghost watched us from across the garage. His final emotions on earth—frustration, rage, and hurt—threatened my sanity. My gut begged me not to take this job, but my checkbook insisted. After a slow spring, I needed the money. 

“Sure I can,” I said. “I’ll need to call in someone to help me, so don’t be alarmed when he shows up. He looks a little intimidating, but he’s a good guy.” 

Myra shrugged, still focused on the dark splatter on the wall. She shook her head and turned to me. “It’ll be nice to have Mamma here. I need the company. Take my mind off things.” With that, she trudged back into her house. 

I called Wade Hill. After meeting six months earlier, we formed an occasional business partnership, which my boyfriend hated with a passion. Wade sounded like I woke him but promised to join me in fifteen minutes. Like clockwork, his earth-shakingly loud Harley rumbled up to the curb of Myra Donaldson’s house. He dismounted and stretched, accentuating his massive height, and walked toward me, still rubbing sleep from his eyes. He wore stained, ripped blue jeans, and his muscle shirt showed off expensive tattoo work and the kind of muscle I needed to get this job done. 

“Work late last night?” I tried not to stare at Wade but failed miserably. Before I’d taken up with my current boyfriend, I had a type, and Wade was it. 

“Oh, hell yeah. Had a few belligerent drunks.” Wade flexed his hand, which bore what looked like a bite mark. He worked as bouncer at Long Time Gone, a nasty honky-tonk out in the sticks. His ties to a one-percenter motorcycle club kept him there for reasons I didn’t want to know. The pay must have sucked because he always acted eager to take on other jobs. Wade’s dark eyes settled on my old-fashioned silver thermos. “Coffee?”

“Go ahead.” I gestured at the thermos and went to stare into the garage, my eyes settling on Donnie Donaldson’s ghost. The ghost stared back, broadcasting heartache and despair. My increase in sensitivity allowed me to zero in on the gist of his purpose. He wanted revenge. Get it somewhere else, buddy.

Wade poured a cup of coffee into the thermos lid, drank it in a few gulps, poured another and joined me at the door of the garage. Together, we stared into the fetid darkness. Wade shuddered and sipped some more of his coffee.

“This is one creepy place. Can you see the guy who killed himself?” The first time Wade had asked me a question about my funky talent, I’d  nearly twisted him into a pretzel. He’d shrugged me off without explanation. The next time he’d asked, I’d held my tongue and took notice of his tone and the lack of mirth in black depths of his eyes. The time after that, I’d talked. I trusted Wade even though I suspected I shouldn’t. 

“He’s right underneath the dark spot on the wall.” The ghost grinned at me, and I averted my eyes. 

“I’ll start with that side,” he said. “More furniture over there anyway. You start hauling the garbage bags out. When I need help, I’ll holler.” 

Wade and I worked in silence for a few hours, making a trip to the county dump when we accumulated a truckload. 

The first snag hit when I opened a garbage bag of clothes—per Myra’s instructions—to see if it contained anything worth donating. The snake, a long black one, lay right on top of the clothes.

The snake slithered right toward me, the thick black coil of its body unfolding like magic. I yelped and stumbled away. Wade, hearing the distress in my cry, charged toward me, but stopped short at the sight of the snake. I’d never before seen a six-foot-five, two hundred-something pound man squeal like a girl, but Wade Hill did and scrabbled away from the wriggling length of muscle. He climbed on top of a broken desk and fidgeted. 

The oblong shape of the snake’s head identified it as non-venomous, but no way in hell did I want a close encounter. I’d probably die of fear if it bit me. I jumped onto an old folding chair, which collapsed underneath my weight. The snake picked up speed as I leapt over it and slithered out the door without us having to make contact. 

The snake gone, Wade and I made eye contact. He wore a sheepish grin. “They scare me.”

“Obviously.” I clambered out of the mass of junk and regarded the piles of garbage bags. I didn’t want to open another one. 

Wade’s gaze followed mine around the room. “They probably all have rat shit in them anyway.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But you know what? The snake probably ate the rats.” 

Wade shuddered. “Gonna go through the rest of them?”

“Does a bear wear a tuxedo to church?”

“Bears don’t go to church.”

“There’s your answer. I vote we just haul these off. Tell Myra the clothes were all ruined—”

“Peri Jean? Who’re you talking to?” My heart picked up a little at the sound of that voice. Dean, my boyfriend of six whole months, poked his head into the garage and smiled when he saw me. His smile dropped when he spotted Wade. 

