Roses for Momm y Delight Novey Roses for Mommy/Novey 1 The unbridled blare of a motorcycle ripped through the early morning serenity of the rural southern Appalachian mountains. A rider, clad all in black except a red bandanna covering his face, raced along the snaky road, leaning in the turns and gunning the throttle on the straights as he sped toward Gumlog, Georgia. Laura Lynn Jenkins, standing with an order-taking pad in hand and two familiar breakfast guests waiting, stared out the wall of windows at the front of the diner. She always looked when motorcycles rode by—had to really. That sound, the grumble of a big street bike, grabbed her attention as surely as an explosion. And like an explosion, the carnivorous roar of the approaching motorcycle's exhaust shook her, unsettling her stomach, weakening her muscles, and clouding her thoughts. She blinked hard, forcing the memories away...shoving them back into the hole she'd dug in her heart. From five years, eleven months, and twenty-seven days of listening to every motorcycle that passed by, she knew the approaching bike was American made, almost assuredly a Harley. Roses for Mommy/Novey 2 Probably one of the big ones. Definitely not a stock exhaust. But she was no aficionado—that would imply some enjoyment of, or affection for, the large bikes. Oh yes, she knew them by sound alone, but hated them all. The motorcycle was approaching town from the west through Fallen Tree Gap. Not such a tough guess. Only one road entered and exited the hollow between the mountains in which Gumlog hid nestled under the first leaves of fall, clinging to ideals and a way of life that the rest of the world had slung aside. The motorcycle's roar reverberated through the hollow. Laura Lynn forced herself to turn from the window. It angered her to know she would look when the rider passed by, but she always did. And when she looked, she would see some stranger: probably a vacationing accountant playing biker or sometimes a true ruffian or maybe a free spirited woman, but never who she was really searching for—afraid she'd see, actually. She turned toward her guests, knowing full well that in approximately thirty seconds the bike would pass by the diner and she would look up, eyes straining to see the rider. For now, she focused her attention on her only two patrons so far this morning, Mabel Farmer and Clara Bell. Elderly Mabel, always so sweet, a shriveled sugar plum of a woman in a white frock topped off with a floppy pink hat. She served as grandmother to the entire town, all two thousand four hundred and twenty-three of the residence. And like any good country grandma, she made it her mission to keep everyone well fed. With muffins mostly. But today she was at Laura Lynn's diner, the Hide Y'r Dog, for breakfast. As usual. “What can I get for you ladies?” Laura Lynn asked. Mabel glanced out the window, then looked back. She seemed reluctant to start her order, as if she knew it would be interrupted by the rider. Roses for Mommy/Novey 3 Am I that obvious? Laura Lynn hated to feel like a fool. The only thing worse was feeling like the whole town knew that she still pined for a love that had died years ago. Her head drooped. She looked down at her uniform, a short skirted polyester waitress outfit that she'd made from an old pattern she'd found at Hoblett's Five and Dime. She'd picked this style because it resembled the uniforms she'd seen waitresses wear on television shows like Alice. It was very retro, like the diner. She'd chosen hot pink for the color—a marketing decision, not an attempt to flaunt her body. She reached down and straightened the bottom hem, then glanced around the diner and reminded herself that she was no fool...nobody's fool. Despite everything, she'd, by age twenty- three, become a success: owned her own business, the diner, and had the most wonderful son on the planet, Beau. Besides, she'd never told anyone the whole truth about what happened that day so many years ago. People might wonder and gossip, like they are prone to in a small town, but gossip never bothered her. She stood a little straighter and placed the pen tip firmly to the pad, ready to take their order. She nodded toward Mabel. Mabel cleared her throat and said in her quivering voice, “Dear, I think I'll just have a muffin. What ones are fresh?” Her wide-brimmed pink hat flopped up and down as she spoke. Clara, seated across from Mabel, rolled her eyes and puffed a disgruntled harumf. “You know which damn muffins are fresh.” Clara, as usual, spoke with gruff candor. Although she was every bit of Mabel's seventy some-odd years old, or more, Clara hadn't been softened by time, at least not her sharp tongue. “Clara please,” Mabel protested. “Such language.” Mabel's