Book Signing

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I want to let all my local friends know that I will be doing a book signing at Union Avenue Books in downtown Knoxville tomorrow, Saturday the 27th from 11-3. If you are going to be at the Farmer’s Market or just hanging out in Market Square, come by and see me! I will have plenty of copies of “Little River: Vol 2!”

Also, for all my non-local friends, if you would like an autographed copy of “Vol 2,” you can now order them from my website through PayPal. If you don’t already have a copy of “Vol 1,” you can get both volumes for a special price of $20. (That’s a five dollar savings.)

Don’t forget, “Vol 2” has exclusive content you can only get by purchasing the book!

Thanks, Guys!

Book Release

Today’s the day!

I’m so excited to announce that Little River: Vol 2 is now available in paperback and Kindle versions!

If you’ve followed the serial week by week, be sure to get a copy of Vol 2, because it includes an exclusive Little River Story. Going Home tells the story of Kyle Anderson, Lexi’s missing brother. If you wanted to know more about where he disappeared to for seven years, you’re going to want to get a copy of this book and find out! Going Home is only available in Vol 2, so you won’t be able to read it online. You don’t want to miss it!

To celebrate its release, I’m doing a giveaway! If you want to be entered to win an autographed copy of Little River: Vol 2, all you have to do is sign up for my quarterly newsletter by messaging me your email address. I will randomly draw a winner one week from today.

Click here to order your copy of Little River: Vol 2!

Summer Hiatus and Announcements

Hey, Everyone! I hope you enjoyed Little River: Vol 2. I meant to have this post up a little closer to when I posted the conclusion, but, man, summer has been so busy already!

Because of the busyness of summer with six children and because of wanting to take a little break, I am taking a hiatus from Little River. While I won’t be posting weekly chapters over the summer, I will be working on something for you. I’m including Bonus Material in the paperback and Kindle versions of Little River: Vol 2. This will probably be in the form of a couple of short stories or a novella about some of your favorite Little River characters. I hope it will be a nice incentive to invest in a hard copy of Vol 2!

Now, for a couple of announcements . . .

I’m really excited to announce that, after running Little River: Vol 1 in it’s entirety, the editor of the Morgan County Today wants to run Vol 2, as well! This is exciting news for me, and I’m really proud to collaborate with the Morgan County Today in this way.

Secondly, I’m excited to be a part of a book sale/signing at the Lenoir City Arts and Crafts Festival this Saturday with the Author’s Guild of Tennessee. If you are local, I’d love to see you and sell you a book. There will be several other local authors there, and it’s a great opportunity to #ReadLocal! So, come and support your local author’s and enjoy what I hear is a fantastic annual Festival!

 

Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 25 – Conclusion

If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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Josiah found the sound of leaves crunching beneath his feet a comfort, even though Crockett’s absence was never more apparent than when Josiah was in the woods. When he could hear nothing but the barking of squirrels overhead and birdsong all around, he started to feel the tension leave his body. If he could build a cabin and live up on the mountain, he would. It was only his loyalty to his aging parents and the farm he grew up on that kept him in town.

Josiah’s stride lengthened as he crested the ridge and the terrain leveled off. He had no intended destination, and yet he felt a distinct sense of purpose with every step, almost like he had an appointment to keep. A stirring in the leaves nearby caused him to stop and listen. After a moment, he spotted a chipmunk busy collecting nuts under a massive oak tree.

Pushing through a particularly thick stand of mountain laurel, Josiah gasped as the way opened up in front of him. The path in front of him was no more than a deer trail, but the sunlight cut through the trees overhead and shone directly on the path, illuminating a small piece of quartz that sparkled in the sunlight. Something about the combination of the sunlight on the quartz and the wide open view in front of him made Josiah feel expectant. He picked up the quartz and dropped it in his pocket, and carefully made his way to the place he hadn’t realized he was headed.

Taylor’s Jump Off was a bluff not visited by many people. People frequented other bluffs on this mountain that were easier to get to, but, though it was the least visited, Taylor’s Jump Off was the most talked about. Josiah could still remember the first time he came here with his Papaw. The old man had made him hold his hand, even though he was nearly twelve. The panoramic view was seen easily enough from several spots, once you fought your way to the clearing, but the ledge Josiah was working his way toward had the most magnificent view he had ever seen. His papaw warned him not to try to get down to the ledge; several people had fallen and been injured or killed attempting the short descent to the granite outcrop. Papaw had said it was suicide to attempt, and then told him how Zeke Taylor had done just that after he lost his wife and kids in a fire. He left a note under his hat at the base of a tree, climbed down to the ledge and jumped off. That was seventy odd years ago, but the spot was still called Taylor’s Jump Off.