“What’s he doing here?” The corners of Dean’s mouth turned down, and he frowned the way he always did when he ran into Wade.

 “I hired him for the day.” I said the words with finality, gave Wade a look meant to inspire him to shut up, and pulled Dean outside with me.

My boyfriend didn’t approve of Wade. I first interpreted his reaction to the other man as jealousy, but it went deeper than that. Dean wouldn’t explain himself, and Wade claimed ignorance. That ended my role. I refused to let two grown men acting like little boys affect how I chose friends.

“I need a break anyway. She’s got some lawn chairs over there.” I pointed. Dean glanced at the lawn furniture but shot a nasty glare at Wade before he followed. 

The sun’s boiling rays burned away the last cool breath of the morning. Locusts humming and the smell of freshly cut grass signaled the beginning of summer. The air, humid like dog breath, had sweat running down the back of my neck before we walked ten feet. 

“Is Hill acting up?” Dean followed me, anticipation burning in his eyes. He’d like nothing more than to tell Wade to get lost. 

“Nope.”

“Then why are you shaking?”

“Her husband killed himself in there. I can see him.” I sat down on an old-fashioned metal lawn chair, took out my cancer sticks, and lit one, pulling the smoke deep into my lungs and relishing the quick buzz that came with it. 

Dean stopped short and grimaced. “He—it’s not bothering you, trying to do things to you?” Dean had only the vaguest understanding of my ability to see ghosts. He knew it lay at the root of childhood trauma for me. That, along with Dean’s pragmatic, no-woo-woo approach to life, made it into something he considered a threat, something almost diabolical. “If that thing is bothering you, quit this job right now. Tell that woman she’ll have to find someone else. Or Hill can finish the job by himself.”

***

Dean limped to a chair and sat, closing his eyes in relief. The injury, one he carried like a badge of honor, usually only bothered him at the end of a long day. 

“You okay?” I gestured at Dean’s leg so he’d know what I meant and to keep him from talking about Wade or the ghost in the garage.

“Yeah. I’m on a double shift. Started last night at eleven, supposed to finish at three today.” He yawned. “But I got personal business, so I’m knocking off early.”

Personal business? That was a new one for Dean. He never took time off, not even on those cold winter days when his leg stiffened and made him walk like a drunk with a load in his pants.

“You okay?” I had to tread carefully with Dean. He never got over the shooting that ended his law career in South Louisiana and exiled him to small-town East Texas. He carried guilt over things he’d handled wrong—just like me—and he lashed out when I asked the wrong questions. Our brokenness worked well together. Sometimes. 

“No. I mean, yes. I’m okay. My dad’s not.” Dean took a breath, one in which I heard a little tremble. 

His father? This was the first time he’d mentioned any family to me. My stomach boiled in anticipation of whatever he had to tell me, but I kept my mouth shut. It was the wrong time to ask questions. 

“You’ve heard about the flooding in South Louisiana on the news?” he asked.

I nodded. We’d had a wet spring. To compound matters, a storm system off the Gulf had dumped too much rain on that part of the world in the past few days. I watched some of the coverage with Memaw, my roommate and paternal grandmother, and felt horror seeing the houses washed off their foundations and the pictures of topsy-turvy cars and watercraft. 

“My parents have a place in the country. My father was injured clearing some debris. He fell off a tractor, broke his arm, had a spell.”

“A spell?” That could mean a lot of things. My grandmother, who had terminal cancer, called some pretty scary moments “spells.” 

“Oh, Mom thought it was a heart attack, but the hospital isn’t sure. They want to run some tests, keep him a few days.” Dean paused, narrowing his eyes at a point in the distance. “My dad can’t stand losing time. So he’s shouting at everyone, being a dickhead. Threatened to leave the hospital on his own if the work didn’t get done. My brother and I need to do the work so he doesn’t give my mother a nervous breakdown.”

Dean’s father sounded like a stubborn old goat. Judging from Dean’s refusal to seek physical therapy for his leg injury, stubbornness ran in the family. I imagined his mother as the peacekeeper. Would Dean bother to go home if she wasn’t in the picture? His explanation of the circumstances didn’t sound like it. 

“Could you bring my mail in the house, make sure papers don’t pile up in the driveway?” His grip on my hand tightened. He wasn’t asking me to take care of his house in a town where nobody would dare break into a lawman’s home. He was asking if I wanted to take this next step, stick with him through a crisis. One where he might lose a parent I hadn’t known existed five minutes ago.

