Gracie Jefferies had just about enough of men in general. Starting with her lazy and demanding general manager and ending with Caleb Anderson taking over and treating her like she can’t fend for herself. She was a grown assed woman, for Christ’s sake. As far as she was concerned, that man was off his rocker.
Martin Hamilton was staying with his half-brother, Caleb. Everything going on in the house all the time was just too much chaos. Martin liked it, calm and quiet, so he decided to get out of the house for a bit to calm his thoughts.
The woman charging his way was anything but calm, but for some reason, Martin loved her spark and fire. This was one woman he wanted to get to know better….
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Yasmine Dennis was doing her best to make it on her own. She’d been blind since she was seven and had done rather well for herself despite her disability. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time resulted in a hospital stay, and a childhood friend, Caleb Anderson, came to her rescue.
Joey Phillips was just trying to help the beautiful woman avoid a fall when he met her. Despite her surly disposition, he was intrigued. She might think she was handicapped, but all Joey saw was a beautiful woman that he desperately needed to get
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Martin put his hands under his legs. Trying to maintain a distance wasn’t going to work, he realized when the kids came and stood in front of him. He’d been just about ready to go out on the deck—a little at a time, his therapist told him—but they started coming in. The little girl, he didn’t know their names, just then got up on the couch with him and leaned close and laid her head on his shoulder. Martin was ready to leap up and run when she spoke to the other children. “You remember that kid that was jumpy all the time?” They nodded, though he doubted the youngest had any idea what she was talking about. “You remember that they had to take him away one night? On account’a him screaming all night?” “Yeah, he wasn’t right in the head.” The little girl told the speaker to hush and to behave. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way, Carol, but he was messed up in the head on account’a the drugs that his mom and dad gave him. Did someone give this man drugs?” “No, they didn’t. I’m not good around people.” The little boy told him they were kids, not people. “Why would you think that makes any difference? I mean, you’re still a person, right?” “I guess so. But we won’t ever hurt you none.” Martin said he wasn’t worried about them hurting him rather than the other way around. “You won’t hurt us either, Mr. Hamilton.
You’re hurting in a place that needs to be fixed. Am I right?” “Something like that. I was working one day and had a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t take it any longer and decided to end my life.” He’d not even told Caleb that when he’d asked him about his health. When the little girl pulled his hand out from under his leg, Martin let them see the scars there. She ran her little finger over the fresh scar, and Martin could feel some kind of kid magic coming from her. “I let my job nearly kill me. I should have paid attention to my mind and body, but I thought I was above all that. I thought it would just go away. But all it did was make me sicker and sicker.” The kids sat on the floor except for the little girl. Martin didn’t know why he was able to talk to these children. He’d already told them more than he had anyone before. By degrees, he felt his body begin to relax, his mind clear of the need to take flight.
“My mom did that. Cut up herself in the bathtub one day while I was at school.” Martin told the little boy he was sorry for his loss. “My name is Shawn. I was seeing a doctor after my mom died, and I found her lying there. Until my dad thought I was too much of a burden for him. He got himself a new wife, too, who didn’t want me around. But my mom, she was good to me. Made me a nice cake for my birthday. My doctor told my dad I was way more depressed than he was and that I needed to keep seeing someone about it. These kids here, they helped me.” “My mom is gone too. Cancer.” The kids all told him they were sorry. “Thank you for that. I’m wondering if that had a little to do with my breakdown.”
“Yeah, everything does.” The little girl next to him told him her name was Maddy. “Mine and Mikey’s mom sold us off to the home we was at. Yasmine and Joey are going to adopt us all if there isn’t anyone looking for the others. But Yasmine is my aunt on account’a her being our mom’s sister. She’s dead too, our mom, though I don’t know nothing about her.” He’d known that too, of course, but hearing the accounting of it was…Martin didn’t know, but he thought it was charming in a way. Less harsh than thinking about what he’d been told about Jasmine Dennis. It wasn’t long before they had him adjusting his seating, so he had two kids on either side of him. George was in his lap snoozing, and the other four were talking around him. Martin thought this was the best he’d felt in a good long time. Just them talking around him and not screaming and yelling at people. He looked up when he heard someone whisper his name. It was Yasmine. Apparently, at some point, the kids had wandered off, and he’d been snoozing himself. “Are you all right?” He told her he’d only just been thinking. “I’ve been feeling the same sort of special magic they can give off. Even George has his own type of magic.”