mouth tightened into a frown, Roses for Mommy/Novey 4 but her eyes still smiled. Laura Lynn stifled a chuckle. How could Mabel be shocked? The two elderly woman had known each other since childhood. They'd probably never been more than five miles apart in their entire lives. Clara had always been, well, Clara: direct but honest. And never shy about spitting out a damn or hell or whatever other colorful word bubbled up. But you couldn't get mad at her because, even though her delivery lacked a certain...polish, she was usually right. Never politically correct. But often, with that twinkle of purpose in her eyes, she spoke a certain undeniable truth. “Don't ever dull your shine for anyone,” Clara had said to Laura Lynn many years ago, back when it had seemed that everyone thought she should be ashamed of being a teenage mother. Clara was the only one who recognized that Laura Lynn glowed, even if it wasn't under circumstances the people in town considered acceptable. Laura Lynn would always love her for that. “The blueberry are exceptionally fresh, as are the bran and banana muffins.” Laura Lynn purposefully didn't mention the blackberry muffins, just to see Mabel's reaction. Laura Lynn bought her muffins from Mabel every morning. So in effect, Mabel was on the verge of ordering one of her own muffins. It was a ritual they played out daily. Mabel paused for a moment, as if giving the decision deep thought. “I'll have a blackberry,” she finally said. Clara rolled her eyes. The rumble of the motorcycle quieted. Was the rider stopping somewhere short of the diner? Pulling off on a side street? Laura Lynn's head swam with possibilities, but her pen didn't waver and her posture remained erect and resolute. “And for you?” “The usual,”Clara said, and after a pause she added, “and don't try to sneak one of those Roses for Mommy/Novey 5 damn muffins onto my plate.” Laura Lynn hadn't written a word on the pad. Mabel and Clara ordered the same thing every day. The only variance was which type of muffin for Mabel. Laura Lynn capped the pen and slid it and the pad into her waist pocket. The motorcycle accelerated—louder, nearer. Laura Lynn followed the bike, by sound alone, through the winding turns leading into town: over Coopers Branch...around the bend at Kirby's barn...up the hill... Laura Lynn placed a hand on Clara's shoulder. “You know Mabel's muffins are wonderful.” She flashed a smile to Mabel. The smile verged dangerously close to becoming a chuckle. Mabel's new hat looked—she hated to think it, but couldn't help it—goofy. Laura Lynn forced her eyes off the hat and down to Mabel's eyes, which gleamed with pride for her muffins. —around the bend at the creek... Mabel's muffins really were amazing. Decades of refinement had paid off. Still, it was hard for Mabel to live down the town legend of how her bran muffins had once saved a constipated pig from certain death by suddenly, and rather violently, freeing whatever the obstruction had been. Through telling and retelling, the incident had become known as “Gussy's eruption.” —past the old oak... The pig, Gussy, had been so shocked by the sudden explosion from his hind end that he ran and hid under the porch and didn't crawl out for two days. Needless to say, Mabel's bran muffins, although they had a certain devout following among some of the older patrons, were not among the best sellers at the diner. Laura Lynn turned to walk away. The roar of the bike now echoed off the mountains and Roses for Mommy/Novey 6 seemed to be coming from all around. Her head told her to walk, one foot in front of the last, to the double swinging doors that separated the dining room from the kitchen, but something from the depths of her past, some need or craving, slowed her steps. “We have news,” Mabel called after her. Laura Lynn turned back, relieved for the excuse to stay in the dining area. Clara wrinkled her face and shook her head. “I'm not wearing the hat.” Laura Lynn didn't understand. Mabel slid to the edge of her seat like an excited child. She shook her head. “I'm not talking about the hats.” “Well good, because—” Mabel cut Clara off. A rare occurrence, so she must have had something important on her mind. Yet, Laura Lynn could see, by the dipping of Mabel's eyes, that she'd suddenly become distracted. “Why won't you wear the hat?” Mabel asked Clara. She didn't wait for a response before adding, “It's advertising, you know. It makes us unique. Like Sean Connery's accent.” Clara held up a pink hat that had been hidden beside her in the booth—an exact match to Mabel's. “This—” she looked at the hat with undisguised contempt “—does not make us unique. It makes us ridiculous.” “Ladies,” Laura Lynn interjected, trying to stop their spat before it