Chapter 2

I thought about it for a long moment, about all the things it could mean. I found fear at the helm of my hesitation. If I took this next step, I took a chance. And I don’t like rolling the dice—unless they’re loaded. Being with Dean at all went against that policy. He was a wild card, an interruption in the regularly scheduled programming. 

But his body against mine made me feel a way I never planned to feel. His kindness and sensitivity came to the surface when I didn’t expect it. Was I willing to take another step down a path I couldn’t see the end of? Feeling Dean’s eyes on me, I made up my mind and smiled, even though my heart thumped in my chest. 

“Yeah. I’ll even go over there before I go home tonight, make sure everything’s turned off.” My insides trembled, raw with nervousness. Relationships are not my strong suit. When the going got tough, I usually ran like the devil was on my heels. That left me an expert at escapes and not so great at what to do in situations like this. I brought my hand to my mouth and chewed a callus, hoping that hand hadn’t touched anything the snake touched. 

Dean slumped and let out a breath. His Burns County Sheriff’s uniform, which usually looked so smart on him, had wrinkled and wilted in the humidity. I brushed away a mosquito as it landed on his sweat-beaded temple. He grabbed my hand and brought it to his lips for a brief kiss. Our eyes met, and desire sparked between us. 

“I’m just worried about my father,” he said after a pause. “Both my parents, really. We don’t talk much.” He tried to smile but didn’t quite make it.

I nodded, wondering if it had to do with his divorce. Or was it something else? My own mother hates spending time with me because I see the spirit world. I could have understood anything he told me, but I didn’t know how to ask without overstepping. I didn’t even know if our six-month-old relationship entitled me to know this sort of stuff. If I were one of those girls who’d had three or four really serious boyfriends instead of enough flings to fill a—well, let’s not go there—maybe I’d have asked. As it was, I let the nod do my talking for me.

Dean watched, probably expecting me to say something. Finally, he gave up, dug in his pocket, and handed me a little gold box with a deep purple ribbon around it. My heart leapt into my throat, closing off the air. With a shaking hand, I took the box and turned it over in my hand, crazy thoughts swirling in my mind. 

“It’s my house key.” Despite his worry about his father, Dean blushed to the roots of his hair. He wiped sweat off his face and glanced at the garage where Wade Hill watched us from the door. “I wanted to give it to you this weekend. You know, so you’ll feel welcome anytime at my house.”

He locked his eyes on mine. I shifted in the metal chair, which responded with a nails-on-the-chalkboard squeal. Just when I thought I saw the end game, whammo. Another sign the universe saw some unbruised skin on my ass. 

In the entirety of my relationship with Dean, I hadn’t once spent the night at his house. I went home to my room at Memaw’s every night so I could feel in control of things. It let me believe Dean didn’t have the power to make me feel like puppy puke. Dean gave me shit about it but mostly left me with my own demons. 

But this key in this gold box wasn’t leaving me with my own demons. It meant he wanted me to spend the night, to be a bigger part of his life. Presenting it as a gift meant he needed me to agree to this next step. His father’s injury and his emergency trip to South Louisiana changed the box’s significance. Dean needed me to perform a service for him, and I needed this key to do it. Taking the box now only signified I’d take care of his house while he was gone. And he knew it. 

I took the box. “Cute wrapping. Did you do it yourself?”

Dean stood and held his hand out to me without answering. His years in law enforcement taught him to read people well, and he knew what had just happened. “This is a big help to me. I’ll make it up to you when I get home?”

I took his hand and stood. “I’ll be disappointed if you don’t.”

He pulled me into his arms and lowered his head for a kiss. This part of our relationship never made me nervous or doubtful. We said goodbye in style until old Mr. Swanson ran over his mailbox because he was watching us instead of the road. 

***

The county landfill, despite its newfangled, environmentally friendly design, had a high, sweet stench that burned my nose. Scavenger birds dotted the cloudy sky, their ear-piercing calls sounding more like protests than communication. Wade grunted as he tossed the last garbage bag into the deep hole in the earth. Soon as it hit the trash-strewn ground, something inside the bag wriggled. I took a step away from the edge of the landfill, even though the snake had a struggle ahead of him before he escaped the trash bag. 

My phone’s ring surprised me enough to make me jump. I checked the caller ID. Dean.

