Denim and diamonds, p.12
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.12

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  Chapter 9

  “What happened with you and Letty last night?” Lonny asked Chase early the next morning. They’d planned on repairing the fence that separated their property lines.

  “What’s between Letty and me is none of your business.”

  Lonny paused to consider this while rubbing the side of his jaw. “Normally, I’d agree with you, but my sister looked really bad this morning. To be honest, I haven’t been particularly pleased with her myself lately.”

  Lonny followed him to the pile of split cedar fence posts. “When Cricket mentioned Letty meeting some man in Red Springs,” he continued, “I was madder ’n anything. But after all the fuss I made about her interfering in my life, I didn’t think I had the right to ask her a whole lot of questions.”

  “Then why start with me now?” After that, Chase ignored his friend and loaded the posts into the back of his pickup. His mood hadn’t improved since he’d left Letty only a few hours ago.

  “I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong because you’re the best friend I’ve got.”

  “Then let’s keep it that way.” Chase wiped the perspiration from his brow, then went back to heaving posts, still trying to pretend Lonny hadn’t introduced the subject of his sister.

  “You’re as bad as she is,” Lonny shouted.

  “Maybe I am.”

  Lonny jerked on his gloves and walked toward the pile of wood. He pulled one long piece free, balanced it on his shoulder and headed toward the truck.

  “I don’t think she slept all night,” Lonny muttered.

  It was difficult for Chase to feel any sympathy when he hadn’t, either.

  “I got downstairs this morning and she was sitting in the kitchen, staring into space. I swear there were enough damp tissues on that table to insulate the attic.”

  “What makes you think I had anything to do with Letty crying?”

  “Because she more or less told me so—well, less rather than more,” Lonny muttered, shaking his head. “She wouldn’t say a word at first, mind you—she’s as tight-lipped as you are, but harder to reason with, Letty being a woman and all.”

  “Listen, if your sister wants to shed a few tears, that’s her concern. Not mine. Not yours. Understand?”

  Lonny tipped back the rim of his hat. “Can’t say I do. Look, Chase, I know you’re furious at me for butting in, and I don’t blame you. But the least you can do is hear me out.”

  “I’m a busy man, Lonny, and I’d appreciate it if you kept your thoughts to yourself.”

  Lonny disregarded his suggestion. “Like I said, I don’t know what happened between you, but—”

  “How many times do I have to tell you? It’s none of your business.”

  “It is if it’s hurting my sister,” Lonny said darkly. “And she’s hurting plenty.”

  “That’s her problem.” Chase had to take care of himself, protect his own heart; he couldn’t worry about hers, or so he told himself.

  “Why don’t you talk to her?” Lonny was saying.

  “What do you expect me to say? Are you going to tell me that, too? I respect you, Lonny, but I’m telling you right now to butt out. What’s between Letty and me doesn’t have anything to do with you.” It would be a shame to ruin a lifetime friendship because of Letty, but Chase wasn’t about to let Lonny Ellison direct his actions toward her.

  They worked together for the next few hours without exchanging another word. Neither seemed willing to break the icy silence. They were repairing the fence, replacing the rotting posts with new ones. Normally, a day like that was an opportunity to joke and have a little fun. Today, it seemed, they could barely tolerate each other.

  “I’m worried about her,” Lonny said when they broke for lunch. He stared at his roast beef sandwich, then took a huge bite, quickly followed by another.

  Chase sighed loudly. “Are you back to talking about Letty again?” Although she hadn’t left his mind for an instant, he didn’t want to discuss her.

  “I can’t help it!” Lonny shouted as he leaped to his feet and threw the remains of his lunch on the ground with such force that bits of apple flew in several directions. “Be mad at me if you want, Chase. Knock me down if it’ll make you feel better. But I can’t let you do this to Letty. She’s been hurt enough.”

  “That isn’t my fault!”

  “I’ve never seen her like this—as if all the life’s gone out of her. She sits and stares into space with a look that’s so pathetic it rips your heart out. Cricket started talking to her this morning and she hardly noticed. You know that’s not like Letty.”