Josiah smiled to himself, remembering how he had climbed back up the mountain just a few days after his papaw had showed him the spot and climbed down to the Jump Off. Telling Josiah not to do something was pretty much the same as giving him a direct commission to do it. Taking care not to lose his footing, he lowered himself the final two feet to the granite ledge. Getting down was easy; getting back up was the tricky part.

Once he found a spot to sit, he looked around and sighed. The view was worth the danger. Jutting out from the rest of the mountainside, the Jump Off allowed an unobstructed view of nothing but treetops below and another mountain across the valley. Off to the left, you could barely see the Little River snaking its way through the valley. Josiah inhaled the crisp air and closed his eyes. The peace was almost palpable.

Unbidden, the memory of Ezra’s visit a week ago came to mind, and Josiah remembered the words he had said, “There’s peace to be had, but I only know one way to find it.”

Josiah thought about all the times he had sat through church and wished he was in the woods. All the sermons he tuned out paled in comparison to the integrity of the wind in the trees. Remembering Ezra saying he met Jesus in the woods, Josiah rolled his eyes, and then laughed at himself for doing it. There was no one around to see his disdain. No one else to laugh with him over the Sunday School version of a white-robed, scarlet-sashed Jesus strolling through the forest. No one else around, yet Josiah felt strongly that he was not alone.

Feeling silly from the moment his lips parted, he said aloud, “I’m here if You’re here.”

Josiah shook his head, feeling foolish. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of quartz. Holding it up to the sunlight, he admired the way it sparkled. He had always been a sucker for the pretty things he found in the woods. His dresser was covered with the various items he brought home.

As Josiah’s thoughts wandered, he suddenly had a very vivid memory of sitting with his Papaw on his back porch. There was a large creek rock balanced on the porch railing with a Bible verse painted in his Papaw’s shaky block lettering. Josiah had sat there so many times that he had memorized the verse on the rock. “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

            “Why did you paint that rock?” Josiah had asked.

“To remind me that God takes care of me,” Papaw had answered. “A long time ago, I went through a dark time. I was tired and scared, and I used to go down to the creek to pray. One day, God gave me that verse while I was sitting by the creek. I carried home that rock and painted that verse to remind me.”

Josiah had only nodded, and pushed himself back and forth in the old porch swing. Now, the memory of his Papaw’s words and the intensity with which he spoke them flooded Josiah’s mind.

“I guess You are here,” Josiah whispered. “I’m here, too.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 24

  If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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“Thanks for meeting me,” Brady’s voice sounded tired.

“Of course,” Titus answered, taking a sip of the beer the waitress had just set in front of him, “what’s going on?”

“I just wanted to talk,” Brady shrugged, tasting his own drink, “it’s been a while, Man.”

“It really has,” Titus agreed. “Too long. Knoxville is not that far from Little River. It shouldn’t keep us from hanging out.”

“I know. I’ve just been so busy.” Brady paused for the waitress to set a basket of wings in front of them. “How’ve you been?”

“Same as you, Man,” Titus shrugged. “Busy. The new firm is running me ragged.”

“How’s Jamie? And the boys?”

“They’re good. Caleb’s going to spend a month in Little River this summer.”

“With Robbie?”

“Yeah.”

“That’ll be good for him.”

“Yeah,” Titus nodded, “he’s been pretty down since Megan broke up with him.”

“What happened with that anyway?”

Titus shrugged. “They’re sixteen and she lives two hours away.”

Brady took a big swig of his beer before saying, “I guess I’m not the only one having girl problems.”

“You sound like a girl,” Titus teased. “Should we go get a manicure after we eat?”

“Shut up,” Brady grinned. “You’re supposed to be sweet and sensitive. In tune with my feelings and stuff.”

“Stereotypes lie, Man.” Titus grinned at his friend.

“I guess so.” Brady couldn’t help but smile despite his mood. “’cause you’re a jerk.”

