Close To Home (Westen Series)(9)

By: Suzanne Ferrell

“So, what’s he like?”

Suzie’s question came out of the blue.


“Doc Ray’s nephew. Amanda Yoder said he’s a dead ringer for that actor on TV. You know the one that plays the Navy lawyer.”

Emma thought about it. No, Clint wasn’t that pretty. Definitely handsome. Yes, he’d always been handsome. “He’s nice looking, I suppose, but I wouldn’t call him movie-star gorgeous.”

“So, tell me what he’s like.”

“Besides arrogant, opinionated and a busybody?”

Suzie cringed. “That bad, huh?”

“Worse. Do you know he threatened to report me to the county Child Protection Agency for neglect?” Emma toyed with her glass, her anger heating up.

“Oh no, because of today?”

“Yes. Seems the good doctor thinks me an unfit mother.”

Her friend laid her hand on Emma’s, stopping her fidgeting with the glass. “He can’t believe that. You’re a great mother. I’ll go speak with him about it.”

Emma shook her head. “No, that’s okay Suzie. The man didn’t even wait for me to explain and I’m sure he won’t listen to you either. I think the best thing to do is just keep the boys away from him as much as possible.”

* * *

The dinner crowd at the Peaches ‘N Cream Café was a mixture of townsfolk, truckers, and tourists on their way home from a day of shopping in the Amish country in northeast Ohio. The chatter sounded like the school cafeteria at lunchtime, except here a jukebox played a mix of Beatles classics, Elvis and old country standards.

Emma maneuvered her way through the tables spaced far enough apart to accommodate the fire code and still pack in plenty of customers to make Lorna a profit. Emma carried a round tray laden with the Tuesday evening special—meatloaf and mashed potatoes with Lorna’s special brown gravy, steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Emma had suggested the less fattening vegetables after she calculated the fat content of Lorna’s meals. Lorna hadn’t agreed to substitute them for the vegetables cooked in butter or smothered in cheese until after her husband of forty years underwent bypass surgery.

“That does smell good, girlie.” Jack, a cross-country trucker, nearly drooled over the plate of home-cooked food Emma sat before him.

“Almost as good as you, sweetie.” His nearly toothless companion reached an arm around Emma, trapping her beside him as she set his food and drink on the table.

If Clarence wasn’t such a good tipper, she’d gladly dump the hot plate in his lap. He was harmless so she’d chosen to ignore his advances over the years. “Now, Clarence, you don’t want me telling Betty Jo over at the Tasty Swirl that you’re flirting with me again, do you?” That comment gained her immediate release. “You wouldn’t want to miss your weekly bowling night, now would you?”

Clarence had the good grace to appear chagrined. “Aw, Em, you know I was just teasin’ ya.”

“Of course I do, Clarence.” She squeezed his shoulder. “But we wouldn’t want any gossip to get back to Betty Jo, now would we?”

“She’s got ya there, Clarence.” Jack guffawed, then dug into his meal.

Emma grinned as she turned away from the pair. The regulars knew her and most treated her like a younger sister or daughter.

The bell above the front door sounded as it opened. Lorna’s daughter, Rachel, entered, with Benjamin and Brian in tow.

“Hey guys!”

“Mommy!” They both ran to her, nearly knocking her over as they wrapped their arms around her hips.

“Did you guys have fun with Rachel?”

“Yup. We played one-handed tug-of-war, and I won.” Ben announced.

“But I won the dart throwing contest.” Brian said.

“Darts?” Emma glanced at Rachel, who was busy putting on her waitress apron.

“Safety darts, Em. They stick to the board with suction cups. And the guys were real good, by the way.” Rachel picked up her note pad and shoved a pencil behind her ear.

“How was Mama?”

Rachel always stayed with the boys on Tuesdays, since Mama’s younger brother and his son always took her into Newark for dinner and a movie.

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