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“Del, I’m not sure what you think is going to happen with you just staring at your computer, but you’re supposed to be working.” He grinned at his boss and friend, David Soldier. “You’re not nearly as charming as you might think. In fact, I’ve never told you this before, but I think you’re downright ugly.” “Have you once looked in the mirror? I’m sure people would tell you it’s a face that only a mother could love, but you did find a woman to marry you. I can only hope that Apple never has her eyes checked, or you’re going to be in deep trouble when she gets a good look at you.” He turned his screen off when he realized it was getting later than he’d thought. “I got the specs done on the equipment we talked about and made copies of it all for tomorrow.
There are any number of plants around that could do it, but as we talked about before this project, we have to go local.” “We’re doing well, and it would be good to help out someone that is just starting out as we were doing a few years back.” He agreed, and tomorrow he was going to visit three of the local places to see if they could come up with the design that would be used in hospitals across the world. “You think any of them will be large enough to handle the kind of needs we’ll have with this?” “I haven’t any idea. But what I do know is that we won’t know for sure until we ask them.
Also, you’re taking Judy with you. She’s been wanting to branch out in what she does, and she’d rather go with you than me.” He asked him why. “I don’t know. I thought it was because she didn’t like me, but she assured me that she thought I was a great boss. But she’d rather be around you.” Going home wasn’t nearly like it used to be. He’d been living with his mom for the last few years until a few months ago. Now she was out on a cruise and wouldn’t be returning for a few days. She’d taken a job on a cruise line and was working as a cook. Getting to enjoy the cruise life seemed to suit her a great deal. Using his key, he made his way to his room to switch into something much more comfortable than a suit and then pulled out his menus.
With his mom gone, he hadn’t had a good homecooked meal in ages—at least it seemed like it to him. Ordering a dinner to be delivered was how he’d been doing it for the last few weeks. Usually, he would order double so that he’d have enough for his dinner the next night and his lunch tomorrow. Tonight he ordered himself a sub and a bag of chips. As usual, there was nothing on television, and he ended up getting on his computer and working more on the plans. It was nearly three in the morning when he finally made his way to his room, so exhausted that he didn’t know if he was going to make it to his bed. Living at home at his age wasn’t something he’d planned, but it had worked out for his mom and him. The pounding at his door startled him. Falling out of his bed, the pounding never stopped. At least until whoever it was found the doorbell, and then it was just one continuous chime as he stomped his way to the door.
Jerking it open, he grabbed the hand that was still pressing on it and pushed it away. “What the fuck do you want?” His mind registered two things at once. This was a woman, and he was naked. “It’s—I have no idea what time it is, but since it’s dark, I can only assume that—” “Can you get some clothes on? Christ, you’re naked as a jaybird.” She looked at his face when he crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “Seriously? You’re going to be all macho on me?” “You woke me up from a dead sleep. You take what you get. What do you want?” She told him the time.
“What do you want at five-thirty in the morning?” “You didn’t make an appointment with my firm.” He didn’t even bother asking her what the hell she was talking about but turned his back on her to go back to bed. “Do you have any coffee? I missed my breakfast too.” “Like I give a shit.” He couldn’t sleep after he got back into his bed. His anger was making him antsy. Getting up, he went to see what she was doing, hearing her singing to the radio his mom used when she was cooking. “What the hell are you doing? You’re trespassing.” “No. You didn’t tell me to leave, and you left the door open. That’s entering when you’re still here. Do you have anything to eat other than three eggs and some dried-up bread?”
Going back to his room to get dressed, Del didn’t know why, but he thought he’d be able to deal with her better if he was clothed. “You should take a shower while you’re at it. You kind of smell like old shoes.” “I fucking hate you.” He didn’t care if she heard him. However, he was glad his mom wasn’t there. She would have been disappointed in him for saying something like that, even if the woman was irritating him. Going into the bathroom, he thought he did smell, but nothing like old shoes. Turning on the water, he brushed his teeth twice and then stepped into the warm spray.