Titus shrugged, his mouth full of chicken. Swallowing, he asked, “So what’s wrong? I thought things were going well with Lexi.”

“Things aren’t going at all with Lexi,” Brady said, his smile disappearing. “She called it off for good.”

“Aw, man. I’m sorry.”

“Me, too,” Brady drained his glass, before adding, “I thought it was going somewhere.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing, really. She just decided it was too complicated because of Dalton. Brittany even went and talked to her, told her she would tell Dalton that Lexi’s his aunt. The whole nine yards. She was happy about that, but said we were done. I went by and saw her last week. She was nice, but didn’t even let me come in. Told me on the doorstep that she didn’t want a relationship right now.”

“That sucks.” Titus wasn’t joking around anymore. He could see how sad Brady was. “Maybe you smothered her?”

“Smothered her?”

“Yeah,” Titus nodded. “Came on too strong. Maybe she’ll change her mind.”

“Maybe.”

“There’s other fish in the sea, you know.”

“That’s such a cliché.”

“It’s true. Lexi’s not the only girl around.”

“It’s not that I’m desperate for a girlfriend,” Brady’s irritation at the insinuation caused his cheeks to flush bright pink, “I just really like her, Man. I have for forever.”

“I know.”

“I thought it was going somewhere.”

“I know, Man.”

After eating in silence for a few minutes, watching the game on the overhead television, Titus asked, “How’s your dad doing?”

“The same.”

“Still forgetting who people are?”

“Yeah.”

“Dang,” Titus sighed. “You’ve got a lot weighing on you right now, don’t you?”

Brady nodded. “At least business is good. I can’t take Dad with me anymore. He’s gotten too bad. But I’ve had to hire two more guys, and have two full crews now.”

“That’s awesome!”

“Yeah,” Brady agreed. “At least I’ve got one thing going for me right now.”

“Hey,” Titus suggested, “why don’t you come over and hang out with us tonight? We’re going to watch a movie.”

“What movie?”

“I don’t know. Spiderman or Superman or something.” Titus rolled his eyes. “Travis is such a geek when it comes to superhero stuff.”

Brady laughed. “Who’s the girl now?”

 

Four hours later, Brady took the Little River exit slower than normal. He was too tired to be driving. After working all day, eating dinner with Titus, and then watching a movie and playing basketball with Caleb in their driveway, Brady was afraid he would fall asleep at the wheel.

He had been avoiding his usual route home which took him past Lexi’s house, but tonight he was too tired to take the long way. As her house appeared in the distance, he was surprised to see her front porch light on. He slowed his speed even more as he approached, checking the clock on his dash. It was one in the morning.

Right before he got to her house, he spied her sitting on her porch steps, her head in her hands. Against his better judgment, he pulled his truck to a stop on the street just past her mailbox. She didn’t even look up until he shut his truck door with a loud bang.

“You scared the daylights out of me!” Lexi said as he walked the short distance between them. She looked rough. Her eyes were swollen from crying, and her nose was red and raw-looking. Her long hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun; her slim body was lost in the folds of a giant sweater.

“I’m sorry,” Brady took a tentative step toward her, and was surprised when she scooted over, making room for him on the step.

“What are you even doing here?” Lexi shook her head slightly. “It’s crazy late.”

“I’m not stalking you, I promise,” Brady joked. “I was on my way home.”

“Where’ve you been out so late?”

“Knoxville.” Brady answered. “Went to see Titus.”

Lexi nodded, balling a used tissue in her tiny, white hand.

“What’s wrong?”

“My brother called.” Tears slipped down Lexi’s cheeks the moment she started to explain. Her voice breaking, she added, “I had to tell him Mom died.”

“Oh, god,” Brady didn’t know what to do. He wanted to sweep her up in his arms and tell her it was going to be okay, but she had told him in no uncertain terms she wasn’t interested.

“I’ve not talked to him in years,” Lexi choked out. “He got worried when he tried to call Mom and her phone was disconnected. He called around to Mom’s friends until he caught someone at home and they gave him my number. They didn’t tell him she died. They just told him to call me.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Me, too!” Lexi’s plaintive cry came out like a child’s whimper.