He watched her move to the other couch. She sat in the middle, directly across from him. Laughing just a little, she smiled and asked him if she’d done something stupid again. “I doubt anyone would think anything you did was stupid, Yasmine. You’re much too beautiful for that. I was just admiring how you get around in the house. And when you sat across from me, I thought for sure that I’d been fibbed to about your blindness.” She thanked him for not calling her a cripple or handicapped. “I’m assuming from what I heard about your sister, that’s who called you that.” “Yes, it was her. A lot of other people too, but my sister knew better. I only told her several times a day.” She didn’t elaborate, so he didn’t pry. “You seem really relaxed right now. So I don’t want to tense you up by asking the wrong questions.
I’m assuming you believe that you’re related to my husband and Caleb now. What are your plans if you have thought them through?” “I’ve not. Not really. I have a home back in Tennessee. There are a great many memories there. While here, believe it or not, I’ve realized that they weren’t all good ones either. My mom was a great person, but she was bitter too. Not just for having to raise me without help, but about everything. She was unhappy a great deal of the time. But I loved her.” Yasmine told him that, of course, he did. “Not that she made it easy for me. Mom showed me how to live on my own. How to deal with overdue collection calls and mail. Just trash them until it was going to be shut off or taken away. Food from the kitchen was hit or miss. Mostly the missing part. But she did love me too. And told me that every day.” “I plan to do that with the others too. Tell them how much I love them. How proud I am about something they’ve done. I’ve never been a mom before and have very little to go by as a role model. I’m going to wing it, as I’ve heard Ed say on occasion.” He laughed, another thing he’d missed doing since he’d been stressed. “What is it you want to do with your life now that you’re here?
The world is open for you. I’ve only just discovered, now that there is no pressure on me to work, I enjoy my job a good deal more.” “I used to be a stockbroker. I never really liked it, not even at the beginning. It paid well, and I was good at it. If push came to shove, I’d rather live on the streets than to have to go back to something like that.” He thought about her question and what she’d said about her own job. “I’d like something like that. Something I could do and just be able to enjoy. One of the things I used to do was grow plants. Just little things like tomatoes and lettuce. It supplemented our food at home, and I could spend hours out in the sunshine. I even got to where I was growing little things in the house.” “I have plants in my office. When I’m needing something to bring me out of my thoughts, I just need to reach over and touch them. Joey got me a couple of herbs, too, that I can smell. It’s lovely. Why don’t you do that for a living?” He asked her what she meant. “I’m fairly certain there is a need for a greenhouse around here. I know there used to be one. If I were to ask, I’m betting Caleb might even own the building.” “I don’t know that I’m ready to embark on something like that.” She stood up, and he did as well. “I didn’t mean to offend you if I did.” “You didn’t. I just need to see to dinner.” She started for the doorway, again looking like a person with sight, and turned back to him at the last moment. “Four days ago, I didn’t know I had a niece and a nephew. Four days ago, I didn’t have any children to speak of. Four days ago, I made a decision that would change the course of my life and those of the five kids that I now have. I had no experience with children. I knew nothing of how to make sure they were fed well. Being blind didn’t even come into the picture until we were all here. Was it a great deal? Hell yeah. Was I overwhelmed? Yes, right up until one of them took my hand into theirs. Would I do it again? Without hesitation. You should think more along the lines of how things will affect you in the long run rather than thinking about how they’re going to make you feel right at this moment. Dinner will be in about ten minutes, Martin.” After she left him, Martin thought about what she had said and burst out laughing. She had just scolded him in a way that he was sure she didn’t realize. Standing up, he decided he was going to find the children and hang out with the rest of the family. And as of the moment, Yasmine left him, he thought he was a part of a wonderful family. ~*~ “I’m not sure what you want from me, Mr. Billows, but I’m not even in the state right now. I asked for and got approved to have this weekend off. I have to settle my brother’s estate.” Mr. Billows told her she had one hour before she was to report to work. “Not possible. As I have said to you numerous times now, I’m not going to be able to come in. For a great many reasons, but not being in the state should be enough to tell you I’m not going to make it.” “Gracie, I’m sick of dealing with your shit all the time. You had better be in here at the beginning of this shift, or you should start looking for another job. Employees like
you are a dime a dozen.” She let out a long breath. He couldn’t just replace her, and she knew it. “What do you have to say to that?” “What do you think?” He told her she was a smart girl for doing what he demanded. “No, you got it wrong. I’m not going to be coming in tonight or any other night. I’ll be contacting the owner tomorrow as well. If you’re really that short-staffed, Mr. Billows, you should wait tables yourself. I’m finished.” It felt good to hang up on the man in mid-sentence. Before she could allow her doubts to settle in with her, she called the owner. Since she knew he’d be home today, it didn’t bother her to call him at home. He had given her the number. “Mr. Anderson, my name is Gracie Jefferies. I work at your restaurant called Devonshire. Mr. Billows just made it, so I’ve had to quit the restaurant, and I wanted to give you my side before he painted me as a bad person. I might need a reference from you or something. I doubt he’ll do anything but slander my name four ways from Sunday.” Mr. Anderson laughed, and she had to smile. He laughed like he didn’t care one bit. “Yes, well, on my side, it’s not all that funny. I explained to him that I had to settle my brother’s estate for the bloodsucking attorneys. I haven’t any idea why it has to be settled right this minute. As far as I can see, he didn’t have a pot to piss in, much less the fancy name they’re calling the estate. And I had asked for and was approved for the next four days off. I should be getting paid for it, as I’ve never had a day off in over sixteen months. I had to work the day we buried my brother.
