"Well if it isn't Miss Heidi McClure," a familiar, deep voice drawled from behind me. I grit my teeth and turned.
"Jeremy Grady," I muttered, contemplating chucking the apple in my hand at his head.
"I ain't seen you in a hot minute!" he whooped. I cringed as people began to stare.
"Can you please keep it down?" I scolded in a stage whisper, teeth clenched. Jeremy laughed, much to my irritation.
"What are you doin' back in town? I didn't think we'd ever see the likes of you again."
I straightened my posture. "I'm here to settle some things," I replied, turning my back to him to select more apples. Jeremy reached around me, plucked one up, and started eating. I stared at him in horror. "You aren't going to pay for that?!"
He grinned, the same grin that used to make my heart stop, and took another bite. I pushed my buggy further down the aisle, plucking up a lemon. It felt perfectly ripe so I set it in my cart and continued down the aisle.
"OHMIGOD, HEIDI?!" I winced at the screeching voice and turned to see my best friend from high school charging at me.
"Jessie!" I laughed as she nearly knocked me over with her embrace.
She pushed me out to arm's length and looked me over. "You're a little on the thin side," she chided, "but you're lookin' good, Sister. Jeremy's gonna fall over dead when he sees you!"
"Sadly, he did not," I replied, glancing over my shoulder to where Jeremy had been. Jessie squeezed my shoulders.
"Oh, honey, it still hurts doesn't it?" She pulled me into another embrace. I held on tightly, pushing the past back to where it belonged.
"I'm sorry about your mama," Jessie said, again holding me out to arm's length.
"Yeah," I said, not knowing how to respond. "The cancer took us all by surprise." Jessie nodded.
"Is that why you're back?" she whispered, leaning close.
"Yeah," I said again dumbly. "I'm just going to settle some things and then get as far away as I can." Jessie looked at me with sympathy and understanding. She was the one person from this town I still kept in touch with, and she'd even come to visit me a couple of times over the years.
"Well hey, there's going to be a big bonfire tonight at the old Neely farm. I'm sure folks would love to see you again if you feel up to coming!" I nodded.
"I'll try to come."
"I know you will, Sugar. But don't force yourself if it's too much."
"I love you, Jessie," I said, hugging her again. "I need to get some things done but we'll see each other before I leave, I promise. Jessie air-kissed my cheeks and hurried away.
I drove up to my childhood home, following the winding driveway up a slight incline until the trees broke. The blue clapboard farmhouse hadn't changed, except where nature touched it. Aside from the faded color and sagging porch, it looked every bit as I remembered.
I got out of my truck, retrieved my groceries, and headed inside. Time stood still as I crossed the threshold. The small table stood just inside the door to my right, old pink rotary phone and notepad still sitting on top; the wooden stairs leading to the second floor with its built in bench and hidden compartment we used for shoes; and to the left, the living room with furniture still arranged just as mama had had it. Straight ahead was the swinging door to the kitchen.
I walked across the foyer and pushed through the kitchen door then screamed when I saw the man on his back, head under the sink. A curse word escaped his mouth as he sat up, presumably hitting his head on piping. He shimmied out from beneath the cabinet, leaning slightly back on one hand, his other draped over bent knee in a look he knew used to send my heart racing.
"Jeremy, what are you doing here?!" Anger flashed before me.
"Takin' care of the place," he replied coolly.
"This is my house," I responded through clenched teeth. "I don't need you 'taking care of it'."
Jeremy scoffed and scooted back under the sink. In another time I would've found the scene humorous: a 6'4" toned man confined to a tiny space. Now, I just found his presence annoying.
I set my groceries on the old Formica table, still covered with a sheet, put the perishables in the fridge behind me, and stomped out, my boots ringing hollow on the old wooden floors. Jumping back into my truck, I drove back into town to visit Mama's lawyer.
"What do you mean, Mr. Beaufort?"
"Your mother left 50% of her house to you, and 50% to a Mr. Jeremy Grady." The lawyer pushed the papers across his desk to show me.
"No, this has to be some mistake," I said to myself in disbelief. "Mama knew how much I hated him. She wouldn't have done this to me!"
"I'm sorry Miss McClure, this is her signed will."
My heart sank. I mumbled a thanks, gathered my copy, and drove back to the farmhouse. When I reentered the kitchen, I noticed the groceries I had purchased were put away. I grit my teeth again. "This has got to stop!"
The sound of a circular saw permeated the air and my blood boiled. I walked past the stove and sink, past a small pantry and half-bathroom, then pushed open the screen door. It slammed shut behind me and the saw turned off. Jeremy turned, arms crossed across a now-bare chest.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked. After all these years he still knew how to get under my skin. My anger boiled over.
"Why didn't you tell me you were half owner of this place? You could've told me when I was here! And you have no right putting away my groceries. You have no idea where things go! And how did you even get on the will in the first place?! What did you do?!"