Brady was lifting his hand to hold hers when she turned and flung herself into his arms. “Shh,” he whispered into her hair. “It’s all going to be alright.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 23

 If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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Sitting on a bench beside the water, Lexi felt very self-conscious. When Brittany asked to meet her at the park, her initial reaction was to say ‘no.’ After a couple days, she decided to say ‘yes.’ She wanted to know what Brittany had to say. Everything about it felt strange and awkward, though. She felt like she was sneaking around. Not only did Brittany insist on Lexi coming alone, necessitating her asking her elderly neighbor to let the girls stay with her for the afternoon, but she also insisted they meet at the park. It all felt so clandestine.

“Lexi?”

Lexi looked up to see Brady’s younger sister standing nearby. She looked nervous.

Without waiting for a response, Brittany said, “I’m sorry I’m late. Dalton’s bus was late and I got behind.”

“No problem.” Lexi scooted to one end of the bench so Brittany could sit down. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to talk to you about Dalton.” She didn’t look at Lexi as she talked. Instead, she watched the wind blowing the leaves of the tree they sat beneath. “How’s he doing in school?”

Surprised, Lexi answered, “He’s doing great. He’s one of my best students.” After a pause, she added, “You know you can schedule a parent-teacher meeting if you have any questions about his progress.”

Brittany nodded. “That’s not really what I wanted to talk about.”

Lexi waited. This whole interaction was incredibly awkward.

“I wanted to explain why I did what I did.” She paused, biting her bottom lip. Her hands were shaking.

“What do you mean?” Lexi knew what she meant, but Brittany seemed as if she needed help getting the conversation started.

“Brady told you what happened with me and Kyle?”

Lexi nodded.

“I was just a kid,” Brittany’s words were defensive. “I was trying to protect him. I really loved him.”

“But you lied to him,” Lexi attempted to keep the judgment from her voice.

“I know,” Brittany sounded defeated. “I was trying to do the right thing, but I probably didn’t.”

“My mom never knew her grandson.” Lexi, too, stared at the leaves, as if the gentle waving could alleviate the tension between the two women.

“I’m sorry.” Brittany sighed. “To be honest with you, I never really thought about Kyle’s family. I was a kid. I couldn’t see past my own problems.”

“We would have loved to have been a part of Dalton’s life,” tears burned the back of Lexi’s eyelids, “and we could have helped.”

“I didn’t need help.” Brittany lifted her chin. “I took care of Dalton. My parents helped when I needed it. But I did what it took to take care of him.”

“I understand.” Lexi fought to keep the anger that was threatening to rise under control. “I wasn’t saying you didn’t do a good job. I just meant, we could have helped . . . because we wanted to. Not because you needed it.”

Brittany exhaled, and balled her fists in her lap. “It was really hard. I missed Kyle so bad I couldn’t stand it, and I hated lying to him. When I told him I had . . . ended the pregnancy . . . it was because I was really planning to do it. But, when it came down to it, I just couldn’t.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“You are?”

“Of course,” Lexi turned in her seat to face the other woman. “I’m really, really sad that I missed out on six years of my nephew’s life, but I’m glad to be in his life now. Even if it’s just as his teacher. He’s really great.”

“He really is!” There was urgency in Brittany’s voice as a tear escaped down her cheek. “I made a lot of mistakes with how I handled things, but Dalton was not a mistake.”

“Of course he wasn’t.” Lexi reached for her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “You did what you thought was best.”

“You really are nice,” Brittany sniffed. “Dalton and Brady won’t shut up about how nice you are.” She chuckled. “And how pretty.”

Lexi blushed at the thought of Brady saying she was pretty.

“Where is Kyle?” Brittany suddenly asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I’ve not heard from him in years.” Lexi let go of the other girl’s hand and wrapped her arms around herself. “He used to call my mom ever so often, but he would never tell her where he was. He doesn’t even know she died.”

“Oh, wow.” Brittany’s voice broke as one tear after another dripped off her chin. “It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”

“No,” Lexi shook her head, “he was an adult. He’s a grown man now. He has to own his own choices.”

“I broke his heart.” Brittany sniffed and wiped at her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt.

“I think you broke your own, too.” Lexi reached for Brittany’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “It’s okay.”

“It was.” Brittany shivered in the crisp air. “Until you showed up and everything got stirred up.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Brittany admitted. “I just thought . . . well, I thought it was all behind me. And now you’re Dalton’s teacher? And my brother is in love with you? This is crazy.”