escalated. But Clara wasn't done. “How is this hat—” she waved it “—like Sean Connery's accent? That makes no sense at all.” “Your news?” Laura Lynn asked. The grumble of the approaching motorcycle grew loud enough to silence all three ladies. Laura Lynn surrendered to the urge to look out the window. Roses for Mommy/Novey 7 Without thinking, she began walking, drawn by an unseen force down the row of booths toward the window. The bike was close. One corner away. A glint of chrome rounded the bend at the church. She had been right, of course. It was a large street bike. The rider—wearing black head to tow except a red bandanna across his face—sat reclined with his legs splayed as if straddling a stallion. Her heart leaped high in her chest, forcing her to suck in a gasp of anticipation. But there was no reason. Of course this man wasn't the boy she secretly hoped she would see, a boy frozen in her mind at age seventeen. Then a wave of anger swept through her. The anger reminded her, with dark clarity, that she most certainly did not want to see him again—ever. It really didn't matter. This man, brooding in dark leather, content to rip open the morning with the scream of exhaust while he, as if owning the world, reclined in his seat, couldn't possibly be the boy from her past, and an unseasonably early fall morning was no time for a pleasure ride. This guy wasn't tooling around; he had a purpose. He would ride through town on his way to wherever, and she'd never see him again. Good thing. When he neared, she looked at his face, but saw only sleek black glasses. Just look away, the little voice in the back of her head scolded. And she did, right as the bike passed the diner's meager five roadside parking spaces. Although she always watched motorcycles approach, she never watched them ride away. Once had been enough. Laura Lynn hadn't always been this unnerved by bikers—at least not for the last few years. Sure, she always looked when they rode by, but the sound hadn't always turned her inside out like this. Today, the sting was almost as fresh as the first time she'd watched a big bike ride Roses for Mommy/Novey 8 off six years ago. It had been an unseasonably early fall day, like today—yellow leaves floating on the chilly breeze sweeping the hollow. She had been young, naive—she knew that now. But still, he shouldn't have left. And without a word of explanation? On the heels of such an amazing summer. The summer before her senior year of high school had been a time of awakenings. She'd known Jake Bartram for, well, basically her entire life, but something changed that summer, on a day which started like any other. He chased her through Daddy's corn field to the old mill pond. When he caught her, just short of the pond, instead of pushing her face in the dirt, or swirling her hair into a knot, he kissed her. Right there, lying on top of her. Her first real kiss. What a kiss! Awkward, gawky, bumbling, and absolutely wonderful. Her body stirred in ways it never had before. Her mind spun wildly with giddiness. Her lips felt every touch, every contour, of Jake's. She never wanted it to end. Afterward, Jake refused to strip to his shorts and go swimming like they always had. Maybe it had something to do with what she'd felt against her leg when they'd kissed. Everything changed that day. No longer was Jake the brother she'd never had. Suddenly she noticed everything about him: the way his cheeks dimpled when he smiled at her, the way his head dipped ever so slightly when he talked to her, and she couldn't ignore the way she tingled when his hand brushed the hair off her shoulders. Something about that simple swoosh of his hand made her feel protected, cared for, loved... By the next week, they were swimming in their shorts again, in the clear warm water of the pond, under the sultry Georgia sun. And by the end of the summer, they were swimming without shorts. Without anything on. Laura Lynn remembered feeling so insecure. Looking back, she realized that he must have too. They would both strip behind the patch of mulberry bushes, Roses for Mommy/Novey 9 he on one side, sliding off his shorts, and she on the other, shimmying out of her cutoffs. Then they would streak, sneaking peeks at each other, to the water and dive in. Having him look at her naked body, even if only stolen glances as they ran, filled her with twittering anticipation. With the water as a shield, she felt more free. At first, they played the same old games, splashing each other between breath holding contests, but then, underwater, while holding her breath, she opened her eyes. There in the shimmering clarity of the water was Jake's face, right in front of hers. They kissed, bubbles leaking out, until she couldn't hold her