” Gracie realized she was babbling and told the man what had happened. “Gracie, did he ever allow you to train him on the closing procedures of the place? Or, for that matter, how to make out a schedule? Work that he should have been doing and wasn’t?” “I couldn’t even try and show him how to rotate stock in the big fridge. He said whatever came out of the storage place would be used before its date, and I was to just leave it alone.” He asked her if she’d done that. “No. Of course not. I know better than that. But I did ask for the time off, sir. I have the approval slip he signed the day I turned it in.” “I have no doubt that you have. And please accept my condolences on your brother’s passing. I didn’t know.”
She said he’d been sick for a long time. “Still, it is tragic. Let me know what attorney’s office you’re working with, and I’ll find out what all the rush is about. That way, you can focus on what you’re there to do. Where are you, anyway?” “Ohio. A little town that no one has heard much about called Trinway.” He laughed again. Gracie was beginning to think the man was off his rocker or something. Finding everything funny wasn’t sane. “Anyway, you don’t have to do that. I’ll go there and take care of whatever they need, then clean out his house. I have to put it on the market as well right away, as he had built up medical bills more than the fund he was drawing on could cover. I have no idea why I’m telling you this.” “It sounds to me like you needed to vent, and I was the perfect person to do it to. But I know Trinway, Gracie. It’s not far from Dresden, where I’m currently living. With my wife and brothers. I can get things taken care of for you right now.” Again, she told him he didn’t have to do that.
“I don’t. But I think you’ve done me a large favor by quitting your job today and finding out what Mr. Billows can do without you there running things for him. He’s going to be in deep shit when the doors open, I think. Can you stay at your brother’s place? Or do you need accommodations? I can do that for you if you wish.” “No, I can stay at my—what the hell is wrong with you?” He laughed again, and she felt her temper fall over her mouth. “You’ve done nothing but be nice to me since you went to the restaurant where I worked. Now you’re being nice about my brother dying, getting me an attorney, and finding me digs to stay in. No one in their right mind is that nice.” “My wife would agree with you. But my mom taught me to help those that needed a hand up. She made it her life’s work to do that. As for helping you in particular, you’ve been very nice to me in calling me and telling me the restaurant might be closed down tonight.
Because as much as I’d like for the man to fail, he’ll take my place with him. But only for tonight.” She asked him if he could afford that. “I can. Even if I couldn’t, it’s a better way of him getting terminated than me calling him and doing it on— Ah. There he is now. Calling, no doubt, to tell me what a horrid person you are and that I should be grateful he’s fired you.” “He didn’t fire me. I’m sure it would have come to that, but Mr. Billows gave me an ultimatum that I couldn’t work with. So I quit.” He asked her to hold on if she could. Telling him she could, Gracie watched the people playing in their yards while she waited. Charlie had been ill since he was a child. He had fallen out of a tree at the daycare center where the two of them had been taken while their parents worked. Charlie had been about four, not that she ever believed he’d been climbing a tree in the first place, but he had hit his head. Hard enough, her parents had been told that it cracked his skull. Since they’d had no insurance that would cover something like that kind of major surgery for a clumsy kid—they’d not even offered it to them—they’d not been able to afford for him to have whatever would be necessary for him to live. To this day, she believed that one of the adults working at the daycare center had hurt him. The government not only provided her family with a food card, but they had paid for daycare so they’d not be a total burden on society.