  “She’s leaving!” Chase shouted, slamming his own lunch against the tree. “Just like she did before—she’s walking away. It nearly destroyed me the first time, and I’m not letting her do that to me again.”

  “Leaving?” Lonny cried. “What do you mean? Did she tell you that herself?”

  “Not exactly. I guessed.”

  “Well, it’s news to me. She enrolled Cricket in kindergarten the other day. That doesn’t sound like she’s planning to move.”

  “But…” Chase’s thoughts were in chaos. He’d assumed that Letty would be leaving; she’d certainly given him that impression. In fact, she’d said so—hadn’t she?

  “Would it be so difficult to ask her directly?” Lonny said. “We’ve repaired all the fence we’re going to manage today. Come to the house and ask her point-blank. Letty doesn’t lie. If she’s planning to leave Red Springs, she’ll admit it.”

  Chase expelled his breath forcefully. He might as well ask her, since Lonny wasn’t going to quit bugging him until he did. And yet…

  “Will you do that, at least?” Lonny urged.

  “I…” Indecision tore at Chase. He didn’t want any contact with Letty; he was still reeling from their last encounter. But he’d never seen Lonny behave like this. He was obviously worried about Letty. It wasn’t typical of Lonny to get involved in another man’s business, and that alone was a more convincing argument than anything he’d said.

  “You’re driving me back to the house, aren’t you?” Lonny asked matter-of-factly.

  “What about Destiny?”

  “I’ll pick him up later.”

  Lonny said this casually, as if he often left his horse at Spring Valley. As far as Chase could remember, he’d never done so in all the years they’d been friends and neighbors.

  “All right, I’ll ask her,” Chase agreed, but reluctantly. He’d do it, if for nothing more than to appease Lonny, although Chase wanted this issue with Letty cleared up. From what he remembered, she’d made her intentions obvious. Yet why she’d enrolled Cricket in kindergarten—which was several months away—was beyond him. It didn’t make sense.

  Lonny muttered something under his breath as he climbed into the cab of the truck.

  The first thing Chase noticed when he rolled into the yard at Lonny’s place was that his friend’s battered pickup was missing. He waited outside while Lonny hurried into the kitchen.

  “She’s not here,” Lonny said when he returned, holding a note. “She’s gone into town to see Joy Fuller.”

  Chase frowned. Now that he’d made the decision to confront Letty, he was disappointed about the delay. “I’ll ask her another time,” he said.

  “No.” Lonny had apparently sensed Chase’s frustration. “I mean…I don’t think it would do any harm to drive to Joy’s. I’ve been wanting to talk to her anyway, and this business with Letty gives me an excuse.”

  “You told me it was completely over. What possible reason could you have to talk to her?”

  Lonny was already in the truck. Chase couldn’t help noticing the color that tinged his face. “I might’ve been a bit…hasty. She might not have a sense of humor, but if Letty thinks she’s okay, maybe I should give her another chance.”

  “Well, she is cute. But does she want to give you another chance?”

  Lonny swallowed and glanced out the window. He didn’t answer Chase’s question—but
then, how could he? Whether or not Joy would be willing to get involved with him again was debatable. Chase suspected Lonny was a lot more interested in Joy than he’d let on; he also suspected Joy might not feel quite the same way.

  “Take a right at the next corner,” Lonny said as they entered town. “Her house is the first one on the left.”

  Chase parked under the row of elms. “I’ll wait here,” he said abruptly.

  Lonny got out of the truck and hesitated before he shut the door. “That might not be such a good idea.”

  “Why not?”

  “Well, I’m not sure if Joy’s going to talk to me. And what about Letty? Don’t you want to see her?”

  Chase sighed. Now that he’d had time to think about it, running into town to find Letty wasn’t that brilliant a plan.

  “Come with me, okay?” Lonny said. “That way Joy might not throw me out the second she sees me.”

  Sighing loudly, Chase left the truck, none too pleased by any of this. He accompanied Lonny to Joy Fuller’s door and watched in surprise as Lonny licked his fingertips and smoothed down the sides of his hair before ringing the bell. It was all Chase could do not to comment.