By the time he was dressed, he could smell something good coming from his kitchen. Del knew how to cook, but he didn’t enjoy it as much as his mom did. He also knew how to keep a clean house, which he did every day. But with the woman in the house, he could see where he’d left newspapers out on the coffee table, and his shoes were by the fireplace and not at the front door where they should have been. Entering the kitchen, he was surprised to see the table set for two, as well as glasses of orange juice.
“I found some concentrate in your freezer. There were all kinds of things in there we could eat while you tell me why your company skipped over mine when you were looking for project help.” He asked her who the hell she was. “Are you always this snippy in the morning? I know you live here with your mom. The whole town thought you were such a good son for coming home to help her out when she fell. Also, you might find this hard to believe—I know I do—but you’re considered a catch by all the single and not so single women in town. A couple of men too, as a matter of fact.” “Your name?” She told him. “All right, Merce Lowery. I’m assuming you have a high-level production company that can take a design and make it a reality.”
“Yes. Not only that but we’re set up to manufacture the piece in quantity as well as quality.” He dug into his omelet and thought she had taken lessons from his mom. It was that good. “You can be nice and say thank you, can’t you? I’m sure you have that in your vocabulary someplace.” Instead of doing what she asked, Del asked her for more information about her company. “What’s the name of your company, and how long have you been in business?” She answered his questions with a set of her own. He didn’t have a problem telling her the same things she was asking him, so they got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. “Lowery Construction isn’t on our list, but perhaps it is because we thought it was just that, a construction company. Being in business for forty years, has anyone ever asked you to build them a home?
To put in a driveway or something?” “Yes to both of those. And we do that when asked. My father, Harlin Lowery, took the business from his father, and that’s how they started out. But my dad decided that if we were going to make it in this fast-paced world, we needed to be able to manufacture the things we might need, such as the arm mechanisms you’re looking to have made.” She pulled out her phone and handed it to him after searching on it. “This is the arm design we did for a car manufacturer in Maine six months ago. The next picture shows a video of our product in use on the line it was designed for.
While we did do the work on that and the design, I know your company does all their own specs and measurements for what you need. I was told this piece is for an extra arm in the operating room. To make sure that the patient is being monitored for anesthesia when there isn’t enough staff for one reason or another.” “Yes. We’re not replacing any of the staff. This will be in use when there isn’t anyone to monitor the patient if they’re understaffed. It’s happened enough that they asked us to come up with a design that could fill in when the need arose.” He watched the video twice before handing the phone back to her. “Your design is good, but this is more of a delicate operation.
The arm would need to be able to push buttons and sound an alarm when it’s needed.” Getting up, he brought her his laptop and handed it to her when he found his own mocked-up version of what they were looking for. “I can see the slick designs on this, as well as the need for it to be all stainless rather than exposed harnessing.” She enlarged the photos and looked them over as well. Merce asked him about the design and how it was put together without using things that would attract germs and other items that would cause trouble for an exposed patient. “I can work with this. We have the equipment ready to go with just a few modifications here and there.”
“Hold your horses a bit there. We have to interview the others we’ve already set the appointments with.” She nodded, but he could see the disappointment on her face. Del had no idea why, but he didn’t like that he’d put it there. “My partner, David, is going to two places tomorrow. Well, today, I guess. And I have one or two today that I’m going to hit up. I like your ability to get things moving, but we need to make this fair across the board. You’ll notice that no one else has come pounding on my door at a godawful hour to make me see their specs and ability to get the project going.”
“I did notice that. Yes. They must not be as gung ho as I am about things. I’m thinking that should count for something, don’t you?” He wasn’t sure her upbeat attitude was hiding her real feelings, or she was just like that all the time. He wasn’t sure he could handle her being the latter all the time. “Not to mention, I don’t believe any of them came by to make you something to eat either.” “It’s my food.” She shrugged and got up to start clearing the table. “I’ll do that. You cooked, and I’ll clean. It’s the way my mom taught us all how to do it.” “All of you? I’d not heard there were more than you.” He told her he had six brothers and a sister. “Your mom must be a saint. To have eight kids around all the time must have been bonkers for anyone. Where were the rest of you when you came home to be with her when she fell? Not to mention, how did she fall? Did you happen to shove her down the stairs or something?”