Lexi’s heart skipped a beat. “Brady’s not in love with me. We’ve barely dated. We’re not dating anymore.”

“Whatever,” Brittany shook her head, “it is what it is, but he’s really hung up on you. That’s why I wanted to talk to you today.”

“Because of Brady?”

“Yeah.” Brittany pulled her hand back, and fished in her purse for a tissue. “Brady’s my best friend. He’s been a really good brother to me and a really great uncle to Dalton. I want him to be happy. He thinks you will make him happy. So . . . I wanted to straighten things out with us so that you and Brady can do what you want to do. I don’t want to stand in the way of my brother being happy.”

Lexi’s mind was racing. “What do you mean, ‘straighten things out?’”

Brittany shrugged. “I wanted to explain things to you, and I’m going to tell Dalton you’re his aunt. So that we aren’t standing in your and Brady’s way.”

“There is no ‘me and Brady.’” Lexi took a deep breath. “Thank you for talking to me, Brittany. I appreciate it. And, if you want to tell Dalton I’m his aunt, that would be great. I’d love for him to know me as his aunt and to get to know his cousins. But, as for me and Brady, that chapter’s closed.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

The Avalon Literary Review

I’m very excited to announce that my Flash Fiction piece, “The Funeral,” has been published in the Spring Issue of the Avalon Literary Review!

I received four extra contributor copies, and I’ve decided to give them away.

13124843_10153650158573177_8267675414816874497_n Instead of a drawing, I am giving a copy to the first four readers to leave a review of “Little River: Vol 1” on Amazon. Just leave a review and then comment on this post (or on FB or Twitter) to let me know you left a review, and I will contact you to get your address. That’s it.  The first four reviews will get you a free copy of this fantastic journal with exceptional stories, poetry, and essays . . . including mine! (I’ll sign the page with my story, if you want me to.)

So, hooray for getting my Flash published, and hooray for free literature for you!

 

Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 22

        If you’ve not read the previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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Mary jerked awake, disoriented for a moment as she tried to determine what had woken her. The dim light coming through the front windows let her know she had slept most of the afternoon in her chair. The pain in her neck let her know that was a bad idea.

“Miss Mary?” The voice accompanying the quick knock on the front door startled her, but her surprise quickly turned to joy as she recognized Josiah’s voice.

“Coming!” Mary struggled out of her chair, her old joints protesting. She made it to the door with the help of her walker, and pulled it open. There Josiah stood with a plastic grocery sack in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other.

“How are you, Miss Mary?” Josiah looked a little sheepish, his blue eyes slightly downcast.

“Josiah!” Mary squeezed his arm. “Is it Thursday already? I’m so glad to see you!”

As she slowly backed out of the way, making room for Josiah to enter the house, he said, “I’m glad to see you, too, but it’s only Wednesday. I came a day early.”

Mary made her way across the room, looking over her shoulder every few steps as if to make sure he was still following her. “I look a mess, Josiah. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.”

“You look beautiful,” Josiah answered.

When they finally made it to the kitchen, Mary sunk into a chair, and said, “This weather’s getting to my bones.” She grimaced as she rubbed her hip. “Makes it hard to get around.”

Josiah set the grocery sack on the table and began pulling items out. First a carton of ice cream, then whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, and a jar of maraschino cherries.

“What’s all this?” Mary’s eyes were as wide as a little girl’s.

“Ice cream sundaes.” Josiah grinned at her. “I’m trying to make amends.”

“Whatever for?”

“For standing you up last week.” He didn’t look at her as he dished the ice cream. “I had a little bit of an accident. Hit a deer. I should have called and told you, but I wasn’t thinking. My dog died and I was kind of upset.” Josiah looked at his friend, obvious sorrow in his eyes, “I’m sorry I didn’t call.”

Mary waved her hand, dismissing his apology, “No need to be sorry. It’s fine.” She grabbed his hand and squeezed, “I’m so sorry about your dog, and I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Thanks.”

Attempting to lighten the mood, Mary said, “I can’t remember the last time a handsome man brought me flowers.”

“I don’t know about handsome.” He reached for the empty vase sitting on the counter, and ran water from the tap into it. “I don’t have a lot of experience, but I hear ladies like to get flowers with their apologies.”