“You there yet?” I turned my back on Wade’s curious eyes. 

Silence came over the line. For a second, I thought Dean had pocket dialed me. When he spoke, irritation laced his voice. “I forgot my fucking wallet in my uniform pants. Figured it out when I stopped for gas in Alexandria.”

“When it rains, it pours.” I searched my mind for a solution. “Want me to overnight it to you?”

“You’d do that?” Dean sounded surprised, and that made me smile. “That’d help so much. My driver’s license, my credit cards, everything is in there. I just used my emergency hundred for gas.”

Dean’s ratty Smokey and the Bandit, vintage Trans Am probably guzzled gas just like my 1972 Chevy Nova. The cars looked cool on the road, but they were neither convenient nor cheap to drive. 

Wade got into the truck and gave me an impatient glare. I rolled my eyes at him and got into the truck.

“I think the overnight delivery service has a late afternoon pickup at the bank,” I said. “Give me the address, and I’ll get it over there.”

Wade started the truck and revved the motor. I held up a warning hand for him to hold down the noise.

“I owe you one,” Dean said.

“I’ll take it in the form of a night out dancing when you get home.”

Dean chuckled. He didn’t like to dance and knew I’d make him hold up his end of the bargain. Instead of agreeing, he rattled off the address. He had to spell the name of the town more than once. We said our goodbyes and hung up.

“Mr. Sourpuss forget something vital?” The gleam in Wade’s eyes and his wide grin made him look like a little boy playing a joke. 

“Yeah. He said for me enact a citizen’s arrest and drop you off at the jailhouse.” 

“Liar.” Wade turned onto the farm road and headed east toward Gaslight City. He shifted in his seat and glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “Your grandmother called me yesterday. Wanted to know if I’d take her riding on my motorcycle.”

“What?” I twisted around in my seat, the seatbelt cutting into my chest, and studied Wade’s profile to see if he was kidding. 

“She said it’s on her bucket list.” The red patches on Wade’s cheekbones attested to his seriousness better than his words. I sat back in my seat and massaged the back of my neck, trying to stave off the tension headache forming there. 

Six months earlier, I’d found out Memaw had terminal cancer. Doctors had given her eighteen months tops. Soon after, Memaw had developed a bucket list and started checking off items. The notion of her riding on the back of Wade’s motorcycle conceived a whole list of worries. 

She could get a cold and not get better. She could have a heart attack. Though Wade would treat Memaw like a valuable piece of china, accidents happened. What if she didn’t come back? Then how would I feel? 

Wade eased the truck to the curb in front of Myra Donaldson’s house. Neither of us spoke. The roar of the air conditioner filled the silent space, which smelled of cigarettes and sweat. I picked at a hole in the knee of my jeans while I worried. Wade wasn’t asking my permission to take Memaw for a motorcycle ride. His telling me was nothing more than a courtesy. I had no choice in this matter, and it left me feeling empty and out of control. 

“She’s scared, too.” Wade lit a cigarette and handed it to me. “We all know we’re dying, but she has an expiration date.”

I drew hard on the cigarette while Wade went through the ritual of lighting another. He’d saved Memaw’s life six months ago. How could I berate him for granting one of her last wishes? 

“Be careful.” My smoky exhale sent my request off in a cloud of vapor, but Wade nodded.

“You know I’d never do anything to hurt your grandmother.” He leveled his dark eyes on me, and I shivered at the force of his gaze. He reached across the truck’s cab and gave my arm a pat. “Lack of control over the grand scheme of things is the hardest thing to accept. Sometimes all you can do is put yourself out there and let the wind blow you where it will. That includes your thing with Deputy Sourpuss.”

What the hell did that mean? Wade didn’t give me the chance to ask. He climbed out of the truck and ambled across the yard to his motorcycle. Flustered, I scurried to Myra Donaldson’s front door and completed our business. By the time I handed Wade his half of the money, he had his motorcycle running and didn’t seem interested in conversation. He mounted his iron horse, waved at me, and roared off. 

That left me with nothing to do but take care of the favor I promised Dean. Despite my pledge to take care of his house, the prospect of being in there alone made me uncomfortable. It implied a seriousness to our relationship I wanted but was scared to have. I got back in Eddie’s old truck and drove off, still puzzling over Wade Hill, worrying about Memaw, and wishing Dean could take care of his own business.