breath any longer. She shot to the surface. His head emerged beside hers; his body pressed against hers; his arms wrapped around her. And they kissed with newfound urgency. His tongue explored her mouth. The slickness, the fire of passion burning within her like never before. The hardness of his body pressing against her stomach. Then, she did something insane. She knew it, even back then. She lifted her body up in the water and slid it back down over him, taking him inside her. She'll never forget the way his breath drew in quickly and his eyes closed. She could see his love, his desire, his need for her in the way his mouth opened slightly and his head leaned back. And that feeling, the sudden fullness and warmth within her— Mabel's quivering voice yanked Laura Lynn away from the old mill pond and back to the diner, “We're getting a sign today.” Laura Lynn didn't hide her confusion. Her head was too tangled with emotion to even try. Clara explained, “The B&B.” Mabel said, “Our new sign.” Laura Lynn realized she was standing by the window, with absolutely no excuse why. As she spoke, she pulled a cloth from her pocket and wiped down an already spotless table, “You're ready to open?” Mabel and Clara had purchased the home beside the diner almost a year ago. Roses for Mommy/Novey 10 The antebellum house, with wraparound porches on both the first and second floors, had at one time, back when Laura Lynn was a child, been the centerpiece of town. The years since had not been kind. In the time since Clara and Mabel had pooled their money to buy the place, with dreams of opening the town's first B&B, a string of handy—and not so handy—men had worked on the house. In its current state, the house was a hodgepodge of new contrasting with old. The porch floor had been painted gleaming white, but the porch railing hadn't seen a brush in decades. The front door had been painted bright pink, but the trim around the doors and the windows hadn't been touched. The last time Laura Lynn visited, the inside hadn't been any better. Surely they weren't ready to open? Maybe Laura Lynn's face telegraphed her question because Mabel said, “We're not quite ready to open yet, but it never hurts to do a little advertising.” “What name did you decide on?” Clara and Mabel had been sifting through possible names while sitting in their usual booth every morning, except Sundays of course, for the last two months. Mabel winked. “You'll have to wait for the sign. Clem's hanging it sometime today.” “Oh just tell her,” Clara said. “We can't ruin the surprise.” Clara didn't look a bit happy. “It's a stupid name. Should'a never agreed to the coin toss. I wanted: Clara & Mabel's Place. Just sounds right.” Laura Lynn guessed that Mabel had wanted the word order reversed. She took a stab at getting them to reveal the name. “So it's Mabel and Clara's Place?” “We'll never tell.” Mabel's eyes glinted. Roses for Mommy/Novey 11 “If I were only that lucky.” Clara said, nixing Laura Lynn's guess. Clara rolled her eyes. “I'd even settle for Mabel's Place at this point. Anything but the name we have.” She turned to Mabel. “And this hat thing isn't going to work. I look like an umbrella with this thing on.” She plunked the wide brimmed floppy pink hat on her head. Laura Lynn held back the chuckle rumbling in her chest. She didn't want to hurt Mabel, who'd surely given this coordinating hat idea considerable thought, but Clara, as always, had a point. Her slender frame did look a little like a rod holding up a floppy pink umbrella. “Maybe if you got a smaller one?” Laura Lynn suggested. The sound of the motorcycle faded away. Laura Lynn hadn't been aware that she 'd still been listening to it, until she couldn't hear it anymore. She absentmindedly reached up and stroked the tiny wooden heart hanging from her neck on a gold necklace—half a heart actually. Her fingers struggled to feel the tiny letters carved so many years ago: J B. Realizing what she was doing, she jerked her hand away and straightened the hem of her uniform. “Okay, okay. Don't wear the hat.” Mabel shook her head. “But I'm still wearing mine.” Clara tossed her hat onto the table. “But you have to wear something pink, always. For advertising.” Laura Lynn wondered what the heck pink had to do with anything. There was no telling what Mabel had concocted. She had Lucile Ball's zaniness and Winnie the Pooh's innocence all wrapped up in one sweet package topped off with a floppy pink hat. Laura Lynn wanted to hug her, just for being her. “Pink.” Clara said, punctuating the moment. The word had never before been uttered with such a lack of enthusiasm. Roses for Mommy/Novey 12 Laura Lynn patted Clara on the shoulder. “Congratulations on the sign. I can't wait to see it.” She