The insurance was all right—it covered a lot—but not nearly what they needed at that time. Charlie could live alone only with someone coming in once a day to check on him. He could function well enough to work at a menial job, so long as it was repetitive and wasn’t something that had to be done in a timeframe. He could do it; Charlie would work at a job all day and night, but once he was off the task for more than a few minutes, he’d have to be trained all over. When Mr. Anderson came back on the phone, he asked her if he could message her something to her phone. Telling him that was fine, she wasn’t sure what he’d have to say to her in a message that he couldn’t say while they were speaking. Then he explained.
“That’s the name of the attorney that is going to meet you at Bickerton and Bickerton in the morning. Arthur is a good attorney and a good friend. He said you were to dress casually, not dressed up. I’m not entirely sure why, but that’s what he told me to tell you. Also, would you mind letting him make a copy of your permission slip from Billows? He’s claiming you are fabricating all of this.” She said she wasn’t a liar. “I know that. All right. He’s going to pick you up in the morning. I’ve already given him the address where you’re staying.” “And just how did you come by that information?” His laughter again made her want to smack him. “Look, Mr. Anderson, I no longer work for you, so why the hell are you doing this? For a sense of enjoyment on my part? I won’t think it’s funny if I have to find my own way to the office in the morning and find out that being late or some shit is forfeiting whatever little bit my brother had to them. I think they’re crooks, but I don’t know a great deal about bloodsuckers.” “I have the best bloodsuckers in the world working for me. If I didn’t, I’d not be as wealthy as I am.” She told him to fuck off. “Thank you for that. It’s refreshing to hear someone that isn’t the least bit impressed by me or my money.
I’ll see you in the morning, Gracie. Good luck tomorrow.” After ringing off with him, she sat there long enough to look Mr. Anderson up. Whistling about what the news articles said about his money, she put her phone away. Not that she felt any better about him helping her, but she knew now that he could well afford it. Starting her rental up, she made her way to her brother’s home. When their parents had died, there had been a little money put away. They’d also been able to afford to purchase them a little house that just happened to be in a place that was developing into a nice neighborhood. She’d been able to sell it for about ten times more than her parents had paid for it and buy the house that Charlie was living in.
Having it outfitted for his needs took all the rest of the money. Going into the house, it occurred to her that this would be the last time she was here before selling it off. That her brother, her hero, wasn’t going to come around the corner and tell her to wipe her feet. Wiping at her tears, she turned her phone off when Mr. Billows’s name came up. There wasn’t much in the place that she’d have to deal with. Clothing, of course. His books too. Charlie loved to read when he needed to unwind. She did as well. The furniture had to be taken care of. Mostly she thought she’d give it away or donate it. Gracie thought someone could use it. Getting her things out of the car, she pulled out the large trash bags she’d had at home and started in his bedroom. It took her nearly two hours to bag up items that still smelled like Charlie. At about six, someone knocked on the door. While she wasn’t sure if the neighbors knew her brother all that well, she went to check to see who was there. Opening the door, knowing that small towns weren’t as safe as everyone assumed they were, she left the chain on the door.
“Ms. Jefferies, my name is Arthur Fowler. Mr. Anderson, Caleb, sent me here to bring you some dinner, and I’d like to go over any information you might be able to help me with concerning your brother’s health and his estate.” She opened the door wider and asked to see his identification. “Yes, of course. I should have thought of that.” After checking it out, she allowed him in the house. Before she could close the door behind him, he waved for the people she’d not seen to come into the house as well. They were delivery people. The smells coming from the many bags they had made her realize she had not just skipped breakfast but lunch too. The food was spread out before them. As Arthur set his laptop to the side, he asked her about Charlie. Stuffing her face while answering him, she realized the man was a good attorney. He seemed to know his shit. After telling him about the accident, as well as the names of the people that had worked there, she got up to find the file she’d left here with her brother in the event she could ever get him an attorney.