“I’d not do that to my mom.” He looked at her. “Now you? I can see that being tempting where you’re concerned. You do make a man wish he’d been smart enough to have run you off when you came around.” “Yeah, I have that happen a great deal.” He’d touched a nerve. Her voice and her body stance gave her away. “Anyway, you were going to tell me about the rest of your family.” “My older cousins, really their adopted siblings to us, James, who is married with three kids. They live in Japan right now while he’s working. He’s been there for about two years now. Mom used to go there to visit, but she said she’d just wait for him to come back home if it came to her seeing him again.
My stepsister, Mary, is married too. She has just one child, and he’s a little on the rotten side. But then I don’t see them much either. The same situation with them as James. She thinks it would be better to wait on them to come back here. They’re in Texas living on a ranch of some kind.” She asked him about the others. “I’m the youngest of the kids that are my biological brothers. There is Peter, Robert, William—he goes by William, by the way. I can see you calling him Bill to irritate him. Sherman, Darrel—another one that goes by his first name. And then me. Delmar. I was called Del from the first, so there’d be no confusion between me and my granddad. My dad was Del as well, but he passed away before I was born. Grandda is still around but doesn’t get out much anymore. He’s in his late eighties.
Not that he isn’t as brilliant as he’d ever been, but he doesn’t drive much and won’t allow anyone to take time out of their day to go and fetch him, as he calls it. Who do you have in your family?” “Like you, I’m the youngest. But I only have two brothers, older than me, both married with a family. I’m what one might call a late in life child. My dad was in his late forties when I was born, and my mom, who passed away a few years ago, was in her early forties. Not that she hated me or anything, but it was just too much for her to have a child so late in life, and she ended up in a nursing home when I started grade school.” He told her he was sorry. “Me too. I didn’t know her, not at all, but I have my brothers, Anthony and Carl, around to tell me things about her. To me, it sounds like she’d been having mental issues before I came along, but I keep that little tidbit to myself. I also have my grandda, who is now in a nursing home, and my dad.
Who I love with all that I am.” They talked for a little while longer, and when she yawned, causing him to yawn after her, he told her he needed to take a nap. After she told him she’d be back later to see what he’d been able to figure out, he offered her his mom’s room and was surprised when she took him up on it. However, when she was nearly asleep as he told her it was hers to use, Del made his way to his room and turned on his alarm. He still had work to do. ~*~ Merce woke, not knowing for a moment where she was. Stretching when she remembered, she looked around the massive bedroom and wondered at the things that seemed to be sitting on every available space. Getting up, feeling like she’d slept the best sleep she’d ever known, she looked at the pictures scattered around the room like a shotgun blast. Mingled in with the photos, there were things like bottles of sand and a plaster cast of childlike hands. Merce marveled at the things, like a baby blanket behind glass in a frame. There were sad mementos as well as happy ones.
A funeral card from what she assumed was Del’s father. An obituary cut out from a newspaper that told of the death of three members of a household that died together. While she had no idea who they were, she knew that it had touched something deep inside of the woman that used this room as her own. Reading it over, Merce put it back just where she found it after reading about the two children and their mother dying from smoke inhalation, then the fire. Going into the bathroom, she also saw the whimsical part of Mrs. Archer. There were pictures of children in the same bathtub that was in this room. Somehow Merce thought it was Mrs. Archer’s own children, taking a bath at the end of a long day of play and adventure. A beautiful little boy was waving at the camera, his truck taking a bath with him covering his manly parts.