Mary laughed, and dipped her spoon into the ice cream. She actually could remember the last time she received flowers from a handsome man; Arthur had given her a dozen roses on her last birthday before his first stroke. What she couldn’t remember was the last time she had ice cream. Living on a small fixed income, she never felt like she could afford little luxuries for herself. Occasionally Eva would bring her a piece of cake or pie. She had made several cakes for Josiah, but she had never thought to ask him to buy some ice cream when he picked up her groceries for her.

“How is it?” Josiah asked, placing the flowers in the middle of the table and sitting down to join her. “I didn’t know what your favorite flavor is, so I just went with vanilla. Everybody likes vanilla, right?”

Mary nodded. “Vanilla is my favorite!”

“Well, I’m glad you like it.” Josiah took a bite before adding, “And don’t think this gets you out of our Thursday dinner. Tonight was just to apologize and get back in your good graces so you’ll make me some of your famous fried chicken tomorrow.”

Mary laughed, “I’d be pleased as punch to fry you some chicken. So long as you go to the store for me. My cupboards are about bare.” When Mary saw the look of horror that flashed across Josiah’s face, she quickly said, “Oh, no! Don’t you worry. I didn’t go hungry or anything. My sister, Eva, ran out to the store for me. I’m just running out of some staples . . . can’t make your chicken and biscuits without flour and buttermilk.”

Josiah looked both guilty and relieved. “I’m awfully sorry I didn’t call. I didn’t even think about leaving you hanging without groceries.”

Mary cut him off. “I said don’t worry about it, and I mean don’t give it another thought. I’ve got a dozen ways to get groceries if I need them. What I missed was your company. I’ve grown rather fond of you.”

“Of me?”

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Mary joked.

“You are kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Mary shrugged, “Not everyone knows about my fried chicken.”

“Well, I kind of hope the secret doesn’t get out,” Josiah grinned, “I’d hate to have to share.”

“Well then I guess you’ll hate to hear this, but you’re gonna have to share tomorrow?”

“Oh, yeah?” Josiah was truly surprised.

“Yeah,” Mary couldn’t stop the wide smile that spread across her wrinkled face, “I’m watching the two little girls next door tomorrow evening. Their aunt asked if they could stay over here after school for a few hours.”

“Well, look at you, Miss Popularity!” Josiah teased. “I miss one Thursday and you’ve already replaced me.”

“I hope you don’t mind them having dinner with us,” Mary’s eyes sparkled. “It’ll be like a party, all four of us together.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.” Josiah reached for her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “And I mean that.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

Little River: V2 – Ch 21

If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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“Anybody home?”

Josiah considered staying quiet. He had heard the tires crunching the gravel in his driveway, and he heard the knock on his front door. He wasn’t in the mood for company. He thought it was probably his mom checking on him until he heard the unmistakable voice of Ezra Shepherd calling out.

“Out back,” Josiah finally called. He didn’t feel like talking, but Ezra had been too good to him through the years for him to ignore him.

It didn’t take long for the older man to find his way around to the back of the little, brick house Josiah had inherited from his grandparents. He started to get up from the back porch steps where he had been sitting for the better part of an hour but Ezra motioned for him to stay seated.

“Keep your seat.” Ezra pulled an old lawn chair from beside the porch into the patch of sunlight in front of Josiah and sat down.

“How’ve you been?” Josiah tried to be polite.

“Better than you, from what I’ve heard.” Ezra’s kind eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled.

“You been talking to Mama?”

“Yeah.” Ezra nodded, scratching his neck at the edge of his gray beard. “Ran into her at the diner. She asked me to come out and check on you. Said you’ve been having some troubles with drink.”

Josiah jerked his head up to look at his friend. “She said that?”

Ezra nodded, but didn’t say anything.

Josiah let his head drop down to study the toes of his boots. “I quit drinking.”

“You did?” Ezra sounded surprised, but not unbelieving.

“I killed my dog,” Josiah sounded tired, his voice threadbare. “I figured I better stop.”

“You killed Crocket?” Ezra asked, his bewilderment evident in his voice. “Why?”

“I was hungover and driving too fast.” Josiah quietly explained. “Hit a deer and went off the road. The impact broke his neck.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“He was my best friend.” Josiah fought the tears scalding the backs of his eyeballs. “I never loved an animal like I loved that dog.” Josiah’s jaw clenched and unclenched as he worked to keep his emotions under control. Finally, he said, “I don’t know why I was driving so damn fast. I guess I was angry.”