  Cricket answered the door. “Hi, Uncle Lonny. Hi, Chase.” She whirled around and shouted over her shoulder. “Joy, it’s my uncle Lonny and Chase! You remember Chase, don’t you? He’s my very best friend in the whole world.” Then she ran back into the house.

  A minute or so passed before Joy came to the door, Cricket on her heels.

  “Yes?” she said stiffly.

  She wore a frilly apron tied around her waist, and traces of flour dusted her nose. She’d obviously been baking, and knowing Cricket, it was probably chocolate chip cookies.

  Lonny jerked the hat from his head. “We were wondering…me and Chase, my neighbor here, if it would be convenient to take a moment of your time.”

  Chase had never heard his friend more tongue-tied. Lonny made it sound as though they were old-fashioned snake oil salesmen, come to pawn their wares.

  “We can’t seem to talk to each other without yelling, Mr. Ellison,” Joy returned. Her hands were neatly clasped in front of her, and her gaze was focused somewhere in the distance.

  “I’d like to talk to Letty,” Chase said. The way things were going, it could be another half hour before anyone learned the reason for their visit. Not that he actually knew what his friend planned to say to Joy—or if Lonny had even figured it out himself.

  “Mommy’s gone,” Cricket piped up.

  “She left a few minutes ago,” Joy explained.

  “Did she say where she was going?”

  “No…but I’m sure you can catch her if it’s important.”

  “Go, man,” Lonny said, poking his elbow into Chase’s ribs. “I’ll stay here—that is, if Miss Fuller has no objections.”

  “Ms. Fuller,” Joy corrected, her eyes narrowing.

  “Ms. Fuller,” Lonny echoed.

  “You can stay, but only if you promise you won’t insult me in my own home. Because I’m telling you right now, Lonny Ellison, I won’t put up with it.”

  “I’ll do my best.”

  “That may not be good enough,” she said ominously.

  “Which way did Letty go?” Chase demanded, decidedly impatient with the pair.

  “Toward downtown,” Joy said, pointing west. “You shouldn’t have any trouble finding her. She’s driving that piece of junk Mr. Ellison seems so fond of.”

  For a moment Lonny looked as if he’d swallowed a grapefruit. His face flamed red, he swallowed hard and it was obvious he was doing everything in his power not to let loose with a blistering response. His efforts were promptly rewarded with a smile from Joy.

  “Very good, Mr. Ellison. You’ve passed the test.” She stepped aside to let him enter.

  “I won’t be long,” Chase told them.

  Lonny repeatedly twisted the brim of his hat. “Take your time,” he muttered. “But go!”

  Chase didn’t need any more incentive and ran toward his pickup. As soon as the engine roared to life, he shifted gears and swerved out into the traffic, such as it was.

  Red Springs’ main street was lined with small businesses that had diagonal parking in front. Chase could determine at a single glance that Lonny’s truck wasn’t in sight. He drove the full length of the town and down a couple of side streets, but she wasn’t there, either.

  Mystified, he parked and stood outside his truck, looking down Main Street in both directions. Where could she possibly have gone?

  —

  Letty came out of Dr. Faraday’s office and sat in Lonny’s truck for several minutes before she started the engine. After waiting all these weeks, after stringing out the medical and financial details of her life as though they were laundry on a clothesline—after all this, she should feel some sort of release knowing that the surgery was finally scheduled.

  But she didn’t.

  Instead, she experienced an overwhelming sadness. Tears burned in her eyes, but she held her head high and drove toward the freeway that would take her back to Red Springs. Now that everything had been cleared with the doctor and the state, Letty felt free to explain what was wrong with her to her brother. She’d leave it to him to tell Chase—if he wanted.

  Chase. Quickly she cast all thoughts of him aside, knowing they’d only bring her pain.

  A few miles out of town, Letty saw another truck in her rearview mirror, several cars back. Her first reaction was that someone was driving a model similar to the one Chase had.