Two little boys about the same age were playing with bubbles on their head and chin, just as she’d done a million times when she’d been younger. The wallpaper was floral, the towel colors an exact match to it. There were rugs on the floor that she curled her toes into. They were that soft. A shower stall was hidden behind a small door that she fell in love with. Scented soaps and shampoo lined the top. Merce found herself wishing she’d gotten to meet the other woman while she was here. She knew she’d like her. Perhaps if they were to get the project job, she’d get to know the woman a little.
Taking a shower felt wonderful. Washing her hair twice with the herbal shampoo, she made a note of the brand so that she could get herself some. After drying off, she pulled one of the huge thirsty towels around her and stepped back into the bedroom. A woman stood there smiling at her with a piece of luggage in both hands. “You must be Merce.” Merce nodded and told her she was. “I’m Del’s mother, Katie Archer. Normally I’d not know who was in the house while I was away, but my son left you a note on the kitchen table. I didn’t read it, so if he had any date with you this evening, you’ll have to find out from him.”
“We’re not. Dating, I mean. I came and woke him up in the middle of the night to ask…well, argue with him about why he’d not asked my company to make his design.” Her face heated up. “That didn’t come out well either.” “I don’t imagine it did. I’m sure he didn’t take the time to cover himself up either.” Again her face heated up, and Merce thought the other woman was enjoying this just a little too much. “Yes, well, I’m going to drop these things off here, and I’ll meet you down in the kitchen. I’m going to have to make arrangements with my kids to come and have dinner with me tonight. I’ve missed them all.” Hurriedly dressing, she made her way downstairs and wondered if the older two were in town.
Somehow she didn’t think so, or Merce was sure Del would have mentioned it. Stepping into the kitchen again, she was startled by the changes that had only just taken place in the few hours she’s been sleeping. “I have a flower garden and an herb garden out back. When I can, I bring them in the house so I can enjoy their scents. I use them to cook as well, but today they’re just for show.” Merce asked about the large boxes on the counter. “Oh, those are from Mr. Carder. He’s been holding things for me while I was away. Nothing too important like mail, but some of the tomatoes he had in his garden that he made into sauces for me.
There is some squash that he put into canning jars as well. I told him we didn’t need that much anymore now that my kids are grown, but he insists that I might sometimes, and he makes sure I have them.” There was a basket of eggs—fresh, she’d bet—and apples, as well as smaller baskets of cherries, blackberries, and fruits she didn’t know. Picking up a pear, Merce inhaled deeply as she asked if she could have it. “Oh, of course. I never turn someone away when there are extras around. When you leave here, I’ll send a few things home with you. After dinner, of course.” Merce asked if she was staying for dinner. “You are. I’ve spoken to Del, and he said he wanted to speak to you about a couple of things. And the others are coming too. I’ll be in heaven.”
“Are James and Mary coming as well?” The knife that Katie was using dropped into the sink, and blood dripped from her hand. “You’re bleeding. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you, or whatever I did. Here, let me have a look at it.” Katie allowed her to look at the cut. For whatever reason, she was sure this wasn’t her normal way of dealing with a cut. Having her sit down in a chair, Merce held pressure on the wound while Katie spoke. Merce watched the painful emotions as she told her what had happened. “Several years ago, as if I didn’t have the date burned into my heart, I went out to see James. He and Mary were living in Texas then, and I had gone to visit them. James’s wife had just given birth, and I wanted to see their little baby.
I was technically his grandma.” Merce didn’t need to encourage Katie to continue when she paused in her telling. However, it was on her mind that Katie wasn’t talking to her so much as she was just letting off a little pain. “James and Mary were my sister’s children. The obituary you were reading, that was her. I took them when their father, who had killed the three of them, was taken to prison. They’re older than my kids. In fact, I hadn’t been married yet, and we had no children. When Del and I had our first boy, the two of them seemed to start growing distant from me. But after a time, they seemed to get over it.