Chapter 3

A few minutes later, I found myself alone in Dean’s house for the first time. I noticed the smell of old wallpaper and ruined floor coverings a lot more than when Dean and I spent time here together. Despite my offers to help Dean spiff things up, the place looked the same as the first time I visited. Strips of wallpaper brushed my bare arms and cracked linoleum moved under my feet as I headed for the bedroom. 

I didn’t like going through the pockets of Dean’s uniform pants. But his wallet was right where he said it would be. I packed it in a box he told me I’d find in the laundry room but hated the way it rattled around. Knowing Dean subscribed to at least one newspaper, I searched for the stack of newspapers most people kept around just in case. They weren’t in the laundry room, and they weren’t in any of the other places I checked. Unease tightening my muscles, I decided to check the garage. The key was right there on a pegboard, carefully labeled in Dean’s blocky handwriting.

Dean’s house had a detached garage. As far as I knew, he never used it. The ratty Trans Am he bought from a police auction back in South Louisiana always sat in his driveway. I unlocked the garage expecting to find piles of junk, all the stuff he hadn’t bothered to move into his run-down house. What I found shocked the shit out of me.

There in the garage, surrounded by floating dust motes illuminated by the sun streaming into the windows, sat Dean’s ratty Trans Am. Musty air tickling my nose and questions flooding my mind, I walked a slow circle around the car. Why hadn’t he mentioned not taking the Trans Am? Even better question, what did he drive to Louisiana? Gaslight City’s lone car dealership rented cars. Had he rented a car from them? If so, why didn’t he leave the Trans Am at their lot? 

I opened the Trans Am’s driver side door, not really knowing what answers I expected to find there. The interior of the car was no different than the last time I’d ridden in it. In fact, the cigarette lighter I’d given up for lost lay in the floorboard on the passenger side. I leaned across the car and snagged it, slamming my elbow on the glove box. I slid into the driver’s seat and stared the little hidey hole. Opening it would put my actions firmly in the arena of snooping. 

Of all the thoughts clamoring for attention, one voice rose above all the others—my old friend Self-Doubt. The Dean I don’t really know might be in that box. The one who never talks about the past and whose eyes sometimes focus on a distant spot over my shoulder. The one who sometimes comes back from that place irritable and morose. 

That thought gave me pause. Dean’s weird mood swings never went further than silence and distractedness. I’d learned to recognize them for what they were and leave him alone while he worked things out. He always showed up a day or two later with flowers or a small gift and kisses that made me forget to ask what happened. Dean was a really good kisser. I also considered him the best boyfriend I’d ever had.

Or was he? We spent the majority of our time together naked. We talked about plans for the future, but not plans of a future together. When our relationship started, I decided to put my worries and expectations aside and just let things happen. And they had. Many times. But now, sitting in this car, I wondered again what I didn’t know about Dean. 

My hand, almost on its own, shot out and opened the glove box. A spill of papers bulged out of it. Heart pounding, feeling a hundred kinds of guilty, I plucked one from the top. It was a receipt from Wolfgang Puck’s Five Sixty in Dallas. I’d never been to the place myself but Amanda King, the proprietress of the most popular beauty shop in town, bragged about her husband taking her there for a romantic weekend getaway. The receipt—which listed two of everything—indicated Dean had not dined in the restaurant alone.

Cheeks burning, I shoved the receipt back into the glove box and slammed it closed. Sure I could look for more, but what good would it do me? A year ago, I’d have sent Dean an impulsive and nasty “we’re over” text message. Soothe the emotional pain with having been the one to end things. If I hated anything, it was giving someone else the power to hurt me. But Wade Hill had a point. 

Sure, I could save myself some hurt feelings by building a wall of control between me and the world. But I also might miss out on some good stuff. If I never got up the nerve to live life in permanent marker, I’d never really experience it. 

If I wanted to confront Dean over any of this—and I wasn’t sure I had a real reason to—doing it via text message while he was tending to a family crisis was the wrong way to go about it. I’d send him his wallet and think things over while I waited for him to come home. 

 I found Dean’s stack of newspapers, packed up the wallet, and called the bank. The girl who answered the phone told me I still had thirty minutes before the overnight delivery service picked up. I pulled into the bank parking lot with twenty minutes to spare and hustled into the bank.

***

Gaslight City’s First Bank and Trust smelled like the peppermint candy they left out for customers. Fresh flowers sat on the long wooden library table where customers filled out deposit slips. The air conditioner ran full blast, raising chill bumps on my arms and cooling my sweat dampened clothes. 