  Not until the truck started weaving in and out of traffic in an effort to catch up with her did Letty realize it was Chase’s.

  Why was he following her? All she could think was that something terrible must have happened….Cricket! Oh, no, it had to be Cricket.

  Letty pulled to the side of the road.

  Chase was right behind her.

  Shutting off the engine, she climbed out and saw him leap from his vehicle and come running toward her.

  “Letty. Letty.” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her with a tenderness she thought he could no longer feel.

  She loosened his grip enough to raise her head. “Is anything wrong with Cricket?” she asked urgently.

  He frowned. “No,” he said before he kissed her with a thoroughness that left her weak and clinging.

  “Then what are you doing here?”

  Chase closed his eyes briefly. “That’s a long story. Letty, we’ve got to talk.”

  She broke free from his embrace. “I don’t think we can anymore. Every time we get close to each other, we end up arguing. I know I hurt you, Chase, but I don’t know how much longer I can stand being hurt back. After last night, I decided it was best if we didn’t see each other again.”

  “You make us sound as bad as Lonny and Joy.”

  “Worse.”

  “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

  “I don’t think we’re capable of anything else,” she whispered. “Not anymore.”

  His eyes blazed into hers. “Letty, I know.”

  Chase wasn’t making any sense. If he knew they were incapable of sustaining a relationship, then why had he been driving like a madman to catch her? Frankly, she wasn’t in the mood for this. All she wanted to do was get Cricket and go home.

  Chase dropped his arms and paced in front of her. “The day you fainted in the garden, I should’ve figured it out. For weeks before, Lonny had been telling me how tired you were all the time, how fragile you’d become.” He shook his head. “I thought it was because you were depressed and California had spoiled you.”

  “It did. I’m a soft person, unaccustomed to anything resembling hard work.”

  Chase ignored her sarcasm. “Then that day in the cemetery…you tried to tell me, didn’t you?” But he didn’t allow her to answer his question. “You started talking about life and death, and all I could do was get angry with you because I thought you’d lied. I wasn’t even listening. If I had been, I
would’ve heard what you were trying to tell me.”

  Tears blurred her vision as she stood silent and unmoving before him.

  “It’s the reason you dragged Mary Brandon over to the house for dinner that night, isn’t it?” Again he didn’t wait for her response. “You figured that if Lonny was married and anything happened to you, Cricket would have a secure home.”

  “Not exactly,” she managed. In the beginning her thoughts had leaned in that direction. But she wasn’t the manipulative type, and it had soon become obvious that Lonny wanted nothing to do with her schemes.

  Chase placed his hands on her shoulders. “Letty, I saw Dr. Faraday.” A hint of a smile brushed the corners of his mouth. “I wanted to go over to the man and hug him.”

  “Chase, you’re still not making any sense.”

  “Cricket told me that when you came to Rock Springs, you visited a man with a mustache—a man who looked like someone on TV.”

  “When did she tell you that?”

  “Weeks ago. But more damning was that she claimed you went into a room together, and she had to stay outside and wait for you.”

  “Oh, dear…”

  “You can imagine what Lonny and I thought.”

  “And you believed it?” It seemed that neither Chase nor her brother knew her. Both seemed willing to condemn her on the flimsiest evidence. If she were meeting a man, the last person she’d take with her was Cricket. But apparently that thought hadn’t so much as entered their minds.

  “We didn’t know what to believe,” Chase answered.

  “But you automatically assumed the worst?”

  Chase looked properly chagrined. “I know it sounds bad, but there’d been another man in your life before. How was I to know the same thing wasn’t happening again?”

  “How were you to know?” Letty echoed, slumping against the side of the truck. “How were you to know?” she repeated in a hurt whisper. “What kind of person do you think I am?”

  “Letty, I’m sorry.”

  She covered her eyes and shook her head.

  “From the moment you returned, everything’s felt wrong. For a while I thought my whole world had been knocked off its axis. Nothing I did seemed to balance it. Today I realized it wasn’t my world that was off-kilter, but yours, and I couldn’t help feeling the effects.”

 
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