Randie Doore rummaged through the built-in cupboards at the top of the stairs. “I can’t find the table runner, Grams. Maybe you put it in a drawer.”
Grams stood at the bottom of the steps, looking up at her. “I thought for sure it was there. Let me come up and help you look.” She grabbed a hold of the railing. Gray hair pulled back in a bun, tall and frail, she didn’t want to admit there were things she shouldn’t do anymore.
“Don’t even think about it,” Randie warned. “What did your doctor tell you the last time you fell?”
Maureen raised her eyebrows. “You know how doctors are. Always trying to make sure nothing happens again so they look good.”
Randie rolled her eyes. “You’ve been going to your doc for over twenty years, and he hasn’t steered you wrong yet. It’s time you listen to him. The second floor is off-limits to you. No stairs.”
Grams crossed her arms. “Your parents shouldn’t have given you a boy’s name. I told them babies are what they are. They didn’t even have a girl’s name in mind. It’s made you bossy.”
“Being a teacher does that, too. So give it up. I came up here to look for you. It’s not up here.”
“Be like that. Let’s look in the deep drawers in the dining room buffet.”
That’s where they found the Fall runner, along with the place mats that matched it. Randie had come over to help Grams get the house and dining room decorated for Fall. Every year, Grams invited Mom and Dad, her, and her brother, Ronnie, over for a Halloween supper. She’d asked Randie to help her get the house ready this Saturday and then come next Saturday to help her cook. Grams hosted Thanksgiving dinner, too, and Aunt Doris came then.
Once, when Grams turned seventy, Mom had offered to start having holiday dinners at her house.
Grams had raised a brow. “Have you ever cooked a turkey?”
“Well, no.” Mom cooked, but most of her meals started with boxes or something pre-packaged. “Randie will help me.”
Randie loved to cook. Always had. She loved anything nurturing, probably why she’d gone into teaching. At twenty-eight, she’d taught first grade for seven years.
Grams had snorted. “Randie can help me cook, and when I can’t do it any more, she can come to my house and take over the kitchen.” Grams had the perfect house for entertaining—a big two-story with an efficient kitchen and a large dining room. “When I pass, I’m leaving the house to her. My will’s signed and official. She’ll love this place as much as I do.”
Everyone was fine with that. Grams assured them that they’d get more money. Grandpa had left her well-off. Randie was the only one who’d rather have the house than cold, hard cash.
Grams was in her eighties now, and Randie still hadn’t taken over holiday meals, but she did a lot of the heavy lifting.
Today, after she’d set the dining room table and found all of the orange candle sticks and black candles, the pumpkin-shaped tureen for soup, and the large orange platter Grams used for her pepper-crusted beef tenderloin, then she’d hung the wreathe decorated with gourds on the front door and put pumpkins on each porch step. Then, and only then, Grams was happy . . . and getting tired.
Randie kissed her cheek and said, “I’m out of here. I’m meeting Kelly for supper tonight.”
“At the bar?” Grams used to frequent that bar when Grandpa was alive. It served good food. She always asked about Kelly. Randie’s best friend was going through a horrible, bitter divorce.
Randie grinned. “Wrigley’s is our go-to place.”
Grams chuckled. “Tell her I say hi. That man of hers should be shot.”
Randie thought so, too. She’d never thought two people who were supposed to love each other could end up hating each other so much. But then, she’d never thought a man could be such a crud either.
She zipped home and took a quick shower and changed into the same jeans, but a nicer sweater. The navy complemented her long, wavy copper hair and blue eyes. Then she drove to the north side of town to meet Kelly. When she walked inside the building, Kelly was seated two tables away from the salad bar and she was already scarfing down a cup of the bar’s chili. Just as Randie had thought, her friend was always watching her weight—all one hundred twenty pounds of it. If she gained an ounce, she was horrified. This would be a soup and salad night, and Wrigley’s had a great selection of each.
When Randie took a seat opposite her, Kelly had the grace to look ashamed. “Sorry. I’m starving. I couldn’t wait.”
Kelly never ate on a regular schedule, and she went from one diet to another. She ran for food when her stomach grumbled. A middle-grade math teacher should know better, but Kelly only ate sporadically. Randie shook her head. “No problem, I’m getting the same thing. The chili looks good.”
“It is. I’ll go with you and get a refill.”
The waitress came, took Randie’s order, and went to get her a beer while they went for food.
Settled again, Randie asked, “How’s it going?”
Kelly paused her spoon in mid-air. “Are you ready for this? Curtis filed for me to pay him support.”
Randie stared. Not that she had any problem picturing Curtis trying to get any advantage he could. Kelly had met him and fallen hard. No one else was as enthused about him as she was, but it must be true that love is blind. Because even when friends worded careful warnings, she only saw the wonder of the man. Which must be deeply hidden, because Randie never noticed it. He felt like all surface glitter to her. But really? He thought he could wheedle support out of the divorce? “He’s a lawyer. He makes more money than you do.”
“Not much more.” Kelly dunked a cracker in her chili. “He sucks as a lawyer.”
Randie had to laugh. She’d always thought so, too, but never said it out loud. Her own lack-luster dating had come to an abrupt halt after Kelly married Curtis. She was twenty-eight and hadn’t met a man she couldn’t live without. And then she’d watched Kelly keep giving and giving to a narcissist who took her for granted. That’s when she’d decided there were worse things than being single.
“Does he have a chance of getting more?” she asked.
“Not a prayer. We were only married three years. No kids. The judge said that we’d split everything in half. We’re going to come out of this mess at about the same place we went into it.”
Not really. Kelly bought Mr. Ego one present after another because she loved to see him happy. She’d have been better off sinking that money into a savings fund. Randie finished her cup of soup and turned to look at the salad bar. “You’d think Curtis would know your divorce was going to be pretty standard.”
An angry flush burned Kelly’s cheeks. “He’s trying to convince the judge that I was emotionally abusive to him.”
“You?” Randie laughed. “Only if you could kill someone with kindness. You spoiled that man every chance you got.”
They stalled the conversation to go load up at the salad bar. It wasn’t until they went for pudding and were finishing their meal that Randie leaned forward, closer to her friend, and asked, “Okay, you’ve put on a good front, but how much has this last bit bothered you?”
Kelly turned her head and blinked. “I can’t believe how naïve I was. Talk about misjudging someone’s character.”
“It can happen to any of us.”
“It hasn’t happened to you.”
“That’s because I’m too skeptical and grumpy.”
Kelly grinned. “That’s what I like about you. You don’t suffer fools gladly. Except me. You’ve always been there for me.”
“You’re not a fool. Maybe a romantic . . . “ She smiled.
By the time they left the restaurant, Kelly was in a better mood. A good thing, because it physically hurt Randie to see her depressed. Kelly was smart and strong. She’d survive Curtis. But what a horrible life lesson to learn the hard way. It would never happen to her.