turned toward the double doors to the kitchen. Her internal alarm clock was bonging. “So when's the grand opening?” She said over her shoulder. “Want me to help with the food dear?” Mabel asked. She always offered. “No, no.” I'll be right back. “Friday,” Clara said. Laura Lynn turned back. “She's kidding,” Mabel said. “We still have some work to do.” “Was supposed to be open months ago,” Clara grumbled. Laura Lynn glanced down at her watch. She shoved through the double doors and strode into the kitchen. She slipped a hand under the plastic wrap covering the holding tray and grabbed a blackberry muffin. Her other hand pulled a plate off the shelf above. Both hands met at the smaller of the two microwaves on the counter. Beep-beep—she punched in seventeen seconds. She hit start with one hand. Her other hand gathered two sausage wraps, the diner's breakfast specialty, and Clara's usual, from the cooler. She'd heard outsiders call them kolaches, but they were really just miniature sausage versions of the diner's lunch specialty: hidden dogs, which were hotdogs baked into popover crusts. Thus the diner's name: Hide Y'r Dog. They came “with stick” (like a corndog) or “without.” She plated the sausage wraps and—beep-beep—punched in forty-four seconds on the larger microwave. In one fluid motion, she washed her hands as she passed the three compartment sink on her way to the door at the back of the kitchen. Through the doorway, up the stairs, and into her apartment she strode. She grabbed a clean white washcloth from the closet in the hall and stepped into the bathroom. She ran the water, with one finger underneath, waiting for just the right temperature. It reminded her of Roses for Mommy/Novey 13 preparing a bottle. Although those days were long gone, Beau was still her little baby, even at age five. She knew that no matter how tall he grew or how many years he aged, he would always be her little boy, and that thought never failed to raise a smile to her face. She soaked the washcloth and wrung it out. Ding. Mabel's muffin was ready. She pushed open the door to Beau's bedroom and walked silently to the side of his bed. Laura Lynn allowed herself this one indulgence in her crazy-busy day. She just stared at him, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath. My precious gift. Only half his face was visible. His racecar comforter covered the other half. It hadn't been easy being a single mom in a small town where everyone was, as her Daddy used to say, peepin' and jawin', but for Laura Lynn, it had been a joy. Tough, sure, but never a chore. “Time to wake up Monkey Man.” She pulled back the comforter. Beep. Clara's sausage wraps were done. His nose wrinkled. His eyes squeezed tighter before blinking open. “Welcome to a new day,” Laura Lynn brushed the hair from his forehead. She didn't like rushing, but it seemed, since school had started four days ago, they always were. When he sat up, she handed him the warm washcloth. He buried his face into it. “I'm here,” Tanya called from the bottom of the steps. Laura Lynn didn't shout back. She knew Tanya would come up without an invitation. “How's Little Man doing today?” Tanya asked when she stepped into the room. Beau's face popped from behind the cloth, with a broad smile on his lips. “Goin' to school Roses for Mommy/Novey 14 today,” he said as if school were the grandest adventure ever. “I know,” Tanya answered with bubbling enthusiasm. Tanya Bell, Clara's eighteen year old granddaughter, had been babysitting Beau for over two years. Laura Lynn had always been thankful to have such a reliable and trusted babysitter, but never more so than now that school had started. Tanya was always willing to pitch in wherever needed: with Beau, with the diner, whatever. A normal day for Tanya included everything from getting Beau ready for school, to taking orders at the diner, to helping helping clean up Clara and Mabel's B&B. “I served Grandma and Mabel,” Tanya said, “and topped off their coffees. What's up with the pink hats?” “I thought maybe you would know.” They shared a chuckle. There was no telling what Mabel and Clara were up to. Beau crawled from bed. Tanya walked over to his dresser and picked up the clothes Laura Lynn had set out for Beau. “You have to leave something for me to do or I feel useless.” She smiled. Laura Lynn knew that she should let Tanya do more. Obviously, Tanya was capable. Yet, when it came to Beau, Laura Lynn couldn't let go. She didn't want to miss a thing. Laura Lynn kissed the top of Beau's head. “Aw Mom,” he complained, but she could tell by his sheepish smile that he loved it. She mussed his hair. “All yours,” she said to Tanya. Laura Lynn turned to leave. “So?” Tanya said. Her tone conveyed the question