“This will be very helpful. I have it here, too, that your parents had filed for a wrongful act, naming the daycare as negligent. Do you know if anything became of that?” She told him that they were turned away from every attorney they asked for help. “This isn’t the way I do things, Ms. Jefferies. I get to the bottom of things regardless of what someone might want me to do.” “My parents did try.” He told her he wasn’t saying they hadn’t but that the attorney should have done it regardless of if there was money or not. “Yeah, there isn’t any of that either. I know Mr. Anderson said he’d pay you, but I’d like it if you were to send me the bill. I don’t have a job right now, but I can work anywhere and do a good job.” “I’m sure you give every task all you can when assigned.” Even after all the food was eaten and leftovers put away, they talked. It was nearly nine at night when Arthur stood up to leave. “You’ve given me more than I think I could have found in files for this. I’ll be by in the morning to pick you up. I’m staying at Caleb’s tonight, so I’ll be close if you think of something.”
“I don’t know what else it would be. I think we’ve covered about anything and everything.” She smiled when he laughed. “I’ll see you in the morning.” After he left her, she found her old bedroom that she used when she came to stay with Charlie. There was very little in the room. An empty dresser. A closet with hangers that looked like a row of flowers. They were so colorful. Finding one of Charlie’s large shirts, she pulled it over her head and laid down on the bed. Tomorrow was either going to break her or let her start over. She wasn’t sure she’d get either, but it was a hope. Gracie thought of her family. Her parents had tried so hard to make their lives better. They were making some headway into having money put away for a few things, like a vacation, when Charlie had been hurt. They’d not been able to take any vacations, of course, but they had always made time for their children.
In the summer months, they’d have picnics at the local parks. Go fishing at the dam. A great many free things that seemed like the world to them. A large basket of treats, Mom’s jams, a ham sandwich or two, and a bottle of water was their meal when out like that. Mom made quilts for their beds. Dad could repair anything and everything. That was where most of the extra money had come from was Dad knowing how to fix something. Everyone in the neighborhood knew to take it to Dad to be repaired, while Mom knew how to take something in and let it out when it came to clothing. What they didn’t have in material things, they certainly had more than enough love to go around. Twice that she could remember, they’d taken in a child or two. Just until their parents could find a job. Mom babysat, too, and helped with tutoring. Everyone that came in contact with them respected them and liked them.
They were the best. Now she was the only one left, and it made her sad to think that when she died, that would be the end of the Jefferies that she was related to. Turning over on the bed, she looked out the window that was at eye level. Even for as late as it was, children were playing outside. She rarely saw a kid where she’d been working without a phone attached to their ear or looking down at it. The kids were catching firebugs. They weren’t keeping them but catching and then releasing them. Gracie had done the same thing when she’d been little. Remembering to set her alarm so she’d get up in the morning, she turned her phone back on. Always surprised that it would come on, she set it for seven. Not bothering with the messages she had on it, she watched the children more. They were much more entertaining than anything that Billows had to say to her. Charlie had been gone for a month now. The woman who came in to check on him had called her one morning, sobbing about how he’d fallen asleep and not woken. Even as she tried to calm the woman down, Gracie felt her heart shatter.
It was the hardest call she’d ever taken. In that month, she’d been working herself to death to be able to afford a ticket to come here to do this last thing for him. Affording the ticket to come here for his funeral had nearly bankrupted her. But she’d made do with eating her free meal at work and taking any leftovers home that the cook had saved for her. Then Billows found out about the free meals. The next afternoon there was a sign put up that there would be no more freebies for anyone. She’d been the only one that qualified for the meal, as she was the only full-time waitress there. Not because she was scheduled to be full-time, but covering both Billows’ and the day manager’s schedules when they decided to just not show up was the only perk she got. He’d also taken her overtime away from her. Gracie had almost stopped doing the job of three people when she realized that if the place shut down, which she was sure would happen, there would be a lot of people out of work. There were seven waitstaff as well as kitchen help, cooks, and the busboys that depended on the place having their doors open. She couldn’t have done that to anyone.
Every week she’d get paid for thirty hours, what she’d been scheduled for, and all the other seventy-plus hours would be free. Not that she didn’t keep track of the hours she wasn’t being paid for. She wrote every shift down, and even the extra time she had to do at home by making schedules, ordering food for the place, having carpets replaced when needed, and repairs done, as well as a lot of other jobs the manager should have been taking care of. Gracie had been working there for ten years. She knew the place better than the people who had built it, she’d bet. Gracie was upset about the things she’d been doing and how she’d been treated. Pulling her mom’s quilt up to her nose, she inhaled deeply of the scent that was still there. Sunshine. It calmed her more than anything else. It was nearing midnight when she felt she might be able to close her eyes for a few hours. She really hadn’t slept well since she’d gotten the call about Charlie being gone. Crying herself to sleep, she let the tears fall while she willed herself to sleep.