Jeremy, unfazed, watched me until I'd run out of accusations. Though I couldn't see his brown eyes, they bore into me until I stopped yelling, and stood seething.
"First of all," he said, his long drawl exaggerated, "what fun would it have been to tell you I had half of the estate? I wouldn't have witnessed your fine rear end stomping off down the hallway, your dress swaying at the back of your sexy thighs." I felt my face flush and hoped it wasn't noticeable. Jeremy's slight change in expression told me he had noticed.
"Second, I thought I'd do somethin' nice for ya. Apples are in the fridge which, by the way, you're welcome. I only had the electricity turned on just last week. Spices and everything else are in the pantry or the built-in next to the fridge, where your mama used to keep them; and lastly," he paused, his voice softening. "I don't know. I was workin' one day when I got a call from Mr. Beaufort askin' me to come in. When he told me about your mama's house I couldn't move for a solid two minutes. I'm sorry," he said quietly, reaching out to touch my arm like he used to. The sincerity of those two words and the gentle gesture would've been my undoing. I moved out of his grasp.
"Well, in a few days I'll sell you my half and be out of your hair," I said, moving back toward the door. The air was suddenly thick with tension but I kept moving, relaxing only when the screen door slammed shut behind me.
I immediately set about making apple crisp that may have won me more than a couple of blue ribbons at the County Fair back in the day. On a whim I decided to make two: one to drop off with Granny and Gramps, and one for the Neely bonfire tonight.
By the time I left Granny and Gramps' place, the sun had already began to set. I turned onto the county road that led to the Neely Farm, and turned down the long drive leading to the old farmstead. The glow of the bonfire could be seen from a mile away.
I parked in a thicket of other pickups, grabbed my tray of apple crisp and hopped out. Spotting Jessie almost immediately, I hurried over to her.
"You came!!!" she screeched again at an ungodly decibel. Laughing, I handed over my pan of apple crisp and we hugged. "I'm so glad you came! Oh, there are so many people you need to see!"
Jessie set the pan down and dragged me around, reintroducing me to the people I knew another lifetime ago.
After making my rounds, I found myself leaning against an old tractor and staring into the fire, lost in thought.
"I'd know your apple crisp out of a million. You haven't lost your touch," Jeremy said around a mouthful of food. I rolled my eyes.
"What are you doing here, Jeremy?"
"Come with me, Heidi. I need to talk to you," he said, his voice growing husky. My tummy fluttered, annoying me; I knew that tone.
"Fine," I grumbled, following him over to one of the barns. He leaned against the metal fence and I could feel his gaze on me. I hooked my arms through one of the slats and stared off into the pasture. Tank, the black angus bull, lurked somewhere beyond. I could hear him and the heifers communicating.
"I'm sorry, Heidibear," Jeremy began, his voice low and husky.
"Don't call me that," I hissed. "You lost that right the night we were going to elope. You didn't even show!"
"I was there," he stepped closer to me, touching my cheek. I waved his hand away, fighting back tears. "You stood by that bench at the lake for over an hour. You looked so beautiful with your hair down, wearing that white dress I liked, with the big, pink roses. You were also holding a pink sweater and even wore those brown cowboy boots with the metal tips I'd bought you for your birthday.
"I was there," he repeated, softly.
I turned, facing him, hot tears burning my cheeks. I opened my mouth to say something--anything--but nothing came out. Jeremy stepped closer, cautiously touching my arms.
"I couldn't let you marry me," he continued. Even in the dark, far from the bonfire, I could see deep hurt and regret in his eyes. The dam I built to hold back emotions began to crack.
"Why?" I whispered, trying my best not to start sobbing.
"You deserved so much more than a country boy with barely two nickels to rub together-"
"How do you get to decide what I deserve?!" I cried out angrily, swiping at my tears. "You were my world, Jeremy! I absolutely crumbled when you didn't show! I had to see a therapist for months after that day."
"My God, I had no idea Heidi," he said, his anguished voice barely audible. He cupped my face in his hands, stroking my cheeks gently with his thumbs. "I was a fool. I didn't believe we could survive your dreams so I let you go to achieve them on your own. I'm so proud of the woman you've become!, but I've been kickin' myself ever since that day. I'm sorry, Heidi. Please believe me."
I stood staring up at him, the anger I'd been hanging onto all these years melting away. Emotions warred internally for a split second, then I stood on tiptoes and slid my arms around his neck, pressing my lips to his. He inhaled sharply in surprise, but slid his hands down, tightening his arms around me, and kissed back with all the promises of a happy future.
About the Creator
Coffee gets me started; my toddler keeps me haggard.
I've always had a passion for writing but fear has stopped me from sharing my work with anyone. Vocal is my push to step out of my comfort zone.