“Angry at what?”

“Myself, I guess.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.” Josiah clasped his hands together between his knees, his head still sunk in defeat. He felt so much shame over killing Crocket he could barely look anyone in the eye.

“Did something happen?” Ezra coaxed information out of the younger man the same way he had done in Scouts when something was bothering one of his boys.

“I slept with my buddy’s little sister.” Josiah’s head dropped even lower. “I don’t even remember it. I was drunk. I’ve been drinking too much lately.”

“How come?” Ezra asked again.

Josiah shrugged. “It relaxes me. Helps me forget things I don’t want to think about.”

“Like what?”

Josiah finally lifted his eyes to study the other man’s face, but didn’t speak.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

Josiah let a couple minutes go by before saying, “I made a mistake. I tried to take care of something for my sister, and it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. I mean, it did for a while, but then someone got hurt. A kid.”

“Okay.” Ezra was obviously puzzled by Josiah’s vague explanation.

“I don’t want to talk about it more than that,” Josiah said softly. “The kid’s okay and it won’t happen again. What I did wasn’t legal, though, and I don’t want to drag you into it.”

“Okay,” Ezra said again.

“I guess I just feel bad.” Josiah sighed at the enormity of the understatement of his words. “I screwed up, Man. I wish I could go back and do things different.”

“We all feel like that sometimes.” Ezra leaned forward in earnestness. “We can let it eat us up from the inside out if we’re not careful. We can let regret consume us, but that’s no way to live. I think you’ve learned that.”

Josiah nodded.

“Whatever you did, you have to let go of it and move on.” Ezra reached out and grasped Josiah’s knee. “You can’t change it. You can’t drink it away. You just have to make peace with yourself and move on. Don’t make the same mistakes again. That’s all any of us can do when we mess up.”

“But how do you live with yourself?” Josiah’s voice was raw with pain. “That’s my problem. I just can’t live with myself. I’m okay when I’m at the farm working, but when I get home, I just can’t deal with it. Drinking is the only thing that calms me down.”

“You already know what I’m going to say,” Ezra smiled.

“And you already know what I’m going to say,” Josiah let a weak smile creep across his face.

“We’ve been having this conversation since you were a kid, Josiah.”

“I know. Religion’s just not my thing.” Josiah stretched his back and squinted in the sunlight. “I’d rather be in the woods than in church.”

“I’m not talking about religion,” Ezra protested. “I’m talking about Jesus. Church isn’t the only place to find him. He likes the woods, too.”

“How do you know?” Josiah raised one eyebrow.

“Why do you think I spend so much time in the woods?” Ezra chuckled. “I’m a terrible hunter.”

“You’re just hanging out in the woods with Jesus?”

Ezra laughed again and nodded. “I find it’s easier to hear him out there without all the distractions.”

“He doesn’t talk to me out there,” Josiah said. “But, then again, I’m not a terrible hunter.”

“No,” Ezra smiled, “but you’ve been known to be a terrible listener now and again.”

“Not gonna argue with that.”

“Well, listen to a man who knows,” Ezra leaned forward again, searching Josiah’s face for understanding, “there’s peace to be had, but I only know one way to find it.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 20

   If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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“What’s wrong with you?” Brittany punched her brother in the shoulder as she stepped past his knees and plopped down on the couch beside of him.

“Nothing,” Brady murmured, not looking up from his phone.

“Right.”

Brady could almost hear his sister’s eyes rolling. He was not in the mood to deal with her sarcasm. She was trying to be playful, but he only found her irritating.

“Seriously,” Brittany tried again, “what’s your problem? You barely talked to anyone during dinner, and you look like your best friend just died.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Brady said, trying not to sound angry.

“Talk about what?” she prodded.

“Can you just drop it?” Brady snapped. “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Geez,” Brittany pulled out her phone and mumbled under her breath, “you don’t have to be such a dick.”

“I’m a dick?” Brady barked out a bitter laugh. He stood up quickly, causing the sofa to scoot backward, screeching against the hardwood. “Alright, Brittany. I’ll be a dick.”

Brittany watched him leave the room, her mouth agape.