without need for more words. The school bus? “I don't know.” Laura Lynn shook her head. “I just don't know.” Roses for Mommy/Novey 15 Tanya nodded. Thankfully, she didn't make Laura Lynn feel any more ridiculous than she already did about following Beau's school bus in her car for the last four days. She didn't want to drive him. He needed to be able to spread his wings and grow, just like the other children. And, in her heart, she knew he didn't need her to follow the bus. He loved school, and the bus ride, with Rose by his side, seemed to be the best part. But she wasn't ready to let him go, either. So each day since school started, she abandoned the diner to Tanya and followed the bus. Not too close. She didn't want the other children teasing him. But close enough. Maybe if school weren't so far away, she wouldn't feel the need, but all the way over the mountain to Hainesville—just seemed so far for such a little guy to travel. Today, like every other, Laura Lynn told herself that he would be fine and that she didn't need to follow the bus. But today, like every other, she wouldn't know her real reaction until the bus pulled away. Would she race to her car? She told herself: No, he doesn't need Mommy following after him like some lost pup. Laura Lynn left Beau with Tanya and returned to the diner. The morning rush would begin soon. Not that there was ever really a crowd in the diner, but she did enough breakfast business to at least stay busy. When she stepped into the dining area, the bell above the front door jingled. Laura Lynn's feet stuttered when she heard another motorcycle in the distance. No, not another one—the same one. “Good Morning,” Cassidy Cody said as she walked in with little Rose in tow. Laura Lynn had never before seen an outsider move to Gumlog and so completely fit in—a New Yorker no less—yet there Cassidy stood, in jeans and flannel, looking as if she'd lived here her whole life. And the people in town treated her as such. Roses for Mommy/Novey 16 The ladies exchanged the usual lengthy country pleasantries. Cassidy and Rose slid into the booth across from Mabel and Clara. “Beau will be down in a minute,” Laura Lynn said. She set a fresh cup of coffee in front of Cassidy and a blueberry muffin and orange juice in front of Rose. The motorcycle was nearing. She could hear it more clearly. It was definitely the same one that had passed earlier. Or was Laura Lynn's mind running wild? Ever since reading Henry Bartram's (Hank, as she knew him) obituary in the paper two weeks ago, her mind had been mired in the past. She didn't really believe Jake would come back. Certainly not to grieve his father. There weren't words strong enough to describe Jake's hatred for his father. The man had been an angry drunk. Laura Lynn had seen the bruises, even heard Hank shouting—boy you gotta be tougher than that—but worse than any bruise had been the pain that she'd seen deep within Jake's brown eyes. Each year his eyes had turned a little darker until by the time he left her, they'd seemed almost black with hurt and rage. She'd tried to rescue him, the only way she knew how. The day before the start of their senior year, they were going to run away to start a new life together. Far from Hank Bartram. Jake was supposed to pick her up from the field down below her daddy's house at seven in the morning. She'd packed her bag and arrived early. Mist clung to the frosty ground. She never forget the sound of Jake approaching on his bike. Together. Forever. That's what that sound had meant to her. But when he rode up and slowed, she could tell something was wrong. Then, as she waved a greeting, he gunned the throttle and rode by, staring at her with those eyes, black with pain. She screamed for him to stop, but he turned his head and rode off, scattering the first leaves of fall in his wake. In disbelief, she watched the motorcycle disappear in the distance as she listened to all her dreams ride away. Roses for Mommy/Novey 17 The rumble of his motorcycle lingered forever. The same rumble that was haunting her today. “There's my little man.” Laura Lynn said, when Beau and Tanya walked through the double swinging doors into the dining area. Beau giggled and ducked his head in that self conscious way of his. He let go of Tanya's hand, trotted over, and scooted in beside Rose. His shy smile served as a silent greeting to all. Laura Lynn walked over and patted him on the head. Whenever he was near, she couldn't help touching him. Tanya walked into the kitchen and retrieved a muffin and juice for Beau. While Mabel and Cassidy chatted about the bed and breakfast, Laura Lynn treasured every second with Beau. It wasn't easy letting go, even if only for a day at kindergarten. Maybe it was the