Then the others came along. When Del was born, and my husband died, they were nearly out of school. James was living here going to college. Mary was going to a tech school to be a nurse.” “They hurt you, didn’t they?” Katie told her it was far worse than that. “I’m so sorry. I’ve only known you for a few minutes, but I feel like you’re the best person to have in someone’s corner.” “Thank you, my dear. That was very needed and extremely nice of you. When James had his son, as I said, I went out to see him. I was so excited. My Del, the youngest, had already started college. He was very smart and was taking night classes while finishing high school.” She smiled at her. “I’m putting off telling you. I need to, but I don’t want to as well. I was there for a day and a half when James told me that he wished to speak to me. Mary came over, and he sent his wife out to do some shopping. I didn’t understand.
She took the little boy with her when I said I’d watch over him. James told me he didn’t want me to have anything to do with him or his family from now on.” “I’m going to hunt him down and tear his dick out, just so you know.” Katie laughed, but Merce wasn’t kidding. “What was his reason for saying such a thing to you? He’d better have had a damned good one for it.” “He said that when I took them in, it was all right with them to have lived here at first. Since I had no one but them to care for, Mary even agreed that they enjoyed being around me. After I married my Del, James told me it was all right because he had made it so I could devote all my time to them when he was away. Del traveled a great deal as a trucker, and I no longer had to work full time.
Neither of us did, in actuality. We only did it because we got to know people around town. Not to mention, it was a nice way to find out what was needed to help out.” Katie got up and put a kettle with water in it on the stove as she continued. “Mary said I was selfish to have had other children, that I didn’t need them when I had her and her brother. That me not just being their mother was wrong of me, and they wished that instead of their mother dying, it had been me. I didn’t know what to say to them. I actually had a moment of fear that they’d killed her after the twins were born. Anyway. They went on about how I had ruined their lives. How I had stolen a good life from them by being a mother to my own children.
They didn’t care, you see, that my own children were what made me happy. That raising the two of them for my now-dead sister was something I had thought was wonderful as well because they were all the connection I had to her. The two of them wanted things their way, and they were never going to forgive me for doing such a horrid thing as having a family of my own when I should have been there just for them.” “They’re little pricks. You know that, don’t you?” They both turned when someone spoke from the doorway. It was Del. He agreed with her. “She was hurt by those two, and I’m going to hunt them down and take care of their asses. You want to join me?”
“Yes.” Katie hugged her son and then hugged him again as she cried on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I didn’t know anything had happened. Do the others know?” “No. I know I should have told you all, but I was so afraid you’d tell me the same thing.” Del asked her if her head had been hurt while she was gone. “No. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take the tone with me, young man.” “I love you, Mom.” She kissed him on the cheek. When he handed Merce the bags he’d had in his hands, she took them to the counter so she could help out, not sure what she could do, but she felt like an intruder right now. “Merce, do I have you to thank for this revelation? If I do, then I thank you very much. I think she’s been holding it in for some time now.”
“Del, leave the girl alone. What did you bring home? Everything I told you?” He said he thought he had, but he kept staring at Merce. Merce finally turned and looked at him. His mom kept talking about the food in the bag while the two of them stood there. The phone ringing took Katie out of the room, and Del asked her again if she’d done this. “I only asked her about your stepbrother and sister and if they were coming over when she said she was going to call her kids here.” He nodded and laid a file on the table. “I’m sorry, Del. I didn’t know there was bad water between them. By the way, I want you to know that I like your mom, and right now, I want to go there and beat the shit out of the two of them. How could they do that to her?”
“I don’t know. She’s a wonderful person. But it’s all right. I think I’ve known for a while that she was hurting about them. I hadn’t noticed the missing cards at her birthday and the holidays until I came here to help her out. And no, I didn’t shove her down the stairs.” She told him she was sorry about that. “Don’t be. I owe you for this. I think she’ll be able to talk about it now that the wound is open. I really am grateful to you for having her talk about it.” Merce hadn’t really done anything but talk to the other woman. And she really did like her. But those others, her stepchildren, needed to have their heads knocked around. Not a little bit either. She was beginning to like her grandda’s saying of sparing the rod would spoil the children. Their parents must have been real wieners.