“What can we help you with today, Peri Jean?” Jill Frankens, the bank manager, always made a point to speak to me when I came to the bank. It surprised me because she graduated high school a couple of years ahead of me and we never became pals before or after that. She approached me smiling and shook my hand.  

“I need to leave a package for the overnight delivery service.”

The expression on Jill’s face said it all. “Oh, girl, they came and went an hour ago.”

“But I called not ten minutes ago, and whoever I talked to told me I still had thirty minutes.” There was no use in arguing, but I wanted an explanation.

Jill  slumped. “I’m so sorry. We’re training a new girl. She’s doing the best she can, but today has been confusing for her.” Jill tipped her head at a red-faced girl behind the counter. We both waved to her. The flustered girl waved back, her mouth jumping as though she wanted to cry. 

I thanked Jill and left. No matter how I felt about what I found in Dean’s car, I wanted to honor my promise to get his wallet to him. The best I could do was make the first pickup the next morning. But Dean would still get his wallet one day late.

On the way home, thoughts of the receipt in Dean’s car played hell with my confidence. On a whim, I decided to deliver Dean’s wallet to him. That receipt was going to drive me crazy until I could look in Dean’s eyes and judge whether he was on his way out of the relationship. To hell with the high road. To hell with living in permanent marker. I had to know. But the thing about knowing is that you can never un-know. 

Memaw met me at the door. “Is Dean’s father okay? What happened to him? Elaine Watson didn’t know.”

“Dean said he broke his arm and had a spell, thought it was a heart attack. The hospital is keeping him for testing. Now you know everything I know, except that Dean forgot his wallet. I missed the last overnight delivery pickup, so I’m going to drive it to him.”

“All right, what happened?” Memaw raised her eyebrows and put her hands on her hips. She knew me better than just about anybody else.

I shrugged, and Memaw narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. I angled around her and headed for the laundry room. “How was your motorcycle ride?”

“Oh, so it’s like that. You’re not going to tell me what’s going on , what’s got your eyes all wild and your pulse beating in your neck. Fine. Let’s talk about the motorcycle ride. It was fantastic. I wish I had done it thirty years ago.” She followed me into the laundry room and helped me sort clothes. “Wade said he’d take me anytime I wanted. He’s a nice guy, isn’t he?”

“Absolutely. Hard worker, too.” I glanced at Memaw, wondering where she was headed.

“Did you know he used to teach English?” Memaw never took her attention off the clothes, her liver-spotted hands grabbing garments and tossing them into the correct pile with lightning speed. I, on the other hand, dropped the stain remover stick on the laundry room floor where it rolled out of my reach. 

“No, he didn’t. He’s playing with you. Wade likes to joke.”

“He wasn’t joking about this.” Memaw finished her pile of clothes and regarded me, her obsidian eyes boring into me. “I’m thinking about training him to take over my tutoring business.”

The unspoken hung between us, and my throat throbbed with unshed tears. I couldn’t handle losing her. But what else could I do? I swallowed the grief and pulled myself into the moment. 

“How do you think your clients’ parents will react to that?” 

“Either they’ll accept it or they won’t.” She shrugged. “I’ll be dead, and Wade won’t be any poorer than he is now.”  

I started the washer without speaking. Memaw’s acceptance of whatever lay ahead upset me. How could she be okay with any of this? 

“So you’re set on taking Dean’s wallet to him?” Memaw held open the laundry room door and motioned me to pass through. 

“Yep. I’m going to do his laundry, then I’m going to bed. I’ll leave at three o’clock in the morning. The drive’s about eight hours, so I’ll get there in the morning and still have time to drive back here if I need to.” I headed down the hall to my bedroom, planning what I’d pack in my overnight bag.

“You sure that’s the right thing for you to do? Barge in on him like that?” she called after me.

I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, but hell if I wasn’t going anyway. In less than eight hours, Dean had implied he wanted to take the next step in our relationship, and I’d found evidence to the contrary in his car. That receipt wasn’t from a dinner with an old college buddy. From what Amanda King said, that place was the first course of a five-course romantic weekend. 

“Well, I’m about to find out.” If Dean wanted to take the next step in our relationship, I needed more information about his long-term intentions. This was yet another example of me trying to steer events, but I couldn’t help myself. 

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