grumble of the approaching motorcycle or the impending arrival of the school bus, but Laura Lynn couldn't stop thinking about how hard she'd fought to keep Beau. Hiding an ever- expanding belly during her senior year of high school had been difficult, to say the least, and once the rumors started swirling and everyone tossed in their opinions, it only got worse. “Give it up,” people had said, as if Beau were an object that could be tossed away. The only people who had really supported Laura Lynn were Clara and Laura Lynn's father, Tom Jenkins, the perennial mayor of Gumlog. Despite the whispers and condemnations, Laura Lynn had never once considered giving up Beau. The grumble of the approaching motorcycle melded with another sound, a diesel rumble—the school bus. Roses for Mommy/Novey 18 Laura Lynn's heart jumped. “Here comes the bus,” she said with a broad smile plastered across her face. Beau loved school, and the last thing she wanted to do was project her fears and anxiety onto him. Cassidy and Tanya both looked at Laura Lynn. Although their question went unasked, all the adults in the room knew what it was: Are you going to follow the bus to school again today? They didn't look at her with judgment in their eyes, only supportive concern. Laura Lynn shook her head slightly. Not so much acknowledging and answering the question, as steeling herself against the urge to follow the bus. Today, she would let the bus drive away without her chasing behind. The yellow school bus pulled into the parking lot and eclipsed the five parking spots. Its brakes chirped, then puffed a blast of air. The bus door swung open. Beau kissed Laura Lynn on the cheek, took Rose by the hand, and walked to the front door. If life were only that simple, Laura Lynn thought as she watched Beau and Rose, hand in hand. How sweet. How innocent. How naive. If love were only that simple. She fought back a tear. She glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her struggle. The other women were also watching the two kids walk out to the bus. Laura Lynn took a deep breath, determined to keep her emotions from spilling over. That darn motorcycle. Before Beau was born, Laura Lynn vowed never to swear, not even in her head, if possible. She did her best not to. But today, it was a struggle not to think damn motorcycle. She could hear the bike—louder and louder. Then, just when she expected to hear it pass by, blocked—thankfully—by the bus, it idled, then silence. Beau, the little gentleman that he was, let Rose board first. He followed close behind. Roses for Mommy/Novey 19 They took their usual seat right behind the driver on the otherwise empty bus. The door slapped shut. The brakes puffed. The bus pulled forward. There, parked on the other side, was the motorcycle that had taunted Laura Lynn. She couldn't help being angry at the rider, even though he couldn't possibly know what he'd put her through or how much the burble of his exhaust had unhinged her. The rider in black dismounted his chrome steed. He looked up the street, then down. Laura Lynn stood frozen. She felt as if all eyes were on her. The rider walked toward the door with powerful strides interrupted by a slight limp. Laura Lynn glanced back at the bus in time to see it disappear over the hill. She could feel herself crumbling inside. Her little boy was riding off to the great big world, and she wasn't with him. And now this man in black. Dredging up old wounds. She felt a tear squeak from her eye. She swiped it away. Stop being silly, Beau will be fine, and this guy is just some stranger passing through. She took another deep breath, but that didn't help. Another tear was about to force itself out and run down her face. She swiped her cheek even though the tear hadn't yet fallen. The bell above the door jangled. Laura Lynn's legs twitched with indecision. She felt Cassidy take hold of her hand. “Beau will be fine,” Cassidy whispered. The biker took two steps into the diner and stopped, legs spread, thumbs in his pants pockets, body leaned back. He surveyed the place as if he'd just bought it. Before his head turned to face Laura Lynn, she turned away, almost sinking into Cassidy's arms. In a voice so deep that it vibrated Laura Lynn's soul, the biker asked, “Any hotels in town?” Roses for Mommy/Novey 20 If Laura Lynn hadn't know better, she would have thought that voice came from Hank Bartram, raised from the grave. Of course it wasn't Hank...couldn't be. She turned her head enough to peek at the rider. He slid off his glasses. Those eyes. Black with rage—still, after all these years. Laura Lynn's heart fell from her chest and landed with a thud in her stomach. Jake Bartram had come home.
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