“Mom?” Brady joined his mother in the kitchen. “I’ve gotta run. Got some stuff to do before it gets dark.”

“Alright, Sweetie,” his mother kissed his cheek. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Brady called over his shoulder, already halfway to the door. “Thanks for dinner.”

As he was pulling his truck door open, he heard his sister running up behind him, her flip flops slapping against the pavement. “Brady! Wait.”

Brady stopped and waited for her to reach him, but didn’t speak.

“What’s wrong, Bray?” Brittany wasn’t teasing anymore. She looked genuinely concerned about her brother.

“I really don’t want to talk about it.” This time his tone had lost its edge.

“I’m worried about you,” Brittany stepped closer and leaned against the truck. “Talk to me.”

Brady looked up at the sky for a moment and studied the clouds. He didn’t want to get into this with his sister. He slowly exhaled a deep sigh and said, “Lexi called it off with me.”

“What?” Brittany looked surprised. “Why? I thought things were going well between you two.”

“So did I,” Brady mumbled.

“So what’s the problem?”

“She said she can’t deal with you keeping Dalton a secret from her and her family.”

“What?” Brittany looked shocked and then angry. “Why? What do me and Dalton have to do with you and Lexi?”

“You’re my sister.” He shrugged and kicked at the gravel. “And Dalton’s my nephew. And she’s his aunt. But I got to be a part of his life for the last six years and she didn’t know he existed.”

“That’s not your fault, though!”

“No,” he agreed, “it’s not. But she said she can’t get past it. She said it’s too complicated.”

Brittany closed her eyes and leaned her head against the truck bed. “I’m sorry, Bray. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.”

“You did what you thought was right at the time,” Brady dismissed her apology. “It’s fine. I’m just kind of bummed right now, but I’ll get over it.”

“You really like her don’t you?”

Brady nodded. “Ever since seventh grade.”

“Dang,” she smiled at him. “That’s persistence.”

Brady shrugged and looked sheepish. “Have you seen her? She’s gorgeous. And she’s one of the most loving people I’ve ever met. I mean, I’m still getting to know her, but you should see her with her nieces. She’s really good with them. When I stopped by to see her the other day, she was trimming Miss Mary’s hedges.”

Brittany smiled at her brother. “You’ve got it bad, Bro.”

“She’s really smart, too,” he added, his cheeks turning red.

“Good lord, Brady,” Brittany laughed. “I’ve never seen you so smitten with a girl before.”

Brady laughed, too, and then remembered it was over. He heaved another sigh.

“I can fix this.” His sister sounded determined. “I’ll talk to her and fix this for you.”

“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“It would be weird.”

“So?”

“So don’t be weird.”

“I’ve always been weird.”

Brady chuckled. “That’s true.”

“It won’t be weird,” she insisted. “I’ll just explain how things were back then. I’ll tell her how things happened with Kyle, and that you didn’t know anything about it. I’ll tell her she can get to know Dalton . . . as his aunt.” She bit down on her bottom lip before adding, “And I’ll tell Dalton she’s his aunt.”

“You would do that?”

Brittany nodded.

“Why?” Brady squinted one eye against the sinking sun, trying to figure out his sister’s thought process. “You just told me the other day you didn’t want Dalton to know yet. You told me you were going to make him switch classes.”

She shrugged and offered him a half grin. “I want you to be happy. Dalton doesn’t have to know everything. He’s little enough I can just tell him Lexi is his aunt and he will just be excited. He’s not old enough to care about how she’s his aunt.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.”

Brady rolled his eyes. “Good lord, women are confusing.”

She smiled and asked, “So you’re good with me talking to her?”

“It might not change anything.”

“But it might.”

“Yeah.” Brady looked hopeful. “It might.”

“Then it’s worth a try.” Brittany slipped her hands in her jacket pockets and shrugged, looking for all the world like the eight-year-old version of herself.

“Thank you,” Brady fought to keep the tremble out of his voice. He wasn’t normally an emotional guy, and he wasn’t interested in becoming one now.

“Anything for my big bro,” Brittany grinned and threw her arms around her brother.

“Thanks,” Brady said again.

He always tried not to be too expectant about things he wanted, but he was struggling right now. The crushing disappointment after his and Lexi’s date the night before was morphing into something that felt an awful lot like hope.

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook